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March 2017 Archives

March 1, 2017

Oscar with a Twist

Somebody at PriceWaterhouse Coopers has been busted down to the mail room.

That's the only conceivable reaction to the kerfuffle that ended an otherwise smooth but overlong Academy Awards broadcast Feb. 26. I'm not sure who I felt sorrier for: the makers of "La La Land," for having their hopes dashed; the makers of "Moonlight" for having their big moment trampled on; or Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway and Jimmy Kimmel for being made to look foolish in a mixup that was not their fault.

That said, I'm glad that "Moonlight," a delicate masterpiece, beat "La La Land," a well-made and tuneful commercial film. Both films, of course, did very well that night. But "Moonlight" is one of those highly personal, lyrical films that too often get lost in the shuffle. It wasn't my favorite film this year--that was "Hell or High Water"--but it is a totally deserving winner.

Some things that were revealed after the ceremony were more dispiriting. Casey Affleck's Best Actor victory for "Manchester by the Sea" unleashed a spate of new articles describing exactly what he was accused of saying and doing in the two sexual harassment suits filed against him in 2010. I never saw those details until now. I want to think they are untrue, or at least exaggerated--but how can I? I still think Affleck's performance was magnificent, but my happiness at his winning is now, shall we say, mitigated.

Though this is a lesser issue, I was also saddened to read about how Theodore Melfi, director and co-screenwriter of Best Picture nominee "Hidden Figures," changed the details of the story. Everyone who has seen the movie knows about how Katherine Johnson was forced to walk a half-mile to the only "colored" women's restroom at NASA, until her supervisor Al Harrison took action on her behalf. However, Margot Lee Shetterly's book tells the real story--that Johnson simply defied the rules and used the white women's restroom, a courageous and dangerous act in the segregated South. It isn't uncommon for movies based on true stories to change the facts. But, as the author of the article I read pointed out, no black screenwriter or director would have made that change.

In any case, Oscar season is over for another year, and we await what Hollywood will bring us in 2017, for good or ill.

March 4, 2017

Bill Paxton

It was a tragic irony that Bill Paxton died just before the Academy Awards ceremony this year. By all rights, based strictly on his talent, he should have had an Oscar or at least a nomination during his career. But even when he appeared in a big movie, such as "Titanic," he didn't generally get the roles that would make the Academy take notice. It is indicative of his career as a whole that his one major award--a Screen Actors Guild award--was as being part of the ensemble for "Apollo 13." Even when Paxton was the above-the-title star, it tended to be in shows where he was one of many--"Big Love" and "The Hatfields and McCoys" are cases in point. In the acting world, Paxton was the ultimate team player.

Paxton was such a regular guy in appearance and demeanor that it was easy to forget just how talented he was. For me, the high point of his career was "Frailty," the 2001 thriller he directed and starred in. In "Frailty," Paxton played "Dad" Meiks, an easygoing Texas auto mechanic who, suddenly one night, tells his young sons they are on a mission from God to kill the human devils in their midst. Paxton's friendly, aw-shucks persona provides the appropriate frisson against the ever-bloodier mayhem he commits, and provides just enough indirection to leave the audience gasping at the radical twist the story takes at the end. If Hitchcock and Tobe Hooper had ever collaborated on a movie, and brought in Jorge Luis Borges on the sly for help with the screenplay, the result would have been much like "Frailty." Paxton directed very little after that. I wish he had, because he was a director of formidable gifts.

Bill Paxton died much too young, and having just started a new TV series, "Training Day." It is very odd, and very sad, to think he is no more.

March 11, 2017

Robert Osborne

Robert Osborne was both the historian and the toastmaster of Hollywood. A longtime columnist for the Hollywood Reporter and the author of an authoritative history of the Academy Awards, Osborne was best known as the on-air host for Turner Classic Movies from the time the network made its premiere in 1994. Genial and polished, Osborne was the perfect host to introduce thousands of movies, the stars of which were more often than not his personal friends. Lucille Ball, his earliest mentor, was the one who advised him to switch from acting to writing. Bette Davis asked him to accompany her to at least one Oscar ceremony, and gave him the Sarah Siddons statuette from All About Eve. Every Sunday, he and Olivia de Havilland phoned each other.

Osborne knew the actor's life from a journeyman's viewpoint--as an actor, he never rose higher than guest spots on sitcoms and a few commercials. That knowledge was evident in his interviews with stars such as Jack Lemmon, Robert Mitchum, Jane Russell, Ernest Borgnine and Angela Lansbury. He understood their lives, and they trusted him implicitly. One can only guess at the secrets he knew. Roddy McDowall, another historian of Hollywood as well as an actor of note, said he would take his friends' secrets to the grave, and that he did. Osborne certainly did the same.

Osborne himself was a very private man. He came of age in the 1950s, and therefore it is no surprise to learn that for 20 years he kept private his love relationship with David Staller, a theater director and expert on the works of Shaw.

Throughout his life, Osborne behaved with dignity and elegance. He spoke often of growing up in a farm town in Washington State, finding joy and identity in the movies that came to his local theater. As another movie-struck gay kid from a small town, I salute him.

About March 2017

This page contains all entries posted to MDM in March 2017. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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