Talking Movies

February 23, 2013

Oscar Schmoscar: Part IV

Filed under: Talking Movies — Fergal Casey @ 5:38 pm

The annual parade of pomposity and razzmatazz known as the Academy Awards lurches around yet a-bloody-gain this Sunday, so here’s a deflating reminder of its awful track record.

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Ben Affleck is not nominated for an Oscar for Best Director for Argo, but has already won both the Golden Globe and the BAFTA for Directing. But the Academy knows best, right? I mean it’s not like the Directors’ Guild of America plumped for Affleck for Argo and a bunch of costume designers, sound editors and VFX computer jockeys decided Affleck wasn’t really a director of the highest calibre, right? Well, actually the DGA did plump for Affleck, so, yes; it has happened that a bunch of people who don’t direct think they know better than the actual directors what directing is all about. But Affleck really shouldn’t feel bad about being snubbed. The list of directors that the Academy thought didn’t cut the mustard is really quite impressive, you’d almost want to join it; including as it does Alfred Hitchcock, Fritz Lang, Stanley Kubrick, Howard Hawks and Orson Welles.

The Academy doesn’t acknowledge the best films made during a year. It acknowledges the films that conducted the best campaign to be acknowledged. It’s infuriating to make lists on December 31st of the best films released during the year, as experienced by Irish cinema audiences, in the knowledge that the Oscar movies will arrive over the next two months; because they’ve been held back in America to crash into the consciousness of the amnesiacs who make up the Academy, and get maximum traction in the race for nominations – many of which are crucial to the marketing of these films, because these are not films that anyone will want to go see unless they have Oscar nominations attached. Which should be a clear signal to the makers: if your film will fail to sound good to audiences unless it gets nominations thru relentless pseudo-political campaigning then it probably isn’t any good.

We shouldn’t let it be thought that the Academy are competent to judge excellence in any category when they’re capable of judging the lazy The Descendants to be a better adapted screenplay than the sublime Submarine. This event needs to be denied the oxygen of publicity, without which it would surely shrivel down to a size more commensurate with its questionable judgement. That’s why every year this blog will never speculate breathlessly about the nominations before they’re made, comment seriously on them after they’re made, or make obsequious acknowledgement of the winners. When the Oscars are worthy of coverage, I will cover them. I look forward to the day when blockbusters, comedies, small dramas, and epic dramas that have been released throughout a year and not merely in the last three weeks of December in small theatres in Los Angeles jostle for deserved recognition. But I don’t hold my breath.

If you love films, you’re almost duty bound at this point to revile the Oscars.

February 24, 2012

Oscar Schmoscar: Part III

Filed under: Talking Movies — Fergal Casey @ 4:24 pm
Tags: , , ,

The annual parade of pomposity and razzmatazz known as the Academy Awards lurches around yet a-bloody-gain this Sunday, so here’s a deflating reminder of its awful track record.

The Academy is Hollywood’s way of slapping itself on the back for doing a damn fine job, and as no genre was as quintessentially American as Hollywood’s standard-bearer the Western, you’d imagine that Westerns received the slap on the back a good number of times, yeah? No. No… The Academy’s only given the Oscar for Best Picture to three Westerns in its entire history, Cimarron, Dances with Wolves, and Unforgiven. I guess Stagecoach, Destry Rides Again, Red River, Bend of the River, Shane, The Searchers, Gunfight at the OK Corral, Rio Bravo, The Magnificent Seven, For a Few Dollars More, El Dorado, The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, True Grit, The Outlaw Josey Wales, and Pale Rider all sucked then. But I mean the Academy know best, right? I mean it’s not like Orson Welles watched Stagecoach repeatedly before Citizen Kane to learn movie directing or anything, right? Right??

The Academy will always favour what I’ve previously dubbed ‘Immersive Acting’ over great ‘just acting’ of subtlety and power. Colin Firth won for The King’s Speech and not for his superior performance in A Single Man. Immersive acting produces terrific performances but it also has a curiously self-promoting showiness, as if acting somehow consisted of weight-loss and skills-training. The non-actor voters at the Academy only seem to be impressed if actors obviously do ‘hard work’. ‘Hey look, she’s doing an accent’, ‘Hey look, he learnt how to stammer’, ‘Hey look, she learnt to dance’, ‘Hey look, he’s playing a real person’. Bending your own life for a certain period of time to make it the same as the role (Day-Lewis in a wheelchair…) doesn’t make you a better actor than someone who reads the script, thinks about it, and gives a great truthful performance. It’ll win you more Oscars though…

We shouldn’t let it be thought that the Academy are competent to tell us what the best films of any year are when they’re incapable of recognising that Shame, Martha Marcy May Marlene, and Take Shelter were all amazing films made in 2011. This event needs to be denied the oxygen of publicity, without which it would surely shrivel down to a size more commensurate with its questionable judgement. That’s why every year this blog will never speculate about the nominations before they’re made, comment on them after they’re made, or make any acknowledgement of the winners. When the Oscars are worthy of coverage, I will cover them. I look forward to the day when blockbusters, comedies, small dramas, and epic dramas that have been released throughout a year and not merely in the last three months of the calendar jostle for deserved recognition. But I don’t hold my breath.

