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Blog: Felicity Huffman Believable As a Man

March 2, 2006

AP writers are covering the scene as Hollywood gets ready for its big night on March 5. They’ll be filing periodic reports on the goings-on as the perfect outfits are selected, the red carpet is readied and the gold statuettes are polished for the annual awards show.

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THURSDAY, March 2

I can’t let this Oscar season slip away without discussing those great gender-bending performances we who are not homophobes on the religious Right all love so much.

So naturally, I’ll begin with anecdotes about cats from my past.

First, there was my sister’s cat when we were kids. She named it Tinkerbell, having been told by the family we adopted it from that the cat was female. The vet begged to differ, saying it would cost our dad less than expected to have Tinkerbell fixed (the snip-snip of a vasectomy is cheaper than removing the ovaries, you see).

So poor he-cat Tinkerbell went through life with all his tomcat buddies mocking him for his fairy name (no offense intended _ Tinkerbell, you’ll recall, was an actual fairy).

Then there was the timid white furball I adopted to save it from a life of abuse at the paws of its siblings in a friend’s barn, where it was the runt of the litter. Told by my friend that it was a male, I named the poor thing Dodsworth because it reminded me of the white Looney Tunes kitten taken on as apprentice by a big feline named Dodsworth.

Then the vet told me I actually had a little girly cat, instead. Mindful of Tinkerbell’s shame, I adjusted the cat’s name. The Fleetwood Mac song ``Sara″ was playing over the vet’s sound system at the time, so the cat became known as Sara Dodsworth, which maintained my policy of giving cats first and last names (others in my feline history include a tiger-cat named Blanche DuBois, a long-haired goof named Leon Redbone and a disaster-prone tortoiseshell named China Syndrome).

My point is, it’s easy for animals to masquerade as a horse of a different gender, especially when their human compatriots are, like me, averse to checking out the equipment between their hind legs.

Which brings me to Felicity Huffman. Convincingly posing as the opposite sex is a lot harder for humans than for animals (to our eyes at least; I imagine Tinkerbell and Sara Dodsworth, had they met in a bar before their reproductive capabilities were dispatched, would have recognized each other as compatible bunkmates).

In ``Transamerica,″ for which I think she will win the best-actress Oscar, Huffman gave the best opposite-sex performance I’ve ever seen. Better than Hilary Swank’s in ``Boys Don’t Cry,″ which earned her an Oscar. Better than Jaye Davidson’s in ``The Crying Game,″ which earned him a nomination.

Better than Dustin Hoffman’s in ``Tootsie,″ Julie Andrews’ in ``Victor/Victoria″ and John Lithgow’s in ``The World According to Garp,″ which earned all three nominations in the same year.

But come on, meeting them on the street, would anyone really have believed Andrews was a man or Hoffman and Lithgow were women?

As Bree, a pre-op male-to-female transsexual, Huffman walks the gangly walk and talks the awkward talk. She utterly embodies the part of a man slowly, shyly learning to love the body he’s hated all his life.

If Bree, after her sex-change surgery, is half as good a chick as Huffman herself was as a guy, then female-kind is gaining a hell of a woman.

She might not be able to fool the vet, but Huffman had me fooled.

-- AP Movie Writer David Germain

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Wednesday, March 1

If Hollywood awards shows traded on Wall Street, the Independent Spirit Awards would be a NASDAQ darling this year. So much so that the Academy Awards would be circling, accompanied by music from best-score winner ``Jaws,″ in a hostile-takeover bid of this penny-stock cousin to the Oscars.

The Indie Spirit Awards (from here on out known as Indy for the sake of brevity) honor the best of low-budget, non-studio fare. There’s usually some overlap between Indy and the Oscars, such as last year’s ``Sideways,″ which earned best-picture nominations and a slew of acting nominations at both.

But the sort of movies that get put on the Indy pedestal usually don’t find favor with Oscar investors. The other Indy best-picture nominees a year ago were ``Baadasssss!″, ``Kinsey,″ ``Maria Full of Grace″ and ``Primer,″ whose only Oscar action amounted to acting nominations for Catalina Sandino Moreno in ``Maria″ and Laura Linney in ``Kinsey.″

This time, there’s merger mania between Indy and Oscar. Three films _ ``Brokeback Mountain,″ ``Capote″ and ``Good Night, and Good Luck″ _ are nominated for best-picture at both. A fourth Oscar nominee, ``Crash,″ has an Indy nomination for best first feature from a director and producer.

