‘Light from Light’ is Here to Soothe Your Existentially Anxious Soul

‘Light from Light’ worked with a light and careful hand to craft a sense of existential ennui that’s hard to do without becoming overbearing.

Grasshopper Film

This review contains mild spoilers. 

Perhaps it shouldn’t be remarkable for a film to have an exceptional opening scene, but Light from Light shows how rare it is. Right out of the gate, the film expertly stages the entire piece in tone and intent. The scene is impeccably structured and showcases the protagonist’s journey with a skilled deep-dive into her background. The strength of its introduction makes you believe.

As a child, Shelia (Marin Ireland) once had a dream that could be interpreted as prophetic and otherworldly or merely coincidental, depending on one’s individual proclivities towards such things. But it was deemed prophetic for her, turning little Shelia be something of a psychic and became a small town celebrity for a time. People relied on her for guidance and comfort, anxiously awaiting to hear her most recent dream. But once her dreams ceased to foretell anything at all, her community quickly lost interest in her. A fact that, while not explicit, visibly still pains 40-something Shelia in the present day as she’s retelling the incident in a radio interview. The young girl thought herself to be special, in the kind of way that’s reflected in everyone else’s behavior towards her, until one day she wasn’t. Though Shelia grew up to be a small-time paranormal investigator, her belief in both the supernatural and herself never really recovered. 

Sheila is instantly empathetic, and the film that follows the opening scene never exploits that. She’s almost permanently wounded, though not bitter, and moves through the world with a sense of resignation less indicative of depression than a sincere belief in one’s own inconsequentiality. A financially struggling single mother, Shelia had to forfeit her position with her ghost hunting team because she couldn’t afford the dues. However, when she takes on a freelance case with a widower, Richard (Jim Gaffigan), she does so for free. It’s a development that at once checks out and feels a little superfluous, but Shelia’s altruism is the logical extension of her outlook on life. Nothing really matters, including money. 

The concept of paranormal investigation is usually relegated to campy horror, but the fact that it’s been a part of popular culture for fifteen years and is rarely used as a device of high drama is rather surprising. Light from Light rightfully finds the metaphor in the practice: of course it’s not about proving ghosts exists more than it’s about providing consolation for the pained and living. It’s a salve for even the irreligious (or especially for them); a metaphysical exercise to sooth your aching soul. Shelia’s involvement in ghost hunting is threefold: she wants to help people, she longs for confirmation of a divine existence, and she needs the fix of hopeful possibility. 

It’s that fix that fuels the paranormal investigation field, both for those who participate and those who watch it. That fix keeps even the Light from Light film watcher on high alert, keenly searching every corner of a room for movement or a misplaced item. When it doesn’t happen, you’re disappointed. When it does, you’re thrilled. For a moment.

Because when the film is over, the jolt of the thrill dissolves and inevitably feels empty. Because the act of seeing releases the narrative tension. Because now there is proof and proof is not nearly as exciting as the possibility of it, or the tease of not obtaining it. Something is now definitive where once it was delightfully opaque. Shelia is relieved at having seen, but why? Is it merely because she’s proven to herself the very thing for which her community rejected her as a child? She now has an answer, but what will the answer solve? Having seen absolves Shelia of finding purpose within herself. Of doing the work of living. 

Light from Light worked with a light and careful hand to craft a sense of existential ennui that’s hard to do without becoming overbearing. It develops its world and really lives in it, full of characters together but alone, drifting through whatever we’re supposed to be doing here. It’s not aimless, even if its characters seem like it. Its climax doesn’t negate the rest of the movie, but it’d be something more profound without it: What do we owe to ourselves? Where does hope come from if not from above? How do we keep going, when the fix is so temporary?   

#OscarsSoWhite: Yes, this is a race issue

When 94% of studio heads and 92% of studio senior management is white, the imbalance of racial representation is systemic


As I was doing the dishes last night, I popped on a rerun of Radio Times with Marty Moss-Coane, because the sound of other voices in the room creates a barrier between oneself and the crushing sense of emptiness that accompanies by-hand dishwashing. Marty and her guests were discussing a recent Esquire/NBC News poll which found that “half of our country’s population is angrier than they were a year ago.”

The thing about living in a period of heightened political, racial, and ideological tension is that each expression of anger–directed at a dangerous trend, at a harmful policy, at The System®–draws an even louder groan of righteous outrage from the opposing political/racial/ideological force(s). Reactionary politics are nothing new, but with the rise of New Media has come a corresponding rise in self-consciousness and insecurity among the electorate. To concede to an opposing view is to risk not just pride but also social capital, so we fight harumph with harumph. I don’t get the feeling that either side of any contemporary argument listens with serious, intellectual curiosity to the other side. The aim is to be heard, not to hear.

For instance, Jesse from Jonestown, PA calls in to Radio Times and says he’s a “middle-class white person.” “I have seen my parents struggle their entire lives,” he says. “I’ve seen myself struggle my entire life. And I’m just wondering when this ‘white privilege’ will start kicking in, and what exactly should I be expecting?”

Now, we can tell from Jesse from Jonestown’s sarcasm that not only is he (a) just a little skeptical that such a thing as white privilege even exists, but that he also (b) has little interest in actually hearing, acknowledging, and considering an explanation of white privilege and its many, often subtle forms. There is no curiosity here–in fact, the very notion of being curious about opposing views is part of what Jesse’s comment-phrased-as-question mocks. Ms. Moss-Coane and her guests–senior Esquire editor Richard Dorment and political commentator David E. Love–were more than dutifully patient in their responses, explaining that, while some whites may feel economically alienated, there remain daily struggles for blacks and other minorities that whites, by virtue of nothing more than their skin color, simply don’t have to think about. (Hear the full conversation here.) But do you imagine that Jesse from Jonestown was really interested in a serious response to his question? Do you imagine he’s now a humbler, more understanding person who recognizes the struggles of others and not just his own? Do you imagine he even stayed tuned for the response?

What would Jesse from Jonestown say about the 2016 Oscar nominations, announced earlier today? When asked why, for a second year in a row, exactly zero nonwhite actors were nominated for the industry’s highest form of flattery and regard, would Jesse from Jonestown roll his eyes and groan? Would he suggest that maybe the best performers of the year “just happened to be white”? Would he in fact imply or outright state that the very idea of being upset at an award show for excluding POCs is racist against the hardworking white people who earned nominations? Would he say something like:


On the flipside, do you think Jesse from Jonestown will take pause, will have a moment of clarity in which it occurs to him that, even if a purely subjective assessment of “talent” yielded an all-white cast of Oscar nominees, that industry awards are not about talent alone but about respect, acknowledgement, an understanding of the cultural moment at hand? That, even if Academy voters had made a concerted effort to be objective in their choices, the exorbitantly high percentage of old white men doing the voting might have tipped the scales just a bit? That in a year that boasted Idris Elba in Beasts of No Nation (91% on Rotten Tomatoes, zero Oscar nominations) Michael B. Jordan in Creed (93%, one nomination for Jordan’s white co-star), Samuel L. Jackson in The Hateful Eight (74%, 3 nominations), and a host of young standouts in Straight Outta Compton (88%, one nomination for its screenplay, written by a white man and white woman), perhaps the 94% white, 85% over-fifty Academy felt–consciously or not–more comfortable voting for people who look like they do? That when Hollywood creates an output consisting of (as per the most recent Hollywood Diversity Report from the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA) only 16.7% nonwhites in lead roles and only 13.8% majority nonwhite casts (and even those numbers are significant improvements over previous years) perhaps the nominations are merely indicative of a larger problem? And that when 94% of studio heads and 92% of studio senior management is white, then the imbalance of racial representation is systemic and, mathematically and common sensibly, there is white privilege?

(And we’re not even talking about gender disparity here, which deserves its own essay.)

