Oscar Death Race: The First 9

idolator oscar

Alice in Wonderland: After the supremely disappointing duo of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Sweeney Todd, I was pleasantly surprised by Alice. Mia Wasikowska is one of the least affected young actresses working today, and her performance grounded a film that is essentially one long, whimsical acid trip. I loved how strong this Alice was–this girl would never drown in her own tears. And while Depp’s warring accents were distracting, Stephen Fry as the Chesire Cat makes the whole thing worth it (not to mention Alan Rickman as the Caterpillar).

Black Swan: I was a bit underwhelmed by this movie, I have to admit, and I think the problem is Portman. The story was engaging, sure, and the costumes and effects were compellingly creepy, but her performance didn’t feel like it went beyond the surface, for all that training and drastic weight loss. While I was watching, I found myself rooting for Nina, but I can’t say her story stayed with me once it was over. The best movies of this genre will haunt you–this one was ultimately a lot of beautifully executed but forgettable parlor tricks.

Blue Valentine: Such a distressing little film this is. It feels so private that I almost wish I’d watched it at home rather than in a theater. Gosling and Williams live up to the hype surrounding their performances, as each are by turns charming and  horrible to one another. My one complaint is overuse of Indie Shaky Cam cinematography, but otherwise a wonderful little snapshot of everyday dysfunction. Essentially a big middle finger to every romantic movie that led you to believe the fairy tale.

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As close to being mad as makes no difference

Over at my beloved A.V. Club, Steven Hyden’s been writing a wonderful series called “Whatever Happened to Alternative Nation?”, a look back at the mainstream rock movements of the 1990s. This week’s entry is on Oasis and Radiohead, and predictably it took about thirty seconds before the snobbish bickering began in the comments thread (in fact, it started two weeks ago, when Hyden announced the topic of this week’s article). It’s such a tired debate that I almost feel like my generation continues to have it just so we feel that these passions we had as teenagers are still relevant. But really, reading through the comments got me thinking about being a hardcore fan of anything. The shame and defensiveness that goes along with loving something so much.

Now, when I say hardcore fan, I’m not talking about this dude. Or this batshit girlfriend over here. I’m talking about those of us who, while we might draw the line at a full back tattoo of Thom Yorke and his Lazy Eye, feel personally attacked when someone else hates something we love. As I’ve spent more time reading and writing criticism I’ve become progressively less offended by other people’s tastes, but boy howdy did I get into it with people in high school. I’ll still get into it with you in the Radiohead vs. Coldplay debate, but I won’t see your views as a moral failing if we disagree.

With a band as polarizing as Radiohead, you have to accept that haters exist. What I think’s so interesting is the number of people who feel the need to express their hatred of this band specifically to antagonize those of us who love it. I had friends who did this, I see it all the goddamn time on the interweb. This is not a case of spirited debate. It’s a case of people insisting that another group’s taste is wrong. And it goes back and forth in an endless, indignant circle.

I’ve got a number of strong opinions about art, pop culture and the like. I prefer it if you also have strong opinions. I f-ing hate the Doors, and you probably won’t convince me otherwise. But if I know the Lizard King is your personal hero, I’m not going to try and bully you into feeling differently. It’s a waste of time. With things like Radiohead or Tarantino or the Simpsons, I feel like half the backlash is the strength of passion they bring out in their fans. As if anything eliciting that level of adoration needs to be put in its place, as something not actually that wonderful.

I suppose it’s frustrating to feel like you’re supposed to love something that doesn’t do it for you, especially if you had to listen to a bunch of adolescents hyperbolize endlessly over that band/movie/show you just don’t get (and the internet tends to bring out this tendency in people). But at this point, why does the debate stay so personal? I’d like to elevate the conversation to another level, wouldn’t you?

Or maybe you just want to tell me I’m an idiot for hating Jim Morrison.


Lovely things

1. With the help of his daughters, Neil Gaiman made Narnia in his backyard.

2. Lasted, the most recent LP from Benoit Pioulard (aka Tom Meluch). Once upon a time, Tom was a very dear friend of mine, and though we’ve lost touch I’m still so proud to see him make such beautiful things. Even after all this time, I listen to this album and it’s just quintessentially the boy I knew. I can imagine this song drifting out of the speakers of his car as we drove up the highway to New York nine years back. More people should have Benoit in their lives.


