Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Oscar Forecast: The Acting Catgories

There’s one dead-sure lock for the acting Oscars and one that’s almost sure. You can bet the mortgage on Jennifer Lawrence winning the best actress Oscar and I’m just about positive Philip Seymour Hoffman is a shoe-in for best supporting actor.

The best actor race is interesting, pitting Daniel Day Lewis against Joaquin Phoenix. Lewis is already a two-time winner, but Oscar voters love to give Oscars to actors playing real people and the Academy could be concerned about Phoenix’s behavior.

There are four certain nominees in the supporting actress category — with Anne Hathaway right now holding a comfortable lead over (in descending order) Amy Adams, Helen Hunt and Sally Field. Who the fifth nominee might be is anybody’s guess. I’m just taking a blind stab at the fifth entry here.

Anyway, here are my predicted nominees in the acting categories (listed in alphabetical order):

Bradley Cooper, The Silver Linings Playbook
Daniel Day Lewis, Lincoln
John Hawkes, The Sessions
Joaquin Phoenix, The Master
Denzel Washington, Flight

Marion Cotillard, Rust and Bone
Keira Knightley, Anna Karenina
Jennifer Lawrence, The Silver Linings Playbook
Emmanuelle Riva, Amour
Quvenzhane Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild

Alan Arkin, Argo
Russell Crowe, Les Miserables
Robert DeNiro, The Silver Linings Playbook
Leonardo DiCaprio, Django Unchained
Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master

Amy Adams, The Master
Sally Field, Lincoln
Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables
Helen Hunt, The Sessions
Kerry Washington, Django Unchained

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Oscar Forecast: Best Picture

It’s that time of year again — predicting what the Oscar nominations will be when they are announced next January. And part of the fun in predicting the best picture nominees now is trying to figure out just how many films will be nominated because the new rules say it can be anwhere from five to 10. I’m going with eight this time around and right now I’m saying those eight will be (in alphabetical order):

Beasts of the Southern Wild
Les Miserables
Life of Pi
The Master
The Silver Linings Playbook
Zero Dark Thirty

Tomorrow I'll take my crystal ball to other categories.

Monday, September 24, 2012

My Top 25 College Football Teams

There were no ratings lask week, because I took a long-awaited and absolutely wonderful vacation. The number in parenthesis is the rating from two weeks ago.
1.  Alabama 4-0 (1)
2.  Oregon 4-0 (4)
3.  LSU 4-0 (2)
4.  Stanford 3-0 (9)
5.  Florida State 4-0 (14)
6.  Notre Dame 4-0 (13)
7.  South Carolina 4-0 (6)
8.  Georgia 4-0 (8)
9.  Florida 4-0 (18)
10. Texas 3-0 (12)
11. Kansas State 4-0 (10)
12. Southern California 3-1 (3)
13. West Virginia 3-0 (11)
14. TCU 3-0 (16)
15. Oregon State 2-0 (NR)
16. Oklahoma 2-1 (7)
17. Clemson 3-1 (19)
18. Ohio State 4-0 (17)
19. Michigan State 3-1 (5)
20. Texas Tech 3-0 (NR)
21. Baylor 3-0 (15)
22. Oklahoma State 2-1 (20)
23. Mississippi State 4-0 (NR)
24. Texas A&M 2-1 (NR)
25. Arizona State 3-1 (NR)
Dropped out: Boise State (22), BYU (23), Michigan (25), Nebraska (24), and Virginia Tech (21).

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Landfill audit: This emperor has no clothes and no guts

I am going to step up and say the two words to the Dallas City Auditor that others have either been afraid to say or, in the case of the media, simply too lazy to say: "Prove it." Prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the city has lost more than $1 million dollars because of the way fees are collected at McCommas Bluff.

And you know what? The auditor can’t prove it. He has a hunch, but he has no solid evidence. Yet the reputations of outstanding city officials are being tarnished because a worthless, gutless assistant city manager and the lazy reporters and editorial writers for the Dallas Morning News refuse to stand up to the auditor and say "Prove it."

I have an assistant city manager, some reporters
 and editorial writers to nominate for membership
I worked for the City of Dallas for some years and I know from the inside how these things work. When the auditor issues any kind of report such as this piece of junk about the landfill, city staff has the opportunity to respond. I’d be willing to wager every single cent I’ve ever earned and every cent I hope to earn in the future that, at least during one point in the process, the staff disagreed with just about every single word in the auditor’s document. Yet, when it finally becsme public, an assistant city manager, who should have been fired years ago over his handling of issues at the Dallas Animal Shelter among other fiascos, responds like some whipped boy and says "Oh, yes, we agree with every lie the auditor has put forward." What a pitiful act of cowardice!

