Everything in its right place . . . Talk to the cinephiles, and most of this year's "major" or "important" pictures didn't see a proper release, and the official Oscarbait could scarcely be more conventional and self-congratulatory. Talk to the Industry or mainstream audiences, and folks are worried that no one's going to set a Sunday night aside to watch Phillip Seymour Hoffman pick up a trophy, much less bite their nails to see if he'll pull it out against Heath Ledger, Terrence Howard, or David Stratha. . . [yawn] . . . hmm, uh, what was I saying?

In a way, this is all kind of sad. I would argue, for instance, that Brokeback Mountain, crowdpleaser though it may be, contains at least one performance of raw, gutteral power, and a second (Michelle Williams') that, while muted and inward-turning, manages to move the emotional stakes of this film beyond mere politicking ("let the gay cowboys come out loud and proud"). Actually Ryan Wu can sum all this up much better than I can. And while he's right to focus on script elements -- like a classic Hollywood prestige-object, Brokeback functions in the service of literary rather than plastic values -- one mustn't sell Ang Lee short. He's a humble craftsman, not a hack like Ron Howard or Chris Columbus. In time, once we've stopped worrying so much whether Brokeback or The Ice Storm or Eat Drink Man Woman are fodder for the arthouse-dotage set (and, well, they are), I think we'll be more capable of observing Lee's professionalism and restraint. He's hardly our Howard Hawks (that's the Farrelly brothers), but he just might be our William Wyler.

Sadly, not much in mainstream film culture offered much in the way of surprises, certainly not after Brokeback debuted at Venice and then Toronto, whereupon everyone sort of nodded in assent -- "the gay cowboys ain't half bad." Capote's critical acclaim mystifies me completely; I found The Squid and the Whale to be a self-serving parental-revenge hatchet job unbecoming the artist behind Kicking and Screaming and Mr. Jealousy; Good Night, and Good Luck. is rugged and righteous but fades from memory like granddad's pipe smoke the day after Thanksgiving. And, well, I took a walk on Pride Ampersand Prejudice. Close your mouth, Keira. No, really.

Without Toronto, I probably would've deleted this site in 2005 to make room for some of my most delicious recipes.