Hot Stove #246 – Movies – The Oscars, Ferris Bueller and the Bijou Theater

The Oscars are coming! The Oscars are coming! Sunday night, March 10.

The New Yorker cover this week takes us back to the 2022 Oscars when Will Smith came on stage to slap Chris Rock. Artist Barry Blitt titled this work “Slappenheimer,” a twist on “Barbenheimer,” the nickname for the blockbuster joint release of Barbie and Oppenheimer on July 21, 2023. To date, Barbie’s worldwide box office is $1.44 billion. Oppenheimer, $960 million.

Barbie slaps Oppenheimer at the Academy Awards.

I’ve long been a movie fan, but my film appreciation elevated to a new level when Rita and I began attending the Telluride Film Festival in 2011. We were introduced to Telluride by festival veterans Marsha Murphy and Bob Morantz who promised that we would see potential Oscar nominees (films, actors and directors) months before the films opened in theaters.

And did we get spoiled. In the first seven years we attended, a movie screened at Telluride won the Academy Award for best picture. In addition to getting an early look at good movies, the panels and screenings with the producers, actors and directors are a delight. The only year we have missed since 2011 was 2020 when the festival was cancelled due to Covid.

The festival is held each year on Labor Day Weekend. But you must plan far ahead. Flights, car rental, condo rental, etc. Most importantly, at 11:00 a.m. on March 1, you get in line via computer with movie fans from around the country to order your festival pass. The passes usually sell out within hours. We received a notice early last week giving us our reminder for 2024.

51st Telluride Film Festival Box Office Opens.png

We did not sign up. Not going. Why? The risk/reward considerations tipped in favor of skipping the festival. The hassles of travel, age and other excuses that will no doubt sound lame when we go through Telluride withdrawal in September.

For my Telluride swan song, I’m going to share my thoughts on the upcoming Oscars. I claim no expertise, and as proof of sometimes missing by a mile, last year’s best picture Oscar winner was Everything Everywhere All at Once. I thought it was awful. So, welcome to this very subjective world.

Oscars 2024: Members In 93 Countries Turn Out To Vote For Nominees

Best Picture: Before we made our annual Labor Day trek to Telluride, we saw Oppenheimer. It set a very high bar. The directing, the writing, the acting, the mood, the alternating timeline structure with color and black and white. Superb. The early (and still) favorite.

Oppenheimer – Movie Review

At Telluride, we saw three films that would join Oppenheimer as best picture nominees: Poor Things, The Holdovers and Anatomy of a Fall. Also at Telluride was Zone of Interest, but we missed that screening. The other five nominated films are Barbie, Killers of the Flower Moon, Maestro, American Fiction and Past Lives. With some help from streaming, Rita and I have seen all ten nominees. All are better than last year’s Oscar winner Everything Everywhere All at Once.

How to watch every Oscars 2024 Best Picture nominee

In 2009, the Academy increased the number of best picture nominees from five to ten. I’m glad they did. Some room was needed to honor a variety of films.

Best Picture? My choice quickly narrows down to two films. Not because the other eight are unworthy, I just think two stand out from a fine crowd.

As a first step, let’s eliminate five films to get to the old days of five nominees.

Eliminated: Zone of Interest, Barbie (but with appreciation for what it did; maybe deserves to be in Top Five), Maestro, Past Lives and Killers of the Flower Moon (sorry Mr. Scorsese, an hour too long).

Top Five: Oppenheimer, Poor Things, Anatomy of a Fall, The Holdovers and American Fiction. Some Telluride bias may be showing. Three of my top five screened at the festival.

Next eliminations. Anatomy of a Fall (excellent kitchen and trial scenes). Holdovers (good holiday fare). American Fiction (clever premise and execution).

Leaving my top two…

Oppenheimer and Poor Things, two totally different movies. The winner? My mind says Oppenheimer. My sense of wonder says Poor Things. The critics and oddsmakers agree with my mind.

Maybe the best way to explain my thinking is to repeat my review from the Hot Stove report posted after Telluride (full report here):

Poor Things (R) • Connecticut Public Television

Set in Victorian London, an eccentric scientist (William Dafoe), brings a young woman (Emma Stone as Bella) back to life by implanting an infant’s brain. Bella evolves from her infantile status – learning about reading, writing, motor skills, manners, etc. – as well finding how to pleasure her adolescent self. As one pundit described the process, Frankenstein meets Barbie.

Bella agrees to marry an associate of the scientist but first wants to find out more about sexual pleasure and the world. She sets off on a European tour with the scientist’s lawyer, a cad of the lowest form, played in an Oscar-worthy performance by Mark Ruffalo.

Bella grows intellectually and sexually, ultimately emancipating herself into an independent woman with a sincere belief in body autonomy (a battle still being fought today). The process of getting there is exhilarating as she parades in her beautiful dresses with sculptural sleeves and, very often, in no clothes at all. There are many other interesting parts to this movie – hybrid animals, working in a brothel, physical comedy, fantasy cities on Bella’s tour, etc. – all good stuff surrounding Emma Stone’s fearless performance.

From the film’s director Yorgos Lanthimos: “Above all, this film is the central character of Isabela Baxter, this incredible creature, and she wouldn’t exist without Emma Stone, another incredible creature.” AMEN.

The envelope please…

Best Director: Assuming Oppenheimer wins best picture, director Christopher Nolan gets this Oscar. If Poor Things pulls an upset, then Yorgos Lanthimos.

Best Actor: Cillian Murphy as J. Robert Oppenheimer. By a landslide (I became a fan after seeing him in the TV series Peaky Blinders). There are rumblings for Paul Giamatti who was excellent in The Holdovers, but I don’t think it’s close.

7 mind-blowing movies & shows of 'Oppenheimer' actor Cillian Murphy

A special shoutout to Rustin’s Colman Domingo who played civil rights hero Bayard Rustin, the organizer of the 1963 March on Washington. Great performance in an important movie.

Best Actress: From my gushing talk above, you know I am rooting for Emma Stone. Her main competition is Lily Gladstone from Killers of the Flower Moon.

Another strong performance was Annette Bening in Nyad. At the age of 64, Bening trained for a year for the role, building up her stamina and perfecting marathoner Diana Nyad’s swimming technique.

Best Supporting Actor: This is a tough category – I liked all the performances. Most of the buzz is for Robert Downey Jr. who played Atomic Energy Commission chair Lewis Strauss in Oppenheimer. My bias for Poor Things means I would be happy if Mark Ruffalo won (below with Emma Stone).

Poor Things' review: Emma Stone and Mark Ruffalo deliver a horny-as-hell  spin on 'Frankenstein' | Mashable

Best Supporting Actress: I don’t have a strong favorite here. Most of the pre-Oscar awards have gone to Da’Vine Joy Randolph in The Holdovers. I also liked Jody Foster as the friend and coach of Diana Nyad.

 International Feature Film: Since it is also nominated for overall best film, I’m guessing The Zone of Interest (German) wins this Oscar.

At Telluride, we saw one of the nominated films and liked it a lot. From Japan.

2023坎城影展】《Perfect Days》影評:文溫德斯與役所廣司的東京公廁,關於「變與不變」的浪漫日子- 第1 頁- The News Lens  關鍵評論網

The film follows Hirayama  (Kogi Yakusho) for several days, each of which starts and ends with Groundhog Day routines from his solitary life. He heads to work each morning to clean the architecturally distinct public toilets of Tokyo and fills out his days interacting with co-workers, bystanders and family. It’s a sweet performance, and the movie has a good rock ‘n’ roll soundtrack.

Screenplays, Music and Technical Awards: Above my pay grade.

Where to Stream the Movies: Almost all the movies mentioned above are now streaming. My go-to app for finding where movies and TV shows are streaming is Just Watch. Click here for details.

 JustWatch - Streaming Guide - Apps on Google Play

Here is an example. Oppenheimer is currently free on Peacock and available on several platforms for $5.99.

 Ferris Bueller’s Day Off: I’ll now switch to a movie that had zero Oscar nominations, but I have seen several times. It recently came back on my radar because of a baseball trade.

Walker Buehler has been pitching for the Dodgers since 2017. He missed 2023 for Tommy John surgery but is expected back in 2024.

In the off-season, the Dodgers and Cubs made a trade that brought pitcher Jackson Ferris to the Dodgers. It did not take long before the connection was made on twitter:

Jackson Ferris pitching while wearing a MLB USA Baseball All-American Game uniform.
Walker Buehler pitching while wearing a Dodgers uniform.
Actor Matthew Broderick in the movie Ferris Bueller's Day Off.
X post that reads: The Dodgers now have Ferris and Buehler on the same team.

Ferris will start in the minors, but hopefully will soon join Buehler on the Dodgers. My dream scenario is that Buehler start a game and get relieved by Ferris. The LA Times headline: Ferris relieves Buehler.

Grammar Note: Buehler (Walker) and Bueller (Ferris) are not spelled the same, but Hot Stove accepts homonyms for this exercise.

Now a segue to the baseball scenes in the movie.

 When Ferris reports in sick to miss school, the principal believes (correctly) that Ferris is faking. He goes on a hunt for Ferris and stops at a pizza joint. The Cubs game is on in the background, and he watches for a while, but looks away when the camera focuses on a foul ball being caught in the stands…by Ferris who is at the game with two friends. Video here (3:12).

The baseball trivia on this is that the sequence involves two Cubs games. The game on TV with Harry Caray announcing is from June 5, 1985 (Braves over Cubs, 4-2). The scenes showing Ferris catching the ball are spliced in and are from the Cubs game played on September 24, 1985 (Cubs lost to Montreal, 17-15; the Expos’ Andre Dawson had three home runs and eight RBIs).

Travel Report: Chicago Nostalgia. - Leighton Travels!

 Babe Ruth – Silent Movie: On January 1 this year, copyrighted items from 1928 became part of the public domain. The big news on this was that the versions of Mickey and Minnie Mouse in the movie short Steamboat Willie were no longer protected. Also going to public domain this year were Lady Chatterley’s Lover and the song “Mack the Knife” from The Threepenny Opera.

But what caught my eye was the Babe Ruth appearance in Harold Lloyd’s last silent movie, Speedy. It was released in 1928, the year after the Babe had his 60-homer season. Ruth appears as himself in a scary cab ride to Yankee stadium (clip here). Ruth gets the driver (“Speedy”) into the game, but Speedy does not have Ferris Bueller’s luck. Speedy’s boss is at the game and fires him for not being on the job.

Vanderbilt Cup Races - Blog - Film “Speedy” - Featuring Harold Lloyd, Babe  Ruth and 1928 cars

Speedy is also believed to be one of the first films to show someone giving the finger (clip here).

 All now in the public domain. The full movie is here, and the taxi ride/Yankee Stadium scenes start at 48 minutes.

Lonnie’s Jukebox – The Film Peddler and the Bijou Theater: Several years ago, I became part of a monthly coffee routine with Joe Downs and Mike Fitzgerald. One day, Joe brought along a guest, John Shipp. Joe knew that John and I would have a connection with our mutual interest in movies. Me, Telluride. John, everything about movies.

It turned out to be a lot more than movies. Politics, Kansas City history, life, bitcoin, etc. So much that we went from monthly to weekly. Zoom during Covid. Then merging with another Shipp crew of Butch Rigby and Joe Serviss. Still going strong.

John has been a movie guy for almost his entire working life, and that career is the subject of an entertaining 2011 documentary, The Film Peddler (streaming on Amazon Prime for $1.99).

Watch The Film Peddler | Prime Video

After an initial start at MGM, John became an independent film distributor based in Kansas City, serving a wide region in the Midwest. The major Hollywood studios did their own film distribution, but indies relied on people like John to get their films to the theaters. In his review of The Film Peddler, KC film critic Robert Butler described John’s indie film inventory:

“We’re not talking Oscar-bound art here. No, Shipp specialized in Roger Corman exploitation, cheaper horror flicks (‘Attack of the Killer Tomatoes’), women-in-prison movies, naughty nudies and car chase epics…along with occasional classics like ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’ and ‘Halloween’.”

During the 1970s, John was flying high, controlling a substantial share of the indies market. He was part of Film Row near 18th and Wyandotte where the Hollywood studios concentrated their distribution operations. He was very involved in Show-A-Rama, an annual film industry event at the Crown Center Hotel, where he schmoozed with the likes of Clint Eastwood, Jack Lemon, George Burns and Paul Newman. John also produced some of his own films (e.g., The Student Body). He had a lot of fun and tells some great stories. But, in his words…

“I made around $22 million distributing independent films in the ‘70s. Unfortunately, I spent $23 million.”

 So, John took a break from the movie world for a while. But he was easily lured back. He became a successful and well-known booker of films on behalf of independent theaters. He helped launch two major KC projects in concert with his friend Butch Rigby, the founder of the Screenland family of theaters: (i) The Film Society of Greater Kansas City (and the related FilmFest KC and CinemaKC), and (ii) Thank You Walt Disney, the group that saved the building at 31st and Forest where Walt Disney worked in his Laugh-O-Gram studio in the 1920s (and fed scraps of food to a friendly mouse). Below, from Ingram’s in 2002.

With the building saved, the Disney project has moved to the next chapter of restoring the building and equipping it for its new purpose – to tell the story of Walt Disney’s animation legacy and as an inspirational center for innovation in digital media entrepreneurship and education. The project has recently received major government grants and credits to combine with its ongoing fundraising (Website).

Thank You Walt Disney

Although I did not know John in the 1970s, I was familiar with one of his movie ventures. He was one of the owners of Westport’s Bijou Theatre, the 104-seat movie house that ran indie, art, cult and underground films.

Tivoli Theatre

I remember the large folding mailers with the film calendar on the face page and descriptions of the movies on the back. The central pages had news and ticket info surrounded by ads of Westport institutions (the original Classic Cup, Westport Ballet, Penny Lane, The Music Exchange, Love Records, Torre’s Pizzeria, etc.).

Today’s selections in Lonnie’s Jukebox are from the movies shown in this flyer that John recently pulled from his archives.

“Sisters of Mercy” by Leonard Cohen in McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971). Director Robert Altman and singer Leonard Cohen were both in the early stage of their careers when Altman used three Cohen songs for this movie.

“Life is a Cabaret” by Liza Minnelli in Cabaret (1972).

“Memphis, Tennessee” by Chuck Berry in Alice in the Cities (1974).

“Rock ‘n’ Roll High School” by the Ramones, title song for Rock ‘n’ Roll High School (1979). Soundtrack also included Chuck Berry’s “School Days” and Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out.”

“Long Live Rock” and “The Kids Are Alright” by the Who in the rockumentary The Kids Are Alright (1979).

“If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out” by Cat Stevens in Harold and Maude (1971). The film clips shown with this video are a good summary of the movie. One of the best movie soundtracks, featuring nine songs by Cat Stevens (now known as Yusuf Islam).

Bruns Picture house presents ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW - Byron Visitor  Centre

No discussion of the Bijou can leave out the multiple showings per week for many years of the cult classic The Rocky Horror Picture Show. In an interview by Nancy Ball in the Kansas City Times in 1979, John said as far as he knew, “we are the only house in the world that is playing Rocky Horror every night of the week.”

When the movie was first released, it did poorly. But it was so bad, it was good – for parody by fans who dress up like the characters and act out the scenes. It caught on and became a favorite for theaters to add late night showings. The sold-out weekend shows at the Bijou were before and after midnight (11:00 and 1:00). I like Nancy Ball’s description of Cricket who sold tickets out front and then introduced the show from the Bijou stage: “She was dressed (or rather, undressed) in a black corset, garter belt and mesh stockings, a top hat perched rakishly atop her curly hair.”

Cricket gave instructions to the audience. No smoking – of cigarettes. No throwing of rice on stage (for the wedding scene) nor toast (for “toasting” the creation of Rocky). No “Warping” on stage, keep to the aisles. A good part of the audience already knew the rules because most were repeaters who were dressed for their parts and ready to participate in the chaos generated at each showing.

I never made it to the Bijou to see Rocky Horror, but I have seen the movie and so understand why it works better with audience participation.

“Science Fiction Double Feature” by Richard O’Brien (voice) and Patricia Quinn (lip syncing). The opening scene of the Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975).

“Let’s Do the Time Warp Again” by the cast in the Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975).

As of 2024, the film is still in limited release. The longest-running release in film history.

Below, with my newest old friend John. He will be joining me next month as a member of the octogenarian club.


Thank you, John Shipp.