Not So Green with Envy: An Oscars Post Mortem

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

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

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

See: Green Book

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

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

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

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

We know Glenny.

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

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

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

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

Look! They are in a car! How genius!

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

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

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

But like.. HOW?!

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

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

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

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

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

Welp, there it is.

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

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

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The Chair’s Oscar Favourites

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

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

How cool would that have been???

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

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

I can’t… it’s just beyond

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

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

YES! THE AWARDS! THEY ARE SO SHINY!!

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

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

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

THIS YEAR’S CHAIR’S OSCAR PICKS:

Best Picture

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

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

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

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

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

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

Directing

Who will bring home the gold?

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

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

Lead Actor

For this scene alone, most likely

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

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

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

Lead Actress

Get ready to kiss her again, Gaga

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

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

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

Supporting Actor

Put it in the books

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

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

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

Supporting Actress

Oscar King

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

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

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

Animated Feature

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

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

Documentary Feature

Still thinking about this scene #goRuthgo

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

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

Foreign Language Film

Which Black and White epic will it be?

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

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

Adapted Screenplay

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

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

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

Original Screenplay

Sigh

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

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

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

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

Cinematography

OK OK it wins

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

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

Costume Design

WAKANDA FOREVER

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

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

Film Editing

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

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

Makeup and Hairstyling

It pains me to even post this picture #shiversdownmyspine

“Border”
“Mary Queen of Scots”
“Vice”

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

Original Song

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

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

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

Original Score

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

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

Production Design

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

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

It’s the truth, honey!

Sound Editing

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

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

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

Sound Mixing

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

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

Visual Effects

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

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

You’re welcome, Ryan.

Animated Short Film

Adorable

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

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

Live Action Short Film

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

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

Documentary Short Subject

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

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

“Shallow” – Gaga & Cooper in Vegas

Chair-side Grammys

Sometimes you just have to unwind, listen to some music, just BE. This week, the Chair is doing just that (and after you finish reading this, consider joining him).

Thankfully for the Chair (and us), during the whirlwind that is awards season, there is an anecdote. An over-the-top, overproduced, glitzy, rockstar affair — stuffed to the brim with so many production numbers, you almost forget awards are being given out (they still do that right?). Love it or hate it, it’s a glamorous distraction and who among us couldn’t use that right now?

The Chair has hand picked some of his favorite Grammy-nominated tunes — a truly eclectic mix of bops and classics (Spotify link here and below!). Here’s why he thinks you should tune in tonight and take a much needed break from our less glamorous reality:

Cardi B – “I Like It”

She makes me laugh.  Hysterical, uncensored, smart, hard working and great rhymer.  Check out her Carpool Karaoke with James Corden.  It’s hilarious.

Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper – “Shallow” (from A Star is Born soundtrack)

Because, well… seriously?

Also don’t sleep on her last album’s title song, “Joanne” — heartbreaking and beautiful. Gaga just nails it.

I don’t find this annoying. Am I alone?

Janelle Monae – album: Dirty Computer

She embraces the raw, sweatiness of desire and gayness.  Also, it’s just a great album.

YES JANELLE YES  #pynk

Greta Van Fleet – “When the Curtain Falls”

Yes, I saw them on SNL.  Kind of like if Robert Plant were a bit more Emo and from the midwest.. and I mean that in a good way

Led Zeppelin realness

Bettye Lavette – “Don’t Fall Apart On Me Tonight” 

This is a wonderful rendition of an old Bob Dylan song.  And the Obamas LOVE her… and that’s good enough for me #COMEBACK44

Remember when our President appreciated music.. and art… and enjoyed any aspect of life? REMEMBER? #OKImSpiraling #refocus

Joan Baez – “Whistle down the Wind”

The song is a cover of an old Tom Waits tune – and yes, she still does it for me. It’s her nine millionth album at age 77.  I did a report on her in high school and my teacher accused me of being in love with her.  Still am 40 years later.

