Top-Tenning with the Chair

Screen Shot 2015-10-25 at 10.44.16 AM

While the Chair finds himself knee (cushion?) deep in finishing up a very exciting project, in lieu of a more traditional Notes post, here are the topics of the week that he just couldn’t resist commenting on. I mean, cmon, Adele has a new song, we can’t let that fly by.

Wait.. isn't that my schtick?

Wait.. isn’t that my shtick?

  1. Hillary got a free 11-hour commercial courtesy of the Republican Party and solidified Dem nomination and likelihood of being the first female president. Here’s why.
  1. Remember the skier at the Sochi Olympics who saved a bunch of stray Russian puppies and brought them back to the US? Oh, and won a silver medal? His name is Gus Kenworthy and he came out this week. Yup, he’s gay. And a great guy. The world is changing. (Note: He’s also single, 24 and looking for a boyfriend… just sayin’).
As Adele would say.. Hello!

As Adele would say.. Hello!

  1. Speaking of… Adele dropped her new single. Sophomore slump? Oh, I don’t think so. It’s brilliant, as is the video. Pure Adele.

  1. The Republican Apprentice is losing steam in Iowa. The latest poll has him with 19% of the vote, in second place behind Dr. Ben Carson, who has 28%. Do we need a nickname for the new frontrunner? Dr. Knowlittle?
  1. Both my dog and I got a haircut. She’s still adorable.
Feelin' pretty

Feelin’ pretty

  1. A former student of mine sent me a great Google site that has lots of TV scripts of all genres. It also has bibles (Note: Not THOSE kind) and pitches. (Note 2: Check out the pitch for New Girl). A must-see for aspiring TV writers – and their teachers. Thanks, Emma!
  1. The new Star Wars trailer dropped in the middle of Monday Night Football. I was not watching either at the time. I’m not sure if this means I’m less of a culture vulture as I thought or hipper than pretty much anyone else around.
This Carrie Fisher performance is more my cup of tea.

This Carrie Fisher performance is more my cup of tea.

  1. Fox announced that Laverne Cox will star as Frank-N-Furter in their planned 2-hour film reboot of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Yes, a trans woman will play a character who hails from Transsexual, Transylvania on one of our four TV networks. This is something I couldn’t have imagined in the seventies. Not the fourth network. And not the casting.
  1. It’s my husband’s and my 28th anniversary. Though it’s only our six-month wedding anniversary. Do you honor both? Does this mean two presents?
  1. Vice-President Joe Biden will not be running for president. I managed to turn out the blog (sort of) while meeting a script deadline. The world is changing.

Advertisements

Grampy’s Grammys

Screen Shot 2015-02-09 at 11.47.16 AM

Music is a touchstone. But many young screenwriters I teach have confessed to me they have previously been instructed NEVER to put a song reference in a script because they will limit or confuse a reader who may or may not know the song or the group they’re talking about or will be taken out of the moment by a tune that will probably never wind up in the movie anyway.

The above advice is, of course, ridiculous. Music has always been a great connecter and the perfect evocation of a mood or moment in time that all the talk or visual images in the world can’t muster. It is true that if someone doesn’t know a song a reference to it will not put them in the mood or mindset you intend. But if you go with your gut and choose wisely that song most certainly will do the job when they get to HEAR it – which is the point of writing musical references to begin with. And besides, any artistic moment in time needs all the help it can get.

Which brings us to #GrammyAwards2015.

Hosted by LL Cool J - for the 2,000th time

Hosted by LL Cool J – for the 89th time

As a resident of the west coast who is not in the music industry and therefore not present at the actual live ceremonies, I was three hours late to the party thanks to the greed and hubris of CBS. As the official broadcaster of said ceremony, the network has decided that unlike the Oscars, Emmys and Golden Globes they have no public obligation to share the music simultaneously across the world – or at the very least, the country.

Knowing full well that the primary reason people watch a music awards show is for the performances and not the actual awards, CBS instead chose to delay their west coast broadcast in order to sell more prime time ads and create a greater revenue stream for itself. This is, of course, the network’s prerogative – but only for the time being.

tina-fey-gif

There is a power shift going on in how and where and when we get our entertainment. And that shift is going back to the consumer, which means that before long every event of any importance will be available simultaneously in most time zones. It might be five, ten or 20 years away but the corporate world – which these days includes entertainment and even politics – knows deep down that the party is essentially over and that changeover is causing major and minor freak outs as well as corporate and personal misbehaviors everywhere. These manifest themselves in little bouts of broadcast hubris as well as false and outrageous public statements from people, politicians (Note: No, they’re not the same thing) and various organizations about everything from vaccines to international terrorism, before segueing into mass media hysteria over the possible gender change of an Olympic gold medalist or the newsiness of just what the historical accuracy is of any number of Oscar nominated feature films this year whose only real sin is failing to announce loudly enough its claim that it is merely “based” on a true story.

