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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, February 28, 2016


When it comes to plot-driven media like books and movies, I'm an opinionated SOB.

As such, Oscar season will never be my across-the-board favorite time of year.  There will be critical darlings that aren't actually very good. Worthy movies that are just that.  Frenzies, tulip bubbles, and more.  Usually there will be a few things, but only a few, that I haven't seen; after all these years I can do a good job smelling out the movies that will leave an aftertaste.

I can't remember a year with as many of those movies.  And after making a dutiful effort to catch up, only one of them was considerably better than I feared or suspected.

It sure isn't The Revenant.  12 nominations for a movie I never wished to pay for, and which I could stomach for just 30 minutes when I was finally able to plan it as part of a "double feature." The plot skeleton I studied thirty years ago this week when I was handed a copy of WRITING TO SELL by Scott Meredith on my first day at his literary agency starts with an identifiable lead character, and The Revenant has none.  There is a lead role played by a movie star, and thus we are expected by default to root for the character.  But nothing -- nothing!! -- is done atop of that.  Is the novel like that?  I would reject any such novel.  Furthermore, the movie should have ended before I could walk out.  The lead character shouldn't have survived the bear attack.  In a Hollywood action movie I am willing to let pass that the lead character rarely misses and the bad guys can rarely aim, so maybe I should have more tolerance for the bear missing Leo.  Yes, the photography in the movie was crisp and beautiful, but the movie is a turd.

Then we come to Carol. Director Todd Haynes has spent his entire career as a critics darling, but the critics don't seem to notice that Haynes isn't actually a very good director of actors.  I wasn't a fan of Haynes' Far From Heaven, and if not for the chance to see late in the season at the Museum of the Moving Image.  And to an extent, Carol was a pleasant surprise because it is better than Far From Heaven.  Haynes is better at craft than at performance, and Carol is better at its craft.  Far From Heaven had a certain mise en scene but never felt like Hartford. Carol does make Cincinnati into a solid enough approximation of New York City.  But oh dear, what a mess to behold if you actually look at the script and acting.  Rooney Mara and Kyle Chandler have both shown acting chops elsewhere, but they flail here.  Chandler plays a cuckolded husband with no back story, no internal or external life, basically just a human embodiment of the male ethos of the day, and has no idea what to do, other than to do it like he's playing to the last row of the balcony.  Rooney Mara received awards for this movie?  In this movie, her look for all seasons is that of a mousy deer caught in the headlights.  Happy, sad, lonely, fresh off sex, whatever she's doing she has this one expression.  The best I can say for Carol is that it's better than The Revenant, and better than my worst fears.

Brooklyn is another movie that sent out "skip me" pheromones during the coming attractions, and also ended up screening at Museum of the Moving Image.  This had more moments than either Carol or The Revenant.  Efforts were made to provide an identifiable lead character, including the establishment of nemeses in Ireland.  Maybe I could teach a senior seminar or get a PhD comparing and contrasting the department store scenes in Brooklyn with those of Carol.  But the longer Brooklyn goes, the more it digs holes for itself.  I rested my eyes for a few minutes in the middle, and when I woke up there were toe people deeply and madly (or is it almost kind of?) in love.  I don't think I was resting my eyes long enough for the relationship to be suitably established.  When the lead character returns to Ireland she is very quick to both forgive her enemies and forget her marriage.  She doesn't make an internal decision to return to her husband.  The decision is forced upon her.  I am better able to see merits in Brooklyn, but I have long been picky about plot structure and can't myself forgive the shortcomings in that area.

Much as Amy Adams staked her claim as an actress of note in the little seen Junebug, Brie Larson made her mark in Short Term 12, simply brilliant as a counselor in a home/halfway house for deeply troubled kids.  When Room played at the festivals last year, garnering acclaim for Larson's performance I was intrigued, and yet when the movie finally opened last fall, the more reviews I read the more my interest in actually seeing the movie diminished.  I finally went a couple of weeks ago.  I was both right and wrong.  In terms of the Oscar race, Brie Larson has a strong claim to the award everyone is certain she will win, but yet her performance is the second best in the film, and her very young costar Jacob Tremblay could easily have been nominated.  And these excellent performances aren't islands in a sea of problems; the movie around them is solid.  My one big problem was with the musical score.  It does nothing, and becomes actually bad at the very end of the movie, to the point that I noticed it in a negative way as the notes started to flourish at the end of the movie.  And yet I also feel like my life would have gone on without Room.  There's something missing in the movie.  It's too good to be written off as Award Bait, but nothing about it inspires any passion in me.

Some 25 Oscar nominations given to movies that, at best, I could go either way on.

And then. we come to another handful of nominations for The Danish Girl, which I never even toyed with seeing after nominations were announced.  I did Eddie Redmayne, Master Thespian, last year, with the Stephen Hawking biopic The Theory of Everything.

So when it gets to be 11:30 EST, anything but The Revenant.

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