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Navel Gazing with Burns and Dignan: Apocalypto, Blood Diamond, and The Holiday

Apocalypto finds Gibson working in the same nyuk-nyuk vein that’s sustained him for over 25 years, proving that, if nothing else, the guy still has retained his sense of humor.



Navel Gazing with Burns and Dignan: Apocalypto, Blood Diamond, and The Holiday

Andrew Dignan: Pardon the interruption Sean, but I take back what I said a few weeks ago about The Fountain being the weirdest, most hallucinatory film of the holidays. I knew I never should have counted out Mel Gibson (aka “Crazy Christian”) who two years after making The Passion of the Christ, the rare film that could appeal equally to Evangelicals and the Fangoria set, returns with Apocalypto—another viscera-dripping exercise in onscreen violence, without any pesky ideology or Jew-baiting to get in the way of all the fun.

I, like most people I know, have spent the better part of the past year making jokes at poor Mel’s expense as his adventures in Malibu appeared to be several chickens finally coming home to roost, all in one glorious/horrifying public breakdown the likes of which I never thought I’d see again (until Michael Richards proved me completely wrong). As Mel’s spent the past three years as fodder for late night talk show monologues, it’s becoming distressingly easy to forget what a provocative and unique filmmaker he’s become, with a keen eye for visual, near-silent storytelling that sets him apart from nearly every other actor turned director in Hollywood. You might be repulsed by what he’s saying with his films, but my God, does he say it with aplomb. Of course your level of revulsion with Apocalypto will likely depend on your tolerance for watching someone other than the Son of God be brutalized for two hours. Playing like The Last of the Mohicans with way more human sacrifice, Apocalypto is a surprisingly conventional action movie, complete with all of the familiar beats one would come to expect from any given mid-‘80s Stallone or Schwarzenegger film, the only difference here is it’s a bunch of guys running around in loincloths speaking a dead language (the film strangely reminded me of the Rae Dawn Chong camp-extravaganza Quest for Fire).

Making room for mother-in-law jokes, Jackass-style gross-out gags and fraternal back-slapping, Apocalypto finds Gibson working in the same nyuk-nyuk vein that’s sustained him for over 25 years, proving that, if nothing else, the guy still has retained his sense of humor (juvenile as it may be). This is merely the calm before the storm, however—establishing the simple, peaceful natives who are conquered by their war-mongering neighbors for the purposes of being dragged through the jungle to be sold off in an open-air market (if they’re lucky) or, more likely, to be torn to pieces as a gift to the Gods. It just wouldn’t be a Gibson film unless someone gets drawn and quartered, would it?

Much ink has been spilt trying to get to the bottom of Mel’s bizarre predisposition towards torture and desecration of the flesh (although I like to think the South Park boys have done the best job of dressing down Gibson as a barking loon), but Apocalytpo takes this idea to near-comical extremes, culminating in a second-act sequence set high atop a pyramid where many a heads is lopped off and sent hurtling to the ground like a soccer ball kicked down cellar steps. As in The Passion, the violence is inseparably linked to acts of faith; here the opulent (and Gibson would likely argue, diseased) Mayans slaughter the indigenous surrounding tribes as a testament to their society and deities being the only true ones. This, coupled with a third act that finds a larger, stronger, and better-armed platoon slowly decimated by booby-traps and scrappy insurgent ingenuity, can’t help but feel like a sly tweak of the very administration whose base made Gibson’s last film one of the biggest hits in history. One must hand it to the man for remaining, as always, unpredictable.

Of course what really counts here is whether the film quickens the pulse, and by and large the film does. Working against the ticking clock of an impending rainstorm that threatens to drown his pregnant wife and a young son who are safely tucked away at the bottom of a well, the last third of Apocalypto finds our hero Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood) outrunning spears, bow and arrow and dudes in creepy headgear, in one prolonged breakneck-run through the jungle. This section is largely derivative of everything from First Blood to Predator, and I couldn’t help but wish cinematographer Dean Semler were shooting on 35mm instead of HD (those pixels were the size of grapefruits during some of the POV shots). Yet the film’s later segments take on a primal urgency which transcends period, language and large dollops of blue body paint. Watching large jungle cats tear off the faces of pierced Mayan warriors may not be all the fundamentally different from watching the son of a carpenter get his ribs kicked in circa 33 AD, but because it’s framed within a genre instead of a sermon, it certainly seems to go down easier. Sean, I’m convinced you took up chain smoking just to be more like Mel, so please tell me you had as good a time with this one as I did.

