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.

We are all Adele Dazeem

Screen shot 2014-03-09 at 3.22.40 PMThere are worse blunders in the world than John Travolta introducing a Tony Award winning musical theatre star who has been featured in more than a few movies and television shows, sang this year’s Academy Award-winning best song and also happens to be Jewish, by the fictional, Arabic sounding name of Adele Dazeem at last week’s Oscars.  But not many are more bizarrely fun.

Sure, Idina Menzel (Adele’s real name) might not be an absolute household name, except perhaps in gay households or among rabid fans of the 10 years running Broadway musical Wicked (Note: That in itself might be repetitively redundant). However, you’d certainly think John would at least know who she was.  After all, he did begin his career singing and dancing on Broadway and, well, okay…I won’t mention the rest.

Te he he he

Oh gurl…. te he he he

Still, it was not so much the flub of Ms. Menzel’s name but what it signified that proved to be the perfect metaphor for both the Oscars this year and what movies mean to us.  In a culture of 24/7 news and rabid social media that makes even the most famous accessible to mere Average Joes like you and me, this was just another prick in the mirage of societal “royalty” that has been created by Hollywood over the last century.  This latest little flub exposes the movies for what they are – one endless fake reality.  And the fact that this, rather than any one award winner, is the latest meme of this year’s Oscar show tells us everything about what makes this particular awards program so infinitely watchable even when it’s as boring as hell.

No one mentioned that I dressed like a Civil War general... damn!

No one mentioned that I dressed like a Civil War general… damn!

At their best, movies use contrivance to represent and comment on reality with the philosophy that the ends justify the means.  At their worst they conspire to create a set of ideas that tempt us into buying into a reality that is positioned as something that we want and must have but, in our realities, can never have because it would take an army of 200 technicians of all talents from all walks of life to create it for us in every minute of every day.

There is nothing wrong with reveling a bit in this kind of escape but in hard times that can also be toxic.  As the people of the world become more and more connected movies are becoming less and less about reality, false or otherwise, and more and more about blatant escapism. (Note: With the exception of documentaries, which have created a new commercial subgenre of their own, in part due to the popularity of reality television).  We know this and buy into this but what’s getting harder and harder to buy into are the phony images of the people who star in and make the films we see.  They are now so present in high definition in our living rooms that it’s impossible not to notice that they are nothing but flesh and bone human beings who are talented but not always smart.  Or that they are memorable physical images who often look a bit odd or off-kilter when they appear as themselves and don’t speak the lines that someone else gave them to say.

First let’s deal with the physical:

Of course, there is nothing particularly wrong with attention to physical perfection through whatever technology is available, surgical or otherwise, if being before the cameras is your business or if you just want to look a little refreshed.  There is, however, something very wrong with it if you believe it will permanently freeze you in time at 35 or 45 or, heaven forbid, even 55 – thus creating the illusion that you will never get any older and, in turn, will never die.

Oh Goldie Girl... why?

Oh Goldie Girl… why?

My Mom, fairly unlined without the help of any plastic surgery (thanks for the genes, Mom!), used this as a sort of mantra even after she was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer at the age of 60.  And that way of thinking worked to her benefit for quite a few years before the end finally came.  Yet the only thing we can be sure of in show business and life is that the end will come – to our favorite movie, television show and, regrettably, to us.  So certainly it helps to be able to at least try to separate the fake from the authentic while we’re on the journey before we croak.

