For me the best news produced by the Florida primary was Newt Gingrich's vow to take his fight all the way to the floor of this year's Republican convention. It has been way too long since a national political convention was more than a coronation stage-managed by public relations experts.
Of course, no one is really robbed of an Academy Award nomination. It's a gift; not a right. The balloting procedure is conducted honestly and reflects a collective opinion, which was demonstrated this year when the Academy voters had the curiosity to seek out Demian Bichir for best actor for his deeply convincing performance as a Mexican gardener in Los Angeles in "A Better Life." He wasn't on my mental list of possible candidates, but when I heard the name, I thought, "Of course! Good thinking!"
For an hour before bedtime every night for a week, I've watched an episode of "Downton Abbey." Last night the Earl of Grantham interrupted a garden party to announce the beginning of World War I, and I pulled up short. I was watching the first season via Netflix Instant, and inattentively failed to notice there were only seven episodes. I naturally expected ten.
Do you expect "The Tree of Life" to be nominated as one of the best films of 2011? When I saw it last spring I certainly did. I assumed it was a done deal. If you'd told me then that "The Artist," a black and white silent film, was stirring up enthusiasm at Cannes, I would have said it sounded like something I really wanted to see.
Yesterday I read this in an article in the British Guardian newspaper:
"Twelve of the last 13 people condemned to death in Harris County, Texas were black. After Texas itself, Harris County is the national leader in its number of executions.
"Over one third of Texas's 305 death row inmates - and half of the state's 121 black death row prisoners - are from Harris County.
Those who opened their eyes when I did are closing them now. Word reached me on New Year's Eve of two friends, one who has died, another who has returned home from hospital for palliative care. The first memories that come into my mind is of them laughing. I believe anyone who knew them would say the same thing. In my exploring years, when I was young and healthy and life was still ahead, they were stars in my sky, who had always been alive and would always be alive, because that is how we must act if we are to live at all.
Roger and I thank you for joining us as we talked about the movies each week this past year. We have enjoyed producing Ebert Presents At The Movies and hope to continue sometime in 2012. This week we produced our last show.
It is the Best and Worst Movies of 2011 and begins airing Friday night, December 30, at 8:30 pm on WTTW, Channel 11 in Chicago, and all during the weekend and next week on public television stations across the nation. (Check local listings to find out what time it comes on in your town.)
I watched Robert Zemeckis's "Contact" again a couple of weeks ago, so I could add it to the Great Movies Collection. In 1997 I had some questions, but this time it was even more clear that the movie ends in enigma and paradox. Like many movies, that has little bearing on its effect.
Questions introduced from near the beginning seem to find answers at the end, and most viewers are satisfied--even exhilarated. For me, too, there was uplift. No matter that the scientific establishment scoffs; Dr. Ellie Arroway (Jodie Foster) knows what she saw, and we saw the same things.
Box office revenue at movie theaters "lagged far behind 2010," an article by the AP's David Germain reports. Partly that was because the year lacked an "Avatar." Partly because a solid summer slate fell off in the autumn. Germain talks to several Hollywood insiders who tried to account for the general decline of ticket sales; 2011 had "smallest movie audience since 1995." I have some theories of my own, fueled by what people tell me.
Why not fold documentaries into my list of the "Best Films of 2011?" After all, a movie is a movie, right? Yes, and some years I've thrown them all into the same mixture. But all of these year-end Best lists serve one useful purpose: They tell you about good movies you may not have seen or heard about. The more films on my list that aren't on yours, the better job I've done.
That's particularly true were you to depend on the "short list" released by the Academy's Documentary Branch of 15 films they deem eligible for nomination. The branch has been through turmoil in the past and its procedures were "reformed" at one point. But this year it has made a particularly scandalous sin of