19 Feb 2010 @ 10:51 PM 

wordplay

More than 50 million people do them weekly.  About 700 meet each February.  This is their weekend.  The American Crossword Puzzle Tournament happens this Saturday and Sunday in Brooklyn.


Wordplay (2006)
Patrick Creadon, director
Trailer

A thoroughly enjoyable documentary, and the next best thing to being there.


Wordplay (2006)
The 1996 Election Day Puzzle
Jeremiah Farrell, constructor; Will Shortz, editor

Bill Clinton and Bob Dole on the most famous crossword puzzle in history.


2009 ACPT Finals — “A” Division

I was there for this one.  It was an incredibly thrilling finish to the tournament (ACPT finals, for whatever reason, are typically nail-biters).  When four-time champ Tyler Hinman finally fills in the last few letters and turns from the board, he thinks he’s finished in third.  He’s the last in the room to know.


The question this year:  can Tyler do it again?  Good luck to him and all the competitors.

Posted By: John Farmer
Last Edit: 19 Feb 2010 @ 10:51 PM

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 15 Feb 2010 @ 10:29 PM 

a serious manWhich is no surprise coming from the Coens.  It’s a movie that mocks the Job-like Larry Gopnick, the hapless physics professor whose wife is leaving him, whose kids can’t stand him, whose fate is an endless series of one misery after another.  What does it all mean?  The film is not about a man’s search for meaning, or search for faith, as I’ve read in some places.  It’s about how much crap can one man take, and how much crap can an audience take, before they cry “bullshit.”  Larry’s problem is neither God nor the devil.  His problem is the Coens.  He’s a character in a Coen Brothers’ movie and that fact is what seals his fate.  He’s a poor schlemiel deserving and receiving no pity from the cold-hearted filmmakers who seem to be getting payback for something, though who knows what and who cares.

The Coens are brilliant filmmakers.  Thoughout their many films, the writing is crisp, the direction is flawless, the performances spot on.  The problem with nearly all their movies is the evident contempt the Coens have for their characters, the audience, and the critics—who seem, for the most part, to be utterly clueless that the joke is on them.

Posted By: John Farmer
Last Edit: 15 Feb 2010 @ 10:32 PM

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 02 Feb 2010 @ 7:54 AM 

The Oscar nominations were announced this morning.  One thing is certain.  Television rules, which is why they make certain people in Hollywood wake in the middle of the night to bring the news to you.

Best Picture nominees number ten this year (another concession to television).  Here are the movies that made the cut:

Avatar
The Blind Side
District 9
An Education
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
Precious
A Serious Man
Up
Up in the Air

Sci-fi historically does not do well in the non-technical categories, but this year may have been an exception with a certain phenomenon that’s setting records at the box office.  With District 9 in the mix, though, sci-fi fans have an alternative.  That should be good news for The Hurt Locker and director Kathryn Bigelow.  That’s good.

Here are all the nominees.  I’d say Jeff Bridges, Sandra Bullock, Christoph Waltz, and Mo’Nique are favorites for the acting categories (the men are virtual locks). 

Sandra Bullock has the rare opportunity to be the best—and worst—actress of the year.  She’s been nominated for a Razzie too.

Posted By: John Farmer
Last Edit: 02 Feb 2010 @ 08:53 AM

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 17 Jan 2010 @ 11:50 PM 

The Golden Globes were tonight.  The big winner was Avatar, picking up Best Film (Drama) and Best Director honors for James Cameron.  Perhaps a surprise, since the film had not won top honors with any of the big critics’ groups this season.  But the Hollywood Foreign Press typically has a soft spot for what’s popular at the box office more than what’s popular with critics, and the Avatar phenomenon is something no one has seen before.  Through this weekend, Avatar has taken in $1.6 billion worldwide, The Hurt Locker $16 million.  Not really a surprise after all.

I was pleased to see Jeff Bridges win for Crazy Heart, a film I haven’t yet seen (but will soon).  He’s been one of the great actors over the past four decades.  He’s been nominated for Oscars and Golden Globes before, though he hasn’t won till tonight.  If this is his year, and even if there’s some “career achievement” voting involved, who will complain?

Martin Scorsese, center, with his bodyguards.

Martin Scorsese, center, with his bodyguards.