This certainly doesn’t mean that you can’t look good while you dream and that you have to live every moment in reality.  I mean, who wants to exist in a 24/7 world with the Ted Cruzes, Kris Jenners, Vladimir Putins or your ex-husband/wife/girlfriend/ boyfriend or family member from hell without some relief?  (Note: Or even could)  On the other hand, to live in the soft gauze of denial as if you were Jean Harlow in a 1930s Hollywood movie won’t do you any good either.  Mostly because at some point the camera and lighting is gone and you will be left as not the lead but, at best, a special guest star with a box around your name at the end of the credits with the word AND preceding it.  Wow.  No wonder Ms. Harlow had the good sense to die at the ripe young unlined age of 26 – even back then.

forever young

forever young

The movie industry is an interesting one in that it’s a dream factory that seems to discard those who can’t consistently live up to the ever-changing beauty and/or ideals of the moment.  This wreaks havoc on not only all of the players in the system since the rules are constantly changing but on us.  Movies confuse us about what is real and true and they substitute a superior, or even inferior alternate reality that can make us feel worse or better about ourselves depending on the film or our moods.  It’s a wonderful escape but it can be equally and awfully sad when we realize our lives will never be as good as our favorite fantasy.

This can and often does cause unbelievable discord on the psyches of those whose chosen lot in life is to be the poster children for our movie fantasies – meaning our movie stars.  And it accounts for all of the plastic surgery or facial injections and hair plugs or fake wigs on many of the female and even male stars, including one of your most famous winners this year.  It also explains the parade of actresses over 50 and 60 at this year’s ceremonies who are barely recognizable remnants of their former selves.

Someone has to say this so I suppose I will:

Do you want to look like Goldie Hawn or Jackie Bisset at almost 70 years old?

Kim Novak or Cloris Leachman in your eighties?

Mickey Rourke or Geoffrey Rush in your early sixties?

John Travolta or Tom Hanks in your late fifties?

If you gaze at the photos side by side you’ll see the difference and note that yes, each pairing are the same or close to the same age.

Here is the dirty little secret no one wants to say out loud.  Even with the best augmentation you can never look as good or vibrant or unlined as someone two decades younger. (Note:  Stand next to the younger version and you’ll see).   It doesn’t fool the cameras or anyone else – only yourself.  The exception is, of course, 76-year-old Jane Fonda.  However, she was born looking like Barbarella, has exercised her body AND HER BRAIN almost every day for her entire life and is, well, Jane.

Bring it, haters

Bring it, haters

Which brings us to the mental:

Actors are given words to say by writers – in the movies and often in real life when they’re out in public.  But sometimes they are still inarticulate and, in the case of the Adele Dazeem debacle, can’t read.  Or, as in the case of this year’s best actor winner Matthew McConaghey’s rambling acceptance speech where he noted that his hero is always himself 10 years from now, revel in the kind of sheer narcissism and gall it takes be a movie star.

When the fakery behind a perfectly poised façade is exposed even further with a classic flub like Adele Dazeem it in turn becomes even funnier and, perhaps, even a little sadly watchable – like when Toto the dog pulls back the curtain to reveal a doughy, human-sized older man pretending to be the larger-than –life, fire-breathing, all-powerful Wizard of Oz

The takeaway from this year’s Oscars and the takeaway you will get from anyone in the movie business who will deign to speak to you honestly about it is this:  there is A LOT you don’t know about Mr. Travolta and Mr. Mcconaughey, as well as Lupita Nyong’o, Jared Leto, Cate Blanchett, Ms. Menzel and all of the hundreds of people behind and to the side of the cameras who made them look good this year.

God Bless the team that makes this hair happen. #pretty #jealous

God Bless the team that makes this hair happen. #pretty #jealous

Though the Oscar selfie Ellen tweeted, and particularly the events leading up to it, did tell us part of the story if you study them closely enough.  Look at the dynamic.  Meryl, the Mom everyone wanted to please; Bradley Cooper the eager and accommodating bro who only wanted to please and take the picture; Brad and Angie, the wealthy, fabulous looking aunt and uncle you haven’t seen in a while who are much less pretentious than you thought they’d be; and Julia Roberts, the prom queen star older sister with the still larger than life smile.  All brought to life by slightly crazy (but not too much) Cousin Ellen, in town for her once a year visit.

