Your 2017 Oscar Picks, Courtesy of SAG
If you're in an Oscar pool, these should probably be your picks in the acting categories this year:
- Actor: Gary Oldman, “Darkest Hour”
- Actress: Francis McDormand, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
- Supporting Actor: Sam Rockwell, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
- Supoorting Actress: Allison Janey, “I, Tonya”
They should be your picks because they were the winners at the 24th Annual Screen Actors Guild/SAG Awards last night, and because SAG has predicted—or, to be fair, preceded—the Oscar choices in at least three of the four acting categories every year since 2009. Often it was a clean sweep. Here are the SAG choices, with differences with Oscar highlighted:
|Year||Lead Actor||Lead Actress||Supporting Actor||Supporting Actress|
|2016||Denzel Washington||Emma Stone||Mahershala Ali||Viola Davis|
|2015||Leonardo DiCaprio||Brie Larson||Idris Elba||Alicia Vikander|
|2014||Eddie Redmayne||Julianne Moore||J.K. Simmons||Patricia Arquette|
|2013||Matthew McConaughey||Cate Blanchett||Jared Leto||Lupita Nyong'o|
|2012||Daniel Day-Lewis||Jennifer Lawrence||Tommy Lee Jones||Anne Hathaway|
|2011||Jean Dujardin||Viola Davis||Christopher Plummer||Octavia Spencer|
|2010||Colin Firth||Natalie Portman||Christian Bale||Melissa Leo|
|2009||Jeff Bridges||Sandra Bullock||Christoph Waltz||No'Nique|
In 2011, the Academy went Meryl Streep for “Iron Lady” rather than Viola Davis for “The Help” (bad choice, Oscar), and in 2012, it opted for Christoph Waltz reprising his cooky Tarantino villainy in “Django Unchained” rather than Tommy Lee Jones' 19th-century gravitas in “Lincoln” (another bad choice). Two years ago, it tapped Mark Rylance in “Bridge of Spies” over Idris Elba's straight-to-Netflix monstrous commander in “Beasts of No Nation,” which, being straight-to-Netflix, wasn't even nominated by the Academy (I lean Rylance). And last year, it went Casey Affleck in “Manchester By the Sea” over Denzel directing himself in “Fences” (another wash, but, given my preference for “Manchester,” and Denzel's closetful of awards, I lean Affleck).
So: 28 of 32. Almost a lock.
It actually feels like more of a lock than that. It doesn't take Ta-Nehesi Coates to see that three of the four differences between SAG and Oscar involved race: SAG chose African-American actors, Oscar didn't. Only in one (Jones/Waltz) was white traded for white. And of course Jones was one of the Men in Black.
So now we're at 31 of 32. Tough to get better odds.
Oscar nominations announced tomorrow morning.
Pick a Pose
A lot has been written about the Minnesota Vikings thrilling, last-minute victory over the New Orleans Saints last Sunday, but I particularly like this piece by Barry Svrluga in The Washington Post. He goes into the background of game-changer Stefon Diggs and the “late-round guys” that make up the Vikings offense. It's classic underdog stuff. Here's the end:
There are paintings of Ahmad Rashad and Jim Marshall and Fran Tarkenton and so many others hung in different spots around U.S. Bank Stadium. Pick a pose for Diggs now — leaping to grab the ball, balancing himself with his hand, spreading his arm as a disbelieving stadium pulsed around him, flinging his helmet in celebration afterward. The kid from Gaithersburg, Md., who felt slighted all this time needs to feel that way no longer. His life changed Sunday night, and he will forever be a hero here.
Movie Review: Call Me By Your Name (2017)
Can anyone watch this movie and not be reminded of their first overwhelming love? For me it was in college with a girl named Kristin; and just as Elio (Timothée Chalamet) and Oliver (Armie Hammer) dance around each other for weeks here, repelling and attracting, repelling and attracting, so I did the same with Kristin—but for years. There was always an excuse—she with someone, I with someone—but mostly I felt unworthy. I couldn’t imagine it. Then I couldn’t imagine not letting her know, so I told her the spring of my senior year. And then suddenly, magically, we were seeing each other, in the few weeks before I graduated and she left for a summer job on the coast of Maine.
