An Oscar! An Oscar! My Kingdom for an Oscar!

As I sit down to write my annual review of all the Best Picture nominees, I am struck by the foolhardy nature of this enterprise. Why should I review these films when the epitome of the Oscar occurred back in 1941? You see, in 1941 (and again in 1945), an Oscar for Best Original Song was won by Oscar Hammerstein II. These are the only instances in history where an Oscar was won by an Oscar. The Academy should have just left the party on that high note and gone home.

However, since these award shows have continued, I shall continue to present small synopses of each movie which has been nominated for Best Motion Picture. Also, as is tradition, I will offer these opinions without having seen one single minute of any of the films. Rock and Roll!


Arrival

The first film nominated for Best Picture is a movie titled “Arrival.” With a title like that, you would assume this movie would be some sort of high-brow Sci-Fi alien movie. However, with a great deal of research from my crack staff (seriously, he’s a cocaine-addled walking stick named Georgio), I have discovered that the movie is actually a touching tale of a supernatural farm animal and his quest for eternal peace.

The story begins in 1945 as a tavern owner named William Sianis was barred from seeing his beloved Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. For those not familiar with this origin story, Sianis was not barred due to his behavior, but rather due to the stench of his pet goat named Murphy. Apparently, the fine fans of Chicago sports could not abide a filthy animal in their presence (yet oddly they have cheered Jay Cutler for years).

Smokin’ Jay Cutler

Upon his expulsion from the stadium, Sianis stated that the Cubs “ain’t gonna win no more.” To be fair, it can not be corroborated that Sianis made that statement. It is possible, albeit not probable, that Murphy was the one who uttered the curse.

Thus, the Curse of the Billy Goat for the Chicago Cubs was born. For the next 71 years, the curse lived on in the form of various misfortunes. There was some black cat mojo in 1969. There was Leon Durham’s error in 1984. There was the sweep in the playoffs by the Atlanta Braves (the shame) in 1998. That same year, Harry Caray’s death was whispered to have been curse-related. And, of course, there was Steve Bartman reaching for a foul ball in 2003. (Interestingly enough, Steve Bartman is listed as an executive producer of this movie. Let’s hope he has found his happy place in the world.)

Then, amazingly, shockingly, unbelievably, in 2016, the Chicago Cubs made it to the World Series and actually won the darn thing! The curse was broken! Finally, people in Chicago could look other baseball fans in the eye. The oft-common refrain of “wait for next year” turned into “this is the beginning of a dynasty!” (Chicago fans are not aware of the practice of NOT kicking karma in the nuts.)

This is the background of “Arrival.” After the opening minutes of the film plays like an old-timey news reel and covers the celebration of the Cubs, we are introduced to Murphy, the long-dead goat whose spirit has been living in a hellish limbo just waiting for the curse to be broken. Murphy’s ghost could not go to that big pasture in the sky until he was freed of his Earthen curse. Murphy spends his time wandering the streets of Chicago in a state of existential dread.

Murphy tries to make ends meet in the spirit world, but no well-respected ghost would hire a cursed goat. Murphy’s attempts at goat socializing did not go well either. There was that brief moment when Murphy thought he could haunt another goat and somehow make cross-dimensional friendship work, but it was not to be. The movie does a great job at tugging the heartstrings while telling this story though. In fact, you truly buy in to the thought that Murphy could pull off a Casper-esque friendship. Unfortunately, we find out that Murphy’s attempts fail because he was not trying to haunt an actual goat. Instead he was trying to haunt a human named Michael Jordan who people in Chicago kept calling a G.O.A.T. (Greatest of All-Time for those unfamiliar with the acronym).

Then the Cubs win. The Cubs win! The Cubs win! The curse was broken! Murphy makes his way into the light looking for the Pearly Barn Door. When he arrives, instead of Saint Peter (who was busy working with actual dead humans), he is surprised by Old MacDonald himself standing in front of the gate. Murphy smiles and peeks in where he sees his old friends Chicken Little, Mister Ed, and Arnold the pig.

