Monday, February 27, 2006


I'm going with short-lived series for my TV selections from Netflix lately, and this one lasted only eight episodes on Fox in 1996 (actually, not even all the episodes made it to air). Created by David Greenwalt of Angel fame and John McNamara of the equally short-lived Fastlane and Eyes, Profit is typically touted as being ahead of its time, but I'm not sure that such a bizarrely amoral show would have any sort of success even now, although maybe if it were on FX or something it might work. Adrian Pasdar, who has one of the most evil voices in showbiz (even on the DVD commentary he sounds like he's getting ready to roast up some babies) plays Jim Profit, a guy with a fucked-up childhood (he was raised in a cardboard box) who climbs the corporate ladder by any means necessary. And they're not kidding when they say "any means."

In the course of eight episodes, Profit murders his father, sleeps with his stepmother, seduces the wife of one of his superiors, and takes advantage of child abuse, suicide, sexual harassment and latent homosexual tendencies to manipulate his co-workers into doing what he wants them to do. And he's the protagonist of the show. I wouldn't even really call him an anti-hero, because while he's charming and you do sometimes root for him to get what he wants, it's not even like he's doing terrible things in service of a greater justice. He's just doing them in service of fucking people over and improving his own status at the company.

Despite some awkward plotting and a somewhat shaky start, Profit evolves into a darkly comic show that's definitely always pushing boundaries (they've got a lesbian relationship that's pretty racy for network TV in 1996), sometimes in the area of good taste (as when Profit forces his assistant to seduce the man who nearly raped her). By the end of the DVDs, I was disappointed that there weren't any more episodes. The show probably has little to do with the actual business world, but it takes all the underhanded but legal tactics that people engage in at corporations and blows them up into ridiculously over the top situations that spotlight just how immoral some corporate politics are if you take them to their logical conclusion. Mostly, though, it revels in being sadistically hilarious, and that was what made me want to keep watching.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

New comics 2/22

The American Way #1 (John Ridley/Georges Jeanty, DC/Wildstorm)
The first two thirds of this book read so much like an Astro City story that I would almost have expected Kurt Busiek to sue Ridley for plagiarism if they weren't working for the same publisher. But then Ridley piles on a dark and intriguing twist that turns this into a tale of government conspiracy, and ends the issue with another twist that changes the carefully controlled illusion back into something real. For that first part, I thought it was a well-told but derivative story, with deliberately traditional artwork by Jeanty, but by the end it looked like Ridley actually might have something original to say, so I'm intrigued to see where he takes it.

Astonishing X-Men #13 (Joss Whedon/John Cassaday, Marvel)
After the disappointment of the last arc before the break, I came into this issue with diminished expectations, and they were mostly met. This is a more character-focused arc, as promised, and Whedon does some nice stuff with Peter and Kitty, even if he still can't convince me that the resurrection of Colossus was justified. I was troubled by the seeming regression of Emma Frost in the cliffhanger ending of the last issue, and here Whedon allays those concerns to a degree, setting up Emma as a sort of double agent who's gone native. It still does negate her reformation a bit, but the way that Whedon uses elements from Morrison's New X-Men makes me optimistic that he'll make everything tie together in a way that doesn't undermine such a rich character. Of course, it goes without saying that the art is as gorgeous as ever.

I (Heart) Marvel: Outlaw Love (Fabian Nicieza/Jon Proctor, Marvel)
I picked this up primarily thanks to Nicieza's presence, although I'm much more looking forward to his New Warriors-centric I (Heart) Marvel special next month. This is a tale of love amongst supervillains, and some of the cynical hard-boiled tone matches the underrated work that Nicieza did on his short-lived Hawkeye ongoing. But the art is completely wrong for the story, all distorted and ugly in what's supposed to be a love story, and washed in red for no apparent reason. Maybe Proctor's work is suitable for something a little more abstract, but it's completely wrong for Nicieza's straightforward style. The story itself is okay but inconsequential, basically hinging on the final twist. Overall a completely forgettable comic.

