Is The Irishman why we go to the movies?

After spending three and a half hours seeing Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, financed by Netflix, at a screening at the Writer’s Guild Theatre in Beverly Hills, there are lots of thoughts and feelings to be sorted out.

None of these have to do with the future of film exhibition or whether Netflix is justified in its release pattern for the new Scorsese film.  For those who don’t know, that would be only eight theatres in NY and LA this week, followed by additional movie screens in more cities seven days later and, finally, its streaming debut just ten days after that (Nov. 27) for anyone with a Netflix subscription or the ability to hop on to someone else’s account.

Netflix is so needy #validation

Scorsese, who turns 77 years old on Nov. 17, is one of THE best American filmmakers of the 20th and 21st centuries, or any century.  Yeah, he’s publicly expressed his disinterest in superhero films and sounded the alarm bells about a money guzzling, tent-pole-driven, market-researched-to-death movie industry obsessed with the Marvel/DC Universe at the expense of cinema dealing with humans and the complexity and nuance of their emotions.

But, for the record, he’s right about that.  Most of us would tire of potato chips and chocolate bars if we ate them 75% of the time.  Even if we didn’t, think of the affect it would have not only on our bodies but our souls, assuming it already hasn’t.

Avengers: Age of Gluttony

Point being, Scorsese not only has a good argument about what passes for present-day cinema but has earned the right to grouse.  For Taxi Driver, Mean Streets, Raging Bull, Good Fellas, New York, New York, The Aviator, Casino and The Departed alone, he can opine from now until the end of time about what displeases him and/or makes him happy about any one group of films or the movie industry in general.

also thank you for this gif

Which makes one wonder if the same goes for his audience.  If you’ve been a Scorsese admirer and mostly loyal fan all these years, do you have the right to be disappointed in the latest entry into the master’s oeuvre that everyone else seems to be calling brilliant?

Well, of course you have the right.  This is still a free(ish) country.  But is it called for, or even worth it to bring up?

Yeah, it is.

Oh there’s more…

Movies by their very nature are a communal experience.  Sure, many of us now too often watch in the confines of our own homes, and too often do it alone.  But the cinema Scorsese makes and presents is shared with others in a dark room where it’s then debated and dissected afterwards.  It’s part of the gift he’s given us for over half a century and to ignore real life discussion of a new Scorsese film would be like negating the very existence of the artist himself.

So here’s the thing…

Is that Ray Romano?

The Irishman is extremely well made, brilliantly acted and doubtless couldn’t be directed better by anyone else on the planet.  But it’s as cold as a tray of ice cubes on a bleak winter’s day and about as revelatory and/or insightful.

Ouch, Chairy!

After 209 minutes it’s difficult to not wonder aloud, Why did I just spend all of this time watching this?  What did this film tell me that I didn’t already know?  In what way was I touched, repelled or even slightly moved by the lives of these “wise guys” and the people around them?  (Note: Not to mention, I already knew the Mob murdered Jimmy Hoffa!!!).

This is especially true if you’ve ever seen a mob film by Scorsese.  Or watched one in that genre by his friend and contemporary, Francis Ford Coppola.  Or even binge watched the HBO series The Sopranos.

Don’t drag me into this! #cuttoblack

It’s unfair to say that with The Irishman Scorsese has made his version of a sequel to a sequel of his latest superhero film.  The Irishman has many flaws (Note: Despite what the critics are saying), but once it reaches the three-hour mark it forges some new ground.  In its last half hour, one begins to realize why the director spent all of these years trying to make this story and why it is likely the final chapter of every mob story he has ever told.

You can trust the Chair

But suffice it to say that dark and foreboding as it might be, that third act ending doesn’t so much surprise as simply…play out.  It takes you down a road you didn’t expect to see onscreen but pretty much could have imagined would have happened exactly that way off screen.

Would you have imagined it, if left to your own devices?  The answer is probably not if you weren’t a contemporary of Scorsese.  So in that sense, it does play in to the director’s own definition of cinema and, in its way, far surpasses anything you will see in the latest Marvel/DC superhero film.   Which is not to say it is Scorsese, or even cinema, at its best.

God, he’s so rich

There are many different reasons why we go to the movies.  Though let’s qualify that to reflect a 2019 reality.  There are many different reasons why we watch movies.

Escape comes to mind.  File this under the category of general entertainment.  We want to laugh and forget or, if we are addicted to catharsis, we want (and need) to cry and commiserate.

I already know I’ll be a disaster during this movie

Perhaps we want to feel superior to a person or class of people being portrayed onscreen.  Taken one step further, we might even joyfully hate watch something we know will be hopelessly dumb, awful or not to our taste just because we can, especially if we’re the type that has no empathy for its own highly overpaid craftspeople boring us.  (Note: Rest assured the latter also includes ALL of its above-the-line talent [nee actors, producers, writers AND directors] despite what they might say or admit to in interviews.  Though this should never, ever include Scorsese or anyone of his caliber).

But mostly, many of us go to and/or watch movies simply because we are true blue fans, Scorsese or otherwise.

… and for the popcorn #arteriesclogging #delicious

We hope for the best, realize we may be disappointed and yet still are pleased that we saw it.  Some but not all of us in that category can usually find something to like in almost anything, even if it’s the good intentions of those who might have let us down.   (Note: See a few paragraphs above). More importantly, there is always a chance we will see something we like, perhaps even love, and be transported.

And for that experience, we will be grateful, perhaps forever grateful.

With so many other ways to spend our time these days there is still nothing quite like sitting in the dark (or semi-dark, or even light) and watching someone else’s idea of life unfold.  For a short time we get to feel something we might have never felt before, or in that particular way

I have a lot of feelings, OK?!?!

There are Scorsese films where we have that for a few fleeting moments, for numerous moments or, sometimes, all the way through.

You (okay, I) want The Irishman to be the latter even though the best you can say about it is that it’s in the former.  But like all great cinema, the movie and its director contain some moments where you feel as if you are in the presence of screen super heroes.

And that says something.  Actually, it says a lot.

Muddy Waters – “Mannish Boy” (from soundtrack for The Irishman)

 

Revolting

Any era but this one seems to be the mantra of the day and who can blame any of us?   If the world isn’t falling apart, or at least regressing, well, it’s doing a pretty darn good imitation.

This is where nostalgia comes in because, well, when things seem this bad who can blame us for wanting to escape to the gauzy dreams of pre-selected luxurious times gone by?

This is where artists come in and in Hollywood there is no higher art than being a creator in film and/or TV.  Or is that TV and/or film.  It’s so confusing these days as to which medium gets first billing.

Don’t ask this guy what Netflix is… #spoileralert #heiswrong

But let’s table that discussion for now.

Much has been made about Quentin Tarantino’s latest, Once Upon A Time in… Hollywood in recent weeks.  Everyone seemed to love the recreation of the period but many balked at the context.

Are we really supposed to look back nostalgically at the 1969-era machismo of a nearly washed up leading man of TV and spaghetti westerns and his loyal, impossibly handsome stuntman?  Well, when the almost has-been is Leonardo DiCaprio and the sweet natured uber-hunk is a delectably shirtless 55-year-old Brad Pitt…come on, we all know the answer to that.

That’d be a YES MA’AM

And anyway, I dare you or anyone to look away when Brad peels his vintage tee off on that roof.  Because you won’t.  And you can’t.

But why spend all this money revisiting the Manson family murders for the umpteenth time, bathing Margot Robbie in impossibly flattering sunshine and white go-go boots as Sharon Tate?   Is presenting her in this new Tarantino-esque light (Note: No spoilers here) really worth all the trouble?  And who the heck is Quentin to take it upon himself to do that, anyway?

The latter is the real issue for critics of the film and its nostalgia.

Mary McNamara, the LA Times’ Pulitzer Prize-winning culture critic, went so far as to call out Once Upon A Time… as nostalgia porn, likening it to the equivalent of a cinematic MAGA hat for its narrow, reductive and mythologized view of a world that didn’t exist.

Girl said whattttt?

That is unless you were a member of the white, male, Christian, heterosexual, able-bodied, culturally conforming, non-addicted, mentally well, moneyed elite.

Okay but….what film world really does exist???