Another parallel: Near the end of the movie, and near the end of Oliver’s stay in Italy, the two are walking and kissing at night in the nearly deserted cobblestone streets of Bergamo, a northern Italian/Germanic town, and they come across some locals listening to music (“Love My Way” by the Psychedelic Furs); and Oliver, overcome by it all, and with his usual boundless enthusiasm, dances with the girl, while Elio, overcome by other things, stumbles to a nearby trashcan and throws up.
I doubt it was the drink; I think it was the love. I think that because that was me. When I realized my case with Kristin wasn’t hopeless, what did I do? Dance? Shout with joy? Sure. I also returned home and threw up. For a time, it made me think our anatomical symbol for love was all wrong. It shouldn’t be the heart, I decided, but the stomach. We should send each other cards with stomachs on them. Our love notes should read “I (stomach) you” and “You make me nauseous.”
Keeping the lovers apart
Can anyone imagine a more languorous film? That’s the word that kept coming to me: languid. It’s a movie that feels like a summer day with nothing much to do.
It’s a slow dance. It’s circular. There’s the doors that open and close—literally and metaphorically. In this impossibly beautiful Italian country home in Lombardy, Italy, Oliver is using Elio’s room, and Elio is forced into the smaller room on the other side of a shared bathroom, and the doors are like invitations or refusals. Generally when one is opening the other is closing. It’s red light, green light, keep away. There are little verbal attacks, snarky little bites that confuse the other, and probably the biter. The two men show off and compete with each other, and, for a time, each sublimates his desire with a pretty Italian girl. (As sublimation goes, that's not a bad way.) The point of the love story is to keep the lovers apart, and dramatists often bend over backwards to find ways, but “Call Me By Your Name” reminds us that we do a pretty fine job of it on our own.
You keep the lovers apart because once they get together it’s fairly dull business for the viewer. Here, too, a bit. We’re no longer building toward something, we’re just at something. I found my attention wavering.
But screenwriter James Ivory (of Merchant/Ivory) and director Luca Guadagnino (“A Bigger Splash”) still keep it interesting. Maybe because we know it’s ending shortly? Because they go there with the fruit? Because there’s always the specter of possible gay bashing—that it’ll end in violence and pain? Thank god, it doesn’t. It ends traditionally, at a train station. No violence, just pain.
I was confused by the title before I saw the film but not after: “Call me by your name,” one says, “and I’ll call you by mine.” The wish to subsume yourself in the other, to be the other. Is it stronger in homosexual relationships? Where it’s easier to be the other? Oliver and Elio trade names and clothes and secrets. Then again, Kristin and I traded shirts. Or maybe she just wore mine.
Yes, the privilege here is immense. The Perlman family has cooks and gardeners and (the greatest privilege of all) lives with meaning. The father (Michael Stuhlbarg) is an archeology professor, Oliver is his graduate student, they are living lives of the mind. They have the dining table outdoors, and the meals served without fuss, and volleyball on the grass. Friends drop by. I envied the place, and the privilege, but mostly I envied the intelligence. Most movies make me feel too smart; this made me feel the opposite. Like I hadn’t studied enough. Like, at 54, I really needed to hit the books again.
In that final phone conversation, in winter during Hanukah, when Oliver tells Elio he’s getting married, he also tells him how lucky he is that he has parents who are so understanding—so open—about his homosexuality. “My father would’ve carted me off to a correctional facility,” he says. And Elio is lucky. To be who he is and where he is with the people he’s with. He's particularly lucky to have a father who gives him “the talk," the real talk, that every son needs to hear. I certainly needed to hear it in the summer of 1987. I still need to hear it. I want his speech on an MP3 file. I would like to it weekly:
We rip out so much of ourselves, to be cured of things faster than we should, that we go bankrupt by the age of 30, and have less to offer each time we start with someone new.
Our hearts and our bodies are given to us only once. And before you know it, your heart is worn out. And as for your body, there comes a point when no one looks at it, much less wants to come near it.
Right now, there’s sorrow, pain. Don’t kill it, and with it the joy you’ve felt.
