Monday, October 31, 2016

31 Days of Horror (Octuber 2016)

Friday 30-Sep-16 at dusk
     Maniac Cop 2 (1990)
     Maniac Cop 3: Badge of Silence (1993)
     So You Want to Be an Heir (1953)
     Grab the Ghost (1920)
     Curtains (1983)

Saturday 1-Oct-16
     The Tomb of Ligeia (1964)
     Shootin' Injuns (1925)
     Gum Shoes (1935)
     The Big Shave (1968)
     The Rider of the Skulls (1965)
     Au Secours! (1924)
     Popcorn (1991)
     A Child's Play Story: Chucky's Revenge (2006)
     The Eyes of the Mummy (1918)
     Baghead (2008)
     Ghoulies II (1988)
     The Laurel-Hardy Murder Case (1930)
     Tuck Me In (2014)
     The Cat Creeps (1946)

Sunday 2-Oct-16
     The Ghost and Mr. Chicken (1966)
     Cat People (1982)
     The Golem (1920)
     Blue Sunshine (1978)
     Juan of the Dead (2011)

Monday 3-Oct-16
     Count Yorga, Vampire (1970)
     Revolt of the Zombies (1936)
     Wolfen (1981)
     Ghosks Is the Bunk (1939)
     That's the Spirit (1933)
     Trick or Treat (1952)
     Fisheye (1980)
     To Boo or Not To Boo (1951)

     The Early 70's Horror Trailer (1999)
     Recorded Live (1975)
     The Killing of an Egg (1977)

Tuesday 4-Oct-16
     Eerie Tales (1919)
     Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992)
     The Curses of the Witch (1927)

Wednesday 5-Oct-16
     Idle Hands (1999)
     Phantom of the 10,000 Leagues (1955)
     Genesis (1998)
     The Enemy Bacteria (1945)
     Mountaintop Motel Massacre (1986)
     Furcht (1917)
     Tales from the Far Side (1994)
     Idle Roomers (1943)
     Felix the Ghost Breaker (1923)
     Transylvania 6-5000 (1963)

Thursday 6-Oct-16
     Aelita: Queen of Mars (1924)
     Dante's Inferno (1924)
     Cure (1997)

Friday 7-Oct-16
     Condemned to Live (1935)
     The Magician (1926)
     Identity (2003)
     Devil (2011)
     Panic (1978)
     Outer Space Jitters (1957)
     Legend of the Seven Bloody Torturers (2007)
     "The Beatles": If I Fell (1965)
     The Cabinet of Jan Svankmajer (1984)

Saturday 8-Oct-16
     I Was a Teenage Frankenstein (1957)
     The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958)
     Frankenstein Created Woman (1967)
     Frankenstein's Bloody Terror (1968)
     Creeps (1956)
     Crime on their Hands (1948)
     It Took Guts (1979)
     What Do You Think? (Number Three) (1938)
     The Son of Frankenstein (1960)
     Chambre jaune (2002)
     Dawn of an Evil Millennium (1988)
     Jasper and the Haunted House (1942)
     Black Mass (1928)
     Tales of Frankenstein (1958)
     Ursula (1961)
     Frankenstein (2015)
     [rec]2 (2009)
     Highway to Hell (1991)

Sunday 9-Oct-16
     Encounters of the Spooky Kind (1980)
     The Three Stooges in Orbit (1962)
     Sh! The Octopus (1937)

Monday 10-Oct-16
     Wolfblood: A Tale of the Forest (1925)
     Pig Hunt (2008)
     Beneath (2013)
     Storm Warning (2007)
     Kongo (1932)

Tuesday 11-Oct-16
     West of Zanzibar (1928)
     The Cuckoo Clock (1938)
     The Black Doll (1938)
     Night Tide (1961)

Wednesday 12-Oct-16
     Christine (1983)
     The Butcher (2006)
     The Last Warning (1929)
     House of Darkness (1948)
     The Black Room (1935)

Thursday 13-Oct-16
     The Man They Could Not Hang (1939)
     The Bat Whispers (1930)
     Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Vampire (1952)
     Invasion of the Blood Farmers (1972)
     The Stone Rider (1923)

Friday 14-Oct-16
     Night of Terror (1933)
     Pulgasari (1985)
     Knucklebones (2016)
     Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1988)
     Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989)
     Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1993)
     Citadel (2012)

Saturday 15-Oct-16
     The Beast (1975)
     Trapped by the Mormons (1922)
     Werewolf Shadow (1971)
     Phase IV (1974)
     It Came From Beneath the Sea (1955)
     Calvaire (2004)
     Abe (2013)
     The Cat With Hands (2001)