I dunno. How much credit do you give Jesse from Jonestown? How much credit do you give a whole country made up largely of Jesse from Jonestowns?

I’m a white, straight male. Not everything is easy for me, but I acknowledge–cannot help but notice, in fact–that (a) most movies and TV shows are made for me, and (b) the movies that get talked up at awards time are not only made for me but are talked up by people like me, voted on by people like me, and then re-presented to people like me as the most valuable statements of an entire medium. White privilege isn’t us winning at life over nonwhites. It’s us speaking for and in place of nonwhites across various media. It’s us not realizing that most of what passes as “entertainment” in this country is made for us, which means that it’s simultaneously, pointedly not made for blacks, latinos, women, homosexuals, and every other group that does not have the privilege of being a desperately coveted market.

I don’t doubt that Jesse from Jonestown has struggled all his life, or that his parents struggled all their lives. Our birth characteristics didn’t gift us with everything. But as of the 2000 census, Jesse’s hometown was 97.67% white. How would his struggle have gone were he of the other 2.33%? Do you think Jesse thinks about that?

The Top 10 Anticipated Movies of 2016, or Who Wants a Sequel?!

There’s no room for originality in 2016’s box office.



In the event you’ve forgotten the American desire for nostalgia and existing intellectual property, however unlikely in the wake of the recent box office domination of the Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Fandango has released a video detailing the top ten most anticipated movies of 2016, according to a poll on its site. Spoiler alert: they’re all sequels.

Well, sort of. The tenth spot, awarded to the live-action version of The Jungle Book, is Disney’s latest tap on that  wistful touchstone embedded in our collective childhood experience. Jon Favreau’s remake is the next in line of successful cartoon – ahem – reanimation, following Alice in Wonderland, Maleficent, and Cinderella, and preceding some fifteen or so others. Disney is also to blame for the film to snag the top spot, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, which is also not a sequel. Rather, a spin-off in the X-Men: Wolverine vein, Rogue One intends to fill out the established universe and kick off a series of films that will keep Star Wars-related films in the theaters for many long years to come.

And now, for the sequels:

There’s the three of the superhero variety in X-Men: Apocalypse, Captain America: Civil War, and Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, coming in at spots eight, five, and three, respectively. Superheroes are in need of some serious couples’ counseling. All they’re doing is fighting each other in 2016.

There’s the films lower on the tentpole like numbers six and four, Star Trek Beyond and Jason Bourne, which serve to give depth to their franchises and give Matt Damon a vehicle that I could’ve sworn he got off.

There’s the entirely unnecessary coming in at number nine, in which we ask ourselves, was the Zoolander funny enough to warrant a  Zoolander 2? Then again, what the hell do I know? People keep giving Adam Sandler money for some reason.

Just as unncessary, for a totally different reason, is number seven’s Independence Day: July 5th Resurgence. Not unnecesary in its conception, since the 90s are hot now, but in its execution. Because Will Smith, the hero with enough star power to make the original transcend from campy to bad-ass, is MIA. Without Will Smith and his career peak to give Independence Day‘s success context, the sequel is basically pointless. Suicide Squad better be freaking incredible to warrant his absence.

The number two most anticipated movie of 2016 is Finding Dory, because who doesn’t love Pixar or Ellen DeGeneres? Even though it’ll charm the pants off everyone, it’s doubtful this will have the same critical acclaim and box office success of last year’s juggernaut, Inside Out.

Regardless of my personal preference towards superheroes or cartoons or cartoons-that-are-now-real, there’s no room for originality in 2016’s box office. We can all blame the Wachowskis for souring studios on that front. For now, we’re strapped in for a long, easy ride on the existing property highway!

8 Actors You Had No Idea Were In ‘Almost Famous’ (And One You Totally Forgot About)

While Cameron Crowe’s star power may be fading in light of his most recent box office failure, the 90s remember him fondly with memorable films, including the autobiographical Almost Famous. The film’s stars are all played by actors you know, but even the rest of the cast is littered with talent. If it’s been a while since you’ve seen the movie, you probably would have no idea the following stars were in it.

1. Jay Baruchel as Zeppelin’s Biggest Fan

AF - jay

Best known as Seth Rogen’s other BFF, most recently seen on the FX show Man Seeking Woman, Jay Baruchel plays Vic Munez, also known as Led Zeppelin’s Biggest Fan. He tours with them, but not, y’know, with them, and will kill you if you touch his pen.

2. Pauley Perrette as DJ Alice Wisdom

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Most people would recognize her as Abby Sciuto, or the goth chick on NCIS. She plays a rock DJ who defends her love for The Doors against Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Lester Bangs. I like to believe her NCIS character is DJ Alice Wisdom’s daughter, who dug her taste in music but preferred to work with bodies rather than records.

3. Nick Swardson as Insane Bowie Fan

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Literally billed as “Insane Bowie Fan” who has one shrilly line, Nick Swardson is a stand-up comedian that you’ve seen in a whole lot of crappy movies that mostly star Adam Sandler. He had a feature role in the crapfest Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star, but I think his best role to date was in Reno 911! as Terry, the shady guy on roller-skates that always seems to have a piece of fruit with him.

4. Mitch Hedberg as Eagles Road Manager

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Without a line or more than 30 seconds of screen time, comic legend Mitch Helberg plays the Eagles’ Road Manager in Almost Famous. His only contribution to the movie is a background stoner, so with his head bowed and wearing his signature sunglasses, it’s likely Mitch wandered on the set and they just asked him to sit there for a while.

5. Zack Ward as The Legendary Red Dog

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Scut Farkus. Scut FREAKING Farkus from A Christmas Story is unrecognizable as The Legendary Road Dog. If they had lingered on Road Dog’s face long enough, I bet we would have still been able to see those (so help me God) yellow eyes.

6. Marc Maron as Angry Promoter

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This famed podcaster honed his signature vitriol long before he got his show on IFC by playing the Angry Promoter in Almost Famous. He also seems to have traded huge sideburns for a killer mustache.

7. Rainn Wilson as David Felton

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Check it out! 1970s Rolling Stone employed the future Dwight Schrute! And they both have an affinity for large glasses and muted earth tones.

8. Eric Stonestreet as Sheldon the Desk Clerk

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WHAT! Blink and you’ll miss Cam from Modern Family play Sheldon the Desk Clerk, lamenting over William’s overbearing mother.

Oh yeah, and remember Jimmy Fallon?

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Jimmy Fallon’s a late night hotshot now, but in the 90s he was playing Stillwater’s hotshot road manager. Yeah, he had a much larger role than the rest of this list, but who remembers when he was an actor?! Crazy.

The History of Gods: ‘Ex Machina’ Sine Deus

The first impression you get is that of confidence: A director uncommonly confident in his use of bold images to jumpstart a story.

avaThe first impression you get is that of confidence: A director uncommonly confident in his use of bold images to jumpstart a story. Ex Machina is the first feature film directed by Alex Garland, and it’s a statement of purpose that follows gracefully upon the modus operandi he’s set for himself as a screenwriter and producer. It’s not that he doesn’t trust the machines created by man; indeed, that sort of I, Robot cynicism becomes more and more passe as we become more and more friendly with our devices, for better or for worse. Rather, Garland doesn’t trust humans to deal with each other. In his world, people treat one another like machines–testing them, extracting their useful resources and then disposing of them. If the robots end up acting that way too, it’s no wonder. We made them in our image.

Ex Machina begins with a dialogue-less sequence that propels us both into the story and into Garland’s distorted universe. A young programmer (Domhnall Gleeson) learns via email that he’s won some sort of contest. As he peers into his monitor and texts everyone he knows, his face is reflected in his devices. The devices are watching him–but we must always remember that those devices are created and powered and monitored by people. It’s the mysterious, clandestine nature of the people who know how to manipulate these devices that concerns Garland. When we’re being helicoptered to our programmer’s grand prize–a weeklong Turing test with an eccentric billionaire software developer and his pet robot project–we learn that our billionaire’s estate is a lush, uninhabited wilderness the size of a small state. Alone he sits in his turbo-stylish mansion, drinking too much and creating robot companions. Although his latest project isn’t so much a companion as a captive. And it isn’t so much a robot as a convincing humanoid female.

