Win, Lose or Awe: Betting the Oscars

Screen shot 2014-02-23 at 3.54.08 PM

One of my best Academy Award predictions was in 2003 when I told my Dad to bet on Sofia Coppola in the best original screenplay category for Lost in Translation.  She not only got her Oscar but my father won several thousand dollars he happily split with me.

Of course, those were the days when websites still gave great odds on categories that almost anyone vaguely involved in the biz knew were pretty sure things.   (Note:  I think the early odds we got on Ms. Coppola were something like 13-1).

They were also the times when racist politicians could make bigoted remarks to local constituents and/or at fundraisers without fear of an international media blitz via Twitter, YouTube or Facebook.   Needless to say, that era has ended.

We now live in a world where even a professional football player can’t bully one of his teammates in a locker room or insult the player’s mother and/or sister without lawsuit and public retribution.  What’s next – everyone’s vote getting counted in a presidential election?  Well, I might be willing to sacrifice another Oscar betting windfall for that providing the name Hillary is listed as a nominee in one of those races.

Until then, those who want some quick cash at this time of year are left only with the measly remains of the local Oscar office pool or the generous rewards from one of the grand charity events you might be attending where predicting the outcome of the Academy Awards is even more popular than Olympic curling.  (Note:  You say you don’t care, didn’t watch or don’t even know what curling is?  Um, I beg to differ).

Oh, you know me.

Oh, you know me.

But back to what really matters here  – Oscarmania and how we can profit from it.

I’m not sure it’s terribly exciting to predict the Academy Awards anymore until I peruse virtually every magazine, newspaper or website within view of a Goggle Glass and see all evidence to the contrary.  Judging from what I’m reading, all of these sources have many more readers, advertisers and well-funded marketing surveyors proving to them that I am wrong and that we all secretly, outwardly or even perversely do care.  Whether you think of the Oscars as an apple pie tradition or something akin to watching the DVD of Showgirls, Valley of the Dolls, Battlefield Earth or Movie 43 (Note: This all depends on the year you were born), the odds are you will be watching, betting, watching some more or, at the very least, dishing about the Oscars.  So you might want to be armed with just a little more information and be a part of all the…fun?

But please, be forewarned – there is no scientific basis for any of following.  I have not meticulously done research weighing the statistical likelihood of who will win or what might happen based on the results of current guild award winners and anonymous marketing studies from expensive media consultants paid to unofficially check-in with (nee “lobby) Oscar voters.  This is just me – the winner of the Sofia Coppola sweepstakes eleven years ago and owner of a lifetime of show business disappointments and near exhilarations – telling you what is likely to happen.

THE SHOW

The Golden Gal?

The Golden Gal?

It will be too long.  Ellen DeGeneres will be a fun if not much safer host than last year’s Seth MacFarlane.  It will get boring at parts.  You will get tired.  And – there will be few surprises even though everyone says that each year there will be some.  Still, here’s some stuff we don’t know but might expect.

1. The producers have announced Bette Midler will be singing on this year’s show for the very first time.  What will she sing?  Hmmmm, let’s see.  The producers have also announced the theme of this year’s program will be movie heroes, Ms. Midler wasn’t featured on any of the nominated songs and we have to figure out how to fit her in the program so it will all make sense that she’s there in the first place.

Speaking of Bettes...

Speaking of Bettes…

Prediction #1:  Bette will sing Wind Beneath My Wings (…did you ever know that you’re my HERO…and everything I would like to be…) and it will probably be over the In Memoriam portion of the program.

2. Pink has been announced as a performer for a highly anticipated moment on this year’s show.  How do you not love Pink?  And how does any movie lover also not love The Wizard of Oz, which will receive a 75th anniversary celebration on this year’s Oscar show.  Well, Pink has a magical quality to her and often likes to sing upside down in a circus-like theme, so….

Prediction #2:  Pink will sing Over the Rainbow during the Oz tribute, evoking a sort of modern day, surviving version of an adult 2014 Judy Garland in movie business Oz.   Unless, they figure out a way to tie in Pink’s penchant for aerial acrobatics to best picture nominee Gravity, which I am so, so, so hoping they don’t do.  Or wait – maybe I’m hoping that they do do!!

Sorry stoners.. that was Pink.. not Pink Flloyd

Sorry stoners.. that was Pink.. not Pink Flloyd

3. Two of the most superb independent movies of 2013 – Short Term 12 and Fruitvale Station – received a total of zero Oscar nominations.  It’s difficult to understand why since often a very small film sneaks into at least a screenplay, if not best picture nomination (e.g. Beasts of the Southern Wild, Precious).  Some people will tell you the Academy chose the larger, racially historic themes of 12 Years A Slave instead of Fruitvale and the similarly small, character-based storytelling of Her, Nebraska and Dallas Buyers Club in favor of Short Term 12. This may or may not be the case.