Every artistic project is told through the lens of its maker, for better or worse.  The worse is that there are not enough non-white, non-male, non-Christian, non-heterosexual, non-able-bodied, non-culturally conforming, non-money, non-elite making the highest profile content in order to round out the picture.  (Note:  I purposely left out non-addicted and non-mentally well because it’s show biz and, well, who are we kidding?).

I was driving in the car with my husband the other day listening to an old John Mulaney comedy special (Note: Yes, we do that sometimes) where Mulaney did a hilarious bit about all of the illogical characters and plot holes in the classic Back to the Future. 

In it, the comedian muses at how any mainstream studio could green-light a film where a teen travels back in time and almost sleeps with his mother, one where his only real friend is a man in the neighborhood three times his age who he meets with secretly AND is a crazed, criminal loner of a “scientist.”  Not to mention a thousand other twists of logic and convenience that were as likely to happen as not anything ever.

I HAVE BEEN SAYING THIS FOR 3 DECADES!!!!

Now I can’t tell you how long I have been waiting – okay, THIRTY PLUS YEARS – for someone, anyone, to bring up these and many other moments of silly suburban wish-fulfillment contained in the script pages and prized cinematic moments of all three Back to the Future films.  Cause as a gay kid from the boroughs of NYC all they ever offered to me was a twisted Leave it to Beaver on steroids non-reality that I could never relate to or imagine ever truly existed.

Where is/was MY Back to the Future, I used to wonder?  Well, until someone creates a gay, Jewish superhero kid who is befriended by an eccentric Holocaust survivor down the street, I guess that it doesn’t exist.

I would see that movie #doitchairy

Sure, I’m being a bit flip but the truth is that is some small way, I am STILL waiting for it.

Thinking about all this and more led me to recently begin writing a period piece all of my own.  In doing so, I discussed the idea with a female friend and former student/now colleague who suggested I watch a one-season now defunct but very fine Amazon series that took place in a similar era entitled Good Girls Revolt.

Now how is that I, a journalism school grad who majored in magazine writing and came of age (and came out) in the seventies could have missed a show about a group of twenty-something gal magazine researchers who were aspiring to be writers in the 1969/early 1970s era?

feeling that Mad Men-esque energy #whereisjonhamm

If they couldn’t have been me they certainly could have been the older sisters I never had or the more experienced mentors I wish that I had met and related to at the time.  Because god knows I wasn’t getting very many breaks or invitations to hang out after hours from the straight guys in power.

Well, the fact is, gay or not I’m still a guy and the title, I don’t know, it seemed strange – like one of those borderline offensive Girls Gone Wild  vintage videos.  And with so much out there I guess it wasn’t a must see.  I mean, much as I don’t run for the macho stuff do I really go out of my way to look for shows with four female protagonists??

I guess not, since once I started my binge and got into the show I began to vaguely remember having heard more in its initial run about it, the book it was based on and the real female writers who wrote and created both based on fictional and real characters, some of whom even I knew about at the time.

Boo for me for not paying attention..  Like – BOOOOOOO, boo, boo.  What kind of typical faux macho…guy….was/am I?

I am ashamed.. so very ashamed

But more to the point, why was there only ONE season of this very fine and, for me, unusually period accurate depiction of a world that, after watching, I couldn’t imagine millions more wouldn’t be fascinated with?

After all, this was an early streaming series on Amazon, a service that wanted to take chances.  And it was female-centric (a key demographic), got good reviews, great audience reaction and respectable ratings in comparison to other Amazon renewals at the time.  Well, a lot of factors worked against Good Girls

#1 was that its premiere was two weeks before the 2016 presidential election, a time when a significant number of males in the country were rebelling against anything too female-centric, especially if it was on TV and let off even a whiff of women’s lib. (Note: #Hillary4Evah).

Me, thinking about November 2016

More importantly and #2 –

The head of Amazon at the time was Roy Price, a guy who didn’t get the show and at one second-season story pitch asked the show runners to use the actresses’ names when proposing future episodes because he hadn’t taken the time to learn the names of the characters they were playing.

Of course, little did he or any of the rest of us know that in less than a year he would be forced out of his job amid accusations that he harassed, this time sexually, Isa Dick Hackett,  not a character name but another real female show runner of another Amazon show, The Man In The High Castle.  Coincidentally, Ms. Dick Hackett is an out lesbian who also happens to be the daughter of Phillip K. Dick, the novelist who wrote the book on which the High Castle series is based on.   (Note: A play on words based on the surname of both the novelist and the show runner were among Mr. Price’s more noteworthy utterances reported during that time period).

This, in turn, was followed by the many revelations surrounding Harvey Weinstein from his accusers and the emergence of what we now sometimes all too glibly refer to as the #MeToo era.

There’s nothing glib about the story of the cancellation of a promising show like Good Girls Revolt, of course, most especially when it’s considered in light of all the attention a film like Once Upon A Time in…Hollywood is now receiving.

The only IT girl of the moment

Sure, I admittedly very much liked the Tarantino film but after watching the one season of Good Girls and learning of the circumstances of its cancellation, and my own initial indifference/ignorance towards it, it’s easy to see why so many are currently so publically over the whole Tarantino/DiCaprio/Pitt of it all. (Note: And not only women).

The fact is, until many more diverse voices get to create material with actors and directors from their communities who are every bit as bankable as a Tarantino, DiCaprio or Pitt, an inequity of point-of-view that is as world worn as the nostalgia those names so often propagate will dog their every achievement in the zeitgeist.

That’s not so much an objection to their POVS but to the fact that so many of us don’t get to see ourselves and our worlds reflected back at us at a time when being seen and heard is no longer a luxury of entertainment but a necessity for our very survival.

“Big Yellow Taxi” – Joni Mitchell

Rock ‘n Oscars

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Well of course the show was too long. I mean….

On the other hand, we’ve seen worse….A LOT worse. And Chris Rock was really funny. Despite all the hate tweets and humorless prigs who can find no laughs in an iconic internationally watched awards ceremony honoring the arts that is, at it’s worst, laughable.

Well, I don’t know about you but I needed a few good laughs and some decent movie moments this weekend. Expecting the worst – or the most dull – I got something… pretty good. As I tell my students almost daily:

It’s all about expectations.

I was talking to a friend online during a commercial break who was finding the show a mess.   This was right after I was laughing myself rather silly over one of Mr. Rock’s funnier produced segments – I think it was the moment we got to see Leslie Jones beating up a fake Leo DiCaprio and his bear in a mini-Revenant parody over the lack of roles for Black actresses; which was followed by Tracy Morgan in drag as The Danish Girl munching down on a pastry and saying This is good Danish, Girl… !

Still LOL-ing!

Still LOLing!

In any event, what I wrote to my friend was that, yes, the entire show felt a bit uncomfortable because of what’s going on in the Motion Picture Academy at the moment (Note: #OscarsSoWhite) . Which mirrors the time period the country is presently enduring politically (Note #2: #MakeAmericaGreat Again #BlackLivesMatter #AllLivesMatter).

I mean, when Mr. Rock joked about the Academy doing an In Memoriam segment that featured all the Black people shot by cops on the way to the movies this year – it sort of encapsulates the overarching issue out there, doesn’t it?

Yet with all that being said – and whether you liked, hated or felt indifferent about the entire show — it still beat Seth McFarlane mincing around the stage singing We Saw Your Boobs! or Rob Lowe serenading Snow White. Oh, how quickly you forget.

Just thinking about Seth's "We Love Your Boobs" makes me so sad I need to look at this adorable pic of Jon Hamm eating breakfast with a dog. #ifeelbetternow

Just thinking about Seth’s “We Saw Your Boobs” makes me so sad I need to look at this adorable pic of Jon Hamm eating breakfast with a dog. #ifeelbetternow

By the way, this is by no means a mea culpa for Hollywood. One need just look around the audience.   Or simply listen to Louis CK admonish all of the rich attendees – when announcing the short documentary category – that they better pay attention because the winner they were about to honor was not only probably the poorest in the room but would never make as much as any of them in his or her entire lifetime.   Since they were, Mr. CK stated, quite simply the bottom line true storytellers in the room because they all do it for little economic reward.

Preach Louis!

Preach Louis!

