73rd Tony Awards Predictions
Ah yes, the annual “come see our shows” show for the Great White Way.
This year showed a massive improvement from last year in terms of quality in both the play and musical scene.
That’s right, both the play and musicals this season have been astoundingly impressive. Initially it was though that only the plays were going to stand out this year, with the likes of To Kill a Mockingbird, Network, The Ferryman, Choir Boy, The Waverly Gallery, Gary, and What the Constitution Means to Me all having standout spots on Broadway this year, many of which either announced or premiered in 2018.
But the musicals, never to be counted out, had a serious charge in the spring. Shows like Ain’t Too Proud, Beetlejuice, Tootsie, Hadestown, Oklahoma!, and even The Prom, which still continues to stay strong despite the onslaught of shows opening after it.
The performances were strong as well. Movie stars and veteran stage actors alike gave fantastic performances. Bryan Cranston, Jeff Daniels and Adam Driver, along with Paddy Considine and the incomparable Jeremy Pope highlight the Best Actor in a Play category, while the women have SIX nominees, including the likes of Laurie Metcalf (who we’ve never seen before), Janet McTeer, Elaine May (at the age of 87), and Annette Bening.
On the musical side, we saw spectacular musical performances this year… and dare I say there were too many to count?
The entire cast of Hadestown, including Eva Noblezada, Andre De Shields, Amber Gray, and Patrick Page.
The cast of The Prom: Caitlin Kinnunen, Beth Leavel, and Brooks Ashmanskas- even with fabulous supporting performances from Christopher Sieber, Angie Schworer and Michael Potts.
Careers could be made this year. Santino Fontana in Tootsie. Stephanie J. Block in The Cher Show. Ali Stroker in Oklahoma!. Ephraim Sykes in Ain’t Too Proud.
There were even performances from this year that didn’t get nominated (although why, I’m not sure). Bonnie Milligan in Head Over Heels stands out. Stephanie Styles in Kiss Me Kate does too. Tracy Letts in All My Sons. And countless more.
This was a really good year for Broadway, all things considered. And since the Tony Awards are on Sunday, let’s take a look at who’s walking home with those shiny little spinner things.
For the first time in quite a while, we have a very likeable group of Best Musical nominees that I would be happy if any of them won.
Hadestown is the clear favorite, which means it’s Rachel Chavkin and Anaïs Mitchell’s New Orleans jazz/Greek tragedy fusion piece to lose. The show really is that good, and it’s worth every dollar (and trust me, some of these tickets may cost you every dollar you have) to see. Hadestown features an eclectic cast of actors including the Amber Gray, Patrick Page, Andre De Shields, Eva Noblezada, and Reeve Carney. The score is this really interesting jazz/folk/songwriter blend, with songs that you can actually (gasp) walk away singing? What a concept. And then there’s the stagecraft- absolutely brilliant lights, sound, costumes and set reminiscent of Rachel Chavkin’s previous endeavor, Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812. And despite it being a story everyone knows (Orpheus and Eurydice), it still holds up as a brilliant retelling of an old classic, with twists and turns that still hit home. It’s the favorite for a reason, and I certainly thought the same when I saw it.
And then I saw The Prom.
As a preface, it is very difficult for me to cry while watching live theatre. So much has to go right, and if something ruins it for you (like a hearing aid going off throughout the entire second act of Hadestown), you feel like your money was wasted a little bit, and it’s unlikely you’ll be able to dish out another hefty sum of money to see something again. The show really has to take you to another place. It wasn’t until I saw Waitress with Sara Bareilles that I experienced such a thing.
So when I was a hot mess at the end of The Prom, even though I was sitting in the balcony, that showed me that I was seeing something special.
I went on a journey seeing this show. I went from really not being into it for the first 15 minutes or so, to the show literally sitting me down and saying “HEY. This is the reason why we go to the theatre. Give your critical eye a rest for two goddamn seconds and have FUN.” The twists. The turns. The emotions. The TEARS. What I see in this show is so much love, so much joy, so much “love is a good thing that we should be celebrating.” I see a lot of Head Over Heels in The Prom (it’s just done a lot better, sorry, Hudson family). I truly wanted to live in that world when I was watching it. And, funny enough, it has the fewest nominations of any of the Best Musical nominees (7).
The Prom is the right story for Tony voters to select it as Best Musical.
The other shows in this category are also formidable; props to the Wing for getting this category correct. Ain’t Too Proud has 12 Tony nominations, Tootsie, 11. Beetlejuice has 8. These shows are not here by accident.
I tend to overanalyze these things based on what the best-looking scenario is on paper. So, I’m going with my gut. Hadestown is not the next Hamilton (nor is it close), but it’s sure blowing up like it’s the next Evan Hansen, and that’s good enough for me. But trust me- Hadestown isn't going to run away with these awards like many thought it would.
And if there’s some kind of shocking twist, you can bet The Prom will best next in line for the crown.
Will win: Hadestown
Should win: Dare I say… The Prom?
Could win: Tootsie
The biggest shock to this category was the exclusion of both To Kill a Mockingbird and Network, two plays that many surely considered locks, and potentially even contenders to win. But since those two are out, we have to deal with what we’re left with, which leaves the race pretty much wide open. One of the current favorites has to be Heidi Schreck’s What the Constitution Means to Me, which earned itself a nomination for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. I think based on what the Tony Awards are, which is an enormous advertisement for Broadway so that tourists will come to New York and keep it afloat, giving Constitution the win seems like the obvious move. It’s political. It’s emotional. It’s timely. It is yet another “fuck you” from the theatre community to the American political machine. Which is why I think it would be an easy, relatable, safe choice to make. I’m not knocking What the Constitution Means to Me, but the praise that has been heaped on it and its Pulitzer Prize nomination signal that everyone’s riding that wave right into the Tony Awards.
But in my opinion, the Best Play of this category (and of this year) was The Ferryman. Despite changing casts midway through the run, it earned tremendous praise, including a Critic’s Pick from The New York Times. And just when I thought it had run out of momentum and Constitution was a lock to win, Ferryman picked up Best Play awards at the Drama Desk, Outer Critics’ Circle, and Drama League Awards, defeating Constitution at all three turns.
I’ve gone back and forth with this selection. Initially, and for the longest period of time, I had Heidi Schreck and Constitution pulling the upset. But now I’m going with my gut. Ferryman forever.
What time is it?
Will and should win: The Ferryman
Could win: What the Constitution Means to Me
Best Revival of a Musical
Two extremely traditional shows received revamps this year. One of them was your typical, run-of-the-mill-revival- a squeaky-clean, Roundabout Theatre Company-subscriber-friendly remounting. The other was a complete re-imagining of an American classic, stripped down from its big Broadway roots of the 1930s and rebuilt “for the 21st century” in a small, intimate environment. The question is: which show will resonate with Tony voters more? I think because it tried to go to such great lengths, and to have a lot of it work, Oklahoma! will stand out further than Kiss Me, Kate will.
Will win: Oklahoma!
