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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, March 27, 2022

Oscars Live Blog 2022

11:55 PM Poor Netflix. Poor, poor Netflix. It can put all the money it wants into movies that are like the Wonder Twins, movies which have the form of Oscar winners but which really aren’t. It can spend its riches and get award nominations aplenty.  But then the actual voting begins, and more and more people come into the process, and then the hollowness of things starts to show. The Irishman isn’t Goodfellas. Roma isn’t The Prisoner of Azkaban. The Power of the Dog isn’t Unforgiven. And when the time comes for the awards to get announced, Netflix doesn’t have the top prize.  Poor poor poor poor Netflix.  But that said, Netflix did give us Tick Tick…Boom this year. Also, Netflix isn’t poor. But there’s a rich irony to having Apple TV+ get a Best Picture for CODA while Netflix is still waiting.

And as to the show, it’s an Oscar ceremony. It is what it is.  Embrace what it is. Present the awards on the air, please.  Don’t farm out production to Eon Productions, which is what happened according to the end credits, for Eon’s own James Bond movies, because that’s like the query letter where the author of a book describes their own book in the most glowing terms. Don’t make us squint to read the In Memoriam names in back of the band but do have some personal reminiscences. 

Dune ended up with the most Oscar wins, as was predicted. It deserves them. CODA was nominated for three awards and won all three, which is impressive in its own right.

My personal wish - that someone at Apple is calling all the major movie chains right this second to get some screens to be showing CODA come Friday.  This movie deserves to be seen in theatres by way more people than have been able.

Oh - a moment to see, with the two ASL interpreters during the CODA speech, one facing forward to the TV cameras and one facing to the cast and crew on stage. 

11:42 PM three hours and forty two minutes later. And for this they added another hour of unaired ceremony to present eight awards.  

11:17 PM I spoke about the Best Actor race in my pre-show comments. I’m happy for Will Smith, it’s a great performance.  It’s an imperfect movie, but it’s a great performance. But - if you’re in my business, what Andrew Garfield does in Tick Tick…Boom is speak to all of us - to all the authors I’ve been blessed to work with who want to create art and have help sharing it. 11:06 PM Another glimpse of Kodi Smit-McPhee in his great tux as the Pulp Fiction people come on to the stage!

11:08 PM I was happy with the win for Best Song. Part of it is just that I really liked the song. It’s kind of short. It isn’t used as much as a recurring motif in the movie as some other Bond songs; You Only Live Twice or All Time High, as examples, are all over their respective movies. Maybe the biggest part of it is that Billie Eilish is one of the better of my pandemic memories. I can’t see 170 movies in an ordinary year. Like, I just can’t. There are so many other things to do.  But not in 2021. And the documentary about Billie Eillish is one of the movies that I got to in 2021 that I probably would have skipped past in a normal year because I’m not in to Billie Eilish. But last year, I was on the train to White Plains to learn about Billie. And there’s something wonderful about the story of her and her brother. And there’s something wonderful about their joy and happiness winning this Oscar. This moment got to me.

10:57 PM Billie and Finneas seem happy! The betting money was on the Encanto song, but I liked this one best.

11:02 PM took a few notes on the people in the In Memoriam section. These are some of the ones whose involvement in particular films has a special resonance for my own personal highlight reel.

Leslie Bricusse - two James Bond themes including the all time high of You Only Live Twice, and Blake Edwards/Julie Andrew’s classic Victor Victoria.

Two Supermen. Director Richard Donner, and Otis’ own Ned Beatty. And each did so much more than that, but Superman: The Movie will forever be one of the best superhero movies ever made, and it’s much more than that. In fact, while we might debate forever which superhero movie is best, I think Superman: The Movie will forever be the most quoted. Ten Dollars, Two Credit Cards, a Hairbrush, and a Lipstick.

Douglas Trumbull worked on so many classic sf movies. He created the landscape of the imagination for science fiction fans, and the landscapes he created will survive pretty much forever. And Alan Ladd, Jr. was one of the producers of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. 

