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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, April 25, 2021

2021 Oscars Live Blog

11:30 PM Mine not to reason why.  If you read my 3400 words on this blog from before the Oscars, you’ll see that I am mostly happy with the things that won and the things that did not. But it was a weird evening.  The dry section in the middle was extremely dry. The beginning was extremely fresh because it was like no Oscars since I can remember, and I can remember back to things like the years when Chariots of Fire or Raiders were nominees, and I was watching in the TV room of the house I grew up in.  The ending was extremely odd.  But I watch most of all for the actual winners and losers.  I love every frame of Nomadland, and it won for Best Picture, every frame love that movie like I do every frame of Barry Lyndon.  The movies I liked least were Mank and Ma Rainey, and Mank won only in technical categories that it had an argument for winning, even in the photography category where it wasn’t my choice. Ma Rainey won some small awards, but not for the acting categories where I think there were better performances that were rewarded. My biggest disappointment is in the Supporting Actor category, where I’d have loved to see Paul Raci, but still Sound of Metal had a deserving spotlight including an award in a very competitive Editing category.  But, that ending.

11:16 PM: And no complaints on Anthony Hopkins.

11:15 PM OK! There was a lot of talk about Viola Davis winning for Ma Rainey, and I just couldn’t see another person winning Best Actress other than Frances McDormand or Carey Mulligan.  And I shan’t complain that it is McDormand.

11:12 PM Nomadland

11:09. But, Nomadland.  I love this movie, and it isn’t often that the movie I love most takes home the Best Picture trophy.  See Nomadland.  See it where you can soak in every image of every frame, every sound, every choice made by Chloe Zhao as s the director, every bit of modesty in Frances McDormand’s performance. Nomadland is special.

11:08. OK. That’s an interesting approach.

11:01 PM Did I miss the acting categories, or are they doing some weird thing of presenting the Best Picture nominees and then sandwiching in two more awards before presenting the award?  Weird...

10:56 PM Is this the first year that the In Memoriam has been segregated by the people who got one second and the people who got two seconds?

10:47 PM On the other hand I just got to see Glenn Close dancing away her sorrows over a record-tying 8th look with 0 wins in the acting categories.

10:45 PM If I need to endure Oscar trivia it should be at a bar where I can get a free hard cider for answering the question.

10:43 PM Since I’m doing a film-related live blog, a shout-out to Sean O’Connell, whose book RELEASE THE SNYDER CUT came out with perfect timing as a the Snyder Cut was releasing.  Sean spent his week before the Oscars doing some great get interviews for his next book WITH GREAT POWER, a history of Spider Man on film, which will be published in 2022.  

10:40 PM the noise in the room at Union Station seems at its loudest for the Best Song winners. I feel sorry for the people in Sweden who are up at this hour of the morning to not win an Oscar.

10:32 PM I will never complain to have Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross winning for Best Score, and better for Soul, which I didn’t see, than from Mank, sharing the award with Jon Batiste. Reznor and Ross, The Social Network. I need for a NY repertory house to give me an opportunity to enjoy The Social Network again.  

10:26 PM This is the first weekend since the pandemic where two movies have done significant opening weekend business, with both Demon Slayer and Mortal Kombat over $15M. My viewing this weekend was the pleasant Together Together, which is the first indie/art movie to have gotten an actual coordinated release post-pandemic, with reviews in the papers and time for theatres to prepare for showing it, and the Sat night screenings a little introduction from the director and a post-move taped Zoom with the director and two leads. Bit by bit it’s coming back, but it’s a little like going back to the beach house after a long winter away and having a lot of work to do to spiff it up for the season.

10:23 PM

10:18 PM Another small surprise. Did any of the Oscar preview articles I read tout Sound of Metal in the editing category?  This was a hard category, though, with all sorts of good movies contending. Very nice acceptance speech.

10:12 PM I more liked than loved when I saw In The Heights on Broadway, but I am eagerly awaiting the movie version on June 11. I’ve seen trailers many times, and now many different trailers with a new one coming into theatres recently that has a little more plot focus and now this one on the Oscars, and it hasn’t yet lost its appeal, its ability to get me to look up from my iPad and watch.  I am eager to see this movie on the biggest screen I can, hopefully in a glorious Dolby Atmos sound mix.

10:08 PM WTF? In fairness, Mank is strongest in categories like cinematography, but this is still an upset, taking the prize over Joshua James Richards for Nomadland.  And I loved every frame of Nomadland while, again, Mank I mostly watched the insides of my eyelashes.

10:07 PM Glenn Close ties Peter O’Toole for a a record eight losses of an acting award.  Chloe Zhao the first woman of color to win for Director.

