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Sacrificing Harvey Weinstein

The downfall of movie studio executive Harvey Weinstein following articles earlier this month in The New Yorker and the New York Times alleging sexual assault and harassment not only demonstrates Hollywood’s hypocrisy, though it certainly does that. What’s happened in the two weeks since the Weinstein claims first emerged has major, possibly ominous, implications for due process, free exercise of speech and the press, and moviemaking. So, I don’t think the scandal’s sudden consequences are necessarily positive. I doubt that the fundamental cause of sexual assault and harassment will be named and eradicated as a result. Indeed, I think the Weinstein scandal is more likely to embolden the worst plans by regressive, Puritanical, anti-sexual leftists and conservatives alike.

It’s impossible to fully account for Hollywood’s hypocrisy here. It’s exhausting to contemplate. I think of Hollywood’s rationalizations for behavior by Roman Polanski, Mel Gibson and Bill Cosby. Or Hollywood’s calls for prison reform and Judeo-Christian notions of forgiveness and its denunciations of anyone making moral judgments of anyone else about anything, such as Islamic law and its impact on gays, women and rape victims. I think, too, of the left’s constant cries about a “rush to judgment” to find guilty the accused murderer O.J. Simpson, whom a jury found responsible for the deaths of Ron Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson. Unlike Harvey Weinstein, the people for whom rationalizations were made were actually arrested, tried and convicted or legally held accountable.

Not Weinstein. Hollywood’s campaign against him is unprecedented. Whatever one thinks of Weinstein’s guilt, never has so much been said so publicly without substantiation or confirmation or arrest, trial or conviction that’s lead to such huge and devastating impact on one’s life, work and legacy — and industry.

This week, Viacom-owned Nickelodeon fired Loud House creator Chris Savino after women made claims of “sexual harassment, unwanted advances, [and] inappropriate behavior” against the animator, according to the Hollywood Reporter. Savino, who has neither been charged with a crime nor named in a lawsuit, was terminated after someone used the hashtag #MeToo. The future of Amazon’s microstudio is in question after its CEO resigned following post-Weinstein claims of abuse. The Weinstein Company’s existence is also in question.

Speech, too, is suddenly suspect and can lead to castigation. An actress made a claim in public against Hollywood studio mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg, asserting that he made a comment to the press decades ago, a claim which Katzenberg denies. He apologized to the actress for something he says he did not say.

Harvey Weinstein apologized, too, for bad behavior he admits. He did so immediately after the October 5 New York Times article was published. He hired a women’s rights lawyer. He pleaded for help, guidance and forgiveness. He pledged to seek rehabilitation (and, according to People, he’s in treatment). In other words, he did everything Cosby and Polanski did not do. However, Weinstein denies doing anything non-consensual. Is it possible he’s innocent of some of the charges? New York City law enforcement investigated a claim and, after examining the results, declined to press charges. Linda Fairstein, a women’s advocate and early pioneer against sex crimes, came to the conclusion that at least one claim against Weinstein was without merit. The former Manhattan sex crimes prosecutor told the New York Times that she had determined a complaint was unfounded.

Time cover

None of this slowed the mass media assault on Harvey Weinstein. Though I can’t recall that the press has ever been as explicitly biased and unified in a campaign against an accused individual against whom not a single charge has been filed in court — on the contrary, the press generally sought to report the side of the accused, too, in cases and/or claims against Simpson, Cosby, Polanski, Gibson and others — only Harvey Weinstein has been unequivocally pronounced a predator, as Time‘s cover proclaims with neither doubt nor scrutiny.

I tend to believe people who claim to have been assaulted or harassed, though I’ve been wrong. I am dubious, however, of the herd mentality.

Certainly, there is no doubt that the sexual assault and harassment claims published in the New Yorker, written by ex-MSNBC host Ronan Farrow, and the New York Times are extremely disturbing and, if the claims are true, monstrous. And Weinstein, who claims he is innocent of the worst allegations, is, as I’ve said, bearing severe consequences. Yesterday, he was denounced again by his longtime creative partner, director Quentin Tarantino. He was similarly condemned by artists ranging from the melodramatic Meryl Streep (Suffragette, Into the Woods, The Iron Lady), who praised Weinstein as “God” in 2012, to the great Judi Dench (Philomena, Victoria & Abdul). Channing Tatum (Dear John) and Apple went back on previous agreements with Weinstein. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences revoked his membership. The Producers Guild voted to condemn him. France seeks to revoke his Legion of Honor. Weinstein has been terminated by the company he’d founded. His wife reportedly took the kids and left. Police in New York, London and Los Angeles are investigating certain allegations.

