Selling Out

27 Aug

I’m remembering back to a day in 2007 when I was not yet (but pretty soon to be) 27 years old. It was either a Saturday or a Sunday in the month of March, a beautiful weekend which provided an early glimpse of spring weather. I can close my eyes and see myself walking along the Hudson River and feeling – I’ve no other way to describe it – free. This was a feeling I associated with my backpacking as well as with evening “rec” at summer camp, and I’d experienced it on a few other occasions in my life as well. However familiar, it was quite a surprise to feel it on that particular day. Surprising mostly because I had a job then. I’d never even tasted freedom during a school year, let alone while being a full time employee somewhere. There’s a first time for everything, I suppose.

What was the job? I was a corporate lackey with my own cubicle, great benefits, and paid vacation time. The work environment was pretty despicable to me as was the commute, and the tasks involved had less than nothing to do with what I find interesting in life. At the same time, the position was helping me to get out of some of my debts, albeit slowly (thank you interest rates!), and mostly due to the opportunities I was given to put in overtime hours. More than this though, I believe the biggest reason for my fleeting sense of free came down to the fact that I was managing to carry practically none of the work week with me into my days off (not counting, obviously, those weekends when I chose to go into the office to earn that OT). No prior job had ever afforded me this privilege, and school sure as hell didn’t either. I’m not claiming this quality was enough to put me in the right mindset to pen the great American novel, say, but in regards to having some occasional contentment, it was a major plus.

Later that day, I happened to see my father face-to-face. I spoke of the earlier sensation and marveled at the possibility that I may even be able to achieve some level of happy over the next number of years while still having the job in my life. He frowned and shook his head. “You’re too young to sell out,” he said to me, referring to the fact that there are creative experiences in this world which hold immense appeal to me and it was in the pursuit of these that I had pretty much committed the past ten years of my life. Of course he was right, even if he now regrets having said it and probably wishes he had kept his damn mouth shut (on the off chance that he remembers any of this). The details of the year that followed are numerous and telling and very much deserving of their own future blog post. Suffice it to say, I was no longer working in corporate by the end of them.

I find myself remembering this because I’m staring down a job prospect at the moment, and I’m pretty damn confident I could feel that free thing with this one. In fact, unlike the corporate shit that wrapped up over six and a half years ago, I think I could actually enjoy this new position. You read that right. Unfortunately, despite my best efforts, the chances of me getting hired are not looking good. Instead of hearing from them, I am counting the days until I can justify checking in for an update. It’s discouraging to say the least, and there lies the rub. I have no idea what I’m going to do if I don’t get it. I can’t see finding another opportunity I would actually enjoy – can’t even think of one to be honest, aside from my ideals which clearly aren’t happening any time soon. So what if I abandon the goal of liking my work? That still leaves me with needing a job that pays my bills, doesn’t carry over to my days off (yes, even mentally), and allows me ample time to write and also maybe enjoy my life to some extent. But if I am unable to land this current job prospect despite my abilities and overt enthusiasm, how the hell am I going to get any other job, even one that meets only these minimum requirements?

In other words, even if I were to come to the conclusion that I was ready and willing to sell my soul – which I’m not, it would seem that ship has sailed – who the hell is in the market for my soul these days? Please advise.

 
Office View
 

(c) 2014, Michael Schiff, All Rights Reserved

Excerpt from Novel-In-Progress

22 Jan

Plunk, splash, scrub…and I keep thinking, I need to buy an electric razor.

I’m a scruffy guy these days but don’t put it past me to blend in at a preppy mixer this time next week – all khakis and Polo’s, the sporadic Nuvaring.  Historically I’m clean-cut, clean-shaven, but my recent venture out West has me going all wolf-man.  My manifest destiny brought me here to Portland where the beer runs hoppy and frequently and the women don’t seem to mind a guy with unrefined tufts of hair jutting out of his chin, cheek, and jowls.  I’m actually not sure if my destiny brought me here so much as it took me out of New York.  Brooklyn was getting stale, or I was getting stale by staying there anyway, and the supposedly overcast but so far so blue skies of Oregon were beckoning.  If that’s destiny then I might not know the meaning of the word and I might not know a lot of things actually or certainly don’t, and I’m beginning to suspect this can eventually prove to be an okay state of affairs.  Only time will tell and the God-that-I-was-raised-not-to-believe-in alone knows.