And then the reporters from Morning News, acting more like court stenographers than journalists trying to present the truth to their readers, insert rings through their noses so they can be led around by the auditor. I also worked for a major wire service and this aformentioned newspaper and I know if I submitted stories like the ones they wrote on this subject, I would have been severely castigated by actual editors, like the great Don Myers or the equally superb Ron Cohen, who know what reporting actually means. Why didn’t these reporters march into the auditor’s office and simply say "Prove it"? Laziness is the only reason I can think of.

Then there was that demeaning editorial in yesterday’s Morning News that, without so much as a shred of evidence cast a shadow over the reputation of an individual who is so well respected by her peers in the industry that she was elected statewide president of the Texas Solid Waste Association, who sits on an advisory board at SMU’s School of Engineering, and who, according to former City Manager Teodoro Benavides, singlehandedly saved the City of Dallas from bankruptcy. How many others can make that claim?

The events of the last few weeks involving the Landfill Lies and other related activities have demolished any and all respect I once held for the staff at the top of the city’s organization chart and has destroyed the last shred of credibility I once had for the Dallas Morning News.

And that’s a sad thing to have to admit about two former employers. If only they had simply said "Prove it."

My Top 25 College Football Teams

Last week's ranking in parenthesis; AP ranking in brackets
1.  Alabama 2-0 (1) [1]
2.  LSU 2-0 (2) [3]
3.  Southern California 2-0 (4) [2]
4.  Oregon 2-0 (3) [4]
5.  Michigan State 2-0 (9) [10]
6.  South Carolina 2-0 (10) [8]
7.  Oklahoma 2-0 (6) [6]
8.  Georgia 2-0 (15) [7]
9.  Stanford 2-0 (11) [21]
10. Kansas State 2-0 (22) [15]
11. West Virginia 1-0 (13) [9]
12. Texas 2-0 (17) [14]
13. Notre Dame 2-0 (18) [20]
14. Florida State 2-0 (8) [5]
15. Baylor 1-0 (21) [NR]
16. TCU 1-0 (16) [16]
17. Ohio State 2-0 (24) [12]
18. Florida 2-0 (NR) [18]
19. Clemson 2-0 (25) [11]
20. Oklahoma State 1-1 (5) [NR]
21. Virginia Tech 2-0 (20) [13]
22. Boise State 0-1 (23) [NR]
23. BYU 2-0 (NR) [25]
24. Nebraska 1-1 (14) [NR]
25. Michigan 1-1 (19) [17]
Dropped out: Arkansas, Wisconsin

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Available on DVD: “Monsieur Lazhar”

"So, what’s good?"

That’s the stumper of a question I get from friends and especially quality-starved film fans at the video store this time of year, when the Oscar DVDs have all come and gone and superheroes threaten to colonize every available space in the new release section.

Well, I’ll tell you what’s good: Monsieur Lazhar is good. Really good. Philippe Falardeau’s gentle, perceptive drama takes viewers by the hand, not the throat, leading them through volatile emotional territory with assurance, compassion and lucid, steady-eyed calm. Deceptively simple and straightforward, Monsieur Lazhar resembles a clear, clean glass of water: transparent, utterly devoid of gratuitous flavorings or frou-frou, and all the more bracing and essential for it.

Among the many gifts that arrive by way of Monsieur Lazhar is an introduction to Fellag, a well-known actor in Algeria who is making his North American breakout cinematic performance here. Like Demian Bichir in A Better Life last year, the 61-year-old Fellag arrives with the revelatory exhilaration that more often greets a young newcomer. Here, he plays the title character, a teacher in Montreal who signs on as a substitute at a middle school after the sudden departure of a beloved teacher.

Monsieur Lazhar chronicles events in the classroom throughout the year, as Lazhar tries to help his students cope with feelings of abandonment and loss, while balancing educational policy that requires teachers to relate to children at a physical and emotional distance (or, as one character puts it, "like hazardous waste"). As the details of Lazhar’s own life come into focus, his journey and that of his charges begin to dovetail in mournful, deeply meaningful ways: In essence, Monsieur Lazhar is a study in boundaries, at their most impregnable and porous.

Falardeau has done an astonishing job (or had astonishingly good luck) in finding child actors to portray the alternately wise and immature kids in Lazhar’s class: Sophie Nelisse and Emilien Neron stand out as Alice and Simon, whose shared, highly charged experience of their original teacher’s absence threatens to upend their friendship and invests their relationship with Lazhar with particularly high stakes.