Only three show business outcasts, Lindsay Lohan, Oliver Stone (JFK, Snowden) and Woody Allen (Midnight in Paris), who married his adopted child, each of whom have worked with Weinstein, expressed varying degrees of sympathy for Weinstein. They were promptly vilified. Mayim Bialik, an actress who describes herself as an Orthodox Jewish feminist, was similarly attacked and forced to apologize when what she wrote about sexual harassment (for, surprise!, the New York Times) failed in the minds of feminists to pre-exonerate women of any wrongdoing under any circumstances.

Many rightly and astutely condemn the accusations against Weinstein, which range from peculiar, vulgar and inappropriate at best to sexual harassment and rape or sexual assault at worst. But, this time, the fact that these are allegations is downplayed by the press. Even recently accused and fallen Fox News principals such as the late boss Roger Ailes, host Bill O’Reilly and recently promoted host Eric Bolling, whose son was found dead within hours of his father’s termination, were bestowed by the dominant media with the qualified ‘alleged’ most of the time.

But the left-wing dominated and conservative-driven press have both banded together against Harvey Weinstein. The left stands against him from the feminist-statist-collectivist perspective, using the scandal to denounce contracts, men in positions of power and to show that they can take down one of their own, not merely right-wing TV hosts and businessmen. The right’s against him from the traditionalist-statist-religionist viewpoint, using the scandal to denounce Hollywood and movies, Democrats in positions of power and to prove that they, too, can pile on a presumed serial sexual harasser, abuser or rapist. As the left did with O’Reilly, conservatives attack Weinstein for settling with accusers, as if merely being accused of sexual harassment, and especially reaching a settlement, is tantamount to proof of one’s guilt. The conservative Weekly Standard refers to “Harvey Weinstein’s long record of sexual harassment” as if it’s an established fact.

It isn’t, at least not yet, and taking assertions as facts is a mistake, even for conservatives and especially for a serious magazine.

Caricature of Weinstein as killer clown from “It”

Leftists, who calls themselves liberals and progressives, a term which dates to anti-capitalist Republican President Theodore Roosevelt, make that distinction when the accused fits a particular altruist-collectivist agenda, such as government-imposed quotas or new laws mandating egalitarianism. A wealthy, white male capitalist such as Weinstein — I mean, really look at this caricature, which appears on the cover of a Hollywood trade publication — does not qualify for that status (particularly if he’s Jewish). So, I suspect the longtime Democratic Party donor and activist is being sacrificed not for his transgressions, though I know that some on the left are sincere, as for his being caught and convenient. According to almost everyone in Hollywood, especially film journalists writing about how they knew how bad he was and why they, too, did and said nothing about it, knew or had heard about Harvey Weinstein’s improprieties. What persuaded the pack mentality press and their enablers in movie publicity departments to come out is that the claims against Weinstein were already reported in the New York Times, the left’s arbiter for whether, what and how to think. What the Times gains from aping the National Enquirer in pseudo-journalism ought to be clear. Previously accused men were either targeted for character assassination or disclosures (depending on who you tend to believe) through coordinated social media campaigns — I think all of the Fox News personalities, including two who survived, were initially targeted by the left — or reports of the claims were widely known.

But those scandals failed to dislodge Fox News, hastening the left’s long, historic march toward merging with religionists, traditionalists and conservatives and bringing the merger to a kind of climax. Not in an explicitly coordinated conspiracy to target a Jewish capitalist “fatcat”. But Harvey Weinstein is the perfect sacrifice for both conservatives and leftists. The left gets to claim credibility in tossing out one of its own and in grand fashion while advancing an anti-capitalist, anti-individualist agenda. The right gets to notch a win on the scoreboard after a series of losses (chiefly, the embarrassment of Trump) and reinforce its assault on Hollywood as the root of all that Judeo-Christianity regards as evil — namely, sex. In this sense, secular Miramax and its successor, The Weinstein Company, with its slate of Hollywood’s best movies, is absolutely ‘guilty’ as charged.

