MCC Home Video Scorecard #14: The Oscar Quest 2019 Home Game

A Star is Born!

Lady Gaga and Rocket Raccoon present the “Guardians of the Gaga” tour!

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: the recurring feature that’s more like a newsletter in which I’ve jotted down capsule-sized notes about Stuff I Recently Watched at home. In this batch as well as the next: the past few months’ worth of comfy-chair viewing as prep for this Sunday’s Academy Awards ceremony hosted by a disembodied sense of doom, featuring at least five musical numbers (minus The Weeknd and SZA but including the un-nominated Queen), spurring endless tired jokes about the runtime, and pumping up the jams for any winners from the ABC/Disney mega-conglomerate.

This year the Best Picture nominees number eight in all. In past entries we covered Black Panther, The Favourite, Vice, Bohemian Rhapsody, and Green Book. Here, then, are brief notes on the final three to complete the octet.

* A Star is Born (Redbox): Considered the front-runner by many crowds because everyone loves Lady Gaga, Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga’s music, and remakes, in that order. I’ve seen none of the first three versions and therefore had nothing to compare it to, which may be an advantage for me as well as for card-carrying Oscar voters in the same boat. I also approached with no preexisting Gaga fandom because I tend to avoid chart-topping musicians out of knee-jerk habit, especially when their producers bury their performances in so many layers of electronic gunk that they’re indistinguishable from all the other products rolling off the Top-40 assembly line. I realize her fans can tell her apart from the rest of the herd, and that’s cool for them.

Nevertheless, I totally bought in to her initial “authentic” phase, when Cooper’s drunken rocker Jackson Maine discovers her vamping it up in a drag club and introduces her to the weird world of the pro music industry. The waitress who never thought she’d amount to much is flattered to be noticed, overwhelmed when he foists her into her stage debut, and soon overloads on the intoxicating sensations of fame, creative control, and happily screaming live audiences. She also quickly adapts to her new role of an alcoholic’s enabler, but I wouldn’t call that unrealistic. I throw myself upon the mercy of the court and confess that “Shallow” is the best tune I’ve heard from her yet and won’t be shocked if it wins Best Original Song, even if it feels a bit preprogrammed for that destiny.

Her superstar phase was a bit less biting than I’d hoped. Jack tries to warn her of the pitfalls of switching lanes to corporate pop/dance, but all he can manage to tell her is Always Tell the Truth in Your Music. It’s a good lesson, but superficial showbiz never seems all that bad here. Mostly we learn you might have to put up with backup dancers, co-write slightly slinkier songs, and have your request to bring your boyfriend on tour denied because the two of you are in different genres. This version of the music industry definitely worries a lot about “company policies”, but it lacks the robust corruption of your better scathing satires. It might or might not be untoward to surmise that perhaps Gaga wasn’t interested in viciously biting the hand that’s fed her.

The finale ties everything together into one big For Your Oscar Consideration web of tragedy, which was partly spoiled for me by a Film Twitter discussion the other day about the pros and cons of trigger warnings. (I’m reducing it far too severely, but it’s absolutely too much to sum up here.) Armed with just enough foreknowledge thanks to the internet, the impact softened a tad while my brain was in full-on detective mode trying to guess the specifics of the spoiled part before it arrived. I do hate when that happens.

Also interfering with my enjoyment: more F-bombs than any of the other seven Best Picture nominees. Honestly, I could tell even before I looked it up and confirmed the numbers. Hollywood expects us to endure a certain amount of F-bomb content as if it’s an FDA-approved vitamin, but A Star Is Born attempts to be striving for extra credit by stuffing a few extra in awkward parts of clauses where they wouldn’t come naturally to the average cusser, as if the studio had an intern in charge of counting the F-words, realized the three credited writers (including Cooper) hadn’t met their quota, threw some darts at the screenplay and inserted new ones whenever the barbs hit. Longtime MCC readers recognize this as one of the pet peeves that gets me denied membership in any of the really cool online cliques, but it’s where my head’s at.

