Hostess with the Mostest

This year’s Oscars should be co-hosted by Wanda Sykes, Tiffany Haddish and Viola Davis. Wit, class, diversity and what the Motion Picture Academy most seems to be looking for – an expansion of its viewing audience.

That’s industry parlance for higher ratings

AKA MONEY #timetogetreal

I partly suggest this because I am so sick of men.  That’s quite a statement coming from a gay guy, but, trust me it’s true.  If I didn’t already have a husband I’d be taking a break.

After the Electoral College POTUS, Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, Kevin Spacey and Les Moonves of it all we get…Kevin Hart as THE choice to host the annual TV show that gets the biggest ratings of the year?  Well, among the biggest ratings these days because that number has rapidly been decreasing, among so many numbers for network television.

I can’t

Still, this pick (rescinded two days later) says so much about the entertainment industry – in this case quite an apt stand-in for our immediate world – and its ability to perceive what’s going on in the zeitgeist.

That’s Chair parlance for reality.

Let’s be clear – I don’t want to get rid of all men, or shall I say, all straight men.  Some of my best friends are…

We know, Chairy.

I’m only advocating we, well… try to take a look around and through, inside and out, and up and over.

Kevin Hart.  If you want the full details of his tweets, have at it here.

But here’s a quick summary.  He’s admitted to being physically violent with his wife, even spent a night in jail for it.  There was also a sex tape of him cheating on her when she was eight months pregnant but let’s put that to the side because, well, who doesn’t cheat on their pregnant wife?

The Chair bringing the shade

Mr. Hart has joked more than once that if he caught his son playing with a doll house it would mean he was gay and he’d hit him over the head with it and say, stop it, that’s gay.  In fact, that’s gay or that’s so gay seems like it was his go-to twitter insult from, ok…2007-2011.  He even made an AIDS joke about Damien Wayans back then, saying his social media pic looked like a gay billboard for AIDS.

Explaining himself in a 2015 Rolling Stone interview, Mr. Hart said he wouldn’t do those jokes anymore because, the times, when I said it, weren’t as sensitive as they are now.

Yeah, we need to talk

See…this is the crux of the problem

For some people, the times only become sensitive when they get caught or called out for their… stuff.  Or as All in the Family’s Archie Bunker once eloquently stated nationwide on CBS –TV in the early 1970s:

She (Eleanor Roosevelt) was the one who discovered the coloreds in this country.  We never knew they was there!

When you talk crap so publicly so often and gain any sort of success or profile (Note: Or even if you are unknown and just say it too loud or to the wrong person) you get held accountable for your actions these days.

On the same token, when YOU are the one to bring up what someone said and challenge them on it it’s likely you will get called out in some corners for being the PC police. That pejorative is sort of like the alt-middle version of fake news but without the knee-jerk mass revulsion now finally beginning to be associated with Trumpism.

Yet, when we face the issue, we can see how one is the outgrowth of the other.

When someone tells you — Racism, sexism, homophobia – we just weren’t aware of this stuff pre 1960’s.  It was a different time – you can answer : Yeah, you did and well, sure it was.  What was different is that people didn’t make fun en masse about your minority group because you won the genetic lottery ticket of the moment that excluded you from marginalization.  (Note: Or you were in the majority).

So, big congrats on that.

To which they might answer:

But before we complain and lament about oversensitivity and political correctness – can’t we joke about anything, anymore??? 

“Everyone is just SO sensitive” says the white men who lament a “War on Christmas” #HappyHolidays

To which you reply:  Okay, but let’s look at what’s being asked for.  All that’s being asked for is – a look.

I got called out on social media this week by one woman who wrote that as a Jewish person she’s heard many celebrities go on anti-Semitic rants, including members of the LGBTQ community and that SHE never asked that they not work.

Oh lady, I haven’t had enough coffee to deal with you

Well, no one is saying Kevin Hart should never work.  I mean, I’m not hiring him but, hey… knock yourself out, he’s a movie star…ish.  He’s just not the right host for the Oscars.  Would you want Mel Gibson hosting the Oscars, lady???

Not to mention, you HAVE to know I’m Jewish.  Who else but a Jewish gay man from New York with the insatiable need to always have the last word would ever take the time to answer you back so incessantly, Ms. Laurie Freedman Fannin?!

Oh yes, that is her real name.  Look her up on Facebook.  Especially if you agree with me.  Please.

LOL, you shady Chair, you!!

