The Last Greatest Hollywood Summer: The Preface

The Last Greatest Hollywood Summer: The Preface

I’ve decided to start posting chapter drafts of my manuscript about the summer movies of 1989. In light of our current quarantine situation, my writing has become nothing but a chore. I’m home-schooling kids and maintaining stress levels and writing and research has become the most impossible thing in my world. I can barely type a sentence without fielding a homework question. (Technology and seven year olds do not mix.) I try at night. I try in the morning. Distraction is required, but distraction is a terrible writing bedfellow. I know many won’t read these pages, but if you do, please your thoughtful comments. I hope our communication causes me to get back to writing. I hope writing once again becomes the distraction rather than the chore.

Introduction: Bryan Adams Was 9 Years Old During the Summer of ’69 (and Why That Matters in a Book About the Movies of 1989)

The “Summer of ‘69” represents Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductee Bryan Adams’ defining 212 seconds.

Feel free to argue in favor of “(Everything I Do) I Do It for You,” from Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, but you’d be wrong. First of all, the song is either 394 or 246 seconds depending whether you’re enjoying the album version or radio edit. Secondly, After a rigorous, scientific study[1] of pop-format radio factoring in things like algorithms, biorhythms and Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation, I’ve determined that if you turn on any given radio station in the 21st century, you’ve a 217% greater chance of hearing “Summer of ’69” than any other Bryan Adams song. In fact, now that you’ve read this, I guarantee you’ll hear Bryan Adams today. And maybe even Bryan Ferry and definitely Janet Jackson because do you remember how many amazing cuts came from Rhythm Nation 1814? (All of them.)

Bryan Adams, in the “Summer of ’69,” croons about acquiring his first real guitar and the failings of his garage band, hanging out at the drive-in, but it’s a song about nostalgia for being young and in love with nothing much better to do.

Important fact – or at least an important fact in light of the back door I’m going to use to bridge this wayward conversation into something cinematically relevant. I always attributed these lyrics to Bryan Adams but the singer was only nine during that supposedly idyllic summer of 1969. Rather than jumping to conclusions about the Bryan Adams Time Paradox, I chose the Google. Alas, no time paradox required; Mr. Adams croons about Jim Vallance’s summer, when his songwriter would have been a ripe and ready 17. After turning this fact over in my brain, I came to the following realizations.

  1. I’ve always prematurely aged Bryan Adams about 7-8 years.
  2. The ‘Summer of 77’ would have required a much less appealing rhyme scheme as it would have succumbed to its prosaic instincts and included the word “heaven.”
  3. I’m not actually that interested in Jim Vallance’s summer, but it sounds nice in song and works so well because it makes me nostalgic for a time that I never experienced.

This made me take stock to my own “summer of 1969.” If I’d written an ode to my parallel 17-year-old summer of ‘96, it’d have leaned heavily on arcades, midnight putt-putt, and sneak-in triple features at local multiplexes. Personally, I’m very much concerned about potential “arcade” inspired lyrics. My hopes and dreams at 17 merely represented the perpetuation of dreams implanted the summer just before my 10th birthday, the resplendent summer of 1989 – the equivalent of Bryan Adams’ 1969. The year during which I presume he listened to the Beatles’ Abbey Road and it changed his life forever, allowing him to pursue his own ill-fated garage band in the summer of 1977. This history writes itself. No fact-checking necessary.

Fact check: Bryan Guy Adams had already become a successful vocalist for the Vancouver band Sweeney Todd and would sign a contract with A&M records in 1978, having already met Mr. “Summer of ‘69” Jim Vallance the preceding year.

If there was no better time to be a rock and roll prodigy than 1969, there was also no better time to be a 10-year-old cinephile-in-training than the summer of 1989.

I couldn’t tell you much of anything about my day-to-day life. I subscribed to some early girlfriend program. Her name was Stacy. I conversed with her over a beige and corded rotary-dial phone. I misspelled “malicious” in the spelling bee because I slurred two letters together (but I knew how to spell the word, goddammit). I request that “he knew how to spell ‘malicious’” be printed in my obituary. I listened to Huey Lewis and the News while everyone else debated Jordan or Joey. They’re New Kids on the Block, by the way. You may not know it, but my generation has not yet evolved beyond NKOTB relations on a first-name basis. I pity any other Jordan or Joey that expects to be on a first-name basis with us twilight Gen-Xers.

Other than that? I went to the movies. I rented movies. I could tell you every movie I saw in the theater that summer and every movie I watched over the course of the year on VHS rentals. I can tell you where I saw them and probably what food I ate before going to the theater. A pair of plain Burger King double cheeseburgers and a Dr. Pepper. As far as I was concerned the world existed so that movies could be exhibited. It was the best of all realities, and I had no idea it wouldn’t last. I had no idea that I’d never see another summer quite like it because the movie business was about to change, radically and forever.

