Friday, January 29, 2010

AND THE GRAMMY GOES TO...

I stopped caring what the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences thinks a long time ago (see why here), but this week a Billboard.com article picked winners in the four biggest Grammy categories -- Record of the Year, Song of the Year, Album of the Year and Best New Artist -- and while reading it today, I played along and took Billboard's survey, making my own projections.

I think Billboard is way off base because its predictions are based too much on the commercial impact of the nominees as well as the personal taste of whomever wrote the article when everybody knows that NARAS pretty much follows a formula that repeats itself year after year.

For example, Album of the Year: Beloved industry vet up against four fresher talents? Give it the geezer the Grammy! How else to explain recent wins by Robert Plant, Herbie Hancock, Ray Charles and Steely Dan over more commercially, creatively and culturally significant contenders?

But I digress (sort of). Here are my predictions.

Record of the Year
"Halo" by Beyoncé
"I Gotta Feeling" by the Black Eyed Peas
"Use Somebody" by Kings of Leon
"Poker Face" by Lady Gaga
"You Belong With Me" by Taylor Swift

Beyoncé is nominated for the wrong record (though "Single Ladies" would be more 2010's signature video than single). Grammy never goes for fluff in this category (sorry, Black Eyed Peas) or edge (maybe next year, Lady Gaga, whose song actually deserves the award). If Kings of Leon were U2 or Coldplay or Green Day, they'd surely take the prize for "Use Somebody," but they're not. So that leaves Taylor Swift, who, after three hitmaking years and no Grammys, will finally be rewarded for her signature song (so far).

Song of the Year
"Poker Face" by Lady Gaga
"Pretty Wings" by Maxwell
"Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)" by Beyoncé
"You Belong With Me" by Taylor Swift
"Use Somebody" by Kings Of Leon
Unlike Record of the Year, which is based on overall sound and goes to the singer, producer and engineer and/or mixer, this is a songwriters' award, and this is where the Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences gets to let its weakness for sappy and grand musical statements hang way out. That would leave Lady Gaga, who, truth be told, is too hip to be Grammy bait, out of the running. Beyoncé's entry would have stood a better chance in Record of the Year, but lyrically, it's a bit too lightweight to go all the way here. Maxwell is the annual "Huh?" and should be happy just to be nominated. Meanwhile, Kings Of Leon's song is missing the sap/grand statement factor. That leaves Taylor Swift, who will add to her 2010 Grammy haul here. I wonder what Kanye West will have to say about that.

Album of the Year
I Am... Sahsa Fierce by Beyoncé
Fearless by Taylor Swift
Big Whiskey And The Groogux King by the Dave Matthews Band
The Fame by Lady Gaga
The E.N.D. by the Black Eyed Peas
Which one of these nominees does not belong? Unlike the works by his fellow contenders, Dave Matthews' album was not a massive mainstream commercial success. But what gives him the edge is that unlike his fellow contenders, he's a geezer (relatively speaking) who before this year has never been much of a Grammy presence. It's his to lose.

Best New Artist
The Ting Tings
Zac Brown Band
Silversun Pickups
Keri Hilson
MGMT
What a dreadfully dull shortlist, possibly the worst ever! It should be Zac Brown Band's, but Carrie Underwood and LeeAnn Rimes aside, country acts never take this one. (Even Shelby Lynn had to go pop to snag it). And both Carrie and LeeAnn were major crossover successes, which Zac Brown Band is not. Since this award generally sticks to the mainstream and gold or platinum acts (except in 2009, another weakish year in which Adele inexplicably triumphed over her fellow Brit songstress Duffy), neither The Ting Tings nor Silversun Pickups nor MGMT will be pulling an upset. Keri Hilson should start prepping her acceptance speech now.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

DROPPING THE BALL

Nelson Mandela is a legend in my time and a perfect example of what the power of the human spirit can lead one to accomplish. So I'm probably not the only person who felt obligated to be inspired by Invictus, the story of how South African President Nelson Mandela inspired the Springboks, his country's rugby team, to win the 1995 Rugby World Cup.

But I wasn't. Frankly, I was a little bit bored. Over the course of its two-plus hours, I felt like the members of Mandela's staff, frustrated by his obsession with a silly sport when there were far more pressing national matters at hand.

Although I'm not completely sold on Morgan Freeman's performance (he didn't seem 100% comfortable with the accent, and it's basically another variation on his stock human Yoda), you couldn't ask for a better role, and Freeman himself, if not the movie, grew on me. The most interesting parts of the film were Mandela's interactions with his staff and the South African public as well as the continuing black vs. white tension in the aftermatch of apartheid, particularly among Mandela's security team. But I could have lived without the rugby.

And poor Matt Damon. Playing the captian of the Springboks, he has nothing to do other than pass the ball and look kind of awestruck. It must be the year's second most thankless role, after Steve Martin's in It's Complicated. Major stars, not to mention good actors, deserve so much better.

Maybe I went into the film with a negative attitude. It is, after all, named after a poem that my 7th grade English teacher, the recently deceased Ms. Powell, forced us to learn completely against my will. The invocation of that poem, by the way, only serves to highlight the film's pretentious aspirations. Early on, Mandela says it inspired him to stand when he felt like lying down during his 27 years in prison. Surely there's a far more interesting movie there!

Perhaps someday we'll get a fuller -- and, frankly, truly inspiring -- onscreen depiction of Mandela and the trials he faced before and after he became South Africa's president. And hopefully, they'll leave the rugby out of it.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

REST IN PEACE

James Mitchell 1920-2010

Pernell Roberts 1928-2010

In the past few days we've lost two more staples from my childhood: James Mitchell (aka Palmer Cortlandt on All My Children) and Pernell Roberts (aka Trapper John MD). Dim all the lights -- again.

Monday, January 25, 2010

THERE'S A STRONG NEW PRESENCE IN MY LIFE

I can't seem to get away from Mark Strong. Suddenly, he's everywhere. A few weeks ago, I didn't even know who he was. Then I watched The Young Victoria, and one bastard, in particular, grabbed my attention. I wasn't thrilled when he roughed up Emily Blunt, and I didn't want anything to do with him. (What a performance, though!)

But he keeps coming back in my life. There are movie posters all over Buenos Aires for Sherlock Holmes, and on them, there is his name, fourth above the title, after Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law and Rachel McAdams. Then I just read on Box Office Mojo that he will be starring with Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett in the upcoming Robin Hood.

Not bad for a total unknown. Only thing is, he's been around forever -- and he's hardly unknown. In fact, the Brit's filmography is pretty impressive: In 2008, he appeared in no less than six films, last year in three, and this year, according to his Wikipedia page, he has six films, including the Peter Weir-directed The Way Back, with Colin Farrell, Ed Harris and Saoirse Ronan, and The Guard, with Brendan Gleeson and Don Cheadle.

Why do I feel some Oscar buzz coming on?

THE SEXIEST SIXTYSOMETHING WOMAN ALIVE

Speaking of the Oscars, Helen Mirren in The Last Station is the only serious best actress contender whose performance I've yet to see, but I was blown away by her clip last night at the Screen Actors Guild Awards. (Sandy Bullock aside, the others, particularly Gabourey Sidibe's, were pretty much lowlights from the respective performances. Someone wasn't doing their job very well.)

"And you are a stone-hearted bitch of a daughter! I lost five children! Why couldn't one of them have been you?!"

Ouch!

Is it me or is Helen Mirren, 64, getting sexier every year? And am I the only one who finds it odd that the Golden Globes and the SAG awards are already behind us, and the Oscar nominations haven't even been announced yet?

