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Michael Clayton (#110 of 6)

The Conversations: Overlooked, Part Two—Solaris

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The Conversations: Overlooked, Part Two—Solaris
The Conversations: Overlooked, Part Two—Solaris

Ed Howard: You selected Steven Soderbergh’s Solaris as the film from the last few years you believe to be unfairly overlooked, and it’s not hard to see why you chose it. There are few types of films that are more often overlooked and forgotten, en masse, than the amorphous category of the “remake.” Fairly or unfairly, critics tend to be inherently skeptical of remake projects, even if audiences flock to genre remakes like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre or the “reboots” of franchises like Friday the 13th and Halloween. In Soderbergh’s case, his film couldn’t even be called a commercial success; it was more or less a flop whose memory has almost completely faded from the popular imagination in just a few short years. When Soderbergh’s film came out in 2002, I skipped over it for the same reason that I suspect a lot of other people did: by all appearances, it was yet another Hollywood “updating” of a classic film from years before, a film that if you ask me didn’t really need to be revisited. Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1972 Solaris is a classic of the science fiction genre, as well-loved and admired among art-cinema fans as Stanley Kubrick’s more popularly known 2001: A Space Odyssey, to which Tarkovsky was directly responding in making his own film. Moreover, the 1961 novel of the same name by Stanislaw Lem is also a classic, one of the greatest works of sci-fi literature (and a personal favorite of mine). Soderbergh was stepping into tremendous shoes by attempting to tell this story, and I’m sure he realized that this film would inevitably be compared to its predecessors, making it difficult to evaluate on its own terms.

The question then becomes: on its own terms, what is Soderbergh’s Solaris? What was his rationale for revisiting a classic story? What does he bring to the film to make it his own? Does this new Solaris deserve its current obscurity or should it be remembered simultaneously with its predecessors (or even elevated above them)? I have my own opinions on these questions, but for now I’m interested to know what you think. Does what I’ve described gibe with your own reasons for picking this film? And why do you think Soderbergh’s Solaris deserves a second look?

Oscar 2008 Winner Predictions Picture

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Oscar 2008 Winner Predictions: Picture
Oscar 2008 Winner Predictions: Picture

Though we’ve kicked Entertainment Weekly’s Dave Karger’s teeth in when it comes to the overall number of correct predictions for the last few years, our track record has unfortunately not extended to the Best Picture category. (Not that Brokeback Mountain helped anyone two years ago; and we can’t necessarily be blamed for, after Crash’s victory, assuming the worst a year later with Babel’s stack of nominations.) Another year, another seemingly soft frontrunner in this category. But if we’re going down, we’re going down with the rest of the Oscar-fluffing bitches. So who are we to argue that, after recent wins by The Departed and Million Dollar Baby, Oscar voters might not continue feeling all 1970s about themselves, choosing yet another arty, bloody, masterfully directed anti-actioneer? (If Atonement is in the fifth-wheel slot, it’s not only because of its lack of a Best Director nod, but also because the template for a Best Picture has perceptibly shifted away from Merchant-Ivory Land, to the delight of IMDB voters everywhere.) That’s the hitch, though. This year sees two equally-nominated, equally-beloved, equally-backlashed jocksterpieces duking it out. No Country for Old Men has settled in as the Best Picture-elect, and the Coens hold a far more esteemed cachet than Paul Thomas Anderson, but their film’s implosive anti-climax can’t just be shrugged off. Atonement and Michael Clayton’s nominations suggest there are still some voters who prefer their Best Picture contenders to suck them off until the money shot, preferably if it kills off either a woman or a woman’s career aspirations. Say what you will about the “Show me the MILKSHAKE!” corniness of There Will Be Blood’s last scene, the movie does decisively not end on a question mark. Neither, for that matter, does Juno, which lamely and writerly pays off on its promise to begin and end with a chair (unfortunately not one wired for 2,000 volts). But if the perhaps more beloved Little Miss Sunshine couldn’t hustle its way to a big win last year against an arguably weaker field, don’t expect a chick flick to deflate the dickless Oscar’s hard-on for manly bluster. We can’t be wrong three years in a row. There Will Be Testosterone.

Oscar 2008 Winner Predictions Original Score

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Oscar 2008 Winner Predictions: Original Score
Oscar 2008 Winner Predictions: Original Score

