Oscar likes Fincher, ‘The Social Network’

Golden Globe Awards - Show

David Fincher at the Golden Globe Awards, Sunday, Jan. 16, 2011

Ashland High School graduate David Fincher received his second Academy Award nomination early Tuesday morning when “The Social Network,” the film about the founding of Facebook earned him a nod as Best Director.

Fincher, who has always won the Golden Globe and the National Board of Review honor for the film, shares the Best Director category with Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan), Joel & Ethan Coen (True Grit), Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech) and David O. Russell (The Fighter).

I’m very grateful and humbled by the nominations for The Social Network. I’m incredibly proud of the work of my wildly talented collaborators in front of and behind the camera — all of whom gave the best of themselves and their talents in service to a film about a ground-breaking American innovation,” Fincher said in a statement.

“This directing nomination represents the sum of the work of all of us, and I want to acknowledge the vast contributions to this film of all of my good friends and creative partners.  The success of our movie belongs to many people, and this nomination is theirs to share.”

“The Social Network” received 8 nominations overall, including Best Picture. “The King’s Speech,” the story of how King George VI of Britain overcame a speech impediment to rally his country during World War II, led all films with 12 nominations.

As was the case last year, 10 films were selected for Best Picture nominations: 127 Hours, Black Swan, The Fighter, Inception, The Kids Are All Right, The King’s Speech, The Social Network, Toy Story 3, True Grit and Winter’s Bone.

Fincher, whose other nomination was for Best Director in 2009 for “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” also has been nominated for the top prize from the Directors Guild of America for “The Social Network.” He is a 1980 graduate of Ashland High School.

The Academy Awards will be presented on Feb. 27.

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The Word From On High

“What does God need with a starship?” — James T. Kirk

When dealing with life’s imponderables, it’s always best to turn to the Shat.

In today’s case, to the screenplay William Shatner wrote for “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier,”  universally regarded as the worst of the movies based on the original “Star Trek” series. In the movie, an intergalactic entity proclaims itself to be the Almighty … but needs the U.S.S. Enterprise to do his bidding.

Which leads to Kirk’s question, for which the Starfleet captain is hit by a lightning bolt … and survives, of course — since William Shatner could hardly be expected to perish from a lightning bolt from God.

This all came to mind the other day when news broke — not from a sermon from the Mount, but by press release – that God apparently has found a new vessel for spreading his word. Simon & Schuster has struck a deal to publish an as-yet untitled memoir.

I know what you’re thinking … didn’t God already do this?

I know what you’re also thinking … who do you strike a deal with to get the rights to God’s autobiography. The publishing company had the answer in its press release:

“God is represented by a burning bush, the Greek letters a and ‡, and, in this case, the Levine Greenberg Literary Agency, the same agency that represents David Javerbaum.”

Javerbaum is the head writer of The Daily Show, which probably tells you more than you need to know about God’s memoir. Meanwhile, the publishers aren’t worried about the Almighty meeting a deadline:

“We think He can produce the manuscript quickly … More than seven days, but less than a year.”

Not to be outdone, an already released book found its way to the newsroom this week. “Conversations With Jesus: An Intimate Journey,” an account by author Alexis Eldridge of how the son of God made himself known to her over the years and, ultimately, to sitdown talks that Eldridge recorded in the pages of a spiral notebook (not, unfortunately, with a video camera).

In her introduction, Eldridge asks, “How does a Jewish woman from Brooklyn become best friends with Jesus?” This seems a pertinent question for the purpose of the book, although the concept of being the “best” friend of Jesus appears a tad presumptuous.

For example, why is Eldridge a better friend tha Calvin Miller, who also wrote a book called “Conversations With Jesus” in 2006? Or Simon Parke, who wrote … excuse me, co-wrote … “Conversations With Jesus Of Nazareth” earlier this year?

Now, we here in Southern Oregon are familiar with the concept of having the lord communicate through the pages of books. So the first person I thought of was Neale Donald Walsch, he of the best-selling “Conversations With God.”

Walsch himself is quoted on the jacket of Eldridge’s book:

“Just as God can speak to everyone, why not Jesus as well? You will be fascinated by what he says!”

Walsch is right. It’s fascinating to discover why – in this age of talk radio, Twitter and 24-hour cable news networks — God’s memoir and Jesus’s conversation are captured in the rather quaint (not to mention SLOW) medium of tell-all books.

