The Musical Chair

To be fair to Beyonce and the #1 news story of last week —

BEYONCEGATE: MRS. JAY-Z vs. THE TEXAS TORNADO 

Oh say can you ... sing?

Oh say can you… what now?

We will let the diva explain it all to you.  Short answer:  Beyonce was BOTH lip synching AND singing live at Pres. Obama’s inauguration. Any clearer? Let’s see here then…

Click for full video evidence!

Click for full video evidence!

Note:  We never, ever, ever thought Beyonce couldn’t sing a great version of the National Anthem.  But winning is all about live, in the moment, grace under pressure.  So — in terms of the decision, it’s still a TKO for Kelly Clarkson.

Sorry, B. But you do get points for coming forward.  Next stop – The Super Bowl.

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Cage Match

chaplin-boxing

I have evolved to the point where I don’t automatically think in terms of winners and losers on any particular issue.  This, however, has taken a lifetime.  After all, I’ve always loved games, my Dad is a gambler and – most importantly – I am an American. 

The Inauguration of Barack Obama for a second term as President of the United States this week prompted some reflection – and not just about wardrobe and spectacle.

Truth be told — there is something about living in the United States that will make you competitive on certain specific personal issues of choice.  Otherwise, our country as a whole, and more specifically Las Vegas and my Dad, would never have been able to make any money over the years. (Note: Both have done quite well on and off and continue to thrive even at all of their ripe old ages).  Maybe it’s that we are a tough, relatively young country (despite our age) that started as a brash insurgent who dared to shove their nose up at Royalty.  Or perhaps it’s that we as a people (including my gambling Dad) only motivate ourselves to make the all-important knockout punch when it’s clear that we will lose everything if we don’t.   Most probably, it’s because like most animals we can’t resist a good blood sport. Vegas, Baby!

Giving in to our most base instincts was pretty easy this week.  The world was a cage match where the loser got bloodied and grinded into tiny little pieces while the winner ended up taking a victory lap with a smile, arms metaphorically raised in the air.  Yes, it’s true.  And you know you love it. This is still America so you can be the judge this week.  But here at notes from a chair we’ve already called the winners which, in some ways, is also uniquely American…isn’t it?

HILLARY VS THE MIDDLE-AGED (AND OVER) WHITE MEN

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srsly boys?

Oh, guys, when will you learn?  In 2012, Hillary Clinton was voted the most admired woman in not only the U.S. but the WORLD, and you are clearly on the downswing somewhere between the model of the Delorean car NOT used in the Back to the Future movies and canned spam.  So why, why, why do you insist taking on this fight and trying to shame Sec. of State Clinton in a televised worldwide Congressional hearing by blaming her for the deaths of four Americans in the foreign service in Benghazi last year?  Because you could?  Well, you couldn’t.

Armed with a head full of undisputedly salient facts even after a severe concussion two weeks ago, Sec. Clinton spoke articulately, combatively and most importantly, smartly for more than seven (count ‘em!) hours to any number of hostile Senators seemingly bent on her destruction.  Yet she managed to destroy them through sheer passion, emotion and brainpower, simplifying but never dumbing down the extremely dangerous and complicated physical and political challenges we face in the Middle East.  We would like to say it felt a lot like what one former president she happens to be married to did with our quagmire of economic issues at the 2012 Democratic convention but this would be taking away credit from the current cage match at hand where the secretary of state was in a box all alone facing a whole new set of hostile opponents that kept on coming.

Lesson:  The average man might be physically bigger and stronger than the average woman and Sen. Rand Paul might want to proclaim publicly that if he were president he would have relieved Mrs. Clinton of her duties.  But there was no whiff of anything presidential about Rand Paul and certainly there was nothing at all average about Hillary Clinton or her appearance before them.

Right in the gut

Right in the gut

Decision: KNOCKOUT HILLARY (2016).

BEYONCEGATE: MRS. JAY-Z VS. THE TEXAS TORNADO

Oh say can you ... sing?

Oh say can you … sing?

Beyonce appeared live and sang The Star Spangled Banner at the inauguration this week but at this writing there is some (well, a lot of) doubt as to whether Beyonce actually sang live at the inauguration this week.  One fact no one disputes – Kelly Clarkson sang a rousing rendition of America (My Country ‘Tis of Thee) that so completely soared into the musical stratosphere that usually verbose NY Senator Chuck Schumer could only react afterwards with this single word – “Wow.”

Why is this important?  Well, certainly it’s not important in the way global warming, world peace and the Oscars are (obviously).  But it is relevant.  Other than a great credit rating, what often seems to be lacking in the US these days is authenticity, and Beyoncegate, (i.e. was she or wasn’t she lip-synching) is as good example as any of the public being sold a bill of goods that through slick, beautiful and clever show business-like deception is not quite what it’s touted to be.  Uh yeah, that’s right.  Put a ring on it.

