Where I Am Now

Well, I just got in from seeing American Sniper and I’m feeling pretty glum. Honestly, I’m just sitting here thinking that life has no meaning. I’m writing more because I’m not quite ready to go to bed than for any other reason.

First of, regarding American Sniper – Did you see the trailer? Did you read a review or two? Yeah, then you saw the movie. It was just barely interesting enough to not qualify as boring. I don’t know. I feel like I’m supposed to have an opinion about it. Is it pro-war or anti-war? Is it patriotic or does it subversively question patriotism? That would imply that there is something going on in the movie. It’s workmanlike in a not good meaning of the word. Does Bradley Cooper do a good job? I guess. He holds a gun and runs around believably. Did anyone else here feel like life wasn’t worth living when they left the theater, or is it just me?

I’ve been in a weird damn mood the past couple of days, and that it’s hard to tell if my response to that movie is due to my circumstances or if it was in fact, kind of uninteresting.

You see, what you probably don’t actually know, but you may very well have faint glimmers of it, is that I don’t have an especially rosy view of humanity. As I see it, we’re social animals. All of the crap we call morality is the decisions we make for whatever group we belong to survive and continue. We’re sensitive to power and status. Sometimes that causes us to do altruistic and caring thing, but more often we do petty and competitive things. Nothing matters to us as much as our place in that social hierarchy.

We all do what we have to do to make it in this society. Usually, that involves not being very nice to other people.

Okay, here’s my own preferences among the Oscar nominees. This isn’t in anyway a prediction of whether or not they will win, just whether or not I liked them.

Whiplash, Birdman, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Selma, The Theory of Everything, American Sniper, The Imitation Game, Boyhood.

Boyhood may have succeeded in being the single most pretentious piece of crap ever made. It has one major gimmick. It took twelve years to make. No review can say anything positive if it doesn’t say that. It’s long, and it’s boring. Sitting on a park bench and watching people walk by for three hours would be more interesting.

Well, I’m going to sleep on it and see if I have anything more interesting to say about them tomorrow.

Actor – in a Supporting Role

And… the nominees are:

Robert Duvall The Judge
Ethan Hawk Boyhood
Edward Norton Birdman
J. K. Simmons Whiplash
Mark Ruffalo Foxcather

This might be the most fun category. Many of the most interesting roles are not the leads, and, for better or worse, men tend to get meatier parts than women on average.

If one of the abilities of a good actor is to be able to disappear into a role, then I think all five of the actors here can said to be good.

The Judge was a good movie, but not a great one, and it is unsurprising to me that this is the only category in which the film has received any nominations. Robert Duvall stands out in this picture as a small town judge who may or may not have killed a man to whom he had given a lenient sentence many years earlier and who later went on to commit another crime. Eventually, he is put on trial himself, and one of the factors that might help to acquit him, that he suffers from memory loss due to chemotherapy, is a fact he is trying to hide. Duvall does a notable job portraying the frailty of an aging man. Once, I had an acting teacher tell me that one mistake people make when playing someone who is drunk is that they act drunk, whereas drunk people typically struggle to act sober. We see Duvall negotiate this contradiction. He plays a sick, frail, older man who is trying to hide just how sick and frail he has become. The role gives Duvall the opportunity for more dramatic moments as well as more subtle ones.

Boyhood seems to have really enthusiastic defenders. I am not one of them. I’ve been told that I am not capable of appreciating that the movie is supposed to be about those uninteresting parts of life that happen in between the more dramatic moments that are usually the subject of a movie. Also, it took twelve years to make. Ethan Hawke aged very naturally over twelve years. What else can I say? Here is a scene in which Hawke, who plays a non-custodial parent, tries to make small talk.

Birdman also had its detractors and vocal defenders and in this case I am with the defenders. I walked out of the theater feeling that I had just seen something remarkable. Later, one of my mother’s friends said she hated the movie because the main character was not likeable. In fact, none of the people on the screen are likeable in the banal sort of way that almost everyone except the evil step dads are likeable in Boyhood. Perhaps it says something about me that I identify more with the unlikable, but interesting, characters in Birdman than the likeable, but insufferably boring, ones in Boyhood.

Like Robert Duvall, Edward Norton also had the good fortune to be handed an exciting complicated role. In this case, Edward Norton plays a critically acclaimed actor, Mike, who steps into the role of a play days before opening night. The actor who had previously been in the role has an accident. Mike has a reputation as being difficult to work with, a fact closely connected to his talent since he throws himself into his roles.

