Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Top 50 Songs of 2008

Every year, this list keeps on getting bigger and better. I started with 10 in 2006 and worked my way up to 20 last year. This year there were so many fantastic songs that I just had to expand my list to 50 (and even then I couldn't include everything I wanted to!). The reason for this? In 2008, I expanded my taste beyond the crap that was being played on the radio here and, thanks to Glenn at Stale Popcorn and Popjustice, I started listening to music from the U.K. and Australia. Guess what? The music over there is amazing, 100 times better than most of the stuff being played repeatedly over here. I've discovered some pretty amazing artists and they figure heavily into this countdown and my upcoming Albums of the Year post. I hope you enjoy my list and get the opportunity to click on some of the links to discover some fresh new music today.

Runner-Ups: Pussycat Dolls "I Hate This Part"/Mariah Carey "Bye Bye"/Jesse McCartney "Leavin'"/Kanye West "Love Lockdown"

50. Jesse McCartney "It's Over"
49. Jordin Sparks "One Step at a Time"
48. Paula Abdul "Dance Like There's No Tomorrow"
For Paula fans only.
47. Danity Kane featuring Missy Elliott "Bad Girl"
I thought "Damaged" was just a fluke...
46. Santogold "L.E.S. Artistes"
45. Chris Brown/David Archuleta "With You"
I liked the Chris Brown version first, but then Davie Archuleta did his own rendition on American Idol this spring and I fell in love with it even more.
44. Ne-Yo "Closer"
43. Natasha Bedingfield "Pocketful of Sunshine"
42. Flo Rida featuring T-Pain "Low"
Sadly, this was the best rap song of the year. Come back, Missy and Eve; we desperately need you!
41. Gabriella Cilmi "Don't Wanna Go to Bed Now"

40. The Saturdays "If This Is Love"
39. Cyndi Lauper "Into the Nightlife"
38. O.A.R. "Shattered"
37. Britney Spears "Break the Ice"
36. Madonna featuring Justin Timberlake and Timbaland "4 Minutes"
My initial fanaticism has died down a bit (and there were better songs on Hard Candy) but I still think it's fantastic.
35. Sugababes "Girls"
If this is one of Sugababes lesser singles, imagine what they sound like at their best. It's mindblowing!
34. Rihanna "Take a Bow"
The first of three Rihanna songs.
33. The Saturdays "Up"
32. Same Difference "We R One"
Oh, you knew Sean and Sarah were coming...
31. The Killers "Human"
Not quite "Somebody Told Me" but I'll take it.

30. Duffy "Mercy"
29. Beyoncé "Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)"
Crazy music video? Check. Beyoncé in all of her diva glory? Check. Flawless vocals? Check. Then why wasn't I Am...Sasha Fierce as good as this one track?
28. Jennifer Hudson "All Dressed in Love"
27. Kylie Minogue "The One"
26. Janet Jackson "Feedback"
As with Beyoncé, the only decent song on Miss Jackson, if you're Nasty's latest dud album. Where has our 80's queen gone?
25. Delta Goodrem "You Will Only Break My Heart"
24. Britney Spears "Womanizer"
Repetitious as hell, but you are lying if you say this song doesn't get stuck in your head after hearing it just a few times. Bonus points for her comeback music video, which made this already great song that much better.
23. Santogold "Lights Out"
22. Sam Sparro "21st Century Life"
21. Adele "Chasing Pavements"

20. Madonna "Miles Away"
Hypnotic; it's like you're listening in on Madonna's therapy session (and it makes it all the sadder that the song basically came true just months after the album's release).
19. Lady GaGa featuring Colby Odonis "Just Dance"
18. Rihanna "Don't Stop the Music"
17. Leona Lewis "Better in Time"
16. Sam Sparro "Black and Gold"
15. Kylie Minogue "In My Arms"
How does it feel in your arms, Kylie? Fan-fucking-tastic. This may be the one of the finest songs of her long career.
14. Estelle featuring Kanye West "American Boy"
13. Little Jackie "The World Should Revolve Around Me"
A song for divas around the world.
12. Robyn featuring Kleerup "With Every Heartbeat"
11. Miley Cyrus "See You Again"
Is "My best friend Leslie said, 'Oh, she's just being Miley'" the most genius lyric of this year? This decade? I think so.

