Award Worthy?


I was lucky enough this week to attend the Television Academy Honors, an annual awards ceremony that recognizes the creators of socially relevant programming that creates awareness, enlightens, educates and/or positively motivates audiences.

It is an honor totally separate from the Academy’s annual Emmy Awards and was established as a way to spotlight television shows that go above and beyond to tackle difficult and timely issues in hopes that this will in some way fuel more discussion of the show and/or issue in the social zeitgeist.

It was also meant as a small pat on the back to the people who more often that not struggle against great odds to get these types of programs (e.g. scripted, non-scripted, documentary) on air.

Click here to see a full list of the 2019 winners

But suffice it to say they dealt with race (director Julia Willoughby Nason entering with Trayvon Martin’s mother to accept for Paramount Network’s docuseries, Rest In Power: The Trayvon Martin Story);  childhood cancer (executive producer; writer Heather Wordham accepting for the Netflix comedy, Alexa and Katie, where one of  two teen friends lives with leukemia), transgender rights (creator Steven Canals and trans writer-director Janet Mock awarded for FX’s LGBTQ themed 1980s set drama series, Pose); and rape (co-directors Trish Adlesic and Greta Gandbhir cited for reporting on 13 of a group of hundreds of women awaiting scores of lost or misplaced rape kits in HBO’s I Am Evidence).

Trophies all around!

Now important as these themes are, one could argue the last thing the entertainment industry needs right now is another award, especially since presumably all of these people were paid and had the pleasure of seeing their vision and onscreen credit on TV screens, as well as many other screens, across the world.

On the other hand, why should one thing disqualify the other?

The fact that a person gets attention for or makes a living at something that benefits society is certainly not immoral in itself.    It only becomes that way when their compensation (financial or otherwise) is immorally over-the-top or the makers themselves are nauseatingly immodest, and/or immoral. 

Don’t even get me started on Mark Burnett.

In that way, show business award recipients are not unlike politicians – we may watch and secretly vote for the winner of our choice but on the whole we can also too often smell their elitism and privilege through our TV screens.  To truly trust and admire any of these guys and gals, particularly those of the political kind, is to make a leap of faith that we inevitably know we’ll be sorry for some time in the future.

Or, as the recent history of most sequels, subsequent seasons or elected officials too often demonstrate, the not-so-distant future.

I’m really glad I didn’t invest myself in this one #GameofThrones #toosoon?

Certainly this is beyond cynical (Note: even for a Chair), particularly when we speak about people who create content (Note:  Okay, I loathe that word too) that speaks to timely and serious subject matter.

You can’t lump two women who made a documentary about rape survivors whose evidence was misplaced with, say, the worst symbol of entertainment industry immortality (not to mention rape) and over-privilege – Harvey Weinstein.  Right???  Right??????

In the same way we wouldn’t condemn a white female director as slumming for having the temerity to direct a docuseries about the murder of a black male teenager like Trayvon Martin and its role in the social justice movement, especially since she had the participation of his mother.   Correct???  Correct?????

Hang in there, he’s getting to the point #TrustTheChair

Not to mention only the most insensitive loutish fool among us would gripe that said mother, Sybrina Fulton, only participated in the docuseries as a way to continue to be seen in the public eye so she could run for the job she now seeks – a seat on the Miami-Dade County Board of Commissioners.   Do you agree????  YOU AGREEEEE, RIGHT?????????

So, if that is the case, then why are so many of us now more than willing to jump to these same type of conclusions about many of those politicians now running for office, particularly those running for the highest political office in the land?

And why do so many more of us think even worse of the millions who just might be thinking of supporting any one of the above?

If we can award a show business content-maker for stepping up center stage and speaking eloquently to the issues, or even a single issue, then why can’t we have the same admiration for any one of the many politicians daring to do the same in our virtual Town Square at a time when, as a country, we are as divided as we’ve ever been?

High Blood Pressure 2020

Let’s leave Trump and his base voters out of this for now because that’s too easy.  Instead, let’s concentrate solely on a select few top frontrunners in the Democratic field.

Why is it that Joe Biden and his supporters are backwards-looking and the former Vice President needs to be spit-roasted and attacked on every point he’s ever made in a half century old career as we poo-poo all the positive points he scores in the 2019 landscape?

How is it that Elizabeth Warren’s supporters are unrealistic and virulent and she’s too librarian-ish and lecture-y and Trump-tainted to win a general election?

