I don’t even know what this really means, but it sounds incredible.
I am usually on top of the major sports and pop culture news and able to comment in a timely fashion, but the past several days have flooded my inbox of disposable time. Let me try to reconcile…
The final Game of Thrones season four trailer was released yesterday. The devil is inside indeed. Bran needs to make it. Arya must be careful because Brienne is after her. Why have the Gods made Jamie love a hateful woman? Have I ever been more excited for the return of television series? Answer: probably not.
Chris Martin is the new mentor this season on The Voice. Interesting move for the Coldplay frontman with their new album, Ghost Stories, out in May and the “best band in the world” championship belt up for grabs. The Voice has been a wise career move when you are not at the top of your commercial and cultural game, but when you are, it seems a little ill-advised.
Speaking of the “best band in the world championship belt,” first Billboard reports that a new U2 album and tour would be delayed until 2015. Then The Guardian said hold up, 2014 is still in play. Hey Bono, Edge, Larry, and Adam – can we get some intel on this, please? I am trying to figure out my travel plans. In the meantime, Steve Hyden has some great career advice for U2, Lady Gaga, and some other side-stepping musical acts.
Woj feels that the Phil Jackson experiment will only work in Knicks land if James Dolan gets lost. Fair.
Speaking of Phil, the new fivethirtyeight.com (Nate Silver’s new ESPN statistical journalism platform) uses data to show why Phil Jackson should hire Phil Jackson as coach. His success rate as an NBA head coach is astounding.
There is reason to rejoice! BD Wong and his under-utilized Dr. Henry Wu (a much more interesting character in the original book) will be in the forthcoming Jurassic Park IV.
I am not going to lie. I really wish I had thought of this. Rank Everything: Muppet Show Music Numbers.
Seth Meyers spoke to Jason Sudeikis last night on Late Night and announced the “Second Chance Theater,” a compilation of old SNL sketches that were too sketchy to make it to air. Brilliant.
Despite showrunner rationalization, the quality of kid acting performances wasn’t the only disturbing part of this week’s Walking Dead episode.
and finally, Twitter is a force…
The 2014 Academy Awards are now over. After a pre-awards season of prognostication and prediction, anticipation and apprehension, and universal love for the Frozen phenomenon, the results are in and, short of a few surprises in some of the categories that do not espouse as much water cooler hashtag chatter, winners were mostly what we expected. Frontrunners like Matthew McConaughey and Lupita Nyong’o held off late surges from competition, foregone conclusions (as we were told) like Cate Blanchett and Jared Leto confirmed the power of inevitability, and Best Picture heavyweights 12 Years a Slave and Gravity split the Best Picture and Best Director (Alfonso Cuarón!) categories as many suggested they would.
As we all know, the awards are just the icing on the cake-like deliciousness that can be the Oscars telecast and last night was no stranger to the creation of lasting cultural memories. Here is the good, the bad, and the (rampant) unintentional comedy of the 86th Academy Awards experience.
Alfonso Cuarón won Best Director for Gravity: The Oscars culminate a year in movies and every year you hope there are a number of pictures and performances that deserve to be at the gates of this celebrated identifier of movie immortality. Some years awards are handed out to people that either may not be as deserving or pictures that are soon forgotten (I am looking squarely at you, Crash. You are not getting by me either, The Artist.). Other years, there are many deserving winners (Pulp Fiction and The Shawshank Redemption both lost Best Picture to Forrest Gump), so that any way the results go can be at least a little bit satisfying. I went into last night understanding that there was top-heavy quality in this year’s group of movies, artists, and performances and some results, despite not aligning with my desires, would still be deserving. For me, two nominations stood out in this fray of subjectivity: Leonardo DiCaprio’s nomination for Best Actor in The Wolf of Wall Street and Alfonso Cuarón’s nomination for Best Director for Gravity where nothing short of a win would be a gross injustice (a relative term – these are only awards). This is not to take anything away from Matthew McConaughey (an incredible performance in his own right) or deserving directors like Steve McQueen or Martin Scorsese, but DiCaprio and Cuarón’s work last year represent the absolute apex of artistic possibility and expression from two men who have already established themselves as two of the best at their craft working today. It was justice for Alfonso Cuarón’s direction to be honored with an Academy Award. If voters are going to get one thing right, this bestowment is where you must begin. (More on DiCaprio’s loss in a bit.)
How either 12 Years a Slave or Gravity could have won Best Picture: These are two exceptional motion pictures, and although Gravity was my sentimental favorite, you cannot go wrong either way here. It was a joy to watch Steve McQueen’s boyish exuberance onstage and I found that my initial disappointment dissipated rapidly. 12 Years a Slave is a brilliant work on subject that is essential to tell well and correctly, and Mr. McQueen and Mr. Pitt, aided by an incredible group of actors, did just that.
