OOOOHH BABY (DRIVER)!

Baby Driver is the sleeper box-office hit of the summer and a movie not without its charms.

It has pretty much redefined movie music for the future by creating a title character so enmeshed in what’s coming through his headphones that the song choices become not only an essential part of the narrative but, at times, the narrative itself.

It also creates a space for its lead, Ansel Elgort, to step forward and assume true movie star status – not merely in box-office dollars but in presence. It’s hard to imagine any other young actor with the charisma, dramatic heft and self-effacing charm to anchor the mind-boggling acts of passion going on around him done in the name of money, speed and most importantly, love.

Meanwhile… “What’s an Ansel Elgort?”

But chiefly, it arrives at a time where as a country – and world – we all need two hours of escape from reality through an imaginary city where, in the end, justice is served in an untraditional yet somewhat believable fashion given the context of what’s come before.

The latter is key in both a positive and negative way. For although Baby Driver delivers on so many levels it also falls short in several key departments – realism. And…realism.

Wait.. people aren’t this good looking in real life?

Of course, reality these days feels a bit unreal so perhaps that isn’t necessarily a fault. Unless, of course, one attends movies to see some reflection of life as one has experienced it, or even hopes to experience it.

It’s hard these days to be an audience member who prefers the more human musings of 2017 cinema like The Book of Henry and Dean. That statement in itself might feel oxymoronic since one of those films takes place in a pushed reality fantasy and the other follows the angsty life of a Brooklyn cartoonist whose drawings push the narrative at least one third of its 87 minute running time.

Still, neither of those films depends on relentless violence and over-the-top action sequences. Nor do their stories throw human logic out the window and halfway through turn into a Road Runner cartoon, a comic book or a horror fantasy.

Plus.. this Jon Hamm haircut #youareforgiven

I mention the last three examples because if one looks at movies in terms of box-office returns/deliverable profits it’s easy to see the issue with people like myself – those of us who wish Francois Truffaut were still alive and active on the film scene, or that at least Paul Thomas Anderson and Kimberly Pierce made more movies.

WWFTD?

Here are the top 10 top grossing 2017 films domestically:

  1. Beauty and the Beast – $503,940,432
  2. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – $384,949,006
  3. Wonder Woman – $361,591,191
  4. Logan – $226, 275, 826
  5. Fate of the Furious – $225,587,340
  6. The Lego Batman Movie – $175,750,384
  7. Get Out – $175,484,140
  8. The Boss Baby – $173,782,946
  9. Kong Skull Island – $168,052, 812
  10. Pirates of the Caribbean: Vol. 623 – $167,980,297

Oh, and the list is almost exactly the same for worldwide grosses, except Get Out and Pirates move down to the top 20 and Transformers: The Last Knight and Fifty Shades Darker move up from #15 and #14 to #9 and #10.

More like FIFTY SHADES MORE BORING #nochemistry  #snooooze

Not to mention — the worldwide box-office grosses for the top 10 range from $1,259,744,572 (that’s Billion, with a B), down to a measly $378.8 million.

Obviously realism, or as I call it in my more bitter moviegoer moods – basic logic – doesn’t count for very much anymore.

I can’t even go there

What is logical in a capitalistic society – especially in business – is profit. Money. Though the type of movies at the tops of the chart on the whole cost a lot more than the smaller ones down towards the bottom, their international markets and ancillary revenue streams have increased so much that studios need merely one or two massive tentpoles every few years in order to justify all of the other risks.

That is, if this is merely a numbers game.

… and some numbers are not so great #sorrytommy

Having begun my career as a bit of a reluctant box-office guru when I was a reporter at Daily Variety in 1979, I can’t help but feel disheartened. I started the weekly national box-office story at the paper then out of sheer confusion over the scattershot press releases we would receive about how “outstanding” every big film opening was doing.   Decades later it’s turned into pretty much almost anything anyone in the movie business – and that includes too many movie fans – thinks about. And in the case of most every decision maker at the studios, cares about.

