Tuesday, January 31, 2006

My memory of Coretta Scott King.

My mother just confirmed for me on the phone that I met Coretta Scott King when I was 5, and she attended a function on the lawn at the Atlanta Boy Choir House. I was the littlest kid in the group, and she went down the line of the group with an Italian dignitary, meeting all of us. When Mrs. King got to me, I remember that she said I was cute and kneeled down to talk to me. I had only a vague memory of that, for I thought she was royalty. I remember that I kept asking why they were calling her a "king."

Mom told me that I was wearing an Oxford shirt, a blue blazer and grey slacks when I met her. Mom said I looked adorable.

I remember that Mrs. King was really nice, that she smiled at me and crouched down to talk to me, I think.

Even though she was elderly and passed in her sleep, this morning's news made me sad.


Best Supporting Actress:
Amy Adams – JUNEBUG
Catherine Keener – CAPOTE
Frances McDormand – NORTH COUNTRY
Michelle Williams – BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN

Best Supporting Actor:
George Clooney – SYRIANA
Matt Dillon – CRASH
Paul Giamatti – CINDERELLA MAN

Best Original Screenplay:

Best Adapted Screenplay:

Best Animated Feature:

Best Director:
Paul Haggis - CRASH
Bennett Miller – CAPOTE
Steven Spielberg – MUNICH

Best Actress:
Felicity Huffman – TRANSAMERICA
Charlize Theron – NORTH COUNTRY
Reese Witherspoon – WALK THE LINE

Best Actor:
Philip Seymour Hoffman – CAPOTE
Terrence Howard – HUSTLE AND FLOW
Joaquin Phoenix – WALK THE LINE
David Strathairn – GOOD NIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK

Best Picture:

Monday, January 30, 2006

The other guy who played Bo Brady.

I work at the bookstore with a woman named Jo. Someone told me Jo's son used to be on DAYS OF OUR LIVES. I thought maybe he was a bit player or something, so I asked her what her son's name was.

Her son was friggin' Robert Kelker-Kelly, the guy who played Bo Brady during the Bo & Carly and Bo & Billie years. Beyond that, he played two different characters on ANOTHER WORLD, one named Sam Fowler and another named Bobby Reno - who, it turned out, was suffering from amnesia and was really named Shane Roberts. He also played Stavros Cassadine on GENERAL HOSPITAL, a back-from-the-dead nemesis of Luke and Laura who awoke from a cryogenic sleep to stalk them, but the show got rid of his character by throwing him down a bottomless pit to fall for all eternity.

Apparently, after that, Robert Kelker-Kelly left soaps to become a commercial airline pilot. I asked Jo if he gets recognized a lot, but she told me that she didn't know. She said she'd pass along to him that I was a fan.

Here's a photo of him with Lisa Rinna, then of DAYS and now of VERONICA MARS and DANCING WITH THE STARS.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Things to do at the movies, on DVD and on TV all at once.

- Director Steven Soderbergh's new, experimental drama BUBBLE opens at the Landmark this weekend. Oh, and it's playing on some OnDemand networks this weekend. Oh, and on Tuesday, BUBBLE is coming out on DVD. So don't act like you won't have an opportunity to watch it, for this quirky independent film is making an attempt to be everywhere for everyone all at once. The movie features a tragic love triangle set in the middle of an Ohio doll factory, and it was cast using actual people, not professional actors, and shot using digital video. Soderbergh's capable of making great movies that vary in scope and topic, from OUT OF SIGHT and ERIN BROCKOVICH to TRAFFIC and OCEAN'S ELEVEN. But BUBBLE marks a real departure from the norm, from the way it's been made to the way it's being released. Spend two hours at the movies, or put BUBBLE in your Netflix queue. Try something a little different, a movie that's probably a little strange. I usually find those sorts of experiences kinda rewarding.

- When was the last time Emma Thompson was in a movie? I guess it was HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE, prior to this weekend's new release NANNY MCPHEE, but it just feels like it's been a really long time since Thompson was front-and-center as the lead of a film. I mean, LOVE ACTUALLY didn't really have a lead, and it felt like she was on the sidelines for most of HBO's ANGELS IN AMERICA. NANNY MCPHEE looks a little annoying, like a MARY POPPINS that's trying too hard to be dark, and it has the one thing that, according to Lupo, dooms a film: the shot of an animal having a funny reaction to something. In NANNY MCPHEE, there's a donkey in drag. Still, the cast is good, and Thompson wrote the film, which is usually a good sign. But is this what Thompson's been reduced to playing? She's still an attractive, talented woman, damn it.
- One of my co-workers at the bookstore says that the cool, new book that everyone will be reading is called UTTERLY MONKEY by Nick Laird. It looks to me like some sort of SNATCH-esque British caper novel, but my co-worker told me that she read UTTERLY MONKEY in a couple days and that it was hilarious. So, bam, you have your recommended book of the week.

- LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE, one of the few films I've heard any buzz about from this week's Sundance Film Festival, stars Steve Carell and the magnificent Toni Collette as wannabe pageant parents. People apparently gave the film a standing ovation when it played. Of course, Collette's last released film, the terrific, underrated IN HER SHOES with Cameron Diaz and Shirley MacLaine, hits DVD on Tuesday, and it's definitely worth a look. Or you could check out Toni Collette in ABOUT A BOY or MURIEL'S WEDDING. She's actually good in most everything, even the otherwise horrible CONNIE AND CARLA.
- A confession that may surprise movie buffs: I've never seen Kubrick's THE SHINING. Telling some people that, they reply to me, "How can you consider yourself a movie fan at all?," but there are lots of movies I just haven't seen yet. I've spent some of this week trying to make a list of important films to see, and it just keeps getting longer and longer. THIS WEEK'S QUESTION: What's a must-see movie, must-read book or must-hear album that you've not yet experienced? Any classics you've missed?

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Apparently, Sesame Street runs through a trailer park.

Vic just sent me this e-mail:

I just wanted to share an inspirational story I
recently overheard about a new way to get children
excited about learning.

A woman was telling a co-worker about teaching her
young son the difference between up and down. The
child and his father were sitting at the table when
the father noticed a roach on the ceiling. Seizing the
opportunity for the educational advancement of his
child, the father pointed out the roach to the child
and explained that it was "up." The father then stood
up and knocked the roach to the floor, explaining to
the child that it was now "down."

See, learning doesn't just have to take place in
school. Opportunities are all around us. Just remember
to squash them when you're done.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

If loving you is wrong, I don't wanna be right.

Last night, Shalewa caught me making fun of the wretched new Il Divo CD, saying that their Italian aria version of Mariah Carey's "Hero" was stunning garbage. I said I couldn't fathom anyone who would tolerate that song at all, let alone that version of it. I also made fun of the fact that Il Divo, essentially a manufactured opera boy band, wheeled out the corpse of Celine Dion for another painful duet. Then, I mocked their opera version of "All By Myself," which credits both Tchiakovsky and Eric Carmen as its songwriters.

"Man, you know some people love that crap," she said. And I thought to myself that I - having higher standards of taste - would never fall into that trap.

Then, I was reminded of the truth.

I just got an e-mail alerting me to a Michael Bublé concert at the Fox in March. And I know it's stupid, but I think he's completely dreamy. I own both of his albums.

I immediately e-mailed my mom to see if she'd get us tickets, but she said she'd never heard of him. I told her that he sings smooth jazz and that she would love it, but she wasn't taking the bait. Alas, I must love him from afar.

Kacoon, making fun of him, calls him "Michael Bubble," but I don't care if his music is complete cheese. I love him, particularly when he's wearing tight shirts and lotsa hair gel, and I like his voice, even though I cringed when his own website referred to its tone as "dark velvet."

I admitted my love to Lupo, who then googled Michael Bublé and found photos of him.

Then, Lupo wrote me this e-mail:

I just went to his site. He is yummier than I recalled. He looks like he's going to burst out crying at any moment so that you want to reach out and give him a hug and grab his ass while you're doing it.

I was blind but now I see....

Shame about his singing, though. I can stand like one or two songs but a whole evening of it would make me crazy.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Things to do with "kinda Buddhist showtunes."

- My green-haired, twentysomething, film student bookstore co-worker Liz mentioned last night that, because of a recommendation from a friend of a friend, she was going to see "some sort of Buddhist showtunes" 8 p.m. tonight at Eyedrum, which specializes in performance art and experimental theater. When she mentioned this, I said to her, "Oh, my friend Andy Ditzler's on the board of Eyedrum. Usually he alerts me to stuff going on there." Of course, that was before I made the connection that the "Buddhist showtunes" concert Liz was talking about was actually my friend Andy's concert and CD release party. Andy's new album SONGS FROM YES AND NO, which he's been developing from a one-man show that I saw at Clayton State back in 2002, has already gotten good notices in the AJC and Creative Loafing, and, beyond that, Andy's cute, smart, talented, well-read, soft-spoken, calm, interesting, hosts great parties and can talk extensively about experimental film. I kinda love him, even though he thinks I'm nuts. So I suggest you head to Eyedrum tonight and see his show. And buy the CD.

