The Top Guns

The Oscars unveiled its 2023 nominations this past week, joining the previously announced award nominees lists from the major unions of craftspeople that make movies (Note: DGA, WGA, SAG, PGA, among so many others).

The work and the films run the gamut from big budget and big box-office to micro-cost and little-to-speak-of in the way of tickets sales.  They also stretch from the extremely well reviewed to the mixed or even disliked.

Now streaming on Peacock!

This is nothing unusual and as it should be.   

AND…  If you’d like to hear our totally unvarnished take on this year’s Oscar contenders, as well as marvel with us over how it is that Riz Ahmed and Allison Williams, this year’s genetically gifted announcers, can still manage to look that good at 5:30 in the morning, click here for all the hot takes we have and then some.

Shameless self-promotion, to be assured, but also informative, fun and a bit bitchy.

Still, I do have one small but definitely full-on bitchy bone to pick over what is and what is not required for great screen storytelling these days.

Top Gun: Maverick has been judged one of five BEST adapted screenplay nominees by BOTH the Oscars AND my own Writer’s Guild of America this year. 




I don’t care how much $$$$ it made or the fact that it seems to be credited with single-handedly reviving the domestic box-office at brick and mortar multiplexes post-pandemic.

There are financial awards for that, not to mention attention from NATO.


The latter would be the National Association of Theatre Owners, not the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.  That last one is a world peacekeeping organization vs. the former, whose job it is to keep the nation’s movie theatres open and its owners at peace.

Note:  Top Gun: Maverick DID NOT save the world.

Beach football didn’t save the world??

Unless the only world you know is the movie business.

Perhaps that’s the problem.

Hey, there is nothing wrong with big, broad blockbuster entertainment.  And there is nothing wrong with big, broad blockbuster entertainment being nominated for awards.

When they are deserved.

Shade, Chair! Shade!

But if you are talking about basic storytelling 101 in the blockbuster arena, at its most essential and most basic there are the GOOD GUYS and the BAD GUYS.

Yet in Top Gun: Maverick, this box-office behemoth of a sequel to a blockbuster from the wretched excess decade of the eighties, we don’t even know who the bad guys are because the writers are too scared, too lazy or likely too worried to tell us.

Tom Cruise’s Maverick is tapped to choose and lead a small group of elite fighter pilots (Note: Think Cruise and his buddies thirty plus years ago) to stop __________________ from enriching uranium, which can presumably, in turn, give THEM, the _________________, a nuclear bomb(s).

But who is THEM???

Who are THEY?  Who is __________________?  The ENEMIES?  THE…..BAD GUYS?

The best we are given is the general term rogue nation.

and here I thought the real enemy was Miles Teller’s mustache

Except no rogue nation can fit the definition of what country or powers are being even vaguely suggested, even if you take into account the very, very few clues provided in the screenplay/film. (Note: For a breakdown of the evidence, here is one excellent analysis, much better than we could do here).

So, well, whom are we rooting against and why are we invested in this mission in this award-nominated screenplay?

Okay, okay, I know. It’s because we want Tom Cruise to win.  Always.

I’m really not sure

Well, some of us.

But from a STORYTELLING point of view in a war movie, don’t we need to know WHO IS THE ENEMY?????? 

That is, aside from logic. 

Of course, right.   A major reason we don’t know is international box office potential.  The forces behind Top Gun: Maverick don’t want to offend any nations, or nationalities, or inanimate objects, rogue or not, for risk of denting their profits with any type of political firestorm or cultural cancellation. 


And at a $1.44 BILLION in ticket sales worldwide, including $744 million in foreign territories OUTISDE the U.S, who can argue with that strategy.

But…is it AWARD WORTHY dramatic writing?

It depends on what you are giving the award for.

Et tu Jon Hamm??

To whit, Top Gun: Maverick is now the FIFTH highest grossing movie of all-time, soaring past the original Black Panther.  The latter film, a worldwide phenomenon, grossed $1.347 billion in total, $647 million from the US and almost $700 million from overseas.

And it had a ton of discernible villains, not only from within Wakanda, its own country, but even from the U.S.

Best Marvel villain ever — no questions at this time.

Not to mention, its current Oscar nominated sequel, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, has SPECIFIC ENEMIES from ALL OVER the UNIVERSE.

That is because the people behind the Black Panther movies know how to BOTH tell a good story AND respect their audience.

See, blockbusters can be artistically interesting and don’t HAVE to play it vague and safe.

If the filmmakers and the studio decide that is what they are going to do.

I said what I said!

What is surprising is that a very large group of Hollywood writers in both the Motion Picture Academy and the Writers Guild have drank their employers’ Kool-Aid and chosen to keep everything they know about great dramatic screenwriting away from their ballots in favor of their hoped for bloated bank accounts.

