Media Commentaries and Reaction Pieces

There's a lot of media news out there but not a lot of commentary. Here we attempt to balance things out a bit. 
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Hey, Mister Postman!: The 2014 Posties

posted Mar 9, 2014, 12:46 PM by Terrence Moss   [ updated Aug 16, 2014, 9:36 AM ]

We’re now a week outside of awards season in Hollywood. And as is my new modus operandi, I defer to The Postman and his impressive knowledge of films, film production and film history for a recap of last weekend’s Academy Awards presentation – which he calls The Posties.


Dear Members of the Route, 

For 16 years now, I have 'reviewed' the Oscars by giving out my own awards - The Posties - in categories of my invention and then following those awards with a brief review of the proceedings as a whole.  But this year, for the first time, I am moved to change things up.  And this is why.

I hated the Oscars.  Just hated them.  I thought they were lazy, sloppy, and for the most part, inconsiderate.  I hated the host, I hated the sets, I hated most of the dresses, I hated the production choices, and I even hated the results (I'll explain that later).

So if the venom level is turned up even higher than usual, now you'll know why.  You have been warned.  So let's begin.  The first category...


The Spielberg Oscar Bitch (S.O.B.) Award - given to the most ungracious person at the ceremony, named after the person who often exudes a perverse sense of entitlement over the proceedings even when he's not actually nominated and who gave one of my least favorite acceptance speeches ever.  

I must admit that after suffering through Jared Leto's Q&A for Dallas Buyers Club months ago, I fully expected him to claim this award, but I'm almost shocked to say that his speech was fairly gracious and sweet.  It's tempting to give this award to Leto's brother, who ran over to his brother when his win was announced and stole focus and then ran over to his mother to embrace her while Leto paid tribute to her in his speech.  Dude: it's not about you.  

Or I could give this award to whoever it was who thought it was a good idea to invite Judy Garland's children to the awards and... stand up at their seats.  I love Whoopi Goldberg as much as the next person, but Liza Minnelli is an Oscar winner herself and could probably have handled the duties of introducing the somewhat extraneous tribute to The Wizard of Oz along with her half-siblings Lorna and Joey Luft.  

But this award this year goes to host Ellen DeGeneres.  Sure - some of her humor worked: I actually enjoyed the selfie, though more for the celebrities' reactions who posed for the picture and less for DeGeneres' stage management of it.  And her Jonah Hill crack about The Wolf of Wall Street was hysterical (and, it should be said, nearly ruined when she tried calling back the joke with Hill in the audience later in the show).  But not only did her wandering-the-audience patter become incredibly tiresome, but the pizza gag kind of nailed the point home that the only people who matter at the Academy Awards (and therefore deserve pizza) are the 20 most famous people sitting in the front 2 rows. Sure, it's cute to watch Martin Scorsese and Jennifer Lawrence eat a slice, but that gag only would have worked with 50 other delivery people spreading out all over the place. Oprah Winfrey she ain't: "You don't get a slice!  You don't get a slice!  So few of you... GET A SLICE!"  Then there was DeGeneres' unfortunate joke about the importance of staying in college and saying to Amy Adams, "You went to college, right?"  Adams admitted she hadn't, and no one looked good as a result.  Could they not afford a research team this year?  But even worse, in a year in which an actor won an Oscar for playing a transgendered character, DeGeneres' crack about Liza Minnelli being a man was in awfully poor taste, ESPECIALLY when Minnelli wouldn't even be allowed to take the stage later that evening.  Ellen: you looked bored throughout the evening, and the edge that people referred to in earlier assessments of the night was simple meanness.  So, take a Postie home for your pains.

The Jack Palance TelePrompter Award - given to the biggest goof of the night, in honor of the allegedly drunk Mr. Palance who allegedly gave Marisa Tomei an Oscar she allegedly didn't actually win.   

Well, folks, this one isn't hard to guess, but it is a momentous occasion, because after 17 years, it is now appropriate - obligatory, really - to rename this award.  For the next few years at the very least, this will now be The John Travolta TelePrompter Award. Recall that he won this Postie last year for butchering "Lay Mizzerah-bless" and Helena Bonham Carter's name.  And this year's enormous Idina Menzel/Adele Dazeem boner suggests that Travolta's professed love for musicals doesn't actually extend to learning their titles or stars.  Look, I am as tolerant as anyone of how nerve-wracking a live television event broadcast for the whole world must be (as you will see when I start talking about people's singing a bit later), but Travolta had 2 lines to learn.  Or, rather, read off a TelePrompter.  With a rehearsal.  Dyslexia isn't a valid excuse here.  Maybe it's time to stop inviting him to do things like talk.  In public.  Ever again.

The Joan Rivers Red Carpet Award – paying special tribute to the out-of-theater gaffes.  

Watching the red carpet coverage (which I did, as I often do, after re-watching the telecast) wasn't very much fun this year, perhaps because I knew what a wretched show all the guests were about to see, and it just made me sad for them.  But even more distressing, I started with the hours of E! Entertainment coverage and found, to my horror, that Ryan Seacrest, Guiliana Rancic, Kelly Osbourne, et al. put on a really good show.  Well researched, well paced, there were virtually no gaffes or even remotely embarrassing moments.  True, Seacrest stumbled once by saying to Bette Midler that he couldn't believe she'd never been to the Oscars, but she corrected him graciously, and he recovered well (though she's been before, she'd never performed at the Oscars).

Thankfully, the proceedings over on ABC were a little more embarrassing, both on the early red carpet and the post-Oscar celebrations.  My favorite punching bag in this category, George Pennacchio, had some zingers: he called Kristin Chenoweth "The Voice of the Nation," which I suppose was meant as a compliment, but I wanted to ask, "Which nation?"; he asked Bruce Dern, "Are you ready to take a nap or go to work tomorrow?" which seems incredibly, offensively ageist unless you compare it to Ellen DeGeneres yelling at June Squibb inside the Dolby as if she were hard of hearing (apparently, I'm not taking the Oscar-winning song to heart: I just can't let it go).  And though I'm sure he didn't mean to, it really sounded like Pennacchio said "Matthew McConaughey has not made it back to the governor's balls" which had me giggling after an extremely long night of red carpet coverage.  But still, he wasn't the worst.  

Nearly as bad was Lawrence Zarian, ABC's fashion correspondent also known as "Wait, isn't that Ty Burrell?" by the people after the show who saw him on television when it was on mute.  No, Zarian is not Ty Burrell, because Burrell is funny and probably wouldn't spend 30 seconds keening "Let it Go" or, in his explanation of why he can't interview guests after the Oscars would never say, "I have 3 words for Sandra Bullock: 'can't talk to this.'"  

Strangely, the biggest gaffes came during ABC's official red carpet presentation between 4:00 and 5:30.  First there was Tyson Beckford who is this weird automaton who called Julia Roberts "Jessica" and described altogether too many people as "fabbuhlous."  

But Jess Cagle wins this award this year, for saying to Cate Blanchett - incorrectly - that Suzy Benzinger was nominated for Costume Design for Blue Jasmine, and asking two different couples on the carpet the same nonsensical question: "Do you have date nights?" Insufferable.

The Peter O'Toole Never Won a Competitive Oscar, but Three 6 Mafia Does Irony Award 

I'd like to say I think it's ironic that Peter O'Toole - an 8-time nominee and responsible for one of film's greatest performances - got stuck in the middle of the death montage when James Gandolfini (a marvelous actor whose most significant work was done on television) and Philip Seymour Hoffman (a 4-time nominee and certainly one of the more celebrated actors of our generation) got pride of place, but that's not ironic.  It's rude -- especially in a year where we lost Joan Fontaine and especially iconic legend Shirley Temple.  

No, for me, the one irony was that Kevin Spacey's enthusiastic presentation of the Honorary Oscars ceremony from last November (and the accompanying clips) made it very clear that that was the event that should have been televised and celebrated as opposed to this graceless, formless swill of an awards show.

The Snow White/Rob Lowe Performance Award 

First, about Ms. Adele Dazeem: I have seen Idina Menzel live three times: in Rent, in Wicked, and doing her own show two New Years' Eves ago.  In all three, her voice has been powerful, and her emotional connection to the material has been rich: she was wonderful.  But in this, her second appearance at a major awards show, she apparently psyched herself out so badly that, just like the 2004 Tony Awards and that wretched last bit of "Defying Gravity," the last big note of "Let it Go" the other night was downright painful.  It might have been ok - people make mistakes, of course - but Menzel sounded terrified throughout the performance - out of breath, rushing the tempo - and frankly looked so too.  This was not her finest hour.  

Karen O's performance was wispy to the point of non-existence, and her relationship with pitch cannot be considered strong.  

Though I've never been a fan of Bono's voice, I must say I enjoyed U2's performance of "Ordinary Love," at least until I hit my threshold for whining (and I could have done without him kneeling down at the end).  

Without question, the night's most fun performance was Pharrell Williams' "Happy," punctuated beautifully by the ebullient dancing of LAUSD magnet students, though Williams' live singing leaves a bit to be desired.  

For me, the most annoying performance came from Darlene Love positively shouting "His Eye Is On the Sparrow," but I didn't share her enthusiasm over 20 Feet from Stardom's triumph.   

That leaves the divas: Bette Midler (who was never introduced, not before nor after her singing) did a really lovely rendition of a song I can't stand, so it's hard for me to give a positive Postie to “Wind Beneath My Wings”, or indeed anything that reminds me of Beaches.  

As for Pink, I admit her breathing was a little out of control during "Over the Rainbow," but I put that down to nerves (I've heard her sing live as many times as Ms. Menzel, and she is just as stellar), and her tone and her pitch were really exemplary.  Pink is an absolute favorite of mine, so I admit a bias here (in all fairness, "Happy" probably deserves this), but I'm giving her a Postie for her first appearance at the Oscars.  Let it not be her last.

The Cuba Gooding Jr. Acceptance Speech Award 

There are few things as satisfying as a really gracious, or enthusiastic, or emotional Oscar speech.  While I can't say that Steve McQueen's speech inspired me all that much (he was too flustered), his joyous jumping up and down at its end was really wonderful to see.  

I also really enjoyed Bobby and Kristin Anderson-Lopez' couples rhyming speech: adorable.  

As for the actors, I've already mentioned how pleasantly surprised I was by Jared Leto's speech, and I admit that Matthew McConaughey's speech wasn't as tiresome as his had been the night before at the Independent Spirit Awards in which he gave a lecture to a tent full of people who make independent movies on How to Make Independent Movies, something that surely Matthew McConaughey knows more than the producers, directors and writers... of independent films.  But McConaughey's faux preaching style has worn thin for me this season, and I'm glad to be rid of him, honestly.  

Cate Blanchett's speech contained my favorite element - when a winner graciously acknowledges her other nominees - and I enjoyed the strong feminist talk about successful movies with female characters, but somehow her speech fell just a bit short.  

Perhaps that's because my clear winner in this category is Lupita Nyong'o, whose emotion and grace were unparalleled, and who subtly punctuated by the moment when she mouthed "Shit!" on her way up to the podium.  Just perfect.

The Bette Midler Best Presenter Award 

As I mentioned earlier, Kevin Spacey's presentation was energetic, kicky, and very good, and I say this as someone who wants very badly not to like him all that much. Well done, sir.  

I also loved the combination of Angelina Jolie and Sidney Poitier, mostly because Jolie seemed genuinely thrilled to be standing next to the legend.  

Amy Adams and Bill Murray were cute together, and I enjoyed Murray's impromptu tribute to Harold Ramis.

Christoph Waltz wins the prize as last year's winner who seemed to care the most about this year's nominees.  

But for me, the giddiest heights of presenting came when Jamie Foxx tried - and succeeded - to inject some fun into the increasingly ponderous night by singing the Chariots of Fire theme under Jessica Biel's adequate patter.  It was funny but somehow reverential, and it worked well enough for him to get a Postie.


The Kim Basinger Worst Presenter Award 

Oh, take your pick.  Anne Hathaway may not have been as insufferable as she was when accepting her award last year, but there was something about her that made me want to punch her yet again.  

Jim Carrey's egomania might have been more understandable if he'd made a significant movie since 2004's Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.  

Harrison Ford seemed - don't be shocked - stoned.  

Charlize Theron looked pissed off until she screwed up and actually kind of redeemed her performance by guffawing.  

Chris Evans was dull.  

But I'm going to annoy everyone by picking America's Sweetheart here, Jennifer Lawrence.  When she trucked onstage to present Best Actor, she looked into the audience and said, "Why are you laughing?" which would have been inspired had she continued with Joe Pesci's monologue from GoodFellas.  But no - she was having a private moment with some buddy up in front, undoubtedly inspired by Ellen DeGeneres' pizza party (I know: let it go) or whatever drugs she'd taken that made her trip YET AGAIN this year. Keep it together, JLaw, and read your lines.  Or let the audience in on the joke next time. And have a Postie.

The Moulin Rouge/Battleship Potemkin Montage Award - NO WINNER.   

Boy, I love montages, but this year did no service to the art of assembling clips.  I don't honestly know why the Academy Awards feel they need a theme, and this year's "Heroes in Hollywood" was particularly weak.  The various montages were basically guys (certainly not many women) who did things in movies.  Sure, some of the likely hero suspects - like Lawrence of Arabia, Atticus Finch, and Indiana Jones - were featured, but they were mixed in with so many other dudes who just starred in movies and did nothing particularly heroic that the montages were just time-passers in an extremely long evening.

I'd love to pay tribute to the lovely clips of The Wizard of Oz, but, even with the Postie-awarded Pink performance, was that really the extent of the producers' imagination as to what a Wizard of Oz tribute might be?  A Whoopi Goldberg reminiscence, a performance of a song we've all heard thousands of times, and video clips from the movie?  I'm not a huge fan of the movie, but even I know that The Wizard of Oz deserves better than that.

And so do we.  Better luck next year, editors.

The Joe Eszterhas Writing Award - for the worst scripted patter of the evening.   

While, yes, it's tempting to load up on my DeGeneres hatred and find something she said the worst bit of the evening (and it wouldn't be hard), how can I ignore the surreal moments between Kim Novak and Matthew McConaughey?  

Novak clearly broke from the script when she said how thrilled she was to be back at the Oscars, but surely something of what came before that had been scripted.  Their dialogue was as surreal as Janet Leigh's seduction of Frank Sinatra in The Manchurian Candidate but nowhere near as entertaining.

The Gwyneth Paltrow Worst Dressed Award 

As I stated at the top, I really didn't care for a lot of the fashion on display this year.  So many nude, colorless, blah dresses - from Cate Blanchett to Sally Hawkins to Naomi Watts to Julie Delpy to Sarah Paulson.  And too many white tuxes for the men (three (including Ryan Seacrest) is indeed too many).  Everyone seemed safe, unwilling to take a chance.  

Portia DeRossi took a chance and flailed: her dress looked like a macrame doily, and her hair and makeup did her no favors. But for the first time, I'm not giving my award to a wardrobe choice this year.   