Prediction #3:  Short Term 12 and Fruitvale Station will receive no mention at all during this year’s Oscar show unless it’s in the introduction to ST’s much over-looked star Brie Larson, who has been announced as a presenter.  But even that is doubtful since they will probably refer to her as merely the co-star of the upcoming remake of The Gambler with Mark Wahlberg.  What a shame.

THE AWARDS

Best Original Screenplay:  Spike Jonze, Her

Betting Meter:  Sure Thing

the future is now

the future is now

Anyone you talk to in the business will tell you privately that Her was certainly the most original story of the year – even people who don’t think it’s the best movie of the year.  Forget that Spike Jonze has won most of the writing awards so far.  For my money, of the nine nominees Her was the best film of the year.  Count on this for the Sofia Coppola moment.  And wager the rent.

Best Adapted Screenplay:  John Ridley, 12 Years A Slave

Betting Meter:  Safe Bet

12-years-of-not-fancy-dining

Oscar eyes his competition

There’s a lot of diverse work in this category but it usually comes down to the overall impact of the film rather than the quality of the script.  The adaptation of the memoir of a free Black man who was kidnapped by two White men and brutally enslaved for 12 years in the Civil War era South is Oscar bait in that it takes an unusual, larger than life political story and tells it in a human manner (Note:  Last year’s winner in this category was Argo).  Truth be told I was underwhelmed by both 12 Years A Slave and Argo.  The latter felt diffuse and disjointed while 12 Years seemed repetitious and strangely undramatic in its constant use of inhumane, brutal beatings in order to make the same dramatic point twelve times.   Still, the Academy voters don’t give a whit (or is it shit?) what I think and the debate over what makes great film drama on the page is only one small factor in who wins a screenplay Oscar.  Which is why Mr. Ridley is a safe bet.

Best Supporting Actress:  Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years A Slave 

Betting Meter:  Slightly Favored

The best thing about 12 Years A Slave was this relative newcomer’s performance -heartbreaking, human, multi-layered and seemingly out of nowhere.  That’s what this category is all about when it’s not about a lifetime achievement award for the entire body of work of a perpetually ignored Hollywood veteran (e.g.  Remember Jack Palance’s acceptance speech pushups onstage when he won for 1991’s City Slickers? Anyone? Bueller?).

Girl, you know you got my vote

Girl, you know you got my vote

The buzz is that the universally beloved Jennifer Lawrence could sneak in for her charmingly frenetic seriocomic turn in American Hustle.  But I’d bet even JLaw voted for Lupita.  Though I wouldn’t bet for money –  it’d have to be more of a Jackass type wager.

Best Supporting Actor:  Jared Leto, Dallas Buyer’s Club

Betting Meter: Sure Thing

Bonus points for wearing this suit to the Oscar luncheon #werkJared

Bonus points for wearing this suit to the Oscar luncheon #werkJared

Bet the house.  I and many of my friends lived through the AIDs era of Dallas Buyer’s Club.  And while there is much to be debated about what the film left out, there is no debate over the accuracy and unexpected originality of the actor’s work here.  Straight men playing a gay, transgendered or cross-dressing character tend to evoke performance or caricature or just plain too much sass and/or nobility.  That wasn’t the case in this instance.  When a male actor can make you believe that the one time he is in opposite gender clothing is the one time you see him in a suit, tie and combed hair, then you know you’re watching a total transformation and not a carnival hat trick.  That and much, much more, was always the case every time Mr. Leto appeared onscreen.  Brava.

Best Actress: Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine 

Betting Meter:  Closer Than You Think

If you’re wagering, I’d resist tossing all the coin on this category.  Sure, everyone thinks Ms. Blanchett will win for portraying a sort of Blanche DuBois meets Ruth Madoff neurotic madwoman/scorned wife and she probably will since she’s picked up every other major award this season.  Plus, as an actress she has industry-wide admiration and has never won in this category.  Not to mention voters will enjoy resisting the whispered speculation that they will lead a backlash against Woody Allen due to his recently renewed molestation scandals and, in turn, deny the leading lady of his latest film an award.

Both fierce suits

Both fierce suits

But still – consider Gravity made a fortune and Sandra Bullock is the #1 box-office movie star of the year if you also count in The Heat (Note: And…you try acting next to mostly green screen nothingness!). And then consider that many voters greatly admire Amy Adams and her performance as the young con woman among con men in American Hustle since most people in the Academy have spent at least a moment or two of their lives referring to working in the industry as navigating one big con game run amok among similar types of con artists, most of them men.

Okay, consider it.  But if you want to play safe with the rent money, put it on Cate to win.