If we’re being told Beyonce will sing the National Anthem then the clear inference is that it is Beyonce actually SINGING the National Anthem live.  Otherwise, we can go home and listen to one of her recordings or stare at her in the flesh at a party.  Don’t get all cute on us and say she was singing and she was there – she just wasn’t live singing.  You know it’s not the same thing.  And don’t use the excuse that it was cold outside on inauguration morning and singers don’t do well in the cold.  I mean, would any of us love her any less if she hit a thin or even bum note?  I don’t think so.   Plus, James Taylor and Kelly Clarkson (who is younger than Beyo) sang live.  As did Aretha Franklin (who is older than both Beyonce and Kelly combined) four years earlier at Obama Inauguration #1.

Ms. Clarkson’s rendition of America started out with a few thin notes and wasn’t perfect.  But it was the imperfection at the beginning and the mounting drama of the musical moments through the song to the end that made her performance such a wow.  We don’t really want a live performance to be as musically perfect as a recording if it’s going to sound exactly the same.  We’re there because we want some drama, some danger, some thrill of some sweat.  And no, the diva flourish of Beyonce yanking her earpiece from her head did not count in the same way as the huge smile on Kelly Clarkson’s face after she hit the high notes on the final verse of that song that even she doubted in the moment she could get to.

DECISION: TKO KELLY CLARKSON

THE 60s OR the 20 TEENS??

Oh.. hello Jon.

Oh.. hello Jon.

I started teaching a new group of screenwriting students who pitched their script ideas this week and I’m here to report that out of a total of 23 students in two different classes 7 proposed scripts that are set in the 1960s.

That comes out to roughly – 30% or close to one-third.

Luckily, there were none that took place in the eighties because as I continue to emphasize to students or anyone else that will listen that decade goes down as the ABSOLUTE WORST in history.  Greed, avarice, AIDS, big hair, horrible clothes and television shows like “Knight Rider,” “Baywatch” and “The A Team.”  Plus, I’m itching to drop one name in presidential politics but in the interest of staying on topic I am going to REAGAN reign myself in.

The sixties, however, were a different time.  Certainly there were so many awful moments – the fight for civil rights, the escalation of an endless war in Vietnam, and the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy AND Martin Luther King.  Plus, there was even Richard Nixon to top off the decade.

However, what there also was plenty of was old-fashioned hope and a belief on the part of the young that if they worked and shouted hard enough the world could, indeed, become a better place.

I think that’s a large part of why today’s young people and many of the rest of us are still dazzled by the sixties.  That and the music.  And the sex.  And the drugs.  And the rock ‘n roll.   I am mature enough to guide them through all of that, having lived through those times myself.  But in doing so in the next few months I don’t think I can stop myself from asking if what was being fought for back then is being lived up to in its fullest right now.   The answer may lie in the upcoming Coen Bros. movie but, elusive guys that they are, I somehow doubt it.

DECISION: SPLIT

 

REPLICANT SETH TAKES ON THE OSCARS

Here is one of the new ads the Motion Picture Academy has just released for this year’s Oscars.

Seth-bot

Seth-bot

So – am I the only one who thinks this looks as if a replicant is the 2013 Oscar host and that the Oscars are so afraid of IT that they allowed IT to have ITS name get star billing above them?

The picture of the replicant is very funnyman Seth McFarlane and in this “air brushed within an inch of its life” photo he appears to be starring in a new remake of The Stepford Wives entitled Planet Stepford Men and the Audiences Who Must Love Him.  This is to say nothing of Oscar allowing said host, who most Oscar watchers barely know (let’s face it), get above-the-title star billing over a trademark that is one of the most recognizable in the entire over-developed world.

Clearly, the reason for this new “branding” is a merging between the old and the new.  The Oscars are old and Seth McFarlane represents everything young and hip, especially when he wears a tuxedo and clutches a gold statuette as if it’s a microphone he’s ready to sing a set of Frank Sinatra songs into.

Oh Academy, Academy, Academy.  Watch the tape of poor Anne Hathaway hosting with another young replicant James Franco.  Then, watch it again.  Now, once more.  Then consider — just because the artwork has already gone out on this one doesn’t mean it isn’t too late to rethink, regroup and refocus.  You do have Adele and half a billion potential viewers to work with.  You might also want to add some MOVIE stars while you’re at it.  Real ones.

Hold me

Hold me

DECISION: THIS ROUND SETH, FIGHT STILL IN PROGRESS 

BOEHNER & CO. VS. MICHELLE OBAMA & EVERY OTHER FIRST LADY IN YOUR LIFE 

Quite a trio

Quite a trio

“..We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths, that all of us are created equal, is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall…” – Barack Obama, 2012

The idea is that the equal rights struggle of women, Blacks and gays is really the same struggle elucidated in the U.S. Constitution – that all the “Men” who “are created Equal” includes them and all other human beings.  That’s why it was particularly disconcerting to see Speaker of the House John Boehner this week voluntarily putting himself into the ring with two fights, one small and one big, he could never win.

