Pre Oscar Buzz

The Oscars will be held this coming weekend and it’s time for some random observations.

#1 – CHRIS ROCK AND THE WILL SMITH OSCAR SLAP ONE YEAR LATER

Well, we finally got our complete response from Chris Rock and it did not disappoint.

It was broadcast Saturday night on his live Netflix comedy special, Selective Outrage.

If you did not tune in, just know the entire set is great – smart, candid and brilliantly written and delivered.  

But most importantly, it’s really funny.

Oh he did not hold back

Nevertheless, it was the last 10 minutes that viewers will most remember, one that built to a well-earned mic drop to the question most of us have been waiting a year for him to answer:  

What was it like and how do you feel about being slugged really hard on live TV in front of 16 million plus people at the most prestigious awards ceremony in the world by one of the biggest stars in the world because he couldn’t take a joke? 

Well, first of all – it REALLY HURT.

And birthed an A+ NY Post headline

In terms of movies, think of it as the big guy who played Muhammad Ali (Smith) slugging the skinny kid who played Pookie (Rock) in New Jack City.

His words, not mine. 

But that was just the start.  Suffice it to say that in 10 minutes every ounce of massaged and manicured new age apology offered in pretty much any context by Smith and his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, was expertly shredded into origami and virtually shoved down their throats.

And we love a good shredding

But more importantly, it served to neuter the need for whatever obligatory dumb jokes that had been scheduled to address last year’s incident on the show, thus freeing this year’s ceremony to be as clever, dull, silly or timely as it chooses to be on its own.

Score one for team Rock and know that the festivities will likely achieve only two of the above four.

#2 – EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE OSCAR NOM-NOMS – This film grew on me and deserves the best picture and director wins it is clearly going to get next Sunday night.

James Hong sealed the deal at last week’s SAGs

I confess that after I viewed it the first time, barely holding on to middle age me didn’t quite get all the hoopla.  I mean, it was okay, but…huh? 

However, after watching it a second time it quickly became one of my favorite films of the year and, by any standards, one of the most original. 

Those of us who are not into multi-verse realities (Note: This includes myself AND most of my middle-aged friends) were a bit lost with EEAAO’s scattershot approach to reality.

But at its heart the film is actually nothing more, or less, than a very clever contemporary take on The Wizard of Oz.  Who doesn’t want to run away from a family that doesn’t listen to them when they are never truly seen?  On the other hand, what do you do when you suddenly realize that you are the one who is equally not seeing OR listening to them?

That’s one way to describe the multiverse

That’s a pretty good hat trick to pull off thematically, especially when the Mom who is substituting for Dorothy has to alternate between being a martial arts master, a glamorous movie star and a tired-looking working stiff, not to mention the voice of a googly-eyed rock.

A different kind of Oscar Rock this year

Here’s hoping that Michelle Yeoh makes history and wins a well-deserved best actress Oscar alongside the sure thing supporting actor Oscar win for Key Huan Quan as her sweet, put-upon husband. 

I think she will and that we’re looking at a big EEAAO sweep of all the top honors it’s nominated for in the making.

#3- THE VAGARIES OF THE VAGUE – There is something going on with films in the last few years for this viewer, aka ME, and it’s much more than having to watch EEAAO a second time to truly get it.

It seems there is a groundswell among critics and many industry-ites, nee Academy and other guild members, to go crazy for movies that feel slow, undone and vague.  Two examples this year are the multi-Oscar nominations for Tar and the near lock Women Talking has for the screenwriting award.

And we know how the Chair feels about ol’ Lydia Tar

Both films deal with the power struggles of women in unusual but incredibly obtuse ways.  Both are interesting looking, well acted and well made.  Yet both lack narrative details, drive and urgency, often choosing to stay mired in a miasma of talk and pretension.

It simply feels odd that Women Talking is a shoo-in for a best adapted screenplay win for writer-director Sarah Polley and that Tar’s Cate Blanchett is the top contender to snatch the best actress Oscar away from the more deserving Ms. Yeoh.

Don’t put that out into the universe!