Sean Burns: Um, that would be both Mel and Bruce Willis, thank you very much. (I can never quite decide if it was Martin Riggs or John McClane who made smoking look so fucking cool.) But yes, Apocalypto was indeed an enormous hoot. I’ve been going around describing it to everybody as Werner Herzog’s Rambo IV. Can you imagine what kind of nightmares this Gibson fellow has? He might be a seriously disturbed lunatic, but such a fascinating filmmaker. There’s a real primal terror and forcefulness to the way he juxtaposes images, at once strange, familiar, and horrifying—this guy’s movies come straight from the gut.

What’s heartening to me, at least with regard to Apocalypto’s reception, is that critics are finally focusing on the awesome brutishness of Gibson’s filmmaking skills, instead of merely writing “I Hate The Red States” dissertations, as was temporarily in vogue after The Passion of the Christ’s release. Our host was one of the few I recall who really fixated on the power of Gibson’s technique, and I have to admit that in this respect, the dismissively (far too) gentle reviews for The Nativity Story made me chuckle to no end. All the same folks who a couple years ago seemed so outraged that a tale narrowly focused on Jesus’ death didn’t highlight more of his life and teachings now seem largely nonplussed that similar subjects weren’t addressed in a similarly narrowly focused story of His birth. (Of course, the fact that Catherine Hardwicke couldn’t direct her way out of a paper bag with both hands and a map probably helps.)

But I must admit, the first forty minutes or so of Apocalypto left me sorta cold. The Malick-y strangeness of the mileu was, to me, compromised by Gibson’s Three Stooges humor. (I’d never imagined so many bad “mother-in-law jokes” in a fifteenth century dead-language epic.) It wasn’t until all the hallucinatory depravity in the Mayan temples kicked in that suddenly I wanted to hide under my chair—and what’s scarier than the little grace note of the fat, spoiled child, cheering on the beheadings? This man seriously knows how to horrify.

I tread lightly here, because I don’t wish to rekindle our Passion Of The Christ argument, as it’s frankly a fight I’m sick of having with people. (That movie has become like arguing with somebody about abortion or Iraq, you’re eight drinks in and everybody’s screaming and there’s just never going to be any common ground.) But these films are so fundamentally similar, and yet the reception has been so drastically different, I would argue that Apocalypto becomes a much simpler, easily digestible experience after it turns into a Rambo movie. What made The Passion such an overwhelmingly powerful film experience for me is that it used almost identical blunt-force action movie techniques, but instead of the simple retribution of Apocalypto, The Passion applied the same macho swagger to Jesus’ endless capacity for forgiveness. He stood up at that whipping post and turned the other cheek with the same rousing fanfare we get when Jaguar Paw rises from the water and gets all cocky after the waterfall stunt. Jim Caviezel was granted the same heroic camera treatment as Rudy Youngblood, but always in the context of kindness—watch him re-attach the centurion’s ear, or speak kindly to The Good Thief on the cross in the midst of some unspeakable torture! Apocalypto is a much easier, lesser movie because Jaguar Paw fights back. The Passion was a tale told in the vernacular of the action picture, but one that frustrated and confounded that vernacular. If you’re wondering why this one goes down easier, I think that might be the key.

AD: Considering how offensive I found the violence in The Passion (and I’m pretty far from squeamish) I was amazed at how similar depictions here were like water off a duck’s back. In its rhythms (family man is wronged, gets revenge on those who hurt him) the film’s not all that different from Death Wish or any of the hundreds of films that have included the line “This time it’s personal” on the poster. Whether that undercuts the film’s own worth, by more or less “devolving” into just an action film, is a question Matt addressed in his own review, although I think the boldness of the filmmaking supersedes any clichés or the film may tread in. Frankly I feel a little guilty about the amount of enjoyment I derived from the film; I now wonder if the film is destined to be seen as a Hostel for the subtitles crowd.


AD: Anyway, how’s your Liberal Guilt treating you these days? More importantly, when was the last time you thought about where the diamonds you bought come from? I mean really thought about them? Because should you ever somehow get your hands on something that precious, you better make damn sure that no one lost their hands for it.

The most misguided socially-conscious film of the year, Blood Diamond finds director Ed Zwick (The Last Samurai) spending an ungodly amount of money to chronicle exploited minorities, exotic cultures and under-represented global strife, while explaining how all of these things serve to enrich the lives and deepen the souls of photogenic white people. Here we have Leonardo DiCaprio, rocking K-Fed facial hair and a Dutch accent, as he lies, steals, cheats, kills and routinely threatens to skin Djimon Honsou en route to learning what’s important in life. This all would be especially odious if DiCaprio (who between this and The Departed is having a banner year, giving performances better than the film they’re featured in) wasn’t so damn irresistible playing a snake. Using his boyish good looks to gloss over a lot of appalling personality traits, Leo’s Danny Archer spends much the film charming people who clearly despise him, playing upon the knowledge that no matter how much he’s fucking them over, they can feel confident that someone else is getting it worse. It’s a total Bogart performance, a trait that seems to be in demand this month.

