Tuesday, July 27, 2010

What's to Come

So...The Big Pretentious Movie Summer is in full swing. I've added eleven films to the list. They are:

Leaving Las Vegas
- Mike Figgis (1995)*
Autumn Sonata - Ingmar Bergman (1978)
Before Sunrise - Richard Linklater (1995)*
Before Sunset - Richard Linklater (2004)
Birth - Jonathan Glazer (2004)+
Trouble the Water - Tia Lessin and Carl Deal (2008/2009)
The Class - Laurent Cantet (2008)
Toy Story 2 - John Lasseter (1999)
Blade Runner - Ridley Scott (1982)
Morvern Callar - Lynne Ramsay (2002)*
You Can Count on Me - Kenneth Lonergan (2000)

*Films I've already viewed, though they haven't been added to the official list.
+Films I need to re-watch

I've also omitted some films from the list, some for complicated reasons, others for logistical reasons, all of which will be viewed at some point. They are:

Life is Sweet - Mike Leigh (1993)*
Topsy Turvy - Mike Leigh (1999)*
Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice - Paul Mazursky
The Last Detail - Hal Ashby (1973)
Deconstructing Harry - Woody Allen (1997)
Dangerous Liaisons - Stephen Frears (1988)
American Graffiti - George Lucas (1973)+
The Mission - Roland Joffé (1986)
Harvey - Henry Koster (1951)
Wonder Boys - Curtis Hanson (2000)

*I need to find copies of these films somewhere. I still have yet to find a copy of Safe - Todd Haynes (1995), but I think I'll purchase that one.

+One of the whitest people I've ever met with very middlebrow tastes in film and culture in general described this movie as "Kind of overly-nostalgic, dated and a bit too cute." I'll watch it someday, but the clock is ticking and that comment took my already tepid expectations and submerged them in a liquid nitrogen tank.

So, with the new total (adding 11, subtracting 10), that means the total is 156, rather than 155.

Also, towards the end of the year, sometime before the Third Annual Pretentious Movie Awards, I'll be completing my list of best 100 favorite films of the 2000s. I know it was the in-vogue thing to do it last year, when the aughts actually ended, but doing it at the end of 2010 has its advantages. Firstly, I have enough distance from 2009 that I know which films from that list will be in the best of the decade. I will also be doing a list of the top 20 performances in the four acting categories (leading/supporting for male and female) as well as my top five directors of the decade and (just because I can't avoid schaudenfraude) the top 10 overrated films of the decade.

Peace, Love and Pretension.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

A Few Thoughts on Inception

I interrupt the regular scheduled programming to give you a few brief thoughts about Inception, because it seems like this week, the world isn't allowed to talk about anything else.

First of all, I liked it, as I have most of Christopher Nolan's films. But I liked it with huge reservation. For better or for worse, I enter a film through the acting and the writing (in that order). The fact that more than half of the cast can boast the title "Academy Award nominee" and more than half of those people are actually deserving of the honor, there's no reason to expect phoned-in thesp-ing. And for the most part, the acting here is quite serviceable, with a few notable exceptions. Any accusations of thin performances are not solely the fault of the actors here, who do what they can to compensate for the fact that they are not playing characters, but rather ideas "projections of Christopher Nolan's subconscious," if you will. For a film that is all about the subconscious and levels thereof, it certainly states its ideas rather obtusely, and repeatedly.

This is especially true of the two women, one of whom (Marion Cotillard's "Mal") actually is a projection of the subconscious. Christopher Nolan has demonstrated that he cannot write female characters, from Natalie, Rachel Dawes, Olivia Wenscombe, to now Mal and Ariadne (Ellen Page). I know that Nolan's fanbase skews male, so I'll tread lightly here because they seem to think he's a great writer, director, producer, singer, dancer, impressionist painter, et. al. Actually, I won't tread lightly. A great writer is a keen observer of the world in which they live. Women are kind of everywhere. Why then the thin, flimsy characterizations? I love the choices that some of his actresses make, certainly. Carrie-Ann Moss, especially. The fact that Maggie Gyllenhaal improved tenfold upon Katie Holmes's Rachel Dawes while still sleepwalking (sorry, Maggie. I love you, but let's not rewrite history) through The Dark Knight is a testament to his ability to at least cast capable actresses. I'm sure you have it in you, Nolan. Ellen Page's Ariadne could have been replaced by some kind of talking computer and it wouldn't have made a difference. Her character is given no backstory, no motivation, no frame of reference, which would be fine if she weren't risking her mental dexterity through dream espionage (call me old fashioned, but I'd kind of like to know why).

