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Entries in Annette Bening (84)


Distant Relatives: Guess Who's Coming to Dinner and The Kids Are All Right

Robert here, with my series Distant Relatives, where we look at two films, (one classic, one modern) related through a common theme and ask what their similarities and differences can tell us about the evolution of cinema.

Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command

The relationship between art and social change is one open to debate, with some people believing that art is essential to such change and others believing that its influence is non-existant or minimal at best. Still, as society continues its constant march forward, we can disagree about whether great art can effect it, while perhaps agreeing that the best art often reflects it, becoming a statement of what it meant to be in a certain time and place while touching upon deeper human truths that elevate it to the realm of timeless. Guess Who's Coming to Dinner and The Kids Are All Right are two films from two different times in American history that deal with the changing definition of marriage. Both are domestic dramas. Both find their conflict by indroducing an unfamiliar outsider into a comfortable family atmosphere. But each handles the social issue at their center differently, the prior attempting to effect it, the latter to reflect it.
Guess Who's Coming to Dinner is the tale of a stalwart, liberal, San Francisco couple (Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn) whose stalwart liberalism is challanged when their daughter brings home her new fiance, a brilliant, black man (perfect in that he is Sidney Poitier, imperfect for that same reason). Director Stanley Kramer, a great craftsman who never met a social issue he couldn't direct the hell out of, fills the next two hours with a series of soul searching debates, safe revelations, long speeches, and a delightful scene where Tracy gets into a fender bender with a black driver while trying to procure himeself some comfort ice cream. "Thirty or forty bucks, that's how much" says the other driver when asked the approximate cost of fixing his car. And so it is, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner is a film of its time.
The Kids Are All Right tells of a long standing lesbian couple, Nic (Annette Benign) and Jules (Julianne Moore) whose family is thrown into chaos when their kids bring their own guest to dinner. In this case, it's the man whose sperm is responsible for both youngsters. Played by Mark Ruffalo as a free spirited man of the earth, Paul's intrusion is dangerous as a disruption of a family unit already fragile from nothing more than the emotional comings and goings of every day life. In a series of events that involve less pontificating than the older film, Paul comes to represent an individual escape for each family member, something new, exciting, refreshing, as they come to mean the same for him.


Tell me who are you?

While both films purport to begin from a place of viewer sympathy, traditional (whatever that means) married couples will find more in common with Nic and Jules than Dinner's Matt and Christina Dreyton. Matt is a newspaper publisher. Christina runs an art gallery. Their daughter Joey is studying in Hawaii when she meets Poitier's John Prentice. They are clearly the creme de la creme of society. Their lives, until the introduction of John are pretty perfect. Contrastly Nic and Jules are at a point in their marriage where their love for each other, while clearly evident, is starting to be overshadowed by the little annoyances, work stresses, and two teenage kids who are, as teenagers tend to do, struggling to find their places in the world. The fact that Nic and Jules are lesbians, while essential to the story, is also almost beside the point. Their family is your family.  

Guess who's Coming to Dinner casts the viewer in the role of the All-American white family who must deal with change when it shows up at their doorstep. The Kids Are All Right casts the viewer as the unconventional family with two matriarchs who must deal when the All-American man (what is Paul but a modern cowboy with a motorcycle instead of a horse?) shows up at their door. According to both films, if you’re of the family’s young generation, you’re likely to embrace or even introduce the change. If you’re parental but romantic, you’ll come around quickly, but if you’re stoic and cynical, you’ll take far more convincing.

We got this solid love

This casting speaks loudly to each films’ motives. Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner is a persuasive piece. It wants to change your mind and suffers from it. The film creates a number of devices to funnel every conflict into the interracial message issue. Included in this are the aformentioned beatification of Poitier’s character, his refusal to marry without the Dreytons’ consent, the short amount of time he and Joey have known each other (1 week -- drama!), Joey’s willingness to define herself only in terms of his wife (“and when we’re married, I’m going to be important too,” she says), and their impending departure to marry (that evening). Now, over forty years later when the interracial marriage element is a non issue, all of these, combined with the fact that Poitier is closer in age to his fiancee’s parents than hers, linger as genuine issues that you wish the characters would be reasonable to address. The film still stands as a slice of time and place but has cornered itself out of any larger universal context.
The Kids Are All Right is different. There’s no attempt here to manufacture drama. If the film does anything to make a persuasive argument for gay marriage it's by presenting Nic and Jules and their family as likable, flawed, realistic, capable of surviving great challanges but not without great effort. But generally the film seems disinterested in dignifying the debate by becoming piece of propaganda. The final statement seems to be one in favor of the strong bond of family. Only those who put in the hard work can be a part. So there is another common theme between the films, they are both strongly and progressively pro-family.

