The Chair’s Oscar Crystal Ball

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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 Crowning Achievement

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The major strength of Netflix’s acclaimed series The Crown is that finally and once and for all an outsider (Note: Me) understands the pros and cons behind the idea of a King or Queen.

That is not to say that one (Note: Me) likes or accepts the idea of a hierarchy of humanity – i.e. a whole country required to bow and curtsy to another citizen wearing a crown – but at least the tradition and the people wearing the hardware are both clear and recognizable as something approaching human.

Heavy is the head, they say #werkitgurl

Heavy is the head, they say #werkitgurl

I’m not much for bowing down to idols – true, false or otherwise – but in one brief scene in its season one 10-episode arc, The Crown is succinct on this one heretofore elusive point:

The monarchy represents something Divine that can serve as a sort of model for what mankind can aspire to. (Note: One assumes that includes lowly females).

So despite the fact that the actual monarch, be it female or male, is indeed human, once he/she is anointed with oil by a leading British religious figure, he/she also all at once (and forever) becomes Divine He/She and therefore worthy of genuflection and ring kissing by everyone in It’s orbit.

Or so the thought processes go.

Not to mention, and to its further credit, this fine series also shows that a Queen (The British kind, that is) doesn’t necessarily want or is even qualified to be a Deity and that more than a few in the inner circle have their own worries that this vast spectacle is indeed nothing more than their own high-priced version of The Emperor’s New Clothes.  

... which most certainly includes The Crown's Miss Shade, Princess Margaret

… which most certainly includes The Crown’s Miss Shade, Princess Margaret

Moreover, it ultimately and finally posits (and this is the what really brings it all home), that despite all of the doubts and handwringing about it, the vast majority of its SUBJECTS are indeed on some level TRUE BELIEVERS in it all and will actually VOLUNTARILY indulge en masse in the tradition of genuflection to this Chosen Human Deity.

This thus reinforces the point of the monarchy to whatever doubting royals there may be and, judging by the continued fascination with them across the globe, proves an even larger point about societies in general:

The PEOPLE indeed do WANT and NEED a HIGHER IDEAL in which to BELIEVE IN and strive towards.

We Americans, of course, have no such thing as a national royalty and if we did it certainly wouldn’t be in Washington, D.C. – at least at the moment.   Except, of course, for one thing —

THE OSCARS.

Behold... our golden god!

Behold… our golden god!

Yes, I know this is a long way to go for an analogy and moan and groan at HOLLYWOOD all you like – led by PRETEND POTUS DJT (aka The Non-Deity who lost the Popular vote by 2.86 million). But let’s be honest:

The vast majority of the TV watchers here and worldwide WILL tune in to the television coronation of Oscar. And even if they don’t and/or claim not to – see what happens when the BIGGEST MOVIE STAR IN THE WORLD walks into a room, a bar, a party, a restaurant or a hardware store in your neighborhood in your presence.   You will see the closest thing approaching GENUFLECTION you will EVER, EVER WITNESS IN YOUR LIFETIME ON AMERICAN SOIL.

Bow down to our undisputed QUEEN

Bow down to our undisputed QUEEN

(Note: If this hasn’t happened to you yet or you think it never will take my word for it. I have witnessed it in more than several cities big and small across the country over several decades in my lifetime and it is ALWAYS the same unmistakably American version of a mass CURTSY and BOW).

(Note 2: And please don’t write in and say what about The Pope? America is a secular country (so far) and He (It?) doesn’t count).

This is not a defense of the Oscars because that would be a defense of an indefensible DEITY. It is just an effort on the part of a lover of this year’s favorite for best picture, La La Land, to get the movie fans and pop culture lovers and prognosticators worldwide to calm the f-k down and, as the young people say (right?), get out of my grill.

I say believe the hype

I say believe the hype

Those of us who adore this movie for its reinforcement of hope and belief in the creative dream and Hollywood-ized version of love and romance, are not the intellectual equivalent of “Make America Great Again” as one essayist whose name I won’t mention recently pondered. Nor do we have crappy taste in films or suffer from too much white privilege (though which White person among us White people doesn’t?). In fact, we simply were transported by something we’ve never quite seen before on the Big Screen and want to sing its praises and share it with you.

Which brings me to another chief complaint about the movie – Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are not… Hugh Jackman and Barbra Streisand? Beyonce and Jay-Z?   Adele and Sam Smith? (You sooo don’t want that even though you think you do). Jennifer Hudson and Pharrell?

