A rough and unsparing film.
Q: Martin Scorsese, arguably the greatest living American director, lost the Oscar for best director to Clint Eastwood's "Million Dollar Baby." It was the third time Mr. Scorsese has lost to an actor-turned-director (Robert Redford and Kevin Costner were debut directors in 1980 and 1990, respectively). A disappointed Scorsese was quoted as saying, "I got the message," upon losing to Eastwood, joining the ranks of other five-time losers like Robert Altman and Alfred Hitchcock.
Is it just me, or will Martin Scorsese be relegated (like the great Sidney Lumet) to the dreaded Lifetime Achievement Award? Eric Robert Wilkinson, Oregon City, Ore.
A: There is nothing to dread about the Lifetime Achievement Award, which is harder to win than an actual Oscar. And after directing 25 films, Eastwood cannot be described merely as an "actor-turned-director." If he had never acted at all, he would be a major filmmaker.
Yes, Scorsese obviously deserves an Oscar. But I had mixed feelings during the ceremony: I was hoping for Scorsese to win, yet I chose "Million Dollar Baby" as the year's best film, and logic would suggest that its director should be honored. Still, Oscars come and go. Scorsese's reputation is assured, his work will be seen and treasured as long as there are movies, as will Hitchcock's and Altman's, and that is the truest honor the art form can confer upon its practitioners.
Q. Having heard of what Sean Penn said in defense of Jude Law, but missing what Chris Rock had to say about Law his opening monologue at this year's Oscars ... what happened, and how did the audience take it? Meursalt Mann, Los Angeles
A. Rock's monologue poked fun at actors and casting choices, and accused Jude Law of being in every movie last year (he was in six). Rock then advised filmmakers to always go for their first choice, ending a string of examples with, "You want Denzel and all you can get is me? Wait."
Sean Penn, who is currently making "All the King's Men" with Jude Law, came onstage as a presenter and defended Law as a fine actor.
Backstage, asked if he and Penn had spoken afterward, Chris Rock told reporters, "I just hugged Sean. He said because he's working with Jude Law in a movie right now, that's why he felt the need to say something." Rock was asked, "How did you feel when he said it?" He said, "Oh, boy, I got another joke."
Yes, but Rock missed the obvious zinger. He should have come onstage and said, "I really, really feel bad and want to apologize for what I said about Jude Law. Producers -- you want Jude Law and all you can get is Sean Penn? Wait!"
Q. Do you have any idea why, after finally tottering into the black, Salon.com's new editors would fire Charles Taylor, whose thoughtful, beautifully articulated film reviews have been the gold standard for online magazines since 1998? Have to admit, my heart sank after reading editor Joan Walsh's "welcoming" letter. She described the new music download column; promised an innovative new guide to political weblogs; swore they'd continue "the best television coverage around," and said "she wouldn't apologize for loving 'America's Next Top Model.'" Not a word about their film coverage. Sheila Benson, Seattle
A. Ms. Benson, like Charles Taylor and me, is a member of the National Society of Film Critics, which has sent e-mails racing around its membership expressing concern about the loss of Taylor and the trend toward de-emphasizing criticism in favor of inane pop "news."
I spoke with new Salon editor Joan Walsh, who said Salon has only 22 editorial employees and could not justify three film critics (the others are Stephanie Zacharek and Andrew O'Hehir).
Film criticism is being swamped these days, not so much on Salon as everywhere else, by idiotic celebrity coverage, gossip, hype, and any possible way to discuss a movie without actually saying whether it is any good or not. Most of the entertainment-oriented TV shows are all foreplay: weeks of gushing and hype, "exclusive" interviews," "first looks" at trailers, and then, when the movie comes out, no critical opinion at all -- just a box-office report.
Walsh said Salon does not plan to go that route, and I hope she's right. I know I didn't subscribe to the site to read about "America's Next Top Model." (Editorial tip: Given the nature of the modeling business, a much more interesting article could probably be written about "America's Former Top Model.")
Spoiler Alert: The following exchange reveals a plot point from "Million Dollar Baby."
Q. Michael Medved misled a TV audience when he claimed you said his negative review of "Million Dollar Baby" was "unforgivable." You said it was unforgivable for him to reveal the key plot point in his review. You're right.
Medved has every right to disagree with you. I'm not debating that. He has every right to point out what he perceives to be the lack of a moral compass in Hollywood, but he has a responsibility to review the film without divulging its secrets. J. David Van Dyke, Buchanan, Mich.
A. Medved actually claims he did not divulge secrets! In an article in the Washington Times, he writes: "Initially, the condemnation centered on my alleged role as a 'spoiler,' suggesting that I had maliciously damaged the commercial prospects for 'Million Dollar Baby' by 'describing its plot in great detail' (according to Roger Ebert). As a matter of fact, I never disclosed specifics on the movie's dark surprise, nor indicated which of its endearing characters chose to exercise 'the right to die.'"
Me again. Uh, hello, Michael. Revealing that one of the movie's characters exercises the right to die is specifically revealing an enormous surprise. What if I told you one of the characters in "The Crying Game" was passing as a woman but was really male? Or that one of the characters in "The Sixth Sense" was a ghost?
The movie is about a woman boxer. How many intelligent moviegoers would read your comments and ask: "Gee, I wonder which character dies?" At least your article admits, tacitly, that you think it would be wrong to reveal the surprise, even though it is hilarious how you claim you didn't.
Q. I work for the online division of the University of Colorado at Denver and am creating some cheating-prevention resources for fellow faculty. I was using as an example this line from your "Citizen Kane" review: "The structure of 'Citizen Kane' is circular, adding more depth every time it passes over the life." When I Googled the quote, I found two links that were not yours. In both cases, these are paper mills promising to sell completed essays to students. David Thomas, Denver
A. The sites, which I checked out for myself, were www.allfreeessays.com and a pay site, www.exampleessays.com. There is a certain consistency, don't you think, in a site that sells plagiarism also practicing it?