Oh No Film Majors’ Oscar Predictions: Part 2

Welcome to all the other kinds of films, which AMPAS lumps into six categories so we don’t have to talk about them after that, and which programmers of the awards ceremony are most willing to cut off!

film studies animation paperman

Best Animated Short

Who To Bet On: Paperman. The race between is between Disney animators, really, but Paperman does have an advantage of its innovative blend of cell animation and CGI to lean on, creating a fluid and luminous look, even more classically elegant for being rendered largely in black and white. While Adam and Dog might exact more pathos out of a more challenging meet-cute, Paperman may well be a welcome herald of the shape of animation to come.

Who To Support: Paperman. Y’all, I’ve listened to Christophe Beck’s score for this short 80 times according to iTunes. I may or may not have forfeited impartiality here. It’s great writing music! And everything else about this short is great, too. If I had to explain the modern Disney sensibility in 5 minutes, I would probably show Paperman. Let’s all go to the 125th Street Station with trapper keepers and be ensnared by love.  

cinematography paperman

Who’s The Spoiler To Mention So You Still Look Smart: Adam and Dog. Much as how Jessica Chastain’s performance is a subtler and technically probably more demanding than Jennifer Lawrence’s showier turn, Adam and Dog’s wordless exploration of the first friendship is vibrant, rhythmic, and satisfying on a primal level. It never quite reaches the exuberant pitch of Paperman, but the animation here is the most joyously alive. It may well win.

Best Live-Action Short

Who To Bet On: Curfew . The Shorts are always near-run things because almost no one watches them, and very few break through to notoriety in the general pop culture. That’s why the animated race is so exciting this year: people are actually watching the films. That said, Curfew fits the Oscar trim nicely: a suicidal man is thwarted in his attempt by being forced to babysit his niece. Serious material, plenty for the actors to chew on, and unexpected turns.

Who To Support: Asad. Here’s the thing about Asad. It’s the story of a young Somali boy who struggles whether to join an outlaw pirate gang. It’s awesome. And by awesome, I mean terrible. And by terrible, I mean gorgeous.

film theory death of a shadow

Who’s The Spoiler To Mention So You Still Look Smart: Death of A Shadow. This is probably the coolest looking of the three shorts I’ve seen and executes its trippy, high-concept premise – a WWI-era soldier uses a steampunky camera to steal dying people’s souls – really well. It’s also got Rust And Bone alumnus Matthias Schoenaerts, so it might be able to ride in on that wave.

Best Documentary Short

I haven’t seen any of these, y’all, so get out the tea leaves, I guess? Most of the buzz seems to be surrounding Innocente, for what it’s worth.

hollywood film harry potter

Best Animated Feature

Who To Bet On: Wreck-It Ralph. Although there’s many, myself included, who thoroughly enjoyed Wreck-It Ralph but weren’t blown away, it’s still got the most viable chance because it was released (fairly) recently, critically very well received, visually clever, and funny. The race between Ralph and Brave is pretty close, though, so don’t bet too much.

Who To Support: Pirates! Band of Misfits. It’s not going to win so whatever, but this is a rollicking, swashbuckling adventure with Charles Darwin, who has a crush on Queen Victoria, who hates pirates and hunts them abroad her QV1. And there’s a Dodo, because of course there is. If you don’t love pirates, and adorable English actors like Martin Freeman, and warm animation, and pirate nemesis QUEEN VICTORIA, then I’d like to know when your soul got marooned on a desert island.

hollywood film pirates!

Who’s The Spoiler To Mention So You Still Look Smart: Brave. Never underestimate three things: the prestige appeal of Pixar Studios, the laziness of Academy voters who don’t watch all the films, and the earth-shattering beauty of the Scottish highlands. While it’s certainly not as narratively sophisticated as its older siblings, Brave is one of the most gorgeous animated films I’ve ever seen. This could be a Jon-Stewart-wins-the-Emmy scenario for Pixar, with Disney Animation Studios as the wincing but good-natured Stephan Colbert.

Best Documentary

Who To Bet On: Searching For Sugar Man. This recommendation is based on number the critics and guild awards the documentary on perennially elusive, socially conscious musician Rodriguez has won, which is most of them. Besides being a master class on when and how to withhold and reveal information, Searching For Sugar Man has one of the few things its fellow nominees lack: a well earned happy ending to make voters feel even better about giving it the win.

