Archive | July 2010

pardon my absence…

**Things are getting uprooted at casa del Luke… my devotion to the blog may be a little spotty for the rest of this week as I get to the immense amount of packing there is to do – but bonus points for anyone who can name me what movie the above still is from!**

awards do-over: 1998, part 1

Now I hate to admit this, but there are definitely times when I’ve regretted past decisions when it comes to films. In fact, thinking back on how I felt, let’s say, 12 years ago, not only have my tastes evolved, but I’ve seen countless more films than I had at the time. So in order to put things right and give myself a little update, it’s time to talk about 1998 – and the changes that reflect the years that have passed since…

Best Picture
The Original Line-Up
Life is Beautiful, The Mask of Zorro [**WINNER**]
Meet Joe Black, Mulan, You’ve Got Mail

The New Top 5
American History X, Life is Beautiful [**WINNER**]
Mulan, The Truman Show, You’ve Got Mail

The Runners-Up
Central Station, The Opposite of Sex, A Bug’s Life
Shakespeare in Love, Elizabeth, Gods and Monsters

Best Lead Actor
The Original Line-Up
Antonio Banderas (The Mask of Zorro)
Roberto Benigni (Life is Beautiful) [**WINNER**]
Tom Hanks (You’ve Got Mail), Brad Pitt (Meet Joe Black)
Robin Williams (Patch Adams)

The New Top 5
Roberto Benigni (Life is Beautiful), Jim Carrey (The Truman Show)
Tom Hanks (You’ve Got Mail), Ian McKellen (Gods & Monsters)
Edward Norton (American History X) [**WINNER**]

The Runners-Up
Joseph Fiennes (Shakespeare in Love)

Best Lead Actress

The Original Line-Up
Drew Barrymore (Ever After), Sandra Bullock (Hope Floats)
Natasha Richardson (The Parent Trap)
Meg Ryan (You’ve Got Mail) [**WINNER**]
Reese Witherspoon (Pleasantville)

The New Top 5
Cate Blanchett (Elizabeth), Sandra Bullock (Hope Floats)
Fernanda Montenegro (Central Station) [**WINNER**]
Meg Ryan (You’ve Got Mail), Meryl Streep (One True Thing)

The Runners-Up
Emily Watson (Hilary and Jackie), Christina Ricci (The Opposite of Sex)
Gwyneth Paltrow (Shakespeare in Love), Drew Barrymore (Ever After)
Reese Witherspoon (Pleasantville), Susan Sarandon (Stepmom)
Lindsay Lohan (The Parent Trap)

the great big academy awards project: BEST LEAD ACTRESS in the 1990s

At last! The day (or night as it were) has finally come! After a mere three months, the second entry in my Great Big Academy Awards Project has arrived. For those just tuning in, I have this crazy notion that I can see every Academy Award-nominated film ever. So I’m going decade by decade chipping away the gigantic list, starting with the Best Lead Actress category. The Aughts are all taken care of, so it’s on to the ’90s!

The Winner: Kathy Bates (Misery)

State of the Category: Starting off the decade in a truly diverse fashion, the ladies of 1990 brought us work from a variety of genres both tired and semi-new. Starting with this year’s winner, Kathy Bates was pure crazy-face in the Stephen King thriller Misery. Her Annie Wilkes is so oozing with realistic psychopathic tendencies it’s hard to deny her magnetism in this role, one hobbling at a time. Then there’s Anjelica Huston, whose desperate con-woman in The Grifters has a few nutjob antics up her sleeve as well. Huston is typically effective, even if the film itself can tend to drag at times. Julia Roberts brings the romantic comedy leading lady to the table in Pretty Woman. And while it would later become a persona she duplicated for many more roles, this first congenial romantic interest is the ultimate hooker with a heart of gold. Don’t dismiss it as chick-flick fodder just yet. Meryl Streep slides in with nomination number nine in the snarky show-biz flick Postcards from the Edge. Her take on Carrie Fisher’s heroine is filled with realist depth that isn’t often seen from the typically larger-than-life Streep. Finally, Joanne Woodward takes her spot as one of the many Merchant Ivory collaborators to make it into this category. As the title character in Mr. and Mrs. Bridge, the seemingly ageless Woodward is subtle and captivating in an otherwise creaky trifle of a movie.