The real point is, any of the above-mentioned information about Mr. Hart, et. al was available to the Academy through a quick Google search weeks, months and years before they made that choice.  You can be edgy, more than edgy, and still proceed with due diligence and basic consideration.

This is how we get to Wanda Sykes, Tiffany Haddish and Viola Davis.

Here for this!

All women in the #MeToo era.

All people of color in a year when Black Panther and BlackkKlansman seem like sure bet nominees (and perhaps winners in multiple categories).

Wanda Sykes – One of the best standups in the country who happens to be an out lesbian, thus satisfying the mantra of trying to get a comedian host and knowing there are also multiple LGBTQ themed films that will receive nominations.

I’m on my way!

Viola Davis – A past Oscar WINNER (Fences) and multi-nominee (The Help, Doubt) who has had a hit show, How to Get Away With Murder, on ABC (the network that also broadcasts the Oscars) for the past five years.

You know Annalise would slay #nobrainer

Tiffany Haddish – A younger comic actress who WON the prestigious New York Film Critics award last year for a breakout performance (Girl’s Trip) and now STARS in her own movies. In fact, her latest is the current box-office hit, Night School, where she gets to beat the crap out of Kevin Hart!

Heck knows, I’m not that smart.  I just put in a tiny bit of thought on the matter and used The Google.

You’d think the Academy would do the same.  Or would you?

Aretha Franklin – “Respect”

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We’ve Got Mail

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

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

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

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

This is all about…..THE SCREENERS.

YASSSSSSSSS!!!

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

Who you callin’ Shallow? #OscarforBestSong #callingitnow

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

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

LONG MAY SHE REIGN!!

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

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

Hello, Gorgeous!

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

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

Oh yeah, I’m hip #sotrendy

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

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

Savoring the moment

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

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

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

Plus 2018’s Breakout Star #Awkwafina

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oscars So… Popular?

The now Oscar-winning Avengers: Infinity War was being touted as the new gold standard of how art meets commerce among many industry executives backstage..

Hangover 4 rebooted the entire franchise with its recent Oscar win and Warner Bros. is now talking multi-episode story arcs along the lines of Star Wars as Bradley Cooper circles a revamped multi-pic deal with the studio through his freshly-minted Wall Street-backed production company as director-producer-star…

Of course, THE viral moment of ANY Academy Awards ceremony occurred back in in 2019 when seven-time Oscar nominee Glenn Close, finally a winner for that year’s The Wife, was forced to pick up her trophy during a commercial break in a filmed off-camera segment and tersely growled I’m not going to be ignored! – an oft-quoted line from her box-office hit Fatal Attraction – before justifiably storming offstage and out the doors of the Dolby Theatre…

Oh yes, it can happen. And more.

Don’t toy with me, Chairy

This week the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences announced without warning to its 6000 plus membership – and us – that its Board of Governors voted for some noteworthy changes to future Oscar ceremonies that include:

1- The addition of a new Oscar for Best Popular Film.

2 – The presentation of some Oscars off-camera (who knows, it may even be backstage)…during commercial breaks…in categories to be determined

3- An earlier airdate from late February to early February.

This is certainly not an emergency situation given what is going on in the world at the moment. Still, if you’re an inveterate Oscar watcher – whether as cheerleader or snide, smack-talking comment-maker – it is one more assault on one more of the dependable and seemingly scarce growing pleasures left on the planet Earth.

but for real… when does it end?

It seems that millions and billions of dollars in profit should be enough, doesn’t it?   No. Michelin will soon be awarding 4 or 5 stars to the top McDonald’s franchise, People Magazine will no doubt be forced into doing a Sexiest Armadillo Alive issue for disenfranchised pet lovers and the Nobel Peace Prize for Best Villain Whose War Was Prevented by a Treaty of Nations could most conceivably and likely be awarded to our current sitting American president at some future date he deems to his own liking by way of Oval Office pressure privately applied.

The latter analogy is apt because changes by organizations like the Motion Picture Academy don’t just happen, even when they seem to be doing so. That’s like believing the mere election of a Person of Color as a U.S. president created the corrupt crop of American racism aka Nationalism that is sweeping the country. It pays attention only to the mere tipping point without acknowledging the tides of this nature that have been sweeping and swirling about for decades, if not centuries.

ABC-Disney broadcasts the Oscars and the show’s ratings have been steadily declining in recent years. In fact, last year they dropped a whopping 19% to an all-time low of 26.5 million viewers, marking the first time in 10 years they registered at less than 30 million.

