I Am DB

August 31, 2014

Movie Mixtape #2

Filed under: Movies — DB @ 11:00 am
Tags: ,

Well, it’s taken us long enough, but the wait is over. 14 months after the first release, and nearly 13 months after this compilation was started, we’ve finally got something to show for it. Without further ado, Burnce and Frants Present Movie Mixtape #2.

 

BA: Alright kid. Our first Movie Mixtape was clearly a huge success. Picked up on several blogs, shared by thousands of film lovers all over the world. Let’s not leave them wanting for too long. Also, let’s make clear that, honestly, maybe ten people total read our first Movie Mixtape, and most of the preceding claims here are lies. But hey, films are lies too, right?

As you may know, I went on a bit of a film noir kick a few years back. Rewatched some that I already loved, like Double Indemnity. Discovered some new ones to love, like Out of the Past. Needless to say, I have developed quite an affinity for the genre, so I’m going to start Movie Mixtape #2 with one of my favorites. One of the many reasons I love this one is that it feels like the first Post-Noir film (not neo-noir). Most people tend to date the film noir movement from around ’41 to the late 50s. This film is from 1957, so it’s just under the wire there. And it has all the qualities you’d expect: the dirty city, corrupt and powerful men, duplicity, depravity, personal destruction. But it’s not about gangsters or detectives or police. It’s about a press agent and a gossip columnist. The noir elements are there, but the film’s been ‘miscast.’ That’s why it feels post-noir: someone said, “Hey, let’s make a noir, but let’s change up the characters.” It feels like the first major film that tipped its cap to the genre instead of being implicitly part of it.
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The script is just wonderful, so many wonderful one-liners and rapid-fire back and forth (eat your heart out, Aaron Sorkin). The performances by Tony Curtis and Burt Lancaster are dripping with sleaze. I tell ya, it’s just tops.
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Sweet Smell of Success
Dir. Alexander Mackendrick
Wrt. Clifford Odets, Ernest Lehman
1957
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DB: In one of this movie’s many great lines, Lancaster’s J.J. Hunsecker describes Curtis’ Sidney Falco (GREAT names, by the way) as “a cookie full of arsenic.” The same could be said of the movie itself. If only all poison went down so easily. I think studio executives often worry that a movie has to have a main character that the audience can relate to, and/or sympathize with. I’ve never agreed with that. I don’t have to like, admire or identify with the protagonists. I simply have to be interested in them. This movie could stand as Exhibit A in defending that position. Hunsecker and Falco are despicable through and through, but what fun it is to watch them play their games of power and manipulation. By making them so enjoyable to watch, the movie makes us complicit in their shady dealings at the same time that we’re rooting for the victims of their plotting to win the day. It’s a nifty trick of dramatic orchestration. You aren’t kidding about the performances, either. The physically imposing Lancaster keeps cool while personifying menace and malice, and Curtis shuffles between private anxiety and public confidence with artful ease, maintaining an underlying moral vacancy all along.
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Our last mixtape touched on movies that captured the thrill of New York City on film, and this one really achieved that for me. Half of this movie feels like it’s happening at 1:00 in the morning, which seems fitting since Hunsecker and Falco are vampires of a sort. But no matter what time of day the events are happening, Mackendrick portrays a city that is pulsing with activity and energy. He gets some help in that department from Elmer Bernstein’s jazzy score and the cinematography from the great James Wong Howe.
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Sweet Smell of Success hovers on the edge of the journalism world. For the follow-up, I give you a movie that brings us directly into that scene. This one spends a lot more time in the newsroom (while still plenty outside of it), as our lead characters – another two man team – exemplify a more virtuous side of the field than J.J. Hunsecker. They are sometimes forced to play games and manipulate too, but they do so toward more noble ends than their own power or personal glory. I’ve always enjoyed stories about the newspaper industry, and as it continues to fight for survival, this movie is the ultimate reminder of the important role that print journalism has played in American history.
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All the President’s Men
Dir. Alan J. Pakula
Wrt. William Goldman
1976
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BA: There’s not much new insight I can bring to such an iconic film. As far as a ‘procedural’ goes, this one doesn’t let up. Peeling back layer after layer, starting to realize you’re poking a tiger, then that you’re poking a thousand tigers. It almost begins to play like a horror movie. But maybe because I recently rewatched Sydney Pollack’s Three Days of the Condor (’75), I do have something that feels worthy of pointing out. The Cold War gave something to film history that filmmakers have struggled to replace since the fall of the Soviet Union: a high stakes bad guy that everyone understood straight off. There was a constant bipolar tension in the world then. Damon Lindelof recently talked about the stakes in event films these days: once your budget passes $100 million, you have to save the world. That’s given us a crazy tent-pole season that I called The Summer of Peak Fist. But during the Cold War, the stakes were always that high, such that one man (like Redford’s Condor) could be running around the city, also trying to save the world. One mistake, one misunderstanding, could result in a simple button press and POOF, it’s all over. We don’t have that situation anymore. Die Hard gave us the “rogue terrorist” formula that worked well for years, and of course now we have the post-9/11 terrorism films, but terrorism plots, no matter how heinous, are almost always local. During the Cold War, the world needed saving every second of every day.
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The spy film genre flourished under this situation, profiling the clandestine methods in which we kept the world from exploding. Criterion just released a fine example in The Spy Who Came In From The Cold (’65). What I want to point out here, though, is what the subject of All The President’s Men – the Watergate scandal and resulting cover-up – seemed to do to the genre. Before Watergate, there was always a double agent, a communist threat, a Russian spy. But then Watergate happened. And so look at Three Days of the Condor (spoiler ahead!!!): a hit on a CIA office, led by German Max Von Sydow, leads the audience to naturally assume, “It’s the commies!” But it turns out to be American spy agencies protecting their own operations.  Three Days of the Condor is a spy film that chooses as its bad guy not the Soviets but ourselves. And the movie doesn’t have any closure, but rather ends with the suggestion that the government can even tell the media what to print. Without closure, without “And that’s that,” the audience leaves the theater with a new mistrust of everything around them. That All The President’s Men was released the following year, also with Redford, almost feels like kismet: “See what we did in Condor? This is why it’s the new normal.”
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This is all speculation, of course, heightened by the coincidence of me watching both films within a week of each other. But it feels right, no? Regardless, in looking for my next suggestion, I strove to find another historical event that changed the way filmmakers approached their storytelling. I arrived at World War II. Things were going well, and then BAM, war again. It gave us the gung-ho, USA!-USA! war hero films. It gave us more and more escapist musicals. It gave us the dark, dirty noir genre. And by the end of the war, it even gave us introspective looks at ourselves, in William Wyler’s The Best Years of Our Lives (’46). I almost recommended that one, but I thought I’d spice it up with a comedy. And so here’s an unexpected film made during the war, that deals with the over-patriotic hero worship in a surprisingly frank way. A man comes back to his hometown, having lied about going to war, and is honored as a hero. As with any comedy, the momentum of it all results in our ‘hero’ going along with it as best he can, as it snowballs out of control. With a kooky performance by Eddie Bracken, I give you wartime political satire that’s just as relevant today, even if the jokes feel a bit dated.
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Wrt & Dir: Preston Sturges
1944
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DB: Excellent insights into two movies that clearly demonstrated Robert Redford’s disillusionment with the American government in the 1970’s…a sensibility that was shared by much of the country and which was reflected by so many of the great films of that decade (a decade bursting with great films). Interesting thoughts as well on the changing face of the movies’ big baddie over the last several decades.
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There’s no bad guy to overthrow in Hail the Conquering Hero. Instead it’s the protagonist’s own shame that must be overcome, along with the tidal wave of adulation that prevents him from doing just that despite his repeated efforts. That was one element that prevented me from fully embracing the movie. I tend to lose patience with stories in which people won’t just shut up for a minute and listen to what someone is trying to tell them, which happens over and over again here as Eddie Bracken’s Woodrow Lafayette Pershing Truesmith tries to come clean with his hometown worshippers, only to be steamrolled each time by their frenetic enthusiasm and insistence on celebrating him. I also found the tone distractingly inconsistent. Was it a satire of what you called “overly-patriotic hero worship,” or was it the kind of broad, goofy comedy in which the band keeps playing at the wrong moment and the mayor is a buffoon? It couldn’t quite decide. Bracken’s performance seemed to belong in the latter, while much of the activity crowding around him seemed more of the former. This made it harder for me to buy into the relationship between Woodrow and Libby (played by the lovely Ella Raines). Her devotion to him never quite made sense to me, since they seemed like such an unlikely pair. Unlikely because while her performance was grounded, his was comically exaggerated. Only in the early scenes, prior to his newfound Marine buddies inventing the lie about his military service, and the climactic scene where he makes his confessional speech, did he seem like he was in the satire rather than the screwball comedy of errors. Still, I enjoyed Bracken’s performance on its own. I only knew him from his small role years later as Walley World founder Roy Walley in Vacation, so it was neat to see him in his heyday. There were a lot of colorful supporting performances as well, but I’m afraid the movie didn’t quite jell for me.
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As it pertains to our mix tape endeavor, I did notice something interesting. Even at this early stage, we seem to be repeating a characteristic among our choices: movies about people who get caught up in a lie or misunderstanding, whether or not they themselves are responsible for it. Looking at the previous tape, we had Meet John Doe, The 39 Steps, and Doc Hollywood (and maybe you could argue Brewster’s Millions). I’m not sure whether my next pick perpetuates this coincidence or uses it as a jumping off point, but whereas the main characters of all those movies are aware of their circumstances and consciously dealing with them in one way or another, here the character in question is completely oblivious to the effect he has on those around him. In my mind, that separates it from the other selections.
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He’s a simpleton who stumbles into the corridors of power and finds himself influencing policy at the highest level. Kind of like most of today’s Republican party…if the protagonist here was sinister, manipulative, and willfully ignorant and childlike as opposed to naturally so. (Sorry to get political, but as I write this, we’re nearly two weeks into the federal government shutdown, so idiots behaving like children while occupying positions of power are top of mind.) In cinematic terms, the character is like a forerunner to Forrest Gump, and he’s brought to life through a delightful performance by Peter Sellers that is every bit the equal of the classic character work he delivered in Dr. Strangelove and The Pink Panther films, but without makeup or funny accents to conceal him.
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I look forward to hearing what strikes you about this movie, both because there are so many things in it that ring true nearly 35 years later, and because its final scene has the potential to reframe everything that’s come before it.
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Being There
Dir. Hal Ashby
Wrt. Jerzy Kosinski
1979

BA: Let me go grad student on you here: for me, so much of this film is about the power of filmmaking itself. If you were to turn this film on somewhere near the end, you’d find a charmingly quiet man standing at the bedside of a dying man. And when that dying man gives up his last breath, the quiet man reaches out and puts his hand across the dead man’s forehead. It’s a touching gesture, a moment of final human connection. But it’s none of that, because the quiet man – Peter Sellers’ brilliant portrayal of simpleton “Chauncey Gardner” – is just aping something meaningless from earlier: in the opening scenes, when his caretaker dies, the maid informs him that she felt his forehead, and he was cold as a fish. So he went upstairs to the dead body and felt the forehead. That’s what you do when there’s a dead body, he must think.

In a weird, infinity-mirror type of way, that’s the magic of a film. It shows you what it thinks you need to see, and the overall experience delivers a certain emotional journey. Here, that journey is of an ‘idiot’ being mistaken for a profound genius, because the people he’s interacting with haven’t seen the rest of his story and don’t bother to try. We as the audience are privy to it, and so the comedy comes from something we know that they don’t. On top of that, Gardner himself can only come across as competent – however accidentally – because he himself has spent a lifetime clicking around the television stations. He never stays on one show for very long, so what he’s seen of other people interacting with each other are to him out of context. So we have this crazy snowball effect, where a simple man who’s only seen snippets of filmed stories walks around repeating those snippets when a similar context arrives, and the people he repeats them to, themselves having only seen this snippet of his life, think they understand it just as he believes to understand a soap opera or exercise show. It’s only the audience that knows the whole story……
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….. or do we? That last shot, for all its Christ-like allusions and state-of-mind easiness, delivers something else: there’s a magic in a film, unlimited possibilities. Even the audience, who have been in the know this whole time, is surprised by it. A common reaction may be to say, “How did that happen? Is there a sandbar or hidden floor? Is it literal or a metaphor?” But that’s beside the point, because the entire film is filled with people who simply accept what they’ve seen as what they think it is, no questions asked. They’re ‘experiencing’ life, not analyzing it. This is driven home when director Ashby includes end credit outtakes of Sellers and crew giggling through a particularly silly moment that didn’t appear in the film. Ashby gets the last word, pointing out, “And even YOU didn’t see everything. You only saw what I wanted you to see.” Sure, there are cynical lessons here about politics and media that are relevant today (and, I may add, continue the trend discussed earlier: Watergate changed the enemy, and from then on the natural artistic response is analysis [….President’s Men], a new reality […Condor], and finally, satire), but I think the real magic here is in the details themselves, and how they combine to form a complete and deliberate vision.
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So, let’s stick with that. The telling of a story, the completeness of a life, and the limitations of two hours of screen time. This next film is crazy, in the best way. Your mind starts to reel at it all, but it kind of makes sense despite itself, because its progression is our progression. From the loony mind of a gifted writer, in his directorial debut.
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Dir./Wrt. Charlie Kaufman
2008
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DB: Ooof. When I saw you had selected this movie, I was both excited and…I’m not sure what word to use. Overwhelmed? Excited because ever since I saw it when it first came out, I’ve wanted to see it again. Overwhelmed because the main reason I wanted to see it again is that it’s so dense and so heady and there’s so much going on that I had no idea what to make of it on first viewing, beyond being once again enraptured by the dizzying imagination of Charlie Kaufman. There could be an entire, semester-long course dedicated to this movie. My brother took a class in college on the James Joyce novel Finnegan’s Wake, which is so complex and challenging that there are actually companion books the class read in conjunction with the novel itself in order to help understand it. I feel like this movie would benefit from similar assistance.
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If you and our reader(s) will indulge me a personal side note, you said something in your Being There commentary that struck me. Describing the characters in the movie, you said, “they’re experiencing life, not analyzing it.” I think that’s true of the different ways that you and I watch movies. I wrote at the top of my post about my favorite movies of 2012 that I experience movies emotionally, not intellectually. Maybe every now and then I have a more analytical take on something, but more often my response is a simple gut reaction. I’m all about the surface pleasures. So although I’m an avid movie watcher, I’m also a shallow one.  With this mixtape project of ours, that leaves me a bit outmatched as you continually extrapolate the most interesting, inside-out takes on these movies. Your thoughts on Being There are so far removed from anything that would ever occur to me. And then as if to highlight this contrast, you offer up fucking Synecdoche, New York. You magnificent bastard.
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Still, when it comes to this movie, I can’t beat myself up. I don’t think anyone can watch it just once and walk away with more than a small amount of comprehension. And though this was my second time, it may as well have been my first given the passage of years since I initially saw it. There is so much happening both visually and thematically – and all at once – that it demands repeat viewings. One interesting thing I learned through the DVD’s special features is that Cotard, the last name of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s central character, is taken from a mental health condition called Cotard Delusion, or Cotard’s Syndrome, which finds the afflicted believing that they are dead or do not exist, or are slowly dying, or losing their blood and internal organs. Hoffman’s Caden Cotard is introduced as a death-obsessed hypochondriac, and his ongoing debilitation bears out the meaning of the name. The title itself is also loaded. “Synecdoche” is a term for part of something that is used to represent the whole, or vice versa. (Wikipedia offers the examples of a congregation being called “the church” or workers being referred to as “hired hands.”) See, before we even get into the actual movie itself, the work begins.
I don’t want to suggest that I’m uninterested in movies that make you think or make you work, but in the case of a movie as packed as this one, I rarely feel like I have the time to spend on thoughtful consideration. There’s just too damn much to do. Rumination at the level required by Synecdoche is a luxury I can’t afford. I know…poor me. So because I don’t possess the hours or the intellectual capacity to unpack this movie even superficially, let me hone in on one small aspect of it to finally lead us into our next track. (The flow of these posts don’t convey the time between movies, but it’s been nearly two months since you sent me this selection.)
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Caden is a theatre director, married to an artist named Adele, and they have an adorable young daughter named Olive, upon whom both selfishly and ignorantly dump their neuroses. Adele soon takes Olive to Berlin for a work related trip, and never returns, even keeping her from Caden when he travels there to see her some years later. While Caden’s life goes on, and he sinks deeper and deeper into the quagmire of his massively staged, hopelessly layered, eternally unfinished creation, the loss of Olive is a throughline that haunts him. Not that he was ever fit to be a father, and he probably had no idea the damage he was doing to her when they were together, but his love for her was always sincere. There’s not much in this movie we can trust as real; in fact, I’m not even confident saying that Olive was ever real. But she’s certainly real to Caden, and so is the effect of losing her.
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This is something we’ve seen before in art, and sadly in life. Children become pawns in the manipulations of their fucked-up parents. Maybe the parents really love their child, or maybe they’re incapable of loving anything beyond themselves. It’s a tragedy that was played out quite beautifully in a movie from just this past year. So with nothing but respect and admiration for Charlie Kaufman, I’m nevertheless unabashedly happy to pass the “Now Leaving Synecdoche, New York” sign and move on to this adaptation of an 1897 novel by Henry James, updated to the present day and starring Julianne Moore and Steve Coogan as the self-involved parents of a little girl who can’t even comprehend that she’s fighting to retain her innocence as she gets tossed around from guardian to guardian. The young actress at the center, Onata Aprile, will both warm and break your heart.
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What Maisie Knew
Dir. Scott McGehee, David Siegel
Wrt. Nancy Doyne, Carroll Cartwright
2013
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BA: This touching and heartbreaking little film highlights two important parts of filmmaking. And with this particular subject matter, the two parts bump up against each other. The first is an established perspective. The entire film is from Maisie’s point of view, often with the camera literally at her level, the adults cut off at the top of frame. If the parents are arguing and Maisie wanders back to her room, we can no longer hear the argument. We’re just with Maisie as she avoids whatever it is the adults are yelling about and focuses on a book, or a drawing, or looking out the window. Having even a single scene without Maisie present would have broken the whole film apart. It’s not just that she has to be in the scene; the audience can only know what she knows. Only then can we really try to connect with her innocence emotionally, because we’re denied the full adult story if she tunes out or walks away.
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Which brings up the second point: knowing your audience. What works against a film like this, where you’re trying to experience life as a young girl does (Onata Aprile’s quiet performance is lovely). The audience is very likely comprised wholly of adults, and adults will bring with them an understanding of what’s really going on. What the judge says, the petty underhanded fighting, one parent fishing for info on the other through seemingly innocent questioning of the daughter. WE know what they’re really up to, and we get protective of Maisie. Because we know she doesn’t hear that stuff and know what it really is. Thus, the film has to live in this in-between space: trying to portray the innocence of a child’s perspective to an audience that has already lost it. You can’t put the rabbit back in the hat, but you can remind us there was a time when the hat surprisingly produced a rabbit. It’s just that now, we’ve seen the hidden compartment.
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That disconnect prevented me from all-out loving the film, though I did enjoy it completely. Maybe that disconnect is the filmmakers’ intention, too (there is a running theme about a moat, the barrier between a castle and the dangerous animals outside). But I’ve seen that story before. I wonder if you can even make a film that gives you a true experience of childhood to anyone other than a child. This isn’t the first time I’ve thought of it, either. I’ve been taking notes for at least 8 years on a film I’d like to find a way to write someday that completely captures, visually as well as emotionally, what it was like to be a kid. So far, it’s a bizarre mash-up of Willy Wonka Technicolor meets Gondry-like visual devices. Who knows? It’s hard to have an adult experience a story about childhood without the nostalgia element. Beasts of the Southern Wild got the closest, I’d say. And it required magical animals and a flooded landscape.
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I knew pretty quickly what the next film on our mixtape should be. It also tells a story through a child’s perspective, an incomplete understanding of the realities of the adult world influencing conclusions about what’s what. Only here, we add the DNA of a spy film. An Embassy on foreign soil, an accidental death, and ever so many lies. Before Carol Reed and Graham Greene gave us the classic The Third Man, they gave us this unique thriller.
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Dir. Carol Reed
Wrt. Graham Greene
1948
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DB: Our running theme of characters caught up in lies continues with this nifty little thriller. One of the key differences here, however, is that some of the falsehoods are of a much more innocent nature. Phillipe is told many lies during the course of the movie, and they are the same lies children are told everyday because the truth is too complicated, or beyond their comprehension. And as the film goes on, it becomes painful to watch this poor little boy try to work through the confusion that these lies have wrought. Every time he thinks he’s trying to do the right thing to help his friend Baines, his actions instead threaten to seal the man’s fate. It starts to feel like you’re watching a rag doll get kicked around. By the end, I just wanted the adults to listen to what he was so desperately trying to tell them…even though if they did, it would just mean another strike against Baines.

