Not So Green with Envy: An Oscars Post Mortem

Oscars 2019 proved that you don’t need a host to produce a watchable awards show but you do need at least a handful charismatic stars, inspiring musical moments, unexpected wins and, of course, heartfelt speeches.

This year’s show featured all of the above and often did it quite well – sometimes a little too well.

There was something ultimately schizophrenic about the show, the choices and the moments the evening offered.  It was as if the members of the Academy were so unsure of what they truly loved this year in cinema that they decided to people please and pick almost everyone from as many films as it could.

See: Green Book

Green Book took home the top prize of best picture while its director, Peter Farrelly, was not even nominated in his category.  Roma won Alfonso Cuaron best director and cinematographer but his movie was passed over for best film.  (Note: It did win foreign film, meaning it’s only the best if…you don’t speak English?).

Spike Lee won his first competitive Oscar trophy ever for co-writing BlackKklansman but was passed over in the director category, as was his film for best picture.

But he did give us one of the best shots from the whole show

Glenn Close, who had already won almost everything during this awards season, became the first actress to be nominated SEVEN times for acting Oscars without a win.   Olivia Colman won best actress for The Favourite in a bit of an upset over the heavily favored Ms. Close (The Wife), while Rami Malek swept in as best actor winner for bringing beloved Queen front man Freddie Mercury back to life onscreen in Bohemian Rhapsody.

We know Glenny.

Though interestingly, neither of the two top actor winners appeared in the movies awarded either best film, director or screenplay, either original or adapted.

Rounding out, or perhaps butter knifing around the gold, Black Panther, the biggest box-office hit nominated, took top prizes for score, production and costume design; A Star Is Born (the second biggest b.o. juggernaut) won best song; and Regina King was bestowed best supporting actress honors for If Beale Street Could Talk.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with spreading the wealth around.  But by the time Green Book was announced as best picture, veteran Oscar watchers couldn’t help but recall that time almost thirty years ago when another middle-of-the-road road movie about race, Driving Miss Daisy, won the best picture prize despite the Academy denying its director, Bruce Beresford, even a nomination in his category.

One supposes it is better for voters to widely disperse the joy rather than to ignore artists like Mr. Lee, whose more cutting edge film on race in 1989, Do The Right Thing, failed to gain either a best picture or director nomination and was subsequently overlooked in one of the few categories it was even nominated for – best original screenplay.  It took three decades but in 2019 the Academy managed to give Mr. Lee just a bit of his competitive due while still denying yet another of his masterpiece movies about race a win in favor of yet another rival film that chose the safer, more benign Driving Miss Daisy-ish route.

Look! They are in a car! How genius!

Whether that compromise was enough (Note: Um, no..) and others got too much (Note: Uh, hella yes..) is for each of us to say this week and then forever hold our pieces because that’s about how long the conversation will remain relevant to anyone given what’s in the zeitgeist these days.

What will hang around a bit longer is the memory of Melissa McCarthy entering the stage in a comic riff on The Favourite’s Queen dragging a train strewn with stuffed bunny rabbits, one of which somehow became situated on her hand and helped her to open an envelope.

Personally, I marveled at the age-defying beauty of actors like Angela Bassett and Paul Rudd, who will respectively turn 61 and 50 this year.  As Rosemary Woodhouse once said about her intimate evening with the Devil: IT CAN’T BE!

But like.. HOW?!

Even better was the opening musical number where the remaining members of Queen, aided greatly by Adam Lambert as its fill-in front man, gave us a soaring song in tribute to Freddie Mercury, whose larger than life image looked on from above.

Equally riveting in a totally different way was when Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper performed a stripped down version of their film’s mega-hit (and now Oscar winner) “Shallow” and managed to turn the Dolby Theatre stage into a master class pairing of artistry and intimacy.

Um… his wife was 5ft away. #icant #THEHEAT

It was also fun to watch Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and Maya Rudolph goof it up in an elongated comic bit early on and actually prove you can still be fresh and funny on any awards stage.  Ditto Awkwafina and John Mulaney presenting best-animated short.