On the flip side, which of us hasn’t found it a little bit more than fun to live in an age when political gaffes and cultural injustices aren’t events so easily handled?   Truth be told, there is some infinite joy in knowing that eventually Twitter, YouTube and Instagram will provide the real images, observations and videos of said events or thoughts rather than the pre-packaged or approved ones we’ve mostly been previously granted by the gatekeepers.

Enter: Olivia Pope. #ItsHandled

Enter: Olivia Pope. #ItsHandled

I guess I’m gloating but it can be quite entertaining to watch more than a few members of the status quo squirm as their grip on power unwittingly gets pried out from behind our necks. Still, the new scandal du jour of something like NBC anchor Brian Williams exaggerating being shot down in Iraq during the previous decade or fictionalizing a case of dysentery in order to make his Hurricane Katrina reporting more dramatic during the Bush, Jr. presidency is almost quaint at this point. I mean, the one thing we all know these days is that EVERYONE exaggerates a bit – it’s just a lot easier to get caught.   Yes, it’s true – the public already does know that even if the bosses in power don’t.   This is not to excuse the lie or the liar or even to condone that mode of behavior.   Only to acknowledge that we mostly understand that we – most of us – are, in at least some occasional cases, a bit hypocritical, indelicate with our opinions and guilty of bending reality ever so slightly and more – whether national, international or not – whenever the mood hits us.

The new normal today is the degree of the lie. Which is why awards shows are so terribly fun to watch – even when a power broker like CBS doesn’t allow you to view them live along with everyone else.

The craftsmanship of a successful artist’s image is often painstakingly and precisely planned, executed, buffed and shined before you and I get to experience it. But how the famed act in public when they have to be themselves onstage at a live event cannot be any of the above by its very nature. Oh, a person can sort of present a terribly rehearsed version of themselves but on a live show the rehearsal is often fodder for the real show on social media. Sure, he or she or even they can do a bit better fooling us when entertaining live – if indeed that is their profession and they’re good at it. But on the other hand, those who have been auto tuned, or have had their public images sculpted up a bit too brightly become as transparent as an overexposed X-ray held up to the light. Which is more than apt since the people we’re talking about have often been far too overexposed anyway.

Or a little underexposed if you're Sia.

Or a little underexposed if you’re Sia.

Watching this year’s Grammy awards I couldn’t help but feel like I’d be a bit like the star of Gramps Goes to the Movies – catching up with what the young-ins are doin’ and listenin’ to or watchin’ it three hours after the fact or perhaps even a year after my own figurative children’s children had first gotten wise to it.

But then I look up at my TV and the 1970s hard rock band AC/DC – a group I managed to avoid during most of my natural adolescence – are doing a five minute opening number.

What year is this? Am I a teenager again? And what time is it? Don’t I still have math homework to get through? Or perhaps it’s CBS again – playing a cruel trick on the left coast and switching programming back 40 years in order to appeal to its key heartland demographic where presumably they all still do listen to that group.

Performing at next year's Grammys

Performing at next year’s Grammys

As it turned out it was none of those. Only that the actual Grammy broadcast was clearly not hip or even unhip. It actually simultaneously managed to be a hybrid of both and neither. There was something for those of us in or moving into AARP range, others who are indeed still teenagers and the rest of you who fall somewhere in between. In its own odd way, its musical acts, award choices and onscreen behaviors amounted to nothing consistent or at times even decipherable.

This is not say to it wasn’t infinitely entertaining at points or that it failed to reach some quite high moments in others. It is only to note that try as they might to manage it all into something slick and pre-packaged it was actually all kind of a big, engaging mush of truth, fiction, fabulousness and confusion. Sort of like sifting through Twitter or Facebook for too long – but then realizing you’ve both enjoyed and wasted three and a half hours of your life in what seemed like 33 and a third minutes. Not to date myself.

That Zuckerberg

That Zuckerberg

Those of you who didn’t watch along with Grampy Chair or Great Uncles AC/DC can certainly revisit the highlights on the social media platform of your choice. Though I can save you the time with a few thoughts and links to some bottom line highlights.

