Rock ‘n Oscars

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

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

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

It’s all about expectations.

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

Still LOL-ing!

Still LOLing!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Preach Louis!

Preach Louis!

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

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

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

Indeed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That would be us.

Furiosa knows it

Furiosa knows it

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

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

And that they bring Chris Rock back next year.

Among other things.

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Global Warnings

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Why does one write about anything as silly and meaningless as an award show – especially the Golden Globe Awards – which are chosen by a bizarre group of international critics who have the collective credibility of, well – a blogger?

The correct answer is not – because you are a blogger.

Rather, it is the same answer I give my students and friends when they ask, Why does fill in name of a good or favorite actor do so many bad movies?

Answer: Look at all the choices available to them at the time. Which one do you think they should have picked?

In my case, I just can’t spend another week on The Republican Apprentice, Hils, the Bern or Grandpa Munster (Note: Oh please, you know who I mean).

I'm back!

I’m back!

Plus, our president has guns covered at the moment, there doesn’t seem much of a debate left on climate change and do you really need to read another 10 best/worst list of 2015 or a preview of your top choices or potential losses for 2016? No, you do not.

So here are my GG predictions. We’ll weigh in on Monday for a post mortem of the show. The commercials have host Ricky Gervais teasing us that he might make a celebrity cry. Don’t dress. And take that as seriously as any tease you encounter on television – or anywhere else for that matter.

BEST MOTION PICTURE – DRAMA

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CAROL Number 9 Films; The Weinstein Company

MAD MAX: FURY ROAD Warner Bros. Pictures / Village Roadshow Pictures / Kennedy Miller Mitchell

THE REVENANT Regency Enterprises; Twentieth Century Fox

ROOM Element Pictures / No Trace Camping; A24 

SPOTLIGHT Anonymous Content / Participant Media / First Look; Open Road Films

Winner: SPOTLIGHT

It’s got the heat, as they say. And it’s a really good film. CAROL is too rarified for this group, MAD MAX is too forward-thinking, THE REVENANT is too gross and ROOM is too small. If you are thinking a possible upset for your betting pool, remember this is an international consortium – so perhaps, REVENANT or MAD MAX. But, uh…no

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A MOTION PICTURE – DRAMA

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CATE BLANCHETTCarol

BRIE LARSONRoom

ROONEY MARACarol

SAOIRSE RONANBrooklyn

ALICIA VIKANDERThe Danish Girl

Winner: ALICIA VIKANDER

This is one of the trickiest categories so don’t wager the house. Brie Larson should win and will probably be awarded the Oscar because it is likely Ms. Vikander will be put up for supporting actress. But given these nominations, the international appeal of THE DANISH GIRL should do it along with AV’s universal raves. The CAROL women will split. Possible spoiler is Saorise Ronan but that’s doubtful since the film is small and likely has not been seen by all the voters, “critics” though they may be.

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A MOTION PICTURE – DRAMA

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BRYAN CRANSTON, Trumbo

LEONARDO DICAPRIO, The Revenant

MICHAEL FASSBENDERSteve Jobs

EDDIE REDMAYNEThe Danish Girl

WILL SMITHConcussion

Winner: LEONARDO DICAPRIO

FYI, I think Bryan Cranston will win the Oscar. But again – international voting is a big element here and Mr. DiCaprio seldom, if ever, wins awards. The true winner should be Michael Fassbinder who couldn’t grunt, bleed, accent or costume his way through the nearly impossible role of a somewhat unlikeable icon. But that won’t happen. Nor will Mr. Smith go to the stage.

BEST MOTION PICTURE – MUSICAL OR COMEDY

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THE BIG SHORT    Paramount Pictures / Regency Enterprises

JOY     Fox 2000 Pictures; Twentieth Century Fox

THE MARTIAN    Twentieth Century Fox

SPY     Twentieth Century Fox

TRAINWRECK    Universal Pictures / Apatow Productions

WINNER: THE MARTIAN

How much do you want to see Amy Schumer up there? Well, (NOTES SPOILER!) you’re going to have to wait for a category. And the true winner should be THE BIG SHORT. But I’m not entirely sure this group will go for the latter. The international market ADORES Ridley Scott and he’s another perennial non-winner. Not to mention, there are a group of critics who see the overly long, overly optimistic for humanity theme of THE MARTIAN irresistible. Well, no one can accuse we here at notes of any of that!

