Oscar Post (Mortem)

Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 10.45.13 AM

Here’s the absolute truth:

I look forward to watching the Oscars every year. This started even before there was an international avenue on which to snark. And it was certainly waaaay before I ever even dreamt I’d see an openly gay actor serve as the host while accompanied down the red carpet prior to the ceremony by his HUSBAND. Those were the days of Bob Hope and Johnny Carson – a time when John Wayne won the Oscar for True Grit over Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight for Midnight Cowboy. Meaning: #OscarsSoWhite #OscarsSoStraight.

BRB going to the gym right now

BRB going to the gym right now

So thanks Neil Patrick Harris for providing a new reality to a fantasy I never even had the vision to have. Not to mention Sunday night’s nifty Sound of Music tribute by Lady Gaga that all culminated with the entrance of Julie Andrews in the ultimate torch-passing moment. That alone is the best of what the movies can do – create not only an unimaginable dream for me but have it all take place in gay heaven.

On the other hand —

Oy.

Despite the fact that I have now lived to hear Ms. Andrews utter the indelible phrase Dear Gaga while moving her into an embrace – well, we still all do have A LOT of work to do.

Brb head exploded

Savoring the moment

I’m not saying the three-hour and forty plus minute show was long but….is it still going on? And why pick on the brilliantly talented Octavia Spencer to hold a suitcase with NPH’s supposed Oscar predictions in inevitable and unfunny cutbacks all through the show? Don’t they remember Uma/Oprah? Isn’t it tough enough for non-white actresses in Hollywood? Why position her as the Oscar telecast version of her character from The Help? She is NOT a maid.

Not to mention: Why did Eddie Murphy present best screenplay? Does he immediately bring to mind great writing or was THAT the joke? No, that was, well…there weren’t too many. I guess saying you could eat up Reese With-Her-Spoon took care of that. Very punny. But not as much fun as Prom Pixie Jesus Jared Leto. I am NOT being sarcastic here. I live for those tuxedos!!

His assistant is holding my corsage.

His assistant is holding my corsage.

On the other hand, we have the great moment of supporting actress Oscar winner Patricia Arquette speaking out for equal pay for working women – an appropriate plea as someone who played what is now THE version of America’s working Mom in Boyhood.

Meryl approved.

Meryl approved.

There was also the great John Legend/Common performance of best song winner Glory from the film Selma and their all inclusive acceptance speech afterwards. And let’s not forget the spontaneous verve of Eddie Redmayne winning best actor for Theory of Everything or the similar exuberance of the very talented Polish director, Pawel Pawlikowski, of Ida. (Note: I loved the film but who knew it was pronounced Eeda? Did I block that out or, as one tweeter mentioned, do I simply choose to remember the name of the film as Rhoda’s mother?).

Red Carpet Ready!

Red Carpet Ready!

Still, despite those peaks something about the whole affair felt flat and odd. NPH is a great song and dance man. Anna Kendrick and Jack Black are funny and spunky and, most importantly, can really sing. So then why did their opening number feel like it was something out of a Disney tribute to the movies? Was this because we were watching on ABC/Disney or because the writers of the medley also penned Disney/Frozen’s Let It Go? Or both?

As NPH joked about Oprah being rich and then tried to explain it, or strode through the audience while the Big O attempted to suppress the look of sheer terror on her face that he’d come over (Note: Adjacent to the expression of don’t even think about it, Sonny on the face of fellow audience member Clint Eastwood), one longed for the Tony Awards, Tina and Amy at the Golden Globes or even a clip from #SNL40’s Celebrity Jeopardy. Hell, that would’ve been a lot more fun. Or get all the stars together to do The Californians sketch and then take the 2015 version of the #EllenSelfie.

At least there was this

At least there was this

Oh, I don’t know. Perhaps I’m being unfair. I’m a really big Sean Penn fan but he was so sinister delivering this year’s best picture winner I started to think we were all being lured back into Mystic River, where he would then make us all morph into Tim Robbins’ Oscar-winning character and everyone one of us would wind up…well, look it up if you don’t recall.

