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A Dramatic End to the Cinematic Award Season


End of the month and end of this awards season. The Oscars and Indie Spirit Awards consumed cinematic consciousness — all dovetailing into last weekend’s monumental fuck-up for the ages. During the Feb. 26th ceremony on ABC, actors Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, who were set to present the Best Picture category, were accidentally given the wrong envelope — it was a duplicate of the one listing Emma Stone as Best Actress for the musical “La La Land” rather than the one for “Moonlight” as Best Picture. A confused Warren passed it on to Faye, who announced “LaLa Land” as the winner. 

Wrong! While the gaggle of producers, cast and creators of the film started their thanks, an Academy person hustled onto the stage to say, “Oops, it was really ‘Moonlight.’”

Certainly it wasn’t planned this way but it offered a sort of a philosophical/metaphorical twist to a contest that pitted a small film hitting several bugaboos with a bigger film which also addressed some bugaboos. But in this case the politically-charged progressive challenger won — against the odds.

Maybe it wasn’t quite the surprise that the presidential election turned out to be but it certainly packed a wallop. It will certainly mean that the accounting firm PwC partner Brian Cullinan and his associate will never get backstage at the Oscars ever again. And it will make this year’s low ratings not so insufferable because everybody’s has now been talking Oscars afterwards.

Youthful director Damien Chazelle’s “LaLa Land” had gotten enough props winning various awards and landing on about 20 Best Of critics’ group lists. But it just wasn’t that good a musical, let alone that great a film. 

Okay, so the darn song “City of Stars” did stick in my head — and frankly did deserve its win for Best Song — but dammit, actors Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone didn’t rock my world, and just weren’t that great as dancers or singers. As the end-all and be-all of films this year, it’s a sad statement as the one getting all those accolades. Nonetheless, Chazelle got his directing win and so did Emma Stone for Best Actress (and okay, neither of those scores being so annoying).

Though “LaLa Land” is a nice movie with a treacly storyline saved by an unexpected ending, it does more damage than good by being a perfect anesthetic in this age of Trump. It’s a conservatively-styled film that does what it does safely. So very vanilla. More importantly, it didn’t make me feel any sorrow for these silly white people as they have their faux drama about trying to make their art “authentically” — especially when it came to Gosling’s character as jazz’s true savior versus John Legend’s pop music, C’mon. There was nothing authentic about this and their paucity of singing and dancing skills made the inauthenticity even more telling.

Having now dismissed that film for getting so much attention — I might have been less severe had it not gotten such inordinate praise — this Oscar season was so important for the films up there that did matter. Take for example, “Moonlight.” As ghetto gangs get demonized ever more by Trumpian tirades, this film humanizes and, even moreso, details the depth of the complex, emotional lives of the inhabitants of one such ghettoized housing project in Miami, Florida. Telling it through a tryptich of young Chiron’s coming of age — as both a gang survivor and gay man on the down low — Barry Jenkins’s film of the play “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue” by Tarell Alvin McCraney decidedly deserved its win for Best Adapted Screenplay as well.

Moonlight” was the Indie Spirit Awards’ big scorer Saturday, and pulled in Oscar wins as well with Mahershala Ali taking home the award for Best Supporting Actor. But its biggest win is that it joined a raft of films which not only broke the color barrier but did so solely on merit. “Hidden Figures,” “Fences,” and even “Lion” told real tales of people with mixed ethnicities as if to point them out even moreso at a time when insightful or inspiring stories counterbalance dark political jabs.

What’s incredible about the doc picks is that three of them — “O. J. : Made in America,” “13th” and “I Am Not Your Negro” — are profound political indictments about how mainstream America has treated its people of color; and “Weiner” is an indictment of celebrity culture and politics; only “Gleason” is a simply life-affirming film.

And even in the Short Docs category — including winner “White Helmets” — addressed the crisis in Syria like never before.

So this proves that people out there looking at screens, either in the theaters or in their hands, can still find that most of this year’s award choices offer some truly interesting and satisfying stuff.