Staying open is so tough. Most things in life push us in the opposite direction. Most movies, too. “Call Me By Your Name” opened me up in a way I have not felt in a long time. It’s the best movie of the year.
At the start of the movie, as Elio first watches Oliver arrive, he jokingly calls him an interloper. So he is. For life.
A Succinct Answer to a Convoluted Question
Yesterday on NPR's “Morning Edition,” host Steve Inskeep talked with two top ethics lawyers from previous administrations, Richard Painter (Bush II) and Norman Eisen (Obama), about the lack of ethics of our current president. I know: shocker. Both men are on the board of CREW, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which has sued Pres. Trump for violating the emoluments clause of the U.S. Constitution:
No Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under [the United States], shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.
I.e., you can't make money from being prez. Trump is ignoring that. Ironically, at his apparent financial peril.
CREW's first lawsuit was tossed out because the judge ruled the org lacked legal standing. They're appealing, and states, which do have legal standing, are now suing on the same grounds. All of which led to this exchange:
INSKEEP: I want to ask about another aspect of this because as I understand the judge's ruling—throwing out your lawsuit—the judge said, really, this ought to be up to Congress to police, among other things. Congress, of course, is controlled by Republicans. They've said they want to hold the White House accountable. They've been accused of actually defending the White House.
But, you know, we're just been discussing immigration, and it's an issue in which it appears the president was at one point ready to compromise with Democrats, and conservatives realized they needed to stay very close to the president and talk to him a lot or he was going to wander off and not support their policies. You have an example of why Republicans in Congress need, politically, to stay close to the president. What would you advise them to do when it comes to ethics and this president?
PAINTER: Do their job.
Movie Review: Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)
Despite the thrilling ending, that whole “Every word you just said was wrong” triptych ticked off by Luke Skywalker, which not only upends Kylo Ren’s worldview but our subtitle, since the last of the three is “And I will not be the last Jedi”—which, let’s face it, we all knew it going in, Rey being the ray of hope and the Jedi idea worth billions—despite all that, “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” disappointed me. Mostly for this reason:
They had 35 years to figure out what happened to Luke Skywalker, and this is what they came up with? I vant to be alone? Sulking for a long time, at the edge of a galaxy far, far away?
Luke was my guy. And look what they did to him. Look what they did to my boy.
Most likely to succeed
In the summer of 1977, when I was 14, I must have seen “Star Wars” half a dozen times. I had “May the Force Be With You” and “Darth Vader Lives” iron-on T-shirts. And if I knew anything I knew this: Luke was going to wind up with the girl. The other dude? Han? A jerk. A hot-rodder. Besides, it wasn’t his story. It was Luke’s. He had the true heart. I knew that. Everyone knew that.
But that was before a car accident disfigured Mark Hamill’s pretty face, and before George Lucas—who had already invented something that binds his universe together—decided to tie it all up in a way-too-neat bow by making the villain, Darth Vader, Luke’s father, and the girl, Princess Leia, Luke’s sister, which created all kinds of complications for the original—the least of which is the kiss. I mean, Darth tortures his own daughter? He tries to kill his own son? Without knowing it? What good is the Force if it can’t fathom that?
But at least we got Luke’s heroic journey: rise and savior in the first movie; training and setback in the second; rescue and ... OK, so he doesn’t exactly stop the Emperor in the third. Daddy does that. He surrenders, hoping he can bring Darth back from the Dark Side, and he does, in the most-telegraphed, worst-edited change-of-heart in movie history. So Luke kinda-sorta gets credit for stopping the Empire. And by the end he’s a Jedi master. Also secondary to Han/Harrison Ford, who became the bigger star by far, and whose bad-ass ways were apparently more appealing to both men and women. Talk about your upended worldviews! “Wait, women want the jerk? All women want the jerk? Damn, this is going to be a long life."
Really, what heroic thing did Luke do after blowing up the Death Star in the first movie? He gets clocked by a wampa, whines with Yoda, loses a hand to Darth, gets trapped by Jabba, and is zapped by the Emperor. Still he’s treated as a legend, rather than someone who never lived up to his promise, so he sets up a Jedi camp to train the next generation, including his nephew, Ben Solo, the son of Han and Leia. And he screws that up, too. And he screws it up in the exact same way Obi-wan did.