Report Card
Kathy Bates (Misery) – A-
Anjelica Huston (The Grifters) – B
Julia Roberts (Pretty Woman) – B
Meryl Streep (Postcards from the Edge) – B+
Joanne Woodward (Mr. and Mrs. Bridge) – B
My Choice: Kathy Bates

The Winner: Jodie Foster (The Silence of the Lambs)

State of the Category: Another seemingly random cropping of genres and sub-genres, the ’90s kept cementing its sort of out-of-the-ordinary choices with its 1991 crop. Starting with Geena Davis, her lovelorn and bad-lucked Thelma is the sunnier side of the title duo in Thelma & Louise. While Davis’ character can drive you mad with her terrible choices (in men in particular), you can’t help but root for the actress’ gentle approach to the lawless lady. I for one will always root for the oft-forgotten talent Laura Dern, but when the accolades role in for such bizarre and altogether messy films such as Rambling Rose, it’s hard to stay on board. Dern performed amiably enough, but the film was such a sloppy mess for the duration, it was mostly for naught. Jodie Foster makes a great case for the win as gutsy but pint-sized FBI agent Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs. Her masculine energy plays to her advantage, as Starling is a tough-as-nails cop with slight tinges of a sensitive past that pop up in her gaze from time to time – nuances not often found in the psychological thriller genre. On the opposite end of the spectrum is the brassy and over-the-top performance by Bette Midler in For the Boys. It’s hard to deny that Midler is great fun in the role, but it definitely feels more like a Globe quality performance for its lack of much depth. Finally, Susan Sarandon is the brains of the operation in Thelma & Louise. She’d go on to become one of the 90s’ most honored actresses, and this is a great starting point – she’s even-keeled and reins in the Southern sass just enough.

Report Card
Geena Davis (Thelma & Louise) – A-
Laura Dern (Rambling Rose) – C+
Jodie Foster (The Silence of the Lambs) – A
Bette Midler (For the Boys) – B-
Susan Sarandon (Thelma & Louise) – A-
My Choice: Jodie Foster

The Winner: Emma Thompson (Howards End)

State of the Category: This year’s group was that very unique category in which I hadn’t seen any of the nominated performances prior to embarking on the project. So completely lacking in pre-conceived love (Bates, Foster, e.g.), here goes. Catherine Deneuve plays it uber-French in Indochine. She’s of course beautiful and a great presence, but that pesky sub-plot of romance with her awful male co-star brought her down one too many pegs for me. Mary McDonnell is hard to like as the paralyzed soap opera diva in Passion Fish, but she plays what could easily have showed up as a Lifetime movie as a woman with flaws and superb depth. Plus, her co-star Alfre Woodard was just phoning it in, making McDonnell look like a shining star. Michelle Pfeiffer borders on the silly as the brassy Southern belle obsessed with Jackie O. in Love Field, but she’s a magnetic personality. Her chemistry with Dennis Haysbert is a little tacked on, but Pfeiffer at least shines brightly. Susan Sarandon is good enough in the otherwise gut-wrenching and tear-fest Lorenzo’s Oil. She’s fairly withdrawn throughout, but she has some rather good scenes with her on-screen son that make up for it. Lastly, Emma Thompson is her typical super-Brit self as the supposedly homely old maid sister in Howards End. Though her romantic chemistry with Anthony Hopkins left something to be desired (which was likely intentional), she plays supremely well with co-star Helena Bonham Carter. A truly beautiful motion picture, to be sure.