Timeless

Sufjan Stevens – “Visions of Gideon” (from Call Me By Your Name soundtrack)

That final credit sequence! Elio! Oliver! Elio! Yep, still crying.

#ChalametwasRobbed

And here’s the Chair’s first official Spotify playlist. Listen along and tune in/tune out (your choice!)

 

We’ve Got Mail

The holiday season has begun because Thanksgiving has happened.  Not only that, Black Friday pulled in a record $6.2 billion in online sales, up 23.6% from last year.

Anyone who went into a brick and mortar store…good for you!

But also know that sales for this year’s Cyber Monday (Note: That’s tomorrow) are projected to be $7.8 billion, an increase of 18% over 2017.  So you’re fighting a losing battle.

Of course none of this much matters in Hollywood when the presents that come in the mail you get most excited about are not the ones you bought online at a special discount but the ones you receive for free.  No, we’re not talking about love, thoughtfulness or anything to do with Gift of the Magi.

This is all about…..THE SCREENERS.

YASSSSSSSSS!!!

Yes, we’re THAT shallow out here.  The shallowest.  But if it bothered you all that much you wouldn’t ask to borrow them, would you??  Nor would so many of those in the entertainment biz who lived outside of Hollywood make sure that their agents, managers, publicists, unions and post offices have an address to forward these precious little gems to in advance of the holidays.

Who you callin’ Shallow? #OscarforBestSong #callingitnow

It’s amazing how a group of people who can mostly afford to go to see every movie on the planet and subscribe to all the streaming services playing a healthy number of all of the film and TV offerings available become absolutely apoplectic (Note:  with joy) when one of those unmarked boxes or padded envelopes show up at the door.

How do I know?  Because My Name is The Chair and I AM ONE OF THEM. I am a SCREENER QUEEN.

LONG MAY SHE REIGN!!

But why not get excited?  They often arrive in pretty packaging with thick stock pictures inside.  They might also have slick promotional posters, retro faux ads you could hang on the wall in a proper frame, and inside informational data you could only get if you actually read a newspaper or magazine article all the way through.  Plus, it’s all contained in a chic canister that evokes the theme of the show or the period it is set in.

This year’s second season of Amazon’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel arrived in its own cylindrical hatbox wrapped in a pretty pink ribbon the day before Thanksgiving.  Well, the first four episodes, anyway.  My sister and I were KVELLING!  (Note:  Translation – bursting with pride).

Hello, Gorgeous!

It was like the holiday gods granted us the entertainment wish we had no idea we were wishing for.  I mean, what else would a small family of Jews like us do AFTER stuffing their faces with a meal that only someone with Martha Stewart’s well, let’s politely say panache, could pull off without a hitch?  Or WANT to.  Because truly, Mrs. Maisel is THE most Jewish thing (Note: In a good way) I have ever seen on TV or in the movies (Note: Fiddler on the Roof and Funny Girl accepted, of course).  It IS every ethnic person’s answer to Thanksgiving.

Which brings us back twofold to the issue of screeners.  Not only do they give you something to do when you’re all out of ideas or too tired to think of them, they also give you something to do ahead of time that you were looking forward to but had resigned yourself to wait for.  Plus, they allow you to catch up with something you had vowed you would see weeks before but had not been able to rouse yourself out of the house to ever attend.

Oh yeah, I’m hip #sotrendy

I don’t know about you but the United States is so volatile these days I find that I feel much safer at home torturing myself with cable news 24/7 rather than venturing to a darkened theatre for a few hours, thus allowing the apocalypse to sneak in during a moment when I wasn’t worrying and keeping us all safe.

Know that for this SCREENER QUEEN it is not about showing off by being FIRST but using these advance copies of lusciousness to give me so many much needed jolts of distracting excitements away from our impending and inevitable collective demises.

Savoring the moment

Which is a shame because here’s what is inevitably noticeable about the crop of deliverables received thus far.  If movies are any indication we are finally, if ever so slightly, beginning to diversify representation.