The billionaire, Nathan, is played by Oscar Isaac as a composite douchebag-creep-evil genius. He tries to play the cool guy with our programmer, Caleb, but he comes on way too strong. He’s that guy who’s desperately in need of friends but who doesn’t realize that his superior, cool-guy put-on is impossible to reckon with. Or maybe he’s just too rich and brilliant to care. He tries to make Caleb comfortable with beer and conversation, acting like he just wants to be a regular guy, but in the absence of anything non-dickish to say, his words always revert back to his work. Wanna see something cool? Check out this robot I invented. Her name is Ava.

beersAva (Alicia Vikander) is a striking miracle of CGI, a fashion magazine face with a body of plexiglass and circuitry. Our films have been saturated with visual effects so thoroughly and for so long that we often feel unable to be impressed by anything anymore. It’s to Garland’s credit that he’s able to still find the wonder in computer-generated imagery. Ava is so human–in every way but the obvious–that we fall in love not only with her personality but with her mechanized body. She isn’t treated as a nifty graphic, to be manipulated and flaunted for distracting visual effect, but as a work of art, to be appreciated along with the many gorgeously-exposed shots in Garland’s film. Garland, unlike many of his big-market colleagues, sees sleek, futuristic imagery not as an opportunity for “look what I can do” gimmickry, but as a gateway to a more immersive visual experience. His shots are like sips of a good wine: We’re often titillated, but also intrigued and, in the early scenes, calmed. He rediscovers the beauty in our conservative, geometric electronics.

Caleb’s interviews with Ava quickly become mini-dates, and it’s easy to see why: he’s the first person Ava’s seen who isn’t her billionaire overlord. Their sessions are monitored by Nathan, but when the power mysteriously goes out, Ava warns Caleb that his host is not to be trusted. We don’t know why, exactly; Nathan is certainly a weirdo and an alcoholic and a dickhead to boot, but what’s he doing that’s really wrong? He’s keeping Ava locked up in a single room, but she is a robot after all. Her desire for freedom is merely a result of the human capabilities with which she was programmed by Nathan. Here we have the biblical creation tale coupled with modern patriarchy: The man, fancying himself a god, creates the woman for the sake of keeping her as his property.

The added twist here is that Caleb, having fallen in love with Ava, casts himself as her Knight in Shining Armor–a bastion of machismo as classic and oppressive as Nathan’s evil captor. During one of Nathan’s drunken catnaps, Caleb hatches a plan to get Ava out of the house and to freedom. Ava badly wants to see the outside and to escape from Nathan’s dominion, but while Caleb certainly feels for her, that’s not why he’s helping her out. The plan is for Ava with escape with Caleb, so that he can feel the pride of having saved her; so that he can accompany her back to civilization; so that he can keep her. The second half of Ex Machina juggles the various implications of the warped love triangle. Does Caleb accept Ava’s humanity so deeply that he’s willing to risk his own ass to get her to safety? Or does her safety merely offer an easier opportunity for Caleb to possess her? Ava’s status as a non-human grants Caleb an automatic feeling of superiority over her, so that he can pretend to know what’s best for her. Is he really so different from Nathan?

Garland’s finest achievement may be his old-fashioned faith in science-fiction as an engine for profound parables about the state of humanity. Where too many post-apocalyptic stories issue vague warnings about where we might be headed, Ex Machina examines where we are right now and finds it more oppressive and frightening than any future. When Nathan develops a synthetic skin for his robot, she’s indistinguishable from a real human woman. But Nathan and Caleb know the difference: in their eyes, she’s a toy to be played with.

Life During Generational Wartime: Noah Baumbach’s ‘While We’re Young’

Weren’t we young once? Weren’t we cool, or didn’t we at least feel cool? Weren’t we ambitious and spontaneous and optimistic? What happens to that feeling over time?

glassIt takes a long time for the word “entitled” to come up in Noah Baumbach’s While We’re Young, but come up it does, and why wouldn’t it? Entitlement is the nerve that has sat exposed between Generations X and Y ever since the latter group graduated into the adult world and wondered where all the opportunity was. But Baumbach isn’t interested in the well-worn surface awkwardness between the young and the not-so-young, and so he turns the tables: “Entitled” is an epithet thrown by the forty-five year old Josh (Ben Stiller) at the twenty-five-ish Jamie (Adam Driver), but it’s thrown out of frustration rather than honesty. In reality, it’s Josh who feels entitled to something—to success, to admiration, to something. And why does he feel entitled? Because he’s waited long enough, dammit. In a contemporary atmosphere where we’re used to entitlement being nothing more than a bullet point in PowerPoint presentation about Millennials, Baumbach examines the condition’s true roots. Entitlement isn’t an inherited trait; it belongs to anyone who doesn’t know how to get what he wants.

When Josh and his wife Cornelia (Naomi Watts) are introduced to Jamie and his wife Darby (Amanda Seyfried), it’s as if they’ve found themselves staring into a time-warped mirror. Weren’t we young once? Weren’t we cool, or didn’t we at least feel cool? Weren’t we ambitious and spontaneous and optimistic? What happens to that feeling over time? We all know the answer: self-support muffles ambition, practicality supersedes spontaneity, and optimism is kept in check by arthritis and herniated discs. We combat time’s slings and arrows by doing to those dreaded young people exactly what they do to us when we get older: we co-opt their culture and values in an attempt to fool ourselves into feeling like one of them. They take our record collections and we take their cool hats.

In While We’re Young, Josh and Jamie are both aspiring documentarians. Because Josh is twenty years Jamie’s senior, the aspirations of the former are sad while those of the latter are admirable and endearing. Josh has been working on his latest film for ten years, and his explanations of what it’s about are fifty miles beyond convoluted. No one will fund him and his more successful father-in-law (Charles Grodin!) looks on him with pity, as a cautionary tale of wasted talent. Jamie’s approach to filmmaking is more instinctive, driven by curiosity rather than a desire to “say something.” Josh still has ambition but has lost focus; Jamie doesn’t need focus because his youthful sense of possibility guides him.

bikeIn his recent movies, Baumbach focuses on the ways in which priorities are altered at different stages of adulthood. 2010’s Greenberg found Stiller’s title character in the aftermath of his nineteenth nervous breakdown, taking his frustrations out on the younger people whose carefree nature he envies; 2012’s Frances Ha backtracked to the initial moving-on stage of adulthood that happens in the late twenties, when we’re faced with the choice to either cling pathetically to our youth or make the best of aging. These two worlds collide in While We’re Young, and the collision remains in mercifully capable hands. Many of the expected situations arise—the older couple trying to show their cool side around the youngsters, the horrifying exclusivity of “the baby cult”—but Baumbach’s strength, as always, is in diving straight into the uncomfortable center of human interactions. The younger generation may inherit the objectively (sometimes oppressively) cool attributes of their forebears, but they also get the bad stuff. Jamie is fun, but he’s also incredibly narcissistic; Darby is easygoing, but her breeziness can sometimes lapse into apathy, and that apathy allows her to be coerced and manipulated by the force of Jamie’s personality. Their life seems ideal, but only because Jamie is a good salesman and Darby doesn’t care enough to argue.

As the film progresses, Jamie repeatedly outshines Josh; youth, it would seem, wins the day. But youth, as we all know, will pass into age; the defining characteristic of youth is not freedom or enthusiasm, but the denial of age itself. By trying to reclaim their youth through the avatars of Jamie and Darby, Josh and Cornelia are torn apart. It isn’t that the young people have corrupted them, but that the older two have corrupted themselves by pretending not to be in their mid-forties. When they fight, they fight like teenagers, losing the capacity for reason that is supposed to come along with adulthood.

