Thursday, September 21, 2017

War for the Planet of the Apes

Dir: Matt Reeves
Viewed From: UA Theater, Columbus Boulevard, Philadelphia, PA


What is it with the titles of these Ape films? First you have what seem to be the redundant titles of the first two films: aren’t Dawn and Rise pretty much synonymous? Or at the least, not really a big leap forward? As Anthony Lane pointed out, at this pace one would have expected the third film to be called Breakfast of the Planet of the Apes. One might make the case that Dawn arrives, and then the sun Rises, but that’s not the order the films come in. How can something Rise before it Dawns?

I mention the titles for two reasons. One, the filmmakers might have realized this, so they give us a few updates to start the third film, eschewing the nifty technique in Dawn of having real politicians talk about epidemics and a spidery web showing the transition of the “Simian Flu” throughout the world. Instead, we get two sentences, highlighting that the Apes “Rise” out of resistance and how their civilization is at “Dawn” for the second. Ok, fine. But the second reason I mention the titles is that the final film’s title, War, seems just as misleading as the first two. After the extraordinarily well-crafted Dawn, which managed to show just how hard it is to create trust and mutual understanding in situations where violence is an option, I was expecting an equally nuanced and allegorical take on the toll of war, with the possibility of Caesar sitting back in the role of General, surveying maps, and sending his Apes to die as he realized that he is no longer a warrior but a decision maker. Or maybe not that exactly. But at least, you know, a war.

Instead of expanding upon the possibility of an all-out war between Ape and Man, set a dozen or so years in the future, where the screenwriters could imagine how the San Francisco conflict set the stage for a more global conflict, with Star Warsian levels of plot and movement, War goes small, intimate, and more than a little cliché. It’s not that the film does not have grand moments – Caesar is a great Moses, and it’s hard not to feel at least a little emotional at the end– but I’m not sure why the decision was made to abandon macro-sociological themes for dual psychological studies of Caesar and the evil Colonel McCollough. Or why after the first battle scene, which makes it seem like we’ll be looking at PTSD and the intense toll of warfare on soldiers, the trench-level depiction of warfare is largely abandoned? Or why it needed to become a Western, with a band of horse-riding Apes sneaking up on cabins, scouting across the mountains, picking up wayward travelers, and seeking revenge for a great evil? While Caesar’s scope is epic, War seems to tease out all sorts of ideas about goodness and family and revenge that might work in any context. It could be the The Searchers or 3:10 to Yuma or a dozen other films about the costs of revenge, but Caesar is not just anyone: he’s one of the all-time great leaders of cinema, and most of the things that made his character so great, like the showdowns with Koba or the marshaling of the initial army in Brian Cox’s sanctuary, had to do with the close exploration of how one leads men (or Apes).

And it really isn’t just the Apes. Dawn is my bet for the best of the series because it explored complex human leadership as well; Gary Oldman’s Dreyfus and Jason Clarke’s Malcom are believable explorations of what it would take to lead people in a post-apocalyptic world, and the subtle interplay between Malcom/Dreyfus and Caesar/Koba could be used in a political science class, a discussion of classic game theory, or military school.

The Evil Colonel McCollough and His Ape Collaborator
But in War Woody Harrelson’s Colonel is nowhere near as intriguing as a leader, despite his excellent speech on the spread of some variant of the Simian Flu that makes men mute (and also, potentially, sets up other sequels). There is an attempt at mirroring in the discussion of the two leader’s relationships with their dead sons, but the layering of so much awfulness onto his character (I can’t remember, does the Colonel drink?) and his men just seem forced, a way to once again reinforce the trilogy’s main idea that the Apes are better than us. But as Dawn showed us, you don’t need to have Manichean worlds (like Franco’s boring Saint and Oyelewo’s tired Satan from Rise) to make this point.

In what is probably the best example of how the film tries to force in all these ideas, it never makes a believable case for why the men need to enslave the Apes in the first place. How do they get them? By accident. Why do they need them? To build the Wall? Give me a break – even a leader as delusional as McCollough would recognize that devoting his manpower to oversee an enslaved construction force to build a wall constructed out of rocks and twigs is a spectacular waste of time in defending against an Army that is bringing attack helicopters, tanks, and the most spectacular set of snow gear this side of Hoth. I mean, nobody would spend that much time and effort on a pointless wall…well, okay, fine. But because the movie has decided in advance that it wants to explore the idea of collaborationist Apes, and produce cringe-worthy (in both senses) analogues to slavery and the Holocaust, it is forced into this absurd conceit. Why not have the Apes and a slightly less-fascist human offshoot forge a hesitant truce to defend against this great Army of the North (itself, by the way, never really explained; is the fabled Northern Army that lurks over nearly half the trilogy, then shows up for five seconds and is buried in an avalanche, from Canada? Is this what happens to Portlandians in the apocalypse?)? Going beyond getting revenge on a psychopath would be in keeping with the second film’s far more plausible scenario, and might even lead to more action sequences that equal Dawn’s tense pacing.