What does it say about us that Pete Buttigieg, the first openly gay person to EVER have a serious chance of becoming U.S. president, is already being relegated to the category of moderate, safe, old school white male privilege and his supporters as something less than progressive?

When did it become okay to knock a female biracial senator like Kamala Harris for too often playing the race card and at the same time condemn her for being a little too tough on the non-white community as a former prosecutor because she rose through the mainstream political ranks while married to a white Jewish guy?  And how come it’s okay to grab HER mike on a stage and no one else’s?

Mood

I would be more than happy with any one of the above four candidates as the Democratic nominee to be our next POTUS.  And thrilled to have any of them, and many others as a REAL president.

To that end I’ve been vocal about each of them on various social media posts, as well as in person.

Yet I find that the candidate(s) and myself are ALWAYS eventually attacked by someone, and ALWAYS of my own party, for any one of the above reasons.

Now don’t get me wrong, I can take the attacks.  In fact, sometimes I too happily relish them, anxious to fight back and toss back some witty bon mot in the direction of the attacker, preferably right smack in their ____________.

Don’t mind if I do!

But that doesn’t do much except make me feel better and more superior in the moment.  Pleasurable though that may be, it also simultaneously pushes back said candidate of the moment at least a notch or two…or even three ok, eight.

Therefore it seems that if we can all too happily hand out awards for producers, directors, writers and stars who try to speak out and raise our consciousness on social issues in TV, we (including myself) might also try to cut a little slack to those few among us who we might not immediately support but who are at least trying speak to these real points in real life.

Agree or not, but to act as judge, jury and critic months before their full show, series or docudrama has even aired, or immediately condemn those of us who might like and/or try to promote the kind of socially relevant program they offer as knee-jerk ignorant, stupid or, worst of all, too privileged, IS JUST PLAIN ________.

….well, maybe consider …not doing it?

CANT… DO… IT… #trying

We will all likely try to speak out about social injustice in our own ways and through whatever means is available to us in the next year or so.  To listen to and truly consider the issues and the handful of candidates others will choose to make the case seems at the very least the mightiest of really American things to do.

It would also certainly be worthy of an award if we still gave them out for that kind of thing.   Though once upon a time we did and it was simply called… citizenship.

Diana Ross & Marvin Gaye – “Stop, Look, Listen”

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People, GET IT TOGETHER

Joe Biden is Hillary 2.0 and Al Gore 3.0!  His time has passed!

Elizabeth Warren can’t win! Her voice is shrill and Republicans hate her!

Gay South Bend Mayor Pete demoted his Black chief of police for illegally wire-tapping his officers.  He’s Mr. White Privilege!  And not gay enough, anyway!

Oh, and don’t get me started on Bernie Sanders! We call him the liberal Trump.  Did you know he wants to let rapists, not to mention the Boston Marathon bomber, vote?? AND he’s a socialist!  I don’t know if even I could vote for that!

And did you know Amy Klobuchar is so nasty to her staff that when one of them forgot to get her a fork for her salad she pulled out her comb and made them sit there as she scooped her salad onto it?  Yes, and then, when she was done, barked, “Clean it!” right at them.  She’s not a president, she’s a harridan!

Oh that old chestnut…

And Beto O’Rourke???  Ugh, he’s so annoying!! I don’t know why but he’s SO ANNOYING!! Mr. Mom who never stays home!  And it’s like, WHO IS HE?????

But Kamala Harris.  As if someone from near San Francisco is ever gonna be president.  Plus she’s Black AND Indian AND married to a white Jewish guy!  Grow the f up!  Do you even know what country you’re living in these days???  Donald Trump is the president!!!!

I am sooo tired of all of this and the election is 18 months away.  Heck, even the first Democratic primary is not until Feb. 3 in Iowa.

Who will help me get through this???

Or course the bigger question is WHO will help US?

Strength in numbers??

Yes, I know only we can help ourselves.  We are the change we’ve been waiting for.   I get it.  I’ve been to therapy.  Both the personal kind and the Obama kind.

Still, the fact remains…I can’t.  I’m tired, I’m cranky and I’m pissed off with people who share most of my political views.  And I refuse to watch a THREE-HOUR Avengers movie.  One was enough for me and I can’t even recall which one I did see.

But now it’s THREE HOURS???

Why are we paying to watch super villains and superheroes when we have so many of both in Washington, D.C. and on cable news daily???

OK fine… I do find the Hulk relatable.