See, it’s not like many people in Hollywood don’t get IT. It’s just that they seldom work as a collective. And most don’t Do anything about IT. They’re too busy looking for a job, trying to keep the job they have or simply attempting to survive in an industry where baseline behavior often borderlines on the just slightly insane.

Again, just an explanation – not an excuse. Because any of us who think the white, straight male patriarchy is just going to roll over and relinquish its power need only spend a bit more time monitoring the 2016 presidential election, the relationship between the White House and Congress or merely track the progress in replacing the late Antonin Scalia on the US Supreme Court for an answer. As Mr. Rock so eloquently put it in his opening monologue (and I’m paraphrasing):

Of course Hollywood is racist. But they’re not Burning Cross racist. They’re sorority racist. It’s more – we like you Rhonda, but you’re not a Kappa.

Indeed.

And oy vey, did Black Twitter did blow up over that one. Well, I’m still p.o.’d Crash beat Brokeback Mountain for best picture 10 years ago so I suppose I get it. And none of the major above-the-line talents on the latter above were even LGBT (why would they be?) – only the subject matter.

But back to the show. Or shall I say, the nominees and winners.

Except this guy, because I can't even get into that. #DustinLanceBlack #EltonJohn #StephenSondheim #MelissaEtheridge

Except this guy, because I can’t even get into that. #DustinLanceBlack #EltonJohn #StephenSondheim #MelissaEtheridge #ugh

Here are some facts that are interesting to note and remember:

Best Picture, Original Screenplay winner: Spotlight — It was about reporters who uncovered the long buried sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests and, most importantly, the Church hierarchy that covered it up.

Best Director, Actor winner: The RevenantA period film about man and nature that subliminally deals with the environment and literally tackles American racism towards Native Americans.

Best Actress winner: Room A contemporary drama about a survivor of kidnapping and sexual abuse.

Best Supporting Actor winner: Bridge of Spies — A drama that takes apart the US government’s secrecy surrounding its 1950s spy program against the Soviet Union and the hypocrisy therein.

Best Adapted Screenplay: The Big Short  A contemporary comedy/drama that manages to shed some light and condemnation to the major players in the American financial meltdown of the previous decade.

No, Lady Gaga and Diane Warren didn’t win best song but the former’s performance of Till It Happens to You was undeniably one of the emotional high moments of the night when it concluded with a stage full of young female and male rape survivors surrounding her onstage.

... and I wasn't sure if she could top last year's Sound of Music tribute. #YouGoGaga #REALtalent

… and I wasn’t sure if she could top last year’s Sound of Music tribute. #YouGoGaga #REALtalent

As for the subject matter of the film that swept most of the technical awards – Mad Max:Fury Road – it dealt with the abuse and victimization of women of all ages in a futuristic societal wasteland – a world with little clean air, water or anything else because of the disregard and greed of all the generations that came before it.

That would be us.

Furiosa knows it

Furiosa knows it

So while the movies have a long way to go in order to meaningfully address societal inequities and real world issues – it’s not as if Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 was awarded best picture, the new Star Wars won anything at all, or that Jurassic World 2, Hunger Games 28 or Furious 7 got any nominations.

All of the above might be scant enough progress but I’ll take it for now and hope for a rosier future.

And that they bring Chris Rock back next year.

Among other things.

Hollywood’s Super Bowl: The Chair’s Predictions

Screen Shot 2016-02-26 at 12.20.13 AM

There is something about trying to predict Oscar winners that feels so comforting in 2016.   It’s just that way with meaningless obsessions, especially when they have to do with Hollywood.   Though if that feels bothersome, you could also consider it practical education.  If we all must live in a contemporary world that is patently unfair, what better way to prepare yourself to subvert the power structure than to try and predict its thinking. Consider it a large, life-coping global board game with movie stars.

Let's do this!

Let’s do this!

That being said, here are the Chair’s annual thoughts on who WILL and WILL NOT take home the Gold on Sunday night. Use it as a guide on what TO choose and what NOT to choose. Or simply check back so you can dish Chair-y as much as you dish the Awards show itself. (Note: We will provide our usual post mortem evaluation of both the show and our own psychic abilities).

BEST PICTURE

I'll leave you to your imagination....

There hasn’t been a best picture race in many years when opinion and likely results have been so divided. It reminds me of 1982 when, as a young reporter covering the Oscars, I watched the so-called experts with their mouths hanging open in the pressroom backstage the moment the unlikely Chariots of Fire was announced the winner over the two heavy favorites – On Golden Pond and Reds.

That’s what I think will happen this year. Most prognosticators believe the race is between Spotlight and The Revenant with the latter getting a slight, surging edge. However, unscientific though it may be, I have not talked to one industry friend who believes The Revenant is the best picture of the year or will vote for it. As for Spotlight, it would probably get my vote for its walloping simplicity and for making an endless distillation of facts appear to be dramatic. Yet strangely too few industryites feel excited about the film even though all seem to agree it’s quite well made.

The movie many find the most original and timely is The Big Short. Even if it still didn’t entirely decipher all the intricacies of how the American financial system collapsed in the prior decade it came pretty close. Plus, it’s the subject on everyone’s mind in an election year and the filmmakers’ clever breaking of the fourth wall in an attempt to entertain us in order to explain the unexplainable will in the end prove to be irresistible to voters. Of course, I could be wrong. Much like the meltdown of the American financial system that has happened before and will no doubt happen again. Still —

WINNER: The Big Short

ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE

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Does anyone believe Leonardo DiCaprio will not finally win his first Oscar for The Revenant? But as a student of mine wisely commented this week, doesn’t the fact that he really was in physical pain and danger mean that he didn’t have to do as much as an actor? As opposed to Michael Fassbender who actually had to become Steve Jobs, a man we all knew that never had to wrestle with a tiger? Point taken. However, in the Oscar tradition of sweat, drool, handicap, weight loss and rolling around in the mud acting —

WINNER: Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant

ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE

screen-shot-2016-01-14-at-10-22-19-am

Room received four Oscar nominations and its sole win will be for Brie Larson in this category. Her raw, heartbreaking performance held the film together along with the work done by her 9-year-old co-star Jacob Tremblay, who deserves lifetime use of the personal hash tag #OscarsSoOld for being totally overlooked in the supporting actor category. But back to Ms. Larson. No offense to the other ladies but it’s no contest. Besides, she was totally overlooked once before in 2013 for her superb work in Short Term 12.

WINNER: Brie Larson, Room

ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

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Yes, Sylvester Stallone can really act! That’s all you keep hearing anytime this category is mentioned. But did you all think he really WAS Rocky? Okay, don’t answer – I get it. The industry likes nothing more than to finally have a valid reason to reward one of the last of its old-fashioned movie stars who also created one of its most enduring film franchises of the 20th century.

WINNER: Sylvester Stallone, Creed

ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

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I would so like Jennifer Jason Leigh to win for her bizarrely funny and twisted turn as unapologetic robber/captive Daisy Domergue in H8 – and not only to make up for the fact that she was never nominated for her brilliant turn as a soul-sucking, relentlessly aspiring rock singer in 1995’s Georgia. (Note: Yes, I hold grudges). But it won’t happen. The Academy gave all the films in this category multiple nominations but it’s Alicia Vikander in a squeak. Imagine the difficulty of stealing a movie away from a man who is playing one of the first transgender females in medical history? Yet somehow she did it without showing off. Not to mention, she did equal if not superior work this year as the star robot/replicant/human(?) in Ex-Machina.

WINNER: Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl

ANIMATED FEATURE FILM

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Do NOT bet against a well-reviewed Pixar film in an Oscar pool. And starring the overeager character voiced by Amy Poehler? Where she gets to learn a well-earned lesson? Seriously.

BRB, watching this for an hour

BRB, watching this for an hour

WINNER: Inside Out

DIRECTING

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Why was it initially so difficult for observers to believe that Alejandro G. Inarritu would win best director for the second year in a row for The Revanant? Well, because we Americans tend to go for the bright shiny object rather than the one we’ve been playing with for a year. Others point to history. The only ones to manage it two consecutive times were John Ford for Grapes of Wrath (1939) and How Green Was My Valley (1940), and Joseph L. Mankiewicz with A Letter to Three Wives (1949) and All About Eve (1950). (Note: Not to mention, Mr. M. also won the screenwriting trophy in both those years). More recently, Oliver Stone was named best director for both Platoon (1990) and Born on the Fourth Of July (1992).

