Saturday, December 30, 2006

More from my CG side

I got a huge kick out of this set of 2007 predictions about the future of corporate governance. And some of my recent press quotes can be found here, here, here, here, here, and here.

After this, back to movies, I promise.

Thursday, December 28, 2006


Here is my top 10 movie list for 2006, with Honorable Mentions, and my top 10 family movie list, with Dishonorable Mentions:

Top ten 2006

1. The Queen
2. Letters from Iwo Jima
3. Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles
4. The Departed
5. Little Miss Sunshine
6. Thank You for Smoking
7. Volver
8. Dreamgirls
9. Akeelah and the Bee
10. Happy Feet

Honorable Mention:
Stranger than Fiction
United 93
Inside Man
Dave Chappelle’s Block Party

Top Ten Family Films:

1. Akeelah and the Bee
2. Happy Feet
3. Charlotte’s Web
4. Monster House
5. How to Eat Fried Worms
6. Cars
7. Over the Hedge
8. Open Season
9. Flushed Away
10. The Ant Bully

Dishonorable Mention:
Deck the Halls
The Shaggy Dog

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

The Movie Mom's Mom

My commentary on NPR's Marketplace explains how everything I know about excessive CEO compensation I learned from my mother.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Quote of the Week -- Jeannette Catsoulis

The fabulously talented Jeannette Catsoulis writes with as much wit, insight, breadth of expertise, and spirit as the best of the films she reviews, and often even more deliciously enjoyable. This week, her New York Times review of "Curse of the Golden Flower" is everything film criticism should be -- smart, funny, provocative, wise, and thoroughly entertaining. I'd love to quote it all, but in the spirit of the art form fortunate enough to capture her attention, consider these quotes previews of coming attractions.

With each new martial-arts drama, the Chinese director Zhang Yimou widens the distance between his adult self and his dismal youth during the Cultural Revolution, pushing himself to ever greater heights of ambition and experimentation. Energy and excess — of color, symbolism and emotion — are his antidotes to memories of uniformity and repression. His extravagant stories celebrate unfettered artistic expression as if it were a gift his Western counterparts have long taken for granted. In “Curse of the Golden Flower” Mr. Zhang achieves a kind of operatic delirium, opening the floodgates of image and melodrama until the line between tragedy and black comedy is all but erased.

Though embroiled in familiar themes of fraternal rivalry and Freudian jealousy, Mr. Zhang is aware of the ridiculousness of man’s passions in the face of his impermanence. One of the film’s loveliest and most allusive sequences focuses on the royal cleanup crew as it restores order after the bloodbath, rinsing away gore and burying stains beneath a fresh carpet of golden chrysanthemums. In the wake of this shadow army, the battle is erased and the dead are swept aside like so many dust bunnies.

Since his debut in 1987 with “Red Sorghum” Mr. Zhang has made more controlled films but never one that’s more fun. With “Curse of the Golden Flower” he aims for Shakespeare and winds up with Jacqueline Susann. And a good thing too.

And like a movie that reserves its final punch for the credit sequence, even her parental advisory is worth reading:
It has flying assassins, bloody battles and a mother who, like, really loves her sons.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Interview with Catherine Hardwicke, director of "The Nativity Story"

Today I interviewed Catherine Hardwicke, director of Thirteenand Lords of Dogtown. Her latest film is The Nativity Story.

You have an unusual background for a director, with your training and previous experience in design. How does that affect the way you approach a movie project?

Yes, I was an architect, a great way to learn problem solving, structural visualization, and imagining what something will look like. I can look at a bare space and say, "I want to build Nazareth here, let’s butild a wall here, let’s build Mary's house here." We built not just Nazareth but Bethlehem. You stand in places that don’t look anything like what you want to film and you will it to life. I would do sketches and then Stefano (Maria Ortolani, the production designer) would do a sketch, and we would work together. Even if you’re not building complete cities, as a director you always need to know "how does this work?"

Because of your experience as a production designer, you got to work with a number of different directors. Did you learn a lot from watching them?

I would totally try to watch and see how the director would work with actors. How do you create that space that lets the actor make that moment seem real and have that moment for the first time, that energy and that life force? I did not just watch but asked a lot of questions of the directors, asked for a lot of advice. I liked watching the different approaches. For example, Cameron Crowe uses music to create the atmosphere and let the actors know what he wants from a scene.

