Time Traveling with TCM

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

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

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

I’m with you Steph

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

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

But then I turned on Turner Classic Movies

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

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

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

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

Ok Rhett… let’s say sometimes  just AS toxic

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

Though partly I am.

Damn right!

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

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

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

Margo’s got the right idea

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

You’re entitled.  We’re all entitled.

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

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

* not directed by Welles

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

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

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

AH!! DON’T SAY IT!!

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

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

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

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

Figuring out the light from dark (bonus cool lighting)

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

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

But it does have Ferris Wheels!

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

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

Or should remember.

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

Anton Karas – Theme from The Third Man

Oscars So RIGHT

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

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

Show tagline: PARASITE, NO HOST

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

The hottest name in Hollywood!

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

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

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

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

I’m paraphrasing, of course.

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

How I will try to think of 2019 in America

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

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

Don’t ever look back!

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

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

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

At one point THIS happened

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

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

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

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

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

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

And her dress was PERFECTION #QueenCynthia #EGOTiscoming

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

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

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

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

Proving it’s never to soon…

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

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

They rambled, but we stuck with them

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

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

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

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

Janelle Monae – Oscars 2020 Opening

Oscar Watch: 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GO GET YA OSCAR, DERNZ!

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

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

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

I want to understand this… I think?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not Joking

I’ve decided to wait a bit to see Joker.

Not that you asked and not that I’m afraid to venture out to a movie theatre showing Joker on its opening weekend.

Oh, yes.  Apparently, there is reason to be afraid.

My students actually brought this to my attention, noting more than several sets of their parents called them this week to warn them of the perils of venturing out.  These were mothers and fathers who were truly afraid their college juniors and seniors could possibly be shot at in a public venue that dared to show a movie that addressed the evolution of a cartoon villain into a gun toting vigilante who wanted revenge.

America, 2019 #sad

But it never even occurred to me to be scared and I have fears about pretty much everything.

Not being a parent and never one to miss the opening weekend of a movie I was desperate to see (Note:  Yes, I did see Judy on opening night.  Please.) I thought of venturing out to Joker.  But it wasn’t the prospect of the ridiculous crowds that go hand in hand with those huge box-office projections that made me stay home.

Reserved seating ensures you don’t have to wait in line for a ticket and I was willing to take my chances in the off chance of a flesh and blood gunman given I survived the eighties.  But, well, the rat f-ck in the parking lot, the talking in the theatre during the film, the inevitable crying kid who shouldn’t be there or texting teens with neon-screened phones who have to be there– I mean, really, I can wait.

I’m fine with this

And anyway, Martin Scorsese says any film that’s part of the Marvel Universe isn’t real cinema so I doubt that he feels any differently about DC/Batman origins.

Honestly, the closest I can think of them, as well made as they are, with actors doing the best they can under the circumstances, is theme parks. It isn’t the cinema of human beings trying to convey emotional, psychological experiences to another human being.” —  Martin Scorsese to Empire magazine this week.

Scorsese throws it down

If Scorsese is venting about high and low art we moviegoers are really in trouble.

Still, I get it, don’t you?  A steady diet of anything eventually makes it less special and inevitably, less than satisfying.  So how frustrating must it be for someone who is acknowledged as one of the best filmmakers of the century to watch the market for what he produces narrow further and further.

It’s the slow execution of everything he has given his life to.  The existential extinction of a widespread and very particular art form.

On the other hand, (and quite honestly) I can’t say I’m excited to see another Scorsese gangster movie, are you? Really excited?  I mean, are you really, really excited about the release of his latest three and a half hour long epic The Irishman early next month?  As excited as you were to see Goodfellas, Casino or even, say, The Departed?  Be honest.

I feel seen #truth

A superhero movie fan could argue a new gangster film from the director is the cinematic equivalent of a Scorsese theme park ride.   Others might, too.

This in no way lets the glut of Marvel/DC comic book movies off the hook.  Looking at what’s playing at what we used to refer to as real movie theatres at any given moment is a far, far cry from the last true golden age of cinema in the late sixties through the early to mid-seventies.

