Sunday, February 27, 2005

Ray of Light - Will Jamie Foxx get Props for Ray or will his double nomination be a Collateral loss?

A couple of days ago I was talking to this friend I used to date when I first moved to L.A. and she goes "Yep, it's hard to believe you've been here for 10 years now." and I was like "nofriggin'way!" As I did the math in my noggin, turns out she was off...by three months which brings me to Jamie Foxx and this year's Oscar Awards.

I fell off the turnip truck and onto Highland & Hollywood back in the summer of '95 and started dating this woman I knew from back East, from whence I'd just arrived -- as most transplants tend to do when they get out here until they realize why they left behind the loathesome lot who remained wherever it was they'd fled from in the first place, but I digress. Anyway, she worked as a suit at one of the bigger talent agencies and for a minute was representing Jamie Foxx. One night she asked me if I'd like to go to a function with her which was a comedy show featuring hot black comedians on the rise and Foxx was slotted to perform. New to the coast with the straw still sticking out of my shoes, I shrugged "why the hell not?"

Following a 15 minute set, Jamie bounded offstage and up to his agent, my girlfriend and we met. Plans were made in the comedy club's parking lot to go have a late dinner over at a diner back over on Sunset, the name of the joint escapes me at the moment but it's over there by the Saddle Ranch...with a couple of railroad cars in front of it or something but anyway, we got there before Foxx did; we were sat, ordered and after almost finishing our meal, Jamie did eventually show up (tardiness is a given out here) and even then it was clear that he had big plans but so does every waiter, bellydancer and cabbie out here. If you walk into any Starbucks at mid-day and look around, everybody's reading a memo, of a xerox of a fax of a "hot treatment." In Jamie's case, he had yet to make any waves in film but he'd earned his bones on the Wayans brothers' groundbreaking "In Living Color" sketch comedy show on TV and had since moved on to star in his own popular eponymous sitcom.

This was years before I'd make my own inroads toward writing in/ about the business but I noted, even then, that he had an interesting mind and half of the preconceptions about the guy didn't pan out and I was hard pressed not to like the guy. I found out that dude's an accomplished pianist and can sing his little ass off so it was no surprise to me when he actually did start kicking ass as actor (his stand-up can be played at times) in films like Any Given Sunday and Ali. When the latter came out many were scratching their collective yarmulkes saying "who woulda thunk it? Jamie Foxx playing a black Jew?"

Since then he's been one to watch and instead of going the "cheesin' n chitlins" route from stand-up to sitcom to comedy film until forced back to stand-up, Foxx has honed his talents in the acting Dojo and actually gotten better at what many around these parts like to call (I'm doing finger quotes, here) "the craft." Considering his musical/ improvisational comedy background it seemed that playing Charles was a no-brainer in hindsight but remember, movies take years to get made and I'm sure whomever mentioned Jamie initially was laughed out of the meeting room while he was handed his/ her hat but needless to say the script landed in the actor/ comedian's lap and the rest is blah-blah-blah...

While I don't doubt that the multi-talented Foxx didn't rock out while playing Charles (nope, haven't see it yet), he's up against some heavy hitters in the Best actor in a leading role category, the list includes Leonardo DiCaprio who went to Sean Penn-sylvanian method acting proportions with a multi-tasked portrayal of Howard Hughes (and all of the nervous ticks that that entails) in The Aviator which I did see but didn't cotton to -- because it was playing nearby and I had the time, plus I'd heard that Cate Blanchette did a bang up job as Kate Hepburn. I'll admit Cate has her moments playing Kate but she was far better in Jim Jarmusch's Coffee & Cigarettes while playing two poeple and in 1/16th of the time, no less. I don't know, maybe it's hard for me to relate to a billionaire hypochondriac with a milk fetish or a brassy patrician actress from New England. But that's me, yo...

Other contenders for the Best Actor title are Johnny Depp who had jaded & grizzled journalists on the film beat crying like little bitches at screenings all over town last year for his nominated performance in Finding Neverland, Clint Eastwood also got a nod from the big "O" for Million Dollar Baby. Clint has been making quality films for quite a while -- always under budget, which the suits love in this town -- but he's never walked away with a fistful of Oscar; this might be his year. Many of the voters in the Academy are old schoolers with one hand on a cell phone, one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel, making this an opportune time to give Dirty Harry his propers because dude ain't getting any younger, yo -- Hollywood loves their own and C.E's double nom seems like an insurance policy so that they can throw something at the aging actor/ director/ producer, as he's also nommed for a Best Director award -- before he "moves on to the next town" as my grandfather used to euphemistically say about taking the eternal dirt nap (guess it runs in the family).

Last, on the list of contenders is Don Cheadle (Hotel Rwanda), one of the most underrated actors working in the 323/310 area code with chops for days (he gave Denzel a real run for his money with his supporting role as the squirrelly Mouse in Devil in a Blue Dress) -- I didn't see HR but plan to because Cheadle never disappoints, no need to gallop with the herd -- he's no thespian slouch by any means and he closes the list that makes Foxx' chances of scoring a statuette for his supporting role opposite Tom Cruise in Collatteral more plausible but even in that group he's up against thespian stalwarts like Alan Alda (The Aviator) and Easy Reader himself, Morgan Freeman (Million Dollar Baby) so the geriatric voters might throw a spanner in Foxx' works for that category too...but then again it could go either way.

