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2013 Primetime Emmy Winner Predictions

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2013 Primetime Emmy Winner Predictions
2013 Primetime Emmy Winner Predictions

What you’re about to read is a fool’s errand, as without a plethora of precursor awards leading up to television’s biggest night, predicting the Emmys will always be less of a science than predicting the Oscars. But while less energy, hype, and expense may go into buying an Emmy, Neill Patrick Harris won’t exactly be hosting a purity ball on September 22nd at the NOKIA Theatre in Los Angeles. This is an industry show after all, so expect much back-patting, if not to the magnitude of AMPAS’s anointment of Argo as their latest Best Picture winner, essentially an award to Hollywood itself for making movies that affect politics. Case in point: American Horror Story: Asylum, which ended its initially dubious second season on a frenzied high note, as a distinctly Lynchian elegy to the suppression of women. It enters the Emmy race with 17 nominations, more than any other show, yet it will lose the award for Miniseries or Movie to Steven Soderbergh’s Behind the Candelabra, a predictable and emotionally flat retelling of Liberace’s life that was deemed too gay for the big screen. TV better than movies? Not really, but at least television will let you see Michael Douglas stroking Matt Damon’s leg hair.

Understanding Screenwriting #107: Quartet, Tabu, 56 Up, The Gatekeepers, Cat Ballou, The Americans, 30 Rock, & More

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Understanding Screenwriting #107: Quartet, Tabu, 56 Up, The Gatekeepers, Cat Ballou, The Americans, 30 Rock, & More
Understanding Screenwriting #107: Quartet, Tabu, 56 Up, The Gatekeepers, Cat Ballou, The Americans, 30 Rock, & More

Coming Up In This Column: Quartet, Tabu, 56 Up, The Gatekeepers, Cat Ballou, The Americans, 30 Rock, but first…

Fan mail: The main bone of contention among the folks who wrote in about #US106 was that I had missed the point in Zero Dark Thirty—that, as Bill Weber wrote, it’s “supremely clear in ZDT that information INDIRECTLY leads” to Osama bin Laden. “Carabruva” agrees with Bill. I didn’t miss that point when I watched the film, since I was looking very carefully for any connection. What I didn’t do, unfortunately, was make mention in the item that it was very, very indirect and nowhere close to the “big break” that critics of the film were claiming. I fear both Mark Boal and I were nodding a bit on this point.

Some of the most interesting comments on the Zero Dark Thirty item came off the record from some of my “acquaintances.” I’d emailed them with a link to the column, and one of them replied, “I do not know if torture worked or not, but I am appalled by the fact that any senior officer or congresswomen would agree to it. However, one DCI [Director of Central Intelligence] felt it was important, and another does not. Most intelligence officers I respect felt that the producer wanted it both ways: torture sells and (gasp!) torture is bad. They were more amused by the portrait of the analyst. She is a composite of women in the bin Laden cell, all of whom were strong, bright, and opinionated. But C.I.A. is a paramilitary organization. You simply don’t talk to superiors the way our hero did.” As for my feeling that the “I’m the motherfucker” line was the best line in the film, it was even if it was not “accurate,” but hey, we’re making movies here. By the way, I later heard from another “acquaintance” that the real person Maya is based on is even better-looking than Jessica Chastain. I doubt that’s possible, so that may just be more C.I.A. disinformation.

I spent some time in the item whacking Boal and the film’s team for not responding better, especially to the complaining senators. An article in the Los Angeles Times that appeared the day after my column was posted nicely covered what happened at Sony and why they took the road they did. I understand their point of view, but I think they were wrong. The article was a Link of the Day, and if you missed it, you can read it here. The article included a great comment from Boal, and since I’ve been beating him about the head and shoulders, I feel obligated to quote it, since it nails down what happened. He said, “We made a serious, tough adult movie and we got a serious, tough adult response.”

Quartet (2012. Screenplay by Ronald Harwood, based on his play. 98 minutes.)

The Best Exotic Marigold Musicians Retirement Home. The first thing I loved about this movie is that it’s short. One of the downsides of having to slog through all those two-and-a-half-hour-plus end-of-the-year films is that they cost you money to park. In Los Angeles, the tradition is that at indoor malls that have multiplexes, the first three hours of parking are free, and then you have to pay through the nose for anything beyond that. By the time you get from your car to the theater, get your tickets, sit through 20 minutes of trailers and the film, and get back to your car, you’re probably over three hours. Some, all right, a few, films are worth the extra cost. So I went into Quartet happy knowing it was not going to cost me any more than the ticket price.

Wistful Stuff: Saying Goodbye to 30 Rock

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Wistful Stuff: Saying Goodbye to <em>30 Rock</em>
Wistful Stuff: Saying Goodbye to <em>30 Rock</em>

When 30 Rock premiered in the fall of 2006, it did so under the shadow of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, another new NBC series about the making of a TV show. Flash-forward seven years, and comparing Aaron Sorkin’s short-lived drama with Tina Fey’s sitcom seems silly now, as Fey and company bask in the well-earned plaudits and devotion of a few million viewers—mostly critics, over-educated/under-employed/over-opinionated bloggers (hi there), and less than 5,000 Germans. The heady style of Fey’s absurdist, self-aware, riotous, and sometimes surreal comedy show about a comedy show proved to be a lot of things to a lot of people (and it’s had a fitful relationship with female viewers, many of whom rightly took issue with the protracted treatment of Fey’s Liz Lemon as an unattractive schlub), but depending on your dedication to formalism, the jokes are always there.

