Behind the Screen

Desson Thomson
Washington Post Film Critic
Friday, December 14, 2007; 12:30 PM

Washington Post film critic Desson Thomson was online Friday, Dec. 14, at 12:30 p.m. ET to discuss "I Am Legend," "Juno," "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly," and many other Hollywood and indie movie releases, plus the Golden Globe nominations.

Thomson, a movie critic at The Washington Post for 15 years, was raised in England where he was entranced, like most, by Hollywood movies. It was a visit to see David Lean's "Lawrence of Arabia," that made him realize movies had to be a part of his life.

A transcript follows.

A transcript follows.


Desson Thomson: Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. .................... Dessonnnnnnnnnn ........ Thomsonnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn .............


flying vegetablezzzzzzz

Hey folks, how are we doing? Getting close to the end of the year. And the Golden Globes have pretty much opened up the Oscar season. Got any gripes, raves or observations? And what is your personal favorite film of the year? I'm curious. Or just fire away whatever questions are percolating in your nogginpot.

You're on ....


Butternut, Wisc.: Hey, Desson.

I saw the Golden Globe announcements and was so excited. A lot of great nominees this year, but also, maybe a few disappointments. What are your early picks for this year's winners? 'Atonement' Leads the Pack With 7 Golden Globe Nominations ( Post, Dec. 13

Desson Thomson: At first blush it sounds like the Atonement folks are going to get some gold and will be thanking the good people of the Hollywood Foreign Press with clipped British accents...

Here's my guesses, right off the bat:

Atonement OR No COuntry best pic

Best actress: Julie Christie (she's a Brit - the FHPA are aging dudes who'll remember her work) or Keira K. (she's a Brit)

Actor - Denzel Washington vs James McAvoy

Best pic, musical or comedy

Sweeney vs. Hairspray vs Juno

Best actress in comedy/musical - Ellen Page vs Helena Bonham Carter

Best actor in musical/comedy - Mr. Johnny Depp - idol of the Globes

Best foreign language - Diving Bell vs. Kite Runner....

Best supporting actor - Javier Bardem

Best supp actress - Tilda Swinton


Rockville, Md.: Is 'I Am Legend' Will Smith's best performance of his career?

Desson Thomson: No, Ali is.


Arlington, Va.: Last night I watched City of God for the first time, and was quite blown away by it (figuratively, of course). Though in many reviews I've read, I'm surprised to see it constantly compared to Goodfellas. I would have called it more akin to Boys 'N the Hood, multiplied by 10.

Desson Thomson: One of the best movies I have seen in the last 10 years.


Washington 20008: When will "The Savages" open in D.C.? Have you seen it yet? The buzz sounds good.

Desson Thomson: Yes, I ve seen it. It's good. What a pleasure it is to watch Laura Linney, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Phil Bosco, all master performers, showcasing their talent. It opens next Friday.


Arlington, Va.: Desson, I have heard great things about Juno, especially another great performance from Michael Cera. Between Juno and Superbad, is he on his way to major stardom in Hollywood?

Desson Thomson: He's already there. A big star in the making with a huge following. Diablo Cody, the screenwriter of Juno, said in one of her blogs that you can "see teenage girls ovulating as he walks past."

_______________________ Expect the Unexpected From 'Juno' ( Post, Dec. 14


McLean, Va.: My favorite film of the year -- The Namesake. My favorite performance -- Hal Holbrook in Into the Wild. Both got no love from the GGs. Any hope for Oscars?

Desson Thomson: Good question. Hmmm. There are two acting possibilities in the Namesake that might get a nod: Irfan Khan and Kal Penn. It might also get a screenplay adaptation nod for Sooni Taraporevala. Holbrook was very good in that film, but it might have been too short a time on screen for the Academy. I see a nom for Emile Hirsch as much more likely. And maybe an adapting screenplay (or even director nom) for Sean Penn.


Juno/Knocked Up Trend: Desson,

Between Juno and Knocked Up, we're clearly getting the message that unwanted pregnancies have only one solution: make the best of it and have the baby. Not that I want to go see a movie about an abortion, but it seems like Hollywood won't even touch that subject or portray it as an option anymore. Remember "Fast Times at Ridgemont High"? the abortion sub-plot was handled sensitively, and it seemed realistic. That was 1982 -- now it's the unmentionable subject? Are there right to life groups behind the funding of these movies or is that just where America is now -- not as open-minded as the 1980s?

Desson Thomson: This is a very good question. I believe you are right in one sense. If you have a character that opts for an abortion, you suddenly divide all the moviegoers into at least two camps. And you turn off a lot of people. And you might even get demonstrations against you, if the movie is a high profile one.