You know… before this #imissyoucarrie

The entertainment business has always revolved around making money, especially easy money.  So no one can blame movie studios, producers, directors, actors, et al for focusing on the broadest possible market with an emphasis on the key 18-24 year old demographic.

It’s said studios are most interested in a four-quadrant film, meaning the movie that will appeal to the widest swath of the population (Note:  What quadrant are you in?) but this is no longer the case.  It’s not even the case that whom they want to most appeal to are 18-24 year olds.

Most people when they go to a comic book movie #ifeelold

What is true is that superhero films accounted for more than 25% of total movie ticket sales last year, the equivalent of $11.38 billion.

Truth be told, this is a lot it is still far less than what we (okay I) might have imagined.  Until we realize, large as it is, it’s still a misleading statistic.  Those films might account for a quarter plus of releases but how wide of a release do the non-superhero movies get and how long do they really stick around?

In other words, 75% of the movies we have the option of going out to see might not have anything to do with Marvel or DC but if these films only play just one or two weeks in smaller, not easy to get to (or particularly desirable) theatres in not many cities, than what are the chances any of us will get to see them?  If a comic book hero is monopolizing 5 screens at an 8-screen multiplex do you want to brave the crowds on the weekend in order to see the latest indie offering starring Catherine Keener?  You might not even show up for a Jennifer Aniston rom-com or a Spike Lee joint.

Forget about the cost of a helmet or your bulletproof vest.

… and yet this is the film Catherine Keener did in 2018 #sigh

This is especially the case if you can wait a week or two and view them in the comfort of your large screened living room, which, in some cases, will offer images almost as large as the ones you might be treated to at one of the smaller multiplex screens that the non Marvel/DC movie you chose to attend would be relegated to.

It’s not an accident that Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman is backed by Netflix, which will make it available online three weeks after it debuts nationwide at what Steven Spielberg refers to as real movie theatres.

in unison: “you talking to me?”

Okay, I’m paraphrasing.

What he actually said is that Netflix films (and those from other streaming services) should not receive equal treatment at the Academy Awards and should be nominated for Emmys.  His belief is once you commit to the TV format you are a television movie and not a film.

But does his point of view extend to movies primarily backed or financed by Netflix and other similar platforms?  Or does Scorsese’s The Irishman get a pass because clearly HE makes cinema?

What IS 2019 cinema, anyway?   What is NOT 2019 cinema?

.. and what the hell is this??? #geminiman

As famed multiple Oscar winning screenwriter William Goldman once said of those of us in and around the film business, nobody knows anything.

And that, unlike most of what’s offered at your local multiplex, includes everyone.

The Late Ones – “The Joker” (cover of Steve Miller Band)

The Trump and Judy Show

Let’s talk about legends and the people who inhabit them.  The common dictionary definition:

Legend:  An extremely famous or notorious person, especially in a particular field.

Of course, that’s only part of the story.

Renee Zellweger gives an astonishing performance as the legendary Judy Garland in the self-titled new film, Judy.  It’s not so much that Ms. Zellweger exactly recreates her singing voice or her entire autobiography during the last few years of her life.  It’s that somehow, and in so many ways, she captures the essence of Judy’s legend.

Make room on your shelf, Renee!

Or at least what we believe was, or could have been, her essence.

It’s there in her tremulous voice, her humor, her raw vulnerability, her fight, the nuances of her mannerisms and her underfed yet somehow still powerful physicality.

Not only is a tour de force of determination in her every and many close-up(s), it’s a channeling of duality.  She shows us the core of what we publicly saw of Judy in her many stage, screen and TV appearances AND she gives us a peak into the charming and yet not always admirable part of her humanity that we never knew and might not have ever imagined.

None of us are ever one thing all the time.  We are a mix of light and dark, good and bad, strong and vulnerable and, trite as it may sound, love and hate.

This is amplified ten times over with those we’ve crowned as our legends.