So accept it. It’s Inarritu in a walk over the other four, all of whom are equally deserving. Still, if it only weren’t for that bear…

WINNER: Alejandro G. Inarritu, The Revenant

WRITING (ADAPTED SCREENPLAY)

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This is one of the few sure things. For making Wall Street rules, regulations and hubris almost understandable and actually funny —

WINNER: Charles Randolph and Adam McKay, The Big Short

WRITING (ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY)

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Tough category but at the end of the day making a visual and exciting screenplay about the research and writing of a story where mental, rather than physical bombs explode, has the highest degree of difficulty. The writers of Spotlight did this masterfully. I just wrote a period screenplay about a journalist uncovering a web of unrelenting corruption. Trust me, they deserve it.

WINNER: Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy, Spotlight

CINEMATOGRAPHY

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The vistas, the animals, the dream sequences, the forces of nature!! How did they do it??? And what about how cold it was??? No, were not speaking about The Hateful Eight or the magic surrealism (at least in my mind) of Mad Max. You’re just going to have to grin and bear it. (Note: I had to)

WINNER: Emmanuel Lubezki, The Revenant

COSTUME DESIGN

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There’s a lot of divided opinion on this. Do you go with pretty, gritty or flitty? In a field with a lot of glamour that will likely cancel each other out, let’s go with originality that’s also gritty.

WINNER: Jenny Bevan, Mad Max: Fury Road

DOCUMENTARY (FEATURE)

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Not much debate on this one for me. There are many worthy issues these films tackle. But Amy Winehouse was a once in a generation talent. Her music is sad, happy, incisive and makes you feel and think. This portrait of her life does the same. It’s not for the faint of heart and often quite troubling. Which is why it deserves to win and will win. Watch the film, listen to her records and then search YouTube (start here). You’ll be surprised at the treasures you’ll unearth.

WINNER: Amy

Miss you girl

Miss you girl

DOCUMENTARY (SHORT SUBJECT)

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A perennial tiebreaker in the Oscar pool. I don’t know and neither do you. From what I hear from people who have seen them all Body Team 12, which follows a team collecting the dead at the height of the Ebola outbreak, has a slight edge. But the others deal with the Holocaust, genocide against women, kids and Agent Orange, Syrians, and family loyalties in the face of murder. Take your pick.

WINNER: Body Team 12, David Darg and Bryn Mooser

FILM EDITING

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This award often goes to the best picture winner so logic dictates it should be either The Revenant, Spotlight or The Big Short. Which is why I’m going with Mad Max. It’s an illogical year – everywhere. Not to mention, can you imagine editing Mad Max and coming up with anything coherent – much less artful?

WINNER: Margaret Sixel, Mad Max: Fury Road

FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

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Don’t bet against the Holocaust when you’re Oscar predicting. Especially when the film is as lauded as this one.

WINNER: Son of Saul (Hungary)

MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING

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No one is going to get an award for creating all that slop around Leo’s beard. Better to reward the people who painted the dark streaks below and above Charlize’s eyes. Not to mention that haircut!

WINNER: Lesley Vanderwalt, Elka Wardega and Damian Martin, Mad Max: Fury Road

I surrender!

I surrender!

MUSIC (ORIGINAL SCORE)

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Ennio Morricone is 87 years old and actually scored all those Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns from the sixties everyone has been copying for years. And he’s NEVER won an Oscar. Are you kidding? #itstime

WINNER, Ennio Morricone, The Hateful Eight

MUSIC (ORIGINAL SONG)

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Personally, I’d go with “Simple Song #3,” since it’s the perfectly fulfilling climactic moment of Youth – the mysterious song that’s referred to all through the film that ultimately delivers. But at this point the surge of support seems to be more for the Warren-Gaga tune that tries to encapsulate feelings evoked around the all too prevalent epidemic of sexual abuse towards women.

WINNER: “Til It Happens to You,” Diane Warren and Lady Gaga, The Hunting Ground

PRODUCTION DESIGN

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The Revenant didn’t feel designed so much as simply shot. Or is that its strength? Because you and I both know the 1800s west does not actually exist anymore anywhere in this world. But no matter. To create an alternate universe from nothing takes…the Oscar. I think.

WINNER: Colin Gibson, Lisa Thompson, Mad Max: Fury Road

SOUND EDITING

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No one likes having to predict this category because as you get older your hearing starts to go and you’re never really sure what the heck you’re listening to. On the other hand, you can still recognize sounds. And on that basis, is there anything to compete with the insanity in Mad Max: Fury Road? Um…no.

Winner: Mark Magini, David White, Mad Max: Fury Road

SOUND MIXING

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I don’t know about you but the many sounds in The Revenant confused me, and not in a good way. Where was he and how did he manage any of it – it didn’t sound good, did it? Star Wars sounded like it always does, which is certainly good, though not great. Bridge and Martian were both a nice mix of movie stuff. But once again, Mad Max – what the heck was that??? It sounded soooo good. Yes, it did confuse me, but in a very gooood way.

WINNER: Chris Jenkins, Gregg Rudloff and Ben Osmo, Mad Max: Fury Road

 VISUAL EFFECTS

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The movies have become a visual effects feast. Which I’m not sure is a good thing but that’s off point. Star Wars is going to win something and this is the category. The series has pushed industry special effects to the forefront. Is that worthy of an award or condemnation? Again, the subject of another discussion.

WINNER: Roger Guyett, Patrick Tubach, Neal Scanlan and Chris Corbould, Star Wars: The Force Awakens

…AND THE ULTIMATE TIE BREAKERS:

Or as we like to call it – no one TRULY knows anything so take your pick.

SHORT FILM (ANIMATED)

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I have NO idea!!! Some say World of Tomorrow, which gives a little girl a tour of her future; others predict Sanjay’s Super Team, the imaginings of a young Indian boy of Hindu gods as superheroes. The latter seems like the right kind of invention for this category. Though the key word is seems…

WINNER: Sanjay’s Super Team

SHORT FILM (LIVE ACTION)

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Nearly every expert I’ve researched has picked Ave Maria, which is about five nuns and their routine in the West Bank being interrupted when an Israeli family moves in. Sounds timely to me but this is pure conjecture. Younger people seem to favor Shok, which centers on the friendship between two boys during the Kosovo War. As my gambler Dad says of the odds in situations like these – pick ‘em!

WINNER: Ave Maria

Want to download the Chair’s full predictions? Click the photo below!

chair ballot

Don’t miss a beat with the Chair as he tweets his way through the Oscars — and laments on his own predictions. And check back for a full recap!

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Global Warnings

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Why does one write about anything as silly and meaningless as an award show – especially the Golden Globe Awards – which are chosen by a bizarre group of international critics who have the collective credibility of, well – a blogger?

The correct answer is not – because you are a blogger.

Rather, it is the same answer I give my students and friends when they ask, Why does fill in name of a good or favorite actor do so many bad movies?

Answer: Look at all the choices available to them at the time. Which one do you think they should have picked?

In my case, I just can’t spend another week on The Republican Apprentice, Hils, the Bern or Grandpa Munster (Note: Oh please, you know who I mean).

I'm back!

I’m back!

Plus, our president has guns covered at the moment, there doesn’t seem much of a debate left on climate change and do you really need to read another 10 best/worst list of 2015 or a preview of your top choices or potential losses for 2016? No, you do not.

So here are my GG predictions. We’ll weigh in on Monday for a post mortem of the show. The commercials have host Ricky Gervais teasing us that he might make a celebrity cry. Don’t dress. And take that as seriously as any tease you encounter on television – or anywhere else for that matter.

