Hard Times--And How You Can Help
December 30, 2009

The economists tell us that the recession is over or, at least, nearly over.  A California woman named Claudia Bruce might not agree: Claudia Bruce was laid off from her well-paying job 13 months ago after the economy fell. Now, Bruce is among a growing number of people who, in what seemed like an instant, went from middle class incomes to relying on public assistance. Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara and San Mateo counties fed a record-breaking 272,000 people in November.

Slideshow: Mr. Smith Goes to Sesame Street
November 11, 2009

This week, "Sesame Street" kicks off its fortieth season on air. But the TV show's transition to middle age hasn't been entirely smooth. Conservative bloggers are blasting an episode in which Oscar the Grouch, who lives in a garbage can, described the fictional "Pox News" channel as "trashy." (Presumably he would know.) And the show has flirted with politics before: Politicians guest-star, and international versions of it cover topics like HIV in South Africa and ethnic strife in Ramallah.

Apres NPH, le Deluge?
October 19, 2009

Even as Neil Patrick Harris's star continues to ascend--and polls capture the ongoing sea-change in public acceptance of homosexuality--putatively pro-gay Hollywood continues to maintain the celluloid closet. In a fascinating piece on the subject, LA Weekly reports: Only a year ago most of Hollywood was publicly appalled by Proposition 8, the anti–gay marriage ballot measure that passed in November.

Short Cuts
October 13, 2009

Robert Altman: The Oral Biography By Mitchell Zuckoff (Knopf, 592 pp., $35) Here is your exam question: who is the last American movie director who made thirty-nine films but never won the Oscar for best director? Name the film by that director that cost the most money, and name the film of his that earned the most. Clue: The Departed, which must have been around Martin Scorsese’s thirtieth picture, and did win the directing Oscar, cost $90 million (four times as much as any of this man’s films cost)--so don’t go that way.

Why Sonia Sotomayor Came Out Okay Despite The Height Of The Building She Grew Up In
June 02, 2009

The descriptions of the housing project that Sonia Sotomayor grew up in are an important rejoinder to a truism oft-heard: that poor blacks were done in by, in addition to so many other things, architecture. We are to shake our heads at the thought of "the demolishing of low-rent housing through slum clearance and replacement of these units with massive high-rise public housing projects sited exclusively in black residential districts," as my Bloggingheads sparring partner Glenn Loury once put it.

Oscar Grouching
January 22, 2009

Sometimes--last year, for instance--the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences does a pretty good job of recognizing excellence in film. Sometimes, it does a bad job. This year, it did a very, very bad job. If it was a disappointing year for film, it's an awful one for the Oscars.  First, let's get the good news out of the way: As is often the case, the Best Supporting Actor category is a strong one, though it's hard to see any way that Heath Ledger doesn't have the posthumous win sewn up.

The Future, Not The Past
February 26, 2008

What better time to start handicapping next year's Oscar nominees than 40 hours after the conclusion of this year's broadcast? Scott Feinberg of And the Winner Is...--who like the rest of us, hasn't actually seen any of the films in question--goes through some of the likely contenders and wild-guesses that Australia, Defiance, Frost/Nixon, The Reader, and Revolutionary Road will vie for the little gold man (with The Young Victoria as an alternate). Personally, I'm pre-rooting for Charlie Kauffman's Synecdoche, New York. (via Vulture)   --Christopher Orr  

Oscar Roundup
February 25, 2008

Yes, my six for nine showing with the major awards was pretty underwhelming. In my defense, I can only say that when it came to my recommendations for who ought to win, I was a less embarrassing 8 for 9 (way to go, Academy), with only Tilda Swinton's very unexpected supporting actress eluding me. In any case, I did recommend betting against me in any office pools, and I hope anyone who made out nicely on this advice remembers the source of their good fortune. A few scattered thoughts: I was very pleased by Marion Cotillard's best actress win.

And You Thought Michigan And Florida Were Screwed...
January 30, 2008

It's bad enough that Jonny Greenwood's astonishing, innovative score for There Will Be Blood was ruled ineligible for an Oscar by the Academy (but not, of course, until seven days after balloting had concluded, forcing the Academy to instruct Price Waterhouse to simply ignore the--presumably many--votes cast on its behalf). Now comes word that "Falling Slowly," the one Oscar-nominated song from the marvelous indie Once, may be retroactively disqualified as well.  Obviously, there's a reason for the Academy's rules regarding the "originality" of songs and scores.

A Confused Kingdom
September 28, 2007

Last week, I wrote about The Hunting Party, a film that tried (and failed) to integrate geopolitics into a black comedy. This week, The Kingdom attempts the only slightly less daunting task of integrating geopolitics into an action film. (Rather see a movie that leaves out the geopolitics altogether? I'm afraid you have a fewfrustratingmonths ahead of you.) That The Kingdom manages, to at least some degree, to accomplish the feat is a tribute to its director, Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights, The Rundown), who guides the film with poise and intelligence.