The Film of 2016

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More than half the country’s voters (by 2.8 million and counting) are bemoaning the year 2016 and can’t wait for it to come to an end. Certainly, I am one of them. I mean, not only did a lunatic become president-elect but Florence Henderson died. One wonders – how much worse can it get???

OH C'MON! #effthisyear

OH C’MON! #effthisyear

And yet, this year did offer one very significant piece of filmic art. A work that provides a road map for our futures and could possibly inspire generations to come.

It is the most important film of the year.

And just might be the most significant motion picture of the next four years.

A movie that thinkers and dreamers will return to time and again as we forage our way through the hell of our futures —

6z33f0

Wait a minute…

This is not to say it is the best film of the year. I will leave that for others to determine. It is not even to say that it will be in your top 10. Perhaps you don’t like musicals. Maybe you hate L.A. Or perhaps (and maybe) you have no patience for the dreamers among us. Certainly, that attitude is popular these days. Lord knows what it will be in two, three or twelve months from now.

oh hey 2017!

oh hey 2017!

Still, there is a timely importance to La La Land whether it’s to your taste or not. Whether you love it, hate it, or if it wins any Oscars or Razzies at all.

La La Land offers a road map on how to proceed. It shows us methods to cope. And it eventually delivers a desirable if not bittersweet future which, given the current circumstances of our real lives, is a terribly tempting reality for which to strive for in the next 48 months. And awfully clever for a fantasy film.

No, I am not overstating this. And note: there will be no spoilers here.

You can trust the chair #kisskiss

You can trust the chair #kisskiss

Granted, as a show biz aspirant who arrived in Hollywood decades ago with my own version of stars in my eyes, perhaps I’m a bit partial. But I don’t think so. What’s the old adage – “everyone has two businesses, their business and show business?”

You don’t think that’s true? Go back to your hometown anywhere in the U.S. and, despite how they voted, see what happens when you tell them you work in film or television.

#lifegoals

#lifegoals

The plot isn’t much. A guy and a gal in their twenties each trying to make a big dream in their lives come true in a world that keeps saying:

No, not on my watch. What you want is impossible and you don’t have the karma or smarts or talent to bring off what you choose to do.

Being young and in their twenties – and yes, looking like Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling (Note: Remember this is a metaphor & okay maybe he’s in his thirties but who cares), they keep fighting. And failing. And failing yet again. Then they figure out other ways to get their dreams that seem like they’ll work but sadly, do not.

Along the way they find each other and that’s nice.

But something still doesn’t feel quite right. They are not living up to who they are and what they believe deep down in their souls. And if you can’t do that, well, it’ll only be a matter of time before everything else in your life and world will turn to shit. (Okay, I’m inserting my own philosophies here but that’s their general point. Or, well, at least mine here).

Bonus points: You do still get to look like this #hellloooryan

Bonus points: You do still get to look like this #hellloooryan

In any event, what these dreamers believe in more than anything is that acting on their core beliefs – nee using their true talents – will not only benefit them but in some small way can bring some relief to other people’s lives. If only just for a few random moments. And what this story proposes to us is that when one of them (or us) gives up, the other one forces them to go on. And when the other one of them (or us) gives up, the other one of…Well, you get the picture.

More than the power of positive thinking it’s the mutual power of faith and hope in each other that is really what La La Land is about.   Of what can be achieved when you fulfill what you know is right, and how you can be helped along on this road even when you begin to doubt yourself.   Okay, I’m beginning to have déjà vu right about now re:the whole faith and hope thing, but even still, that doesn’t mean this way of thinking is wrong.

We're with you girl

We’re with you girl

Survival means imagining against all odds and acting on it.

Dreaming the big (or small) dream and doing something about it.

Proceeding when others say no and call you names and threaten to do a lot worse to you.

And then do a lot worse. And A LOT more than that.

In order to counteract what’s coming we ALL need INSPIRATION from everywhere. What popular culture can do is produce art that INSPIRES us to fight. Or to continue the fight. Or simply just be and act on WHO WE ARE continuously and to maximum effect.

... EVERYBODY NOW!

… EVERYBODY NOW!

Naysayers can make you cry, infuriate you, and make you want to beat the crap out of them or yourself. But only you can decide when THEY win. THEY don’t get to marginalize you – only you can do that to you. If this sounds a little precious – well, maybe. So is the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, The Constitution and The Gettysburg Address when you read them. And we all should read them, again or for the first time, sometime.  And then perhaps get a copy of the text of Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream” speech and critique that for purple prose. But not before we take in the true meaning behind those words.

One of the screenwriting books I use for teaching says a good movie is like “a seamless dream.” Well, that’s about as great a description as I’ve ever heard.   And makes it even important to remember that without dreams we wouldn’t have innovation. Or innovators – aka – the people who change things.

Now i just have to work on waking up in full hair and make up #cinderellawho

Now i just have to work on waking up in full hair and make up #cinderellawho

Not everyone can inspire or change stuff on a massive scale. But any number of us working together to support each other’s dreams and/or innovation – yes, it just may take a village – can do so. And if you doubt that, right about now you might want to remember that Steve Jobs’ estranged father was a Syrian refugee.

There are real life heroes and movie heroes. None of them are flawless and none of them do it alone.

See you in the trenches. And in our dreams.

The World According to Affleck

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I never take A FILM BY credit. Film is a collaborative medium. And I’ve gotten enough attention.

Ben Affleck said this last line without irony, his head looking slightly away from the packed audience at the Writers Guild Theatre who had come to see his latest movie, Live By Night.   After which this group of about 400 writers and their friends broke into a spontaneous round of applause.

It’s hard to overemphasize just how difficult it is to get a bunch of writers anywhere, but especially in Hollywood and at a screening at the WGA, to spontaneously applaud for anything these days. Except perhaps the public stoning of Donald J. Trump in downtown Beverly Hills, and preferably in the window of Neiman-Marcus, if we are making wish lists or I am making personal orders.

... that and of course, for all the children of the world to join hands and sing together in the spirit of harmony and peace

… that and of course, for all the children of the world to join hands and sing together in the spirit of harmony and peace

Still, there we all were praising a guy who had just made a film we all saw that he had not only starred in but directed, co-produced…and this is the real kicker for this crowd…actually served as sole screenwriter. I mean seriously, how much more devaluing do we have to all endure and whom the “f” does he think he is???