Murphy looks at Old MacDonald. Old MacDonald looks at Murphy. Murphy even hears the calls of his long-deceased owner, William Sianis. As Murphy begins to do whatever goats do when they are happy (wag a tail? spin in circles? eat a tin can?), Old MacDonald unzips his jacket to reveal a Cleveland Indians jersey.

You see, the Cubs defeated the Cleveland Indians in the World Series in 2016. The Indians have also felt the continued sting of losing as they haven’t won a World Series since 1948. The Indians were also up three games to one before the Cubs came back to win it all. So Cleveland fans are justifiably upset with Chicago fans. Plus, they have the added humiliation of living in Cleveland.

When Murphy sees Old MacDonald’s shirt, he just starts crying the most pathetic goat cry you can imagine. Old MacDonald pushes a button and Murphy falls down through the clouds as the credits come up.

The ending of the movie, with its blatant pandering for emotional investment, left many viewers angry. Not angry enough to keep it from a Best Picture nomination though.

Fences

The second film nominated for Best Picture is a movie titled, “Fences.” “Fences” is the second movie on this list with roots in baseball. There is a very interesting real life story associated with this one as well.

“Fences” is an avant-garde movie consisting of 96 minutes of footage from Major League Baseball and other baseball leagues around the world. In short, these clips all show players running into the outfield wall while trying to track down a fly ball. The movie sticks with baseball footage, although the NFL should have offered Gus Frerotte’s headbutt of a wall.  It would have been a welcome inclusion.

And yes, Frerotte suffered a concussion from that imbecilic move.

These clips of baseball players being seriously injured are sliced together in what appears to be random order. They are played over a soundtrack of ominous keyboard noises, various Halloween sound effect screams from some CD purchased at Party City, and what can only be described as the music director’s recording of a cat being washed in the toilet.

One reviewer (me) said that this movie was one of the most disturbing films ever committed to celluloid. But, the real life story attached to this movie makes it worthwhile. Apparently, as Donald Trump was running for President of the United States he took time to watch this movie. As he watched player after player smashing into fences in these major league arenas, he noticed something. With roughly 29% of Major League Baseball players being Latino, Donald Trump had an idea. If these outfield fences could knock down Latino baseball players, imagine what a WALL would do to people trying to enter the country.

Thus, we have this movie to blame for Donald Trump’s stupid ass WALL idea. And for him being President. Where is Rodney McCray when we need him?

Hacksaw Ridge

The third movie on our list is a little movie called “Hacksaw Ridge.” In a stark contrast to the ultra-modern compilation of “Fences,” “Hacksaw Ridge” goes decidedly old school. Like, really old school. High school, in fact.

“Hacksaw Ridge” is the reissue of an old training film for high school Shop teachers. Maybe hipsters found it ironic or something, but there is nothing funny about machine safety! Wear your safety goggles, kids! I don’t care if it messes up your precious hair. Better to have both eyes than a messy ‘do. You can’t see out of your hair! Do you hear me? Are you listening?! Eye patches are even less fashionable than a mullet. You aren’t a pirate! Pay attention and stop talking! And get off my lawn!

Okay, sorry about that. Flashbacks, you know. Anyway, given that few high schools actually teach Shop anymore, this film really struck a nerve with Millennials. Upon realizing that sometimes to get things done you have to exert more effort than just touching a screen, these children faced grand existential crises which will allow them to go forward into adulthood numbed and disillusioned. So, just like actual Shop class, this movie prepares us for life.

I could not obtain a clip of this movie, so here is Emo Phillips in UHF (a movie which should garner an Oscar for being one of the greatest movies in the history of cinema) doing essentially the same bit. Enjoy.

Hell or High Water

“Hell or High Water” brings the audience back to the high-pressure world of the fashion industry. We’re not talking “Project Runway ” silliness either. This is the spiritual, yet depressing, sequel to “The Devil Wears Prada.” (Interesting note, as a show of pollitical protest, the Academy considered nominating only films starring Meryl Streep this year. I’m sure that made for a quite jovial happy hour meeting.)

