Tuesday, January 31, 2012

And We Said It Wouldn't Last: What I Once Told Anderson Cooper About Demi and Ashton

It's good to know that I haven't always been so stupid in love.

Once upon a time, before I got caught up in the rapture of the charms of Argentine men, I had a healthy dose of skepticism and cynicism when it came to romance, and it served me incredibly well on the job. Of course, when you spend years covering celebrities for People magazine and Us Weekly, you learn a thing or two about Hollywood love lives.

Yesterday, while I was writing a post for my blog at The Faster Times on the "whip-it" shenanigans of Demi Moore, I came across a transcript of a CNN interview I did with Anderson Cooper on June 6, 2003, shortly after Demi began dating Ashton Kutcher.

Cooper and I began our chat discussing Bill and Hillary Clinton and who should play them in a TV movie. My choice: Barbra Streisand and James Brolin, "because Barbra is a very controlling woman, very demanding, sort of the perception of what Hillary's like -- and James Brolin, very dashing older gentleman. I think that's the way one perceives Bill."

Then we got down to the good stuff. I was a senior editor at Us Weekly at the time, so I'd seen countless celebrity unions come an go, sometimes in the space between two Monday-night closes. It took a bit longer for Ashton and Demi to flame out, but who didn't see that out of control raging fire coming from nearly a decade away?

COOPER: All right, let's move on to the really important information now, the really important coupling right here to talk about, Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher. I'm not even sure if I'm pronouncing... Am I pronouncing that name right?


COOPER: De-MI Moore. All right. Whatever... Jeremy, is this relationship real? It is on the cover of Us Weekly, I think People has Demi Moore now on the cover. I've got to tell you, I'm skeptical, but tell us how, allegedly, this thing happened.

HELLIGAR: Well, first of all, it's not really clear when exactly they met. But it's pretty sure that they met probably in early May, late April, when Ashton was in New York City hosting Saturday Night Live.

COOPER: What's got so many people focused on this is, he's 25 years old. She's 40-some-odd years old.


COOPER: To me, it just seems very coincidental. She's got a movie coming out, Charlie's Angels 2. It just seems like a publicist's dream, kind of a setup.... Jeremy, final thought? You think this thing is for real? Do you think it's going to last?

HELLIGAR: I definitely think that it's not going to last. I would not imagine them walking down the altar, wedding bells. Forget it. But you have to also remember, Charlie's Angels is a franchise. And it's going to do well, whether Demi has a public affair or not. So...

COOPER: Right. Well, every little bit helps.

The wedding bells did ring a couple of years later, but ultimately, the pair ended up exactly where they were supposed to be: Kutcher on Two and a Half Men, Moore at home inhaling "whip-its." Crazy love, Hollywood style.

Monday, January 30, 2012

5 Reasons Why SAG Award Winner Viola Davis Can't Lose the Best Actress Oscar

There, I said it!

Octavia Spencer and Christopher Plummer have been virtual Oscar locks in their respective supporting categories for weeks now. I privately predicted a Jean Dujardin Best Actor win months ago, when The Artist was still a newbie in theaters, comparing him to Roberto Benigni, who triumphed for Life Is Beautiful in 1999, and my friend, a movie critic for a major national U.S. magazine, shot me down.

"The Artist is no Life Is Beautiful."

No, it's not, but it's beginning to look like something more, a Best Picture frontrunner. Life Is Beautiful may have had more zeitgeist momentum, but it never stood a chance against Saving Private Ryan and Shakespeare in Love, the eventual winner. Despite Dujardin's January 29 Screen Actors Guild win, I wouldn't be too quick to call it any more than a speed bump in Clooney's road to his second Oscar. But if there is an upset waiting to happen, it's here.

And what about Best Actress? Well, it's Viola Davis's world, and for now, Glenn Close, Rooney Mara, Meryl Streep and Michelle Williams only live in it. Sorry ladies! On February 26, Davis will not only make history as the second black woman to win the Best Actress Academy Award, but Oscar, after missing his chance with Precious and The Color Purple, will make history for honoring two black actresses -- both from the same film! -- in one year.

Here are five more reasons why Davis already has such a tight grip on the naked gold man.

1) Her colleagues adore her. Who said only legends get standing ovations? The crowd's reaction to Davis' SAG win was telling. Glenn Close deserves an Oscar more than anyone on the planet, and she never would have received such rapturous congratulations from her peers. Tilda Swinton, who didn't have a chance of winning anyway, clapped slowly and deliberately as if she didn't really mean it, and she still stood up. It took Michelle Williams a moment, but eventually, she got it. On your feet, girl!

2) A vote for her is a vote against racism in Hollywood. Boy, is Davis playing the race card. Not in a tacky way, but in a very obvious one. It makes sense that she would, since the film for which she is going to win the Oscar is about racism, but watching her accept award after award, walk red carpet after red carpet, and sit at roundtable after roundtable, I find myself wishing she'd table talk about racism in Hollywood and how it's prevented her from working more. The Help is her first leading film role. Even Halle Berry has trouble finding work. If I've heard it once, I've heard it a dozen times -- always coming straight from Davis's mouth. Okay, we get it. Now I'd like for her to move on to new business and let her great work in The Help speak for itself.

3) She knows her history, and she respects it. In her SAG acceptance speech, she gave props where they were due, and they are certainly due to Cicely Tyson, an icon among black actresses whom Berry didn't forget to include in her Oscar acceptance speech. And even though Meryl Streep will surely lose again (I think she'll finally win her third Oscar when she stops trying so hard to), we can be pretty certain that Davis won't forget to give a shout out to her friend and Doubt costar. So in a way, they both win.

4) It would continue Oscar's tradition of honoring beautiful women who aren't afraid to deglam on the job. What becomes an Oscar winner most? Telling the world that you are willing to suffer for your art, even if it means checking your vanity at the door. You'll always have the red carpet to say, "This is how I really look. Now do I get the award?"

5) She deserves it. Regardless of what you think about The Help and Davis's place in it (lead or supporting?), there is no denying the power of her performance. She made every gesture, every look, every moment of silence speak volumes. If Hally Berry's Best Actress-winning performance in Monster's Ball hasn't aged so well (Berry was good, but the effort showed), in 10 years, Viola Davis in The Help will still be a gold standard of acting at its finest. And maybe then SAG presenter Sir Ben Kingsley will be able to tell us whether it's Vee-OH-la or Vie-OH-la!

If Only Other Languages Came to Me (and Stayed with Me) As Easily As My Own

A few weeks ago, I realized that one of my greatest fears since I left Buenos Aires 11 months ago is finally coming to pass: My Spanish is fading away. Whoever said, "Use it, or lose it," sure wasn't kidding.

I was writing an email to the woman who manages my apartment in BA when my lapse in language occurred. I couldn't bring myself to say, "I was wrong," which was strange because I've never had trouble saying it in English. I don't have a problem saying those three words (which are actually only two in Spanish, like "I love you," or "Te quiero," which I still think has a much nicer ring, though it's shamelessly overused in BA) because I seldom have to say them. But now that I did, I simply couldn't find the words.

It was worse than on Saturday night when my friend and I were talking about Juliette Binoche, and I couldn't recall the title of the movie she appeared in with Jude Law. I knew it was directed by the late Anthony Minghella, the man who'd helped her win an Oscar for The English Patient, and Robin Wright Penn was in it, too.

My friend pulled out his phone and started to consult Imdb. The pressure was on! I had to figure it out before Imdb did.

"It was two words. Two words. Two words. Something 'and' something. Two words... Breaking and Entering! Right under the buzzer. Imdb confirmed it for both of us.

