Pre Oscar Buzz

The Oscars will be held this coming weekend and it’s time for some random observations.

#1 – CHRIS ROCK AND THE WILL SMITH OSCAR SLAP ONE YEAR LATER

Well, we finally got our complete response from Chris Rock and it did not disappoint.

It was broadcast Saturday night on his live Netflix comedy special, Selective Outrage.

If you did not tune in, just know the entire set is great – smart, candid and brilliantly written and delivered.  

But most importantly, it’s really funny.

Oh he did not hold back

Nevertheless, it was the last 10 minutes that viewers will most remember, one that built to a well-earned mic drop to the question most of us have been waiting a year for him to answer:  

What was it like and how do you feel about being slugged really hard on live TV in front of 16 million plus people at the most prestigious awards ceremony in the world by one of the biggest stars in the world because he couldn’t take a joke? 

Well, first of all – it REALLY HURT.

And birthed an A+ NY Post headline

In terms of movies, think of it as the big guy who played Muhammad Ali (Smith) slugging the skinny kid who played Pookie (Rock) in New Jack City.

His words, not mine. 

But that was just the start.  Suffice it to say that in 10 minutes every ounce of massaged and manicured new age apology offered in pretty much any context by Smith and his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, was expertly shredded into origami and virtually shoved down their throats.

And we love a good shredding

But more importantly, it served to neuter the need for whatever obligatory dumb jokes that had been scheduled to address last year’s incident on the show, thus freeing this year’s ceremony to be as clever, dull, silly or timely as it chooses to be on its own.

Score one for team Rock and know that the festivities will likely achieve only two of the above four.

#2 – EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE OSCAR NOM-NOMS – This film grew on me and deserves the best picture and director wins it is clearly going to get next Sunday night.

James Hong sealed the deal at last week’s SAGs

I confess that after I viewed it the first time, barely holding on to middle age me didn’t quite get all the hoopla.  I mean, it was okay, but…huh? 

However, after watching it a second time it quickly became one of my favorite films of the year and, by any standards, one of the most original. 

Those of us who are not into multi-verse realities (Note: This includes myself AND most of my middle-aged friends) were a bit lost with EEAAO’s scattershot approach to reality.

But at its heart the film is actually nothing more, or less, than a very clever contemporary take on The Wizard of Oz.  Who doesn’t want to run away from a family that doesn’t listen to them when they are never truly seen?  On the other hand, what do you do when you suddenly realize that you are the one who is equally not seeing OR listening to them?

That’s one way to describe the multiverse

That’s a pretty good hat trick to pull off thematically, especially when the Mom who is substituting for Dorothy has to alternate between being a martial arts master, a glamorous movie star and a tired-looking working stiff, not to mention the voice of a googly-eyed rock.

A different kind of Oscar Rock this year

Here’s hoping that Michelle Yeoh makes history and wins a well-deserved best actress Oscar alongside the sure thing supporting actor Oscar win for Key Huan Quan as her sweet, put-upon husband. 

I think she will and that we’re looking at a big EEAAO sweep of all the top honors it’s nominated for in the making.

#3- THE VAGARIES OF THE VAGUE – There is something going on with films in the last few years for this viewer, aka ME, and it’s much more than having to watch EEAAO a second time to truly get it.

It seems there is a groundswell among critics and many industry-ites, nee Academy and other guild members, to go crazy for movies that feel slow, undone and vague.  Two examples this year are the multi-Oscar nominations for Tar and the near lock Women Talking has for the screenwriting award.

And we know how the Chair feels about ol’ Lydia Tar

Both films deal with the power struggles of women in unusual but incredibly obtuse ways.  Both are interesting looking, well acted and well made.  Yet both lack narrative details, drive and urgency, often choosing to stay mired in a miasma of talk and pretension.

It simply feels odd that Women Talking is a shoo-in for a best adapted screenplay win for writer-director Sarah Polley and that Tar’s Cate Blanchett is the top contender to snatch the best actress Oscar away from the more deserving Ms. Yeoh.

Don’t put that out into the universe!

This is especially true when two far superior films about women and their struggle for and against power, She Said and Till, were totally ignored by the Academy, 

Having seen all four films it’s hard not to conclude that the clear, well-crafted narratives of the latter two were judged not hip or happening enough for accolades by film critics and voters that believe something different always means something better.

I wonder what Miranda would have to say about this

For them I say, there’s a reason I can still wear the classic white shirt I bought at Agnes B a full 35 years ago but long ago gave away my beloved purple Armani suit that at the time I was convinced would be perennially flawless.

