Archive | December 2010


First thing’s first, a confession – I generally love most everything Sandra Bullock does. I know this is an unpopular sentiment in the blog world, particularly following last year’s Oscar ceremony, but I can’t help myself. I’m willing to concede that most of the work Bullock puts out is both (a) harmless trifle and (b) generally sunny and similar, but I will always jump to her defense thanks to my first encounter with her work – her Golden Globe-nominated performance in the 1995 romantic comedy While You Were Sleeping. Now for starters, I’m going to pass judgment – anyone who’s seen this movie and Bullock’s performance and hasn’t been able to glean even the slightest bit of enjoyment or, dare I say it, respect for the actress out of this particular film is, well, jaded. Thanks to Ms. Bullock’s truly real “Lucy” – I really do miss real characters in romantic comedies, as I continuously harp on (everyone’s a successful magazine reporter or fashion executive these days, huh?), the movie really resonates. She’s a toll booth operator in Chicago with virtually no friends or family but her co-workers and a cat.

Now, I’m all for escapism, but in this day and age, it seems like the more we’re forced to sit through heroines with easily attainable six-figure careers whine about not being able to land a man, the more I lose faith in the sub-genre. But Lucy is sweet, lower-middle-class (if that), a loner, and, ultimately, a lovelorn softie. Now, Bullock doesn’t make this, in my eyes, impeccable rom-com happen all on her own. Thanks to her encounter with a man in a coma, we’re gifted with Lucy’s semi-adoptive family, filled with a host of character actors that universally excel. Glynis Johns is adorable as the forgetful grandmother, Peter Boyle is his typical stalwart (but secretly gentle-hearted) curmudgeon as Dad, Micole Mercurio (so underused since) is the bubbly, emotional Mom, and Jack Ward is the cigar-smoking, conscience-providing godfather. And say what you will about Bill Pullman, but he and Bullock certainly had chemistry.

So, I guess the point I’m trying to get across is, even if Bullock’s Blind Side Best Actress win and unfortunately tabloid-ridden marriage and series of cookie cutter comedies cause you to dismiss her on the spot, there’s something so inherently great about her persona. I think the best way to describe it is by putting a copy of While You Were Sleeping in a doubter’s hands. It’s such a warm, well-performed flick, and it best displays why Bullock achieved “girl next door” status. I fully expect to be berated in the comments by cries of foul when I jump to the defense of the acting skills of someone who seems to divide so many, but she’s a welcome addition to ’90s cinema as far as I’m concerned. And she’s the primary reason I count this movie among my all-time favorites.

birthdays: december 29 & december 30

Patricia Clarkson, 51, absolutely brilliant character actress with nary a failure in sight on her filmography – though her sole Oscar nomination was for playing the sullen cancer patient Joy Burns in Pieces of April (she was wonderful of course), she’s had a host of other stellar performances such as wife Melinda in The Green Mile, gossip-hound Eleanor in Far From Heaven, hippie-chick love interest Olivia in The Station Agent, wayward wife Judy in Vicky Cristina Barcelona, and her 1-2-3 punch this year with Cairo Time, Easy A, and Shutter Island
Jude Law, 38, though he’s had his share of high-profile scandals thanks to his womanizing ways, this Brit is actually a fairly good thesp, shining brightest as enviable Dickie Greenleaf in The Talented Mr. Ripley, sex robot Gigolo Joe in A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, war-torn soldier Inman in Cold Mountain, and hopelessly lovelorn Dan in Closer; oh, and I have a special affinity for Music from Another Room – rent it
Jennifer Ehle, 41, though she’s primarily worked on stage thanks to her roots (she’s the daughter of theater great Rosemary Harris) – plus she managed a Tony nod for the recent play The Coast of Utopia, her most famous role is as Elizabeth Bennet in the much-beloved BBC adaptation of Pride & Prejudice; her big-screen credits include a supporting role in the romantic drama Possession and a recent turn as Geoffrey Rush’s character’s wife, Myrtle, in The King’s Speech
Mary Tyler Moore, 74, long-time darling of the tube – she’s been nominated for 15 Emmys and won six, she was a part of the cast of two of the most beloved TV comedies of all time, The Dick Van Dyke Show and The Mary Tyler Moore Show; beyond that, she’s starred in a host of guest roles in other series and leading roles in TV movies (oh, and there was an Oscar-nominated turn in 1980’s Ordinary People)
Jon Voight, 72, though his public life has become something of a circus thanks to an estranged relationship with daughter Angelina Jolie, his acting career took off with his Oscar-nominated turn as a street hustler in 1969’s Midnight Cowboy; he went on to Academy Award nominations for Runaway Train, Ali, and Coming Home (for which he won) before moving on to blockbusters such as the Transformers and National Treasure series
Ted Danson, 63, much like his birthday buddy Ms. Tyler Moore, he’s had a successful TV career garnering 15 Emmy nominations (and two wins) thanks to parts in such hit series as Cheers and Damages; his latest venture is the cult hit HBO comedy Bored to Death
Alison Brie, 27, after struggling through community theater and bit roles in television parts, she nailed a plumb role as Pete Campbell’s bubbly wife Trudy in AMC’s Mad Men; but it turns out success comes in twos – she’s juggling Mad Men with the newly minted sitcom success, NBC’s Community, playing goody-goody Annie