  • You’ll want to marvel at who thought about having Tom Jones and Jessie J duet You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling as a tribute to famed Brill Building songwriters Cynthia Weill & Barry Mann. No, I didn’t say it wasn’t good. I’m just sayin’…
  • You’ll want to slap your head when you realize CBS is actually choosing to bleep out some song lyrics and words from country superstar Miranda Lambert’s live performance. SHE’S too racy for your core audience? Really? Or do you just think the left coast can’t take a bit of sexual innuendo?
Seasonal allergies be damned!

Seasonal allergies be damned!

  • I want to applaud Katy Perry’s Cover Girl commercial where she frolics amid pink flowers while managing to sell me makeup. Though you might want to boo. But as Taylor Swift, all sleek and tall in Grammy blue once both wrote AND sang: Haters gonna hate.
  • Critics might love groaning when Madonna does her new single about the power of love but I thought it was fun and, more importantly, SHE was once again having fun. You can choose to not think so but you’d be wrong. And no matter what you say anyway, here’s my answer to you in the form of a tweet from GregvsMatt: Roses are red, violets are blue #Madonna is 56 and looks better than you.
Werk it, Material Gurl

Werk it, Material Gurl

  • CBS proves it is once again infinitely unclever by having Fox/American Idol’s Ryan Seacrest introduce NBC/The Voice’s Adam Levine and Gwen Stefani performing their single, but all the network proves is it doesn’t have a tentpole TV reality singing show nor can it even make a lame joke about the others.
  • Matthew McConaughey’s confounding Buick commercials, particularly the one with the bull, will short circuit your brain before you even realize that the revenue it produces is what this three-hour delay is really about. (Editor’s note: It’s Lincoln, not Buick, Chairy. #powerofadvertising)
Annie kills it.

Annie kills it.

  • Sixty-year old Annie Lennox stops the show cold with the best performance of the night both by igniting Hozier’s tired performance of his own Take Me to Church and then electrifying us all with her own rendition of an almost 60 year old song – I Put A Spell On You. If nothing else, the reaction confuses those who live and die by the age demographics of corporate market research. #HelloCBS.
  • I manage to consider that Kanye West’s two onstage collaborations with Paul McCartney and Tony Bennett’s jazz turn with Lady Gaga center stage might disprove every bitchy phrase myself and every other baby boomer has ever uttered about what people, or even corporate networks, will promote those days.
Prince digs into Maude's closet

Prince digs into Maude’s closet

  • I then reconsider the above stance when Kanye steps onstage to try and Taylor Swift Beck’s unexpected win for best album (Note: Presented by Prince in the orange chiffon number your Aunt Esther was gonna wear to your bar-mitzvah but didn’t) and instead pulls back at the last minute even though Beck asks him not to. Then I have to admit to myself that just because one loves a Beatle doesn’t mean one necessarily has or evokes any taste at all.   Though at the same time, I have to also admit Prince looks far better in that getup than my Aunt Esther ever could have, not to mention she’d never be smart enough to publicly state: Like books and Black lives, albums matter.
  • You, if you were indeed watching, probably listened in awe as Sam Smith dueted with Mary J. Blige on Stay With Me – a simple love song/video about a gay guy who isn’t good at one night stands. And you would be right to marvel at both that and the fact that he went on to win four Grammy Awards. #WhoWouldHaveThoughtWayBackWhen. Though it would have really been something if he had dueted with say, Rufus Wainwright. #JustDreamin2025.
Hot damn we love those soulful Brits!

Hot damn we love those soulful Brits!

  • No, it was all of us who kept rewinding Sia’s performance of Chandelier facing away from us while funny woman Kristen Wiig mimed and dance with Sia’s diminutive ballerina all through the song and didn’t so much get a laugh but prove that she is actually also a real live performance artist.
  • You will thank me for advising you to consciously uncouple from Chris Martin and Beck in the fourth hour, almost finale when they duet on one of the songs from what was just voted album of the year. What year, I’m not sure.
I mean.... we get it.

I mean…. we get it.

  • And, though I am in the minority and hesitate to say this – I continue to wonder how Beyonce – clearly an extremely talented and driven woman – can somehow manage to make the finale of the evening – the spiritual Take My Hand, Precious Lord, from the soundtrack of the movie Selma, so beyond grand and indulgent while Common and John Legend sung the hell out of their original song for Selma – Glory – and closed out the show with sincerity. I’ll take a guess. It probably had to do with the fact that they didn’t have a wind machine, flowing white chiffon or enough lighting effects to buff their imagines into a perfect shine.

But hey – that’s just me. And this year’s Grammys. Three hours late. On the west coast feed.