Best Actor:  Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club

Betting Meter: Safe Bet

All right, All right, All right

All right, All right, All right

It’s his year, plain and simple.  Especially after a scene-stealing scene opposite Leonardo DiCaprio at the beginning of Wolf of Wall Street and a vulnerable and charismatic supporting performance in the indie film Mud this past year.

Still, this does not take away from Mr. McConaughey’s great work portraying a mostly unlikeable, misogynistic, homophobic bigot who only begins to get a tad nicer when he’s diagnosed with full-blown, terminal AIDS in the 1980s. Yes, losing 45 lbs. and the drama of embodying a dying man is yet another example of irresistible Oscar bait if done well.  Which it was.  So deal with it.

The one potential upset in this category could come from a groundswell of support for Mr. DiCaprio in Wolf since he’s both well-respected, constantly sought after and has never actually won an Oscar. Add to the mix the fact that Academy voters of all ages admire the work of Bruce Dern in Nebraska and would enjoy finally rewarding him a career Oscar for a career-making lead actor performance.

But….it’s MM’s year and MM’s to lose.  Chances are he won’t.

Best Director:  Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity

Betting Meter: The Surest Thing – More sure than you getting up tomorrow morning.

The magic man

The magic man

No one thinks he won’t win and no one thinks he shouldn’t win – except perhaps Steve McQueen, the director of 12 Years a Slave, and a few of its loudest proponents.  But the award this year has nothing to do with who does the most and loudest Oscar campaigning and everything to do with technical directorial achievement that moved cinema forward.  The latter seldom happens in the space of a decade, much less in a single 12-month period.  For most in the industry, that was the power of Gravity, a film that actually took more than four years to make.

It also helps that Mr. Cuaron has a large and varied body of films that includes everything from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkhaban to the indie hit Y Tu Mama Tambien.  Though even if he didn’t direct those and other well-respected movies, he’d still win.

Innovation in a repetitively endless world of technology,  a.k.a. #2001ASpaceOdyssey2014.

 Best Picture: 12 Years a Slave, though I want to say Gravity 

Betting Meter:  Do Not Bet Under Any Circumstances!!!

Can she snag it?

Can she snag it?

My father would call this pick ‘em, which is a bookmaker term that means the odds could go either way.  In this case the choices are 12 Years and Gravity with American Hustle close behind.  What makes this so close is that 2013 wasn’t a great year in movies, simply a good year.  Meaning all three of these are good films but each have their faults when you strip them down.

That being said, the Academy usually errs on the most socially relevant and mainstream choice.  American Hustle has an odd zaniness but is seen as a comic parody of social mores.  Gravity doesn’t have social resonance but is what people in the biz are increasingly calling a movie movie – a film that harkens back to the kind of motion picture you have to see with other people on a large screen like they used to always do in the old days. (Note: That would be, uh, 10 years ago, right?).

12 Years fulfills both of these requirements.  It demands to be seen with other people around you in the quiet dark and is political, epic and socially relevant but not so much so that will alienate too many voters. (Note:  There is thankfully not a pro-slavery contingent in the Academy nor a substantial group of people who were offended enough by the excessive violence to withhold votes).

Last year’s surprise winner, Argo, had similar attributes.  Not that that means anything at all.

TIE-BREAKERS:

magic-8-ball

These are the ones that win and lose the pool.  Don’t bet on them individually because the Academy tends to reward these either as consolation prizes for films that won’t win in other categories or for showy work the broader membership likes to vote on as best but that is not necessarily the best.  Only sometimes do the winners emerge for the right reasons, mostly because no one knows that those really are.

Animated Feature:  Frozen.  No one thinks it’s necessarily the best but it’s good enough, has made millions and would, strangely enough, be the first Oscar winner in this category for Disney Animation Studios (Note:  The best animated feature Oscar originated in 2001 and though Disney has released numerous films that have won, the studio has never actually made one of the winners)

Documentary Feature:  20 Feet From Stardom.   No one in show business can resist stories about people who were wronged in show business, survived long enough to tell the tale – and are still working.   Plus, it’s good.

Cinematography: Gravity, Emmanuel Luberzki.  It’s technology and Gravity wins.

Costume Design:  American Hustle, Michael Wilkinson.  Sorry Great Gatsby it’s 1970s America.

Editing: Gravity, Alfronso Cuaron and Mark Sanger.  Technology wins.  Again.

Production Design: The Great Gatsby, Catherine Martin. The 1920s trumps the future in terms of looks and partying.

Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Visual Effects: Didn’t you hear me, technophobes — G.R.A.V.I.T.Y!!!!!  (There are a ton of names here so I won’t list all the individuals for fear I’m beginning to bore you). 

Makeup and Hairstyling:  Dallas Buyers Club, Andruitha Lee and Robin Matthews.  I will paraphrase the words of another prognosticator and tell you this:

No one at the Academy is anxious to hear the words Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa come out of a presenter’s mouth as the winner in any category.