Well, as it turns out, Hollywood writers are not as bitter of a group as you might imagine, which is not to say we’re un-bitter; and as a whole we don’t begrudge certain people the mega power to further their careers once they’ve succeeded far beyond most, which is not to say we’re thrilled for them daily. What writers, and most people in the world respect, is honesty, hard work and a brutal sense of recognition that no one, most especially those at the top, could ever begin to do it all alone.

Now, whether Ben is like that one-on-one, I have no idea. Truth be told, I have been fooled by star actors – and a couple of times one-on-one – a handful of times before. After all acting, nee pretending, is what they do really well and get paid to do really well. But in this case, I just don’t think so. Nor did a room full of my peers, more than a few of whom are far more cynical than I, if you can believe that’s possible. Which I assure you, it is.

Pretty... Pretty Much

Pretty… Pretty Much  #WGA

Live By Night is a sort of The Godfather meets Bonnie and Clyde meets a Hollywood gangster movie from the 30s or 40s starring Edward G. Robinson. It’s based on a book by Dennis Lehane and has many charms, most especially a convincing sense of period and the kind of attention to story and character detail one used to see in studio movies of the 1970s but seldom, if ever, sees anymore. None of this is to say it’s a perfect film – even Affleck himself notes that is a short list in his mind that starts with Citizen Kane, as predictable as he admits it sounds. And leans to movies like Lawrence of Arabia, The Godfather II and Jean Renoir’s Rules of the Game.

Still, what is most impressive about Night is how prescient it is in reflecting our current social and political climate through the lens of what is essentially a genre movie about gangsters in the 1920s and 30s. Once you get past the requisite vintage machine gun/shoot ‘em up vintage car chases and character arc set ups, the guts of the film is really about immigration and racism – and America’s ongoing blame game towards people who don’t fit what they (i.e. the majority of Americans) imagine to be its most preferable and vintage paradigm – white, churchgoing, God-fearing and, Lord knows, beyond reproach pure – by all outward appearances, that is.

as pure as this cream three-piece suit

as pure as this cream three-piece suit

It doesn’t matter how you win or what you do behind closed doors if you fit this ideal. In fact, you can don a white robe and burn crosses – as some do – or you can have indiscriminate sex, lie and cheat your way into political position, and double/triple deal with the powers-that-be to maintain your status. Just don’t make the mistake of being Black or Brown-shaded. Or Italian or Irish – which is White but not American. Or gay, which is unspeakable. Or Jewish, which goes without saying.

No doubt, Mr. Affleck will be receiving a lot of credit once the film opens in NY and L.A. on Christmas Day and then across the country in January for his foresight into what looks to be the WHITEST Christmas contemporary America has seen in decades, climate change notwithstanding. But as he readily admits, nothing could be further from the truth.

Take a seat grinchy

Don’t get ahead of yourself, Grinchy boy.

After winning the Best Picture Oscar for Warner Bros.’ Argo, he pretty much had his pick to do anything he wanted with anyone he wanted (Note: Take that in any and every context you like). But at a time when we were at the height of Barack Obama’s presidency, he decided to choose a period novel about immigrants because “America is a place of immigrants and…a patchwork of immigrant goals.” And it was a subject that constantly and consistently intrigued him (Note: And you wonder why we liberal elite applauded).

Of course, it was exactly that theme that troubled others about the commerciality of the project. Do we do a period movie about themes that we have pretty much dealt with over the decades? Eh. Well, Ben did just win the Oscar, he’s starring, he’s made some good films. Oh, and wait – he’s agreed to be Batman!!! Okay, I made up that last conversation and have no idea whether it was a quid pro quo for him to do Warner Bros’ Batman v Superman in exchange for the green light on this one.   Still, even if there wasn’t — there is an implied mutual reciprocity in the business of show. You do one for me in my corner and I’ll give you one for you in your corner.

Thinking about storyboarding Live By Night

Tortured soul… or thinking about storyboarding Live By Night? #letsbereal

Come to think of it, that’s no so different than the way it is in the real world (which show biz, isn’t) and in the upper echelons of our old, and certainly new government (which many of us kind of wish wasn’t real but sadly, most certainly is).

Yes, everyone’s been saying how timely this all is now but not at the time we were doing it. We didn’t know…I didn’t vote for Trump but I do know a few people in my life who did and I’m trying to understand them. – B.A.

That makes Ben a much better man than I am at the moment. I’m not saying I won’t eventually get there but I’m not even close to it yet. For what I believe at the moment is that I really do understand a lot of Trump voters – the anger, the eagerness to blame those “different” for your loss of money, power and perceived “station” in the world. I can’t help but comprehend and I currently hesitate to deny that ugliness because as a gay Jew who went to an integrated school in a big American integrated city with kids who were Black, Brown and yellow-skinned, and multi-ethnic white in origin, I’ve seen and experienced it all countless times before – and at a very young age.   What’s so shocking and insidious to me is that it so fervently continues now – and that it will be a Hollywood gangster movie set in the 1920s and 30s that is the first widely released film in 2017 to address it in any kind of mass commercial artistic way.

This is Us

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One of the most popular shows of the new television season is This Is Us, a series that follows three generations of an American family back and forth in time. Though it primarily focuses on three grown “triplets” in their thirties, the hallmark of the story is that it flows easily through the decades as if they are continuous scenes on our screens – much the way we surf everyday on our desktops to follow variations of the same news story or subject matter. The latter is purposeful and is a large part of what makes This Is Us so timely and relatable.

This is... a hit

This is… a hit

The focus of the show is about being seen and heard. The brilliant African American kid from drug addicted parents who was adopted but never quite fits in; the fat girl who grows up into an obese women and has trouble letting people see the real her beneath what they view of her exterior, assuming they’d ever care to; and the hot TV actor who was once the least noticed in the bunch who now hides behind his looks and success because he can’t face the pain of always knowing that inside he really is and always was second rate. And these are just the triplets!

This is Us echoes a popular show from my past, thirtysomething, which pulled off a similar feat in the 80s but with the focus on a contemporary group of friends of a certain age who had indeed become each other’s family. However, while This Is Us moves constantly through past and present, thirtysomething dwelled primarily in the present with only occasional echoes of the past.

