The story of the most dominant racehorse of all time does not easily fit into the standard inspirational sports flick mold. Such films typically require its protagonists to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles be they competitive (Hoosiers) personal (The Natural) societal (Ali) or some combination of all three (Remember the Titans). But by all accounts the greatest challenges to Secretariat capturing of the 1973 Triple Crown were not rival horses — indeed Secretariat had no true rival — but a pair of slow starts and an abscess. And abscesses — apologies to dermatologists — simply aren’t all that effective as dramatic devices.
Lacking most of the vital ingredients of the traditional underdog movie formula Disney’s Secretariat is forced to synthesize them. Its screenplay written by Mike Rich and based rather loosely on the book Secretariat: The Making of a Champion by William Nack adopts a conventional save-the-farm framework: When her parents pass away within months of each other Denver housewife Penny Tweedy (Diane Lane) is advised to sell off her family’s Virginia-based Meadow Stables a beautiful but unprofitable horse-breeding enterprise in order to pay the onerous inheritance taxes levied by the state. But Penny her deceased father’s hackneyed horse-inspired counsel fresh in her mind (“You’ve got to run your own race ” etc. etc.) is loath to depart with such a cherished heirloom. So she concocts a scheme just idiotic enough to work betting the farm — literally — that her new horse Big Red in whom she has an almost Messianic faith will win the Kentucky Derby Preakness and Belmont races in succession.
Of course Big Red under the stage name Secretariat goes on to do just that but only after the film subjects us to nearly two hours of manufactured melodrama. Lane grasping all-too conspicuously for awards consideration treats every line as if it were the St. Crispin’s Day speech. Her character Penny exhibits a hair-trigger sensitivity to the sounds of skeptics and naysayers bursting forth with a polite rebuke and a stern sermon for anyone who dares doubt her crusade from the trash-talking owner of a rival horse to her annoyingly pragmatic husband (Dylan Walsh).
Lane isn’t alone in her grandiosity. The entire production reeks of it as director Randall Wallace lines the story with fetid chunks of overwrought Oscar bait like so many droppings in an untended stable even using Old Testament quotations and gospel music to endow Penny’s quest with biblical significance. John Malkovich is kind enough to inject some mirth into the heavy-handed proceedings hamming it up as Secretariat’s trainer Lucien Laurin a French-Canadian curmudgeon with an odd sartorial palette. It’s not enough however to alleviate the discomfort of witnessing the film's quasi-Sambo depiction of Secretariat’s famed groom Eddie Sweat (Nelsan Ellis) which reaches its cringeworthy zenith when Sweat runs out to the track on the eve of the Belmont Stakes and exclaims to no one in particular that “Big Red done eat his breakfast this mornin’!!!” Bagger Vance would be proud. Whether or not Ellis’ portrayal of Sweat’s cadence and mannerisms is accurate (and for all I know it may well be) the character is too thinly drawn to register as anything more than an amiable simple-minded servant.
Animal lovers will be happy to know that the horses in Secretariat come off looking far better than their human counterparts and not just because they’re alloted the best dialogue. In the training and racing sequences Wallace effectively conveys the strength and majesty of the fearsome animals drawing us into the action and creating a strong element of suspense even though the final result is a fait accompli. It's too bad the rest of the film never makes it out of the gate.
Michael Imperioli said it best-- there are "a lot of new faces."
That's the perfect way to describe the morning's 2005 Primetime Emmy Award nominations that turned out to be a great awakening for some of TVs newcomers, but a rude awakening for those first-timers who got snubbed.
The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Chairman of the Board Dick Askin, along with a very un-gangster-like Imperioli of The Sopranos and Still Standing's Jami Gertz, not looking so Square Pegs in a cleavage baring bustier top (and at 5:30 in the morning, no less), announced the 57th annual Emmy nominations live from the Leonard H. Goldenson Theatre in North Hollywood.
Askin told Hollywood.com there are about twice as many new faces compared to last year.
And here's a little bit of trivia: Did you know the Emmy nomination broadcast is the only press conference with a jib camera spanning the room (That's right, not even the Oscars has one-you know, that long poled camera arm that can practically reach across a room.) This morning the jib had the best gig in the house; to focus solely on the golden girl herself-Emmy-high atop a platform. With publicists, agents and camera crews filling the theatre, it's not surprising this morning is an event all its own.
