About Me

A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Corpus Christi

One of the Oscar nominees for International Film, and quite wonderful.  Like, even if I hadn't known Parasite was going to win the actual Best Picture prize, I'd have been rooting for Corpus Christi three weeks ago had I caught up with it before the Oscar ceremony.

If you're going to do a melodrama, why not go all in!

Start with a lead character who's getting parole from a violet juvie prison to work at a saw mill out in the countryside. Only, the parole thing -- they haven't made any arrangements for room & board, so have the lead character to to a church to hang out after work.

Having left the prison swearing to arrive sober at the saw mill, have him go a wild night before bender and take a priest's collared shirt from one of the other partiers. Have him joke with an attractive teenage girl at the church, end up taking out the shirt to back up his joking boast about being a priest, and then Dear Evan Hansen style the deception just keeps going and going.

Not only is there no arrangement for room & board, there's no attendance check that he's actually at the saw mill.

Oh, also, a local priest who needs to head out of town on the down low for some medical tests/treatment and doesn't want any of his loyal parishioners to know.

The town bulletin board has tacked onto it the faces of six local kids who died in a car accident several months ago. All in one car, and crashed into (or did they crash into) by the car of a man whose wife is on the outskirts of town in more ways than one.

You've got love, religion, power struggles, town secrets -- all sorts of stuff, and I'm kind of making fun of it because the movie piles it on, piles it on some more, and then manages to pile even more on when you think the movie should already be falling over from the weight of all that melodrama.

But the movie plays all of this for real pathos, asks real questions about mercy, power, justice, the day-to-day uncertainties of human existence, about compassion and rehabilitation and faith. Or is it the other way around? Is the film ultimately mocking all of the important stuff by surrounding it with volcanic preposterousness?

In the lead role, Bartosz Bielenia is absolutely brilliant, and very much a name and face to watch. And what a face. I don't know what his English is like, but on looks and charisma and expressiveness Bielenia's ready to step into stardom. He manages to pull this off, up until an ending that would have worked just as well in a slightly more Grand Guignol version of First Reformed, and an epilogue that takes the movie -- well, I've absolutely no idea where the lead character's gong at the end, and strangely, I don't care.

Highly recommended.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Oscars 2020

The Morning After...

If you’ve watched Tootsie, the very long acceptance speech from Renée Zellweger ultimately started to remind me of Michael Dorsey’s when he wants to reveal the truth about his identity and knows where he’s going but is very lost in getting there.  As Renée is the co-star of Jerry Maguire, which is one of my all-time favorite movies, and gave a performance in Judy that shows her in utter command at very moment of a character who is clearly Judy in every moment and maybe Judy Garland in very few of them, and as she has had a career with quite a few bounces to it, some of them off the table and rolling around on the floor for a few years, I am deeply happy for her win.  And as someone who was raving up every acting award, I sure do wish her speech had been less improvisational than Michael Dorsey’s.

Joaquin Phoenix’s speech also rambled.  I’m not entirely sure what he was saying though I heard every word of it, and am intrigued the morning after to discover that it is a paean to veganism.  I might have interpreted it differently.  I was most interested to see if or how he would deal with the tragedy of his brother, another deeply gifted actor, and the quote from River Phoenix’s poem was a moment of few words and few details that said quite a bit.

Whether or not they wish to admit it, many of the people who write about Hollywood and the Oscars were strangely blind to the inevitability of the Parasite win for Best Picture.  Many other times, we’re told how important the actor’s branch is, how it’s the largest in the Academy, how hard it is to win for Best Picture without having nominations for the actors, or for movies that are all about CGI and robots and spaceships to win.  And yet, I saw very few columns looking at the tea leaves of the standing ovation that the cast of Parasite received at the SAG Awards.  To be sure, that standing “O” had to battle the fact that there were no acting nominations for Parasite, but let’s give a think to something.  How easy is is to judge acting by people speaking in another language?  In a movie with a fairly large cast with good-size roles for half a dozen people and substantial above-the-title roles for none of them?  And none of them people you’ve heard of.  And no lack of really good roles for people we have heard of them.  I do think it’s legitimate to ask which of the people who were nominated should have been kicked off the ballot in favor of the other thing you wish were nominated instead.  All of this in mind, that standing ovation at SAG said a clear something about an enthusiasm for the movie which might not have easily manifested in individual nods.

And let’s call that a wrap,.

11:56 PM I am going to do a final wrap in the morning; have to start back to NYC bright and early and need my beauty sleep.  But lots to talk about and more TK.

11:22 PM The Best Actor/Actress wins as expected, but those speeches.  Well, more to come.  Best Picture is at hand.

11:22 PM Wow, a half hour since my last post.  Caught up in the magic as it all heads into the home stretch.

10:50 PM Contrast — from a new voice in scoring for Hollywood and only third female to win in a category to Elton John and Bernie Taupin winning after what Elton tells me in his acceptance speech is 53 years of banging the keys around together.  Based on the performances tonight I’d give this one to the song from Harriet, but based on the work of a lifetime this one’s up there with Brad Pitt getting his first Oscar for acting a few decades into an acting career.

10:47 PM I’d also like to get on my soapbox about Marvel movies.  On the whole, DC movies have better scores from better composers, and I simply don’t believe Marvel cares on the whole very much about the quality of the music in their movies.  The score for Joker was good, very good.  How many Marvel movies other than Black Panther, where Ryan Coogler was able to push thru a lot of stuff that Marvel movies aren’t known for, have anything better than ninety minutes of bombast.  So, another happy-making moment for me as Hildur Gudnadottir takes home a prize.

