Friday, December 21, 2007

Max's Top 10 Films of the Year

All in all, I thought it was an extraordinary year at the movies—certainly the best in recent memory. (That might explain my rather self-indulgently long list of “honorable mentions.”)

1. No Country for Old Men- The Coen brothers have a created a nouveau Western of sickening violence and dread. Javier Bardem’s villain will chill you to the core (yes, the ridiculous pageboy somehow makes him scarier); Tommy Lee Jones breaks your heart as the mournful town sheriff who realizes that he’s no match for today’s lawless landscape; and, in the Coens’ masterful hands, there’s unspeakable menace in every crawl space, keyhole, and corridor. Oh, and did I mention that the film is darkly funny, too?

2. Juno- She’s whip smart. She’s balls-out funny. She’s a little crabby. In short, Ellen Page’s Juno is unlike any movie heroine you’ve ever seen. Partly this is because first-time screenwriter Diablo Cody has written a character—a pregnant teen who decides to give her baby to a squeaky clean Yuppie couple—for the ages. And it’s also because, in Cody’s muse Ellen Page, a true star is born. The tomboyish actress wins us over with her snub-nosed beauty and droll way with a one-liner, and breaks our hearts by showing us the secret longing beneath that snarky exterior.

3. Sweeney Todd- So what if Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter aren’t great singers? They’re great actors, and they bring Stephen Sondheim’s ghoulish characters delightfully (and gruesomely) to life. It seems that director Tim Burton was born to adapt his play. His extraordinary visual flair, his passion for the macabre, his affinity for the world’s freaks and outcasts—all come together perfectly in this eye-popping, blood-spurting, brilliantly entertaining production.

4. Lars and the Real Girl- Man-child buys a sex doll on the Internet and believes her to be his real girlfriend—friends and church folk play along to help him “work through” his delusion. The premise shouldn’t work—we expect it to either be a tawdry sex comedy or some unbearably precious indie creation—and yet it does, miraculously. Give credit to the cast—Ryan Gosling as the man, Patricia Clarkson as his wise therapist, Paul Schneider and Emily Mortimer as his befuddled (but doting) brother and sister-in-law. But mostly give credit to a dazzling script by Nancy Oliver—she manages to bring out the universal in her absurd premise, making Lars’s predicament both slyly funny and unexpectedly touching.

5. Into the Wild- There are those who think that Christopher McCandless—the real-life young man of privilege who dropped out of society, renamed himself Alex Supertramp, and died, horribly ill-equipped, in the wilds of Alaska—was na├»ve, selfish, self-aggrandizing. And there are those who think he was a poet, a prophet, an inspiration. The beauty of Sean Penn’s perfectly calibrated film—anchored by a starmaking performance by Emile Hirsch—is that he manages to show that both sides were right.

6. There Will Be Blood- Paul Thomas Anderson’s devastating portrait of a corrupt oil man (Daniel Day Lewis) who wreaks havoc on an unsuspecting Texas town in the early 1900s is deeply weird and undeniably brilliant. Some have criticized the film’s gory, rococo ending: Did they not note the film’s title?

7. Ratatouille- The Triplets of Belleville meets Tom and Jerry meets the Food Network. That’s one way to describe this beautiful animation (from those geniuses at Pixar . . . who else?) about a gourmet rat in Paris who teams up with a hapless chef to create culinary—and movie—magic. As the voice of the cranky critic who is simply waiting for one truly great meal, Peter O’Toole nearly steals the show.

8. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly- How can you make a film completely from the P.O.V. of a man trapped in a waking coma (so-called “locked in syndrome”) who can only express himself by blinking his one good eye? Director Julian Schnabel does it, masterfully, by focusing on that one-eyed perspective—people loom, they come in and out of focus, they step out of frame—and by letting our hero’s memory and imagination (including a still healthy libido) soar. That this is based on the true story of Jean Dominique Bauby, the French Elle editor who was struck down by a stroke in the prime of his life (and who blinked out the autobiographical work that the film is based on) makes it all the more powerful.

9. Atonement- At the onset of World War II, a precocious young girl (haunting Saoirse Ronan) makes a horrible mistake: she accuses a promising young man—her sister’s lover—of a crime he didn’t commit. The reasons why she told this lie—and the consequences of her actions—are revealed in surprising and devastating ways. With the brattily beautiful Keira Knightley as the slightly haughty older sister, dashing James McAvoy as the ruined young man, and Vanessa Redgrave, in what amounts to a cameo-as-master-class, as the doleful adult version of the little girl.