The final similarity between these two films (and by means of feeling I've been a little too hard on Guess Who's Coming to Dinner) is a great cast, a collection of fantastic performances, filmmakers who, whatever their motives, have a clear and great empathy and understanding of their characters, and a general sense that life is measured in dinnertimes, when everyone gathers around in anticipation of joy, drama, food and family.


The Bening Considered

Nick Davis, my personal friend, podcast mate, and true rival in deeply committed actressexuality, has written a thoughtful consideration of Annette Bening's career as part of his extensive, brilliant, but unfortunately snail's paced evaluation of the entire spectrum of 83 years of Best Actressing. It's a wonderful read whether you love The Bening or have mixed feelings about her imperious theatrical verve, as I know some readers do.

"Am I supposed to be interested in this?" The Bening in BUGSY (1991)

My favorite parts of the piece are a convincing argument as to how Virginia Hill in Bugsy (1991) became the template of her screen persona and a detour into the underseen Valmont (1989) which was her first important screen role, one that had the misfortune to follow Glenn Close's nearly Oscar-winning take on the same character in Dangerous Liaisons (1988) into theaters. About which he writes...

Bening's the kind of actress, in technique and in unabashedly scholastic bent, to whom one could plausibly say, "I want to route 18th-century France through a prism of that sly mordancy of Eastern European theatre," and she'd know exactly what you mean, and be able to do it.

It's hilarious because it's true.

Unfortunately the thought-provoking essay has made me sad in advance. I don't relish seeing The Bening lose again at the Oscars. And if, by some miracle, she dethrones Natalie Portman, I don't much relish the beating she'll take online in this age of Portman-mania. [They're both on my Best Actress ballot.]

It's interesting to me that the AMPAS is, as a collective, a known anglophile; the Academy relishes and rewards classically trained Brits from Mirren to Dench to Firth (soon) and many before them. But when it comes to American stars, Streep aside, classical training, intellectual heft, and true range don't seem to interest or fascinate them much. Don't you think Annette Bening would have won the Oscar by now if she were British?

Dame Annette Francine Bening.

As a related aside: If you haven't yet read it here's an interesting piece on the education and training of the current Oscar nominees.



11 SAG Shots. Drink Up.

Since there is so little to parse anymore in terms of awardage, herewith a brief visual survey of SAG moments that lingered -- reaction shots mostly (fashion roundup still to come.)  During live blogs it's hard to discuss all the minutae. Particularly when you need pain killers. Anyone we always wonder what it's like to sit in the room, fully aware that the camera is constantly seeking you out. It must be excruciating madness for the camera hogs and the weirdly shy ones alike. Does anyone even nibble at their food?

Can Anyone Lip Read?

I never want to be able to lip read so much as when I'm watching awards shows. Something inconsequential had just gone on onstage and Andrew Garfield turns and chats with Jesse Eisenberg. Whatever could they have been talking about? If you can lip read, you must transcribe all these awards shows for us. Please and thanks.

Sometimes, particularly with emphatically earnest stars you can tell. After Juliana Margulies thanked her husband effusively, Hilary Swank says...



You could even make out the emphasis on the "so"... I bet she even sighed audibly after like "Awwww." I couldn't make out who she was saying this too but at another table Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban smiled at each other knowingly. Hmmmm.

Camera Tricks?

Mila Kunis and Natalie Portman wree onstage introducing the clip to Black Swan and when the clip ends they pan the Black Swan table and they're sitting right there. How could a pregnant woman move that fast? Are they still doing those "head replacement" visual fx?

Mila and Natalie are so foxy. Speaking of...

Her Favorite Husband
Hugh Dancy, Hugh Dancy's Tongue, and Friend of Hugh Dancy (this shot is for Darryl)

He was reacting to Claire Danes singling him out as her favorite man and favorite husband as the music drowned her out.