Could win: Kiss Me, Kate
Best Revival of a Play
This category is tough, because only two of the shows nominated are currently running. The other three were all early season shows that closed either before or shortly after January 2019. Of those two that are still running, Burn This is the better production (and I’m not just saying that because I work there- I work at Roundabout too, and I’ve seen All My Sons), but it all depends on which show resonates with voters more, or which ones the Wing chooses to remember the fondest. The Waverly Gallery has Elaine May and a Kenneth Lonergan nomination from last year going for it. Torch Song closed early, but garnered favorable reviews. The Boys in the Band was the first show to open in the 2018-19 season, but thanks to Ryan Murphy, will be getting a Netflix special made from it, reminding voters that it exists. I think, of the major production awards, this one is shrouded in the most mystery. Early on, The Waverly Gallery was the favorite, and I think that remains true heading into June. But don’t be surprised if The Boys in the Band or Burn This pull the upset.
Will win: The Waverly Gallery
Could win: The Boys in the Band or Burn This
Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical
Five men, five vastly different stories. There’s been some controversy surrounding Tootsie, but if I could stick my nose where it might not belong for two seconds, Michael Dorsey is supposed to a terrible person. He’s so despicable that obviously folks are going to hate him for dressing up as a woman to try to get a role. I think that might be the point. Still, I think Santino’s got it in the bag, since he’s got to carry the show. The other four nominees are matched (or overshadowed) by others in their cast, so I think we’ll see the “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” actor take home his first Tony.
Will win: Santino Fontana, Tootsie
Could win: Alex Brightman, Beetlejuice or Damon Daunno, Oklahoma!
Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical
Every year seems like it will be THE year for Stephanie J. Block. It’s interesting that people say that, considering she’s only been nominated twice previously for Tony Awards. But her competition isn’t as strong this year. Caitlin Kinnunen and Beth Leavel likely will cancel each other out, as both are equally strong in The Prom for different reasons. Eva Noblezada gets swallowed up in the vast cavalcade of talent that is Hadestown, and I don’t think Kiss Me, Kate is strong enough as a production for Kelli O’Hara to carry it on her back (even though she carries that entire show on her back). Cher is a generational talent, and Stephanie J. Block’s turn as Star Cher will likely make her stand out from the group. It’s finally her time, guys!
Will and should win: Stephanie J. Block, The Cher Show
Could win: Beth Leavel or Caitlin Kinnunen, The Prom
Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play
This is another interesting category shrouded in some mystery. It appears to be the big three film and TV stars in the front of the pack: Bryan Cranston’s Howard Beale from Network, Adam Driver’s portrayal of the hyperactive Pale in the Burn This revival, and Jeff Daniels’ turn as the iconic Atticus Finch in Aaron Sorkin’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Cranston has this very unique ability to play to both a live camera and a live audience at the same damn time. That has to count for something. He also won the Olivier for his performance in Network, and he’ll be competing against Paddy Considine, who was also nominated for The Ferryman once again. But Cranston seems to have lost a lot of momentum, and his inclusion with this very strong group of equally good actors could split his chances. Jeff Daniels has the mighty task of playing Atticus Finch… but dare I say that any other actor of his stature in that position could play the brilliant orator that is Atticus? Let me hit you with that third option- Adam Driver. Pale is not a role that anyone could play. It’s a roller-coaster of a time on stage. He’s full of so many emotions- and all of them begin at a 10 and seem to just spiral out of control. Rage, grief, love, frustration, confusion- it’s all there to the “volcanic” (as the Times put it) Driver. In a late surge of momentum, The Wing awards the Tony to one of Hollywood’s best young actors. Driver wins in something of an upset.
Will and should win: Adam Driver, Burn This
Could win: Bryan Cranston, Network or Jeff Daniels, To Kill a Mockingbird
Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play
Everybody’s been on the Elaine May train since The Waverly Gallery opened. The 87 year-old would be receiving her first Tony nomination, and a win would make her the oldest Tony Award winner ever for an acting category. In her way are five other brilliant nominees. I really love that they nominated Janet McTeer for Bernhardt/Hamlet, a super underrated performance in this blogger’s opinion. If I were running the Tony’s, Laura Donnelly would win for her powerful performance in The Ferryman. That play is not about Quinn or any of the kids, it’s about Caitlin, and thanks to Donnelly, that becomes blatantly clear over the course of the show. But I haven’t been given any reason to think she’ll win, considering Ferryman changed their cast over about midway through the run. We’re going with Elaine May, who hasn’t had any doubt challenge her this season.
Will win: Elaine May, The Waverly Gallery
Should win: Laura Donnelly, The Ferryman
Could win: Janet McTeer, Bernhardt/Hamlet or Laurie Metcalf, Hilary and Clinton
Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical
When I saw Hadestown, I was more impressed with Patrick Page than I was with Andre De Shields. Still, Andre was playing Andre, which should fare well with Tony voters. The inclusion of both Ephraim Sykes and Jeremy Pope (who is being nominated for two different acting categories this year) certain makes things interesting as well. Will the Wing honor his fantastic achievements in both Ain’t Too Proud and Choir Boy in this category? I think we’re going with tradition here and picking Andre De Shields, further bolstering Hadestown’s bid for Best Musical.
Will win: Andre De Shields, Hadestown
Should win: Ephraim Sykes, Ain’t Too Proud
Could win: Patrick Page, Hadestown or Jeremy Pope, Ain’t Too Proud
Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical
It’s Amber Gray against Ali Stroker. Both are fantastic and both deserve to win. But the real story is the exclusion of Bonnie Milligan from Head Over Heels, who made a noteworthy debut on Broadway to hardly any fanfare. If anyone deserved to be here most, it was her. I don’t think Mary Testa’s inclusion in the category hinders Ali Stroker’s chances of winning, and in fact, I think she’s got this one locked up.
Will and should win: Ali Stroker, Oklahoma!
Could win: Amber Gray, Hadestown or Sarah Stiles, Tootsie
Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Play
My gut is to pick Brandon Uranowitz for this category, and not just because I work at Burn This. I firmly believe he gave the best performance out of these five. People are still talking about Bertie Carvel’s turn as Rupert Murdoch from Ink, but I think if Burn This gets any kind of award at the Tony’s, it’s for Uranowitz’s brilliant turn as Larry in the Lanford Wilson revival.
Will and should win: Brandon Uranowitz, Burn This
Could win: Bertie Carvel, Ink
Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play
There’s not much of a contest here. Ever since casting was announced for To Kill a Mockingbird, Celia Keenan-Bolger has been mentioned right along with Jeff Daniels every step of the way. Scout is a hefty part of the book, with some even considering her to be the central character of Harper Lee’s iconic novel. Kristine Nielsen replaced Andrea Martin before Gary started previews, so her role has to be a juicy one as well. But Celia is as close to a leading character as you can get in this one. No contest. CKB wins her first Tony.
Will and should win: Celia Keenan-Bolger, To Kill a Mockingbird
Could win: Kristine Nielsen, Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus
Best Book of a Musical
I want to make this clear- Hadestown doesn’t really have a book. And if it does, it’s not spectacular in comparison to the others it’s going up against. The two that I think have the best chance are Tootsie and The Prom. Tootsie because it’s one joke after another, and in comparison to the score, it’s the stronger of the two; The Prom because it’s just so pure, full of wit and full of love written by people who clearly love the craft they’ve dedicated their lives to. If The Prom steals one here, I wouldn’t be mad- nor would I be shocked, considering Bob Martin won a Tony for writing The Drowsy Chaperone. But I’m picking Tootsie here.