There’s also the fact that Phillipe himself is lying to protect Baines, even though he mistakenly thinks Baines has just killed someone. It struck me immediately that the obvious follow-up to this movie would be Atonement, another story in which a bright but naive child sees something – or rather, doesn’t see what they think they’ve seen – and reacts in a dangerously misguided fashion because they don’t understand the truth. Those two movies would make for a nice double-feature. But I’m not picking that, since it’s a bit too much of the same. Children, misunderstandings, harmful lies…I think we need to go in another direction, which also rules out some other good follow-ups that I considered and which further involve the consequences of lies. Instead, I’m taking the concept down a different but related road. In The Fallen Idol, Baines has regaled Phillipe with tales of his adventures in Africa. We soon learn that these are lies as well, since none of the events ever took place. We don’t consider them to be lies though, do we? They’re stories, told for the boy’s amusement. But really, what are stories if not lies that we tell for the purpose of entertainment? And aren’t movies and TV shows the biggest lies of all? You brought up the same idea in the very first paragraph of this post. Acting, editing, sets, special effects….all tools to construct an illusion. This is an idea that plays directly into a project you’re working on right now, so I know you know what I mean.

For the last 15 years or so, reality television has blurred the lines even further. Sure, the situations may not be fictional exactly, but they are very much constructed; shaped to create a narrative, with real people jammed into roles of good guys and bad. These shows are not reality. They’re fiction, blatantly manipulated, yet audiences welcome these “lies.” They view the programs obsessively, and thus become active, willing partners in their own deceit. This next movie concerns one gigantic lie, designed to entertain the masses. And that it does. With the exception of the person at its center, everybody’s in on it, everybody’s caught up in it, and nobody has ever stopped to consider the cost because they’re all enjoying it too much.

The Truman Show
Dir. Peter Weir
Wrt. Andrew Niccol
1998

BA: So the story goes that Andrew Niccol’s first draft of this script was a dark sci-fi thriller, set in NYC, and that Brian de Palma was going to direct. Makes sense coming from the guy who wrote (and directed) Gattaca, but what a different movie that would have been! Probably closer in tone to that same year’s Alex Proyas thriller Dark City. Once Peter Weir came on board, he began to craft it into the timeless setting of Seahaven.

I’ve seen this more than a few times, but it’s been a while. So this time around, two things really jumped out at me. First, it’s a lot quicker than I remembered. I think that’s a testament to the depth and detail of the film. The way we’re introduced to the world as if we’re watching the TV show, the way 99% of the camera shots are of the ‘hidden’ variety (almost a precursor to ‘found footage,’ in a way?). The structure of the film gives us Truman’s life, interrupted almost immediately by the light that falls from the sky. And then we get flashbacks, and then when we finally meet Christof (a little on-the-nose with that name), we do so via an interview during which we get to experience the entire life of Truman from birth to now. All of this in a lean hour-plus, which then takes us into Truman’s falling apart and eventual awakening. By the time he opens that door at the end and steps through, we’re hit hard with it, because we feel like we’ve been watching the show for decades as well.
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Much of that, too, comes from the art direction. And that’s the second thing that jumped out at me. The music the characters listen to, the clothes they wear, their furniture and appliances feel like the 1950s. And yet there’s modern cars, computers, phones. It’s this odd mixture of past and present, which is really interesting when you step back and think about it. Part of it was no doubt to draw a solid line between Truman’s world and the modern world looking in at him (Christof’s production has all the tech he could ever need, even a Weathermaker!). Truman’s almost 30 in the film, which means that the show started in 1968. So even then, the 50s thing would’ve been somewhat dated. And yet it didn’t change. Maybe that’s the appeal of a familiar TV show: your favorite characters will always be in their familiar spots. The Cosby Show‘s living room, ER‘s hospital, 21 Jump Street‘s 21 Jump Street. It’s yet another trove of detail that shows you how deeply everyone involved with this film really thought it all out.
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It’s off this latter point that I pivot to the penultimate film on our mixtape. The choice to film in the cookie-cutter town of Seaside, Florida really drove home the homogeny of the environment created around Truman. Rightfully so, too, because Christof wants complete control over what affects his main character. Seahaven is a blank slate, everything so alike and innocent that you don’t even notice it. Then all Christof has to do is start a fire, or make it snow, or throw in a love interest, and he’s guaranteed that the drama will come from that action, not something unexpected. But, like the false elevator wall Truman discovers during his ‘breakdown,’ things are never so cut and dry. Even in the picture perfect, let’s-move-to-the-suburbs, nuclear family/Donna Reed 50s that the art direction is modelled after, shit gets real.
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Even during the 1950s themselves, filmmakers were pulling back the curtain and showing America that behind the ambrosia salad and rotary mowers, life really was ugly and imperfect. One director in particular made his name doing just that, and I give to you my favorite of his soapy, soapy films.
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Dir. Douglas Sirk
Wrt. Peg Fenwick
1955
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DB: I’ve been wanting to see this movie for over a decade, ever since watching Todd Haynes’ 2002 film Far From Heaven, his homage to these “women’s pictures” on which Douglas Sirk made his reputation. All That Heaven Allows and Imitation of Life (which I also have yet to see) are considered the primary inspirations for that film, but I never got around to watching them after seeing it, despite my intentions. Now that this one is under my belt, its influence on Haynes is clear. And though I’d assumed his effort was just a thematic interpretation of Sirk’s work, now I see that Haynes also recreated Sirk’s stunning use of color.
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Perhaps the colors stood out so much because the light was refracted through all of the suds in which the movie is lathered. Your description of “soapy” was apt. Melodramatic as it may be though, it was hard not to get caught up in the drama. Almost everyone in Cary’s life – from her college-age children to her so-called friends from the country club and cocktail party crowd – react so disdainfully to her romance with the younger, blue-collar Ron, and there were a few characters I found myself talking smack to out loud for their treatment of the couple. Yet at the same time that I felt defensive on behalf of their relationship, the romance felt a little rushed to me. I don’t think the movie did much to build up their attraction, which went from 0 to 10 in little more than the time it took to tour Ron’s rundown mill.

If I wanted to follow this up with another story of lovers battling outside forces that threaten to break them apart, there would be no shortage of movies to choose. But what will linger with me over time about this movie isn’t the story or the social commentary, but those vibrant, gorgeous colors. There were moments – think of those wide shots of Ron’s mill – that looked like they were animated. Cary and Ron might well have been walking around in a Disney cartoon. I mean, Jesus – there was even an adorable reindeer hanging around! A reindeer, Brantley!

So it’s color and cartoons that I’m thinking about as we wrap up this set. And while I have two movies in mind that might actually be more applicable than the one I’m going with, my ultimate selection accomplishes a couple of additional things. Yes, it elaborates on the idea of live actors in a world that sometimes seems (and at least briefly is) animated, but it also offers a nice bit of symmetry by serving as another riff – albeit a much lighter one – on the film noir origins that inspired your pick for our opener, Sweet Smell of Success. Lastly, it allows me to pay tribute to a terrific actor who recently left us. So enjoy revisiting this classic from our childhood, and raise a drink to Bob Hoskins as you do.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit
Dir. Robert Zemeckis
Wrt. Jeffrey Price & Peter S. Seaman
1988

BA: What can you say about Roger Rabbit that any movie lover in our generation doesn’t already know? That they got the rights to cartoon characters from every conceivable studio. That Hoskins was asked to do the near-impossible, acting alongside greenscreens and practical gadgets that would later be drawn over. Watching it again, from start to finish, you can see all the noir tropes it’s supposed to have: a private detective, his trusty gal, a femme fatale, a musical number, a gin joint, a mystery in Los Angeles that (like Chinatown) is basically just a land grab. And as you said, a solid way to wrap up Movie Mixtape #2. Not just because we’ve bookended this thing with noir, but because in just two months, I’ll be getting married in the very movie theater in which I first saw Roger Rabbit. An old school Art Deco theater that would fit in quite nicely in Eddie Valiant’s world.

Coming Eventually: Movie Mixtape #3

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August 24, 2014

Emmy Nominations 2013-14: Reaction Mishmash

Filed under: Emmys,TV — DB @ 9:45 am
Tags: , , , , , , ,

The Emmy Awards are upon us, and once again this year’s crop of nominees reminds us that there is an astonishing level of quality across today’s television landscape…if it can even still be referred to as television now that online entities like Netflix, Amazon and Hulu are presenting original programming. Unfortunately, it tends to be what isn’t nominated that serves as the reminder, for no matter what makes the cut, there remains so much great work that is left out. As I say every year, there is simply too much good work out there for all of it to receive the celebration it deserves come Emmy season. But that doesn’t stop TV critics and avid watchers from sounding off anyway. For the past couple of years I’ve offered a slate of write-ups for work that stood out to me as nomination worthy but went unrecognized. I really need to work on those throughout the season, while the shows are fresh in my mind, but I dropped the ball this year. Still, I have thoughts on what was and wasn’t nominated, and I’ll be damned if I’m just going to keep them to myself. I’m a blogger! So here’s a down-and-dirtier version of this annual post. I’m not making predictions here; the Emmys are far too erratic and offbeat for me to apply my Oscar mojo. This is just a rundown of the nominees, accompanied by thoughts and opinions where I have them. Maybe I’ll get my act together next year. Until then….

 

OUTSTANDING COMEDY SERIES
The Big Bang Theory
Louie
Modern Family
Orange Is The New Black
Silicon Valley
Veep

Thoughts: As entertainment award travesties go, the annual omission of Parks and Recreation is one for the books. How does this show get passed over year after year after year? With all respect to the fine Modern Family, Parks and Rec dances circles around it. It’s more ambitious in its storytelling, it develops its characters with greater depth and it continues to offer surprises each season while Modern Family and other shows just do more of the same…even if they do it well. And on top of all that, it’s hilarious and still has the best comedic ensemble on TV right now. I don’t watch The Big Bang Theory, but I’d bet it too falls short of Parks and Recreation in almost every metric.

On the upside, it’s nice to see Silicon Valley land a nomination for its debut season. The show came out of the gate strong and never faltered. I have yet to get around to Orange is the New Black, but by all accounts it’s a true original and a deserving nominee…if not necessarily the right fit for this category.

OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTRESS IN A COMEDY SERIES
Lena Dunham – Girls
Edie Falco – Nurse Jackie
Melissa McCarthy – Mike & Molly
Julia Louis-Dreyfus – Veep
Amy Poehler – Parks and Recreation
Taylor Schilling – Orange is the New Black

Thoughts: At least Amy Poehler got some love for Parks and Rec, though the fact that she hasn’t won yet is every bit as scandalous as the show itself not being nominated. Yes, we all adore Julia Louis-Dreyfus, but she’s got plenty of Emmys at this point, and while her work on Veep is excellent, the character doesn’t have the range of Poehler’s Leslie Knope. She won her first Golden Globe for the role in January. Perhaps this will finally be her year at the Emmys as well?

Also, how about getting some Mindy Kaling up in this joint?

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OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTOR IN A COMEDY SERIES

Louis C.K. – Louie
Don Cheadle – House of Lies
Ricky Gervais – Derek
Matt LeBlanc – Episodes
William H. Macy – Shameless
Jim Parsons – The Big Bang Theory

Thoughts: Ricky Gervais’ nomination for the Netflix series Derek is quite the surprise. The series hasn’t garnered the acclaim or noteriety of The Office or even Extras, so it’s a testament to Gervais’ appeal that he made the cut over more widely predicted people like Brooklyn Nine-Nine‘s Andy Samberg (who took the Golden Globe) and Silicon Valley’s Thomas Middleditch. I’m also giving a shout-out to the great Chris O’Dowd, who was a real joy as the lead in Christopher Guest’s mellow HBO comedy Family Tree.

As for the win, I gotta go with Louis C.K.

OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A COMEDY SERIES
Mayim Bialik – The Big Bang Theory
Julie Bowen – Modern Family
Anna Chlumsky – Veep
Allison Janney – Mom
Kate McKinnon – Saturday Night Love
Kate Mulgrew – Orange is the New Black

OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A COMEDY SERIES
Fred Armisen – Portlandia
Andre Braugher – Brooklyn Nine-Nine
Ty Burrell – Modern Family
Adam Driver – Girls
Tony Hale – Veep
Jesse Tyler Ferguson – Modern Family

Thoughts: Can someone explain to me how Fred Armisen is a Supporting Actor on Portlandia? He’s the co-lead and co-creator of the show. He doesn’t belong here, especially at the expense — yet again — of any member of the Parks and Recreation crew. Nick Offerman remains the show’s most egregiously overlooked cast member, but Chris Pratt, Aziz Ansari and Adam Scott are plenty deserving.

Silicon Valley also boasts an impressive group of supporting players, any of whom — T.J. Miller, Martin Starr, Kumail Nanjiani, Zach Woods or the late Christopher Evan Welch — would have been welcome additions here.

Returning nominees Adam Driver, Tony Hale and Ty Burrell all deserve a place once again, and Andre Braugher is a welcome addition for his deadpan precinct captain. His co-star Joe Lo Truglio would have been deserving too…though again, neither outshine the men of Parks and Rec. I really don’t get the Emmy’s aversion to that show.