Visually, I've heard a lot of arguments that the dreams in this film are not "dreamlike" enough. Joe Reid over at Low Resolution beat me to the punch by pointing out that the dreams in Inception are specifically designed by architects. Of the problems in this film (and there are several), wanting for a believable dreamscape was not one of them. A lot of the dream sequences were pretty damn breathtaking, actually. For the record, I found the falling van to be an incredible plot device. The film is not perfect, but let's give credit where its due, shall we? I (for the record) hate The Matrix with ever fiber of my being, but you can never say that movie lacks for...um...luridness.

Here's the bottom line (and feel free to disagree), but the people who are calling Inception a masterpiece AND the people calling it an utter disaster are two sides of the same coin. They're both wrong. They both need to get a grip. And they both (for the most part) are guilty of steeling themselves prior to viewing the film for how incredible or shitty they thought it was going to be. We can't pretend that we're immune to hype and advertising when it comes to new releases. Inception was already in the IMDb top 250 of all time before it even officially came out (sidebar: at any given time, the IMDb top 250 list looks like it was mostly devised by an afternoon tribunal featuring a five-year-old boy, a thirteen-year-old boy, an Octogenarian of any gender, Mel Gibson and one graduate film student with crowd anxiety). We can't pretend that hearing those kind of effusive reviews weren't tipping people in one direction or the other, whether they're susceptible to group think or contrarianism for its own sake (another form of group think). The Dark Knight was too fresh in people's memory as either an overblown fanboy annoyance, or the second coming for the reaction to Nolan's latest flick to be pure (if there is ever a pure reaction to any film). That's why I found so heartening about the reaction to a movie like Avatar. Love it or hate it (I liked it a whole lot), but you had people from all levels of tiers of film criticism (from the lowbrow to middle to high) having varied reactions to the film. You never got a sense from the Avatar fans that it wasn't okay to disagree, whereas the Inception fans are ready to make virginal sacrifices to Christopher Nolan.

Despite all of my misgivings, I did enjoy Inception. Hey, if you were in LA or New York that week, I would have recommended seeing The Kids Are All Right instead (another imperfect film, but a more satisfying one), but there are worse ways to wile away the summer hours. And before all the talk of "overrated, doesn't deserve it, blah blah blah" begins, I'm going to say now that I'm for Inception's best picture nomination, which everyone seems to think is inevitable (I have my doubts). I'm for it for several reasons. Firstly, it's a solid B-, which means it will almost assuredly not appear on my personal year-end top ten list. But that same grade also means that it will likely be preferable to at least 20% of the viable contenders gunning for a spot on the ten-wide list. Also, it can't hurt the Academy to expand its mind a little. The more years we have in a row where the best picture list embraces films like Avatar, District 9 and Inception (none of which are films I passionately love), the more likely it is that they'll continue to be adventurous when the rules revert the best picture list back to five nominees. Lastly, I want Inception to get nominated for best picture because I can remember the grousing and griping that went on when The Dark Knight got overlooked and...I just don't want to have to listen to it again.

Grade: B-

The Big Pretentious Movie Summer (31-35)

The Aviator dir. Martin Scorsese (2004)
A fine film, entertaining, epic in scope and enthralling. Its technical splendor and immersion into period make it hard to attack any of the formal mechanics. It's spectacularly well-made, though it is difficult to get really passionate about it six years after my initial viewing. I'm really glad that Martin Scorsese didn't win his long awaited Oscar for this film, and not only because Million Dollar Baby is a superb and superior film that has aged surprisingly well (know that getting me to admit this about a Clint Eastwood movie is no easy feat). It doesn't feel like a Scorsese film, and I'm not just saying that simply because of the generic departure (The Age of Innocence is certainly an anomaly for Scorsese on paper, but I could still see him in it very much). The Aviator lacks a certain intimacy and character familiarity that have come to be the hallmark of even Scorsese's grandest expeditions. Screenwriter John Logan (the man who brought us more wanting fare such as Gladiator and The Last Samurai) surely shares the blame for that. Although the performances here are good (and Scorsese's direction certainly elevates Logan's paint-by-numbers approach to Howard Hughes's life), I never felt like I learned much more about these characters other than what's pertinent to events in any given scene. Leonardo DiCaprio's performance is technically accomplished, if a little obvious in certain places. While he doesn't layer back story very interestingly, he sells the accent and the externalities very convincingly. He was physically much too green and baby-faced at the time to play Howard Hughes (I'd be curious to see how today's more hardened and grizzled DiCaprio would handle the role). Cate Blanchett is superb, knowing that she's much to distinctive looking to physically sell Katharine Hepburn and instead playing her own version of the screen icon. It's a polished, unfussy turn worthy of the many accolades thrown its way. Kate Beckinsale's Ava Gardner is serviceable (it seems like that's the best she can ever claim), though I can't help but wonder what a more seasoned performer could have brought to the admittedly thin role. I don't even categorically dislike Beckinsale, but she's an actress whose consistent employability over the last decade or so continues to confuse me, both commercially (has she ever headlined a true "hit"?) and artistically (she's in a competitive enough age bracket for Hollywood actresses that with each role she lands, I wonder why it didn't go to one of the other dozen or so working actresses who physically fit the bill and are more skilled). I've heard several people carry on about the length, which was not a problem for me during either of my two viewings. The structure of the story seems impeccable and Scorsese's stylistic choices (the big one being the use of color and how it changes as the film progresses) seem to complement it well. I just wish there had been more feeling and less grandeur, though I suppose Hughes would have approved of the rather cold and antiseptic treatment his life is given here.
Grade: B