... or original casting choices Emma Watson and Miles Teller. #HermoinegetsWhiplash

… or original casting choices Emma Watson and Miles Teller #HermoinegetsWhiplash

Listen up. It’s not always about the notes you can hit and how well you can sing – especially in a movie musical where performance is everything. It’s about telling the story, the emotion, the passion, the joy and the sadness.   And consider that after five decades of concert tours, Bob Dylan still can’t sing a lick. No, honestly. Can he really “sing” – as you crave? Yet he’s captivating. As are many singer-songwriter-actors. Rappers don’t sing the way Sinatra did. Which is fine. Aretha Franklin is still the Queen of Soul and the late Karen Carpenter will always have perfect pitch. That’s a whole other subject and has nothing to do with carrying the story of a movie with your performance in a slightly imperfect yet surreal world.

Which brings us to what looks to be the three-way race for best picture between La La Land, Moonlight and Hidden Figures.

Ready to place your bets?

Ready to place your bets?

They’re all wonderful films in their own way and yeah, perhaps you don’t agree that La La Land has the inside shot at being this year’s DEITY. But that doesn’t lessen the impact of the story and its filmic luster for many or change the fact that in the system you are choosing to participate in there can only be one QUEEN. (Note: Ahem).

So instead take a broader cosmic view of the whole process. Think of them each as planets. La La Land is Earth, Hidden Figures is Saturn and Moonlight is Pluto.

Although gravity works a little bit differently in La La Land

Although gravity works a little bit differently in La La Land

Pluto is the furthest away from mass reality and therefore probably won’t win. Hidden Figures is certainly the most enjoyable to look at and understand from an en masse point of view.   But La La Land is not only surreal and visually interesting – it has managed to capture something else in the minds of many – a kind of magic that feels like home to the majority. It doesn’t mean we’re right and you’re wrong. That we worship The Deity and you are heathens.

NOR, does it mean the reverse.

We’re talking movies and planets – each floating in their own solar systems. I mean, can you compare Uranus with Venus? Or would you be too embarrassed to even try? Well, if you wouldn’t be, you should be.

Crown or not, in the end we’re all the King and Queen of our Own Existence and the stars of our Own Movies.

The point is not to be swayed by someone else’s version of royalty. And to never genuflect

To anyone.

Rock ‘n Oscars

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Well of course the show was too long. I mean….

On the other hand, we’ve seen worse….A LOT worse. And Chris Rock was really funny. Despite all the hate tweets and humorless prigs who can find no laughs in an iconic internationally watched awards ceremony honoring the arts that is, at it’s worst, laughable.

Well, I don’t know about you but I needed a few good laughs and some decent movie moments this weekend. Expecting the worst – or the most dull – I got something… pretty good. As I tell my students almost daily:

It’s all about expectations.

I was talking to a friend online during a commercial break who was finding the show a mess.   This was right after I was laughing myself rather silly over one of Mr. Rock’s funnier produced segments – I think it was the moment we got to see Leslie Jones beating up a fake Leo DiCaprio and his bear in a mini-Revenant parody over the lack of roles for Black actresses; which was followed by Tracy Morgan in drag as The Danish Girl munching down on a pastry and saying This is good Danish, Girl… !

Still LOL-ing!

Still LOLing!

In any event, what I wrote to my friend was that, yes, the entire show felt a bit uncomfortable because of what’s going on in the Motion Picture Academy at the moment (Note: #OscarsSoWhite) . Which mirrors the time period the country is presently enduring politically (Note #2: #MakeAmericaGreat Again #BlackLivesMatter #AllLivesMatter).

I mean, when Mr. Rock joked about the Academy doing an In Memoriam segment that featured all the Black people shot by cops on the way to the movies this year – it sort of encapsulates the overarching issue out there, doesn’t it?

Yet with all that being said – and whether you liked, hated or felt indifferent about the entire show — it still beat Seth McFarlane mincing around the stage singing We Saw Your Boobs! or Rob Lowe serenading Snow White. Oh, how quickly you forget.

Just thinking about Seth's "We Love Your Boobs" makes me so sad I need to look at this adorable pic of Jon Hamm eating breakfast with a dog. #ifeelbetternow

Just thinking about Seth’s “We Saw Your Boobs” makes me so sad I need to look at this adorable pic of Jon Hamm eating breakfast with a dog. #ifeelbetternow

By the way, this is by no means a mea culpa for Hollywood. One need just look around the audience.   Or simply listen to Louis CK admonish all of the rich attendees – when announcing the short documentary category – that they better pay attention because the winner they were about to honor was not only probably the poorest in the room but would never make as much as any of them in his or her entire lifetime.   Since they were, Mr. CK stated, quite simply the bottom line true storytellers in the room because they all do it for little economic reward.