The Screen Actors Guild Awards 2010: Best Actress

WE APPRECIATE THE SUPPORT, BUT IT REALLY WASN'T ALL THAT NECESSARY

I love this bit at Film Experience Blog and Stinkylulu about "coaster" Oscar nominees. We see it every few years. A film racks up tons of nominations, including an acting nod (usually in the supporting category) that nobody saw coming.

It's an interesting theory indeed, but it sheds absolutely no light on how BAFTA winner Thandie Newton didn't even make the Oscar shortlist for Crash in 2006. Remember how great she was in Beloved, a flawed but interesting take on a fantastic book that probably should never have been made into a film? (It is, after all, more about prose than plot.) The Academy must hate her.

But I have to disagree with the inclusion of The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button's Taraji P. Henson and Little Miss Sunshine's Abigail Breslin in the coaster club. Breslin's performance was central to Little Miss Sunshine, and she ended up in the supporting category only because of her age (kids under 18 generally need not apply to the lead categories). As for Henson, she was working Oscar buzz long before Benjamin Button's release, so no one was surprised on Oscar day when her name was called.

Queen Latifah, though, is so in there -- as is her Chicago costar John C. Reilly. (Richard Gere so should have gone supporting instead of lead!) Who are some of the other actors and actresses whose "Oscar nominee" status in any given year could have been chalked up to the "coaster" phenomenon? I have some ideas. A list.

  • Minnie Driver Good Will Hunting (1997) Minnie (above, with Matt Damon) did just fine in this more or less extraneous role, but when you think of the film, do you even remember that she was in it?
  • Julianne Moore The Hours (2002) For the most part, double acting nominees get there by coasting. Although I think Meryl Streep was the standout in The Hours, it was pretty much the Nicole Kidman Show all Oscar season. Would Julianne even have been noticed had she not been so acclaimed that same year in Far From Heaven?
  • Emma Thompson In The Name Of The Father (1993) See above and above. Both apply here. But don't you miss the good old days when Emma Thompson was pure Oscar bait?
  • Hermione Baddeley Room At The Top (1959) What an amazing scene she had (emphasis on the singular)! But I'm sure she wasn't the only one thinking WTF on the day the nominations were announced. At two minutes and 20 seconds, it's the shortest performance ever to be nominated for an Oscar.
  • Angela Lansbury Gaslight (1944) Not to take anything away from the thrice-nominated actress, but what exactly did she do in this thriller that so impressed the Academy?
  • James Cromwell Babe (1995) A consolation prize for having to play second fiddle to a pig?
  • Kathleen Quinlan and Ed Harris Apollo 13 (1995) Curiously, the two acting nominees from this Best Picture contender about the aborted moon trip from hell weren't even lost in space. What's up with that?

Saturday, January 23, 2010

IF HE GETS TEEN AND TWEEN GIRLS TO TUNE IN...

I don't mean to be snarky when it comes to a benefit concert/telethon for such an extremely important cause, but which one of these announced guests for tonight's Hope For Haiti (live at 8pm ET) seems a little bit out of place?

Wyclef Jean, George Clooney, CNN's Anderson Cooper, President Bill Clinton, Ben Stiller, Brad Pitt, Chris Rock, Clint Eastwood, Denzel Washington, Halle Berry, Jon Stewart, Julia Roberts, Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Meryl Streep, Morgan Freeman, Nicole Kidman, Robert Pattinson, Samuel L. Jackson, Tom Hanks, Will Smith, Muhammad Ali, among many others.

Meanwhile, the musical component is rock solid and features many of the philanthropical artists who always seem to come through in times like these: Madonna, Bruce Springsteen, Mary J. Blige, Alicia Keys, Stevie Wonder, Bono, Sheryl Crow and Sting. It's comforting when great tragedy brings out the best in people.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

KING OF THE ROAD

Sold! My apartment in New York City is in someone else's hands now, and I'm once again filled with wanderlust. First stop, New York City on February 17. Then London. Then Istanbul. Then who knows? When will I be back in Buenos Aires? April at the earliest. Maybe May. Maybe never. (Well, not never. I still have my apartment here.)

The third leg of my upcoming journey was a toss up between Istanbul, Beirut and Cape Town. Beirut was coming out on top until I turned to a Time Out colleague, who'd recently moved there to edit Time Out Beirut, for advice. His review wasn't glowing. I don't know whether I was turned off by the story about his fumbling to bed in the dark without electricity, or the deadly car bomb blast that lead to that particular power outage.

Whatever. After spending four years and four months living in the Third World, there'll be no skimping on creature comforts. Oh, and after watching The Hurt Locker this past weekend, getting blown to smithereens is not high on my to-do list.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

LOST ONES

The first time I heard of Kate and Anna McGarrigle was in 1990. I was the editor of Applause, the weekly entertainment supplement to the Independent Florida Alligator, the University of Florida's school newspaper, and one day, a cassette of the sisters' first new album in eight years, Heartbeats Accelerating, arrived in the mail.

I'm not sure why I stuck it into my cassette player. I received so much music every week, all of it hoping to be reviewed (well, actually, the people who sent it were hoping for it to be reviewed), and usually I only paid attention to the ones by well-known artists or the ones with nice pretty covers. The McGarrigle sisters were not particularly famous, although they had written some of the best songs of the '70s, '80s and even '90s (more on those later), and the cover was a colorless close-up of two middle-aged women who looked like sisters, maybe even twins.

But I was intrigued. I pressed play, and I fell in love. In these pre-Internet days, before Wikipedia, I had no idea what these ladies had been up to all my life. A few years later, I got another dose of the McGarrigles via the opening song on Linda Ronstadt's 1993 album, Winter Light. It was a cover of the title track of Heartbeats Accelerating, written by Anna, which didn't quite match the McGarrigles' delicate, inimitable version, but it came pretty close. My very first boyfriend, Pietro, who had discovered it independently of me and adored it, used to listen to it with me in bed.

Around this time, I began my still-ongoing Linda Ronstadt phase and discovered that some of her best songs had been written by Kate or Anna McGarrigle. There was the title track of her landmark 1974 album, Heart Like A Wheel, written by Anna, and Kate's beautiful, haunting "I've Had Enough," covered on Trio, Ronstadt's 1988 collaboration with Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris.

Kate, in particular, had equally talented connections. Her ex-husband was singer-songwriter Loudon Wainright III, with whom she had two children, Martha and Rufus (above, with his mom), both of whom have had success in the family business.

On Monday, January 18, Kate died at age 63, after a long battle with clear cell sarcoma, a rare form of cancer. Dim all the lights. We've lost another great.

Kate & Anna McGarrigle "I Eat Dinner" (written by Kate)

DON'T SHOOT -- OR SLAP, OR SPIT ON -- THE MESSENGER

This afternoon as I watched The Messenger, I had the strangest sense of deja vu. Hadn't I seen this somewhere before? (And that is not to take anything away from the movie, which is fabulous.) I saw The Hurt Locker a few days ago, so maybe it was the war connection, I thought. But it was more than that.

Then it dawned on me. The Messenger is Up in the Air down to earth, with a different cast. Up in the Air is about an old pro (George Clooney) and his young charge (Anna Kendrick) whose job it is to tell people that they are being fired by their employers. Meanwhile, The Messenger is about an old pro (Woody Harrelson, sexy, beastly and looking closer to 30 than 50) and his young charge (Ben Foster, above, admirably low key and in need of a nice, long hug) whose job it is to tell people that their loved ones have been killed in combat. There's even an awkward rehearsal dinner scene vaguely reminiscent of the wedding bit in Up in the Air.