No doubt Donald J. Trump will go down as an extremely different type of legend in our history, but a legend nevertheless.  Most American presidents in history occupy legendary status during their era and for many the legend manages to sustain through generations and even centuries. (Note: See above definition).

Sigh… I really need to stop looking at pictures like this #coolobama #sighagain

The breadth of career, the various distinctive looks, the marriages, the overly insistent publicity, the rise and fall and rise again – these are among the many things Trump and Judy share.  It may be a sobering thought but it doesn’t make it any less true.

What is also true is that ultimately those are artificial markers we, as society, have constructed for ourselves in order to understand how one human rises into the public consciousness and manages to stay there for years, decades and very often even beyond that.

Roughly as long as the shelf life of a Twinkie #thatsalongtime

Trump and Judy might both be modern day legends but in so many other, more important ways, they couldn’t be more different.

Trump from the beginning used his role as a renowned entertainer to divide people.  The phrase that cemented his stardom in the mass media zeitgeist was, YOU’RE FIRED!  He ran for the presidency on a platform of Make America Great Again but never before in American history has the country been this divided.  While Trump certainly did unite a significant subset of the country he polarized us a whole and continues to do so as he and his presidency amble towards impeachment.

Haven’t we been crawling there all along? #itstime

A deeper dive into specifics allows us to see this is not where it ends.  Trump’s talent is self-promotion, grievance and sheer rage/anger.  It can be amusing in cynical, seemingly too politically correct times but it doesn’t cause true pleasure like the lilt of a spectacular musical note.  Nor does it allow us to relax and let down our guard when we watch a scene in a film or on TV where a performer is bold enough to expose publicly the kind of vulnerabilities we keep secret for fear of risking our own personal shame.

With Trump weakness is BAD, not a given.  It is an aspect of our ourselves so impossible to admit that it must be put through his own personal, branded wood chipper and spew out as aggressive disdain and a call for destruction of whomever we deem as the other.

What my brain will do to 2016 – 2020

Rather than cleanse ourselves through a good cry or the spontaneous live energy of a song delivered by a legendary vocalist, we cloak ourselves in an adrenalin rush of negative performance art that blocks out everything else.  We are assured that no matter what our problems are it’s the outside world that is responsible for them.

The system that’s failed the collective us has made us believe that what we deem as our many rights have only been made wrong by weak leaders in today’s age.

The Trump worldview harkens back to his late eighties mantra that it’s you against the world and that greed and gold and gilt for you and your family are what’s good.

Gee thanks, Gordy #UGH

If you don’t have those it’s the fault of the Mexicans, the drug lords, the non-white invaders, the too privileged leaders who are a disgrace for selling out the real Americans, those people whose bodies they used and willingly stepped on and over to get them where they are today.

What made Trump legendary from the beginning was his lack of shame and ability to vomit out his authentic self no matter what the elite thought of his antics.  He was a crude, trash-talking, show-off with seemingly endless cash, with an amusing glint in his eye and an ability to crack an off-color double entendre or blatantly dirty jokes in public the way we and our families all did in private behind closed doors.

Trying to think about Trump as a legend #imtrying

Whatever we say about Trump he evokes for many what publicly passes as an authentic self.  Many would argue Judy did the same, from her Wizard of Oz days on through the territory covered in this latest film of her life.

Certainly, the public persona of any legend is not truly authentic.  No persona, light or dark, good or bad, can ever be all things any human being is in any given moment or in total.

Except Julie Andrews… she is EVERYTHING

What is most important when we speak of our legends is considering not who they are or were but what they truly do for us and why.  In whose company do we want to live in through our eternities?  Which of these legends, despite their humanness, gave us something positive to consider, and which others of them brought us down as a collective whole?

Renee Zellweger – “Over the Rainbow” (From Judy Soundtrack)

Not So Green with Envy: An Oscars Post Mortem

Oscars 2019 proved that you don’t need a host to produce a watchable awards show but you do need at least a handful charismatic stars, inspiring musical moments, unexpected wins and, of course, heartfelt speeches.

