Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Oscar Noms 2009 - a What-Not-To-Do List

On this Tuesday, January 20th, as we have witnessed the historic inauguration of Former President-Elect-Now-Just-Merely-President Barack Obama, let us not forget that this week brings another monumental event: on Thursday, January 22nd, the 2009 Oscar nominations will be announced. Ok, so maybe it's not quite on the par of inducting the first African American President into the White House, but if you happen to be Mickey Rourke or Danny Boyle, it might as well be.

As I gear up for my annual tradition of waking up at 5:30am (ok, 5:40am) to hear the nominations announced in real time at 5:45am (PST) it has occurred to me that this year marks something of a milestone for me as a die-hard Oscars fan. 1979 was the year I stumbled across the Academy Awards broadcast while sitting in a hotel room with my family. Back then I had no idea they even gave out awards for movies much less televised it. Even though I had never heard of THE DEER HUNTER, the movie that won Best Picture that night, just knowing it had won made me want to see it even more. So seeing as 2009 marks my 30th year as a full-fledged, never-missed-a-single-show Oscar watcher, I thought I'd kick off the festivities with a little forecast of the nominations-to-be, followed by some last minute pleas for the nominations that absolutely-should-not-be.

Best Supporting Actress:

Amy Adams, DOUBT
Penelope Cruz, VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA
Viola Davis, DOUBT
Taraji P. Jenson, THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON
Kate Winslet, THE READER

What Not To Do: Ignore Marisa Tomei's terrific performance from THE WRESTLER. Sure I'm biased against any performance by Tomei in which she appears in the altogether, but I actually think she has given her best performances in roles that require her getting naked, as in last year's BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU'RE DEAD. A nomination for Tomei might also quell those nasty rumors that she won this category for MY COUSIN VINNY only because daffy presenter Jack Palance read her name off the nominees list. And why hasn't Cate Blanchett been mentioned for this category? She had the hardest role in all of BENJAMIN BUTTON but hasn't made anyone's short list for Supporting Actress. If only she had gotten naked.

Best Supporting Actor:

Josh Brolin, MILK
Robert Downey Jr., TROPIC THUNDER
James Franco, MILK
Philip Seymour Hoffman, DOUBT
Heath Ledger, THE DARK KNIGHT

What Not To Do: Adding Dev Patel from SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE to this list. He plays the lead character and he's in nearly every scene of the movie for cryin' out loud. So why is he listed as a supporting actor on the Screen Actor's Guild nominations? You don't have to phone a friend to know that's the wrong answer.

Best Foreign Film:

3 MONKEYS, Japan
THE BAADER-MEINHOFF COMPLEX, Germany
THE CLASS, France
REVANCHE, Austria
WALTZ WITH BASHIR, Israel

What Not To Do: Keep the Academy's ridiculous tradition of letting foreign countries be the ones to select which films should "represent" their respective country. Who cares which movie best represents them? Why not just nominate the best films period? Remember, Academy, you're the ones throwing the party, so why not invite whoever the heck you want to? Maybe that way some of 2008's truly best (not to mention popular) foreign films like TELL NO ONE, LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, and I'VE LOVED YOU FOR SO LONG wouldn't be getting the shaft.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY:

Simon Beaufoy, SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE
David Hare, THE READER
Peter Morgan, FROST/NIXON
Eric Roth, THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON
John Patrick Shanley, DOUBT

What Not To Do: Forget to put Christopher and Jonathan Nolan's dazzling adaptation of THE DARK KNIGHT on this list. I mean, did John Patrick Shanley really do as good as they did? I...wait for it...DOUBT it!

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY:

Woody Allen, VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA
Dustin Lance Black, MILK
Joel and Ethan Coen, BURN AFTER READING
Thomas McCarthy, THE VISITOR
Robert Seigel, THE WRESTLER

What Not To Do: As much as it pains me to say it, the Coens got it wrong this time. Instead of the so-so screenplay for BURN AFTER READING, why not a script for an even better comedy, such as the imaginative and hilarious one Ben Stiller and Justin Theroux wrote for TROPIC THUNDER?

