It’s time again for my annual personal Oscar screening party! (See the 2015 and 2016 versions)

This year it’s with a big difference: I’ve become a sort-of professional movie critic! I work for a small newspaper and occasionally the regular film critic can’t (or won’t) attend certain screenings due to schedule conflict or … reasons. So I and my other immediate teammates get opportunities to step in the gap.

(I really need to mirror the reviews here.)

Last year was the “Oscars So White” controversy. This year, it seems that the Academy has made it a point not to overlook black people-led projects. Some consider that pandering, but when the films are great anyway, how so?

On to my ranking of the nominees.

9.

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“Manchester by the Sea”

This one I actually got to review ahead of its release. And like Brooklyn last year, it’s one that really ought not be on a Best Picture list in my unhumble opinion. It’s not a bad movie by any stretch,  but it screws up from its opening scene and thus sort of wastes a lot of good performances because the central plot and character arc is a bit murky.

The newspaper uses a 4-star system. I prefer a 5-star one and so give “MBTS” 3 stars.

8.

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“Fences”

I saw this with my parents over the holidays. About 30 minutes in, my mom leaned over and asked, “What is this movie about?”

Based on a great stage play, “Fences” is adapted to the screen by the original writer who, obviously, remains in love with all his words. It’s less a movie than the play with really, really detailed sets. But the acting is top-notch across the board, especially Viola Davis, who should win the supporting actress Oscar. 3.5 stars.

7.

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“Hell or High Water”

Part heist movie, part 21st-century Western, this movie appealed to me because it’s about two brothers (which will always get me in the feels because of my brother) and it’s got a nice stick-it-to-the-Man edge beyond the crime aspect. 3.5 stars.

6.

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“Moonlight”

It kinda seems obligatory to have an LGBTQ-themed film make the Best Pic nominees. But this quiet film is well deserving of the honor. Like “Manchester By The Sea,” it features a taciturn protagonist and very deliberate pacing. But it actually shows progression in the main character, doesn’t rely on confusing flashbacks and comes to a satisfying conclusion. And so it sits rather higher on my list. 3.5 stars.

5.

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“Hacksaw Ridge”

As a man of faith, I found this World War II biopic about a conscientious objector who nevertheless fought to serve in the war as an unarmed medic to be right in my wheelhouse. The underrated — and oddly polarizing — Andrew Garfield is deservedly up for an acting award.   4 stars.

4.

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“La La Land”

I hate live-action musicals. So the fact that this one was so effective wins it a high spot. It didn’t hurt that I love Emma Stone.

It better not win, though. As fun as it is, it’s far too long and is the least important film of the lot. 4 stars.

3.

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“Lion”

Yet another film based on a true story, this one about Saroo, an Indian youth who, after being adopted by an Australian couple, decides to find his birth family really torques the waterworks. Dev Patel is great as the adult protagonist, but it’s the young Sunny Pewar who’s a revelation. Its only shortcoming is the title. There are no lions in India. But it all makes sense in the end. 4 stars

2.

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“Hidden Figures”

From the opening scene to the end, this film sent me soaring like no other film on this list. It needs to be viewed by every single American of all ages. Though based on true stories, it’s marred somewhat by the ahistorical white savior scenes in the middle and part of the climax. But it’s not enough to mar my love for these hidden figures. 4.5 stars.

1.

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“Arrival”

As much as I loved “Hidden Figures,” it wasn’t quite exceptional enough, especially with it being based on true events. If said true events were interesting enough to warrant a film version (and these are), in my opinion the work’s half done. It’s just a matter of not screwing the actual story up by adding or subtracting too much for the sake of whatever.

No, for my money it’s original stories that translate into truly exceptional film. And that’s why “Arrival” takes my top spot, with its so unexpectedly good take on the science fiction alien contact tale coupled with a human interest story of how a woman moves on after great loss.

And then it gets better when you realize what’s really going on and the story becomes that much more magnificent in the final act. 4.5 stars.

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I never knew my grandma was a cheerleader as a girl.

That was probably the most surprising thing I learned about her as our family laid her body to rest Halloween 2016.

 

My grandmother Martha had been ailing for several years now, bedridden with diabetes,  dementia and requiring round-the-clock care.