Bad Ape: "Easily the worst non-Franco character in the Series"
All of this is to say, however, that the film’s decision to give us a more personal and anguished Caesar, and to highlight better the actual emotional dynamics of friendship and family among the Apes, is well done in its own right. If this movie arrived sui generis, I would be far more impressed. I was happy to see more use of Maurice (like any person with a soul), and the decision to step back from the action to show his simple, well, humanity, with the mute girl, is a brave and rewarding decision in a summer franchise blockbuster film (less rewarding was the idiotic addition of Steve Zahn’s Bad Ape, easily the worst non-Franco character in the trilogy). It’s just that this seems to be the only thing going on, and while I appreciate smuggling a little psychological depth and feeling into an action film, the action still needs to be there, and the film produced nothing like the extraordinary Siege of San Francisco. Perhaps it was all about expectation. After seeing a film called Dawn that looked like a perfect allegory of War, I was excited for what a film about War could really do with such a great general as Caesar. Oh well, perhaps I’ll have to wait for Group Therapy of the Planet of the Apes, which will turn out to be the epic military showdown that I was hoping for. Thoughts Sean?



(Viewed from: The Sony Center CineStar, in Digital 3D)

Well, no matter the movie, it's good to be discussing the finer points of movies with you again. And it's also good to say that we're on the same page with this third movie in the rebooted Planet of the Apes series.

First off, you might be interested to know that here in Germany, the Planet of the Apes (or Planet der Affen) movies have all been given different titles, perhaps to avoid their clumsy and, as you pointed out, seemingly arbitrary nature. The first was called Planet der Affen: Prevolution; the second: Revolution; and the third: Survival. As you know, the titles of movies tend to suffer when they travel outside their homeland, but in this case I think you'd agree that these are all superior (or in the case of the first one, at least slightly less clumsy). Indeed, War is much less a war than a bid for survival after their exodus crosses paths with a sadistic lunatic. Actually, in this case, the most accurate title could have been Prisoner of the War of the Planet of the Apes.

I agree with you that one of the most frustrating thing with War for the Planet of the Apes is that they had so many opportunities -- they could have gone in any number of directions with this third one, and they chose to essentially rehash bits of Apocalypse Now, The Great Escape, Bridge on the River Kwai, and maybe some other gulag/prisoner of war movies. Now, you might be able to make a great Planet of the Apes/Apocalypse Now hybrid, one that even has Woody Harrelson in the Brando/Kurtz role, but this unfortunately isn't it.

What's even more frustrating, is that War starts out as a pretty solid continuation of Dawn. I agree with you that the preamble of text isn't so hot, but I didn't mind since following the backs of those military helmets, with "Bedtime for Bonzo" and "Monkey Killer" scrawled on them, is a perfectly effective intro. It says about everything we know, and the sounds of the jungle put us right into the would-be home of Caesar, Maurice and the rest of the remains of the Ape community.

Even, the first bits of Harrelson's Col. McCollough is effective stuff, the first thing we hear of him is over the com, telling an outnumbered soldier to take out as many as he can before he dies. And then a few scenes later, we see McCollough doing his own dirty work, face painted black and trying to disappear back into the night after killing all of Caesar's family, except for Cornelius. This scene was really strong, if a bit predictable. Harrelson's eyes locking with Caesar's eyes... This movie was fantastic on the big screen, in large part because of how well it captures the character's eyes throughout. I'm not completely sure how untouched the eyes are in these motion capture performances, but it really doesn't matter -- whatever they're doing it works like gangbusters. When we see Maurice connect with Nova, the orphaned girl who's succumb to this mysterious voice-robbing mutation of the Simian Flu, it's a beautiful thing that once again relies on the eyes of two characters connecting and recognizing what lies beneath.

After Caesar's small posse picks up Nova, the movie does indeed take a wrong turn into this other thing, this prisoner of war movie that could be politely referred to as a bit of a slog. Now, even though there are more than a few alternative paths this movie could've taken, I think I understand the logic behind the choice.

The first two movies give us human perspectives as a way of bringing us into the story. In the first it's James Franco, realizing how special Caesar is. In the second, we're Jason Clarke, trying like hell to broker peace between humans and ape. After the brilliance of Dawn, we can now see War from Caesar's perspective as he tries to lead his people to a safe place and not succumb to the Koba mentality after losing his wife and son.

I think it's a testament to Dawn that this POV is a comfortable place to be -- but it's perhaps too comfortable, or more to the point, too familiar. War's mistake is that it tries to make this most of this shift to seeing things through Caesar's eyes by cooking up the worst possible thing for him to see -- not only most of his family killed, but 99 percent of his tribe locked up in a concentration camp. Of course it's terrible, and it's effective up to a point but, as you point out, it's all undercut by how muddled and nonsensical McCollough's plan is.

When Willard met Kurtz in the jungle, Kurtz asked him if his methods appeared unsound. Well, McCollough's methods are indeed mind-boggingly unsound. Even by the end of the movie, when every twist has been revealed, it still doesn't make a lick of sense; not in a deranged Kurtz way, not in a supreme evil Nazi way, not in a egocentric Jonestown way, not in any way that makes it the least bit compelling. If one were to be generous to the movie, you could say that McCollough's nonsense is intended to make him all the scarier -- that there is no logic at play and it's like some horrible nightmare you can't escape from. That might work in some other movie, but it doesn't fit in here.

