Greetings, blogophiles, and welcome to my second annual best/worst list (with less on the latter, in keeping with my new positive ‘tude). In any case, I’m thrilled to say that since I finally learned how to post, not only is my colleague Robert Rosen ecstatic, but so is, well, Mr. Looseleaf, my father, who clicks on our site from his West Palm abode between our iChats.
Seriously, it’s been an e-ticket ride kind of year, one in which I traveled to France (twice), Spain and Israel, taught dance history to impressionable minds at USC and SMC, continued writing reviews and features for Dance Magazine and the Los Angeles Times, and finally – trumpets, please – made my debut in the New York Times, writing about L.A.-based Diavolo and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. In addition, I recorded a rash of radio stories for KUSC, saw a plethora of theater, watched scores of movies, read fabulous books, met new friends, deepened relationships with old friends and, most importantly, reestablished a bond with my sister, who became a first-time grams (I applaud her for admitting to same), upping my nephew/niece count to circa 25.
Diavolo’s Foreign Bodies, the prequel to Fearful Symmetries. Photo by Victoria Looseleaf.
Another Thing For Which I Am Grateful: My review of Black Swan, which went viral on 12/27 (we racked up nearly 35,000 hits in two days), and couldn’t figure out why….until Daddy called to tell me Natalie Portman was pregnant. Google searches went wild and peeps came to us from all over the world. Danke, merci, gracias and ty, folks. Keep those hits and comments coming, puhleeze.
An ubiquitous Natalie Portman: She’s ready for her close-up.
As for unmitigated faves on the cinematic front: I Am Love, starring Tilda Swinton, is an old-fashioned melodrama (think Mildred Pierce sans shoulder pads), for which I flipped. Not only does Ms. Swinton deliver a fearless performance as a refined – and married – signora falling in love with her son’s friend, but it showcases Milan and its glorious trappings – art, architecture, haute couture, food…as well as the music of John Adams. Granted, Mr. Adams didn’t write the score, but instead licensed out previously composed bits; nor did he care for the film, which, for some reason, made me love it all the more.
The incomparable Tilda Swinton: style icon; movie star; multi-lingual Goddess.
As to The King’s Speech, there’s been so much yakking I can hardly add to it, save that it was beautiful from start to finish. It won’t, however, win an Oscar for its director, Tom Hooper, but Colin Firth is a lock for best actor. I also hope that Geoffrey Rush pulls it out over Christian Bale (The Fighter). While Bale was fabulous, playing a crackhead is akin to portraying any challenged person, meaning it seems more like a trick than thespian profundity. Also, Bale is allegedly difficult and still has years ahead of him to snag the statuette.
Best buds: Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush have plenty to talk about.
Kudos to Annette Bening in her affecting performance as the butch lesbian mother in The Kids Are All Right. Having struck out on stage recently (Bening’s Medea and The Cherry Orchard were both non-starters for me), she was soulful, believable and inspiring as the ‘husband’ of Julianne Moore in writer-director Lisa Cholodenko’s hands. Show me the sperm bank, cuz this is the future of society, one in which love is the great equalizer.
A quintessential lesbian mother – and playing a doctor, to boot!
Other fine films: A die-hard Coen Brothers fan, I spent New Year’s Eve with True Grit and couldn’t have been happier. To those who object to the anachronistic language, I say, ‘Get over it.’ And while Hailee Steinfeld is no Jodie Foster (but outshines Elle Fanning, whose turn in Sofia Coppola’s overrated Somewhere is by-the-book Hollywood gloss), the film is another gem from those quirky sibs. And speaking of quirk: The Social Network gets my vote as a cinematic game-changer (or not…that just sounds cool), but, being a Facebook devotee for years, yours truly loved the David Fincher film, Aaron Sorkin’s script and the perfectly icy geekazoid Mark Zuckerberg, as portrayed by Jesse Eisenberg. (The NYT has been running 10-page ads, well, 5 pages, which is still enough to make one gag, so check out Jesse in The Education of Charlie Banks instead.)
Onwards to your first trillion.
The Leaf also recommends Mesrine, starring the fabulous – and French, who knew – Vincent Cassel as the real-life gangster of the title (and don’t get me started about his underdeveloped character in BS). I also loved The Town, directed by and starring Ben Affleck in a welcome return to Tinseltown’s pantheon of hyphenates. I regained respect for him as Superman in Hollywoodland (too bad the film misfired), so to see his artistic growth in The Town is gratifying. Of course, I love heist flicks, especially when the perps don nuns’ garb, (The Company Men, on the other hand, is a dud, but might have been better if the dudes, including Ben, Chris Cooper and Tommy Lee Jones, had also sported wimples), so sit back and enjoy yet another look at the seamier side of Boston.
