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Box Office Recap: It’s All the Same, Only the Names (from 3-10) have Changed

Last week, two new releases, “Madgascar 3” and “Prometheus,” occupied the top two spots on the domestic box office charts for the first time since April 22, when “Think Like a Man” and “The Lucky One” knocked out “The Hunger Games” after four weeks on top. This weekend, something else that hadn’t happened in some time occurred: the nation’s two highest grossing movies remained static. “Madgascar 3″ and “Prometheus” remain cemented at the top of the charts with $35.5 million and $20.2 million, respectively. The last films to accomplish that feat: “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol” and “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows” over the last two weekends of 2011, Dec. 23-25 and Dec. 30-Jan. 1.

Hair metal musical “Rock of Ages” came in third place with $15 million. Now, I could make that sound like a lot by pointing out that’s the sixth best opening of all-time for a musical and the third highest for a film adapted from the stage. But let’s be frank here, given the film’s prime summer release date, huge release (it played in 74 more theaters than “Prometheus” did in its first week), and most importantly its star-studded cast, “Rock of Ages” was a supreme disappointment. Seriously, this is a film with names like Russell Brand, Paul Giamatti, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Malin Akerman, Mary J. Blige, Alec Baldwin, Bryan Cranston, Will Forte, Eli Roth and of course, Tom Cruise in its end credits. It should have made more money.

So what was the problem? Well, as I hypothesized in my Box Office Preview, nobody, and I mean nobody likes hair metal, the genre this film was banking on. Kids don’t like it, of that I can assure you, and baby boomers were the ones telling their children to turn that garbage down during the lost decade that was the 1980′s. As I said on Friday, the target audience here was the tiny sliver of the American population that was both a teenager during the 1980′s and enjoyed the crap at the top of the pop charts at the time.

All that showed in the demographics. For some reason, whoever keeps track of this stuff divides the entire population of the country into only two groups: above 25 and below 25. Nearly 75 percent of the audience for “Rock of Ages” was in the above category, and females made up 62 percent. Those numbers are staggeringly skewed.

Unsurprisingly, the demographics for the weekend’s other new release, Adam Sandler’s “That’s My Boy,” were distorted in the opposite direction. Sandler, of course, is known for his high-brow humor, stuff like “If peeing your pants is cool, consider me Miles Davis.” That’s sarcasm folks. Anyway, 52 percent of the comedy’s audience was under 25, and 54 percent was male. I know that doesn’t sound like much after what you just read, but in general, that’s not an insignificant skew towards teenage boys. “That’s My Boy” came in fifth place with $13 million.

The remainder of the chart offered few surprises. Sandwiched between the two new releases, “Snow White and the Huntsman” made $13.8 million, and “That’s My Boy” was followed by “Men in Black 3” and “The Avengers.”

Meanwhile, Wes Anderson’sMoonrise Kingdom” continues to chug along at the specialty box office. With nearly $2.2 million, the film moved into ninth place this weekend despite being shown in just 178 theaters (compare that to Rock of Ages’” 3,470 and tenth place finisher “What to Expect When You’re Expecting’s” 1,216).

Here are the results for this weekend’s top 10 at the box office:

Title/Weeks in release/Theater count, Studio/Three-day weekend total/Cume
1. Madagascar 3, 2/4,263, Paramount/Dreamworks, $35.5 million, $120.451 million.
2. Prometheus, 2/3,442, Fox, $20.2 million, $88.858 million.
3. Rock of Ages, 1/3,470, Warner Bros., $15 million.
4. Snow White and the Huntsman, 3/3,701, Universal, $13.805 million, $122.602 million.
5. That’s My Boy, 1/3,030, Sony, $13 million.
6. Men in Black 3, 4/3,135, Sony, $10 million, $152.679 million.
7. The Avengers, 7/2,582, Disney/Marvel Studios, $8.848 million, $586.737 million.
8. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, 7/1,184, Fox Searchlight, $2.2 million, $35.133 million.
9. Moonrise Kingdom, 4/178, Focus, $2.181 million, $6.779 million.
10.What to Expect When You’re Expecting, 5/1,216, $1.33 million, $38.766 million.