Preach Louis!

Preach Louis!

See, it’s not like many people in Hollywood don’t get IT. It’s just that they seldom work as a collective. And most don’t Do anything about IT. They’re too busy looking for a job, trying to keep the job they have or simply attempting to survive in an industry where baseline behavior often borderlines on the just slightly insane.

Again, just an explanation – not an excuse. Because any of us who think the white, straight male patriarchy is just going to roll over and relinquish its power need only spend a bit more time monitoring the 2016 presidential election, the relationship between the White House and Congress or merely track the progress in replacing the late Antonin Scalia on the US Supreme Court for an answer. As Mr. Rock so eloquently put it in his opening monologue (and I’m paraphrasing):

Of course Hollywood is racist. But they’re not Burning Cross racist. They’re sorority racist. It’s more – we like you Rhonda, but you’re not a Kappa.

Indeed.

And oy vey, did Black Twitter did blow up over that one. Well, I’m still p.o.’d Crash beat Brokeback Mountain for best picture 10 years ago so I suppose I get it. And none of the major above-the-line talents on the latter above were even LGBT (why would they be?) – only the subject matter.

But back to the show. Or shall I say, the nominees and winners.

Except this guy, because I can't even get into that. #DustinLanceBlack #EltonJohn #StephenSondheim #MelissaEtheridge

Except this guy, because I can’t even get into that. #DustinLanceBlack #EltonJohn #StephenSondheim #MelissaEtheridge #ugh

Here are some facts that are interesting to note and remember:

Best Picture, Original Screenplay winner: Spotlight — It was about reporters who uncovered the long buried sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests and, most importantly, the Church hierarchy that covered it up.

Best Director, Actor winner: The RevenantA period film about man and nature that subliminally deals with the environment and literally tackles American racism towards Native Americans.

Best Actress winner: Room A contemporary drama about a survivor of kidnapping and sexual abuse.

Best Supporting Actor winner: Bridge of Spies — A drama that takes apart the US government’s secrecy surrounding its 1950s spy program against the Soviet Union and the hypocrisy therein.

Best Adapted Screenplay: The Big Short  A contemporary comedy/drama that manages to shed some light and condemnation to the major players in the American financial meltdown of the previous decade.

No, Lady Gaga and Diane Warren didn’t win best song but the former’s performance of Till It Happens to You was undeniably one of the emotional high moments of the night when it concluded with a stage full of young female and male rape survivors surrounding her onstage.

... and I wasn't sure if she could top last year's Sound of Music tribute. #YouGoGaga #REALtalent

… and I wasn’t sure if she could top last year’s Sound of Music tribute. #YouGoGaga #REALtalent

As for the subject matter of the film that swept most of the technical awards – Mad Max:Fury Road – it dealt with the abuse and victimization of women of all ages in a futuristic societal wasteland – a world with little clean air, water or anything else because of the disregard and greed of all the generations that came before it.

That would be us.

Furiosa knows it

Furiosa knows it

So while the movies have a long way to go in order to meaningfully address societal inequities and real world issues – it’s not as if Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 was awarded best picture, the new Star Wars won anything at all, or that Jurassic World 2, Hunger Games 28 or Furious 7 got any nominations.

All of the above might be scant enough progress but I’ll take it for now and hope for a rosier future.

And that they bring Chris Rock back next year.

Among other things.

Hollywood’s Super Bowl: The Chair’s Predictions

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

Let's do this!

Let’s do this!

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

BEST PICTURE

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

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

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

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

WINNER: The Big Short

ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE

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

WINNER: Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant

ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE

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

WINNER: Brie Larson, Room

ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

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

WINNER: Sylvester Stallone, Creed

ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

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

WINNER: Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl

ANIMATED FEATURE FILM

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

BRB, watching this for an hour

BRB, watching this for an hour

WINNER: Inside Out

DIRECTING

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

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

WINNER: Alejandro G. Inarritu, The Revenant

WRITING (ADAPTED SCREENPLAY)

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

WINNER: Charles Randolph and Adam McKay, The Big Short

WRITING (ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY)

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

WINNER: Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy, Spotlight

CINEMATOGRAPHY

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

WINNER: Emmanuel Lubezki, The Revenant

COSTUME DESIGN

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

WINNER: Jenny Bevan, Mad Max: Fury Road

DOCUMENTARY (FEATURE)

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

WINNER: Amy

Miss you girl

Miss you girl

DOCUMENTARY (SHORT SUBJECT)

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

WINNER: Body Team 12, David Darg and Bryn Mooser

FILM EDITING

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

WINNER: Margaret Sixel, Mad Max: Fury Road

FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

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

WINNER: Son of Saul (Hungary)

MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING

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

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

I surrender!

