Hollywood’s Super Bowl: The Chair’s Predictions

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

Let's do this!

Let’s do this!

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

BEST PICTURE

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

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

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

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

WINNER: The Big Short

ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE

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

WINNER: Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant

ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE

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

WINNER: Brie Larson, Room

ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

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

WINNER: Sylvester Stallone, Creed

ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

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

WINNER: Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl

ANIMATED FEATURE FILM

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

BRB, watching this for an hour

BRB, watching this for an hour

WINNER: Inside Out

DIRECTING

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

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

WINNER: Alejandro G. Inarritu, The Revenant

WRITING (ADAPTED SCREENPLAY)

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

WINNER: Charles Randolph and Adam McKay, The Big Short

WRITING (ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY)

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

WINNER: Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy, Spotlight

CINEMATOGRAPHY

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

WINNER: Emmanuel Lubezki, The Revenant

COSTUME DESIGN

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

WINNER: Jenny Bevan, Mad Max: Fury Road

DOCUMENTARY (FEATURE)

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

WINNER: Amy

Miss you girl

Miss you girl

DOCUMENTARY (SHORT SUBJECT)

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

WINNER: Body Team 12, David Darg and Bryn Mooser

FILM EDITING

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

WINNER: Margaret Sixel, Mad Max: Fury Road

FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

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

WINNER: Son of Saul (Hungary)

MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING

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

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

I surrender!

I surrender!

MUSIC (ORIGINAL SCORE)

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

WINNER, Ennio Morricone, The Hateful Eight

MUSIC (ORIGINAL SONG)

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

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

PRODUCTION DESIGN

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

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

SOUND EDITING

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

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

SOUND MIXING

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

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

 VISUAL EFFECTS

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

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

…AND THE ULTIMATE TIE BREAKERS:

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

SHORT FILM (ANIMATED)

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

WINNER: Sanjay’s Super Team

SHORT FILM (LIVE ACTION)

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

WINNER: Ave Maria

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

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

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The IT Factor

Paparazzi

Some people just have IT.  And as Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart famously argued re obscenity in 1964, you know IT when you see IT.

We’re not talking about pornography here – we’re talking about seemingly superhuman, universe-given (Note: No God references here) — TALENT.

So when this week I watched a 16-year-old bubbly girl from New Jersey named Jacquie Lee close out Tuesday night’s episode of The Voice singing I Put a Spell On You – a classic blues song by Screaming Jay Hawkins that was recorded timelessly by none other than the brilliant diva Nina Simone – and then reinterpreted campily by Bette Midler in the cult movie Hocus Pocus – I was skeptical.  I mean, ya need some miles on ya to do that song justice.

I mean... where do you go from here?

I mean… where do you go from here?

Uh, well…. not really.

We don’t know much about Jacquie Lee except she’s a seemingly happy high schooler from a nice family who plays soccer and, in her spare time, entertains sick kids in local children’s hospitals in her home state with a traveling keyboard.   Oh, also that she’s smiley and well-liked, though probably not rated among the very top singers on the #1 show on television this season.

Well, that’s all changed.

Here’s what Jacquie showed us this week with a microphone and an absence of auto-tune in less than two and a half minutes.

Question:  How is this possible???

Or perhaps the real question is – How is IT possible?

It is no secret among those who know me well or those who sort of know me but not quite that well, that if I could pick any IT talent in the world to have it would be singing.

It’s not that I can’t sing – I can sort of carry a tune and can do it pretty well if I really concentrate – it’s just that it’s not what I do nor who I am except in my dreams.  Yes, I could take lessons and get better and yeah, I know it’s not about being the best, it’s about being the best that YOU can BE.  Still honestly, there is no way, no how I can ever be the kind of singer that I would long to be.  Which is a great one, a natural one, a soaring one, a brilliant one.  An IT one.  Young Jacquie is an IT one.

It doesn’t matter whether Jacquie is to your taste, my taste or the world’s taste.  All one needs to do is listen to a few notes and one knows – if honesty prevails – that the IT can’t be denied.

This helps.

This helps.