Did you find it odd that Michael Keaton, the star of Birdman – the big winner of the night with best picture, director and screenplay – was not mentioned by anyone other than his director most of the evening while jokes abounded about all kinds of well, strange things? Though I will admit it was particularly gratifying that when we finally did get to hear Mr. Keaton speak briefly during the best picture acceptance speech by what seemed like the entire above-the-line cast and crew he had the grace to step to the mic and simply say, it’s great to be here, who are we kiddin.

Well, perhaps this was not as odd as John Travolta , who tried to make up with Idina Menzel after calling her Adele Dazeem last year but instead wound up touching her face far too many times in the space of a minute. Once again – odd AND strange. But not as odd and strange as John’s…

The dog chain.. the hair.... ??

The dog chain.. the hair…. ??

You know what, I’m not going there.

See, the truth is — it’s easy to snark. But it’s not easy to get nominated for an Oscar  and Travolta has done it twice. So at the end of the day I suppose for many of us – especially those of us who work, have worked, ever aspired to work, or even ever fantasized about one day working in the entertainment industry – there is a kind of fantasy wish fulfillment to it all that never quite gets fulfilled.

We wonder what would it be like to be on that stage or, more to the point, we use the Oscars to pretend we ARE one of those people we see on that stage doing either as well or WAAAAY better than them. Even if we don’t understand in our heart of hearts what that really means or how the reality of being there would actually feel and/or be if we really did get there

Perhaps this IS the reason why the Oscars so often disappoint. How CAN you live up to all the fantasy and hype? It’s like going on a date with the hottest person in school and wondering why they don’t match the over-the-top scenario you created in your head for them.

Except him. He really is the coolest.

Except him. He really is the coolest. #marryme

Of course, that’s how I imagine it would have been like to date the hottest person in school. So I could be wrong. At the end of the day this is all about personal fantasy anyway and it’s up to you to decide.

As for me, I’m going to bask in the afterglow of Gaga and Julie once more and see if I can pretend I’m back in gay heaven. Or perhaps I’ll just put on Mary Poppins (Note: I do like The Sound of Music but Mary Poppins always was my fave) and call it a night as Julie/Mary sings me to sleep. Where I promise you I WILL dream. Splendidly.

… and in case you’re keeping score, the Chair correctly predicted 15 out of 24 winners, giving him score of 62.5% (This is even a lower grade than the Chair received in gym class). The Chair offers no excuses – only promises of doing better next year. #ItsnoteasybeinganOracle

Come Back or Go Away!

Screen shot 2014-03-23 at 1.33.30 PMSometimes you just want to tell someone or something to go away.  Heels that aren’t high enough (Note: Teenage Chair is still mourning the loss of platform shoes); pork roast dinners (Note #2: It’s not a Jewish thing, just the sight of it makes me rickety); and hair with so much pomade and/or other product that it won’t move in the wind (Note #3 – Okay, perhaps it’s just flowing locks of any kind that I crave).

If you’re in the entertainment biz there is also slightly more serious fare you might want to give the ol’ heave-ho to.   These would include people who get undeserved studio deals because they have no discernable talent other than one to charm and persuade – which if not talent, is at the very least is a great asset to possess in 2014.

Standing around the Writer’s Guild this week discussing the latter subject, one of my peers concluded that these very same people become slaves to their profoundly clueless perception of their severe lack of talent and that this, in turn, gives them the supreme confidence and ability to soldier on and win at the business of show despite what any measurable mathematical calculation of real creative acumen would allow.

For example, this week doyennes of the fashion world became outraged when the sacred cow of magazine covers in their universe – Vogue – graced two people on it who many readers saw as the symbol of everything they don’t want as their style cover couple:

More like.. #enoughalready

More like.. #enoughalready

Granted, this might be a step forward from paper-thin, meal deprived models wearing half of a dress that would only lie right if it were draped on a skeleton in the front of the room of a 10th grade chemistry class.  Still, one can understand Vogue readers collectively rolling their eyes, sighing or yelling ‘Go away’ as they hurl the Kimye issue across the room and accidentally break a window due to the sheer weight of paper from all of the additional ads the duos mere presence undoubtedly caused to be purchased.

Feeling cynically depressed yet?  Well, don’t be.