BEST MOTION PICTURE – DRAMA

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CAROL Number 9 Films; The Weinstein Company

MAD MAX: FURY ROAD Warner Bros. Pictures / Village Roadshow Pictures / Kennedy Miller Mitchell

THE REVENANT Regency Enterprises; Twentieth Century Fox

ROOM Element Pictures / No Trace Camping; A24 

SPOTLIGHT Anonymous Content / Participant Media / First Look; Open Road Films

Winner: SPOTLIGHT

It’s got the heat, as they say. And it’s a really good film. CAROL is too rarified for this group, MAD MAX is too forward-thinking, THE REVENANT is too gross and ROOM is too small. If you are thinking a possible upset for your betting pool, remember this is an international consortium – so perhaps, REVENANT or MAD MAX. But, uh…no

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A MOTION PICTURE – DRAMA

the-danish-girl

CATE BLANCHETTCarol

BRIE LARSONRoom

ROONEY MARACarol

SAOIRSE RONANBrooklyn

ALICIA VIKANDERThe Danish Girl

Winner: ALICIA VIKANDER

This is one of the trickiest categories so don’t wager the house. Brie Larson should win and will probably be awarded the Oscar because it is likely Ms. Vikander will be put up for supporting actress. But given these nominations, the international appeal of THE DANISH GIRL should do it along with AV’s universal raves. The CAROL women will split. Possible spoiler is Saorise Ronan but that’s doubtful since the film is small and likely has not been seen by all the voters, “critics” though they may be.

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A MOTION PICTURE – DRAMA

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BRYAN CRANSTON, Trumbo

LEONARDO DICAPRIO, The Revenant

MICHAEL FASSBENDERSteve Jobs

EDDIE REDMAYNEThe Danish Girl

WILL SMITHConcussion

Winner: LEONARDO DICAPRIO

FYI, I think Bryan Cranston will win the Oscar. But again – international voting is a big element here and Mr. DiCaprio seldom, if ever, wins awards. The true winner should be Michael Fassbinder who couldn’t grunt, bleed, accent or costume his way through the nearly impossible role of a somewhat unlikeable icon. But that won’t happen. Nor will Mr. Smith go to the stage.

BEST MOTION PICTURE – MUSICAL OR COMEDY

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THE BIG SHORT    Paramount Pictures / Regency Enterprises

JOY     Fox 2000 Pictures; Twentieth Century Fox

THE MARTIAN    Twentieth Century Fox

SPY     Twentieth Century Fox

TRAINWRECK    Universal Pictures / Apatow Productions

WINNER: THE MARTIAN

How much do you want to see Amy Schumer up there? Well, (NOTES SPOILER!) you’re going to have to wait for a category. And the true winner should be THE BIG SHORT. But I’m not entirely sure this group will go for the latter. The international market ADORES Ridley Scott and he’s another perennial non-winner. Not to mention, there are a group of critics who see the overly long, overly optimistic for humanity theme of THE MARTIAN irresistible. Well, no one can accuse we here at notes of any of that!

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A MOTION PICTURE – MUSICAL OR COMEDY

BFFs

BFFs

JENNIFER LAWRENCE, Joy

MELISSA MCCARTHYSpy

AMY SCHUMERTrainwreck

MAGGIE SMITH, The Lady in the Van

LILY TOMLINGrandma

WINNER: AMY SCHUMER. And no, you didn’t read that wrong.

It’s a comedy and this group also likes to feel both hip and out-of-the-box from time to time. Not to mention – the Hollywood Foreign Press’ main source of revenue (meaning how they stay afloat) is the broadcast of this show (which means ratings).

Lest we forget who won big at the 2010 Globes!

Lest we forget who won big at the 2010 Globes!

Not to say Ms. Schumer doesn’t deserve best comic (and even musical!) performance by an actress this year. Though my vote would go to Lily Tomlin. Why? Because how often do we get the treat of seeing Lily Tomlin playing a snide lesbian…in the movies, that is?

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A MOTION PICTURE – MUSICAL OR COMEDY

The world saves Matt Damon... again

The world saves Matt Damon… again

CHRISTIAN BALE, The Big Short 

STEVE CARELL, The Big Short 

MATT DAMONThe Martian

AL PACINODanny Collins

MARK RUFFALOInfinitely Polar Bear

WINNER: MATT DAMON

Sure, this feels ridiculous. Is ‘THE MARTIAN a comedy? As much as it’s a musical. Nevertheless, it’s Damon in a walk. My vote is for Bale or Carrell. Or Mark Ruffalo. Or Al Pacino, even though I haven’t seen that movie.

BEST MOTION PICTURE – ANIMATED

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ANOMALISA    Starburns Industries; Paramount Pictures

THE GOOD DINOSAUR    Pixar Animation Studios; Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

INSIDE OUT    Pixar Animation Studios; Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

THE PEANUTS MOVIE     Blue Sky Studios; Twentieth Century Fox

SHAUN THE SHEEP MOVIE    Aardman; Lionsgate / Studiocanal

WINNER: Um, INSIDE OUT. Seriously.   (For my thoughts on the truly bizarre Anomalisa, check out last week’s post)

BEST MOTION PICTURE – FOREIGN LANGUAGE

#honesty

#honesty

THE BRAND NEW TESTAMENT (BELGIUM / FRANCE / LUXEMBOURG)

THE CLUB (CHILE)

THE FENCER (FINLAND / GERMANY / ESTONIA)

MUSTANG (FRANCE)

SON OF SAUL (HUNGARY)

I have no business weighing in here since I haven’t seen any of the nominees. The talk is for SON OF SAUL. Few Hollywood groups or award contests can resist a Holocaust film.

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE IN ANY MOTION PICTURE

Whatever Chairy, you know I'm fabulous!

Whatever Chairy, you know I’m fabulous!

JANE FONDA, Youth

JENNIFER JASON LEIGHThe Hateful Eight

HELEN MIRRENTrumbo

ALICIA VIKANDEREx Machina

KATE WINSLET,  Steve Jobs

WINNER: JENNIFER JASON LEIGH

I gotta say Jennifer Jason Leigh even though THE HATEFUL EIGHT is the one big film this year I still haven’t seen. Why? It’s only early January. Why JJ Leigh? Because she should have won years ago for GEORGIA and I’m still annoyed. Look it up. #SadieFlood4Ever

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE IN ANY MOTION PICTURE

Not a knockout for Sly

Not a knockout for Sly

PAUL DANO, Love & Mercy

IDRIS ELBABeasts of No Nation

MARK RYLANCE, Bridge of Spies

MICHAEL SHANNON99 Homes

SYLVESTER STALLONECreed

WINNER: MARK RYLANCE

Mark Rylance has the edge. Watching his performance is an acting master class in less is more. It should be required viewing for anyone serious about the craft.

BEST DIRECTOR – MOTION PICTURE

Le sigh

Le sigh

TODD HAYNES, Carol

ALEJANDRO G. IÑÁRRITU, The Revenant

TOM MCCARTHYSpotlight

GEORGE MILLERMad Max: Fury Road

RIDLEY SCOTT, The Martian

WINNER: TODD HAYNES

This is one of the toughest categories. The winner SHOULD be Tom McCarthy for not showing off and telling a story in a compelling way without all the bells and whistles. But likely it’s between Todd Haynes and Ridley Scott. Hmmmmmm. Okay, it’s Todd Haynes. It’s just the kind of film that would feel arty to these voters.

BEST SCREENPLAY – MOTION PICTURE

Is that my office?

Is that my office? #hotmess

EMMA DONOGHUE, Room

TOM MCCARTHY, JOSH SINGER,  Spotlight

CHARLES RANDOLPH, ADAM MCKAYThe Big Short

AARON SORKINSteve Jobs

QUENTIN TARANTINO, The Hateful Eight

WINNER: TOM MCCARTHY, JOSH SINGER, Spotlight

It’s hard to imagine they won’t win for making journalism heroic, dramatic and noble once again. The writers of THE BIG SHORT could be the spoilers here simply for originality. Though let’s not get carried away on that score.

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE – MOTION PICTURE

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CARTER BURWELL, Carol

ALEXANDRE DESPLAT, The Danish Girl

ENNIO MORRICONE, The Hateful Eight

DANIEL PEMBERTON, Steve Jobs

RYUICHI SAKAMOTO, ALVA NOTO, The Revenant

WINNER: ENNIO MORRICONE but…

…really no one has ANY idea, including the members of the Foreign Press.

Is this the tie-breaker in your pool? Then go for Ennio Morricone. Otherwise, drink every time someone onstage says original.

