Who could ever forget Bette Midler, back when she was really fun in 1980, making that comment, which she attributed to no less than Joan Crawford (probably spinning in her casket at the time). (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QYlbQwGy9pI).
One could hardly blame Midler’s irreverence: you might recall that, two years after she won Newcomer of the Year, this same award was presented to Pia Zadora. You remember her, that adorable, well-married munchkin who moved into the White House of Hollywood, i.e., Pickfair, the ancestral manse of Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford – the first superstar couple who made Brangelina look like D-listers – and proceeded to remodel it ’80s-style? (Actually La Zadora should be cherished for sticking a Velcro bow on her newborn baby’s head for photo ops, and also her cinematic oeuvre, which contains two campfests which rival VALLEY OF THE DOLLS or BUTTERFIELD 8, and are surefire party favors.
Zadora’s BUTTERFLY (1982), based on a story by no less than the great James Cain (MILDRED PIERCE, THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RING TWICE, DOUBLE INDEMNITY) features the requisite nymphet-making-her-screen-debut bathtub scene, which seared itself into the minds of hetero horndogs, and also one of those “casts assembled in hell,” which included Orson Welles, Stacey Keach, Lois Nettleton, Edward Albert June Lockhart and Ed McMahon, whose entrance incited hysterical laughs at the first New York press screening.
THE LONELY LADY (1983), or “Harold Robbins’ ‘The Lonely Lady’,” as it was prestigously billed in the three theatres which ran it, established Zadora as then-Queen of Screen Pulp, playing Jerilee Randall, a struggling screenwriter. Who could forget her teenaged rape by a water hose and a scene in which she lowered herself onto a stud’s tumescence murmuring, “Gently…gently’?”
But I digress. Midler’s irreverence was a world and age away from the kowtowing respect shown the Globs, as I call them, by such as Colin Farrell and Kate “Is this really me?” Winslet. Being an ink-stained, underpaid, ever-disrespected wretch, myself, in Manhattan for lo these many years, maybe I should move to Taiwan and restyle myself as David Ng from the Taipei Tattler. Maybe then I’d get movie stars to remember my name and their publicists to return calls.
Random Thoughts on this evening which once was rather an industry joke, just a chance for the motliest assemblage of stars to eat rubber chicken, scarf drinks, schmooze and receive awards from an even motlier group of journos. (Dustin Hoffman, who won 1968’s New Star of the Year, recalled what an industry joke this award used to be considered, so much so that he was the only star who showed up the year he was first nominated.) It has now become actually respectable and dearly coveted, in this media-soaked age, dazzled by celebrity and everything leading up to that ultimate of ultimates… on your collective knees, now…the Oscar, that Golden Guy the world is meant to salivate over, which has been bestowed upon such dubious “masterpieces” as GOING MY WAY, THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH, AROUND THE WORLD IN 😯 DAYS, THE STING, ROCKY, CHARIOTS OF FIRE, GHANDI, OUT OF AFRICA, DANCES WITH WOLVES, BRAVEHEART, RAIN MAN, A BEAUTIFUL MIND, GLADIATOR, and John Mills for RYAN’S DAUGHTER and Helen Hayes for AIRPORT in the same year, 1970. Oh, we could go on and on about that combination popularity/bottom line contest…
Dressed like a Golden Glob herself in glittering Versace, Jennifer Lopez got things off to a rather funny start by trying to hush every up: “Mamma talking, Mamma talking!” Soon supposedly to be ex-husband Mark Anthony was dutifully there, but all I could think about was a certain friend who swore to me he slept with one of them. Said friend was walking down a Manhattan street one day some years back when a pay phone suddenly rang. Being the curious sort, he picked it up and got immediately invited over for some quick anonymous sex. His pithy description of that certain party was “really weird-looking, but big!”
