Like the names of the winners on the Oscar statues, the memories of watching movies with my grandmother and my Uncle Bill are etched in gold upon my heart.
About the blog
This blog covers the awards race all year long. It is a celebration of the journey more than the destination. The fun of being an avid movie watcher is the joy of discovery. Every year, there are movies and performances that touch me deeply. Some make it to the Kodak Theater. Some don't. I'm here to celebrate and document them all. This is an awards blog for people who love movies. It is a celebration of the big night and all of the nominees and winners past, present, and future. It is a tribute as well to two of the people who fostered my love of film and to others who shared countless cherished hours with me under the spell of a movie projector and a director’s vision.
Movies are in my blood. My great grandfather owned a movie theater in West Virginia where touring acts would perform. My beloved grandmother, Oberita, was named after one of the Spanish dancers that graced the stage. My grandmother hated that name and joked that she wished her father had named her after the true object of his affection: Fanny.
When I was a child, my grandmother would often pick me up at school and take me straight to the movies. She took me to movies I asked to see which included Disney cartoons like "Cinderella" and "The Aristocats," movies starring Michael J. Fox (“Back to the Future,” “The Secret of My Success”), and anything with my long list of favorite funny people (the late and dearly missed John Candy, the equally missed Jim Varney in the Earnest movies, Tom Hanks, Lilly Tomlin, Goldie Hawn, Billy Crystal, Steve Martin, Rick Moranis, Dan Akroyd, Martin Short, Bill Murray, Dudley Moore, Mel Brooks, Daryl Hannah, Geena Davis, etc.)
She took me to movies she had read about in magazines or seen on TV talk shows. This was how I first saw and fell in love with the comedy “Raising Arizona”, one of the greatest surprises of my childhood, not only that afternoon but for years to come. It became a frequent and unexpected but welcome visitor on the TV sets of friends and relatives. I got to experience the joy of watching others discover one of my favorite movies for the first time over and over again. This was a special gift given to me by the Coen Brothers and my grandmother.
Likewise, my grandmother took me to movies that she felt it was important for me to see. After she had seen “Rain Man”, she went to see it again, taking me and my best friend along this time (even though it was rated R and we were only in the fourth grade.) I never asked why. I know she wanted me to see Dustin Hoffman’s amazing performance. And I think there were things about life that she couldn’t articulate that were better said indirectly. That our stories don’t always have happy endings. That mental illness exists, that it happens, and it’s not anyone’s fault, but it is a fact of life. It was probably easier for her to expose me to hard truths through story, a language I understood. As Mary Poppins says, A little bit of sugar helps the medicine go down.
Not all of my grandmother’s recommendations were so well received however. She and my grandfather spent winters in Florida because of her health. One year, she called home and insisted my mother and her best friend Cathy take me and Cathy’s son Brett to see “The Last Emperor.” While the movie would go on to win nine Oscars including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay and it should have been a rousing introduction to both foreign film and the joys of Peter O’Toole, Brett and I were somehow both appalled and bored to tears. Bertolucci is wasted on nine-year-old boys. Especially without my grandmother there to translate some of the significance of the plot to us. However, it is a perfect example of her attempts to broaden my young mind when it came to movies, to give me a peek at the vast world behind the curtain of mainstream and commercial cinema, at how much else was out there and how rich and breathtaking it could be.
My sophomore year of college, my grandmother bought me “The Godfather” on VHS (a double cassette). My friend John and I drove to Tennessee for the weekend. That first night, we stayed up and watched all of it. I miss her introducing me to movies or deciding when I was at the right age or time of life for them.
Occasionally I got to introduce a treasure to her like “The Princess Bride.” Or “A Fish Called Wanda.” Kevin Kline was her favorite actor. But “Lawrence of Arabia” was her favorite movie.
My grandmother and I talked on the phone during those winters that seemed to go on forever with my favorite companion so far away. As I grew older, we would compare notes on the
Oscar-nominated films we’d seen. I miss having those talks with her every year. Each season, I walk out of some movies knowing she would have loved them. I walk out of others knowing she would have hated them. And some, I am left to wonder.
