Friday, February 24, 2017

Bizarro Oscars: 89th Academy Awards – Dream Ballot

I have seen 120 of the 336 films the Academy deems eligible for the big prize this year. That’s about a 4% increase on last year, despite seeing fewer total 2016 movies than I had seen 2015 movies the year before. Take from that what you will.

The Bizarro Oscars is my alt-awards where I play by Academy-rules eligibility to select my ideal nominations and winners.

The Academy definitely overcompensated this year in full-tilt diversity nominees and, while it would be easy to call it disingenuous for taking the bait on pictures like Hidden Figures and Fences, it’s no worse than the less-diverse bait they take any other year (except for maybe Lion aka Google Maps: The Movie). The fact of the matter remains: there are not a lot of lead roles being offered to non-white men. Moonlight is far from my favorite film of the year (sitting, currently, at #45), but it is my favorite Oscar-eligible narrative film starring a non-white male. I’ve said it before: the Oscars can only do so much, though it should be noted that, it seems they are at least trying.

What follows is nothing nearing predictions, only an alternative universe where everything is perfect.

ACTOR –in a Leading Role

I’ve been on the Casey Affleck bandwagon since Gerry and, while not all of Lonergan’s film resonated with me as I would have hoped, Manchester by the Sea’s nuanced performances can’t be denied. This category gives something of the Heath Ledger treatment to Yelchin and insists the LaBeouf nod is irony-free.

Casey Affleck – Manchester by the Sea
Adam Driver – Paterson
Anton Yelchin – Green Room
Christian Bale – Knight of Cups
Shia LaBeouf – American Honey

ACTRESS –in a Leading Role

It was real easy for me to call shenanigans at the Oscar website replacing Amy Adams’s accidental nomination with Ruth Negga in hopes that #OscarsNotSoWhite2017 on the day nominations were announced. That is until I was left trying to trim my list from six and Adams lost out again.

The Academy made is somewhat easier for me as Margherita Buy is ineligible for Mia Madre. So is Lauren Ashley Carter for Darling, Sonia Braga for Aquarius, and Ruth Wilson for I Am the Pretty Thing that Lives in the House.

Some may find the real surprise here being Isabelle Huppert getting a lead nod and a supporting nod, neither of which for Elle. C’est la vie.

Natalie Portman – Jackie
Hailee Steinfeld – The Edge of Seventeen
Royalty Hightower – The Fits
Rebecca Hall – Christine
Isabelle Huppert – Things to Come

ACTOR –in a Supporting Role

The narrative structure of Moonlight leaves these awards with no good way to deal with its fine performances. There is no “lead,” but Sanders’s exceptional work hardly seems appropriate for the “supporting” category. I normally despise the political vote, but awarding Sanders here not only satisfies awarding a deserving movie, but rewards an excellent performance in the only way the rules might allow. With apologies to true supporting stars (Hayden Szeto in particular), I’m going against my normal tendency this year.

Ashton Sanders – Moonlight
Mahershala Ali – Moonlight
Billy Crudup – 20th Century Women
John Goodman – 10 Cloverfield Lane
John Travolta – In a Valley of Violence

ACTRESS –in a Supporting Role

I have never considered myself a Natalie Portman fan yet, here I am in 2017 nominating her in both lead and supporting categories. Huh.

She was helped by Déborah Lukumuena being ineligible for Divines.

The real shame is I couldn’t find room to acknowledge Kristen Stewart or Greta Gerwig’s banner years. Hopefully Personal Shopper will be Oscar-eligible next year and it will be everything I hope it is.

Lily Gladstone – Certain Women
Michelle Williams – Manchester by the Sea
Isabelle Huppert – Louder than Bombs
Laura Dern – Certain Women
Natalie Portman – Knight of Cups


The Red Turtle reads like a gospel parable that is more deeply rewarding the less you try to anticipate its message. It’s a strong year when Pixar gets bumped from the top five.

The Red Turtle
Your Name
Kubo and the Two Strings
April and the Extraordinary World


And while we’re at it, let’s give Emmanuel Lubezki next year’s cinematography award for Song to Song, too.

Knight of Cups
Green Room
The Witch
The Love Witch


Beyonce: Lemonade is ineligible, so who really cares?

The Neon Demon
Sunset Song
Love & Friendship


Going up against Terrence Malick is always a tall order in my book. And what we’re met with this year is a Jim Jarmusch picture that doesn’t blow me away in terms of cinematography or production design. Yet, the picture is so fully-realized that, by act three, I had completely fallen into its universe.

I viewed Paterson on a Monday evening and, by the time its central character reached his Friday, I was making plans for the creative work I was about to do that weekend. I was taken aback when I realized that it was still only Monday. This rare spatial immersion is a product of Jarmusch’s rhythms and auteur sensibility.

Knight of Cups
20th Century Women
Green Room
Louder than Bombs


The number of outstanding documentaries that came out in 2016 which didn’t even make the Oscar shortlist is astounding.

