Monday, October 24, 2016

My Journey as a Classic Film Fan

Being a classic film fan, for me, has been a relatively solitary experience.  I have one tried-and-true companion on this journey (my brother, for whom nothing in this article really applies, and for whom I am most grateful to be able to text names like Robert Mitchum and Norma Shearer and not get a blank stare), but as a whole, most of the world of classic cinema for me is largely a lonely affair in my celluloid world.  That was why I was struck recently by the wonderful journalism done by Todd van Der Werff at Vox about how easy it is to see classic movies...and how hard it is to become obsessed with them in the age of Netflix.  As a result, I wanted to do a reaction piece talking about my journey into classic cinema and some of the struggles that exist as a result.

I was probably about eleven when I started to properly investigate classic cinema, but I had always had a window into that world.  In VanDerWerff's article he talks about a proverbial grandparent who welcomed you into a classical realm of cinema, but in my case I suspect it was more a proverbial parent, at least at the start.  My parents would watch movies with my brother and I on Saturday nights, and I became obsessed with learning more about my parents themselves through their cinematic tastes-learning what their favorite films were, and how I could better understand people through the movies.  This extended to my grandparents, and with that I sought out films like The African Queen and Trail of the Lonesome Pine and Tora! Tora! Tora!, and eventually, in no small part due to the Oscars, I began to realize that films were categorized and there were lists/awards that guided you into a journey of better understanding of cinema.

Two lists in particular formed this love of cinema, perhaps equally to the Academy Awards: the Greatest Films of All-Time lists created by the American Film Institute and Entertainment Weekly.  The AFI list opened up a far more interesting debate than what my almanacs could provide in terms of a list of Oscar winners.  After all, the AFI had the audacity to name a movie like It's a Wonderful Life as the best film from 1946, even though Oscar had rewarded The Best Years of Our Lives-this was a novel concept as a child for me to be able to have differing opinions of the movies put in front of me by critics and to think about how films aged differently.  I began to seek out every film on the list (a task that took several decades, I might add).

The Entertainment Weekly list further informed my education.  One of those sturdy hardcover editions of a magazine (though mine has become tattered through the years thanks to near constant use), it wasn't what you'd expect from modern-day Entertainment Weekly (films like The Breakfast Club and Mean Girls aren't ranked alongside Citizen Kane).  Instead, it was a pretty classy affair, and had me start a conversation about foreign films, pictures like La Dolce Vita and The Bicycle Thief.  This is also, most likely, where my journey of using my parents as a crutch likely ended in classic cinema-my parents were more well-versed with the world of Cary Grant and Grace Kelly than of Claudia Cardinale, but I went on, wanting to become a more ardent student of the cinema.

As VanDerWerff points out in his article, some of the ways I supplemented my passion were through video stores, and that's how I gained a better breath of the cinema.  I would go through our local video store, wandering through the shelves, and while my parents would insist upon us renting at least one movie "for the whole family" I'd also rent movies like Tribute and Same Time, Next Year as I knew they had an Oscar history.  Slowly I started to learn some of the nuances that particular actors, genres, and eras contained, and how there were movies and actor that I liked and didn't from each of these subsets of cinema.  Additionally, I would pore through our channel guide, reading through first the AMC movies that were playing, happily recording anything that looked of value or interest, and then eventually Turner Classic Movies once that became an option toward the end of high school.

For me, I'm startled by the nods of concurrence I have with VanDerWerff in this article, particularly when it comes to the subject of Netflix.  Until very recently, Netflix has been almost exclusively a resource for the cinema (for me).  I get my three discs every week, some of which occasionally sit on my TV stand longer than others, but they are a wide-range of movies.  I'm disappointed that the catalog isn't remotely what it used to be (and I get more discs that are scratched each year than I used to), but it's still the best vestibule on the internet for instant gratification of titles that are coming toward me.  I have nearly 1000 movies in my queue (I have two queues, separating out my discs so that I get more OVP titles, but still don't miss non-Oscar titles), and have an interest in seeing all of the pictures on the list.  And yet, I still get bemused looks from coworkers and friends when they see the DVD's, an archaic link to the past like still using CD's or writing checks.  Most people get their movies from Netflix, but over streaming.

Except, of course, that most people simply don't get their movies.  It's always a depressing ask of someone, but asking someone not their favorite movie (which they will proclaim "too hard" to pronounce, to which I actively, but internally, roll my eyes), but instead simply what the last movie they saw, and it will inevitably be either a major headliner from the past year or two, or it will be one of several films they've seen multiple times (like Bridesmaids or a Bourne picture).  Most patrons of Netflix, in my anecdotal experience, are simply using it as a rerun factory-something that they can see buckets of television, recent and current (it's rarely something that's older than about fifteen years, so even classic television gets subtracted in this equation).  There's nothing wrong with that-television has its own list of classics and attributes, after all, and some of the shows on it are either fun or wonderfully-crafted-but as a source of the cinema, a rare, boundless video store as Netflix started out, it's sad that this lovely little oasis seems to have slipped away.

I started this article talking about the loneliness of being a cinephile these days, and as VanDerWerff pointed out, it's harder to introduce new people to the cinema.  I want to add on a bitter note onto this article, based on my opinion, and that's that people are less concerned with any history that is not their own, which is also lending itself to this depletion of ardent film fans.  While it's easy to find films like Casablanca and Citizen Kane and Raging Bull, people simply don't seek them out and they do it ardently because they don't want to do so.  Now, obviously, there are exceptions (I have a blog in the hopes that these people exist and continue to want to reach out to the more obscure corners of the movies, and I suspect if you got this far in this article you're one of those people), but I've found that most people I interact with on a day-to-day basis are more interested in whatever is popular in the halls of social media than anything that might be remotely obscure.  Endless thoughts about The Bachelor and Game of Thrones and RuPaul's Drag Race will dominate most pop cultural conversations, and while there's nothing wrong with wanting to discuss these, it's a shame that people aren't willing to expound past their own comfort zones and try, say, an old movie or a television show from before they were born.  I know that I sound like Clint Eastwood on a porch (a reference, perhaps at this point, not universally known either), but it's the truth-being a fan of the cinema is an increasingly lonely road, one that thankfully you can find corners of the internet to celebrate, but one that you have to forge largely by yourself.  So in that regard, and to conclude, I join the chorus of film fans who have an ardent and absolute love of Turner Classic Movies.  It's a place where you are, much like those video stores of yore, frequently finding lost treasures alongside the movies you've loved for years.  If you're someone that has always had a passing interest in cinema, or perhaps want to expound on your cultural knowledge, there's no greater way to go than simply turn on your TV, flip to this channel, and invest a couple of hours in the next film they put in front of you.  I promise you'll be happy you did.  And I'll be happy to discuss it with you.

OVP: Executive Suite (1954)

Film: Executive Suite (1954)
Stars: William Holden, June Allyson, Barbara Stanwyck, Fredric March, Walter Pidgeon, Paul Douglas, Shelley Winters, Louis Calhern, Dean Jagger, Nina Foch
Director: Robert Wise
Oscar History: 4 nominations (Best Supporting Actress-Nina Foch, Cinematography, Art Direction, Costume Design)
Snap Judgment Ranking: 4/5 stars

There is no genre harder to gage in how it will age than straight-dramas.  For any classic film fan, there's really few joys greater than investigating a classic movie for the first time, but I have to say that dramas always have their own risks.  Westerns, whether comedy or drama, you know what you're getting into; same with action-adventures, love stories, horrors, noir, but straight dramas run multiple different pitfalls.  The issues that are being discussed (because almost every drama has an issue at its core) may no longer be applicable, or applicable in the same way.  What might have seemed important at the time could, in fact, be unimportant now, and societal norms may shift to make the film much more dated than you'd hope.  As a result, I headed into Executive Suite (as part of Operation Clean My DVR), not knowing what I was in store for, and actually ended up pleasantly surprised.  The film, with an inexplicably gigantic cast of stars, works despite on-paper seeming like something that might not.

(Spoilers Ahead) Executive Suite uses the ticking clock aspect of storytelling well-while the film isn't quite in real time, it's only the course of about a 24-hour period, where an unseen man, a wealthy and controlling titan of industry, has died, leaving a gaping hole over who will be his successor at a successful furniture manufacturing company.  In the 24-hour period, we see multiple different men jostling with each other and other members of the board trying to figure out who will end up being the CEO, though the chief protagonists in that regard are Don (Holden), the young upstart with a lot of big ideals for the company, and Shaw (March), a practical man who lives mostly by the adoration of the shareholders.

