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The Top 10 Films of 2012

More than ever, boiling this concluding year down to the 10 “best” movies feels both arbitrary and reductive. Ideally, I’d have 25 unnumbered slots. I’d cite another five, formally varied nonfiction films: Tchoupitoulas, Detropia, The Ambassador, Only the Young, and How to Survive a Plague. And were I crafting this list on another day or in another mood, any of the following indies—all of which deserved larger audiences than they got—could have made the cut for a top 10: Bernie, Dark Horse, Keep the Lights On, Damsels in Distress, The Color Wheel, Compliance, Middle of Nowhere, Bonsái, Goodbye First Love, The Day He Arrives.

The upshot being, essentially, that even as studio releases are becoming more generic and/or more obsessed with awards-baiting formulas and/or franchise longevity, the other side of the spectrum is looking pretty good. Great, even: It seems as though more worthy films than ever before are making the leap from the festival circuit to some form of theatrical distribution, while nontraditional distribution options (from streaming to one-night-only pop-ups) are increasingly acquiring happening-like cachet.

And so I chose to abstain from voting in the Best Undistributed Film category in the Voice poll. The distinction between “distributed” and “undistributed” seems more artificially binary than ever. Honestly, I’m far more passionate about films that were barely distributed in 2011 (like Hong Sang-soo’s In Another Country and The Day He Arrives, two features that got a New York release but have thus far not made it to Los Angeles) than I am about anything that seems in danger of falling through the theatrical cracks. A dose of perspective: In 2010, at the end of my first year on this job, the overwhelming winner of the Best Undistributed honor in our poll was Jean-Luc Godard’s Film Socialisme, which I described as “the only film . . . whose lack of distribution seems like a scandal.” With all of the newish, increasingly viable options for filmmakers to distribute their work, it’s hard to imagine feeling so scandalized today.

Another category in which I went with the “no vote” as protest: animation. On the one hand, this is an admission of personal failure: I didn’t review a single purely animated film this year, and I didn’t see enough of them to feel fully qualified to evaluate the field. Also, like the distinction between distributed/undistributed, I wonder if the notion of animated versus non-animated shouldn’t be up for redefinition. Where would The Avengers be without computer-animated enhancement? What are films like Life of Pi or The Hobbit if not live-action-animation hybrids, 21st-century versions of Mary Poppins? (That said, I’ll take Mary Poppins over any of them.)

One final note: I love Bill Murray in Hyde Park on Hudson so much that I contemplated finding a place here for that soggy, but not totally unsatisfying, presidential farce. In the end, I went with a top 10 that I can fully defend.

10. Django Unchained

The power of Quentin Tarantino’s Siegel-eats-spaghetti slavesploitation western lies in the contrast between the banality of its depiction of the grotesquerie of the pre–Civil War American South and its riotously black comedy. Django is too structurally and spiritually similar to Tarantino’s masterful last film—the equally surreal revisionist history Inglourious Basterds—not to invite comparisons between the two, and on that playing field, Django looks a bit wan stylistically. But what the new film lacks in pure filmmaking panache (to borrow a word Christoph Waltz’s Dr. King Schultz), it almost makes up for with its script, Tarantino’s funniest and most linear—which, for him, means it’s his most experimental.

9. Chronicle

In a year in which even James Bond got a superhero origin story, Josh Trank’s legitimately dark teen super-villain making-of saga did a better job at basic character development than any of its big-budget, brand-name competitors. It’s also, simply, the most convincing faux-found-footage/POV action movie I’ve ever seen.

8. Anna Karenina

No film has been more unfairly written off as a dumb blonde since Marie Antoinette. Similar to Sofia Coppola’s misunderstood marvel, Joe Wright’s take on Tolstoy is a layer cake, its frosting-thick artifice not antithetical to substance but integral to it.

7. This Is Not a Film

A new benchmark in constructed “reality.” A genuinely risky political provocation. A dispatch from inside a closed state. An artist’s personal statement and illuminating lecture on his work. A domestic comedy. The best not-a-film of 2012.

6. Rust and Bone

Jacques Audiard’s would-be romantic melodrama demands more alert viewing than perhaps any other more-or-less traditional narrative film this year. Yes, this is a movie featuring multiple artfully lit amputee sex scenes and which uses a Katy Perry song—twice—for not-quite-ironic effect. It’s also incredibly complex in the way it sketches its characters, their relationship to one another, and their constantly shifting points on the hero/villain/victim continuum.