BEST ORIGINAL SONG – MOTION PICTURE

Betting against the sentimental choice

Betting against the sentimental choice

“LOVE ME LIKE YOU DO” (Fifty Shades of Grey)  Music & Lyrics by: Max Martin, Savan Kotecha, Ali Payami, Ilya Salmanzadeh

“ONE KIND OF LOVE” (Love & Mercy)  Music & Lyrics by: Brian Wilson, Scott Bennett

“SEE YOU AGAIN” (Furious 7)   Music & Lyrics by: Justin Franks, Andrew Cedar, Charlie Puth, Cameron Thomaz

“SIMPLE SONG #3”  (Youth)   Music & Lyrics by: David Lang

“WRITING’S ON THE WALL” (Spectre)   Music & Lyrics by: Sam Smith, Jimmy Napes

WINNER: ONE KIND OF LOVE 

Since the entire movie of YOUTH depends on and leads up to the performance of the haunting SIMPLE SONG #3, you’d think this was a lock. But I don’t believe this group can resist giving the much-loved Brian Wilson biopic, LOVE AND MERCY, some love. Or the much-admired Brian Wilson some long overdue awards attention.

BEST TELEVISION SERIES – DRAMA

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EMPIRE (Fox)

GAME OF THRONES (HBO)

MR. ROBOT (USA Network)

NARCOS (Netflix)

OUTLANDER (Starz)

WINNER: MR. ROBOT

I’m going out on a limb here though it could easily be GAME OF THRONES. But the Foreign Press loves to be the FIRST to discover a show around awards time. I remember at the turn of the century when they SHOCKED the crowd on hand and at home and gave Fox’s PARTY OF FIVE best drama series. Again, look it up. As for MR. ROBOT – I’m in the middle of binge-watching it and I have to say I’m sort of hooked. Sort of? Huh?

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A TELEVISION SERIES – DRAMA

Friendly competition

Friendly competition

CAITRIONA BALFE, Outlander

VIOLA DAVIS, How to Get Away with Murder

EVA GREENPenny Dreadful

TARAJI P. HENSONEmpire

ROBIN WRIGHTHouse of Cards

WINNER: VIOLA DAVIS

Take it to the bank. She’s crazy good. Literally.

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A TELEVISION SERIES – DRAMA

JON HAMM! JON HAMM! JON HAMM!

JON HAMM! JON HAMM! JON HAMM!

JON HAMM, Mad Men

RAMI MALEKMr. Robot

WAGNER MOURANarcos

BOB ODENKIRK, Better Call Saul

LIEV SCHREIBER, Ray Donovan

WINNER: JON HAMM

That’s the sound of me cheering.

BEST TELEVISION SERIES – MUSICAL OR COMEDY

Still riveted

Still riveted

CASUAL (Hulu)

MOZART IN THE JUNGLE (Amazon)

ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK (Netflix)

SILICON VALLEY (HBO)

TRANSPARENT (Amazon)

VEEP (HBO)

WINNER: TRANSPARENT

It’s the show of the moment. It just is. I suppose VEEP could sneak in it but it’s doubtful.

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A TELEVISION SERIES – MUSICAL OR COMEDY

You know you love me Chairy

You know you love me Chairy

RACHEL BLOOM, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

JAMIE LEE CURTIS, Scream Queens

JULIA LOUIS-DREYFUS, Veep

GINA RODRIGUEZJane the Virgin

LILY TOMLINGrace and Frankie

WINNER: JULIA LOUIS-DREYFUS

Has Julia Louis-Dreyfus ever lost an awards competition? Who does she know? Still, there is a slim chance for Gina Rodriguez. Yeah, the international factor again. But I’ve learned my lesson betting against the Walt Disney of comedy actresses. (Note: I didn’t really just write that, did I?)

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A TELEVISION SERIES – MUSICAL OR COMEDY

Is there a Globe for failure to age?

Is there a Globe for failure to age?

AZIZ ANSARI, Master of None

GAEL GARCÍA BERNAL, Mozart in the Jungle 

ROB LOWEThe Grinder

PATRICK STEWART, Blunt Talk

JEFFREY TAMBORTransparent

WINNER: JEFFREY TAMBOR

The closest there is to a sure thing. A brilliant portrayal of a trans woman because he plays her very simply – as a person.

BEST TELEVISION LIMITED SERIES OR MOTION PICTURE MADE FOR TELEVISION

A winner dontcha know

A winner dontcha know

AMERICAN CRIME (ABC)

AMERICAN HORROR STORY: HOTEL (FX)

FARGO (FX)

FLESH & BONE (Starz)

WOLF HALL (PBS)

WINNER: FARGO

It’s the most talked about drama this year. If one more person looks at me wide-eyed and says – What do you mean you don’t watch Fargo – you must! – I’M GONNA SCREAM. Ahhhhhhhhhh

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A LIMITED SERIES OR MOTION PICTURE MADE FOR TV

Oh Chairy, you betray me!!!

Oh Chairy, you betray me!!!

KIRSTEN DUNST, Fargo

LADY GAGA, American Horror Story: Hotel 

SARAH HAY, Flesh & Bone

FELICITY HUFFMAN,  American Crime

QUEEN LATIFAH, Bessie

WINNER: KIRSTEN DUNST….

….Because c’mon, you HAVE to watch FARGO. Then you’d understand. Though remember when she burst on the seen as a young girl in INTERVIEW WITH A VAMPIRE? I do. Again, look it up.

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A LIMITED SERIES OR MOTION PICTURE MADE FOR TV

pg-6-wolf-hall-bbc

IDRIS ELBA, Luther

OSCAR ISAAC, Show Me a Hero

DAVID OYELOWONightingale

MARK RYLANCEWolf Hall

PATRICK WILSONFargo

WINNER: MARK RYLANCE

Because FARGO has to lose in some category and Mr. Rylance is that good in everything he does.

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE IN A SERIES, LIMITED SERIES OR MOTION PICTURE MADE FOR TELEVISION

You crazy, Chairy??

You crazy, Chairy??

UZO ADUBA, Orange is the New Black

JOANNE FROGGATT, Downton Abbey

REGINA KINGAmerican Crime

JUDITH LIGHTTransparent

MAURA TIERNEY, The Affair

WINNER: JOANNE FROGGATT

How do you not give DOWNTON ABBEY something? Talk about international appeal. Not to mention – it’s Anna.

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE IN A SERIES, LIMITED SERIES OR MOTION PICTURE MADE FOR TELEVISION

What about my comeback?

What about my comeback?

ALAN CUMMING, The Good Wife

DAMIAN LEWISWolf Hall

BEN MENDELSOHNBloodline

TOBIAS MENZIESOutlander

CHRISTIAN SLATER, Mr. Robot

WINNER: BEN MENDELSOHN

I actually saw all of Bloodline. If there ever were an award-winning type of role, Mr. Mendelsohn had it – and delivered. The others will have to make do being in his company this year.

OKAY – SEE YOU ONLINE where I’ll be live tweeting at: @NOTESFROMACHAIR. Tune in!!!

The Jewish Guido

Mazel!

Mazel!

If the guys I went to school with were movie characters they would be Jordan Belfort of Wolf of Wall Street and Irving Rosenfeld of American Hustle.  Two smart, charismatic and fast-talking Jewish guys from Queens, NY with morally questionable values, especially where money is concerned.  A stereotype, you say?  Uh, not when you consider how many Jewish male lead characters there have ever been in big major studio movies aside from Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof.  And besides — what major film studio heroes aren’t a bit, um…iconic.  In fact, those of us who are or could have been them prefer the word iconic.  Especially if it means – we’re the LEAD!

The truth is – you gotta start somewhere.

Martin Scorsese has spent half of his career immortalizing similar types of New York Italian guys in the movies but they are usually in the more tough talking form of Manhattan street thugs in Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and Goodfellas – men who were certainly charismatic and street-wise but, on the whole, a lot tougher and muscular.  Plus, they could at least duck into Church for confession when things got dicey rather than eat themselves up from the inside out over anxiety.

Those kind of leading men tend to bleed into the aforementioned characters in our current crop of awards contenders.  Also, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s wife-beater clad muscle head in Don Jon; Bradley Cooper’s co-lead detective Richie DiMaso in American Hustle; or even anti-hero Pat Solitano in last year’s Silver Linings Playbook.  Not to mention all the leads in The Godfather and Moonstruck.

