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.

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