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, February 26, 2017

Oscars: Made in America

12:23 AM: Actually, I do know what to say.  For a movie full of shots of people slowly coming into focus, it's only fitting that the Moonlight win for Best Picture was initially so cloudy.  Totally, 100% fitting. It summarizes the aesthetic of the film itself.  And, I still can't stop laughing.

12:13 AM: I have nothing more to say.  I look forward to reading about the final ten minutes of tonight's ceremony.  I don't know what to say.

12:04 AM:  And Dunaway looks spectacular.

12:03 AM:  Beatty and Dunaway.  A nice touch.  Drunaway also appeared twice in the ill-timed Rolex ad, in her role in Network.

12:01 AM:  The most special Oscars are the ones when I get to start typing an "AM" in for the live blog.

11:58 PM:  If wishes were fishes.  But while I enjoyed La La Land, I just don't really see this, even if everyone kind of said it's what would happen.

11:57 PM:  I don't want Emma Stone to win.

11:50 PM:  The Best Actor field was originally considered to be Affleck's to lose, then looked like maybe he would lose it to Denzel.  I am very happy with this win.  http://brilligblogger.blogspot.com/2017/02/ready-set-oscar.html. Very humble speech. Bottom line, I'd love to be twenty again, just so I could go to college and go to grad school and do a dissertation on Manchester by the Sea, awful use of music included.  It's a special film in so many small and wonderful ways.

11:42 PM:  No complaints here.  Damien Chazelle directed Whiplash, which was quite a fine piece of work, and followed it up with another quite a fine piece of work.  La La Land isn't my favorite of this year's movies, but it's every bit a director's vision and passion and hard work as any of the other films it was contending with.  And, yes, Whiplash was also a damn fine piece of work.  It's quite rare for a young director to start out with films like this that are critically acclaimed and genuinely accessible to a wide swath of moviegoers, that don't put me to sleep or thrive only in the rarified atmosphere of Park City.  So I'm happy.

11:38 PM:  Oh yay! Another Verizon ad.  More to the point, poor Cameron Crowe.  His Jerry Maguire is kind of like my autobiography; I screened it for my 50th birthday party, in fact.  So to see his pleasant We Built a Zoo turned into fodder for the Matt Kimmel show tonight. Sigh.  And it is a pleasant movie.  Not a great one, but a very pleasant one.

11:30 PM:  Yay! Manchester by the Sea wins for Original Screenplay. Matt Damon will now happily eat all the McRibs he's gotten over the course of the evening.  Lonergan is an excellent playwright and screenwriter, and plays like Lobby Hero are as worth seeing as Manchester by the Sea is.  He's had "History" in Hollywood, which is a little too long to discuss here (I'll add a link later), but taking home an Oscar tonight after the odyssey of Lonergan's last movie has to be sweet.  And it is such a good screenplay,

11:19 PM:  Nice to have a shout out to the teaching of arts in public schools, which has been losing ground for years due to budget cuts and teaching to tests.  But. Really.  Someone's mother let someone leave the soccer team to appear in a school musical.  The horror.  The horror.

11:17 PM:  If you weren't pegging La La Land in the Score and Song categories, you should never get to fill out an Oscar pool ballot again.  Ever, ever again.

11:15 PM:  http://variety.com/2017/film/news/fantastic-beast-first-harry-potter-oscar-1201997179/. So this was the first time that any Harry Potter movie won an Oscar for anything.  I'm not the biggest fan of the series; Azkaban is the only of the movies that I've actually liked.  But still, you think of all the technical resources poured into the movies, often by top talents in the industry like Production Designer Stuart Craig, or music for some of the film's from John Williams, and the visual effects, and etc. etc., and it's hard to believe there's always been something better every single time, until tonight.

11:08 PM:  Spoke to soon.  The purple prose of unnecessary clutter in an Oscar musical # hath returned.

11:06 PM:  Here we go again.  The #s from La La Land would be perfectly fine if it was just John Legend singing and playing piano, and instead we've got all sorts of unnecessary stuff going on in the background.  At least they appear to have exited the stage without hitting John Legend in the head, like one of the flags did in the Moana number earlier.