He’s getting to be a habit…
James Franco, who’s hosting the Oscars this year with Anne Hathaway (hmm…we’ll see how that works out), breathes beautiful life into Danny Boyle’s brilliant rendering of 127 Hours. In another year, poet/artist/writer/model/student Franco might have taken Oscar home, but it’s not gonna happen in 2011. Nor will it for Javier Bardem, whose staggering performance as a dying criminal in Biutiful lingers long after the film’s final frames. Director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, who made an indelible mark with Amores Perros, has given us the flip side of Woody Allen’s Vicky Christina Barcelona. A provocative work, Biutiful, whose emotional core lies in a father facing his own mortality, raises more questions than answers (human slavery, immigration and communicating with the dead, to name a few), while also elevating Bardem to greatest-actor-in-the-world status (tied, for me, with Daniel Day-Lewis). Stay tuned for my upcoming KUSC-FM interview with Bardem and Inarritu. Until then, go see Biutiful. It may hurt, but pain, as we know all too well, is part of life.
Franco looks on, wondering: Will they click with Oscar…or should they just hawk perfume?
While Julie Taymor is desperately trying to launch Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark (will it or won’t it…injure more performers, open, stay open, run until it recoups its $65 million, etc.) she scored with The Tempest. It’s Shakespeare at his most surreal, with Helen Mirren as Prospera (we love artistic license), and lots of stunning visuals, including Ben Wishaw as Ariel and lush island cinematography.
Oh, happy day: Dame Helen Mirren sounds off in Shakespeare.
Films To Avoid: Rabbit Hole, in which Nicole Kidman’s face is virtually unrecognizable and her acting equally vapid; Fair Game, about the real life Valerie Plame and her husband Joe Wilson, which showcased the always terrific Sean Penn, but made Naomi Watts seem nondescript; and Inception, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, whose furrowed-brow look continues to hoodwink moviegoers. Of course, there were lots more lousy films (Burlesque, anyone?), but I choose not to go there now, so let’s get back to the good stuff.
Mucho congratulations to Los Angeles Opera, the company directed by Placido Domingo, for bringing us Achim Freyer’s complete Ring Cycle, which absolutely rocked. Purists were upset, but the inventive $32 million production (Star Wars meets Valhalla), coupled with James Conlon’s indefatigable conducting, made for four of the greatest nights in Los Angeles theater since the Olympic Arts Festival in 1984. (Not that I was there…). I’m also giving a Looseleaf shout-out to the L.A. Phil and Gustavo Dudamel, who, in his second season, is still a wild ball of energy that keeps bringing new fans to Disney Hall.
L.A. Opera’s Ring Cycle, conceived and directed by Achim Freyer, pulled no punches.
Theater also had some major ups, including two revivals: The Subject Was Roses, with Martin Sheen playing the father in the Tony Award-winning play from 1964, in which he assayed the role of the son, triumphed; so did Judith Ivey in Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie. New plays included Rajiv Joseph’s Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo (a Pulitzer Prize finalist last year), which lands on Broadway in March with Robin Williams as the tiger. I also flipped for Chris Pine in Martin McDonagh’s The Lieutenant of Inishmore, a black comedy if ever there was one. All four productions were at the Mark Taper Forum, and I was fortunate to preview them for KUSC radio.
Hail to the iPad, no matter that e-books threatened to take over the printed word on real paper. But not in the House of Looseleaf, where books are precious and I cherish the intimate experience of burrowing into real lives, fictional lives, the past, the present, the unknown and the fantastical. Please check out my coverage of recent tomes, including those by Patti Smith, David Grossman, Jonathan Franzen, Keith Richards, Philip Roth, and the list goes on. Coming soon…my coverage of Stephen Sondheim’s Finishing the Hat and Stacy Schiff’s Cleopatra: A Life.
A still smokin’ hot Stone, Keith Richards.
As to the best of dance in 2010, chapeaux off to Diavolo’s Fearful Symmetries (read my Dance Magazine review here). Artistic director Jacques Heim is a Los Angeles treasure and we are lucky to have him. It’s unfortunate, then, that Diavolo does not have a home season in Los Angeles, three performances at the Broad Stage later this month notwithstanding. (In any case: Go!) I also saw some fabulous dance during my travels, especially at the Montpellier Dance Festival and the Lyon Biennale de la Danse.
I’ll drink to that!
In closing this rather lengthy post, then, we at The Looseleaf Report want to thank you again for visiting us this past year. And, in 2011, may you continue to experience good health, joy, prosperity, abundance, irony, gossip…in other words, all good things – in the arts and elsewhere – and above all, love—loads and loads of love, as personified by the newest member of the extended Looseleaf family…little Macie.