There was a limit to how willing we were to look backwards for answers in the “Greed is Good” eighties. These days, perhaps presciently, This Is Usfocus is on searching the past in desperate hope for answers about who we are today. Each psychological and actual crisis seems to rest in a series of past incidents – though after seven episodes they provide mostly brief insights and few satisfactory answers or solutions to changing actual behaviors. Perhaps it will go more fully down that road as it continues and takes notes from network execs. But right now, its characters seem to be desperately exploring. They know they’ve suddenly woken up in crisis and are willing to do almost anything to either NOT feel the pain or to somehow begin to forge a new way in which to live on.

You... You're good! #seewhatyoudidthere

You… You’re good! #seewhatyoudidthere

Perhaps some of you might see where I’m going with this. Though I’ll bet half of you don’t… which could be my fault but is probably indicative of the fact that I dwell in deep blue state America. Did you think you’d get a break from it all here? Rest assured there will be little escape for at least the next two four years. Though we’re probably not headed in the direction that you think. In either place.

The Electoral College election of Donald Trump and Mike Pence to President and Vice-President – despite the fact that they will have lost the popular vote by close to TWO MILLION people by the time the final tallies are counted – is currently wreaking havoc on the American family. Yet how we see our present via our past seem to greatly differ, depending on what side of the ideological fence we stand on.

Let’s take the example of what happened when Mike Pence attended the Friday night performance of the hit Broadway musical Hamilton in New York City, a deep blue state renowned for its multi-ethnic population, some of whom work in what is renowned as its sexually diverse theatre community (Note: Meaning, there are a ton of us gays employed on Broadway, and 99.999% of the straights are among our staunchest allies).

...said no one

SURPRISE! …said no one

If you haven’t heard, upon entrance to the theatre, the veepee elect was spontaneously booed among small bits of applause. Sort of like what would happen in an alternative universe if president elect Hillary wandered into a Chick Fill A in Mississippi a week after voting ended.

We've been down this road before #stopandsmellthechicken

We’ve been down this road before #stopandsmellthechicken

Being that Hamilton specifically tells the story of an IMMIGRANT’s rise in American history it is unsurprising the audience cheered at various pro-references to immigration nor is it shocking that upon Mr. VP’s re-entrance to the theatre in the second act a specific line about just how much we immigrants (Note: Yes, my grandparents came from Russia, Poland and Hungary – though not all of them – some were killed by the Nazis) can accomplish if given the chance drew thunderous applause.

That was seemingly about it until after the curtain call, when one of the lead actors read a statement (partially written by Hamilton creator-turned-cultural-icon Lin-Manuel Miranda) as the audience filed out. It read exactly thus:

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To which that night our 2016 President Elect who will lose the popular vote by TWO MILLION (Note: It’s sort of like an asterisk to a home run record), sent out TWO THREE TWEETS via Twitter. They read exactly thus:

So much for the land of dissent – at least in theory. As for practice, well, that’s still up in the air until AFTER January 20th.

But let’s not stray too much from the subject at hand, which would be looking back at our lives and our families in order to provide information, insights and answers about who we are, how we can heal and in what fashion we will move on.

Since Make America Great Again is THE SLOGAN that won Trump-Pence the electoral college vote, many non-T/P voters found themselves recoiling from their anti-immigrant, often racist, sexist and xenophobic campaign rhetoric; their embrace by white nationalists; and rallies where hysteria to Lock Her Up (Yes, you know which “her”) was the war call of both supporters and candidate.

The thinking:

Wait, aren’t we mostly a nation of people who mostly came from other countries? Wasn’t civil rights for Blacks and other non-whites a given, at least on paper, after a checkered racial history culminating with eight years of our first Black president? Isn’t a large part of what makes America great the fact that we don’t en masse scream for the incarceration of an individual until they are proven guilty, or at least until they have been formally charged with a crime?

No friends, THIS is us. #dontleave

No friends, THIS is us. #dontleave

On the same, token, numerous T/P voters and supporters clearly don’t feel great. The discernible issues cited seem to be not enough jobs in the white working class, our country’s benchmark welcoming policy towards immigrants in an age of global terrorism and a general disgust with the status quo in Washington, DC, but more particularly with the liberal coastal elites.

Wait, you fixed the economy for yourself but not us; you don’t care that many of our American factories closed; we were attacked by non-whites on 9/11 and you’ve never faced it; our government is going bankrupt and all you want to do is spend, spend, spend??? Well, there are no free rides anymore, buster (and busterettes).

All of these issues, every one of them, are valid issues for a family to discuss. And what is our country, or any country, after all, if not a family of people???

Just don't bring this up to Aunt Nan at Thanksgiving #shestouchy

Just don’t bring this up to Aunt Nan at Thanksgiving #shestouchy

The question to be answered is how do we, as a family, settle our real differences? Do we look back into our past – one that included slavery, a Civil War, the fight for women to simply VOTE, two World Wars and any number of others, our coming together as a people and landing on the moon, our rise to becoming one of the most financially and socially admired places on Earth? All of the above?

Meaning, What are the PRINCIPLES and ACTIONS that actually made AMERICA GREAT? And if you don’t believe we ARE great, which clearly the majority of the Electoral College voters do not, HOW DO WE BECOME GREAT AGAIN?

If past is prologue it won’t be about limiting freedoms, closing borders, or judging people by their personalities and lifestyle choices. On either side. At least, that’s what our newest, most beloved television characters are beginning to realize. (Note: Thanks, NBC!)

On the other hand, real life America is certainly not lived in via the reality of ONE hit television series, is it?   Or…is it?

The Emmy Blues

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So much TV, so little time. Except when you have too much time to extol the virtues of TV. Ha! As if the producers were attempting to show us or even talk about great TV.

Actually, I’m not quite sure what it was. A way to trend on social media and grab the “young people?” Not so much. The best line of the night was Larry David explaining how he dates, admitting he’s grown tired of saying to women, as a way of pretending he’s interested, tell me more about your niece. I wonder if Emmy has nephews. Not that I’d ever ask, or even pretend to.

LOL

LOL

Of course, there was also the moment when host Jimmy Kimmel’s faux arch nemesis Matt Damon came out eating an apple after Kimmel and his show lost for best something or other, and proceeded to rake him over the coals for three minutes. Kimmel took it like a champ and then slyly retorted: Thanks, Jason Boring.