Even my runner-up isn't a dress, but instead Goldie Hawn's face which resembled some horrifying death mask: that seems like something to wear (or, in this case, something to - please - take off).  Goldie - you used to be gorgeous, and you were aging with such grace, but your face made me sad.  So very, very sad.  

But even worse than that face and the boring dresses was the set.  The Oscars everywhere looked inflatable and randomly placed, like a perverse Oscar shooting gallery, and the use of klieg lights and other exposed lightbulbs in those cubbyholes was nearly as tired as the hundreds of typewriters trotted out - once again - to signal that it was time to give out the screenplay Oscars.  Even the 10,000 Swarovski crystals that bedecked the set while Idina Menzel bleated "Let it Go" were barely noticeable since the camera kept so close to her terrified face.  And just because one of the producers of the show loves the musical Follies, that's no reason to have a wall of huge red flowers on stage.  The set was familiar and a little cheap, so it wins a Postie.

There were some definite hits: Goldie Hawn's daughter Kate Hudson looked terrific, Kristin Chenoweth was stunning in a gold Art Deco dress, and Lupita Nyong'o was gorgeous in "Nairobi blue," as Kelly Osbourne cooed throughout the day. Charlize Theron's structured black dress was amazing, but it's hard to imagine her not looking good.  I loved Jennifer Garner's metallic fringe dress and her hair and makeup.   

But if I had to pick a favorite, it would be Camila Alves, Matthew McConaughey's wife, because her pink dress was not only amazing, but it reminded me of perhaps my favorite costume in the history of film: Katharine Hepburn's Grecian swimming pool robe in The Philadelphia Story.

And finally, my favorite Postie - The Jack Nicholson/Kate Winslet Audience Participation Award - given to the person in the crowd whose sense of fun at just being at The Oscars is completely infectious.   

Again, this is why I enjoyed the selfie bit: seeing the likes of Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Bradley Cooper, Julia Roberts, Meryl Streep et al. jump out of their seats enthusiastically to take a picture expressed the fun that I'd like to think I'd have if I were a nominee sitting there.  So there are many contenders for this award this year, and that makes me very happy.  

Beyond those in the selfie, Kristen Bell seemed to be the go-to cutaway whenever Frozen was mentioned, and she sat there beaming at her seat every time the camera found her.

And then there were the dancing dames of Doubt: Amy Adams' slick moves and Meryl Streep's shimmy when Pharrell Williams Happied by them.  

But this award is as easy to give as the Cuba Gooding Jr. Speech Award earlier, and to the same person.  Lupita Nyong'o was living her dream just by sitting in that audience. Even if she hadn't won the Oscar, she still would have schmoozed with all these wonderful stars, danced first with Pharrell, and basked in the night.  And then she did win, and her smile beamed ever brighter.  Her "performance" in the audience was so wonderful, I'm almost tempted to call this a Luposti'e.  But that would be going altogether too far.  But she still has two Posties to frame that Oscar.

So why am I distressed even with the results, when 12 Years a Slave was my second favorite nominated Picture this year, and Cate Blanchett my clear favorite of all the actors in any category?  For a number of reasons.  

First and foremost, the night proceeded with nothing remotely resembling a surprise.  The winner of the Oscar pool at the party I attended got 22 right out of 24.  Sure, that's impressive, but it's also incredibly sad.  All four acting winners had won the night before at the Spirit Awards, and they had dominated the dozens of awards shows in the preceding weeks.  So there was no gasp, no excitement, no thrill at any of the announcements (my biggest "thrill" was seeing Helium win for Live Action Short, but I had also predicted it).  

And I must say that 12 Years a Slave's triumph with only two other awards makes it all too easy to assume that it was a film not loved by many (as it was by me) but seen as the "right" choice, more a reflection of its subject matter, its place in history, than a recognition of its artistry. 

Sure, I admit a little schadenfreude that American Hustle got blitzed, but since one of my favorite films ever went 0 for 11 its year at the Oscars (that would be The Color Purple), and since my favorite Best Picture nominee also went unawarded (that would be The Wolf of Wall Street), I don't over-indulge such spitefulness.  No, that I'll save for the producers, writers and host of this wretched evening and hope that none of them are ever invited back to desecrate it ever again.

The Postman

You want a review???  I'll give you... A REVIEW!!!

Hey, Mister Postman!: His Preferential Oscar Ballot

posted Feb 20, 2014, 8:16 AM by Terrence Moss   [ updated Aug 16, 2014, 9:36 AM ]

As is my new modus operandi, I defer to The Postman and his impressive knowledge of films, film production and film history for his preferential Oscar ballot ahead of this year's 86th annual awards presentation on March 2 -- which will be hosted by Ellen DeGeneres.

Dear Members of the Route,

In past years, I've made it my goal to see all the English-language non-documentary feature films nominated for Academy Awards.  Due to some privileged access and a surfeit of free time in the last few weeks, for the first time ever, I've seen every nominated film in every category: documentaries, shorts, foreign films, everything.  So this will be my most complete Oscar ballot ever (in the past, I've not "voted" in categories where I haven't seen all the nominees).

Please remember that these picks are my preferences, not my predictions.  And, because I am not a member of the Academy, and because I saw more than 100 films from 2013, I reserve the right to choose write-in candidates when the Academy's choices just don't please me.  Once again, the nominees are:

Documentary Short: CaveDigger, Facing Fear, Karama Has No Walls, The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life, Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall 

This is a pleasingly strong selection of films, making me wonder if I've missed gems in the many years I've not watched the documentary shorts.  The only dud among these five is Facing Fear, which comes off as too self-serving to be effective.  CaveDigger is diverting but underfed, The Lady in Number 6 is a bit too uncomplicated for such a difficult subject but very enjoyable, and Karama Has No Walls has a great close-to-the-action urgency.  But my clear favorite is Prison Terminal which watches an inmate die in the recently developed hospice program in an Iowa penitentiary.  For personal reasons, this movie struck an emotional chord with me, but I think it's well-made and fascinating.

Winner: Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall

Live Action Short: Aquel No Era Yo (That Wasn't Me), Avant Que de Tout Perdre (Just Before Losing Everything), Helium, Pitaako Mun Kaikki Hoitaa? (Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?, The Voorman Problem 

On the other hand, this category is very disappointing.  Though the perceived frontrunner is The Voorman Problem, starring Martin Freeman and Mark Hollander, I found it an only somewhat clever one-joke premise.  Do I Have to Take Care of Everything? is similarly slight, and That Wasn't Me is fairly standard third world strife.  Just Before Losing Everything is an intriguing, involving film about a woman trying to liberate herself from her abusive husband, but my favorite by far is Helium, the story of a boy dying in a hospital and the janitor who softens the blow of his final days with his fanciful stories.  Quite moving.

Winner: Helium

Animated Short: Feral, Get a Horse!, Mr. Hublot, Possessions, Room on the Broom 

Another disappointing category.  Though most of these movies are very good looking (with the exception of Room on the Broom, which is bland through and through), there's precious little there there.  Possessions feels like it wants to be a feature: it looks great but doesn't have enough to say.  Feral has some haunting imagery but the story amounts to virtually nothing.  Mr. Hublot is beautifully mounted, but the choice of some awfully lame pop songs towards the end breaks whatever spell the earlier part of the film cast. That leaves my beloved Get a Horse!, a funny, fast, violent short that recalls Looney Tunes-level mayhem and should really be seen in 3D to fully appreciate it.

Winner: Get a Horse!

Documentary Feature: The Act of Killing, Cutie and the Boxer, Dirty Wars, The Square, 20 Feet from Stardom 

I honestly don't understand the world's love affair with 20 Feet from Stardom.  The women profiled in the film are fascinating, and their singing is glorious, but I don't think it's much of a film.  I'd rather watch a concert featuring all of them.  Then again, Dirty Wars is simply awful; the subject matter is interesting enough (a journalist's discovery that American wars are now often fought by guns for hire), but the journalist is altogether too pleased with himself (the director loves his subject all too obviously, allowing the journalist to narrate the film in a style that recalls the worst excesses of old Dragnet episodes).  After its first 30 minutes (which feels like the longest trailer ever), The Square gets very good, with the same on-the-street access as Karama Has No Walls.  The Act of Killing is a fascinating film, a portrayal of a group of truly loathsome individuals allowed to live with impunity despite having committed unthinkable crimes.  And though I'm tempted to write in Stories We Tell, Sarah Polley's sadly not-nominated film, I'm equally fond of Cutie and the Boxer, an interesting portrayal of a complicated relationship between a couple of artists.

Winner: Cutie and the Boxer

Makeup: Dallas Buyers Club, ‘Jackass’ Presents: Bad Grandpa, The Lone Ranger 

Well, first off, I have to say that Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters was totally robbed here.  That said, my choice here is clear.  Bad Grandpa - a shockingly entertaining film, by the way - transforms Johnny Knoxville into a most persuasive old man and does such effective drag makeup on an 8 year-old boy that he successfully infiltrates a pre-teen beauty pageant.  

Winner: Bad Grandpa

Visual Effects: Gravity, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Iron Man 3, The Lone Ranger, Star Trek: Into Darkness 

While I am very tempted to be a contrarian and give this award to The Hobbit for its utterly wonderful creation of the dragon Smaug, even I can't deny the visual effects brilliance of Gravity.  Even if I don't love the film as a whole, Gravity is a game-changer in terms of technology, and its look is truly extraordinary.

Winner: Gravity

Sound Editing: All is Lost, Captain Phillips, Gravity, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Lone Survivor 

Again, I could go the easy route and just give most of the technical categories to Gravity, but it's my ballot, and I'll cry if I want to.  So because I didn't give The Hobbit visual effects, I'm going to spread the wealth and give this award to it -- for Benedict Cumberbatch's voice as the dragon rumbling in my belly most satisfyingly.

Winner: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Sound Mixing: Captain Phillips, Gravity, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Inside Llewyn Davis, Lone Survivor 

Captain Phillips, Gravity, and The Hobbit are all excellently crafted movies (I'm no fan of Lone Survivor but the movie was certainly awfully noisy), but there was no sweeter sound this year than Oscar Isaac and the exceptionally talented cast singing folk songs in Inside Llewyn Davis.

Winner: Inside Llewyn Davis

Film Editing: American Hustle, Captain Phillips, Dallas Buyers Club, Gravity, 12 Years a Slave 

Given the film's pacing problems, American Hustle's place here is a bit baffling, and while Dallas Buyers Club is a proficiently assembled film, I'd gladly have sacrificed its place here to superior film craft.  Despite its gloriously long shots, meaning less editing than your average film, Gravity is expertly put together.  And Captain Phillips is as wonderfully tense as 12 Years a Slave is lyrical.  But my favorites are both off the board here: first is Thelma Schoonmaker for The Wolf of Wall Street, who, at the very least, should have been nominated here.  Though most people I know, even those who like the film, complain that it's too long, for me, those three hours flew like no other film did this year, so much so that I felt I could easily have sat in the theater for three more hours.  But the tensest, most exciting film experience I had this year was the two hours of nail-biting tension found in World War Z, an expertly crafted popcorn film.  So it's zombies over stockbrokers for the win.

Winner: World War Z

Costume Design: American Hustle, The Grandmaster, The Great Gatsby, The Invisible Woman, 12 Years a Slave 

I can't say I love this category this year.  I'm not prepared to say that I didn't like any of these nominees (though American Hustle felt a little too aggressively costumed to me, and I didn't find The Grandmaster very memorable on any level), but I also can't say I loved any of these achievements.  The Invisible Woman was a dull film, and its costumes were admirably ordinary, but that still makes them... ordinary.  So between my default favorites 12 Years a Slave and The Great Gatsby, I guess I'll throw a nod to the splashier Gatsby.

Winner: The Great Gatsby

Animated Film: The Croods, Despicable Me 2, Ernest & Celestine, Frozen, The Wind Rises 

How far we have fallen from 2009 when the nominees included The Fantastic Mr. Fox, Coraline, The Princess and the Frog, and Up, four utterly wonderful animated films, all of which tower over this year's selections.  Now we range from the awful (Despicable Me 2) to the merely proficient.  Do I go with the beautiful but achingly dull The Wind Rises? The charming but slight Ernest & Celestine?  The adequate factory product The Croods? Or the severely flawed Frozen with its moments of absolute inspiration?  I don't love any of the choices here (nor is there a suitable write-in candidate).

Winner: Frozen

Foreign Film: The Broken Circle Breakdown, The Great Beauty, The Hunt, The Missing Picture, Omar 

The Broken Circle Breakdown and The Hunt both have their moments, but they are also both too on-the-nose to be totally effective.  The Missing Picture is deadly: though the director is to be commended for his artistic vision of presenting the liquidation of Phnom Penh by creating hundreds of clay figures to illustrate his country's history, the effect of the film is basically staring at a diorama for 90 minutes, like getting stuck on the Disneyland Railroad in front of the Grand Canyon and never getting to the dinosaurs. The Great Beauty is stunning, but it owes such a great debt to Fellini that it doesn't exist as its own film enough for me.  As my top 10 list indicates, I'm a huge fan of Omar, a twisty political thriller from Palestine.  The choice is very easy here.

Winner: Omar

Original Song: “Happy”, Despicable Me 2; “Let it Go”, Frozen; “The Moon Song”, Her; “Ordinary Love”, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom 

Unlike my disappointment with other categories this year, I can genuinely say I like all of these nominated songs (and considering how little I like U2's music, that is a surprise to me).  “Happy” is just plain fun, and “The Moon Song” hauntingly lilting (though I far prefer Scarlett Johansson's version in the film to Karen O's recorded version).  But “Let it Go” is undeniable: it sticks in your head like a Whitney Houston song from the 80's, and it has touched the public imagination in a way that no movie song has since, maybe, the ineligible "Come What May" from Moulin Rouge!  And I love it, plain and simple, as I wish I loved the whole film.

Winner: “Let it Go”, Frozen

Original Score: The Book Thief, Gravity, Her, Philomena, Saving Mr. Banks 

I'll admit it: I seldom pay attention to a film's score.  If a score is too noticeable, it distracts and annoys me (as the Gravity score did by the third time I saw the movie).  So I listened to 20 minutes each of the nominated scores before making my decision.  While I found Her's score effective in the film, it didn't thrill me out of its film's context.  Much as I normally like Alexandre Desplat's music, his Philomena score strikes me as twittery and insubstantial.  Saving Mr. Banks is nice, but it's all too typical Thomas Newman. Surprisingly, Gravity's music redeemed itself with me away from the film, but I'm going with the old master in this category, John Williams for his lovely music for the also lovely film The Book Thief.

Winner: The Book Thief

Production Design: American Hustle, Gravity, The Great Gatsby, Her, 12 Years a Slave 

This one's easy.  Though there are some good looking films represented in this category, the physical world of Her was so extraordinary - from the color scheme to the set design to even the video games - and the look so essential to maintaining the mood of the movie, that no other films need apply.