10:04 PM I saw enough of Mank in between long stretches of “resting my eyes” to appreciate that it did have some achievement in production design, and the score was also excellent. So, sure. Give Mank an award.  It’s still a hot overrated mess of a movie. I hate this as much as I shall forever love David Fincher’s The Social Network.

10:02 PM Seconding @justincchang

10:00 PM A few minutes ago there was an ad for Google Meets. Don’t believe them. Google Meets is to Zoom what Bing is to Google.

9:57 PM Glenn Close is looking touched a little watching the acceptance speech, but she’s lost out on so many Oscars, but Hillbilly Elegy wasn’t the moment this year.  I can see Glenn Close reaming out her grandson in the car, and I can see Yuh-Jung Youn looking crestfallen after the fire, or simply being a grandmother in the family’s home. It’s a nice moment for the evening.

9:55 PM Yuh-Jung Youn for Supporting Actress.  The idea of her winning has grown on me over the course of the last several hours.

9:51 PM The family’s left to prepare for the work day or get ready for travel home tomorrow, so now it’s just me in my hotel room.  Last Oscars I was also in a hotel room in DC, in the before time, with tasty treats from Bakeshop in Arlington VA and fond memories of meals with David Louis Edelman and R.R. Virdi.  Aaaaah, the before times.  Back to being me, Oscar, some very good mini black and white cookies from Costco, and the apple strudels that will likely be offered to the hotel front office staff in the morning.

9:38 PM The “little bit dry” that Bryce Moore mentioned is becoming more apparent as the evening goes on.  Nothing dry about Bryce’s Perfect Place to Die, which is coming in August. Some energy missing from the festivities.

9:23 PM They’re showing clips!

9:19 PM I just had to explain to my nephew what a dot matrix printer is/was.  Hard to believe that the technology could have come and gone so very very quickly. Kind of like how I expect aa movie like Mank to sink out of view.

9:00 PM The story of how I care to fall in love with Chloe Zhao is kind of embarrassing.  I was going to see 2001: A Space Odyssey in 70mm with Nick Martell, and never dreamt that it would be sold out on a Monday night.  But, it was!  And I hadn’t gotten advance tickets.  Seeking an alternative, I suggested we see The Rider, which sounded like maybe it would be kind of meh but had gotten such reviews.  So we saw it on a teeny screen at a teeny art house multiplex.  And we loved The Rider.  And that was how I came to eagerly anticipate Nomadland.  

8:59 PM No surprise that Chloe Zhao won for Nomadland, but it makes me immensely happy/

8:54 PM with all due respect to the MPTF workers, when this speech is going on for so long it’s kind of reminding me why I tell authors to watch the head-and-shoulders gestures.  The best way to avoid going overboard is to try not to use them at all, and we’re at that stage with letting the acceptance speeches drone on for forever.

8:45 PM not a fan of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, but Ann Roth has been designing great costumes for about as long as I’ve been alive, and I think I read that she is, at the age of 89, the oldest person so far to go home with an Oscar statue. Check out her filmography. It is the definition of illustrious.

8:31 PM & the best part of Daniel Kaluuya’s win is seeing the looks on the faces of his family members in London, something that would have gotten lost in the large scale of the traditional ceremony at the Dolby Theatre.  This evening is such a nice “if live gives you lemonade...” moment, for the first half hour.  LIke, the acceptance speeches are going on, but it’s nice for a half hour.  We’ll see how it goes for another two-and-a-half.

8:28 PM My nephew points out that we aren’t getting clips for the Supporting Actor category, but we are getting some personal notes which take excellent advantage of the intimate Union Station setting for this year’s Oscars. And I like it.

8:22 PM No surprise that Another Round won, but Quo Vadis, Aida is the better film.  I can’t rave enough about Quo Vadis, Aida. where you can read my mini-review, and why I am not super happy to see the glorification of alcohol in Another Round getting an Oscar.  There’s nothing to complain about as a piece of filmmaking, but...

8:17 PM I liked the Expedia ad.

8:12 PM Not sure I was expecting The Father to win for Adopted Screenplay, but I don’t mind that it has.  I mean, Florian Zeller is up at 2am in Paris France to get his Oscar.  Better he should get it than just pose in his tux.  And Christopher Hampton at 1am in the UK

8:09 PM Glad there was no orchestra to drown out that nice acceptance speech from Emerald.

8:07 PM As I mentioned in my pre-Oscar 3400 words, Emerald Fennell kind of had to win for Promising Young Woman. It’s a great script, full of fun with dark undertones and navigating shoals and shoals and shoals.  If I were ranking the nominated movies that you should see, this is right at the top of the list.  Promising Young Woman.

8:06 PM There’s this belief that Hollywood’s privileged, and it’s kind of true, but the intro for the Original Screenplay is making it clear that people have to work their way in.

