HOW THEY DID THE OSCARS 2017

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About half an hour out from the end of the 89th Academy Awards I reflected to myself that this had may be one of the better broadcasts of the past decade. Jimmy Kimmel joins Ellen DeGeneres and Chris Tucker from last year as some of the better hosts in recent times the credit for such an achievement should go towards the producers to some extent who have a big role to play in how the show is structured. Jon Stewart for example had good monologues but his second attempt was poorly paced. Hugh Jackman excelled in an opening musical number a few years back but the rest of his show was in search of such an entertaining moment. Kimmel’s show ran like clockwork (wait for it, I’ll get to that later)and made good choices throughout. Food falling from the ceilings owes its sensibility to Ellen DeGeneres ingeniously getting pizza in for starved actresses in glamourous gowns but it worked, it was funny, showed off the scope of the theatre and gave the show a boisterous atmosphere. Having a tour bus of “regular” people stop by and engage with the stars before being shuffled to the exits took courage and despite some taking it all in their stride and shamelessly requesting selfies worked well. Perhaps because. I would like to note that a week ago I urged the Academy to recall moments from the past and reinvigorate a sense of community and coincidentally that is exactly what they did. Montages of previous speeches for acting awards came up before those awards were presented, there call backs to The Apartment, Bonnie and Clyde. The Bridges of Madison County and Back to the Future were fun. The pay off with a parody of it with Kimmel assessing We Bought a Zoo was worth it too. Jackie Chan also showed up but not to present a long overdue stunt category but to revel in his Honourary Oscar given at the previously held Governor’s Ball. Was all of this a coincidence coming after my blog post in a little corner of the internet? You be the judge.

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Whatever your politics the zingers Kimmel came up with were neat “Remember last year when people complained the Oscars were too racist” and he took aim enough at Hollywood itself that it seemed fair. The running gag of a feud with Matt Damon served him well even if the Mean Tweets Oscar Edition lacked teeth due to a primetime audience and maybe even a fear to not piss off those seated in the theatre too much. It should be worth noting that the first Oscar recipient at the first Academy Awards of President Trump was a Muslim with Mahershali Ali justly rewarded for his great work as Best Supporting Actor in Moonlight. I’m just sayin. Justin Timberlake’s opening outside the auditorium before entering it singing Can’t Stop The Feeling followed by a steadicam and some very talented back up dancers was a great way to take something that has been done many times before but never at the Oscars and make the event seem eventful. Seeing all the A-list actresses get down and boogie, Jessica Biel shimmy proudly with her man having his moment helped me forget that I am not really a fan of the song or Timberlake. I’ll give credit where it’s due, Timberlake did a good job and immediately there was a sense of fun in the air. All of the song performances were on key including a nifty idea for John Legend to perform both Audition and City of Stars in one go. Stone and Gosling presenting the songs lacked their usual chemistry but it feels less like a missed opportunity as just two talented actors leaving the singing and dancing to the professionals. Speaking of professionals, Sting’s appropriately pared back performance of Empty Chair was on key and Auli’I Cravalho didn’t miss a beat as she was knocked by one of the blue parasails while singing How Far I’ll Go. The singer is 17 years old and an incredible talent. On a night of great musical performances the highlight was Sara Bareilles singing Both Sides Now during the In Memoriam section, truly breathtaking.

