Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Oscars' Foreign Language Flop by Stephen Farber

I am very behind in my postings as well as my reading.  I apologize to anyone who reads/follows my blogs. The following is a re-post from the Daily Beast and although it is somewhat dated it is still relevant. Posters and trailers if available have been added to the original article for readers interested in films mentioned in the article.

The Oscars' Foreign Language Flop  by Stephen Farber
The category is such a mess that at a screening of one of this year's five nominees, there were boos. Stephen Farber on what went wrong—and five movies that should have been honored.

Everyone loves to squawk about the Oscars. But over the years, no category has provoked more angry diatribes than the Oscar race for best foreign language film. Critics have griped about many of the middlebrow selections, and at various times the Academy governors have taken halting steps to address the problems.

To put it bluntly, the reforms haven't worked. Case in point: The Greek film Dogtooth is one of this year's five nominees for best foreign film. When it was shown to the general Academy membership after the nominations were announced, there were boos after the screening, and one member screamed out, "This is bullshit." 

The picture, the darling of several critics with very small readerships, is a stylized parable drenched in explicit sex and violence, about a tyrannical father who keeps his teenage children locked in a compound where he can oversee their upbringing without any outside influences. It's a tantalizing, timely premise, but the film is simplistic and repetitive. It tells us that this kind of parental mind control is dangerous—not exactly a news flash—and then keeps reiterating the point without adding any complexities.
One recurring criticism of the nominations in past years is that the foreign language committee, which includes about 300 people who must see at least 15 or 20 of the foreign films submitted by their individual countries, consists largely of older, retired members with little appreciation for cutting-edge cinema. "We've been criticized for making soft choices," says Mark Johnson, the Academy Award-winning producer of Rain Man, who has chaired the foreign language committee for the last decade. So he introduced a system that put more of the selections in the hands of much smaller subcommittees consisting of more active Academy members. (All members of the Academy are eligible to vote in the final balloting.)

Two of this year's five nominees are unmistakably fine films. The Canadian movie, Incendies, tells a complex story that is set partly in the present day and partly three decades ago, during the civil war between Christians and Muslims in Lebanon. It's the kind of moving but difficult film that will clearly benefit from attention by the Academy. 

The Danish film, In a Better World (which won a Golden Globe a few weeks ago), is the latest movie from director Susanne Bier, who was previously nominated for After the Wedding. Like Incendies, her film tackles moral and social issues, including violence in Africa and a different kind of violence closer to home, where bullying threatens the well-being of two young boys. To my mind the film is wrapped up too neatly, but is still a powerful piece of work.

Of the other films, Biutiful from Mexico is made by an Oscar-nominated director, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, and stars Oscar-winning actor Javier Bardem. Yet the film is confusingly presented, with too many subplots that aren't coherently integrated. Although its relentless bleakness impresses voters who confuse glumness with profundity, its vision is more often monotonous than enlightening. Still, the pedigree of the filmmakers makes this movie's inclusion at least comprehensible.

The Algerian movie, Outside the Law, is a sequel of sorts to Days of Glory, a far superior film about Algeria's role in World War II that was nominated four years ago. Sometimes Oscar voters feel indulgent toward filmmakers they've honored before, but this saga about the struggle for Algerian independence is a superficial, indifferently directed history lesson.

Some might defend this year's choices by suggesting that perhaps these were the best available foreign films. Since I've seen 22 of the 66 eligible films, I would refute that argument. A dozen movies far superior to Dogtooth or Outside the Law were bewilderingly overlooked.

Over the years there have been many reasons why good foreign films were excluded. Many weren't submitted by their country's film selection board, which names just one film each year to compete in the Oscar derby. And the individual countries do not always choose wisely. Last year Sweden did not submit The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, the most successful foreign film to play in the U.S. in 2010. Other movies have been disqualified because they ran afoul of questionable Academy rules. 

