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Notes from the back row

Oscar month begins

And so it begins, the most yapped about time of the year for the film industry, Oscar time. Yes, the Oscar nominees are out and now we have a month of people guessing and pondering "who will win?" It all culminates on Feb. 27 th in what will be a four-hour festival of AmericaÕs obsession with celebrities and what they wear. The Oscars are a total waste of time, about as entertaining as taking a heinously messy crap in a public washroom only to realize thereÕs no toilet paper and then having the only light bulb burn out.

Usually however, the Oscar nominees are half-decent movies and weÕre lucky enough this week to have two of the Best Picture nominees at the Village 8 Cinemas: Sideways, a touching, mid-life crisis, road trip movie, and Million Dollar Baby , Clint EastwoodÕs female boxing flick that has everyoneÕs panties in a bunch.


is directed by Alexander Payne ( Election, About Schmidt ) and like those two films, heÕs back making fun of his characters and using their pains to enlighten us on the human condition. Miles (Paul Giamatti) is a 40-ish loser school teacher, with an unpublished novel, and a wife who left him. He basically embodies the old truism of "If you canÕt do, teach."

His buddy Jack (Thomas Hayden Church) is a washed up actor whoÕs somehow managed to find a decent woman and is to be married in a week or so. Miles steals some money from his mom and the two chums embark on a week-long tour of California wine country to drink, golf, drink more and get Jack laid as often as possible before the big day. They end up meeting two lively and very likeable girls who they lie to, pound wine with, and either screw or fall in love with. All the while laying out thick, literary-sounding dialogue thatÕs full of sharp humour and underlying sadness with just a hint of hope. The big metaphor is a parallel between wine and life, how grapes are dependant on their environment and care to determine what they become and what in life destines a person to become who they are or what they love.

It sounds pretty "Whine and Cheese" but in fact Sideways is quite good. The characters are solid and well formed and the acting is superb, particularly the female love interests, Sandra Oh and Virginia Madsen, who steal the show. Sideways , if nothing else, teaches us that wine connoisseurs are total geeks, like comic book people or sci-fi fanatics only far, far more pretentious. But anyone whoÕs ever served food in this town knows that. Still, a good flick and Virginia Madsen should take home the Best Supporting Actress Oscar.

Up for seven gold statues is Million Dollar Baby, a sombre, dreary, under-lit boxing film about a haggard, old trainer and failed father (Eastwood) who takes under his wing a white trash girl in need of a father figure and trains her for that title shot he never had a chance at himself. Add in Morgan Freeman as a wise old black fighter who has seen it all with his one good eye and you have a sentimental movie where boxing becomes a metaphor for the hardships of life and the need for shared compassion to finally make it right with the man upstairs.

ItÕs a working-manÕs intellectual film where Eastwood, as director, holds our hand firmly and tugs us through the emotions until at the end we canÕt help but feel something. EastwoodÕs a master of this and it works for him, but I canÕt seem to shake the feeling that, for a serious Oscar contender, this film sure reminds me of The Karate Kid.

AT VILLAGE 8 Jan. 28-Feb. 3: Million Dollar Baby; Sideways; Hide and Seek; Assault on Precinct 13; Racing Stripes; In Good Company; Coach Carter; Are We There Yet; Meet the Fockers.

AT RAINBOW THEATRE Jan. 28-Feb. 3: National Treasure.