Oscars 2017: The Thing About 'La La Land' and the Increasing Irrelevance of Award Shows


I admit: when I caught La La Land three months ago with a handful of people while it was playing in two theaters in L.A. (four in the entire country when you count New York City), I was blown away by its ambitious opening number that takes place on a traffic-clogged freeway ramp overlooking the epic expanse of the City of Angels. I was in genuine awe. I smiled for four straight minutes.

Shortly after walking out of the theater and processing what I had just witnessed, I immediately had a thought: the love and adoration for this film is going to catch on quick...just as fast as its inevitable backlash. And the more I learned about the complaints and criticisms surrounding Damien Chazelle's romantic ode to Hollywood musicals (Stars who can't sing! White guy saves jazz!), the more I understood where they were coming from. Some of the luster wore off, especially when compared to the devastatingly gorgeous Moonlight, a film that ultimately received the well-deserved Oscar for Best Picture during the shitstorm that was Sunday night's final award announcement.

First, let's get my own critique out of the way. The nutshell: I enjoyed La La Land. It opened with a strong, breathtaking promise of a good time and ended with a devastatingly gorgeous finale. (Points for the original music.) As for the middle? It came off more like a generic indie drama that didn't entirely click.

This year's Best Picture nominee list is a particularly frustrating one since most of them are a burden for average moviegoers. A domestic drama mostly set in a 1960s tenement with heavy dialogue? A depressing drama set in frigid New England with even more frigid accents? A paint-by-numbers war movie about a righteous soldier who doesn't believe in fighting?

We already have a divide in America, which was aggravated by last November's election. And that divide can also be felt when applied to which movie you're rooting for at the Oscars. What it basically comes down to are these titles: La La Land or Moonlight?

Team La La Land can argue that the current American zeitgeist needs an unabashedly romantic film about hopes and dreams. These are also the individuals who may have been on the early bandwagon, embracing its old-fashioned-ness. You might as well make hats campaigning for this film that say "Make movies great again."

As for Team Moonlight and the naysayers, most of them also have disdain for awards shows in general and don't wish to feel pressured into liking what the status quo shoves down their throats during this time of year. This says something about how the general public is now reacting to award contenders. They've already made up their minds about what should win. They don't take into consideration what the "elite" press says about the nominees. Or they just don't care.

Amanda Petrusich's brilliant New Yorker piece on the Grammys discusses the state of awards shows in general, especially in the age of social media, digital echo chambers, and stuffy traditions that refuse to adapt to an evolved culture. An excerpt:

Is this—viral currency, some event or song or shtick that somehow permeates every membrane—the new rubric for figuring out what we mean by “best”? The days of omniscient, authoritative proclamations of quality seem to be largely behind us. No matter what it is you’re into, it’s terrifyingly easy to find others to validate and echo your desires. These days, “good taste” seems like a silly and old-fashioned idea. All taste is good taste; the heart wants what it wants; everything is permissible so long as it is inclusive. So who needs an organization like the...Academy to issue decrees from on high? In a speech at around the three-and-a-half-hour mark, the Academy president, Neil Portnow, said, “What we need so desperately are more reminders of all that binds us together.” Golden trinkets, at least, still do not seem to be this thing. 

In other words, since we live in an age in which we've created our own personalized digital echo chambers, do awards even matter anymore when most of us have become armchair critics with voices that get amplified across every Facebook post and tweet?

That all said, after watching the below "Actors on Actors" interview from Variety three months later, it's clear there had been an expectation for Molly Shannon to receive well-deserved award (if not Oscar) attention for her outstanding performance in the FANTASTIC YET CRIMINALLY UNDERRATED Other People, a movie I've praised over and over like a broken record.

And with hardly any attention paid, it's now sad to realize that "one of the best films of 2016" (my quote) probably didn't have the "Oscar campaign budget" and subsequent PR support to flash itself all over town screaming, "Look at me! I'm a good movie!" not unlike a certain, spotlight-hogging frontrunner.


@TheFirstEcho

#TBT: The Soundtrack to My Awkward Years


Most people have gone through those "awkward years," that pre-adolescent time when you're figuring things out for the first time, when you're just starting to identify your likes, your dislikes, and your passions. (If you happen to be one of those lucky individuals who breezed past this phase, then screw you. Just kidding. Maybe.)