You mention the speech McCollough gives to Caesar, is it a nice bit of acting, but I'm not even sure Harrelson is fully on board with the narrative the Colonel is putting together. What's this guy's end game? One minute he's trying to kill the Apes, and the next he's using them to build a makeshift wall in a couple days to protect against a full military assault? He tells Caesar that he stumbled upon the migrating apes on the way to the compound, so is that when he got the idea of building the wall? Is it really a better idea to use these apes than to kill them? This isn't like one small group of apes, this is every single ape in Caesar's tribe - the whole kit n' caboodle! Maybe, if he took out the lot of 'em, the military might be a little less angry about McCollough's methods.

But the biggest logic loop here is how loyal his soldiers are to him. We're led to believe that the military is after him for killing his own men after they've become infected, but this is also the exact kind of thing that might turn at least a few soldiers against their commanding officer. I might buy into his troops being brainwashed, but for that to happen, he has to have some sort of grand vision. What is this Alpha-Omega all about? The soldiers chant something like, "We are the beginning of the end." By the end I was wondering if they were all on a suicide mission? Are they trying to fight this plague somehow, is this fight bigger than killing all the apes? Who the hell knows.

It felt like this "Preacher" soldier was going to be at least one guy to snap out of it, perhaps realize they're doomed and start a mutiny in the name of God. Even though the movie seemed to be making every effort to set up this kind of arc for Preacher, it never materialized. Likewise, there are these "donkey" apes that work alongside McCollough's soldiers. This started off as a fruitful concept for a number of reasons, but again, once you realize McCollough has gone rogue, it all makes very little sense? I can understand them working for the larger military and helping take down Caesar. After all, they are the leftovers from team Koba, so there's some logical motivation there. But once they're in this rundown compound the logic begins to quickly dry up.

Even if you grant McCollough the sense in not killing Caesar when he first gets the chance, and using him to help break the spirit of the other apes in building this pointless wall, it doesn't explain why he doesn't kill Rocket when he shows up to help break Caesar out. At that point, it should of been about breaking Caesar's spirit more than anything else. But again, much of it makes little difference since the reason for having these apes around in the first place doesn't make much sense. Indeed, the more you think about it, the more frustrating it becomes.

Having said all that, I must add that this movie's 3D work greatly impressed me. I was rather apprehensive about going to this screening since the Sony Center is an ungodly and inconvenient place that I normally try to avoid. It's like a cathedral to consumerism in the heart of Berlin. It's all a bit depressing and this theater always costs more than any other, especially when the 3D surcharge is added. But in this case, the 3D was a rather beautiful enhancement. It actually managed to be a subtle effect this time around as it served to highlight the scenery and details that make these movies so amazing to look at. I'm not sure if the presence of these apes makes you pay more attention to their eyes (I think with cats and dogs we also tend to focus more on their eyes, searching for emotions) -- whatever the case may be, the 3D only made these eyes and faces more impressive and enhanced the viewing experience, rather than detract from it, as it has in most cases. As frustrating as the plot was, it was always an impressive spectacle.



Pre-Revolution, Revolution and Survival are so much better. Thank you.

The spectacle was great too, which is why I am still surprised that Dawn was such a hit on my 2007 Dell laptop. It's no surprise why this one did so well with critics, winning over even noted curmudgeon like Anthony Lane, given how much effort and thought went into the CGI. I have no doubt that when a future Mark Cousins does a "Story of Film" 50 years out, War will be a major piece of how actors started to be phased out of movie making, or at least how CGI came to resemble art.

And I absolutely agree with you about the helmets - very clever and seemed to fit right in with the rising xenophobia (zoophobia?) that humans were having about the Apes. Even more reason why it was such a disappointment to see that they were just a whacko neo-nazi splinter group. And to build up preacher as the guy who doesn't get it I reinforces how dispiriting the film is, in ways I don't think are necessarily fair to humans.

You are a brave person for diving so far into the logic (or "unsoundness") in the film, but I don't really think there are good answers for your questions: the filmmakers, in their quest to layer (or, in this case, belabor) the film with analogues, are forced to turn people into monsters, without any convincing psychological explanation. There are indeed things that turn men into monsters, history is replete with them, but the film never bothers with the hard and complex work that would make a group like McCollough's possible.

All said, it was still a marvel, and I'm sure it was especially good in 3D - believe it or not, the only 3D film I've still ever seen is Love! And while the Sony Center sounds a bit scary -  Google refers to it as "Vast Contemporary Entertainment Complex," which sounds like a translation of a Chinese downtown entertainment district - I'm guessing it wasn't the worst afternoon. Certainly a case of expectations running a bit high, but some day studios will realize that finding depth in CGI films isn't about just making them depressing and basing them on classic tropes. Great assome  elements were, it seems all the creativity was used up in naming those helmets. Cesar took this conceit about as far as it will go, but I'm still going to hold out hope that we're not at the mountaintop yet.
The lovable Maurice

Wednesday, July 20, 2016


The first in a series of serendipitous movie-watching experiences from the summer of 2016. To come: Love and Friendship/High Rise, A Bigger Splash/The Lobster, and Maggie’s Plan/Don’t Think Twice.