5. The Loneliest Planet

Julia Loktev’s devastating journey into the darkness of the heart requires more alert viewing than any not-quite-traditional narrative film of the year. In a cultural moment in which American indie film has become over-reliant on muddying the notion of “real,” Loktev’s minimalistic impressionism is more vital than ever.

4. Attenberg

When I try to imagine which 2012 release I’d show the 16-year-old version of me, it would be Athina Rachel Tsangari’s spunkily touching tale of a young woman coming of age in a Greece that’s falling apart.

3. Moonrise Kingdom

The most beautiful film of the year.

2. Holy Motors

The most film of the year.

1. The Master

In a year teeming with auteurist takes on historical moments, it was Paul Thomas Anderson who created the most convincing, compelling, and piercingly cinematic map of what it felt like to be alive at an incredibly specific point in time. An unshakable nightmare counterpoint to the postwar American Dream.

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Forbidden Broadway Takes a Stab at It

Has it really been 100 years since Forbidden Broadway last showed its impudent face in New York? Factually, the most recent version only closed in 2009, but that apparently feels like a century ago—not only to me, but to the show’s jovial perpetrators, Gerard Alessandrini and Phillip George: They open its latest edition, Forbidden Broadway: Alive and Kicking (47th Street Theater), with a spoof prologue equating their satirical revue to Brigadoon, the ancient Scottish town that, according to Lerner & Loewe’s classic musical, only appears once a century.

But unlike Brigadoon, which was striving to preserve its purity from Time’s corruption, Forbidden Broadway vanished because our theatrical times had gotten too corrupt to ridicule. Predicated on the recycling of weary, market-tested “properties” that no one except a tourist looking for a safe investment would ever conceivably want to see again, our overpriced 21st-century Broadway had essentially become Brigadoon’s evil twin, trapped in the sterility of its own greed, lack of imagination, and obliviousness to the real world.

Alessandrini & Co., who had been pointing this out for decades with increasing fury, didn’t need an enchanted escape, just a cooling-off period. If, in their rage at what Broadway has become, they had started to aim their arrows past the stars, who make the most easily noticeable targets, to strike instead at the producers and theater owners who actually make Broadway’s most heinous decisions, they would have produced a show that mainly interested economists with a snide sense of humor. Offering very little of the celebrity-bashing fun that makes larger audiences buy tickets, such a result would have fulfilled George S. Kaufman’s definition of satire—”closes on Saturday night.”

Wisely, Forbidden Broadway‘s creators chose the more popular alternative. Having curbed their righteous rage—for at heart Alessandrini and George are idealists who loathe Broadway’s loss of its former glory—they spend most of the new show, as always, taking superbly aimed potshots at the noticeable offenders onstage (Matthew Broderick, Audra McDonald, Once‘s Steve Kazee, Bernadette Peters), reserving only a few sidewise stabs for those who really cause Broadway’s griefs.

Even so, those glancing stabs can cut. Among the show’s caricatures: director Diane Paulus, ripping out and crumpling pages of Porgy and Bess‘s score with egomaniacal zest; Julie Taymor and Bono shouting “Sue Me!” at each other (the use of the Frank Loesser song itself a telling swipe), while a tiny puppet Spider-Man crashes to the floor; Trey Parker and Matt Stone reveling smarmily in the loot they’ve made ridiculing religion (the show’s use of bleeps in their song is far wittier than the profanities in their actual Book of Mormon lyrics).

Mary Poppins turns up to describe the stage musical centered on her as “practically putrid in every way,” boiling the result down, to one of Poppins‘s best-known tunes, as “Stupid-careless-fictional-nonsensical-verboseness.” “They’re swindling you,” she warbles, summarizing the artistic intentions of Disney and Cameron Mackintosh: “Feed the ‘burbs/That’s what they say/Tepid, vapid musicals pay.” A cartoony Stephen Sondheim drops by, to rail against new British renderings of his works, like last summer’s Into the Woods, “Agony/New revivals so dark/Always cheap and so slow/And with budgets so low/They use trees from the Park.” And a brash caricature of Sutton Foster (“my face is stone/I’m always affable”) sums up Broadway’s current condition, to the title song from the just-closed Anything Goes: “What’s fun today/Doesn’t run today . . ./What works today/Is for jerks today . . ./Everything blows.”