NO COMMENT COMPETITIONS: Do not think for a second I am going to be responsible for predicting the unpredictable, pool-losing categories of:

Guaranteed to lose your shirt

Guaranteed to lose your shirt

Foreign Language Film, Animated Short film, Documentary Short Film and Live-Action Short Film.

You should NOT bet on these.  Or even include them in a pool.  Or even think about doing either.  That is, unless you know someone who has seen them all, is an Academy member and is very good at predicting the whims of voters.  I know several such people and as soon as I can borrow their screeners and cross-examine them I’ll get back to you.  Maybe.

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Oscar, the hero

Oscar-statuette-001

The 86th annual Oscar nominations were revealed this week and it might comfort everyone to know that along with them was the announcement that the theme of this year’s show will be — MOVIE HEROES!  Hmm.  And I always thought it was excellence.  Silly me.

Of course, the Oscars have never been solely about excellence and those who are nominated and win awards in their categories are not necessarily THE best in the world at what they do – even though one or two can be.  In that way, they’re a lot like life.  Those who are paid the highest salaries, receive all the adulation and consistently seem to be the most in-demand are on top due to a lot more (and sometimes less) than great work.  So why would it be any different in, of all places, Hollywood?

Aside from skill and talent (Note: In order to be considered outstanding and award-winning by the status quo both are essential to posses in some form, though usually on a sliding scale of merely average to outstanding), there is also luck, timing, fate, ambition, single-minded focus and hard, very hard, and very, very hard labor involved.  Remove any one or more of these and the balance can be tipped for or against you not only on the most iconic awards stage in the world but in any other stage of life you find yourself playing in for all of eternity.

Like this girl... she never sleeps.

You know she never sleeps.

Anyone employed in an office where they’ve done a great job but find themselves now under-employed or denied the promotion they deserve by any objective standard, knows this to be true.    Well, the movie industry is no different than that office except with a lot better clothes, more money and an excess of fantasy-provoking public attention.

This is not to say your boss is an idiot and is being carried by you and the rest of the staff – though he or she can be.  And it also not to proclaim that Oscar nominees and winners are sorely undeserving of that recognition – though that can also be true.  It is simply to say that, as my father declared to me long ago and at the time I steadfastly refused to believe:

Life is not always fair.  And if you compare yourself to others – like award nominees or winners – you are sure to end your day in abject misery.

Note: To be fair, I think Dad simply said you’ll be unhappy. But as a writer, abject misery sounds so much better to me – which should be a lesson within itself.

Of course, knowing all of this intellectually doesn’t in any way prevent any of us, particularly me, from whining, moaning, complaining and being periodically or endlessly obsessed for at least a day about the injustice of the Oscar nominations this week.  As for other things in life – well, aside from Chris Christie – was there anything else really even going on?

Oh, don’t even try to deny it and DO NOT write in arguing with me about our mass reaction to the nominations because there are two reasons I know this is true.

1. Of all the photos I have ever posted on Facebook or have ever been posted about me on Facebook the only one that has EVER received over 500 likes and hits was that snapshot of myself and my partner in tuxedos at the Academy Awards two years ago posed in front of a large 10 foot tall fake Oscar.

The famous shot

The famous shot

This says everything about you and what you like out there and less about me.  Though, can you imagine if I were even nominated or had actually….won that night?  I would’ve long ago reached that 5000 Facebook friend limit and might have to start having my assistant return or not return your texts, emails or, perish the thought, phone calls.  Though I suppose I could simply take to Twitter so u can stay abreast with what I’m doing at random hours of the day or night. @Cher @EllenBarkin @MiaFarrow R U #Listening?

2. The most bizarre memory I have as a young person in Hollywood was being pressed up against 1948 best actress Oscar winner Loretta Young in a tiny elevator backstage at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in the early 1980s after covering my first Academy Awards as a reporter.  She had presented best picture, I was done phoning in stories to the desk at Variety, and the two of us plus 25 other very desperate people would have done a lot more to get out of there after four and a half hours in luxury hell.  Rammed against her sequined dress with my eyes almost touching her neck I found myself searching for plastic surgery scars out of sheer nervous boredom.  And, I’m happy to report, could find none.  And yes, I know this story says more about me than it does you but it still feels relevant to what one really remembers about the industry when all is said and done.

Okay – now that we’ve established my and your obsession with these awards, let’s examine (nee – take apart) this year’s just a little bit.