Winner: Her

Cinematography: The Grandmaster, Gravity, Inside Llewyn Davis, Nebraska, Prisoners 

Another easy one.  As I've said before, I don't love the inclusion of visual effects movies in this category (my solution: create a category for visual effects cinematography, where films like Gravity, Life of Pi, and Avatar can justly thrive), so despite Gravity's beauty, I can't vote for it.  Besides, the painterly images of Inside Llewyn Davis are so stunning that this category isn't even a close contest.

Winner: Inside Llewyn Davis

Adapted Screenplay: Before Midnight, Captain Phillips, Philomena, 12 Years a Slave, The Wolf of Wall Street 

This one's not so easy.  Though a big fan of 12 Years a Slave, I feel its achievements are more to be found in other categories.  And the writing of The Wolf of Wall Street is dazzling and funny, but due to the amount of improvisation done on set, it's hard to know how much credit writer Terence Winter is actually due (I suspect quite a bit, still...).  But my affection for the script of Before Midnight - a movie that relies almost exclusively on the strength of its script - is unqualified.  Every conversation - every word, really - feels achingly real to me.  And maybe a fantasy Oscar that these filmmakers will never hear about will encourage them to make a fourth film.

Winner: Before Midnight

Original Screenplay: American Hustle, Blue Jasmine, Dallas Buyers Club, Her, Nebraska 

I always tend to be partial to adaptations over original scripts, but this year the disparity seems very high.  I just don't love this category.  American Hustle has some wonderful lines (I'm very partial to the ice fishing story), but I think it's a structural mess.  Nebraska also has some nice moments, but its tone ended up rankling me quite a bit the second time through.  Dallas Buyers Club boasts an adequate but, to me, honestly unremarkable and occasionally troubling script.  That leaves Her, a near hit for me (the second time I watched it, that is), but it still reminds me so much of Woody Allen's masterpiece Annie Hall that I couldn't help but be distracted (seriously, the relationship between Joaquin Phoenix and his computer system has a number of parallels with the relationship between Alvy Singer and Annie).  That leaves Blue Jasmine, a very fine film but nowhere close to Allen's finest work.  So I'm going to throw a write-in bone to Inside Llewyn Davis, my favorite Coen brothers script, and unjustly left off this list a month ago.

Winner: Inside Llewyn Davis

Supporting Actress: Sally Hawkins, Blue Jasmine; Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle; Lupita Nyong'o, 12 Years a Slave; Julia Roberts, August: Osage County, June Squibb, Nebraska 

It's one thing to give a great performance in an otherwise good film.  It's another thing entirely to shine through a film I can't stand.  Though I freely admit that co-stars Margo Martindale, Chris Cooper, and Juliette Lewis did very nice work in August: Osage County, the fact that Julia Roberts could do the finest work in her career in a badly directed, badly edited, badly shot, badly scored film, is nothing short of a miracle to me. I'm a fan of a number of women in this category (though I wish there were space for Margot Robbie from The Wolf of Wall Street and Sarah Paulson or Adepero Oduye from 12 Years a Slave here), but Roberts - an actress I was furious upon hearing she'd even been cast in August: Osage County - blew me away.

Winner: Julia Roberts, August: Osage County

Supporting Actor: Barkhad Abdi, Captain Phillips; Bradley Cooper, American Hustle; Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave; Jonah Hill, The Wolf of Wall Street; Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club 

Why, oh why, is this category the ugly stepchild of the acting categories, year after year after year?  While I don't hate any of these performances, I'm also not that wild about any of them.  My problem with Leto's performance is more a function of how calculated the role seems to have been written with an Oscar in mind, but even acknowledging that bias, I still think he only does what's required, little more.  Cooper impressed me more last year in Silver Linings Playbook: this role just seemed needlessly hysterical.  Fassbender is a wonderful actor, but I had problems with his role: the dots never connected to explain his evil to me.  I like Jonah Hill in Wolf, but I preferred him in Moneyball.  So I could go with Barkhad Abdi as my default favorite in the category, because I really did like his work in Captain Phillips.  Or I could go off the board and honor James Gandolfini's sweet anti-Tony-Soprano performance in Enough Said, or Tom Hanks' incredibly satisfying performance as Walt Disney in Saving Mr. Banks, or celebrate my favorite performance in American Hustle, Louis C.K.  I might almost flip a coin on this one.

Ultimately, sad to say, I don't really care.

Winner: Tom Hanks, Saving Mr. Banks (though I admit what puts him over the edge here was his work in the last 15 minutes -- and only the last 15 minutes -- of Captain Phillips)

Actress: Amy Adams, American Hustle; Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine; Sandra Bullock, Gravity; Judi Dench, Philomena; Meryl Streep, August: Osage County 

Is there even a reason to discuss this?  Though I'd be happy to champion Amy Adams' very fine work in any other year but this, though I could spend more time complaining about Meryl Streep's all-too-humanizing portrayal of her monster mother character, there's really no point in discussing anyone but Cate Blanchett, who gives the year's best performance regardless of category.  Blanchett is an actress I have never genuinely loved before.  I hated her drag queen portrayal of Katharine Hepburn that won her an undeserved Oscar nearly a decade ago, and I've just never felt a huge amount of emotion coming out of her: technical brilliance, sure, but not much of a heartbeat underneath. Until now.  Her work in Blue Jasmine is simply epic: funny and heartbreaking, intelligent and gut-wrenching.  The effect of this performance may do what The Queen did for me with Helen Mirren.  I may now love Cate Blanchett forever more.

Winner: Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine

Actor: Christian Bale, American Hustle; Bruce Dern, Nebraska; Leonardo DiCaprio, The Wolf of Wall Street; Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave; Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club 

Now this one's more of a barn-burner.  While I question the choice of Christian Bale's place here, I also wasn't a huge fan of the two performances considered "snubbed" here: either Robert Redford's work in All is Lost or Tom Hanks' work in Captain Phillips (except, admittedly, for those last 15 minutes).  I'd throw Oscar Isaac from Inside Llewyn Davis as my fifth choice here.  But the other four?  All excellent.  Bruce Dern's work as an aging man might not be as iconic for me as Jack Nicholson's in About Schmidt, Alexander Payne's far superior film, but it is very nice.  Though I'm not as seduced by Dallas Buyers Club as everyone else seems to be, I do love McConaughey here, if only because the world has caught up with the considerably good work he's done in the last few years (though I still prefer him in Magic Mike).  And Chiwetel Ejiofor is exquisite in his quiet, reactive performance in 12 Years a Slave.  But Leonardo DiCaprio is so dazzling in The Wolf of Wall Street.  I have always found him a charming actor, but I didn't know how funny he could be (based on his interviews, I'm guessing he didn't know how funny he could be either).  I'll say it again: that quaaludes sequence has to be the best physical comedy I've seen in a film in many, many years.  And since comedy so seldom gets Oscar love, I'll correct that in my small way. 

Winner: Leonardo DiCaprio, The Wolf of Wall Street

Director: Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity; Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave; Alexander Payne, Nebraska; David O. Russell, American Hustle; Martin Scorsese, The Wolf of Wall Street 

As much as I love The Wolf of Wall Street, I will admit that it doesn't exactly represent a new chapter in Martin Scorsese's work.  And as much as I haven't championed Gravity as a whole, Alfonso Cuaron's work this year is really extraordinary: it would be a pleasure to give him this award.  But Steve McQueen gets my award here, because he has made a wonderful film that feels especially like a major directorial achievement to me.  12 Years a Slave is a beautifully artful film: though unsparing and harsh, it also feels like a finely calibrated piece of music, telling the story not simply of a man who endures almost impossible hardship, but how that hardship shakes him out of his relative apathy and makes him into an abolitionist.  McQueen blew me away with the power of his work this year.

Winner: Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave

Picture: American Hustle, Captain Phillips, Dallas Buyers Club, Gravity, Her, Nebraska, Philomena, 12 Years a Slave, The Wolf of Wall Street 

Since I have already published my Top 10 of the year, with Inside Llewyn Davis as my #1 and (a mere) two of these nominees on the list, my ultimate choice is no surprise.  So, as I have done in years past, I will simply rank the Best Picture nominees in preferential order:

#1 - The Wolf of Wall Street

#2 - 12 Years a Slave

#3 - Her

#4 - Captain Phillips

#5 - Gravity

#6 - Dallas Buyers Club

#7 - Philomena

#8 - American Hustle

#9 - Nebraska

And with that, I close my ballot and my all-too-well-developed Academy Award member fantasies.  Now I have about 10 days to polish this year's Posties. 

The Postman

You want a fantasy Oscar ballot???  I'll give you... A FANTASY OSCAR BALLOT!!!

If I Ran a Cable Television Network: A Pitch (of Sorts) for the New Net90s

posted Feb 17, 2014, 8:05 AM by Terrence Moss   [ updated Aug 16, 2014, 9:34 AM ]

Last October, I wrote a piece about how I would run a broadcast television network – at least from a programming standpoint. I lamented the current state of broadcast television and made several brilliant suggestions to the broadcast networks for remaining just ahead of TV’s evolutionary curve.

Shortly thereafter, I thought about how I would run a cable network – at least from a programming standpoint. But instead of taking an existing network and reprogramming it, I created one of my own. Granted, there are already hundreds in existence, but despite that proliferation, there is still a void not being filled since a lot of them seem to go after a similar demographic with exploitative, combative reality programming.

I call my new cable network Net90s -- aimed at, but not directly or entirely, products of the 1970s who grew up in the 1980s and came of age in the 1990s.

We’ll launch with a mix of acquired programs hailing from the early, middle and late 1990s and, unlike most cable networks, original scripted programming – which will hearken back to that 1990s style of television comedies and dramas about families, characters and their interrelationships as they face relatable situations.


Terrence and Doris Logan – a long-married fortysomething couple send their youngest son off to college – and now their marriage truly begins.

Twins of Anarchy – time-jumping stories about a family with twin boys based on the blog of the same name.

My Mother and Me – an early thirtysomething woman has to adapt to the evolving relationship between her and her newly teenaged son.

Just Us Guys – a gay thirtysomething has an unorthodox relationship with his straight teenage son.                                  

The Two of Us- an unlikely friendship forms between a gay black man from the northeast and a straight white man from Texas when they become roommates in the East Bay.

I Am Erick Davidson - a long-single gay early thirtysomething who finally, but tentatively, enters into a relationship.

On Her Owna 22-year-old young woman fresh out of college lands a job, moves out of her parent’s house and into an apartment with two girlfriends from high school.

The Happy Homemaker – an interracial gay couple raises an adopted son.

This Life – a sixtysomething retired from a long career as a teacher tries to find his way in a changing world and a family that’s all grown up.

Thirty-plus & Some – a thirtysomething moves in with his mother and her mother, who don’t like each other.

The Stag – a broken-hearted straight guy takes solace with a group of gay men.

Lockwood Drive - a close-knit Italian family lives on the same street in the same archetypal New England town.


Anthology – a series of dramatic adaptations and original works featuring an array of guest-starring actors and actresses as well as a revolving door of reperatory players.

The Shepherd – a young man steps out from the apprenticeship of a veteran pastor to take over a church of his own.

Extended Family – a young man has a dubious relationship with his large family.

Open Road – two men, unsatisfied with their dead-end lives, decide to pool their money and embark on an extended road trip.


In Living Color – weeknight strip

Wings - weekday strip

The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air – weekday strip

Blossom – weekend strip

Home Improvement – weeknight strip

Roc – weekends

Mad About You – weekday strip

Martin – weekends

Ellen – weekday strip

Grace Under Fire – weekday strip

Living Single – weekends

Caroline in the City - weekends

Cybill - weekends

3rd Rock from the Sun – weekday strip

Moesha – weekends

Suddenly Susan - weekends

Cosby – weekday strip

Veronica's Closet - weeknight strip

Sports Night - weekends


Northern Exposure – weekday strip

Sisters – weekday strip

Picket Fences – weekday strip

Homicide: Life on the Street – weekday strip

New York Undercover – weekday strip

My So-Called Life – weekends

Murder One - weekends

Chicago Hope – weekday strip

ACQUIRED YOUTH PROGRAMMING (Saturday and Sunday Mornings)

Saved by the Bell

Tiny Toon Adventures



Rugrats (first nine seasons only)

Welcome Freshmen

Salute Your Shorts



PRIME (MON-FRI 8:30-11:30P, SAT-SUN 8PM-12M)

(January-April, July-October)

830pm             Terrence and Doris Logan         (Previous week’s episode)
9pm                 Twins of Anarchy                        (Previous week’s episode)
930pm             Terrence and Doris Logan         (New episode)
10pm               Twins of Anarchy                        (New episode)
1030pm           Terrence and Doris Logan        (Encore)
11pm               Twins of Anarchy                        (Encore)
830pm             My Mother and Me                     (Previous week’s episode)
9pm                 Just Us Guys                                 (Previous week’s episode)
930pm             My Mother and Me                     (New episode)
10pm               Just Us Guys                                 (New episode)
1030pm           My Mother and Me                     (Encore)
11pm               Just Us Guys                                 (Encore)
830pm             On Her Own                                 (Previous week’s episode)
9pm                 I Am Erick Davidson                   (Previous week’s episode)
930pm             On Her Own                                 (New episode)
10pm               I Am Erick Davidson                   (New episode)
1030pm           On Her Own                                 (Encore)
11pm               I Am Erick Davidson                    (Encore)
830pm             The Shepherd                               (Encore)
930pm             Anthology                                     (New episode)
1030pm           Anthology                                     (Encore)
830pm             The Happy Homemaker             (Repeats)
9pm                 The Stag                                         (Repeats)
930pm             Thirty-plus & Some                     (Repeats)
10pm               The Two of Us                              (Repeats)
1030pm           This Life                                         (Repeats)
11pm               Lockwood Drive                            (Repeats)
8pm                 Terrence and Doris Logan          (Repeats)
830pm             Twins of Anarchy                        (Repeats)
9pm                 My Mother and Me                      (Repeats)
930pm             Just Us Guys                                 (Repeats)
10pm               On Her Own                                  (Repeats)
1030pm           I Am Erick Davidson                   (Repeats)
11pm               Anthology                                      (Repeats)
8pm                 The Shepherd                                (Previous week’s episode)
9pm                 Anthology                                      (Previous week’s episode)
10pm               The Shepherd                               (New episode)
11pm               The Shepherd                                (Encore)

(April–July, October–January) 