Sunday 16-Oct-16
     The Catskill Chainsaw Redemption (2004)
     The Spirit of Dark and Lonely Water (1973)
     Happy Hooligan in the Spider and the Fly (1918)
     A Christmas Treat (1985)
     Sombre (1998)
     Slaughter High (1986)
     The Mutilator (1984)
     The Woods (2006)
     Belphegor: Chapter 1 (1927)
     "Stranger Things": Chapter 4 (2016)

Monday 17-Oct-16
     Chloe, Love Is Calling You (1934)
     Fright (1956)
     Bride of the Gorilla (1951)
     Eaten Alive (1976)
     "Stranger Things": Chapter 5 (2016)
     "Stranger Things": Chapter 6 (2016)
     "Stranger Thigns": Chapter 7 (2016)

Tuesday 18-Oct-16
     You'll Find Out (1940)
     Night Train Murders (1975)
     The Ghost of Yotsuya (1959)
     The Woman Who Powders Herself (1972)
     We Together (2016)
     Skeleton Frolics (1937)
     Geometria (1987)

Wednesday 19-Oct-16
     Horror Island (1941)
     The Old Dark House (1963)
     Tischlein deck dich, Eselein strech dich, Knüppel aus dern Sack (1921)
     Betty Boop's Museum (1932)
     The Mill at Calder's End (2015)
     "Stranger Things": Chapter 8 (2016)
     Of Cash and Hash (1955)
     Paris qui dort (1924)

Thursday 20-Oct-16
     I Married A Witch (1942)
     The Ghost Talks (1949)
     Foxes (2011)
     Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Mouse (1947)
     Maniac 2: Mr. Robbie (1986)
     Attack of the Helping Hand (1981)
     Microwave Massacre (1983)
     Shin Godzilla (2016)
     Bloodlust! (1961)
     Lights Out (2013)
     Tales from the Far Side II (1997)
     Claymation Comedy of Horrors Show (1991)
     Hilde Warren und der tod (1917)

Friday 21-Oct-16
     The Return of the Vampire (1943)
     31 (2016)

Saturday 22-Oct-16
     Baba Yaga (1973)
     Mesa of Lost Women (1953)
     Devil Girl From Mars (1954)
     Drag (1993)

Sunday 23-Oct-16
     Street Trash (1987)
     Amsterdamned (1988)
     The Return of the Living Dead (1985)

Monday 24-Oct-16
     Parents (1989)
     Cry of the Werewolf (1944)
     "The Twilight Zone": The Howling Man (1960)
     The Mechanical Man (1921)
     The Spook Speaks (1940)
     The World of Kanako (2014)
     Danse macabre (1922)
     Shivering Spooks (1926)
     Too Many Cooks (2014)
     Chubby Killer (2009)
     Coyote (2010)
     The Mad Genius (1931)
     Ghoulies III: Ghoulies Go to College (1991)

Tuesday 25-Oct-16
     Living With Jigsaw (2013)
     Working With Jigsaw (2016)
     Night of the Comet (1984)
     A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)
     The Vampire's Ghost (1945)
     The Kiss of the Vampire (1963)
     The Chicken from Outer Space (1996)
     Lust for a Vampire (1971)
     Unedited Footage of a Bear (2014)
     Last Woman on Earth (1960)
     The Conjuring 2 (2016)
     The Fact in the Case of Mister Hollow (2008)
     The Narrative of Victor Karloch (2012)
     Under the Car (1992)
     Lightning Bryce: Bared Fangs (1919)
     Blood of a Poet (1932)

Wednesday 26-Oct-16
     Things Happen At Night (1947)
     The Fearless Vampire Killers: Vampires 101 (1967)
     In My Skin (2002)
     "Ash vs. Evil Dead": Home (2016)
     The Gorilla (1939)
     A Witch's Tangled Hare (1959)
     The Dummy (1982)
     To Heir Is Human (1944)
     Bottles (1936)
     Something Weird (1967)
     Murder in 3-D (1941)
     Woton's Wake (1962)
     Paranormal Activity 2: Tokyo Night (2010)
     Pardon My Terror (1946)
     Night of the Living Bread (1990)
     One Shivery Night (1950)
     Le puits et le pendule (1964)
     El Superloco (1937)

Thursday 27-Oct-16
     The Rainbow Man (1949)
     The Hole (2001)
     Nightmare (1964)
     Ghoulies IV (1994)
     Bloody Christmas (2003)
     Elevated (1997)
     "Tales from the Crypt": This'll Kill Ya (1992)
     Ghost Parade (1931)
     Dr. Jerkyl's Hide (1954)
     Blood Rage (1987)