8:03 PM “Our love of movies helped to get us through.” Very true for me.  So very, very true.  

8:00 PM I didn’t get to watch a lot of the red carpet, but I’m impressed with what I’ve seen of how they’re doing this.  Actual people in an actual place with an actual red carpet feel.  Good first impression.

7:58 PM We’re doing this!  I’ve got company, which I haven’t had for an Oscars in decades probably, but we’re doing some live blog here.

Oscar 2021 - way too many coming attractions!!!

The Oscars are happening today.  

And I’ve read many an article or analysis, which I think generally true, that the world doesn’t very much care, and that the ratings are going to plummet as they have for other award shows, and even for a lot of sporting events.

But, I care!  

I’m not sure what I’ll be doing for my live blog.  If all goes well, I am going to have some fully vaccinated family members joining me in my (very large!) hotel room for at least part of the evening, and might not be able to give my full attention to the posting.  So I’m putting a little more effort into the pre-show this year.

In spite of and because of the pandemic, I ended up seeing as many or more of the nominated films as in a typical year, all in theatres.  I went some six months in 2020 where I saw only one movie, a fan favorite welcome back of Superman: The Movie at a theatre in Connecticut that opened for around three weeks in June before closing its doors to allow the cobwebs more time to cob, and which has yet to reopen its doors. That was it, from March 8 until mid-September.  But, once theatres were able to reopen in NJ and CT, and I was able to start going, I realized, putting it simply, that I needed to go.  I say that unapologetically. I went three months of 2020 without having an in person conversation beyond the “conversation” at the check-out register.  And then another three months where I might have had a handful of days if that with an employee joining me in the office but were mostly more of the same.  That wasn’t sustainable.  I, my sanity, needed something, and hopping on the quite empty commuter trains to go to the quite empty movie theatres seemed safe enough.  I never dreamt that I would know when the hourly trains from Stamford were headed back to New York City.  And a few weeks later, theatres were allowed to reopen in New York State, outside of the five boroughs.  And I went.  Manchester, Stamford, White Plains, New Rochelle, Garden City, Westbury, Bellmore, Hoboken, Elizabeth, South Orange, Paramus, Red Bank.  I went, and I went, and I went, and I went some more. And when the theatres could finally reopen in New York City on March 5, the IFC Center had a “what we missed” series where I could fill in a lot of the blanks.

There are eight moves nominated for Best Picture, but I feel like there’s only one, and that’s Nomadland.  I’ve done a full review of that elsewhere, and I’ll add links to this post down the line.  It’s a beautiful movie on so many levels, and a movie that achieves greatness through modesty.  I’ve seen it three times, all on IMAX, and would happily see it again.  I saw it on a private screening, with one other couple in the IMAX, and on opening weekend with fewer than ten of us. 

Promising Young Woman was the consensus favorite of a three-movie blitz over Christmas, and the pre-shows I’ve read elsewhere call it, perhaps accurately, the nominee that’s lost the most from this weird year, where a conversation-starter of a movie was never able to get the conversation started.  It’s got a brilliant lead performance by Carey Mulligan.  It’s got a clever script.  It’s got some good supporting turns, especially by Bo Burnham who has as much a tight rope to act in the quiet supporting role as Mulligan does in the lead.  It’s a movie that’s of the moment but doesn’t drown in it.  It’s got an ending that’s uplifting without losing the internal truth of the lead character.  Emerald Fennell, the writer and director, nailed this one, and is deservedly nominated in both categories.  If Nomadland were to lose, which would be a stunner, this is the movie I’d wish to see it lose to.

The Christmas blitz also included Wonder Woman 84 and News of the World, all as part of private theatre rentals. Which deserve a mention.  Cinemark was the first chain I saw doing these, allowing up to 20 people in for a private viewing for prices that went into the mid double figures for off hours oldies in markets with less expensive tickets to $200 for new movies, and I think these covered a good chunk of the payroll at a lot of Cinemark locations.  AMC then acted like they had invented the idea, and had prices approaching $400 at better performing locations in the New York market.  I feel a little uncomfortable about the idea, how people with a spare $150 could see a movie more safely than people without, but even now as business is starting to pick up there are some Cinemark multiplexes with five or more screens used solely for the viewing parties.

New of the World was perfectly fine, and Wonder Woman 84 I both liked more than expected (for me, the first movie underperformed against the reviews and expectations I had gong in while the sequel overperformed) and loathed for some of the laziness of the script and film-making.  

But, getting back to the Best Picture candidates:

Mank is godawful.  A great score (nominated!) and great photography (nominated) in service of a dull script and dull acting.  You want some David Fischer, rewatch The Social Network.