You can follow us on Twitter @moviebuffs and on Facebook as well.

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Hidden Netflix Gems – The Extra Man

Hidden Netflix Gems is a new feature designed to help readers answer that burning question, “What should I watch tonight?” It will be updated every Saturday before the sun goes down.

The Extra Man is a rather unconventional film about a pair of very unconventional characters. Louis Ives (Paul Dano) is a young aspiring playwright who moves to New York City after an embarrassing incident that forces him to quit his job. He meets and moves in with Henry Harrison (Kevin Kline), a former professor and playwright who now works as an “extra man,” which he stresses is not the same as a gigolo, or even a male escort; first of all, he doesn’t receive money for his services, and secondly, he doesn’t engage in anything sexual with the wealthy older women who hire him. Instead, he says, he brings a certain air of respectability and class to his engagements, in exchange for gifts and fine meals. In the meantime, he lives the sort of penniless existence that occasionally requires him to paint his ankles and calves with shoe polish in order to disguise the fact that he has forgotten to buy socks, which he says may have the added benefit of killing some of the fleas that inhabit him.

Louis is duly fascinated by Henry’s eccentric, acerbic ways, and Kline delivers one of the best performances of his career, mining big laughs from lines like, “I’m against the education of women. It dulls their senses and effects their performance in the boudoir.” He also rails against such practices as recycling and charity to the homeless, which makes an interesting contrast to Louis’ newfound job at an environmental magazine, where he develops a crush on his vegan, uber-green co-worker, Mary Powell (Katie Holmes). Louis is also fascinated by Henry’s mysterious, bearded neighbor, Gershon Gruen (John C. Reilly), who can be heard through the vents each morning singing beautifully as he showers. Louis is hiding his own eccentricity from his new friends, and without giving away too much about the course this particular character development takes, I will say it is perhaps the most sensitive, realistic exploration of heterosexual cross-dressing since Tim Burton’s Ed Wood.

Co-directors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, adapting a novel by Bored to Death scribe Jonathan Ames, clearly share Louis’ attraction to cranky oddballs such as Henry, as evidenced in their excellent first feature, American Splendor. Henry has much in common with that film’s protagonist, Harvey Pekar (Paul Giamatti), though there is a misplaced sense of class superiority in Henry that Harvey would undoubtedly abhor. Still, as mean-spirited and narrow-minded as Henry often seems to be, it is difficult as an audience member not to share in this fascination; as Louis says at one point, “You have a strange power over people, Henry,” to which Henry replies, “It’s my constant disapproval. People think it fatherly.” He might not be someone most of us would actually want to live with, but Henry is a wonderful cinematic creation, and probably Kline’s funniest role since A Fish Called Wanda. Though The Extra Man has much else to recommend it, it is this central character that buoys the film, and brings added life to all around him.

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Interview with Imogene Co-Director Shari Springer Berman

After years of directing documentaries, Shari Springer Berman made big waves in the independent film world with her first feature, American Splendor, co-directed with her husband and filmmaking partner Robert Pulcini. Since then, the pair has continued making narrative features such as The Nanny Diaries, The Extra Man, the HBO film Cinema Verite and the upcoming Imogene, starring Kristen Wiig and Annette Bening. I had a chance to speak briefly with Berman on Wednesday evening, as part of Columbia University’s panel on women filmmakers.

Ezra Stead: I’ve noticed a strong fascination in your films for a sort of cranky and eccentric, but lovable, type of character, such as Harvey Pekar (Paul Giamatti) in American Splendor or Henry Harrison (Kevin Kline) in The Extra Man. From what I’ve read about your next film, Imogene, with the title character faking a suicide in an attempt to win back her ex, it sounds like that character fits the bill. What attracts you to these kind of characters, and what else can you tell us about Imogene?