A Documentary that looks at the Spiritual Effects of Trump-ism

“I simply awoke one morning and asked myself, ‘What does God think of Donald Trump?’” declared  director Martin Dunkerton. “It was such a powerful and amazing question, yet I didn’t know the answer. So decided I’d try to find out the answer in my own particular way.”

dunkertonWell, of the many documentaries that have been spewed out thanks to this arduous and contentious election season possibly the most off beat — even wacky — is director Dunkerton’s God vs. Trump - Only Love Wins. In order to find out some kind of answer he decided to turn to a very unique constituency — various spitualist and mystics that he knew or knew people he knew. “I love meeting amazing psychics, and I thought they’d be a brilliant source of discovery.”

Riffing off the disruptive even disputatious campaign driven by rich businessman Donald Trump — an outlier in comparison to Hillary Clinton's more traditional politician persona — spurred this former BBC doc director to knock out a set of interviews with several people he could easily approach and get enough answers that could comprise a taut but intriguing movie.

“The psychics and spiritual leaders in the movie were often friends of friends. I gave a room in my house to an Australian singer called Ryan Whitewall last summer who led me to Iolani Grace, The Heart Alchemist in Australia, who in turn led me to the Aboriginal voice of Jingki, an award-winning visionary singer — and a tough cookie. Jingki has read law and is viscerally powerful on camera. People love her and her views on Trump... and American politics.”

Urgency was the order of the day. In order to rush out this hard-traveled set of interviews Englishman Dunkerton had get going to destinations from one end of the globe to another.

As he explained “My father died on August 17, and I heard about it less than an hour after my first psychic interview. The movie took a U-turn to England, where upon I met another psychic in GlastonburySarah— who gave more than brilliant powerful insights into Trump. From the UK, I leapfrogged to Iceland, which was a total surprise.”

godHowever it is skewed with Dunkerton’s core feel-good philosophy, this film is clearly a critique of Trumpism’s negative versus God’s positives.

“Trump wields words of fear, and this has attracted millions. Yet, people want to be healed and loving, so it seems like a conundrum. Underneath everyone is so desperate for change. The USA quite obviously is ready and requires an overhaul; sadly ‘people’ are clearly desperate, which offers an opening for such an allegedly misogynistic, xenophobic man like Trump. It’s tragic he is so close to power.”

For this 40-something director, the film was rushed out to debut November 3rd so audiences could add his spiritual take away for voters to consider -- either before the election or in the wake of its results. “We are powerful beings. We hold the spiritual keys of grace and love in our own hearts. These politics are of our own making. Trump is a mirror to our soul, sort of like a Darth Vader as was in Star Wars. The film shows that in the end if God vs Trump, then Only Love Wins."

God vs. Trump - Only Love Wins is available for purchase or rent on Thursday 11/3 at:

Social Links:
Instagram @GODvsTRUMP
Twitter @GODvsTRUMP


Oscar Race 2016 — The Key Categories

Once again the lack of diversity in the Oscar race grabs headlines from really important things — for example, what gowns the stars will wear — but here’s my take on who should win accolades and even a golden statute or two.

Instead of engaging in what really should be my best choices — so many of mine didn’t even make the short lists — I’ll just look at the nominees and address what I’d like to see happen on Oscar night.

There are some omissions on my part; sadly I haven’t seen The Big Short and Creed, or 45 Years yet.

Still I’ll tackle the biggie first: The Best Picture award. I don’t get this — they have room for 10 films so why didn’t they add two others they were entitled to add. It might have deflected the whole diversity conversation. I would have preferred Carol or Beasts of No Nation be on that august list.

Danny-boyle-directorAcademy members feel Spielberg can do no wrong; his films usually get into the running. But Bridge of Spies is not top flight Steven S. The Tom Hanks helmed spy thriller makes for serviceable drama and tells of an interesting chapter in the history of the Cold War.

Of the batch,  Spotlight and the scifi-oriented The Martian are best constructed. Their storytelling and pacing fulfill and both offer intriguing tales that unravels with twists and turns that may be expected but unfold predictably.

