Andrew Breitbart’s famous refrain proved true once more in 2019.
Politics, the late media guru cautioned, is downstream of culture. It’s why Hollywood, Inc. uses its storytelling might to sway hearts and minds while entertaining us. That passion paved the way for some of the year’s most embarrassing pop culture moments.
Others were unhappy accidents foisted upon us.
Together, they add up to 13 events that left us squirming in our seats.
‘The Simpsons’ and the Squad
Matt Groening’s never-ending series used to poke fun at the Left and the Right. Remember when Grandpa Simpson got a mystery check in the mail and assumed it was because the Democrats were in the White House?
To paraphrase the series itself, “it’s funny cuz it’s true!”
In the Age of Trump, “The Simpsons” became part of The Resistance. The worst example? A snippet transforming the so-called Squad into all-American heroes. That’s not all. We’re treated to a dancing line of Democratic hopefuls running for the White House, brimming with energy.
The show’s “West Wing Story” number couldn’t even get its facts straight. The clip shows an exhausted Trump falling to the ground, beaten by his more athletic adversaries. Even the most ardent Trump critic would admit he’s remarkably energetic at 73.
He proves it time after time at his signature rallies.
“Who’s an old man, now?” asks one of the candidates, presumably former Vice President Joe Biden.
The YouTube comments proved on-target and hilarious. Here’s arguably the most precise critique:
“Geeze. Even North Korean propaganda cartoons are more subtle.”
The Ballad of Jussie Smollett
Where to start?
The “Empire” actor’s claim that two Trump supporters attacked him, threw a noose around his neck while shouting homophobic insults and doused him in bleach seemed preposterous on every possible level.
That’s before we saw the mountain of evidence against his claim.
Naturally, the media ate it up without a hint of skepticism. So did Hollywood, with prominent voices like director Ava DuVernay demanding justice for Jussie.
It was all a con, one of the clumsiest of the modern era. It still took ages for Fox’s “Empire” to cut Smollett from the show. And, as we recently learned, the disgraced actor might still appear on the series after all.
The 12th installment of the “X-Men” franchise crashed, burned and imploded on impact. “Dark Phoenix” limped along to $65 million domestic haul, far less than previous installments. The film, a rote retelling of Jean Grey’s epic transformation, also included this howler of a sequence.
Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) is arguing with Professor X (James McAvoy) about the risky assignments piling up on their plate. It’s a worthy exchange, balancing the media-friendly path blazed by the professor with Raven’s pragmatism.
Until we get to this line:
“By the way, the women are always saving the men around here … you might wanna think about changing the name to X-Women,” she snarls.
The previous sequence, for what it’s worth, featured heroism by the men AND women of the team. So what is she even talking about?
The Media Line-Counters
Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood” may walk away with the Best Picture Oscar come February. It’s a great film, one that stands up to repeat viewings.
That wasn’t enough for some media scribes. They complained about how few lines co-star Margot Robbie had as Sharon Tate. Remember, this is the same director who spotlighted the great Pam Grier via “Jackie Brown” and made Uma Thurman an action heroine for the ages in two “Kill Bill” features.
Similar thinking went into an attack on “The Irishman.” Director Martin Scorsese’s latest got slammed for not giving enough lines to co-star Anna Paquin. Did it matter that Paquin herself didn’t complain?
Of course not.
‘Charlie’s Angels’ Gets Woke in Record Time
Actors routinely play up the woke bona fides of their film and TV projects. It often proves to be greatly overstated, but the virtue signaling is worth the trouble from their perspective.
And then there’s “Charlie’s Angels.” The year’s most prominent flop got woke with the first line of the movie.
“I believe women can do anything,” star Kristen Stewart says as the film opens.
‘Rise’ of the 1-Second Lesbian Kiss
Director J.J. Abrams had a message for the LGBTQ community days before the ninth story in the “Skywalker” saga opened.
“And in the case of the LGBTQ community, it was important to me that people who go to see this movie feel that they’re being represented in the film,” Abrams said.
So without spoiling the film, Variety asked, does that mean there will be a queer character in “The Rise of Skywalker”?
“I will say I’m giving away nothing about what happens in the movie,” Abrams replied with a smile. “But I did just say what I just said.”