Shari Springer Berman: I am attracted to cranky, lovable people. Bob and I … both are; I don’t know why, I guess my therapist could probably answer that question better than I could [laughs]. I guess I love the idea of someone who isn’t overtly nice, and I feel like so many movies, especially Hollywood movies, it’s so about people being nice. One of the biggest notes when I write for studio films … is that the character has to be likable, and I think that people can be completely lovable and not, on the surface, nice. Some of the most amazing people I’ve met in my life are people who are a bit cranky, not necessarily traditionally nice, but underneath, some of the kindest, most giving people you’d ever want to meet … My grandmother was kind of a little bit cold, and very snarky, but I knew she loved me more than anything in the world, and when she said something kind, it was very real. So I like characters like that … and Imogene is definitely a continuation of the slightly brittle but completely lovable, root-for-them, character. Imogene’s mom [Annette Bening] is not one of those people; she’s very out there and wears a lot on her sleeve – who she is, is very available.

ES: You started out making documentaries, and certainly some of the techniques you brought to American Splendor reflect that background. What kind of advantages and disadvantages do you think documentaries have over narrative, and vice versa?

SSB: It’s completely different. I love documentaries because you don’t know what you’re going to get. When you make a narrative film, your whole goal is to know what you’re going to get … In a documentary, when you’re approaching it the way I like to approach it, you go in with sort of a general idea and then you allow it to happen to you, and you’re open to all kinds of things, and there’s something really thrilling about that experience. It takes you in directions you had no idea you would ever go … Docs take years, and you have to just give yourself over to it. Sometimes it’s really boring, but I like the adrenaline of shooting verite footage – not seated interviews … but just going out and covering events – it’s this really crazy adrenaline rush, and I love it … I miss that sometimes. In this movie, Imogene, that we just shot, we wanted to shoot a scene of a guy walking around with this strange outfit … in Chinatown, and my ADs [assistant directors] were stopping everybody and we were just putting this guy in a crowd and letting him walk, and I was like, ‘Okay, you know what? We have to shoot this like a doc.’ I told the Ads to go get a cup of coffee … I’m gonna take over … and we got all this stuff … genuine reactions to this guy walking down this massive street, and it was one of the most fun days … Working with actors is probably my favorite part – that or writing – is my favorite part of the filmmaking process.

ES: How do you and your husband divide up the duties of directing a film? What is your working process like?

SSB: We have different strengths, and I think that’s why it works, because we sort of take different areas and run with it. I do a lot of … sort of organizational stuff, and he spends a lot of time with the camera, the shots. I used to be a casting director, so I do a lot of casting and, obviously, Bob’s involved in it and I’m involved in everything, too, but these are just the things that we each take the lead on … I talk to the actors, that’s my sort of arena, and if Bob wants something [from them], he’ll tell me … but usually, we see eye to eye. I mean, you have to have the same aesthetic approach; if you don’t see the world the same way and you don’t like the same films, then you’re gonna constantly be battling, so luckily, we tend to agree a lot.

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SXSW 2011: Win Win

its premiere at Sundance earlier this year, Thomas McCarthy’s “Win Win” has drawn comparisons to “The Blind Side,” and for good reason. But while the films are thematically similar in a lot of ways, “Win Win” is a much stronger piece of filmmaking than the Oscar-nominated drama – one that doesn’t pander to the audience or depend on hot-button topics to drive the story. Instead, it’s just a really well made dramedy that benefits from a funny and touching script by McCarthy and one of the best ensemble casts of the year. Call it feel-good entertainment if you must, because “Win Win” is a genuinely heartwarming film.

Paul Giamatti stars as Mike Flaherty, a New Jersey-based attorney who midnights as a high school wrestling coach. With his law practice in the dumps and his family’s livelihood in danger, Mike agrees to assume guardianship of an Alzheimer’s client named Leo Poplar (Burt Young), not out of the goodness of his heart, but because he can move him into an assisted living facility and collect the monthly stipend without doing any work. A wrench is thrown into Mike’s plans, however, when Leo’s grandson, Kyle (Alex Shaffer), makes an impromptu trip from Ohio to pay a visit. With his mother (Melanie Lynskey) in a drug clinic and no one else to take care of him, Paul and his wife (Amy Ryan) agree to take the troubled teen into their home. But when Mike learns that Kyle has a natural talent for wrestling, he enrolls him at the local school so he can join the team, only for his mother to arrive in town threatening to reveal Mike’s scheme and ruin Kyle’s promising future.