I would like to attribute it to solely a large group of white male Hollywood writers over 50 whom long for the glory days, when they could imagine themselves as digital Tom Cruise, or even simply employed by the likes of Simpson and Bruckheimer.

But then I realize I am one of those white male 50+ voting writers.

Oh god I’ve become a Taylor Swift lyric

And among my biggest nightmares would be to wake up resembling anything akin to the fictional Maverick or the digital and/or real life version of that particular movie star.  Or in the employ of any two producers making any Simpson-Bruckheimer type product.

So that answer is way too easy.

Instead, I attribute it to a much more realistic view of what’s happened to corporate artists worldwide since time began, especially in Hollywood.

As your bank account rises you have to work like hell to prevent your work and your taste and your voting opinions on anything from going into the toilet.

And that requires the kind of effort and determination that far too few of us are still willing to suit up for.

Lady Gaga – “Hold My Hand” (from Top Gun: Maverick)

Move Over, Gramps

I’m barely hanging on to middle age and by some measures I might have passed it.  So I can say this without impunity.

Old people that cling to power and long to bring us back to their glory days with quick or violent or exclusionary wars or “fixes” are doomed to failure.

We see it in 70-year-old Russian dictator Vladimir Putin’s crazy train, unprovoked invasion of his Democratic neighbor, Ukraine, this week.  A last-ditch attempt to topple a free country and force it to unwillingly abdicate its freedoms in order to become a part of his planned Old/New Soviet Union.

Here we go…

We feel it in 66-year-old Sen. Lindsey Graham’s hysterical mid-week tweet proclaiming the nomination of the first Black female to the U.S. Supreme Court, Ketanji Brown Jackson, a woman he enthusiastically voted into a federal judgeship two years ago, now means the radical left has won.

And we can even notice it in the decision of the Motion Picture Academy and ABC to suddenly cut EIGHT Academy award categories (Note: A full one-third) from being handed out live during its Oscar telecast, an anxious Hail Mary pass to somehow reclaim the big money, outsized ratings and audience of its pre-streaming, pre-pandemic past.

None of it will work or ultimately change anything in their favor.

You got that right

Because nothing can bring something old to heel like the massive power unleashed by a series of unfavorable tweets, videos and interconnected social commitments calling out all the unjust, desperate wrong-headed moves by the old-guard powers-that-be.

Recent history has shown us this with everything from the Vietnam anti-War movement of the sixties, to the fall of the Berlin Wall in the eighties and, now, to the current Black Lives Matter movement.

The supercharged comingling of actions and thought that technology and social media has wrought has especially helped most recently.  A young person actually filmed George Floyd being murdered and that one horrifying post gave birth to thousands of others until the break towards justice became inevitable, if still all too slowly undeniable.

Remember this when it feels long

See, it’s not that our ancestors didn’t organize well back in the olden days.  It’s more that they didn’t have the means to begin to topple their oppressors using their virtual powers in the name of justice with such dizzying speed.

And no, the revolution has nowhere near concluded.   In so many ways that we right now can’t possibly see, it’s only just beginning.

As the world closes in on Russia, freezing its assets and access, Putin thus far remains seemingly steadfast in leveling to the ground the very country he is trying to take over.

He may have sent in 150,000 troops (approximately one-third of Russia’s heavily armed forces) but he didn’t count on the massive resistance of a young country of approximately 44 million led by a feisty leader almost half his age who used to be an actor – and a really good one (Note: As opposed to an aging real life Bond super villain).

Won’t back down

Meaning, it’s really hard to convince the world you’re trying to topple a neo-Nazi regime when that much younger than you president is Jewish, handsome and posts daily videos from his war-torn streets proclaiming he and his cabinet will never surrender or leave and that every Ukrainian who wants a gun will be given a government supplied military style weapon to defend themselves.

Certainly you can wipe out thousands of Ukrainian soldiers in traditional warfare, but what do you do when millions more citizens keep springing up from all sides armed from not only their country but the growing majority of countries left in the global community? 

The horrific story that stood out most to me this week on social media was the one about the 13 Ukrainian border guards stationed on the country’s 40 mile Snake Island, who died defending it and will now all be awarded the country’s highest military honor, Hero Of Ukraine, by Pres. Zelensky.

As an invading Russian vessel approached that tranquil island, a voice bellowed:

This is a Russian warship.  I ask you to lay down your arms and surrender to avoid bloodshed and unnecessary deaths.  Otherwise you will be bombed.

To which the Ukrainian soldiers responded, after a brief pause:


It’s not that I know for sure the thousands and thousands of young people, old people, middle aged people and very elderly people I have since seen on Twitter and Instagram pointing, holding and aiming military style government supplied weapons are all a direct result of this now viral story.

It’s that I’m not even barely convinced, not one scintilla, that it is NOT related.  Or that it isn’t indicative of something a lot larger.