10:57 PM:  Because we all think of Bridges of Madison County as first choice of Meryl Streep's excellence.  But it's a surprisingly good movie, and it has Clint Eastwood, whose Sully deserved more love from Oscar than it received.

10:54 PM:  One of the best ever presentations about the Sci/Tech Oscar presentation.  And are we looking at a midnight EST closing time for the Oscar ceremony?

10:42 PM: Great Google ad.

10:41 PM:  If we do get to vote for the best Walmart short, the Seth Rogen/Evan Goldberg is far and away my top choice.  It was fun.

10:38 PM:  One of the biggest changes from when I was growing up -- it's so much less likely for a Best Picture to also vacuum up wins in the technical categories.  Film editing is often a very tough category with lots of worthwhile nominees, and I'm kind of pleased with Hacksaw Ridge winning in this category.  And of course, we'd all expected two hours into the ceremony that Hacksaw Ridge would have twice as many Oscars to its name as La La Land.  Mel Gibson has been a good sport about the ribbing he's taken from K├╝mmel, and why not.  If I could get a little ribbing in exchange for two Oscars for my movie, yeah, probably me too.  It remains to be seen if Matt Damon will feel like he's gotten any return on his investment in ribs.

10:25 PM:  So I'd have pegged Production Design for Fantastic Beasts, rather than Costumes.  That's why we play the game.  It is "most likely correct" that I would not have done well in an Oscar pool.  "Most likely correct."

10:18 PM:  "This is Ryan Gosling.  He's very handsome.  Don't look into his eyes."

10:01 PM:  Around and about the halfway mark, and the Sting number is a great place for a bathroom break, and for Lady Gaga.  Except it was probably too short for a bathroom break.

9:58 PM:  On Bill Paxton:  https://twitter.com/ecoevoevoeco/status/835990351278112768

9:50 PM:  And, yes, Viola Davis did win for Supporting Actress, while I was telling you about Lynn Stalmaster.  If Verizon should be calling AT&T's add, I'd like to suggest that Apple go after Samsung's.  Apple's approach to ads can use an updating, and maybe that can be a column idea for Dan Moren.  Final thought on this set of ads:  will there be some kind of toll free # or something, so that after the Best Picture, we can give an award for the Best Walmart Receipt Picture?  Even better, can they get Jeff Bezos to come up on stage to present that award?

9:44 PM:  While we head to the coronation of Viola Davis, some notes on the excellent group of honorary Oscar recipients.  Anne Coates may be best known for the "match cut" in Lawrence of Arabia and has decades of achievement as a film editor.  Same for Lynn Stalmaster, who was one of the leading casting directors, a category that has a branch in the Academy but not an Oscar to award -- making his receipt of an honorary award the only way of honoring.  For whatever reason, the first film that popped to my mind as being cast by Lynn Stalmaster was "Tootsie," and I surfed over to IMDB to see if that was in fact a correct recollection.  It was.  But I could just as easily have associated Stalmaster's name with the casting of Superman: The Movie or dozens upon dozens of other films.  And casting is so very important.  Who cast Hidden Figures?  Whomever it is, that's a hidden figure behind the success of a movie that relies heavily on the quality of its cast.  Frederick Wiseman is one of the leading documentarians of our time.  As his time has gone on, it's gotten harder and harder to love his movies if you aren't a critic because nobody's able to tell him to cut, and he distributes his own movies.  Better to go looking at a movie from decades ago like Titticut Follies than his most recent In Jackson Heights, with all due respect to the fact that I know several of the people who appear in the most recent.  But at his best, and even sometimes at his longest, he'd shed light on US institutions from hospitals to fashion to the military to prisons to schools to more.  It's hard to say you're a movie lover or cineaste of any sort whatsoever if you haven't seen something that Wiseman has directed.  Do you need me to tell you about Jackie Chan?

9:33 PM:  After having to endure two Verizon ads in just the first hour, I may cancel my FIOS service the moment the ceremony is over.  Also, I have no plans to be Disney's guest on March 17.  Maybe I will go look for a VCR tape of the animated version that I can hold up to the light because I can't play it on a VCR.

9:30 PM:  The bummer about that Arrival win -- Sully was also nominated, and Sully was a really good movie that deserved more Oscar love and which I really wish I'd gone back to see a second time, and it doesn't even get a consolation prize.  I really, really, really liked Sully.  It would be on my Ten Best for 2016, hands down.

