Time Traveling with TCM

As the 2020 presidential election looms like a giant sword swinging over our collective heads, it’s difficult to know what to do.

Turn off and there’s the guilt, or eventual guilt, over whistling past the graveyard of American democracy.

Turn on and there’s the endless anger and non-stop memes (or worse) that pits US against THEM and saps whatever energy is left for I.

I’m with you Steph

What that leaves each of us with right now is individual choice, a sure sign that American democracy is not dead…yet.

That was reassuring for half the weekend because I, for one, scheduled a relaxing few days at home lying around, reading and catching up on the 75% of programming saved on the DVR that needs to be erased…at some point.

But then I turned on Turner Classic Movies

That seemed like a good idea because this month TCM is featuring 31 Days of Oscar.  What this means is that until March 2 every film scheduled on the network is a nominee or winner of Hollywood’s top prize.

Also featured: Ben Mankiewicz and his lush, thick hair #notjealous #veryjealous

For those of us worn out from the politics of it all popping up on the news, in social media and as a part of even the most generalized pop culture memes everywhere, that provides a virtual luxury vacation of escape.

You can ostensibly tune in at any time and be pretty sure you’ll have an all expenses paid trip of at least two hours into an alternate story reality much more preferable and a lot less toxic than the one we all currently reside in.

Ok Rhett… let’s say sometimes  just AS toxic

And I’m not just writing this because my dear friend, Pola Changnon, a fellow movie lover, was recently and very deservedly named general manager of the whole damned network several weeks ago.

Though partly I am.

Damn right!

At our celebratory dinner I couldn’t help but gush a little to her at how, in these trying times, it was such a relief to tune in TCM and, suddenly, get lured into a non-2020 narrative where there is no Twitter and usually not much in the way of anything Orange employed onscreen.

Even though any number of the films on TCM might be available to rent and/or purchase, somehow, when you think of doing that, you instantly say to yourself, I don’t have time to watch this!

But when they suddenly appear on Channel 256 (in LA of course) on your TV or screen of choice and you get hooked, hey, no one can blame you!

Margo’s got the right idea

To do so would be like getting down on someone for eating a slice of that already half eaten chocolate cake left out on the counter or helping yourself to a single drink at an open bar at anyone’s yearly holiday party and being met with a nasty stare by the “Church Lady.”

You’re entitled.  We’re all entitled.

But here’s the thing about escape.  Wherever you are, there you are.

At least that’s how it felt to me watching the classic, Oscar nominated movie, The Third Man on TCM this past Saturday afternoon.

* not directed by Welles

Foolishly thinking a 1949 film noir with Joseph Cotten and Orson Welles that I somehow had managed not to have ever seen all the way through could free me from the T***P era what I discovered was… um… NOanything but.

Based on a Graham Greene novella The Third Man is brilliantly photographed and edited, has a great twist and turn story, terrific acting and innovative directing, AND an unforgettable score.

It is also a perfect evocation of the moral dilemma we all face in the, okay let’s say it now, Trump Era.

AH!! DON’T SAY IT!!

Rather than transport us away into post World War II Vienna (Note: Though it literally does) it more effectively brings us right back to the question of 21st century individual choice.

That is to say, how to confront moral decay and, yeah, pure evil when we see it.

– The Third Man doesn’t have children in cages as a result of the whims of a powerful man but instead shows us kids locked in a hospital, dying of (Note: Okay, no spoilers here) because of the actions of a brilliantly clever (Note: Evil?) genius with no moral compass.

– The Third Man isn’t about an election and the loss of the rule of law but instead is about one writer/investigator challenged to make a defining moral choice in a sea of contradictory and sometimes but not ultimately confusing facts.

Figuring out the light from dark (bonus cool lighting)

 – The Third Man doesn’t have raging arguments between longtime neighbors and family members about right vs. wrong but it does ask us to consider whether our most loyal bestie from childhood can be good and evil at the same time and calmly consider how every one of OUR actions – past, present and future — has and will affect not just ourselves but the rest of the world as we know it.

Not bad for a half century plus old black and white feature where everyone but the American writer played by Joseph Cotten speaks with an accent, the Twitter-sphere didn’t exist and no mention at all is made of democracy, elections or the rise of the socialist left and/or the dictatorial repressive right.

But it does have Ferris Wheels!

A great classic movie is a little like a vintage piece of clothing you hold on to over the years.   As norms change you know that in a pinch it will perfectly fit some occasion, event of even era you are suddenly faced with.

It’s comforting, it’s clarifying but at the same time it also makes you think, sometimes of all sorts of things you might want to forget.

Or should remember.

That’s saying a lot for the days we’ve been living through and have yet to go through.

Anton Karas – Theme from The Third Man

Oscars So RIGHT

How is it that after 92 years the Oscars finally came up with both a telecast and a list of winners to be proud of?

Hitting the right notes, literally, for just about everything, the 2020 Oscars will probably be best remembered as the first time in history a foreign… ahem… INTERNATIONAL film won best picture.

Show tagline: PARASITE, NO HOST

Not only that, Parasite writer-director Bong Joon-ho took home THREE more Oscars for best director, best screenplay and best international (formerly foreign) film.

The hottest name in Hollywood!

And it was only a mere five decades ago when another Oscar winning writer-director, Billy Wilder, famously quipped to his cameraman:

Shoot a few scenes out of focus. I want to win the foreign film award.