The blogosphere couldn’t care less about this award now that Jonny Greenwood’s There Will Be Blood score was preemptively taken out of competition. (One naturally assumes it would’ve been nominated, since nearly every other below-the-line branch found the film’s intoxicating formalism worthy of note.) To be honest, we don’t particularly care either, but only because this year’s slate of nominations are a textbook combo platter of transparently ignorable background noise and disastrously self-aggrandizing scores seemingly designed with CD sales in mind over cinematic congruence. In the former category are 3:10 To Yuma (I watched the movie just last week and can’t remember a single leitmotif) and Michael Clayton. Both coast entirely too much on sustained notes from the string section, but the latter stands a reasonable outside chance to win the award, if only because composer James Howard Newton has now racked up seven nominations without a win (lately for providing any number of Hollywood thrillers aimed at middlebrow adults with the tasteful, nondescript musical undertows they deserve). In the latter category (the one in which There Will Be Blood would frankly have shared company) are Atonement and The Kite Runner. Just as the aesthetic and moral sins of Atonement are far more forgivable than those of The Kite Runner, Dario Marianelli’s very literal-minded approach to suggesting the film’s writerly secrets via unexpected percussion (really just a high-minded version of Leroy Anderson’s “The Typewriter”) is outrageously preferable to Alberto Iglesias’s score. When Iglesias was nominated two years back for The Constant Gardener, we acknowledged that his use of African drums to accompany the arrival of evil was ethically dubious, but figured it was an honest faux pas and gave him our personal vote. It’s not happening this time. We would admittedly refer to Iglesias’s ludicrously calisthenic hodgepodge of multicultural influences as “open minded” if it appeared in just about any other film. Juxtaposed against Forster’s shallow appropriation of whatever registers as “exotic” to boutique moviegoers, it embodies the film’s vehement self-importance. Ratatouille (not really comfortable in either category) is only sporadically the sort of cultural caricature that would be expected to win this award in the wake of Babel. Like both Babel and Finding Neverland, we expect Atonement to pick up this trophy in the name of Best Picture lost causes.

Oscar 2008 Winner Predictions Original Screenplay

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Oscar 2008 Winner Predictions: Original Screenplay
Oscar 2008 Winner Predictions: Original Screenplay

Hey, I just heard the funniest thing the other day. Apparently, not only are the majority of nominations in this category written by women, but there’s even a former stripper competing for the Oscar. How ’bout that? Okay, unless you actually live in a strip club, you’ve been informed time and again about Juno screenwriter Diablo Cody’s zesty résumé (even if you haven’t been informed of the fact that most strippers in Minneapolis still hold a vicious grudge against her over this). While it was a canny selling point initially to the extent that it was the only thing that gave the entire opportunistic project a slightly edgy veneer, we can’t be the only ones who feel like tucking five bucks into Cody’s voluptuous ream of salmon-colored draft pages just to make her and her (man-)handlers shut up already about it. Still, there’s no question she’s going to win by one of the evening’s most surgically-enhanced margins, especially considering Judd Apatow (once considered the writer to beat in this category before a woman writer stated her “Papa Don’t Preach” case) is not among her competition. That leaves the category’s other two, much dowdier sistas (ironically including the one who wrote the Capra knockoff about a sex toy) eating their hearts out. If Ratatouille still retains a viable contender as a spoiler, it’s not because audiences continue to drink whatever Pixar puts in the Kool-Aid that gets, as Laurie Anderson would say, “ah-dults” hailing each of their new movies as the studio’s everlasting masterpiece of classic filmmaking (making it simply a matter of time before one of them actually wins an award outside the best animated feature playpen), but rather because its presence in this category might remind voters that one or two of the striking writers aren’t just trying to feed their own mouths. As it stands, the only one who actually stands a real chance at pulling an Elizabeth Berkeley on Cody is Tony Gilroy, whose double-dip on Michael Clayton and status as a lost cause over in best director ensure a few votes from those who feel pity and from those who have apparently seen none of the myriad law-and-order TV dramas from which the film’s ruinously clichéd plot resolution was lifted.

Oscar 2008 Nomination Predictions: Picture

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Oscar 2008 Nomination Predictions: Picture
Oscar 2008 Nomination Predictions: Picture

Ten months ago, before the dust of the last Oscar ceremony had completely settled, pundits were already calling Atonement this year’s best in show. It didn’t seem to matter that the film was still in post-production, only that it was set to open in December and starred an actress who could (easily) squeeze into a size zero. But something happened on the way to the forum: The film opens in the States and audiences more or less react to it the way professional Oscar pundits have told them to, only it gets the cold shoulder from critics groups and industry guilds alike, leaving the same pundits scrambling to figure out why it may now be shut out of the Best Picture race.

Short Cuts: Juno, Redacted, The Savages, Beowulf, & More

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Short Cuts: Juno, Redacted, The Savages, Beowulf, & More

Fox Searchlight Pictures

Short Cuts: Juno, Redacted, The Savages, Beowulf, & More

Juno (Jason Reitman). Almost as tough to swallow as Hard Candy, that faux-feminist bile that set a precedent for the precociousness Ellen Page belligerently spews here, though less sketchy than Little Miss Sunshine, last year’s pageant of Indiewood quirkitude. I get why Comic Book Guys dig Page—she can outwit them, but she would also let them bone her (at least she tells them she would)—but I would rather be trapped in a room with a hungry, face-munching rat than watch the egomaniacal Juno weave one of her ungodly snark quilts. Also, by the time that song about the dog wanting to be the cat and the cat wanting to be the mouse came on the soundtrack, my survival instinct kicked in and I was ready to chew my arm off, but I settled for making Arrested Development cracks until the last act, which was lovely, yes, because of the moral clarity and consistency Juno shows, but also because the film had finally run out of seasons to animate on the screen.