Most artists don’t have the IT and are quite wonderful at what they do.  And not everyone who has the IT can handle it and become the artist they want to, or perhaps are even meant to, be.  It takes a combination of extreme dedication, perseverance, timing, hard work, discipline and yeah…some luck.  Plus, let’s not confuse artistry (and IT) with commercial success and world domination.  Haven’t you ever met anyone who has IT who no one has ever heard of?  Perhaps someone you know well, or even you, (Note; They’re not always one in the same) are that person.

The IT is rare and most humans don’t possess it.  Though we are ALL creative and artistic – I really believe that.  We just need to find what our talents are and nurture them.  We can’t lament not possessing the IT because all of the lamentation in the world won’t give that specific component to us.  However, what we can do is appreciate and admire and applaud for the IT when it appears.  Like a great piece of chocolate cake – and I mean a really, really great one – it is very, very rare.

J. Law knows.

J. Law knows.

There’s a pivotal moment in the Judy Garland version of A Star is Born (1950) where James Mason, playing movie star Norman Maine, is trying to persuade young Esther Blodgett, played by Ms. Garland, just how great a singing talent she really is.

Says Norman:

If you’ve never seen a bullfight you’d know a great bullfighter the minute he stepped into the ring by the way he stood and the way he moved.  Or a great dancer.  You don’t have to know about ballet.  That little bell rings inside your head, that little jolt of pleasure.  Well that’s what happened to me just now.  You’re a great singer.  You’ve got… that little something extra.

The entertainment industry and, more generally, the world, are littered with any number of artists with the IT whose lives ended tragically short for various reasons.  I don’t need to list them here.  You’ve heard of the famous ones and maybe you’ve personally known or known of some of the anonymous few who were equally brilliant in their own ways.   What is for sure is what it’s like to live day to day with IT is unknowable.  Except that – like anything big and electric – it can’t be easy or exceptionally great all the time.  Because, as we all know, nothing in the world is ever that – nor could it be.  Nor would most of us really ever want it to be.

Like I would  mention my Amy.

Like I would mention my Amy.

I love great artists and I strive in all of my work – artistic and not – to do the absolute best I can.  I also try to teach this to my students.  To go the extra mile because if you don’t do it in what you’re producing you are, bottom line, ultimately only selling out yourself.   And there are already more than enough ways for the latter to happen without you yourself helping it along.

Nothing is the IT at every moment or at every performance or and no one is the IT each time they show up to their tablet or desk or stage of choice.  And no doubt even if a daily diet were available it would wind up boring and take away much of he luster we’re talking about here.  Therefore — in those few times the IT does happen (Note: It’s usually unexpected.  That’s how the IT operates) don’t be foolish and allow yourself not to get caught up in the excitement. Don’t get jealous, be cynical or negate that which is obviously true.  Be fully present in the moment.  Bear witness.  It will not only give you pleasure, it likely will, in some small way, be inspiring – and make you better at what you, and only you specifically, can do.

The Big Yawn

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You’ll have plenty of time to sleep when you’re dead!”  — Aunt Nan.

Broadway legend Patti LuPone played a character based on my Aunt Nan in the 1993 movie I wrote called Family Prayers, so my thinking is this – any advice given by a person who readers, executives and audiences (okay, it was a small audience, but still…) uniformly embraced as a film character should be taken seriously.  And if you knew Nanie (my nickname for her), sort of a cross between a real life Auntie Mame and a white Pearl Bailey (younger people might want to substitute a more grounded, earthy version of Jessica Walter on Arrested Development or in Archer) you’d be scared not to.

Two sassy bitches

Aunt Nan and Lucille Bluth: two sassy bitches

Still, I wouldn’t be her nephew if from time to time I didn’t take a moment to, like her – sit back perched on my sofa, drink in hand, and totally disobey an authority figure (even if it is her) as I utter exactly what I think in the moment.  In this case, it boils down these four words:

I AM SOOOOOOOOOO EXHAUSTED!!!!

Stop complaining, you say.  It’s not like you’re working down in the coal mines or, to use a more contemporary reference, are in danger of being subjected to another season of Smash.  To this I answer (as Nanie would) – go to hell or, to use a more contemporary analogy, go bury yourself in a sea of Justin Bieber tweets.  Someone has to speak the truth and I’m the ingrate to do it.  At least today.  Tomorrow might bring out a nicer, more constructive me – the kind some of you (but not all) have grown used to.  But that’s only if I get a good four nights of sleep and I am able to time travel to my favorite moments in 1968 and 1973 and 1984 with all the knowledge and empowerment I have right now and take care of a few people and things as I wave a magic wand and wipe out laser disks, 8 tracks and any trace of Michael Bay movies for all of eternity.  So don’t dress.