That Parasite managed to touch the hearts and souls of a majority of Oscar voters is not in doubt. But what also seems clear is that the choice of a non-American film about economic inequality as the Motion Picture Academy members’ big winner was a very clear and very present way for voters to send out another message to the world. And that message is:

2020 America, and Americans, are NOT living in a bubble or behind a WALL. We are not isolationists who want to disengage with you. We, in fact, do get IT, even if it doesn’t always seem that way these days So don’t give up on us…yet.

I’m paraphrasing, of course.

In fact, I might be reaching or making this up out of whole cloth. Though truly, I don’t think so.

How I will try to think of 2019 in America

Hollywood might not literally speak for all 327 million people living in the U.S. but as an industry it is one of its chief representatives to the rest of the world. American movies reflect America to international audiences and what the Oscars choose to represent as the best of the best carries that weight.

Taken in that light the major category victories for Parasite were no small thing. No, they certainly don’t change the state of the world but, at the same time, they proclaim that things aren’t staying stagnant. If the same staid Academy that made the safe choice of Green Book as last year’s best picture is now doing a full 360 and saying a South Korean film dealing with class warfare is the gold standard, well, who knows what else is in store from any number of American industries looking to project some message to the outside of who we really are.

Don’t ever look back!

Oh yes, hope springs eternal. But then again, why not?

This message of change, or perhaps inclusion was reflected all throughout the Oscar telecast on Sunday night.

Singer-songwriter-performer extraordinaire Janelle Monae had Oscar’s best musical opening in history as she went from mock Mister Rogers garb to full blown, self-proclaimed, queer Black artist singing revamped lyrics to her 2010 tune Come Alive. Sashaying her way through a panoply of back up dancers and celebrities, she actually managed to make the Academy Awards seem hip and happening for the first time in…..well….EVER.

At one point THIS happened

But that was only one of a string of ingenious, nostalgic and just plain awe inspiring musical moments.

We had Idina Menzel belting a Disney song along with belters from more than a dozen countries in THEIR native languages.

Then there was Eminem appearing seemingly out of nowhere to rap his 2003 Oscar winning song Lose Yourself with some updated lyrics evoking the era of Trump.

OK so the song is as old as Billie Eilish, so what?

Soon Elton John was pounding on his red piano and singing the soon-to-be Oscar winning song he co-wrote with longtime lyricist partner Bernie Taupin for their autobiographical film Rocketman.

That followed twice nominated Cynthia Erivo also bringing the house down with her inspirational ballad Stand Up from her film about abolitionist Harriet Tubman, Harriet. 

And her dress was PERFECTION #QueenCynthia #EGOTiscoming

Then, as a capper, we got a haunting version of the Beatles’ Yesterday sung by this year’s multi-Grammy winner, 18-year-old Billie Eilish, in memory of the many film artists we lost this past year.

And amid all of that was this quite subversive high comic moment of the evening:

Rebel Wilson and James Corden entering in the crazy train makeup and costumes from their 2019 film disaster, Cats, to give this simple introduction to the award they were tasked to present:

As cast members of the motion picture CATS nobody more than us understands the importance of good visual effects.

Proving it’s never to soon…

Certainly one could gripe about a few misfired jokes from various presenters or any number of times when any one of us knew the wrong person, or people, were standing center stage with an Oscar in their hands that we felt belonged to someone else.

Still, it is difficult to argue with what most of those who did win were trying to say in their acceptance speeches.

They rambled, but we stuck with them

Aside from thanking their immediate families, or their teams, or their friends or cast mates, almost every major speech felt like a sincere outreach to an international audience for us all to find some way come together rather than to continue to be pulled apart by the circumstances of our times.

While the ceremony theoretically honors the art and craft of film, this year’s Oscars somehow felt more like a hand extending far beyond Hollywood and the borders of the U.S. towards the rest of the world in solidarity.

PLUS This is now Oscar-winning, so really, all is right with the world

Though on second thought, perhaps it’s more like a cry from those of us within to everyone watching on the outside for…help?

Janelle Monae – Oscars 2020 Opening

Oscar Watch: 2020

Think of watching the Oscars like a booty call.  Or the hookup you reluctantly fall back on once a year.

Neither may be the best use of your time but each offers a chance for something mindless, seductive, exciting and fabulous, perhaps all at once.

Be nice… after all, Green Book can’t win again.

Never mind there’s a 98.6% chance that won’t happen.  We all live for that elusive 1 (plus) percent.  And isn’t that what the Oscars are really about?

So, don’t pretend you won’t watch, hate watch or go to some event where you sort of watch or shhhh shhhh everyone so you can watch.  You will and so will we – live and on Twitter and via Facebook.  In the meantime, here are five things to watch out for while you’re watching this year’s Academy Awards:

1- THE TAMING OF NETFLIX – For the first time in Oscars’ history it’s not a film studio leading the pack for the most nominations but a….streaming service.  That would be Netflix with 24 nominations – 10 for The Irishman, 6 for Marriage Story, 3 for Two Popes, 2 for best-animated feature (Klaus and I Lost My Body) and 1 for best documentary short (Life Overtakes Me).