Movie stories about people and cultures we’ve never spent too much time thinking about en masse have finally begun to creep through and onto the COMP gravy train.

The last time a studio spent this much money to send out a rom-com about an Asian couple attending a wedding in Singapore was…NEVER.  But of course there has never been a crossover film like Crazy Rich Asians to market directly to Hollywood guild members.  If our world were to survive, it would be so encouraging for that community to finally be perceived as silly, sexy and superficially wealthy as so many of the rest of us.

Plus 2018’s Breakout Star #Awkwafina

The Hate U Give also gives one hope for the bright future we’ll never see.  When Hollywood can actually make an intelligent film about a smart and attractive 16-year-old Black female teenager standing up unapologetically to the white power structure AND be proud enough to send it out for FREE to those same powers-that-be, well…we truly have arrived…somewhere.

I’m not sure where exactly but I do know I found myself thrilled to watch a movie where I could so strongly identify with the feelings of a heroine of a different sex and color who was decades younger than myself.  It was so much more pleasurable than  feeling nothing but anger during any one of thousands of superhero films where the lead bore no relation to any thought or feeling I have ever had, or had even observed in any other living or breathing thing I had ever known.

OK maybe Amandla Stenberg can give Awkwafina a run for her money #breakoutstars

Yes, you too can be Black, Jewish or Asian AND actually feel represented by the first initial early batch of 2018 end-of-the year Hollywood screeners.  That might not seem like much but it’s something to hold on to in a time when we’re all grasping at straws.

No wonder there’s excitement in the air every time the mail arrives these days.

Andy Williams – “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year”

Me Too (in more ways than one)

I’m one of the idiot men in the age of #MeToo.

It gives me no pleasure to write these words and I am not writing them because I have ever sexually harassed anyone – male or female.

Instead I am confessing because it hasn’t been until recently that:

  1. I realized the line where one goes from being a flirt to being a harasser remains surprisingly UNCLEAR to MOST MEN – straight or gay, young or old.
  2. I realized fully what it meant to be sexually harassed even a single time in the trajectory of one’s life.
  3. I realized why it’s vitally urgent to in some way go out of your comfort zone to call out such behavior even if you don’t like or know the people –- or most especially — if you do.

Let’s just say I was buffering for a long time.

The vast majority of we men don’t fully get it.  I had my first clue many months ago when the revelations came out against people in the industry like Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey.  I’d heard stories and been in the presence of both at parties over the years and witnessed their behavior up close.  Phony and full of themselves, a bit charming, a bit sleazy, a dollop creepy and 100% seeming to not be beyond using their positions of power to get, um sex – yeah.  But rape, forced ________ and actually violating the bodies of underage victims?

Probably no.

Okay, the truth is I probably would’ve said, uh, YUK, gone into denial, changed the subject and then later proclaimed rape was…highly unlikely. I seriously doubt THAT.  I mean, no one I know or have met in the business is capable of going….there.

Facing reality

If pressed further I’d also rationalize that – gay or straight – there was a difference between coming on to someone a little aggressively but then finally backing off — and rape.  Then I might have thought or said, okay, it is an assault when you’re aggressive after someone says stop and you don’t.  If you don’t stop when someone says nothing but they’re standing or lying there frozen, well….I’d reply –

I don’t know.  I wasn’t there.  You know I ‘m usually on the side of the victim, anyway!!!  I hate those types of guys!!  Why are we talking about this??

Because these days we have to talk about it – relentlessly.  These days we are ALL lay cops.  And lay lawyers.  In absentia of a justice and legal system that properly does its job we all need to get involved in some fashion.  Hopefully, it won’t always be that way.  But for right now, well, don’t count on it.

BUT I’M READY #dontmesswiththeChair

This began to become sharply apparent watching the reaction of the male members of the Republican Judiciary Committee these last few weeks when accusations made by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford surfaced against Judge Brett Kavanaugh days before he was to be voted on the U.S. Supreme Court.

