About Me

A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.

Saturday, November 5, 2016


I haven't blogged in a while, but I thought I would do a post about my Barcelona trip, rather than 58 tweets.

Why Barcelona?

I discovered two years ago when I did the Eurocon in Dublin the week after LonCon that Eurocon isn't a great professional convention.  In Dublin, so much so that I decided to just put the bill for the whole stay as a personal expense so I could enjoy Dublin guilt free.  But, Barcelona is the heart of the Spanish publishing business, so when I saw the next Eurocon would be in Barcelona, I eyed it as a chance to see Spanish publishers on their home turf with more time to talk and learn than in the 30 minute appointments that we have in endless succession at London Book Fair.  And to visit Spanish bookstores, and with our agents for the Spanish market.  Any bar-con or schmoozing that Eurocon presented would be an add-on.  And then it turned out that Eurocon dovetailed nicely with a European tour that Brandon Sanderson had on his schedule, so we worked the itinerary that Brandon could be in Barcdlona for Eurocon, an opportunity that the convention and his publishers, Ediciones B, we're happy to take advantage of. It all worked out very nicely.

Now that I have employees and an iPad, I do a lot less personal preparation for a trip like this than I used to.  Krystyna Lopez, the head of foreign rights for the agency, was joining me, so she and her assistant Rebecca took care of slotting the publishers and arranging the schedule. I just kind of show up and go where I'm told.  I ended up buying a couple guide books a few days before the trip, but hardly looked at them.

So Krystyna and I get to Barcelona at 6:30 AM, and...

For one, the US is not a very welcoming country.  Getting into the US is an ordeal even for citizens with forms and lines and a general belief everyone is a criminal.  Getting into Spain, Italy, the U.K -- much smoother.  They put out a welcome mat, we put out a "Beware of Dog" sign.  

We decided to aim for the Aerobus. It was waiting and ready, and it wasn't yet 7AM, so why pay for a cab.  Good call. The bus runs often, gets into town quickly, had good free WiFi.   In a bit, the subway will also go out to the airport, but for now, the bus is a good choice if you've packed light and aren't too far from where the bus stops downtown.

And the four days I've had in Barcelona? I had no idea what to expect, and the first four of our seven days in the city have been amazing.

General impressions

Walking: it's both a great walking city and an awful one.  The awful last -- by the time you get the yellow signal as a pedestrian, you're already dead.  New York, it means most people can start at the yellow and have time to cross the street. Here, three quick flashes, time to cross one lane, and the cars are ready to bear down.  Almost all the intersections, the crosswalk is set back from the corner, which is fine if you're going on a diagonal route and awful if going in a straight line because every corner means adding time. Street signs are often hard to find, like London usually on the buildings, but with less consistency and visibility. And because most of the corners are rounded and the buildings set back in a circle, it's harder to see what's at any given corner, including the street sign.  Also, very few of the buildings have numbers on them.  And traffic moves. You can't jaywalk because it's rare to have cars backed up and not going anywhere.  So you detour to the crosswalk, and patiently wait for the light. Amd yet, it's also a city with lots of wide thoroughfares with pedestrian promenades and benches and bikeways.

Dining: Most restaurants have lunch hours that may not start before 13:00 and dinner hours that may begin at 20:00.  But there are also all sorts of cafes and patisseries and convenience stores and the like that are open. Meal hours are regimented, but you will rarely need to go far in the downtown areas to find someplace to get something to eat. And there is a variety of food today. This is the biggest thing for me in comparing with Paris. There, after a late movie in bustling Montparnasse, actual dining options were about non-existent, bistros that were open only for drinks after 9:30. My late night dining was from a train station vending machine.  And all the bistros had similar menus, the patisseries the same baked goods.  Barcelona, coming back from movie after midnight, I could find a few places still serving food and some 24 hour stores, even though I wasn't walking through the central part of downtown. There are some ubiquitous food items, but variety as well. And while there is no lack of paella, I can go not too far afield from my hotel and find Indian, Thai, Asian, Russian, Italian, and more.  Bottom line, I've had many dishes that I've never had at the fancy meals required by the business engagements, but also gone to a burger place, Indian, and had grab and go pizza.  I chose to come to Barcelona, which didn't require having one type of food for an entire week.


Day one, I walked down to the inner harbor area and Las Ramblas, the major tourist shopping thoroughfare, and then up to Parc Gaudie with views down on the city.  Wonderful dinner hosted by Ediciones B, the Spanish publishers for Brandon Sanderson.