 #4 – THERE IS NO BEST ACTOR THIS YEAR – All of the people in this category, not to mention in most categories, are great.  But anyone who can say for sure whether Austin Butler will win for his startlingly shape shifting performance in Elvis or Brendan Fraser will take home the Oscar for his raw, heartbreaking acting turn of a lifetime in The Whale, is lying.

Some years it’s simply a tie.  Or an upset for Colin Farrell, who could squeak in for his subtle work in the much Oscar loved Banshees of Inisherin.

A tight race

Put a gun to my head and I’d say it’s probably Austin Butler’s ability to not only physically resurrect but also sing beloved Elvis Presley back to life.  On the other hand, I’m not gonna publicly deny one of the best male performances I’ve seen in years, by George of the Jungle, no less, from getting his much deserved Oscar win.

Which brings me to:

#4B – Darren Aronofsky’s The Whale received a handful of Oscar nominations but has received middling critical reviews pretty much across the board.  I don’t get it.  It’s one of the best, if not most disturbing, movies of the year.  It’s a tough watch but watch it.  It’s the anti-hip and happening and vague film stylistically (Note: Lucky for us) though ironically it seems to me that its in your face emotional rawness is exactly what we need in the world right now.

Not an easy watch — but should it be?

And finally:

#5 – THE OSCAR ARE ICONIC BUT…As fun as they are for all the right and wrong reasons, at the end of the day they don’t mean a lot.   And they’re often wrong.

I watched a double feature this afternoon on Turner Classic Movies of Born Yesterday (1950) and Some Like It Hot (1959).

One of the best lines ever

They are classic movies at their best – superbly entertaining, perfectly crafted and more than able to stand the test of time against most of their contemporaries.

Judy Holliday won the lead actress Oscar in Born Yesterday for recreating her much acclaimed Broadway performance.  But let’s remember in doing so she beat out Bette Davis, who gave one of the best female performances in film history as Margo Channing in All About Eve, and Gloria Swanson, who created one of the most enduringly iconic as Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard.

All tea no shade

As for Some Like It Hot, it’s a movie that has been consistently rated by writers, directors and critics as one of the top five comedies of all-time, if not THE top.  Yet its only Oscar win was for best costumes and it failed to even receive a nomination for either best picture or best director.

The film that received the most Oscar nominations that year was, um,…Ben Hur.  And it was awarded the best picture, best director (William Wyler) and best actor (Charlton Heston) Oscar, among others.

Yep, this.

Try sitting through all 123 hours of Ben-Hur after watching Some Like It Hot.  And if you manage to, report back to us on which one you liked best.

“Running Wild” – from Some Like It Hot

Magical Thinking

Joe Biden told an audience in Omaha last week that Mike Pence is a decent guy.   Actress and activist Cynthia Nixon chose to differ in an editorial in the Washington Post and so do I.

Mr. Pence’s lifetime leadership role advocating against the LGBTQ community, including support for conversion therapy (most heinously during the AIDS crisis in the 80s and 90s as an alternative way to curtail the spread of HIV), opposition to gay marriage, banning trans people from serving in the military, and attempting to legalize discrimination against gays due to religious beliefs (with proposed legislation and/or laws to back all over the above) does not make him decent.

It shows an empirical pattern of behavior that bears additional scrutiny, particularly for someone currently serving as the Vice President of all of the U.S. in 2019.

This is a real product you can buy on Amazon. You’re welcome.

The same could be said of Electoral College POTUS’s rambling two-hour speech at CPAC (Conservative Political Action Committee) this weekend.  In perhaps his grandest of grandstanding, he threw out his usual invectives that American citizens who oppose him, as well as the media and fellow elected officials who choose to investigate his behavior, are people who don’t love our country.

But perhaps worse yet he continued to defend his self-professed love affair with North Korea’s dictator Kim Jong Un, who he claims had no knowledge of the torture and eventual death of an American teenager under his government’s hands because he told me, despite the universal agreement of our own intelligence agencies that this was not the case.

NOT fake news

It is the same argument he used to defend Russia’s Pres. Vladimir Putin over the last two years when American intelligence across the board provided him clear evidence that Putin directed manipulation of the 2016 election.

It is a similar kind of illogic that in those two very public hours at the podium caused him to scream, where did that come from?, in reference to Congress’ current plan to look into his finances as a way to reasonably prove his business ties to Russia in light of numerous recent accusations from members inside his own campaign that this is indeed the case.

This same blind rage also caused him to proclaim from the podium that these people are sick for wanting to check his deals.

Nice try

And it is, finally, what caused him to come up with yet a new nickname for the chairman of that House committee – my Congressman, Adam Schiff, a former California U.S. Attorney.  Before this large group of conservatives, in that same two-hour speech, broadcast worldwide, our de facto POTUS referred to that duly elected congressman as LITTLE SHIFTY SCHIFF and his work as bullschiff.