Big Bang Theory has the highest weekly ratings on TV with approx. 18 million viewers per week. #PERSPECTIVE #embarrassmentofriches

This means that even though The Shape of Water was a genre film and more popular than the previous year’s indie best picture winner, Moonlight, it didn’t seem to matter. In fact, research over the last few decades showed the only times the ratings could be counted on to seriously tick up was when blockbuster grossing films like Avatar or Lord of the Rings were in serious contention.

Nevermind the general decrease in television ratings among younger demographics and the competition of online and streaming entertainment. Something had to be done.

The urgency of this can be certainly be attributed to commerce. Networks justifiably do not like to lose money, especially when we keep being reminded of how well the economy is doing.

But…well…there is something about these changes that smell a little to those with a sensitive sniffer – or who are just sensitive (Note: Which used to be the euphemism used for all artists, not to mention the gays and lesbians among and outside them).

See, Disney – that is half of ABC-Disney, in case this is becoming too complicated – is also the distributor and defacto partial financier of all Marvel Films. That’s pretty much the majority of all the Oscar overlooked superhero hopefuls.

So yeah.. basically this.

It’s also the distributor and defacto partial financier of all Pixar Films. That’s pretty much the majority of all of the Oscar overlooked animated films before the installation of the best animated Oscar category in 2002.

Not to mention, it also distributes and serves as the defacto partial financier of all the Star Wars/Lucasfilm movies.

These are all very POPULAR FILMS. In fact, consistently among the MOST POPULAR. Though certainly they are not among the biggest Oscar winners. And often they are…gasp…not even in contention.

Well… except for Best Visual Effects

As a person with year-round season allergies, even I CAN SMELL something rotten here in Hollywood beyond the phony Donald J. Trump Walk of Fame stars some right wing conservative group pasted directly onto the streets last week.

BARF

We seem to be living in a world where money is not enough and massive amounts of fame proves to be inadequate for the insatiable. The next bastion seems to be legitimacy in the form of some type of higher class of award or recognition usually reserved for the artistic and/or intellectual.

Next, we resurrect Edward G. Robinson to give away the award for best false idol

Of course it’s impossible to argue at this point that all Oscars are consistently high class, intellectual or even the most artistic. Yet if over the years you compare the winners to the Golden Globes, People’s Choice and MTV…well, our standards are our standards.

Yet somewhere it has now been decided that the producer/director of a short film or documentary who did something brilliant and/or original (and is likely maxed out on their credit cards) doesn’t deserve that kind of international attention for artistic achievement, especially if it can be given to someone the world is already familiar with.

Sort of like an American president pushing the president of a tiny country – say, Montenegro – out of the way in order to get one more photo op to add to the many millions accrued previously or to be added in the future.

There is no known cure

Never mind the fact that all outstanding leaders in their fields deserve some attention, even those of more modest means, in those rare moments when the spotlight happens to turn on them.

The more categories included, i.e. the more awards given, the more diluted and less prestigious any honor will become. This is one reason why the Oscars has managed to maintain whatever star quality and specialness it has left – it limited itself to 24 categories, eliminating some others while adding a few more over time.

Then, some years ago, when ego and commerce and the omission of a best picture nominee like Dark Knight dictated – rules were changed to include up to TEN best picture nominees – with hope for some more superhero or at least commercial inclusion, if not winners.

because all movies are the same…. right?

When that didn’t work…well…now there’s the popular film – dragging along all the other Oscars along with it so they can be awarded TWO OR THREE WEEKS earlier in hopes they can at least capitalize on some additional amorphous awards buzz along with everyone else. Forgetting entirely that sometimes you want to stand out from a group instead of delivering a cheap imitation of what everyone else has already grown so used to.

This kind of strategy slowly makes irrelevant not only a date of broadcast but the very awards themselves.   Much like a bad leader can do to any organization, corporate leader or country.

Wicked Cast – “Popular”

 

Living in an ADD World

Do you find your mind shifting from topic to topic these days?  Do you interrupt people far too often? Perhaps you’re jittery, nervous, impulsive, argumentative or – all of the above?

A qualified medical professional or experienced lay person could quickly diagnosis you with A.D.H.D. – Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder – a condition that affects at least 8 million adults in the U.S. and approximately double that or more in children.

I know that because I am one of those adults and, though undiagnosed at the time, was one of those children.

I told you I was busy!