But that first one-third of the film is generally a keeper. Major points surprisingly go to Andrew Dice Clay (!) for enjoying probably the best role of his career. As Gaga’s dad he’s a gentle, loving has-been who coulda been the next Sinatra but had to settle for chauffeuring the stars instead of being one of ’em. He’s a cautionary tale that young Gaga hopes not to become, and he’s a good father who took good care of her and who’s there for her when things between her and Jack go horribly awry.

Roma!

They’re all smiles on the outside, but inside they’re raging at anyone watching Roma on a phone.

* Roma (Netflix): I watched this the week after it debuted on Netflix but never got to write about it because I procrastinated “MCC Home Video” literally all year long. I’ve heard that seeing it in theaters is a magnificent, immersive experience, but…I mean, they put the thing right there on Netflix. Kudos to anyone who scored Film Twitter points for making the sojourn and paying extra for Cinema, but to me seeing a film in theaters is more of a special achievement when that’s the only place to see its debut.

I did try to improve my home screening by following the official guide for optimizing your TV settings for the ultimate Roma viewing experience. (Curiously, I just found that webpage is incompatible with the Opera browser.) I saw no advice for improving my sound settings except the implication of TURN IT UP. Sadly our household has volume limits, but I did what I could. And the result on a 46-inch screen was…quite okay? Alfonso Cuaron’s story of his nanny or at least a woman very much like her had some stunning visuals, rich black-and-white textures, and a handful of memorable moments such as the tumultuous riot scene. The experience took on new levels of meaning after reading an insightful tweetstorm commentary by Cuaron’s best friend Guillermo Del Toro. In the moment, though…I found myself nodding and agreeing it was well done but in a clinical way, not as an invested viewer whose heart had been swept away.

BlacKkKlansman!

Undercover Brother: The Next Generation.

* BlacKkKlansman (Redbox): Irrelevant sidebar up front: Spike Lee will always have a place in my heart for the way School Daze turned me off the entire concept of fraternities for the rest of my life, which probably didn’t help my disappointing college experiences, but at least I escaped them intact as myself, for better or worse.

The amazing, largely true story of how a black undercover officer got a man inside the KKK is a differently fantastic lesson, though the dialogue among the Klan seemed over the top, but I suppose I wouldn’t know because to my knowledge I’ve only encountered normal racists in my life rather than hardcore ultra-racists. It was also jarring to see any and all subtlety tossed out the window with the present-day news-montage coda, in which parallels are drawn with today’s neo-Nazis and Charlottesville for the slower viewers out there who weren’t connecting those dots on their own. I imagine Lee was perhaps a hairbreadth away from walking on camera himself swinging a sledgehammer and yelling “RACISM AIN’T CURED YET!” Frankly, I thought Harry Belafonte’s stately cameo did the job more gracefully.

Our hero John David Washington is a fine leading man and it’s weird hearing his dad Denzel’s voice shining through. I like that Topher Grace turns David Duke into a cartoon. It took me twenty minutes to realize Steve Buscemi has a brother. Aand so far this is my favorite Adam Driver performance yet. The Department of MCC Gratuitous Mentions of The Wire sends a shout-out to special guest Isiah Whitlock Jr., who even brings back Senator Clay Davis’ famous one-word twelve-vowel catchphrase for old time’s sake. And I had to check IMDb twice to confirm that that was indeed Laura Harrier, a.k.a. Liz from Spider-Man: Homecoming, in a more central and far stronger role here.

* * * * *

Arbitrarily ranking the eight nominees from favorite to not:

  1. Black Panther
  2. The Favourite
  3. BlacKkKlansman
  4. Vice
  5. Roma
  6. A Star is Born
  7. Green Book
  8. Bohemian Rhapsody

…I feel like the Oscars have had better years, and I don’t just mean that fiasco of a ceremony coming up this Sunday. Here’s hoping the night doesn’t thoroughly suck?

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