You don’t know Irwin Young, but he headed up a film processing lab in New York, and if he believed in a young filmmaker he’d give them a break on some of their film and processing, which was a big expense, and without which some great movies might not have had the money to get made. A pay it forward person hidden in the shadows.

William Hurt. Seeing Altered States with Hurt in December 1980 was one of the seminal moments in my becoming such a big film fan. It was the first movie I ever saw at the Astor Plaza, the first movie I saw in 70mm 6-track Dolby that wasn’t a science fiction epic, where the brilliance of the use of sound heard on a really great sound system in a theatre with a really big screen kind of blew me away.  

10:47 PM the accompaniments to the memoriam list, like having Bill Murray talk about Ivan Reitman - something I’d happily see more of. Really nice touch.

10:40 PM I was seven when my parents took me to see The Godfather - took the whole family to see Theh Godfather. Horse’s head and toll booth scene and all. I was seven. It was in upstate New York on the way back from visiting relatives who lived even further upstate.

10:38 PM: The Godfather tribute was so much better than the one to James Bond, introduced by an actual film person and leading into actual film people. Great to see de Niro, Coppola and Pacino on stage together for a few minutes.

10:36 PM: Did I just spot a shot of Anthony Hopkins in the audience? Last year’s MIA actor winner Anthony Hopkins?  

10:31 PM A beautiful moment watching Questlove’s mom during his acceptance speech. And now we need the longer version, these festivals as done up in all ways as the footage from Woodstock has been.

10:22 PM Best Score - another win for Dune, and for Hans Zimmer.  Zimmer’s been around for a long time. I first left humming a score of his with Rain Man back in the 1980s.  Score was strong enough, or the nominees poorly selected enough, that one of the best of the year, Johnny Greenwood’s for Spencer, didn’t even make the cut, though Greenwood was nominated for The Power of the Dog. The score for Dune wasn’t hummable, but like Michael Giacchino’s for The Batman there are a lot more paths where the movie’s worse with anything or anyone else than trying to imagine there’s better. 

10:15 PM and Kenneth Branagh’s been around for a really really long time. He first came to my attention in the movie Dead Again, which I saw twice when it opened in 1991, including at the Astor Plaza which was my favorite place to see a movie, 1500 seats with a great rake and great sound and a great big screen which made movies better because “here, they are.”  And Branagh’s done all sorts of things. He’s done Shakespeare. He’s done superhero movies (I say the underrated Thor). He’s done Christie. He’s done big films and small films and art films and written and directed and starred. He’s been nominated for eight Academy Awards in seven different categories.  It’s the thing about being nominated in seven different categories that’s worth having a think on. I don’t know if Belfast deserves an Oscar, but let’s finally have one of those on Kenneth Branagh’s shelf.

10:08 PM There’s something deeper about the wins for Kenneth Branagh and Sian Heder in the screenplay categories.  As Sian said, CODA isn’t a “big” movie.  Yeah, Apple paid a fortune for it after its Sundance debut, reported at $25M.  But that was after the movie was made. There wasn’t $25M in the budget for a film about a family of deaf parents and the speaking daughter wanting to sing while the family struggles with its fishing business.  There’s a definite Rocky quality, to CODA just coming along and winning people over for what it is. 

10:05 PM The CODA speech was just plain sweet.

10:00 PM A lot of the chatter ahead of the show was that Don’t Look Up would win Best Original Screenplay, but I guess all the Netflix $$ and award touting in the world couldn’t quite make up for the fact that Don’t Look Up isn’t a very good movie. So Branagh’s win here for Belfast is somewhat a surprise for me. Belfast isn’t a great movie, but it’s a heartfelt and well-meaning one, and the other nominees in the category aren’t earth-shattering great.  So, kudos for Branagh.

9:28 PM The win for CODA and Troy Kotsur is a reminder that you can tell a familiar story and do wonderful things with it and make it fresh and new and wonderful. We’ve seen the movie about the competition, sports or music or otherwise. But the specifics of CODA made it fresh, and the freshness added passio and sincerity above and beyond all the usual. It’s a shame more people haven’t had an opportunity to see it which doesn’t involve a streaming fee to watch on a small screen. The emotions in this movie are large, and best shared with company.

