02/14/13 10:57am
02/14/2013 10:57 AM

Yes, it’s true, ladies and gentlemen! You have arrived at our annual Academy Awards contest column, wherein readers of same are challenged to pick the winners of the 85th Academy Awards, which will be revealed on ABC-TV on Sunday, Feb. 24. 

Once again this year, due in no small part to a couple of friends who are members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, I have seen all 10 nominees for Best Picture. (Well, to be perfectly honest, 9 1/3 of the films; more on that below.)

And if you can hang in there until the end of this column, there’s a challenge awaiting that could win you a $100 gift certificate to the Mattituck Cinemas.

But first, my picks:

BEST PICTURE—“Les Misérables” is the film I could not make it all the way through. (It was, in fact, miserable.) I’ve always had trouble with dramatic musicals (see 1962’s “State Fair,” with Ann-Margret and Pat Boone crooning in their underwear when normal, red-blooded people would have had other things on their minds), and Russell Crowe’s croaking forced me to admit defeat long before the credits rolled.

Conventional wisdom might indicate Spielberg’s “Lincoln” for the top award, and my personal favorite was “Zero Dark Thirty,” which turned off some moviegoers because its core is a procedural about an obsessed CIA analyst who won’t quit in the hunt for Osama bin Laden. But this contest isn’t about who should win, but who will win. And in that case my vote goes to “Argo,” director Ben Affleck’s engaging, if somewhat predictable, retelling of another CIA-based tale. Note: With the exception of “Les Mis,” “Lincoln” and “Life of Pi,” which was a tad too fantastic for my taste, I really (really!) liked the seven other finalists.

BEST DIRECTOR—And the winner is: Spielberg, mostly via default because neither of the real best directors, Ben Affleck or Kathryn Bigelow (“Zero Dark Thirty”), was nominated.

Longshot: Michael Haneke (“Amour”) — because he got the very best out of his lead actors, 82-year-old Jean-Louis Trintignant and 85-year-old Emmanuelle Riva. But when asked by a friend if I liked the film, I emphatically responded: “No, it’s way too depressing.”

BEST ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE—And the winner is: Daniel Day Lewis (“Lincoln”). You may safely bet the ranch on this one. If ever there were a prohibitive favorite in this category, it is Mr. Day Lewis. His bravura performance as our nation’s 16th president actually outshines his earlier bravura performances in “My Left Foot,” “There Will Be Blood,” etc.

Longshot/Should Be: Don’t even bother.

BEST ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE—And the winner is: Jessica Chastain (“Zero Dark Thirty”). She may be young, but she’s building an impressive body of work, including in “The Help,” “The Tree of Life” and “Take Shelter.” And there would have been no “Zero Dark Thirty” without her riveting performance.

Longshot: Jennifer Lawrence (“Silver Linings Playbook”). Like Chastain, she’s young and previously overlooked. But as with her 2011 performance in “Winter’s Bone,” this one may be a tad too dark and too quirky for the decidedly conservative Academy members.

Honorable Mention: Quvenzhané Wallis (“Beasts of the Southern Wild”), who was 5 years old when this movie was filmed, and is the youngest actress ever nominated for this award.

BEST ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE—And the winner is: Tommy Lee Jones (“Lincoln”). This time, his deadpan delivery, bloodhound eyelids and southern inflection work to perfection as Lincoln’s vice president.

Longshots: Alan Arkin (“Argo”) and Robert DeNiro (“Silver Linings Playbook”). Both of these old pros chew up the scenery in engaging but predictable roles.

And the winner should be: Phillip Seymour Hoffman, but not for his performance in “The Master,” for which he is nominated. Rather, for his performance in “The Late Quartet,” an outstanding ensemble piece roundly snubbed by the Academy.

BEST ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE—And the winner is: Sally Field (“Lincoln”) in a brave performance as Honest Abe’s somewhat-unsympathetic mate. It’s also the safe pick, me thinks.