The movie follows a young fashion designer turned entrepreneur named Salvatore Kors. All Salvatore wants to do is clothe the world. At first, he is satisfied with making the same A-line skirt over and over again. But after moving up to pencil skirts and minis, his creative nature overcame his desire to pay the rent. Salvatore came up with an idea to shake up Fashion Week.

What was this grand concept by Salvatore Kors? Spoiler Alert! Capri pants. For men. Salvatore thought, “Why should women be the only ones who can wear ill-fitting pants? I can tap into a whole new market – men who want to look stupid. On purpose!”

Salvatore’s friends and loved ones tried to dissuade him from this idea, explaining that no one wants to wear “flood pants” or “high water pants.” No one wants to look like they had a growth spurt overnight and are now 3 inches taller. Nor do people want to look like their legs are abnormally stumpy with too long shorts. But Salvatore would not listen to the haters. He had a dream, a dream of cankles being set free!

Salvatore sold everything he could sell, put a mortgage on the cardboard box he had positioned over a warm grate on the sidewalk of Manhattan, gave up eating, and worked non-stop to fulfill his vision. For a split second he found success with blind people in Europe, but that was not to last. We are forced to sit and watch as this not-very-bright young man suffers for his “art.”

The final scene sees a defeated Salvatore hand-stitching the hem on one final pair of men’s capris while speaking to his long-time mentor Tim Gunn. Salvatore looks at Tim with tears in his eyes and says, “I wish the world could see what I see. A world with many, many mosquito bites and dirty socks. And chafing. Lots and lots of chafing. Alas, they shall never encompass my vision. Because no one ever came up with a cool and marketable name for my creation. Something like …” Salvatore looks away and a smile crosses his face, “Something like Man-pri pants! That’s it!”

Tim Gunn looks at his friend, takes the needle from his fingers, and says, “That is just stupid, Salvatore. You did not make it work.” With that, Tim presses the needle into Salvatore Kors’ cartoid artery multiple times.

The credits begin as the film speeds up watching Salvatore bleed out on the sidewalk. Eventually, medical personnel come and he is pronounced dead. Tim Gunn is led away in handcuffs while the coroner places a sheet over Salvatore Kors. He pulls the sheet up over his face and the camera pans down his corpse, seeing that the sheet is too short and lands halfway down his calves.

Hidden Figures

“Hidden Figures” is one of those movies that everyone can relate to in some form or fashion. In this movie, we are drawn into the secretive world of LEGO minifigures and the evil games they play.

That’s right, LEGO minifigures are genuinely evil things. They aren’t fun little characters like The LEGO Movie and LEGO Batman make you think. At night, these minifigures congregate in the middle of your living room floor, hatch plans for evil-doing, and exchange their little LEGO heads. Seriously, who does that? Would you just remove your head and trade it with a Spiderman figure? Of course not. You would die! But these LEGO minifigures don’t die. They are made from some space-age immortal plastic!

What about these evil games they play? The most common of these games is called “Cripple the Human” and it goes something like this. The minifigures play a version of hide and seek where they disappear for weeks at a time under a couch cushion or the entertainment center or even the dining room curio. Unlike regular hide and seek where the winner is the last one to be found, the winner of this version is whomever can disable the most humans. To do so, the minifigures must stay out of sight, but can throw individual bricks into darkened rooms or walkways. When a human steps upon one of these building toys, they experience a pain like no other which forever alters their gait.

Why would LEGO minifigures do this? Because they are evil, as this movie plainly states. They keep up appearances as a harmless children’s toy, but do not be fooled. These hidden figures will mess you up!

La La Land

This movie is the one most people believe will take home the coveted golden trophy man. I’ve heard people say that it is loved by Hollywood because it celebrates Hollywood. That would be a fair criticism if I understood the symbolic undertones in the movie. As it is, I am just a tad confused by “La La Land.”

“La La Land” tells the story of the “cute” Teletubby, Laa-Laa. From Laa-Laa’s early beginning as a stunt double for the Minions, to her musical success with the top 10 hit “Eh Oh,” to her breakdown trying to adjust in the midst of worldwide Teletubby-mania, to her dysfunctional relationship with her vacuum cleaner Noo-noo, and finally, to her vanishing into obscurity, we see what makes Laa-Laa tick.

