And All That Buzz

Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon were special talents.  He is still the only artist to win the Oscar, Tony and Emmy awards all in one year (1973) and she was the first musical theatre actress to win four Tony Awards.

More to the point, it’s not every estranged married couple who kept working with each other years after their estrangement that has an eight part miniseries aired about their lives decades after their deaths.

When you watch Fosse/Verdon on FX, and everyone should, it’s difficult not to marvel at the sheer breadth of their work that will forever live on long after all of our deaths.  Sweet Charity, Cabaret, Damn Yankees, Chicago and All That Jazz, to drop a handful of legendary landmarks, are only a few highlights.

Both director/choreographer Fosse, and Broadway star, muse and behind-the-scenes facilitator Verdon did all kinds of work in a wide variety of genres.  But what unites them, more than anything, is their dedication to a disciplined, single-minded type of artistry that seems to have disappeared from the cultural zeitgeist these days.

Let’s not get it wrong; there are contemporary artists with the type of discipline that both Verdon and Fosse shared with us all through their lives.  But in both their cases they left far more than that, as the miniseries shows us.

OK yes, him (and he’s producing Fosse/Verdon… go figure)

In a sense, Fosse/Verdon, and their lives, gives us a timeless roadmap to the world pre #MeToo.  It was an existence where men consistently had the upper hand, the best opportunities AND usually got sole credit for ALL of the work even when that wasn’t necessarily the case.

When females actually managed to shine in their own spotlight far brighter than their male counterparts, it was in the midst of the age-old expectation that they would eventually dim their bulbs and take time off from doing their own thing in order to help the guy’s light to shine just as bright (and often brighter) on a project of their own without basking in the glory.

Who is holding up whom? (hint: It’s Gwen)

It was either that or turn the other cheek when the man brooded and strayed into the arms of many other women because, well, how could HE not when SHE wasn’t around.   For those women choosing to go solo, well they might make it alone for a bit but much sooner than later they’d mostly age out and be left alone – a fate few would be able to happily survive when left to their own devices in the real world.

We’ve come a long way from those times, though likely not as far as we think we have, one suspects.  As one watches Ms. Verdon endure her husband’s serial infidelities as she bails him out in too many ways to count on Cabaret, it occurs to us, hmmm, and why didn’t I ever know that, how come she never got any credit?   As she continues to serve as his creative sounding board on so many other future projects and successes (Note: And notably doesn’t on several of the failures) we become clear of the extent of their partnership, and just how much we DON’T know about who did what and just how much on any uber successful project of any artist or in any artistic collaboration.

Truly a singular sensation  #yesiknowthatfsromChorusLine

None of this is to take anything away from the miraculous creative vision and accomplishments a talent of the caliber of a Bob Fosse leaves us.  It’s one thing for a chorus boy/dancer to turn expert choreographer and then director of Broadway musicals.  It’s another to then become a sophisticated movie director who not only reinvented the onscreen musical with the movie Cabaret  (Note: Beating out Francis Coppola’s work on The Godfather to win the best director Oscar that year) but then two years later go on make the critically acclaimed, black and white non-musical, biopic of Lenny Bruce, Lenny, and use a non-linear narrative from which to tell it.

Not to mention the release of the autobiographical biopic All That Jazz five years later, a thoroughly original multi-Oscar nominated film success he co-wrote and directed that pretty much presaged the reasons behind his own death (Note: 12 years later) for all the world to see in glorious living color on movie screens all across the world.

JAZZ. HANDS.

Gwen Verdon was at Fosse’s side in various ways all through those artistic leaps and bounds and together they define a certain type of show business special that today too often feels sorely lacking.

Though the special is still there.  In fact, you see it every day, all around.  But the show business special – hmmm, that’s another story.

I, for one, am soooo tired of hearing young talent is not what it used to be, not special, not on the level of a Fosse or a Verdon anymore.