9:25 PM: Yay Troy Kotsur, who gave the strongest performance in the category. 

8:55 PM I don’t understand the purpose of the Bond tribute. It’s introduced by people from the sports world. It wasn’t possible to find talent from the Bond movies themselves? It’s just clips with no thematic organization. It has no point of view, no theme, no purpose.  Why not have a a live performance of a Bond song to accompany the clips? There’s a lot you can do or talk about when you’re talking about sixty years of James Bond, and this did none of it.

8:39 PM Cinematography was a strong strong category. Dune was gorgeous to look at. Nightmare Alley was gorgeous to look at. West Side Story - well, it wasn’t gorgeous, but it was a work of art. The Tragedy of Macbeth was memorably stylized. And even Power of the Dog - didn’t like the movie but it was gorgeous to look at. I’m glad that Dune won, but any of the five in this category did award caliber work at an extremely extremely high level.

8:37 PM ‘Nominated three times and this is the most words I’ve ever spoken here” Woody Harrelson

8:36 PM This show shouldn’t be making me uncertain about what’s live and what isn’t. That’s amateur hour, really, and it’s the second time it’s happened. 

8:35 PM Is is live or is is Memorex? The Sound win for Dune feels like it was one of the pre-awards, because otherwise how did six people get up on stage the moment the award was announced?

8:32 PM Remind me not to hire the writers for this ceremony when I produce an award show. This is falling flat. Reminds me of my pat down at SLC coming back from Utah. 

8:28 PM We’re 25 minutes in to the Oscars and one award has been given out. Well, except for all of the awards that were given out when no one was watching so we could have a better more engaging telecast. Which this telecast is so totally not, to this point.

8:23 PM Ariana DeBose was predicted to win for Supporting Actress. This, to me, isn’t a strong category this year. The performance I found most memorable was Aunjanue Ellis’ in King Richard, and that’s a really good job of a role that’s often kind of generic, of the wife in a biopic sitting in the background.

8:17 PM: I guess they had to do something to cover for the reduced capacity at the Dolby for this year’s ceremony, but the pepole sitting at private tables is bringing unwanted flashbacks to last year’s ceremony.

8:05 PM: But I don’t like the telecast starting with something that’s either on tape or taking place live at a remote location, and worse not being 100% sure which of those two it is. There’s no energy in the room when the thing isn’t happening in the room, and thus no kickstart to my viewing.

8:03 PM: Though if having King Richard in the race means the Oscars kick off with Venus and Serena - that’s a good thing.

7:57 PM: Best Picture - I guess it’s nothing new, but the Oscar list of Best Picture nominees includes a lot of movies that didn’t do it for me. Belfast is fine, but that’s not Best Picture caliber. West Side Story is fine, and often masterfully crafted, but I don’t think it made its case for existing and remaking the Robert Wise version. Drive My Car is fine for a three hour Japanese movie about a multi lingual production of Uncle Vanya, but that’s what it is. King Richard has some great performances in it; no complaints from my if Will Smith wins over my first choice (Andrew Garfield in TT…Boom for Best Actor), but it’s too long and worse I can identify the things that could’ve been cut because it isn’t brain surgery. Nightmare Alley is good, great, surprisingly so for a director I’ve been mixed on.  The Power of the Dog is just Oscar bait, and nothing more, and I hate seeing it rewarded for existing as Oscar bait by being nominated for Oscars. Licorice Pizza isn’t close to Best Picture stuff, meandering and detouring and not in a good way.  Don’t Look Up might work from home when you can be distracted and not focus on its one note, but I saw it in a theatre and around a half hour in realized it was one note and stopped hearing it. CODA, Dune, Tick Tick… Boom, Nightmare Alley.  Four contenders from my POV, and six pretenders.

7:41 PM: Thoughts before the big event:

My own Top Ten of the year has very little overlap with the Best Picture nominees.