Relax, it’s not such a terrible condition. Medication can change your life. Simple organizational exercises and psychological coping mechanisms allow you to be highly functional and quite effective at any task at hand.   And even untreated, the condition can come with the ability to hyperfocus – which in my case meant the inordinately handy superpower of waiting until the last minute to complete absolutely everything (Note: And humblebrag, often to great results) for the entire first half of my life.

Still, if you’re just discovering all this in 2018, I’m sorry to say the overwhelming chances are YOU DO NOT HAVE ADHD.  

C’mon chairy!

Much as I’d like to welcome you into the club, I can’t.

Because what I believe, more than anything else, is that:

You simply have…HAD IT.

I can’t with all this, and neither can you. Who can? No one – not and remain fully functional and optimally effective.

YES TIM

And don’t tell me to turn off the news. What if this is 1936 Germany? (Note: If???). Would it be prudent to turn off the news? I just hate people whose diagnosis is to turn off the news. So don’t be one of those people.

Or, as Big Edie lectured to Little Edie in the brilliant musical Grey Gardens:

When are you gonna learn, Edie? You ‘re in this world, you know. You’re not out of this world.

Musical theatre aside, see if anything about this is familiar:

I started one morning this week walking my dog and reading, on my phone, a Business Insider story someone posted on the 90 Best picture Oscar movies ranked by top critics. Yeah, I was hoping to find Forrest Gump at #90 too but it was #84, which wasn’t too disappointing.

But then you have to live with things like All Quiet On The Western Front at #4 and Lost Weekend at #3? Have you ever suffered through either of them? Good, because before you do you’ll also want to know The French Connection is #10 while Midnight Cowboy is #54 and The Sound of Music is #64.

Nope. Don’t ask. NOT GOING THERE.

So f-ck this list.

Or any list because then I’m reading the actual paper (Note: Yeah, I do that sometimes) and see that Trump is saying his approval numbers are up to 50% in one poll and that they are higher than Pres. Obama’s at the time. And they’re particularly up among African Americans, which he attributes to Kanye West’s big fat virtual bear hug this week.

Well, it turns out Trump’s sort of right, but partly because it’s the Rasmussen poll, which always leans far right, but primarily because he has not taken an average of all polls across the board – which have him trailing Obama. Still, it’s in the ballpark and now I’ve spent too much time aggravating myself. But, well, at least I’m informed. Right?

Oh AMEN… on loop… forever #oruntil2020

Which leads me to seek some entertainment and I watch the work of two of my former students on DVR who write for the new Zack Braff sitcom Alex, Inc., which turns out to be a perfectly charming diversion from anything in my life. Except that it’s on ABC and one of the episodes I watch directly follows the dreaded, phony star of the people herself, Roseanne – a show and person I have vociferously boycotted because in 2018 I know there is nothing real or funny about her except her uncanny ability to get attention for herself under the guise of some fictional high ground (Note: Who does that sound like?).

Nevertheless, because I want to be loyal to my students I had set the DVR a few minutes early for Alex, Inc. so as not to miss a second of their show and instead am now stuck with the sickening spectacle of the new/old Roseanne sitting at her kitchen table, pretending she is a member of the white working class. Who, it seems, in real life, actually voted in the majority for Hillary Clinton and NOT for Trump. Yeah, that’s right.  Read this and think #NotFakeNews:

We’re talking nonfiction here people

At which point I later I see on Twitter that Stormy Daniels – my new hero because who doesn’t like a pissed off porn star with a real sense of humor who has an attorney smarter and way better looking than the president – dogging Roseanne. Which, okay, I cop to LOVING but not when I realize it’s only because Roseanne first dogged Stormy by categorizing her this way in a far larger fonted tweet:

To which Stormy responds:

To which I tweet back to both of them, and to Patricia Arquette, who was also somehow in the argument to begin with, don’t ask me to explain how:

And you think I should turn off the news? Or take my meds? #NotAChance.

delicious

Because then I would’ve missed Trump lying to a misguided (by him) crowd in Cleveland about bringing back jobs en masse to the Midwest that will never return, which allowed me to then laugh totally without guilt at Seth Meyers that night when Kathy Griffin referred to his First Sons as Date Rape and Eddie Munster.

Sure, I know it’s not right but I’m not perfect and when you’re desperate enough you will laugh at and/or vote for almost anything – as that rally in Cleveland so aptly demonstrated.