Day two, publisher meetings during the day, and Brandon Sanderson signing at Gigamesh, a giant specialty shop for all things nerd, with 350+ people on line to meet Brandon.  I stayed til 9:30, then went to see a British film, Ken Loach's I Daniel Blake, on the large screen of an art house.  I don't consider any trip complete without seeing a movie!

Day three, another wonderful meal at lunch time, with the agent I've worked with in Spain for thirty years, dating to the start of my career at Scott Meredith. Preceded by publisher meetings, followed by a Brandon Sanderson signing at the major FNAC downtown, and then our taking Brandon out for dinner. Another excellent meal, location recommended by the editor of Planeta's Minotauro imprint. That signing had an attendance cap, and was lower key than the event at Gigamesh.

Day four, I took advantage of a free morning to walk around the parks near parliament, then along the actual beach, before heading inland for lunch with Aliette de Bodard, whose work we have in our ebook program via John Berlyne and Zeno Agency. Another nice meal. Then over to Eurocon to see two Q&A sessions with Brandon Sanderson. 

More I could say, but an early wake up call to day trip to Valencia to see our client Mark Hodder.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Reserve, Rinse, Repeat

Here is a letter which I am sending today to the CEO of one of the major publishing conglomerates.  All authors and agents should feel free to copy and paste, put in appropriate specific details, and do the same.

Once upon a time, the reserve against returns was kind of necessary.  Books only sold in print.  All those print books were fully returnable.  Sometimes 70% of the copies were returned.

But now, books sell digitally, with very few returns on ebooks and downloadable audio.  Printed books are still fully returnable, but for a great many books, sales through channels that lend themselves to especially high return rates have dwindled.  I'm not saying reserves are entirely unnecessary.  I'm saying it's time to push back on doing things this way because they've always been done this way, accepting reserves in any quantity when they no longer serve their original and intended purpose.

There are too many business practices tilting against authors, and we can't continue to accept all of them.

Dear CEO:

I hate arguing about pennies, but I also don’t understand why publishers want to keep pennies from my authors for no reason, holding reserves on titles where none is necessary.

I’m attaching the summary page of the just-received royalty statement for [book by my client] by [client name], as the quintessential example of this.

Please notice the book earned $1750 in ebook royalties.

So how can you justify the 92 copy reserve on the trade paperback?

The trade paperback royalty per US copy is $1.20.  If the ebook royalties were to drop by half on [book by my client], [you] would still have $875 to credit to the author’s royalty account on the next royalty report.  That is a sufficient reserve to cover the return of 730 trade paperback copies. The actual returns on the trade paperback were 46 copies.  

This isn’t reasonable.  It’s time for your contracts to acknowledge that, and to renounce the right to hold reserves against returns when ebook income can reasonably be expected to cover print returns, as is clearly and abundantly the case on this royalty report, and on so many others.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

The Eternal GenCon of the Dodecahedral Mind

I'm excited to be a special Agent Guest of the GenCon Writers Symposium this year!

So many of our clients and friends are going, and I'm on a lot of different program items, so I'm looking forward to being very busy for the four days of GenCon.  Here's my official schedule for the Symposium with most program items at the Westin.  If you're planning to attend, I hope you'll show up.

Thursday August 4, 10AM -- Self-Publishing 101
Cabinet room

Thursday August 4, 1PM -- Part Time Writer, Full Time Life
Chamber room

Friday August 5, 12 noon -- Traditional Publishing
Cabinet Room

Friday August 5, 2PM -- Elevator Pitches
Congress 1

Friday August 5, 4PM -- Pitching Your Novel

Saturday August 6, 2PM -- The Role of Agents

Saturday August 6, 3PM -- Q&A w/Joshua Bilmes

Saturday August 6, 4PM -- Role of Editors

I'm also doing some pitch sessions, and I don't know if space is remaining or not.  Check directly with the Symposium organizers using the details here.

There are so many other great speakers, including our clients Jody Lynn Nye, Tim Akers, Jay Posey and Marie Brennan.

Ten days after GenCon ends, I'll be in Kansas City for WorldCon.  Stay tuned for more information on that.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Balticon 50!