Its cast’s ability to supply lightning comic mimicry has always had a principal share in Forbidden Broadway‘s success, as well as bolstering its central satiric point: Here are four more of the inventive comedic talents that our tarnished Broadway hasn’t put to good use. The current quartet—Natalie Charlé Ellis, Jenny Lee Stern, Scott Richard Foster, and Marcus Stevens—ranks among the best groups that George and Alessandrini, who co-directed, have ever assembled. Their merry alacrity as they romp through multiple impersonations, switching gender and ethnicity every few minutes, is a constant marvel. Stern, a diminutive imp, nearly filches the show several times, but her colleagues seize too many good moments for her ownership to be more than fleeting.

mfeingold@villagevoice.com

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Disney Staff Songwriters Documented in The Boys: The Sherman Brothers’ Story

Disney musicals from the ’50s and ’60s have a push-pull effect on many folks who grew up loving the stuff, then felt a need to distance themselves from it as young adults, only to rediscover the poignancy, sophistication, and melancholy of the music once again as adults. That layered, lingering power is due to the genius of brothers Robert and Richard Sherman, the only songwriters ever hired as Disney staff. The duo provided song scores for such classics as Mary Poppins, The Jungle Book, The Parent Trap, and Bedknobs and Broomsticks. But anyone expecting a saccharine-mapped trip down memory lane from this engrossing documentary, directed by cousins Gregory and Jeff Sherman, sons of Robert and Richard, is in for a bittersweet, heartbreaking surprise. Crammed with clips from classic films, insightful observations from assorted talking heads, and lots of family photos and home-movie snippets, Boys is first-rate cinema archaeology. What pushes it beyond that is the brutal honesty with which the sibling rivalry between the elder Shermans is depicted; theirs is a palpable mixture of love and disdain that led to the men not socializing with each other for more than 40 years, even as they worked together. You leave the film knowing that something of their music’s powerful undertow lies in the dark currents of their own relationship.

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GOLDEN BOY

As the Golden Globes on January 11 quickly approach, expect to hear David Fincher’s name a lot. His CGI-laden romantic fable, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, is up for five awards, a first for the director whose films, which include the thrillers Se7en, Fight Club, and Zodiac, have never been nominated. The Film Society devotes its first series of the year, Under the Sign of Fincher, to the technical wizard, with a program including the three above-mentioned movies and three films chosen by Fincher himself that were essential to his creative development: Polanski’s Chinatown and his two childhood favorites, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Mary Poppins. And mark your calendars: On January 4 at 7:30 p.m., Fincher will discuss the making of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

Thu., Jan. 1; Sun., Jan. 4, 2009

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Atlantic City is in terrific shape, even if the animatronic mule at Bally’s hasn’t moved or talked since MADONNA came around. The tourism bureau sent us down to revel in that other accomplished Jewess, BARBRA STREISAND, who not only moved, she worked her butt off in a gorgeous concert highlighted by her creamy voice and a cleavage-revealing dress that made her look completely like udder, I mean butter. Barbra sang everything from Funny Girl to more Funny Girl, and she even personalized her patter by chirping about having visited the local 99-cent store where she ogled “flags on Band-Aids and toys for my dog.” (Presumably, she exchanges pricier trinkets with JAMES BROLIN.)

Alas, while I absolutely adored la diva, I could have done without IL DIVO, the oily opera quartet that came out whenever Babs needed a beauty rest. (They loudly crooned “My Way” in Spanish, just like the penguin in Happy Feet, but seriously.) And the funny-starting BUSH impersonator skit became labored, though it’s been so trimmed (and JoisEy is so liberal) that there were no hecklers whatsoever this time! I have to admit I was sort of praying Babs would have to repeat her “Shut the fuck up” remark or at least play the “Shut the fuck up” remix that’s been making the rounds online. Instead, all was calm, especially since Babs served a verbal wet blanket by cooing that Dubya in fact has a very good sense of humor about himself and what’s more, we’re not from red or blue states, “we’re all from the United States.” Shut the fuck up!

After lots more glorious singing, the newly serene Streisand encored with a love song to her dead dog, who “is on another plane now.” First-class, I hope.