Tweet seen 'round the world

Tweet seen ’round the world

Last year the Academy tried something different with host Seth MacFarlane playing the nasty younger brother trying to pull his pants down in front of all the girls and embarrass the family by singing a song called “I Saw Your Boobs.”  It spiked the ratings a bit but didn’t go over with the rest of the clan.  Thus this year’s selfie presented more like a benign version of National Lampoon’s Vacation where every top member of moviedom got to go on a family trip that we got to see live in our own personal reality show type home movie.

Yes, these are ridiculous analogies but no more ridiculous than anything else making the news this week – like Oliver North comparing those fighting against gay marriage to the abolitionists who tried to end slavery.  Why shouldn’t the movies and the Oscar show be reduced to a harmless fun episode of the daytime talk show “Ellen?”  It seems in keeping with the times and what is required to get through them.

All of this posing begs the question of why movies and the Oscars need memes and themes and ultimately can’t simply be about excellence.  Why?  Well, there’s nothing really dreamy about that.  But does everything have to be a selfie or a song parody?  Broadway seems to revel in live performance at the Tonys.  Why must movies become a social media event and not incorporate more, um…film?

What's wrong with a little extra sparkle?

What’s wrong with a little extra sparkle?

More to the point, can’t something just be what it is rather than a meta collection of the events of the day that overshadow the events they are there to honor to begin with?  One might ask why there couldn’t be more of a real tribute to The Wizard of Oz onstage rather than just a wave to Judy Garland’s show biz kids from the audience and Pink singing Over the Rainbow in front of an Oz footage backdrop.  Yes, Pink was great but it was hardly a cohesive tribute to THE classic film of all time.  More like a formula of what to include for commercial expediency.  (Note:  The latter worked by those standards – the ratings were the highest they’ve been in 10 years).

Of course, to do anything else would mean a constant look and flow of boring reality rooted in the past and no one wants to see that, right? The majority of people under 30 would be horribly bored without some social media tie-in or contemporary artist, or so the school of thought goes (Note:  As a college professor who spends a lot of time around this target audience who love movies I’m not so sure).  And you’d lose almost everyone over 40 because they might have to ask themselves if they want the life of their favorite movie star, botched cosmetic augmentation and all, or to switch places with the father, mother or grandmother of the kids next door.

Clearly, there is only one choice in all of this – which is why we will always continue to watch the Oscars, hoping against hope that the dreams or dream people they evoke will one day be our reality.  Even if everything about them is slightly askew and even though the chances of it all happening are the same as one day waking up to find our selves in the merry old Land of Oz.

Last Licks

Screen shot 2014-03-02 at 11.35.11 AM

And now for the Chair’s comments on the “No Comments” categories…

I said I wouldn’t predict these but what good is a cheat sheet that doesn’t include the tie breaking spoilers?  (Note:  Do not bet on any one of these separately).

Foreign Language Film

Bellissimo!

The Great Beauty – If Fellini and Almodovar had an offspring director this would be the result.  It’s wonderful.  It should win and will win.

Live-Action Short Film:  Helium – Imagination figuratively, if not literally, saves a dying child.  It’s what the movies are all about.

Documentary Short Film

Lady Oscar

Lady Oscar

 The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life – The story of a 109 year old Holocaust survivor who was a virtuoso piano for her entire adult life and just died last week – when voting was still going on.  I rest my case.

Animated Short Film:  It will probably be Disney’s Get A Horse!, a clever melding of past and present Mickey Mouse cartoons.  My personal fave is Room on the Broom but the ballots are in and I’m not being counted.

Original Score

Play on Theodore

The hip choice

I mistakenly left this one out of the original cheat sheet and it’s no wonder – it’s one of the most difficult categories.  Let’s say the score of Her by William Butler and Owen Pallett.  Others are predicting Stephen Price for Gravity but instincts tell me there will be several below-the-line categories where voters draw a line in space.