9:28 PM:  In honor of Arrival winning, I will doze off for most of the acceptance speech, wake up near the end, and decide I woke up too soon.

9:23 PM:  That was a nice Walmart ad, which doesn't make it any less soul deadening for me to walk into a Walmart.  Also, maybe Verizon should hire a good advertising agency, like the one AT&T is using.

9:19 PM:  Lesson to writers:  do not clutter up your movie with unnecessary flourishes the way the Oscar performance of "How Far I'll Go" had those people with blue flags going back and forth in the background for not particular purpose.

9:14 PM:  Was Caroline Waterlow tearing up in the background during Ezra Klein's acceptance speech for OJ: Made in America?  And an excellent speech; dispensed with the laundry list to focus on the actual crime that underlying the movie.

9:11 PM:  As noted in my pre-Oscar blog post, I consider OJ: Made in America to be the Best Picture, the real Best Picture.  Not just the best long form documentary.  It's worth seeing.  All eight hours of it.

9:11 PM:  One of the NY Times reporters live chatting is with me -- quietly pulling for Hidden Figures to surprise us at the end of the night.

9:05 PM:  Unintended relevance.  Bill Paxton shows up in a Titanic clip in a Rolex ad.

9:03 PM:  SInce I have never wanted to buy a car, I don't understand why there are so many ads for them.

9:02 PM:  I wonder how many Oscar pool ballots have been wrecked by having Fantastic Beasts win for Costume Design?  Was that going to be a thing?  Also, we can now say with reasonable assurance that La La Land will not be tying any records for Oscars actually won.

8:53 PM:  I said to myself before the ceremony, "please, no Verizon ads with the guy holding the mic." Anything can win the awards now, it won't be more disappointing than seeing one of these crappy Verizon ads.

8:50 PM:  I'll consider this to be the award for his role in Hidden Figures.  Because when it comes to Moonlight, there were four other performances which the clips reminded me how much I enjoyed relative to the winning one.

8:45 PM:  Not bad, unless you're Matt Damon.  Working to the host's particular strengths, and doesn't seem like a monologue four other people could have given.

8:41 PM:  "We didn't see Elle, but we absolutely loved it.". Well, see it!

8:40 PM:  Jeff Bezos and I are each "JB" yet he is at the Oscars, and I am just watching it.

8:38 PM:  "Remember last year when it seemed like the Oscars were racist."

8:37 PM:  Sadly, the 230 countries that hate us is most likely correct.

8:35 PM:  Honestly, it can only go downhill from here.

8:33 PM:  Um, no idea what this has to do with the business at hand, but I will never complain if someone wants to bring Justin Timberlake into my living room.   Maybe he could host the Oscars some year.  And the people in the audience seems to be enjoying it.

8:20 PM:  I got a devil's food cheesecake and chocolate cupcake from Juniors, a German chocolate slice from Amy's Bread, and a couple cookies from Empire Cake.  Even though I've been 2:20 on the bike and elliptical today, I should maybe try not to eat all of them?

8:12 PM:  18 minutes to go.  Oscar live blog!!

Ready, Set, Oscar!

The Oscars are a little over an hour away, and I reckon I shall do that old-fashioned live blog things again, so that my thoughts do not need to be burped out 140 words at a time.

Last year, I was passionate about the MIA Oscar for Straight Outta Compton, which was a great movie that was left looking for stray drops of wine in the discarded bottles from the Oscar party.  This year the feeling's a bit different, because I'm not a big fan of Moonlight, or at least the half of it that I endured before walking out.  And Moonlight is considered a lock to win the Adapted Screenplay award, and near to a lock for Supporting Actor. And the movie didn't do it for me. My one lasting impression is of repeated overly artsy shots of people emerging in the frame out of focus and then, belatedly, does the focus puller decide to actually start pulling the people into focus.  I wasn't engaged by the story.

Moonlight isn't along in being a critical darling that I didn't cozy up to.  I wasn't engaged by Arrival. I wasn't engaged by Silence.  I wasn't engaged by 20th Century Woman.  I wasn't engaged by Rogue One.  There are lots and lots of nominations for movies that didn't engage me.  Which isn't anything new, I guess.  Remember all the nominations for Sideways?  Mostly slept through that.