10:45 PM & Joker joins the list of movies to have won at least one Oscar this evening.

10:43 PM Hildur Guðnadóttir is only the third woman to win in the Best Score category

10:42 PM And it was a great intro with Brie Larson, Gal Gadot and Sigourney Weaver on stage.  And Joker soundtrack from a female composer, as they are slowly starting to make inroads into what has been a guy’s world of movie music composition.

10:41 PM More musical moments.  I’d very much like for John Williams to win one more Academy Award.  There might not be many more chances.  But I also very much like the music for Marriage Story.

10:36 PM The music of the moment.  A good performance by Elton John.  A good night for Tiny Dancer, which appears in the musical moments montage and then in the very effective ABC promo for American Idol.

10:20 PM So much harder than twenty years ago to have a grand sweep of the Oscars.  The award for Bombshell to go along with wins for Once Upon a Time..., Ford vs Ferrari — the people who vote take it seriously.  There are the consultation prize wins for Screenplay or a supporting role sometimes, but it’s a good job of looking film-by-film at where the best in the business are dong their best.

10:15 PM I would not complain if every Oscar song performance were as good as the number from Harriet.

10:00 PM “I am Spartacus.”  Tom Hanks did a great job with the promo for the Academy museum, and I loved the roast at Colin Jost getting snuck into it.  The pictures I’ve seen of the 1000 seat movie theatre in the past week as they did a press tour — another of the occasional reasons to which I lived in LA.  As a movie lover, being there with that theatre, being able to see movies at The Dome, at The Village, the one thing LA still has which we don’t have in New York is great single screen theatres, and the Academy museum is going to have a theatre that vastly out-punches the Moving Image or the Walter Reade or the Metrograph.

9:57 PM Amaaaaaazing.  Ford vs Ferrari wins for Film Editing.  It is so difficult to get me to sit in a movie theatre for two-and-a-half hours without once looking at my watch.  The importance of film editing to that accomplishment cannot be understated.  I am so happy to see that recognized with a gold statuette.  I may have to look for a theatre that’s still screening this one, and give it a second viewing.

9:53 PM I’d have preferred the Cinematography award go to Once Upon a Time, but while I don’t much like 1917 I can’t complain to have Roger Deakins taking the award.  I did like the presenter patter before this award.  This is one of the categories where I didn’t see all the nominees, because, The Lighthouse.  The Lighthouse won some awards yesterday at the Spirit Awards.

9:42 PM Was the segue planned?  From the explosion of music and sound with Eminem to the sound awards?  I’d love if both 1917 and Ford vs Ferrari are getting token awards here - 1917 because it winning just a token award would be just great, and Ford vs. Ferrari because it’s a great piece of audience pleasing filmmaking, and as Donald Sylvester said, James Mangold is worthy of being nominated for Best Director.  Ford vs. Ferrari is a master class in directing.  The editing - two-and-a-half hours and I never looked at my watch.  The sound,  The photography.  The acting, none of which was recognized.  So darn tootin’ happy that the movie can forever announce itself as an Oscar winner.

9:37 PM The montage of great musical moments was just great.  Those are classic moments all, and also frightening ones to see Kevin Costner looking so much younger, Kevin Bacon looking so much younger, Leonardo DiCaprio looking so much younger.  I know Titanic is twenty years ago, but I guess, yeah, once upon a time he looked that young, even younger in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.  And then Eminem just knocked it out of the park.  After a batch of cringeworthy musical moments in this evening’s Oscars, the show hit it out of the park here.  Just amazing.

9:36 PM Applause Worthy!  Standing O from my hotel room.

9:24 PM But just to say you could have filled the entire list of acting winners with people from Marriage Story, with Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson to go along with Laura.  So many good supporting men that I’m not sure Ray Liotta or Alan Alda quite fit into the conversation but they’re darn good in Marriage Story.  Wallace Shawn is better with a few minutes on screen in Marriage Story than a lot of other acting highlight reels.  It’s an amazing cast top to bottom, given great lines to speak, sensitively directed, backed up with a wonderful under score from Randy Newman.  It’s a great movie.  So glad to see Laura Dern.  And Noah Baumbach has done this twice.  Fifteen years ago with The Squid and the Whale, which is also a bitterly brilliantly scripted movie with a cast that excels in every role.

9:22 PM My choice for Best Picture is Marriage Story, so I’m happy that Laura Dern got the Oscar she was expected to win for Best Supporting Actress, and she gave a helluva acceptance speech.  For me the nicest moment of the evening so far, and she seemed to touch a lot of people in the room.

9:16 PM reviews of the documentary shorts from Peter Debruge ‘2020 Oscar-Nominated Short Films: Documentary’ Review – Variety
https://variety.com/2020/film/reviews/2020-oscar-nominated-short-films-documentary-review-1203497465/maz/

9:13 PM Netflix may not have a Best Picture this year, but has now proven it can get a win in the Best Feature Documentary category.

9:01 PM I’d have loved seeing the Costume Design award go to Once Upon a Time, too, but I think it was inevitable that Little Women wears going to win something, and this might be the best award it’s nominated for to accomplish that necessary.