I'm going to ask you the same question I asked Oscar Isaac. Your Mary and Joseph actors came from two different environments -- one from New Zealand, a teenager, natural but untrained, the other from the US and classically trained, still young but out of college. How did you work with them?

Oscar and Keisha and I did try in the place I rented to have a lot of personal rehearsals before we got to the set, a lot of improvising, a lot of "how would you feel?" We would act it out, feel our way through it. She would talk to me about things in her personal life or a friend’s mother, and then on the set, I would just talk to her to bring her right back to that moment. I would tell her to imagine the smell of the food cooking at the background, look at Oscar's calloused hands and say "I’m going to be married to a carpenter -- that’s not what I dreamed for myself." How does that feel?

This makes your third film in a row that focuses on the lives of teenagers. How did you develop your special feeling for that time of life?

That movie Thirteencame out of my own relationship with (co-author and lead) Nikki (Reed) and her mother, trying to be helpful with the stress they were going through as their relationships deteriorated. I wanted to be a positive influence, to be a relief valve for her mother, so I let her friends hang out, we'd go to museums, learn how to draw. I was trying to get them inspired to be creative instead of destructive. Teenagers today have so many influences, they say 3000 advertising images hit you every single day telling you: "Be sexy, be skinny, you’ll be famous, you’ll be rich." Then there's just one little voice from mom saying, "It’s okay honey."

Mary and Joseph faced a different world 2000 years ago, but had some of the same issues -- Mary feeling she was not fitting in, not being the norm, being scorned, having to stand up for what she believed was right.

How do you take a story everyone knows and make it real for both believers and those who are more interested in the story or the history than religious observance?

I thought Mike Rich (the screenwriter) did a great job. He would take the gospels' sentences and verses that were beautiful but very minimal, take one sentence about Joseph being righteous and considering divorcing mary and then research the economic and political life of Nazareth at that time. There is so much behind it. Mary's pregnancy was bringing shame to her family and village, and that is part of the story. You can be completely literal but breathe life into it and dramatize it. How does it feel? What goes on in your heart and mind? It is easy to be literal and true and faithful and still enrich it with historical accuracy and make it personal.

This was a very international cast and crew. I don't think there were two from the same background. What was that like?

That was what was so fascinating! I thought I would cast everyone from the Middle East, but we ended up going everywhere to find people who could be from the Middle East in Biblical times and ended up with cast and crew members from 23 different countries, and then of course even filming a Christian story in a Muslim country. That was so amazing for me, from a little town in south Texas and then California, working with all these people from all these places with such a rich mixture of religions. Everyone connected to the story in their own way. We really saw the similarities in the religions and reactions.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Another list -- "overlooked movies"

I don't like making them myself, but I do enjoy other people's lists, especially those that don't try to be definitive "bests." And here is one that's fun -- The Guardian's list of "lost" overlooked movies. They aren't really lost, of course. Many are well-recognized by movie-lovers. But it's nice to see a little recognition for "Top Secret," "Safe," "Tin Cup," "The Swimmer," and "Narrow Margin" (I like the remake of that one, too). Films I have not heard of ("Babylon," "The Bill Douglas Trilogy," "The Ninth Configuation," "The Low Down") are so enticingly described that I will forgive the list some pedestrian choices (Disney's animated "Robin Hood" and teen hit "Save the Last Dance" are not in the same league as the other films) and some irretrievable messes (the remake of "Breathless?").

I've always wanted to visit Roger Ebert's annual Overlooked Film Festival. But then, I've always wanted to assign people to watch movies like prescription medication -- in many cases, they'd do a lot more good.

Many thanks to EW for directing me to the list.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Stocking stuffer for your favorite movie fan has a good idea -- a gift card that entitles the recipient to two "good" movies. I might quibble with some of their choices -- "Equilibrium" got only a 34% positive rating from Rotten Tomatoes -- but it is easy to use, many of the choices are excellent, and I like the way it includes shipping and handling.

Friday, December 15, 2006


Washington Post critic Desson Thomson was nice enough to mention me in today's online chat. Oh, and on Wednesday, Sarah Goo quoted me in a story about something related to my non-movie life -- an innovative (but I think not very significant) new twist on stock options from Google.

