Friday

Will Win/Should Win: You Know the Drill


Teresa


PICTURE
Will Win: Babel
Should Win: Letters from Iwo Jima

DIRECTOR
Will Win: Martin Scorsese - The Departed
Should Win: Martin Scorsese - The Departed

ACTOR
Will Win: Forest Whitaker - The Last Kind of Scotland
Should Win: Ryan Gosling - Half Nelson

ACTRESS
Will Win: Helen Mirren - The Queen
Should Win: Helen Mirren - The Queen

SUPPORTING ACTOR
Will Win: Eddie Murphy - Dreamgirls
Should Win: Mark Wahlberg - The Departed

SUPORTING ACTRESS

Will Win: Jennifer Hudson - Dreamgirls
Should Win: (haven't seen any of the nominated films)

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Will Win: Little Miss Sunshine
Should Win: Pan's Labyrinth

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Will Win: The Departed
Should Win: The Departed

CINEMATOGRAPHY
Will Win: The Illusionist
Should Win: Children of Men


Josh

PICTURE
Will Win: Babel
Should Win: Letters from Iwo Jima

DIRECTOR
Will Win: Clint Eastwood - Letters from Iwo Jima
Should Win: Paul Greengrass - United 93

ACTOR
Will Win: Leonardo DiCaprio - Blood Diamond
Should Win: Ryan Gosling - Half Nelson

ACTRESS
Will Win: Helen Mirren - The Queen
Should Win: Helen Mirren - The Queen

SUPPORTING ACTOR
Will Win: Jackie Earle Haley - Little Children
Should Win: Mark Wahlberg - The Departed

SUPORTING ACTRESS

Will Win: Jennifer Hudson - Dreamgirls
Should Win: (see above)

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Will Win: Babel
Should Win: The Queen

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Will Win: The Departed
Should Win: Borat

CINEMATOGRAPHY
Will Win: Pan's Labyrinth
Should Win: Pan's Labyrinth

Tuesday

Scrape your knee / It is only skin...


"Do you think this is a feminist film?" Teresa asked, about midway through Marina de Van's In My Skin, her pick in our I-choose-one-you-choose-one double feature (I went with Taste of Cherry, her first taste of Kiarostami).

"Yeah,...um, I mean, I guess so? It's definitely interesting..."

Teresa laughed. You see, we have this sort of running joke: She cringes at displays of overt feminism, while I--being a good, dyed-in-the-wool liberal and longtime Sleater-Kinney fanboy--actively embrace that sort of fare. She feels no gender-tied obligation to fist-pump along with the type of grrl-power rhetoric that I inevitably swoon for. And she really likes In My Skin, a determinedly nasty piece of provocation about a woman who enjoys eating her flesh.

De Van, who bares more than a passing resemblance to Beatrice Dalle (thus making it all the more difficult not to think of Claire Denis' poetic, if problematic, Trouble Every Day while viewing In My Skin), also wrote the film and is its star. But this is anything but a vanity project. Within the field of actor-directors, de Van's debut feature registers closest to (coincidentally) Trouble Every Day co-star Vincent Gallo's controversial pair of efforts.

Like Buffalo 66 and The Brown Bunny, In My Skin is earthy and mostly unshowy (despite a possibly pointless split-screen sequence) yet technically assured, decidedly unflattering (despite a bit of fetishistic nudity--though nothing on the level of an onscreen blowjob, ala Gallo!), and grimly funny. The most memorable scene in de Van's film involves a dinner meeting between business colleagues at a high-end Parisian restaurant. While the group debates the merits of various European cities--Lisbon, Rome, Milan, Paris--de Van's Esther imagines her severed lower arm sitting on the table and then proceeds to slash her arm with a knife, eager to taste the raw skin.

Perhaps the filmic subset that In My Skin best occupies is that of inexplicable female masochism. Think: Haneke's The Piano Teacher, Desplechin's Esther Kahn, almost everything von Trier's made since Breaking the Waves. But, and this is key, those films were directed by men, and are subsequently ripe for accusations of misogyny--or at least "issues with women." De Van directed herself here and scripted the source. In My Skin's narrative progresses in fits and starts, and mostly when Esther cuts herself. This is a film about how it feels to be addicted to something. De Van's selected "something" just happens to be less commonplace than cigarettes or drinking or drugs or gambling or sex: Esther lives from slice to slice, clearly on edge when unable to partake or when questioned about her new fixation. The lack of exposition and mere suggestions of psychological empathy ultimately lend the material its haunting, unshakable weight.

In My Skin also strikes me as a perceptive portrait of an artist's courtship with her art--here represented rather more, ahem, extremely than in, say, 8 1/2 or Vertigo. It's still a (voyeuristic) look at the privacy demanded by the process of creating something; De Van simply literalizes the self-devouring nature of personal art. In the film's unsettling final shot, it's up to the viewer to determine whether Esther is still alive--or if she is, whether she will be for much longer. And, credits rolling, In My Skin, the deeply personal and deeply disturbing fruit of Marina de Van's creative process, is complete. As Polly Jean Harvey put it, "I've laid with the devil/cursed god above/forsaken heaven/to bring you my love." Maybe, finally, this is about the rigorous cost of creation, the toll paid in putting the personal to celluloid (or record).

So, the earlier question still lingers: Is In My Skin a feminist film? Yeah,...um, I mean, I guess so? It's definitely interesting...