I'll give you one guess over who wins (let's not forget this was made in 1954), but the film actually rises above its predictable nature in that regard.  We're well aware that Holden is the one in command here, and will eventually become the successor, but the film is still pretty riveting nonetheless.  It helps that Robert Wise hired a slate full of movie stars to fill up his picture; it was reported years later that they made this film, similar to the Grand Hotel-style all-star casts of the early 1930's, to compete with television, and while not all of the acting is on the same level, everyone is very watchable and knows how to command a scene when they're expected to do so.  I particularly liked Shelley Winters as a secretary having an affair with her boss, and Fredric March is commendable at making his mustache-twisting villain into a real human being (March is such a fine actor-the fact that he largely made pictures like these without any sort of genre hooks is the only explanation why he isn't still just as famous with casual moviegoers).  Nina Foch won the film's sole acting citation, and she's good, but it's the sort of good you only notice when someone else points it out to you-her character is mysterious, and rises above what could have been completely stock work (think of that scene where she's opposite of March and telling him off as carefully as she can, knowing he's likely to be her next boss), but I'll admit that I wouldn't have paid her much heed had I not been looking for the OVP.

The film's other three nominations are about on the same page-they're all good, though one wonders if they were listed simply because the movie is actually quite good and these were easy categories.  Art Direction is solid-I loved the C-Suite hallway stairs (it's such a nice, elegant touch, the sort that would happen dozens of stories above the earth), though the rest of the film (especially the homes and the other offices), don't have this level of inventive detail.  The costumes are all very appropriately tailored to this level of importance (one wonders if the Mad Men costume designers looked at a film like this for inspiration), and again there's the great touch of Nina Foch's pencil necklace, but overall I was less impressed with other parts, such as the men's suits which felt completely interchangeable.  And finally, the cinematography has a gimmick (never properly seeing the face of the dead CEO, and a first-person camera early on in the picture), which was catnip at the time to that particular AMPAS branch, but again (aside from those great C-Suite hallway shots), there's not a lot to recommend this nomination.

Stil, even if it didn't quite deserve all of its Oscar accolades, I can't help but be fascinated by this movie.  It's wildly watchable, particularly Winters and March, and the sort of film that's less about the acting or visual elements and more about the sum of its parts.  Think of something like Argo where nothing specifically is singled out as "the best" but it's damn fine entertainment.  At least those were my thoughts-how about yours?  Have any of you seen Executive Suite, and if so, what are your thoughts?  If not, share some favorite straight dramas that have stood the test of time in the comments!

Sunday, October 23, 2016

King Cobra (2016)

Film: King Cobra (2016)
Stars: Garrett Clayton, Christian Slater, James Franco, Keegan Allen
Director: Justin Kelly
Oscar History: Sure...a film about the world of gay porn is going to get an Oscar nomination.  Right.
Snap Judgment Ranking: 2/5 stars

When you think of a film about pornography, and it's not a situation where you're waiting for something to buffer, you think of Boogie Nights.  Paul Thomas Anderson really launched his impressive career as a filmmaker with this magnum opus, an epic film about pornography in the 1970's.  So good is Boogie Nights (and it really is sensational, even upon revisit), that it's kind of hard to compare it to pretty much any other film about the industry.  You're either succeeding in its shadow or miserably failing in comparison.  So when I heard King Cobra would be turned into a movie, I was kind of staggered as to what it might mean-would it be able to be much more than a "gay Boogie Nights" or would it, like so many James Franco projects lately, simply be another well-meaning misfire?

(Spoilers Ahead) The film is the rare biopic that I approve of, actually, so I want to get that out of the way.  I'm usually incredibly against biopics, but as this is a subject that's not particularly well-known (it's worth noting that they didn't even stick to all of the same names as real-life figures), and it's willing to make most of its real-life subjects look less than flattering, I give it a pass on that front.  The film follows Sean, who uses the stage name Brent Corrigan (Clayton) as he becomes a gay porn sensation through producer Stephen (Slater).  Meanwhile, we see a concurrent story of Joe (Franco) and Harlow (Allen), a pimp and escort who are trying to make it in gay porn, but aren't able to break in and are running low on money.

The actual story appears to be as sensationalistic as it was onscreen, with Sean actually being underaged in several of his videos, as well as how Sean inadvertently led to Harlow and Joe killing the man who discovered him in a violent murder/arson.  The film, weirdly, though, doesn't really know how to handle this much plot-the editing and direction from Justin Kelly is weirdly underwhelming on this front.  Take, for example, the scene where Sean is wearing a wire to try and exonerate himself and implicate Harlow and Joe late in the film-it should be a thriller, but we barely even know that he's wearing a wire through much of the scene.  The film pulls away and makes most scenes anticlimactic, never really knowing what the focus of the film is.  Is it on the seedy underbelly of a multi-billion dollar sin industry, or is it on an eventual murder, or is it a coming-of-age story for Sean?

This lack of direction is a big problem in the film, and kind of shuts down something that has some defiantly good parts, particularly Christian Slater as a lascivious man, still sexually-obsessed with the gay porn actors he discovers.  Slater is by far the best part of the movie.  You'd think it would be a copy of Burt Reynolds in Boogie Nights, but Slater, who is desperately lonely and still grappling with his sexuality, takes the aging porn producer role into a different direction.  The film is never judgmental about his character (or about homosexuality or sex in general, save for one pair of scenes with Molly Ringwald/Alicia Silverstone, which was a nice change of pace), but it isn't shy about showing his intentions, and in particular his obsession with Sean.  The rest of the acting is just okay-Franco has played this role before, and with more aplomb, in Spring Breakers, and Garrett Clayton proves why you should always hire good actors to play bad actors, because Clayton coasts too much when Sean is off-screen, and plays him too vacuously for the ending to pay off.

The film is, particularly for a picture about gay sex, oddly prudish about nudity.  It's hard to imagine this film ending up in many theaters and is mostly going to be delivered to audiences On Demand, so I'm kind of stunned, for example, that there is not a penis on display in the entire film, and the camerawork that they have to achieve to ensure you never see one borders on the idiotic.  Additionally, I felt the ending was completely unearned (Sean didn't grow in this movie, at least not onscreen, and so the ending felt ridiculously cheesy) and both an homage to Boogie Nights, and yet one where you need context to get it.  In Boogie Nights we spend most of the time hearing about Dirk Diggler's famously large penis and never seeing it until the last scene; in King Cobra we see clearly Brent Corrigan's famously firm posterior, except that we haven't heard about Brent's bum for most of the picture like we did Dirk (this is just famous in real life, not as highlighted in the movie), so it doesn't have the same "mic drop" effect it should.  Corrigan did, in fact, end up becoming a wildly-successful adult film star and had a modicum of success as a producer and actor in more mainstream films, but there's no indication of that in the movie and Corrigan isn't famous enough for the director to assume the audience knows the ending to that story.  It's a really odd ending, is what I'm trying to get at-an almost complete fail.

All-in-all, this film is better than it should be (it's very watchable, thanks almost exclusively to Slater knocking it out of the park), but it's still a pale imitation of films that went before it.  If you're interested in something that isn't your normal movie experience (or the world of gay porn), you should see it, but I'm not promising much.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

25 Facts for Your Election Night Party

With the election just over two weeks away, it's worth getting ready for your election night party, and what better way to do that than by spouting off some wonderful trivia about the two candidates (and the two vice presidential nominees) at your party to sound super smart and politically-informed.  Here are 25 bon mots you can throw out there depending on how the night goes...

If Hillary Clinton Wins...

1. Everyone knows Clinton is the first woman to be elected president, but in an interesting twist is she's actually beating the woman who currently has received the most votes for president of the United States, Dr. Jill Stein, who was the Green Party candidate in 2012 and received 469,000 votes that year (a number Clinton has almost certainly already bested even as of today thanks to early voting and absentees).
2. Hillary Clinton will become the first non-incumbent Democrat to succeed another Democratic president since Martin van Buren in 1836.  While other Democrats have come close (notably Hubert Humphrey in 1968 and Al Gore in 2000), no Democrat has accomplished what Clinton is going to do in over 150 years.  For comparison sake, the last time this happened was before Queen Victoria had even begun to reign in England.
3. Hillary Clinton is the first former occupant of the White House to become president.  While John Quincy Adams and George W. Bush both had fathers that were president, they were both adults by the time that their dads had become POTUS, so they weren't permanent residents of the White House.
4. Hillary Clinton is the second president to be born with a last name different from the one she will be inaugurated with; her husband Bill Clinton, is the first as he was born William Jefferson Blythe, Jr.
5. Hillary Clinton would mark only the third time since the enactment of the 17th Amendment that two presidents will have served together in the US Senate (both she and President Obama served in the Senate together from 2005-2008).  The other times were from 1950-53 (when future-Presidents Nixon and Johnson served together) and 1953-61(when future-Presidents Kennedy and Johnson  served together).