The small one is the fun one and features the classic Michelle Obama eye roll that has now become a popular gif.

Just roll with it

Just roll with it

Apparently, that was in reaction to some joke told by Boehner about Pres. Obama smoking a cigarette after his speech (despite the First Lady’s well known desire to have the president quit for good) as Mrs. O was eating a salad while seated next to Boehner.   Okay – so Boehner doesn’t have the timing of Henny Youngman.  Or even John Mulaney.  And one presumes he was nervous because he didn’t ask to sit next to Mrs. Obama.  Or vice-versa.  Let’s count that a gimme.

But the second was the one where he announced publicly in front of thousands at the National Mall on Friday that he isn’t going to rest until he helps “make abortion a relic of the past” – which one can only take at his word to mean that no woman, no how will ever be able to get an abortion, even a young woman who is raped or that if an abortion is made available for that rare exception it will be seen as an immoral anomaly to a societal pariah.   Those remarks and statements like “let that be one of our most fundamental goals of the year” – that would be 2013 – were made at an event billed as a March for Life rally, one at which he delivered the take-away speech.

One supposes the Speaker is entitled to his opinion even if it runs counter to the vast majority of American women just as he is allowed to tell any type of joke he likes to any female, or male for that matter, of his choosing.  But if you were a betting person like my Dad, who would you like to wager on – the middle-aged white guy with the perpetual tan or the majority of American females, the ones now very well represented in Washington, DC by the likes of Hillary Clinton?

DECISION: YOUR FIRST LADY (and those of all ages) because they usually know best.

Superheroes

Hero-Worship

Lance.  Jodie.  Manti Te’o.  What are we to do about you?  You thrill us.  Then you disappoint us.   Then you thrill us again.  And then you drop us down even further.  Have a heart.  And just be real.

Of course, that’s exactly what we DON’T want you to do, despite what we say.  We’re like a put upon boyfriend or girlfriend who begs their untrustworthy mate to be honest and then, when faced with their true self, angrily throws the book at them along with the front door and whatever else we can grab.  And since I have been in this position at least once in my life I can honestly testify to the truth of this action. This is not to say that I wanted to NOT know the truth and to remain living in the lie.  It’s more – I wanted confirmation that the person who I loved was, indeed, the person I thought that I had chosen to love, rather than who they really were.

This is unfair and does not make for good relationships.  But it is what hero worship is about.  And that’s what we’re talkin’ here.  Or maybe it’s a potential reality show called Heroes: Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Yes, the latter is more like it.  That avoids words like lies and truth and anything in between.   Because once you go there you get into very murky territory (as the military can tell you).  There’s a reason why despite all the remakes and sequels you will only learn so much about Batman, Superman, Spiderman or even our much-maligned Cat Woman, even though you’re sure you know everything.   But they are fictional creations where filmmakers (or other makers) are in control, and every really great creative artist knows better than to tell-all.

Superhero's cape stuck in revolving door

On second thought, this cape ain’t so easy

However, this is not the case in our current age of mass celebritydom, which can be confirmed by watching any one of a parade of B-stars on reruns of Celebrity Fit Club or Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew.  You will find out and/or see more than you ever wanted to realize about recognizable names like Sean Young, Brigitte Nielson and Jeff Conaway (RIP) and be none the better for it.  Nor, will they.  In fact, though a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing, in some public cases it will, indeed, work quite nicely.

Which brings us back to this week’s live celebrity superheroes and the people who love them (the latter of whom would be us).  We’ve had quite a week.  And it’s hard to know where to start.  But I say, let’s go for the gusto.

THE LANCEMAN

STERN EXCLUSIVE LANCE ARMSTRONG GRAFFITI-100 

There was something about watching (now former) seven time Tour de France champion cyclist Lance Armstrong confessing his lies about a long history of illegally drugging his body to celebritydom’s mother confessor Oprah on international television that was the worst kind of cliché.  And yet, it was fascinating and riveting and featured two superheroes – one at the height of their super-powers (Oprah) and the other forced into an arena stripped of everything that once made them the most formidable force on the planet.  Imagine Christian Bale’s Batman in the black suit and with full arsenal (Oprah) fighting a Tobey Maguire Spiderman (the Lanceman) with zero accessibility to anything Web-based (a daunting task for any of us these days.. oh and pun intended) and you can sort of get the picture.

port-opinion-20illo-300x0

Not a good look

Lance is a survivor of stage-three cancer whose name has raised mega-millions of dollars for a cancer education and prevention organization called Livestrong that has helped untold numbers of people psychologically, financially and even physically.  For those reasons alone, he will always be somewhat okay in my book.  But I’m not a sports fan and after a lifetime in the entertainment industry I know that no one – not one person – that you know from their public image is ever, ever, ever giving you the full truth of all that they are.  In fact, often they are disappointing in real life simply because as mere mortals they can NEVER live up to the carefully constructed image of what they are resonating in the zeitgeist.

