George Saunders is one of the most democratic of great modern writers. His story collections concern disappointed Americans stuck in thankless stations of life, and can be appreciated by such Americans, as the stories are written in satiric, empathetic, tightly coiled prose that sails off the page, propelled by hidden rhythms that are outwardly heartbreaking and inwardly brilliant and vice versa. To paraphrase Ratatouille, the author is implicitly saying that anyone can cook or, in this case, experience the transcendent illumination and sense of understanding and purpose that’s provided by art. (Last summer, Saunders even wrote a stirring and perceptive portrait of Donald J. Trump’s supporters, taking them on their own terms while rejecting said terms, somehow simultaneously.)
Abraham Lincoln (#1–10 of 7)
On Monday, April 1, the day after Easter, I was in Chicago with a few hours to kill before getting on an Amtrak train to go back south to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. I went out to lunch with a friend, and he brought somebody who runs an AMC theater in the Near North Side, the one that shows the press screenings for critics. I mentioned to my friend's guest that I had just moved back to Urbana, and was going to write about Ebertfest this year. He interrupted me and said Ebert wouldn't be there this year—that he wasn't doing well and had stopped going to his press screenings.
I got on my train and returned to Urbana thinking that what the guy had said about Ebert could probably count as a legitimate (albeit invasive) news item. On Thursday, April 4, I saw that Ebert had announced his “leave of presence,” thus breaking the news himself about a setback, health-wise. On Friday, April 5, in the morning, I saw the news that he had died. A couple of hours later, I walked outside to check the mail. Inside my mailbox was a manila envelope from the University of Illinois's College of Media, and inside was my press pass to Ebertfest. I then headed toward the library, took a different turn than usual, and saw some flowers on the sidewalk in front of a house. “Somebody must've died,” I thought. Then I saw that there was a bag from Steak 'n Shakeamong the flowers, and a plaque that had been set in the concrete.
The larger-than-life aura that Daniel Day-Lewis breathes into the characters he portrays seems also to have in recent years extended to the actor himself, whose notorious choosiness about selecting roles only buoys the virtually mythical status he carries in the acting world. So when the announcement came in 2010 that Day-Lewis was set to play Abraham Lincoln in Steven Spielberg's long-awaited film about our 16th president, few of us doubted that the extolled actor would go on to claim his third Oscar. With the preeminent voice of modern acting playing one of the most revered figures in American history in a film from the world's most famous filmmaker, the performance was embedded with an air of inevitability long before production photos or clips surfaced. But what's most intriguing about Day-Lewis's depiction of Lincoln is how toned down he is in the role. His performance resounds through quieter timbres and softer movements than we're accustomed to from the actor. Moreover, Day-Lewis reveals a human side of Lincoln that deepens the president's legendary standing while offering a window into his tortured soul. That his performance is exactly the kind of commanding portrait we've come to expect from Day-Lewis, but also acutely nuanced in ways he rarely expresses, only solidifies his imminent victory.
Kate Winslet marries Ned Rocknroll.
Roger Ebert's top 10 of the year.
Anthony Lane reviews some Oscar bait.
And S.T. VanAirsdale asks us to stop complaining about Oscar bait!
Remembering writers who left us in 2012.
The A.V. Club's favorite TV of the year.
Along the 26.2 miles, no hordes or cheers, just odd tranquility.
Kudos to all those who ran the route anyway.
Contenders missed out on chance for big payday.
Vote for the Audience Award at the Gotham Independent Film Awards here.
No Doubt pulls “Looking Hot” video, apologizes for offense to Native Americans.
At one point in her biographical documentary on French philosopher Simone Weil, An Encounter with Simone Weil, director Julia Haslett reveals that she's intent on finding a way to “situate Simone” for a contemporary audience, a tricky task given the ways in which Weil's life and philosophy were so tightly intertwined. Born into a middle-class Jewish family in Paris, Weil was an academic prodigy, but her acute sensitivity to the sufferings of others and her deeply held Marxist convictions led her at several points in her life to abandon her teaching job to join the class struggle.
It's precisely this sense of compassion that leads Haslett to Weil in the first place. Still healing from her father's suicide when she was in her teens, the adult Haslett is troubled by the suffering she sees in the world and, closer to home, in her brother's bouts of depression. When she stumbles across a line by Weil (“Attention is the rarest form of generosity”), a palpable degree of wisdom in the words inspires her to seek out more of Weil's thoughts. As she confesses in voiceover, her quest to read everything Weil ever wrote—most of which was published posthumously in massive, multi-volume tomes—leads her on a quest to locate Weil in the modern world somehow.
The question you might find dancing in your head while watching Abraham Lincoln's Big Gay Dance Party—a livelier title than show, to be sure—isn't why it landed a prime locale in the current Off Broadway season, but how it even got into last year's New York International Fringe Festival to begin with. This is not meant to be a patent insult (well, okay, maybe a little), but really a query as to how such a preachy tract with a gimmick wowed the nudity-starved, thrill-seeking Fringers. Judging by the production mounted right now, it's about as edgy as the Fred and Daphne segments of Scooby-Doo. And the clothes aren't even as cool.