I asked this question to Diablo Cody (the Juno writer) and she was very adamant that she was not being a wuss. She made a very interesting point. If you have an abortion - oops - you don't have a story any more. She wanted to do a story about a girl bringing the baby to term and the whole process of adoption. She was being dramaturgical not political.


Washington, D..C: Did I'm Not There get any nominations? I think it might be my favorite film of the year.

Desson Thomson: Yes, one. Cate Blanchett for best supporting actress.


Washington, D.C.: Okay, so I've heard all about how Atonement is unbelievable and you have to see it etc. ... but what is it about? It looks like another version of the English Patient or something. Is this pure "chick flick" or can guys enjoy it as well?

Desson Thomson: Let me put it this way. I won't be recommending it to the guys I play soccer with.


Washington, D.C.: Do you know anything about "The Walker"? Would that be a second career for you?

Desson Thomson: You obviously asked this question because I am debonair, good looking, well heeled and well connected enough to convincingly escort good looking rich wives of senators to cocktail parties. Right? .... I can't hear you ....

Yes, I know about the film. It's gotten mixed reviews. But as a Paul Schrader fan, I like to watch even his least successful films so I am curious. I haven't caught up with it yet but it's supposed to be one of Woody Harrelson's best performances. He's a gay man who's paid to escort the aforementioned ladies I joked about. And he gets into trouble when he volunteers to pretend to have been with one of his lady friends who's indrectly implicated in a murder. Suddenly he becomes a suspect or acessory or some such.


Baltimore, Md.: Have you reviewed Daniel Day-Lewis's new movie? Does he have a chance to win?

Desson Thomson: Seeing it next week. I can't wait to see his performance. I am hearing mixed responses to the movie from other critics who've seen it. I am sure he'll be nominated for an Oscar, if that's what you were referring to. Don't think he'll win though.


Herndon, Va.: Mr. T: (two reviews on the front page of "Style" -- big time, baby!) I stand humbled before you, nobody, on-line or in person, agrees with me that the ending to "3:10 to Yuma" is totally ridiculous. All I can say is YOU'RE ALL WRONG! It's still ridiculous!

Desson Thomson: Thanks for the kudos. You may not be alone as you think. I am sure there are others who responded the same way you did.


Butternut, Wisc.: Hello, D.T.!

I see that the Golden Globe nominations are out. Do you think any of these nominees will carry on to the Oscars?

Desson Thomson: Hello back. I think all of the nominees have a better chance of getting a nom than they did before the Globes. And we'll see what comedy and musical folks will make it to the big time. The Globes will help "Juno" and "Hairspray". And of course you can bet Atonement, No Country, American Gangster and Michael Clayton will be front runners for the best pic nom.


Bethesda, Md.: I watched Snatch recently, and while I loved it and thought it one of the most fun movies since Pulp Fiction (Benicio del Toro's entrance --alone -- was worth the price of admission!), I couldn't shake the feeling that Guy Ritchie was essentially remaking Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels.

Desson Thomson: I hear you in terms of the structure and style. But I thought it had more than enough that was new, content wise, particularly in its depiction of the gypsy world. And it's one of Brad Pitt's greatest performances.


Columbia, Md.: I'm posting early because I'll be unavailable during your chat time. I want to take my soon-to-be-16-year-old daughter to celebrate her birthday. I planned to take her to "I'm Not There," but after reading some discussion of the explicit nudity, I decided maybe this isn't a good idea. Do you have any suggestions? She's super serious, abhors violence and liked "Finding Neverland," if that gives you an idea of her taste. Thanks!

Desson Thomson: I must be brain dead because I am not remembering so much nudity. And besides, if she's super serious, I'd think she'd be smart enough not to let a little nudity affect her viewing. (But please don't depend on me for advice on this specific subject. Having grown up in Europe, I happen to think nudity is not such a bad thing since we are all, you know, basically nude without our clothes on.) I'd be more concerned about whether she's going to get much of this very, very, Dylan-referential movie.


I Am Puzzled: I've read statements to the effect that "I Am Legend" is the "latest" adaptation of the Richard Matheson novel of the same name, but no previous films are mentioned. Do you know what other last-man-on-earth movies were adapted from the book?

Desson Thomson: Yes, one was Omega Man, 1971, with Charlton Heston. The other was a 1964 Vincent Price movie called The Last Man on Earth.


Lexington Park, D.C.: Do you know when and where "Nanking" is coming to the Baltimore/Washington area? Early reviews have been very favorable. It looks like it will be a strong contender for an Oscar.