- TRANSAMERICA, which is apparently just a pretty good movie with a really good performance in it, opens today at Garden Hills, the cinema across the street from my bookstore. Felicity Huffman, who won a Golden Globe for her work in the movie earlier this week, stars as Bree, a pre-op male-to-female transsexual who discovers a week before her operation that, back when she was known as "Stanley," she fathered a son. Now, the son needs bailed out of jail, and Bree is coaxed into helping him. I love Felicity Huffman. I love her in DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES, where lately she's been the primary actress to watch. I loved her in SPORTS NIGHT. She'll probably get an Oscar nomination for TRANSAMERICA when they're announced January 31.

- Woody Allen's MATCH POINT also arrives in town this week, playing at the Landmark, and it's been generating some Oscar buzz as well. Jonathan Rhys Meyers has gotten some good notices for playing the lead. Scarlett Johansson, who didn't get a nomination for LOST IN TRANSLATION years ago, stands a chance at one here. Every year, I try and act like guessing the Oscar nominations isn't fun for me, and, every year, I attempt it anyway.

- The Masterpiece Theatre production of BLEAK HOUSE, based upon the Charles Dickens novel, begins airing Sunday night on PBS. It was adapted for television by Andrew Davies, the same guy who did the Colin Firth version of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, and stars THE X-FILES' Gillian Anderson as a mysterious character named Lady Dedlock. The reviews, of course, have been excellent. I'll probably wait to catch the show on DVD when it's released, but I've always found Anderson to be an intriguing actress partly because she picks such random, prestigious projects. I mean, in the middle of doing THE X-FILES, Anderson chose to do a feature film version of Edith Wharton's novel THE HOUSE OF MIRTH, and she played a troubled, alcoholic mother in the little-seen film THE MIGHTY. Now, she's got this Andrew Davies miniseries while David Duchovny makes drivel like HOUSE OF D and CONNIE AND CARLA. This is a woman who likes smart challenges and takes chances, someone who could've become a 'celebrity' but chose to stay an 'actress.' And that's gutsy.

- The Center for Puppetry Arts opened the latest show in its New Directions series on Wednesday. The work by puppeteer Bobby Box is called ANNE FRANK: WITHIN & WITHOUT, and it dramatizes both the situation Anne Frank faced while living in seclusion from the Nazis in Amsterdam and how she used her diary, her optimism, her daydreams and her imagination to escape the horror and tedium that became her day-to-day life. The show features puppets to represent both the girl Anne was and the grown woman that she never became. The show's angle on the story sounds ambitious, original and interesting, and I'm very, very interested in seeing how this show turned out. The Center's had terrific shows this year, and this show sounds risky and daring. (An aside: My friend Kim e-mailed me this week to thank me for recommending the Center for Puppetry Arts to her. She went with her niece to one of the children's shows, then apparently got to build her own puppet. She said it was great.)
- Oprah's latest pick is NIGHT, the Holocaust memoir by Elie Wiesel. I haven't read it, though I know that every high school sophomore probably has been assigned it for the last decade.
- Yesterday was awful, awful, awful for me. It wasn't so much because of anything that anyone did to me. I mean, there were outside influences, but I reacted to them all negatively and basically ruined my entire day with unnecessary anxiety and stress. That was my fault. I let my thoughts go ridiculously crazy, I overanalyzed everything and turned my whole workday into a worst-case scenario. Then, last night, a customer told me that U2's Bono had made him aware of his own role in the world and helped him discover that he can change the world for the better. I don't know if I'm capable of Bono's optimism, but perhaps I would help myself if I tried. Someone once said to me that the most realistic way to look at life wasn't always the most pessimistic view, that it wasn't helpful to be perpetually jaded. Of course, it's hard to do. THIS WEEK'S QUESTION: Are you more "glass half-full" or "glass half-empty"? And do you really think it's possible to change your world for the better? Is an optimistic perspective ever realistic?

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Ripple effect.

Frank Ciccone, a really nice guy in my writing class who sends me these long critiques, wrote and distributed to my entire class last night a literary criticism essay analyzing the layers of meaning in ... the essay I gave them all the week before. This move, which I discovered earlier today since I was not in class, is very flattering.

I will now excise movie-ad blurbs from Frank's essay, titled "Ben's Essay," about my essay, "The Last Worthless Evening."

* "One of the most talented writers in our class ... "
* "His style is compact and clean, his humor infectious and immediately obvious, but, most of all, he has an uncanny ability to take mundane experiences and hit universal themes."
* "Every time I reread one of his essays, I seem to see a different layer within the structure of a simple story."

Frank actually goes further in his own essay with themes that he got from mine, which I found impressive. (I mean, he mentioned monks and Jesuits, which weren't in my original piece about Longhorn Steakhouse.)

Still, it was very flattering to read what he'd done. In a way, he made me prouder of my own work.

Anyway, Lupo, upon reading those blurbs, wanted to add one of his own.

"Benjamin's modesty is by far his greatest attribute, even more than his emotionally honest, engrossing writing and his preternatural gift for Wildean bon mots. Why look, he doesn't even use his own name on his hilarious yet touching blog!"