Actors with both Oscar and Indy nominations are Felicity Huffman for ``Transamerica,″ Philip Seymour Hoffman for ``Capote,″ Terrence Howard for ``Hustle & Flow,″ Heath Ledger and Michelle Williams for ``Brokeback Mountain,″ David Strathairn for ``Good Night, and Good Luck,″ Amy Adams for ``Junebug″ and Matt Dillon for ``Crash.″

Indy directing nominees Ang Lee (``Brokeback Mountain″) and George Clooney (``Good Night, and Good Luck″) also are competing at the Oscars. Ditto for Indy and Oscar writing nominees Noah Baumbach (``The Squid and the Whale″) and Dan Futterman (``Capote″).

As with Wall Street, Hollywood’s a cyclical creature, so the slumbering value-stock giants of the big studios may be the market leaders at next year’s Oscars, while the bubble may burst for the risky growth investments of the independent world.

For fans of daring little flicks, though, this Saturday’s Indy awards serve as a nice warmup on the eve of the Oscars _ and as a reminder that free enterprise is alive and well in cinema.

-- AP Movie Writer David Germain

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TUESDAY, Feb. 28

The great Oscar lineup shows the industry finally did something right and made a bunch of really good movies. But did Hollywood suddenly get bad at making really bad movies?

Consider the Razzies, an Oscar spoof that presents ``dis-honors″ for the previous year’s worst in film achievement. Recent winners of the Razzies worst-picture prize include ``Catwoman,″ ``Gigli″ and ``Swept Away,″ movies that stunk up the joint so badly, people were gleeful to criticize them.

You felt you had a stake in making fun of Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez in ``Gigli″ or Madonna in ``Swept Away,″ like they were just asking for it and we had no choice but to oblige.

The lineup for this Saturday’s Razzies is bad, but not the sort of stinkin’ bad that makes you wish evolution had excised the human olfactory sense.

Jamie Kennedy’s ``Son of the Mask″ leads the Razzies with eight nominations, including worst picture. But it’s one of those who-cares? movies that people have generally forgotten, with nothing approaching the stench of such Razzie winners as Tom Green’s ``Freddy Got Fingered″ or Mariah Carey’s ``Glitter.″

The same goes for the other worst-picture nominees, ``Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo,″ ``The Dukes of Hazzard,″ ``House of Wax″ and ``Dirty Love,″ the latter one barely seen or even heard of by 99.99-percent-plus of humanity.

Sure, each movie was a piece of crap in its own way, but when Razzie time rolls around, we don’t want run-of-the-mill refuse starring dreary little D-listers like Kennedy or Rob Schneider or Johnny Knoxville.

We want mega-stars embarrassing themselves, Halle Berry looking like a superhero in heat in ``Catwoman,″ Affleck in his most knuckle-headed rhymes-with-mealy mode in ``Gigli.″

The Razzies do offer Tom Cruise as nutcase of the year, earning two of the five nominations in a new category for most tiresome tabloid targets. But Cruise’s worst-actor nomination for ``War of the Worlds″ rings false; the movie was disappointing, but Cruise wasn’t Razzie-awful in it.

Filmmakers need to do a better job churning out sewage so that next year, the Razzies have some really GOOD bad movies to trash. Somehow, I think Hollywood is up to the challenge.

-- AP Movie Writer David Germain

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MONDAY, Feb. 27

If you’re a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and you haven’t voted yet, you have only one more day to decide if you prefer gay cowboys, country crooners, traveling transsexuals or rapping pimps.

Oscar voting closes at 5 p.m. tomorrow. Show up at 5:01 p.m. out of breath, complaining that traffic was a bear and that you got sidetracked doing some window-shopping on Rodeo Drive, and your ballot will be shredded while you wait and returned to you as a bag of confetti you can toss out your limousine window on Oscar night.

Ballots to the 5,798 Oscar voters were mailed Feb. 8. I figure the academy’s gay and lesbian members zapped their votes in tout de suite to stuff the ballot box in favor of ``Brokeback Mountain,″ Philip Seymour Hoffman in ``Capote″ and Felicity Huffman in ``Transamerica.″

Then I suspect the academy’s sizable contingent of autoharp fans and former Folsom Prison residents weighed in with votes for Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash and Reese Witherspoon as June Carter in ``Walk the Line.″

After that, Jewish Oscar voters probably made haste to vote for anything but Steven Spielberg’s ``Munich″ and the Palestinian terrorist drama ``Paradise Now.″

Somehow, I feel a lot of the stragglers who’ll be getting their ballots in just under the wire will be supporters of Terrence Howard as the hip-hop pimp of ``Hustle & Flow.″ I’d guess that would be a bunch of studio execs who put off voting until the last minute, abashed to admit they felt kinship with a flesh-peddler.

