Sorkin Says

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There was a time not so long ago when I thought being a teacher in the creative arts signified some sort of failing.

After all, as Woody Allen’s doppelgänger, Alvy Singer, once famously quipped in Annie Hall:

Those who can’t do, teach. And those who can’t teach, teach gym.

Many views, Woody, as it turns out, are not as clever as we once thought they were.

As it also turns out, the not so long ago I refer to in my own thought processes was the eighties. Which, given what’s going on in politics at the moment, feels like it was yesterday. To refresh all of our memories – it was a time when the homeless (nee poor) were vilified and money was viewed as the god and goddess of all things as exemplified by one of the most popular movie anti-heroes of the time, Wall Street’s financial baron, Gordon Gekko. In case you don’t remember, he once famously quipped Greed is good. Which pretty much sums up the callousness of thought through most of the decade for those who weren’t there. Or, as I prefer to think of it: the anti-Reagan reality.

At least the cell phones got better

At least the cell phones got better

In any case, this was all brought to mind by none other than Aaron Sorkin when he spoke this week at a panel of this year’s Writers Guild of America award-nominated screenwriters.

At one point towards the end of the evening the entire group of eleven nominees were asked by a young screenwriter, who was now attending UCLA on a military scholarship, how he could possibly proceed with the third act of an in-progress screenplay he clearly hoped to one day sell, that he felt required him to move his story into trans-racial characterizations he feared the world was not ready for.

He's listening

He’s listening

Clearly sensing the real pain and terror in this young man’s voice, it was the famous and most acclaimed of all the writers on the panel who eagerly jumped into the deafening silence and told him:

Don’t ever NOT write something because you think we’re not ready.

Hmmm. It seems that at least one who can do clearly CAN teach. Imagine that.

And Sorkin knows something about writing a character we’re not ready for #unicorns

Well, of course I’m leading with the best example of the evening. The world of mentorship is not a yellow brick road of rosy results and Emerald City glitz and glamour. Amid all the intellectual thought, encouragement and new potential roads of inspiration, there are too many others who are either ill equipped or whose methods are steeped in the art of the teardown and pretentious self-involvement. Every one of us has met at least one of them. The tough love gurus who secretly revel in telling you outwardly or implying to you all too unsubtly that your work sucks. This is usually done through a loop of lecturing where they relate a rating system of all the famous and/or commercially successful people in the field who are really lesser-than hacks you should be not only be absolutely unimpressed by but revile. That is if want your new god-like mentor to secretly continue to bestow upon you their pearls of wisdom.

ahem

ahem

This type of story was bestowed on said WGA audience by none other than panelist and current Oscar/WGA nominated screenwriter of Carol, Phyllis Nagy. It seems as a younger person, Ms. Nagy became a protégé of Patricia Highsmith, on whose seminal novel, The Price of Salt, Ms. Nagy’s screenplay was based. Ms. Nagy, then a copy editor at the NY Times, recalled a 30-minute limousine ride she took with the quite prickly Ms. Highsmith at their first ever meeting in the 1970s during which the novelist spoke only once every ten minutes to ask her a mere three questions. 

The first question was: What do you think of Eugene O’Neill?

Ms. Nagy’s reply: Not much.

To which Ms. Highsmith gave a very encouraging nod of approval.

well aren't you fancy

well aren’t you fancy

Okay, stop right there I thought from the audience. Eugene O’Neill. Really? The guy who wrote Long Day’s Journey Into Night, The Iceman Cometh and well, you get the picture. I don’t care how damn talented or famous she was – really? What does that get you? Or anyone?

Yet it seemed this was exactly the right answer because here we are all these decades later where this once young writer has gotten all of this 2015-16 attention for adapting the older writer’s 1950s story she eventually received the rights to. Or perhaps it was Ms. Nagy’s answer to Ms. Highsmith’s second question:

What do you think of Tennessee Williams?

