And the Winner Isn’t…

screen-shot-2017-02-27-at-1-44-31-pm

Much will be made about the 2017 Academy Awards broadcast where La La Land enjoyed a full two minutes as best picture only to have its Oscars literally yanked out of its producers hands so they could be given to the real winner, Moonlight.

But for all the wrong reasons.

LALALAND.... MOONLIGHT... LALALAND... MOONLIGHT #couldntresist

LALALAND…. MOONLIGHT… LALALAND… MOONLIGHT #couldntresist

The issue is not at all about whether La La Land or Moonlight was truly deserving of the ultimate Hollywood honor (Note: Other than box-office grosses, that is) but just how interested all of us spectators are in having our feelings publicly validated in the matter. And how little it all means in the long run.

Is there a best picture of 2016? Of course there is. Isn’t. Is there?

As I posted last night:

If only every one of my actions supported that statement 100% of the time.

I certainly BELIEVE there is no real best picture winner. But that still hasn’t prevented me from rooting for one every year since 1968 – when Oliver! snatched the trophy right out of the hands of my beloved Funny Girl.   But at least the playing field was a bit more leveled back then. They were BOTH musicals.

Truth be told, I did think Moonlight and La La Land were wonderful.

And…I was on team La La Land.

Ya don't say!! #fakeshock

Ya don’t say!! #fakeshock

La La Land moved me in a way no other movie did this year. I related to it. I thought it struck an extraordinarily tone between the real and surreal that seemed, while I was watching it, and even now on reflection, pretty much impossible to achieve. It also spoke to me about artistry, and love, and the price we pay for each with our fantasies. And in our real lives.

Moonlight also spoke to me, especially as a gay man of a certain age. As did Hidden Figures – a treasure of mainstream Hollywood movie making – by showcasing true historical injustice as only great Hollywood films can.

Three VERY different films

Three VERY different films

But neither in the same way as La La Land.

This does not make me right or wrong on the subject of what is the best picture of the year. Nor does it belie character defects of anti-intellectualism, superficiality or an anti-indie, anti-IMPORTANT motion picture belief system.

It just means I liked the damn film more than perhaps you did.

And as time went on I grew SO tired of defending it to those of you on the other TEAM that I began to love it even more — as I slowly and perhaps unknowingly even began to figure out ways to out-argue the rest of the world about why YOUR CHOICE didn’t deserve the BEST trophy over MY DATE.

Did someone say date? #heygurl

Did someone say date? #heygurl

I mean, who even knew I was playing that game. Did you know you were? Okay, maybe you weren’t. But some of you were (are?). Because I know I am not the only one of us Americans weighing in here.

It’s really such an American game, the Oscars. We just love our winners and losers. And this was well before our current technical POTUS.   There’s just something about being #1 that is so totally Us. Until it’s not.

And that is what the Sunday night’s big Oscar screw-up leaves Us with. The hollowness of being thought of as #1 instead of settling for living a life where you truly exude classic #1 behavior.

I am still trying to wrap my head around having this much composure and grace in the moment. #realclass

I am still trying to wrap my head around having this much composure and grace in the moment. #realclass

The producer of La La Land had it when he graciously proclaimed Moonlight the true winner and said he was proud to be able to hand his Oscar over to his “friends” (Note: That four-month awards circuit creates lots of lasting Hollywood friendships). Team Moonlight had it in countless post-Oscar interviews where it threw the respect right back at La La Land. Meryl Streep had it when she led the applause for best actress winner Emma Stone. And Matt Damon has it every time he allowed Jimmy Kimmel to mercilessly and very personally insult him and his past work in their many years long public faux feud.

Let's be real: you would totally watch We Bought a Zoo on a plane #andyoudlikeit

Let’s be real: you would totally watch We Bought a Zoo on a plane #andyoudlikeit

Well, what does it cost them when they are the beneficiaries of such good press for being such good sports, you might say. Well, as much as it costs us when we don’t get our due, our validation, when it comes to our tastes, opinions or choice of award winners.   We, who are really all just a bunch of onlookers, sitting on a really, really, really long bench of public opinion rabidly addressing our…prey.

Sure, this is a thin and perhaps too superficial argument from which to make a grand statement on tolerance and understanding and benevolence, especially since statistically speaking there is little to none of any of that in the entertainment industry to begin with. Though no more or less than there now is through the rest of the country, or the world, or in any other industry inhabited inside any of the aforementioned for that matter.

And when in doubt... LaLaLand comes out on DVD in May

And when in doubt… LaLaLand comes out on DVD in May

What #OscarsSoScrewedUp (#OscarSoWhoops?) showed us so beautifully and so specifically is that, in the end, perhaps the BEST use of our time is to save our energies for the upcoming battles that will be required fighting – and not from the bench but in the arena.

And…..for all of you haters to watch La La Land.

Again and again till you get it right.

Oh wait, I mean…MOONLIGHT. Watch Moonlight!

Advertisements

The Chair’s Oscar Crystal Ball

screen-shot-2017-02-26-at-9-31-12-am

Full confession: I’m an average Oscar prognosticator. This means in some years I’m above 90% and in others it’s the 70% range.   This gives me a median grade of “B” – a mere average GPA where I grew up. And you wonder why I call myself The Chair.