This year’s show featured all of the above and often did it quite well – sometimes a little too well.

There was something ultimately schizophrenic about the show, the choices and the moments the evening offered.  It was as if the members of the Academy were so unsure of what they truly loved this year in cinema that they decided to people please and pick almost everyone from as many films as it could.

See: Green Book

Green Book took home the top prize of best picture while its director, Peter Farrelly, was not even nominated in his category.  Roma won Alfonso Cuaron best director and cinematographer but his movie was passed over for best film.  (Note: It did win foreign film, meaning it’s only the best if…you don’t speak English?).

Spike Lee won his first competitive Oscar trophy ever for co-writing BlackKklansman but was passed over in the director category, as was his film for best picture.

But he did give us one of the best shots from the whole show

Glenn Close, who had already won almost everything during this awards season, became the first actress to be nominated SEVEN times for acting Oscars without a win.   Olivia Colman won best actress for The Favourite in a bit of an upset over the heavily favored Ms. Close (The Wife), while Rami Malek swept in as best actor winner for bringing beloved Queen front man Freddie Mercury back to life onscreen in Bohemian Rhapsody.

We know Glenny.

Though interestingly, neither of the two top actor winners appeared in the movies awarded either best film, director or screenplay, either original or adapted.

Rounding out, or perhaps butter knifing around the gold, Black Panther, the biggest box-office hit nominated, took top prizes for score, production and costume design; A Star Is Born (the second biggest b.o. juggernaut) won best song; and Regina King was bestowed best supporting actress honors for If Beale Street Could Talk.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with spreading the wealth around.  But by the time Green Book was announced as best picture, veteran Oscar watchers couldn’t help but recall that time almost thirty years ago when another middle-of-the-road road movie about race, Driving Miss Daisy, won the best picture prize despite the Academy denying its director, Bruce Beresford, even a nomination in his category.

One supposes it is better for voters to widely disperse the joy rather than to ignore artists like Mr. Lee, whose more cutting edge film on race in 1989, Do The Right Thing, failed to gain either a best picture or director nomination and was subsequently overlooked in one of the few categories it was even nominated for – best original screenplay.  It took three decades but in 2019 the Academy managed to give Mr. Lee just a bit of his competitive due while still denying yet another of his masterpiece movies about race a win in favor of yet another rival film that chose the safer, more benign Driving Miss Daisy-ish route.

Look! They are in a car! How genius!

Whether that compromise was enough (Note: Um, no..) and others got too much (Note: Uh, hella yes..) is for each of us to say this week and then forever hold our pieces because that’s about how long the conversation will remain relevant to anyone given what’s in the zeitgeist these days.

What will hang around a bit longer is the memory of Melissa McCarthy entering the stage in a comic riff on The Favourite’s Queen dragging a train strewn with stuffed bunny rabbits, one of which somehow became situated on her hand and helped her to open an envelope.

Personally, I marveled at the age-defying beauty of actors like Angela Bassett and Paul Rudd, who will respectively turn 61 and 50 this year.  As Rosemary Woodhouse once said about her intimate evening with the Devil: IT CAN’T BE!

But like.. HOW?!

Even better was the opening musical number where the remaining members of Queen, aided greatly by Adam Lambert as its fill-in front man, gave us a soaring song in tribute to Freddie Mercury, whose larger than life image looked on from above.

Equally riveting in a totally different way was when Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper performed a stripped down version of their film’s mega-hit (and now Oscar winner) “Shallow” and managed to turn the Dolby Theatre stage into a master class pairing of artistry and intimacy.

Um… his wife was 5ft away. #icant #THEHEAT

It was also fun to watch Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and Maya Rudolph goof it up in an elongated comic bit early on and actually prove you can still be fresh and funny on any awards stage.  Ditto Awkwafina and John Mulaney presenting best-animated short.

Was any of this indelibly memorable?  Not exactly, but it was fun and watchable. This may or may not translate into a ratings boost from the all-time low numbers of last year’s Oscar broadcast, which is pretty much all the Academy and network seems to care about at this point anyway.