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As you might expect from a movie that stars the ever-reliable Paul Giamatti and Amy Ryan, the performances are top-notch. Their onscreen relationship is so natural that it doesn’t even feel like they’re acting, and it’s an especially good role for Giamatti, who always thrives as the unlucky schlub trying to catch a break. Newcomer Alex Shaffer – a real-life state wrestling champion who had to quit the sport due to a recurring back injury – may play his character with the kind of blunt, matter-of-factness that is common in first-time actors, but it’s exactly what the role requires, and he actually handles the bigger, more emotional scenes surprisingly well. The rest of the cast is just as good, with Bobby Cannavale and Jeffrey Tambor providing most of the laughs – particularly the former, whose scenes alongside Giamatti are undoubtedly the highlight of the film.

Though there are certainly elements of an underdog sports drama on display here, “Win Win” is predominantly about the idea of family and how you can find it in the unlikeliest of places. McCarthy has explored a similar theme of people coming from very different worlds to form an unlikely family unit before (not only in directorial efforts like “The Station Agent” and “The Visitor,” but also Pixar’s “Up,” which he co-wrote), but this is probably his most crowd-pleasing movie to date. And thanks to an incredible ensemble cast and a script that smartly balances drama and comedy without getting overly preachy, it’s also his best. McCarthy may not turn up on anyone’s radar when it comes to great American directors, but with the leaps and bounds that he’s made with each successive film, “Win Win” only serves to remind us that he probably should be.

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It’s a Saturday trailer: “Win Win”

Paul Giamatti‘s late father was famously the commissioner of baseball during the Pete Rose scandal. I’m not sure what that has to do with “Win Win,” the new film starring today’s Edward G. Robinson and a terrific supporting cast from Tom McCarthy of “The Visitor” and “The Station Agent,” except that both baseball and Greco-Roman wrestling are sports, but I thought I’d mention it anyway.

H/t Latino Review.

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Academy nominations stay truer to form even than usual

In a funny way, the most surprising thing about this year’s batch of Academy Award nominations was how strongly they stayed true to Oscar’s long-held habits — even a Film Drunk could see it this year. At least in terms of sheer numbers of nominations, the Academy was most generous to a historical/inspirational costume drama from England over a somewhat edgier and less traditionally fashioned tale ripped from today’s business headlines.

academy-awards

The King’s Speech” led the nominations with 12, followed by “True Grit” with 10, and just eight for “The Social Network” — still very much the front-runner in my opinion — and “Inception.” Though Anne Thompson sees the momentum shifting in a more royal direction, I think it’s a big mistake this time around to read too much into sheer quantity. For example, I would be surprised to see a huge number of non-”technical” awards for “True Grit” or “Inception.” (Roger Deakins’ “True Grit” cinematography and the amazing effects of Christopher Nolan’s team being very likely winners).

Considering where most of the awards have gone so far, the only thing really going for “The King’s Speech” and against the previously prohibitive favorite, “The Social Network,” is aforementioned traditional Oscar genre prejudices and the inevitable backlash most highly acclaimed and award winnings films get. However, outside of infantile attention-hog critic Armond White, I actually haven’t noticed a huge anti-”Network” backlash though there were some off-target feminist complaints. (A movie about an almost literal boys’ club is going to depict a boys’ club atmosphere.) In any case, the rather enormous and still ongoing on- and off-line backlashes against “American Beauty,” “Crash” and “Titanic” clearly didn’t hurt those films’ Oscar prospects one bit.

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Bullz-Eye’s TCA 2011 Winter Press Tour Wrap-Up: Kneel Before Oprah!