Pop Culture Crack

<> on October 19, 2009 in Santa Clarita, California.

The Oscars are the crack of pop culture.  And like any drug addict, we culture vultures out there have a love-hate relationship.  We love the idea of it but when we indulge too much we feel sick to our stomachs.  We fetishize everything about it – what it looks like, how it will feel when we get a good dose of it (because like any good vice, all you can remember is how great you felt the very first time you indulged and not how awful the last time), what the excitement will be like when we’re in the midst of all the cool friends we’ll get to hang out with when we are partaking, and how we’ll experience all the glamorous surroundings we’ll be able to live in for those few (or too many?) hours we are feeling its effects before being dropped back into the harsh realities of everyday life the next morning, suddenly feeling lousy and realizing we’ve once again participated in something that, in the long run, really isn’t good for us.

Am I exaggerating?  Well, as one of Will Ferrell’s most memorable characters once stated on Saturday Night Live: “Maybe I am and maybe…I am.”  But that doesn’t make it any less true.  Chances are if you’re still reading, you are a pop culture vulture, as addicted as I am, and will continue to be so.  The Oscars (no longer called the Academy Awards, per the announcement by this year’s producers, who decided the term sounded too musty) are just made (born?) that way no matter how disappointing, boring, over-the-top, inappropriate, endless or just plain bad they are in any given year.  And let’s face it, they’ve been all of that and more, year after year.  So let’s do what any self-respecting pop culture addicts do – give in and – INDULGE.

Yes, Mother Monster.. I was born this way.

Yes, Mother Monster.. I was born this way.

Think of this post in three sections – the television show; drinking game ideas (or merely soft drink/party games for those under 21); and my best attempt to give you some informed predictions so you can, at the very least, win the Oscar (NOT the Academy Awards) pool.

THE TELEVISION SHOW

It’s going to be a long one this year and it’s going to be very gay. Like even gayer than I am.   And that’s pretty gay.  But not as gay as this show. Not that there’s anything wrong with either of us.

What do I mean by gay? (And yes, of course I’m stereotyping – but only in a good gay way).  Well, one of the themes of the evening will be Oscar devoting itself to musicals.   No more movie music being relegated to a tacky medley of nominated songs or no medley at all.  Still don’t believe me?  Okay, here are a partial list of some of the singers: Barbra Streisand, Shirley Bassey (she sang the original Goldfinger for everyone under 30), Adele, Catherine Zeta-Jones and the reunited cast of Chicago (because there’s been an outcry), as well as Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway and the reunited cast of this year’s multi Oscar-nominated Les Miserables (because it’s been too long). Plus – there’s a singing host who the producers claim sounds “exactly like Sinatra” (their quote, not mine) named Seth MacFarlane, who will be closing out the evening in song with Broadway diva (divette?) Kristin Chenoweth in a specialty number that is being kept under close wraps.  What little information we do know is that this musical number will be sung AFTER the announcement of best picture – the usual close out moment of the evening.  Why do I say this is gay?  Because if there’s one thing about my tribe, it’s that when we throw the party we not only make our own rules but WE – NOT YOU – and certainly not TRADITION – decide when it’s over.

Yes, it can get gayer than this.

Yes, it can get gayer than this.

Okay, so then – why am I guessing it’ll be a long show?  Well, aside from the James Bond tribute, the salute to musicals, Seth MacFarlane’s monologue, the crew from the accounting firm that tabulates the written and, for the first time this year, online ballots, the In Memoriam segment, the backstage hosts, and the web shout outs, this year we have an unusually long list of famous people who have been announced to be participating on camera.

Among these are an all-star presenters list that includes but is not limited to: Jack Nicholson, Dustin Hoffman, Michael Douglas, Jane Fonda, Jamie Foxx, Melissa McCarthy, John Travolta, Nicole Kidman, Sandra Bullock, Halle Berry, Ben Affleck, Liam Neeson, Reese Witherspoon, the cast of The Avengers (that’s Robert Downey, Jr, Chris Evans, Samuel L. Jackson, Jeremy Renner and Mark Ruffalo) and Mark Walberg with his teddy bear Ted co-star Seth MacFarlane TED.  Plus last year’s acting winners – Meryl Streep, Jean Dujardin, Octavia Spencer and Christopher Plummer.  Plus – and this is my favorite part – special appearances by Charlize Theron, Channing Tatum, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Daniel Radcliffe.  What’s a special appearance?  Tune in and be afraid, be very afraid..  But here’s my suggestion: food and drink, some blankets and some pillows and…some attitude.  Lots of it.

PARTY GAMES!