Unfortunately, the other week, while composing my email in Spanish and trying to say, "I was wrong," my memory failed me completely. If it weren't for the Internet, I might still be staring at that half-unwritten email on my laptop screen, trying to come up with the two Spanish words for the three that I wanted so desperately to express.

Thanks to a translation website, I only spent several minutes in torture. Me equivoque! I know there is supposed to be an accent over the last "e," but bear with me. My Thai keyboard doesn't do accents, nor that special Spanish "n," nor umlauts, which are sometimes used over "u" when it follows "q" in Spanish, but not with "equivoque."

Me equivoque!  Dead wrong. About what had led me to start typing that email in the first place, and to think that you can take the man away from the language, but you can't take the language away from the man. The other night I met a guy from Colombia, and I got in some good practice, but it's not quite the same as calling the place that was fixing my air conditioner every day for several weeks, which I was doing at this time last year, trying to find out when I could put that useless floor fan away for good, or taking Pilates classes twice a week in Spanish, or making pillow small talk with guys who didn't speak a word of English.

I tell myself that's why I never bothered to try to learn Thai. I knew I wasn't staying there forever, so what was the point? I'd only lose it within months of returning to Australia. But who was I kidding? It was the idea of learning a language with a completely different alphabet that terrified me. And if the regular words were anything like the street names (frequently 10 characters or more, or so it seemed, all over Thailand), I was truly f**ked. On the day I left, I knew how to say Soi 2 in Thai ("Soi song," or something like that), and I could write my first name, but only because I have a tattoo of it on my left forearm to guide me.

Yesterday I was reading the Wikipedia entry on Jill Hennessy. Why the Crossing Jordan actress even crossed my mind, I'm not sure? But I was surprised and impressed and not a little jealous to read that she is fluent in five languages: English, Spanish, French, Italian and German. How do people do that? I'm thankful for what I can do with English. It has served me well financially and creatively over the years, but how wonderful it must be to be truly multi-lingual. I wonder how much a UN interpreter makes in one year.

Part of the problem for me is that as a writer, I spend so much of my day immersed in English that there's very little room for other languages. And so many of the Aussies that I meet mangle English, sometimes to a degree that I don't even recognize my own language when I talk to them. I have to work hard not to fall into their syntactic traps.

If I end up returning to Bangkok for good, I'll make an exerted effort to learn Thai. As for Spanish, I'm going to have to spend more time talking to my non-English-speaking Argentine friends online, or maybe narrow my search for Mr. Perfect to "must love dogs and must speak Spanish as a first language." I've also set aside about 10 minutes a day, during my daily runs, where I think only in Spanish.

So far it's working out pretty well. And if nothing else, I'll never again have to say, "I was wrong," when I'm trying to write, "I was wrong."

No me equivoco nunca!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Was Southeast Asia Really All That It's Cracked Up to Be By My Memories? (Answer: Yes!)

"The reason people find it so hard to be happy is that they always see the past better than it was, the present worse than it is, and the future less resolved than it will be." -- Marcel Pagnol

Truer words have never been spoken -- or written -- and I read those ones for the first time several weeks ago. Where? In someone's Manhunt profile, of all places. (Who says online cruising never leads to anything good?) The guy who dared to put them there immediately topped my list of most likely to receive a reply because I appreciate a man who recognizes great insight when he reads it. 

I especially like the last part because it alludes to hope and faith, two of the most crucial concepts in the lexicon of life. Things have a way of working out -- unless they don't. And even then, what's the worse thing that can happen. Death? In that worst-case scenario, nothing really matters. And if you die another day, at least you're still breathing.

So let it will be. (I promise that's the last Madonna song title I'm quoting.) Doing that brings us closer to a higher state of consciousness, being truly content in the here and now. I'm still trying to get there myself, but six months of Buddhist exposure, has brought me closer than ever.

As for the past, what a truly tricky thing it is. Lately I've been thinking a lot about mine, particularly those six months I spent in Southeast Asia last year. I thoroughly enjoyed my adventure while I was in the middle of it, but three and half weeks after my return to Australia, my memories of Asia continue to grow fonder by the day.

Last night I met a beautiful 29-year-old woman whose father is Malaysian and whose mother is of Irish descent. Although she's never even visited her dad's country, while I was talking to her, so many vivid memories of Kuala Lumpur and Penang began to crowd my mind.

And not an hour goes by when I don't lapse into a daydream, imagining that I'm walking through the streets of Bangkok, standing on my balcony looking out at the city from 14 stories up, or getting ready for a night out at DJ Station. A flaming B-52 shot, prepared by my favorite Bangkok bartender on the second floor, is just the twist in my sobriety that I could use right about now.

Today as I was going through some of the photos from my trip -- which I've really got to post on Facebook ASAP -- I came actress a video from the day I spent touring the temples of Angkor (see below). The Cambodian tourist mecca just outside of Siem Reap was one of the most magical parts of the six months I spent in Asia because it was like all of these images I remembered staring at in Encyclopedia Britannica when I was a kid were coming to life. Not that I'll ever forget any of it, but I'm glad to have photographs and videos to remind me of the life-changing experience that was my half-year adventure.

Southeast Asia, I don't think I'm through with you yet.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

How Lowbrow Can I Go?: Why 'Hot in Cleveland' Is One of My Favorite TV Comedies

I confess.

I'm a television junkie. And I won't even pretend to like the supposedly "quality" stuff. I live for boob-tube fluff. The more mindless, the funnier (sometimes).

Which is certainly not the case when it comes to cinema and music. With movies, I'm never in my element until Oscar season, when sequel fever cools, the action slows down, and Hollywood starts putting out films for adults. And with music, I'm a little bit country, and I'm a little bit rock & roll, the majority of Billboard's Hot 100 be damned. Bruno Mars, LMFAO and David Guetta can score hit after hit, but I'll listen to Katy Perry's entire Teenage Dream album before I sit through "Sexy and I Know It" from beginning to end.

When it comes to TV, though, for some reason, my brain goes soft. My favorite shows of all time -- The Jeffersons, Three's Company, The Golden Girls -- were all LMFAO hilarious, but they'll never be in the TV critics' pantheon of sitcom greats, home to the likes of All in the Family, M*A*S*H and, in the future, 30 Rock and Modern Family, two programs whose appeal flies right over my head.

Though I occasionally roll with the "good" stuff, too -- I could spend an entire day watching marathons of How I Met Your Mother and Family Guy, and I won't turn the channel when Glee is on -- I'm still one of those people who actually finds Two and a Half Man funny, and I've spent the last year or so warming up to The Big Bang Theory. So just shoot me (speaking of shows I used to love).

Notice the absence of hour-long drama in this discussion so far. The occasional police procedural and legal drama aside -- in Bangkok, the TV options were so limited that I learned to appreciate Criminal Minds and the plethora of courtroom series, of which Drop Dead Diva is the only one I truly love -- most hour-long dramas test my attention span. I love my 60-minute daytime soap operas, though, and I'll never understand why people carp about their implausibilities while getting lost (pun intended) in the unreality of Lost and all the vampires and bad acting in True Blood.

The other night I watched Dexter for the first time. And although there was no denying that it's a well-made, well-acted drama, the serial-killer stuff gave me nightmares. That's entertainment? I can live with the violence in a movie like Drive because I know I don't have to see it week after week, but when it comes to my regularly scheduled TV viewing, I don't want to have to watch between my fingers.