The Father is one of the many movies I saw at unplanned and unwanted private screenings.  I didn’t want to go theatres with too many people in them, but the number of private showings for really good movies...  It’s really good, with amazing acting, but I had to work harder to understand it than I really would have wanted.  If you’re a movie critic/reviewer you might well have gotten a copy of the screenplay or other press materials that make it more comprehensible, but it’s a movie that would be rewarding by repeat viewings for anyone else without justifying going back for seconds.  

Judas and the Black Messiah is an energetically made film, well-acted, but it’s a movie that tells me a lot about how Fred Hampton died without telling me enough about how he lived to invest me in how he died.

I’ve seen movies about failing farms for a long time now, like Places from the Heart with Sally Field in 1984.  Minari doesn’t add enough to the genre to justify its being a Best Picture winner.

Sound of Metal is a deserving nominee but not a deserving winner.  There’s a slow patch in the middle where we need to understand a little more about the lead character than the script allows us to.  Riz Ahmed deserves his Best Actor nomination in part because of his success in acting the part beyond what’s on the page well enough that I could almost not have noticed the  level of remove, but it’s there.

The Trial of the Chicago Seven is fine or better in lots of different ways.  I liked it, I’d recommend it, I don’t mind seeing it on the Best Picture ballot, but there’s no way I’m rooting for it.

Best Director, just like Best Picture, it’s either Chloe Zhao for Nomadland or Emerald Fennell for Promising Young Woman.  Thomas Vinterberg was nominated for Another Round, a Scandinavian movie about a bunch of drunk dudes, without the movie being nominated for Best Picture.

In Best Actress, there’s a sense that it might go to Viola Davis for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.  I’d again prefer Nomadland (Frances McDormand) or Promising Young Woman (Carey Mulligan).  This is one of the most problematic characters for me. Maybe it’s more the writing than the acting, but I think Vanessa Kirby’s character in Pieces of a Woman was a hollowness at the core of the movie, and I’d happily have her out of the category and Julia Garner from The Assistant in place of Kirby.  And I’d happily see Zendaya from Malcolm and Marie in place of Viola Davis.  Malcolm and Marie is indulgent and navel-gazing a little and has characters that aren’t the most pleasant, but it’s a beautifully photographed movie with really good acting and it’s thought provoking and gets into its characters.  It can be a bit of a dodge to use the “but what would you leave out” defense when someone says this person or movie was unjustly robbed of a nomination, but this is a category where I can hands-down identify performances that were overlooked in movies that were overlooked.

Best Actor is tough this year.  Riz Ahmed does the exact opposite of Vanessa Kirby.  He takes an underwritten role and turns it into an award-worthy performance in Sound of Metal.  Anthony Hopkins in The Father is a master class.  And then there’s Chadwick Bozeman in Ma Rainey, and there’s nothing about that performance that makes me think of Chadwick Bozeman over my overall “meh” toward the movie.

I rested my eyes through too much of Mank to evaluate Amanda Seyfried.  Of the performances I was awake for, I’m team Maria Bakalova.  Comedy is hard, and she is subsumed completely into the somewhat scripted and somewhat not comedy of Boras Subsequent Moviefilm.    For Supporting Actor, I was surprised to sit down with the ballot and realize I most wanted Paul Rici to win for Sound of Metal.  He’s the heart of the movie in so many ways, visions of the past and visions of the future and the paths that Riz Ahmed has. I can see him on the screen as I type, see the words and the signs and the face I saw when I went to the movie seven months ago.  

Original screenplay has to be Promising Young Woman.

Adopted screenplay, much as I like Nomadland this could go to The Father, or to Borat Subsequent Moviefilm or to The White Tiger, and I would be every bit as happy as if it goes to Nomadland.  I liked The White Tiger a lot more than the critical consensus, and I’m mostly happy to see that it got on the Oscar ballot.  

I am going to be the only person in the world rooting for Over the Moon to win in Animated Feature.

Documentary Feature, I’ll go with Collective.  I thought of seeing Time, but I can’t bring myself to.  All of the reviews and the audience score on Rotten Tomatoes and all the everything else, I just can’t.

I did see Crip Camp.  A lot of the pioneering work for disability advocacy was before I was politically aware.  A lot of time is spent on a sit-in during the Carter administration when I was a teenager, and it passed me by.  I’m interested in that history.  But the movie wants to say that all of that happened as a result of people going to a summer camp in the Catskills where they spent their nights as teenagers learning and plotting what would become the advocacy that led ultimately to the ADA, thus the title.  But there’s no support for that thesis at all.  What the movie actually tells us:  if you were a disabled teen with enough support at home in the 1960s or early 1970s that your parents could get you to a summer camp (for many of them, a summer camp way far out of state) for disabled teenagers, you had a stronger chance of having the structure and support that you could, in the late 1970s, participate in protests and sit-ins.  The existence of the movie is a feat all by itself because a lot of the main participants in events forty years ago aren’t with us today, but I wish the movie could have found a way to be more about the events, even looking a little at the events from the other side, from the POV of people in the Carter administration and some now/then on how they feel about slow-walking regulations, rather than spending as much time as it does on the thin reed of its premise.