BEST DIRECTOR:

Danny Boyle, SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE
David Fincher, THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON
Ron Howard, FROST/NIXON
Christopher Nolan, THE DARK KNIGHT
Gus Van Sant, MILK

What Not To Do: Leave Christopher Nolan off this list. Without him, Heath Ledger might not have even been cast as The Joker. To exclude him from this category would be a very cruel joke indeed.

BEST ACTOR:

Richard Jenkins, THE VISITOR
Frank Langella, FROST/NIXON
Sean Penn, MILK
Brad Pitt, THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON
Mickey Rourke, THE WRESTLER

What Not To Do: As amazing as Brad Pitt's physical transformation is in BENJAMIN BUTTON, I think Leonardo DiCaprio's work in REVOLUTIONARY ROAD is far more Oscar-worthy, so it would be a shame to leave him out. Without him, Kate Winslet might not have taken home the Golden Globe, which brings us to...

BEST ACTRESS:

Anne Hathaway, RACHEL GETTING MARRIED
Angelina Jolie, CHANGELING
Melissa Leo, FROZEN RIVER
Meryl Streep, DOUBT
Kate Winslet, REVOLUTIONARY ROAD

What Not To Do: Have Streep's way over-the-top performance on this list. Put her hambone acting in DOUBT next to Melissa Leo's work in FROZEN RIVER and you'll see they are worlds apart. This is Kate Winslet-Porrill's category to lose, however, so it probably won't even matter.

BEST PICTURE:

THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON
THE DARK KNIGHT
FROST/NIXON
MILK
SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE

What Not To Do: As good as it is, I don't really think FROST/NIXON is one the five best films of the year. Why not THE WRESTLER or REVOLUTIONARY ROAD in it's place? Still, the one on the list most in jeopardy is THE DARK KNIGHT, which I think would be the most glaring omission of them all. Some think WALL*E could be an 11th hour thunder-stealer, but it's guaranteed Best Animated Film nomination will likely relegate it's Best Picture chances to the trash-cube tower.


So there you have it. Did I leave anything out or I has my moviegoing brain merely left me? Drop me a line and let me know. Or call me at 5:50am Thursday morning and we'll discuss - in real time!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

California Man Travels To Florida Just To Get A Chicago Style Pizza

So as you probably know by know, I'm in Orlando, FL doing the DisneyWorld extravaganza with my bro-bro's wife, kids, and in-laws. As with most touristy places, the eats situation has been a mixed bag. Friday we ate at Chef Mickey's - a helluva good buffet for a joint that caters mainly to the Webkins crowd. Saturday was a mix of PBJ's and chips brought to the park while the evening brought the inevitably overpriced and insanely mediocre bill of fare served at the park itself.

Tonight, however, was a different story altogether. Tonight, my friends, I ate a stuffed pizza from none other than my favorite Chicago pie shop, Giordano's. When I heard there was a Giordano's here in Orlando, I nearly fell out of my chair. I've only ever eaten at Giordano's while in Chicago. The last time was in April when I went to visit my girlfriend's parents in Freeport, IL. There's nothing quite like it. If you're one of those pansies who only eat thin crust, then stop reading this right now. This isn't for you. As a matter of fact, I don't think we can go on being friends any more. Just go. I'm not kidding. Go!

Ok, for the rest of you, Giordano's makes the best Chicago style pizza, and by that I mean stuffed pizza. The kind where the tomato sauce is on top, and beneath it...beneath it are layers upon layers of mozzarella cheese, your toppings of choice (which are no longer toppings, really, more like middlings) and more delicious tomato sauce. The pie is surrounded by a circular fortress of the thickest, butteriest, golden-browniest crust imaginable. The kind you look forward to eating after you're done inhaling the soft, gooey, center. Yeah, it's serious stuff.

So as I walked into the palatial confines of the Orlando Giordano's, I couldn't help but think why the {fork} isn't there one of these in L.A.? And not just L.A. but anywhere in the state of California? And then I remembered, oh yeah, years ago a Pizzeria Uno opened in downtown West Hollywood. What a time that was! Me and my buddy Jayce would meet there and relive our Chi-town glory days (which, granted, really were not that glorious, but we did eat well.)

