Friday, March 19, 2004

The Big E's

More on von Trier another time. Today belongs to ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND and ELEPHANT.

I've been chomping at the bit to see Gus Van Sant's ELEPHANT for some time. I went over the moon for GERRY, and then his subsequent film won the Palm D'Or at Cannes. Cue waiting, lots of waiting, until the film finally unspooled here today, about nine months after it took the prize in France. Watching ELEPHANT is not unlike that, lots of waiting and anticipation, although you trade excitement for dread.

Van Sant explores the day in the life of a high school, with it culminating in two students executing a Columbine-like attack on their teachers and peers. ELEPHANT is little more than a series of tracking shots that follow various students. We get small insights into their lives--John has an alcoholic dad, Elias is a budding photographer--but never become deeply acquainted with them. Van Sant also introduces us to the killers and shows how they prepare for the fateful day.

Naturally, this is combustible subject matter. The threat of death hovers over the film like the time-lapse clouds Van Sant returns to time and again. Some have accused Van Sant of exploiting the tragedy, but what makes school shootings off limits when other historical atrocities are fair game? To the director's credit, he is judicious in showing the violence. The audience knows what is happening and doesn't need to be bathed in blood and guts to get the effect.

What's most shocking is that ELEPHANT isn't shocking. The idea of teenage boys bringing guns to school to kill classmates isn't out of the ordinary. I got home from the film and found a story on the internet about a Nebraska teen with twenty homemade bombs and a rifle in the high school parking lot. (Another report on the story includes an incident in which two second-graders and an eleven-year-old in Montana hid weapons in a plan to shoot and stab a third-grade girl.)

Van Sant makes no effort to explain why this violence erupts. The usuals--feeling of insecurity from bullying, hatred of the popular, violent video games, fixation on guns, the devil, and Hitler--are trotted out, but none of these things are singled out as the reasons why these two boys choose this particular path. Non-judgemental observation is a key element in Van Sant's films, and that's how he approaches the characters in ELEPHANT. It's a wise choice. Viewers don't need to be spoonfed that what the killers are doing is wrong, and there's no mistaking that Van Sant abhors their actions. Where ELEPHANT comes up short, though, is in failing to provide insight for any of this. The deep truths are probably unknowable, but ELEPHANT frustrates in not making any conjectures. Simply, what happens happens. It's an existential perspective that worked for GERRY, a film where the characters are in search of something larger. In ELEPHANT, the message seems to be that bad things happen. While that's true, it isn't exactly news to anyone.

ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND features another brilliant Charlie Kaufman screenplay. Oh yeah, Michel Gondry's film lives up to it. More at another time...

Thursday, March 18, 2004

More Danish Angst

(If time and energy permit, what follows will be revised. Just got back from these screenings, but I want to watch the UD-DePaul NCAA game that I've been taping. These are some preliminary thoughts.)

The Wexner Center's Lars von Trier retrospective wraps up next Thursday. That's good and bad. I'm now convinced that he is one of today's major filmmakers, so it's a little deflating that I've seen just about everything there is until his next project. (His miniseries THE KINGDOM hasn't been part of it, so that remains as something to track down.) On the other hand, these movies are such emotional workouts that I could use a break from these thrilling yet exhausting experiences.

Tonight's selections were MEDEA and DANCER IN THE DARK. I'd seen the latter when it was released a few years ago. I liked it more on this second viewing, although "liked" doesn't seem to be the appropriate word in connection with such a weighty film. The basics... Bjork plays the Czechoslovakian immigrant Selma. She works in a northwest US factory and is scraping together as much money as she can. Selma is going blind, but she isn't saving the money to improve her sight. She knows that her son has the same condition and wants him to have an operation to save him from suffering that fate. Since this is a von Trier film, we can expect that the heroine will be in for a rough go of it, and sure enough, she does not have it easy. But, hey, it's a musical!

Von Trier's best known films--BREAKING THE WAVES, DANCER IN THE DARK, and the upcoming DOGVILLE--are melodramas that shamelessly manipulate the audience's emotions. Each of these films have moments that will outrage viewers. The test is how one interprets von Trier's motives. One side could argue that he is a heartless bastard who revels in cruelty. On the contrary, I think that he is very much a religious filmmaker given to depicting the harsh realities of life and hinting at a greater reward that follows. DANCER IN THE DARK'S Selma talks about leaving musicals after the next to last song so that the film can go on forever. At the end of the film, von Trier places a message over the frame, something about this not having to be the last song if we don't want it to be, while the shot pedestals up. It's plainly evident to me this time that the shot indicates an ascension and the message lays out that faith in God allows us to leave after the next to last song.