Right now I’m washing dishes.  It’s not what I thought I’d be doing at thirty-three but there you have it.  Life ain’t always what you think it’s gonna be.  That much I know for sure.  And at least I got the goddamn job and have some cash coming in, some paper in my pocket.  It’s a nice café too: big with its square footage, warm in its pine-heavy aesthetic, and more than chill enough if you’re a customer at any rate.  For the dishwasher it could be a lot chiller.  Nothing much chill about being on your feet for hours on end, bent awkwardly at the waist (the sink is rather low to the ground), while the baristas throw shit in your water and the bakers throw more shit on top of it.  I’ve had it up to here with mixing bowls covered in Rice Krispies and marshmallow, silicone mats caked with burnt blueberries, egg saucers with microwaved yolk residue glued to the surface, but like I say I’m grateful for the opportunity.

My break is coming up.  I can take it whenever I like but I like to take it late.  Makes the end of my shift go faster the more top heavy I set it up.  That said I might break a few minutes early according to my usual self-imposed schedule because I’m hoping to connect with one of the customers.  The redhead in the corner has been here for at least an hour and has got to be thinking of leaving soon.  Either that or her fiancé is about to walk in and join her.  I’m leaning towards the former, the latter feels just as likely, and I consider it a worthy venture either way.  At the very least, I’d love to learn this chick’s name.  Something to scream out in a perspiring panic the next time I wake up at 5am.  It’s possible she’s a regular and one of my co-workers already knows her name but I’m not going to ask at this point.  Keep it close to my vest, that’s my M.O.  Of course I’m not wearing a vest but, instead, a black half-apron which I begin to untie even while I’m still behind the counter.  I don’t need to take it off for the ten minutes ahead of me but I love to, I truly love to.

A fresh mug of drip coffee in my hands and my ass cheeks settle down on the stool.  There will be no flirting, no extroversions directed at the lovely redhead seated where the eastern side street wall meets the southward-facing main street one.  I’m too tired to make the trip halfway across the café let alone to impress.  Perhaps a few sips of this warm brew will do the trick, but more likely they will cause me to miss my opportunity or to run furiously, expectantly towards the toilet.  It’s all for the best probably – odds are her fiancé is bigger than me.  I don’t care much, really I don’t.  I need to go to the store after work anyway.  There’s an electric razor at Fred Meyer with my name on it.

Eddie, a sweetheart of a co-worker and a female despite her moniker, slides a slice of cherry pie in front of me.  It’s my favorite thing we offer on the menu depending on the day and it’s precisely what I need to take my mind off the redhead.  It pulls this task off so successfully, in fact, that I fail to notice the squeak of her chair against the linoleum or fail to ascribe it to her chair anyway.  I don’t see her rise or head in my direction, and there’s already a (too) big bite of pie in my mouth by the time she arrives beside me.  She’s a rather tall specimen, close to six feet, in a black tank top that’s showing off a lovely set of arms flanking a conservative but shapely rack.  There are no tattoos on display which would make her an anomaly for the region but something tells me there’s a cutesy tramp stamp hiding on her backside – maybe a starfish or something organic at any rate.

I nearly choke on the cherries when I catch who I’ve just been joined by.  It’s surely not my greatest hour and yet, I can’t help but thinking, maybe I can change that.  Maybe I have the power to, or any power really would be terrific right about now.  But before I have the chance to embarrass myself with a garble of words, she speaks first:

“How’s the pie?”

I want to answer but my mouth is full and, on top of that, I’m lost in her green eyes.  I’m lost in her freckles too, of which there are only a few speckled about her cheeks with one prominent one residing adorably on the tip of her nose – just the kind of freckle placement that encourages a kiss.  I refrain from kissing her nose and instead put a finger up in the air to request a moment’s patience.  She exhibits said patience and remains there by the time I’ve successfully swallowed.  This is all going way too well, but I try to keep my cool and not let the situation get the best of me.

