The hopeful eight

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It was with some satisfaction that I belatedly watched Mad Max: Fury Road on DVD, thus putting myself in the position of being able to say I have seen all eight of the pale-faced Best Picture nominees at the 88th Academy Awards. I can thus now fruitlessly compare them. They seem like as accurate a barometer of this year’s crop (and thus last year’s movies), so I am about to do just that, although what I think should win is entirely theoretical, as I am not one of the 6,300 or so members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and thus hold zero sway in this regard.

What I think will win is also fluff. What do I know? I have feelings in my bones, and I am a seasoned Oscars watcher of many decades, so have some predictive form, but I don’t want to know what’s going to win. I’m glad about that. It would be boring. I like surprises. I actively want to be wrong. Despite being statistically made up of mostly old, white American men, the Academy is still capable of delivering a bookmaker-upsetting surprise; even causing a relative upset. I enjoy the start-of-year awards season and the resulting quality bottleneck, as I am usually entertained and exercised by its vagaries and waves. I relish the controversies the Oscars throw up. This year: lack of diversity. Meet the new controversy, same as the old controversy.

I don’t blame the august Oscar voters for Hollywood’s lack of diversity. Hollywood is to blame, with its deep-seated patriarchy and its demographic timidity, not to mention its unbreakable Plexiglass ceiling for women and the equivalent of “voter ID” for black actors, creatives and technicians. All of this bleeds into the reductive treatment of all Hispanics (sexy, smouldering, hot-tempered, etc. – it may be positive discrimination of a type, but it’s not so far round the dial from Trump’s rapists), although at least one of the Hopeful Eight was directed by a Mexican.

It’s the entertainment industry’s fault, not the mainly white, mainly male, mainly over-50 demographic of a club of movie professionals, which, by dint of inducting anyone who wins an Oscar and then has the ability to not die, means the Academy is full of people who aren’t black or Hispanic, and a vicious circle is hard to extract yourself from. The problem isn’t with the Oscars, or who wins them, but with American cinema itself, where people tend not to be of colour, or women, and especially not women of colour, like Jada Pinkett Smith, who is among those who’ve threatened to boycott the colourless Oscars ceremony. If I were a black actress, I’d kick up a right stink and then make damn sure I attended. Being invisible is playing into the racists’ hands.

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You keep hearing the truism that male Academy members “give the films to their wives to watch,” which may or may not explain the popularity of certain movies. I hesitate to make sweeping generalisations about what women or men want. Romantic comedies may be machine-tooled to appease women, but men also like them, and women also hate them. Equally, noisy action movies: aimed at teenage boys or men who wish they were still teenage boys, but not necessarily only appreciated by the intended gender or age group. The high nomination tally of Mad Max: Fury Road – which, by the way, is a “male” film by type (action, noise, explosions, petrol) but, interestingly, dominated as much by female characters as the eponymous male one – is a tonic. That it’s only really picking up “technical” awards (so named as if acting, writing and directing aren’t technical) – four wins out of seven at the Baftas for costumes, make-up, editing and production design – should not concern us. It’s doing well and it’s an action movie.

Brooklyn

Max is one of three Best Picture Oscar nominees whose poster is dominated by a woman’s face; also, Room and Brooklyn, both based on novels, one written by a woman, the other a man, one Irish-Canadian, the other Irish, which is a cheering ethnic skew. I first saw Brooklyn trailed at a tiny cinema in Bantry, County Cork, and felt the Irish love (I dislike being English and wish I was Irish). Though an Irish/UK/Canadian production by funding that’s set in Brooklyn and partly shot in Montreal, its Irish authenticity is deep, with the scenes set in novelist Colm Tóibín’s Enniscorthy also shot there, and only two of the principal Irish parts played by non-Irish actors (the bankable Julie Walters and Jim Broadbent). Since it’s about homesickness within the Irish diaspora in America, it could prick a few glands among the immigrant Academy members, but it’s not going to win.

Nor is Bridge Of Spies. I have no ill feelings towards it, but it’s a bit stolid and unsurprising. Cold War. Tom Hanks. Mark Rylance (not in it enough). Snow. Germans. Spies. It’s well enough made, but if it didn’t exist, you wouldn’t have to invent it. (Its score by Thomas Newman is actually something of a beaut, but it’s not the equal of Carter Burwell’s gorgeous score for Carol, which, by the way, despite being a good fit for the wives of the lazy male Academy members, looks to be this season’s big loser. I don’t really get why.)