Fellag is known mostly as a comedian in Algeria, and he subtly mines the understated but rich veins of humor that run through Monsieur Lazhar, especially in his encounters with neurotic bourgeois parents, not to mention the wonderfully quirky, mercurial kids themselves.

But for the most part, this is a sad, elegiac film that’s not only willing to take on thorny issues of violence, justice, ethics and how adults keep faith with children, but has the courage not to lie about them.

Like that glass of cool water, Monsieur Lazhar achieves its own sort of crystalline perfection — in simply telling the truth, and telling the truth simply.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

My Top 25 College Football Teams

Preseason rank in parenthesis
1.  Alabama 1-0 (1)
2.  LSU 1-0 (2)
3.  Oregon 1-0 (4)
4.  Southern California 1-0 (5)
5.  Oklahoma State 1-0 (6)
6.  Oklahoma 1-0 (3)
7.  Arkansas 1-0 (7)
8.  Florida State 1-0 (13)
9.  Michigan State 1-0 (14)
10. South Carolina 1-0 (11)
11. Stanford 1-0 (8)
12. Wisconsin 1-0 (10)
13. West Virginia 1-0 (18)
14. Nebraska 1-0 (21)
15. Georgia 1-0 (12)
16. TCU 0-0 (16)
17. Texas 1-0 (15)
18. Notre Dame 1-0 (22)
19. Michigan 0-1 (9)
20. Virginia Tech 1-0 (19)
21. Baylor 1-0 (25)
22. Kansas State 1-0 (20)
23. Boise State 0-1 (17)
24. Ohio State 1-0 (NR)
25. Clemson 1-0 (NR)
Dropped out: Florida, Missouri

Available on DVD: “Bernie”

Bernie is a one-of-a-kind movie that establishes its own tone, walking a thin line between seriousness and absurdity. Set in eastern Texas, it allows director Richard Linklater to explore his own roots while telling a remarkable real-life story, something too crazy for anyone to make up.

The film is based on the story of Bernie Tiede, who made headlines about 15 years ago … and let’s say no more than that. In fact — I’m very serious about this — read nothing else about this movie. Every description out there, it seems, gives away the first half of the story. But you should have the opportunity to experience the movie the way I did, in complete ignorance, enjoying its every weird turn.

As played by Jack Black — this is the most penetrating and detailed work he has ever done — Bernie is a fascinating character, an assistant funeral director with a way of making everybody feel special. He sings at services, comforts widows, visits the lonely, buys people flowers and chocolate. He is about the nicest guy on earth, certainly the nicest and most popular guy in Carthage, Texas.

But he also has a quality, just a hint, of something else. This is where Black’s performance goes to the next level: There’s a suggestion of a darkness, or an unhappiness, a slightly covered quality. This is not to say he’s a phony — that would be too easy. He’s not a phony at all. He really is a lovely guy, but he’s not showing you everything.

Certainly, one thing he is not showing you, and yet you can guess, is that he is gay. He’s closeted and not sexually active, but he has a gay essence about him, which Black conveys, but gently. Perhaps his homosexuality is a source of pain, with his evangelical background, or perhaps it’s something else. In any case, there seems to be a wound in this guy. Again, Black doesn’t show it, but he lets you see it. This is a very rich character. You can see this movie and then talk about Black’s performance over drinks for the next hour.

Shirley MacLaine plays the richest, meanest woman in town, a lonely widow who takes a liking to Bernie, and she starts bringing him on vacations with her. MacLaine doesn’t do the things you might expect with the role. Her way of playing mean here is low-key, inward, disgusted and impatient. MacLaine knows there’s a human being in there, too, underneath it all — but maybe too far underneath.

The third strong performance in Bernie is that of Matthew McConaughey, as the town prosecutor. It’s a nice character turn for McConaughey, who plays the prosecutor as the smartest fish in a small pond, who thinks he’d be just as smart in a big pond, but we see otherwise.

Linklater, who co-wrote the script with Texas Monthly’s Skip Hollandsworth, tells the story in a documentary style, interspersing straight scenes with interview scenes, set in the present, in which townspeople look back on the events presented in the film. These interviews, which are lively, feel off the cuff, but they were scripted. They allow Linklater to show a cross-section of the town and to give the flavor of the local humor.

That humor is distinctly Southwestern throughout. As one of the locals, Kay McCabe — who is Matthew McConaughey’s mother (and you can see where his looks came from) — gets off one of the movie’s better lines, "Honey, there were people in this town who’d have shot her for $5!" And then, of course, there’s this minor classic: "Her nose was so high up she would drown in a rainstorm."

Taking into account the rich performances and the originality of tone, Bernie is one movie you should rent and view at your earliest opportunity.