The Middleman Vol. 2 #1 (Javier Grillo-Marxuach/Les McClaine, Viper)
This actually came out a few weeks ago, but my local shop didn't get a copy until this week. After the odd pacing of the first mini-series, it's good that Grillo-Marxuach has the set-up out of the way and can just focus on telling the goofy stories of ninjas and Mexican wrestlers that he clearly has in mind. This has all the clever dialogue and ridiculous set pieces that marked the best moments of the first series, and McClaine's clean, fun art just gets better and better.

Savage Dragon #123 (Erik Larsen, Image)
Larsen wasn't kidding when he said he'd have this book back on a regular schedule, and I hope he can keep it up. He's really pounding on his lead character, having him gradually lose his powers and get attacked from all angles, and it's an interesting direction for the story to take. It does sometimes seem like it's too easy for Dragon to just come in and beat up the bad guy of the month. I'm less thrilled about the way that Mr. Glum is being turned into a serious villain; I sort of liked him better as hilariously ineffectual comic relief. This new direction seems to be making him less distinctive from any of the other villains who've appeared in the book. Also, the back-up strip by Larsen and Frank Fosco was great, somehow marrying the style of angsty indie comix to the story of a supervillain with a chicken's head. Classic.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Movies opening this week

Marebito (Shinya Tsukamoto, Tomomi Miyashita, dir. Takashi Shimizu)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
Despite mostly mediocre to negative reviews, I was hoping this would be interesting, since I thought that Shimizu's American version of The Grudge had its strong points, and this was done without any sort of studio influence or box office expectations. But it's very student film in a lot of ways, pretentious and rambly and completely disappointing. I guess that just leaves me with The Grudge 2. Opened limited Dec. 9; in Las Vegas this week

The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (Tommy Lee Jones, Barry Pepper, Dwight Yoakam, dir. Tommy Lee Jones)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
I had very mixed feelings about this movie. On the one hand, the script (by Guillermo Arriaga, writer of 21 Grams, which I thought was terrible) really annoyed me. But on the other hand, I thought that Jones did a lot to elevate the film above the heavy-handed and determinstic script, and I found myself drawn in to some of the manipulative sequences because of the nice way he underplayed them (unlike 21 Grams, which had an incredibly oppressive tone). So despite my misgivings, I do think that this is a movie that's worth seeing, even if it's not as good as some have made it out to be. Opened limited Feb. 3; in Las Vegas this week

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Weekend viewing

Code 46 (Michael Winterbottom, 2004)
I was a little hesitant to rent this, given its mixed reviews and Winterbottom's incredibly eclectic career, but I can't pass up cerebral sci-fi, and I usually enjoy movies like this even if they aren't objectively all that good. I'm really glad I decided to take a chance on this movie, though, because it turned out to be fabulous, reminiscent of thoughtful sci-fi movies like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Gattaca (which not coincidentally are two of my favorite films). I was sort of surprised to find that neither Winterbottom nor writer Frank Cottrell Boyce (who is a frequent Winterbottom collaborator) have any sci-fi background, since this movie seems to intuitively understand what makes the best science fiction. They give the audience just enough info to get by, but they never deal with mounds of exposition or didactic explanations of all the whys and wherefores of their future world. You figure things out by context, or sometimes you don't figure them out at all; in that way it's like trying to make your way in a foreign city. By eschewing most CGI and shooting in modern cities (mostly Shanghai), Winterbottom creates a future world that looks very much like an extrapolation of the present day, and thus his speculations have real grounding in current issues like genetic engineering, insurance and the divide between the rich and the poor. Not everything makes perfect logical sense, but neither do all of the laws and customs we have today. The central love story is affecting but seems at times artificial; I think that, rather than a flaw of the film, this is intentional, since it's never quite clear whether the main characters (played by Tim Robbins and Samantha Morton) fall in love naturally or thanks to some enhancement. Really a fascinating film, one I like more the more I think about it. It almost makes me disappointed that Winterbottom is so stylistically diverse, since he probably won't be tackling sci-fi again any time soon.