Was any of this indelibly memorable?  Not exactly, but it was fun and watchable. This may or may not translate into a ratings boost from the all-time low numbers of last year’s Oscar broadcast, which is pretty much all the Academy and network seems to care about at this point anyway.

Welp, there it is.

That and no doubt the fact that in giving Universal’s Green Book this year’s best picture Oscar over Netflix’s Roma, both could breathe a huge collective sigh of relief for denying the streaming giant any more of the industry gold it had already managed to swipe right out from under their collective noses.

Cornelius Brothers and Sister Rose (BlacKkKlansman soundtrack) – “Too Late To Turn Back Now”  

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The Chair’s Oscar Favourites

You might or might not know that Dwayne The Rock Johnson was first choice to host this year’s oncoming train wreck, um, Oscars and that he was actually going to do it.

In fact, he wanted to open the show headlining a huge song and dance number.

How cool would that have been???

No, I’m not being snide here.   It would’ve been VERY cool. Though granted, that’s a low bar when anything about this year’s Oscars comes up.

One bone-headed decision after another, starting with a proposed best popular film (Note: Is all that money not award enough?); to announcing well-known homophobic tweeter Kevin Hart (Note: Um, yeah, it was all out there on the record, numerous times and in various publications) as its host; to relegating four award categories – editing, cinematography, makeup/hair and live action short – to off-screen status (Note: #AlsoRescinded #Speechless).

I can’t… it’s just beyond

What this leaves us with now is for the second time in its history the Oscars will have no host, a tarnished brand at the hands of its ratings grubbing upper management and a membership and general public that either doesn’t care or is too pissed off at the organization to care to.

Well, in truth it does leave us with one last thing: the awards themselves.

YES! THE AWARDS! THEY ARE SO SHINY!!

The higher purpose of the Oscars has always been to honor excellence at the movies. It might not often succeed in the task but watching the times that it does (Note: And yes, doesn’t) has become an international pastime for decades.

Long before the Academy chose to pimp its brand for ratings, there was still the pose of searching for excellence, of wanting to reward some of the year’s films that surprised us, touched us or simply entertained us in their own unique ways.

It is in the spirit of hoping that the headlines this year will be about which truly memorable films won in the categories they deserved to (Note: Or didn’t but should have) that we present:

THIS YEAR’S CHAIR’S OSCAR PICKS:

Best Picture

“Black Panther”
“BlacKkKlansman”
“Bohemian Rhapsody”
“The Favourite”
“Green Book”
“Roma”
“A Star Is Born”
“Vice”

Everyone is saying this is the toughest best picture field in years to predict. Maybe. Or maybe we’re overthinking it.

For my money, “BlacKkKlansman” was the best of the year. Great story telling, fantastic directing, artistic in all departments, original where it could have been obvious and, perish the thought, a timely message.

This is not the say the other films don’t have their merits. They do (Note: Well, most of them. Don’t get me started on Cheney). However, it feels like “Roma” is the inevitable winner here. It’s lush and different and addresses race and class in the more muted manner the Academy en masse tends to respond to.

Had there not been so much controversy about the veracity of the facts in “Green Book” there might be a different outcome. But this will not be so.

P.S. Cinema purists will be heard ranting and raving everywhere for days afterwards when Netflix picks up its first best picture win. They are the same types of people who swore talkies and TV would kill the movies.

Directing

Who will bring home the gold?

Spike Lee, “BlacKkKlansman”
Pawel Pawlikowski, “Cold War”
Yorgos Lanthimos, “The Favourite”
Alfonso Cuarón, “Roma”
Adam McKay, “Vice”

I will repeat past pronouncements – this is Spike Lee’s FIRST EVER directing Oscar nomination. Truthfully, he should win and had he not been nominated this year in the adapted screenplay category he’d have a solid shot. But it feels like Alfonso Cuarón will win for a memory piece that has managed to touch people in numerous and very different ways. Though I was not one of them, the grandeur of “Roma” and the awards he’s already received from so many other organizations make his win here almost inevitable.