I would love to see Driver take this. Reigning champ Hale is terrific, but Adam Driver is one of the most exciting actors anywhere right now. His work on Girls has been remarkable from day one, and he continues to take his character in fascinating and unexpected new directions.

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OUTSTANDING GUEST ACTRESS IN A COMEDY SERIES

Uzo Aduba – Orange is the New Black
Laverne Cox – Orange is the New Black
Joan Cusack – Shameless
Tina Fey – Saturday Night Live
Natasha Lyonne – Orange is the New Black
Melissa McCarthy – Saturday Night Live

The Guest Performer Emmys were handed out last weekend at the Creative Arts ceremony, and the prize went to Uzo Aduba. As I mentioned above, I have yet to see Orange is the New Black, but even I’m aware of her breakout character Crazy Eyes.

OUTSTANDING GUEST ACTOR IN A COMEDY SERIES
Steve Buscemi – Portlandia
Louis C.K. – Saturday Night Live
Gary Cole – Veep
Jimmy Fallon – Saturday Night Live
Nathan Lane – Modern Family
Bob Newhart – The Big Bang Theory

Thoughts: Another Parks and Recreation omission: is it not far past the time to recognize Ben Schwartz for his hilarious recurring work as Jean-Ralphio Saperstein? This is a show that has done such a phenomenal job of building up a roster of recurring characters to fill out the town of Pawnee, and none are funnier or more well-honed than hipster doofus Jean-Ralphio. His impact on the show has been significant enough that the creators gave him an equally hilarious sister Mona Lisa (Jenny Slate) and this past year introduced Henry Winkler as their father. Given how this show has been passed over by Emmy voters across the board, I can hardly expect Schwartz to be singled out. But he sure deserves it.

All that aside, the winner was Jimmy Fallon.

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OUTSTANDING WRITING FOR A COMEDY SERIES

David Crane, Jeffrey Klarik – Episodes (Episode 305)
Louis C.K. – Louie (So Did the Fat Lady)
Liz Friedman, Jenji Kohan – Orange is the New Black (I Wasn’t Ready – Pilot)
Alec Berg – Silicon Valley (Optimal Tip-To-Tip Efficiency)
Simon Blackwell, Tony Roche, Armando Iannucci – Veep (Special Relationship)

Thoughts: Cheers to the voters for nominating the season finale of Silicon Valley, which featured one of the funniest sequences I saw anywhere all year: a serious discussion amongst software engineers about how one of them could theoretically jerk off 800 men in ten minutes. This was inspired. The best part is that, as with much of the show’s shop talk, the concept had to be worked out with the help of a legitimate engineering genius — 27 year-old MIT grad Vinith Misra. While discussing his work as an advisor to the show in this interview, he mentioned that his tasks included “performing a detailed mathematical analysis in support of a penis joke.” Fantastic.

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OUTSTANDING DIRECTING FOR A COMEDY SERIES

Iain B. MacDonald – Episodes (Episode 309)
Paris Barclay – Glee (100)
Louis C.K. – Louie (Elevator, Part 6)
Gail Mancuso – Modern Family (Vegas)
Jodie Foster – Orange is the New Black (Lesbian Request Denied)

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OUTSTANDING DRAMA SERIES

Breaking Bad
Downton Abbey
Game of Thrones
House of Cards
Mad Men
True Detective

Thoughts: Although I don’t watch The Good Wife, I gathered that it had a strong season. I couldn’t escape the news of a major cast member’s dramatic exit, so it’s surprising that the buzz didn’t translate into a nomination. Much as I enjoy Downton Abbey, I’m not sure if it belongs here when other acclaimed shows like Good Wife, The Americans, or Masters of Sex were shut out. The Bridge had an impressive debut run too. It would also be nice to see more genre shows join Game of Thrones. Neither The Walking Dead nor Bates Motel have Thrones’ prestige factor, but both are coming off high-quality seasons. And Hannibal is not only riveting, but one of the most visually arresting shows on the air. Also, I have to say, True Blood bounced back in a big way last year.

I’d like to think this will be the year that Game of Thrones triumphs, but it’s a tough call. It’s unanimously agreed that Breaking Bad’s final season completely nailed it, and might even have been the show’s best yet. But those episodes aired a year ago, and it may be too far out of mind to claim the prize for the second year in a row…though most fans of the show would say that only one Outstanding Drama Series win is not enough. True Detective is the big threat here. Fueled by the presence of Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey, the show was highly anticipated and lived up to the potential. It was an instant hit — smart, engrossing and atmospheric. And it’s probably more in Emmy voters’ wheelhouse than Game of Thrones. One potential hiccup is that earlier this month, accusations surfaced that True Detective‘s creator Nic Pizzolatto plagiarized portions of the show’s dialogue. He and HBO have denied the charges, and the timing does seem suspicious. The show ended its run in March, but this story doesn’t hit until August, in the middle of the Emmy voting period? Sounds like the work of Tywin Lannister…

OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTRESS IN A DRAMA SERIES
Lizzy Caplan – Masters of Sex
Claire Danes – Homeland
Michelle Dockery – Downton Abbey
Julianna Margulies – The Good Wife
Kerry Washington – Scandal
Robin Wright – House of Cards

Thoughts: Does Michelle Dockery really belong here? She does good work as Lady Mary, but in a crowded field, I can think of a few performances that have more going on than hers. How about Vera Farmiga, nominated last year for her wonderful work on Bates Motel? The Bridge’s Diane Kruger, might have been a more interesting choice as well. I don’t watch any of the following shows, but what I hear of Tatiana Maslany (Orphan Black), Keri Russell (The Americans), Connie Britton (Nashville), Katey Sagal (Sons of Anarchy) and the usually-nominated Elisabeth Moss (Mad Men) suggests that all are eminently Emmy worthy.

OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTOR IN A DRAMA SERIES
Bryan Cranston – Breaking Bad
Jeff Daniels – The Newsroom
Jon Hamm – Mad Men
Woody Harrelson – True Detective
Matthew McConaughey – True Detective
Kevin Spacey – House of Cards

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Thoughts:
Poor Michael Sheen. The Masters of Sex star is always the bridesmaid to his co-stars. The Queen: Helen Mirren wins the Oscar, but he’s not nominated. Frost/Nixon: Frank Langella gets the Oscar nomination, Sheen is passed over. Now Lizzy Caplan is welcomed into the Emmy race for Masters while Sheen is yet again ignored. Perhaps he can take some consolation in the fact that as always, this is a jam-packed category. There’s really nobody here who doesn’t deserve their place. Some might say Jeff Daniels, who pulled off a surprise win last year, but critics and pundits just don’t like The Newsroom. Whatever they think of the show though, Daniels is terrific. Many expected James Spader to be a shoo-in for The Blacklist, and there were hopes that Matthew Rhys would find his way in for The Americans. But there can be only six.

Jon Hamm remains Emmy-less for Mad Men, which probably should be rectified at some point, but it’s unlikely to be this year. While Bryan Cranston could take it one final time for Breaking Bad, this award seems destined for McConaughey, who was spellbinding on True Detective. His first foray into series television further bolstered the hot streak that he’s been on in the movies. He’ll need some more shelf space to add all the True Detective awards he’s bound to win over the next six months to the swarm he already collected for Dallas Buyers Club. His next two projects are with Christopher Nolan and Gus Van Sant. Dude is crushing it.

OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A DRAMA SERIES
Christine Baranski – The Good Wife
Joanne Froggatt – Downton Abbey
Lena Headey – Game of Thrones
Anna Gunn – Breaking Bad
Christina Hendricks – Mad Men
Maggie Smith – Downton Abbey

Thoughts: I’m always pleased by any recognition for the Game of Thrones cast, so I’m happy to see Lena Headey score her first nomination. I still say Maisie Williams is the cast’s most deserving female, but I’ll take what they give me.

I didn’t expect the Emmys to suddenly find room for The Walking Dead in a main category, but Melissa McBride certainly deserved a place here this year. McBride’s Carol has had the best character arc on the show, coming a long way from the meek, abused wife she was at the start to the badass warrior momma she is now, one of the toughest of the survivors, who makes difficult life or death decisions and then follows through, all for the greater good. Her evolution and do-what-needs-to-be-done attitude were crystallized in this season’s episode “The Grove,” which saw Carol execute her most heartbreaking decision yet. I had some issues with the how the story played out — I think the writing failed to explore the situation as fully as it needed to (and easily could have) before the ultimate solution was reached — but I have no issues with McBride’s performance. It was a textbook example of the kind of showcase episode that should earn an actor a nomination.

I also want to make a stand for Caitlin FitzGerald, from Masters of Sex. As the warm, supportive wife to Michael Sheen’s intense title character, FitzGerald had the challenge of taking a 1950’s housewife whose lot in life seems to be supporting her man, and turning her into a character who was, in her way, just as strong and compelling as Lizzy Caplan’s less conventional woman of the era. FitzGerald quickly evolved into my favorite character on the show, as I found myself looking forward to her scenes more than anyone else’s.

Lastly, while I can’t comment on Baranski, Gunn or Hendricks, I can say the category should have found room for The Newsroom’s Olivia Munn. Probably the least experienced of the show’s primary cast members when it debuted, she was strong from the start and does great work week in and week out. If she had been giving the same performance on The West Wing, she’d have been nominated.

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OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A DRAMA SERIES

Josh Charles – The Good Wife
Jim Carter – Downton Abbey
Peter Dinklage – Game of Thrones
Mandy Patinkin – Homeland
Aaron Paul – Breaking Bad
Jon Voight – Ray Donovan

Thoughts: Could sentiment be with Josh Charles, given his character’s high-profile departure from The Good Wife? Or will voters look to Aaron Paul one last time for Breaking Bad? No surprise, I’m rooting for Dinklage to win for a second time. His arc this season provided great material, both showy and subtle, and he was as stellar as ever. Unfortunately, he is once again the show’s sole representative. Several of his castmates could just as easily join him here, but all were overlooked. One particular absence stings because the character won’t be returning, and has been one of the standouts each year. I’m avoiding his name for spoilers sake, but those of you watching probably know who I mean. Frankly, if this entire category were comprised of Thrones actors,  it would be entirely justified.

Voters might also have considered Jeffrey Wright’s work on Boardwalk Empire. He was an excellent addition to the show, and a more interesting character than Bobby Cannavale’s Emmy-winning villain from the previous season.

OUTSTANDING GUEST ACTRESS IN A DRAMA SERIES
Kate Burton – Scandal
Jane Fonda – The Newsroom
Allison Janney – Masters of Sex
Kate Mara – House of Cards
Margo Martindale – The Americans
Diana Rigg – Game of Thrones

Thoughts: Kate Mara? Really? Nothing against her or her performance, but her arc on House of Cards was pretty brief this year. Does she really deserve this slot? Diana Rigg is so good on Game of Thrones, but she was in much less of the season this year than last. If she didn’t win then, it’s unlikely that she would now.

And she didn’t. The award went to Alison Janney, and that’s hard to argue with. Janney was heartbreaking as a wife and mother experiencing her sexual awakening as she learns that her husband — fellow nominee Beau Bridges — is not the man she thought he was.

OUTSTANDING GUEST ACTOR IN A DRAMA SERIES
Dylan Baker – The Good Wife
Beau Bridges – Masters of Sex
Reg E. Cathey – House of Cards
Paul Giamatti – Downton Abbey
Robert Morse – Mad Men
Joe Morton – Scandal

Thoughts: Pedro Pascal came into the crowded Game of Thrones cast and immediately carved himself a place of honor with a compelling portrayal of a revenge-minded prince. He seemed a shoo-in for recognition here. I mean, it was a fun to see the great Paul Giamatti pop up on Downton Abbey, but I’d trade his one-episode appearance for Pascal’s pivotal season-long role in a heartbeat. It’s disappointing to see him passed over.

I’ve only seen half of these nominees — Giamatti, Bridges and Cathey. I’d have gone with Bridges’ wrenching turn as a married man grappling with his homosexuality. The scenes of his professional relationship — he plays Michael Sheen’s longtime friend and boss — are terrific, but the character’s personal struggles deepen the role and allow Bridges to do some beautiful work. Alas, the winner was Joe Morton (Miles Dyson, for all you Terminator 2 fans). Though I don’t watch Scandal, I’ve always liked Morton, so it’s nice to see a working actor like him get some recognition.

OUTSTANDING WRITING FOR A DRAMA SERIES
Moira Walley-Beckett – Breaking Bad (Ozymandias)
Vince Gilligan – Breaking Bad (Felina)
David Benioff, D.B. Weiss – Game of Thrones (The Children)
Beau Willimon – House of Cards (Chapter 14)
Nic Pizzolatto – True Detective (The Secret Fate of All of Life)

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OUTSTANDING DIRECTING FOR A DRAMA SERIES

Tim Van Patten – Boardwalk Empire (Farewell Daddy Blues)
Vince Gilligan – Breaking Bad (Felina)
David Evans – Downton Abbey (Episode 1)
Neil Marshall – Game of Thrones (The Watchers on the Wall)
Cary Joji Fukunaga – True Detective (Who Goes There)

Thoughts: Without having seen the Breaking Bad episodes, I have no doubt both were expertly crafted. And the nominated episode of True Detective got a lot of attention for its lengthy tracking shot that moved in and out of several houses as it followed McConaughey’s character on an undercover assignment gone bad. But how can anything here compare to the directorial challenges and superb execution of the battle for Castle Black on Game of Thrones? The extensive use of visual effects to create so much of the surroundings, the multiple storylines playing out within the limited location, the ability to make it all look so impressive and cinematic on a TV budget. This is the first directing nomination Thrones has received in three seasons, and its omission from the past two years is absurd. It deserves the award not just for this episode, but as compensation for past mistakes.

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OUTSTANDING MINISERIES

American Horror Story: Coven
Bonnie & Clyde
Fargo
Luther
Treme
The White Queen

Thoughts: American Horror Story is always a force to be reckoned with, but Fargo was the buzzy critic’s darling this year, and accomplished the impressive feat of standing on its own in the shadow of a classic piece of contemporary cinema. I wasn’t totally sold on it at first, but it grew on me steadily as it went along, and I still find myself thinking about it. I’ll definitely have to revisit it eventually.

OUTSTANDING TELEVISION MOVIE
Killing Kennedy
Muhammad Ali’s Greatest Fight
The Normal Heart
Sherlock: His Last Vow
The Trip to Bountiful

OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTRESS IN A MINISERIES OR MOVIE
Helena Bonham Carter – Burton and Taylor
Minnie Driver – Return to Zero
Jessica Lange – American Horror Story: Coven
Sarah Paulson – American Horror Story: Coven
Cicely Tyson – The Trip to Bountiful
Kristen Wiig – The Spoils of Babylon

Thoughts: How awesome is it to see Kristin Wiig sneak into this line-up for her performance in the absurd comedic series The Spoils of Babylon? This show was totally ridiculous, and totally hilarious. Not everyone’s style of comedy, I’m sure, but for those who appreciated what they were going for, it was lots of fun, and Wiig was aces.

OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTOR IN A MINISERIES OR MOVIE
Benedict Cumberbatch – Sherlock: His Last Vow
Chiwetel Ejiofor – Dancing on the Edge
Idris Elba – Luther
Martin Freeman – Fargo
Mark Ruffalo – The Normal Heart
Billy Bob Thornton – Fargo

Thoughts: The delightful ubiquity of Martin Freeman is evident in the fact that half his fellow nominees are actors he’s worked with. He’s joined here by his Fargo co-star Thornton, as well as his Sherlock and The Hobbit pal Cumberbatch. Plus he and Ejiofor were both in Love, Actually. But they had no scenes together, so maybe that doesn’t count? You decide.

Jesus, this is a strong line-up. Tough, tough call.

OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A MINISERIES OR MOVIE
Angela Bassett – American Horror Story: Coven
Kathy Bates – American Horror Story: Coven
Ellen Burstyn – Flowers in the Attic
Frances Conroy – American Horror Story: Coven
Julia Roberts – The Normal Heart
Alison Tolman – Fargo

Thoughts: No surprise that this category is dominated by ladies of American Horror Story. Bassett, Bates and Conroy were all fantastic. The latter two especially, had probably the best roles they’ve had in ages thanks to Ryan Murphy and his team, who can always be counted on to create roles that actresses can tear into. It’s no wonder they signed on to return for the upcoming season, American Horror Story: Freak Show. It will be a challenge to choose between them. So maybe the voters won’t, going instead for Allison Tolman’s wonderful breakout turn in Fargo.

OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A MINISERIES OR MOVIE
Matt Bomer – The Normal Heart
Martin Freeman – Sherlock: His Last Vow
Colin Hanks – Fargo
Joe Mantello – The Normal Heart
Alfred Molina – The Normal Heart
Jim Parsons – The Normal Heart

Thoughts: This category is kind of a slap in the face to Taylor Kitsch. He was the only main cast member of The Normal Heart to be overlooked, and he was just as good as everyone else. He certainly had a bigger role than Joe Mantello, but Mantello had something that Kitsch unfortunately didn’t: a showstopping scene in which he took center stage and was allowed to fly. He was basically nominated for that one scene. All the other cast members had at least one standout moment like that. Kitsch’s character didn’t, and it probably cost the actor a nomination.