9:00 PM But an hour in and already two bathroom break moments.  I’m enjoying these presenter comments a lot more than the people blogging at The NY Times are.

8:57 PM Once they finally got round to presenting the Production Design award... there were a lot of good choices here, but Once Upon a Time... In Hollywood is the best.  At least on the first time through the movie I lapped up every moment of the loving recreation of the past, from Hollywood Blvd. to the Bruin and Village in Westwood to the menace of the Spahn Ranch.  That by itself not enough to make the movie hold up as well as I’d have liked on a second viewing, but it’s a brilliant job of finding the past in our present.  Congratulations!

8:55PM Is there an award for Worst Patter by Presenters in an Oscar Ceremony?

8:46 PM Jo Jo Rabbit:  The rare movie that I can’t say if I liked it or not.  It was weird and different and tonally all over the place, and I loved all of that and I’m not sure it added up to anything more than confusion, and I’m not sure that it doesn’t.

8:42 PM I’d like to thank Bakeshop for supplying my Oscar desserts this year.  But if the red velvet cupcake isn’t as good as R R Virdi told me his was...

8:41 PM The original screenplay category was not certain in a lot of the preview pieces.  The question is whether Parasite’s victory is a consolation prize or an augur of things to come.

8:39 PM Keanu looks amazing.

8:33 PM Any chance next year that @johnpicacio could produce the Oscars?

8:31 PM I wish I needed to go the bathroom, because the Oscars have put in a bathroom break just thirty minutes into the festivities.

8:30 PM Now we are having a musical performance with no discernible reason for existing.

8:27 PM In a victory for writers everywhere who are deep into a series, Toy Story 4 just won an Academy Award.  This movie was the little side story that becomes the novella that’s published as Book 7B of your long-running series.  But in sf/fantasy we don’t generally give those things awards.

8:20 PM:  The M&Ms commercial was to M&M commercials what the Holiday Mint M&Ms is to M&Ms.  Sublime.  The opening number and the “monologue” are like bringing rice cakes to your seat from the concession stand.

8:16 PM:  Yay, Brad Pitt!  Watch the Spahn Ranch sequence in Once Upon a Time... In Hollywood.  It’s a master class in 5,329 things in making movies, and Brad Pitt is top among them.

8:14 PM A better idea is having a medley of clips for the acting nominees, rather than a clip accompanying the reading of each nominee’s name.

8:13 PM. In theory the pairing of Chris Rock and Steve Martin is a great idea.  In practice I’m with Dave Itzkoff on The NY Times blog:  That was an excellent argument to never have hosts again.

8:05 PM This mighty have been one of those numbers that plays better in the room than on the TV, but it’s done nothing for me on my TV.

8:03 PM Is it too early to say I’d rather be watching the cast of Cats performing a number?

7:53 PM American Factory was produced by the Obamas.  If a Democrat wins in November, both President and Senate, I hope the new administration will pass legislation that was talked about twelve years ago which Obama decided against pushing.  It’s called card check.  You get 50% of the employees to sign a card asking for a union, you get a union without an election.  Imagine if employers have to live in deathly fear at all times that a majority of employees will sign a card.  Imagine it!  Instead, we have a system where the cards have to be followed by an election, giving the employers more time to fire the union organizers, to hold mandatory meetings, to spend two months being nice and giving raises while making threat after threat after threat.  A lot of what goes on in those two months is technically illegal, but it’s a lot cheaper to rehire an illegally fired employee with back pay two years later than to  lose a union vote.  With card check, you have to do better by your employees all day every day.  I consider the failure of the Obama administration to push card check to be one of its biggest failings.  You want to know the legislation to push for when you’re new —- the legislation that the opposition is spending the most time telling you is too divisive or too something something something.

7:42 PM I thought the year in movies was just fine.  But whereas many years recently have had an abundance of good documentaries, this year was lacking.  I didn’t see three of the nominated movies, and I didn’t like the two that I did see.  Honeyland has beautiful photography, but held me at a distance for reasons I can’t 100% understand.  Part of it, I believe, is that the documentarians were so lucky to hit on just the right year to make this movie for interesting happenings, and I might have liked more the version of the movie that was just about the main character of it without the miraculous conflict that animates the actual version.  American Factory is a sad and depressing story about the state of unionization in America with fired employees and lying employers, and it doesn’t require or much benefit from or would be much different without the extra bonus that the employer in this instance is a Chinese-owned company.  Why not have the same movie about a unionization drive with a US owned company, so many of which do all of the same things pulled from the tool kit of the same law firms that specializing in helping employers to squelch unionization drives.

7:39 PM As is often the case, I am not in thrall of the movies that are most buzzed about for Best Picture.  Parasite was, like, fine.  But it’s so far short of what the critical establishment says it is, and I’m so not into it.  But I’d rather Parasite win than 1917, which takes a gimmick that isn’t terribly new to make a been-there-done-that movie.  My own Top Ten list can be found here, and includes only four of the movies on the slate of nine Oscar nominees.

7:27 PM Settling in for a half hour of pre-Oscar chit-chat!

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Boskone 57 - Boskone 2020 - This Year's Boskone

I've said this a lot, but it bears repeating:

When I was a teenager, the whole chain of events that ultimately led to me becoming JABbermaster started out when I was staying at the Boskone hotel, by chance and serendipity and coincidence.  So I'm happy that I've been able to go to Boskone for near on each of the past fifteen years now, participate on the program, and pay it forward.  And even happier that I have several clients as a direct result of my attendance at Boskone.