10. Jennifer Hudson "Spotlight"
Can J. Hud sing every song ever? We all knew she could sing the shit out of ballads, but now she can add mid-tempo dance songs to her resumé. Now, all she needs is an album full of well-written songs like this one and she'll be taking over the world soon enough.
9. Pink "So What"
I love my Pink pissed off and out for revenge. She's my favorite divorcé this year.
8. Sneaky Sound System "Kansas City"
The best hook of the year: "Somebody in Kansas City loves me." The rest of the song is catchy as hell, too.
7. Michelle Williams "We Break the Dawn"
Forget Beyoncé- the former member of Destiny's Child who had the best year was third-wheel Michelle Williams. Not only was her album off the hook (the kids are still saying that, right?) but "We Break the Dawn" rivals some of Beyoncé's best solo work.
6. Duffy "Warwick Avenue"
"Mercy" may have been her breakthrough, but "Warwick Avenue" was the first proof that Duffy may be the finest singer/songwriter of her generation. When she sings, "You think you're loving, but you don't love me" it cuts right through me; I feel like I know exactly what message she's trying to get across through that one lyric.
5. David Archuleta "Crush"
"Crush" is so cheesy and 90's boy band-ish that I'm surprised Same Difference hasn't covered it already and yet little Davie Archuleta sells it like the true pro he is. I feel no shame in admitting that I spent a good portion of the summer listening to this song in my car and singing every word at the top of my lungs.
4. Danity Kane "Damaged"
"Can you fix my H-E-A-R-T, 'cause it's D-A-M-A-G-E-D?" Yes, Danity Kane, you did fix the whole in my heart left by PCD's disappointing seconds album.
3. Girls Aloud "The Promise"
Is it "Biology"? No, but no other song this year had me waiting so impatiently for its release and then when I finally heard it, the song didn't disappoint in the slightest. I swear to God I listened to it 20 times in a row the first day I heard it and it's currently the most played song on my iTunes.
2. Rihanna "Disturbia"
If you're not careful, "Disturbia" will creep up and consume you, that's how insanely catchy it is.
1. Leona Lewis "Bleeding Love"
UK import Leona Lewis struck gold with "Bleeding Love" this year and it's, without a doubt, my favorite song of the year. I'm actually surprised that this song was so big because it's actually very dark and moody. Leona's vocals are absolutely enchanting and you spend the whole song waiting in anticipation for whatever is going to come out of her mouth. The best news of all is that Leona Lewis isn't a one-hit wonder; both "Better in Time" and "Run" proved that she has the talent to stick around for a long time.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Endings Blog-a-thon: Billy Elliot's Completely Sucky Ending

We all know that a fantastic ending to a film can either make a medicore film great (Charlton Heston yelling "Soylent Green is people!" at the end of Soylent Green) or turn a great film into a classic (Gloria Swanson descending the stairs of her decaying Hollywood mansion and into madness in Sunset Boulevard, pictured left). The examples of these are numerous and I'm sure many will be thoroughly covered over at Valley Dreamin's Endings Blog-a-thon. What I'm going to talk about is a great film that is nearly ruined by an ending so shitty that I grumbled to everyone for the next week or so about how much I hated it. The film? Stephen Daldry's Billy Elliot.

I know I was probably the last person on the planet to see this movie a few months ago, so I'm sure that everyone is quite familiar with the central plot: a boy defies his working class background and macho father and brother by enrolling in a ballet class run by a gruff, no bullshit teacher. As with most films about people overcoming class boundaries (and since it is, to a certain extent, an inspirational teacher drama), I was quite taken with Billy Elliot. The film could have been total cheeseball inspiration but, thanks to Daldry and star Jamie Bell, it is anything but that. I was also extremely taken with the unusual relationship between Billy and his little gay friend Michael (which I briefly mentioned here); the part when Billy leaves Michael to head off to school broke my heart. If Billy Elliot had ended here, I would have loved the film a lot more. I was ready to give it an A-, but then that thing Daldry's calls an ending came on and I instantly downgraded it to a B.

First, let me describe the ending in case your memory's a little fuzzy. Billy's father and brother are rushing from the London subway to catch Billy in his big ballet production. They reach it in the nick of time and are settling into their seats when the brother realizes that they're sitting next to Michael (and someone were supposed to assume is his boyfriend?). They talk uncomfortably for a couple of seconds, Michael says something about "not missing this for the world" and then it cuts to backstage with a grown up Billy getting prepared to leap out on stage. And then it ends. Now let's analyze all of the ways this ending bites the big one.

  • Where is Mrs. Wilkinson (Dame Julie Walters)? This is actually my biggest annoyance with this ending. Essentially, Billy Elliot is an inspirational teacher drama and, although I can accept the fact that it's trying to ignore the clichés of the subgenre, but sometimes we need those clichés. They're there for a reason and when we don't get them, we feel cheated. At the end of every inspirational teacher drama, we have to get the scene where the teacher sees that all of her hard work and sacrifice has paid off when the pupil realizes their dream. Without this moment, the rest of the film has basically been for nothing.
  • We don't get the reaction shots from Billy's father, brother and Michael The film completely stops as soon as Billy takes the stage, so that doesn't give anytime to see what the three characters react to how amazing of a dancer Billy has become. Damnit, I just need to see the father tear up or something. Is that too much to ask Stephen Daldry?
  • The inclusion of Michael This choice left me completely puzzled. Why would you include Michael in the scene and not Mrs. Wilkinson? His fond farewell to Billy just a few minutes ago- complete with a touching kiss- was perfect, non? Does he really need to be there at the performance? Anything Daldry is going to show would never live up to this earlier scene and what he does end up showing doesn't work at all. I can see that he's trying to show how Michael has grown up and become who he wanted to be, all thanks to Billy's courage, but it just seems totally unneccessary at this point. In all honesty, who cares about Michael's transformation; we want Billy.
  • The awkward interaction between Billy's family and Michael Seriously, do Billy's father and brother think their going to catch the gay virus by having a simple conversation with Michael? Was it really that shocking to see him dressed up like Boy George and with another man? I mean, Michael was as flaming as a kid could be in a small, working class English village.

What makes this ending all the more horrible is the fact that they had the perfect ending beforehand and completely ruined it. The shots of Billy's family and Mrs. Wilkinson, stuck in their exact same situations with little chance of escaping, juxtaposed with Billy first arriving at the ballet academy, finally escaping his working class surroundings, subtly hit the message home. Add to that Michael and Billy's goodbye and it became absolutely perfect. This "real" ending feels tacked on and makes little sense in the context of the film or the subgenre.

For more wonderful entries on the endings on a multitude of different films, check out the main page of J.D.'s Endings Blog-a-thon over at Valley Dreamin'

"No, damnit, you should have moved the other piece! THE OTHER PIECE! Gah!"