Report Card
Catherine Deneuve (Indochine) – B
Mary McDonnell (Passion Fish) – B+
Michelle Pfeiffer (Love Field) – B
Susan Sarandon (Lorenzo’s Oil) – B+
Emma Thompson (Howards End) – A
My Choice: Emma Thompson

The Winner: Holly Hunter (The Piano)

State of the Category: As some of my favorite leading ladies get their one-and-only honors, the ’90s begins to heat up with some more changing tastes. Angela Bassett is a believable Tina Turner in What’s Love Got to Do With It?, though the lip-synching is often pretty horrendous. Nonetheless, Bassett is an able performer, and she plays the singer with plenty of grace. Stockard Channing lays on thick waspiness for Six Degrees of Separation. It’s a totally unique story that left me feeling utterly confused as to my feelings about it. Channing, though, was the clear standout to be sure, plucking just the right amounts of comedy and sentimentality from the genre-bending script. Holly Hunter is the reason to watch and be captivated by The Piano. Her Ada says so much with her eyes that her lack of speech hinders nothing by way of effectiveness in the determined and scrappy role. It’s hard to believe a maid with so much confidence, but Emma Thompson is still likable as ever in The Remains of the Day. Though it has nowhere near the heft of Howards End, she’s consistently lovely throughout. Debra Winger is an especially entertaining performer for me. Her role in Shadowlands, a little bit of a snoozer honestly, was the movie’s best quality. As the short-lived lover of C.S. Lewis, she’s a welcome presence in a pretty dreary story.

Report Card
Angela Bassett (What’s Love Got to Do With It?) – B
Stockard Channing (Six Degrees of Separation) – B
Holly Hunter (The Piano) – A-
Emma Thompson (The Remains of the Day) – B
Debra Winger (Shadowlands) – B
My Choice: Holly Hunter

The Winner: Jessica Lange (Blue Sky)

State of the Category: This year was probably the strangest, for me, of the decade. It dabbles in the mediocre at times, but otherwise presents a fair variety of performances. Jodie Foster delivers one of those performances, in Nell, that teeters on the line between spot-on and hammy. I can see now where the comical imitations of her character come from, but I tend toward the former feeling – Nell is a powerful character to watch, even if you find yourself unintentionally chuckling at times. Jessica Lange’s Carly in Blue Sky is another similar teeterer. Lange is pleasing to watch in the role, but her sexpot with a troubled mind falls a little too silly for me in the end. And her chemistry with screen husband Tommy Lee Jones is zilch. Miranda Richardson is sort of a quirky delight as T.S. Eliot’s eccentric wife in Tom & Viv. One of the great things about Richardson is that she never settles for a typical take on a character, and this one is no exception – Viv is a loose cannon in many unenviable predicaments. I was pleasantly surprised by Little Women – particularly by leading lady Winona Ryder. Her celebrity starlet status isn’t evident here, as she stretches some actual acting legs as tomboy Jo. It’s not entirely a revelation, to be sure, but she’s the most watchable part of the simple yet satisfying film. Finally, Susan Sarandon shows up once again the shortlist as the demure but commanding lawyer in The Client. The trouble with the performance, though, is that the film in retrospect plays like an even tamer version of a Law & Order episode, and Sarandon’s performance is not helped as a result.

Report Card
Jodie Foster (Nell) – B
Jessica Lange (Blue Sky) – B-
Miranda Richardson (Tom & Viv) – A-
Winona Ryder (Little Women) – B+
Susan Sarandon (The Client) – B-
My Choice: Miranda Richardson

The Winner: Susan Sarandon (Dead Man Walking)

State of the Category: I’m consistently impressed the more and more I see of the films of 1995. And the newest additions to my viewing record thanks to the project are not disappointments. Starting with possibly one of my all-time favorite performances period (am I giving myself away already on this one?), Susan Sarandon is pitch-perfect as Sister Helen Prejean in the harrowing Dead Man Walking. There’s surely a reason that this movie was the one that got her the trophy. She’s, for lack of a less cliched term, spellbinding. An unlikely entrant in the race is Elisabeth Shue’s big-city call girl in Leaving Las Vegas. Fearing that the oft-goody-goody Shue would be uncomfortable in this darker role, I was surprised to find she was freakishly believable and well-worn in the performance. Sharon Stone channels her inner hamminess as the casino hustler Ginger in Casino. Probably one of the sillier entries in Martin Scorsese’s filmography, Stone is the standout in the movie, but she’s still a sobbing, silly mess in one too many scenes. On the opposite end, Meryl Streep is calm and serene as Francesca in the Iowa-set The Bridges of Madison County. On top of the impeccable accent, her lonely housewife is both devastating and beautiful. A fine performance from what could’ve been a shlocky Nicholas Sparks-esque outing. And then there’s Emma Thompson, turning in another period-piece take, this time in Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. But thanks to her own beautifully written screenplay and Ang Lee’s incredible direction, Elinor Dashwood is a vision on the screen and one of Thompson’s best roles.