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A MOTION PICTURE – MUSICAL OR COMEDY

BFFs

BFFs

JENNIFER LAWRENCE, Joy

MELISSA MCCARTHYSpy

AMY SCHUMERTrainwreck

MAGGIE SMITH, The Lady in the Van

LILY TOMLINGrandma

WINNER: AMY SCHUMER. And no, you didn’t read that wrong.

It’s a comedy and this group also likes to feel both hip and out-of-the-box from time to time. Not to mention – the Hollywood Foreign Press’ main source of revenue (meaning how they stay afloat) is the broadcast of this show (which means ratings).

Lest we forget who won big at the 2010 Globes!

Lest we forget who won big at the 2010 Globes!

Not to say Ms. Schumer doesn’t deserve best comic (and even musical!) performance by an actress this year. Though my vote would go to Lily Tomlin. Why? Because how often do we get the treat of seeing Lily Tomlin playing a snide lesbian…in the movies, that is?

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A MOTION PICTURE – MUSICAL OR COMEDY

The world saves Matt Damon... again

The world saves Matt Damon… again

CHRISTIAN BALE, The Big Short 

STEVE CARELL, The Big Short 

MATT DAMONThe Martian

AL PACINODanny Collins

MARK RUFFALOInfinitely Polar Bear

WINNER: MATT DAMON

Sure, this feels ridiculous. Is ‘THE MARTIAN a comedy? As much as it’s a musical. Nevertheless, it’s Damon in a walk. My vote is for Bale or Carrell. Or Mark Ruffalo. Or Al Pacino, even though I haven’t seen that movie.

BEST MOTION PICTURE – ANIMATED

inside-out1

ANOMALISA    Starburns Industries; Paramount Pictures

THE GOOD DINOSAUR    Pixar Animation Studios; Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

INSIDE OUT    Pixar Animation Studios; Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

THE PEANUTS MOVIE     Blue Sky Studios; Twentieth Century Fox

SHAUN THE SHEEP MOVIE    Aardman; Lionsgate / Studiocanal

WINNER: Um, INSIDE OUT. Seriously.   (For my thoughts on the truly bizarre Anomalisa, check out last week’s post)

BEST MOTION PICTURE – FOREIGN LANGUAGE

#honesty

#honesty

THE BRAND NEW TESTAMENT (BELGIUM / FRANCE / LUXEMBOURG)

THE CLUB (CHILE)

THE FENCER (FINLAND / GERMANY / ESTONIA)

MUSTANG (FRANCE)

SON OF SAUL (HUNGARY)

I have no business weighing in here since I haven’t seen any of the nominees. The talk is for SON OF SAUL. Few Hollywood groups or award contests can resist a Holocaust film.

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE IN ANY MOTION PICTURE

Whatever Chairy, you know I'm fabulous!

Whatever Chairy, you know I’m fabulous!

JANE FONDA, Youth

JENNIFER JASON LEIGHThe Hateful Eight

HELEN MIRRENTrumbo

ALICIA VIKANDEREx Machina

KATE WINSLET,  Steve Jobs

WINNER: JENNIFER JASON LEIGH

I gotta say Jennifer Jason Leigh even though THE HATEFUL EIGHT is the one big film this year I still haven’t seen. Why? It’s only early January. Why JJ Leigh? Because she should have won years ago for GEORGIA and I’m still annoyed. Look it up. #SadieFlood4Ever

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE IN ANY MOTION PICTURE

Not a knockout for Sly

Not a knockout for Sly

PAUL DANO, Love & Mercy

IDRIS ELBABeasts of No Nation

MARK RYLANCE, Bridge of Spies

MICHAEL SHANNON99 Homes

SYLVESTER STALLONECreed

WINNER: MARK RYLANCE

Mark Rylance has the edge. Watching his performance is an acting master class in less is more. It should be required viewing for anyone serious about the craft.