Which brings me to my latest prime-time poison: TV Land's Hot in Cleveland -- and not just because it's got Betty White. Last night I watched the ninth episode of the third season (the one in which Melanie's son and Victoria's daughter were engaged, and Joy was dating a blind 22 year old), and I actually laughed out loud five times. Yes, five. I counted. And although I was by myself, each time I guffawed, I looked around to make sure no one was looking. Home alone, I was actually embarrassed.

But this is my official coming-out day. I love Hot in Cleveland. With the exception of Absolutely Fabulous and Family Guy, it's the only TV show that I've ever actually downloaded on my computer. Here are five reasons why.

1. It's not all about Betty White. Not that I don't love her, but she's not the only draw here. Wendie Malick (Victoria), Jane Leeves (Joy) and Valerie Bertinelli (Melanie) are all comedy vets, and the each pulls her weight here, though Malick probably gets a slightly higher number of laughs per episode. But how can she not, playing an aging soap-opera diva whose biggest rival is Erica Kane herself, Susan Lucci, who has appeared on several episodes of the show?

2. The ladies seem to genuinely dig each other. Unlike those desperate housewives, whom I love, there's no bitching and casual back-stabbing here (or behind-the-scenes rumors of it). As quartet-of-female-friends programming goes, most people would compare Hot in Cleveland to The Golden Girls, and not just because Betty White appeared on both shows. But these golden girls have an altogether different dynamic. Yes, Elka (White) has a sharp tongue, tossing barbs at whomever happens to be in her line of vision, but the relationship between the others is less love-hate than the bond was between Dorothy, Blanche and Rose. There's real I'd-do-anything-for-you-camaraderie here that makes this more like Sex and the City -- only in another city.

3. They're no dummies, but they can be delightfully shallow. Neither the show nor the ladies try to sell Cleveland as anything other than a place where, unlike in L.A., they can be the eye candy everybody wants. I was shocked when Melanie and Joy admitted to being freshly Botoxed in one episode, and last night when Joy reveled in the joys of dating a 22-year-old blind guy because there's no way he'd know that she's not really 26 ("in five weeks"), I thought to myself, I'd do that. When Blanche on The Golden Girls dated a blind guy, she was worried that he could never appreciate her for her beauty, something that never even crossed Joy's mind. It's not exactly progress, but it's a glass-half-full approach that totally works for me.

4. Dead or Alive? Get your answers here. Another great thing about having 90-year-old Betty White in the cast is that they have to come up with age-appropriate love interests for her. It's nice to know that Carl Reiner, Buck Henry and Don Rickles are alive and well, comic timing still in tact. (P.S. It's also nice to see so many stars from earlier eras -- Gregory Harrison, John Schneider, Bonnie Franklin, Laura San Giacomo, Hal Linden, and Huey Lewis, as well as John Mahoney, Wayne Knight, Doris Roberts, Jennifer Love Hewitt and Sean Hayes -- back in action in guest appearances.)

5. The ladies date young -- and hot. And if you look like Valerie Bertinelli, Jane Leeves and Wendie Malick when you're over 50 (and in Malick's case, 60!), why the hell not?

Friday, January 27, 2012

Sexual Preference: Nature, Nurture Or Both?

Same person, different bodies?
To be or not to be... gay.

That is the question. And according to one of my friends, one whose opinion I not only value but usually agree with, it's a question whose answer -- along with everything that we are, beyond the physical -- is determined solely by our environment. In other words, just as the language(s) with which we are raised determines the one(s) we end up speaking, the environment in which we grow up determines the gender we end up wanting to sleep with.

It was a scintillating debate, during which the beer I was sipping affected the clarity of my dissenting opinion, but I couldn't believe the hardline stance my friend was taking, unwilling to accept any exceptions, much less an alternative point of view.

So the environment in which we are raised determines everything about us then?


I wonder what it was, then, that caused that strange, unexpected stirring that I acknowledged for the first time in the fourth grade. Why do some people first feel it on the playground, while for others, it sneaks up on them in their 20s and later? I don't have any solid answers, but I do believe that this might be where our environment plays a role -- it can factor into when we first notice an attraction to the same sex. Everyone is different, but for reasons that only include the environment in which we are brought up.

Consider this: From birth, two babies spend their first two years in the same room, receiving identical care and nurturing. At the end of two years, would they have the same personalities? Would they cry at the same times, and for the same reasons? Crawl, walk and talk at the same time? React to others in the same way? Have the same capacity for learning? The same inclination to excel, or fail, in academics? The same mood swings?

Of course not. We are all born with unique temperaments. But if what my friend says is correct, there is no such thing as temperament. Everything we are on the inside, not physiologically speaking, is decided after birth.

As huge of an influence as our environment does have on us, the way we process its stimuli and react to it is largely built-in. That's why, for no apparent reason, some kids find clowns terrifying, while others are amused by them. Why some girls are tomboys and others are hyper-feminine. Why some boys like sports and others prefer books. Why some people tend to be doom-and-gloomy while for others, the cup is usually half full. Children who are raised in the same home end up having common characteristics, and wildly divergent ones, too. We say it's our nature to be certain things. Our mothers, who were there from the beginning, would attest to that.

The argument for environment determining everything about our personalities simplifies what we are by suggesting that we are born blank slates. That's not only erroneous; it's dangerous, too. If we are where we live, then out goes the argument that people are born gay, straight, or as Sex and the City star Cynthia Nixon suggested last year in The Advocate, bisexual. Or perhaps we are all born as one and "turn" into the others? Does that mean we can "turn" back, too, that the young lady who tried to pick me up last month at DJ Station actually had a chance with me?

Nixon recently made the controversial statement that she chose to be gay. While I won't even pretend to know what goes on inside of the mind of the woman who played my favorite SATC character, I interpret her comment not as being a declaration that our sexuality is something we choose. If it were, I think most of us (not me, but certainly most of my exes) would choose to desire the opposite sex because that would make life so much easier.

I think she was referring to what we do with our sexual preference, which is undoubtedly a choice. That said, I suspect she might be likely to take my friend's side of the nature vs. nurture debate in regards to sexuality. She said that she had never been attracted to a woman before she met her girlfriend. She also described her girlfriend as "a short man with boobs," which I think says a lot about her sexual preference. (I wonder if director Oren Moverman took this into consideration when he cast Nixon and Anne Heche as sisters in Rampart.)

For Nixon, being "gay" seems less about who she is than who she decided to be. Perhaps she'd simply had enough of men and was open to trying something new (without relinquishing her attraction to that which is masculine), which would have nothing to do with who she was born to be. But to suggest that for most gay people it is not who they are, at the core of their very identity, would be to do them a huge disservice while giving homophobes a lot of ammunition.

If you think of being gay, or even straight, as being not about our desires but strictly about the lives we lead, whom we sleep with, then it is inarguably a choice. But I prefer not to get too bogged down in politics, or semantics, or putting a label on myself and others. I'm gay. You are whatever you want me to call you. But there's no hiding from sexual preference. It follows you everywhere, regardless of whom you actually sleep with, or how old you are when you acknowledge it, or act on it.

In a nutshell, sexual preference, is not something we choose, nor is it something that is determined by the environment in which we are raised. That is not to deny the influence of environment on who we are. I think it has its place. I just don't buy that it has the final say, the only say, or any say at all in which gender we are attracted to.

We'll never be sure what, exactly, makes us what we are, until we discover a way to track a baby's thoughts from birth to the point where they can start expressing what they're thinking. Until we reach that scientific breakthrough, though, I think it's pretty safe to say that we don't spend those first weeks, during which we mostly eat, sleep and cry, as the same person, only in different bodies.