OUTSTANDING WRITING FOR A MINISERIES, MOVIE OR DRAMATIC SPECIAL
Brad Falchuk – American Horror Story: Coven (Bitchcraft)
Noah Hawley – Fargo (The Crocodile’s Dilemma)
Neil Cross – Luther
Larry Kramer – The Normal Heart
Steven Moffatt – Sherlock: His Last Vow
David Simon, Eric Overmeyer – Treme (…To Miss New Orleans)

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OUTSTANDING DIRECTING FOR A MINISERIES, MOVIE OR DRAMATIC SPECIAL

Alfonso Gomez-Rejon – American Horror Story: Coven (Bitchcraft)
Adam Bernstein – Fargo (The Crocodile’s Dilemma)
Colin Bucksey – Fargo (Buridan’s Ass)
Stephen Frears – Muhammad Ali’s Greatest Fight
Ryan Murphy – The Normal Heart
Nick Hurran – Sherlock: His Last Vow

OUTSTANDING VARIETY SERIES
The Colbert Report
The Daily Show with Jon Stewart
Jimmy Kimmel Live
Real Time with Bill Maher
Saturday Night Live
The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon

Thoughts: The golden of age of television we continue to find ourselves in is not limited to fictional series. The late night field is also full of gems, as evidenced by how strong this category is. Saturday Night Live is always going to be hit or miss, but the rest of these shows are just great. Conan could easily be here too, as could some of the other shows which pop up in the Writing category below (despite the list of nominees, this isn’t actually a late night category). Last Week with John Oliver probably debuted too late in the season to qualify, but its chances next year are looking great. Strong as all of these shows are though, none of them equal the satirical brilliance of The Colbert Report, which finally won this award last year after a record-setting 10 years of domination by The Daily Show.

OUTSTANDING WRITING FOR A VARIETY SERIES
The Colbert Report
The Daily Show with Jon Stewart
Inside Amy Schumer
Key & Peele
Portlandia
The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon

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OUTSTANDING ANIMATED PROGRAM

Archer (Archer Vice: The Rules of Extraction)
Bob’s Burgers (Mazel Tina)
Futurama (Meanwhile)
South Park (Black Friday)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Manhattan Project

Thoughts: Much was made of the fact that for the first time in 23 years, The Simpsons wasn’t nominated. The consenus may be that the show is long past its prime, but I still probably laugh harder and more often during a Simpsons episode than I do at any other series. Now maybe Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is good…but better than The Simpsons? I seriously doubt it.

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I’m looking forward to seeing how it all shakes out. Seth Meyers hosts the show, which airs tomorrow night, Monday, August 25, on NBC. Go Amy Poehler and Game of Thrones!

And now I leave you with another classic moment of Emmy past.

 

June 29, 2014

Sunday Mourning (A Lament for Game of Thrones)

Filed under: TV — DB @ 10:00 am
Tags: , , , , ,

This post is intended for those who are up-to-date on Game of Thrones. If you have yet to start watching the series or are not caught up, make like a heart tree — you know, the kind with the faces of the Gods carved on them  and leave.

It never gets easier. Another season of Game of Thrones ends, and the impact of the loss doesn’t really hit until a week after the finale, when there is no new episode to watch. Then you start to think about the 40 or so more weeks that you have to get through before the show will be back, and you try to get excited about True Blood, and sure it’s good to see Lafayette and Eric and Jessica again, but nothing can fill that hole. Here we are two weeks later, and still I can’t let go. Perhaps getting all of this out of my system will help.

BRING OUT YOUR DEAD
If last year’s Red Wedding seemed like an untoppable twist of fate, that notion was dispelled early in the season with the first of what would be many high profile deaths this year. The only disappointment about Joffrey’s inevitable demise is that we no longer get to root for Joffrey’s inevitable demise. That, and we had to bid farewell to Jack Gleeson, who brought him to such brilliantly bratty life. George R.R. Martin and showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss all said in interviews that they hoped watching Joffrey’s desperate gasps for breath would make people feel a little bit of pity for him, perhaps recognizing that at the end of the day he’s just a kid who’d been living out a grossly inflated sense of entitlement. If that was their goal, I’m sorry to say they failed. I don’t think anyone felt sympathy for this devil. He beheaded Ned Stark, endlessly tormented Sansa, abused prostitutes, pumped Ros full of arrows, ordered the murder of every dark-haired bastard in King’s Landing, respected nothing and nobody, ridiculed everyone around him from Tyrion to The Hound to Jaime to Tywin…he was a loathsome little fucker and the only thing people seemed to regret about his death was that it was neither painful nor prolonged enough. To that end, Vulture asked several of the cast members how they would have killed Joffrey, collecting a range of colorful answers…none of which go further than what one friend of mine suggested in an email:

Not good enough.  I wanted to see his flesh boiled away while he watched his mom penetrated by that knife dildo from Seven. After their nails were pulled out along with their teeth. After hungry pigs fed on their hands and feet. After they ate shit that spewed directly from a donkeys anus that had just eaten another donkey’s shit.

After the entire kingdom got to urinate on him.

Still glad to see him die though!

And of course, social media had plenty of fun reactions, several of which were supposedly tweeted by characters on the show, including Joffrey himself. In the end, as loathsome as he is on paper, a significant chunk of our feelings about Joffrey are due to Gleeson’s spot-on portrayal. Both he and the character will be missed, and if you’d like to bid a final farewell to the actor as he really is, here’s a 30 minute Q&A he did last fall at University College Dublin.

Joffrey’s death so early in the season was definitely among Thrones’ best surprises to date, but the most shocking moment I’ve witnessed on the show came with the eye-popping defeat of Oberyn Martell. Despite being a new addition to the story this year, Oberyn — so wonderfully played by Pedro Pascal — quickly earned everyone’s affection and seemed like a character destined to be around for a while, especially once he tied his fate to Tyrion’s. Even though Martin has proven that no one is safe in his stories, you kinda figure that some people are pretty safe…at least until the series gets closer to ending. I just didn’t believe that Tyrion was going to die, and so it stands to reason that going into his trial by combat, Oberyn was bound to prevail over Gregor Clegane, The Mountain Who Rides. But I should have known by now that if something seems so obvious, Martin will find another way. Even as The Mountain was gouging out Oberyn’s eyes, I was thinking, “Okay — he’s gonna stab The Mountain in the head and crawl out from underneath, and the cost of his revenge will be the loss of his eyes.” Nope! Martin took it further and had The Mountain pop Oberyn’s entire head like a watermelon at a Gallagher show. I will NEVER unsee that sight.

It was such a crushing loss (no pun intended, really), as Oberyn went into the fight brimming with confidence. His victory — again, given the Tyrion factor if nothing else — seemed a foregone conclusion. And although the headbusting is a demise I’ll not soon forget, I think the moment before that was the one that is truly seared in my brain – The Mountain pressing his thumbs into Oberyn’s eyes, blood seeping from around the edges as Oberyn wails in pain he was so certain he would not experience that day. I imagine that for most who haven’t read the books, Oberyn’s death doesn’t top the Red Wedding as far as killer twists go, but perhaps because I pretty much knew the Red Wedding was coming, the loss of Oberyn hit me even harder. Well…no — losing Robb, Catelyn and Talisa all at once like that hit me harder as a story point. But the grisly specifics of Oberyn’s death — that’s what I was referring to when I called it the most shocking moment I’ve seen on the show. Even the pregnant Talisa getting stabbed repeatedly in the abdomen didn’t get to me as much as this did.

It amused me that in interviews following the episode in question, Pascal (and maybe Benioff and Weiss, I can’t remember) pointed out that Oberyn’s Inigo Montoya-like prodding did in fact result in The Mountain confessing his crimes. I appreciate the attempt to find a silver lining, but I suspect the pressure one feels when their eyes are getting liquified and their skull is getting crushed would be too much of a distraction to really hear a confession, let alone take any satisfaction in it.

Though his time on the show was brief, Oberyn emerged as one of my favorite characters. I took his loss hard. While this is little consolation, I enjoyed seeing Pascal riff about how Oberyn’s funeral should play out, while illustrators for Vanity Fair transferred his description to paper.

The only problem with that drawing? There’s still a head on the body.

Joffrey and Oberyn are just the tip of the broadsword, of course. This season was a goddamn bloodbath. We lost so many characters — some major, some minor, but all essential parts of the fabric that make the show what it is. Jon Snow’s Night’s Watch brothers Grenn and Pyp may not have been key characters, but they were there with him at Castle Black since day one, and I was sad to lose them. Locke, the man who cut off Jaime’s hand, was a great character who met a rough end when his neck was snapped by a Bran-controlled Hodor. (Hodor.) We lost Ygritte and crazy Lysa Arryn along the way, and then came the season finale, knocking four primary players permanently off the board.

Of these, the one that most fans will probably be least troubled by is Bran’s spiritual guide and fellow warg, Jojen Reed, but I’ll miss him. He didn’t appear until Season Three, and even with two years on the show we didn’t get to spend as much time with him as I would have liked. In my previous GoT post, I wondered whether Bran’s gift would allow him to eventually discover the identity of Jon Snow’s mother — a question that is bound to be important down the line — because I was under the impression that everyone who might know the answer is dead. But someone reminded me that Jojen and Meera’s father, Howland Reed, was a close friend to Ned Stark who was with him during Robert’s rebellion and might well know the truth about Jon’s lineage. Though we haven’t met him yet, Howland Reed is alive and well in the north. With Jojen now gone, Meera lives on (for now, at least) to potentially help connect those dots. (Speaking of Jon’s mystery mother, Kit Harington recently weighed in on the subject, but read at your own risk: this article reveals the prevailing theory, and touches on a few other Snow-related theories that could be considered slightly spoiler-ish.)

Tyrion lived to see another day, but the same can’t be said for Shae or Tywin. Finding Shae in his father’s bed must have been an even bigger heartbreaker for Tyrion than when she lied about him at the trial. Now he’s fleeing Westeros for the free cities, something that Shae repeatedly begged him to do ever since his near-murder at the Battle of Blackwater. Their love story dissolved so tragically this season, from him cruelly dismissing her early on in an effort to save her life, to her lies about him at the trial, to that final violent encounter. Poor Tyrion. Even killing Tywin was surely a conflicted act, given that no matter what an asshole his father was, Tyrion always sought his love and approval. He might have even settled for grudging respect, which Tywin tried to sell him while sitting on the loo, but it was too late.

Losing Tywin is rough. He’s easily one of the show’s strongest characters, as fascinating to watch when he’s silently writing a letter as when he’s confidently manipulating everything and everyone around him. Charles Dance has nailed this guy so perfectly, right from his first appearance back in Season One when he was skinning a stag and lecturing Jaime. I guess it goes back to no one being safe. As Weiss said in Entertainment Weekly‘s March cover story, “There are several characters whose loss would [hurt the show]. But that doesn’t mean they won’t die.” Tywin is one of many we’ve lost who proves that point. Let’s take a moment to enjoy him in this deleted scene from Season Three, shall we? (I love this because it also pays off that great non sequitur gag from the Season One finale in which Grand Maester Pycelle reveals his true self.)

The last death in the finale is also a hard one to take, and who would have thought back in the show’s early days that The Hound would emerge as such a vital presence? But over the past season and a half in particular, he’s become a standout. Pairing him with Arya was a stroke of genius, and their scenes together have been dependable highlights of the show. Rory McCann really stepped up to the demands of the role, as the normally monotone, stoic warrior showed his vulnerable side, talking to Arya about his childhood burning at the hands of his brother, and ultimately begging her to end his suffering. His fight with Brienne was a heartstopper — not just physically intense, but emotionally as well since both characters are so great that no matter who wins, we lose. I suppose there’s a chance we could still see him next season — perhaps Littlefinger, Sansa and Robin Arryn will come upon him while exploring the Vale. But even if we see him again, survival is hard to imagine.

HURTS SO GOOD
As if all of these deaths weren’t bad enough, the show found other ways to break my heart this season, starting with Daenarys and Jorah. From the beginning, Jorah has been one of my favorite characters, so to see the spying he did on Daenarys in their early days together catch up with him now, after he’s been such a loyal adviser, kinda devastated me. It’s a significant plot development, and I think the show could have emphasized it a little more. I wanted Jorah to make more of a case for himself, and I wanted Dany to consider all the support he’s given her. How the scene plays out in the books I can’t say, but it felt like the impact should have been bigger. Regardless, seeing those two “break up” breaks me up. I stumbled upon a small spoiler about what the future holds for Jorah, and I’m definitely intrigued, but it doesn’t indicate much. I can only hope that he and Dany will eventually reconcile. After she dismissed him, I imagined a few seasons down the road, Dany is finally in Westeros, she’s in the throes of a battle for the Iron Throne, and just as an opponent is about to attack her, Jorah steps in and saves her life, having been tracking her movements and continuing to fight for her from afar. It’s a totally clichéd, “hero” moment…and therefore something Martin would never do. I’m sure he’ll come up with something much more interesting. I just worry that it will be interesting and soul-crushing instead of interesting and redemptive.

Also bumming me out? The likelihood that we’ve seen the last of Tyrion’s sellsword pal Bronn. He didn’t die, so I can be thankful for that at least, but he no longer seems to have a role to play in the story now that he’s marrying some King’s Landing noblewoman and Tyrion is sailing across the Narrow Sea. Perhaps he’ll show up again down the line, but at the moment there doesn’t seem to be a place for him. Now I have to add him to the list of characters who have departed the story for now and who I can only hope will return someday, like Gendry, Thoros of Myr, Bryndyn “The Blackfish” Tully and as of earlier this season, Olenna Tyrell, Littlefinger’s co-conspirator in taking out Joffrey. Love her.

Another of the season’s most notable events was the revelation that Jon Arryn’s murder — which set this whole game of thrones in motion from the very first episode — was committed by his wife Lysa, at the behest of Littlefinger. (Lysa wrote to Catelyn claiming the Lannisters were responsible.) Even knowing what a cunning player Littlefinger is, I could not believe that he had been pulling the strings from the beginning. If there was any doubt that his name belongs on Arya’s list, this clinches it.

THERE WILL BE BLOOD
So what’s next? Books Four and Five of Martin’s saga take place concurrently, covering different sets of characters, so both will serve as source material for the coming season. These books are considered to be less eventful that the previous three, but I’m expecting plenty of juicy developments nonetheless, considering that the board is so shaken up at the end of this season. Season One concluded with nearly every main character positioned in an exciting way, and this season accomplished the same. Arya is off to Braavos, where she will hopefully hook back up with Jaqen H’ghar; Tyrion and Varys are headed across the sea as well, and whatever that duo gets up to, you know it will be terrific. I loved Stannis and Davos meeting up with Jon Snow, and can’t wait to see where that storyline goes. Did you note that loaded stare exchanged between Jon and Melisandre? We should also be getting more of Mance Rayder now that he’s Stannis’ prisoner. Bran will finally start learning about his destiny and how his special gifts will serve him; and Dany is going to be pretty lonely with her dragons locked up, Jorah banished, and Grey Worm and Missandei getting lost in each other’s eyes. Ser Barristan is good company, but the Khaleesi is fast becoming acquainted with the challenges — and the isolation — of leadership.

Oh, and can we talk about Sansa for a minute? She always gets a bad rap, but sometimes playing the game means being smart enough to keep quiet and not ruffle any feathers. (This solid piece from TV Guide makes a strong case for the eldest Stark daughter.) You may remember back in Season Two when Joffrey was tormenting Sansa in the throne room, ordering Ser Meryn to beat her and tear her clothes off while onlookers stood and watched. Tyrion came to her rescue, and while he escorted her out of the room, he asked quietly if she wanted out of her arranged marriage. Sansa composed herself and replied that she was loyal to her beloved Joffrey. As he watched her walk away, Tyrion remarked to himself that Sansa might survive them yet. If she manages to wrap Littlefinger around her little finger, Tyrion’s assessment may prove correct. Littlefinger’s interest in Sansa grows ever more creepy. There is a mentor/student-like quality to their relationship, but he also appears to have some sketchy romantic intentions toward her, likely seeing traces of his beloved Catelyn when he looks at her. Sansa seems wise to his interest, and now appears to be playing it to her own benefit, as evidenced by her detailed lie about Lysa’s death and the mature confidence that she’s suddenly wearing along with her decidedly more daring new outfit. Can a player of Littlefinger’s stature be played, and by a novice like Sansa at that? Time will tell.