And a quick thank you to the people on the Program Committee for Boskone.  The final schedule email they sent is 100% ready just to paste as is.  It doesn't have people's email addresses hiding in it or other things needing to be edited out.  So that's pasted below, exactly as I got it.  

I hope I'll get to see some of you, and the Kaffeeklatsch I have is always a great opportunity for one-on-one in an intimate setting.  As always, I have a great bunch of co-panelists.  One of my panels I even get to share with two of my clients.  This is a good convention for people who love reading sf/f, with a lot of people who come back year after year.  Join the jamboree, and I'll hope to see you there.

JOSHUA


BOSKONE 57, the 2020 BOSKONE -- Scheduling the JABbermaster

Editing from Agent, to Editor, to Publisher

Format: Panel
15 Feb 2020, Saturday 14:00 - 14:50, Marina 2 (Westin)

Writing is only half the work when crafting a story, novel, or article. Once the words are on the page, what happens next? Our panel discusses the review, revision, rewriting, and more needed at each stage of the process before the finished piece lands in the hands of a reader.

Melanie Meadors (M), Joshua Bilmes (JABberwocky Literary Agency), Beth Meacham, John Kessel (North Carolina State University), James D. Macdonald


Troubleshooting Troublesome Manuscripts

Format: Panel
15 Feb 2020, Saturday 15:00 - 15:50, Marina 2 (Westin)

Our intrepid authors come together to share tips and tricks for tackling the most notorious issues that arise when writing and editing their work. Find out how to fix hidden plot holes, dangling loose ends, and the endings that just won't end!

Joshua Bilmes (JABberwocky Literary Agency) (M), Matthew Warner (Deena Warner Design LLC), Steve Miller (Liaden Universe), Sharon Lee (Liaden Universe), Tabitha Lord (Association of RI Authors)


Kaffeeklatsch: Joshua Bilmes

Format: Kaffeeklatsch
15 Feb 2020, Saturday 18:00 - 18:50, Galleria - Kaffeeklatsch 2 (Westin)

Joshua Bilmes (JABberwocky Literary Agency)


Game to Fiction/Fiction to Game

Format: Panel
15 Feb 2020, Saturday 20:00 - 20:50, Burroughs (Westin)

Game designers have to come up with an interesting world and compelling story in much the same way as authors who write fiction. So, what does it take to adapt a game to fiction or fiction to game? What new opportunities does the process create? What obstacles need to be overcome?

Gregory Wilson, Dan Moren (M), Joshua Bilmes (JABberwocky Literary Agency), Auston Habershaw, Mur Lafferty


Killing Characters

Format: Panel
16 Feb 2020, Sunday 10:00 - 10:50, Burroughs (Westin)

Why would you create wonderful characters and then ruthlessly kill them? Perhaps it inspires a hero to action, or it makes the narrative more poignant. It might be that you’re tired of these characters or their story arcs have reached their ends. At any rate, what are some of the more creative ways (Reichenbach Falls?) of killing characters? What are the problems relating to creating an interesting death? Major and/or minor characters? Are there rules? Is it moral? Fair? Does the writer have a responsibility to the readership? (And what are the repercussions of this?) Should you plan for a possible (or surprise) comeback?

Teresa Nielsen Hayden (Tor Books), Cadwell Turnbull, Joshua Bilmes (JABberwocky Literary Agency), John Chu (M), KT Bryski


Play Mistborn!

Format: Gaming
16 Feb 2020, Sunday 11:00 - 12:50, Harbor III - Gaming (Westin)

Game on! A semi-cooperative resource-management game, Mistborn: House War is set during the events of Mistborn: The Final Empire, the first novel in the bestselling fantasy series by Brandon Sanderson. Join Brandon's agent Joshua Bilmes for a special demo of this fun new board game!

Joshua Bilmes (JABberwocky Literary Agency)

Struggles!

Here's a letter I sent to several reporters at the Washington Post about the, um, "struggles" of the Trump administration to tell the truth.  Curious when or if anyone will respond...

Dear Messrs. Rucker, Hudson, Harris and Dawsey:

I am writing about a line from an article of yours from last Tuesday’s paper which i find deeply troubling, which is  "The result is a credibility crisis for an administration that has long struggled to communicate factual information to the public.”

Your colleague Margaret Sullivan, whom I am cc’ing, writes frequently about the media’s need to do a better job covering the Trump administration, and this sentence is a poster child for falling short of the mark.

I understand the constraints journalists operate under.  I know, as an example, that there are strong legal reasons to use the words “alleged killer” prior to the plea or guilty verdict.  Even when it’s obvious.

But I do not believe that the circumlocution you used in last Tuesday’s article fits under any of those constraints.  You’ve all spent three years documenting the constant lies put out by the Trump administration.  The Post’s fact checker has documented over 15,000 lies.  It stated on the first day of the administration with the press conference about the crowd size, and continues day in and day out.

If your sports department is struggling to get a late-ending game score into the first edition, it means The Post is covering the game and writing an article on a tight deadline.  If any of you are said on a given day to be struggling to get to a meeting on a bad day for the Red Line, it means you’re on the way to the meeting and not sitting at home.  One could say that Margaret Sullivan is struggling to get the media to cover the Trump administration more firmly; see today’s column.  I need to first submit a book by a client in order for it to be said that I am struggling to sell it.  One can simply not say in any factual way within the customary meaning of English idiom that the Trump administration struggles to put out factual information.  I believe  “not consistently communicated factual information to the public” might have been consistent with the actual facts and still have struck me as being mild, but the phraseology you chose is inaccurate and wrong.

