Friday, February 23, 2007


Mud-slinging. Tirades. Media frenzy. Ballot-counting controversies. Long-winded, self-congratulatory speeches.

It’s that time again…and obviously I’m not talking about the next presidential election.

Many people have been asking me about my thoughts on this year’s Oscars nominees. And however much the purist, creative part of me wants to frown on the bloated, glittery proceedings, I’ll just go ahead and admit how much I love watching it, warts and all.

Each year brings some notable exclusions from the nominations, but the 2006 Oscar race had some unforgivable sins. Everyone balked at the failure of DREAMGIRLS to get nominated for either best picture or director, but for me, the biggest oversight of all was clearly the relative absence of both UNITED 93 and CHILDREN OF MEN from the list; they were my two absolute favorite films of the year, and hardly anyone even bothered to see them. (Thanks, guys.)

There were some surprise nominations that did not sit well with me. Djimon Hounsou cried and screamed his way through BLOOD DIAMOND, a film that also squeezed an inexplicable acting nod out of Leonardo DiCaprio’s sneering/tough guy/bad accent/romantic lead…instead of his genuinely gripping, worthy supporting perf in THE DEPARTED.

Some other films I loved -- THE ILLUSIONIST, APOCALYPTO, and FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS -- took nominations in only minor categories, while others -- V FOR VENDETTA, FLUSHED AWAY, and the clever indie BRICK -- were completely, tragically shut out.

And please, somebody tell me which Academy dunskies decided to give nominations to crap like CLICK and MARIE ANTOINETTE…just so I can bombard them with spam porno emails.

Yet some happy surprises came too: The inclusion of LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE in the best picture race…Ryan Gosling, Marky Mark, and Abigail Breslin’s dark horse nominations…Paul Greengrass’ nod for UNITED 93…these restored a little bit of my faith in The Movie System.

My thoughts and predictions for the major nominees:

Best picture: Babel, The Departed, Letters From Iwo Jima, Little Miss Sunshine, The Queen
What will win: The Departed
What should win: a tossup between Babel and Letters From Iwo Jima
In a perfect world: Children of Men would have been nominated and won

Best director: Clint Eastwood, Stephen Frears, Paul Greengrass, Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu, Martin Scorsese
Who will win: Martin Scorsese
Who should win: Martin Scorsese
In a perfect world: Scorsese would have already won years ago, and while The Departed is a good movie, let's be honest; it's not his best. I would have liked to have seen CHILDREN OF MEN's Alfonso Cuaron grab the gold this year based on that film's merits, rather than as compensation for obvious oversights in the past.

Best actor: Leonardo DiCaprio, Ryan Gosling, Peter O'Toole, Will Smith, Forest Whitaker
Who will win: Whitaker
Who should win: Whitaker
In a perfect world: There'd be a tie between Whitaker and O'Toole. Whitaker obviously deserves it, but O'Toole's perf is so jolly good, one wishes that they could share the damn statuette.

Best actress: Penelope Cruz, Judi Dench, Helen Mirren, Meryl Streep, Kate Winslet
Who will win/should win/in a perfect world: Mirren's royalty all the way.

Best supporting actress: Adriana Barraza, Cate Blanchett, Abigail Breslin, Jennifer Hudson, Rinko Kikuchi
Who will win: Jennifer Hudson (take that, Simon Cowell!)
Who should win: Jennifer Hudson
In a perfect world: This is a really tough one, as everyone -- yes, even the little miss sunshine -- is deserving of the gold. Of the group, though, I'm really torn between Hudson and Breslin.

Best supporting actor: Alan Arkin, Jackie Earle Haley, Djimon Hounsou, Eddie Murphy, Mark Wahlberg
Who will win: Eddie Murphy
Who should win: Alan Arkin, whose perf in LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE is the screen's most adorable grouch in years.
In a perfect world: Brad Pitt's heartbreaking turn in BABEL would have brought him to the podium.

Best foreign language film: Efter Brylluppet (aka After the Wedding), Indigenes (aka Days of Glory), El Laberinto del Fauno (aka Pan's Labyrinth), Das Leben der Anderen (aka The Lives of Others), Water
Will win/should win/in a perfect world: Pan's Labyrinth

Best animated feature film: Cars, Happy Feet, Monster House
Will win/should win/in a perfect world: Happy Feet

Best adapted screenplay: Borat, Children of Men, The Departed, Little Children, Notes on a Scandal
Will win: The Departed
Should win/in a perfect world: Little Children

Best original screenplay: Babel, Letters from Iwo Jima, Little Miss Sunshine, The Queen, Pan's Labyrinth
Will win/should win/perfect world: Little Miss Sunshine

Anywho...those are my thoughts/feelings/guesses. I wouldn't put any money on it, but the gossip is half the fun. I'll see you after the ceremony! (Not that I'm going, of course. I just like to imagine it.)

Friday, February 02, 2007

Words of Wisdom...

Long before I created this blog to review screenplays, a fellow anonymous critic, “Girl on Demand,” created her own blog to review self-published books. Just as the Gods bestowed their divine powers to a young boy so that he could become the mighty Shazam, Girl’s POD-DY MOUTH gave me inspiration to become…THE UNSUNG CRITIC!

Okay. Lousy analogy. But be you a wannabe screenwriter or novellist, you owe it to yourself to check out her blog, where she shares a great deal of sage advice about not just publishing, but the craft—and process--of writing.

Check out this excerpt from a recent post:

Before you publish you need to get an objective audience to read your book. I cannot overemphasize this enough. If every POD author did this, it would reduce the number of terrible POD books and greatly improve the ones that are being self-published.

You'd think the most frustrating part of finding good books to review would be the suffering: the traversing of absolutely horrible writing. Not so. Those texts are easy to toss aside [delete]. The painful ones are the books that are almost there, the ones that not only would be great books, but would probably find their way to a commercial publisher.

So here's what I suggest you do: Join a writing group. Regardless of what you may think, your writing is not better than the other hacks there (I was part of one for years). And take a look at how many commercially published authors thank the folks in their writing groups in their acknowledgements sections. They work--if you can take criticism.

And if you can't? Man, you are in the wrong industry.

Your book, from the first time it is released (into the wild) is being critiqued. Agents, editors, book reviewers, amateur book reviews (read: Amazon), and so on.There are a lot of things you can do to improve your novel or memoir (like hiring an outside editor) but nothing does the trick (and costs nothing) like a writing group. If you hire an editor, she may tell you to change the way a character speaks or to delete a scene or whatever. But with a writing group you get to listen to other people discuss your book, where one person may want to see a change but another may totally disagree.

Or the entire group may be telling you the same thing--in which case, that thing needs to be fixed.

Having a finished manuscript on your hard drive is not enough. I know it seems exciting to imagine it could be in the marketplace in a few months (supposedly) but if you take the time to get involved in a writing group, it can make the difference between an Authorhouse logo and a William Morrow logo on the spine.

I couldn’t agree more.

When it comes to personal frustrations over reading work that almost works, Girl really hits the nail on the head. It’s something I’ve now experienced myself reading so many scripts over the past few months--where a handful have some things really, really going for them, and a potential for greatness, but fall short for some reason.

While I want to be more selective in what I finally review in the blog, I’m also trying to interact with writers more by offering a little feedback and advice through private emails. I can’t do this for everyone (I wish I could), but I’m at least trying to do it more often.

My point is this: even the best writers need a little outside guidance from time to time. Whatever your method—writing groups, writing partners, email exchanges, etc.—try to get as much feedback as you can before taking the plunge into the deep sea of agencies, producers, and talent scouts. You'll be glad you did.