Rosemary's Baby dir. Roman Polanski (1968)
This write-up is sure to border on effusive, but yes! Yes! Yes! This is my second viewing of this film and it is hasn't lost an ounce of its creepiness and evocative nature. It's always refreshing to see a genre film made into high art simply by how well-made it is--a seemingly simple notion, but maybe not when you consider how many genre films seem to forget. I wonder if Mia Farrow, in her prime, was regarded much in the same way present-day movie-going consciousness regards Tilda Swinton: talented, distantly and unconventionally lovely, shrewdly selective when it comes to projects, hard to place and radiating other-worldly class and intelligence. It seems like an apt comparison. Farrow is amazing here, never too shrill or mannered. The now iconic look of shock and horror on her face in the film's chilling final scene is a communicative screen acting at its best. Ruth Gordon is fun and memorable (though admittedly that Oscar was a bit of a stretch) in her turn as the creepy neighbor, playing on the universal often unspoken fear that our neighbors aren't what they seem and commit strange and unspeakable acts behind closed doors. An intelligent and often frightening film that wisely never once shows us what it is we're dreading, an oft repeated technique in horror films since with varying degrees of effectiveness ranging from smart appropriation (The Blair Witch Project) to massive miscalculation (Paranormal Activity).
Grade: A-

Naked dir. Mike Leigh (1993)
Very appropriately titled, as Mike Leigh has never made more outwardly shocking a film. It very daringly digs into the ethos of a man named Johnny (an excellent David Thewlis), whose journey we follow. That the film opens with Johnny committing a rape in Manchester and then follows his journey to London as he encounters ex-girlfriend Louise (Lesley Sharpe) and espouses his nihilistic world views for anyone who will listen. Even by Mike Leigh's standards, Naked isn't large with the external plot. The film is very character-based, but it's also rather heavy (necessarily so). Like all Mike Leigh films, improvisational dialogue is clearly employed. The verisimilitude achieved through this method, married with the frank, violent and often lengthy scenes of sexual assault make for an arresting experience. I love that the film only suggests that Johnny's proclivities may be the result of some unknown ailment(s) or disorder(s), be it mental or physical, without absolving him of guilt for his actions. The way Johnny is juxtaposed with Louise and Sophie's sexual sadist of a landlord could have also served to engender misplaced feelings of admiration for Johnny by comparison, but Mike Leigh never works in simple extremes. I appreciate that Dick Pope's cinematography doesn't keep a stark distance between the viewer and Johnny's crime at the beginning of the film, forcing us to confront what he has done. However, the film refuses to fall into gradient-free notions of "Johnny is bad because of this," "These characters are good because of this." Mike Leigh characters are always fascinating creatures. They're so rarely ever just one thing at any given time, and they are so complexly principled. Louise is weary of Johnny, but she still cares for him. Her muted reaction to Johnny seducing her flatmate Sophie (Katrin Cartlidge) is preferable to what could have been a bigger moment (outwardly). This behavior doesn't shock Louise. Mike Leigh and his actors seem to know that being dismayed is different and much worse than being shocked and dismayed, for it means that you never expected anything better in the first place. And what of their principles? They have them, certainly. But I don't think there's more telling a moment in this film than the conversation Louise and Sophie have about abortion. There are no false notes, no missteps. You believe everything these people say and do. I was supposed to watch Life is Sweet and Topsy-Turvy, both unavailable on Netflix and at the AFI library (isn't that sad?). I instead grabbed the Criterion Collection version of Naked and I'm intensely glad I did. What a fortuitous turn of events.
Grade: A-