Another delightful indulgence

Another delightful indulgence

If you want to challenge your friends, relatives, enemies or professional rivals, here are some thoughts for possible moments during which you can raise a glass, a cup or a goblet.  Or wager a bet.

  1. The number of candid camera shots in the audience of the golden couple du jour, Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner (this year’s Brad and Angie).  (Answer: 8?)
  2. Each time or total number of Meryl Streep references, jokes or shout outs.
  3. The number of times (or each time) Catherine Zeta-Jones sings off-tune in her musical number.  (Hopefully, there won’t just be one – number that is – I’m hoping for at least 3 clunkers).
  4. Ben Stiller appearances in a stupid costume (even though he’s not scheduled on the show I still don’t rule it out)
  5. One out-of-place star of an ABC television show who will sneak in as a presenter or participant in an over-the-top moment of network hubris.
  6. Longest standing ovation lasting longer than 30 seconds.  Or any standing ovation if you get particularly thirsty.
  7. Biggest surprise appearance with extra points (or drinks) for each decade of age or each decade of not having been in the public eye.
  8. Number of times Seth MacFarlane breaks into the voice of Family Guy’s Stewie, another animated character, or into song.
  9. Number of Harvey Weinstein jokes or thank-yous.  (And if the thank-you and joke are in the same moment then it only counts once).
  10. How many times, or each time, the camera catches the Tommy Lee Jones scowl. (I’m so hoping for the number 10).

Certainly, feel free to use your imagination in this section and add and subtract as you see fit.

PREDICTIONS

Blogging the Oscars!

Blogging the Oscars!

This is an imperfect science at best, even for veteran Oscar watchers like myself.  The trick is to not get sucked in by what you want to or perceive will win but to try to think like you are one big mass of Academy, uh Oscar voters.  That means you’re likely white, over fifty, somewhat liberal, somewhat opinionated, and a little personally petty but still idealistic enough to want to reward someone who makes you feel good by representing the best of humanity with their movies.  (Note:  You might even give the odd vote to a filmmaker who sends a political message as long as its not too overly threatening or out of the mainstream of cable news subject matter).

Rather than be coy like this year’s show we’re going to start with the most talked about awards and work our way down. There is logic in this since what will give you the edge in the pool is you getting the vote right in the “smaller” categories people know the least about.

Hollywood on Hollywood? Oscar bait much?

Hollywood on Hollywood? Oscar bait much?

1. Best PictureArgo (fuckyourself).  It’s won every guild award and the Oscar voters are also all individual guild members.

  My Personal Choice:  Silver Linings Playbook – I’m a softie and it’s really tough to do those kinds of movies and get them right.  Plus, I’m all for dramatic license but I can’t get past the idea of advertising a political film that says “based on true events” and then distorting facts in order to create a dramatic point.  It’s okay to condense situations or create a composite character – that’s dramatic license.   Blatantly changing facts to suit a dramatic need is a no-no.

2. Best Actor – Daniel-Day Lewis, Lincoln.  He has as much chance of losing as I do of winning in this category.

My Personal Choice:  Daniel Day-Lewis because it was a resurrection, not a performance.

3. Best Actress – Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook.  It’s a showy part in which she never overacts and where she shifts from drama to comedy and somewhere in between on a dime.  She is not going to get eclipsed by Emanuelle Riva in Amour or Jessica Chastain in Zero Dark Thirty because I like my television and do not want to destroy it with a glass object on Oscar night.

My Personal Choice:  Jennifer Lawrence.  See Above.

3. Best Supporting Actor – Robert DeNiro, Silver Linings Playbook.

Yes, we're talking to you.

Yes, we’re talking to you.

His studio ran a great campaign reminding voters that DeNiro hasn’t won an Oscar in many decades (see Meryl Streep Oscar campaign playbook of last year).  But more importantly, DeNiro gave an honest, raw and vulnerable portrait of an older man without making it treacly or obvious.  That’s why other actors practically genuflect in his presence and that’s why he will win.

My Personal Choice: Robert DeNiro. See Above.

4. Best Supporting Actress – Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables.  Let’s put it this way – I was at the Motion Picture Academy screening of Les Miz and there was about a minute’s worth of applause during the film after her song.  Enuf said.