830pm             The Happy Homemaker             (Previous week’s episode)
9pm                 The Stag                                         (Previous week’s episode)
930pm             The Happy Homemaker             (New episode)
10pm               The Stag                                         (New episode)
1030pm           The Happy Homemaker             (Encore)
11pm               The Stag                                         (Encore)
830pm             Thirty-plus & Some                     (Previous week’s episode)
9pm                 The Two of Us                              (Previous week’s episode)
930pm             Thirty-plus & Some                    (New episode)
10pm               The Two of Us                             (New episode)
1030pm           Thirty-plus & Some                    (Encore)
11pm               The Two of Us                              (Encore)
830pm             This Life                                         (Previous week’s episode)
9pm                 Lockwood Drive                           (Previous week’s episode)
930pm             This Life                                         (New episode)
10pm               Lockwood Drive                           (New episode)
1030pm           This Life                                         (Encore)
11pm               Lockwood Drive                           (Encore)
830pm             Extended Family                          (Encore)
930pm             Open Road                                    (New episode)
1030pm           Open Road                                    (Encore)
830pm             Terrence and Doris Logan         (Repeats)
9pm                 Twins of Anarchy                        (Repeats)
930pm             My Mother and Me                     (Repeats)
10pm               Just Us Guys                                 (Repeats)
1030pm           On Her Own                                 (Repeats)
11pm               I Am Erick Davidson                    (Repeats)
8pm                 The Happy Homemaker              (Repeats)
830pm             The Stag                                        (Repeats)
9pm                 Thirty-plus & Some                      (Repeats)
930pm             The Two of Us                              (Repeats)
10pm               This Life                                          (Repeats)
1030pm           Lockwood Drive                           (Repeats)
11pm               Open Road                                      (Repeats)
8pm                 Extended Family                           (Previous week’s episode)
9pm                 Open Road                                     (Previous week’s episode)
10pm               Extended Family                           (New episode)
11pm               Extended Family                           (Encore)


3rd Rock from the Sun                                6-7A
Cosby                                                              7-8A
Living Single                                                  8-9A
Mad About You                                            9-10A
Grace Under Fire                                         10-11A
Ellen                                                                11A-12N
Wings                                                              12N-1P
New York Undercover                                1-2P
Homicide: Life on the Street                      2-3P



Northern Exposure                                       3-4P    
Sisters                                                             4-5P
Picket Fences                                                5-6P
Chicago Hope                                                6-7P


In Living Color                                             7-830P



Sports Night                                                 1130P-12M
Caroline in the City                                      12M-1A
Suddenly Susan                                            1-2A



Tiny Toon Adventures/Animaniacs         6-7A
Rugrats/Doug                                               7-8A
Salute Your Shorts                                      8-9A
Welcome Freshmen                                     9-10A
Fifteen                                                            10-11A
Saved by the Bell                                         11A-12N



Blossom                                                         12N-2P
Moesha                                                          2-4P
My So-Called Life                                        4-5P
Cybill                                                              5-7P


“Acquired Plus” Programming                   7-8P


Paid Programming                                      12M-6A


Tiny Toon Adventures                               6-7A
Animaniacs                                                   7-8A
Rugrats                                                         8-9A
Doug                                                              9-10A
Fifteen                                                          10-11A
Saved by the Bell                                        11A-12N


Martin                                                          12N-2P
Living Single                                                2-4P
Roc                                                                4-6P

SUNDAY ACCESS                         

In Living Color                                            6-8P


Paid Programming                                      2-6A

You might be wondering how this network and its programming would be financed. The answer is...that's not my problem. I'm the idea guy, not the money guy. 

Hey, Mister Postman: The 86th Annual Academy Award Nominations, or, The Coen Brothers, I Weep!

posted Jan 17, 2014, 3:41 AM by Terrence Moss   [ updated Aug 16, 2014, 9:36 AM ]

As is my new modus operandi, I defer to The Postman and his impressive knowledge of films, film production and film history for a reaction to this year's Oscar nominations -- which were announced yesterday by actor Chris Helmsworth and Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs:

Dear Members of the Route,

Well, my Christmas morning has come once again, the one day I willingly wake up hours before I would normally get out of bed to pad over to my couch, turn on the television, and wait with breathless anticipation for what Santa Oscar has brought me.  No milk and cookies for me; pen and paper, thank you.  Let's open the presents, shall we?

And the nominations seem to be...

Best Picture: American Hustle, Captain Phillips, Dallas Buyers Club, Gravity, Her, Nebraska, Philomena, 12 Years a Slave, The Wolf of Wall Street 

Though I don't spend a lot of energy making predictions for these nominations, it has been very clear to me that only 12 films released this year had any reasonable shot at being nominated for Best Picture: these nine as well as Inside Llewyn Davis, Saving Mr. Banks, and Blue Jasmine.  No other films need have applied.  And while everyone else seems to embrace 2013 as a film year to celebrate, I think this list of 12 represents an awfully shallow pool as well as one in which I'm not all that eager to wade (and I say this having already seen all 12 of these perceived "finalists" twice each).  When I publish my Top 10 list this year, you will notice only two films nominated this year on there.  Just two.  That's as bad as 2011, my vote for worst year ever at the movies, with shining stars The Artist and The Help and The Descendants leading the Oscar charge. 

My biggest disappointment of this morning's revelations is not seeing Inside Llewyn Davis listed here (or, frankly, in Best Director, Best Actor, Original Screenplay, Editing... you get the picture).  The Coen brothers may have made their best movie yet, but it's either too low-key to be heard over the din, or its distributor didn't have the muscle to generate enough hype.  And yes, I'd rather see Blue Jasmine and even Saving Mr. Banks on this list over the likes of the awkwardly condescending Nebraska, the Vanity Fair article-movie Philomena, and the somewhat naive and cliched Dallas Buyers Club.  And, once again, I sit in utter mystification that David O. Russell has conned so many people into liking yet another movie of his: American Hustle was fun the first time through, but on second viewing, it revealed itself to me as an amiable mess with no momentum, with characters left largely at sea by a screenplay that revels in the sound of its own tinny cleverness, sacrificing logic and causality whenever necessary.  Ah well...

Best Director: Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity; Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave; Alexander Payne, Nebraska; David O. Russell, American Hustle; Martin Scorsese, The Wolf of Wall Street 

Though Gravity will not make my Top 10 list this year, even I am perfectly happy to celebrate Cuaron's astounding achievement in this category.  And certainly, I'm very pleased for Steve McQueen and Martin Scorsese, who both made favorites of mine this year.  I won't continue my David O. Russell bashing, because I know he's very good with actors (I just wish he were better with editing, pacing, structure... you know, the little things).  But Alexander Payne's Nebraska, while not as egregious as The Descendants (a film I truly hated), just doesn't strike me as that good.  Beyond one excellent performance, and a couple of other strong acting turns, I find the movie relatively slack and I can't help feeling that Payne is laughing at the movie's characters, not with them.  That's an accusation I normally level at the Coen brothers, something they absolutely don't do with the people populating Inside Llewyn Davis.  Maybe condescension works for the Academy; I don't know.

Best Actor: Christian Bale, American Hustle; Bruce Dern, Nebraska; Leonardo DiCaprio, The Wolf of Wall Street; Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave; Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club 

Interestingly, this is the one category where four of my favorite performances of the year actually show up.  As much as I have problems with both movies Nebraska and Dallas Buyers Club, I really do celebrate the work of Bruce Dern and especially Matthew McConaughey.  But, if I have to be honest with myself, the one thing I wished for from Santa Oscar this year, was Leonardo DiCaprio to be remembered for his explosive, hilarious, despicable performance in The Wolf of Wall Street.  Yes, I think he's better than Tom Hanks who, despite an incredible final 15 minutes in Captain Phillips, just didn't wow me at any other time in the movie, especially with that embarrassing Boston accent.  And, much as I respected the filmmaking of All is Lost, I was similarly unwowed by Robert Redford, so I can't say I'm sad to see him neglected either.  As for Mr. Bale, while I enjoyed his Wig Performance (David O. Russell, after conning the Academy into giving Melissa Leo an Oscar a few years back by throwing her in a ridiculous wig and handing her a lot of cigarettes, has become the go-to Wig Director), I would still rather have seen Oscar Isaac, Idris Elba, or Michael B. Jordan there in his place.

Best Actress: Amy Adams, American Hustle; Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine; Sandra Bullock, Gravity; Judi Dench, Philomena; Meryl Streep, August: Osage County 

As much vitriol as I have to spew about American Hustle, I must say that I really loved Amy Adams (though I think I liked her even better in Her, but that's another story).  I am delighted to see her nominated, even if my favorite in this category - Cate Blanchett - is oh so clear.  I truly believe the rest of the nominees are just category-fillers here, and I'd gladly see Brie Larson from Short Term 12 or Julie Delpy from Before Midnight up here instead of Ms. Bullock, Dench, or Streep.  Emma Thompson's absence is woeful: I certainly think her work is every bit the equal of Judi Dench's Weinstein-encouraged vote pandering performance (lovely as it is) and certainly better than Streep's mugging, look-at-me-I'm-acting turn.  Meryl Streep is a national treasure, and I have loved many of her performances - truly loved them - but she needn't be nominated every time she shows up on film, people.  Really, give her a rest.

Supporting Actor: Barkhad Abdi, Captain Phillips; Bradley Cooper, American Hustle; Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave; Jonah Hill, The Wolf of Wall Street; Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club 

Why, oh why, is this always the shittiest category of the year?  Yes, I do think it's appropriate to swear.  Year after year after year, this category is filled with adequate performances masquerading as greatness, when the other three categories more often than not have so many options that people are left on the curb as the bus has pulled away.  Despite my love of 12 Years a Slave, Michael Fassbender's character was the one I could never quite grasp: I just don't think the script does enough to connect the dots to make me understand his evil (though his acting nearly does the job that the script does not, it's not enough for me).  Bradley Cooper shows a lot of nervous energy in American Hustle, but I didn't find his acting all that exemplary; he was far better last year in Silver Linings Playbook.  And Jared Leto does his best, but his character seems like such a collection of cliches - a made-up character served to redeem the film's one true character (played by Mathew McConaughey) and score audience sympathy points - that I just can't embrace his performance.  So while I am delighted that Barkhad Abdi and Jonah Hill are nominated (a second viewing of The Wolf of Wall Street makes Leonardo DiCaprio's claims that Jonah Hill led the cast in its largely improvised scenes seem quite easy to believe), I'd rather have made room elsewhere in this category for James Gandolfini's quiet work in Enough Said, Tom Hanks' quite lovely performance as Walt Disney in Saving Mr. Banks, Jake Gyllenhaal's twitchy work in Prisoners (and for me to celebrate anything in that wretched film is saying something), or Chris Cooper in August: Osage County.

Supporting Actress: Sally Hawkins, Blue Jasmine; Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle; Lupita Nyong'o, 12 Years a Slave; Julia Roberts, August: Osage County, June Squibb, Nebraska 

For those of you playing at home, this is the only category (along with Adapted Screenplay) that I predicted correctly (explaining perhaps why I don't share my predictions).  Sure, it's a slight surprise that Oprah Winfrey wasn't nominated for Lee Daniels' The Butler, but ask yourself: if anyone BUT Oprah Winfrey had given that performance, would anyone have talked about it?  I am just fine not seeing her on this list.  I think this is a fine group.  Though I would rather have seen her nominated for the movie Happy-Go-Lucky a few years back, Hawkins is a most pleasant inclusion here.  And I'm pleased for June Squibb, even if I don't love her performance as much as others seem to.  But I'm still a bit mystified by everyone's love for Jennifer Lawrence.  As an actress.  Again, she seems to be a delightful person, and if there were Oscars for Best Congeniality or Best Post-Show Interview, I'd give them all to her.  But acting??  Her accent comes and goes more rapidly than the tonal switches in American Hustle.  Sure, if she hadn't won her undeserved Oscar last year for Silver Linings Playbook, I might think more kindly towards her this year (I do like her performance better in Hustle).  But, see, she did; she did win.  Attention must be paid!!  Julia Roberts wins the same prize Helen Hunt won last year: both women deserved to be considered as lead actress for their respective movies (Helen Hunt in The Sessions) but were relegated to Supporting to make room for them.  While I loved Roberts in August: Osage County, Margo Martindale and Juliette Lewis also did really nice work in what are definitely supporting roles.  I would also like to have made room for Octavia Spencer, who I so hated in The Help but so loved in Fruitvale Station (a movie sadly overlooked this morning), Sarah Paulson in 12 Years a Slave, Amy Adams for Her, Naomie Harris for Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, and Margot Robbie for The Wolf of Wall Street.  This category, unlike the previous one, is, as ever, an embarrassment of riches.

Original Screenplay: American Hustle, Blue Jasmine, Dallas Buyers Club, Her, Nebraska 

Again, this category is rendered absurd without the inclusion of Inside Llewyn Davis, but I'd also like to have seen Enough Said get its due here, as well as In a World..., Lake Bell's surprisingly fresh and tart comedy.  American Hustle's script is a mess with some crackly dialogue (boy, I do love that ice fishing story), Blue Jasmine is not Woody Allen's greatest (though I do raise that bar fairly high), and Her - a movie I have grown to like far more the second time through - still strikes me as a loose remake of Annie Hall without Diane Keaton... or jokes.  Nebraska has too many moments that feel like sitcom scenarios of how midwestern yokels might behave or talk for my tastes, and Dallas Buyers Club takes easy potshots at the FDA and brings its prickly, intriguing lead character to a far too easy redemption for my liking.  In short, I do not think this was a terribly strong year for original screenplays.

Adapted Screenplay: Before Midnight, Captain Phillips, Philomena, 12 Years a Slave, The Wolf of Wall Street 

Now this is where the quality resides.  Before Midnight is little more than talk, but the talk is glorious, from the couple's discussions about their children, their marriage, their past, to the rousing dinner conversation where their friends from their vacations share their different perspectives on love.  12 Years a Slave's script is like poetry, though I must admit I find the mastery of that film more directorial than scripted.  Captain Phillips is a taut, well-directed thriller, an excellent action movie that I don't happen to love, but its script, along with its filmmaking, is certainly very tight.  The Wolf of Wall Street boasts an amazing script, with fast, smart dialogue punctuated by actors' improvisations, but a razor-sharp structure that sends its characters to the impossible heights and watches them drop ever so excitingly.  Only Philomena feels the odd man out here, as I still don't understand what the dramatic heft of the story here is.  A woman searches for her long lost son and finds out all sorts of things about him.  OK, but what does she learn about herself?  How does she grow or change?  Again, I think the account of what she found is fascinating, but I'd rather have seen her son's story than watch her wander about Washington DC and crack jokes about Big Momma's House.  No, I'd have lost Philomena in this category and replaced it with either The Bling Ring (which I saw recently and found fascinating) or World War Z, a movie I loved and which was apparently a radical adaptation of its source material.

Animated Film: The Croods, Despicable Me 2, Ernest & Celestine, Frozen, The Wind Rises 

This has not been a good year for animation.  I don't love any of these films (even if I have a great deal of affection for the occasionally delightful mess that is Frozen).  The Wind Rises is really quite dull (if beautiful), Ernest & Celestine is charming but very slight, and The Croods is perfectly fine.  I truly hated Despicable Me 2 and would rather see Monsters University or Epic in its place.  But I just don't care enough to be angry.