Sally Hawkins can now be deemed the new Greer Garson for her interminable acceptance speech for HAPPY-GO-LUCKY, a movie which wholly depended on how charmed you were by her frenetic obnoxiousness, one more in Mike Leigh’s long line of nails-on-the-chalkboard protagonists like David Thewlis in NAKED, Katrin Cartlidge in CAREER GIRLS and Brenda Blethyn in SECRETS AND LIES (although that performance worked for me, and, indeed, the poor woman hasn’t done anything near to it since). Charmed I definitely was not, but Sunday night I kept thinking about Greer’s rambling Irish tongue in 1942, accepting an Oscar for MRS. MINIVER, going on and on so long that even presenter Joan Fontaine had to back herself into a handy chair to get off her feet. Garson never lived this down but had the good humor to laugh at herself when, substitute-accepting Vivien Leigh’s A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE AWARD in 1952, she said, “If there’s time, I have a few more things to say…”
The gowns – really the most important part of the evening, who are we kidding?- were mostly lovely this year, the most beautiful being Drew Barrymore’s cobwebby blue mist creation, the work of – no surprise – by John Galliano, simply the greatest alive designer today and assured of a vital place in fashion history. But what was up – literally -with Drew’s hair? Did she drive to the Globs with the top down at full speed?
Barrymore’s co-presenter was Jessica Lange, whose face seems finally to have relaxed out of its frozen, Asiatic (I can say that)/slight Joycelyn Wildenstein Catwoman mold. And, Lord love her, she ain’t going the matronly besuited route of Glenn Close and Susan Sarandon (looking good, though!) – still working the slinky little black dress thing she did a few years ago when she appeared in Manhattan for a Stella Adler benefit evening. (She was accompanied by her ex, Mikhail Baryshnikov, who came off that night as very much like his pill-like SEX AND THE CITY character, super-frosty, and swiftly dragging her past the wailing paparazzi, even though she’d spent a full ten minutes fluffing herself for them in the Pierre Hotel powder room.)
These actresses are two of the most likable in the business but did they really need to make a feature film of GREY GARDENS? Guess this way even the folks in Podunk will eventually be able to spout, “The hallmark of aristocracy is responsibility” in a way to rival any Fire Island Grey Goose devotee.
And, wouldn’t you know Steven Spielberg, upon winning the Cecil B. DeMille Award, would actually cite DeMille’s THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH as his formative movie experience? Like DeMille, he’s a crowd-pleaser first and foremost, and, as with DeMille, one should be a tad wary of throwing the word “artist” around when referring to him. The film for which he still seems to deserve that apellation the most, for me, remains his first feature, SUGARLAND EXPRESS (1974). And I think it’s telling that Goldie Hawn in that film is still maybe the only really strong woman character he has ever presented. (And I guess you can also throw Joan Crawford, ever ubiquitous, and wonderfully so, going hysterically blind in his TV directorial debut, the 1969 NIGHT GALLERY episode, EYES.)
It was also telling that the award was presented to him by Martin Scorsese, another Boys R Us director, who although far more of a real artist, has even admitted to knowing nada about women, with a resume that rather proves it. (ALICE DOESN’T LIVE HERE ANYMORE was a long time ago, actually the same as SUGARLAND EXPRESS, which bespeaks a dead era when women actually counted on screen, even for eager beaver tyros like Steven and Marty.)
There can be no doubt, however, of Spielberg’s killer influence on the industry. Between him, from the time of JAWS, and George Lucas’ STAR WARS-es, American films can now be counted on to largely delight ongoing generations of 12-year-old boys, total mall-fillers, but is that really news to anyone?
Winslet seems one of the loveliest and nicest human beings around – her appearance last year at a NY memorial service for her publicist Robert Garlock was unforgettably real, funny as well as heartbreaking, but she does not deserve the accolades for these two performances. In REVOLUTIONARY ROAD she cannot redeem a dreary, straining-for-art-concept – AMERICAN BEAUTY in the ’50s burbs this time around – with nary a laugh between this married couple in all their endless years together. Director Sam Mendes strives so darn hard for Celluloid Art and comes up stagey every time, especially in this suffocatingly airless Norman Rockwell nightmare.
It’s all accompanied by one of those gets-under-your-skin “evocative” music scores, filled with what I like to call the “piano of poignancy.” On a recent radio show, Jonathan Schwartz played the arrangement of some cabaret singer’s morosely self-pitying ditty – the resemblance to the movie’s score was unmissable – and Schwartz noted that it just missed officially being outright plagiarism by a few notes.