Of course, the over-stuffed and overlong Blood Diamond has more important matters to tackle than Leo the war profiteer, taking swipes at everything from western indifference, to hoarding by diamond companies to raise demand to the horrific practice of warlords recruiting young children into militias. When contemplating alternate titles for the film, one imagines simply Africa was tossed around. It’s the sort of film where waves of faceless poor blacks are mowed down by jeep-mounted machine gun without much of a second thought, and we’re supposed to be wrapped up in the plight of rascally Leo’s search for a pink diamond the size of an acorn and the equally lily-white Jennifer Connelly’s desire to tell the important story of Africa. Left with barely any material with which to construct a human face to all of this death and destruction is Honsou (in a bafflingly overpraised performance) who rages demonstratively at the injustices levied at him and his family, but ultimately fails to exist beyond enabling his white companion. Sean, I know I’m not doing this patronizingly dull film justice. Take the ball and run with it.

SB: Dude, you already know better than anybody that the only girl who ever stamped her feet and demanded diamonds from me was also so mercenary that she wouldn’t mind if there was an entire village’s worth of chopped-off African baby arms included the equation, just so long as they didn’t compromise the view from her Box Seats at Fenway Park. However, none of this changes the fact that Edward Zwick is a truly horrible filmmaker. Seriously bro, who else could make a boring samurai movie?

The problem with Blood Diamond is that it’s a great idea for a 105 minute Walter Hill potboiler, and the underlying plot is straight outta Sergio Leone, but Zwick turns it into a bloated, Oscar-grubbing term paper. As such, he employs all the expected genre tropes, while at the same time the guy wants us to feel so guilty that he denies us any of the genre satisfactions. Blood Diamond is even more annoying because, as you’ve noted, DiCaprio is such a great Han Solo. What I feel the Scorsese collaborations have missed (yes, even my dear Departed) is that conspiratorial wink and hustle this kid is capable of when he’s acting like an amoral shitbag. He’s such a smoothie that his presence elicits the first-ever interesting performance from Jennifer Connelly. She’s usually a blank, weepy porcelain goddess, and yet Leo seems to kick her into a new flirty, frisky arena I’ve never seen before from this actress.

But has there ever been a “chase movie” wherein everybody gets to camp down for the night so bloody often? There’s an overwhelming abundance of pace-killing sunrises and sunsets in this flick. Everything that should take one scene requires no less than three… and usually a couple more days, thanks to Zwick’s stumblebum direction. The only way to play this material is breathlessly, and Blood Diamond is full of pregnant, production-designed pauses, ones that do nothing but foreground the background, strangle the pace and call attention to how much money everybody spent. I feel like there’s some sort of essay to be written comparing DiCaprio’s exits from The Departed and Blood Diamond—one extolling the virtues of efficiency, and how much more can be accomplished with fewer over-emotive Oscar clips.

As for why Stephen Collins and Michael Sheen dominate the third act of an ostensible jungle adventure in their Senate hearings, I have no explanation, other than the ugly truth that Zwick wants to give us an easily vanquished white-guy villain, thereby shortchanging the serious issues he wasted a lot of our time trying to address in the first place. Blood Diamond lacks the honesty to be an action picture and the guts to be a social drama. Like most of Zwick’s work it is stuck merely in-between, infuriating to everybody.


AD: Switching tracks completely from the dismemberment fun of the last two films is The Holiday, the latest exercise in real estate porn from Nancy Meyers who inexplicably has emerged as the most commercially successful female director in history after 2000’s Mel Gibson telepathy-film What Women Want and 2003’s Something’s Gotta Give, which is founded on the even more improbable scenario of Diane Keaton being lusted after by both Jack Nicholson and Keanu Reeves. I give Meyers credit for tapping into a zeitgeist and creating a formula that’s a proven earner: of petulant, career-oriented women who stomp around their palatial McMansions working themselves into screaming fits over the immature men in their lives that’s a proven earner.

The film is, of course, quite awful even by the lax standards of the “commercial chick flick” genre wherein seemingly intelligent, cultured and affluent individuals debase themselves through a series of pratfalls and forced whimsy in their quest to get that elusive groove back (apparently this is a set-up which is no longer mono-gender exclusive, as Russell Crowe and Ridley Scott more or less made half this film earlier in 2006 as A Good Year). What’s ultimately so frustrating about The Holiday though is how close-minded the film is about the treatment of its two female leads.