If Donald Trump Wins...

1. Donald Trump would become the oldest person ever to become president, being 238 days older than Ronald Reagan when he first took the Oath of Office in 1981.
2. Trump would become the first president in American history to be elected without any sort of political or military background.  Four other presidents have won the White House without any sort of elected background, but three of them (Zachary Taylor, Ulysses S. Grant, and Dwight Eisenhower) were high-ranking generals, and the fourth (Herbert Hoover) was Secretary of Commerce.
3. Trump would become the first president since Gerald Ford to enter the White House undefeated electorally.  Jimmy Carter was defeated for governor in 1966, Ronald Reagan lost the Republican nomination in 1968/1976, George HW Bush lost the GOP nomination in 1980 as well as two Senate elections, Bill Clinton lost a House race in 1974 as well as reelection as governor in 1980, George W. Bush lost a House race in 1978, and Barack Obama lost a House primary in 2000.  Hillary Clinton's loss in the 2008 Democratic Primary means this streak would continue if she were elected.
4. Melania Trump would become the first foreign-born First Lady since Louisa Adams, who was born in London.  Donald Trump would be the only president in United States history to have been married three times in his lifetime; he'd be the seventh to be married more than once after John Tyler, Millard Fillmore, Benjamin Harrison, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, and Ronald Reagan.
5. Trump's win would officially mean that University of Pennsylvania would become the fifth Ivy League school to have a president as a graduate of the school.  Princeton, Columbia, Harvard, and Yale have all hosted presidents, meaning that over 50% of the Ivy League would have presidential graduates.  It's worth noting that William Henry Harrison did attend Penn for medical school, but didn't complete his studies.

If Tim Kaine Wins...

1. Tim Kaine will become the first Vice President to have ever served on a City Council.  While other Vice Presidents (Spiro Agnew, Joe Biden) have served in county-level positions, he will become the first veep to ever be a city councilman.
2. Kaine will become the first person since the passage of the 17th amendment to be both a governor and a senator prior to being elected Vice President.
3. Tim Kaine will continue a long tradition of Democratic Vice Presidents being senators.  Every Democratic vice president since 1945 (Henry Wallace) has been a sitting US Senator.  It's worth noting that every presidential cycle has seen the Democratic convention nominate a senator since 1940 save one (1984, where Rep. Geraldine Ferraro was the nominee).
4. Tim Kaine's wife Anne Holton would become the first Second Lady to have kept her maiden name upon getting married.  She is the daughter of former Republican Governor of Virginia Linwood Holton.
5. Anne Holton would become the fifth consecutive Second Lady to hold a Masters-level degree.  Marilyn Quayle, like Holton, was an attorney, Tipper Gore has a Masters in Psychology, Lynne Cheney has a Master of Arts degree, and Jill Biden has a doctorate in Education.  This also holds true if Karen Pence is elected, as she has a Masters in Education.

If Mike Pence Wins...

1. Pence will become the fourth consecutive Republican Vice President to have served in the United States House of Representatives, coming after George HW Bush, Dan Quayle, and Dick Cheney.
2. Indiana has a strangely long history of vice presidents, second only to New York-Pence would be the sixth vice president from the state, the most recent being Dan Quayle.  It's worth noting that the only president who is from Indiana (Benjamin Harrison) never served as Vice President.
3. While his running mate has never lost an election, Mike Pence actually failed in his first two runs for Congress, only successfully winning in 2000.
4. Republicans playing the long count on number of vice presidents can breathe a sigh of relief if Pence wins.  Currently there have been 20 different Republican vice presidents, and 18 different Democratic vice presidents (thanks in large part to the late 19th Century, when Republicans dominated the White House).  The presidential numbers will still remain favoring the GOP, since it's currently 18-15 in that regard.
5. Mike Pence's wife Karen is 231 days older than him; should her husband be elected, Karen Pence will be the first Second Lady since Pat Nixon to be older than her husband.  It's worth noting that Joe Biden's first wife Neilia was older than him, but died before he took office.

Evan McMullin
Depending on How the Night Progresses...

1. Ohio has correctly aligned with every presidential victor since 1960, a feat all the more incredible when the next longest streak for a state is Florida, which has called it right since 1992.  If polls are correct that Trump wins Ohio, but loses the White House, it will be only the third time the Buckeye State has gone against the nation in over 100 years.
2. Since the passage of the 17th amendment, North Carolina has only once voted for one party for the White House and then a second party for the Senate (in 1968, with Vice President Nixon and Senator Sam Ervin splitting the vote).  If aggregate polling is right, this could be the second if Clinton/Sen. Richard Burr both win.
3. Regardless of who wins, the presidential daughter streak will continue-every president since Dwight Eisenhower has had at least one daughter (Chelsea Clinton for the Democrats, Ivanka and Tiffany Trump for the Republicans).  It's worth noting that if Donald Trump wins, however, that it will be the first time that a president has had a son since George HW Bush.
4. Should Evan McMullin successfully win the state of Utah and its six electoral votes, he will become the first third-party candidate to win the popular vote of a state since 1968, when Alabama Governor George Wallace won five states in the South.  In fact, only four men since 1900 have won a state's popular/electoral college votes as a third-party candidate: Theodore Roosevelt in 1912 (who made it close enough he actually beat the Republican candidate nationwide, winning 20 states), Bob LaFollette (a favorite son similar to McMullin, winning in Wisconsin in 1924), Strom Thurmond in 1948 (remember that, Trent Lott?), and Wallace.  Considering one of those men was a former president, one a senator, and two incumbent governors, McMullin would be the least established third-party candidate to win an electoral vote in American history.  Should McMullin (or any of the candidates) win the state with less than 32.1% of the vote, that would be a record for the lowest percentage of the vote to still win a state (currently held by Woodrow Wilson in Idaho in 1912).
5. If Utah does vote for McMullin, it will end their 12-cycle run of voting for the Republican nominee.  The all-time record for most consecutive cycles for the Republicans is held by Vermont (27-cycles), which is not at any risk of changing, but the current record is a nine state tie between Utah, Alaska, Idaho, Oklahoma, Wyoming, Kansas, Nebraska, and the Dakotas.  Recent polls have shown Alaska and Utah quite close in the polls, so they could give more room to the other seven states in their quest to take out Vermont.  The Democratic side seems unlikely to flip, as Minnesota seems assured to vote for Hillary Clinton, moving them up to 11-straight cycles of backing the Democrat (Georgia has the all-time record at 24).

There you go-any other election-related trivia?  Share it in the comments!

Friday, October 21, 2016

The 20 Hardest-to-Call Elections of 2016

We are less than three weeks from Election Day!  Huzzah, hooray, this long, national nightmare is finally over.  Yes, soon we will all be casting our ballots (hopefully some of you have already cast yours, in fact), and will be waiting patiently to see whether we'll be grabbing for the champagne or the whiskey.  For me, however, this means that I need to start my gigantic undertaking of writing an Election Night Guide (see here for an example), and unlike some other prognosticators, I think it's cheating to state that a race is a tossup-it doesn't count as "getting them all right" if you have tossups headed into the election night.  However, there are always some races that I have more trouble flipping that coin on than others, so below I've listed out the twenty races that I think are most likely to be decided by a handful of voters on election night in a few weeks, and the ones I'm having the hardest time picking a victor

(Note-I limited myself to races for the White House, Senate, Governor's, and House-I will admit there are a few state legislative races, as well as ballot initiatives, that are also tossups-if you have a favorite of those please share in the comments.  Additionally, these are listed alphabetically).


I'm going to say outright-I think that the presidential race is going to go, in terms of simply winning the Oval Office, to Hillary Clinton.  There's really no question about that to me-the paths she has to win are too great, the paths for Trump are too slim-he hasn't broken through in New Hampshire or Pennsylvania, and she leads in too many states (Florida, Nevada, North Carolina, occasionally Ohio) that I think at this point this has to be assumed.  The question, then, goes to which of the marginal states she might be able to nab away from Trump to increase her mandate (and to end his ridiculous assertions that the outcome is "rigged").  Arizona is the rare state (Georgia and Utah being the others) where Clinton could actually do something that many thought impossible a year ago when a third term for a Democrat seemed preposterous: she could become the first Democrat this century to win the state at a presidential level.  The polls have started to go toward Clinton, quite frankly, to the point where (on-paper) she has a better shot here than Iowa or Ohio.  However, she's reliant upon constituencies that don't oftentimes turnout (she'll need exceedingly strong Latino support), and only once since 1964 has a Democrat won this state, and that was in 1996 by only 2.2% of the vote (and with a strong third-party performance taking votes away from Bob Dole).  The recipe is right for Arizona, but I'm still not convinced it'll be ready in time.