BEST DIRECTOR – MOTION PICTURE

Le sigh

Le sigh

TODD HAYNES, Carol

ALEJANDRO G. IÑÁRRITU, The Revenant

TOM MCCARTHYSpotlight

GEORGE MILLERMad Max: Fury Road

RIDLEY SCOTT, The Martian

WINNER: TODD HAYNES

This is one of the toughest categories. The winner SHOULD be Tom McCarthy for not showing off and telling a story in a compelling way without all the bells and whistles. But likely it’s between Todd Haynes and Ridley Scott. Hmmmmmm. Okay, it’s Todd Haynes. It’s just the kind of film that would feel arty to these voters.

BEST SCREENPLAY – MOTION PICTURE

Is that my office?

Is that my office? #hotmess

EMMA DONOGHUE, Room

TOM MCCARTHY, JOSH SINGER,  Spotlight

CHARLES RANDOLPH, ADAM MCKAYThe Big Short

AARON SORKINSteve Jobs

QUENTIN TARANTINO, The Hateful Eight

WINNER: TOM MCCARTHY, JOSH SINGER, Spotlight

It’s hard to imagine they won’t win for making journalism heroic, dramatic and noble once again. The writers of THE BIG SHORT could be the spoilers here simply for originality. Though let’s not get carried away on that score.

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE – MOTION PICTURE

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CARTER BURWELL, Carol

ALEXANDRE DESPLAT, The Danish Girl

ENNIO MORRICONE, The Hateful Eight

DANIEL PEMBERTON, Steve Jobs

RYUICHI SAKAMOTO, ALVA NOTO, The Revenant

WINNER: ENNIO MORRICONE but…

…really no one has ANY idea, including the members of the Foreign Press.

Is this the tie-breaker in your pool? Then go for Ennio Morricone. Otherwise, drink every time someone onstage says original.

BEST ORIGINAL SONG – MOTION PICTURE

Betting against the sentimental choice

Betting against the sentimental choice

“LOVE ME LIKE YOU DO” (Fifty Shades of Grey)  Music & Lyrics by: Max Martin, Savan Kotecha, Ali Payami, Ilya Salmanzadeh

“ONE KIND OF LOVE” (Love & Mercy)  Music & Lyrics by: Brian Wilson, Scott Bennett

“SEE YOU AGAIN” (Furious 7)   Music & Lyrics by: Justin Franks, Andrew Cedar, Charlie Puth, Cameron Thomaz

“SIMPLE SONG #3”  (Youth)   Music & Lyrics by: David Lang

“WRITING’S ON THE WALL” (Spectre)   Music & Lyrics by: Sam Smith, Jimmy Napes

WINNER: ONE KIND OF LOVE 

Since the entire movie of YOUTH depends on and leads up to the performance of the haunting SIMPLE SONG #3, you’d think this was a lock. But I don’t believe this group can resist giving the much-loved Brian Wilson biopic, LOVE AND MERCY, some love. Or the much-admired Brian Wilson some long overdue awards attention.

BEST TELEVISION SERIES – DRAMA

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EMPIRE (Fox)

GAME OF THRONES (HBO)

MR. ROBOT (USA Network)

NARCOS (Netflix)

OUTLANDER (Starz)

WINNER: MR. ROBOT

I’m going out on a limb here though it could easily be GAME OF THRONES. But the Foreign Press loves to be the FIRST to discover a show around awards time. I remember at the turn of the century when they SHOCKED the crowd on hand and at home and gave Fox’s PARTY OF FIVE best drama series. Again, look it up. As for MR. ROBOT – I’m in the middle of binge-watching it and I have to say I’m sort of hooked. Sort of? Huh?

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A TELEVISION SERIES – DRAMA

Friendly competition

Friendly competition

CAITRIONA BALFE, Outlander

VIOLA DAVIS, How to Get Away with Murder

EVA GREENPenny Dreadful

TARAJI P. HENSONEmpire

ROBIN WRIGHTHouse of Cards

WINNER: VIOLA DAVIS

Take it to the bank. She’s crazy good. Literally.