Tracey Ullman, 51, famed British comedienne, her style of humor is bolstered in pottymouth and impersonations; her shows The Tracey Ullman Show and Tracey Takes On garnered her loads of Golden Globes (four nods and one win) and Emmys (24 nods and seven wins), and she has the distinct honor of spawning the longest running comedy in TV history, The Simpsons, from a popular short on The Tracey Ullman Show; though her film career hasn’t yielded as much success, her role in Woody Allen’s Small Time Crooks landed her an additional Golden Globe nomination
Meredith Vieira, 57, one of the most visible personalities working on TV today, she has 10 News & Documentary and Daytime Emmys (out of 27 nominations), and her credits include hosting gigs on The Rosie O’Donnell Show, Lifetime’s Intimate Portrait, The View, and currently Who Wants to Be a Millionaire and Today
C.S. Lee, 39, he’s now infamous as the dirty-minded and mouthed Vince Masuka on Showtime’s Dexter, but he had a recurring role on Chuck as golden boy Harry Tang and a role as a doctor in last year’s horror romp The Unborn
Jo Van Fleet, (1914-1996), actress who got her break later in her career thanks to the 1955 James Dean star vehicle East of Eden (for which she won an Oscar), she went on to a lengthy film career with roles in The Rose Tattoo, I’ll Cry Tomorrow, and Cool Hand Luke
James Burrows, 70, an incredible TV hitmaker (who’s just one day away from sharing his birthday with one of his biggest stars, Mary Tyler Moore), his 10 Emmy wins (and incredible 42 nominations) are thanks to having a part in creating the following: The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Phyllis, The Bob Newhart Show, Laverne & Shirley, Lou Grant, The Betty White Show, Rhoda, Taxi, Cheers, Wings, Newsradio, 3rd Rock from the Sun, Frasier, Caroline in the City, Dharma & Greg, Friends, Will & Grace, The Big Bang Theory, and Mike & Molly – need I say more?
Russ Tamblyn, 76, though his contribution to film include his Oscar-nominated turn in Peyton Place, a memorable role as Riff in West Side Story, and parts in Father of the Bride (1950), Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, and The Haunting (1963), his most recent contribution is daughter and Joan of Arcadia star Amber Tamblyn
Sheryl Lee Ralph, 54, well known on stage for originating the role of Dina in Dreamgirls (and netting a Tony nomination), her work in film and television include voicing bad dog Rita in Oliver & Company, playing Anthony’s lover Etienne in Designing Women, playing Dee Mitchell in the Brandy-led comedy Moesha, and disapproving of Lauryn Hill’s singing as a hairdressing mama in Sister Act 2

then and now: CHOCOLAT (2000)

Though it suffered some critical disinterest and then resentment following its host of Oscar nods (including one for Best Picture), I’m from the school of leaving it alone – it’s a delightful, if misunderstood, movie.  Featuring a cast from all sorts of countries (let’s see – France, the U.S., Sweden…), Chocolat is getting Then and Now treatment!