Not to say it was not always mostly this way for the studio suits in the old days or recent past. But at least there was a bit more of a balance.

As evidenced by Feud’s Jack Warner #ohhediditagain #moneytalks

The Hurt Locker was released in June. Forrest Gump (not my fave, but still…) came out in July. Heck, even All the President’s Men first appeared in April.

Where are their 2017 equivalents?

Don’t write in with a list of foreign films, limited releases, bomb studio 2017 movies or tell me to stream Netflix, Amazon or _____________. I get it and I do. We’re talking Movies here.

That said, the new Spiderman (Homecoming) has soared past $100,000,000 domestically in its 3-day opening this weekend.

As John Oliver would say, “Good work, Spider Twerp”

That’s the sixth Spiderman film in 15 years even though this one is considered to be NEW – meaning it’s a SECOND reboot of the franchise with a new director and star.

I haven’t seen it yet but I do know when it comes to 2017 realities one could do a lot worse.

Though seriously, that’s a pretty lame excuse. Isn’t it?

Boga – “Nowhere to Run”

Truth! Justice! and the American Way?

As a very little boy I remember watching black and white Superman reruns on syndicated TV where each week a booming male voice announced over the credits that a muscly hunk in tights would fight for truth, justice and the American way.

Like many little boys I became obsessed with Superman, tied a towel around my neck and ran around the house imagining I could fly out the window and…

Just imagine a Judy Miller sketch #gilda4ever

Well, I’m not quite sure what I wanted to do. Certainly, it wasn’t to fight – for justice or anything else. It was more about the journey, the outfit and the power of a muscly hunk via the deep male voice.

Feel free to fill in the rest of the blanks about me from there if you haven’t already – or if indeed there are any. But don’t for a moment imagine for one millisecond the vast array of the rest of us are much different than the slightly fey mini-me.

Don’t hate me ’cause you ain’t me!

In the last year America has clearly chosen fantasy, muscular masculinity over truth. Time will tell whether in the end we will indeed choose justice or instead continue running around our homes in imagined worlds where we truly believe items like towels and TV dialogue will guide us to a better world.

And don’t forget those nosy, listening microwaves!

A pop culture shift in the last week signals a scintilla of hope. Wonder Woman has emerged as THE #1 movie blockbuster of 2017- marking not only the first breakout FEMALE MOVIE superhero but the first time a female director (Patty Jenkins) is at the helm of a major studio tentpole film achieving blockbuster status.

At more than $200 million domestically and $350 million worldwide (in less than two weeks), Ms. Jenkins and her movie have broken a long-standing glass ceiling.

SLAY GIRL SLAY!

Six months ago Hillary Clinton’s campaign rented New York’s Javits Center hoping to literally demolish its glass ceiling in victory but instead found itself unimaginably conceding the following day to an inexperienced male who sold the trappings of masculinity in order to prove he could make America great again.

The electoral college public went for the salesmanship and words rather than deep-seated personal beliefs about us all being part of one fabric of world humanity that is united by doing all the good you can, for all the people you can, for as long as you can.

That message, and Stronger Together, were the key mantras of the Clinton campaign and are offshoots of the Methodist faith she was raised in. For the record, the real quote is:

“Do all the good you can, for all the people you can, in all the ways you can, as long as ever you can.’”

One could easily read the Methodist faith and the Clinton mantra into the psyche of Diana/Wonder Woman through not only the way she was raised by the other Amazonian women but by her guiding principles in every decision she makes and each action she takes.

When she finds herself enmeshed behind WWI’s western front and sees the years long death and suffering of the innocent villagers all around her she is appalled and can only simply and boldly ask Why isn’t anyone doing anything? 

Damn right!

