The Movie Club

My Shocking Jack Palance Anecdote
Critic vs. critic.
Jan. 5 2010 1:16 PM

The Movie Club

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Actor Jack Palance.
The late Jack Palance

Hello everyone, So! Inspired by Roger's post, I sat down in my office this afternoon and logged in to Netflix, ready to marvel at the candy-colored, vodka-splattered extravaganza that is Tilda Swinton in Julia. (As far as I can tell, the film never opened in Washington, where I live.) Less than an hour in, though, as Julia started waving around a gun and literally scaring the shit out of that kid, I found myself restlessly hopping from tab to tab in my Web browser: catching up on e-mail; checking to see where those two awesome actresses from The Dreamlife of Angels went; reading about Tilda hauling that wagon across Scotland so that kilt-wearers from the hinterlands could see Burden of Dreams (natch!). Pretty much doing anything to avoid watching a boozy Tilda Swinton terrorize a 9-year-old. Anyway, I can now confirm that a) Tilda Swinton is amazing in Julia; b) though Dreamlife's Natacha Régnier is not related to the similarly-named and -blond Jérémie Renier, star of this year's wondrous Summer Hours, the two were"companions" from 1999-2001, according to IMDB; and c) Netflix Watch Instantly is maybe not the best way to view serious films. Not just because the screen is teeny, but because some movies are best enjoyed without a pause button or a getaway plan. Oscar voters, of course, probably have no idea how to stream Julia onto their computers. Nor would they even necessarily want to! I don't know that everyone in the Academy does their due diligence at Oscar time. True story: Years ago, the actor Jack Palance came to the college bookstore at which I worked to read from his best-selling collection of poetry, The Forest of Love. (Opening line, as I recall: "If love is a forest, then love is a tree.") I leaped at the chance to escort a film legend around campus, and that was how I found myself being lectured over lunch by an Academy Award-winning actor about why I should never raise ostriches. ("Filthy birds, barely worth the effort.") At some point, I asked Palance if he was looking for suggestions for his Oscar ballot; I was both movie- and Oscar-mad, and the idea of being able to influence an actual Academy voter—to persuade him to vote for something crazy, like Natasha Gregson Wagner in Two Girls and a Guy—had me almost wild with excitement. He grunted and pushed away his plate. "My ballot?" he chuckled. "Eh, I give that thing to my granddaughter every year and let her vote."What does this mean for Tilda Swinton's Oscar chances? With all due respect to Tilda and Roger both, I don't think she has Oscar chances. If last year the voters wouldn't nominate a critics' darling like Sally Hawkins for her bright, endearing performance in the (comparatively) widely seen Happy-Go-Lucky, why would they nominate this year's darker, tougher, less palatable equivalent? While the blockbuster-lover in me is happy that the academy has expanded best picture to 10 nominees—the better to ensure that Pixar finally gets recognized—my elitist-liberal-film-snob side wishes it would do the same with the acting categories, so that riskier or tinier or subtler performances than the usual might make the grade. For instance, if there were 10 supporting actor slots, I wouldn't feel so annoyed when Matt Damon hogged one of them to himself for the achievement of looking like a rugby player in Invictus. And if there were 10 actor slots, Damon might have a chance for his much better (and odder) performance as an extravagantly mustachioed, borderline-psychotic whistleblower in The Informant!. But maybe I should leave the Oscars alone, with only a slight addition needed to the great Manohla's tart analysis to make her words my own: "Let's acknowledge that the Oscars are bullshit and we [love/]hate them."It seems to me that this year boasted a remarkable number of exceptional movies in commercial genres that don't usually get nominated for awards. Sci-fi? District 9 was thrilling, Star Trek was sprightly, and Avatar wowed, despite its hoary dialogue and shameful lack of hardcore Na'vi-on-Na'vi action. Horror? Drag Me to Hell made me scream and laugh in equal measure. Dude comedies? I Love You, Man and Funny People were surprisingly thoughtful examples of the form. Action movies? Taken was tidy and satisfying, and The Hurt Locker just won the NSFC. Disaster porn? At least three of us totally loved 2012. And what about the year that animated children's movies had? Of course Up and Ponyo were great—but Coraline, Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Princess and the Frog, and even Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs were also pretty terrific. (And that doesn't even count my favorite movie of the year, Spike Jonze's slightly animated, maybe-for-kids Where the Wild Things Are.) I'm not arguing that 2009 was a return to 1974 or anything, but it does seem as though the studios did a better job than usual at making popular movies—or at least pop movies—that were both enjoyable and well-crafted. (The exception, of course, is romantic comedy, which mostly remains a wasteland.) What do y'all think? Have people in Hollywood started to figure things out? I mean, just imagine if The Hangover, for all its flaws, had been made in 1990—Zach Galifianakis' role would have been played by Jim Belushi, and there would've been a montage to a Peter Cetera song. And I haven't even gotten to Precious yet! Wesley's fascinating defense of Lee Daniels' film has given me a lot to chew on—a veritable 10-piece bucket, in fact. I look forward to spewing forth further thoughts in a later e-mail. Plus, I'm eager to hear everyone else's worst movie moments of 2009! Mine was watching Colin Firth mope his way through A Single Man and realizing that I was hoping, against all human decency, that he would just hurry up and kill himself already so I could go home. xoxo Dan

Dan Kois is Slate's culture editor, co-host of Mom and Dad Are Fighting, and a contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine.

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