Too bad the Uno's only lasted about a year. I can only guess that the stuffed pizza, grinders, and mozzerella sticks didn't quite jell with the sushi and tofu crowd. But do you know what eventually replaced the Uno's in West Hollywood? A friggin' DuPars, which is your basic hole-in-the-wall diner (though I hear their pancakes are to die for.) So where's the logic in that?

Anyway, my point is this: are there any good pizza places at all in Los Angeles? Yeah, we got California Pizza Kitchen, but then again, so does Alabama. And that's not real pizza, it's designer pizza. And designer pizza does not fly on Michigan Avenue, superfans.

I hear lots of displaced east-coasters have their favorite New York style pizza places in L.A. One of them, Mulberry Street Pizza, is even rumored to import their water from the east coast so their pizza crust is like the real deal. Now that's dedication!

Me, I'll just settle for one Giordano's in California. I'm even willing to travel. Orange County, San Diego, Palm Springs...I'm flexible! Please don't make me beg. Couldn't we lose a few Del Tacos and have a Giordano's or even a Gino's in their stead? The trannies on Santa Monica Boulevard might even appreciate the change in pace.

Just don't make me have to go to Orlando to get my Chicago pizza fix. Mouse ears and stuffed pie just do not go hand in hand.

Friday, January 2, 2009

The Latte Fiasco

The following incident occurred at a Starbucks in Valdosta, GA sometime around 10:30am (EST):

I'm standing near the front counter staring once again at the vast array of hot steaming beverages choices. Vowing to not pay more than $3 for a cup of coffee ever again, but also feeling a bit crestfallen about Christmas being over so soon, I opted for a tall Christmas Blend. The barista immediately informed me that they are no longer brewing the Christmas Blend; rather, they are now serving the Anniversary Blend. Yes, friends, Christmas was indeed over.

I decided to play ball. "Ok, a tall Anniversary Blend," I said, whatever that entailed. For all I knew, "Anniversary Blend" could have meant they are using coffee grounds that have been sitting around for an entire year. But I've discovered that I'm usually in good hands at Starbucks so I powered through with the ordering process.

" Yes, a tall Anniverary Blend with the sugar-free hazelnut," I continued. Not only had I decided to spend less money on coffee this year but I also made a secret oath to cut down on nature's candy, ergo, less calories.

Here's where the story gets ugly.

My brother, captain of the S.S. Minivan, was treating for the java. "That what you want?" he asked me, looking somewhat incredulous. His father-in-law stood by quietly as I gave my brother and the barista the nod to go through with Project Hazelnut.

"Ok," my brother said as he laid down some greenbacks.

Quicker than you can say "macchiato," I was handed a tall Anniversary Blend. The barista repeated the order for emphasis.

Note he did not say "hazelnut." This is an important detail.

I walked over to what the less sophisticated folks call the "fixin's bar" where I could add some low-fat milk to what I was beginning to realize was just a poor man's latte. That's when I saw the omen. It was the color most omens seem to assume.

Black. Black-coffee-black to be exact.

The barista had not left room for any creamer-like substances. Something was not right. My brother joined me at the fixin's bar, unaware of my encroaching discomfort.

Then the barista said the words that sent my world into a veritable tailspin.

"Tall hazelnut latte," he said, as he blithely set down a lidded coffee cup on the "pick-up" end of the coffee counter. I stared at the phantom beverage, perplexed.

"What's that?" I said aloud, as if the drink was, in fact, an extra-terrestrial.

"That's the second coffee you ordered," my brother said somewhat sardonically.

"The second coffee???" I ejaculated. What alternative reality was I living in? Had Rod Serling himself foreseen the events that were transpiring?

My brother then broke it down for me. Here is his version of the story:

He asked me what I wanted to drink. I looked at the barista and ordered a tall Anniversary Blend. Then I paused, and added," And a hazelnut latte." My brother, taken aback by my brazen avarice, then said," You realize that's two drinks," to which I apparently replied, "Yes, talls." He paid for both drinks. End of his version.