Desson Thomson: It is coming to DC Jan. 25.


Alexandria, Va.: On the Golden Globes. I was really upset that Chris Cooper didn't get a nod for Breach. What are your thoughts?

Also, any reviews on There Will Be Blood?

Desson Thomson: Yes, he has been forgotten, hasn't he? He was a great Robert Hanssen. As I said, haven't seen Blood yet. Will have seen it by next chat.


Herndon, Va.: Mr. T: I totally agree with you on "Snatch," and its "prequel" of "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels." My only criticism is, despite the fact that English of some form is being spoken, subtitles are needed for those of us who are unenlightened about varying U.K. accents. (note how I cleverly didn't say "English" accents)

Desson Thomson: I hear you. I can only assume that those watching it on DVD can click on the English subtitles feature.


Washington, D.C.: Debonair, good looking, well heeled, well connected...with accent and assumed name.

Desson Thomson: Ha!


True or False?: If "Into the Wild," in its exact present form, read "Directed by Ron Howard" at the end, it would be a hit in every megaplex in American.

Desson Thomson: That movie - the way it's paced - would never be a Ron Howard film. Too slow for him, plus he'd be going nuts trying to make the Emile Hirsch character even more endearing and fuzzy for those multiplexers.


Alexandria, Va.: Desson,

Always a step behind on seeing movies in the theaters -- should I really make the effort to catch Michael Clayton before it disappears and I have to wait for the DVD?

Also, do you see Clooney in line for Best Actor at the GG's/Oscars? All I have heard is buzz.

Desson Thomson: You don't have to see this film on screen in terms of spectacle, I suppose. And as recently as 5 years ago, I'd never recommend anyone see a movie in any place other than a movie theater. But we have become a nation of barbarians with our cellphones ringing, our obsession with checking messages in the dark, our talking back and forth, and our general lack of community spirit in theaters these days. So it makes more sense to see it at home anyway.


Washington, D.C.: I can't bring myself to see Atonement because I saw a clip with KK in the green dress and she looked totally emaciated. Ugh. Scary skinny. I was totally turned off. Does that make me superficial? Do you find that sometimes things like appearance affect how you like a movie or its characters?

Desson Thomson: We are affected by many things. And we should always listen to our instincts. (Read Malcolm Gladwell's "Blink" on this subject.) That doesn't make you superficial. But you will miss a movie, too, that has affected many people in a positive way.


San Francisco, Calif.: I saw a trailer for Persepolis before seeing "Blade Runner" last night. (BR=excellent) Now my girlfriend really wants to go see Persepolis, a French cartoon about a girl and the Iranian Revolution.

Lil' help?

Up the Gunners!

Desson Thomson: I wish I could help you, but I am on the verge of seeing it myself. I hear good things about it. Based on a graphic novel. I wouldn't be too bummed. You might like it. You can request your girlfriend pay you back in kind by letting you attend all soccer pub viewings of your special North London team.


RE: Snatch subtitles: The DVD actually has an option that plays subtitles ONLY when Brad Pitt is talking in his gypsy accent.

Desson Thomson: That is really interesting.


Cleveland Park, Washington, D.C.: Hi Desson,

Any thoughts as to why Philip Seymour Hoffman didn't receive a slew of Golden Globe nominations for any of his films this time around? I particularly enjoyed his performances in Before the Devil Knows You're Dead and The Savages.

Desson Thomson: Maybe Hoffman overload? Of course he's good in those. He's always good.


Washington, D.C.: We rarely get out to see movies (a toddler and a baby prevent that), but we'll be able to catch one or two over the holidays. Which are must-sees in your opinion?

Desson Thomson: I would like to help you but I don't know if you like Spanish subtitled love stories or slasher flicks.


Arlington, Va.: The earlier poster's comment about "U.K. English" reminded me of watching "Mona Lisa" on videocassette about 15 years ago. All of the characters were speaking English, but there was an entire scene (Bob Hoskins making spaghetti for dinner in his apartment) during which I didn't understand a single word.

Desson Thomson: I can appreciate that. Hahaha. Maybe it's time to get a DVD with the subtitles that only come on during the pasta scene.


Herndon, Va.: Hi, Desson,

I have disliked (hated even) every single Paul Thomas Anderson movie. However, his new one is getting great reviews -- is it worth seeing even if I am not a fan of his, or will it be more of the same?


Desson Thomson: It does sound like this might be more story oriented in a way you might prefer to his other stuff. But I can tell you more next chat after I see it.


Freising, Germany: Speaking of men in black, what are thoughts on Westerns and the land of black versus white, bad versus good, etc.? One of my favorites has always been "Once Upon a Time in the West."