It’s not that Netflix will get entirely shut out of the game – after all, money from prestige films is really hard to come by these days.  It’s more that the streamers need to know their place.  So look all three of Netflix’s dramatic feature nominees to go home empty handed in every category with the exception of Laura Dern’s win for best supporting actress in Marriage Story.  A second award will likely be in the animated feature category, probably for Klaus.  But that should be all.

GO GET YA OSCAR, DERNZ!

2-  BILLIE EILISH – She just co-wrote and performed the theme for the upcoming James Bond film and, as such, will likely be an Oscar nominee next year.  But this year the iconoclastic 18-year old will be performing…..something.

My guess is that it’s either an imaginative background vocal to the In Memoriam segment or some weird preview of the Bond song.

Or, well…okay, the truth is I have no idea.  But I’ll bet she wears sparkly pajamas while she’s doing it and they will be the top online seller of Oscar knock off outfits the very next day.

I want to understand this… I think?

3- PARASITE vs. 1917 – Since the four acting prize winners are pretty much set (Note: Joaquin Phoenix (Joker), Renne Zellweger (Judy), Brad Pitt (Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood) and Laura Dern (Marriage Story)) that leaves best picture and director to provide the suspense.

What seems inevitable is a split between the 1917 and Parasite with our money on Sam Mendes as best director for 1917 and Parasite taking home the big best picture prize.  Why?  Because everyone admires 1917 as opposed to loving it and no film speaks to this moment in time better than Parasite.

4BRAD PITT’S STANDING OVATION AND ACCEPTANCE SPEECH – He’s the only one in his category to have never won an acting Oscar.  He was great in Once Upon A Time.  He’ a 56 year old shirtless wonder.  He’s made fun of himself in truly hilarious, self-effacing speeches all throughout awards season and everyone wants to see/hear what comes next.  (Note:  Ahhhhh, no, it won’t be Jen….Or will it?).

This might be the second to last time I can post this… OK let’s be real, I will post this forever #goodlawd

5- POLITICS DRINKING GAME – The main attraction.  You likely won’t hear the word Trump mentioned at all during the show. But throw one back every time you do hear the words peace, equality, global warming, justice, America or any variation of the phrase: lawless White House Orange Pumpkin Monster.

It will ensure the best Oscar experience you’ve ever had and you won’t remember a thing in the morning.

Elton John with Taron Egerton – “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again”

Cable News Cardio

You know how you slow down when you see an accident on a highway even though you don’t want to?  Well, that’s how it feels watching The Impeachment Trial of Donald Trump.

Still, I have to specifically hand it to my cable network of choice, MSNBC.  They’ve brought it.  The last thing I wanted to do this week was to hear the guy’s name, see the stuff that passes on his head for hair or hear about anything he’s ever done/does in the past, present or foreseeable future.

We bow down to the national treasure that is Rachel Maddow

Still, I couldn’t turn away.  Not for barely a second.  I even found the ONLY treadmill at the gym with on Friday afternoon that had a small screen turned to guess what…MSNBC!…. during THE key climactic moments late Friday afternoon.

It was meant to be.

Or so I reasoned to myself when I got off the machine I was on and hiked three rows down to see more of what I’d been watching since 8am that morning and every morning for the last seemingly 52 days.  Only this time there were merely images with subtitles.   NO. SOUND.

WHYYYYYY

Oh yeah.  I couldn’t figure out how to plug my headphones into the thing.  But even that was okay.  The subtitles were being done on the fly and I got most of the abbreviations.  In fact, it became fun to figure out which commentators were which WITHOUT THEIR words ALWAYS being identified.

Suddenly, I was running at record speeds, in elevations that I hadn’t been in months, trying to play a NEW guessing game.

Oh, yes, that sounds EXACTLY like what Nicolle Wallace would say because she knows the inner workings of the White House!

Sure, that’s former Senator Claire McCaskill’s incisive commentary.  It’s not only smart but a bit snide.

Claire’s for real, guys.

 And wait, she’s actually…texting with members of the Senate in real time??? I was right, I gleefully proclaimed to myself as I bobbled my water bottle and it sprayed all over my gray Lululemon workout shirt from six years ago that somehow is still holding up.

OMG, it’s like having a spy behind enemy lines, ready to dish to your side in a down and dirty way.  Yay Claire!!! 

Then, trying to figure out who’s talking to whom on the crowded Senate floor from far away, I suddenly hear Claire excitedly saying: That’s Lamar’s (Sen. Alexander (R-TN) bald spot

 …as we were waiting to determine whether he was going to cast the third possibly dissenting Republican YAY vote to finally HEAR a few witnesses (or even one) on the issue of impeachment in the Senate trial (Note: He didn’t).

Twitter gets it

Forget that the NY Times had just reported former Trump advisor John Bolton’s upcoming March book has him proclaiming in print that Trump did indeed hold up gazillions of dollars in foreign aid to Ukraine unless the country investigated Hunter Biden and his dad Joe Biden, Trump’s chief rival for the presidency at the time.

I was almost equally as riled up that Claire seemed to be on the verge of some sort of hirsute-ish scoop!

Of course, once reality began to kick in I sort of began to crash.

But some moments later, just when the hope for any live witnesses at this quickly becoming kangaroo court was lost, the powers that be at my channel cut to Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer live as he gave a short statement proclaiming that the Senate voting not allow new witnesses or documents at this trial was a…PERFITY???????????????? 

HUH WHAT?