This current wave of vitriol-spewing sloth was brought on by too much work, too little exercise, too many personal and professional mini-crises to handle in the last few months and a profound lack of sleep that we all suffer from time to time.  In other words, everyday life.   It might also have to do with the anticipation of the next weeks, which are renowned to be a trying time for college professors worldwide as they settle down to read tens of thousands of papers, screenplays and other written material, attempting to  constructively critique and objectively rate (translation – give a grade to) work that is totally subjective and un-rateable in less time than it takes to turn out a very bad episode of the worst and most offensive reality show on television.  Fill in your title of choice on this one – mine is Keeping up with the Kardashians.  Sorry (not really) Kim.

In an effort to be fair to both students and readers given these circumstances, I thought it was only good form to get some of this out of my system.  After all, experts tell us the best way to revitalize is to unload your burdens either through physical activity or mental excavation as you relax and unwind via one or several of the many millions of methods available.   Though I know the former is better in the long run I much prefer the latter – especially when I can subject others to it and get it out of my house of cards and into  yours uh – theirs.  And since we know misery loves company, perhaps some of this will help re-invigorate a few of you to add to the list — or simply re-appropriate stuff from mine and allow me some additional extra relief.

(Cautionary Note: Obviously I’m too tired to care what happens once these thoughts leave what’s left of my brain, so — beware.)

REASONS FOR CONTEMPORARY EXHAUSTION IN THIS ONE PARTICULAR WEEK IN 2013 AND WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT:

ZACH BRAFF KICKSTARTER CAMPAIGN BACKLASH

That's over 2 million, haters.

That’s over 2 million, haters.

Zach Braff has raised more than $2 million in three days to finance an independent movie ten years after he was nominated for an Oscar for writing and directing the film Garden State.  Question: Why does this bother ANYONE?  How does this take away money from poor filmmakers?  Don’t you know that studios don’t even want to make movies with live action people anymore, much less small quirky stories that have no sequel or Happy Meal/App potential?  Garden State was a cool film.  I wish I had done it and want to see more like it.  So – wait for it – I gave him money.  As I regularly do to projects from former students and other poor people.  If you’re spending time hating on ZB, you’re not working at your own stuff.  Get. Over. Yourself.  Meanwhile I’ll see you (not!) at the rough-cut screening I’m invited to next year.  Wearing my free T-shirt.  And carrying my autographed copy of the script.  So there.

RYAN MURPHY PONTIFICATING FROM THE MOUNT

You know how we feel, Ryan.

You know how we feel, Ryan.

I admire Ryan Murphy and love that he’s a creative force in the industry.  American Horror Story is one of my favorite shows on TV.  Glee helped so many kids with self-esteem issues and was a lot of fun (well, at least during the first two seasons).  But if I read one more article telling me Ryan has been known to tell his writing staffs things like “I’m obsessed with the color orange right now.  Figure out a way we can do a tribute to orange”; hear one more anecdote about him and his husband and their perfect son who was born through a surrogate; or click on one more video where Ryan is showing off the overpriced personal artifacts he had flown from all over the world into his heavy handedly-designed sprawling L.A. house, I’m going to pull what little hair is remaining in my scalp out and will be as bald as he is. (And I don’t have the budget for his cool hats).  Ryan – you’re wonderful. Please, please, please – for the love of God (or whoever you believe Her to be) – STOP.  Less is the new….More.

AMANDA BYNES-BASHERS

Yeesh. Turn the cameras off.

Yeesh. Turn the cameras off.