Will and should win: Robert Horn, Tootsie
Could win: Chad Beguelin and Bob Martin, The Prom
Best Original Score
Now we get into the strong suit for Hadestown- the score. It started as a concept album, but Anaïs Mitchell’s music has evolved into a musical phenomenon. As I mentioned before, it’s this really cool jazz/indie/folk/singer-songwriter fusion that is extremely catchy, and while the first act has all the bops, the second act uses those bops to sew the story all together. Hadestown’s biggest competition is The Prom, once again, as Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin deliver another potential winner, also full of earworms and inspirational tracks. Also, I want to deliver the biggest applause ever to Be More Chill, who are obviously going to hang onto this one nomination they have for years to come.
Will and should win: Anaïs Mitchell, Hadestown
Could win: Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin, The Prom
I personally think the orchestrations for Oklahoma! are brilliant. Daniel Kluger takes Rodgers and Hammerstein’s iconic score and reworks it for a more modern, jamboree, bluegrass-type feel. But I feel like Hadestown’s got it locked up. It’s got fascinating instrumentation (violin, cello, trombone, guitar, bass, piano, drums) to achieve this sort of hollowed-out, thrown together feel, but it also has the ability, along with the strength of the vocal arrangements, to create this gorgeous wall of sound. Hadestown has it.
Will and should win: Michael Chorney and Todd Sickafoose, Hadestown
Could win: Daniel Kluger, Oklahoma!
Best Direction of a Musical
Any of these people could win a Tony for Best Director of a Musical and I would not be upset. All five have done incredible work with this respectable set of musicals. However, since Hadestown is the favorite, and because Rachel Chavkin was not honored for her work on Great Comet, she takes home the Tony for her work on Hadestown.
Will and should win: Rachel Chavkin, Hadestown
Could win: Hadestown has the best chance, but literally anyone could win and I wouldn't be mad.
Best Direction of a Play
Scott Rudin pissed a lot of people off when he forced several regional and community theatres to give up the rights to other versions of To Kill a Mockingbird, before giving those theatres the rights back, on the condition that they perform exclusively Aaron Sorkin’s version. This debacle was a terrible PR move, and a lack of a nomination for Best Play was probably the Wing sticking it to Rudin. However, if there’s any consolation prize, it’s for Bartlett Sher, who directed the piece. Scott Rudin might not be winning a Tony this year, but at least they’re honoring this gigantic achievement of a play.
Will win: Bartlett Sher, To Kill a Mockingbird
Should win: Sam Mendes, The Ferryman
Could win: Ivo Van Hove, Network
There’s one show that has this award locked up and one show only. It’s Kiss Me, Kate, obviously. That “Too Darn Hot” is LIT. Warren Carlyle takes home his second Tony Award.
Will win: Warren Carlyle, Kiss Me, Kate
Could win: David Neumann, Hadestown or Sergio Trujillo, Ain’t Too Proud
Best Scenic Design of a Musical
I am curious as to how they’ll recognize King Kong’s enormous ape puppet this year, considering the puppetry team is receiving an honorary award for their work. I am also curious to see how the enormous house set for Beetlejuice stacks up against Hadestown's intricate, moving set. I'm going to give the edge to Rachel Huack. I enjoy the use of turntables and trapdoors.
Will win: Hadestown- Rachel Huack
Could win: Beetlejuice- David Korins
Best Scenic Design of a Play
Another question is video and projection design, which is heavily utilized by a play like Network, using live cameras, cutaways, glass, and even the outside world as a set, in true Ivo Van Hove style. I think Network wins because of this, even though both sets for Gary and The Ferryman are impressive, but I feel like we should have more awards for impressive technical specs like projections. Hopefully changes (or at least more specific rulings) to the awards are coming as technology in Broadway shows is becoming more advanced.
Will win: Network- Jan Versweyveld
Could win: Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus- Santo Loquasto or The Ferryman- Rob Howell
Best Costume Design of a Musial
Beetlejuice’s costumes are spectacular: an eclectic array of monsters and ghouls. Because, you know, it’s a show about death. The next closest challenger would probably be The Cher Show, because Cher is, well, Cher. For all I know Hadestown could probably steal this one too.
Will win: Beetlejuice- William Ivey Long
Could win: The Cher Show- Bob Mackie or Tootsie- William Ivey Long
Best Costume Design of a Play
In this next round of arbitrarily picking Tony winners, we have Best Costume Design of a Play. I’m picking Mockingbird because I really hope there’s a ham costume that Scout wears.
Will win: To Kill a Mockingbird- Ann Roth
Could win: Bernhardt/Hamlet- Toni-Leslie James
Best Lighting Design of a Musical
THE SWINGING LIGHTS OF HADESTOWN. That is all. Beetlejuice would be a close second.
Will and should win: Hadestown- Bradley King
Could win: Beetlejuice- Kenneth Posner and Peter Nigrini
Best Lighting Design of a Play
I can see Network winning here. I can see Gary winning. I can also see The Ferryman winning. Something about that incredible show has to be honored for creating the sinister mood that is prevalent throughout the show. In a purely random call, Peter Mumford wins for The Ferryman.
Will win: The Ferryman- Peter Mumford
Could win: Network- Jan Versweyveld and Tal Yarden or Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus- Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer
Best Sound Design of a Musical
Sound design in musicals is tough. I suppose it’s how well created sounds blend with existing music. If that’s the case, I could see Beetlejuice winning here, as there are LOTS of extra sounds in addition to the music. But it could also be how well the sound is transferred around the theatre, where the advantage would favor Hadestown and especially Oklahoma!, where interesting orchestrations and different theatre spaces might yield an award. All of these are reasons why I have zero clue what I’m talking about. Hadestown for the win. Again.
Will win: Hadestown- Nevin Steinberg and Jessica Paz
Could win: Beetlejuice- Peter Hylenski or Oklahoma!- Drew Levy
Best Sound Design of a Play
For plays, I can understand it a little bit better. I can see Network taking home yet another tech award for its pretty similar replication to the movie. I think it’s a pretty safe bet.
Will win: Network- Eric Seichim
Could win: The Ferryman- Nick Powell or To Kill a Mockingbird- Scott Lehrer
And thus ends another round of completely random, logic-based Tony predictions.
Who's your pick to win Best Musical? Leave a comment down below.
Tune in to the 73rd Annual Tony Awards on Sunday, June 9th at 8:00pm only on CBS.
Every Episode of "Black Mirror," Ranked
I want to begin by saying that I don’t think there is a bad episode of Black Mirror… but there is a hierarchy that exists within the series, and we’re here to find it.
Charlie Brooker’s either a really intuitive guy wary of the dangers of technology, or he’s a tech-less hermit and just absurdly paranoid. Regardless, the guy knows how to make us think twice about our futures, and these technological cautionary tales give us a glimpse into how our lives could be 10 years from now, or, in some cases, 10 minutes from now.