About 80 percent of academy members typically cast votes, a damn fine turnout for choosing an American president but a little light in my mind considering what’s at stake here. (You’re eligible to vote for the Oscars, but you don’t bother? Are you really that busy between collagen injections and procedures to remove minor skin cancers?)

Once all the ballots are in, the official academy number-cruncher, accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, makes a rough guesstimate, scribbles down winners’ names and seals them into foil-lined envelopes to prevent alien scanning devices from reading them off and tipping the odds in Vegas.

Two partners of PricewaterhouseCoopers are the only humans who’ll know the results until each name is languorously announced on live TV next Sunday.

I’m hoping for a mad rush of corporate mergers over the coming year among the ``Big Four″ accounting firms, so that next time, they’ll have to announce PricewaterhouseCoopersDeloitteErnst&YoungKlynveldPeatMarwickGoerdeler as the official bean-counters of the Oscars.

Anything to make this wonderful broadcast last that much longer.

-- AP Movie Writer David Germain

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FRIDAY, Feb. 24

Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles. Reese Witherspoon as June Carter and Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash. Terrence Howard as the singing pimp. Renee Zellweger and Catherine Zeta-Jones as musical cellblock mates. Nicole Kidman and Obi-Wan Kenobi, er, Ewan McGregor, as crooning love birds at the Moulin Rouge.

So many actors singing (or like Foxx, pretending to sing), and scoring big at the Oscars for their effort (OK, Obi-Wan got screwed out of an Oscar nomination. But a good Jedi desires not an Oscar, according to Yoda, one of the few non-musical Muppets).

From my comprehensive 12-second scan of the list of this year’s Oscar nominees, here are a few movie musicals I want to see:

_ Judi Dench in ``Mrs. Henderson Presents: Herself!″, in which she leads an all-nude quartet of old broads in a stage revue in wartime London to lift the spirits of Britain’s brave young Tommies and give them something worth fighting _ and dying _ for.

_ George Clooney, nephew of tuneful lady Rosemary Clooney, who wanted to do his own singing in ``O Brother, Where Art Thou?″ but was forbidden because, well, he can’t sing _ in ``Ocean’s Thirteen,″ in which his character becomes a Vegas lounge singer backed by a 12-piece combo as cover for yet another casino heist.

_ Paul Giamatti in ``Call Me Marty,″ an epic Wagnerian-style opera based on the life of Ernest Borgnine.

_ Felicity Huffman in a classic musical updated for modern times, called ``Seven Brides for Seven Desperate Brothers,″ about a gang of really lonely siblings who arrange to wed transsexual women from a mail-order (male-order?) catalog.

_ And of course, Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal in ``The Singing Gay Cowboys.″

Hey, are any of these ideas more outlandish than Madonna as Eva Peron?

-- AP Movie Writer David Germain

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THURSDAY, Feb. 23

``Crash″ seems so ancient to me that it feels like the Oscars are way behind the times in nominating it.

I’m not knocking the movie. I think it’s terrific. But I first saw it a year and a half ago when it premiered at the Toronto film fest, and the way all the festival flicks blend together in a bleary reporter’s brain from year to year, it feels like ``Crash″ has been crashing around in my noggin for a decade or so.

I guess that’s a good sign for the movie, that it’s soaked so deeply into the thin layer of sponge lining my skull. And I know it’s a good sign for Hollywood that ``Crash″ scored so well at the big Oscar clambake.

It’s the sort of sharp, complex, rule-busting film that studios, and even their edgier independent divisions, just wouldn’t make. So ``Crash″ had to go the purely independent route, shot on a tiny budget and loitering around the festival circuit in hope some amorous distributor would cruise by and invite it out to the picture show.

Luckily, Lionsgate had the right pickup line. Lionsgate is one of the few independents with the resources to put a film in front of a lot of eyeballs, turning ``Crash″ into a mini theatrical hit, a solid DVD success and now a contender for best-picture and five other categories at the Oscars.

I can understand why a film like ``Crash″ won’t fly in the dollars-are-us culling process through which studios decide what films will actually go to market.

Unless it’s Robert Altman or Paul Thomas Anderson in charge of the thing, ensemble films with a cast of a thousand-and-nine and 127 intersecting story lines are a tough sell for anyone.

I recall going into ``Crash″ expecting to come out with the reaction I have after most big, ambitious ensemble films: That it was well-acted, but the whole thing felt about as sloppy and unbelievable as the last time I and all four of my siblings _ with accompanying spouses, offspring and significant t’others _ were gathered in the same room.