The one-word-titled Room and Brooklyn are female-centric films deserving accolades and nominations. Both offer looks into worlds we never want or can’t experience and do it in convincing and compassionate ways, aided by sterling performances by their female leads (both of whom have been nominated for Best Actress).

Nonetheless, Mad Max: Fury Road and The Revenant lay down the tough dramatic challenges with grit. But given director George Miller’s long rep (as the creator of the Mad Max/Road Warrior saga) and his unlikely chance of making it on this list again, I'd throw to him the award for either the Best Picture or Best Director. Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu’s The Revenant is equally powerful — lead Leo DiCaprio is tested in many ways throughout and equits himself throughout — but since it he’s likely to win Best Actor, the to picture and director awards should land elsewhere.

There’s a further caveat: Miller was also nominated for best director so he could take that award; Best Picture could then go to veteran Ridley Scott for the Martian — easily one of the year’s best films. And since Scott wasn’t recognized by his peers for best director — where he should have been acknowledged — the statue deserves to be in his hands one way or another.

kurt-jenSadly Tom Hooper’s The Danish Girl and Todd Haynes’ Carol, should have been on this Best of 2015 list — and would have helped eliminate the Oscars’ diversity gap. And for unfathomable reasons, Beasts of No Nation also escaped this august acknowledgement (as did Creed and Concussion).

Which brings us to the Directing Nominees. Adam McKay’s The Big Short notwithstanding, I’ve already acknowledged the others choices — Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road, Iñárritu’s The Revenant, Lenny Abrahamson’s Room and Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight. In an ideal world, the award would be split between several of these directors, but I would lean towards Spotlight, if Miller doesn’t get the big paperweight on February 28th.

S-Ronan brooklynNext are the key actor nominations. The two biggies — Best and Best supporting — really should be two non-sex specific 10 person categories called nominees for Actor in a Leading Role but this isn’t an ideal world where gender, sexual preference and ethnicity is only incidentally an element of a person or the character they play.

So, that a'int where we’re at.

Back to the five facing a win on that Sunday in February. The Best of Actor crew includes Trumbo’s Bryan Cranston as Dalton Trumbo; The Martian’s Matt Damon as Mark Watney; The Revenant’s Leonardo DiCaprio as Hugh Glass; Steve JobsMichael Fassbender as Jobs and The Danish Girl’s Eddie Redmayne as pioneering transexual Einar Wegener/lili Elbe.

And since I’m tired of British actors seizing jobs that A-list American actors could handle, I’m inclined towards Cranston for his uncanny transformation (or for the matter of transformation, Will Smith in Concussion). But if it goes to DiCaprio — as is expected — I won’t be disappointed; the trials his character endures tax the best of actors and audiences, and Leo lives to smile about it.

For actor in a supporting role, the contenders list includes: Christian Bale as Michael Burry in The Big Short; Tom Hardy as John Fitzgerald in The Revenant; Mark Ruffalo as Michael Rezendes in Spotlight; Mark Rylance as Abel Rudolph in Bridge of Spies; Sylvester Stallone as Rocky in Creed. I’m weakest in this category not knowing Creed or The Big Short, but the general money is on Stallone and mine is on Hardy for disappearing into his character. Nonetheless, Ruffalo is equally deserving for being the moral center of a film that profoundly questions conventional judgements.

alicia-vIn the best lead actress category, there’s Brie Larson as Joy "Ma" Newsome in Room; Saoirse Ronan as Eilis in Brooklyn; Cate Blanchett as Carol Aird in Carol; Jennifer Lawrence as Joy Mangano in Joy and Charlotte Rampling as Kate Mercer in 45 Years.

What a conundrum — to give it to Rampling for one of her finest roles or Ronan for her sensitive portrayal? Bets are on for Larson to win for her portrayal of a rape/kidnapping survivor — which she does handle with aplomb.

Winding down to the final key category, best supporting actress. From Rooney Mara as Therese Belivet in Carol to Rachel McAdams as Sacha Pfeiffer in Spotlight; Kate Winslet as Joanna Hoffman in Steve Jobs; or Jennifer Jason Leigh as Daisy Domergue in The Hateful Eight.