Room

I admire Room; its stars, its writer (Emma Donoghue, adapting her own novel with precision), its director, another Irishman, Lenny Abrahamson. It will I think win Best Actress for Brie Larson, but it doesn’t feel like a Best Picture. Too gloomy. Too grubby. Too creepy. All the things I love about it. The Big Short, too, is a poor fit for traditional Best Picture thinking; I thoroughly enjoyed its manic energy, but I fear the financial crash and subprime mortgages will not sing in the minds of the panel. (“Aren’t we, like, in some kind of recovery?”)

If Best Picture is between any two films, it’s The Revenant (which I have raved about here) and Spotlight. I don’t think Ridley Scott’s The Martian is going to find much traction at the Oscars. I got it into it, but found it tonally disconcerting. Was it a drama? Was it a comedy? (It was canny of Fox to put it forward for the “Musical or Comedy” categories at the Golden Globes, where it picked up Best Film, thus unrealistically raising its producers’ expectations.) I wondered aloud if Matt Damon might pip Leonardo DiCaprio for Best Actor at the Baftas; that his have-a-go solo performance might sway our less macho voters. But no. There’s no beating Leo’s suffering; he’s a vegan who ate raw liver and raw fish for his art – give that man a statuette and the rest of the week off.

The Revenant is unassailable. There’s an outside chance – the “Crash wild card anomaly” (see: the year Crash beat Brokeback Mountain) – that Spotlight will beat The Revenant to Best Picture and break the Oscar algorithm. Tom McCarthy’s never going to win the Director category, as Spotlight is intelligent enough not to let the direction show (part of its consummate mastery), whereas The Revenant is something like a two and a half hour Oscar begging reel. Look! Natural light! It must have taken ages!

Spotlight

I still harbour a tiny hope that Spotlight, having won Best Supporting Actor for Mark Ruffalo, might win Best Picture. It has all the hallmarks of one of those: true story, set in the past, talky, righteous, no sex, no violence (other than the violence wrought on children by priests, which we do not directly see), and an “issue” that bypasses partisan politics and shows that you have a heart. There are no shades of how much you revile paedophiles.

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As stated, I want to be surprised on Oscar night. I sort of was at the Baftas when Rylance won for Bridge Of Spies, although I suspect patriotism played its hand. (A resource in short supply when neither Tom Courtenay nor Charlotte Rampling found their way onto the Actor and Actress lists for 45 Years.) Hey, this time next year, the voting system may have been overhauled to address the existence of the past 50 years in civil rights, with Academy members who haven’t worked for the past ten years becoming ineligible to automatically vote. We already have gender-divided categories. What about categories graded for “colour”? It would make the Oscars as long and interminable as the Grammys, but perhaps it’s the kind of affirmative action the awards season needs.

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Writer’s blog, Weeks 16-17, Monday

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Welcome to my world. My name is Andrew Collins. You may know me from my recently updated mug* on the film pages of the Radio Times, where I give three stars to two-star movies, or four stars to three-star movies just to annoy you. Or from my moving face in an oblong that magically appears every Tuesday morning or thereabouts on the Guardian website, so that at least one commenter a week can bemoan the fact that it’s a video and not a written review of the week’s TV, which is a bit like complaining that a cat is a dog. Although visible, both jobs involve writing. But what I’m doing most of the time, you can’t see. It’s me, at this laptop, stringing sentences together in the fervent hope that they will one day come out of the mouth of a professional actor.

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In order to stay sane, I also write that other blog, Circles Of Life: The 143 Best Songs In The World, which gives me an enormous sense of wellbeing, as I don’t have to show it to anyone in order for it to be published, as I publish it myself. Nor do I have to wait until someone asks me to write a short, personal essay about, say, Across 110th Street or Venus In Furs. I simply ask myself, and then do it. If there’s time. Incidentally, I was rather pleased that Scotts menswear (who make wear for men) have chosen to republish a number of my 143 blog entries on a special website celebrating the life of men over the 30 years they’ve been making clothes for them. (The site has been edited and designed by Sabotage Times and looks terrifically smart.)

There hasn’t been much time in 2014. As you’ll have picked up from previous Writer’s Blogs – few and far between of late – I’m hard at it.

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The above PhotoBooth photos were taken on the same overground train journey on Friday. They are not very interesting, but where I was going is. What I think I might once have referred cagily to as Sitcom A is now released from the captivity of superstitious secrecy, even while it remains below the line “in development”. It has been revealed – via the on-the-ball British Comedy Guide – as Wild Life, a single-camera comedy about a five-person nature documentary film crew on location. I’ve been developing it – which means writing and rewriting and rewriting it for a fixed amount of money which stays the same however much work I do – for two years at my management company, Avalon. But here’s where it gets interesting.