Still, I feel particularly lucky this year because it seems inevitable that this is the year for my favorite film of 2016 – La La Land. Oh yeah, hiss and boo your own selves as Bette Midler once retorted to her audience in her priceless eighties comedy album Mud Will Be Flung Tonight (“and into the faces of some of your favorites”). And you wonder why I love Bette Midler.

Though perhaps you didn’t.

In any event, I will not allow my love of all things La La Land to influence my predictions. After all, there are pools to be won, money to be made and schadenfreude to be enjoyed post ceremonies – hopefully by me. Though it might be better to direct one’s anger at The Darth Vader of the White House (Note: So many to choose from there) rather than at a movie that only asks you to let go and allow yourself to be transported for a couple of hours. Translation to the haters: Stop being such a tight ass, Ingrid, it’s only a movie.

Okay, here goes:

Best Picture

best-film-large_trans_nvbqzqnjv4bq8euvkqiuseo94-dkmhkl1uqltfehhielir2mxtnzdxu

Arrival

Fences

Hacksaw Ridge

Hell or High Water

Hidden Figures

La La Land

Lion

Manchester by the Sea

Moonlight

WINNER: La La Land

Best is certainly a relative word and you won’t get any argument here that La La Land is certainly the least dramatic of the bunch. Which doesn’t make it the least timely or important. In the age of – well, the age we’re in – I often have to remind myself it all starts with a dream.

Lead Actor

gosling-affleck-mortensen-nominees-washington-academy-garfield_58c14872-e247-11e6-947f-9490afc24a59

Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea

Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge

Ryan Gosling, La La Land

Viggo Mortensen, Captain Fantastic

Denzel Washington, Fences

WINNER: Denzel Washington, Fences

It could certainly go to Casey Affleck as many are saying. But there is something about the way he breathed new life into such a difficult character, coupled with the unfortunate age we’re living in, that seems to make it Denzel Washington’s here. It also helps that he was the surprise winner of this year’s SAG trophy in that category, the single largest voting block in the Motion Picture Academy.

Lead Actress

129a159b7e1d404fc9a6ce27454fe27eb62115dad2c2f20d3c33c38650cf636a-770x443

Isabelle Huppert, Elle

Ruth Negga, Loving

Natalie Portman, Jackie

Emma Stone, La La Land

Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins

WINNER: Emma Stone, La La Land

She’s the heart and soul of the film. She puts a face on the enthusiasm and sadness and superficiality and disillusionment and triumph of a life lived in L.A.   Yes, that’s a compliment. And she sings just fine.   Watch how she does the Academy nominated song Audition again. And then, hiss and boo your own selves.

Supporting Actor

No contest.

No contest.

Mahershala Ali, Moonlight

Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water

Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea

Dev Patel, Lion

Michael Shannon, Nocturnal Animals

WINNER: Mahershala Ali, Moonlight

I turned to my husband when Ali was onscreen and said this guy is the most real actor I have ever seen. He deserves an Oscar for this. And who the hell is he??? It’s not that the other performances weren’t great in their own ways. It’ s just if there has to be a best, he’s it and the majority of the Academy will be smart enough to know it.

Supporting Actress:

NO ONE cries as good as Viola. NO. ONE. #allthefeels

NO ONE cries as good as Viola. NO. ONE. #allthefeels

Viola Davis, Fences

Naomie Harris, Moonlight

Nicole Kidman, Lion

Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures

Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea

WINNER: Viola Davis, Fences

Let’s not spend a lot of time on this. She’s won all the other honors and EVERYONE wants to hear her speech. ‘Enuf said.

Best Director:

Phenom?

Phenom?

Damien Chazelle, La La Land

Mel Gibson, Hacksaw Ridge

Barry Jenkins, Moonlight

Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea

Denis Villeneuve, Arrival

WINNER: Damien Chazelle, La La Land

There are so many reasons Damien Chazelle deserves to win this award whether his film is your cuppa or not. Imagine making a love letter to Los Angeles that is adored around the world ($250,000,000 plus worldwide gross and counting). Consider the chances of getting exactly the right chemistry in what is essentially a two-person film and then creating enough visual imagery to not only compliment them and the story but also dazzle us without breaking the fourth wall of our dreams? Then add to it that he’s only 32 years old and was already nominated once in this category for Whiplash. And several weeks ago won in this category for La La Land. You’re still not convinced? ….Bitter, table for one….

Animated Feature:

Sly fox

Sly fox

Kubo and the Two Strings, Travis Knight and Arianne Sutner

Moana, John Musker, Ron Clements and Osnat Shurer

My Life as a Zucchini, Claude Barras and Max Karli

The Red Turtle, Michael Dudok de Wit and Toshio Suzuki

Zootopia, Byron Howard, Rich Moore and Clark Spencer

WINNER: Zootopia

This year is all about marginalization on a MASSIVE scale. So it’s Zooptopia all the way. Not to mention, using animals make it easier for us to think about such things are less outwardly political and therefore more than acceptable as the winner in the animation category.

 Adapted Screenplay

Get the engraver ready

Get the engraver ready

Eric Heisserer, Arrival

August Wilson, Fences

Allison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi, Hidden Figures

Luke Davies, Lion

Barry Jenkins; Story by Tarell Alvin McCraney, Moonlight

WINNER: Barry Jenkins; Story by Tarell Alvin McCraney, Moonlight

The most unusual and innovative script in the category and the Academy WANTS to honor a film so unlikely to emerge into the national consciousness.  There will be tumultuous applause for this win – and deservedly so. The deceptive simplicity in the storytelling is the movie’s principle strength.