Her cohorts argue quite forcefully that they need to ignore the carnage and keep going for the greater good of the big victory and to leave these people as simple casualties of war.   But that doesn’t fit her core principles so instead she climbs out of her foxhole, weaponizes her superpowers and smashes through enemy lines where, eventually, even her doubters aid her in vanquishing the enemy and saving this small, but in her eyes, more than worthy swath of townspeople.

In an even more climactic third act moment later on, when the notion is raised that mass humanity might not deserve to be saved, she has an even simpler retort:

It’s not about deserve, it’s about what you believe! And I believe in love. 

Cue my best Oprah empowerment ugly cry

Now see, taken out of context this might seem….well, conclude what you will, once again. No one ever accused comic books or movie superheroes of speaking Edward Albee-esque dialogue. Yet within the context of what we’re watching, it has all the best resonance of the Hillary campaign’s aspirational message and of Methodism.

  • We have an obligation to help each other – even strangers.
  • One always first errs on the side of love and compassion rather than indifference, hate and fear.
  • There is no greater good. There is only doing good. That will result in the greater good.

If this doesn’t sound Trumpian – well, it isn’t. It’s exactly the opposite

America’s unique place in the world has always been as an experimental, imperfect democracy. There is a reason why for centuries we’ve been lauded as a nation of immigrants where everything seems possible even if – in reality – it’s not.

In the actual world, one can’t achieve everything. But what is also true is that one will achieve nothing unless they believe what they’re trying to achieve is possible.

JUST KIDDING! REACH FOR THE STARS!

To have no overriding principle other than the betterment of one’s self or one’s immediate family to the detriment of all others is a recipe for perhaps temporary success but ultimate abject failure.

This is exactly the opposite message of Wonder Woman’s more compassionate one and that is why it is currently cleaning up at the global box-office and leaving all the naysaying, mummified macho men in the dust.

IF ONLY!

It is the 360-degree counter to Make America Great Again – which is fast being recognized as nothing more than a bloated, synthetic phantom cudgel through which to reject multiculturalism, the global community and social change.

Or, to put it in more movie specific terms we might all understand —

No superpower EVER emerges victorious unless they’re fighting for the greater good.

Think about it.

Florence + The Machine – “Kiss with a Fist”

Darlings in Dystopia

The first masterful piece of mass entertainment reflecting the Trump era is here and, strangely enough, it’s based on a novel from 32 years ago. Thanks Hulu, or more correctly, damn you, Hulu – for your new series The Handmaid’s Tale.

Set in a dystopian future where women have no rights and the country has undergone a cultural/religious revolution brought on by terrorism and perhaps limited (!) nuclear war, The Handmaid’s Tale is simultaneously riveting and extremely difficult to watch. Much like an accident. Or Sean Spicer’s daily White House press briefings when not given by Melissa McCarthy.

…and not nearly as delicious/campy/tragic/gorgeous as FX’s Feud #ohmamacita

Of course, to reduce the retelling of Margaret Atwood’s classic 1985 novel, which she wrote decades ago in Germany when the Berlin Wall was coming down, as merely an allegory for Trumpism would be selling it short. Not to mention it would be giving the Electoral College POTUS too much credit. (Note: The mere mention of his name is too much credit for me, but that’s another story, and not a particularly funny or readable one. So I will #resist the temptation).

The brilliance of Atwood’s story is that her dystopian world adapts to easily reflect the post-modern apocalyptic realities from any number of time periods in which we currently reside. Though perhaps this series just makes it look that way. More correctly, it’s probably a little bit of both.

Imagine a world where women are not in control of their reproductive rights or being gay is seen as “gender treachery” and appropriately punished.   Then revisit Trump’s sound bite at a town hall event with Republican voters in Wisconsin last year where he publicly stated that if abortion becomes illegal women should face “some form of punishment.

Or simply read about the well-documented death and torture of gay men now occurring in numerous “detention centers” in pro-Russia Chechnya.