The short story is when Dr. Ford was 15 and Judge Kavanaugh was 17 he got drunk at a party, lured her in a private room with another boy, pushed himself on top of her on the bed and began trying to assault/rape her while removing her bathing suit.  She screamed, he put his hand over her mouth to silence her but finally she got away and/or he stopped.

The other boy in the room claims to have no memory of the event.  Committee member Orin Hatch stated Dr. Ford was mixed up.  Judge Kavanaugh responded it never happened.

So who to believe?

A different kind of Me Too #complicit

Before you answer, let me confess it made me think of a few things.  The first was this time when I was 16 and I went into this higher end men’s store in Queens I’d previously gone to in order to buy a hip Nik-Nik shirt for a dance.  It was the 70s and I was excited because I’d already bought 3 inch platform shoes that would make the diminutive me feel more like a stud.  Yeah, short guys think that way.  Or at least they DID.

Anyway, this slightly balding guy with a moustache is very nice, waits on me, helps me pick out some shirts, blah, blah, blah.  It’s after school, I’m nervous, he tries to help me make a decision and in the dressing room, before I know it, he has his hand under my shirt and starts rubbing my chest, breathing too close me, saying I don’t seem so small.

UM….. WHAT?!

Well, I freak, he relents and that was that.  Until I tell my Mom, she drags me down to the store and confronts them, and the owner says ‘Okay, I’ll talk to him, but it’s surprising because he’s married.’

I remember thinking, um, well, it happened but now I’m so embarrassed I want to die, just crawl into the floor.  Why did we have to come back here anyway and now I can never come in this store again and I hope I never see any of these people on the street. I’m such an idiot. 

Oh, and I bet that guy knew I was secretly attracted to men and that’s why he attacked me.  I’m pathetic. 

This story is very sad, so it seemed like a good time to remind you that A Star is Born is coming out in 2 weeks. #itsthelittlethings #itgetsbetter

It would be five years later when I finally came to terms with being gay and to this day I sometimes think, could I have given the guy a look that said it was okay to do this?  Ugh, no yuk, he was soooo not my type.  I NEVER would have.  Then again, maybe it happened and I couldn’t control how I looked at him.  To which I still inaudibly respond, That’s impossible!  I’d never do that!  And even if I did, I had just turned 16 and probably looked 15 and had the sexual experience of someone 12 or 13 – what was this guy in his early 30s thinking???? 

The same thing the straight married guy I worked with at the neighborhood stationery store used to think when he continuously grilled me about girls I was dating, implied I was gay and then proceeded to hug me too tight for 30 seconds or a minute at a time, pressing his body up against my backside.

No, I never told anyone.  Until now.  I’m not sure what I would have said.  I’m not sure what else to write at this moment.  I only know it happened 40 plus years ago and I still think about it.

I also still think about that Nik Nik shirt #dontjudgeme

I began thinking about these TWO episodes – which never felt quite traumatizing but periodically bothered me over the years, after attending a screening of the indie movie Eighth Grade last month.  In it, a 13 year old girl is mentored by a high school senior and is being driven home by one of her friends who maneuvered to have the eighth grader be the last of the group he drops off on the way home.

The older boy has gone out of his way to be nice to said eighth grader and once they’re alone he stops his car and goes into the back seat with her where they just talk and hang out.  She feels sort of cool, also excited and yet uncomfortable.  But then he begins to make moves like taking off his shirt, her shirt, going in for a kiss and…Well, why spoil it.  She eventually admonishes him to stop, then demands it and finally, well….he doesn’t like it, says a few things she’ll probably never forget and it doesn’t go much further.

Nope. Na-ah. No way

This was an important pivotal scene in a 2018 coming-of-age dramedy that I was confident all six of the ultra-liberal Democratic gay friends also in attendance could agree was one of the creepiest things we’d ever seen.  I mean, who wouldn’t think this high school senior was totally wrong to do this to an inexperienced 13 year old he manipulated into being all alone with in a car he drove – a girl who was innocent and had barely hit puberty herself?