Friday 28-Oct-16
     The Flying Saucer (1950)
     The Haunted House (1929)
     February (2015)
     Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust (2000)
     Saw Rebirth (2005)
     Thriller (1983)
     Black Belly of the Tarantula (1971)
     Lost Boys: The Thirst (2010)
     South of Sanity (2012)

Saturday 29-Oct-16
     Sometimes They Come Back ...Again (1996)
     Hush (2016)
     The Live Ghost (1934)
     Santa's Slay (2005)
     The Lottery (1969)

Sunday 30-Oct-16
     Horrors of Malformed Men (1969)
     Rituals (1977)
     The Tell-Tale Heart (1971)
     The Bitch Is Back (1995)
     The Signalman (1976)
     Beyond the Darkness (1979)
     Mr. Vampire (1985)
     The Haunted Mouth (1974)

Monday 31-Oct-16
     Lord of Illusions (1995)
     The Contraption (1977)
     Corridor (1989)
     Un couple d'artistes (1970)
     Embodiment of Evil (2008)
     Paques man (2000)
     Deafula (1975)
     The Paul Lynde Halloween Special (1976)

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Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Stan Laurel: Extended Mileage


Stan Laurel in The Pest (1922)
Stan Laurel in Kill or Cure (1923)
Laurel & Hardy in Below Zero (1930)

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Saturday, February 27, 2016

Every Oscar Best Picture Ranked (Part 3 of 3)

Now that all the technical awards have been handed out at earlier ceremonies, we’ve reached the crescendo of this pomp and circumstance.  The top ten: 



10. Unforgiven (1992)
Credit the success of Unforgiven that, nearly 25 years on, it looks less revisionist by comparison.  Not that it hasn’t been done better before (Boetticher) or since (“Deadwood”), but I think where it looks tame today is largely due to the now well-tread path it forged. 

It’s hard to think that the Academy didn’t anticipate it was Eastwood’s, as well as the traditional Western’s, dusk and—while I wouldn’t trade A Perfect World or Letters from Iwo Jima for anything—I could have largely done without the geriatric tour.  I’m not refusing to take responsibility for my cynicism that has come with age, but I think I would have preferred a romantic end for The Man With No Name instead of a world where Clint makes the empty-chair speech at the Republican National Convention.  Unfair to the art, probably, but it can’t exist in a vacuum either.

Click Here, Nimrods...

Friday, February 26, 2016

Every Oscar Best Picture Ranked (Part 2 of 3)

In the first installment of Every Oscar Best Picture Ranked, we learned that I have little patience for prestige pictures marked by under-representation.  #OscarsSoWhite?  Oscars white by design.  In this installment I blaspheme Audrey Hepburn and deify Bing Crosby.  I wouldn't have guessed it either.


Actual fake concept art for the real fake Argo by Jack Kirby
45. Argo (2012)
A vastly enjoyable suspense film bolstered by the fact that its primary message seems to be that (even imaginary) movies can literally save lives.  It doesn’t amount to much more than empty calories and resonates like tin can, but it’s a ride I’d take again.


44. My Fair Lady (1964)
It’s difficult for me to pin down what I like about My Fair Lady.  I never really buy its romance because Higgins and Pickering are such great closeted characters.  It looks beautiful, but never escapes its staginess which makes it nigh irrelevant.  I love Audrey Hepburn despite being left with a great amount of uncertainty as to whether she can act, dance or sing.  On paper, it should add up to an unholy mess and I’m reminded that I also love The Lizzie McGuire Movie.  The heart has its reasons something something.


43. Schindler’s List (1993)
A thesis titled How to Shift Your Paradigm could be written using, as its exclusive example, my relationship with Schindler’s List.  I vehemently argued against this film as a young man and, while I still believe the tenets I stood for, I don’t trust my intentions.  I went through a spell where Spielberg films were verboten as the anti-indie.  I later distrusted the film as a product of a blockbuster wunderkind wanting another key to the city.  Later, as a prestige picture that garnered the most praise of a decade for its subject and presentation rather than by being prestigious. 

Only, after years of back and forth, I have to admit it is prestigious.  No matter the kind of film Spielberg makes, I can’t diminish his unparalleled gift for visual storytelling.  What’s more, Spielberg doesn’t have a reputation of working with—but creating—big stars.  Neeson, Fiennes and Kingsley are all great. 