Report Card
Susan Sarandon (Dead Man Walking) – A
Elisabeth Shue (Leaving Las Vegas) – B+
Sharon Stone (Casino) – B-
Meryl Streep (The Bridges of Madison County) – A
Emma Thompson (Sense and Sensibility) – A-
My Choice: Susan Sarandon

The Winner: Frances McDormand (Fargo)

State of the Category: 1996 graced us with what could’ve been a series of sort of polarizing performances – both for their extremity and provocation. Beginning things, Brenda Blethyn is brilliant as the scatter-brained baby mama to a long-lost daughter in Secrets & Lies. Finding out after-the-fact that under Mike Leigh’s fantastic direction she improvised most of her lines and performance only heightens the depth of her abilities. Of course I adore Marvin’s Room, and Diane Keaton is clearly the movie’s heart. Some may call it a trifling family dramedy, but I’m inclined to give Keaton credit for making her sunny cancer victim a little less saintly than most. Frances McDormand is hysterical and a force as Marge Gunderson in Fargo. The accent and the persona is of course rather thick, but it’s heard to deny her the props she got for playing her aw shucks police officer with hidden emotional depth and wisdom. Who could play a central female romantic lead with such beauty and grace as Kristin Scott Thomas? Though Juliette Binoche tends to steal The English Patient, Scott Thomas is above average as Ms. Clifton in the epic drama – even if she’s often outshone by Binoche and Ralph Fiennes. Finally, plucky Emily Watson plays the sort of cuckoo wife of a paraplegic in Breaking the Waves. It’s increasingly difficult for me to jump on board with the “rah rah Lars Von Trier” bandwagon, and this movie is really no exception. Though Watson is good enough, the movie left me with little by way of worthwhileness, as its characters are so wispy and weird that it left a bad taste.

Report Card
Brenda Blethyn (Secrets & Lies) – A
Diane Keaton (Marvin’s Room) – A-
Frances McDormand (Fargo) – A
Kristin Scott Thomas (The English Patient) – B+
Emily Watson (Breaking the Waves) – B
My Choice: Brenda Blethyn

The Winner: Helen Hunt (As Good As It Gets)

State of the Category: In a year dominated by everything Titanic, Best Actress was one category that the epic blockbuster couldn’t manage to secure. Let’s take a look at how it all played out. Starting things off is the deft Helena Bonham Carter in probably her best performance in Wings of the Dove. While she’s fallen into a “weird pale chick” rut of late, this movie is a nice reminder that she can be utterly captivating in period dramas. She’s a deceptive and controlling beauty in what could’ve been a bland Henry James interpretation. Julie Christie’s still got it, as evidenced by her aging actress in Afterglow. Though the film suffered from truly obnoxious portrayals from the remainder of its four-person central cast, Christie is a beam of light in the sudsy affair-ridden drama. But she deserves better. Judi Dench channels her super-Brit tendencies to play Queen Victoria in Mrs. Brown. Though I much prefer her vindictive psycho in Notes on a Scandal to any of her historical roles, she’s typically fine. All in all, though, she’s definitely been better and more refreshing than in this over-long piece. For anyone who regularly reads my blog, you know that I’m always the first to herald my love of As Good As It Gets. If I had to pick its weakest point, though, it would be this category’s winner Helen Hunt. It’s an important cog to the central story, of course, but her long-suffering single mom is unimpressively one-note at times. Finally, Kate Winslet does her best to bring some actorly performing to the big, effects-driven Titanic as snobby Rose Dewitt-Bukater. It’s not her most seasoned performance (see Eternal Sunshine or Little Children for that), but Rose is a great central character, and its the most respectable performance in the movie.