And the winner should be: Helen Hunt (“The Sessions”). Speaking of brave, what other 50-something actress would consider a role that requires her to appear in the buff for what seems like most of the film?

And now, the chance to claim that $100 gift certificate. All you must do to win is locate this column online at suffolktimes.com and be the first to post a comment below naming the most winners in the six categories cited above — having done so, of course, prior to the Sunday, Feb. 24, airing of the Academy Awards broadcast. Sorry, but in the event of a tie, the value of the gift certificate will be divided by the number of winners. But once again this year, popcorn is included.

[email protected]

03/15/12 7:00am
03/15/2012 7:00 AM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Joan Zaniskey of Aquebogue spoke at the 'Save the Main Road' meeting Saturday.

Surprise of surprises: The good people of Jamesport, South Jamesport and Aquebogue appreciate the benefits of building a YMCA somewhere in Riverhead or Southold towns. They just don’t want it in their own backyard — specifically on 8.8 wooded acres across the Main Road from Vineyard Caterers in Aquebogue.

Just like the people of Aquebogue didn’t want a YMCA on Tuthills Lane. Or the people of Greenport didn’t want a YMCA on Front Street. Or the people of Laurel didn’t want a YMCA in their hamlet, which straddles the border between Riverhead and Southold towns. (I still think former Southold Town supervisor Tom Wickham was on the money when he suggested locating the Y in Laurel, because it would have conveniently drawn members from both towns and Shelter Island.)

My memory is getting a little shaky at this point, but wasn’t there once a suggestion to locate a new YMCA at the former Grumman property in Calverton? I can only assume it was nixed by the deer and endangered salamanders who camped nearby.

There’s a certain pattern at work here, wouldn’t you agree? And if it were a scientific formula, it would read: YMCA + NIMBY = 0.

I used to think there might be a racial component to some of the Y opposition. I had no hard proof for said theory, just a gut feeling that overwhelmingly lily-white hamlets might be doing their NIMBY thing because a Y would draw people of color from both Riverhead and Greenport, the only local communities with significant minority populations.

But my latest theory holds that age discrimination, rather than race discrimination, is a major component of this naysaying.

Methinks there are just too many of us old-timers living hereabouts to embrace a facility that would cater primarily to children and young families. I’m guessing a 40,000-square-foot senior citizens recreational center on the Main Road — across from a catering hall, a few hundred yards from a major vineyard and tasting room, and less than a mile from several of the busiest farm stand operations on the North Fork — would not be drawing this level or intensity of opposition. Sure, additional traffic is always a concern on the Main Road, but the traffic generated by a Y isn’t likely to have a major impact. What are we talking about here, 20 or 25 cars an hour at peak hours on a road that now must handle 10 times that volume in a typical hour?

Sooner or later, the good folks who have been championing a North Fork YMCA for decades (!) are bound to realize their dream, but it won’t come any easier now that we gray panthers are on the prowl.

No doubt you’ve heard of professional athletes who take their celebrity and obscene compensation for granted. You know, the sort of player who brushes past a little kid who’s holding out a baseball to be autographed without so much as a sideways glance.

Now please meet Heath Bell, star closer for the Florida Marlins Major League Baseball team. That is exactly what our 11-year-old grandson did at a recent spring training workout conducted by the Marlins at their facility in Jupiter, Fla.: meet Heath Bell. And how.

Not only did Mr. Bell sign Tyler Olsen’s baseball, but he stopped to chat after Tyler said “please” and “thank you” and wished him well in the upcoming season. Apparently, saying please and thanks is not something most autograph seekers do. In fact, the Big League player then asked Tyler’s opinion as to whether he should sign his name for the dozens of other autograph seekers shoving their pens and papers and baseballs in Mr. Bell’s direction, without uttering so much as a please or thank you. Apparently, Tyler’s good manners and good wishes had put him in the position of deciding who else would or wouldn’t get an autograph.