It seems strange that Italians like Sergio Leone should be so prominent in the Western genre. Have the Brits or the French ever ventured into the wild west like the Italians?

Are there any indies or European-made Western movies out there that you'd recommend?

Desson Thomson: Well, Americans kinda own the western, don't they? No point competing.

There was Alex Cox's Straight to Hell, of course.

I am smiling at the thought of a French western. Actually, come to think of it, I remember seeing a French western once called "Jimmy Ringo." I was very young and I remember them talking in French, and they were cowboys. I was in Senegal at the time, so it could have just been a dubbed American film.


More on Guy Ritchie: I also really liked Snatch and Lock Stock, so I was hoping that Revolver would be at least watchable, if not great. I like all the main actors who are in it, too. So should I give it a try, or just skip it? Thanks.

Desson Thomson: I did not care for it, though it has many of his trademark touches. I think you should see it with lowered expectations and you might appreesh it more.


Vantage Point: I found it. I actually had the title right, which is just about a first. Scheduled release is 02/22/08.

In the words of Emily Litella, never mind.

Desson Thomson: Sorry, didn't get around to answering your previous.


Annapolis, Md.: Hi, Desson, trying to sneak in under the wire, but I saw Alvin this morning and I was disappointed! Probably a case of heightened expectations, and it was cute but not great. So you don't have to rush out and see it. Wait until the crowds die down and enjoy it at your leisure.

Desson Thomson: Ha. Good to know. Thanks.


Laurel, Md.: Hey Mr. T,

Happy Friday to ya!

I saw "Gone Baby Gone" and I REALLY enjoyed. Great pick!

Oh and as far as the Golden Globes, Christian Bale was ROOOOOOOOOOOOOOBBED. (now you can start throwing the vegetables)

Desson Thomson: Christian Bale will do all right, I think, for not having been nominated.


Rosslyn, Va.: No offense, but it seems to me the entire purpose of the Golden Globe Awards is to promote British movies and actors and moviemakers, year after year. American Gangster was really quite disjointed and incoherently constructed. I suspect it would not have been nominated (for best picture, no less) without Ridley Scott's British identity. And the success of Atonement.

Desson Thomson: You voice a feeling that is not unique about the Globes.


Centreville, Va.: A question that might require a little crystal ball gazing: about a month ago, That Other Paper (-cough-NYT-cough-) had an article describing the problems Pixar was having on how to market Ratatouille for the Oscars. They seemed torn between placing it for Best Animated (a shoo-in, though not necessarily a lock), Best Picture (risky at best), or both. The last option seemed the most fraught with peril in that Ratatouille might not get enough votes for either and a film like Persepolis could sneak in and grab Best Animated.

How do you think this situation will shake out?

Desson Thomson: Could I suggest some lozenges for your problem?

I think Ratatouille is going to win an award, whatever they do or don't.


Bruce, Va.: After seeing the Golden Globe nominations I am curious...what is Eastern Promises? I didn't hear about a big release or box office weekend for it. Is it worth seeing or pass?

Desson Thomson: I loved it. And I am going to try and post my review of it before we are done, which is just moments away.


Columbia, Md.: Thanks for your answer on "I'm Not There." If we decide not to go see that movie, would you recommend "Juno" as perhaps (ahem) more age-appropriate? Or "Lars and the Real Girl?"

Desson Thomson: She'll love Juno, trust me. But make sure you're cool with a movie about a girl who gets pregnant at the age of 16.


Springfield, Va.: Hi Desson, how old were you when you decided that LOA was your all time favorite movie? I think that somewhere between ages 19 and 25 something gets hard coded in the brain and from that point on whatever your favorite movie is -- sticks and it will never change. Sure, you watch other great movies since then, but no movie will replace it. For me it was Breaking Away and I was 21 years old.

Desson Thomson: You are so right about the film imprinting in your brain. And when I saw Breaking Away I thought it was one of the most amazing films I'd seen. So I can dig your love for it. I was about 9 or 10, I think when I saw Lawrence and it was the first time I saw an art-movie which was about depth of character. I was blown away. And yes there have been a jillion better movies since, but LOA is forever enshrined in the brain and heart.


Alexandria, Va.: I'm the person last week who asked you about the favorite Christmas movie. Rented "Bad Santa" and was surprised how well I enjoyed it despite the vulgarity. Billy Bob Thorton did a great job and with a lesser actor, I think it could've been another Adam Sandler movie. I did feel that it would've have been better if the Coen brothers had directed it.

Just wanted to say love the chats and the chance to see some movies that I wouldn't have seen on my own.

