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!

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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.

Billionaire Boys’ Club

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I heard a troubling statistic this week – 80 billionaires own HALF the wealth in the WORLD. You read that correctly. There are eighty people on the planet as wealthy as 3.6 BILLION of the poorest people. Not to mention, of those, 50% live in the United States. And you thought we were a country in decline?

Please.

Of course, if you’re female the news is not good.   Of those fortunate 80, only 8% are women.   Surprisingly, it’s not much better for young people since 68 of the 80 are over 50.

So if you reject the cliché of rich white men essentially owning the rest of us, well, you can’t argue with facts. This is NOT a debate on global warming.

The struggle is real

The struggle is real

You might be comforted to know the cut off point to make the Elite Eighty is a net worth of $13 billion. Though that means Oprah’s $4 billion plus doesn’t put her even near the top 200. Somehow it only seems fitting that she be there as OUR rep. But what’s fitting, or even seems so, is not reality. That much most of us 21 and over already know.

There is one piece of good news in all of this – not even The Republican Apprentice makes the team. I don’t know about you but I find some comfort in finding he’s not winning at everything – that is if you don’t count decency.

Here’s his latest invective from the campaign trail in Sioux City, Iowa this weekend:

I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and wouldn’t lose any votes. It’s incredible.

See, even he can barely believe it.

LOL... he says

LOL… he says

Do I have to write the words Donald Trump? I suppose so since my prediction at a dinner party two months ago that he was the likely Republican presidential nominee this year seems to be coming true. I couldn’t foretell more than 33% of the Golden Globe winners two weeks ago yet with this I appear to be right on target. Well one can only hope history holds true and I don’t know a whole lot about what any of our futures hold, most particularly yours.

Perhaps it’s all my years working in and around the entertainment industry, but I for one have no desire or belief that a famous rich person would or even could rescue me. Too many deals fall apart; it’s easy to make promises when you’re at the top of the heap you don’t necessarily plan to, or might not even be able to, keep.

Since to get there you usually have to have enough smarts to possess a large personal wealth and career cushion, not to mention several other types of back up plans, you never really have much of your own skin in the game. Intentions are good, or not, but they seldom ever put this group in any real danger of falling in with the rest of the herd that we comprise. Yeah, you heard me. That would be us. Mooooo….

Truth bombs

Truth bombs

Therefore, it’s quite perplexing to me to see the world reaching out to today’s uber wealthy in order to lead. Putting Lord Trumpness aside, the latest news is that another mega billionaire – former three term N.Y. Mayor Michael Bloomberg – has enlisted a team to research the viability of his own independent run for the presidency. Bloomberg’s net worth is said to be $37.2 billion, which would easily put him in the top twenty of the Elite Eighty. Though for some reason he seems to be absent from the current 2015 list. Debate on that all you want but what is undebatable is he could still easily buy and sell The Ass-holian Apprentice several times over.

Oh Chairy, don't make me laugh!

Oh Chairy, don’t make me laugh!

Does this then mean it’s us against them and our only hope is the polar (Note: That’s not a blizzard joke) opposite of a 73 year-old socialist senator from Vermont – the state with the least amount of people in the country next to Wyoming? Well, Bernie Sanders’ net worth is under $1 million so that doesn’t seem likely. Pres. Obama, a senator and best selling author, was already worth at least triple that when he was elected to the presidency more than 7 years ago.

Hillary Clinton, whose net worth is at least $31 million seems more in line with populist sentiment at the moment – and not only because she’s married to a former president who on his own is worth more than $80 million, not counting his political skills. Yet despite an initial excitement that we could finally elect our first female chief executive in U.S. history and an initial groundswell of excitement and support – the enthusiasm level for her seems to be faltering. I guess it’s no longer enough to elect someone from a minority group in the country. Oh right, females actually are the MAJORITY of voters. Perhaps, that’s it. We really do hate ourselves.

Words fail me

Words fail me

Which brings us back to the wealthy, white male elite. What better personification can there be that we’d all relate to than the virulent #OscarsSoWhite uproar over the lack of diversity among this year’s nominees? Forget that the real fight is a much larger, ongoing battle of equal opportunity in the film business. How dare those guys not nominate Will Smith for Concussion and Spike Lee for…Chi-Raq? We’ve now got Will, Jada and Spike sitting it out this year, despite Chris Rock hosting and even though the Academy has nominated Spike and Will several times in the past, awarded Spike an honorary award this year for his many contributions to the industry and currently has a Black woman serving as its president.

Not that any of the above means a damn thing when it comes to diversity. Though, nor do the Oscar nominations. They’re hardly ever fair as a barometer for anyone or anything. I mean, I for one am glad I’m not 9 year old Jacob Tremblay’s father right now or little Jacob myself. I’m not sure I could ever imagine topping that bravura performance in Room even if I lived to be Gloria Stuart’s age. Which is fast approaching.

Just kidding... this is so me!

Just kidding… this is so me!

Nevertheless, pseudo liberal bastion that it is – the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, quickly announced this week it would be modifying its nominating process to disqualify some members from voting for future Oscars if they don’t have credits within the last 10 years. Plus, it is doing a massive campaign to recruit (and presumably admit, since it’s tough for anyone to get in these days), more non-white members.

Well, I’m not sure if this is entirely right or wrong but if it gets rid of a few of the macho homophobes who refused to award Brokeback Mountain Best Picture back in 2005 and instead chose the more bland and mainstream Crash – it’s all right with me. Though for sure, I’d trade it all for clean water in Flint, Michigan.

Great, now my head is now pounding with confusion about equal opportunity, wealth and fairness. Still, if anyone thinks of themselves as somehow lesser-than for not being at least a millionaire several times over at this point in their lives –here’s one last fact:

Sarah Palin’s net worth is estimated at $12 million.

I know

I know

Clearly, you don’t have to be a guy or particularly smart, seemingly sober or, well, even vaguely rational, to lead. Okay, you often do need to be white but relax –the Motion Picture Academy has picked up the mantle from Pres. Obama and is already working on that. Please don’t set us all back and, like a 1950s Disney princess, hope some wealthy white guy from the ruling class will rescue you. Movie endings don’t usually happen in real life. It’s a fantasy business.