The Israeli film The Band's Visit was ruled ineligible because more than 50 percent of the dialogue was in English, even though this was the only way in which the Egyptian and Israeli characters in the film could communicate with each other.

Looking back at foreign film Oscar nominations over the years, many of the titles are completely forgettable and sometimes downright terrible. Nevertheless, the films that ended up winning the Oscar were almost always excellent choices: several by Ingmar Bergman, several by Fellini, Truffaut's Day for Night, Bunuel's The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, and, more recently, The Barbarian Invasions, The Sea Inside, The Lives of Others, and last year's winner, The Secret in Their Eyes.

But Mark Johnson made no secret of the fact that he wanted to see riskier, more experimental films among the list of nominees, and that is why he and Academy executive director Bruce Davis approved radical changes in the selection process.

In 2006 they instituted a new system whereby the foreign language committee as a whole would pick nine semi-finalists, and then a hand-picked subcommittee of 30 members would narrow the field to five nominees. That first year, the new system seemed promising. The nine movies named as semi-finalists by the entire 300-member committee were all solid choices: The Lives of Others (Germany), Days of Glory (Algeria), Avenue Montaigne (France), Water (Canada), Pan's Labyrinth (Mexico), After the Wedding (Denmark), Black Book (The Netherlands), Volver (Spain), and Vitus (Switzerland). Then the subcommittee of 30 eliminated the four more conventional and commercial movies—the melodramatic Black Book, the charming Avenue Montaigne, the provocative Volver (which was not one of Pedro Almodovar's very best), and the somewhat sentimental Vitus. The five remaining movies were all first-rate, and The Lives of Others deservedly won the Oscar.

The following year, however, many critics were incensed when the Romanian film about abortion, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (which had won the Palme d'Or at Cannes) was left off the shortlist of nine films. And that's when Johnson decided a further adjustment in the selection process was necessary. He empowered an executive committee of just 20 people to add three films to six chosen by the general membership. (Among the 20 members of the executive committee are Oscar-winning director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, screenwriter Michael Tolkin, producers Gail Mutrux and Ron Yerxa, cinematographers Janusz Kaminski and Matthew Libatique, and costume designer Albert Wolsky.

Even if the results were less questionable, the chief problem with the current system is that it is elitist and anti-democratic. Too many of the selections are made by a tiny coterie rather than the larger group of passionately committed Academy members. One long-term member of the committee, a film editor, fumes, "Don't make us feel that our votes don't count. They're telling members of the committee that we're idiots. Who are these experts who justify the inclusion of Dogtooth? Just because a film wins Un Certain Regard at Cannes doesn't mean that it's a good film."

Johnson admits that he wanted to change the nominating process in part because he had been stung by negative comments from film critics, and he is pleased that the press response to recent nominees has generally been more subdued or positive. "Mark's desire is to create a list that will not create a firestorm of protest," says Beverly Walker, a publicity consultant who has been a member of the foreign language committee for 20 years. "The Academy should not be so thin-skinned."

After all, this is one of the only categories where the Academy tries to impose a higher critical standard on the voting membership. Many of the other categories contain dubious choices and scandalous omissions; that's what inevitably happens when a large number of people vote.

No one questions Johnson's passionate commitment to foreign films. But the Academy is not really helping the cause by nominating audience-unfriendly films like Dogtooth. Films that win a nomination often have a better chance of securing distribution, but not necessarily a better chance of luring an audience. Won't the audience for foreign films be more likely to grow if people have a chance to see and enjoy accessible films like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Secret in Their Eyes, Departures, The Lives of Others, and several of this year's best foreign films that did not make it into the final five?