Welp, there it is.

That and no doubt the fact that in giving Universal’s Green Book this year’s best picture Oscar over Netflix’s Roma, both could breathe a huge collective sigh of relief for denying the streaming giant any more of the industry gold it had already managed to swipe right out from under their collective noses.

Cornelius Brothers and Sister Rose (BlacKkKlansman soundtrack) – “Too Late To Turn Back Now”  

The Chair’s Oscar Favourites

You might or might not know that Dwayne The Rock Johnson was first choice to host this year’s oncoming train wreck, um, Oscars and that he was actually going to do it.

In fact, he wanted to open the show headlining a huge song and dance number.

How cool would that have been???

No, I’m not being snide here.   It would’ve been VERY cool. Though granted, that’s a low bar when anything about this year’s Oscars comes up.

One bone-headed decision after another, starting with a proposed best popular film (Note: Is all that money not award enough?); to announcing well-known homophobic tweeter Kevin Hart (Note: Um, yeah, it was all out there on the record, numerous times and in various publications) as its host; to relegating four award categories – editing, cinematography, makeup/hair and live action short – to off-screen status (Note: #AlsoRescinded #Speechless).

I can’t… it’s just beyond

What this leaves us with now is for the second time in its history the Oscars will have no host, a tarnished brand at the hands of its ratings grubbing upper management and a membership and general public that either doesn’t care or is too pissed off at the organization to care to.

Well, in truth it does leave us with one last thing: the awards themselves.

YES! THE AWARDS! THEY ARE SO SHINY!!

The higher purpose of the Oscars has always been to honor excellence at the movies. It might not often succeed in the task but watching the times that it does (Note: And yes, doesn’t) has become an international pastime for decades.

Long before the Academy chose to pimp its brand for ratings, there was still the pose of searching for excellence, of wanting to reward some of the year’s films that surprised us, touched us or simply entertained us in their own unique ways.

It is in the spirit of hoping that the headlines this year will be about which truly memorable films won in the categories they deserved to (Note: Or didn’t but should have) that we present:

THIS YEAR’S CHAIR’S OSCAR PICKS:

Best Picture

“Black Panther”
“BlacKkKlansman”
“Bohemian Rhapsody”
“The Favourite”
“Green Book”
“Roma”
“A Star Is Born”
“Vice”

Everyone is saying this is the toughest best picture field in years to predict. Maybe. Or maybe we’re overthinking it.

For my money, “BlacKkKlansman” was the best of the year. Great story telling, fantastic directing, artistic in all departments, original where it could have been obvious and, perish the thought, a timely message.

This is not the say the other films don’t have their merits. They do (Note: Well, most of them. Don’t get me started on Cheney). However, it feels like “Roma” is the inevitable winner here. It’s lush and different and addresses race and class in the more muted manner the Academy en masse tends to respond to.

Had there not been so much controversy about the veracity of the facts in “Green Book” there might be a different outcome. But this will not be so.

P.S. Cinema purists will be heard ranting and raving everywhere for days afterwards when Netflix picks up its first best picture win. They are the same types of people who swore talkies and TV would kill the movies.

Directing

Who will bring home the gold?

Spike Lee, “BlacKkKlansman”
Pawel Pawlikowski, “Cold War”
Yorgos Lanthimos, “The Favourite”
Alfonso Cuarón, “Roma”
Adam McKay, “Vice”

I will repeat past pronouncements – this is Spike Lee’s FIRST EVER directing Oscar nomination. Truthfully, he should win and had he not been nominated this year in the adapted screenplay category he’d have a solid shot. But it feels like Alfonso Cuarón will win for a memory piece that has managed to touch people in numerous and very different ways. Though I was not one of them, the grandeur of “Roma” and the awards he’s already received from so many other organizations make his win here almost inevitable.