L'Avventura dir. Michelangelo Antonioni (1960)
I found myself intrigued, rather than truly engaged, feeling deep admiration, rather than true swept-up passion. Monica Vitti, who plays Claudia (here's a deep comment for you) has one of those otherworldly faces that seems adept at expressing the director's ideas without being obtuse or overly fussy. She immediately brings to mind what I love so much about actresses like Tilda Swinton, Helena Bonham Carter, Samantha Morton and Cate Blanchett. Though of my two Antonioni forays, I much more enjoyed L'Eclisse (in which Vitti also stars), I prefer Vitti's performance here. She's conflicted about the scenario--how subsequently takes up with her friend Anna's (Lea Massari) lover Sandro (Gabriel Ferzetti) mere days after Anna disappears without a trace (that's the loose plot, though to say that this is what the film is "about" would be reductive). Vitti's eyes suggest that she's a very cerebral actress, and yet we never see the wheels turning. I never caught her telegraphing Claudia's next move. As stated earlier, I was conceptually intrigued by the film. Not only does Antonioni not solve the issue of Anna's disappearance, but he makes a point of making it a non-issue in the latter half of the film. Outside of the singular elements of Vitti's performance, I can't say that L'Avventura is truly lingering in my mind as more than a collection of incredibly lovely, often arresting images. Aldo Scavarda's cinematography captures the grandeur of the vacation spot where Anna disappears and contrasts it well with Claudia's more mundane home life. I just wish there had been more here. Like Claudia, I found myself tentatively experiencing the events in this film. It was often pleasurable, often exciting, but ultimately not totally satisfying.
Grade: B

Leaving Las Vegas dir. Mike Figgis (1995)
And so we end this post much as we did the last one--with a film containing a 1995 best actress nominee (the other being Casino). Both take place largely in Las Vegas. Both contain male antiheroes who are met with feminized versions of what they need (or think they need). And...the comparisons between Leaving Las Vegas and Casino pretty much end there, even if you're being overly harsh and overly generous, respectively. Something about coming right off of Casino and watching this after listening to a classmate discuss the virtues of Crazy Heart had me steeling myself for how unremarkable I thought this film was going to be (an aside: seriously?! She called it the best film of 2009. If you think Crazy Heart is the best film of 2009, tell me what are the other six films you watched last year). I couldn't have been more wrong about Leaving Las Vegas. What a beautiful, strange film this is, with its own visual language. It tells the story of an alcoholic Hollywood agent named Ben (Nicolas Cage) who hit rock bottom about five exits back. His drunken tailspin lands him in Las Vegas where he meets a prostitute named Sera (a radiant Elisabeth Shue). A connection is formed. Very little is said. This isn't about how Sera teaches Ben to overcome the perils of alcohol, nor does he help her to discover the beauty of her commodified, male-projected womanly self-worth (was that cynical? It felt cynical). They happen to meet, while he's on his way down and while she's remaining relatively lateral. A brief exchange between Ben and Sera contains the two most important lines of dialogue. The first is Ben's: "You can never, never ask me to stop drinking. Do you understand?" The second is Sera's: "I do. I really do." Stories like this often lend themselves to the most trite, ordinary of filmmaking, both narratively and stylistically. In both cases, director Mike Figgis avoids the path of least resistance. There are a lot of playful cinematic experiments here: the cutaways to interviews where the characters divulge large pieces of information), the use of 16mm film to shoot the film (incidentally, how fucking awesome was Declan Quinn's cinematography here? Between this and Rachel Getting Married I kind of want to rent everything he's ever shot). And the two leading performances are absolutely searing. Elisabeth Shue gifts the film with a stripped-down, bare bones and natural performance. She avoids the cliches, both of the archetype (hooker with a heart of gold) and of the "big moments" in her scenes. The infamous shower scene, for instance, immediately comes to mind as an example of Shue exercising restraint where another actress (I'm not naming any names) would have chewed the scenery. I fought tears throughout this movie and it has just refused to let go.
Grade: A-

35 films down, 120 to go

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Big Pretentious Movie Summer (26-30)