The Edukators (Hans Weingartner, 2004)
Given what I had read in reviews, I was sort of expecting this to be a left-wing diatribe, and while it was that at times, it had an interesting balance to it that I thought could have been more extensively explored. Not that this movie needed more extensive anything - it was far too long and meandering, and the interesting bits were mostly outweighed by the tedium. As an examination of youthful idealism it had some interesting moments, but as a drama (and especially with regards to the core love triangle) it was fairly weak.

Son Frere (Patrice Chereau, 2003)
Man, what a depressing movie. Basically this is about the slow deterioration and death (due to rare blood disease) of a not very pleasant French guy, and the way it affects his brother (and, to a lesser degree, his parents and girlfriend). That makes it sound awful, and while it's not necessarily fun to watch, it is one of the more harrowing and truthful portraits of illness I've seen. The long, incredibly uncomfortable scene of the main character sitting as his brother is shaved by nurses in preparation for surgery is really powerful and sad, which is exactly what you could say about the movie.

The White Countess (James Ivory, 2005)
A counterpart to Code 46 in a way, since both are set in sort of mythical versions of Shanghai. This takes place in 1936, during the lead-up to World War II, and while it doesn't shy away from history, you can't shake the feeling that there's some serious romanticizing going on here. Which, as far as I'm concerned, is fine: Ivory and genius cinematographer Christopher Doyle make Shanghai look like the most amazing place on Earth at that particular time, and Ralph Fiennes and Natasha Richardson are the perfect pair to carry off 1930s glamour. The story is a little staid and the movie definitely drags, but it's a perfectly respectable send-off for the collaboration between Ivory and producer Ismail Merchant, who died last year.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

New comics 2/15

Generation M #4 (Paul Jenkins/Ramon Bachs, Marvel)
I'm starting to get a little bored with this series, which is moving incredibly slowly both in its central mystery and the development of its main character. Jenkins still manages to pull a few poignant moments out of the whole Decimation concept, and he's definitely found a good niche to explore with relation to that idea. But even those moments are starting to become repetitive, and by the time the reveal of Angel's lost powers (which is blown on the cover) shows up, it's sort of hard to care anymore.

Noble Causes #17 (Jay Faerber/Fran Bueno, Image)
Quite possibly the first superhero comic to feature a lesbian kiss on the cover, although I could be wrong about that. Faerber continues his use of tried-and-true soap opera conventions with the lesbian relationship, but at least he appears to be taking it seriously and not sweeping it under the rug in a few issues. This issue is light on superhero action but gives Faerber a chance to offer some more in-depth characterization for Celeste, which is welcome, and next issue looks like an action blow-out anyway.

Runaways #13 (Brian K. Vaughan/Adrian Alphona, Marvel)
A nice little done-in-one story that sheds some light on Molly's personality and emphasizes one of the things that Vaughan does best in this series, which is understand how kids think and the way they would react to such extreme circumstances. It's touching to see how much Molly misses her parents, even though she knows they were evil super-villains. Plus Vaughan creates a fun new villain that shows off his creativity and dedication to adding as much to the Marvel universe as he uses from it.

She-Hulk #5 (Dan Slott/Juan Bobillo, Marvel)
As much as I find his style interesting, I'm glad to read that this is Juan Bobillo's last issue, because I always thought that this book needed a more traditional superhero art style. Slott has fun with various time-displacement issues, and the Two-Gun Kid seems like a good addition to the cast. It's nice to see all the subplots and the humor returning after last month's dull, lesson-learning detour.