But the accolade really should go to Alicia Vikander who plays the all-suffering wife Gerda Wegener in The Danish Girl (though some cognoscenti felt her nom should have been for Ex-Machina). She’s been this year’s it-person and getting an Oscar would be her just reward for all the work.

Art Basel 2015 Champagne Cigars Cars and Cray Crays

As the sun sets on Art Basel 2015, we reflect on yet anotherart/party saturated week in the magic city. The opening press conference featured  Miami Beach mayor/cheerleader Phil Levine touting a gargantuan Convention Center renovation, an 800 room hotel project as well as retail and park space costing a whopping $615 million. The best part according to the mayor is that no tax money will be used as the whole shebang will be privately funded. No wonder they compare Mayor Levine to NYCs  Mike Bloomberg.

20151202 113807Per usual members of the press got sloshed at 10 AM on champagne and martinis while we prepared to witness the running of the VIPs as they swooped into the hall  for first dibs on Warhols, Basquiats, Picassos  et al.  The usual sponsors including UBS, BMW, Davidoff Cigars, Audemars Piguet watches, and Ruinart champagne made their less than subtle pitches to the assembled hungry collectors. We walked the floor and noticed the cleverly disguised Leo DiCaprio (in pulled down baseball cap and shades, snotty publicist in tow) avoiding the gaze ofartfocused VIPs who really didn't give a shit about the camera shy star.

The evening began at the new 1 Hotel on Collins where Architectural Digest commissioned five artists  to create outdoor installations on the property's sprawling beachfront. Hosted by AD editor Margaret Russell, the installation titled "Refuge" was co-hosted by Richard LeFrak and Barry Sternlicht who were behind the hotel's fantastic makeover. Tommy Hilfiger and his much younger hottie wife Dee were in attendance.

20151206 16013120151202 114320After flaming out at the door of Mr. Chows for the Larry Gagosian's dinner party, we hobbled over to the Delano Hotel for the Dejour Magazine fete. Greeted warmly by our favorite bar mitzvah boy Jason Binn, we spied cover girl Hilary Swank as well as Adrien Brody, Nan Bush and Bruce Weber. The amenities were less lavish than in previous years with chicken salad replacing lobster and persecco where once champagne flowed.It's tough times in the aspirational magazine biz. Time to head home.

The following evening we were hosted by BMW at the Miami Botanical Gardens. The German car giant was hosting a celebration of theArtJourney to honor emerging artists and demonstrate their commitment and support of Art Basel. Ironically not many working artists drive Bmers. Nonetheless we enjoyed their hospitality.

20151202 115236Next it was off to billionaire moving man Moishe Mana's birthday bash at his Wynwood district warehouse gallery. We arrived with the fire marshals who were hassling this over subscribed klusterfuk. After gaining difficult entry to what was a promotion for a club kid app called Inlist, we quickly realized that we wanted no part of the ugly  club scene. In previous years, there had been interesting large formatart. This year just nightclub stupidity. Home, James.

The next day dawned with tropical downpours. Our friend Shari in Palm Beach shared an invitation to a lovely event at a villa on Venetian Island hosted by Murano Glass and the United Wines of Veneto. The jewel box house was filled with whimsicalart  glass creations and wonderful Venetian wines were poured.

20151202 115823We were summoned by a pal to a party thrown by Ocean Drive Magazine at the former home of steroidal Yankee A-Rod in the toney mid beach neighborhood. Formerly brainwashed scientologist Katy Holmes was the cover girl. We were denied access by an over zealous iPad wielding door girl who found our journalistic posse threatening. Oh well...

The rains continued next day so we passed on the over done Sagamore Hotel brunch and opted instead to visit the Design Miami exhibition which featured lots of cool Italian furniture as well as state of theartjewelry that exceded our budget. Perrier Jouet champagne in the VIP lounge provided a nice break from the ubiquitous Ruinart bubbly.

Art Basel Miami2015 was bigger and arguably better than previous years as we have become more selective in our jaded ramblings. There was even a thankfully non-fatal stabbing Chinese girl cat fight on the Convention Center floor that was mistaken for performanceart. Guess it's time to head back to Gotham for the holidays.

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