I overheard a bunch of film students talking in rapt excitement about the new Star Wars movie the other day and had an acid flashback moment to 1980 at a Fox screening room when I was watching one of the first pre-release press showings of The Empire Strikes Back.

It was good.  For what it was.  But if you would have told me that almost 40 years later we’d still have to be dealing with this I would have told you…  Well, never mind what I would have told you.  Because it’s the same thing I’m telling you about this upcoming election.

SAVE YOUR PENNIES!

As much as people think this is an unusual time – and in many ways it is – in a lot of other ways it’s no different than so many of the swings and changes we’ve endured as a country all through the 20th and 21st centuries that I’ve lived through thus far.

I can recall watching Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King assassinated on TV, not to mention Jack Ruby shooting JFK’s would-be assassin live on TV in front of millions of people – a clip that lived on a lot more than 40 years later.  Probably in perpetuity of the world as we know (or don’t know) it.

.. and again thanks to shows like Mad Men #imissDonDraper

I also remember as a teenager the police shooting college protestors just a few years older than me in Kent State Ohio.  All they were doing were being teenagers, trying to end a needless war in which they and their loved ones could have been killed in, and, well, throwing a few rocks when the National Guards released tear gas on them. But then the National Guard shot 67 rounds of bullets in 13 seconds into the crowd.   Four students who were NOT EVEN PROTESTING, just observing, were killed.

You’d think we would have gotten the gun and the law enforcement thing under control by now.  Of course, we haven’t.

In case you’re not feeling outraged yet…

Nevertheless, we have survived.  Decades of intolerance turning into more tolerance and then acceptance by many more than some in marginalized communities.  Though not by others.  We even have more laws than ever to back them up, though not enough and even those aren’t always enforced.

Point being, things were REALLY bad then.  George Wallace, an avowed racist, ran for president and got 13% of the vote.  And then, of course, he too was shot.  And paralyzed.  What goes around comes around, right???

I’ll keep telling myself that, Chairy

Well, that’s what we’re hoping for right now, isn’t it?  That somehow the haters and the shooters will get theirs because we need CHANGE?  And right NOW!  Because we’ve been complacent.  We need to UPEND EVERYTHING because, well, things have never been this bad.

I’ve actually said this myself.

And then there’s this…

Yet it occurred to me, watching coverage of the latest shooting at a house of worship – this time an Orthodox Jewish synagogue in California where a crazed shooter killed one person and wounded several others – that radicalism has never quite worked in the U.S.

Individuals commit radical acts, sometimes when they’re part of the public and other times when they’re in office, but the radical doesn’t define US in the long term.

We’re more of a gradual change environment, brought on by individuals and groups proposing radical change.  You need radical thinking to move the needle.  But to lead, you need bold measures and smart, well-researched, practical plans that can be willfully executed through the actions of a President and Congress elected by we, the people.

Imagine that!?!?!

For me this means we need to stop being hysterical.  Accusatory.  And refrain from eating our own.  You all know what I mean.  No one who has lived a life of any age is perfect.  Certainly no one who has done anything in public service.  Especially no one anywhere near 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. at the moment.  Especially the sloth at the top of the sloths.

OK maybe not sloths. Look how cute this one is! #justiceforsloths

This is simply a call to calm down and realize that when we decide whom to nominate to run against you know who for president there is no recipe for the perfect chocolate cake.  Or even a vanilla one.  When someone is kind enough to ask you what you want them to bake for your birthday celebration you weigh all the factors (Note: Sometimes literally and sometimes not) and pick out the one you have a hankering for at the time.

But seldom do you order the cake this much in advance.  Not even a wedding cake.

Maybe wedding cake wasn’t the best analogy

Oh, and if you’re going to a party where the birthday boy or girl chooses chocolate you don’t sit in the corner, refuse to eat the cake at all or bitch and moan that they didn’t serve the Carrot one that you would have preferred.    And for the record, I hate carrot cake.

Though I have managed to down it at a party or two in order to celebrate someone or something that I cared about.

The Beatles – “We Can Work It Out”

 

Herstory

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Hillary Clinton made history this week when she became the first female nominee from one of the two major parties in the U.S. for president. Then several days later Sen. Elizabeth Warren became the darling of left, center and center-right wing sanity by giving a rousing takedown speech eviscerating Republican nominee Donald Trump as both a loud, nasty, thin-skinned fraud and a small, insecure, thin-skinned, wannabe tyrant.