Original Screenplay

The writing in this scene alone. #ohboy #willdestroyyou

The writing in this scene alone. #ohboy #willdestroyyou

Mike Mills, 20th Century Women

Taylor Sheridan, Hell or High Water

Damien Chazelle, La La Land

Yorgos Lanthimos, Efthimis Filippou, The Lobster

Kenneth Longergan, Manchester by the Sea

WINNER: Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea

This is tricky but it’s doubtful the Academy will send something so sadly powerful and original home without something. That said, a significant group loves Hell or High Water and there could be a La La Land sweep. In the end, however, Manchester is exactly the type of movie industry voters go for in terms of writing. 

Cinematography

Meet you on the pier in 5 minutes. #Ryguy

Meet you on the pier in 5 minutes. #Ryguy

Bradford Young, Arrival

Linus Sandgren, La La Land

Greig Fraser, Lion

James Laxton, Moonlight

Rodrigo Prieto, Silence

WINNER: Linus Sandgren, La La Land

It will come down to a race between Arrival and La La Land. Both brought you into brilliantly invented and compelling visual landscapes. But how do you vote against floating into the sky in the Griffith Park Observatory?

Best Documentary Feature

This time with less Sarah Paulson.

This time with less Sarah Paulson.

13th, Ava DuVernay, Spencer Averick and Howard Barish

Fire at Sea, Gianfranco Rosi and Donatella Palermo

I Am Not Your Negro, Raoul Peck, Remi Grellety and Hebert Peck

Life, Animated, Roger Ross Williams and Julie Goldman

O.J.: Made in America, Ezra Edelman and Caroline Waterlow

WINNER: O.J.: Made in America, Ezra Edelman and Caroline Waterlow

It’s not so much about O.J. but telling the story of race in America through his life. I really resisted being in the guy’s presence for nine hours more but there is a reason this work has been so lauded and why after a few minutes you can’t take your eyes away from the Shakespearean tragedy of it all.

Best Documentary Short Subject

Powerful stuff

Powerful stuff

4.1 Miles, Daphne Matziaraki

Extremis, Dan Krauss

Joe’s Violin, Kahane Cooperman and Raphaela Neihausen

Watani: My Homeland, Marcel Mettelsiefen and Stephen Ellis

The White Helmets, Orlando von Einsiedel and Joanna Natasegara

WINNER: The White Helmets, Orlando von Einsiedel and Joanna Natasegara

Any other year the sentiments in Joe’s Violin, which manages to give us a story about Holocaust remembrance we’ve never seen before, would win out. But given the currently charged political NOW, the shocking tragedies of Syrian genocide won’t and shouldn’t be ignored.

Best Live Action Short Film

The official pool killing category

The official pool killing category

Ennemis Interieurs, Selim Azzazi

La Femme et le TGV, Timo von Gunten and Giacun Caduff

Silent Nights, Aske Bang and Kim Magnusson

Sing, Kristof Deak and Anna Udvardy

Timecode, Juanjo Gimenez

WINNER: Ennemis Interieurs, Selim Azzazi

Immigration, fascism, France and the next anticipated sweep of white nationalism. This should be the winner unless voters use this one category to opt out for the more fanciful Timecode and the bullying themes of Sing. Yes, I saw all five of these. Don’t act so surprised.

Best Animated Short

Pixar does it again

Pixar does it again

Blind Vaysha, Theodore Ushev

Borrowed Time, Andrew Coats and Lou Hamou-Lhadj

Pear Cider and Cigarettes, Robert Valley and Cara Speller

Pearl, Patrick Osborne

Piper, Alan Barillaro and Marc Sondheimer

WINNER: Piper, Alan Barillaro and Marc Sondheimer

After numerous recent losses in this category it’s Pixar’s year. And I seldom bet against some of the best storytellers in the biz. Yeah, you read that right.

Best Foreign Language Film

2017-oscars-official-foreign-language-film-list-neruda-salesman-toni-erdmann-land-of-mine-elle

A Man Called Ove, Sweden

Land of Mine, Denmark

Tanna, Australia

The Salesman, Iran

Toni Erdmann, Germany

WINNER: The Salesman, Iran

An excellent group that makes you wish there were more American movies that tackled this many diverse and difficult subjects. But the real life attempt of the current White House to question the freedom of people like the Iranian director of The Salesman – Asghar Farhadi – to visit the US will push him over the top. That said, I LOVED A Man Called Ove. So go see that one too.

Film Editing

le sigh

le sigh

Joe Walker, Arrival

John Gilbert, Hacksaw Ridge

Jake Roberts, Hell or High Water

Tom Cross, La La Land

Nat Sanders and Joi McMillon, Moonlight

WINNER: Tom Cross, La La Land

How the guy managed to put together the disparate tones of La La Land together and have it make any sense at all, much less be so continuously charming in its telling of the ultimate seamless dream, is just one of many reasons. Don’t vote against it despite the upset others may be predicting.

Production Design

They call me mellow yellow

They call me mellow yellow

Patrice Vermette, Paul Hotte, Arrival

Stuart Craig, Anna Pinnock, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Jess Gonchor, Nancy Haigh, Hail, Caesar!