Talk to Her dir. Pedro Almodóvar (2002)
Is it predictable to sing the praises of Talk to Her at this point? Sometimes critical consensus does get it right. The film for which Almodóvar received the most critical acclaim might just be his greatest. It brought him his Academy Award nomination for Best Director as well as a miraculously earned (miraculous because of the Academy's hopelessly middlebrow aesthetics) win for Best Original Screenplay. Almodóvar continues to take our general notions of traditional ideals (in this case, love, or rather, what it means to be in love) and turn them on their ear. Benigno (Javier Cámara) and Marco (Darío Grandinetti) are two men who couldn't be more different, but find themselves in variations of the same situation. Both are in hopelessly and heartbreakingly in love with comatose women. Benigno has never had any real romantic relationship with his love. Marco had a torrid and passionate romance with his. Benigno is almost stupidly optimistic. Marco holds little hope. What ensues is one of the most beautiful meditations on love, communication and friendship (and also Almodóvar's best film). So much here begs to just...not work. The line readings could (and the lines themselves) should be maudlin where they are penetrating and poignant. The narrative should be soap-operatic where it is deeply felt and moving. This is the third time I've seen this film (with good spacing in between each viewing) and it never ceases to surprise me the new things I discover on each outing. The best films often reward repeat viewings. It's strange how I never cry until the end when the credits role, the haunting guitar swelling and the dancers swaying. And when it rains, it pours.
Grade: A-

Secrets & Lies dir. Mike Leigh (1996)
I am so unbelievably heartened that someone with Leigh's unconventional take on narrative filmmaking continues to work so consistently. He employs story, yes. But his famous method of improvisation over months of rehearsal to help his actors find the characters first continues to reward. Stephen King (of all people) said it's better to imagine your characters first, rather than to imagine a rigid Point A, Point B plot structure to which thin characters are chained. Not good if you're trying to sell your first screenplay (as I have learned), but the method often births the most interesting films. Here, we have Hortense Cumberbatch played with sharp aplomb by Marianne Jean-Baptiste whose adoptive mother has recently passed away. She searches for her birth mother and is shocked to discover that she is an uncouth, gritty woman named Cynthia Rose Purley (Brenda Blethyn). That is the plot. But it is not the film. The film is more about matters of interaction and interchange that inform our very being. It's about the way Hortense plays her cards so close to her vest, whether she's talking to the woman at the adoption agency, her best friend, or meeting Cynthia for the first time. She does so, even when it might serve her (even in the name of emotional catharsis) to let go just a little bit. Jean-Baptiste (and Leigh) never forget these little details (whether its Hortense refusing a Rolo candy or tentatively taking butter for her potatoes). Brenda Blethyn is amazing as well in her role. Cynthia is not always well-meaning, but her stupidity and short-sightedness make her believe that she is. Why does Cynthia really invite Hortense to a birthday party that leads to the films beautiful, nail-biting and often funny final act? Is she trying to make Hortense feel welcome? By "befriending" a black woman, is she trying to appear cosmopolitan to her family, who thinks so little of her? Is she trying to make her brother's wife uncomfortable? The answer is probably some combination of the above, with a few more reasons thrown in to boot. I love that the characters in this film (like flesh and blood humans in real life) never have only one reason for any given action taken or word spoken. This is a beautiful, honest and important film.
Grade: A

4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days dir. Cristian Mungiu (2007)
Pregnancy seemed to be the cinematic topic d'année in 2007. You had Juno, Knocked Up and Waitress (superb--better than you remember, entertaining if ultimately overlong and wanting and horrid to the point of near-unwatchability, respectively). Romania's 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days tops the heap, and by a pretty wide margin. It's so schizophrenic to have watched this in the same week as any Almodóvar film, which is so much about cinematic aesthetic and style. Though Mungiu's tale of a young woman in 198os Romania helping to procure an illegal abortion for her best friend can hardly be described as anti-cinema cinema, it's so bare in comparison. I watched it twice to make sure I was correct in my observation that the scenes are all one-ers (containing no cuts), though I could have apparently read Roger Ebert's astute review to confirm this (Ebert often fires on all cylinders, especially of late). The film is stark, gritty and almost unbearably suspenseful. I also love that it manages not to be loudly political, nor does it avoid the simple, undeniable fact that abortion is an incredibly political issue (though it really shouldn't be). The conversation between protagonist Otilia (Anamaria Marinca) and her boyfriend (Alexandru Potocean) in which she divulges what she's doing for her friend never feels soap-boxy or ham-handedly inserted into the narrative. There's a rather infamous shot in this film that had many people cringing (I didn't know what I was seeing at first, then gasped loudly when I realized). It reminded me of what a spectacular failure Peter Jackson's The Lovely Bones was. There's a shot at the end of that film, which overexplains and underwrites any positive elements the film had managed to salvage at that point. In Mungiu's film, however, it's disturbing and necessary, adding so much heft. At every turn, there is a feeling of impending doom, right up until the last frame. Though the film ultimately (and effectively) avoids said doom (I read where some find it anti-climatic--I get that), it doesn't take any weight away from the last shot. The women agree to never discuss what has transpired, but one doesn't doubt that there will be deeply felt consequences, be they outward or internal. This is one of the best films of the past ten years.
Grade: A-