On the flip side of this, there are just as many times that collectively we are all as likely to shout COMEBACK! (or Come back!) at a talented person or commodity or thing that we love that has been absent from the spotlight for too long or secretly seems to have just disappeared for no reason.  Though writers are clearly on average the most cynically depressing in the creative bunch (Note: You will just have to trust me on this), it is interesting to note that my aforementioned Writers Guild discussion segued into one where myself and my peers also listed many famous and infamous talents who were too long absent and whose new works we longed for or whose past works we still reveled in.  Plus – some of them were even friends, acquaintances AND people YOUNGER than us who were a lot more successful and wealthy.  While that entire group might admittedly evoke some envy, we also concluded that their every achievement cause us to be hopeful, excited and more motivated than ever to delve back into our own work because they show us what is possible in the best-case scenarios as they move us or make us laugh.  They also seem to push the collective consciousness just a teeny bit more into the kind of world we want to live in.  Rather than take a job away from us, they also inspire confidence that, contrary to what my parents and numerous T-Shirts you can buy on Café Press say, Life IS (or can be) Fair – even if it’s only sometimes.

I know this is all certainly true because the best show on television, Mad Men, is once again returning to the airwaves on AMC beginning April 13.

All Aboard!

All Aboard!

Sure, it’s a short seven-episode season 7 in 2014 with the final seven scheduled for the final season 8 to be broadcast sometime in 2015.  But that gives us a full 12-18 months for MM’s creative outcome to percolate in the cultural zeitgeist and raise the collective bar a little more, much in the same way Breaking Bad did the previous two years.  And certainly, we could use that.  I mean, God knows who else besides Kimye Vogue editor Anna Wintour (aka our Miranda Priestly prototype) has planned for future cover models.

Therefore, in the spirit of all this and more, the following are a list of some of the other COME BACKS/COMEBACKS and GO AWAYS we will look forward to, wish for or…sigh…dread might happen or not happen in the foreseeable future.  (Note:  Certainly any one of the occurrences or non-occurrences will add or subtract from our collective cultural zeitgeist only as we each see fit – rendering our national average impossible to figure out.  If for nothing else other than self-preservation, it’s probably safer that way).

1. The Comeback

We cherish you!

We cherish you!

Literally the best industry news all week was that HBO is in serious talks for a 2015 limited series return of the cancelled-too-early comedy, The Comeback, with star Lisa Kudrow, who co-created the show along with producing partner Dan Bucatinsky and director-writer Michael Patrick King almost a decade ago.  The docu-style, meta reality series followed the adventures of Valerie Cherish, a seemingly washed-up sitcom star from the 1980s who gets a shot on TV again playing the small supporting role of the older Aunt Sassy on a new contemporary half hour show where she often finds herself shunted to the side and mistreated in favor of younger and fresher talent.  To make matters worse, poor Valerie has also agreed for cameras to film every moment of her real life as a potential reality television show documenting the process.

Mere words cannot describe the sheer glee we fans of this much-overlooked gem feel now that one of our favorite programs – unfairly cancelled after a mere 13 episodes – has a chance at a comeba….well, you get the idea.   The mess of Valerie Cherish’s life managed to be hilarious, cringe-worthy and uncomfortably, heartbreakingly real almost all at the same time.  I myself sometimes had to turn away from the screen for poor Val, guiltily laughing at the indignities of show business realities she willfully subjected herself to weekly.  Yet, like most of the rest of us, she somehow always got through it all with a pasted-on smile even as invisible tears of sadness and occasional joy ran down her face.  PLEASE COME BACK!!

2. Brackets

Maybe we should bring Nate Silver in.

Maybe we should leave this to Nate Silver.

 What is with this word???  Every year at this time I read the newspaper, watch TV or read/see on the web bracket this or bracket that with an accompanying list of sports teams.  Now even the President is getting into it and we have to listen to all those crazies once again criticizing Barack Obama for spending time on the same type of foolishness that each one of them appears equally into.  Hmmm, next thing you know they’ll be criticizing him for going to the bathroom just like them instead of tending to the biologically defying duties of the Oval Office.  I mean, how dare he???  Plus, I bet Putin doesn’t go to the bathroom.  Clearly.

Which brings us back to the dreaded bracket.  Will someone please write about what the hell they really are and why we should care when gambling is illegal in the U.S.?  Oh wait, really?  Gambling is illegal in most places where the bracket counts?  Yeah, it really is.  Trust me, I know.  Even if I don’t know what the hell the term bracket actually means.