“It’s good,” I say, adding, “There should be another slice if you’d like one.”

“Nah, no pie for me,” she says placing a flattened palm onto her tummy.  Perhaps she intends this gesture to explain the lack of pie but the tummy looks perfectly firm and it just winds up confusing me a little.  “Do you have an iPhone charger?” she then asks.  “My phone’s about to die.”  So that’s what this is about.  I don’t know what I was expecting.

“I have an Android,” I say, “but I’ll bet there’s one around.”  With that I turn my attention across the counter and towards the cash register.  “Hey, Eddie, do either you or Lana have an iPhone charger?”  Lana being my other co-worker on the clock, a tad on the ditzy side but perfectly pleasant and not afraid of a hard day’s labor.

“I do!” she says.

“Awesome,” says the redhead.  “I’m expecting a call and I really can’t miss it.”

I wonder if the call is from her fiancé then kick myself for being negative in the face of such good fortune.  I spend the entire time Eddie takes getting the charger wondering what I should talk to the redhead about while Eddie’s getting the charger.  She returns before I’ve spoken another word.

“Here ya go,” Eddie says, handing the charger over.

“Thanks,” says the redhead, “I promise to return it.”  She turns around and heads back to her corner.  I watch her crouch to access the outlet beneath her table.  It would be an awkward position for most people’s bodies but I’ll be damned if it isn’t downright flattering in this instance.

“Ever seen her before?” I ask my co-worker.

“She’s been in here a few times,” Eddie says.

“But you don’t know her name?”

“Nope, don’t know her name.”

I’ve worked here a month already and have never seen the redhead before now.  Most of my shifts so far have been with Eddie and we’ve talked a good deal throughout them but never about women, dating, relationships or anything remotely personal.  She seems intrigued by this glimpse into my deeper mind.  People often express an interest when I peel back one of my layers as there are admittedly a great many layers to be peeled.  I tend to keep private things private and never wear my heart on my sleeve or that’s my claim at any rate.

I finish with my coffee and pie and head back to the sink before my ten minutes are actually up.  The bins where people bus their dishware are piled high with plates and mugs, and I want to make a dent in them before the study group at the center table decides to move on and adds to my chores.  As I load the sanitizer, I glance back at the redhead.  She’s buried in her phone, now charging, and I can only assume that she’s receiving texts – broad, romantic texts, I imagine, from her well-hung hunk of a fiancé.  I turn back to my duties, shutting the door of the machine and switching it on, but promptly return to the redhead.  Whatever she’s reading on her phone, it actually doesn’t seem to be sitting well.  She’s hunched over it in a defensive fashion and her skin tone is changing, becoming closer in color to that of her hair.

A wave of initiative washes over me.  I want to go up to the girl, inquire what’s wrong.  I want her to unburden her soul.  I want to ingratiate myself to her by displaying compassion and I want this all to end in a warm embrace.  So I pick up a cup saucer in each hand and dunk them in my dirty soapy water.  This return to my task doesn’t get her off my mind, however, and for the next twenty minutes or so I check in on her regularly.  Her body language remains distraught and I allow myself to imagine what might be bothering her.  My favorite explanation has her fiancé catching gay and moving to Peru with a young tan farm boy.  The more realistic alternative has the printers screwing up the font on their rehearsal dinner invitations.  Whatever the actual details, I certainly don’t wish her the angst she is currently exhibiting.

The redhead’s had Eddie’s charger for about half an hour by the time the front door swings open and a douchebag rushes in.  Fiancé or not, I know immediately that this is the guy I’ve been imagining even before he approaches her corner table.  He’s in his early thirties like yours truly but wearing a leather jacket over an apparent wife-beater and carrying a motorcycle helmet under his right arm.  It occurs to me that I heard no sounds of a motorcycle from outside and I’m briefly amused by the possibility that the helmet is merely an affectation, a stud-friendly accessory to intimidate uppity dishwashers who don’t mind their own business and crush too easily.