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Oscars So…

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There was a time not so long ago when journalists got up at the crack of dawn to go to the Motion Picture Academy where, at its Samuel Goldwyn movie theatre on Wilshire Blvd., if you were one of them, you’d be among the first non-Academy associated humans to get a white typewritten paper list of Oscar nominees that you’d either phone into your publication or rush back to the office to write about for tomorrow’s edition. There wasn’t a lot for TV reporters to film, except perhaps a bunch of p.r. representatives lingering from the side aisles waiting to pounce on anyone within earshot in all sorts of nefarious ways.

Oh, maybe there was also the dull Academy president announcing the major nominees in front of a red velvet curtain and a larger than life backdrop of a fake Oscar but I wouldn’t swear to it. What I do remember is when I first got here and started covering it, even the presidents lingered, and often nefariously. In Hollywood, everyone lingers – sometimes nefariously and sometimes not – but almost always for too long. It’s one of the many pitfalls of the business.

Anyway, back to the bygone era of the very early eighties that I refer to. It was a time very early in my career when I was an actual show business journalist. Clearly, I’m not as good as I thought because I can’t remember if there was even an actor standing next to the Academy president announcing said nominees or if the prez even or always read them.

Ok.. I'm not THAT old.

Ok.. I’m not THAT old.

What I do remember is that I was very young and very excited to be there. Though more exciting than that was the list the Academy compiled for you stapled to the back pages of the nominees. It totaled up the list of nominees by studio, individual credits and according to how many times, if any, the person(s) had been nominated and/or won before. Why was that exciting? Because there was a time not so long before that when not even this detailed list was provided and a reporter had to navigate the perilous waters of going back to the office and inevitably getting some minute detail of the past or present wrong.

What do you mean fill in name of current nominee never got nominated? How dare you forget that short film they produced when they were 32 that no one ever heard of! I will never read you again! Or –

We fill in name of studio got six nominations this year and not seven – clearly you’re in the tank for fill in name of chief competing studio. We’re pulling all of our ads! Though my favorite was –

You know, fill in name of nominee was NOT the youngest (or oldest) nominee for best sound. In 1938, fill in name of nominee was co-nominated for best documentary and they were 22 (102). That’s a full eight months younger! How dare you! Don’t you know ANYTHING????

Amen, Lady Mary.

Amen, Lady Mary.

Ahh, how times have changed. Or have they?

There will inevitably always be something to complain about when award nominees and recipients are concerned. Especially with the granddaddy (mommy?) of all – the Academy Awards. It’s not that this year’s Oscars are not so white. It’s that, well, they are never fair. Or even-handed. Or even…much of anything except iconic.

Ok... when you see this it does seem pretty white, but I digress

Ok… when you see this it does seem pretty white, but I digress

What you discover as you get older is that this is the case for far too many or our icons. Oh, don’t go thinking I’m on a downer and you don’t want me passing it over to you. Nothing iconic is quite what it seems to be. The Statue of Liberty is older than it looks up close, the Mona Lisa is smaller and most Las Vegas curtains are tacky and made of Mylar. Not to mention…well, you get the picture.

This is not to make excuses for the silly omissions on this year’s list or to say that this and many other show business, in fact all business, organizations, need to be more inclusive – nee color blind, gender blind, age blind and…well, you get the picture. Again. Of course, they do.

But accepting all this to be true or not true and simply dealing with the facts, explain on a macro level:

  1. How can The Martian land seven nominations including best picture, actor and screenplay, and yet its director Ridley Scott is completely ignored?
  2. How is it that Carol gets six nominations, including, best actress, supporting actress and screenplay, and for best picture it receives nary a mention?
  3. How can I, as a lover of all kinds of movies, watch both of the above films and not understand why they were nominated for much of anything because both generally bored the hell out of me???

Therein lies your answer.

#noshame

#noshame

This is all a strange conglomeration of opinion, circumstance, institutional prejudice and chance. And, as Oscar-winning screenwriter William Goldman so famously posited many decades ago in his seminal book Adventures in the Screen Trade, when it comes to the motion picture field: NOBODY KNOWS ANYTHING.

And yet…we all want a piece of the pie, don’t we? We all want to be recognized, and counted, or at the very least, to feel included.

I’ve often read the not so subtle putdowns of the millennial generation and how they need an award for everything. Often this is attributed to mis-parenting and a vaguely sort of overly permissive, socially liberal baby boomer culture.

I bet that cake was delicious

I bet that cake was delicious

Well, perhaps. But I don’t think so. Like all the rest of us, they just want to feel included in the inside game and valued in some way.

Awards and nominations are one way to feel this. But there are others. Lots of them.

Which is not to say I won’t be watching, dishing and live tweeting the Oscars when they air, Sunday. Feb. 28 right here at notesfromthechair.com.

And give up show business?? Oh, I don’ t think so.

Last Chance Oscar Cheat Sheet

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Let us start by invoking the much-too invoked yet always timely and pertinent William Goldman quote about Hollywood:

NOBODY KNOWS ANYTHING

When it comes to predicting the Oscar winners this is the #1 rule.

However, this will not stop us or anyone else who cares even a little about show business and pop culture for indulging in one of our most beloved annual American pastimes. Even those who admit to not knowing anything about who might take home the Academy gold in a given year will likely wind up at a party or pass through a store where the prize for predicting the most Oscar winners or even the winner of a single close race is too good to pass up

So for all of you – and them – and because I’ve been doing this on my own and publicly for at least three decades and have never, not once, managed to sweep the entire board – here are:

I'd like to thank... myself

I’d like to thank… myself

THE CHAIR’S OSCAR PICKS

But wait –

Before we start, I’m going to suggest a few Oscar drinking games to pass the time in what I predict will be AT LEAST a three and a half hour show – more likely three hours and 43 minutes, if I were a predicting man. (Note: If?)

For those who love to drink: Take a belt every time The Interview, Seth Rogen, James Franco and Sony Pictures are mentioned. If you do, it is doubtful you will be awake or even alive by the end of the show. But neither will most of the rest of us so never fear.