Monday, March 15, 2004

Stop them before they kill again!

Thrillers don't get much more incompetent than TAKING LIVES. The first indication that the filmmakers aren't paying attention to details comes with the sounds of U2's "Bad" over the opening sequence set in 1983. The song comes from the 1984 album THE UNFORGETTABLE FIRE, which is a nitpicky sort of thing that the average viewer probably won't notice. Admittedly, this isn't a big deal, but it shows a carelessness with which the rest of the film is assembled. (That the song is about heroin, has no application to the scene or the film, and is reprised at the end makes the choice more curious. Was it picked merely because the character being introduced is bad, making a song by that name seem like a good fit?)

Angelina Jolie, as FBI profiler Illeana Scott, plays up her tabloid publicized weirdness from the outset, being introduced laying in a grave to get a sense of the crime scene. Montreal construction workers find a body with the face smashed in and the hands cut off. Despite the protestations of two Quebecois investigators, Illeana is brought onto the case. TAKING LIVES never explains why an FBI agent would be called to Canada to help with an apparently routine murder case or how she would be permitted to stay on it. The film's nonsense logic continues.

Illeana finds a pattern in some unsolved killings and deduces that the suspect's methods permit him to assume the lives of his victim. Whenever he needs a new identity, he kills another person and makes the body unidentifiable.

A break in the case appears to come when the serial killer strikes again. This time there's a witness, a local artist named Costa (Ethan Hawke) who provides a sketch of the suspect. It soon becomes apparent, though, that with the police hot on his trail, the killer wants to shed his skin for another's, Costa's in fact.

TAKING LIVES is incredibly silly, building to a final scene that inspires laughter and incredulity. Granted, Illeana proves to be something of an oddball, but the ending is too much to accept even for her. Illeana is established as one of those agents who identifies with the victims to the extreme. She physically puts herself in their place, including a scene at the home at the killer's mother that makes absolutely no sense at all. (This film either endured extensive cuts that left the gaping holes or just never added up in the first place.) This conceit is eventually dropped in favor of standard policier twists.

The killer's identity is no mystery to anyone who has seen more than a couple of whodunits, particularly those in Ashley Judd's filmography. (Jolie, like Judd, is a capable actress with a knack for picking some really bad projects.) The misdirects are either very transparent or so befuddling that they fail to send us off course. Director D.J. Caruso may have inadvertently revealed the killer earlier than intended in a geography slip-up in dialogue. Considering the error-prone nature of the film, it's probably just one more mistake than a tip-off.

Although riddled with storytelling errors and other mistakes, TAKING LIVES gets it right in one place: truth in advertising. Audiences will have their lives taken, or at least the 90-odd minutes set aside for suffering through this mess.

Saturday, March 13, 2004

Something's in the Air

Driving east on Interstate 70 on the way back from the Atlantic 10 tournament semifinals, I tried to find a sports talk station on the radio. My friend Scott wanted to hear the NBA scores since the Cavs are contending for the playoffs. I picked up such far flung stations as WBEZ in Boston, what I believe was KMOX out of St. Louis, WBBM in Chicago, WCBS and another station (WFAN?) from New York City, WSM out of Nashville, and WHO in Des Moines, Iowa. Oddly, I had trouble tuning in local stations, like 980 out of Dayton. Columbus' 1460 didn't come in very well either, yet there was this Des Moines station clear as could be. So very strange.

Dayton won tonight, although they nearly blew it. Go Flyers versus the dreaded Xavier Musketeers and their furry, blobby blue mascot.

Thursday, March 11, 2004

More von Trier

In my eruption of comments on DOGVILLE I left out some things that I'd meant to say regarding Kidman's acting and a scene in the back of a truck. I'll save those for another time since I caught tonight's two entries in the Lars von Trier retrospective.

First up was THE IDIOTS, the controversial 1998 Dogme 95 film in which a group of people go around acting like they're mentally retarded, "spassing" as they call it. Von Trier so loves to pull the rug out from under his audience, and he does it again here.