In the morning of October 26, 2016, I got the call from my dad that she had at last passed away overnight.

I’ve been bracing for this moment for years, in a way, and particularly so in the last few days of Grandma’s life since being alerted that the end was near. It’s true that seeing it coming helps at least a little.

Maybe more than a little in my case. I’m surprised at how normally I’ve been able to function in these several days since the news. But this eulogy has been far more difficult in coming than I thought it would be —  evidence that I wasn’t processing the loss quite as well as it appeared even to myself.

She’s the last of my grands to go, outliving her husband by a little over 15 years and my paternal grandfather by a decade. (My biological paternal grandmother died when Dad was a sophomore in college.) And so passes that generation of my immediate family.

———

Born in 1924, by age 11 Grandma was an orphan, having lost her mother when she was only 2. She was then raised by an uncle who probably misremembered her birthdate and so Grandma celebrated her birthday a day early until her 80s, when her original birth certificate was found.

It was said she treated her childhood dolls as children while playing. She would go on to raise 13 children of her own and serve as a church and neighborhood mother to more still — to say nothing of her 21 grandkids and 30-plus great-grandchildren.

She was called a mother of mothers by one of her sons-in-law — my dad — and the title is fitting.

———

Grandma was a devoted Christian who, even when deep in her dementia, could still occasionally sing and pray to her Lord. And as a praying woman, she likely had a direct effect in changing the course of my life.

Upon graduating college in the early 1990s, I opted to stay in Washington D.C., despite having very little in the way of a plan or money or anything. I was barely employed. I had a line on a place to stay, but looking back on it, it was sketchy. Still, I was determined to figure something out.

(There may have been a girl I was interested in.)

I later heard that Grandma specifically prayed that I get out of D.C. Answered prayer may have been why I suddenly abandoned all my plans and decided to go home to Atlanta after all.

It may have been the decision that saved my life. It almost certainly was one that led to the saving of my soul, as it was in Atlanta that I became serious about my faith for the first time.

———

 

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There’s no question. This is my favorite photo of Grandma. It’s a significant one for me for a number of reasons.

She and Grandpa were Atlanta Braves fans from the time the team came South. I couldn’t have cared less about baseball during those summer visits during my youth, but as an adult in my late 20s and 30s, I became a fan of the home team. During adult trips to her Macon home, I enjoyed sitting with her to watch baseball games. They were bonding moments for us.

All this time, though, she’d never been to an actual major league Braves game. So, in 2010, at age 85, during one of her extended stays with my mom and dad’s place, we — myself, my parents, her youngest son and his wife, with tickets provided by my cousin Angela —took her to one.

She enjoyed it but the constant roar of the crowd grew unpleasant for her and so we took her home before the end of the game. The Braves were losing, anyway.

Until they actually ended up winning after she’d left. But she could cross that off the bucket list. (I’m not sure she HAD a bucket list, though.)

I look back on this summer day as pretty much the last time she could get around well enough to enjoy such an outing and my company.

———

I knew I wouldn’t be able to complete this eulogy — or even really start to properly grieve — until after the home going service. And indeed, it was during the car drive to the service that it really hit. As we began our drive, I saw a road worker standing at attention with his hardhat off. And all the way to the church during the roughly 5-mile route, every single driver on either side of the four-lane road had stopped out of respect.

That doesn’t happen in Atlanta. But it speaks to the values that still live on in Macon — values that Grandma embodied more than most and passed down to every single one of the children she mothered. And it was a most fitting tribute from these strangers-but-neighbors to this tiny woman who nevertheless stood like a tower in the spirit over this unworthy world.

Now she is receiving her due in heaven from her Lord.

Until we meet again, Grandma, may I embody those values and bring Him my own crown — one that, if not for your prayers, I might not have.

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So, after months and months, I’ve finally come back to this blog for this bit of unfinished business: How the Marvel Studios movies stack up in my opinion.

 

13. The Incredible Hulk [2008]

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Though at the bottom of my rankings, I still find this to be a fun, fun film, and one that establishes the easy vibe that is an MCU movie. Every Marvel Studios film must meet this standard at minimum. So far, so good.