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Is 1939 the Greatest Year for Movies Ever? You Be the Decider

A lot of people cite 1939 as the greatest year in the history of cinema- "the year the movies grew up" I read somewhere once- and it's rather easy to see why. Just take a gander at the highly exalted Oscar Best Picture line up: Love Affair and Dark Victory, two of the finest "women's pictures" of their time; Gone With the Wind, the romantic blockbuster that redefined the word "epic"; The Wizard of Oz, the fantasy classic that has gone on to be adored by both adults and children; Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Frank Capra's scathing attack on Washington politics that made James Stewart a star; Stagecoach, the first proof that the Western could be used to make serious works of art; Ninotchka, the proof that after 15 years of wowing us with her dramatic skills, Garbo still had more tricks up her sleeve. Only Goodbye, Mr. Chips- inspirational teacher drama taken to the least interesting degree- and Wuthering Heights- a "romance" that never once feels romantic or passionate- really flounder among the nominees (I still haven't seen Of Mice and Men). Add to these seven Francois Truffaut's favorite film, French master Jean Renoir's society spoof The Rules of the Game, Cukor's hilarious bitchfest, The Women and one of Howard Hawks' best adventure films, Only Angels Have Wings and it turns out to be quite the year.

I would love to hear what you think about my picks, especially when it comes to my acting nominees. Four nominations for
The Wizard of Oz, but none for Margaret Hamilton, who played the Wicked Witch of the West? Greer Garson moved from Lead to Supporting for Goodbye, Mr. Chips? Henry Fonda sneaking a Best Actor nom for a film I completely hated and really don't understand the appeal of? How do we feel about Jean Arthur as a whole? Is her nom for Mr. Smith deserved or is it just another retread of her Babe Bennett in Mr. Deeds Goes to Town? Are Rosalind Russell and Paulette Goddard the right women from The Women to honor with Best Supporting Actress nominations? Who would you pick? Discuss, discuss, discuss. Plus, while you're at it, answer this poll so I can see where everyone's loyalties are.

This is Ridiculous

For the past couple of weeks, I've been deciding about whether or not to renew my Entertainment Weekly subscription when it expires in February. I generally love the magazine, the articles are usually well-done and actually stick to entertainment matters and doesn't fly off the deep end with political crap (unlike another certain "entertainment" magazine). Sure, it's "Greatest Ever" lists generally suck, they did devote a tad too much coverage to Stephenie Meyer and Twilight over the past year and I'm really tight on money right now. Needless to say, I was on the fence and had no clue what to do...that is, until I received this week's issue in the mail a couple of days ago. It's the year end issue, covering the best and worst of 2008. I flipped to the music section to check out their critic's Top 10 lists and I was so shocked and outraged by what I saw that I decided then and there that I wasn't going to renew my subscription. Any magazine that thinks that this is the second best album in any year...

...and thinks that this is one of the five worst of the year... not a magazine that will be getting my money anytime soon. I can understand if Duffy isn't your preferred style of music (Lord knows that I have my blind spots as well) but calling Rockferry "strangely blank" and Duffy "a pretty doll propped up by opportunistic industry shills" is horribly out of line. Didn't Nickelback release an album this year? Surely that must have been more devoid of well-crafted songs than Duffy's album. And if the words "strangely blank" were to be applied to any album from 2008, wouldn't it be I Am...Sasha Fierce? Don't people realize that between the two discs there are only two songs ("Single Ladies" and "Radio") that are above average? The rest of the filler tracks range from dull to simply God awful. How anyone can find this the second best album of the year is simply beyond me.

Friday, December 26, 2008

An Open Letter to Elizabeth Taylor, circa 1963

Dear Elizabeth,

I love you dearly and think you are a fantastic actress. No matter how good Susan Hayward was in I Want to Live!, that Oscar should have been yours for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and only you could have made the heavily censored and camp-tastic Suddenly, Last Summer work as well as it did (and that scream at the very end still gives me chills). By 1960, you were so popular that you jokingly accepted to star in the remake of Cleopatra for $1 million and actually received it- the highest sum of money an actor had ever received upfront to star in a movie at that time. Over the course of a grueling three year shoot in which you nearly died, you made an additional $6 million, bringing your grand total to $7 million (which equals about $44 million in today's dollars). After witnessing Cleopatra tonight, the catastrophe that you and 20th Century Fox call a movie, I have only one thing to say: you need to return every last cent of that ungodly paycheck. I'm not going to blame you entirely, Liz, for the crime against humanity that is Cleopatra- the saying that film is a communal effort has never been more apparent than here- but, honey, standing around, reciting lines like you were back on Butterfield 8 and staring blankly at both of your co-leads (Rex Harrison and Richard Burton, all equally lost and atrocious) does not qualify as good acting. I don't care if you donate that money to charity, finance another movie version of Cleopatra that doesn't suck or place it in a rocketship and shoot it to the moon- just get rid of those ill gotten gains as soon as possible. Thank you!

Dame James

Monday, December 22, 2008

Random Top 10: Sexiest Movies Ever

Entertainment Weekly recently picked "The 50 Sexiest Movies Ever" in their November 28th issue and, predictably, the list sucks. Major balls. Not only does it skew newer (as their "...Greatest Ever" lists always do) but some of their entries don't make any sense at all. His Girl Friday at #2? Really? I know it's been awhile (and I'm really not it's biggest fan), but I seriously don't remember anything that screamed "sex!" at me. Once at #11?! You mean that movie in which the main guy tries to woo the girl in the first scene, finds out she's married, gives up and spends the rest of the time making his average indie music? Yeah, I couldn't keep my erection down during that one. Since EW's choices sucked so much, I have decided to offer my picks for the 10 sexiest movies ever.