A. HEROES IS THE THEME? – I’d fully expect to see Batman walking hand in hand with Atticus Finch were Gregory Peck still alive and either Christian Bale, George Clooney or Michael Keaton were still willing to put on the suit outside of a studio soundstage.  (No, Ben Affleck doesn’t count – he’s not Batman – yet).   Since no portion of that can realistically happen, why oh why do we need a…. THEME?  This isn’t an amusement park or….. wait…. okay, it is a bit of an amusement park – point well taken.  Still, the show’s producers explained that “We wanted to unify the show with an entertaining and emotional theme.”  How odd to publicly admit that movies themselves have ceased to do this for audiences as a whole.  And how much do I want my personal movie hero, Mary Poppins, to make an appearance this year even though the film about her origins, Saving Mr. Banks, was totally ignored by the Oscars.

Don't drag me into this, Chairy.

Don’t drag me into this, Chairy.

B. HYPER REALITY – We seem more and more to live in either a virtual world or a fake version of reality so why shouldn’t the most popular movies of this year be reflective of that.  Consider all of the hyper texts of four of the films that will battle it out for best picture of 2013 – American Hustle, Gravity, 12 Years A Slave and Wolf Of Wall Street.  They are adrenalin-fueled versions of the highest of the high and the lowest of the low moments in human existence.  They leave no room at all for anything small or basic or simple.  Clearly, that’s out of fashion.  And don’t tell me that there are five other movies competing– Philomena, Her, Nebraska, Dallas Buyers Club and Captain Phillips – that are smaller and more basic.  They have NO chance of winning and have none of the urgent buzz of the moment.  Mostly because they dare not to be as flashy.

Ahem... cough.. cough... Remember me?

Ahem… cough.. cough… Remember me?

C. NINE BEST PICTURES BUT FIVE BEST DIRECTORS? – Clearly, those four other nominated movies either directed themselves or don’t deserve to be singled out as the best.  OK, Let’s just admit it – it’s the latter.   When the Motion Picture Academy decided several years ago to broaden the amount of nominees in the best picture category from 5 to a possible 10 (depending on the number of votes each nominee gets) it felt a bit forced.  By whom I’m not sure but it certainly seems clear that the more movies that can slap an Oscar nominated Best Picture tag on its advertising the more chance it has to make money.  Not to mention the greater potential of better ratings for the broadcast of the Academy Awards since then there is a likelihood that with more nominees there will be more blockbuster films in contention that more members of the massive worldwide audience will watch.  This in turn translates into higher ad rates charged for the show and more money for everyone all around.  And you thought this was just about hero worship.

D.  FRUITVALE STATION and SHORT TERM 12These are two of my top ten movies this year.  Hell, they are two of the ten best movies this year by any measure (Note: if you disagree, you are just plain wrong).  Yet between both of them they have 0.0 Oscar nominations.  Now let’s see – what do they have in common?  Well, they are both very simple stories, unadorned by irony, over-the-top moments of stylized frenzy and technical effects or cutting edge cinematography and special effects.  What movie world are Academy members living in?  Has it really only been several years since Beasts of the Southern Wild and Precious were nominated in multiple categories?  When did more become…MORE.

E. OSCAR ISAAC – I was at the Motion Picture Academy screening of the Coen Bros. Inside Llewyn Davis last month and I could immediately tell from the confused and somewhat tepid reaction among the majority of the audience of people who I was even younger than – that the film’s Oscar chances were nill.

Well there's a performance we won't see on TV now..

Well there’s a performance we won’t see on TV now..

However, what I felt sure of was that the tour de force performance of Mr. Isaac as the title character – a brilliantly talented folksinger in 1961 Greenwich Village who offstage was consistently his own worst enemy –would be given Oscar love.  Isn’t it enough to command the screen in almost every scene, do all of your own singing quite brilliantly, and be charismatic enough to make even the most esoteric moments of a very unusual movie work in your first starring role?  As Amy Winehouse once sang: No, no, no.

F. BEST PERFORMER? – MSNBC pundit Krystal Ball (yes, that’s her real name) asked a guest on The Cycle on the day of the nominations if there wasn’t something a bit retro about the fact that the Academy Awards have separate categories for male and female actors.  Think about it – there is not a category for best female designer, editor, writer, producer or director?  Why are we still separating the sexes this way and what does it say about the rest of us that we don’t even question it?

I have to reluctantly admit that this has never occurred to me because, well, it’s just the way we do it – right?  Uh, well, that logic would then mean a marriage should be solely between a man and a woman and you KNOW that I don’t fall down on that side of the argument.

Yes, this is leftover from the star system and the old days where men were men (who sometimes acted like boys) and women were women (who seldom felt comfortable trying to acting as powerfully as the guys did).  Plus, the more star categories the more stars you get to turn out and the more general attention you get.

Well then – why not increase the categories but do it by film genre (eg, comedy, drama, sci-fi, blockbusters).  Oh fine, I can see you all rolling your eyes from here.  But ask yourself – why?