Instead, I came away marveling at how filmmaker Paul Haggis and his gang managed to pack so much in less than two hours and stitch it all together so seamlessly into one of the best 36-hour slices of life I’ve ever seen on screen.

That’s the lesson you have to hope some people who matter in Hollywood will take from ``Crash,″ or its equally edgy competitors ``Capote,″ ``Good Night, and Good Luck″ and ``Brokeback Mountain.″

That now and then, it’s worth setting aside the formulaic preconceptions over what movie might turn a buck, and instead, throw money at something strange and different that you feel passionate about.

-- AP Movie Writer David Germain

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WEDNESDAY, Feb. 22

After 45 nominations, are the Academy Awards as mundane for John Williams as going to the drivethru for a Big Mac and fries?

The film composer who has won five Oscars for his scores to such films as ``Jaws,″ ``Star Wars″ and ``Schindler’s List″ earned his 44th and 45th nominations this time, for ``Memoirs of a Geisha″ and ``Munich.″

That broke the tie he’d been in with Alfred Newman (uncle of Randy, not the figurehead of Mad magazine), who earned 43 nominations for film music in a career that brought him nine Oscars for movie scores that included ``Camelot,″ ``The King and I″ and ``Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing.″ (Newman also won for scoring 1947′s ``Mother Wore Tights″; guess the academy was in a goofy mood that year.)

So now Williams is the record holder for nominations in the music categories. The only individual with more is Walt Disney, whose dominance of the short-subject cartoon category paced him to 59 nominations.

It’s not like Williams needs another Oscar nomination to impress prospective employers. When Steven Spielberg and George Lucas just keep hiring you, who else is there left to impress?

Technically, you could argue Newman and Williams still are tied; back in 1937, Newman scores for ``The Hurricane″ and ``The Prisoner of Zenda″ were nominated, but in those days, the Oscar credit went to the studio music department.

That means Williams still has something to aim for, if he keeps count of these things like the rest of us Oscar bean-counters do. But I suspect the awards rigamarole is just another night out in a monkey suit for Williams at this point.

I can’t think of anything that would still feel fresh and agreeable the 45th time through. OK, maybe one thing. But I won’t win any Oscars for my performance.

-- AP Movie Writer David Germain

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TUESDAY, Feb. 21

The good-deed-doers of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences have just announced their annual effort to improve the minds and souls of the youth of America.

Working with the honorably named group Young Minds Inspired, the academy has developed the Hollywood version of a Care package for high schoolers _ a teaching guide to instruct them on the fine art of documentary filmmaking.

The academy’s Web site on the program (http://www.oscars.org/teachersguide/documentaries) lists such noble objectives as ``to engage students in an exploration of film as an art form and a medium of communication″ and ``to help students become more media literate.″

Bull. Like the tobacco industry, the academy’s just looking to perpetuate itself by creating more customers, catching them when they’re young and vulnerable and hooking them for life.

It’s not as insidious as addicting kids to cigarettes (``We need new smokers, gang. The old ones are dying of cancer″). But it’s insidious enough (``We need new viewers for the Oscar telecast. The old ones are dying of boredom from watching our 12-hour snoozefest″).

Among the stuff teachers at 18,000 high schools receive through this program are lesson starters, take-home activities and an 85-minute DVD, the whole thing narrated by Morgan Spurlock, director of the Oscar-nominated anti-McDonald’s fast-food bash ``Super Size Me.″

Sounds altruistic enough. But teachers also get an ``Academy Awards commemorative poster,″ and I’m betting most of the other materials have been prominently branded with the academy name and logo.

Wanting more background on this YMI outfit, I went to http://youngmindsinspired.com. Interestingly, you also can get to their site by typing http://youthmarketingint.com.

Youth marketing? As in replacing chalkboards with billboards?

The YMI site has testimonials from such clients as Hasbro Toys, Disney and the Cartoon Network. An NFL Players Association exec says YMI helped his team promote ``trading cards to the youth marketplace″; an Xbox boss notes YMI does good school work ``while subtly presenting my brands in a completely professional way.″

You can’t blame the academy for doing what everybody else does, trying to maintain its future by going right to the source, the young eyeballs that may be glued to the Oscar ceremony for the next six or seven decades on TV or iPod or eventually direct-feed-to-the-brain.

Brand loyalty is crucial in business, and let’s not forget, the Oscars are a centerpiece of show BUSINESS.