They’ll make you feel. They’ll make you think. They’re scare you. They’ll empower you. Brooker’s done his job if Black Mirror drives home a point on you. So, with 18 episodes, a Christmas special and a movie under its belt, and since season 5 is coming out tomorrow, let’s rank every single installment, shall we?
This is your one warning before you read. If you haven’t seen Black Mirror- Spoilers lie ahead.
20. "Black Museum"
Season 4, Episode 6
The most recent episode of Black Mirror, in my opinion, is the biggest dud. Letitia Wright and Douglas Hodge give great performances, Wright in particular, who pulls the rug out from under Hodge’s Rolo Haynes in the episode’s final act, but I thought the stories were as a whole fairly uninteresting, and the plot twist at the end didn’t pack much of a punch. Overall, the episode is just flimsy. Shout out to Penn Jillette, though, whose short story “The Pain Addict” serves as inspiration for the first of the three stories in the episode. Fun fact, though: “Black Museum” actually contains multiple easter eggs, with a reference to every previous Black Mirror episode present in the season 4 finale.
19. "Men Against Fire"
Season 3, Episode 5
For me, this one was forgettable. It’s an interesting idea, the thought of military implants making soldiers think the enemy is some deformed, savage beast, but that’s really as far as the idea stretches: that the reality of wars here on Earth are as simple as humans killing other humans. Malachi Kirby’s performance as Stripe leaves a bit to be desired, although his moment at the end where he thinks he sees a lover, only to discover that neither she nor the life he used to have exists. Michael Kelly’s inclusion in this episode obviously stems from his involvement in House of Cards, and his performance as Arquette is solid, but nothing more than Douglas Stamper with his foot off the gas.
18. "The Waldo Moment"
Season 2, Episode 3
I will give this episode credit for preceding the political climate America finds itself in today, but I think “The Waldo Moment” is a bit too on the nose. Oversaturation of news and the subsequent analysis done by both journalists and comedians alike can certainly cause us to think outside the box when it comes to determining leadership. And so, when Daniel Rigby’s Jamie Salter tries to flip the system, we find it logical for him to do so. It’s just… the Bear, Waldo, itself, is just ridiculous. And if I have to listen to him say “Hey! Mr. Monroe!” One more time, I’m gonna jump through a table. “The Waldo Moment” does beg the question, however, while we’re on the subject of electing fictitious people as leaders, there’s some clause in the Constitution that says Mickey Mouse can’t be President, right? Asking for a few hundred million friends.
Season 4, Episode 2
This episode didn’t really go anywhere for me. It had a cool concept, similar to what we see in “The Entire History of You,” but opts to focus more on the family aspect instead. Rosemary Dewitt’s performance as Marie is effectively and increasingly agitating, albeit heartbreaking, as she wrestles with being a helicopter parent to Sara (Brenna Harding). I can certainly understand where both parties are coming from here. But there are plenty of plot holes to distract me from their relationship. Like, why doesn’t Owen Teague’s character Trick call the police on Marie when she confronts him about sleeping with Sara, since the Arkangel program was deemed illegal in America? Why does Sara have to beat the shit out of Marie with the damn tablet instead of throwing it away? Have Marie and Sara never had the talk about individuality and helicopter parenting? It’s got some cool twists and some shocking moments, but overall, I see some wasted potential here with “Arkangel.”
16. "Fifteen Million Merits"
Season 1, Episode 2
A lot of people really like Daniel Kaluuya’s monologue at the end of “Fifteen Million Merits.” And I do too. It’s an impassioned, rambling speech about authenticity. But at the same time, it’s about what we’ve already known in after watching for the last hour- that absolutely nothing is real in the world of “Fifteen Million Merits.” I felt like this episode is so far out of left field in comparison to the episode before it (“The National Anthem”) and just about every episode after it. It tries to do too much with all of its concepts layered on top of each other, that we’re not sure what to focus on. This is the first episode to feature the song “Anyone Who Knows What Love Is (Will Understand)” by Irma Thomas, so it’s got that going for it.
15. "White Christmas"
Season 2, Episode 4
I love Jon Hamm, I really do. Hamm’s character in the first sub-story of “White Christmas” is quintessentially Hamm-ian, as he works as a torturer by day, and a seduction coach by night, being so suavely pleasant all the way. But Rafe Spall steals the show here. We see the full depth of his grief, seeing as he’s handled his divorce in… let’s say a very sub-par way. When he sees his child for the first time, it’s truly heartbreaking. The strength of “White Christmas” comes from its major plot twist, though, as the tales of deception and murder come full circle back into the present. Both characters are terrible people, but they gain our sympathy, and we end up feeling bad for them as both of their lives ultimately crumble by the end of this twisty-turny episode. Post-episode funks are the gifts that keep on giving in Charlie Brooker’s world. Merry Christmas?
14. "Black Mirror: Bandersnatch"
Black Mirror’s first “movie,” as it were, is extremely creative in its premise. The “choose your own adventure” narrative is genius. I just wish it were a little more fine tuned. The acting is great, with Fionn Whitehead and Will Poulter (who I still can’t get over being British) leading the charge, and the story is creative enough, as an amateur game designer struggles to get his idea off the ground after being hired by a video game company. I just can’t help but feeling pigeonholed by the choices laid out for me. Black Mirror is a show that has its intense and overwhelming moments, forcing you to be uncomfortable as you watch ordinary people come to terms with the terrors of technology. But when given the choice to guide a character, most ordinary people aren’t going to love options that are: “A. Bad.” and “B. Bad but in a different way,” because that’s not what their nature as humans favors. Getting to compare endings with your friends is a lot of fun, and hopefully we get to see more “user-directed” projects in the future, perhaps even away from Black Mirror. This is a really valiant first attempt. The first one through the wall always gets bloody, though.
Season 4, Episode 5
“Metalhead” exists in the same vein as The Terminator franchise, in that we’ve got humans running away from machines that are trying to kill them. It’s shot entirely black and white, and despite having the shortest run time in the entire series (41 minutes), it manages to pack in as much intensity as any long-form Black Mirror episode. The setup is simple: Bella (Maxine Peake) attempts to shake a killer robot “dog” that has tracked her. For an episode with a premise as basic as it is, the intricacies of “Metalhead” shine through, from Maxine Peake’s excellent performance, to the horrifyingly real design of the dogs, whose weapons only scare the viewer even more as they get more and more sinister. The cat and mouse (dog and mouse?) game runs swiftly through the gorgeous countryside, with the human consistently trying (and in some ways, brilliantly succeeding) to outsmart the pursuing machine. It only gets scarier when you learn that the dogs in question are based off the robotic dogs created by Boston Scientific that can pull a damn truck. Now, what do teddy bears have to do with any of this?
Season 4, Episode 2
I approve of the decision to move filming of this episode from Scotland to Iceland. The visuals of this episode stand out more than any other, with shots of stunning landscapes serving as the backdrop for this intriguing “memory heist” story. Andrea Riseborough really makes us wonder what “Crocodile”’s title really implies, and whether or not she truly feels remorse for any or her actions, and because all of her actions make sense, it is easy for us to go back and forth on wanting her to escape and wanting her to get caught. The finale of the episode is heartbreaking. She should have checked on the fucking guinea pig. THE GUINEA PIG.