Here’s hoping that your response isn’t to disclaim responsibility by each of you saying you hardly knew the other guys in the by-line, the fact that you just shared a by-line and work at the same paper and probably have been photographed together on multiple occasions to the contrary.

Sincerely,

Joshua Bilmes,

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Oscars 2019

12:05 AM - And we'll call this a wrap for the Live Blog.  I may have more to say about some of my favorite movies of 2018, but for the Oscars, it's a night.  I know I've done better jobs on the live blog than this year, but since they eliminated around a half hour of Stuff, they eliminated a lot of the down time when I could pay less attention to what was on the screen, and more to my typing.  I'll take that trade-off any day.

12:03 AM -- Best Actress.  Prior to going for a repeat viewing of The Wife a couple of weeks ago, I don't believe I've ever gone back twice to a movie just to see a brilliant performance by an actress.  I am deeply disappointed for Glenn Close.  I might have a hard time separating out Olivia Colman's performance from my overall dislike for the movie she was in.  But even allowing for that, I can't see Colman's performance as better than the third or fourth best in the category, because Melissa McCarthy is a knockout in Can You Ever Forgive Me, and as up and down as A Star Is Born is, it would almost certainly be down-er with anyone else in the lead role.

11:58 PM - Talking more about the Adapted Screenplay category.  I didn't see Beale Street, but there are arguments to be made for all four of the nominees that I did see, while the Original category is full of weak links in stronger movies.  Can You Ever Forgive Me takes an assortment of unlikeable characters -- even Jane Curtin as the literary agent isn't the most likable literary agent, which is scandalous, and makes us love their faults and imperfections.  A Star is Born gets progressively weaker as it goes along, but at its best it takes a story that's decades old and makes it feel utterly contemporary, and it tackles issues of class differences that aren't required from the original movies. But the Screenplay category, both for awards and nominations, is often where the consolation prize is given, and it's a great place to give Spike Lee his first competitive Oscar.  I'd put Spike Lee's career against that of Martin Scorsese.  Neither has many Oscar statuettes.  Both have done films that are highly variable in quality.  I'm glad to see him with an Oscar to put on his shelf.

11:45 PM - I'm more upset with Green Book winning an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay than I am about its winning Best Picture.  The Oscars will be the Oscars, and if anything they've gotten better and less Oscar-y over the course of my lifetime.  Last night I saw Goodfellas at the Loews Jersey, with around 300 people in attendance to see a film that's some thirty years old.  It lost Best Picture to Dances With Wolves.  I doubt the Loews Jersey would program Dances With Wolves.  If it did, I doubt 300 people would show up to see it.  But the most notable thing about that year's Oscars isn't that Dances With Wolves beat Goodfellas for Best Picture.  The more enduring film loses often, and if you take a look at the Amazon rankings, it ain't like there aren't people still interested to buy a copy of the movie.  What's noticeable is how Dances With Wolves swept so many of the smaller award, and once upon a time the Best Picture always racked up Oscar after Oscar.  Now, it's much more common to see the spreading around of the statuettes as we saw this year with Roma, Bohemian Rhapsody, Green Book and Black Panther all taking home multiples.  But for Screenplay?  The remake of Driving Miss Daisy wins for Screenplay?  And yet, even there, my disappointment is tempered.  This year's Adopted Screenplay category was full of contenders.  The Original Screenplay category?  Well, The Favourite wasn't winning.  Vice?  First Reformed and Roma are both better movies than they are screenplays.  Roma's strengths weren't in its underwritten screenplay; I don't know that even the movie's fans would say the screenplay was its strength.  And First Reformed is similarly flawed to Roma.  There's just too much in both screenplays that we don't see on the screen.  Without Ethan Hawke and the passion that the screenwriter also brought to his direction, First Reformed is a clumsy mess that flips its lid as it goes over the top in the ending, and Roma is full of contrivances and the under-explained in its screenplay.  But. Still.  Green Book, for Screenplay?

11:32 PM - Returning to earlier items...  So I joked about Ludwig Goransson's ago, but quite well-meaningly.  He's 34 years old.  And winning an Oscar for Best Score at the age of 34 -- well, that takes some work.  You don't get to score very many motion pictures fresh out of college.  You've got to become known, apprentice, gain trust, have reputation enough that the music branch of the Academy will think of you as a possible Oscar winner.  If we looked back over 90 years of Academy Awards, how many winners will we find who were younger?  It's also a tribute to Ryan Coogler, to spot the talent in someone he meets at college, and have the confidence to give that person work.  It's easy enough in to do in his debut movie Fruitvale Station, but then you have to be willing to stick with your man when the studio starts to say "Superhero movie, we need to have the score by the guy who does the loud obnoxious Superhero Movie music."  Also worth noticing is the delicacy with which Goransson's scored the quite different Creed and Creed II, where the score requires a different touch, including playing the obligatory homage to Bill Conti's original and enduring themes from the first Rocky movie, which Goransson always does with skill and grace.  Now, if Goransson would be willing to study just a little bit more at the knee of a John Williams and get even better, because Williams is getting on, Michael Giacchino isn't doing as much as he could be doing to assume the mantle, and we need people for that role.