Mark Ruffalo is over shadowed by just about everyone else on this list. In some ways, this emphasizes the importance that the writing has as the starting point. Ruffalo’s character is simply not that interesting. I’ve already said in my discussion of the screenplays that I felt that Foxcatcher lacked the intensity of the other films. The two central characters, John Du Pont, played by Steve Carrell, and Mark Schultz, played by Channing Tatum, are people with complicated motivations. Ruffalo’s character, Mark’s brother David, most just wants a stable life and is dragged into the drama happening between John and Mark somewhat against his will. I can’t say I’m overly fond of Ruffalo’s mumbling, shuffling, hunched over interpretation. I’m not really sure who to blame for this. I think the director needs to carry some of the burden. I’m really not very familiar with Ruffalo’s body of work. I was a little put off by the fact that Tatum and Ruffalo had such very different accents. Again, I feel as if the director should have picked up on that and stepped in.

Finally, we come to J. K. Simmons astounding turn as Fletcher, the music teacher, in Whiplash. Like Duvall and Norton, Simmons had the good fortune to be handed a meaty part. It is to Simmons credit that we don’t see Fletcher as purely evil. The following scene has been shown in just about every discussion of the movie, so I was tempted to show a different one, however I decided to include this one after all. In it, we can see the transition Simmons goes through from a demanding, although normal seeming, teacher to every student’s nightmare. (He reminds me of my first acting teacher who would regularly have me in tears at the end of a class. I used to say that he could get a performance out of a rock.) I understand that they first tried the scene faking the slaps but weren’t satisfied. In the end, the slaps are real, as you can see the redness on the student’s cheek. In a later scene, the student tackles the teacher and Simmons, I understand, broke a couple of ribs. It’s really an intense performance.

My own instinct would be to give the award to Simmons, but it would hardly be surprising if Duvall and Norton were to win it. If Simmons wins, Norton may have had the misfortune to get one of his best roles during the wrong year.

Is It So Tough to Use the Right Words If You’re a Professional Writer?

Okay, I’m not a professional writer. I’m not a researcher either, although I do have a liberal arts degree and internet access, so I wonder what the hell those professional writers are thinking when they type words and pick up a paycheck for that. Sure, I know the Daily Beast is garbage and I shouldn’t even be reading it, let alone complaining about it. Still, M. L. Nestel is getting a paycheck for employing words without knowing their meanings.

It was a story about a twenty-one year old man who is currently missing. His parents report that he experienced an extreme change in his personality, which they ascribe to supplements he was taking. I won’t go into other parts of the story, but I just wanted to deal with Nestel’s apparent misunderstanding of the word “homeopathic.” One of the supplements the young man was taking is described by Nestel as “a kind of homeopathic Viagra.”

I have to say, I never thought I’d find myself searching the internet for “Penis Enlargement Pill – BIG JIM & THE TWINS- MALE ENHANCEMENT.” Forgive me if I don’t provide a link. You can sully your own internet search history. However, you will be glad to know that it does not have a five star rating on Amazon, and it is reassuring regarding humanity that it is not highly ranked in the Health & Personal Care category. Toilet paper is the top seller. Much of humanity, it seems, is practical.

If I ever go missing, the police, or my mother, will have tons of fun with my browsing history because I’m the curious sort. I look at all sorts of things I would never admit to. Hell, I’m telling you about how I looked up Big Jim and the Twins, so let your imagination go regarding what I’m not telling you about. But I have an excuse. You see, I wanted to know if it was homeopathic. Big Jim and the Twins Male Enhancement Formula has a description that is surprisingly, ahem, small.

Big Jim & The Twins is a potent male enhancement formula fortified with powerful ingredients designed to promote sexual health including Tongkat Ali, Maca, L-Arginine, Ginseng Blend, Proprietary Blend: Saraparilla, Pumpkin Seed Powder, Muira Puama Powder, Oat Straw, Nettle, Cayenne Pepper, Astragalus, Catuaba Bark Powder, Licorice, Tribulus Terrestris, Orchis, Oyster Extract, and Boron.

One thing this does not say is that it is homeopathic.