Whatever the merit of the women’s claims, which I tend to believe and hope leads to greater awareness and discourse about these serious and complicated topics, Harvey Weinstein’s fast, epic downfall makes faster the fusion of the New Left’s and conservatives’ political agenda. The result is likely to be accelerated momentum toward a common, sinister goal: total government control of the arts, starting with movies. The left supposedly wants power for the sake of the so-called underprivileged. So does the right. Their battle over which favored group is underprivileged (and, therefore, warrants power over movies), Christians or women, for instance, comes next.

Gone are calls for admission, disclosure and remorse. That ended with NBC News’ defrocked nightly anchorman Brian Williams, another powerful white media male who, like Harvey Weinstein, made mistakes and who, like Harvey Weinstein, immediately admitted wrongdoing which is what detractors used to say they want. But they don’t and remorse is never enough. As with their united opposition to civil discourse courtesy of Starbucks, conservatives and the left seek submission, humiliation and power.

Observe that, in most of the coverage about Weinstein, there’s rarely a mention of even a few of his movies, which might at least provide context for why his alleged power abuse matters and what’s at stake with the end of a pioneering movie studio and the 150-plus people who work there. Note that disclosures of sexual abuse by Terry Crews, James Van Der Beek and Corey Feldman were ignored by conservatives, who, following the Catholic Church same-sex pedophilia conspiracy, don’t acknowledge religious sexual abuse, and by feminist-leftists, who tend to minimize or don’t acknowledge men as victims.

Whether every rotten and disgusting claim against Harvey Weinstein is 100 percent true, the nation is impoverished by the lynch mob mentality and its disproportionate response to claims of injustice. Why should a studio be boycotted within two weeks because its ex-boss is accused of behaving badly? On what grounds? Think of all the female sex predators — the guilty, convicted pedophiles and predators — and consider what’s happened to their lives, careers and institutions. I just read an article written with sympathy and understanding about the woman who as a teacher seduced a male child student and, later, married him. Not a word in that article about institutional sexism and sanctioning of sexual abuse of boys or who knew what, when and why.

Gretchen Carlson, the beauty contestant turned Fox News hostess whose claims against Roger Ailes led to a settlement and started a wave of claims against the men of Fox News, wrote in Time that she seeks to “prohibit the forced-arbitration clauses that are embedded in many employment contracts.”

Conservative Carlson’s proposal if enacted would constitute a violation of private, consensual relationships and contract law. But the rationale for prohibiting arbitration — that state-sponsored controls on how people choose to live, work and trade will magically change people’s bad behavior — is identical to the basis for the left’s longtime solutions.

Besides, the left asserts, might makes right. In a statement, the Academy celebrated its expulsion of Oscar-winning Harvey Weinstein by boasting that he was rejected by a vote “well in excess of the required two-thirds majority.” The Academy, which has initiated no action against members accused of serial rape and sued for sexual assault (Cosby), convicted of drunk driving before lashing out against Jews, gays and women and pleaded no contest to a charge of battery against an ex-girlfriend (Gibson) and those who plead guilty to a sex crime involving a 13-year-old girl (Polanski, who fled the country), added that they expelled Weinstein “to send a message that the era of willful ignorance and shameful complicity in sexually predatory behavior and workplace harassment in our industry is over.”

Reporting on the Academy’s expulsion, the New York Times, which had initiated the campaign against Weinstein with its Oct. 5 article, which had no clear editorial impetus other than as a random expose, admitted that “no charges have been filed against [Weinstein]” adding that “[p]ressure had been building on the academy to purge Mr. Weinstein.” No admission that it was pressure that the Times had applied.

With the can of worms now opened, the Academy either now must define its own membership ethical standards, conduct membership morality detection and expel those who violate the moral code — or be dismissed and disregarded as having no moral credibility. Either way, it is compromised as an arts and sciences academy.

Cautioning against jumping to conclusions about Harvey Weinstein fell to film director Woody Allen — who, incidentally, has been offered membership in Hollywood’s academy and refused — who warned that Hollywood’s and New York’s purge “could lead to a witch hunt atmosphere, a Salem atmosphere, where every guy in an office who winks at a woman is suddenly having to call a lawyer to defend himself. That’s not right either.” Woody Allen is right, though, predictably, his comment lead to another woman writing another op-ed in the New York Times titled “Yes, This is a Witch Hunt. I’m a Witch and I’m Hunting You”.

