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 24, 2019

Oscars 2019

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

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

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

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

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

11:15 PM - Green Book. Well!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

9:12 PM - When Justin Chang says it for you, quote Justin:  Foreign-language film winner Alfonso CuarΓ³n, making the second of likely three appearances on stage tonight, has a lot of cinephilia to go around: This time he tips his hat to CITIZEN KANE, JAWS, THE GODFATHER and BREATHLESS and quotes Claude Chabrol. 

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

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

8:53. Serena!

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

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

8:27 PM - the guys are killing it with the tuxes this yearπŸ˜€πŸ‘πŸ˜ŠπŸ˜πŸ‘πŸ˜Š

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8:04 PM An Oscar buffet fit fir a Queen

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

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Oscar Nominations!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

& Moving down the list...

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

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

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

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

Director:  Spike Lee.

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

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

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

Cinematography:  Cold War and Roma are both fabulous.

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

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

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

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

Monday, January 21, 2019

Boskone Schedule

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

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

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

The Life Cycle of a Book

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

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

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


Editing Your Manuscript for Submission

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

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

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


Mistborn: House War Game Demo

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

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

The Great Agent Hunt

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

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

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


Stereotyping Authors

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

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

Ginjer Buchanan, Christopher Golden, Darlene Marshall


Kaffeeklatsch: Joshua Bilmes and Barry Goldblatt

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

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