Normally it’s not recommended to repeat adjectives like thin-skinned twice in alternating phrases but in this case it didn’t matter. Sen. Warren’s acumen at knowing just which buttons to push in The Republican Apprentice scored such public adoration that talk quickly grew that she was the leading contender for Hillary’s Veep spot (Note: One feels compelled to call her Hillary these days since that’s the catch phrase on her posters and how she signs all of her fundraising emails – at least to me).

We're all ears

We’re all ears

I, for one, was immediately thrilled at the possibility of two women on the ticket. I mean, how could they do any worse and what better way to get misogynist Trump’s goat, right? But looking across to my 87-year-old father, who I know has always loved Mrs. Clinton, as he calls her, and for just as long has always loathed that ass h-le Trump, as he refers to him, it occurred to me to ask –

Uh Dad, do you think having two women on the ticket matters to men in their 70s and 80s?

Silence. And then in one word he answered — 

Yes.

When I told him it didn’t matter to me he quickly retorted that I wasn’t in my 70s or 80s. When I mentioned it didn’t matter to him he just shrugged it off. How I interpreted the latter was, at this point in life I don’t really know why some people are so small-minded and I really don’t care. Can’t we just watch the basketball game or at least Turner Classic Movies?

Indeed

Indeed

I mean, how long do we have to endure the women discussion anyway? After watching news analysts of both genders questioning all day whether the nation could accept having a duo of females as our numbers 1 and 2, my mind began to drift to March 24, 2002. Do you know what day that was? I didn’t think you did. It was actually the evening that Halle Berry became the first African-American female to win best actress (Oscar, that is) and Denzel Washington became only the second African-American male in history to win best actor.

Yes, our TWO best American thespians that year were…Black! That hadn’t even happened before and that was 12 years ago. Not to mention we’ve actually had one Black # 1 in the White House for almost eight years since then. So given that more than another decade has gone by isn’t it about time two women were awarded both #1 and #2 in the same year?

The time is now

The time is now

Never mind that this is the logic by which an illogical mind works. It still doesn’t make it any less true. And are we really going to have a serious discussion about this? Can’t we watch Turner Classic Movies? I’d even consider tuning into a basketball g…. Actually, on second thought – No.

Of course, no sooner did Hillary win and Sen. Warren lambaste Mr. Thin of Skin that the barrage of Trump insults started again. (Note: Remember, he’s a self-proclaimed counter puncher who always hits bad hard):

By now anticipating such witty outrage, Sen. Warren’s staff actually bought the domain www.pocahontas.com that immediately redirects you to the Elizabeth Warren for Senate page. Among other things, it lists her personal blog and facts about the senator and where she stands on all of the major issues of the day.

(Note: For those still a bit confused, Pocahontas is the taunt this year’s Republican nominee proverbially hurls at the Senator, who he seems to be convinced is not, as she has claimed, part Native American. Though he never did try to pretend Pres. Obama wasn’t Black, Mr. Trump did first burst onto the contemporary political scene several years ago when he tried to claim our POTUS was not native born in the U.S,. as he and his birth certificate clearly state, and is therefore disqualified from being our #1 despite winning the office by many, many millions of votes. Twice).

A blast from the very recent past

A blast from the very recent past

However one feels about Sen. Warren, Mr. Trump or Pres. Obama isn’t it nice to be reading about the latest insult, punch back, scandal or near indictment that will ultimately never happen against Hillary – even if it’s just for a little bit? You’re welcome. But stay turned. This week the Drumpf-enator promises a national speech that will blow the lid off of how Hillary and Bill Clinton have made hundreds of millions of dollars selling access through the Clinton Foundation and how she, in particular, used the State Department as her own private hedge fund during her tenure as Secretary of State.

This leaves me just about enough time to learn the rules of basketball. Which I’ll begin right after my five month marathon watching Turner Classic Movies in every spare waking moment that I have. What are your plans? And please don’t be insulted that I asked.

 

Things You Can’t Say

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It was one of those weeks. Suffice it to say – don’t ask.   But if I had said everything that I thought, desperately wanted to say or almost said – I, well…

But then I thought – what’s the point of a blog, anyway? To write everything your best self would never say — to your readers.   Perhaps you’ve had one or two of these same thoughts yourself. Or maybe one or two will inspire you to share some of your own with others? Just think how much better – or worse – the world would then be. And relish it.