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The video was well timed to have key quotes spoken during musical interludes allowing Gene Wilder, Mary Tyler Moore and Carrie Fisher the last word. Bill Paxton was mentioned by a visibly moved Jennifer Aniston and no doubt will feature in the montage next year. As a child of the 80s and a genre fan Paxton was always going to have a special place in my heart having been killed by a xenomorph, the Terminator and a Predator. Like Carrie Fisher though he was more than a genre actor, he was an artist with wonderful insight into the nature of storytelling and filmmaking. In a perverse way the Memoriam section is always the most moving piece of the ceremony and the one I look forward to the most. This year was exceptionally well done although sadly the photo of very much alive The Piano producer Jan Chapman was part of the montage when The Piano‘s costume designer the late great Janet Patterson’s name came onscreen.Image result for costume designer janet patterson An excellent piece over at the wonderful film website Dark Horizons suggests that a google search was done to select the photo rather than making contact with her agency or loved ones for one to be put forward. Perhaps a reflection of cutting down on costs or cutting corners in this economy but a mistake that hopefully will remind all involved that if something is worth doing (and honouring your community’s lost artists would be one wouldn’t it?!) then it should be done well. Dwayne Johnson rocked up to represent incredibly popular movie stars of blockbusters that weren’t Oscar nominated (as well as being in Moana) with an abundance of charisma, muscles and good humour. The Hollywood crowd really got into the spirit of things standing up for the White Helmets, NASA hero Katherine Johnson, Meryl Streep, Shirley MacLaine, Michael J. Fox, and cheering loudly when 5 time nominee Amy Adams walked on to the stage. Ironically Kimmel the host got “a sitting ovation” as the audience found their seats after boogieing to Timberlake.

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Of all the winners I’m happy enough with the results, I didn’t have a favourite out of them and clichéd as it is I still believe being an Oscar nominee means something. That being said I was very pleased to see Kevin O’Connell win for Best Sound Mixing. I long suspected Hacksaw Ridge may grab a few tech awards and Arrival winning Best Sound Editing immediately before Best Sound Mixing threw me out of sorts. Suddenly I realised what a worthy nominee Arrival was and that it could win the next award. That is when Kevin O’Connell on the occasion of his 21st Oscar nomination snagged his first Oscar. The icing on the cake was his moving speech acknowledging his mother.

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The night before the Oscars I called my best friend. I predicted like last year there maybe a split between Best Picture and Director, Jenkins would get Best Director and La La Land would get Best Picture. He told me he believed Damien Chazelle would get Best Director and Moonlight would win Best Picture. My friend’s prediction turned out to be wrong for about two minutes and then it became right for all eternity. It all feels silly to react so strongly to this mistake at the Oscars. As such an well oiled machine it seemed impossible that such a thing would occur but in the grand scheme of things you don’t even have to look further than the ceremony itself to see real issues to care about like the work of the White Helmets in the Middle East going into damaged buildings from war to rescue people out of the rubble. A bunch of wealthy movie producers thought they won the greatest award in the film industry and then had to realise that for now they are just Academy Award nominated professionals. Fuck try hiking a mile out of your village just to get clean water. Yet I was caught up in the watercooler moment as much as anyone. Again Dark Horizons has a great piece about most likely what happened. Older presenters sometimes get flustered and lose their spots at award ceremonies, young presenters do too. In hindsight we can all say that Warren Beatty could have easily taken the mike and said something is wrong here we need to check this but in the history of the Oscars how often has the wrong envelope been handed to anybody. In the moment when something goes wrong it is very difficult to react, to see all the angles and know what to do. Once things started happening Warren and Jimmy Kimmel recognised they had a responsibility to react and to speak. They did well. oscars-2017-front.jpgThere’s no doubt that in the confusion of the situation La La Land‘s producer Jordan Horowitz at a moment of great professional disappointment spoke clearly and pointedly about what was going on. Holding up the card to got across to everyone what was happening. If you look though back at the footage he is disrespectful a little to Beatty who was clearly going back to the mike to explain. I’ve heard a couple of good under the bus jokes about Warren handing the envelope to Faye and that’s fine but I would remind people that Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty have done some of the best movies of the past century and respect should be shown at all times to them. Image result for oscars 2017Also the people in the control room of the telecast and working the cameras did magnificent work reacting in real time. Alas Sammy Davis Jr is no longer on hand to run with such moments. The million dollar question for me is who raised the alarm? Did Warren pull somebody over, did the accountants realise the wrong envelope had been given or do the producers of the show actually know the results ahead of time even it has been long reported that nobody knows until the envelopes are opened on the night? This was an unfortunate event, I understand heads will roll at PriceWaterhouseCoopers and AMPAS are unlikely to use them next year if they do use them in the future. There’s a part of me that just recognises that statistically shit happens and another part that recognises that when mistakes are made you have to learn from them. I feel bad for everybody involved even as I recognise there are more important things in the world to feel bad about.