In the beginning of Notfilm, a “kino-essay” on the unlikely 1965 collaboration of Samuel Beckett and Buster Keaton, writer/director Ross Lipman remarks that he has never enjoyed films about film. The reason: they cannot approach the work itself. With regard to his own film – a fascinating if at times academic (in the bad way) look into the creation of a 24-minute short – he may be right, as neither Beckett’s Film nor the making of the film come close to approaching even the minor individual artistic triumphs of Beckett and Keaton (indeed, some of the best parts of the movie are the old clips of Keaton or the TV versions of Beckett’s plays). It is the work of an insightful, competent researcher, and if it played on TV would almost surely be the most interesting show for a week, but it’s not great art.

Los Angeles Plays Itself, however, from the documentarian and professor Thom Andersen, proves Lipman wrong, as his collection of thoughts and musings about Los Angeles, combined with an extraordinary number of movie clips and other items, makes for a beautiful and insightful film, one that not only surpasses most of the films it quotes, but makes you want to see all of them again or, in many cases, like Messiah of Evil, for the first time. I’m happy I didn’t have access to a world of infinite steams, because I would have to go back and check out The Glimmer Man or The Replacement Killers, to mention just two films that get almost as much time as Terminator. Hell, after following Anderson’s keen eye for detail and setting, it makes you want to watch just about any movie. Immediately.

While Lipman’s Notfilm begins with a mystery (how the heck did Keaton and Beckett make a movie together), Anderson begins with a paradox. His concern is that Hollywood has come to define Los Angeles in the public imagination, both as a metonym for the city and through its selective description and portrayal of the town, but it has largely been wrong about the place from which it sprang. As Andersen notes (or proves really, given how forcefully he makes his case), directors from both California and elsewhere have chosen the beaches or the hills for the settings of films, leaving out the great middle who neither participate in the making of movies nor find themselves represented in the films (before Sean gets animated, he cites Jackie Brown as an exception). As he notes, just one in 40 Angelenos work in the entertainment business, and countless middle-class people (from Heat to Cobra) are depicted as living in posh hillside towns or beachfront properties when they could not possibly afford the rent. In Hollywood’s world, nearly everyone is white, travels with ease by car, and is involved with the entertainment business. You can argue with Woody Allen’s take in Annie Hall about the cultural achievements of the city (and Andersen does; there’s more than just making a right on red), but it largely reflects the vision of the place that Hollywood presents. In a shrewd response, Andersen notes that Allen's ignorance of Los Angeles comes from the same source as his ignorance of New York; he’s only interested in what the cultural elite of each place do.
While Hollywood’s portrayal of any city is almost necessarily skewered, Andersen makes the case that the people of his city have to suffer a double-whammy of sorts because the movies are made so close to home. In the first place, the city itself was re-appropriated to play “everytown, USA” because it was so close to the studios. Los Angeles become Main Street America, Chicago (in The Public Enemy!), Chinese Rice fields or, most improbably, Switzerland. Countless residents not only saw their neighborhoods repurposed, but saw incongruities in places they knew, like their home airport or train station being set in another city, or being destroyed in an apocalyptic event (as Andersen claims: “silly geography makes for silly movies”). In probably the best example of how Hollywood lies about Los Angeles, Andersen notes that one of the city’s points of pride – its extraordinary examples of modernist architecture – is turned against them by filmmakers. Once great and inspiring gems that argued for utopian ideals are transformed into locales for arch villains, most notably in L.A. Confidential, but also, most comically, in Jackie Treehorn’s lair with the Dude. And the final indignity: Andersen argues that the unsophisticated diminutive of “L.A.”, lacking the rythym and gravitas of Los Angeles might be the creation of the movies themselves.

As in the case of the Big Lebowski, you find yourself yelling at the screen for examples, and while most discerning film fans will quibble with a point or two – I wanted to see Andersen’s gloss on the Naked Gun, and was surprised to see only a brief reference to Boyz n the Hood - he almost always anticipates where you’re going. As soon as you start to think, wait a second, Lynch has done some pretty good L.A. films, there is Mullholland Drive. And though you have to wait forever to get to Chinatown, Sunset Boulevard, and L.A. Confidential, Andersen cleverly builds his narrative from mostly unknown films to the most iconic presentations. He also delivers dozens of dead-on appraisals of classic films, such as his take on why Blade Runner is so adored today in spite of its many nonsensical and incorrect predictions about the future. In a line so great I had to stop the movie to write it down: “Blade Runner represents a nostalgia for a past vision of dystopia that itself has become outdated.” If you like this, there are about three dozen more perfect apercus on classic films and actors (ok, one more: “Whenever there’s a disaster movie, there’s George Kennedy”).