Homeopathy is a pseudoscience created by Samuel Hahnemann in the late eighteenth century. Happily for us, medicine has advanced somewhat in the past couple of centuries. Unfortunately, the news appears to have not yet reached the suburbs. Hahnemann believed that illnesses could be cured by substances that caused the same symptoms as the illness. So an illness that had fever as a symptom could be cured by a substance that causes a fever when ingested. However, the substance must be taken only in the smallest amount. Therefore homeopathic remedies are extreme dilutions in water of the substances indicated on the label, usually containing not a single molecule of the named remedy. (Do you know who liked homeopathy? Nazis!) Needless to say, homeopathy “is not effective for any condition.”

Several of the herbs listed as part of the supplement are used in folk medicine and those uses include male sexual performance. I did a quick run through of the list on the internet and, while I can’t claim my research was thorough, so I may have missed something, there doesn’t seem to be much evidence that most of them work for male sexual performance. Worse yet, there have been concerns recently that supplements to do not contain the herbs on the label.

Tongkat Ali (Eurycoma longifolia) has been shown to have an effect on testosterone levels in lab animals. Unfortunately, many products that claim to contain Tongkat Ali are fraudulent. The government of Malaysia, where the herb is native, has banned many fake products.

It is also important to remember if an herbal product is potent enough to have the intended effect, it can have side effects as well. Speaking for myself, I would not take an herbal supplement without consulting a physician.

But whatever it is and whatever it does, it is not homeopathy.

An amusing detail: On the Amazon website, the bottle of Big Jim and the Twins in the picture is empty. Symbolic?

Best Original Screenplay

I’ve decided to start my thoughts on the Academy Award nominated movies with the writing awards. I don’t want to speculate on the potential winners as to simply discuss the screenplays themselves.

Of the five screenplays which have been nominated in the Writing (Original Screenplay) category, four to them have the director as the writer or one of the co-writers. In these four cases the movies appear to be the director’s brainchild. Foxcatcher is the exception in this instance. Of the five nominees in this category, three of them, Birdman, Boyhood and The Grand Budapest Hotel have been nominated for best picture. Only Nightcrawler was not nominated in any other categories.

Birdman Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr. & Armando Bo
Boyhood Richard Linklater
Foxcatcher E. Max Frye & Dan Futterman
The Grand Budapest Hotel Screenplay by Wes Anderson; Story by Wes Anderson & Hugo Guinness
Nightcrawler Dan Gilroy

It is interesting to not that, with the exception of Boyhood, most of the stories have a darkness to them. Nightcrawler is most certainly the darkest of all. In fact, I would say that it falls squarely in the tradition of film noir. Unfortunately, I gave my little collection of books on film noir to one of my mother’s students when he was accepted to film school, so I’ll have to rely on the internet. Nightcrawler could be said to be a social problem film with a protagonist, Lou, who is something of a petty criminal or grifter. He begins as someone who is unemployed trying to find work. Unable to find any, he happens upon and accident and comes across a news stringer who listens to a police radio and heads to accident or crime scenes to try to get video footage for local television reports. Lou obtains an inexpensive camcorder and tries to get his own footage. In an effort to succeed, he begins down a slippery slope towards less and less moral actions. We see a world that in is inherently corrupt, where all human relationships have been reduced to transactions. The movie looks at the reality of a world where jobs are insecure and where news is entertainment. It is a dark, dark vision.

On the surface, The Grand Budapest Hotel would seem to have little in common with Nightcrawler, however if we look at the script rather than the visual style of the film we again see a corrupt, dark world. Unlike Nightcrawler, the world inhabited by the characters in The Grand Budapest is far from unrelievedly dark.  The film has the structure of a story within a story within a story. The central part is narrated by Zero, who, while working as a lobby boy at the hotel, is taken under the wing of the concierge, Mr. Gustave H. Twice, Mr. Gustave H. says something to the effect of, “You see, there are still faint glimmers of civilization left in this barbaric slaughterhouse that was once known as humanity.” One of Gustave’s lovers has been murdered and left him an expensive painting in her will. Gustave is pursued by his dead lover’s greedy son and the family’s enforcer. All of this takes place as Europe descend into war in the background. Mr. Gustave H. sees himself as a bulwark against the decline of civilization. The bright visual style of the film belies the far more somber, although absurd, tone of the script. This lurking seriousness grounds the whimsy and keeps it from floating away into frivolousness.