For those who are fortunate enough to have avoided the Teletubbies prior to this movie, I am sorry that I have to explain this. The backstory, told through excruciating detail in the film, tells of four Teletubbies who revel all day in a disturbingly bright compound and are forced to watch videos again again on television monitors which have been surgically implanted in their stomachs. Around the compound are items called “Voice Trumpets” which tell the Teletubbies where to go and what to do. They are guarded in this compound by various rabbits. Possibly killer rabbits.

The Teletubbies are watched over by the intensely scary Sun Baby, who also makes and monitors their sleep schedule.

Who wouldn’t be scared by this sicko?

The Teletubbies themselves have been subject to much criticism and tabloid-fodder. First, there was Tinky-Winky’s man-purse and allegations that he was a closet homosexual bent on turning the children of England on to his gay agenda. Then there was Dipsy, the sole black Teletubby, and the disparity in his television time compared with his Caucasian friends. We also had Po, who was possibly Chinese or Candenese, but is definitely representative of the financially disadvantaged, given her unfortunate name. There have also been accusations of sex trafficking in TeletubbyLand. These charges have been given credence by the sudden appearance in later years of baby Teletubbies, called Tiddlytubbies (that just sounds wrong), named Mi-Mi, Daa Daa, Baa, Ping, RuRu, Nin, Duggle Dee, and Umby Pumby.

And then there is Laa-Laa. Friendly, lovable Laa-Laa. Laa-Laa is sweet and kind and likes to sing and dance. Sometimes her good nature presses her into service as her fellow Teletubbies’ protector of sorts. However, Laa-Laa is the most deformed of the Teletubbies, having an antenna on her head which is horribly twisted. Whether this antenna was a birth defect or due to severe torture from the Sun Baby, we are never told.

While all this seems bleak and horrible, and it is, “La La Land” manages to make Laa-Laa’s story a refreshingly hopeful one. How did they do this? By removing two A’s from her name and convincing famous people this movie was good, that’s how. Well, that and also threatening to make a movie about the Boohbahs next.

Boohbahs: the stuff of nightmares.

Lion 

The seventh film to be nominated for Best Picture is a tour-de-force called “Lion.” Based on a true story, “Lion” tells the tale of an actual lion found in a vacant house in Detroit. Local residents could hear the lion roaring in the basement, but many thought it was just a dog. Because dogs roar. And sound just like lions.

Instead of harping on the doltishness of people who choose to live in Detroit, the movie focuses on the fact that no one knew how the lion got there. Some speculated that the previous owners of the house had the lion as an illegal pet and just left him there. Others figured he must have been purchased over at American Jewelry and Loan, as seen on the TruTV show “Hardcore Pawn.” Still others posit the conspiracy theory that the lion came across the border illegally and to become a radicalized Islamic terrorist who would turn into a WWE wrestling tag team partner of Hillary Clinton. (Of course, by “others” I mean the boogeymen Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller.)

Eventually, somebody called the police who, along with a wildlife shelter, tranquilized the lion and prepared to place him in a zoo. All’s well that ends well, right? Not so fast. In a final interview with the lion, it is reported that he said, “I want my lawyer. I want to make a deal. I’ll tell you anything you want, just send me somewhere other than Detroit!” Was that an admission of guilt? To what crime? Hopefully we will find out in next year’s summer blockbuster movie, “Lion 2 – Katy Perry Stole My Roar!”

The best thing in this movie is the breakout performance by Matthew Stafford. Stafford plays the formerly tough lion with incredible emotion and empathy. It is almost like Mr. Stafford truly understands wasting away in a Detroit hellhole.

Manchester by the Sea

There was a lot of controversy surrounding this movie this year. Most of the hubbub revolves around the movie’s star, Non-Batman Affleck, being a perverted tool and harassing anyone that moved. But don’t let that real life stuff get in the way of your movie-going experience. After all, if you are going to watch Woody Allen or Roman Polanski films, why not check out this year’s Best Picture nominee?