David Wasco, Sandy Reynolds-Wasco, La La Land

Guy Hendrix Dyas, Gene Serdena, Passengers

WINNER: David Wasco, Sandy Reynolds-Wasco, La La Land

If it were just the designers voting it might be Passengers or Arrival. But it takes equal if not more talent to make L.A. dreamy, superficial AND yet seductively believable – at least to us masses.

Original Score:

Mica Levi, Jackie

Justin Hurwitz, La La Land

Dustin O’Halloran and Hauschka, Lion

Nicholas Britell, Moonlight

Thomas Newman, Passengers

WINNER: Justin Hurwitz, La La Land

Score means music and it’s a MUSICAL that is going to be the best picture of 2016. So don’t argue on this one.

Original Song

“Audition (The Fools Who Dream),” La La Land — Music by Justin Hurwitz; Lyric by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul

“Can’t Stop the Feeling,” Trolls— Music and Lyric by Justin Timberlake, Max Martin and Karl Johan Schuster

“City of Stars,” La La Land — Music by Justin Hurwitz; Lyric by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul

“The Empty Chair,” Jim: The James Foley Story — Music and Lyric by J. Ralph and Sting

“How Far I’ll Go,” Moana — Music and Lyric by Lin-Manuel Miranda

WINNER: “City of Stars,” La La Land, Justin Hurwitz, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul.

Everyone wants Lin-Manuel to win his EGOT and he will – but not this year. The soundtrack to La La Land has been playing continuously in my car for the last two months and I listen to it at the gym. So maybe I’m not the one to ask in this category. Or perhaps I am. And yes, they can sing. It’s called ACT(s)ING.

Makeup and Hair

I'll bet on the Jennifer Lawrence alien one

I’ll bet on the Jennifer Lawrence alien one

A Man Called Ove, Eva von Bahr and Love Larson

Star Trek Beyond, Joel Harlow and Richard Alonzo

Suicide Squad, Alessandro Bertolazzi, Giorgio Gregorini and Christopher Nelson

WINNER: Star Trek Beyond, Joel Harlow and Richard Alonzo,

I have NO idea but everyone says Star Trek so let’s go with that.

Costume Design

Get it girls!

Get it girls!

Allied, Joanna Johnston

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Colleen Atwood

Florence Foster Jenkins, Consolata Boyle

Jackie, Madeline Fontaine

La La Land, Mary Zophre

WINNER: La La Land, Mary Zophre

I want Ryan Gosling’s wardrobe. Or perhaps it’s just Ryan Gosling. And Emma Stone managed to look luminous without emanating fake glamour. It was dreamy and real all at once. Can these guys design something for me and my best girlfriend HUSBAND when we film our romantic fantasy?

Visual Effects

A pretty safe bet

A pretty safe bet

Deepwater Horizon, Craig Hammack, Jason Snell, Jason Billington and Burt Dalton

Doctor Strange, Stephane Ceretti, Richard Bluff, Vincent Cirelli and Paul Corbould

The Jungle Book, Robert Legato, Adam Valdez, Andrew R. Jones and Dan Lemmon

Kubo and the Two Strings, Steve Emerson, Oliver Jones, Brian McLean and Brad Schiff

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, John Knoll, Mohen Leo, Hal Hickel and Neil Corbould

WINNER: The Jungle Book, Stephane Ceretti, Richard Bluff, Vincent Cirelli and Paul Corbould,

Not a clue because I didn’t see any of them but EVERYONE says The Jungle Book.

Sound Editing

In lieu of anything Mel Gibson related, here's a fine pic of Jon Hamm

In lieu of anything Mel Gibson related, here’s a fine pic of Jon Hamm

Arrival, Sylvain Bellemare

Deep Water Horizon, Wylie Stateman and Renee Tondelli

Hacksaw Ridge, Robert Mackenzie and Andy Wright

La La Land, Ai-Ling Lee and Mildred Iatrou Morgan

Sully, Alan Robert Murray and Bub Asman

WINNER: Hacksaw Ridge, Robert Mackenzie and Andy Wright 

I know little about sound editing and will never see another Mel Gibson movie again so don’t trust me here. But war movies are hard to beat in this category and all the smart money says that the anti-war, war film makes you feel like you’re there.

I wouldn’t know.

Sound Mixing

Play me a song, Piano Man

Play me a song, Piano Man

Arrival, Bernard Gariepy Strobl and Claude La Haye

Hacksaw Ridge, Kevin O’Connell, Andy Wright, Robert Mackenzie and Peter Grace

La La Land, Andy Nelson, Ai-Ling Lee and Steve A. Morrow

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, David Parker, Christopher Scarabosio and Stuart Wilson

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, Gary Summers, Jeffrey J. Haboush and Mac Ruth, Greg P. Russell (read about that scandal here)

WINNER: La La Land, Andy Nelson, Ai-Ling Lee and Steve A. Morrow

Because nothing is music to the ears of the most people than the sound of La La Land and the ovations it will receive on Oscar night. There, I said it. Again.

Sage Advice

screen-shot-2017-02-12-at-2-39-48-pm

Every year I take my students to see a panel of people who wrote the most acclaimed films of the previous year. This time they included the writers of:

La La Land, Moonlight, Manchester by the Sea, Hidden Figures, Arrival, Hell or High Water, and yes, Deadpool.