I suspect the Academy will seek out a returning host next year, when something goes wrong you want to rebrand with something familiar (comforting) and respected (who drew good ratings for their telecast) and so therefore I believe Ellen DeGeneres better keep her dance card free this time of year in 2018. That being said I really enjoyed Jimmy Kimmel and I hope that we see him again soon as well as producers Michael De Luca and Jennifer Todd. For me this might have been the best overall Oscar telecast since 2005 and the legacy of it should be more than this one mistake.

-Lloyd Marken

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THE SEVEN AGES OF CLINT EASTWOOD

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first, the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.
Then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honor, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slippered pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

-William Shakespeare

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Hello and welcome to the first edition of The Seven Ages of where we will be discussing Clint Eastwood.

A few things to keep in mind, inspired by Shakespeare’s words I am endeavouring to relate the trajectory of a career and lifetime of an artist through these seven ages. Whether it is where the actor was in their career and where the character was in their life will be the criteria.

I’ll admit it was hard for me to decipher what each age would be about and found the website Quora most helpful to that end. By all means check them out.
Effectively for the purposes of these posts the Seven Ages will refer to these criteria.

  1. Infant – This could be an early role of little note when the actor just got their foot in the door or their first starring role.
  2. Schoolboy – Yearning for freedom and adventure but still reliant on the protection of their elders. Perhaps where the actor shows raw talent or does a terrible film or still works under a more esteemed mentor. If not fresh faced and young then still a relatively new quantity to the audience.
  3. Lover- I think Shakespeare intended this age to reflect lust, hot air and a lack of awareness that comes with youth. For the sake of this I might consider that or just put it down to their most romantic role.
  4. The Soldier – Essentially the age while still relatively young somebody decides on their code and goes out into the world to conquer it and being highly competitive to do it too. For an actor this maybe the moment where they truly define a persona for themselves that will stick. If they’re already a star it might be where they re-invent themselves and perhaps not without controversy.
  5. The Justice – maybe the height of someone’s stardom where they’re aged but established. Powerful even if coasting on their achievements from when they were the age of the soldier. Reflection comes to them too now and with it wisdom.
  6. Pantalone – Now the inevitable decline begins. Still in the world but it is passing them by. For a star who is smart this will often seem them partnered with a new up and comer or Lover or Schoolboy if you will.
  7. Old Age – For most actors this may be a pitiful last appearance which only embarrasses old memories or it may be a performance of a character at this stage of life. At death’s door what will be their parting wisdom, their learned lesson?

This hopefully will be an ongoing series and I fully intend to do Gene Hackman (as soon as I see Night Moves and I Never Sang for My Father, c’mon Netflix Australia!), stars from the Golden Age of Hollywood like Bogie, Hepburn, Tracey, Fonda, Grant and actresses like Sigourney Weaver, Shirley Maclaine and Meryl Streep. I chose Clint Eastwood straight up because there are few films of his that I haven’t seen and I would prefer someone over 70. Please note these seven ages refer to Eastwood and his acting performances. You could do a whole other one of him as director. This is also not a list of his best films or my favourites otherwise Firefox would be in there. If you think other ones will be a better pick for an age feel free to chime in. Do you have a landmark role for each decade Eastwood has been on the big screen? Let’s dig in.

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1. Infant – A Fistful of Dollars (1964)

Early films of no note include Eastwood playing a jet pilot in Tarantula. The TV series Rawhide made Eastwood a star as drover Rowdy Yates. I’ve seen neither. Clint Eastwood the movie star began with the Dollars trilogy and they begin with A Fistful of Dollars. A remake of Yojimbo, Eastwood starred as The Man with No Name (well marketing would have you believe anyway) riding into a border town and using the rivalry between two crime families to his own advantage. An immoral anti-hero, outnumbered, fearless, barely speaking and scowling a lot behind cigar smoke to add to the mystery. When people do impersonations of Eastwood they’re channelling everything he did in this performance. He picked the items for his costume in Beverly Hills before leaving for Europe already an assertive collaborator but Eastwood the man tipped his hat to directors Sergio Leone and Don Siegel later in Unforgiven, he learnt from them and it all started here at the infancy of his career.