Juliette Binoche as Vianne
In the 1985 film Farewell to Fred
And in the 2010 film Certified Copy

Judi Dench as Armande Voizin
In the 1960 TV series An Age of Kings
And in the 2011 film Jane Eyre

Alfred Molina as Comte de Reynaud
In the 1981 film Raiders of the Lost Ark
And on the 2010 TV series Law & Order: Los Angeles

Lena Olin as Josephine Muscat
In the 1987 film The Unbearable Lightness of Being
And in a 2010 episode of the TV series Law & Order: SVU

Johnny Depp as Roux
In the 1984 film A Nightmare on Elm Street
And in the 2011 film The Rum Diary

Leslie Caron as Madame Audel
In the 1951 film An American in Paris
And in a 2006 episode of the TV series Law & Order: SVU

birthdays: december 27 & december 28

Marlene Dietrich, (1901-1992), her husky voice and mysterious sexuality made this German actress a sizzling screen presence in the ’20s and ’30s, and though she only managed one Oscar nod (weird, huh?) for Morocco in 1930, she’s an iconic figure in the movie industry thanks to her roles in The Blue Angel, Blonde Venus, Witness for the Prosecution, and Touch of Evil
Emilie de Ravin, 29, this Australian beauty hit it big stateside thanks to a part as the pregnant nice girl in a little show called Lost, and her other major roles include a regular role in the sci-fi series Roswell, a starring role in the remake of The Hills Have Eyes, and a small part in the criminal drama Public Enemies
Heather O’Rourke, (1975-1988), though her infamous death from an incorrect diagnosis and prescription that caused her cardiac arrest cast a dark shadow on her short career, she’ll always be remembered as the spritely blonde daughter in the Poltergeist movies, who utters the iconic line “They’re heeeeere!”
Gerard Depardieu, 62, probably one of the most well-known French actors of the 20th Century, he gained American attention in his Oscar-nominated title role in the 1990 incarnation of Cyrano de Bergerac and for a Golden Globe-nominated turn in the 1994 comedy Green Card; in addition he’s famous for his parts in Jean de Florette and 1492: Conquest of Paradise
Charmian Carr, 68, she’s instantly recognizable as upstart eldest daughter Liesl in The Sound of Music, and, much like the rest of the von Trapp kids, her acting career ended just as quickly as it began; she retired from the film industry to become an interior designer
Aaron Stanford, 34, though his role as the bad-boy Pyro in the blockbuster X-Men franchise would probably be his most recognized role to mainstream audiences, his debut performance as a young seductor to Bebe Neuwirth in Tadpole gained him critical acclaim
Sydney Greenstreet, (1879-1954), he had some rather notable roles in some rather notable films, including his debut film performance at age 62 in the 1941 noir The Maltese Falcon (for which he was nominated for an Oscar), the 1945 holiday flick Christmas in Connecticut, and, of course, his role as Signor Ferrari in Casablanca