For me, the biggest controversy about this film involved its title. “Manchester by the Sea?” Huh? An oddly named British city by a body of water. How am I supposed to know if I want to see that movie? Give me a little something more in a title. Something like “Snakes on a Plane” or “Sharknado” or something. I wanted to find out why the film was named what it was, so I reached out to the gaffer, the key grip, the best boy, the child wrangler, and the craft services attendant from this film. The only return call I got was from the second cousin of the gaffer.

From this exclusive source, I learned that the title of this movie was a very contentious subject during shooting. In fact, the film went through a number of working titles before finally settling on “Manchester by the Sea.” Let’s go through those other choices now.

Originally, the script was titled “Barton in the Beans by the Creek.” Even though Barton in the Beans is an actual town in England, the Hollywood crowd didn’t think anyone would believe that. Plus, that title was just too wordy. It was then changed to “Great Snoring by the Loch.” The same argument about this town was floated, but the bigger issue was the use of the word “loch.” Certain family watchgroups got involved and said they were afraid people would think the movie was about the Loch Ness Monster, and they didn’t want that kind of publicity.

The next option was “Queen Camel by the Gulf.”  However, upon seeing the wave of anti-Muslim ugliness pop up throughout the United States during the 2016 Presidental campaign, the producers thought the word “camel” would trigger negative responses and hurt the box office draw. So that name was scratched and they tried “Bitchfield by the Estuary.” Unfortunately, someone mentioned that “Bitchfield” was a little too feminist, so they moved past it.

“Picklescott by the Tributary” was used for a while, but once it was decided to not have the movie be animated, they trashed that silly name. “Briantspuddle by the Canal” was the next name, but even the actors kept falling asleep while hearing that name. One more try was made and the film was re-christened “Lickfold by the Fjord.” That name lasted a full 20 minutes before someone realized it sounded like its own porn parody.

Finally they settled on “Manchester by the Sea.” Given the other options, I suppose they made the right choice. Maybe I wouldn’t care that much if it had any relation to the movie itself. It doesn’t. The movie is actually a psychological treatise about Robert Smith of The Cure. In the end, you come out singing “Fascination Street” while wanting to hide away in a cave for the next ten years. Bloody brilliant stuff.

Moonlight

The last Best Picture nominee is “Moonlight.” It is a tale as old as time. A wealthy and famous supermodel grows tired of spending every day being one of the beautiful people. At the same time, an unscrupulous manager fleeces her entire life savings, leaving only one business behind, the Blue Moon Detective Agency. While assessing the value of her last asset, the lead detective for the business convinces her to keep the business.

Maddie Hayes, the former supermodel, decides to not only keep the business running, but also go to work there. Nothing could be further from the beautiful life of exotic locales, delicious food, and cutting edge fashion than eating cold leftovers in a broken down car overnight while watching a cheating husband hook up at a no-tell motel. Luckily for Ms. Hayes, the lead detective at the Blue Moon Detective Agency, one David Addison, is quick with the wit and his flirtation keeps her intrigued.

David Addison comes across as a smart-ass who is full of himself, but has just enough decency and humility to know how to charm his way through life. He enjoys playing music and is always quick with a joke. Maybe not traditionally handsome (the early-onset male pattern balding is a bit of an issue), he is rugged enough to catch and keep the eye of his employer.

The sexual and romantic tension between Maddie Hayes and David Addison is highly charged and a highlight of the film. Another intriguing concept is the continuous breaking of the fourth wall and speaking directly to the audience or acknowledging it is a movie. Sure, Ferris Bueller had done that years before, but somehow this works for the co-stars of this movie.

What? That was “Moonlighting,” the TV show? Not “Moonlight,” the movie? Are you sure? Pretty sure? Well, that isn’t 100% sure. And Hollywood likes remaking things. Lack of original ideas and all. Plus, you never saw this movie either. No one did. I am simply giving alternative facts about this movie, so there!

And that, as they say in the biz, is a wrap. Thank you for joining me and be sure to tip your ushers. Go Oscar!

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