The first convention I attended as a pro was Balticon in 1989.  Elizabeth Moon was told she'd be winning the Compton Crook Award.  I got the OK from Scott Meredith to attend and celebrate, hopped on Amtrak, and arrived in Baltimore on a very rainy Friday night.  I got added at the very last minute to a couple panels; Groo was discussed on one of them.  Elizabeth and I had breakfast on the Sunday, and I got the steak and eggs.

We've gone on to represent many other Compton Crook winners and nominees, and it's always nice to return to Balticon, which I've now gotten to do for several consecutive years.  This year, the convention returns to the Inner Harbor for the first time in a while.  Wegmans, no.  Light Street Pavilion, Yes.

Here's my known schedule:

Friday 9pm - Pride of Baltimore room
Tales from the Slush Pile
co-panelists include Mur Lafferty and "Space & Time" publisher Hildy Silverman

Friday 10pm - Parlor 9029
Why Ant Man and the first Thor Movie Are Good

Saturday 5pm - Parlor 9059
The Fine Art of Rejection

Sunday 9am -Guilford
Coming to the Negotiation Table

Sunday 5pm - Guilford
So You Want to be an Agent

Balticon website

& the program is also available using "Balticon50" on the Grenadine Event Guide app.

Other JABberwocky clients attending include:

John Hemry/Jack Campbell
Jody Lynn Nye
Dan Moren

And of course you'll find me around the Dealer's Room, the bar, maybe in the Games Room.  Games are good.

I'll hope to see lots of you there.

And if you're interested in querying me, Guidelines!

Friday, March 4, 2016

Norwescon !!

I'm super excited to be going to Norwescon this year.  It's my first time going to this convention, and my first time in Seattle in almost ten years, which is way too long to be away from such a beautiful city.  I'll have some great company.  My long-time client Tanya Huff is a Guest of Honor at this year's Norwescon, and my more recent discovery Adam Rakunas is a finalist for this year's Philip K. Dick Award for his excellent debut novel WINDSWEPT.  DAW Books, which publishes Tanya Huff and many of our other authors, is the publisher honoree.  There will be lots of other JABberwocky clients around,  and I'll be joined by my JABberwocky colleague Sam Morgan.

I'm going to be on two panels on Saturday, March 26:

Sat 1:00pm - 2:00pm - Cascade 9
First Page Idol
Phoebe Kitanidis (M), Frog Jones, Nicole Dieker, Paul Constant, Joshua Bilmes

Sat 3:00pm - 4:00pm - Evergreen 3&4
Comic Book Movies
Rafeal Richardson (M), Paul Constant, J. Rachel Edidin, John Lovett, Joshua Bilmes

It's a great opportunity to meet up with me, and I hope I'll have a chance to say hello to some of you at Norwescon.  Of course, you can also submit your query letter to me; guidelines here!

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Oscars 2016

Midnight:  Spotlight.

11:57  I like Leonardo DiCaprio a lot, liked him from when I first saw him in Gilbert Grape a very very long time ago.  In Wolf of Wall St., in Titanic, in lots of movies.  I just wish he wasn't getting an Oscar for The Revenant.

11:53 PM I would happily see Michael Fassbender or Malcom's dad or Matt winning for Best Actor.  But this is not likely to end happily.  Steve Jobs was a great movie, and Fassbender's performance is a huge part of that. Matt Damon was too good, made it seem too easy!  Trumbo better for me than for most critics.

11:45 PM Best Actress is a depressing category for me.  Saw 45 Years, and not a fan.  And not a fan of Brooklyn, or of Carol.  Didn't see Joy.  So I guess I'll hope for Brie Larson to win, as she is touted to do.

11:38 PM Not a surprise, but I so wish something or someone else would have won for Best Director.  What can he do next year in his quest for Best Award Bait?  Maybe we'll find out he's secretly been filming a movie for a few days every year that takes some character from his bar mitzvah through his 30th birthday.  Yes, he is "very lucky."

11:35 PM  For all the people complaining how long the Oscars are... well, it's actually not much longer than seeing a bloated 2:20+ superhero movie with the accompanying previews of coming attractions.  And here, you got to tweet and eat and do the whole social media thing and complain at the TV set, and just now you got to learn about an exciting drug to ask your doctor about.  Which beats needing ear plugs during the overblown SFX CGI spectacular half hour battle at the end of the bloated superhero movie.

11:34 PM  If they could do a revote after seeing the performances tonight, would the same song have won?

11:33 PM Curious to see what movies won Best Score when Ennio Morricone could have won for The Mission, The Untouchables, or Casualties of War.  His collaboration with Brian de Palma was, for me, a particularly rewarding period for Morricone's work.