Obi-wan took a kid, Anakin, trained him in the Jedi ways, lost him to the Dark Side, then lied about it to his next pupil, Luke: “A young Jedi named Darth Vader...betrayed and murdered your father.”
Luke took a kid, Ben Solo, trained him in the Jedi ways, lost him to the Dark Side, then he too lies about it to his next pupil, Rey, leaving out the part about thinking of killing him. Which woke up Ben/Kylo and completely turned him.
And what about that anyway? How exactly does Kylo, the student, best Luke, the Master? All we see is Luke looking horrified, falling backward, “Noooo!,” then waking up to flaming ruins. Is it that Luke was off balance by his earlier murderous thoughts, while Kylo was enraged? But OK, since it happens, here’s another one: Why doesn’t Kylo take the opportunity to kill Luke here? He killed everyone else—why not Luke? He certainly hated him enough.
That’s not even the worst of it. Imagine you’re Luke amid the wreckage and the bodies. You’re a legend, a Jedi Master, and now your nephew is the disciple of Snoke, who is rebuilding the Empire as the First Order. What do you do?
You flee to the edge of the galaxy, live like a hermit, and cut yourself off from the Force. Of course.
Admittedly there’s a kind of symmetry to it. Luke begins the saga desperate to leave the desert planet, Tatooine, and join the rebellion, and he ends it on the water planet, Ahch-To, refusing to join the rebellion. Except the latter part isn’t exactly heroic. And if he didn’t become heroic, what was that hero’s journey all about? What was my childhood all about?
Dude isn’t even wise or resigned in his hermitage. He’s bitter. He went from whining to bitterness. The wisdom we get comes from ghostly Yoda, appearing in cackling, crackling form, talking about failure. Luke can’t even burn the ancient Jedi texts; ghost Yoda has to do that for him.
Wait, isn’t this true: Yoda is to Young Luke in “Empire” as Old Luke is to Rey in “Last Jedi”? So why is Rey’s mission to recruit old Luke to battle while young Luke’s mission was to just get trained by Yoda? How come Obi-wan didn’t instruct him, “Luke, go to the Dagobah system and find Yoda and bring him back to lead the rebellion because that dude can seriously kick ass”? Why weren’t the Emperor and Darth worried about Yoda returning the way Snoke/Kylo Ren are worried about Luke? Because Yoda was super old? Because his powers were weak, old man? Maybe. But at the time, his powers were still greater than young Luke’s.
Are Star Wars’ powers getting weak, old man? We keep seeing the same movie. Once again we watch our young hero (Luke/Rey) tossed about by the wizened Sith Lord (The Emperor/Snoke), while the Dark Side disciple (Darth/Kylo) stands to one side deciding whose side he’s on. At least the editing was better this time around. At least victory was a matter of intellect—hiding your true intentions. And at least Kylo did what he did for dark reasons: power. Still, I’m curious: Didn’t Snoke know the story of the Emperor’s fall? And doesn’t this galaxy have its version of George Santayana? Those who don’t learn history are doomed to repeat it. Ditto those who have lousy screenwriters.
You know what really bugged me about that scene? The throne. Dude’s sitting on a fucking throne in the midst of a big red empty in the middle of a spaceship. Can we get past this throne trope already? How about a desk with some paperwork on it? How about a comfy couch with two corgis? Where’s the pleasure in a big red empty? And what is Snoke doing while waiting for his 1:1s? Does he have hobbies? Has he tried moisturizer? Visine?
The movie does go off in some new directions—notably with Rey’s lineage, which isn’t related at all to the Skywalker/Kenobi clan. Thank god. She’s a nothing from nowhere. She’s the exceptional borne from the unexceptional. In this way, the Force is being democratized. Cf., the kid before the end credits who uses the Force to grab his broom.
“Last Jedi” also trots out the subversive—in the sense of subverting usual tropes—with its newfound feminism: Rose Tico schooling Finn; Leia and Holdo schooling Poe Dameron. But it feels like faux feminism to me.