Birdman has a serious, dark tone, but not in the way of the other two. In Birdman it is not a corrupt world that tortures us, rather we torture ourselves. All the characters struggle with inner demons. The main character is an actor who became famous playing a superhero character in multiple blockbusters. Now he’s seek artistic validation by appearing in a drama on Broadway that he has adapted and directed. I was looking at some clips of the movie online to remind me of it since it’s been several months since I’ve seen it. The dialog is very strong.

Foxcatcher, a story of an unhappy multimillionaire who tries to give himself a sense of achievement by nurturing a wrestling team, but become emotionally entangled with one of the wrestlers, is another dark story. As in Nightcrawler, we have another young man, this time played by Channing Tatum, who is struggling. Foxcatcher, while certainly in interesting movie, is not as tightly written as the others. It lacked the tension it needed or the emotional intensity.

Well, it’s getting late, so I’m going to have to wrap this up. There are a lot of interesting themes that were brought up in the original screenplays, the nature of work, the difficulty of making a living, the nature of the media, what defines civilization and humanity. My own personal favorites were Birdman and Nightcrawler. Since Nightcrawler has received significantly less attention than the other films, I’d like to say that anyone who enjoys film noir should try to see it. Jake Gyllenhaal does a great job as Lou.

Been Busy – Watching Movies!

No one asked me, but I figured it’s a dirty job and someone’s got to do it, so I’ve been making my way through the list of Oscar nominees, at least in the major categories. Strangely, it started with the brouhaha over whether or not Selma was “snubbed” for a nomination because the actors, director and producers are black. (I originally typed African-American and then switched it because I remembered that David Oyelowo is not American.) I realized that I couldn’t have much of an opinion as long as I hadn’t seen the other nominees. Eventually, it bloomed into just wanting to watch as many nominees as possible before the Oscars.

Last night I watched Whiplash and I have to say that it utterly blew me away. I can’t say enough good things about this movie. First of all, if anyone was snubbed for a best Oscar nod, it was Miles Teller, who puts in a tremendous performance as Andrew, a music student. It seems that gender expectations make precocious little girls and very young women unexceptional as Oscar nominees in the acting category, but not so for young men. It’s a trend that may have to do with factors other than just the sexism of the people handing out awards, according to this interesting research, “Gendered Age Differences Expected among Oscar Nominees.” Teller certainly did a better job that that dreadful Benedict Cumberbatch, about whom no one would care if it wasn’t for brain-dead anglophilia – and the same can be said of his skeletal co-star.

Teller plays an ambitious young drummer, determined to do whatever it takes to be great, who encounters a teacher determined to do anything to make his students great, and anything includes viscous emotional abuse. It is a fabulous meditation about what it takes to rise above the common herd.

Besides the wonderful performance by Miles Teller, there is a great performance by J.K. Simmons, as the teacher. The role of the teacher exemplifies what makes this movie so great. The character is described in many reviews as a sadist. Yet, his sadism is not done for his own pleasure, but to get better performances out of his students. It asks us what are the acceptable lengths to which one can go in pursuit of excellence. To the movie’s credit, it does not answer that question.

This is a wonderfully relevant story in our current society, one that does not satisfy itself with the reassuring myths we are usually fed. Every time I hear someone saying that they’re insisting on “excellence”, I wince a little bit. One of the important myths needed to keep up the charade that we live in a meritocracy is that this arrangement is somehow universally beneficial. The people of merit are all healthy, fit, well-groomed, socially adept, friendly, poised as well as being academically and professionally successful, emotionally balanced, with a fulfilling family life and friends. Whiplash shows us the frustrating reality that we don’t want to see. Excellence, greatness comes at the expense of those other things. We see Andrew practicing until his hands bleed. The movie’s director, Damien Chazelle, told Teller to not exercise and to stay out of the sun. We are told in the movie that he has no friends. His one relationship falls apart. Excellence comes only at a high price.

A little over a decade ago, I lived with a man who had been a mathematical prodigy when he was young. At the age of eight, he taught himself calculus from a book. Starting in middle school, he would leave his regular public school after lunch and go to a nearby college where he would take math and science classes. He started Harvard at nineteen. Everyone expected great things from him, great things that never materialized. He used to tell me about a longitudinal study which followed gifted children over many decades. I believe it was the Terman Study of the Gifted. While some of the children who were followed in the study, which is still ongoing, went on to have notable careers, many followed more mundane paths. The point that my ex-boyfriend was always trying to make was that it was not ability, or even interest, alone that accounted for success. He always liked to point out that people who achieved great things made sacrifices in other areas of their lives that he was not willing to make. They have, in the words he preferred to use, unbalanced lives. His father, a medical researcher who had made some important discoveries, was one of his prime examples. His father, as far as he could see, was not a happy person. He would verbally berate his wife at home, who would put up with it because he was a genius. She saw her role as to nurture and take care of her driven husband. But my boyfriend didn’t want the kind of life his father had. He preferred to be more mundane, yet enjoy a life that was more balanced.