11:26 PM  Look at Ennio Morricone's filmography, it's stunning he's never won an Oscar before, and wonderful for him to get one for something that's good on its own terms, rather than Leonardo DiCaprio potentially winning for something like The Revenant that is far from his best role, movie, or performance.  Much as I like John Williams, and hope he'll get one more Oscar for his career, thks deserved to be Morricone's year.

11:17 PM  Happily Lady Gaga's great moment is followed shortly thereafter by another one of those great Kohls ads.

11:15 PM Lady Gaga is kind of special.  Very powerful moment that crept up in the middle of a song.

11:08 PM No rooting interest in Foreign Language category.  The more reviews I read of Son of Saul, the less interested I was in seeing it.  So the only one of the five nominees I ended up seeing was the Danish film A War, which opened in NYC just this month.  Which was good, though I'd say the director's earlier A Hijacking was somewhat better.

11:05 PM  So they found a way to get Jacob Tremblay on to the stage in the year of his amazing performance in Room. A way that worked kind of nicely.  This is a really, really sweet moment.  Kudos.

11:02 PM  It was not a good year for the art of cinematography, with Slocombe, Zsigmond and Miroslav Ondricek all passing away.

11:01 PM Douglas Slocombe passed away just recently.  He did additional filming on Close Encounters, leading to work as Director of Photography on the Indiana Jones movies.  Only in the Oscar memorial crawl am I noticing that he passed in the same "Oscar year" as the primary cinematographer for Close Encounters, Vilmos Zsigmond.

10:51 PM  So I guess I am celebrating an anniversary of seeing Whoopi Goldberg's Oscar-winning performance in Ghost.  I saw Ghost at the Loews Elmwood.  Where did you see Ghost?

10:48 PM  The award for Best Tweet from @isaacbilmes: Patricia Arquette seems bored and confused
I wish I'd come up with that one.

10:46 PM  I don't even get the joke about the kids and Price Waterhouse.  But I feel like Chris Rock is very very in command of the festivities this evening.

10:43 PM  Per my comment a little while ago, Amy was great.  The Best Documentary award might have gone to the actual best documentary of last year.

10:39 PM  If you want to understand the regard for the caliber of Mark Rylance's performance in Bridge of Spies, just look at his filmography.  It's full of, frankly, not very much.  The award isn't being given for career achievement.  But he's done enough that it isn't being given for being someone we've never heard from and won't hear much from again, which is another tradition in the supporting categories.  I first heard Rylance's name associated with Angels and Insects, an overrated UK artsy film that came out some twenty years ago.  And it isn't like I've heard it in association with much else since.  Lots of Shakespearean and UK theatre credits.  But this is an award that's given for a great performance that commanded recognition.

10:37 PM  And the clip for Sylvester Stallone showed why the Oscar didn't go to him, shouldn't have.  It's said that acting is about listening, and the quickest glimpse of Michael B. Jordan listening to Sylvester Stallone's Rocky shows so much in just a few seconds of quiet listening.  So much feeling, so much thought, so much thinking about what's being said.  I mention in my #OscarsSoWhite post that it's tough to judge negatively on categories Creed could have been nominated in and wasn't; which Best Actor nominee do you boot in favor of Michael B. Jordan.  But Jordan delivered a better performance in Creed than Sylvester Stallone did, and let's hope Michael B. Jordan's time will come...

10:32 PM  Glad to hear Mark Rylance singling out Tom Hanks for praise.  Tom Hanks should be the Men-yl Streep, picking up nomination after nomination in the Best Actor category, and he isn't.  He's so effortless and so likable that it's hard to appreciate just how good he is, continues to be, in many different roles.

10:31 PM  The win for Mark Rylance is something of an upset, but he gives a great performance in Bridge of Spies.  Which I really liked.  And which now has an Oscar win.

10:30 PM  Everyone thinks Stallone wins for Creed, but the Supporting Actor category is full of great performances from Stallone, Bale, Ruffalo and Rylance.  Anyone but Tom Hardy for The Revenant.

10:20 PM  These Android ads.  This was better than the first, but still has so little to do with the product that I don't think it works.  And did I suggest that Kohls start the search for a new ad agency?

10:15 PM  Will take advantage of song to finish my cole slaw from my take-out last night from the excellent John Brown Smokehouse.  Better BBQ than any place in NC or TX or KC or wherever, just a ten-minute walk from my apartment.  For good BBQ, come to NYC and join me at John Brown Smokehouse.  I got there too late yesterday, though, and they were out of turkey.  Sigh.