Okay, I thought it was funny. But trendy or trending –- not so much. Again.

I don’t blame the host, who seems likeable, nice and game. And he’s certainly an improvement over Andy Samberg or the time I attended a few years back when we had the reality star trifecta-plus hosting skills of Heidi Klum, Jeff Probst, Tom Bergeron and god knows who else. Now that was quite an evening. Or three.

Ahem, ME! #SeacrestOut

Ahem, ME! #SeacrestOut

How do you do a show about the best that’s on television and not show one clip of what’s ON television? Check that, the In Memoriam segment did show two or three-second moments of recently deceased stars with nothing but the sound of Tori Kelly singing Hallelujah – one of the greatest and most misused songs ever consistently sung on awards shows. But what chance did it have? Henry Winkler started the segment pre-song extolling the many virtues of the wonderful and wonderfully talented, recently deceased king of perennial 80s comedy, Garry Marshall (Note: Okay, 70s, whatever) and we didn’t get a snippet of the Fonz, Laverne and Shirley or even Richie Cunningham.

That would have had a much better chance of favorably trending than the bit where therealJeb!Bush pretends he’s Kimmel’s limo driver and admonishes him for being…oh, who the heck remembers anything Jeb ever says anyway?

This really happened #NoTipfromChair #Ubernightmare

This really happened #NoTipfromChair #Ubernightmare

Point being there was a time when audiences got to celebrate the work of the honored actors, creators, directors and writers by actually watching clip packages of the real work being honored. This would seem even more necessary these days when absolutely NO ONE can possibly watch the entirety of more than 50% of ANYTHING that is being honored. That is, unless they themselves are a DVR and the networks are now going for the eyeballs of machines.

Speaking of the BIG FOUR networks – which thus far have been the ONLY hosts of the Emmy awards show in history – could they be the culprit? Well, perhaps. For why would they want to give free clip service to sub networks, streaming services and basic/pay cable channels like HBO, Amazon, Netflix, BBC America, USA, FX and PBS? Isn’t it enough that HBO’s Game of Thrones and Veep won best drama and comedy series? Or that Sherlock won best television movie? Or that American Crime Story’s The People vs. O.J. Simpson took best limited series? Yeah, FX is a subsid of Fox but, let’s face it, it’s not part of the big 4 profile – and certainly not the Big 3. Why give them any more of the free publicity they’re already getting??

Marcia, Marcia, Marcia #nuffsaid

Marcia, Marcia, Marcia #nuffsaid

Everything in the entertainment industry is one part a business decision and another part creative decision. But are they ever EQUAL parts? Well, certainly not very…often? One is usually in the dominant position but if the other one is dragged along to success with that strategy kicking and screaming, at the end of the day everyone’s happy. Or claims to be.

You want to know the awards the (formerly) major networks won Sunday night? Well, NBC was the big victor with two – one for The Voice in the best reality show category and the other for the brilliant Kate McKinnon as best supporting actress in a comedy series for Saturday Night Live. Fox made the cut for best direction of a variety special for Grease Live and Regina King was awarded supporting actress for her work on ABC’s innovative American Crime. As for CBS, anyone? Bueller???

Not so fast CBS! Even Janney walked away empty handed.

Not so fast CBS! Even Janney walked away empty handed.

This doesn’t say much for any of the Big 4’s regular prime time, non-reality schedules, does it? And perhaps that is the root of the problem. For anyone under 30 ( and perhaps even 40) there is no regular prime-time schedule. There is little appointment television anymore and when there is it has to be great, or unusual or at least timely. That’s what award shows honor and that is why there’s been a reversal of big network dominance. Most of their schedules cater to very little of that.

Was anyone asking for this? #deepthoughts #NBC

Was anyone asking for this? #deepthoughts #NBC #CominginDecember

It is also interesting to note that the night’s two most deserved and surprising winners were Rami Malek for USA Network’s Mr. Robot and Tatiana Maslany on BBC America’s Orphan Black for best dramatic actor and actress. Both do unusual, almost superhuman work and both play extremely troubled and disaffected people under 30.   They anchor two of the most current and trendy shows on television – neither of which would ever have a chance of getting on the air solely through the American Network Big 4.

YES YES YES YES YES #CloneClub #FSociety

YES YES YES YES YES #CloneClub #FSociety

This brings us full circle back to the mix between creativity and business. After all, it is the entertainment industry or show biz.

The problem with the Emmy awards is no longer what’s on TV today but who’s showing what on TV today. And for what reason. And for whom? You can almost hear the collective sighs of the Big 4 honchos every time one of the major award winners was read. Followed by grumbling, disgust, denial, anger, depression and fear.   But what they really need to do is get to the final stage – acceptance. It would make their shows, and certainly the Emmy awards show, a lot higher rated. And certainly more entertaining.

But what do I – an inveterate fan of Mr. Robot, Orphan Black and a host of many other nominees and winners, know? I’m only the audience.

 

I’m Just a Broadway Baby

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There is a lot being written about television and movies these days. Did you know this is the golden age of TV? It’s true and if I hear myself or anyone else say it one more time I’m gonna puke. This is because there are so many TV series and special programming events that it has all become inconsumable in any reasonable amount of time to keep up without spoilers from social media and well-meaning friends.

But like cmon Chair, don't you want to know who Barb is? #poorbarb #leggomyeggo

But like cmon Chair, don’t you want to know who Barb is? #poorbarb #leggomyeggo

As for films – there IS time to see all the great ones every year but not enough of us are willing to leave our homes to do so. Though when we do we’re usually happy we did. Except often it’s equally satisfying to wait and experience them on your own time. Or borrow someone else’s screeners. (Or, eventually, their Netflix password.) Be honest.

I'll get to you Alicia and Michael #alreadyweeping

I’ll get to you Alicia and Michael #alreadyweeping

THEATRE, however, requires movement, thought and the ability to leave your home or tablet and actually be somewhere else to watch something on someone else’s time. It also requires you to pay more and be plopped into an even larger room of people you don’t know. But when you do, and it works, there is nothing like it. The immediacy. The danger of something going horribly wrong – or wonderfully right. In fact, on stage they can sometimes be one in the same. And as an audience member you are guaranteed that exact moment you’ve just witnessed will never happen in that very same way ANYWHERE else again. Ever. And you thought you didn’t have the chance to experience anything unique or special anymore.