Cameron Diaz’s Amanda, who with her pinched, cruel-face and Barbie-doll physique has grown to embody everything I hate about my adopted home, flies off to storybook England for several rounds of earth-shaking sex with Jude Law’s soulful widower. Meanwhile, Kate Winslet, whose beauty is both undeniably physical but also seems to just emanate from deep inside of her, is stuck babysitting the old codger next door (Eli Wallach, stealing most of his best lines from Billy Wilder’s memoirs) and collecting woo from a cherubic-looking Jack Black (dialed down, but still nowhere near as charming as both he and the film seem to think he is). While the “Hollywood beauty” spends two hours shagging by the fire and moping about how on earth she, a self-made millionaire, can sustain a long-distance relationship (my god, what chance to the rest of us have?), Kate spends the film watching DVDs and pining for Rufus Sewell (of all the indignities…) who remains emotionally unavailable across the pond. I was going to say that I finally want to see a film that lets Kate get some action while the dull, statuesque beauty goes wanting, but I realized Little Children already filled that void.

The Holiday also has this nasty little habit of underlining its own prefab nature. Diaz’s character is the owner of a trailer company, allowing the film to give us frequent surrealist asides to illustrate whatever saccharine Nora Ephron-esque film predicament the character has gotten herself into, complete with baritone voice-over accompaniment (“Amanda had it all… the perfect job, a great guy, until…”), which is cute until you realize that’s how this very film is being marketed. It was also unwise to set one of the film’s key emotional arcs against the evolution of one of those noxious, ivory-tickling underscores; I spent the second half of the film mentally checking-out every time Hans Zimmer’s orchestral kicked in, unable to shake how boldfaced manipulative whenever it introduced the heroines’ themes.

Clearly you and I are not the target for this film, nor are we likely susceptible to its “charms.” But a thought did occur to me as I watched the film that at least allowed me to temporarily appreciate it. With its emphasis on slick cars, art décor, designer clothes, expensive baubles and career-oriented protagonists who aren’t emotionally suited to relationships, isn’t it fair to see these films as basically Michael Mann movies made for women? I know this place is absolutely filled with people tripping over one another to conjure up academic defenses of Miami Vice, but is there really a huge difference between Mann fetishizing a couple of go-fast boats and a jet plane swooping across the skyline and Kate Winslet running around her new home as the camera lingers on work-out equipment, home entertainment centers and swimming pools? Is the film’s series of “you go girl” moments really that different from Tubbs and Crockett smoldering in slow motion or, for that matter, your favorite medulla oblongata joke of the year? I know I’m courting blasphemy here, but at least the next time I get a dead-eyed stare from a woman after telling her how much I like Heat I’ll be able to empathize. A little.

SB: It’s an interesting notion, but you seem to be conveniently forgetting that Mann’s characters, for all their awesome hardware, in film after film, come off as fundamentally empty and miserable people, searching in vain for a deeper connection that often dooms them. Meyers, in the other hand, seems to genuinely believe in this “better living through rad architecture” philosophy, and I even found myself at a party the other night with a young lady who was asserting adamantly—though she conceded openly that Myers has no idea how to write recognizable human beings—that she still goes to all her movies on opening weekend, just to gawk at the pretty houses.

Like you, I find no point of entry here. Maybe this is just another case of a movie landing outside our wheelhouse, but I found it excruciating and endless. Whatever did happen to Cameron Diaz? Once such a bright spot—such a goofy and endearing gangly-limbed comedienne—she’s so antic and overwrought here, laboring so obviously in the service of such simple physical sight-gags, this simply cannot be the same woman from There’s Something About Mary. Years in Hollywood take their toll, I guess. What an awful, plasticine monster!

And no, despite your baiting I refuse to indulge in my typical Kate Winslet drooling, other than to admit that her grounded, glowing presence is the only thing that kept me from committing suicide during this egregiously overlong (131 minutes!) flick. It is only in the cruel crucible of Hollywood that a wowza sex goddess like Winslet would get stuck in a chaste romance with the eye-rolling, scenery-chewing Jack Black—an emotionally stunted improv comic incapable of even feigning the slightest bit of sincerity. (Really Jack, why don’t you bulge your eyeballs out really wide and say something retarded in a high-pitched sing-song voice for like the eight-hundredth time, because sooner or later it might someday become amusing.)

Finally, I do take issue with your notion that it would be remotely outlandish for Diane Keaton to be lusted after by both Jack Nicholson and Keanu Reeves. Maybe it’s just because I grew up on Annie Hall and Looking For Mr. Goodbar, but buddy, I think everybody should be lusting after Diane Keaton.



Through the Years: Madonna’s “Like a Prayer” at 30

To celebrate this sacred anniversary, we’re taking a look back at the single’s evolution over the last three decades.