Who To Support: The Invisible War. Both The Gatekeepers and 5 Broken Cameras should be mandatory viewing for anyone who wants to discuss the Israeli/Palestinian issue the way Lincoln was for Congress, but The Invisible War is the only film out of the nominees that pushed all my right film major buttons – it’s cleanly constructed and focused without bashing heads, yet powerfully insistent and affective – and covers a subject we all should be talking about. And it’s not likely to win, so just mention to others it’s streaming on Netflix.

film studies the invisible war

Who’s The Spoiler To Mention So You Still Look Smart: How To Survive A Plague. This is an instinct call, not having seen the film yet (it’s also streaming on Netflix so I have no excuse), but anger seems to be resonating well right now, with all the Occupy imagery floating around comic book films and such. And here’s a documentary not only carefully handling the passionate, fight for their actual lives of ACT UP during the height of the American AIDS epidemic, but how, though it was damned near thing, passion met politics and got something done.

Best Foreign Language Film

Who To Bet On: Amour. Oh, I’m sorry, which of the other nominees are also up for Best Picture and Best Direction and Best Actr – I’ll stop right here.

Who To Support: Amour. Yeah, the film is that nuts. Despite how mean-spirited its attitude towards its characters (what children react like that?), it is one of the most assured, visually breathtaking and emotionally affective pieces of the year.

film criticism amour

Who’s The Spoiler To Mention So You Still Look Smart: Amour. It is the surest of sure bets, y’all. There’s no spoiler, so let me instead suggest two very fine foreign films whose only misfortune is being not-Amour this year: No and A Royal Affair. The former is a Chilean political comedy both biting and absurd, and is anchored by one of the better performances I’ve seen from Gael Garcia Bernal; the latter is a chewy Danish melodrama with a pleasingly subdued, aesthete style and more Voltaire quotes than you probably heard in high school.

Tomorrow: the Little Six civilians do care about –  screenplay, song, score, cinematography, and editing.

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Oh No Film Majors’ Oscar Predictions: Part 1

As much as I might complain about Hollywood film’s annual ticket-spiking, institutional horse-race, predictions are fun, so let’s do this thing. Today I’ll begin with some the technical categories and work my way up to the major awards.

film studies

Best Visual Effects

What It Covers: Technically, the award encompasses both setwork and computer-based effects, but really, this is the award for the CGI that has the most essential impact on the overall success of its film. That said, according to the actual Academy criteria, visual effects are judged by “the artistry, skill and fidelity with which the visual illusions are achieved.” So while giant aliens and mecha-battle-sharks do get recognition, it was Hugo who nabbed this award last year for creating a convincing train crash.

Who To Bet On: Life of Pi. There’s no two ways about the fact that Life of Pi leans on its effects work and pulls off its breathtaking CG seascapes, ships, and animals flawlessly. The visuals are integral to the film and have the advantage of being mostly faithful to real-life stuff, instead of outer-space or fantasy fixtures.

film studies life of pi

Who You Should Support: Life of Pi. CG. Bengal. Tiger. CG Bengal Tiger. Did you see the CG Bengal Tiger?!

Who’s The Spoiler To Mention So You Still Look Smart: Although fan-favorite The Avengers earned a nod, the sleeper here is actually Prometheus, which older Academy voters are more likely to have seen and feel good about voting for  – if Christopher Nolan’s superhero can’t get love from the Academy don’t expect Joss Whedon to do better. But the likelihood of a rolling space-station victory lap for Ridley Scott is pretty low.

Best Sound Editing

What It Covers: The award used to be called Best Sound Design, which is an easy way to think of this one. It’s for designing and manipulating audio to create distinct sound effects for a particular film. An example is the Ringwraiths’ scream: it’s actually a distortion of screenwriter Fran Walsh’s yell, but it’s been played with and crafted for the LOTR films. And don’t worry, everybody gets Editing and Mixing confused, which is probably why Hugo won last year.

Who To Bet On: Skyfall . When action movies like Inception and Pearl Harbor and frickin’ U-571 have come away with this award in the past, you better believe that the Academy is lining up to vote for a classy, cinematic action film like Skyfall. There is a wonderful interplay between sounds and silences here as well: the film does wonders with smaller zips and clangs as much as the big explosions and crashes.

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Who You Should Support: Skyfall’s sonic precision is indeed breathtaking, so feel good about it winning. But Zero Dark Thirty, particularly its raid sequence, is equally exacting. The Academy doesn’t want to get tarred with politics unless they have the caveat of Sean Pean being drunk, but if you’re pulling for upsets, this is one to root for.