Cheers and Merry Christmas!

Desson Thomson: Hey what a nice message. Cheers and Merry Christmas to you too!


Before the Devil comment: Desson,

Saw Before the Devil...and it was great. Loved the story, acting, and the sequencing. I would put this movie in my Top 10 of 2007. And icing on the cake is Ms. Tomei who is still stunning after all these years.

Desson Thomson: I heart Marisa Tomei.


Hollin Hall: Hi Desson,

Why is "Atonement" not being shown in many theaters? I think "Love in the Time of Cholera" got a bigger push than this and that movie stunk. Is it because of the season? I went to the Landmark on E to see it last Saturday but it was sold out. And now I see it's showing in only one additional theater in Virginia...

Desson Thomson: Believe me, that movie is going to expand....

_______________________ 'Eastern Promises,' Crossing Many Borders ( Post, Sept. 14)


Arlington, Va.: Last weekend I got to see Michael Clayton in the theaters, and I must admit, I was a bit underwhelmed by it. The story seemed to lack cohesion, and George Clooney was just George Clooney, only in a more burned-out mode (as per the character). I guess, as a result, I'm a little puzzled by recent Oscar buzz surrounding Michael Clayton. George won a deserving Oscar for Syriana (in my opinion, at least) for shrugging off his trademark suaveness, but his burned-out Michael Clayton didn't quite live up to his burned-out CIA man in Syriana.

I've seen Oscar buzz for Tilda Swinton, too, which also surprises me. Her character didn't even get that much screen time, and as the desperate executive whose attempts to be ruthless are clumsy at best . . . well, her role just struck me as a part 'any' actress could play.

The only saving grace I found was in Tom Wilkinson, who did a marvelous sendup to Peter Finch's Howard Beale from Network. If Michael Clayton was deserving of 'any' Oscar attention, I'd say it belongs to Wilkinson.

Desson Thomson: Good thoughts, thanks for sharing them.


Annandale, Va.: I am trying to get information about the recently released movie "Pete Seeger: The Power of Song."The New York Times gave it an excellent review: Hammering Out Songs of Freedom (and Nuance), but I can't find it reviewed in The Washington Post.

Where can I see the movie locally?

There is a movement afoot to get Pete Seeger nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2008, an award he richly deserves.

Desson Thomson: Send me an e mail and I can check later. I believe we did review that. But running out of time right now.


Upcoming release: A month or so ago my wife and I saw "American Gangster" in the theater -- first time in a movie theater in a 'long' while.

One of the trailers shown before the feature was for a movie called something like "Vantage Point." It looked interesting, though it could also be a mindless shoot-em-up. Do you know anything about the movie (I probably got the title wrong), particularly its release date? I thought it was mid-December, but I haven't seen anything.

Desson Thomson: This was the earlier q. I didn't get to. Sorry!


Arlington, Va.: How much of a long shot is it for Adam Sandler to get an Oscar nomination for Reign Over Me? I couldn't believe that I was actually brought to tears by his role and the long monologue he gave about the death of his family on 9/11. I'd love to see him get a nomination at least, but my gut tells me it's not happening.

Desson Thomson: I don't think he'll be nomm'ed either. I think most people have forgotten about that flick.


Arlington, Va.: Regarding Charlie Wilson¿s War, how similar is it to the book? Should I read the book first or does the movie give enough detail that I would understand the whole impact and read the book later? How similar is Julia Roberts to the Republican woman who helped Wilson on this mission?

Desson Thomson: I'd like to know myself. Maybe I can answer next chat.


The Western: Americans may own the Western, but one of the funniest movies I've ever seen was a "spaghetti Western," with the actors speaking Italian and dubbed (incompetently) into English. The English-language dialog was like a really bad high school play. To make things even funnier, I was watching the movie with a group of friends in a theater in Beograd, Serbia, and the movie had Serbian subtitles that had only a casual relationship to the English dialog. Some of the dialog was howlingly funny, particularly if you could read the subtitles, so the locals must have thought we had all gone completely bonkers.

Desson Thomson: I so wish I could have been there. That sounds hilarious!


Arlington, Va.: Okay, so those were your guesses. Who would you WANT to win? You can go off-nominees if there's an appreciable snub.

Desson Thomson: Well, let's see. Out of time totally. But I will say: I really liked No Country for Old Men. And Eastern Promises. And the Diving Bell and The Butterfly. And Juno.


Desson Thomson: Folks, thanks for playing! Will be chatting at ya, prolly after Yule-T. So, very happy holidays everyone and a Merry Christmas to all as well.


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