Through the Years: Madonna’s “Like a Prayer” at 25

This week Madonna’s iconic hit “Like a Prayer” turns 30. The song is, by all accounts, her most broadly beloved contribution to the pop-music canon, landing at #7 on our list of the Best Singles of the 1980s. Even the singer’s most ardent critics can’t help but bow at the altar of this gospel-infused conflation of spiritual and sexual ecstasy, a song that helped transform Madge from ‘80s pop tart to bona fide icon. To celebrate this sacred anniversary, we’re taking a look back at the single’s evolution over the last three decades.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on March 3, 2014.

Pepsi Commercial

Following a teaser that aired during the 31st Annual Grammy Awards in January of 1989, Madonna premiered “Like a Prayer” in a Pepsi commercial during The Cosby Show, the #1 rated series on U.S. television at the time. Part of a $5 million sponsorship deal with the soft-drink company, the ad, titled “Make a Wish,” was an innocuous bit of nostalgia that would soon be eclipsed by the scandal surrounding the single’s forthcoming music video.

Music Video

Madonna dances in front of burning crosses and kisses a black saint in a church pew in this modern morality tale about racial profiling and pious guilt, prompting both the religious right and cultural critics, like bell hooks, to cry foul. Eventually, the mounting outrage caused Pepsi to pull out of their multi-million dollar deal with the Queen of Pop. The singer’s response was coyly defiant.

Blond Ambition Tour

Madonna’s first live incarnation of “Like a Prayer” was also her best. Sure, her voice was raw and unrefined (“Life is a misstaree, eve’one mus stan alone,” she heaves), but her 1990 tour performances of the song displayed a rapturous, almost possessed quality that she’s never been able to recapture.

Mad’House Cover

Dutch Eurotrash group Mad’House’s claim to fame is their blasphemous take on “Like a Prayer” from 2002. The glorified Madonna cover band’s version is stripped of the original’s nuance and soul, a tacky, mechanical shell of a dance track. Regrettably, this is the version you’re most likely to hear on Top 40 radio today. (Only slightly less heretical, the cast of Glee’s rendition of the song peaked at #27 in 2010.)

MTV On Stage & On the Record

Then notorious for forsaking her older material, Madonna dusted off “Like a Prayer” in 2003 during the promotion of her album American Life. Thirteen years after her last live performance of the song, even Madonna’s comparatively reedier voice and noticeably more limited range couldn’t diminish its enduring magic.

Sticky & Sweet Tour

After performing crowd-pleasing but relatively anemic versions of “Like a Prayer” during her Re-Invention Tour in 2004 and Live 8 in 2005, Madonna reinvented the song for her Sticky & Sweet Tour in 2008, using elements of Mack’s “Feels Like Home” for an amped-up techno mash-up.

Super Bowl XLVI

Madonna closed her record-breaking Super Bowl XLVI halftime show in 2012 with “Like a Prayer,” and though she wasn’t singing live, it was the closest she’s ever gotten to her ecstatic Blond Ambition performances. (For those lamenting the lip-synching, she would go on to reprise this version of the song, completely live, during her MDNA Tour later that year.) And if there were any doubt, a stadium of nearly 70,000 football fans waving flashlights and singing along is a testament to the song’s transcendent, all-encompassing appeal. The performance’s final message of “World Peace” seemed attainable, if only for a brief moment.

Met Gala 2018

Last year, Madonna dusted off her old chestnut for an epic performance at Vogue magazine’s annual Met Gala. The event’s theme was “Fashion and the Catholic Imagination,” which seemed tailor-made for both the Queen of Pop and “Like a Prayer.” Madonna slowly descended the steps of New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art in a shroud, flanked on both sides by a choir of monks, as she sang a Gregorian-inspired rendition of the pop classic. The performance also featured a portion of a new song, “Beautiful Game,” and a cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”

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Oscars 2019: Complete Winners List

The 91st Academy Awards are now behind us, and the telecast told us just about nothing that we don’t already know about AMPAS.



Green Book
Photo: Universal Pictures

The 91st Academy Awards are now behind us, and the telecast told us just about nothing that we don’t already know about AMPAS. Which isn’t to say that the ceremony wasn’t without its surprises. For one, whoever decided to capture Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper’s performance of “Shallow” from A Star Is Born in one single take that would end with the pair sitting side by side, rapt in each other and framed in Bergman-esque repose, should hereby be responsible for every Oscar ceremony moving forward.

For some, though not us, Green Book’s victory for best picture came as surprise. As our own Eric Henderson put it in his prediction: “Those attacking the film from every conceivable angle have also ignored the one that matters to most people: the pleasure principle. Can anyone blame Hollywood for getting its back up on behalf of a laughably old-fashioned but seamlessly mounted road movie-cum-buddy pic that reassures people that the world they’re leaving is better than the one they found? That’s, as they say, the future that liberals and Oscar want.”

