And I thought my dating life had gone to the dogs before! After the nightmarish experience I just had, I’ve deleted all the dating apps from my phone. For the record, I was on Tinder, Hinge, Happn and JSwipe—and no, I’m not a J, but I’d love to meet a nice Jewish woman. Which is what I thought I had found in a Hebrew teacher who was matched up with me on Tinder a few days ago.
I quickly determined that while she was currently within my 10-mile GPS radius, she doesn’t actually live near me in the NYC/NJ area. She lives in Florida (RED FLAG NO. 1!) but was in town for an education conference. She was only going to be here for a few days, but what could it hurt to meet up for a quick drink? I’m not looking for a long-distance relationship, but I am looking for a long-term one, and you never know, right? Wrong. I should’ve known.
She was a little wary to speak on the phone before we met, telling me she had a strong Israeli accent. I told her I liked accents, so we chatted for 20 minutes or so and found we had a few things in common: We’re both divorced, have two kids and a dog. That was enough to make a plan to meet, but she was hesitant to tell me where she was staying. (RED FLAG NO. 2!)
She strung me along for a day or so, told me her cell phone had died when she was in Manhattan seeing a Broadway show, and eventually agreed to have me pick her up at a “Duncan Donuts” (RED FLAG NO. 3!) near her hotel. I figured she was just probably being cautious because she didn’t know me, and I could be a psycho. Turns out it was the other way around.
When she wobbled up to the donut shop, she was wearing an inordinate amount of makeup, a leopard-print top, tight jeans and high heels (hence the wobbling). She’s from Florida, I figured, so I cut her some slack. I took her to a soul-food restaurant/jazz club I know nearby, and we seemed to be hitting it off. She didn’t know much about jazz, but she seemed interested in learning about it, and she had some interesting stories to share about her time in the Israeli Army, among other things.
But as the night went on, and the drinks went down — we went for a nightcap of margaritas at a Mexican place — she grew more and more honest. That would normally be a good thing, but there’s brutal honesty and then there’s the ugly truth. She told me the reason she was attracted to me was because I reminded her of a guy she used to date. Slightly offended, I asked if she would like anyone who reminded her of this guy. “I don’t like just anyone,” she slurred. “I don’t like Puerto Ricans. Or Black people. Except maybe LeBron James.” (RED FLAG NO. 4, 5, 6…!) The “maybe” is the part that really got me. She’s not even sure about LeBron.
What is it with me and intoxicated racists? This time it was alcohol instead of Ambien, but still…
I gave her a ride home to her hotel, wished her good night, and immediately deleted all my dating apps. I’m going to try and meet a woman the old-fashioned way. By taking my darling Clementine to the dog park. Dogs are chick magnets, right?
Lately, people have been telling me I should quit trying so hard to find a girlfriend. “When you stop looking, that’s when you’ll find her,” they say. I’m not sure if I believe them, but I’ve made a move that could seriously curtail my dating life: I got a dog.
Granted, I’ve been thinking about it for years, and the reason why I haven’t done it is because I’m not home much during the week. I’ve got an office job at a magazine every weekday, and I often go out in the city after work. On dates. Bad dates. Bad Internet dates. That wouldn’t be so easy if I had to head home to the suburbs every night and walk the dog—and no, that’s not a euphemism.
I’m also nervous because I’ve never had a dog. I grew up in a non-pet house. Everyone was allergic to something, and I seemed to be allergic to everything. But I’ve always loved dogs, and since I got divorced ten years ago, I’ve had long-term relationships with a couple of women who had amazing dogs and had no problem spending significant periods of time around them. Around the dogs, that is.
In the meantime, my ex-wife adopted a dog, much to the delight of our two children. Frosty was an older poodle, and his name accurately reflected his attitude towards me. I wasn’t crazy about him, either, especially after he nipped me.
Frosty had a tendency to run away, and I was less than thrilled about having to comfort my inconsolable offspring every time he went on a walkabout. That task was even harder when he died after only a few years. I was experiencing the worst parts of having a pet without enjoying any of the best parts.
After a reasonable mourning period, my ex got a new dog: a young black-and-white mutt named Tux. It was love at first sight between us. She’s the sweetest, most affectionate creature I’ve ever known. But she’s not mine.
Still, I managed to finagle a good deal of time with her. When my ex went away for weekends without the kids, Tux often along with them to my house for extended sleepovers. She usually ended up in my room. And I couldn’t have been happier.
We talked about working out a shared custody agreement, but that didn’t come to pass. (Exes unable to agree on a compromise? Shocking, I know.) So I sought out time with other friends who have pets. I’ve taken walks in the park with an ex-girlfriend and her adorable black pooch Rex. And I spent a week dog-sitting my neighbors’ wonderful beagle, K.C.
