The 79th Annual Academy Awards

Sunday, February 25. 

I began following the Academy Awards at age ten when I found my mom watching some sort of staged presentation of “Under the Sea” from The Little Mermaid on TV. Despite my mixed feelings about the Disney musical (why did Ariel have to be so stupid?), I knew all the words to all the songs, so I was excited to learn that the musicians and dancers were performing “Under the Sea” at an event where it might win an award. I settled down to watch, and it did, in fact, win, and I was happy. What’s more, I was hooked.

Eugene Onegin

The Metropolitan Opera on Tuesday, February 20.

There’s a good deal to love about Eugene Onegin—the joyous, robust choral numbers in the first act; the presence of a heroine with a modicum of independence and fire; Lenski’s gorgeous preduel aria and the way fragments of it weave themselves into the final act like ghosts—but what tickles me most is the opera’s scant affection for Onegin himself.

As I understand it, Aleksandr Pushkin’s novel romanticizes the jaded, discontented aristocrat, but Tchaikovsky’s adaptation clearly sides with the innocent but resilient Tatiana and the idealistic poet Lenski. As far as the composer is concerned (he also put together the libretto), Onegin rightfully reaps the misery he sows. The result of that outlook is a beautiful but oddly plotted opera without a hero—romantic music with a weirdly unromantic plot. I like it!


In theaters.

I wasn’t interested in seeing Breach, the new based-on-real-events movie about the capture of FBI mole Robert Hanssen. The previews looked conventional, and the star, Ryan Phillippe, has never been a favorite of mine. Then I saw that it had been written (with two others) and directed by Billy Ray, and my attitude changed immediately. Ray is no big-name auteur, but he is responsible for Shattered Glass, a meticulously crafted gem of docudrama and a real favorite of mine.

Ray’s scrupulous attention to detail impresses me each time I see Glass, which tells the story of a scandal at The New Republic magazine, the revelation that one of the writers had been passing off outrageous fiction as fact. Surely the earlier film’s thoughtful, thought-provoking examination of why we believe lies and how they go unnoticed would translate well to a story of deception and betrayal at the FBI. But Breach failed to live up to the promise of Shattered Glass. It didn’t give me as much to think about, and it didn’t capture my imagination.

Contemporary Quartet

The New York City Ballet on Sunday, February 11.

Carousel is the quintessential example of great music paired with an asinine story, so whoever had the idea to create a short, essentially plotless ballet using the musical’s swooning, long-lined waltz and elegant song orchestrations was a genius. You get the pleasure of “If I Loved You” (one of my all-time favorite songs) and some lovely romantic dancing without having to sit through the apologia for domestic violence or the silly celestial intervention or the outrageously heavy-handed graduation scene.

Balanchine and Robbins: Masters at Work

The New York City Ballet on Saturday, February 10.

Dybbuk premiered in 1974 and failed to earn a prominent place in the City Ballet’s repertory. Looking at its pedigree—music by Leonard Bernstein and choreography by Jerome Robbins—I didn’t understand how that had happened, but having seen the 2007 revival, I do. Dybbuk is slack and distant and unabsorbing. It’s just not that good.

A Spot of Bother

By Mark Haddon. Published in 2006.

In his acclaimed debut novel, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Mark Haddon convincingly describes the interior monologue of an autistic boy. In A Spot of Bother, his subject seems more modest—four ordinary people—but perhaps that appearance is deceptive. After all, the vast majority of readers don’t know how it feels to be autistic, but they do know how it feels to clash with a parent or child or sibling or romantic partner, so they’re more likely to notice if the interior monologues in Bother seem off.

To my ear, A Spot of Bother did occasionally ring false—a bit too clean, a bit too pat—but the novel’s quiet, unassuming gentleness kept me absorbed nonetheless.

Arrested Development

All three seasons on DVD.

My brother, Michael, and I both own all three seasons of Arrested Development on DVD. We’ve seen most of the episodes numerous times. We know much of the dialogue by heart and often start giggling before the show actually reaches the punch line. So when my father and he visited for a few days, Michael, Sean, and I decided to introduce Dad to our dear departed sitcom.

It wasn’t a careless decision because offering TV or movie recommendations is risky in our family. My Aunt Mary Sue and Uncle George still give my parents a hard time for suggesting they see Annie Hall, which my aunt and uncle did not enjoy as much as Mom and Dad did, to put it mildly. (Annie Hall came out in 1977, by the way, which ought to give you some idea of the longevity of cheerfully held grudges in our clan.)

Fortunately for us, Dad was soon bawling with laughter at the bizarre, ribald, perverse antics of the Bluth family. Too little, too late, but Arrested Development has won another devoted fan.