I’ve been fortunate to have a very short weekend in NYC this Labor Day holiday where the significant spouse and I managed to squeeze in FOUR Broadway shows in less than 48 hours. Yes, you read that right. That’s what you do on a yearly trip here. Or any trip here for that matter (Note: Don’t write in about museums, restaurants, concerts and friends). And even if you can’t get to NYC to do it, every one of these four shows will be doing multi-city national tours within the next year. So you MUST go see at least one of them, no matter what your mood and finances are. (Note: There are BIG discount tickets available everywhere – check online).

LOL Discounts!

LOL Discounts!

WHY you may ask?

Because experiencing a work of art live with others will make you feel less alone. Because at least one of the four will speak to you in a significant way. And because, for a very short time, you will be part of something larger than yourself. Of course, you (we) always are. But it’s so easy to deny that in everyday life. Am I saying theatre is like religion?   Uh, no, not all. It’s be(tt..)… Right, okay, let’s not go there.

Instead – here are this weekend’s BIG FOUR. No, Tony award-darling, hottest ticket in town Hamilton is not among them because we weren’t going to fork over the $500-$1000 per ticket the scalpers were asking. Yes, 99% of my friends tell me it’s brilliantly done. But guess what – it’s not the only game in town on Broadway. Or in your town. And besides, it will eventually play there too in the next year or so.

FUN HOME

Come to the Fun Home!

Come to the Fun Home!

This is a memory musical piece played in-the-round and as told by the fictional version of cartoonist Allison Bechdel. She was the author brave enough to some years ago write an acclaimed graphic novel of the same name that recounted the story of her coming out as a lesbian along with the story of her closeted gay father and his eventual suicide. If that sounds depressing – or an impossible subject for a musical – it is neither. Quite the opposite and then some. This is yet another reason why one has to – sometimes – leave one’s house.

Alison Bechdel... Also creator of the Bechdel test (google it)

Alison Bechdel… creator of the Bechdel test (google it)

The creative team of Fun Home have recreated a seemingly bizarre family coming-of -age tale that they have somehow made universal and..well… mainstream. As I wrote to a friend, who is a friend of the author – because I just couldn’t contain myself – every moment seemed to land exactly right. The loneliness and isolation we all feel from time to time growing up; the inability to understand the drama happening right under your nose; searching years later as an adult (or even worse as an adult writer) for a way to piece together moments of your past that no one else wants to remember or claims they can remember; coming out to the world fully as yourself – whether you are gay or straight; and somehow taking all of these experiences and moving on with your life – or, if you’re a writer, trying to make your life into art.

Of course, this description sells the show terribly short. Let’s just say, I’m Changing My Major to Joan. Which you will understand immediately after you see it.

Rating: Five Rainbow Flags

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THE COLOR PURPLE

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Yes, the musical was first on Broadway 11 years ago. And it was in 1982 that Alice Walker’s seminal book was first published. Not to mention Steven Spielberg directed a movie version in 1985 that’s been on TV nine zillion times.

You know... the one with Oprah

You know… the one with this lady

Which is the very reason to buy tickets to THIS Broadway production or see it on its inevitable tour. The story has never quite been told this way. The walls of the set are merely walls lined with chairs that are the show’s primary props – along with lighting and fabric. These are among the only few physical objects that retell the abuse, emergence and, sure, triumphant moments of ONE young Black woman born into what seems like the most impossibly awful circumstances in the post, post-Civil War South.

Yet to watch Cynthia Erivo emerge as a full fledged Broadway star playing the aforementioned woman (aka Miss Celie) or enjoy the gospel singing and acting chops of Heather Headley and the rest of the cast is not the point, thrilling as it may be. What is overwhelming is the simplicity of spirit and execution here that infuses the show with an electricity that allows it to become a bit larger than the life it explores. Actually, quite a lot larger – which is what happens when a big Broadway musical is done exactly right.

Rating: Five Chairs

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THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHTTIME

The Curious Incident of the Night-Time UK Tour

 Do you want to see a play about an autistic British teenager who is investigating the murder of a dead dog who you see on stage for the first five minutes of the play – a kid who almost never stops talking and occasionally screams a lot? Oh yeah, you do. You REALLY, REALLY do.

You won't regret it Liz

You won’t regret it Liz

Producers like turning award-winning books into all kinds of films, TV shows and sometimes even plays. But how do you take the internal, seemingly locked, limited world of this boy and make it even vaguely visual, logical or somewhat…interesting (?)…. to the very average minds of all the rest of us?

Brilliant directing, acting and writing helps. But that’s not enough. The conception of the entire piece might not have been possible a few decades ago before technology allowed us to see things on the stage and large/small screens that we had never seen before. Computer-generated effects of all kinds have taken us into worlds we couldn’t have imagined. Still, someone has to imagine those worlds. A machine can’t do that itself – yet – and it only helped do it here. A whole group of other artists created a universe that the writer wrote, the teenager experienced and the tech people facilitate. Now THAT’S progress. You’ll understand when you go out and see it for yourself. And then you will only begin to understand just how strange and unaverage the world we all live in really is to an outsider.

Rating: Five PIs.

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AN AMERICAN IN PARIS

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Have you ever watched an MGM movie musical and longed for it to come to life before your eyes? No really – you get to see the dancing, the singing, the colors, the costumes and the sentiment – or lack of it – as if it’s been pinched from out of a revival house, memorabilia store or perfectly etched museum-grade postcard.

The Broadway and future touring productions of An American In Paris is nothing more or less than that. Yes, adult men and women can indeed do ballet, jazz and Broadway moves while they belt out Gershwin songs in REAL (as opposed to reel) TIME. There are no five, six, seven or eight takes – or cuts between scenes – or close-ups with glam lighting the way they did it in the old days. I kept asking myself, why aren’t these people sweating and panting? How do you hit a note or not miss a cue when you are clearly not Gene Kelly or Leslie Caron and don’t have the luxury of NOT being compared to them??

Who is??

Who is??

No, this is not the cast of the film. Nor do they pretend to be. (Note: Okay, maybe a little). Still, it’s not nostalgia so much as it’s a live action REinterpretation of a time long gone. It is escapist, sure – but sometimes, well…don’t you want to NOT think about yourself or The Orange Clown for at least three hours?