He was referring to a one-second (maybe less?) kiss between two extras during a celebratory sequence late in the film. This critic thought he saw the moment in question but wasn’t sure. So I asked a fellow critic who screened the movie, too. He missed it entirely.
That ‘Cats’ Trailer
“Charlie’s Angels” might have been the year’s most infamous flop had a certain musical not stole its thunder.
The long-running Broadway smash “Cats” hit the big screen earlier this month. The film’s first trailer, which dropped in July, predicted a disaster in the making. The clip caused an avalanche of mockery.
Is it any surprise the film itself could lose north of $70 million for Universal/Amblin/Working Title?
The Press Turns on ‘Joker’
Superhero films get plenty of free publicity. Film journalists cover every aspect of their releases, from the earliest casting news to that all-important first trailer.
That’s exactly what happened with “Joker.” Director Todd Phillips’ origin tale garnered massive press for weeks following its October release … until someone threw a switch on the media coverage.
This movie will inspire violence, reporters cried. Others questioned if it should even be released. Never mind that we’ve seen countless films with more violence, more mayhem, than what “Joker” delivers. It didn’t matter. The narrative took hold, and it stayed there until the movie peacefully became the highest grossing R-rated movie of all time.
Female Avengers Assemble!
Anything can happen in the heat of battle, even one involving superheroes. What’s less likely? A gaggle of female heroes assemble at the very same time to save a warrior in need.
Welcome to “Avengers: Endgame,” 2019’s biggest blockbuster. The film capped more than the two-part Thanos storyline but the current run of MCU films. The final battle between Earth’s Mightiest Heroes and Josh Brolin’s villain found Spider-Man clutching the Infinity Gauntlet, the weapon that previously turned half the universe into dust.
The wall crawler needed some help, clearly. He can’t save the day alone. Enter Captain Marvel along with a group of female Avengers, ready to rumble.
Mark Hamill Flirts with The Dark Side
Luke Skywalker himself takes great pride in all things “Star Wars.” He’s earned that right by playing one of pop culture’s most beloved characters.
Hamill overstepped those duties, big time, a few weeks ago. He saw a Tweet from Ivanka Trump featuring her child dressed as a stormtrooper, a key figure in “Star Wars” lore.
“The Force is strong in our family,” the proud mamma wrote. Hamill retweeted the message, adding, “You misspelled “Fraud.”#GoForceYourself.”
‘Booksmart’ Deemed Insufficiently Woke. Really
Hollywood went woke in 2019, and no film epitomized that trend better than “Booksmart.” Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut centered on two smart high schoolers (Beanie Feldstein, Kaitlyn Dever) who speak fluent woke.
The film brims with progressive groupthink from start to finish. That still wasn’t enough for some media scolds. Both Buzzfeed and The Mary Sue attacked the film. The former said the movie ignores class issues tied to these privileged characters. The latter? Feldstein and Dever are just too white.
When Greta Met Leo
Climate change activist Greta Thunberg had a memorable 2019, capped by winning Time’s Person of the Year award.
Her fame also introduced her to a number of famous eco-celebrities. Perhaps the most notable star to meet with young Thunberg? Oscar winner Leonardo DiCaprio.
“There are few times in human history where voices are amplified at such pivotal moments and in such transformational ways — but @GretaThunberg has become a leader of our time.”
View this post on Instagram
There are few times in human history where voices are amplified at such pivotal moments and in such transformational ways – but @GretaThunberg has become a leader of our time. History will judge us for what we do today to help guarantee that future generations can enjoy the same livable planet that we have so clearly taken for granted. I hope that Greta’s message is a wake-up call to world leaders everywhere that the time for inaction is over. It is because of Greta, and young activists everywhere that I am optimistic about what the future holds. It was an honor to spend time with Greta. She and I have made a commitment to support one another, in hopes of securing a brighter future for our planet. #FridaysforFuture #ClimateStrike @fridaysforfuture
Kind words, but they ring hollow coming from one of Hollywood’s premier eco-hypocrites.
‘Saturday Night Live’ -- ’nuff Said
Another year, another round of far-left shtick from the Not Ready for Prime Time Players. How far has the show fallen? Even liberal critics are fed up with Alec Baldwin’s Trump impersonations.
Still, “SNL” soldiers on, putting up campaign ads disguised as sketches like Kate McKinnon’s recent Sen. Elizabeth Warren cold open.