The biggest news came for those housewives, who aren't looking so desperate-all but two, at least. Each first-time nominees-- Marcia Cross, Teri Hatcher and Felicity Huffman-- all got nods for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series, leaving Nicolette Sheridan and Eva Longoria, well, desperate. That feat hasn't been done since Golden Girls 20 years ago.
The nominated housewives are also going up against Malcolm in the Middle's Jane Kaczmarek, who has now garnered six nominations for her role on the hit Fox series, but has never won; and Patricia Heaton, who everybody loves in Everybody Loves Raymond (even this morning's audience cheered for the actress, who's already taken home two statues for her portrayal as Ray Romano's wife.) Romano and the series also got nods for Outstanding Lead Actor and Comedy Series, with Ray also winning twice before. We'll see if the third time's the charm. Peter Boyle, Brad Garrett and Doris Roberts also made the list in the Supporting Actor categories.
And you might recognize other first-time nominees, most of whom hail from the big screen-- Patricia Arquette (Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series, Medium), Hugh Laurie (Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series, House), Ian McShane (Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series, Deadwood), S. Epatha Merkerson (Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or Movie, Lackawanna Blues), Debra Winger (Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or Movie, Dawn Anna), Ed Harris (Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or Movie, Empire Falls), Jonathan Rhys Meyers (Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or Movie, Elvis), Geoffrey Rush (Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or Movie, The Life and Death of Peter Sellers), Jason Bateman (Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series, Arrested Development), Zach Braff (Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series, Scrubs), Charlize Theron (Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or Movie, The Life and Death of Peter Sellers) and Philip Seymour Hoffman (Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or Movie, Empire Falls), to name a lot.
Other silver screen favorites include Halle Berry for her work in Their Eyes Are Watching God, Blythe Danner for Back When We Were Grownups, Kenneth Branagh for Warm Springs, William H. Macy for The Wool Cap and Tony Shalhoub for Monk.
Husband and wife nominated teams this year include Macy and Huffman and Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward (both for Empire Falls).
Gertz, who commented that she's "been around the block, as they say," has many favorites who are in the running to take home a statue, but she couldn't pick just one to win: "I just want all my friends to win," Jami said, who include Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series nominees Kiefer Sutherland (who's been nominated three times before for 24 and has never won), Hank Azaria (Huff) and James Spader (Boston Legal).
In other legal briefs, The Practice alum Camryn Manheim grabbed a spot in the Supporting Actress/Miniseries category for her portrayal of Elvis's mother in Elvis (to which Gertz did a perfect rendition of that famous Elvis accent), and Boston Legal's William Shatner for Supporting Actor in a Drama Series.
Lost could only be found in one of the acting categories for Naveen Andrews and Terry O'Quinn for Supporting Actor in a Drama Series, but it did nab a top nod for Outstanding Drama Series. And history repeats itself with The West Wing up for Outstanding Drama Series (which holds the titles for most Emmys won by a series in its first and single season with 9), but the Academy didn't salute the President (a.k.a. Martin Sheen) or Allison Janney, who always wins the Emmy. But Stockard Channing and Alan Alda won the Academy's recognition in the Supporting categories.
In a twist, those two high-tech mystery solving ensembles CSI and Law & Order also disappeared from this year's list in the acting categories, except for Mariska Hargitay for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series, who's going head-to-head against fellow crime fighter Jennifer Garner (Alias), Frances Conroy (Six Feet Under), Glenn Close (The Shield) and Arquette (Medium). Nip/Tuck was also cut out of the running with the lead characters garnering zero nods.
Nominated shows coming in on top include Desperate Housewives with 15 nods, Will & Grace 15, Everybody Loves Raymond 13, Lost 12, Arrested Development 11, Deadwood 11, 24 11 and Empire Falls, 10.
HBO picked up the most nominations with 93, even without help from the ineligible Curb Your Enthusiasm and The Sopranos, but is down from last year because of the absence of Angels In America, which holds the record for most Emmy's won by a miniseries. CBS leads the networks with 59; NBC 54; ABC 51 and Fox 49-all of which have made a comeback this year.