When he shows up beside her, the redhead seems surprised and it’s clearly not of the positive variety.  His posture, the look in her eyes – it all spells trouble.  Before I know it, his hand is on her wrist and he’s yanking her to her feet.  That shit don’t fly in my café.  I’m on the other side of the counter in the blink of an eye, at the corner table in two.  This guy is notably larger than me, particularly in the shoulder region, and I use this to my advantage, hooking my arms around the bulk from behind but then he elbows me in the stomach and sends me flying.  A hard wood chair knocked on its side cushions my fall, and I direct my next words to him from my new location on the floor.

“You have to leave,” I say.  “Right now.”

I sound so assertive that I actually impress myself but the horizontal position does little to reinforce the intended gravitas.  To my credit, he concedes or at least seems to be conceding based on the fact that he’s already dropped his hold on the redhead’s wrist.  It actually seems to me that he shocked himself there, sending me flying as he did.  Chances are he didn’t come in here today planning on making a scene, and my presence most assuredly turned it into one – other patrons are staring at us and Eddie has just arrived to my aid.  She helps me to my feet and I still haven’t broken eye contact with the douchebag.  When eye contact is broken, it is he who does the turning away.  It’s a small victory and I’ll take it, seeing as how I’ve already been knocked down, but he still hasn’t left and that’s what’s on my mind right now.

“Well?” is all I say.

And to my amazement, this works like a charm.  His shoulders slump, his head bows down, and he makes for the door.  It’s stunning.  I am stunned equally by the utter silence in the room.  Everyone present in the café – and I’d say there are at least fifteen customers in addition to the staff – has paid audience to my triumphant success.  Most importantly of all, this includes the redhead herself.  In fact, I look to her and when I do, she’s looking back.

“Are you okay?” I say.

“Are you?” she says.

It’s not the response I was expecting.  Surely I deserve to feel good about my accomplishment, the whole standing my ground thing, and her question manages to cut me down.  Even more to my chagrin, she doesn’t wait for me to answer and instead begins packing up her things.  I am dumbfounded as she next heads for the door, presumably in pursuit of the very same douchebag I had thought I’d rescued her from.  What kind of a recompense for a display of chivalry is this?  I struggle in the moment to remind myself that I really can’t be bothered with the redhead this evening – I have a razor to purchase.

I turn to my left and Shelby, my boss, is standing right beside me, all dreadlocks and hippie funk.  “Good work, Chip,” she says.

That’s my name, by the way: Chip.

 

(c) 2014, Michael Schiff, All Rights Reserved

We’re All Gonna Die!

15 Apr

Mortality is not a secret, at least not for members of our species above a certain age.  I myself learned of death’s inevitability back in pre-school (some picture book involving butterflies, I believe), and in the thirty years since have met not a single adult human being who I’ve found to be uninformed.  For all of our differences surrounding religion and opposing belief systems, there exists no sect I am aware of that denies death will come for each and every one of us.  So why does such a large chunk of society seem to be walking around as if they have unlimited time on their hands? 

I don’t mean to suggest that individuals should be freaking out per se – clawing at the walls, their own faces, rioting in the streets – but I will confess I would find this a more appropriate reaction to the reality they are faced with than the apparent lethargy I see on display.  At the very least, shouldn’t our knowledge of certain doom light a fire under all of our asses?