Nor, if they want to survive, should they.  Because if all is exposed then nothing is protected. And with more than 7 billion people in the world, that makes you a pretty easy target.

The problem for Lance Armstrong is two fold.  One is the boldness of the lie upon lie and the other is the denial of such once he was caught.  Though he operated in a haze of credibility for years, he and Oprah pretty much acknowledged that had he not tried to make his last big comeback in the last decade he might have “gotten away with” all of his previous wins and no one would have ever been the wiser.  Yet the truth  – as anyone who has really known a celebrity can testify to – is that it takes a real-life superhero to walk away from that status (and those are rare, if they exist at all).  I mean, once you’re a god with all of the perks it affords, you begin to believe you ARE a god so why would you ever want to be simply human again???  For love?  For sanity?  For…humility?  Are you kidding????

Yet this activity also fostered The Lanceman’s escalating denials – which proved to be his version of Kryptonite.  There was no way he could stay in the game without upping his vitriolic disownment of the real truth.  And every time he did this, he got more famous (or infamous) and further away from reality, thus making his superhero achievements even bigger and more open to public consumption than they ever were.  Consequently, the perch from where he would inevitably fall grew higher and higher – prompting some to dub him the “biggest liar” in the history of sports or, perhaps, humankind.

Thanks Lance!

Thanks Lance!

The latter hardly seems fair or true, though certainly those are not adjectives to be applied in this kind of discussion.  Yes, we know he was a bully who took down other people in his way.  And uh huh, we acknowledge he ripped off his competitors and the organizations that touted him by his “lies” and “win at any cost” strategies.  But worst of all – he’s proven to us that rather than embody a superhuman version of the good part of the human spirit, he’s merely the man behind the curtain posing as The Wizard Of Oz – a man who in real life is equal parts great and awful  — a reflection of the best and the worst of our qualities.  Quelle Suprise.

JODIE POSSIBLE

Jodie-Foster-3

There are very few 50 year-old movie stars who have been in the business for 47 years, won two best actress Oscars, directed three feature films and still find time to raise two seemingly very well-adjusted children.  In fact, I can’t think of one — except Jodie Foster.

Then it shouldn’t be surprising that in recapping to us highlights of her life in a slightly odd, slightly rambling stream of consciousness speech while accepting a lifetime achievement award at this year’s Golden Globes, that she drew so much attention, concern, praise and vitriol – the kind usually reserved for some sort of superhero (or perhaps villain, depending on where one stands).  Being exceptional and famous and on television can do this because you can never please everyone by being exactly and totally who you are in public.

If Ms. Foster were to have a superhero name I vote for Jodie Possible, after the TV cartoon heroine Kim Possible – because a) we know the likelihood of childhood star human survival to age 50 b)we know the likelihood of leading movie actress industry survival to age 50 and c)we know the likelihood of sanity and so many other forms of survival that seem to actually make Jodie IMpossible.

But what has not been traditionally super heroic to the mainstream (up until maybe this year?) for Ms. Foster is the fact that she is gay, or to put it even more precisely, a lesbian – two words she managed to clearly avoid yet more than hint at in the seven minute acceptance speech heard round the world.  Ironically, that is part of what made her a bit of a superhero to me up until that night – the fact that she has lived her own sort of life all these years with intelligence and grace, often out of the spotlight yet hiding in plain sight of anyone who has driven through the hills and valleys of southern California.

jodie-foster-golden-globes-2013-speech

Amazingly the conversation the next day was not about her arms…

So why is it that Jodie Possible’s speech, tinged with a tone of arch, dare I say it, anger, left me and a significant portion of others – confused, upset, disappointed and, dare I say it…pissed off?  Why was she now so suddenly upset about celebrity culture when for years she wisely chose to ride above (or below) it? At a time when there are numerous out gay celebrities in 2013, why was she cryptically addressing her ex-female lover and personal life in odd language that implied some sort of public persecution for years by evil onlookers? Especially when today most people no longer care what she does in bed or are willing to give her a pass for secrecy because a crazed would-be assassin named John Hinckley famously said he was trying to prove his love for her when he shot some bullets at Pres. Ronald Reagan in the eighties?

The whole seven-minute speech was strange and uncomfortable in a way we weren’t used to from the public superhero named Jodie.  What it also seemed to be was – honest.  Sort of like when Tom Cruise went on Today and eschewed all of psychiatry to Matt Lauer, or spoke condescendingly about non-Scientologists on a famous You Tube tape espousing the superiority of all those in the upper echelons of his adopted religion.

In full disclosure, I’ve briefly met JF several times in passing (not making passes!) over the decades (once when she was a teenager and several more times as an adult) and have always found her to be nice, smart, classy and more normal than any 50 year-old former child star/still movie star should humanly be.  This is why I was so taken aback by a side of her on television that I had never seen publicly or privately.  Why so edgy?  Why that look in her eye that implied she was capable of saying something she could never take back or, worse, something we could never forget or forgive her for?  Well, why not?  Why couldn’t she do all of those things and what difference does it make that she’s confused and disappointed me by not being Jodie Possible this one time?  Unless, of course, this is who she really is and all of the other times on screen and the handful in person were just….acting.  Which would mean, I’ve been duped.  And – we (I?) don’t like that.  Especially from superheroes we look up to.