In yet another recent Weinstein-themed Times article, it’s being reported that “a spreadsheet listing men in the media business accused of sexist behaviors ranging from inappropriate flirting to rape surfaced last week and was circulated by email.” This lead one media writer to conclude that: “Things do get complicated when you start lumping all this behavior together in a big anonymous spreadsheet of unsubstantiated allegations against dozens of named men.”

Today’s contender for monster of the moment, however, is Harvey Weinstein, and, while he appears to have earned his monster status, it is important to keep in mind which movies his studios have produced.

Miramax and The Weinstein Company movies, as I’ve written for years, are among the most thought-provoking, serious, controversial, enlightening and joyful movies of the last 40 years.

This list is partial: Scream, The English Patient, Cop Land, Good Will Hunting, The Mighty, The Human Stain, Shakespeare in Love, The Cider House Rules, The Founder, The Shipping News, An Unfinished Life, The Others, Iris, Chicago, Cold Mountain, Finding Neverland, Carol, Shall We Dance, The Aviator, Sin City, Dirty Girl, My Week with Marilyn, The Iron Lady, Silver Linings Playbook, Fruitvale Station, Gold, Django Unchained, The Butler, The Giver, August: Osage County, Woman in Gold, Macbeth, Roald Dahl’s Esio Trot, Sing Street, The Artist, Lion, The King’s Speech, Chocolat and Benedict Cumberbatch in a new movie about an industrial contest between George Westinghouse and Thomas Edison, The Current War, which now may never be seen.

A critic for the Los Angeles Times chimed in this week to reduce Weinstein’s role even in making movies to a mere “knack for putting golden statuettes in the hands of talented people.” And pop singer Tom Jones, whom at least one actress has told the press had a reputation for making unwanted sexual advances, told the West Coast Times that he “has little sympathy for abusers. “If you’ve done something wrong, you’ve got to pay for it, or prove that you haven’t done anything wrong,” [Jones] said.”

In reality, you can’t prove a negative. With left and right merging and threatening to create a huge, new commission to control companies — Disney-owned Lucasfilm (Star Wars) boss Kathleen Kennedy proposed a new commission composed of “lawyers and legal scholars, sociologists, psychologists, feminists, activists, and theorists” to monitor Hollywood‘s work behavior — the opportunity to admit wrongdoing if you think you might be wrong, show remorse and argue that you deserve a second chance because you’ve earned it by doing work that demonstrates good character and that you’re capable of recovering — as Harvey Weinstein and Brian Williams did — may disappear.

In Weinstein’s case, in less than 14 days.

I keep hearing, from Oprah and others, and reading, in New York Times op-ed after op-ed, that this proposed post-Weinstein power shift and unmitigated assault on a man’s character and wiping out of his legacy, including that which he achieved for the good, is not about Harvey Weinstein. It’s about the allegedly assaulted and harassed women, it’s asserted. To this point, an online writer who covers show business for Vox.com observes in an intelligent commentary that

Trying to erase Harvey Weinstein’s legacy will not erase the harm he’s done. Pretending Weinstein was never a part of those TV shows and renaming his company won’t negate what he allegedly did — both to the women he targeted and to the people he enlisted into helping him do it. Weinstein didn’t operate alone when it came to acting out his alleged patterns of intimidation, harassment, and abuse. The fact of the matter is, he couldn’t have. He didn’t just need willing accomplices; he needed a culture that thrived on intimidation and dismissed the vulnerable, and he got it in Hollywood.

This is true. I, too, have seen and experienced it firsthand. I’m glad people are coming out and writing and speaking about what happens in Hollywood, New York and anywhere assault and harassment takes place (how about Washington).

Proposed bans on arbitration and non-disclosure agreements and a commission to monitor, detect and control people’s business conduct will lead to worse, not better, working conditions. Jumping to conclusions and glorifying a witch hunt merely switches harassment from one sex to the other and compounds the real and irrational discrimination against today’s woman. That subculture in which people enable, ignore, compartmentalize, evade and sanction injustice must be rejected and, instead, people must honor and practice principles of justice. It is hard, but it can be done. Progress is possible but not in an atmosphere of spite, revenge and indiscriminate accusation. It means listening, not just talking, about sexual assault and harassment. At its root, progress requires the use of one’s reasoning mind, not belief in dogma from conservatives or leftists — or their new, ominously irrational hybrid of both.