Word on the Street:  Many sources predict Great Gatsby will take costume design.  Yes, the clothes were great but Catherine Martin has won before and will win again this year for production design.  Something tells me a majority will want to reward American Hustle here for fear it will receive nothing anywhere else.  So I’m staying with my previous prediction.

Just announced words on a press release

They don't call it the Gay Super Bowl for nothing!

They don’t call it the Gay Super Bowl for nothing!

Liza Minnelli and her sister Lorna Luft – the daughters of the late Judy Garland – will sing Over the Rainbow during the Wizard of Oz tribute along with Bette Midler and perhaps some others.   And yes – we are slowly painting the world pink.

For more Chairy Oscar coverage, follow my live tweets during the show @notesfromachair

Win, Lose or Awe: Betting the Oscars

Screen shot 2014-02-23 at 3.54.08 PM

One of my best Academy Award predictions was in 2003 when I told my Dad to bet on Sofia Coppola in the best original screenplay category for Lost in Translation.  She not only got her Oscar but my father won several thousand dollars he happily split with me.

Of course, those were the days when websites still gave great odds on categories that almost anyone vaguely involved in the biz knew were pretty sure things.   (Note:  I think the early odds we got on Ms. Coppola were something like 13-1).

They were also the times when racist politicians could make bigoted remarks to local constituents and/or at fundraisers without fear of an international media blitz via Twitter, YouTube or Facebook.   Needless to say, that era has ended.

We now live in a world where even a professional football player can’t bully one of his teammates in a locker room or insult the player’s mother and/or sister without lawsuit and public retribution.  What’s next – everyone’s vote getting counted in a presidential election?  Well, I might be willing to sacrifice another Oscar betting windfall for that providing the name Hillary is listed as a nominee in one of those races.

Until then, those who want some quick cash at this time of year are left only with the measly remains of the local Oscar office pool or the generous rewards from one of the grand charity events you might be attending where predicting the outcome of the Academy Awards is even more popular than Olympic curling.  (Note:  You say you don’t care, didn’t watch or don’t even know what curling is?  Um, I beg to differ).

Oh, you know me.

Oh, you know me.

But back to what really matters here  – Oscarmania and how we can profit from it.

I’m not sure it’s terribly exciting to predict the Academy Awards anymore until I peruse virtually every magazine, newspaper or website within view of a Goggle Glass and see all evidence to the contrary.  Judging from what I’m reading, all of these sources have many more readers, advertisers and well-funded marketing surveyors proving to them that I am wrong and that we all secretly, outwardly or even perversely do care.  Whether you think of the Oscars as an apple pie tradition or something akin to watching the DVD of Showgirls, Valley of the Dolls, Battlefield Earth or Movie 43 (Note: This all depends on the year you were born), the odds are you will be watching, betting, watching some more or, at the very least, dishing about the Oscars.  So you might want to be armed with just a little more information and be a part of all the…fun?

But please, be forewarned – there is no scientific basis for any of following.  I have not meticulously done research weighing the statistical likelihood of who will win or what might happen based on the results of current guild award winners and anonymous marketing studies from expensive media consultants paid to unofficially check-in with (nee “lobby) Oscar voters.  This is just me – the winner of the Sofia Coppola sweepstakes eleven years ago and owner of a lifetime of show business disappointments and near exhilarations – telling you what is likely to happen.

THE SHOW

The Golden Gal?

The Golden Gal?

It will be too long.  Ellen DeGeneres will be a fun if not much safer host than last year’s Seth MacFarlane.  It will get boring at parts.  You will get tired.  And – there will be few surprises even though everyone says that each year there will be some.  Still, here’s some stuff we don’t know but might expect.

1. The producers have announced Bette Midler will be singing on this year’s show for the very first time.  What will she sing?  Hmmmm, let’s see.  The producers have also announced the theme of this year’s program will be movie heroes, Ms. Midler wasn’t featured on any of the nominated songs and we have to figure out how to fit her in the program so it will all make sense that she’s there in the first place.