And talking about movies that didn't engage me, there's also Birth of a Nation.  I wonder what would have happened if Nate Parker hadn't had trouble digging out of the imbroglio over his acquittal on rape charges many years ago.  There's a long, long history of movies that everyone loves amidst the snowy slopes of Park City that aren't near as beloved by the time they finally make their way to movie theatres.  There's an excellent chance that a Birth of a Nation might have been another Happy Texas, a Sundance darling from some twenty years ago with a 54% viewer score on Rotten Tomatoes.  There's been so many movies on the subject that have been so much better than Birth of a Nation, including the quite recent Twelve Years a Slave.  And Roots.  What would my Twitter feed have looked like if Birth of a Nation had come and gone and faded without Nate Parker helping it along?

Also caught up in the Birth of a Nation imbroglio:  Casey Affleck, the Best Actor nominee for Manchester by the Sea, who settled civil suits about workplace sexual harrassment.  Have read articles in LA Times and elsewhere speculating if the two deserve to be treated differently.  So much about the movies to unpack that has nothing to do with the movies themselves, but hasn't it always been thus.

With the exception of Captain Fantastic, I've seen pretty much every nominated everything. There was Moonlight, which I made a point of seeing as part of a multiplex double features, but there were few movies making it to the final ballot which I avoided seeing at all because I just knew what I'd be getting myself into.

I guess La La Land will win Best Picture.  Which I guess I won't complain about.  But sitting here thinking on it, I'd love to see Hidden Figures surprise all of us.  I liked it more than most of the other Best Picture contenders, maybe even more than La La Land.  I didn't like it as much as Manchester by the Sea, but I can't support Manchester because the use of music in the movie is appallingly bad.  And Hidden Figures is so quietly good.  So it's not 100% true, because the Kevin Costner character didn't actually exist, and there weren't segregated bathrooms for one of the lead characters in the movie to use.  But it's so quietly good that you can miss how well it's made.  Start with good casting.  Add one under-appreciated director because he gets out of the way of his good cast.  This is so totally NOT what Barry Jenkins was doing in Moonlight.  If I have to take sides in today's political climate, I'd rather root on Hidden Figures as a good movie and rebuttal to the current regime.

Best Actor is supposed to come down to Denzel Washington for Fences or Casey Affleck in Manchester by the Sea.  I am unreservedly in Team Affleck for this.  I like Denzel Washington a lot, but the quiet unshowy control of Affleck's performance in every frame of Manchester by the Sea, the layers upon layers of hidden story, did more for me.  Fences doesn't give enough for Denzel Washington to work with.  Everything is anticipated.  The infidelity can be seen from 1:45 away when the character is praised for being so faithful.

Isabelle Huppert?  Her performance in Elle is an acting class that can be dissected and debated and admired for many more hours than the movie itself.  The movie doesn't exist without her performance.

How do you give La La Land a dozen Oscars when even a bad movie like Silence has stunning cinematography, when there's a Jackie to contend with in Costume Design, a Fantastic Beasts for Production Design, a film like Hell or High Water that relies on editing to find its own rhythm?

I keep meaning to sit down and memorialize my own Ten Best list for 2016, but there's just the one Oscar day when I actually sit down to talk about movies.  But it's reasonably safe to say that Hacksaw Ridge, He'll or High Water, Hidden Figures, La La Land and Manchester by the Sea would have pretty good odds of making the list.

But of course, it's a typical Oscar year, and the Best Picture of the year may well be one that isn't in the running.

And that's OJ: Made in America.

Which I hope will win for Best Documentary.

But I think is, far and away, the best, most urgent, most relevant piece of filmmaking to come out in 2016.

So there's this really famous guy, and there are a lot of people who are going to stand by their man no matter what.  Donald Trump said, likely correctly, that he could shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue and not lose his voters.  OJ probably did worse than shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue.  OJ: Made in Amerca makes sure we know that.  Gruesome, bloody, hard-to-view pictures of the crime scene, of the blood and gore, are not lacking. If you're trying to understand Donald J. Trump, it may not be possible to do so without understanding Orenthal J. Simpson.  And if you're trying to understand Simpson, I don't think it's possible to do better than Made in America.