Shorts vs. features

I wrote two stories for Las Vegas Weekly this week related to the local film scene. One was a round-up of reviews of features by Las Vegas filmmakers, and the other was an account of my trip to the Dam Short Film Festival in Boulder City. The features were almost uniformly bad, ranging from completely unwatchable to competent but unexceptional. The shorts in the Nevada showcase at the festival (it also featured films from around the country) were not uniformly good, but there was a far better ratio of competence to suckitude. In addition to the Nevada program, I also checked out the sci-fi program (both featured a short film I worked on, Three Girls, a Guy and an Apocalypse), and the non-local films in that program were generally quite accomplished, with great production values and some intriguing, if not always successful, stories.

The art of the short film is clearly one that's neglected by modern filmmakers, mainly because there's no audience for shorts outside of festivals like the one in Boulder City. But it was clear to me from watching the local features that these inexperienced filmmakers really shouldn't be tackling even 80-minute films, since none of them had subject matter worthy of spending that much time with. Some had reasonable technical skill, and some even had some decent creativity, but all of them bit off more than they could chew in attempting to make feature films.

Not only that, but I think that, like reading short stories by talented novelists, seeing short films by successful and skilled filmmakers would be really cool and a nice variety; you can tell all sorts of interesting stories better in a short format than in a feature. But other than something like Showtime's Masters of Horror series (which still features movies about 50 minutes long), there really isn't a commercially viable venue for short films. It's one thing to make a calling-card short and peddle it to festivals as a struggling filmmaker, but why would someone already steadily working in features want to do that?

So instead shorts are relegated to festivals and unproven filmmakers, and even they would rather be making features before they really know what they're doing. It's too bad that as a critic I don't get more opportunities to write about and promote short films, but honestly I never thought about it that much before. I'll definitely make an effort to check out the shorts programs at this year's CineVegas.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Movies opening this week

Freedomland (Samuel L. Jackson, Julianne Moore, Ron Eldard, dir. Joe Roth)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
This was originally scheduled for an Oscar bait run in December and then moved to February. Also, it was directed by the guy who made Revenge of the Nerds II. That tells you pretty much all you need to know. I do wonder, though, what happened to Julianne Moore. She's done some pretty weak mainstream crap in the last couple of years, including The Forgotten (in which she played the same part as she does here) and the really awful Laws of Attraction. I think a rehabilitation courtesy of the Coen brothers is in order. Wide release

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Weekend viewing

(Yes, I am so behind on posting that this is actually last weekend's viewing, but I was too busy to see anything this weekend anyway.)

Dogtown and Z-Boys (Stacy Peralta, 2001)
I saw the narrative version of this film, Lords of Dogtown, last year, and found it to be pretty boring and uninspired. But my friend practically worships this movie, and I have to say that it's a perfect example of a great story that just doesn't translate well to Hollywood-style filmmaking. Peralta covers ground that was very familiar to me from watching Lords of Dogtown, but he does it in a much more engrossing and creative way, putting much more invention into the documentary format than he did in his bland screenplay for Lords. He's lucky to have so much actual footage from the early days of the Dogtown skateboard revolution, but he's also incredibly adept at editing it together in an exciting way, along with interviews and Sean Penn's narration and some awesome classic rock that must have cost him more to license than the entire budget of the film. The thing I liked most about this movie is that it's incredibly cinematic, taking full advantage of the visual nature of the medium and not just showing us a bunch of talking heads. It did strike me as a little odd that Peralta never acknowledged that he was essentially making a documentary about himself, even in his own interviews, which was maybe a little disingenuous but did make everything flow more smoothly.

Orwell Rolls in His Grave (Robert Kane Pappas, 2003)
I saw this only because I did a story for the Weekly about hanging out with the activists who got together to watch it, and I doubt otherwise I would have ever seen it. It's yet another left-leaning documentary, going over many of the same points that Michael Moore has been making for years, and doing so in a much more clumsy and less entertaining way. If Dogtown and Z-Boys is impressively cinematic for a documentary, this film is just the opposite, shot without grace or style, full of talking heads and clunky graphics (complete with a typo). A few of the "interview" subjects don't even sit for interviews; Pappas just shot them giving speeches to unseen audiences. His points about media hegemony are extreme but not entirely off-base; his method of delivery, though, leaves a lot to be desired.