"Another trend I think is the return of the broadcast networks. I mean, all of their nominations are significantly up from last year. ABC was up 65% in numbers and CBS was 75%,"said Askin.
And expect a few modern upgrades to this year's Emmy show.
"There's going to be a lot of things different. I can't tell you anything about the show yet 'cause it's kind of in the planning stages right now. We don't want to change it dramatically, but we want to kind of update it for today's audience," said Askin.
ATAS will hand out the Emmy trophies on Sunday, Sept. 22 at a black-tie ceremony at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles.
A partial list of nominees as follows:
Outstanding Comedy Series
Arrested Development, Fox
Desperate Housewives, ABC
Everybody Loves Raymond, CBS
Will & Grace, NBC
Outstanding Drama Series
Six Feet Under, HBO
The West Wing, NBC
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series
Jason Bateman, Arrested Development
Ray Romano, Everybody Loves Raymond
Tony Shalhoub, Monk
Zach Braff, Scrubs
Eric McCormack, Will & Grace
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series
Marcia Cross, Desperate Housewives
Teri Hatcher, Desperate Housewives
Felicity Huffman, Desperate Housewives
Patricia Heaton, Everybody Loves Raymond
Jane Kaczmarek, Malcolm in the Middle
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series
Jeffrey Tambor, Arrested Development
Jeremy Piven, Entourage
Peter Boyle, Everybody Loves Raymond
Brad Garrett, Everybody Loves Raymond
Sean Hayes, Will & Grace
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series
Jessica Walter, Arrested Development
Doris Roberts, Everybody Loves Raymond
Holland Taylor, Two and a Half Men
Conchata Ferrell, Two and a Half Men
Megan Mullally, Will & Grace
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series
James Spader, Boston Legal
Ian McShane, Deadwood
Hugh Laurie, House
Hank Azaria, Huff
Kiefer Sutherland, 24
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series
Jennifer Garner, Alias
Mariska Hargitay, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit
Patricia Arquette, Medium
Glenn Close, The Shield
Frances Conroy, Six Feet Under
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series
William Shatner, Boston Legal
Oliver Platt, Huff
Naveen Andrews, Lost
Terry O'Quinn, Lost
Alan Alda, The West Wing
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series
Sandra Oh, Grey's Anatomy
Blythe Danner, Huff
Tyne Daly, Judging Amy
CCH Pounder, The Shield
Stockard Channing, The West Wing
Empire Falls, HBO
The 4400, USA
The Lost Prince (Masterpiece Theatre), PBS
Outstanding Made for Television Movie
Lackawanna Blues, HBO
The Life and Death of Peter Sellers, HBO
The Office Special, BBC America
Warm Springs, HBO
The Wool Cap, TNT
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie
Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Elvis
Ed Harris, Empire Falls
Geoffrey Rush, The Life and Death of Peter Sellers
Kenneth Branagh, Warm Springs
William H. Macy, The Wool Cap
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie
Blythe Danner, Back When We Were Grownups (Hallmark Hall Of Fame
Debra Winger, Dawn Anna
S. Epatha Merkerson, Lackawanna Blues
Halle Berry, Their Eyes Were Watching God
Cynthia Nixon, Warm Springs
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie
Randy Quaid, Elvis
Paul Newman, Empire Falls
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Empire Falls
Christopher Plummer, Our Fathers
Brian Dennehy, Our Fathers
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie
Camryn Manheim, Elvis
Joanne Woodward, Empire Falls
Charlize Theron, The Life and Death of Peter Sellers
Jane Alexander, Warm Springs
Kathy Bates, Warm Springs
Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Series
Da Ali G Show, HBO
The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Comedy Central
Late Night with Conan O'Brien, NBC
Late Show with David Letterman, CBS
Real Time with Bill Maher, HBO
Outstanding Reality Program
Antiques Roadshow, PBS
Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, ABC
Penn & Teller: Bullshit!, Showtime
Project Greenlight, Bravo
Queer Eye For The Straight Guy, Bravo
Outstanding Reality-Competition Program
The Amazing Race, CBS
American Idol, Fox
The Apprentice, NBC
Project Runway, Bravo