Friday, January 13, 2006

My mood today.

Earlier, my co-worker Terri was all frustrated, for no one seemed to understand her on the phone. So she yelled out to all of us, "Am I speaking in another language? French? Spanish?? Somebody tell me!!!"

And I replied, "I don't understand what you're saying."

Then later, she asked aloud to the group, "Has anyone ever eaten at Nothing But Noodles?"

And I asked, "What do they serve there?"

Both times, I think she wanted to punch me.

Things to do that would be loverly.

- This week, I took three nights to watch my new DVD copy of MY FAIR LADY, which allowed me to contemplate it in pieces and basque more easily in the fun of the whole thing. Last night, I finished the movie and then indulged in the second disc of special features, which were surprising. The best special feature may have been scenes from the movie rescored with Audrey Hepburn's actual singing tracks. (In the movie, her singing is done by Marni Nixon, who also provided ghost vocals for Natalie Wood in WEST SIDE STORY and Deborah Kerr in THE KING AND I.) To me, Hepburn's voice sounded a little too scratchy and unpolished, even though Hepburn reportedly practiced heavily and wanted to sing, and I'm glad they didn't use her versions. Another special feature shows an interviewer trying to badger Hepburn and Rex Harrison, both European, into badmouthing their own countries and their past films. The movie's still great, and the features were surprising. All in all, the DVD rocked.
- My friend Black told me this week that he'd purchased a really good book, and I asked him what it was. Then, he told me that he'd read 40 pages of it and really liked it thus far, and I asked him again what it was. Then, he told me that it featured seven interconnected stories, and the actions of one story fuel another. The entire book follows this chain reaction, starting with a story of two people involving something small and leading to something disastrous. He told me the book was called SEVEN TYPES OF AMBIGUITY by Elliot Perlman, and that's when I told him that I'd bought that book, too, but hadn't started it yet. Of course, Black's recommendation to me then caused me to pick the book up again, starting a chain reaction ...

- TRISTAN & ISOLDE hits theaters this weekend, and it looks pretty but overwrought. But the reviews have been awful. Of course, the film is made by Kevin Reynolds, the director of ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES and WATERWORLD, so it may very well be a disaster. But all the ads show James Franco with no shirt on, having sex with a woman by candlelight. For some reason, that makes me curious about it. Of course, the James Franco shirtless factor will probably lure me to ANNAPOLIS, as well, when it's released, and I'm not sure why. If only FREAKS AND GEEKS were still on the air, then I would be able to indulge in James Franco love without shame.
- GILEAD, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel from Marilynne Robinson, came out in paperback this week. It's the story of this old, dying minister who's writing a letter to the infant son that he'll never see grow up, telling him about his life. It was Robinson's first fiction book in over 20 years, and friends who read it told me it was a masterpiece.

- Speaking of masterpieces, a new translation of Leo Tolstoy's epic WAR AND PEACE, noted as the greatest novel ever written, is generating some buzz and "controversy" in book circles. I'm not entirely sure what the controversy regards, but something tells me that this new translation might bring a lot of new readers to WAR AND PEACE, which I've not read. Since a new translation of Tolstoy's ANNA KARENINA a couple years ago garnered Oprah's attention and put it on the bestseller lists, maybe it's time we all turned our attention to WAR AND PEACE. I mean, it's just a book, right? It shouldn't be that intimidating. There's got to be something about it that's worth reading. I mean, it's a classic for a reason, right? I've never been able to tackle Russian literature, and I think it reveals a flaw in my character that I should fix. There are too many "important" books I should've read already.

- Anyway, Queen Latifah's new movie LAST HOLIDAY looks light, fun and sweet. It probably has the cinematic merit of junk food, even though it's directed by Wayne Wang, of all people. I usually like Latifah even when her movies aren't very good, so I may see this fluff over the weekend if I feel like doing something mindless. Of course, it's about a woman who's afraid to take any risks until she finds out that she only has a limited time left to live and decides to do everything she's ever dreamed. Meanwhile, I could use the hours I spend on this movie to, um, start the Great American Novel or attempt another short story or clean my apartment or do something more substantial with my life, but, hey, I'm so much better at wasting my time ... Hey, that puts a question in mind, reminiscent of that Tim McGraw song. THIS WEEK'S QUESTION: What would you do with your life right now if you found out that you only had six months to live? What would you do if you weren't afraid of the risks?

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

In the off-season.