Because this time Ms. Nagy managed to give the seal of approval to Mr. Williams – an acknowledgement she claims Ms. Highsmith quite heartily endorsed at the time.

Phew.

Tell me again how great I am.

Tell me again how great I am.

I don’t know Ms. Nagy but one hopes this is not the kind of attitude that gets passed on from one generation to the next. Yet I know it frequently does – not necessarily in Ms. Nagy’s case (Note: As I said, I don’t know her) but to other non-famous or more famous instructors and artists of all kinds my students have told me about and I myself have encountered or read about through the years.

Well, like any experience in life, you take the good with the morally questionable and try to balance it all out with your own actions. This is not unlike writing your own stories or living out the actions of your own life. Call me corny or crazy, and I’ve certainly been justifiably referred to as both, but I much prefer the conversation and mentorship I had in the eighties with Bo Goldman – who I don’t consider so much a mentor but an off-the-cuff Sorkin-like teacher I was fortunate enough to encounter during the course of a day.

Mr. Nice Guy

Mr. Nice Guy

As a young writer I met Mr. Goldman, the two-time Oscar winning screenwriter of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Melvin and Howard who had yet to write big studio movies like The Perfect Storm and Scent of A Woman. His agent was a new friend of mine and generously told him I was a talented young writer (Note: Who had only written one semi well-received screenplay at the time) working on a new script. I will never forget Mr. Goldman probably seeing the forlorn terror in my eyes after he asked me about what I was working on and listening patiently as I tried to explain it. But more importantly, I will also always remember him smiling generously at me and saying: Don’t force it, don’t beat yourself up, it’ll come.

He then went on to share several stories of difficulties from his own life, always putting himself and me on equal status as writers.

The reason I can’t remember the stories is not that they weren’t memorable but that Mr. Goldman’s largesse to even include me in the same sentence with him when it came to the craft that he was so lauded for at the time was both shocking and humbling. But he didn’t see the world, as some in the commercial arts do, as a competitive playing field where one is trying to best the next person nipping at your heels behind you; or attempting to put down another more renowned and lauded than you.

Plus, this is the only living creature I prefer to have nipping at my heels

Plus, this is the only living creature I prefer to have nipping at my heels

Instead it was important for him to hear my story and reach out a hand of reassurance, as no doubt someone had done for him – or not done for him – confident that in doing so he was risking nothing of his own status and perhaps enhancing it. After all, what artist doesn’t want to spend a moment or two sharing the pain and/or difficulty of the journey, hoping in some way it dissipates its affect on the psyche. Of course, on the other hand, he could have just been being nice. I suspect it was both.

This is what teaching is about and what true mentorship is. It’s also what being a human being is about. And it feels equally good to both receive and give it – no matter what anyone writes or says about it.

Needless to say, Mr. Goldman was a welcome exception to the eighties. But it’s often the exceptional we remember – no matter where we are or regardless of the times.

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Oscars So…

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There was a time not so long ago when journalists got up at the crack of dawn to go to the Motion Picture Academy where, at its Samuel Goldwyn movie theatre on Wilshire Blvd., if you were one of them, you’d be among the first non-Academy associated humans to get a white typewritten paper list of Oscar nominees that you’d either phone into your publication or rush back to the office to write about for tomorrow’s edition. There wasn’t a lot for TV reporters to film, except perhaps a bunch of p.r. representatives lingering from the side aisles waiting to pounce on anyone within earshot in all sorts of nefarious ways.

Oh, maybe there was also the dull Academy president announcing the major nominees in front of a red velvet curtain and a larger than life backdrop of a fake Oscar but I wouldn’t swear to it. What I do remember is when I first got here and started covering it, even the presidents lingered, and often nefariously. In Hollywood, everyone lingers – sometimes nefariously and sometimes not – but almost always for too long. It’s one of the many pitfalls of the business.