For those who very much enjoy/like drinking socially: Throw one back each time anyone even alludes to hacking, hacking into emails, people in the movie business talking behind each other’s backs or Sony Pictures, Amy Pascal or Scott Rudin. (Note: Not knowing who Amy Pascal and Scott Rudin are should cause no embarrassment. Most of the world doesn’t either.  Not really)

Let's hope the jokes tonight are funnier than the movie #aimhigh

Let’s hope the jokes tonight are funnier than the movie #aimhigh

For moderate drinkers who still like a taste: Top off your glass each time Clint Eastwood’s age, Hollywood’s lack of patriotism or playing fast and loose with the facts of a movie subject like American Sniper’s Chris Kyle comes up for discussion. Do NOT drink if it’s a mere mention of American Sniper in passing because this will happen quite a bit during the show given its six nominations. Though it will win 0.0 in all of its major categories. #Predictionsspoiler

For only special event drinkers: Grab a glassful of something whenever a Rudy Giuliani/Pres. Obama joke is made. Actually, let’s throw in any mention of #OscarsSoWhite or how generally White the field of nominees are this year. Since this will clearly get more than a few passing references and you don’t get to drink very often – You’re welcome.

For us gays and others who support our gay agenda: Any LGBT innuendo at all in the course of the show counts as a reason to take a sip. This should guarantee EVERYONE will be pretty toasted by the time the Barbara Walters special does not air following the show this year. (Note: Yes, every appearance of Neil Patrick Harris counts. And you’re welcome – again).

Let's do this!

Let’s do this!

Okay – here goes:

THE CHAIR’S 2015 REAL OSCAR PICKS:

2015-oscars-best-picture-860x442

Best Picture

American Sniper

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Boyhood

The Grand Budapest Hotel

The Imitation Game

Selma

The Theory of Everything

Whiplash

Let’s get this one out of the way first because it really is a toss-up this year between Birdman and Boyhood. Odds makers and conventional wisdom are giving Birdman a slight edge in light of its last-minute surge in other awards competitions. But my pick is Boyhood. Here’s why. At the end of the day, Birdman is a movie that does not paint Hollywood or the movie industry in a particularly flattering light. I can’t imagine voters, many of whom make their living off of superhero blockbusters, rewarding a film that ultimately thumbs its nose up at superhero blockbusters. Yes, this town is that small.   I suppose I could be wrong – but I don’t think so. And no, American Sniper will not sneak in at the last minute. Which confirms nothing the flyover states think about us.

Chair’s Pick: Boyhood

Director

The Bird and the Boy

The Bird and the Boy

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) Alejandro G. Iñárritu

Boyhood Richard Linklater

Foxcatcher Bennett Miller

The Grand Budapest Hotel Wes Anderson

The Imitation Game Morten Tyldum

I’ve given this one a lot of thought. Here’s the thing – I don’t see how the Academy will give up the chance to honor an American director who spent 12 YEARS making a critically-acclaimed film that he shot every summer for over a decade. In the area of mainstream narrative fiction filmmaking, that’s never been done to such widespread acclaim and effect. Not to mention, this is a guy who has toiled amiably and well in the indie and major studio film trenches for decades. I know the DGA awarded Inarritu – who is a brilliant filmmaker. But not here. I don’t think…

Chair’s Pick: Richard Linklater, Boyhood

Actor

The man loves a good costume

The man loves a good costume

Steve Carell in Foxcatcher

Bradley Cooper in American Sniper

Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game

Michael Keaton in Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything

This is another close race that seems to come down to a two-way battle between Eddie Redmayne and Michael Keaton.   It seems likely that ER will win for taking on the task of both physically and mentally evoking the struggles and triumphs of Stephen Hawking. I thought so too until this morning when I visualized everyone I know or know of in the Academy looking at their final choices and remembering Michael Keaton in not only Birdman but Mr. Mom – not to mention the first Batman movie – and Night Shift – and Beetlejuice! Yes, Beetlejuice!!!!

They just won’t be able to do it – vote for the other guy. Plus, Michael Keaton was brilliant in Birdman and if you believe Boyhood will take best picture here’s a chance for all those voters to even score.

Chair’s Pick: Michael Keaton, Birdman

Supporting Actor

After tonight, he may not have to sell you insurance anymore

After tonight, he may not have to sell you insurance anymore

Robert Duvall in The Judge

Ethan Hawke in Boyhood

Edward Norton in Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Mark Ruffalo in Foxcatcher

J.K. Simmons in Whiplash

Four words – well, two words and two initials – J.K. Simmons, Whiplash. It’s the role of a lifetime that could have gone terribly wrong if it were not played just right. Whiplash was one of my fave films this year. And to the naysayers – yes, it was theatrical and stretched credulity just a bit but NEVER stretched the emotional truth of its characters. That’s why it’s a terrific film. One that would never work without the performance delivered by this year’s Oscar-winning supporting actor.

Chair’s Pick: J.K. Simmons, Whiplash

Actress

Slayin' it on the carpet

Slayin’ it on the carpet

Marion Cotillard in Two Days, One Night

Felicity Jones in The Theory of Everything

Julianne Moore in Still Alice

Rosamund Pike in Gone Girl

Reese Witherspoon in Wild

This one’s easy. It’s Julianne Moore’s year. It’s her fifth nomination and she’s never won. Plus, she was heartbreakingly perfect in Still Alice. Plus, she’s taken every other major award. Two plusses equal —

Chair’s Pick: Julianne Moore, Still Alice.

Supporting Actress

How many actresses would let us all watch them age like this? #killinit

How many actresses would let us all watch them age like this? #brave

Patricia Arquette in Boyhood

Laura Dern in Wild

Keira Knightley in The Imitation Game

Emma Stone in Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Meryl Streep in Into the Woods

Once again, this is a gimme. It’s going to be Patricia Arquette. She’s won everything else and, well, she gave 12 years of her life to be contemporary America’s new onscreen Mom. That’s right, it’s still America and at the end of the day we all really do LOVE our Moms. Even in Hollywood. No matter what we might have once said in our therapy sessions.

Chair’s Pick: Patricia Arquette, Boyhood

Animated Feature

OK.. sure!

