Every year, from mid-November to mid-January, dozens of DVDs drop through my letterbox. These are most of the movie releases of the past year. It is with great anticipation that I tear open the yellow padded envelopes from Sony or Disney or The Weinstein Company, and even from companies I’ve never heard of; but invariably it’s with disappointment that I scan the hundreds of titles unknown to me, and I do read Screen Daily and the Hollywood Reporter. I’m amazed that the production companies manage to finance some of these films. I know from whence I speak. However, snuggled up on the sofa in the days before Christmas I dutifully watch all the films in preparation to vote in the Bafta and Academy Awards. It’s like training for a marathon. It takes discipline, alertness, focus and stamina. Sadly, too many of the films I’ve seen this month are deeply dark and depressing, featuring either angst-ridden fortyish women or angry teenagers and endless silent ‘establishing takes’ (those interminable ‘mood’ shots that new directors are so fond of but I think are simply... how is it our dear Foreign Secretary Boris put it? A man from Ankara?). Let’s have no more of these time-wasters. I can understand very quickly where the plot point of a shot is headed and have no desire to gaze for more than a few seconds upon the leafy autumn sunshine, or be reduced to counting the wrinkles on an anxious hero’s face. I’d much rather it ended after 90 minutes and I could think: ‘Well, that was fun.’
Oh, for the days of Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire musicals, of marvellous dramas like Sunset Boulevard and All About Eve and of comedies like Some Like it Hot and The Apartment. Sadly Billy Wilder is no longer with us. He knew how to write a memorable ending right down to his epitaph: ‘He was a writer. But then again, nobody’s perfect.’
We put up our Christmas tree earlier that usual, inspired by all the decorations in the shop windows and their fantastical designs. Opting to save the planet, we recycled our old faux tree. (Yes, I do have a frugal side.) Besides, it gives Percy endless hours of fun trying to get the lights to work again. (Being Peruvian and Scottish, he is genetically predisposed to frugality.) I must admit it looked beautiful with the decorations, so I tweeted a picture with the caption ‘Have I peaked too early?’ Followers chided me indeed for having put Christmas in their heads before December had even arrived, but many, many more were horrified that I didn’t have a real pine. ‘Seriously?’ I thought. In these days of conservationism I should get abuse for being environmentally conscious?
In LA for a brief visit, I was honoured to receive the Spirit of Entertainment award from the John Wayne Cancer Foundation at the Beverly Hilton. Since cancer will strike one in three people, this was an event worthy of support. Although it’s been 15 months since my sister Jackie died I still mourn her every day. We went to visit her crypt at the Westwood Cemetery on Wilshire Boulevard. This is a beautifully tended, peaceful park and the final resting place for a veritable Who’s Who of the motion picture business. Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, Natalie Wood, Lucille Ball and hundreds of other household names all have their places. Marilyn Monroe’s crypt has a sign that says the area is monitored 24 hours a day and there are always fresh roses in the vase, though no one seems to know who puts them there. The immaculate graves are so much in demand that many have already bought their places, some priced at over a million dollars, and installed their sarcophagi in advance of the grand finale, which is slightly unnerving when you see them at the next cocktail party.
The Archbishop of Canterbury caused a stir with his Christmas sermon, speaking of a world ‘awash with fear’. That is certainly true of people in the entertainment world in 2016. I cannot believe the number of entertainers, some good acquaintances and some close friends, whose deaths have taken us all by surprise this year. One of my first movies was The Good Die Young. Never has this phrase rang truer. From the great David Bowie and Alan Rickman in January to my great friend, the unparalleled genius A.A. Gill in November, it has been non-stop shock and sadness. And with the demise of George Michael and Carrie Fisher on contiguous days at Christmas it’s getting spooky, so I am counting down the days and hours left before the year ends with great trepidation.