My biggest problem with the film is the life it took on as the historic representation of arguably the biggest event of the 20th Century—a film made by a Jew, lauded by a largely Jewish Academy, supposedly about the Jewish experience—yet it has no central Jewish characters.  It’s like the old trick of the Western which makes its heroes both conquerors and victims; I’m not certain that we need what would become the Holocaust story to be about a golden-hearted Nazi.


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Thursday, February 25, 2016

Every Oscar Best Picture Ranked (Part 1 of 3)


A friend was shocked to learn, about ten years ago, that I hadn’t seen all of the Academy’s Best Picture winners.  Like the IMDb 250, it’s a benchmark of quantitative substance to many but means absolutely nothing to me.  I’m not here to gripe about snubs or give tiresome arguments about who should have really won.  I’m the sort of rare pretentious populist who not only thinks the Academy was correct in selecting Annie Hall over Star Wars, but also thinks Rocky is better than Taxi Driver

No, my beef with the Academy isn’t that a group of insiders rarely pick the best movie of any given year (by my count, this has happened once ever; odds so poor it must indicate we’re simply not judging the same merits), it is that the barometer by which they judge is rarely film for the sake of film.  This is not the same as films about film (which they love), or films which emulate an air of prestige (something they love even more).

Only this year have I seen every Best Picture winner and, trust me, the last few films I begrudgingly got to like a tattered honey-do list I’d correctly judged sight unseen.  These aren’t all great films.  Hell, I’d only call about two-thirds of them decent, but that’s not really a fair point.  The first Academy Awards, held in 1929, might indicate why this is. 

That year, two different “Best Picture” awards were handed out, though neither was called such.  The first award went to box-office hit Wings which won the award intended to honor “the most outstanding motion picture considering all elements that contribute to a picture’s greatness.”  The second award, given to F.W. Murnau’s Sunrise: A Story of Two Humans, honored “the most artistic, unique and/or original motion picture without reference to cost or magnitude.”  This states, in no uncertain terms, that artistry, uniqueness of vision, and originality apart from box-office success or in-house production are not really considered “elements that contribute to a picture’s greatness.” 

Both of these films find their way onto my rankings, and we will see where my metric and the Academy’s might not jibe.  The more I see these films (as the fact I continue to follow the awards every year might indicate) the more I understand how the intention to honor films which make statements about the human condition get confused with films that make statements about the industry’s condition.  Film has, from its inception, been relegated to the kiddie table at the banquet of the Seven Arts despite incorporating all seven into its recipe.  The Academy would do well to honor its medium’s fluidity rather than continuing to fall into the trap of dressing up in big sister’s clothes, failing to recognize it reached maturity long ago.

On rare, inspired evenings, it’s done this at least a dozen times.  Bear with this doggedly unabridged list which is more cultural pastiche than cinematic milestone.  These titles are by no means essential viewing.  Many would not be remembered were it not for the catch-22 of the Academy both handing out these awards and, worse, by the template the Academy has created which suggests these are the type of films deserving of them.  A toast to when the snake doesn’t eat its own tail!

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Friday, January 29, 2016

Bizarro Oscars: 88th Academy Awards – Dream Ballot

Bizarro Oscar
I have seen 97 of the 305 films the Academy deems eligible for the big prize this year. It would have been 98, but I accidently watched Shyam Madiraju's Eden instead of Mia Hansen-Løve's Eden. I regret it too; I'm only one man! This is the second year of my Bizarro Oscars™ in which I choose what would be my dream ballot and winners within the Academy's limitations.

That is to say, these are neither traditional projections nor snub-talk but a mostly useless, Kanye-inspired take on awards which insists there are correct answers in the liberal arts and acknowledging merit should be more reverent than business or spectacle.

A few inevitable words about diversity: nothing on this list is deliberately affirmative action. The concept of participation awards is insulting. That these nominations are more diverse than the actual nominations speaks less about the opportunities of lead roles for minorities and more about the fact that, upon seeing 97 films, your worldview changes. That's the power that should be celebrated with film: its visual language galvanizes the human spirit.

How powerful is it to see representation in something like Tangerine that it makes a liberally didactic film like Boys Don't Cry seem tone-deaf by comparison? Hollywood (and the Academy at the elite end of the establishment) has an unquestionable problem with representation. How much of this is perpetuated by voters not watching more films? How much is inflated self-importance failing to recognize that great films change us and not the other way around?

Speaking of inflated self-importance, here are my humble nominations if the Oscars were my one-man show: the 88th Academy Awards as given by FlickdomDictum.