G. AMERICAN HUSTLE HAIR (NON) RAISER – I’m a fan of American Hustle and am happy that it led the field, along with Gravity, with 10 Oscar nominations.  However, it clearly should have stood alone with 11 nods because the one category it wasn’t nominated in was the one in which it was a sure contender – BEST HAIR!!!!!

Fine, maybe this is because the category is technically titled makeup and hairstyling.  But then how do you account for the two other nominees aside from the obvious Dallas Buyers Club?  Those would be two films we like to call:  Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa and The Lone Ranger.

DO NOT tell me Bradley Cooper’s curlers, Christian Bale’s comb over and Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence’s use of hair spray alone don’t put AH at the top of this list.  Do NOT even go there because I will cut you…and where it counts.

Is there award out there for hardest working double-sided tape?

Is there award out there for hardest working double-sided tape?

H. GO FLY A KITE – This is the last time I will write it – Saving Mr. Banks is old-fashioned, corny and reduced me to tears all through the third act.  When a movie does that all subjective judgment gets shoved aside and I have to honestly report – I loved the film.  And, I guarantee you, I am not the only one in the entertainment industry, or among Oscar voters, who feels that way.

Don't worry Emma, you're still fab.

Don’t worry Emma, you’re still fab.

But here’s the issue – it’s not au currant or even publicly acceptable to just simply use emotion as the barometer for whether a movie is among those judged the best of the year.  I’m not sure why this is the case but it has been for more years than I can remember.

At the end of the day, I feel an obligation not to dismiss movies that are on the surface uncool but still manage to profoundly affect me for those two hours (more or less) I’m sitting in the theatre or at home.  I learned this decades ago as a film critic when in my heart of hearts I couldn’t give bad reviews to movies like Arthur Penn’s 1981 Four Friends – a film roundly criticized at the time for being old-fashioned and maudlin by most reviewers but one that I knew had affected me in profound ways despite its flaws.

Not so guilty pleasure

Not so guilty pleasure

In fact, when I close my eyes and think of the 1960s and 70s I can still hear Georgia on my Mind, the recurring theme song in that movie in honor of one of its lead character Georgia – the bohemian gal three high school age guys thought they were in love with.

I have no idea if Four Friends would affect you this way.  But what I do know is that it received 0.0 Oscar nominations, did not make much money at the box-office and has been largely forgotten.  But not by me.  Thirty-three years later it is one of the few films from that time that I have an immediate and profound emotional reaction to every time I see it.   That makes it a winner by any standard – Oscar nomination or not.  And clearly there are a lot more films in that category we might all want to remember as talk about the awards reach their inevitable frenzied pitch during the next few weeks

Write in and tell me yours.

Superheroes

Hero-Worship

Lance.  Jodie.  Manti Te’o.  What are we to do about you?  You thrill us.  Then you disappoint us.   Then you thrill us again.  And then you drop us down even further.  Have a heart.  And just be real.

Of course, that’s exactly what we DON’T want you to do, despite what we say.  We’re like a put upon boyfriend or girlfriend who begs their untrustworthy mate to be honest and then, when faced with their true self, angrily throws the book at them along with the front door and whatever else we can grab.  And since I have been in this position at least once in my life I can honestly testify to the truth of this action. This is not to say that I wanted to NOT know the truth and to remain living in the lie.  It’s more – I wanted confirmation that the person who I loved was, indeed, the person I thought that I had chosen to love, rather than who they really were.

This is unfair and does not make for good relationships.  But it is what hero worship is about.  And that’s what we’re talkin’ here.  Or maybe it’s a potential reality show called Heroes: Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Yes, the latter is more like it.  That avoids words like lies and truth and anything in between.   Because once you go there you get into very murky territory (as the military can tell you).  There’s a reason why despite all the remakes and sequels you will only learn so much about Batman, Superman, Spiderman or even our much-maligned Cat Woman, even though you’re sure you know everything.   But they are fictional creations where filmmakers (or other makers) are in control, and every really great creative artist knows better than to tell-all.

Superhero's cape stuck in revolving door

On second thought, this cape ain’t so easy

However, this is not the case in our current age of mass celebritydom, which can be confirmed by watching any one of a parade of B-stars on reruns of Celebrity Fit Club or Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew.  You will find out and/or see more than you ever wanted to realize about recognizable names like Sean Young, Brigitte Nielson and Jeff Conaway (RIP) and be none the better for it.  Nor, will they.  In fact, though a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing, in some public cases it will, indeed, work quite nicely.

Which brings us back to this week’s live celebrity superheroes and the people who love them (the latter of whom would be us).  We’ve had quite a week.  And it’s hard to know where to start.  But I say, let’s go for the gusto.