Tyler is a really good kid, and he took pity on the other autograph seekers, making note that they, too, had been waiting for quite some time for Heath Bell to pass by.

But before he signed his name another time, Mr. Bell did something that Tyler (not to mention Tyler’s grandfather) will remember for the remainder of his days. He invited Tyler and Tyler’s dad over to his car and said something like, “Here, I have something for you.” And what he had was a brand spanking new Heath Bell autographed model baseball mitt, which he presented to Tyler without further fanfare.

Now, a professional baseball player who makes $9 million a year gifting a glove valued at several hundred dollars to an 11-year-old kid may not be that big a deal in most circles, but in the Olsen and Gustavson households it is now the stuff of legend.

The Yankees’ Mariano Rivera still is our favorite closer. But when he retires next year, you can probably guess who our new favorite closer will be.

[email protected]

11/09/11 10:00pm
11/09/2011 10:00 PM

Even for a news junkie like me, Monday night’s “NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams” was a veritable feast. Where shall we begin?

With the report that Michael Jackson’s doctor had been convicted of involuntary manslaughter? Or the piece on alleged sexual abuse of young boys at Penn State? Or might you prefer Herman Cain coming under fire (again) for alleged sexual harassment? Or, last but not least, the evening news’ closing segment on the Yale quarterback who must choose between his team and a Rhodes Scholarship?

In these trying times, I have deliberately and diligently refrained from getting sucked into the prattle that is the reason for existence of the 24/7 talk/scream shows on Fox, MSNBC, CNN, etc. But I trust Brian Williams to give me the straight story, without any partisan embellishments, and on Monday night he delivered.

In no particular order:

• The Yale QB is Patrick Witt, a scholar-athlete under consideration for a prestigious Rhodes Scholarship. His dilemma is that the date of his scholarship interview in Atlanta — Saturday, Nov. 19 — is the same day as “The Game” in New Haven, Conn., Harvard versus Yale, perhaps the most historic rivalry in all college football.

So let’s get this straight: the Rhodes committee wants him to abandon his teammates and miss perhaps the most important game of his college career in order to attend an interview he’s invited to because he’s a distinguished scholar-athlete?

What, they couldn’t give him a rain check? Or interview him following the game via Skype? I know winning a Rhodes Scholarship is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but so, too, is playing in “The Game.” That the scholarship committee has put him in the position of having to chose one over the other is simply outrageous.

Brian Williams said Patrick Witt hasn’t yet decided what he’ll do a week from Saturday. But I know what I’d do if I were in his place: tell those Rhodes dudes to stuff their scholarship. Then I’d go out and kick some Harvard butt and sign a multi-million-dollar contract to play in the NFL.

• The real tragedy of the mess at Penn State — other than the victimization of the young boys reportedly assaulted by a former assistant varsity football coach — is the reality that soon-to-be-ex head coach Joe Paterno’s legendary career will be forever tainted by this episode. And so it should be, if preliminary reports that he knew about the alleged abuse but failed to report it to civil authorities prove to be true.

That there might have been an institutional tendency at Penn State to turn a blind eye to signs of pedophilia in the locker room and elsewhere comes as no real surprise. It’s not uncommon, in the world of youth athletics, to see adults in a position of authority taking vulnerable or at-risk children under their wing, and sometimes, sadly, the adult’s motivation is anything but charitable.

• The conviction of Michael Jackson’s personal physician, Dr. Conrad Murray, came as no real surprise. But I was taken aback by the fact that he was handcuffed in the courtroom and remanded to jail without bail until his sentencing, set for Nov. 29. Judge Michael Pastor said Dr. Murray poses a threat to society at large, and that makes me wonder: how so?

Is he likely to roam the streets of Los Angeles, hypodermic needle in hand, seeking to inject unsuspecting pedestrians with Jackson’s so-called “milk,” the surgical anesthetic propofol? Nice try, Your Honor, but something tells me you were just posturing for the cameras.

