Julie and I saw a total of 14 films in this year’s installment of our annual Oscar-nominated movie binge. The following reviews are listed from least-favorite to most-admired.
I suppose you must get tired of feigning interest when long-time fans confront you with lists of all the ELP concerts they saw, what was going on in their lives when they first heard Tarkus, how they named the family pet Emerson, etc. I can’t imagine the monotony of smiling at the same stories and politely answering the same questions again and again. All the same, I feel the fan’s compulsion to let you know about my personal appreciation of your work and why I believe you have made the world a better place. I’ll try to express my thoughts with some insights that perhaps you haven’t heard before!
Julie and I took in 17 films this year for our fifth annual Oscar-nominated film watching endeavor, including all eight movies in the running for Best Picture. Here are my thoughts on the lot, ranked from worst to best.
For the fourth consecutive year, my wife and I have dealt with the bitter reality of a Midwestern winter by running from it, hiding in the dark to watch films deemed worthy by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. This time we set a new record, managing to see 17 films nominated in various categories. Impressive yet sad, is it not? And still, we could not bring ourselves to round out the acting awards by sitting through Into the Woods. Nevertheless, here is my ranking of this year's crop.
The nine films up for Best Picture
Once again, Julie and I have battled the winter blahs by immersing ourselves in the alternative reality of cinema, squirreled away in top row center for our annual marathon of Best Picture nominees. This year, we were able to see all of the films that received acting and directing nods as well. Below are my reviews of the dozen pictures in contention for these awards, presented in ascending order from least liked to best loved.
It's an utter indulgence, but for the second year in a row, my wife and I have seen all nine of the Best Picture nominees prior to the Academy Awards. Indulgent, I say, because the aggregate twenty hours and nineteen minutes that we spent watching the films might have been put to more practical use doing nearly anything else, not to mention the bucks frittered away on our admission and concessions tab. Still, there are worse things you could do with your time and money, and as a means of distraction from the dreariness of winter, it's cheaper than professional therapy (and perhaps nearly as beneficial). Plus we're all set to be the hit of the cocktail party, should we ever attend one.
Overall, I found more enjoyment and enlightenment in last year's crop of nominees, a diverse lot of worthwhile films with an average running time of 125 minutes. This year's average is 135 minutes, which is the time-consuming equivalent of adding a tenth movie to the mix. More and more audiences have been exiting theaters asking, "Why? Why did the movie have to be so long?" The unfortunate answer, I'm afraid, is "It didn't."
There comes a time in the life of an artist when he or she is poised to do something truly great, if only the whims of circumstance would allow it. In 1975, the planets had aligned for Stevie Wonder, who was riding high on the success of recent top ten singles such as "Superstition," "You Are the Sunshine of My Life," "Higher Ground" and "Living for the City." His contract with Motown Records gave him full creative control, and a combination of critical acclaim (eight Grammy Awards up to that point) and commercial success allowed him the luxury of stretching his legs on his next project. Songs in the Key of Life eventually hit the record racks in the fall of 1976, a year after its originally anticipated release. What must have seemed an interminable delay at the time is now a mere moment in music history. A rare album like Songs in the Key of Life is worth whatever amount of time its creator deems necessary.
The legendary result is a flawlessly executed work of genius. 21 songs written by Stevie Wonder (only four of them with the help of co-writers) with a total running time of more than 100 minutes. An embarrassment of riches that could not fit within the vinyl confines of a double album, and so four of the songs were pressed onto a bonus EP. A richly produced work that featured contributions from Herbie Hancock, George Benson and Minnie Riperton, among others, yet three of the tracks were performed exclusively by multi-instrumentalist Wonder. A stunning range of musical styles written, arranged, produced and performed with the confidence of an industry veteran. Astonishingly, though Stevie Wonder was a seasoned talent by the time of the album's release, he was nevertheless only twenty-six years old.
The Real Greg Brady sings with his doppelganger, actor Cory Hansen.
The burden of the eldest child is the yoke of responsibility, and though Barry Williams actually grew up as the youngest of three brothers, he is most famous for his role as Greg Brady, the big brother of the Brady Bunch. As such, he knows a thing or two about the onus of the oldest. "I'm the one who's carrying the torch," he observes in the lobby of Yakov's Theatre in Branson, Missouri, where he has begun a five-year run of a new show called Lunch with the Brady Bunch. Embracing and nurturing his Brady legacy is something that Barry has been doing since penning his bestselling autobiography twenty years ago. Now the man behind Johnny Bravo has moved to the Ozarks and is establishing himself as a permanent member of Branson's entertainment community.
Originally conceived as an adaptation of the cabaret show that Barry has performed around the country for years, Lunch with the Brady Bunch evolved into a program tailored for Branson audiences thanks to a successful trial run that incorporated spectator feedback with advice from theater owner Yakov Smirnoff. The result should please not only Brady fans but anyone with a fondness for the sights and sounds of the seventies and an appreciation of musical theater.
Traffic was backed up for four miles on the southbound lanes of I-35 near Huxley, Iowa on Tuesday afternoon as crews labored to clean up a spilled semitrailer load of Jell-O pudding cups. Meanwhile, a mere 25 miles away, former Jell-O spokesman Bill Cosby was a featured speaker at the Get Motivated "business seminar" in Des Moines. These are indisputable facts, and for some reason, they are funny. Even the Associated Press coverage of the accident, which mentioned neither the brand name Jell-O nor the nearby presence of Cosby, was amusing, mainly due to the line "Pudding cups littered the interstate." The heart of the matter is this: a pudding spill is funny.
Of course, it is unlikely that the semi driver has joined the chorus of chuckles. Although he escaped uninjured, he did endure the harrowing experience of driving down the highway and suddenly discovering that his trailer was on fire. After pulling over to the berm and detaching his cab, he awaited the arrival of emergency crews while his trailer became engulfed in flames. His cargo spilled from the side of the trailer onto the roadway. Far from being amused, the driver was likely grateful to be alive while overwhelmed by the practical implications of the incident. What was the cause of the accident? Who, if anyone, was responsible? Were the trailer and its contents insured? What needs to be done next? Meanwhile, I doubt that cleanup crews found much levity in the unenviable task of removing the mess while impatient motorists backed up mile after mile.
I am sitting by the front windows at a table adorned with a small vase of fresh-cut daisies and miniature yellow roses, clacking away at my laptop while sipping from a large mocha espresso. It is mid-morning, well after the breakfast rush and still more than an hour away from the onset of the lunch crowd, yet there has been no scarcity of customers. An ebullient woman dressed as a skeleton and a cocky guy in the garb of a Mardi Gras king are competing for the approval of the audience as Let's Make A Deal unfolds on a flat-screen display. No one pays any attention to the spectacle, though, its raucous proceedings muffled by the general din of conversation and an industrious, cheery staff.
The dining area is a collage of browns, beiges and oranges, offset with bold murals of modern art featuring swaths of black and white, red and yellow, and a high-contrast, monochromatic portrait of a young woman of ambiguous expression staring upward as her negatively silhouetted hand cradles a photorealistic hamburger. Behind the counter is an even more aggressive design scheme: yard-long, rectangular backsplash panels in adjoining fields of midnight black and fire engine red. A light wood grain laminate dominates not only the floor but the walls as well. Unobtrusive lighting recessed within acoustical ceiling tile illuminates a variety of seating options, from a long, tall, wooden table flanked by a dual row of upholstered bar stools to a series of white fiberglass tables adjacent to a long, cushioned bench that runs along the front of the room. It's a quirky mix of variety and uniformity, as though an interior decorator were given complete artistic freedom within severely defined constraints.