Report Card
Helena Bonham Carter (Wings of the Dove) – A-
Julie Christie (Afterglow) – B
Judi Dench (Mrs. Brown) – B-
Helen Hunt (As Good As It Gets) – B-
Kate Winslet (Titanic) – B+
My Choice: Helena Bonham Carter

The Winner: Gwyneth Paltrow (Shakespeare in Love)

State of the Category: In the year of film adaptations involving Queen Elizabeth I, it’s pleasing to know that beyond those two period pieces were some adept performances from other capable women. As my personal favorite Elizabeth incarnation of 1998, Cate Blanchett is boyish and awfully good in Elizabeth. Thanks to a lack of glossing over of historical British royalty, Blanchett’s take on the much-loved lady is amiable but even sinister at times. In what I assumed would be a throwaway curmudgeon/child buddy flick, Fernanda Montenegro is a ray of light as Dora in Central Station. What sets her performance apart from less successful attempts at this role is her unwillingness to give up the character’s true nature – Dora grows, but she’s certainly stubborn about it. Gwyneth Paltrow is terrifically likable in Shakespeare in Love. It’s chockfull of silliness, which takes a little bit of its impressiveness away for me, but Paltrow is adorable nonetheless. Don’t call it Lifetime movie, because One True Thing is much more. Aside from its ability to render its viewers blubbering messes, it grants us the opportunity to see Meryl Streep play a disease-ridden super mom with so much poise and subtle tenderness that stereotypes are shattered. I’m simply a sucker for a talented performer igniting a tired role with such fire. And Emily Watson redeems herself in my eyes with Hilary and Jackie, as the real-life cellist Jacqueline du Pre. Her character’s descent into helplessness is truly a heartbreaker, and Watson keeps sentiment far away from it. Jackie isn’t a victim, and it’s because Watson says so.

Report Card
Cate Blanchett (Elizabeth) – A-
Fernanda Montenegro (Central Station) – A
Gwyneth Paltrow (Shakespeare in Love) – B+
Meryl Streep (One True Thing) – B+
Emily Watson (Hilary and Jackie) – B+
My Choice: Fernanda Montenegro

The Winner: Hilary Swank (Boys Don’t Cry)

State of the Category: Closing out the decade and following a stellar lineup like 1998’s is no easy task, and 1999 comes close but no cigar at its attempt. Annette Bening finally lands a much-deserved Lead Actress spot in the dark comedy American Beauty. She’s an intimidating pistol as the unhappy working wife looking for major change in her life, and to top it off, Bening has never looked better. In another buddy movie, this time a mother-daughter team, Janet McTeer is mesmerizing as the happy-go-lucky centerpiece of Tumbleweeds. The movie could’ve faltered toward mediocre in less capable hands, but McTeer is a ball of fire in a fine comedic performance. Julianne Moore is all grim and devastated in the overly blah The End of the Affair. The film suffers from a lack of any real gumption (or anything coming close to resembling it), so Moore is forced to trudge through the best she can. Stylistically speaking, Moore is breathtaking. Her performance, though, can’t genuinely rise above the troubled script. In probably her least deserving nomination of the bunch, Meryl Streep nonetheless is redeeming as a tentative music teacher in Music of the Heart. Everything else in the movie is fairly standard caricatures of the “inspiration flick,” but at least Streep’s Roberta is a little less picturesque. Finally, Hilary Swank shows us why she deserved the coveted golden guy in Boys Don’t Cry. Though I hate to throw around the term “brave,” her Brandon Teena/Teena Brandon is eerily spot-on. The gender-bending take on the troubled real-life story is so endearing that its ultimate series of events is completely heartbreaking, thanks mostly to Swank’s performance.

Report Card
Annette Bening (American Beauty) – A-
Janet McTeer (Tumbleweeds) – A
Julianne Moore (The End of the Affair) – C+
Meryl Streep (Music of the Heart) – B
Hilary Swank (Boys Don’t Cry) – A
My Choice: Hilary Swank

**Get those thoughts and qualms out in the comments and stay tuned for what’s coming up next: Best Lead Actress of the 1980s!

merylfest: POSTCARDS FROM THE EDGE (1990)