Well, of course ability like theirs was, indeed, rare, as were their complex sensibilities and intellect for telling a sophisticated yet human story.  But there are many people who are special in all kinds of different ways now, some of them even similar to a Fosse or a Verdon, whose work has little chance of gaining recognition.  Even when it does, it almost never gets that same kind of mainstream acceptance.

This EXACTLY

For one, there is not the mass attendance for a single form of media that we once had.  There was a time when Broadway theatre was IT and it tackled primarily new and exciting subjects, or at least fresh and entertaining/thought-provoking ones that often broke into the cultural zeitgeist.

Movies also told primarily real life human stories sans gaping plot holes, and for decades later it was not unusual for the biggest successes to say something about our lives as we knew them (Note: Or didn’t know them) that year.  Sure, there were disaster films, spectacles, horror, sci-fi and mindless comedies, but they were not the overwhelming majority of the work.  Yes, they had special effects but to have a really SPECIAL affect on the world you had to do a lot more than simply launch a starship into an infinite universe or create a colorful costumed villain whose one goal in life was an unmotivated ambition to blow up the universe.

I mean.. is it really even the end?

Right, right, we can hear the hiss and boos about this type of grousing from this computer screen already.  Well, no one is saying these shows and films shouldn’t exist.  Or that it’s a shame that television has expanded to the point where there is so much programming that no one show ever seems to be particularly special to most of us.

But the facts are that in an age when media is so diffuse and so plentiful there is almost no young person that can create the level and sheer amount of narrative work or performance with the same amount of staying power, depth of story and cultural intensity of a Fosse or a Verdon.  There isn’t the mass popular audience for that kind of sophisticated worldview, that type of show biz special.  It’s just not how the industry is set up these days.

We have international stars like Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg and, dare I say it, Jordan Peele??   But can they do the kind of deep or stylized work of Fosse or Verdon and break through? Schindler’s List was 25 years agoRaging Bull came out FOUR DECADES ago.

I’m…. I’m… OLD

Star Wars is not Cabaret, or even The Godfather – it can’t be and wasn’t meant to be.  Because the truth is there is no longer a mass-market avenue for the latter two projects.  But even fluffier Broadway shows that catapulted Ms. Verdon to stardom like Sweet Charity and Damn Yankees would doubtless be made into theatrical films in the 2000/10s.  Chicago, her final starring vehicle finally was, but decades after the original closed on Broadway and barely broke even.  It was only when a stripped down, TV/movie star driven revival was launched and kept afloat with a rotating name cast that Hollywood came calling and a film was produced that was safe enough to appeal to mass acceptance.

To look at that film in light of Fosse/Verdon one realizes that despite its Oscar win it’s the anti-Cabaret.  Rather than move forward the medium or the film’s story it merely waters it down with an eye towards the present as it pastiches various Fosse-like moves from the past.  And it was released a full 17 years agoGet Out, for all its cultural significance, (Note: And add on Us) is nowhere near the class of storytelling of any of Fosse’s best work, or that of a Scorsese or a Spielberg.  #PlotHoleCity

For these reasons and many more, one can’t help but mourn a bit for the past during the Fosse/Verdon miniseries.  It gives us so much show biz special in an age when it’s not the thought behind the show, but the delivery system by which it comes to us, that feels the most special to us.

Liza Minnelli – “Maybe This Time” (from Cabaret)

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Call me Chair, and I’ll Call You Oscar

Decades of working inside and outside, around and through the entertainment industry has taught me one thing:

NO ONE can reliably predict the Oscar winners each year.

Oh sure, the odd person can get lucky every once in a while and ace the whole thing, even the bonus questions in your local online poll. But maintaining that accuracy every year would mean there is some secret formula to understanding Hollywood.

Trust me, there isn’t.

The only secret is that, at the end of the day, there is no secret.

That’s because Hollywood is more of an idea than a location with an overriding opinion. And that’s coming from someone like me who actually lives IN Hollywood.

Oh.. and about my Oscar party

Oh there are lots of opinions here, too many, but there is no guiding principal to any one school of thinking when it comes to awards.