As for the idea that our environment makes us gay, or straight, peddling such a notion is tantamount to saying that since gay people learn to be attracted to people of the same sex, they can unlearn it, too. It's not like people haven't been trying to do just that for centuries -- via therapy, via religion, via Scientology -- and failing miserably.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

8 Things I Loved About Australian Day

My first Australian Day has come and nearly gone, and I'm still not 100 percent sure what it is. But then, neither are most of my Australian friends. At first, it was described to me as the Aussie version of the U.S.'s Independence Day, but after Devarni did a mobile-phone Internet search, we decided it had more in common with Columbus Day. January 26 is the anniversary of the day in 1788 when Great Britain populated its island territory in the Southern Hemisphere with convicts.

I'm not sure that's quite it, and I'm a little too exhausted to do in-depth Wikipedia research, but the establishing of a settlement of criminals sounds like as good a reason to celebrate Australian Day as any I can think of at the moment. Here are 10 other reasons why I'm looking forward to the next one.

1. It's a holiday that's just a glorified excuse to get drunk in the sun. You'd think something known as Australian Day would inspire a bit more reverence, or even a touch of patriotism, but the only Australian flag I saw all day was tattooed on a young guy's cheek. 

2. Blackcurrant cider Five percent alcohol might not sound like too much, but after three rounds of what tastes like berry-flavoured sparkling water, the sky turned a brighter shade of blue, the music rocked harder, and that over-dressed woman wearing the electric-blue platform shoes started to look, well, not quite so ridiculous.

3. St. Kilda's Bowling Club I'm not sure how I feel about Aussie bowling, which is meant to be played on the outdoor grass courts by old men in white suits rather than all those singlet-wearing whippersnappers, but I can't think of a better place to spend a lazy, tipsy holiday afternoon. 

4. Foster the People The guys who gave us "Pumped Up Kicks" may be destined to be one-hit wonders in the U.S., but it's nice to hear their music still playing almost everywhere I drink in Melbourne.

5. Good sports Not the bowling, which looks about as exciting as its U.S. counterpart, but all the people cheerfully getting doused by spilled beer, cider and wine without giving so much as a cross look.

6. Only a few more days until the end of the Australian Open Not that I've been paying attention to it on TV, but when it's over, I won't have to hear another word about it. Not that I've been listening either.

7. Greasy Joe's Despite the skewiff wooden tables that were perfect for causing wine glasses to topple over, this beach-side burger joint wasn't just any burger joint, thanks to Andrew, our adorable 20-year-old waiter who incorrectly guessed my age to be 29. For me, the "Greasy" was the draw, but according to Andrew, remodeling soon will be underway, and the "Greasy" dropped, making it, simply, and generically, Joe's. May its culinary decadence remain in tact. 

8. Miami Horror Another reason to love Greasy Joe's. The perfect soundtrack to end a near-perfect first Australian Day.

Adventures in Celibacy (Tim Gunn's and Mine)

Who cares if Tim Gunn hasn't had sex in 29 years?

Well, I guess I do. Sort of.

But not for the reason you're thinking. In general, I couldn't care less about the sex lives of celebrities, or semi-celebrities, like Tim Gunn. And I'm not even sure what Tim Gunn does.

I've never seen anything he's been on. The only reason I know who he is at all is because in 2006, I was at an Entertainment Weekly party, and a friend of mine started to hyperventilate at the very sight of the prim, snow-haired guy who was striking the "Yes, I'm so important" pose that semi-celebrities tend to assume at such events.

"Oh my God, there's Tim Gunn! I'm obsessed with him!"

"Who's that?" I sort of liked his name, although I would have liked it more had his first name been Peter.

I'm not quite so clueless today, but I'm still not 100 percent sure why he's famous, or almost famous. I know it has something to do with Project Runway, but I've never seen that show, and I probably couldn't pick Heidi Klum out of a red-carpet line-up unless she had Seal on her arm. (And since they're splitting up, she'll be even more anonymous to me in the future.)

So why do I care (sort of) that Gunn has been celibate for 29 years, an announcement he made the other day on his new daytime talk show The Revolution?

Because if he can do it, maybe I can, too. About two weeks ago, I embarked on my own experiment in celibacy. Why? It's nothing like the reason why Gunn supposedly cut all hanky panky out of his life. (I'm assuming that's the case, and he's not applying the Bill Clinton definition of "sexual relations.")

I didn't have an ex who made me feel like I was terrible in bed. And I'm not resorting to sensationalism to boost ratings for my new afternoon chatfest, the one that booted One Life to Live, my favorite soap opera, from ABC's daytime line-up. Yes, I'm still bitter about One Life to Live, but I'm no fool. I suspect that Gunn had an ulterior motive, a reason for his full disclosure, which had everything to do with putting The Revolution on the map.

When celebrities, um, semi-celebrities, start divulging the intimate details of their love lives, or lack thereof, there's always something in it for them. Either they're trying to promote themselves or their latest project, or they're trying to prove something (generally, their heterosexuality -- but Gunn is gay, so it's not that).

Didn't Tom Cruise on Oprah Winfrey's couch teach us anything?

Although I don't know if Gunn's declaration of celibacy will work in his favor, or his show's, I've never read so much about either as I have in the last 24 hours. But I'll see Tim Gunn in hell -- or at the sex club, which is kind of the same thing -- before I watch The Revolution!

Getting back to me and my experiment in celibacy, it came about due to a conversation I had a little under two weeks ago with a friend who told me that she's been abstaining for the last two years. There's no spectacular story involved. It just kind of happened. The choice has been hers completely, but it's not one that she consciously made or even carried out.

I wondered if I could ever do something so drastic. I'm not sure. Two years is a long time, and nobody ever said that time flies when you're not having fun. But I'm always looking for a new challenge, so I made an announcement that Saturday afternoon at Windsor Castle in Melbourne: "I'm going to be celibate for six months." It's not like I'm not already on my way there. I haven't done a thing in 2012 so far.

Big deal, the year just began, said my skeptical friends, who have given me a lot of leeway, saying that the state of celibacy allows everything that doesn't fall under the Clintonian definition of "sexual relations." I'm not sure if I'll actually go for the full six months, even under those cushy conditions. This is only a test, and for now, one that's working in my favor.

When sex is off the table, it makes life so much easier. You can go out to bars and actually enjoy the company of your friends without having one eye on the door to see who's coming and going. You can accept last-minute invitations because plucking and trimming and looking your absolute best under your clothes is no longer so important because no one is going to see what's there anyway.

I can now receive text messages like the one that arrived at 3am this morning -- "What's doing? Miss that hot body of urs" -- and roll over and go back to sleep. And if I do happen to meet someone decent, at least I'll know he's in it for more than sex. We'll have to be friends first, which I hear is the strongest foundation for any relationship. But I'm not expecting Mr. Perfect, a guy who's all talk no action, to walk through that door that I'm no longer paying so much attention to.

Of course, my hygiene, oral and otherwise, remains up to the same high standards, but it's liberating to be able to ease up on everything else. If this means I don't have to shave every other day, and I can let the gray come out without having to worry that I might start to look my age, why stop at six months?

Perhaps in the year 2041 when I have my own daytime talk show to promote, I can stand up and proudly repeat after Gunn: "I haven't haven't had sex in 29 years." Of course, by then, it might no longer be by choice.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Burning Questions: 2012 Oscar Nominations Edition

After making nary a peep all Oscar season, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (whose title I still can't seem to get right) snags a Best Picture Oscar nomination. Young Adult and its star, Charlize Theron, are left out in the cold. And no Bridesmaids or The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo in a Best Picture category with nine (?) nominees. Those aren't the only unexpected developments that have me scratching my head after the January 24 announcement of the 2012 Oscar nominees (for 2011 films)!