10. The Savages- An adult brother and sister have to care for their estranged father, who is dying, while both still dealing with the consequences of his abandonment. Laura Linney gives what is possibly a career-best performance as Wendy Savage, a pushing-40 playwright who is having a joyless affair with a married man, and who takes perverse pleasure in both her own lies (she drops them like tiny, conversational atom bombs), and her own melodramatic sense of nobility (it’s her martyr complex that allows her to lie with such guilelessness.) Watching Linney work with Philip Seymour Hoffman, who plays her world-weary brother—a man who hides his own vulnerability behind a baggy parka and pounds of girth—is a rare cinematic treat. We get to watch two of America’s great actors play off each other, in a script (by Tamara Jenkins) that is worthy of their gifts.

Honorable mention: Away From Her, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, Crazy Love, The Hoax, I’m Not There, Lust Caution, Rescue Dawn, Rocket Science, Sicko, Superbad, Waitress, Zodiac.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

I’ll Show You Mine if You Show Me Yours . . .

All-time Favorite American Idol contestant: Fantasia Barrino

All-time Favorite Project Runway contestant: Jay McCarroll

All-time Favorite America’s Next Top Model contestant: Lisa “eat a cookie” D’amato

All-time Favorite Top Chef contestant: Sam Talbot (duh)

All-time Favorite So You Think You Can Dance contestant: Danny Tidwell (okay, this whole post was just an excuse to post this picture.)

Thursday, December 13, 2007

I’m Not a Miracle Worker: The Project Runway recap

Not sure I can take much more of the emotional rollercoaster that is Project Runway.
First, poor Jack has to leave to deal with his scary facial staph infection. I felt really bad for him. Yes, I had disliked him early on, based on his body-by-silicone looks and the major bitchface he has on during his, “I’m in—they’re out!” of the opening credits, but he really had grown on me. Plus, he was talented. Boo.
(On the bright side, have you all heard that he is dating Top Chef’s Dale? Hooray, Dale!).
So just as I, and Sweet P, had dried our eyes over Jack’s departure, in walks Chris! Yay, our big gay teddy bear is back!
You see? Emotional rollercoaster.
Guess who else was finally beginning to grow on me? Yes, Steven. (Note to contestants: Try to avoid my good side.)
I used to think he was dense. Now I think he’s drolly funny (and, okay, a little dense).
For example, when the “real-sized” models marched onto the stage, he figured they had to be the contestant’s mothers and sisters: "Until I realized I didn’t know anybody,” he sighed.
Slyly clever? Or dumb as dirt? You make the call.
Interesting how he—and apparently all the rest of the designers—regarded that beaded polyester wedding dress as a trap, whereas both Michael Kors and Chris thought it was the pick of the bunch. (Apparently, Kors’s MOB obsession also extends to actual brides.)
Back to the studio, where Elisa is telling her client, that she’ll make the dress “a little fa!”
“You know, I was going to say that!” her client adds helpfully.
(You were?)
Steven, meanwhile, is getting a lesson in “what they say versus what they mean”:
So when Steven’s client says: “Did you consider any other color or did you go directly to black?”
What she means is: “Why are you dressing me like Darth Vader?”
And when Tim Gunn says, “I think you’re really courageous to discard this dress so summarily!”
What he means is: “You gonna lose.”
Also, I call bullshit on Jillian. I like Jillian as much as the next gal, but the challenge was to make a garment using the client’s favorite outfit, not the same color as the client’s favorite outfit. I hate when contestants brazenly break the rules and don’t get taken to task for it. (Chris probably would’ve been better off last week if he had just ditched his shoulder pads altogether. But that’s all water under the bridge now. Deep, cleansing breaths, Max. . .deep cleansing breaths)
Okay, everyone break out the O’Doul’s: Ricky is crying again. (Something to do with making his client feel beautiful, bladdy, bladdy blah.. . not that I’d feel particularly beautiful in that outdated gold tunic with denim capris.)
Oh, how Christian, the little hipster elf of fashion, is getting on everyone’s nerves. He always finishes his garment way ahead of schedule, he always loves, loves, loves what he has done, he’s always snarking on the other designers, and, well, he’s kicking major butt in the competition.
Loved when Sweet P said, “It is still illegal to hit a 12 year old?”
Ha. Don’t hate, people.
Actually, in fairness, this is not a hateful group at all. In fact, they have to be the nicest group of designers ever. The way everyone pitched in to help glue white trimming to Steven’s ugly Amish MOB dress was inspiring. Or maybe it’s just because they knew he was toast.
Hey, where have they been hiding that cutie patootie head designer from The Gap? I’m just sayin’ . …
Judging highlight? When Michael Kors told Chris that his dress looked like, “A Paris hooker from the 50s” and Chris had to pretend to be all offended and you can tell the he was secretly like, “Yesssssss!”
Thank goodness Chris didn’t get voted off this week. We didn’t want him to be the Ambreal of Project Runway. (Sorry, I have ANTM on the brain).
So Christian wins, deservedly so. His outfit was stylish and youthful and hot.
So it came down to Elisa vs. Steven. I really didn’t want Elisa to go. Partly it’s because she gives good recap soundbite. Partly it’s because she looks more like Justine Bateman’s sibling than Justin Bateman does. And partly it’s because Steven’s outfit really was a monstrosity. On the bright side, somewhere a Mennonite is going to get a real find on eBay.