On Friday afternoon at 2pm, we staged the script for a small audience of invited TV bigwigs and comedy fans without nine-to-five jobs. This is habitually done in the world of comedy (we did it for Grass, way back in 2002, and landed a commission wit it), but usually in an airless conference room. We did Wild Life, scripts in hand, in a small theatre-above-a-pub in West London called the Tabard. A terrific venue, the cast rocked up at 10.30, and within a few hours were “performing” the script, live. It’s like a huge audition, for me as the writer**, for them*** as the cast, and for Avalon as the prospective production company. And it lasts half an hour, and then it’s done. I’d say we gave it our very best shot. It’s in the lap of the gods now.

** Although I wrote the script, we drafted in my old sparring partner Simon Day to help make it “funnier”, to use arcane industry jargon. It was a huge amount of fun being locked in an office with Simon again. And he did make it funnier.
*** Although Simon was away and couldn’t cameo on the read-through, as he would have wished, the cast assembled by Avalon was supreme: Frankie Boyle****, Miles Jupp, Isy Suttie, Craig Cambell, Adam Hess and Angela Simpson.
**** Frankie took to Twitter to “correct” the British Comedy Guide’s article. But don’t believe the hype, he is as nice as Noam Chomsky-reading pie in real life and I would love it if you could see him in Wild Life in a utopian future where my scripts get made.

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Meanwhile, what I’ll stick to calling Sitcom B, which I’ve been co-writing with the comedian who will star in it (a pattern that follows Grass and Not Going Out, an arrangement to which I appear to be suited), has hit its third draft, which is frankly unrecognisable from drafts one and two, and this is a good thing. This has been approved by our bosses at Avalon and has been delivered to the broadcaster, which is the BBC. Balls are up in the air again.

The above award-winning photo is me on my way home on the train from the Guardian on a humid Monday afternoon, hence the shirt. The big story in my professional writing life remains Drama A, another 50/50 co-write, which has just been rewritten for reappraisal by the broadcaster who has put it in development. What I will say is this: it’s weird – and a relief – not having to put jokes in.

Back to work, then. Telly Addict number #151 will appear miraculously here tomorrow morning at around 10am. In that shirt.

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TA106grabWho’s in here? Well, if you watch this week’s Telly Addict, which avoids spoilers for the final episodes of The Fall on BBC2 and Game Of Thrones on Sky Atlantic (mainly because I hadn’t seen either when I filmed this yesterday), you’ll see clip evidence of at least two supporting actors who are in both shows. Also, new on BBC3, docucircus The Call Centre, and new on C4, the terrific, glacially-paced French “zombie” drama The Returned. And congratulations and clubbable banter all round for the 500th episode of Pointless on BBC1.

On the third day

Day Three of Mr Blue Sky – after a working weekend I spent script editing someone else’s script, but don’t feel sorry for me! – and it’s all slotting together. We had an easy morning, in that we recorded all of Harvey’s monologues from all six episodes, which by definition, only required one actor, the mighty Mark Benton, who did such a sterling job, we were ahead of schedule by lunch. (The most complicated day we’ve saved until last – Friday. That’s going to be a frazzler, with pretty much the entire squad in, including all three of our star cameos, Simon Day, Greg Davies and Angus Deayton. Photographic evidence of this car crash of talent will be forthcoming.)

By lunchtime, the whole family was here. They are not a family. They are four – sometimes five, sometimes six – unrelated professional actors, but in the bunker of a radio production, the lines between reality and comedy drama blur, so that actors are often addressed over the talkback by their character names, and this is not meant as an insult. If anything, it’s a compliment! When Tyger Drew Honey arrives, having been stuck in traffic in Hammersmith, we say, “Robbie’s here!” When Mark arrives, having been stuck in the same traffic, we say, “Harvey’s here.” Nobody’s going “method” but if they wished to, they’d get no complaints from in here, behind the glass.

In the pic above, we see Tyger, physically blurred, as he is a highly caffeinated 16-year-old and very seldom still. Sorcha Cusack, who plays his racist grandmother Lou, is like acting royalty, and – guess what? – a sweetheart. She hits her mark every time, and is a pleasure to have around. And she was Brad Pitt’s mother in Snatch.

Below, we see Mark and Claire Skinner, as Harvey and Jax. The scene they are recording involves the couple being in bed. This is why they are doing some top quality “quilt acting” as it’s known in the trade. No, it’s not a sex scene. Mr Blue Sky is family listening.

On Friday and today, the weather has been glorious, which is apt, of course, but also frustrating. Because I am working in my breaks and during lunch, I literally do not see the outside world between the 9am start and the 6pm finish. The glorious weather is wasted on me. But again, do not feel sorry for me! This is the best gig in the world.