15ish Overlooked Movies by the 86th Academy Awards

This is maybe a little past due, but it’s been on my mind and I’m not anchored by things like “deadlines” so I am not beholden to your “timeframes.” 2013 was a really great year for movies. I know this because I saw a shitload of them and I really liked them. Some were really groundbreaking (Her), some were universally beloved (Gravity), and some were really, like, important (Dirty Wars).

This year, I thought in a lot of cases, the Oscar winners were 100% deserving; it really seemed like the Academy got it right almost across the board and there were no upsets on my end (except for during short film live action Helium beating Just Before Losing Everything, because, fuck your fucking feelings, Helium, JBLE was about domestic violence and did way more with subtlety than you could even imagine (I digress). I thought 12 Years A Slave should have won best picture on principal. I would have been happy if Her had won, but it won best original screenplay which is on point. I liked that Lupita won best supporting actor in a female role, even though June Squibb was adorable (and I loved the way her face lit up when Lupita won; that’s class, y’all). And, of those nominated, I can’t imagine a more deserving winner than Gravity for visual effects. 

But, that said, like every year, the Academy totally snubbed a bunch of people who really should have been recognized. I know, I know, awards are subjective and the value of a film is really more about how it makes you think and feel and every person is different, all that bullshit. And not being nominated does not devalue the work that these people did, as they were, in most cases, critically acclaimed. And also, there’s only so much space, so some people are going to get left off and all that. So let’s just say, this is is a list of titles who, in an alternate universe where everyone wins, would have been included. And that all of this stuff is worth your time to think about and compare and discuss.

(I’m just going to tell you that there are 15ish, but I’m not actually going to number them, because that implies some kind of rank, which I am not doing)

 

Inside Llewyn Davis – Joel & Ethan Coen

Inside Llewyn Davis (2013) Poster

Yes, I am still upset about this. I am scratching my head for months about it. When previews of this came out in the middle of this last year, it was such clear Oscar bait that it was on everyone’s list. It was almost universally adored and some people say was an obvious choice for best picture. To be fair, it was nominated for best cinematography and best sound mixing (both of which it lost) but come on. This should have been nominated for best picture, best actor, best supporting, best directors, best original screenplay, etc. It wasn’t even nominated for best original song which makes the least amount of sense because it had the actual best original song of the year and there were only 4 songs nominated (5 if you count “Alone, Yet Not Alone” whose nomination was revoked). At first I thought the oversight was due to some sort of technicality; maybe the studio or the Coens didn’t want to bother with submitting it for nomination because the awards are bullshit or subjective, but the fact that it got those two technical nominations tells me that isn’t the case. Maybe it wasn’t eligible for those other categories because the Coens are nominated seemingly every year? I think what people like me actually believe is that the Academy is conspiring to ignore the Coens because they must have done something, were too good, too brazen, too maverick for the industry. But that’s probably not true. It’s just such a good movie and I wish I knew why it wasn’t nominated for more awards.

What I like about it is that, aside from the sleek look and the dreamy version of the early 60’s folk scene, it tells the story of one of the failures. It’s Greenwich Village before anyone knew who Bob Dylan was, folk singers are a dime a dozen. Llewyn Davis is struggling as an artist after his bandmate jumped off a bridge, and all of his friends agree that Mike carried the band, so it makes sense that there’s not really a place for him. We find Davis jumping from couch to couch, unable to afford a winter coat, and pissing literally everyone off. The narrative eventually reveals that he actually fathered a child who is now living with a single mother in Ohio. And it’s just failure after failure for Davis. I imagine the Coen brothers slinking into a record store, thumbing through the dollar bin and finding some forgotten dime-a-dozen folk record, and looking at the second guy, the number 2, and thinking, that’s whose story we should tell. There is another story that is untold about that kid in Ohio wondering who her dad is, having a stunted existence without her father, and she tracks him down in the 80’s in New York to find a bloated junkie who hits her up for money who wasted his life, and maybe Inside Llewyn Davis is the story she tells herself about the father she never knew. I love it so much. The story of the other guy who didn’t make it.

Don Jon – Joseph Gordon Levitt

Don Jon (2013) Poster

JGL has been doing excellent work. Critics have been saying “he’s really starting to come into his own” for years. Well this movie is it, written directed by and starring Joseph Gordon Levitt, and it didn’t get dick at the Oscars. It was one of those that I would have ranked up with Her in terms of “better than the Oscars” or “too good for the Oscars.” Just in terms of being a really great, entertaining movie, but maybe not Oscar calliber, sort of like punk rock in a way. The movies we should remember for longer than an awards season, movies that become longtime favorites. Or, at least, that’s how I felt when I saw it the once, so that’s my memory of it.

What it gets right is characters. You know JGL and know he’s a slender, smirky boyish man, with a surprising acting range. In this he’s a beefed up Jersey Shore type, whose whole life can be jotted down in a list format. You also have Scarlett Johansson, in one of her most successful roles in years, as a Jersey girl who is a good Catholic and makes his life miserable. It accurately portrays porn addiction and the conflict it can have with the people in your life. There’s also some good work from Julianne Moore as a kind of older manic pixie dream girl, who they try to assign some depth to, which Moore delivers perfectly. Does it pass the Bechdel test? No. Should it be taken with a grain of salt? Yeah probably. Is it really funny and good? Yes. I would have liked to have seen it nominated for best original screenplay, maybe best director. Maybe best actor. Maybe best supporting. I don’t think it should have won over the ones that did, but I would have liked to see it nominated.