Still, this leaves me totally disarmed when Friday night I catch up with David Letterman’s new Netflix show, My Next Guest, where he interviewed Tina Fey and she actually apologizes for the last line in her brilliant SNL sheetcaking segment from last year that was in response the alt-right/Nazi /White Supremacist protestors of mostly young men marching in Charlottesville, VA where an innocent young woman was murdered (and many others injured) when one of their brood decided to drive a sports car into the crowd.

No regrets Tina

That was the line where Tina urged us NOT to show up to protest the Nazi brood there or in any other city but instead do precisely what these “chinless turds” don’t want us to – act like it’s the opening of a thoughtful movie with two female leads, don’t show up.

But because of all the blowback she got at the implication of silence as a strategy to resist Nazis she said she wishes she had a time machine to go back and change that line to something more like: fight them in every way except the way that they want.

Which then led me to ponder – do I now tweet Tina and tell her that despite the social media kerfuffle she needn’t rethink one line of her brilliant piece because these days there is no politically correct way to #Resist that will please everyone?

The fact that Tina wrote this line (from Mean Girls) is not lost on me

And thank God, or whoever you believe Her to be, for that because the next great moment of Resistance in my mind is scheduled for this summer in England. Trump is planning a state visit there July 15 and a crowd of 1000 drag queens (and growing) has already signed up to meet him at the airport in a massive demonstration. There is even a Facebook page for the event that states: Due to the appalling way the Trump administration has regarded the rights and welfare of LGBTQI communities of the US, the idea of a Trump visit to the UK is unacceptable.

CALL BACK TO RU 

Still even better is this further explanation by one of the organizers, Cheddar Gorgeous, stating that the strategy is really to be:

In solidarity with many other groups who feel marginalized along lines of race, class and gender.

Which finally leads me to accept this one simple fact –

Any world where someone named Cheddar Gorgeous can lead a massive anti-Trump rally in a country with one of the largest economies in the world (UK is #6, right behind….California…HQ of the #Resistance – ok, not a country but a state…of mind) — is not one where you to turn off the news – or to anything else – any time soon.

Meds or no meds.

Diana Ross – “I’m Coming Out”

The Foreman

The death of director extraordinaire Milos Forman this week makes one remember a time when movies were movies.

What do we mean by that?

Well, quite simply, he didn’t have a genre. He wasn’t an actor’s director. And his films weren’t all about how they looked, or how they were edited or how they sounded.

He didn’t really have a STYLE.

His movies were not all about the MESSAGE they sent.

Once upon a time, in a world that grows farther and farther away, movies were simply stories. About people. Who wanted something that was difficult or near impossible to get.

Tell em Norma!

They had real and imagined obstacles to get these things and whether they did or did not get them it was usually, at the end of the day, only about a handful of simple things: love, family, justice, or simply finding a place to belong where they could feel less alone.

This is generally why we tell stories. Yes, to be heard. But mostly, to feel less alone.

Oh you know.. just these little known films

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)

Hair (1979)

Ragtime (1981)

Amadeus (1984)

Valmont (1989)

The People vs Larry Flynt (1996)

Man on the Moon (1999)

Every one of them was about a recognizable person living on this planet. NONE of them had superpowers or were set safely in a dystopian future or reimagined past.

This is not a knock to sci-fi or action or horror or even the Marvel Universe. They can make for great stories on both the big and small screen. Heck, they’re even the setting for some cool books. Anyone remember those?

Allow me to get out my sweater…

These days we have a ton of imagined worlds and past, future and parallel-present imposing end-of-the-universe experiences. There is no lack of people who have cyborg-ish limbs which can throw an object the size of, say, the Empire State Building, from one coast to the other. Or perhaps even THE Empire State Building.

What we don’t have anymore are future movies from filmmakers like Milos Forman and very many film studios or large production companies willing to finance them.

Every detail indeed

One can argue every film creates its own pushed reality and exists in an alternate universe with larger than life characters not entirely of this world. Certainly Mr. Forman’s movies did just that.

I remember very distinctly seeing Hair at the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood and being transported into a 1960s universe in Central Park exactly how I wished it could be – but probably never was – with the help of sound, editing and great music that enabled a group of joyous actors to simply do their thing.

Sing it with me now…. AGE OF AQUAAAAARIUS

Or the anger and rage at the government that The People vs Larry Flynt gave voice to at what still felt like for me to be the height of the AIDS crisis.