To the cop waiting in his patrol car on the top of a hill in front of a shuttered park:

You don’t give a crap about safety. I could see it in your eyes as you barreled down towards me. No, you wanted to give me a ticket because you either had a quota to fill or you’re p.o.’d because you’re short – even shorter than me (5’7”) and it gives you a perverse unspoken pleasure. You hate your job AND you hate your life.

Starting off strong, Chairy

Starting off strong, Chairy

And for the record, I NEVER speak in the car actually HOLDING my cell phone. It’s always on speaker or Bluetooth. But my 87-year-old father is ailing and it looked like the number of one of his health care workers so when the remote failed and I couldn’t find the speaker button I just HAD to pick it up. I tried to explain this to give not an excuse but a context and didn’t expect a break from you. But what I got was a condescending nod and a walk-away. You’re a dick. And you’ll always be smaller than I am – in every area – no matter what arena we’re in. #Copette

To the brilliant Anthony Hopkins:

Transformers 6? Really???? I remember those days when you were doing Equus on Broadway. And this was decades before you won the Oscar for Silence of the Lambs. And well before you did Remains of the Day. Not to mention Nixon, Howard’s End and even Mask of Zorro. It’s brilliant you cashed in reprising Hannibal Leccter in Hannibal and Red Dragon. Mission Impossible 2 – we get it. Even the Thor movies sort of make sense following noble duds like Alexander, Titus and Noah. 

On second thought.... #maybenot

On second thought…. #maybenot

No Tony, I couldn’t turn down$5 million, $10 million, $15 million or whatever you’re getting. But can’t you simply be Iron Man’s grandfather? Or at least a Spiderman super villain? Did you have to go to #BayLand? Fine – alimony, child support or you might lose the house in Malibu. But if you’re simply doing this for some new kitchens, swimming pools or generational visibility, I’m done. Do not #MichaelCaine1980sMe.

To Mitt Romney:

I still disagree with practically everything you stand for and find every other word out of your mouth dripping with condescension – especially when it comes to pushy gay Jews like myself. But I will give you major props for being the only high profile Republican politician to publicly and vocally still refuse to endorse Donald Trump. Who would have guessed you’d out maverick McCain or out boy scout Paul Ryan.   Still, there’s an extremely low bar out there from which to excel. #Bully4Mittens.

I think I need to get my eyes check #saywhaaa

I think I need to get my eyes checked #saywhaaa

To Tina Fey:

You’re great but how many more American Express commercials are there? Two? Ten? And why? Why, why, why, why, why??? (Note: See Anthony Hopkins). One can’t help but think it’s the agents. Except, it can’t be. Not really. You’re too young to be Bill Murray’s character in Lost in Translation. And besides, those spots only aired in Japan. #YoureNotAlecBaldwin.

Paying for her daughters' college tuitions? or funding the Mean Girls musical?

Paying for her daughters’ college tuitions? or funding the Mean Girls musical?

To haters of L.A., NYC and San Francisco:

It’s ridiculously expensive to live here because too many people want to live here. This is not our fault. It is everyone’s fault. Yes, the air is cleaner in Cheyenne, WY and Bismarck, N.D. And houses are a lot cheaper in Waco, TX.

Waco or bust. #shiplap #drinkingtheKoolAid

Waco or bust. #shiplap #drinkingtheKoolAid

So? No one is twisting your arm NOT to relocate there (as much as Chip and Joanna Gaines may try). Or to move here. That being the case – please, can the eye rolls stop towards us when you’re talking in public about American values or in private about where you find the real people who make up this country? And we’ll stop dishing about how dumb you are. Or, well, at least I will. #Maybe.

To visitors in my home:

Yes, we have a movie poster with a picture of Judy Garland on it and another vintage one being framed from the movie All About Eve. This doesn’t only mean my husband and I are gay.

Guilty

#Guilty

It also shows that we have good taste in entertainment and like the color combination of red and cream and how it mixes with the blues and yellows in the rest of the house. (Note: Fine, #Gay). Not to mention, the Citizen Kane poster is too expensive, the Ordinary People poster is too depressing and nowadays Woody Allen gets people too upset. Plus, we can’t afford a Jackson Pollock and will likely never be able to. Still, we do cop to a lack of sports memorabilia, Star Wars toys, and gym class experience. In fact, I, for one, served as attendance monitor my entire senior year of high school P.E. class and never had to change into shorts or break a sweat once in 10 months. #CrazylikeaQueen.