ACTOR –in a Leading Role


I've been on this Ruffalo bandwagon so long, here's where the rubber hits the road. While I don't feel entirely comfortable with Ruffalo in this category as Spotlight is more of an ensemble piece and he doesn't dominate screentime the way Fassbender or Sarsgaard does, I also can't deny that everything I liked about Spotlight's perfectly acceptable but mostly pedestrian nature had to do with Ruffalo's understated performance. Not bad for a film poised to take home Best Picture.

Mark Ruffalo – Spotlight
Michael Fassbender – Macbeth
Peter Sarsgaard – Experimenter
Kurt Russell – Bone Tomahawk
Kevin Corrigan – Results




ACTRESS –in a Leading Role

As with last year’s Listen Up Philip, Elisabeth Moss is again ineligible for her role in Queen of Earth. Alex Ross Perry must not play this Oscar game. Honorable mention to Rooney Mara who is the true, unrecognized lead in Carol, a film in which the populace has largely misunderstood her projection onto the title role. I had a worse problem choosing between Chiara D'Anna and Sidse Babett Knudsen in The Duke of Burgundy and couldn't.  Lots of great female roles this year.

Charlotte Rampling – 45 Years
Rinko Kikuchi – Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter
Juliette Binoche – Clouds of Sils Maria
Kristin Wiig – Welcome To Me
Karidja Touré – Girlhood




ACTOR –in a Supporting Role

This category sees two Star Wars actors in non-Star Wars roles.  Tom Noonan gets a nod, but I'm not sure exactly what the role is.  Caveat on Paul Dano who isn't so much an actor in a supporting role as an actor as a supporting lead.  Love & Mercy isn't great, but Dano kind of is.  How much of this is by comparison to the film's odd casting of John Cusack remains to be seen. The real shame is that John C. Reilly is ineligible for his role in Entertainment.

Adam Driver – While We’re Young
Tom Noonan – Anomalisa
Oscar Isaac – Ex Machina
Mark Rylance – Bridge of Spies
Paul Dano – Love & Mercy



ACTRESS –in a Supporting Role

Marion Cotillard as Lady Macbeth is close to category fraud as a supporting role, but she's so damn good it gets a pass.  2015 was a great run for Jennifer Jason Leigh, though the Academy picked the wrong role.  Girls Just Want To Have Fun, indeed.  Still, if anyone has the right to boycott because #OscarsSoWhite, it's Jada.

Jada Pinkett Smith – Magic Mike XXL
Kristen Stewart – Clouds of Sils Maria
Alicia Vikander – Ex Machina
Marion Cotillard – Macbeth
Jennifer Jason Leigh - Anomalisa


ANIMATED FEATURE FILM

There is little beef to be had with the Academy's picks this year.  I realize I'm the oddball in where I diverge here.

Anomalisa
When Marnie Was There
Shaun the Sheep Movie
Boy & the World
The Good Dinosaur


CINEMATOGRAPHY

This is where things get weird for me.  Hao Hsiao-Hsien's The Assassin was submitted as Taiwan's selection for Best Foreign Language film, but didn't even make the shortlist.  Not only is this egregious, it is then not considered as an eligible production in the other categories despite having a theatrical U.S. run.  Is this a clerical error the equivalent of Cash Money not filling out the right paperwork to get "Hotline Bling" considered for the Grammys, or did Hou's team simply not care?  That's pretty punk now matter how you cut it, but it's a shame as I would have nominated The Assassin in several categories. 

Macbeth
Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter
Mad Max: Fury Road
Experimenter
‘71

COSTUME DESIGN

There was a strange stretch in December where I inadvertently watched Fresh Dressed, Saint Laurent, Iris and Yeezy Season 2 within 24 hours.  I realized how people must feel when they vote in these categories.  Again, The Assassin is ineligible and I probably would have given it this award.

Carol
Macbeth
Far From the Madding Crowd
Crimson Peak
Bone Tomahawk


DIRECTING

Despite this year's deluge of young, impressive talent, it's hard to root against George Miller here.  For a veteran who Hollywood relegated to directing Happy Feet movies, to have the vision to not only see this genre spectacle through, but capture critical imagination is no small feat.

Mad Max: Fury Road
Anomalisa
Macbeth
‘71
It Follows


DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

Another awards show, another year of having no idea as to the process behind what is eligible for documentary awards at the Oscars.  Both What Happened, Miss Simone? and Winter on Fire are nominated for Documentary Feature yet are ineligible for other production awards.  I can't say I fully understand the acclaim for Amy, especially as this year saw the best music documentary since The Devil and Daniel Johnston.