Lastly, let’s not forget the shitstorm that awaits at King’s Landing. Tyrion’s escape will have Cersei seeing red just as Tywin’s death returns her to a position of considerable power. Surely she’ll have no doubt that Jaime helped Tyrion escape, which should lead to some damning repercussions. Their relationship was already tenuous this past season, and even though she reignited their flame in the finale, I am dubious of her true intentions. As Tyrion said to Oberyn, “Making honest feelings do dishonest work is one of her many gifts.” Maybe her renewed affection toward Jaime was genuine, but it was also a power play against Tywin, coming immediately after she made it clear to her legacy-obsessed father that the rumors about her and Jaime were true. Her subsequent moves on Jaime could be a calculated effort to keep him in check. Not that it worked — even after their romp on the table he still helped Tyrion flee. With Tommen still too young to take the throne, Cersei will once again be flexing her power. Who will be the new Hand of the King? Where will this leave Margaery? Her planned marriage to Tommen, like her marriage to Joffrey, was an alliance of Tywin’s design. But Cersei is no fan of Margaery — I believe “doe-eyed little whore” was one description she used — and without Tywin there, who will stop Cersei from making whatever arrangements she wants?

By the way, how much does it suck to be the kid who played Tommen in the first three seasons? He barely gets to say two words, and then when things start to get interesting for the character, they re-cast the part! Imagine you’re Tommen, and Margaery Tyrell sneaks into your bedroom at night wanting to share secrets with you and talk of your future wedding. You would probably experience the entirety of puberty right at that moment. Now imagine you’re the actor playing Tommen, doing that scene with Natalie Dormer. The result would probably be about the same.

Even the storylines that are less shaken up at the moment promise to remain interesting. What kind of leadership will Roose and Ramsay Bolton impose on the North, and where will Theon Reek fit in? What’s the next move for Theon’s father and sister? After letting Arya slip away, will Brienne and Podrick (another of the story’s inspired, unexpected, sitcom-worthy pairings) have better luck finding Sansa? And even if they do, what then?

How about new characters and locations? The show is supposed to travel to Oberyn’s homeland of Dorne next season, where we can expect to meet at least some of Oberyn’s daughters, plus reconnect with Cersei’s daughter Myrcella. Maybe Oberyn’s special ladyfriend Ellaria Sand will be featured more prominently. She didn’t have much to do this season, but with no reason to stick around King’s Landing, she would presumably head back to Dorne.

A DILEMMA WITH DRAGONS
I gather that the show has started to diverge from the books with greater frequency and has even started moving beyond the books, a point which garnered a lot of attention midway through the season when a White Walker took one of Craster’s last sons, carried him into some sort of ritualistic setting, touched an icy fingertip to the baby’s forehead and turned him into a blue-eyed, frost-lipped MiniMe. It was chilling…and not just because of those sub-zero northern temperatures. This scene was called out as a major spoiler, but I think you have to be keeping up with the books to understand why. For those of us just watching the show, I don’t see what’s been spoiled.

Yet it does reinforce that the show is on the precipice of not just catching up to the books, but moving beyond them. “The locomotive is coming up behind me and I’m still laying the tracks,” Martin told EW.com at Comic-Con last year. He is still working on The Winds of Winter, the sixth book of his planned seven, and I don’t think anyone expects it to be published before Season Five of the show hits next spring. Then again, just this week he offered some hints — which I haven’t read — about what readers can expect, so who knows. Maybe the tease is meant to suggest that he’s further along than we realize. And just recently there was buzz about Martin needing eight books to finish his story, though that sounded more like wishful thinking on the part of his editor than anything to which Martin has lent genuine credence.

When it comes to the show, Benioff and Weiss have stated this year that seven seasons is their current trajectory, which means we’re now more than halfway through, with two full books yet to be completed. On the other hand, this article — which says that the showrunners spent a week with Martin last year learning about his plans for the final books so that they can guide the show accordingly — mentions eight seasons total and the possibility of multiple seasons once again covering one book, just as Seasons Three and Four were both based on Book Three. Yet I’ve read other comments from them that contradict that. In other words, nobody knows how this timeline will shake out. While I haven’t read beyond Book Two and so have no idea what’s coming in Books Four and Five let alone after that, three more seasons doesn’t feel like it will be enough. Martin doesn’t think so either, and whatever the number works out to be, he has understandable concerns about the conclusion of the series being depicted on the show before he gets to write it. He’s suggested that once the show catches up to him, it should go on hiatus until he completes the last book, and then wrap up with a movie, adding that a feature film budget might be required to visualize the scope of his endgame. “Those dragons get real big,” he said (and from this picture, which he says accurately represents his vision of a full grown firebreather, he ain’t kidding).

THE WORLD OF ICE AND FIRE - Aegon_on_Black_Dread_J.Gonzalez

A movie is not a bad idea, but the usual season of TV would be preferable for HBO, and unless there’s a big time jump to come, the show’s kids — those that survive up to that point — aren’t going to be kids anymore. Hell, look at how young they are in that picture below from a 2009 book signing with Martin. That was posted two years before the pilot aired. That kid in the glasses is Jon Snow! And none of them are showing their age more than Isaac “Bran” Hempstead-Wright. If for no other reason than all of this dramatic growth, the show needs to conclude sooner than later. Everyone involved — not least of all Martin — wants to see the story wrap up on the page, his way, before it’s exposed on television. Martin, Benioff, Weiss and HBO have been considering these scenarios for over a year now, addressing all of these points in an interview after Season Three’s finale (which I think I included in my corresponding post last year.) But with the passing of another season, the concerns grow more acute.

The irony of all this is that the show has probably slowed down Martin’s progress on the books considerably. His fame has blown up since the show began, and though he only writes one episode per season, there are premieres and events to attend, press interviews to give throughout each season, talk shows to guest on and other related activities and appearances. If the guy could be left alone to write, he might be well into A Dream of Spring, the seventh (and if plans hold, final) book by now, instead of still at work on Book Six.

THE IRON BANK OF HOLLYWOOD
The Emmy nominations will hit in a few weeks, and hopefully Thrones will be well-represented in the top categories. It was certainly a strong, compelling season. For Best Drama Series it will likely be up against the final batch of Breaking Bad episodes, a well-received run of Mad Men, the breakout True Detective and possibly The Good Wife, which had a lot of positive attention this year. House of Cards, Homeland, Downton Abbey, Boardwalk Empire, Scandal, The Newsroom and Masters of Sex will also be jockeying for the six available slots, but I have to think Thrones will make the cut. But can it finally win?

Peter Dinklage is also a safe bet to earn his fourth nomination, and just might be able to win again this year, for the first time since Season One. His trial episode gave him some showy moments, and everyone assumes that will the one he submits for Emmy consideration. But I think he did even stronger work in the following episode, which featured three lengthy scenes in Tyrion’s prison cell: one with Jaime, one with Bronn and one with Oberyn which instantly took its place among the series finest scenes ever. Between the three, he found unexpected moments of humor in Tyrion’s dark hours, and did some of the best reacting he’s done yet on a show where his reacting is never less than perfection.

Not sure what to expect beyond that. The acting roster is certainly full of deserving nominees, but few ever break through. Emilia Clarke was nominated last year, but if I could only pick one cast member aside from Dinklage to represent the ensemble, it would be Maisie Williams, who is a ceaseless wonder as Arya. Unfortunately, the Emmys almost never nominate child actors. Only one episode, meanwhile — season finale “The Children” — was submitted for writing consideration, and it would be really nice to finally see the show earn directing nomination, which hasn’t happened since the pilot. Nothing for Season Two’s “Blackwater,” nothing for Season Three’s “The Rains of Castamere.” Maybe “The Watchers on the Wall” can break in this year. Any episode would be fine, really. It’s a spectacularly well-directed show, week in and week out. (Here are this season’s submissions for Emmy consideration in the acting, writing and directing categories.) Fantasy and sci-fi always face an uphill battle winning top awards from these voting bodies, but Thrones has undoubtedly proven its worth. Hopefully the big wins it deserves will come to pass. Bran, any visions?

FOR THE LOVE OF THE GAME
As usual, I’m pleased to share some of my favorite Thrones-inspired creations from around the internet, beginning with the continuation of the stunning Beautiful Death series, which had plenty of fodder this season. I’ve reduced the size of these, but you really need to check out the larger versions via the link above to appreciate the details. Fantastic.

 

Geekdom ambassador Wil Wheaton applied The Brady Bunch credits to the twisted relationships of Westeros, resulting in this amusing mash-up.

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Those who wish the show was more family friendly so they could share the joy with their kids can at least indulge in the make-believe of Walt Disney Pictures’ Game of Thrones, as some artists have been doing. In addition to the selections in that link, there’s Bran and Hodor (Hodor), Arya and The Hound, and a White Walker. A Google Images search will reveal plenty more Disney/Thrones mash-ups, but these are my favorites. The collection by Anderson Mahanski and Fernando Mendonça hits the nail on the head. I hope they keep adding more to their gallery.

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Getting back to R-rated territory, have you heard of Gay of Thrones? Jonathan Van Ness is a hairstylist in L.A.’s upscale Westwood neighborhood who recaps each episode for his clients in this hilarious Funny or Die series. Here’s his take on the season finale, which includes an amusing cameo near the end. Before you watch it though, it may help to review this handy guide that covers some of his nicknames for the characters. (Cersei = Blonde Cher, Melisandre = Stevie Nicks Red Riding Hood or Evil Gloria Estefan and Grey Worm = Baby Barack Obama). The list isn’t even complete, so the video still holds some surprises. His character names alone make the recaps worth watching. (The link also includes embeds of two earlier episodes, including one featuring Alfie “Theon” Allen as Jonathan’s customer.)

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For the mathematically inclined among you, Vulture examines the show through charts and graphs such as these.

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Those who appreciated all those YouTube videos last year of viewer reactions to the Red Wedding should relate to College Humor’s Watching Game of Thrones with People Who Haven’t Read the Books.

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Did you hear that Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip visited the Thrones set in Belfast last week? I don’t know if this took place simply because the show is such a popular export from her kingdom, or if it was because the Queen of England and her husband are fans, holing up in Buckingham Palace on Sunday nights to watch just like the rest of us commoners. Naturally, that’s what I prefer to think. Who wouldn’t love the idea of the Queen watching Littlefinger instruct a pair of his whores as they practice the art of oral pleasure on one another, or Oberyn get his head smushed, or Theon get castrated? While some fans were disappointed she didn’t sit on the Iron Throne, I’m just utterly charmed by the fact that she was even there.

There’s actually a 47 minute video of the entire visit online, which includes the Royal entourage meeting Benioff and Weiss in the parking lot before going into one set to view a display of the show’s props and costumes, then the throne room set, where cast members Maisie Williams (Arya), Sophie Turner (Sansa), Rose Leslie (Ygritte), Kit Harington (Jon), Conleth Hill (Varys) and Lena Headey (Cersei) were on hand. You can’t hear any of the conversation unfortunately — how I would love to know what they all talked about — but it still fascinates me to see some of the interaction. (Skip ahead to the 22 minute mark for the Queen’s arrival; the video inexplicably begins with 20 minutes of mostly static Iron Throne footage.) I can only assume that from here, she was off to visit the Crawleys at Downton Abbey.

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And finally, this. Because there’s nothing better I could leave you with than this. Not even the Queen of England admiring the Iron Throne from a rather wise, cautious distance. I posted this to my Facebook page when I discovered it in May, but if you missed it, or just need another taste, click the picture. Seriously. Click the picture.

With that, I leave you to endure the long winter in your own way. May we all find peace of mind as we wait for the game to resume in 10 months. 10 long, torturous, meaningless, empty months. Valar dohaeris.

 

 

April 6, 2014

Game On

Filed under: TV — DB @ 2:31 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

This post is intended for those who are up-to-date on Game of Thrones. If you have yet to start watching the series or are not caught up, sprint away like a direwolf and don’t look back.

Sweet relief! Game of Thrones is about to return.

People seemed to appreciate my attempt last year to provide a reminder of where things stood at the end of the previous year, so let me try that again. Or you can watch this 25 minute HBO special recapping the season, which would be much cooler and only slightly less time-consuming.

Obviously the effects of the infamous Red Wedding will be felt as the season begins. Robb Stark, his wife Talisa and his mother Catelyn are all dead, killed in an ambush orchestrated by Walder Frey with the backing of Tywin Lannister and the assistance of Roose Bolton, a Stark bannerman who turned against the house to which he owed his allegiance. In addition to his hand in this slaughter of the Stark army, Tywin Lannister made other moves to assure his family’s continued stranglehold on the Seven Kingdoms. He orchestrated the marriage of Tyrion to Sansa Stark, and blackmailed Lady Olenna Tyrell into betrothing Loras to Cersei. Joffrey and Margaery’s wedding approaches, and the queen-to-be is proving a much more cunning political player than the naive Sansa. Tyrion is being as decent as he can to his reluctant bride, while trying to hold onto his secret relationship with Shae, who continues to pose as Sansa’s handmaiden.

Jaime finally made it back to King’s Landing after an arduous journey on the road that saw him first antagonize and then later bare his soul to Brienne of Tarth, sharing with her the true story behind his murder of the Mad King that long ago earned him the derisive label “Kingslayer.” His vulnerable confession came after his sword hand was chopped off by Locke, a solider of House Bolton who captured Jaime and Brienne after they had been sent to King’s Landing by Catelyn Stark. And speaking of House Bolton, the sociopath who took such pleasure in fucking with Theon Greyjoy, torturing him physically, emotionally and psychologically, and ultimately cutting off his manhood, turned out to be Bolton’s bastard Ramsay Snow. So…nice gene pool.

Jon Snow, a much more likable bastard of the north, who went undercover with Mance Rayder’s wildlings, scaled The Wall but was forced to reveal his true loyalties when his fellow travelers wanted to murder an innocent farmer. Jon killed the antagonistic Orell before nearly being killed himself by Ygritte, who shot him with three arrows before he managed to ride out of range. He barely made it back to Castle Black alive. He was found there by Pyp (unseen since Season One) and Sam, who made it back to The Wall not long before, having endured his own harrowing series of events. He escaped a revolt plotted by some unsavory brothers of the Night’s Watch, who killed their host Craster as well as Lord Commander Mormont. Sam fled with Craster’s daughter Gilly and her newborn son, leading her to Castle Black and discovering along the way that an arrow carved from obsidian could destroy the White Walkers.

Upon reaching The Wall, Sam and Gilly crossed paths with Bran Stark and his companions Hodor (“Hodor”) and siblings Meera and Jojen Reed. The Reeds, from a family loyal to the Starks, sought Bran out so that Jojen could help Bran understand and develop his newfound gift of “sight” — an ability to see future, past and present that the two young men share. Their talent also allows them to enter the minds of animals and control them, but Bran discovered he could take that gift even further when he entered the head of Hodor (“Hodor!”) and briefly controlled him too, an ability which Jojen has never heard of before. Bran and company are headed beyond the wall on a vision quest to find the three-eyed raven (get out of my dreams, get into my wheelbarrow). Bran sent his younger brother Rickon to seek safety with Stark bannermen the Umbers, under the protection of Osha, the wildling girl turned caretaker of the Stark boys. And then there’s the remaining Stark sibling Arya, who had been so close to reuniting with Robb and Catelyn before their murder, and who now remains in the company of The Hound. When last we saw her, she was handling the Braavossi coin given to her by Jaqen H’ghar, who had offered to help her follow in his footsteps and become a deadly assassin who can travel unseen and literally change his face. God, I hope she does it.

gendryOver on Dragonstone, Stannis Baratheon continues to plot his next move against Joffrey. Melisandre attempted to help by delivering Stannis’ nephew — Robert’s bastard son Gendry — who she intended as a sacrifice for the power of his king’s blood. But Stannis’ advisor Davos Seaworth helped Gendry escape, and then convinced Stannis and Melisandre not to execute him for treason by sharing news from The Night’s Watch: that an army of White Walkers is amassing north of the wall and moving south. Even Melisandre admitted that this threat was real, and more important than the ongoing struggle for the Iron Throne.

Finally, Daenerys’ quest to reach the Seven Kingdoms and reclaim the Iron Throne for the Targaryen family continues to be delayed, more recently because she insists on freeing the slaves of every city she comes across. She now has three growing dragons, the enormous, highly skilled army of Unsullied under her command, and the loyalty of Missandei (the C-3PO of the Seven Kingdoms and beyond…because she can speak, like, every language), Jorah Mormont, Barristan Selmy and now Daario Naharis, a warrior for an army called the Second Sons, who has pledged his loyalty — and his heart — to the former Khaleesi. What will she do with all these slaves she keeps freeing, and how many more cities will she liberate before crossing the Narrow Sea?

Did I say finally? Don’t forget about Littlefinger, who sailed away from King’s Landing en route to the Eyrie, where he is expected to marry Catelyn’s sister Lysa Arryn, last seen fuming when Tyrion managed to win his freedom from her with the help of Bronn’s skillful swordplay. Before leaving the capital, Littlefinger disposed of Ros, the prostitute who had become his business associate but was reporting to Varys behind his back. Varys, meanwhile, unsuccessfully tried to convince Shae to leave Westeros so that she would not continue to be a complication for Tyrion, who he believes is one of the few people in the kingdoms who could bring peace and stability. She seemed to think that Tyrion had asked Varys to make this proposal on his behalf, though I don’t think that’s true. Will we ever learn about Shae’s past? If you recall the drinking game she played with Tyrion and Bronn in Season One, she clearly doesn’t fit the profile of the typical Westerosian whore. What’s her story?