 

Frances Ha – Noah Baumbach 

Frances Ha (2012) Poster

How was this not nominated? They called it Greta Gerwig’s Manhatten. In his follow-up to Greenberg, Noah Baumbach directed a film written by and starring Gerwig, who is also his romantic partner that tells a story that will be familiar to anyone who has watched Lena Dunham’s Girls. Frances is out of college and figuring out her shit, in a kind of arrested development, not ready to have a big career and establish herself. We watch her struggle as her close friendship falls apart, and in any good human story, we watch her change and grow as a human. It wasn’t the best movie of the year, but it was one of those that you see on the nominated list that they give to the remarkable indies. Should have been nominated for best actress, best original screenplay, maybe best director. It was on a bunch of lists and NPR ate it up as NPR often does. Any kind of nomination would have made sense to me. Now Gerwig will have to try harder or show more range if an Oscar is something she cares about, which, to be fair, probably is but says she doesn’t.

 

In A World… – Lake Bell

In a World... (2013) Poster

 

If you have ever said “chicks aren’t funny” you should see this movie. Actually, first, you should go fuck yourself. And then you should see this movie as penance. It is written by, directed, and starring Lake Bell, who you should know from Children’s Hospital, one of the funniest and most subversive shows on Adult Swim, which has work by Lake Bell that is just amazing. This film is a microcosm for the sexism of the film industry in a really unexpected place: voiceover work. Her character is the daughter of the most sought after voiceover actor in the business, who misses no opportunity to talk down to her and demean her actual work as she follows in his footsteps. When she beats him out for a big voiceover gig, all hell breaks loose. This film makes you appreciate voiceover actors, the movie preview narrators, and makes salient feminist points about women working in a boy’s club. It’s fucking good. It should have been nominated for best original screenplay, maybe best actress and best director. 

 

Lee Daniels’ The Butler – Lee Butler

Lee Daniels' The Butler (2013) Poster

 

First of all, let’s just say it, this movie is pretty bad. But I am surprised it wasn’t nominated for anything. Despite how bad it was, when it came out, critics were raving about it and it seemed like everyone was telling each other to go see it. When I saw it, I was disappointed about how bad it was, but I still expected it to get some nominations, because the Academy will often pick big bloated sentimental movies that touch on history and civil rights, even when it gets them wrong. What it gets wrong is the fact that this butler is based on a real guy, but they completely fictionalize the dude’s life. Way to take a man’s identity while telling him it’s paying tribute to him, Hollywood. Also, why is the director’s name in the title of the movie? That’s weird. But what it gets right is acting. Oprah Winfrey should have been nominated and maybe won best actress for this movie. She plays against type as an alcoholic mother whose family is falling apart. Their son Forrest Gumps his way into scene after scene of important civil rights moments, from the sit-ins at Woolworths, to the Freedrom Rides in the south, to Fred Hampton’s shootout, to MLK’s shootout, to fucking Apartheid solidarity. The movie is called The Butler, because dude waits on a lot of presidents, but maybe it should be called the Fucking Magical Pixie Freedom Fighter Who Somehow Managed To Be At Every Milestone of The Civil Rights Movement. That dude should be studied and interviewed and put on display in a really gross way. But he wasn’t, because I guess the Academy was like, “We picked our black people story, so we’re just gonna go with this one, thanks.” But, to be fair, 12 Years A Slave was better in every conceivable way, so, whatever. I still think the Academy has room for more than one black person in each category. See also Fruitvale Station.

 

Ender’s Game – Gavin Hood

Ender's Game (2013) Poster

My god, I’m so glad this movie didn’t suck. It should have won the award for Best Movie That Came Out of 20 Years of Production Hell. Seriously. If they had made this movie any earlier it would have been unwatchable. However, the special effects are now so good that you can nail a movie like this and they did. The acting wasn’t the best, and the writing wasn’t amazing, but as far as adaptations go, it was true to the book and the special effects were fucking awesome. Specifically the weird bugger creature they show at the end. Throughout the book and the movie, the narrative sets up this horrible boogey man of these bug aliens that supposedly took over the world. They require you to do army service in elementary school, to prepare you to be a soldier in case they come back. (plot butchered due to laziness / foggy memory / go fuck yourself). So they get Ender who comes from a tradition of pure benevolence from his sister Valentine, and cunning malevolence from his brother Peter. Which will he choose against the buggers??? Once we finally see them, the payoff is so sweet, because it doesn’t look like a crude cartoon, it doesn’t look like Toy Story, and it doesn’t look like a puppet. They nail the happy medium to make a thing that is terrifying and awe-inspiring. And that is what it should have won an Oscar for. Or at least been nominated. The film was written and directed by a person who comes off as a true fan who respects the material, though I wouldn’t have nominated it for writing, directing, or acting. Just special effects and maybe best use of a short actor thinking he’s bigger than God. 