The TCA Winter Press Tour is an event which never quite seems to live up to the TCA Summer Press Tour…but, then, that stands to reason, as the mid-season series rarely match the ones which hit the airwaves in the fall, right? Still, the experience never fails to be one which I enjoy, mostly because you never know what’s going to be around the corner, and Day 1 really set the stage for that: during the course of 12 hours, I interviewed Betty White, Henry Rollins, and Bruce Jenner, and, thanks to National Geographic, I wore a giant snake around my neck. Not a bad way to begin things…

It felt like there was more star power on hand than usual for a winter tour…but, then, having Oprah in your midst kind of skewers your perceptions on that sort of thing. I suppose it’s a testament to how many famous people I’ve met over the years, though, that one of the biggest reasons I look forward to the tour is not because of who I might interview but, rather, because I’ll get the chance to hang out with the friends I’ve made within the TCA. All told, it was another great time, but, as ever, when it was over, I was more than ready to get back home to my family and share my memories with them…and with you, too, of course.

Well, let’s get on with the reminiscing, shall we?

Oh, but one word of warning: if you followed my daily dispatches during the tour, then a couple of these stories will sound strikingly familiar, but please rest assured that the majority of the material has not been copied wholesale and is, in fact, 100% new. Swear to God.

Most entertaining panel by a broadcast network: “Made in Spain” (PBS)

Not being a foodie, I wouldn’t have known José Andrés prior to his kick-off of PBS’s first day at the TCA tour if he’d been standing next to me…and, even then, I wouldn’t have known that I was supposed to care who he was. After several minutes of clips from the first season of “Made in Spain,” however, I was already in love with the series, and when Andres himself took the stage, it was impossible not to be charmed by him. He’s a sweetheart of a guy for whom food truly is life, but he’s also a hoot.

Most entertaining panel by a cable network: “An Idiot Abroad” (Science Channel)

I was seriously bummed when I heard that no one from “An Idiot Abroad” was going to be in attendance for the show’s panel, but I figured, “Okay, at least they’ll be there via satellite.” In retrospect, there’s no way they could’ve been funnier if they’d actually been onsite. Naturally, just being in Karl Pilkington’s presence was enough to inspire Ricky Gervais and Steven Merchant to dissolve into a fit of giggles, but they were utterly warranted this go-round.

Here, see for yourself:

Most annoying panel: “Platinum Hit” (Bravo)

Between Kara DioGuardi handling a question about “American Idol” about as poorly as she possibly could have – read more about that here – and Jewel dropping names like they were hot potatoes (“I was talking to Steven Spielberg…”), I’m hard pressed to think of any panel that left a worse taste in my mouth.

Panel which had the least need for an audience: “The Best of Laugh-In” (PBS)

It wasn’t entirely surprising that a panel consisting of Lily Tomlin, Jo Anne Worley, Ruth Buzzi, Gary Owens and George Schlatter would be able keep things moving along without any of the critics in attendance actually needing to ask a question, but they kept passing the conversational ball back and forth until someone in the crowd finally had to stand up and ask if it was okay to ask a question. Schlatter instantly shot back, “We’re trying to talk here!” Laughter ensued, as did plenty of questions about the history of “Laugh-In.” “Are you guys having fun?” Schlatter asked later. “Because we’re having a ball!” Must be what keeps them looking so young: you’d never in a million years believe that Worley – that’s her in the feathered boa, in case you hadn’t guessed – is 73 years old.

Funniest panel that you probably had to be there to appreciate: “Community” (NBC)

The only person not in attendance was Chevy Chase, who was described as being “very under the weather,’ but his co-stars more than made up for his absence. If I tried to tell you about it, though, you’d probably just stare blankly at me. Some of the funniness came from the giggling of the various panelists, some it involved one-liners which would require a lengthy amount of set-up for you to appreciate, some of it was totally visual, and…well, you get the idea. But it really was hilarious, I swear. The most easily-translatable moment is probably Donald Glover’s story about how they had to teach Betty White the lyrics to Toto’s “Africa” on the set. “I assumed she knew ‘Africa,’” he said. “I was, like, ‘Everybody knows that song!’ But, like, that song was out when she was already old. She was already 50-something.”