Lead Actor

For this scene alone, most likely

Christian Bale, “Vice”
Bradley Cooper, “A Star Is Born”
Willem Dafoe, “At Eternity’s Gate”
Rami Malek, “Bohemian Rhapsody”
Viggo Mortensen, “Green Book”

Every one of these actors had great moments in their nominated films. But Rami Malek’s performance transcended the film and seemed to literally bring long deceased and beloved Queen front man Freddie Mercury back to life. Not only that, he did it in a joyful way, a gift that should never be underestimated in today’s marketplace of despai…Okay, let’s not go there.

FYI, they should have found a spot to at least nominate Ethan Hawke for a career-making performance in “First Reformed.”

Lead Actress

Get ready to kiss her again, Gaga

Yalitza Aparicio, “Roma”
Glenn Close, “The Wife”
Olivia Colman, “The Favourite”
Lady Gaga, “A Star Is Born”
Melissa McCarthy, “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”

This is the seventh Oscar nomination for acting Glenn Close has received. She has never won. Keep repeating that to yourself and watch the instantaneous standing ovation when her name is called.

And yes, she was quite good in “The Wife.”

Supporting Actor

Put it in the books

Mahershala Ali, “Green Book”
Adam Driver, “BlacKkKlansman”
Sam Elliott, “A Star Is Born”
Richard E. Grant, “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”
Sam Rockwell, “Vice”

It should be Richard E. Grant for taking what could have been an easy cliché of an early 90s gay man and turning him into something bittersweet and brilliant. He wasn’t written cliché but, well, you know these things have been known to happen.

Still, that isn’t the point here. Mahershala Ali will likely pick up his second Oscar in this category for a focused, committed and nuanced performance of another type of gay man. Someone a bit more heroic, talented and certainly a lot better dressed.

Supporting Actress

Oscar King

Amy Adams, “Vice”
Marina de Tavira, “Roma”
Regina King, “If Beale Street Could Talk”
Emma Stone, “The Favourite”
Rachel Weisz, “The Favourite”

It will be nice to see an actress as talented as Regina King pick up the Oscar for portraying a three-dimensional character of a Black mom in “If Beale Street Could Talk.” Her solid performance gave the film a weight and a foundation and for that, as well as for all the nuance she brought, she will be rewarded.

If the Academy were to go another way there would be nothing wrong with rewarding Amy Adams for her terrifying take on Lynne (Mrs. Dick) Cheney. She actually managed to almost humanize her. (almost)

Animated Feature

“Incredibles 2”
“Isle of Dogs”
“Mirai”
“Ralph Breaks the Internet”
“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse”

This is a no brainer for anyone wanting a shot at winning this year’s Oscar pool.   “Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse” WILL win.

Documentary Feature

Still thinking about this scene #goRuthgo

“Free Solo”
“Hale County This Morning, This Evening”
“Minding the Gap”
“Of Fathers and Sons”
“RBG”

Tough one. “Free Solo” feels like the best piece of filmmaking but seriously, whenever the world underestimates Ruth Bader Ginsberg the RBG effect kicks in and it’s usually for the good of all. Besides, it’s a charming story of a one of a kind warrior. So go with “RBG.” Not to mention, don’t you think the MAJORITY of Academy voters want to see HER on the Oscar stage?

Foreign Language Film

Which Black and White epic will it be?

“Capernaum” (Lebanon)
“Cold War” (Poland)
“Never Look Away” (Germany)
“Roma” (Mexico)
“Shoplifters” (Japan)

I’m going out on a limb and picking one of my favorite films of the year – “Cold War.” Any director who can tell his parents love story and keep it sick, dysfunctional, sexy and scary is okay in my book. Perhaps it’s silly for the Academy to award “Roma” best picture and not give it the win here but, then again, isn’t it silly to vote for it in both?