In the central storylines of both films, the oldsters urge the neophytes to remain as detached as possible. Don't get emotionally -- or, in The Messenger, physically -- involved. It's only a job. Of course, that's easier said than done, and the youngsters in both films begin to crack under pressure and find themselves doing exactly what they are urged not to do.

And who wouldn't? Let's face it, we are not robots. There is no right way or wrong way to tell someone that they've lost a job or a loved one. You just tell them as best you can and let the chips fall where they may. Some, like Samantha Morton in The Messenger, will put on a brave face and be in no apparent need of immediate comforting. Others, like pretty much everyone else in both movies, will react in extreme, unexpected ways.

What to do when they slap you (as one woman does to Woody Harrelson's Captain Tony Stone) or spit on you (as Steve Buscemi does to Ben Foster's Sergeant Will Montgomery)? Never, under any circumstances, should you touch them, Captain Stone instructs. The docs on Grey's Anatomy and other fictional bearers of bad news might agree. Me, I'm not sure who benefits from such stoic detachment.

But this I do know: War may be hell (on the homefront, too), but if Steve Buscemi ever spit in my face, I'd for sure rearrange his.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

HE'S COMING! BEWARE -- AND HOLD YOUR BREATH!

I stink. To high heavens. There, I've said it. You happy?

Before you get the wrong idea, it's not a 24/7 thing. I'm not stinky the way Zac Efron has been accused of being -- although I've been known to occasionally not shower immediately after working out -- or the way my friend Deirdre and I used to presume that some Hollywood stars have to smell. Stinky or Not? That was our favorite game to play whenever we got bored at work.

Who knew that one day I would make the dreaded stinky list? I've been on the Dean's List, guest lists and shit lists, so perhaps it was just a matter of time.

It all came out today before my pilates class, when Claudio, who works at the studio, and I found ourselves with a few moments alone. He said he had to talk to me about something, but he didn't want to offend me. I had no idea what he could possibly have to say that didn't involve the sexuality of Hollywood celebrities (yes, he's the one who loves that particular subject), but I knew it couldn't be good.

I told him to go for it. He started beating a very slow path around the bush. He talked about how being guys, sometimes when we work out in the gym we sweat like pigs. But it's normal there, and gyms -- at least decent ones -- are wide open spaces. I think I knew where this was going.

"Yes, I know, I have a problem," I said, feeling as if we were mid intervention. I've always been a sweater, and sometimes I go a little crazy, thanks to the intense pilates regimen of Pamela, my excellent instructor. It's embarassing, so before each class, I load up on paper towels to keep myself as dry as possible. It doesn't help that the classes are full of women, who always seem to be cold, no matter how hot it is outside. And when the AC goes off, my sweat glands rush into overdrive.

But alas, my sweat wasn't the only problem. It's also the body odor that comes along with it. And not only one person has complained.

Ouch! And ewww!

I handled the conversation with grace. I didn't get flustered. I didn't even get embarrassed. In the back of my mind, I sort of knew this day would come. I had begun showering before each class and using extra deodorant, hoping to ease the pain of my fellow pilates students. In fact, today I smelled so good that I almost invited Claudio to see for himself.

But I didn't. I think I took it all in stride partly because, despite the uncomfortable nature of the conversation, Claudio was so nice and diplomatic about it. I found myself on the verge of inviting him out for drinks, just to prove to him that I clean up well. I don't know many -- any! -- people who can almost charm your track pants off while telling you that you have a stinking problem.

I'm not sure where we go from here. I'll always be a sweater, but I may have to start piling on cologne, which I haven't used since I left New York, and wearing a new t-shirt to every class as a precautionary measure. Not because I care what those crazy, cranky ladies think about my body odor -- the further away from me they stay, the better. (And Rosita, the sweet, older porteña aside, they are now all officially on my shit list.) But because I don't want Claudio to think I'm a stinky pig.

At least I'll never have to worry about having to cheek-kiss any of them goodbye at the end of class. That's one porteño custom that I could really do without. Just to show that there were no hard feelings, as I was on my way out, Claudio told me that he watched Closer again last night. And he still thinks Jude Law is gay.

Update I ended up cancelling my membership to Megatlon Pilates. My final class will be on February 17, which, incidentally is the day I depart from Buenos Aires for an undecided period of time. Claudio wasn't happy to see me go. But he understands. A guy's got a right to sweat like a big and stink like one, too. I mean, how else do you know that the work out is, um, working?

Monday, January 18, 2010

THE GOLDEN GLOBES 2010

My Facebook status:

Damn! I hate watching award shows in Argentina. When Mo'Nique and Toni Collette win Golden Globes, I want to hear THEIR acceptance speeches, not some crazy chick talking over them and badly translating into Spanish what they're saying!

But the show must go on, right?

I loved Mo'Nique's humble, heartfelt acceptance speech for best supporting actress. I think she just won bonus points from the Academy.

It's nice to see comedy TV actress winner Toni Collette finally collecting awards. But I recently saw part of an epidose of The United States Of Tara, and it didn't look so funny at all. One of her kids was burning down the house!

Felicity Huffman (above, right, with fellow Desperate Housewife Marcia Cross) is so much hotter than people give her credit for. I don't think I've ever seen her look bad on an awards show.

I've never seen Dexter, but I'm glad Michael C. Hall won. It would have been really sad if he'd lost after showing up, despite his recent cancer diagnosis and treatment.

Harrison Ford looks old, but he's still kind of hot. I'll never understand this thing he has going with Calista Flockhart. (Didn't they meet at a previous Golden Globes ceremony?) But then, they both seem like two of the most humorless people in Hollywood.

Cher and Christina Aguilera!!! I must say, the Globes have snagged some interesting presenters tonight. Cher looks fantastic.

God, Meryl Streep is beautiful! I still can't believe the story I read about when she auditioned for King Kong, and the director made a disparaging comment about Meryl's looks in Italian to which Meryl responded in fluent Italian. You go, girl!

Helen Mirren! God, these old broads are sexy as hell!

Kevin Bacon: Now there's an underrated actor in Hollywood. It's nice to see him finally getting something -- although I have no idea what it's for. (I don't really do TV movies anymore -- most of them never make it to South America.) But when will Oscar notice him?

It's good to see so many under-awarded actors and actresses, like Drew Barrymore, winning tonight. I never saw the TV movie Grey Gardens (for the reason mentioned above), but Drew's also-nominated costar Jessica Lange already has enough awards for her mantle (including two Oscars).

More interesting presenters. Cameron Diaz, the star of Nancy Meyers' last movie, The Holiday, introduces her current one, It's Complicated. Helen Mirren, who was supposed to play Mariah Carey's role in Precious, introduces that film. But couldn't the HFPA have gotten Antonio Banderas, who originated Daniel Day-Lewis's Nine role on Broadway, to introduce that film?

Take note, Cher! Sophia Loren has turned back time. She looks like it's 30 years ago!

Janet McTeer is back? When did that happen? It's been years since she blew me away in Tumbleweeds! Good to see that Chloe Sevigny is still in the game, though. Nice group of supporting TV actress nominees.

I have no desire to ever see Inglorious Basterds, but this Christoph Waltz must really be something in it. I think he looks better without the beard. With the guy talking over him in Spanish, I can't tell if he has a German accent, but it doesn't sound like he does. Interesting.

How could Marty Scorcese only now be getting the Cecille B. DeMille award?... Leonardo DiCaprio isn't looking as cute in his mid 30s as he did in his 20s. I suppose not every actor can age as beautifully as Mark Wahlberg and Johnny Depp and Robert Downey Jr.... Loved the Shutter Island promo at the end. Scorcese movies are never must sees for me, but I won't be missing Shutter Island.