Lead Actor

For this scene alone, most likely

Christian Bale, “Vice”
Bradley Cooper, “A Star Is Born”
Willem Dafoe, “At Eternity’s Gate”
Rami Malek, “Bohemian Rhapsody”
Viggo Mortensen, “Green Book”

Every one of these actors had great moments in their nominated films. But Rami Malek’s performance transcended the film and seemed to literally bring long deceased and beloved Queen front man Freddie Mercury back to life. Not only that, he did it in a joyful way, a gift that should never be underestimated in today’s marketplace of despai…Okay, let’s not go there.

FYI, they should have found a spot to at least nominate Ethan Hawke for a career-making performance in “First Reformed.”

Lead Actress

Get ready to kiss her again, Gaga

Yalitza Aparicio, “Roma”
Glenn Close, “The Wife”
Olivia Colman, “The Favourite”
Lady Gaga, “A Star Is Born”
Melissa McCarthy, “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”

This is the seventh Oscar nomination for acting Glenn Close has received. She has never won. Keep repeating that to yourself and watch the instantaneous standing ovation when her name is called.

And yes, she was quite good in “The Wife.”

Supporting Actor

Put it in the books

Mahershala Ali, “Green Book”
Adam Driver, “BlacKkKlansman”
Sam Elliott, “A Star Is Born”
Richard E. Grant, “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”
Sam Rockwell, “Vice”

It should be Richard E. Grant for taking what could have been an easy cliché of an early 90s gay man and turning him into something bittersweet and brilliant. He wasn’t written cliché but, well, you know these things have been known to happen.

Still, that isn’t the point here. Mahershala Ali will likely pick up his second Oscar in this category for a focused, committed and nuanced performance of another type of gay man. Someone a bit more heroic, talented and certainly a lot better dressed.

Supporting Actress

Oscar King

Amy Adams, “Vice”
Marina de Tavira, “Roma”
Regina King, “If Beale Street Could Talk”
Emma Stone, “The Favourite”
Rachel Weisz, “The Favourite”

It will be nice to see an actress as talented as Regina King pick up the Oscar for portraying a three-dimensional character of a Black mom in “If Beale Street Could Talk.” Her solid performance gave the film a weight and a foundation and for that, as well as for all the nuance she brought, she will be rewarded.

If the Academy were to go another way there would be nothing wrong with rewarding Amy Adams for her terrifying take on Lynne (Mrs. Dick) Cheney. She actually managed to almost humanize her. (almost)

Animated Feature

“Incredibles 2”
“Isle of Dogs”
“Mirai”
“Ralph Breaks the Internet”
“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse”

This is a no brainer for anyone wanting a shot at winning this year’s Oscar pool.   “Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse” WILL win.

Documentary Feature

Still thinking about this scene #goRuthgo

“Free Solo”
“Hale County This Morning, This Evening”
“Minding the Gap”
“Of Fathers and Sons”
“RBG”

Tough one. “Free Solo” feels like the best piece of filmmaking but seriously, whenever the world underestimates Ruth Bader Ginsberg the RBG effect kicks in and it’s usually for the good of all. Besides, it’s a charming story of a one of a kind warrior. So go with “RBG.” Not to mention, don’t you think the MAJORITY of Academy voters want to see HER on the Oscar stage?

Foreign Language Film

Which Black and White epic will it be?

“Capernaum” (Lebanon)
“Cold War” (Poland)
“Never Look Away” (Germany)
“Roma” (Mexico)
“Shoplifters” (Japan)

I’m going out on a limb and picking one of my favorite films of the year – “Cold War.” Any director who can tell his parents love story and keep it sick, dysfunctional, sexy and scary is okay in my book. Perhaps it’s silly for the Academy to award “Roma” best picture and not give it the win here but, then again, isn’t it silly to vote for it in both?

Adapted Screenplay

“The Ballad of Buster Scruggs,” Joel Coen , Ethan Coen
“BlacKkKlansman,” Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott, Spike Lee
“Can You Ever Forgive Me?,” Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty
“If Beale Street Could Talk,” Barry Jenkins
“A Star Is Born,” Eric Roth, Bradley Cooper, Will Fetters

My premise: “BlackKklansman” is deserving in this category but a win here would be one way Academy voters can finally give Spike Lee an Oscar win without having to go too far out on a limb and deny Cuarón the best director Oscar for “Roma.”