Secret Things (Jean-Claude Brisseau, 2002)
This is clearly a pretentiously overwrought film, but I sort of enjoyed it anyway, since I have a soft spot for snooty French art movies. Plus, it has hot lesbian sex in it. I couldn't quite decide if Brisseau is a raging misogynist or a subversive feminist, but the fact that the movie theoretically supports both reads makes it interesting regardless of its increasingly ridiculous plot. A number of critics have compared this to Eyes Wide Shut, except this is what that film should have been if Kubrick weren't so cold a filmmaker and didn't have censors breathing down his neck. I'm still not sure if this was a good movie, but it was worth watching, and it's too bad that none of Brisseau's other films appear to be available on DVD in the U.S.

Monday, February 13, 2006

New comics 2/8

Cable & Deadpool #25 (Fabian Nicieza/Lan Medina, Marvel)
It's sort of amazing that this book has made it to its 25th issue, and I'm heartened that Cable's impending addition to the cast of X-Men doesn't seem to spell doom for this title. It's unfortunate to see Patrick Zircher go, though, and Medina's decent but bland art is a definite step down. They've also gotten rid of Udon on inks and colors, which would have helped bring a certain continuity to the look. Still, the art is fine, and Nicieza tells an interesting story about Captain America coming to Providence and essentially getting schooled by Cable. It seems forbidden to ever make Captain America look inferior to anyone, so I like the perspective that Nicieza has here, even if it sort of backpedals from last issue's ominous cliffhanger. Next is an X-Men crossover featuring the return of Apocalypse, which I'm not crazy about, but if that's what it takes to keep this book around, I guess it's okay.

Fables #46 (Bill Willingham/Jim Fern, DC/Vertigo)
Another of Willingham's little two-part side stories, and again I'm impressed with how he can show the way that life is normal and stable even for those in the "evil" empire of the Adversary. None of the main characters of the series show up in this story about two wooden soldiers in love, but it does a nice job of showing a different side of the world that Willingham's created. I'm only vaguely familiar with Fern, and I associate him with generic superhero work, but his art here has a sort of storybook quality that works well for the plot. These diversions are always nice, but of course it'll be even better to get back to the next multi-part story.

Young Avengers #10 (Allan Heinberg/Jim Cheung, Marvel)
Heinberg keeps messing with the status quo, introducing a new team member and further integrating the Vision into the team in this issue. He also pulls out one of his top-notch cliffhanger endings again, and those two aspects mark the similarities between this book and Runaways. The only problem I had with this issue was in Cheung's art, which normally I think is great. But an important plot point hinges on the uncanny resemblance between Wiccan and the new character, and it's sort of vague in the dialogue, so I had to read certain scenes several times before I got what was going on. The problem isn't what Heinberg wrote, but that he relies on Cheung's art to sell the similarity and all of Cheung's faces look pretty similar already. That's not usually a problem, but here it added unnecessary confusion to what was otherwise a very good issue.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Movies opening this week

Curious George (Voices of Will Ferrell, Dick Van Dyke, David Cross, Drew Barrymore, dir. Matthew O'Callaghan)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
This has been getting mostly good reviews, and I feel sort of bad giving it a mildly negative one, but I can't imagine anyone over the age of four possibly enjoying this movie. Egregious product placement aside, it is sort of refreshing to see an animated movie that isn't straining itself to appear hip by loading down with pop culture references and ill-suited celebrity voices (the celebrities in this film all do perfectly appropriate and satisfactory work). It's just too bad that they replace those elements with a boring, meandering plot and a serious lack of energy. The kid sitting in front of me was clearly bored and introduced me to a new low in theatergoer annoyance: Perhaps emulating his parents, he was playing with a toy cell phone that lit up and made stupid ringtone noises just like a real one. Wide release