Low moment: Leader tease. Too, too in-joke and never went anywhere.

Fave moment: Banner and Betty in bed. It showed how much the Hulk was really a curse.

———

12. Iron Man 3 [2013]

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This is an odd movie among the rest. Being the first followup to the monstrously successful Avengers, it’s really a character piece about Stark’s PTSD from the events of that story.

Low moment: The Mandarin switch / the moment you realize the air rescue was the climax

Fave moment: -tie- the Mandarin’s attack / Air rescue.

———

11. Captain America: The First Avenger [2011]

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I was not hugely impressed by this one upon its release, but its homey charm has grown on me considerably. Making it a period piece was absolutely the right call.

Low moment: Cheesy Bucky fall. Really bad effects in that shot.

Fave moment: When shirtless Rogers is chasing the Nazi spy and he pauses a moment when a boy falls in the water during the chase. But the boy, between age 8 and 11, says, “Get him! I can swim.” Just a perfect moment that captures the period.

———

10. Iron Man 2 [2010]

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Many fans dislike this film more than I do. I find it hugely entertaining. It certainly has its problems — more on that below — but it’s my jam.

Low moment: Random Nick Fury appearance in the middle of the movie. This is the pivot point for the entire narrative, and it hinges on a character we’ve seen NO HINT of in the entire film… one who hasn’t even been named except in the hidden scene you didn’t know you had to stick around to see TWO YEARS AGO in the first Iron Man film.

Fave moment: Black Widow hallway fight. This was a low-key first look at the future of Marvel Studios movie marvelousness. (Though that curly-headed wig still looks all kinds of wrong.)

———

9. Avengers: Age of Ultron [2015]

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This film’s signature moment comes very early during the lead-in to the title card. We see that the driven Stark is still haunted by the PTSD seen in his previous appearance in Iron Man 3. Sure, he’s being manipulated by Wanda Maximoff, but the point stands. The movie that follows doesn’t quite live up to the promise. It’s fun to watch, but mostly sound and fury and Whedonism.

Low moment: Ultron vs. Klaue sums up my issues with the villain. In the scene, the robotic villain has an all-too-human, almost funny encounter with the gun runner that doesn’t seem at all right for an A.I. planning genocide. Too often, Ultron felt like a Whedon villain, which is normally great but here it was so off.

Fave moment: “If you walk out that door, you are an Avenger.” I thought Hawkeye had great moments in the first film, but he tops here. This scene made the clumsy turns of the twins from super-heels to heroes worth it.

———

8.Thor [2011]

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I still love how this film goes from epic Shakespearean family drama mixed with ice giant fights to a fish-out-of-water screwball romcom with equal aplomb. Some fans weren’t thrilled with the shift, but I loved it — and love this movie. Kat Dennings made it.

Low moment: Clint Barton goes to a weapon rack for a rifle, pauses, then picks a bow instead. These kinds of Easter eggs can be a bit too on the nose sometimes.

Fave moment: Thor’s moment with Jane, after he’s truly been humbled by his failure to lift his hammer and learned of his father’s (supposed) death.

———

7. Thor: The Dark World [2012]

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Honestly, this film and its predecessor switch spots all the time. Sequel gets the edge for its mid-film tragedy that threatens to turn on the waterworks.

Also, more Kat Dennings.

Low moment: Having to wait for the very end of the credits for the happy reunion I’d wanted.

Fave moment: Thor and Loki fighting together one last time. I’m one of two brothers so this theme always gets me in the feels.

———

6. Ant-Man [2015]

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An-Man takes what could have been an incredibly silly -looking concept and makes it heroic and heart-filled from jump, even if it doesn’t play quite as well for me on repeat viewing (which kept it from the top five). It’s also notable as one of the only MCU movies to sport a recognizable musical theme for its hero.

Low moment: There wasn’t really one for me.

Fave moment: That great Avengers cameo.

———

5. Guardians of the Galaxy [2014]

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I said over and over back then that I liked this movie but didn’t love it. But it’s aging better than a lot of the others on this list because so much of what works emotionally is done in minimal fashion, in the margins. It never beats you in the head and simply trusts that you got it. So Guardians grabs — at least for now — a spot in my top five. It’s well-deserved.