SUSANNE TAKES YOU DOWN TO HER PLACE NEAR THE RIVER

Back in New York, all animatronics have stopped and things are like shutter. We’ve had a real disco bloodbath lately, with Happy Valley, the Roxy, and Avalon having gone through different degrees of shutdown—that last club on the night of SUSANNE BARTSCH‘s Halloween bash, just as I was arriving in clowny splendor (though I did feel a thrilling sense of power telling the pleading Oscar-winning composer for Brokeback Mountain that I couldn’t possibly help him get in.) Fortunately, Bartsch and Kenny Kenny—who brought edgy magic to Happy Valley for a year—are returning with Tuesday parties at the strip club Room Service starting on the 28th. And I still won’t help any Oscar winners through the door without a grab at their golden boy.

Lips—YVON LAMÉ‘s award-caliber drag joint—is not only still there, it’s expanding to the inevitable Fort Lauderdale. And it has a new calendar featuring its lovely tuckers du maison, which was celebrated at the boîte’s 10th-anniversary bash last week with lots of drink downing and lip reading. But the real show was backstage, where I saw signs urging the staff to make sure to push the calendar and promote the penis cakes onstage, and on weekends, “Dress to impress, not to frighten. There needs to be more glamour and less tranny!” That should be forever embroidered on my waxed pubic hair.

On Thursday, Pop Rocks was a madcap stew of inebriated young zanies carrying on and acting like penis cakes on the roof. (Outdoor partying in November? This global warming thing is turning out to be a godsend! What the fuck’s the problem?)

And the mood was warmly welcoming at the Capitale party for the Out 100, where MC JUSTIN BOND set the tone by giddily exclaiming, “Let’s hear it for the 101st— NANCY PELOSI!” The annual gala—thrown by Out magazine (which I write for)—celebrated celebs from Prada-wearing gay icon Anne Hathaway (who gushed, “I can’t believe I’m the ingenue of the year. I would have thought it would be LANCE BASS“) to gay playwright TERRENCE MCNALLY (who sardonically said he hopes KARL ROVE gets outed and added, “For the next election, we get rid of the main asshole.”). Best of all, the video montage before the awards ceremony started with KATIE HOLMES moaning, “Gay men are so hot. It’s tragic.” Relax, it’s from a movie.

The title creature in How the Grinch Stole Christmas—played by the fabulous Patrick Page—seems more than a tad gay, but offstage, of course, Page is married to PAIGE DAVIS, a/k/a Paige Page (which sounds like two-thirds of a three-way with MARK FOLEY). Anyway, the show may not “stink, stank, stunk,” but it’s a fairly uninspired mounting of the Dr. Seuss story about how it’s love, not presents, that makes the Christmas spirit—a moral you get to ingest after passing by the souvenir stand and having people run through the aisles hawking merch in your face!

Mary Poppins serves a similarly insincere theme—”There are more important things than making money”—while offering loopy lavishness for your supercalifragi-etc. dollar. The show’s magic is sometimes so mechanical they should retitle it The Umbrellas of Cyborg, and the new songs, like Grinch‘s, are mostly blah (and Act Two has nine friggin’ reprises). But shoot me, I enjoyed every minute! I especially loved Poppins serving the kids some mystery liquid that makes them do their chores (no doubt the same stuff the kids were doing over at Pop Rocks). And it’s very sweet of the lady to fly over the cheap seats at the end.

Meanwhile, The Little Dog Laughed and so did I, most notably whenever JULIE WHITE was working her own magic. White plays a lesbian agent who maneuvers two sets of gay characters back into the closet, though after two hours of her fabulous eyeball rolling and pop culture quoting, you sense that she’s the one who’s most closeted about being a gay man. In fact, she’s clearly no lesbian at all—she’s a total drag queen from Lips!

While that play brings gay Hollywood to Broadway, gay Broadway goes back to the movies with The History Boys, and “they didn’t ruin it!” as I gleefully screeched to star RICHARD GRIFFITHS at a special screening last week. Director NICHOLAS HYTNER confessed that he didn’t wring every possible laugh out of the material because they didn’t realize how to play certain bits until they got to New York (after the movie was completed), but hey, they can always film it again. As I heard the regal FRANCES DE LA TOUR intone to a friend, “I was in the play and now the movie. I don’t think it’s ever going to end!” Pause. “And why should it? It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience.” Good addendum.


FOR RICHER OR PURIM

On another plane, CATHERINE O’HARA‘s place in CHRISTOPHER GUEST‘s demented ensemble will hopefully never end. She’s a regular riot in For Your Consideration, his new spoof of awards mania and his first dip into a narrative experience. And what a narrative. O’Hara plays Marilyn Hack, the star of Home for Purim—an overheated potboiler about a Yiddish-speaking family in the deep South—who hears Oscar buzz about herself and becomes so transformed she practically thinks she can get into Avalon.