Let me get this out of the way first: Leia slaps Poe Dameron for losing lives while destroying a dreadnought? I get the demotion, or worse, for not following orders; but a slap?
Besides, the whole “hot-dog flyboys wrong/calm women right” dynamic feels forced; it feels like the movie stacked the decks to make its “gotcha!” point. First they cast Laura Dern (never a good sign) as Vice Admiral Holdo; then they doll her up with purple hair and an odd turtlenecky dress so she looks like a cross between a “Hunger Games” socialite and an “Alice in Wonderland” sketch. Military rep aside, she seems like the unlikeliest admiral in the world. Which is why Poe leads others in a mutiny when they discover she’s abandoning ship. Actually that’s not why they mutiny. They mutiny because she doesn’t explain why they’re abandoning ship. To anyone. It would’ve been so easy, too. “Hey, let’s take these undetected transports to the rebel base on Crait so we can fight another day. Who’s with me?” But nah. And the movie doesn’t own up to this. The movie thinks Poe is a hothead, and wrong, and she’s a leader, and wise.
Doesn’t Poe also get the (dis)credit for the idiot Canto Bight subplot? But that’s a Rose Tico/Finn/Maz Kanata operation from the get-go. And how stupid is Finn in all this? The place is Vegas, full of rich, drunk, gambling fools, and he’s luxuriating in it. He needs RT to tell him look beneath the surface to find the exploitation. I wanted to smack my head—or his. That whole subplot is a longshot that never pays off. Worse, the partner in crime they pick up, DJ (Benicio del Toro, the best thing in the movie, btw), gives away Holdo’s plan and the transports get zapped like so much popcorn. Which leads to Holdo’s big sacrifice.
How come this hasn’t been tried before? Hyperspace the shit out of a giant Imperial/First Order ship? Kamikaze it. Cut it in two. Of course, for all the destruction, no main characters buy it. Fancy that. Finn and Rose are over there, as is, I believe, Rey. Not to mention Kylo Ren and Gen. Hux—the perpetual Abel to Kylo’s Cain. All survive. They don't even lose a hand.
On Crait, Finn attempts his own sacrifice. He’s going to ram his speeder down the throat of the First Order, but at the last minute Rose’s speeder comes from the side to clip his and take him out of harm’s way. A few objections:
- Attempting to rescue someone by ramming your vehicle into theirs at full speed? In the real world, the odds are pretty high both of you will die.
- How is this logistically possible?
She veers off but he keeps racing in a straight line. But somehow, taking a circuitous route, she beats his straight line and gets ahead of him? That only works if: 1) her speeder is speedier; 2) she’s a better pilot. And if it’s 2) add that to the list of things Finn can’t do. One wonders, between this, and the Vegas infatuation, and constantly trying to run away, why we care about him at all.
But at least Luke gets to go out with a bang.
I’m not the only one who had a problem with Luke’s outcome, by the way. Luke himself wasn’t thrilled. From a Vanity Fair piece on Mark Hamill:
“I at one point had to say to Rian [Johnson, director], ‘I pretty much fundamentally disagree with every choice you’ve made for this character. Now, having said that, I have gotten it off my chest, and my job now is to take what you’ve created and do my best to realize your vision.’”
That said, that final battle, with its twist, is pretty good. He gets to fight, or “fight,” but remain true to his last-act “plague on both your houses” persona. He gives the rebels the time to escape in the Millennium Falcon, which he called “a piece of junk” a long time ago, and which just keeps going. Chewie just keeps going. But he’s a bit player now, as is C3PO and R2D2. They come on, play their greatest hits—“Help me Obi-wan”; “The odds against our survival are...”—then are shown the door. They’re old tech and no longer supported by the machinery.
Anyone know why Luke buys it? Is it the strain of projecting his form across the galaxy? Or was it just time to die? For all my problem with his hermitage, they give him a good end. He gets to stare at the setting sun one last time—as a young Luke once stared at the setting suns of Tatooine, longing for adventure. He certainly found it. He’s seen things you people wouldn’t believe.