The committee has overlooked many fine films this year that would have benefited from a nomination: Israel's The Human Resources Manager, the Czech Republic's Kawasaki's Rose, and China's Aftershock, to name just a few. Granted, not all the good films in contention will ever make the final five. Veteran producer and studio executive Marcia Nasatir, a member of the foreign language executive committee, says pointedly, "You know, this isn't kindergarten where everybody gets a prize. You have to make tough choices."
Indeed there are always going to be controversial and downright wrong-headed choices. But I would rather see the inevitable mistakes made by a democratic rather than a cliquish system of voting. This year's disappointing nominees prove that the current system is badly broken.

Stephen Farber is a film critic for The Hollywood Reporter. He has written reviews and articles on film for The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Movieline, Esquire, New York, New West, and many other publications. Farber has written four books on film: The Movie Rating Game; Hollywood Dynasties;Outrageous Conduct: Art, Ego, and the Twilight Zone Case; and Hollywood on the Couch.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Ke$ha - "I Am The Dance Commander + I Command You To Dance - The Remix Album"

Ke$ha’s “I Am The Dance Commander + I Command You to Dance: The Remix Album” will be released on March 22nd. It will feature remixes by Switch, DJ Skeet Skeet, Fred Falke, Dave Aude and more. Also included is the remix of “Sleazy” featuring Andre 3000 (Outkast) and the previously unreleased live favorite “F**k Him He’s a DJ”.




Saturday, March 5, 2011

Karen Elson: Pretty Babies

 Photographer: Patrick Demarchelier/BCBG-Max-Azria-

Pretty Babies is my favorite single from Elson's album The Ghost Who Walks. Her performance proves that that she can rock more than just the runway.  As for as the photo goes it is one of my favorites, if not my favorite, shot of her.  What can I say it's retro and sensuous in tone and colour.  Enjoy.

Karen Elson and Jack White: Frock & Roll

Fell in Love With a Girl 
This is no ordinary rock star—model union. “A strange bird,” Elson calls herself—and you could say the same of him.
Photographed by Annie Leibovitz

“When I did play them for him,” Karen (with Jack in a dressing room at Nashville's historic Ryman Auditorium) says of the songs she'd written, “he said, ‘Wow, why are you hiding this?’ ” He ended up helping produce The Ghost Who Walks.
Photographed by Annie Leibovitz

Going Platinum 
“I was terrified because I thought, God, now I've really got to make this legitimate,” Elson says of her recent solo debut at South by Southwest. Her band members, from left: Mark Watrous, Jackson Smith, Rachelle Garniez, Olivia Jean, and Mark Fellis.

Photographed by Annie Leibovitz

 Colorful Personalities 
“He's brilliant because he gets the realness of you,” Elson says of working with White.
Photographed by Annie Leibovitz

Power Ballad 
Her beauty—lyrical, luminous—always brings to mind a woman from another decade, another century: Whether cast for the fashion cameras as a WWII land girl or as a pre-Raphaelite take on a medieval damsel, she evokes poignant romance. Filmy, diaphanous dresses become her.
Photographed by Annie Leibovitz

Liner Notes 
The White/Elson clan has settled in the Tennessee capital, where Karen was shot hanging out with her band at Tootsie's Orchid Lounge (its previous songwriting habitués include Kris Kristofferson and Willie Nelson).
Photographed by Annie Leibovitz

Garage Band 
The Brit supermodel makes a gas-station stop in Nashville with her band.
Photographed by Annie Leibovitz

Karen Elson and Jack White: Frock & Roll

Click on the link for the complete Vogue article. Well worth reading.

Karen Elson: Muse Turned Musician

Photographer Edouard Plongeon/Jalouse 
Among things too numerous to count: grains of sand on the beach and runways that model Karen Elson has walked. Taking stock of her life thus far, the muse faces the music.

Photographer: Simon Burstall/Maire Claire
Her fiery locks and porcelain-pale skin made her a supermodel, but Karen Elson was fated for a career in music. As a kid in Manchester, England, she spent her pocket money on magazines that would teach her to play piano. 