Runners Up: Tarantula, Rawhide, The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, Dirty Harry.

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2. Schoolboy – Dirty Harry (1971)

Don Siegel directed Clint Eastwood in four movies, encouraged him in his own aspirations to direct and with Dirty Harry gave him a new kind of iconic role that didn’t involve him riding a horse into town. In Eastwood, Siegel got a star like no other and this was the apex of their collaborations. Before Dirty Harry Eastwood is making the genre rounds after Leone, a cop thriller here, a war movie there and even a musical. Afterwards Eastwood has his second massive hit and starts to control more of his career. As far as characters go there’s nothing childish or self-pitying about Lt Harry Callahan but there is idealism albeit not a very conventional one. Dirty Harry keeps bending the rules because he wants to protect the innocent and stop the criminals. We may not agree with the tearing up of civil rights but he in his own way believes in a better world. Lt Callahan could right the wrongs we couldn’t’, punish the attackers we feared, tell the bureaucrats where to go. Pure fantasy, a movie star persona all the way.

Runners Up: The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, The Beguiled, Coogan’s Bluff, Where Eagles Dare, Paint Your Wagon, Kelly’s Heroes.

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3. Lover- The Bridges of Madison County (1995)

Like all tough guy stars the romantic roles are few and far between for Mr Eastwood even after all these years. He’s explored sexuality for sure often with strong women threatening him in The Beguiled. Tightrope questioning men’s lesser base natures and conversely the need to protect their women. Close to two decades before Fatal Attraction came out, Eastwood himself made a film about a one night stand gone awry in Play Misty for Me. Clint shared warm chemistry with a dozen female co-stars not the least of which was real life love Sondra Locke.

Yet when I think romance and Clint Eastwood I think about that old man standing in the rain at a service station smiling. Clint was 65 in that film, fans of the book probably would have had him as their last choice to play photographer Robert Kincaid but he’s perfect in it. Robert is on assignment in rural Iowa to photograph some bridges and strikes up a relationship with housewife Francesca Johnson (Meryl Streep) while her family is away. Passionate and tender like he’d never allowed himself to be on screen before. Streep famously related a story where he turned away from the camera in one scene. “No they can’t see the tear.” He said of his audience and yet we know it’s there and we’re right there with him.

Runners Up: Play Misty for Me, The Beguiled, Heartbreak Ridge, Tightrope.

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4. The Soldier – The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976)

You could argue the Dollar films were Eastwood establishing himself or Dirty Harry or High Plains Drifter. There is one film though that I think shows Eastwood as a full entity in his own right with still white hot ambition. In a career of great films and great performances The Outlaw Josey Wales might be it. Eastwood still plays him as a superman able to outdraw 3 men at once, fearless again with a mean streak of humour but maturity is creeping in. The story goes that Wales is a simple farmer who loses his family and fights in the border clashes of the U.S. Civil War. While an invincible superman the realities of war and loss surround him and the family he mourns come to be replaced by another forcing Wales to admit on some level he is still capable of love and vulnerability. It’s interesting to note that Wales cannot win the day without said family. Eastwood is pushing his boundaries here and one could argue he never made a better film than this. Coincidentally Wales the character is a soldier of a sort.

Runners Up: Dirty Harry, The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, Play Misty for Me, High Plains Drifter, Heartbreak Ridge.

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5. The Justice – Honkytonk Man (1982)

The biggest movie star in America for many years Eastwood always had a great grasp of his star persona and long before Unforgiven he would like to play different takes on it. Bronco Billy’s cowboy was shoe salesman case in point, Sudden Impact put Harry Callahan in the position of bringing a rape victim to justice. In Thunderbolt and Lightfoot Eastwood played well a worn down bank robber given a new leash of life from Jeff Bridges. In Heartbreak Ridge at the height of Rambomania he made a service comedy that got the danger of combat and tasked his ultra-macho Marine with finding a better way to express his love for a woman as retirement loomed. You don’t need Grenada in that movie, he’s not teaching his platoon to win wars he’s teaching them to be good men. Anybody who’s been through military training will understand the power of that.