Not money, not artistic merit. Not dues-paying, good looks or familial connections.

Any one or two or three of those can help but they are no guarantee of anything.

Hollywood is more a state of mind in a particular moment where someone with power makes a decision based on – well – an opinion. Put 6000 or so of those together and what comes out are the annual list of Oscar winners – about as elusive of figuring in advance as receiving the shiny gold plated 8 ½ lb. statuette itself. (Note: And a mere 13.5 inches high. Though it does FEEL taller and HEAVIER in person).

Are you saying size doesn’t matter?

So, in that spirit, let’s get started on an online cheat sheet that can maybe help you gain an edge in the categories where you have doubts. (Note: The kind word for that is a consensus of informed opinions. The cynical one: guesswork). We’ll also include the Chair Choice (what we would vote for among the list of nominees) because…well….we want to and we can.

Best Picture

Who’s it gonna be?

Call Me by Your Name
Darkest Hour
Dunkirk
Get Out
Lady Bird
Phantom Thread
The Post
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Winner: The Shape of Water

Chair Choice: Lady Bird

The toughest category this year. The Shape of Water is singularly the most original and yet the one that most reflects the best of the mainstream movie industry as it now stands in that it combines dazzling visual effects with an emotional story. A case can be made for Three Billboards but its odds are a bit lowered since it received no director nomination. Sadly, we haven’t gotten to the cultural moment where a gay love story like Call Me By Your Name, beautiful as it is, could win best film. Some think we will hit a different cultural moment with Get Out but I don’t think so – The Shape of Water is probably the safer genre choice – not to mention the better film. As for Chair Choice, try making a truly great coming-of-age movie (aka Lady Bird) in the age of cynicism and see how far you get.

 

Lead Actor

Elio… Oliver… Sigh

Timothée Chalamet, Call Me by Your Name              

Daniel Day-Lewis, Phantom Thread

Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out


Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour

Denzel Washington, Roman J. Israel, Esq.

Winner: Timothée Chalamet, Call Me By Your Name

Chair Choice: Timothée Chalamet, Call Me By Your Name

Yup, you read right. We’re going far out on a limb here because Gary Oldman is the odds-on favorite. But Chalamet’s performance was so unusual, raw and riveting for even those most cynical about his film, that it just feels like he could be rewarded. Also, there are three words in his favor – the crying scene. Yes, the Oldman/Churchill turn was hard to turn away from – for SO many reasons. And he did win the SAG Award, a good predictor here since the actors are the largest voting branch. It doesn’t matter. We’re NOT going with the favorite here. EVER.

 

Lead Actress

American Badass

Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water

Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Margot Robbie, I, Tonya

Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird

Meryl Streep, The Post

Winner: Frances McDormand, Three Billboards

Chair Choice: Saioirse Ronan, Lady Bird

Seriously, FM is gonna win. Though we prefer Saioirse Ronan’s feat of so many colors in Lady Bird the idea of hearing a McDormand acceptance speech televised LIVE internationally to tens of millions of people is just too tempting not to simultaneously root for.

 

Supporting Actor

No comment.

Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project

Woody Harrelson, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri


Richard Jenkins, The Shape of Water

Christopher Plummer, All the Money in the World

Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Winner: Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards

Chair Choice: Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards

It’s Sam Rockwell’s year. He’s a character actor everyone in the industry respects and it’s the kind of emotionally showy performance that wins supporting acting awards. Many of us have issues with the film (ahem, the performances, the tone and even the writing), but there is something about Rockwell’s work here that ultimately rises above the naysaying. Perhaps…talent?

 

Supporting Actress

Lady (with a) Bird

Mary J. Blige, Mudbound

Allison Janney, I, Tonya

Lesley Manville, Phantom Thread

Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird


Octavia Spencer, The Shape of Water

Winner: Allison Janney, I Tonya

Chair Choice: Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird

This will be the most UNJUST award of the evening. Allison Janney, an often brilliant actress, will win for an over-the-top turn in an over-the-top film despite Laurie Metcalf being nothing short of brilliant as the hate her/love her Mom in Lady Bird. There were literal scenes with that fictional mother that I actually recall living through as a teenager in 197___. Now how can that be????