This is especially true when two far superior films about women and their struggle for and against power, She Said and Till, were totally ignored by the Academy, 

Having seen all four films it’s hard not to conclude that the clear, well-crafted narratives of the latter two were judged not hip or happening enough for accolades by film critics and voters that believe something different always means something better.

I wonder what Miranda would have to say about this

For them I say, there’s a reason I can still wear the classic white shirt I bought at Agnes B a full 35 years ago but long ago gave away my beloved purple Armani suit that at the time I was convinced would be perennially flawless.

 #4 – THERE IS NO BEST ACTOR THIS YEAR – All of the people in this category, not to mention in most categories, are great.  But anyone who can say for sure whether Austin Butler will win for his startlingly shape shifting performance in Elvis or Brendan Fraser will take home the Oscar for his raw, heartbreaking acting turn of a lifetime in The Whale, is lying.

Some years it’s simply a tie.  Or an upset for Colin Farrell, who could squeak in for his subtle work in the much Oscar loved Banshees of Inisherin.

A tight race

Put a gun to my head and I’d say it’s probably Austin Butler’s ability to not only physically resurrect but also sing beloved Elvis Presley back to life.  On the other hand, I’m not gonna publicly deny one of the best male performances I’ve seen in years, by George of the Jungle, no less, from getting his much deserved Oscar win.

Which brings me to:

#4B – Darren Aronofsky’s The Whale received a handful of Oscar nominations but has received middling critical reviews pretty much across the board.  I don’t get it.  It’s one of the best, if not most disturbing, movies of the year.  It’s a tough watch but watch it.  It’s the anti-hip and happening and vague film stylistically (Note: Lucky for us) though ironically it seems to me that its in your face emotional rawness is exactly what we need in the world right now.

Not an easy watch — but should it be?

And finally:

#5 – THE OSCAR ARE ICONIC BUT…As fun as they are for all the right and wrong reasons, at the end of the day they don’t mean a lot.   And they’re often wrong.

I watched a double feature this afternoon on Turner Classic Movies of Born Yesterday (1950) and Some Like It Hot (1959).

One of the best lines ever

They are classic movies at their best – superbly entertaining, perfectly crafted and more than able to stand the test of time against most of their contemporaries.

Judy Holliday won the lead actress Oscar in Born Yesterday for recreating her much acclaimed Broadway performance.  But let’s remember in doing so she beat out Bette Davis, who gave one of the best female performances in film history as Margo Channing in All About Eve, and Gloria Swanson, who created one of the most enduringly iconic as Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard.

All tea no shade

As for Some Like It Hot, it’s a movie that has been consistently rated by writers, directors and critics as one of the top five comedies of all-time, if not THE top.  Yet its only Oscar win was for best costumes and it failed to even receive a nomination for either best picture or best director.

The film that received the most Oscar nominations that year was, um,…Ben Hur.  And it was awarded the best picture, best director (William Wyler) and best actor (Charlton Heston) Oscar, among others.

Yep, this.

Try sitting through all 123 hours of Ben-Hur after watching Some Like It Hot.  And if you manage to, report back to us on which one you liked best.

“Running Wild” – from Some Like It Hot

Safety First and Last

Every person I know who has ever worked on the crew of a movie – starting with myself – has at some point witnessed the cutting of corners, the rushing that prompted carelessness, and the indifference to long hours and safety complaints.

Trust me on this.

Not always a safe place

Nevertheless most of us were never employed on a production where anyone was shot and killed by a supposed “prop gun” discharging.  That was the fate of the late cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of the low-budget movie Rust this week when star/producer Alec Baldwin’s gun fired, murdering her and wounding its writer-director Joel Souza.

Still, you don’t have to witness violence and human carnage to understand you are in a situation where it can easily happen.  The fact that you might dodge a bullet this time, or even hundreds of times, does not mean you will necessarily be so lucky the next time.

I’ve worked on movies with stunts in a river, where real wolves attacked people, where veteran pilots did somersaults in makeshift vintage airplanes and where guns were fired and bombs exploded.   Loudly.

Truth be told, I never felt exactly safe but I did believe, given the circumstances, that the risks were…mitigated.