As for THE READER, another “this is a very important film,” by Stephen Daldry, another former Brit stage director besotted with cinemah’s potential, well, if your idea of great acting is seeing a charming young British lass pull on the persona of an aging, world-weary, been-there-done-that Kraut like it’s Simone Signoret’s old sweater, start the ovation now. Throughout the film, Winslet kept referring to her young, born-to-be-destroyed innocent student lover as “Kid,” like Marlene Dietrich in TOUCH OF EVIL” (a persona that actress had not only earned but owned by then). With every “Kid,” I found myself recoiling further and further into the back of my seat, apalled by the bogusness (bogus-ity?). In minimal screen time, the always reliable Lena Olin shows you what can be done to reveal the true ravages of time and a steeliness of character, even in this pretentious potboiler, and makes you definitely wish she’d been given the lead.
Both of these Winslet vehicles had that end-of-the-year, awards-ready excruciatingly self-cnscious pretentious remindful of last award season’s unbearable, unaccountably praised ATONEMENT.
Hollywood loves a comeback story, and I defy you not to be moved by Mickey Rourke in THE WRESTLER, but there’s no way this updated version of THE CHAMP (which won Wally Beery an Oscar in 1932) could begin to compete with Sean Penn’s stupendous transformation as MILK. Director Darren Aronofsky has taken repeated public umbrage whenever Rourke refers to him as “tough,” which I find definitely weird. Is this director that much of a wimp, and since when was being “tough” a negative quality in a movie director. (I thought it was a requisite.) It rather says everything that it was Rourke, not Aronofsky, who gave co-actor Marisa Tomei the real key to her stripper character by making a couple of calls to certain Scores acquaintances of his, who were then able to enlighten Tomei on the fine points of the pole.
STYLE NOTE: Aronofsky’s “ironic” moustache, a harbinger of many more to come, I am afraid, in the wake of James Franco’s dazzling revival of the ’70s gay clone look in MILK, which no doubt has all those baby boomers who never gave up their scrub brushes joyously going into a bear dance. Unfortunately, one has to look like Franco to really carry this off, and Aronofsky’s made him look more shifty than sexy. Do you really want to resemble a Carter-era accountant?
Laura Linney won a Glob for playing Abigail Adams in that mini-series which is on my must-eventually-do list, right next to the Roosevelt family saga, WARM SPRINGS, and all those Tudor family mini-series. Last year, she should have won for a movie nobody saw THE NANNY DIARIES, in which she was absolutely sensational, the best she’s ever been. Last May at the New Dramatists lunch in NY, I praised her performance in this bitchy role and compared it to the part she was then currently essaying (and none too well), the Marquise de Merteuil in LES LIAISON DANGEREUSES. Linney’s rather icy looks got even icier as she said, “Really? Well, I hope my performances weren’t the same. They are different characters, you know,” before walking away. Ouch! And I’d only come to praise, not bury. Remember what the great Pauline Kael once said about how even the mention of a box office failure (in her cited case, Agnes Moorehead’s brilliant performance in Orson Welles’ THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS) is considered bad taste in Hollwyood?
Mention must be made of Brangelina, of course. He probably gives his best performance as Benjamin Button, but that doesn’t mean you need to see it. If torturously complex and extremely expensive CGI effects are what floats your barge, by all means rush. But, if an intelligent story and recognizable human beings are necessary to compel your interest, be warned. I sat through this 3-hour opus, waiting to be really moved but constantly thinking, “These cornball homilies about life’s unexpectedness sure seem very ‘Forrest Gump'” [a film I’ve scrupulously managed to avoid all my life.]
Damn Hollywood! They got me in the end, after all, because of course this literally retarded fairy tale was writ by the same man, Eric “Stop the madness now!” Roth. Maybe by now you can tell that although a geek in many ways, perhaps, I sometimes commit that cardinal sin of going into a film happily unaware of anything about it, and hoping to be ravishingly suprised.
Okay, Cate Blanchett is supposed to look young. Young, yes, not glaceed! And then she turned into corduroy in that Nawlins hospital bed. (And how relieved were most actresses at the Globs this year that she was not nominated and in attendance, to show them all how to definitively do glamour? She once told director Jim Jarmusch that however tiresome it may be when friends and family tell her about her tabloid spottings, she can’t help asking, “What was I wearing?”)