11. "Be Right Back"
Season 2, Episode 1
The first two seasons of Black Mirror go back and forth with episodes that are an in-your-face kind of allegorical, and episodes that make you take a few minutes and think on what you just saw. “Be Right Back” is one of those. For the first time, we see some big-name actors (Domhnall Gleeson and Hayley Atwell) featured in a Black Mirror episode, as Ash and Martha, the latter of whom attempts to regenerate the former in an experimental recreation method. “Be Right Back” is brilliant in that is far more “big picture” than all other episodes that came before it. We see Hayley Atwell’s character struggle mightily with the balance of physical presence and actual humanity, and how our online selves are just that- they’re not the whole version of us, they’re just what is most likely the cleanest version of us. The ending of this episode is a lot like “The National Anthem,” where we expect one course of action to take place, only to have a slight diversion at the very end leave a bitter taste in our mouths. PSA: Don’t text and drive, everyone.
10. "The National Anthem"
Season 1, Episode 1
Black Mirror’s premiere episode is technology at its simplest- in that there’s no technology we don’t already have as the primary focus of the episode. Rory Kinnear’s Prime Minister Michael Callow wakes up to find Princess Susanna has been kidnapped by an unknown party, and in order to ensure her safety, will have to have sex with a pig live on British television. It’s the ultimate “will he, won’t he?”, as you want to know what’s going to happen next, but certainly don’t want to watch this guy have sex with a pig. As the drama unravels, we learn how dangerous public opinion can be, as the world suddenly and sharply turns on Callow, seemingly without knowing the full story. In many episodes of Black Mirror that involve omnipresent unseen antagonists, I am constantly impressed by their ability to remain one step ahead of the good guys.
9. "Shut Up and Dance"
Season 3, Episode 3
Upon first watch, I wasn’t a big fan of “Shut Up and Dance.” I thought it was too formulaic, and the ending wasn’t as satisfying as I wanted it to be. But after consideration, sometimes there’s nothing wrong with formula if it is done well... and you're in the right mindset to watch this episode- truthfully, I binged "Nosedive," "Playtest" and this one in a row and was clocked out from being beaten over the head by allegories. Alex Lawther’s Kenny is blackmailed into following seemingly aimless directions after he is caught on camera masturbating to images on his computer, with the assumption that if Alex completes his instructions, his act will not be broadcasted to his friends and family. He is plunged into a tense game of follow-the-leader, and gets entwined with Hector (Jerome Flynn), another man being blackmailed by the same group. Of course though, in true Black Mirror style, we find that no one can truly outrun their sins. The final moments of the episode, specifically Alex’s final emotional state, the slow motion camera work, and the music (Radiohead’s “Exit Music (For a Film)”) are chilling.
Season 3, Episode 2
Note to everyone: when your mother calls, answer the phone. Entering the world of video games for the first time, “Playtest” shows how far some developers are willing to go to elicit fear on a deep psychological level- and how cockiness could probably get you killed. Wyatt Russell plays Cooper, an American traveler strapped for cash, who ends up participating in a beta test for a new augmented-reality horror video game designed by Shou Saito (Ken Yamamura). He also has this glaring character flaw- in that he won’t pick up his phone when his mom calls. What I love about “Playtest” is that the consequences are blatantly avoidable, and yet it’s a great commentary on how we think we’re in control of what’s right in front of us- like in a video game. But it’s only when we realize we’re past the point of no control that we try to reach out for something that’s not there.
7. "The Entire History of You"
Season 1, Episode 3
What if you could see everything you’ve ever done? Pretty cool for figuring out where you may have gone wrong with something, like a job interview, or for winning an argument to prove your point, right? Well, because this is Black Mirror, we see the relationship Liam (Toby Kebbell) and Ffion (Jodi Whittaker) spiral into oblivion in a matter of hours. Liam uncovers the mystery of his cheating wife just by using the finest of details to devastating and heartbreaking results, and we’re left to wonder (although it is shadowed early on by another character with no Grain implant) if seeing all our memories really is a good thing or not. My one qualm with the episode is this: the “cereal monogamist” line delivered by Jonas (Tom Cullen) that Liam nitpicks as not being funny is actually… pretty funny. Still waiting on the feature film that Robert Downey, Jr. bought the rights to.
Season 3, Episode 1
When you’ve got a script written by Michael Schur and Rashida Jones, you know you’ve got something special (and you also know your show has crossover appeal). The idea of a social class system determined by the ratings you receive from your peers is a potentially terrifying idea (even though it’s already being toyed with with apps like Peeple and experimented with in China), but the idea of everyone acting blatantly fake towards you sounds even more off putting. Bryce Dallas Howard does an excellent job as Lacie, who struggles to make it to her “friend” Naomi’s (Alice Eve) wedding, as she experiences a series of social miscues that send her social rating into a nosedive (that’s the title of the episode. Wild.). Cherry Jones makes a surprise appearance as Susan, a truck driver who had a luxurious life as a 4.8, but plummeted after her husband died. A major feature of this episode is its production design, a brilliant display of clean, pastel colors, hiding the gross, fake interior that lies below it. Still, with Schur and Jones behind the script, “Nosedive” has a lighter tone than some (all) of the other episodes that came before it. I credit this episode for unfreezing Charlie Brooker’s heart a little bit. You might want to chuck your iPhone into the sea for precautions, though.
5. "USS Callister"
Season 4, Episode 1
This episode will be forever known as “the Star Trek one,” as it pays excellent homage to the classic TV space epic of yore. In the fashion of the show, though, nothing is what it seems. We’re not even sure if Robert Daly (Jesse Plemons) is the hero of this thing. Of course, we find that he’s not- he’s the villain- and we don’t find this out until we meet Natalie Cole (Cristin Milioti), and we discover Daly is just another tormented victim at his day job (he’s the COO of an augmented reality video game developer) that has taken cyber bullying to another level. “Callister” is a return to form for the series, as we’re taken through the world of pop culture fandoms and given a critique on the hyper-masculine, misogynistic, insecure people that populate it and control it. “USS Callister” also does just enough to keep us from feeling totally depressed, utilizing cheesy dialogue and ironic humor, colorful and creative production design, and intense, nail-biting heist sequences. This episode also won an Emmy for Best Television Movie, and rightfully so.
4. "Hang the DJ"
Season 4, Episode 4
As someone who shamelessly utilizes online dating apps, this episode struck a chord with me. The simple but brilliantly designed premise of people being matched by a Siri-like assistant (“Coach”) for a predetermined amount of time, as part of a grander attempt to find an “ultimate compatible other” is played out to a delightfully surprising ending by Georgina Campbell and Joe Cole. You can feel the ups and downs that people looking for love experience- the highs of being with and having fun with someone in a spontaneous moment of bliss, as well as the bitter feeling of loneliness that everyone has experienced at one time or another. And with a brilliant score by Sigor Ròs, it only elevates the experienced further. Man, if only Tinder was like this. The system would truly never be wrong.