Not to mention that these are her sidekicks

Not to mention that these are her sidekicks

But aside from all that fancy reasoning, here’s the one thing her speech really did teach me – all actors, even the really good ones – need writers.  And I’m more than comfortable living with that.

THE MASK OF MANTI TE’O

quite literally, the masked man

quite literally, the masked man

This story is still unfolding and is still thoroughly confusing.  To paraphrase the famous line from that classic hero worship film Love Story – what can you say about a 24-year-old college football player who was runner up for the coveted Heisman trophy, led his team to record victories weeks after enduring the gruesome deaths of his beloved grandmother and girlfriend on the same day, and won the heart of the sports world for doing so?  That you loved him?   That you looked up to him?  Or — that he’s a pretty big liar and now you’re a pretty big jerk with egg on your face?

love_story_car

Note:  The Love Story tag line, for those of you under 50

“What can you say   about a 25 year-old girl who died?  That she was beautiful and brilliant.  That she loved, Mozart and Bach,, the Beatles and………me?”

It appears that part of Manti Te’o’s aura is not just that he is a very good college linebacker (now turned pro, with an agent) who performed exceptionally well in a specific period of time, but that he did so against emotional odds heavy enough to inspire at least one or two after school specials or network TV movies if the industry still made them with the same amount of frequency they did in years past.

So imagine everyone’s outrage when it was unearthed this week that Manti’s  (or Mr. Te’O – we haven’t been introduced) relationship with his girlfriend was not only an online “romance” with someone he never met despite all implications otherwise, but that she did not even exist in real life and that he was the victim of what he and his coaches claim was an elaborate internet hoax perpetrated on a naïve and purely trusting soul.  So, you mean…he merely helped win all those games when just his beloved grandma was dying???  Well…I’m not sure if that counts at all….

What people say they are angry about in this case is not so much the reality but the deception and downgrading of the myth.  Forget the fact that this guy can play football, but how dare he make up a girl who never existed, even if he didn’t know she existed at all!! And if he was in on it and was using the story of the death of this girl to make his achievements even more spectacular – well, that’s really despicable.  I mean, it’s one thing to do that in a reality TV show (which everyone knows isn’t fact – or do they?) but this is real life.

Are you sure we're not watching The Bachelor?

Are you sure we’re not watching The Bachelor?

Some people posit that there might be some compelling reasons for the fictional girlfriend who then died.  The most popular of these is that Manti Te’O, a devout Hawaiian Mormon, is secretly gay and wanted to hide his private life because it goes against both his religions — those being both the Mormon faith and football.  Well, I have no idea if this is true but here’s a thought – in the scope and meaning of life as it exists in 2013 – who really cares?

We need to grow up and know that in reality heroic human achievements are never done by superheroes.  Translation:  If someone’s story sounds too good and looks too good – usually it is too good.  I learned this the hard way once when a bad movie deal that I desperately wanted to believe in went horribly bad.  But we need to know it today in real life — which sports and the movies we watch are not.  Not nearly.  Not even close.

Oscar: The Family Guy?

cn_image.size.seth-macfarlane-oscars-ads

I’m a Seth MacFarlane fan.  But watching him inject Family Guy type humor into his live announcement of this year’s Oscar nominees reminded me of those great Spanish-style California houses that some idiot nouveau-riche person buys and insists on redecorating with sleek, incessantly modern furniture.  No matter how much money they spend or how stylishly they or their decorator try to pull it off, it never looks right.  It’s like the 30-year-old suit you try to reconstruct to today’s styles.  Or the too expensive sweater that never fit correctly that you’re hoping to repurpose.  Or Mick Jagger or Madonna in 2012.

I don’t know that I want to hear jokes about any female Oscar nominee pretending to be physically attracted to Harvey Weinstein before at least noon (or ever).  Nor do I think any of us cares about how Seth feels about getting up so early to tell these jokes on Oscar nomination morning (or any particular morning). All we really care about is – who has a chance to win and who didn’t make the cut – and not necessarily in that order.  Note:  See, I can be bitchy, too.  Second Note:  Seth is actually the first Oscar host to get up this early in 40 years to announce the nominees so, in reality, he could have slept in and nobody would have noticed.  Or complained.

My real Oscar feelings...

My real Oscar feelings…

One fears after giving way to a couple of more traditional Oscar ceremonies (or is it television shows?) we’re right back to an attempt at the younger, hipper Anne Hathaway/James Franco Oscars with the twist being both of their voices will emanate from the same person.  Well, they got a great voice guy so maybe this is indeed the plan.  In fact, wait – when you think about it McFarlane is sort of a combination of Hathaway and Franco.  He can unexpectedly sing yet he also says inappropriate things while smugly hanging back pretending he never really said or did anything at all.   Hmmm — at the very least this could save the Academy money.