What the f-k does that mean????  Suddenly, I felt so let down by my friends on the panel who only moments before were seemingly my only friends in the world because they were the only ones still with me through all this who never seemed to mind me ranting and raving (Note: Forget they couldn’t hear me) cause they were, too.

Oh, and dumb.   Thoroughly let down and now DUMB.  So, so DUMB.

Then, Brian Williams, like the God he is, jumped in and quipped re: Schumer’s perfidy:

Hey, I bet he wishes he could take that word back!

After which Claire and Nicolle laughed.  And laughed.  AND LAUGHED!!!

Thank God.

Sweet relief

I felt even better when, I think, Chris Matthews noted that it was Harry Truman who always recommended you don’t use 10-dollar words but nickel words if you want to really get people to listen to you.

Sure, I’m mangling the quote a little but that was the gist of it since I couldn’t find the actual one.  Though I did find out the definition of perfidy.

per·fi·dy

noun: perfidy; plural noun: perfidies

deceitfulness; untrustworthiness.”it was an example of his perfidy”

Since this whole week was all about perfidies I now very much admired Schumer for bringing it up in the first place.

Every time he uses a fancy word, the glasses get lower

Until Nicolle (or was it Brian or Chris? – I’m not sure who it was at this point) announced another revelation from the Bolton book just unearthed by the NY Times. 

Apparently Trump’s White House lawyer Pat Cipollone, the guy we’d been watching co-lead his no-witnesses defense all week by proclaiming Trump NEVER demanded we withhold money from Ukraine to benefit his re-election campaign, WAS ACTUALLY IN THE OVAL OFFICE MEETING WHEN TRUMP DEMANDED we withhold money from Ukraine to benefit his re-election campaign.

Well, I thought Nicole was going to lose it along with me.

I think we were all Wile E Coyote in that moment #help

Luckily, I was off the treadmill by then and watching this via a flat screen TV I found in the weight room that happened to also be tuned to her.

Lest you think I go to one of those blue state, elite snowflake gyms, know that’s not quite true.  It’s a 24-Hour Fitness and it costs me $120 per year.

And occasionally some screens are tuned to Fox.  Until I complained about it and never saw that channel on in MY GYM again.

At least not on my watch.

Lizzo – “Good As Hell”

Screenplay by… Adam Schiff

Everyone likes a good story.

But what is a good story and how do you construct it?  Then, how do you tell it?

I brought my students to a panel this week at the Writers Guild Theatre that featured the 2020 WGA nominees for best screenplay.  Overall, they had a great time listening to writer-directors Greta Gerwig (Little Women), Rian Johnson (Knives Out) and Noah Baumbach (Marriage Story), as well as the screenwriters responsible for Joker, The Irishman, Booksmart and A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, among others, talk about how they do what they do.

Allow me to sweep up all those names you just dropped

Even if they aren’t always the best at speaking in person about it, these women and men know a ton about story construction and how to seduce an audience through visual, verbal and other means.  They are tasked daily with figuring out what makes people tick and give them a computer screen, a piece of paper and/or a camera, you would undoubtedly be dazzled by what they come up with.

In the last 12 months, many of you already were.

But as they spoke, I couldn’t help but think of another former screenwriter, my congressman Adam Schiff (D-CA).  On that very night he had just spent hours on the Senate floor, as the lead House manager for the Impeachment of Donald J. Trump, trying to convince a recruited audience to vote for the removal of a president many voted for and still continue to support.

For those disgusted with politics, think of it like the nasty studio head purposely test marketing your new movie (Note: The one he hates) before a hostile audience he gleefully assembled in order to determine whether it will be released or not.

Or just think of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell…doing anything at all.

The purest definition of #ShtEatingGrin

The screenwriting skills of Rep. Schiff, who back in the nineties actually moonlighted as a screenwriter (Note: He received an offer from film producer Nick Weschler (The Player) to option his crime thriller The Minotaur while working as an assistant U.S. attorney) were on great display all week.

Though he had a lot of help from six other extremely articulate fellow male and female managers in proving his case, he was the one principally tasked with how to structure and execute the narrative they were about to perform.

Is it any wonder then that he chose to start with a quote from Alexander Hamilton and end with another from Atticus Finch?

My 15 minutes will never be up!

Too much a reach?  Consider that Rep. Schiff was primarily trying to put pressure on a handful of senators to allow key witnesses Trump had previously refused to allow testify before Congress to at least finally be heard.

To do this he had to not only construct a legal narrative but present his case in a way that the public could understand so they might also apply some outside pressure on their representatives to hear those stories and vote in favor of impeachment.

So what better way to prove his case to them than to quote Hamilton, the only Founding Father to have a musical named after him that is currently an international phenomenon, one that has grossed more than half a BILLION dollars on Broadway alone, has more than 20 touring companies worldwide, a Pulitzer Prize for drama and a record-setting 11 Tony awards.

… and here’s a #ShtEatingGrin that is deserved!!

I mean, when Congressman Schiff starts out by likening Trump to the type of charlatan none other than HAMILTON warned us about, a man unprincipled in private life… bold in his temper… known to have scoffed in private at the principles of liberty… to flatter and fall in with all the nonsense of the zealots of the day it carries some weight, right?  Not to mention it doesn’t hurt when Hamilton also characterizes that man as someone who, much like Trump, could only be trusted to pursue his own interests.