Movie Review: Carol

CarolPoster

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A new movie about two women in love depicts with effortlessness the veiled, secret desire of lesbians in the 1950s. Carol (The Weinstein Company, directed by Todd Haynes) is interestingly, obsessively nostalgic about its period and its dramatic purpose—to show a forbidden couple in conflict—though it is also nearly plotless.

This imbues Carol, based on an erotic novel by the author of The Talented Mr. Ripley and Strangers on a Train, with a dreamlike quality that permits the female version of same-sex romanticism found in Ang Lee’s haunting Brokeback Mountain from ten years ago. In fact, Carol has a lot in common with that picture. Lead characters are left alone and apart for stretches, stressing the distance. They come together in rare, passionate silences amid winter landscapes. They look, long and grope for one another.

They are also both true to life, so in Carol the characters, unlike the unlucky, tortured and persecuted men of Brokeback Mountain, are more easily masked and concealed and the lesbians are able to hide their sexuality in plain sight. The ending wordlessly hits with impact. After Friday’s Islamic terrorist attack on Paris, Carol‘s timing is perfect. Every infidel and, more broadly, every joy-seeking individual, now must learn to brace or conceal his pursuit of happiness—dining out, attending a concert or sport—unless, by some miracle, our civilization chooses to defend itself from the siege of barbarism.

Carol provides an elegant lesson in the success of secrecy, beginning with an emblem of forbidden love’s long, unpredictable plight. The first sound is the rhythmic roll of a train, steady, punctuated and purposeful, and the first image is that of an interlacing pattern of design. This is the introductory sensory material to the story of these two unusual women, played by Cate Blanchett (Cinderella, Truth) and Rooney Mara (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), who become an interlocking part of each other’s lives as they go barreling toward some common outcome.

Whether they end up like Ridley Scott’s Thelma and Louise is up to others, because it’s the 1950s, until and unless they make the matter up to them. Mara’s gamine shopgirl Terese only looks like Audrey Hepburn’s Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s; the style is similar but her substance is straighter, clearer and stronger. She knows what she likes and wants and is easygoing about paying the price of her ambition. She wears a uniform Christmas hat only after a stern spinster-type remands her to do so. She goes along with working in the doll department though she’d rather be working with train sets. Her boyishness is matter of fact.

Terese eyes Blanchett’s feline Carol one day over by the trains. She lets the glance across the space linger. She signals that she wants to play.

Carol’s been catting around enough to know when to pounce, so she stalks and makes her move. Terese is instantly drawn to the sensuality and, really in the most fundamental sense, she’s enchanted by Carol’s refusal to back down from getting what she wants. Terese is young and, with Mara’s doe-like eyes of innocence, she’s insatiable for a guide to getting what she wants in life. She has a boyfriend, she has a hobby—taking pictures—and she’s greedy. But Terese is also intelligent and she knows that she’s a work in progress. She knows that she does not know it all.

Enter the husky-voiced, lipsticked stranger who, when the two finally meet in semi-private, overenunciates her name with more drama than a Joan Crawford movie. All of this unfolds slowly, with bleak, hushed, moody colors, tones and details awash in Fifties sameness with the train as a gentle, clicking symbol that the furtive shadow dancing is coming to a climax. Their glances do the work of the homosexual flirtation toward sexual liberation. Their whispers do the work of what the words cannot say. Everything they suggest, mean and become to each other is in code.

Carol has a husband (Kyle Chandler) and a child and this complicates everything, too. The child is deeply loved by Carol, though the husband is not. That he knows this fact is the wispy plot’s central conflict. Sex stereotypes are reversed and the needy male— underrepresented in Hollywood movies—emerges as an ominous threat to Carol and her newfound union. Aiding and abetting Carol in the crime of lesbianism is her former lover, played by Sarah Paulson (Mud, 12 Years a Slave) in another knockout performance.