Another entry in which I find myself in the early-90s stage of Meryl’s career in which she plays her less-honored but no-less-talent-filled comic self. Possibly one of the most well-regarded choices she made during this phase was as the drug-addicted diva actress Suzanne Vale, who, when forced to move back in with her aging actress superstar mother (played brilliantly with Debbie Reynolds-esque chutzpah by Shirley MacLaine), finds herself struggling to make her long-awaited big-screen comeback. Based on the semi-autobiographical book by the hilarious Carrie Fisher, Postcards from the Edge follows Suzanne through her unsuccessful attempts at regaining her screen presence, along with the occasional bouts in rehab. (Wow, this movie perhaps hasn’t entirely lost its touch with true Hollywood norms, eh?) And though Meryl’s character could easily have faltered into the entirely unlikable – she’s somewhat of a spoiled brat rich girl with reckless abandon when it comes to her health and well-being – her troubled actress is strangely down to earth. She has just enough girl-next-door regularity to pass as someone relatable.

The true greatness at play here, though, is Streep’s interactions with her on-screen mom, MacLaine. Shirley’s Doris Mann is a larger than life personality (most reminiscent, perhaps, of Debbie Reynolds’ stint on Will and Grace in the late-90s) who has a major following in the diva-loving, showbiz-addicted community. She’s a former big-screen beauty queen with a big voice and a sassy attitude to match. And Suzanne is completely the opposite – Meryl’s character is a subdued sort with a snarky attitude and a hesitancy when it comes to utilizing her actually rather good singing voice. But thank goodness she does – without it we wouldn’t have gotten the best scene in the movie (and probably one of Meryl’s superior singing scenes from her films, if not the best), “I’m Checkin’ Out,” a gutsy country number that Suzanne belts out like only a washed-up former drug addict could.

So likely thanks in most part to Fisher’s original and unique source material (have we ever really seen this side to show business and mother/daughter relationships before this film?), the films rests gently on the shoulders of these two talented ladies. Though Streep’s comic side is far less evident here than in movies such as Death Becomes Her or The Devil Wears Prada, she nevertheless elicits a few chuckles through her deadpan delivery of banter with her boozy, overbearing stage mom. This is a side we rarely see. It’s Meryl as a youthful, rebellious teenager sort – Suzanne never grew out of her dependency stage or her backtalking adolescence – and it’s a refreshing, if atypical, side to see.

Meryl’s Performance: B+
The Film: B+

tv meme, day 28: first tv show obsession

Ah, the after-school programming. While my early years were spent plopping in front of the TV after a day of school to watch the likes of Darkwing Duck and DuckTales, after a year or two of school, I graduated to a higher level of braininess in my TV choices. Well, okay, maybe not. But I did get hooked on back-to-back reruns of Designing Women.

So how does one know if they’ve encountered a television obsession? Well, after a daily reran show cycles through an entire seven seasons-worth of episodes and then starts back at the beginning, and you’re still keen on tuning in every day, you just might be obsessed. That was the way of it with this highly humorous, Atlanta-set sitcom. And for all the flack it gets for its uber-80s big hair and shoulder pads and synthesizer “moral moments,” the show packed a comedic punch. From Mary Jo Shively (Annie Potts) the pushover single mom with spunky self-deprecating sense of humor, to the former beauty queen Suzanne Sugarbaker (Delta Burke) the blunt debutante with a brash mouth to match, to Charlene Frazier (Jean Smart) the slow-talking blonde with a heart of gold, to the center of the group Julia Sugarbaker (Dixie Carter) an uber-feminist with a no-nonsense attitude and a series of political tirades to entertain each and every potential viewer. Admittedly so, though the show may’ve been poked fun at a time or two, it’s impossible to deny that this wasn’t a talented cast. The ladies of Sugarbaker Designs were never devoid of zingers, and even though it suffered a few slight plotlines in some episodes, this 80s series is worth revisiting or seeing for the first time, if only to acquaint yourself with one of those famous Julia Sugarbaker speeches.

what’s missing? #7

Tell me – who’s missing and from what movie??

tv meme, day 27: best pilot episode

It was a toughie to choose just one particular pilot episode out of many great ones among my favorites on the tube, but the one that stuck out in particular was that of NBC’s The Office, a great comedic start to what would become the envy of comedies on network and cable television alike.

