Oscar in the Air, and Kennedy Center Honors

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Oscar in the ‘Air’

The word “Oscar” is already being bandied about in most reviews of “Up in the Air.” It opened in limited release Friday, Dec. 11.

 The director and co-writer is Jason Reitman, 32, who has shown in his two previous hits, “Thank You for Smoking” (about the tobacco lobby) and “Juno” (a teenage pregnancy), that he has a great talent for deftly weaving humor into a movie about a serious subject. As his father, director Ivan Reitman, 63, (“Ghostbusters” “Stripes”) said in a recent interview, his son’s ability to find moments of comic irony in a dramatic situation makes the whole movie seem more true-to-life.

The elder Reitman, the son of Czech Jewish Holocaust survivors, also said this recently about his son: “One of the greatest pleasures of me as a dad and as a film professional of 35 years is to watch him come along.”

“Up in the Air” stars George Clooney as a corporate downsizing expert, Ryan, who travels around the county firing people from their jobs. He lives out of his suitcase and really has no life. Then his boss hires Natalie (Vera Farmiga), an arrogant young woman who develops a video conferencing method that will allow the company’s hatchet men to fire people without leaving the office. Ryan tries to show her the error of her plan by taking her on one of his cross-country “firing expeditions.” Natalie sees the human cost of her work, while Ryan comes to realize how bleak his personal life really is. Danny McBride, 32, (“Pineapple Express”), has a supporting role. (McBride’s mother is Jewish.)

 

Kennedy Center Honors

Each year, the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., holds a gala to honor five artists for lifetime achievements. The gala was held earlier this month and will be broadcast on CBS on Dec. 29 at 9 p.m. This year’s award recipients are Robert DeNiro, Mel Brooks, Bruce Springsteen, opera soprano Grace Bumbry and jazz musician Dave Brubeck.

Years ago, a reporter in the Jewish press accidentally started a still persistent story that DeNiro’s mother was Jewish. (She was not.) The actor did grow up in a very Jewish milieu — both his parents were Greenwich Village artists — and he has more than credibly played Jews in several film roles.

Dave Brubeck, a Concord native, also is not Jewish. His great mentor and teacher at Oakland’s Mills College was Darius Milhaud, a famous French Jewish composer who fled France after the Nazi invasion. Brubeck named his first son, Darius, after Milhaud. Brubeck is the composer of the 1969 album “Gates of Justice,” a cantata based on Jewish texts that was commissioned by the Union of American Hebrew Congregations.

At the ceremony, the tribute to Springsteen was started by Jon Stewart, who weaved a funny tale about the singer’s origins: “I’m not a music critic, nor historian … But I am from New Jersey. And so I can tell you what I believe. … I believe that Bob Dylan and James Brown had a baby …[They] abandoned the child on the New Jersey Turnpike, and the child was raised by a pack of feral vaudevillians. That child is Bruce Springsteen.”

Brooks, 83, of course, is famously Jewish. He was feted from the stage by Jack Black, who performed an excerpt from “Men in Tights,” and by Harry Connick, Jr., who sang “High Anxiety.” Mark Morrison, of the TV show “Glee,” sang “Springtime for Hitler.”

President Barack Obama hosted a White House reception for the recipients just before the gala. He said of Brooks: “There was a method to Brooks’ madness. By illuminating uncomfortable truths — about racism and sexism and anti-Semitism — he’s been called our jester, asking us to see ourselves as we really are, determined that we laugh ourselves sane.”

Nate Bloom

Nate Bloom writes the "Celebrity Jews" column for J.