Lupita Nyong’o and Jared Leto’s speeches: Both deserving supporting actor winners were all class in their acceptance speeches. Nyong’o’s extraordinary words of acknowledgement (“It doesn’t escape me for one moment that so much joy in my life is thanks to so much pain in someone else’s. And so I want to salute the spirit of Patsey for her guidance. And for Solomon, thank you for telling her story and your own.”) and inspiration (When I look down at this golden statue, may it remind me and every little child that no matter where you’re from, your dreams are valid.) typified what seems to becoming a universal industry truth: she is really something special. Leto’s salute had a similar resonance, focusing so eloquently on his mom (“In 1971, Bossier City, Louisiana, there was a teenage girl who was pregnant with her second child. She was a high school dropout and a single mom, but somehow she managed to make a better life for herself and her children. She encouraged her kids to be creative, to work hard and to do something special. That girl is my mother and she’s here tonight. And I just want to say, I love you, Mom. Thank you for teaching me to dream.”) and on the population of people that were and continue to be so impacted by the struggle his character faces (“And this for the 36 million people who have lost the battle to AIDS and to those of you out there who have ever felt injustice because of who you are or who you love, tonight I stand here in front of the world with you and for you.”) in Dallas Buyers Club. Both moments were definitive highlights of the night.
Spike Jonze won Best Original Screenplay for Her: As I explained in my 2013 Year in Movies column and in 5 Things, Her is a special picture and will be one of the lasting memories from this year for decades to come. Her was not going to reasonably compete for Best Picture, so the win in this category is almost as satisfying and well deserved. Spike Jonze’s executed a most original, relevant, and resonant concept so beautifully.
U2’s performance of “Ordinary Love”: First, I must provide some full disclosure on a few key points. Fact: U2 has been my favorite band for eighteen years. Fact: It is a thrill to both see them perform at the Academy Awards and to have them be nominated. Fact: I was not too excited about “Ordinary Love” for my first several listens. Fact: If I had an Oscars ballot, I would have voted for eventual winner for best song, “Let it Go.” Within this realm of objective (as possible) subjectivity, I thought U2 absolutely killed it. Bono was as “in voice” as I have heard him over the last twenty years (well done on the falsetto, Mr. Hewson) and I appreciated the decision to go with the more acoustic version of the song that had been previewed on The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon a few weeks ago (although without any QuestLove shout outs this time). When those four men – Bono, Edge, Larry, and Adam – stepped forward to their instruments at the beginning of the performance, I was watching rock royalty personified.
The presence of Daniel Day-Lewis: Speaking of royalty, it is always an honor and a privilege to see the best actor on the planet live and in person (at least through my television lens). The announcement of his next movie role cannot come soon enough.
Almost all of Ellen: Hosting the Oscars is often a thankless job. Commonly, you are either at the center of the day after’s criticism maelstrom (as Seth MacFarlane and James Franco, more justifiably, found out) for a lackluster performance or you stay out out of the way enough to become irrelevant to the proceedings (Franco did a little of both). Ellen, through her gracious, humorous, and infectious humanity, managed to find a balance of involvement that fit well. Her monologue (with one exception noted later), devoid of “been there, done that” musical pageantry, had a “let’s do this” pop to it. It was not as biting as Ricky Gervais at the Golden Globes, but equally smart. It was not as dynamic as the Tina and Amy collaboration, but her obvious connection to the stars in front of her created a similar effect. Most of her appearances the rest of the show involved improvised crowd surfing, the breaking of twitter, and pizza delivery and payment collection that effectively broke the tension and showcased how A-Listers enjoy pizza too (Marty Scorsese working with that pizza slice was everything). Even Harrison Ford seemed interested in pizza!
Idina Menzel’s performance: Sure, “Idina” may not be the easiest first name to pronounce on a first try, but I am not sure (more on this later) a full name could have been mangled more. Idina, ever the pro, just went ahead and did this.
Social media during the Academy Awards: The power of twitter selfies and Billy “On the Street” Eichner: Social media has transformed many things (much is not for the better), but live events, particularly live events as big and universally watched as the Oscars, are much more fun with communal participation. If you spend any time on Culture Challenged, you will be familiar with my adoration for the comedic genius of Billy on the Street and his twitter feed. There is no better night of the year to spend with this magician of laughter than the Oscars. Here is a sampling:
That Muppets commercial for Lipton: I am not a particularly passionate fan of Lipton Tea, but maybe I have to #bemoretea. In one of the few television experiences that I still watch live, I was not able to skip over the commercials and last night, this was such a good thing. I can’t wait for Muppets Most Wanted to open later this month, but for now, this Muppets commercial (In 2014! Everybody is talkin!) during the Oscars will have to do.