Allow me to share what has sparked this line of thinking within me.  I just got back from the pharmacy.  Nobody likes going to the pharmacy; it’s not the worst thing in the world but it seems an experience that should be kept to its minimum length.  Meanwhile, people are strolling around those aisles as if they are at the botanical gardens, as if they’ve not a care in the world when you know they’ve got plenty.  And then, when they are done tiptoeing from each item to the next, they will probably go home and talk about their experience at the pharmacy.  People do that a lot, I find – they accentuate the negatives.  And the greater the negative, the more time of ours that is wasted by an unpleasant task, the more willing people seem to be to volunteer additional time to the matter.  Example: back when I was a professional dog-walker, I found one of the worst aspects to be the picking up of dog shit.  As a result, I always got this step done as quickly as possible and moved on with my day (life).  But let me tell you, for the most part, dog-walkers spend a ton of time not just picking up dog shit but discussing the fact that they do so.  It’s wild, and you can find examples of this no matter what a person’s profession.  Keep in mind, I am not referring to the acknowledgement of something negative in an effort to improve situations, what I’m getting at is the human tendency to dwell.  And even if the fecal analogy doesn’t quite represent dwelling in its truest form, it is at best a shockingly inefficient use of time considering how limited our time is.

Personally, I am not so much concerned with what happens to me after my death as I am with what happens to me before it.  Hell is not a cause for fear in me but the notion of misspent time is.  What is misspent time?  Any time I spend doing something that increases negativity or decreases positivity is time misspent for me.  Now any human life will include some percentage of misspent time, but the degree to which you permit its presence – the ratio, if you will, of misspent time to well-spent time – is really the ultimate criteria by which to judge one’s life either a personal success or personal failure.  Or this is the criteria as I see it anyways.

No, the fact that we are all going to die certainly isn’t news, but have you ever had one of those days when it feels like nobody else got the memo?

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(c) 2013, Michael Schiff, All Rights Reserved

None Of Our Business

27 Mar

I recently had a nice meal in a restaurant.  A friend of mine had come into possession of a gift card for use at any Be Our Guest establishment, and we ate dinner at Isabella’s just across 77th street from the American Museum of Natural History.  Since that evening, my mind has frequently returned to a comment I overheard spoken at a neighboring table.

The patron was a well-dressed older white gentleman, a distinguished gray if you will, and he was conversing with his disinterested wife of the same age group which I had pegged as circa sixty years.  He was speaking of finances and at one point lamented that “the internet ruined business.”  My dining partner – who was and still is in the business of car sales – overheard this as well and proceeded to second the man’s argument.  They both described the situation differently but the message was clearly the same from each: nowadays the customer is too damn well informed.

This mindset really rubbed me the wrong way as, personally, I see the driving force of life as being the search for truth.  It is my deeply felt belief that every human being is entitled to know all that is knowable, and as such the need for a free exchange of information is kind of an ultimate priority to me.  It just seems as though any system (in this case, business) where it is possible to prosper though the withholding of information or, worse yet, to potentially not prosper due to a lack of such inter-human manipulation, is just fundamentally flawed.

It is not a unique point of view being expressed when one states that money is the root of all evil; most people seem to appreciate this as fact on some level.  It seems an inevitability, however, that somebody else responds with the rather obvious point that our society has always existed with an economy based upon money.  That right there is a major red flag for me.  Life and change exist in a rather stunning state of symbiosis – it is death that is bedfellows with stagnancy.  I am, in turn, suspicious of any extended period of stagnancy in any human arena.  It usually means a minority is taking advantage of a majority, and I don’t think it necessarily makes me paranoid to acknowledge that such advantages usually involve money.

I do not mean to suggest that we as a people have never benefitted from the age old supply-and-demand approach, and competition has indeed been crucial to our progress in the past.  But ours is also a country that was built to a large extent by enslaved people.  Surely we can, at least the majority of us, agree to consider slavery a once-productive system that is now wholly archaic and worthy of demolition wherever it is found to be in practice.  We are the human-fucking-race, and on top of that we have good old American know-how.  We can always do better than what we have done before.  Now let’s do it.

* To many of us it will come as no surprise that our continued adherence to a market-based economy is not only holding back our human potential but is also antithetical to developing an efficient use of the planet’s resources…

(c) 2013, Michael Schiff, All Rights Reserved

The Great Compromise

18 Mar

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Life is very much about compromise, and I accept this; they taught us as much when we were young.  The dilemma is that “compromise” has two distinctly different meanings.  The first according to Merriam-Webster was my childhood interpretation – “settlement of differences by arbitration or by consent reached by mutual concessions” – while the second seems, based on my experience as an adult in this society, to be what they actually might have meant – “a concession to something derogatory or prejudicial.”   Cooperation happens to be second nature to me and I am more than willing to make concessions as I see this as an inherent requirement of any relationship.  But the word “compromise” as a synonym for “surrender”?  Yeah, I resolutely refuse that as an approach to living life.  I am willing to make compromises, in other words, but am far less willing to compromise myself.