Jodie Foster looks great -- and she knows it!

Nice to have Mel Gibson back as an actor, and to have him presenting after his Maverick and soon-to-be The Beaver costar. Kathyrn Bigelow looks a little pissed that her ex-husband won Best Director. Nice of him to shout her out, though. She'll still get her Oscar.

Hmm... Ryan Murphy accepting for Glee. I didn't realize he was involved. A good friend of mine in L.A. used to date him.

What is Mike Tyson doing on the Golden Globes stage? Does a cameo in The Hangover really qualify him to be a presenter?

And The Hangover wins Best Motion Picture - Comedy in one of the all-time weakest Golden Globe categories. Do any of these films actually have a chance of being Oscar-nominated?

Should the governer of California really be presenting at the Golden Globes. But then, Arnold did appear in a few James Cameron movies, so it's fitting that he introduce Avatar. But why not Sigourney? And she's in the film!

I just screamed out loud! Sandra Bullock wins for The Blind Side. Let's face it, neither the performance nor the film are particularly Oscar worthy, but I'll be rooting for her all the way up to the Oscars.

I though Matt Damon would win for comedy actor, but I'm not about to complain about Robert Downey Jr.'s winning, especially since he should have won last year for Tropic Thunder.

Wow! A standing O for Jeff Bridges. I love that he made a joke about his long-time under-appreciated status. I remember during Julia Roberts's Erin Brockovich awards sweep, during one acceptance speech, she pointed out Jeff Bridges in the audience and commented that she had been talking about him at breakfast that morning. I think it was the Globes, the one where Elizabeth Taylor made a fool of herself and had to be helped offstage by Jeff, who was doing the awards circuit for his role in The Contender. It took 10 years, but his time is now!

"Alright, let's wrap this up!" Gotta love Best Motion Picture - Drama presenter Julia Roberts (speaking of her).... Damn, Jason Reitman looks pissed that Up in the Air didn't win.... What does this do for The Hurt Locker's Oscar changes? I think it's slightly overrated, but I suspect Avatar is, too.

BURNING QUESTIONS: PRE-GOLDEN GLOBES EDITION

I loved It's Complicated (I have a weakness for Meryl Streep playing Meryl sans accents and wigs and heavy emoting, and for Nancy Meyer romantic comedies featuring upper-middle-class grown ups living in houses with freshly painted walls), but something about the movie bothered me. Why did the kids tearfully overreact to the news that their divorced parents had been having an affair? What's so confusing about that? Their parents' sex life is their business, not the concern of three grown kids all living away from home. I was 17 years old when my parents separated (the same age as Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin's eldest daughter at the time of their split in the film), and if they had hit the sheets 10 years later, my response would have been "Good for them!"

It took me a minute to get into The Hurt Locker, but once I did, I found it riveting. But why is Jeremy Renner (right) getting all of the attention? He was great -- and I could stare into those baby blues for hours and hours -- but Anthony Mackie (left) matched him scene for scene and was just as much of a lead. His final scene in the truck killed me! But will someone please explain the movie's title to me?

Remember when An Education's Carey Mulligan was the actress to beat? Now it's pretty much The Meryl Streep and Sandra Bullock Show.

I haven't seen Invictus yet, but why is it that every time Clint Eastwood makes a film, he's an automatic contender -- except for the year (2008) when he actually made two really good ones, Changeling and Gran Torino?

I loved Mo'Nique in Precious, and hopes she gets every award left this season, but something about her offscreen behavior bugs me. Why did she defer to her business-manager husband backstage at the Critics Choice Awards when a member of the press asked her why she isn't doing more to promote the film for which she won the Broadcast Film Critics' supporting actress prize? She could just have easily have said that she has a full-time job (her late-night talk show) and kids to take care of, so she can't show up for everything. Bigger stars snub awards shows all the time, and no one accuses them of not being team players.

Am I the only one who doesn't really care about the TV Globes? That said, I hope Jane Lynch (above) wins best supporting actress for Glee. Why? Because I love her but not the show. She was so great in Julie & Julia, and I love her as Charlie Sheens's therapist in Two And A Half Men.

Why is everyone calling Julia Roberts's comedy actress nomination for Duplicity just another case of star fucking by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association? If I remember correctly the film got excellent reviews, unlike The Proposal, for which Sandra Bullock is nominated in the same category.

And finally, a statement of fact: If Sandra Bullock beats Carey Mulligan for Best Actress in a Movie - Drama, the Oscar is hers.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

THE CRITICS HAVE CHOSEN!

Sandra Bullock began her walk to the Oscar with a kiss at last night's Critics Choice Awards, where The Blind Side star and Julie & Julia's Meryl Streep tied for Best Actress. Step 2: Tomorrow night at the Golden Globes, where she and fellow double-nominee Meryl are more than likely to win for, respectively, Best Actress in a Motion Picture - Comedy and Best Actress in a Motion Picture - Drama.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

LYTE'S PRAYER FOR THE DYING

"He knows he's leaving, not much time left
Holding on to his very last breath
I saw him last week, nervous and uptight
Losing sleep, stays up all night
Wishin' he woulda used his mind and not rushed
to push in the bush but took his time
to get to know the girl he slapped skins with
shared needles with
Wish he could go back, change the direction
But now he's got the infection
I spoke to him, gave him inspired words
I'm sure he's heard
live by the sword, die by the sword
What's left, pray to the oh Lord
You can deny but the truth will unfold
because the eyes are the soul
Eyes are the soul
Eyes are the soul"

--MC Lyte, "Eyes Are The Soul" (1991)

And George Jones recently had the wanton hubris to declare that rap isn't music. Not only is it music, George, but at its most lyrically potent, as on MC Lyte's best single (and that's really saying something), it's poetry.

"Eyes Are The Soul"

Friday, January 15, 2010

MORE SANDRA BULLOCK ON THE "SIDE," PLEASE!

The Blind Side is not a good movie, but I couldn't peel my eyes away from it.

To call it a train wreck, though, would be completely beside the point.

The movie is highly watchable, a must-see perhaps, for one reason only: Sandra Bullock. It's not exactly about her "performance," because what you are basically watching when you watch The Blind Side is Sandra expertly playing another variation on her theme: the perky, smart-aleck, no-nonsense broad she's been inhabiting movie in and movie out since Speed.

It's nice to see actors like Sandra and George Clooney getting raves for low-key performances that don't seem to have been conceived with "For your consideration" ads in mind. There's no over-emoting, no heavy lifting, no money Oscar-clip scene -- just a nicely aging star not playing against type and being all the more effective for it.

My friend Mara calls Sandra's character, Leigh Anne Tuohy -- an upper-middle-class Republican who takes in Big Mike (Quinton Aaron), a large black stray -- "a Kathy Lee Gifford-type Steel Magnolia," and she's totally right.

But Sandra, in "blonde" Erin Brockovich mode, plays the hell out of her. If the movie, which is improbably based on a true story (and just in case you have your doubts, the real-life players are shown during the closing credits), weren't so manipulative, so simplistic in its portrait of black vs. white, rich vs. poor, big vs. small, she'd be a lock for the best actress oscar she's almost certain to be nominated for.
But Hollywood doesn't really know how to do sports movies. They strive too hard for (false) uplift, and make no mistake, I completely fell for The Blind Side's hook, line and sinker.