Unless this is where you’d rather live #keepinitreal

In the Hulu/Atwood world of terrorism, contemporary women, who only hours before were annoyed that their Uber driver was late, now find all their digital imprints frozen and assets seized. It’s for their own safety, say the authorities. Terrorists. Nuclear war. Centralize power and control for PROTECTION.

When mass sterility (due to environmental poisoning) sets in only a few years later it’s not hard to see that the few females that are still somehow able to reproduce become a treasured governmental commodity. I mean, what price is the continuation of the WORLD, right?

Well.. don’t get ahead of yourself Ms. Knowles

The fact that this is a world now dominated primarily by wealthy WHITE men, helped along by a few female counterparts not quite as powerful as they are, is not really questioned. And the fact that it’s not really questioned by the masses is one of the few differences it has from the basic world order in 2017.

Right after the inauguration of Donald Trump 3.2 million people took to the streets in a march for women’s rights. Which in turn became a growing resistance to emerging authoritarian rule that promised to roll back the rights of numerous other minorities – of color, of race, of national origin, of sexual persuasion, you name it – by an authoritarian voted in by a PLURALITY of voters. The idea, to save the country going down the tubes by making it GREAT again, was not sitting particularly well with its masses.

Pretty much sums it up

So given what I saw as one of those 3.2 million masses marching back in January it was not too difficult, and more than a little scary, for me to make the leap this Hulu series asks. Especially since the three black hooded corpses of a priest, a doctor and a gay man hanging on ropes high from the walls of what used to be a former library were really only incidental backdrops. That’s how I often feel now as a gay man in Trump country and Trump logic.   An annoying incidental to the main story.

Which in some ways is a better place to be than enduring the indignities many females are facing in Trump America. Certainly, it’s better than what the lead women in the Hulu show were about to endure. Though even here I hate to sell the latter short.

We’re not in Stars Hollow anymore, Rory.

It’s hard to tell where any of this is going or whether fiction will for sure prove worse than fact. As a wise psychiatrist once told me, you can only operate from “what is.” And what we do know in the real world is that an estimated 13,000 women are now planning to run for office across the country and a group called Emerge America recently held training classes for 25 female Democratic candidates for Congress, state senate, city council, etc. in 18 states.

Their numbers are up 87% since the election, which seems reasonable. So do comments from the female candidates on a recent NBC news report where one admitted needing practice in the best ways to do things like “asking for money” and “connecting with voters.” Those skills don’t always come naturally for those not born into power positions. But what do they say – Necessity is the mother of invention? Actually, it was not they but the Greek philosopher Plato and yes, I had to look it up. (Note: And yes, he was a man, as far as we know. Which doesn’t make it any less true).

well, that too. #wink

As far as the series is concerned, I take some solace in the casting of Mad Men’s Elisabeth Moss in the key lead role of Offred/June, our birth machine/handmaid heroine. Watching Ms. Moss personify the slow empowerment of the 1960s woman as Mad Men’s Peggy Olson – who goes from mousy, intelligent and intimidated to smart, savvy and, yes, empowered, gave hope to many of us hopeless incidentals. And to any of us who have ever felt, or will feel this way.

How I will always remember you girl #peggyforever

It’s one of the best gifts a truly gifted actor can give us. So in the bleak but all too truly allegorical world of The Handmaid’s Tale we can’t help but feel safe in her hands.

One wishes the same could be said about the leading player, or players, in our 2017 reality.

 

The Chair’s Oscar Crystal Ball

screen-shot-2017-02-26-at-9-31-12-am

Full confession: I’m an average Oscar prognosticator. This means in some years I’m above 90% and in others it’s the 70% range.   This gives me a median grade of “B” – a mere average GPA where I grew up. And you wonder why I call myself The Chair.

Still, I feel particularly lucky this year because it seems inevitable that this is the year for my favorite film of 2016 – La La Land. Oh yeah, hiss and boo your own selves as Bette Midler once retorted to her audience in her priceless eighties comedy album Mud Will Be Flung Tonight (“and into the faces of some of your favorites”). And you wonder why I love Bette Midler.