Many of us have the photos and numerous #TBT postings to prove it. As for me, I also have the soundtrack to prove just how awesome I was from the ages of 11 to 15 -- please note how the italics imply sarcasm.

Those who know me well know that, if I didn't have my nose stuck in the pages of a paperback novel written by Anne Rice, Dean Koontz, or R.L. Stine in the early 90s, I was rocking out to the Adult Contemporary hits of the era. While kids my age were blaring Nirvana, Dr. Dre, or Naughty by Nature, yours truly was appreciating the orchestral strings in Annie Lennox's "Walking on Broken Glass," the soothing harmonies in k.d. lang's "Constant Craving," and the seductive, acoustic open to Daryl Hall's slow jam "I'm in a Philly Mood." And as I've mentioned here before, I was also putting Amy Grant's Heart in Motion on heavy rotation every week in between new episodes of Picket Fences on CBS, a network that was clearly beyond my age demographic.


It didn't stop there.

12-year-old Hiko was quite familiar with the early discography of Michael Bolton and Carly Simon's Coming Around Again. (Many of those tracks I associate with road trips in my mother's Pontiac 6000-LE.) And before her heart went on for Titanic, Celine Dion scored points in my book for pumping out powerful love song after powerful love song. (Just try not being moved by "The Power of Love," "If You Asked Me To," or her rendition of Carole King's "Natural Woman.")

And then there were the duets. Oh God, the duets. These were my jams in the early 90s, a period chock-full of male-female collaborations of the power ballad variety (I have the cassingles to prove it):

There was that climactic key change in Elton John and Kiki Dee's "True Love" (from Elton's Duets); The perfect blend of Celine Dion and Clive Griffin's vocals in Sleepless in Seattle's "When I Fall in Love"; The unlikely partnership of James Ingram with Dolly Parton on "The Day I Fall in Love," straight from the soundtrack to Beethoven's 2nd -- and nominated for Best Original Song at the 1994 Oscars (I shit you not.)


Suffice to say, these were not your typical music selections of a preteen growing up in the suburbs of New York City at the dawn of the Clinton era. And looking back, I can only offer three correlated explanations for my musical proclivities and penchant for easy listening:

EXPLANATION #1: As an only child, I was surrounded by adults throughout most of my formidable years. I had no sibling influence. I listened to what the adults listened to. I was exposed to Baby Boomer sensibilities and tastes. No babysitter available? Take Hiko to the movies and plop him in a seat with a bunch of 40-year-olds in the theater to watch Cher slap Nicolas Cage in Moonstruck, cry during Sally Field's meltdown at the end of Steel Magnolias, or witness a young Christian Bale get separated from his parents in the traumatizing epic Empire of the Sun. All kid-friendly fare.

EXPLANATION #2: I didn't have a sizable circle of friends. Hence my delayed awareness of Top 40 tunes. (Thankfully this would change as I learned to drive...and learned to concurrently love the songs of Alanis Morrissette, En Vogue, and TLC.)

EXPLANATION #3: Perhaps I was an "old soul," a label given to me several times throughout my life. Or did I just become one as a result of the above circumstances?

In hindsight, I now love who I was at that age. I own it. I was awesome in my own, weird way. Maybe this explains why I currently brand myself as "pop culture junkie"; perhaps I'm making up for lost time from 25 years ago or making up for lost music I could have enjoyed more with my peers.

But there's one thing I do know: if I were to meet a 12-year-old in 2017 who's obsessed with Adele or knows the entire discography of Michael Buble or Josh Groban, I may not be able to refrain from giving him a giant hug.

That all said, enjoy this collection of tunes -- straight outta my awkward years:


@TheFirstEcho

Pop Culture Read of the Week: Being Woke in 2017


A few brief thoughts on these past two weeks...

Simply put: Enough is enough.

We are not putting up with this shit. We see right through you. We know what's going on. We will not be distracted by bait. Our eyes are open. Our ears are listening.

We are woke.