Lil Deady (Pooly?) getting some love.

Lil Deady (Pooly?) getting some love.

These people are all among the current nominees for this year’s Writers Guild of America awards and at the point they speak on the “Beyond Words” panel they are ending an intense series of talks, interviews and other generalized discussions about their process, their work, their careers and their futures.

But what everyone seems to really want from the possible valedictorians of their class is:

THE ANSWER.

How DID you do it? How DO you do it? What can I DO to also do it? And am I FOOLING MYSELF by even thinking that I can do it?

Getting my listening face on! #readysetgo

Getting my listening face on! #readysetgo

The panel consists of writers (or writer-directors) but you can substitute the same questions for anything, really – actors, producers, directors, cinematographers, editors and script supervisors.

WHAT IS THE KEY?

Well, it’s exactly what you think it is. You work at it. And you do it harder and more consistently and with as much abandon as you have ever done anything in your life. In fact, more so.   And chances are, you will GET THERE.

Yes, this is quite encouraging. But then — oh my. You should see the series of scared, young and old DISAPPOINTED faces in the audience.

For here is the real answer they begin to realize minutes, hours, weeks or months later if they do follow that sage advice (Note: If you prefer to stay away from harsh truths stop reading now):

You will definitely get somewhere, certainly a better place artistically. But not necessarily on a future panel that’s before you.

Maybe not in your future... and that's OK!

Maybe not in your future… and that’s OK!

And I would add this nugget of information that perhaps never crosses one’s mind. Certainly it didn’t cross mine years ago.

Perhaps that (panel) is not exactly where you belong or where you would even want to be given the compromises, sacrifices and cost of the single-mindedness it takes to achieve what you think (or may even know) are your dreams. Perhaps the work you do will be honored in some different way entirely.

This is not meant to be any more discouraging or encouraging than anything those writers told the audience of movie fans, aspiring writers or curious industry-ites who had nothing better to do on a Thursday evening than look for hope, information or just plain intellectual entertainment. But I guarantee you it is also the same truth spoken by any one of those same artists, as well as many others, on that night or on any other night on any other year.

You can take away all kinds of things when people tell you to work really hard at what you do, follow some of the rules and break others, and to listen to your inner voice and then dig in deeper.

Inspiration can come in all forms. #sarcasmworkstoo

Inspiration can come in all forms. #sarcasmworkstoo

You can be encouraged and enlightened, buoyed by the brave soldiers that came before you and succeeded.

Or you can become depressed because you know you’re already doing all of that and more and haven’t gotten anywhere close to that result.

And, in some cases, you might even become frozen with fear when you run your entire life around your brain because suddenly you realize you’ve been doing all this and MORE for years (or perhaps decades) and are so much farther away from that place on that stage than you would ever care to admit to anyone out loud, most particularly yourself.

everyone's path is a little bit different

everyone’s path is a little bit different

Well, that’s fine. All of it is fine. Except, it doesn’t mean anything. At all.

There are numerous X factors in life. And in show business, in particular, we all measure art and practicality and talent and then divide it by happenstance. For instance, did you know:

— Damien Chazelle, all of 32 now, wrote La La Land six years prior. At which point it sat around, landed briefly at a studio, was put in turnaround, and then sat around for many years more. Which prompted him to then write and direct Whiplash out of his anger to the system. Which in turn forged La La Land.

Mr. Chazelle... or one of my students? #hardtotell #stillinspirational

Mr. Chazelle… or one of my students? #hardtotell #stillinspirational

— Taylor Sheridan quit work as an actor on a lucrative TV show as he approached his 40th birthday to write what became Hell or High Water, but not before he ran out of money and moved him and his wife and 10 month old kid into a small one bedroom apartment on Sunset and Laurel. (Note: He voluntarily gave the location).

— Kenneth Lonergan got raked over the Hollywood coals when the movie he made in 2000, Margaret, languished in legal battles, was recut and even then barely released eleven years later. And didn’t direct another film until Manchester by the Sea. In fact, his friend Matt Damon said that that he brought him the kernel of the idea for the film to get him out of his funk just so his creative voice could be heard again.

And so on and so forth.

You and I and certainly few of the rest of us are likely reach the successes above with our own projects. For there is always a certain amount of timing, luck, talent, karma and cosmic grace (Note: Not to be confused with Karma) that comes into play with these things.

Sometimes timing is everything

Sometimes timing is everything

But surely if we all don’t bear down and focus in on our work, and continue to dream big – despite our experience, age, economic circumstances or emotional places we currently occupy in our lives, we will never get there.

And if we do – who knows? We could possibly surpass them.

Why does this stuff always seem so trite and cliché?

Because the very nature of clichés is that they are references and expressions of stuff we have heard time and time again that offer nothing new to our view of the world.

Which doesn’t mean they’re incorrect.

What I’ve found to be the key is exactly what WE – you and I – DO with all of this advice. Not the advice itself.

Resist the eyeroll! Stay with me

Resist the eyeroll! Stay with me

It’s the actions we take, the people we engage with and disagree with and love and scream and yell with and the art we make – based on our own reactions and experiences – that comprise the sum of our output.   Which in turn shows up on the page, in the film, on the screen, in the machine and before the next doorkeeper determined to slam that door in all of our collective faces, that can and will make the difference.