In the end, the awards went down more or less as expected, with the only real shock of the evening being Oliva Colman’s stunning upset over Glenn Close in the best actress race. (Glenn, we hope you are on the phone right now trying to get that Sunset Boulevard remake to finally happen.) Black Panther proved more indomitable than expected, winning in three categories (none of which we predicted), and Free Solo pulling a victory over RBG that was the first big sign of the evening that, then and now, AMPAS members vote above all else with their guts.

See below for the full list of winners from the 2019 Oscars.

Black Panther
Bohemian Rhapsody
The Favourite
Green Book (WINNER)
A Star Is Born

Spike Lee, BlacKkKlansman
Pawel Pawlikowski, Cold War
Yorgos Lanthimos, The Favourite
Alfonso Cuarón, Roma (WINNER)
Adam McKay, Vice

Christian Bale, Vice
Bradley Cooper, A Star Is Born
Willem Dafoe, At Eternity’s Gate
Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody (WINNER)
Viggo Mortensen, Green Book

Yalitza Aparicio, Roma
Glenn Close, The Wife
Olivia Colman, The Favourite (WINNER)
Lady Gaga, A Star Is Born
Melissa McCarthy, Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Supporting Actor
Mahershala Ali, Green Book (WINNER)
Adam Driver, BlacKkKlansman
Sam Elliott, A Star Is Born
Richard E. Grant, Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Sam Rockwell, Vice

Supporting Actress
Amy Adams, Vice
Marina de Tavira, Roma
Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk (WINNER)
Emma Stone, The Favourite
Rachel Weisz, The Favourite

Adapted Screenplay
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
BlacKkKlansman, Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott, and Spike Lee (WINNER)
Can You Ever Forgive Me?, Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty
If Beale Street Could Talk, Barry Jenkins
A Star Is Born, Eric Roth, Bradley Cooper, and Will Fetters

Original Screenplay
The Favourite, Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara
First Reformed, Paul Schrader
Green Book, Nick Vallelonga, Brian Currie, and Peter Farrelly (WINNER)
Roma, Alfonso Cuarón
Vice, Adam McKay

Foreign Language Film
Capernaum (Lebanon)
Cold War (Poland)
Never Look Away (Germany)
Roma (Mexico) (WINNER)
Shoplifters (Japan)

Documentary Feature
Free Solo, Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi (WINNER)
Hale County This Morning, This Evening, RaMell Ross
Minding the Gap, Bing Liu
Of Fathers and Sons, Talal Derki
RBG, Betsy West and Julie Cohen

Animated Feature
Incredibles 2, Brad Bird
Isle of Dogs, Wes Anderson
Mirai, Mamoru Hosoda
Ralph Breaks the Internet, Rich Moore and Phil Johnston
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman (WINNER)

Cold War, Lukasz Zal
The Favourite, Robbie Ryan
Never Look Away, Caleb Deschanel
Roma, Alfonso Cuarón (WINNER)
A Star Is Born, Matthew Libatique

Film Editing
BlacKkKlansman, Barry Alexander Brown
Bohemian Rhapsody, John Ottman (WINNER)
Green Book, Patrick J. Don Vito
The Favourite, Yorgos Mavropsaridis
Vice, Hank Corwin

Production Design
Black Panther, Hannah Beachler (WINNER)
First Man, Nathan Crowley and Kathy Lucas
The Favourite, Fiona Crombie and Alice Felton
Mary Poppins Returns, John Myhre and Gordon Sim
Roma, Eugenio Caballero and Bárbara Enrı́quez

Original Score
BlacKkKlansman, Terence Blanchard
Black Panther, Ludwig Goransson (WINNER)
If Beale Street Could Talk, Nicholas Britell
Isle of Dogs, Alexandre Desplat
Mary Poppins Returns, Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman

Original Song
All The Stars from Black Panther by Kendrick Lamar, SZA
I’ll Fight from RBG by Diane Warren, Jennifer Hudson
The Place Where Lost Things Go from Mary Poppins Returns by Marc Shaiman, Scott Wittman
Shallow from A Star Is Born by Lady Gaga, Mark Ronson, Anthony Rossomando, Andrew Wyatt and Benjamin Rice (WINNER)
When A Cowboy Trades His Spurs For Wings from The Ballad of Buster Scruggs by David Rawlings and Gillian Welch

Costume Design
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Mary Zophres
Black Panther, Ruth E. Carter (WINNER)
The Favourite, Sandy Powell
Mary Poppins Returns, Sandy Powell
Mary Queen of Scots, Alexandra Byrne