Leonardo DiCaprio lost Best Actor: 2014 is the year of McConaughey and I genuinely enjoy him and his performances, eagerly anticipate Interstellar, after a rough start, am totally drinking the True Detective kool-aid, and thought he was outstanding in Dallas Buyers Club. In another year, I would have put my full range of support behind this native Texan. Unfortunately, this year Leonardo DiCaprio gave the best performance of the year and of his career. This was his year. He should have won.
Ellen’s “sir” joke about Liza Minelli: Ellen referred to the person in the audience as a “Liza Minelli impersonator” and then said, “good job, sir.” Liza and the audience had a reason to be uncomfortable.
The return of Pharrell’s hat: This is what I tweeted at the time…
He cleaned up nicely after the performance, so Pharrell, why the hat?
Pink’s breathing technique: Voice teachers and students of voice teachers were distraught over Alicia Moore’s tendency to breath between words in the middle of verses. I think Pink is incredible, but this vocal trope was a bit standoffish during the iconic “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”
The Jimmy Kimmel sketch in the Oscars pre-show…about mean tweeters was just bad.
The energy level of Harrison Ford while presenting: It was just a little low. Thankfully, Ellen’s pizza delivery livened him up.
THE UNINTENTIONAL (COMEDY)
The John Travolta “Adele Dazeem” Incident: So this actually happened.
The Darlene Love singing outburst: Don’t forget about Darlene…
Bette Midler’s performance of “The Wind Beneath My Wings”: There is just a whole lot of emotion here after the in Memoriam segment.
The appearance of Kim Novak: Why was Kim Novak included this year and why was she linked to Matthew McConaughey? I am so confused, and apparently, so is she. You can’t write this stuff.
and finally Liza Minelli hugs Lupita Nyong’o: Liza is the just the person you look for when you win your first Oscar.
The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon began in the same way Late Night with Jimmy Fallon ended. Yes, it is a new studio, a new set, and a more realistic live viewing time slot. Yes, The Tonight Show is a more prestigious and honored cultural institution than Late Night (with all due respect to Conan and Letterman before him), a legacy that Johnny Carson built in his thirty years as host. This is absolutely a big deal, but as Jimmy Fallon’s first pre-monologue graciously gave reverence to his Mom and Dad sitting in the audience, to the Roots and their adaptive musical brilliance, to “announcer” Steve Higgins and his great friendship, to the lineage of hosts that came before him, to his wife Nancy and his baby daughter, Winnie Rose, and to both his loyal viewing audience and to those that may find their way to him now that he is on at an earlier time, it was Jimmy’s emotional generosity that once again set the tone.
From his beautiful Muppets performance of “The Weight” to end Late Night to this gracious and personal opening act, Jimmy Fallon’s greatness stems from his unabashed willingness to open his heart to his audience. In his first Tonight Show couch interview with Will Smith, Jimmy was his usual, self-effacing self. Discussing the incredible line of friends (more on this in a bit) who lost a faux $100 bet that Jimmy would never host The Tonight Show, Will Smith, perhaps the last real movie star still standing, turned to a humbled Fallon and said, “People are coming because of your heart.” Amen, Fresh Prince.
Some highlights from night one of The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon:
• An incredible array of friends came to wish Jimmy well (and pay up for doubting the possibility of his new hosting duties). Robert De Niro. Tina Fey. Joe Namath. Rudy Giuliani. Mariah Carey. Tracey Morgan. Joan Rivers. Kim Kardashian. Seth Rogen. Lindsay Lohan. Sarah Jessica Parker. Mike Tyson. Lady Gaga. Stephen Colbert. Could there possibly ever be a more diversified group of honored guests?
• Jimmy Fallon and Will Smith presented “The Evolution of Hip Hop Dancing.” The degree of sweating says everything.
• If you are going to begin your time on The Tonight Show with a big musical guest, book U2. The high point comes at 9:16 when the Edge begins an acoustic performance of the wrong song.
Tonight’s show features Jerry Seinfeld, Kristen Wiig, and Lady Gaga, so there’s pretty much every reason to watch. I am rooting for Jimmy Fallon.
In a piece of news that was seemingly off the radar of possibility for over two decades, U2’s 1987 masterpiece album, The Joshua Tree, ranked no. 47 this week on the Billboard Top 200 album charts.