Who’s The Spoiler To Mention So You Still Look Smart: Life of Pi.  The reason so many combat or action-heavy films win sound editing is because, especially in this age of intensified continuity, sound carries much of the narrative burden of tracking action during chaotic fight sequences. In a similar vein, sound plays a huge role in creating the believability of a fake Bengal tiger. Life of Pi is therefore next likely.

Best Sound Mixing

What It Covers: Ok, again, the basic distinction between editing and mixing is that while editing rewards the creation of sound specifically for an individual film, mixing rewards the overall blending of the sounds (ambient, dialog, canned, music, etc.) on a film’s complete soundtrack. The winner is often the same as in sound editing, but not always. Hugo took a trip to the moon with its Mixing Oscar last year.

Who To Bet On: Les Miserables. I refer you to that pretentious featurette about live-singing and you know, actors’ ability to make choices are whatever. It is technically ridiculous that the film’s entire musical orchestration is based on accompanists’ recording of music on the fly in a satellite room, gauging tempo and rhythm by how hard Hugh Jackson wanted to cry on that take. Everyone who has ever been on a set is impressed.  

film theory les miserables

Who You Should Support: Les Miserables. More like Les Ridiculous.

Who’s The Spoiler To Mention So You Still Look Smart:  The closest contender to even touch it is Skyfall, because did you see Javier Bardem explode that tube station for funsies? But much like Anne Hathaway, we were all going to acknowledge the prowess of recording a live-sung and sung-through musical from the minute it happened.  

Best Costume Design

What It Covers: It’s what the actors are wearing. And bear in mind, the Wikipedia page on Best Costume actually flat-out says, “..the Academy has traditionally avoided giving out the award to contemporary films” The Artist won last year, proving that while Costume does reward period detail, it doesn’t necessarily need to be Regency era, and the category is a likely bandwagoneer of major awards sweeps.

Who To Bet On: Anna Karenina. Neither of the major nominees in the category, Lincoln and Les Miserables, has overwhelming authority to nab this, and Weta Workshop is still glaring at Snow White And The Huntsman for stealing all its armor. So it’s not unlikely Anna Karenina will have a mini-sweep of the arts categories.

film studies anna karenina

Who You Should Support: Look, I really like Anna Karenina, ok? It’s distinctive without being crazy over the top. All the nominees achieve the effects they set out to, though, so root for who you want.

Who’s The Spoiler To Mention So You Still Look Smart:  Mirror Mirror. I know, I know, it’s not a good movie. You only saw this one because you were on a plane and you couldn’t look away. But giant golden hoop gowns and swan-head headdresses are kind of what Best Costume is for, and the film has, unfortunately, the tragic advantage of being a posthumous nomination for longtime Tarseem collaborator Eiko Ishioka. The sentiment factor may outweigh the embarrassment factor of supporting a be-frocked Nathan Lane.

Best Makeup And Hairstyling

What It Covers: Uhm, makeup and hairstyling? It’s helpful to remember that this award was created as the result of outcry that the makeup work on The Elephant Man wasn’t going to the recognition it deserved. Last year The Iron Lady won because the English have bad teeth, I guess?

Who To Bet On: Les Miserables. Hair and Makeup go through this weird double-filtration nominating process whereby nominees are pre-selected, then whittled down to only the three on which the entire Academy votes. So while films with lots of prosthetic work and intense wigs get nods, most-makeup doesn’t always translate to Oscar gold, and genre can give way to prestige picks. The Hobbit and Hitchcock are the other contenders, but Les Mis will probably get to have its cake.

editing the hobbit

Who You Should Support: The Hobbit. It’s super unlikely to win. The film’s being shunned like the kindergartener who lost Hannibal, Ms. Benjamin’s class’ beloved communal teddy-bear. But The Hobbit has 14 main characters, and they are effectively differentiated, by and large, through hair and makeup, never mind that Albino orc dude and all his minions. Not only does it include the most work, but its hair and makeup have to do the most work.

Who’s The Spoiler To Mention So You Still Look Smart:  Yeah, I’d be floored if Hitchcock won. But I guess you can talk about Anthony Hopkins’ jowls if you like, because jowls is a funny word.

