Julie Anne Rhodes, 1996
The big guns are taking aim at Oscar. The past week has been an orgy of screenings in their quest. Everyone is a critic, right? So, I just couldn’t resist jotting down a few thoughts of my own about what I’ve seen.

Security at 20th Century Fox’s Avatar seemed tighter than last January’s inaugural balls, but well worth the effort. I’m not normally a fan of huge budget films (this one is rumored to exceed the 300 million mark), aliens, or anything militaristic… let alone a 3 hour film with all those elements involved, but Avatar blew me away. The 3D film was a visual feast with it’s fantasy landscapes that evoke a Machu Picchu like lushness, a surprisingly intriguing plot, and a strong environmentalist message.

Hollywood is not exactly noted for it’s originality, but this year’s “remakes” have been done with more panache. Nine is really All That Jazz except based on Fellini rather than Bob Fosse with an oddly Beyonce-esque music video starring Kate Hudson plopped in the middle for good measure. The mega cast including Daniel Day Lewis, Penelope Cruz, Nicole Kidman, Kate Hudson, Fergie (whose performance drew applause in the screening room), and Sophie Loren… still incredibly beautiful at 75… deliver visually alluring performance after performance, and costumes that are to die for!

Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes is a Dickensian Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (clever banter between our heroes as they battle to out-wit, out-fight, and prevail against evil), but with Victorian sets, effective cinematography and an A+ for entertainment. I know some will be disturbed by the films departure from more classic versions, but quite frankly, I could watch Robert Downey Jr. recite the phone book from now until the Christmas Day opening, and never get bored… he is so completely unpredictable and beyond brilliant at every role he tackles.

Going from playing the world’s most reserved woman in The Queen, to the passionately over the top Countess Tolstoy in The Last Station must have been a welcome change of pace for Dame Helen Mirren. The subplot of love, and all of it’s complications actually made me forget I was watching a period piece… while every nuance of emotion dancing across James McAvoy’s face seemed to confirm he is an immense talent on the rise. He easily held his own with actors the calibre of Dame Helen, Christopher Plummer, and Paul Giacometti.

I know this will not be popular with most of my female contemporaries, but isn’t Hugh Grant getting a little long in the tooth to keep relying on his awkwardly cute English public school boy thing? Yes, Did You Hear About the Morgan’s is good, light entertainment, but doubtful as an Oscar contender… certainly not for best actor…. the film (set in America) never explains why the lead actor has an English accent, or is it just that Mr. Grant couldn’t be bothered to try an American one?
Julie Anne Rhodes, 2009
All in all a fun week! As if the holidays, parties, and screenings were not already indulgent enough…. my other favorite part of this time of year happens to be white truffle season. We capped off the perfect week with lunch at my favorite local Italian restaurant, Il Pasteo in Beverly Hills. The homemade garganelli with fresh white truffle was sublime! For a slightly more budget friendly recipe… try my macaroni and cheese with white truffle oil recipe below.
Handmade garganelli with white truffle shavings
Macaroni & Cheese with White Truffle Oil
Servings: 6

Ingredients:
  • 8 ounces elbow macaroni or farfalle
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 4 ounces of Fontina cheese, grated
  • 4 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated
  • 2 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, freshly grated
  • 1 pinch cayenne
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon white truffle oil, plus more to taste

Directions:

1). Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook according to instructions, about 8 minutes. Drain well, and set aside.

2). Heat heavy cream and milk in a medium sized saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until small bubbles begin to form along sides, about 5 minutes. Turn off heat.

3). Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium-low heat. Add flour, whisk to prevent lumps, and cook for 5 minutes. Slowly add the warm cream mixture, whisking constantly until thick and smooth. Reduce heat to low, and add the cheese, one at a time, whisking until all have been incorporated. Turn heat off. Stir in nutmeg, cayenne, salt, pepper, and white truffle oil to taste. Add drained pasta and stir to coat. Serve immediately.

Serving Suggestions: As a meal, I would serve with a side of spinach or kale. As an appetizer garnished with a Parmesan crisp, a couple grape tomatoes, or a sprig of Italian parsley on the side.

Variation: I sometimes like to add lump crab meat to this macaroni. The sweetness of the crab goes nicely with the rich creamy sauce and the aromatic white truffle oil.
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