Whiplash was made on a small budget. It’s the director’s second movie, which he wrote himself. It’s partly autobiographical. Chazelle made a shorter film which he used to raise money for the full version. For this reason, the screenplay is nominated for the Academy Award for Writing in the Adapted Screenplay category. The budget for this film was only 3.3 million dollars, a pittance compared to the fifteen to sixty million dollars that it took to make the other nominees for best film. As a small, independent movie, Whiplash opened in few theaters. I wanted to see it anyway because of the subject. The first review I saw said essentially, “Finally, a movie about a drummer, and thank goodness it’s good.” The Oscar nomination has secured its release in many more theaters. Unless it wins in a big way at the Oscars, it probably won’t stick around long after the awards, so I really recommend you try to see it.

It has its flaws. I don’t want to give away the ending, so let me say that I wish Chazelle could have found a way to get the same emotional dynamics that we find at the end in a more realistic scenario. It stretched credulity, but it didn’t ruin it. The emotional intensity between the characters, not the setting, is the interesting part of the scene. The music is fabulous. I’m no jazz critic, but I really enjoyed the music. I understand that Teller can really play drums. Although it is not Teller that we hear in the soundtrack, it is apparently mostly Teller that we see on-screen. He could not have entirely faked it. If anyone finds themselves easily annoyed when actors obviously can’t play the instrument they supposedly are playing in a movie, they will be able to suspend disbelief watching Teller. As far as the other musicians in the movie go, apparently there is no need to suspend disbelief because they hired musicians, not actors, for those roles.

I’ve been trying to see all the movies in certain categories so I can write about the awards with a reasonable level of knowledge. I thought it might be more interesting to compare and contrast the movies than to just offer up reviews. However, I thought Whiplash was so good, that I wanted to alert everyone to it while it’s still lingering in theaters.

Pixelated Dicks – Who Are You Trying to Protect

Sometimes, a gal has a bit of a wardrobe malfunction and her tit slips out of her shirt. The media, or certain sectors of the media, being full of mature, sexually liberated people, can’t stop giggling, seeing that that is what mature, sexually liberated people do when they see an unexpected tit or two. They can’t wait to share this giggly goodness with all the world, so they print the picture accompanied by mature, non-judgmental headlines like, “Hey, Everyone! Look, Tits!” Below this calm measured headline is a pixelated photo. Now, one can presume that the performer whose top accidentally slipped did not intend for her tits to be displayed on every celebrity website and it’s only reasonable that a responsible, mature gossip rag would pixelate the photos. After all, that celebrity could probably get cold hard cash for intentionally displaying her breasts and, one day, when a movie flops or a song doesn’t sell, will certainly avail herself of that bill bridging bonanza. Of course, the rarity of seeing the aforementioned tits will directly affect the size of that bonanza, and it is only reasonable that the kind gossips at the gossip rag would want to preserve those assets by a bit of protective pixelation.

Today, however, I saw something truly strange. A fashion designer I’ve never heard of before, Rick Owens is making headlines with some innovative and new clothing styles. Good for Rick! Being a responsible blogger, I’ve been buffing up my knowledge of Rick Owens. I will assume (…and please do not feel slighted by this – I assure you it’s not personal) that you too are new to Rick. How should I describe his clothes? Well, should I fall madly in love with a stylish vampire I expect he will have a lot of Rick Owens in his closet. Lots of loose black clothes, occasionally livened up with a punchy gray piece. Lots of skirts for men and tunics. The tunics are why Rick Owens has now grabbed everyone’s attention. He has designed a line of penis revealing, indeed, penis highlighting, tunics for men.