Though perhaps you didn’t.

In any event, I will not allow my love of all things La La Land to influence my predictions. After all, there are pools to be won, money to be made and schadenfreude to be enjoyed post ceremonies – hopefully by me. Though it might be better to direct one’s anger at The Darth Vader of the White House (Note: So many to choose from there) rather than at a movie that only asks you to let go and allow yourself to be transported for a couple of hours. Translation to the haters: Stop being such a tight ass, Ingrid, it’s only a movie.

Okay, here goes:

Best Picture

best-film-large_trans_nvbqzqnjv4bq8euvkqiuseo94-dkmhkl1uqltfehhielir2mxtnzdxu

Arrival

Fences

Hacksaw Ridge

Hell or High Water

Hidden Figures

La La Land

Lion

Manchester by the Sea

Moonlight

WINNER: La La Land

Best is certainly a relative word and you won’t get any argument here that La La Land is certainly the least dramatic of the bunch. Which doesn’t make it the least timely or important. In the age of – well, the age we’re in – I often have to remind myself it all starts with a dream.

Lead Actor

gosling-affleck-mortensen-nominees-washington-academy-garfield_58c14872-e247-11e6-947f-9490afc24a59

Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea

Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge

Ryan Gosling, La La Land

Viggo Mortensen, Captain Fantastic

Denzel Washington, Fences

WINNER: Denzel Washington, Fences

It could certainly go to Casey Affleck as many are saying. But there is something about the way he breathed new life into such a difficult character, coupled with the unfortunate age we’re living in, that seems to make it Denzel Washington’s here. It also helps that he was the surprise winner of this year’s SAG trophy in that category, the single largest voting block in the Motion Picture Academy.

Lead Actress

129a159b7e1d404fc9a6ce27454fe27eb62115dad2c2f20d3c33c38650cf636a-770x443

Isabelle Huppert, Elle

Ruth Negga, Loving

Natalie Portman, Jackie

Emma Stone, La La Land

Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins

WINNER: Emma Stone, La La Land

She’s the heart and soul of the film. She puts a face on the enthusiasm and sadness and superficiality and disillusionment and triumph of a life lived in L.A.   Yes, that’s a compliment. And she sings just fine.   Watch how she does the Academy nominated song Audition again. And then, hiss and boo your own selves.

Supporting Actor

No contest.

No contest.

Mahershala Ali, Moonlight

Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water

Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea

Dev Patel, Lion

Michael Shannon, Nocturnal Animals

WINNER: Mahershala Ali, Moonlight

I turned to my husband when Ali was onscreen and said this guy is the most real actor I have ever seen. He deserves an Oscar for this. And who the hell is he??? It’s not that the other performances weren’t great in their own ways. It’ s just if there has to be a best, he’s it and the majority of the Academy will be smart enough to know it.

Supporting Actress:

NO ONE cries as good as Viola. NO. ONE. #allthefeels

NO ONE cries as good as Viola. NO. ONE. #allthefeels

Viola Davis, Fences

Naomie Harris, Moonlight

Nicole Kidman, Lion

Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures

Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea

WINNER: Viola Davis, Fences

Let’s not spend a lot of time on this. She’s won all the other honors and EVERYONE wants to hear her speech. ‘Enuf said.

Best Director:

Phenom?

Phenom?

Damien Chazelle, La La Land

Mel Gibson, Hacksaw Ridge

Barry Jenkins, Moonlight

Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea

Denis Villeneuve, Arrival

WINNER: Damien Chazelle, La La Land

There are so many reasons Damien Chazelle deserves to win this award whether his film is your cuppa or not. Imagine making a love letter to Los Angeles that is adored around the world ($250,000,000 plus worldwide gross and counting). Consider the chances of getting exactly the right chemistry in what is essentially a two-person film and then creating enough visual imagery to not only compliment them and the story but also dazzle us without breaking the fourth wall of our dreams? Then add to it that he’s only 32 years old and was already nominated once in this category for Whiplash. And several weeks ago won in this category for La La Land. You’re still not convinced? ….Bitter, table for one….