My initial impression is that THE IDIOTS is an allegory for the death of communism. The apparent group leader Stoffer decries bourgeois things, pillories fellow Idiots who hang onto aspects of middle class life, and screams "fascist" at a councilman who wants the group's communal home to be considered part of a different district. The Idiot ideals are shown to work within their bubble of existence, but outside of their sphere, the philosophy looks foolish and offensive.

Von Trier has gone out of his way to rub our noses in the Idiots' behavior while also subverting it. We may laugh along with their refusal to conform to what society deems proper, but von Trier is slowly hoisting the Idiots and the complicit audience by its own petard. He aims to shock too. Had the film been released with a rating, it most assuredly would have received the NC-17, although the nudity is not here for titillation.

Made in accordance with Dogme 95, THE IDIOTS effectively uses the rules that demand naturalism in cinema. It's a crudely made film, with herky jerky handheld camerawork that often goes out of focus and an intentional sloppiness that, on a couple occasions, catches the boom microphone in the shot. I wouldn't call it pleasant to watch, but after von Trier puts all his cards on the table, I realized I had a certain admiration for his persistence of vision. THE IDIOTS isn't on the level of his best work--it's too slapdash and inconsistent--but in transforming the film from a piece of empty provocation into a political critique, von Trier demonstrates his command of the medium.

ZENTROPA was the second half of the bill. This dream-like film sends its American protagonist of German heritage to post-World War II Germany to take a job as a sleeping car conductor. Leopold refrains from taking sides but finds himself caught between them. Jesus' statement in Revelation about preferring that one be hot or cold rather than lukewarm informs the film, as Leopold proves himself worthy of being spewed out.

A paranoid mix of noir, Hitchcock, and the occasional surrealist flourish, ZENTROPA is like a nightmare from which one cannot awake. Max von Sydow's hypnotic narration implores Leopold to go deeper. Even though he refuses, he cannot avoid being dragged down.

ZENTROPA is mostly in black and white, an appropriate visual theme considering its demand for commitment to an ideology. Von Trier uses color sparingly and strongly, dabbing it into the frame to highlight blood in the water or pallid skin tones.

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

The Dogville Post, in which I try to get as many comments out of my head as possible

Films are intended to be seen with audiences, and I think that viewing DOGVILLE with a full house was instructive. That said, what I learned thoroughly appalled me. The laughter and applause at a crucial juncture in the film struck me as being nothing short of contrary to the point von Trier was making. Or maybe they made it for him. I haven't decided. This reaction is the kind of thing that makes you lose some faith in people.

I'm speaking in vagaries for now because I realize most haven't had the opportunity to see it--it opens in New York and Los Angeles on March 26--and to spoil the film would be malicious on my part. I think it's a masterpiece. You may well come out thinking that von Trier is a bastard, but the point he makes is undeniable. If you don't know anymore about the film, tread carefully because you're likely to come across something you don't want to know. This is the kind of film that rattles around your brain, and I feel like I have to get this all out now. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!

Von Trier breaks the film into a prologue and nine chapters. The Depression-era story revolves around the porcelain-skinned beauty Grace (Nicole Kidman). She is running from gangsters and arrives in the small town of Dogville, which is nestled in the Rocky Mountains and removed from other localities. It's a safe place off the beaten path if the residents will permit her to stay.

The first person she encounters is Tom (Paul Bettany), the doctor's son who fancies himself a philosopher and writer. He takes her in and assures her that the fifteen adults living in DOGVILLE will be happy to let her stay. Maybe, maybe not. The townsfolk gather at the mission hall to decide, but despite Tom's attempts to persuade them, they remain unconvinced and are ready to send Grace on her way. Tom firmly believes that how the people of Dogville treat Grace will illustrate their decency. He asks that they give her two weeks to prove herself to them and they to her. The compromise is agreed upon, so Grace goes about trying to ingratiate herself to the citizenry.

At first no one has any work for Grace to do, but gradually everyone finds things they don't need to have done but will appreciate as her contribution to the community. This goes along well enough for a period of time. One day a policeman comes by looking for Grace. He even tacks up a "missing" poster with her photograph. The locals feel like they should tell the authorities that Grace is in Dogville, but they like having her there. Their quiet comes at a price. She must do double the amount of work, although no one wants to own up to believing she owes them anything.

After a long, productive stay in Dogville, it would seem that Grace should be an accepted member of the community. Instead, the greed and jealousy of these poor people intensifies, and Grace suffers at their hands because they feel this outsider is taking advantage of them. The situation worsens so much that Grace feels she has no choice but to leave.