Perhaps even more impressive than hitting the classics is the historical research Andersen puts into refuting some of the biggest lies told by Hollywood depictions, even in undisputedly great films. Blade Runner, for example, rather than giving us a dystopia gives us an urban planner’s dream: walkable downtowns, vibrant night activities, and an almost complete lack of car traffic. In Chinatown, the nefarious plot to steal the valley’s water is an inaccurate conflation of two periods of Los Angeles history, and the dirty dealing was not done in the secret records and archives, but on the front pages of the daily newspapers. L.A. Confidential similarly imagines a world of nonsense skullduggery, as Andersen smartly points out that the police had no need to be as underhanded and corrupt as James Cromwell’s police chief; the cops openly controlled the city and violated civil rights, a kind of policing that was not hidden, but celebrated. It is Dragnet Anderson argues, with its depiction of law enforcement as completely hostile to the citizens they are supposed to protect, that gives the true state of the L.A. police force (I’m serious when I say the whole 169 minutes of the movie could be on Dragnet). Not even Who Framed Roger Rabbit? is safe, as we learn that the highways were coming anyway and the much-vaunted streetcars were not so successful to begin with. Nearly every line is a lesson in history, if not film.

Given the vast number of sources that Andersen can draw on, it may be a bit unfair to compare Los Angeles Plays Itself to Notfilm, which has as its source a single film that, at least on first viewing, is just a little bit intriguing, a little bit boring, and a whole lot of confusing (the wonderful presentation at the Philadelphia International House showed Film first). Anderson has hundreds of movies to draw from; Lipman has one, and one that almost didn’t come about. What Lipman does have going, however, and what makes the film so interesting, is that while the film being made includes a certifiable genius of cinema (Keaton), it is actually made through a collaboration of three people with almost no knowledge of the medium. Beckett had never been behind the camera, director Alan Schneider had only directed plays, and the thing was dreamed up by Barney Rosset, the publisher of a literary press! While cinematographer Boris Kauffman came from good stock, Keaton is described by his longtime friend James Karen as basically being forced to sit around the set (without shade) while the novices tried to block out scenes and figure out the script. It’s so comic that it sounds like the set-up to a Keaton picture, which it basically is, except with Keaton’s formula of one part existential dread, nine parts comedy, reversed.

While the story of how Film got made is a good yarn – with the possibility of Chaplin appearing instead being one of many great What Ifs – Lipman does get bogged down a bit in details. His work to find Beckett’s voice and missing scenes from the film will make him a hero to academics and those in search of Beckettian trivia, but is it necessary to note that when flying to New York, it was so dark that the airport had to turn on the runway lights? Similarly, there’s a lot here on other work Beckett was doing at the time, and while the arresting Billie Whitelaw makes for a fascinating interview, she had literally nothing to do with the making of Film. The diversion to Leonard Maltin’s childhood memories are a wonderful light note, but do we need to hear him calling for his dog? More problematically, the interview with Rosset, whose memory is badly fading, leads to an ill-advised groping for artistic meaning.

While Notfilm and Los Angeles Plays Itself are obviously driven by the needs of their respective subject matters, they reveal that films about films might work best when motivated by the concerns of the directors themselves. Whether it’s Anderson, Zizek’s Pervert’s Guide to Cinema, or Mark Cousins’s epic case for innovation in The Story of Film, movies that begin with clear articulations and ideas might work better than film driven by curiosity. Notfilm makes a late, and entirely unconvincing, case for Beckett having anticipated the era of digital recording and projection (the “end of film”), but almost none of the first two hours points towards this conclusion and it feels like a grad student looking for a thesis in the hours before the paper is due. Andersen, however, has clearly lived his thesis his whole life, as the movie’s portrayal of his fellow citizens – particularly those who are poor, dispossessed, or of color – is the culmination of years of research, care, and thought. Though he might argue, all the sins of Hollywood’s past might just have been worth it, if for no other reason than to give us the beautiful act of redemption that is Los Angeles Plays Itself.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

On the Eye of the Beholder

As I was thinking about the Oscars these past couple months, it lead me down the rabbit hole of nostalgia. It's a subject that should be on the minds of many since it impossible to escape the glaring light of it in today's popular culture. (If having to wrap my brain around the words "Fuller House" means I get hours of undiluted David Lynch next year, maybe it's worth it?) But as I scratched my head over how the Oscars appeared to be scratching a nostalgic itch with Spotlight, it lead me to wondering how much our favorite movies of the past influence our tastes today.

For the vast majority of us, Hollywood played some sort of role in shaping the way we look at movies and what constitutes our likes and dislikes. These are the movies we are most exposed to at a young age before more exotic fare might be piped in from the open-minded sources we encounter as we grow up. And our high school and college years are so formative that I challenge you to show me a film fanatic who watched a new movie after they turned 30 and determine that to be their favorite film of all time. Such choices are made during the impressionable years of one's late teens and twenties, a prime nostalgia time.

Everybody knows first impressions are important. You could even break down some of your favorite movies simply by the impact and impression they made on you when you first watched them. A lot of this has to do with timing. Nowadays, the shock and awe of touchstone movies like Bonnie and Clyde or Pink Flamingoes can greatly depend on when someone sees them during their own filmic upbringing. It's sad but inevitable to see them lose some of their initial impact and for folks to require some Film 101 style contextualization if they don't catch them at just the right time.