The Place Beyond The Pines – Derek Cianfrance

The Place Beyond the Pines (2012) Poster

Ever since I saw him in The United States of Leland I have not been able to take Ryan Gosling seriously. That mealy-mouthed, affected, sweet-boy thing ranging only as far as spurned bad-boy; I just haven’t been able to buy it. I can always tell he’s acting and I never lose myself in his characters. The fact that he is Ryan Gosling takes me out of it. Same with Leonardo DiCaprio. And like Leonardo DiCaprio, there are a few exceptions. This is one. In his follow up to Blue Valentine, Derek Cianfrance has made a three-part narrative that is consistently haunting, ominous and moving throughout, tied together beautifully with Mike Patton’s amazing score. First, there’s the story of Gosling, fathering a child and then trying to raise money for that child through crime. Then if focuses on Bradley Cooper, the cop investigating that crime, and then years later, when Gosling’s son is a teenager clashing with Cooper’s son. On paper like that it sounds like it could go either way, but I’m telling you, it is solid, despite 00:55 of the trailer (which I could not escape ahead of every movie I saw for like 8 weeks, just that due, over and over again saying “Shuh-Zam!”) For me, this could have been nominated for best picture and I would have bought it. I would have bought best director, best actors for Gosling or Bradley Cooper, best supporting for Cooper or Ray Liotta. Best original screenplay maybe. But definitely this film was snubbed for best score. 

 

The East – Zal Batmanglig

The East (2013) Poster

I guess I’m wondering when Brit Marling will start to get recognition for her work. She’s really good you guys. She’s always in these little cerebral indie movies that come around and then disappear again and you forget about them, but she’s always really great. I would like to see her get bigger, I guess. The East is Zal Batmanglig’s follow-up to Sound of My Voice, also starring Marling. It tells the story of a co-op of left wing terrorists whose cause is protecting (avenging?) the environment. And Brit Marling has to infiltrate them to report their next moves. But guess what you guys! She starts to sympathize with them!! Conflict!!! The East was not the best movie of the year and should not have been nominated. But if it had been nominated for best actress or original screenplay or director, it would have also satisfied the token darling indie requirement. You should see it if you haven’t.

 

Enough Said – Nicole Holofcener

Enough Said (2013) Poster

To be honest this movie was actually kind of mediocre. I always see Nicole Holofcener’s stuff and am usually pleased, but this movie was kind of disappointing for what it was. The preview tells you every single piece of information you need to know. They’re both divorced! They meet! Julia Louis-Dreyfus starts to work for his ex-wife! Madcap! Insanity! Ensues! Honestly, if Julia Louis-Dreyfus was not the lead in this, it would have been less goofy, and maybe it could have been darker. James Gandolfini is, as always, everything you want him to be. But man, would this have been a different movie with a different cast. Having said that, though, wouldn’t it have been nice if Tony Soprano won an Oscar posthumously? Wouldn’t it be just great if Elaine from Seinfeld got nominated? Wouldn’t it be awesome if more writer/directors who were women were recognized by the Academy for their contributions to film? 

 

Prisoners – Dennis Villeneuve

Prisoners (2013) Poster

This movie was way better than I was expecting. Seeing the preview a bunch of times, I thought, that is going to be mediocre and convoluted. But still, had to see how they pulled it off. Very surprising how good it was, how invested I became. If you saw the preview, you know it’s about some little girls that get abducted, and then the father (Hugh Jackman) tries to take the law into his own hands and then some dark shit happens. I could have seen nominations for Jake Gyllenhaal and maybe for the director. But definitely for Melissa Leo, who if you haven’t noticed already, beings 1001% to every single role she does. This one stays with you.

 

Pacific Rim – Guillermo Del Toro

Pacific Rim (2013) Poster

What Pacific Rim brings to big budget action movies that the others do not, is a fucking story. Giant monsters who live inside the Earth (or, like, maybe in another dimension whose portal is located in the center of the Earth, or really fucking far down) rise to the surface and start to wreak havoc. To fight back, nations begin building giant robot suits in what can only be called the greatest premise for a videogame ever made. However, what’s cool is that the culture inside the movie has hero worship of the men in the suits. There’s merchandising, posters, t-shirts, Teams Edward and Jacob, etc, which rallies the humans against the devastation those demons wrought, their only fighting chance. Also, cool fight scenes. Del Toro does not disappoint. This should have lost to Gravity for special affects. Instead it wasn’t even acknowledged by the Academy.

 

The Spectacular Now – James Ponsoldt

The Spectacular Now film.jpg

Like many other indie dramas, this easily could have been a filler nomination over some of the others. It has a very dreamy hazy look to it, and the narrative unravels in an interesting way. This is Ponsoldt’s third feature film and you can’t even tell from the preview that it’s actually about a boy struggling with alcoholism. Come to think of it, alcoholism is featured prominently in every film this dude has made, so he must have some kind of liberal agenda. Or maybe dude likes to drink. But it’s the story of a kid who is sort of blithely flunking through his life and talking his way out of things. He isn’t over his ex who left him because of his enormous personality flaws and falls in with a younger, smarter girl who has a good reputation. It goes some interesting places. I could see it nominated for original screenplay and actor in a female role for Shailene Woodley, or best supporting actor for Bob Odenkirk. It would be nice if Bob of Bob and David starting getting accolades, because his best roles have been after his work on Breaking Bad. Pretty good.