Greatest Moment of Complete Honesty During the Tour: When I approached Jack McBrayer (“30 Rock”) to ask him a question, he agreed, but then he looked down at my recorder and said, “Oh, my! You’re not going to record this, are you? I’d rather you didn’t.” At this point, he performed a perfect mock aside, holding a hand to his mouth and whispering, “I’m a little bit tipsy!” So I turned off my recorder. Kudos to you, Mr. McBrayer. Would that more actors had that blend of good humor and common sense.

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A roundtable chat with Minnie Driver and Scott Speedman of “Barney’s Version”

A Brit who’s been successfully playing Americans for decades and a charmingly laid back Canadian with a definite air of California dude-ism about him, actors Minnie Driver and Scott Speedman might seem like a somewhat random pairing. Even in the new film version of the late novelist Mordecai Richler’s tragicomic swan song, “Barney’s Version,” their characters make for some pretty strange bedfellows. On the other hand “Driver and Speedman” does sound like the title of a late seventies cop show.

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Ms. Driver portrays the second Mrs. Panofsky, an otherwise unnamed Jewish Canadian princess who marries the very flawed Montreal TV producer Barney Panofsky (Paul Giamatti, who picked up a Golden Globe for the part Sunday night), only to find her new husband oddly distant, starting on the very day of their wedding. That’s because that’s also the day Barney meets – and goes completely nutso over – the woman who will eventually become Mrs. Panofsky #3 (Rosamund Pike). In Mrs. Panofsky’s corner: her outspoken ex-crooked policeman father-in-law (Dustin Hoffman), who speaks approvingly of her “nice rack.”

Speedman, for his part, is Barney’s multiple drug using novelist pal, Boogie. Best known for handsome-guy roles in the “Underworld” films opposite Kate Beckinsale and as the male lead in “Felicity” opposite Keri Russell, Speedman’s Bernard “Boogie” Moscovitch is a frequently charming rascal/jerkwad who both fails and assists his best friend in rather spectacular fashion, eventually starting a chain of events that may or may not lead to his murder by Barney.

Speedman entered the room first in typically low-key fashion, acting every bit the likable thirty-something surfer dude or ski-bum he could easily be cast as. Ms. Driver followed along, making a flirtatious joke about Speedman’s good looks and generally providing jovial company for a room full of entertainment writers one Beverly Hills winter’s day.

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A roundtable chat with Paul Giamatti and Rosamund Pike, of “Barney’s Version”

If you’re going to be shallow about it, Paul Giamatti and Rosamund Pike might seem like a slightly odd pair of movie lovebirds. However, the love affair between their characters in “Barney’s Version” hasn’t aroused any of the complaints Seth Rogen regularly gets when his movie character gets lucky with a beautiful woman. No offense to Rogen, but maybe that’s because Giamatti gets a pass for being an extraordinarily brilliant actor — who, as it happens, just picked up a well-deserved Golden Globe for his performance in this very film — and Pike gets points for having the sense to work with him, not to mention for being rather extraordinary herself.

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In fact, the pair have some things in common. Pike’s parents are accomplished serious musicians and she is an Oxford Graduate. Paul Giamatti’s father was the noted Yale University President and Commissioner of Baseball, A. Bartlett Giamatti. Naturally, the younger Giamatti is himself a graduate of Yale. Both have also been busy working actors for some time. After “American Splendor,” “Sideways,” and — on a more heroic level — the miniseries “John Adams,” not to mention innumerable outstanding supporting roles, Giamatti is a bonafide star. The sky is the limit for Ms. Pike, a vastly-above average “Bond girl” opposite Pierce Brosnan in 2002′s “Die Another Day,” who more recently has received a lot of notice for her very diverse roles as a less than brilliant conman’s girlfriend in “An Education” and, more under the radar but no less brilliant, as a highly educated but frustrated housewife and mother in “Made in Dagenham.”