As for the awards themselves, here’s the thing.  They mean nothing and yet, they mean everything.   The nothing explanation is the easiest:  the Oscars are basically not much more than a high school popularity contest judged mostly by senior faculty.  The film business is a big version of a small town election where the locals have their favorites yet are somewhat open to new kids in town because they know in their heart of hearts they should be – within reason.  Whose reason?  Well, the reasoning of the senior faculty.  Keyword here – senior.  Which is why you don’t see a best picture, director or writing nomination this year for The Master and why you do see lots of nods for Amour, Lincoln, The Silver Linings Playbook and Les Miserables (Yes, I know Les Miz’s director Tom Hooper didn’t get nominated but his nomination and very generous win for The King’s Speech several years ago has him covered for at least a decade, don’t you think?).

Oh, of course this is all a matter of opinion!  And mine is as good as any.  Besides, you don’t think there is some universal standard to measure all of this by, do you?

Which brings us to why the Oscars mean everything.  There are probably a realistic  .005% of people who make films who have ZERO desire to win an Academy Award.  The rest fall somewhere between “it would be nice” and “I have a knife, I know how to stab, now point me in the direction of the backs I need to clear out of my way in order to get on that stage.”  I’m not saying this is a quote from Harvey Weinstein and I’m not saying this isn’t a quote from Harvey Weinstein.  I’m just sayin’.

harvey_weinstein_talks_about_the_weinstein_Oscars_2012_nominations_the_artist_my_week_with_marilyn_the_undefeated_the_iron_lady

Don’t try and be cute, Harvey, we know the truth.

To say that Oscars are an iconic representation of excellence is, perhaps, to sell them a bit short.  Not that they are un-iconic and not that they don’t measure some degree of excellence.  But they are much, much more than that.  They are an imprint from childhood. They are a symbol of glitz and glamour. They are bragging rights to a club known round the world (and probably beyond if such a thing exists). They are a line in a bio that can’t be topped by any other recognition an industry has to offer (the Nobel Peace Prize – please!!!) and they are a guarantee that your obituary will not be ignored by any reputable newspaper for all of eternity (or for as long as newspapers exist, which might not be too long, so you’d better get to work and win one pretty soon if this is what floats your boat).

Sacred is probably too precious a term for the surprisingly heavy yet compact gold statuette.  Rarefied, perhaps?  Hmmm – definition please?

rar·e·fied

  1. (of air, esp that of high altitudes) Containing less oxygen than usual.

  2. Esoterically distant from the lives and concerns of ordinary people.  “rarefied rituals.”

A rare beast

A rare beast

Yeah, that’s about right.  Those that seek to make the Oscars over into the current or most popular of contemporary images or shows are missing the entire point of the whole thing.  At their best, the Oscars are not about young and hip –  they are about timeless and a bit untouchable.  That’s the entertainment value.  That’s the pull.  I mean, has no one at this year’s ceremony ever watched Dynasty, Dallas or even…Revenge?  Okay, perhaps there hasn’t been enough of the timelessness and untouchableness we all long for lately but to many of us (okay, me) that was always the intrigue and that was always the point.  You can do tweaks, you can be a tad self-deprecating.  But I don’t want to take my classy aunt to a kegger nor do I want to watch her reaction from the audience as she’s forced to watch the help try too hard to entertain her or, worse yet, try to incompetently to pull center stage from her.  Though if my aunt were as adept at double takes and sassy retorts as Maggie Smith (former Oscar winner) on Downton Abbey this might be well worth considering.

I don’t blame Seth for any of this.  He is who he is.  Plus, it’s tough to turn down Oscar when he knocks on your door – especially if you’ve NEVER dated him.  Remember – Marlon Brando had both won the best actor Oscar (for 1954’s On The Waterfront) and had attended the ceremonies before he sent up Sacheen Littlefeather onstage to publicly to refuse his second Oscar for The Godfather in 1973.

No, I think that what we all long for these days is a little bit of…dare I say it…okay….class?  Or is it…glamour?  Or maybe…24-karat gold fun?  This is not to be confused with snobbery or stuffiness.  We have any number of international royal families to choose from for that.  But just as I don’t expect anyone to stick a Whoopee Cushion on top of the Queen’s Throne at her Golden Jubilee, I similarly don’t expect to hear Austria/Germany Hitler jokes at the announcement of the Academy Award nominations from a trying-too-hard to be hip and groovy and edgy host. (Uh yeah, that joke is right after the announcement of the foreign film nominees).

Now, I don’t think that’s too much to ask —  do you?  Or, Do you?