“Have you ever witnessed that kind of sickness in the biz?” I asked the SCTV vet over fruit salad at the Waldorf Towers last week. “I’ve seen people lose and be very upset,” O’Hara admitted. “Shellshocked, like they’ve gotten horrible news about their family.” But her husband, production designer BO WELCH, has a much healthier attitude, of course. “He’s been nominated four times,” related O’Hara, “and he says, ‘I’m not gonna win. I know how it works’—even though he deserves to. But by time you get there, all your friends are saying, ‘Of course you’re gonna win!’ Somehow they feel they have to encourage you and you get sucked in.”

Consideration should be nominated just for the fact that the cast members were given elaborate résumés and backstories for their characters. It turns out Hack was a big hit playing a blind prostitute, went on to appear in a prime-time hospital drama, and currently voices two Japanese characters on an animated kiddie show. “She’s a workhorse actress,” said O’Hara, “who doesn’t question the script or the authority of the director, even if it’s Jay [the meshuggeneh one for Home for Purim, played by Guest himself].”

But come on, woman, could a movie like Purim actually get made, let alone nominated? “Anything can get made,” O’Hara replied, drolly. “Look around!” I glanced out the window and saw a big sign for The Santa Clause 3. Point taken. Now on to getting rid of the main asshole.


musto@villagevoice.com

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Little Children is that darkly funny and disturbing film about suburban hypocrites who become unhinged at the sight of a newly released pedophile sex offender, forgetting that they’re not exactly Mary Poppins themselves. The tsk-tsking epic opened amid the MARK FOLEY and JOHN MARK KARR scandals, and I pray that’s helping its box office the way Three Mile Island turned into gold for The China Syndrome. (Tragedy might as well boost the coffers of fine moviemaking; otherwise, what good is it?)

After a special screening last week, some of the flick’s hotshot cast members fielded questions while distancing themselves from their icky characters. (“I’m not Larry,” pleaded NOAH EMMERICH, who plays the town’s self-appointed morality zealot with a secret. “I’m not Ronnie,” blurted JACKIE EARLE HALEY, who brings surprising depth to the role of the pedophile—an arrested child who was indeed arrested.)

It’s Haley who’s getting the loudest Oscar buzz, and it helps that he’s surrounded by such well-cast co-stars (like PHYLLIS SOMERVILLE and JANE ADAMS) and also that his own real-life story has such a good arc. A teen star in The Bad News Bears and Breaking Away, Haley’s comet went down when he turned into the world’s youngest has-been since SHIRLEY TEMPLE. Now he realizes, “My identity became attached to celebrity, and when I lost my celebrity, it became a hard trip to find me. I’ve had difficulties with alcohol and cigarettes, and I can’t stop biting my nails. It’s an OCD.” Not to mention aesthetically unappealing. That really bites.

But at least that gave the comeback kid an understanding of how Ronnie uses his own obsessions to block out the world and bury his low self-esteem. “We weren’t trying to make a sympathetic character,” explained Haley, nibbling away. “We were trying to make him real. If anyone does feel anything for him—hatred, disdain, pity—we didn’t want people to feel bad for feeling it.” But Somerville piped in that as the doting mother she felt only adoration. “You always see the cherished child in a troubled, degraded man,” she said. “It’s the ‘you should see him when he’s sleeping’ syndrome.” Yeah, as long as he’s sleeping alone.

As we prepared to run home to check on our inner children, Haley offered his take on the role’s riskiness. “If it’s a career killer, that’s fine,” he said, grinning, “because it was dead two years ago anyway.”


FOREVER BURSTYN BUBBLES
A woman with endless waves of careers, ELLEN BURSTYN
has now written a memoir, Lessons in Becoming Myself, that’s a piercing look at the “masks” she had to rip off to get to some truth as a person and an actor. And how does Burstyn feel now, all naked and honest? “Embarrassed,” she admitted at her book soiree last week. “Everybody in the world is going to know all my humiliating secrets. At the moment, I’m just humiliated!” And we all went home and killed ourselves.