The show’s ability to juggle all of these characters and storylines is among its most impressive feats. And while more will surely die this year, others will arrive. The most notable new addition set to join the cast is a character named Oberyn Martell, from the kingdom of Dorne (where Tyrion sent Cersei’s daughter Myrcella for protection). Known by the badass nickname The Red Viper, Oberyn is expected to stir up some serious shit with the Lannisters.

As we enter the new season, many of my curiosities center around supporting characters and their fates. With such a vast and complex story, I worry for some reason that figures on the periphery might disappear. Catelyn’s uncle Brynden (The Blackfish) managed to escape the Red Wedding and will presumably be headed for the Eyrie, so perhaps he’ll be back in play when Littlefinger arrives. Catelyn’s brother Edmure, meanwhile — the guy whose marriage put the “wedding” in Red Wedding – is in the dungeons at the Twins, where he is newly tied to the worst in-laws e-v-e-r. Will he be forgotten, or does his story continue? Will we see Gendry again, or is his fate irrelevant now that Melisandre seems to see the battle north of the Wall as more pressing than the quest for the Iron Throne? What about Rickon and Osha? How important is the youngest and heretofore most narratively undeveloped Stark child? Will we see more from the Brotherhood Without Banners, that underground rabble led by seven-times killed, seven-times revived Beric Dondarrion and Thoros of Myr, the Red Priest with a fondness for alcohol, who has served as the Red God’s vessel for those seven resuscitations? And what happened to the rest of the Night’s Watch? In the chaos of the mêlée at Craster’s Keep, it wasn’t clear what happened to the ones who were not part of the rebellion. Did Grenn and Doleful Edd make it out alive? What’s in store for Rast, the surly brother who killed Commander Mormont and has it out for Sam? It looks like he appears briefly in the first trailer for the new season, laying a baby down in the snow.

I’m sure that all of these characters will be revisited eventually, even if not this season. I’m encouraged on that point by a glimpse of Alliser Thorne in the trailer above. Not seen since Season One, Thorne is the veteran Night’s Watchman who butted heads with Jon and was eventually sent to King’s Landing by Mormont in order to warn King Joffrey and his advisors of the White Walkers and wights — reanimated dead, impervious only to fire. (In a rare bit of failed continuity, Cersei and the Small Council learned of this news by other means; it was not delivered by Thorne.) He’s back now, just as Barristan Selmy returned last season as protector to Daenarys after being dismissed from Joffrey’s Kingsguard in Season One. So I’m optimistic that these other supporting characters’ storylines will continue.

What’s interesting about the series’ enormous roster of characters is that it came about almost by accident. Showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have said in interviews, including this one last year from Deadline, that when they were putting together the first season, their inexperience with television led to most of the episodes being too short, sometimes by 10 to 12 minutes. So they had a brief period of time in which to write and shoot several new scenes that would be primarily dialogue driven, since there was no budget left for battles or other expensive setpieces. This led to great scenes that didn’t exist in the books, like the lengthy, almost warm conversation between King Robert and Cersei after Robert has dismissed Ned as Hand of the King for opposing his plan to have Daenarys murdered.

That six-minute scene of two people talking is still among the series’ best ever, and it was born as an afterthought of sorts. It provided depth to characters who weren’t much more than ciphers in George R.R. Martin’s books. That’s not meant to be a slight against the source material. Martin’s approach is to focus on a select group of characters, of which neither Cersei nor Robert were included. They and many others are developed only in the context of their relationship to and interactions with Martin’s chosen few. But Benioff and Weiss were forced to create such scenes, and therefore able to develop more characters more richly. I’ve assumed that many of the great scenes between Varys and Littlefinger came about for the same reason, since neither one is a “point of view” character in the books.

So what’s in store when the saga resumes? Plenty of questions are on my mind. How is Littlefinger going to feel about the death of his beloved Catelyn? Will he feel the need to exact his own revenge, or will he continue to play his role and serve Joffrey and the Lannisters in order to climb to power? (“The climb is all there is.”)

What consequences await Jon now that he’s back with the Night’s Watch at Castle Black? He killed his brother Qhorin Halfhand in order to gain the trust of the wildlings — though it was Qhorin’s idea, and he all but forced Jon to kill him — and then he broke his vow of celibacy by getting steamy in a hot springs cave with Ygritte. And he gave away a few Night’s Watch secrets along the way. Even if Maester Aemon absolves him, Ygritte and charismatic wildling Tormund Giantsbane are still out for his blood. Assuming Ygritte really does want him dead. Does she love him enough to spare him? She did shoot him full of arrows, but at least she seemed conflicted about it. In Westeros, that could pass for an expression of love most true.

What will happen to Theon now that he’s been castrated and psychologically broken? Ramsay Snow sent Theon’s father Balon his boy’s appendage, and Balon immediately wrote his son off. But Theon’s sister Yara took a crew of her best men and left to rescue her brother. To which I  say, that’s nice…but fuck you Yara. Instead of being an asshole to your brother from the moment he returned home to Pyke, humiliating him and treating him like shit, you could have stood in solidarity with him against your father’s cruelty. I’m glad you’re going to get him now, but your sudden loyalty is too little too late. I look forward to eventually watching you and father die.

Will Cersei’s marriage to Loras come to pass? She told Tyrion with confidence in the season finale that she would not be marrying him. Tywin certainly intends otherwise, so how might she avoid it? Does she have something dastardly in store for the Knight of Flowers? How will Jaime’s return affect the plans? And how will Tywin look at his eldest son now that he’s lost his hand and with it his greatest asset? I’m excited to see Jaime and Tyrion together again, as Jaime is the only Lannister who actually loves his brother.

What will Stannis be up to? Have the concerns about what’s happening north of The Wall completely eclipsed his desire to unseat Joffrey and take the Iron Throne, or is the threat of the White Walkers still too remote to deter him from another attack on King’s Landing? Are we to accept that Melisandre’s Red God really is the great power that she claims? We’ve now seen her birth the creature that killed Renly. We’ve seen Thoros revive Beric after The Hound sliced his body in half. We’ve seen Robb die after Stannis cast three leeches that had drawn blood from Gendry into the fire, naming Robb, Joffrey and Balon Greyjoy as each bloodsucking worm shriveled in the flames. Is Robb’s death really the work of the Red God? If so, Balon and Joffrey should follow. But how soon, and by what means?

What’s in store for Bran beyond The Wall? What will his abilities allow him to accomplish? And why is he seeking the three-eyed raven there? When they met in Bran’s dream early in season three, Jojen said of the bird, “You can’t kill it you know…the raven is you.” So if the raven is Bran, why is he going beyond the Wall to find the raven? There’s got to be a more hospitable location for some soul-searching. In the longer term, will Bran’s gift allow him to learn the truth of Jon Snow’s lineage? The identity of Jon’s mother might not seem important, but when Benioff and Weiss first approached Martin about adapting his books for television, the question he posed to them to test their grasp on the material was about Jon’s mother. They offered their thoughts, and Martin was obviously satisfied. I’m guessing that their theory is widely held among fans of the story, and if it’s true, I don’t see how anyone alive in Westeros or beyond could possibly know the truth. Which means if it is to eventually come out, it would take someone with Bran’s abilities to discover it. But I’m sure we’re talking Season Six or Seven material now, so I shouldn’t get ahead of myself.

Over the past two days, HBO has been running marathons of the series starting from the beginning, so I’ve been catching snippets here and there. Revisiting past episodes isn’t just a treat because the show has been so good from day one, but because the evolution of this stunningly rich story has been so carefully crafted. I re-watched the scene when Robb says goodbye to Bran before departing Winterfell with his army. Just after he leaves Bran’s room, Rickon enters, upset about everyone leaving. Bran assures him that Robb will return with their father, and that Catelyn will soon be back too. “No they won’t,” Rickon answers with eerie certainty. Early onset cynicism, or does Rickon have insights of his own into the future? When Bran dreamed of his father’s death, he discovered that Rickon had experienced the same dream. Moments later, Bran learned the news of Ned’s beheading. So what’s the deal with the youngest Stark?

Another of my favorite scenes from the series that I caught again is the one in which Renly tries to convince Ned to move swiftly against the Lannisters. It kills me. Everything he says is right, but Ned will have none of it because it conflicts with his code of honor…even though you can see in his eyes that he recognizes the truth in Renly’s argument. So much tragedy could be avoided if Ned does the smart thing instead of the honorable thing, but that’s not Ned…and so the die is cast.

Yes yes, I know things couldn’t have gone any other way. As I wrote at the conclusion of Season Three about the heartbreak of the Red Wedding and how it might have been avoided, “what if” scenarios are futile. Whatever we may want characters to do in order to avoid such painful ends, the story wouldn’t be as thrilling if it didn’t play out exactly as it does. Valar Morghulis, or All Men Must Die, as the new season’s slogan prominently declares. Rewatching Season Three in its entirety over the past several weeks, I was also reminded how beautifully the show has planted its seeds, which also came to mind over the last two days as I looked back even further into Seasons One and Two. In the same post-Season Three piece mentioned above, I pointed to how the song “The Rains of Castamere” was used earlier in the season to foreshadow the Red Wedding, and it turns out there were even more examples that I missed. Thoros was singing the song when he and his Brotherhood compatriots first encountered Arya and Gendry. And later in the season, an instrumental version played over the end credits of the episode “The Bear and the Maiden Fair.” There was also that wonderful scene before Tyrion and Sansa’s wedding when Cersei told Margaery the story of House Castamere’s fall. This kind of intricate storytelling makes looking back just as enjoyable as looking forward.

And so in these final hours —or at this rate, minutes — of looking forward, I once again use these posts as an opportunity to collect some of my favorite Game of Thrones material that the internets have offered since last June.

This chart came from a piece in Vulture that created infographics for several Pixar movies.

Anyone who has attempted to explain the series to the uninitiated in the hopes that they might jump on the bandwagon knows what a daunting task it is. From his Basic Instructions series, artist Scott Meyer offers some help.

I always say that the highest pop culture honor possible is not an Oscar or a Pulitzer, but an homage on The Simpsons. Game of Thrones achieved this a couple of years ago when its opening credits served as inspiration for a Simpsons couch gag, which I referenced at the time. This more recent recognition is unofficial, but still pretty cool.

Simpsonsized(Click here for larger version)

South Park got in on the action last November, skewering Game of Thrones, the madness of Black Friday, the Playstation vs. Xbox console wars and more in an epic three-episode arc that was a typically inspired affair from Trey Parker and Matt Stone. And Vulture had some fun cross-pollinating Thrones with a few other TV shows to create pictures like this reimagining of Arrested Development.

Arrested

The guys behind Parks and Recreation are huge Game of Thrones fans, and have bequeathed their love of the show to Adam Scott’s character Ben. This clip from a recent episode is their latest tribute.

There’s also an extended clip if you, like Ben, can’t get enough.

As cool as the Iron Throne is, George R.R. Martin said on his blog last year that he envisioned something even more grand and twisted, which just wouldn’t be possible on the show. But check out artist Marc Simonetti’s painting of the throne as imagined by Martin.

That is fucking badass.

Thrones continues to be a rich source of inspiration for artists. The pictures I use along the top and bottom of these posts are usually taken from the Cast a Large Shadow tumblr, which spotlights an ever-growing collection of art based on the show. Some of the work that has appeared there recently comes from a spinoff tumblr called Beautiful Death, for which artists have created incredibly cool, stylized posters representing every significant death the show has delivered since it began. Here are a few of my favorites, but these are all amazing and there’s more on the site, broken down by episode.

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Banner-Death2

This rendering of The Wall on a London sidewalk is amazing for its illusion of depth, and check out the larger versions of these four posters, which have some nice details relating to four of the show’s strong women.

My favorite recontextualization of Game of Thrones to date has got be this series by Toyko-based artist Mike Wrobel, who placed the characters into 1980’s/1990’s wardrobe. See them all here. They’re mixed in with some other work, but this was the best venue I could find for seeing all 22 in one place. I love these.

Banner-80s-90s

For anyone interested in some audio appreciation of Thrones, here’s an entire album’s worth of rap songs inspired by the show. Common and Big Boi are among the contributors, and though I haven’t heard of the rest of these guys, there’s some good stuff here.

And finally, to provide a bit of light before the darkness arrives, here are some photos from the red carpet of the Season Four premiere, with the actors looking decidedly happier, chummier and cleaner than they do on the show. It’s really weird seeing Kristofer Hivju — aka Tormund Giantsbane — in a suit. And here are some videos taken during the photo shoot for the show’s current Vanity Fair cover story.


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Two others are available as well — one in which the actors consider what advice they’d give their characters, and another about who they think should sit on the Iron Throne.

Okay, since I was unable to get this post done yesterday as I’d intended, you’re now left with about 10 minutes before the new season begins if you’re on the east coast. So that’s enough from me. See you in Westeros…hopefully not at a wedding.

 

 

March 30, 2014

Oscars 2013: What Went Down

Filed under: Movies,Oscars — DB @ 8:00 pm
Tags: , , ,

I know, I know. The Oscars were a month ago. It always takes me at least a couple of weeks to get this follow-up post out, and that’s without life interfering. The amount of time it takes me to generate this post is ridiculous, yes, but I can’t abandon it. History must record what I thought of the winners, presenters, host, scandals and set design. You’ve probably moved on from the Oscars by now, like a normal person, and will not invest your time reading this post. I understand. But for the sake of posterity, I forge ahead. I can not be stopped.

THE AWARDS
As far as predictions go, this was probably my best year ever. I went 23 for 24, missing only Best Animated Short Film. I doubt I’ll do that well again anytime soon, so I tried to savor the buzz. The Best Picture/Best Director split I was expecting indeed came to pass, with 12 Years a Slave winning the former while Gravity‘s Alfonso Cuarón took the latter. Given the enthusiasm on display during their Best Picture acceptance, the 12 Years crew seemed just fine with that. And Team Gravity, with seven wins, had nothing to complain about. For the record, Gravity is now second to Cabaret as the movie to win the most awards for the year without taking Best Picture. Cabaret took home eight awards — including Best Director for Bob Fosse — in 1972, but lost the big one to The Godfather.

Like last year, I had no complaints about most of the winners, even if I might have gone a different way in a few categories. (Actually, I still feel pretty strongly that Lincoln should have won Best Adapted Screenplay over Argo last year.) Unlike last year, however, the Academy was not as generous in spreading the wealth. Lots of movies took home gold last year, and only one of the nine Best Picture nominees left empty-handed (that was Beasts of the Southern Wild). This year, Best Picture nominees Philomena, Nebraska, The Wolf of Wall Street, Captain Phillips and American Hustle were all shut out. That’s especially surprising for Hustle, given that along with Gravity, it had a field-leading 10 nominations. But honestly, there wasn’t one category where it was the most deserving winner, so apologies to David O. Russell. I have no doubt you’ll get your Oscar sooner than later.

All four winning actors aced their speeches, beginning with Jared Leto, who paid sweet tribute to his mother and scored points for calling attention to the Ukraine and Venezuela. Maybe I’d strike a couple of those points for failing to thank Jennifer Garner, who was sitting right behind him. I mean, the guy thanked everybody in the English-speaking world at the Independent Spirit Awards the previous day. He couldn’t remember his other main co-star?

Lupita Nyong’o’s win was definitely one of the night’s highlights, mainly because everyone was just so genuinely happy for her. As I said in my predictions post, she has been such a classy, grateful, eloquent presence on the many award stages she’s graced this season, and the audience was quick to leap to their feet for her when presenter Christoph Waltz called out her name. And as with all those earlier speeches, this one didn’t disappoint.

The clip cuts off too soon, but as Nyong’o exited the stage, the orchestra played “Pure Imagination” from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and it felt especially appropriate somehow. The cue probably would have popped up at that moment no matter who had won; the orchestra played an array of great movie themes as winners exited the stage and as the show went to and from commercials. But something about that song playing at the culmination of Nyong’o’s fairy tale introduction to the film industry felt right.

Cate Blanchett effectively ended the resurgence of the Woody Allen controversy by making clear her appreciation for his artistry and collaboration. She also paid warm tribute to her fellow nominees, and made a point that too many actress winners have to make: that there is an audience for movies about women, with women in the central roles, and that Hollywood needs to make more of them. Amen.

And Matthew McConaughey…you gotta love this guy. Every speech he’s given for Dallas Buyers Club has been energetic, funny, maybe a little rambling (he really droned on the previous afternoon when he won at the Independent Spirit Awards), but all uniquely McConaughey and all delivered with such charm that bits which could come across as a little arrogant from someone else instead register as funny and spoken from a place of gratitude and love. I hoped he might offer extended comments about his fellow nominees like Blanchett did, acknowledging that he’s worked with three of them (Bale, DiCaprio and Ejiofor) before, but maybe he was reluctant to invoke Reign of Fire on the Oscar stage.

