Saturday, March 3, 2018

Howard ranks the Oscar nominees

I've been doing this for a number of years, ranking the Best Picture Oscar nominees from my own twisted point-of-view, and this year I found myself longing for the days when there were only five nominated pictures instead of nine.  For one thing, this hasn't been a normal year for me, so I had to sort of binge-watch as the Academy Awards got close.  Beyond that, though, I just didn't think there were nine films worthy of being nominated for the Best Picture of 2017.  Argue with me if you wish!

But the program is tomorrow (Sunday) night, and tradition rules my life – so here we go. My favorite to least-favorite:

  1. 1.  THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI.  Of course you knew that I would love this movie!  It has an offbeat and compelling story, amazing characters, and, most of all, Frances McDormand!  There were a few unanswered questions – like, why didn't the doofus deputy (named Dixon!) get prosecuted for throwing the ad dude out the window?  And why wasn't it a bigger deal that the police department was bombed?  It is unlikely that this great film will win Best Picture – note that the director was not nominated for Best Director (But should have been!). 
  1. 2.  THE SHAPE OF WATER.  This is a silly idea for a story – a cleaning lady falling for an overgrown reptile --  but it's really a terrific movie!  It feels like a cinematic achievement of some sort while still being a film you want to talk about afterwards with your friends.  I wanted to see it a second time but ran out of days! 
  1. 3.  LADY BIRD.  How could anybody not like this movie?  It's a high-school coming-of-age sort of movie that has exceptional dialogue, especially the banter between Lady Bird (Saoirse Ronan) and her mom, played perfectly by Laurie Metcalf.
  2. 4.  THE DARKEST HOUR.  London, 1940, Winston Churchill (played by Gary Oldman) becomes Prime Minister, and the country is faced with dreadful decisions in dealing with Hitler.  I'm not sure why this was "the darkest hour" compared with bombings yet to come, but whatever.  My favorite scene was when Churchill took the Underground to talk to real Londoners.
  1. 5.  THE POST.  This true story – behind the scenes at the Washington Post during the Pentagon Papers drama – is obviously aimed at viewers like me who lived through the Vietnam era and knew who Robert McNamara, Daniel Ellsberg, and maybe even Richard Nixon were -- No explanations for younger, history-unconscious audiences.  Meryl Streep becomes Katherine Graham.  Tom Hanks is always Tom Hanks. 
  1. 6.  GET OUT.  This is a weird horror-movie mix of Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, Stepford Wives, and Rosemary's Baby (three films, all of which I liked better than this one).  I just disliked the whole nasty premise of the story.  I did like Allison Williams (from the HBO series, Girls) as the evil temptress.  This could win Best Picture, but I hope not. 
  1. 7.  CALL ME BY YOUR NAME.  Oh please, how desperate are we for Best Picture nominees?  This film, set in photogenic Italy, has some beautiful moments, but, to me, there is zero onscreen chemistry between the two main characters, and I just couldn't buy into any of it. 
  1. 8.  DUNKIRK.  If the purpose of the makers of this film was to make a bunch of impressive-looking battle scenes and make you feel the personal tension for those in battle, they succeeded.  If their purpose was to tell history-ignorant American audiences the amazing, inspiring story of the Dunkirk rescue in 1940, they failed miserably. Even The Darkest Hour explained the significance of Dunkirk better.
  1. 9.  PHANTOM THREAD.  OMG, this movie seemed to go on interminably.  Daniel Day-Lewis occasionally makes it almost palatable but not quite.  He says this is his last film.  I hope it isn't.

  2. Some of my preferences in other categories (although -- full disclosure -- I didn't see a few of the nominated performances):

  3. BEST ACTOR:  It's no contest.  Gary Oldman for his portrayal of Churchill in The Darkest Hour.
  4. BEST ACTRESS:  Of course!  Frances McDormand for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri!
  5. BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR:  Sam Rockford, playing "Dixon" in Three Billboards.
  6. BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS:  Laurie Metcalf for Lady Bird.
  7. BEST DIRECTOR:  Guillermo del Toro for Shape of Water.

  8. That's it for now.  Be sure to watch the program tomorrow night so that I have somebody that I can gripe about it to.  Thanks!

Friday, January 19, 2018

just a stranger in a strange land

This time of year, I get a kick out of friends who have transplanted to Florida and feel the need to taunt those of us in chillier states about the “paradise” in which they live.  They temporarily forget that they also live in the state with the worst drivers and the most miserable summers (I almost added “and little Marco Rubio” but decided to keep this post non-political).

Being a transplant myself, having lived in Minnesota – land of tater-tot hotdish and icehouses and SuperAmerica – longer than I lived in my native southern New Jersey – land of cheesesteaks and the Jersey Shore and Wawa -- I hope that most transplants find ways to stay loyal to their roots…

… which somehow this week brings me to the topic of football.

Growing up in the shadow of Philadelphia, the natural tendency is to be a Philadelphia Eagles fan, although there are some bizarre exceptions to that rule (Think: goofballs such as Cowboy-loving Chris Christie).  Living in Minnesota and surrounded by a sea of purple, it’s not hard to become a Minnesota Vikings fan, and the Vikings became my #2 team when Minnesota became my adopted home.  Jerry and I had Vikings season tickets for a number of years, and I would enthusiastically cheer for them unless they were playing the Eagles, in which case I’d wear my Eagles gear to that game, of course…

… which brings me to this weekend’s game between the Eagles and the Vikings, the NFC Championship Game.

One team will go home after the game and the other will go on to the SuperBowl here in Minneapolis in two weeks.  In a way, it will be a win-win and also a lose-lose for me, however it turns out.

Without question, I’m 100% for the E-A-G-L-E-S!  Let me say this, though. The stereotype “Minnesota nice” has the reputation of being a thin-layered fake niceness, but I have found deep friendships here with a lot of wonderful people, and, if the unthinkable happens and the Vikings somehow win, my consolation prize will be seeing all those smiles around me.  And somebody has to go beat the dreaded Patriots.

Enjoy the game.  Personally, I’ll be a wreck.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

at the end of the storm there's a golden sky

Life is fragile, life is brief, our stay is unpredictable....
You see, I met Jerry nineteen years ago tonight... New Year's Eve 1998.  Little did I know then that he would become my life partner, that we would have 18 beautiful years together, or that one day -- 9/9/17, to be precise – I would be holding his hands as his sweet, loving heart would beat for the final time.
Until that last day of 1998, I had always found New Year's Eve to be a sad holiday, not a reason to celebrate.  It was like, here we go, another year shot to hell.  But after that it became an anniversary – the beginning of our life together – and something worth celebrating.
Now here I am at New Year's Eve 2017 and feel some awkward relief that this dreadful year of 2017, a year of illness and death and heartbreak, will be nevermore.  The saga of the year 2018 isn't written yet, but I feel compelled to have hope in my heart that not all future years will be as dark, for me at least, as this one has been.
Life is fragile, life is brief, our stay is unpredictable.... As the New Year begins, hug everyone you love.  Hug everyone you even like.  None of this is forever, but pieces of the temporary can be so beautiful.
Happy New Year.
On a lighter note:  One of my old blog posts, remembering what happened on the first "anniversary" that Jerry and I had, 12/31/99, Y2K Eve -- a story that only could have happened to Jerry --
and a follow-up --
And a postscript:  Several years later, Jerry and I flew to Cologne, Germany for Jana's wedding, where we were known to the other guests as "the note in the bottle guys".  These wonderful folks will be friends forever.  Life sometimes redeems itself unexpectedly.  Watch for it.