This happens with some of the best and most cherished movies, since the ones that have the most impact and leave the biggest impressions are the ones that get carbon copied for years afterwards, diluting the very elements that made it special to begin with. Like many people my age, seeing Pulp Fiction at a theater in 1994 as an18 year-old was like freebasing uncut cinema - which is to say: it left quite an impression. 20 years later, my biased eyes think it still holds up but I have little doubt someone watching it for the first time today will get the same kick.

Now, I know sentimentality and nostalgia aren't exactly the same thing, but I have long carried the movie Flirting around as a sentimental favorite of mine. Like most of my favorite movies, Flirting happened to get watched at just the right time and, perhaps by no coincidence, the movie itself is steeped in nostalgia. I saw it on TV when I was 16 or 17 and it hit me as one of the most honest depictions of teenage awkwardness I'd ever seen. It made me wonder why there weren't more movies like this - a feeling I took with me to film school and still hold on to today.

These are the kinds of movies that add up to define us, our tastes and our reactions to the movies we see today - the movies that drove us to keep digging and wanting to see more. And no two people, even if they are the same age and received the same education and had similar life experiences are going to end up with the same taste in movies. Which means neither person is going to be any more right or wrong when it comes to appreciating what a movie has to offer.

I feel lucky that I was able to get an early exposure to a wide variety of films growing up and that my parents were pretty early adopters of the VCR. Most parents would probably wag their finger at letting a 13 year old kid watch a mix that included lots of David Lynch, Stanley Kubrick, John Landis and repeat viewings of Evil Dead 2. My childhood and adolescence wasn't the best, but I do have some rose-colored nostalgia for sitting around with the family, watching The French Connection or Raising Arizona. For all of the various issues my parents had, and perhaps passed on to me, at least I got an all-inclusive love for movies out of the bargain.

As I inch ever closer to 40 years of age, I really do get the feeling that most of what defines my tastes in movies is pretty well cemented. They're not completely done evolving but I no longer have the omnivorous desires I once had and my patience for bad movies - be they ironically bad, so-bad-they're-good or simply dispassionate, boringly bad - is shrinking more and more every year. It used to be that I would watch multiple movies per day, but nowadays I average about three over the course of a week.

And this is where good film criticism comes in. I understand someone in their 20s who holds little regard for some pretentious, high falutin critic's opinion. Godspeed, since that person should go right ahead and devour anything they're inclined to regardless of what some critic says, that's what your 20s are for and bad movies go a long way to educate and help hone tastes and perspective. But that kind of stamina rarely lasts. Chances are, 20 years down the road that person is going to check in with the handful of critics they've come to rely on in order to decide what movies they're going to invest their time in.

In my experience, you'll never find a critic you will always agree with. (If you find someone you agree with 100% of the time then you might be reading this from a cult's shared computer - which is to say: you're probably highly impressionable and easily convinced.) Everyone who writes a review is going through the process of filtering a movie through a lifetime of experiences, influences, considerations and holding it up to whatever other comedy, drama, thriller, horror, or psychedelic freak-out the movie deserves comparison to. If the end result comes close to your own perspective even 50% of the time, that's a critic you might consider holding on to.

Realistically, no two people are going to see the same movie the same way. In fact, most people will bring a lot of internal and external static with them when they see a movie - and the choice of movie they make will often reflect their current disposition. Sometimes you feel like a comedy, sometimes you feel like an 8 hour Bela Tarr movie. But the lucky/unlucky professional film critic often doesn't have the benefit of picking and choosing which movie they get to review based on how rosy or bitterly nihilistic they may be feeling that day - but that's why they're professionals.

And that's why movies are magical. You can enter a movie theater, check your baggage at the box office and get caught up in someone else's story. I knew a guy at film school who, among other reasons, loved movies because he could enjoy two stress-free hours with his ex-wife and their kids. Whatever they were watching at the time probably rated a little higher in his perspective because when the lights dimmed and the movie started he could put the rest of his life on pause.

I think it's part of the professional critic's job to try and view a movie with clear eyes, separate from whatever else may be going on in their lives. I'm sure each and every one might have struggled with this at some point. But, despite what internet commenters might think, it's not part of the critic's job to remove themselves, their beliefs, personality or experiences. If a critic is a bleeding heart liberal or a stodgy conservative, that's the eyes they're seeing the movie with and that's what should be reflected in their opinion.

Maybe I'm stating some obvious points here, but everywhere you look (again, thanks/damn-you internet) people reading movie reviews are acting like they expect some dispassionate, personality-free review to simply describe the movie and tell them whether it is good or bad - like an opinion could simply be determined by a movie-watching robot that is programmed to determine craft, acting and intentions. Actually, a good review can spark epiphanies, debate, reevaluations, and, if your mind is open enough, the ability to see consider a movie through a outside perspective. This last example is what seems to get people really confused - yet, offering an honest, informed, unique and well-written perspective on a movie is exactly what good criticism is all about.