Maggie Smith, 76, one of Britain’s best actresses (at least from this guy’s camp), she’s been nominated for six Oscars and won twice – no small feat; though her roles in The V.I.P.s and Othello garnered her attention (and an Oscar nod for the latter), it was her title role in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie that wowed critics enough to win her her first Academy Award (and rightly so – she’s incredible); since, she’s added supporting characters to hit films such as The First Wives Club, the Sister Act movies, and the Harry Potter series
Denzel Washington, 56, another double Oscar winner, he fast became one of the most successful African American actors working, thanks to parts in Cry Freedom, Glory, Malcolm X, Philadelphia, The Preacher’s Wife, The Hurricane, Remember the Titans, Training Day, and American Gangster; and there was his role as heartthrob Dr. Philip Chandler in TV’s St. Elsewhere
Nichelle Nichols, 78, 1960s icon thanks to a part in the original Star Trek series (and many of its subsequent big-screen incarnations) as Lieutenant Uhura aboard the Starship Enterprise, she famously shared the first on-screen kiss on American television between a black woman and white man with William Shatner on Star Trek
Noomi Rapace, 31, Swedish actress whose first major crossover to international fame came with the high-profile big-screen adaptations of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy (i.e. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), her upcoming efforts include roles in the Sherlock Holmes sequel and a prequel to the Alien movies
Stan Lee, 88, basically the godfather of superhero comics (at least in my world) and nerd icon, he created Spider-Man, X-Men, Fantastic Four, The Avengers, The Hulk, Iron Man, and Thor; most recently he’s probably the only octogenarian entertaining young people via his frequent tweets
Seth Meyers, 37, he gained fame when he joined the cast of Saturday Night Live in 2001, a show for which he would later succeed Tina Fey as head writer, and his limited film credits include Journey to the Center of the Earth and Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist
Joe Manganiello, 34, though his current gig is as frequently shirtless werewolf Alcide in HBO’s True Blood, his earlier work includes a part as a meathead bully in Spider-Man, a recurring role as a police officer on ER, and another recurring role as Marshall’s law school buddy Brad on How I Met Your Mother
Madison De La Garza, 9, she’s well-known to ABC viewers as the sassy eldest daughter of Gabrielle Solis, Juanita, on the last three seasons of Desperate Housewives; (hopefully) more to come later in her filmography

the product placement quiz #3

Though the last outing of this quiz didn’t catch on like I’d hoped, I’m a glutton for rejection I suppose.  Here’s another stab – can you guess which film from the last three years included this product placement?

birthdays: december 25/26

Humphrey Bogart, (1899-1957), often considered the greatest male actor of all time – well at least by the American Film Institute’s standards – his deadpan demeanor and love affair with the much younger Lauren Bacall set screens ablaze; his biggest film credits include his Oscar-nominated roles in Casablanca, The Caine Mutiny, and The African Queen (for which he also won), and his parts in The Maltese Falcon and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, as well as his collaborations with wife Bacall in To Have and Have Not and The Big Sleep are legendary
Sissy Spacek, 61, though she rose to fast fame as the misunderstood and deadly title character in her Oscar-nominated turn in the Stephen King adaptation Carrie in 1976, she’s gone on to become one of the most pedigreed actresses of her generation; she was nominated for five other Oscars (Missing, The River, Crimes of the Heart, In the Bedroom, and Coal Miner’s Daughter – won that one) and has appeared in countless other films, including the upcoming high-profile adaptation of The Help
Rod Serling, (1924-1975), six-time Emmy winner and keeper of the one of the most recognizable faces and voices in television history, he produced, directed, and narrated the classic The Twilight Zone with such teasing deadpan it’s become stuff of legend; he also wrote dozens of other teleplays and episodic scripts for television and penned the screenplay for the original 1968 Planet of the Apes
David Sedaris, 54, though his primary role in my camp is as brother to my favorite human being, Amy Sedaris, he’s also written quite a few brilliant bestselling mostly-non-fiction books, including Me Talk Pretty One Day, Naked, Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, and When You Are Engulfed in Flames
Annie Lennox, 56, she started off successfully as one-half of The Eurhythmics in the ’80s – hits included “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This),” “Here Comes the Rain Again,” and “Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves” – but she went on to an even bigger solo career, hitting it big with “Walking on Broken Glass,” “Why,” and a cover of “A Whiter Shade of Pale” and won an Oscar for writing “Into the West” for the final chapter of The Lord of the Rings
Dido, 39, thanks to a bit of sampling of her single “Thank You” on an Eminem record, she hit it big in the early part of the last decade, her debut album No Angel going quadruple platinum and launching “Here With Me” and “White Flag” to the US Top 40
Steve Allen, (1921-2000), though he had a bit of an acting career, his real fame came from being the first host of The Tonight Show in 1954 (and essentially godfathering the concept of a late-night talk show); his game and variety show career hit such high notes as The Steve Allen Show, I’ve Got a Secret, and What’s My Line?
Bill Lawrence, 42, writer, creator, and producer of such hit sitcoms as Spin City, Scrubs, and Cougar Town, he managed two Emmy nods for Scrubs and is married to frequent collaborator and former Drew Carey Show cast member Christa Miller