To MSNBC:                                     

Rachel Maddow is my oracle and too often there is a false equivalency made between you and Fox News. Still, your non-stop pursuit of all things Trump is making it impossible to defend you to others.

In the spirit of Roseanne Roseannadanna.. what are you tryin' to do, make me sick??

In the spirit of Roseanne Roseannadanna.. what are you tryin’ to do, make me sick??

Know that it’s one thing to report the news in all of its bizarreness and quite another to broadcast an endless loop of the same incoherent blathering over and over and over again for hours with only a few added sound bytes every few minutes from each one of your paid commentators. Take some of the money you saved by unwisely firing Alex Wagner and hire someone with the guts to do something ingenious – like ambush a real politician against their will and ask them a question no one else has. Then film it. And air it. #SaveHowardBeale.

Hey gurl. #changingchannels

Hey gurl. #changingchannels

To Hillary Clinton:

Good speech. Your Trump hit lines most likely to persuade fence sitters to your side:

Imagine him deciding whether to send your spouses or children into battle.

– Imagine if he had not just his Twitter account at his disposal when he’s angry, but America’s entire arsenal.

– I will leave it to the psychiatrists to explain his affection for tyrants.

Now make some of the news reports true and choose Elizabeth Warren as your veep.  In a show biz age, she’ll give you the smartest, most solid and sassiest support to take on the Orange Clown.

To #Drumpf:

You’re a mentally ill racist. Go away and get some therapy. Or at least go away. Now be gone, before someone drops a house on you, too.

 

The Chair’s 10 Best of 2014

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Of course 10 best lists are bogus. After all, what exactly is “best?” Even the first dictionary definition itself can’t decide. It states:

BEST

  1. 
of the most excellent, effective, or desirable type or quality.

I don’t know about you but I find there is a hell of a lot of difference between excellent, effective and desirable. In fact, the moments in my life I can remember being at my most desirable in no way made me the most excellent person in the room – especially when that number was two. Truth be told and given what usually prompts human desire, I’d actually argue that the exact opposite was true.

I can recall once or twice being so excellent at something that it is hard to imagine someone wouldn’t have found me equally desirable. But wait, let’s forget that. If you’ve been in the presence of any writer at his or her most excellent you’d know it’s not a pretty sight. Hair askew, loved ones, friends and usually hygiene totally ignored. Not to mention common courtesy. Meaning – don’t even THINK about interrupting, much less BREATHING, because I will KILL YOU. Or worse, BLAME YOU for stopping the flow. Not to mention what the world will do to you if any more of this genius is lost from its most excellent source – Me.

I have no idea what you're talking about Chairy

I have no idea what you’re talking about Chairy

Finally, we’re left with effective and nothing about the word effective comes close to evoking best. Michael Bay is probably one of the most effective filmmakers to ever work in contemporary Hollywood but, uh – best? Well, you see how words deceive. And yes, he can take it. He married us for it. Which only proves that Edward Albee is the all-time best.

Here then in no particular order are my 10 best of the year. I define best as jarring, original, memorable and cool – to me. There is nothing scientific about it. It’s a purely subjective list. As are all those that deal in bests.

FILM: Birdman and Boyhood

Looking up

Looking up

No one except a few film critics, most of whom do not partake fully in life because they don’t have the time, have seen every film in any given year. But at least I see a lot. And I say these two stand above and beyond the pack for different reasons.

In the case of Boyhood, the feat of shooting a film with the same actors aging over a 12 year period, rewriting as you go, and emerging with anything coherent – much less emotionally affecting – is nothing but the best. It takes drive, focus and talent. Richard Linklater has always been an interesting and adept filmmaker but in this case he’s managed to circumvent the Hollywood system with a truly original approach to a universal story. Anyone can pick apart the movie’s faults, but no one in the narrative commercial world has had the nerve to take a path this original lately. In 2014, that’s my equivalent of the B word.

Birdman has stayed with me for months and I’m not quite sure why. I liked the film yet in teaching screenwriting have certainly been one of those jerks to – yes – pick it apart. Still, there is something about watching Michael Keaton, a former megastar of the eighties who my college age students now barely know, play an outlandish version of his public persona so heartbreakingly that it makes me occasionally want to weep. Yes, weep. I’m not a total cynic. This is a project that for all of its faults could have gone horribly wrong. Credit director Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu, another fearless chance taker, and a cast of actors working at the top of their game, for keeping the high wire act alive more times than not to its pretty thrilling results.