Who is Demian Bichir, and what did he do with Ryan Gosling's nomination? Every year the Academy likes to throw us at least one WTF nomination, and this year, Bichir's Best Actor nod is it. I've read the Mexican star of A Better Life's name on several prediction websites, and he did score a Screen Actors Guild nod, so it's not a total surprise, but it's the first time in years that I can recall two performers no one knew about one year ago -- and both of them foreign-born! -- being contenders in the Best Actor category.

Is Ryan Gosling destined to be a one-nominee wonder? Snubbed yet again. The Academy must hate him. Or perhaps with three big films this year -- Crazy Stupid Love, The Ides of March and Drive -- he simply may have spread himself too thin. So did Jessica Chastain and Michael Fassbender, but it's easier to triumph over overexposure when you're gunning for a supporting nod (like Chastain, who really should have gotten hers for The Tree of Life), and look what happened to Fassbender (shut out, too).

Did the Academy despise Drive that much? It just goes to show you, when it comes to the Oscars, there's no such thing as a sure thing. After showing up in all of the precursors and hogging the critics prizes, Drive's Albert Brooks wasn't invited to Best Supporting Actor. Drive's shutout in the major categories is more surprising after its excellent showing in the BAFTA nominations, where it made the Best Film and Best Director shortlists, tellingly, without nominations for any of the cast. I guess the film's extreme violence went over better on the British side of the pond.

Was The Descendants really that good? Sorry, but no. I knew George Clooney was a lock (though, as pointed out above, there's really no such thing as one), but Best Picture and Best Director, too? I adore Alexander Payne, and he's been making me take long hard looks at my life for years, but, like Terrence Malick, he's so beloved, and he works so infrequently, that he's on his way to becoming a sort-of default contender. If another director's name had been attached to The Descendants, filmed as is, I probably wouldn't be writing about it right now.

Whom Does Tilda Swinton have to sleep with to get a Best Actress nomination? Since winning a surprise Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Michael Clayton in 2008, Swinton has been overlooked for leading roles in Julia, I Am Love and now We Need to Talk About Kevin. She made it into all of the precursor contests (including the BAFTA nominations, where the film and the director also received citations), but I suspect that the movie's dark subject matter may have scared off the Academy. I know mothers who refuse to see the movie because the idea of a mom unknowingly raising a mass murderer-to-be hits too close to home. So out with Swinton, in with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo's Rooney Mara.

Speaking of Mara, why so glum? Much has been said of Mara's gloomy appearance on the red carpet all Oscar season. Either she's still in character, or she's simply overwhelmed by all of the sudden attention. I haven't walked a meter in her shoes (not that my feet could fit into them, with my bunion and all), but I imagine that I might be the same way if fame were suddenly thrust on me. She's an excellent actress (one of the best things in The Social Network), so I suspect this is only the beginning for her. She'll grow into it.

Can we go back to five Best Picture nominees, please? Having 10 the previous two years took some getting used to (and I didn't), but nine contenders is just plain weird, especially when one of them isn't The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which means only one Best Actress contender, The Help's Viola Davis, appeared in a Best Picture contender. (Does that immediately make her, and not The Iron Lady's Meryl Streep, the frontrunner?) Inviting so many nominees takes away from the prestige of a Best Picture nomination and dilutes the category of its impact, especially since it almost always comes down to two contenders anyway. This year's: Hugo vs. The Artist.

Is a two-song race much of a race? The other day, a friend of mine suggested that the Academy do away with Best Original Song completely. It's been going downhill since the Disney-dominated '90s, and for most of this century, it's been populated by tunes that hardly anyone knows. I'd be okay with keeping the category if the Academy would revamp the confusing rules that kept Madonna out of the running. But even with W.E.'s "Masterpiece" on the sidelines, there was still plenty of nominations fodder, thanks to Elton John, Mary J. Blige, Glenn Close and others. So how did it come down to songs from Rio and and The Muppets? At least now Elton John and his husband have someone new to bitch over. Look out, Marshall and Sheldon!

10 Great Songs with Famous People in Their Titles

"Has anyone ever written anything for you?" Stevie Nicks asked on a 1989 B-side.

As far as I know, the answer would be no. Who even "writes" anymore? If not face to face, most communication these days is done by tapping a keypad with your fingers. And texts, instant messages and Facebook wall posts will never count. My ex-boyfriend said he bought me a card for my last birthday, and I presume that he wrote something in it, but he forgot it at home when he came over to my place to prepare my birthday feast, and to this day, I haven't seen it.

Anyway, writing something to me (regardless of the mode of communication) is different than writing something for or about me. Maybe over the course of two decades of dating, there was a poem that I never got to read, but I doubt it, seriously. My first boyfriend did once tell me, shortly after we'd broken up, that he'd written a short story in which we were brothers, but I try not to think about that for obvious reasons that still make me cringe a little if I spend too much time dwelling on it.

I can say with 100 percent certainty, though, that nobody has ever written a hit song for or about me. A lot of my friends call me Jeremiah, but the late Hoyt Axton definitely didn't have me in mind when he wrote, "Jeremiah was a bullfrog," the opening line to Three Dog Night's 1971 hit "Joy to the World." And this Jeremy's never had a gun, so Pearl Jam's 1992 single with which I share a name definitely has nothing to do with me.

But when you are a celebrity, one of the perks of fame is that if you're big enough, you might eventually get a hit song written all for you -- or at the very least, with your name in the title. Some are luckier than others: Barbra Streisand, who deserves a song as beautiful as her voice, had to make do with the execrable 2010 UK dance hit "Barbra Streisand" by Duck Sauce. But what becomes a legend most is a great song befitting an icon. Here are 10 of them.

"Hank Williams You Wrote My Life" Moe Bandy Sometimes when I'm down on love and about to go under, I listen to Bandy's 1975 No. 2 country hit to boost my spirits. It's always good to know that someone knows exactly how you feel.

"Biko" Peter Gabriel Hear the former Genesis frontman name-dropping for a worthy cause, musically and politically speaking, and unlike so many songs named for non-fictional people that are related to them in title only, this 1980 classic beautifully and hauntingly eulogizes murdered South African anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko.

"Bette Davis Eyes" Kim Carnes Bette Davis apparently loved it (the No. 1 1981 version by Carnes -- I'm not sure if she was even aware of Jackie DeShannon's 1974 original), and didn't she seem like the kind of diva who hated everything?

"Faron Young" Prefab Sprout If you're going to name drop a vintage Nashville singer, you might as well take your elegant pop sound for a ride in the country. The result, which, incidentally, appeared on Prefab Sprout's 1985 album called Steve McQueen, sounds like nothing I ever heard its late namesake '50s-to-early '70s country star do, but it was still one of the band's best songs.

"Monty Got a Raw Deal" R.E.M. Some icons, like the late four-time Oscar nominee and star of A Place in the Sun and From Here to Eternity, need no last name. For those still not in the know, three of the loveliest minutes on 1992's Automatic for the People, R.E.M.'s creative zenith, were all about Montgomery Clift.

"Cleopatra, Queen of Denial" Pam Tillis Why not throw in some clever wordplay while paying homage? (FYI, Tillis, like Carnes, had a big hit with a Jackie DeShannon cover, but "When You Walk in the Room," which went to No. 2 on Billboard's country singles chart in 1994, the year after "Cleopatra" peaked at No. 11, did so without any celebrity assistance.)

"Brian Wilson Said" Tears for Fears If you can't be him, write a song about him that totally does both the man and his musical genius justice.