Final Destination 3 (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Ryan Merriman, Kris Lemche, dir. James Wong)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
I actually watched both previous Final Destination films in the last couple of weeks to prepare for this review, and found them to be a lot of fun. And if all you care about is gore and some mordant humor and people dying in ridiculous ways, then you'll probably really like this movie. My friend who went to the screening with me (and is a big FD fan) certainly did. I even found parts of it entertaining, but they really have been making the same movie over and over again, and I think that if they make a Final Destination 4, they're going to need to think of something seriously innovative to justify yet another installment. Wide release

Monday, February 06, 2006

New comics 2/1

Black Harvest #3 (Josh Howard, Devil's Due)
After half of this mini-series, I still don't have much of an idea what's going on and I'm not sure if I really care. There's a lot of creepy atmosphere and vaguely bad stuff, but not much in the way of a discernible plot, and I'm not sure if it's worth paying $3.25 an issue to see if anything develops. I still like Howard's art, but I've just gotten tired of waiting around for something interesting to happen.

The Exterminators #2 (Simon Oliver/Tony Moore, DC/Vertigo)
Oliver drops a nice twist in this issue by offing a character who appeared to be one of the main cast members in the first issue, but I still have no idea what this book is supposed to be about. I don't necessarily mean that in a bad way - it's got all sorts of interesting elements, including dark comedy, sci-fi, mystery and horror - but it's a little hard to figure out what to pay attention to. Still, unlike Josh Howard, Oliver has hooked me enough for now to keep reading to find out what's going on, and I still like his dialogue and Moore's straightforward art.

Fantastic Four/Iron Man: Big in Japan #4 (Zeb Wells/Seth Fisher, Marvel)
It saddened me to read that Seth Fisher died this week, right as I had this sitting on my pile of stuff to read. His art is far and away the best thing about this series, and is definitely unique in the comics world. I'd always been kind of curious about his stuff, but hadn't picked up anything by him until this series, and now I might have to go back and check out some of his earlier work, since there won't be any more to come in the future, sadly. Anyway, this issue wraps up the goofy story of the FF and Iron Man fighting bizarre monsters in the Far East, and it's typically nonsensical and silly as the whole thing has been. Wells's sense of humor and flair for the absurd meshes well with Fisher's outlandish creations, and the whole thing is a fun read - but it's better simply as an artistic showcase.

Powers #16 (Brian Michael Bendis/Michael Avon Oeming, Marvel/Icon)
It really worries me that Bendis is giving super powers to both of his lead characters, since it seems to undermine the entire concept of this series. I didn't mind when he revealed Walker's back story as a centuries-old hero who had lost his powers, since it added a nice pathos to the character and didn't change his current status. But when the whole idea of the book is regular cops investigating crimes by people with super powers, what happens when the cops are no longer any different from the super heroes? It really seems to dilute the concept. That said, this is a perfectly good issue, and it plays into Walker's deep desire to be a hero again very effectively. Oeming also gets to cut loose with some crazy cosmic visuals, which is not something he usually gets a chance to do in a book that's more likely to feature five pages of people talking in an interrogation room. I still don't get the weird, rambling unfunny comedians that open and close each issue, but I imagine we'll find out the point of that soon enough.

X-Factor #3 (Peter David/Ryan Sook & Dennis Calero, Marvel)
Peter David has announced that Sook will be leaving the book after issue four, having penciled only a single full issue, and that's a shame. His art is expressive and beautiful, especially with Wade Von Grawbadger's always excellent thick inks. This issue once again suffers from a clash of art styles, with Sook and Calero (who has a more sketchy, dark style) splitting the pages about 50/50, and it'll be better once a single artist is handling a whole issue, even if it's Calero, whose style I'm not crazy about. As for the story, David continues weaving an interesting mystery and trying valiantly to justify the presence of Layla Miller, which he even comes close to doing this issue. It'll be nice when the art situation settles down and the focus can simply be on telling good stories with these characters.