For an answer to that imponderable, I went straight to the source … or, at least, close enough … the Introduction to “Conversations With Jesus” that Jesus himself wrote:

“My intention for everyone who travels the pages of this book is for them to find their way from underneath the layers of falseness that make up much of modern society …”

What does God need with a starship, indeed?

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Get Ready To Rumba

I really wanted to use this space and your time to talk about Harry Potter … but even the teen wizard has lost his place atop the pop universe this week to the soap opera that has become the finals of “Dancing With The Stars.”

As we know, the melodrama concerns the continuing presence of Bristol Palin on the dance competition series. Many are crying foul, saying that her mother’s popularity and the hyper-charged political reality of the present — where it’s more important to win than to be right — have led to a flood of votes for Bristol.

This hasn’t set well with some folks – mostly bloggers, dance purists and the occasional man in Wisconsin who would rather take a gun to his television set than bear the sight of Palin defeating Jennifer Grey and Kyle Massey in the “Dancing” finale.

The Palins, meanhwile, have tried to steer clear of the trouble, Sarah saying it makes no sense that they’d have time to rally support from the tea party and elsewhere; Bristol saying that her fans just want to see a non-celebrity win the competition.

Sarah Palin, as you might expect, has bigger fish to fry.  Next week she has a book coming out, “America by Heart: Reflections on Family, Faith, and Flag,” in which she has harsh words for another political-popularity contest.

“American Idol.”

According to a story from The Associated Press, she refers to “talent-deprived” contestants of “Idol” who suffer from “the cult of self-esteem.”

“No one they have encountered in their lives — from their parents to their teachers to their president — wanted them to feel bad by hearing the truth,” she writes. “So they grew up convinced that they could become big pop stars like Michael Jackson.”

Jackson was a pretty fair dancer as well.

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Palin’s Sweeping The Floor With Them

Election Day has come and, for the most part, gone. And now that the silly preliminaries have been taken care of, we can get down to the voting that actually matters.

Who will win “Dancing With The Stars”? Or, more to the point, who won’t receive the coveted Mirror Ball Trophy after grueling weeks of competition, glitter and spray tans? Because this year more than any other, television’s No. 1 show — and what does that say about us? — could find itself in the midst of a political controversy within its bright and shiny spin zone.

Bristol Palin and Mark Balas

Bristol Palin and Mark Balas

There are five contestants remaining on the fall season of DWTS, but all eyes are on just one of them … Bristol Palin, daughter or You-Know-Who and the least likely of those left twirling to win. Why do we say this? Because young Palin, and her pro partner Mark Balas, have found themselves bathed in the dreaded red spotlight of jeopardy consistently this season because of low scores from the judges … you know, the ones who actually know what ballroom dancing should look like.

But since viewer support counts for half the competitors’ scores, Bristol has survived while other more-worthy celebrity dancers (Rick Fox and, more unfairly, Adriana Patridge) have been shown the door. And yes, I hadn’t a clue who Adriana Patridge was until the season began … but she was clearly one of the top three dancers.

There’s no way to know how much of Bristol’s fan base stems from You-Know-Who’s popularity. However, despite her efforts with the tango, the samba and the waltz (not to mention a performance dressed in monkey costumes), there’s something going on here beyond fan voting for the best celebrity dancer.

A sidestep, here, if you will: It’s often said that DWTS brings in some celebrities who have either dance training or a musical background. This season, actress Jennifer Grey and pop star Brandy fit the profile of such “ringers.” But if you’re going to argue that they know the basics of dance, you can’t argue with the fact that they are at least “celebrities.”

Bristol Palin, meanwhile, who comes across on the screen as a very earnest worker with little natural dance ability, is famous because of You-Know-Who. The show’s not called Dancing With The Stars’ Relatives. (Of course, both Donnie and Marie have appeared — he actually won — but it’s hard to say which one these days would be the “star” and which the “relative.”)

There are millions of people out there in TV-viewing land who each watch DWTS and vote for who they think are the best dancers. And millions more of us who are married to those who are fans and have to deal with our loved ones’ disappointment when a dancer who deserved a better fate goes home.

Bristol Palin’s done a fine job on the show, hasn’t embarrassed herself and has reconstructed her public persona after years of being known as the most famous teen mother in America. But her time on the dance floor should be nearing its end. (Of those remaining, though, she really should outlast retired NFL quarterback Kurt Warner.)