OK.. sure!

Big Hero 6 Don Hall, Chris Williams and Roy Conli

The Boxtrolls Anthony Stacchi, Graham Annable and Travis Knight

How to Train Your Dragon 2 Dean DeBlois and Bonnie Arnold

Song of the Sea Tomm Moore and Paul Young

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya Isao Takahata and Yoshiaki Nishimura

I’m depending on friends and what I’ve read on this one. And the verdict has been unanimous for:

Chair’s Pick: How to Train Your Dragon 2

(Note: Though I will admit that most of those surveyed say they liked Big Hero 6 better. Which, once again, has nothing at all to do with what will win).

Adapted Screenplay

American Sniper Written by Jason Hall

The Imitation Game Written by Graham Moore

Inherent Vice Written for the screen by Paul Thomas Anderson

The Theory of Everything Screenplay by Anthony McCarten

Whiplash Written by Damien Chazelle

I’d say Whiplash if this was the original screenplay category but due to a silly technicality that film has been thrown into a slot where it can’t compete. Too much controversy over the facts in American Sniper and in the case of The Theory of Everything its strength wasn’t its script. Most people I know couldn’t follow Inherent Vice but I thought that crazy screenplay was sort of crazy fabulous. Not that anyone asked.

In any event, here’s the Academy’s chance to honor one of the few now acknowledged gay heroes in contemporary history – Alan Turing.

Chair’s Pick: Graham Moore, The Imitation Game

Original Screenplay

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) Written by Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr. & Armando Bo

Boyhood Written by Richard Linklater

Foxcatcher Written by E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman

The Grand Budapest Hotel Screenplay by Wes Anderson; Story by Wes Anderson & Hugo Guinness

Nightcrawler Written by Dan Gilroy

For the love of everything I hold dear, I don’t at all get all the love for the Grand Budapest Hotel and, most especially, its script. Huh? What? Seriously, I’m in the dark – more like a haze where I can’t make out – well, anything. Still, after decades of being a writer the one thing I’ve learned is that there are just some things I will never understand, much less see. Wes Anderson seems like an extremely nice fellow with an undeniable talent for bringing his visions to the screen. I wish him well. Just not in this category. But he will win.

Chair’s Pick: Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel

Cinematography

Birdman-Steadicam02

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) Emmanuel Lubezki

The Grand Budapest Hotel Robert Yeoman

Ida Lukasz Zal and Ryszard Lenczewski

Mr. Turner Dick Pope

Unbroken Roger Deakins

Any one of the nominees are deserving. But it seems inevitable that the sheer audaciousness of Birdman is going to win. The dazzling visual images in The Grand Budapest Hotel could be a spoiler. But probably not.

Chair’s Pick: Emmanuel Lubezki, Birdman

Costume Design

that's a lot of look

that’s a lot of look

The Grand Budapest Hotel Milena Canonero

Inherent Vice Mark Bridges

Into the Woods Colleen Atwood

Maleficent Anna B. Sheppard and Jane Clive

Mr. Turner Jacqueline Durran

Milena Canonero will win for TGBH. She’s won three Oscars previously and her work here was superlative – as always. Plus, I’ve met her and it’ll be fun to see her onstage at the Kodak theatre talking to a billion people worldwide – though this in no way influences my choice since she’s won most of the other awards in this category already.

Chair’s Pick: Milena Canonero, The Grand Budapest Hotel

Documentary Feature

will he skype in?

will he skype in?

CitizenFour Laura Poitras, Mathilde Bonnefoy and Dirk Wilutzky

Finding Vivian Maier John Maloof and Charlie Siskel

Last Days in Vietnam Rory Kennedy and Keven McAlester

The Salt of the Earth Wim Wenders, Juliano Ribeiro Salgado and David Rosier

Virunga Orlando von Einsiedel and Joanna Natasegara

This one is going to CitizenFour despite the groundswell for the crowd-pleasing Virunga at the last minute. We here in Los Angeles are nothing if not government-doubting, paranoid, bleeding heart liberals. Yes, the rest of you are correct. But they’re our awards. #EdSnowden4Ever

Chair’s Pick: CitizenFour

Documentary Short Subject

Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1 Ellen Goosenberg Kent and Dana Perry

Joanna Aneta Kopacz

Our Curse Tomasz Sliwinski and Maciej Slesicki

The Reaper (La Parka) Gabriel Serra Arguello

White Earth J. Christian Jensen

A tough choice. I haven’t seen all of them but those I spoke with and read seemed quite affected by the artistic and heart-breaking Joanna, which traces the real story of a Polish woman dying of cancer who becomes a blogger and witness to her own final days, along with her husband and young children. This takes nothing away from what I believe will be the winner – Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1. See, just because Hollywood will not be voting American Sniper best picture it still supports the troops. Really and truly. This is a way to prove it – even though it will also change no one’s mind about us. It is already way, way waaaaay too late for that.

Chair’s Pick: Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1

Film Editing

American Sniper  Joel Cox and Gary D. Roach

Boyhood  Sandra Adair

The Grand Budapest Hotel  Barney Pilling

The Imitation Game  William Goldenberg

Whiplash  Tom Cross

I don’t know how this award doesn’t go to Boyhood. Twelve summers of footage in twelve years for one film?? Seriously. Though if I were a voter it would be Whiplash. Still, I’m not who counts here. But only here.

Chair’s Pick: Sandra Adair, Boyhood

Foreign Language Film

Black and White. Check. Nuns. Check. Holocaust. Check. Oscar... check!

Black and White. Check. Nuns. Check. Holocaust. Check. Oscar… check!

Ida Poland

Leviathan Russia

Tangerines Estonia

Timbuktu Mauritania

Wild Tales Argentina

I know many of the Johnny Come Lately prognosticators are going with the hipper than hip Wild Tales. But Ida was about the Holocaust. And it was genius. Yeah, I said it. And under 90 minutes. And about the Holocaust. #CaseClosed.