Which is to say nothing about Atticus Finch, hero of THE great American classic novel, To Kill A Mockingbird.  That’s the same one that none other than Aaron Sorkin recently adapted into a hit Broadway play that is just about to start its own two-year international tour.

BONUS: Ed Harris with Hair!

Every writer knows the moral weight Atticus Finch’s words carry when we seek to convince an American audience (or any American) to use the common sense their parents taught them when they were kids about the differences between right vs. wrong.  But it takes a screenwriter’s knowledge of both drama and the audience they’re tasked with seducing to know where to place it.

Gotta say as a screenwriter and teacher of writing myself, I was incredibly pleased my very own congressman was smart enough to give the Atticus quote his key ACT THREE moment in the Trump case.  Especially when Schiff himself confessed on the Senate floor that as a young lad he first heard those words from his own father (Note: Just as Mockingbird’s own writer Harper Lee had heard them her own Dad, fictionalized as Atticus).  To drive the point home further, Rep Schiff revealed that he even attributed Atticus’ words to his own father before learning years later they were actually being passed on to him by his very moral Dad only because he had taken the time to actually READ the classic story and PARENT with it. (Note: Nice touch when speaking about the well known to be NON-READING Trump).

This will be the worst school trip ever

But that wasn’t all.

As one watched Rep. Schiff and his colleagues unspool the case against our ELECTORAL COLLEGE POTUS (Note:  Full Confession; I was riveted to my DVR), it was hard not to once again recall the WGA event.  Particularly that moment when Greta Gerwig told the audience that it was only because she found out LW’s writer Louisa May Alcott managed to hold on to the copyright of her novel at a time when women were mostly powerless, that SHE was able to come up with the boldest female empowerment moments for Jo, Alcott’s heroine, in this new movie version.

Greta deserved Betta #saoirseknows

This idea of digging deep into the facts and constructing your narrative around real actions your main character takes (or took) rather than claims he/she makes was also on display with each Trump video clip Schiff and his posse unspooled on the Senate floor as they were crosscut with evidence of the true real-life contrary actions taken by Trump and documented by staff, cabinet members and in some of his own candid audio tapes in the House managers’ presentation.

It also brought to mind Rian Johnson’s confession about tricks he uses as a screenwriter as he plans his stories for ultimate dramatic effect.   He freely confessed that 80% of his writing process is outlining and structuring his story just as The Irishman’s screenwriter Steve Zailian’s admitted that in order to figure out how to execute every film story on which he’s hired (Note: See his IMDB page and be impressed) he needs a plan and OUTLINING is a good way to come in with a PLAN.

First note in outline: This line must appear every 10 minutes

No wonder after the über-outlined case against Trump unfolded on that very first day even arch adversaries like Sen. Lindsey Graham took Schiff aside and privately shook his hand at the intricately planned and structured way in which he laid out the story he was telling, convincingly taking the senators, step by step, through the Trump narrative HE had decided to tell in order to prove his case.

Of course as everyone in Hollywood knows, particularly screenwriters, you can do everything right and still not get the results you want.

Think of that film recut at the last minute (Note: Orson Welles’ Magnificent Ambersons).  Or consider that terrific cult movie not released properly that first time around (Note: Harold and Maude or The Rocky Horror Picture Show) that had to be rediscovered months or even years later because their messages were sabotaged by the arbitrary moment in which they were determined to first arrive.

Once upon a time this film was a box office bomb

I can’t help but worry whether this will be the case for the storytellers in the Schiff posse, no matter how well constructed and executed their narrative might be.  Particularly when I read this sobering statistic in the Cook Political Report:

A majority of seats in the U.S. senate represent just 18% of the country. 

This means that ANY hope for a majority vote on any one issue in the Senate could conceivably be SUNK by a GROUP OF SENATORS accounting for UNDER ONE FIFTH of all voters in the country.

In other words, the will of more than EIGHTY PERCENT of the country that agree with my Congressman, and me, on the Trump of it all, could EASILY be ignored in the next week.  Or even two or three.

You got that right, Sutton.

This is not the Hollywood ending Schiff or anyone on the WGA panel that evening would write.    But, and not to be a downer, it is also important to remember that for all his wisdom at the end of To Kill A Mockingbird Atticus LOSES his case.

Will we settle for an ending to a similar story that took place almost a full century ago?

Or will we create our own narrative?

Hmmmmmm.

Original Hamilton Cast – “My Shot”

It Begins

One of my resolutions for 2020 was to not get sidetracked by what ifs and to stop worrying about things I can’t control.

Don’t give me that look!

Aside from personal issues of life, health and death, that includes everything from who will win at the Oscars this year to the harrowing prospect that Donald J. Trump could be re-elected president of the United States.

Three weeks into 2020, I’ve already broken my vow.

Don’t judge me!

And not just once but many times over.

Still, hope springs eternal and not only because Quentin Tarantino was given Oscar’s precursor, the Golden Globe, for best screenplay over Noah Baumbach’s overrated Marriage Story.

No, what gave me hope this week was the pomp and circumstance of the Senate hearing that inaugurated the impeachment trial of Donald John Trump.

Let’s say that again.