Best Production Design

What It Covers: Production Design used to be called Art Direction until last year. The nomenclature change isn’t important, really. What the award entails is achievement in what might properly be called mis-en-scene: sets, interiors, props, what have you. It went to Hugo last year, because everybody loves clock-gears and trains.

Who To Bet On: Anna Karenina.  Like all the Art awards, Production Design favors period settings, and the closest a film can get to the sumptuary excess of Versailles, the better. Particularly intricate, gilded, or fantastical settings beat simpler, more understated sets, and Anna Karenina has the advantage of being all three, and not being too poorly received to disqualify it on the embarrassment factor.

cinematography anna karenina

Who You Should Support: Yeah, probably Anna Karenina. Lincoln, Life of Pi and The Hobbit are all nominated, two as period par-for-the-courses, and the other for, like, dwarven jewelry, but not only does AK provide a very lush and authoritative 19th Century look  stylized to fit modern aesthetic tastes, but also there’s this giant stage.  It’s a little crazy, and it works (visually, at least). A lot of that is down to the set design.

Who’s The Spoiler To Mention So You Still Look Smart:  Les Miserables. It’s the other most-showy period piece on the list, but Les Mis doesn’t have that extra design dimension to deal with. The only thing to upset Tolstoy and Stoppardists would be a revolutionary outpouring of goodwill towards the musical.

Tomorrow: Non-feature films!

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Film History Is Not Your Bitch, History

As should be pretty apparent given the number of times I ruminate on things like Spartacus and Game of Thrones, I love historical fiction.  But beyond its own charms, historical fiction has the virtue of being a gateway drug for more rigorous historical study and scholarship. I’d bet ten livres de tournai many a medievalist found their way into that epoch through Arthurian lit and Tolkien. The awful (it’s awful, y’all) TNT mini-series Gettysburg was how I first got interested in the Civil War. Historical fiction presents the opportunity, particularly in visual media, to get a sense of the past as the present (because the story unfolds in time, as you watch it). Through an emotional alignment to characters, it allows we moderns to appreciate what makes history so compelling: grasping the actuality, the desires and thoughts and wits and passions, of those who were, and were like us, who will be gone as utterly as they all too soon.

lincoln film theory

With that rather florid beginning, you can gather that I have thoughts on Maureen Dowd’s snippy article decrying a lack of accuracy in Hollywood films. Let’s begin her premise on which she takes down Argo and Lincoln:

 “…my pet peeve about filmmakers [is when they] make up facts in stories about real people to add “drama,” rather than just writing the real facts better.”

Inherent in this statement is a prejudices of taste: that ‘real facts’ are always better than anything an author can make up in stories about real people. This is certainly a valid opinion. But it’s one that exists in a vacuum apart from the entire history and trajectory of Hollywood storytelling. Starting from around 1912, what’s become known as the Classical Hollywood Narrative Style has ruled filmmaking. Every film, whether reacting against it or conforming to it, has to make creative choices based on the fact that the dominant trend in ‘feature’ filmmaking is to tell a story of a protagonist, grounded by psychological motivation, and his/her pursuit of defined goals. Ben Affleck must get those hostages out of Iran; Lincoln must pass 13th amendment, etc.

Drama arises from the complications and developments which delay and redefine these goals – the Chief of Staff hasn’t approved the tickets, quick find out where his kids go to school – and the interplay between pathos and action – oh no! the tickets have not been approved, it would be terrible if those poor hostages got captured, quick, Bryan Cranston, you must get them cleared! – allows us as viewers to feel (not think), to reach a catharsis where we recognize good and reject evil. I’m not saying this is the only way to do fiction, but this is how Hollywood does it, and y’all, it works.

film studies lincoln

While eviscerating the voting scene, Ms. Dowd cites the creative reasons Spielberg left in an inaccurate voting structure, by state rather than by name: rhythm, and ease of tracking the narrative. Quotations are put around these like they’re inferior concerns, as well they might be to a historian. But for we civilian viewers, it’s damned important to be completely enveloped in the tension of the vote – unthinkingly, viscerally hooked – not only because the climax of Lincoln is a series of white dudes speaking briefly, but because we already know the outcome. If you couldn’t track the scene because of all the Gileses and Roscoes and Addisons we’ve never met before thrown willy-nilly into the roll call, there’d be no tension, you wouldn’t care, and the scene wouldn’t work. The film chooses a narrative imperative over historical accuracy, shocking absolutely no one.   