Speaking of Bettes...

Speaking of Bettes…

Prediction #1:  Bette will sing Wind Beneath My Wings (…did you ever know that you’re my HERO…and everything I would like to be…) and it will probably be over the In Memoriam portion of the program.

2. Pink has been announced as a performer for a highly anticipated moment on this year’s show.  How do you not love Pink?  And how does any movie lover also not love The Wizard of Oz, which will receive a 75th anniversary celebration on this year’s Oscar show.  Well, Pink has a magical quality to her and often likes to sing upside down in a circus-like theme, so….

Prediction #2:  Pink will sing Over the Rainbow during the Oz tribute, evoking a sort of modern day, surviving version of an adult 2014 Judy Garland in movie business Oz.   Unless, they figure out a way to tie in Pink’s penchant for aerial acrobatics to best picture nominee Gravity, which I am so, so, so hoping they don’t do.  Or wait – maybe I’m hoping that they do do!!

Sorry stoners.. that was Pink.. not Pink Flloyd

Sorry stoners.. that was Pink.. not Pink Flloyd

3. Two of the most superb independent movies of 2013 – Short Term 12 and Fruitvale Station – received a total of zero Oscar nominations.  It’s difficult to understand why since often a very small film sneaks into at least a screenplay, if not best picture nomination (e.g. Beasts of the Southern Wild, Precious).  Some people will tell you the Academy chose the larger, racially historic themes of 12 Years A Slave instead of Fruitvale and the similarly small, character-based storytelling of Her, Nebraska and Dallas Buyers Club in favor of Short Term 12. This may or may not be the case.

Prediction #3:  Short Term 12 and Fruitvale Station will receive no mention at all during this year’s Oscar show unless it’s in the introduction to ST’s much over-looked star Brie Larson, who has been announced as a presenter.  But even that is doubtful since they will probably refer to her as merely the co-star of the upcoming remake of The Gambler with Mark Wahlberg.  What a shame.

THE AWARDS

Best Original Screenplay:  Spike Jonze, Her

Betting Meter:  Sure Thing

the future is now

the future is now

Anyone you talk to in the business will tell you privately that Her was certainly the most original story of the year – even people who don’t think it’s the best movie of the year.  Forget that Spike Jonze has won most of the writing awards so far.  For my money, of the nine nominees Her was the best film of the year.  Count on this for the Sofia Coppola moment.  And wager the rent.

Best Adapted Screenplay:  John Ridley, 12 Years A Slave

Betting Meter:  Safe Bet

12-years-of-not-fancy-dining

Oscar eyes his competition

There’s a lot of diverse work in this category but it usually comes down to the overall impact of the film rather than the quality of the script.  The adaptation of the memoir of a free Black man who was kidnapped by two White men and brutally enslaved for 12 years in the Civil War era South is Oscar bait in that it takes an unusual, larger than life political story and tells it in a human manner (Note:  Last year’s winner in this category was Argo).  Truth be told I was underwhelmed by both 12 Years A Slave and Argo.  The latter felt diffuse and disjointed while 12 Years seemed repetitious and strangely undramatic in its constant use of inhumane, brutal beatings in order to make the same dramatic point twelve times.   Still, the Academy voters don’t give a whit (or is it shit?) what I think and the debate over what makes great film drama on the page is only one small factor in who wins a screenplay Oscar.  Which is why Mr. Ridley is a safe bet.

Best Supporting Actress:  Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years A Slave 

Betting Meter:  Slightly Favored

The best thing about 12 Years A Slave was this relative newcomer’s performance -heartbreaking, human, multi-layered and seemingly out of nowhere.  That’s what this category is all about when it’s not about a lifetime achievement award for the entire body of work of a perpetually ignored Hollywood veteran (e.g.  Remember Jack Palance’s acceptance speech pushups onstage when he won for 1991’s City Slickers? Anyone? Bueller?).