THE LANCEMAN

STERN EXCLUSIVE LANCE ARMSTRONG GRAFFITI-100 

There was something about watching (now former) seven time Tour de France champion cyclist Lance Armstrong confessing his lies about a long history of illegally drugging his body to celebritydom’s mother confessor Oprah on international television that was the worst kind of cliché.  And yet, it was fascinating and riveting and featured two superheroes – one at the height of their super-powers (Oprah) and the other forced into an arena stripped of everything that once made them the most formidable force on the planet.  Imagine Christian Bale’s Batman in the black suit and with full arsenal (Oprah) fighting a Tobey Maguire Spiderman (the Lanceman) with zero accessibility to anything Web-based (a daunting task for any of us these days.. oh and pun intended) and you can sort of get the picture.

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Not a good look

Lance is a survivor of stage-three cancer whose name has raised mega-millions of dollars for a cancer education and prevention organization called Livestrong that has helped untold numbers of people psychologically, financially and even physically.  For those reasons alone, he will always be somewhat okay in my book.  But I’m not a sports fan and after a lifetime in the entertainment industry I know that no one – not one person – that you know from their public image is ever, ever, ever giving you the full truth of all that they are.  In fact, often they are disappointing in real life simply because as mere mortals they can NEVER live up to the carefully constructed image of what they are resonating in the zeitgeist.

Nor, if they want to survive, should they.  Because if all is exposed then nothing is protected. And with more than 7 billion people in the world, that makes you a pretty easy target.

The problem for Lance Armstrong is two fold.  One is the boldness of the lie upon lie and the other is the denial of such once he was caught.  Though he operated in a haze of credibility for years, he and Oprah pretty much acknowledged that had he not tried to make his last big comeback in the last decade he might have “gotten away with” all of his previous wins and no one would have ever been the wiser.  Yet the truth  – as anyone who has really known a celebrity can testify to – is that it takes a real-life superhero to walk away from that status (and those are rare, if they exist at all).  I mean, once you’re a god with all of the perks it affords, you begin to believe you ARE a god so why would you ever want to be simply human again???  For love?  For sanity?  For…humility?  Are you kidding????

Yet this activity also fostered The Lanceman’s escalating denials – which proved to be his version of Kryptonite.  There was no way he could stay in the game without upping his vitriolic disownment of the real truth.  And every time he did this, he got more famous (or infamous) and further away from reality, thus making his superhero achievements even bigger and more open to public consumption than they ever were.  Consequently, the perch from where he would inevitably fall grew higher and higher – prompting some to dub him the “biggest liar” in the history of sports or, perhaps, humankind.

Thanks Lance!

Thanks Lance!

The latter hardly seems fair or true, though certainly those are not adjectives to be applied in this kind of discussion.  Yes, we know he was a bully who took down other people in his way.  And uh huh, we acknowledge he ripped off his competitors and the organizations that touted him by his “lies” and “win at any cost” strategies.  But worst of all – he’s proven to us that rather than embody a superhuman version of the good part of the human spirit, he’s merely the man behind the curtain posing as The Wizard Of Oz – a man who in real life is equal parts great and awful  — a reflection of the best and the worst of our qualities.  Quelle Suprise.

JODIE POSSIBLE

Jodie-Foster-3

There are very few 50 year-old movie stars who have been in the business for 47 years, won two best actress Oscars, directed three feature films and still find time to raise two seemingly very well-adjusted children.  In fact, I can’t think of one — except Jodie Foster.

Then it shouldn’t be surprising that in recapping to us highlights of her life in a slightly odd, slightly rambling stream of consciousness speech while accepting a lifetime achievement award at this year’s Golden Globes, that she drew so much attention, concern, praise and vitriol – the kind usually reserved for some sort of superhero (or perhaps villain, depending on where one stands).  Being exceptional and famous and on television can do this because you can never please everyone by being exactly and totally who you are in public.

If Ms. Foster were to have a superhero name I vote for Jodie Possible, after the TV cartoon heroine Kim Possible – because a) we know the likelihood of childhood star human survival to age 50 b)we know the likelihood of leading movie actress industry survival to age 50 and c)we know the likelihood of sanity and so many other forms of survival that seem to actually make Jodie IMpossible.