10. It Happened One Night (1934)
Coming at the beginning of the Hays Production Code, which limited the amount of "morally objectionable" content on screen to absolutely zero, It Happened One Night managed to sneak in almost undetected by the censors. Not only is the witty repartee brimming with sexual tension, but the individual moments (The Walls of Jericho, Clark Gable taking off his shirt, the dreamy moment in the hay, Claudette Colbert trying to catch a ride) make it even steamier.

9. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958)

Sure, Brick (Paul Newman) is a sexually confused, alcoholic who wants nothing to do with his wife-in-heat, Maggie (Elizabeth Taylor), but Cat on a Hot Tin Roof captures the sweaty, lusty atmosphere of a hot summer day in the Deep South unlike any film I've ever seen. Through Maggie's constant pleading, every slight touch and gaze between her and her unresponsive husband radiates more lustiness than you could possibly imagine.

8. The Lady Eve (1941)

Barbara Stanwyck practically glows with sexual prowess everytime she appears on-screen, no matter the genre, but she was never more lust-worthy than when she seduces a nerdy Henry Fonda (who was just returning from a year long expedition studying snakes in the Amazon) in her cabin, purring into his ear and slowly running her fingers through his hair. This is one sexy scene that would straighten any anaconda.

7. Romeo and Juliet (1968)
I've already talked about this one at length, but let me just reiterate: forbidden love + tight 16th century pants + Leonard Whiting's naked butt = Hot, Hot, Hot.

6. Black Book (2007)

Carice van Houten is a sex goddess. Whether she's being rescued by a hunky sailor or saving her ass from the concentration camp by sleeping with a high-ranking Nazi, van Houten always knows how to turn on the audience in Black Book. I should know: that first sex scene between her and Sebastian Koch turned me on in ways I never thought a straight sex scene could.

5. Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

Normally, guns and violence completely turn me off, but with Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway behind the guns and perpetrating the crimes, murder and bank robbery has never looked more stylish and glamorous.

4. Flesh and the Devil (1927)
When people complain about old movies, especially silent pictures, being completely irrelevant and sexless, they should be pointed towards Flesh and the Devil as a counter example to this stereotype. Real-life lovers Greta Garbo and John Gilbert are so intimate in their first alone moment that I swear that they were only moments away from penetration. And no one but Garbo could make drinking from a communion glass so erotic.

3. Breathless (1960)

The relationship between Jean Seberg's papergirl and car thief Jean-Paul Belmondo is charming throughout the entire film, but it is during the 20+ minute interlude in Seberg's apartment that the sexiness really emerges. Belmondo, clad only in his boxers, and Seberg sit around and talk about nothing in particular, but it's all charming and sexy in it's own French way.

2. Brokeback Mountain (2005)

Okay, so although I've scene rape scenes in other films that were less uncomfortable than the first sexual encounter between Ennis and Jack in Brokeback, the facts are the rest of the little time they spend together over the next 20 years include some very hot moments. Case in point, their first "real" love making scene in the tent or their first embrace after meeting for the first time in four years.

1. Y Tu Mamá También (2002)
I know that the celebrated three-way, which turns into a full-on Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal makeout session part way through, is the piece de resistance of this film (Lord knows I've rewound that scene a good 10 or 15 times); however, many of the other sex scenes between either Gael, Diego and Maribel Verdu are just as hot, dirty and erotic as that scene. I've never seen a film before that has celebrated sex in such an open way and actually made it look sexy without depicting it unrealistically (Diego finishes way too early for Maribel's liking during their scene together). Y Tu Mamá También is the rare film that will turn you on but also make you think and feel for these characters beyond the sexpots they are.

Friday, December 19, 2008

In Case You Think I've Forgotten...

Happy 28th Birthday Jakey!

No matter what People magazine says, you'll always be my Sexiest Man Alive.

"Well, you know that Angelina's a bitch."

Exact quote from my mother while we were discussing Jennifer Aniston's latest antics and how she's probably going to either hold Brangelina hostage during a random premiere for Benjamin Button in Japan or just kidnap Pax. Either or, I'm still on her side; Angelina can suck it.

Starting to Look Backwards

I've been trying to reboot my Film Logs and Diva Cup Awards page for a few months now, figuring out a way to meet my demanding standards. I hope to one day post my film logs for as far back as the 1910's and, along the way, integrate my retroactive Diva Cup Awards on this site as well. I'm going to work out the kinks as I go along, but, for now, here's what I have done so far (just click on the pictures to be redirected):

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Horton Hears the Voice of God

My parents rented Horton Hears a Who! the other day and since I had nothing else going on, I decided to watch it with them. The film ended up being not that bad, which was a huge surprise given the fact that the beginning is mostly Jim Carey doing his same stupid shtick that he's been delivering for years, albeit this time in the form of an elephant. Steve Carell comes in at about the 20 minute mark and proceeds to make it a better film (but that's because he's a comedic genius and Carey is only interesting if you're 12).

While watching the film, I caught on to a hidden subtext that, when I brought it up, neither of them had caught on. I don't know if it's supposed to be there or if I'm just reading too much into it, but I felt like Horton Hears a Who! is really a thinly veiled religious tale straight out of the Bible. Don't believe me? Let's take a look at the Mayor of Whoville:

-The Mayor hears a strange voice coming from the sky that he can't see or touch.
-He must put his faith in this unseen presence to get him though difficult times and save Whoville from destruction.
-He has to pass on the word of God to a crowd of unbelievers (he tells them, "You can't see him or feel him, but he's there!") and must "convert" them to save their lives.
-Once the unbelievers are converted, they must chant "We are here!" to this, and any, unknown forces above them to let them know just that: they exist and need him/them.