Cinematography: The Grandmaster, Gravity, Inside Llewyn Davis, Nebraska, Prisoners 

I also don't think this was such a hot year for cinematography.  The inclusion of Gravity here continues the trend of visual effects-dominated work being represented in this category, and I really wish they'd split this category into Live Action Cinematography and Visual Effects Cinematography.  Gravity looks amazing, but so much of that is due to pre-visualization that I don't think it can, or should, be compared to the grey, smoky lighting of Inside Llewyn DavisThe Grandmaster is not as interesting a movie visually as I hoped it would be, and Prisoners is here only because Roger Deakins shot it and not because it's actually that great looking.  And Nebraska owes its nomination to a really superb transfer to DVD.  The movie looks far better on the small screen than it did in the theater.  I'd rather see The Wolf of Wall Street or The Great Gatsby or 12 Years a Slave here.

Production Design: American Hustle, Gravity, The Great Gatsby, Her, 12 Years a Slave 

I must say, I'm thrilled Her got noticed here.  If there is one element of that movie that works spectacularly well, it's its look, but I worried that the near-future time frame would cripple its chances.  Otherwise, the big, splashy, expected films have all been invited to play: the period splendor of The Great Gatsby, the period squalor of 12 Years a Slave, the gaudiness of American Hustle's 70's, and the visual effects design of Gravity.  Yes, I'd like to see Inside Llewyn Davis here, and perhaps The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug or The Book Thief, but this is a fine list.

Costume Design: American Hustle, The Grandmaster, The Great Gatsby, The Invisible Woman, 12 Years a Slave 

Well, I'm just happy I sat down and watched a screener of The Invisible Woman (a powerfully boring film) with friends, because it's nominated here, and now I don't have to run and catch up with it.  Nice costumes though.  I honestly didn't notice any costumes in The Grandmaster, so that's a bit puzzling.  Hustle, Gatsby, and Slave are all obvious choices here, but I might have gone with Her (I spent the entire first screening of the movie staring at Joaquin Phoenix's half collars, which might not exactly seem like an endorsement for the film) or the more fanciful Hunger Games 2 or even Oz: The Great and Powerful.  But really, was there a costume any more memorable than Vera Farmiga's scalloped collar in The Conjuring this year?  I don't think so.

Film Editing: American Hustle, Captain Phillips, Dallas Buyers Club, Gravity, 12 Years a Slave 

I'm always amused when films that are clearly too long (I'm looking at you, Hustle) get nominated here: the second half of that film goes dangerously slack for me.  Of course, one might say the same of the woefully not nominated The Wolf of Wall Street, but honestly, I wanted that film to be 3 hours longer.  12 Years a Slave is a tough movie, but I also don't think it's too long: McQueen and his editors dared to take their time to put over the idea of what twelve years of captivity might feel like (and did so in only 134 minutes).  Gravity wisely telescoped its roller coaster-like thrills into a tight 90 minutes: bravo.  I must admit I'm shocked to see Dallas Buyers Club here.  It's a well-assembled movie, but I'm just not sure I'd ever think of it as an editorial achievement.

Original Score: The Book Thief, Gravity, Her, Philomena, Saving Mr. Banks 

I'm not great at listening to film scores.  Often, if I'm listening to the score of a movie, it means I'm not paying enough attention to the story or the performances.  Over the three times I've watched Gravity, I can say that I've truly grown to hate that movie's score.  It's bombastically effective the first time through, but I don't think it's at all good music.  Otherwise, Saving Mr. Banks is so dominated by the Sherman brothers' songs for Mary Poppins that I don't remember the actual score.  I might have put 12 Years a Slave and Captain Phillips up here, but again, I seldom take the time to listen to a film's soundtrack outside of the film itself.

Original Song: “Alone Yet Not Alone”, Alone Yet Not Alone; “Happy”, Despicable Me 2; “Let it Go”, Frozen; “The Moon Song”, Her; “Ordinary Love”, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom 

Every year, my goal is to have seen every nominated film in the English-language non-documentary feature categories (if I have time and am able, I'll watch the documentaries and foreign films, but often times, they're not all available for general consumption).  And this year my total of films I need to see to reach that goal before March 2 totals exactly: one.  Alone Yet Not Alone is a film that apparently got released in September of 2013 (or June, depending on what website you find), but only 28 people have "graded" it on the Internet Movie Database, and doesn't even have an entry for it.  Seeing this movie is not going to be easy (I've heard the song; it's pretty enough).  Otherwise, after years with next to no viable candidates in this category, I think this is a perfectly strong category.  I am no fan of U2's music, but "Ordinary Love" is a quite nice song, and I think Her's "The Moon Song" has real charm.  And while I might not be as obsessed with the song "Let it Go" as every single one of my friends, I think it's a most excellent entry into the Disney canon.

Sound Mixing: Captain Phillips, Gravity, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Inside Llewyn Davis, Lone Survivor 

True to form, this category features the year's loudest films... and a musical.  I'm a little surprised not to see Rush nominated here (or for Sound Editing), and I'm distressed that 12 Years a Slave did not get the support in craft categories that it might need to win Best Picture.  I haven't reviewed Lone Survivor, because the movie didn't do all that much for me.  I was tempted to write a song parody of "The Lonely Goatherd" as my review.  It would have started, "High on a hill, near some Afghan goatherds, Lay ee oh di lay ee oh di lay hee ho.  Some Navy SEALS stumble on those goatherds.  Lay ee oh di lay ee oh di loo."  I never got farther than that.

Sound Editing: All is Lost, Captain Phillips, Gravity, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Lone Survivor 

It is perhaps a little sad that All is Lost's sole nomination is for the sound of a storm and the sound of water lapping against a boat, but... there you are.

Visual Effects: Gravity, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Iron Man 3, The Lone Ranger, Star Trek Into Darkness 

As someone put it many weeks ago, let's see all the other films that will lose to Gravity.  Certainly, I'm delighted The Hobbit is here, if for nothing else but the glorious creation that is the dragon Smaug.  His scenes may go on too long (in a Hobbit film?  You're joking!), but he's one of the year's more extraordinary delights.  Beyond the obvious visual effects on display in the Iron Man and Star Trek sequels, I am most intrigued by the inclusion of The Lone Ranger here.  Granted, I only saw the movie on DVD, but the visual effects that I saw looked somewhat dreadful.  What is notable, and what clearly got the nomination here, are the film's special effects, those moments - the train crashes, bridge explosions, etc. - that were captured on camera rather than added in post.  I am glad that what seems like a film's lost art is being recognized, even if the film that contains those effects is, well, not very good.

Makeup/Hairstyling: Dallas Buyers Club, Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa, The Lone Ranger 

I watched the seven films that qualified for this award (which meant I took myself to a remote $3 theater in the San Fernando Valley to see Bad Grandpa, thank you very much), and I have one thing to say: Hansel & Gretel Witch Hunters totally deserved to be nominated.  No, seriously.  It did.  Because, really?  Dallas Buyers Club?  McConaughey and Leto did most of that movie's work by losing all the weight.  And I'm just going to hope that The Lone Ranger's nomination is more for the many wounds and things seen on other characters rather than Johnny Depp's somewhat unfortunate Injun-face.

Documentary Feature: The Act of Killing, Cutie and the Boxer, Dirty Wars, The Square, 20 Feet from Stardom 

I am devastated that Sarah Polley's film Stories We Tell got skipped in this category but am delighted that Cutie and the Boxer is here: it's really good.  I am not upset to see Blackfish go missing here: while its message may be important, I just didn't think the filmmaking was anything special at all.  I found The Act of Killing fascinating, if potentially repugnant, and I'm not sure I get all the hype surrounding 20 Feet from Stardom: the singers profiled are fun, but the movie doesn't have much to say.  Dirty Wars is a hysterical inclusion here: the movie's subject is interesting enough, but the investigative journalist who is the film's focus is insufferable and provides narration that would have seemed overheated in a 1950's B movie.  I have yet to see The Square.


Foreign Film: The Broken Circle Breakdown, The Great Beauty, The Hunt, The Missing Picture, Omar 

Having only seen two films represented here (The Hunt - bad; The Great Beauty - good), I have nothing really to contribute here.

Sadly, I also have not seen the short films in competition (except for Get a Horse!, which is one of my favorite films of the year), so I'll have to get to a screening of those contenders before casting my Oscar ballot.

So that's it!  An unsurprising, somewhat disappointing year, despite what other critics are saying, but the nominations actually do make a race out of a number of key categories.  I can honestly say I don't know who's going to win Best Picture, Actor, Actress, or Supporting Actress at this point, even if I have definite ideas.  But that will be for another time.  Until then, go see Inside Llewyn Davis, and see what you - and the Academy - are missing.

The Postman

You want a review???  I'll give you... A REVIEW!!!

Click on any of "The Postman" links for more film reviews. The 86th Annual Academy Awards will air live March 2 on ABC at 830pm EST/530pm PST.

"Inside Llewyn Davis": A Tale of Two Reviews (One Is Actually Just a Reaction)

posted Jan 14, 2014, 6:07 PM by Terrence Moss   [ updated Aug 16, 2014, 9:34 AM ]

I'm not a film critic. I don't know enough about the process of filmmaking to provide legitimate film criticism, so I generally offer are reaction pieces based largely on my feelings about a particular film.


Such is the case with this piece I wrote about the Golden Globe-nominated “Inside Llewyn Davis”.

There are good movies.


There are bad movies.


There are movies people are going to like or even love.


There are movies people are just not going to like or even hate.


And then there are movies that some people are just NOT going to understand enough to appreciate. Inside Llewyn Davis is one of those movies. But it's not the movie's fault.


The Coen Brothers are one of those entities in moviedom that I can appreciate but wouldn't necessarily consider myself to be a fan of. I don't specifically go out to see THEIR movies. Any movie of theirs I've seen (and I actually can't even think of another one besides this one), I saw based on my interest in the film as opposed to their involvement in it.


Such was the case with Inside Llewyn Davis. Therefore, I didn't go into the theatre expecting to see a standard, or even a quasi-standard, Coen Brothers movie. And this is probably why I enjoyed it more than those whose reviews or opinions of it were mixed.


Inside Llewyn Davis is not a heavily-plotted movie. It's basically a week in the life of a struggling musician on several brinks during New York's folk scene in the early 1960s. But within this simple plot are a great many story threads that are driven by Llewyn's interrelationships with the other characters. A lot of people find that hard to follow because they're spending so much time looking for a clearer, more delineated plot (as opposed to a premise).


But this is what makes the film so great for me. There are no explosions. There is no heavy drama. There's very little violence. There's no sex. But there is GREAT music -- sung live by the film's aesthetically pleasing and well-cast leading man, Oscar Isaac. Plus it has Vinnie Delpino from Doogie Howser, M.D. (the actor's name is Max Casella). And what Coen Brother movie would be complete without John Goodman, who's never bad in anything good.


What I love most about the movie is that it's bleak and at times, depressing. There are humorous moments, but it's hardly a feel good movie. There's no happy ending, nor should there be. It's a movie about an artist and artistry is bleak. At times, it's even depressing. Not everyone gets a big break. Not everyone achieves what is conventionally considered "success". For a lot of artists, "success" is predicated on continuing to write, act, sing, draw, paint and design regardless as to whether anyone is reading, watching, listening, seeing, commissioning or wearing.


A lot of movies don't reflect that. And lesser movies would have him performing on The Ed Sullivan Show, getting a record deal and then going out on tour.


This is why I don't go out to see a lot of movies these days. A lot of what Hollywood has to offer is derivative, formulaic, sequellic and rebootal. Blockbuster movies in the summer. Oscar-bait movies in the fall. Plus ticket prices have gotten so high that I may as well go see a play.


But Inside Llewyn Davis was a refreshing change of pace for me, so it was well worth the cost. Perhaps it'll someday be adapted for the stage. And if HBO is watching, the movie will lend itself quite well to a TV series -- with Oscar Isaac as Llewyn Davis and only Oscar Issac as Llewyn Davis because Oscar Isaac IS Llewyn Davis.

Because I don't watch enough movies in any given year and haven't seen enough of them throughout film history, I don't have that big-picture purview and historical context needed to provide a thorough analysis of any individual film.

Therefore I defer to The Postman, whose film reviews are always very insightful and based on demonstrated knowledge of the filmmaking process, a fluid understanding of each film's approach to that process, familiarity with a variety of film genres as well as a historical context -- all without coming across dry, stuffy or elitist as typical film critics.


The Postman reviewed the film on December 30 and I’ve reposted it here. With permission.


Dear Members of the Route,


Inside Llewyn Davis is the latest film from the Coen brothers, filmmakers whom I have seldom loved.  Much of the time, I find them condescending towards their quirky characters, a little too pleased with themselves, and their films are often emotionally disconnected.  I thought, I hoped, there had been a switch in recent years with their wonderful film A Serious Man, a funny but still affectionate look at their upbringing as midwestern Jews in the 1960's.  But then came True Grit, an utterly unnecessary and unmemorable remake.


This movie tells the story of Llewyn, a folk singer who is trying to become a solo act after his singing partner broke the group up.  He is talented, but he's also an asshole and a drifter: he couch-surfs from one place to another, living off the graces of a group of friends (and occasionally his sister), none of whom seem to like him very much.  Though somewhat episodic, the film's narrative is rich: Llewyn has various opportunities to become a better man and perhaps a more successful artist, and the dramatic thrust is to see whether or not he can or will do so.  Along the way, we meet a host of folk singers (one of whom he may have made pregnant), a jazz musician heroin addict, some Upper West Side professor types, an agent who might be his ticket to the big time, and a fairly marvelous cat.  This film is no comedy, despite some very lovely moments of humor.  It is the tragedy of an artist who is, ultimately, a failure, and it's kind of wonderful to see a film avoid the cliches of artistic expression.  The ending contains a rich inside joke, is open-ended enough to invite one's own interpretation, and is utterly satisfying.


The cast is stellar.  Oscar Isaac is perfection as Davis: prickly, obnoxious, but somehow likable.  He also happens to be a marvelous musician, so there's this grand irony that we can see his talents where the characters in the film often can't.  But every character, and every performance, is wonderful, from Justin Timberlake to Carey Mulligan to Stark Sands to Adam Driver to Robin Bartlett to F. Murray Abraham to John Goodman (who nearly steals the film) to that unbelievably expressive cat.  But the revelation here is that even when some of the supporting characters seem like stereotypes (a Coen brothers specialty), they never lapse into caricature and are portrayed with affection, even down to the tiny secretary at Davis' agent's office.


Even better, Inside Llewyn Davis is also one of the best crafted films of the year.  The cinematography is cold and gorgeous: all the colors washed out into various palates of greys. The art direction and costumes are perfect, providing an evocative sense of time and place. The soundtrack is a marvelous collection of old folk songs, beautifully sung and produced. Inside Llewyn Davis may be the Coens' finest film to date, and it may also be the best movie of the year.


