Hard to believe that the there are only six weeks left until all Oscar-eligible films for the 2006 year will have bowed in at least one cinema. This year was a puzzling one….. Movie Summer 2006 was one of the weakest in memory (what does it say of a summer when not only one of the best films, but one of the most exciting films, is….. a movie about global warming?!?!?), and yet, nearly as soon as the leaves began to turn, so did film year 2006 take a turn… for the better. Five movies I’ve seen that have come out in October and November alone – The Departed, Borat, The Prestige, Casino Royale, and The Queen – are first-rate films to varying degrees. One (The Departed) is worthy of at least a Best Picture and Best Director nomination (if only critics would realize that they no longer sound “cool” when they say “The Departed is Scorsese’s best film since Goodfellas, but that’s not saying much!” – they sound rehearsed)and several acting nominations; another (the Queen) might as well be anointed the film that receives the Oscar for Best Actress (Helen Mirren) now. And the potential group of nominees includes…. Kate Winslet, Judi Dench, Meryl Streep AND Cate Blanchett.. A remarkable turnaround.

I’d be remiss in writing any column about the Academy Awards if I did not mention a man whose name has long been associated with Oscar – a five-time nominee, and this year’s winner of the “We Know You’re Going to Die So We’re Giving You This Award, Even Though Giving It To Paul Newman Made Us Look Like Morons” award: Robert Altman, who passed away yesterday. I’ve only seen two Altman films in their entirety – Gosford Park (2001) and Short Cuts (1993), but both, Short Cuts in particular, were superlative. I regret not having seen M*A*S*H* (1970) and Nashville (1975) while he was still alive, if only so that I could have realized while he still drew breath the enormity of thie man’s talent.

One thing that frequently bothered me where Robert Altman was concerned is that he was branded a misogynist by so-called reputable critics. These critics cite the film “Dr. T and the Women” as Count I in their indictment. I must say that I find this charge unfair- not only unfair, but befuddling. Altman’s films – “Three Women”, “Nashville”and “Short Cuts” – don’t just have sympathetic, well-written female roles; these roles sparkle with humanity – with the spontaneity and life that has been called “Altmanesque”. I can still remember Helen Mirren breaking down at the end of Gosford Park….”At least you have one”…. Or Lily Tomlin in Short Cuts, embracing her lover (Tom Waits), alkyism and all.

Real bigotry – alas, the Michael Richards kind – has a way of presenting itself, in a manner that leaves no doubt as to its presence. Altman was the living embodiement of the phrase “maverick” among American directors – one whose zestful loathing of the studio system was organic rather than affected, a feeling earned rather than affected. People fear this type of person, and imagine that if they truly knew what it meant to speak one’s mind, bigotry would come out of their mouths – so it must have come out of his as well.

Altman was said by several critics to have loved his characters more than any other director ever has. Of course, I wouldn’t know if this was true – nor would the people who made the comments – but what a special observation…. aout this ost special of directors.

By the way, I’m watching “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” now. What an achievment in its own right this movie was! The film managed to invoke genuine dread, and pathos (the perfectly choreographed devastation with which we are hit as Cedric Diggory returns to the real world is an unforgettale five seconds of film), and… as I have noticed for the first time, revlusion – in that I find it disturbing how free with their hands the professors are when it comes to striking students with them. True, the scenes, where Harry or Ron have their heads shoved down upon a table by Professor Snape are meant to be comical (I think), but others involving similar – and the only word I can call it is “abuse” – are not meant to evoke any feeling, I think – they just kind of sit there, hovering over the movie, bestriding it like an anomalous fog.

One feeling that Potter IV does capture well – and here, I must sadly invoke the adage “One doesn’t have to bite the donut to know it’s sweet” – is the spirit of adolescent love. I’ve been witness to the many shades of this spirit – as it is expressed by people who claim to be experiencing “love” many times, just as the bridesmaid who is never a bridge gets a heady whiff of the real thing but cannot keep her own supply. I cannot believe that at my age, I am watching films where people less than half of my age are experiencing emotions that on an organic level, I’ve never felt. The embarrassment is so overwhelming that it zips across, around, and within my mind in bursts of awkwardness, but never sits still long enough to marinate. I suppose my mind has constructed a defense mechanism in this manner. Whether this s a good thing is a different issue altogether.

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