And while we're at it, let's discuss Horton:

-He hears a voice coming from some place he can't see and automatically has a blind faith in this voice.
-He must contend with a non-believer who ridicules his belief in something in he can't see.
-The non-believer goes so far as to resort to violence in order to squash Horton's beliefs (in Bible terms, this non-believer would be equivalent to the Romans).
-Horton stays true to his beliefs, even when everyone is telling him to give it up, and he is rewarded in the end with the knowledge that believing is better than seeing.

Who knew you could find this much subtext in a deceptively simple story meant for children?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Riley's Next Move

I finally caught up with Anton Corbijn's widely acclaimed Ian Curtis biopic Control a couple of days ago and I actually enjoyed it a bit more than I thought I would. It avoids biopic clichés for as long as it possibly can and actually invokes an atmosphere instead of following the typical, paint-by-numbers trajectory of something like Walk the Line. For the most part, I was struck by the fact that Corbijn lingers so long in the realm of the sad and uncomfortable. Countless scenes went by in which I just couldn't get over how sad I felt for these poor people: I felt bad for Samantha Morton when she tries to get Sam Riley to open up to her and he just can't/won't answer her; I felt bad for Sam Riley when he admits that he's not a good father and when he couldn't express himself; I felt bad for the rest of Joy Division because they had no idea how to handle Ian's epilepsy and increasingly erratic behavior.

Sam Riley's performance in Control is what really makes the film for me, however. Throughout the course of the film, there's something completely haunting Riley's Ian Curtis and no matter how "happy" he is at a given moment, that dead look in his eye never goes away. Corbijn relies on Riley to do a lot of his acting with his eyes and he is more than up for the task. He's so good at this he really could have been a silent movie star; all he needs to do is stare soulfully and he conveys everything he needs to do (I really would love to see a movie with him and Kristen Stewart in which they just stared at each other).

Since I was so blown away by Riley, I checked out his IMDb page to see what he was doing next. Since Control, he's only done a couple episodes of Law & Order: SVU (say what?) and something called Franklyn (I have no idea). What caught my eye, however, was a film he is currently working in that's supposed to be released in 2010 called 13. It's a remake of some Italian film and has quite an eccentric cast. In addition to Riley, there's Jason Statham, Mickey Rourke, Ray Liotta, Ray Winstone and... 50 Cent? Seriously? Sam Riley, you are so talented. You shouldn't even be watching a movie with Fiddy in it, let alone working on one with him. This is the only thing listed on the website, so I hope that he finds a good film soon that will challenge him and prove yet again what a fantastic actor he is.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

HSM4 Casting in a Perfect World

We all know that HSM4 is a given, right? No matter how much we protest the fact that they'll continue the East High legacy without Troy, Sharpay, Ryan and the rest of the original cast, it's going to happen and we need to accept it. With the cast they introduced in HSM3, which includes The Rocketman (whom a lot of people can't stand), Tiara (whom I can't stand) and The Rocketman's little friend who looks like he's 8 (seriously, did I really need to see him without a shirt on longer than I saw Zac Efron's naked torso?), I totally understand why no one is excited for this film. This afternoon, however, I totally thought of the perfect way to make HSM4 less excruciating and maybe even slightly enjoyable while banking on the talents of a up-and-coming pop act who could use the exposure to make their big American crossover. Who am I talking about?

Why, SAME DIFFERENCE, of course!

Seriously, can't you just imagine how amazing this would be? Sean and Sarah can be Tiara's school mates from the London Dramatic Academy who transfer to East High when they hear how great their dramatic department is (minor detail...doesn't matter in the HSM movies). Since she was so amazing at that school (according to the film anyways; in real life, we all can see that she sucks major balls) she didn't even pay attention to these up-and-comers, but now that they're invading on her newly claimed turf, she's scared for her position. Imagine her (and everyone in the drama department's) surprise when they turn out to be the sweetest people imaginable and would never do anything to backstab anyone. This, of course, makes Tiara nervous and she sabotages their audition to make sure she (and The Rocketman, of course) gets the lead. When everyone finds out, they turn against Tiara and really start to get along with Sean and Sarah. Pretty soon, the entire school is even happier and more optimistic before and the choreographed routines in the hallways are all done with psychotic grins on their faces and tons of glitter. Eventually, of course, Tiara learns her lesson and shares her lead with Sarah on alternating nights or something and then comes the "We're All in This Together"-esque song that's pretty much a given in these films. There also has to be a moment where La Tisdale, during her cameo pretty much obligated by the ending of HSM3, sees Sean and Sarah rehearsing and says something along the lines of, "Jesus...and people thought Ryan and I were fucked up."