Seymour: An Introduction
3½ Minutes, 10 Bullets
The Look of Silence
Call Me Lucky
The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution


FILM EDITING

I'm not being deliberately contrarian here, but the disparity between my picks and the Academy's in this category speaks volumes.  Spotlight and The Big Short?  Certainly industry people know that editing is more than stitching together multiple storylines.

‘71
Mad Max: Fury Road
It Follows
Macbeth
Creed


FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

I don't particularly hold great fondness for Goodnight Mommy and I imagine it would have easily been bumped by Rams if I were able to have seen it. Then again, I still haven't seen Oscar favorite, Son of Saul, so what do I know?  I know I say it every year, but, this category is broken.

The Assassin
A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence
Theeb
Mustang
Goodnight Mommy


MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING

I mean, I probably pick Fury Road even if there was no Doof Warrior.

Mad Max: Fury Road
Carol 
Macbeth 


MUSIC –Original Score

If you would have told me at the beginning of 2015 that I would only pick The Hateful Eight as a nominee in one category, I would have assumed that's because the Oscars changed formats.  That the category is Original Score is even more depressing despite Ennio Morricone's fine work here.  I'm confused by the term "original," as the "song" category makes it very clear that variations on existing themes is a no-no.  That this score was salvaged from a previous work seems fishy in terms of eligibility.

Either way, the point is moot as the real force Star Wars has awakened is John Williams who brings to the project a vitality long dormant in the master.  The bookends of Rey's theme were already playful, when I discovered THIS happened, I couldn't believe it!

Star Wars: The Force Awakens
The Hateful Eight
Macbeth
Carol
The Good Dinosaur


MUSIC –Original Song

I can't NOT throw shade at this category and have long held to the adage "if we can't expect the Academy to pick the right films, how can we expect them to have any authority over another of the arts?"  Perusing the 79 songs vying for nomination, a sequel should be written to the much maligned Save The Cat! which instructs the LEGO®-musician equivalents of hack screenwriters how to write an Oscar-nominated song.  

That is to say, of all the talk about Oscar diversity, why is there no outcry over how plunking three-somber piano chords against a hired string section and hottest (if disinterested) set of pipes works every time.  I try hard not to be contrarian in these pieces, but I'm kinda contrarian here.  So I picked a dated Swedish pop star singing Swedish, a diegetic piece that sounds like FKA twigs, a song that since the Oscars are always 15 years behind the times– sounds like 1998-era Heather Nova, and that Weeknd song because I respect the guy for the most part and it's funny that Fifty Shades of Grey was nominated for an Oscar.  Give the trophy to the guy from Ash, I don't care.  This category is the pits.



Shaun the Sheep Movie; Tim Wheeler "Feels Like Summer"
Ingrid Bergman – In Her Own Words; Eva Dahlgren “Filmen om oss”
Altered Minds; Erin Sax "Happy"
Creed; Tessa Thompson "Grip"
Fifty Shades of Grey; The Weeknd "Earned It"


PRODUCTION DESIGN

A few notes about Carol: I've long admired Todd Haynes and the writing of Patricia Highsmith, the acting is top-notch and Haynes has always excelled at emulating period.  That said, Carol is nowhere near the top of my list of favorite films on the year.  It just happens to excel at a certain pedigree of categories that win film awards.

The same could be said of Far From the Madding Crowd, the difference being that one looks deliberately literary and is the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of filling out costume or hairstyle nominees.  

Like the work of a gaffer, this fine-tuning can go unnoticed.  These aren't fill-in-the-blank selections and I hope this is evident by the absence of films like The Danish Girl and Woman in Gold.   I do care about my nominees.

Macbeth
Far From the Madding Crowd
Mad Max: Fury Road
Carol
The Duke of Burgundy


SOUND EDITING

It really is bizarre that Stallone's bid at supporting actor is the only nomination Creed got.  I think that speaks a lot about what it does well and how it does it.  The breathtaking choreography of the two-round one-take is so kinetic it doesn't draw attention to itself with a self-reflexive smugness of Iñárritu falling into his own navel.  The cinematography and editing are unpretentious by design.  Its everyman affectations are no different than Rocky's were in 1976, only those formal and thematic decisions must look as passe as Rocky looks square to the cynical New Hollywood idolaters still crying about Taxi Driver.  Yet Stallone, the most archaic element of the film, gets the kudos.

But still, not even a sound nomination?