11:15 PM - Green Book. Well!

11:03: We don’t always get what we want in life. Green Book won an Oscar for its screenplay, and Glenn Close did not win for The Wife.  I shall have more to say on these things.

10:50 PM - Rami!  I believe Bohemian Rhapsody is currently in the lead with four Oscars.  Very good Nike ad.  Roma is the only movie with a shot at overtaking Rhapsody.

10:45 PM - Already at Best Actor?!?!?

10:36 PM - after a few minutes of music from E.T., the bulk came from Superman: The Movie, the music over the funeral of Jonathan Kent, which brings tears to my eyes as an adult when I am lucky enough to see the film on the big screen. Fitting selection in a year when Margot Kidder is amongst thise whose lives were commemorated.

10:25 PM - Ludwig Goransson said “twelve years ago” in his acceptance speech. He doesn’t look old enough! Since I didn’t like any of the score nominees, I opted to root for Black Panther in this category, and am glad to have another win for the movie.

10:20: The Good. The Bad. And The Ugly. And having Green Book win an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay is definitely in the Bad column.

10:09 PM - I quite liked how they non-introduced Shallow, just had Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper come on up and sing. Would have been better if theybalso used the occasion to reenact that famous piano number from The Fabulous Baker Boys, but, OK. And how have so many people been doing the “Star Was Robbed” thing. It’s a great first third of a movie that gets worse with each trimester.  Really!  It isn’t a great whole movie.

10:05 PM - quoting @kylebuchanan “Only 3 black women have won Oscars for anything other than acting. 2 of them just happened tonight.”

9:57 PM - First Man. Won an Oscar.

9:53 PM - American Idol ad is the first standout in a while. The cell service providers are dragging the whole thing down.

9:50 PM - Whatever happens with Roma as Best Picture, Netflix has three Oscars in hand tonight.

9:48 PM -  “I can’t believe a film about menstruation just won an Oscar.”

9:47PM -first time presenters have done two awards?

9:38 PM - Not so happy about Supporting Actor category.  The winning performance could have been in the Best Actor category, and I just have a lot harder a time seeing Richard Grant or Adam Driver being swapped out for actors as good or better, while with Mahershala Ali, I can easily plug in three or five. Richard E. Grant first came to attention in the late 1980s with Withnail and I, which I didn’t see, and How To Get Ahead in Advertising, which sadly I did, an overpraised art film but Grant made an impression.  He resonated more positively in Steve Martin’s LA Story, and over the past thirty years he’s been in everything and anything, genre-wise, that you could be in, a lesser known actor from the Mchael Caine school choice philosophy. But there’s nothing in that thirty years to hint at the offbeat power and brilliance of his performance in Can You Ever Forgive Me,, which is a tone perfect tone poem about a deeply imperfect man playing off an ewually imperfect character played by Melissa McCarthy. I reckon being nominated and getting to play the award circuit is for a Richard E. Grant somewhat its own reward, but an Oscar would be a bigger one. And Adam Driver is an actor of deep subtlety as seen also in movies like Paterson.  So, here, two performances I much preferred to the one that won.

9:26 PM - from David Itzkoff in the New York Times — Trevor Noah reflects on his own life as “a young boy growing up in Wakanda,” and recounts the many people in his life who approach him by saying “Wakanda Forever.” “Even backstage, Mel Gibson came up to me like, ‘Wakanda forever.’ He said another word after that but the Wakanda part was nice.”

9:16 PM - I could’ve filled out half of a Ten Best list just with documentaries. Bathtubs Over Broadway, Three Identical Strangers. Science Fair. Filmworker. In addition to the the two I placed on.

9:12 PM - When Justin Chang says it for you, quote Justin:  Foreign-language film winner Alfonso Cuarón, making the second of likely three appearances on stage tonight, has a lot of cinephilia to go around: This time he tips his hat to CITIZEN KANE, JAWS, THE GODFATHER and BREATHLESS and quotes Claude Chabrol. 

9:09 PM - Black Panther didn’t make my Ten Best, but I find myself pulling for it because the films I liked more  are often not contending. And it is the work of an actual filmmaker in Ryan Coogler who tried jard to bend the superhero movie to his vision, and crafted a film that wears the influence of other great films on jts sleeve, rather than other superhero movies.  I am pretty much dead to the world of superhero movies at this point in time, but this has more staying power with me.

9:05 PM - Geek note, Ruth Carter was the Costume Designer for Joss Whedon’s Serenity.

8:53. Serena!

8:44 PM - Moving along so briskly, not a lot of dead time for blogging!

8:37 PM - Walmart ain’t my favorite place. McDonalds neither. But they step up to the plate with their Oscar ads.

8:27 PM - the guys are killing it with the tuxes this year😀👍😊😁👍😊

8:26 PM - Vice is not a good movie.

8:25 PM - and a great Rolex ad.  Google did someg soecialir the Oscars, but seeing 2001: A Space Odyssey abused that way.  Yikes!  Ugggh!!

8:21 PM. That was a great Cadillac ad, and then gets followed by a very prosaic Verizon ad.

8:18 PM - But Free Solo also made my Top Ten, and I wish I had gotten back to see it in IMAX.  Missing from the category is Three Identical Strangers.

8:16PM - What a great category. Minding The Gap, Free Solo, RBG all good.  Me go for Minding the Gap.