The highlight of the show, from my perspective, was Martin Scorsese accepting the Cecil B. DeMille Award for his ”outstanding contribution to the entertainment field.”  He is our greatest living director, a national treasure.  I hope that in the weeks and months ahead I get to say half as much as he said in his three-and-a-half minute acceptance speech.  (He is hereby the first recipient of the Key to the MAD About Movies website.  Anytime he wants, he’s welcome to drop by, have a drink, and let us in on whatever’s on his mind.)

The round-up of tonight’s awards are below, and in case you’re having trouble (like me) keeping up with all the honors handed out this season, other recent awards are listed also.

The Oscar noms are due in a couple of weeks, and the awards will be presented the first Sunday of March.  Everyone in the running is obliged to say, “Awards don’t really matter,” or “It’s an honor just to be nominated,” but don’t you believe them.  The race is on.

Golden Globes
Best Film (Drama):  Avatar
Best Film (Musical/Comedy):  The Hangover
Best Actor (Drama):  Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart
Best Actor (Musical/Comedy):  Robert Downey Jr., Sherlock Holmes
Best Actress (Drama):  Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side
Best Actress (Musical/Comedy):  Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia
Best Supporting Actor:  Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds
Best Supporting Actress:  Mo’Nique, Precious
Best Director:  James Cameron, Avatar
Best Screenplay:  Jason Reitman, Sheldon Turner, Up in the Air
Best Foreign Language Film:  The White Ribbon (Das weisse Band – Eine deutsche Kindergeschichte) (Germany/Austria)
Best Animated Film:  Up

Boston Society of Film Critics Awards
Best Film:  The Hurt Locker
Best Actor:  Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker
Best Actress:  Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia
Best Supporting Actor:  Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds
Best Supporting Actress:  Mo’Nique, Precious
Best Director:  Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
Best Screenplay:  Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, A Serious Man
Best Foreign Language Film:  Summer Hours (L’heure d’été) (France)
Best Animated Film:  Up

Broadcast Film Critics Association Awards (Critics’ Choice Awards)
Best Film:  The Hurt Locker
Best Actor:  Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart
Best Actress:  Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia; Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side
Best Supporting Actor:  Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds
Best Supporting Actress:  Mo’Nique, Precious
Best Director:  Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
Best Screenplay (Original):  Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds
Best Screenplay (Adapted):  Jason Reitman, Sheldon Turner, Up in the Air
Best Foreign Language Film:  Broken Embraces (Los abrazos rotos) (Spain)
Best Animated Feature:  Up
[Best Kiss:  Meryl Streep, Sandra Bullock]

Chicago Film Critics Association Awards
Best Film:  The Hurt Locker
Best Actor:  Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker
Best Actress:  Carey Mulligan, An Education
Best Supporting Actor:  Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds
Best Supporting Actress:  Mo’Nique, Precious
Best Director:  Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
Best Screenplay (Original):  Mark Boal, The Hurt Locker
Best Screenplay (Adapted):  Jason Reitman, Sheldon Turner, Up in the Air
Best Foreign Language Film:  The White Ribbon (Das weisse Band – Eine deutsche Kindergeschichte) (Germany/Austria)
Best Animated Feature:  Up

Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards
Best Film:  The Hurt Locker
Best Actor:  Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart
Best Actress:  Yolande Moreau, Séraphine
Best Supporting Actor:  Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds
Best Supporting Actress:  Mo’Nique, Precious
Best Director:  Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
Best Screenplay:  Jason Reitman, Sheldon Turner, Up in the Air
Best Foreign Language Film:  Summer Hours (L’heure d’été) (France)
Best Animation:  Fantastic Mr. Fox

National Board of Review Awards
Best Film:  Up in the Air
Best Actors:  Morgan Freeman, Invictus; George Clooney, Up in the Air
Best Actress:  Carey Mulligan, An Education
Best Supporting Actor:  Woody Harrelson, The Messenger
Best Supporting Actress:  Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air
Best Director:  Clint Eastwood, Invictus
Best Screenplay (Original):  Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, A Serious Man
Best Screenplay (Adapted):  Jason Reitman, Sheldon Turner, Up in the Air
Best Foreign Language Film:  A Prophet (Un prophète) (France)
Best Animated Feature:  Up