There is nothing funny or even newsworthy about young, formerly hot actresses roaming the city streets as they tweet inappropriate words and thoughts about their private body parts and looking confused after they shave off half of their hair.  I don’t know this young woman.  I wasn’t ever a fan or a foe.  And I have a pretty sick sense of humor and a fairly devout passion against censorship.  But contrary to what some comedians claim, some jokes about some people are just not right in that moment.  Lindsay Lohan being trailed across the world by the paparazzi day in and day out as she slowly implodes and explodes is no more entertaining than the photos of the late, great crack-addicted sad story Amy Winehouse wandering the streets of London or falling down onstage as she warbled off key with barely a vestige of her unique, once-in-a-lifetime voice.  Last week I saw the brilliant British actress Tracie Bennett sing and act the part of Judy Garland at the end of her life onstage in The End of the Rainbow.  It was amazing work and captured a woman who was funny, sad and, even at her drug-addled end, still able to pull together her amazing talent.  Many of these young women today are not as fortunate.  And it’s far from amusing.

VEGAN-ESE

I think you know what this looks like to me..

I think you know what this looks like to me..

I love my vegan friends, eat no red meat myself and very much enjoy salads and vegetables.  But tempeh and tofu are not chicken and burgers.  They are perfectly acceptable proteins on their own if one so chooses.  So why, why, why are they constantly being referred to as such in vegan restaurants and by food writers and the mass media?  Also, full confession:  I willingly eat a little cheese.  It’s not the end of the world.  As Ava Gardner says in an attempt to calm Howard Hughes at the height of his OCD in Martin Scorcese’s very underrated The Aviator – “Nothing’s clean, Howard.  But we do our best, right?”

BRANDING

Pick your own cattle prod!

Pick your own cattle prod!

Can’t anything just be what it is anymore?  Why does it have to be a part of or spawn countless subsets?  Granted, we are all a bit of something else – our parents, our families, mankind, people who survived George W. Bush.  But do we have to constantly be reminded of it?  I remember watching the original Bonanza as a kid in the 1960s (look it up) and it often featured cattle and fire branding.  Does everyone need to have a prime Grade A logo of a commodity burnt into their unique flesh, or in this day and age tattooed, onto their arm, behinds or latest piece of work in order to be deemed worthy?  As a gay, Jewish, intellectual, brown-haired (sort of), writer, teacher, one who lives in a domestic partnership, and someone who is part of the group that is on the very end cusp of the baby boomer generation, and even larger and more notable group, I say — NOT!

 

WORST ALLERGY SEASON EVER

My best chance of survival this spring..

My best chance of survival this spring..

You don’t want to know how many pills, inhalers and shots I do daily and monthly in order to maintain my current state of precarious health.  I don’t need to constantly be reminded about how bad the air is in comparison to what it was 25 years ago or warned that the next month, year or decade will be even worse.  Logic, headaches, a cloudy state of mind, sight and my mood tell me this.  And if you write in and tell me it’s because I am not vegan I will personally brand you a non-Belieber and let you know my worst allergy of all is to nuts – a staple of the majority of vegan foods.  Incidentally, this was discovered when, as a 3-year-old, my parents tried to shut me up in the back seat of a car with a can of Planters mixed nuts and instead had to rush me to the hospital.  It didn’t work for them then.  It won’t work for you now.

SPEAKING OF BELIEBERS…

In lieu of a pic of Beiber, here's Jon Hamm walking his dog.

In lieu of a pic of Beiber, here’s Jon Hamm walking his dog.

Stop saying Justin Bieber looks like a lesbian.  Lesbians are much cooler and hipper.  He’s an adolescent with a gabillion dollars who can sing and dance well in a very mainstream, non-threatening sort of way.  He didn’t have much schooling (you sooo don’t want to tell me about the school of life) — of course he doesn’t understand the ramifications of publicly asking in writing via the guest book at the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam whether Anne Frank would have been a Belieber?  What is wearying is how much more time was spent on that rather than on the contents of Anne’s diary during this or any other month of the year and/or decade.

DUBYA REDUX

On display at the Bush Library... where to start?

Maybe I should have posted another Jon Hamm pic?

By any objective intellectual or polling standard, George W. Bush was THE worst American president in modern times and perhaps of all times.  I can’t blame him for wanting to open a library and reinvent his legacy but I can blame the media and his paid consultants and friends for playing fast and loose with the facts during his time in office.   To wit: 1.  The attacks of 9/11 spearheaded by the master terrorist he was warned about over and over again in writing — Osama Bin Laden. 2. The worst crash of the American economy since the great Depression. 3. Record deficits from record inherited financial surpluses left to him by impeached president Bill (@PrezBillyJeff for those in the Colbert Nation) Clinton. 3. The debacle of Hurricane Katrina. 4. Trumped up evidence to finance the costliest and perhaps most pre-determined war in American history – The Iraq War.