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A TELEVISION SERIES – DRAMA

JON HAMM! JON HAMM! JON HAMM!

JON HAMM! JON HAMM! JON HAMM!

JON HAMM, Mad Men

RAMI MALEKMr. Robot

WAGNER MOURANarcos

BOB ODENKIRK, Better Call Saul

LIEV SCHREIBER, Ray Donovan

WINNER: JON HAMM

That’s the sound of me cheering.

BEST TELEVISION SERIES – MUSICAL OR COMEDY

Still riveted

Still riveted

CASUAL (Hulu)

MOZART IN THE JUNGLE (Amazon)

ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK (Netflix)

SILICON VALLEY (HBO)

TRANSPARENT (Amazon)

VEEP (HBO)

WINNER: TRANSPARENT

It’s the show of the moment. It just is. I suppose VEEP could sneak in it but it’s doubtful.

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A TELEVISION SERIES – MUSICAL OR COMEDY

You know you love me Chairy

You know you love me Chairy

RACHEL BLOOM, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

JAMIE LEE CURTIS, Scream Queens

JULIA LOUIS-DREYFUS, Veep

GINA RODRIGUEZJane the Virgin

LILY TOMLINGrace and Frankie

WINNER: JULIA LOUIS-DREYFUS

Has Julia Louis-Dreyfus ever lost an awards competition? Who does she know? Still, there is a slim chance for Gina Rodriguez. Yeah, the international factor again. But I’ve learned my lesson betting against the Walt Disney of comedy actresses. (Note: I didn’t really just write that, did I?)

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A TELEVISION SERIES – MUSICAL OR COMEDY

Is there a Globe for failure to age?

Is there a Globe for failure to age?

AZIZ ANSARI, Master of None

GAEL GARCÍA BERNAL, Mozart in the Jungle 

ROB LOWEThe Grinder

PATRICK STEWART, Blunt Talk

JEFFREY TAMBORTransparent

WINNER: JEFFREY TAMBOR

The closest there is to a sure thing. A brilliant portrayal of a trans woman because he plays her very simply – as a person.

BEST TELEVISION LIMITED SERIES OR MOTION PICTURE MADE FOR TELEVISION

A winner dontcha know

A winner dontcha know

AMERICAN CRIME (ABC)

AMERICAN HORROR STORY: HOTEL (FX)

FARGO (FX)

FLESH & BONE (Starz)

WOLF HALL (PBS)

WINNER: FARGO

It’s the most talked about drama this year. If one more person looks at me wide-eyed and says – What do you mean you don’t watch Fargo – you must! – I’M GONNA SCREAM. Ahhhhhhhhhh

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A LIMITED SERIES OR MOTION PICTURE MADE FOR TV

Oh Chairy, you betray me!!!

Oh Chairy, you betray me!!!

KIRSTEN DUNST, Fargo

LADY GAGA, American Horror Story: Hotel 

SARAH HAY, Flesh & Bone

FELICITY HUFFMAN,  American Crime

QUEEN LATIFAH, Bessie

WINNER: KIRSTEN DUNST….

….Because c’mon, you HAVE to watch FARGO. Then you’d understand. Though remember when she burst on the seen as a young girl in INTERVIEW WITH A VAMPIRE? I do. Again, look it up.

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A LIMITED SERIES OR MOTION PICTURE MADE FOR TV

pg-6-wolf-hall-bbc

IDRIS ELBA, Luther

OSCAR ISAAC, Show Me a Hero

DAVID OYELOWONightingale

MARK RYLANCEWolf Hall

PATRICK WILSONFargo

WINNER: MARK RYLANCE

Because FARGO has to lose in some category and Mr. Rylance is that good in everything he does.

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE IN A SERIES, LIMITED SERIES OR MOTION PICTURE MADE FOR TELEVISION

You crazy, Chairy??

You crazy, Chairy??

UZO ADUBA, Orange is the New Black

JOANNE FROGGATT, Downton Abbey

REGINA KINGAmerican Crime

JUDITH LIGHTTransparent

MAURA TIERNEY, The Affair

WINNER: JOANNE FROGGATT

How do you not give DOWNTON ABBEY something? Talk about international appeal. Not to mention – it’s Anna.