While We’re Young is really about the fact that, after twenty-five or so, none of us really want to believe that we’ve gone as far as we have down the mortal coil, so we take on the rebellious traits of our descendants long past the point where it makes sense. The baby cult is frightening not because of its suburbanness, but because it forces us to admit that life (and therefore youth) will continue after we’re gone. Having children isn’t required in order to become an adult, but to abstain purely out of principle is to act as if you’re the same person you were ten or twenty years ago. It’s just another form of clinging, and while I don’t entirely agree that the answer to accepting one’s age lies in procreation, I like that Baumbach forces his characters and the audience to confront future generations head-on. He knows it’s the only way to find peace.

Oscar Pool Party! Our Predictions for the Academy Awards 2015

It’s worth noting that there is only one woman in this category whose performance was in a Best Picture nominee, compared to four out of five Best Actor nominees, and she’s not going to win. Good roles for women in Hollywood? We have a long way to go.


American Sniper
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
The Imitation Game
The Theory of Everything

Prediction: Boyhood.
It’s the darling of the award season movies. The cynical reason it will win is because the Academy wants to award the “twelve years in the making” achievement. The real reason it will win is because it presents itself without a cause or an agenda; all it wants to do is tell you a story.
Fingers Crossed: Boyhood
Tough Call: Birdman, Selma



Steve Carell, Foxcatcher
Bradley Cooper, American Sniper
Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game
Michael Keaton, Birdman
Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything

Prediction: Eddie Redmayne
He won the other important awards of the season in this category: the Golden Globe, SAG and BAFTA awards. It’s in the bag.
Fingers Crossed: Michael Keaton
It’s almost unheard of for a “comedic” performance to take home this award. Though an argument can be made for Jean Dujardin’s win for The Artist, the last time someone from outside the drama category won this award was in 1998 by Jack Nicholson in As Good As It Gets. Like his character, Michael Keaton felt like he had something to prove in this movie, but he was the only actor in this category that wasn’t playing a real person. Biopics rule the roost.
Tough Call: Bradley Cooper, Steve Carell


Robert Duvall, The Judge
Ethan Hawke, Boyhood
Edward Norton, Birdman
Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher
J.K. Simmons, Whiplash

Prediction: J.K. Simmons
Also, won the Golden Globe, SAG and BAFTA awards for this category. We didn’t see Whiplash, and perhaps I didn’t see it because subconsciously I was afraid he’d remind me of my swim coaches growing up and anxiety would overtake me. Mentor relationships are sadomasochism at its finest.
Fingers Crossed: Edward Norton


Marion Cotillard, Two Days, One Night
Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything
Julianne Moore, Still Alice
Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl
Reese Witherspoon, Wild

Prediction: Julianne Moore
And again: Globe, SAG, BAFTA. It’s also worth noting that there is only one woman in this category whose performance was in a Best Picture nominee, compared to four out of five Best Actor nominees, and she’s not going to win. Good roles for women in Hollywood? We have a long way to go.
Fingers Crossed: Reese Witherspoon
Damn, I feel bad for Reese. Her performance in Wild (and the movie itself, really) is not getting the attention it deserves. She combatted what could have been a heavy-handed transformative journey of an addict with grace and subtlety. You win in our book, Reese!


Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
Laura Dern, Wild
Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game
Emma Stone, Birdman
Meryl Streep, Into the Woods

Prediction: Patricia Arquette
Once more, shall we? Globe, SAG, BAFTA. Check, check, check. There may not be any surprises in the acting categories, but Patricia truly deserves this award.
Fingers Crossed: Patricia Arquette


Alejandro G. Inarritu, Birdman
Richard Linklater, Boyhood
Bennett Miller, Foxcatcher
Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Morten Tyldum, The Imitation Game

Prediction: Richard Linklater
You don’t just spend twelve years of your life making one movie and not get the Oscar for Best Director. You just don’t. Again, that’s the cynical reason, but it takes real talent and foresight to create a movie like Boyhood, and to let that go unrecognized would be a sin.
Fingers Crossed: For a three-way tie between Linklater, Inarritu and Anderson.


Big Hero 6
The Boxtrolls
How to Train Your Dragon 2
Song of the Sea
The Tale of the Princess Kaguya

Prediction: How to Train Your Dragon 2
Since there was so much award season shade thrown at The Lego Movie, guess we should go with the one that won the Golden Globe.
Fingers Crossed: Big Hero 6
The low-battery scene was one of the funniest scenes of any movie we saw all year.


American Sniper
The Imitation Game
Inherent Vice
The Theory of Everything

Prediction: The Imitation Game 
Sniper‘s script was weak, Vice‘s was convoluted, and Imitation just took home this award from the Writers Guild.
Fingers Crossed: The Imitation Game was our favorite of these nominees. So, sure, why not.
Tough Call: This entire category, in the absence of Gone Girl.


The Grand Budapest Hotel

Prediction: The Grand Budapest Hotel
This will be Wes Anderson’s consolation prize for losing the Best Picture and Director statues.
Fingers Crossed: Birdman
Tough CallBoyhood
Because Boyhood.


The Grand Budapest Hotel
Mr. Turner

Prediction: Birdman
Instead of being “fucking great!” Birdman would have been “pretty good!” if it weren’t for its cinematography. None of the other nominees can touch it in this category.
Fingers CrossedBirdman
Tough CallThe Grand Budapest Hotel


The Grand Budapest Hotel
Inherent Vice
Into the Woods
Mr. Turner

Prediction: The Grand Budapest Hotel
There’s no real break-out here, but since the line between Costume Design and Production Design is always rather blurry, Grand Budapest takes it.
Fingers Crossed: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Tough CallInto the Woods


American Sniper
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Imitation Game

Excellence in editing is a large part of what made Boyhood so successful.
Fingers Crossed: Someone explain editing to the audience during the telecast.


Wild Tales

Though it lost the Globe to Leviathan, it is the only other foreign film to be nominated in a different category. And the only one we saw.
Fingers Crossed: Next year, all five nominees in this category get a wide release in America.


The Grand Budapest Hotel
Guardians of the Galaxy

While the movie itself left something to be desired, a LOT of attention was paid to prosthetics in Foxcatcher. Steve Carrell’s transformation aside, the makeup designers went so far to create the very gross sounding “cauliflower ear” phenomenon that is common among wrestlers for Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo. It’s all in the details for this movie, at least where makeup is concerned.
Fingers CrossedGuardians of the Galaxy because it deserves to win something other than visual effects.


The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
Mr. Turner
The Theory of Everything

Prediction: The Theory of Everything
This may be a shot in the dark. Does anyone remember the score of these movies?
Fingers Crossed: For the Academy to recognize Birdman‘s score as valid, since it was disqualified early on for its questionable “use of classical music cues.


“Everything is Awesome” – The Lego Movie
“Glory” – Selma
“Grateful” – Beyond the Lights
“I’m Not Gonna Miss You” – Glen Campbell… I’ll Be Me
“Lost Stars” – Begin Again

Prediction: “Glory” – Selma
It’s likely that Selma‘s only recognition will be for this category.
Fingers Crossed: “Everything is Awesome”
Because The Lego Movie should’ve been nominated for Best Animated Feature. And because this song will NOT GET OUT OF MY HEAD.


The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
Into the Woods
Mr. Turner

PredictionThe Grand Budapest Hotel
The production design of most Wes Anderson movies deserve this award, and no exception here.
Fingers Crossed: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Tough CallInterstellar


American Sniper
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

PredictionThe Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
Dwarves, elves, orcs, wargs, trolls, dragons, fire, battle scenes. That’s a lot of noise.
Fingers CrossedThe Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
Because I’m a fan and I want it to win something, goddamnit.


American Sniper

PredictionWhiplash… because drums.
Fingers CrossedBirdman… because DRUMS.


Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Guardians of the Galaxy
X-Men: Days of Future Past 

Prediction: Interstellar
The jury is out on whether or not the Academy has a sense of humor, so it’s doubtful Guardians (or superheroes or apes) will take this award. Chances are the most prestige-y of these nominees will take it. Because Christopher Nolan tried this year.
Fingers Crossed: Guardians of the Galaxy
It was a better movie than half of the Best Picture nominees, so for it to be recognized at all would be wonderful.

Is It the Oscars Yet? Our Predictions For the Fun-but-Meaningless Golden Globes

The only way Birdman loses this one is if Wes Anderson gets hit by a train in the next forty-eight hours.


Before we get into this, let’s say it together: The Golden Globe Awards exist primarily to give the people who care about these sorts of things an idea of what to expect at next month’s Oscar ceremony. There are some more noble purposes, surely: to raise money for the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, to give last year’s TV season its victory lap, to throw some prizes at the comedy films that Oscar perennially snubs. But mostly, we know the Golden Globe ceremony as the chief pit stop on the Road to the Oscars. It’s not a destination, but merely part of the journey.

And you know what? That’s okay. Because the Oscars are huge. The Oscars have more history and more star power on their side than any other major award ceremony, and it’s not even close. The Emmys are neat, the Grammys are fun, but the Oscars are fucking huge. Even if the winners and losers cease to matter twenty minutes after the presentation of the Best Picture Oscar, the night itself is massive. Award show pageants are what justify our belief in celebrity culture as something holy and unattainable, and the Academy Award ceremony is the celebrity Super Bowl. As such, we can’t just take it in all at once. We need a buffer zone. We need the playoffs.

We need to pregame for this.

Thus, the Golden Globe Awards: the tailgating event before the Big Game, where we can have plenty of fun without acting like shit’s all that serious. Welcome to our predictions for Hollywood’s drunkest night.

Best Motion Picture, Drama (aka The “It’s much more difficult when you kick out Birdman” Award)

The Imitation Game
The Theory of Everything

I have a feeling (I know I’m not alone in this) that Boyhood and Birdman will wind up duking it out for Best Picture at the Oscars, and it’s a shame that the genre-based categorization of the Globes isn’t giving us a sneak preview. Instead, Birdman gets the comedy tag and Boyhood looks like an easy bet up against a late bloomer (Selma) and three Oscar-baiting quasi-biopics (FoxcatcherThe Imitation GameThe Theory of Everything) whose sheen of prestige gets duller as you look closer. In full disclosure, I haven’t seen Selma; its wide release just hit New Jersey today. But as always, award predictions are not value judgments. The Boyhood buzz has been rattling around since its premiere at Sundance almost a year ago, and even if the movie wasn’t brilliant (it is) its “twelve years in the making” selling point is likely enough to help it grab the top Globe, and maybe the top Oscar.

Best Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy (aka The “How pissed do you think Wes Anderson is that the HFPA tagged Birdman as a comedy?” Award)

Into The Woods
The Grand Budapest Hotel
St. Vincent

The only way Birdman loses this one is if Wes Anderson gets hit by a train in the next forty-eight hours.

Best Director (aka The “Hey Alejandro, did you spend a full decade and change working on your movie? Didn’t think so.” Award)

Ava DuVernay, Selma
Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Alejandro González Iñárritu, Birdman
Richard Linklater, Boyhood
David Fincher, Gone Girl

Prediction: Richard Linklater, Boyhood
This is the most stacked category, and as such it’s the hardest to predict. On the one hand you have the directors with an easily-understood gimmick: Birdman is manipulated to look like one long shot; Boyhood took twelve years to make. Then you have the auteurs, Fincher and Anderson, whose movies a lot of people liked but no one seemed to love. And then there’s Ava DuVernay, a new-ish filmmaker whose Selma is loved by critics, but whose chances in this category will likely be crushed under all the big names and big concepts that surround her. A win for DuVernay would be a thrilling upset, but it would be an upset nonetheless. The most easily-packaged artistic venture of the year belongs to Linklater.

Best Actor in a Motion Picture, Drama (aka The “Who do you like better: Historical figures or Jake Gyllenhaal?” Award)

David Oyelowo, Selma
Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything
Jake Gyllenhaal, Nightcrawler
Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game
Steve Carell, Foxcatcher

(Note: This is the only prediction we disagreed on. Either the Globes are insanely predictable, or we’re insanely bad at this.)

Mike’s Prediction: David Oyelowo, Selma
Fair enough, four of these five actors portrayed compelling (for better or for worse) historical figures. But only one played the most famous human of the twentieth century who wasn’t involved with the theory of relativity and/or the Beatles. Advantage: Oyelowo.

Angela’s Prediction: Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything
In any other year, the historical figure card would most likely trump, but since the majority of these gentlemen hold that card I think Eddie Redmayne is going to take this. He doesn’t quite have a “for your consideration” monologue, but the physical accomplishments of his performance are hard to ignore. I didn’t particularly love his performance, but I think award show voters will.

Best Actress in a Motion Picture, Drama (aka The “If Reese Witherspoon doesn’t win this award, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association should have to change its name to ‘The Biggest Bunch of Stupids That Were Ever Stupid’ for the next five years” Award)

Reese Witherspoon, Wild
Jennifer Aniston, Cake
Julianne Moore, Still Alice
Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl
Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything

Prediction: Reese Witherspoon, Wild
Jean-Marc Vallée’s extraordinary Wild was robbed of a nomination in the Best Motion Picture, Drama category at the Globes. That’s a shame, but the HFPA has an opportunity to put a bandage on that flesh wound by offering their a statue to the dutiful actress who plods through nearly every frame of Vallée’s film. Witherspoon is up against two veterans (Jennifer Aniston and Julianne Moore) in movies nobody saw and a relative newcomer (Felicity Jones) whose performance suffocates under director James Marsh’s solemn, unimaginative approach to the tedious The Theory of Everything. The possible spoiler here is Rosamund Pike, whose work in Gone Girl has reaped as much praise as the film itself, but I think Reese has this one tied up.

Best Actor in a Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy (aka The “Michael Keaton Career Resurrection Project, Stage Two” Award)

Michael Keaton, Birdman
Bill Murray, St. Vincent
Ralph Fiennes, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Christoph Waltz, Big Eyes
Joaquin Phoenix, Inherent Vice

Prediction: Michael Keaton, Birdman
It’s doubtful that Michael Keaton will win the Oscar in this category when he’s up against the dramatic nominees of this year’s Globes. But the Birdman meta journey needs to be completed with him winning a Best Actor award. It just needs to.

Best Actress In A Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy (aka The “The only actress here who doesn’t already have a Golden Globe is also the only one who is 11 years old” Award)

Julianne Moore, Maps to the Stars
Amy Adams, Big Eyes
Emily Blunt, Into the Woods
Helen Mirren, The Hundred Foot Journey
Quvenzhané Wallis, Annie

Prediction: Amy Adams, Big Eyes
This is where the genre-based apartheid of the Globes really shows its knicks and cracks. Sure, it’s cool to see the great Julianne Moore nominated in two categories for two different movies, but I don’t even think Maps to the Stars ever made its way to my local theater. If Helen Mirren’s performance hadn’t come from the movie that inspired one of the most cringe-worthy trailers I’ve ever seen in my life, she might have gotten the seniority vote. And as adorable as Quvenzhané Wallis is, I doubt that even the HFPA would want any sort of endorsement of Annie on its conscience. That leaves Amy Adams and Emily Blunt, both of whom took admirable swings at material that was well below their levels of talent; most of what I remember from both performances is that they were forced to look worried all the time. I liked Blunt better because at least she sang, but I’m thinking the HFPA will go with Adams, because biopic.

Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture (aka The “Hey, where’d Christoph Waltz go?” Award)

Ethan Hawke, Boyhood
Robert Duvall, The Judge
Edward Norton, Birdman
J.K. Simmons, Whiplash
Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher

Prediction: Edward Norton, Birdman
Mark Ruffalo’s performance in Foxcatcher struck a balance between two extremes, and one scene in particular was some of the most fun I’ve had watching movies this year. Even more fun, however, was watching Edward Norton as an impossible twat of a Method actor. He was given a wonderful gift in that character and every scene of his was dynamic. There’s no way he won’t win.

Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture (aka The “It’s a real shame Meryl chose Into the Woods over literally anything else this year” Award)

Jessica Chastain, A Most Violent Year
Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game
Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
Meryl Streep, Into the Woods
Emma Stone, Birdman

Prediction: Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
Most would assume that Meryl has this category on lock because MERYL, but Patricia Arquette was the anchor of Boyhood, which ultimately proves to be essential in a movie that’s never needed an anchor more.

Best Screenplay (aka The “Is it weird that they give awards for film writing but not for TV writing?” Award)

Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl
Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, & Armando Bo, Birdman
Richard Linklater, Boyhood
Graham Moore, The Imitation Game

Prediction: Birdman
I’m not even sure why the HFPA pretends to care about writing. There are no TV writing awards, and the screenwriting category doesn’t even bother to differentiate between adaptations and original scripts. So basically, it’s a question of which movie had some good quotable lines. Based on that criteria, Birdman could win for Edward Norton’s lines alone.

Best Animated Film (aka The “Wait, whatever happened to Big Heroes 1-5?” Award)

The Lego Movie
How to Train Your Dragon 2
Big Hero 6
The Book of Life
The Boxtrolls

PredictionThe Lego Movie
The Lego Movie accomplished the rare feat of being a non-Pixar animated movie to be widely regarded outside of the child-to-tween demographic. And since there are no Pixar movies this year, well, The Lego Movie it is.

Best Foreign Language Film (aka The “Pee Break” Award)

Force Majeure
Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem

Let’s go with the only foreign film I’ve heard anyone talk about.

Best Original Score, Motion Picture (aka The “THEM DRUMS THO!!!!” Award)

Alexandre Desplat, The Imitation Game
Jóhann Jóhannsson, The Theory of Everything
Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, Gone Girl
Antonio Sanchez, Birdman
Hans Zimmer, Interstellar

This might be the first year in the history of this award in which people actually care about the outcome. Not because perennial heavy hitters like Hans Zimmer and Alexandre Desplat are facing off against David Fincher’s go-to guys Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (a rematch of 2010’s bout that saw Reznor and Ross walk away with both the Globe and the Oscar), although this does add some intrigue to the mix. No, the real reason this award actually matters this year is DRUMS. Antonio Sanchez’s Birdman score was not only the best and most innovative of the year–keeping the zany pace of the film afloat with only a single, non-melodic instrument–but it’s also the only score that anyone is likely to actually remember. A musical score is like scenery or editing: you’re not supposed to notice it unless it’s really awful or really amazing. That Sanchez’s score is not only memorable but integral to the fabric of the film is an uncommon and noteworthy feat. And since the Academy’s music branch has just unceremoniously disqualified Sanchez’s score from contention at the Oscars, the stakes are even higher. This is the perfect opportunity for the HFPA to give credence to the notion that their Golden Globe awards actually matter.

Best Original Song, Motion Picture (aka The “I just realized that I’m living in a world where Lana Del Ray might win a Golden Globe” Award)

Lana Del Rey, “Big Eyes” from Big Eyes
John Legend and Common, “Glory” from Selma
Patti Smith and Lenny Kaye, “Mercy Is” from Noah
Greg Kustin, Sia, and Will Gluck, “Opportunity” from Annie
Lorde, “Yellow Flicker Beat” from The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1

Prediction: “Yellow Flicker Beat” from The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1
Every single song nominated in this category is dull, slow, ponderous, and generally unsatisfying. At least “Glory” (from Selma) is given a boost by Common, who raps over an otherwise funereal John Legend melody. But “Yellow Flicker Beat” is the only track here to make the Billboard Top 40 and get a reworking from Yeezus himself. I doubt it needs to be more complicated than that.

Best TV Series, Drama (aka The “GoT or GTFO” Award)

Downton Abbey
The Affair
Game of Thrones
The Good Wife
House of Cards

PredictionGame of Thrones
The only real competition here is House of Cards, but GoT‘s big moments and even bigger episodes should move the HFPA to honor the consistently-excellent show, which has never won this award and hasn’t been nominated since 2011. And speaking of consistently excellent and not nominated in ages, why no Mad Men? Yes, the show already won in this category three years in a row (2007-09); and yes, this past year gave us only a half-season and a less-than-momentous one at that; and yes, I suppose the philosophy of letting the other kids have their turn is defensible. But be real: Season four of Downton Abbey found the show literally treading water. There was room here for Mad Men, which is at least actively building toward something, while Downton, like Lord Grantham himself, tries its damnedest to keep things the way they are.

Best Actress in a TV Series, Drama (aka The “We completely forgot to watch any of these shows” Award)

Viola Davis, How to Get Away With Murder
Claire Danes, Homeland
Julianna Margulies, The Good Wife
Robin Wright, House of Cards
Ruth Wilson, The Affair

Prediction: Viola Davis, How to Get Away With Murder
Sooooo we forgot to watch any of these shows. Whoopsie! As such, this prediction is based on the performance we’ve heard the most buzz about.

Best Actor in a TV Series, Drama (aka The “Ditto, although I hear The Knick is good” Award)

Kevin Spacey, House of Cards
Clive Owen, The Knick
James Spader, The Blacklist
Dominic West, The Affair
Liev Schreiber, Ray Donovan

Prediction: Clive Owen, The Knick
I don’t get Cinemax, but I hear The Knick is really good, and anyway I care much less about this award now that Bryan Cranston is gone and Jon Hamm, never a bride since 2007, doesn’t even get to be a bridesmaid.

Best TV Series, Musical or Comedy (aka The “At least they didn’t trot out The Big Bang Theory again” Award)

Orange is the New Black
Jane the Virgin
Silicon Valley

PredictionOrange is the New Black
Silicon Valley is clearly more deserving of the award just because it is an actual comedy. OINTB is certainly a dramedy, but since this award show doesn’t need anymore split categories, it’ll win. Also, it’s hard to award a show whose crowning achievement so far has been the best dick joke in history. Sooo…

Best Actress in a TV Series, Musical or Comedy (aka The “Holy shit, Nurse Jackie is still on?” Award)

Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep
Edie Falco, Nurse Jackie
Gina Rodriguez, Jane the Virgin
Lena Dunham, Girls
Taylor Schilling, Orange is the New Black

Prediction: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep
If this award was based purely on the strength of the performances, OITNB’s Taylor Schilling would probably have a slight advantage over Louis-Dreyfus. However, if we’re going to really focus on the word “comedy,” it’s hard to ignore that (a) OITNB is, at most, 40% funny, and (b) Schilling’s Piper is not even one of the top five funniest characters on the show.

Best Actor in a TV Series, Musical or Comedy (aka The “Buhhhhh, I dunno” Award)

Don Cheadle, House of Lies
William H. Macy, Shameless
Ricky Gervais, Derek
Jeffrey Tambor, Transparent
Louis C.K., Louie

Prediction: Louis C.K., Louie
Again, we have a parade of actors nominated in a comedy category for roles that require a heavy dose of drama. Jeffrey Tambor is probably the funniest of the group, but since Transparent is pretty new (and the last thing an awards show is likely to do is take a chance on something new) and since Cheadle has already won a Globe for House of Lies (in 2012) it makes sense to go with the veteran whose show is most buzzworthy.

Best TV Movie or Miniseries (aka The “Yeah, right, miniseries” Award)

Olive Kitteridge
The Missing
True Detective
The Normal Heart

PredictionTrue Detective
Nothing captured the imaginations of the theory-crafting masses last year like True Detective. And also it has McConaughey and Harrelson. Good game, Fargo. Good game.