Finally, you can’t do a blog on the Oscar nominations without going out on a limb and early predicting who or what will win some of the major awards.  So, for what it’s worth, here it is.   Note: As a lifetime Oscar watcher I know a lot but realize I am often wrong on waaay too many of these categories.  Still, will that stop me from sharing it with you?  As this year’s Oscar host might actually say from the stage at the actual ceremonies themselves (drinking game, anyone?), “hell to the no!”

Best Picture: Silver Linings Playbook

Best Director: Steven Spielberg, Lincoln

Best Actor: Daniel-Day Lewis, Lincoln

Best Actress: Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook

Best Supporting Actor: Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln

Best Supporting Actress:  Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables

Best Foreign Film: Amour

Best Adapted Screenplay: Tony Kushner, Lincoln

Best Original Screenplay: Michael Haneke, Amour

See you at online live-blogging the ceremonies.  Unless I am assassinated first.

Be Bold

... and daring.

Spice things up

I was talking to a very smart person the other day about getting noticed (okay, “making it”) in the entertainment industry.  Now let’s be clear – getting noticed is not the same thing as being successful and exceptionally talented.  And not getting noticed is certainly not the same as being unsuccessful and unexceptionally talented.  Everyone still with me?

American entertainment culture defines success among its artists with commercial allure and its rewards – how much money you make, how willing the powers-that-be are to pay you even more money or how many different ways everyone else is trying to seduce you towards them.   Since every endeavor has its real world measure I used to buy into this totally.  I mean, you need some sort of objective scale – why not how much you sell or even how well reviewed you are?  Or perhaps it’s even about how well aware certain audiences are of your talent?  The cliché saying of the cream always rises to the top  (meaning if you’re talented enough you will eventually break through, especially if you’re persistent and dedicated to the extreme) is generally accepted by the gatekeepers of most industries as the rule of thumb.  This is most particularly the case by entertainment industry standards and most certainly became the case, over the years, by yours truly.

The problem with this way of thinking is – well – it’s just a load of crap.  A street load full.  Actually, a whole city full.

quite literally, a load of crap

quite literally, a load of crap

A certain degree of talent is necessary but not necessarily immense talent.  Dedication helps a lot but if you’re a workhorse it doesn’t mean people more successful than you will all be working harder.  And, if you’re very talented and working very hard and still unsuccessful by the above definitions – it might not be so much about you but the time period of popular tastes that you were born into and how societal trends have coincided with what you do (unless you are crooner Michael Buble, of course). And how willing or able you are to capitalize on these trends.  Or how possible or impossible it is to even do the latter given your particular talent.

Here’s an example.  There are many wonderful writers of straight on drama nowadays who don’t work in films because those movies are way less popular in 2013.  Just as there are lots of middle-aged men who wrote comic books who never would have worked at the top levels of Hollywood in the 1950s, 60s or 70s but who nowadays are being paid a king’s ransom for telling stories that appeal primarily to the young boys (and some girls) that they once were, along with their parents and grandparents (who they now are).  Note:  A few of these even older guys (and they were primarily male) have actually lived long enough to see their financial fortunes shift in the movie business in a HUGE way.  Yes, I’m talking to you Stan Lee.

He's laughing because later he's going to swim a lap in his pool of money.

He’s laughing because later he’s going to swim a lap in his pool of money.

This is the way of the world of the “biz” and the world each of us in the “biz” has voluntarily chosen to live in.  But to believe it doesn’t exist is as foolish as believing that one shouldn’t try at all because talent, hard work, dedication and extreme perseverance doesn’t matter either.  It all matters.  A lot.  It’s just getting to the right combination of it for oneself – a combination to which there is no knowable formula known to humanity as it now stands.

Word.

Word.

That is why the only path to take is to be who you are as an artist and to do it in the boldest, most courageous way possible for you.  Don’t apologize for the work you do to anyone, most of all to yourself.  Yes, yourself.  Meaning – never, ever, ever hold back because you’re afraid you’re making you or your characters look bad  – or positioning the piece or yourself in a way that you think ensures people won’t like you or them.  Or that, heaven forbid, you will offend them.  Where you WANT to be is in the nervous area.  The part of you that is too exposed. The line at which people won’t like you.  The moment that you (or your creations) would like to take back.  Some writer – and I wish to God I could remember who but let’s just say it’s Aaron Sorkin because he’s the current fallback position for screen/TV writing guru – recently said in an interview that everything one writes or creates should have something in it that its creator is embarrassed they’ve revealed.  I think that’s true.  But what about whole pieces of work that could be judged embarrassing, or misfires, or dated, or just plain wrong-headed?  Am I saying that you should be unabashedly committed to those and risk it all on something that is likely to lose?

Um…..exactly.  Because let’s take a look at three very controversial and popular films and TV shows of the moment – Zero Dark Thirty, Django Unchained and “American Horror Story: Asylum” – and you’ll see that’s exactly what all three have done.

Wearing shades is the new "playing ugly" in Oscar bait.

Wearing shades is the new “playing ugly” in Oscar bait.