There's gotta be an award out there for these curlers...

There’s gotta be an award out there for these curlers…

Which means if you put all the current Italian and Semitic boys from the boroughs together – which often happens in real life, not to mention in my own personal one – they comprise what I think of as a new ethnic stereotype I and my many childhood compadres from Queens have long awaited to be included on in film: The Jewish Guido.

(Note: See I can say that because I am one of them…well, sort of).

Who are we?  We are everything and more of what the major Hollywood studios think of as colorful and morally questionable.  No, we are not a Woody Allen character or Roberto Benigni from Life Is Beautiful.

Nope, not this Guido

Nope, not this Guido

We are a much more down and dirty, messy type of working/middle class person – a little crass, not afraid to speak our minds and, to put it bluntly: pretty good in bed – which is why we’re often a romantic lead who gets the girl at some point even if we can’t keep her.  You might not want to have us at a fancy dinner party or as your permanent spouse (Note: the latter is still in flux and debatable) but you most certainly want to include us if you aspire to learn how to rise up in the ranks of life or enjoy some unbridled, down and dirty fun.  In short, we have dreams and we’re not afraid to go for them in quite unorthodox and entertaining ways – even if there are overwhelming odds of failure or the likelihood that we will not have the best decorating sense once we achieve those dreams and have the cash to acquire whatever nouveau riche items you or we may crave.  Our reasoning:  if we don’t take that chance we’ll be stuck in Queens forever and, as we all know, with the right amount of money we can hire all the Waspy female decorators we want with taste and eventually charm them into at least having an affair with us after they’re done hanging the drapes.

Okay, so I may have exaggerated just a little bit.  But so are our personas.

This all started several weeks ago when I found myself thoroughly enjoying both    WoWS and AH while many of my friends insisted they reeked of disappointment, misguided storytelling and just plain unsympathetic, despicable characters.  Really?  I hadn’t noticed.  Isn’t this sort of the scrappy, exaggerated way Waspy movie characters behave, albeit with less money and more curse words?  No, claimed my Jewish guy friends from upstate New York, southern California and the Midwest.  They’re just awful people in uninvolving movies.   And those Waspy characters you are referring to are usually the villains, not the hero.

Did someone say Wasp?

Did someone say Wasp?

Well, okay.  Still, there is something to be said for seeing a version of you onscreen, even if it is a slightly unpleasant one.  If there is enough humanity and humor in the characterization you can get away with a lot of political incorrectness.  Enough elements of truth can counterbalance harsh generalities about the neighborhood or plot holes that you can drive a Miata through.  In addition, if you give these guys a little bit more of the macho power you craved when you were younger, or even last week, the fantasy is complete.  At least for some of us.

I can’t say I’m particularly proud of two Jewish guys from Queens being portrayed as people who swindled others out of money in order to lift themselves out of the doldrums of their own lower/middle class existences (Note: though if I had a choice I’d take the fictionalized Rosenfeld in American Hustle, who mostly stole from rich bad guys and didn’t kill people or cause them to kill themselves).  But now that Dustin Hoffman and Richard Dreyfuss are no longer leading men and only act sporadically, not to mention the total lack of movie roles for Steve Guttenberg in the last 20 years, you can’t blame me for binging a little on these types of recent and very public inroads. (Note: Yes there is still Jessie Eisenberg, born in Queens and raised in New Jersey – but c’mon, there is just nothing boroughs about him or any of his characters).

I made a movie with Barbra.. does that count?

I made a movie with Barbra.. does that count?

My notesfromachair co-hort Holly Van Buren suggested to me that the emergence of the Jewish Guido might have something to do with our current economic climate and the fantasy of the everyday working class man with the accent becoming victorious.  Not a bad thought.  It’s the boroughs way and certainly is a fine counterpoint to the seemingly omnipotent top 1%.  I mean, it takes a little bit of the crude and in your face in order to cut through all of that upper crust steeliness, right?

Plus, both Wolf and Hustle are period pieces from the seventies and eighties.  Clearly, enough time has passed where rather than championing a Gordon Gekko kind of financial wizard we can indulge in a more in-your-face punk upstart who beats the elite at their own game by any means necessary using the logic gleaned from a tougher life lived.

Still, there seems an even bigger factor – time.  American society may have grown more polarized these days but certainly its people have overall become far less homogenized.  There is ethnicity everywhere – so much so that is unusual for a day to go by on Fox News or right wing radio where the previously dominant White Male patriarchy, particularly in the south and Midwest, don’t wax nostalgic about the good old days and whine about losing their grip on power and the social and moral traditions (Note: one questions what they consider those were) that once made our Great Country great. This and the fact that same country, which less than two centuries ago legally enslaved all of its African American citizens in more than half of its states, has for the last six years had its first African American president presiding over everyone.

Yep.. and still the President.

Yep.. and still the President.

Those factors of time and ethnicity might also be responsible for the emergence of two other crossover major studio films about the African American community this year – 12 Years A Slave and Lee Daniel’s The Butler.  It is certainly no coincidence that as directors and other artists emerge in a position of power – like Steve McQueen and Mr. Daniels – the more chances there are of movies that reflect the history and/or experiences of their particular ethnic groups.  (Note:  Not that they can’t do anything else – both men have worked on “white” films).  It is also no accident that both of these directors have also earned money and acclaim in their recent past that have enabled them to do larger and more mainstream films with African American characters in the leads.  This is just the way it goes as long you can produce massive income with your often larger than life product.  Decades before Spike Lee had a certain degree of power among the major studios until his movies began underperforming at the box-office and the cache he was given by the powers-that-be to make his type of movies began to shrink. (Note: Mr. Lee also came of age at a time where there were far less non-white leads in films than there are today, making his road somewhat tougher).

Interestingly enough, all four aforementioned major films this year – Wolf of Wall Street, American Hustle, 12 Years a Slave and Lee Daniels’ The Butler – are also historical pieces that take place far and very much farther into the past.   There could simply be a certain drama to looking at events from a backwards lens.  Though surely it also provides a special kind of safety that gives the Hollywood community and its studio system a specific type of perfect cover.

the current state of Hollywood

the current state of Hollywood

Which all begs the question – why with all of the many, many male Jewish writers and directors working in the movie industry over the decades – not to mention that the studios themselves were founded by a large group of New York Jewish salesmen – have there statistically been such a lack of Jewish male characters as major studio leads on the big screen. I mean, if the African-American model holds, shouldn’t it follow that….?

Well, I have no provable idea.  But even in accounting for time and some evolution of thought, it is still worth noting that American Hustle’s David O. Russell is half-Jewish while Wolf of Wall Street’s Scorsese is very famously Italian.  So, at least in terms of the Jewish Guido, well — you do the math.

Or, to put my take on the whole thing another way, here is what Woody Allen’s quintessentially non-Guido/very Jewish character of Alvy Singer said when he first met his very ethnic-looking first wife Allison Portchnik (Carol Kane) in the 1977 classic, Annie Hall:

Woody-Allen-and-Carol-Kane-620x310

Alvy: You, you, you’re like New York, Jewish, left-wing, liberal, intellectual, Central Park West, Brandeis University, the socialist summer camps and the father with the Ben Shahn drawings…and the really, y’know, strike-oriented kind of, red diaper…stop me before I make a complete imbecile of myself

Allison: No, that was wonderful. I love being reduced to a cultural stereotype.

Alvy:  Right, I’m a bigot, I know, but for the left.

Excess

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How much is too much?  That is the question many are asking about Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby.  But before we get into that, it’s worth considering when you move past the point of saturation and graduate to excess? In show business we call this going over-the-top.  In film studies, we simply call it melodrama.  Unless, of course, we’re being hip and oh so au courant – then we call it postmodern.

I, for one, don’t apologize for loving excess if it is truly excessive.  For instance, one of my favorite TV shows, American Horror Story, reeks and swims in oceans of excess (and this news just adds to it!).  However, one of the problems with my least favorite and now finally put out of its misery defunct TV series, Smash, was that it somehow refused to be in on the joke it was perpetuating and yo-yoed on various dramatic diets instead of just indulging as the glutton that it was always meant to be, given it’s body type.

Or – as an ex once years ago commented to me about an older star who refused to embrace where he now was in life…

 When you’re dead, lie down.