The Postman

You want a review???  I'll give you... A REVIEW!!!

The "Method or Madness" Web Series: An Interview with the Stars

posted Jan 7, 2014, 8:20 AM by Terrence Moss   [ updated Aug 24, 2014, 3:30 PM ]

Some things take time.

I met Nikki Gold and Gerard Bianco, Jr. at the 2012 LA Web Fest. I was representing the “Bitter Bartender” web series with its star and producer David Gunning while they were representing “Method or Madness”, their improvisational web series about the lives of two Lucyesque aspiring actors in New York City.

We ran into each other outside of a screening room where “Bitter Bartender” was showing and struck up a conversation with them over the “Method or Madness” t-shirts they were wearing. We exchanged information and I offered to do a write-up of the show for the website.

At the time of this interview – conducted April 16, 2012, the series hadn’t premiered online yet and was a few months from doing so. Or so we all thought. But “Method or Madness” finally premiered this past September and the entire first season is available on (links to each episode are way below).

1. How did you two meet and how did that evolve into this partnership?

Nikki: We talk about the day we met a lot. I don’t really remember that much about it.

Gerard: Apparently I didn’t make a lasting impression.

Nikki: No he didn’t. (Laughs) I do remember we were working on a TV show in New York. Gerard said something really hilarious and I laughed and it was instant friendship.

Gerard: That’s about right.

Nikki: Well, what do you remember about the day?

Gerard: That was definitely about right.

Nikki: You said something funny.

Gerard: Yeah.

Nikki: And I laughed. And that was how we met.

Gerard: That was how we met. Nikki had a great sense of humor as well. That helped.

Nikki: Yes, and our friendship has been surrounded by a lot of laughter and fun.

Gerard: We were both freezing. It was a very cold, exterior shoot at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and we ran off to Crafty to get a tea. That was it. We made each other laugh all day.

2.  Was “Method or Madness” the foundation of the partnership or did you two join forces and then create “Method or Madness”?

Nikki: We became friends and bonded over pursuing acting and we were each other’s support system for a long time. I was doing theatre and Gerard was doing film. We were not fully fulfilled in our career paths.

Gerard: We brought each other in on a lot of projects because we were pursuing similar paths. And when people cast us for things, they’d call me and ask if Nikki was also available. We ended up creating this partnership that was great on a friend level but also on a professional level. It’s not always easy to find. The first project we worked on together was a play that Nikki was cast in.

Nikki: It was not really professional.

Gerard: Which she was not very forthcoming about.

Nikki: I didn’t mention the fact that it wasn’t in a theatre.

Gerard: She told me she got cast in this play and one of the male leads dropped out. I should have known that was a red flag.

Nikki: You did the play regardless.

Gerard: I did an improv for the director at my audition.

Nikki: He loved you.

Gerard: We had a lot of fun.

Nikki: Gerard started helping this guy direct it as well.

Gerard: I realized I could do more directing – not just show up and learn my lines and perform. Nikki did set design and we worked together on some re-writes. That was the first spark…

Nikki: …that we could work together.

Gerard: Working together and creating. The creativity just started to flow.

Nikki: We tried to write a play together. We never finished that.

Gerard: It was a really funny play.

Nikki: We’re going to finish it one day.

Gerard: We wanted to produce that play but we just saw no way to.

Nikki: It’s very difficult producing a play. But we realized we really liked working together and that’s really where “Method or Madness” started. We enjoyed working together so much that we decided to just do our own project. We’d get to work together more often. And make it funny.

Gerard: We watched a lot of independent projects and got to the point where we felt we could do something better than some of the stuff that was out there.

Nikki: Definitely.

Gerard: Especially if we teamed up.

3. So how did “Method or Madness” come about?

Gerard: We had other web series ideas. And because we spent so much time together, we could capitalize on that because we had so many shared experiences.

Nikki: Walking in the city something funny would happen…

Gerard: …in the middle of the day because we’re unemployed. So there was a lot of down time -- things that go on when you’re stuck in an office all day as opposed to bouncing around the city the entire day. We had seven stories in one day.

Nikki: And they were all funny. Or we thought they were.

Gerard: We only concentrate on the funny stuff…

Nikki: …that we could use in a sitcom or a web series.

Gerard: We wanted to do something that was truth in comedy. People and situations.

Nikki: Then we started writing a little bit and brainstorming ideas for episodes of a web series.

Gerard: We had a really fun idea right before “Method or Madness”.

Nikki: I don’t remember it.

Gerard: We had the therapist and that whole…thing.

Nikki: Ohhhhhhh….we were going to do our whole series based on us meeting with either a life coach or a therapist.

Gerard: It starts with us having a breakdown.

Nikki: That’s right! I forgot about that! You having a meltdown in one place and me having a meltdown in another place.

Gerard: But how would that make sense? We had the same breakdown. We had the same therapist. It was going to be too contrived.

Nikki: We wanted something a little more organic with our web series.

Gerard: We wanted it to be a little more natural.

Nikki: Situation based.

Gerard: As natural as it can be for two people together 24/7.

Nikki: That’s not natural. We spend a lot of time together. We were doing videos while we were doing a fundraiser for our web series – thanking people for their support and asking for more support because we were getting closer. We were in Gerard’s apartment and I did refer to it at one point as home. I don’t think my husband would have appreciated that.

Oh…now THAT is an interesting dynamic.

Nikki: Gerard was at my wedding.

Gerard: I’ve been adopted into the family. Nikki’s nana is the Jewish grandmother I never had.

Nikki: My husband’s also in a creative field. He’s very supportive of the work that we’re doing. And I’m very supportive of the work he does. We both understand the importance of having a career and creating. That’s why artists have to be together and goof up. You need to be with people that are going to support the craziness of trying to create something. I have some friends that are artists and they are married or they’re dating people that are in different fields. Those are the people that have a ton of money. They don’t quite get it. They financially support it, but they belittle what we’re doing.

Gerard: “Why would you do that play for no money?” Because that’s what gets us up everyday.

Nikki: Fortunately I’ve got support from the hubby.

Gerard: Mr. Farren.

Nikki: Gold is my maiden name and Farren is my stage name. It’s very funny when I check into a hotel under my married name and Gerard is referred to as “Mr. Farren”.

Gerard: She gets “Mrs. Bianco” all the time.

Nikki: We liken our relationship to Elaine and Jerry on “Seinfeld”.

Gerard: Did they? Will they? Have they?

Nikki: It’s difficult for our series because we’re playing exaggerated versions of ourselves. Ray Romano had his own TV show. Louis CK has his own TV show. They use things that are part of their real lives, but it’s not 100% true. They may be in a relationship that doesn’t carry over into the show. When we talk about our relationship on the show, it’s not so much our relationship in real life.

Gerard: Nikki is not married on the show.

Nikki: We thought it would be interesting if we were both single and exploring relationships. We’re single. We’re best friends. But would they get together? Wouldn’t they get together?

Gerard: It’s something we’re definitely going to explore.

Nikki: People are interested in that.

Gerard: Sex does sell and people want to root for the main characters to get together. When I watch shows I think eventually they’ll get together. Even just the idea of when my character has a date. Is Nikki’s character going to have date? When she has a date am I going to be jealous?

Nikki: There’s a human interest in that. We could be attracted to each other, but we’re friends. There’s fun tension there.

Gerard: People watch our video blogs together and question them.

Nikki: But it makes them keep watching. And that’s really what we want. We want to build an audience. We want to tell a story that’s entertaining and interesting. We want people to see these characters and follow their adventures.

Gerard: There’s a little more truth with each other. There’s plenty of stuff you can’t really…

Nikki: ...tell one of your guy friends?

Gerard: Yeah. I would never tell one of my bros…

Nikki: …that you’re having a bad hair day. Not that you’ve ever had bad hair days. You’ve got great hair. That’s another thing we connect on.

Gerard: We’ve both got great hair.

4.  Should you two decide to go this route, how would “Method or Madness” best be adapted for television?

Gerard: When we start creating these episodes and doing these outlines, we have a 30-minute episode in our minds of what it could be and cut it down to the five. If you watch any of our episodes, they can easily be adapted to a longer structure.

Nikki: It’s in the same style of “Curb Your Enthusiasm”. And even “Seinfeld”. Probably more “Curb”. It can be on HBO. We can adapt it for HBO.

Gerard: We introduce really fun characters throughout the show and if we needed to adapt it we would make some of those characters more constant.

Nikki: It’s harder to do that with a web series. You have a shorter amount of time. So we’re really the constant things in this series but we’d love to have other characters.

Gerard: And we’re having fun casting different actors for every episode because we love working with more people and I think the audience enjoys it as well. And because it’s a situational series, you can’t have the same people playing those parts. But we could have a few more constant characters. If we needed to adapt this, we could easily.

Nikki: Our series would fit well on television. Some web series are more vignettes and they work well that way. But “Method or Madness” could have stories that follow through a season.

Gerard: We’re at the point now where we have to choose whether or not to continue this way because every episode essentially could go into the next…

Nikki: …where you have to see the episode before to keep following.

Gerard: We’re in that phase. Do we continue the story or do we just keep doing vignettes?

Nikki: For the web series, we might have to keep doing the vignettes.

Gerard: But what we’re going to keep constant and what would help adapt to TV is the character traits of our main characters and any recurring people -- constantly revisiting those characters and their traits and their quirks. That’s what makes it human and makes it relatable.

Nikki. And fun to watch.

Episode One – “Soy Sauces”

While out to lunch, Nikki and Gerard inadvertently offend their waitress and several customers.


Episode Two – “Put It On Your Tab?”

Nikki and Gerard search for day jobs – at their friend Ned’s bar.


Episode Three – “Aunt ToniAnn”

Nikki and Gerard turn to her wealthy aunt for help with Ned.


Episode Four – “It’s All About the Hair”

While at an audition, Nikki runs into a nemesis while Gerard falls into an opportunity.


Episode Five – “Dodo Loco”

Nikki helps Gerard prepare for his new role.


Episode Six – “The Deadly Trap”

Nikki enlists Gerard’s help in quitting a disastrous play.


Episode Seven – “The Actor’s Support Group”

Nikki and Gerard crash a support group, where they get some unlikely advice.


Episode Eight – “Table for Two”

Nikki and Gerard try to spend some time apart.


To keep up with all things Method and Mad, follow the series on twitter (as well as Nikki and Gerard individually) and “like” the show on Facebook (as well as Nikki and Gerard individually).

"Close Quarters": A Recap of the First Season

posted Nov 24, 2013, 9:50 AM by Terrence Moss   [ updated Aug 16, 2014, 9:36 AM ]

The web series Close Quarters, starring actress (now also writer/producer) Piper Major and writer/producer (now also actor) Jonathan Ritter, presents a new roommate dynamic for the 21 century. Major stars as Erica, a bombastic, outgoing, fun-loving lesbian while Ritter co-stars as Steve, a far more reclusive straight guy. 

The series just completed its first season, but the journey of a couple years began with Ritter sending the script to Major. At the time, Close Quarters was conceived as a short film and neither had been cast in their eventual roles. In fact, Erica was Eric. But Ritter asked Major to read the part anyway. 

"This has some funny moments, but a girl would never forget the toilet paper," Piper told him. 

A lot of bad auditions for the part of Eric followed and it was decided to make the character a female named Erica. Major had already been in several of Ritter's films and he praised her with always adding depth to the roles she plays.

"Add that to the random ideas she would talk about on set and marrying her to this character seemed like a no-brainer," Ritter explained of Major's casting as Erica. 

Then came the arduous task of finding the best person to play Steve. 

"You know who gave the best read for Steve?" producer/director Brad Paulson asked Ritter. "You."

"I don't want to be that guy who writes and stars in his own thing," Ritter replied.

"Yes you do," Paulson retorted. 

"Okay, I kinda do," Ritter conceded. And with that, he was cast as Steve. 

A short called Roommates was shot at Paulson's apartment. But everyone who saw the final edit wanted to know more about these characters. And with major's casting in the Bitter Bartender web series, Ritter was inspired to expand on the idea and turn the short into a web series. 

Ten episodes comprise the first season. 

EPISODE ONE - "The Shoddy Tub"
While an injured Erica is preparing to head out for the night, Steve brings up a pressing roommate issue. With Jonathan Sundeen as Erica's friend Will. 

EPISODE TWO - "The Trip to the Store"
The pressing roommate issue continues when a drunken Erica returns home, passes out on the couch and recounts a memorable evening that involves her friend Will becoming the subject of a news report. With Brad Paulson as Bill O'Scatly and Vanessa Ledesma as Kelly Walker.

EPISODE THREE - "The Pool Party"
Erica takes Steve to a pool party -- where she misrepresents him in an effort to help him fit in and get laid. Arlene Victoria makes her first appearance as Holly. Rachel Reilly appears as Charlene. Ben Jacobs appears as Mark. Cari Kenny appears as Angela. Deborah Jensen appears as Holly's girlfriend Catie. Also with Brad Paulson as Bill O'Scatly and Vanessa Ledesma as Kelly Walker. 

EPISODE FOUR - "The Hook-Up"
Erica and Mark (Ben Jacobs) go out to a bar -- where she winds up making out with a straight woman (Liberty Freeman) and he winds up making out with a straight guy (Jesse Langston). 

EPISODE FIVE - "The Anger Management Class"
Erica gets into a fight with the brother of a guy Mark (Ben Jacobs) meets at a bar. With Mike Ciriaco as Billy and David Henry as Billy's brother. 

EPISODE SIX - "The New Girlfriend"
Erica and Steve head out to a barbecue with her new girlfriend Holly (Arlene Victoria) -- where Steve gets the wrong idea about her. Konstantine Anthony appears as Gene. Cari Kenny returns as Angela. Rachel Reilly returns as Charlene. With Brad Paulson as Bill O'Scatly and Vanessa Ledesma as Kelly Walker. 

EPISODE SEVEN - "The Wingman"
Erica takes Steve out to a bar to help him meet women, but his ex-girlfriend (Michael Gonzales) shows up. Konstantine Anthony appears as Gene. With Caroline Montes as Melinda. 

EPISODE EIGHT - "The Revelation"
Erica's relationships become strained when she discovers she doesn't have as much in common with Gene as she thought, Holly reveals a continued connection to her ex-girlfriend and she shares information with Steve about his new girlfriend Melinda. Konstantine Anthony appears as Gene. Arlene Victoria returns as Holly. With Caroline Montes as Melinda. 

EPISODE NINE - "The Next Step"
Erica and Steve both face crossroads in their respective relationships. With Arlene Victoria as Holly and Caroline Montes as Melinda. Jon Paul Burkhart appears as Randy. Brad Paulson appears as Bill O'Scatly. 

EPISODE TEN - "The Decision"
Steve wonders if he should continue seeing Melinda (Caroline Montes) while Erica prepares for a family event. 

Plans for a second season have not yet been announced but you can "LIKE" Close Quarters on Facebook to keep up with the latest developments.