Chalk some of this feeling up to nostalgia. As adults we’ll never feel as passionately about anything as we did in our childhood. Our worlds opened up before us, an ever-expanding video store of potential. For some that meant first hearing a record that changed a life trajectory, a Broadway play that brought out unrealized, inner Sondheims. Whatever “it” was, that experience unlocked heretofore-unrealized passions and dreams. We elevated these moments into a realm of incorruptible purity and granted these discoveries the designation of being the best thing ever. Nostalgia preserves these emotions in suspended animation, mosquitos embedded in amber. (Those “summer of ‘93” Jurassic Park dinosaur nerds know exactly what I’m talking about.)

It could be that the summer of 1989 landed at just the right moment – that this nostalgia causes a particular movie season to float above the others, a buoy in an ocean of uniformly blasé Hollywood excess. As I’ve grown older and the dissonance between the reality and the childhood experience increases, it’s still this summer that resonates as the great intersection of emotion and nostalgia-free, objective greatness. The summer of 1989 was the best summer movie season in Hollywood history – not the most original or objectively pure (in the most Peter Biskind-y of evaluations) – but in the I’ve-got-nothing-else-to-do-let’s-all-go-to-the-movies-because-everything-is-awesome kind of best. I’ll take all challengers. It also, with the benefit of hindsight, represented a cataclysmic shift in the industry. A simultaneous lurch forward into the modern franchise era and the subtle deathgasm of 1970’s auteurism. (Don’t tell Biskind.) It was primarily, however, the end of the wildly innovative and irresponsible pop-entertainment of the 1980’s.

Contrary to all calendars, my summer of 1989 actually began, in earnest, the weekend of June 8th, 1984. Until that date, movies came and went and maybe I journeyed to a theater according to the moviegoing whims of my parents and maybe I didn’t. I’d never put skin in the game; I’d never had much in the way of my own opinions. Disney re-releases and the occasional PG-rated movie that my parents decided was a must-see. (Keep in mind that these were still “80’s PG,” so frivolous nudity and minor-to-rampant bloodletting fell under the auspices of general “parental guidance.”) Everything was new and good because I had nothing with which to compare it. My earliest theatrical memories involve some symphonic mélange of Bambi, Return of the Jedi, and Romancing the Stone[2].

At the age of six, however, that all irrevocably changed when I became receptive to marketing. Hollywood opened up a tunnel into our prepubescent brains and lit up our nucleus accumbens[3] like a pinball machine. Movie trailers. Sticker books. Novelizations. Happy meals. Cereal. Hi-C Ecto Coolers. Toxic. Green. Delicious. All of these things manifested during the lead-up to the release of both Ghostbusters and Gremlins on June 8th, 1984. The Hollywood hype machine worked its magic. Not only was I aware of these movies, I anticipated their assured greatness. Calling this anything less than an awakening in light of what would follow would be an understatement.

I remember vividly my first theatrical experience with Ghostbusters. Five-going-on-six and cowering behind slatted fingers, viewing the ghostly, sound-conscious librarian with an inseparable mixture of fear and anticipation. My first taste of modern horror cinema, the inability to watch, the inability to look away. Hook. Line. Sinker. Adults jump out of planes for the same rush I felt watching these two movies a combined total of seven times that summer. Each trip cost $4 and a sack of salty popcorn. I just had to convince my parents to take me to the movies, which wasn’t necessarily as easy as it sounds.

I grew up in a small town in Southwestern Michigan and this posed some challenges to this new hobby of mine. If not for the fact that these two films remained in circulation throughout much of the year in first run and then in our relatively more local second-run theater – I may not have made such a clear and immediate connection. My parents could not have anticipated the fallout. (An undergraduate degree in Film Studies certainly never stood out as a potential endgame to taking me to see Ghostbusters so many times.)

Return of the Jedi excepted, I’d not been aware of release dates as I found movies almost exclusively from the shelves of my local video store. As the product of parents who believed in wide-open but parentally-guided viewing, I was allowed to rent and view most any title that interested me – so long as they provided constant reminders that certain language or actions remained taboo for decent and/or small humans. At a certain point I began pre-emptively turning to my mother and saying “Language!” in response to a lack of on-screen decorum.

As an only child I would retreat to my room with my bins of Star Wars, He-Man and Transformers figures and play out elaborate Shakespearean melodramas that generally involved a lot of setting up idling Stormtroopers like rows of dominoes. (I once paused Return of the Jedi during the Emperor’s arrival on the Death Star to count the number of Stormtroopers present so that I could request that many for Christmas. While I never achieved the stated number of standard-issue Stormtroopers I did have enough for a small tactical division that mostly just idled outside the gate of Castle Greyskull talking about the weather and rising interest rates.)

R-rated movies entered my frame of reference as early as 1984. Beverly Hills Cop, Animal House, and Stripes became household fixtures. As long as I refrained from abusing my relatively more adult viewing privileges, I could still choose from those beautiful new release shelves filled with shiny, unsullied VHS tapes encased in clear, plastic, strictly-for-rental covers. Exploitative violence would come in time, but first there was language and some of that aforementioned occasional, frivolous 1980s-brand nudity. To this my mother would sigh; I would pretend not to notice by feigning distraction and humming something unrelated and pure like “Mahna Mahna” from The Muppet Show. Also, not a day goes by without “Mahna Mahna” running through my head at least once so at best I’m making an educated guess here. I’m very sure, however, that I understood the awkward subtext of the situation. Old enough to know I was kinda-sorta interested in girls and that feigning indifference around my parents offered the surest route around those conversational pre-pubescent landmines. I managed to hold those back for at least another couple years.