Visual Effects
Avengers: Infinity War, Dan DeLeeuw, Kelly Port, Russell Earl, and Daniel Sudick
Christopher Robin, Chris Lawrence, Mike Eames, Theo Jones, and Chris Corbould
First Man, Paul Lambert, Ian Hunter, Tristan Myles, and J.D. Schwalm (WINNER)
Ready Player One, Roger Guyett, Grady Cofer, Matthew E. Butler, and David Shirk
Solo: A Star Wars Story, Rob Bredow, Patrick Tubach, Neal Scanlan, and Dominic Tuohy

Sound Mixing
Black Panther, Steve Boeddeker, Brandon Proctor, and Peter Devlin
Bohemian Rhapsody, Paul Massey, Tim Cavagin, and John Casali (WINNER)
First Man, Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño, Ai-Ling Lee, and Mary H. Ellis
Roma, Skip Lievsay, Craig Henighan, and José Antonio García
A Star Is Born, Tom Ozanich, Dean Zupancic, Jason Ruder, and Steve Morrow

Sound Editing
Black Panther, Benjamin A. Burtt and Steve Boeddeker
Bohemian Rhapsody, John Warhurst (WINNER)
First Man, Ai-Ling Lee and Mildred Iatrou Morgan
A Quiet Place, Ethan Van der Ryn and Erik Aadahl
Roma, Sergio Diaz and Skip Lievsay

Makeup and Hairstyling
Border, Göran Lundström and Pamela Goldammer
Mary Queen of Scots, Jenny Shircore, Marc Pilcher, and Jessica Brooks
Vice, Greg Cannom, Kate Biscoe, and Patricia Dehaney (WINNER)

Live Action Short Film
Detainment, Vincent Lambe
Fauve, Jeremy Comte
Marguerite, Marianne Farley
Mother, Rodrigo Sorogoyen
Skin, Guy Nattiv (WINNER)

Documentary Short Subject
Black Sheep, Ed Perkins
End Game, Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman
Lifeboat, Skye Fitzgerald
A Night at the Garden, Marshall Curry
Period. End of Sentence., Rayka Zehtabchi (WINNER)

Animated Short
Animal Behaviour, Alison Snowden and David Fine
Bao, Domee Shi (WINNER)
Late Afternoon, Louise Bagnall
One Small Step, Andrew Chesworth and Bobby Pontillas
Weekends, Trevor Jimenez

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Review: Someone Is in My House Showcases the Reach of David Lynch’s Obsessions

Lynch’s paintings are beautiful yet macabre, mysterious and rich in the tactility of the methods of their creation.



Someone Is in My House

Though famous for being a filmmaker and co-creator of the TV series Twin Peaks, David Lynch works in many other mediums, including music, sculpture, photography, furniture-making, and painting, the last of which is the wellspring of his creativity. Lynch has painted since the 1960s, finding his voice among the ruinous squalor of a once-rough Philadelphia. Inspired by artists such as Francis Bacon, Lynch developed a style that’s rich in the irreconcilable contradictions that would drive his cinema. His paintings are beautiful yet macabre, mysterious and rich in the tactility of the methods of their creation.

At times, Lynch has been dismissed as a “celebrity painter” who nets prestigious exhibitions based on his fame as a filmmaker, as well as on the urge to utilize his other art as a kind of decoder ring for his films. These claims may be partially true, but this doesn’t mean that the art itself isn’t extraordinary, and there’s a concentrated effort underway to recalibrate Lynch’s reputation within pop culture. The documentary David Lynch: The Art Life featured hypnotic footage of Lynch in the studio of his Los Angeles home, smoking and creating new canvases. Last year, the book David Lynch: Nudes collected his empathetic, erotic, and astonishingly subjective photography of nude women. Now there’s David Lynch: Someone Is in My House, a gorgeous volume of Lynch’s painting, photography, sculpture, and short-film stills.

Someone Is in My House impresses one with the reach of Lynch’s ambitions and obsessions, affirming yet another contradiction of his art: that it’s vast yet repetitive and insular. Across the spectrum of over 250 stills, this volume spotlights the many techniques that Lynch utilizes. After perceptive essays by Lynch biographer Kristine McKenna, who places Lynch’s work in the context of legendary art at large, and Michael Chabon, who emphasizes Lynch’s grasp of the uncanny truth of the everyday, among others, Someone Is in My House offers a tour of Lynch’s work that’s divided by medium, starting with “Works on Paper” and continuing with “Painting/Mixed Media,” “Photography,” “Lamps,” and “Film and Video Stills.”