I cannot believe I'm writing this, but Darrell Issa, the longtime thorn in the side of many a Democrat, is in a tossup race.  The frequent critic of President Obama has long been safe in his wealthy Orange County district, but a combination of factors have put him in a strange position where he might actually lose to political newcomer Marine Colonel Doug Applegate.  Issa has tied himself heavily to Trump, but because of his lack of popularity with college-educated white voters, Trump may actually lose Orange County, the first Republican to do so in eighty years.  That, combined with likely depressed turnout statewide for Republicans since the Senate race is between two Democrats, could hurt Issa, who isn't helping himself by sticking with Trump heavily.  Additionally, Applegate is running a pretty good grassroots campaign, and his military background couples well with his progressive stances on a number of issues.  I always have the biggest trouble in calling a race like this-one where the momentum is clearly with the challenger, but history teaches me that the incumbent is the favorite.  I'll decide in a few weeks, but I'm debating either direction, a clear sign that Issa is vulnerable.

Rep. John Mica (R-FL)

It rarely happens, but occasionally a political party randomly selecting a candidate no one has heard of at the last minute results in something other than an underwhelming performance.  That appears to be what's happening here, where a combination of factors (Trump at the top of the ticket, a Republican incumbent caught off-guard, and a challenger that has done remarkably well due to her late recruit) has made the race to see if 13-term incumbent Rep. John Mica (R) can, in fact, hold a seat he's held for decades.  Murphy's performance has been a sharp contrast against Mica's, and she's taking advantage of the district's new voters (Florida-7 became less Republican with the mid-decade redistricting in the Sunshine State), leading with independents in polls.  It's worth mentioning that she's up in general in those polls, though they're released by the DCCC; however, the NRCC hasn't released their internals and outside groups are spending money here, proving that Murphy could be not just a surprise nominee, but in fact a surprise congresswoman before the year is up.


The race for Florida's 18th is a bit of an inverse of Murphy's district, where the Republican Brian Mast is actually doing well in internal polls, while the Democrats have been keeping their numbers close to their vest.  On-the-surface, the race favors Democrat Randy Perkins ever-so-slightly, as the national environment, plus a boosted turnout in Rep. Patrick Murphy's old seat (he's vacating to run for an increasingly unlikely Senate seat), should help Perkins.  However, Perkins has gotten avalanches of bad press locally, and in some cases even nationally, with him being called "the Democratic Donald Trump," and no, Mr. Trump, that's not meant as a compliment.  His recent fumbles on abortion legislation could turn off female voters in the district, and there is a stronger-than-average third party candidate running (though her politics seem to borrow more from Mast than Perkins).  All-in-all, my head says Perkins, my gut says Mast-until they can find a balance, I'm keeping this a tossup.

Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL)

With the exception of Murphy and the 10th's Val Demings (the party's only surefire pickup in the state), Florida Democrats massively screwed up in House recruitment this cycle, with Charlie Crist in the 13th district (he's never actually delivered a victory for Democrats, but he's issued close to a dozen defeats in his long career), the bombastic Randy Perkins (we had just gotten rid of Alan Grayson!), and worst of all, former Rep. Joe Garcia in the 26th.  The Democrats had a far more palatable choice in Annette Taddeo (non-controversial, and a woman in a cycle where female candidates nationwide with similar profiles to Taddeo's have done quite well), but they went inexplicably for Garcia, making this a much harder pickup against incumbent-Rep. Carlos Curbelo, who beat Garcia two years ago.  Garcia has badly underperformed in fundraising, though it's worth noting that polling is hard to come by.  This district is swing-y enough that if Hillary wins the state by a lot, she may drag Garcia over the finish line, but Curbelo being relatively innocuous has to be a plus for a seat where the last two incumbents have faced ethical quagmires.  Even if he wins, Garcia (unlike Taddeo) will surely fall in two years when the Democrats have a midterm audience.

Iowa President

Since the night of the first debate, where Hillary Clinton got to draw a direct comparison to Donald Trump and saw a remarkable shift in her direction from voters, most of the swing states that had been trending to the Republicans moved back.  You'd have to argue with a pretty twisted view of reality that North Carolina, Nevada, and Florida don't favor Clinton pretty markedly at this point, and I even would wager that, despite the polls being against her as often as they're for her, Ohio is clearly a better option for Clinton now.  The sole Obama 2012 state that's staying an outlier?  That'd be the Hawkeye State, where Hillary Clinton still trails Donald Trump despite gaining everywhere else.  It's worth noting, however, that that could be a result of a lack of polling.  With no really competitive Senate race in the state-Grassley's winning-there's less need to poll here compared to North Carolina or Nevada.  That could mean that Iowa, a state we're all kind of assuming swings slightly Trump could be back to pure tossup status even if the aggregate polling hasn't caught up.  I'm thinking that's the case, but I don't like to buck polls too ferociously, so I'm hoping in the next few weeks we see some numbers here.

Speaker John Gregg (D-IN)
Indiana Governor

Four years ago one of the bigger surprises of the night was State House Speaker John Gregg (D) nearly besting longtime favorite-for-the-seat Rep. Mike Pence in Indiana's gubernatorial race.  Gregg is now positioning himself to do what he couldn't do last time: cross the finish line with an upset victory rather than upset near victory.  Polling against Lt. Governor Eric Holcomb has been hard to come by (Indiana has strict laws about conducting polls that makes it hard for companies to get into the state), but a recent Monmouth survey showed Gregg up by twelve-points, which shocked pretty much everyone who assumed it was a repeat of 2012: close, but not close enough for the Democrats.  Hillary Clinton's Super PAC has started spending money on advertising in the state, likely to help Evan Bayh but with an added affect on Gregg's support, and it now appears likely that Gregg is in the unique position of being able to over-perform Clinton in the state (most Democrats are trailing her nationally).  I would love to see a little bit more direction here, but Gregg may be caught in the perfect storm here to take advantage of a win (it's worth noting that vice presidential nominee Mike Pence gave up this election to run nationally-he may have saved himself a different kind of embarrassment if Gregg ends up winning by a larger-than-expected margin).

Indiana Senate

The other major race in the Hoosier State is a Senate race that most people thought would never be on this list.  It's quite obvious at this point that the Democrats may experience a wave, but not a titanic one that would have won this seat for former Rep. Baron Hill, who feels more in the vein of Patty Judge than Jason Kander.  However, when former Sen. Evan Bayh, sitting on $10 million and decades of winning campaigns from the Indiana electorate, jumped in, it was clear Rep. Todd Young would be in trouble.  Bayh's campaign has been poor-in almost any other circumstance he'd have lost right around the time his lobbying ties, particularly those while he was in the Senate, were exposed-but that may not matter.  While polling in Indiana has been scarce, Bayh has led in literally every single one conducted in the race, albeit with a swing of 1-7 points on that margin of victory.  Young may want to find solace in other candidates that overcame the RCP average (they do exist), but in those cases (think Jon Tester/Heidi Heitkamp in 2012 or Pat Roberts in 2014) they were candidates that were riding a national trend, even though in the case of the Democrats they were in states that Mitt Romney was winning.  Young doesn't have that advantage, nor does he have the advantage of being elected statewide previously (which Tester, Heitkamp, and Roberts all did).  The thing that stands out here is that Young is probably the better candidate at this point, and Bayh is going to have to outrun Trump, which makes me leery to go there with him, but every marker in this race shows he should be headed back to the Senate, albeit by a slimmer margin than when he initially announced.

Maine-2 President

Maine-2 is, like Iowa and Ohio, a place that should lean toward the Republicans slightly more under Trump than under Romney, if only because one of the few demographics that Trump over-indexes in (white men) are a major part of the demographic here.  However, polling in House districts is harder to do and generally less accurate, and it's much more difficult to come by-only one poll has been done here since Labor Day according to RCP, and that only showed Trump up by 1 (it was a D-partisan poll, for the record).  As a result, I'm not quite sure what to do here.  If there was a district that Clinton probably gained in in the last couple of weeks, it'd be here-after all, President Obama won it by over 8% of the vote and it was a seat that regularly sent a Democrat to Congress prior to 2014.  I think on paper this leans Trump, but similar to Iowa or Ohio, I suspect the gusts of wind that keep coming for Clinton may make what could be a first (Maine's never split their electoral votes before) another routine election.