Not to mention the comic hysteria and sheer tribute to artistic will expressed in Man on the Moon that somehow became oddly healing to a generation of us moviegoers still idealistic enough to believe somewhere deep down that iconoclastic comedian Andy Kaufman had not really died of cancer at the age of 35.

Or how the behaviors of all the supposedly insane characters in One Flew Cuckoo’s Nest exactly mirrored what all of the rest of us normal people on the outside saw or even exhibited on any given day in the 1970s.

Me then, and let’s be honest, me now

And, finally — the way the same group of petty, racist and haughty rich, straight white people manage to show up generation after generation, in decade after decade in various modes of dress illustrated in films like Amadeus, Ragtime and Valmont – films that managed to give many of us OTHERS hope because they showed us categorically that the Haughties will always be defeated either by themselves or some other group of more thoughtful and ingenious OTHERS. People who were, more or less, just like us.

Mr. Forman made just seven major studio movies in over 24 years where he managed to win two best director Oscars for himself, another two best picture Oscars for his producers and countless other nominations in pretty much every other category of excellence offered by the Academy and elsewhere all over the world.

Thanks Milos

These films also generated enough revenue, attention and critical acclaim for him to be given subsequent chance after chance (nee $$$) by the powers-that-be to produce the kind of work that would change the lives of several generations of filmgoers, many of them aspiring artists themselves who would go on to inspire still others, in the process. (Note: And if you think those facts are being overstated, just read the endless tributes on Twitter).

Point being, this was all done without EVER having to leave the planet, imagining a dystopic and/or end of the world scenario, inventing a superpower or coming up with a single tacky line, scene or sequence offensive enough to alienate any one marginalized group of people.

Some might say, Well, everything was different back then.

To which we all might consider the one question that all of Mr. Forman’s films did manage to ask – and answer:

Were they, really?

Randy Newman, “Theme from Ragtime”

And the Winner Isn’t…

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Much will be made about the 2017 Academy Awards broadcast where La La Land enjoyed a full two minutes as best picture only to have its Oscars literally yanked out of its producers hands so they could be given to the real winner, Moonlight.

But for all the wrong reasons.

LALALAND.... MOONLIGHT... LALALAND... MOONLIGHT #couldntresist

LALALAND…. MOONLIGHT… LALALAND… MOONLIGHT #couldntresist

The issue is not at all about whether La La Land or Moonlight was truly deserving of the ultimate Hollywood honor (Note: Other than box-office grosses, that is) but just how interested all of us spectators are in having our feelings publicly validated in the matter. And how little it all means in the long run.

Is there a best picture of 2016? Of course there is. Isn’t. Is there?

As I posted last night:

If only every one of my actions supported that statement 100% of the time.

I certainly BELIEVE there is no real best picture winner. But that still hasn’t prevented me from rooting for one every year since 1968 – when Oliver! snatched the trophy right out of the hands of my beloved Funny Girl.   But at least the playing field was a bit more leveled back then. They were BOTH musicals.

Truth be told, I did think Moonlight and La La Land were wonderful.

And…I was on team La La Land.

Ya don't say!! #fakeshock

Ya don’t say!! #fakeshock

La La Land moved me in a way no other movie did this year. I related to it. I thought it struck an extraordinarily tone between the real and surreal that seemed, while I was watching it, and even now on reflection, pretty much impossible to achieve. It also spoke to me about artistry, and love, and the price we pay for each with our fantasies. And in our real lives.

Moonlight also spoke to me, especially as a gay man of a certain age. As did Hidden Figures – a treasure of mainstream Hollywood movie making – by showcasing true historical injustice as only great Hollywood films can.

Three VERY different films

Three VERY different films

But neither in the same way as La La Land.

This does not make me right or wrong on the subject of what is the best picture of the year. Nor does it belie character defects of anti-intellectualism, superficiality or an anti-indie, anti-IMPORTANT motion picture belief system.

It just means I liked the damn film more than perhaps you did.

And as time went on I grew SO tired of defending it to those of you on the other TEAM that I began to love it even more — as I slowly and perhaps unknowingly even began to figure out ways to out-argue the rest of the world about why YOUR CHOICE didn’t deserve the BEST trophy over MY DATE.

Did someone say date? #heygurl

Did someone say date? #heygurl

I mean, who even knew I was playing that game. Did you know you were? Okay, maybe you weren’t. But some of you were (are?). Because I know I am not the only one of us Americans weighing in here.

It’s really such an American game, the Oscars. We just love our winners and losers. And this was well before our current technical POTUS.   There’s just something about being #1 that is so totally Us. Until it’s not.