Ugly men with gorgeous penises – this is your moment! Really, my ex-husband is, or so all my friends delighted in telling me, one of the less attractive men I’ve known. Whenever a friend used to tell me how ugly my husband was (’cause that stuff about women being catty is just so made-up) I used to think to myself, and occasionally tell them, that they hadn’t seen his best feature. Really, he had a gorgeous cock. The rest of him, well, he kind of looked like Rick Owens, actually. But he had a gorgeous cock. I presume he will be running out to by a new Rick Owens tunic, or maybe five. I think women know how happy we get when a new trend actually flatters our figures. In my case, when a see that the new clothes are all a-line, just above the knee dresses in beige, I get so disappointed and can’t wait until day-glo assless chaps come back into style, because my knees are not my best feature.

All fine and good, except it’s difficult for me to properly assess the aesthetic virtues of Rick Owens’ new line because websites have seen fit to pixelate the penises. It is really quite distracting. This brings me to ask the question, “Why are the penises pixelated.” The models knew their penises would be exposed, and one would assume that they were comfortable with their penises being viewed all over the world. So, it is not consideration of the modesty of the men. These are not pornographic, or even especially sexy, photos. What is the point of the pixelation? Are their penises in the witness protection program? When the FBI got them some plastic surgery they didn’t think to bother with the cock? Is there a mobster out there somewhere checking out catwalks waiting to spot someone who looks familiar? Exactly what does anyone think will happen if we see flaccid penises swinging down the runway?

Happily, the Guardian has seen fit to publish unpixelated photos. I don’t know about you, but I’m not sure that the fringe on the side works for me.

(Note to the Guardian: That’s not “full” frontal.)

Went to See Selma Last Night

A few weeks ago, shortly after the movie came out, I tried to go see the movie Selma, but failed to do so because the tickets were sold out. Meanwhile, I forgot about it. Then, with the announcement of the Oscar nominees, suddenly it was all over the news. Although it was nominated for best picture, many people felt that it should have been nominated in more categories, specifically for actor, director and original screen play. On top of that, there was a secondary controversy brewing regarding the depiction of LBJ, for my foreign readers that would be Lyndon Baines Johnson, the president at the time.

If I were a professional reviewer, I’d probably want to see movies cold as the best way of evaluating them, write down some initial impressions and then, perhaps, do any background reading or research. However, I am not a professional reviewer and I went to the movies wanting Selma to be a great picture. After a week of being told online that I was racist or Islamophobic for thinking that shooting cartoonists and (let’s not forget) grocery store shoppers fell into the “bad thing” category rather than the “perfectly understandable,” I was kind of hoping to redeem myself by being able to whole heartedly scream about how the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was racist.

Well, let’s get the LBJ stuff out of the way since my opinion on that will keep me getting invited to cocktail parties. The criticisms are overwrought. Like a lot of historical movies, and even some fictional ones, the audience has to be informed of the background. The LBJ character winds up representing well-intentioned whites in the establishment. In order to inform the audience of the historical factors involved, he and Martin Luther King, Jr. have conversations in the movie that included very basic information that it is unlikely the two men would have to have said to each other in real life about a political movement that had been going on for years, one could say decades, at that point. It is for our benefit that these conversations are taking place. The movie was accurate enough that they did not forget to include Lee White, an adviser to both Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. In his obituary a year ago, Todd S. Purdham wrote:

He was a quiet man with a thankless job, and he never became a household name or famous Washington face. But Lee C. White, who died at 90 this past October, played a crucial and effective behind-the-scenes role as White House civil rights adviser for both John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, at the height of the movement to make America live up to its founding creed. (source: http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2013/12/lee-white-obituary-101421.html#ixzz3PYM2Udm9)

I don’t think very many people will be turning to a movie when considering the insider political workings that had to happen in order to get the Voting Rights Act passed. In terms of leaving people with an accurate or inaccurate view of history, Selma does a far better job than another of this year’s nominees, The Imitation Game, which was just a travesty of historical inaccuracy. I don’t feel that people who are not already well-informed about the events surrounding the march from Selma, Alabama to the state’s capital, Montgomery, to bring attention to the widespread disenfranchisement of black voters will be in any significant way deceived by this movie. It was far more impressive in its accuracy than many other recent historical films.