Ho Hum: The ANTM Finale

Okay, you can view Saleisha’s big win in one of two ways:
As a soul-crushing march to the inevitable, where a girl who went to Tyra’s “become a Tyra clone” camp and was already featured as a model on The Tyra Banks Show gets the expected victory. (Yes, that’s Rami from Project Runway whose clothes Saleisha is modeling. . . at this rate, we’ll have Donald Trump auditioning for The Apprentice)
Or, you can view it as a triumph over a seriously butt-ugly haircut. I prefer to focus on the latter.

But of course, I’m ahead of myself.
Sooo much to talk about!
First, let’s talk about Chantal’s magical powers to interpret Tyra Mail. I’m not sure if this is a useful talent going forward in life, but you can not deny that the girl has skillz.
Chantal clearly plays the odds, which led to her second week blunder where she read: “For now you can all go crazy!” as a clear indication of makeover week.
But she recovered nicely a few episodes later when she correctly surmised that “You will be aMUSED” meant that they were going to “teach us to be inspiring!” And this week, she knew that “it’s time to show me your flava” meant “Cover Girl flavored lip gloss!” (I sooooo would’ve guessed giant clocks around their necks.)
However, before we start handing out mensas, she later proved that metaphor is a still a shaky concept for her when she said of Jaslene: “I want to be in her shoes—cute little yellow strappy shoes!”
She also added, convincingly in this case, that she would be the perfect Cover Girl because she’s “friendly, loves life and loves . . .. delicious fruity lip gloss!”
Hard to argue with that.
Sweet girl, that Chantal. Massive ego.
Speaking of massive ego, Tyra was in rare form last night.
I loved the queenly nod she gave to start the fashion show. Dressed in silk robes, carried by foot servants to a throne, wordlessly nodding to start the ceremonies, you could tell that Tyra was thinking, “Yes, this feels just about right.”
Later, she complained (disingenuously) about how hard it is to be up there all alone to deliver the winning verdict, to which Miss J helpfully replied: “I’ll stand with you.” It was hilarious to see the wheels spinning in her head: “Must. Have. Spotlight. Can’t. Let. Miss J. Steal. Thunder.”
“But I couldn’t see past your afro,” she quickly quipped. Nice recovery, Ty-Ty.
Ah, poor Jeneh. I knew she was toast. All she did was take the “some of the strongest photos I’ve ever seen,” according to Tyra. But you know, this isn’t actually a model competition, it’s about inner beauty as well. (Because, yeah, Naomi Campbell is such an inner beauty and that really hurt her modeling career.) Hey, Jeneh, I’ll take your surly, sarcastic inner beauty anyday over those girly girls who “spew rainbows.”
Meanwhile, did you see how Saleisha just totally broke down when she was in the bottom two with Jeneh? Not a quivering lip. Not a girlish tear trickling delicately down her cheek. Full on, snot-coming-out-of-her-nose, puffy eyes, mascara-bleeding bawling.
It was here that I thought, “Dag. Saleisha won’t be able to take it if she loses.”
Chantal, bless her heart, has the kind of unshakable blonde-girl confidence that allows her have setbacks and bounce right back. A little lipgloss, a pair of strappy shoes, a Starbucks Frapuccino and she’s good to go.
Saleisha, on the other hand, is a fragile creature. She would have lost her shit if she didn’t win. Not that it really mattered.
Saleisha owned the runway. She looked like she’d walked the runway countless times. (Because she had, people!). Chantal looked wobbly. (And, uh, the person whose idea was it to pair giant trains with guys on stilts? Fire that person.)
So Tootie—er, I mean, Saleisha—wins. Good for her. See you at Walmart.
One last conspiracy theory for the season: Why was there no Cover Girl of the Week last night? We all know that Heather won again. So why not show us? Maybe because it undermines the Saleisha victory that, well, nobody was clamoring for. I'm just sayin' . . .