'71
Creed
Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Mad Max: Fury Road


SOUND MIXING

It sucks that I only have Yann Demange's '71 winning technical awards because of the insinuation that the technical awards aren't poetic.  Not so here as the sound design is a proud example of form following function both narratively and thematically.

'71
Mad Max: Fury Road
Creed
Macbeth
Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation


VISUAL EFFECTS

I'm the kind of guy who has Pan and Tomorrowland nominated instead of Jurassic World and Avengers: Age of Ultron. This is not, as you might think, because I lean toward less being more in terms of visual effects, it's more that I admire earnest garishness.  I'm the kind of guy that, eight years on, cheers the Indiana Jones fridge nuke. The Eiffel Tower scene in Tomorrowland is extraneous and clumsy.  That it is also salient and iconic is one of those ineffable miracles of cinema.

Mad Max: Fury Road
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Ex Machina
Pan
Tomorrowland


WRITING –Adapted Screenplay

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, The Assassin is ineligible in this category, but the point is moot.  Most of the year's best films had no previous source material and my nominees in the adapted category largely resort to instances where source material is its own franchise.  Macbeth wins this, hands-down, turning what is wordy and stagy by nature into the visually arresting.

Macbeth
45 Years
Mad Max: Fury Road
Creed
Ned Rifle


WRITING –Original Screenplay

Calling Charlie Kaufman "original" sounds dismissive: as if relegating his cinematic universe to quirk distances our experience from his uncomfortable truths.  Like Wes Anderson post-Darjeeling Limited, I feel like Kaufman has to resort to Kickstarter because public perception is that he is a child daydreaming in a turgid corner.

Anomalisa speaks to the artificiality of the medium and, in doing so, traverses the uncanny valley.  The puppets have hauntingly lifelike expressions which are tempered by deliberately visible seams to accentuate the drum-tight tale of chronic disconnect.

Anomalisa
‘71
It Follows
The Clouds of Sils Maria
Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter



BEST PICTURE

In which I give the world's most biarro-Oscar to an animated film.  A non-Pixar animated film.  A stop-motion puppet film.  Where its two principals have a one-night stand and everyone else looks like Tom Noonan.  It's weird.  Yet what is most bizarre is that it is the most human picture of the year.

Anomalisa
Macbeth
‘71
It Follows
45 Years
Ex Machina
Mad Max: Fury Road
Clouds of Sils Maria
Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter
Bone Tomahawk

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Friday, January 22, 2016

The Short-Sightedness of the #OscarsSoWhite Movement and White Invisibility


The media attention mounting around the #OscarsSoWhite movement reminds me of another recent, misguided liberal agenda in Los Angeles race relations: the treatment of Donald Sterling.  Though the statements of then-L.A. Clippers owner was unquestionably abhorrent and racist, much of the media reaction was best summarized by then-ESPN reporter, Jason Whitlock who called it “a ratings-pleasing mob hell-bent on revenge” built out of “our zeal to appear righteous or courageous or free of bigotry.”

The Oscars are an easy scapegoat here, but a boycott is the equivalent of turning off the Super Bowl because of the NFL’s concussion crisis despite being a season-ticket holder with your kid in pee-wee football.  The problems with racial representation in Hollywood are foundational and they will not be fixed by the Academy adding an okie-dokie sixth affirmative action nominee in the acting categories.

Not to subvert TheEconomist’s numbers against their initial point (which I agree with), but an analysis of their chart of proportional underrepresentation shows that the Oscars are pretty on-target with their nominations inside of roles offered by race.  The problem is not the Oscars, it’s the industry.



If I had an Oscar vote, it would still go to Charolotte Rampling in 45 Years despite her antiquated quote today suggesting the #OscarsSoWhite movement is reverse racism.  She said in a French interview, “Why classify people? We live in countries where now everyone is more or less accepted.” Right-wing bandwagoneers have followed with comparisons to its concerns of university acceptance and military promotion as if it were possible for a color- and gender-blind meritocracy to govern fields embedded in white male privilege.  I’m not here to argue the validity of white privilege, I’ll leave that to Richard Dyer:
"[W]e can't see that we have anything that accounts for our position of privilege and power. This is itself crucial to the security with which we occupy that position. As Peggy McIntosh argues, a white person is taught to believe that all that she or he does, good and ill, all that we achieve is to be accounted for in terms of our individuality. It is intolerable to realise that we may get a job or a nice house, or a helpful response at school or in hospitals because of our skin colour, not because of the unique, achieving individual we must believe ourselves to be.
"But this then is why it is important to come to see whiteness. For those in power in the West, as long as whiteness is felt to be the human condition, then it alone both defines normality and fully inhabits it."
A common meme spread by opponents to #OscarSoWhite suggests roughly 13% of Oscar nominations have gone to Black actors in the last 20 years, analogous to their U.S. demographic.  By this faulty logic, we could project a recently published list of the 100 MostValuable Stars in Hollywood by Vulture to be roughly 63% White.