Girl, you know you got my vote

Girl, you know you got my vote

The buzz is that the universally beloved Jennifer Lawrence could sneak in for her charmingly frenetic seriocomic turn in American Hustle.  But I’d bet even JLaw voted for Lupita.  Though I wouldn’t bet for money –  it’d have to be more of a Jackass type wager.

Best Supporting Actor:  Jared Leto, Dallas Buyer’s Club

Betting Meter: Sure Thing

Bonus points for wearing this suit to the Oscar luncheon #werkJared

Bonus points for wearing this suit to the Oscar luncheon #werkJared

Bet the house.  I and many of my friends lived through the AIDs era of Dallas Buyer’s Club.  And while there is much to be debated about what the film left out, there is no debate over the accuracy and unexpected originality of the actor’s work here.  Straight men playing a gay, transgendered or cross-dressing character tend to evoke performance or caricature or just plain too much sass and/or nobility.  That wasn’t the case in this instance.  When a male actor can make you believe that the one time he is in opposite gender clothing is the one time you see him in a suit, tie and combed hair, then you know you’re watching a total transformation and not a carnival hat trick.  That and much, much more, was always the case every time Mr. Leto appeared onscreen.  Brava.

Best Actress: Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine 

Betting Meter:  Closer Than You Think

If you’re wagering, I’d resist tossing all the coin on this category.  Sure, everyone thinks Ms. Blanchett will win for portraying a sort of Blanche DuBois meets Ruth Madoff neurotic madwoman/scorned wife and she probably will since she’s picked up every other major award this season.  Plus, as an actress she has industry-wide admiration and has never won in this category.  Not to mention voters will enjoy resisting the whispered speculation that they will lead a backlash against Woody Allen due to his recently renewed molestation scandals and, in turn, deny the leading lady of his latest film an award.

Both fierce suits

Both fierce suits

But still – consider Gravity made a fortune and Sandra Bullock is the #1 box-office movie star of the year if you also count in The Heat (Note: And…you try acting next to mostly green screen nothingness!). And then consider that many voters greatly admire Amy Adams and her performance as the young con woman among con men in American Hustle since most people in the Academy have spent at least a moment or two of their lives referring to working in the industry as navigating one big con game run amok among similar types of con artists, most of them men.

Okay, consider it.  But if you want to play safe with the rent money, put it on Cate to win.

Best Actor:  Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club

Betting Meter: Safe Bet

All right, All right, All right

All right, All right, All right

It’s his year, plain and simple.  Especially after a scene-stealing scene opposite Leonardo DiCaprio at the beginning of Wolf of Wall Street and a vulnerable and charismatic supporting performance in the indie film Mud this past year.

Still, this does not take away from Mr. McConaughey’s great work portraying a mostly unlikeable, misogynistic, homophobic bigot who only begins to get a tad nicer when he’s diagnosed with full-blown, terminal AIDS in the 1980s. Yes, losing 45 lbs. and the drama of embodying a dying man is yet another example of irresistible Oscar bait if done well.  Which it was.  So deal with it.

The one potential upset in this category could come from a groundswell of support for Mr. DiCaprio in Wolf since he’s both well-respected, constantly sought after and has never actually won an Oscar. Add to the mix the fact that Academy voters of all ages admire the work of Bruce Dern in Nebraska and would enjoy finally rewarding him a career Oscar for a career-making lead actor performance.

But….it’s MM’s year and MM’s to lose.  Chances are he won’t.

Best Director:  Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity

Betting Meter: The Surest Thing – More sure than you getting up tomorrow morning.

The magic man

The magic man

No one thinks he won’t win and no one thinks he shouldn’t win – except perhaps Steve McQueen, the director of 12 Years a Slave, and a few of its loudest proponents.  But the award this year has nothing to do with who does the most and loudest Oscar campaigning and everything to do with technical directorial achievement that moved cinema forward.  The latter seldom happens in the space of a decade, much less in a single 12-month period.  For most in the industry, that was the power of Gravity, a film that actually took more than four years to make.