If you’re screenwriter Mark Boal and director Kathryn Bigelow, why do another Middle East War movie like Zero Dark Thirty when you’ve already hit the jackpot with similarly-themed Oscar winner The Hurt Locker?  And why do a story for Hollywood about the hunt for 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden, the most notorious modern villain in the world, without an ending where the bad guy dies?  Uh, bin Laden is dead, you say?  Well, not the whole time Boal and Bigelow conceived the movie, not when the script was finished, and not when the film was fully financed and ready to go into production.  In fact, it was announced Bin Laden was killed early in May 2011, just as ZDT was about to begin filming.  Which meant (listen up all writers and aspiring screenwriters) the film had to be substantially rewritten in order to accommodate an unanticipated real life ending.

As if this wasn’t enough, why risk government or studio censorship of a pet film project you’re on due to national security?  (Are you nuts?)  I mean, even if you get the story right, you could easily be sued for libel, get professionally discredited (and certainly IRS audited) or at the very worst, slowly water down your piece at various points before its release in order to ensure that it does finally even get a release.

All of these issues invariably came up for the filmmakers of Zero Dark Thirty. In fact, they were also called on the carpet by a group of U.S. Senators (thanks John McCain and Dianne Feinstein, among others) who claim ZDT’s depiction of CIA torture was false and perhaps irresponsible storytelling.  This was then followed by an announcement that the filmmakers’ CIA sources, which they have so far refused to specifically disclose, were themselves being investigated.

Now – step back and think clearly – you are the writer or the director and you love this project.  Will you expend whatever time, clout, money, talent and/or security you have at that point in time, before all this has happened, to something that will likely cause this much of a heap of trouble?

There is only one correct answer.  Yes.

Unhinged is more like it...

Unhinged is more like it…

Django Unchained is no less complicated, albeit in a different way.  We can pick apart Quentin Tarantino and his movies all we like, bellyache about how he has enough clout to get anything made that he wants, and argue that his movies are so outrageous and over-the-top that there is nothing he can’t do on film that won’t be expected and, in fact, accepted by his dedicated legion of loyal fans.

Hmmm, not sure I agree. There is a saturation point for just about everything and everyone and each filmmaker’s next film is potentially his or her greatest failure (have you seen Spielberg’s Hook, Alfred Hitchcock’s Family Plot or Billy Wilder’s Buddy, Buddy lately?).  Not to mention – how many white artists among us feel comfortable writing or being associated in any way shape or form with the “N” world in a film about African Americans (even though its set in the Civil War era) or want to risk our prized position at the top of the commercial heap by making a movie where it’s spoken more than 200 times?

Correct answer:  Quentin Tarantino and very, very, very few of the rest of us.  Which is what makes him Quentin Tarantino – the guy whose new movie fellow filmmaker Spike Lee has claimed is “disrespectful” to his (Spike’s) “ancestors” though Mr. Lee has no plans to even see it and judge for himself.  Well, okay then.

Dear... Lord....

Dear… Lord….

Television usually does not do bold and questionable taste very well but sometimes even the boob tube hits the piercing center of the tiniest of bulls eyes.  I was not going to belabor my love for FX’s “American Horror Story: Asylum” yet another week here for fear of boring my readers except for the fact that NOT belaboring it would contradict everything I’ve just written this week.  So – risking it all – let me tell you once again that this sick, twisted, hilariously dramatic, sometimes offensive, often times derivative and always nonsensically yet incredibly entertaining series never holds back.  And never more so than this past week.

In an episode entitled “The Name Game,” Jessica Lange’s deposed nun and former nightclub singer Sister Jude – the nastiest mistress of the nuttiest loony bin in the early 1960s, has now been stripped of her powers, become an unwilling patient committed to the asylum she used to rule with a collection of nasty wooden canes of all sizes, and has now just been given quadruple the amount of electro shock therapy she was scheduled for due to the hubris of her truly evil replacement – a younger nun possessed by none other than – yes you guessed it again – SATAN!!

Could it be....

Could it be….

After somehow emerging alive from all of the electricity, Judy (no longer Sister Jude) drags her beleaguered self back into the hospital’s recreation room where Lana, a fellow patient Judy at one point herself tortured, is shocked (no pun intended) at how Judy looks and what’s been done to her.  Fearful Judy is gone forever (or has turned into a cousin of another iconic Jessica Lange character, Frances Farmer), Lana approaches her former nemesis and simply asks:  “Do you know your name?

To which Ms. Lange’s Judy replies – or in actuality, sings – with her own version of the 1960s cult hit: “The Name Game” – well, a 2 minute 14 second remake of it with singing and dancing crazy people doing Hullaballoo type choreography.   Sound out there?  Crazy?  Ridiculous?  Campy?  Sick?  Twisted?  “Disrespectful?  “Sad?”  You bet it does.  And its exactly why the song has gone viral and “American Horror Story: Asylum” is the current cult TV hit of the new TV season and this week’s undisputed champion of “must see.”

Think about it.  Real hard.  But – watch this first.