Given this, it should come as no surprise that what I look for in a job opportunity is the potential for reward.  That is not to say it needs be a high-paying job so long as the return is fairly related to the amount of time and level of effort and energy put into it.  It’s all about investment versus returns.  This can mean, as it has in my life, that a profitable producing gig should it fill up your days with work hours and agita can be far less worthwhile than a care-free minimum wage position with fun-loving associates, assuming that you are able to cover your necessities.  Obviously the more professional gig strikes us as holding a greater chance for future benefits – it seems more likely to be a stepping stone on one’s career path than, say, a retail or service position might.  I would just urge you to be careful and critical on this point, for such gigs very often do no such good despite claims or promises to the contrary.  Indeed I know a great many professionals but very few people who, now more than a decade since graduating from college, are actually making a living doing what they want to be doing.

The fact that our societal structure has a money-based economy combined with the reality that I am not independently wealthy dictates that I require a job.  Most of us have to work for a living, and more often than not we work at something far below our ideals.  Okay, I tell myself, that is simply part of my end of the great compromise.  But here’s the question: if you hate your job as many of us do or have, if it brings nothing of pleasure either in the immediate or in the form of financial freedom, then how can that be considered a compromise?  The answer of course is that it can only by our second (inexcusable) definition of the word.

I have hated too many of the jobs I’ve had to have, and have hated too much about them.  What is the point of working to live if the work itself makes you hate living?  It is at best a ridiculous state of affairs and I find it odd that I am usually the only person complaining about this.  Whether it is the lack of appeal in the task at hand or the presence of a truly unpleasant supervisor, things have a way of sucking when they suck.  It is for this reason that I find myself excited about a current job prospect.  Good people, good surroundings, and a modicum of autonomy to go with the anticipated responsibilities all seem like a pretty reliable equation for things not sucking.

Next month I turn thirty-three.  Between the ages of ten and twenty-five, I actually believed I’d be directing feature films by thirty-three.  Now I desire to pay my bills while marginally liking what I do with my days.  This is my number one priority in the way that some people have their offspring and I used to have my creative endeavors, and even this can come off as expecting too much out of life.  Guess society has managed to get some surrender out of me after all.

Allow me to close with a clip from one of my favorite films, A Thousand Clowns (1965)I suggest skipping ahead about two minutes for the relevant scene.  Both of these guys make good points.  Try and guess which one I most agree with.

(c) 2013, Michael Schiff, All Rights Reserved

Cue: The Spanish Flea

28 Feb

If writing a dating blog, does one have to keep it completely anonymous? At what point does it become wrong not to inform a girl you’re dating about your blog’s existence?  Or will she automatically find out about it on her own at the upstart because of Google or Facebook or whatever?  And either way, couldn’t this potentially fuck everything up – the blog and the relationship’s chances – due to conflicting interests?

These are admittedly very premature questions for me to be asking in this instance.  I have not had anybody who could even remotely be considered a girlfriend for well over a year now, and have not seen anyone casually for several months.  That I also have not held steadily even a part-time job since 2011 is hardly an unrelated fact.  Dating is much like the board game Monopoly – forget about winning, one needs money just to play.  And I’m not referring solely to the financial costs of courtship, but also to the need for one to be able to simply exist in a social situation.  Whether it is grabbing a drink at happy hour or picking up a six-pack for a house party, putting one’s self “out there” comes with expenses attached.  In other words, no money in your pocket means not having the opportunity to strike out.

Why then should this be on my mind?  I mean, sure, women are great, at least the great ones are, and there seems to be no limit to the number of appealing females in my life who remind of this fact frequently.  But that has been the reality for quite some time.  Why then should this be on my mind these days?