8:10 PM - Regina King is favored to win, and Beale Street is the one film all over the awards season that I took a pass on. No dog in this hunt.  I couldn’t have done worse seeing Beale Street over The Favourite, which I loathed.

8:08 PM Sparkly! Love the tux Chadwick Boseman is wearing.

8:04 PM An Oscar buffet fit fir a Queen

7:48PM - Getting ready!  Post from when nominations were announced here and my Top Ten for last year.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Oscar Nominations!

Most of the films I liked most didn't get anywhere near a nomination for Best Picture.  There is 0% overlap between the Academy and my Ten Best list, and if I get around to posting a "worth mentioning" there might be three from that list.  But there are lots of things to be praised in the selections.

And just to note, I signed up around Thanksgiving for this social media site called Letterboxd where I am listing every movie I see, and expect to review a good chunk of them.

Black Panther was one of the best superhero movies in years, but that's a deeply degraded standard since most of them aren't very good at all.  But Black Panther is the work of a major filmmaker, who made a superhero movie steeped in influences from major works in the cinematic cannon rather than other superhero movies.  Sure!

BlacKkKlansman is one of Spike Lee's best movies, it boasts great performances, it's timely. Sure!

Bohemian Rhapsody isn't a good movie, but the last twenty minutes are about as transcendent an experience as I've ever had in a movie theatre, helped by seeing it on a big RPX screen with great sound. And since you can't get directly to the transcendent experience, I've got no problem with the Academy bestowing a Best Picture nomination on the film.  Sure!

The Favourite.  WTF.  There's a thirty point gap on Rotten Tomatoes between the critic and audience rating.  I'm with the audience rating.  WTF. WTF. WTF.  And with Roma, I can understand and appreciate why the critics are fawning over the film even though I didn't like it all that much.  My dislike of Roma veers into the kind of passionate dislike which at least suggests it's gotten under my skin.  The Favourite?  WTF WTF WTF.

Green Book:  This would be kind of like having a really great slightly modernized version of a 1980s military sf novel come out in 2019, and be nominated for a Hugo Award.  It's not a bad movie.  I laughed out loud in parts, as did the audience I was with.  Again, lots of good performances to go around.  The movie's safe and comfortable, but I think not entirely so because there's some squirminess and discomfort in the mens store scene or the country club scene that bring it a little more into today than the same movie might have been thirty years ago.  But at the same time, you can't shake from the movie that there are parts of it that seem so thirty years ago.  Meh.

Roma:  So I didn't like this movie very much.  It's so full of all the things those deep within the critical establishment like.  Deep meaning.  Rich and wonderful black-and-white cinematography. Very auteur.  It was pretty much foreordained from its earliest screenings to be an Oscar nominee, but I would have liked a character to care about, a tiny bit of a sense of humor, something that wasn't so fully and self-consciously auteur. Meh.

A Star is Born:  I'll apply the same guidance as I did for Bohemian Rhapsody, only in reverse.  The first third of the movie is danged good.  It goes steadily downhill, the middle third somewhat worse and the final third I'm thinking really really hard about the Bumblebee puzzle in that weekend's NY Times Magazine.  But the good parts are dang good. Sure!

Vice:  No.  Not Best Picture material.  Nominate it for make-up, nominate it for Christian Bale, but this is not Best Picture material.

& Moving down the list...

Actor:  Willem Dafoe got a nomination for a movie nobody has seen.  I don't need to look at the "Snubs and Surprises" list to know what one of the leading Surprises will be.  I would give this to Rami Malek, because how you give a great performance in a bad movie with those teeth leading into one of the most transcendent sequences on film...

Actress:  Glenn Close is impeccably good in The Wife, and it's a movie about an author winning a  Nobel Prize for Literature.  How can I not root for that?  But all the competition is strong.

Supporting Actor:  Hard to choose,  We'll toss Mahershala Ali for being in the wrong category.  We'll toss Sam Elliott for doing a great job with cliches in a cliche ridden movie.  Sam Rockwell is good, but I'm sure there are five other performances as or more deserving.  And I still wouldn't be able to choose easily between Adam Driver and Richard E. Grant.  But I'll go with Richard E. Grant in Can You Ever Forgive Me, because it's closer to my profession.

Supporting Actress:  Amy Adams.  Because The Favourite isn't very good, I didn't like Roma, I won't go see If Beale Street Could Talk.  And Amy Adams was great.  But whether or not I go and see Beale Street I think Regina King has this.  (Why am I not going to see Beale Street:  Me no like the overly arty Moonlight full of weird shots of people coming onto the frame out of focus.  Unless there's a chance to do this as part of a double feature...)

Director:  Spike Lee.

Animated:  Spider-Verse.  More because of how much love it's inspired from people I love, more than because I loved it myself.

Screenplay:  First Reformed in Original.  BlacKkKlansman or Can You Ever Forgive Me for Adapted.

And let's talk about First Reformed.  Ethan Hawke is great in it, and the movie has some indelible aspects and images that I won't soon forget.  The ending!  The ending!  But really, the movie is just too damned weird, and the unique and special qualities of the weirdness don't entirely compensate for the fact that the movie is trying to do way too many things at once, with too many important moments happening way too quietly to the point that you wonder if they're motivated at all.  The weirdness of the movie, its offputting-ness, is nicely demonstrated by the fact that Willem Dafoe has an Oscar nomination for a movie nobody say, and Ethan Hawke does not.  Since a lot of my problems with the movie have to do with its screenplay I hesitate to award it an Oscar in that category, but I feel like the movie deserves an award someplace.