Finally, even if sports had nothing to do with this subject I’d still be annoyed because to me brackets really only evoke images of buying those metal thinga-majigs from Ikea or the hardware store that I nail into the wall and put shelves on, only to have them then fall apart, usually knocking me in the head or on the foot as they do.  Then I have to hire a handyman to fix the whole damn thing and it costs me a lot more money than if the word had never come up in my life.  So either way brackets are almost guaranteed to be a losing proposition. The verdict?  GO AWAY!!

3. Charlie Kaufman

Where are you??

Where are you??

He’s a screenwriter who is my age, been nominated for the Academy Award three times and won once, and has never written any original work I didn’t like and respect.  And I’m not even jealous or envious!  Even his last film, Synecdoche, New York, which he also directed, was quite brilliant in my humble opinion despite its mixed reviews. (Note: I remember literally snorting in contempt as several couples left the movie theatre at the showing I attended – those mental midgets!)

Still, it’s been five years since Mr. Kaufman has had an original screenplay made.  Yes, there have been talks he’s once again going to collaborate with Spike Jonze, who directed his scripts for Being John Malkovich and Adaptation (Michel Gondry directed his Oscar-winning Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) and that he himself will write and direct a movie called Frank or Francis that has gone in and out of financing.  But so far – zilch.

My guess is our biggest hope lies with a new Kaufman television pilot for FX, How and Why, to star Michael Cera, John Hawkes and Sally Hawkins.  It tells the story of a man who used to be a TV science guy for kids who gets fired and starts a new show in a small town where Michael Cera is his boss and weird supernatural stuff begins to happen (Note: As if the former weren’t enough).  Yes, they had me at Charlie Kaufman but this idea sounds Great. COME BACK!  NOW!!!

4. The New Male Buzz Cut

If he can't pull it off...

If he can’t pull it off…

STOP IT!!  Just STOP IT right now!!!  Especially if you’re over 35.

I’m sorry, call me crazy (and many do) but this is the butt ugliest haircut for guys in the world.  Pretentious, affected, too coiffed and too contrived.  In short, you’re not too cool for the room when you think you’re too cool for the room.  See, Ryan Gosling is not too cool for the room and he doesn’t have the haircut.  He’s just cool.

Oh yeah, you know the one I mean.  Okay, Macklemore looks cool in it but he’s a rapper and he just won a well-deserved Grammy (Note:  Yeah, I’m on team M and not team Yeezus).  But the parade of male celebs who have gone the super buzz route just because their stylists told them to, only to be followed by every other gay guy at the gym and every straight guy who thinks they can have Adam Levine’s love life if they do this same hairdo along with one or several tattoos, is maddening and just plain dead wrong.

Stay away from Leto!

Stay away from Leto!

If you’ve got good hair revel in it cause it won’t last forever.  I say this not out of bitterness, but out of kind-hearted envy and personal experience.  Plus, you will look back at photos 20 years from now and wonder why you were wearing the post-millennial equivalent of a Nehru suit on your head.   GO AWAY!! 

5. Brussel Sprouts vs. Kale & Quinoa

Hello gorgeous

Hello gorgeous

As a child of the sixties and seventies, I grew up thinking vegetables were these soggy sweet, soupy things from a can that were rancid.  In fact, the words Del Monte and Birdseye still literally make me nauseous to this day.

The re-invention of the fresh vegetable as a thing of beauty across America and the many options for its preparation to the masses was one of the only great things to come out of the 1980s, in my mind.  That is, aside from meeting my life partner.  We can thank many people for this, most notably Alice Waters, one of the leaders of the organic food movement and founder/chef extraordinaire from Chez Panisse. (Note:  No, she had nothing to do with the partner and I meeting, but still…)

In tribute to Ms. Waters then, it is with great joy that I wholly endorse a revival of the much ignored but very, very tasty brussel sprout.  Not sure why but they seem to be everywhere these days as the vegetable of choice in restaurants across the country.  They’re good for you (High fiber/low fat) and very easy to make (roast them with a little olive oil and salt ‘n pepper at 450 degrees for 15-20 mins.) and in my mind beat both kale and quinoa into the ground.  Not to say the latter two are bad – just tiresome.  They’re tolerable, even good sometimes, but they’ve become sort of like watching any movie, TV show, commercial or anything else featuring Ashton Kutcher.