But what has not been traditionally super heroic to the mainstream (up until maybe this year?) for Ms. Foster is the fact that she is gay, or to put it even more precisely, a lesbian – two words she managed to clearly avoid yet more than hint at in the seven minute acceptance speech heard round the world.  Ironically, that is part of what made her a bit of a superhero to me up until that night – the fact that she has lived her own sort of life all these years with intelligence and grace, often out of the spotlight yet hiding in plain sight of anyone who has driven through the hills and valleys of southern California.

jodie-foster-golden-globes-2013-speech

Amazingly the conversation the next day was not about her arms…

So why is it that Jodie Possible’s speech, tinged with a tone of arch, dare I say it, anger, left me and a significant portion of others – confused, upset, disappointed and, dare I say it…pissed off?  Why was she now so suddenly upset about celebrity culture when for years she wisely chose to ride above (or below) it? At a time when there are numerous out gay celebrities in 2013, why was she cryptically addressing her ex-female lover and personal life in odd language that implied some sort of public persecution for years by evil onlookers? Especially when today most people no longer care what she does in bed or are willing to give her a pass for secrecy because a crazed would-be assassin named John Hinckley famously said he was trying to prove his love for her when he shot some bullets at Pres. Ronald Reagan in the eighties?

The whole seven-minute speech was strange and uncomfortable in a way we weren’t used to from the public superhero named Jodie.  What it also seemed to be was – honest.  Sort of like when Tom Cruise went on Today and eschewed all of psychiatry to Matt Lauer, or spoke condescendingly about non-Scientologists on a famous You Tube tape espousing the superiority of all those in the upper echelons of his adopted religion.

In full disclosure, I’ve briefly met JF several times in passing (not making passes!) over the decades (once when she was a teenager and several more times as an adult) and have always found her to be nice, smart, classy and more normal than any 50 year-old former child star/still movie star should humanly be.  This is why I was so taken aback by a side of her on television that I had never seen publicly or privately.  Why so edgy?  Why that look in her eye that implied she was capable of saying something she could never take back or, worse, something we could never forget or forgive her for?  Well, why not?  Why couldn’t she do all of those things and what difference does it make that she’s confused and disappointed me by not being Jodie Possible this one time?  Unless, of course, this is who she really is and all of the other times on screen and the handful in person were just….acting.  Which would mean, I’ve been duped.  And – we (I?) don’t like that.  Especially from superheroes we look up to.

Not to mention that these are her sidekicks

Not to mention that these are her sidekicks

But aside from all that fancy reasoning, here’s the one thing her speech really did teach me – all actors, even the really good ones – need writers.  And I’m more than comfortable living with that.

THE MASK OF MANTI TE’O

quite literally, the masked man

quite literally, the masked man

This story is still unfolding and is still thoroughly confusing.  To paraphrase the famous line from that classic hero worship film Love Story – what can you say about a 24-year-old college football player who was runner up for the coveted Heisman trophy, led his team to record victories weeks after enduring the gruesome deaths of his beloved grandmother and girlfriend on the same day, and won the heart of the sports world for doing so?  That you loved him?   That you looked up to him?  Or — that he’s a pretty big liar and now you’re a pretty big jerk with egg on your face?

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Note:  The Love Story tag line, for those of you under 50

“What can you say   about a 25 year-old girl who died?  That she was beautiful and brilliant.  That she loved, Mozart and Bach,, the Beatles and………me?”

It appears that part of Manti Te’o’s aura is not just that he is a very good college linebacker (now turned pro, with an agent) who performed exceptionally well in a specific period of time, but that he did so against emotional odds heavy enough to inspire at least one or two after school specials or network TV movies if the industry still made them with the same amount of frequency they did in years past.

So imagine everyone’s outrage when it was unearthed this week that Manti’s  (or Mr. Te’O – we haven’t been introduced) relationship with his girlfriend was not only an online “romance” with someone he never met despite all implications otherwise, but that she did not even exist in real life and that he was the victim of what he and his coaches claim was an elaborate internet hoax perpetrated on a naïve and purely trusting soul.  So, you mean…he merely helped win all those games when just his beloved grandma was dying???  Well…I’m not sure if that counts at all….

What people say they are angry about in this case is not so much the reality but the deception and downgrading of the myth.  Forget the fact that this guy can play football, but how dare he make up a girl who never existed, even if he didn’t know she existed at all!! And if he was in on it and was using the story of the death of this girl to make his achievements even more spectacular – well, that’s really despicable.  I mean, it’s one thing to do that in a reality TV show (which everyone knows isn’t fact – or do they?) but this is real life.

Are you sure we're not watching The Bachelor?

Are you sure we’re not watching The Bachelor?

Some people posit that there might be some compelling reasons for the fictional girlfriend who then died.  The most popular of these is that Manti Te’O, a devout Hawaiian Mormon, is secretly gay and wanted to hide his private life because it goes against both his religions — those being both the Mormon faith and football.  Well, I have no idea if this is true but here’s a thought – in the scope and meaning of life as it exists in 2013 – who really cares?

We need to grow up and know that in reality heroic human achievements are never done by superheroes.  Translation:  If someone’s story sounds too good and looks too good – usually it is too good.  I learned this the hard way once when a bad movie deal that I desperately wanted to believe in went horribly bad.  But we need to know it today in real life — which sports and the movies we watch are not.  Not nearly.  Not even close.