Collective starts with searing and difficult-to-watch as-it’s-happening footage from within a Romanian night club where dozens of people died when a fire engulfed the premises starting a stampeded to closed and blocked exits.  It’s one of those stories that keeps repeating.  Happy Land in the Bronx, the Kentucky night club decades ago.  But it’s not so much about that. It’s discovered afterwards that the hospitals were using diluted disinfectants.  That burn victims were being sent to in-country hospitals without burn units that were supposed to have super duper burn units, that the care was so bad patients had maggots in them.  All of which the government would rather not deal with, until it’s forced to appoint a young public health advocate to reform from within,which lasts only until the next election when the government is booted out in favor or a return to le ancien regime.It’s a documentary about a great many things in under two hours, full of heroes and villains, twists and turns, deeply resonant to counties and political systems far away from Romania’s.  Quite excellent.

MLK/FBI is missing from the category, which is a shame.

Collective is also nominated in International Feature, where I’ve seen four of the five films, a much better percentage than usual.  Better Days is the film I didn’t see.  The Man Who Sold His Skin is the film that has no chance of winning.  

Another Round — I don’t know what to say about this.  I avoided seeing it for a while.  I don’t like movies about alcoholics and alcoholism, which can’t resist either glorifying something that should never be glorified, or asking us to wallow deep in the misery of it all, and this movie’s about a handful of long-time friends, teaching at the same high school, who set out to prove a thesis that we all function better with a moderate but not over the top blood alcohol level.  Great idea!  At least for me, this is like the greatest of great ideas - NOT!!!! - for a movie.  But as well as it’s done in the Oscars, nominated both here and for Best Director, I went.  If you want to ignore the scenes where one of the teachers does his best teaching ever while under the influence of alcohol, it avoids some of the glorification, but you can’t ignore those scenes.  It does show all of the main characters having some problems with work, family or friends, and one of them the problems get to be more than just a little serious, so it doesn’t show the behavior as being without risk or consequence of any sort.  But we get to the end of the movie and it’s suggesting alcohol as a fountain of youth.  Really?  I can’t separate myself enough from the morality of the movie to want to see it on an Oscar ballot, let alone winning.

Quo Vadis, Aida? is the movie I’d like to see taking the International Feature category.  Jasmila Zbanic wrote, produced and directed this searing movie about a genocidal attack by Serbian general Ratko Mladic, where over 8,000 men theoretically under the protection of the UN is Srebrenica were separated from their families, murdered, and buried in mass graves.  The lead, played by Jasna Duricic, is a UN translator trying to save her husband and sons.  It’s a real world version of the classic cliffhanger of the walls closing in, only there’s no escape hatch.  The lead performance and the movie are both absolutely top notch. The lead character’s a school teacher.  The movie could have ended with one of the massacres, the camera outside on a piece of military equipment studiously avoiding a view of what we know’s happening inside the building we’ve just left, but it goes on to show the main character rebuilding her life, kind of.  Back in school, teaching another generation.  But what’s she teaching them?  What is there to teach at all?  

Original Score - the best thing about Mank is the score.  James Newton Howard does a good one for News of the World.  Terrance Blanchard does a really good one for Da 5 Bloods.

Sound, I’ve seen only three of the movies.  Haven’t streamed Greyhound, didn’t see Soul.  Everyone thinks Sound of Metal will win for a movie that’s as much about the absence of sound as its presence, and I’m fine with that.

I don’t give a crap about make-up.  The category includes two movies I haven’t seen, two I slept through, and one (Hillbilly Elegy) where the make-up is so over the top...

Costume Design, a lot of the same movies and a lot of the same thoughts.

There are some beautiful movies in the Cinematography category.  Chicago 7 is nominated in part for managing to merge the real of the demonstrations with the shots from the cameraman, I would expect.  But if anything wins other than Nomadland, then (like Billy Joel(), I’m gonna start the fire.  Joshua James Richardson is named Joshua, after all, and Joshua deserves always to win.  But I saw this movie on IMAX thinking it was a little bit silly to head out to Paramus to see a movie that would open more widely in a few weeks on screens other than IMAX, because it’s just this little art movie about someone living in a camper.  But then, I watched the movie.  It’s a parade of glorious imagery, from the close-ups of Frances McDormand’s face to the desert glow at sunset to the Pacific coastal to an inside of a luncheonette counter at Wall Drug.  It’s rapturously filmed.  