Adapted Screenplay

“The Ballad of Buster Scruggs,” Joel Coen , Ethan Coen
“BlacKkKlansman,” Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott, Spike Lee
“Can You Ever Forgive Me?,” Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty
“If Beale Street Could Talk,” Barry Jenkins
“A Star Is Born,” Eric Roth, Bradley Cooper, Will Fetters

My premise: “BlackKklansman” is deserving in this category but a win here would be one way Academy voters can finally give Spike Lee an Oscar win without having to go too far out on a limb and deny Cuarón the best director Oscar for “Roma.”

FYI, “Can You Ever Forgive Me” was an equally good screenplay in an entirely different way and would also certainly deserve the win here. And after winning the WGA award, is certainly a dark horse choice.

Original Screenplay

Sigh

“The Favourite,” Deborah Davis, Tony McNamara
“First Reformed,” Paul Schrader
“Green Book,” Nick Vallelonga, Brian Currie, Peter Farrelly
“Roma,” Alfonso Cuarón
“Vice,” Adam McKay

This is usually my favorite category (ahem) and this year it’s the one I like the least. I just didn’t find either “Vice” or “Roma” to be particularly good screenplays. “The Favourite” was too in love with how naughty it was being. “Green Book” seemed like a film from the 1980s but not in a good way.

That leaves “First Reformed” which, truly, SHOULD win. It had the type of originality and intelligence we don’t get often enough onscreen anymore. Not to mention this is the FIRST OSCAR NOMINATION for it screenwriter, Paul Schrader? The guy who write “Taxi Driver, “Raging Bull” “Hardcore,” “American Gigolo,” etc. etc.?

Yeah, but, um, he likely won’t win. The members of the Academy en masse are too in love with the pose of being naughty rather than the actual real life naughtiness Mr. Schrader markets in. Therefore, look out for the writers of “The Favourite” to pick up their undeserved Oscar.

Cinematography

OK OK it wins

“Cold War,” Lukasz Zal
“The Favourite,” Robbie Ryan
“Never Look Away,” Caleb Deschanel
“Roma,” Alfonso Cuarón
“A Star Is Born,” Matthew Libatique

It’s Cuarón for “Roma.” Yup, he shot it too.   And I agree, it looks beautiful and it’s haunting. Just make it stop.

Costume Design

WAKANDA FOREVER

“The Ballad of Buster Scruggs,” Mary Zophres
“Black Panther,” Ruth E. Carter
“The Favourite,” Sandy Powell
“Mary Poppins Returns,” Sandy Powell
“Mary Queen of Scots,” Alexandra Byrne

I’m just gonna say it – Ruth Carter should win for making Wakanda come alive in “Black Panther.” And I’m picking her for the win. Logic says that it’s always one of those royal so and sos that swoop in on a cloud of crinoline and steal the whole shebang. But let’s count on the Academy not being stupid enough to do it this time since there are two queens competing in this category. That we know of.

Film Editing

“BlacKkKlansman,” Barry Alexander Brown
“Bohemian Rhapsody,” John Ottman
“Green Book,” Patrick J. Don Vito
“The Favourite,” Yorgos Mavropsaridis
“Vice,” Hank Corwin

It feels like all the musical mash-ups in “Bohemian Rhapsody” give it the edge so let’s give that film the nod – along with its editor John Ottman. #Galillelo!! #Galilelo!!! #Galilelo!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Makeup and Hairstyling

It pains me to even post this picture #shiversdownmyspine

“Border”
“Mary Queen of Scots”
“Vice”

The only thing that could get me to vote for “Vice” is a team of people (Greg Cannom, Kate Biscoe and Patricia Dehaney) that can make a hot actor like Christian Bale morph believably into the hideous gargoyle creature we refer to as Dick Cheney. Would that such things were not possible.

Original Song

Admit it, just seeing this pic makes you start to sing it in your head

“All The Stars” from “Black Panther” by Kendrick Lamar, SZA
“I’ll Fight” from “RBG” by Diane Warren, Jennifer Hudson
“The Place Where Lost Things Go” from “Mary Poppins Returns” by Marc Shaiman, Scott Wittman
“Shallow” from “A Star Is Born” by Lady Gaga, Mark Ronson, Anthony Rossomando, Andrew Wyatt and Benjamin Rice
“When A Cowboy Trades His Spurs For Wings” from “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” by David Rawlings and Gillian Welch

 “…In the sha-a-a-allow…we’re far from the shallow now….”   Gaga deserves it. Get used to it.

