The Top Guns

The Oscars unveiled its 2023 nominations this past week, joining the previously announced award nominees lists from the major unions of craftspeople that make movies (Note: DGA, WGA, SAG, PGA, among so many others).

The work and the films run the gamut from big budget and big box-office to micro-cost and little-to-speak-of in the way of tickets sales.  They also stretch from the extremely well reviewed to the mixed or even disliked.

Now streaming on Peacock!

This is nothing unusual and as it should be.   

AND…  If you’d like to hear our totally unvarnished take on this year’s Oscar contenders, as well as marvel with us over how it is that Riz Ahmed and Allison Williams, this year’s genetically gifted announcers, can still manage to look that good at 5:30 in the morning, click here for all the hot takes we have and then some.

Shameless self-promotion, to be assured, but also informative, fun and a bit bitchy.

Still, I do have one small but definitely full-on bitchy bone to pick over what is and what is not required for great screen storytelling these days.

Top Gun: Maverick has been judged one of five BEST adapted screenplay nominees by BOTH the Oscars AND my own Writer’s Guild of America this year. 




I don’t care how much $$$$ it made or the fact that it seems to be credited with single-handedly reviving the domestic box-office at brick and mortar multiplexes post-pandemic.

There are financial awards for that, not to mention attention from NATO.


The latter would be the National Association of Theatre Owners, not the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.  That last one is a world peacekeeping organization vs. the former, whose job it is to keep the nation’s movie theatres open and its owners at peace.

Note:  Top Gun: Maverick DID NOT save the world.

Beach football didn’t save the world??

Unless the only world you know is the movie business.

Perhaps that’s the problem.

Hey, there is nothing wrong with big, broad blockbuster entertainment.  And there is nothing wrong with big, broad blockbuster entertainment being nominated for awards.

When they are deserved.

Shade, Chair! Shade!

But if you are talking about basic storytelling 101 in the blockbuster arena, at its most essential and most basic there are the GOOD GUYS and the BAD GUYS.

Yet in Top Gun: Maverick, this box-office behemoth of a sequel to a blockbuster from the wretched excess decade of the eighties, we don’t even know who the bad guys are because the writers are too scared, too lazy or likely too worried to tell us.

Tom Cruise’s Maverick is tapped to choose and lead a small group of elite fighter pilots (Note: Think Cruise and his buddies thirty plus years ago) to stop __________________ from enriching uranium, which can presumably, in turn, give THEM, the _________________, a nuclear bomb(s).

But who is THEM???

Who are THEY?  Who is __________________?  The ENEMIES?  THE…..BAD GUYS?

The best we are given is the general term rogue nation.

and here I thought the real enemy was Miles Teller’s mustache

Except no rogue nation can fit the definition of what country or powers are being even vaguely suggested, even if you take into account the very, very few clues provided in the screenplay/film. (Note: For a breakdown of the evidence, here is one excellent analysis, much better than we could do here).

So, well, whom are we rooting against and why are we invested in this mission in this award-nominated screenplay?

Okay, okay, I know. It’s because we want Tom Cruise to win.  Always.

I’m really not sure

Well, some of us.

But from a STORYTELLING point of view in a war movie, don’t we need to know WHO IS THE ENEMY?????? 

That is, aside from logic. 

Of course, right.   A major reason we don’t know is international box office potential.  The forces behind Top Gun: Maverick don’t want to offend any nations, or nationalities, or inanimate objects, rogue or not, for risk of denting their profits with any type of political firestorm or cultural cancellation. 


And at a $1.44 BILLION in ticket sales worldwide, including $744 million in foreign territories OUTISDE the U.S, who can argue with that strategy.

But…is it AWARD WORTHY dramatic writing?

It depends on what you are giving the award for.

Et tu Jon Hamm??

To whit, Top Gun: Maverick is now the FIFTH highest grossing movie of all-time, soaring past the original Black Panther.  The latter film, a worldwide phenomenon, grossed $1.347 billion in total, $647 million from the US and almost $700 million from overseas.

And it had a ton of discernible villains, not only from within Wakanda, its own country, but even from the U.S.

Best Marvel villain ever — no questions at this time.

Not to mention, its current Oscar nominated sequel, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, has SPECIFIC ENEMIES from ALL OVER the UNIVERSE.

That is because the people behind the Black Panther movies know how to BOTH tell a good story AND respect their audience.

See, blockbusters can be artistically interesting and don’t HAVE to play it vague and safe.

If the filmmakers and the studio decide that is what they are going to do.

I said what I said!

What is surprising is that a very large group of Hollywood writers in both the Motion Picture Academy and the Writers Guild have drank their employers’ Kool-Aid and chosen to keep everything they know about great dramatic screenwriting away from their ballots in favor of their hoped for bloated bank accounts.

I would like to attribute it to solely a large group of white male Hollywood writers over 50 whom long for the glory days, when they could imagine themselves as digital Tom Cruise, or even simply employed by the likes of Simpson and Bruckheimer.

But then I realize I am one of those white male 50+ voting writers.

Oh god I’ve become a Taylor Swift lyric

And among my biggest nightmares would be to wake up resembling anything akin to the fictional Maverick or the digital and/or real life version of that particular movie star.  Or in the employ of any two producers making any Simpson-Bruckheimer type product.

So that answer is way too easy.

Instead, I attribute it to a much more realistic view of what’s happened to corporate artists worldwide since time began, especially in Hollywood.

As your bank account rises you have to work like hell to prevent your work and your taste and your voting opinions on anything from going into the toilet.

And that requires the kind of effort and determination that far too few of us are still willing to suit up for.