Low moment: There really needed to be a moment to sell us on the idea that Star-Lord or Gamora could survive in the vacuum of space. The filmmakers did other exposition well enough.

Fave moment: “It would not go ‘over my head.’ I would catch it. My reflexes are too fast.”

———

4. Iron Man [2008]

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It set the standard for what a Marvel Studios movie could and would be. It’s full of wit — thanks, Robert Downey Jr., for taking the role — and just enough action to whet our appetites.

Low moment: He’s capable, sure. But from the beginning, Terrence Howard felt miscast as James Rhodes. He was a case of “Let’s get the ‘Name black actor who’s not Denzel Washington’ for this role.”

Fave moment: It’s hard to pick one. But it’s probably the last line. It feels earned.

———

3. Captain America: Civil War [2016]

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What the DC films tried to do with its second outing in “BvS,” Marvel Studios built up to across a dozen movies, and the difference in quality shows in this romp. It’s great fun and still brings the pathos. One can see the POV of both camps and it really stings when our favorites get chin-checked.

Low moment: Occasionally the characters do things that are just a little bit TOO superhuman. (Only your ARM is super-strong, Bucky.) Yes, there are nods to reasons why, but…

Fave moment: Just about every moment featuring T’Challa, the Black Panther.

———

2. Captain America: The Winter Soldier [2014]

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The best of all the MCU movies, it’s a political spy movie in superhero drag. The pacing and action are pitch perfect and Chris Evans has truly settled into the role.

Low moment: Like too many MCU films, the score is forgettable to an extreme.

Fave moment: The elevator scene.

———

1. Marvel’s Avengers [2012]

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From its opening scenes, this culmination of MCU Phase One was something special, something way greater than the sum of its previous parts. Director Joss Whedon really brought it with his trademark wit and willingness to go where the movie needed him to go. I was astounded, listening to the commentary, at the number of great moments and transitions in the film that were more or less happy accidents.

But the fact that each character gets his or her moment(s), sometimes in the same scenes, those were no accidents.

Low moment: None. It’s not the best MCU film, but it’s the most fun by far and has no false note.

Fave moment: “I’m always angry.” Followed by that signature group shot and that music — one of the few times score has made an impression in these films.

———

In a few weeks, this baker’s dozen will expand to 14 cinematic offerings with the inclusion of Dr. Strange on Nov. 4. So far, Marvel Studios simply hasn’t made a bad film. But like Guardians and Ant-Man before it, this one doesn’t look like a sure thing, and the Iron Man sequels and Age of Ultron all show weaknesses in each phase of the MCU. So we’ll see if the magic continues.


This fanfare is almost as affecting as the 20th Century Fox one before a Star Wars film used to be.

There was a run there, from the release of Toy Story in the mid-1990s through to about 2010, when the genius animation studio Pixar simply could not make a mediocre film.

Alas, the deal it made with longtime collaborator Disney has seemingly drained Pixar of some of its old magic toward The Mouse’s own animated masterpieces in recent years.

Anyway, I bring up that Pixar run because in this blogger’s opinion, Marvel Studios seems similarly incapable of making a bad film. With eight years and a full baker’s dozen films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, there’s not a stinker in the lot.

Iron Man [2008]

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It was a bold gambit: After years of seeing its properties either mishandled [see about half the entires in the X-Men and Spider-Man movie franchises and all the attempts at the Fantastic Four] or, more importantly, profited upon by other studios careful not to share too much of those profits, Marvel Entertainment took a risk on a B-level character knowing that the failure of this film would cost its rights to a founding Avenger.

It worked out, though. Unlike outside studios, the nascent Marvel movie machine could exercise much tighter fidelity to the source material than most film directors were interested in doing. That attention to the spirit and letter of the comics brought a much greater realization of the comics to film than had ever before been attempted, and the fans rewarded the studio for it.

I had been highly skeptical of the film and the risk Marvel was taking at first. But when I saw the trailer about a month out from its early May release, I openly mused, “…I should buy stock in Marvel, right now.” Unfortunately, I didn’t have the funds.