Most of the time.

But not all of the time.

Yikes, Chairy.

For instance, the river movie, non-union with a SAG contract, had young actors in inner tubes with stunt people nearby.   But, let’s face it, that didn’t guarantee their safety if the weather suddenly turned on them or someone slipped on one of the many sharp rocks beneath them. 

The wolf movie, a union deal, had a wolf wrangler.  But once I got a look at the animals this didn’t seem particularly safe to me.  The wolves were going to be encouraged to viciously attack and the first thing you have to know about wolves (Note: As one of the wrangling assistants told me) is that they’re essentially wild animals that are not as trainable as dogs.  So, well, I wasn’t on the set on those four nights except an early check-in prior to the scene.

Suddenly the insane CGI wolves from Twilight seem a lot better now

The veteran pilot film used a guy who did stunts professionally for hundreds of air shows.  Many of the crewmembers were magically enthralled, so much so that between takes he took some of them up in that rickety plane. 

Are you kidding, I thought, on this non-union movie.  And promptly I was branded a chicken and laughed at by the entire production.

Well, cluck, cluck, cluck, I answered back.  This was not a risk I was willing to take.

And when a few years later this same pilot died doing a stunt on Top Gun I didn’t at all feel like gloating.  Though I did feel good about my decision.

sorry not sorry

As for the guns and explosions, this was an all-union crew and everyone was given earplugs, goggles and reminded constantly to keep their distance.  There were so many advisors and stunt people and active military personnel that it was probably the safest I ever felt on any movie set.  Ever.

And yet, most of the crew was still nervous…and happy we didn’t have to be in the scene or shoot it.  Though someone (Note: Actually more than one) did and was.

This begs the question of what exactly is safe

Well, clearly nothing is 100%.  Danger can randomly happen at any moment and so can death.  So we try to minimize our risks or, if we like the rush or are feeling particularly angry or perilous that day, maximize them.

Yeah, not for me

Movie sets have rules and regulations for this very reason.  This is why people are not often seriously injured and usually don’t die. 

It is for these same reasons that most people don’t die in tragic accidents.  Society operates within parameters and has laws enacted to keep people somewhat safe.  Depending on your political views, there are not enough, or too many, or maybe they’re enforced too stringently or laxly.

But given the status quo they at least give us a playing field in which we can operate.   Unless we are operating in a field akin to the wild, Wild West, located in a town with a wan or lazy or cost-cutting sheriff with a corrupt governmental power structure bent on supporting him. (Note:  Or her, because let’s not be sexist.  Though I’d bet we’d all be safer under female sheriffs).

The now closed set of “Rust”

The carnage on the set of Rust was a horrible confluence of events still being unearthed for public consumption and legal scrutiny.  But this much we know.

– Six members of the camera crew resigned several days before the tragic shooting due to unfit working conditions, replaced by non-union members.

– Safety protocols, including gun inspections, were not being enforced.

– Three prop gun misfires occurred prior to the fatal shooting.  And just several days before it happened, Mr. Baldwin’s stunt double accidentally fired TWO rounds from a gun he was assured was not loaded with any ammunition.

Seriously?

These facts have all been confirmed by numerous crew members, with text messages supporting those facts.

There is also a police investigation underway and no doubt an army of lawsuits pending that will unearth even more of the facts.

Given the additional fact that IATSE, the union covering crew members in which I still pay dues, almost went on a massive strike last week to improve many of these conditions, and is soon to vote on the tentative agreement reached by its reps, there will also be a renewed industry-wide push towards parameters and playing fields that are significantly, or at least a little safe-ER than before.

None of this will bring back a mother, wife and treasured family member like Halyna Hutchins. 

Remember her. #RIP

It will merely be yet another marker of a likely avoidable tragedy had we taken a bit more time to err on the side of caution instead of cost-cutting and wan-ness.  Civility instead of the Wild West, unbridled deregulation of our time tested standards of behavior.

Nothing is entirely safe.  But we need to take the time and the actions to do better.   A lot better. 

And not just in show business.

Solidarity Forever” – Pete Seeger