This consumer appreciation movement was likely inspired by some post Super Bowl commercial curiosity and general goodwill toward U2’s new single, “Invisible.” Whatever it was, people are buying The Joshua Tree again and it feels so good.
From time to time, I need to get a few things off my chest…this is the second installment of 2014.
• Last night’s Super Bowl, a 43-8 Seattle defensive annihilation of Denver’s historically good offense, was a bit of a surprise for all. It wasn’t as much about what they did, but more so how they did it. From the opening offensive play safety, to the Peyton Manning cold weather lob interceptions, to the second half opening kickoff return by Percy Harvin who managed to complete a game without injury for the first time this season, there was just a whole lot of weird (Russell Wilson’s consummate game management aside) going on. Even “talk of the nation” and notable Stanford grad Richard Sherman was carted off the field in the early fourth quarter before he could have a fair shot at an Erin Andrews post-game interview reprise. On the non-football end of things, the national anthem was delivered by an opera singer not exactly aligned with the pulse of the football viewing audience (Renée Fleming was stunning. It just speaks to how different one of the world’s best classically trained singers is compared to your average pop star. On the converse, it speaks to how good Whitney Houston is compared to other pop stars.). The halftime show, featuring an admittedly exhilarating performance by Bruno Mars, managed to fit in a brief Red Hot Chili Peppers cameo that made no sense next to the retro Motown stylings of Mars. The New Jersey winter weather, promoted as a major Super Bowl headline, was a non-factor during the game. Again, there was just a whole lot of weird going on. In many ways, I am glad that the New England Patriots sat this one out.
• One Super Bowl moment lost in the shuffle of strange was a commercial for the new U2 song “Invisible.” Released yesterday during the day as a free download for 24 hours, Bank of America, an at times challenging pillar of American big business, will donate $1 to (RED), Bono’s incredible organization attempting to put an end to the AIDS crisis in Africa, for every download. “Invisible” is announced to be a track on U2’s long awaited (five years next month since their last studio album release, No Line on the Horizon) 2014 album (When? Who knows. June, maybe?). The song itself, although not cutting down any Joshua Tree’s as “The Fly” once did, is my favorite “first song from a U2 album” release since All That You Can’t Behind’s “Beautiful Day1” (sorry “Vertigo” and “Get on Your Boots”). We can all hope that this will be a harbinger for the album to com
• I finally got around to see Frozen this weekend. I usually try to be on the precipice of a pop culture phenomenon as the Disney animated feature and the “Let it Go” movement have become, but on this one I missed the reindeer ride. Over two months after its original theatrical release, it was so well worth the wait. A little late for its own post, here are a quick five things you need to know about Frozen:
1. The direction by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee is outstanding and some of the best I have ever seen in an animated feature.
2. The songs by the Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez are classic and indelible melodies that will quickly find their way into your humming, whistling, and shower singing selves.
3. Kristen Bell has a gorgeous voice and plays Anna most beautifully. Idina Menzel continues to be a vocal force. In a career of musical hits, could “Let It Go” be her most beloved?
4. Olaf the snowman, performed brilliantly by Josh Gad, is the best comedic sidekick in a Disney animated feature since the Timon and Pumbaa tandem from The Lion King.
5. Frozen is a movie, that along with Tangled, would fit perfectly in the Disney animated feature renaissance row ofThe Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King, and the underrated Pochahontas. It’s physical form will someday reside on my DVD shelf.
• Saturday Night Live said goodbye to Seth Meyers this week as he prepares for his new gig at Late Night, beginning later in the month. As is SNL tradition, some old family members came by to honor his departure. Amy Poehler, as she often does, said it best when she described him as “the heart of this program for the past twelve years.” He will be missed.
• Mostly a teaser for what is to come, the exes arrived on Real World: Ex-Plosion this week in the last segment of the episode. I will share some of my thoughts after the next episode.
• And finally, I am deeply saddened by the tragic death of Philip Seymour Hoffman. One of my first posts on this site was a “Five Things You Need to Know” on The Master. I described him as “America’s (qualifying the nationality of Daniel Day-Lewis) best living film actor.” I stand by what I wrote at the time. There was no one better. My heart goes out to his family and friends, especially to his three young children. What a momentous loss.
David J. Bloom can be reached on twitter @davidbloom7 and writes about MTV’s “The Challenge,” pop culture, and the NBA for Bishop and Company.
- It’s just a great song. ↩
From time to time, I need to get a few things off my chest…this is the first installment of 2014.