Animated Feature:

Sly fox

Sly fox

Kubo and the Two Strings, Travis Knight and Arianne Sutner

Moana, John Musker, Ron Clements and Osnat Shurer

My Life as a Zucchini, Claude Barras and Max Karli

The Red Turtle, Michael Dudok de Wit and Toshio Suzuki

Zootopia, Byron Howard, Rich Moore and Clark Spencer

WINNER: Zootopia

This year is all about marginalization on a MASSIVE scale. So it’s Zooptopia all the way. Not to mention, using animals make it easier for us to think about such things are less outwardly political and therefore more than acceptable as the winner in the animation category.

 Adapted Screenplay

Get the engraver ready

Get the engraver ready

Eric Heisserer, Arrival

August Wilson, Fences

Allison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi, Hidden Figures

Luke Davies, Lion

Barry Jenkins; Story by Tarell Alvin McCraney, Moonlight

WINNER: Barry Jenkins; Story by Tarell Alvin McCraney, Moonlight

The most unusual and innovative script in the category and the Academy WANTS to honor a film so unlikely to emerge into the national consciousness.  There will be tumultuous applause for this win – and deservedly so. The deceptive simplicity in the storytelling is the movie’s principle strength.

Original Screenplay

The writing in this scene alone. #ohboy #willdestroyyou

The writing in this scene alone. #ohboy #willdestroyyou

Mike Mills, 20th Century Women

Taylor Sheridan, Hell or High Water

Damien Chazelle, La La Land

Yorgos Lanthimos, Efthimis Filippou, The Lobster

Kenneth Longergan, Manchester by the Sea

WINNER: Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea

This is tricky but it’s doubtful the Academy will send something so sadly powerful and original home without something. That said, a significant group loves Hell or High Water and there could be a La La Land sweep. In the end, however, Manchester is exactly the type of movie industry voters go for in terms of writing. 

Cinematography

Meet you on the pier in 5 minutes. #Ryguy

Meet you on the pier in 5 minutes. #Ryguy

Bradford Young, Arrival

Linus Sandgren, La La Land

Greig Fraser, Lion

James Laxton, Moonlight

Rodrigo Prieto, Silence

WINNER: Linus Sandgren, La La Land

It will come down to a race between Arrival and La La Land. Both brought you into brilliantly invented and compelling visual landscapes. But how do you vote against floating into the sky in the Griffith Park Observatory?

Best Documentary Feature

This time with less Sarah Paulson.

This time with less Sarah Paulson.

13th, Ava DuVernay, Spencer Averick and Howard Barish

Fire at Sea, Gianfranco Rosi and Donatella Palermo

I Am Not Your Negro, Raoul Peck, Remi Grellety and Hebert Peck

Life, Animated, Roger Ross Williams and Julie Goldman

O.J.: Made in America, Ezra Edelman and Caroline Waterlow

WINNER: O.J.: Made in America, Ezra Edelman and Caroline Waterlow

It’s not so much about O.J. but telling the story of race in America through his life. I really resisted being in the guy’s presence for nine hours more but there is a reason this work has been so lauded and why after a few minutes you can’t take your eyes away from the Shakespearean tragedy of it all.

Best Documentary Short Subject

Powerful stuff

Powerful stuff

4.1 Miles, Daphne Matziaraki

Extremis, Dan Krauss

Joe’s Violin, Kahane Cooperman and Raphaela Neihausen

Watani: My Homeland, Marcel Mettelsiefen and Stephen Ellis

The White Helmets, Orlando von Einsiedel and Joanna Natasegara

WINNER: The White Helmets, Orlando von Einsiedel and Joanna Natasegara

Any other year the sentiments in Joe’s Violin, which manages to give us a story about Holocaust remembrance we’ve never seen before, would win out. But given the currently charged political NOW, the shocking tragedies of Syrian genocide won’t and shouldn’t be ignored.