Her winning DWTS wouldn’t be the worst travesty in competition reality shows this season. That dubious honor falls to Portland fashion designer Gretchen Jones, who inexplicably was named winner of “Project Runway” over the uniquely creative,  talented and vastly more likeable Mondo Guerra of Denver. But every vote for Palin is a vote against peace in our time.

Well, at least it is in my house.

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How Do I Defriend Thee? Let Me Count The Ways

It’s often been said that high school is the most important time of our lives, but that’s rarely followed up with the reason why. In the end, it’s simple: No matter how many years you spend in high school, you never leave.

Ever.

The latest evidence of this comes in the form of a study of Facebook — social networking being the virtual extension of high school as it is  — which sought to discover the reasons that users will defriend someone. Turns out, to no great surprise, that we dump people on the Internet for the same reasons we dump them in real life. Or, at least what passes for real life.

Christopher Sibona, a PhD student in computer science at the University of Colorado’s business school in Denver, surveyed 1,500 Facebook users (over Twitter, natch) and found recurring themes of emotional distrust and disinterest, with the occasional distate for commentary thrown in for good measure.

The No. 5 Reason for being defriended falls under the category of “I Am Bored And Trying To Create Drama.” Spend enough time in the high school library or cafeteria and this feeling resonates. Add to that being older and still finding yourself chatting about superficial topics and countless forum and chat posters, and that boredom factor skyrockets. And what better way to shake things up than by creating a bit of artificial melodrama? Heck, we spend enough time with The Real Housewives Of The Hills On The Jersey Shore as it is, we know the drill.

Coming in at No. 4 is an oldie but a goodie: “I Don’t Like You.” Now, you’d think that would be higher on this list, but not liking someone has never really been reason enough to eliminate them from your particular group of “cool kids.” Being defriended for being unliked (or should it be unfriended for being deliked?) is like being left out of the usual Friday night trip to the movies … not that we remember how that feels.

At No. 3, we find “Inappropriate Posts, Such As Crude Or Racist Comments.” We get enough of that (bleep) on cable television, we don’t to hear it from our friends. Plus, as you’ve undoubtedly experienced, coarseness in print (on on the screen) can induce a sense of the ickies that isn’t likely to go away as quickly as an inappropriate remark from an unfunny classmate.

In the same vein, we find No. 2: “Posting About Polarizing Topics Such As Religion And Politics.”  Want to get into a fight over the Internet? Just try getting a level-headed discussion of either going in your chat room. We defend the right of our friend to be wrong … just don’t bombard my walls with your opinions.

Finally, we get to the No. 1 Reason For Defriending Someone On Facebook. And, when I read this one, I was immediately transported back to the halls of high school, listening yet again to another debate over whether Elton John or David Bowie would have a longer career.

“Making Frequent Unimportant Posts.” We’ve given over enough of our time already … stop boring me with your trivial concerns!. And listen to mine! Or, to borrow a quote from “The Social Network,” the current movie about the founding of Facebook: “As if every thought that tumbles through your head was so clever it would be a crime for it not to be shared.”

One last thought on the subject: When researching surfing this topic, I found that the jury was split 50-50 as to whether you get de-friended or un-friended. Writing too much about the debate, however, would cause me to break four or five of the previously stated rules.

I’ll leave that to the folks who dither over whether anal retentive is hyphenated.

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Play It Again, Samuel

Octomom is writing her autobiography. Snooki is writing her autobiography. Jay-Z is releasing a memoir that details the meaning of his lyrics. Celebrities with even less recognition than Octomom and Snooki and Jay-Z are writing their autobiographies.

Or, at least, someone is writing their autobiographies for them.

But no memoir has created the stir in the book world than the one which has zoomed to the top of the charts at online retailers such as Amazon.com, even though it won’t be available officially until Nov. 15. At 760 pages, it’s the first of a planned three-part autobiography that will be released within five years.

Or, in other words, one fewer volume than Tori Spelling has written about herself.

The author of this long-awaited book? A man who’s been dead for more than 100 years: Samuel Langhorne Clemens — Mark Twain to you and me. The same writer who once proclaimed, “biographies are but the clothes and buttons of the man. The biography of the man himself cannot be written.”