Frugal Chariots

There’s this book I’ve had since I was ten, that I only read in the dead of winter, preferably curled up in bed with a cup of tea and snow falling outside my window. Never before Christmas. The pages are brittle and turning yellow around the edges. The cover has started to tear. I’ve read this book, this exact book (and the rest in the series) almost every year for nearly twenty years. Sometimes I’ll recommend the book to someone, but I’ve never had the urge to listen to an audio recording or see a film adaptation. This is a story that has felt intensely personal since the first time I read it–the world I’ve created in my head is a sacred one, that I don’t want to sully with anyone else’s interpretation.

I bought this book at a flea market in Oxford, England the summer before my senior year of high school. I’ve read it several times, and it gets funnier and more profound as I get older. More importantly I bought that book the same day as my first Radiohead concert, the day I met my friend Tom, and every time I look at it I think of that wonderful day, that perfect summer, and the friendship that bloomed out of it.

So while, as a voracious reader, I see the pragmatic appeal of an ipad or kindle or what have you, I find it hard to believe I’ll ever own one. Now, I said the same thing about an ipod, and when mine broke, I felt like I lost a limb. But there’s a sentimental attachment I have to books as objects and the sensuality of reading them that make me loath to trade them in for a flat, sterile piece of hardware, no matter how many 500-page tomes it might be able to hold.

My brother argued that you can make the same point about records, but I think the crucial difference is how music is experienced versus literature. Ultimately, reading is a private act–you can discuss a book, you can write reviews and doctoral theses, but the experience of reading something is uniquely yours. However faulty the logic may be, to me the book is what it holds, whereas the record or cd or mp3 file is simply a vehicle for the thing.

This isn’t to say that people don’t have personal connections to music–I’m the first one to start in on how Morrissey shares my pain, etc–but a lot of the time, at least for me, music is more about the collective experience. You send songs to your friends, listen to music at dinner or a party, go to concerts. I love music more than almost anything, but nothing gets inside me like a good book, which is intrinsically tied into the smell of old glue and the feel of pages between my fingers, the way my palm curves over the spine of a book I’ve been reading for two decades. It’s the familiarity of an old friend. And as uncharacteristically technophobic and sentimental as it may be, the idea of all that becoming a thing of the past breaks my heart.

Go find that book you loved when you were ten, and tell me that opening the cover doesn’t feel like coming home.

Mme Catastrophe’s Time-Suck Friday

So I didn’t write in this blog for nearly two months. Here’s how I was otherwise squandering my time:

-I’m weirdly fixated on live-blogs of books lately, and also with Twilight criticism. Because those books are so deeply wrong on so many levels, and so deliciously cracktastic, and there’s this huge community that just doesn’t seem to get either of those things. It’s like how I used to take Dawson’s Creek seriously. But anyway, Cleolinda’s Twilight blogs are truly hilarious for the ever-increasing sarcasm and incredulity as the “saga” unfolds. I don’t think anyone should read these books, but many people would appreciate this woman’s recap of the last, Mormons-on-acid book in the quartet.

-Reading that lead me to Mark Reads Twilight–in which the man foams at the mouth over the quality of the writing and offensive messages strewn copiously throughout these books. Then he moved on to Harry Potter, and his chapter-by-chapter reviews of the series is as close as I’ll probably get to reading the series fresh, and he’s also hilariously funny in depicting how  these books can break a grown-man’s heart. I particularly like the sad-meme montage after Harry’s parents’ spirits appear out of his wand at the end of Goblet of Fire.

-I went to camp with Paz de la Huerta–the thing I remember most is that she used to borrow my face wash. Now she’s a very famous actor/model/muse and gives interviews like this one that make my eyebrows raise another few centimeters every other paragraph. But that girl is a hot mess, in a really deliciously gossipy way.

-The wonderfully sick British comedy Peep Show is now available on Hulu. My dear friend Tom had me over to watch this and drink PG Tips last year while we lived in the Alps with nothing to do, and I’m forever grateful. Think a modern-day Odd Couple, but with ten times the discomfort of the original U.K. Office.