It was during this time that I also became acutely aware of the release schedule at my local video store, a chalkboard to the left of the desk on which clerks scrawled the coming titles from the next three or so weeks. With the veracity with which I once stockpiled dinosaur genus and species I now counted down the minutes until the VHS release of Police Academy 3: Back in Training.

Outside Gremlins and Ghostbusters, I remember few other theatrical trips between 1984 and 1989. I could name other movies I first saw in the theater, but the experience, the concrete memories have all but dissipated. There’s no connection.

Even if you weren’t around or old enough to similarly experience 1989, you likely have your own 1989, the year that movies or music became more than just background noise. The year these movies became permanent moments in time, post-it notes that trigger memories enough to fill shoeboxes and nostalgia for a time that no longer exists. The fabric on the chairs of your multiplex. The way the each specific theater’s popcorn smelled upon stepping into the lobby. Perhaps the numbing repetition of an AMC pre-show bumper. The short-supply marquee letters for which vaguely similar numbers had become substitutions long before Se7en made it socially acceptable. I once recall an upside down “4” representing an “n.”

In as much as I’m writing a love letter to 1989, my 1989, it’s likewise an ode to everyone’s 1989 – be it 1993 or 1939. These first loves never leave us. Even as we consume thousands of subsequent movies, the 1989s in our life remain more immediate than the movies we watched just last week. These were dreams written on clean sheets of parchment rather than palimpsestuous layers of Hollywood regurgitation. Their sense of permanence only becomes stronger as their origin stories become more meaningful. We grow and age and reflect on them as formative touchstones. Who we’ve become as adults owes much to our 1989, our year of cinematic awakening.

The indulgence in nostalgia shouldn’t be considered a dirty exercise in solipsism. Allowing ourselves a gateway to the gooey trappings of our carefree years reminds us that “frivolous” things like music and movies do have the power to transcend time and space. They create bonds between people. Permanent memories of shared experiences. The feelings I had upon first watching Tim Burton’s Batman or waiting impatiently for that long-promised Ghostbusters sequel, reveling in the confidence that Weird Al’s UHF would become an instant classic – these things can all be summoned at a moment’s notice – the press of a button, the click of a mouse. I know exactly who sat beside me and I cherish all of these moments. Drink from the fire hose, experience Carpathian kitten loss, and definitely dance with the devil under the pale moonlight. It’s not a crime to give into the desire to backslide into our past selves when movies meant everything and the rest of it was just stuff preventing you from watching movies.

1989 taught me what it meant to be an obsessive – not just about movies, but about pursuing the things that seem to love you in return. I devoured movies, and movies in turn taught me something about life. The agony and ecstasy of anticipation and disappointment, that sometimes the best laid plans go awry and not everyone gets their just desserts. Good often wins, but not always. That it’s okay to love, to feel emotion. That thrills and comedy provide necessary escapes from dull or sometimes grueling reality. But all these things would come in time. In that moment, there were only flickering images projected through a semi-transparent plastic film base coated on one side with gelatin emulsion containing microscopically small light-sensitive silver halide crystals an onto a silver screen. That’s entertainment.

There’s a reason 1989 looms so large – not just in my own personal frame of reference, but also for the movie business itself. It’s as if 1989 represented a kind of temporal fulcrum, like Back to the Future II’s alternate, branching 1985s. The future of the film industry hung in the balance. To quote Joe Banks in Joe Versus the Volcano (unfortunately a 1990 film), “I didn’t know it—but I knew it.” Even if I didn’t know why 1989 felt so important, I recognized the smell of revolution.

I was young and in love with movies with nothing much better to do.

——————————-

[1] I scanned XM/Sirius Radio channels 80’s on 8 and 90’s on 9 for a week. During this time period I heard “Summer of ‘69” three times and “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You” once.

[2] My favorite 1984 movie moment? When Bambi and Thumper got high on the stash they found in the plane carcass high atop the Ewok Village canopy and forgot to take down the forcefield around Cartagena.

[3] The pleasure center.

The Bellboy (1960): Cinema Shame

The Bellboy (1960): Cinema Shame

the bellboy posterI’m playing a bit of double catch up with this viewing. Technically, I’m playing catch up on a movie I had on my Shame Statement from 2019 and I’m playing catch up because The Bellboy turns 60 this year. That’s a lot of catch up. What do you do with all that catch up? Make hot dogs, probably. But I don’t put ketchup on my hot dog, so the whole thing is moot. Sauerkraut, mustard, relish, onions. These are all acceptable hot dog toppings. Honestly, my feelings about ketchup mirror my feelings about Jerry Lewis. I’m glad they exist, but I can do without both.

My prior exposure to Jerry Lewis came with a side of Dean Martin to wash it down. That’s my preferred method of ingestion.