National Society of Film Critics Awards
Best Film:  The Hurt Locker
Best Actor:  Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker
Best Actress:  Yolande Moreau, Séraphine
Best Supporting Actors:  Paul Schneider, Bright Star; Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds
Best Supporting Actress:  Mo’Nique, Precious
Best Director:  Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
Best Screenplay:  Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, A Serious Man
Best Foreign Language Film:  Summer Hours (L’heure d’été) (France)

New York Film Critics Circle Awards
Best Film:  Up in the Air
Best Actor:  George Clooney, Fantastic Mr. FoxUp in the Air
Best Actress:  Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia
Best Supporting Actor:  Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds
Best Supporting Actress:  Mo’Nique, Precious
Best Director:  Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
Best Screenplay:  Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci, Ian Martin, Tony Roche, In the Loop
Best Foreign Film:  Summer Hours (L’heure d’été) (France)
Best Animated Film:  Fantastic Mr. Fox

The award season continues.  Here’s some of what’s still ahead:

January
21:  BAFTA Nominations
23:  Screen Actor Guild Awards
24:  Producers Guild Awards
30:  Directors Guild Awards

February
02:  Academy Award Nominations
20:  Writers Guild Awards
21:  BAFTA Awards

March
05:  Independent Spirit Awards
07:  Academy Awards

Posted By: John Farmer
Last Edit: 18 Jan 2010 @ 08:48 AM

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 12 Jan 2010 @ 8:58 AM 

Eric Rohmer has died.  He was 89.  He was a leading figure of the New Wave, as a critic, a writer, and a director.  He’s probably best known for his ”Six Moral Tales” films, including My Night at Maud’s (1969), Claire’s Knee (1970), and Love in the Afternoon (1972).

In Rohmer’s films, people talked.  They talked a lot.  It’s true that people also talked a lot in films from other directors, such as Joseph Mankiewicz, but the talk was different.  “Talky” films tend to be stagy, or literary, whether intentionally or not.  The talk in a Rohmer film was conversational, intimate, and engaging.

The conversations in Rohmer’s films ranged from the profound to the mundane.  His characters were articulate, yet still had trouble understanding one another, and sometimes themselves.  There was not a lot of action.  But there was suspense.  Rohmer was less interested in what people did than what was on their mind.  His films were about human relationships.  For Rohmer, that was enough.

Posted By: John Farmer
Last Edit: 14 Jan 2010 @ 08:40 AM

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 10 Jan 2010 @ 8:08 AM 

Scusilo, Signore De Sica.  I realize it’s heresy to say this, but I think you got it wrong.

Kenneth Turan wrote a review of The Bicycle Thiefon Friday.  (It’s about time, Ken.)  Actually, the occasion is the screening of the new print of De Sica’s 1948 classic at Laemmle’s Music Hall in Beverly Hills.  I was surprised to see the film called The Bicycle Thief, but that’s what Turan called it in the L.A. Times and what Laemmle’s is calling it too.  I’m curious if the translation for the 60th anniversary print has it the same way.

I thought everyone was calling the film Bicycle Thieves now, especially since the Criterion edition a few years ago.  Bicycle Thievesis the “right” title, of course, for anyone translating De Sica’s Italian title Ladri di Biciclette, with both Ladri and Biciclette being plural.  (In the original, Biciclette isn’t capitalized, but when not in Rome, no need to do what the Romans do.)

I first saw it years ago, when people still called it The Bicycle Thief.  Watching the film, I couldn’t help but wonder why that was the title.  There’s a stolen bicycle, of course, but “the bicycle thief” hardly appears.  The story is about Antonio and his family, who no doubt suffer from what the bicycle thief has done.  The title seemed odd.  Then there is that sad and poignant twist at the end, and it seemed to all make sense.  Yes, The Bicycle Thief!  The title was a brilliant stroke, I thought.  How fitting.

The film deserves all the praise it’s received over the years, whatever the title.  It was the number one film of all time on the first of Sight & Sound’s decennial polls.  (Citizen Kanehas been tops ever since.)  I have no problem at all with De Sica’s status as a demigod.  But I don’t think the Bicycle Thieves title works quite as well.  I like the singular.

Maybe De Sica should have just called it Antonio’s Big Adventure.

Posted By: John Farmer
Last Edit: 14 Jan 2010 @ 08:41 AM

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