Oscar Watch: 2020

Think of watching the Oscars like a booty call.  Or the hookup you reluctantly fall back on once a year.

Neither may be the best use of your time but each offers a chance for something mindless, seductive, exciting and fabulous, perhaps all at once.

Be nice… after all, Green Book can’t win again.

Never mind there’s a 98.6% chance that won’t happen.  We all live for that elusive 1 (plus) percent.  And isn’t that what the Oscars are really about?

So, don’t pretend you won’t watch, hate watch or go to some event where you sort of watch or shhhh shhhh everyone so you can watch.  You will and so will we – live and on Twitter and via Facebook.  In the meantime, here are five things to watch out for while you’re watching this year’s Academy Awards:

1- THE TAMING OF NETFLIX – For the first time in Oscars’ history it’s not a film studio leading the pack for the most nominations but a….streaming service.  That would be Netflix with 24 nominations – 10 for The Irishman, 6 for Marriage Story, 3 for Two Popes, 2 for best-animated feature (Klaus and I Lost My Body) and 1 for best documentary short (Life Overtakes Me).

It’s not that Netflix will get entirely shut out of the game – after all, money from prestige films is really hard to come by these days.  It’s more that the streamers need to know their place.  So look all three of Netflix’s dramatic feature nominees to go home empty handed in every category with the exception of Laura Dern’s win for best supporting actress in Marriage Story.  A second award will likely be in the animated feature category, probably for Klaus.  But that should be all.

GO GET YA OSCAR, DERNZ!

2-  BILLIE EILISH – She just co-wrote and performed the theme for the upcoming James Bond film and, as such, will likely be an Oscar nominee next year.  But this year the iconoclastic 18-year old will be performing…..something.

My guess is that it’s either an imaginative background vocal to the In Memoriam segment or some weird preview of the Bond song.

Or, well…okay, the truth is I have no idea.  But I’ll bet she wears sparkly pajamas while she’s doing it and they will be the top online seller of Oscar knock off outfits the very next day.

I want to understand this… I think?

3- PARASITE vs. 1917 – Since the four acting prize winners are pretty much set (Note: Joaquin Phoenix (Joker), Renne Zellweger (Judy), Brad Pitt (Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood) and Laura Dern (Marriage Story)) that leaves best picture and director to provide the suspense.

What seems inevitable is a split between the 1917 and Parasite with our money on Sam Mendes as best director for 1917 and Parasite taking home the big best picture prize.  Why?  Because everyone admires 1917 as opposed to loving it and no film speaks to this moment in time better than Parasite.

4BRAD PITT’S STANDING OVATION AND ACCEPTANCE SPEECH – He’s the only one in his category to have never won an acting Oscar.  He was great in Once Upon A Time.  He’ a 56 year old shirtless wonder.  He’s made fun of himself in truly hilarious, self-effacing speeches all throughout awards season and everyone wants to see/hear what comes next.  (Note:  Ahhhhh, no, it won’t be Jen….Or will it?).

This might be the second to last time I can post this… OK let’s be real, I will post this forever #goodlawd

5- POLITICS DRINKING GAME – The main attraction.  You likely won’t hear the word Trump mentioned at all during the show. But throw one back every time you do hear the words peace, equality, global warming, justice, America or any variation of the phrase: lawless White House Orange Pumpkin Monster.

It will ensure the best Oscar experience you’ve ever had and you won’t remember a thing in the morning.

Elton John with Taron Egerton – “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again”

But… Why?: A Movie Story

This is not about hating a film.

It’s just that every so often there is a high-class movie that critics and audiences seem to love and you just don’t get.

At least it starts out that way.

Uh oh — the Chair is about to get real

Here’s the deal.  You’re watching a movie and there are moments in the first half hour that irk you.

-The actors seem to be trying too hard to make you feel something. 

-The story interests you but the choices the characters make feel written, or vague or just plain unbelievable. 

-The conflicts scream drama and real-life comic irony. Yet nothing you’re watching has any urgency.  These people seem to have it all in a 2019 world where land mines can literally lurk around every corner.

Finally, as you watch all of this unfold you want to run from the theatre screaming to every character appearing in this acclaimed work of artistic brilliance:

Jesus, get a real problem!!!!  What would you actually do if crime knocked at your door, your kid got sick, you truly couldn’t pay your bills or even one of the myriad of political issues we see played out on the news daily hit you squarely in the face? 