Original Score

“BlacKkKlansman,” Terence Blanchard
“Black Panther,” Ludwig Goransson
“If Beale Street Could Talk,” Nicholas Britell
“Isle of Dogs,” Alexandre Desplat
“Mary Poppins Returns,” Marc Shaiman, Scott Wittman

The “Black Panther” score had the kind of verve and sense of purpose that made Wakanda come alive. This is, however, a close category and any four of the five nominees could win. #MaryWontBeReturning.

Production Design

“Black Panther,” Hannah Beachler
“First Man,” Nathan Crowley, Kathy Lucas
“The Favourite,” Fiona Crombie, Alice Felton
“Mary Poppins Returns,” John Myhre, Gordon Sim
“Roma,” Eugenio Caballero, Bárbara Enrı́quez

Ugh. Fine. “The Favourite.” Here you go, Fiona Crombie.   Go rent another castle.

It’s the truth, honey!

Sound Editing

“Black Panther,” Benjamin A. Burtt, Steve Boeddeker
“Bohemian Rhapsody,” John Warhurst
“First Man,” Ai-Ling Lee, Mildred Iatrou Morgan
“A Quiet Place,” Ethan Van der Ryn, Erik Aadahl
“Roma,” Sergio Diaz, Skip Lievsay

Well, I mean, who knows? Do you? But since “A Quiet Place” is a movie all about not being able to make sound, let’s not choose that. It’s too quiet! So maybe the first man on the moon? Again, there’s not much sound in space.   So I’m thinking….

Thunderbolts and lightning, Very, very frightening!!!! – “Bohemian Rhapsody”

Sound Mixing

“Black Panther”
“Bohemian Rhapsody”
“First Man”
“Roma”
“A Star Is Born”

Scaramouche, scaramouche, can you hear the…”Bohemian Rhapsody.”

Visual Effects

“Avengers: Infinity War”
“Christopher Robin”
“First Man”
“Ready Player One”
“Solo: A Star Wars Story”

If a biopic about famed astronaut Neil Armstrong can’t win the visual effects Oscar, well….don’t worry, it will. “First Man.”

You’re welcome, Ryan.

Animated Short Film

Adorable

“Animal Behaviour,” Alison Snowden, David Fine
“Bao,” Domee Shi
“Late Afternoon,” Louise Bagnall
“One Small Step,” Andrew Chesworth, Bobby Pontillas
“Weekends,” Trevor Jimenez

I’ve actually watched them all and it’s a strange lot this year. There is only one even vaguely happy entry – “Bao.” It’s sweet and touching and for my money, the best of the five. Some say there is a Pixar backlash but I don’t think it’ll matter. Still, if you’re looking for a second choice go with “Weekends.”

Live Action Short Film

“Detainment,” Vincent Lambe
“Fauve,” Jeremy Comte
“Marguerite,” Marianne Farley
“Mother,” Rodrigo Sorogoyen
“Skin,” Guy Nattiv

I like dramatic shorts more than anyone but yeesh, this was a disturbingly sad bunch. “Detainment” was clearly the most riveting but there was some controversy in the telling of this real life story. “Skin” ultimately became predictable though it was well-acted. That leaves “Marguerite,” the kind of slice of life story that might just squeak through. They could do worse and just might when the winner is revealed. 

Documentary Short Subject

“Black Sheep,” Ed Perkins
“End Game,” Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman
“Lifeboat,” Skye Fitzgerald
“A Night at the Garden,” Marshall Curry
“Period. End of Sentence.,” Rayka Zehtabchi

This is an eclectic group where any one of the five could win. “A Night at the Garden” is brilliant and timely though it’s really found footage that’s been assembled. On the other hand, there’s never been a film about trying to educate women in India about sanitary pads and how to make and distribute them on their own. So let’s go with “Period. End of Sentence.” And not just because it’s the snappiest way to end this post…even though it is.