7. Hannah Horvath

hateeveryone1

She is Lena Dunham’s alter ego on Girls and I love both the show and the character.  But like any best friend or love partner for life you occasionally need a break.  This is what’s happening these days with Hannah and us.

It’s hard to watch the twenty-something version of yourself at your worst and most insecure slowly destroy your life and every meaningful relationship you’ve ever had scene by scene with that rare combination of extreme narcissism and neediness.  Luckily, there is only half an hour more for this season and Hannah can go away to regroup while we can recall why we are forever grateful to have our twenties decades behind us.  (Note: For those of you who don’t fall into the latter category, our deepest sympathies).  GO AWAY – but only for a while.

8. The Homosexual

Imagine my surprise to read this week in both the NY Times and The Advocate that the word homosexual has been officially deemed an “offensive term” by GLAAD and will be avoided at all costs by the paper of record.  Apparently, this has something to do with the fact that if you take the term gay marriage and call it homosexual marriage it will sound funny – sort of like the equivalent of referring to an African American person as colored in 2014.

Wasn't this enough this week?

Wasn’t this enough this week?

Well, as a gay/homosexual person I am officially confused.  Not in a sexual or lifestyle way – just in an old-fashioned I’m not sure kind of fashion.  And if I’m left scratching my head, I can only image where you must be.  No wonder my transgender friends are up in arms.  Society can barely keep up with the speed in which we’re coming out so you can imagine what it’s like for the keepers of Webster, Wikipedia and Strunk & White.

Here’s my suggestion.  Let’s just call everyone male or female because…Wait, that won’t work either since some people prefer gender non-specifics.  How about human beings?  Too clinical?  What about Mary?  Butch?  Ahh, forget I brought it up.  And you may continue to call me a homosexual  – as long as you’re not Antonin Scalia or Rush Limbaugh – because even if they called me gay I’d know what they really mean.  COME BACK!

9. Super hero movies and 3-D

NO MORE!

NO MORE!

Until you hear otherwise, we here at notesfromachair don’t want to hear anything more about them.    We don’t care that Man of Steel was one of the 10 top grossing movies worldwide in 2013 or that Ironman 3 was….NUMBER #1!???????  

We. Are. Done.  We didn’t see Gravity with those hideous glasses and we still loved it.  We watched Frozen at home and happily sung along to Idina Menzel, not missing a note while the ice in our glass of Diet Coke clinked back and forth.

Yet that same year we were tortured with what seemed like ten and a half hours of a bad Superman reboot that made us long for Christopher Reeve and a multi-million dollar (though nearly unintelligible) cameo from Marlon Brando as his father.  Not to mention the only 12 minutes we saw of our favorite film actor, Robert Downey, Jr. somehow managing to maintain his dignity as he meandered through Iron Man 3.

One day the movie business pendulum will swing the other away and we will hopefully still be able to see and hear. If not, please let us know how it goes.  Until then, do not tell us anything about Man of Steel: Superman vs. Batman.  Isn’t it enough we’re showing you this dumb fake trailer? GO FAR, FAR, AWAY!

10.  24/7 Airplane Travel Disaster Porn

I am planning my first trip to Italy in May and don’t like flying to begin with. So is it too selfish to ask for a moratorium on sensationalizing human airborne tragedy?  My motives for this are not SOLELY selfish, just mostly.    Sheer terror does that to you.  GO AWAY.

11. THE CLINTONS

And we can't stop.. and we don't stop!

And we can’t stop.. and we don’t stop!

Let’s face it, Hillary is running for President in 2016 and will soon be saturating the airwaves.  Bill was dubbed the Explainer-in-chief for the brilliant, powerhouse speech/argument he made at the 2012 Democratic convention that many feel was key in helping win Barack Obama re-election.  Finally, I saw Chelsea Clinton promoting the Clinton Global Initiative this week on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon and she is not going anywhere but up.

There is no use voting on this.  They Clintons never went away and they are never going away.  Therefore it makes it impossible for them to come back or to even have a Comeback.  Sometimes life is like that.  And it not only takes hard work, confidence and determination, but real creative talent.  It’s rare but when it happens all the rest can really do is sit back, watch and enjoy the show.  Let’s face it, these days we’ve earned the right to be truly entertained.