Bowing Out Gracefully: Long-Running TV Sitcoms That Ran Too Long (And Some That Ended at the Right Time)

posted Oct 21, 2013, 7:12 PM by Terrence Moss   [ updated Aug 16, 2014, 9:34 AM ]

I’ve been a fan of
How I Met Your Mother since its debut on CBS eight years ago. I was among the passionate fans who, like the cast and crew, waited nervously until the very last minute every year to find out if CBS was going to renew the then-perpetual bubble series.

In those days the writing was sharp and crisp and the stories were fun and sometimes even outrageous.

Then a funny thing happened: the series managed to make it into syndication and more people started watching the originals – which led to an increase in ratings. By this point, money-grubbing CBS wouldn’t dare cancel a now solidly-performing series leading off its strong Monday night comedy lineup and adding more and more episodes to its profitable syndication package.

Then a funnier thing happened: the series started to age. How I Met Your Mother started to veer into latter Friends territory where stories were replaying themselves out, talks of a final season began to surface and you could tell they were just stretching the series out as long as they could.

This became a problem. Because How I Met Your Mother played so much with time and backstory and became more serialized than it had been previously, there needed to be a set end date years before there ever was one in order to better close out the title story. And as the series started to age, longtime fans such as myself started to become impatient with the series and its continuous teasing about who the mother is and how she and Ted (the “I” in the title) met. In the meantime, the series became less about that and more about the breakout supporting character of Barney and his own extended is-he-or-isn’t-he-in-love-with-the-Robin-character storyline.

Even as a longtime Mother fan, I was very disappointed when it was announced in the middle of last season that after tenuous negotiations, there would be a ninth and final season of the show. A sitcom of this nature should only have about five or six seasons with a long-established end date. But when a creative business becomes 90% business and 10% creative, you come to expect a creative show to be on the annual cancellation bubble until it becomes a more popular, but more generic show. Then they never want to let it go no matter how booming side movie careers and other interests become.

So as this final Mother season progresses, I thought about a few other sitcoms that stayed (plus two that are staying) at the TV party a couple seasons or more longer than they probably should have.

Bewitched (1964-1972) 

The later seasons were wildly popular in syndication for several decades but from a fanpoint, the series should have ended with the health-related departure of Dick York at the end of the fifth season. Instead, viewers were stunned by the Infamous Darrin Switch of 1969 when Dick Sargeant took over the role for the show’s final three seasons – and a solid Top 15 series quickly fell to #24 and then out of the Top 30 altogether.

Good Times (1974-1979) 

Initially, the show set out to be a reflection of urban ghetto life for a poor but a close-knit nuclear black family. But all that fell apart when the father was killed at the beginning of the fourth season (John Amos was fired from the series, reportedly after interviews he gave about his dissatisfaction with the show’s direction). Perhaps the series should have been killed as well.

Then the mother re-married and moved away at the beginning of the fifth season (Esther Rolle left the series over the killing of the father and the stereotypical nature in which the JJ character was written). Perhaps the series should have moved on.

A Top 25 series for the first three seasons, the show remained in the Top 30 for its infamous fourth season but fell well below that for its final two seasons despite the return of Estelle Rolle for the latter season. Oddly, it is those latter three seasons that are the most well-known in syndication.

Laverne & Shirley (1976-1983) 

When a show shifts from a long-established location to California or New York, it’s usually an indication that a show is running out of creative juice. But Laverne & Shirley hung on for three more seasons after its first five, which were set in Milwaukee.

Despite the shift, ratings held steady and the show remained in the Top 25 (with the exception of the sixth season during which it fell out of the Top 30 following a time slot change).

The Cosby Show (1984-1992) 

This one pains me to have to admit. But when a show with five children can’t come up with stories for them after five seasons and therefore has to bring in more, then it’s time to refocus or end the series despite a top Nielsen ranking.

Perfect Strangers (1986-1993) 

Though never a major hit by Nielsen standards in that only its abbreviated first and final seasons even ranked in the Top 20, this series about an immigrant to America (Bronson Pinchot) who moves in with a distant American cousin (Mark-Linn Baker) should end when that cousin gets married and moves into a house with his new bride.

Instead, the immigrant cousin’s relationship with the distant American cousin’s best friend is accelerated so that they can marry and move into that same house. And then the series continues on for a seventh and eighth season.

A Different World (1987-1993) 

Any series set in a college setting (which, at its creative height from 1988-1991, was the finest such series in television history despite a rocky first season) is going to have problems when popular characters age out of the premise but somehow need to remain a part of the show’s main storylines.

So they become teachers and administrators for the new characters who have to be introduced in order to carry that storyline on. The result is an expanded cast, which gives everyone involved just a bit less to do and sends the show in a myriad of directions.

Furthermore, any series on which a romantic entanglement between two main characters takes center stage has no choice but to eventually have them marry before the viewers stop caring. But of course, once they do, then where does the series go?

In this case, it goes to a rather heavy-handed fifth season and an unfortunate sixth and final season that focuses on them as a newly-married couple who falls on hard times but still finds ways to maintains ties with the nearby college they both attended.

As Glee is finding out (and probably should have already known), sometimes it’s just better to let people graduate – and the show with them.

Family Matters (1989-1998) 

From a creative standpoint, two grave mistakes were made here: what was originally conceived as a spinoff of the aforementioned Perfect Strangers (which co-starred JoMarie Payton-France as sharp-tongued elevator operator) quickly shifted focus to its breakout supporting character.

While this proved to be popular move that gave the series a longer life than the original conception probably would have, it also painted the show into a corner once the actor’s voice became too deep to reasonably speak in that character’s higher register.

The solution? Create other characters for him to play.

The result? Four additional seasons (including a “what was CBS thinking?” pickup for a ninth and final season after ABC cancelled it) of a series that still ranked in the Top 30 but had already lost most of its rooting in actual family matters.

Seinfeld (1990-1998) 

The series may have ended its nine-season run with a #1 Nielsen ranking (becoming only the third series in television
history to do so after I Love Lucy in 1957 and The Andy Griffith Show in 1968), but Seinfeld was at its creative best when it was actually about nothing -- as epitomized by “The Chinese Restaurant” from the second season.

But most viewers never saw these episodes during their initial airings as the show didn’t grow in popularity until a time slot move to Thursdays at 9:30 following the departing Cheers in early 1993. Once Seinfeld took over the 9pm slot that fall and became a Top 3 show, it had begun employing multiple storylines that usually intertwined by the end of each episode.

And by the last two seasons, the series had shifted its brand of comedy away from the minutiae of everyday life to broad, often absurdist humor and evolved from a show about nothing to a show about a lot of nothing.

Regardless, ratings for those latter seasons were impenetrable despite the comparisons to those earlier episodes once the series entered syndication.

Frasier (1993-2004) 

Its record 37 Emmy Awards notwithstanding (including ten over the unnecessary final three seasons), there were some storylines not worth exploring such as the previously one-sided relationship between Niles and Daphne as well as the short-lived sexual relationship between Frasier and Roz.

Unlike Cheers, which was a true ensemble with a leading character, Frasier was a true leading character heading an ensemble in the same vain as The Mary Tyler Moore Show of the 1970s – which wisely lasted four fewer seasons. With much more story potential that doesn’t necessarily have to involve the leading character but typically does, the eleven seasons of Cheers is far more justifiable from a creative standpoint than Frasier which absolutely HAS to involve the leading title character.

Friends (1994-2004) 

Being one of the few shows in television history to rank in the Top 10 for its entire series run (including a #1 ranking after its eighth season), it’s obvious why the show last for ten seasons.

But the last two seasons showed how the series was just being creatively stretched out as long as humanly possible by the moneyheads at NBC who failed to create any new hits during the show’s last few seasons. The result was an overreliance on their biggest hit to keep them at the top of the demo ratings despite a cast that was clearly ready to move on to other projects.

Ratings remained largely unaffected by the creative weakening and longtime fans were richly rewarded with a satisfying but long-in-waiting finale.

Two and a Half Men (2003-2014+) 

Sure, Charlie Sheen’s off-screen antics curtailed the seventh season by two episodes.

Sure, Charlie Sheen’s complete meltdown the following year curtailed the eighth season by eight episodes – leading to his termination from the show and the killing off of his character.

Sure, many fans clamored for the show’s demise as they swore they’d never watch a Sheen-less Men.

Sure, Ashton Kutcher’s addition to the series as a replacement for Sheen to maintain the “Two” in the show’s title kept it afloat ratings-wise but the situation created for him was very lacking in plausibility.

Sure, many fans clamored for the show’s demise as they swore that Kutcher was no Sheen.

Sure, Angus T. Jones’s public criticism of the show during the tenth season and his expressed desire to be departed from it hastened his already reduced status on the show to that of “recurring” for the show’s current eleventh season.

And while the “Half” in the show’s titled needs to be maintained, how does the addition of the departed Charlie Harper’s long-lost lesbian daughter do that? And how do writers plausibly explain that when they couldn’t plausibly explain the addition of Kutcher’s Walden Schmidt?

Clearly, you don’t. And, creatively, the show suffers mightily from it. But it’s still averaging more than 9 million viewers this season.

Glee (2009-2015?) 

The show became a huge phenomenon by the middle of its first season – winning a Golden Globe for Best TV Series (Musical or Comedy), an ensemble SAG Award and 4 Emmy Awards. Each download of a cover song ranked highly on iTunes. And each cast member became a household name.

Then the show became very aware of itself and the story-driven first half of the first season that now serves as the show’s creative peak gave way to musical tribute episodes and one-off issue-oriented plots that put actual storytelling on the backburner.

And as was the case with A Different World and its college setting, popular characters began to age out of the premise. And was the case with A Different World, those popular characters remained with the show. By the fourth season, the show was going off in two divergent directions – one in New York City where the characters aging out of the show’s original premise were sent and one in Lima, Ohio, where the actual show actually takes place.

Naturally, the ensemble grew to the point where no one set of characters were being properly served by either storyline. And like Two and a Half Men, any level of plausibility relating to the show’s original premise has been lost.

Ratings, even it its young target demographics, have declined steadily with each passing season; yet FOX surprisingly, inexplicably and ill-advisedly renewed it for a fifth and sixth season.


Despite this list, some shows have gotten it right in terms of when to call it quits: 

- I Love Lucy went out on top of the ratings after six seasons in 1957.

- The Dick Van Dyke Show ended after five seasons in 1966 (though some, include cast member Rose Marie, maintain it could have gone on a season or two longer – perhaps in color).

- The Andy Griffith Show went out on top after eight seasons in 1968, though some maintain the show suffered from Don Knotts’ departure in 1965.

- The Mary Tyler Moore Show followed its predecessor’s lead by going out strongly, though it had lasted two seasons longer when it went off the air in 1977.

- 11 seasons is way too long for most series, but M*A*S*H in 1983 and Cheers in 1993 proved that a show knows no time if the stories are still fresh, funny and engaging.

- Declining ratings stemming from a time slot move from Thursdays nights following The Cosby Show to Sunday nights may have hastened its demise, but Family Ties remained a truly 80s sitcom by going off the air in 1989 after seven seasons.

- Roseanne (1988-1997) may have had a questionable ninth final season but not from a lack of story ideas – just bad creative decisions.

- Though it hurt the series in syndication, Murphy Brown remained just as in tune to current events by the time it went off the air after ten seasons in 1998 as it had when it premiered.

- The kids aged, one left and the stories matured to the point that there weren’t many more to tell so Home Improvement wisely ended its run in 1999 after eight seasons.

- No series epitomizes going out at the right time than Everybody Loves Raymond, which it did in 2005 after nine seasons. Not only did the show end its run as one of the top-rated comedies, it also won a well-deserved Emmy as Outstanding Comedy Series for a fantastic final season (the fourth comedy series to do so after The Dick Van Dyke Show in 1966, The Mary Tyler Moore Show in 1977 and Barney Miller in 1982) over the hot new show Desperate Housewives.

- Will & Grace may have veered into Will & Grace & Leo territory during the show’s fifth season, but Leo’s status as a doctor without borders made it easy for the show to veer back to Will & Grace territory before toying with Will & Grace & Vince two seasons later and then appropriately ending its eight-season run in 2006 as Will & Vince; Grace & Leo.

- After a couple of comparatively lean seasons, 30 Rock roared into its seventh and final season in 2012 with an intent on going out creatively strong, which it did over the course of 13 episodes leading up to a wonderful finale in early 2013.

The Big Bang Theory is riding high in its seventh season, but let’s hope CBS and Executive Producer Chuck Lorre know when to close the lab. 

If I Ran a Broadcast Network: A Lamentation on the Current State of Broadcast Television

posted Oct 3, 2013, 2:04 AM by Terrence Moss   [ updated Aug 16, 2014, 9:34 AM ]

There was a time when slogging through the summer doldrums of TV reruns was rewarded with the return of our favorite shows and the premiere of some exciting new ones.

Perhaps because there were only three major TV networks until the late 1980s, it seemed that NBC, ABC and CBS had a better pulse on what audiences wanted to see – broad, mass appeal comedies with characters we wanted to check in on week after week and riveting story-driven dramas that kept us tuning in week after week.

Perhaps audiences tastes have changed – the success of The Big Bang Theory, which experienced its highest ratings in its sixth season, and NCIS, which hit #1 in the Nielsen ratings after its TENTH season, clearly notwithstanding. Or perhaps network executives THINK that all their research, focus groups, misplaced focus on younger demos, over-reliance on the same the same worn-out premises and ridiculously high-octane, low-mileage series concepts is what audiences want to see on television these days.

I was so terribly disappointed in this year’s TV development season that, for the first time, the most I could muster up was ambivalence about the new fall season. So if I ran a broadcast network”, I’d make a few seemingly radical changes to move a bit further ahead of TV’s evolutionary curve:

LIVE FROM NEW YORK…AND LOS ANGELES…AND WHEREVER ELSE. Their competitive elements may be a factor, but The Super Bowl, Sunday Night Football, The Academy Awards, American Idol, The Voice and America’s Got Talent prove that live television not only generates interest but can also provide a boost in overall viewership. This isn’t as solidly proven with scripted television, but Saturday Night Live certainly continues to generate buzz (both positive and negative) as it approaches its 40th season -- as did the live 30 Rock episodes in 2010 and 2012.

Reality-competition series and specials carry a greater sense of urgency for viewers to tune-in since they’re not as readily available online the following day or week – if at all. But viewers will still tune in to watch a live episode as it airs – if for no other reason than to be among the first to spot, tweet and post online any mistakes that are made as well as any unexpected moments that may occur. 

Therefore, I suggest an expanded slate of live programming – regularly scheduled character-driven sitcoms in the tradition of All in the Family, early Roseanne and Everybody Loves Raymond, one-act dramatic teleplays in the vain of the well-regarded anthologies of the 1950s, limited-run series that don’t require much by way of sets and effects as well as other comedy, drama, music and variety specials.