Lady Gaga – “Hold My Hand” (from Top Gun: Maverick)

The One Where I Finally Understand

I have an on and off relationship with the TV show Friends and that is as it should be. 

Or, to put it in the lexicon of the series, I’m never quite sure if we truly love each other or are just taking a break.

I see what you did there!

As its creators Marta Kauffman, David Crane and Kevin S. Bright recalled in the new HBO Max special, Friends: The Reunion, the one-line pitch to network executives about the series was always this simple:

That time in your life when your friends are your family.

So naturally there comes a point when you move on, other priorities take over and you begin creating your own family

At least that’s the way Kauffman put it in a series of interviews sprinkled throughout the special.

Hearing it said out loud in such stark terms I finally understood all these many decades later, in the 20-twenties, why a television series that became an international phenomenon from 1994-2004, and continues to this day, and will likely continue for generations to come, was never MY story.

Let’s unpack that Chairy…

I’m one of those people who never thought of moving on from my really good friends.  I knew early on I didn’t want to have kids and wasn’t going to have kids. I knew my real family would be my friends, and whatever relatives I chose to stay in touch with.  I didn’t make a distinction because there NEVER WAS a distinction.

I knew that I could create my own family any way that I chose to.  It would not even for a millisecond occur to me that the people in my life closest to me, who I’d love most in the world, could NOT include those who were my dear, dear friends.

Some of this has to do with being gay and of a certain age.   Many of us LGBTQ baby boomers simply didn’t fit into the hetero-normative margins of the straight world so we fashioned an even more fun, kind and loving one comprised of OUR friends. 

You didn’t necessarily have to be queer to be part of that world.  You just hand to get it, be there and love us.

Sound familiar?

Phoebe gets it

It is important to note this was done not out of resentment but of choice.  If you grew up the way I did, at the time I did, moving on wasn’t on the table.

To have a real, true friend meant you had a forever family.  Especially if you had lived through the eighties and early nineties period prior to when Friends debuted.

A reminder of how painfully 90s Friends is

It was the height of the AIDS epidemic and by 1994 each day was like climbing through the rubble of a nuclear holocaust if you were one of my friends.  Who was alive, who was dead, who was depressed, who was doing well and who was just generally in denial or drifting or drinking/drugging themselves to death?

That was a daily occurrence and just about the only thing you knew is that your friends that remained would be there for you.

Oh Chairy.. ya did it again!

But miraculously here’s what each day also brought you —

Dumb jokes and dumb jobs; hilarious and heartbreaking dates that might or might not turn into love affairs; mortifying moments of embarrassment and secret vices that your good friends would be more than happy to publicly rag on you for…

Terrible fashion choices, silly haircuts, weight gains and weight losses, and relatives who could swoop into town and undo every neurosis you had spent years getting under control in one quick visit.

You wouldn’t think this would be the case at the time but it’s true.  It was also what made Friends work, even for those of us who didn’t quite always get it.

Well we all get bad haircuts…

Unlike other network sitcoms of its era:

  • It was funny, it was clever, it was silly and, every so often, it tugged at our heartstrings.
  • It had six of the most charismatic and adept casts in all of sitcom history – Jennifer Aniston, David Schwimmer, Courteney Cox, Matthew Perry, Lisa Kudrow and Matt LeBlanc – who even now, reassembled together again onstage at the Warner Bros. lot, some 17 years later, seem incapable of phoning in a false or phony note when it comes to their interrelationships.
Dare we say.. authentic?
  • It has even managed to rise above all types of the usual show biz b.s. antics since its been off the air, those that have eclipsed and nearly swallowed up the afterlife of almost every other late 20th century show.  To whit:

a. Yes, we knew the actors all got paid a record-setting one million plus per episode and more towards the end of its run.  We were HAPPY for them.

b. Yeah, we know to this day it’s reported the EACH make $20 million per YEAR in residuals and the show STILL generates about a billion dollars a year for WB TV.  We can live with that if it means we get to sometimes see it.

I’m with Janice here #wow

c. Uh huh, we get the friends each received about  $2.5 mill for this special alone; that there’s a lot of cosmetic “enhancements,” and hair dye, to keep them so dewy-looking; that the “girls” are closer than the guys; that some of their careers have fared better than others; and that Matthew Perry, in particular, continued to struggle with severe substance abuse and other health issues that plagued him throughout the run of the show.  Whateva and we’re rooting for him.

But nothing truly tarnishes the juggernaut that is Friends.  And if you don’t think so consider…

a. What other cast would get paid that much money to reunite?

b. Which other show has a worldwide audience ranging from Nobel Prize winner Malala to one of sport’s GOATs David Beckham?

c. And how many nineties sitcoms could get Justin Bieber to dress up live as a potato or Lady Gaga to do a duet on a song called Smelly Cat for no billing on a reunion special?

100% would watch this show

Friends, like our friends, our families, is far from perfect.  Yeah, I wish it was more multi-cultural, economically inclusive and LGBTQ positive, too.  And, um, please, no WAAAAAYY could they have afforded that apartment at that time – grandmother or not.

But I think of everyone interviewed  Matthew Perry got it exactly right when trying to express what Friends continues to mean and how it endures.

He said no matter what party you went to years later, if you ran into another cast member, you were probably going to spend the evening with them.  You apologized to whomever you were with because all bets were off.  You knew, in that moment, you could talk for hours and very likely would do so, as if no time had passed.

The indefinable pull of that type of relationship is what makes real friends.  And what made Friends.  Whatever either of their drawbacks.

Friends Opening – Season 1