So, if anyone who works for Disney is reading this and is trying to come up with a way to retain the audience from the original HSM trilogy, all you have to do is put in Same Difference and I can guarantee that you will get more people than with just Tiara and The Rocketman. And because I love my loyal readers so much, here's a special Same Difference clip just in time for the holiday season:

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Campaign for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar Nomination for Ashley Tisdale in HSM3: Senior Year: The Promise

Ryan: "Sold out shows"
Sharpay: "Think bigger!"
Ryan: "And the Oscar goes to..."
Sharpay: "That's better!"
~Ashley Tisdale and Lucas Gabreel, "I Want It All"

So, my dear La Tisdale supporters, things didn't go exactly as planned when the Golden Globe nominations were announced earlier this week; no Best Supporting Actress nomination for our lovely goddess. Sad, I know, but we can't give up yet; we need to rise from the ashes like our beloved Sharpay and (effortlessly) steal back the spotlight from lesser talents who are getting in her way. How do I propose on doing this? Well, I'm glad you asked. Here's my next plan to get La Tisdale an Oscar nomination: I'm going to give oral sex to every member of the Academy who votes for her. Oh yes, I said it. I am not leaving this up to chance anymore; La Tisdale needs, no deserves, that Oscar nomination and I'm more than prepared in doing whatever it takes to get it for her. I don't care if you're Ernest Borgnine or Marion Cotillard- as long as I see the words "Ashley Tisdale" written on your ballot, you will get a lovely blow job from me. I really think Sharpay would get a kick out of this because there's nothing she wouldn't do in order to advance her career (although I'm sure she'd send Ryan to do it for her and I'm also sure that he'd be more than willing to oblige). According to Awards Daily, there are 1,243 members of acting branch of the Academy, so if I want to meet the January 12th deadline- the date when ballots are due- I'm going to need to get started soon. Alright, who's up first?

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Rants on Anna Karenina (1948)

I've never read Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina. I realize it's a classic and all that jazz, but who the Christ has the time to wade through 800 pages of a critique on 19th century Russian society and mores? I certainly don't. I tried to be intelligent in high school and checked it out from the library once; I got exactly three pages in before I, not understanding a damn word of what was going on, returned it a few weeks later. Instead, I relied on the two Greta Garbo versions of the story (1927's Love and 1935's Anna Karenina). While neither of them particularly blew me away, they were fine melodramas that cut right through Tolstoy's apparent social commentary and focused on the tragic love affair (and who's going to deny that Garbo was absolutely fantastic in both of them).

Now, this brings us to the 1948 version of Anna Karenina (Julien Duvivier, 1948) starring Vivien Leigh as the tragic Anna. The story remains the same- Anna breaks society's "rules of the game" by leaving her husband and son to live in sin, unmarried, with a dashing young count- but Duvivier sticks closer to the book, I presume, by focusing more on the societal impact of Anna's decision than on the physical attraction between her and Vronsky. This is all well and good, and I'm sure that in the book it makes for deep, thought provoking material, but when done this coldly and impassionately, it doesn't exactly make for the most fascinating film, you know? Countless scenes go by in which some character (usually either Anna or Ralph Richardson's Alexander) lament about how cruel society is and that they really want to act in one way but can't because it isn't "proper"; instead of feeling for these characters, all I kept thinking was, "Get on with it, damnit!"

Even the romantic scenes between Anna and Count Vronsky- which positively smoldered in the Garbo versions- feel flat and detached. I suppose you can blame that on the fact that this is a British production- they have always been more of a "stiff upper lip" sort of people- but it shouldn't have felt this off. There's really no chemistry between Leigh and Kieron Moore to speak of. So, if the social commentary is boring and the romance is a dud, what is there to even be excited about in this version of Anna Karenina? To be honest, nothing. Julien Duvivier's direction is so plain Jane and passionless that it's honestly quite to hard to even get invested into the story. For the most part, the film looks like it was shot in the manner of a stage play with it's poor script and shoddy camerawork. Perhaps the most disappointing thing about Anna Karenina is, however, Vivien Leigh's performance. I know it's unfair to place the expectation on an actress that every performance has to be her greatest ever, but I honestly never foresaw a time when Leigh would ever be less than perfect. She's not bad here by any means; she's just very underwhelming. A lot of the time, it felt like she was recycling leftover bits of Scarlett O'Hara, only minus the charm, sophistication and wit of that epic performance. Leigh was good at the very the end when she's wandering around the train station, driven mad by her lover's betrayal, but it doesn't make up for the last 110 minutes of mediocrity. If only Duvivier had gotten this level of risk and bravura from Leigh earlier, he just may have saved her performance and this dreary film. C

Thursday, December 11, 2008

20 Favorite Actresses Meme

When I saw this over at The Film Experience a couple of days ago, I immediately decided that I was going to do it whether or not I was actually tagged by someone. I have been super busy the past couple of days and couldn't take the amount of time necessary to give this the attention it deserves. Well, now I do have the time and it just so happens that I was tagged not only once, but twice! Thanks guys and without further ado, here are my 20 favorite actresses, in no particular order.

Katherine, Greta, Bette, Meryl, Marie
Glenn, Marilyn, Thelma, Joan, Greer
Mary, Babs, Elizabeth, Dame Judi, Vivien
Norma, Judy, Nicole, Olivia, Faye

My apologies to the also-rans: Anne Hathaway, Diane Lane, Joan Allen, Susan Hayward, Eleanor Parker, Jean Harlow, Diane Keaton

My tastes actually skew more toward the older, but that's mostly because I lived and breathed TCM during high school and fell in love with many of the lovely, beautiful and talented ladies. If anything, I'm actually much weaker when it comes to the 80's, 90's and early 2000's. But, of course, that just means there's always great actresses to discover and possibly change this list in the future.

EDIT: I just realized that I forgot to tag some people so I choose Marcy @ Because I Saw the Film, Kayleigh @ Shiny Happy Blog, Michael @ My Stuff and Cr*p and Vera @ Vera's Big Gay Blog.

Fuck You, Golden Globes

How can you say no to this...

...but yes to this?