40 best Christmas-related pop-culture items (#10-1)

It’s the wrap-up of my seasonal list.  And sure, I was without internet on Christmas day (seems grandmas can do without such things), so my final 10 are a wee bit after the fact, but let’s just consider it a continuation of the holidays.  Enjoy!

10. The Polar Express
Book, Houghton Mifflin, 1985
Written and illustrated by Chris van Allsburg

9. Moroccan Christmas
The Office episode, NBC, 2008
With Steve Carell, Kate Flannery, and Phyllis Smith

8. White Christmas
Film, Paramount Pictures, 1954
With Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, and Rosemary Clooney

7. A Charlie Brown Christmas
Television special, CBS, 1965
With Peter Robbins, Sally Dryer, and Chris Shea

6. Home Alone / Home Alone 2: Lost in New York
Film, 20th Century Fox, 1990/1992
With Macaulay Culkin, Catherine O’Hara, and Joe Pesci

5. Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire
The Simpsons episode, FOX, 1989
With Dan Castellaneta, Yeardley Smith, and Nancy Cartwright

4. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
Television special, NBC, 1964
With Burl Ives, Billy Richards, and Larry D. Mann

3. It’s a Wonderful Life
Film, RKO Pictures, 1946
With James Stewart, Donna Reed, and Lionel Barrymore

2. “The Christmas Song”
Song, Mel Torme and Bob Wells, 1946
Performed by Nat King Cole

1. How the Grinch Stole Christmas
Book/Television special, Random House/CBS, 1957/1966
Written by Dr. Seuss/With Boris Karloff and June Foray

Happy Holidays All!

birthdays: december 24

Ava Gardner, (1922-1990), long-standing reigning queen of beauty in Hollywood, she was one of the biggest female stars of the 1940s and 50s; though her one and only Oscar nomination came in 1953 for Mogambo, she also was famous for her roles in Showboat, The Barefoot Contessa, The Night of the Iguana, and Earthquake
Moose, (1990-2006), probably one of the best dog actors in the biz, he spent 193 episodes keeping Martin Crane company as the shockingly animated Eddie on Frasier and he melted hearts as Frankie Muniz’s compadre in the 2000 movie My Dog Skip; before his death in 2006, he reportedly spent his final days hanging out with his son, his trainer, and the dog who played Verdell in As Good As it Gets – not even kidding
Mary Higgins Clark, 83, prolific, bestselling mystery novelist known as the “Queen of Suspense,” she’s written 42 bestselling novels and has sold 80 million copies of her books in the United States alone – she resides comfortably within the top 75 bestselling fiction writers of all time; her novels have been adapted into TV movies many times, but the only big-screen credits resulting from her books are 1982’s A Stranger is Watching and 1986’s Where Are the Children?
Michael Curtiz, (1886-1962), filmmaker famous for directing the film often considered the all-time best, Casablanca, he also helmed more than 100 films in his career, including Captain Blood, The Adventures of Robin Hood, Mildred PierceAngels with Dirty Faces, Yankee Doodle Dandy, and White Christmas
Lee Daniels, 51, though he had his big breakthrough late in life, he produced the 2001 Oscar favorite Monster’s Ball, he produced the 2004 controversial Kevin Bacon drama The Woodsman, and finally garnered two Oscar nominations for producing and directing the high-profile drama Precious
Howard Hughes, (1905-1976), though he obviously had quite the career in aviation first and foremost, his contributions to film include the giant-budget (for the time), high-profile movies Hell’s Angels and the scandalously racy The Outlaw; beyond directing he also produced the original The Front Page and Scarface, and his life story gave Leonardo DiCaprio his arguably best performance in 2004’s The Aviator
Franz Waxman, (1906-1967), major score composer of the ’40s and ’50s, his two Oscar wins were for Sunset Blvd. and A Place in the Sun, but he also scored Rebecca, Suspicion, The Nun’s Story, Mr. Skeffington, Rear Window, Come Back Little Sheba, Mister Roberts… need I go on?
Diedrich Bader, 44, thanks to his gawky facial expressions and slapstick innateness, his most memorable role was as Oswald on The Drew Carey Show; he also had film roles in Office Space, Napoleon Dynamite, and The Beverly Hillbillies and is currently starring in the NBC comedy Outsourced