10:14 PM  I also like Kevin Hart's tux.  If I ever have to go the National Book Awards or something, I hope I can find a tuxedo with pizzazz.  Not that this is a problem I am very likely to have to worry about.  But yes, "a suit with shiny stuff on it," as Kevin Hart just said.  That's the way to go.

10:13 PM I didn't like Inside Out at all, but I guess as a 51-year-old I can't muster the energy to hate what happens in the Animation category.  Don't go to many of the movies.  I liked Peanuts Movie, which wasn't even nominated.

10:11 PM Is there any chance that people voted for Bear Story in the Animated Short category because they thought they were voting for the Bear Mauling in The Revenant, thus heightening the chances that some other, better movie will take the Best Picture award?

10:10 PM I'm going to talk a little about documentaries while the Minions are speaking.  2015 was a great year for documentary films, and most of the best to me aren't even on the Oscar ballot.  From those we can choose from, Amy is my hands-down favorite.  It's informative, enlightening, happy, sad, opinionated but even-handed.  Takes a musical figure I'd known only from a great distance and humanizes her.  Finds the tragedy without dwelling in sadness.  Don't know if it will win tonight.  Do know I would strongly suggest checking it out.

10:07 PM  They don't have near enough boxes for 3000 people.

10:05 PM  Is Wednesday's episode of The Goldbergs finally the excuse I need to give it a try?  Have an hour of TV to replace The Flash with.  Try that? Try Black-ish?

10:02 PM One of my professional frustrations is the ghettoization and lack of appreciation of serious science fiction.  Ex Machina should have gotten even better reviews, been seen by even more people.  But there are a lot of people who don't even have the tools to understand and evaluate Ex Machina, to appreciate the suppleness of its writing, the elegance with which the performances conveyed those words, and the idea that Alex Garland put into them.  So it is incredibly, incredibly sweet to have it take something home on Oscar night.  It takes some unexpected yet obvious turns, in the tradition of but more serious than something like Sixth Sense.  I would see this again if it popped up at a New York movie house.

9:57 PM  And I am kind of stunned and kind of super happy that Ex Machina has taken an actual Oscar to go with its honorary win for Alicia Vikander in the supporting arts category.

9:57 PM  Quick glimpse of bear mauling sequence that would have cut The Revenant short.  Too bad it didn't.

9:55 PM  Very nice gesture to single out Andy Serkis for some special recognition, since his contributions to movies like the Planet of the Apes and Lord of the Rings sagas have been hard to acknowledge within traditional acting categories.

9:53 PM  Quite a year for achievement in unexpected sequels, with both Mad Max Fury Road and Creed setting a standard that I can pretty much guarantee won't be exceeded by the next Avengers or Superman movie.

9:52 PM  We're now at six wins for Mad Max: Fury Road; we can safely say it will be taking home the most Oscars on the evening.  Maybe not the biggest Oscar, but definitely the most of them.

9:50 PM  One of those Mad Max dudes is wearing a great tux.  The Mad Max tech crew is setting the bar high for wardrobe tonight, which is probably not what they were covering on the red carpet.  Like, I want that tux.

9:49 PM Maybe Star Wars can get a token win in one of the sound categories?

9:45 PM  Two dud ads from Kohls.  I vote they start the search for a new ad agency first thing Monday morning.

9:43 PM  Hasn't Liev Schreiber come a long way from lighting up the screen in the Scream movies?  Lots of  critics have him on their "Should have" lists for Spotlight.

9:41 PM  Four wins now for Mad Max Fury Road, and against tough competition.  Spotlight and The Big Short also had serious cred for winning in this category.

9:40 PM Editing is a category with a snub.  I think Bridge of Spies should have gotten a nod in this category.

9:38 PM  Not a surprise to see The Revenant win for photography.  It looked beautiful in the 30 minutes I saw of it.  But this was a category with a lot of achievement from all of the nominees.

9:34 PM:  McDonalds ad just used the word "montage," hopefully to better results than Sam Morgan rolling it out when we played Codenames in the office on Wednesday.

9:33 PM:  Steve  Jobs hasn't been in the discussion much this awards season, and I just want to interrupt to say how good a movie it was.

9:30 PM:  I saw Mad Max Fury Road with noted YA author and JABberwocky client E C Myers!