I surrender!

MUSIC (ORIGINAL SCORE)

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

WINNER, Ennio Morricone, The Hateful Eight

MUSIC (ORIGINAL SONG)

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

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

PRODUCTION DESIGN

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

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

SOUND EDITING

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

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

SOUND MIXING

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

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

 VISUAL EFFECTS

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

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

…AND THE ULTIMATE TIE BREAKERS:

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

SHORT FILM (ANIMATED)

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

WINNER: Sanjay’s Super Team

SHORT FILM (LIVE ACTION)

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

WINNER: Ave Maria

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

chair ballot

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

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I’ll See You in…

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“The road to hell is paved with good intentions” – or so says an 11th century proverb. But does that mean there is no value at all to erring on the side of positivism and kindness? Hell, if I know.

What I think, as a former movie critic and perennial critique-er of all things pop… well, let’s just say ALL things – is that we all carp way too much and should or could be a hell of a lot nicer. Still, what fun is that???

GURLLLLL please!

GURLLLLL please!

Competitions, contests and best of trophies date back to ancient times when Roman warriors really did fight to the death – and for what? The thrill of the crowd? The spectacle of macho-ness? Under order of their Emperor? Well, perhaps it was all three. At the very least they must have gotten a cool trophy and some cash prizes. Or so one hopes.

Actually, as it turns out Roman Gladiators who were victorious did receive money for each win. As well as something called a laurel crown. And guess what, they also got saluted in public!

You know... Laurel crowns... those things hipster brides wear on Pinterest

You know… Laurel crowns… those things hipster brides wear on Pinterest

Of course, the top award, which was not given all the time, was a wooden sword. This meant a permanent pass discharging them from the obligation of fighting. Yes, that’s right. Back then competition was required. You couldn’t actually sit it out if you thought awards or the powers that be in your industry were dumb, stupid or both.

Question: Is that any different than today?

You did realize we were speaking about the Oscars, right? Because you might have thought we meant the presidential race, which no one seems to be sitting out – at least on the Republican side.

C'mon Chair... the wound is still raw!

Even the Chair forgot about me

Well, let’s leave politics alone for the moment and stick with show biz since the Oscars are little more than a week away and the results far less costly for the rest of us.

Of course, the Oscars are only the largest and most regal example of entertainment award-giving and therefore the easiest example. In actuality, this applies for everything from the Razzies to the Golden Globes, back to the Saturns, down to each and every DGA, WGA, SAG, CSA citation and on through a variety of earned or faux career/life honors that seems to occur at this time of year at each “A,” “B” or “C” list film festival across the country.

If you think awards are not a marketing tool then you either had the same childhood as I did — where you spent too much time staring at a screen and dreaming of holding one of those shiny objects in your hand, or at least wearing some sort of crown or tiara in front of the mirror – or you work for one of these organizations. This is not to say that any of these honors are absolutely unearned. Only that it’s no coincidence that they occur in clumps and often around either the release time or Oscar window for each recipient’s individual star bid that same year.

Are the Oscars nothing more than a contemporary version of a laurel crown? Sort of, yes. Not to mention, they do carry a cash prize. Ask any agent in town and they will tell you a nominee or winner’s asking price and in-demand quotient often doubles, triples or more in the immediate aftermath. Which doesn’t necessarily mean the awards, nominees, recipients or entire process deserves our unyielding criticism. In some ways, it’s just the opposite.

Or in some cases, they still get paid less. #PreachJLaw

Or in some cases, they still get paid less. #PreachJLaw

In gearing up for the annual notesfromachair Oscar predictions next week I began going over the list of nominated movies and reflecting on several other films I’ve seen in the past week. I’ve found fault with a lot of them but in all honestly – are any of them just, well…AWFUL?