• Finally, there is the latest chapter in the bizarre saga of that loose cannon Herman Cain. I’m still trying to figure out why this guy is being taken seriously, and a friend of mine had the best explanation yet: Cain is one of us, a plain-spoken, slightly misinformed everyman who’s mad as hell and isn’t going to take it anymore. So what if he shoots from the hip, flip flops on a dime, wings it as he goes? Why, he’s one of us!

I have a personal theory as to why Cain still is on the scene — the leading candidate for the GOP presidential nomination, for Pete’s sake! — months after his 15 minutes of fame should have rightfully expired. It’s because he’s that rarest of candidates, an African-American Republican, and because Barack Obama paved the way for white Americans to view black Americans in a whole new context.

And as for Cain’s latest imbroglio, the one having to do with allegations that he is guilty of serial sexual harassment of women, here again Brian Williams had the last word when he reported that a forth victim had come fourth to accuse Cain publicly.

And you know what “they” say, don’t you? If two is company and three’s a crowd, then four’s an orgy.

[email protected]

06/02/11 5:49am
06/02/2011 5:49 AM

One can never have too many walking sticks and canes. At least that was my thinking as I collected scores of walking sticks and canes over the years.

Walking sticks from just about every national park we ever visited. Canes from my very favorite shop in the world, James Smith & Sons in London, and from Appalachian mountain woodcarvers who inherited the craft from their Scottish ancestors.

Eventually, I was prompted to enlist a local craftsman — Ray Gurriere of the former One-Legged Chair shop on the North Road in Mattituck — to build a big wooden box to house the collection. And still it grew.

Why do we collect things? Is it, as some psychoanalysts might suggest, to replace something of value we’ve lost earlier in life? Like Blackie, the dog, who was sent to the pound after biting 5-year-old me for the third and last time?

Or perhaps we should ask those serial hoarders who now seem to have their own cable television network.

Whatever the reasons, I recently seem to have reached the point in my life when the need to simplify has superseded the impulse to collect.

It began simply enough with the sale of a vacation home we could no longer afford to maintain (and most likely had not been able to afford in the first place). Thankfully, it sold in less than a month. Which probably explains the frenzy of divestiture that followed.

Next it was the big motorcycle we’d ridden across America in recent years. As Medicare eligibility fast approached, clearly it was time to quit while the quitting was good. That is, before bike, driver and passenger encountered a tree, truck or a rain-slicked roadway. It, too, sold quickly.

Hey, what about the boat? It’s more boat than we really need, isn’t it? It, too, sold quickly, proof once more that if you really want to sell something, price it to sell.

As you may have been able to tell by now, the urge to simplify had descended squarely on the Gustavson household.

The next logical step, of course, was to rent a dumpster from North Fork Sanitation. Into it we dumped 90 percent of the contents of those by-now soggy cardboard boxes that sat in the basement year after year. And the out-of-date guidebooks from trips past.

Next we will turn our attention to those temples of excess — the attic and the garage.

As a lifelong collector, I thought this would be harder than it is. Simplifying one’s life turns out to be liberating. I can even envision the day when the former Joan Giger Walker and I have simplified our lives to the extent that we can fit all our worldly possessions into a VW Vanagon — just as long as there’s a rack on the roof for those walking sticks and canes.

How many years did we drive past Brecknock Hall in Greenport and lament the bygone era when its windows were illuminated with the light of human activity?

Answer: too many.

But those dark days of inactivity and decline are now forgotten, thanks to the fine folks from Peconic Landing and the dozens of volunteers and craftsmen who have meticulously restored the Floyd family homestead to its original grandeur.

Have you been inside Brecknock Hall recently? Not only has it been restored, but it has become the setting for numerous gatherings, parties and even wedding receptions. It is now, arguably, the grandest quasi-public space on the North Fork – living and breathing proof of the inherent value of historic preservation.

Well done, one and all.

[email protected]