Lust, Caution dir. Ang Lee (2007)

I don't really know exactly what it was that made me wait this long to watch this film, but I'm ashamed I waited. It's a beautiful, nearly tonally perfect, well-acted and misjudged films that is remembered and discussed for all the wrong reasons. Tang Wei is Wong chia-chi/Mrs. Mak, a spy for a resistance movement in 1940s China. Tony Leung Chiu-Wai is Mr. Yee, the man she has been employed to seduce, though the lines are blurred and it becomes unclear exactly what point she begins to fall in love with him (if she does in fact fall truly in love with him). Both are excellent. The most taxing roles are often those that require a performance within the performance. Tang Wei handles the task superbly, never forgetting to react. She manages to be communicative, in face, gesture and tone of voice while still not obviously telegraphing her character's next move. The film is talked about in terms of its frank sexuality (which led to it being banned in several countries). The sex scenes are intensely graphic, yes, but not unnecessarily so. It can be said that Lust, Caution is about the way information was gathered and shared during this time. You can pick up useful nuggets during a game of mahjong, where it is understood that very little of what is said is to be taken at face value. Sex too was a way to barter and trade for information and achieve ends (it always has been). Ang Lee demonstrates here what a truly versatile filmmaker he is, moving seamlessly between Sense and Sensibility, The Hulk (again, better than you remember) Brokeback Mountain and this gem of the aughts. I can't imagine myself not returning to this film.
Grade: A-

Casino dir. Martin Scorsese (1995)

Well, I was right about Joe Pesci. He's simply not for me (doesn't he look positively vile in that Love Ranch trailer?) While not the near disaster that many people led me to believe, make no mistake. Casino definitely ranks in the middle to lower tier of the Scorsese achievements I've managed to see. I wasn't so much turned off by its cumbersome length (at nearly 3 hours), but it feels very uneven and unfocused. I will now dedicate the remainder of this write-up to Sharon Stone's best actress Oscar-nominated turn since (let's not even try to pretend otherwise) the film clearly wants me to. What can I even say about Ms. Stone in this film? I'm of about five different minds when it comes to her performance. First of all, she's only the second woman to ever land a best actress nomination in a Scorsese film (Ellen Burstyn won for Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore). I find this interesting because Stone makes a relatively late arrival in the narrative for a best actress nomination and her subsequent screen time screams "supporting." In fact, I contend that had this role been played by any other actress (like say, Madonna who was in talks to play Ginger McKenna), she would have been nominated and quite possibly won in supporting (which would have made Mira Sorvino not an Oscar winner and me very happy, but that's another story for another day). Never before have I seen a performance hinge so much on public perception of the thespian playing the role before. Sharon Stone is generally perceived to exude "hot ghetto mess" much in the same way that Ginger does (as an aside, I guess many people often consider Madonna to be a hot mess, though I can't really understand how a woman with her discipline, work-ethic and control over her own public image ever garnered such a misjudged reputation). I understand why Stone was Oscar-nominated. I even support it in certain scenes. And even in the scenes where she hits the wrong notes, she's hitting them...loudly. It's a very prominent performance and everything in the film seems to be tilted in her, um...focus("favor" seems like entirely the wrong word to use in this case). I can understand Robert De Niro bowing down to her and letting her steal scenes. I love the guy and I have never thought he was as hammy and overly mannered as some people seem to perceive him. Pesci on the other hand fights valiantly against Stone, trying to out-shrill her at every turn. And he loses! That is quite the achievement and is preferable, since Scorsese's films are so often male-focused and would normally allow an actor of Joe Pesci's...presence to take over. Stone's turn here is so unrelenting and "you think that's the awards clip? Watch this!" at nearly every moment that I can't really call it a "good" performance in the traditional sense, but it's certainly interesting and a display of thesping I'm not sure any other actress could have achieved.
Grade: C+...for Sharon Stone? (um...A or B- or D, depending on the scene)

30 films down, 125 to go