For those looking simply for thorough accounts of a movie's plot and some version of an unbiased opinion I suggest waiting for the wikipedia page to get up to snuff or sticking to IMDb. But more than that, I suggest taking a movie review for what it is - one person's opinion, not a threat to anyone's sensibilities. Hopefully a critic has the sense to clearly write why and how they came to their opinion so that hopefully, with a little thought on their part, the reader can understand where they're coming from. And again, there's a good chance it won't be the exact same place other people are coming from - but that's the nature of the beast.

I believe there is very little that is or should be considered universally accepted opinions regarding what makes a good movie. I think there's a certain level of craft we can probably agree on, and some ideas about what constitutes good acting and writing - but even these ideas aren't unassailable. All it takes is the right kind of movie to come along and people will be redefining these things once again. This is one of the many reasons I love movies, it's grown, morphed, mutated and continues to do so - and it would be really, really sad if there were some sort of universally accepted notions of what a filmmaker should or shouldn't do when they go about creating.

Anyone who is a fan of movies should understand this. The people who make movies, write about movies, or just sit around watching them in their spare time - everyone has their own sensibility, perspective and tastes. It can be a deeply personal thing because these things gets formed over a long period of time, starting when we're young. This is probably why, when we disagree about movies, we can get super emotional and defensive. It's like an personal attack on everything we stand for and all that we've been through, those very things that have created our tastes and perspective - the stuff that we hold dear, the nostalgic parts of our lives that made us who we are today.

At the risk of over extending my time on RFC this week, I want to give one more example. I can't pinpoint first time I saw Brazil, I must have been around 12 or 13, but it was one of those movies that made me feel like my mind was expanding while I was watching it. This vast, fully realized world was put in front of me and it seemed like anything could have happened by the time the movie ended. I was fully transfixed.

Fast forward 20 years and I now look at the impression Brazil had on me as the reason why I am more lenient and forgiving when it comes to ambitiously messy films. I'll watch a movie like Southland Tales and I'll easily be able to look past the scattershot storytelling to admire the gonzo, go-for-broke ambition it took to create its bizarro, original universe. So, if I were to write about the movie, I'd make sure to add that, nope, it ain't for everyone. I'll tell the reader the kind of glasses I'm wearing, the perspective that caused me to appreciate a weird and flawed movie and that they might want to pop on this pair if they're interested in watching it.

When it comes to talking or writing about movies, no one is right or wrong. It's all in the eye of the beholder. Nobody's going to show up with an answer sheet and start handing out gold stars. The only way you can mess it up is to come to it with a bad attitude, taking aim to rain on people's parades and, generally speaking, be a dick. Whether or not someone else's perspective matches yours doesn't add or detract value from either party. If you're thoughtful about it, and you express yourself that way, then chances are you'll get respect. And that's about the best we can hope for anyway.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Mr. Freedom

Director: William Klein
Viewed from: The Balcony (International House Philadelphia)

Is Donald Trump really Mr. Freedom (John Abbey), a comic-book live-action superhero entrusted to "save" the French from the Red Menace of China and Russia in 1969? Take away about forty years, put him in the gym for a few months, squint, and just maybe...

No, not really, but the America currently supporting Trump is the America parodied in the film Mr. Freedom, a wild, gonzo avant la lettre, art-house trip of a provocation that lands all the right blows, if only a few decades in advance of their target. What likely looked to 1969 audiences as an art troupe run amok with occasional slapdash and unsophisticated politics now looks like a dead-on satire of American ignorance and obsession with sex, violence, and the repression of women and non-white men. Those in 1969 had good reason to oppose a number of both foreign and domestic policies, but at least the Americans who supported policies in Vietnam and America did so because they believed in the goodness and decency of their leaders. It's hard to believe that anything so noble is motivating Trump backers today.

Jonathan Rosenbaum in 1991 called Mr. Freedom "conceivably the most anti-American movie ever made," and I'm not sure what it means in 2016 then to champion its relevance. Maybe I don't want to know. But here is the case:

Mr. Freedom (seen above) is the alter-ego of a "Sheriff", who we only see briefly in police attire. His first job, however, is to spread freedom to African-Americans, and so we seem him (amidst the backdrop of screeching sirens) burst into a party, jump on the table of a black family, and demand they embrace American freedom or suffer the consequences. Firing two pistols, he manages only to wound one African-American man who protests his authority.

The repression of internal threats seemingly assured, Mr. Freedom is sent to France by a shadowy figure named...Dr. Freedom (a creepy Donald Pleasance, letting loose a monster far scarier than Michael Myers). The job is simple: avenge the death of France's own great superhero - Captain Formidable - and save the French from two competing monsters: Moujik Man and Red Chinaman, both played in absurd costumes needed to be seen to be believed (lots of great stills can be found here). There is also Super Frenchman, probably one of the most delightful characters I've seen, surrounded by hilarious little henchman (left) who must have been a joy to design. If nothing else, this is a brilliant use of an artist sensibility in film; a lot of work went into making what looks like a very cheap film.