FYI, “Can You Ever Forgive Me” was an equally good screenplay in an entirely different way and would also certainly deserve the win here. And after winning the WGA award, is certainly a dark horse choice.

Original Screenplay

Sigh

“The Favourite,” Deborah Davis, Tony McNamara
“First Reformed,” Paul Schrader
“Green Book,” Nick Vallelonga, Brian Currie, Peter Farrelly
“Roma,” Alfonso Cuarón
“Vice,” Adam McKay

This is usually my favorite category (ahem) and this year it’s the one I like the least. I just didn’t find either “Vice” or “Roma” to be particularly good screenplays. “The Favourite” was too in love with how naughty it was being. “Green Book” seemed like a film from the 1980s but not in a good way.

That leaves “First Reformed” which, truly, SHOULD win. It had the type of originality and intelligence we don’t get often enough onscreen anymore. Not to mention this is the FIRST OSCAR NOMINATION for it screenwriter, Paul Schrader? The guy who write “Taxi Driver, “Raging Bull” “Hardcore,” “American Gigolo,” etc. etc.?

Yeah, but, um, he likely won’t win. The members of the Academy en masse are too in love with the pose of being naughty rather than the actual real life naughtiness Mr. Schrader markets in. Therefore, look out for the writers of “The Favourite” to pick up their undeserved Oscar.

Cinematography

OK OK it wins

“Cold War,” Lukasz Zal
“The Favourite,” Robbie Ryan
“Never Look Away,” Caleb Deschanel
“Roma,” Alfonso Cuarón
“A Star Is Born,” Matthew Libatique

It’s Cuarón for “Roma.” Yup, he shot it too.   And I agree, it looks beautiful and it’s haunting. Just make it stop.

Costume Design

WAKANDA FOREVER

“The Ballad of Buster Scruggs,” Mary Zophres
“Black Panther,” Ruth E. Carter
“The Favourite,” Sandy Powell
“Mary Poppins Returns,” Sandy Powell
“Mary Queen of Scots,” Alexandra Byrne

I’m just gonna say it – Ruth Carter should win for making Wakanda come alive in “Black Panther.” And I’m picking her for the win. Logic says that it’s always one of those royal so and sos that swoop in on a cloud of crinoline and steal the whole shebang. But let’s count on the Academy not being stupid enough to do it this time since there are two queens competing in this category. That we know of.

Film Editing

“BlacKkKlansman,” Barry Alexander Brown
“Bohemian Rhapsody,” John Ottman
“Green Book,” Patrick J. Don Vito
“The Favourite,” Yorgos Mavropsaridis
“Vice,” Hank Corwin

It feels like all the musical mash-ups in “Bohemian Rhapsody” give it the edge so let’s give that film the nod – along with its editor John Ottman. #Galillelo!! #Galilelo!!! #Galilelo!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Makeup and Hairstyling

It pains me to even post this picture #shiversdownmyspine

“Border”
“Mary Queen of Scots”
“Vice”

The only thing that could get me to vote for “Vice” is a team of people (Greg Cannom, Kate Biscoe and Patricia Dehaney) that can make a hot actor like Christian Bale morph believably into the hideous gargoyle creature we refer to as Dick Cheney. Would that such things were not possible.

Original Song

Admit it, just seeing this pic makes you start to sing it in your head

“All The Stars” from “Black Panther” by Kendrick Lamar, SZA
“I’ll Fight” from “RBG” by Diane Warren, Jennifer Hudson
“The Place Where Lost Things Go” from “Mary Poppins Returns” by Marc Shaiman, Scott Wittman
“Shallow” from “A Star Is Born” by Lady Gaga, Mark Ronson, Anthony Rossomando, Andrew Wyatt and Benjamin Rice
“When A Cowboy Trades His Spurs For Wings” from “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” by David Rawlings and Gillian Welch

 “…In the sha-a-a-allow…we’re far from the shallow now….”   Gaga deserves it. Get used to it.