Two Actresses Who Deserve a Good Gig

Since Christopher Guest does not make a movie at even close to the same speed as the Woody Allens and Clint Eastwood's of the world, why doesn't some sharp genius television creator give Catherine O'Hara her own series? You know she would ace it and make a character as memorable as Nurse Jackie or Valerie Cherish or other sitcom greats. And speaking of underemployed... Robin Wright was glowing. She hasn't looked this good since... well, ever. This new Robin Wright puts even The Princess Bride to shame. Look at her. What the hell happened? She looks 10 years younger and it sure doesn't look like surgery.

Mad (Wo)Men

It was not a good night for Mad Men as Boardwalk Empire became the new shiny toy of awards groups. Jon Hamm looked totally defeated when Buscemi won ("am I ever going to win anything for creating one of television's most iconic characters?") and when Christian Bale won for The Fighter we got this strangely frosty frozen shot of January Jones. After this split second she let her bottom lip drop a little, moving from frozen robot to sultry robot. But either way, she nails the frost in Emma Frost.

Speaking of Frosty...

This moment when barely anyone applauded for The Social Network and Andrew Garfield shrugged his shoulders 'you can applaud if you want' stuck a knife in me and twisted it. And not in the happy "omg. i died!" way. Just after that Justin Timberlake said something about the microphone volume so I guess there was a technical snafu in the room and [self delusion] there was actually thunderous applause from the crowd who must surely know that The Social Network is something the industry ought to be very very very very proud of and will SURELY know that it will be embarassing if they don't hand it "Best Picture". [/self delusion]

Now we need to cheer up...

Finally, Three Best Actress Reaction Shots.
Adieu Adieu to you and you and you...

Annette Bening looked genuinely happy all night -- but how silly is it that they always cut to the Bening-Beattys "Hollywood Royalty" whenever anyone over 60 is talking from the stage? Bening's joy in her own work and her movie is heartening since Her Majesty ain't ever winning an Oscar. Sigh. Nicole Kidman was a little embarrassed that they chose her single loudest moment in a quiet performance I think. But she also seemed happy. She never has any luck with "clips". Remember when they used her bizarre Three Stooges ready noisy-boudoir moment in Moulin Rouge! as her Oscar clip? Jennifer Lawrence giggles at her clip. I've already forgotten what her character Ree Dolly (Winter's Bone) was saying in the clip but it was some specific turn of phrase that was as regionally specific as Luke Skywalker bitching about Toshi Station Power Convertors on Tattoine. And just as alien, too.





20:10 "I feel like there's some subtext here."

Three years ago at the original blog, I created a series called 20:07 which became one of the most popular TFE features ever and spawned a slew of imitators 'round the web. Just for fun, let's resurrect that ol' pet for the remainder of Oscar season as we finish celebrating the films of 2010 before the new film year begins.

Screen capture: 20th minute and 10th second of The Kids Are All Right

Nic: Honey, you're on a whole other tangent. I have no idea what you're talking about.

Jules: Maybe it hasn't risen to the plane of consciousness for you, yet.

Nic: [Annoyed] Uh... yeah. Maybe.

God, I love these two. Don't you? And I'm not just talking about the actresses.


Robert Downey Jr... 'Giving It To All of You'

I'm wondering what y'all made of this Golden Globes bit? Robert Downey Jr (or as we like to call him for brevity, RDJ) comes out to present the Best Actress in a Comedy/Musical bit which went to Annette Bening for The Kids Are All Right (Go Bening!). He begins by correctly identifying the mood of the evening as "mean spirited with strangely sinister undertones" due to Ricky Gervais  comedy which would have been okay had it been a bit funnier but it just felt rude, right?

RDJ's presentation went like so.

"I consider myself a veteran of sorts and I have made somewhat of a study of this. Tell me if I'm wrong. I don't know if an actress can do her best work until I've slept with her

... Julianne.


Told her that I was working with strange new feelings that were confusing me... Angie.

Only to have her blow me off halfway through the shoot like it never happened... Annette.

Or casually mention that her boyfriend is coming for a location visit because he misses her. And what they have is real. Then have the gall to invite me to join them in a threetop for dinner? Anne! WHY?.