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.

Surviving the Plague… with Matthew McConaughey

Dallas-Buyers-Club-Poster-Header

I went with my longtime partner to see Dallas Buyers Club this weekend at the local movie theatre. This was not an easy feat.   The mere image of a very gaunt Matthew McConaughey on the movie poster stabbed me in the gut with a generalized feeling of terror and nausea that brought me back to what I imagine will be the most horrible times of life I will ever barely live through.  That would be AIDS in the 1980s

Posting a blog thirty years later on a date that also happens to be World AIDS Day is an odd proposition.   Seared in my mind forever are the faces of living and dying people I knew well, knew slightly, or only knew of as I passed by them at a party or a business meeting – people who wasted away dead or killed themselves before the inevitable ravaged outcome of AIDS happened to them.   That I survived at all is a matter of luck, timing and, well…luck.  Not to degenerate into pop culture references, but to the gay community in particular this was a kind of real-life Hunger Games where many, many more than one person per district had to fight something quite insidious, evil and amorphous in order to survive.  The primary culprit was a lethal and mysterious virus.  The secondary enemies were ignorance, prejudice, our own government and, in some cases, our own friends, neighbors and loved ones.

more than just a ribbon

more than just a ribbon

But simply remembering one’s own story discounts the power and effect of something so massive.  The story of AIDS, like the story of any worldwide plague, cannot be summed up through the experience of a single individual or even group.  I might get cards and letters for this but it would be akin to saying that The Diary of Anne Frank told the story of the Holocaust better than Elie Wiesel’s Night or William Styron’s Sophie’s Choice.  Or that somehow Gone With The Wind covered the Civil War era in a more realistic way than 12 Years a Slave or Glory  or even vice-versa.  The larger and more tragic the event, the more stories there are to tell.  It all depends on where you were and who you were at the time– your perspective and your point of view.

There is a short remembrance in this week’s New Yorker by a reporter named Michael Specter.  He writes about a  photo that was given to him by a friend of two dying men in the Castro district in 1980s San Francisco – one confined to a wheelchair and another, tall and gaunt, bending down to help him – so he can be reminded of the actual story of those days as he wrote about the plague and gay history in the future.  He references this photo as he tells us of the current skyrocketing rates of new HIV infection in the gay community due to resumed risky sexual practices on the part of young people who were not around to see the ravages that came from the disease at a time when there were no or few effective drugs to ensure long term survival.  He also touches on the fact that by the end of this year AIDS will have killed FORTY MILLION people in total, many of them heterosexual and living in Africa.

powerful reminder

powerful reminder

Once again, who died and why and who lived and how is only part of a much larger story.  This is a medical story, a sociological story, a political story and a human story of the world community and, in no less of a meaningful way, individual lives.  That I know a few wonderful guys who continue to survive the plague 2-3 DECADES later is another story in the mix of all the others previously alluded to.   Where we get into trouble is trying to compare, quantify and draw definitive conclusions as to what is most meaningful or even noteworthy.  How do you qualify survival?  Or quantify death?  There is no way to do it and to truthfully bear witness to the actuality of the worst of what occurred.  There is, only — what occurred.

Which brings us back to Dallas Buyers Club.  This is the story of an admittedly racist, homophobic, white trash talkin’ Texas bull rider and electrician named Ron Woodruff who was diagnosed with AIDS in 1984 and given one month to live.  Mr. Woodruff was a real person and, by all accounts, not a particularly pleasant one.  But like many unpleasant individuals, he is not without his charms.  The latter qualities are brought out with the sort of bold verve and definitive eye twinkle that plays perfectly into the talents of an actor like Mr. McConaughey.  He does a lot more than lose 50 pounds from his normally tan, muscular frame and paste on a bushy moustache to bring us back to the skin and bones Russian roulette days of the 1980s.  He actually manages to bring to life the kind of guy that would repulse you if it weren’t for the fact that he was sick and dying.  In all honesty, he might repulse you still.

Despicable Ron?

Despicable Ron?

