Last night Ellei from Shadowscene told me I’m a good dancer (also, that I am the face of Awesometown). I don’t think she was lying. I have to admit, even though – like all writers – I have a lot of doubt and negative energies from time to time, I have to start treating this as a fact even though I tend to believe it. But then when people tell you you’re good at something, you always want to be humble. I always think of something Chuck Jones said to and near me “I don’t think of myself as an artist. That’s a label other people get to bestow upon you.” Other people get to think you’re good. Your opinion on the matter is generally biased.



AWARD SEASON

For those who’ve been reading this a while, I know I’ve said this before, but it’s 100% true. The three worst things about writing about movies is box office, awards, and lists. This isn’t because of the things themselves, but because people often don’t understand them. For box office it’s that a film’s success or failure says something about the movie when most of the time it says something about the advertising. For awards, it’s that this often gives weight to titles unnecessarily, when most awards are won by campaigning and compromise. And with lists too often readers think that a critics list should correspond to their own tastes, when often the act of list-writing is a political act. this is especially skewed in genre fandom where not only are many fans autistic/aspergered/etc. but also have a very small understanding of cinema to begin with. No one needs to be told that films like The Dark Knight or E.T. are great, the fact that they made as much money as they did puts them in the public’s consciousness in a way that a film like The Foot Fist Way can and will never achieve. And yet when sites like this campaign for small movies, it often creates a backlash. As excited as the Internet world is for Scott Pilgrim, you have to figure that Universal is a little nervous about the marketing. Just as many people complained that Oldboy or The Host were overhyped, when overhyping is often the only way to get people to experience something foreign to begin with.

Often the way critics view cinema is different than modern audiences, who were born and raised on Spielberg and Lucas have ever thought about cinema. For myself, and I think a lot of other cinephiles, pleasure is a secondary concern. This comes from not viewing cinema as just escapism, and though there is value in escapism, it is only one facet of cinema. I don’t know if I would call Into the Wild or Straw Dogs enjoyable, but watching those films I find great worth in the experience that may have nothing to do with enjoying myself. Films that require immersion and concentration. Of course a lot of great filmmakers decide to instead use the framework of genre to thrust their interest and concerns on to an audience that might not be totally aware of all that is being said. Often a balance is needed, and when you get something like The Dark Knight, there’s a lot there. There’s also a lot there in Ang Lee’s Hulk, but he went a little further in one direction.

And often when people are upset with Box office, awards or lists, it’s because the mainstream doesn’t agree with them. For a critic, for someone who goes to Sundance and sees films made for the catering budget of a film like Transformers 2, if you fall in love with a film like Humpday, there’s a strong possibility a film like that will never make a million dollars, and the best chance it has in awards season is in critic awards, and Indie Spirit awards. But award ceremonies are also about getting themselves attention, and just as often fall for star value, etc. as anything else. To be paid attention to, being a dilettante is not always rewarding. Too often the equation becomes how can X be perceived as more valuable than Y, when the field of experience of those championing Y is much more limited. And yet lists have a strange power of people. But all lists are an act of personality. On top of that art is hard to quantify. There are some aesthetic considerations that come in when it comes to good versus bad, much like in writing. There is poor grammar, there is lack of control or focus, etc. And then there are the personal and political. My father has passed away, which means that certain films are going to ring truer to me when it comes to that than others, and might hit closer to home than for someone who has not gone through that yet (or ever). And if a critic can find an agenda or through line in terms of what a film is saying, they may reject a romantic comedy if it suggests  that love is a business transaction if there is no acknowledgment that this sentiment is coming across. which is why a film like Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is considered a classic of sorts, and Pretty Woman consider a Shiloh Pitt. If you can acknowledge that a film is technically proficient, we can get to discuss the relative merits of what the film is saying and how it is saying it. And when it comes to greatness, that I might prefer a film like Rules of the Game to Seven Samurai doesn’t mean that I think less of the other.

