Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Moment You've All Been Waiting For: Oscar Recap!!!

I spent Sunday evening watching the Oscars with my computer on my lap and discussing the mostly mind-numbingly boring telecast via gchat. "I'm so glad gchat exists," I wrote to my friend Chris, "otherwise I don't think I could handle watching this by myself." This was early in the evening too--actually during the soul-crushingly vapid red carpet promenade. ("I'm really disappointed that there's Hannah Montana synergy happening," was what Chris had to say about that.)

Have you ever seen anyone more obsequious than Regis? I never thought I'd say this, but I think I miss Joan Rivers.

Though, WHY WAS MICKEY ROONEY THERE? AND HOW IS HE STILL ALIVE? These were the burning questions I wanted my red carpet telecast to answer! (Chris decided that was not actually Mickey Rooney, but a robot). Instead we got Regis asking random high school kids whether they were excited to see Hannah Montana (by the way, not only did she get to go to the Oscars, but she got to wear Valentino--life is so unfair) and calling Javier Bardem Xavier. Stay classy, Rege.

Speaking of Javier Bardem, who won Best Supporting Actor Sunday night (surprise, surprise), I love how he didn't bother to shave. Instead of looking slovenly, he merely made everyone else look overly vain and pretentious.

My vote for best-dressed: Best Actress winner Marion Cotillard, who wore a white, witty Gaultier mermaid dress that transcended the usual fishtail dresses you see on the Red Carpet by being covered in what looked like actual fish scales. Very high fashion. Tilda Swinton shocked everyone by eschewing makeup and wearing a slinky, almost wet-looking, black one-sleeved Lanvin dress. She looked a little Bowie, a little crazy, and I loved her for it. Cate Blanchett looked radiant and bohemian in purple Dries Van Noten. But everyone else? Zzzzzzzz... (Oh, except for Daniel Day Lewis and his wife Rebecca Miller, who were delightfully eccentric: DDL with his foppish hair and brown suede shoes and Miller with her black-lace puffy Lacroix gown with zebra-print shoes: they were like a less deranged Tim Burton and Helena Bonham Carter.)

As for the award ceremony itself. I can't tell you how many times I typed variations of "This is so boring" to either Chris or my boyfriend. So predictable. Only surprises:

1. Costume: I thought either Atonement or Sweeney Todd would win, though Chris was not surprised ("Can you make things that look old and European? Here's your Oscar!" was what he said about that). My boyfriend astutely noted that the bespectacled winner, wearing a calico dress, was Diablo Cody 20 years from now.

2. Cinematography: Thought the revered Roger Deakins would take this for No Country for Old Men (he has never won an Oscar before), but I thought winner There Will Be Blood was quite worthy. God, was that film gorgeous!

3. Supporting Actress: There wasn't really a clear front-runner here, but I was thrilled Tilda won. And she had the best acceptance speech of the night--waxing poetic on the golden statue's buttocks.

The montages were especially lame this year. I mean, one was scored to "My Heart Will Go On." Unironically, of course.

Other questions: Why did Owen Wilson feel the needs to translate "Les Mozart des Pickpockets" into English? Was that a typewriter Sarah Polley was typing on in the footage for best adapted screenplay? ("She has final draft on a macbook pro. has to," Chris said.) Where did all those beefcake construction workers come from (Chris: "My dreams"), and didn't that second (out of three!) Enchanted song sound exactly like "Under the Sea"? Were the Coen Bros. stoned? Is the From Here to Eternity just one scene? (Chris: "It's just 90 minutes of kissing on a beach.") Why does Nicole Kidman look skinnier now that she's pregnant? (Though, loved her diamonds!) Chris decided it was an implosive baby. Will we ever be able to see "Henry Kissinger: Man on the Go"? Pretty please.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Some Thoughts On The Oscars

My two favorite days of the year are Halloween and Oscar Night. Ridiculous, I know, particularly in the case of the latter. I have gone on various diatribes against the Academy Awards and have dismissed them as merely being a popularity contest. Still, there's some sort of voyeuristic pleasure I get from watching all these glamorous people all dolled up and reveling in some crass, in-your-face, old fashioned partying and glitz. It's so very Hollywood. Also, much of the pleasure that comes from watching the Academy Awards (preferably with friends -- and ballots! -- and lots of wine!) is the griping or sometimes passionate arguments that are sure to ensue afterwards. For this reason, I was really hoping the writer's strike would be over by Oscar night. But -- because I just love film as an art form as well -- I was also kinda hoping it wasn't resolved. I feel like the Oscars isn't really a celebration of film at all. A.O. Scott articulated these thoughts in his story on the Oscars in today's NYT:

I'm only slightly ashamed to admit that I found myself hoping that the strike would shut the Academy Awards down; that for once, in a year of such cinematic bounty and variety, appreciation for the best movies could be liberated from the pomp and tedium of Hollywood spectacle.

Oh, Tony. Will you be my friend?

I am trying to get excited about the awards tonight, but, honestly, I don't even know if I'm going to watch. My apathy is due greatly to not having a party to attend or host. Seriously, what fun is the red carpet posing without the snarky commentary? What fun are the awards without a ballot and prizes? Plus, I think Juno might win, and we all know how I feel about that.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Juno: The Ultimate Male Fantasy

Aren't my sunglasses, like, so ironic? Fox Searchlight Pictures

This blog is slowly becoming entirely devoted to one specific film: the extremely divisive family-friendly hipster pseudo-indie film about teen pregnancy Juno. (I promise I will change that eventually, but now is not the time.)

I realize that much of the Juno hate (mine included) is intensified by, and perhaps even rooted in, the idea of it being undeserving of lavish praise--or of its various Oscar noms. (I wrote about this specific type of hate -- which sometimes spins off to a backlash phenomenon -- about the critics who love to hate über-hip designer Marc Jacobs on my other blog.) Perhaps if Juno were a small film that got mediocre or tepid reviews, that few people saw, and that went about its innocuous, quiet way, we would not devote screeds to its unworthiness and awful screenplay. (Yes, there are screeds.) A recent Entertainment Weekly cover story on the film had studio people saying we should expect to see many more films with strong teenage film characters now, as though Juno were the first movie EVER made about a "smart," "different," adolescent girl--to which I respond: Heathers, Ghost World, Saved (also, incidentally, about teen pregnancy), and even, I would argue, Legally Blonde, which has a protagonist who is as much of an outsider (and is empowered by her outsider status) at Harvard Law as Juno is in her suburban teenage wasteland. The blog fourfour has an excellent, smart response to the EW article, which asserts that Juno is better than its forebears, because "those characters [in Heathers and Ghost World] were more weirdos than antiheroes. They were marginalized by their difference, whereas Juno is empowered by hers." Fourfour responds:

[A]ren't Ghost World's Enid and Rebecca empowered by being marginalized? Isn't a major theme in that movie how being an outcast gives you a great vantage point from which to view society? Ghost World is, after all, fundamentally a movie about the great American pastime that is shit-talking. I'm not sure how Heathers' Veronica isn't ultimately empowered either, since she escapes her clique without, you know, dying. In fact, I'd argue that what makes those teen-girl characters so awesome is their struggle with being marginalized and empowered. It's part of the whole process of uncertainty that defines the teenage years of so many people in this country. These characters are girls, not superheroes.

I would like to take this even further: Juno's message of girl-power through succumbing to motherhood and getting the guy is admirable but, ultimately, rather faulty and retrograde. Winona's character in Heathers rejects the guy, rejects the popular clique, saves school from burning down, and becomes her own person. The last scene shows her emerging victorious from the flames and asking a wheelchair-bound girl if she wants to ditch prom and hang out and watch movies instead. I mean, come on, that is BADASS. (This is why I wanted to be Winona Ryder at a certain period in my life.) How is that final scene not empowering? Beats me.

I don't want to devalue the suffering and the bravery required to go through an adolescent pregnancy--and I think the experience could lead to empowerment. But the sugar-coated world of the film doesn't lead to that. Instead, we have the man's (or society's) version of the idealized female: the girl who realizes that her purpose really is to reproduce and who gets fulfillment through having a baby and finding a man. Typical.

(Still to come: Juno and its references (in response to your comment from my last post, Chris).)