Maine-2 House

In congruence with that race, I wonder if we might be in a situation where the person who is happiest Hillary Clinton has massive momentum and is trying to run the gamut on Electoral College votes is in fact State Sen. Emily Cain.  Cain, for a while there, looked to be one of the most unfortunate House candidates in the country.  After all, she was the favorite to win in 2014 until the massive wave came along ousting her in favor of now-Rep. Bruce Poliquin, and many assumed she'd get the seat back for the Democrats in 2016 since this seat regularly goes blue on a presidential/House level.  When the polls started to roll in for Trump, Cain was still competitive but even I figured she was a goner (and likely, after two straight losses, was looking at the end of her political career at a mere 36), but a Clinton rebound in Maine is a huge victory for Cain, as she was already outrunning Trump.  It's possible, of course, that Trump wins this district or that Poliquin enjoys some advantages as an incumbent, but I'm going to put this out into the world: if Clinton wins ME-2, then Cain comes along with her.

Lon Johnson (D-MI)

There are swing districts where you can't tell who is going to win because the polls tell you nothing or the candidates have personality quirks that make them slightly less electable, and then there are the races where you just would like to see a poll.  A single, solitary poll.  This year that's Michigan's 1st district.  I honestly have no idea what to do with this one.  On paper this district is the slightest of leans for Republicans but is hardly insurmountable for the Democrats, particularly if a wave is building; after all, both Obama and Romney have won the district, albeit in different election cycles.  The candidates (Democrat Lon Johnson and Republican Jack Bergman) aren't really standout, though not necessarily bad candidates, and one of them is headed to Congress, that's for sure.  My hope in the next few weeks is that we see an actual poll or two here, since literally every pundit is listing this as a tossup, but with little indication of how it will turn.  The fundamentals ever-so-slightly favor a generic Republican (Bergman), but the winds nationally favor a generic Democrat (Johnson).  Either way, this is a seat that's probably more important to the Democrats (they can't win the House without it), so expect to see at least some trumpeting of Johnson in the coming weeks.

Missouri Senate

In any normal year, this would be one of those races where we all tipped our hat to it being potentially competitive, and then move along.  After all, while a lot of polls have shown the race closing, it's still assumed that the state once considered a bellwether, but which passed on Obama twice, is now pretty strongly Republican, and Sen. Roy Blunt is an incumbent.  All-in-all, that'd normally be it, even against a formidable opponent in Secretary of State Jason Kander.  However, Kander has made this extremely competitive, and both national committees are acknowledging this, spending heavily to turn this one their way.  Democrats surely have had success in ticket-splitting here (after all, Claire McCaskill and Jay Nixon both did it four years ago and my gut is telling me at least Chris Koster is going to do it again this year in the governor's race), but beating an incumbent senator in a presidential race hasn't happened since the bizarre election of 2000 (where Gov. Mel Carnahan beat John Ashcroft...even though he died several weeks before the election).  The situation here is not similar to Indiana, but mirrors a number of other Senate races on this list, and is the chief quandary for the Democrats.  Most polls show Blunt with a very narrow lead, but the Democrats have national momentum (at least at the very top of the ticket), and seemingly a superior GOTV operation.  Will that translate at the ballot box, or are the polls right and Democrats are in for a series of heartbreaks on Election Day?  Blunt/Kander is one of those races...

Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC)
North Carolina Senate

...And Burr/Ross is another.  Like Missouri, this was a race that was only competitive in theory, but Sen. Richard Burr, after running a non-campaign for months, allowed it to be actually competitive even against a second-tier candidate (at least on paper) like State Rep. Deborah Ross.  Ross has run a fine campaign, one that the national committees may have jumped onboard with a bit late (I think they could be leading right now had they targeted Burr in association with Trump a bit earlier), but Burr is hitting her hard for being too-far left for North Carolina (considering her voting record in comparison to the state, she would be considerably more liberal than recent Democratic Sens. John Edwards and Kay Hagan).  Burr has rebounded and holds a slight edge in the polls, but a couple of things can be relied upon by Ross here.  One, it seems likely that both Hillary Clinton and Roy Cooper (the Democrats' gubernatorial candidate) are going to win-polls are close, but consistently favor both of them, which can only help Ross down-ballot.  Second, history is on her side in that regard-in a state that has famously close Senate elections (which frequently throw out incumbents), no Senate candidate has won while their party's candidate lost the state's electoral votes since 1968-therefore a Clinton/Burr win would be pretty groundbreaking.  And third, and perhaps most crucially, the Democrats' ground game in the state is being repeatedly applauded-this is a state that Clinton invested heavily in, and you can bet her team sees the value in trying to convince her supporters to stand with Ross as well (she doesn't talk about her potential impact on the federal judiciary for nothing).  I think that Ross, based on this ground game, can outperform the polls, but only by a point or two-watch the polls in the next few days to see if that's enough.

New Hampshire Governor

I'm going to be honest-this race is tenuously on this list, as it's started to break in a new direction in the past few weeks than it had been all cycle, but I'm keeping it on for now because New Hampshire's down-ballot polls remain relatively close.  The past few election cycles, the Democrats have seen waves hit the Granite State particularly hard, with surprises like Carol Shea-Porter randomly returning to the House in 2012 again (a feat she's likely to pull off once more this year-can anyone think of the last time a member of congress served three non-consecutive periods in the US House?), followed by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen two years ago, beloved in the state, nearly getting ousted by a former senator from another state.  This year, the question is "can the Democrats hold the governor's mansion after Maggie Hassan is running for the Senate?"  For the longest time, despite momentum building for Hillary Clinton, it appeared like they wouldn't; Republican Chris Sununu, the son of a former governor and the brother of a former senator, had name recognition that his fellow Executive Council member Colin van Ostern couldn't approach.  However, recent polling has shown van Ostern gaining on Sununu, a sign of perhaps him benefiting from a strong up-ballot effect of Hillary Clinton.  Aggregate polling is still close, so it remains a tossup, but van Ostern has the momentum.

Gov. Maggie Hassan (D-NH)
New Hampshire Senate

If I had to pick one race on this list, over all others, that I cannot figure out it would surely be this one, billed as the marquee race of the cycle, I'm giving it that nod from my direction.  Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R) has to be commended for keeping this as competitive as she did.  Unlike some of her colleagues such as Richard Burr or Pat Toomey, she was not handed a second or third choice candidate, but instead arguably the best challenger of the cycle, popular Gov. Maggie Hassan.  She's been saddled with Trump in some of the worst ways, having to defend him for months, even calling him a role model (a moment that, if she loses, can be a textbook example of how Trump cost Republicans), and then renounced him, even though the damage at that point was probably done.  And yet, she's still more than competitive in the state-polls had shown her in the lead, but she lost a point or two and is now essentially tied with Hassan.  All of this is to say that Ayotte could, theoretically, be that random person who overcomes pretty much every obstacle and still wins reelection because the state simply likes her (it's worth noting that these politicians, by the standards of two people running a race in October, are still well-liked by the voters-a rarity where the voters don't generally consider it "the lesser of two evils" to use an inane cliche).  I am holding on this one because my gut says that Ayotte is going to do this after running such a massive undertaking (she's defied odds so many times), but the fundamentals of the race clearly show Hassan will win in a very tight contest.

Nevada Senate

While New Hampshire is the state that I'm most reluctant to call for the Senate, Nevada is the state I think will determine who wins the Senate.  If I was forced to call a few races today, WI/IL would go Democratic, as would Indiana (there's no poll showing Young up, which is almost impossible to overcome), and I suspect at least one of NH/NC/MO/PA would swing to the Democrats' way, though it could be more.  Nevada has been, however, the difference between Democrats needing four pickups and five, and as the race has gone on it seems more and more likely that that distinction (in some years it wouldn't matter) could be crucial.  The race here has seen perhaps the biggest blowback to the Trump train, where up until Trump's Access Hollywood videos and poor debate performances Rep. Joe Heck had been roundly beating Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto (D) despite the fundamentals of the race (Nevada seemed likely to go to Hillary Clinton by a slim margin, Harry Reid's machine, strong Latino turnout likely for first Latina senator), favoring her.  The polls, however, have shifted away from Heck in recent days, with her either tied or leading by as many as 7-points in some match-ups.  It's too hard to tell, right now, whether or not this is a blip brought on by a bad Trump news cycle, but there's no guarantee for Heck that Trump has another good news cycle in him before November 8th (all of the debates and the Al Smith dinner he bombed-there's no more chances for him to directly interact with Clinton again).  Plus, Heck has to worry about his right flank-Trump Republicans in the state may be mad he rescinded his endorsement and punish him by voting "None of the Above," an actual option in the state that could devastate Heck as he already has to contend with polling averages in the Silver State being notorious for underestimating Democratic support (Obama, Reid, and Shelley Berkley all did better in their close races in the past ten years than the polls indicated they would).  If Heck can't get a lead in aggregate polling by November 8th, it's hard to see him pulling this off.