Kevin Spacey won the Best Actor award for his work in American Beauty in which he essentially played a married weed-smoking Verbal Kent (his role in Usual Suspects) while beating Denzel Washington who'd played the wrongfully jailed Rueben Carter (3-times over) in The Hurricane (the scene in which Washington plays off of himself in the three different emotional states of the same character should've gotten him the B.A. Oscar way back then -- if you've ever been on a film shoot, you'd know how difficult it is for actors to keep one character's actions consistent for the editing booth, let alone three in the same sequence; when he lost I stood up screaming in disgust at the TV "who in the hell is Kaiser Soze??!!!" Washington eventually won for playing a (surprise!) thuggy cop with interpersonal issues but that win was a day late and a dollar short -- to be mentioned in another entry, altogether: to be mentioned in another entry...

The full list of Oscar nominees and categories can be found on header link [click on the header and it'll redirect you] also, if you'd like to learn a little more about Ray Charles -- and who doesn't? -- here's a little 411 on him, ... take a look, you' should find something that'll surprise you, I know I did [like, he'd beaten Charlie Pride, the black country singer, onto the C&W charts by a few decades]...Laters.

DATES
1948>> In Seattle, Charles became a minor local celebrity in the club circuit. He formed the McSon Trio with Gossady McGee, becoming the first black group to have a sponsored TV show in the Pacific Northwest.

1949>>"Confession Blues," recorded on the Downbeat/Swingtime label, is a hit debut, putting Charles on the map.

1952>>Ray's contract is bought by Atlantic Records, where he records songs such as "I've Got A Woman," "Mess Around," and What'd I Say."

1954>>"Swannee River Rock" is Ray Charles' first single to crossover into pop.

1961>> Charles is awarded a Best R&B Recording Grammy for "Hit The Road Jack."

1962 >>In a somewhat confusing outcome of events, the country ballad "I Can't Stop Loving You" wins Ray a Best R&B Recording Grammy.

1963>>"Busted" garners another Grammy-Best R&B Recording-at the 6th-annual ceremony.

1966>> Ray Charles' single "Crying Time" is a hit and wins him two Grammys: Best R&B Recording and Best R&B Solo Vocal Performance.

1967>>Charles drops out of the music scene following a heroin possession bust. Ironically, when he returns, his first hit is "Let's Go Get Stoned."

1975>> "Living For The City" is awarded the Best R&B Vocal Performance, Male Grammy.

1979>> Ray's classic rendition of "Georgia On My Mind" is approved as the official state song of Georgia. The singer is also the first artist to be inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame.

1981>> The Hollywood Historic Trust initiates Ray Charles' star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

1987>> Charles is awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement trophy for his contributions to American music.

1990>> "I've Got A Woman," Charles' first #1 hit single (R&B, 1955), is inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, and the collaborative effort "I'll Be Good To You," helmed by Quincy Jones, is awarded the Best R&B Performance by duo or group for Charles' duet with Chaka Khan. His role in the Pepsi "You got the right one, Baby" commercial series wins him a Clio award as Best Male Performer.

1993>>President Clinton presents Ray Charles with the National Medal for the Arts, and Charles' version of "Georgia On My Mind" is inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame while Charles also wins the Best Male Vocal Performance, R&B for "A Song For You."

1994>> A Lifetime Achievement Award is presented to Charles at the Black Achievement Awards Ceremony.

1995>> Ray receives another Lifetime Achievement Award, this time from the Songwriter's Hall of Fame.

1997>>Charles' 1960 album release The Genius Of Ray Charles is inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

1999>> The album Ray Charles In Person, released on Atlantic 40 years prior, is inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

2004>>Charles dies due to complications from liver disease at the age of 73 in Los Angeles, CA

FACTS
" Charles lost his eyesight at the age of seven. Because of his family's poverty, he was accepted as a charity case at Florida's St. Augustine School for the deaf and blind. While there, he learned Braille and typing. He also took lessons outside of school: a neighbor taught him to play the piano.

" Charles made the insightful observation of the correlation mathematics has to music. He taught himself to arrange music in his mind, describing each instrument's part one by one.

" Imitating the stage stylings of Nat "King" Cole, in his salad days as a soloist he headed for Seattle, WA.

" In the early '50s Charles started working with R&B musicians such as Lowell Fulson, Guitar Slim, and Ruth Brown, which "toughened up" his recording sound.

" In Seattle, Ray met an aspiring musician whom he took under his tutelage. The young man was Quincy Jones.

" The recording of "I've Got A Woman" was a crucial moment in American music. This adaptation of gospel into secular R&B became a #2 hit. It heralds the point that Ray found "his voice" and began developing its now familiar nuances.

" In 1959 the song "What'd I Say" became Charles' biggest hit to date, reaching #1 on the R&B and #6 on the Pop charts.

" When Charles went to ABC, he was given more control of the production of his songs and eventual ownership of them (making him one of the first recording artists to do so). He utilized this power to make such hits as "Hit The Road Jack" and "Unchain My Heart."

" In 1962 Charles switched gears on the pop music scene by recording his first the hit country music single " I Can't Stop Loving You" and then recording the full album Modern Sounds In Country And Western Music. The album was immensely popular, topping the album charts for nearly four months.

" In a description of "soul" music to Time Magazine, Charles stated "(that) radiates from a sense of selfhood, a sense of knowing where you've been and what it means. Soul is a way of life--but it's always the hard way."

" In 1971 Atlantic Records and ABC collaborated on a 25th-anniversary salute to Ray with a release that comprised material from both labels.

" In 1979 Charles' version of Hoagy Carmichael's "Georgia On My Mind" was declared the "official song of the state of Georgia," and he was invited to be present on the floor of the state capitol to sing its inaugural performance.

" In 1980, Ray had a featured role in The Blues Brothers, the cult hit starring John Belushi and Dan Akroyd.

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