Fact:  It’s all a matter of public record.  Creating an interactive presidential videogame at the Bush 43 library doesn’t change anything, especially since it doesn’t include all of the top secret, classified information any American president is privy to at the time they make their decisions, to play with.

Lesson:  When your game is rigged, you can’t ever look really bad – that is, unless people refuse to play the game you’re offering.  Reality:  Despite the touted polls, most of us are not playing and Bush was not and never will be a really good play-ah.

 

SHORT TAKES:

SNACKS1

  • Matt Lauer and Ann Curry have broken up.  Everyone: Let. It. Go.
  •  A change in your routine – any change at all – can be exhausting at first but WILL provide a spark of life and a tad of energy after a few seconds.
  •  James Franco is in too many places at once.  I simply get weary thinking of him.
  •  Writing anything in a journal for 15 minutes first thing in the morning can do wonders for your mood the rest of the day (This advice is appropriated from Julia Cameron’s wonderful book, The Artists’ Way).
  •  Any students or people who use the word its instead of it’s (it’s = it is) or there instead of their (there = over there) should be forced to watch a full season of Keeping Up with theKardashians, culminating with Kim’s wedding.  On a loop.  For a year. (Or perhaps they already have and this is the reason for their misusage).
  • Exercise of any kind (use your imagination) makes you less tired in the long run.  The question is, how do you make yourself do it. (Branding? Cattle prod?)
  •  High art fans who think highly of themselves:  Stop pretending you’ve never seen a sitcom, soap opera or reality show.  Ever.  And get a TV if you don’t have one.  You can join the world and still be brilliant.  (You might even feel less exhausted). 
  •  Low art fans who think highly of themselves: Turn off the TV, go to a museum, watch a film that is not in English, and read a book that is not part of a brand, preferably one in paper and not on a screen.  It feels different.  And it just might be energizing.
  • Everyone Else:  Try. Something. (Or Someone). New. 

As for me, I’m planning to do at least one of these things and report back next week.

Hopefully, I’ll be up to it.

After my nap.

Santa’s Vixen

 

Twas the night before Christmas and on the West Coast...

It’s that time of the year in the world of show biz
When it’s spooky and silent, even if you have kidz
Cause the town closes up and all calls go unanswered
Leaving new screeners and old TV shows to be cancelled.
 
Yes, just when you thought there was hope you’d break through
The red carpet rolls up and there’s nothing to do
Except to go home and spend time with your loved ones
Or open a bag of Top Ramen with no one.
 
You had hoped to buy presents but didn’t earn the money
Or you do have the cash, but you don’t have a honey
Or you’re doing quite well and you’re happy as pie
Except you can’t help but think that this dream soon will die
 
Cause HBO just nixed “Hung” and “Bored to Death,” too
They grew tired of cable sex and a stoned sleuth half-Jew?
But for Mike White’s new “Enlightened,” a big fat renewal?
Well, it’s a little new age-y and not very cruel
 
Perhaps that’s the secret, since Kim K’s divorce
Be a little more real, and a little less coarse
Wait, that doesn’t make sense, cause K’s still get big ratings
And Revenge is a hit, while Glee’s quickly abating.
 
American Horror’s taken Ryan’s attention (and I can’t say I blame him)
It’s got sex, blood, guts AND, no divine intervention
I’ll bet he goes home and eats more than Top Ramen
And Jessica’s Golden Globe nom surely must calm him. 
 

Not a creature was stirring

 
Hmm, let’s make a new plan, we can switch to the movies.
A lot more respect and a lot, lot less hooting
But did you see “Twilight,” or sit through “Transformers II?”
How about “The Green Lantern,”  or that “Scooby Doo 2?”
 