Danny Tarkanian (R-NV)

Meanwhile, there's a down-ballot race in Nevada that's equally perplexing.  With Heck vacating his old seat, Republicans were stuck with Danny Tarkanian, the son of a popular former UNLV basketball coach who has made it his mission in life to apparently lose as many races as possible-this is his fifth attempt at elected office, and he has yet to actually win one.  His Democratic opponent is running her first campaign but is well-known in the district, Jacky Rosen.  Tarkanian has led pretty consistently in fundraising, but polling in the district is scarce, and as I mentioned above, it's hard to poll Nevada to begin with.  The Republicans seemed to have the advantage for a while there, despite President Obama having won the state in both of his elections.  After all, it took a while for Nevada to break toward Clinton, and even in the past week internals in the fourth district haven't been strong for the Democrats (and that district more heavily favors them).  That being said, Tarkanian's track record plus a rebounding Clinton (and the fact that this is an open seat, rather than one that has an incumbent as it did when the GOP won this in 2012), leaves a definite opening for Rosen.  Like Michigan-1, this probably favors the Republicans slightly on-paper, but it's a seat with lots of potential and one Democrats certainly have to convert in order to win the House outright.

Pennsylvania Senate

Katie McGinty, more than any other Senate candidate this cycle, has been giving me an ulcer.  After other Democrats in the state (namely Josh Shapiro) turned down the opportunity to run here, McGinty barely glided through the primary against Joe Sestak, with help from the DSCC, and has run an underwhelming campaign.  It's clear that Toomey, who has gotten money from Mike Bloomberg (who isn't really seeing the forest from the trees there), has run the better campaign as McGinty hasn't handled retail politics as well and misjudged some of her "oops" moments.  However, candidates frequently can run poorer campaigns and still come out on top in a wave (just ask Thom Tillis), and that could end being the case here.  Hillary Clinton is McGinty's best friend right now, and Trump is Toomey's worst enemy.  After several moments earlier this year where Pennsylvania looked like it could be a crucial swing state, it now appears certain to go to Clinton, by potentially an impressive margin.  Toomey will outrun Trump, but the question is by how much-it's hard to imagine Hillary being up by eight and Toomey being able to outman McGinty, even though he's rebounded in the polls here.  My gut says McGinty is probably going to take this out of sheer force-of-will from the Democrats in the state (and like fellow Senator Bob Casey, could have easier reelections as a result of incumbency), but Toomey is still in this as long as he can keep some distance between himself and Trump.

Evan McMullin (I-UT)
Utah President

If you'd told me a year ago that I'd be writing Utah's presidential results as one of my twenty hardest-to-call races, I would have laughed you out of the room.  If you'd told me that I was seriously considering calling the state for a third party candidate, the first third-party candidate to win a state's electoral votes outright since 1968, I'd still be laughing a year later.  Except here we are, a situation where we have the rarest of birds in presidential politics: a three-way race between the two major party candidates and Independent Evan McMullin.  I wrote more extensively about the race here, but suffice it to say, I would currently buy almost any direction the election would go at this point.  Part of me feels like, even if it's close, that Trump will probably pull this out, but his lack of support in the state isn't nearly as important as McMullin now being a viable option-while McMullin has no chance of hitting 270 electoral votes, you cannot say "voting for him doesn't matter" in the sense that he can't win the state's electoral votes.  The more Republicans who hear about him, the more who could flip from Trump to him with a pretty clear conscience.  The question there is whether or not one of them will end up on-top, or will they split the vote just enough so that Hillary Clinton, who won't be able to pull much more than 30% of the vote, could end up on-top (keep in mind that Gary Johnson, former governor of a neighboring state, could also pull in 8-10% here making 30% a viable option to win).  At this point, it's the only race on the map I could see going any of three directions.

Vermont Governor

Perhaps the oddest race on this list (save Utah), Vermont, home of Bernie Sanders and likely one of Clinton's largest electoral victories (I could see this easily skating to a 40-point victory over Trump), is also host to one of the most competitive races in the country.  Lt. Gov. Phil Scott (R) has done a better job than any Republican in the country at keeping his distance from Trump (it doesn't hurt that he ran away from him months before your average Republican did), and he's enjoyed a close race with State Transportation Secretary Sue Minter.  Republicans here still can win on a statewide level (Republican Jim Douglas was governor for multiple years before Peter Shumlin, who's retiring, and they occasionally nab a constitutional office), and I honestly could see this going either way as straight-ticket voting in the state isn't as popular as it is other places (hence how Bernie Sanders ended up winning as an independent).  I suspect that Sanders will try pretty hard to keep this race to the left (it'd reflect badly if he couldn't hold this seat with his newfound celebrity), but I honestly could see this going either way on Election Day.

Those are the toughest to call for me-how about yourself?  Share in the comments your guesses for what the closest elections of the cycle might be.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Flying Solo in Best Actress

It's been a while since we've talked about this upcoming year's Oscar fact, I don't know that we have.  Between the election (that cavernous and ridiculous thing that's coming to an end in 19 days) and a plethora of film reviews that I've been meaning to get on here, we haven't started to talk about the direction of a race that's already in full bloom.

In opening that chapter though (there will be more), I wanted to revisit a topic we haven't touched on in a while: the strange case of the Best Actress field, and how much Oscar tends to love the ladies that he loves, and excludes those that he doesn't.  This year, once again, we have a number of women in this category who are competing to add to their nomination count.  Viola Davis, Annette Bening, Meryl Streep, Emma Stone, Natalie Portman, and Amy Adams, while not all women that have been in Best Actress before, certainly are not new to Oscar.

On the flip side, though are a few names that Oscar has never invited over for tea.  Ruth Negga, Emily Blunt, and Isabelle Huppert, in particular, appear to be in the hunt for their first citations in Best Actress.  While not as insular as Best Costume or Score, it's actually quite rare for a woman to receive only one nomination for only Best Actress and never again be nominated in her career.  Only 1 in 5 women, in fact (by my math) have ever received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress and not been invited back, either in lead or supporting.  Let's take a look at the women Negga, Blunt, and Huppert may soon (potentially briefly) be joining, and who from the below list could end up seeing a nomination again n the near future.

Merle Oberon
Number of Solo Nominees: 12 (Nancy Carroll, Ann Harding, Lynn Fontanne, May Robson, Diana Wynward, Grace Moore, Elisabeth Bergner, Miriam Hopkins, Merle Oberon, Gladys George, Carole Lombard, and Margaret Sullavan)
Any Winners?: Not a one of them.  Luise Rainer, Marie Dressler, Viven Leigh, and Helen Hayes came the closest, each only receiving two Oscar nominations in their careers.
I'd Like An Explanation: One of the larger lists of actresses, this may be because only a couple of actresses really dominated the decade in terms of public consciousness, and one of those oddly didn't receive a nomination (Joan Crawford).  The early years of the cinema seemed to be kinder to emerging talents and in particular, crossover stars from the theater and opera like Fontanne and Moore.
Who Came Closest to Another Round?: A few of them probably came close.  Hopkins received a Golden Globe nomination for her work in The Heiress, so I suspect she was in the running, Lombard was a major player who definitely wanted an Oscar (and may well have gotten one if she hadn't died tragically so early in her career), and Oberon certainly came close with her lead role in Best Picture nominee Wuthering Heights, though she had the misfortune of contending in 1939 against Oscar titans like Bette Davis and Greer Garson.
Most Likely to Get a Second: Elisabeth Bergner was the last living member of the dozen solo nominees listed above, dying in 1986, so no one will be getting a second citation.

Dorothy McGuire
Number of Solo Nominees: 7 (Martha Scott, Ginger Rogers, Jean Arthur, Gene Tierney, Celia Johnson, Dorothy McGuire, and Jeanne Crain)
Any Winners?: Ginger Rogers is one of the only women to win a Best Actress Oscar on her only nomination.
I'd Like An Explanation: The 1940's were dominated by a select 6-7 actresses (Rosalind Russell, Bette Davis, Kate Hepburn, Ingrid Bergman, Olivia de Havilland, Barbara Stanwyck, and Greer Garson) resulting in very few openings for ambitious screen stars.  With the exception of perhaps Rogers (who was more noted for musical comedies) none of these are particularly stunning solo nominees, frequently getting upstaged even in their era by the more nominated women at the Box Office.
Who Came Closest to Another Round?: My money is on Tierney, who was a major dramatic actress for 20th Century FOX (her nominated film, Leave Her to Heaven, was the most successful film for the studio during the 1940's), and starred in significant motion pictures of the era like Laura, The Razor's Edge, and The Ghost and Mrs. Muir.  Behind her would be Jean Arthur, who starred in two major Oscar films (Mr. Deeds Goes to Town and Shane), but was famously press-shy which probably didn't help, even in a pre-Twitter era.
Most Likely to Get a Second: Both Martha Scott and Jeanne Crain died in 2003, the last living women on that list.