We all mourn in our own ways. My mother and my sister visit my grandmother’s grave to experience a feeling of closeness with her. I don’t visit it often. To me, that’s not where she is. But sometimes sitting in the theater with my bag of popcorn, in the moment of anticipation as the lights begin to darken, as the image on screen pauses, as the theater becomes as quiet as movie theaters get these days, I get a comforting déjà vu as if she is with me for a moment the way she sat beside me innumerable times, mostly in theaters I have now sadly outlived, when music or silence was the only preshow, when we tried to remember enough jokes between the two of us to fill the time before the projector came on, when I would try to count the seconds before the movie but was always too slow or too fast, one Mississippi, two Mississippi...and to think I would ever have wished away time spent with her when I would give anything to have those minutes back now.
I do not find my grandmother among the silence and the stillness of a cemetery. I find her in the excitement of a coming attraction. I find her in the mournful song of the closing credits. I find her in fierceness of Peter O’Toole’s eyes as he declares, “Nothing is written!” I find her in the gentleness of Robin Williams’ smile. I see pieces of her in a thousand different characters and performances. They nurture and comfort me in her absence. This is how she continues to speak to me.
My great uncle William was Oh’s younger brother. Uncle Bill was a gay man when it was less socially acceptable to be gay. He and his partner, who I affectionately knew as Uncle Jake, were in the closet for most of their lives. Partly out of fear of rejection. Partly out of fear of physical harm. Very much out of fear of losing their jobs. Uncle Bill was a literary professor and Uncle Jake was a public school teacher. They met in their twenties and were life partners for longer than most people stay married. They were very dear to me. I always felt safe around them. They loved me and supported my dreams.
Uncle Bill bought me “Fiddler on the Roof” and “For Whom the Bell Tolls” on VHS (both double cassette movies again!) on separate occasions when I was young. They seemed a little too adult (read: boring) for me at the time. They lay untouched in a movie cabinet for a few years. I finally watched the movies when I was home sick as a teenager and fell in love with them.
When I was in college, Uncle Bill introduced me to the work of Fellini. “The Satyricon” was his favorite. When I visited him in Florida, we would walk up the street to watch movies at an arthouse theater. I was jealous that he lived only a block or two away from a movie theater (and one that showed the harder to find foreign and independent films at that!). We saw “Lantana” on one trip. On another trip, we watched “A Very Long Engagement.” I was excited to introduce him to the French actress Audrey Tautou who I’d fallen in love with a few years before in “Amelie.” (Actually the entire world fell in love with her when “Amelie” came out.) Uncle Bill had the Sundance Channel at his house. Something else I was jealous of. One night I stayed up late to watch Fellini’s “Roma.” I was disappointed in the morning to find out it was one he had not seen yet. Because I wanted to know his mind on it.
Uncle Bill taught me about LGBT cinema as well. He explained to me that “My Own Private Idaho” was a retelling of Shakespeare’s Henry IV. He recommended “Shortbus” to me before it came out, having gotten to see a special screening of it at a benefit. He was a fan of William Burroughs and helped me understand and appreciate David Cronenberg’s adaptation of “The Naked Lunch.” He made me a generous gift of an official piece of art connected to the film. He was an art collector and had several impressive film-related prints among his paintings and autographed literary memorabilia. Additionally, he lent me his VHS copy of the documentary “Commissioner of Sewers” so I could learn more about Burroughs.
During his tenure, Uncle Bill had a local access TV show and a stipend to bring in authors every semester. This way, he got to meet and interview many of the great writers of his time, including Burroughs and Ginsberg. I would listen to his stories for hours. As with my grandmother, Uncle Bill passed without much warning. I did not get to have a Tuesdays With Morrie-style grace period to interview him before his passing and try to preserve all those stories.
Like my grandmother, Uncle Bill helped to expand my boundaries. He opened the door to realms of cinema I had not yet explored. And I miss him dearly as I miss my grandmother. He would have loved to see “Moonlight” win Best Picture and “Call Me By Your Name” get nominated. Sometimes I walk out of a movie and start to call him to ask if he’s seen it and what he thinks of it. And then I remember. It is hard to say what hurts more, the sudden sting of remembered loss or the realization that I will never get to hear his insight, never get to know.