Actually, let’s allow the actual words of the Sergeant of Arms in the U.S. Senate to say it for us:

Hear ye, Hear ye, Hear ye –

 All persons are COMMANDED – to keep silent on PAIN OF IMPRISONMENT– while the House of Representatives is exhibiting to the Senate of the United States articles of IMPEACHMENT- AGAINST – DONALD JOHN TRUMP – president of the United States…

Pete Souza’s shade really cannot be matched 🍑

Now, I’m not one for pomp and circumstance.  In high school, I finally found a real excuse not to stand up for the National Anthem due to my opposition against the Vietnam War.

Even in elementary school I remember thinking it was silly to put my hand over my heart and pledge allegiance to a ….flag?  I mean, what would THAT prove when no one could know what I, or anyone else, was really thinking?

Not to mention that to this day, whenever I see anyone bow before the Queen of England I’m still one-step short of appalled. A crown?  A scepter?  …Really?  (Note:  And yeah, that was the sound of me cheering the no longer Royal Harry and Meghan, for flying away to Canada and choosing to live in our real world of multi-million dollar endorsements.  Well, sort of).

She drives! She’s free! #ohcanada

Still…I could watch the pomp and circumstance, the formality, and the antiquated ceremonial loveliness of the invocation to the formal Senate trial that inaugurated Trump’s impeachment on Thursday every day on a loop until Quentin Tarantino’s OSCAR win for best original screenplay on Feb. 9th.

In fact, here it is now!

Hands up, baby hands up!

I suppose this makes me a bit of a hypocrite along with 63 plus million other American voters.  But after three years of immigrant kids in cages, our leader’s embrace of murderous, authoritarian world leaders over our long held allies (many of whom stood by our side in times of devastating war, most recently after 9/11), and a list of daily lies, corruptions and/or general nastiness to support his frail ego and questionable financial empire, the formality of a public ceremonial Trump guillotine in a court of law is looking pretty damned good.

Excuse me while I enjoy my tea

Our steely, and it turns out quiet prescient Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, recognized this when she finally agreed some months ago to skillfully open charges of impeachment against our Electoral College POTUS, though not for any of the aforementioned insurrections that enraged me (Note: And I would imagine “she”).

Rather, it took a rock solid case of Trump using his office to withhold billions of dollars in much needed foreign aid to a small country (Ukraine) in order to pressure them into helping him win re-election (i.e., dirt that could scandalize the potential Democrat most likely to run against him and beat him at the time, Joe Biden), that finally crossed the line.

It’s happening, it’s really happening

Rather than anger or hubris, her motivation – and lest anyone doubt it look over her many statements opposing impeachment over the last three years – were the guidelines set down by our Founding Fathers over two centuries ago in the U.S. Constitution.

As she explained to Bill Maher on his HBO series Real Time over the weekend:

…He (Trump) used the office of the president to try to influence a foreign country for his personal and political benefit and in doing so he undermined our national security.  He was disloyal to his oath of office to protect the Constitution and he placed in jeopardy the integrity of our election.  So really, he gave us no choice…

Earlier on, some of the charges, violations of the law, I said ‘he’s not worth it.’  But once he crossed that bridge it wasn’t a question of HIS being worth it.  The CONSTITUTION was worth it.  He HAD to be IMPEACHED.

My religious moment of 2020

Yet lest any of us think Speaker Pelosi, is above gloating just a smidge, it is worth noting that when asked what she’d say to Trump if he were watching, she smiled slyly, looked straight into the camera and proclaimed:

You are impeached forever.  No matter what the Senate does, it can NEVER be erased. 

That was Nancy D’Alesandro — a woman raised in a political powerhouse family where her father was mayor of Baltimore and later it’s Congressman, and her brother became city council president and later mayor — who was speaking.

A woman who not only understands the Constitution but is a maestro in the mixed martial arts of politics.

She doesn’t get sidetracked by what ifs or people and things she can’t control.

She simply stays in the moment, studies her options and then takes appropriate actions the way she sees fit, letting the chips fall where they may.

Yes she can

She also claims, and I believe her, not to HATE anyone.

One day, when we all grow up, we might to take a collective resolution to stay in the moment and be more like her.  In the meantime, let’s focus and at least try to do it until Tuesday, November 3, 2020.

Lou Reed – “This Magic Moment” 

Same Ol’ Oscar

The 92nd Oscar nominations were reliably predictable.  No, this year’s list of honorees cannot rightly be categorized as #OscarsSoWhiteStraightMale.  But neither could the group even vaguely be considered #OscarsSoColorful, #OscarsSoInclusive or even #OscarsSoPurelyArtistic.

It does seem a bit quaint to even be discussing what Hollywood (Note: Whoever or whatever that is) deems deserving of its annual golden statuette when the world is falling apart around us but perhaps that’s the very reason to spend a bit of time on it.  We all need a diversion or two, or twenty-three, and well, every year the Motion Picture Academy never fails to both come through AND simultaneously disappoint.

The Academy always comes through…

That said, it was interesting to see just how aware the Academy was of just how white the awards had the potential to be.  You could tell by their choice of not one but two people of color – Issa Rae and John Cho – to announce the nominees to an international audience.  That’s twice as many non-White people that were nominated in all four acting categories combined!

