Lisa’s Oscar Predictions For December


In a normal year, this would be my final Oscar prediction post.  All of the critics groups and the Golden Globes and the SAG would have, by this point, painted a pretty clear picture of what and who was going to be nominated in January.  However, as we all know, 2020 was not a normal year and we’ve still got another two months to go until the 2020 awards season comes to its climax.

Though a few regional groups have announced their picks for the best of 2020, most of the major precursors are delaying announcing their picks in order to better influence the Academy in February.  Of the major groups, only the LAFCA stuck to their usual December schedule and they proceeded to honor Small Axe, which will probably not even be submitted for Oscar consideration.

That said, I still think the Oscar picture has cleared up a bit.  Hillbilly Elegy is no longer contender, beyond maybe Glenn Close.  Mank is a contender but probably not the powerhouse that many of us were expecting.  Nomadland and First Cow appear to coming on strong.  The Trial of the Chicago 7 will probably receive some Academy love, even if it hasn’t exactly overwhelmed the critics.

I feel good about these predictions below.  If you want to see how my thinking has evolved, check out my predictions for January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, and November!

Best Picture

Da 5 Bloods

The Father

First Cow

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Mank

Minari

Nomadland

Promising Young Woman

Sound of Metal

The Trial of Chicago 7

Best Director

David FIncher for Mank

Spike Lee for Da 5 Bloods

Kelly Reichardt for First Cow

Aaron Sorkin for The Trial of the Chicago 7

Chloe Zhao for Nomadland

Best Actor

Riz Ahmed in Sound of Metal

Chadwick Boseman in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Anthony Hopkins in The Father

Delroy Lindo in Da 5 Bloods

Gary Oldman in Mank

Best Actress

Viola Davis in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Sidney Flanigan in Never Rarely Sometimes Always

Vanessa Kirby in Pieces of a Woman

Frances McDormand in Nomadland

Carey Mulligan in Promising Young Woman

Best Supporting Actor

Chadwick Boseman in Da 5 Bloods

Brian Dennehy in Driveways

Billy Murray in On the Rocks

Leslie Odom, Jr. in One Night In Miami

Paul Raci in Sound of Metal

Best Supporting Actress

Ellen Burstyn in Pieces of a Woman

Glenn Close in Hillbilly Elegy

Olivia Colman in The Father

Amanda Seyfried in Mank

Yuh-jung Youn in Minari

Hickey & Boggs (1972, directed by Robert Culp)


Frank Boggs (Robert Culp) and Al Hickey (Bill Cosby) are two private investigators who are constantly in danger of losing their licenses and going out of business.  Hickey is the responsible one.  Boggs is the seedy alcoholic.  When Hickey and Boggs are hired to track down a missing woman, their investigation lands them in the middle of a war between the mob and a group of political activists who are fighting over who is going to get the loot from a recent robbery.  Hickey and Boggs are targeted by the mob and soon, everyone is dying around them.

With its cynical themes and downbeat ending, Hickey & Boggs is very much a 70s film.  The script was written by future director Walter Hill and when it was eventually offered to Bill Cosby, Cosby agreed to star on the condition that his I Spy co-star, Robert Culp, be hired to direct.  Producer John Calley hired Culp but after Calley refused to provide the budget that Culp requested, Culp bought the script and raised the money himself.

There are a few problems with Hickey & Boggs, the main one being that the plot is next to impossible to follow.  As a director, Robert Culp apparently didn’t believe in either filming coverage or providing establishment shots so, especially early on, it is often impossible to tell how one scene is connected to another or even how much time has passed between scenes.  I don’t know if this was an intentional aesthetic decision or if the production just ran out of money before everything could be shot but it makes it difficult to get into the film’s already complicated story.  On a positive note, Culp did have a flair for staging action scenes.  The film ends with a shoot out on the beach that’s is handled with such skill that it almost makes up for what came before it.  Also, like many actors-turned-director, Culp proved himself capable of spotting talent.  Along with giving early roles to Vincent Gardenia, James Woods and Michael Moriarty, Culp also took the chance of casting sitcom mainstay Robert Mandan as a villain.  It was a risk but it worked as Mandan convincingly portrays the banality of evil.