Dune and Tick Tick… Boom are my far and away favorite films of last year.  I think Coda has a good chance at winning Best Picture because of the preferential ballot.  If you like The Power of the Dog, Dune isn’t your second choice.  If you like Dune, Power of the Dog isn’t your second choice.  While Coda’s a super hard movie not to have some affection for.  I wish it had been seen more in theatres, instead of opening over the summer when the box office was still highly impaired, especially in New York City.  I’ve written about Tick Tick… Boom on my Letterboxd.

Attica is a great documentary, but isn’t favored in that category.  I don’t dislike Summer of Soul, and I enjoyed Flee a lot more than I thought.  I would recommend both. But Attica is brilliant.  You’ve heard about Attica, but probably just heard about it. Even growing up in New York, for an event that happened in my lifetime, I knew not near enough. It’s not just that there was a prison riot. It’s not just that the prison was stormed. It’s that NY Governor Nelson Rockefeller, goaded on by a Richard Nixon who wasn’t fond of black prisoners - emphasis on black - wasn’t much concerned for the prison guards, mostly black. It’s that most of the deaths of the prisoners occurred in wanton shooting gallery violence after the prison had been taken, which is also when upward of a dozen guards were killed by the “law enforcement” storming the prison. And then the state tried to blame the prisoners, and took state vengeance against the person (a medical examiner, in particular) who wasn’t buying into the official lie. And here we are half a century later and it’s still perfectly fine to a lot of white people if there are other whites as collateral damage in the battle for white supremacy.  It’s a fact. And I should’ve been taught some of that in the decade after Attica, when I was a high school student, not finding it decades later in this great Showtime documentary.

Mass is also a great movie, which won an ensemble Spirit Award.  Like Attica it’s an issue movie, but one without resolution.  The parents of a school shooter and the parents of one of the victims get together for an hour of talk time.  It’s not didactic. It covers all sides. It’s brilliantly acted by all concerned. The movie drips with quiet tension. You’ve never gotten the willies the way you do in the opening ten minutes here from watching someone lay out refreshments in a church meeting room.

Ennio is another documentary, about the Italian composer Ennio Morricone.  It’s three hours long.  It’s about a dude who composes music. But thanks to brilliant editing and passion for the subject matter, these three hours go by a lot faster than The Batman. I learned a lot about the subject. I can quibble; I’d have liked to have seen more of the music as used in the movies rather than in montaged moments. But this is on my Top Ten for both being good, and for being good when it had no right to be.

Free Guy? On my list because it’s a good movie in a genre where most of the movies are bad.  It’s fresh and fun and creative in a genre where most of the movies are derivative. It brings some of the same qualities to the superhero action movie that inspired me twenty years ago to want to be in the Brandon Sanderson business.  It does what its peer group barely tries doing.

Same, more of less, with Spider-Man: No Way Home.  The battles are a little less overdone than most of its peer group. Tom Holland has “it.”. He’s a movie star, and he carries the movie, and he shows why he’s a better Spider-Man than Andrew Garfield and Tobey Maguire.  He may not be a better overall actor than Andrew Garfield, but he has more “it” than Garfield does. And the movie worked even though I hadn’t seen the first Doctor Strange movie, hadn’t seen the second Andrew Garfield Spider-Man movie.

Spencer - as Nick Martell said after we watched it, it’s kind of like a horror movie.  Princess Di having Xmas dinner with the royals is a little like arriving at the country house in Get Out.  The pearls, the soup, the pearls, the stairs, the soup, the score. 

And Pig?  I like the playing off of the wildly different acting styles from Alex Wolfe and Nicolas Cage. 

Dune - I thought I wrote about on Letterboxd but I guess not.  For me, it’s the biggest of big screen movies I’ve ever seen. Every frame, every visual, every everything, soaks up space on the IMAX screen. It’s a little short on plot, honestly. But the cast is good across the board, and I love the sheer bigness of it. Given sufficient time in between, I will go back and see this movie on IMAX on a pretty regular basis because it gives me an engulfing experience that I rarely ever find in the movies.

Any Ten Best list, it’s a snapshot.