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE IN A SERIES, LIMITED SERIES OR MOTION PICTURE MADE FOR TELEVISION

What about my comeback?

What about my comeback?

ALAN CUMMING, The Good Wife

DAMIAN LEWISWolf Hall

BEN MENDELSOHNBloodline

TOBIAS MENZIESOutlander

CHRISTIAN SLATER, Mr. Robot

WINNER: BEN MENDELSOHN

I actually saw all of Bloodline. If there ever were an award-winning type of role, Mr. Mendelsohn had it – and delivered. The others will have to make do being in his company this year.

OKAY – SEE YOU ONLINE where I’ll be live tweeting at: @NOTESFROMACHAIR. Tune in!!!

Watching the Gross

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I thought I’d grown used to the movies I like grossing very little money but it’s sobering. Still, this shouldn’t be surprising. I can now get into films as a senior citizen in some places. I know, I’m shocked too.   When I went to see the Steve “Jobs” movie a few weeks ago I almost passed out. But still paid full price.

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Clearly, I’ve permanently strayed from the “youth” demographic Hollywood covets no matter how many times my peers say 50 is the new 40, 60 is the new 50, 80 is the new 20 and death is something that happens to OTHER people. That’s scary enough. But to realize that not one of my favorite films is among the 50 top grossing movies of the year – well, that’s positively un-American. It’s like my entire country has turned on me when I wasn’t looking. And in more ways than one. On the other hand, it’s not the first time. I lived through the eighties, Ronald Reagan and Forrest Gump winning the Oscar yet I am still here whining about it all as our first African American-president completes his second term of office and Birdman was last year’s best picture winner. Inevitably, these types of things, as well as life, do run in cycles.

And yet…

Hard as it is to recognize I have come to understand that like many Americans the movies are my touchstone. Each year at least a handful reflect what myself and our culture were thinking or feeling en masse and, when they worked really well, even showed us alternative ways to cope. Did Michael Keaton really go out the window at the end of Birdman? Who cares – it raised the question of just what are the alternatives we all face when trying to survive as an artist of any kind. And if one believes, as I do, that anything you attempt to do well in life does indeed have some sort of artistic element to it, it is essential we continue to consider these questions. And spend less time pondering how high of a gilded wall we can build around ourselves to keep out those who are different. Ironic, isn’t it? That a country built on a melting pot of difference should be faced with the 2015 Shakespearean question of how we engineer and preserve our current gene pool to exclude as many others as possible.

There’s a reason why, at its essence, drama hasn’t really changed very much since the Elizabethan period or even as far back as the ancient Greeks.

Still works!

Still works!

Which in a roundabout way brings me back to The MOVIES, 2015.

If you’re a member of a Hollywood guild each year you’re fortunate enough to receive DVDs of many of this year’s movies so you don’t have to move your privileged ass off the couch and make the effort to go to the movie theatre if you so prefer not to. (Note: Well, you wouldn’t either if you didn’t have to and had a decent TV setup at home – give me a break)

So being the lazybones (nee whore) that I am I decided that after gorging myself on turkey I’d continue gorging myself on some of the movies I got in the mail and have not yet seen. I also decided to go out to the movie theatres and pay for a few others as well as attend several industry screenings (Note: Yes, for free – I’m not only getting lazy in my old age but also cheap). And what continued to amaze me is that without exception the films that I really enjoyed continue to make very, very little money at the box office. How long before these types of films are not made at all? I fear, not very long.

Maybe there are better movies on Mars? (I'll ask Matt Damon)

Maybe there are better movies on Mars? (I’ll ask Matt Damon)

Now before you go saying I’m part of the problem because I’m not going out to see my films enough – you’re only partly right. Like all of you, I should venture out and support my local theatres more than I do. But also know that part of the marketing budgets of all production companies include sending out free DVDs to guild members not to be kind but to get us to VOTE for said film in an enormous array of awards competitions that the industry will use to promote the winners and get you/us – the audience – into the theatres to see or into the stores to buy or into our heads to stream. For better or worse that’s the way the system works. Bottom line dollars.