My 13-year-old daughter Olive kept telling me, “Just get a dog, Pop!” every time I comment on a cute pup we come across in our neighborhood. We visited a shelter, but we didn’t bond with any of the four-legged residents there and went home empty-handed.
A few months ago, I saw a post on Facebook that a beagle had been found near my house. She was being kept at my local hair salon, and they were looking for someone to adopt her. It felt like canine kismet, but I hesitated and soon heard the woman who cuts my hair had taken her in. Oh well, I thought, at least she got a good home.
Then a few weeks ago, my hairstylist told me she was moving abroad and needed to find a new home for the dog, whom she’d named Clementine. Determined not to miss out on my chance again, I told her I’d be interested in adopting her.
We set up a playdate, and my kids and the dog immediately fell in love with one another. But before we could finalize the deal, Clementine found another owner, someone who works from home and has another dog to keep her company. My kids and I were crushed.
Until a few weeks ago, I got a text from my stylist that Clementine wasn’t happy in her new home. Would I still be open to adopting her? It was doggie destiny! She’s been living with us for a week now, and the bad Internet dates can wait. All I want to do is revel in the unconditional love of my darling: Clementine.
For Julianne Moore, the fifth time will be the charm. She’s been nominated for Oscars four times before. Her first came for playing a maternal porn star in 1997’s Boogie Nights; she lost to Kim Basinger as a hooker with a heart of gold in L.A. Confidential. Can anyone really argue that Kim Basinger is a better actress than Julianne Moore? Not me. But it was Basinger’s year: The story line of an actress who was never taken seriously because of her looks suddenly sinking her teeth into a meaty role was too much for the Academy to resist.
In 2000, she received her first Best Actress nod, for playing an World War II-era English adultress in The End of the Affair. She lost to Hillary Swank as the tragically murdered transgendered teen Brandon Teena in Boys Don’t Cry. Okay, it’s hard to argue with that one. Moore was nominated twice in 2003: Best Actress for her heartbreaking portrayal of a 1950’s housewife with a gay husband and an African-American lover in Far From Heaven and Best Supporting Actress for…another 1950’s housewife, this one pregnant, in The Hours. She lost Best Actress to her Hours co-star Nicole Kidman, for wearing a prosthetic nose as Virginia Woolf, and lost Best Supporting Actress to Catherine Zeta-Jones for Chicago, for the same reason she lost to Kim Basinger, plus C Z-J also sang and danced her ass off.
She probably should’ve been nominated several more times: for Robert Altman’s Short Cuts (and not just because she went bottomless and proved she’s a natural redhead); Magnolia (reuniting with Boogie Nights‘ Paul Thomas Anderson); and The Kids Are All Right (for some reason, Annette Bening got all the acclaim but lost the Oscar nonetheless). Hell, you could even make a case for her in The Big Lebowski and The Hand That Rocks the Cradle. She’s pretty much always great, at least on the big screen (I still can’t get her grating Boston accent from 30 Rock out of my head). And even sometimes on the small screen: She out-you-betcha’d Tina Fey as Sarah Palin in HBO’s Game Change, winning every award except an Oscar in the process.
Well, it’s finally Moore’s year. Her performance as a linguistics professor rapidly losing the power of speech due to the onset of early Alzheimer’s Disease in Still Alice is a thing of rare beauty and subtlety. It’s an even more amazing accomplishment considering the film around her rarely rises above the level of a well-made disease-of-the-week TV movie. Aside from her old 30 Rock love interest Alec Baldwin as her slightly selfish husband, the rest of the cast—including a typically itchy Kristen Stewart, the exquisite but plastic Kate Bosworth and ex-Weeds pretty boy Hunter Parrish as her kids—aren’t up to her level.
But it doesn’t matter whenever Moore is on screen. She owns the movie, and her performance never shades into simplicity or sentimentality. Even if her competition for Best Actress weren’t so weak—the overrated Reese Witherspoon (Wild) and Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl); the overmatched Felicity Jones (who should be in the supporting category for playing Steven Hawking’s supportive wife in The Theory of Everything); and Marion Cotillard in Two Days, One Night, a movie that I, like the rest of America, haven’t seen—she’d be the prohibitive favorite to win. Her heartfelt and self-effacing acceptance speech at the SAG Awards, that began “When I was on As the World Turns…,” sealed the deal. It’s about damn time. And when she wins, I won’t be the only one saying, “The Moore, the merrier!”
You couldn’t have scripted it any better if it were a movie: An actress who hasn’t been taken seriously in years deglamorizes herself for a role as a woman going through a serious health crisis and wins over critics, audiences, and the Academy, earning an Oscar nomination in the process. That was the story Jennifer Aniston seems to have laid out for herself by playing a woman suffering from chronic pain (and chronic dishevelment) in Cake. Too bad Reese Witherspoon beat her to the punch by going make-up free and stringy-haired as a hiker overcoming grief, drug abuse and promiscuity in Wild.