Now i'm not trying to creep anyone out but where is Emma?

I think I've got something for us it's kind of like a Blue Valentine thing but not age appropriate. Now, I'm not saying that my theory doesn't hold water but somehow all of these women rendered exquisite performances without a shred of help from me.

So I guess I'm just saying... if I could, I'd give it to all five of you. At once. The award. Right here center stage in front of my wife, the audience, and millions of viewers."

Kind of a complicated long joke.

Maybe it doesn't work at all if you don't have RDJ's Schmarm™. (That's smarm cut with charm) But I thought it was totally funny. Nick* correctly observes that Emma Stone actually makes the penultimate punchline work with her on-the-spot reaction shot, all good sport guilt and carnal complicity.

Your verdict?

*Related reading: Nick's live blog is a treat. As a special bonus before the show kicked off he even reviewed the Original Song contenders including a hilariously astute song swap suggestion for Mandy Moore and XTina.




Live Blog Golden Globes

I'd start there as some of the narrative threads continue into this live blog below

8:03 Ricky Gervais has already decimated The Tourist. Ouch. and even brutalized my Cher. "Why don't you want to see Cher?" Because it's not 1975." Ouch 2. And this wasn't part of the joke BUT when he said "The Walking Dead" they cut to Steve Buscemi. Ouch 3

8:04 My "comedy" in the arrivals was much kinder. Well but for the Silence of the Lambs joke.

Bale wins the night's first award

8:04 I don't know if you read Friday's Towleroad article but I devised a Golden Globe Drinking Game which goes like so.

Drink every time...

  • Someone makes a Black Swan joke.
  • Someone makes a Facebook joke.
  • Cher licks her lips.
  • Every time a presenter arrives that has absolutely no business being there other than as shameful attempt at attracting young viewers who won't be watching anyway. (Justin Beiber et. al)
  • When "Miss Golden Globe" is introduced.
  • Another swig if she's totally awkward about it. Having celebrity parents is SO mortifying!
  • You spot a closeted gay. (Kevin Spacey et. al)
  • Every time there's a closeup reaction shot of someone who clearly did not get Ricky Gervais's joke. (Even if they're laughing)
  • You see two celebrities you'd otherwise never see together sharing a table. (The seating arrangements are so bent sometimes.)
  • A winner is announced. Keeping chugging until they make it to the stage!


A Drinking Opportunity: Captain America with "The Fighter"?

8:14  BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR - CHRISTIAN BALE. The speech is great and I loved that he singled out Mark Wahlberg's work and mentioned that the stoic character never reaps the benefits. Like so.

Mark, really got a give a shout to Mark. You can only give a loud performance like the one I gave when you have a quiet anchor, a stoic character. I've played that one many times and it never gets any notice... thank you buddy. Kudos to you for that. Otherwise we wouldn't have gotten away with it.

8:16 Katey Sagal wins BEST ACTRESS IN DRAMA SERIES for "Sons of Anarchy" but we were ordering pizza so I missed her speech.

8:17 Miss Golden Globe already? "Gia Mantegna". She was not awkward about it at all so you only get one drink not two. Don't be greedy about it. You'll be drunk in no time even if you're VERY strict about the roles.

8:22 Ricky Gervais just introduced Bruce Willis as "Ashton Kutcher's Dad." HEE. But then Bruce made the evening more absurd by saying the word "fabulous". I somehow didn't expect that word out of Bruce's mouth.

Oh he's so shook up. And he's way back there, table-wise. Beautiful speech.

I think I dropped my heart between Natalie Portman and Julianne Moore so if anyone sees that please return it to me.

You know every gayboy in the world would love to say that line. It's "fabulous" as... uh... Bruce Willis might say.

8:30 UHHHHHHhhhhhhhhhhhhh

8:31 I don't even know what to say. They bring La Pfeiffer out to present and she is the one who gets the "honor" of introducing Tim Burton's Eyesore in Wonderland. 

Let this be a lesson to us all: BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR.

complete post -- you see there's more: Brad & Angie 'they're just like us!', shiny new Globe toys, The Bening's crazy ass hair, Pfeiffer's exhaustion, Portman's cuteness, and more.

Click to read more ...

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