BEAUTY IS ONLY SKIN DEEP, BUT TALENT IS TO THE BONE. Of course, what makes Saturday Night Live work (when it does) and the live 30 Rock episodes such standouts (particularly the first one – if for no other reason than Julia Louis-Dreyfus making a cameo as Liz Lemon in flashback) is the fact that many, if not all members of their respective casts have backgrounds in live performance.

Such was the case with many of the stars of early television. And not only were their programs well-received in those days, that work is still fondly remembered and appreciated -- even if moreso by baby boomers and those such as myself who study television. Unfortunately, since the prevailing mindset in those days was that no one would want to see the same thing twice, a lot of this great work was either taped over or discarded and therefore lost to the ages. 

It will take this kind of talent for the network to execute such an expansion of its live programming slate as opposed to just pretty faces and sexy bodies who probably won’t know what to do when they or someone else forgets a line or when a prop doesn’t work or when a set door doesn’t cooperate.

Granted, a pretty face and a sexy body are nice to look at and television will always make room for shows and roles that are primarily about that, but they will never be as engaging to watch without some semblance of talent backing it up. Beauty fades as does audience interest in it because at a certain point, even the most unsophisticated of them are going to want to see more from a performer than just that.

AVOID STAR VEHICLES. We’ve heard it many times before – “so and so returns to television” with a new something or other about this, that and the other thing (usually with a lot of unnecessary fanfare because hype is king for those who don’t know any better – or choose not to).

There are many beloved actors and actress out there, but lightning doesn’t generally strike twice and much-heralded returns to television can become embarrassing debacles. 

Creating a series or developing a role and then pursuing a well-known star because they're right for it is one thing. Building an entire series around them just because they're a big name is quite another. And more often than not, the latter becomes The Geena Davis Show or The Michael Richards Show instead of The Carol Burnett Show or The Cosby Show.

Kevin Bacon had some success with The Following last season. This season Greg Kinnear, Robin Williams, Sean Hayes and Michael J. Fox throw their household names into TV's three ring circus with their respective new shows Rake (on FOX), The Crazy Ones (on CBS), Sean Saves the World (on NBC) and The Michael J. Fox Show (also on NBC).

(2/19 UPDATE: Rake is struggling on FOX. The Crazy Ones is being out-rated by its 11-year-old lead-out Two and a Half Men on CBS. Sean Saves the World has been unfortunately cancelled and The Michael J. Fox Show has been pulled from the schedule.)

Create the concept and then find the star – if you must have one at all. Focus on developing new talent rather than mining Hollywood for the same personalities we may love but have already seen so many times before. There’s plenty of room for both. Give the newcomers a shot and then bring out the stars for guest appearances in those live one-act dramatic teleplays or comedy, music and variety specials that will drive the bulk of this network’s programming slate.

RECOGNIZE AN UNSUSTAINABLE PREMISE WHEN YOU SEE ONE. Every year, hundreds of comedies and dramas are pitched. Every year, dozens of series go to pilot. Every year, a handful makes it on the air. Every year, I wonder why and how some of them did.

Misfit friends decide to start going out and having fun on Friday nights. A single mother takes over her son’s little league team. An unhappily married woman has an affair. A rookie FBI profile goes up against the world’s most wanted fugitive. A surgeon’s family is held hostage by a rogue FBI agent.

These five series concepts sound like movie premises or miniseries at best. Does anyone at the networks ask the question as to what’s going to happen throughout the first season let alone where these stories are supposed to go in the second or even the third? If not, they should. If so, they need to re-adapt these series into limited-run programs or “event” movies – which is another format that could suit this network quite well, especially if they’re live.

IXNAY ON THE EALITYRAY. There was a time when so-called reality television wasn’t such a drain on the collective soul and mind of society. It existed (particularly during the early days of FOX), but it was far more reviled than celebrated as it is today. PBS/FOX’s American High and NBC’s The Restaurant were low-rated standouts in the unscripted genre before it became more about creating drama (or the allusion of it) rather than telling a compelling story using elements of drama. 

So you’re not seeing much by way of this type of unscripted programming on the broadcast networks right now – especially since cable took that baton and ran the genre into the ground as a celebration of idiocy and over-the-top histrionics.

But the competition sub-genre has fared a lot better on broadcast: FOX’s American Idol had a heyday that lasted longer than the entire run of most scripted TV shows but has fallen off the relevance cliff over the last few seasons. NBC’s The Voice has risen from its ashes while CBS’s The Amazing Race, ABC’s Dancing with the Stars, NBC’s The Biggest Loser, FOX’s Hell’s Kitchen and the Grand Poobah of the sub-genre, CBS’s Survivor, continue to serve as the foundation of it.

Reality television as such isn’t the problem; the problem is the broadcast network’s over-reliance on competition programs to fill their schedules. Yes, they’re cheaper to produce. And yes, they’re generally more popular than their scripted counterparts. But broadcast television as a whole cannot secure its future by focusing primarily on its shaky present.


AND WHILE YOU’RE AT IT, IXNAY ON THE EMAKESRAY. Knight Rider on NBC. The Munsters on NBC (which mercifully never made it to series, but did air as a special last fall). Prime Suspect on NBC. And Bionic Woman on NBC. All are the latest in a long line of failed TV remakes. The new Hawaii Five-O on CBS has experienced some middling success on Monday nights, but that has been owed largely to the strength of the comedy lineup leading into it than any genuine interest in a remake of the original 1968-1980 series.

This fall we can look forward to a remake of the 1967-1975 series Ironside that starred Raymond Burr of Perry Mason fame and news of a remake of the 1969-1974 comedy anthology series Love, American Style.

I’ve always said and always will maintain that there are PLENTY of great TV series ideas out there to render any remakes unnecessary. With that in mind, even if the broadcast networks are looking for concepts that already carry some built-in audience, it makes no sense that they look to decades-old TV series the younger viewers they continue to pursue have, in all likelihood, never even heard of.

Therefore, the sensible thing to do is to simply avoid the remakes altogether. Even if the remakes are the network’s attempts to maintain the older viewership they’ve otherwise largely abandoned, I’m more than certain they’d just prefer the original versions anyway.

IT’S ABOUT THE AUDIENCE, NOT THE DEMOS. This is a dying horse that just won’t die. So I have to keep beating it. I don’t know where the focus on demographics came from and I don’t care. In a BROADcast medium, the focus should be on the VIEWERS – all of them, not just the younger ones who NO LONGER WATCH TELEVISION THE SAME WAY PREVIOUS GENERATIONS DID. Save the demographic targeting for the cable networks, which are generally created for specific segments of the general audience. 

So while going for a large general audience may create a lot of perceived waste (if having more viewers than you need can be thought of as waste), consider this: for the 2012-2013 TV season, CBS’s NCIS averaged a 3.3 in the so-called all-important A1849 demo with an average of more than 19 million total viewers. In the meantime, FOX’s Glee, which specifically aims to be more demo-friendly, only averaged a 2.2 rating in that metric with an average of less than 6 million viewers over that same time period.

So why aim for specific demographics only to generate a 2.2 when you can aim for a broader audience and generate a 3.3? Granted, Glee is considered a lot hipper, cooler and more buzzy than NCIS, but it’s the latter program that has quietly spent the last five seasons in Nielsen’s Top 5 while the former continues to downtrend even in its target demographic.

Call me crazy, but I’ll sacrifice being hip, cool and buzzy in order to draw three times as many viewers. Besides, it’s harder to stay hip, cool and buzzy in a society where those factors can change on an almost daily basis than it is to maintain overall viewership, which tends to be far more stable. And despite the concerns of continued audience fragmentation and competition from cable, the internet and mobile leading to declines in that overall viewership, the viewers are there – as long as there is reason for them to tune in.

IF OUR LIVES CAN’T ALWAYS BE STABLE, AT LEAST THE TV SCHEDULES SHOULD BE. Believe it or not, there was a time when a 39-week TV season meant upwards to 39 weeks of shows. But over the last 60 years, that number dwindled to 22 – and in the case of some star vehicles, even less than that because they don’t even want to commit to what is now considered a full season. 

But the problem with a 22-episode season isn’t so much the number of episodes as it is stretching out those 22 episodes over what is still a 39-week TV season. The result is 17 weeks of repeats, particularly in March and April, and it becomes harder and harder to know when a new episode will air regardless as to the amount of promotion for it.

The solution is simple though. Split these 22-episode seasons into two (which ABC has announced they’re going to attempt this upcoming season): 11 for in the fall and 11 in the spring. Save the winter weeks in between to bring back returning series to replace any cancelled series and to premiere new series that were held for midseason. Not only does it reduce the number of repeats and shift the bulk of them back to the summer months, it creates more stability for the schedule throughout those 39 weeks.

KNOW WHEN IT’S TIME TO LET A SHOW GO. Understanding that syndication is where a series makes the bulk of its money, you want as many episodes as possible. And when you have a rare hit series on your air, you want it to last as long as possible – especially if it’s helping the network keep ahead of the competition and advertisers are willing to pay more than a mint to air an already expensive commercial in that expensive program. 

But none of it should be at the expense of the legacy of the show itself. When the star or the ensemble cast is ready to move on, why continue to throw money at them? Let them go and hope you’ve nurtured, are nurturing or will soon nurture your next hit.

SUMMER. SUMMER. SUMMERTIME. In the early days of television, shows that signed off for the season were replaced by other shows that filled in for them over the summer. Then, with the arrival of the rerun, summer on broadcast was filled with repeats of episodes from the just-concluded TV season. In recent years, particularly since the cable networks gained a foothold on it, the broadcast networks have started to recommit to original programming during the summer months between broadcast TV seasons. 

That commitment for the most part has been reality shows and burn-offs of series that didn’t make it onto the fall, winter or spring schedules. FOX’s American Idol and CBS’s Survivor debuted in the summer before being upgraded to the regular season while CBS’s Big Brother, FOX’s So You Think You Can Dance and NBC’s America’s Got Talent have become summer staples.

But where for art the scripted programs? Despite their success on the cable side, the broadcast networks haven’t shown themselves as willing to fully commit to airing worthwhile scripted programs during the summer. Rookie Blue has quietly aired on ABC for four seasons so far and Unforgettable made a summer return on CBS after being cancelled last year. But it’s been CBS’s success this summer with Under the Dome that may be the best argument for making taking that next step toward serious investment in scripting programming during the summer. Combined with reruns of popular shows as well as promising new ones that just need the extra exposure to solidify it for the fall and you have a worthwhile summer slate.

So instead of the networks premiering what they think are their most promising shows on in the fall, spread the wealth throughout the TV season and into the summer. THAT would be a true commitment to summer programming instead of typical broadcast network lip-service.

Of course, I’ve not worked out the financials of all this and I don’t care. All the research, focus groups and algorithming can’t take the place of experience. But this broadcast network will at least TRY it. And if it doesn’t work, it will try something else. Either way, it’s going to attempt to survive in this rapidly ever-evolving medium they call television. 

"Child of the 70's": A Recap of the Second Season

posted Aug 11, 2013, 9:37 PM by Terrence Moss   [ updated Aug 16, 2014, 9:36 AM ]

Child of the 70s, the web series I co-wrote with the show’s creator, producer and star Michael Vaccaro, posted its second season finale last week.

Vaccaro stars in the web comedy as Carlo Perdente, whose life in NY falls apart just as he’s presented with the opportunity of a lifetime: moving to Los Angeles to be the personal assistant to his favorite 1970s TV icon, KiKi Lawrence (the superb Ann Walker) – who turns out to be more of a nightmare than he could ever have imagined.

The first season of the unabashed homage to 1970s TV sitcoms focused primarily on getting Carlo from NY to LA, but things picked up in the seven-episode second season as Carlo finds love (in the form of the delectable Leo Forte), makes new friends (in the forms of David Zimmerman and Geri Jewell – who plays herself), fends off repeated advances from KiKi’s husband (frequent Oscar writer and Hollywood personality Bruce Vilanch), contends with KiKi’s estranged daughter (the hilariously over-the-top Claysey Everett) and endures a visit from his overbearing family (with a new Mama in tow).

All seven second season episodes are posted below:

Episode 2.1 – “It Never Rains in Southern California” 

Carlo begins his new life in California – with a bang.

With Ann Walker. Geri Jewell guest stars. Leo Forte joins the cast as a new love interest for Carlo. David Zimmerman makes his first appearance as a new friend of Carlo’s. And Terry Ray returns as the self-involved James Hunter.

Episode 2.2 – “Lonely People”

Carlo and Joe have their first (two) dates and KiKi exposes a vulnerable side after kicking her husband out of their house.

With Leo Forte. Bruce Vilanch makes his first appearance as Larry Lawrence.

This episode features a wonderful performance by Ann Walker.

Episode 2.3 – “I Love You” 

Carlo blurts out his love for Joe in the heat of a moment. Aunt Connie and Cousin Alfonso call in with some news.

With Leo Forte and Ann Walker. Bruce Vilanch makes his second appearance as Larry Lawrence. Susan Olsen (Cindy from The Brady Bunch) guest stars as Larry’s boss Nickel. Carole Ita White guest stars as Aunt Connie. Chuck Saculla guest stars as Cousin Alfonso. And Claysey Everett joins the cast as Ann’s estranged daughter Bonita.

Episode 2.4 – “The Bonita Triangle 

KiKi’s daughter Bonita causes trouble for KiKi, Carlo AND Joe.

With Leo Forte, Ann Walker, David Zimmerman, Terry Ray and guest star Geri Jewell.

Claysey Everett as Bonita is hilariously obnoxious in this episode.

Episode 2.5 – “Pop Goes the Question” 

After fighting with Joe and alienating Bernie, Carlo turns to returning guest star Geri Jewell for advice.

With Leo Forte, Ann Walker, David Zimmerman and Terry Ray.

Episode 2.6 – “The Wedding, Parts 1 & 2” 

Carlo’s wedding day goes anything but smoothly.

With Leo Forte, Ann Walker, David Zimmerman, Terry Ray and Claysey Everett. Geri Jewell guest stars as herself, Susan Olsen (The Brady Bunch) guest stars as Nickel, Sheena Metal guest stars as Nickel’s girlfriend Sioban, Pamela Silverman guest stars as the wedding officiant, Modela Kurzet appears as a wedding guest and Mark Povinelli appears as another wedding guest -- who takes an interest in Carlo’s friend Bernie.

In returning guest starring roles are Duane Boutte as Carlo’s best friend Weezy, Carole Ita White as Aunt Connie, Greg Lucey as Carlo’s father, Chuck Saculla as Cousin Alfonso, Laura Harden as Carlo’s grandmother. And introducing Lynne Marie Stewart as Carlo’s mother.

In a double episode already chock full of guest stars and special appearances, be on the lookout for two others as well.

If you like what you see, you can become a supporter/producer of “Child of the 70s” by making a much-appreciated donation to the production of Season Three. 

You can follow the project on YouTube, Twitter and Facebook so feel free to reach out to the production for more information. 

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