Each section is structured in chronological order, spanning five decades, so as to subtly assert Lynch’s ongoing evolution as an artist. The book ends with a brief biography, which will probably be well-known by anyone driven to buy it, and a list of Lynch’s exhibitions. If Someone Is in My House has one disappointment, it pertains to this structure, as a straightforward chronological organization of Lynch’s art might’ve more vividly emphasized the wild multi-pronged simultaneousness of his imagination. But this is a small issue, as this volume offers the gift of relative accessibility, allowing cinephiles and other aesthetes the opportunity to access a major and generally rarefied mine of Lynch’s workload.

To open Someone Is in My House is to plunge into landscapes of darkness inhabited by deformed humans and other creatures, who have distended, shrunken, or extended appendages, heads that are animalistic or brutalized, and bodies that are often either a collection of tumorous protuberances or are merely composed of a few lines like primitive stick figures. Among this darkness is bright color, usually red, which offers beautiful illumination that’s understood to exist at the cost of atrocity. Among darkness there’s a light of injury in other words, as Lynch is obsessed by the idea of people coming in contact with nightmarish entities and being destroyed or severely hurt in a manner that suggests enlightenment to be a kind of state of higher confusion.

Someone Is in My House

Photo: Prestel

In Lynch’s art, blood and other substances gush out of heads like geysers, and people’s faces are often twisted in knots of anxiety. As in his films, Lynch’s paintings are obsessed by the home as a symbol of our illusions of stability and how easily they can be violated. This art is surreal, in that it conforms to no requirements of literal representation, but it’s also overwhelmingly docudramatic in its emphasis on its own DNA. The lithographs on Japanese paper, for instance, which are some of the most starkly memorable of this book’s many unforgettable images, are driven in part by their sense of fragility. The ink appears to have been applied to the canvases in a frenzy, and seems as if it could quite easily be wiped away. Lynch’s multimedia work, particularly his mixtures of sculptures and paintings, are populated by lumpy figures that show the imprint of the artist’s fingerprints and are built from globs of materials, suggesting how easily they could be morphed again by another god. (Or by us, who could in turn by victimized by other gods such as Mr. Redman, a quasi-corporeal explosion of carnage that haunts Lynch’s oil and mixed media canvas of the same name.)

Lynch’s art is also driven by the preludes and aftermaths of events. In This Man Was Shot 0.9502 Seconds Ago, a phallic string of guts explodes out of a man with a characteristically vague and misshapen face—a Bacon-ish image that occurs against a symmetrical interior backdrop that would be at home in an Edward Hopper canvas. Acknowledging these influences, McKenna goes on to write one of the most profound things I’ve read about Lynch’s paintings: “They have a clumsy, accidental quality and come across as thwarted attempts to make oneself understood; they feel wrought rather than painted.” Rendering characters in the face of impending or concluding cataclysm, Lynch adapts techniques that mirror their awkwardness and alienation, and this chameleonic—at once assertive and self-effacing—style has probably been part of the reason for Lynch being taken somewhat for granted as an artist.

However, Lynch’s primitivism communicates robust emotional quandaries, especially an earnest yearning for a return to a normalcy that’s been shattered—a normalcy that never existed and which is embodied by houses that are composed of only a few skewed lines. These houses might be harbingers of nostalgia for Lynch’s characters, but they’re hollow or—in the case of Lynch’s lonely and forbiddingly poignant black-and-white photographs of snowmen—closed off and ridden with secrets that are impossible to know. Many Lynch characters also face their brutal reckonings with a becoming and majestic dignity, such as the nose-headed subject of an untitled 1971 pencil sketch.

Though Someone Is in My House is adamant that we take Lynch’s artwork on its own terms, without always connecting it to his films and TV, such an exercise isn’t entirely resistible. Lynch’s art clarifies to an extent what his films are also doing: valuing moments of privatized emotional experience, and often suspending plots in time so as to show how individual epiphanies can knock us off the course of our own “narrative”—that is to say, our lives.

Twin Peaks: The Return, which is clearly on Lynch’s mind in the art that’s included in this book from 2010 forward, is a collection of scenes and images that bind the existential cosmic with the domestic rituals of our lives. For most of us, finally connecting with a lost love at a coffee shop means more than considerations of the unknowable evil that may or may not pull the strings behind the curtains of eternity. Kyle MacLachlan’s Agent Cooper became unstuck in time because he took for granted the heaven of his kinship with the townsfolk of the hellish yet pastoral Twin Peaks. He failed to recognize what the subjects of many of Lynch’s paintings discover: that, to quote McKenna again, “Life happens through us, not because of us.” Throughout his career, Lynch has mined a vein of ecstatic powerlessness.

David Lynch: Someone Is in My House is now available from Prestel.

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