Let The Father have Production Design.  I didn’t pick up on all the subtleties that the critics with their liner notes etc. etc. did, but from what I read there’s a lot of subtle stuff going on in this one.  I’d rather Mank take its award for Score.  Ma Rainey doesn’t have good production design; it reeks of the back lot.  News of the World and Tenet are fine choices as well.

The Father also makes sense for Film Editing, but all the movies in this category are quite well done.

VIsual Effects, Tenet.

Even this year, I decided not to spend hours sitting for the short features, when I never see them in non-pandemic years.

The LA Times has several good articles today on the Oscars.

One article I read said it’s a shame that the Oscars are giving us all of these depressing movies when we want fun, but Hollywood doesn’t make very many good fun movies any more.  The fun movies are almost entirely bludgeoning SFX spectaculars, and then when Hollywood does come up with a glorious piece of fun like The Prom, a lot of the critics dump on it.  But there’s something hopeful about Sound of Metal and Nomadland and Minari, even though they wear their dark well.  There’s something truthful about The Father.  Judas and the Black Messiah and The Trial of the Chicago 7 are stories worth telling and retelling. 

And Promising Young Woman takes the movie that isn’t supposed to be fun, that’s been made the no fun way, and makes it quite a bit of disorienting fun.  I’m thinking I should see it again.

And folks, the movies will be back.  

I wasn’t worried when WarnerMedia announced it was putting all its movies on HBO Max at the same time they went into theatres.  To me, it meant there would for sure by 17 movies with major studio booking heading into movie theatres in 2021.  There are some changes ahead for the film business.  There are going to be fewer places to see movies.  The South Orange cinema I visited a few times is closed.  The Landmark 57 West in New York City is closed for good.  The Mazza Galleria in DC, that’s gone.  More of this to come, for sure — more of this to come.

But I love going to the movies.  I’m not the only person who loves going to the movies.  It’s about the “going.”. My TV set and my iPad aren’t going anywhere, and aren’t going anywhere (two uses, purposefully).

Maybe it will be only 10 million people tonight watching whatever the Oscars have to bring, but I saw some great movies over the past year, and I can’t wait to see who wins.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

On Being (& Becoming) Grand - Charlaine Harris

On the occasions of Charlaine Harris being named a 2021 Grand Master honoree by the Mystery Writers of America...

It was a Cub game.  The Mets and the Cubs at Shea Stadium in 1989, when you could bring a backpack into the ballpark, and my backpack would have a manuscript to read, when we still read those on paper.  That’s when I remember reading REAL MURDERS by Charlaine Harris, during a rain delay.

Charlaine was looking for an agent.  She had successfully placed two books on her own in the early 1980s, SWEET AND DEADLY and A SECRET RAGE, to the legendary Ruth Hapgood at Houghton Mifflin, and then taken a few years off to when she had her first two children.  A then-client of mine, Barbara Paul, recommended that Charlaine get in touch with me, and so it was that I found myself reading the first Aurora Teagarden mystery, and I was very much in love.

Not to knock the idea that it helps to write a good novel, which REAL MURDERS was and is, and do well by the people you work with, which Charlaine Harris has done for every moment of a long career, but there’s still a lot of fortune involved in the successful writing career, and for myself, Charlaine, and Aurora Teagarden, fortune came wearing the name of Janet Hutchings.  Janet is now, and has been for many years, the editor of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, but she was then the mystery editor for Walker & Company, a small-ish family owned publisher with a deeply creditable mystery list, and she was the only editor -- the only! -- to make an offer on REAL MURDERS.  $4,000.

I was crushed.  I had taken this wonderful novel out with much enthusiasm and great expectations, and all I had to show for it was a $4,000 offer.  But my boss at the time, Scott Meredith, sent me one of his famous scrawls on 3x5 note paper to tell me that it wasn’t easy bringing an author back into the market after a several year absence, and that I had done good.  And I reckon, with the passage of time, that this was a true statement.

Janet left Walker after buying the second Aurora Teagarden novel, and Charlaine and I didn’t cotton as much to Janet’s replacement.  We went looking for a new home for the third Aurora Teagarden.  And this time, fortune came wearing the name of Susanne Kirk.  Susanne edited a mystery list for Scribner, another family-owned publishing company with a rich and storied and even more deeply creditable mystery list. She wasn’t sure about picking up the Aurora Teagarden series, which had been with a smaller publisher with modest sales.  I can’t say that I persuaded her.  She told me later that it was Charlaine herself who did the trick, charming the room at a mystery convention, that told Susanne she should have some Charlaine of her own.  