Of course, the biggest problem with Hickey & Boggs is that it stars Bill Cosby as a straight-laced hero and that’s no longer a role that anyone’s willing to believe him in.  Cosby actually does give a convincing dramatic performance in Hickey & Boggs.  Just look at the final scene on the beach where Hickey has his “what have we done” moment and shows the type of regret that Cosby has never shown in real life.  The problem is that to really appreciate Cosby’s performance, you have to find a way to overlook the fact that he’s Bill Cosby and that something that I found impossible to do while watching Hickey & Boggs.  When you should be getting into the movie, you’re thinking about how many decades Bill Cosby was able to get away with drugging and assaulting women.  If not for a comment from Hannibal Buress that led to a social media uproar, Cosby would probably still be getting away with it.  If Buress’s anti-Cosby comments hadn’t been recorded and hadn’t gone viral, Bill Cosby would still be free and the media would probably still be holding him up as some sort of role model.

At the time Hickey & Boggs was made, both Bill Cosby and Robert Culp were at a career crossroads.  Cosby was hoping to transform himself into a film star.  Culp was hoping to become a director.  Hickey & Boggs, however, was disliked by critics and flopped at the box office.  Culp never directed another film and we all know what happened with Bill Cosby.  (Of course, it wasn’t just the box office failure of Hickey & Boggs that kept Cosby from becoming a movie star.  Say what you will about Robert Culp as a director, he had nothing to do with Leonard Part 6.)  Hickey  & Boggs is too disjointed to really work but Robert Culp and Bill Cosby were convincing action stars and the film’s downbeat style and cynical worldview is sometimes interesting.

The Shattered Lens Live Tweets Christmas Eve


Happy Christmas Eve, everyone!

It’s been a relatively quiet Christmas Eve down here at the TSL Offices.  We’ve wished each other a Merry Christmas and a happy holiday.

We’ve definitely devoted some time to trying to keep up with what’s going on with Santa and his trip around the world.

There was a brief moment of panic when it appeared that Santa may have disappeared.  I wondered if maybe he had been called away to once again conquer the Martians.

Fortunately, we eventually found him on a beach in Florida and sent the Ice Cream Bunny out to get things moving again.

Resolutions were made:

Treats were considered:

Nostalgia was indulged:

And, in the end, we watched a lot of movies.  Myself, for instance, I watched Less Than Zero, Elf, Miracle on 34th Street, and It’s A Wonderful Life today.  I’ve still got the first two Die Hards and A Christmas Story to look forward to.  That’ll be after midnight mass, of course.

And finally, as he does every year, Patrick helped bring this Christmas Eve to a perfect close by sharing the Night Before Christmas.

Here’s hoping that everyone has a good holiday tomorrow!  Thanks for reading and we look forward to ringing in the new year with you!

Stroker Ace (1983, directed by Hal Needham)


In 1983, Burt Reynolds had the choice of appearing in two films.

He was offered the role of former astronaut Garrett Breedlove in Terms of Endearment, a role that director/screenwriter James L. Brooks wrote specifically with Reynolds in mind.  The role was designed to play to all of Reynolds’s strengths and none of his weaknesses.  It was also a key supporting role in a film that was widely expected to be an Oscar contender.

Or, Reynolds could star in Stroker Ace, another car chase film that was going to be directed by his old friend, Hal Needham.  No one was expecting Stroker Ace to be an Oscar contender but Needham and Reynolds had made three similar films together and all of them had been hits at the box office.

Reynolds decided to star in Stroker Ace.  Jack Nicholson received the role of Garrett Breedlove and went on to win his second Oscar.  As for Burt, he later called Stroker Ace “the beginning of the end.”

The title character of Stroker Ace is a good old boy race car driver.  He’s a typical Reynolds character.  He grew up in the South and learned how to race cars by watching moonshiners outrun the police.  Now, he’s a star on the NASCAR circuit but he’s also arrogant and needlessly self-destructive.  Because this is a Hal Needham car chase movie, those are portrayed as being good traits.  When Stroker loses his former sponsor after pouring wet concrete on him, he’s forced to accept sponsorship from a crooked chicken mogul (played by Ned Beatty, who deserved better).  When Stroker’s not driving his car while dressed as a chicken, he’s romancing the prudish Pembrook Feeney (Loni Anderson).

It’s hard to describe the plot of Stroker Ace because it really doesn’t have a plot.  There’s a few scenes where Burt looks directly at the camera and smirks.  It’s supposed to remind us of Smoky and the Bandit but Stroker Ace doesn’t have the spectacular stunts that the first film had nor does it have the comedic energy of Jackie Gleason.  Instead, it’s got Jim Nabors as a mechanic named Lugs.  The former star of Gomer Pyle does say “Golly” but he doesn’t sing.