Chain gang

Ann Hornaday's Washington Post article about "supply chain" movies describes a new and increasingly popular kind of horror movie. Films like "Fast Food Nation," "Blood Diamond," "Syriana," and "Black Gold" as well as documentaries like "Super Size Me" and "Darwin's Nightmare" show those of us lucky enough to be at the top of the consumer food chain what goes in to bringing us those burgers, engagement rings, gas station fill-ups, and four-dollar lattes. Think of them as one big Kathy Lee Gifford intervention. Let me put it this way. In "Fast Food Nation," a teenager spits into a burger just before it is served to an executive from the chain's corporate headquarters, and that's the least unappetizing thing that happens to it.

Hornaday points out that the success of these movies is not measured in box office but in consciousness-raising.

In a recent telephone interview, Zwick said his criterion for success is based on consciousness, not box office clout. "The 19-year-old kids in the multiplex who don't know [anything] about Africa, if they take away a certain number of iconic images or ideas about issues, that will be success for this movie," he said.
Politicians and corporations can be embarassed into change by movies even if they don't make the top 10 in box office returns. Hornaday notes that WalMart has made some changes following the documentary criticizing its practices. Today's Post reports that the State Department has had to respond to the issues raised by the film. Anyone who sees the movie won't think of bling the same way anymore. I predict that the visibility of "Blood Diamond" will encourage jewelers to include documentation of their compliance with the Kimberley principles that ensure the gems were legitimately mined and sold alongside the "this is what she wants" slogans in all those holiday ads.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Best Business Movie lists

The Smart Lemming blog has Lori Grant's lists of the best business movies along with some others she found:

While three out of the four sites chose the Citizen Kane, I love comedies like Baby Boom, The Secret of My Succe$s, Trading Places, and Office Space. Here are my top 10 business movies:

Baby Boom (1987): I love this movie. Forget the adorable baby. I love seeing J.C. Wiatt build a business from scratch, ultimately having the option to be acquired by her former employer. This movie is perfect when you need some motivation on your startup.
The Secret of My Succe$s (1987): Another movie perfect for getting motivated about your career. Brantley Foster played by Michael J. Fox plays an ambitious upstart who gets ahead by sleeping with his aunt! Sounds creepy, but it works. And he eventually becomes CEO, which is the feel-good ending for up and coming knowledge workers who aspire to run a company.
The Godfather: Part II (1974): I love this movie. It’s about family business, loyalty, and about consequences (at least from my perspective). Today, I’m no longer “loyal” anymore to employers, but committed to my work for employers. This movie resonates with me because deep down I do believe in loyalty. I think it’s a noble trait and love this movie for it. And the quotes! My favorite quote: “My father taught me many things … keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.”
The Godfather (1972): “Go the mattresses…” “I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse.” Need I say more?
In Good Company (2004): Dennis Quaid’s character is seasoned and graceful as he’s demoted after a corporate takeover. Quaid must report to a younger boss, Topher Grace, who’s inexperienced, a little arrogant, and frankly a corporate fool. However, by movie’s end, Quaid returns to power as he graciously offers to mentor Grace, who wants to find what he really wants to do. I like the realism of movie. It’s sucks to be demoted, but it was encouraging to see Quaid’s character handle it as a seasoned professional.
Glengarry Glen Ross (1992): Sales is hard. Managing sales is a tough job, but doing sales? You couldn’t pay me enough to be a sales person. This film depicts how sales people handle stress differently. My description doesn’t give it justice.
Wall Street (1987): A great movie that compares and contrasts a father and son’s values. Moral of the story for me was “there are no short cuts.”
Trading Places (1983): I love this movie just because I like rags to riches stories. Or in Dan Aykroyd’s case, from riches to rags to riches.
Office Space (1999): Cubes. I hate cubes. This movie perfectly depicts cubeland. I think I resigned from a job because my employer moved locations, only to put is in new cubes that were 1/3 smaller than our old ones.
Antitrust (2001): There aren’t many movies about the technology industry so it was great watching a fictional vertical in my industry.

Here's my own list of Corporate Governance movies:

Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room Brilliant documentary about what happened at Enron. I only wish they had included the fake trading floor and of course the compromised and negilgent board of directors.
The Solid Gold Cadillac This is the one I showed my children to tell them what mommy did at the office. Add two zeroes on to the end of each number, and every bit of it would be just as apt today.
The Hudsucker Proxy The Coen brothers bring their uniquely cracked sensibility to a 30's-style movie with stunning visuals.
Other People’s Money DeVito (Money) vs. Peck (Heart) for the future of a quaint little company.
Roger & Me Michael Moore's take on General Motors.
Wall Street If Michael Douglass as Gordon Gekko was not an obnoxious crook, his "greed is good...greed, for want of a better word, works" speech would not be so outrageous.
Boiler Room "Wall Street" on crack.
Executive Suite The quinessential post WWII corporate conundrum -- should the new CEO be the cost-cutting green-eyeshade CFO (Fredric March) or the benvolent believer in corporate citizenship (William Holden)?
It’s a Woman’s World The choice of the new CEO will depend on their wives.
Owning Mahoney Based on the real-life story of the largest bank fraud in Canadian history, this story about a bank officer who steals and gambles away $20 million brilliantly dissects the risk assesments of everyone in the story, from the bank loan officers to the casino operators to the federal authorities.
Erin Brockovich Many movies have corporate bad guys, but this one has two advantages -- a real-life story of utter despicability and a heroine of utter irresistibility.
Silkwood Another real-life story with brilliant performances, this is about more then corporate corruption; it is about the soul-deadening nature of bureaucracy and meaningless piecework.
The Corporation If a corporate is considered a "person" under the law, this movie diagnoses it as sociopathic.
Modern Times Charlie Chaplin gets (literally) caught in the corporate machine.
How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying This wild musical is less of an exaggeration than you might think.
Office Space A cult classic examination of the soul-destroying aspects of office life, and absolutely hilarious. An extraordinary documentary about madness with unforgettable characters.
Tucker Based on the real story of the man who tried to take on the big three auto makers.
Who Killed the Electric Car? Brilliant documentary about how a better idea that threatens the status quo was killed by corporate pressure on the politicians.

And now, from smartlemming:

Here are the Forbes,, Inc. blog, and Meryl Notes for your reference
Forbes The Ten Greatest Business Movies by Dan Ackman, 12.16.02

Citizen Kane (RKO Radio Pictures, 1941)
The Godfather: Part II (Paramount, 1974)
It’s a Wonderful Life (RKO Radio Pictures, 1946)
The Godfather (Paramount, 1972)
Network (MGM-United Artists, 1976)
The Insider (Touchstone Pictures, 1999)
Glengarry Glen Ross (New Line Cinema, 1992)
Wall Street (20th Century Fox, 1987)
Tin Men (Touchstone Pictures, 1987)
Modern Times (United Artists, 1936) Best Business Movies Ever By Ash Karbasfrooshan

Citizen Kane (1941)
Wall Street (1987)
Trading Places (1983)
Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)
Jerry Maguire (1996)
Barbarians at the Gate (1993)
Goodfellas (1990)
Pirates of Silicon Valley (2000)
Clerks (1994)
Boiler Room (2000)

Inc. Blog Top 10 Business Movies Posted by Laura Rich

The Aviator
It’s a Wonderful Life
Citizen Kane
Wall Street
Tucker: The Man and His Dream
Glengarry Glen Ross
What Women Want
Working Girl
The Hudsucker Proxy
The Insider

Meryl’s Notes 10 Best Business Movies
Wall Street
It’s a Wonderful Life
Nine to Five
Shall We Dance?
All About Eve
Woman of the Year and Adam’s Rib
Stand and Deliver
Erin Brockovich
Office Space

Monday, December 11, 2006

DC critics awards

The Washington Area Film Critics have announced our awards:

The Washington, DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) today selected a movie honoring the memories of the brave heroes of September 11, the poignant United 93, as Best Film of the Year in a victory that could spur the movie's burgeoning Oscar hopes. Director Martin Scorsese was voted by the group as Best Director for his smash hit movie The Departed,

Forest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland) was named Best Actor, and Helen Mirren (The Queen) continued her march to the Oscars as she was named Best Actress as both actors brought characters to real, and even sympathetic, life.

"What a wonderful way to celebrate our fifth anniversary by honoring this fine collection of talented films and groundbreaking performances. This year gave us true cinematic royalty with a Queen, a King and a Dreamgirl," said WAFCA President Tim Gordon.

As a sign of the strength of her performance and show stopping ability that brought ovations during screenings in DC, Jennifer Hudson (Dreamgirls) was a two time winner awarded Best Supporting Actress and Breakthrough Performance of the Year. In other categories, Djimon Hounsou (Blood Diamond) was named Best Supporting Actor, Happy Feet danced away with Best Animated Feature and Pan's Labyrinth Best Foreign Language Film.

Additionally, WAFCA honored two first time feature length screenwriters as Jason Reitman walked away with Best Adapted Screenplay for the DC-based Thank You For Smoking and Michael Arndt won Best Original Screenplay for the summer's surprise indie hit Little Miss Sunshine.