My Personal Choice:  Don’t hate me – Anne Hathaway.  You try singing that song and making it something we’ve never heard sung before

5.  Best Director – Steven Spielberg, Lincoln.  This is the toughest category.  I was about to write in Ang Lee for Life of Pi because a. there’s been a groundswell of support these last few weeks and b. Pi breaks new ground technologically.  But something tells me Oscar voters, many of them mainstream Hollywood types, really do want to reward Steven for helping to keep the industry afloat.  Plus, even though Abraham Lincoln was a Republican, the movie is a bit of a kiss off from liberal America to Congressional gridlock coupled with a warm embrace to a president who tries to reach beyond Washington, D.C. directly to the people.

My Personal Choice:  David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook.  It’s not his year but it’s the film with the most inherent booby traps by which a director can go terribly wrong.  And he didn’t fall into any of them.  In fact, he ran with them and created something quite unique – a feel good movie that isn’t cliché.  Try it some time.

6. Animated Feature FilmWreck It Ralph.  The Academy isn’t hip but the video game patina, the reviews and the general feeling that it IS the best animated film of the year will buoy Ralph to victory.  Brave is a close second.

My Personal Choice:  Paranorman.  Not because it is the best but because I WAS (am?) PARANORMAN.

7. Cinematography – Claudio Miranda, Life of Pi.  For filming what everyone in the industry thought was the unfilmmable.  And for giving a boost to the art of 3-D.

My Personal Choice: Robert Richardson, Django Unchained.  He’s won three Oscars and is one of the best that’s ever been in the business.  He brought a beauty and ugliness to the Old West and the Civil War era and did it without a lot of trickery.  I like that.

OK time for a bathroom break while those boring accountants stoll out..

OK time for a bathroom break while those boring accountants stroll out..

8. Costume Design – Jacqueline Durran, Anna Karenina.  It’s won almost everything in this category elsewhere.  Personally, I thought the clothes were a little overindulged, like the rest of the film.  Clearly, I’m a philistine.

  My Personal Choice:  Joanna Johnston, Lincoln.  The clothes reflected the characters and felt real.  I can’t imagine making Lincoln’s stovepipe hat not seem like a prop.

9. Documentary Feature – The Gatekeepers.  I watched ALL of the documentaries and, truly, any one is worthy of the win.  An exceptional group.  The majority opinion is on the seemingly unbelievable but true story of a once lost and now found singer in Searching for Sugarman.  But there is something about watching the various former heads of the Israeli CIA talk about the real and ongoing history of war, torture, espionage and the like that has international resonance for today.  Plus, Academy voters seldom pass up anything that has to do with this part of the world.

   My Personal Choice:  A tough one but…The Gatekeepers

10. Documentary Short SubjectInocente. I know the least about this category because I haven’t seen the nominees.  But awarding a good short on immigration seems timely and prognosticators seem to give this one the edge.

My Personal Choice – I’m blindfolded.  Don’t make me choose.

11. Film Editing – William Goldenberg – Argo – I guess it’s about the final escape sequence that didn’t really happen.  The America/John Wayne type thing and all that.  Or perhaps the opening documentary-like footage in the Middle East crosscut with Washington, DC.  But this looks like a sure winner.

My Personal Choice:  Dylan Tichenor and William Goldenberg, Zero Dark Thirty.  Re-creating the capture of Osama Bin-Laden and not making it rah-rah glossy.  They deserve an award for that.

12. Foreign FilmAmour.  Ever go to a party where everyone had a meaningful or great time and you were just bored?  That’s me at Amour.  Don’t hate me.  I do have a soul.  Just not during those two hours.  I don’t get the hoopla but hoopla, in this case, is inescapable.  Meaning, take the bet.

My Personal Choice: Anything but A.

13. Makeup and Hairstyling – Lisa Westcott and Julie Dartnell, Les Miserables.  So many rags, so many dirty faces, so many close-ups.  The Academy loves this movie and, as a group, know so little about hair and makeup that doesn’t make you look good.  Therefore, they will be very impressed.

Although I'm sure that's how Helena showed up to work that day...

Although I’m sure that’s how Helena showed up to work that day…

My Personal Choice:  24/7 personal hair and makeup for moi.  More hair than makeup.

14. Original Score –   Mychael Danna, Life of Pi.  Certainly the most original score.  And it’s the only score people keep talking about.  It is close to a certainty.

My Personal Choice:  To listen to the soundtrack of Saturday Night Fever (which didn’t get any music nominations) on a loop instead.

15. Original Song – Adele Adkins and Paul Epworth, Skyfall. It’s ADELE.  Please!!!

My Personal Choice:  You’re not serious, are you?

The ultimate Bond girl.

The ultimate Bond girl.

16. Animated Short FilmPaperman, John Kars.  Boy meets girl thanks to a piece of paper.  It’s sweet, clever and lovely.  And the best in the category (where I’ve again seen all the nominees) by a lot.