So Jerry Lewis is Always Jerry Lewis Even When He’s Not

The Bellboy makes me actively frustrated — not because I disliked it, but because I would have loved it had most every scene not concluded with a hammy shot of Lewis mugging facial contortions for the camera. His schtick seems to function akin to a sitcom laugh track. In case you missed the joke, here’s a face you can’t overlook. I loved the setting. Fountainbleu Miami Beach, just a few years before James Bond and Auric Goldfinger cross paths in the very same hotel. Photographed by someone named Haskell B. Boggs, the hotel becomes an omnipresent character in Lewis’ farce. The winding staircase (also seen in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel), the corridors, the ins and outs, the cavernous gathering spaces where Jerry Lewis runs amuck as a bellhop named Stanley (and as a comedian named Jerry Lewis).

the bellboy 1960

I felt the influence of Jacques Tati’s Mr. Hulot through every perfectly calculated movement, every stumble down a step, every gesture, every glance. Jerry Lewis exclamation point face! He’s a meticulous performer, but that’s not an observation. There’s nothing about his performance in The Bellboy that doesn’t feel calculated and choreographed like a Fred Astaire tap number, which makes the moment that he breaks the spell all that much more aggravating. It happens as often as it doesn’t.

Lewis wrote and directed The Bellboy (his debut), and the film’s tone and precision reflects a tightly controlled production. It opens with a studio executive (played by Jack Kruschen in an uncredited role) describing the aimless exploits of a single bellboy. It feels more like a pre-apology to American audiences who wouldn’t have been expecting a plotless comedy featuring sequences of ridiculous situations stacked one on top of the other. I wouldn’t exactly classify them as “blackout gags” in the strictest sense — which I’ve always associated with Rowan & Martin’s Laugh In. Rapid-fire, vaudevillian, abruptly transitioned. Jerry Lewis spends more time developing a visual joke before abruptly moving on to another transitory vignette.

jerry lewis mugs with a sleepy lady in the bellboy

Aside from Tati (and Harpo Marx and a dash of Charlie Chaplin while we’re at it), Lewis creates an obvious through-line to Laurel and Hardy. He’d consulted his friend Stan Laurel about perfecting a kind of silent pantomime and even included a Stan Laurel lookalike character, played by Bill Richmond, who appears randomly throughout the film. Other than causing some amusing asides from the already amusing asides, the visual homage doesn’t contribute a great deal. That speaks to how I felt about most of the film.

Jerry Lewis conducts an absent orchestra

In one of the best “bits” in the Bellboy, Stanley (Jerry Lewis) conducts a persnickety and non-existent orchestra.

The Bellboy Final Verdict

Generally amiable, sometimes obvious, intermittently genius, and inevitably followed by an unwelcome round of mugging, The Bellboy succeeds and irritates in equal amounts. I did, however, cue up another viewing of Four Rooms (1995), a film obviously inspired by in part by The Bellboy. I’m happy I have more Four Rooms context and I’m happy I finally got around to giving Jerry Lewis some more of my time, but I’m just as happy that I finally get to scratch it off my list of Shame.

Watch The Bellboy on Amazon Prime. 

2020 Cinema Shame Statement: So This Time It’s Totally Serial

2020 Cinema Shame Statement: So This Time It’s Totally Serial

For the uninitiated, Cinema Shame is site that emboldens cinephiles to finally watch those nagging classics pinging the back of your brain every time you ask yourself “What am I going to watch tonight?” Our diet doesn’t need to be a steady stream of certified Grade-A classics, but we also shouldn’t be afraid of them. I also host the podcast that gives viewers the opportunity to share their thoughts about how these movies stand the test of time and hype. Every year Penitent Moviewatchers create a new Cinema Shame Statement to help direct their viewing schedule.

I’ve done a Cinema Shame Statement or two over the years and my 2019 has the rare distinguish of being the only one I ignored for the duration. Congrats, 2019, you’re totally shameful! It’s not that I was a lazy moviewatcher (Letterboxd tells me otherwise), I just got sidetracked by #Watch1989. And for the uninitiated, #Watch1989 was my year-long marathon of movies released in – that’s right – 1989. I watched more than 70 1989 movies, first-timers and rewatches included.

For this year’s Cinema Shame Statement, I’m going to try a slightly different method that helps direct my monthly moviewatching trends (but also makes that DVD/BD watchpile a little less embarrassing). I tend to get sucked into self-inflicted marathons and really enjoy sticking with a theme… it prevents me from staring at my library for hours on end wondering what to watch next.

Once again I consulted my favorite tomes: EW Guide / The Best Film You’ve Never Seen / Danny Peary’s Cult Movies. And away we go….

2020 Shame Statement consultants

Three of my go-to books for finding movies I should have watched by now.

Theme #1: Unwatched Criterions

I love buying movies almost as much as I love watching movies. (Okay, we’ll call it a draw.) The flaw inherent to the system is that it takes me much less time to buy movies than it does to watch them. Hence, I have a lot of Criterion Collection discs I had every intention of watching… at some point… in the near-to-immediate future. I plan to watch at least one of these beauties per month. After consulting EW’s surprisingly non-traditional lists in The Greatest Movies Ever Made, I selected 12 candidates I already have in my possession.