Or tried to. We survived and ended up at The Times They Are A-Changin’, that BOB DYLAN confuseical that is the result of TWYLA THARP playing victim to the success of her BILLY JOEL show. (Drumming up working-class plots out of old rock anthems can’t be what she had in mind when she went to college. Oh, it was? Never mind.) Now she puts Dylan’s songs about liberation and change into a corrupt-circus setting, which seems as offbeat as adapting the works of Freud into limericks. The animal number and the flashlight dance are two of the season’s biggest “say what?” moments. But when the lead actor—or his understudy, actually—got to the Dylan lyric about “the jugglers and the clowns,” he triumphantly pointed to the chorus of, yep, jugglers and clowns, beaming since the whole show clearly made sense now. Alas, judging from the critical reaction, they probably shouldn’t have checked my bag for a bomb. They should have inspected the stage. And again, it was suicide time.

More successful, Grey Gardens is, of course, the musical based on ALBERT MAYSLES‘s cult documentary about the decrepit but still singing Edith and Edie Beale. Well, now Maysles is adding to the multimedia feasting by doing a documentary about the musical! (He’s also helping MARTIN SCORSESE film his new doc about the ROLLING STONES. I guess with his longevity rate, MICK JAGGER will never be The Departed.) The musical, by the way, is in staunch shape—much better than the “28-room litter box” that houses blowsy Edith and bald Edie. Just wait till you see Jackie Kennedy meow!

A more wholesome household—with hair, yet—musically cavorts in the aforementioned Mary Poppins, so when a publicist left a message urging me to bring someone “age appropriate” to the show, I frantically started rummaging through my mind for any three-year-olds I know. (I almost called John Mark Karr.) But it turned out they meant we should bring someone mature—you know, old enough to not disrupt the performance during an all-important press night. Don’t bring kids to Mary Poppins? Isn’t that sort of like telling people not to take old hippies to the Dylan show? Sure, but in this case, it’s no problem for me at all—I’m not Ronnie.

[

The 24 Hour Plays—a very grown-up benefit for Working Playground—had name theater people writing, rehearsing, and mounting playlets, all in a mere day. The result, naturally, was uneven, but often better than some of the predigested crap served on Broadway, so I say let’s always do it this way—just bring a grown-up guest. This time around, Hollywood drop-in JENNIFER ANISTON was a super-good sport, JULIANNA MARGULIES started cracking up (probably from the pressure), and THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS—who performed sardonic songs while props were being moved (and given)—proved they’re the original TENACIOUS D.


MEN WITH BIG HOSES
Twenty-four hours later, the artsy-shmartsy crowd converged at a Guggenheim dinner for Absolute Wilson, the documentary about taskmaster director ROBERT WILSON. (I’m waiting for the Broadway musical with CHRISTINE EBERSOLE.) “In the movie, it says Robert arranges people,” declared collaborator PHILIP GLASS, “but that’s not true. He likes to arrange glasses and plates!” Well, Philip is one of the most collectible Glasses I know. Over by my plate, Steve Buscemi told me he has a role in I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, with ADAM SANDLER and KEVIN JAMES. “They play firemen who pretend to be a gay couple to get domestic-partnership benefits,” he said. “I’m the official who outs them as straight.” Oh, no! Is this going to be a gay Soul Man—another comedy based on the twisted illusion that things are so much better for oppressed minorities? Am I going to have to start writing picket signs with my limp wrists? “No,” Buscemi said, “they end up being big advocates of gay rights, Adam Sandler style.” Oh, whew, girlfriend!

SUSANNE BARTSCH and KENNY KENNY‘s gay freakazoid crowd became a minority again when they were forced to mix with many straights at the opening of Room Service, a new “VIP luxury” club on the East 21st Street block dotted with upscale strip joints. My head spun from the rotating chandelier; the falling faux-snow; the woman with her boobies out, screaming, “Are you Jewish?”; and the drunken lady outside screeching, “He grabbed my breasts!”

At Happy Valley, big-chested ERIK RHODES barreled up to me and said, “Your column got me in trouble today with my probation officer!” Eek. Yikes. Whoops. Well, first of all, why do you have a probation officer, fine sir? “Erik has a bit of a temper problem,” chimed in his manager. OK, in that case, oh great personage of bottoming out, was the officer mad that my write-up of the International Escort Awards pictured you—winner of Best Porn Star Escort—in a shirt that said hooker? “No,” Rhodes replied. “He was mad that I was holding a bottle of beer!” Well, at least he doesn’t bite his nails.