I suppose this explains why as a Writers Guild member two of the early DVDs I received were for Furious 7 ($353 million domestic box-office gross) and Jurassic World ($652 million). Did anyone really think these would win any writing awards? (Note: That question was rhetorical). No, it was about spreading the word. Well, fyi, I’ve previously seen both a Furious AND a Jurassic movie before and was entertained. I tried briefly with both of these. Oh God. I might be old but I’m not brain dead. Yet. Which is why I turned them off.

As for some of the others – well, here I am to do the job that I was sent to do by the studio overlords – spreading the word. (Note: As if I wouldn’t give my opinion anyway).

TRUMBO

He is Spartacus?

He is Spartacus?

This is the story of blacklisted Hollywood screenwriter Dalton Trumbo and how his intellectual liberal leanings sent him to jail for a year in the 1950s merely for being subversively un-American as a member of the Communist party. (Note: Think of him as a Muslim under a future Trump administration).

More interesting is the tale it tells of how Trumbo, once out of a jail, worked secretly writing tacky low-budget movies under assumed names and got his other unemployable writer friends jobs doing the same via a hidden writer’s clearing house he ran out of his house. With the help of his wife and children. Who answered five different telephone lines and served as their script couriers.

As played by Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston, this Trumbo is a witty, erudite crusader, family man who takes advantage of the people around him while at the same time loving them and his country in the most unorthodox of ways. It’s a wonderfully nuanced performance that will surely get him an Oscar nomination. The movie takes a long time to get going and in the first half especially feels a bit like a choppy, TV movie biopic from the 1970s. But ultimately it’s smart, breezy, clever and not without some meaning. And slickly made by director Jay Roach.

AND — It’s made less than a $1 million after three weeks of limited release.

Verdict: Watch it.

TRUTH

Would you... Rather?

Would you… Rather?

I was where most of you probably are on this. Robert Redford playing Dan Rather in a movie that shows us how Rather got pushed out of the anchor chair at CBS because of a 60 Minutes story he did on George W. Bush’s questionable military record of service? A story where sources recanted their original claims but nevertheless a story that was never proven factually inaccurate?

#1 – I don’t want to hear any more about Dubya. #2 – Redford is about as similar to Dan Rather as I am. #3 – It’s my private time, I want to be entertained by a film not forced to think about unpleasant stuff I was forced to live through all too recently.

Well, the film is not really about Dubya at all but about how the news you see on TV is put together and just how influential political dynasties can be “behind the scenes.” More importantly, Redford might not look anything like Rather but he’s got his speaking cadence down pat and is ultimately absolutely believable as the veteran Texas newsman – in fact it’s the best he’s been in a movie in many years. Who knew? Not any of us because no one is going to see it. Since it’s release in October it’s grossed about $2.5 million.

Oh, and then there’s Cate Blanchett starring as Rather’s real-life producer Mary Mapes, a tough-talking Texan she gets exactly right because she doesn’t slather on the accent but instead accentuates her intelligence. The whole film is smart. And –

Verdict: WORTH WATCHING.

SICARIO

Yawn. Sigh. Bleh.

Yawn. Sigh. Bleh.

My students will hate me for this because they seem to love this movie. Why? I have zero idea. Emily Blunt is as good as she can be as an FBI agent drawn into the web of breaking up a Mexican drug cartel by her CIA overlords as well as by others. But…it’s a labyrinth of action with character development and logic so spare as to be almost non-existent. And after a while it simply becomes preposterous. And a bore.

I’ve experienced first-hand as a writer notes on the strategy of throwing audiences right into the world of a movie without much of a convincing setup and allowing the viewer to play catch up. This sometimes works – as it did in the first season of True Detective. And it often times fails, as it does here. But then again, it depends what you mean by failure. Sicario has grossed $49 million in the U.S. alone and another $34 million overseas so far. That makes it a bit more than a modest success in the world of the balance sheet of a film with no above the title movie star or director. It’s also a world where logic and dialogue don’t matter as much the various kinds of actions that are ultimately delivered.

Verdict: SKIP IT. Though you could do worse (Note: See Furious AND Jurassic).