Understanding Screenwriting #92: Downton Abbey, Smash, Luck, & More

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Understanding Screenwriting #92: <em>Downton Abbey</em>, <em>Smash</em>, <em>Luck</em>, & More
Understanding Screenwriting #92: <em>Downton Abbey</em>, <em>Smash</em>, <em>Luck</em>, & More

Coming Up In This Column: Downton Abbey, Smash, Luck, CSI, Some Short Takes on Late Winter-Early Spring 2010 Television, but first…

Fan Mail: David Ehrenstein pointed out that Preston Struges as a writer “organizes chaos,” but isn’t that what all screenwriters do? Unless you have seen writers’ treatments and first draft screenplays, you have no idea how chaotic a lot of movies that seem so perfect started out. With Sturges of course, he is writing about chaos as well. I agree with David that Wiseman’s Model (1980) is a much better film than Crazy Horse. Model brilliantly raises the question of why we should think of the models as “models” for us to follow. And it suggests that—gasp—the media are not nearly as influential as they think they are.

Both David and Victor Schwartzman take up the issue of race in regard to Red Tails. I certainly agree with David that Intruder in the Dust (1949) is one of the great American films on the subject. I was not quite as taken with Shadows (1960), and I am assuming David is at least partially joking about Mandingo (1975), but it does show you how race can drive everybody crazy, including Hollywood filmmakers. I happen to have a fondness for Pinky (1949). Yes, yes, I know that Pinky, the light-skinned Negro girl, is played by a white girl, but look at the scene in the store where the attitude of the shopkeeper changes as soon as he is told she is black. That’s one of the best examples I know on film of showing everyday racism.

Victor raises the issue of the portrayal of black characters in older films. Yes, there is a lot of cringe-worthy stuff in those films. I remember when I was in the Navy in the early ’60s. One of my fellow officers and my best friend in the Navy was one of the few black officers at the time. I remember we would get old ’40s movies to show on board ship, and the wardroom would all be embarrassed when we would see some of the stuff with Willie Best and others in Vance’s presence. Time makes you rethink things.

Downton Abbey (2012. Written by Julian Fellowes. Season 2, 7 episodes, approximately 540 minutes.)

Ahh, it came back and nearly all was right with the world: You may remember that when the first season of Downton Abbey came along, I got so hooked into it so quickly I wasn’t able to take the usual kinds of notes I do when I am watching something on television. See US#70 for details. Well, this time I took a lot of notes. Don’t worry, I am not going to give you a complete summary of this season, tempting though it might be. What I am going to do, just because I like to be perverse from time to time, is start with the last twenty minutes or so of the 7th and last episode. What happened was that my wife and I were away in Palm Springs the night it was on. Since I had no idea if the hotel we stayed at got the new PBS station in Southern California, I set up my DVR to record it. As it turns out, the hotel did get the station and we did watch it there. But I was a little sloppy on taking notes, and when we got back to Los Angeles, I wanted to look at the last twenty minutes to make sure I had got stuff right. What struck me in looking at those twenty minutes for a second time is how well Fellowes does everything in this series.

Understanding Screenwriting #72: Of Gods and Men, Rango, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, & More

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Understanding Screenwriting #72: <em>Of Gods and Men</em>, <em>Rango</em>, <em>Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives</em>, & More
Understanding Screenwriting #72: <em>Of Gods and Men</em>, <em>Rango</em>, <em>Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives</em>, & More

Coming Up in This Column: Of Gods and Men, Rango, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, The Crusades, Imitation of Life, Some Late Winter/Early Spring Television 2011.

Of Gods and Men (2010. Scenario by Etienne Comar, adaptation and dialogue by Xavier Beauvois. 122 minutes.)

A great train movie: Religion is a very difficult subject to make a film about. Movies are a very concrete medium. We photograph things and record sounds. Religion is very internal: what we believe and what we feel. How do you show that? With Hollywood it usually involves people looking up into the light with beatific smiles on their faces (see below for a notorious example), which hardly does the job.

Understanding Screenwriting #62: Carlos, The Plainsmen, 30 Rock, & Mad Men

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Understanding Screenwriting #62: <em>Carlos</em>, <em>The Plainsmen</em>, <em>30 Rock</em>, & <em>Mad Men</em>
Understanding Screenwriting #62: <em>Carlos</em>, <em>The Plainsmen</em>, <em>30 Rock</em>, & <em>Mad Men</em>

Coming Up in This Column: Carlos, The Plainsmen, 30 Rock, Mad Men

Carlos (2010. Written by Olivier Assayas and Daniel Franck, based on an idea by Daniel Leconte. 335 minutes)

I don’t know if this is a great movie, but… it’ll do until something better comes along. According to an interview with Assayas by David Thompson in the November 2010 issue of Sight & Sound, Assayas was sent about four pages of material by Daniel LeConte, the producer of the film. It was a summary of the life and career of the notorious terrorist “Carlos,” aka the Jackal. Assayas was interested in the character (always a good sign), but not the summary. So Leconte sent him research done by journalist Stephen Smith, an expert in the field. What Assayas discovered was that there was more material available about Carlos’s operation and the geopolitical background than he had thought. In other words, it was getting longer. The film was originally supposed to be a 90-minute film for French television. Assayas told that to Leconte, who was reluctant, but they got approval from Canal Plus to do two 90-minute films. Then Assayas sat down with Daniel Franck, a screenwriter attached to the project, and after one meeting they both realized that three hours was not going to be enough, especially when they got into the material on the attack on the OPEC meeting in Vienna in 1975. Back to Canal Plus and an OK for a three-part film. Now as you know, if you have read this column for any length of time, that I do not believe as a general rule that longer is better. Look at any “director’s cut” if you don’t believe me. Carlos is the exception that proves the rule. Yes, there is a 2 ½ hour version that will play theatres, and it may be wonderful, but try to see the full version.