Notice that both his version and my version share the same ending in which MY BROTHER PAID FOR BOTH DRINKS.

Even though I protested his absurd Gus Vant Sant-esque reimagining of my story, I asked him who the hell goes to Starbucks and orders two coffee drinks FOR THEMSELVES???

He did not question my logic. Rather, he charged that I had no logic to begin with while I was placing my order. But here's the kicker, folks.

His father-in-law also claimed I ordered two different drinks.

Remember that scene in ROSEMARY'S BABY when Mia Farrow's character realizes everyone in the apartment building worships Satan? That's how I felt at that moment, with Starbucks standing in for Beelzebub.

I had no leg to stand on. Apparently, even the barista agreed with my brother and his father-in-law.

But again I ask, if you offered to treat someone to cofeee and that person went ahead and ordered two very different cups of coffees, would you still foot the bill?

My brother seemed to think that part made sense. And I'm the crazy one of the family.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year! A Quick Look Back At 2008

Greetings readers! Seeing as 2009 is now upon us, I have decided that one of my new year resolutions will be to adopt the Stephen King rule, as taken from his most excellent book "On Writing," which is that I will write something, anything, at least two hours a day, every day, starting to-day. As I write this, I am sitting in a hotel room in Valdosta, Georgia, en route to DisneyWorld with my brother, sister-in-law, and their three rambunctious but adorable young'uns. Since I find myself on east coast time, I have realized that if I am to make good on my resolution, I have only a couple hours left to make it before the midnight deadline, wherein my laptop will turn into a pumpkin - or worse, a critic. Anywho, since I'm no way near compiling my Top Ten Movies of '08 yet, here instead are some Best/Worsts of yesteryear.

Best Movie: Though THE WRESTLER stole my heart even more than WALL*E, I think it's safe to say that the movie of the year is THE DARK KNIGHT. Though it initially fell short of my mammoth, fanboy-inflamed, expectations, my multiple viewings of it since have confirmed it as not just a masterpiece of superhero cinema, but also a terrifically labyrinthine crime drama that plumbs the darkest corners of humanity while holding a mirror up to our own two faces. Seeing it in IMAX was the best movie presentation I experienced all year long.

Worst Movie: RIGHTEOUS KILL - I'm sure it's not as bad as 88 MINUTES, but to think the last two movies Pacino and DeNiro did together were HEAT and THE GODFATHER II makes this stinker stink even more.


Best TV Show: I love me some "Lost," but last season was hard to beat, so this year the best show on TV by far was "Mad Men." Beneath the eye-popping costumes (helloooo Joan!) and production design is the most compelling portrayal of the work/family dynamic since "The Sopranos." Hey HBO, you passed on this but picked up that awful animated show? Really? No...really.

Worst TV Show: "Worst Week." One episode was enough to convince me to skip the whole week altogether. Just awful.

Best Song: "Dawn of the Dead" by Does It Offend You, Yeah? It's catchy and infectious, just like it's beloved namesake. Took me damned near forever to find it on INDIE 103.1's infernally confusing website.

Worst Song: "I Kissed A Girl" by Katy Perry. This song is also catchy and infectious, but when you hear it every single time you turn on the radio and television, you want to find some antidote - stat!

Best Over-All Moment: Election Night, Tuesday, November 4th. All of my worst fears stemming from the preposterous media-driven circus that was the 2008 Election were mercifully not confirmed on that glorious night, providing a hopeful ray of light that outshone all the inane Joe The Plumber-SixPack-Maverick-Main Street-Wall Street-Pit Bull-Hockey Mom histrionics. One caveat: we didn't need all the incessant cutaways to Oprah's adoring visage nestled on Joe Shmoe's shoulder to confirm how just how momentous the occasion really was.

Worst Moment: I could have done without the health scare in October, but thanks to the support of family and friends, I rode through the storm unscathed and came out all the stronger for it. You can never have enough reminders to take the absolute best care of yourself.

Best wishes to all for a happy and healthy 2009! Stay tuned....

TWOTS