Well “Drive” was a hoot and this year Woody’s done well
At least it shows you can also be old and still very much sell
Or if you’re young there’s the Black List for scripter’s unknown
Even when they’re not made, you get deals and great phone
 
Go Gosling, Go Bullock; Coop, Pitt and Jolie, I can see you!
Go Cruise, Clooney and even Ms. Streep now feels brand new
Still it’s tough not to think of how much can go wrong, 
Or pretend the list of disasters aren’t incredibly long
 

Ry in his cap

It’s so tiring thinking of ways uber-defeatist
Or just running in place while Sorkin’s sold his next fetus,
I did once read that selling your body could actually work
But three hour gym days drive everyone berserk.
 
Wait, what’s that I see – off there in the distance,
It’s a Hollywood God – no, it’s Ben Affleck.  Or Matt Damon?
I can’t see their faces;  cause it’s her, you damn fool.
She’s Marilyn Monroe and she’s sitting right by a pool!
 

Santa Baby

 
 
No, it’s not Michelle Williams, though she’d actually do
Could you imagine that “Dawson’s Creek” girl’d one day make you drool?
Ill bet that Michelle never thought that would happen
How could she when even Van Der Beek didn’t pay attention?
 
Look Marilyn’s nodding, I think it’s what we just stated
Or is she blowing me a kiss, and my sadness has just abated
No she meant what she said and she said what she meant
She was looking at us, not that clone of Clark Kent
 
The smartest of people is what I think are cool
And the ones that I met in that hip acting school
Or the grips on the crew who are nice and just real
Not the ones who just used me while copping a feel
 
Wait, are you a mirage that everyone sees
Hey Mar, I’m DeNiro, “you talkin’ to me?”
You know that I am, and now try to break free
And don’t fret like the rest of the fish in this sea.
 
A real life is precious as precious can be
Like Taylor’s Krup Diamond which, by the way, just sold to me
The mistake that you make is you try to fit in
When the ways you are different is what gives you the win
Your smile and your brain and your sweet disposition
And the art that you bring to each difficult mission.
 
I made my mistakes but at least they were mine
Now go and make yours cause to me, you’re divine
Woah, I think she’s just vanished, along with the pool
And it had to be her cause I’m feeling so cool
 
And as I look up in the sky on this bright L.A. night
Where once there were not any stars in my sight
There is Marilyn saying with everything that she feels
Believe in your talent,  you are the REAL DEAL.
 
 
 
 

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.

Endings and Beginnings

The one and only?

“When one door closes another opens.”  It’s taken me all of my life and then some (I’m counting the future) to accept the adage.  How does one take a disappointing or not hoped for outcome and not only accept it but actually revel in it because its very existence might be opening up a great opportunity yet to come?

On that note, how can you let go of a longtime dream, whether you’ve achieved it or not achieved it and make room for another (Remember — either outcome means you do have to go on).  How do you believe that CHANGE IS GOOD, or can be good –-because experience tells us that it is, or can be, if we make it so.

This is all essential in show business and in life (Side Note: Never, EVER, confuse the two).   I’ll resist saying anything about the latter because, well, I’m not that wise and certainly not old enough to philosophize.  But I do know something about surviving in show business because, well, I’m friends with a lot of people who have and, let’s face it, here I am still performing in our little/big/medium-sized three-ring circus (the size depends on your current standing in the biz).

The death of Amy Winehouse this week prompted all this reflection.  I was a rabid fan of the brilliant and troubled young singer and her demise felt to me like a door closing on one of the few contemporary musicians whose work I listen and relate to with any regularity.  There have been so many intelligent tributes, tweets, comments on this (and some not so smart) that I won’t go on about it.  You can read Russell Brand‘s or two writers at Salon (here and here) for some of my favorites.  There’s even a NY times article where iconoclastic (or at least he was) director John Waters talks about her style.

But best of all there’s the music. Listen to the “Back to Black” album and if for some reason it’s not your thing, it is likely you won’t deny the one-of-a-kindness of Winehouse’s talent.  Perhaps more interesting and less known was her pared down jazz/soul cover of the vintage Carole King song, “Will You Still Love me Tomorrow.” Watch it here. 