2020 cinema shame statement

Blow Out (Brian de Palma, 1981) – #85 Drama
Detour (Edgar G. Ulmer, 1945) – #91 Drama
Local Hero (Bill Forsyth, 1983) – #28 Comedy
Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (Russ Meyer, 1970) – #96 Comedy
The Man Who Fell to Earth (Nicolas Roeg, 1976) – #55 Sci-Fi
Don’t Look Now (Nicolas Roeg, 1973) – #65 Horror
Kagemusha (Akira Kurosawa, 1980) – #80 Int’l
Fellini’s Satyricon (Federico Fellini, 1969) – #11 Int’l
Viridiana (Luis Bunuel, 1961) – #26 Int’l
Ikiru (Akira Kurosawa, 1952) – #23 Int’l
One Eyed-Jacks (Marlon Brando, 1961) – Sleepers
High & Low (Akira Kurosawa, 1963) – Sleepers

Theme #2: #Watch1990

I won’t tackle #Watch1990 with the same zeal as #Watch1989 because the movies aren’t nearly as good and honestly I’ve seen a much larger percentage. I turned 12 in 1990 and I could walk to the Woods 6 in Grosse Pointe just about whenever the mood stuck me. A moment ago I scanned the list of Top 50 moneymakers from 1990 and I’d seen 48 of them (only Internal Affairs and Child’s Play II missed the bus and I’m not in a hurry to see the latter. Talk to me again during October). I really had nothing else to do, apparently. Here are Internal Affairs and 11 others that I missed. There’s some rhyme and reason to the movies below — except Side Out. I have no explanation for choosing that. Some movies just cry out for attention.

Cry-Baby 1990

Internal Affairs (Mike Figgis, 1990)
Where the Heart Is (John Boorman, 1990)
Love at Large (Alan Rudolph, 1990)
The Ambulance (Larry Cohen, 1990)
Side Out (Peter Israelson, 1990)
Cry-Baby (John Waters, 1990)
Blue Steel (Kathryn Bigelow, 1990)
I Love You to Death (Lawrence Kasdan, 1990)
Chicago Joe and the Showgirl (Bernard Rose, 1990)
Henry & June (Philip Kaufman, 1990)
Avalon (Barry Levinson, 1990)
State of Grace (Phil Joanou, 1990)

Theme #3: Taking Care of (Old) Business

I’ve seen that James Belushi classic from 1990 a few times, but it seemed thematically relevant to this 2020 Cinema Shame Statement. If we are unable to keep our word, there’s nothing separating us from the beasts who think that the only stuff worth watching is on Netflix. That might be overly dramatic. I’m just saying that I’m going to atone for the sins of my Cinema Shames past. These are the movies I promised to watch over the previous years and just never did…

The Conversation 1974

Dangerous Liaisons (Stephen Frears, 1988)
The Verdict (Sidney Lumet, 1982)
Aquirre, The Wrath of God (Werner Herzog, 1972)
Can’t Stop the Music (Nancy Walker, 1980)
The Last Waltz (Martin Scorcese, 1978)
Cinema Paradiso (Giuseppe Tornatore, 1988)
Victor/Victoria (Blake Edwards, 1982)
Tarzan the Ape Man (W.S. Van Dyke, 1932) & Tarzan and His Mate (Cedric Gibbons, 1934)
Patton (Franklin J. Schaffner, 1970)
Shane (George Stevens, 1953)
She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (John Ford, 1949)
The Right Stuff (Philip Kaufman, 1983)
The Bellboy (Jerry Lewis, 1960)
The Conversation (Francis Ford Coppola, 1974)

…and… it wouldn’t be a Cinema Shame list without the empty promise to watch…

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (John McNaughton, 1990)

 

That’s a lot of goddamn movies. Own up, friends. Let’s make a promise to watch some excellent movies in 2020. Not much is going right in the world, but we can definitely tend our own gardens, watch great movies and talk about them on the Internet.

5th Annual 30/007Hertz 2019 First-Watch Hertzie Award Nominations

5th Annual 30/007Hertz 2019 First-Watch Hertzie Award Nominations

The Academy released the Oscar nominations this morning. It’s not much of a surprise that we’re all a little agitated. I won’t go into the gory details, but it’s a bit of a JOKE(r) that not one woman was nominated for director considering the amazing films the females of our species produced this year.

And since the Oscar nods dropped, that also means it’s time for the 2019 First-Watch Hertzie Awards. In case you’re just catching the Hertzie bug for this first time this year, these are my own personal commendations for excellence. It doesn’t matter when the movie dropped, it only matters that I watched it between January 1st and December 31st of 2019.

I’ve consulted my @Letterboxd diary for all the relevant statistics to make this journey more enlightening. I watched 234 movies this year — which is a down year for me. What was I doing besides watching movies? I have no idea. I tried to read more. Tried. Maybe they were all just longer movies. (Don’t do the math.) After compiling my list of nominations, one thing is clear: I watched a lot of movies from 1989… because #Watch1989.

The Academy Awards aren’t bothering with a host again this year, but Myrna Loy has agreed to return for her 5th consecutive Hertzie hosting gig and I promise there won’t be any 5-time Ricky Gervais Golden Globe scorched earth histrionics. Nothing but class in this ceremony. Class and booze.