While I do have an exciting job lead at the moment, it is not a given that I will get it and, even if I do, said job would not begin before May.  Chemical castration seems like it would be a good option for me in the interim, as long as it were reversible that is.  If there were a pill I could take or, preferably, something I could smoke that would make me disinterested in the opposite sex, I would be all over that shit – unless, of course, it weren’t free.

I think the spring is coming early this year, and my spidey sense knows it.  Ladies, lock up your purses!


(c) 2013, Michael Schiff, All Rights Reserved

The 85th Academy Awards: Thoughts, Picks, and Predictions

23 Feb

brian_griffin_legalize

DISCLAIMER

The following are categories for which I have not seen a single nominee and will not be commenting on beyond this list:  Best Animated Feature, Best Foreign Language Film, Best Documentary Feature, Best Documentary Short Subject, Best Live Action Short Film, and Best Animated Short Film.  I also have no opinions on Best Makeup and Hair Styling.  Sorry, kids.

MUSIC

I would have loved to have seen “The Cloud Atlas Sextet” pick up a nomination for Best Original Song, along with the rest of the film’s music in the Best Original Score category.  Such an instance did occur in 1977 when “Ave Santani” from The Omen was in competition the same night that Jerry Goldsmith’s score took home the statue.  Alas Cloud Atlas was not nominated in either music category which means I will be placing my bets on Adele’s “Skyfall” from Skyfall and Mychael Danna’s compositions for Life of Pi – and the talent (Tom Tykwer, Johnny Klimek and Reinhold Heil) behind the following piece will not be recognized at all.  For shame!


DESIGN

Best Production Design and Best Costume Design are two more categories where I would have liked to have seen Cloud Atlas honored.  Prometheus was also deserving of recognition particularly in the first category, and seeing as how the Academy managed to remember it when it came to Visual Effects, I don’t really understand the snub here.  In terms of predictions, I think Rick Carter’s work on Lincoln will earn him a second Oscar for Production Design, while Jacqueline Durran will likely pick up her first Best Costume Design trophy for Anna Karenina.

SOUND

I have nothing much to say about Best Sound Editing or Best Sound Mixing this year, and have no dog in this race as it were.  Well, that’s not completely true because I did bet in a pool – Skyfall for Editing (since it is nominated in both categories), and Les Miserables for Mixing (since it is a musical).  But that should not be looked upon as an indicator that I care particularly about the outcome.  Shrug!

VISUAL EFFECTS

To my eye, 2012 was a very impressive year for visual effects.    Some of my favorite digital imagery wasn’t even in studio-produced fare (I’m thinking of Cloud Atlas and Cabin in the Woods), though of course each of the films nominated in this category are just that.  I predict Life of Pi will win Best Visual Effects thanks to its story’s dependence on a mostly photorealistic Bengal tiger, and could never complain about this accomplishment being recognized.  When it comes to this category, however, I have taught myself to consider the scale of a film’s ambition just as much as how grounded in reality the final result may be.  It is with this in mind that I will be rooting for Marvel’s The Avengers during the ceremony.  Please consider the following clip prior to dismissing my choice here.


CINEMATOGRAPHY

My favorite cinematography of 2012 is probably a toss-up between Mihai Malaimare Jr’s work on The Master and Darius Wolski’s for Prometheus, neither of which is nominated.  Of those who are, both my personal pick and my official prediction come down to Roger Deakins for Skyfall.  Oh, how I love you, Roger Deakins.  Love, that is, in spite of the fact that I have lost money on your Oscar losses in the past.  I’m certainly concerned about Claudio Miranda (Life of Pi) as he strikes me as the big competition and the Academy sure does seem to like 3-D, but it’s just gotta be Deakins, right?

FILM EDITING

I have never been someone who automatically associates this award with epics, but in the case of Cloud Atlas I cannot resist.  The scope is undeniably enormous and yet the film’s stories are gathered into a cohesive whole with remarkable precision.  What Alexander Berner pulls off here is a juggling act of the highest order.  At least my runner up in this category, who is William Goldenberg for Argo, did get nominated for Best Film Editing and seems most likely to win, particularly given that he is also up for Zero Dark Thirty on which he collaborated with Dylan Tichenor.