It’s a sad state that Green Book was more diverse

Meaning, Cynthia Erivo was the sole person of color to be singled out in an acting category this year for her lead performance as famed abolitionist Harriet Tubman in the fine historical drama, Harriet.  Does it count for diversity that Antonio Banderas was also nominated for his lead role in Pedro Almodovar’s brilliant semi-autobiographical pic Pain and Glory? That’s for social media to decide so you’re on your own there.

Leading the list of this year’s nominated films with ELEVEN nods was…Joker? Well, the title of that film alone says everything you need to know about the times we live in.  Close behind were: The Irishman and 1917 and Once Upon A Time in…Hollywood with ten each.

More like a TEN (but really, this did factor in right?)

The aforementioned Ms. Erivo was also one of a handful of recipients to receive two Oscar nominations in two separate categories this year.  Her second was as co-writer in the best song category for Harriet’s “Stand Up.”  Also double nominated were: Scarlett Johansson as both lead actress and supporting actress for Marriage Story and JoJo Rabbit, respectively; and David Heyman as a producer on two potential best picture winners, Marriage Story AND Once Upon A Time in…Hollywood.

Here is a full list of the nominations along with some (accurate? snide? bitchy?) opinions on those chosen and those left out of the major categories.  Let’s save the rest for when the awards are handed out on Feb. 9th.   In the meantime, get your Joker masks ready, the next four weeks promise to be….memorable?

My mantra to get through these nominations

BEST PICTURE

FORD V FERRARI  Peter Chernin, Jenno Topping and James Mangold, Producers

THE IRISHMAN  Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro, Jane Rosenthal and Emma Tillinger Koskoff, Producers

JOJO RABBIT  Carthew Neal and Taika Waititi, Producers

JOKER  Todd Phillips, Bradley Cooper and Emma Tillinger Koskoff, Producers

LITTLE WOMEN  Amy Pascal, Producer

MARRIAGE STORY  Noah Baumbach and David Heyman, Producers

1917  Sam Mendes, Pippa Harris, Jayne-Ann Tenggren and Callum McDougall, Producers

ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD  David Heyman, Shannon McIntosh and Quentin Tarantino, Producers

PARASITE  Kwak Sin Ae and Bong Joon Ho, Producers

The question is, what DIDN’T get nominated?  Pretty much all the films predicted to get a nod in this category managed to squeak through.  The possible exception was Knives Out, which nevertheless received what more and more seems to be the consolation prize of a writing nomination, in this case for its director Rian Johnson.

Still gets top honors for best knit!

What else MIGHT have been nominated in this category even though you’d be crazy to expect it?   Well, the indie movie The Last Black Man in San Francisco should not have to rely solely on the Independent Spirit Awards to be named among the best films of the year when it is clearly that and more.   But don’t get me started on the #OscarsSo……. Again.

DIRECTING

THE IRISHMAN  Martin Scorsese

JOKER  Todd Phillips

1917  Sam Mendes

ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD  Quentin Tarantino

PARASITE  Bong Joon Ho

Here’s the thing.  Greta Gerwig, Little Women, Lulu Wang, The Farewell, Marielle Heller, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Alma Har’el, Honeyboy and Kasi Lemons, Harriet.  When you have five women who directed the aforementioned Oscar caliber films and not one gets nominated in this category, well, this is why people begin to talk.

We riot at dawn #burnitdown #justiceforGreta

Though whenever this subject comes up I point to the SOLE FEMALE to WIN best director, Kathryn Bigelow.  She got the award for her work on The Hurt Locker, a war movie with a male protagonist.  What this tells us, aside from the fact that Bigelow is a great director, is that the subject matter of a movie has as much to do with the gender of a director where the Oscar nominees (and winners) are concerned.

Anyone hungry? #sausagefest

ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE

ANTONIO BANDERAS   Pain and Glory

LEONARDO DiCAPRIO  Once upon a Time…in Hollywood

ADAM DRIVER  Marriage Story

JOAQUIN PHOENIX  Joker

JONATHAN PRYCE  The Two Popes

There are those who might rightly be grousing that the performances of Taron Egerton in Rocketman and Robert DeNiro in The Irishman should have gotten a nod.  But truly the best performance of the year NOT in this category was in Uncut Gems.  Adam Sandler did the best acting of his career as a Jewish, compulsive gambler jeweler who can’t get out of his own way in an unrelenting and uncomfortably riveting film.  Does he deserve the Oscar for it?  Yes.  Do I care if you disagree?  No, cause it’s true.

Get ready for Grown Ups 3 #sigh

ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

TOM HANKS  A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

ANTHONY HOPKINS  The Two Popes

AL PACINO  The Irishman

JOE PESCI  The Irishman

BRAD PITT  Once upon a Time…in Hollywood

Brad Pitt is really the only one who matters here…for so many reasons.  Least of which is that Mr. Pitt is the sole person in this category NEVER to have won an acting Oscar.

This category is so 90s, you have to watch all the nominees on VHS

ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE

 CYNTHIA ERIVO  Harriet

SCARLETT JOHANSSON  Marriage Story

SAOIRSE RONAN  Little Women

CHARLIZE THERON  Bombshell

RENÉE ZELLWEGER  Judy

Yeah, it was between Cynthia Erivo and Awkwafina (The Farewell) for the female of color slot and Cynthia won.  Just kidding, sort of, but not…really.  However, it won’t matter.  Renee Zellweger’s daring recreation of Judy Garland at the end of her life, singing and all, will win and should win.