And that is what the Sunday night’s big Oscar screw-up leaves Us with. The hollowness of being thought of as #1 instead of settling for living a life where you truly exude classic #1 behavior.

I am still trying to wrap my head around having this much composure and grace in the moment. #realclass

I am still trying to wrap my head around having this much composure and grace in the moment. #realclass

The producer of La La Land had it when he graciously proclaimed Moonlight the true winner and said he was proud to be able to hand his Oscar over to his “friends” (Note: That four-month awards circuit creates lots of lasting Hollywood friendships). Team Moonlight had it in countless post-Oscar interviews where it threw the respect right back at La La Land. Meryl Streep had it when she led the applause for best actress winner Emma Stone. And Matt Damon has it every time he allowed Jimmy Kimmel to mercilessly and very personally insult him and his past work in their many years long public faux feud.

Let's be real: you would totally watch We Bought a Zoo on a plane #andyoudlikeit

Let’s be real: you would totally watch We Bought a Zoo on a plane #andyoudlikeit

Well, what does it cost them when they are the beneficiaries of such good press for being such good sports, you might say. Well, as much as it costs us when we don’t get our due, our validation, when it comes to our tastes, opinions or choice of award winners.   We, who are really all just a bunch of onlookers, sitting on a really, really, really long bench of public opinion rabidly addressing our…prey.

Sure, this is a thin and perhaps too superficial argument from which to make a grand statement on tolerance and understanding and benevolence, especially since statistically speaking there is little to none of any of that in the entertainment industry to begin with. Though no more or less than there now is through the rest of the country, or the world, or in any other industry inhabited inside any of the aforementioned for that matter.

And when in doubt... LaLaLand comes out on DVD in May

And when in doubt… LaLaLand comes out on DVD in May

What #OscarsSoScrewedUp (#OscarSoWhoops?) showed us so beautifully and so specifically is that, in the end, perhaps the BEST use of our time is to save our energies for the upcoming battles that will be required fighting – and not from the bench but in the arena.

And…..for all of you haters to watch La La Land.

Again and again till you get it right.

Oh wait, I mean…MOONLIGHT. Watch Moonlight!

The Crowning Achievement

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The major strength of Netflix’s acclaimed series The Crown is that finally and once and for all an outsider (Note: Me) understands the pros and cons behind the idea of a King or Queen.

That is not to say that one (Note: Me) likes or accepts the idea of a hierarchy of humanity – i.e. a whole country required to bow and curtsy to another citizen wearing a crown – but at least the tradition and the people wearing the hardware are both clear and recognizable as something approaching human.

Heavy is the head, they say #werkitgurl

Heavy is the head, they say #werkitgurl

I’m not much for bowing down to idols – true, false or otherwise – but in one brief scene in its season one 10-episode arc, The Crown is succinct on this one heretofore elusive point:

The monarchy represents something Divine that can serve as a sort of model for what mankind can aspire to. (Note: One assumes that includes lowly females).

So despite the fact that the actual monarch, be it female or male, is indeed human, once he/she is anointed with oil by a leading British religious figure, he/she also all at once (and forever) becomes Divine He/She and therefore worthy of genuflection and ring kissing by everyone in It’s orbit.

Or so the thought processes go.

Not to mention, and to its further credit, this fine series also shows that a Queen (The British kind, that is) doesn’t necessarily want or is even qualified to be a Deity and that more than a few in the inner circle have their own worries that this vast spectacle is indeed nothing more than their own high-priced version of The Emperor’s New Clothes.  

... which most certainly includes The Crown's Miss Shade, Princess Margaret

… which most certainly includes The Crown’s Miss Shade, Princess Margaret

Moreover, it ultimately and finally posits (and this is the what really brings it all home), that despite all of the doubts and handwringing about it, the vast majority of its SUBJECTS are indeed on some level TRUE BELIEVERS in it all and will actually VOLUNTARILY indulge en masse in the tradition of genuflection to this Chosen Human Deity.

This thus reinforces the point of the monarchy to whatever doubting royals there may be and, judging by the continued fascination with them across the globe, proves an even larger point about societies in general:

The PEOPLE indeed do WANT and NEED a HIGHER IDEAL in which to BELIEVE IN and strive towards.

We Americans, of course, have no such thing as a national royalty and if we did it certainly wouldn’t be in Washington, D.C. – at least at the moment.   Except, of course, for one thing —

THE OSCARS.