Best Live Action Short Film

The official pool killing category

The official pool killing category

Ennemis Interieurs, Selim Azzazi

La Femme et le TGV, Timo von Gunten and Giacun Caduff

Silent Nights, Aske Bang and Kim Magnusson

Sing, Kristof Deak and Anna Udvardy

Timecode, Juanjo Gimenez

WINNER: Ennemis Interieurs, Selim Azzazi

Immigration, fascism, France and the next anticipated sweep of white nationalism. This should be the winner unless voters use this one category to opt out for the more fanciful Timecode and the bullying themes of Sing. Yes, I saw all five of these. Don’t act so surprised.

Best Animated Short

Pixar does it again

Pixar does it again

Blind Vaysha, Theodore Ushev

Borrowed Time, Andrew Coats and Lou Hamou-Lhadj

Pear Cider and Cigarettes, Robert Valley and Cara Speller

Pearl, Patrick Osborne

Piper, Alan Barillaro and Marc Sondheimer

WINNER: Piper, Alan Barillaro and Marc Sondheimer

After numerous recent losses in this category it’s Pixar’s year. And I seldom bet against some of the best storytellers in the biz. Yeah, you read that right.

Best Foreign Language Film

2017-oscars-official-foreign-language-film-list-neruda-salesman-toni-erdmann-land-of-mine-elle

A Man Called Ove, Sweden

Land of Mine, Denmark

Tanna, Australia

The Salesman, Iran

Toni Erdmann, Germany

WINNER: The Salesman, Iran

An excellent group that makes you wish there were more American movies that tackled this many diverse and difficult subjects. But the real life attempt of the current White House to question the freedom of people like the Iranian director of The Salesman – Asghar Farhadi – to visit the US will push him over the top. That said, I LOVED A Man Called Ove. So go see that one too.

Film Editing

le sigh

le sigh

Joe Walker, Arrival

John Gilbert, Hacksaw Ridge

Jake Roberts, Hell or High Water

Tom Cross, La La Land

Nat Sanders and Joi McMillon, Moonlight

WINNER: Tom Cross, La La Land

How the guy managed to put together the disparate tones of La La Land together and have it make any sense at all, much less be so continuously charming in its telling of the ultimate seamless dream, is just one of many reasons. Don’t vote against it despite the upset others may be predicting.

Production Design

They call me mellow yellow

They call me mellow yellow

Patrice Vermette, Paul Hotte, Arrival

Stuart Craig, Anna Pinnock, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Jess Gonchor, Nancy Haigh, Hail, Caesar!

David Wasco, Sandy Reynolds-Wasco, La La Land

Guy Hendrix Dyas, Gene Serdena, Passengers

WINNER: David Wasco, Sandy Reynolds-Wasco, La La Land

If it were just the designers voting it might be Passengers or Arrival. But it takes equal if not more talent to make L.A. dreamy, superficial AND yet seductively believable – at least to us masses.

Original Score:

Mica Levi, Jackie

Justin Hurwitz, La La Land

Dustin O’Halloran and Hauschka, Lion

Nicholas Britell, Moonlight

Thomas Newman, Passengers

WINNER: Justin Hurwitz, La La Land

Score means music and it’s a MUSICAL that is going to be the best picture of 2016. So don’t argue on this one.

Original Song

“Audition (The Fools Who Dream),” La La Land — Music by Justin Hurwitz; Lyric by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul

“Can’t Stop the Feeling,” Trolls— Music and Lyric by Justin Timberlake, Max Martin and Karl Johan Schuster

“City of Stars,” La La Land — Music by Justin Hurwitz; Lyric by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul

“The Empty Chair,” Jim: The James Foley Story — Music and Lyric by J. Ralph and Sting

“How Far I’ll Go,” Moana — Music and Lyric by Lin-Manuel Miranda

WINNER: “City of Stars,” La La Land, Justin Hurwitz, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul.

