2003 Milk Plus Droogies

Best Picture
Kill Bill Vol. I

Best Director
Quentin Tarantino, Kill Bill Vol. I

Best Actor (tie)
Johnny Depp, Pirates of the Caribbean

Best Actor (tie)
Bill Murray, Lost in Translation

Best Actress
Uma Thurman, Kill Bill Vol. I

Best Supporting Actor
David Hyde Pierce, Down With Love

Best Supporting Actress
Miranda Richardson, Spider

Best Screenplay
Sofia Coppola, Lost in Translation

Best Foreign Film

Best Cinematography
Harris Savides, Gerry

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McBain Recommends
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Top 20 List
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Top 20 List
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-Before Sunset
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The Blog:
Sunday, March 02, 2003
boring, a. dull, humdrum, flat, banal, routine, lifeless, wearying, The Hours.

Why do I subject myself to these things. Well today, it was basically because I was bored, and it was only $3; I would consider even that a waste of my time, if it wasn’t for the fact that the theater I went to serves tasty cheeseburgers and fries for under $4. But I digress. Oscar season is upon us, and the White Elephant has again, as expected, reared it’s ugly head (scratch that, ugly could be interesting), this time in the guise of Stephen Daldry’s The Hours. Stephen Daldry, the director of Billy Elliot, what the hell was I thinking? Well, it does have one impressive cast: Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman (and her, for some reason, now notorious, prosthetic nose), Julianne Moore, Ed Harris, John C. Reilly, Jeff Daniels, Allison Janney, Claire Danes, and Toni Collette. Keith Phipps, in his The Onion review, rightly said this film had one of the most impressive ensemble’s since Magnolia. He also rightly called this film “arid.” (I’m intrigued by his comments, referring to Pedro Almovadar’s desire to adapt this book, and I have to say I agree with his assessment 100%) I’m basically struggling to find an upside to this film, and the only thing I can really think of is that I’m left with a vague desire to actually go to the library and read Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway.

Mrs. Dalloway is the structuring element of the film: Kidman’s Woolf writes it, Moore’s suburban housewife reads it, and Streep’s Manhattanite editor basically lives it; this three-way schematic also applies to the three plot strands: Kidman’s Woolf knows what she wants, but is forbidden to have it, Moore’s character doesn’t know what she wants or how to get it, even if she did, and Streep’s character has no idea what she wants even though she has ample opportunity to get whatever it is she wants (I guess you could say that these characters are also in three stages of an episode of clinical depression: post-depression, depressed, and just getting depressed). Daldry makes vague attempts to connect these three plots strands via cutting (as well as the screenplay, in what I thought was a laughable turn of events), using juxtaposition and repetition, though I didn’t think they really build to anything that interesting. Phillip Glass’s score didn’t help. I really like his music, and even though I think this is among his lesser works, it’s still among the best things in the movie, even if at times, I was thinking to myself, “wow, that sounds really derivative of his score for Kundun,” which incidentally, is one of my favorite film scores.

But let’s face it, this film is middlebrow Oscar-bait, purveyed and peddled like crack to the Academy by the arch-dealer Harvey Weinstein and his Miramax syndicate. It’s got all the classic traits of White Elephant Art: an A-list cast, filled with noted and well-respected thespians; a literary pedigree, given the prestige of Michael Cunningham’s novel (though after reading a NY Times article about the film and Woolf, there’s plenty of scholars out there who hate both) and that of Woolf and Mrs. Dalloway itself; Big Themes (Life, Death, Love, Happiness) presented in a self-important way, but without being too obscure or overly intellectual; a visual style that may seem arty to people who only go to the movies a couple of times a year, but is really old hat, which includes easy symbolism (my favorite, close-up of dead bird with beak, cut to close-up of morbid Nicole Kidman and prosthetic beak); production design so impeccable and exacting, that you have a hard time believing that anyone is actually living in these supposed eras; and sentimentality. But worst of all was the freakin’ monologues which compose over half the screenplay; you could conceivably cut-up the movie into little pieces and show award show clips for just about every character. I can’t remember how many times I said to myself “Oscar moment, that will look good on the jumbtron at the ceremony.”

By themselves, these traits aren’t necessarily deadly, but taken together, well, I don’t really want to revisit the moment. White Elephant Art, like The Hours is just dull, it’s not art imitating life (we should be so lucky), but art imitating art, which probably wasn’t that good in the first place. These films can have sex without being sexy (uh, I’m a heterosexual male, and The Hours had rampant lesbian subtext, and there was no heat, no passion, nothing), violence without being violence, humor without being funny (the only time I cracked a smile, was when I was reading the credits and the Craft Services credit went to some company named “Cecil B DeMeals”). Don’t even speak of drama, or tension. The only real spark came from Allison Janney and John C. Reilly, both of whom were seldom used in the film. But I basically just sat there waiting for someone to finally kill themselves so the film would conclude; of course, Ed Harris’s character was the sacrificial lamb, helpfully foreshadowed by some dialogue in Woolf’s strand, and then ineptly staged, so that I could see it coming like a train barreling down on my stalled car (didn’t help that Harris was seriously overacting in this instance, giving his impression of what it must be like to take Xanax and Ritalin at the same time; you know, this is the second instance this weekend of me seeing an actor covered with disease make-up, I felt more for the animatronic puppet Rygel in Farscape, now that looked painful). And of course, it ended, and we get climactic meeting, followed by life-affirming scenes, even in the face of madness and death. Oh great.

Favorite Supporting Role of the Night has to go to Richard Lewis on Alias. I’m so used to seeing him in his neurotic loser-comic persona, that I was very surprised as his turn as an oily, counterintelligence bureaucrat; even liked the hair. I hope they use him as a reoccurring character. And the question of the night has to be “Irina Derevko, good or evil?”