Ms Dowd raises the point that incorporating the real facts could sustain tension. True. But unless they conform to the rigid focus and structure of Hollywood narrative style, unless they are a part of the protagonist-centric narrative established and carried into the climax, they are unnecessary to the narrative and encumbering distractions. Film is the art of omission. In order to fully appreciate the sacrifice of those Connecticut representatives, Lincoln would’ve had to established them earlier on, a shot of cable TV actor kissing his ailing wife before riding to Washington, etc. Michael Stuhlberg, Walter Goggins, and David Warshofsky all arguably stand in for the conflicts of various congressmen and the risks they took in  their voting choices, just as Zero Dark Thirty‘s Maya and Argo’s Jack are composites of many agents working the same cases.

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These are the constraints of Hollywood narrative. These are the terms. Ms. Dowd’s complaints are completely valid, but ask for a kind of motion picture the Hollywood feature film is not interested, intended, or built to be.  Ideally, Hollywood films offer us a glimpse of emotional truth: the grueling thanklessness and internal trials of Intelligence service: “Argo fuck yourself,” or the glorious, momentous historical achievement of passing the 13th Amendment, even if it totally would have passed once the new Republican-controlled congress came into session.

That said, there is something to her point about sending Lincoln forth into high schools classrooms across the nation without putting a Fiction warning label on it. It is equally idealistic for me to suggest everyone is capable of simmering down and taking film on its own terms, as a piece of art (no one takes issue with all stupid mistakes Gerome gets wrong about Roman life; thumbs down did not mean what you think it means, moderns) and not as a historical document. Film profoundly influences our perception of history. There’s a whole lens of studying history through its reception.

Lincoln-Movie-Review

But the idea that Kushner and Spielberg’s creative liberties have ‘defamed’ Connecticut is, to this Louisiana native, ridiculous. Y’all are really worried about being seen as pro-slavery? I guarantee you my middle school classmates, who are so Southern one poor confused little belle earnestly asked our civics teacher, “Who actually won the civil war?” wouldn’t even absorb the names/states of the placeholder congressmen who voted ‘nay,’ but would track, as the film wants them to, the overall momentum of the vote and feel the catharsis of its hard-fought success.

Be upset about historical inaccuracy if that’s your deal.  But also, please, if you know better, – which you should, Maureen Dowd – temper those objections by putting them into the context of the filmmakers’ intentions and choices. As she rightly points out, our reactions to stories are stories in themselves.

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Spy Shit: How Die Hard Chose Franchise Over Film

A Good Day To Die Hard has the distinction to be the first entry into the franchise in a while that was originally written as a Die Hard movie – if it seemed weird to you that John McClane was flipping cars into helicopters and battling cyber-terrorists, yeah, originally, he wasn’t supposed to meet the Apple guy at all. So this new film had the opportunity to define or at least identify the things we love about Die Hard and make them work in a fresh context.

You can see the barest echoes of that appreciation of the original film in Skip Woods’ screenplay here – a villain who hates cowboys, the prominence of shattered glass throughout some of the action scenes – but unfortunately these are just throwaway echoes, bloodless references which add nothing original. When Casino Royale trots out “Shaken, not stirred,” it’s in a surprising, new context; it plays on our expectations and adds another layer by having Bond respond, “Does it look like I give a damn?!” The two repeating lines the McClane boys get, “Damn you, John,” and “I’m on vacation!” mean absolutely nothing. We get no sense of a deepening father/son relationship or even any tension that might imperil it. When Bruce Willis grumbles the sainted watchwords of the franchise, they too mean nothing in context, but are merely deployed at the climax to have maximum impact.

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Look, modern action movies do have a recognizable, formulaic structure to them, one that’s in part been defined by the original Die Hard: three/four acts (depending on whether you want to break an act at the midpoint) made up of complications and developments – a twist in the villain’s plan, heightened stakes, new goals/characters, delays/ordeals that allow for character development – that the protagonist reacts to even as he works to achieve an original goal before an established deadline – when his wife’s plane will run out of fuel, etc.

The problem with Die Hard 5 is a fundamental misunderstanding of why the original Die Hard works: the emotional arc of John McClane is resolved through his gradual control of (super badass) physical action – think about the end of the second act stretch where he has to run through all that broken glass to get to safety. It’s an ordeal, almost a Passion moment, which allows John to do the thing he couldn’t have been able to do before getting trapped in the Nakatomi Plaza: to admit to his wife (via walkie talkie, but whatever) that he’s sorry. The resolution of the external conflict somehow also heals the characters’ internal conflict – when Holly is dangling off the edge of the building, the corporate “yeah, it’s a rolex,” watch, the possession that represents her estrangement from John, falls off with Hans, freeing them from both the physical villain and the mental block to their relationship at the same moment, through the same physical action. It’s really amazing. Die Hard gives its action meaning and grounding through the emotional journey of its characters.