9:30 PM:  The bear -- nice touch!

9:27 PM  Are these three straight tech wins for Mad Max Fury Road three leaves at the bottom of a tea cup?

9:25 PM  Can we acknowledge that the "thank you" crawl at the bottom isn't working, and do away with it before the end of the evening?

9:23 PM  And I kind of am surprised.  But not going to complain.  Anything but The Revenant is my motto for the night, and Mad Max Fury Road was a very well-crafted film.

9:23 PM  Will be surprised if The Revenant doesn't win Production Design.

9:21 PM  Costume Design for Mad Max!  I didn't have an opinion until they started announcing the awards, and they got to Mad Max, and I said "you know, these costumes had to be created actually from whole cloth to form a full world that couldn't be based on pictures from a book or a newspaper."  I'm happier about this than I would have thought.  And the winner is wearing quite a costume, herself.

9:17 PM  Followed by an ad for Mr. Holland's Opus.  Wait.  No.  An ad for Android.  How couldn't I have figured that out?

9:16 PM  Cadillac ad is a glorified version of the Kohl's ad.  So well done, so intriguing, all the art and artistry.  And it's an ad for a car nameplate.

9:13 PM:  Yeah.  I don't like it when someone wins for a movie I didn't see, but since she was in another movie this year that I saw, and that movie was really good, and she was really good.  Congrats to Alicia Vikander.

9:12 PM:  Even Alicia Vikander from the movie I didn't see.  I can pretend it's for Ex Machina, instead.

9:10 PM:  Anyone but Rooney Mara in this category.  Please.  Anyone.

9:10 PM:  So each Best Picture gets about as much time as the bits during the screenplay award presentations?

9:06 PM:  Over 35 minutes in.  2 awards presented.

9:04 PM  One of the worst ever James Bond movies has as many Oscar nominations as Straight Outta Compton.

8:57 PM:  I feel like the Kohl's ad is a fail.  It doesn't have any association with the product it's advertising.  Would have fit in with all the bad ads during the Super Bowl telecast.

8:56 PM:  The Samsung Galaxy 7 ad was better filmmaking than some of the Best Picture nominees. So was the Diet Coke ad.

8:52 PM And the three-way Best Picture race lives on, with The Big Short staking its claim.

8:50 PM Another tough category in Adopted Screenplay.  Martian, Big Short, Room -- all three, I could make a case for.

8:48 PM:  It's now official.  One of the year's best pictures will not win an Oscar.  And one of the year's best pictures is guaranteed at least one.  Keeps Best Picture race alive; if Compton had pulled an upset here, highly unlikely Spotlight would have still been in running for the top prize.

8:46 PM:  Tough category.  I want Straight Outta Compton to win an Oscar.  And of course, I loved Ex Machina.  And Spotlight.

8:40 PM  "Sorority Racist" -- I detect a hash tag.

8:35 PM I worry about wearing white clothes because they'll get stained so easily.  I hope no one plans on giving Chris Rock a newspaper to read during the commercial breaks, and that he ate beforehand.  Newspaper ink is deadly.

8:33 PM  I don't understand this montage.

8:31 PM And we're off!

8:26 PM  I'd be happy to see either Spotlight or The Big Short win for Best Picture, of the three movies considered to be in a three-picture race.  Last year I was totally bummed when Boyhood lost to the overrated Oscar Bait that was Birdman, and if Alejandro Inarrituthe director of that film can do it again this year with The Revenant, I will not be happy.  You can reference my "#OscarsSoTrite" post for further details on my reaction to The Revenant.  In fairness, a reaction that is based on only the first 30 minutes, because I couldn't tolerate longer.  Also this year, #OscarsSoWhite, best exemplified by the failure of Straight Outta Compton to be nominated for Best Picture.

8:25 PM In a year full of over two dozen nominations for movies I didn't see or didn't like very much, I have lots of opinions this year.

7:58 PM Coming soon, my annual live blog!


When it comes to plot-driven media like books and movies, I'm an opinionated SOB.

As such, Oscar season will never be my across-the-board favorite time of year.  There will be critical darlings that aren't actually very good. Worthy movies that are just that.  Frenzies, tulip bubbles, and more.  Usually there will be a few things, but only a few, that I haven't seen; after all these years I can do a good job smelling out the movies that will leave an aftertaste.

I can't remember a year with as many of those movies.  And after making a dutiful effort to catch up, only one of them was considerably better than I feared or suspected.