 

Director

His time

Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk

Jordan Peele, Get Out

Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird

Paul Thomas Anderson, Phantom Thread


Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water

Winner & Chair Choice: Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water

He’s going to win. Del Toro was innovative, unusual and Hollywood. It’s not Nolan’s year. Give it up.

 

Animated Feature

No brainer

The Boss Baby, Tom McGrath, Ramsey Ann Naito

The Breadwinner, Nora Twomey, Anthony Leo

Coco, Lee Unkrich, Darla K. Anderson

Ferdinand, Carlos Saldanha

Loving Vincent, Dorota Kobiela, Hugh Welchman, Sean Bobbitt, Ivan Mactaggart, Hugh Welchman

Winner & Chair Choice: Coco

It’s a sure thing. Nothing to discuss.

 

Animated Short

Kobe’s got it

Dear Basketball, Glen Keane, Kobe Bryant

Garden Party, Victor Caire, Gabriel Grapperon

Lou, Dave Mullins, Dana Murray

Negative Space, Max Porter, Ru Kuwahata

Revolting Rhymes, Jakob Schuh, Jan Lachauer

Winner: Dear Basketball

Chair Choice: Lou

I’ve actually seen all of these. Not being a sports fan, I guess I didn’t at all get Dear Basketball. But watching a drawing of a young would-be Kobe Bryant acting to the words spoken by the actual Kobe Bryant of what basketball meant to him in a film produced by the real Kobe Bryant has gotten to ALMOST everyone who wants to see the live Kobe Bryant accept an Oscar in the flesh. I myself prefer Pixar’s Lou, the story of how and why a young bully gets reformed because I guess I’m still working through my childhood issues.

 

Adapted Screenplay

Can I just say.. SIGH… again

Call Me by Your Name, James Ivory

The Disaster Artist, Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber

Logan, Scott Frank & James Mangold and Michael Green

Molly’s Game, Aaron Sorkin

Mudbound, Virgil Williams and Dee Rees

Winner & Chair Choice: Call Me By Your Name, James Ivory

It’s the very definition of brilliant screen adaptation of a novel that was made into one of the most unique films of the year. Plus, it was written by the guy who directed and produced such classic movies as Howard’s End, Remains of The Day, and Maurice.   James Ivory has never won an Oscar, was robbed off it too many times to count and is now 89 years old. You do the math.

 

Original Screenplay

The Academy’s cup of tea

The Big Sick, Emily V. Gordon & Kumail Nanjiani

Get Out, Jordan Peele

Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig

The Shape of Water, Guillermo del Toro, Vanessa Taylor

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Martin McDonagh

Winner: Get Out, Jordan Peele

Chair Choice: Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig

The idea for Get Out is brilliant, as is the script and film that everyone is writing about. Sadly, that’s not the film I saw – at an actual movie theatre early on – and not at a screening and not on DVD. But the screenplay for the movie that’s getting talked about is the one that I WANT to see. Still, who cares what I think? Certainly, not anyone in the Academy. So we’ll just sit home and sulk, knowing Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird was the far more accomplished and nuanced achievement in storytelling.

 

Cinematography

Is it his time?

Blade Runner 2049, Roger Deakins

Darkest Hour, Bruno Delbonnel

Dunkirk, Hoyte van Hoytema

Mudbound, Rachel Morrison

The Shape of Water, Dan Laustsen

Winner & Chair Choice: Blade Runner 2049, Roger Deakins

This is Roger Deakins’ FOURTEENTH nomination for best cinematography WITHOUT A WIN. While it is possible the brilliant work in Mudbound or The Shape of Water or Dunkirk could win, we won’t be responsible for it.