Which brings me to the writing award. In terms of the amount of research that must have gone into it, the huge cast of characters whose portrayal had to do justice to the real people on whom they were based, the script is damned impressive. In fact, the more I think about it, the more impressive that task seems. At the same time, the script felt workmanlike to me. The conversations needed to establish background could have been done a little more skillfully. There were too many scenes that were of people making speeches. It was certainly well written and, considering the demands for historical accuracy and the degree to which many of the important figures of the time are acknowledged, it was clearly no easy piece of writing.   How do you weigh that against an inventive and fictional piece of writing like Birdman? That is a judgement call. I certainly prefer the accurate, if occasionally stilted, writing of Selma to the socially damaging fictions of The Imitation Game. The writer has, at least, been respectful of the audience and done us a service, rather than serve us up a fist pumping concoction that derives its effects from lies. I will try to see a few of the other nominees before the Oscars, and Boyhood is high on my list of ones to view, but looking at the list it seems to me that the nominees for original screenplay favor the inventive. At some level, it strikes me as a matter of taste. I don’t think the screenplay for Selma was so brilliant that we need to put down the fact that it was bypassed for a nomination to racism alone. If it had been an adapted screenplay where there are fewer inventive movies and three of the nominees are based on true stories, the comparison would be easier. (If The Imitation Game wins for best adapted screenplay I’m going to gnash my teeth and start a twitter hashtag, #OscarSoBullshit.)

For instance, the movie portrays two members of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee who have been working in Selma on voter registration. One member, James Forman turns to the other and tells him that SNCC wouldn’t support the march and if the other went he’d have to go, not as a representative of SNCC but as “John Lewis.” At that moment, the audience knows that they will see John Lewis, who suffered a fractured skull during that march, badly beaten by the police. Lewis has gone on to become a prominent congressman. James Forman would also continue to work in Civil Rights, but would advocate more radical tactics.

In 1961, Forman joined and became the executive secretary of the then newly formed Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. From 1961 to 1965 Forman, a decade older and more experienced than most of the other members of SNCC, became responsible for providing organizational support to the young, loosely affiliated activists by paying bills, radically expanding the institutional staff and planning the logistics for programs. Under the leadership of Forman and others, SNCC became an important political player at the height of the civil rights movement.

In 1964, Forman, expressing his frustration with the gradualist approach of some Civil Rights leaders, made one of his best known quips: “If we can’t sit at the table [of democracy], let’s knock the fucking legs off!”

The scenes in which the two SNCC members, John Lewis and James Forman, have discussions with Dr. King and other members of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference carry the burden of having to show the dynamics that existed within the Civil Rights movement and disagreements about tactics. These scenes at times feel more like docudrama than drama.

Which brings me to the thing that I think saves the movie. Almost all the actors turn in strong, solid performances. Even the smaller roles are well acted, as in the horrifying scene in which Jimmie Lee Jackson and his mother and grandfather take shelter in a cafe. They had been at a protest march where the state troopers started beating the marchers. The state troopers burst into the cafe. The police begin to beat the grandfather, Cager Lee. When Viola Lee Jackson tries to defend her elderly father, they being to beat her. Her son then tries to protect her. He is thrown up against a wall and is shot.

Jackson’s death led James Bevel, SCLC Director of Direct Action and the director of SCLC’s Selma Voting Rights Movement, to initiate and organize the first Selma to Montgomery march to publicize the effort to gain registration and voting.

If Jimmy Lee Jackson appears to be a small role in the movie, the real life Jackson did not play such a minor role in historical events. He had been trying for four years to register to vote, and when the SCLC began organizing people in Selma he began attending regular meetings held in Zionist Baptist Church. (In the movie, Jimmie Lee Jackson appears to die in the cafe. I real life, he fled the cafe after being shot, was beaten more by the police, collapsed and died several days later in the hospital. This is the sort of simplification of events I take as almost a matter of course in a movie.)

When a movie features collectively solid acting rather than one or two outstanding performances, I’m inclined to credit the director, which brings us to another nomination that was not received.  Unlike, the screenplay category, I am less ambivalent about the fact that the director, Ava DuVernay, did not get nominated. Despite a story with inherent drama, the movie feels sluggish. The scenes between Coretta Scott King and her husband are especially boring. Showing marital tension because of Dr. King’s infidelities is supposed to humanize him and show his flaws. Instead, it just weighs down the movie. At one point, she asks him if he loved any of the other women. In the yawning length of time it takes him to answer she could have had a divorce lawyer on the phone. In the end, I just don’t find it as shocking a some people do that she didn’t get a nomination.