So you can imagine my shock when TWO of the SIX guys told me I was overreacting, that there was nothing wrong with what this boy did or tried to do to this girl in his dark car with the doors locked on a deserted road, and that this is the way teenagers are.

Ummm have I gone crazy??

When I tried to argue this girl would be traumatized the rest of her life by that incident somewhere in her soul I was told by each of them they’d gone through or witnessed similar or worse.  It was a big so what.  That’s what adolescence is all about.

Days went by and I wondered, what the hell is wrong with them?  How can people I know and respect even begin to think that way?  Did I misread something, aside from what I believed to be their value systems?  Then I began to consider, well, maybe I just had less experience as a teenager and this is the way it was for a lot of people and who am I to judge.

Seriously.

I continued to feel that way until the Blasey Ford/Kavanaugh debate began to surface and once again people began to take sides while we all fight it out on social media and in our minds, with all the memories they entail.

Over the last 36 years Dr. Blasey Ford told just a therapist, her husband and some close friends about her incident with the boy who would be Judge.  But now that he was about to be a key vote in the highest court of the land on any number of issues affecting women, not to mention all of us, she felt it her civic duty to come forward and tell the truth to the world in an effort to shed some light in some dark spaces none of us like to go.

When I first heard her story I remember thinking, this can never be proven, this will be nowhere with teenagers – who will care.  And then I saw the photos of them at that age.

I feel like I know these kids.

Brett had the same hair and dorky coat and tie I wore when I was his age and Christine looked like several girls I went to school with.

And then I wondered, how long did it take for her to truly accept what really happened?  And then I began to surmise how much can a 17 year old guy with the same type hair, coat and tie as I (and he) once had willingly forget, block out or even deny of his intimate teen years in order to survive?

Quite a lot, I would say, based on all of our memories.  Which not only include the times when people took liberties but also random TV sound bites over the decades.  Like the one in 1991 when Anita Hill was testifying about the harassment she received when she worked for about to be confirmed Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and was asked this single question by a very middle-aged and very, very white, stern-eyed Senator Hal Heflin (R-AL):

Are you a scorned woman?????

To which Ms. Hill demurely shook her hand and barely audibly whispered:

“no.”

It was an answer to a question that should have never been asked in an 1891 court and an answer that was to be disbelieved by the only majority that legally mattered – the Senate Judiciary committee of all White men – in 1991.

This is why Clarence Thomas still sits on the bench some 27 years later.

I can’t even go there right now. #BYE

It is also why we must all now leave our comfort zones and try to see the world from the side of those who have been in any way, shape or form harassed, intimidated or violated.

Provable or not, and no matter how buried, those memories will NEVER go away.  But to talk about it, as most experts advise, creates a hornet’s nest of hearsay and makes it all almost seem worse.

Though perhaps the correct word is HERESY.  At least when it comes from someone who claims to have been victimized by a man either in power, or related to those who want him to be for their own selfish benefits.

Lady Gaga – “Til It Happens to You” 

What Price?

It’s been said many times that everyone has a price.

What this means is that people will do anything if they are paid enough money or given what they want.

So the question we all need to seriously ask ourselves during these very turbulent times is:

What is YOUR price?

Is it safety from real or imagined enemies, foreign or domestic?

That is to say, doing whatever it takes to bar morally unknowable immigrants (Note: nee…all of them?) from entering our country? Or is it prohibiting any morally questionable person in support of such a policy from dining in your restaurant, not to mention, continuing as president?

Perspective

What is YOUR price?

Is it about ensuring our country thrives financially, as well as ethically?

That is to say, making sure you have a president whose first priority is cutting taxes, creating old-fashioned jobs for the long ignored and appointing Supreme Court justices who will once it again make it difficult or illegal for women to get an abortion? Or is it ceasing communication with family and now former friends who believe in all of the above, while screaming at the top of your lungs in their faces, or from the rooftops or on our airwaves, to counter their selling out our most precious American ideals of freedom, equality and democracy for all?