It also helps that Mr. Cuaron has a large and varied body of films that includes everything from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkhaban to the indie hit Y Tu Mama Tambien.  Though even if he didn’t direct those and other well-respected movies, he’d still win.

Innovation in a repetitively endless world of technology,  a.k.a. #2001ASpaceOdyssey2014.

 Best Picture: 12 Years a Slave, though I want to say Gravity 

Betting Meter:  Do Not Bet Under Any Circumstances!!!

Can she snag it?

Can she snag it?

My father would call this pick ‘em, which is a bookmaker term that means the odds could go either way.  In this case the choices are 12 Years and Gravity with American Hustle close behind.  What makes this so close is that 2013 wasn’t a great year in movies, simply a good year.  Meaning all three of these are good films but each have their faults when you strip them down.

That being said, the Academy usually errs on the most socially relevant and mainstream choice.  American Hustle has an odd zaniness but is seen as a comic parody of social mores.  Gravity doesn’t have social resonance but is what people in the biz are increasingly calling a movie movie – a film that harkens back to the kind of motion picture you have to see with other people on a large screen like they used to always do in the old days. (Note: That would be, uh, 10 years ago, right?).

12 Years fulfills both of these requirements.  It demands to be seen with other people around you in the quiet dark and is political, epic and socially relevant but not so much so that will alienate too many voters. (Note:  There is thankfully not a pro-slavery contingent in the Academy nor a substantial group of people who were offended enough by the excessive violence to withhold votes).

Last year’s surprise winner, Argo, had similar attributes.  Not that that means anything at all.

TIE-BREAKERS:

magic-8-ball

These are the ones that win and lose the pool.  Don’t bet on them individually because the Academy tends to reward these either as consolation prizes for films that won’t win in other categories or for showy work the broader membership likes to vote on as best but that is not necessarily the best.  Only sometimes do the winners emerge for the right reasons, mostly because no one knows that those really are.

Animated Feature:  Frozen.  No one thinks it’s necessarily the best but it’s good enough, has made millions and would, strangely enough, be the first Oscar winner in this category for Disney Animation Studios (Note:  The best animated feature Oscar originated in 2001 and though Disney has released numerous films that have won, the studio has never actually made one of the winners)

Documentary Feature:  20 Feet From Stardom.   No one in show business can resist stories about people who were wronged in show business, survived long enough to tell the tale – and are still working.   Plus, it’s good.

Cinematography: Gravity, Emmanuel Luberzki.  It’s technology and Gravity wins.

Costume Design:  American Hustle, Michael Wilkinson.  Sorry Great Gatsby it’s 1970s America.

Editing: Gravity, Alfronso Cuaron and Mark Sanger.  Technology wins.  Again.

Production Design: The Great Gatsby, Catherine Martin. The 1920s trumps the future in terms of looks and partying.

Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Visual Effects: Didn’t you hear me, technophobes — G.R.A.V.I.T.Y!!!!!  (There are a ton of names here so I won’t list all the individuals for fear I’m beginning to bore you). 

Makeup and Hairstyling:  Dallas Buyers Club, Andruitha Lee and Robin Matthews.  I will paraphrase the words of another prognosticator and tell you this:

No one at the Academy is anxious to hear the words Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa come out of a presenter’s mouth as the winner in any category.

NO COMMENT COMPETITIONS: Do not think for a second I am going to be responsible for predicting the unpredictable, pool-losing categories of:

Guaranteed to lose your shirt

Guaranteed to lose your shirt

Foreign Language Film, Animated Short film, Documentary Short Film and Live-Action Short Film.

You should NOT bet on these.  Or even include them in a pool.  Or even think about doing either.  That is, unless you know someone who has seen them all, is an Academy member and is very good at predicting the whims of voters.  I know several such people and as soon as I can borrow their screeners and cross-examine them I’ll get back to you.  Maybe.