3. "Hated in the Nation"
Season 3, Episode 6
The final episode of season 3 gave us this long-form buddy cop drama. We’ve got Kelly Macdonald as Karin Parke, the wise-cracking and insult-hurling Scottish veteran cop, contrasted by her partner, the green but intuitive Blue Coulson, played by Faye Marsay. After the death of a journalist at the center of a social media onslaught, Macdonald and Coulson uncover an even more sinister plot- killer robotic bees. Under the prologue’s guise of “something bad has just gone down, here’s what happened,” we learn that social media instigators are just as bad as people who piss them off… because robotic bees will enter your skull and eat your brain from inside, akin to the beetles from The Mummy. The brutal and bloody images from “Hated in the Nation” will leave you shaken. The fallout will leave you heartbroken. The epilogue will leave you shaking. Just watch this one if you’re not familiar. Or even if you are. More long-form content, Black Mirror, please.
2. "San Junipero"
Season 3, Episode 4
If you’re watching Black Mirror for the first time, you have to earn watching “San Junipero,” because it is by far the most emotional installment in the entire catalogue, and skipping everything that precedes it in favor of watching it will ruin the rest of it for you. In what begins as a romantic drama set in a bustling seaside town, a chance encounter between party girl Kelly (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and Yorkie (Mackenzie Davis) becomes a heart-wrenching love story that stretches across the years. In “San Junipero,” we deal with the freedom of being able to live out (or even relive) the best years of our lives, but also the impending future, and what it might mean to be stuck there, and how our relationships form, grow, and perhaps even become strained because of it. Acting and story aside, the technical construction of the episode is immaculate. There’s something that can become extra cheesy when dealing with 80s scenic and costume design, but nothing about “San Junipero” seems over the top. Interwoven with 80s pop songs (lookin’ at you, Belinda Carlisle) and a brilliant score from Clint Mansell (The Fountain, another film to check out if you liked “San Junipero”), we clearly know that San Junipero and “Heaven is a Place on Earth” go hand in hand. Like “USS Callister” after it, “San Junipero” thrust Black Mirror into the mainstream awards scene, winning two Primetime Emmys, one for Best Writing of a Television Movie or Limited Series, and Best Television Movie.
1. "White Bear"
Season 2, Episode 2
“White Bear” pulls the classic twist “the good guy was really the bad guy all along!,” as we find that Lenora Crichlow (Victoria Skillane) is a horribly shitty person after the credits begin to roll on the episode. What brings “White Bear” to the top of this list is the shock factor. It is the 5th episode released of the series, and while “The Entire History of You” gives us plenty of heartbreaking moments, “White Bear” misleads you for 40 minutes and then pulls the rug out from underneath you. With “White Bear,” we also get an interesting social critique about how we view violence as entertainment, and, in a sense, how we’ve become desensitized to it. We think we’re empathizing with Lenora, until we’re caught in the metaphorical bear trap right along with her. Then, it’s anyone’s game. If it wasn’t evident that Black Mirror takes major inspiration from The Twilight Zone, “White Bear” certainly drives that point home. Just for the shocking twist alone, “White Bear” reaches the number one spot on this list. I’m truly still reeling.
Which episode of Black Mirror is your favorite? Leave a comment down below.
Seasons 1-4 of Black Mirror and Bandersnatch are streaming on Netflix. Season 5 premieres on Wednesday, June 5th, also on Netflix.
The Wrap Sheet, February 2019
A monthly airing of thoughts and grievances
I think I really hate February.
It’s too short. All of a sudden it’s March and we’re left saying: “wait, where are the extra two or three days of my month?” or “Shit, I have to pay all these bills super early!”
There are also things like false spring that typically occur in February that give me false hope before plunging me back into the despair of winter.
But the Groundhog didn’t see his shadow this month! So maybe our dreams of an early spring really might come to fruition?
Despite a short month, February was jam-packed with headline news. Here’s your monthly wrap-up for February.
We begin in Atlanta, Georgia, the site of Super Bowl LIII between the New England Patriots and the Los Angeles Rams.
This game feels like it took place ages ago.
I won’t get into it too much, because you can find my fully-fleshed out piece on the Super Bowl by clicking here, but I can certainly sum up the contest in a few words.
So, basically, the Patriots left Atlanta with their sixth Super Bowl championship, tying the Pittsburgh Steelers for most all-time by a franchise. The difference is, it took the Steelers 40 years to win 6. It took the Patriots half that time.
For most football fans, this game was incredibly boring, and that mindset probably wasn’t without just cause. It was 13-3, the lowest scoring Super Bowl of all time, and one year removed from one of the best offensive Super Bowls of all time, a 74-point, 1,000-yard-plus showcase with a satisfying ending of the underdog defeating the Goliath.
This was the opposite of that.
Or, it was a defensive feast, if you appreciate both sides of the game of football.
The Rams punted on their first 8 possessions of the game before scoring points. The first touchdown of the game came in the 4th quarter, as the Patriots finally managed to string together some passes to put them in the red zone, before Sony Michel punched it in from two yards out to give New England a 10-3 lead.
Bill Belichick was the hero of the game for New England. His defensive game plan stifled the Rams’ potent offense, and Sean McVay’s squad failed to make any kind of adjustments, as the Patriots defense slowly wore them down.
New England’s defense came up big a number of times, including Kyle Van Noy’s long sack of Jared Goff on third down, a huge pass breakup by Jason McCourty on Brandin Cooks in the endzone, in which McCourty came from the other side of the field to make the play after the first defender blew his coverage; the play kept the Rams out of the end zone and kept the Patriots in front.
But there was no bigger play than the one made by Stephon Gilmore. The defensive back has quietly turned into one of the premiere shutdown corners in football, and his performance erased any doubt of his ability to perform well, as his interception of Jared Goff on the Rams’ final drive sealed the victory for the Patriots.
Julian Edelman was named the game’s MVP, as his offensive production was the best of any player on the field- 10 catches, 141 yards. The game could have had a number of players named MVP, but Edelman was borderline unstoppable for most of the game.
In what was a month of highs and lows for the Patriots (we’ll get to the low ones later), earning a Super Bowl victory when everyone doubted their chances mere months ago had to be one of the sweeter moments in the franchise’s history.
In other sports news…
I WENT TO THE WESTMINSTER DOG SHOW!
For those of you who don’t know, I do a sports podcast every Monday with my partner Kata Stevens called Under Further Review. We drink different adult beverages and talk about sports.
And somehow, our little show managed to get media credentials to the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show at Madison Square Garden before.
Now, I have never been to MSG before.
I have a habit of going to sports arenas to see events that are not the primary sport of the arena. I have been to Gillette Stadium for lacrosse, ice hockey, and soccer, but never football. The first time I went to Barclays Center, it was for boxing. And now, my first time at the World’s Most Famous Arena was spent watching puppers prance up and down a field of AstroTurf.
But hey. There were dogs, and boy do I love dogs.
One of our main questions for the podcast was: “Is dog showing a sport?”
Initially my answer was “no,” but I suppose I was quickly proven wrong. Every dog we saw backstage at the show was being groomed akin to how an athlete prepares for a game- obsessively, furiously, and intricately. One of the handlers even had me feel her dog’s hind leg muscle. So… strength training, I guess.