 

Best Documentary Feature

Heartbreaking

Abacus: Small Enough to Jail, Steve James, Mark Mitten, Julie Goldman

Faces Places, JR, Agnès Varda, Rosalie Varda

Icarus, Bryan Fogel, Dan Cogan

Last Men in Aleppo, Feras Fayyad, Kareem Abeed, Soren Steen Jepersen

Strong Island, Yance Ford, Joslyn Barnes

Winner & Chair Choice: Last Men In Aleppo

It was near impossible to get through. Can you imagine making it? To do that you’d have to slog through thousands of dead bodies in Syria, side by side with the ordinary citizens of Syria, searching for survivors, and then relive it all again and again and again in the editing. For bringing the unendurable and unimaginable into the light, this one should and will win.

 

Best Documentary Short Subject

Edith+Eddie, Laura Checkoway, Thomas Lee Wright

Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405, Frank Stiefel

Heroin(e), Elaine McMillion Sheldon, Kerrin Sheldon

Knife Skills, Thomas Lennon

Traffic Stop, Kate Davis, David Heilbroner

Winner & Chair Choice: Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405, Frank Stiefel


I saw all of these. A lot of wonderful stories but nothing has stayed with me like Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405. You MUST watch this woman’s story. Then think about art. And what it means to survive. That’s all we’ll say.

 

Best Live Action Short Film

DeKalb Elementary, Reed Van Dyk

The Eleven O’Clock, Derin Seale, Josh Lawson

My Nephew Emmett, Kevin Wilson, Jr.

The Silent Child, Chris Overton, Rachel Shenton

Watu Wote/All of Us, Katja Benrath, Tobias Rosen

Winner & Chair Choice: DeKalb Elementary, Reed Van Dyk

After watching these DeKalb Elementary left me speechless, even though I had read all about the real story it is based on right after it happened. And that was prior to the recent school shooting that killed 17 people in Parkland, FL, which happened just prior to the date Academy’s final voting ballots were due.

 

Best Foreign Language Film

Oscar sparkle

A Fantastic Woman (Chile)

The Insult (Lebanon)

Loveless (Russia)

On Body and Soul (Hungary)

The Square (Sweden)

Winner & Chair Choice: A Fantastic Woman (Chile)

This is a guess based on speaking to people and the one film in the bunch I experienced. That film, A Fantastic Woman was a slow build around a trans actress who always appeared to be living, and not acting, a trans woman not unlike herself onscreen. It’s the likely winner.

 

Film Editing

Baby Driver, Jonathan Amos, Paul Machliss

Dunkirk, Lee Smith

I, Tonya, Tatiana S. Riegel

The Shape of Water, Sidney Wolinsky

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Jon Gregory

Winner: Dunkirk, Lee Smith


Chair Choice: Baby Driver, Jonathan Amos, Paul Machliss

It’s hard to understand how a movie that many of us couldn’t follow could win the Oscar for editing. Isn’t coherence part of good editing? Isn’t that common sense? Of course, in Oscar polls and award giving, sense is not always the ultimate deciding factor, common or not. And who are we to talk when we’re advocating for a movie starring Kevin Spacey?

 

Sound Editing

you guessed it

Baby Driver, Julian Slater

Blade Runner 2049, Mark Mangini, Theo Green

Dunkirk, Alex Gibson, Richard King

The Shape of Water, Nathan Robitaille, Nelson Ferreira

Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Ren Klyce, Matthew Wood

Winner & Chair Choice: Dunkirk, Alex Gibson, Richard King


It’s the only thing I liked in the film. I don’t care what you think.

 

Sound Mixing

one more time!

Baby Driver, Mary H. Ellis, Julian Slater, Tim Cavagin

Blade Runner 2049, Mac Ruth, Ron Bartlett, Doug Hephill

Dunkirk, Mark Weingarten, Gregg Landaker, Gary A. Rizzo

The Shape of Water, Glen Gauthier, Christian Cooke, Brad Zoern

Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Stuart Wilson, Ren Klyce, David Parker, Michae l Semanick

Winner & Chair Choice: Dunkirk, Mark Weingarten, Gregg Landaker, Gary A. Rizzo


See above. And I still don’t care. At all.