“Shallow” – Gaga & Cooper in Vegas

A New/Old Golden Age?

Art, historically, is always at its best and most provocative when it can be in opposition to something – when the artist disagrees with the government she lives in. – Hanya Yanagihara, Editor in Chief, T Magazine

This week the New York Times published a special issue of its Style Magazine entitled — 1981-1983 New York: 36 Months that Changed the Culture.

Among the many articles, stories and sidebars is an accompanying 12-minute video of interviews at a photo shoot of 21 actors who had their breakthrough moments in the city as young artists at the time.

Click to watch the video!

There are lots of familiar names, many of them now stars, all of them respected at their craft not only onstage in New York but often in film and television.   Not to mention, one of them is now even running to be the next governor of New York.

Kathy Bates, Glenn Close, Sarah Jessica Parker, Matthew Broderick , Cynthia Nixon, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Willem Dafoe, Nathan Lane, Harvey Fierstein, Ed Harris, Loretta Devine, Joan Allen, Elizabeth McGovern, Mercedes Ruehl, Victor Garber, Amanda Plummer, LaTanya Richardson Jackson, Michael Cerveris, Mia Katigbak, Stephen Bogardus and John Kelly.

It was impossible to know at the time who in the above group would:

1- Create roles so indelible that they’d live on forever in the pop culture landscape.

2- Become rich and famous beyond their (and our) wildest dreams.

My face when I think about SJP’s wallet. Yes, we’re looking at you shoe lady!

3- Continue to be doing avant-garde, cutting edge work so many decades later.

4- Change your life with a single performance or film appearance or, perish the thought back then if you were a true artiste, weekly TV show.

And perhaps, most importantly (at least for them):

5- Survive long enough to attend or even be wanted at a photo shoot/class reunion in the year 2018 organized by the NY Times about the city’s once-in-a-era cultural scene.

It is easy to look back and write about an iconically fertile or low period in artistic and political history. But it is one mean feat of supernatural ESP to know that this is what’s going on in your particular time at the time and be absolutely right about it.

Amen, Andy Bernard. Amen.

The truth is, everyone thinks that both the time they’re living in and the work they’re doing is important, artistic, relevant and potentially world and/or life-changing. Either that or they assume there is nothing at all important about it – certainly nothing people would ever look back on decades later in wonderment or nostalgia.

Of course, both viewpoints are incorrect. No one really knows which times are or will be relevant to other generations and how or in what way. Sure, you’ve got gut feelings about stuff, especially in 1980s NY where people on the artistic scene slowly began dying around you from an unnamed plague. But in that moment, it isn’t easy to fully realize how time will remember it or if you and/or your generation’s work will live on or be forgotten. What is even more likely is that you won’t be right about it.

OK maybe we had a good idea about this guy #legend

Cases in point:

— I remember working with a 17 year old Cynthia Nixon on a little known Robert Altman film, OC & Stiggs, in the early eighties and thinking: She’s so sweet and smart, not to mention natural in front of the camera – I hope the biz of show doesn’t eat her alive. I never dreamed I’d see her on Broadway a year later seducing a major movie star onstage right before my eyes, go on to win two Tonys, then follow it all by becoming a female role model/TV star on Sex in the City.  And now a run for governor? Are you kidding???

Oh she’s the real thing alright!

— As the arts editor of my college radio station I got tickets to see this off-Broadway play called Vanities in the seventies where a very young and very unknown Kathy Bates played one of three friends whose lives we trace though high school, college and post graduation. She was fun AND sort of sad simultaneously, the kind of fantastic NY actress you knew would work forever but would probably never be a star because, well, the business…SUCKED!!

Which it didn’t because in the eighties she became a local Broadway legend playing a suicidal daughter in night, Mother and in the early nineties became an Oscar winning, axe-wielding movie star in Misery.