Still, I've seen more realism and better acting on Friday Night Lights, a great, underappreciated TV series that I kept thinking of while watching the movie. Both are set in southern Bible-belting towns with football at the center. And both feature actress Kim Dickens in a supporting role. In Lights, Kim is a plain-Jane mom who ran out on her family just when it needed her most. In Side, she's the most beautiful Christian private school teacher ever to open a textbook. We see her well before we see Sandra Bullock, and as she warms to Big Mike, it becomes crystal clear where the movie is going: Heartstrings will be pulled.

There are a couple of interesting throwaway bits in the movie. The film makes it clear that the Touhys are card-carrying Republicans without anyone ever explicitly stating it, but nothing about their actions nor their attitudes backs it up -- and neither does the casting. (I don't know Sandra's politics, although I suspect her to be a staunch liberal, but Tim McGraw, who has a nice, comforting screen presence as Liegh Anne's supportive husband, once told me that he is a Democrat to the core.)

And there are also two scenes in Big Mike's former neighborhood which settle momentarily on a particular character/actor for no particular reason. In the second one, he's shown crying because of events that have just transpired, but it's never explained why. We find out, through a voiceover at the end of the movie and a shot of a newspaper clipping, that he ends up getting killed on his 21st birthday. I don't know who the actor is, but Sandra Bullock's aside, his face is the one thing that stayed with me after the closing credits.

Ultimately, The Blind Side takes an easy road out. It might have been a better, more realistic movie if there had been more conflict. Even the bigotry is mostly off screen! There are a few forks in the road -- a run-in on the bad side of the tracks, a pivotal football match, a big bad (but well-played) dragon lady working for the NCAA -- but there's never any doubt that love (and Sandra's Leigh Anne) will ultimately save the day.

THE "JOY" OF TEDDY

Yesterday the music world lost another great. Teddy Pendergrass, 59, died in Philadelphia after a long struggle with colon cancer. I never really got into Teddy's music until after the 1982 car accident that left him paralyzed from the waist down, and he didn't influence my formative years the way his fellow soul balladeers Luther Vandross and Jeffrey Osbourne did. But Teddy is the one who really taught me about the joy of sex with his appropriately titled 1988 No. 1 R&B hit, "Joy." His voice post-car crash may not have been the force of nature that it was during his late-'70s/early '80s heyday, but that didn't stop him from creating what, for me, will be his most enduring hit.

Interesting trivia: "Hold Me," Teddy's 1984 duet single with Whitney Houston, was the reason Whitney was deemed ineligible for the Best New Artist Grammy the following year when her debut album was released. As a result, Sade took the prize. Head scratchingly, former Shalamar member Jody Watley would be named Best New Artist just two years later. There's no method to the Grammy madness!

Here are my Top 5 favorite other Teddy jams.

  1. "Close The Door"
  2. "Love T.K.O."
  3. "Choose Me (You're My Choice Tonight)"
  4. "I Don't Love You Anymore"
  5. "Believe In Love" (Phat Phili Mix)

"Joy"

video

Thursday, January 14, 2010

YESTERDAY'S SONGS


Hindsight is 20/20 vision.

When we think of past decades -- the '50s, the '60s, the '70s, the '80s -- clear memories generally come into view: the music, the movies, the TV shows, the newsmakers, the fashion. We see the good, the bad and the tacky as well as the common threads holding them together in a way that we may not have when -- for those of us who lived through it first hand -- we were smack dab in the middle of the era.

But it usually takes some time away from a decade, a year or five, for it all to come into focus. Ten years ago, at the dawn of the new century, I had no idea what the '90s would be remembered for, aside from grunge. It was all a hodgepodge of sounds, people, looks, as far as I was concerned, and aside from the Seattle rock scene, circa 1992 to 1994, nothing really struck me as defining the era. There was no design of the decade.

But I can see clearly now. When I enter reminiscing mode, so many things now seem distinctly 1990s: Hootie & the Blowfish, Counting Crows, Spin Doctors, Alanis Morrissette, Paula Cole, the Cranberries, Lilith Fair (though Sarah McLachlan, Sheryl Crow and Fiona Apple neatly managed to side step post-millennium irrelevance), Hanson, Spice Girls, Toni Braxton, Brandy, Monica, Brandy Vs. Monica, "Gonna Make You Sweat," "Gyspy Woman (She's Homeless)," "Finally," and pretty much everything that would have been categorized as Eurodisco-pop, from Ace of Base to Snap to Real McCoy to La Bouche.

Elsewhere: John Grisham, Seinfeld, Mad About You, Helen Hunt, Whitney Houston's film career, Monica Lewinsky, the breakout popularity of Friends' David Schwimmer, and Chris O'Donnell on the A-list.

Could they be more dated? Not that there's anything wrong with that (to quote two popular '90s catchphrases). If such dinosaurs of the decade as Beverly Hills, 90210 and Melrose Place can be revamped for this century, if Seinfeld's Julia Louis-Dreyfus can become a TV star again and Marisa Tomei score not one but two '00s Oscar nods, while Hootie singer Darius Rucker reinvents himself as a country star and Doogie Howser, M.D. himself, Neil Patrick Harris, becomes the queen of TV, there's hope for everyone (so don't give up, Neve Campbell).

So what to make of the '00s? Today while walking down the street, listening to my iPod, I began to get a clear picture, thanks to the 2001 No. 1 hit "Always On Time," by Ja Rule featuring Ashanti (above -- Remember them?). The early to mid '00s were filled with hitmakers and personalities who already are relics of that time: Nelly, Sisqo, Backstreet Boys, all of *NSYNC (minus Justin), Jessica Simpson, Nick Lachey, 98° and pretty much every American Idol contestant from the first five seasons, with the exception of Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, Chris Daughtry and Jennifer Hudson.

On the movie and TV side, there's the cast of American Pie (excepting Alyson Hannigan), Freddie Prinze Jr., Buffy the Vampire Slayer (both the show and series star Sarah Michelle Gellar), Hillary Duff, Lindsay Lohan, Hillary Vs. Lindsay, and Renée Zellweger on the A-list.

Take note, Susan Boyle. This is your future.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

DANCES WITH STARS

The year was 1990. It was the summer before my senior session at the University of Florida, and I was having lunch with some friends at a cafe across from campus after one of our late live-music Friday nights at the Hardback Cafe.

I had only once before brushed with fame -- if you don't count my tête-à-tête with one-hit-wonder Stacey Q that night after she performed at Central City earlier in my college career. River Phoenix, my first brush with true fame, was a major star, an Academy Award-nominated actor and a Hollywood heartthrob. He was living in Gainesville at the same time I was in school there, and his band, Aleka's Attic, used to play in venues around town. A friend of mine had met him once before I did after an AA performance at the student union, and when she requested his autograph and a photo, he sniffed, "I'm not Goofy at Disneyland."

I met him twice. The first time I would have been nervous, but too much beer had made me fearless. As River walked by me on his way into the Hardback Cafe, I grabbed him and told him that I liked his shirt. I think I may have been hitting on him. Whatever I was doing, it worked. He was incredibly friendly and stuck around to chat for a little while. The next time I saw him, I cornered him and asked if I could interview him sometime for the college paper's entertainment section, which I edited. He seemed a bit disappointed that I was approaching him as a star and not as a regular guy the way I had before, but he agreed to do the interview to promote AA's next performance.

But we never did the interview. He probably saw me from across one of those crowded rooms and ran in the opposite direction. Maybe interviewing River Phoenix was never meant to be for me. He died before I could land him for a proper national publication. Interestingly, the night after he died, Halloween 1993, I met another one of my longtime crushes, Michael Hutchence of INXS, at a release party for the band's Full Moon, Dirty Hearts album. Four years later, he'd be dead, too.