Even though that Sugar Bowl debacle never even happened, according to some friends, my alma mater's football season has ended for the year. Kyle, a good, eloquent friend from college who is the biggest, smartest Bulldogs fan I know and a brother in my literary society, still devotes an entire blog to the sport. This week, he happened upon my blog and noticed that I didn't link him proper, so, in the middle of some post that evoked Mark Richt, Jessica Simpson, Burt Reynolds, former and current Supreme Court justices Samuel Alito, Sandra Day O'Connor, Antonin Scalia and my friend Doug, Kyle mentioned openly that there was no godly reason why his football blog shouldn't have a link here. He was right.

To his credit, Kyle on Football is a very good blog, one that shall be linked here henceforth. Kyle himself, coincidentally, is a very good man.

Our friend Black, also in the literary society, alerted me to the mention yesterday. And then Black offered me good money to call Kyle gay, even though Kyle is a happily married heterosexual man with a growing son. In fact, Black told me to call Kyle the gayest man I know. (The fact that the gayest man I actually know is Black, who is 32 and perpetually unmarried, apparently makes no difference, but oh well ...)

So, Black, I said it. Send me my money now.

Another reason to like Kyle, by the way, is that he once wrote this detailed, eloquent argument about why the Care Bears would not be easily defeated in a battle to the death with Ewoks.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

There's a party in the next room.

I have retreated the party to blog for some reason. Maybe it's because it's a lot of the same people from last week's party, and I was greeted at the door with an offer of scotch from the man who picked me up off that kitchen floor last week. I'm in the apartment where I got sick. I've had two cups of pink lemonade, and, even though it's a friend's birthday, I feel like going home and watching MY FAIR LADY. I feel fine tonight. I look cute. I just am unsure over whether I want to be "on" and chat up new people. I want to go home and listen to music. I want to go home and write.

Some people I badmouthed on New Year's while issuing my declarations from the kitchen floor are looking at me funny tonight. I don't blame them.

I look good tonight, but I feel like crawling into a hole. Or I feel like only talking to the people I already know.

I forgot that this party was even going on until a couple hours ago.

I want to go home.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Things to do with kinky torture devices.

- No, this is not a photo of me on my friend's bathroom floor after midnight on New Year's. HOSTEL, the new film from horror director Eli Roth, hits theaters today, in the midst of about a dozen Oscar contenders that I've already seen. Roth's last movie, CABIN FEVER, started out as a really, really good movie about young campers getting a flesh-eating virus, but then it devolved into this ridiculously bad redneck comedy that didn't appear to know how to end. I'm not sure HOSTEL will be better, but my remaining choices at the theater are now this, WOLF CREEK and CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN 2. And since Tom Welling doesn't strip down naked and dance in CHEAPER, I'm not seeing it. I figure it's probably better to see a movie about torture than to see a movie that actually is torture.

- I bought Death Cab for Cutie's album PLANS on Thursday, and I've not been able to get past this one song on it since I opened the CD case. "Soul Meets Body," for some reason, has become my favorite new song to play while driving. I don't know about the rest of the album, but that song is really catchy.
- Of the books mentioned in USA Today's "New Year, New Fiction" reviews yesterday, the most interesting, entertaining one sounded like A TAXONOMY OF BARNACLES by a woman named Galt Niederhoffer. The premise sounded sharp, funny and a little bit cruel. An eccentric, rich father raises six bright, wholly individual daughters in a quirky Upper East Side apartment. When the youngest reaches 10 and the oldest is 29, the father - with a taste for Darwinist experimentation - announces to his girls that he's going to prove "nature versus nurture" once and for all. He then tells them he'll leave his entire fortune to one of them, the one who finds a way to best make the Barnacle family name live forever. So it's like a modern Jane Austen novel, except all the daughters are competing against one another for their father's love, approval and money.

- My store manager Chuck fell in love with this CD by big-voiced soul singer Bettye LaVette called I'VE GOT MY OWN HELL TO RAISE, where she makes tunes from the '90s Lilith Fair-woman-singer-songwriter era entirely her own. (The album title comes from a Fiona Apple song.) LaVette's playing a jazz lounge show here at the Five Spot on Jan. 27, and the premise of the new album is too cool to pass up.

- Winston and Roger, two guys at my store, have announced to me that they hate my Top Ten Films of 2005 list and think I'm a snotty bitch because they don't believe that any six-hour Italian movie could be better than STAR WARS: EPISODE III - REVENGE OF THE SITH. Winston said that to suggest that any movie other than STAR WARS was the best was blasphemy. He actually used the word "blasphemy." I said SERENITY was more fun than STAR WARS, and Winston scoffed. When I attempted to disprove them by re-enacting the scene where Padme brushes her hair on that Coruscant balcony, Winston said to me, and I hope I'm getting this quote right, "I don't fucking care. It's fucking STAR WARS! It's a goddamn cultural milestone. George Lucas could've filmed a scene of himself taking a dump somewhere while reading a Playboy, included it in the movie, and it still would've been the best! It's fucking STAR WARS!!!" His rebuttal was so impassioned, I had to mention it. (Besides, the EPISODE III moment when George Lucas actually takes a dump is the moment JarJar Binks appears on the screen, methinks.)