I do have to say one other thing about that speech. As you saw, McConaughey offered a robust thank you to God. The Man Upstairs is often thanked by award winners and athletes who’ve just won a major victory. Most people wouldn’t read much into it. But leave it to a bunch of conservatives, especially grand idiots like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck to make something out of nothing. Both radio hosts praised McConaughey for his words, and talked about the audience not knowing what to make of such a statement…as if no one in Hollywood believes in God. According to that article, some MTV host tweeted that when McConaughey thanked God, “the audience nearly took his award away.” But as usual, these morons only see what they want to see…usually because they’re making it up. In fact (“fact” — a word these people have never encountered), McConaughey’s remarks got quite a few cheers from the crowd. It’s not like the whole audience applauded, but again, thanking God is pretty common at events like this. No reason the whole audience has to show their support for such a remark, and silence does not mean disapproval. But ass-heads like Limbaugh, Beck and their flock of ignorant fans assume that to express an appreciation of God — and therefore religion in general — would be offensive to a room full of Hollywood liberals. What they don’t understand is that religion isn’t a divisive issue in American society right now; the divisive issue is bigotry, and those who try to hide behind their religious beliefs in order to justify it. And yes, that’s something you’re unlikely to encounter on a large-scale in Hollywood.

Huh…I guess Oscar bloggers are just as susceptible to getting political in their posts as Oscar winners are with their speeches. I learned it from you, Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins. I learned it by watching you. Moving on…

Beyond the four acting winners, speeches throughout the evening were nice, with only husband and wife Best Original Song winners Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez doing anything funny or memorable. And congratulations to Robert, whose Oscar grants him admission to the rather exclusive club of EGOT recipients. I really would have preferred any of the other three nominees to win, but you gotta give respect to the EGOT.

Speaking of songs, Darlene Love, one of the singers spotlighted in the winning documentary 20 Feet from Stardom (and Mrs. Roger Murtaugh, for you Lethal Weapon fans), joined the director and producer onstage and took the opportunity to belt out a brief, joyous hymn that brought the crowd — led by Bill Murray — to their feet.

The only other notable pattern among the speeches concerned the 12 Years a Slave gang and the exposure of an apparent rift between director Steve McQueen and writer John Ridley. When Ridley won for Best Adapted Screenplay, he made his way down the aisle but did not stop to shake hands or even acknowledge the director. Nor did McQueen make an effort to congratulate him. Ridley’s speech made no mention of McQueen either. McQueen, in turn, did not mention Ridley when accepting the Best Picture award. I noted all this while watching, but didn’t think too much of it. Turns out, according to The Wrap, there is something to it after all. It seems that after working with Ridley to shape the script, McQueen asked for co-writing credit, which Ridley refused. This led to a falling out that all involved tried to keep quiet during the awards season so as not to harm the movie’s chances. (There was speculation a few years back that tension between Up in the Air writers Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner during the early part of the 2009 awards season cost them a widely expected Oscar win for Best Adapted Screenplay.) For his part, Ridley dismisses the idea of a feud with McQueen, saying that his failure to mention the director was simply an oversight in the midst of a surreal moment, and pointing out that he thanked McQueen at length the day before during his speech at the Independent Spirit Awards. I’m not sure I buy that, considering the story in The Wrap, although even that story includes details that seem far-fetched. The truth is probably somewhere in between. McQueen may not come across as the warmest guy, but I have trouble believing that he verbally accosted Ridley’s wife at the BAFTA awards. For what it’s worth, Lupita Nyong’o didn’t thank Ridley in her speech either, but that could also have been an oversight. It happens all the time, and Nyong’o warmly congratulated Ridley when he won his Spirit award the day before.

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THE HOST
On her second occasion hosting the show, Ellen Degeneres did a pretty good job, certainly generating less controversy than Seth MacFarlane did last year. Some people thought her joke about Liza Minnelli crossed a line and seemed uncharacteristically mean for Ellen, but I think people completely misinterpreted the joke, in which she pretended to mistake Minnelli for a drag queen dressed like the actress. Because Minnelli is an icon in the gay community and drag queens often do dress up like her, I took the joke to be about that status that she holds, rather than a dig at Minnelli’s own appearance, which seems to be how others — including perhaps Minnelli herself — interpreted it. Whatever the intention, the two made up later when Ellen took a selfie with Liza prior to the night’s bigger selfie a few moments later.

As to that epic selfie, it definitely goes down as a classic moment in the annals of Oscardom. Meryl Streep knew Ellen was going to come out and enlist her in some sort of bit, but she didn’t know what it was going to be. It turned into a great moment of spontaneity, as Ellen called in a few other nearby stars like Channing Tatum and Jennifer Lawrence, while others like Lupita Nyong’o, her brother Peter, Kevin Spacey, Brad and Angelina and Jared Leto — who must have had to bound over from his seat on the other side of the theater — all poured in symmetrically from each side like a troupe of Bubsy Berkley chorus girls. Ellen’s goal was to make the picture the most re-tweeted ever, and the photo achieved that goal in about a half hour, while also briefly crashing Ellen’s Twitter page. Tweets aside, I just enjoyed the gag for the humor of the moment. I also liked Ellen’s intro of the next two presenters, a little joke that got buried under the applause of the selfie moment, in which she introduced Michael B. Jordan and Kristen B. Ell. (Side note: Jordan and Bell had hosted the year’s Sci-Tech Award ceremony, which I must briefly call attention to because this year’s recipients included a guy who was in my department when I worked at ILM: a mad genius named Josh Pines, whose description of the event made it into the headline of The Wrap‘s coverage. Unless you happen to be shooting a digital film in the year 2011, I don’t expect anyone to care about that video I hyperlinked to Josh’s name, but it reminds me of Josh’s energy and eccentricities.)

Now then…the other great audience moment was the pizza delivery. When Ellen was first in the aisle asking people if they would eat pizza, it felt a little stiff. But when she actually brought out an unwitting delivery guy with three boxes and started distributing, that was great. I’ve heard some people gripe that it went on too long, but I thought it was fantastic. The unpredictability of live TV kept it interesting as stars got involved, with Spacey and Pitt helping to hand out plates, while the delivery guy then went to the other side of the theater, forcing Ellen to follow. And as funny as it was to see who jumped at the chance for a slice (I loved Harrison Ford tugging Ellen’s sleeve to get a napkin), it was just as fun to watch the reaction of someone like Leonardo DiCaprio, who declined to eat but seemed so bemused that Ellen had actually gone through with the joke. Then when Ellen off-handedly said that she had no money, she set up a nice extension of the gag by calling across the room to Harvey Weinstein.

I was just as amused later when she passed around Pharrell’s hat to collect donations. “That’s a start,” she said when Weinstein dropped in $200, and she went on to comically guilt Brad Pitt for not putting in more, prompting him to up his contribution. All in all, I’d say the whole episode turned into another classic Oscar moment.

Not that those people can’t afford to chip in, but I wondered if she really kept that money or gave it back to them later. Shaking Harvey Weinstein down for a $200 pizza tip is funny, and I’m sure he forgot about it five minutes later, but I guess it’s hard for me to imagine having to just kiss that kind of money goodbye in the blink of an eye. It’s also hard for me to imagine being as rich as Harvey Weinstein is, so there’s that. I hope he at least got a slice. Wherever the money actually came from, Ellen really did present the pizza guy with the tip on her show the next day.

These antics made up for the less successful moments of Ellen’s performance. Her introduction of presenters could have used a little more punch, and there was a strange moment where the show came back from commercial break just after Karen O’s performance of “The Moon Song” and Ellen was sitting on the edge of the stage with a guitar, seemingly about to do a gag, only to dryly introduce the next presenter. No joke, no bit, nothing. Oh well. Pizza and Twitter ensured Ellen’s gig will be fondly remembered.

THE PRESENTERS
The production kind of dropped the ball in this area. Usually a few of the presenters can be counted on to keep the comedy going during the show, but there was precious little of that this year. The closest they came was Jamie Foxx doing an amusing Chariots of Fire bit while his co-presenter Jessica Biel discussed Best Original Score. But these Oscars badly needed some Will Ferrell or Jack Black, some Steve Carell or Tina Fey (whose current commitment to the Golden Globes may preclude her from appearing at the Oscars), some Robert Downey Jr. or Ben Stiller, some Kristen Wiig or Emma Stone. Why didn’t they get American Hustle co-star Louis C.K. to present? Or nominee Sandra Bullock and her co-star from The Heat, Melissa McCarthy? Are Mindy Kaling and Aziz Ansari too associated with TV to be considered as Oscar presenters? What about Chris Pratt? He’s starred in Oscar-winning and nominated movies like Her, Zero Dark Thirty and Moneyball. Let’s get him on stage next year. Point is, comedy is a crucial element in keeping the inevitably long Oscar show moving, and the presenters usually help to carry that weight. Not so much this year. Some blame has to go to the writers, who also didn’t provide funny material for the presenters. Jason Sudeikis presented, but wasn’t given anything funny to do. Robert De Niro had some amusing material about the dark recesses of a screenwriter’s mind, but most of the presenter moments that did get some laughs were off the cuff, like Foxx’s Chariots gag or Bill Murray’s unique Bill Murrayness. Kevin Spacey’s brief invocation of his House of Cards character and equally brief Jack Lemmon impression were appreciated, but beyond that there were few attempts at humor from the presenters. The show could definitely have used some of the comedic energy that Sacha Baron Cohen brought to the Britannia Awards last fall.

Cohen was accepting an award there, not presenting one, but the point remains. And I think I just wanted an excuse to include that clip.

There was also the problem of some odd presenter choices to begin with. Jim Carrey? John Travolta? Will Smith? Kate Hudson? Jessica Biel? When was the last time any of these people had a hit? I don’t mean to write them off as irrelevant, but they feel a little warmed over at the present time. Could the producers really not find some people who feel like more vital contributors to movies at the moment? I mean sure, you also had people like Goldie Hawn and Glenn Close, but there’s something about them that is classically associated with the Oscars. They transcend any concerns of “currentness.” Not that I’m saying to go the other way and just throw a bunch of stars who are hot at the moment on Oscar’s stage. That’s how Taylor Lautner ended up there a few years ago, and that doesn’t need to happen either. I suppose it can be a fine line between presenters who have timeless appeal and those who make you feel like you’re watching a show from five or ten years ago. Knowing the difference is a skill that you need if you’re going to produce a show like this one. (I have that skill, in case the Academy is interested.)

Then there was poor Kim Novak. This is another thing Oscar producers often try to do, which is trot out an old-time Hollywood star who has been out of the spotlight for years. It’s a nice idea in theory, but too often it falls flat and ends up an embarrassment for the performer. They can’t read the teleprompter. Or they try to improvise. Or they get caught up in the emotion of being back in the spotlight, but it leads to awkwardness instead of poignancy. Novak fell somewhat victim to that trap, but even beyond that, there was something off about her presentation. If she was reading from the script, then it seemed like she was trying to do this thing where she made the text sound spontaneous, but I don’t know…it wasn’t working, and Matthew McConaughey looked like he had to hold her up, physically and performance-wise. And why Kim Novak anyway? Was she meant to tie into the show’s theme of Heroes? If so, then that should have been explained when she was introduced. So why her? If elderly stars of yesteryear are going to appear on the telecast, there should be some significant reason, or they should be presenting Best Picture. I don’t know…am I just being a dick? Or was Novak’s moment onstage as painful to watch for others as it was for me? It made me sad.

Sidney Poitier fared better. It was hard to see him looking so frail and moving so slowly, but he was still as cool and classy as ever. He has often come off as a measured, thoughtful speaker, so the long pauses he took felt natural. And as his co-presenter Angelina Jolie noted, the occasion marked the 40th anniversary of his historic Best Actor win, so his presence felt justified. And he was there to give out the Best Director prize, one of the night’s biggest. That’s how it should be done.

Jumping back to Travolta for a moment…what can I say that the internet hasn’t already said? His bizarre butchering of Idina Menzel’s name turned the non-existent Adele Dazeem into a web sensation, and turned him into a punching bag for the next few days. Slate offered the Adele Dazeem Name Generator to show how Travolta would mispronounce your name. Buzzfeed speculated on how he would have screwed up the names of other Oscar attendees. Someone started an Adele Dazeem Twitter feed. I actually started to feel bad for the guy, so incessant were the efforts to mock his mistake. He released a brief statement a couple of days later in which he addressed the error but, amusingly, didn’t really apologize or explain himself. Menzel’s performance of “Let it Go” was just a little bit off that night, and some wondered if she was thrown by Travolta’s intro. When she finally commented on the incident a few weeks later (see, this is why I wait so long to post the follow-up!), her response was good-natured. So it sounds like things are all well, and while it’s probably time to let Travolta move on from this, I think Adele Dazeem, whoever she is, must live on.

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THE PRODUCTION

-The presentations of all four nominated songs were among the best moments of the show. First was Pharrell’s lively performance of “Happy,” which included a trip off the stage and down along the front row where Lupita Nyong’o, Meryl Streep and Amy Adams got their groove on. He really had the room going, and I have to admit, the song has grown on me a lot since the nominations were announced.

Next was the gorgeous staging of “The Moon Song.” Befitting the tune’s delicate lyrics and fragile nature, Karen O —  accompanied by Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig — was seated on a small staircase with her shoes at her side, lit initially by just a single spotlight from above, and then by an enormous full moon projected on the screen behind her, rising throughout the song until it reached full height, her red dress shining beautifully against the dark stage. Visually and vocally, it was a perfect presentation for that song.

U2 kept the flow going with a terrific performance of “Ordinary Love.” The song isn’t an all-out rocker, but they stripped it down even leaner than the studio recording, going with an intimate, acoustic delivery that felt right for the movie, the song and the room. As I watched them standing side by side on stage without a full array of instruments between them, it really struck me just how long these guys have been playing together, how iconic they are, and how long they’ve been involved in social causes like the ones that brought them into Nelson Mandela’s life. They were excellent.

And although I mentioned before that Idina Menzel’s rendition of “Let it Go” was just a touch off — she seemed to be straining at the end — the simple set design evoking the icy look of Frozen was just enough to provide an interesting backdrop against which the singer could shine. Still, the number might have come off even better the next night when Jimmy Fallon played a video of Menzel performing the song accompanied by The Roots on classroom instruments.

-The show’s other two musical performances were fine, but less inspired. Pink did a nice job on “Over the Rainbow” in tribute to the 75th anniversary of The Wizard of Oz, but I felt like she was a little bit flat. I’m not sure how they settled on her to perform the song, but I think they could have found someone better, who could have been a real showstopper. The song certainly lends itself to an emotional performance, but Pink didn’t take it there. Yet according to Entertainment Weekly‘s report about things you didn’t see on the TV broadcast, she was a huge hit in the room, and the standing ovation continued after the show went to commercial.

Then there was Bette Midler performing “Wind Beneath My Wings” after the In Memoriam segment. It was a nice idea, but seeing as it followed the actual montage of departed filmmakers and wasn’t accompanied by additional clips of their work or photos of them, it just felt like an unnecessary time suck. Midler still sounds great, but her performance was a dead spot in the show. In the past, performers like Queen Latifah and James Taylor have sung during the montage itself, which has worked well, and might have been instituted to prevent the audience from applauding names that have broad recognition while others come and go in silence because their work is not as well-known any more. The downside is that when the segment ends, the singer’s presence onstage can take the focus away from the deceased, which is where it should stay. In fact, there was an awkward moment when Midler’s number came to an end and the audience offered a standing ovation. It wasn’t really clear if they were standing for her, or out of respect for those depicted in the montage…particularly Philip Seymour Hoffman, the last person featured. Midler seemed moved by the standing ovation, but I’m not convinced it was about her as much as it was a gesture for Hoffman, whose death was obviously a particularly strong blow to this community. Midler could be heard starting to speak just before the show went to commercial, in one of several instances throughout the evening where speakers were mistakenly caught for a few seconds on live microphones. What did she say to the applauding throngs?

-As for the In Memoriam sequence itself, it was good to see Harold Ramis made it in. Having passed away during the week of the show, he might have been too late an addition to be edited into the piece. There’s often some controversy around the montage over who is omitted, but fortunately it wasn’t much of an issue after this year’s aired. I read a few stories noting that Cory Monteith had been left off, but with all due respect to the late Glee actor, he had almost no presence in movies and should not have been featured. The only person I was surprised and disappointed to find left out was Dennis Farina, whose work in films like Midnight Run, Get Shorty and Out of Sight should have earned him a spot.

Although Sarah Jones — the 27 year-old crew member who was killed in a tragic accident on the set of a Gregg Allman biopic — didn’t make it into the montage, the online movement to include her did perhaps reach the Academy. As the segment ended, there was a banner with her picture on it directing viewers to the Oscar website for an online In Memoriam gallery that was more inclusive than the one on the telecast.

I also saw a comment online grousing that it was inappropriate and in poor taste to put an emphasis on Philip Seymour Hoffman’s screen in the montage, as if his death was more significant than others. But the montage always concludes with someone who was a giant within the industry, and there is almost always a little extra time devoted to them. Interestingly, the In Memoriam section is one of the few aspects of the Oscar show that the producers do not control. The decisions about who will and won’t be included are made by a committee within the Academy. It’s always a difficult task, and former Executive Director of the Academy Bruce Davis thinks it might be best to eliminate it altogether.