That Saturday afternoon at lunch, I wasn't about to miss my second brush with fame. Across the room I saw that familiar goofy-handsome face. Could it be? No way! But wait, they were filming the Michael J. Fox movie Doc Hollywood in Gainesville, so that very well could have been his costar Woody Harrelson who just walked in. My friends confirmed.

At the time, Woody was still on Cheers, and although I wasn't a huge fan of the show, it wasn't every day that famous people walked into Gainesville restaurants. And if I was to someday become a big celebrity journalist, I'd have to get used to this. So when Woody made his way to the men's room, I saw my chance. I followed him.

I washed my hands over and over until Woody emerged from the stall and then I pounced. "What's up, Woody. How are you?" I acted like we were old chums (this is the same technique I'd later use on people like Marie Osmond, Reba McEntire and Natalie Merchant to immediately put them at ease). He couldn't have been more charming. I wasn't expecting him to be so nice and actually engage me in conversation. I didn't know what to say. I had nothing.

So I made it up as I went along. I asked what he was doing in Gainesville and how he liked our little college town. Then I started asking him about his Cheers costar Kirstie Alley. Kirstie this. Kirstie that. Kirstie Kirstie Kirstie. "What's it like working with Kirstie? I love Kirstie!" I don't know what got into me.

Woody looked confused and maybe a little bit amused. Perhaps he was annoyed, too. God knows I would have been. But he played the good sport. What an actor, I thought, as he exited the loo. Who knew that the rest of the world would soon come to see things as I did? Twenty years of career ups and lulls (mostly lulls) later, he's about to score his second Oscar nomination for The Messenger.

And I can say I knew him when.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

"HARD" TO HANDLE

I love dark Rihanna. If only the rest of the world saw her like I do. Then "Hard," her fantastic current single, would be outperforming Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance" (basically a bad rewrite of "Poker Face") on the charts. Gaga wishes she were this cool.

Aparently, 1992smoothcriminalBK on YouTube begs to differ:

"She is trying to be like Lady Gaga! Its not happening Rihanna! Don't like her, dont like her music and she CANNOT sing or perform! Am not hatin' am stain facts! Shes just Jayz's money makin' puppet! The music industry is shocing lately there are only a few artists left with true raw talent! And yes Beyonce and Alicia Keys are two of them! Anyway she looks like a cheap slut in this video!"

Everyone's entitled to their (poorly spelled and punctuated) opinion. Interestingly, I read 1992smoothcriminalBK's comment after I wrote the above sentence about Gaga. I had no idea that everyone has been comparing Rihanna's street makeover to Gaga. Meanwhile, Gaga seems to be undergoing a transformation of her own. Last night a friend of mine commented that Gaga finally is beginning to get the style thing right. I agree (see below). Perhaps it's the influence of her recent video partner Beyonce.

Personally, I prefer my Gaga with a dash of glamour and my Rihanna with a little thug on the side. Maybe the two of them are merging into the same person. Whatever they are doing, I think Rihanna is doing it a whole lot better.

GAGA THEN



GAGA NOW



Rihanna "Hard"

Saturday, January 9, 2010

BURNING QUESTIONS 2010: JANUARY EDITION

Why was that man selling scissors on the Subte this morning? And why didn't the armed policeman standing beside me have anything to say about it? Maybe tomorrow I'll hop onto the subway to pick up some cutlery -- or a hand grenade!

Do Argentines secretly know how they are? Almost every time one of them asks me if I like Argentina -- of course, or would I still be here after more than three years? -- they follow up by asking, "¿Y te gustan los Argentinos?" If you have to ask, you already know the answer.
Since yesterday some of my female Facebook friends have had one-word status updates: a color. Today I found out that they are promoting breast cancer awareness by describing the bra they are wearing. But what's the point of promoting something if no one knows that you're promoting it? How's this for a novel, effective approach: Skip the color gag and just make those status updates explicitly about breast cancer awareness?

Ally McBeal (1997-2002). Eli Stone (2008-2009). Drop Dead Diva (2009-). Does every decade get its own dramedy about quirky lawyers in love who burst into song and dance just because some actors in the cast can sing? Diva star Brooke Elliott (above, right, with costar April Bowlby and guest star Paula Abdul) is stellar, and I love the premise of the Lifetime series: Two women, one beautiful and thin, one beautiful and heavy, die, and the memories of the former and professional know-how of the latter both merge in the body of the latter, an attorney. Hilarity and drama ensue. But must every episode have to feature a court case that teaches us that fatties are people too?

Last night I watched The Young Victoria. Good movie. Good acting (though I don't quite understand Emily Blunt's suddenly building Oscar buzz -- she deserved it more for The Devil Wears Prada). Good-looking cast (Rupert Friend, be still my beating heart). But is the story of England's Queen Victoria's pre- and post-coronation years one that just had to be told? Especially considering that the most exciting sequence -- an assassination attempt -- is pure fiction?
Mariah Carey's Memoirs Of An Imperfect Angel was my favorite album of 2009. There, I said it. But what's up with releasing not one but two remix albums (on February 23), one of which, Angel's Advocate: Memoirs Remix Edition, will feature guest artists on 12 Memoirs songs? Though putting R. Kelly on "Betcha Gon Know, Pt. 2" is kind of inspired (Pt. 1 is so R. Kelly) and inviting Mary J. Blige to wail along on "It's A Wrap" is a nice touch (especially since Mary had her own "It's A Wrap" on her Love & Life album), the whole thing smacks of desperation. One of the great things about Memoirs is that it bucked the current hit-seeking R&B trend of overloading albums with guest appearances by being 100% Mariah; it was a cohesive album, not just a collection of songs. If the remix project is supposed to save Mariah's hit-making reputation, why would people care about remixes of songs they didn't care about -- or even hear -- in the first place? Mariah should just accept the flop and move on, take those unreleased Jermaine Dupri and Timbaland productions that will appear on Advocate and build a new album around those tracks.

Kelly Clarkson looks lovely in the video for her great current single, "Already Gone." Is it me, or has American Idol yet to produce an artist as great as the first-season winner? When the dreaded supporting actress Oscar curse finally swallows Jennifer Hudson up whole, and Adam Lambert's shock antics cease to shock -- or entertain -- us, Kelly and Carrie Underwood probably will be the last divas standing.

Friday, January 8, 2010

TOM & CAMERON: A MATCH MADE IN BOX-OFFICE HEAVEN?

Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz: Together again.

Too soon?

I always thought Cameron's wig out in the driver's seat was the best thing -- the only tolerable thing -- about Vanilla Sky, and the 2001 film even may have worked if the main focus had shifted from Tom and Penelope Cruz to Tom and Cameron. (I know it was a remake, which left little room for adjustments, but isn't Hollywood all about taking creative liberties?)

Well, on July 2 (just in time for Independence Day), they'll once again have a chance to prove their chemistry with the comedy Knight And Day. The trailer confounds me. (Nice use of Muse's "Uprising, though. Wonder if it will do for that song what Pineapple Express did for M.I.A.'s "Paper Planes" in 2008.) Tom seems to be playing some sort of bad guy -- a killer with a sense of humor? a loveable hit man? -- and Cameron appears to be channeling yet another variation of adorably sexy. I don't really understand what's going on, but there are some amusing bits. And it's nice to see Tom once again tackling comedy, the genre that suits him best (see Jerry Maguire) but one that he's dabbled in far too infrequently since Risky Business.

