Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Theater: Kelli O’Hara Shines Through the Dark Addiction of “Days of Wine and Roses,” “Once Upon a Mattress” Is a Love Letter to Sutton Foster, “Pride House” Is an Enjoyable Cherry Grove History Lesson and “Our Class” Is an Uncompromising Look at a Real-Life Tragedy

The Days of Wine and Roses (c) Joan Marcus

Broadway: Days of Wine and Roses 
At Studio 54 

The extraordinary actress Kelli O’Hara has never shied away from the darker elements of her characters in such musicals as A Light in the Piazza and Far From Heaven or the opera The Hours. But in Days of Wine and Roses, the musical adaptation of the 1962 Blake Edwards film, the darkness is front and center with O’Hara as a woman falling prey to alcohol addiction with no life raft in sight. Her performance is so raw and angry and heartbreaking that one hopes her dressing room is filled with puppies to help with any post-performance hangover. O’Hara plays Kirsten, a secretary for a big advertising company in the late 1950s, who falls in love with a salesman at the company, Joe (Brian d’Arcy James). Joe, who uses alcohol to get through this fast-paced world and, maybe, so he can have a drinking partner, introduces the otherwise non-drinker Kristen to her first Brandy Alexander. The two become functional drunks (“two corks just bobbing around”) as they get married and have a baby, but things start to spiral out of control when Kristen accidentally sets fire to their apartment, and they have to live with her widowed father (Byron Jennings) — his greenhouse gives the show the other half of its title. Caught in-between all this is their daughter Lila (the wonderful Tabitha Lawing) and the question is “will this couple’s love for her be enough motivation to fight their addiction?” The musical creators, Craig Lucas and Adam Guettel, made two major changes from the movie: the setting has been moved from San Francisco to New York and while the movie slowly becomes a redemption arc for Joe (played by Jack Lemmon), the musical subtlety pulls the focus onto Kirsten (played in the film by Lee Remick) and her tragic fall from being a good girl to an addict drinking with strangers in motels. Because of this change, a lot of Joe’s bouts with detox have been cut, while every moment of Kirsten’s descent is dramatized with an almost horror story precision. Guettel, whose A Light in the Piazza is still one of my favorite Broadway musicals of the modern era, has provided the pair with bouncy songs to highlight the good times but by the end, his score has turned tragically operatic. It is a beautiful Broadway follow-up for this talented composer. And while Brian d’Arcy James is powerful as the equal parts slimy and honorable Joe, it really is, with director Michael Grief’s sensitive guiding hand, O’Hara’s show. Lucas’ book could have delved more into Kirsten’s psyche (her mother’s death when she was young seems to be an unexplored element), but O’Hara makes us almost believe that her last act is not an act of cowardice, but of bravery where she accepts the reality that she cannot change. O’Hara never sugarcoats Kirsten’s choices, and the tragedy of her character is even more heartbreaking because of it. This is Kelli O’Hara’s best performance, and she deserves all the roses. 

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

Film: Oscar Nominations 2023-24

Barbie (c) Warner Brothers

Oscar nominations day is always full of highs and lows. While one tries to stay impartial, an interested bystander one might say, i do have my favorites, and there are invariably films everyone else loves that leave me baffled. This year, the top ten predicted to make it, made it, as did most of the actors. Oppenheimer got the most nominations with 13.  The biggest surprise has to be America Ferrera, who received her first Oscar nomination for Barbie, while she didn’t get many nominations in other award bodies (but had a lot of fan support). It’s odd that Ferrera got in but Margot Robbie, who plays the titular Barbie, did not. And I guess Barbie directed itself. I was very happy to see the Nyad women get nominated as the acting got rave reviews, but the film did not. And of course, happy millionth nomination for Maestro himself, John Williams. 

Congrats to all.   The Oscars will be handed out on Sunday, March 10 on ABC.

Sunday, January 21, 2024

The Interested Bystander’s Final 2023-2024 Oscar Nomination Predictions

Barbie (c) Warner Bros.

For a film year, the best films of 2023 have become a rather predictable in its critical consensus. My predictions for the films to make the Oscar final ten Best Picture category are far and away the strongest ten in many years, and while I know there might be a big surprise when Oscar nominations are announced on Tuesday, Jan 23, it’s hard to figure out what might crack the nominations and which one of the ten would fall. And yet, the acting and writing categories are harder to predict, especially for any actor and script not associated to these ten films to make a splash, and yet I have six such actors and three screenplays this year, which may be a big mistake, but this is all in fun, so why not have some quirky choices in my predictions, considering some of the surprises in the last week with the SAG Award and BAFTA nominations. 

Enjoy my predictions and as a bonus, my nominees if I had an Oscar Nomination ballot. 

Friday, January 5, 2024

The Interested Bystander's Top Films of 2023 (and 2022!)

Passages (c) MUBI

Two Years in Films: Best of 2022 & 2023 

The 2023 film year was hampered (but necessarily so) by the Writer’s Guild and SAG-AFTRA strike, but I have a feeling that the full effect of the work stoppage will be felt in 2024. Still the lack of promotion of some of the indie films really hurt their chances in the theaters, so I hope you will check out the films listed below that are unfamiliar to you. 

Like last year, I will only list my favorite twenty films of 2023, in alphabetical order and not actually list them in order of my top ten favorites until the end of 2023, after a year of reflection and catching up on films I may have missed. In fact, at the time of this article, I have not seen Napoleon or American Symphony yet. 

Which means, my final Top Ten of films of 2022 is below. I am also pointing out some 2023performances that haven’t gotten the recognition they deserve from award groups so far. 

So, enjoy my wrap up of 2023 and, as always, I hope you have a safe and cinematically rich 2024.