-Despite the plea I made in my predictions opus, the producers failed to show enough imagination to get a clip for Best Supporting Actor nominee Barkhad Adbi other than the one we’ve seen over and over again in which he looks at Tom Hanks and says, “I’m the captain now.” Oh well. If you’ve seen the movie, you know how good he was in all his other scenes.

-Am I the only one who was sort of puzzled by the mass of bright red roses that appeared down an entire center section of the backdrop when the show returned from its first commercial break? The color was nice, but all I could think was that American Beauty had projectile vomited all over the set.

-It had been announced in the weeks leading up to the show that this year’s theme — because apparently there has to be a theme — was Heroes. This amounted to little more than three montages spaced throughout the show that paid tribute to different types of movie heroes. The first focused on animated characters. The second concentrated on the ordinary heroes populating movies such as Serpico, Braveheart, Norma Rae, Ali, To Kill a Mockingbird, Milk, Silkwood, Apollo 13, The Blind Side, In the Heat of the Night and Erin Brockovich. The last one was the least clearly defined, straddling the line between the previous grouping by including Rocky and The Karate Kid but mostly focusing on action, fantasy and science-fiction fare like Star Wars, Aliens, The Lord of the Rings, The Hunger Games, Die Hard, The Matrix, The Avengers, The Princess Bride, Jaws, Back to the Future, the Harry Potter movies, Kill Bill and Ghostbusters.

Now as someone who loves movies, I love a good movie montage that artfully puts together an array of clips from classics and favorites. In fact, one of my favorite Oscar memories is a montage that was shown at the beginning of the 1990 ceremony (or ’91 technically, but honoring the movies of ’90) that was created to mark the 100th anniversary of the invention of motion pictures. I always conclude my annual post about my favorite movies of the year by including some montages that movie fans have created to celebrate the work of the previous 12 months. There can be a certain kind of skill on display in a great montage of movie clips, but these three lacked any of that finesse. They felt hastily assembled, with no creative thought into how they were put together.

More significantly, they were the only attempt to even lend the show a sense of having a theme, and they weren’t enough. What’s so odd about how poorly the theme resonated was that to look at this article from a couple of weeks before the show, in which producers Neil Meron and Craig Zadan vaguely previewed the ceremony, there seemed to be a lot more that was supposed to happen. They mention celebrating actors and filmmakers who take on difficult subject matter, so that the hero theme would encompass not just movie characters, but also behind the scenes figures. That didn’t happen. They talk about dividing the show into sections built around the different montages, as if there would have been more effort to incorporate the types of heroes that each montage focused on into the show at large. That didn’t happen. There was supposed to be an “emotional moment”  intended to “illustrate the theme of how movies have inspired” that was set to involve The Amazing Spider-Man star Andrew Garfield “induct[ing] a new superhero into the fraternity of superheroes.” That didn’t happen…although in that case, there are some details.

You probably recall that in November 2013, the City of San Francisco worked with the Make-A-Wish Foundation to realize the dream of 5 year-old cancer survivor Miles Scott to be a superhero for a day. Dubbed “Batkid,” Miles took part in a series of staged heroics around the city, cheered on by huge crowds. On Oscar night, Andrew Garfield was supposed to introduce a montage of what Meron called “popular heroes” which would have been followed by Miles coming out on stage and being made an honorary superhero by Garfield. The initial reports were that Garfield and Scott rehearsed the segment on Saturday, but the producers then decided to cut it for reasons that were never clearly stated. To make it up to Miles, the Academy sent his family to Disneyland on Monday.

Then the New York Post‘s gossip column Page Six claimed that during the rehearsal, Garfield raised concerns with the script and angrily bailed on the show when his suggested changes weren’t accepted. Knowing Garfield’s public image, that sort of behavior seems highly unlikely. Subsequent reports paint a more believable scenario, which is that Garfield did have some concerns with the material, feeling it was “exploitative.” He offered a re-write, but the producers preferred the original draft. Garfield eventually agreed, but the producers ultimately decided that the entire segment was not a good fit with the tone of the show, and cut it altogether. (My favorite part of the article in the previous link? Sony was upset about Garfield being cut because of the lost opportunity to promote May’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2…as if that movie needs helping getting attention.) Captain America star Chris Evans was called in as a last-minute replacement to introduce just the montage portion, and that was that. The Academy later issued a statement explaining that the evolving nature of a live show led to the segment being excised. Garfield’s rep also issued a statement, saying that the Academy made the decision, and that any reports of bad behavior on Garfield’s part were untrue. In fact, Andrew visited Miles at his hotel afterwards, and joined the family on their Monday trip to Disneyland. (Both the Academy’s and Garfield’s statements are included here.)

So much drama! Why couldn’t Garfield still have introduced the montage, even if the Batkid portion was eliminated? I don’t know, but I’d guess he was labeled “difficult” after raising concerns about the original script. And an even better question: why was Garfield tapped to “induct” Batkid in the first place when Christian Bale, the actor who actually played Batman, would be in the audience as a nominee? Did the producers approach Bale to do the segment? Did he decline? I know Bale has a reputation for being prickly, but would he refuse to provide a heartwarming moment for a little kid who survived cancer and loves Batman? I would love to know if Bale was ever asked to do it, and I’d love to know what Garfield’s concerns with the material were and why Meron and Zadan really cut the bit entirely. But their dodgy, politically correct statement is all we have to go on. And for what it’s worth, the Batkid bit wasn’t the only thing cut from the show. Apparently there was supposed to be another musical number with a lot of stars involved, but that too was scrapped.

Bringing all of this back around to the point that the show’s Hero theme was badly underdeveloped, the omission of Batkid seems to be just one of several plans the producers hinted at prior to the show that never came to pass. During her monologue, Ellen pointed out that real-life heroes Philomena Lee and Richard Phillips, who were depicted in two of the Best Picture nominees, were in attendance. Yet they may not have been the only ones. According to The Hollywood Reporter, 2013 movies inspired by real life such as 42, Fruitvale Station, Lone Survivor and Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom were represented in the audience by Jackie Robinson’s widow, Oscar Grant’s mother, former Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell and Nelson Mandela’s daughters, respectively. Incorporating them into some kind of salute to movie heroes would have made the show’s intended theme resonate. It might also have been manipulative, but no more so than including Batkid. Whatever the reason that all these plans to bolster the Heroes theme failed to materialize, the remnants of the concept — those three underwhelming montages — came across as unnecessary drags on a show that would clock in at about 3.5 hours. So maybe next year, whoever produces the show (and after two consecutive years, the Academy should move on from Meron and Zadan) might be better off foregoing the idea of a theme and just stick to celebrating the movies from the year gone by. And if they insist on having a theme, they should follow through.

-I’ve complained about the lousy job that Don Mischer has done directing the show over the past few years, so I was relieved when it was announced that this year’s telecast would be directed by Hamish Hamilton. Yes, I’m the kind of person who can find disappointment and relief in the choice of the Oscar show director. I have no particular loyalty to Hamish Hamilton, about whom I know nothing. I just know he’s not Don Mischer, and that was good enough for me. He did do a better job than his predecessor, if only because when he cut to reaction shots from the audience, he found famous people to focus on instead of total unknowns in the middle of the room that mean nothing to the TV viewers tuning in to see their favorite movie stars. Still, Hamilton’s directing job wasn’t too impressive. As I mentioned earlier, there were several moments where live mics caught backstage chatter or other snippets not intended to be heard. Or how about when the clip of Best Supporting Actress nominee Sally Hawkins ended and the camera should have shown Hawkins in her seat, but instead landed on June Squibb? It’s not like Hawkins was a moving target. Was it really so hard to have a cameraman in place to capture Hawkins’ reaction, and to cut to said shot from the booth? And what was with that weird camera move we kept seeing where the camera would start to one side of the presenter and then circle to the other side, with the presenter following the camera move instead of just addressing the audience straight ahead? Awkward and arbitrary. C’mon, Academy. Can’t you find someone who knows how to direct live TV?

-As the Oscar-watching faithful know by now, the special achievement awards are no longer presented on Oscar night, but are instead handed out at a ceremony in November called the Governors Awards. Ever since that tradition began five years ago, the recipients have attended the Oscars to take a bow, and highlights from the Governors Awards are usually shown. Alas, not even the bow happened this year, since only one of the honorees was even there. Angelina Jolie received the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, and of course she was at the Oscars with nominated husband Brad Pitt. But none of the three honorary award recipients — Steve Martin, Angela Lansbury or costume designer Piero Tosi — were at the Oscar ceremony. Lansbury was on the London stage appearing in previews of Blithe Spirit; Tosi, who lives in Italy, fears flying and has never traveled to the United States; and Martin, an Oscar regular who you’d think could have made it, was unfortunately out of town.

So while it was disappointing none of them could be there, there was nothing to be done about it. Kevin Spacey introduced the highlight reel, after which the camera cut to Jolie in her seat. At least she got to take the stage later when she and Sidney Poitier presented Best Director. More from the Governors Awards further down.

-For the second year in a row, the Academy held a contest asking film students across the U.S. to explain in a minute-long video how they planned to contribute to the future of film. Six winners were selected by The Academy, Meron, Zadan and Channing Tatum, and Team Oscar got to hand off the statuettes and direct presenters and winners offstage on Oscar night, as well as tour studios and meet filmmakers during the week of the Oscars. I love this idea and was glad to see the Academy continue it. The winning videos can be seen here.

-One final observation, and this isn’t about the production, but I’ll put it here anyway. Some of you movie stars need to learn how to get into the spirit of this thing. It’s Oscar night! I know for those of you who are nominated it can be stressful, but let’s face it: win or lose, you’ll still be successful movie stars in the morning, so loosen up and look alive out there. When The Great Gatsby‘s costume designer Catherine Martin won, there was a shot of Leonardo DiCaprio clapping, but he wasn’t really smiling and looked like he was sort of on auto-pilot. Martin won again later in the night for Best Art Direction, and again there was a shot of Leo, and again he was clapping slowly, distractedly, as if in a daze. Leo! It’s your movie! Would it kill you to muster some genuine happiness for your winning collaborator? Charlize Theron was shown on camera a few times while seated, and she looked like she couldn’t be less pleased to be there. As the directors and producer of Frozen were walking off stage having just won Best Animated Feature, there was a shot of The Walt Disney Company CEO Bob Iger in the audience just sitting there stone-faced while the audience continued to applaud. I’m always baffled by this lack of enthusiasm that Oscar attendees often express. Those of you who are too deep in your own heads need to take a cue from Julia Roberts. Anytime the camera showed her, even when “minor category” winners were having their moment, she was smiling, happy, and looked engaged. She seemed genuinely pleased for every winner, whatever their category. If only all the Hollywood elite could be so down to earth.

-All in all I’d say the show was uneven, but tipped more toward successful. There were more times when it was good than not, and it ended up the highest rated Academy Awards in over a decade, so that’s likely all the Academy and ABC care about. I wonder what the big draws were to attract such a large audience. It wasn’t just Ellen; her last time as host didn’t do this well. There were some big hits among the nominees, but nothing on the scale of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King or Avatar. But maybe Ellen, combined with nominees like Gravity and American Hustle, combined with a strong line-up of musical performers added up to make this year’s show particularly attractive.

THE GOVERNORS AWARDS
I already touched on the Governors Awards earlier, but it deserves additional coverage. The Hollywood Reporter offered a thorough report on the event, and In Contention posted one which basically contains all the same information, but adds comments about how much Judd Apatow and Bill Hader were digging the Steve Martin portion of the night, which makes me smile. Mark Harris also wrote on Grantland about why having a separate ceremony for the honorary awards is such a bad idea and weakens the main Oscar telecast. I’ve always had mixed feelings about this. I do miss the inclusion of these tributes in the main show. They add a lot, especially by illuminating for the more casual viewer the work of artists who they might be less familiar with than contemporary filmmakers. Unofficially, part of the Academy’s reasoning of spinning these special awards off into their own ceremony was to allow for a more relaxed, intimate affair. Harris takes them to task for this, pointing out that with speeches by presenters and recipients posted to YouTube, and journalists in the room covering the event, there is nothing intimate about it. But he doesn’t touch on the Academy’s stated reason for the separate event, which is to allow the Academy to pay tribute to its chosen artists in a more expansive celebration that needn’t be crammed briefly into an already full Oscar ceremony.

While he makes some excellent points about the value and importance of the special awards, he fails to acknowledge that if they were included on the regular telecast, everything about them would be truncated. The presentations, the clip packages (presumably; we don’t get to see those on YouTube), and the speeches would all have to be shorter, and it wouldn’t be possible to honor as many people each year simply due to time constraints. When these awards were included on Oscar night, people complained that they added to the bloat of the show. Now that they’re not included, people complain that they deserve to be part of the big night. Maybe advocates of returning the honorary awards to Oscar night would point to other things that should be removed or trimmed back in order to accommodate them, but the bottom line would be the same: complaints. At the end of the day, I think a separate ceremony makes for a more full and touching appreciation of the honorees, and the availability of full speeches on YouTube goes a long way toward assuaging my early concerns about taking them off the main telecast. But I do think it’s time the Academy start offering a full broadcast of the Governors Awards, one that includes all the clip reels and is not broken up into the fragments we get on YouTube. I’m glad we at least get those, but movie fans deserve to see the full event.

Taking what we can when we can, however, here is Angelina Jolie’s moving acceptance speech…

as well as Steve Martin’s.

Also, Martin Short’s comments about his fellow amigo. This is great stuff, though I was really disappointed to learn that some of these jokes were recycled from Short’s tribute to Carol Burnett when she received the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor a month earlier. Really Marty?

Oh, and I liked Geoffrey Rush’s remarks to Angela Lansbury.

All of the presentations and speeches can be seen here, for any of you not too fatigued by all this reading to click the link.

THE OSCAR CONCERT
As I mentioned after the nominations were announced, the Academy inaugurated a new event this year: a public concert at UCLA featuring performances of all the nominated songs (not done by the originating artists) and selections from each nominated score, conducted by their respective composers. In addition, film journalist Elvis Mitchell was on hand to interview the composers. It sounds like the event was well-received, so we’ll see if a new Oscar season tradition has been born. Here’s a report about the event, and a photo gallery.

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THE DRESSES

It wouldn’t be Oscar night without lavish dresses and actresses rocking them. To my eyes, untrained in knowledge of fashion, there were a lot of great looks this year.

I would have included Lupita Nyong’o and Cate Blanchett, but they can be seen in photos and videos above. Nyong’o totally conquered the world of celebrity style this award season. She attended numerous ceremonies and events, and looked amazing pretty much every time.

THE INDEPENDENT SPIRIT AWARDS
I’ve mentioned them a few times here already, but I always like to acknowledge the Independent Spirit Awards, which take place every year in a tent at the beach in Santa Monica on the Saturday afternoon before Oscar Sunday. As it would the next night, 12 Years a Slave took prizes for Best Picture, Best Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress. Without Gravity to contend with, it took Best Director and Best Cinematography as well. Also winning at both the Spirit Awards and the Oscars were Lupita Nyong’o’s fellow actors Matthew McConaughey, Cate Blanchett and Jared Leto…marking the first time, if I’m not mistaken, that all four winning actors at the Spirit Awards took home the Oscar as well.

The afternoon’s best speech probably belonged to Jared Leto. At first it seemed like he was just going to read a list of names…which he did…but around the 3:00 mark it started to get interesting.

One cool honor given at this event each year is the Robert Altman Award, which is presented to a film’s director, ensemble cast and casting director. It’s a non-competitive award announced in advance, and this year it went to one of my favorite films of the year, Mud. A great choice.

While the ceremony looked like it was a lot of fun as always, the televised version was a disaster. The Spirit Awards used to be broadcast live in their entirety on Saturday afternoon on the Independent Film Channel. I don’t know when that changed, but now the full show is edited down to an abridged version and shown on Saturday night. As a result, some of the best or most interesting moments get edited out, like last year’s drunken acceptance speech by Safety Not Guaranteed screenwriter Derek Connolly. This year, the edited version was an absolute mess. Reese Witherspoon presented an award at one point, and as the winner walked to the stage, there were shots of audience members seated at their tables applauding…including one of Reese Witherspoon. Later, host Patton Oswalt came out with a piece of paper and started reading off names that Jared Leto forgot to thank. It was a strange and random list which made no sense because the whole middle portion of Leto’s speech which Oswald was having fun with had been edited out of the broadcast, so the joke had zero context. What sense does it make to include a joke that references an incident that was not included? And why would the producers of the show cut parts of Leto’s speech when it was one of the highlights of the event? The TV presentation was full of such problems, which is no surprise considering how rapidly it had to be edited together. In addition, some of the awards — like the one above for Mud — weren’t even included in the broadcast. Idiots. I don’t understand why they don’t just air the entire ceremony like they always did. This was just embarrassing.

You know what else is embarrassing? The amount of space I just took up writing about the minutiae of movie award ceremonies, and the amount of time it took me to do it. I think we’re done here.

 

 

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