First, links to all prior nominations and ceremonies: 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015

myrna loy

 

Now presenting the 5th Annual First-Watch Hertzie Award Nominations.

(Prior-year winners now appear on the nomination banners.)

 

Favorite Supporting Actress:

Pam Grier, Scream Blacula Scream (1973)
Anjelica Huston, Seraphim Falls (2006)
Ida Lupino, Road House (1948)
Michelle Pfeiffer, The Fabulous Baker Boys (1989)
Madonna, Desperately Seeking Susan (1985)
Dorothy Malone, The Nevadan (1950)

**WINNER** — Ida Lupino, Road House (1948)

Commentary: Is it possible to say that this category features five surprise nominations plus Michelle Pfeiffer? Thus, if all most are surprises who were the front-runners? Personally, I have no idea. Some of these women contest that they were more “leading lady” material, but those women should know that they’re here because they didn’t stand a chance in the Best Actress category, which features a f’ing powerhouse lineup. 

 

Favorite Supporting Actor:

Richard E. Grant, Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018)
The Horse, People in the Summer Night (1948)
Michael Caine, Jaws: The Revenge (1987)
Brad Pitt, Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)
Wesley Snipes, Dolemite Is My Name (2019)
Billy Zane, Dead Calm (1989)

**WINNER** — Richard E. Grant, Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018)

Commentary: The Hertzies have been known to dish out nominations for inanimate and animal actors. “The Horse” should just be happy to receive the nomination, but we can’t wait for the reaction shot when someone else wins in February. Since I doubt many of you have seen People in the Summer Night, you’ll just have to trust me when I say he steals the entire movie. Billy Zane? The guy from Critters? And that Michael Caine nomination is ironic right? Can you do irony in awards shows?

 

Favorite Actor:

John Barrymore, Counsellor At Law (1933)
Taron Edgerton, Rocketman (2019)
William Holden, Wild Rovers (1971)
George O’Brien, Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)
Tyrone Power, Nightmare Alley (1947)
Denzel Washington, The Mighty Quinn (1989)

**WINNER** – John Barrymore, Counsellor At Law (1933)

Commentary: A silent, a musical, a western, a noir, a Caribbean murder mystery and a pre-code drama walk into a bar. There’s no punch line. 

 

Favorite Actress:

Roseanna Arquette, Desperately Seeking Susan (1985)
Janet Gaynor, Sunrise: Song of Two Humans (1927)
Edwige Fenech, All the Colors of the Dark (1972)
Emily Lloyd, In Country (1989)
Melissa McCarthy, Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018)
Samara Weaving, Ready Or Not (2019)

**WINNER** — Samara Weaving, Ready Or Not (2019)

Commentary: I thought you called this “a powerhouse lineup” earlier? I’m seeing two scream queens, a comedian, an Arquette, another silent performance, and 19-year-old Emily Lloyd. 

 

Favorite Adapted Screenplay

Hampton Fancher, The Mighty Quinn (1989)
Jules Furthman, Nightmare Alley
Nicole Holfcener and Jeff Whitty, Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018)
Roy Huggins, Pushover (1948)
Kurt Luedtke, Out of Africa (1985)
Elmer Rice, Counsellor At Law (1933)

**WINNER** — Nicole Holfcener and Jeff Whitty, Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018)

Commentary: There were screenplays for some of these? And wait? Out of Africa? 

 

Favorite Original Screenplay:


Leora Barish, Desperately Seeking Susan (1985)
Scott Glosserman and David J. Stieve, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006)
Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, etc. Booksmart (2019)
Rian Johnson, Knives Out (2019)
Joseph Minion, Vampire’s Kiss (1989)
Quentin Tarantino, Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)

**WINNER** — Leora Barish, Desperately Seeking Susan (1985)

Commentary: Multiple female screenwriters? You must be insane.

 

Favorite Director:

Bradley Cooper, A Star is Born (2018)
Blake Edwards, Wild Rovers (1971)
F.W. Murnau, Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)
Susan Seidelman, Desperately Seeking Susan (1985)
Quentin Tarantino, Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)
Oliva Wilde, Booksmart (2019)

**WINNER** — F.W. Murnau, Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)

Commentary: That Bradly Cooper nomination comes out of absolutely nowhere and you’ve never seen a category with both Olivia Wilde and F.W. Murnau and that feels special. 

 

Favorite Picture:

Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018)
Counsellor At Law (1933)
Desperately Seeking Susan (1985)
Pushover (1954)
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)

**WINNER** — Desperately Seeking Susan (1985)

Commentary: A Favorite Picture category that spans 1927 through 2018? I don’t know what to make of these nominations, but I love it. The early front-runner has to be Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, but all those Desperately Seeking Susan nominations… 

 

Favorite B-Picture:

All the Colors of the Dark (1972)
Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006)
A Bucket of Blood (1959)
Dead Calm (1989)
Earth Girls Are Easy (1989)
Vampire’s Kiss (1989)

**WINNER** — A Bucket of Blood (1959)

Commentary: You still don’t know what to do with this category and that’s fine. It just feels like a dumping ground for movies that you couldn’t justify as the best best — the ones you’re too ashamed to throw your entire support behind but deserve the love. But Earth Girls Are Easy? Really? You couldn’t do better than that? Nominations elsewhere suggest a frontrunner or two, but this is the B-Picture category so all bets are futile. 