It sure isn't The Revenant.  12 nominations for a movie I never wished to pay for, and which I could stomach for just 30 minutes when I was finally able to plan it as part of a "double feature." The plot skeleton I studied thirty years ago this week when I was handed a copy of WRITING TO SELL by Scott Meredith on my first day at his literary agency starts with an identifiable lead character, and The Revenant has none.  There is a lead role played by a movie star, and thus we are expected by default to root for the character.  But nothing -- nothing!! -- is done atop of that.  Is the novel like that?  I would reject any such novel.  Furthermore, the movie should have ended before I could walk out.  The lead character shouldn't have survived the bear attack.  In a Hollywood action movie I am willing to let pass that the lead character rarely misses and the bad guys can rarely aim, so maybe I should have more tolerance for the bear missing Leo.  Yes, the photography in the movie was crisp and beautiful, but the movie is a turd.

Then we come to Carol. Director Todd Haynes has spent his entire career as a critics darling, but the critics don't seem to notice that Haynes isn't actually a very good director of actors.  I wasn't a fan of Haynes' Far From Heaven, and if not for the chance to see late in the season at the Museum of the Moving Image.  And to an extent, Carol was a pleasant surprise because it is better than Far From Heaven.  Haynes is better at craft than at performance, and Carol is better at its craft.  Far From Heaven had a certain mise en scene but never felt like Hartford. Carol does make Cincinnati into a solid enough approximation of New York City.  But oh dear, what a mess to behold if you actually look at the script and acting.  Rooney Mara and Kyle Chandler have both shown acting chops elsewhere, but they flail here.  Chandler plays a cuckolded husband with no back story, no internal or external life, basically just a human embodiment of the male ethos of the day, and has no idea what to do, other than to do it like he's playing to the last row of the balcony.  Rooney Mara received awards for this movie?  In this movie, her look for all seasons is that of a mousy deer caught in the headlights.  Happy, sad, lonely, fresh off sex, whatever she's doing she has this one expression.  The best I can say for Carol is that it's better than The Revenant, and better than my worst fears.

Brooklyn is another movie that sent out "skip me" pheromones during the coming attractions, and also ended up screening at Museum of the Moving Image.  This had more moments than either Carol or The Revenant.  Efforts were made to provide an identifiable lead character, including the establishment of nemeses in Ireland.  Maybe I could teach a senior seminar or get a PhD comparing and contrasting the department store scenes in Brooklyn with those of Carol.  But the longer Brooklyn goes, the more it digs holes for itself.  I rested my eyes for a few minutes in the middle, and when I woke up there were toe people deeply and madly (or is it almost kind of?) in love.  I don't think I was resting my eyes long enough for the relationship to be suitably established.  When the lead character returns to Ireland she is very quick to both forgive her enemies and forget her marriage.  She doesn't make an internal decision to return to her husband.  The decision is forced upon her.  I am better able to see merits in Brooklyn, but I have long been picky about plot structure and can't myself forgive the shortcomings in that area.

Much as Amy Adams staked her claim as an actress of note in the little seen Junebug, Brie Larson made her mark in Short Term 12, simply brilliant as a counselor in a home/halfway house for deeply troubled kids.  When Room played at the festivals last year, garnering acclaim for Larson's performance I was intrigued, and yet when the movie finally opened last fall, the more reviews I read the more my interest in actually seeing the movie diminished.  I finally went a couple of weeks ago.  I was both right and wrong.  In terms of the Oscar race, Brie Larson has a strong claim to the award everyone is certain she will win, but yet her performance is the second best in the film, and her very young costar Jacob Tremblay could easily have been nominated.  And these excellent performances aren't islands in a sea of problems; the movie around them is solid.  My one big problem was with the musical score.  It does nothing, and becomes actually bad at the very end of the movie, to the point that I noticed it in a negative way as the notes started to flourish at the end of the movie.  And yet I also feel like my life would have gone on without Room.  There's something missing in the movie.  It's too good to be written off as Award Bait, but nothing about it inspires any passion in me.

Some 25 Oscar nominations given to movies that, at best, I could go either way on.

And then. we come to another handful of nominations for The Danish Girl, which I never even toyed with seeing after nominations were announced.  I did Eddie Redmayne, Master Thespian, last year, with the Stephen Hawking biopic The Theory of Everything.

So when it gets to be 11:30 EST, anything but The Revenant.