I’ve snidely noted that Todd Haynes’ Carol was like watching paint dry over the same scene in a two-hour loop. I’ve also told people The Revenant had story holes and believability issues so big they could rival any speech or even small statement given by The Republican Apprentice (aka our likely 2016 Republican presidential nominee).

No comment

No comment

Today I wondered: Chair, who are you to judge? And why? You of all people know how unlikely it is to even be in a position to make either of those types of films – not to mention how rare to have them emerge with a few memorable scenes that elevate them to high profile status.

Then I began to ponder: Am I just getting soft in the fast-advancing global warming age?

Well, perhaps it’s a little bit of both.

I still stand by my recent comments to anyone who would listen about the Coen brothers Hail, Caesar, when I referred to them as the most withholding filmmakers of all time. This was for a narratively flawed movie that was so intent at denying any audience satisfaction or slight emotion that they couldn’t even give Channing Tatum a big finish to an otherwise fantastic MGM-styled musical dance number.

Not to mention that hair... #why

Not to mention that hair… #ohgawd

However, a far more intelligent friend of mine recently pointed out that maybe that IS their point – a critique of melodrama and emotionalism in American movies. Sure, it’s not my thing but, well, perhaps it’s yours. Or…someone’s? (Note: Okay, yes, that’s the best I can do right now).

Then this week I watched a really solid satisfying film written by another friend of mine about the rescued Chilean miners called The 33. It had been pulled so quickly from local theatres this fall that I missed it yet viewing it now I couldn’t help but wonder – why not more love at the time of its release? It’s action-packed, emotional and well told. Certainly more than anything Michael Bay’s done of late. Or ever.

hehe

hehe

Oops, there I go again. See how insidious this all is?

I guess the bottom line is you can be harsh and bitchy all you want but that doesn’t mean you’re 100% correct. You might actually only be 75% right. Which doesn’t mean I’m going to sit through Transformers 4 again anytime soon. But I will consider the possibility that Mr. Bay could indeed one day make a movie that I might not hate. Sort of. Which would be a huge leap of faith for me.

Ditto goes for this year’s Oscar contenders. Let’s all go on record that all eight films nominated for best picture aren’t garbage. In fact, all have elements that make them good enough to be there. Except…..   Yeah, even that one, I can see on the list.

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

I’ll leave you to your imagination….

Though don’t take that to imply that I support the Republican Apprentice to be on any list except one of insanity. Actually, I take that back. I have been insane myself and know a few insane people I like very much – and I don’t care to insult them. True, I might be softening but that doesn’t mean I’m turning my back on all of my core values.

 

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Billionaire Boys’ Club

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I heard a troubling statistic this week – 80 billionaires own HALF the wealth in the WORLD. You read that correctly. There are eighty people on the planet as wealthy as 3.6 BILLION of the poorest people. Not to mention, of those, 50% live in the United States. And you thought we were a country in decline?

Please.

Of course, if you’re female the news is not good.   Of those fortunate 80, only 8% are women.   Surprisingly, it’s not much better for young people since 68 of the 80 are over 50.

So if you reject the cliché of rich white men essentially owning the rest of us, well, you can’t argue with facts. This is NOT a debate on global warming.

The struggle is real

The struggle is real

You might be comforted to know the cut off point to make the Elite Eighty is a net worth of $13 billion. Though that means Oprah’s $4 billion plus doesn’t put her even near the top 200. Somehow it only seems fitting that she be there as OUR rep. But what’s fitting, or even seems so, is not reality. That much most of us 21 and over already know.

There is one piece of good news in all of this – not even The Republican Apprentice makes the team. I don’t know about you but I find some comfort in finding he’s not winning at everything – that is if you don’t count decency.

Here’s his latest invective from the campaign trail in Sioux City, Iowa this weekend:

I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and wouldn’t lose any votes. It’s incredible.

See, even he can barely believe it.

LOL... he says

LOL… he says

Do I have to write the words Donald Trump? I suppose so since my prediction at a dinner party two months ago that he was the likely Republican presidential nominee this year seems to be coming true. I couldn’t foretell more than 33% of the Golden Globe winners two weeks ago yet with this I appear to be right on target. Well one can only hope history holds true and I don’t know a whole lot about what any of our futures hold, most particularly yours.

Perhaps it’s all my years working in and around the entertainment industry, but I for one have no desire or belief that a famous rich person would or even could rescue me. Too many deals fall apart; it’s easy to make promises when you’re at the top of the heap you don’t necessarily plan to, or might not even be able to, keep.