And they’re both orange!

Nice, huh?  Especially for a 72 year-old man some people call the most powerful person on Earth, partly because most conceded long ago he forfeited the usual U.S. POTUS moniker of Leader of the Free World.

Magical thinking can sometimes help get us through the day but it can never, ever make untruths into truths, fantasy into reality or sputtering, fantastical bile-soaked lies into objective evidentiary fact.

This weekend I finally caught up with a film my students had been recommending me to see for several years, Swiss Army Man.  It’s a story about a suicidal guy (Paul Dano) stranded on a desert island who finds a dead body (Daniel Radcliffe) that he is able to ride to some sort of civilization through the body’s flatulence.

Ummmm…

The guy then lives off the water the body expels from his mouth in sudden gaseous spurts only to find about halfway through the story, the body actually starts talking to him.  It turns out said body’s name is Manny and in order to keep him alive the suicidal guy has to re-educate him about the joys of being human.  This being an American film the guy also, in the process, begins to discover his own humanity again.

The film’s dramatic questions are many but primary among them becomes – is the guy imagining that dead Manny can speak or is Manny some sort of divine miracle that sporadically comes to life?  In other words is Manny ultimately indestructible and does he truly possess the unexplainable ability to enable a mere mortal to appreciate life on its own very messy terms.

The Chair’s recommendation

Would that there was a Manny somewhere who could point out the bumps in the road and make it all better for those of us who too often than not these days live in the belief that it will all NOT be okay.  (Note: The film was released in a pre Trump-Pence 2016)

I consider myself one of those people sporadically and part of my current journey is to work hard enough where I don’t succumb to my inner belief that the countless negative forces in the world have conspired lately in some nefarious master plan to bring us all down – both collectively as a society as well as individually.

This meme is me until Trump is out of office

To be clear, this is not my overriding philosophy but certainly, left to my own devices, it could be.  I have a real talent for assembling events of all kinds in a viable order that could much too convincingly confirm to most of you whatever misguided or guided (at least in my mind) point I am trying to prove.

In popular parlance, it’s what’s called writing talent.

In depressing real life, it’s what enables me to be the most persuasive and darkest of pessimists if I so choose.

But in the loveliest, lightest and most seductive moments of reality, it can also easily move me to the other extreme in seconds.  What that means is it can get me to convince not only myself but others, through the use of philosophy and said rosy perceived reality, that somehow it WILL all magically be okay even though there may be more than a few signs that this is pie in the sky fantasy thinking is  not likely to at all to come true by any reasonable objective standard.

Neither, of course, is the way to go.

I see no problem with these rosy shades, Chairy.

We MUST have hope against the odds and take steps to do our jobs and live our lives and overcome the negative to create the reality we want.  More commonly, that’s called the hard work of getting out of your own way.

On the other hand, we can’t PRETEND that a divine Manny WILL somehow magically appear (or has appeared) and guide us to right the wrongs in our world or society just because we wish him or it to be so.  That is equally misguided and it is what’s more popularly referred to as “magical thinking.”  Or worse.

Joan Didion wrote a book and a play on this theme entitled The Year of Magical Thinking after the death of her husband the day after the couple’s recently married daughter fell into a coma due to pneumonia/septic shock, only to eventually die herself less than a year later.

Chairy, what are you doing to me!!

The idea that one can become so traumatized by traumatizing events that one pretends bad things didn’t happen, aren’t happening or at the very least can be resolved – and that if one dreams with just the right amount of acuity one’s loved ones at any moment could conceivably walk through the door and one’s present reality could instantly become a thing of the past – is tempting.  And that there is meaning in the smallest of events that we can then assemble to divine us through our despair on a magic carpet of made up reality is undeniably hopeful, albeit sometimes intuitively necessary.

YES, whatever gets you through, I can hear some of you saying.  Well, perhaps.  I mean, if it guides one through the grief process and doesn’t hurt anyone else, no one has the right to demand you live in the truth of despair, seeing your glass as perpetually half empty as I too often do.

this also helps me sleep at night

The trouble begins when we wish world events or real people in our lives to be something they are clearly and objectively not.  Especially leaders we don’t know personally.  Because it then gets exacerbated when their associates start to adopt the party lie to get whatever agenda they want past us, twisting themselves into pretzels of illogic in order to do so.

Meaning you can’t explain it any way you like for yourself.  At the end of the day 2 + 2 simply cannot equal 5 — much as any of us would like it to.

Whatever Gets You Thru The Night – John Lennon (feat. Elton John)