And then win an Emmy for playing a HEAD in American Horror Story

The latter was, by the way, five years after I had worked on the movie version of ‘night, Mother and was tasked to arrange a private pre-release screening for Ms. Bates so she could take in the work done by Sissy Spacek in the role SHE had originated. Again, I thought, this business…SUCKS! Which, of course, it didn’t once again and, in fact, only showed how wrong one (okay, I) can be – TWICE. And in two different decades.

— Then there was the time in early eighties NY where I saw Harvey Fierstein playing a gay, Jewish drag queen in his play Torch Song Trilogy and considered just how wrong I was a third time (ok, maybe that was #2) about what could and could not be accomplished in a business that, at the end of the day, actually might not at all always totally…SUCK.

Oh.. hello, Mother

This might be hard for younger people today to imagine but the idea of a gay guy from the boroughs playing a gay guy from the boroughs in a play he had himself, a gay guy from the boroughs, written about the relationship a gay guy from the boroughs has with an impossibly closeted gay guy he’s in love with and his own impossibly know-it-all Jewish mother seemed…well… impossible at the time. Until it wasn’t. And never would be again (Note: Especially for this gay guy from the boroughs) thanks to people like “Harvey,” who worked in cheap, roach infested, barely standing stages far away from the harsh glare of world-changing and international recognition.

You can never be great – in life or in art – if you’re forever thinking about being great or are sure you will never be great because the odds are against you and the times you live in just don’t allow it.

Also avoid self aggrandizing

All you can really do is put everything you have into your work and your life (both of those being art) in the best way you can, revel in each action and task with as much enthusiasm as you can and – hope for the best.

I still have to remind myself about living in the moment and enjoying each task at hand, unconcerned with result and I saw most of the above unlikely actor/stars in their iconic performances all those years ago in the early eighties.

I was killin’ it and didn’t even know it!

Of course these days it sometimes takes journalistic behemoths like the NY Times to remind us that the eighties – a decade many of my peers consider hideous beyond words because of its ethos of Greed is Good, big hair and the AIDS plague – did indeed have its moments in hindsight.

That is among many other things we depend on them to remind us of daily these days. Which is the subject of another story. Though the lesson is the same – stay focused and do the work as best you can – even if you think no one is listening and despite what you perceive your odds are for success.  Because the future – yours and all of ours – just might surprise you — and us – if you (nee We) just keep going.

Nina Hagen – New York New York (1983)

To Jennifer, with love

How do you solve a problem like Jennifer?

Here’s the punch line to an old show business joke:   “…Because I needed a new bathroom.” Many of today’s movie stars, whether they know it or not, are now the unwitting deliverers of that sadly funny but telling line.  The first part of the joke is: “What would have ever possessed you to take that role.” (For writers or directors you can substitute, film, script or assignment for the word “role”).

I don’t mean to pick on movie stars specifically but to make the argument you have to cite some group and, well, movie stars are as good an example as any of those who choose to sell out their ample talent to the highest (or just high) bidder.  And frankly — they’re rich, famous, privileged, and awfully good looking (most of them) so I feel they can take it.

Actors talk all the time about there not being enough good parts (for movie studios substitute good enough scripts, for directors substitute cool or meaty projects).  But here’s the truth – really desirable parts get created from directors, writers and yes, producers and studio executives, who are trying, working hard, going out on a limb, and exploring new and dangerous territory.  Or just being clever and true to themselves in a way that hasn’t been quite been done before because they’re tapping into something that’s uniquely them.

To whit:  Jennifer Anniston CAN act – quite well – and even in something more than light comedy — watch Mike White’s “The Good Girl.”  She’s also lovely in many of her rom coms.  She has enough friends (and that also includes her work on “Friends,” the great TV show that still holds up) and money to finance any movie she wants ENTIRELY for, let’s say, under $5 million and not get too hurt.  Hell, she just sold her house in Beverly Hills for $42,000,000 (well, that was the asking price) and made a tidy profit for quite a bit more than that.   But she doesn’t choose to.  Nor do most others. (For further examples of others, substitute the name of, oh, Johnny Depp).