Later in life, she'd teach herself guitar, join NYC-based cabaret troupe The Citizens Band, collaborate with indie superstar Cat Power, provide vocals for the legendary Robert Plant, and, oh yeah, marry Jack White of The White Stripes, with whom she has two children. 

Photographer: Alexi-Lubomirski/Harpers-Bazaar-UK
But after a decade of fronting world-famous fashion houses — among them, Versace, YSL, and Chanel (her recent coup: replacing Angelina Jolie as the face of St. John) — Elson, now 31, was reluctant to make a wholehearted leap into music. 

Her debut album, The Ghost Who Walks, titled after a childhood nickname, is a haunting triumph over self-doubt. Secretly written in her closet at home in Nashville, Tennessee ("I just needed some peace and quiet," she says — the refrain of mothers everywhere), the record almost didn't happen.[For the complete interview click here Karen Elson: Model Turned Musician, Katie L. Connor, Maire Claire

Friday, March 4, 2011

Lady Gaga: Government Hooker

Her new song, the cool, disaffected “Government Hooker” provided perfect accompaniment to the event. A more ambitious track than “Born This Way,” it opens with Gaga providing operatic trills over synthesized industrial sounds before segueing into a melismatic, electro-pop Gregorian chant. It then becomes a pulsating, hallucinogenic earworm that drills its way into your cochleae and could just as easily play at a strip club as a Paris catwalk—especially with lyrics like “Put your hands on me, John F. Kennedy/ I’ll make you squeal, baby.” And that chorus, an infectious raver with a killer hook (“I’m gonna drink my tears tonight/I’m gonna drink my tears and cry/‘Cause I know you love me, baby”), is pretty irresistible. [Christian Blauvelt: Lady Gaga Previews New Song 'Government Hooker]

Lady Gaga - Rick Genest: Stills from Born This Way

Art Director: Nick Knight
Fashion Director: Nicola Formichetti
Parrucche: Sam Mcknight
Make up: Billy Brasfield
Choreography: Laurie Anna Gibson
Tuxedos: Mugler

Lady Gaga Hits the Run Way for Mugler

Photo by Francois Guillot/ Getty Images

Believe it or not, Lady Gaga once had trouble getting any designers to lend her clothes. So much trouble in fact that she had her own knockoff-ish pieces made for the stage. That changed around the time Nicola Formichetti styled her for the September 2009 cover of V Magazine. She quickly owned the must-dress list. And now — as the muse for Formichetti’s new vision for Thierry Mugler — she’s come full circle.  [Paris Report | Runway as Nightclub at Mugler and Pugh By JACOB BROWN | March 3, 2011, 10:50 am]

Photo Credits: Jonas Gustavsson and Peter Stigter / L.A. Times. 

Nicola Formichetti brought the Thierry Mugler women's collection roaring back to the runway Wednesday night, with Lady Gaga in long blond ponytails and giant platforms modeling for her stylist/collaborator, and the show streaming live on Facebook.   Formachetti's designs -- tailored jackets and dresses with extreme "Metropolis" shoulders, latex pants and catsuits -- were not-too-distant cousins of Mugler's fierce-feminine looks from the '80s and '90s. [Paris Fashion Week: At Mugler, Lady Gaga steals the show, Booth Moore in Paris, L. A. Times]

Photo Credits: Jonas Gustavsson and Peter Stigter / L.A. Times. 

According to Booth Moore reporting for the L.A. Times "Gaga took to the modeling gig like she'd been doing it all her life, stepping onto the runway from the front of the house, puffing on a cigarette and grinding on a column, as her new single, 'Government Hooker,' played on the soundtrack."

There is also a fabulous interview with Lady Gaga and Nicola Formichetti by Suzy Menkes, unfortunately the NY Times won't allow the video to be embedded so here are the links need to watch it.

Fashion Week Lady Gaga

In Paris, Suzy Menkes interviews singer-songwriter Lady Gaga, who modeled two dresses for the designer Thierry Mugler at Fashion Week.

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