That film earned 90% positive reviews, a very respectable $34 million so far, and an Academy Award nomination for Witherspoon, who hadn’t had a hit since 2005’s Walk the Line and had seriously tarnished her reputation in the decade since with a high-profile DUI incident involving her husband. Meanwhile, Cake garnered a mediocre 47% “fresh” rating from Rotten Tomatoes, took in just over $1 million in its first weekend of release (barely edging out Wild, in a similar number of theaters, in its eighth) and failing to snag Aniston an Oscar nod, although she was nominated along with Witherspoon for the Golden Globe and the SAG Award.
Why did Cake fall flat? It could be that Aniston forgot a key ingredient: give a great performance. Beneath the physical surface—the prosthetic scars, the drab clothes, the aforementioned limp coif—she doesn’t seem to go deep into the character. It’s mostly a one-note performance: she winces and snarls cranky remarks. I’ve seen more convincing work in Excedrin commercials.
The only real moment of transformation occurs when her character, smitten with the widower (Sam Worthington, another spectacularly uninteresting performer) of a fellow support-group member (Anna Kendrick, mostly wasted) who committed suicide, gets her hair done. Perhaps it’s not a surprise that this is the extent of Aniston’s acting, considering her greatest career achievement to date was inspiring a hairstyle craze with “The Rachel.”
Okay, that’s not fair. She deserved the Emmy she earned for Friends. The episode in which Rachel gives birth was a comic tour de force reminiscent of Lucille Ball. But Lucy never bored us by trying to get all serious and play some dead-serious character in search of professional accolades. She knew her strengths and her limitations as an actress. That’s why we’ll always love Lucy. And why I hated Cake.
All right, hate might be too strong. Adrianna Barraza (Babel) contributes an award-worthy turn as Aniston’s long-suffering caretaker, and the real-life husband and wife team of Felicity Huffman and William H. Macy excel in too-small roles as a support-group leader and the perpetrator of the accident that caused Aniston so much pain. Suffice it to say Cake left a sour taste in my mouth. But probably not as sour as the one Aniston must’ve felt on the morning of the Oscar nominations.
Americans have voted with their wallets: Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper is a huge box-office hit, racking up $200 million in its first 10 days of release. In a somewhat rare occurrence, the Academy agrees, as the film scored six Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Actor (Bradley Cooper) and Best Adapted Screenplay.
Well, call me un-American, but I wasn’t blown away by the movie. My objections have little to do with the film’s politics, muddled as they are. Eastwood has always been more complicated as a filmmaker than he is as a political spokesman (just ask that chair he addressed at the 2012 Republican National Convention). His attitude towards violence has evolved from the ask-questions-and-shoot-before-they-can-answer days of Dirty Harry and The Man With No Name to his masterfully rueful ruminations of the ramifications of mayhem, Unforgiven and Mystic River.
As it recounts the life and (all-too-briefly) death of Chris Kyle, the most lethal sniper in U.S. history—as the film’s brilliantly calculated marketing campaign reminds us—American Sniper flirts with an anti-war message, depicting the post-traumatic stress that “the Legend,” as he’s nicknamed, and his fellow veterans suffer. Yet it ends on a note of empty hero worship, as Kyle seems miraculously cured of his PTSD by his work with veterans, which is quickly glossed over. (I wish Eastwood and screenwriter Jason Hall had devoted more of Sniper‘s 132-minute running time to his difficult life Stateside and less on rat-a-tat-tat action sequences of Kyle and his cohorts hunting down “savages” with names like “the Butcher.”)
It all starts with the script, of course, but Eastwood might’ve been able to breathe more life into the film’s stick-figure characters if he’d cast more nuanced actors. I gather I’m in the minority on this, considering he’s received (undeserved) Oscar nominations for three years in a row, but I don’t find Cooper to be an actor of any great depth. All I can see is the surface. Yes, he physically transformed himself for this role, packing on 40 pounds of muscle. But, to me, he seems dead behind the eyes, and not in a dead-eyed killer kind of way, which might suit this character. He’s just emotionally opaque.
As his long-suffering wife, Sienna Miller is equally skin-deep. She’s the very definition of a one-note character, constantly crying and complaining about her husband’s absence, physically as well as emotionally. Both actors are as un-lifelike as the creepy plastic baby Eastwood employed to embody their squirming infant.
None of the film’s other characters are allowed more than one dimension either. Once one of Chris’ fellow soldiers starts talking about the engagement ring he bought for his girlfriend, you know he’s doomed (Hot Shots! shot down this war-movie cliché more than 20 years ago with the character of Pete “Dead Meat” Thompson).