Show me someone who truly values the Oscars and I’ll show you someone who learnt to love movies from statistics books or marketing texts, not from watching damn good movies…

February 25, 2011

Oscar Schmoscar: Part II

The annual parade of pomposity and razzmatazz known as the Academy Awards lurches around again this Sunday, so here’s a deflating reminder of its awful track record.

The Academy has long shown a baffling inability to tell the difference between a good movie and a hole in the ground, and an artist and a hack. The Academy did not nominate David Fincher for Best Director for Seven, Fight Club, or Zodiac. The Academy did nominate him for Best Director for The Curious Case of Benjamin Boring Button. It has now nominated him again for The Social Network. There are two interpretations. The uncharitable one is that the Academy cannot tell the difference between an inane ‘drama’ and a crackling drama. The other is that they only noticed that Fincher could direct at all when he paid his dues with Benjamin Button by making a movie that ticked all the boxes for the Academy’s consideration, which resulted, by an odd coincidence, in a dire movie…

The Academy Awards have been skewed for seventy years because of their habit of giving the right people the wrong awards. The Academy gave Jimmy Stewart the Best Actor Oscar for The Philadelphia Story. Jimmy Stewart didn’t even give the best male acting performance in The Philadelphia Story never mind in all the films made in 1940. They were giving him the award because they felt guilty about not awarding it to him the previous year for Mr Smith goes to Washington. The Oscars have been chasing their tails ever since, just look at Nicole Kidman who really won for her performance in Moulin Rouge! but was given the award for her far less impressive turn in The Hours. Al Pacino, in the most famous of the Academy’s belated accolades, was finally given his Best Actor Oscar for the now forgotten display of scenery chewing that was Scent of a Woman. He was not given the Oscar for his roles in The Godfather, Serpico, The Godfather: Part II, Dog Day Afternoon, Sea of Love, or Glengarry Glen Ross, all of which would have been more worthy of such recognition.

The Academy has a terrible habit of getting stuck in default-setting for automatic nominations. In the mid-1990s it seemed that every attempt to compile a shortlist of original scripts ended in despairing wails that there were no original ideas in Hollywood anymore, until someone asked if Woody Allen had made a film this year. Another nomination to Woody, and then they only had 4 more scripts to find… Meryl Streep’s ridiculous run of nominations is further proof of this approach. The Academy may like to delude itself that all these nominations prove she’s a throwback to the Golden Age, however, Streep’s painfully mannered accents and overwrought performances made Katherine Hepburn feel impelled to let it be known that Streep was her least favourite modern actress; “Click, click, click” she said, referring to the wheels turning inside Streep’s head.

We don’t need the Academy to tell us that The Social Network was a riveting film. We don’t need them patronising Inception by giving it a Best Picture nomination because it was a box-office smash, but not nominating Nolan for Director thereby signalling they’re not taking it seriously because it’s mere entertainment.

In fact, we don’t need them, period.

March 15, 2010

Oscar Schmoscar

There’s been an odd prevalence of live blogs surrounding this year’s “goddamn meat-parade” – as George C Scott so memorably described the Oscars. This blog did not do a live commentary on the Oscars for three reasons. Firstly, I rather like sleeping at night and think that many other people share this strange attitude. Secondly, I don’t believe that even Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie writing together could possibly write anything funny or insightful enough LIVE! to justify a live blog. Thirdly, the Oscars are (whisper it) (no in fact bellow it!) POINTLESS!

There are 5,777 voting members of the Academy. These individuals do not have a better idea of what makes a great film than any other 5,777 random individuals around the world. There was a reason that JFK told Ben Bradlee what he’d learned from the Bay of Pigs was this – “Don’t assume that because a man is in the army that he necessarily knows best about military strategy”. If you doubt that consider these three facts.

The Academy in its wisdom thought that Alfred Hitchcock, director of The 39 Steps, The Lady Vanishes, Rebecca, Foreign Correspondent, Shadow of a Doubt, Rope, Strangers On a Train, Rear Window, Dial M for Murder, To Catch a Thief, Vertigo, North by Northwest, Psycho and The Birds, was not truly exceptional enough in his field to win a Best Director Oscar.

The Academy in its wisdom thought that Ron Howard, director of The Da Vinci Code, was.

The Academy nominated both Apocalypse Now and Kramer Vs Kramer for Best Picture of 1979 and thought that the film which would have most impact on popular culture, which pushed the boundaries of film-making, and which would endure and be fondly remembered was…Kramer Vs Kramer. I love the smell of dumbness in the Kodak.

According to the Academy the best 10 films of the Zeros were Gladiator, A Beautiful Mind, Chicago, The Return of the King, Million Dollar Baby, Crash, The Departed, No Country for Old Men, Slumdog Millionaire, and The Hurt Locker.