Y the Last Man #42 (Brian K. Vaughan/Goran Sudzuka, DC/Vertigo)
This is yet another issue full of flashbacks, and I feel like it's been forever since we've focused on the main narrative. Still, it's far more informative than the pointless issue about 355's origin, and we learn some relevant information about what Ampersand was up to before he ended up in Yorick's possession, info that could lead to some enlightenment about the nature of the plague. It's nice to see that back in focus after some time on the backburner, and I hope by next issue we'll return to a story arc and some forward motion for the cast.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Movies opening this week

Mrs. Henderson Presents (Judi Dench, Bob Hoskins, Kelly Reilly, dir. Stephen Frears)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
It's truly ridiculous that Judi Dench got an Oscar nomination for this role, which is the very definition of coasting. Otherwise, I have no problem with this movie. It's hokey and inconsequential, but it has its charms, and if all you want to do is watch Judi Dench be Judi Dench and see some naked breasts along the way, then have at it. Opened limited Dec. 9; in Las Vegas this week

The World's Fastest Indian (Anthony Hopkins, dir. Roger Donaldson)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
I really have no problem with this movie, either, even though I gave it a slightly more negative review. It's kind of plotless and rambling at times, which makes it a little less compelling than Mrs. Henderson, but Hopkins gives a really nice and subdued performance for once, and, again, if you want to watch Anthony Hopkins be Anthony Hopkins and see some fast motorcycles along the way, then have at it. Opened limited Dec. 7; in Las Vegas this week

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Oscar nominations

As I said last year, it's pointless to complain about the Oscar nominations. This year may actually have been more predictable than most, but the range of predictability is so small that it's almost irrelevant. Once again, instead of focusing on my obvious gripes (or rehashing how much I hate Crash), I want to note some of the positive steps the Academy took in highlighting movies that really deserve recognition:

The New World for Best Cinematography: Yes, I think this is the best movie of the year, and if I were in charge it would be nominated in every category in which it was eligible. But given how poorly New Line handled the marketing (compared to, say, Lionsgate's mailing of 130,000 Crash screeners to members of the Screen Actors Guild) and how Malick sabotaged his own chances by pulling the film at the last minute for more editing, I'm happy just to see it show up somewhere. And it does indeed have amazing cinematography (by Emmanuel Lubezki) that's far and away the best of the year, and I do think it has an outside chance of winning (although Brokeback Mountain, a very well-shot film, will probably take this category).

Amy Adams for Best Supporting Actress: Okay, I admit, I thought Junebug was overrated and honestly found Adams' performance to be far too over the top. But this was a tiny movie that barely anyone saw, and Adams is far from a known performer. So for the Academy to take a risk and nominate her, even if I don't find her as deserving as some do, is still something to be commended, and almost makes up for pointless knee-jerk nominations of people like Judi Dench.

A History of Violence, Match Point and The Squid and the Whale for Best Original/Adapted Screenplay: Although I wasn't as crazy about The Squid and the Whale as many other critics were, a Best Picture category that included these three films would have made me very happy. Alas, they will settle for the Citizen Kane award (and most likely lose to Brokeback Mountain and Crash).

"It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp" for Best Song: For some reason, Paramount Classics was pushing the end credits song from Hustle & Flow for awards instead of this one, which in addition to being insanely catchy actually has relevance to the plot. I always think it's pointless that random songs tacked on to the credits sequences of films get these nominations when they have very little to do with the moviemaking process, so it's nice to see a piece of music that's integral to the film it came from get the nomination. And I can't wait to see them perform it at the ceremony.

No computer animation in the Best Animated Feature category: This was the year that hand-drawn animation died, right? And we got masterpieces like Robots, Madagascar and Chicken Little. I don't mean to say that CG animation is inherently inferior - far from it. Pixar have demonstrated time and time again that it's possible to make intelligent, well-crafted and moving films with computer animation. But the sudden abandonment of other forms of animation seems to me grossly misguided, so I am glad that the Academy saw past the technological flashiness and nominated the films with the best writing, the most striking visuals and the most affecting stories.