Chair’s Pick: Ida

Makeup and Hairstyling

winning by a nose ... #couldnthelpmyself

winning by a nose … #couldnthelpmyself

Foxcatcher Bill Corso and Dennis Liddiard

The Grand Budapest Hotel Frances Hannon and Mark Coulier

Guardians of the Galaxy Elizabeth Yianni-Georgiou and David White

Something tells me it’s Foxcatcher. Not since Nicole Kidman’s nose in The Hours has talk about a film ever centered so much on…. Well, you know what I mean. Some folks are saying it’s a tech/design category and as such it’s got to be TGBH. I beg to differ.

Chair’s Pick: Bill Corso and Dennis Liddlard, Foxcatcher

Original Score

The Grand Budapest Hotel Alexandre Desplat

The Imitation Game Alexandre Desplat

Interstellar Hans Zimmer

Mr. Turner Gary Yershon

The Theory of Everything Jóhann Jóhannsson

This one feels unpredictable to me and if you’re betting, don’t gamble away the house. But there was something about the score of Theory that seemed to buoy the film beyond what it read like on paper and many others seem to agree. So –

Chair’s Pick: Johann Johannsson, The Theory of Everything

Original Song

“Everything Is Awesome” from The Lego Movie, Music and Lyric by Shawn Patterson

“Glory” from Selma, Music and Lyric by John Stephens and Lonnie Lynn

“Grateful” from Beyond the Lights, Music and Lyric by Diane Warren

“I’m Not Gonna Miss You” from Glen Campbell…I’ll Be Me, Music and Lyric by Glen Campbell and Julian Raymond

“Lost Stars” from Begin Again, Music and Lyric by Gregg Alexander and Danielle Brisebois

There is NO way the Academy will not take its chance here to give something to Selma. Besides, it’s a terrific song. Awesome, actually. #NoLegos.

Chair’s Pick: John Stephens and Lonnie Lynn, “Glory” from Selma

Production Design

mr oscar... checking in...

mr oscar… checking in…

The Grand Budapest Hotel Production Design: Adam Stockhausen; Set Decoration: Anna Pinnock

The Imitation Game Production Design: Maria Djurkovic; Set Decoration: Tatiana Macdonald

Interstellar Production Design: Nathan Crowley; Set Decoration: Gary Fettis

Into the Woods Production Design: Dennis Gassner; Set Decoration: Anna Pinnock

Mr. Turner Production Design: Suzie Davies; Set Decoration: Charlotte Watts

The Grand Budapest Hotel wins best original screenplay and not production design??? Well, the Oscars are just perverse enough to do that – except they won’t. Whenever you hope they’ll be perverse they inevitably disappoint.

Chair’s Pick: Adam Stockhausen, Anna Pinnock, The Grand Budapest Hotel

Animated Short Film

The Bigger Picture Daisy Jacobs and Christopher Hees

The Dam Keeper Robert Kondo and Dice Tsutsumi

Feast Patrick Osborne and Kristina Reed

Me and My Moulton Torill Kove

A Single Life Joris Oprins

There are several worthy entries here and this category is often a surprise – not to mention an Oscar pool spoiler. So NO ONE ever REALLY knows for sure. However, I did see Feast. There are a lot of dog lovers in the movie industry who credit the support of their furry friends for their best work. To not honor a film that does so would be just plain rude. #WeHeartOurAnimals. #AndOurVetsAnimals.

Chair’s Pick: Feast, Patrick Osborne and Kristina Reed

Live Action Short Film

Aya Oded Binnun and Mihal Brezis

Boogaloo and Graham Michael Lennox and Ronan Blaney

Butter Lamp (La Lampe Au Beurre De Yak)” Hu Wei and Julien Féret

Parvaneh Talkhon Hamzavi and Stefan Eichenberger

The Phone Call Mat Kirkby and James Lucas

Any time you get a basically two character short film about suicide played by actor/movie stars at the caliber of Sally Hawkins and Jim Broadbent – well –

Chair’s Pick: The Phone Call, Mat Kirby and James Lucas

Sound Editing

either a drum or a gun

either a drum or a gun

American Sniper Alan Robert Murray and Bub Asman

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) Martín Hernández and Aaron Glascock

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies Brent Burge and Jason Canovas

Interstellar Richard King

Unbroken Becky Sullivan and Andrew DeCristofaro

No one I spoke to or read really understands the true difference between these two sound categories or how they will shake down. But there is a consensus and it falls to firearms and the exploding of bombs – in real life and time.

Chair’s Pick: Alan Robert Murray and Bob Asman, American Sniper

Sound Mixing

American Sniper John Reitz, Gregg Rudloff and Walt Martin

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño and Thomas Varga

Interstellar Gary A. Rizzo, Gregg Landaker and Mark Weingarten

Unbroken Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño and David Lee

Whiplash Craig Mann, Ben Wilkins and Thomas Curley

I’d give it to Whiplash because of the intricate mix of music that significantly impacts the effectiveness of that multi-nominated film. But at the end of the day voters will also know it was equally important to always believe we were in the terrorizing middle of Iraq for us to feel the full impact of American Sniper. The gravity of the latter will outweigh the skill of the former.

Chair’s Pick: John Reitz, Gregg Rudloff and Walt Martin, American Sniper

Visual Effects

Throwing it a bone #2001reference

Throwing it a bone #2001reference

Captain America: The Winter Soldier Dan DeLeeuw, Russell Earl, Bryan Grill and Dan Sudick

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, Daniel Barrett and Erik Winquist

Guardians of the Galaxy Stephane Ceretti, Nicolas Aithadi, Jonathan Fawkner and Paul Corbould

Interstellar Paul Franklin, Andrew Lockley, Ian Hunter and Scott Fisher

X-Men: Days of Future Past Richard Stammers, Lou Pecora, Tim Crosbie and Cameron Waldbauer

It’s not good politics for voting Academy members to fully ignore a Christopher Nolan film right now. I’m not entirely sure why and neither are they. But all things being equal, it takes some kind of visual effects to make you feel like you were floating in space for almost a full century rather than the actual two hour and 45 minute running length of the entire film. No, I will not go for the obvious joke.