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Harriet Stole My Cap and Scarf

And then begged me to photograph her. She's such a diva.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Do Not Try This At Home

The above, sadly, is my sorry attempt at closing the chicken tikka masala lid on the Indian takeout I ordered last week.
As you can see, it was a bit of a trainwreck. My fingers turned orange, the plastic lid was warped and ripped. All of that pressing of the edges and flattening of the the top gave me a headache. (If I wanted to work that hard for my food, I’d cook).
Can we officially start a movement to ban that kind of takeout container? It doesn’t work. (And the aluminum? Not exactly “microwave friendly.”) It seems clear to me that the people who sell that container have never actually
ordered takeout food. Also, they possibly hate me.
Cardboard cartons, people. That’s 300,000 years of Chinese civilization put to good use.
Oh, and if you’re wondering how I finally got my lid closed: Scotch tape.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Give This Woman an Oscar!

Nothing against the Dames (Judi and Helen) or the K(C)ates (Winslet and Blanchett) or even the Aussie twins (Nicole and Naomi)—all brilliant actresses, indeed—but it’s time that we started valuing an acting treasure on this side of the pond.
Quietly, and with little fanfare—annoyingly little fanfare—Laura Linney has been amassing one of the great film careers of all time. And yet where is her Oscar love? True, she got nominated for her breakout role in You Can Count on Me. And she was also nominated as Best Supporting Actress for 2005’s Kinsey. But she certainly should have been nominated for her role as the actress/wife on The Truman Show. All cheerful detergent commercial on the outside, Linney’s Meryl was in fact this close to a complete meltdown. (And when she finally blows, oh how she blows.) She played a similar role in this season’s underrated The Nanny Diaries as a Park Avenue Mother from Hell. No actress is better at showing the brittle side of American bonhomie. She brings that certain kind of well-bred perfectionist neuroticism to great comic heights—both hilarious and heartbreaking.
She was weak-willed yet defiant in P.S., as an insecure college administrator who played cruel games with her cocksure young lover. She was nearly perfect in The Squid and the Whale, as a loyal wife who chose not to be so loyal anymore. She was tragically smitten as the dutiful sister in Love, Actually. She is fearless when it comes to showing female sexuality—playing characters that are sexually brazen, sexually needy, or sometimes both. And yet, nothing.
But we can remedy that this season. Linney gives what is possibly a career-best performance in The Savages, as a pushing-40 playwright who is having a joyless affair with a married man, and who takes perverse pleasure in both her own lies (she drops them like tiny, conversational atom bombs), and her own melodramatic sense of nobility (it’s her martyr complex that allows her to lie with such guilelessness.) Watching Linney work with Philip Seymour Hoffman, who plays her world-weary brother—a man who hides his own vulnerability behind a baggy parka and pounds of girth—is a rare cinematic treat. We get to watch two of America’s great actors play off each other, in a script that is worthy of their gifts.
Oscar wins rely on a bit of luck. You need to be in the right film, in the right year, with of course, the right amount of studio muscle behind your bid.
To Fox Searchlight, I say this. This can be Laura Linney’s year. As of today, her biggest competition is Marion Cotillard in La Vie en Rose (and she’s—gasp—French!). And Julie Christie in Away From Her (uh oh, another Brit). So do what you have to do: Take out full page ads in Variety. Send The Savages (plus a clip reel of all of Linney’s great overlooked work) to every voting member of the Academy. Make her a Dame if you have to. (Is there an American version of becoming a Dame? An Oprah Winfrey endorsement perhaps?). It’s Laura Linney’s time, people. Make it happen.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

I'm Not Catty Like That: The ANTM recap

As we speak, I am looking at Bianca’s portfolio.
And here she is, scowling in a smock and skinny jeans.
And there she is, sneering from a rock climbing wall.
And there she stands, looking like the most pissed off sunflower in the garden.
And oh hey, it’s Bianca giving the evil eye in front of a bunch of oil cans
And so on.
The funny thing about Bianca is that she has the kind of freakish alien beauty—light-bulb shaped head, eyes wide set—that usually cleans up on America’s Next Top Model. But in this case, not so much. Those photographs were like windows to her Mean Girl soul.
(How fabulously harsh was it when Tyra told her to have her siblings take Polaroids of her before she considered approaching an agency? Translation: Girl, you ain’t ready yet.)
And thank goodness Jeneh wasn’t eliminated. I’m sorry. Just take a look at the group shot. To me, Jeneh clearly stands in the crowd. Her eyes, as Twiggy noted, pierce. Saleisha is second. Chantal is a distant third. Bianca looks, well. . . why kick a model when she’s down?
And yet so much talk lately about Jeneh’s fading personality. And her impenetrable sarcasm. And her swan song. Give the girl a break. So she’s homesick. Big whoop. Her pictures are still, to borrow a word from Project Runway’s Christian, feroche! (Is feroche the new fierce? Discuss among yourselves.)