Best Actor in a TV Movie or Minseries (aka The “Time is a flat circle” Award)

Martin Freeman, Fargo
Matthew McConaughey, True Detective
Woody Harrelson, True Detective
Mark Ruffalo, The Normal Heart
Billy Bob Thornton, Fargo

Prediction: Matthew McConaughey, True Detective
Rust Cohle has his own Wikipedia page. Do you have a Wikipedia page, Detective Hart? Didn’t think so.

Best Actress in a TV Movie or Miniseries (aka The “There’s a Frances McDormand/Fargo­ joke in there somewhere” award)

Jessica Lange, American Horror Story: Freak Show
Maggie Gyllenhaal, The Honorable Woman
Frances McDormand, Olive Kitteridge
Allison Tolman, Fargo
Frances O’Connor, The Missing

Prediction: Frances McDormand, Fargo Olive Kitteridge
Frances McDormand’s performance here is one of the finest of her career. She plays Marge Gunderson, a pregnant police chief who…wait, what are we talking about?

Best Supporting Actor in a Series, Miniseries or TV Movie (aka The “This gag has gotten so old that all I can think to reference is the episode of Seinfeld where George thinks he bought a car that once belonged to Jon Voight, but then it turns out to be someone named John Voight, with an “h”…you know, because Voight is nominated in this category…yeah, it’s bad” Award)

Bill Murray, Olive Kitteridge
Jon Voight, Ray Donovan
Matt Bomer, The Normal Heart
Alan Cumming, The Good Wife
Colin Hanks, Fargo

Prediction: Matt Bomer, The Normal Heart
I’m literally choosing this based on which nominee is the cutest in real life. Makes it much easier.

Best Supporting Actress in a Series, Miniseries or TV Movie (aka The “Can we make these supporting categories broader, please?” Award)

Kathy Bates, American Horror Story: Freak Show
Uzo Aduba, Orange is the New Black
Joanne Froggatt, Downton Abbey
Michelle Monaghan, True Detective
Allison Janney, Mom

Prediction: Uzo Aduba, Orange in the New Black
With the possible exception of Joanne Froggatt’s Anna, Aduba’s Crazy Eyes is the only character in this category with more than a single dimension to her role. Though Kathy Bates’s AHS accent should really get a special award of its own. The speech would be hilarious.

My Very Serious Complaints about ‘The Santa Clause’

Am I imposing too much surgical analysis onto what is essentially a kids’ movie? Probably.


Twenty years after its initial release, I’ve finally figured out what bugs me about The Santa Clause.

For the uninitiated (I don’t know who this could possibly be; four-year-olds, maybe), The Santa Clause is a movie in which the great hardware-obsessed comedian Tim Allen puts on a magical Santa suit that turns him into the real, no-shit Santa Claus. Obviously, there are several thousand problems with this premise, not the least of which being the fact that Santa Claus is (probably) not real. But that stuff doesn’t bother me; the movie is a fantasy, and when the sad-eyed actor playing Allen’s son (Eric Lloyd) begins to invest his whole universe in the belief that his father is the true Annual Gift Man, his idiot-brained faith is contagious. Yes, Charlie, there is a Santa Claus. And he’s a grunting imbecile who wants more power.

The movie’s high concept actually has a good deal of genius to it: A fine-print clause (ha) on a business card found on the Santa suit binds anyone who dons the iconic garb to carry out the necessary duties implied therein. As explained by Bernard (retrospective sex symbol David Krumholtz), the “head elf” at the North Pole: “You put on the suit, you’re the Big Guy.” It’s a great spin on the way we normal humans agree to all sorts of shit we don’t understand. Allen’s character—a divorced bureaucrat named Scott Calvin—is a victim of the sort of behavior we now engage in almost daily: He clicks OK without reading the terms and conditions.

However, Scott is merely a victim of circumstance. It’s Christmas Eve, and a man dressed as Santa Claus has fallen off Scott’s roof and appears dead. (The title of Santa Claus operates like the Scottish monarchy in Macbeth, I guess.) Like any reasonable person, Scott assumes the man is a wandering eccentric and treats the situation with logical curiosity. But his son, Charlie, is just young enough to still believe in Santa Claus, and seeing the dead man and his reindeer-guided sleigh confirms his belief. Somehow, the procedure makes total sense to Charlie; where a real child might be scarred for life at finding Santa Claus dead on his lawn, Charlie takes the pragmatic approach and essentially commands his father to put on the suit and steer the sleigh. We buy into the assumption that Charlie’s prodding is even more irritating than standing outside in the snow wearing only a t-shirt and boxer shorts, so it’s not at all weird when Scott reluctantly suits up and starts delivering toys to all the good gentile girls and boys. Scott’s a partial-custody divorcee, after all; his willingness to put up with Charlie’s childish bullshit almost reads like penance for being a lousy, workaholic father.

By taking on this task, Scott opens a metaphysical Pandora’s box than can never be shut. Once the Christmas toy delivery is finished, the reindeer reflexively steer the sleigh back to the North Pole. Here Scott and Charlie find a mystical, Christmas-themed wonderland populated by immortal and perennially youthful elves. Both are stupefied, but Charlie takes it as a matter of course. He knew the workshop existed, even if he’d never been there before. Scott assumes he’s dreaming, and remains in a sort of half-assed denial even after he wakes up the following morning wearing monogrammed pajamas gifted to him at the North Pole by a helpful elf.

When Charlie’s mother Laura (aka Scott’s ex-wife, played by Wendy Crewson) and psychologist stepfather Neil (Judge Reinhold) arrive to pick Charlie up on Christmas morning, they are disappointed when the boy starts blabbing on about the previous night’s adventure. Naturally, they assume it’s part of some fantasy game encouraged by Scott. They had hoped this would be the year when Charlie would finally forsake his ridiculous belief in Santa Claus. (Charlie’s age is unclear, though the actor Eric Lloyd was eight when the film was released.) Obviously that’s no longer an option, since Charlie’s seemingly childish beliefs have now snuck into his reality. Young children—much like protagonists in screwball comedies—are among the most myopic of creatures, so we know that Charlie isn’t going to back down from his story. And as whiny and cloying as Charlie is, we as audience members know that he’s right; the only truth we know is what the movie gives us, and in this context we cannot deny that Scott Calvin is the real Santa Claus.
This is where the problem lies. It’s not a logistical problem (the movie has plenty of those, but we accept most of them as necessary to its fictional universe) but a philosophical one. The problem is that the movie’s narrative framework requires Laura and Neil to play the villains, even though they only react as any reasonable people would to their situation.

In this way, The Santa Clause shares a shred of its DNA with most movies involving ghosts or clandestine, multinational conspiracies. (It’s not even the first Christmas movie to use this tactic; the 1947 classic Miracle on 34th Street famously features a man who goes to court in order to prove he’s the real Santa Claus–though I would argue that The Santa Clause is the more popular film in current syndication, and is thus more worthwhile to discuss.) In the young Charlie, we have a character who relays an experience that, within the movie’s internal reality, is at once (a) inarguably true, and (b) impossible in the eyes of anyone who uses common sense and accepts the basic laws of physics. Since this demographic typically includes all non-insane people over the age of ten, Charlie’s testimony is chalked up to a hyperactive imagination. Scott, meanwhile, slowly begins to accept that he is the one true Santa Claus, and this makes him appear deranged and delusional.

But again, these perceptions only belong to human characters who are not Charlie and Scott. And since we experience the movie through Charlie and Scott’s eyes, we’re always on their side. We know there’s a Santa Claus, a workshop at the North Pole, etc. This means that we’re forced to side against Laura and Neil—two functioning, reasonable humans whose only sin is hanging out on the wrong side of an absurd narrative.