Dorothy Dandridge
Number of Solo Nominees: 10 (Judy Holliday, Shirley Booth, Julie Harris, Ava Gardner, Maggie McNamara, Dorothy Dandridge, Carroll Baker, Nancy Kelly, Lana Turner, and Doris Day)
Any Winners?: Judy Holliday and Shirley Booth both won on their only shots at the fair.
I'd Like An Explanation: We see a slight uptick in the 1950's, possibly because of the decline of the studio system, and possibly because certain women that normally wouldn't do well with the Oscars (glamour girls and romantic comedy leads) both saw a major increase in popularity.  Still, women such as Deborah Kerr, Elizabeth Taylor, and the Hepburns continued to prove that it's easy to repeat.
Who Came Closest to Another Round?: Ava Gardner was probably tops amongst the many legends on this list, with her performance in Night of the Iguana grabbing nominations at the Globes and BAFTA's but not the Oscars (Tennessee Williams-penned roles were a major Oscar draw for women of the era, with women ranging from Kate Hepburn toVivien Leigh to Anna Magnani to Geraldine Page all landing nominations for his plays).
Most Likely to Get a Second: Doris Day and Carroll Baker are still living, though both have been retired from acting for over a decade.  I suspect that if she actually was willing to show up and win it that an Honorary Oscar would be Day's for the taking, but she's very press shy and I doubt would attend.

Samantha Eggar
Number of Solo Nominees: 9 (Melina Mercouri, Lee Remick, Rachel Roberts, Debbie Reynolds, Samantha Eggar, Elizabeth Hartman, Anouk Aimee, Ida Kaminska, and Genevieve Bujold)
Any Winners?: Not a one.  Sophia Loren, Patricia Neal, and Barbra Streisand all only received two acting nominations in their careers, so that's the closest.
I'd Like An Explanation: The 1960's are a bit odd in that no woman received more than three nominations (that would be the ever dependable Kate Hepburn, as well as Mrs. Robinson-herself Anne Bancroft), but the decade is dominated by women who either were getting the final nominations of their oft-recognized careers (Bette Davis, Greer Garson, Deborah Kerr) or were starting a long affair with Oscar that would continue into the coming decades (Jane Fonda, Vanessa Redgrave, Julie Christie).  That leaves a hodgepodge of foreign-born actresses (very much the rage in the 1960's) and random younger stars who never managed to pop to get the sole nominations.
Who Came Closest to Another Round?: I would imagine it was Lee Remick, to be honest.  I know that Debbie Reynolds is the name everyone remembers from the above list, but Remick was nearly nominated in 1959 for Anatomy of a Murder where she played a rape victim and won a Globe nod.  It's worth noting that in a very odd year (1966) Elizabeth Hartman could have been cited for her bizarre turn in You're a Big Boy Now as pretty much anyone with a pulse was contending that year (she did get a Globe nod).
Most Likely to Get a Second: Four of these women are still living, and actually all of them have made films in the past six years: Debbie Reynolds, Anouk Aimee, Samantha Eggar, and Genevieve Bujold. Of the five, Reynolds would have the best luck both as the biggest movie star (in the US, at least) and as someone who picks the right material (she may well have been cited if Behind the Candelabra had played theatrically).  Even if she doesn't, she still has her Honorary Oscar to keep her warm at night.

Cicely Tyson
Number of Solo Nominees: 11 (Ali MacGraw, Sarah Miles, Carrie Snodgress, Janet Suzman, Diana Ross, Cicely Tyson, Diahann Carroll, Valerie Perrine, Louise Fletcher, Carol Kane, and Marie Christine-Barrault)
Any Winners?: Louise Fletcher's nurse from Hell (which is pretty much a supporting turn, let's be honest) was the only victory for a sole nomination.
I'd Like An Explanation: This decade saw a number of women that could get nominated basically every time they opened a picture (Ellen Burstyn, Jane Fonda, Marsha Mason, Glenda Jackson), but like the years before we saw a combination of foreign actresses and movie star careers that didn't quite pan out.  It's also worth noting the unfortunate fate of black actresses in this category (only two of which have ever been nominated for a second trophy), which means that Ross, Tyson, and Carroll were all one-and-done nominees.
Who Came Closest to Another Round?: Sarah Miles headlined a Best Picture nominee in 1987 in Hope and Glory, which could well have been a contender in a less competitive year.  Diana Ross actually had buzz for Mahogany back in the day (1975 was a weird year), and there was some movement to make her the first black actress to win a Best Actress Oscar (that feat would happen 26 years later).  Otherwise none of these women came particularly close before or after.
Most Likely to Get to Second: Snodgress is the only woman on the above list to have passed away, but the only women who seem like they could someday score another nomination are Tyson and Kane, both of whom work extremely regularly, though more so on television than in the cinema.

Mary Tyler Moore
Number of Solo Nominees: 6 (Mary Tyler Moore, Marlee Matlin, Kathleen Turner, Sally Kirkland, Melanie Griffith, and Pauline Collins)
Any Winners?: Marlee Matlin became the youngest winner ever of the Best Actress award when she picked it up for Children of a Lesser God at the age of 21.
I'd Like An Explanation: No other decade will probably ever have a run quite like this.  Jessica Lange, Meryl Streep, Glenn Close, and Sissy Spacek dominated (there is no year of the decade where at least one isn't nominated) and routinely it was the bulk of them.  Most of the above women were either randomly-cited for tiny films (Matlin, Kirkland, Collins), matinee idols with quickly burnt-out movie stardoms (Turner, Griffith), or headlining a Best Picture winner (Moore).
Who Came Closest to Another Round?: Most assuredly Kathleen Turner, who was a major movie star in the 1980's and won back-to-back Golden Globes for Romancing the Stone and Prizzi's Honor, both mammoth hits that for some reason Oscar didn't really want to put his stamp on (the 1980's were very fond of drama, more so than usual, but even then Prizzi's Honor was a major Oscar-player with eight nominations and 1984 had a weird glut of similarly-themed farm-movies, so this one is hard to explain).  Either way, there's a decent chance she was in sixth place twice before finally getting cited for Peggy Sue Got Married (when she probably came in second to Matlin, give-or-take Sissy Spacek).
Most Likely to Get to Second: All of these women are still alive and working, though none of them seem particularly prone to a second nomination.  Turner gets the most attention currently, but that's almost entirely on-stage and she rarely makes movies.  Perhaps it would be Pauline Collins?  She's British, of-a-certain-age, and does bit roles frequently in BAIT-y looking projects (Albert Nobbs, Quartet).  Perhaps she'll pull a Janet McTeer and randomly get in once more?

Gwyneth Paltrow
Number of Solo Nominees: 8 (Catherine Deneuve, Angela Bassett, Stockard Channing, Elisabeth Shue, Sharon Stone, Kristin Scott Thomas, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Fernanda Montenegro)
Any Winners?: In one of the weirdest moments in on-paper Oscar history, Gwyneth Paltrow's career totally stalled with Oscar after Shakespeare in Love.  Perhaps the Cate Blanchett curse?
I'd Like An Explanation: We continued to see a few actresses that totally dominated (Meryl Streep, Susan Sarandon, Emma Thompson), but by-and-large this list was actually considerably larger a few years ago.  Actresses like Janet McTeer, Helen Hunt, and Helena Bonham Carter have made good in supporting roles in recent years, winnowing down the list a bit, something I suspect will continue to happen.
Who Came Closest to Another Round?: I mean, Gwyneth seems like the obvious choice, but she wasn't actually that close with Sylvia or Emma, so I'm going to go with Sharon Stone, who was such a big star in the 1990's and was very much in the HFPA's favor (scandalously so).  Basic Instinct or The Mighty might have been close possibilities.
Most Likely to Get a Second: We're now going from the possible to the plausible for "most likely to get a second."  All of these women are still living, and in the cases of Scott Thomas, Bassett, and Paltrow, so regularly make major films that it's difficult not to see at least one of them scoring again, if not all three.  Plus, I think Sharon Stone is going to be discovered by Quentin Tarantino any minute now and that could be not only a nod but a trophy.