- My friend Liz's birthday costume party is this weekend, and Liz, the quirky film student, wants everyone to come dressed as a character from either THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS or THE LIFE AQUATIC WITH STEVE ZISSOU. I asked if I could come as a character from my favorite Wes Anderson movie, RUSHMORE, but she said that she'd polled the people coming to her party and that not many of them had actually seen RUSHMORE. And I'm thinking, "What kind of people prefer TENENBAUMS or LIFE AQUATIC to RUSHMORE??? Why haven't people seen RUSHMORE???" I almost asked Liz this, complete with indignation, but then I remember that Liz saw LIFE AQUATIC six times in the theater. Since Liz says I'm not allowed to wear an oversized LaCoste shirt, hold a pack of cigarettes and say I'm Gwyneth Paltrow, I don't think I'm going to dress up. RUSHMORE is way better than TENENBAUMS and LIFE AQUATIC, damn it.
- So, in terms of New Year's resolutions, I think I wanna be hot when I turn 30 in six months. Like as smokin' hot as possible. Of course, barring that, I want to write the Great American Novel. THIS WEEK'S QUESTION: What's your New Year's resolution?

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

I hope this does not foreshadow my year.

Scotch is not my friend. On New Year's, I drank so much of it so quickly, without keeping a real gauge on how much I was drinking or how quickly, that, when midnight hit, I was on the floor of someone's bathroom, begging not to die.

Someone sent me an instant message with too many damn exclamation points and cheery messages of hope, telling me to party like a rock star. I felt like Hendrix.

Yesterday, I finally went on the actual tour of the Margaret Mitchell House, having been an active, constantly visiting member for a year.

In her letters on display, that Peggy Mitchell is damn funny.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

The Top 10 films of 2005.

10. BEE SEASON. On the surface, this looks like it’s a movie about spelling, but that’s about as accurate as calling “Charlie’s Angels” a TV show about law enforcement. BEE SEASON, directed by David Siegel and Scott McGehee, is about how four members of a Jewish family individually attempt to “touch” God and how these actions rip them apart and then bring them together. Richard Gere gives a career-high performance as Saul Naumann, the patriarch of the family. Saul’s a professor of religion who, through studies of mysticism, attempts to reach God through his achievements and, in some ways, his ego. At the film’s opening, he’s so preoccupied with his work that he essentially ignores his family. His wife Miriam (Juliette Binoche) feels disconnected from Saul, and her life contains secrets that she doesn’t let anyone else know. Their son Aaron, played by Max Minghella, tries to seek out God through alternate religions almost as a way to gain his father’s attention. Their 11-year-old daughter Eliza, meanwhile, is a genuine mystic, something that’s discovered when she wins her class spelling bee. Everyone else in her family is trying to discover the truth about God, but, to Eliza, God just is. She feels Him and senses Him in everything around her. When she spells, she sees God in the words and suddenly the letters just appear in her mind. Young actress Flora Cross plays Eliza, and her remarkable performance holds the entire film together. The film addresses big philosophical ideas bravely, making points relatable. It takes concepts of faith and translates them visually. And, aside from all that, the film has a compelling, complicated story that’s filled with twists and surprises. This movie came and went from theaters with very little buzz, which is a shame. It’s one of the most thought-provoking films of the year.

9. MURDERBALL. This is a sports movie, maybe one of the best sports movies I’ve ever seen in my life because it manages to tell a completely original story while following the conventions of the typical “Will our team win the championship?” drama. Because it is a documentary about violent, full-contact indoor rugby between paralyzed men in armored wheelchairs, of course, MURDERBALL had trouble finding much of an audience this summer, despite good reviews, and that is a real shame. While building excitement as the United States team goes up against its bitter Canadian rival for the Paralympics gold medal in Athens, the film also shows us the stories of several team members, telling how they came to be paralyzed and how they deal with their paralysis day-to-day. The stories aren’t always sympathetic, and the whole film isn’t designed to tug at your heartstrings. Instead, you get frank, occasionally hilarious stories from the guys about sex, women, alcohol, bar fights, tattoos and a love for the sport. Beyond that, the film also addresses how a man with no hands can hold a slice of pizza. The film even has great characters, giving us heroes like USA team captain Mark Zupan and a villain named Joe Soares, a former member of the USA team who now coaches the evil Canadians and ignores his own awkward, adolescent son. Given the oddness of the film’s topic, a lot of people may be reluctant to try this movie, but this documentary was the most brazenly fun film I saw all year.

