Denzel Washington couldn't have deserved his Oscar more for Antoine Fuqua's "Training Day."
He's up for an Oscar this year too for directing and starring in "Fences." And just as he did with "Training Day," what makes him so deserving is not just the power of his performance but the statement it's making. With "Fences," he is blatantly bringing a great American play and playwright to the screen and, as much as a film can, trying to set up its author August Wilson as a great American playwright in the O'Neill/Williams class.
That's the major part of what's at stake at the Academy Awards Feb. 26. Viola Davis is a shoo-in for Best Supporting Actress in "Fences," but Washington's own stock rocketed up when the Screen Actors Guild gave him an award for his performance in "Fences." Actors knew what a fellow actor was doing and they wanted him to get some love for it as publicly as possible. He was, in a film, declaring his love for the stage and its playwrights.
In "Training Day," Washington did something else that's quite rare for movie stars of his class. He'd taken all of his carefully constructed image as a hero in hugely successful movies and cashed in his audience credibility chips to play a villain.
The great actors do that. But it's not commonplace in modern Hollywood. Robert Redford won't do it -- not the way Washington did playing a vile, murderous completely corrupt cop doing everything possible to make sure his corruption remains supreme. Tom Hanks hasn't yet either.
Yes, Jack Nicholson has done it. That's what happens when you began your career playing a dentist's office masochist in Roger Corman's "Little Shop of Horrors." But heroism and virtue are hard onscreen habits to break for movie stars whose salaries routinely hit eight figures.
Washington was working with director Antoine Fuqua in "Training Day" which gave the movie another cause to pursue -- racial diversity among Hollywood's smash hit directorial classes. Washington is an actor with an almost singular gift of knowing which films to make and, most importantly, WHY.
Surely then, CBS-TV's version of "Training Day" was one of the most misguided TV ideas in years.
Not so. Something quietly spectacular is happening in TV these days and the new version of "Training Day" epitomizes it.
People are figuring out creative ways to transform extraordinary films -- which might seem the least promising TV material imaginable -- into wildly creative TV series.
Think of them all: the jaw-dropping "Hannibal," a mind-blowing prime time blood feast that was created out of the Hannibal Lecter movie franchise whose origins were in Thomas Harris' novel "Red Dragon"; "Fargo" which Noah Hawley freely fantasized from the Coen Brothers horror comedy about life among the snow and wood-chippers of Minnesota; and, last season, "Lethal Weapon," a reasonably addictive TV show hewed out of a series of slam-bang action extravaganzas that once starred Mel Gibson and Danny Glover and made a small fortune.
"Lethal Weapon" was the easiest to adapt for TV. The movies had proved the original film could be turned into a series of films with the same characters. The only important matter was: How do you match the actors?
The subtext of the original "Lethal Weapon" is that Gibson was, in life, known to be a bit nuts. Now that it's a near-universally accepted fact drawn from Gibson's personal superstar history, they could just change colors, grab a good comic actor to play the Danny Glover part (Damon Wayans) and a talented young actor to play the wild man. Once they cast Clayne Crawford in Gibson's nutsy role, "Lethal Weapon," the TV show was a near-certain winner. Nothing against Wayans but it's Crawford as the scruffy, disreputable cop who makes it.
Great TV it's not. But it's hugely watchable TV.
As is the TV version of "Training Day" which brilliantly turns the movie inside out. It's virtually a negative of the original cast. Washington was originally the corrupt cop, Ethan Hawke the young cop-in-training. Once they found Justin Cornwell to play the younger cop and Bill Paxton to play the older, they had reversed the field. But it went farther than just skin color. By the end of the first episode, the show made a deftly brilliant point of telling us that what would be "trained" in future shows would be the morals of the seemingly hopelessly corrupt cop.
It's one of the cleverest rewrites from an accepted story I've seen since "Elementary" on CBS gave us the addict-recovery version of Sherlock Holmes.
Just when many people thought the Super Bowl had become a big, hollow version of the same old, same old, the New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons managed to give us a "Say what?" sports Sunday that all of our sports scholar colleagues are breaking every possible superlative for.
And smack in the middle of it was a halftime show that made a genuine mega-spectacle out of the woman who seems determined to re-invent a pop music super diva for the adult world as a non-scandalous figure of conspicuous virtue.
I've liked Lady Gaga since the first time I heard her record "Poker Face." I hadn't seen her yet and knew nothing about her. Pictures of her costumes and her dramatic entrances subsequently made me laugh -- sometimes guffaw. The records were reasonably good and her message to her little "monsters" and whoever would torment them was golden. Then, when she decided it would be peachy to make common cause with Tony Bennett, I began to wonder if she were trying to find pop divadom's version of sainthood.
After seeing her on the Super Bowl, I don't think anyone is going to knock her off course.
The other major development of the TV weekend is this: It is now hopelessly unwise not to DVR "Saturday Night Live." Whatever else you're doing on Saturday nights, the bit with Melissa McCarthy portraying a demented Sean Spicer in a riotous version of a White House press secretary's press conference gave us the best SNL political enactment since Tina Fey did for Sarah Palin what Chevy Chase once did for Gerald R. Ford.
The weird paradox of the Trump administration is that the mother lode of material it presents is paradoxically difficult to turn into professional comedy.
With the aid of Alec Baldwin and a woman who can now be seen as one of our era's great skit comedians along with a smash-hit movie star, Trump and especially Spicer can now be seen as up there near the very top of SNL's parody creations.
The rest of the show can be as toxically juvenile as always but it seems to be a grievous mistake not to DVR every episode now.
You just don't want to miss a thing -- just in case.