I know this because I’ve seen this and lived this. Just look around you and you’ll see it too. And then look within and start working. And let the chips fall where they may.

But if this still sounds a bit too new agey, self-helpish and yes, cliché, don’t take my word for it.

This week I also went to see 84-year-old Broadway legend Chita Rivera do her one-woman show in Los Angeles. She recalled the time half a century ago in the 1960s when another Broadway legend, Gwen Verdon, and her then husband, director Bob Fossse, still another Broadway AND soon-to-be movie legend, asked her to star in the touring company of Sweet Charity in a role created to smashing success by Ms. Verdon herself.

The Unsinkable Ms. Rivera

The Unsinkable Ms. Rivera

Ms. Rivera confesses to at first being thrilled with the offer, which soon turned to total terror knowing she couldn’t possibly fill her predecessor’s shoes. Or even come close. Until finally, she shared with us, it occurred to her:

Chita, just bring your own shoes.

I tell that to all the kids, she added. Just bring your own shoes. And it’ll be fine.

The Film of 2016

screen-shot-2016-12-18-at-3-22-01-pm

More than half the country’s voters (by 2.8 million and counting) are bemoaning the year 2016 and can’t wait for it to come to an end. Certainly, I am one of them. I mean, not only did a lunatic become president-elect but Florence Henderson died. One wonders – how much worse can it get???

OH C'MON! #effthisyear

OH C’MON! #effthisyear

And yet, this year did offer one very significant piece of filmic art. A work that provides a road map for our futures and could possibly inspire generations to come.

It is the most important film of the year.

And just might be the most significant motion picture of the next four years.

A movie that thinkers and dreamers will return to time and again as we forage our way through the hell of our futures —

6z33f0

Wait a minute…

This is not to say it is the best film of the year. I will leave that for others to determine. It is not even to say that it will be in your top 10. Perhaps you don’t like musicals. Maybe you hate L.A. Or perhaps (and maybe) you have no patience for the dreamers among us. Certainly, that attitude is popular these days. Lord knows what it will be in two, three or twelve months from now.

oh hey 2017!

oh hey 2017!

Still, there is a timely importance to La La Land whether it’s to your taste or not. Whether you love it, hate it, or if it wins any Oscars or Razzies at all.

La La Land offers a road map on how to proceed. It shows us methods to cope. And it eventually delivers a desirable if not bittersweet future which, given the current circumstances of our real lives, is a terribly tempting reality for which to strive for in the next 48 months. And awfully clever for a fantasy film.

No, I am not overstating this. And note: there will be no spoilers here.

You can trust the chair #kisskiss

You can trust the chair #kisskiss

Granted, as a show biz aspirant who arrived in Hollywood decades ago with my own version of stars in my eyes, perhaps I’m a bit partial. But I don’t think so. What’s the old adage – “everyone has two businesses, their business and show business?”

You don’t think that’s true? Go back to your hometown anywhere in the U.S. and, despite how they voted, see what happens when you tell them you work in film or television.

#lifegoals

#lifegoals

The plot isn’t much. A guy and a gal in their twenties each trying to make a big dream in their lives come true in a world that keeps saying:

No, not on my watch. What you want is impossible and you don’t have the karma or smarts or talent to bring off what you choose to do.

Being young and in their twenties – and yes, looking like Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling (Note: Remember this is a metaphor & okay maybe he’s in his thirties but who cares), they keep fighting. And failing. And failing yet again. Then they figure out other ways to get their dreams that seem like they’ll work but sadly, do not.

Along the way they find each other and that’s nice.

But something still doesn’t feel quite right. They are not living up to who they are and what they believe deep down in their souls. And if you can’t do that, well, it’ll only be a matter of time before everything else in your life and world will turn to shit. (Okay, I’m inserting my own philosophies here but that’s their general point. Or, well, at least mine here).

Bonus points: You do still get to look like this #hellloooryan

Bonus points: You do still get to look like this #hellloooryan

In any event, what these dreamers believe in more than anything is that acting on their core beliefs – nee using their true talents – will not only benefit them but in some small way can bring some relief to other people’s lives. If only just for a few random moments. And what this story proposes to us is that when one of them (or us) gives up, the other one forces them to go on. And when the other one of them (or us) gives up, the other one of…Well, you get the picture.

More than the power of positive thinking it’s the mutual power of faith and hope in each other that is really what La La Land is about.   Of what can be achieved when you fulfill what you know is right, and how you can be helped along on this road even when you begin to doubt yourself.   Okay, I’m beginning to have déjà vu right about now re:the whole faith and hope thing, but even still, that doesn’t mean this way of thinking is wrong.

We're with you girl

We’re with you girl

Survival means imagining against all odds and acting on it.

Dreaming the big (or small) dream and doing something about it.

Proceeding when others say no and call you names and threaten to do a lot worse to you.

And then do a lot worse. And A LOT more than that.

In order to counteract what’s coming we ALL need INSPIRATION from everywhere. What popular culture can do is produce art that INSPIRES us to fight. Or to continue the fight. Or simply just be and act on WHO WE ARE continuously and to maximum effect.

... EVERYBODY NOW!

… EVERYBODY NOW!