My Personal ChoicePaperman – It’s a writer thing.

17. Live Action Short FilmAsad, Bryan Buckley and Mino Jarjoura.  Another difficult category in which I have seen all five nominees.  At first this story of a young boy trying to survive the perils and poverty in Somalia felt earnest but derivative.  But as it went on it turned expectation and convention on its ear and delivered in a light-handed yet very meaningful way.  It feels like something the voters will want to reward.  Close second would be Buzkashi Boys – a more heavy-handed young boy coming-of-age story in Afghanistan.

     My Personal ChoiceCurfew, Shawn Christensen.  He made the kind of short I’d like to make and did it with an unexpected dance, a lack of post-modern irony and without backing away from very real human drama.  Bravo.

18. Sound Editing – Eugene Gearty and Philip Stockton, Life of Pi.  It’s not easy to figure out the right balance of animal sounds, the ocean, the jungle, and a lot of voice-over narration.  But Argo, Les Miz, Lincoln and Skyfall were all very tough challenges.

My personal choice:  I’m unqualified to choose.  Okay, Life of Pi.

19. Sound Mixing – Andy Nelson, Mark Paterson and Simon Hayes, Les Miserables.  It won the Guild awards and when the Oscar voters hear sound mix the obvious thought is – vote musical.

My personal choice:  Same as above.  In this case only, I am no smarter than an Oscar voter.

20. Visual Effects – Bill Westenhofer, Guillaume Rocheron, Erik-Jan De Boer and Donald R. Elliott, Life of Pi.  The perception is that this is what this film is primarily about.  It will win.  The end.

     My Personal Choice:  I’ll bite – Life of Pi

Note:  I have saved the writing categories – my favorites – for the finale.

21. Adapted Screenplay – You don’t know how much I DON’T want to write this.

Though I'd love to sit in on that development meeting..

Though I’d love to sit in on that development meeting..

Chris Terrio, Argo.  It wasn’t a bad film but I don’t get the outpouring.  Does Hollywood love seeing itself cast as the heroes?  Are Americans in general just hungry to see something, anything good portrayed about US foreign policy?  Has Ben Affleck, or at least his work, seduced more people than he himself has done personally?  Probably all of the above.  But this does not explain why a screenplay that condenses and fictionalizes numerous events, and to my mind has A LOT of lagging moments that feel written, especially in the first half, has become the critical darling of so many.  As for Academy members – writing awards unfortunately can sometimes be seen as big consolation prizes.  Even though Ben didn’t write Argo, it’ll be yet another olive branch to him.  (Note:  I still think his movie Gone Baby Gone is terrific – AND his best).

My Personal Choice:  Hmmm – can I vote for both David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook and Tony Kushner, Lincoln?  No?  Damn.  Okay – I have to go with Mr. Russell for being real, clever, dramatic and a bit Hollywood all in one.  Mr. Kushner did a Herculean job on an impossible task.  How do you tell a microcosm story of Lincoln in two and a half hours?  By playing a bit with the facts – maybe a bit too much in the climactic vote scene.  Hence my vote for Russell.

22. Original Screenplay – Quentin Tarantino, Django Unchained.  The key word is ORIGINAL.  He didn’t win for Inglorious Bastards.  Mark Boal did win for The Hurt Locker so voters probably won’t be swayed this time by his work on Zero Dark Thirty.  And if Michael Haneke wins here for his script of Amour, that’s the sound of my flat screen crashing out the window that you’ll hear.

  My Personal Choice:  Django, mother-f-ker.

Blue Period

Holidays come in blues – as well as reds and greens.  Meaning there are many ways and many shades to ring in the season and the New Year.  No – I’m not speaking about blues meaning the Jewish celebration of Hanukah and reds and greens being the Christian holiday of Christmas. The latter has somehow been modified, modernized and appropriated by societies at large – including this Jew – though I do have a special out if called on that because I live with an Italian Catholic.

Actually, the blues I’m addressing are the kind that Miles Davis played with his horn; the type that Billie Holliday and all the great jazz singers crooned about; and the genre that even disco songs like “I Will Survive” spoke about.

Just what are the blues?  Definition please:

Blues:

  1. A state of depression or melancholy.  Often used with The.
  2. A style of music that evolved from southern African-American secular songs and is usually distinguished by a strong 4/4 rhythm, flatted thirds and sevenths, a 12-bar structure, and lyrics in a three-line stanza in which the second line repeats the first.  Or has B.B. King has said: “The blues is an expression of anger against shame and humiliation.”