Chair’s Pick: Paul Franklin, Adrew Lockley, Ian Hunter and Scott Fisher, Interstellar

If you’ve made it this far, you have our full permission to appropriate – or ignore – any or all of our picks. Check back on Monday to see how well or poorly I’ve done. And remember, when a test is especially difficult I, for one, always grade on a curve.

Don’t miss a beat with the Chair tonight as he tweets his way through the Oscars (Keep your cheat sheet closeby!)

Screen shot 2014-03-02 at 12.22.21 PM

The Oscar Race

Screen Shot 2015-01-18 at 1.28.56 PM

There is not much to count on in life anymore but one of the constants is that upon the announcement of the Academy Award nominations there will be a significant group of people outraged by the choices made by the group’s almost 6,000 voting members. This is not to denigrate the passionate emotions those who are outraged display. I myself have still not gotten over the fact that Mia Farrow was not nominated for her star turn in Rosemary’s Baby and that movie was released before I reached adolescence (Note: Yes, it’s true, I had opinions even then). Not to mention, we’re not taking into account the biggest Oscar slight of all – Judy Garland losing the best actress race to Grace Kelly in 1955. I mean, all things being equal could you honestly say that you’d rather watch The Country Girl on a loop until the end of time rather than A Star Is Born??? Please.

Lest we forget 1951's blasphemy

Lest we forget 1951’s blasphemy

So you see where I’m going with this.

This year the principal outrage is about the movie Selma receiving only two Academy Award nominations – one for best picture and the other for best song. So powerful were the passions stirred that the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite began trending almost instantly. Among my favorites was:

#OscarsSoWhite that the statue counts as a person of color.

Oh snap!

Oh snap!

Bravo! (or Brava!) to whoever thought of that one.

As a lifelong Oscar watcher, former entertainment reporter, person who has been going to Academy screenings for 30 years, and screenwriter who admittedly would LOVE to at some point get nominated for one of those things as I’m simultaneously made fun of by 50 million people from their beds and/or living rooms, let me just say this:

None of this is fair. And it is NOT a conspiracy of exclusion. The day that the creative types and non-creative types who make up the membership of the Academy could truly agree on what is a good movie is the day when Oscar watching will cease to be an attraction. Or even vaguely interesting. Which, in laymen’s terms means — IT WILL NEVER HAPPEN.

Here’s the deal. Minorities ARE underrepresented in movies. But if you take the entire list of films in distribution in each year, so are — intelligence, depth, humanity, and individuality.

And just think.. 3 years ago this was the Black and White debate of the Oscars

And just think.. 3 years ago this was the Black and White debate of the Oscars

There are a MINORITY number of films in release these days with many of the above qualities and most of those are the ones being considered for Oscar statuettes. That’s a small number compared to the amount of movies each year that can qualify for consideration by the Academy but a large number when taken as a group unto themselves. So given that most categories are limited to five nominees means that when it comes down to it there is A LOT of competition for those top slots.

What happens then is that it becomes a matter of taste. Well, all you have to do is go into the recently revamped bland, near empty, high-tech nightmare that accounts for the new lobby of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences and you can see that its ingenuity in that area is – to be kind – sorely lacking. While it does deserve credit for keeping the traditional cushy red velvet seats in the Samuel Goldwyn Theatre – still the best sound and best place in town overall to see a movie – the design of the new lobby itself tells you all you need to know about the organization’s taste level at this moment – or really, any moment. And that is – well, go down the list of nominations and judge for yourself. The one thing that is for certain is that you can find quite a bit not to like.

The only Oscar lobby we care about this year

The only Oscar lobby we care about this year

It’s difficult to defend the Academy’s record for the employment and recognition of non-white, non-male and non-heterosexual people on the whole. On the same token, it’s equally difficult to find much consistency in many of their choices. For instance, if the 21st century of Academy voters were truly white-centric why did they award Oscars to 12 Years A Slave last year for best picture, screenplay and supporting actress, among the film’s nine nominations? If they are so white, traditional and such an insular club, how is it that they failed to even NOMINATE the unofficial KING of Hollywood directors, Steven Spielberg, for best director on The Color Purple in 1986 yet saw fit to vote the movie a whopping 11 nominations back then?

Apparently having brown eyes also puts you in the minority. #creepy

Apparently having brown eyes also puts you in the minority. #creepy

Don’t try to answer because none of it makes any sense and it’s about as fair as who wins the lottery or is chosen to participate in The Hunger Games. Though it is a lot more fun to watch than either. Especially when the right people lose and the wrong people win. Admittedly those are sad facts but undoubtedly true ones.

I took myself to see Selma a few days ago before I weighed in on any of this. I liked the film, which gained power as it went on – not unlike the march for voting rights did in Selma. Its director Ava DuVernay did a fine job and David Oyelowo so powerfully evoked the spirit of the late Dr. Martin Luther King in such a uniquely human fashion that there were occasional moments that felt like discarded behind-the-scenes documentary footage rather than beats of a large scale, mainstream Hollywood-type movie.

And to think he's British!

And to think he’s British!

Yes, it would have been just to finally have an African American woman nominated for best director. In fact, it’s beyond ridiculous that it hasn’t yet happened. But when going over the list of nominees, who clearly doesn’t belong and should absolutely be eliminated?

Alejandro G. Inarritu, Birdman

Richard Linklater, Boyhood

Not going to happen. Those two are the frontrunners of arguably the most unusual and complicated films made this year. So that leaves three more slots.

Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel

Morten D. Tydlum, The Imitation Game

Bennett Miller, Foxcatcher

One thing's for sure: they all need a haircut.

One thing’s for sure: they all need a haircut.

Well, I for one always feel left in the lurch with Wes Anderson movies (Note: Students don’t hate me and yes, it’s probably a bit generational). Yet given the complicated visual execution here and the fact that the Academy has a new and growing group of younger voters who have finally brought the average age down to somewhere around 60, you can see why it’s hard to argue a case against this. It’s a film that feels hip and quirky and there almost always seems to be one slot for that.

The Imitation Game is, like Selma, somewhat of a film about injustice but unlike the march for civil rights it centers on the life of a little known previously unsung GAY man who pioneered the use of computers which significantly contributed to the Allies winning WWII (Note: Never underestimate WWII stories in Academy circles).