DOGVILLE at first appears to be about the desire to despoil beauty and goodness, how by its very nature beauty can cause some to feel worse and thus want to destroy it. The film can also be read as an allegory for the exploitation of immigrants. Even the most enlightened people are out for themselves, as Tom shows in due time.

This is all very interesting stuff, but then comes DOGVILLE'S ninth chapter. The true subject von Trier is addressing is finally unmasked. We come to learn that Grace is the mob boss's daughter. She finds his belief of wiping the world clean of society's dregs to be arrogant. Yet her idealism has been questioned by the treatment given her in Dogville. She showed the townsfolk nothing but mercy and love and was increasingly punished for it. Grace finds that she must agree with her father and wants vengeance wreaked upon her tormentors. (It was at this point where some of the audience laughed and applauded, a totally unconscionable reaction and, in my view, not the director's intention.)

Grace transforms from a forgiving God figure to an avenging Old Testament deity who makes the sinners suffer for their misdeeds. It's a shocking turn that is true to von Trier's vision. Grace's father, played by James Caan, says that these people are like dogs, and you mustn't reinforce a dog's horrible nature. To forgive is wrong. Taken at face value, one could assume that the film is endorsing this view, but von Trier quite deliberately points out how it's one big circle, that the violence and injustice heaped upon the downtrodden is revisited upon the oppressors, not because these are wicked people but because the action begets the reaction. DOGVILLE doesn't leave one with a positive conception of humanity, but it is with a purpose. Von Trier demonstrates to powerful effect what happens in a world where mercy and forgiveness are unknown and unvalued qualities.

When DOGVILLE premiered at the Cannes Film Festival last year, some American critics found the picture to be virulently anti-American. DOGVILLE is certainly a very potent critique of the United States. The scenario could be applied elsewhere--look at the controversy regarding Muslim women in France wearing scarves on their heads--but it carries a particular sting in examining an America that likes to believe it is the great melting pot where everyone is free and has an equal opportunity to succeed. Von Trier doesn't pull any punches in challenging that image, and he further punctures it by having photos of America's underclass in history and present-day run underneath the end credits.

Issues of thematics and politics aside, DOGVILLE is a stunning technical work. The austere production, a set on a stage with minimal props, emphasizes the relative poverty of the town. The difference between public and private behavior is eliminated in the eyes of the audience for walls are merely lines drawn on the floor. Yet in this open environment, the town feels more stifling. Von Trier lays out Dogville's geography with masterfully composed overhead shots, high angles that also hint at a God looking down upon a world resistant to his message of love.

Von Trier's artistic genius makes DOGVILLE'S 177 minutes fly by. He aims to provoke so he can shake people out of their torpor. As his other melodramas show, at this von Trier is well practiced and successful. DOGVILLE may enrage viewers, both those who find it brilliant and those who consider it deplorable. I think getting angry is the point. The difference is how you direct it.

Heh Heh

Last night I ran across BEAVIS AND BUTT-HEAD reruns on MTV2. I should probably be ashamed that I get a kick out of the show as much as I do, but man, that's funny stuff. It's hard to believe how long ago the show was on, but it makes sense that they would start showing it again about ten years after its debut. Check it out from midnight to one a.m. eastern time.

Sunday, March 07, 2004

The Overlooked 12

The films scheduled for this year's Roger Ebert's Overlooked Film Festival have finally been announced. The slate has been reduced from fourteen to twelve, although I think that was the case at this point last year. (Come to think of it, there's no mention of the Brown vs. Board of Education documentary which is supposed to be playing, so one more film may yet be added to the schedule.) While I'm always up to see more films, cutting it back by one or two should give more time for post-film discussions or taking a break in between to get something to eat and see the sunlight. I'd hope it also would mean more time to get from the two morning discussions to the theater than what has typically been a case of making a mad rush from the University of Illinois to the Virginia Theatre.

I've only seen four of the twelve films, three of which I haven't seen for at least four years and two that I've never seen theatrically. Here's the list with my thoughts:

-LOUIE BLUIE (Terry Zwigoff, 1986) and SWEET OLD SONG (Leah Malan, 2002)

These two documentaries about the blues artist Howard Armstrong are standing in for this year's festival closing musical. Don't know much about these films or Armstrong, but I'm curious to see Zwigoff's first film. As was done in 2002 after SAY AMEN SOMEBODY, a post-film concert will feature some of those seen in SWEET OLD SONG. Apparently the organizers hoped to have Armstrong at the festival, but he died last summer. I had been hoping that the musical might be THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG since a re-release print is circulating, but these docs should be interesting.