And then Scribner was engulfed and devoured by Simon & Schuster.  Susanne hung on for several more years, but big publishers like Simon & Schuster don’t enjoy publishing (not then, in the mid 1990s, not now, not for a very very long time) the steady but modestly profitable books of the world, and the mystery list Susanne edited turned much more heavily toward the lottery ticket approach, squeezing out Charlaine and the Aurora Teagarden series.

This time around, fortune came wearing the name of Elizabeth Story, a young editor at St. Martin’s whom I’d met a few times during a monthly networking night at the Cedar Tavern on University Place.  Elizabeth ended up leaving publishing, and the Cedar ended up leaving the world entirely, but that connection helped in selling SHAKESPEARE’S LANDLORD, the first of the new and rather darker Lily Bard series of cozy mysteries by Charlaine, and after Elizabeth left St. Martin’s we ended up in the care of the (then very young) Kelley Ragland.  

I have always been a fan of the Aurora Teagarden books, dating back to that rain delay at Shea Stadium, and I spent a good chunk of this period of time trying to get Kelley to pick up some more books in the series.  This was not easy.  The Lily Bard books had their level of success, and it was not intuitive that the series that had already been dropped by two publishers deserved to have a third.  But, I persisted.  The Aurora Teagarden series moved to St. Martin’s, and ended up selling better than the Lily Bard novels.  Never bet against Aurora Teagarden.

It was also around this time that Charlaine made the decision to do something entirely new.  She felt she was mired in the midlist, and this wasn’t where she wanted to be.  And with some inspiration from Laurell K. Hamilton and Tanya Huff and Buffy guiding her muse, she wrote a novel called SOUTHERN FRIED VAMPIRES which introduced a very very different character named Sookie Stackhouse.  And boy, was it different.  I wasn’t even such a big fan, but this time it was Charlaine who persisted.  We agreed to send the book along to Dean James, then an important bookseller at Houston’s Murder by the Book and now very well known as Miranda James, and accept his verdict.  Dean liked SOUTHERN FRIED VAMPIRES, so I took it out to market.

These vampires didn’t want to sell themselves.  It wasn’t for lack of a good marketing letter.  In a remarkable bit of prescience, I said that the combination of Charlaine’s loyal base in the mystery field with the genre-crossing merriment that had made Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake into a force to be reckoned with would work its magic on book buyers.  But, nobody was buying it.  We had one offer from a very small publisher that I persuaded Charlaine to turn down; it was very one-sided for a book that would probably succeed more on the basis of Charlaine’s name on the front cover than the publisher’s name on the spine.  

Finally, I sent it off to John Morgan, a young editor at Ace (Laurell/Anita’s publisher), who was starting to acquire.  I could have sent it to Ace sooner, but the established editors sometimes had slow response times.  And it worked.  John liked SOUTHERN FRIED VAMPIRES.  He was able to get his boss, Ginjer Buchanan, on board.  And we got a two-book offer for less money per book than Charlaine was getting at St. Martin’s.  Not the most auspicious sale for a book Charlaine had hoped would take her out of the midlist.

But we got a new title you might all be familiar with.  DEAD UNTIL DARK.  We got a great cover.  And lo and behold, and exactly as I had promised in my marketing letter, we got buy-in to the book both from Charlaine’e established mystery readership and from the Laurell K. Hamilton fans, and DEAD UNTIL DARK sold, and sold, and sold, and hasn’t stopped selling for twenty years.  So well and so quickly that Charlaine was almost immediately offered a contract for the third and fourth Sookie Stackhouse novels, and then when the second book was published for the fifth, sixth and seventh Sookie novels -- the first time in over twenty years that Charlaine had a big enough advance that she could feel truly comfortable as a writer.

The rest of the story, you probably know.  Or a pretty good chunk of it.

What you might not know:  TRUE BLOOD came out when Alan Ball was early for a dentist appointment, and came across DEAD UNTIL DARK while browsing the shelves of a nearby Barnes & Noble.

Charlaine’s one of the very few authors to have not one, or not two, but three different series make it to television. (So far…)  I sometimes feel like a bystander to her success, but not when it comes to the Aurora Teagarden series on Hallmark.  Just like at St. Martin’s, I advocated for the series that had been around a time or two (the creator of Simon & Simon was going to write a pilot for CBS in the 1990s, before a management shuffle left the project orphaned even before the contract was finalized), and the book-to-film agents at APA, Debbie Deuble Hill and Steve Fisher, took my words to heart, and found producer Jim Head, who packaged things for Hallmark.  The 15th Hallmark movie is wrapping up production right about now.

