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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 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!