 

We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks – Alex Gibney

We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks (2013) Poster

Every single film Alex Gibney makes is great. He’s responsible for Enron: The Smartest Guys In The Room. He also did Taxi to the Dark Side which also got much praise (won the Oscar for best documentary), No End In Sight (nominated) and if you haven’t seen Casino Jack And The United States of Money which studies Jack Abramoff, or Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Elliott Spitzer, you really really ought. So Gibney gets recognition for his work, as well he should. But why was this left off the list? Maybe he gets nominated so frequently he’s no longer eligible? Or maybe he didn’t submit it? Or maybe the right wing Hollywood bigwigs are keeping this film under wraps (what? no). It studies the leaking of diplomatic cables by WikiLeaks and focuses on Chelsea Manning’s (nee Bradley) interactions with Julian Assange. It’s really interesting and like all of Gibney’s films, gives you a clear and comprehensive timeline of the sequence of events leading up to a topical issue. It will be very valuable for the historical record. What I also like about this film is its treatment of the Julian Assange rape case. It does not make him a hero and makes sure to distance itself from Assange’s actions while still recognizing the work that was done in a fairly objective way. It also allows you to sympathize with Chelsea Manning’s struggle as a trans person in the army. There were a lot of good documentaries that were not recognized this past year that should have been. These include Pandora’s Promise, which successfully makes the case for responsible nuclear energy as an alternative to coal and oil, and Stories We Tell, which recreates filmmaker Sarah Polley’s family troubles in a very evocative way. Also ignored were Manhunt (which should be watched in conjunction with Zero Dark Thirty), After Tiller, and The House I Live In, which should have been nominated as an oversight for not being nominated the year before. It completely undoes the war on drugs. 

 

Blue Is The Warmest Color – Abellatif Kechiche

Blue Is the Warmest Color (2013) Poster

This film had a lot of problems but I am still surprised it wasn’t nominated for best foreign feature. First, let’s try to unpack the title. In the US it’s called Blue Is The Warmest Color. In France its title translates to The Life of Adele, but it’s based on a comic book whose French title translates to Blue Angel. So that’s weird. Having not read the graphic novel, I cannot speak to what the original story was, but the film is about a girl who becomes infatuated with another girl and starts having very well-documented sex. It is about desire and objectification and growth and loss and devastation and loud sucking noises. I mean, I liked it, but I think I liked it because I benefit from its existence because I’m a straight dude. My understanding is that the gay community (including the author of Blue Angel) wasn’t that into it. It was too much of a male fantasy which is a very accurate description. But still, it won the Palme d’Or as well as a host of other shit, so it stands to reason it would be nominated for an Academy Award for best foreign language film. However, according to After Ellen, the reason it wasn’t nominated was because it was not released in its native France until after the deadline. So whatever. It’s not Netflix. Watch it alone or with a partner. Bring a kerchief to dab your forehead every so often, cuz that shit steamy.

 

Ain’t Them Bodies Saints – David Lowery

Ain't Them Bodies Saints (2013) Poster

This is the film that inspired this post. I had meant to see it but didn’t get around to it and then watched it today on Netflix (disc (luddite)) and I have to say there is no reason it should not have been nominated for best picture. It also should have been nominated for best actor, best actress, cinematography, score, direction, poster cover, and, I dunno, credits? It is in the same vein as Place Beyond The Pines. Like, this movie is legit good. If it had not won anything it would have been fine if it was at least recognized by the Academy, but no. It’s not a new story; couple succumbs to the pitfalls of a crime spree, interact through letters while he’s in jail, dude gets out, they flirt with running away together. But its beautiful imagery and careful direction and solid delivery of literary lines. I dunno guys. This movie is great. I’m not saying it’s the best movie of the year, I’m just saying, see it. I’m just saying some really good movies came out in 2013 and not all of them were Oscar nominees. Some will just have to stand on their own merits, as well they should, and maybe they won’t get the chance if we don’t word of mouth keep them alive. 

 

Aside

In December, I performed at Chicago’s Paper Machete at the historic Green Mill tavern. My piece was on the death of Paul Walker who was more remarkable in death than in life. For your convenience, I am the first reader.

 

(Uh-Oh) Notes on the Friend Zone

I keep seeing posts on Facebook and tumblr from intelligent women that I respect rebuking the term “friendzone.” That is, the abstract social place where a person (usually male) ends up when trying to date someone. Most notably the animosity is directed at men who supposedly pretend to be “Nice Guys ™” as a means of obtaining sex from the woman, and that they don’t actually care about them. Then when the friendzoning happens, they abandon the friendship, because they supposedly never actually cared to begin with. But it seems like every person who is mildly upset at being rejected is all getting lumped into one category by these blog posts.

This whole thing has brought some mild horror in my life. It has forced me to face the fact that the behavior of these so-called “nice guys” is some horrible bullshit and to also face the fact that I have definitely definitely definitely been there, more than once. Facing this fact has made me go over events in my life, retrace my steps, as it were, to see if I have wronged any friends by doing this. But it’s also made me think a lot about the backlash against the term itself, and helped me identify a few points I disagree with, or want to bring attention to. (more on that later)

First, let me do what most Nice Guys of my generation love to do, which is to talk about themselves. I am from a small town in the Midwest, one of those where everyone knows each other, where being friendly and generous and selfless is a virtue, and where everyone cares about being liked. I was raised to be nice to my family, be nice to my friends, be nice to strangers. Everyone I know from back home is the same way. However, I was also in that town’s underground punk scene. Me and my friends did not feel like we fit in, that a lot of the jocks and farm kids were stupid, and we all wanted to get out. I consumed progressive writers and thinkers, I listened to Ani Difranco, Liz Phair, and radical punk band, Propagandhi. These were my heros in early adulthood and why I identified as feminist at 16. After high school I went to college at a liberal arts school in a hippie college town and found a group of friends who taught me that gender is a construct, sex can be casual, and that we should try to do whatever we can to subvert patriarchy and oppression of women and people of color.