CAROL

Costumes by a 3-time Oscar Winner... what can ya say?

Costumes by a 3-time Oscar Winner… what can ya say?

Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara as two seemingly mismatched women falling in love in the repressive 1950s under the direction of Todd Haynes (Safe, Velvet Goldmine, HBO’s Mildred Pierce). This movie was MADE for me!! You’d think.

It’s beautiful to look at. Cate Blanchett’s mink coat and shimmering blonde hair and red lipstick are breathtaking. As is every single room, piece of jewelry and choice of scenery and period motor vehicle and hotel room and tacky apartment and cheap motel room. Which is a big part of the problem. It’s a movie in love with artifice – and itself. The drama is real and sometimes palpable but as someone is said to have once said, “it’s like watching paint dry.” The same emotional beats are played over and over. Time and again.   It’s based on the seminal lesbian romance novel The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith, which she published under a pseudonym in 1952.   But never for one moment do you feel as if you’re watching anything other than a book unspooling in movie time without any of the nuanced language that made it so special.

The two actresses are wonderful. Everything is pretty. And it does show us how much a great deal of the world has changed. But…well….

Verdict: PASS – which is not to say there is not a great deal of skill and intelligence here. Would I watch it before Jurassic and Furious again? Oh, I don’t know. Maybe I should just force myself to get all the way through the latter two for the first time. Though Carol needs the money more. It’s grossed about $500,000 in 10 days of limited release. And I doubt there’s a ton more to come. DVD/streaming sales? Maybe. But…OK, I’ll stop now.

BRIDGE OF SPIES

A Spielberg movie written by.... The Coen Brothers?

A Spielberg movie written by…. The Coen Brothers? 

I popped the DVD to this in and had low expectations. I mean, it’s the tale of the reluctant negotiator spy type American hero of the 1950s as played by Tom Hanks and directed by Steve Spielberg that somehow you believe deep down in your soul you’ve seen before…. but directed by Hitchcock and starring Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman or by Michael Curtiz and starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. Except it’s not any of those. Or really that much like them.

Tom Hanks is very good, very believable and very likeable – in an authentic, throwback Americana way. It’s a tough act to pull off an insurance lawyer turned hostage negotiator in period clothes but somehow you buy it all. At this point it’d be shocking if Mr. Spielberg did not direct an infinitely watchable movie. And this one is pretty darn watchable – thanks also in great part to Mark Rylance’s brilliantly understated performance in a role you need to see rather than read about from me. He anchors the film. And if you think that’s easy when you’re not a movie star, you’re wrong.

Verdict: WORTH WATCHING. It won’t change your life but it’s engaging. Though at a $67 million box-office gross it’s the equivalent of Trumbo or Truth in dollars for a Spielberg pic. That may not be fair but it’s the way the industry thinks. And for our future films bodes a bit ominous.

Feel free to agree – or disagree. But just know the top five grossing films of 2015 are Jurassic World ($652 million); Avengers: Age of Ultron ($459 million); Inside Out ($356 million); Furious 7 ($353 million) and Minions ($336 million). And that’s just in the U.S. alone. Films that are more adult – nee a bit more complicated or intellectually challenging – are in trouble. And need our support. At theatres, on DVD, or yes, even for free. It’s who we are. Or were. Our choice.

Oh you'll be adding me to that list pretty soon....

Oh you’ll be adding me to that list pretty soon….

P.S. Note #1: I did very much enjoy Inside Out but it’s an animated film and they’re in a category of their own. This is not a snob thing but everyone likes at least one animated movie a year except a dear friend of mine who I still can’t convince to embrace Aladdin – the gayest animated movie that’s ever been made. I’ll work on him, though.

P.S. Note #2 – Just got home from a screening of The Danish Girl. Eddie Redmayne and his co-star, the Swedish film actress Alicia Vikander, will both receive Oscar nominations. As will others behind the scenes. It’s mainstream yet unusual. Thought-provoking though not too complicated. And timely in that it follows one of the first medical cases of gender reassignment. Verdict: See it. People actually speak in full sentences, and often more than one sentence at a time. Plus, nothing blows up.

At least that’s something.