As a side note, among the many corporate logos plastered on the YMI Web site are the golden arches of McDonald’s, apparently a satisfied customer for which the group has created educational-marketing programs.

That has no relevance to the Oscars. It’s just a circuitous way for me to end with the phrase I want to end with: Morgan Spurlock and McDonald’s, together again.

-- AP Movie Writer David Germain

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FRIDAY, Feb. 17

It’s time for the junior-varsity Oscars, the Scientific and Technical Awards, honoring the geek squads that came up with ``devices, methods, formulas, discoveries or inventions of special and outstanding value to the arts and sciences of motion pictures.″

If the Oscars are the equivalent of prom night for the popular clique, tomorrow’s Sci-Tech Awards are like end-of-the-school-year pizza and Fresca for the audio-visual club at the group adviser’s house.

Honorees, who are cordially asked to leave their pocket protectors at home and wear big-boy pants that do not reveal two-inch swaths of socks, receive plaques or certificates instead of an actual Oscar action figure.

With dozens of people being honored for all kinds of gadgets and contraptions, the Sci-Tech Awards would be too long and boring to fold into the big ceremony, which is long and boring enough as it is.

But I think the real reason the sci-tech gold stars are handed out separately is that winners’ names and achievements would be too hard for celebrity presenters to get their mouths around on Oscar night.

Imagine Jessica Alba presenting a prize to Demetri Terzopoulos, co-author of the paper ``Elastically Deformable Models,″ a ``milestone in computer graphics, introducing the concept of physically based techniques to simulate moving, deforming objects.″

Or Keanu Reeves announcing honors for Udo Schauss and Hildegard Ebbesmeier for the optical design of the Cinelux Premiere Cinema Projection Lenses, which ``incorporate an iris and aspheric elements which provide a more uniform modulation-transfer function.″

Or Owen Wilson introducing Anatoliy Kokush, Yuriy Popovsky and Oleksiy Zolotarov for the Russian Arm gyro-stabilized camera crane and the Flight Head, a remote crane and camera head that can move 360 degrees around a car driven at high speeds, ``creating heretofore impossible perspectives.″

I suspect that like the rest of us, Oscar presenters already have enough trouble with names like Charlize and Joaquin.

The consolation prize for the tech wizards: Their kiddie-table celebration always seems to have a babe as host. Last year it was Scarlett Johansson, the year before, Jennifer Garner. Revenge of the nerds is a dish best served hot.

Tomorrow’s eye-catching emcee is Rachel McAdams. Hope she had a good pronunciation coach.

-- AP Movie Writer David Germain

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THURSDAY, Feb. 16

So I keep finding myself backstage at awards shows, ready to type ``Michelle Williams won this, that and-or the other for her role as a doormat of a wifey too spineless to tell her hubby to lay off that other man in `Brokeback Mountain‴ (and I have to wonder, would the wife have had the slightest hesitation to speak her mind had her spouse been cheating with another woman?).

I’ve felt all along that Williams was the best hope among the ``Brokeback Mountain″ cast to win acting prizes.

But every time my fingers are poised over the keyboard to say so, the name of another wifey, Rachel Weisz, keeps getting announced instead. She won out over Williams at the Golden Globes, then at the Screen Actors Guild Awards, and now Weisz has the inside track to do the same for the supporting-actress prize at the Oscars.

Weisz was great in ``The Constant Gardener,″ playing a wily, fearless humanitarian-aid worker who may or may not have been making the world’s biggest cuckold out of her husband (Ralph Fiennes).

But I didn’t come away from ``The Constant Gardener″ with the feeling that here was a slamdunk Oscar winner. I figured Weisz might get a courtesy nomination and be one of the thanks-for-comings on Oscar night.

Whereas I came out of ``Brokeback Mountain″ thinking that as good as Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal were as gay lovers, Williams managed to steal the movie from them. It felt like one of those performances that makes academy acting branch members go, ``Wow, we better give this filly an Oscar now and jinx her career, or she’ll suck up all the good parts and there won’t be any left for the rest of us.″

So now I’ll be backstage March 5, ready to go either way, Weisz or Williams. And to complicate matters, there are three other nominees, Amy Adams as a bonny Southern wife in ``Junebug,″ Frances McDormand as a man-of-the-house wife in ``North Country″ and Catherine Keener as nobody’s wife, ``To Kill a Mockingbird″ author Harper Lee, in ``Capote.″

It sure would make my life easier if the academy would go the totalitarian route and switch to a Soviet-style, one-party system, with a single nominee in each category, Just a thought.

-- AP Movie Writer David Germain

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