Anyway, back to the bygone era of the very early eighties that I refer to. It was a time very early in my career when I was an actual show business journalist. Clearly, I’m not as good as I thought because I can’t remember if there was even an actor standing next to the Academy president announcing said nominees or if the prez even or always read them.

Ok.. I'm not THAT old.

Ok.. I’m not THAT old.

What I do remember is that I was very young and very excited to be there. Though more exciting than that was the list the Academy compiled for you stapled to the back pages of the nominees. It totaled up the list of nominees by studio, individual credits and according to how many times, if any, the person(s) had been nominated and/or won before. Why was that exciting? Because there was a time not so long before that when not even this detailed list was provided and a reporter had to navigate the perilous waters of going back to the office and inevitably getting some minute detail of the past or present wrong.

What do you mean fill in name of current nominee never got nominated? How dare you forget that short film they produced when they were 32 that no one ever heard of! I will never read you again! Or –

We fill in name of studio got six nominations this year and not seven – clearly you’re in the tank for fill in name of chief competing studio. We’re pulling all of our ads! Though my favorite was –

You know, fill in name of nominee was NOT the youngest (or oldest) nominee for best sound. In 1938, fill in name of nominee was co-nominated for best documentary and they were 22 (102). That’s a full eight months younger! How dare you! Don’t you know ANYTHING????

Amen, Lady Mary.

Amen, Lady Mary.

Ahh, how times have changed. Or have they?

There will inevitably always be something to complain about when award nominees and recipients are concerned. Especially with the granddaddy (mommy?) of all – the Academy Awards. It’s not that this year’s Oscars are not so white. It’s that, well, they are never fair. Or even-handed. Or even…much of anything except iconic.

Ok... when you see this it does seem pretty white, but I digress

Ok… when you see this it does seem pretty white, but I digress

What you discover as you get older is that this is the case for far too many or our icons. Oh, don’t go thinking I’m on a downer and you don’t want me passing it over to you. Nothing iconic is quite what it seems to be. The Statue of Liberty is older than it looks up close, the Mona Lisa is smaller and most Las Vegas curtains are tacky and made of Mylar. Not to mention…well, you get the picture.

This is not to make excuses for the silly omissions on this year’s list or to say that this and many other show business, in fact all business, organizations, need to be more inclusive – nee color blind, gender blind, age blind and…well, you get the picture. Again. Of course, they do.

But accepting all this to be true or not true and simply dealing with the facts, explain on a macro level:

  1. How can The Martian land seven nominations including best picture, actor and screenplay, and yet its director Ridley Scott is completely ignored?
  2. How is it that Carol gets six nominations, including, best actress, supporting actress and screenplay, and for best picture it receives nary a mention?
  3. How can I, as a lover of all kinds of movies, watch both of the above films and not understand why they were nominated for much of anything because both generally bored the hell out of me???

Therein lies your answer.

#noshame

#noshame

This is all a strange conglomeration of opinion, circumstance, institutional prejudice and chance. And, as Oscar-winning screenwriter William Goldman so famously posited many decades ago in his seminal book Adventures in the Screen Trade, when it comes to the motion picture field: NOBODY KNOWS ANYTHING.

And yet…we all want a piece of the pie, don’t we? We all want to be recognized, and counted, or at the very least, to feel included.

I’ve often read the not so subtle putdowns of the millennial generation and how they need an award for everything. Often this is attributed to mis-parenting and a vaguely sort of overly permissive, socially liberal baby boomer culture.

I bet that cake was delicious

I bet that cake was delicious

Well, perhaps. But I don’t think so. Like all the rest of us, they just want to feel included in the inside game and valued in some way.

Awards and nominations are one way to feel this. But there are others. Lots of them.

Which is not to say I won’t be watching, dishing and live tweeting the Oscars when they air, Sunday. Feb. 28 right here at notesfromthechair.com.

And give up show business?? Oh, I don’ t think so.

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

the-danish-girl

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.