Good luck to all of our 2019 First-Watch Hertzie Award Nominees! The winners will be announced the evening of the 2020 Academy Awards on February 9th.

Best Songs of 2019

Best Songs of 2019

Welcome to the Best Songs of 2019 countdown. I’ll be your host.

I’ve compiled this list every year for more than a decade — since 2007 in fact. I exchange lists with Mike of B-Sides Narrative and we hem and haw and grumble about the songs we left off the list and the artists that we somehow didn’t hear during our sonic travels. There’s too much music for anyone to hear. I suppose you have a shot if your full-time job requires it. Even though I’m actually paid a small sum to write about music for Music Meet Fans, I barely even scratch the surface. I’d love to spend more time enjoying contemporary jazz, blues, and more experimental electronic music. I’m just one guy with a pavlovian response to female-fronted electro-pop outfits. Honestly if I didn’t consciously explore other artists, this list would consist of 80% female-fronted electro-pop. That’s my default setting. That’s the frequency that makes me purr.

The Best Songs of 2019 challenged me more than other years. My “Hits list” — the list that I assemble all year long featuring songs I’ve heard that I like/love/might grow to love ballooned to 300 in December as I tried to play catch up on all the music I missed. Selecting 100 became self-flagellation. So there’s 129 songs on my list. Sue me. Mike said I could. (He has more than 130!)

2019 challenged me in other ways, too. The volume of good music, the music that resonated, for one. Personally and professionally I had to confront a few demons as well. So these weren’t always just songs. These were sonic crutches. They were gateways to clarity and momentary peace. They were distractions and encouragement and moments of zen when the words just weren’t there. The right piece of music at the right time can improve your whole day. And if you improve every day with music, that’s a life.

Keep listening. Keep digging and keep searching for the music that resonates at your frequency. Don’t just turn on the radio and listen to whatever oldies channel comes on. Consciously dig deeper. The music that becomes yours doesn’t live on the surface. It lives in the shadows waiting to become exquisitely, personally yours.

Spotify Playlist (Top 128):

30Hz Top 25 Songs of 2019:

“Too Much” – Carly Rae Jepsen

I wish to have a sliver of the fun that Carly Rae Jepsen seems to have performing and being Carly Rae Jepsen. The Canadian pop icon’s music has grown up from her “Call Me Maybe” days. “Too Much” is mature pop songwriting from an artist that never seems to exhaust her enthusiasm for life.

“Hey, Ma” – Bon Iver

A month ago Bon Iver wouldn’t have sniffed the Top 100. I wasn’t fond of this song and couldn’t muster any enthusiasm for Bon Iver’s new record. It wasn’t as good. It wasn’t anything we hadn’t heard before. But then XMU beat this song into my brain. A switch flipped, and I finally saw this track’s fragile, haunting beauty.

“So Hot You’re Hurting My Feelings” – Caroline Polachek

A name that sounds like a Flight of the Conchords track backed by an inescapable hook, Caroline Polachek’s porcelain voice, and a dash of Hall & Oates musicality.

“Demands” – Makthaverskan

In my intro, I should have added female-fronted Swedish post-punk alongside female-fronted electro-pop as the sounds that just get me. “Demands” comes from a two-song EP which means that there’s (hopefully) another full record on the horizon. Can you hear the giddy in my voice?

“Fare Thee Well” – Jessica Pratt

I called Jessica Pratt’s 2019 record Quiet Signs a masterpiece in multiple conversations this year. Upon my first listen I added “Fare Thee Well” to my 2019 Final list and I’ve never second-guessed either assessment. You may not love her high-pitched delivery, but there’s an otherworldly synesthesia between her voice at music.

“Forgot Your Name” – Mini Mansions

Shamelessly plucked from Edgar Wright’s list. An infectious throwback banger from idiosyncratic DEVO-inspired LA-based pop outfit.

“Andromeda” – Weyes Blood

Weyes Blood’s Titanic Rising might be my record of the year. I did, after all, give it a perfect review earlier this year on Spill Magazine — the only perfect score I’ve ever given. “Andromeda” received an extra push into the Top 25 because of my affection for all things Natalie Mering.

“Self Care” – Lily & Madeleine

The simple backing piano and vocals give me hymn-brand chills. I’m not a religious man, but certain songs give me faith. Indianapolis Sisters Lily and Madeleine Jurkiewicz harmonies on this track might just qualify as angelic.

“bad guy” – Billie Eilish

I want to first confess that I don’t “get” Billie Eilish. Her whole thing confuses me and I assume that’s becomes I’m over 30. That said, “bad guy” is a fresh wound of a pop track. A rolling synthetic bassline, hushed vocals and a radical tonal shift. This artist’s got brass lady balls and even though I don’t totally understand her massive popularity, I get it.

“Sympathy” – Vampire Weekend

While everyone else was out repping that earworm “Harmony Hall” I was listening quietly to the rest of the record and “Sympathy” jumped out and grabbed me by the throat. It almost feels like Rostam’s back with the band.