'This Doesn't Happen to Us'
“In the moment, when there is ten seconds left, you start preparing your mind with all the past conditioning; you start saying, 'It doesn't matter' and 'We are now free to stop watching and caring' and then boom Diggs is up in the air, he catches the ball. Does he run out of bounds for the field goal? No, there is no time. Does he step out of bounds? Did one knee touch the surface after the catch? Where's the flag? There has to be a flag that brings it all back? ... This is the life and legacy of being a Vikings fan. It can't be real. This doesn't happen to us.”
-- Robb Mitchell, long-suffering Vikings fan, the day after Stefon Diggs' incredible 61-yard touchdown that propeled the Vikings to the NFC Championship.
Presidential MLK Day Message: 'I Am Not a Racist'
“I am not a racist.”
Could there be a more profound message from the president of the United States on Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend?
In remarks to reporters at a dinner photo opportunity with House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy in West Palm Beach, Florida, Trump said when asked if he is a racist, “No, I'm not a racist. I am the least racist person you have ever interviewed.”
No need to bring up the litany of racist behavior again. Probably enough to mention the Central Park Five case, in which a woman jogger, a white investment banker, was brutally beaten and raped in Central Park in 1989 and five black kids, ages 14 to 16, were charged with the crime. They were innocent. DNA evidence later proved it. It proved it then, if we were willing to look at it. We weren't. Neither was Donald Trump, who took out a full-page ad in the New York Times urging a return to the death penalty. Can you imagine if we'd put these kids to death? Then found out? Then realized all the signs we'd missed?
You now what doesn't get enough attention about Trump's walkback lines like the above? How it plays with his base. He's got a core constituency that's racist at its heart but such declarations don't ever make them waver in their support for him. I guess it means they know he's lying. And they're fine with that. They're fine with the president of the United States lying on a regular basis to the American people—as long as he stays racist.
Happy MLK Day.
The Minneapolis Miracle
Stefon Diggs redeems a franchise.
After it was all over, after I'd yelled at the TV about the flag that had flashed across the screen for an instant (an orange peel, we later found out), and after I couldn't believe that Drew Pearson hadn't been called for something (offensive interference, pushing off, being a Dallas Cowboy), and after the Vikings attempted a last-minute drive of their own that went nowhere, and the game, and the season, and the dream died, I put on my coat, hat and gloves, and in the twilight, with snow crunching beneath my feet, walked down 54th to Salk's Rexall Drugs. And there, while I looked at the comic book racks but didn't really look at the comic book racks, I heard a conversation between the back cashier and the pharmacist.
“Yeah? What happened?”
“Don't know. Just heard they lost.”
Casual, like that. Just another day.
I wanted to yell at them, these strangers, these poor people working the last Sunday of the year, December 29, 1975. Because IT WASN'T CASUAL! It was HORRIBLE! It was THE END OF THE WORLD!
Instead I walked back outside, down Lyndale, and over to 53rd, and made my way home in the cold. I was 12, almost 13. I didn't know about adult solutions to pain yet—drinking, pot, Xanax, whatever. All I had was walking in the Minnesota cold.
I'd been a fan since '72, when we went 7-7, and when we still had, I believe, Gary Cuozzo as QB, before we got back Francis, scrambling Fran Tarkenton. The next year we went to the Super Bowl against the Dolphins, and lost, and the year after we went to the Super Bowl against the Steelers, and lost, and the year after the Drew Pearson debacle, the '76 season, we went to the Super Bowl against the Raiders, and lost. And by the end of the decade I was doing other things and never watched football regularly again. Not like this. Never like this again.
But I have friends in Minnesota who still bleed purple, and for them, and for the 12-year-old in me, the end of today's game, a 61-yard touchdown pass to Stefon Diggs with no time remaining, to beat the New Orleans Saints 29-24, and send the Vikings to the NFC Championship Game against the Eagles, feels fucking awesome. It brings tears to my eyes. I didn't even watch the game but I've seen that final play a dozen times now. I could watch it 100 times.
It was finally the Vikings' turn. After all that heartbreak, it was finally their time. And your time, Jim, and Adam, and Eric, and Stu, and Deano. And Dad.