Saturday, February 2, 2008

More on Juno, Pregnancy Films

From Juno; Fox Searchlight Pictures

First, Manohla Dargis, then David Edelstein. Now, Village Voice critic J. Hoberman criticizes Juno. Hmm... could this be the beginning of a Juno backlash. (I hope so!!!!) Also, Sasha Frere-Jones hates it too, as do some other people. (We are few, but we are mighty.)

Back to Hoberman: he has quite an insightful reading of recent American pregnancy comedies (Juno, Knocked Up, Waitress) and compares them with the Romanian pregnancy/abortion drama 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, which won the Palm d'or at Cannes last year. A film using an unwanted pregnancy for comedic fodder is odd enough, but three films doing so in the same year is somewhat disturbing. Perhaps the filmmakers/screenwriters can see comedy in the situations because they -- and their pregnant protagonists -- are middle-class and white. Money, religion, class, struggle, the judgment of society, the damage to their futures: these are not the primary concerns of these characters. The issue of unwanted pregnancy is significantly more complicated for a woman who does not have the money to raise a child OR to have an abortion -- or someone who lives in a totalitarian state that has banned abortions, as in 4 Months. (As Hoberman writes: "Had the protagonists been poor, black, illegal, or Jamie Lynn Spears, the movies necessarily would have been more serious and scarcely as much fun.")

Hoberman doesn't slam these films for their being pro-life (a criticism of several critics of Knocked Up), but for not allowing their protagonists a choice:

Knocked Up, Waitress, and Juno are proudly fantastic and a priori pro-life; their female protagonists have no choice other than to bring their pregnancies to term. Obviously, these movies could not exist if their preg protags elected to have abortions. What's more crucial is the fact that the Knockee, the Waitress, and even the hyper-articulate 15-year-old hipster improbably named Juno are unable to express why they feel obliged to give birth to unplanned and unwanted babies. They have no choice and they have no say. It is simply their fate.


There can be no female agency in Knocked Up, Waitress, and Juno -- not because they are comedies, but because, in each scenario, unwanted pregnancy is the joke played (by God?) on the female lead. As the most successful of the preg protags, she who is Knocked Up is necessarily the most smacked down -- the glass ceiling turns out to be Alison's own uterus. Jenna and Juno are less formidable, but unexpected fertility mocks their dreams of autonomy. All three are taught their place by their own bodies—and what's more, they learn to like it.

I do agree that the "choices" to have the babies in these films are overly simplistic and not fully developed (I mean, I would imagine even a devout Catholic who got pregnant outside of wedlock would struggle with the choice of whether to keep the baby or not.) One thing that I have found problematic (and, frankly, so bourgeoise) about other critics' dismissals of KU is the argument that no woman in her right-mind with a good job would have that baby. Well, there are plenty of reasons to choose to have a baby; the problem with these narratives is not that the women go ahead with their pregnancies, it's that they don't have free will, which Hoberman acknowledges:

If Knocked Up's Alison were a devout (or even lapsed) Catholic in addition to being a glamorous newsreader, if Waitress's guilt-ridden Jenna imagined that a child would improve her disastrous marriage, if little Juno were planning a welfare scam to fund her alt-rock band or simply wanted to gross out the neighbors, these narratives would still function, but now with the added aspect of free will.

Hoberman is critical of all three films, though he seems to have at least enjoyed Knocked Up: "at least cathartic in its humorously blatant misogyny," he writes. He calls Waitress "pathetic," but saves most of his ire for Juno: "Juno, which was written by a woman and has become something of a fetish (albeit mainly among male film critics), is positively creepy."

Juno's knocked-up 15-year-old is at once provocatively precocious and primly pre-sexual. Her pregnancy is a miracle of bad luck—she simultaneously loses her virginity and conceives a baby. It's all but immaculate... Juno decides to have her baby. Not to worry: It won't be for keeps. She will donate the infant to a deserving careerwoman with a deadbeat husband and a stopped biological clock.

Even more than Juno's understanding father and benign stepmom, this act of charity is the movie's essential fantasy. It scarcely seems coincidental that Juno was released in time for Christmas. Pivot its scenario 90 degrees to the right and you have a more spiritual version of Knocked Up. People love clever little Juno because she isn't really a teenager, let alone a person. Juno is an angel.

Wait, she's not a person? Maybe that explains why she says stuff like "I'm forshizz up the spout." Honest to blog!