Sorry, I had to let out my Joan Crawford inner-angst there for a second. Minus the above nomination for this grossly overrated and unfunny performance (Tom Cruise in a fat suit, dancing to Ludacris...that's hilarious! Fucking gag me with a spoon), the nominations weren't too bad. In Bruges, aka the best movie of the year so far, picked up three (3!) nominations for Best Picture (M/C) and for Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson for Best Actor. Brilliant! James Franco also got a nom for Pineapple Express, which is possibly the funniest performance of the year. And RDJ, man. It would make me so happy if he could ride this Tropic Thunder momentum all the way to an Oscar nomination.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Dame James's Golden Globe Predictions

Bright and early tomorrow morning, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association announce their nominees for the 2008 Golden Globe Awards. You never know what to expect from this wacky awards body and that's part of their charm. Here are my random, stab-in-the-dark predictions as to how things will go tomorrow.

Best Picture (Drama)

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Dark Knight
Slumdog Millionaire

The Globes love star-power, so expect Benjamin Button, The Dark Knight, Doubt and Milk all to do well. Slumdog has no big stars, but its won a couple of major critic awards and that is sometimes enough for them.

Best Picture (Musical/Comedy)
Cadillac Records
Mamma Mia!
Tropic Thunder
Vicky Cristina Barcelona

This category is a tad fucked up, right? Mamma Mia! is a piece of trash but they need an "actual" musical and, apparently, everyone had so much "fun" watching it. Tropic Thunder was a big hit and VCB was Woody's best received comedy in years- plus, as an added bonus, they both are anchored by major stars. I have a sneaking suspicion that the Globes will want to go for one high-brow comedy and Happy-Go-Lucky seems to be that. A nod for Cadillac Records would be strange at this point, but it was just released so it's fresh in their minds and you must remember that this is the same group that nominated Across the Universe for no Goddamned reason.

Best Actor (Drama)
Leonardo DiCaprio, Revolutionary Road
Clint Eastwood, Gran Torino
Sean Penn, Milk
Brad Pitt, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler

The usual suspects, minus Richard Jenkins (not a big enough star) and Frank Langella (had to make room for Eastwood and Pitt).

Best Actor (Musical/Comedy)
Michael Cera, Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist
Zac Efron, High School Musical 3: Senior Year
James Franco, Pineapple Express
Dustin Hoffman, Last Chance Harvey
Sam Rockwell, Choke

The most out-there category of the year. With W. being classified as a comedy, the one sure nomination for Josh Brolin is gone and now it's anyone's game. Hoffman is a legend, but has anyone actually seen or heard anything about Last Chance Harvey? The nods for Cera and Efron may seem like wishful thinking, but they both have huge plusses on their side (Cera has goodwill left from Arrested Development and this was Efron's "breakthrough" year). Franco has a strong shot of getting in just by the fact that he's been so ubiquitous in the past three months. I'm really not sure how well people remember Choke (if at all) so Rockwell has a high chance of getting dropped. So who the hell is there left?

Best Actress (Drama)
Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married
Angelina Jolie, Changeling
Meryl Streep, Doubt
Kristin Scott Thomas, I've Loved You So Long
Kate Winslet, Revolutionary Road

The HFPA absolutely loves Angelina so expect her to get in over someone with less wattage such as Melissa Leo. Other than that, expect the usual suspects. Yawn.

Best Actress (Musical/Comedy)
Tina Fey, Baby Mama
Sally Hawkins, Happy-Go-Lucky
Sarah Jessica Parker, Sex and the City: The Movie
Meryl Streep, Mamma Mia!
Emma Thompson, Last Chance Harvey

People still have the memory of Tina Fey's Sarah Palin so I think she has a shot with Baby Mama. Meryl Streep is Meryl Streep...enough said. Parker got a nomination here in 2005 for The Family Stone (personally, I loved her but many protested at the time) and she won multiple times for Sex and the City the TV show, so I believe she's as good as in. Hawkins is the critical darling and Thompson is a star, although, yet again, I haven't heard anything about Last Chance Harvey.

Best Supporting Actor
Josh Brolin, Milk
Robert Downey, Jr., Tropic Thunder
James Franco, Milk
Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Doubt
Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight

Yawn. I would love a nice little shake up here just for the sake of competition but it's not looking likely.

Best Supporting Actress
Amy Adams, Doubt
Beyonce, Cadillac Records
Penelope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Viola Davis, Doubt
Ashley Tisdale, High School Musical 3: Senior Year
Kate Winslet, The Reader

My favorite category right now. Cruz and Winslet are in just by star power and acclaim. Doubt is going to be a major player tomorrow and I think both Adams and Davis will sneak in. Beyonce has been receiving raves for her performance in Cadillac Records and since she already has two Golden Globe noms, you know they already love her. Do you remember when Emily Blunt got an out-of-nowhere nomination for The Devil Wears Prada when only the bloggers had been behind her? Well, La Tisdale could get this surprise nod (and stands an even better chance if Efron gets a Best Actor nom).

Best Director
Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire
David Fincher, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Mike Leigh, Happy-Go-Lucky
Christopher Nolan, The Dark Knight
Gus Van Sant, Milk

Not really sure how they're going to go on this one. I have a 4/5 match up with Best Drama Picture and Leigh as the Musical/Comedy spoiler but the HFPA can get realllly random here: Rob Reiner got one for The American President in 1996.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

A Day of Merriment is Upon Us: It's Dame Judi Dench's Birthday!