Not Memento, Moulin Rouge!, The Two Towers, Master & Commander, The Bourne Supremacy, Good Night and Good Luck, Casino Royale, Atonement, The Dark Knight and The Private Lives of Pippa Lee.

Or Amores Perros, The Fellowship of the Ring, The Rules of Attraction, X-2, Mean Girls, Brick, The Prestige, Zodiac, Hunger and Up in the Air.

We don’t need the Academy to tell us that Christoph Waltz gave a great performance in Inglourious Basterds. We don’t need the Academy’s nominations to help us tell the difference between a good blockbuster with commercial clichés and a bad Oscar-baiter with its own set of equally rigid (but more idiotic because they’re ‘edgy’) clichés (Little Miss Sunshine, I’m looking at you). Maggie Mayhem tells Bliss in Whip It “Be your own hero”. Follow her advice, trust your own instincts…

February 25, 2011

On Not Live-blogging the Oscars

“If the headline is big enough, then the story is big enough”. Events are only as important as the media deems them to be. Big Brother was a flop when it began on Channel 4 in 2000, not least because the tabloid press sneered constantly at the stupidity of the concept. When they decided to change their tunes and cheerlead for it instead, they created its audience by making it seem that who got evicted when somehow mattered. Big Brother hadn’t become any less inane; the media had merely decided that it was now important. So it was. And this is where the Oscars come in. I was driven to distraction last year by the spectacle of the Irish Times not only wasting space on Saturday simultaneously predicting the winners while sneering at how other contenders were better, but then trumpeting on their front page on the Monday that you could read their blog coverage of who did actually win. The ‘paper of record’ practically apologising for being published too early to be able to list the clowns who won the annual meat-parade infuriated me so much that I wrote a quick snippy demolition of the Oscars after the fact as a tangent to my sequence of articles on media manipulation, critical misperception and popular reception of cinematic successes. I just forgot to actually write that…

I stand by the reasons I gave for not doing a live-blog of the Oscars but I’d like to expand them and properly illuminate the most important one. There is the practical consideration. Why would an Irish media outlet, like Movies.ie who are currently trumpeting theirs, do a live-blog of the Oscars? It does not make sense for the Irish Times as opposed to the Chicago Sun-Times to live-blog the Oscars as most of their readers are asleep rather than watching TV. Automatically the live-blog becomes a stale transcript to be read the next morning. Which leads to my conceptual problem with live-blogging – it is performing live, for a writer. The meaning of performing live, which gives theatre its magic, is in its ephemeral nature. A live episode of ER carried a frisson for the American viewer then, entirely absent for the Irish viewer watching a re-run now, and wondering why people keep forgetting their lines and falling over props. A live-blog, if pure to its own conceptual ideal, would be deleted at the end of its writing. The reference to ER is intentional; it’s a scripted episode, performed live. But a live-blog is an episode improvised as the director shouts plot-points at the actors who try to respond creatively in the moment. I co-directed a comedy script the actors loved to riff on, and twenty minutes of improvisation around a forty minute show produces maybe five moments worthy of being scribbled into the script. Against those odds live-bloggers must write witty insights for post after post, minute after minute, hour after hour. I don’t believe Fry & Laurie writing together could produce something that was good live, and if they did it would be pointless keeping a transcript – writing is considered reflection, not spontaneous rambling, as Lester Bangs infamously discovered when he accepted a challenge to write a gig review live onstage…

Above all my animus towards live-blogging was that it is merely the newest way of giving the oxygen of publicity to an event that desperately needs to be ignored. The coverage by the Irish Times last year explicitly recognised that the actual winners were rarely the best the year in cinema had offered so it is too much to ask that media coverage be dialled down until it reaches the level of saturation the quality of the awards warrants? If the Oscars were a dog show, it would be Crufts. If people wanted to read a live-blog of Crufts that might be their concern, but the BBC pulled coverage of Crufts because of concerns over the cruel breeding that its awarding criteria encouraged, and the Oscars is a Crufts that most years denies entry to the most popular breed of dogs, and encourages only a tiny and unhealthy range of dogs to be bred for competition, while renegade dog-lovers both strive to keep some unfavoured breeds from extinction and supply the other unfavoured breeds beloved of the public. The Academy’s insane predilections have arguably distorted the entire medium of cinema. Walk the Line had trouble securing financing because it was a mid-budget drama. It wasn’t a blockbuster which could be sold to a mass audience, and it wasn’t a low-budget indie drama that could be sold on its Oscar nominations to a small audience, it was merely a cracking film – and that left it nowhere. The Oscars tend to squeeze serious drama into a tiny release window, downgrade the critical esteem afforded to quality mass entertainment, and encourage ‘independent’ movies to adopt a rigid set of clichés (think Sunshine Cleaning) in order to base their marketing campaigns around their Oscar nominations.

Any publicity given to the Oscars only perpetuates this destructive effect and so, as a small individual gesture, until the Oscars recognise quality blockbusters and skilful comedies, and develop a long-term memory greater than three months, this blog will only treat them annually to the healthy dose of derision they deserve. Read some more of the Academy’s greatest mistakes in Oscar Schmoscar Part II.

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