The good folks at The Mark Twain Project have been working since 1967 at the University of California to bring together everything Twain wrote and, as he requested, publish his memoirs starting 100 years after he left this mortal coil in 1910. How difficult a task is this? Consider that the project has collected 2,300 of his handwritten letters between 1853 and 1880.

The man wrote a whole bunch.

Mark Twain, like Abraham Lincoln, keeps turning up in our popular culture. Both have been the subject of one-man shows on Broadway. Both have been guest stars in “Star Trek” series. There’s a mystique to the men that lasts in a way that seems unlikely to follow any of the politicians or provocateurs of today.

Although, the man who said “Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please,” might feel right at home in today’s world.

Seriously, would you wait 100 years after her death to read Snooki’s memoirs?

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How Can I Miss You If You Won’t Go Away?

Of the many ingenious, humanitarian efforts spawned by the Internet — including Justin Bieber’s new line of nail polishes —  nothing had the simple genius of the attempt by Seattle resident James Burns to rid the world of Weezer.

Burns has set up a website asking for donations toward his goal of collecting $10 million — which he would then pay the alt-rock band to stop playing, stop recording, stop releasing their music, stop altogether. “I am tired of my friends being disappointed year after year,” he wrote. “I am tired of endless whimsical cutesy album covers and music videos.

“I beg you, Weezer. Take our money and disappear.”

“If they can make it 20, we’ll do the ‘deluxe breakup’,” Weezer drummer Patrick Wilson responded on Twitter … proving, once again, that drummers are the left-handed pitchers of rock bands.

It’s a rather brilliant scheme, recalling the early bit on “Saturday Night Live” when producer Lorne Michaels offered The Beatles $3,000 to reunite on the show. (“Split it up anyway you want; if you want to give Ringo less, that’s up to you.”) When George Harrison later appeared solo, Michaels gave him a check for $750.

Alas, Weezer relief is not to be. Wilson is suspending the attempt after raising about $400 and receiving death threats from the bands unrepentant fan base. Wilson is not downcast by this turn of events, explaining “I figured since the internet wasted so much of my time with all the ridiculous articles about the new Weezer album, I thought I’d return the favor and waste some of the internet’s time. … Boy howdy, did I succeed.”

Weezer, meanwhile, releases its next album, “Death To False Metal,” on Nov. 2, less than three months after it released “Hurley.”

If Wilson won’t reconsider his attempt to rid the world of Weezer, maybe he could turn his efforts elsewhere … maybe to Nicholas Sparks, or M. Night Shyamalan, or The Real Housewives of New York, New Jersey, D.C., Atlanta, Orange County and Beverly Hills, or Flo the Annoying Progressive Insurance Sales Clerk, or …

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“Lone Star”: The Biggest Loser

Sometimes in life, it’s better to fail big than to achieve moderate success. In television, the annual race to be the biggest failure comes after the start of the fall season … when the first new show gets canceled.

This year’s biggest loser is “Lone Star,” a FOX dramatic soap about a con artist living a pair of separate lives among the dirty dealings in Dallas. “Lone Star” wasn’t a flop in the style of “South of Sunset” — the infamous detective show starring Glenn Frey of The Eagles. It lasted one episode back in 1993.

For one thing, “Lone Star” lasted twice as long, with FOX pulling the plug after its second episode Monday night. But the real reason that “Lone Star” will serve as a cautionary tale is that it was perhaps the most highly praised new series by critics across the country who predict such things.

“Lone Star” was high-concept. It has a breakout star in the lead, and a big name (Jon Voight) in a key supporting role. It was edgy, with its man leading a double-life turmoil. It was going to make a splash.

Then it aired. Opposite “Dancing With The Stars,” “Two And A Half Men” and the other high-concept, edgy, splashy, critically admired new show of the season, NBC’s “The Event.” In the wrong time slot on the wrong day of the week, “Lone Star” never had a chance.

That’s not to say it was a good show. I saw the first episode and, frankly, wouldn’t go back for seconds. Part of the problem was that it’s not enough to be edgy or splashy; you have to have something that compels an audience to look in your direction.

The other problem has to do with a word I used in the second paragraph … “soap.” Serial dramas can have traditional soap opera elements and be successful (“Mad Men” is the most obvious current example). But in a time in our culture where daytime soaps are circling the drain, scripted “reality” series give viewers all the interpersonal melodrama they can stomach, and the cable airwaves are filled with strident screamers demonizing politicians and public figures — a show such as “Lone Star” seems, well, quaint.