I like Ms. Aniston professionally and several friends of mine who have spent time with her personally like her quite a bit too.  She’s nice.  She’s down to earth.  She’s a lot of fun, they say.  So why do she and handfuls of other film stars not choose to take matters into their own hands and make/finance lower budget movies on their own at a price.  And do the schlock only when they really need a new bathroom? (But really, how many bathrooms does one realistically need anyway?).

George Clooney does this to some extent and Ms. Aniston did do this to some extent when she had a company with ex-husband Brad Pitt, which he now has and which enables him to still do it, to some extent.  But that isn’t the norm these days.  Well, maybe she doesn’t have the time or interest? It does take some effort.  But so does walking across the room to change the channel if your remote isn’t handy.  (And that’s assuming you don’t have someone in your house or an employee that can get up for you, which I’m thinking she may have).  Yet if she and others don’t do something (because money is power right now) the upshot for actors (or writers, directors, etc) and their audiences, at least, is going from meaningless film to meaningless film, polluting the waters for anything slightly better than what comes along.  Yes, I’m talking to you “Horrible Bosses,” “Green Lantern,” and “Hangover II” (if you don’t like these choices you can substitute – well, I’m sure you can think of two or three).

United Artists (the film company founded in the twenties by disgruntled film artists Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplain and DW Griffith)   – –  Even First Artists (the film company founded in the 1970s by Barbra Streisand, Sidney Poitier, Paul Newman and Steve McQueen)  — Save us!  We’re dying creatively out here.  Television is thriving creatively mostly because of cable programming and its influence on the networks to push the envelope (though for every “Mad Men” there are 10 “Kardashians,” but I digress). It’s also serialized.  For those of us who love our stories in one larger sitting, is there no hope at all? I don’t get it.  Have the modes of entertainment changed that much.  Or is it only about getting rich in the shortest possible manner?

Where are you??

If the rich and successful ARE the job creators (duh), uh, Hollywood’s wealthy – where are you?  Are you only interested in creating crappy jobs?  Does that hold for every industry across the country?  Is that why we’re in the pickle we’re in?  Did all the good jobs (and movie projects?) go overseas?  Are we outsourcing ourselves, literally, into creative irrelevance, at least movie wise? (Duh and double duh).

This is certainly not limited to mainstream Hollywood.  Two feature length independent films I saw last weekend at Outfest, the LA gay and lesbian film festival, are not any not better, and in one instance much worse, than any of the movies previously mentioned.  That one in question was, in fact, so hideous, so absolutely without any wit or substance that it was actually embarrassing to watch.  Not so for the director, who proudly hawked DVD’s of his previous films prior to this screening, much to the delight of a packed crowd at 10pm on a Sat night (which, it should be noted, is really the shank of the evening in gay time).  Maybe that’s what it takes nowadays – absolute nerve and hype that whatever product you’re pedaling is the coolest thing in the world.  Perhaps in this case, indie and mainstream moviemaking are more alike and have always been more alike than I want to believe.  I might take a moment to sob just about now.

That's showbiz, kid

But just as I’m ready to give up I read that Glenn Close has a movie being released at the end of the year called “Albert Nobbs,” where she plays a woman who poses as a male butler in 1890s Ireland that is said to likely be one of this year’s top Oscar picks.  I also read that Ms Close has been pushing to get it made as a film since she played it off-Broadway nearly 30 years ago.  Kudos to her.  But thirty years???  Well, okay.

Working on her EGOT

And then there was the really interesting independent movie “Weekend” that I saw last night at Outfest by young British filmmaker Andrew Haigh that very much evoked the imaginative rawly emotional work of the young John Cassavettes.  That was really promising and very bold and daring.  So there is that.  Not to mention the idea for a new script I thought of on my own a few nights ago that I’m just starting to take notes on and will continue researching and outlining this weekend.  I’m starting to get excited to explore this new world and see what I can get down on paper.  Perhaps I’ll even manage a little self-discovery in the process.

Hmm., who needs new bathrooms when we have all of that?