Both stars have slid way down the box-office food chain, but this looks like it could be a step in the right direction: up. Having Walk The Line director James Mangold and costars like Peter Sarsgaard and Viola Davis in your corner doesn't hurt. Tom, who is sharing above-the-title billing (with Cameron) for only the third time since 1992's A Few Good Men, seems to be sending up his recent rep as an an unhinged ADD-afflicted freak show (much like he did in 2008's Tropic Thunder), and this may actually be the direction he needs to go in permanently. He's never consistently sold himself as a romantic lead, and his real-life antics make him too much of a punchline to effectively play action hero anymore.

We'll see the outcome this summer. I for one, am as curious to see if Tom and Cameron can pull off dual career resuscitation as I am to find out why Tom is gunning down everyone in sight.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

EL CHICO DE MIS SUEÑOS

Como yo, mi amigo Roberto termina con estos porteños locos. Su neuvo "status update" en Facebook:

"Rob en 2010: No salgo más con porteños. Si sos del interior, hablamos... Americans need not apply. Europeans welcome.
"

Que pienso de los chicos de Europa en esa etapa de mi vida todavía no es claro a mi (ni me interesan mucho), pero termino con los porteños también. Para Rob y yo, el viaje a Cordoba cambió todo. Finalmente lo conoció Rob a un Argentino normal. Conocí más de lo mismo. Más o menos.

Hay un porteño que se llama Lucas (mi nuevo nombre favorito así que enseguida consiguió mi atención) y por unos meses sin exito me invitaba a su cama. Lo rehusé una y otra vez. Entonces por suerte dejó de intentar. Pero siempre regresan los porteños. Ayer, después de unas semanas sin contactarme, me envió Lucas dos mensajes por SMS:

"Hola lindo como estas che podis ahora. Asi nos conocemos. Dale tengo muchas ganas"

"No estoy seguro quien sos," lo respondí. ¡No estaba seguro! Nunca puse su nombre y numero en mi celular.

"Soy lucas de palermo nos conocimos por manhunt y quedamos en conocernos. Podis lindo dale"

¡Que romántico! Finalmente, el chico de mis sueños. ¡Encantador y un escritor brillante!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

ALONE AGAIN OR

I've been thinking about Dimitris ever since he left. Not about him. I've been thinking about something he said. No, something he didn't say. No, something he did... does. Oh, nevermind.

Let me explain. Dimitris and I met in Cordoba the night after Christmas Day and went out to dinner the following Monday in Buenos Aires. He's from Greece, and he's on a six-month solo tour of South America that began late last October.

Judging from his Facebook photo albums, he's spent the majority of the last five years or so on the road, touching down in such far-flung places as Asia, the South Pacific, Central America, Down Under, Egypt, Dubai, pretty much everywhere under the sun except the USA (which, he says, is on principle -- he refuses to endure the bureaucratic process Greeks must go through to be allowed into the country). In most of his photos, he's either alone, posing with local strangers, or alone.

I asked him why he spends so much time on the road, and he didn't really give me a clear answer. He enjoys being in new places, seeing new things (well, duh!) -- especially when nature and wide-open spaces are involved -- but I sensed there was something more. I got the feeling that he was looking for something. Or trying to escape it.

The day after we went out, at around 11pm, he sent me a text message from the port, saying that he was on his way to Colonia, Uruguay, en route to spend New Year's Eve in Punta del Este. I felt sad for him. And not just because he was going to dreadfully dull Colonia at midnight. Something about the way he was spending his six months, a day here, a day there, seeing a lot of things but not really experiencing any of it, dabbling without really jumping in, seemed kind sad. He seemed kind of sad, this wayfaring stranger.

I thought about Dimitris (and Jerry Maguire and About Schmidt and Sideways) tonight while watching Up In The Air. In a way, he is like George Clooney's character, Ryan Bingham, living on the road, no strings, no agenda. Only Dimitris has to do it without the benefit of an expense account. I get them both, Ryan and Dimitris. I've spent most of my adult life filled with wanderlust. Part of me wants to see as much of the world as possible. A bigger part of me wants to experience as many people and cultures from around the world as possible, which is why I prefer travelling to cities as opposed to being surrounded by nature in the middle of nowhere.

Dimitris is the opposite. He feels that after a while, all cities begin to look alike, which is why there are so few photos of him in Europe. I feel that after a while every sunset begins to look alike. To paraphrase a point that Ryan Bingham made in the movie, although I have done most of my travelling alone, my most memorable moments have involved other people. An interesting person is always more memorable than a sunset, or a tree, or the clouds. The Egyptian pyramids and the lost city of the Incas aside, culture is in the city, in the people, not in a waterfall, or in a cow.

But I digress slightly. In the film, Ryan Bingham, a profressional terminator (as in, he fires people) who moonlights as a motivational speaker, teaches the benefits of travelling light -- in the air and in life. I think this is something I've tried to do on and off my entire adult life, but especially now. Keep your personal belongings to a mininum. Keep your personal involvements to a minimum. "Make no mistake. We all die alone," Ryan tells a colleague played by Anna Kendrick (who nails the role of a hot-shot upstart plagued by uncertainty, self-doubt and a serious need to cut loose).

I've thrown that one into casual conversation before. But the solitude-solitaire thing doesn't really work for Ryan. Despite his smooth talk and confident bravura during the first part of the movie, George's natural, tick-free performance (he is the antithesis of Daniel Day-Lewis, the greatest one-man show on earth) shows hints of cracks in the armour. As he began to let down his guard, thanks to Alex (Vera Farmiga, effortlessly sexy and more so for it), so did I.

I won't say any more, lest I give away the outcome of the story, but by the denouement, I got Ryan and understood Dimitris a little bit better. Today I booked a one-way flight to New York City in February. I don't know where I'll go or when I'll return to Buenos Aires, but I'll be back. Being on the road just doesn't have the appeal today that it had when I was 27.

As for Dimitris, he's about to cross the Uruguayan border into Brazil. I hope he finds what he's looking for -- or conquers what he's running from. Wanderlust can take you to a lot of fascinating places, but at the end of the day, whether it's filled with people or with no one (preferably no one), with things or with emptiness (minimalist rocks), there's no place like home.

THE BIGGEST SORE LOSER?

Poor Jennifer Lopez.

Not only are both her music and acting careers in need of major surgery, but apparently, she's as Oscar obsessed as I am. (Sorry, here I go again!) The only difference being that I don't think I deserve one.

Here are the foot-in-mouth comments she made in an interview in the new issue of Latina magazine.

“I feel like I had that [Oscar-worthy role] in El Cantante, but I don’t even think the Academy members saw it. I feel like it’s their responsibility to do that, to see everything that’s out there, everything that could be great. Well, it is a little bit frustrating. It was funny; when the Oscars were on, I had just given birth on the 22nd, and the Oscars, I think, were a day or two later.

"I was sitting there with my twins — I couldn’t have been happier — but I was like, ‘How dope would it have been if I would’ve won the Oscar and been here in my hospital bed accepting the award? Thank you so much! I just want to thank the Academy!’ But we joked about it. It’s all good."

Poor J. Lo!

Let's enlighten her, shall we? First of all, the movies that generally get nominated for and win Oscars do very little business at the box office before they are nominated. Yes, some films will always be overlooked, but it's hard to believe that a worthy performance by someone as famous as Jennifer Lopez would be. If Mickey Rourke, a decade-plus-long joke before 2008's The Wrestler made him credible again, can get in the running, anyone can.

And now, consider this: The 2007 film which contained Jennifer's self-perceived Oscar-caliber performance made $7.5 million in the U.S. before going on to become a modest hit on DVD, making $16.6 million after it's October 30 release -- just in time for Oscar season. So much for being totally under the radar.