What is YOUR price?

Repeat, Repeat, Repeat

You see where this is going. I had planned on continuing but the list and the metaphors could be – and are – endless as we approach July 4, 2018 – the 242nd anniversary of American independence.

Several days ago I watched What Price Hollywood a 1932 film directed by George Cukor about a spunky waitress who serves drinks to a charming, drunken Hollywood director that gives her a bit part in his movie, guides her to stardom and then dissipates into a state of alcoholic disrepair as her life blossoms.

The plot has since been appropriated by numerous movies, including the many versions of A Star Is Born (Note: The new Bradley Cooper/Lady Gaga one opens Oct. 5, and yes, I’m counting the days). Still, this does not mean it is any less ironic or timely.

Click for the OFFICIAL countdown (to the minute) #really #REALLY

There is no reality where you can get everything you want without it costing you something. It wasn’t the waitress’ fault the director became a hopeless alcoholic and ruined his life but because he was such a great mentor and friend it breaks her heart. That is the way the drama works because that is the way the world is – we achieve things and the norms and/or people we counted on and loved quite suddenly, at least to us, fall by the wayside.

A more contemporary comparison might be Indecent Proposal, a 1993 film where billionaire Robert Redford offers happily married Demi Moore a flat $1,000,000 to spend the night with him, no strings attached. After discussing it with her high school sweetheart husband, the financially strapped Woody Harrelson, and reassuring him of their forever love, the couple agrees to the Faustian bargain and… well… it goes as Faustian bargains go if not for test marketing and a somewhat tacked on Hollywood ending.

Girl how did you think this was going to pan out? #dowagergetsreal

Meaning, if someone is going to pay you $1,000,000 suffice it to say it IS going to cost YOU – a lot – and it may not be measurable by mere currency.

It certainly seems like US Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, 81, has the right to retire from the bench anytime he wants. Yet when I read this week that he was not so subtly reassured of his legacy beforehand by the White House, and that his eldest son worked for years with Trump on real estate deals at Deutsche Bank, the institution that loaned Trump a BILLION dollars, I couldn’t help but cynically and rhetorically ask the justice, and myself, – what price?

Me… all week

Of course I will never know if a price was exacted or if this justice – the Republican who was actually the swing vote in making gay marriage the law of the land – was swayed by any of it, or by them.

So it’s instead easier for me to stew over the millions of Americans (Note: And perhaps a handful of Russian bots) who voted for and still support a president who consistently calls the press the enemy of the American people or very bad people on the very day that five journalists were gunned down in their Maryland newsroom by a crazed shooter with a vendetta against their paper. Did Trump’s words contribute to egging the guy on in that particular moment? Again, we’ll never know. But for any of his supporters who still get joy from and continue to revel in how he’s characterized one of the foundations of our democracy – the free press – again I ask – what price?

And then – well, there are the immigrant kids in those cages. Mostly brown. Many fleeing violence in their home country – the way my grandparents and friends’ relatives did when they escaped the Nazis and came here in the 1930s and early forties. Or the way my internist’s family did when he was smuggled out of war torn southeast Asia in the 1970s. Or how my dental hygienist managed it when her family ran for their lives from Iran in the 1980s.

Today in America

None of them were forcibly separated from their parents by the US government when they arrived at our borders seeking asylum (Note: The latter a legal right of ANYONE arriving at our shores. Asylum, that is).

So for those currently chuckling with satisfaction at or apoplectically angered by those of us marching in the streets who are outraged that non-English speaking three year olds are being forced to appear ALONE in court at a hearing where they are responsible for telling their own immigration story THEMSELVES before an adult in a big BLACK ROBE who towers above them, I ask – to every last one – again – what price?

And to consider if what they’re losing is worth what they’re getting in return. Financially, morally or, really, even in practical terms.