THE INTERNATIONAL STAGE: Malala

Yes, you are

Yes, you are

You’re a smart teenage girl from Pakistan who got shot in the head by the Taliban for speaking out for other girls and their education. You then endure a bunch of surgeries and manage to not only survive but to continue to speak your mind as you gain intelligence and, well, even more nerve (Note: As if that’s possible). Then several weeks ago, these same Taliban types shoot up a school and kill 141 people, mostly children, and you still continue to speak out. Not with speechifying anger but with calm wisdom and directness. This is why you win the Nobel Peace Prize before you are old enough to vote. And how the world begins to slowly change.

AMERICAN POLITICS: Elizabeth Warren

America's truthteller

America’s truthteller

Let’s have a show of hands – how many of you are still pissed off at the big banks and Wall Street but don’t know what to say or do about it? Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) does. This time she might have been unable to stop Congress from passing a bill several weeks ago that will once again deregulate Wall Street and allow major banks to engage in the kind of risky investments that almost brought down the economy more than six years ago, but that doesn’t mean she will the next time. She’s like the best and smartest teacher in school that you always remember because she was able to take a subject you never could understand and present it in a way that not only made it clear but made you became engaged. The reason for that is that for years she actually did teach at Harvard and innately understands how to simplify unnecessarily complicated principles to undergraduates – meaning the rest of us. Like all the best academics I have ever met, now Sen. Warren doesn’t fall for the fancy linguistic tricks or ill-conceived arguments the establishment class in her field consistently tries to pass off as absolute truth. She questions so we, in turn, learn to question. This is why she probably always gets high evals at the end of every year.

POP CULTURE LOSSES: Joan Rivers, Robin Williams and Philip Seymour Hoffman 

Gone but not forgotten

Gone but not forgotten

This is not the best but the WORST. Still, it needs to be included because of the ripple effect their deaths seemed to have had across the world. Doing great work in the field of entertainment puts you in public view and when you do it over a long period of time the world feels as if they really knew you and mourns accordingly. And perhaps we all did know them – at least partially. It’s an element of what made them all such outstanding artists.

Still, it is quite odd for three such unexpected celebrity deaths to occur in such a relatively short period of time by less than natural means. Flip the channels on television or the peruse the shelves of a film DVD library and you can’t help but run into these three and marvel at the talent as you simultaneously consider the sudden loss.   JR was in her early eighties, RW was in his early 60s and PSH was in his late forties. Yet in their own very individual ways they each were among the very best at what they did. Which is all any of us can hope for at any given moment in time.

TELEVISION: Lisa Kudrow and HBO’s The Comeback

Oh how we "cherish" you (sorry, couldn't help myself)

Oh how we “cherish” you (sorry, couldn’t help myself)

There is nothing currently on television that evokes the humor, pathos and general uneasy brilliant comic drama that Lisa Kudrow brings to her portrayal of actress/reality star Valerie Cherish on HBO’s The Comeback. And when I say nothing I mean her performance is unlike anything I (or you) have ever seen on TV (nee HBO) or pretty much anywhere.

This series has returned ten years after being cancelled after only running a year the first time around. That alone is remarkable. But nothing prepares you for the eight episode arc of the new season as you watch Valerie/Lisa endure the indignities of rising towards the top of a profession that often leaves little room for any real dignity (Note: How may professions do?). Or maybe she just chooses wrong. (Note: Who doesn’t sometimes?). Whatever the reason, she is simultaneously the underdog and her own worst enemy and it’s sad, recognizable, funny and uncomfortably cringe-worthy. Most of all – it’s real.

I will miss Valerie Cherish for everything she is and everything she is not. If you haven’t tuned in, do so. And for god sakes, given Lisa/Valerie the Emmy.

MEDICINE: Ebola Nurse Kaci Hickox

You ride that bike, girl.

You ride that bike, girl.

What can you say about a nurse who goes voluntarily to Africa to fight a deadly disease, returns to the US where she is put into mandatory quarantine by New Jersey governor Chris Christie (even though she showed no symptoms and did not test positive for the virus) and then publicly stands up to said well-known political bully without cursing him out or punching him in the face? That she’s my kind of gal? Needless to say.

If ever there was a face I wanted to punch...

If ever there was a face I wanted to punch…

For those who don’t recall, Gov. Christie insisted on quarantine for Nurse Hickox in a makeshift tent when she returned to the U.S., which caused her to go public and take a stand against the governor by defying his quarantine and returning home to Maine. She did all this with calm determination and the backing of medical facts despite the hysterical witch-hunts and political grandstanding that began swirling around her.