Ellen Page
Number of Solo Nominees: 10 (Halle Berry, Salma Hayek, Diane Lane, Keisha Castle-Hughes, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Imelda Staunton, Felicity Huffman, Ellen Page, Carey Mulligan, and Gabourey Sidibe)
Any Winners?: Halle Berry is the most recent woman to win an Oscar on her only nomination.
I'd Like An Explanation: Meryl Streep, Kate Winslet, Judi Dench, and Cate Blanchett may have been nominated in perpetuity, but the biggest explanation is that we're not far enough away for this list to be super small.  All of these women are still living and most of them are still very much in the hunt.
Who Came Closest to Another Round?: Carey Mulligan, probably, who somehow missed a lot of her buzz for Shame despite that seeming like a pretty plum part (then again, Fassbender missed there so the prudish Academy may just not have been feeling that sex addiction drama).
Most Likely to Get a Second: Like the 90's, it could be pretty much any of these women (even Castle-Hughes and Sandino Moreno, the most obscure names on this list, work regularly).  Carey Mulligan is so frequently in Oscar-adjacent films, however, that she seems most likely (though Berry is a big enough star still that if she made something Oscar-bait, it'd likely land).

Charlotte Rampling
Number of Solo Nominees (so far): 6 (Emmanuelle Riva, Quvenzhane Wallis, Felicity Jones, Rosamund Pike, Brie Larson, and Charlotte Rampling)
Any Winners?: It was only last year, but Brie Larson surely counts here.  Otherwise, none.
I'd Like An Explanation: Too soon to tell, though it does appear like a number of strange ages for winners, either old (Rampling, Riva), or young (Wallis) could be a contributing factor.
Who Came Closest to Another Round?: Probably none of them.  Pike, Jones, and Rampling have all had key roles in Oscar-nominated films in the past, but it's doubtful any of them made any sorts of waves in voting prior to their nominations.
Most Likely to Get a Second: My money is either on Larson (I suspect she'll get an afterglow citation, particularly since she's a truly fabulous actress) or Jones, who is British (always helps), transitioning to movie stardom (sometimes helps), and is in a lot of movies (generally helps, albeit in supporting).  It's worth noting that Jones is the only woman this year who seems something of a threat, as she's a contender in Supporting Actress for A Monster Calls.

And there you have it-the few, the proud, the really-wishing-they'd-landed-one-more.  Who do you think is the most likely sole Best Actress nominee to repeat (My money is on Felicity Jones or Gwyneth Paltrow)?  Share your thoughts in the comments!

Why I Celebrate Spirit Day

(This post contains some strong language based on real-life events)

Today is Spirit Day, and I hope that you (like myself) are wearing your purple proudly.  Spirit Day, for those unfamiliar, is a day set aside to take a stand against bullying, particularly against LGTBQ youth. It started in 2010, after a number of young LGBT teenagers took their lives after being bullied and harassed for being gay.  This comes on the heels of National Coming Out day (I celebrated my twelfth year out of the closet earlier this week!), and so I wanted to share a bit of my story and why this day is very personal to me, and why it should really be personal to all of us.

I don't frequently write about myself and my own experience on this blog since the goal here is really around politics, movies, and occasionally other meanderings that my mind takes, but I do exist outside of the confines of Oscar Viewing Projects and lists of competitive Senate seats.  I started writing on this blog in part because I wanted to better keep track of Oscar-nominated films I had seen (too frequently I found that I was forgetting facts about films that I'd eventually have to judge for the OVP), and in part because, since this is largely anonymous, I could practice becoming a writer and writing daily on a blog without worry about my name being attached.  However, while I do do that, I don't always take advantage of that anonymity and so I wanted to do so today by discussing some more personal aspects of my history.

I remember the first time I was ever aware of the concept of being gay.  I was ten, on the playground during recess, and we were playing a game on a merry-go-round (for the record, I'm in my really, really late twenties aka my early thirties, so while some of the facts of these stories are going to make me sound like I'm in my sixties, just keep in mind that small town America occasionally has a bit of a time warp problem).  I remember it was a game where you had to jump on and off whenever someone said something that you were or weren't.  "Jump off if you're a girl" or "jump on if you're wearing blue" a relatively harmless sort of task that involved thinking on your feet and the prowess of jumping on and off of the equipment.  I quite liked this game, because it didn't involve being singled out, which was something I avoided.  I had friends, but no really close friends, at the time, and was mostly concerned about being relatively invisible, as that was where you avoided attention.  As we were playing, one of the boys on the merry-go-round yelled, "jump off if you're a lesbian!" a term that I'd never heard before, but I was clearly in the minority in that lack of context.  I was savvy enough to know that if everyone jumped off I should too (again, fitting in and avoiding attention), but I remember a chorus of "gross" and "yuck" coming from my classmates.

I was a resourceful child, and went to our family dictionary to figure out what this word that I didn't know what it meant actually was referring toward.  I quickly realized, because I was quiet but smart, that while I was not, indeed, a lesbian, I was adjacent to it by liking other guys.  I had never really been told growing up that I should stay in the closet, but I had inferred it was the safe thing to do-after this I knew it, and took a deep sense of shame onto myself that I was this thing that all of these people in my life called "gross."

I didn't come out until college, but just because you're not open doesn't mean that you don't get bullied for clearly being "different."  In a town where my graduating class was ninety, I had to live in constant fear of being found out, or being in dangerous situations.  Frequently I got tagged "queer" or "sissy."  I remember being fifteen the first time I got a death threat from a classmate.  I was sitting in the back of the room of a science class, and two boys from my grade, who frequently were targeting me and making me feel awful about myself, started talking just loudly enough for me to hear, but not so loudly that our teacher, who was walking around looking at our cell slides, would hear.  I will forever remember one of them saying "I hate fags," and looking at me and sneering, he continued and said, "I wish we could just get all of the fags in town and tie them up to my truck and just drag them through town."  The other guy, realizing that they were speaking less in the hypothetical and more about a specific person, smiled and agreed, while I buried my eyes to my microscope.  I would walk home after school most days, about a mile or two from my house, but that night I remember rushing out of the school after the final bell, leaving my books in my locker even though I had homework to do, and rushing through trees rather than the sidewalk on the off-chance that they were following me.  This wasn't the only time I would endure something like this, and it made me worried to be around classmates my own age if I didn't know they were at least friendly.

I could tell you countless other stories similar to this one about growing up as a closeted gay kid in a small town, but you get the point.  The reason we highlight something like Spirit Day is twofold.  For one, it's that teenagers like me, kids who are just trying to figure out themselves, shouldn't have to endure death threats and hate speech on a regular basis (or irregular basis, for that matter), because it affects them in ways that you can't quite understand.  I remember knowing that I couldn't do anything about this hate speech and death threats without outing myself to my school and my family.  I recall being in therapy, because my mom knew something was the matter but didn't know what it was since I was too afraid to tell her, and even in the confines of the safe space of therapy, I couldn't bring myself to admit what the other kids in my school were doing to me.  I went for about six weeks, sneaking into the school psychologist's office so that no one knew why I was going there, and sitting in front of a perplexed woman who didn't know why I was there since I largely just said I was being picked on, but wouldn't say what the other kids were saying.  It was a deeply isolating experience, one where I would avoid interacting with other students as much as possible, particularly when there wasn't an adult present nearby.  There are countless LGBT children and teens who, like me, don't get to have a voice, or at least one that they can proclaim loudly, so we as a society need to speak up for them, saying that we don't condone this behavior and that they are special.

The second reason is that, as much as we want to pretend that high school and middle school and our experiences as children don't affect us as we get older, that's a lie.  I spent years after high school dealing with self-hatred, doubt, and depression because I had lived so many years truly wanting to eliminate something that was a crucial and immobile part of who I am.  I talk about it today with people, and I speak of it as ancient history, but I cannot pretend that that self-loathing and constant fear didn't infiltrate themselves into who I became as a person.  While I never hide being gay, I still wait until I know someone particularly well before I will act relaxed or remotely show any side of my personality that can be perceived as gay.  I'm not proud of this fact, but it's likely never going to change-it's part of my evolution.  I still get a spine tingling whenever someone mentions "I know someone from your home town," as if the danger is about to start again, even if it's always an off-hand comment.  It's wrong that that happened, but it was a direct cause of the bullying I received for nearly ten years.  It's something that I feel very personally, and I suspect if you know or care about someone in your life who is LGBTQ, you know someone who feels it very personally as well.  So today, please wear purple.  Whether you're a member of the community or an ally, share your story or your hope for a better tomorrow for the youth of the world.  And if you're a young person who is feeling ashamed or scared because of people in your school or town, know that there are millions of people who are rooting for you to be every special thing that you are and we know you will be.