(Granted, that’s a little harsh but so was the ex, which is part of the reason why I refer to him as such today).

As for excess, we’ve had plenty to choose from lately.  Yet as much as I love to indulge it seems like there should be some guidelines, or at least simple common sense do’s and don’ts.

Susan Sontag once wrote in her perhaps most famous essay, Notes On Camp,

The ultimate camp statement is: it’s good because it’s awful.”

I agree because, I mean, I know enough than to try to say Ms. Sontag is wrong about much of anything.  Though I would add an addendum to her observation: Awful is good but some things never make it to that plateau because they are just plain bad.  And bad is just bad to the bone.

As in everything, this boils down to personal taste.  And one’s lack thereof.  Now, some excesses to consider:

 Saturday Night Live

I don't know about this...

I don’t know about this…

Doing a brief parody of accused child kidnapper, rapist, young girl torturer Ariel Castro seated at their mock version of the Benghazi hearings this week – TOO SOON???  You’d think.  Yet somehow they had to sneak it into their opening skit Mother’s Day weekend.

You can’t parody a tragedy that just happened, especially when the tragedy would be in itself a parody if it weren’t so horribly sad.  It’s not camp. It’s not postmodern.  And it certainly isn’t melodramatic.  What it is, is just plain wrong.

The Chair’s Mother’s Day

I could probably work on my tablescapes...

I could probably work on my tablescapes…

I had 16 family members over and enough food for 32 (because ya never know).  My menu:  homemade turkey chili for a crowd, hot dogs, sausages (veg and real), rice, guacamole & chips, heirloom tomato salad with lettuce and celery, cheeses, grilled breads, six different kinds of fruit, and homemade chocolate cake.  People also brought: large cold shrimps on ice, bruschetta, Lawry’s spare ribs, Lawry’s yorkshire pudding, homemade quiche Loraine, homemade strawberry buttercream cake, two dozen black and white cookies, 24 home made lemon bars, larger containers of chocolate, coffee crunch and crème gelato, and flowers.  Lots and lots of flowers.  Too much?  No – we’re simply Jewish.

Time Magazine

behold-a-millennial-in-its-element

In an effort to not seem as irrelevant as it has indeed become, Time’s current cover features a young woman lounging with her Smartphone in hand and the headline:

THE ME ME ME GENERATION.  Millennials are lazy, entitled narcissists who still live with their parents.

Wow.  Just…wow.   Tabloid anyone?

Of course, there is the rejoinder underneath all that type that the editors obviously think is their get out of jail free card:  Why they’ll save us all.

This sort of reminds me of the old journalism joke that went around one of the first newsrooms I worked at.  A reporter decides to get revenge on a powerful person he doesn’t like and asks the person:  I hear you beat your wife, care to comment?  The person, let’s call him Joe Smith, replies:  “I never did such a thing.  That’s not true!”  The reporter takes notes, goes back and writes a story which reads: “Joe Smith denied beating his wife today amid accusations that he did indeed…”

Point being, you don’t get to plant an unflattering provocative photo with two thirds of an insult inserted underneath it, knowing full well that you are doing so, and then claim a mantle of respectability by adding a line at the bottom that perhaps disclaims everything you just said and did.  It’s sort of like the school bully who slams into you into the locker in junior high and then sheepishly says,  “Oh, sorry, did that hurt?  I didn’t mean it.”

No matter.  The Millenials will be laughing, texting, blogging (though not exclusively) and running the world long after Time Magazine’s print edition is gone.  Which, checking my own Smartphone, could be any minute.

Behind the Candleabra

Sparkle motion

Sparkle motion

Billed by some as the story of the tempestuous 6 year relationship between Liberace and his much younger lover Scott Thorson – played by Michael Douglas and Matt Damon respectively.  But as you watch, a question arises, among oh so many things in this HBO Film – WHY????????????????

Yes, I saw it.  It is VERY accurate to the times, especially that 1977-1983 gay old time in Los Angeles, Palm Springs and Las Vegas.  How do I know?  Because — I was there.

However, of all the involving, multi-layered, fascinating stories of that period, especially in the entertainment world and elsewhere, one can’t help with finally coming up with yet one more question — WHY????????????????

I suppose part of it is the excess of the sequins, the feathers, the bejeweled pianos and an inside seat to, yes…what’s the behind all those candlebras on Lee’s pianos.

But let’s face it – the big curiosity is:

Do Michael and Matt really….do IT?

The Answer: Yes, more than you want to see.  (And more than you want to know).

I actually saw the real Liberace (onstage, not in person) and he was not only a hoot but a helluva piano player.  And faaabulously excessive.  But only part of his life was filmed here – the very last part – and it appears to be for all the wrong reasons.  It’s old lechy, gay guy as oddity.  A perverse uh…love story?  Well, sort of.  Except the real, most interesting story was the man’s entire life and how he got that way.  Not just the creepy, lechy part Mr. Douglas and Mr. Damon (both quite good in their roles, especially Mr. Damon) will publicly blitz across cable television in two weeks for all the world to see with the help of A-list director Steven Soderbergh and A-list screenwriter Richard LaGravenese.

Watching their candleabra burn is sort of like being invited to a dinner party at Wolfgang Puck’s house and choosing only to eat the dessert.  Tasty but lots of empty calories because you didn’t indulge in the whole meal when you know you should have.

And speaking of whole meals – there is The Great Gatsby of film excess, Baz Luhrmann and his new 3-D film.  But for this I am this week only handing you over to my editor and partner in crime on notesfromachair – Holly Van Buren.  Holly will from time to time be weighing in on all things pop culture because a. she is half my age and way, way hipper than I am. b. She saw it this weekend and I didn’t and c. there will be some new and exciting additions to notesfromachair in the coming months, most notably a monthly feature I like to call:

HOLLY’S CORNER  (take it away, Holly —)

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Many thanks to the chair for letting me take a seat this week (certainly not the last of my terrible puns, be warned).  Never was there a more appropriate topic to discuss Baz Luhrmann’s most recent flick than that of excess. I, for one, agree with the Chair on the idea that excess is only good when it’s above and beyond anything you would expect… and I can’t argue that Luhrmann’s version of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s famously-read-in-high-school novel didn’t heed that call (and then add some), but like the characters ponder in the story itself re: Gatsby’s lavish, over the top affairs, “what’s it all for”?

I think I'll need that drink

I think I’ll need that drink

I decided to see the film in 3D because, frankly, I was curious. Typically I opt to see 3D films in standard 2D, partly because I wear glasses and having to wear multiple pairs of glasses at once makes me feel like a Kentucky Derby jockey, but also because I find that it completely takes me out of the story. Too much is focused on the effects, and little on the affect (trademark pending on that gem). I thought I’d give it a try on old Gatsby because at its very core it is indeed a tale of excess and I was hoping (praying) that the symbolism would quite literally jump out at me. Unfortunately, this was not the case.

Instead, I found myself watching The Great Green Screen, a tale of 1920s New York City by way of Narnia. So separated from their surroundings, the characters might as well have been on Pandora, romping around with James Cameron’s Na’vi tribe.  And yes, you could argue that the version of the 1920s created in the film is pure fantasy (complete with arguably one of the best (and anachronistic) hip hop/pop soundtracks I’ve heard in years), thus making my Avatar correlation totally legit. But lest we forget the key difference here: NYC IS A REAL PLACE! A real, breathing, heavily photographed and documented metropolis. Give me the glimmer, the glamour and the art deco to the hilt, but don’t give me some cheap green screen facsimile that injects absolutely zero atmosphere or emotional connection to the characters. If Baz wanted my head spinning after one of Gatsby’s great parties, a job well done – but unfortunately for all the wrong reasons.  If I was in the mood for a visual hangover, I’d much rather watch Don Draper drink his new turtleneck-clad business partner under the table.

Shameless Jon Hamm photo? I'll drink to that!

Shameless Jon Hamm photo? I’ll drink to that!

Excess and indulgence might seem like equal partners, but unfortunately, this film may have overdosed on both, leaving me with the same feeling as when I eat an entire sleeve of Mallomars – queasy and full of regret. Perhaps what they say is true, the novel is simply unfilmable… but let’s revisit that when the next version comes out in 2034.