Uncle Jake and my grandfather talked a lot on the phone after their respective partners had died. Oh and Bill had always done so much talking when the four of them were together that the two men had never really gotten to know each other that well. Now they bonded over their grief. Uncle Jake told me that my grandfather said once that my grandmother and my great uncle were the two people who understand me the best in the whole world and now they were gone. I don’t think it is a coincidence that the two people who perhaps understood me best also shared my deep love of movies. And that is the gift that they left me: a bottomless treasure chest of cinema to continue exploring and the tools and understanding to appreciate what I find.
Nana, Uncle Bill, I love you and I thank you.
I studied screenwriting in the New York Film Academy one-year program in 2005. I love analyzing screenplay structure and hope to dedicate another blog to that topic. Other obsessions include stand-up comedy, theater and musicals, comic books, and discovering new music.
I live with my soul mate. We have the world’s cutest dog and we are trying to sell her likeness to Disney.
I don’t have a favorite movie. But if you put a gun to my head? “The Matrix.” Winner of four Academy Awards. I haven’t seen any other movie as many times in the theater before or since. Although “Avatar” and “Inherent Vice” came close.
I was lucky to grow up in the '80s and '90s. I love my '80s childhood where it was still an event when “The Wizard of Oz” came on TV every year; when there were less distractions like cell phones and 24-hour children's programming on TV and thus a child's imagination had time and space to play and grow; when I was able to see classics on the big screen during their original run like “The Last Jedi, “The Goonies,” “Pee Wee's Big Adventure,” “Short Circuit,” “Star Trek IV,” “Beetlejuice,” “Little Shop of Horrors,” “Scrooged,” “Uncle Buck,” “Roxanne,” “Big,” “The Naked Gun,” “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” “Parenthood,” “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure,” “Flight of the Navigator,” “The Great Mouse Detective,” “An American Tail,” “The Fox and The Hound,” “The Little Mermaid,” “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?,” Tim Burton’s “Batman,” “Die Hard,” “Midnight Run,” “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” and “Good Morning, Vietnam” to name a few.
I was lucky to have two parents who were willing to take me to the movies constantly, and who recognized my intellectual and emotional maturity, allowing me to watch certain R-rated movies very young. And to have an older sister who would describe the funny parts of movies like “Armed and Dangerous” or “Torch Song Trilogy” that I wasn’t old enough to see and have me howling with laughter.
I have always taken great pleasure in movies. They have the power to console and to offer escape. But I have found catharsis and meaning in them as well. As my high school English teacher Bryan Munson handed me my diploma, he leaned in and whispered the famous words from “Dead Poets Society”: "Make your life extraordinary!" A blessing and a decree. One I have tried to live up to and often measure myself against.
In college, I began having full-blown panic attacks. It was validating to witness the character Max in Darren Aronofsky’s “Pi” go through a similar experience and even find peace (though arguably at great cost). My philosophy professor confessed to having a similar experience watching the movie. When DVD players were fairly new, “Pi” was one of my first and favorite DVDs and got a lot of play. My freshman year of college, Kim Basinger won Best Supporting Actress for “L.A. Confidential.” That remains one of my favorite Oscar wins of all time because she had overcome agoraphobia and anxiety early in her career. Her win was inspiring to me, a symbol that I too could rise above my setbacks and do great things. “If anyone has a dream out there, just know that I’m living proof they do come true,” she said in her acceptance speech.
My mother says I like being entertained. But going to the movies is more than that. Sure, it’s my hobby, my obsession, even my drug. (If a screening of Laurel and Hardy’s “Way Out West” or the ‘80s classic “Three Amigos” can’t lift your spirits, there isn’t a balm that can.) But it is also my way of carrying the torch, continuing a tradition that began before me, communing with Oh and Bill and with something larger than me, witnessing and celebrating story, and paying tribute to the actors, writers, and filmmakers who have contributed to the rich tapestry of cinema history that continues to unfold day by day.