The main problem with Stroker Ace is that there’s no reason to root for Stroker Ace.  The Bandit was good at his job and cared about his car.  The same thing is true about the stuntman that Burt played in Hooper.  Stroker is a racer who would rather destroy his car than come in second and who loses his sponsorships because of his own stupid behavior.  Stroker Ace doesn’t care about anything so it’s difficult to get outraged over him having to wear a chicken suit while racing.

Reynolds later described turning down Terms of Endearment for Stoker Ace as being one of the biggest mistakes of his career.  When he talked about how the Terms of Endearment role won Nicholson an Oscar, Reynolds added that he didn’t win anything for Stroker Ace because “they don’t give awards for being stupid.”  It was a missed opportunity for sure and Reynolds would have to wait another fourteen years before Boogie Nights finally proved that he could do more than drive cars and smirk at the camera.

Despite the failure of Stroker Ace, Reynolds and Needham remained friends and even made two more film together (Cannonball Run II and Hostage Hotel).  Their friendship later served as the basis for the relationship between the characters played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time In Hollywood.

Thank you, Destroy All Humans!


When I reviewed Destroy All Humans! last year, I ended the review by saying that I couldn’t wait for the remake to be released in 2020.  When I wrote those words, I didn’t know just how much 2020 would sometimes make me want to destroy all humans.  It’s been a hell of a year and distractions from reality have been not only welcome but necessary.  I’m happy to say that the remake of Destroy All Humans! lived up to all of my expectations and it’s often been just the distraction that I needed.

With the exception of one new mission (which was planned for but cut from the original), the remake of Destroy All Humans! is the same game as the original.  Some of the images are a little crisper and the sound quality has been improved but there really aren’t any major differences as far as gameplay is concerned.  For me, that’s not a problem because I consider the original Destroy All Humans to be about as perfect as game from the period can be.

For me, Destroy All Humans! is the perfect game for 2020.  If there’s ever been a year that’s called for a full scale alien invasion, it’s been this one.  I’ve destroyed Santa Modesta and the Turnipseed Farm more times than I care to count.  When the news is bad, there’s something very gratifying about boarding a spaceship and blowing up a grain silo.  Normally, I’m not a fan of mindless violence but the key to Destroy All Humans! is that, no matter how many times you blow Santa Modesta, the town is always rebuilt by the time you return.  Destroy All Humans! may not have been made to show that humans are resilient but it really one of the main lessons of the game.

Thank you, Destroy All Humans!, for being there when we needed you.  Now, let’s just hope for a remake of Destroy All Humans 2!

Video Game Review: Spider-Man: Miles Morales (2020, Insomniac Games)


The much anticipated sequel to PS4’s Spider-Man, Spider-Man: Miles Morales puts you in control of the title character, a teenage super hero and scientific genius who is still struggling to learn how to use his powers.  It’s been a year since the conclusion of the previous game and, in that time, Manhattan has struggled to recover from the Devil’s Breath incident.  Crime is still rampant but, luckily, Spider-Man has an assistant to help him out.  Now living in Harlem, Miles Morales can not only do everything that a spider can but he also has a whole host of new powers that the original Spider-Man could only dream of.  Miles is going to need all of them because the original Spider-Man is going to be in Europe for the next few weeks and Miles is going to have to protect New York City on his own.

The main mission finds Miles caught in the middle of a war between Roxxon Oil and the mysterious Tinkerer.  The side missions give Miles a chance to do everything from looking for lost cats to preventing another old foe from engineering a criminal takeover of Harlem.  Along the way, Miles discovers that his uncle is the mercenary known as the Prowler and that his oldest friend, Phin Mason, has a big secret of her own.  He also discovers that he has an entire community willing to support him in his time of need.

I have to admit that it took me a while to get into Spider-Man: Miles Morales.  At the start of the game, Miles is so inexperienced and nervous about filling in for Spider-Man that he actually came across as being a little whiny.  As the game progressed, Miles got more confident and stronger and so did the story.  Spider-Man: Miles Morales is best viewed as a coming of age story.  In the first game, Peter Parker was already an experienced Spider-Man and he knew what he was capable of doing.  Spider-Man: Miles Morales gives us a chance to watch as Miles first comes to realize just how powerful he can be.  The game is all about Miles learning what it means to be a hero and coming to realize that it takes more than just super powers to make the world a better place.  Miles not only discovers his own inner strength but he also the strength of his community.  The game is as much about the people that Miles helps as it is about Miles himself.