 

The Incredible Hulk [2008]

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The fledgling studio accompanied “Iron Man” with this film in June, an attempt to reclaim its own character from the uneven Ang Lee picture “The Hulk” from 2003. Like “Iron Man,” it was a risk that could have cost Marvel a venerable character. But it was also successful, though nowhere near as much a critical or commercial one as its predecessor.

 

Iron Man 2 [2010]

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Hard to believe nowadays, when there’s a new Marvel Studios flick about every six months, but it was a long two years to wait for more Iron Man. Also a commercial success, the critical and audience reception for this one was more muted.

 

Thor [2011]

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This was the first big test: Would Marvel be able to adequately meld this magical, mythologically based superhero into its heretofore science-grounded universe? With the help of a solid script, game performances from the exceptionally well-cast actors and the direction of Kenneth Branagh, the answer was a resounding “yes.”

 

Captain America: The First Avenger [2011]

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Previous attempts at bringing Captain America to film tried to pull him into the modern day. This one did it right, by starting — and keeping — the story in World War II and making a superhero period piece. The end result is both charming and pedestrian all at once.

 

Marvel’s Avengers [2012]

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Director Joss Whedon brought his considerable wit to bear and made this ensemble piece one of the hugest hits ever and cementing the superhero genre into the film canon pretty much for good.

 

Iron Man 3 [2013]

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The first followup to Avengers, this seeming final film in the Iron Man franchise was also a big hit, but audience reception was mixed as it was the first Marvel Studios film to sharply diverge from the comics’ approach to the characters.

 

Thor: The Dark World [2013]

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Opinions split on Thor’s sequel as well. Some, like myself, absolutely love this movie. Others have some bones to pick with it.

 

Captain America: The Winter Soldier [2014]

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Released in the not-so-peak-season of late March, this was something of a surprise hit and is considered by many to be the finest film in the MCU to date.

 

Guardians of the Galaxy [2014]

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Equally surprising was the late-summer debut of a new MCU film chock-full of all-new characters with no apparent connection to any of the previous heroes — and it was still well-received anyway.

 

Avengers: Age of Ultron [2015]

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Most surprising of all, though, was the stumble in quality for Joss Whedon’s sophomore — and final — effort in the Marvel Studios system. Though a humongous success financially and generally enjoyed by critics and audiences alike, the Avengers sequel remains widely considered a step down from its predecessor.

 

 

Ant-Man [2015]

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If any film looked likely to stumble on its concept alone, Ant-Man seemed the one to do it. Lacking any real connection to previous Marvel films, it would need to be just about perfect to work. Based on its success, it apparently worked.

 

Captain America: Civil War [2016]

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Coming off as an unofficial “Avengers 2.5,” this third Cap film promised the same character overload that threatened to overwhelm “Age of Ultron” — as well as a retread of the in-team in-fighting that was so prevalent in that earlier film. But the talented Russo brothers brought the same solid ability used in “Captain America: Winter Soldier” to deliver another critically acclaimed success.

 

Next post, I’ll give my personal ranking of the 13 films, complete with signature moments from each.

 

 

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I thought I had one good photo of her.

Not the one above, her senior yearbook pic, where Miss Kristina M. Baesman is all cleaned up and pretty and normal-looking. No, I mean a photo of Kris, just as pretty and freckled but wearing her Sharpie-marked-up denim jacket and jeans with the knees out and probably a cool hat of some sort.

My Kris.

Some weeks ago, I heard over FB that my high school buddy Kris Baesman was missing. She’d gone for a spring morning’s walk and never returned. It was some 48 hours later when she was found, unconscious and in a hypoglycemic coma.

She eventually woke, but had suffered such severe brain damage from the ordeal that, barring a miracle, she would not recover at all. So, just days after her 45th birthday, she was moved to hospice care and passed away Sunday morning.

It’s been more than 20 years since we last spoke, meeting by chance at some party we’d both been invited to by separate individuals. We’d already fallen out of touch over our respective college years; I suppose we’d outgrown each other.

I’m reminded of something my mother said about Kris when we were in high school. She said that Kris had clung to me for dear life. I didn’t know what Mom was talking about, nor did I then understand why she was a little concerned about the amount of time that Kris and I would be alone and unsupervised at Kris’ house after school.