"Clint Eastwood" Gorillaz The perfect marriage of cool star and cool song, even if one doesn't really have anything to do with the other. If anyone ever gets around to writing a song for me, I hope it's Damon Albarn.

"Marcus Garvey" Burning Spear/Sinead O'Connor More name-dropping for a worthy cause. The reggae band Burning Spear paid tribute to the titular Jamaican hero on its 1975 album of the same name, but it was O'Connor's version on Throw Down Your Arms, her excellent 2005 album of reggae covers, that introduced me to both the song and the man.

"Grace Kelly" Mika Melodramatic and campy in honor of a screen icon who was neither.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Is George Clooney a Good Actor? (Or Is He Just Brilliant At Playing Himself Onscreen and Off?)

The other day, a film-critic friend and I had dissenting opinions -- several of them -- and our healthy debates, naturally, turned to the subject of George Clooney, one of my favorite actors. The other guy's take on the soon-to-be-quadruple Oscar nominee for acting (and likely two-time winner come February 26) was one I've heard countless times: "Doesn't George Clooney always play himself?"

Wait, that guy he was playing in Syriana was George Clooney? I do not think so, and if he was, then he gained 30 pounds and f**ked up his back on the set for nothing (if you consider a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nothing). My friend concurred (which didn't make up for all the terrible things he'd said about the music in Drive), but still...

I considered three of my favorite Clooney performances -- in Intolerable Cruelty, in Michael Clayton and in Up in the Air -- and I had to admit that there's a common thread stitched into all of them. The characters may have had different names, occupations and crosses to bear, but they were all blessed with The Clooney Charm, that undefinable and undeniable thing we've all seen on the red carpet, in interviews and at the winner's podium at so many award shows. But let's not forget, what you see is not necessarily what you get: The off-screen Clooney, the public persona, could very well be his greatest performance of all, and if it is, it trumps anything Daniel Day-Lewis has ever done.

It's the charisma and suave likability of the Clooney character (in real life and in reel life) that made his kitchen staredown with Ryan Gosling in The Ides of March, or the fact that he looked a little bit old in The Descendants (the one that should bring Academy Award No. 2 any week now) so unsettling this Oscar season. That said, even when he veers slightly off his usual course, there's still no mistaking The Clooney Charm (yes, capitalized because it's an almost-human force of George's nature and demands proper-noun treatment).

But here's the thing you need to know about George Clooney: He's not Meryl Streep. He doesn't specialize in every accent under the sun or mimicking historical figures and pop-cultural icons. He doesn't play the bad guy, he doesn't time travel, and he doesn't go gay just because it's one of the easiest ways to catch Oscar's attention while screaming, "Look, I'm playing against type."

That doesn't mean he can't pull off all of the above, and some day he might. For now, his key career roles are normal men in difficult or unusual situations, real people. It's no wonder that many of his characters resemble the actor himself. But he's not the first highly regarded screen performer to play variations on a theme that is himself. Katharine Hepburn did the same thing for much of her career -- Wasn't her character in Summertime (left) basically her character in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, 10 years younger, unmarried without children, and vacationing in Venice? -- and she was awarded four Oscars for what appeared to be a lack of effort.

And that's where actors like Clooney, and Hepburn, mislead us, mess with our minds. It's often been said that actors like them are so good because they makes it look so easy. It's a little cliche but not untrue. As great as Daniel Day-Lewis is, I wonder if he could play an average Joe onscreen and impress anyone. Not playing himself (and taking Method acting to unbelievable extremes) is his hook, and that comes with its own set of potential mood killers. When you watch him onscreen, you are always fully aware that you are experiencing great acting. But it rarely looks like anything you'd see in the real world.

He would have turned a movie like The Descendants into a one-man show: Portrait of a Lawyer Falling Apart Spectacularly. Cue Oscar buzz! With Clooney taking the lead as Matt King, I felt like I was eavesdropping on conversations between real people while watching The Descendants -- which is the best thing I can say about a somewhat overrated film and my least favorite of director Alexander Payne's last four efforts for reasons that had everything to do with the fact that he made Hawaii look like a drab place that I never want to visit, the annoying voice over that vanished about 30 minutes in, and a punch in the forehead that led to a bruise under the left eye.

Which is not to say that the performances were uniformly great: The best friend of Matt's wife, awkwardly portrayed by Mary Birdsong, went so over the top in her grief over the news of her BFF's certain death that she didn't seem sad at all, just histrionic for the sake of making a mark. She could have learned something from Judy Greer, an actress previously best known by me for being one of Charlie Sheen's many scores on Two and a Half Men, who aced her breakdown scene later in the film.

I do understand Birdsong's situation: Actors in smallish roles have to work hard to stand out, while the star can underplay and make his or her mark over the course of the entire film. In The Descendants, as in most of the Clooney films I've seen, even when the scene calls for heavier emoting than usual -- the one in which Matt bids his unfaithful wife a tearful adieu as she lies dying in a hospital bed -- Clooney does it the way a real person would, without snacking on the scenery.

So maybe he's not as daring as his good friend Brad Pitt when it comes to choosing roles, or he doesn't possess the range of Johnny Depp, to name two of his contemporaries. But as a singer, neither did Frank Sinatra, who is still considered to be one of the greatest of all time. Unlike Nat King Cole, he didn't tackle a lot of stylistic ground, but I've never heard anyone fault him for that. You don't have to hit high notes, low notes and everything in between to be a standout singer. You just have to master your own possibly-limited range.

And so it goes with Clooney. If you want to watch chameleons in action, I can tell you where to find them. But there's an art to playing the regular guy, too, even if he looks a lot like the actor playing him. If you're going to be yourself over and over onscreen, or variations on a character type that strongly resembles you -- or rather, the public's perception of you -- you have to be entertaining while you're at it, and like Clooney, you have to do it better than anybody else.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Five Songs That Were Ahead of Their Time

Sunday was a day of rediscovery for me. It had been years since I listened to Doolittle, the 1989 breakthrough album by Pixies, in its entirety. So many that I'd nearly forgotten what a fantastic album it is. Then yesterday, on the way home from my morning run, my iPod shuffle landed on "Debaser," the opening track, and it all came flooding back to me.

What was it about Doolittle that made it such a perfect album, so much so that when I started to listen to it for the first time in years, my love for it picked up right where it left off? Is it that the record reminds me so much of one of the best times of my life (my college years at the University of Florida, when I was living on my own for the first time), or is it really that good?

It's probably a mixture of both. Though the songs on Doolittle will always bring me back to a specific period in my life, they still hold up today. Which got me to thinking about timeless music, songs from the last century that could easily be coming out today and not seem at all out of place. Not only were they completely of their time, but before it, too. They could belong to 2012 -- or 10 years from now. Here are five that will be on my Monday playlist.

Donna Summer "I Feel Love" (1977) Sexy without even trying to be, which, come to think of it, is the very definition of "sexy" -- in any decade.

David Bowie "Sound and Vision" (1977) No monster of rock produced more classic songs that are still standing the test of any time than Bowie. This particular one just happens to be my personal favorite.

Tom Tom Club "Genius of Love" (1981) This track, as ageless as anything Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth did with Talking Heads, was a decent-sized hit when it was released but perhaps a bit too arty to be the blockbuster it surely would have been 24 years later, around the time Mariah Carey sampled it for the hook of her massive No. 1 single "Fantasy."

Talk Talk "Life's What You Make It" (1985) Close your eyes, or simply ignore Paul Webb's dated layered ensemble in the video (yes, there was a time when I would have killed for that fringe leather jacket!), and you could be in '85, '95, '05, or 2015.