But Carol is not anti-male and, as she puts Terese in the Packard’s passenger seat and heads off on a frosty road trip, the wise, seasoned vamp must face and reconcile the consequences of making herself, a wife and mother, a forbidden object of desire for another woman. The secret gay union forges shortly after a stay in Chicago’s Drake Hotel, where Terese really starts to discover the world and the prospect of her place in it. Not surprisingly, reflecting today’s sexism against men, romantic same sex scenes are more revealing in Carol than those in Brokeback Mountain, allowing Terese and Carol fuller character development, which adds to the movie’s powerful conclusion.

You’ll probably hear a lot about this film’s perfect period detail—in record albums, dish patterns, make-up and costumes—and compliments are well deserved. But the nostalgia is not an end in itself; Carol‘s trains, designs and artifacts serve a subtle point in timelessness and director Haynes, with an adaptive screenplay by Phyllis Nagy, weaves it into the picture with intricacy and skill. The middle of the 20th century was an imprisoning time for the woman, straight or gay, as Carol demonstrates. But it also pegs a midpoint convergence of two types of women—the temptress using her feminine wiles and the working girl using her mind—and the emergence of courage and, really, fearlessness, required of the modern, liberated woman of the mind.

Add to that that these two happen to be gay and Carol pointedly if delicately dramatizes that gays have always been embedded among society. Given cultural mores, gay men were relegated to back rooms and dark corners and, to a large extent, they still are. Gay women have the play of the field. Witness the acceptance of DeGeneres, Foster and O’Donnell, a status that celebrity male homosexuals are rarely afforded without reduction. Women may couple up to dance and play at being lesbians at their discretion. Accordingly, and in sharp contrast to today’s near-total fetishization of the heterosexual woman as a macho archetype, Carol is a warm and evocative depiction of the discreet woman.

Its dreamy sense of timelessness underscores how changeable are the times in which we live. There’s an intriguing example of this in Carol, which places three American presidents in the picture in reverse chronological order: Dwight Eisenhower appears at first in a televised address about progress, hinting at the movie’s theme, then William McKinley makes an appearance in a room where the lovers first share an intimacy, and, finally, I think it’s Andrew Jackson who appears in a climactic scene in which one of the women chooses to break from society, at great cost to herself, in order to live an honest life.

The theme, newly relevant this week—I do not think this is the filmmakers’ intention—is that it is possible to pursue one’s happiness whether society is in regress or progress. In other words, accept the state of the world (in Carol’s case, certain conventions) and go after what makes you happy. Though there’s no guarantee that you’ll get what you want and there may be every reason to believe that the culture is very much against you, as Carol depicts with masterful detail, it is crucial to know that you must go after what you want—even in defiance of the entire world.

Movie Review: St. Vincent

StVincentposterComedians Bill Murray and Melissa McCarthy shine in writer and director Theodore Melfi’s sentimental Catholic character drama, St. Vincent, which touts itself as an ode to sainthood but redefines what it means.

Everyone’s broke in this contrived, enjoyable movie, from Murray’s alcoholic to McCarthy’s divorced mom. Her kid, named Oliver and well played by Jaeden Lieberher, puts up with his hospital worker mother’s deficiencies, which include hiring Murray’s drunken war veteran Vincent to babysit. Vincent takes Oliver into the seedy world he’s inhabited since his life went bad, which, judging by the entrenched habits, was long ago. That he also teaches the kid is the movie’s hook and it’s obvious, pat and abbreviated but it plays into a sweeping scene that cashes in humor and pathos like Little Miss Sunshine meets Mr. Holland’s Opus.

St. Vincent, finding the good in a hard-knock life and the virtuous in man, is powered by charming performances based on solid characterizations and a script that seeks to deliver us from cynicism. With nerdy, intelligent Oliver enrolled in one of those city Catholic schools where kids are sent in lieu of reformatory school, and with the adults in his life falling apart around him, the stage is set for a confluence of redemption and contrition within a distinctly Catholic context. This allows for lots of liberties taken with icons, rituals and religious myths. A pregnant Russian prostitute (Naomi Watts, overdoing it a tad), a loan shark (Terrence Howard) and a vacant patient in a nursing home enhance what adds up to an almost palliative effect.