Thursday

200 Films: 2000-07


For no better reason than just keeping track of things and maybe starting a new discussion or two, I've compiled a list of my 200 favorite films so far this young millennium. And I'll confess the obvious upfront: I haven't seen every film released these past seven years. Not even close.

There--that said, here's my list, which includes the very best of what I have seen.

Monday

Wide Open Spaces



The Good


Justin Timberlake: Neither performance last night even came close to touching his damn-right-I'm-the-man-fuckers tour de force at the VMAs, but both were solid and the My Space cam was a nice touch in the earlier one.

Dixie Chicks: If they've gone a bit MOR in steering left of Nashville, well, you know, that can happen. They didn't deserve Album--JT and Gnarls Barkley both made better full-lengths--but I'm still happy for them, and their performance of the superb "Not Ready to Make Nice" was a highlight.

Carrie Underwood: Hands-down my favorite moment of the night: Carrie takes the stage, accepting the Best New Artist award, and declares, "I love country music!" Amen, sister! Now, Tom B. noted his girlfriend's observation that this might've been a sly jab at the CMA-shunned Dixie Chicks. That didn't occur to me, but might well be the case. Either way, it was pretty seriously charming, and Carrie's rendition of "Desperado" was the most effective I've seen since that little Irish girl in In America.

Gnarls Barkley:
Basically the same performance as their classic Top of the Pops appearance. Still good, natch.

The Okay

Ludacris:
I like the guy enough that part of me is pleased to see him win anything, but in this case, he won for a decidedly mediocre record, and his performance of "Runaway Love," an inadvertently lame song to begin with, just felt sort of phoned in. And yet, at the end of the day, I still like Ludacris more than I like most people.

Shakira:
Over the course of the past year, I went from being annoyed by "Hips Don't Lie," to begrudgingly accepting its uberhit status, to finally kind of liking the damned thing, if only for being more listenable than "Fergalicious." Last night's performance brought nothing new to the equation.

Red Hot Chili Peppers: I've never been a fan per se, but I do enjoy a small handful of their hits (their "Higher Ground" cover, "Under the Bridge," the one off the Coneheads soundtrack,). Their new one might (jury's not quite in) be among them.

The Bad (and, In Some Cases, Ugly)

Beyonce: I like B. plenty ordinarily, and had she twiddled her exquisitely manicured thumbs through a half-hearted version of "Irreplaceable" or "Ring the Alarm," I'm sure I'd be nodding approvingly today. But the soulless ballad she opted to deliver veered dangerously close to Mariah/Whitney/Celine territory, which scares me.

James Blunt:
Need I say more, really? I hope he disappears soon.

Corinne Bailey Rae/John Legend/John Mayer:
From what little I've heard of Corinne Bailey Rae, she sort of sounds like Feist, which is good, and I have nothing in particular against John Legend. This was without a doubt, however, one of the most boring things I've ever sat through in my life. Just lifeless. And as Teresa rightly observed, John Mayer is sick.

Tuesday

You Don't Mean Nothing At All To Me


So, I'm apparently very out of step with the zeitgeist. Sure, I'm happy enough that Dylan took the album side of Pazz & Jop '06 (his fourth poll-topper, after The Basement Tapes, Time Out of Mind, and Love and Theft), thus defeating Idolator's dubious winner. Personally, though, I didn't vote for either Modern Times or Return to Cookie Mountain--nor, for that matter, Fishscale (Ghostface's least interesting record, to my tastes anyway), the Hold Steady's Boys and Girls in America (liked the first one a lot, the follow-up considerably less, haven't heard this one, probably should at some point), St. Elsewhere (admittedly strong, if spotty), the Arctic Monkeys album (though I was evidently the only poll participant to rep for the Sugababes' terrific cover of "I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor"), Hell Hath No Fury (staggeringly overpraised better-than-average rap record), or Fox Confessor Brings the Flood (hands-down my least-favorite Neko album), which placed third through eighth, respectively.

I did, however, vote for Joanna Newsom's ninth-ranked Ys and might've thrown some points behind Tom Waits' tenth-ranked box set, which Teresa loved and I haven't yet found the time to listen to from start to finish. After that, my ballot bares little resemblance to the consensus. Album-wise, my picks placed, respectively, #24 (the woefully slept-on Show Your Bones), #9, #756, #92, #118, #142, #69, #72, #1424 (I was evidently the lone fan of Bubba's latest!), and #226. What's interesting about that is that my ten albums aren't painfully obscure; hell, the Joanna CD, the only top ten entry I voted for, is arguably the most esoteric selection on my list! Among them are a former poll winner and longtime perennial competitor who put out his best record in at least a decade, five ostensible critical darlings whose prior efforts finished top forty this millennium (that's excluding Newsom), and a pair of blog-pop sensations who, inexplicably, couldn't crack the top seventy. And then there's Miss Lily, whose good-not-great LP proper placed 37th, while her straight-up golden, hype-launching mixtape garnered one measly vote (guess who).

On the singles front, my personal faves didn't fare much better, though that was less surprising since roughly half of my picks don't qualify as "singles" in the technical sense. There's a pair of b-side covers, an album standout that may or may not receive the video treatment, and two more that reputable sources indicate were, in fact, singles though I find myself doubting the existence of actual, tangible copies of either such release. Still, genuine beef: How the hell is it that me and one other guy are the only critics (or would-be critics) to big up "Say It Right"? Did it drop too late or what? It's close to classic and vastly preferable to Nelly F.'s 20th-ranked "Maneater"--not to mention "Steady As She Goes" and that godawful My Chemical Romance track. Kind of makes me feel relieved to be so unhip.