Elastica "Connection" (1994) It's nearly 20 years old, but it can still cold rock a party (to borrow a not-so-timeless phrase from the timeless rapper MC Lyte) from Buenos Aires to Sydney. Believe me, I've seen it happen with my very own eyes.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

And the 2012 Oscar Nominees Will Be...

Time flies. But you already knew that. Every year around this time, though, I'm reminded of just how quickly. Doesn't it feel like just yesterday that it was The Social Network vs. The King's Speech in the horse race for the 2011 Best Picture Oscar?

It's been an entire year, though, and in just a couple of days (January 24, to be exact), the 2012 Academy Award nominees will be announced, which means it's time for my predictions. Having up to 10 Best Picture candidates takes much of the fun out of trying to predict them, so I'll leave that to other bloggers and just say that in 2012, it will be The Artist vs. Hugo, with The Artist likely to be this year's The King's Speech.

And since I'm more interested in the art of acting than that of directing, I'll only say that Best Director is a two-man contest between Martin Scorcese (Hugo) and Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist). I'm giving the edge to Scorcese because I couldn't bear to sit through another acceptance speech by Hazanavicius, whose European "charm" we'll already have to endure -- again! -- when The Artist takes Best Picture.

Which leaves the acting categories among the major Oscar races. Here's who I predict will be invited to the 84th Academy Awards at the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles on February 26 as nominees.

Glenn Close (Albert Nobbs)
Viiola Davis (The Help)
Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady)
Tilda Swinton (We Need to Talk About Kevin)
Michelle Williams (My Week with Marilyn)

Let's discuss: Nods for Streep, Davis and Williams are as certain as death, taxes and Helen Mirren being the sexiest woman in the Kodak Theatre if she shows up as an Oscar presenter. Frankly, I think Streep gave half a great performance. If only her movie had focused strictly on the iron lady and left the old one out of it. Close made a valiant effort, but her performance just didn't make a convincing case for Albert Nobbs' manhood.

Meanwhile, Swinton's numb, grieving mom reminded me a lot of the one that earned Nicole Kidman a nomination last year for Rabbit Hole, but her stoicism never completely crossed over into the full-on rage that would have made her character seem like a real live woman and not just a sort of screen archetype, a martyr suffering for someone else's sins. I'm still rooting for her to make the shortlist, though, because the former Best Supporting Actress deserves to sit at the leading-ladies table for once.

In a perfectly fair world, Streep and Close would sit this one out (Streep will have other shots for her third Oscar, and Close could snag Best Original Song for the tune she co-wrote for her film and finally get the Oscar that has unfairly eluded her for nearly three decades), and Charlize Theron (Young Adult) and Kirsten Dunst (Melancholia), who should have been this year's Natalie Portman, would be in it to win it.

Jean Dujardin (The Artist)
George Clooney (The Descendants)
Michael Fassbender (Shame)
Ryan Gosling (Drive)
Brad Pitt (Moneyball)

Let's discuss: Poor Leonardo DiCaprio. If it were 2010, the star of Clint Eastwood's J. Edgar would be a shoo-in, but I think Invictus may have marked the unofficial end of Eastwood's long run as an Oscar-bait director. As for Gosling, after snubbing him in 2011 for Blue Valentine, doing so again after he had such a great year as the star of three well-received films, would be like a vote of disapproval from Oscar, especially since his Blue Valentine costar is going to get her second nomination in a row. Wasn't losing People magazine's Sexiest Man Alive title to Bradley Cooper punishment enough?

If Fassbender gets in, it will be the most beautiful Best Actor line-up ever, but I wouldn't complain if a less conventional looker -- 50/50's Joseph Gordon-Levitt or Woody Harrelson, who owned Rampart's corrupt cop with a heart of tarnished gold -- takes his spot.

Berenice Bejo (The Artist)
Jessica Chastain (The Tree of Life)
Melissa McCarthy (Bridesmaids)
Janet McTeer (Albert Nobbs)
Octavia Spencer (The Help)

Let's discuss: Sorry ladies who are not named Octavia Spencer. You don't stand a chance against The Help's comic relief, who was equally affecting in her dramatic moments. The only thing that could make me care about this category would be the surprise inclusion of Melancholia's Charlotte Gainsbourg and/or Bridesmaids' Rose Bryne instead of McCarthy (no offense to McCarthy, an ace TV star whom I've been loving long time).

Kenneth Branagh (My Week with Marilyn)
Albert Brooks (Drive)
Jonah Hill (Moneyball)
Nick Nolte (Warrior)
Christopher Plummer (Beginners)

Let's discuss: It's Plummer vs. Brooks, but let's face it: It should be Plummer's to lose -- and it probably is. He played a gay man coming out of the closet in his twilight years without a hint of camp or cliche. If the avuncular Brooks hadn't been cast so wildly against type, would he even be in the running? His mob boss in Drive was menacing enough, but didn't Joe Pesci used to do that sort of thing in his sleep?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Woman on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown: 5 Things I Loved About Charlize Theron in 'Young Adult'

This afternoon as I was purchasing my ticket to see Young Adult (which opened today in Australia), I found myself thinking about the strange beast that the film's star Charlize Theron calls her career. Never solidly A-list and not exactly B-list, the actress has spent the last decade or so with one leg up and the other right below. Though she looks great straddling both sides of mid-celebrity, her filmography is clunky indeed.

Yes, she's famous, but she never quite became a marquee star, someone who can send bodies flocking to the cinema. (Quick! Name five of her movies.) And she's an Academy Award winner (for 2003's Monster), with one follow-up nomination (for 2005's North Country) and possibly another on the way for Young Adult (despite her nicely detailed work, though, I just don't see it happening, not with the movie's light touch and skimpy box office), but she's not exactly what you'd call Oscar bait.

Her Young Adult director Jason Reitman, who is becoming one of my favorites, has a similar problem. He collected several Oscar nominations, including two Best Director nods, for his last two films -- Juno and Up in the Air -- yet he's not in the pantheon of young directors that critics and moviegoers fawn over and call visionary, a circle that includes David Fincher, Darren Aronofsky and Paul Thomas Anderson.

Maybe it's his deceptively simple film-making style. He relies on dialogue (this time, as with Juno, Diablo Cody's), mood and characterization rather than fancy technique and special effects. And his work is less sobering than that of Alexander Payne, who also makes human-interest movies that are more interested in humans and human behavior than plot. Nothing about Young Adult screams, "Important Film -- This way!"

But his movies say so much, and Young Adult is no different. I love the statement it makes about past, present and future and how the way we perceive the lives of others is often so much different from the reality of those lives. Watching it reminded me of my 10-year high-school reunion and how people assume that if you've moved to the big city and have a seemingly glamorous career, all is well in your world. It ain't necessarily so. And when Theron's Mavis Gary wondered about the people in small-town Minnesota who make being happy seem so easy (and she did so without judgement or envy, just bemused awe), I nodded in agreement. It's a puzzle that keeps me up at night.

I also love that despite her awkward career, Reitman cast Theron in the role of "young adult" fiction writer Mavis. A lesser, more commercially minded director probably would have gone with Cameron Diaz, who surely would have turned Mavis all sexy-cutesy and totally glossed over her lost wounded soul. Mavis is one tragically messed-up woman, but thanks to Theron, she's still one of my favorite screen characters of the last year.

Why am I so enamoured? Here are five good reasons.

1. Mavis is me, an insecure writer at a personal and professional crossroads. I can so relate. But don't worry. I'm not about to pack up and head to Kissimmee, Florida, on a whim, determined to reclaim the one that got away (he doesn't even exist), especially if it means breaking up his happy home.