40 best Christmas-related pop-culture items (#20-11)

Part three keeps bringing the holiday cheer (hopefully) with my next ten entries to the list of 40 – just remember, if you’re not seeing your favorite flick, song, or book, it’s not sheer quality that landed these folks on my rankings – it’s entirely up to my susceptible little heartstrings.

20. A Christmas Carol
Book, Chapman & Hall, 1843
Written by Charles Dickens

19. A Christmas Album
Album, Myrrh/Word, 1983
Performed by Amy Grant

18. The Muppet Christmas Carol
Film, Jim Henson Productions, 1992
With Michael Caine, Frank Oz, and The Muppets

17. Christmas Special
30 Rock episode, NBC, 2008
With Tina Fey, Alec Baldwin, and Jane Krakowski

16. While You Were Sleeping
Film, Hollywood Pictures, 1995
With Sandra Bullock, Bill Pullman, and Peter Boyle

15. John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together
Album, RCA, 1979
Performed by John Denver and The Muppets

14. A Wish for Wings That Work
Book, Little Brown & Co., 1991
Written and illustrated by Berkeley Breathed

13. Mickey’s Christmas Carol
Short film, Walt Disney Pictures, 1983
With Wayne Allwine, Clarence Nash, and Hal Smith

12. Frosty the Snowman
Television special, CBS, 1969
With Jimmy Durante, June Foray, and Billy de Wolfe

11. The Nightmare Before Christmas
Film, Touchstone Pictures, 1993
With Danny Elfman, Catherine O’Hara, and Chris Sarandon

**The final 10 are soon on their way!**

best films: #14: PULP FICTION (1994)

Honestly, from the Jack Rabbit Slim’s dance contest scene alone, this flick would make my top 100, but thanks to an incredibly layered script, delightful performances from the unlikeliest of sources (yes, even John Travolta does great work here), and a splendid throwback to pulp crime novels of years past, Pulp Fiction is a piece of filmdom that works on so many levels it’s criminal.  Uma Thurman dons her now-iconic black bob (in probably her second best performance after Kill Bill‘s “The Bride”), does a little blow, dances the night away with hitman Vincent Vega (Travolta), and the proverbial s**t hits the fan.  Oh, and did I mention the unlikeliest of good performances?  Enter Bruce Willis, who’s doing hands-down his best film work period.  He plays a struggling boxer who jilts some bookies when he’s asked to throw a fight in favor of some mob-related gamblers.  There are truly too many interwoven plotlines to hash them all out here, but simply put, it’s rare that you come across a movie in which every scene therein is meant to be memorable and iconic.  But that’s sort of what we’ve come to expect from Quentin Tarantino – though he’s never done it better than here.  I mean, even people who haven’t seen the movie (blasphemy!) at least can identify Samuel L. Jackson’s biblical pre-shooting speech, the aforementioned dance contest, and the unmentionable basement “gimp” incident as part of Pulp Fiction.  As for the other cogs at work, the soundtrack – typical of Tarantino’s work – is incredibly laid out, with a mix of classics both revamped and original, and the screenplay is pure genius.  So if you don’t the answer to the question, “Who is Fox Force Five?” then you need to rent this movie stat.