Naysayers can make you cry, infuriate you, and make you want to beat the crap out of them or yourself. But only you can decide when THEY win. THEY don’t get to marginalize you – only you can do that to you. If this sounds a little precious – well, maybe. So is the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, The Constitution and The Gettysburg Address when you read them. And we all should read them, again or for the first time, sometime.  And then perhaps get a copy of the text of Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream” speech and critique that for purple prose. But not before we take in the true meaning behind those words.

One of the screenwriting books I use for teaching says a good movie is like “a seamless dream.” Well, that’s about as great a description as I’ve ever heard.   And makes it even important to remember that without dreams we wouldn’t have innovation. Or innovators – aka – the people who change things.

Now i just have to work on waking up in full hair and make up #cinderellawho

Now i just have to work on waking up in full hair and make up #cinderellawho

Not everyone can inspire or change stuff on a massive scale. But any number of us working together to support each other’s dreams and/or innovation – yes, it just may take a village – can do so. And if you doubt that, right about now you might want to remember that Steve Jobs’ estranged father was a Syrian refugee.

There are real life heroes and movie heroes. None of them are flawless and none of them do it alone.

See you in the trenches. And in our dreams.

All That Jazz

Screen Shot 2015-01-04 at 1.10.11 PMNormal people use the time between New Year’s Eve and going back to work on that dreaded Monday to -– well, come to think of it what do they do? I have absolutely no idea. And what is normal anyway? Again, I got nothing.

What I spend my time doing – and have done for most of my life at this time of year – is to go to the movies. For as long as I can remember (Note: And that’s long before anyone, even Louis B. Mayer, got screeners in the mail) I’ve spent the primary part of the post Christmas holiday season catching up with all of the “prestige films” the studios have mostly kept from us.

This is not simply because I’m Jewish. I probably haven’t been to temple in at least five years and even then I think it was only for a bar mitzvah. Though I did walk through several synagogues on a trip to Italy this summer, which really doesn’t count since they were FAR outweighed by the at least 437 churches I also managed to stroll through

Where were we? Oh yes, the cinema.

Go on...

Go on…

These days the cinema means lots of things. It could be going out to the mall or your local specialty theatre and paying a bit too much to see a movie that doesn’t quite live up to your expectations. It could also be watching something old you may or may not have seen before on television that you or the majority rule will be fun holiday viewing. If you’re a bit more privileged or connected or facile, it can even be watching a DVD of a current motion picture now playing in theatres at home or at a friend’s house via a screener, day and date VOD, pay cable or, um…some other means (Note: Please do NOT write in and ask what some other means means).

I admit to doing all of these in the past five days (Note: Not the some other means, I don’t want to be expelled from show business any more than I already am). Which brings me to about six and a half films just seen in a relatively short period of time. Interestingly enough, there wasn’t a clunker in the bunch. Which doesn’t mean I LOVED them. I liked them all and each did what all good films do – made me think while also entertaining me at the same time. Yet in every case there was something sort of, well, missing. Until today… when I caught up with a small movie that was actually released in October called Whiplash.

hitting the right beats

hitting the right beats

It’s excellent, disturbing, thought provoking, a little over the top and emotional – though not entirely emotionally satisfying. Frankly, at the end you’re of two minds and are not sure exactly what to think or who to sympathize with. Which is precisely what was missing from the other five and a half films that I merely LIKED though really did enjoy.

What were the other films? Oh, perhaps a few you might know or have heard of:

  • Unbroken
  • American Sniper
  • Wild
  • The Imitation Game
  • Inherent Vice
  • A Most Violent Year

These are some of the best and brightest the awards season has to offer and will no doubt be crowding around the Oscars along with a few others. Yet none of them has the unpredictably and sheer verve 29 year-old writer-director Damien Chazelle brought to a story we’ve essentially seen many times before – that of teacher who for good or bad pushes that potentially special student beyond the limits of where we (or perhaps they) ever thought they could go. In this case it is in the unlikely scenario of an aspiring drummer and his jazz musician professor, which works because it’s visual. Yet it really could be any one of us up there – if we allowed ourselves – who ever went to school and met that key catalyctic person. Go figure.

He already has that "Oscar glow"

He already has that “Oscar glow”

There is no point telling you any more than that or building up a film beyond the point where it could possibly live up to expectations. The only thing to be said for sure is that J.K. Simmons, the veteran character actor who plays the teacher, will indeed be the one person in the movie who will be winning the Oscar this year. That you can take to the bank because he shares the common denominator of all great performances that rivet you in films – you are never quite sure what he is going to do. He pulls you in, scares you, seduces you and then…well, you’ll see. It’s terrifying, sad, difficult to watch and yet impossible to turn away from in fear that you will miss something you might not want to have seen in the first place. This is to take nothing away from Mr. Chazelle, who manages to capture it all in the most original ways.

Taking a cliché genre, any genre, and turning it on its ear without selling out what we love about it to begin with is no easy feat. Yet it can be done. Look at the best films of Martin Scorsese, Ingmar Bergman, Pedro Almodovar and Paul Thomas Anderson – not to mention Alfred Hitchcock and Roman Polanski – and you begin to understand. It takes not only hard work but NERVE, VERVE and the DESIRE to do this in the first place.

Don't believe me? Try some tanis root...