Cause it’ll cost you (and US) a lot more to stay inside and keep thinking those same dismal thoughts in the long run – you can trust me on that.

Rating: Three Baguettes  (yum)

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Twenty First Century Films

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Movies aren’t what they used to be.

This is the GOLDEN AGE OF TELEVISION!

Movies suck.

What did you binge watch lately?

There is NOTHING to see at the movie theatre!

Can I borrow your Netflix password?

Movies, in general, have taken a critical bashing as of late and it’s not entirely unwarranted. Let’s face it, the Suits are drunk with sequels and superheroes and don’t really give a hoot what makes sense or doesn’t if it can deliver millions of bodies in potential theme park rides, sequels, spin-offs and merchandise.

Oh how the mighty have fallen #TeamJen #Argowho?

Oh how the mighty have fallen #TeamJen #Argowho?

Films have taken on the business school lingo of a precious asset – a property that exists not solely for its financial value at the theatrical box-office or, heaven forbid, its creative content. Rather, they are seen in most of the top towers and executive suites as a commodity to be leveraged into many, many smaller and larger off-springs –much like a Triple Crown winning horse that is put out for gelding after it serves the greater good.

That’s fine. For them. But it’s not the entire story of 21st century film.

Quite randomly last week I came upon a new list put out by the BBC. NO, DON’T STOP READING! This list actually applies to you – the moviegoer. Or more broadly, the movie fan. Instead of surveying critics and audiences to compile a list of the 100 greatest movies of all-time, or some such subset that would spotlight drama, comedy, action or presumably, even porn or snuff films in the future, they tried something novel. (Note: No, not an actual novel, as in reading – we all know no one does THAT anymore).

Why read when you can see Emily Blunt in the movie version? #duh

Why read when you can see Emily Blunt in the movie version? #duh

Yes, the Brits had the tenacity to compile a list that I, Mr. Movie Fan, had never seen before. That would be the top 100 films of the 21st CENTURY.

Huh? What is that – a list of 10, or maybe 20 movies, most of which none of us have ever seen before? Or want to see? No, surprisingly not at all.

Okay, technically the list is of 102 films and it does stem from 2000-2016 which means the first year it charts is technically not a part of the 21st century – which began in 2001 (Note: Apparently 2000 was an irresistible film year one couldn’t turn away from). But who really cares? The point is, this is a very narrow period where 177 film critics from every country in the world (Note: Antarctica was the exception, which brings up the whole question of climate change and access we don’t want to get into) actually agreed there were 100 plus movies, many of them AMERICAN, that are actually worth watching, remembering and…wait for it…HONORING.

Believe it Olivia.

Believe it Olivia.

In case you are wondering – no, there is not a sequel in the bunch.

In case you are further wondering – yes, there is exactly ONE superhero film in the bunch and you probably have already rightly guessed which one is indeed The ONE. (HINT: Uh no, it’s not The Matrix. Plus, Neo is not really a superhero and anyway, he first appeared in 1999. As for the 2003 sequels – well, let’s not go there).

Which is the pill that helps me take a nap?

Which is the pill that helps me take a nap?

What this list reminds us of is that – WAIT, there are lots of movies I’ve enjoyed in the last 15 (okay 16) years. Sure there are too many clunkers, or cynically made assets. But maybe, just maybe it’s worth forgetting the Netflix password every once in a while and instead go out to an actual theatre before the art form, as we know it, dies altogether. Or worse yet – becomes solely a corporatized asset.

Please be good. Please be good. Please be good. #clingingtohope #heygirl #lalaland

Please be good. Please be good. Please be good. #clingingtohope #heygirl #lalaland

A complete list will be shared below but how about just the top six right here?

  1. Mulholland Drive (2001, David Lynch)
  2. In The Mood for Love (2000, Wong-Kar-wai)
  3. There Will Be Blood (2007, Paul Thomas-Anderson)
  4. Spirited Away (2001, Hayao Miyazaki)
  5. Boyhood (2014, Richard Linklater)
  6. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004, Michel Gondry and written by CHARLIE freaking KAUFMAN, OKAY?)

All of them original, beautifully made and meaningful. Are they my top six or your top six? Perhaps not. But they are inarguably as good as many of the classic movies from decades before.

Added bonus: This phrase being added to our world.

Added bonus: This phrase being added to our world.

Certainly, any LIST inherently has its head-scratchers and personal duds and this one is clearly among them. Notice I stopped at six because #7 is Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life, which you couldn’t pay me enough money to endure five minutes of ever again. Perhaps this confirms the long held belief that I am a philistine, but that is not the point. We all have our personal Trees. And in fact, I’d pay to watch other glorious Malick films such as Badlands and Days of Heaven over and over if you didn’t bring up the subject of #7 ever again.

That dinosaur sequence though. #neverforget

That dinosaur sequence though. #neverforget

As for some others The Coen Brothers’ No Country For Old Men and Inside Llewyn Davis ranked #10 and #11 respectively. David Fincher’s Zodiac was #12 and Alfonso Cuaron’s brilliant Children of Men was #13.

 You want less, well, pretentious? (Your word, not mine). Pan’s Labyrinth was #17, Mad Max: Fury Road was #19, The Social Network was #27, and Wall-E was #29.

Favorites of mine like CHARLIE freakin’ KAUFMAN’s Synecdoche was #20, while Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation was #22, Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master was #24, Christopher Nolan’s Memento was #25 and Pedro Almodovar’s Talk To Her came in at #28.

Let’s also give separate credit to The Dark Knight at #33 because, well, think of the odds against the whole thing working the way it did when there was merely a blank page and no real concept but a history of…ASSET. 

See Ben, this is how it’s done.

See Ben, this is how it’s done.

As I continued down the list I came across any number of films (40, in all) I hadn’t seen, some I really didn’t care for (Okay, I admit it – I’m too old for Wes Anderson) but others I had forgotten had come out in the not so distant past. Of the latter how about: Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, City of God, Brokeback Mountain, Melancholia, Moulin Rouge, Inglorious Bastards, The Great Beauty, The Hurt Locker, Her, Amelie, The Pianist, Ratatouille, Finding Nemo, Spotlight (Note: I have a very short memory) and Requiem for A Dream.

