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(January 2003)

For Consideration of The Academy

Every year it’s fairly easy to take potshots at the Academy after they’ve made their, usually stupid, choices for Best Picture, Best Actress, etc. We at The Toast don’t usually do “10 Best” lists. Not that we don’t have opinions - heavens to Betsy, do we ever have opinions! It’s just that we can’t come to any agreement among us so as to come up with a coherent list. However there are two films, released early in the year, that we enjoyed immensely and because of their early release we know the Academy tends to forget about them. We’d like to remind the Academy.

November 15, 1924 – The Luxury Yacht Oneida

Kirsten Dunst & Eddie IzzardPeter Bogdanovich has made some super films (The Last Picture Show (1971) and Paper Moon (1973) and he’s made some dogs (At Long Last Love (1975) and The All Laughed (1981), and until this movie we’re talking about, The Cat’s Meow which came out this year, he had not made a feature film in 8 years. Mr. Bogdanovich (who started out as an actor) is also a well-regarded historian with books on filmmakers from Allan Dwan and Fritz Lang to John Ford and Orson Welles.

The Hollywood legend is that William Randolph Hearst got away with murder when he shot the legendary movie producer Thomas Ince (who is credited with creating the Western) because he mistook him for Charlie Chaplin who may or may not have been having an affair with his mistress, the actress Marion Davies. That’s the legend anyway.

The facts, as well as they are known, is that Hearst did take a pleasure cruise on the Oneida as a birthday party for Ince. Davies and Chaplin, as well as the ambitious Louella Parsons (who was just starting her gossip-column career), British novelist Elinor Glyn, and various other hangers-on and stuffed shirts were all aboard. During the cruise Ince died. There was no autopsy and no authorities involved. None of the guests were ever questioned. At the end of the cruise Hearst had Ince transported away by private ambulance.

The movie The Cat’s Meow is about what may have happened aboard the yacht. Bogdanovich is the director and has his historian’s hat on for the time and place, but to the characters, he’s certainly more respectful of their moral and sexual confusion than he is prurient. His knowledge and love of the silent-era of Hollywood has led him to make a terrific movie. With a terrific cast.

Kirsten Dunst plays Marion Davies and is as sprightly and charming as her character is reported toKirsten Dunst have been. Davies was nobody’s fool but she loved her Willie and stood by him until the end. Dunst gives a luminescent performance. - Edward Herrmann gives one of the best performances of his career as W.R. Hearst. His character is portly but ruthless, slow-moving and insecure (he has the yacht bugged with microphones), rich-beyond-belief but absolutely demanding of control. Herrmann performs the role with remarkable emotional nuance, especially after the killing. - Eddie Izzard is outstanding as Chaplin. It’s not the impersonation that Robert Downey Jr. gave in the 1992 biopic but as a picture perfect performance of The Little Tramp’s off-screen charm and irresponsibility, Izzard can’t be beat.

Other note-worthy performances were given by Jennifer Tilly as the annoying Lolly Parsons and Cary Elwes as the unfortunate Thomas Ince. - This is admittedly a ‘small’ picture with production values just a smidgen above a ‘made-for-television’ movie. But the outstanding ensemble cast and the crisp, sensitive direction make this an Academy worthy film

Everybody Runs"Everybody Runs" - Minority Report

The second movie? That has to be Steven Spielberg’s classic murder story combined with sensational futuristic effects – Minority Report. Based on a short story by the inestimable Philip K. Dick, this is one of Spielberg’s least sentimental films. It’s a doozy! We feel we don’t have to write a whole lot because, even though it was released early in the year, it’s getting a lot of attention now and doesn’t seem to be in danger of being orphaned like The Cat’s Meow. There is no doubt Minority Report is an Academy worthy movie.

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