By skimming over Kyle’s death—his killer is barely even a character—American Sniper not only comes to an abrupt end but cheats the audience out of a meaningful catharsis. This could’ve been the cinematic equivalent of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.”, a complex, albeit wilfully misunderstood, meditation on the true meaning of patriotism. Instead, it’s just a shallow shoot-’em-up. To paraphrase George W. Bush, as well as Hall’s screenplay: Mission not accomplished.
Well, you had to know it was coming. Yesterday I posted my 10 favorite films of 2014, so here are my ten least favorite, with links to longer reviews in some cases.
10. Gone Girl The year’s most overrated movie also featured the most baffling bit of casting (human iceberg Rosamund Pike, above right). I. Don’t. Get. It.
9. Wild Reese Witherspoon (above left), who also produced Gone Girl, miscast herself as a recovering-hedonist hiker in this not-as-deep-as-it-thinks-it-is outdoor misadventure. Maybe she should’ve combined the two movies: Girl Gone Wild!
8. Interstellar Even the always-welcome presence of Jessica Chastain can’t redeem this brutally slow, overlong sci-fi slog. Matthew McCona-what-the-hey?
7. Mr. Turner Yes, Timothy Spall gives a colorful performance as artist J.M.W. Turner, but Mike Leigh’s biopic is the dramatic equivalent of watching paint dry.
6. Annie This is what happens when you cast non-singers like Cameron Diaz, Bobby Cannavale, Rose Byrne and Jamie “Auto-Tune” Foxx in a musical. You get a movie that’s seriously off-key. Oh well, at least Quvenzhane Wallis was cute.
5. The Gambler Mark Wahlberg should’ve known when to fold ’em: before he decided to star in this needless remake of a quintessential ’70s flick.
4. Pompeii I was rooting for the volcano. True, it did win, but not nearly soon enough.
3. Need for Speed Needed even more: a script. Aaron Paul went from Breaking Bad to just plain bad in record time.
1. Monuments Men Even a know-nothing like Sgt. Schultz couldn’t defend George Clooney’s unintentional homage to Hogan’s Heroes. Dis-missed!
What were the worst movies you saw in 2014? Sound off below!
They say that good things come to those who wait, and that’s certainly the case with my moviegoing year, as my two favorite films were released in the last days of 2014 (all the better to remain fresh in Oscar voters’ minds). On the surface, A Most Violent Year and Selma might not seem to have much in common, aside from the presence of the exotically named up-and-coming actors David Oyelowo and Alessadro Nivola in their casts. But dig deeper and you’ll find they share more than you might expect.
They’re both period pieces, albeit of very different times and places. Selma, of course, follows the Alabama march led by Martin Luther King Jr. (Oyelowo, in a performance that seems touched by grace) that resulted in the Voting Rights Act of 1965. A Most Violent Year takes place in a pre-Giuliana, graffiti-strewn 1981 New York City, where a local heating-oil company owner (Oscar Isaac, simmering like a young Al Pacino) fights to save his business against threats from mobbed-up competitors as well as a crusading DA (Oyelowo).
At their hearts, they’re each stories of flawed men struggling to stay on a straight, non-violent path, despite the moral corruption that surrounds them and pressure from alleged allies to resort to more brutal tactics. They’re also finely observed portraits of complicated marriages, as MLK and wife Coretta (the beautifully restrained Carmen Ejogo) grapple with his infidelity and Isaac’s Abel Morales attempts to mollify his more aggressive better half, Anna (Jessica Chastain, who continues her run of remarkable work with a steely yet surprisingly understated turn).
Selma and A Most Violent Year represent the best films yet from a pair of promising and supremely gifted young directors, Ava DuVernay and J.C. Chandor. It’s only the third feature made by each (after DuVernay’s micro-budget indies Middle of Nowhere and I Will Follow and Chandor’s star-studded yet small-scale Margin Call and All is Lost), and their storytelling canvases keep expanding, as does their visual sophistication. While Chandor thrillingly conjures the gritty cinematic spirit of the late Sidney Lumet (Serpico, Dog Day Afternooon, Prince of the City), DuVernay seems to be developing a style all her own, with signature shots of the backs of men’s heads—brilliantly echoed in Selma‘s poster—and a focus that can expand from intimate extreme close-ups to breathtaking epic landscapes.
These two spectacular movies cap off the most exciting cinematic year in recent memory. Here’s the rest of my top 10 list, with links to longer reviews in some cases.
2. A Most Violent Year
5. Locke (my Q&A with star Tom Hardy and director Steven Knight is below)
9. St. Vincent
What were YOUR favorite films of 2014? Let me know below!