That being said, I was never the alpha male of any group I was in. And I would get crushes on everyone. If you had a butch haircut and armpit hair, I wanted to make you mixtapes with Alkaline Trio on them to show you how much I cared. I thought aggressive men were the worst and I never wanted to be that. I did not date much in high school or college; I was just in love with everyone from afar, would ask people out sometimes, and get turned down most times. The sexual experiences I had included brief makeouts that I was afraid and resistant to advance into a more sexual territory, even when the girl said explicitly she wanted to. This happened multiple times. I was afraid of regretting losing my virginity with someone I was not in a relationship with, but now I regret not losing it the first time someone asked me. I think my life would have been better and my development would have been different. Let’s blame a sexually repressed society on that one (I also blame myself).

Fast forward to after college. I was working at Target in a new town, and talking to strangers was hard again. I was not meeting new people that understood where I was coming from and confidence and assertiveness continued to be an issue. Just like when I had started college, I spent a lot of time being alone and it made me appreciate solitude and independence. I missed my friends like crazy, but it was all an important lesson in learning to love myself and being happy being alone. I gathered enough confidence to learn that it was not me, it was them, and moved to Chicago where I knew people would get my pop culture references and weird sense of humor.

Fast forward a few months; making friends was hard again, and romantic partners even harder. I started dating on Craigslist, (some of whom are still friends to this day) but I did not find any substantial relationships. This was the point where I went the longest I had ever gone without even kissing someone, and was starting to get depressed about it. This new girl (whose name I am withholding for her protection) started working in my office. She had yellow hair, a sunny disposition, and was really nice to me. She laughed at my jokes and would have these lilting cadences to her sighs that drew me in and made me feel like I was the only person in the room. For her birthday I left a six pack of her favorite diet soda on her desk as well as a mix CD with The Bird & The Bee on it.  Basically I was doing all of the things described in every characterization of the nice-guy handbook; doing favors, trying to win affection through generosity, and just giving random attention.

I was convinced something was going to happen.She invited me to this art show in her neighborhood, where different galleries and businesses showcase local artists. It was a really great event and at the time I really enjoyed seeing a new part of Chicago. But nothing happened after that. I can’t remember if I would invite her to things and she would just say no, or what. I just know that I never explicitly asked her out, because I did not want work to be awkward. But it was already bad enough, because despite not being in a relationship with this person, and despite the fact that she clearly wasn’t interested that way, I continued to grow more and more infatuated until I was in an unhealthy way, thinking about her all the time, and depressed. A song that became my mantra was “I Don’t Want To Get Over You” by The Magnetic Fields, which still reminds me of her to this day.

Let me be clear; I am really grossed out by who I was during that time. I am sure I was not fun to be around, and probably confused her immensely with my behavior. In an effort to get her out of my system, I would try to avoid speaking to her altogether. All the nice guy things I had been doing like bringing her soda and talking about her day, that was all gone. She had never done anything actually wrong; she just didn’t want to date me, and probably could tell that I liked her and didn’t want to give me the wrong idea by hanging out with me. I was too afraid to friend her on facebook or ask for her number. Serious confidence issues here. Probably still have them.

But, so, anyway. At the time I also did feel like she had done something wrong. I felt like she had lead me on, just by being nice to me and paying attention to me. I don’t think that now, mind you. But at the time, I was like UGH WHY IS SHE DOING THIS TO ME?? I can also recall a specific gchat conversation I had about her with my friend Lillian who is a brilliant make-up and costume designer in New York. I can remember saying something to the effect of “I was really proud of myself for liking someone who seems unconventionally attractive, like she should appreciate that I did that” and Lillian totally and completely called me out for believing I was entitled to this woman just because I noticed her. That is fucked up and I still hate myself for being on my side of that conversation. But yeah, I totally perceived actions she took as making me like her so that she could use me to do things for her. I could not name what those things are at this point, because I think she probably didn’t actually do that. Gradually I got her out of my system and, as things go, she moved to a different office and it stopped even being a thing. She is married now. And I started to more aggressively pursue online-dating. Met people after that. Moved on.

Getting back to friendzoning for a moment. After that time, when I had a healthy-enough distance from it, I wrote a short story about the experience. The narrator was a pathetic, non-self-aware spineless person, who at the end of the story confesses his love for the girl based on the aforementioned co-worker, which I never did. She explains that she likes men who aren’t quite such milquetoast wetblankets, and he settles for the next woman that will have him, much like the fate of Cameron Frye in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, a Nice Guy™ if ever there were one. The story was supposed to characterize him as weak, and was supposed to exorcise the demon of that time in my life.

But, so, in that story I used the term “friendzone” and described it as a non-geographical location my protagonist would often end up. (I thought I had made it up, in much the same way that my dad thought he invented stick people and the way my sister at age six recorded a version of the Everly Brothers song “Dream” into a tape recorder, and all the words were “Dreeeeam, dream dream dream dream dreeeeeeam, dream dream dream dream dreeeeeeam” at which point she declared “Here’s a song I wrote!”) And I started to use it in my own life as well, as a shorthand for being rejected or dumped. When my friend Emily said she no longer wanted to make out / stop seeing each other, I texted my friend Sean a one word message that just said: “friendzoned.” to let him know. When my friend Katie seemed like she wanted to date me and invited me to hang out, I brought Sean along to “friendzone” her / let her know it was not a date.

Yes, all of this is stupid. Yes, all of this is deeply insecure / passive-aggressive / indirect way of doing emotional work. But I guess my point is, the way that men are using friendzone now, and the way that the women I like and respect are describing it, is not really the way I was using it. Yes, I was using it to describe the basic act of rejecting someone you don’t want to date, but I never did it with all of the fucking vitriol that the Nice Guys of OKCupid use it, and their paramours. I would use it lightheartedly to my friends as a means of coping with the rejection. It was a way to not take it so fucking hard. “Oh, it’s OK, I’m in the friendzone, so I will move on.”