First of all, ELIZABETH WARREN will not be silenced. And Jeff Sessions will be unmasked for the corrupt bigot he is:


We know THE BACHELOR's tears are fake as shit. Dude, don't cry because you have to send three women home. You still got a bevy of babes to take advantage of with your flaming douchebaggery.

Donnie, watching your CABINET assemble is like watching an origin story -- not of a band of superheroes but of team of supervillains. This group is overflowing with greed, ignorance, and deafening hypocrisy. All I see is a bunch of overprivileged white folks sitting on top of piles of cash, smoking cigars, and laughing maniacally into the air...Air that's been made more toxic thanks to their climate change denials and defunding of any efforts to save this sick planet.

If you're still arguing about how Beyonce's Lemonade should've won the GRAMMY FOR ALBUM OF THE YEAR, I urge you to read Amanda Petrusich's New Yorker piece on the state of awards shows in the age of social media, digital echo chambers, and stuffy traditions that refuse to adapt to an evolved culture. An excerpt:

Is this—viral currency, some event or song or shtick that somehow permeates every membrane—the new rubric for figuring out what we mean by “best”? The days of omniscient, authoritative proclamations of quality seem to be largely behind us. No matter what it is you’re into, it’s terrifyingly easy to find others to validate and echo your desires. These days, “good taste” seems like a silly and old-fashioned idea. All taste is good taste; the heart wants what it wants; everything is permissible so long as it is inclusive. So who needs an organization like the Recording Academy to issue decrees from on high? In a speech at around the three-and-a-half-hour mark, the Academy president, Neil Portnow, said, “What we need so desperately are more reminders of all that binds us together.” Golden trinkets, at least, still do not seem to be this thing. 

BETSY DEVOS, how does it feel to further contribute to the downfall of American civilization by robbing children of their future education? Not only is your privilege showing -- it's poised to suffocate the millions of people who will be affected by your lack of experience and your mind-blowing ignorance.

We now live in a world where an electronic DJ is supposedly harboring secret intel on the POTUS's involvement with a foreign adversary (See: MOBY AND RUSSIA).

To the body-shaming trolls who tore into LADY GAGA during the Super Bowl's Halftime Show (which she slayed): May your blow-up dolls turn sentient and exact revenge on you.

YouTube megastar PEWDIEPIE got the boot from Disney's Maker Studios for making anti-Semitic jokes in his latest video. Next thing you know, Steve Bannon will be recruiting him to run Breitbart.

And to the "FRIEND" ON FACEBOOK who insists on posts painting Trump in a good light, your false equivalencies are some of the most ridiculous pieces of bullshit I've seen on social media.

Stay woke, my friends.

@TheFirstEcho

Dear Evan Hansen's "You Will Be Found" is the Anthem We Need Right Now


Dear Evan Hansen, which officially opened in New York City just two months ago, is becoming the kind of Broadway musical that not only speaks to a generation -- it's a salve for all theater nerds -- it's poised to become the next phenomenon that resonates across all walks of life.

It tells the tale of a socially awkward teen (brilliantly played by Pitch Perfect's Ben Platt, who is, well...pitch perfect) who finds himself caught in a web of lies shortly after a fellow classmate commits suicide, sending ripples throughout their school and the homes of two families.

I had the absolute pleasure of attending a matinee back in December, and the fantastic, piano-pop-rock soundtrack immediately and firmly planted itself in my head, particularly "You Will Be Found," the centerpiece showstopper that will undoubtedly become the theme for anyone who's ever felt like an outsider. All thanks to Benj Pasek and Justin Paul's music and lyrics.

While the message is somewhat familiar (the "you are not alone" sentiment has been heard before in numerous songs meant to uplift and inspire), the powerful delivery of the performances will leave you shook. And given our country's current anxieties, we need a tune like this to make us feel those warm tinglies that are necessary for soldiering on through whatever shitstorm you may be in.

Listen now:


And if you're looking to sample the rest, the Original Cast Recording album is now available...basically everywhere.

@TheFirstEcho

Prepare for March 15: #TheIdesOfTrump


On March 15th, each one of us will mail Donald Trump a postcard that publicly expresses our opposition to him.

