Oscar Nominations: Shockers, snubs and finally not “So White”

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Academy Awards host Jimmy Kimmel

To me, the biggest surprise of the 2017 Academy Awards nominations this morning was the way the nominations were announced on “Good Morning America.” There was a filmed presentation of past nominees giving advice with the usual important-sounding Oscar-y score behind it, rather than an awkward press conference with reporters “Whoo!”-ing for the nominees they approved of and giving “Who dat?” silence for the ones they didn’t.

This was prettier, but I kind of miss the live feeling of it, because the nervous weirdness gives it more drama. Having said that, the nominees themselves were interesting because some were expected, some weren’t, and there was enough diversity to put that “Oscars So White” protest from the past two years at least temporarily behind us. I’m thrilled, not because I’m a writer who happens to be a black woman, but as a film fan who wants to see more than the same stories told over and over again.

And let me say that the people nominated here are not tokens placed there so Will and Jada and them will shut up about it. There are seven actors of color nominated, including several African-Americans and Indian actor Dev Patel. This feels fresh, not just in terms of race and culture but of new names. One of those new names is Justin Timberlake, and I think he stole Pharrell’s “Best Song” nomination, but that’s how it goes, I guess.

So what didn’t make me happy? I wish Tarjai P. Henson had been honored for carrying “Hidden Figures” with a Best Actress nomination, and that Janelle Monae had gotten one for Best Supporting, although Octavia Spencer, who was nominated, made me cry, although I was even more struck by the other two actresses.

Here’s something else interesting – in a year that seems to be celebrating diversity in an organic way, we’re also seeing the comeback of Mel Gibson, who seemed to have torpedoed his career years back for saying bigoted and misogynist things. But there he is with a nomination for Best Director for “Hacksaw Ridge,” which got several other nods including Best Picture.

“Moonlight” has done so well in nominations, and it’s amazing that it’s diverse in every way, about a black man exploring his sexuality. We don’t get to see those stories much, and I’m so pleased that it’s been received so well. I still think Viola Davis should have been in the Best Actress category for “Fences,” because she’s clearly the other star besides Denzel Washington, but if she needs to do Supporting Actress to win, that’s a strategy. I’m sad that Hugh Grant didn’t get a peep for “Florence Foster Jenkins,” but at least that unknown upstart Meryl Streep did. Love her. It’s her 20th nomination!

And in shallow news, I just want to see what Best Actress nominee Natalie Portman wears, because she’s nominated for playing Jackie Kennedy, so she’s got to slay.

 

“Ghostbusters” reboot: Ticket sales are OK. Hope the movie is funny.

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I still haven’t gotten the chance to see the reboot of “Ghostbusters,” starring a lot of very funny ladies perhaps best known for appearing on “Saturday Night Live,” as opposed to a bunch of funny men, some of whom were best known for appearing on “Saturday Night Live.” But as I wrote in my column in the Palm Beach Post today, I have a vested interest in it being good, or at least funny on a completely basic and stupid level, because humanity won’t stop showing us its worst, and because don’t we all need a laugh right now? I sure do. I can’t keep watching “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse” with my kid and wishing the pain away. So far, it’s doing OK in ticket sales – not great, not a bomb. I can’t help but think that the brutal hype before it even opened has made some people wait to see what everyone else says. Me, I’m going today, I hope.

Prince dead: Fond memories of his 2007 South Florida show

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“Why is he playing all these covers, when he could be playing hits?” my friend whispered to me, as Prince launched into Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy.”

His Royal Badness had just started the encore of his approximately 90 minute set at Hollywood’s Seminole Hard Rock in 2007, a week before he was to headline the Super Bowl. That night he would pay tribute to the Beatles, Aretha Franklin and now Cee Lo Green, but had not, as my frustrated friend pointed out, gotten to so many of the highlights of his then-30-year long career.

“Because he’s Prince,” I whispered back, “and he can do anything he wants.”

And that, right there, pretty much sums up not only that frustratingly too-short funk spectacle at the Hard Rock, but the late Prince Rogers Nelson’s entire raison d’être. For his entire career, he did exactly whatever the hell he wanted to do, and dared you to say something. In fact, he seemed to prefer it if you did – not for nothing did he name his fourth album “Controversy.”

Prince was an anomaly, his own category. He was a brown man playing blistering electric guitar at a time when neither R&B or rock radio knew quite what to do with it. He gleefully championed androgyny, pairing an Errol Flynn mustache with a purple hat so ornate he looked like the surrey with the fringe on top. He possessed an amplified, almost operatic sexual openness – His “Darling Nikki,” getting up to naughty business in a hotel lobby, was one of the lyrical sprites that sent Tipper Gore over the edge into parental advisory sticker territory. And he backed all that up with a majestic, prolific musical talent.

So forgive my friend – and, if I’m being honest, me – for craving wall-to-wall live versions of that shockingly original stuff that made all of our mothers terrified that we’d ask for Prince tapes for Christmas. (I got all mine discreetly mixtaped by my friend Nikki, who loved Prince but vaguely resented having “Darling Nikki” sung at her by high school morons.)

The show began with a New Orleans brass band version of the spiritual “Down By The Riverside,” with Prince himself playing conductor.  He then visited his then-recent “3121” album, as well as the aforementioned covers and a few of the must-haves, like “You Got The Look” and “Kiss.” But we wanted the other stuff, the “Diamonds and Pearl,” the “I Wanna Be Your Lover,” the “Controversy,” the things that took you back while setting your hair on fire. The showstopper was, of course, the lilac back-lit “Purple Rain,” during which he dropped to his knees and pleaded like James Brown. I think I screamed. I’m sure I did.

A week later, Prince would perform that same song to epic dramatic heights at the Super Bowl, backed by the horns of Florida A&M University and bathed in a misty downpour that combined with the lights to literally create purple rain at that exact moment, a confluence of such perfect synergy that I wondered how he could have scheduled it. If anyone could, it was him.

But that night in Hollywood, even as we pleaded in our hearts and in the tingly points beneath our skin for more, it was clear that he was not there to have a greatest hits party, at least not his own. At the time, I described it as “a hot, sweet date, starting with polite pleasantries  that transformed without warning into naughty requests for a kiss, an amorous tour of the kitchen counters and other sensual shenanigans. And much like a date, it was a pleasure over much too soon.”

He was there to be Prince, and that was going to have to be enough. And ultimately, it was.

More Prince coverage here.

Related: In memoriam – We remember the 20th anniversary of Prince’s movie, “Purple Rain”