Yet what was the most personal film he ever made at the height of his star power? During the Great Depression Eastwood as a boy drove around with his family as they looked for work. In adapting Clancy Carlile’s novel Honkytonk Man Eastwood shows us a similar time and journey, telling us the story of Whit ‘Hoss’ Stovall accompanying his Uncle Red during the Great Depression as Red, a singer, attempts to make it to the Grand Ole Opry. Eastwood sings in the movie and there are plenty of slapstick adventures along the way kind of like a boy’s own adventure. Kyle Eastwood (coached a little by Locke) acts damn well opposite his father projecting wide eyed naiveté and worldliness about how imperfect his Uncle is. A scene late at night in the car involves one of those late night drive conversations you might have with an elder and how many regrets and lost loves will stick with you down through the years. Eastwood felt no need to apologise for this film in any way, there’s no real action or bell and whistles. It’s a character piece and maybe Clint Eastwood’s best performance as a man….just a man like the rest of us with hopes, dreams, frailties and Marys we could have done more right by.

Runners Up: The Dead Pool, Sudden Impact, Unforgiven, In the Line of Fire, Heartbreak Ridge, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, White Hunter Black Heart, Pale Rider.

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6. Pantalone – In the Line of Fire (1993)

Eastwood segued nicely into playing older men with reduced abilities happy to share the spotlight with younger co-stars or make fun of the cop genre Callaghan spawned. In Unforgiven he took everything he knew about his persona and the Western and turned them on their head. Showing a gunslinger in reduced ability that may have only ever had it because he was fearless when drunk. Yet it is a treatise on his career and more impressive for his directing than his acting. For me In the Line of Fire is the performance I’m more drawn to for this age. Eastwood saves the day in his first scene every bit the movie star persona as Secret Service Agent Frank Horrigan. Soon though we see that façade fall, the criminal he is trying to stop played by John Malkovich outwits him at every turn and is always one step ahead of him. Horrigan never proves smarter than his antagonist throughout the whole film. In a few moments Eastwood even shows Horrigan clearly afraid of him and afraid of death. It makes the Agent’s choices in the finale that much more powerful. Physically Eastwood who has always kept himself in good shape allows himself here to be seen old, napping, sweating and lonely in his little old apartment even as he tries to talk like a man on the make with a woman half his age in fellow agent Lilly Raines played by Rene Russo. He doesn’t even get to win arguments against bureaucrats anymore. Yet Eastwood the star is more compelling with his vulnerabilities not in spite of them and when the time comes to squint those eyes and shoot straight you better not bet against Clint!

Runners Up: Unforgiven, Absolute Power, True Crime, Bloodwork, The Rookie, Million Dollar Baby, Honytonk Man, Bronco Billy, Space Cowboys.

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7. Old Age – Gran Torino (2008)

Million Dollar Baby haunts like few films can. Easily one of Eastwood’s best in the past year and with a character in Eastwood who is full of regrets and seldom few things to look forward to but if there is a message about life it is given by Hilary’s Swank’s Maggie and Eastwood as director. For a last great performance from a man who is facing death, lost a great deal and imparts one final wisdom then it is the character of Walt Kowalski. A Korean War veteran, retired auto factory worker and widow Walt is quickly becoming isolationist in his demeanour and circumstances. The neighbourhood he lives in has changed, the values he was raised on have been left behind, the family he provided for have no time for his harsh words and stern judgement. Then he is forced into action to protect others and finds himself re-engaged in the world, he finds purpose again and community and with it vulnerability. If Eastwood was afraid to show his tears a decade earlier in Madison Country here he goes for it and after a lifetime of playing violent avengers Walt finds a new way to stop the cycle continuing to spin that requires more courage than raising a gun.

Runners Up: Million Dollar Baby, The Trouble with the Curve, Pink Cadillac.

Well feel free to let me know what your picks would have been in the comments below and thanks for reading.

-Lloyd Marken

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