The whole world is watching

When educated young people especially are forced into hiding below ground on subway platforms and in bomb shelters, watching pregnant women give birth and premature neo-natal care units trying to revive infants struggling to breathe with makeshift respirators to the intermittent sounds of bombs, the actions of one short, withering 70 year old billionaire madman isn’t quite the deterrent he believes it is.

As a college professor I remind myself weekly, and can reliably tell you, that when you’re in your twenties you don’t have logic.  What you have is passion.  And anger.  The energy to act no matter what may happen with the belief it will only happen your way.  #UkraineLives

Meanwhile, here in the United States we sit as the majority of Republicans in Congress have predetermined they will not vote for the first female Black nominee to the US Supreme Court. 

We needn’t go through Justice Jackson’s decades old, top drawer resume – from former Supreme Court clerk to the Justice she’s replacing – Stephen Breyer – to prestigious legal defender of the downtrodden – to esteemed judge on the state and federal court level.

What much of their current objections really come down to is the fact that a little over two years ago this woman, then merely in her late forties, had the temerity to rule against seventy something Pres. Donald Trump and his legal team in their plea to ignore multiple subpoenas from Congress to answer the more than many questionable goings-on in his White House.

In a 188-page ruling that agreed with every previous court opinion on the subject, Justice Jackson noted that Presidents aren’t kings, and that this one’s closest advisors had no right to ignore the concerns of another co-equal branch of government under our Constitution under the guise of executive privilege.


Though, well,  it also didn’t help that this judge was Black.  And female. 

Nevertheless, it’s not hard to imagine the late Ruth Bader Ginsberg smiling from the Great Beyond when this new Justice is sworn in some months from now.  When asked after her own confirmation at what point there would be enough women on the nine-member U.S. Supreme Court, Justice Ginsberg simply and famously replied:

When there are nine.

Which brings us, in quite a strange way, to the Oscars.

Chair takin’ us on a roller coaster ride today!

Here’s the thing. 

Do you know how many people tuned in to see the finale of the TV series M*A*S*H in pre-streaming, pre-cable 1983?

105.9 million.

That’s a huge number that nothing can reach these days.  Not even the 2021 Super Bowl, which topped that year’s ratings at 92.8 million.  And not the AFC Championship game, the #2 show that year at 42.5 million.

But do you know what show didn’t even make the list of the top 100 TV broadcasts in 2021? 


Yep, we all know it

Its ratings cratered and didn’t even come close, at 9.85 million.  That was a gigantic drop-off from the 23.6 million that tuned in the year before. Forget about the 48 million who watched the Oscars in 1983 AND may or may not have watched the M*A*S*H finale..

Nevertheless, cutting the live presentation of awards for best editor, production design, short films, makeup and hairstyling, musical score and sound from live TV in favor of god knows what kind of comedy sketch, song and dance, or flat, feeble attempt at an Insta/TikTok moment of relevance from a bunch of people over fifty or sixty or beyond, won’t bring this year’s 94th Oscars back to 1983, or even 2020 levels.

That’s what the kids say… right?

The fact is, 2021’s best picture winner, Nomadland, was about half as exciting as the 2020 winner, Parasite.  And this year’s battle between The Power of the Dog and Drive My Car, will probably be that much less, well….spellbinding.

Yet when Black Panther was in the running in 2019, 29.6 million people were miraculously watching. 


Though QUESTION: Can anyone think of perhaps ONE other reason for all that viewership in 2019 (and further back) aside from Black Panther?  ANSWER:


Oh right… that

What the Oscar producers and ABC fail to see is that time has marched on.  They might not like the facts of this pandemic, of movies debuting on streaming platforms or even the subject matter of the many nominated films, but that is what 2022 has wrought.

So instead of penalizing that young or middle aged person who has worked like hell and actually gotten even a short film off the ground that could speak to an international audience, perhaps they could figure out a way to get….creative…and given them a moment or a shot?

Embrace the unplanned, the glamour, the irony, the history and the reality of these filmmaking times. 

Nope… this is better

Because nothing turns off younger people more than older people or organizations trying to pretend they’re hip and young.

This is why in a classroom of college students I never attempt to act like I truly understand how to navigate our widescreen television from HDM1 to a streaming platform to DVD (Note: The latter a giveaway) and back again without severe anxiety.

Instead, I simply embrace the obvious, make jokes about myself while I’m struggling before them and then, very likely, grovel and beg for their help.

How to admit you’re old without having to say you’re old

They appreciate anything and anyone older than them admitting they don’t know everything and are not necessarily superior simply because they have lived longer and are less supple.

Moreover, they really like it when those in command willingly give in some to generational change instead of turning away or silencing the voices of those less powerful and far more…taut.

Sheryl Crow – “A Change Would Do You Good”