Broadway United – “We Are The World”

The Speechless Mentor

Screen Shot 2016-06-19 at 8.36.04 AM

Older generations are de facto role models for younger generations whether we like it or not. I certainly never longed to be a role model for anyone, which is probably one reason I very pointedly and rationally made the call decades ago to not have children. It is a decision I don’t regret to this day. Me, be someone’s papa? Are you kidding? I only just recently made peace with all my own insanities and let me tell you, that was a decades long, full-time job. For which I not only was unpaid but also had to pay – quite a lot. Read into that everything it implies. And doesn’t.

No, this Papa can not hear you

No, this Papa can not hear you

Still, what I never considered was that if one lives an even semi-decent life, which I believe I so far have, it is inevitable that one takes on a type of parenting and/or benevolent leader role to someone – and probably more than one someone – who is less experienced and probably younger than you are. This is the way of the world and is even predictable. Be it in your professional field, your social life, or – though hopefully not – in your romantic exploits – we will all eventually find ourselves suddenly thrust into the position of being a mentor, semi-oracle, or an older, wiser and more experienced something to someone when we least expect it.

For me this came full throttle when I became a college professor more than 10 years ago. Now let’s be honest here, there is something appealing about having people occasionally seeking you out for answers, especially if you’re someone who fancies their thoughts and opinions as something more than the stupidity that passes for wisdom these days. This is also doubly desirable to happen later in life when we all of a sudden find ourselves kicked out of the prime opinion-making demographic against our collective wills.

Nice try, Hipster Grandpa

Nice try, Hipster Grandpa

Still…when you’re up on the pedestal you must deliver the goods. That means you need to have a few answers, reasons or at least pseudo explanations and/or excuses in your area(s) of expertise.   And even non-expertise. Because once you become a true mentor to someone (and I suspect though can’t be totally sure it works this way when you’re a parent) it expands way beyond what you cop to know about and well into the issues of what may come up in the course of any particular day for those who are counting on you.

And that’s why I’m here to say that finally – after almost a lifetime of being a know-it-all – and more than a decade of being a sometime mentor and role model:

I’ve run out of answers.

For mass shootings.

For homophobia.

For racism.

For religious dogma.

For gun control.

For global warming.

For the rights and wrongs and lefts and centers of all of it.

Especially the Donald Trump of it – All.

Seriously. No really…seriously.

The realization finally took hold this week after 49 innocents of all ages were gunned down partying at a gay club in Orlando, FL. It was the type of place we gays in the 70s had always hoped for but, much like gay marriage, never quite imagined would come to be – a nightclub with a queer bent where gays, straights and those in between who were of all ages and races, would actually choose to congregate on a Saturday night to party together or just blow off some steam. A place that wasn’t limited to the rich and famous and didn’t have bouncers denying one entry because a bigger and better name was literally on the other line.

And preferably without these cheeseballs

And preferably without these cheeseballs

When word first came out that this unbalanced shooter fit a familiar profile – a disturbed American male in his 20s – I merely rolled my eyes in sad and disgusted submission. When the death roll rose to 49, setting a new US record, and I realized Pulse nightclub was the type of venue I’d visiting many times in my life, it was in horror.   Once I heard the marksman was a married, Middle-Eastern young man with a Grindr account who at the very least seems to have dabbled in gaydom, it became a cruel inexplicable plot point from a bad TV movie – that is if they were still making TV movies the way that they used. Nevertheless, you get what I mean.

Though perhaps you don’t. Because I’m not even sure I do any longer.

In any event, my Notes editor Holly suggested I blog immediately and she was right. Except, I couldn’t.   My mind was a blank. I said I wanted more info but found after XXX numbers of mass shootings blogs I didn’t have anything quite wise or even semi-not stupid to say.

Is this too simple? too complicated? sigh

Is this too simple? too complicated? sigh

Then more facts began to roll in, more absurd political statements from you-know-who mounted, talking heads blathered and people cried all over television. As usual, Pres. Obama spoke eloquently but reading between the lines he seemed to be to be tongue-tied and frustrated. (Note: Yes, I do believe it’s possible to speak well and yet underneath it all be tongue-tied). What more or new could be said, indeed.