Kris and I were buds, see. Completely platonic, at least so far as I knew. But you know about the old platitude that sometimes we choose our friends and sometimes our friends choose us? Kris was definitely in the latter category.

We met in 10th grade as members of the art club. While I was nursing a low-level crush on club president and senior Kara Walker (who’s gone on to do some big-time arty things), this red-haired metalhead chick sorta latched on and didn’t let go. At the time, I was gearing up to try out for a school newspaper slot and thought I didn’t need this sort hanging around.

But, of course, a friend like that was EXACTLY what I needed.

  • Kris introduced me to a new crowd. Some might say it was the “wrong” crowd — indeed, my mom once mused aloud wondering why so many of my friends were “from the fringes” — but they were absolutely harmless, at least when I was around.
  • Kris introduced me to Queen. She got me hip to the group’s “A Day At The Opera” and, specifically, “Bohemian Rhapsody” a full two years before “Wayne’s World” brought the classic back into the mainstream consciousness.
  • Kris took me to my only theater experience of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, which is the only way to watch that film, in truth.
  • When she shared the Queen album, Kris also shared her best of Duran Duran hits, though she was embarrassed about it.
  • Kris was also a fantastic artist. Having been accustomed to being the best at drawing in most of my classes, even Art class, it was refreshing to have someone who, along with mutual friend Amy Evans, could relegate me to being third best most of the time.
  • For all her subversive humor and somewhat disturbing love for horror movies, I never remember her being cruel. Kris was always kind to me and mine.
  • But most of all, Kris helped me become more comfortable in my own skin than I’d ever been up to that point in my life. The teenage years are all about finding out what kind of people we are and what we want to be. And she definitely aided in that process by being a fellow oddball who was more unafraid than I was to wear that oddness on the surface.

I feel as though Mom may have had Kris in mind when she wondered about my friends on the fringes. And the answer I gave then (though I can’t recall if I spoke it aloud) is the same as it is today: “Mom, your son is on the fringes, too.”

I have an enduring memory of Kris. Not the movie trips or the shared art projects or the late nights out or even the ready smile. It’s from early in our relationship. In this memory, I am circling the back of the school building, headed somewhere on some errand, and I spot her, in her trademark jeans, denim jacket and hat, trudging up the long hill that leads to the back exit way from school grounds. And I have an urge to call out her name, but I know that will delay us both from our destinations, and I, for one, cannot delay. I have not yet made up my mind about her at this point and I know I’ll see her tomorrow, anyway. So I let her continue, alone.

I sort of repeated this when I saw her at that party after our college years, and again when we reconnected on Facebook. But then the accident happened and I could only have one-sided conversations with her during her last few weeks of life.

I told her, in less well-considered words than you’re reading here, how much of an effect she had on my life for the better.

In the wake of the untimely death of Prince earlier the same week, a quote has been floating around:

“We don’t mourn artists we’ve never met because we knew them. We mourn them because they helped us know ourselves.”

Kris helped me know myself.

And so the only photo I have of her is the one that’s on my heart. And in the end, that’s the one that’s mattered most, anyway.

I love you, Kris.

 

So the 2016 Oscars ceremony has come and gone. And I’ve finally made up my mind how to rank them in my personal hierarchy. In each case, I’m also commenting on the controversy of the year’s awards: that no black actors got any nods. I’ll say this up front: It’s not racism on the part of the Academy. It runs more deeply than that.

All right. Let’s get on with it.

8. Brooklyn

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This is a nice little period love story and a fine film.

It has no business being a Best Picture nominee.

Seriously, why is this film here? It’s far overshadowed by its nearest neighbor on my list. Sadly, in the old five-picture nods that this category used to be limited to, this may have likely still made the cut over more deserving material.

#OscarsSoWhite, Brooklyn edition: This film illustrates the real problem of why the OSW tag exists. With a cast and storyline centered around Irish natives and immigrants during the early 1950s, this is a completely white story. There is zero room for black people in the narrative. For one shiny moment, I hoped that the reappearance of a black extra in a crowd shot would bear some fruit, but no.