As far as the acting nominations go, I’ve only seen two of the nominated performances. I happened to love Birdman and would not be in the least bit disappointed if Michael Keaton wins. Regarding the nominations, however, I do think David Oyelowo turned in a better performance than Benedict Cumberbatch’s godawful emotionally vacant genius schtick.

One nomination that it would have made sense for Selma to receive was for costume design. That strikes me as an inexplicable oversight, especially in light of the fact that Inherent Vice got a nomination. I can barely remember the characters even wearing clothes.

In the end, I felt that Selma was a good, but not great movie. It certainly could have gotten a couple of more nominations than it did, but the fact that those nominations went to other films is not shocking to me, nor am I convinced that it is solely due to racism. I will be surprised if it wins best picture.

Remember When New York Was Fun

Although it felt as if I had been talking about leaving my husband for a year, it was sudden when it actually happened. I felt as if I was drowning or suffocating, so when the words finally came out that he would not compromise and I could no longer bear it, when the fact that we had reached a complete impasse was finally acknowledged, I packed my bags and was complete moved out of the apartment within a week or two.

The next semester of graduate school wouldn’t commence until January. In the meantime, I had found a small apartment above a garage in the suburbs of New York, in a commuter town with easy access to the city. I spent most of my days painting. My shrink had given me Ritalin. He seemed to be convinced that I had ADD no matter how many times I told him I had no problem concentrating. In fact, quite the opposite. Even as a young child I could sit still and do the same thing for hours, especially if that thing was reading. My mother was always scolding me for reading, telling me that I’d grow up to be socially maladapted, and telling my sister to take me out and make me play, goddammit. Still, my shrink was trying to figure out why someone would be intelligent, physically healthy, and even attractive and be such a failure as I was. He never said so in so many words, but I suspect this sounded to him like other patients he’d had. He recommended a book about adults with ADD, which I dutifully read, becoming convinced with each page that I did not have ADD. Still, I took the medicine. I would be going back to graduate school and I was desperate to finally make something of myself. I had even ended my marriage in large part because my ex-husband was not supportive of my professional goals.

With a few months to spare, I was spending most of my days painting. I would take the Ritalin in the morning and plant myself in front of the easel and not move until the sun had sunk low enough that I could no longer see well enough to paint. The apartment was one room and held virtually nothing other than a bed and my easel.

Meanwhile, Nerdette had graduated from her doctoral program just in time for the job market for physicists to collapse. For the past couple of years she had been working in a dress shop in suburban Maryland, just outside Washington, D.C. She had applied for a position in her field in New York City. “Do you think I could live in New York on thirty thousand a year?” she asked.

“What do you mean by ‘live?'” I answered.

I’d only been back for a week and we met in the city. It was the first time in a long time that I’d been back in New York. It was pleasant night in late summer and we headed to the Village. When I was in high school and we used to take the bus into the city, at Bleeker and MacDougal, there were four Caffes, one on each corner. Over the years, one after another closed. Further up the street, on MacDougal, there was Caffe Reggio. We headed over there to relax for a few hours between Nerdette’s interview and when it would be late enough to go out to a bar or nightclub. It had been a number of years since I’d gone out at night in New York and I was at a loss as to where to go.

Nerdette sat with her back to the sidewalk and I sat facing the other direction enjoying watching the passersby. A tall, light-skinned black man walked by. He first caught my eye because he was remarkably tall. I continued to look because he was so damned familiar. No sign of recognition crossed his face although he had glanced in my direction, and I thought maybe I was mistaken. Suddenly, when he was nearly passed, he came to a dead halt and swung is head around. The corners of his mouth rose into a giant, Cheshire cat grin. He strolled over with that confident gait he had always had pulled up a chair.

“Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world….”

“Treetop! My, how you’ve grown up!” He was just a cute little club kid with purple nail polish and smeared black eyeliner when we first met years ago in a coffee shop in that hour after the bars close.

“Of all the women I knew back then, you were the one I wanted to see again. I always got the feeling that you really liked me, not just the way I looked.” We exchanged phone numbers and promised to get together.

I asked him where we should go that night. He had worked as a bouncer and a go-go dancer. If there was anyone who knew what bars and clubs to hit, it would be Treetop. He looked up at the twilight sky and sighed. “Damn, this city has gotten so expensive. It’s driven out a lot of the more interesting places. Money chokes everything. Young people, to live here they work twenty-four hours a day. It’s not the same.” There was a long pause. “Remember when New York used to be fun?”