Not much to really talk about this episode.
Heather won Cover Girl of the Week in absentia, just as predicted.
Classic moment: Bianca beginning to read Heather’s letter: “Dear Jeneh” . . .
Chantal and Jeneh were overdressed for elimination (but where else can they wear their Chinese couture gowns?).
Tyra referred to Bianca’s “gorgeous spirit” and I threw up a little bit in my mouth.
Chantal got called first. Huh. Her warrior pic was cool, but her group shot was weak. She looked constipated.

I leave you with various nicknames I’ve seen for Bianca on the TWoP message boards:

Here, I’ll add one of my own:

And I'm out.

Pleather or Not. . .The Project Runway Recap

To lead or not to lead. That is the question.
Actually, it’s hardly a question at all. Here’s the answer: DON’T LEAD. It never ends well.
Of course, usually the contestants have no choice. They get “lucky” and “win” the leadership by submitting a good design. (However, if I were a contestant on Project Runway, I would specifically give crappy sketches to Sarah Jessica Parker or Miss America or whoever, just so I didn’t have to be the frickin’ team leader.)
But for this challenge—updating outmoded trends like shoulder pads, fringe, and cut-outs (were cut-outs ever in style?)—there was no celebrity judge, just Nina Garcia looming uselessly. Teams selected each other and then picked a leader.
Victorya obviously knows the score, because once teamed up with Ricky and Elisa, she treated leadership like the leprosy it is, screeching, “I don’t want to be the leader!” (and then proceeded to act like Miss Bossy Pants for the rest of the show). So it was that poor, befuddled, becapped Ricky became the leader. It was like leading a lamb to slaughter.
Meanwhile, Chris looked dumbfounded when he was asked to be the leader of his motley crew. (Something tells me that Chris didn’t get picked first in gym class very often.) Awww, if Project Runway were a movie and not real life, the lovable rejects of Team Chris, which also included baby-faced Steven and aging hipster Sweet P, would win. But life is not a movie and I think we all saw what was coming.
Then there was Team Star—Christian, Jack, and Kit. “Team Star is, like, hot. Like a star, like a celebrity,” explained team leader Christian. Thanks for the clarification there, Webster. Indeed, Team Star did have a nice, coherent collection—and Christian’s outsized confidence (boy never met a mirror he didn’t want to vogue in front of) is strangely endearing.
Finally, we have Team Overalls. I love the fact that Jillian wasn’t just wearing overalls—she pretty much had on the exact same outfit that the Elle model was wearing 30 years ago. Same cinched waste, same reddish belt, same dark denim. Hey, it’s a look.
So she was made team leader, probably a decent option in her case, because her team—which included the indestructible Rami and surprisingly-good-for-a-straight-guy Kevin—was strong. Basically, when they won, it was kind of like when the blond kid from the Evil Dojo beat up the Karate Kid. But hey, the best is the best.
A few more thoughts before we get to the judging:
•Love that Ricky used modern dance speak to communicate with Elisa.
•Note to Steven: Your Tim Gunn impression is soooo two seasons ago and Santino’s was way better. Just let it go.
•What was up with Elisa’s shredded shirt at elimination? Was it from the scrap pile of Sweet P’s menswear outfit?
•When Tim was talking to Ricky, Elisa, and Victorya, they totally did the Tyra Banks post-production edit on his voice. He sounded like he was talking to them from another room at Parson’s. (Wonder what he actually said?)
Okay, onto judging. Ooooh, Donna Karan: Michael Kors’s arch nemesis (right? Has to be? She also does clothing for the stylish middle aged set, just better. And she’s BFF’s with Barbra Streisand, which is every gay man’s fantasy. Oh, he must hate her so.)
Funniest moment of elimination? When the normally sweet Heidi Klum went all Third Reich on Sweet P’s ass when she wouldn’t call out a teammate. “Choose!” she barked. “Steven!” I screamed nervously at the TV, on the off chance that Heidi could actually hear me.
I have to agree with my pal Coach Kate, who sent me an email bemoaning Chris’s departure. I loved me some Chris. It’s so unfair to ask a gay man to make shoulder pads and not expect him to give us the full Krystal Carrington.
And Ricky is such a dud. How many times is this guy going to be in the Bottom 3 before they notice that he, well, sucks?
Oh well, Ricky lives to cry again and glue another cocked hat to head. Bye bye, Chris. You did
bring fun to the show. You can be my team leader anytime.