Bill Murray’s drunk keeps the action alive and moving, through a good script and heartfelt performance in a characterization that measures the value of a single life. He keeps telling everyone who wants something from him that they do not know him, not really, which is the cynic’s cry for help to heard, seen, known and loved. A scene in which he dances to a tune by Jefferson Airplane illustrates the concealment, unmasked only when he’s intoxicated. The mutual interest money exchanged between McCarthy’s angry, wronged woman and Murray’s embittered, old man climaxes in a conflict that tests everyone’s character to the max.

The film’s theme that life is like a maze and one’s purpose is to pursue one’s values with kindness, not contempt, in the navigational choices largely works well. This is due to Catholic school-educated Bill Murray’s strengths in playing himself, again, as he’s done since the beginning of his career. His Vincent is as goofy and crude as his characters in Meatballs, Stripes and Ghostbusters and not better or worse, so don’t look for profound lessons beyond what’s here.

What’s here is good and decent and exceedingly well done, with warm and rewarding scenes and touches. Oliver grows and learns from the bitter old drunkard to “speak up and be bold!” So does everyone else, though not beyond their capacity to change. The humor is seeded in the conflict and irony of trying to invoke, instill and inspire the good, and St. Vincent is often funny in service of being human. That the better type of man—a saint by this movie’s terminology—strives to be a trader is not lost on the way. The most rewarding, and also most moving, part of the picture is when life’s mess is sorted, cleaned, detoxified and put in perspective, accentuating the positive, as happens sometimes in real life. Melfi figured out how to put Murray’s depressed, grumpy clown act in a story that dramatizes discovering the good in somebody that seems too damaged to love.

Before the Oscars

Before the Oscars, I attended a thoughtful discussion of what it means to match music to motion pictures, courtesy of composer Alexandre Desplat, who was gracious enough to take to the piano and perform a few selections from his astonishing career in scoring movies at a Weinstein Company event at the Beverly Hills Hotel.

Photo by Scott Holleran. Copyright 2014 Scott Holleran. May not be used without permission.

Alexandre Desplat plays Philomena score at the Polo Lounge, Beverly Hills Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif. Photo © Copyright 2014 Scott Holleran. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced without the permission of Scott Holleran.

Desplat, whom I interviewed about his work and score during release of The King’s Speech, is nominated for tonight’s 2013 Academy Awards for his Philomena score which he explored and sampled in a room near the Polo Lounge. It was standing room only as the Frenchman talked about his distinguished career, including music for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, the role of melody and why he likes to integrate melancholy into each of his themes for film. He confirmed that his next project is scoring a remake of Godzilla. But Philomena was the main topic, with Desplat explaining how he brought the fairgrounds theme from the title character’s early indiscretion full circle into the rest of her lifelong journey and the old-age search to locate the child who was taken away. As always, he was honest, frank and tactful about Hollywood’s impossible process for making movies punctuated by proper music.

This is Hollywood’s big night and what a good year 2013 was in pictures. Nebraska gave actor Bruce Dern attention he deserves, though not for that blank slate. Frozen and Gravity made huge box office while further dumbing down the audience. Her offered the opposite: a thoughtful movie which is too abstract. Other good films include the historical Emperor, Tina Fey’s stimulating Admission, the old-fashioned, period piece 42, Brad Pitt’s reinvigorated World War Z, Man of Steel, Last Vegas, Catching Fire, Prisoners and Oz the Great and Powerful while The Great Gatsby, Lovelace and The Incredible Burt Wonderstone were less than great and incredible. Though I have not seen every major movie from last year, and with the brilliantly constructed Philomena in top contention, by my estimate, 2013’s best films are: 3. Dallas Buyers Club 2. Mud 1. 12 Years a Slave.

Dallas Buyers Club is a richly textured dramatization of one Texan versus the government in a dramatic showdown with life itself at stake in every moment. Mud is about what makes men from boys. 12 Years a Slave is Hollywood’s first serious film about American slavery taken in the measure of one man who is born free. It deserves the highest praise. Another picture about one individual’s odyssey into a dark, strange world will be honored tonight during a reunion of Judy Garland’s children including Liza Minnelli: The Wizard of Oz, which celebrates its 75th year. With Ellen DeGeneres hosting again, I do hope tonight’s Oscars do not repeat past affairs and instead toast with glamor to the best movies and moviemaking.