And so, one of the most-anticipated new shows of the TV season becomes its first casualty. Which is better, in this twisted way, than lasting a full season before disappearing without fanfare.

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Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction, But Not As Interesting

In case you have been too preoccupied with matters of actual importance, director Casey Affleck has admitted that, indeed, his “documentary” of actor Joaquin Phoenix’s descent into madness was a hoax.

I’m reminded of a great headline from The Onion, “Madonna Shocks Seven,” which basically summed up that the Immaterial Girl’s act had gone stale.

By admitting the hoax, Affleck has now taken away any reason for folks to see the movie in the first place. True performance art shouldn’t find it necessary to add subtitles. Penn & Teller can get away with explaining the trick, but, well, let’s just say Affleck and Phoenix aren’t in their class … not to mention Andy Kaufman’s.

Phoenix returns to the David Letterman show Wednesday, Sept. 22. Seven people will be glued to their TV sets.

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Joaquin: The Line Between Fact and Fiction

In the 1999 film “Man on the Moon,” Jim Carrey portrayed the late, great Andy Kaufman, whose great trick was finding humor on a plane of existence outside of our comfort zones. ”Throwing out punchlines that were never there,” R.E.M. wrote in “The Great Beyond,” the second of the group’s two songs about Kaufman.

In the movie, the line between reality and fiction was further blurred by the appearance of Kaufman’s co-stars from “Taxi” portraying themselves … except, that is, for Danny DeVito, who played Kaufman’s manager on the television show. It was unsettling to see “Taxi” scenes recreated without DeVito, whom audience members knew was elsewhere in the film.

Now comes “I’m Still Here,” a film by actor Casey Affleck about the downward spiral taken by his brother-in-law, actor Joaquin Phoenix, in a so-far failed attempt to become a hip-hop singer. Or maybe it isn’t. The in-joke about the film is that perhaps this has all been an act, and Phoenix’s bizarre behavior over the past couple of years has been performance art in creating a “character” based on himself that would carry over into Affleck’s movie.

If there’s an actor worth attempting this sort of long-term project, it’s Phoenix. The “Walk the Line” star began life as Joaquin Rafael Bottom, changed his name to Leaf Phoenix when his family was a part of the Children of God religious cult, then went back to Joaquin following (among other calamities) the drug overdose death of his brother River (whose actual birth name was River).

If you’ve followed Joaquin’s travails, you know all the lowlights and highlights. It’s unlikely that much in the Affleck film, which is coming to the Varsity Theatre in Ashland, will surprise you. People will see what they want to see in the project — depending, of course, on how much of it you want to believe is real. For instance, there’s a scene late in the movie between Phoenix and his father … only it’s not HIS father, it’s an actor portraying Phoenix’s father. And not just any actor, either … it’s Affleck’s father.

Even the title of the Affleck/Phoenix movie is disconcerting. “I’m Still Here” is also the main title of a 2005 documentary subtitled “Real Diaries of Young People Who Lived During the Holocaust,” in which actors read the transcripts of those who those who truly were part of a horrific life-changing event.

Among the actors giving voice to those survivors? Joaquin Phoenix. Intentional or not, it’s a comparison that shouldn’t have been drawn.

When Kaufman was staging his pranks, part of the joy was the audience going along with the gag. We could suspend our disbelief not only to allow him to wrestle women or purposely destroy a skit on the ABC variety show “Fridays”; we also could suspend our own disbelief of knowing that we were part of the gag.

Much of the Internet buzz in the weeks leading up to the premiere of the new film suggests that Affleck and Phoenix are playing some sort of metaphysical stunt. It’s not just the punchlines that were never there.

There will be filmgoers who will follow along and try to bathe in the pseudo-coolness of it all; but I suspect there will be a larger group that won’t even bother wondering whether there’s a point. If “I’m Still Here” depicts reality, it’s a horror show. If it’s a “Borat” using a non-fiction character as its centerpiece, it’s a joke played on those who would bow to it.

In the words of the philosopher Billy Preston, nothing from nothing leaves nothing.

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    Robert Galvin

    Robert Galvin has been with the Mail Tribune since 1999. When he's not writing this blog about pop culture, or his weekly television column (The Little White Dot) for ... Read Full
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