What pleased me most about this list is that it coincided with the first week of the fall screenwriting class I teach.  The list of top 100 films on everyone’s mind are usually the 1, 2, 3 classic movie punch of Citizen Kane, The Godfather and Casablanca. Certainly, these are all great, timeless movies – as are many of the others on that usual classics list.   But for young people – as well as for some of the rest of us – consistently remembering these as the best of what the big screen has to offer can’t help but feel a little depressing at some point. Because it evokes a golden age that is long gone and, very likely, will never return.

Le sigh.

Le sigh.

This is why the BBC did Americans and moviegoers worldwide – not to mention the future of film – a great service by compiling this new grouping of films. Perhaps it doesn’t evoke a new golden age (though maybe it does) but it does prove the movies are alive and well and can be for some time to come. Though only if we get out our pods and mosey on down via our people mover of choice to check some of them out. Judging by the newly motivated faces on some of my students perusing the list, this will continue to happen in the near future. But at the very least, we could give them a little help.

Hollywood’s Super Bowl: The Chair’s Predictions

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There is something about trying to predict Oscar winners that feels so comforting in 2016.   It’s just that way with meaningless obsessions, especially when they have to do with Hollywood.   Though if that feels bothersome, you could also consider it practical education.  If we all must live in a contemporary world that is patently unfair, what better way to prepare yourself to subvert the power structure than to try and predict its thinking. Consider it a large, life-coping global board game with movie stars.

Let's do this!

Let’s do this!

That being said, here are the Chair’s annual thoughts on who WILL and WILL NOT take home the Gold on Sunday night. Use it as a guide on what TO choose and what NOT to choose. Or simply check back so you can dish Chair-y as much as you dish the Awards show itself. (Note: We will provide our usual post mortem evaluation of both the show and our own psychic abilities).

BEST PICTURE

I'll leave you to your imagination....

There hasn’t been a best picture race in many years when opinion and likely results have been so divided. It reminds me of 1982 when, as a young reporter covering the Oscars, I watched the so-called experts with their mouths hanging open in the pressroom backstage the moment the unlikely Chariots of Fire was announced the winner over the two heavy favorites – On Golden Pond and Reds.

That’s what I think will happen this year. Most prognosticators believe the race is between Spotlight and The Revenant with the latter getting a slight, surging edge. However, unscientific though it may be, I have not talked to one industry friend who believes The Revenant is the best picture of the year or will vote for it. As for Spotlight, it would probably get my vote for its walloping simplicity and for making an endless distillation of facts appear to be dramatic. Yet strangely too few industryites feel excited about the film even though all seem to agree it’s quite well made.

The movie many find the most original and timely is The Big Short. Even if it still didn’t entirely decipher all the intricacies of how the American financial system collapsed in the prior decade it came pretty close. Plus, it’s the subject on everyone’s mind in an election year and the filmmakers’ clever breaking of the fourth wall in an attempt to entertain us in order to explain the unexplainable will in the end prove to be irresistible to voters. Of course, I could be wrong. Much like the meltdown of the American financial system that has happened before and will no doubt happen again. Still —

WINNER: The Big Short

ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE

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Does anyone believe Leonardo DiCaprio will not finally win his first Oscar for The Revenant? But as a student of mine wisely commented this week, doesn’t the fact that he really was in physical pain and danger mean that he didn’t have to do as much as an actor? As opposed to Michael Fassbender who actually had to become Steve Jobs, a man we all knew that never had to wrestle with a tiger? Point taken. However, in the Oscar tradition of sweat, drool, handicap, weight loss and rolling around in the mud acting —

WINNER: Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant

ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE

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Room received four Oscar nominations and its sole win will be for Brie Larson in this category. Her raw, heartbreaking performance held the film together along with the work done by her 9-year-old co-star Jacob Tremblay, who deserves lifetime use of the personal hash tag #OscarsSoOld for being totally overlooked in the supporting actor category. But back to Ms. Larson. No offense to the other ladies but it’s no contest. Besides, she was totally overlooked once before in 2013 for her superb work in Short Term 12.

WINNER: Brie Larson, Room

ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

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Yes, Sylvester Stallone can really act! That’s all you keep hearing anytime this category is mentioned. But did you all think he really WAS Rocky? Okay, don’t answer – I get it. The industry likes nothing more than to finally have a valid reason to reward one of the last of its old-fashioned movie stars who also created one of its most enduring film franchises of the 20th century.

WINNER: Sylvester Stallone, Creed

ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

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I would so like Jennifer Jason Leigh to win for her bizarrely funny and twisted turn as unapologetic robber/captive Daisy Domergue in H8 – and not only to make up for the fact that she was never nominated for her brilliant turn as a soul-sucking, relentlessly aspiring rock singer in 1995’s Georgia. (Note: Yes, I hold grudges). But it won’t happen. The Academy gave all the films in this category multiple nominations but it’s Alicia Vikander in a squeak. Imagine the difficulty of stealing a movie away from a man who is playing one of the first transgender females in medical history? Yet somehow she did it without showing off. Not to mention, she did equal if not superior work this year as the star robot/replicant/human(?) in Ex-Machina.

WINNER: Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl

ANIMATED FEATURE FILM

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Do NOT bet against a well-reviewed Pixar film in an Oscar pool. And starring the overeager character voiced by Amy Poehler? Where she gets to learn a well-earned lesson? Seriously.

BRB, watching this for an hour

BRB, watching this for an hour

WINNER: Inside Out

DIRECTING

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Why was it initially so difficult for observers to believe that Alejandro G. Inarritu would win best director for the second year in a row for The Revanant? Well, because we Americans tend to go for the bright shiny object rather than the one we’ve been playing with for a year. Others point to history. The only ones to manage it two consecutive times were John Ford for Grapes of Wrath (1939) and How Green Was My Valley (1940), and Joseph L. Mankiewicz with A Letter to Three Wives (1949) and All About Eve (1950). (Note: Not to mention, Mr. M. also won the screenwriting trophy in both those years). More recently, Oliver Stone was named best director for both Platoon (1990) and Born on the Fourth Of July (1992).