Since to get there you usually have to have enough smarts to possess a large personal wealth and career cushion, not to mention several other types of back up plans, you never really have much of your own skin in the game. Intentions are good, or not, but they seldom ever put this group in any real danger of falling in with the rest of the herd that we comprise. Yeah, you heard me. That would be us. Mooooo….

Truth bombs

Truth bombs

Therefore, it’s quite perplexing to me to see the world reaching out to today’s uber wealthy in order to lead. Putting Lord Trumpness aside, the latest news is that another mega billionaire – former three term N.Y. Mayor Michael Bloomberg – has enlisted a team to research the viability of his own independent run for the presidency. Bloomberg’s net worth is said to be $37.2 billion, which would easily put him in the top twenty of the Elite Eighty. Though for some reason he seems to be absent from the current 2015 list. Debate on that all you want but what is undebatable is he could still easily buy and sell The Ass-holian Apprentice several times over.

Oh Chairy, don't make me laugh!

Oh Chairy, don’t make me laugh!

Does this then mean it’s us against them and our only hope is the polar (Note: That’s not a blizzard joke) opposite of a 73 year-old socialist senator from Vermont – the state with the least amount of people in the country next to Wyoming? Well, Bernie Sanders’ net worth is under $1 million so that doesn’t seem likely. Pres. Obama, a senator and best selling author, was already worth at least triple that when he was elected to the presidency more than 7 years ago.

Hillary Clinton, whose net worth is at least $31 million seems more in line with populist sentiment at the moment – and not only because she’s married to a former president who on his own is worth more than $80 million, not counting his political skills. Yet despite an initial excitement that we could finally elect our first female chief executive in U.S. history and an initial groundswell of excitement and support – the enthusiasm level for her seems to be faltering. I guess it’s no longer enough to elect someone from a minority group in the country. Oh right, females actually are the MAJORITY of voters. Perhaps, that’s it. We really do hate ourselves.

Words fail me

Words fail me

Which brings us back to the wealthy, white male elite. What better personification can there be that we’d all relate to than the virulent #OscarsSoWhite uproar over the lack of diversity among this year’s nominees? Forget that the real fight is a much larger, ongoing battle of equal opportunity in the film business. How dare those guys not nominate Will Smith for Concussion and Spike Lee for…Chi-Raq? We’ve now got Will, Jada and Spike sitting it out this year, despite Chris Rock hosting and even though the Academy has nominated Spike and Will several times in the past, awarded Spike an honorary award this year for his many contributions to the industry and currently has a Black woman serving as its president.

Not that any of the above means a damn thing when it comes to diversity. Though, nor do the Oscar nominations. They’re hardly ever fair as a barometer for anyone or anything. I mean, I for one am glad I’m not 9 year old Jacob Tremblay’s father right now or little Jacob myself. I’m not sure I could ever imagine topping that bravura performance in Room even if I lived to be Gloria Stuart’s age. Which is fast approaching.

Just kidding... this is so me!

Just kidding… this is so me!

Nevertheless, pseudo liberal bastion that it is – the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, quickly announced this week it would be modifying its nominating process to disqualify some members from voting for future Oscars if they don’t have credits within the last 10 years. Plus, it is doing a massive campaign to recruit (and presumably admit, since it’s tough for anyone to get in these days), more non-white members.

Well, I’m not sure if this is entirely right or wrong but if it gets rid of a few of the macho homophobes who refused to award Brokeback Mountain Best Picture back in 2005 and instead chose the more bland and mainstream Crash – it’s all right with me. Though for sure, I’d trade it all for clean water in Flint, Michigan.

Great, now my head is now pounding with confusion about equal opportunity, wealth and fairness. Still, if anyone thinks of themselves as somehow lesser-than for not being at least a millionaire several times over at this point in their lives –here’s one last fact:

Sarah Palin’s net worth is estimated at $12 million.

I know

I know

Clearly, you don’t have to be a guy or particularly smart, seemingly sober or, well, even vaguely rational, to lead. Okay, you often do need to be white but relax –the Motion Picture Academy has picked up the mantle from Pres. Obama and is already working on that. Please don’t set us all back and, like a 1950s Disney princess, hope some wealthy white guy from the ruling class will rescue you. Movie endings don’t usually happen in real life. It’s a fantasy business.