Then once she got to Maine, she and her boyfriend dared to take a bike ride while being hounded by a gaggle of media. And remain polite and calm. I shudder to think what I would have said. #GetChristieNoLove

MUSIC: Annie Lennox, Nostalgia

Click Play. Repeat. Click Play. Repeat.

Click Play. Repeat. Click Play. Repeat.

In the 1980s, Annie Lennox was the lead singer of The Eurythmics and known for huge hit records like Would I Lie To You. Once I saw her in concert where she leaned so far into the stage on one foot with her mic that I thought she’d fall over as she hit a note so raw and pitch perfect that you could hear an audible gasp throughout the entire concert hall. Some years later she went on her own and won a Grammy Award for best pop vocal for No More I Love Yous from her second solo album Medusa. She followed that with an Oscar some years after that for best original song, Into the West, from the last of the first three Lord of the Rings movies.

All that being said, it should come as no surprise that for me the best CD/download/album or whatever you want to call it of the year is hers. In Nostalgia she takes classics like I Put A Spell On You, You Belong To Me, Georgia on My Mind and Billie Holliday’s haunting song of the lynching of Black men in the Deep South, Strange Fruit, and presents them all in stripped down versions unlike anyone you have ever heard before. There are so few true real artists these days with worldwide commercial success. She’s one.

APP: Aaron Paul’s YB

tumblr_m9fp7bVfJ11qk72exo1_500

For free or by paying 99 cents for a more advanced version, you can download an app where actor Aaron Paul’s resonant baritone speaks phrases like Yo, bitch or Happy Holidays, Bitch or See ya, Bitch any time you want. Yes, I find this exciting.

See, when Breaking Bad ended its series run we also lost Paul’s Jessie Pinkman, the dumb as a fox crystal meth-cooking sidekick whose signature phrase, Yo Bitch, became a national obsession. A multiple Emmy winner and fan favorite, Paul raised almost $2 million for his wife’s charity, Kind Campaign, which helps young women in need, with a series of contests and giveaways that coincided with the final season. But after being stopped on the street, emailed and tweeted by thousands of people imploring him to curse them out with variations of his signature phrase he gave in and decided to generate some cash with it – for charity and, hopefully, for himself. Because even cursing people out loses its thrill after a while – and especially when they ask you to.

SOCIAL ACTIVITY: Protests 

Sad realities

Sad realities

The consecutive deaths of too many young Black males in the last year in numerous states by law enforcement has created both spontaneous and planned nationwide protests across the country. In the moment it feels as if this is doing nothing but letting off steam yet through the lens of history one can clearly see this is the American way to social justice and evolution.

I would not have thought this was quite true decades ago. But having been born at a time when the civil rights movement first began taking hold, and then living through the Vietnam War, Kent State, women’s rights, gay rights, AIDS, homelessness, nuclear proliferation and marriage equality, I’ve seen how it works. Societal shifts are only fueled through provocateurs that have a real and righteous point about injustice. Therefore it’s our job to take it to the streets, talk about it, write about it or even just write a check in order to make something happen. It moves at a snail’s pace but things ultimately evolve when we don’t give in or give up. #ICantBreathe.

NEWBORN BABY: Sam Van Buren

Forget Joe Cool.. meet Sam Cool

Forget Joe Cool.. meet Sam Cool

Who is Sam Van Buren, you might ask? Well, the coolest, snappiest and best-dressed baby I’ve ever seen – who happens to be the firstborn of my blog cohort and dear friend Holly Van Buren and her husband Michael.

Holly chooses the images and writes the captions for Notes and it might surprise you to know that she literally gave birth two months ago without missing a single week of choosing images, tagging and posting the blog. How is she able to do this along with everything else she is responsible for in her life – I HAVE NO IDEA!!   

It helps when Sam the Man looks like this...

It helps when Sam looks like this…

Sam the Man, as I call him, takes great photos because he is able to both smile and come off as a hipster all at the same time. Again, I have no idea how to do this. But it does give me hope that one day as he gets older he might teach me. That is if I am not too old. Do not say – too late.

GQ baby of the year

GQ baby of the year

For myself, Holly and our marketing director Samantha Rabstein – who has a few surprises in store for 2015 – that’s all he wrote. In 2014, that is.