8. CAPOTE. Philip Seymour Hoffman’s performance as Truman Capote in this film is amazing, but the film itself is just as interesting. Its story focuses on Capote from when he first learns of the Clutter murders to the publication of his book about them and their killers , IN COLD BLOOD. It shows him constantly at odds with himself, negotiating morally over how to deal with the real people involved in the crime. For the book to be good, Capote knows that he has to get close to everyone involved. Thus, he tries to balance a personal relationship with the killers, particularly Perry Smith, while also hoping the state will execute them so that his book has a true ending. Capote essentially drives himself mad trying to compromise being an impartial journalist and a sympathetic human being, but watching his descent is fascinating. As he continues writing IN COLD BLOOD, the movie shows us a contrast to his struggle, the rise in fame of Capote’s childhood friend Harper Lee, played sharply by Catherine Keener. At times, the film is funny, uncompromisingly dark and always fascinating.

7. THE CONSTANT GARDENER. With his sprawling, thoroughly amazing Brazilian gangland history CITY OF GOD, director Fernando Meirelles showed viewers in the U.S. that he knew how to make a damn good movie. With this complicated thriller, Meirelles "went Hollywood," meaning bigger stars and bigger budget, but he didn't abandon his knack for clear storytelling, beautiful visuals and his ability to create a setting that's exotic yet filled with danger. The film, based upon a John Le Carre novel, centers on a stuffy, boring British official working in Kenya named Justin Quayle, played by Ralph Fiennes. At the film's beginning, Quayle's pregnant, activist wife Tessa is killed by a Kenyan roadside, and it's suggested that a friend killed her in a crime of passion. Quayle, suspecting he didn't actually know Tessa at all, goes back over his memories of their lightning-quick courtship and marriage and through all of her things in an attempt to discover who she was and what really happened to her. Rachel Weisz gives her best performance to date as Tessa. Though the murder is key to the plot, the real mystery that Quayle tries to solve is Tessa herself, and Weisz is able to play her in flashbacks as a sometimes tender, sometimes volatile, thoroughly passionate woman whose motives are always suspect. THE CONSTANT GARDENER succeeds at what other films this year, like THE INTERPRETER, tried and failed. The film manages to be suspenseful, romantic and political all at once.

6. JUNEBUG. A “Southern family” movie that actually feels like it’s populated with real people and not zany caricatures with fake accents, JUNEBUG allows you to settle in with its core family, feel their awkwardness as they try to know one another again and watch as they cope through their problems without ever completely addressing that the problems are even there. The movie’s like life in that way, alternating between being funny and sad while always feeling authentic. Though it features a “city couple” coming home to Southern roots, the movie doesn’t pick sides or mock anyone. It finds everyone’s flaws and yet manages to contain a lot of heart. All of the performances in the film are strong, from Celia Weston, Embeth Davidtz and Alessandro Nivola to Benjamin McKenzie of “The O.C.”, for the film has the best cast of the year. But the breakout performance of the year, one that deserves serious awards attention, comes from essentially unknown actress Amy Adams. She infuses her character Ashley, who is really, really pregnant and secretly upset over her marriage, with such spunk, charm and life that she essentially picks up the movie and carries it. She provides the film’s best laughs, its emotional center and the key to its success. JUNEBUG is a charming, heartbreaking movie, one that deserves an audience.

5. PRIDE AND PREJUDICE. Of all the movies on my Top 10 list, this adaptation of Jane Austen's classic was the one I was the most reluctant to include because it's light and airy, it's a story that I've seen done before and because I knew a lot of Austen fans don't like it because it takes liberties with her apparently sacred text. But then I thought about the movie itself and how I felt swept up in it while it played in front of me. This new PRIDE AND PREJUDICE is a thoroughly engaging, lushly romantic time at the movies, presenting us with two brilliant, headstrong characters who are too stubborn to admit that they love each other. In this year of surprisingly strong performances that seem to come out-of-nowhere, Keira Knightley achieves the nearly impossible by making the role of Elizabeth Bennet entirely her own. By minimizing every part of the story that didn't deal directly with Elizabeth, director Joe Wright and screenwriter Deborah Moggach have created a swift, fun adaptation of the work that just keeps building momentum. It's thoroughly charming.