 

7. Bridge of Spies

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It’s a fine film and important for our times, when the meaning of what it is to be America is central to this election year. “Bridge of Spies” makes it clear, in a great, first-act speech by star Tom Hanks, that America’s exceptionalism is due to her laws, not her military might or pragmatism. What makes an American? Laws that make him or her so, not ethnicity, language or a tribe.

For all that, though, “BoS” was just a fine film, not an exceptional one, save for the Oscar-winning performance of Mark Rylance as the accused Soviet spy defended by Hanks’ character. And so it occupies slot No. 7.

Bridge of White Spies: Another period film, and one centered around spy craft between two Caucasian-dominated superpowers in a cold war, again leaves no roles for black actors in an Oscar-caliber film.

 

6. The Revenant

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Leonardo DiCaprio earns his Best Actor Oscar in his mighty performance in this revenge-themed Western. As good as it is, though, “The Revenant” suffers a bit with a too-long running time — honestly, I think it may have been far stronger with as much as 20 minutes cut — and less showiness. Director Alejandro Inarritu just can’t stop the long tracking shots and it got to be bothersome.

Don’t get me wrong, here. This is top-flight film work. If you can take the relentless story of a man having the worst week or so of his life, there’s a lot to like about The Revenant.

West So White and Red: Though the film does an very admirable job of casting actual Native Americans in their roles throughout the story, “The Revenant” continues the long tradition of Westerns excluding black actors.

 

The remaining five Best Pic noms — “The Big Short,” “Mad Max: Fury Road,” “The Martian,” “Room,” and “Spotlight” — all held a five-way tie for my top slot until this week.

5. Room

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This little film about a boy who’s spent his whole 5-year life with his mom in a 10 x 10 x 10 room was just about the best film of the year for its first half. The climax of that story is the most intense and affecting scenes in all of 2015 cinema.

Then the second half happens. It’s so much less interesting and yet it’s the part of the film that matters the most. The tack of telling the story from the boy’s POV hurts the narrative somewhat in this part of the movie and drags it to the bottom of the five-way-tie list. Still amazing.

White Room: With a cast of only about a dozen, there wasn’t much room [heh] for black actors here outside of one small part. And given the subject matter, this is one case where I’m very GLAD the principals weren’t black people.

 

4. The Big Short

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I expected this docudrama about the housing market crash to hover near the bottom of the list. But with its judicious trick of 4th-wall busting, “The Big Short” takes this subject and makes it a bracingly fun watch.

Wall Street? White Street: Thanks to centuries of institutionalized racism locking blacks out of opportunities in high finance, there just aren’t enough to have been in on this true story.

 

3. Mad Max Fury Road

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Sometimes rightly called an extended car chase, this sci-fi flick is still brilliant to watch and builds an entire world with virtually no time or energy wasted on exposition. There’s so much going on in the margins of this story about a sick society in service to the film’s deeper theme of finding a better way to live than spending lives propping up a sick, selfish system.

Warboy White: The film’s source and setting both being Australia, a nation with its own messy, unresolved history of racism against black people, leads to its contribution to the #OscarsSoWhite controversy. In truth, it’s hard to imagine Immortan Joe’s society NOT being virulently racist on top of its other sins.

 

2. Spotlight

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Longtime readers may recall when this blog was called “Mild-Mannered Ex-Newspaperman,” so named when I thought my journalism days were done. But a newspaperman I remain and so this true story about how the Boston Globe newspaper broke the story of widespread sex abuse in the Catholic Church appeals greatly to my professional pride. It was gratifying to see it win the Best Picture award, even if, in my opinion, it wasn’t QUITE the best picture among these eight.

JournalismSoWhite: Institutional racism seeps into all corners of society. So while there were a Latino man and white woman on the real-life Spotlight team, there was no role for a black actor, alas. Even today, it’s a rare pleasure for blacks in this profession to walk into a room of our peers in our field and not be the only one or two of our ethnicity.

 

1. The Martian

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As mentioned earlier, there was a five-way tie for this slot. In the end, I wound up arranging them according to genre and professional preference. But this film outshines them all in one tiny little way: It made me smile without trying to make me smile.

Let me explain.