Behold... our golden god!

Behold… our golden god!

Yes, I know this is a long way to go for an analogy and moan and groan at HOLLYWOOD all you like – led by PRETEND POTUS DJT (aka The Non-Deity who lost the Popular vote by 2.86 million). But let’s be honest:

The vast majority of the TV watchers here and worldwide WILL tune in to the television coronation of Oscar. And even if they don’t and/or claim not to – see what happens when the BIGGEST MOVIE STAR IN THE WORLD walks into a room, a bar, a party, a restaurant or a hardware store in your neighborhood in your presence.   You will see the closest thing approaching GENUFLECTION you will EVER, EVER WITNESS IN YOUR LIFETIME ON AMERICAN SOIL.

Bow down to our undisputed QUEEN

Bow down to our undisputed QUEEN

(Note: If this hasn’t happened to you yet or you think it never will take my word for it. I have witnessed it in more than several cities big and small across the country over several decades in my lifetime and it is ALWAYS the same unmistakably American version of a mass CURTSY and BOW).

(Note 2: And please don’t write in and say what about The Pope? America is a secular country (so far) and He (It?) doesn’t count).

This is not a defense of the Oscars because that would be a defense of an indefensible DEITY. It is just an effort on the part of a lover of this year’s favorite for best picture, La La Land, to get the movie fans and pop culture lovers and prognosticators worldwide to calm the f-k down and, as the young people say (right?), get out of my grill.

I say believe the hype

I say believe the hype

Those of us who adore this movie for its reinforcement of hope and belief in the creative dream and Hollywood-ized version of love and romance, are not the intellectual equivalent of “Make America Great Again” as one essayist whose name I won’t mention recently pondered. Nor do we have crappy taste in films or suffer from too much white privilege (though which White person among us White people doesn’t?). In fact, we simply were transported by something we’ve never quite seen before on the Big Screen and want to sing its praises and share it with you.

Which brings me to another chief complaint about the movie – Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are not… Hugh Jackman and Barbra Streisand? Beyonce and Jay-Z?   Adele and Sam Smith? (You sooo don’t want that even though you think you do). Jennifer Hudson and Pharrell?

... or original casting choices Emma Watson and Miles Teller. #HermoinegetsWhiplash

… or original casting choices Emma Watson and Miles Teller #HermoinegetsWhiplash

Listen up. It’s not always about the notes you can hit and how well you can sing – especially in a movie musical where performance is everything. It’s about telling the story, the emotion, the passion, the joy and the sadness.   And consider that after five decades of concert tours, Bob Dylan still can’t sing a lick. No, honestly. Can he really “sing” – as you crave? Yet he’s captivating. As are many singer-songwriter-actors. Rappers don’t sing the way Sinatra did. Which is fine. Aretha Franklin is still the Queen of Soul and the late Karen Carpenter will always have perfect pitch. That’s a whole other subject and has nothing to do with carrying the story of a movie with your performance in a slightly imperfect yet surreal world.

Which brings us to what looks to be the three-way race for best picture between La La Land, Moonlight and Hidden Figures.

Ready to place your bets?

Ready to place your bets?

They’re all wonderful films in their own way and yeah, perhaps you don’t agree that La La Land has the inside shot at being this year’s DEITY. But that doesn’t lessen the impact of the story and its filmic luster for many or change the fact that in the system you are choosing to participate in there can only be one QUEEN. (Note: Ahem).

So instead take a broader cosmic view of the whole process. Think of them each as planets. La La Land is Earth, Hidden Figures is Saturn and Moonlight is Pluto.

Although gravity works a little bit differently in La La Land

Although gravity works a little bit differently in La La Land

Pluto is the furthest away from mass reality and therefore probably won’t win. Hidden Figures is certainly the most enjoyable to look at and understand from an en masse point of view.   But La La Land is not only surreal and visually interesting – it has managed to capture something else in the minds of many – a kind of magic that feels like home to the majority. It doesn’t mean we’re right and you’re wrong. That we worship The Deity and you are heathens.

NOR, does it mean the reverse.

We’re talking movies and planets – each floating in their own solar systems. I mean, can you compare Uranus with Venus? Or would you be too embarrassed to even try? Well, if you wouldn’t be, you should be.

Crown or not, in the end we’re all the King and Queen of our Own Existence and the stars of our Own Movies.

The point is not to be swayed by someone else’s version of royalty. And to never genuflect

To anyone.