And I am hard-pressed to think of a friendship of mine that did not recover from it. Let me repeat that: Basically every person who rejected me, I ended up staying friends with. Because it’s just what you do. You get fucking over it. I think these men that are described on all of these blog posts, you are finding them at a deeply insecure moment of their lives, a very pained snapshot of what they are going through presently. What will probably happen, if they are not a shitty person, is they will get over the so-called “friendzoning” and you’ll probably get to a place where you can be civil and eventually friends.

So let’s redefine the rubric that we’re working with, can we? Here are some points I want to convey so that we are on a plane more based in reality than hyperbole.

-You are totally right. All of this is bullshit and you are correct in lamenting it. Because it is insecure bullshit and every aspect of it is still feeding into the patriarchy and keeping people apart and in big ways keeping sex this taboo thing that is up on a pedestal and keeping everyone down. The fact that the moderator of the Nice Guys of OKCupid blog gets fucking death threats and violent messages with references to rape tells us that there is still something severely wrong here.

-That being said: Most of the dudes who are extremely embittered about you just wanting to be their friend, are likely to feel that way only because it has already happened a whole bunch of times before. They probably already have a lot of platonic friendships and an active social support network and are specifically looking for a partner, not a friend. They are doing it wrong and they hate themselves for it or are oblivious and are lashing out. Is it their fault? Yes. Is it because they are probably unappealing as a partner? Sure. Is it OK that they are a giant whiney asshole about it? Of course not. Will they get over it? Probably. And you might even be friends afterward. Should you forgive them? Yes, if you are trying to be a good person. If you are not trying to be a good person, then you should not expect anyone else to be a good person on your behalf.

-If a dude is especially crazy afterwards, you probably shouldn’t want his friendship anyway, and should not mourn the loss of that friendship.

-If a dude claims to be a nice guy but espouses patriarchal or misogynistic viewpoints, he is not a nice person, and is not worthy of your friendship or partnership. But not everyone who has confidence issues or is bad at finding a partner is sexist, and I want you to know that. Is the act of putting a potential girlfriend on a super high pedestal that no non-fictional human can reach part of a sexist and patriarchal culture? Definitely. But I would like for actual good people to not be lumped in with the so-called nice guys just because they are better at friending than girlfriending.

-If a dude wants to date you, but doesn’t know how to ask, and so is instead building a friendship with you as you get to know each other, it is probably not the case that he is only after sex. If he is actually hurt by it, it probably is the case that he put some amount of emotional investment into the hope that it will work out between the two of you, and is upset and disappointed that he failed and has to find someone else. I don’t think it’s as simple as him “trying to put kindness coins into you trying to get sex to fall out.” This is an analogy that seems to be repeated verbatim in every blog post on this topic, and it was really funny the first time I read it, but now it just sounds unfair and not accurately characterizing the situation, or is lumping in a bunch of different problems into one problem. But it’s just reductive and unoriginal, made worse by the fact that everyone who blogs about this topic just seems to be cutting and pasting that single line from each other, that one metaphor, so that they all have snarky snappy writing. And they also add fedoras to them. Like that is somehow an automatic indicator of a spineless friendzoney vaguely rapey guy, that all of the nice guys are also kind of rapey (but they are not, you guys!). Do pathetic white males who are still benefiting from a system where they will continue to succeed in every other way deserve much defending? No. But at least identify what the actual problem is and call out the correct people on that problem. Or if you’re going to write a blog post about this topic, don’t use someone else’s zinger. Just write a different zinger. Another common thing in these posts is the blogger informing the reader that the friend zone “isn’t real” / “isn’t a real thing/place.” I submit that no one actually believes that it is a real thing or place, and that we all stop talking to each other like we are stupid and not all equals.

OK but so, this is not supposed to be me telling feminist bloggers how to feminist blog. Blog how you’re gonna blog. This is supposed to be addressing the issue of the sad friend-male. If this piece describes you, listen to me:

-Get over it. Get the fuck over it. Fucking get over it. She doesn’t like you. The last five didn’t. You’re doing something wrong. Accept it, be 100% OK with it, and find someone else. In the words of Dan Savage, every relationship you will ever have will fail. Every single relationship fails. Every one of them fails. They will all fail. Until one doesn’t. So fucking get ready for it, and fucking get over it.

-Are you seriously not going to be friends with someone just because they didn’t want to reciprocate your weird, shy, nervous, insecure and vaguely passive-aggressive advances? Did you think it was going to work out? See above. It wasn’t going to work out. It is not the most significant thing that you both like the same cancelled sit-com. Do you understand that the flipside of this is that now that person can’t trust you? And that it’s possible she already had a bunch of other guys do this same shit to her? And now she feels like dudes don’t actually want to be her friend, they just want to fuck her? And you helped perpetuate that? Do you really want to be that dude? Are you really not going to be emotionally supportive to her NOW after you did all that work of becoming her friend? Be her fucking friend, don’t be a fucking asshole. If you want to be a nice guy, be a fucking nice guy. Or better yet, don’t be a nice guy, be a good. person.

-If being yourself isn’t working, then you are not actually being yourself. If you are not being up front about what you actually want and what your actual desires are, you are being dishonest and you are not being yourself. If you have a lot of anger due to being friendzoned, do some therapy, and some jogging. Don’t be crass, just don’t be dishonest. Be tactful. Be tasteful. Be respectful. But don’t be dishonest.

-Stop trying to date people. This goes for both sexes. Stop perpetuating the mistaken perception that your identity and your existence is predicated upon or validated by who you are dating or how successful your dating life is. It doesn’t fucking matter. What your parents think doesn’t matter. What your friends think doesn’t matter. What movies think doesn’t matter. You don’t need a partner. You are fine on your own. And if you’re not fine on your own, why the fuck aren’t you fine on your own? Get fine on your own. Figure out what is missing (don’t say a girlfriend or boyfriend) and fix that part. Work on yourself. Love yourself. Do good. Be a good person. Be a good person unconditionally. Be selfless. Be selfish. Love yourself. Love your friends. Be happy without a partner. If something good comes along, be open to it. If nothing ever comes, be prepared to be happy without. Go without.

The tail-end of the personal aspect of this piece is this: I upped my online-dating game, went on a series of awkward and unsuccsesful internet dates, eventually met a nice girl at a thing I volunteer for. I did all the same friendy things I had been doing my whole life. I put her on a giant pedestal. Eventually it came out that we liked each other. So my normal tactic totally 100% worked. We dated for a year. We would have long conversations about tradition and why neither of us made the first move. We would have fights about social interactions. We would fight in public. We were both different from who we were when we were politely courting each other. We changed into different people. We broke up. Now I don’t idealize that quirky romantic comedy. It is a fantasy. It is John Hughes. It is John Cusack. It is not real life. I idealize independence, solitude, loving myself and being a good person. Right now I am at a point where I would much rather be alone than be in some shitty failing relationship. I am not on the lookout for that. My position is, I am getting what I need from my friendships, and the random occasional one-off hookups that sometimes happen. I crave being alone but am open for the thing that will make me change my mind. Anything less than that, I am not interested. And you shouldn’t be either. Hold out for the really really good one, and love your solitude in the meantime. Hold on to your friendships. You will need them. And when I get a crush on a co-worker or a friend, I brace myself for the possibility that it’s going to fail. Because so does everything. Get the fuck over it.

The Perks of Being A Smartypants

Friend Susan said the following: do you feel like there are people in the world who are like, too smart for you to talk to?  or do you feel like you can basically hold your own with everyone?

i am thinking about how rare it is that i feel like someone is smarter than i am, and that is making me feel like maybe i am a snob.  but then i was like, but maybe everyone feels like this and i am not a snob.

like i can name people who are smarter than me, or who are smarter about stuff that i am not smart about than i am, but like, in general, i would never be like “oh you are really smart, i can’t even talk to you.”  but people say that to me sometimes.  but i hate it when they say that.

 

To which I replied: People say that to me about musical taste. Like they don’t want to tell me they’re actual favorites out of fear that i’ll judge them. As if i am just like not fun and don’t understand how joy works or something. Or they just really really hate themselves.

I cant think offhand of anyone who i wouldn’t talk to because they are too smart. But i can think of a lot of people i would feel like i would make a giant dork of myself in front of because of my admiration or intimidation of.

But like. Noam Chomsky. If i had something to say to Noam Chomsky about something I cared about i maybe would. And i would not tell him he was too smart for me to talk to. Even though like
He is. But he’s also a teacher and a farter and so he must be able to relate to other humans in different ways than smartypantsness.

 

 

And that’s when she said: The most important part of this email is when you called Chomsky a “farter.” 

 

And then I sent her the below image:

Image

 

Aside

The following story was originally published earlier this year in The Logan Square Literary Review

Jack and Dani are sisters. It is 1995 and they are 12 and 9 respectively and they are dragging, between the two of them, four total laundry baskets down a broken-glass Des Moines August sidewalk. Jack carries a white basket with a sidehandle full of dirty towels, wash cloths and dishrags, and a taller teal basket, round, with a melted spot on one edge from where it got too close to the stove on the previous laundry day. Dani is pulling two horizontal laundry baskets, both full, one on top of the other, in a red Radio Flyer wagon. It creaks and wobbles over the rocks and cracks in the sidewalk. And when the girls get to the edge of the sidewalk, they find it is a sidewalk of height, one not paved downward in the sloping manner as to allow bicycles or wheelchairs access to easy transition from road to walk. The aggravating drop-offs of the 1980’s. The laundry does not fall.
Sweating, they push open the doors to the Blue Kangaroo laundromat, air conditioned and loud with Spanish language television. They are panting. They drag the baskets over to four side-by-side washers, $1.00 each. Jack, the oldest girl, opens one lid, looks in, smells it, closes it, moves to the next one. She does this for each washing machine. “You have to make sure no one went to the bathroom before you start.”
Dani is completely sober. “Do people do that?”
“Sometimes.”
“Weird.”
Jack starts with her taller basket. She pulls out the underwear and bras and socks by the fistful, balled up, throws them into the first washer. Before she opens the next washer to do the jeans, she hands Dani the ten dollar bill her mother gave her for the day. “Go get change.” Realistically, laundry day is about two weeks past due and under normal circumstances Jack and Dani’s mother would be doing the laundry. In fact she normally does laundry at home, but the washer broke and the guy keeps missing them. Even though Mom is sick. Mom doesn’t know when she’s going to get better. Jack and Dani have had to do a lot of the things their mother normally does since she got sick. It’s been a scary summer.
Dani stands at the change machine and it doesn’t say it takes ten dollar bills and one of the lights is blinking and there is no explanation why. She puts it in anyway and a flood of quarters drops out, loudly. She looks around to see if the other people in The Blue Kangaroo notice. They do not.
There is an old man, white, smoking. The frames of his glasses are thick and black, like his eyebrows, and the spots on his arms. His pants are light blue. He has armpit stains and his nipples are visibly hard. He is folding his clothes. There is a Mexican woman, younger than their mother, pulling clothes out of a washer on the opposite side of the olive green room. She has two tiny sons that are speaking Spanish to each other. The woman’s nipples are also visibly hard.
Dani has goosebumps on her arms and legs. She takes the quarters back to Jack who has readied all of the laundry.
“Did you put in the soap already?”
“Yes. Give me sixteen quarters.”
Dani counts out sixteen quarters and hands them to her sister. When four quarters have been placed in the four machines, Jack puts her two hands on two of the buttons and nods to Dani to do the same. Dani moves the wagon so she can get a better reach. When she is also stretched over the two machines, hands on buttons, Jack says “Now” and they push all four buttons at once. The wagon gives out under Dani who falls on her butt with a bang.
“OW!”
“Oh my god, Dani, are you OK?”
She smiles sheepishly with her one front tooth. “Yeahhh…”
This is when the waiting starts. They are less bored and more exhausted, sitting on the plastic mint green seats. Their mouths hang open, their minds are elsewhere. On the TV flashes images of the OJ Simpson trial. The coverage is playing nonstop in the living room for their sick and sleeping mother. But here at the Blue Kangaroo, the narration and the closed captions are in Spanish. OJ looks dejected and weathered. Dani exhales through her nose.
The two boys have gotten a hold of a bouncy ball, the kind that are about the size of a wasp egg and can hurt when whipped hard. They are whipping the ball against one wall and letting it bounce to the other wall. It echoes and the boys squeal with laughter and repeat Spanish phrases that Jack and Dani do not know.
There is a movie of Jack and Dani at around this same age, pretty close, that their Dad took before his car accident. They are wearing Dad’s shirts and ties and standing on chairs to be tall. And when you watch it you can hear his voice, saying, “Danielle, are you going to be the boss of a company?” And Dani is laughing in this high pitched squeal and covering her face with Dad’s shirt’s sleeves. And Dad is saying, “Jackie, are you going to be the boss or is Danielle?” And Jack nods and their dad asks again, “Who, you are Danielle?” And she doesn’t answer just laughs and covers her face. The movie was shot on video tape and is blurry and discolored in bad lighting the way movies from the late 1980s always are, automatically going into and out of focus on a kind of rotating timer. And the pixels add weight to their faces making their babyfat look thicker than it was.
They do not think of this movie now, here, in 1995, in this laundromat, on these plastic seats, watching these Mexican boys have a childhood. But they do think of it in relation to these boys later in life, after their mother succumbs. In fact they always associate these two things in the future; the two boys and the movie of them dressed as men. “My two sons!” their father called them, to much laughter and acclaim.
Because there is the sound of rubber ball hitting human skin amidst the loud mechanical chug of rotating washers and driers and Jack and Dani are looking over. One son has been hit in the face with the ball. The other son is hugging him and consoling him in Spanish. Dani cries.
To their right is a vending machine with bags of cotton candy. Jack knows they have no food in the house. And they haven’t eaten today. And they have six dollars left. Six dollars could buy six bags of cotton candy. But they still need to dry the clothes. Conceivably they could afford one bag of cotton candy, and still finish the laundry, Jack thinks. She hands Dani four quarters and says “Go get some cotton candy.” Dani stops crying. They share it. They both know this will be supper. It is sweet and hurts Jack’s mouth.
When the rinse cycle is finished they divide the clothes between two driers on the north wall, put in the rest of their money and start them up. However only one starts. The other one will not. And it will not return their money. In good health, their mother would likely yell at them and tell them how disappointed she was if they returned home with a basket of wet clothes. She would also be disappointed and probably angry if one girl ran home to get more money without the other. Dani is crying again.
But their mother is not well. And the girls have run out of options.
Jack makes the executive decision to load 100% of the family’s clothes into the one giant drier and restart it. At the very least, she thinks, most of their clothes will be mostly dry. And the rest will probably dry on the walk home. This heat. It is a heat they will remember for all time. The looks from the folks who drive by. The apparent dirt on their faces and arms.
They sit for the hour it takes to dry, watching the rumbling and the spinning. The sun goes down and they are leaning against one another in nascent bright fluorescent light.

Aside

I sat with Joe in the capitalist chains on Belmont Ave. It was the first time I had seen him since he moved to England in January or February. And we talked about the process of writing. And he said that he and Cassie are in two writing groups. That they got rid of Netflix. That they admonish each other when they don’t write.

That he read this book by this Buddhist who says everything is the compost heap. And you need to let things sit on the compost heap a while before drawing from it. That you need to write all the time. That she writes all the time. Her goal is to fill a spiral notebook once a month. Then shoe goes back through and picks out the good parts and works with it to make something good.

We emptied our cups of cocoa. The dregs were sugary and cold. And I said “I will go home and write for five hours.”

I will go home and write for five hours…

I will go home and write for five hours…

I will go home and write for five hours…

Instead I made a can of Trader Joe’s turkey chili and watched an episode of Breaking Bad. Then I looked at tumblr and felt ashamed.

Adjustment Bureau

Last weekend I participated in a review conversation with Susan Quesal about the new film The Adjustment Bureau. The review was a contribution to her blog, Embrace The Mediocre. I was filling in for Geoff George, her co-blogger.

Read it here.