So accept it. It’s Inarritu in a walk over the other four, all of whom are equally deserving. Still, if it only weren’t for that bear…

WINNER: Alejandro G. Inarritu, The Revenant

WRITING (ADAPTED SCREENPLAY)

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This is one of the few sure things. For making Wall Street rules, regulations and hubris almost understandable and actually funny —

WINNER: Charles Randolph and Adam McKay, The Big Short

WRITING (ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY)

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Tough category but at the end of the day making a visual and exciting screenplay about the research and writing of a story where mental, rather than physical bombs explode, has the highest degree of difficulty. The writers of Spotlight did this masterfully. I just wrote a period screenplay about a journalist uncovering a web of unrelenting corruption. Trust me, they deserve it.

WINNER: Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy, Spotlight

CINEMATOGRAPHY

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The vistas, the animals, the dream sequences, the forces of nature!! How did they do it??? And what about how cold it was??? No, were not speaking about The Hateful Eight or the magic surrealism (at least in my mind) of Mad Max. You’re just going to have to grin and bear it. (Note: I had to)

WINNER: Emmanuel Lubezki, The Revenant

COSTUME DESIGN

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There’s a lot of divided opinion on this. Do you go with pretty, gritty or flitty? In a field with a lot of glamour that will likely cancel each other out, let’s go with originality that’s also gritty.

WINNER: Jenny Bevan, Mad Max: Fury Road

DOCUMENTARY (FEATURE)

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Not much debate on this one for me. There are many worthy issues these films tackle. But Amy Winehouse was a once in a generation talent. Her music is sad, happy, incisive and makes you feel and think. This portrait of her life does the same. It’s not for the faint of heart and often quite troubling. Which is why it deserves to win and will win. Watch the film, listen to her records and then search YouTube (start here). You’ll be surprised at the treasures you’ll unearth.

WINNER: Amy

Miss you girl

Miss you girl

DOCUMENTARY (SHORT SUBJECT)

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A perennial tiebreaker in the Oscar pool. I don’t know and neither do you. From what I hear from people who have seen them all Body Team 12, which follows a team collecting the dead at the height of the Ebola outbreak, has a slight edge. But the others deal with the Holocaust, genocide against women, kids and Agent Orange, Syrians, and family loyalties in the face of murder. Take your pick.

WINNER: Body Team 12, David Darg and Bryn Mooser

FILM EDITING

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This award often goes to the best picture winner so logic dictates it should be either The Revenant, Spotlight or The Big Short. Which is why I’m going with Mad Max. It’s an illogical year – everywhere. Not to mention, can you imagine editing Mad Max and coming up with anything coherent – much less artful?

WINNER: Margaret Sixel, Mad Max: Fury Road

FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

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Don’t bet against the Holocaust when you’re Oscar predicting. Especially when the film is as lauded as this one.

WINNER: Son of Saul (Hungary)

MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING

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No one is going to get an award for creating all that slop around Leo’s beard. Better to reward the people who painted the dark streaks below and above Charlize’s eyes. Not to mention that haircut!

WINNER: Lesley Vanderwalt, Elka Wardega and Damian Martin, Mad Max: Fury Road

I surrender!

I surrender!

MUSIC (ORIGINAL SCORE)

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Ennio Morricone is 87 years old and actually scored all those Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns from the sixties everyone has been copying for years. And he’s NEVER won an Oscar. Are you kidding? #itstime

WINNER, Ennio Morricone, The Hateful Eight

MUSIC (ORIGINAL SONG)

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Personally, I’d go with “Simple Song #3,” since it’s the perfectly fulfilling climactic moment of Youth – the mysterious song that’s referred to all through the film that ultimately delivers. But at this point the surge of support seems to be more for the Warren-Gaga tune that tries to encapsulate feelings evoked around the all too prevalent epidemic of sexual abuse towards women.

WINNER: “Til It Happens to You,” Diane Warren and Lady Gaga, The Hunting Ground

PRODUCTION DESIGN

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The Revenant didn’t feel designed so much as simply shot. Or is that its strength? Because you and I both know the 1800s west does not actually exist anymore anywhere in this world. But no matter. To create an alternate universe from nothing takes…the Oscar. I think.

WINNER: Colin Gibson, Lisa Thompson, Mad Max: Fury Road

SOUND EDITING

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No one likes having to predict this category because as you get older your hearing starts to go and you’re never really sure what the heck you’re listening to. On the other hand, you can still recognize sounds. And on that basis, is there anything to compete with the insanity in Mad Max: Fury Road? Um…no.

Winner: Mark Magini, David White, Mad Max: Fury Road

SOUND MIXING

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I don’t know about you but the many sounds in The Revenant confused me, and not in a good way. Where was he and how did he manage any of it – it didn’t sound good, did it? Star Wars sounded like it always does, which is certainly good, though not great. Bridge and Martian were both a nice mix of movie stuff. But once again, Mad Max – what the heck was that??? It sounded soooo good. Yes, it did confuse me, but in a very gooood way.

WINNER: Chris Jenkins, Gregg Rudloff and Ben Osmo, Mad Max: Fury Road

 VISUAL EFFECTS

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The movies have become a visual effects feast. Which I’m not sure is a good thing but that’s off point. Star Wars is going to win something and this is the category. The series has pushed industry special effects to the forefront. Is that worthy of an award or condemnation? Again, the subject of another discussion.

WINNER: Roger Guyett, Patrick Tubach, Neal Scanlan and Chris Corbould, Star Wars: The Force Awakens

…AND THE ULTIMATE TIE BREAKERS:

Or as we like to call it – no one TRULY knows anything so take your pick.

SHORT FILM (ANIMATED)

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I have NO idea!!! Some say World of Tomorrow, which gives a little girl a tour of her future; others predict Sanjay’s Super Team, the imaginings of a young Indian boy of Hindu gods as superheroes. The latter seems like the right kind of invention for this category. Though the key word is seems…

WINNER: Sanjay’s Super Team

SHORT FILM (LIVE ACTION)

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Nearly every expert I’ve researched has picked Ave Maria, which is about five nuns and their routine in the West Bank being interrupted when an Israeli family moves in. Sounds timely to me but this is pure conjecture. Younger people seem to favor Shok, which centers on the friendship between two boys during the Kosovo War. As my gambler Dad says of the odds in situations like these – pick ‘em!

WINNER: Ave Maria

Want to download the Chair’s full predictions? Click the photo below!

chair ballot

Don’t miss a beat with the Chair as he tweets his way through the Oscars — and laments on his own predictions. And check back for a full recap!

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