-EL NORTE (Gregory Nava, 1984)

It's the film's twentieth anniversary. I know the title and know the director, but that's about it.

-GATES OF HEAVEN (Errol Morris, 1978)

Since Morris is supposed to attend, maybe he'll kick off the post-screening discussion with a statement that it's about time one of his films was recognized at the Overlooked Film Festival. OK, maybe we don't need a replay of his Oscar acceptance speech. I'm not at all surprised that Ebert picked GATES OF HEAVEN. He's been one of this film's biggest supporters--he has called it one of the ten greatest films ever--which led me to track it down on videotape at the Westerville Public Library six or seven years ago. Morris is one of the top documentarians working today, and this film about a pet cemetary is something else.

-THE GENERAL (Clyde Bruckman, 1927)

I've never seen this undisputed Buster Keaton classic, and it should be all the better with live accompaniment from The Alloy Orchestra. Darren Ng's THE SCAPEGOAT precedes this year's silent feature film.

-LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (David Lean, 1962)

Festival tradition has been to open with a 70mm epic, and this should be a special treat. It may be fifteen years since I've seen this--and even then on two panned-and-scanned videotapes most likely--so this should be awesome. I missed seeing this a few years ago when it played the Ohio Theater as part of the CAPA Summer Film Series, but this will more than make up for that.

-MY DOG SKIP (Jay Rusell, 2000)

It's unusual for me to see films far in advance of release, but Columbus was a test market for MY DOG SKIP. I saw it in November 1999, I think, but the film didn't open until January 2000. I liked it and don't mind seeing it again. My NOW PLAYING co-host Paul was over the moon for it and will probably tell me it's time to reevaluate the B- I gave this kids' film.


A few years back I had the opportunity to interview Tim Reid when he was going to be in town to present his latest film. I planned on talking to him on the basis of the reputation of ONCE UPON A TIME...WHEN WE WERE COLORED, but then I saw ASUNDER. The African-American potboiler ended up making my worst of the year list. It was one of those generic FATAL ATTRACTION-type films that was so awful I passed on the interview. I had no desire to talk about the film or tell the former Venus Flytrap I thought his film was crap when he would inevitably ask what I thought.

-PEOPLE I KNOW (Daniel Algrant, 2002)

Here's one of those films that certainly fits the overlooked definition. Is it any good? Beats me. It had a lot of trouble getting distribution. (I seem to recall some issues with shots of the World Trade Center towers in it, but I don't think that was why it was minimally released in this country.) Ebert thinks highly of it, so hopefully that's a good sign. Al Pacino is usually interesting to watch even when the films aren't.

-THE SON (LE FILS) (Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne, 2002)

This film just missed making my Honorable Mentions for 2003 list, and I have the sneaking suspicion if I'd had the chance to see it again, it might have moved up. Although not explicity Christian in the sense that I don't recall God or Jesus being mentioned, it is one of the most powerful depictions of the Christian ethos in practice that you'll find in a film. Looks like it's finally coming to DVD at the end of May, but it'll be good to see this on a big screen again.

-TARNATION (Jonathan Caouette, 2003)

Gus Van Sant lent his name as executive producer for this film, and I asked him about it when I interviewed him a couple weeks ago. He was very enthusiastic about it, natch. Made on iMovie for supposedly $187, this will be the most experimental film of the festival and perhaps the must see. I'm guessing it will also be the most divisive. Ebert has done a good job each year of programming at least one new film that is making the rounds but not widely distributed. I saw STONE READER and CHARLOTTE SOMETIMES last year, neither of which reached Columbus. 2002 had KWIK STOP, which is still undistributed as far as I know. 2001 featured MARYAM, which came here a year later.

-TULLY (Hilary Birmingham, 2000)

My familiarity with this film begins and ends with the poster that was displayed at the Drexel for months. It'll be nice to see the film.

Overall, I'm pleased with Ebert's selections. I haven't seen too many of the films, and of those that I have, I'm eager to see them again. It should be a good five days in Champaign-Urbana.