Spider-Man: Miles Morales looks great.  While I would like to see a Spider-Man game that takes place in a location other than Manhattan, the island still looks great and one of the joys of the game is just to swing form building to building and appreciate the amount of detail that has been put into the setting.  The game takes place during the holidays, which means that it never stops snowing.  The final battle takes place during a fierce blizzard and it’s a visual tour de force.  The game controls are still simple and easy to master.  Once you figure out how to throw a venom punch, it’s hard not to resist the temptation to do it every single chance that you get.

If I do have a complaint with the game, it’s that it’s too short.  The main mission resolves itself too quickly and the game could have used a few more side missions.  The side missions are often fun and diverting but none of them can really compare to the first game.  None of them are as exciting or as challenging as trying to take down Tombstone or battle the Taskmaster.  Spider-Man: Miles Morales is still a fun game but, because of its shortened length, it feel very much like just one chapter in a much bigger saga.  Fortunately, the main story ends with a hint as to what’s waiting in the future and you’ll definitely want to play the game to the end so that you can see it for yourself.

For the most part, I enjoyed playing Spider-Man: Miles Morales and I look forward to seeing what the future holds for the Spider-Man video game franchise.

 

A Midnight Clear (1992, directed by Keith Gordon)


In December of 1944, with the world at war and Christmas approaching, a small U.S. Army Intelligence squad is sent to a deserted chateau near the German lines.  The squad, which was decimated during the Battle of the Bulge, is made up of six young soldiers who all have genius IQs.  They’ve been hardened by war but they’re still young enough to have some hope for the future.  Leading them is “Mother” Wilkinson (Gary Sinise), an officer who cares about his men but who has been mentally struggling with not only the war but also with the recent death of a child back home.

At first, the chateau seems like a perfect sanctuary, a place to wait for the war to end.  But then the Americans discover that there is a regiment of German soldiers nearby.  The Germans are just as young as the Americans and when the two groups meet each other, they don’t fire their guns but instead have a snowball fight.  The Germans say that they know the war is about to end and that they want to surrender before the Russians arrive.  However, the Germans are worried about their families back home and what will happen when word gets back that they’ve surrendered.  They request a staged fight so that it will appear that they were captured in combat.  Almost everyone is down with the plan but it turns out that it’s not easy to fake a war in the middle of a real one.

Based on a novel by William Wharton, A Midnight Clear is one of the best Christmas films that hardly anyone seems to have heard of.  It’s a war film that is more concerned with the men who fight the wars than with the battles. Along with Sinise, the ensemble cast includes Ethan Hawke, Peter Berg, Kevin Dillon, Ayre Gross, Frank Whaley, and John C. McGinley and all of them make an impression, bringing their characters to life.  By the end of the movie, you feel like you know each member of the squad and their individual fates hit you hard.  Some of them make it to the next Christmas and tragically, some of them don’t.  The film starts out almost gently and all of the soldiers are so intent on just letting the war end while they hide out at the chateau that you find yourself believing that it could actually happen.  When reality intrudes, it’s tragic and poignant.  Intelligently directed by Keith Gordon (making his directorial debut), A Midnight Clear is an unforgettable anti-war story that has an amazing final shot.  A Midnight Clear makes an impression on Christmas and every other day.

Great Moments In Comic Book History: “….And To All A Good Night”


In 1970, Marvel finally gave Black Widow her own solo series.

Of course, she had to share the spotlight with The Inhumans.  When Marvel revived their anthology series, Amazing Adventures, each issue featured two stories.  The Inhumans starred in the first story while the second story would feature Natasha Romanoff (a.k.a., The Black Widow) and her assistant, Ivan.  While The Inhumans dealt with cosmic concerns and royal intrigue, Natasha and Ivan would battle more down-to-Earth criminals.  It was not a perfect combination as the Inhumans had little to do with the Black Widow and vice versa.  But, for 8 issues, they made it work.

The 5th issue of Amazing Adventures was a Christmas issue and it featured a story that was dark even by the standards of Marvel in 1970.  Ivan comes across a teenage boy who is about to jump off a bridge.  Ivan grabs him and takes him to the Black Widow’s luxury apartment, located at the top of Manhattan’s Mammon Towers.  “You mean that jet set chick who cooled the Young Warriors’s scene a while back?” the teenager says, showing that he knows all of the hip lingo.