4. A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE. The opening minutes of David Cronenberg's film are horrifying, even though the viewer actually sees very little happen onscreen. Two dangerous looking men exit their hotel room, get into their vintage convertible and then creep in it very, very slowly toward the hotel's main office. One of them gets out of the car, goes inside to settle the account, and we wait with the driver outside the office as he gets anxious and a little panicked. Because we've seen the title and because we know what kind of movie to expect from Cronenberg, the whole scene carries an undercurrent of dread. We just wait for the moment of shock, the moment of blood, and Cronenberg relishes in the wait. The opening scene is indicative of the entire film. It builds up long moments of calm so well that viewers are on edge, waiting for the explosion. Everything about main character Tom Stall's life, even his family name, seems to suggest inertia and peace. He has a cozy, happy family. He runs a friendly hometown diner. When a moment of violence interrupts all that, though, Stall's entire history comes into doubt, and the film takes shape as a really bloody, adult drama. Even though the film has thrills, it's about the secret of Tom Stall and how his family comes to cope with that. Though the setting is intentionally idyllic, Viggo Mortensen and Maria Bello invest their scenes of marriage with depth and meaning, showing how a real couple might cope with such startling change. The film, actually based on a graphic novel, also features magnificent turns from Ed Harris and William Hurt as colorful villains.

3. BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN. Yes, Ang Lee's love story is a great movie. It's a heartbreaking, visually stunning Western. It's really well acted, particularly by Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal and Michelle Williams, brilliantly written, original and incredibly moving. Most critics have acknowledged this. But what makes BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN such a revelation is because it's a gay movie. That's what makes the film important. That's where it breaks new ground. That's why it matters. A friend of mine says that the only reason the film is generating so much buzz is because it's gay, that if it were a straight Western romance it wouldn't garner attention. I told him he was right, but I told him it was because his "straight Western romance" had already been made. Many people have commented that the film's theme is universal, applicable to all audiences. Sheep herders Jack and Ennis find themselves in love in 1963 and don't have a context with which to deal with those feelings. Those who speak of a "universal theme" say that BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN is about a romance that its lovers cannot deny yet cannot make work. This is all true, but I think it's unfair to the movie to say that it's really about "everyone." I am a gay man, and I couldn't divorce myself from that while watching this movie. Part of the reason I liked it is because I felt, while it was happening, like it belonged to me and spoke for me as a homosexual. I felt its impact, its originality. I wanted to nurture it and tell other people about it. I wanted to learn from it, and I wanted others to see it and learn. It's a story that I've been waiting for, even though I didn't know it. The documentary THE CELLULOID CLOSET, released several years ago, showed us Hollywood's history of how it subtly hid yet depicted homosexuality. If gay people wanted to see gay stories, they had to go into straight movies and "decode" the hidden gay themes. With BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, gay people are, for once, not the ones who have to dig in order to relate to the film's "universal" message. This is our movie, and it's a great one, a cause for celebration.

2. OLDBOY. A drunken loser of a man named Oh Dae-Su is abducted without warning in the opening moments of this Korean thriller and imprisoned by unknown captors in a sealed apartment for 15 years. His captors feed him, provide him with television and occasionally drug him. Then, they let him watch news footage of his wife’s murder and let him learn that he’s the chief suspect because authorities don’t know where he is and no one’s seen him. His captors are so thorough with their punishment that they even cure him each time Oh Dae-Su, driven mad without human contact, attempts suicide. Oh Dae-Su’s captors provide everything for him to remain alive – except they never let him know why he’s being punished. Revenge becomes his singular focus and motivation. Oh Dae-Su makes a list of his enemies, trying to figure out what he’s done to deserve this fate, and his list is long. Oh Dae-Su vows that, if he ever manages to break out of his prison, he will kill the ones who essentially robbed him of his life. Then, one day without warning, his captors release him. With vengeance as his sole focus, Oh Dae-Su, armed with a hammer and with the fighting skills he learned from watching television, seeks out who imprisoned him. More importantly, he wants to know why. And with that, OLDBOY sets up its creepy, violent, twisted revenge plot, which is filled with more jaw-dropping moments than anything else I saw this year. By the time Oh Dae-Su has his answers in OLDBOY, viewers should be both satisfied and stunned.

1. THE BEST OF YOUTH. This Italian film is a masterpiece, one of the greatest works I’ve ever seen in my life. I’m glad I invested myself in the film when it was played in two parts at a local theater this summer. Director Marco Tullio Giordana’s epic is six hours long, but attending the film was an incredibly moving and special experience. It’s the story of two very different brothers, Nicola and Matteo, and how their family coped with the last 40 years of social, personal and political upheaval in Italy. The lead actors, Luigi Lo Cascio and Alessio Boni, each give powerful and believeable performances as their characters mature over 40 years. The scope of this film’s story is gigantic, filled with fascinating, well-defined characters, and it never steps wrong. It has marvelous actors, a great script and beautiful cinematography. Most of my favorite movies this year featured some big quest or journey, an attempt to discover something new or find a way to grow, and THE BEST OF YOUTH featured the grandest journeys, the most interesting people, the most beautiful sites, the deepest tragedies and the most fulfilling discoveries. The act of going to the theater to see it – making two trips in two weeks - became an endeavor, and the movie rewards those who invest their time in it. This is 2005's best film.