You better wish the most wonderful woman on this planet (after Our Lord and Saviour Oprah, of course) a very happy know what the consequences are if you don't. I love you, Dame Judi! There's no one quite like you around and I wish you many more returns of the day.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Bette Will Never Be Your Beast of Burden

I've been a bit obsessed with Bette Midler for the past week, so I thought I would spread the joy around. This is the music video to Bette's 1984 cover of the Rolling Stones' "Beast of Burden." Bette's interpretation is fierce, to say the least, and her vocals are spot on as always. As an added bonus, the video, which like most music videos in their infancy, is a concert clip, but there's actually a little concept behind the footage. The music video also gives Bette the opportunity to be her loud, brassy self and have some fun with Mick Jagger, also relishing the opportunity to poke a little fun at himself. Why oh why wasn't this nominated for a Video of the Year VMA in 1984 when it's obviously cooler than at least two of the nominees?

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Finding Brittany Snow

Finding Amanda, with its depiction of a desperate, middle-aged male loser (played by Matthew Broderick, natch) trying to find himself in all of the strangest and worst ways, hardly has what you would call an "original concept" these days. Every 40-something white male undergoing a mid-life crisis has written their own Finding Amanda and, more often than not, they are often the same whiny, mopey film (only Woody Allen has really done this well...and repeatedly, I must add). This film, I must say, falls prey to this on occasion; the beginning, especially, is rather flat due to the fact that we have seen this (a fallen-from-grace TV writer/creator who is a recovering alcoholic with a gambling problem in danger of losing what little he has left) before. Once he gets to Las Vegas, hoping to drag his wayward niece Amanda (Brittany Snow) away from her destructive life as a hooker and drug addict and into a rehab facility in Malibu, Finding Amanda finds its stride and actually turns into a surprisingly funny and ultimately touching film.

The film's saving grace is, however, one Miss Brittany Snow, whom you will all probably recognize from Hairspray as Amber von Tussle (Michelle Pfeiffer's delightfully awful daughter). I know I've mentioned before how talented I think she is and how much potential she has, but after the atrocity that was Prom Night (which she did her damndest to save, even if it was all in vain) I thought that I may have been too quick to assess her talent. But here comes Finding Amanda and not only have my expectations about her potential been met but Snow also delivers one of the best performances of the year so far.

Playing a hooker with a heart of gold is one of the oldest tricks in the history of cinema, winning Oscars as far back 1931/32 (for Helen Hayes in The Sin of Madelon Claudet) and propelling others into international superstardom (Julia Roberts anyone?), so you can't fault Snow for wanting to take on one of her own, obviously hoping for similar acclaim. You may find it suprising, however, to see that Snow ignores the usual crutches of this archetype and crafts a visibly unique spin on it. From the moment that we meet Amanda, enticing dirty old men by the elevators at a seedy motel with a sweet, bubbly demeanor, we can tell that something just isn't right. She's too happy, too obsessed with keeping her apartment pristine and free from anything that will soil it (she tells her uncle to take off his shoes as soon as he enters the doorway). Snow is smart enough to only hint at the darkness of her past and the unhappiness in her present- she doesn't lay all of the cards on table right away and allow you to read her so easily. When she confesses to her uncle about being sexually abused by a member of the family, she tosses the information out there like it was nothing extraordinary, much to her uncle's incredulation. Snow's Amanda thinks she has moved on from this experience, even if her actions say otherwise.

When Snow's Amanda does reveal a crack in the facade, it's quite a fascinating sight to behold. There's a scene where she runs into an old client of hers while with her uncle and the client tries to get Amanda to admit that she remembers him. After getting a little agressive with her, Amanda tells him that she remembers his dick which was the size of a roll of dimes. He spits in her face and Snow's Amanda, out of nowhere, unleashes an untapped swell of rage and hatred. The surprised look that Matthew Broderick gives her when he sees this scene transpiring is the exact same look we're giving out in the audience- where did all of this rage come from? After the incident, she has a crying jag in the bathroom and it's really the only time we see her completely lose control of her emotions. We realize here that maybe Snow's Amanda isn't as strong as she thinks she is and maybe her life could stand a little improvement.

This realization, however, doesn't last long, because the next time we see Amanda, eating a meal she prepared herself with her uncle and her loser boyfriend Greg, she's right back to her usual, cheery self, with no hint of the troubles she endured the last time we saw her. The topic of some random girl Greg brought in the house and Snow goes through a real test of her skills. She gets mildly upset at first, agreeing with Greg that it is okay for him to sleep with other women, but letting him now that it's not okay that she was in her home- "This place is sacred!" she tells him. When the emotions get too complex though, we see Snow's Amanda literally swallowing the unpleasant feelings and returning to the situation with a smile, refusing to think about it anymore. The facade slowly fades away again when, a few seconds later, Matthew Broderick's character tells Amanda that the girl wore her shoes in the house. Snow's Amanda loses control- she yells, "God damnit, Greg!"- and is more visibly upset at this revelation than the previous one; the fact that some stranger brought in the dirt of the outside world to her clean and cozy little haven from the dirtiness of her job and life really sets her off. The fact that Snow is able to handle all of these complex emotions without over selling the fact that she's "performing" or that she doesn't just ignore them completely is an extraordinary feat and makes this potentially throw-away scene pop with energy. The film as a whole benefits from Snow's performance immensely. Without her, Finding Amanda would have been aimless and Broderick's journey and eventual redemption probably wouldn't have held much weight; with her, Finding Amanda smolders with complexity and doesn't answer the questions it brings up with easy answers.

Finding Amanda: B-
Brittany Snow: A