Why am I writing about this?  Because while part of Winehouse’s talent was just a grand gift from – not sure where, you decide – it was not just the inheritance of the “brilliant gene” that fostered her creativity.  She worked at it from a young age.  She grew up obsessed with Frank Sinatra, girl bands, played with her musician Dad and others for years on end as a kid on several instruments.  She listened incessantly to Billie Holiday, white British soul singer Mari Wilson, and American girl group icon Ronnie Spector for hundreds of hours on end.  Spector, a member of rock royalty whose classic “A Christmas Gift For You” album you hear in every mall across America in the holiday season (and yeah, she was married to THAT guy), knew Winehouse was inspired by her but the feeling was mutual.  So much so that at a concert six months ago, she sang a cover song of Winehouse’s signature song, “Back to Black.”  (Watch it here) while a shy Winehouse hid behind a man in the corner.  But Spector still spotted Winehouse’s signature beehive hairdo, the same hairdo she herself sported in the 60s.

The truism here is that like all great art, artists are not accidental and Amy Winehouse wasn’t.  It was a combination of study and hard work on the shoulders of those who came before her — Holiday, Spector, Nina Simone, Dinah Washington, the Shirelles and every girl group of the sixties, Aretha Franklin, Carole King (I was surprised but shouldn’t have been that a Carole King song, “So Far Away,” was noted by her father as one of her favorite songs at her funeral), and Lauryn Hill (the latter apparently being someone she listened to incessantly).  That her demise into the “27 club” even happened is awful and represents an ending of sorts.  Yet as final as her death is as an end to her new music, we can be sure her creative history marks the beginning of someone else – perhaps in a few years – in 10 years – or maybe a generation later.  That person will listen to Winehouse incessantly, be influenced by her and the handful of brilliant artists of all kinds before her, and create something just as raw, fresh and frankly, amazing, as she did.  But in a different way.  And we can also be sure that person would not have existed without Winehouse ending specifically when she did.   That sucks, and we wish it didn’t happen but it did and that’s the way of the creative world.  Work is sparked by nuance, by obsession, by circumstances, by innocence and by tragedy – of all kinds. *

 *For those who say we pay too much attention to Winehouse’s death in comparison to the massacre last weekend in Norway, I say – “uh, since when do tragedies have to compete in the “best” category, like Oscars,  and why does attention to one negate the other.  And I point you to this refutation in one of the two prior Salon posts.

It should also be noted the ENDING of Winehouse’s music will somewhere spark the BEGINNING of someone else’s voice not only in music but in film, print, television and/or yes, perhaps the internet.  It’s part of the elusive cycle of art in this new world we live in.  No one does it alone, really.  Nor could they  (And who would want to?).  We don’t live in isolated caves anymore, no matter how much the reflection of our current events on cable news makes it seem.

If you want to create new work it helps to have a “gift.”  But more people than you might realize have the “gift.”  Ask anyone over 40 you know who is an actor, writer, musician or director to recite some of the more talented friends with sparks of brilliance much brighter than their own who were never heard from and I guarantee you will soon get a list a mile long.  The legacy of Amy Winehouse, aside from her music and her brilliance, was that she worked at it her whole life.  So much so that it will in turn give life to much more wonderful art than we can ever know.  Endings and beginnings, indeed.

***

On a more personal basis – today marks another exciting beginning of sorts for someone very special to the chair and to this blog.   My colleague Holly Van Buren, who fills in for my lack of tech savvy and is the best blog editor any guy (or gal) could ever have, is leaving Ithaca College Los Angeles and relocating to our home campus in Ithaca , NY where she will be teaching freshman film, among other life lessons. (Lucky them – and that’s not me being sarcastic!).

Holly’s exit from our offices is an ending – and is sad for us – but is such an exciting beginning for her that we can’t be sad unless we were the most selfish, egocentric, only obsessed with our own needs people in the entire world.  And I, for one, stopped being that last week because I didn’t want to make Holly feel any worse for abandoning/leaving me and the blog, (okay, not to mention the rest of the office) to our own devices.  She’s not, of course, because that’s not her way.  She’ll be editing it and posting cool videos for us from Ithaca.  It might not be different for you but it’s different for me.  She was the one who encouraged me to do this in the first place and laughs at my jokes, compliments my observations and tells me when I make absolutely no sense at all or am being as clear in print as a smoggy Los Angeles day (which happens more often than I like in my first draft).

Everyone should be lucky enough to have a Holly.  But our loss here, is Ithaca College’s gain.  Endings and beginnings.  Again.

Stay tuned for more.

Dream Team