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Think about how many time I used the word emotion in the paragraph above, and yet Die Hard is probably the greatest action film of all time, certainly my favorite Christmas movie ever. Die Hard 5 can’t see the feelings for the cowboys and the yippie-kai-yay, Mother Russias. It may have a relationship that needs fixing – a father/son misunderstanding – complicated by a larger villain’s plot, but it doesn’t connect these things nor spend time on the McClane boys in a way that isn’t cursory or covered through throwaway lines.

What A Good Die To Die Hard is, is an entry into a franchise, not a film in its own right. Not only is the setting for the action super archaic (Chernobyl, really?) and absolutely no time spent on the villains – you can tell one guy is devious because he plays chess (Magneto called he wants that set back), and one henchman is differentiated by eating a carrot (really?) and our supposed main villain is only evil because he wears European suits and spends time in a sauna. Entertaining action films don’t need to be the most nuanced things ever to be good. Pirates of the Caribbean 1  is deeply silly and its pleasures based on performance and humor almost as much as action. There are gloriously mindless 80s action films: Commando comes to mind. But franchises need more bedrock to stand on – a firm identity that allows for the repetition and variation of a new entry into the series. You need a firm series identity.

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The Fast And The Furious is actually kind of a great example of how to keep a franchise going strong – they’re essentially heist films (Fast Five actually has them dragging a giant-ass safe across Rio at high speed) where the car chase is the essential vehicle (heh) of the heist instead of just a consequence of it. With five entries in almost half the time, the Fast series knows how to combine just the right amount of  character growth through physical action (think amount how each film has a training sequence where the crew gets better at driving and also closer to each other) with the absurd, awesome, physical spectacle of cars doing fast and furious things. They vary by location, McGuffin, and supporting cast; the caper resolves and everybody leaves on good terms until the next job.

The problem with the later Die Hards is that they’ve consistently upped the intensity of the action without changing John McClane at all. The definition of the Die Hard universe is one in which an off-duty NYC cop, not a superhero or particularly elite fighter, had to improvise through a hostage crisis, bleeding copiously and falling down and loosing hope and picking himself back up the way everyman heroes do: there’s real danger of John falling down the elevate shaft to his death. He doesn’t navigate physical space with the effortlessness of James Bond.  To take this character, without changing him and in fact reconnecting the audience to him through catchphrases and homages, and putting him in a CGI explosion-fest as an impervious video game superhero is to negate the very things that define him.

casino royale

The Bond films understand this perhaps better than any franchise, and have a remarkable adaptation mechanism because they can keep changing their terms with each new version of Bond. 90s Brosnan!Bond existed in a far more cartoonish world than Craig!Bond does now, and that reflects current trends in action: the operatic darkness of Nolan’s Batman trilogy is on full display in Skyfall and the intensified continuity made popular by the Bourne films is a huge part of why Casino Royale succeeds. The series can adapt to changing tastes in the genre.

It seems like Die Hard wants to be relevant, but only through the technical quality and intensity of its action, which is directed unthinkingly, with a generic look in the worst sense of the word. John McClane suddenly doesn’t hug (he totally hugs in Die Hard) or cry or take anything but in stride. The series has abandoned character reality in exchange for spectacular action hyperreality, and despite all the critical lamentations of the mindless state of action films, it’s a bargain audiences seem to be rejecting. We need for there to be stakes, and there aren’t any if the characters are detached.

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It’s a shame because there’s a chance where the film could have changed tack and surprised us. Jai Courtney (wasted as John Jr.) takes some rebar to the abdomen and looks to be fading fast. If the film had actually handled this seriously, with McClane changing his goals and trying to care for his son in a way he never has before, while also being hunted down by a bunch of crazy Russians, it might have gone to some places that are actually interesting (instead of Chernobyl, which hasn’t been for, like, two decades).