But the correct answer is more that that.  Ideally the correct answer is:  I know them when YOU have them.  (Because who really wants the blues, right?)

Common wisdom used to be that artistic and creative people had a particular penchant towards the blues.  We’re more sensitive, more troubled, feel things more deeply.  I bought into that for a while – okay, most of my life -until I opened my eyes a bit more into how everyone handles “this condition” in their own way.

Choices:

  1. Stoicism
  2. Humor
  3. Drugs & Alcohol (or any combination thereof)
  4. Feeling it
  5. Other ways I don’t understand (e.g. pretending it doesn’t exist; taking it out on others; becoming a nasty, mean bitter person in the moment or for a whole lifetime)

Artists do have one edge – to use it as a fuel for our work. If you can lift yourself off the couch – or bed – or even floor.  Also known as “making lemons into lemonade,” so to speak.  It shouldn’t be lost on anyone that two of the biggest CDs of the last few years (in both sales AND artistic achievement) are Adele’s “21” and Amy Winehouse’s “Back to Black” – both written in hibernation by their young singers after particularly devastating breakups.  As was Alanis Morissette’s “You Oughta Know” from the “Jagged Little Pill“ CD a decade before.  And back through time.  (Choose song or other cultural touchstone based on your age and contemporary media platform of choice).

Turning blues into gold

But — it is also interesting to note:  Stephen Gaghan wrote “Traffic” from the personal experience of his own drug addiction and James Frey made up a bestseller (or two?) based on the same, except he exaggerated his own real life for dramatic effect (Uh, as most artists do.  And as ALL writers also do) and passed it off as real.  And don’t forget James Baldwin’s great and seminal non-fiction work of being Black in America, “Notes of a Native Son,” that does not paint a very pretty picture of said condition, or that Alice Walker, blinded in one eye as a girl by a BB gun accident and dealing with early depression, eventually went on to write something you might now know as, well,  “The Color Purple.”

This month’s crop of holiday movies (yes – even “New Year’s Eve” included) mostly come out of some sort of adversity/conflict, which I (or anyone with a brain) would say since drama (and comedy) is all about conflict.  Particularly this year – look at  “War Horse,” “The Descendants,” even “My Week With Marilyn” to some extent.  The Blues is sadness and often conflict – outer and inner.  But that is simply only one emotion in the course of a day and can easily turn, often by WORKING through it  Literally.

Note: Woody Allen uniformly does this by working all the time – adhering to the adage “a busy mind is a healthy mind” – lest he ever have time to think his own dark thoughts that are right around the corner

From “Annie Hall”

Young Alvy (Woody) at 9:  The universe is expanding.

Doctor in Brooklyn: The universe is expanding?

Alvy at 9: Well, the universe is everything, and if it’s expanding, someday it will break apart and that would be the end of everything.

Alvy’s Mom: What is that your business?!!

Click for the full clip

I relate to this.  For years I was haunted by the ending of the original “Planet of the Apes” because my young self wisely reasoned if it’s thousands of years later and the planet is just apes that means…none of us will be here????  Boy, what a scary thought that was (and sometimes continues to be) for pre-teenage Steven Ginsberg.  However, it did provide what I always thought was one of the best moments my young alter ego had in my 1993 “loosely autobiographical” movie, “Family Prayers.”

I am not saying you have to have the blues to create.  Certainly not.  (I mean, Julianne Hough can’t be unhappy these days and look at the brilliance of her and the film of the new “Footloose” AND the upcoming trailer for “Rock of Ages!”

But if you do find yourself in that position (the Blues, not Julianne Hough-soon-to-be-Seacrest) during this holiday season there is stuff you can do.

  1. Start a project – any project – but one you can complete.  Not one that will be (is) half finished. (advice:  there is some joy in any kind of completion).
  2. Admire a piece of art by someone who had it worse than you and use the fantasy to fuel your imagination into something better or different while everyone is charging up their credit cards in reality.
  3. Eat cheese, as Liz Lemon says on “30 Rock.” (Note: Substitute food and/or vice of your choice, but be careful).

Perhaps a slice of blue cheese? (too easy, couldn't resist)

Bottom line – use the blues to your advantage – don’t let them use you.  I’m tempted to say even celebrate them.  That doesn’t mean be happy about having them.  But just recognizing they’re there and hanging them out to dry in the light of day  (or night, if you’re anything like me) can turn them not necessarily into a nice large cup of lemonade, but something of a holiday surprise.  The kind of gift that those of us who like to create (that’s really all of us) long for, but can only truly give ourselves.