Original Score

“BlacKkKlansman,” Terence Blanchard
“Black Panther,” Ludwig Goransson
“If Beale Street Could Talk,” Nicholas Britell
“Isle of Dogs,” Alexandre Desplat
“Mary Poppins Returns,” Marc Shaiman, Scott Wittman

The “Black Panther” score had the kind of verve and sense of purpose that made Wakanda come alive. This is, however, a close category and any four of the five nominees could win. #MaryWontBeReturning.

Production Design

“Black Panther,” Hannah Beachler
“First Man,” Nathan Crowley, Kathy Lucas
“The Favourite,” Fiona Crombie, Alice Felton
“Mary Poppins Returns,” John Myhre, Gordon Sim
“Roma,” Eugenio Caballero, Bárbara Enrı́quez

Ugh. Fine. “The Favourite.” Here you go, Fiona Crombie.   Go rent another castle.

It’s the truth, honey!

Sound Editing

“Black Panther,” Benjamin A. Burtt, Steve Boeddeker
“Bohemian Rhapsody,” John Warhurst
“First Man,” Ai-Ling Lee, Mildred Iatrou Morgan
“A Quiet Place,” Ethan Van der Ryn, Erik Aadahl
“Roma,” Sergio Diaz, Skip Lievsay

Well, I mean, who knows? Do you? But since “A Quiet Place” is a movie all about not being able to make sound, let’s not choose that. It’s too quiet! So maybe the first man on the moon? Again, there’s not much sound in space.   So I’m thinking….

Thunderbolts and lightning, Very, very frightening!!!! – “Bohemian Rhapsody”

Sound Mixing

“Black Panther”
“Bohemian Rhapsody”
“First Man”
“Roma”
“A Star Is Born”

Scaramouche, scaramouche, can you hear the…”Bohemian Rhapsody.”

Visual Effects

“Avengers: Infinity War”
“Christopher Robin”
“First Man”
“Ready Player One”
“Solo: A Star Wars Story”

If a biopic about famed astronaut Neil Armstrong can’t win the visual effects Oscar, well….don’t worry, it will. “First Man.”

You’re welcome, Ryan.

Animated Short Film

Adorable

“Animal Behaviour,” Alison Snowden, David Fine
“Bao,” Domee Shi
“Late Afternoon,” Louise Bagnall
“One Small Step,” Andrew Chesworth, Bobby Pontillas
“Weekends,” Trevor Jimenez

I’ve actually watched them all and it’s a strange lot this year. There is only one even vaguely happy entry – “Bao.” It’s sweet and touching and for my money, the best of the five. Some say there is a Pixar backlash but I don’t think it’ll matter. Still, if you’re looking for a second choice go with “Weekends.”

Live Action Short Film

“Detainment,” Vincent Lambe
“Fauve,” Jeremy Comte
“Marguerite,” Marianne Farley
“Mother,” Rodrigo Sorogoyen
“Skin,” Guy Nattiv

I like dramatic shorts more than anyone but yeesh, this was a disturbingly sad bunch. “Detainment” was clearly the most riveting but there was some controversy in the telling of this real life story. “Skin” ultimately became predictable though it was well-acted. That leaves “Marguerite,” the kind of slice of life story that might just squeak through. They could do worse and just might when the winner is revealed. 

Documentary Short Subject

“Black Sheep,” Ed Perkins
“End Game,” Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman
“Lifeboat,” Skye Fitzgerald
“A Night at the Garden,” Marshall Curry
“Period. End of Sentence.,” Rayka Zehtabchi

This is an eclectic group where any one of the five could win. “A Night at the Garden” is brilliant and timely though it’s really found footage that’s been assembled. On the other hand, there’s never been a film about trying to educate women in India about sanitary pads and how to make and distribute them on their own. So let’s go with “Period. End of Sentence.” And not just because it’s the snappiest way to end this post…even though it is.

“Shallow” – Gaga & Cooper in Vegas