SCREENPLAY(S)

Outside of Schindler’s List for Best Picture, I don’t believe there has been a more obvious Oscar pick in my lifetime than Quentin Tarantino’s Best Original Screenplay for Pulp Fiction (which he shared with Roger Avery for story contributions).  With Django Unchained, I believe, Tarantino will win his second Oscar.  Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master and Martin McDonagh’s Seven Psychopaths both seemed like two of the year’s other most original screenplays to me, but what do I know?

Best Adapted Screenplay might be the most difficult category for me this year in terms of picking my predicted winner.  It seems it will either be Chris Terrio for Argo or David O. Russell for Silver Linings Playbook.  On one hand, Terrio pulled a script together from multiple official sources and real life events.  Russell, on the other hand, had a single source for his adaptation but also provided four (apparently) Oscar-caliber roles to his lead actors.  Personally – surprise, surprise – I would give it to Lana Wachowski & Tom Tykwer & Andy Wachowski for Cloud Atlas.

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ACTING – SUPPORTING ROLES

I feel like in almost any other year’s race my choice for Best Supporting Actor would be Philip Seymour Hoffman for The Master and, indeed, he is my personal pick of those nominated.  But for me when considering the whole of 2012, this category is all about Jim Broadbent in Cloud Atlas – specifically his turn as Timothy Cavendish – and the lovable monster played by Sam Rockwell in Seven Psychopaths, both of whom failed to make the Academy’s cut.  My official prediction goes to Golden Globe and BAFTA-winner Christoph Waltz in Django Unchained who, of course, has already won for a very similar performance (Inglourious Basterds in 2010).

Like pretty much everybody else, I am expecting Anne Hathaway to win Best Supporting Actress for Les Miserables, but I sure would love to be wrong and for this to prove to be Amy Adams’ year.  She has quite a challenging role in The Master and she meets each of its demands with aplomb.  It’s one hell of a performance.  The good news is that Adams should have the opportunity to own this category on numerous occasions for years to come.

ACTING – LEADING ROLES

Kudos to Daniel Day Lewis (who will win Best Actor for Lincoln) for acknowledging Joaquin Phoenix’s un-nominated performance in The Master during his SAG Awards acceptance speech.  This is one of those bold, brave characterizations I will likely cherish forever, reminiscent in a most impressive way of Malcolm MacDowell’s turn as Alex in A Clockwork Orange (Kubrick, 1971) and Robert De Niro’s more soul-exposing moments in Taxi Driver (Scorsese, 1976)There is something remarkably childlike in the honesty of Phoenix’s portrayal of Freddie Quell and we just don’t get enough of that in cinema these days.

For Best Actress, I have still seen only one of the nominees, and in my opinion Jennifer Lawrence is terrific in Silver Linings Playbook.  Consider me a fan without hesitation.  However, I just don’t see this as a leading role.  Michelle Williams’ turn in Take This Waltz, on the other hand, absolutely carries the entire film.  More than any other category, this is the one that demands further viewing and deeper thought.  That said, I am going out on a limb and predicting that the birthday girl herself, Emmanuelle Riva, will win the golden trophy.  Or maybe nothing particularly exciting will happen all night.

DIRECTOR AND PICTURE

The film with the finest direction of the year is also my pick for Best Picture.  If you missed my lengthy appraisal of the Wachowskis’ collaboration with Tom Tykwer on Cloud Atlas, you can read it here.  From the list of directors who actually are nominated for Best Director, my prediction is that Ang Lee will win for Life of Pi, and of the films, I believe that Ben Affleck’s Argo will take the Best Picture prize.  Nothing wrong with that.

P.S. I still have not seen Beasts of the Southern Wild, Lincoln or Zero Dark Thirty.  Judge me not lest ye be judged!

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(c) 2013, Michael Schiff, All Rights Reserved