But stop everything—there’s a new trend in movieland, even bigger than child molesting. It’s turds! The quack doctor in Running With Scissors divines the future by looking at his own bowel movements. And now there’s
Flushed Away, though when the mouse first falls into the sewer and lands on something that looks like shit, it shockingly turns out to be a chocolate bar instead. Product placement instead of poo-poo? What a sick world.



Web Extra: I may be saddened to hear that Reese Witherspoon and Ryan
Phillippe have separated—I said I may be—but I’m certainly not surprised. Haven’t I for years been writing about the Oscar curse that plagues show-biz
relationships and how a golden statue for one can become an ego-clobbering
device for the other, almost always causing a wedge that irrevocably upsets
the power balance? Whether because of the winner’s bounding sense of self or
the loser’s growing sense of inadequacy, the coupling becomes untenable and
ultimately as over as the box office hopes for Flags of our Fathers. After
all, Sally won and Burt ran. Marlee won and William lost interest. Kim won
and Alec exited. Julia won and Bratt went buh-bye. Halle won and Eric fled.
Jennifer Connelly won and the fiancee disappeared. Salma was nominated and
Ed said later. Ethan was nominated and Uma ditched. And though it took two
Oscars, Chad Lowe finally became history—or a footnote on it, anyway.

Adorable Ryan’s neediness became evident when his mic was still on after
the SAG awards and cameras caught him shamelessly sucking up to Morgan
Freeman. Later, when Reese won the Oscar, Ryan’s comely jaw dropped to the
ground, proving that while he’s a pretty good actor, he couldn’t even feign
joy at that landmark moment.

[

Speaking of striving husbands, Kevin Federline’s struggling career is a
reminder that you can’t just create a celebrity out of whole (or half)
cloth. If you could, we’d all have Oscars. As touching as Britney’s endless
pushing of K-Fed is, it reeks of insecurity and enabling—a weird situation
whereby she must feel he’ll only stick around if she not only lets him enjoy
the fruits of her fame, but constantly grab at his own. He needs to grab at
other fruits.

Another Web Exclusive: Thursday night’s ultra fun Distortion Disko—a gay dance party hosted by JOSH WOOD, KENNY KENNY, and DJ LARRY TEE—has ended over a messy dispute involving a has-been’s love interest’s attempt to go literary. According to Josh Wood, “The owners are refusing to pay us two weeks of salaries because we refused to host a party for LANCE BASS‘ boyfriend! Last week, the club tried to force us into throwing a book party for Lance. We didn’t think it would be a draw and obviously would be very tacky. After a lot of pressure, Duvet made us agree to pay $500 for the promotion of the party. Then, we found out the book was not even written by Lance. It was actually a book party for his boyfriend REICHEN [LEHMKUHL], which means no one would go, so we told them we wouldn’t pay for the party as they misrepresented it. Duvet wouldn’t cancel the party and were going to withhold our wages, so we quit. They are still holding two weeks of our pay!” Ain’t no lie, baby, bye, bye, bye. Duvet owner Sabina Belkin responds that she clearly informed the promoters that it was a party for Reichen’s book and both Reichen and Lass would be attending. The promoters confirmed their $500 contribution, so she booked the party. When they backed out, she was forced to cancel the event and pay the full fee for it. She said the Duvet promoters’ contract requires them to give a month’s notice for cancellations. Because they did so with just five days’ notice, “I have told them that we will not be able to pay their bar percentage.” Oy, my head is swimming from all this. All that matters to me is where the unstoppable team will pop up next. I’ll keep you posted—and you too, Lance and Reichen.


Yet more dish: Susanne Bartsch’s Halloween bash at Avalon was canceled too—less than halfway through! I got to the party (which is always legendary) shortly after midnight, only to find a long line of festively dolled-up people being told, “You can’t come in!” The only ones being allowed entrance were in an extremely dour-looking stream of cops—or maybe they were people in cop costumes—who clearly found whatever violation they were looking for and emerged to announce, “Everyone go home!” The club was shuttered for the night—one of the biggest party nights of the year!

And so the New York police state wins again in the fight against fun, exciting, gay-themed nightlife. (Sidebar: Avalon had recently been closed twice, once for nonpayment of taxes.) Bartsch tells me there really was no reason for the raid—”It was just harassment. They want to turn everything into condos.”


Yet more nightlife tragedy, 11.03.06: Happy Valley—the sexy, medium-sized East 27th Street dance club that was completely over the top—had gone completely under the bottom. It’s kaput.

musto@villagevoice.com