There are so many instances where fortune has played a major role in Charlaine’s success, but it’s of no small import that she’s forever displayed great courage in directing her career.  She put Aurora Teagarden aside to launch the Lily Bard books.  She killed off Aurora’s husband.  She stopped writing Lilly Bard novels when she felt she’d ran out of things to say.  She put an end to the Sookie Stackhouse series, and went on to start two more, the Midnight Texas and Gunnie Rose novels.  She took a big gamble on starting the Sookie books.  

It’s only with the passage of time that I’ve come to truly appreciate how fortunate I’ve been to work with Charlaine.  My agency has in many ways grown along with her, with some high stakes discussions that were nerve-wracking at the time because I’d never done them before, but as I’ve done them more and more have realized that they could have been even more fraught.  

You don’t get to be a Grand Master without winning the respect of your peers. When you’ve been told a thousand times, as Charlaine has, that it couldn’t have happened to a nicer person, it can seem a little artificial, but this award is the moment when you realize it’s entirely true.

Charlaine’s been loyal. For all her success, you can still go to a convention and see her hanging out with a lot of the same people today as she did thirty years ago, only the surrounding crowd has gotten so much larger.  I’ve been blessed to get to work with other authors like Toni L P Kelner and Elaine Viets in no small part because of Charlaine’s good word.

Charlaine’s been there for her family, and they’ve been there for her. 

And all along the way, I’ve simply known how lucky I’ve been to be in the Charlaine Harris business.  In the mid and late 1990s, I wasn’t prosperous, not by a long shot, but finding the money to be in DC for Malice Domestic weekend was always important to me.  I wanted to be there for Charlaine.  I’ve always known.

I consider the Grand Master honors to be the most significant a genre author has a decent chance of receiving.  The Nobel and Pulitzer don’t often get awarded to cozy mysteries or fantasies.  You can leave any given Bouchercon with any of three different awards, or collect a Hugo and Nebula and World Fantasy withiin the space of a few months.  I don’t know in my career if I’ll get to have another Grand Master.  There are but a handful from the major writer’s organizations in a year.

I’m so grateful to the Mystery Writers of America for awarding Charlaine Harris a 2021 Grand Master honor, and for recognizing not just what she’s done, but who she is is.  And even more to the point, I’m honored that I’ve gotten to hang out with Charlaine for thirty one years and counting -- to go to the Real Murders club with Aurora Teagarden, working out at Body Time with Lily Bard, getting creeped out by Manfred, checking into the hotel at Midnight Crossroads, wandering across the dangerous landscape of Texoma. Being there as Sookie helps Hunter to make his way into the world, and as Anne DeWitt comes to the aid of her charges.  And always, Bobo Winthrop.  And always, always, Grand.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

On Doing Better...

 One of the great joys of Fantasy novels is the opportunity to experience the way characters evolve and grow, and to see that process demonstrated through the choices they make. The characters we love best are those whose sense of personal responsibility expands ever outward as they recognize their own power to effect change in the world – to aid someone in distress, to right wrongs. 

We love this journey, in part, because it reflects our best hopes for ourselves. Most of us know that too often we narrow our own sense of responsibility, rationalizing that we are limited in what we can or even should do in our lives to help others when they need us. We call it being realistic or practical. Usually, it is an excuse for cowardice.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the limits of my own sense of responsibility in the context of my reflections on a moment where I failed to act when I should have.

As some of you reading this already know, in 2009 I hosted a JABberwocky dinner at a World Fantasy Convention in San Jose. At that dinner, a friend and valued colleague, Janci Patterson, was subjected to unwanted and unacceptable behavior by another guest at that dinner, which made her deeply uncomfortable. 

I did nothing but watch as one of my authors made comments that made her feel awful at an event that I put on.

I wish I could precisely reconstruct my thinking on that night. Why didn’t I intervene? It wasn’t that I couldn’t empathize. From early in life I had plenty of personal experience -- the harshness of middle school or the awkward high school parties -- with the pain and discomfort that can be caused by other people’s bad behavior. 

On that night in San Jose I should have known how wrong this thing I was witnessing was. And yet I did nothing to stop it. 

I have no clear answer for why I made that bad choice except to say that somehow I determined it was not my responsibility. 

And, in doing so, I failed a crucial test. 

I have apologized to Janci for my failure. But no apology is sufficient unless it is coupled with an honest effort to change.

So that is what I am committing to in writing this. I have made a promise to myself and to any who read this that I will expand my sense of responsibility, as I hope we have all learned to do over the past year or two. 

I don’t expect that doing so will be easy. But that is what taking responsibility means and that is what I pledge myself to do. It is part of what I believe I owe to Janci and, as importantly, to myself in my own efforts to be the kind of person I wish to be. 

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

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.


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)