The Washington, DC Area Film Critics Association is comprised of 36 DC-
based film critics from television, radio, print and the internet. Voting was conducted from December 9 - 10, 2006.

Final Results 2006 Washington, DC Area Film Critics Association Awards

Best Film
United 93/Universal

Best Actor
Forest Whitaker - The Last King Of Scotland

Best Actress
Helen Mirren - The Queen

Best Supporting Actor
Djimon Hounsou - Blood Diamond

Best Supporting Actress
Jennifer Hudson - Dreamgirls

Best Director
Martin Scorsese - The Departed

Best Screenplay, Original
Michael Arndt - Little Miss Sunshine

Best Screenplay, Adapted
Jason Reitman - Thank You For Smoking

Best Foreign Film
Pan's Labyrinth/Picturehouse

Best Animated Feature
Happy Feet/Warner Brothers

Best Documentary
An Inconvenient Truth/Paramount Classics

Best Breakthrough Performance
Jennifer Hudson - Dreamgirls

Best Ensemble
Little Miss Sunshine/Fox Searchlight

Best Art Direction
Marie Antoinette/SONY Pictures Entertainment

Sunday, December 10, 2006

LA Film Critics Awards


LOS ANGELES, DECEMBER 10, 2006 "Letters from Iwo Jima" was voted Best Picture of the Year, it was announced today by Henry Sheehan, President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA). The runner up was "The Queen."

LAFCA's 32nd annual achievement awards ceremony will be held Sunday, January 14 at the Park Hyatt Hotel in Los Angeles.

Other award winners are:

DIRECTOR: Paul Greengrass, "United 93"

Runner-up: Clint Eastwood, "Flags of our Fathers", “Letters from Iwo Jima”

ACTRESS: Helen Mirren, "The Queen"

Runner-up: Penelope Cruz, “Volver”

ACTOR: Tie – Sacha Baron Cohen, "Borat" and Forest Whitaker, “The Last King of Scotland”

SCREENPLAY: "The Queen" by Peter Morgan

Runner-up: “Little Miss Sunshine” by Michael Arndt

SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Luminita Gheorghiu, "The Death of Mr. Lazarescu"

Runner-up: Jennifer Hudson, "Dreamgirls"

SUPPORTING ACTOR: Michael Sheen, "The Queen"

Runner-up: Sergi Lopez, "Pan’s Labyrinth"

FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM: "The Lives of Others" directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck

Runner-up: "Volver" directed by Pedro Almodovar

DOCUMENTARY/NON-FICTION FILM: "An Inconvenient Truth" directed by Davis Guggenheim

Runner-up: "Darwin’s Nightmare" directed by Hubert Sauper

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Eugenio Caballero, "Pan’s Labyrinth"

Runner-up: Jim Clay, Veronica Falzon, Geoffrey Kirkland, "Children of Men"

ANIMATION: “Happy Feet" (George Miller)

Runner-up: “Cars” (John Lasseter, Joe Ranft)

MUSIC: Alexandre Desplat, “The Painted Veil” and "The Queen"

Runner-up: Thomas Newman, "The Good German" and “Little Children”

CINEMATOGRAPHY: Emmanuel Lubezki, "Children of Men"

Runner-up: Tom Stern, "Flags of our Fathers” and “Letters from Iwo Jima"

NEW GENERATION: Michael Arndt, Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris – “Little Miss Sunshine”

CAREER ACHIEVEMENT: Robert Mulligan (previously announced)

INDEPENDENT/EXPERIMENTAL: Tie - “Old Joy” directed by Kelly Reichardt and “In Between Days” directed by So Yong Kim

SPECIAL CITATIONS: To Jean-Pierre Melville’s 1969 film “Army of Shadows” which had its U.S. premiere this year, and to Jonas Mekas for his career as a critic and filmmaker.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Nick at Night on WGN

There is no one I love to talk to about movies more than Nick DiGilio. He is knowledgeable, passionate, very smart, very funny, and as much fun to disagree with as to agree with. I've been on his wonderful radio program on WGN in Chicago many times, but last Friday was a special treat as I got to be there in person. Thanks again, Nick and Andy and I can't wait for the next time!

Host Your Own Film Festival

Film Movement is a DVD-of-the-month service featuring the best in independent film. And for a limited time, you can use code filmgift10 to get 30% off. A great gift idea for your favorite cineaste.