-Last awesome British import discovered while gorging on my parents’ 900 cable channels: Law & Order U.K. All the popcorn-addictiveness of the World-Famous Original Ray’s version, but with wigs and charming accents. It’s really strange to hear Jamie Bamber with an English accent after Battlestar Galactica, but I’m certainly not complaining.

“C’Mon Kids, Let’s Put On A Show:” Velvet Goldmine Redux

Last night (N.B. by “last night” I mean “this summer.” Because I have been a blogging super slacker the last few months. I am hoping that will change, but I make no promises. Also, given that I started writing this post back in July, it may have a little of the Kubla Khan disjointedness), at the request of a friend, I revisited one of my all-time favorite films, Todd Haynes’ Velvet Goldmine.  If you’ve known me long enough, we’ve probably watched this together at some point. I watched it so many times in high school, I wore out my VHS tape. When I say this movie changed my life, I’m not kidding—I encountered it first as an impressionable 14-year-old, and it subsequently impacted the way I dressed, my taste in music, the kind of guys I found attractive, the books I read. I hadn’t seen the film in a few years and I was curious to see if I would find it as compelling now that I’m older, wiser, and less inclined to cover my combat boots in glitter paint.

Velvet Goldmine tells the fictional rise and fall of ‘70s glam rocker Brian Slade (played by a stunningly fey Jonathan Rhys Meyers). Blatantly aping the structure of Citizen Kane, the film traces the career of Slade and his alter-ego, Maxwell Demon, via interviews with his first manager (Michael Feast) and ex-wife (Toni Collette). Christian Bale plays our intrepid reporter, Arthur, who reflects on his own place within the Glam Rock movement while digging through the sordid details of Slade’s climb to fame and high-profile affair with Iggy-Pop stand-in Curt Wild (Ewan McGregor). Velvet Goldmine is a giddy spectacle first and foremost, but those critics who wrote it off as vapid are missing the point of the film—which in my opinion, is about the power of creative energy.

We see Arthur as an adult, numb and unsmiling with the grey backdrop of ‘80s New York a purposefully stark contrast to the ‘70s psychedelic smorgasbord of color. As a closeted teen (in an offensively bad wig), Arthur is liberated by the exhibitionism of his musical idols. Take the scene of a Brian Slade press conference, where the singer vamps and minces for the reporters, and young Arthur watches rapt from his living room. When questioned about his sexuality,Slade proclaims “I should think that if people were to get the wrong impression of me…it wouldn’t be the wrong impression in the slightest.” Arthur is transformed. “That’s me! That’s me, Dad!” he imagines shouting, before we cut to him silent, peeking glances at his stone-faced parents as they watch the interview.

For anyone who’s felt a little off-center, who suddenly found in their discovery of music someone whounderstood the core of who they were, and not only that, legitimized it, this scene should strike a chord. Like all rock music, glam was about giving the middle finger to the mainstream while simultaneously co-opting the best bits until counter-culture and plain-old-regular culture blended together. At the start of the film, Brian Slade is doing his best to fuck the establishment with copious gender-bending, but can’t get anyone to listen. Curt Wild shows him how it’s done (clip awesomely NSFW):

If I had to pick one reason for people to watch this movie, that scene would be it. I love the decadence and meticulous construction of Brian Slade’s world, but the raw power–pardon the pun–of McGregor’s performance single-handedly sets him up as the catalyst for everything that follows, and the link that will improbably connect Brian to Arthur.

I found it interesting, after I’m Not There came out, when critics finally started to bring Velvet Goldmine into conversations about Todd Haynes. It’s generally talked about as a test-run for the later film, and there are certainly similarities. I’m Not There is absolutely a more mature work, but I (clearly, given the length of this entry) think that VG shouldn’t be considered as a footnote in the director’s career. It’s rare that a movie is both genuinely entertaining and thought-provoking, one that conveys the feel of a specific point in time so precisely without turning into a dry period piece. I love showing this movie to people for the first time, because I always hope it will give them the same shot of pure pleasure that it does for me. I don’t think I can say any more to support my case: if at this point you still don’t want to check it out, well, nothing’s going to convince you. But if you’re intrigued, then I encourage you to watch it at maximum volume.