No comment (but really, comment)

This is all to say, is it enough these days to watch a film that is merely about successful, wealthy characters whose chief challenge in life is a lack of communication with each other and their own super human inability to get out of their own way?

Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story, starring Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson poses that question.  Decide for yourself after you see it.  Or better yet, don’t see it and use the money to contribute to any one of the 7,235 Democratic candidates running for president in 2020.

Except this guy. No one should give money to this guy.

There have been wonderful movies about the dissolution of a marriage between wealthy, or at least well-off and politically unaffected, couples and the byproduct of pain it inflicts on both their children and themselves.

The haunting Shoot the Moon (1982) comes to mind (Note: Diane Keaton singing the Beatles’ If I Fell in the bathtub.  Unforgettable.).  More acclaimed and better known are Ingmar Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander (1982) and the Oscar-winning Kramer vs. Kramer (1979).

Boyhood also fits the bill

So you don’t have to be economically pressed or non-white or non-straight to warrant a big screen dramatization of your issues.

The problem with Marriage Story for what will likely be a vocal minority of many of us is, like its protagonists, it tries to have it all and takes no responsibility for its own actions.  It’s an overwrought and yet underdeveloped attempt to capture the superficial in a non-superficial way.

It is very loosely based on the dissolution of the real-life marriage of its prolific director-writer Baumbach to actress Jennifer Jason-Leigh so one immediately presumes it’s operating from a place of honesty.

Ehhhhh… maybe?

Yet some of us will leave the theatre pondering whether what is most difficult is to be honest about ourselves?  A second question might be whether what seemed life threatening, dramatic or even black comedy funny to us will register as anything more than Okay, boomer (Note: Feel free to substitute Gen X, Millennial, et al) to anyone else.

It’s not that we don’t at all care about Charlie, an avant-garde turned breakthrough N.Y. theatre director, his wife Nicole, an L.A. bred commercially acclaimed actress who married him and, in the process, rebranded herself as a deeper, more serious thespian.  Nor is it that we don’t have feelings for Henry, their adorable if somewhat odd, floppy-haired 8-year-old son whom both parents seem devoted to and truly love.

Sounds…. fascinating.  #vanilla  #very

It’s just, well, what do we do with two people who tell us their problems in long monologues about their lives and feelings, none of which seem pressing enough to justify the drastic decision they’ve made to junk the whole deal?  Every marriage has some level of neglect, betrayal, sacrifice and unexpressed anger.  So why is it these two people suddenly decide they can’t take it anymore?

Or, as many a writer instructor poses to their classes at least once every semester:

WHY. THIS. DAY?

Is she thinking what I’m thinking? #butwhy

This story of a marriage becomes a strange juxtaposition of over-explaining the big issues and leaving out the specifics of what would elucidate them.  That leaves it in the hands of two very capable actors, the dynamic duo of Driver and Johansson, to work it out for us.

It’s an unfair place to put them in yet each manages to rise to the occasion and create whatever sparks of resonance the story has.  They are so game and so committed that it is only the looks on their very raw and very photographable faces that drag the movie over its much hoped for finish line.

Is it interesting to spend half of your viewing time watching the onscreen antics of callow California divorce lawyers?  Not to mention, are there still people who think every second person in Los Angeles tries to sell the merits of the city to die hard New Yorkers by constantly proclaiming about our homes and apartments:

But look at all that space! 

Don’t get me wrong, I still love you, Laura Dern #youdeservebetter

It’s a 1980s view of the left coast that only someone steeped on the east could write.

Which is not to say that it’s untrue.  Nor are numerous other moments.  It’s that they’re unchallenged.  They hang in the air as facile explanations for behavior rather than offer us lacerating insight as to why.

This is never more exemplified than when Mr. Driver’s Charlie is tasked with performing Being Alive, Stephen Sondheim’s famed eleven o’clock number from Company, in its entirety.

As he sings: But alone, Is alone, Not alive as some sort of tremulous reflection and revelation for a marriage gone bad, we feel for the actor.

ADAM DRIVER SINGS?!

But it’s more for him and what he’s managing to pull off in the name of his character. He deserves the Oscar nomination surely coming his way for the herculean task of simply getting through it.

That cannot be said for anything else in the film, speaking for the very vocal minority of us who simply don’t get it.

Tina Turner – “Let’s Stay Together”