2. She can say things like "Sometimes to heal, a few people have to get hurt," and I still root for her. Mavis is easily the most appealing rom-com anti-heroine since Julia Roberts plotted to steal Cameron Diaz's fiance in My Best Friend's Wedding. And like the prize in that film (one Dermot Mulroney), Patrick Wilson is easy on the eyes, and his Buddy character seems like great husband/father material. But if Mavis can't do better than him, at least she can do more interesting.

3. She's a messy drunk who's even messier with a hangover. A few days ago, a hungover friend of mine was complaining because she never gets hangovers. I imagined her rising and shining -- literally! -- after a night of heavy drinking, smelling and looking like roses. Don't you just hate people like that?! I enjoyed each scene of Mavis waking up fully dressed and face down on her bed. To make matters worse -- but really, better --  she'd reach over for the liter of Coke in bed beside her and take several big gulps. Once, she even burped afterwards. This is how we (i.e., normal folks) do it.

4. She cleans up well. Yeah, we love a sloppy, realistic screen drunk, but who do we love more? Someone who can dust herself off, hit the shower and after some intense primping, look even better than she did the night before, before she started drinking.

5. She doesn't need a man. I knew where Mavis and Matt (Patton Oswalt) were heading from the moment he limped into the movie. (Actually, he was sitting down when we first saw him, but if you've seen the film, you get my drift.) I'm glad that in the end, though, Mavis figured out that there's no shame in driving into your next chapter with no one riding shotgun, without the benefit of a man -- or a game plan. That's my girl!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Elton John Vs. Madonna (Again!): And the Winner Is...

May the best man win: He did!
Elton John is at it again. This time it's him against Madonna, and as usual, he started it.

On the red carpet at Sunday's Golden Globes, when Carson Daly asked him about the Best Original Song contest, which pitted him against Madonna, Mary J. Blige, Chris Cornell and Glenn Close, Elton, who once called Madonna's "Die Another Day" the worst James Bond song ever, said, "“Madonna hasn't got have a f**king chance of winning tonight”. Fighting words? "Accurate words."

Oops! Madonna won - twice. After the interview, Daly told Madonna that he'd just spoken to Elton. "Was he wearing a dress?" she asked. Check.

After her Globe win -- check mate! -- Elton's partner, David Furnish, launched an anti-Madonna tirade on, of all places, Facebook.

"Madonna. Best song???? F**k off!!!... Madonna winning Best Original Song truly shows how these awards have nothing to do with merit. Her acceptance speech was embarrassing in it's narcissism. And her criticism of Gaga shows how desperate she really is."

Come on, guys! The best song won. It's not like "Hello Hello" (from Gnomeo & Juliet) was a pop masterpiece, to borrow the title of Madonna's Globe-winning W.E. song. "Masterpiece" isn't either, but it's the only one of the two that I ever want to listen to again.

As for Madonna's acceptance speech, yes, the faux-British accent was distracting, but what she said was no more narcissistic than Elton's general attitude (though in this case, he did predict to Daly that Blige would win) and Furnish's ire over losing. Aren't award shows all about narcissism anyway? Madonna had better be proud of her film (W.E., her second directorial effort) because nobody else is. And besides, fake humility on celebrities is as outdated as Sally Field's curly, wispy bangs when she gave her "You like me, right now, you like me" Oscar acceptance speech back in 1985. It looks worse than ruffles and sequins.

I adore Elton John, but perhaps it's time for him to stop publicly dissing his fellow pop stars (George Michael, Kylie Minogue, Shania Twain) as if his shit doesn't occasionally stink.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Predictability Rules at the 2012 Golden Globes: Are the Oscar Winners Already a Done Deal?

Can Oscar resist a Gallic beauty in a tux? I hope not!
It's beginning to look a lot like it will be yet another predictable year at the Oscars.

Although the nominations won't be announced until Tuesday, January 24, a clear pattern has already emerged. After the January 13 Broadcast Film Critics Association's Critics Choice Awards and the Hollywood Foreign Press's Golden Globe Awards two days later, the 2012 Oscar frontrunners are all but set in stone.

Sound familiar? It should. In recent years, there's been little variety among the picks made by the Critics Choice Awards, the Golden Globes, the Screen Actors Guild Awards and the Oscars. Win one, win all -- at least for the most part. You'd have to go way back to 2003, when Adrien Brody, in a twist that I didn't see coming until they showed his Oscar clip, stole Best Actor right out from under the noses of Jack Nicholson (About Schmidt) and Daniel Day-Lewis (The Gangs of New York) for a true Oscar miracle.

Since then, Oscar has kept his surprises mostly to the odd bone -- an out-of-left-field nomination -- thrown to an actor or actress who hadn't figured much into the precursor contests (Laura Finney for The Savages, Tommy Lee Jones for In the Garden of Elah). This year looks to be pretty much the same. Best Picture and Best Director seem likely to go to The Artist and Martin Scorcese for Hugo, respectively, on February 26, and Globe winners George Clooney (Best Actor, Drama, for The Descendants), Octavia Spencer (Best Supporting Actress for The Help) and Christopher Plummer (Best Supporting Actor for Beginners) should start editing their Oscar acceptance speeches.

For Oscar's consideration!
Not that I have a problem with those choices -- Spencer and Plummer are more than deserving, and I'll see about Clooney this week when I finally see The Descendants, which just opened in Melbourne on January 14 -- but a bit more friendly competition would be nice. Will we ever again get to see Brad Pitt -- star of three Best Picture nominees since 2006, and this year, the likely star of two (Moneyball and The Tree of Life) -- walking onstage to accept anything? It's been 16 years since his Best Supporting Actor Globe win for 12 Monkeys! Always a nominee (well, this year's Moneyball nod, a foregone conclusion from the minute the film opened last September, will be only his third bridesmaid experience), never a winner. At least Bridesmaids' Melissa McCarthy's Oscar traction -- which I still think should have gone to co-star Rose Byrne -- apparently stops here.

Right now the only race that appears to be an actual race is Best Actress. Viola Davis (The Help) took the Critics Choice Award on Friday, and Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady) and Michelle Williams (My Week with Marilyn) won the drama and comedy Best Actress Globes, respectively, but I'm still going to go not so far out on a limb and declare this the year of Streep. It's hers to lose.

Which means that the only remaining excitement left this Oscar season will likely come on January 24, when we find out who's in the running. I'm still hoping for a last-minute Best Actress surge for Kirsten Dunst (Melancholia) -- as much as it pains me to say it, she, not Glenn Close (Albert Nobbs), should take that fifth slot alongside Davis, Streep, Williams and Tilda Swinton (We Need to Talk About Kevin). Meanwhile, Dunst's co-star Charlotte Gainsbourg, like Byrne, would be a lovely addition to the Best Supporting Actress roster.

And if there's any justice in the Best Actor race, we've seen almost the last of Leonardo DiCaprio (J. Edgar), and Ryan Gosling (Drive), Woody Harrelson (Rampart) and Joseph Gordon-Levitt (50/50) -- give or take Michael Fassbender (Shame) or Michael Shannon (Take Shelter), whom I predict to snag spots 4 and 5 if DiCaprio is left out -- will duke it out for the fourth and fifth Best Actor slots. They'd join Clooney, Pitt and Globe comedy winner Jean Dujardin (The Artist), who I'm secretly hoping will triumph with the Academy because he's so handsome, and it's about time that Oscar, who occasionally goes home with Gallic beauties, bestows that honor on a male one.

The movies, like life, are full of surprises. Shouldn't the Oscar race be, too?