It broke a bit when Sen. Chris Murphy filibustered the Senate several days ago and after 15 hours got a little bit done. The key world is little — as in wee. A promise there would be a vote on an assault weapons ban and a bill outlawing anyone on our terrorist watch lists from casually walking into a Wal-Mart and buying a firearm. Pres. Obama just several weeks ago lamented the latter point in a very public speech and with the same particularly frustrated tone.

Still, that was not what really put me over the edge.

What did it were the Facebook posts from some of my former students and mentees. Searching out social media, public forums, their friends, loved ones and even acquaintances and former teachers – they were looking for answers.

Even Mother Monster doesn't have the adequate words

Even Mother Monster doesn’t have the adequate words

Now contrary to what some may think from a film and TV writing professor, not all of my students are left leaning Bernie Sanders Democratic liberals. Yes, seriously.   And it is to those that I fear I don’t have adequate words because to those in particular I can’t fall back on the usual party lines.

A Republican alum of my classroom who reviles Trump and feels lost politically wanted to know if it was always like this. Another former student of color and Fox News watcher rightly equated the Muslim hate with any racial animus and couldn’t understand why his friends and cohorts couldn’t recognize this simple fact. A third – a straight white guy who is a raging liberal but doesn’t fit the profile of many of the rest of them because he married young and already has three kids – felt the same way towards the anti-LGBT patter, excoriating all the phonies out there on the right and left claiming to be a friend of the LGBTs when their previous actions indicate anything but – and often the exact opposite.

I tried to compose something comforting to each of them as good and competent friends, elders, and mentors try to do. And each time I failed.

Me, all week.

Me, all week.

How do I, a Democratic liberal, tell a young person who was raised to be a thinking person that this is a blip in history and through a generational lens what’s happening now is an anomaly? Do I really know that? And do I really believe it? When as a pre-teen I saw footage of Bobby Kennedy being shot and killed during a presidential campaign and I didn’t believe any of the excuses? These three and the many others out there are far more sophisticated than I was at the time so I know they wouldn’t believe any of this now.

What I do recall is appreciating the lack of sure-fire explanation. The truth is hard to hear but what’s worse to listen to is callow dishonesty. It makes all that’s happened even worse. Like trying to fill a large gaping hole with only your own teardrops.

So this is what I have to offer. The truth is it’s for each of us to make sense of these matters for us – through many sources and (non-violent) ways necessary – and act accordingly. But the key word in that sentence is ACT. In some way. Or some sort. It doesn’t have to be big but it can be. It needn’t be small but that in itself would be more than enough. Talking to people is a start. Phoning a representative. Demonstrating. Providing comfort to someone. Changing your behavior in whatever way seems fit in order to create something…dare I say it…more positive. Perhaps towards someone. Or maybe – to help your cause. Make a teeny, tiny first attempt. And don’t listen to the naysayers who will try to convince you nothing matters. That’s ridiculous. And historically untrue.

Never give up

Never give up

Meanwhile, I leave you with a poem a friend of mine posted on social media that sums up my feelings at the moment. It’s written by Maggie Smith. No, not Lady Grantham Dame Maggie Smith. No one can be THAT talented. This MS is a poet who wrote something off the top of her head about her feelings and awoke several days ago to see that it had suddenly gone viral. See, ya never know.

Good Bones

By Maggie Smith

 

Life is short, though I keep this from my children.

Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine

in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,

a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways

I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least

fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative

estimate, though I keep this from my children.

For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.

For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,

sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world

is at least half terrible, and for every kind

stranger, there is one who would break you,

though I keep this from my children. I am trying

to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,

walking you through a real shithole, chirps on

about good bones: This place could be beautiful,

right? You could make this place beautiful.

Pulse, composed and performed by Chris Ryan – a very talented former student making this place beautiful