Saturday, March 19, 2005

Ten Most Wanted: Oscar's Best Pictures

Having recently screened and enjoyed John Ford's How Green Was My Valley on DVD, I now have only ten more winners of the Best Picture Oscar left to see. (How Green Was My Valley, if you don't know, was a huge critical and popular favorite in 1941, but is most notorious today as the film that swiped the top Oscar from Citizen Kane.) Like a lot of pop-movie nerds, I've had a goal for a long time of seeing all of Oscar's Bests, though as I look at these assembled posters, I can see the reasons why they're the ones left to go. Devoted readers of NicksFlickPicks will note that the common threads linking these films don't mesh real well with my personal tastes. After all, these movies are...

Biopics: The Great Ziegfeld '36, The Life of Émile Zola '37, and Gandhi '82

Bloated Epics: Around the World in 80 Days '56 and Ben-Hur '59, plus the plus-sized Ziegfeld and Gandhi

Musicals That Aren't Really Musicals: The Broadway Melody '29 and The Great Ziegfeld (again!)

1960s Musicals Minus Barbra or Julie: Oliver! '68

Movies Starring Charlton Heston: Ben-Hur and The Greatest Show on Earth '52

Ocean's Twelve-Style Movies Where Famous People Fuck Around Without Really Acting: Around the World in 80 Days, and arguably The Broadway Melody and The Greatest Show on Earth

The classed-up star vehicles Mutiny on the Bounty '35 and Mrs. Miniver '42 probably inspire the most confidence at this point, though Ben-Hur is probably the best-known classic of the bunch. I'm hoping by the end of the year, I'll see them all—hell, after Cavalcade '33, Going My Way '44, and most of the mid-to-late 1980s (Africa, Rain Man, Miss Daisy, oh my!), I can take anything. Soon, I'll be posting a link to my entire ranked list of all the Best Picture winners, plus a complementary digest of all the nominees that were good enough to have deserved a statue.

But meanwhile, which of the ten I have left do you think I should start with? Any recommendations, warnings, wild guesses? What are you favorite and least favorite Best Picture winners?

(Okay, back to my dissertation...)

Friday, March 18, 2005

Ithacans, for Better and for Worse

The good news: my dear friend Gabriel Shanks is one of those precious few souls working full-time in the theater who is both brilliant and kind-hearted. How many others can say as much? This is already good news in itself, but it gets better, twice. For one, Gabriel will be directing a production of Bertolt Brecht's Edward II from September 8-25, 2005, at the Bank Street Theatre in NYC's West Village. Last year, I saw a piece that Gabriel wrote and directed called Stealing Pears, which was freely, darkly, and lusciously adapted from the final chapters of Cervantes' Don Quixote, and it was a high-point in my last few years of theater-going. Anyone in or near NYC should buy tickets now for Edward II. (Type "Creative Mechanics" or "Edward the 2nd" in the Search window to find the show; neither "Edward II" nor "Edward ii" works.)

Even sooner on the calendar, Gabriel's theater company, Creative Mechanics, will be producing an evening of nine short plays, collectively billed as Stage This!, on April 4 in the Y on 344 East 14th St, also in Manhattan. The nine entrants were selected from an international contest, and would'nt'cha know, one of the winners is David Guaspari, from right here in Ithaca, NY! Good on you, David, whoever you are (I've probably passed you in Wegman's, or sat next to you on a TCAT bus), and good on Gabriel and his talented troupe! (The photo here is from Gabriel's much-fêted 2004 production of The Fall of the House of Usher; more of these stylish and decadent production photos are available at the Creative Mechanics website linked above.)

This news tickles me so much that I almost hate to put what follows in the same blog entry, but here goes: Paul Wolfowitz, one of the sadist-savants behind Gulf War II (and the infamous comb-licker of Fahrenheit 9/11), is Bush's nominee to head the World Bank. Word around Washington was that his runner-up selections were Oliver North, Star Jones-Reynolds, and the Tasmanian Devil. Wolfowitz is such a gruesome person that I almost can't bear to joke about him, and so aptly named that I almost don't need to, but the last laugh is on me, because it turns out Wolfie is from Ithaca! Graduated from Ithaca High School and Cornell. And here I thought everyone reared in Ithaca grew up to be a hemp activist, a literary critic, or a gardener of herbs, or at least an author of short plays. Maybe Wolfowitz will go see Edward II and learn something about intolerance, cynical politicking, and the just desserts of petty zealots.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

"You Have Dissertation Sickness... Your Website Will Return in Time..."

Geeks of all ages will catch the Return of the Jedi reference. Basically, here is me:

Dissertation sickness is exactly like hibernation sickness. It's like the rest of the world stops, and you're in double trouble... not only are you completely confined in one position for what seems like an eternity, but you have your hands up in constant protest and this ghastly grimace kind of stuck on your face, even if you're enjoying what you're doing (which, thankfully, I am). Now, in an interesting metacritical departure from the Jedi model, you are both Han Solo and Boba Fett, because nobody put you in this damn position except yourself (especially if you are, say, an inveterate procrastinator, except re: things that don't technically matter). Hyperspeed hellion + bounty hunter = dissertation slave. To add tone and temperature to the analogy, the part about Han being frozen in carbonite is easy to approximate if you happen to be writing your dissertation in Ithaca, NY.

Here is your dissertation:

It is effulgent. It is morbidly obese. It is your gargantuan captor and tormenter. It grows ever bigger, despite never seeming to do anything. It eats everything. It is just sitting there, blobbed down, staring you in the face throughout the waking day, no matter how/where you try to avoid it. It forbids being in touch with your friends, especially the ones in far-off places like Cloud City (San Francisco), the ice-planet of Hoth (Chicago/Detroit), the Creature Cantina (New York), the Jedi Academy (other universities), or the Death Star (Washington, DC). If you look to Jabba's left (i.e., your right), you'll notice the vat of what I take to be Mountain Dew that is ubiquitously present around the dissertation. Dissertations are not accomplished without Mountain Dew; the less said about what counts as a "meal" while writing a dissertation, the better.

You of course have the option of just not finishing it, but the prospects that follow from this plan of action are not all that pretty:

So, I'm'a have to do my best with this thing, but I just wanted to offer an illustrated apology for why my website still sucks so bad of late, and is probably going to keep sucking until around the middle of June. Believe me, I have plenty I want to say! - I've had an Aviator review in the hopper for weeks, I've got a couple things to say about the very few movies of 2005 that I've managed to catch in the opening quarter, and there's all my usual Oscar follow-up stuff left to do, like the Rental Guide. (Here's last year's, so you know what I'm talking about.) But I'm a frozen FlickPicker for right now. Please don't abandon me! I know that falling off the wagon this hard is the best way to commit web-suicide, but for the time being, there's no way around it. I hope y'all will still be here when I resurface. (And do keep checking the blog, anyway, since it will stay marginally more active than the website. Small pleasures.)

All photos © 1983 LucasFilm Ltd. Y'all know that the last thing I need right now is George Lucas' lawyers hopping on my broke a**.