We interviewed a number of dogs and their handlers, including one Kiera Karlin, a 16-year old Junior Handler from Atlanta, and her Finnish Lapphund, Dusky. This is Kiera’s third year at Westminster. Here’s Kata’s interview with the pair:
I also met my new favorite kind of dog: the Norwich Terrier.
Isn’t she the cutest thing you’ve ever seen? Her name is Belle, and she is not unlike if a chicken nugget were a dog.
Belle was one of a number of fan favorite dogs at the event.
Speaking of fans, the arena was packed on the second night of the show- like, I could not find a seat, even with my media pass. Eventually, some seats did open up and I got myself a great view of the arena.
I didn’t expect the crowd to be so into it, but every dog that was introduced on the Jumbotron was met with a loud reaction that was a mix of an “aww,” a cheer, and an “oh my god”-esque gasp.
And when these dogs walked the promenade, the place got LOUD.
If you’re not familiar with how the dog show works, let me break it down quickly:
There are hundreds of breeds of dogs. Every entry for a given breed competes to win “Best of Breed.” So, the best, say, golden retriever, will then compete in their group stage.
There are seven groups: Working, Sporting, Non-sporting, Toy, Hound, Herding, and Terrier.
The best of breeds compete for best group based on poise, grooming, and presentation. The judge picks his or her top eight, which do another round of judging. At this point, the judge will select his top four, the first of which wins the group and advances to compete for Best in Show.
The Best in Show is judged exactly the same way, with the winners of each of the seven groups going through a round of judging to determine Best in Show.
Belle, the Norwich Terrier from earlier, was a fan favorite, and drew many cheers from the crowd as she pranced across the floor. She was even picked for the top eight of the terrier group, to which the crowd erupted.
However, the Norwich was not selected for the top four. This drew the ire of the crowd, and they booed the judge’s decision.
There was booing. At a dog show.
Good for people for being passionate about their favorite dogs.
For Best in Show, there was even more controversy, as one of the handlers and her Schipperke were disqualified before judging could even take place. A conflict of interest- the judge had co-owned dogs with one of the Schipperke handler’s co-owners- had elicited confused groans from the crowd.
I just wonder why either the judge wasn’t replaced or the Schipperke handler wasn’t replaced or disqualified in a prior round. I feel like this issue could have been avoided altogether with a little thinking ahead.
As for the remaining six dogs, two stood out: A Longhaired Dachshund named Burns and a Sussex Spaniel named Bean, the latter receiving loud chants of his named that echoed around the arena.
But the cheers turned to boos once again as the judge named King, the Wire Fox Terrier, as Best in Show. If you’re wondering why, Wire Fox Terriers have won 15 Best in Shows, seven more than the next best breed.
It’s a lot like the Patriots winning again. Everyone’s annoyed by it and the likeable underdogs (lol dog puns) get pushed to the wayside.
As the disgruntled crowd exited the arena, I was able to grab more pictures of dogs in the holding area. If you want to see more, head over to Under Further Review’s Facebook or Instagram (@ufrvodcast) to see the full photo album.
12/10. Would highly recommend going.
I don’t really feel the need to talk about the State of the Union address.
I don’t really care what the President had to say, although from what I’ve read, it was a lot about what was wrong, and not a lot about what was going to happen in order to fix it.
Have I mentioned that this whole administration is the epitome of cheap plastic spray-painted gold? Lots of talking about what’s wrong, and complaining when it doesn’t get fixed- even though he’s got all the cards in his hand- and zero talking about the future.
What I do want to talk about it Nancy Pelosi’s brilliant “fuck you” clap toward Donald Trump.
“We must reject the politics of revenge, resistance and retribution, and embrace the boundless potential of cooperation, compromise, and the common good,” he said.
And Pelosi served him with this incredible clap and smirk. With full eye contact. Ice cold.
This woman is the queen of condescending applause. She is the hero we deserve.
In other brief news from the month, the NASA’s Mars Opportunity Rover ran out of battery life, after a 14 year stay on the Red Planet, beginning in 2004.
Along with its twin rover Spirit, Opportunity was tasked with, at least principally, determining if the potential life exists on Mars by searching for traces of recoverable water, as well as examining the planet’s climate and geology.
Spirit got stuck in a “sand trap” in late 2009, and cut off communication from Earth in March 2010.
Both rovers’ missions were planned as 90 sol (day on Mars) missions. Opportunity lasted for 5498 sols, 40 times the length of the originally planned mission.
With last contact coming in June 2018, NASA sent over 1,000 messages to the rover before officially declaring the mission over on February 13th.
Now, the whole “my battery is low and it’s getting dark” transmission from Opportunity is mostly false. Before a dust storm on the Martian surface back in June (which was probably the fatal blow to the rover’s systems), Opportunity did transmit something about its battery being low, but the quote is merely just a poeticized version of something the rover may or may not have said.
What is true, however, is that NASA’s final transmission to Opportunity was “I’ll Be Seeing You” recording by Billie Holiday.
And if that doesn’t make you cry, you have no soul.
A new segment on the Wrap Sheet is called:
Thanks, I Hate It!
In this month’s version of Thanks, I Hate It, Disney released a trailer for Aladdin.
It’s pretty much a shot for shot remake of the original trailer from the 1992 animated film.
Disney really knows how to capitalize on nostalgia, that’s for sure. From The Jungle Book onward, they’ve done solid reboots of classic animated films. It’s this, Dumbo, and The Lion King in the newest slate, and I believe Aladdin will be no different.
And hey, even Will Smith is playing the Genie! I can see it! Like, I believe I can hear Will Smith voicing the Genie.
And then he was in the trailer.
Thanks, I hate Genie Will Smith.
It’s off putting. A blue Fresh Prince with pointy ears. Give the guy his vest like in some of the promotional material!
That I can jive with.
So I mean, hopefully we’ll come to love Genie Will Smith. And Robin Williams would probably just want us to enjoy the movie for what it is.
But for now, this is weird and I don’t like it.
In other movie trailer news, Disney dropped a trailer for Frozen 2.
There’s a lot of water.
And it’s fall now.
Are we going to get more seasonal movies of Frozen, and in the summer Olaf finally finds his true love?
Also, Frozen’s a good movie.
Those of you who didn’t like it are jumping on the bandwagon because it got popular and overplayed on the radio. Get over yourself.
Speaking of movies, the Oscars were last Sunday.
Let’s talk about those, because I have some things I want to get off my chest.
There was much debate about a host-less awards, and how it would affect the ceremony.
When Kevin Hart stepped down from hosting, there was a mad dash to find a replacement, but no suitable person (or Muppet) could be found.
And while Kevin Hart would have been a funny, effective host, I think an Oscars without a host moved along smoothly and was just as effective.
I watched the show with people who complained that the show was boring, and that a host could have made it more entertaining to watch.
On that point, I disagree. If you’re invested, the Oscars are just as enticing without a host as they are without one.
Also, the show ran 3 hours and 22 minutes, almost a half hour shorter than last year’s. I am more than willing to sacrifice time for entertainment. A four hour Oscars is unbearable.