When Ivan and the teenager arrive at the apartment, the Black Widow has just stepped out of the shower.  (Every issue of Amazing Adventures featured at least one scene of the Black Widow either showering or getting dressed.)  The Black Widow wishes Ivan and the still nameless teenager a Merry Christmas but the teenager isn’t impressed.

The teenager explains that he’s from Utah.  He came to New York with “a dime in my pocket, sawdust in my skull” and eventually, he ended up crashing at the pad of a cult leader called The Astrologer.  Using the stars as his guide, the Astrologer sent his cult out to commit crimes.  At first, the teenager was cool with all of the the petty theft but when the Astrologer suggested robbing a blood bank and holding all of New York’s O-type blood hostage, that was a bridge too far.

As the teenager finishes his story, the members of the cult show up.  Out on the balcony of her apartment, Natasha fights several of them off before a cult member named Willie gets in a lucky punch and knocks her down.  The teenager shouts that he won’t allow the Black Widow to die because of his mistakes and he jumps at Willie.  Both of them fall off the balcony and plummet several stories to their death.

With tears in her eyes, Natasha calls the police to report a death.  No, she and Ivan never learned the teenager’s name. “But yes,” Natasha says, “I guess you would say — he was a friend of mine!”

Merry Christmas, right?

Three issues later, Black Widow would get her revenge on the Astrologer and the villain was never seen again.  She never did learn the teenager’s name but his brief appearance was one of the key moments in her brief run in Amazing Adventures.  His sacrifice not only established that the Black Widow lived in a dangerous world where even Christmas could end with a sudden death but it also epitomized the concepts of sacrifice and redemption.  He may have been a runaway and a petty criminal with “sawdust in my skull” but could still save the life of a hero.

Amazing Adventures (Vol. 2 #5, March, 1970)

“…And To All A Good Night”

  • Writer — Roy Thomas
  • Artist — Gene Colan
  • Inker– Bill Everett
  • Letterer — Artie Simek

Previous Great Moments In Comic Book History:

  1. Winchester Before Winchester: Swamp Thing Vol. 2 #45 “Ghost Dance” 
  2. The Avengers Appear on David Letterman
  3. Crisis on Campus
  4. “Even in Death”
  5. The Debut of Man-Wolf in Amazing Spider-Man
  6. Spider-Man Meets The Monster Maker
  7. Conan The Barbarian Visits Times Square
  8. Dracula Joins The Marvel Universe
  9. The Death of Dr. Druid

Great Moments In Television History: Bing Crosby and David Bowie Share a Duet


In 1977’s Bing Crosby’s Merrie Olde Christmas, Bing and his family travel to the UK to visit Bing’s long-lost relative, Sir Perceval Crosby.  It’s while staying at the Crosby estate that Bing celebrates Christmas and discovers that Sir Percy lives next door to David Bowie!

You might not expect Bing Crosby and David Bowie to have much in common as far as musical tastes are concerned but that’s where you’re wrong.  After discussing their parenting techniques and their favorite songs, Crosby and Bowie share a duet that has become a classic.

From Bing Crosby’s Merrie Olde Christmas (which aired on ITV 33 years ago today), here are David Bowie and Bing Crosby performing Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth.

Previous Great Moments In Television History:

  1. Planet of the Apes The TV Series
  2. Lonely Water
  3. Ghostwatch Traumatizes The UK
  4. Frasier Meets The Candidate
  5. The Autons Terrify The UK
  6. Freedom’s Last Stand

Scene That I Love: Linus’s Speech in A Charlie Brown Christmas


Merry Christmas!

I know that a lot of people missed A Charlie Brown Christmas this year.  When all of the Peanuts holiday specials were bought by Apple TV+, it looked they would never air on free television again.  Luckily, people got mad enough that Apple made a deal with PBS to resume airing the specials.  But how many of you knew that before you just read it?  Hopefully, everyone involved will do a better job of getting the word out next year.

For those of you who missed it this year, here’s the most famous scene from A Charlie Brown Christmas.  When A Charlie Brown Christmas was first aired in 1965, Charles Schulz had to fight to keep CBS from removing the scene in which Linus explains the true meaning of Christmas.  It has gone on to become one of the most popular moments in the special.

For those who missed it, here it is: