Per my norm of recent years, I hadn’t seen any of the films up for major awards — still haven’t caught up with Argo from last year — but as usual watched the Oscar ceremonies last night anyway. I guess I consider it general cultural research, in case I’m ever called up to appear on Jeopardy!
In fact, the only movie nominated for any kind of award I had under my belt was Iron Man 3, which lost for Visual Effects. And I watched that on Blu-Ray, long after the theatrical run. While it seems I must have spent half my life in darkened movie theatres, I guess those days are almost over — the only upcoming release I’m sure I’ll pop for on the modern big screen is The Raid 2: Berandal, and I’m guessing that won’t be up for an Oscar next time. (Like The Butler, it’s appearing too early in the year to keep Oscar buzz going — and movies I like almost never make the cut, anyway. My absolute favorite Oscar moment this time was the commercial which asked if Danny Trejo had ever turned down a part, and Danny answered “No.” Very cool, acknowledging a cult icon. No Oscar, probably never an Oscar, but if you don’t know Danny Trejo, man, you’ve been living under a stump.)
And then the Best Adapted Screenplay category came up, and John Ridley won for 12 Years a Slave.
“I know him,” I said.
Ridley is the guy who interviewed me for the 2005 NPR special on Hammett — we recorded my material as we walked all over town, so you can hear some breathless moments as I do my schtick, though as I recall (I haven’t listened to it since that time) Ridley recorded his questions over in the studio so he sounds much more composed, as if we weren’t in fact climbing up hills.
(The producer for that segment — the guy carrying around the recorder — said that my name was very familiar to him. Well, I replied, I have been doing the tour forever. No, that’s not it, he said. Eventually we figured out that he knew my name because of my series of articles in Firsts: The Book Collector’s Magazine. On Willeford. Robert E. Howard. Don Wandrei. Clark Ashton Smith. San Francisco Mysteries. Arkham House ephemera. Floyd Salas. Those were pretty nice articles.)
I had met Ridley a few years before, circa 2003, when I made a run down to L.A. to appear on a panel about noir — also the first time I bumped into George P. Pelecanos. I recall that Ridley and Pelecanos both thought that Sweet Smell of Success was the greatest noir movie ever, and I disagreed. Sure, it has many noir elements, it is noiresque, but it’s not noir.
I had seen Ridley’s first movie, U Turn, directed by Oliver Stone, based on Ridley’s novel Stray Dogs. Pretty good neo-noir/Tarantino-esque black comedy. (My fave aspect was the reunion of Nick Nolte and Powers Boothe from Extreme Prejudice.) But the very last moments I found kind of weird, not really the stuff of a satisfying ending.
I asked Ridley about it as we hiked around, but he said, What else would have worked?
I don’t know, almost anything. Didn’t quite ruin the movie for me, but took a chunk out of my regard.
Still, congrats to John Ridley. A guy like Hammett with roots in crime fiction, nominated for Best Adapted — and unlike Hammett, he took home the statue.