Tilda Swinton provided BUTTON’s only true charm, unstressed and lovely: the best I’ve seen her, and deliciously period.
The humor was, for the most part, condescendingly cornpone, and I felt just beaten down by all those iterations of that man being struck by lightning, how many damned times was it?
So, from reel to real life, La Jolie just fascinates me, as indeed she does the world. For all her physical perfection, she’s really not that much of an actress – the monotony of her distraught roles in both A MIGHTY HEART and the abysmal, ham-handed CHANGELING (that 1920s story with lines like “That’s very bad for the child’s self-esteem”) proved that. She displayed an intriguing edginess in GIA and GIRL, INTERRUPTED but not much more since. Maybe wicked comedy’s more her forte: she was nastily effective in bits of MR. AND MRS. SMITH and certainly was hilarious – however unintentionally – in ALEXANDER and ORIGINAL SIN, a guilty pleasure camporama to rival anything Pia Zadora ever did. Those last two films really define the glib public perception of Jolie as a rapacious, supernatural maneater, which is hilariously caricatured in the Brit Channel 4 TV series, STAR STORIES, which I urge everyone in need of a good laugh to check out immediately. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_KAQvQo_LDk)
But what a movie star! There hasn’t been a female nova with such confident audacity since Dietrich. Even Elizabeth Taylor, whom Jolie was made to tabloid resemble, stealing Brad’s Eddie Fisher from Jennifer Aniston’s Debbie Reynolds, even Liz, for all her amours and acquisitveness, like Monroe, copped the victim role more often than not. (Her quavery 1960 Oscar acceptance speech in which she effectively shed the Scarlet A on her chest through a tracheotomy scar on her throat, uncovered for once by any man’s bling, was pure genius.)
No, from scrawling first husband Johnny Lee Miller’s name in her own blood on the shirt she wore to her wedding (did the current teen rage for tattoos and cutting all really begin with her?) to all that red carpet madness with Billy Bob Thornton (remember, he was previously with Laura Dern, who managed to get a nice little Glob for herself last night, and also take over the missing Jennifer Aniston’s little-dark-cloud-for-you-Angelina-spot for herself in the room) to those insanely calculated magazine covers, Jolie has flaunted her outrageousness like Marlene once did her bisexuality and bespoke tailoring. Who could not love it when a pre-Brad Jolie admitted to having myriad affairs, like any man, and how great it would be to have a lover in every city to tryst with?
I love the shtick she pulls at these industry events, like it’s high school and she’s the Goth beauty disconcertingly with the jock-ish BMOC, who wraps those endless limbs around his broad shoulders and poutingly looks about, as if to say, “What is everyone bothering us for? Why??” There were all those shots of her during the night with slight bed hair, from all that ostentatious table nuzzling, and, finally, teasingly, that brief clip of them kissing: “Oh, throw everyone a crumb!” (i.e., “We’ve ignored them, so they’ve stopped looking at us – do something!”).
(There was that friend of another naughty couple of yore, Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier, for whom those two would put on such a love-fest that he admitted to having “an erection even as I rang the doorbell.”)
And didn’t under-the-radar (especially since those home movies) Colin Farrell look surprisingly good? That was some nice clean-up and a testament to the really preservative qualities of hooch for anyone under 35.
Is it just me? I cannot buy the reverence which always surrounds those climactic Biggest Award presentations by that Eminence of the Industry, Tom Cruise. Since when did he become Gary Cooper, James Stewart, Charlton Heston, Sidney Poitier and Audrey Hepburn all rolled into one? When did this begin, around BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY? ‘Cause he played a cripple? To me, he’ll always be a lucky, if very ambitious, now aging- juvenile who made some blockbusters, with a tabloid life none of those old guys ever dreamed of. It’s enough to make you fantasize, say, the year 2038, and there he’ll be at the end of the show, maybe distinguee and grey by then, but more agelessly fit than Kirk Douglas and Jack Palance in their wildest dreams, with his maybe ninth younger, taller wife applauding him offstage, still flashing those huge white choppers, which will undoubtedly be even huger and whiter, in that frat boy grin which has always seemed to me to be the absolute height of