Though somewhat panned by critics (strange turn-around as it’s now such a massive success in retrospect), I found the pilot episode terribly fun. Perhaps it’s because I’d never seen an episode of the original British incarnation of the series. From establishing the rivalry between prankster Jim and straight-laced (to a degree) Dwight with the classic “stuff in Jell-O” battle, to cementing Michael Scott as the epitome of both well-meaning and funny but ultimately useless boss extraordinaire (along with cementing Steve Carell’s future career as go-to funnyman), the pilot of this future comedy classic may not be as outwardly zany or manic as some other more well-liked episodes became, but it certainly altered American television for good. It’s subdued form of hilarious awkwardness has now become the norm, nearly doing away with laugh tracks and predictable 20-minute storylines in network programming. Watching it now, it’s hard to believe that there was a time when the supporting players (now a television treasure – yes, that means you, Angela, Phyllis, Creed, Kevin, etc.) were never in the foreground. And a time when Jim’s mop-top was quite so moppy or Pam’s pallid demeanor was quite so homely. All in all, though it’s undergone some major changes since its humble beginnings, but this pilot predicted great things for the future of this show, and it’s more than met my expectations in the six seasons since.

best films: #24: HARVEY (1950)

Ah, madcap.  The source of so much enjoyment in films, in my humble opinion.  And like Arsenic and Old Lace and Some Like it Hot before it, Harvey is a total gem of a film, jam-packed with pleasing comical performances, hilarious zingers, and a silly-but-meaningful moral – imaginary friends, or giant white rabbits as it were, may be invisible to the naked eye,  but can be a person’s very dearest friend when the rest of the world takes your aww-shucks, contented nature as reason to be committed to the loony bin.  James Stewart plays Elwood P. Dowd, the grinning, gawky younger brother to Vita Louise Simmons (played with impeccable comic gusto by the incomparable Josephine Hull), the twitchy, bumbling socialite who, along with her Olive-Oyl-esque daughter Myrtle Mae (Victoria Horne), plot to throw their embarrassingly cheery and imaginative relation into an institution.  And in the style of the screwball comedies that came before it, identity confusion, misunderstandings, and zany physical mayhem ensues.  And all this for Harvey – the six-foot, three-inch “pooka” who by film’s end, you just maybe believe truly exists.  The performances all around in this movie, loaded with generous laughter-inducing moments, are those of true comedians.  Though Stewart became most known for his dramatic roles (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, It’s a Wonderful Life), or even his roles in many Hitchcock pictures (Vertigo, Rear Window, etc.), for me, he’ll always be most beloved for this and his other humorous performances.  As a long-limbed gangly chap, he seems well suited for physical comedy.  And then there’s Hull who, though many believe she snatched away the Oscar from more deserving ladies and that she lacks a great deal of acting diversity, is in top form for this picture.  Vita Louise is a bombastic dame in the vein of Lina Lamont and the work of Marie Dressler.

tv meme, day 26: OMG? WTF! season finale

It’s quite clear that no one knows how to end a season, or even an episode for that matter, like Showtime. From the famed Dexter season-enders to the recent Nurse Jackie second-season closer, their original programming always goes out with a bang. The show that’s perfected the ultimate cliffhanger, though, is Weeds. [WARNING: Major Weeds spoilage to follow.]

The best of the finales of Weeds has got to be the season two finale, in which Nancy’s life has gone completely insane. She’s begun her own grow house to supply her web of drug dealing marijuana, she’s gotten involved with a DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) agent who’s started to blackmail her, she’s stepped on the toes of two competing gangs, and her delinquent son has taken off with a stash of weed that the two competing gangs feel belong to them. And as the episode closes, Nancy is left facing down the barrels of many guns, all of them demanding more money and more product than she could possibly give them. Talk about an “oh s***” moment! After season one, in which Nancy is just getting into the business, buying from a more experienced dealer, this escalation of peril in Nancy’s life is what makes Weeds so entertaining. This poor lonely widowed housewife’s ascent to drug king-pin (or queen-pin, as it were) is an amazing journey to be taken on.

the ’90s are almost here…

**After tons of rentals and scouring for the Best Actress nominees of the ’90s, next will bring the second part of the Great Big Academy Awards Project series. While you wait, can you tell me which lovely winner is featured above?**