Albert Finney 1936-2019


The great Albert Finney has died, and it had to happen on a Friday when the bad news just keeps rolling in. His achievements are too numerous to mention and his range and capability as an actor are just beyond comprehension. Here was a man who, for all of his life, took what he was given and made it his own.

His criminally ignored and under-appreciated turn as Leo O’Bannon in Miller’s Crossing (the greatest of all the gangster movies, of course) brought him no awards and no special recognition. It was yet another Coen brothers movies that gets talked about again and again but I don’t think people appreciate how Finney had to play the role. He is understated and calm and, while that usually looks like indifference on the screen, his every look and emotion in that film add up to absolute magic. There are no bad scenes. The pace of the film is astonishing and perfect. The whole thing falls apart if Finney plays him like all the other gangster bosses that came before. It doesn’t work if he hams it up or lashes out like a psychopath. Everything hinges on how he purrs through the dialogue, a man caught between hanging on to what he’s built and a woman who doesn’t love him.

For the great actor, it was just another role in a vast career. He did it, and it mattered, and he just went on to the next thing and kept working. He should have won three Oscars, but they snubbed him, just like they snubbed the late Alan Rickman.

Finney did so much to advance the art of acting. He is already missed.

John Krasinki's Bomb

It's nice how they're calling 13 Hours a Michael Bay film. It's actually a John Krasinski film directed by Bay, and it's a bomb:
Making a movie about Benghazi is a difficult task. There’s a phenomenally interesting story to be told about the deadly 2012 assault on the diplomatic outpost that captures the drama of the attack itself alongside the complicated politics of post-revolution Libya, the idealistic motivations of the diplomatic personnel who got caught up in the tragedy, and the clandestine machinations of American intelligence services on the ground. Telling that story would be a monumental challenge, requiring a filmmaker with a gift for subtlety, a talent for weaving complex stories together, and a sophisticated understanding of the raw politics that still envelop Benghazi like so much concertina wire.

But we didn’t get any of that. Instead, we get Bayhem.
Michael Bay’s “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi” is a bad movie. And I’m not just talking about the filmmaking, which is bad in the way that most Michael Bay movies are bad – it’s loaded up with frenetic camera work, neck-snapping edits that make it impossible to follow the action, and gratuitous war porn. If you were unfortunate enough to have seen “Pearl Harbor,” Bay’s other steaming pile of reductive patriotism, you may remember this shot, in which the camera trails a Japanese bomb as it spins toward an American warship. “13 Hours” features that exact same shot, only this time the camera follows a Libyan militiaman’s mortar shell on its way to murdering an American security agent.
The moral lesson here is--what? Don't make a film without a movie star in it? That you can't attack the Clintons and get away with it? Krasinski can't open a film? Or that Michael Bay has not held on to any of the box office magic he used to have (remember when these were films that came out in the summer--and now we get one after Christmas)? This should have been an early summer release. They should have dropped it on Memorial Day or the 4th of July weekend.

I think you have to divorce the art from the politics in order to succeed. A film like this could have been as successful, if not more successful, than American Sniper. Very similar milieu, very similar kind of a subject. The only thing missing was a performance that would have rivaled Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller. Oh, and the fact that Clint Eastwood wisely eliminated Chris Kyle's outspoken wingnut politics from the finished product and focused on his PTSD and his relationship with his wife, which was done in such a way as to make her a central focus of his life without relegating her to a supporting and nurturing role.

If Bay had found two actors who could have pulled off something remotely similar, we'd be talking about something else right now.

Stuff White People Like

Did you know that "Stuff White People Like" is still in existence? It hasn't been updated in over four years, but if they were going to go with #137, they could submit "the 2015 Oscars nominations."

Yes, this is the whitest year in twenty years in terms of prestigious film award nominations:
Today's Oscar nominations contained a host of snubs that have critics and commentators up in arms (as they do every year). But the optics of this year's slate are particularly egregious when you combine the surprising coolness towards Martin Luther King Jr. biopic Selma—nominated for Best Picture but missing in the Director, Actor, and Screenplay categories—with the fact that all 20 acting nominees this year are white, the first time such a thing has happened since the Oscars honoring the films of 1995.
The Oscar slate that year featured a lot of British period dramas (Braveheart, Sense and Sensibility, Rob Roy), specific American historical pieces (Nixon, Dead Man Walking, Apollo 13), small-scale romantic dramas (Leaving Las Vegas, The Bridges of Madison County), and the talking-pig movie Babe. If the lack of diversity among the nominees was noted, it was probably less remarked-upon because there was no obvious "Oscar film” featuring people of color getting snubbed. We expect the Academy Awards to ignore all kinds of great genre material; the 2015 list feels all the more galling because David Oyelowo's performance and Ava DuVernay's direction were not just extraordinarily good, but also very Oscar-friendly.
Isn't a great thing for America to have no outstanding issues with regards to race or racism anymore? Isn't it just the greatest thing ever for an institution that has traditionally failed to follow up on efforts to diversify who gets awards to end up shitting the bed during an entire calendar year of race-related news events? Can you say out of touch with modern American society?

Congratulations go out to all the white people who are excited to see mediocrity win more awards. Yay!

A Lifetime Achievement Award? For What?

Steve Martin is a very talented man. He's a very funny man. But he does not make good films.

Giving him a lifetime achievement award is like losing your way into the playoffs--how does that even happen?

What's more, we're fresh from the unthinkable loss of Robin Williams, and when you compare his film history with Martin's you can't help but ask yourself why there are so many really, really great films on Williams' side of the list and virtually none on Martin's. Don't even start by throwing in a comparison to Bill Murray, either.

In fact, line up the films of Robin Williams, Bill Murray, and Billy Crystal and then add in Steve Martin's. Then, ask yourself, why would you give a lifetime achievement award to someone who has made so many bad films and forgettable films and films that went nowhere at the box office.

Williams, Murray and Crystal had their clunkers, but their contribution to cinema outstrips that of Martin's by a country mile. Martin doesn't have anything as good as Mrs. Doubtfire, as memorable as Groundhog Day, or as funny as When Harry Met Sally. He doesn't have anything in his filmography that can compare to any of those three films, and those aren't even the best films that Williams, Murray or Crystal ever made.

Steve Martin doesn't have a Fletch, either, so he's your likable version of Chevy Chase on a good day, if that.