• I have never been a regular viewer of network Late Night television (SNL is the exception) and struggle with the traditional monologue/guest/guest/lesser known guest format, but this may have to change (at least through the DVR access point). I watched the Jimmy Fallon Best of Late Night Primetime Special last week and was thoroughly entertained and impressed. He does some hilarious things, especially with any form of musical parody, any collaboration with Justin Timberlake, and any time the Roots are involved (I never would have known that the band I struggled to connect with on those spring days on Foss Hill at Wesleyan would become the house band of The Tonight Show!). I am all in on Jimmy as the host of The Tonight Show and am ready to see what Seth Myers will do with Late Night. In the branches of the Lorne Michaels tree of comedy prosperity I trust.
Here are some of my favorite Jimmy Fallon clips:
An a cappella version of “Can’t Stop”:
The “Sesame Street Theme” with childhood instruments:
A lip sync battle between Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Stephen Merchant:
The “History of Rap” performed by Justin Timberlake and Jimmy Fallon:
The “Reading Rainbow” theme sung by the Doors:
• Yes, yesterday’s Patriots AFC Championship game loss to the Denver Broncos was a disappointment (and a crushing blow to a potential Super Bowl hosting party gig), the grieving period will be short-lived. As a lifelong Boston sports fan, I have both experienced my share of devastating losses (I am looking at you 2008 Super Bowl, 2003 ALCS, 2010 NBA Finals…I could go on) and thankfully, an embarrassment of the richest successes beginning with the first time Brady and Belichick combined forces almost twelve years ago. The 2013-2014 New England Patriots overachieved amidst a who’s who of best player loss to injury (Gronk, Wilfork, Mayo, and most recently, Talib), free agency (Welker, Woodhead) and incarceration for murder (the increasingly vile tale of Aaron Hernandez). The defensive offsides penalty had already been thrown on much of this free play of a season, so to even be within one win of the Super Bowl was something to celebrate. Yesterday, the best football team won. As Bill Belichick’s full calendar of 2014 draft preparation already shows, it is time to move on to next season.
• The Oscar nominations woke up the West Coast Thursday morning with some surprise inclusions, notable omissions, and endless questions about what the rationale behind the decision to have Chris Hemsworth (“a super hero amongst us”) announce them could have been. My strongest lingering takeaways:
The Academy dug The Wolf of Wall Street. With acting nominations for Leonardo DiCaprio (an on the fence possibility going in) and Jonah Hill (considered to be even further on the outside looking in), Martin Scorsese’s eighth directing nomination, and a Best Picture nomination among the field of nine, there is a renewed momentum for this relative latecomer to the awards season party. After his Golden Globe win and facing a field that does not feature once thought to be juggernaut competition from the likes of Tom Hanks and Robert Redford, I think he has a legitimate shot at winning his first Academy Award.
Speaking of Tom Hanks, his exclusion from the Best Actor race is the hardest omission for me to stomach. His performance in Captain Phillips (nondescript New England accent aside) was vintage Hanks and deserved to be recognized.
I was most pleased that Paul Hewson, Dave Evans, Adam Clayton, and Larry Mullen were nominated for Best Song, but it made me uncomfortable when Cheryl Boone Isaacs had to say, “You may know them better as U2.” Would she have had to similarly qualify the Beatles or the Rolling Stones?
I have six movies to see before the March 2 ceremony in order for me to have fulfilled my viewing quota in the six major categories (Best Picture, Best Actor and Actress, Best Supporting Actor and Actress, Best Director). Those movies are, in order from “I want to see you” to “this matinee feels like a chore”: 1. Her (always on my list), 2. Dallas Buyer’s Club (I am all in on the “2014 Year of McConaughey” train), 3. August: Osage County (my all-time favorite stage play but not sure about the film version), 4. Nebraska (“Will Forte!”), 5. Philomena (one of those trailers that does not inspire, but the words from mouth that I have heard have been universally praising), 6. Blue Jasmine (I am not sure I want to have a relationship with Woody Allen pictures going forward).
• The second episode of Real World: Ex-Plosion may have been slightly more tolerable than the first, but I am still struggling. Any chance that Doug will return for more tomfoolery?
• Sherlock came back to US audiences last night and was a most welcome return. Perhaps as a consequence, it took me two sittings to get through the second episode of the more melancholic and morose True Detective. I couldn’t help but think that I had already watched the true detective.
• In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, this lullaby of hope never loses its power. It’s also by Paul Hewson, Dave Evans, Adam Clayton, and Larry Mullen:
Finally, welcome back Captain Rajon Rondo. We missed you.
David J. Bloom can be reached on twitter @davidbloom7 and writes about MTV’s “The Challenge,” pop culture, and the NBA for Bishop and Company.