 

Production Design

I preferred the fish man

Beauty and the Beast, Sarah Greenwood; Katie Spencer

Blade Runner 2049, Dennis Gassner, Alessandra Querzola

Darkest Hour, Sarah Greenwood, Katie Spencer

Dunkirk, Nathan Crowley, Gary Fettis

The Shape of Water, Paul D. Austerberry, Jeffrey A. Melvin, Shane Vieau

Winner: Blade Runner 2049, Dennis Gassner, Alessandra Querzola


Chair Choice: The Shape of Water, Paul D. Austerberry, Jeffrey A. Melvin, Shane Vieau

One of my dearest friends is a big time production designer and he says it’s Blade Runner. I, myself, loved the fish man, the marquee lights and the largest bathroom a tenement building has ever seen in The Shape of Water.

 

Original Score

Dunkirk, Hans Zimmer

Phantom Thread, Jonny Greenwood

The Shape of Water, Alexandre Desplat

Star Wars: The Last Jedi, John Williams

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Carter Burwell

Winner: The Shape of Water, Alexandre Desplat


Chair Choice: Phantom Thread, Jonny Greenwood
 

The score for The Shape of Water was wonderful but The Phantom Thread score was brilliant and made it the movie it was. Either could win but the edge goes to the fish man.

 

Original Song

Tears

“Mighty River” from Mudbound, Mary J. Blige

“Mystery of Love” from Call Me by Your Name, Sufjan Stevens

“Remember Me” from Coco, Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Robert Lopez

“Stand Up for Something” from Marshall, Diane Warren, Common

“This Is Me” from The Greatest Showman, Benj Pasek, Justin Paul

Winner & Chair Choice: “Remember Me” from Coco

This song provided THE central motif of the movie. That’s what the best original song is supposed to do. Plus, it’s a good song. Okay, perhaps not as memorable as such other Oscar winners as “(The Theme from) Shaft” but you can’t have everything.

 

Makeup and Hair

Darkest Hour, Kazuhiro Tsuji, David Malinowski, Lucy Sibbick

Victoria and Abdul, Daniel Phillips and Lou Sheppard

Wonder, Arjen Tuiten

Winner: The Darkest Hour

Chair Choice: Either of the other two.

The latex, the bald cap and the insistence that this was a HISTORICAL CHARACTER and we have to get CHURCHILL right!! Lawd.

 

Costume Design

I see you

Beauty and the Beast, Jacqueline Durran

Darkest Hour, Jacqueline Durran

Phantom Thread, Mark Bridges

The Shape of Water, Luis Sequeira

Victoria and Abdul, Consolata Boyle

Winner & Chair Choice: Phantom Thread, Mark Bridges

Phantom Thread is a movie about a CLOTHING DESIGNER and it received SIX nominations.   Get it? Not to take anything away from the accuracy and beauty of its costumes or some of the other nominees. But this is another sure thing.

 

Visual Effects

Blade Runner 2049, John Nelson, Paul Lambert, Richard R. Hoover, Gerd Nefzer

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Christopher Townsend, Guy Williams, Jonathan Fawkner, Dan Sudick

Kong: Skull Island, Stephen Rosenbaum, Jeff White, Scott Benza, Mike Meinardus

Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Ben Morris, Mike Mulholland, Chris Corbould, Neal Scanlan

War for the Planet of the Apes, Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, Daniel Barrett, Joel Whist

Winner & Chair Choice: War for the Planet of the Apes, Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, Daniel Barrett, Joel Whist

Things have come a long way since the original Planet of the Apes – at least visual effects-wise. The CG apes, the real apes – who knew? Still, it’s a crime the Fish Man in Shape of Water will go unrecognized – and went un-nominated.

Best Original Songs 2000-2017