OK... maybe not all of the time.  #sorryangie

OK… maybe not all of the time. #sorryangie

It’s also strangely about humanity and civil rights but also manages to make the puzzles surrounding the computers that baffle most Academy voters in daily life seem decipherable. All told that’s a triple relevance factor overall and it’s hard to compete with that.

That leaves Bennett Miller’s nomination for Foxcatcher, a rather unsavory, artsily-disturbing look at a murder. It has a lot of sparse, directorial flourishes and features a beloved comic actor who has not been recognized previously by the Academy in a stomach churning, disturbing star turn. One can’t imagine it’s the White choice or even the commercial choice. The oddness of it feels like the choice of the director’s branch – a group composed primarily of men who probably related to its themes of maleness.

And yet THIS is the Academy president

And yet THIS is the Academy president

The latter could alone validate the reasons of the outraged and the fact that certainly more female-driven stories need to be made, hopefully by more female directors. Meanwhile, the one female to actually win best director, Kathryn Bigelow, did so seven years ago for The Hurt Locker – a war film with maleness written all over it, despite its female director. 12 Years A Slave had an even more violent underpinning and also got recognized in spite of, or perhaps because of, its quite violent subject matter. Hmmm.

This all does not address the best director omission this year of perennial Oscar alpha male favorite Clint Eastwood for American Sniper, The Theory of Everything’s James Marsh’s unique take on Stephen Hawking, or why Whiplash could get a best picture, screenplay and supporting actor nod while Damien Chazelle was completely left out of the aforementioned category. Did that movie direct itself?

Ageism?

Ageism?

Best actor is an even more impossible competition. Do you by pass by Michael Keaton for Birdman, Eddie Redmayne in Theory of Everything, or Benedict Cumberbatch in Imitation Game? Those three were locks. That leaves two major movie star, star turns. Both Bradley Cooper and Steve Carell left behind all traces of their charismatic and jovial selves in American Sniper and Foxcatcher and if nothing else the acting branch are suckers for that. I would wager at least a box of Red Vines and a small Diet Coke that Mr. Oyelowo came in sixth for a performance that was so good it managed to blend into the movie rather than stand above it. That is a credit to him as an actor, regardless of race. It is just not always the best strategy to net an Oscar nomination in a super competitive year. One only needs to look at the Oscar nominated best actor performance of Chiwetel Ejiofor in 12 Years A Slave last year to see the difference. Which begs the question of why Jake Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler was overlooked this year for totally transforming into…well, see it. My guess is he was #7 even though he clearly delivered one of the three best acting jobs of any sex or race in 2014.

Someone get this man a hot meal!

Someone get this man a hot meal!

Of course, this and all other Oscar analyses and prognostications are sheer guesswork.   Yes, we all need a lot more work on inclusion and equal opportunity. But like most of us, Oscar is primarily an equal opportunity offender. Which is to say there is no coherent reason for why they are doing the offending in the first place.  This makes it quite different from the events in Selma and near impossible to come up with a reasonable explanation as to why that film received a paucity of nominations.   Or why some of the others you and I didn’t care for received a plethora of them.

Which doesn’t mean I won’t be watching, waiting and ready to comment when they give out those little suckers for the 87th time next month – along with most of the rest of you.

Be Gone Girl

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Gone Girl, the hit classy movie du jour this month – was silly, overwrought, overdone and, in the end, laughable. That is – for me. Actually, let’s not sugarcoat it. Even in the film noir world it seeks to evoke and despite being under the hand of David Fincher, one of the best American directors working today, it presents two people so utterly “written” – and therefore so totally preposterous – that it’s difficult to take anything they do for an almost endless two and a half hours seriously. This includes their relationship, their marriage, their lies, their truths and certainly their acting. Oh, and also, not any murders they may or may not have been involved in. That’s right, you will find no spoilers here – that is with the exception of the movie itself.

No, I DID NOT READ THE BOOK! And stop asking me!!! I know you loved it and you think I would too, especially if I had picked the book up before the movie. (Note: Which yeah, I know, would have had the added benefit of me ALSO having liked the movie a lot more– at least you think that’s the case). (Note #2 – But it isn’t!). And finally, yes, of course I know this is a matter of opinion and I’m clearly in the minority. Do not feel the need to refer me to Rotten Tomatoes, where the film has received a 91% positive rating by audiences and an 89% thumbs up from movie critics across the country. A best picture Oscar didn’t get me to change my mind about the annoyingly retro sensibility of Forest Gump, the dulling Driving Miss Daisy or, dare I say it, the blood curdling, off tune caterwauling of Catherine Zeta-Jones in Chicago. In fact, I still have to plug up my ears every time I hear one of my favorite show tunes, All That Jazz, anywhere to this day for fear it will somehow be her voice wafting into the room to haunt me once again as she begins to mangle each and every one of those lovely notes. (Note: Right, yes, I realize she won the Oscar for that one, too. Blah, blah, blah).

Dear Catherine...

Dear Catherine…

You might say, in these situations, I have chosen not to adapt and get with the program. Or perhaps – I was unable to. We all do this in some ways and in various situations thought not necessarily out of stubbornness. Sometimes it’s about mere conviction – a state of mind that is truly anything but “mere.” Though occasionally it is also about::

  1. stubbornness,
  2. an inability to change (not to be confused with stubbornness), or
  3. a process of reasoning that presupposes one knows best in pretty much most situations and that the rest of the world is full of your excrement of choice.

It’s unclear why certain situations cause a particular individual to be inadaptable and therefor unable or adamantly against modifying an option and/or action in a given situation. For example, I was truly surprised by the reaction of my students to Gone Girl (why do I keep confusing it with Affleck’s directorial debut – Gone Baby Gone – an infinitely better and, to my mind, terrific film in a similar though not totally analogous genre?) – that’s how sure I was in my analysis. But as it turns out, they loved it. Well, most of them. They found it to be engrossing, superbly acted and right on in its portrayal of a marriage gone bad. Painful as the latter is, I suppose it does give me yet another reason to keep my 27 year old perfectly happy non-married relationship intact despite all the outside pressure to make it legal now that we can. So at least there is that.