Cinematography:  Cold War and Roma are both fabulous.

Documentary:  We are living in such a great era for documentaries, and Free Solo and Minding the Gap are both wonderful.  And even though I liked RBG, I think it would be a disappointment, awarding a perfectly fine documentary for being in the moment when there are other movies which are just plain better.

Editing:  Bohemian Rhapsody.  You don't get twenty minutes of transcendent filmmaking at the end without editing the heck out of it.

Tech categories:  A brief moment of silence for First Man, which has a couple nominations down ballot.  I wanted to love this movie, with a director and actor I both love both doing some solid work, but at the end of the day the movie never makes a persuasive case for existing when we already have The Right Stuff, already have Apollo 13, etc.

Good News:  No need to see Mary Poppins Returns on account of its Oscar nominations count, which is slim.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Boskone Schedule

Excited to be heading up to Boston on President's Day weekend for Boskone 56.  It's forty years this day that I was staying by coincidence at the Boskone hotel, got free samples of the recently launched Omni magazine as a result, and started on the road to reading sf/fantasy that led to everything else.  

Starting bright and early with my first panel at 4pm on 15 February, I've got a great schedule, with lots of great co-panelists.  I'll also be doing a demo of the Mistborn: House War board game, which Crafty Games was gracious enough to donate to the convention's games library, and doing a Kaffeeklatsch with Barry Goldblatt, which is a great chance to be part of a very small group getting advice from two really good agents.   I hope I'll get to see some of you.

In part because I've attended Boskone with fair regularity the past dozen years, I have a lot of clients who are in the Boston area.  Dan Moren, Auston Habershaw, Greg Katsoulis, Suzanne Palmer, Kenneth Rogers, Neil Clarke of Clarkesworld, Toni L. P. Kelner and Steve Kelner are among the JABberwocky authors you can see at Boskone this year.   I'll be meeting with an author I met last year, who's currently in revision on a promising military sf novel,   And in 2017, Boskone's where I met up with Nick Martell for the first time, and a year after that I sold his first novel.  Networking and con-going can be a big part of finding early success in this business.  If you miss me at my panels, you might find me in the dealer's room, at the art show reception, or hanging out in the hotel's lobby bar.

The Life Cycle of a Book

Format: Panel
15 Feb 2019, Friday 16:00 - 16:50, Lewis (Westin)

Most of us just see the finished product on the shelf. However, there are lots of little (and big) steps associated with getting the book to the store. What's the life cycle of a book, from submission to publication? It's not as simple as "the author writes it, then the publisher prints it." What are the direct, indirect, and associated steps involved in the production and publication process — from editing to marketing, selling, reviewing, reprinting, and more?

also on the panel:  Gene Doucette, Andrea Corbin, Nicholas Kaufmann, LJ Cohen


Editing Your Manuscript for Submission

Format: Discussion Group
15 Feb 2019, Friday 17:00 - 17:50, Griffin (Westin)

Join our panel of editors and agents for a discussion on what they look for in a submission. Is submitting to an agent different from submitting to an editor? Are they seeking the same or different things on first reads? Do you submit a precis, a chapter or chapters, the whole manuscript, or other material and, if so, to whom and when? How do you prepare your novel for submission? What are some tips and tricks on how to cut, embellish, or shape a manuscript?

also on the panel: Joshua Bilmes (joshua@awfulagent.com), Auston Habershaw


Mistborn: House War Game Demo

Format: Gaming
16 Feb 2019, Saturday 12:00 - 12:50, Harbor I - Gaming (Westin)

Game on! A semi-cooperative resource-management game, Mistborn: House War is set during the events of Mistborn: The Final Empire, the first novel in the bestselling fantasy series by Brandon Sanderson. Join Brandon's agent Joshua Bilmes for a special demo of this fun new boardgame!

The Great Agent Hunt

Format: Panel
16 Feb 2019, Saturday 17:00 - 17:50, Marina 3 (Westin)

Finding an agent can be a bit of a mystery. Whom should you contact? What should you say? How much of your manuscript should be finished before you call? And what about established authors who have to change representation? Our pro agents share their experience and advice on the key steps in your agent-finding process.

also on the panel: S L Huang , Barry Goldblatt (Barry Goldblatt Literary Agency), Christopher Golden, Lauren Roy


Stereotyping Authors

Format: Panel
17 Feb 2019, Sunday 12:00 - 12:50, Harbor III (Westin)

Some authors get known for writing only one particular type of fiction: hard SF, or urban detective fantasy, or grimdark milSF mystery nurse romance … This sort of branding can bring a writer great success — while plunking them straight into a pigeonhole. Some find it quite difficult to escape. But breakouts are possible. Our panelists discuss the ups and downs of becoming a "known quantity," and how it affects the arc of their careers and the fiction they publish.

Ginjer Buchanan, Christopher Golden, Darlene Marshall


Kaffeeklatsch: Joshua Bilmes and Barry Goldblatt

Format: Kaffeeklatsch
17 Feb 2019, Sunday 14:00 - 14:50, Galleria - Kaffeeklatsch 1 (Westin)

combined with Barry Goldblatt of the Barry Goldblatt Literary Agency, bgliterary.com