Once in a while, a film will execute its thing so expertly that I find myself grinning with pleasure during a scene that’s not the least bit funny or jokey. That, for me, is the mark of superior filmmaking and is one reason why, upon my screening, I said that “The Martian” might be director Ridley Scott’s finest work.

Since then, I’ve given “Blade Runner” another viewing, so I may back off from that pronouncement. But from its excellent script to its social commentary to its perfect visuals and pacing and upbeat themes, “The Martian” stands a hair taller than the others to claim my vote for Best Picture because it alone of the eight had me grinning that grin.

#OscarsSoWhite, Mars edition: Ironically, this film, with the greatest representation of black actors of the entire Best Pics lot, is also emblematic of the Oscars’ greatest failing in this area. Because while Matt Damon’s performance is indeed excellent, I have trouble seeing how it’s more worthy of nomination than Will Smith’s role in Concussion or Michael B. Jordan’s in Creed or (reportedly, because I have not seen it) Idris Elba’s in Beasts of No Nation.

Last year, I was inspired to make an effort to view all the nominees for the Academy Award for Best Picture. It took several weeks after the Oscars for me to achieve the feat but managed it through a combo of January and February cinema screenings and Redbox in March and April.

This year, though, I’ve seen all eight BEFORE the Feb. 28 ceremony. It’s the first time I’ve ever done this.

Not sure I have time to post my personal ranking ahead of the awards, as I’m still considering my opinion. It’s hard to pick my favorite.

Also, I have some thoughts on the #OscarsSoWhite phenomenon that will play into my write-up. Stay tuned.

So there’s been some hurt feelings over all the Francophilia in the wake of the Parisian terror attacks.

Where, some say, were the Kenya flag profile pics when nearly 150 students were slaughtered back in April by radical Islamists?

The answer is not simply and cynically that European lives matter more to Facebook than African lives. (Though that could be so.)

No. It’s that Paris is soooo much closer to home for us Americans than Garrisa, Kenya. And I’m not talking about the fact that France is only 4,400 miles away compared with about 8,000 for Kenya.

It’s a developed nation very much like ours, culturally. We share a long friendship and alliance and even some of the same words. Contrast with the comparatively developing nation of Kenya, with which we share far less in common. In addition, so much of the news were get about Africa is disaster and mayhem that we almost expect this sort of thing.

And so when France is hit by terrorism, it feels very much like we did.

 

Back to the bridge

2015/11/16

“What’s on your mind?” WordPress, Facebook and Twitter ask me.

Far, far too much.

I haven’t kept up this blog nearly as often as I originally intended. I didn’t want to do like so many other blog authors and simply parrot half-truths and foster outrage with lying clickbait headlines.

But I also didn’t want to take the time needed to research stuff before posting — or just didn’t have time to before the news cycle went on to something else.

Or I’d want to write and have nothing to say. Ideas would either be scarce or too involved for a simple blog that *I* wouldn’t have the patience to read, left alone anyone else

But I’ve noticed something. The stupid outrage generator that is social media is proving a fertile garden of topics. And I find I actually do have something to say that I’m not hearing much of.

 

So… back to the Bridge. A corner of the interwebs for my thoughts worth a bit more than 140 characters.

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It’s an odd anniversary for me today… the ninth year since the day I should have been killed, another statistic in the annals of black-on-black crime.

It’s one more reason I honor all first responders and medical personnel, because they came and aided me when I needed it.

It’s one more reason I crusade a little against the twin cultures of ghetto violence and white supremacy that lead some black youth to treat people like themselves as disposable.

It’s one more reason I love my little brother Darron​ above all others on this Earth, because he was there.

It’s one more reason I continue to love my Atlanta Journal-Constitution family, because many, some whose names I still don’t know, stepped in to help with the bills I could not pay during that month I couldn’t work.

It’s one more reason I love my parents LeRoy and Rebecca, because they built a safe home for me to heal physically and emotionally.

It’s one more reason I look forward to watching the new Heroes Reborn series, because the original series was an important bit of normalcy for me as I lay healing in a Grady hospital bed in 2006.

And most of all, it’s one more reason I give all praise to God in Christ, because while He didn’t ordain the evil actions of that night, it did not surprise Him. He does not waste even the wicked we do with our free will.