Instead, McClane essentially tells his son to stop being such a pussy and cowboy up. He pulls the rebar out (!) and amazingly, Jack does not die from internal bleeding in the next few hours. You can tell the film doesn’t want you to worry about nitpicks like human anatomy and physics and just enjoy the action, but by relying on the tropes of Die Hard without complicating or redefining them, we’re still tied to that original Die Hard universe; it deserves a far more thoughtful, creative film than the cookie-cutter, FPS walkthrough franchise entry it’s gotten here. A Good Day To Die Hard took the formula itself over the things that, filled in, elevate the formula and makes a film unique. It made a franchise entry instead of a film, and y’all, I’m too old for this shit.

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Classic Hollywood Film Valentines

Because I love you.

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film theory

film studies film theory

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MovieBoozer Report: Beautiful Creatures

I’m realizing now my review sounds way more positive than the movie merits. This is definitely not a film I would pay to see, you know, ever. But if you can get into a screening, or if your significant other is willing to pay to put you through the pain come Valentine’s Day, it’s not an absolute trainwreck. Yay?

Magic means never having to make logical sense.

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My Thoughts On The Oscar Best Picture Race Expressed Through Super Mario Cart

Y’all, I’m so tired of seeing rankings, and ranking things, and “who do you think will win Best Picture?”  It looked for a while like Lincoln had the star advantage, ever since Zero Dark Thirty connected with that nasty red shell John McCain launched, but Argo has recently gotten a huge turbo-boost from the Golden Globes and the BAFTAs, and even though Les Mis crashed off the course and Amour, Beasts of the Southern Wild, and Silver Linings Playbook are clearly one lap behind, it’s anybody’s race. Pick your player, Academy.

Amour
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Wario
Well, it is foreign and painful. Seriously folks, Michael Haenke’s masochistifest on aging wants to you suffer, but you can’t help be riveted by the breathtaking artistry on display, not so unlike a certain Italian’s evil nemesis with a particularly intricate mustache. That said, while it’s totally got another category sown up, it’s probably not gonna win this one.

Argo

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Princess Peach

If playing a stoicly heroic CIA agent who tries to be a good father and saves lives, damnnit, isn’t Ben Affleck’s way of putting on a tiara, I don’t know what is. The absence of a directing nod theoretically relegates Argo’s chances to the Castle Tower, but for a character that’s gained increasing power and agency, yet is classically tied to things the Academy loves (stories about Hollywood), you never know. It may end with the crown.

Beasts of the Southern Wild

film theory

Yoshi

This film is kind of a whole different species, made by and large outside the industry proper, with a first-time feature director, nonactors, and humble surrounds, but what an accomplishment for them and smaller independent films in general that they’re even included, enough of one to be leaping up cliffs, certainly. I bet they don’t even notice they don’t win. Go git som’mo’ shramp ahn’ goombas, chere! Roule Beasts!

Django Unchained

cinematography

Bowser

Oh, he knows he’s bad, but what’s the point of playing if you can’t have some swagger, breathe some fire, and blow up your director for having a horrible Australian accent? Not a favorite of anybody’s, really, but watch it steal something and Tarantino drunkenly throw his flask into the crowd while tickling Christoph Waltz’s beard. That’s entertainment.

Les Miserables

film criticism

Donkey Kong

This is a huge film with really only one move that it uses over and over and over again until it pounds the viewer into submission. Despite its gigantic size, though, all he really wants is some gooshy, melodramatically ripe bananas. Les Mis poses no threat.

Life of Pi

editing

Luigi

Those of us who love this guy are really fond of him. And certainly, there’s no mistaking the tall order of adapting such a difficult novel nor the exciting new heights to which the film has propelled the artistic use of 3D. But the majority of people? Eh.

Lincoln

film studies

Mario

Our hero. This strapping buck has history and sentiment – and some truly prodigeous facial hair – on its side. But the Boss Fight still hasn’t entered its final stage, and we don’t know what’s coming up the pipes next.

Silver Linings Playbook

film theory

Daisy

It’s a perfectly fine movie, very charming, but the question begs asking: what is it doing here? Silver Linings has excellent performances, but is never wholly able to escape its utterly conventional script and movie-ending contrivance. Most of us like it, but we just don’t understand why anyone would pick it.

Zero Dark Thirty

film theory

Koopa Troopa

All business, spartan and serious, this is an uncompromising, take-no-prisoners look at Intelligence Warfare in the early 21st century. It’s undeniably formidable in combat. It’s also a little ridiculous, and the larger forces its serves have ultimately ensured it will probably get squashed underneath heel.

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