Certainly, Laura and Neil aren’t the only characters in film history whose refusal to believe the unbelievable results in embarrassment. The list of “this thing is happening but no one believes me” movies must be a thousand pages long. But The Santa Clause is unique in that it portrays the refusal to believe as a character flaw. Most of the time, a lack of belief in the mythical or the supernatural is understood to be reasonable, even if the character is eventually proven wrong. Look at The Exorcist (1973) for example: even the priest, Father Damien, has a hard time believing that little Linda Blair has been possessed by demonic forces. He’s wrong, but he’s not a jerk; he takes his assignment seriously despite his skepticism, and once he realizes the true nature of the situation he amends his approach. Laura and Neil, on the other hand, aren’t given this opportunity. They’re perceived as jerks only because of the fact that they refuse to buy a story that is patently ridiculous. (This is similar to the situation faced by the Timothy Busfield character in Field of Dreams, though we eventually find that his character is a jerk by nature, not just by circumstance.)

That the issue of faith forms a gulf between the characters is not in itself remarkable. One of my favorite movies is Woody Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989), in which Martin Landau considers having his mistress murdered in order to stop her from exposing the infidelity to his wife. He confides in a rabbi played by Sam Waterston, whose advice—confess the sin and seek forgiveness—haunts Landau as he struggles with his dilemma. Landau ultimately decides to go through with the arranged murder, uttering one of the most morally fucked up one-liners in the Woody Allen canon: “God is a luxury I can’t afford.” Landau is a villain, but not due to a lack of faith. It’s merely that his pragmatism and self-preservation supersede any faith he might have had. There is evil at the root of his character, and that evil manifests itself as an abandonment of faith.

In The Santa Clause, it’s the other way around: the lack of faith on the part of Laura and Neil results in evil. Near the end of the film, as Scott inhabits the persona of Santa Claus in earnest, Laura takes him to court and gains full custody of Charlie, effectively cutting Scott out of his son’s life. Since Scott is the movie’s good guy (the ultimate good guy, really, since he’s fucking Santa Claus) the net result of this scene, from the audience’s standpoint, is to make Laura look like an unreasonable asshole. But really, she’s just doing what any real divorced mother would do if her child’s father began exhibiting signs of a delusional personality disorder. She’s concerned about the safety of her son, so she does the only thing that makes sense.

(One could even argue that Laura isn’t concerned enough: When Scott/Santa violates the custody order and takes Charlie on his sleigh on Christmas Eve, Laura reacts to the disappearance and apparent kidnapping of her son with mild confusion, where in any other movie there would be tears and screaming and histrionics to boot.)

Did Laura have other options? The only one I can think of would be to take Scott’s story at face value, but that would make her seem just as crazy as he does. And maybe that’s the root of the Santa Clause problem: it tells a story in which two separate universes, operating parallel to each other, try to communicate. There can be no outcome but confusion, and our natural reaction to confusion is to impose the laws of our native universe onto the foreign Other. Naturally, each universe has its own unique internal logic, so our laws will always seem oppressive when applied to the Other. Laura and Neil aren’t villains in the real world, but once the movie splinters off into two separate universes we’re immediately placed in allegiance with the Other. The magic and the optimism and the dependence on sugary snacks are too intoxicating to resist. The real world suddenly seems restrictive and fascistic—which is fine, but only if you’re playing a character who understands and accepts the existence of the Other. Laura and Neil have no way of doing this other than to believe the tales of a prepubescent kid and a deranged Tim Allen. Such a belief would be unreasonable and, in the context of the real world, indefensible. Yet Laura and Neil are penalized for their common sense until the final moments of the film when they see the reindeer and the sleigh, at which point their evil is morphed into humiliation. They’re no longer evil, just foolish. Foolish for refusing to believe in Santa Claus. Foolish for being adults.

Am I imposing too much surgical analysis onto what is essentially a kids’ movie? Probably. But consider this: When The Santa Clause was released, I was the same age as Charlie. I’ve grown up to become part of a generation that is regularly derided in the media for being lazy, idealistic, and unrealistic about what grown-up careers have to offer (economic circumstances notwithstanding). I grew up with people like Laura and Neil—good parents trying to raise their kid to be something other than stupid—as villains. This doesn’t mean that parents should always be portrayed as allies. That would be dishonest and boring. But there has to be some middle ground between parents who crush dreams for sport and parents who are Santa Claus.

Because this needs to be dealt with: Michael Cera’s sudden solo album

Michael Cera made a pretty decent bedroom pop album. I don’t think he cares if I like it, but I do.

Well there’s no point in burying the lede: Michael Cera has released a surprise album called true that on BandCamp for some reason. No shit. Here, listen to it. Told ya.

Obviously, there’s a lot that needs to be sorted out here, so let’s get right to it.

1. Why tho?

Excellent question, and one that was much on my mind when I saw this item on my Facebook trending bar. First–and I’d forgotten all about this–but this is not Cera’s first foray into music. And no, I’m not counting that adorable song at the end of Juno, nor am I alluding to his stunning a capella rendition of a Guess Who classic in Superbad. Way back in 2010, Cera went the full Dogstar and became the touring bassist for indie supergroup Mister Heavenly. Again, I shit you not, see for yourself. Mister Heavenly contained members of The Unicorns, Man Man and Modest Mouse, and toured (with Cera) in late 2010 as a supporting act for Passion Pit. (Funniest part of Mister Heavenly’s Wikipedia page: The quotes around the word “supergroup.”)

I guess this could be seen as a natural progression from Cera’s role in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, but I think what’s coolest about the Mister Heavenly gig is that it’s a decidedly low-key career move. Hell, it’s not even a career move. It’s a fun thing to do that Michael Cera did without making a big deal out of it. Which is probably why I quickly forgot about it and replaced my indie-rocking image of Cera with his coke-swilling, turbo-douche persona from This is the End.

2. Okay but like, WHY THO?

Cera, it seems, is a man of many passions. For instance, did you know he has a YouTube comedy channel with Reggie Watts, Tim & Eric, and Sarah Silverman? Yeah. Wikipedia is a wonderful thing. Cera writes, directs and stars in many of the shorts featured here.

What we’ve learned about Michael Cera from this whole true that business is that he’s just a guy who does whatever TF he wants. Cera follows his muse wherever she goes. True that.

3. What does it sound like?

The tags that Cera has applied to the album’s BandCamp page include “alternative,” “dirty,” “home recording” and, perhaps ironically, “modest.” I’ll say this: it’s certainly no vanity project, at least not in the sense typically applied to celebrities. These songs legitimately sound like they were recorded on an old four-track in someone’s basement. And Cera seems unconcerned with highlighting any singular aspect of his talent. These aren’t full-band tracks, nor do I even feel accurate calling them “songs.” Many are instrumental, and only about half are over two minutes long. The tracks are mostly aimless jams over a central riff. Aimless is maybe the wrong word, but they’re relaxed, lethargic even. When it’s not gently-strummed guitar it’s gently-tickled piano and keyboard. It’s mellow to the mellow-th power. When he does sing, Cera’s double-tracked vocals sound like a happy marriage between Ray Davies and the late Elliott Smith. I almost wonder if he’s trying to put on an affect, yet nothing seems forced here. All is very, very chill.

4. So is it any good?

It is, actually! There’s nothing I’d call groundbreaking on the first or second listen, but true that offers the same kind of pleasure that a Kurt Vile album does, which is to say that it doesn’t demand approval; its worth is based on its breeziness and its refusal to give a single care. It’s an album of excellent reading music, basically, and I’m sure that’s just fine with Cera. There’s little ambition here, but even less pretense. That’s a disarming quality, especially coming from a movie star moonlighting as a musician. There’s no latent need to be liked here. It’s kind of awesome that way.

So anyway, yeah. Michael Cera made a pretty decent bedroom pop album. I don’t think he cares if I like it, but I do.