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The Oscar Race

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There is not much to count on in life anymore but one of the constants is that upon the announcement of the Academy Award nominations there will be a significant group of people outraged by the choices made by the group’s almost 6,000 voting members. This is not to denigrate the passionate emotions those who are outraged display. I myself have still not gotten over the fact that Mia Farrow was not nominated for her star turn in Rosemary’s Baby and that movie was released before I reached adolescence (Note: Yes, it’s true, I had opinions even then). Not to mention, we’re not taking into account the biggest Oscar slight of all – Judy Garland losing the best actress race to Grace Kelly in 1955. I mean, all things being equal could you honestly say that you’d rather watch The Country Girl on a loop until the end of time rather than A Star Is Born??? Please.

Lest we forget 1951's blasphemy

Lest we forget 1951’s blasphemy

So you see where I’m going with this.

This year the principal outrage is about the movie Selma receiving only two Academy Award nominations – one for best picture and the other for best song. So powerful were the passions stirred that the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite began trending almost instantly. Among my favorites was:

#OscarsSoWhite that the statue counts as a person of color.

Oh snap!

Oh snap!

Bravo! (or Brava!) to whoever thought of that one.

As a lifelong Oscar watcher, former entertainment reporter, person who has been going to Academy screenings for 30 years, and screenwriter who admittedly would LOVE to at some point get nominated for one of those things as I’m simultaneously made fun of by 50 million people from their beds and/or living rooms, let me just say this:

None of this is fair. And it is NOT a conspiracy of exclusion. The day that the creative types and non-creative types who make up the membership of the Academy could truly agree on what is a good movie is the day when Oscar watching will cease to be an attraction. Or even vaguely interesting. Which, in laymen’s terms means — IT WILL NEVER HAPPEN.

Here’s the deal. Minorities ARE underrepresented in movies. But if you take the entire list of films in distribution in each year, so are — intelligence, depth, humanity, and individuality.

And just think.. 3 years ago this was the Black and White debate of the Oscars

And just think.. 3 years ago this was the Black and White debate of the Oscars

There are a MINORITY number of films in release these days with many of the above qualities and most of those are the ones being considered for Oscar statuettes. That’s a small number compared to the amount of movies each year that can qualify for consideration by the Academy but a large number when taken as a group unto themselves. So given that most categories are limited to five nominees means that when it comes down to it there is A LOT of competition for those top slots.

What happens then is that it becomes a matter of taste. Well, all you have to do is go into the recently revamped bland, near empty, high-tech nightmare that accounts for the new lobby of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences and you can see that its ingenuity in that area is – to be kind – sorely lacking. While it does deserve credit for keeping the traditional cushy red velvet seats in the Samuel Goldwyn Theatre – still the best sound and best place in town overall to see a movie – the design of the new lobby itself tells you all you need to know about the organization’s taste level at this moment – or really, any moment. And that is – well, go down the list of nominations and judge for yourself. The one thing that is for certain is that you can find quite a bit not to like.

The only Oscar lobby we care about this year

The only Oscar lobby we care about this year

It’s difficult to defend the Academy’s record for the employment and recognition of non-white, non-male and non-heterosexual people on the whole. On the same token, it’s equally difficult to find much consistency in many of their choices. For instance, if the 21st century of Academy voters were truly white-centric why did they award Oscars to 12 Years A Slave last year for best picture, screenplay and supporting actress, among the film’s nine nominations? If they are so white, traditional and such an insular club, how is it that they failed to even NOMINATE the unofficial KING of Hollywood directors, Steven Spielberg, for best director on The Color Purple in 1986 yet saw fit to vote the movie a whopping 11 nominations back then?

Apparently having brown eyes also puts you in the minority. #creepy

Apparently having brown eyes also puts you in the minority. #creepy

Don’t try to answer because none of it makes any sense and it’s about as fair as who wins the lottery or is chosen to participate in The Hunger Games. Though it is a lot more fun to watch than either. Especially when the right people lose and the wrong people win. Admittedly those are sad facts but undoubtedly true ones.

I took myself to see Selma a few days ago before I weighed in on any of this. I liked the film, which gained power as it went on – not unlike the march for voting rights did in Selma. Its director Ava DuVernay did a fine job and David Oyelowo so powerfully evoked the spirit of the late Dr. Martin Luther King in such a uniquely human fashion that there were occasional moments that felt like discarded behind-the-scenes documentary footage rather than beats of a large scale, mainstream Hollywood-type movie.

And to think he's British!

And to think he’s British!

Yes, it would have been just to finally have an African American woman nominated for best director. In fact, it’s beyond ridiculous that it hasn’t yet happened. But when going over the list of nominees, who clearly doesn’t belong and should absolutely be eliminated?

Alejandro G. Inarritu, Birdman

Richard Linklater, Boyhood

Not going to happen. Those two are the frontrunners of arguably the most unusual and complicated films made this year. So that leaves three more slots.

Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel

Morten D. Tydlum, The Imitation Game

Bennett Miller, Foxcatcher

One thing's for sure: they all need a haircut.

One thing’s for sure: they all need a haircut.

Well, I for one always feel left in the lurch with Wes Anderson movies (Note: Students don’t hate me and yes, it’s probably a bit generational). Yet given the complicated visual execution here and the fact that the Academy has a new and growing group of younger voters who have finally brought the average age down to somewhere around 60, you can see why it’s hard to argue a case against this. It’s a film that feels hip and quirky and there almost always seems to be one slot for that.

The Imitation Game is, like Selma, somewhat of a film about injustice but unlike the march for civil rights it centers on the life of a little known previously unsung GAY man who pioneered the use of computers which significantly contributed to the Allies winning WWII (Note: Never underestimate WWII stories in Academy circles).

OK... maybe not all of the time.  #sorryangie

OK… maybe not all of the time. #sorryangie

It’s also strangely about humanity and civil rights but also manages to make the puzzles surrounding the computers that baffle most Academy voters in daily life seem decipherable. All told that’s a triple relevance factor overall and it’s hard to compete with that.

That leaves Bennett Miller’s nomination for Foxcatcher, a rather unsavory, artsily-disturbing look at a murder. It has a lot of sparse, directorial flourishes and features a beloved comic actor who has not been recognized previously by the Academy in a stomach churning, disturbing star turn. One can’t imagine it’s the White choice or even the commercial choice. The oddness of it feels like the choice of the director’s branch – a group composed primarily of men who probably related to its themes of maleness.

And yet THIS is the Academy president

And yet THIS is the Academy president

The latter could alone validate the reasons of the outraged and the fact that certainly more female-driven stories need to be made, hopefully by more female directors. Meanwhile, the one female to actually win best director, Kathryn Bigelow, did so seven years ago for The Hurt Locker – a war film with maleness written all over it, despite its female director. 12 Years A Slave had an even more violent underpinning and also got recognized in spite of, or perhaps because of, its quite violent subject matter. Hmmm.

This all does not address the best director omission this year of perennial Oscar alpha male favorite Clint Eastwood for American Sniper, The Theory of Everything’s James Marsh’s unique take on Stephen Hawking, or why Whiplash could get a best picture, screenplay and supporting actor nod while Damien Chazelle was completely left out of the aforementioned category. Did that movie direct itself?

Ageism?

Ageism?

Best actor is an even more impossible competition. Do you by pass by Michael Keaton for Birdman, Eddie Redmayne in Theory of Everything, or Benedict Cumberbatch in Imitation Game? Those three were locks. That leaves two major movie star, star turns. Both Bradley Cooper and Steve Carell left behind all traces of their charismatic and jovial selves in American Sniper and Foxcatcher and if nothing else the acting branch are suckers for that. I would wager at least a box of Red Vines and a small Diet Coke that Mr. Oyelowo came in sixth for a performance that was so good it managed to blend into the movie rather than stand above it. That is a credit to him as an actor, regardless of race. It is just not always the best strategy to net an Oscar nomination in a super competitive year. One only needs to look at the Oscar nominated best actor performance of Chiwetel Ejiofor in 12 Years A Slave last year to see the difference. Which begs the question of why Jake Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler was overlooked this year for totally transforming into…well, see it. My guess is he was #7 even though he clearly delivered one of the three best acting jobs of any sex or race in 2014.

Someone get this man a hot meal!

Someone get this man a hot meal!

Of course, this and all other Oscar analyses and prognostications are sheer guesswork.   Yes, we all need a lot more work on inclusion and equal opportunity. But like most of us, Oscar is primarily an equal opportunity offender. Which is to say there is no coherent reason for why they are doing the offending in the first place.  This makes it quite different from the events in Selma and near impossible to come up with a reasonable explanation as to why that film received a paucity of nominations.   Or why some of the others you and I didn’t care for received a plethora of them.

Which doesn’t mean I won’t be watching, waiting and ready to comment when they give out those little suckers for the 87th time next month – along with most of the rest of you.