At one point early on in Mr. Woodruff’s company I, a gay man, turned to my partner of 26 years and sarcastically whispered:  Why can’t they just make a film about all of this for us?  Not surprising on my part.  For all the tragic dramatic stories about AIDS that could be tackled by major or mini-major studios in the last 30 years, the only one that comes to mind that had a gay protagonist was 1989’s Longtime Companion.  Tom Hanks won an Oscar for Philadelphia but the protagonist in that movie was Denzel Washington, the straight African American lawyer who defended the dying gay man in a lawsuit.  And The Band Played On was an HBO movie that chose, among all of its many characters, to star Matthew Modine as a straight white doctor fighting the good fight against the disease in San Francisco while numerous gay men stressed and played all around him.  Several years ago I Love You, Phillip Morris treated AIDS as the punch line to a sociopathic joke of a con artist we presume to be a bisexual man in the body of Jim Carrey but are never quite sure of on any level.

Among many others...

Among many others…

Owning a story, even one that you have lived through, is a very slippery slope that I began to slowly tumble down into as Dallas Buyers Club continued.  The character of Mr. Woodruff, who I do recall hearing about in real life, was bold enough to go against the accepted medical science at the time and travel down to Mexico where he found alternative drug treatments dispensed by a disbarred American doctor that, unbeknownst to him, would prolong his life for many years.  He then chose to circumvent the laws at the time, illegally transport the drugs back to Texas, and open up his own “club” to dispense these medications to members who would pay a $400 per head, per month membership fee.  Never mind that he was making out like a bandit – he was also temporarily enabling many other people to save their own lives for significant amounts of time using a model that he mentions in the film was really created by homos in New York, San Francisco and other big cities across the country.

Hmmm – in a normal movie this kind of talk would not redeem Mr. Woodruff’s character in my eyes.  But those were not normal times.  Somehow, as the movie progressed this asshole became a bit of a hero if only because he managed to take away the profound suffering of what stood in for the many young men that I knew personally at the time who would, in the end, have no such relief at all.   Well, extreme circumstances do call for extreme reactions – both in life, movie fantasy and upon reflection.  Never mind that Mr. Woodruff briefly made a personal fortune and the massive nationwide fight gay men were waging on every front, including the ones Mr. Woodruff trod in, were mostly ignored here. Despite my great reticence, as I watched the film, I found myself rooting for this egocentric ignoramus – a guy who wound up being far smarter and eventually, but not totally, a lot more enlightened than I had previously seen as being possible.

(Side note:  The movie also co-stars Jared Leto as one of the few straight actors I’ve ever seen pull off a believable drag queen on film.  Forget William Hurt’s best actor Oscar in 1985 for Kiss of the Spider Woman.  As most gay guys will tell you, that was mostly about a straight guy showing us drag and flamboyance in a film made in the early days of AIDS rather than a straight male actor being a real character in a movie that takes place during the early days of AIDS).

Make room on your awards shelf, Jared.

Make room on your awards shelf, Jared.

I’m assuming that like all real-life movie heroes and anti-heroes in recent years – from Johnny Cash to Richard Nixon – Mr. Woodruff’s true edges have been softened and hardened to meet the filmmakers’ dramatic needs.  This is how it is and will always be in the creative arts.  Even documentaries are not totally real depictions of what actually happens.  They can’t help but be influenced, if only slightly, by the filmmaker’s own interpretation of the events.  Ask D.A. Pennebaker. Or even that master of restraint – Michael Moore. (Note: I love MM and the latter is, um, a joke). (Note #2 – And yes, since memory is at the very least selective, even How to Survive a Plague probably missed a few things).

As for Dallas Buyers Club it might be at turns clunky, thinly developed, or lacking in an overall broad historical perspective. Most movies are, or do, in parts.  But what it does extremely well is evoke an important era and tell yet another story about a human plague that seems to have no end for those of us lucky enough to have survived it.  It will also do this for others new to the fight who will now, and in the foreseeable future, find themselves navigating the waters if the gasps I overheard from several young people around me in the movie theatre are any indication.  And, additionally and in particular, it might slightly sway one or two or more of those others who don’t really care about this fight at all.

If Mr. McConaughey’s portrait of the sometimes off-putting Ron Woodruff enlightens even one small-minded jerk about all of this it will have been more than worth the effort.  And even if it doesn’t, it has every right to stand along all of the stories of that time.  No one owns The Plague Years – even those of us who were fortunate enough to live through them and bear witness to our own individual stories of hell from that time.