When I and a bunch of other junket journos encountered Giamatti and Pike, they were promoting the new adaptation of Mordecai Richler’s tragicomic final novel about the life and loves of a youthful hustler and bohemian turned aging Montreal television producer and crank. For us shallow types, Giamatti bats 1000 well out of his league with three wives in the course of “Barney’s Version,” played by the lovely Rachelle Lefevre, Minnie Driver, and Pike as Miriam Grant-Panofsky, whom he actually loves. If you read my review, you’ll see that I think the film is a very mixed bag, but the performances are first rate throughout. In addition to that Golden Globe, Giamatti’s performance was praised by his colleague Ron Perlman, and easily deserves whatever accolades it may find. Pike is, as the cliche goes, luminous in a role as a really good person that a lesser actress would have rendered merely saintly and dull.

Rosamund Pike arrived first, but in a moment Paul Giamatti entered, bantering with a female reporter. “She forced me to proclaim myself an ‘indie darling’ yesterday,” Giamatti said.

“Nobody forced you to do anything,” the reporter remonstrated.

“Yes, you did,” he argued. “You tricked me into saying it on camera. She said, ‘When you became an indie darling,’ and I went ‘Well, when I became an indie darling…’” and I thought, ‘I just said those words! Goddammit, that’s on film now, forever.’”

Giamatti, a born comedian as well as a master thesp, was already breaking up the room.

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The Golden Globes happened, the world continues to turn

You probably know by now that the big water cooler topic in Hollywood about last night at the Golden Globes isn’t so much the awards themselves. Yes, there were some nice surprises in the acting categories, most notably for Paul Giamatti in “Barney’s Version.” “The Social Network” remains a big Oscar favorite, and so on. (You can see a complete list of last night’s winners here, by the way). No. It appears the most criticized man in Hollywood this day is not Mel Gibson or Jeff Zucker, but one Mr. Ricky Gervais.  Here, via the Guardian, is the opening monologue for those of you who missed it or want to relive the moment.

It seems to me that there is no more thankless high-profile task in major-league Hollywood today than being a stand-up hosting an award show. Much better to be an actor doing tightly scripted song-and-dances. As a conventional host, if you’re too much of a flatterer you annoy everyone who wasn’t personally flattered, but just ask Chris Rock and Jon Stewart how even relatively tame cracks can be bandied about in the press for days as writers panic on behalf of show biz egos.

Mary McNamara‘s piece at the L.A. Times underplays the criticism that Rock received at the time for his not-too-extreme critique of Jude Law’s acting abilities compared to Hollywood greats. David Letterman was bashed for being too silly. Stewart was deemed insufficiently differential and not funny enough, though to me it was case of maybe being too honest for the room. Of course, that was the Oscars — which shouldn’t be taken all that seriously but still has a certain mythological import to it — and this was the Golden Globes, the famously drunken award show with the often bizarre nominations and sometimes strange wins.

My attitude is this: Yes, Gervais crossed the line at points — though determining where the line is isn’t always so easy. The crack about Scientology and certain allegedly closeted top stars was pretty nasty, and worse, wasn’t funny. I could understand why the head of the HFPA was angry — though if he didn’t want to have cruel jokes made about him and his job, he’s heading the wrong organization. On the other hand, Gervais was often very funny with better aimed and gentler jabs, and last night’s performance does have its fans. I thought the joke about Bruce Willis being Ashton Kutcher’s dad was funny and it looked to me like Willis maybe thought so too. Others were somewhere in between. They hired Gervais, but what they really wanted was Don Rickles. Someone who’d insult people in such a way that no one would take it seriously. That’s hard to do if you don’t happen to actually be Rickles.

I wouldn’t want to be Gervais, or Gervais’s publicist, today but I think we all take these things way too seriously, and everyone still has their careers. We spend too much time reading the tea leaves and are too quick to make Nikki Finke-style conclusions about the goodness or evil of certain figures based on pretty minimal information. The Steve Carrell “it never gets old” line and putative feud over the different versions of “The Office” struck me as more Jack Benny and Fred Allen than West Coast vs. East Coast rappers. They might well have been “joking on the square,” but they might just as easily have been nervously joking.

Anyhow, if any of you have any thoughts on the matter, feel more than free to pipe up in comments. Oh, and be nice!

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