Everyone wants Lin-Manuel to win his EGOT and he will – but not this year. The soundtrack to La La Land has been playing continuously in my car for the last two months and I listen to it at the gym. So maybe I’m not the one to ask in this category. Or perhaps I am. And yes, they can sing. It’s called ACT(s)ING.

Makeup and Hair

I'll bet on the Jennifer Lawrence alien one

I’ll bet on the Jennifer Lawrence alien one

A Man Called Ove, Eva von Bahr and Love Larson

Star Trek Beyond, Joel Harlow and Richard Alonzo

Suicide Squad, Alessandro Bertolazzi, Giorgio Gregorini and Christopher Nelson

WINNER: Star Trek Beyond, Joel Harlow and Richard Alonzo,

I have NO idea but everyone says Star Trek so let’s go with that.

Costume Design

Get it girls!

Get it girls!

Allied, Joanna Johnston

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Colleen Atwood

Florence Foster Jenkins, Consolata Boyle

Jackie, Madeline Fontaine

La La Land, Mary Zophre

WINNER: La La Land, Mary Zophre

I want Ryan Gosling’s wardrobe. Or perhaps it’s just Ryan Gosling. And Emma Stone managed to look luminous without emanating fake glamour. It was dreamy and real all at once. Can these guys design something for me and my best girlfriend HUSBAND when we film our romantic fantasy?

Visual Effects

A pretty safe bet

A pretty safe bet

Deepwater Horizon, Craig Hammack, Jason Snell, Jason Billington and Burt Dalton

Doctor Strange, Stephane Ceretti, Richard Bluff, Vincent Cirelli and Paul Corbould

The Jungle Book, Robert Legato, Adam Valdez, Andrew R. Jones and Dan Lemmon

Kubo and the Two Strings, Steve Emerson, Oliver Jones, Brian McLean and Brad Schiff

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, John Knoll, Mohen Leo, Hal Hickel and Neil Corbould

WINNER: The Jungle Book, Stephane Ceretti, Richard Bluff, Vincent Cirelli and Paul Corbould,

Not a clue because I didn’t see any of them but EVERYONE says The Jungle Book.

Sound Editing

In lieu of anything Mel Gibson related, here's a fine pic of Jon Hamm

In lieu of anything Mel Gibson related, here’s a fine pic of Jon Hamm

Arrival, Sylvain Bellemare

Deep Water Horizon, Wylie Stateman and Renee Tondelli

Hacksaw Ridge, Robert Mackenzie and Andy Wright

La La Land, Ai-Ling Lee and Mildred Iatrou Morgan

Sully, Alan Robert Murray and Bub Asman

WINNER: Hacksaw Ridge, Robert Mackenzie and Andy Wright 

I know little about sound editing and will never see another Mel Gibson movie again so don’t trust me here. But war movies are hard to beat in this category and all the smart money says that the anti-war, war film makes you feel like you’re there.

I wouldn’t know.

Sound Mixing

Play me a song, Piano Man

Play me a song, Piano Man

Arrival, Bernard Gariepy Strobl and Claude La Haye

Hacksaw Ridge, Kevin O’Connell, Andy Wright, Robert Mackenzie and Peter Grace

La La Land, Andy Nelson, Ai-Ling Lee and Steve A. Morrow

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, David Parker, Christopher Scarabosio and Stuart Wilson

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, Gary Summers, Jeffrey J. Haboush and Mac Ruth, Greg P. Russell (read about that scandal here)

WINNER: La La Land, Andy Nelson, Ai-Ling Lee and Steve A. Morrow

Because nothing is music to the ears of the most people than the sound of La La Land and the ovations it will receive on Oscar night. There, I said it. Again.

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?