If you’re going to have an Oscar host, their duties should at least be hands off. A welcome, an opening monologue, and a closing- maybe like ONE bit intermittently. That’s really all we need. I like Jimmy Kimmel, but I don’t need him talking to celebrities like he does every night on his show, nor do I need him “surprising” random people off the street by bringing them into the theatre.
I’m also a fan of montages, and I felt like we could have had more of that.
Also, they didn’t do any favors for themselves in showing all the awards live. For at least the first hour or so, the speeches were BAD.
I don’t want to watch people stumble through pieces of paper and not know what they’re going to say. You need to keep it interesting. Even if you don’t think you’re going to win, have a speech. Practice that speech. It will make you more watchable.
As for the awards themselves, I didn’t do as well as last year, going 16/24 in 2019 versus 21/24 in 2018.
The awards featured no big surprises, save for Olivia Colman winning Best Actress over the heavily-favored Glenn Close.
Alfonso Cuarón walked away with three awards for his work on Roma, including Best Director, Best Cinematography, and Best Foreign Language Film.
But the biggest conversation came when Green Book won Best Picture over Roma.
The best way I can describe this selection is safe. It’s an incredible conservative, safe pick for the Academy, considering they awarded Best Picture to Moonlight two years ago.
Green Book’s successes come from its heart, and solid performances from Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali.
But its drawbacks far outweigh its positives.
The script is rife with cliches and manipulative moments.
It passes off stereotypes and blatant racism as playful banter- such as when Viggo Mortensen’s character, the racist-but-I-guess-not-really(?) Tony “Lip” Vallelonga unironically teaches Ali’s Don Shirley how to eat fried chicken, because “his people love fried chicken and ‘colored greens’.”
We are shown so much of Vallelonga in the film: his backstory, his family, his history, his stakes as a character.
Shirley is portrayed as the “magical negro,” an archetype character concept white filmmakers have not seemed to understand is highly problematic- he is measured, just, well-spoken and wise, and exists almost to serve as the catalyst for which the racist white character learns to understand the error of his ways.
Shirley is a man with many demons he has to wrestle with, none of which are gone into in great depth. In a poignant moment in the film, he watched black farmhands from a roadside as Vallelonga fixes the car they are riding in. Shirley has a monologue later in the film about feeling lost between races, being too black to be white, and being too white to be black- but that’s it.
Now, not to take away from Mahershala Ali’s performance; the guy won an Oscar, for goodness sake. But being charismatic can only go so far in character development. His reasoning for going on a concert tour of the south is explained in only a brief philosophical statement by one of his white group mates, about it taking courage to change people’s hearts. Don Shirley deserves better than being pushed to the side as a stock character (he was also never mentioned in the producers’ Best Picture acceptance speech) with minimal to no change or character arc.
I feel like the Oscars showed their age this year. It’s like they picked Moonlight and they were like “okay, we picked a progressive film, we can stop now,” or they thought “black movies are progressive, but only if it’s something that all the white people can resonate with.” It’s like they keep trying to change what’s wrong with the ceremony by throwing all the wrong things at it.
There were many better films this year than Green Book. A Star is Born. BlacKkKlansman. Roma. Black Panther. Vice. The Favourite. Literally any of those films were a) better and b) less problematic than the film that won. I actually even liked Bohemian Rhapsody, but it definitely falls at the lower echelon of the nominees..
Green Book will go down as one of the worst Best Picture winners since Crash. Mark my words.
I promise we’ll end happy, but first we have to get through our...
DOUCHEBAG OF THE MONTH
This is Jussie Smollett.
He’s got a supporting role on the show Empire. He’s good on it.
At the end of last month, a report surfaced that Smollett was attacked by two people in an alleged hate crime. Smollett had discovered a drawing of a stick figure hanging from a tree with a gun pointed at it.
“Smollett you will die” and “MAGA” were written on the note.
A week later, Smollett was reported to have been attacked by two men in ski masks. He was met with racial and homophobic slurs, as well as phrases like “This is MAGA country.” He was treated at a local Chicago hospital and released later the next morning.
Social media was quick to defend Smollett and place the blame on those supporting the Trump administration, something Smollett had been an outspoken critic of.
But weeks later police investigated the home of two “persons of interest,” which turned out to be two Nigerian brothers who had both been extras on Empire. While the two were let go, more information was released a few days later, including a tip that Smollett had paid the men $3,500 to stage the attack, as well as video footage of the two men purchasing gloves, ski masks, and red hats.
On the 20th, Smollett was charged with falsifying a police report. On the 21st, Smollett turned himself in to Chicago police.
So there are a couple of theories behind while Smollett appeared to stage this attack, but the main one seems to be an attempt to further his career. Smollett was dissatisfied by his salary on Empire, and could perhaps use the momentum of coming back from this hate crime as leverage for more pay.
Being a martyr would, I suppose, result in some kind of traction for him. If everything he had said were true, I’m sure the support for him would continue to be tremendous.
Apparently, he had heard a story from Empire creator Lee Daniels, whose cousin was the victim of a homophobic assault, which may have also been reason for Smollett to stage the assault.
The bigger issue is what this says about hate crimes, or just assault in general, in this country, especially when it comes to false reports.
There are instances of assaults and hate crimes every single day in this country. And I’m sure that not all of them can make the news based on the sheer volume of them.
When they involve celebrities, they become even more magnified.
False reports make headlines. They have this ability to throw a magnifying glass on the liar and glorify those who are innocent. Take the Duke lacrosse sexual assault scandal, for example.
In this country, especially nowadays, when people in power (white people, men, etc) feel marginalized and collectively judged, they get defensive.
When people saw that Gillette commercial about toxic masculinity, there were a lot of men who were upset because they felt judged collectively.
I covered it in last month’s wrap sheet, but if you can’t look at the bigger picture of all of us needing to improve as a whole, you have other things to worry about, starting with yourself.
And I get the feeling that this will divide some people, and spur certain people to say “SEE! I was right! People are lying because they want fame and money!”
Naturally, this ties back to believing survivors of sexual assault.
Let me be clear: this changes nothing about believing survivors of hate crimes or sexual assault.
Yes, there are people that are liars. Liars make headlines.
But do not use this as an excuse to hush a survivor of a hate crime or an assault. Because 99.9% of the time, they were victims.
So Jussie Smollett is our douchebag of the month for trying to stage a hate crime and bringing fuel to the non-believing fire.
But we should always still be vigilant of violence in this country. Always.
That is all.
Finally, here’s the best thing I saw this month.
The Best Thing I Saw This Month
This is, I guess, a charity hockey game, and these players are about to square up to fight.
Someone’s about to spit chiclets.
Or are they?
Ordinarily I would scoff at a stunt like this, but I laughed. A lot. It was totally unexpected for a pair of hockey players to break out into a dance after squaring up to fight.
I don’t know who these guys are, but look at that FORM! This is some Olympic style ice dancing here.
We all have to remember that sports are fun. Sometimes we can all use a little bit of a laugh during some friendly competition.
I’m sorry I’m so late on the wrap sheet (again), you guys. February was just too short, and I promise that with 31 days in March, you’ll have next month’s on schedule.
Stay alert out there.
The Wrap Sheet, January 2019