Surprise!  The list is actually 90% White.  And here’s a few examples of when it isn’t: Idris Elba’s 2015 was characterized by a role as a Ghanan guerrilla commandant in Beast of No Nation and by significant resistance to the idea of a Black man playing James Bond.

Lupita Nyong’o, the sole Black woman on the list (coming in at #100, no less.  Token?), was relegated to voice a strange alien thing in Star Wars.

Additionally interesting, neither of these actors is American.  Opponents to #OscarsSoWhite often ask, tongue-in-cheek, where the Latino and Asian voices are in this condemnation.  My answer would include the question: what opportunity would we have to hear it?  Would the media cover their disenfranchised voices, or is their lack of Hollywood representation part of this problem as well?

Hollywood is not, and has little interest in being, a meritocracy as its lead roles aren’t distributed on an even playing field; productions are founded on old, White money.  The Oscars boycott is a misguided liberal-agenda not because it is incorrect but because it doesn’t go at the throat of structural racism.  The power of the representation of Whiteness in Hollywood film is precisely that we aren’t inclined to see it.  If movie roles aren’t written to be specifically ethnic, they are rarely filled with ethnic stars.  And when they are, they’re often stereotyped.

If Hollywood has had no incentive to change its racial representation it is because its audience isn’t challenging the structure of its racial representation.  #OscarsSoWhite would do well to question why— even in films about historical accounts— films choose to tell mostly White stories with mostly White heroes.  The impetus cannot be solely economical as largely diverse casts in Star Wars – The Force Awakens, Furious 7 and Avengers: Age of Ultron were not only three of the four highest grossing films worldwide in 2015, but three of the top seven grossing films of all-time.

Audiences aren’t opposed to diverse casts.  That White male actors dominate lists like Vulture’s speaks less to their own merits as to our expectancy to see lists like this filled with White actors.  Because Hollywood films are filled, disproportionately, with White male actors.  The snake eats its own tail.

It’s not that #OscarsSoWhite, it’s that #HollywoodSoWhite, and there is no great solution.  The answers, though few, are largely economic.  Go see the new Spike Lee joint when it hits your theater, then maybe this important, didactic voice won’t have to resort to Kickstarter.  Seek out the disenfranchised, film is its language.  The exhibition model makes it easier today with VOD.  If you’re going to pirate a movie, don’t let it be Dope, or Tangerine, or the upcoming sci-fi film by Claire Denis.  Maybe do something outlandish like wait to see Jurassic World via Redbox.

It’s a frightening thought that representation will likely change in sloth-moving politics before it changes in Hollywood, but Latino numbers seem to be imminent.  Hollywood representation, however, will not shift unless their bottom line is challenged or “ownership” at the studios changes.  If the #OscarSoWhite movement can make enough noise to move sponsors, maybe some eyes will open.  If it starts conversation about lack of representation in top Hollywood roles, even better.

This ship will neither right itself, nor be corrected with a kneejerk boycott; its problems are generations old.  And not to sound too utopianistically libertarian about it, but what we find unacceptable about race representation can be aided more by the films we patronize than by Twitter-fueled armchair activism.  I think the success of the Fast & Furious franchise echoes this in longwave format.

There is nothing scary about acknowledging White privilege.  The idea that, one day, the Jennifer Lawrences and Bradley Coopers of the industry will have their careers hampered by lesser talent needed to fill racial quotas is the worst kind of institution-blind scaremongering.  Of course #OscarsSoWhite.  HollywoodAlwaysBeenSoWhite.  The outrage toward a Black Rue or Hermione confirms the strangeness of ethnic heroes even in supporting roles.  The outrage toward a Black James Bond?  It falls on the “lesser” side of everyone being, as Rampling said, “more or less accepted.” 

That the Oscars found no room to nominate Jada Pinkett Smith or Michael B. Jordan this year is disappointing.  What is far more insulting is that Emma Stone played a Chinese-Hawaiian character in Aloha this year.  That Johnny Depp played Tonto in 2013.  That Hugo Weaving wore yellowface in Cloud Atlas.  If stereotypically ethnic roles are still cast to White actors to wide acceptance, what chance do minority actors have of being considered for lead roles when Whiteness is invisible in a colorblind society?

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