As per the awards season, we are now waiting on the nominations and the DGA’s. The WGAs might be telling, but probably not. The actors are pretty much locked at this point. Jeff Bridges, Christoph Waltz, Monique and Sandra Bullock are the odds on favorite. only the actresses could get upset. If the DGA go Kathryn Bigelow then that’s pretty much a lock, though Quentin Tarantino is not in a union, so he could be a wild card. That said, a Bigelow win is historic, so the DGA win would clear the way. It only becomes questionable if James Cameron wins, because I could see some of the people who voted for Cameron voting for Tarantino. The SAG’s pretty much cleared up the actor questions, but their ensemble pic may have been that Inglourious Basterds has a bigger cast than The Hurt Locker. The PGA’s suggest that the money men aren’t as keen on Avatar as was once thought, and their giving the prize to The Hurt Locker is a huge tell. I think this is mostly because Mo-cap and all that is seen as still a form of animation, and that will be considered a lesser art. You add the genre elements on top of that and the film may be easy to dismiss for them. The academy was also not that Dark Knight crazy, as you may recall. Which likely means that Avatar will clean house with technical awards (though I wouldn’t be surprised to see Hurt Locker win Editing, and possibly Sound Design), but probably go empty handed on the big statues. Original Screenplay is likely between Quentin and Mark Boal for The Hurt Locker, and adapted between Precious and Up in the Air, with Reitman the odds-on favorite. Though Jeremy Renner probably won’t win (the nomination is the win, if he gets it), The Hurt Locker could be in that four wins category of a picture like Unforgiven, where it gets Picture, Director, Writer, Editing. But SAG does suggest that actors love Quentin, and that could get three with Picture, Supporting Actor, and Screenplay (or four with director). Generally the Academy doesn’t like to give just one award to the best picture winner, and they often like to spread the love.

Here what awards mean: more box office/rentals, and bump in quotes. It also gives the main winners some power. Would we have seen an Amelia Earhart bio-pic if Hilary Swank wasn’t a two time Oscar winner? My guess – especially since the movie has a terrible ending – is no. But if you look at the four acting winners, absolutely nothing is going to change about their careers. Waltz is already in The Green Hornet and is lined up for a David Cronenberg picture. Other than Spielberg, how much more could he get ahead? Alas, he’s an older Austrian gentleman, and the range of roles he can portray in mainstream productions is exceptionally limited, so even with the win, he’s got a window of four years, tops. Monique is an industry to herself, and though Hollywood may court her for more dramatic work, the call for fat black women in mainstream Hollywood films is small. Jeff Bridges is winning a lifetime achievement award. He does what he wants. And Sandra Bullock may transition into middle age roles better than -say – Julia Roberts, she will never be treated as a Meryl Streep, who – if she wins – will likely continue making the menopause films that have become her cottage industry.

It’s good when the Academy gets it right, but they say nothing about quality or often even the films at hand. The Departed has had the staying power of a virgin. That said, it felt right at the time, even if it was the not one of the five to ten films I would label a Scorsese masterwork (Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, The Last Waltz, Raging Bull, The King of Comedy, Last Temptation of Christ, Goodfellas, The Age of Innocence, and Kundun, with special spots for Casino, After Hours and Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore). And yet the next year, who can argue with No Country for Old Men. And really, who can argue with The Departed? There is no point, because the academy just as often favors Driving Miss Daisy, Chariots of Fire, and Crash. The problem is that people have selective memories, and they forget the history of things. Armond White sometimes has cogent points. He is also a troll. One does not invalidate or negate the other. Unforgiven was one of if not the best film of its year, Unforgiven won Best Picture, the Academy has mediocre taste. Having mediocre taste doesn’t mean you don’t appreciate the beauty of Christina Hendricks, even if you have to be told she’s attractive. But if you look to the academy to affirm your tastes, brother, look elsewhere. I blame a lot of this on sports, and that mentality. The home team thought process doesn’t really apply to the arts, unless you are friends with the actual winners.

P.R.E.A.M (Predictions Rule Everything Around Me)

Edge of Darkness is the first film coming into the weekend that looks like it might have a real chance to dethrone Avatar. If Avatar can hold the top slot, that will make it seven weekends at the top, and it also guarantees that it will make it to eight weekends. Such would mean that it would be in the top ten of all time for most weekends at the top of the charts, tying it with Back to the Future, Porky’s and Fatal Attraction . Edge of Darkness should do good business but the advanced word has been mixed at best. I don’t know how hot the word was on Taken, but that film had a narrative drive that Edge does not. When in Rome? I like Kristen Bell a lot, she seems like a smart, funny, inuitive performer, and it doesn’t hurt that she’s not ugly. But this isn’t the film.

1. Avatar - $29 Million
2. Edge of Darkness - $25.5 Million
3. The Book of Eli – $8.7 Million
4. When in Rome – $8.3 Million
5. Legion – $7.4 Million

Avatar could go a little lower, but it should be over $590 by the end of the weekend, as it will be going into the weekend around $565. Which means that around Thursday or Friday of next week it will take Titanic. That’s a done deal. And where it stops?As they say, dot, dot dot…

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