“The Imperial” – The Delines

Lead singer Amy Boone underwent three years of treatment and rehab after her legs were broken when she was hit by a car in Austin, Texas. The band waited to release their second record The Imperial until her return. This track invokes a broken-down Dusty Springfield. Pitch-perfect neo-soul.

“Trampoline” – SHAED

My 7yo is obsessed with this song. She’s also obsessed with Ariana Grande and the soundtrack to some Nickelodeon show called Victorious. So take from that nugget what you will.

“Can’t Stop Your Lovin'” – Poolside (feat. Panama)

There’s a literal cottage industry of “Can’t Stop Your Lovin'” remixes. Don’t mess with the rest. Daytime Disco lives in this easy-listening mid-tempo groove. Life is better with Poolside on the turntable.

“Death Stranding” – CHVRCHES

It’s actually pretty funny that in a year without a CHVRVCHES album I still found the ways and means to add two CHVRCHES songs to my Best of List. This one comes from a video game that I never bothered to play. “Death Stranding” features the band’s regular flourishes. Slow build to a catharsis, perfect production. The way Lauren’s Scottish brogue comes through when she says “down.”

“Dylan Thomas” – Better Oblivion Community Center

Phoebe Bridgers and Conor Oberst’s side project puts all other side projects to shame. “Dylan Thomas” channels the Traveling Wilbury’s and modern, existential malaise.

“hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me” – Lana Del Rey

I won’t admit how many songs from Lana Del Rey’s Norman Fucking Rockwell made it onto my 2019 Hits list (okay, it was five). This is personal, scorched earth songwriting that will stand the test of time. If we’re talking about any single record from this year 25 yeas from now it’ll be this one.

“When Am I Gonna Lose You” – Local Natives

The placing of some of these songs relies heavily on mix-tape methodology. I couldn’t follow Lana Del Rey with another suicide track. Instead, I pumped the countdown back up with this pure pop anthem from Local Natives. Taylor Rice’s vocals on “When Am I Gonna Lose You” don’t seem humanly possible. Here’s an interesting look at the production of the song on Consequence of Sound. 

“Chewing Cotton Wool” – The Japanese House

The Japanese House, aka London’s Amber Bain, has another one of those transcendent voices, instantaneous transporation. Whenever I heard a song from The Japanese House, I paused whatever I was doing so I can drape myself in her velvet.

“All Night” – Pure Bathing Culture

Any song I call an “anthem” inspires me to sing the chorus wherever I am. Whatever I’m doing. It can be quite embarrassing when I’m listening on headphones because I lose myself in Pure Bathing Culture and especially this particular track. Suffice to say that I am not as talented a pop vocalist as Sarah Versprille.

“Not” – Big Thief

Adrianne Lenker uses negation to explain her world. “Not the meat of your thigh/Nor your spine tattoo/Nor your shimmery eye/Nor the wet of the dew,” she sings. Big Thief creates lush, beautiful soundscapes (see: “UFOF” and “Shark Smile”) but this is not lush and beautiful. This is forest after the fire. The riverbed after the drought.

“Oblivions” – The National

Essentially a B-side on The National’s wonderful new record “I Am Easy to Find” (which is itself a a kind of experimental companion to Mike Mills’ film of the same name). Matt Berninger sings backup vocals to Bryce Dessner’s wife Pauline de Lassus. It’s a meditation on the nature of the human condition within a marriage. Mills called it the masterpiece on the record. Obviously, I agree. You could pick something prosaic like “Light Years” but that’d be your wrong choice.

“All Mirrors” – Angel Olsen

Introspective deep-dives into the darkness. Listening to Angel Olson’s All Mirrors feels like being alone with your thoughts. It’s not a suicide record so much as a search for peace in the center of a tornado.

“Nothing Baby” – Magdalena Bay

Barely a song. A snippet. A hook. An homage to Gwen Stefani, perhaps. Found on Magdalena Bay’s tapestry of unfinished tracks, mini mix vol. 1, “Nothing Baby” has no peers. It hits its beat, embraces the wall-to-wall hook and then just ends. You could listen to this track a dozen times and not feel satiated and maybe that’s why it climbed all the way up to #3.

“Red Bull & Hennessey” – Jenny Lewis

I killed one song this year for everyone in my household. For Jenny this is a proper banger. It even features a pretty rocking guitar solo. There may have been “better” songs on “On the Line,” but this one made me love Jenny Lewis even more — as if that were even possible.

“Seventeen” – Sharon Van Etten

Sharon Van Etten’s having a moment and we’re along for the ride. “Remind Me Tomorrow” attained crossover notoriety despite Sharon’s further sonic experimentation. She performed “Seventeen” on Kimmel. Rolling Stone devoted an entire spread to the track as a “Song You Need to Know.” Van Etten looks back on being 17 with only a small amount of romanticism. It’s mostly a dirge for an uncertain future with the unique perspective of having lived the life in between. Unlike other years there was no controversy surrounding my choice for #1. The other songs stepped aside for Sharon Van Etten to assume the throne.  

Previous “Best Of” Song Lists:

2018 2017 2016 2015 2014 2013 2012 2011