Still, what particularly intrigued me about their clearly misguided reaction to the film weren’t their actual opinions but their willingness to agree with me on all the points I raised about it and yet — not change their minds! Was I losing my touch? Or generationally, are they just not as stubborn and/or intractable as we were on every issue in the universe?

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Well, I prefer to think it’s generational since I certainly would never pressure, out-argue or outwardly shame anyone into agreeing with me on any one point. At least, not consciously – well, okay, gleefully. Instead, they seem to me a more adaptable group and/or generation, which in the end might be a more admirable quality for the times they have been born into.

We baby boomers – though I’m on the tail end of it – expected so much and were not satisfied with NOT getting it. So we chose to innovate or push the envelope in other ways to get what we wanted. Or stamp our feet and whine when that didn’t work.

toon369I don’t think this generation wants any less but it feels like they’ve come to expect less. It’s not that they won’t work hard it’s that they haven’t decided they’re entitled and have to have something. They have adapted themselves to expect less – be it from movies, the economy or the government – because less has been given. I’m not sure if they have the right idea but it might not necessarily be the wrong one if they keep working just has voraciously for what they desire. In the end, it might just only be yet another way to look at the world – a canny strategy given the state of things that we have left for them.

This principle is illustrated tenfold in Adaptation – a 2002 film dreamed up by one of the few truly original voices left in the screenwriting trade – Charlie Kaufman. This is a movie I’ve had students watch and read in classes almost since it came out in order to study Mr. Kaufman’s spare writing style and daringness on the page and it’s been almost universally adored by aspiring writers I’ve taught over the last decade. Sadly, this was not the case last week. There was something about the sheer oddness of the work that left this group cold. Not that that they didn’t admire the unmitigated gall of what he did. He got some points for that. They just didn’t believe it made sense under the rules of movies they had grown up watching.

My reaction... or my students'?

My reaction… or my students’?

As the inside story goes, the real Mr. Kaufman wanted to adapt a non-fiction book about flowers called The Orchid Thief, written by famed New Yorker writer Susan Orlean, into a major feature film following the out-of-nowhere success some years earlier of his original, post-modern, hilariously affecting meta-screenplay for Being John Malkovich. Stumped beyond reason and with a deadline looming, the real Mr. Kaufman had the desperate idea to write himself into the film as the main character struggling to adapt an inadaptable book and imagined its author, Ms. Orlean, as an unattainable, ice princess intellectual snob from the Big Apple who falls in love with the subject of her novel and becomes, well – lets just say you have to see the film in order to know that. In any event, the desperate fictional version of Mr. Kaufman, helped along by his doppelganger screenwriter brother Donald –a twin who only aspires to write big commercial movies – finally takes some action to discover the truth behind not only The Orchid Thief but the seemingly unattainable Ms. Orlean -and in the end discovers both the unsavory but thrilling truth about her life as well as his own.

The agony and the ecstasy of Adaptation

The agony and the ecstasy of Adaptation

The genius of the real Mr. Kaufman’s efforts here is that in his story adaptation (and thus the movie, Adaptation) became not compromise but innovation. It was only after hitting his head countless times against the proverbial writer wall that he found the most bizarre solution imaginable, taking a ridiculous stab at doing something outlandish that had just the slightest chance of emerging as – great. Forget about how one feels about the film itself – imagine yourself being paid a hefty amount of money by Columbia Pictures to adapt a book about flowers and handing in a screenplay where you are the main character and your subject takes a back seat to your neurosis in wrestling said subject? Not to mention co-authoring your WGA registered script with another person – your brother – who is also fictionalized in the film and, as it turns out, does not exist in real life. The best part of all this for me was when Mr. Kaufman’s screenplay was nominated for an Academy Award and at the Oscar competition ceremony, the fake name of Donald Kaufman, along with the real Charlie Kaufman, was read by actress Marcia Gay Harden from the stage of the Kodak Theatre to millions of viewers worldwide. Now that’s adaptation on all levels – and in the best, most insurgent way.

This is not the case with Gone, Girl – a not particularly innovative film that by most accounts is a very faithful adaptation of a best-selling novel that purports to tell the tale of modern day marriage by employing the filmic conventions of suspense and neo-noir while ultimately cloaking it all in a sort of 2014 media world of 24/7 meta reality. For those looking for a take on the latter, I would suggest a film done almost 20 years prior – Gus Van Sant’s To Die For (1995) – which has its flaws but at the very least took a fresh and much more unusual approach to the subject. Or better yet, a brilliantly funny cable movie, The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom, starring Holly Hunter in an unforgettable, Emmy Award-winning performance. Yes, it’s a matter of taste. I know that. But to not call it as you see it when the whole world seems to be proclaiming it an entirely different way, would be to betray everything I believe in. After all, if nothing else I am still a baby boomer. On the tail end, that is.

Yes... I agree... something IS missing

Yes… I agree… something IS missing

For the record, one’s view of any movie or work of art is certainly nothing more or less than a matter of opinion. Clearly, there is no real right or wrong. But when one aspires to merely adapt rather than innovate – or more dangerously sees them as the same thing – we run the risk of losing the rarity of something truly fantastic. Standing on my crumbling soapbox of flower power I proclaim to the world that Gone Girl is not even close to being the latter. And note – this is nothing personal to the filmmakers.   I’m sure one-on-one I would likely enjoy the company of the entire cast and crew, even if they would each prefer to take me to the woodshed – or simply tune me out. But I’m used to that. After all, I have been in a relationship for 27 years where the latter simply becomes an occasional fact of life – on both sides. And unlike what’s presented in Gone Girl it doesn’t mean marital destruction – it actually ensures relationship survival.

If you’re single or perhaps simply despise marriage metaphors, let me put it another way with a brief excerpt from one of the wisest films that I know – The Rocky Horror Picture Show. A heated exchange between transvestite/resident mad scientist, Dr. Frank –N –Furter and his surly, crazy-haired maid, Magenta, finally and inevitably concludes this way:

Magenta: I ask for nothing, Master.

Frank: And you shall receive it…..IN ABUNDANCE!!

Interestingly enough, those lines came from an adapted screenplay.