I could go on for such a long time talking about OJ: Made in America viewer end through the prism of a 2016 election that could never have been anticipated when Ezra Klein started in on his documentary.  But the "shoot someone in middle of 5th Avenue/brutally killed two people in Brentwood" is such a distillation that I'm not sure another 3800 words in my blog post could add to what the one comparison does to start the gears turning.  And however your gears start to turn, this brilliant near-to-eight hours of documentary filmmaking will probably anticipate and react to.

In an ideal world, perhaps there could be a tie between the Made in America and the flawed but powerful 13th from Ana DuVernay, which is kind of like the essential appendix or exhibit attached by hyperlink to Ezra Klein's movie.

So 20 minutes until the festivities begin.  Catch you at the Oscars.

Friday, January 20, 2017

The Boston Me Party!

I'm always excited to be at Boskone.  I wouldn't have my current life if not for getting sample copies of OMNI Magazine in the Boskone Dealers Room in the late 1970s, which got me hooked on sf/f and ultimate led to the current version of me.

This year is even double extra super special with a Ruby Snap cookie on top, because my client Brandon Sanderson is the Guest of Honor, and we will be doing some program items together.

List of items below, with rooms, times, descriptions, and fellow panelists.  And hopefully not the email addresses for the fellow panelists.  I have one item with my client Walter Jon Williams, will be doing a demo for the Crafty Games Mistborn: House War board game, and of particular interest, will be part of the rare opportunity to hear an author, agent and editor discuss together what makes a successful writing career, as I'm joined by Brandon Sanderson and editor Moshe Feder, who made the decision to push Tor to offer on Elantris.

The Death Star

Friday 16:00 - 17:00, Marina 2 (Westin)

*Spoiler Alert!* Destroying the Death Star, in one of the most iconic battle scenes in film history, was the Rebel Alliance's main goal, and gave our story its happy ending. A single point of weakness brought down this architectural and technological giant. Join us as we discuss the Battle of Yavin, and ultimately the defeat of the Death Star. We might even weave in a little Rogue One!
40th Anniversary: Star Wars: A New Hope

Mary Kay Kare, Deirdre Crimmins, Joshua Bilmes, Julie Holderman (M) , Brendan DuBois


Indie Pub Your Backlist

Saturday 10:00 - 11:00, Marina 2 (Westin)

Do you have old stories that were published ages ago, now lingering in drawers, gathering dust — not getting read? Independent publishers can be a great resource for letting your stories see the light of day again, and drumming up interest from new readers. We'll discuss ideas on revitalizing your backlist and finding indie publishers for your unpublished early gems.

Walter Jon Williams, Joshua Bilmes (M), Richard Shealy, Juliana Spink Mills , Craig Shaw Gardner


_Mistborn: House War_ Game Demo

Saturday 11:00 - 12:00, 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 Boskone Guest of Honor Brandon Sanderson. Join agent Joshua Bilmes for an early look at this exciting new board game — launching this spring!

Joshua Bilmes, Brandon Sanderson


Guest of Honor Brandon Sanderson: Building a Career

Saturday 13:00 - 14:00, Harbor III (Westin)

Even a prodigiously talented author doesn't become a success alone, or overnight. Boskone 54's Guest of Honor, Brandon Sanderson; his agent, Joshua Bilmes; and his editor, Moshe Feder, discuss how they have worked together to sculpt and craft the award-winning and New York Times bestselling author, "Brandon Sanderson," that we know today. All three luminaries share their stories of navigating the shoals of the publishing world as they built friendships and careers within the speculative fiction industry.

Brandon Sanderson, Joshua Bilmes, Moshe Feder


Contracts and Talking Terms

Sunday 10:00 - 11:00, Burroughs (Westin)

Literary contracts can be tricky to navigate. We'll reveal what's behind those mysterious clauses and terms hidden in plain sight. When is a deal too good to pass up — or too good to be true? Discover what's okay to publish, learn to avoid legal landmines, and ask questions about what you most want to know.

Joshua Bilmes, Victoria Sandbrook, Kenneth Schneyer, E. C. Ambrose (M), Michael Stearns