Don’t believe me? Try some tanis root…

One fears that writers, directors and studios have begun to lose their taste for such things. Scratch that. Most people working in the movies know that to a certain extent this is true. Yet that doesn’t mean that one still can’t come up with something quite wonderful.

For instance, The Imitation Game is a very engaging, sad and illuminating look at Alan Turing – the brilliant, secretly gay British logician who broke the secret Nazi Enigma code and became the single biggest contributor to the Allies victory in World War II only to commit suicide less than a decade later after his arrest and sentencing for homosexual behavior. As superbly acted, clever and well-made as the film is there is little surprising in it if one knows anything about the story. Even for those totally unfamiliar, it pretty much follows the traditional dramatic route because you know from the beginning that victory is afoot and who will be primarily responsible for it – and even how.

The war.. from two fronts

The war.. from two fronts

Unbroken follows a similar path though not quite as adeptly. Still, it is not without its merits. The unbelievably true story – as its billed – of former U.S. Olympian Louis Zamperini surviving a devastating plane crash and subsequent imprisonment in a Japanese prisoner of war camp during World War II – delivers everything it says it will deliver. Those are summed up in the adjectives you no doubt have seen in large font on most of its ads: SURVIVAL. RESILIENCE. REDEMPTION. It has all of those many times over. In fact, there is not a moment in the entire motion picture where it doesn’t – which is the problem. As reassuring as that can be to any of us as audience members, it is seldom what makes a really GREAT film.

Take Wild and American Sniper and substitute any or all of the descriptions above. As we roam through the 1100 mile solo hike Cheryl Strayed took through the Pacific Northwest in order to recover from personal trauma or tag along with Chris Kyle on four tours in Iraq where he becomes the most accurate and lethal sniper in US military history, there is excitement and wonderment yet a dulling reassurance of how it will all wind up. Reese Witherspoon and Bradley Cooper expertly pour themselves into each of their roles and give us everything and more than you’d want as their onscreen counterparts. Yet one can’t help but feel deep down that five minutes of any one of their real life adventures were much grittier, exciting and certainly much more morally questionable than any one chunk of time during their entire films.

The great outdoors... in full hair and makeup

The great outdoors… in full hair and makeup

As for Inherent Vice and A Most Violent Year it goes like this. The former is essentially a stoner detective comedy-drama set in 1970s L.A. and is a charming mess that will drive you crazy if you try to follow it as a whole but can certainly be enjoyed in parts and with the help of the chemical aid of one’s choice. The latter deals with working class business moguls making it beyond anyone’s dreams and, well, I only saw one-half because I felt I had already seen it many times before (Note: See earlier Scorsese reference). But again, one could and most assuredly will do worse this year. Annie or Transformers 3, anyone?

Which brings us back to Whiplash.

There will be blood

There will be blood

Part of the reason we loved the late Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight is we never quite knew what he was going to do or where he was coming from. The best I could figure was total nihilism in order to counter the absolutely useless, insensitive, meaningless materialistic world of today. I’d never seen anyone evil-ing their way through a film for no reason other than every reason – tapping into every bad, justified personal insult each of us has ever dished out or had to endure. No one had ever done that in a movie before in just that way to such great effect up to that point and the mere discussion of it makes me want to pop in a DVD for that scene where Joker Heath saunters through Gotham City wearing a nurse’s uniform.

Oh how we miss you

Oh how we miss you

Movies can simply be great entertainment and that is what’s wonderful. They can also be just polemic enough as they tell the story of a social issue in a satisfying way and that certainly is enough to be memorable.

But what we don’t have much of anymore are the films that make you angry, make you think or seem familiar yet will sneakily unearth something awfully important (or importantly awful) at stake in such a way where we do not know at all until the bitter end absolutely what will happen. The end of Whiplash confounds certain audiences and critics because it is precisely the correct ending of a film that gets it absolutely right even though you are convinced from time to time that it is absolutely missing the boat.

Walking the plank

Walking the plank

As a screenwriting teacher I talk to my students a lot about heroes and villains. That no one is all good (and if they were you’d hate them) and that every supposed monster believes somewhere deep down they are 100% justified to be doing the things they do. I mean, why do anything bad or good if you can’t on some level enjoy your actions? That includes reveling in your evilness. After all if you’re going to dare to be that bad and do a high wire act of contrariness to the rest of society and its mamby pamby meandering rules you better or might as well enjoy it and feel like its for a reason.

The teacher captures exactly that in Whiplash in a way I’ve never experienced before. Just as the heroic student – played with superb finesse and skill by Miles Teller – shows us that being a great guy all around is a lot more complicated than the teachings in Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero’s Journey” gives one credit for.

Especially if you are a drum...

And don’t get in his way.

I am going to try to remember all of that and more as I continue on the script I’m currently writing as well as the next time I stand before a new group of students (Note: That would be next week) talking about what makes a good movie story. I will also recall and note that the writer-director of Whiplash, Mr. Chazelle, was himself once a young drummer who studied under a mentor of questionable methods and that this movie was inspired by, but not actually based on, real life events.   Yeah, you write or make what you know about because when you give it your all and forget about who’s going to watch and why – you have the chance to show it to us in a true and very real way we all have never experienced or even thought of before even if it would seem like we have. At one point in time, that was what movies were all about. And I’m sort of missing it at the start of this new year.