Although Charlize wins for inspiring the most gasps (and nightmares)

ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

KATHY BATES  Richard Jewell

LAURA DERN  Marriage Story

SCARLETT JOHANSSON  Jojo Rabbit

FLORENCE PUGH  Little Women

MARGOT ROBBIE  Bombshell

Did you really think J Lo would be nominated for doing her Oscar pole dance in Hustlers?  Really?  No, I mean…really???  Really????????

MAYBE WE DID CHAIRY?!?!

WRITING (ADAPTED SCREENPLAY)

THE IRISHMAN  Screenplay by Steven Zaillian

JOJO RABBIT  Screenplay by Taika Waititi

JOKER  Written by Todd Phillips & Scott Silver

LITTLE WOMEN  Written for the screen by Greta Gerwig

THE TWO POPES  Written by Anthony McCarten

 

WRITING (ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY)

KNIVES OUT  Written by Rian Johnson

MARRIAGE STORY  Written by Noah Baumbach

1917  Written by Sam Mendes & Krysty Wilson-Cairns

ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD  Written by Quentin Tarantino

PARASITE  Screenplay by Bong Joon Ho, Han Jin Won; Story by Bong Joon Ho

You could have read three or four articles predicting the screenplay nominations and scored close to 100% in both of these categories.  But for my money, the big omission is Booksmart, a coming of age/last night of high school story chock full of memorable characters in hilariously awkward situations you felt you had both seen and never seen before.  So imaginative, heartfelt, funny and extremely difficult to achieve that it took four writers – Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, Susanna Fogel and Katie Silberman.  Of course the fact that they’re four women writing a female driven narrative had NOTHING to do with the snub!

What does the Oscars have against girls and poles?

Not to downgrade the rest, but I got up at 5:15 am for this!  So, here they are without comment:

 

ANIMATED FEATURE FILM

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON: THE HIDDEN WORLD 

I LOST MY BODY 

KLAUS 

MISSING LINK 

TOY STORY 4 

 

CINEMATOGRAPHY

THE IRISHMAN  Rodrigo Prieto

JOKER  Lawrence Sher

THE LIGHTHOUSE  Jarin Blaschke

1917  Roger Deakins

ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD  Robert Richardson

 

COSTUME DESIGN 

THE IRISHMAN  Sandy Powell and Christopher Peterson

JOJO RABBIT  Mayes C. Rubeo

JOKER  Mark Bridges

LITTLE WOMEN  Jacqueline Durran

ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD  Arianne Phillips

 

DOCUMENTARY (FEATURE)

AMERICAN FACTORY 

THE CAVE 

THE EDGE OF DEMOCRACY 

 FOR SAMA 

HONEYLAND  

 

DOCUMENTARY (SHORT SUBJECT)

 IN THE ABSENCE 

LEARNING TO SKATEBOARD IN A WARZONE (IF YOU’RE A GIRL) 

LIFE OVERTAKES ME

ST. LOUIS SUPERMAN

WALK RUN CHA-CHA 

 

FILM EDITING

FORD V FERRARI  Michael McCusker and Andrew Buckland

THE IRISHMAN  Thelma Schoonmaker

JOJO RABBIT  Tom Eagles

JOKER  Jeff Groth

PARASITE  Yang Jinmo

 

INTERNATIONAL FEATURE FILM

CORPUS CHRISTI  Poland

HONEYLAND  North Macedonia

LES MISÉRABLES  France

PAIN AND GLORY  Spain

PARASITE  South Korea

 

MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING

BOMBSHELL  

JOKER 

JUDY 

MALEFICENT: MISTRESS OF EVIL 

1917 

 

MUSIC (ORIGINAL SCORE)

JOKER  Hildur Guðnadóttir

LITTLE WOMEN  Alexandre Desplat

MARRIAGE STORY  Randy Newman

1917  Thomas Newman

STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER  John Williams

 

MUSIC (ORIGINAL SONG)

I CAN’T LET YOU THROW YOURSELF AWAY  from Toy Story 4; Music and Lyric by Randy Newman

(I’M GONNA) LOVE ME AGAIN  from Rocketman; Music by Elton John; Lyric by Bernie Taupin

I’M STANDING WITH YOU  from Breakthrough; Music and Lyric by Diane Warren

INTO THE UNKNOWN  from Frozen II; Music and Lyric by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez

STAND UP  from Harriet; Music and Lyric by Joshuah Brian Campbell and Cynthia Erivo

 

PRODUCTION DESIGN

THE IRISHMAN 

JOJO RABBIT 

1917  

ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD 

PARASITE 

 

SHORT FILM (ANIMATED)

DCERA (DAUGHTER) 

HAIR LOVE 

KITBULL 

MEMORABLE 

SISTER 

 

SHORT FILM (LIVE ACTION)

BROTHERHOOD 

NEFTA FOOTBALL CLUB 

THE NEIGHBORS’ WINDOW 

SARIA 

A SISTER 

 

SOUND EDITING

FORD V FERRARI 

JOKER 

1917 

ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD 

STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER 

 

SOUND MIXING

AD ASTRA 

FORD V FERRARI 

JOKER  

1917 

ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD 

 

VISUAL EFFECTS

AVENGERS: ENDGAME 

THE IRISHMAN 

THE LION KING 

STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER 

The Rolling Stones – “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”