Not to kick an egomaniacal actress when she's already down, but here are some of the current grosses (as of yesterday) of a few 2010 sure things come Oscar nomination day.

An Education: $7.9 million
A Single Man: $1.7 million
Crazy Heart: $708,188
The Messenger: $654,374

I love that Jennifer is so Oscar aware, but a few words of advice: Oscar winners do not use words like "dope" in interviews. And leave the Oscar obsession to Julianne Moore. She's overdue, and she actually deserves one.

TIMES HAVE CHANGED -- BUT LET'S NOT GET CARRIED AWAY!

I don't know what it feels like for a girl. But I certainly can appreciate that life is no 24/7 picnic for the fairer sex. That should be pretty obvious, no? Well, perhaps not every guy is as aware and enlightened as I like to think I am.

A few days ago, I was talking to several white people about the occasional racism that I, as a black man, encounter in Argentina. One of them looked at me, and without a hint of irony, asked, "So why did you move here then?"

I wasn't sure why she would assume that my relocation to Buenos Aires had anything to do with black-white relations in New York City. But I took the bait anyway.

"And where would you suggest I live?" I asked/responded. "I moved here because I like the city, not to escape racism, which, by the way, is everywhere. In the United States it's much worse."

Another person looked at me, astonished. "Really?"

Seriously.

I'm never quite sure whether to chalk up such cluelessness about the harshy reality of race relations as a sign that said clueless person is above harboring racist ideals or as a sign that said clueless person is simply, well, clueless.

Perhaps it's a mix, but I insist on giving my friend the benefit of a doubt. In college, a roommate of mine once announced that racism was history, a thing of the past. This was 20 years ago. Yes, things have improved, but she'd still be egregiously mistaken today. You can't wash away liberal guilt by pretending that racism is ancient history. For many, including "fans" of the first black U.S. President (I use the word "fans" because he's as much an international celebrity as he is a politician), it might be under rug swept, but it's not completely swept away.

But what do I know?

For starters, this: No white person could possibly fully understand what it feels like for a black person. In Argentina. In the United States. Any place where black people are a minority. Yes, U.S. President Barack Obama is a major step in the right direction, a sign that things are improving, but he does not represent the end of racism as we know it, which is alive and well, in Argentina, in the U.S. and in pretty much every nation under the sun -- if not racism against black people, racism against some group outside of the ruling majority.

I didn't get into all of this with my under-informed white friends -- though I did, once again, repeat the story of the Argentine who recently slammed me with his own racist bile. In the end, it doesn't really matter what I say -- my experiences are my experiences, and no matter how shocked my white acquaintances look when I tell them about that particular bigot, they'll never truly understand what it feels like for a black person, here, there and everywhere.

Just like I will never really know what it feels like for a girl.

All we can do is stop, look, listen and learn. Sticking your head in the sand and pretending that everything is okay only perpetuates the problem. Knowledge is power. The power to change minds and perhaps even lives.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

ALBUM TITLES: THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE UGLY

My friend Cara and I have a special ritual. Every time Mariah Carey releases a new album, we have a good long laugh over the title. Come on, join us in a nice round of laughter:

Music Box. Daydream. Butterfly. Rainbow. Glitter. Charmbracelet.

A few months before the release of Mariah's current album, Cara sent me the following email: "Her new album will be called.... Wait for it.... Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel."

Laugh out loud. (Thankfully, the music was a million times better than the title.)

Coming Soon: Little Fluffy Bunnies.

Thankfully, when it comes to album titles, all is not dreadfully vomit-inducing. Over the years, some pretty good ones have come along. I realized this recently while getting my Church fix by listening to their 1990 album Gold Afternoon Fix for the first time in countless afternoons. Now there's a solid gold title. Not so much the Church's 1992 follow-up, Priest=Aura, which the lead singer, Steve Kilbey, once told me came to him after misreading a street sign.

While coming up with A-Z lists of hot and not album titles, I noticed some interesting trends. Too many of them unoriginally begin with the word "Song" -- but at least they are, for the most part, pretty good: Songs In The Key Of Life (Stevie Wonder). Songs From The Big Chair (Tears For Fears). Songs To Learn And Sing (Depeche Mode). Songs Of Faith And Devotion (Depeche Mode). Songs From The Last Century (George Michael). Songs From The Vatican Gift Shop (Stone Temple Pilots). Songs In A Minor (Alicia Keys). Songs Of Mass Devotion (Annie Lennox). And simply, Songs (Luther Vandross).

Other observations: Boy George did great album titles, with and without Culture Club (Kissing To Be Clever, Colour By Numbers, Waking Up With The House On Fire, From Luxury To Heartache, Sold, Tense Nervous Headache, Cheapness & Beauty). Michael Jackson, though he got off to a good start (with Off The Wall), didn't. Not that I have anything against ego-tripping titles -- Angela Winbush's Sharp is precisely that -- but Thriller, Bad, Dangerous and Invincible are ego-tripping and kind of cheesy.

And now, the good, the bad & the ugly, from A to Z.

THE GOOD
After The Gold Rush Neil Young
Busy Body Luther Vandross
Coming Down Daniel Ash/ Coming Up Suede
Diva Annie Lennox
Elegant Slumming M People
For Those About To Rock (We Salute You) AC/DC
Glorious Results Of A Misspent Youth Joan Jett & The Blackhearts
The Hardline According To Terence Trent D'Arby Terence Trent D'Arby
Infidels Bob Dylan
Jazz Queen
King's Record Shop Rosanne Cash
Life, Love And Pain Club Nouveau
Music For The Masses Depeche Mode/ Magic And Loss Lou Reed
New Adventures In Hi-Fi R.E.M.
Olympian Gene
Private Dancer Tina Turner
Quarter Moon In A Ten Cent Town Emmylour Harris
Red Hot Rhythm & Blues Diana Ross
The Southern Harmony And Music Companion The Black Crowes
Tenement Symphony Marc Almond
Urban Hymns The Verve
Vinyl Confessions Kansas
The World Is Full Of Trouble Joi Cardwell
X&Y Coldplay
Young, Gifted And Black Aretha Franklin
Zagora Loose Ends
Prince

THE BAD & THE UGLY
ATLiens Outkast
Baby Making Music The Isley Brothers
Chicago III, V, VII, VIII, X, XI, 13, XIV, 16, 17, 18, 19, XXX Chicago
Don't Get Weird On Me Babe Lloyd Cole
Elif4zaggin N.W.A.
For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge Van Halen
The G Spot Gerald Levert
Hummin' Comin' At 'Cha Xscape
Incesticide Nirvana
Janet Jackson's Rhythm Nation 1814 Janet Jackson
Kihntinued/ Kihnspiracy/ Kihntagious The Greg Kihn Band
Lawyers In Love Jackson Browne
Melon Collie And The Infinte Sadness Smashing Pumpkins
Neither Fish Nor Flesh (A Soundtrack of Love, Faith, Hope & Destruction) Terence Trent D'Arby
OU812 Van Halen
Pubic Fruit Curve
Quiet Lies Juice Newton
Rhyme & Reason Missing Persons
A Salt With A Deadly Pepa Salt-N-Pepa
12 Songs Neil Diamond
Uh-Huh John Cougar Mellencamp
Veni, Vidi, Vicious The Hives
Who's Zooming Who? Aretha Franklin
X INXS, Def Leppard, Kylie Minogue
You Light Up My Life: Inspirational Songs LeAnn Rimes
Zooropa U2
Prince