Thursday, March 04, 2004

Two Great Danes

Director Lars von Trier challenges his mentor, filmmaker Jorgen Leth, to remake his short film THE PERFECT HUMAN according to rules of the apprentice's choosing in THE FIVE OBSTRUCTIONS. For example, among the first obstructions are that Leth must shoot the film in Cuba and cannot let any shot last more than twelve frames. Von Trier, who has built a reputation as cinema's enfant terrible with BREAKING THE WAVES and DANCER IN THE DARK, provokes Leth as he does the heroines in his melodramas. Like a tough teacher, he pushes his student to stretch himself farther than he ordinarily would. Von Trier compares this experiment in their relationship to the therapist-client dyad. Leth finds that the more he lets von Trier know what he thinks about the obstructions, the less he wants to share. Von Trier, though, explains that Leth cannot work through the issues if he will not give something of himself.

THE FIVE OBSTRUCTIONS is a brilliant film that demonstrates how individuals cannot help but reveal information about themselves but still questions if one can truly know another person. What Leth chooses not to do or say often reveals as much about him as his actions and words, and the same is true of von Trier. Yet through all of this, is von Trier any closer to being able to perceive how Leth does? In watching films, can we view through the eyes of the director?

THE FIVE OBSTRUCTIONS also has much to say about artistic expression and its refinement through the process, be it collaboration, editing, or external interference. It is likely that the five obstructed films, seen in part here, and this feature are all greater than they would have been without the imposed limitations. The obstructions force Leth to flex creative muscles that have been long dormant or which he may not have known he possessed. (The fourth obstruction seems so extreme and unlikely--von Trier expects and hopes the film will be bad--but produces what may be the most stunning of the films.) He may not enjoy the pains von Trier forces him to feel, but in the end he can elate in coming through and achieving something beyond his expectations.

Although THE FIVE OBSTRUCTIONS is about filmmaking, it is ostensibly a commentary on life. All manner of things obstruct us from doing what we desire, but we must go on and work around and through these things. The third obstruction features one of the film's most telling exchanges. Von Trier gives Leth the ultimate existential choice, total freedom to make the film he wants versus a strict set of rules to do something he finds uncomfortable at best. It comes as no surprise that having no limitations is a scarier prospect.

The five obstructed films are vastly different from Leth's original version of THE PERFECT HUMAN and each other but are, in their own ways, genius. (SPOILER regarding the fourth obstruction--do not read past this point if you do not want to know one of the film's bigger surprises) THE FIVE OBSTRUCTIONS shows von Trier and Leth at the peaks of their creative powers, but there's one more filmmaker in the midst doing tremendous work. Bob Sabiston, the director of animation for Richard Linklater's WAKING LIFE, comes to Leth's aid for the fourth obstruction. The animation is nothing short of stunning. What seemed like a terrible burden--make a cartoon--turns out to be a gift. How true that is in life too.

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Very Funny, Jerks

For the last month or so I've been dutifully checking the website for Roger Ebert's Overlooked Film Festival in hopes that the film schedule has been posted. I bought my festival pass in December and have been chomping at the bit in anticipation of what films will be playing this year. I just went to the site and became excited to see a Films link. Oh happy day, they've finally been announced! Click..."We will announce our 12 films any day now--please check back!" Very funny.

Monday, March 01, 2004

The Big Sleep

Zzzzzzzzzzz... Oh, the Academy Awards are over? Did I miss anything?

If only I'd slept through them. Not a single surprise in any category. No, I didn't predict them all correctly, but I was counting on a couple surprises. I suppose one could consider THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RETURN OF THE KING winning Adapted Screenplay a surprise, but how much of a shock is it when the film wins everything for which it is nominated? (And let's be honest, it was being rewarded for all three films as much as it was for this concluding chapter.) As the night wore on, the only intrigue was whether the person operating the five second delay would need to hit it in the event of Jamie Lee Curtis' breasts popping out of her dress while she introduced the performance of the song from A MIGHTY WIND.

There were some nice moments. Sean Penn recognizing fellow actors who weren't nominated, Sofia Coppola's mention of directors who influenced her, Jack Black and Will Ferrell's song... Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson's bit was amusing, although it smacked a little too much of the kind of shilling you see on the MTV Movie Awards but not on the Oscars.

This year's awards season was more bearable, in large part because of the decision to move the Oscars ceremony up a month. Hopefully it stays that way. THE LORD OF THE RINGS won't be around to hog awards anymore, so that should add a little more spice to the mix.

Now the studios can return to releasing good films instead of the shelf-clearing dreck that has been taking up space while the prestige pictures try to make gains off of their nominations.