O.J.: Made in America
Zero Days
Voyage of Time: The IMAX Experience


By my count, Woodstock is the only documentary to ever receive a film editing nomination. That the eight-hour O.J.: Made in America is formed into a coherent (and politically relevant) thematic and historical expose is a miracle.

But is it poetry? Again, it’s hard to argue with Malick.

Knight of Cups
Green Room
O.J.: Made in America


The Academy rules here are weird, and I don’t understand why each country should be limited to one potential nominee. And Under the Shadow being a U.K. submission seems almost a cheat. Rules are rules but I’ll always see many more foreign language films in a given year than the sample size shows in eligibility.

Under the Shadow
Toni Erdmann
Fire at Sea


Here are three movies of whom I may be the only fan.

The Neon Demon
X-Men: Apocalypse
The Legend of Tarzan

MUSIC –Original Score

I’ve undertaken a role of film editor this year with a local production company. It’s a worthwhile, humbling and fulfilling creative endeavor, no matter how small. It has opened my eyes to things we’re trained to not see as film viewers and, often, success comes in the sublime.

Score, however, is something I’m still not good with. I rarely find film scores memorable and, furthermore, don’t particularly think they should be if they’re doing their job. Not that it isn’t an art, only one I don’t feel informed enough to opine on. The many Oscar voters do is strange to me.

Knight of Cups
Rogue One

MUSIC –Original Song
It sucks that Common has had to become the guy to recite pedantic, accessible sermons to Ava DuVernay’s choir as the by-design broad appeal of his verses throws something of a fire blanket on the choleric edge of conscious hip-hop. “Letter to the Free” is important, well-crafted and affecting but is delivered with an Obama “when they go low, we go high” stoicism—now synonymous with defeat—that I just want to listen to Killer Mike’s “That’s Life” from ten years ago.

P.S., did Sia score the end credits to eight different films this year? Statistically, one had to end up here.

“Loving” from Loving
“Letter To The Free” from 13th
“The Ballad Of Wiener-Dog” from Wiener-Dog
“Drive It Like You Stole It” from Sing Street
“Waving Goodbye” from The Neon Demon


It’s a shame I couldn’t find room for Hail, Caesar! here, leaving it completely snubbed this year. Sorry.

20th Century Women
Green Room
The Love Witch
The Neon Demon


Technical categories are a pretty crummy area for Green Room to win its only awards, but at least I get to spread the love around.

Green Room
10 Cloverfield Lane
Rogue One
X-Men: Apocalypse


Green Room
The Nice Guys
Blood Father
Rogue One


Don’t be fooled, Rogue One is more than just a pretty face. If cinema was nearly as dead this year as the memes wanted us to believe, this could have been a contender.

Rogue One
X-Men: Apocalypse
Midnight Special
The Legend of Tarzan

WRITING –Adapted Screenplay

Adapting Ted Chiang’s seemingly un-cinematic work to feature length is no small feat and, although the third act of Arrival came off a little cold and too on-the-nose for me, it still expounds on central themes in brave ways. I don’t see in Villeneuve the visionary for whom many have already lined up to carry his robe’s train, but Arrival—which is, at times, great—proves he is only as good as his writer. How does that sit with those waiting with bated breath for Blade Runner 2049 from the writer of Green Lantern?

Certain Women
Blood Father

WRITING –Original Screenplay

Jarmusch’s Paterson is nearly an adaptation just as his Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai is an adaptation of the Hagakure (or, for that matter, Malick’s Knight of Cups is an adaptation of Pilgrim’s Progress). It’s an adaptation so infused by its influences that it becomes an autonomous universe celebrating the sublimity and grace of mundanity.

Knight of Cups
20th Century Women
Louder than Bombs
The Edge of Seventeen


According to the culture, 2016 sure didn’t seem like much of a year to celebrate. I felt particularly low on April 21 when I followed the news of Prince’s death with a screening of Green Room only to find it unintentionally edifying when a punk names Prince his desert island artist. How quaint “Nazi Punks Fuck Off” seemed in April of last year, no? I don’t think many of us expected Nazi punks to become a nearly daily news occurrence as threat to American democracy by the new administration.

And now even our NEA is endangered. If Green Room seemed brutal, I hate to forethink what brilliance the America’s horror grindhouse is going to churn out in four years’ time. The best films of the year are impressionistic poetry—some even about poetry—in an era in which the culture could use a mirror held up to itself.

A lot of things may have died in 2016. Cinema isn’t one of them.

Knight of Cups
20th Century Women
Green Room
Louder than Bombs
The Edge of Seventeen
The Witch
O.J.: Made in America
The Fits

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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.

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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


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.

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


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. 

Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter
Mad Max: Fury Road


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.

Far From the Madding Crowd
Crimson Peak
Bone Tomahawk


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
It Follows


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


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.

Mad Max: Fury Road
It Follows


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
Goodnight Mommy


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

Mad Max: Fury Road

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
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"


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.

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


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?

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


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.

Mad Max: Fury Road
Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation


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

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.

45 Years
Mad Max: Fury Road
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.

It Follows
The Clouds of Sils Maria
Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter


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.

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

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