And we, in vast numbers, from all corners of the world, will overwhelm the man with his unpopularity and failure. We will show the media and the politicians what standing with him (and against us) means. And most importantly, we will bury the White House post office in pink slips, all informing Donnie that he’s fired.

Each of us — every protester from every march, each Congress-calling citizen, every boycotter, volunteer, donor, and petition signer — if each of us writes even a single postcard and we put them all in the mail on the same day, March 15th, well...you do the math. No alternative fact or Russian translation will explain away our record-breaking, officially-verifiable, warehouse-filling flood of fury.

Hank Aaron currently holds the record for fan mail, having received 900,000 pieces in a year. We’re setting a new record: over a million pieces in a day, with not a single nice thing to say. So sharpen your wit, unsheathe your writing implements, and see if your sincerest ill-wishes can pierce Donald’s famously thin skin. Prepare for March 15th, 2017, a day hereafter to be known as #TheIdesOfTrump.

Write one postcard. Write a dozen! Take a picture and post it on social media tagged with #TheIdesOfTrump! Spread the word! Everyone on Earth should let Donnie know how he’s doing. They can’t build a wall high enough to stop the mail. Then, on March 15th, mail your messages to:

President (for now) Donald J. Trump 
The White House 
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW 
Washington, DC 20500 

Not my original post, but someone else's great idea! Copy and share.

@TheFirstEcho

Is Donald Trump The Long-Lost Son of Mama Fratelli from 'The Goonies'?


That resting bitchface...

The perpetual air of grumpiness...

Um, can we get a DNA test up in here?

@TheFirstEcho

Songs of the Month: February 2017


London Grammar's "Big Picture" is the kind of near-ethereal tune you'll probably hear in a movie trailer for some sweeping, modestly budgeted drama about life's many mysteries and nuances. It belongs on a soundtrack for those moments of reflection, when you're going through an existential crisis and questioning your purpose on this planet.

It's hypnotic and beautiful, although I would have preferred a more climactic payoff. But still, enjoy:


Then there's Martin Garrix's "Scared to be Lonely," featuring the fantastic Dua Lipa and posing the question "Do we need somebody just to feel all right?" It's one of those EDM-light semi-ballads that are all the rage now (thanks Chainsmokers). And it works:


@TheFirstEcho

#TBT: Because You Need The Escape, Here Are 30 Movies Turning 30 This Year


Buckle up for some nostalgia overload...

Masters of the Universe - I was a He-Man fan. Therefore I saw this in the theater when I was little. And now I thank my parents for sacrificing their time to sit through this piece of schlock.


Baby Boom - Diane Keaton + a Nancy Meyers production = A Boomer anthem of a movie.


Adventures in Babysitting - One of my favorite 80s flicks. And no, "Thor's not a homo."


A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors - Possibly the best sequel of the franchise. Starring future Oscar winner Patricia Arquette!


Moonstruck - The movie my parents dragged me to see because they couldn't find a babysitter. My #1 memory from this film: cracking up over Olympia Dukakis shouting, "You're life is going down the toilet!" Because #pottyhumor.


The Lost Boys - This movie made me fall in love with vampire flicks. From here on out I consumed a number of movies featuring Reagan-era bloodsuckers: Once Bitten, My Best Friend is a Vampire, Fright Night, and Vamp.


Fatal Attraction - Adrian Lyne's spectacular cautionary tale for married men during a pre-Tinder era. That poor bunny...


Three Men and a Baby - And yes, that baby is now in her 30s and married with kids of her own. (And she's actually a twin.)


Dirty Dancing - And last but not least, the movie every girl in elementary school absolutely LOVED. And like Emma Stone in Crazy Stupid Love, they've all tried to reenact that climactic run-and-lift.


Lethal Weapon - The granddaddy of buddy-cop movies. And a great non-traditional Christmas flick.


ALSO: Predator, The Princess Bride, Robocop, Wall Street, Full Metal Jacket, Spaceballs, The Witches of Eastwick, Beverly Hills Cop II, Jaws: The RevengePlanes Trains & Automobiles, The Evil Dead II, Monster Squad, Broadcast News, Empire of the Sun, Raising Arizona, Near Dark, Harry and the Hendersons, The Running Man, Hellraiser, and The Secret of My Success.

@TheFirstEcho