The plot from here devolves into a brutally violent war whereby American aggression ultimately undermines not only the French, but Mr. Freedom himself. An obvious parable of Vietnam and Cold War hysterics, it seems equally apt for the Age of Terror and the American adventurism of the 2000s. Though most of the violence is rendered in comic and absurd fashion, there is at least one scene - a kind of violence training that for some reason recalled Anthony Quinn's gladiator combat scenes from Barabbas - where the actors "practice" rapes and murders and the response moves from comic to disturbing. There is also a guy who when I saw him, about thirty minutes in, I thought to myself "hey, he kinda looks like the guy who played Serge Gainsbourg in that movie," This guy turns out to be none other than Serge Gainsbourg, who not only stars as one of the French leaders of freedom but also contributed to the score.

Against the backdrop of this is a constant echoing of "freedom," a word repeated so often in the film that it looses all meaning (and by this I mean like 15 minutes in). Like maybe hearing that America will be "great again." Backers of Mr. Freedom are even offered limited time shares and branded "Freedom" gear (see Freedom Spray at right) to garner their support. All that's needed is complete submission to authority and a willingness to commit murder and rape. And although Mr. Freedom is all bombast and excitement, it turns out his outward aggression and bullying are actual reflections of his own deep insecurities. When not insulting others, he's easily wounded and petulant.

Still not convinced that Klein knew someone like Trump was coming (it can be argued, also, that Ronald Regan actually makes a better Mr. Freedom). The Donald may talk about limited intervention now, but does anyone really doubt that he wouldn't direct the country to war on even the slightest pretense if he thought it would boost his standing?

Of course, the idea that America would let itself be run by a fool is not new. Sinclair Lewis gave us Buzz Windrip in It Can't Happen Here (1935) and David Foster Wallace's Johnny Gentle showed how easily America might be captured by a celebrity politician. But there's nothing quite like seeing the rally posted below to understand how it's possible for one of the two major parties to possibly elect a self-aggrandizing fool. (Incidentally, the montage beginning at about 4:48 says more in a few minutes about the triumph of American "civilization" over nature than ten slogs through The Revenant).

Here it must be said that if the clip didn't resonate, it may be because you watched it by yourself. And most people who have seen Mr. Freedom I'm guessing have seen it on video. And I can understand those who might critique its absurdist plot or unrelenting satire; parts of the movie (especially Moujik Man) are damn near impossible to hear or understand, and there is little in the way of actual drama to keep a viewer invested. But with a group, man is this stuff fun to see. The International House, just a few blocks from the University of Pennsylvania and the People's Republic of West Philadelphia, included a very raucous audience happy to see their own frustrations with the country presented in such a clear-sighted manner.

In many ways, for many people (not the least those not white and not men and not hetero-normative) America does often seem like a big bullying bastard dressed in sporting gear who laughs away his violence and repression. Mr. Freedom is the very dark side of Alec Baldwin's Jack Donaghy, a big rich white man who just wants to play golf and be left alone. It's not just that today Americans make mistakes in foreign and domestic policy - perhaps a plausible argument for the policies of the 1960s - it's that the decisions are not being made by serious people but by hypocritical caricatures. Those who dismissed Mr. Freedom in 1970 as "epically mindless" might have had good reason to do so in an era when people in the Senate were nice to each other and even the biggest bad guys had long careers in public service and operated publicly within the bounds of good taste and decorum. No one I'm sure could have envisioned an outwardly aggressive thrice-married real estate mogul with a crazy haircut and numerous public tawdry affairs as a statesmen.

But William Klein might have had a sense that all that seeming seriousness of politics was a cover for the basic hypocrisy of an American leadership who really did want to simply shout freedom so they could watch sports, ogle women (if not outright rape them or buy them), commit violence against those who cannot protect themselves, and make a steady profit off of it to boot. As Paul Krugman pointed out, Trump's cons are really just poorly spun cons that have been in place for years (and many would say since the country's inception). And if you truly believe that this is all there is to America, that Mr. Freedom is America, then you really are anti-American (and should be!).

But satire is not reality, and for everyone who might show up at a Mr. Freedom rally, there are dozens who would condemn it. If there is a fault in Klein's work, it is that while he does show a Trumplike figure in Mr. Freedom, he doesn't bother to show the multitudes who would oppose him. While there was a Vietnam prosecuted by Americans, there were also Americans who worked to end it, and all but a small minority today view it a blemish on American history. As long as there are people still laughing and resisting this kind of stuff, Klein might need to be reminded, there is also an opposition to the America of Mr. Freedom. We'll find out if there really is in a few months time.

Friday, March 4, 2016

The Oscars Part II: Death to Nostalgia

Last week, before the latest Academy Awards ceremony, I vented some of my frustrations with Academy's long history of handing out statues to mediocre movies. It's a tradition that has left many people to consider the Oscars irrelevant and boring and it's one that has perhaps inevitably led to the hashtag #oscarssowhite. But despite this venting, I was still holding out hope that there might be some signs of life this year - that maybe the controversy leading up to this year's ceremony would light a fire under the voters. Hell, I knew the chances of Mad Max: Fury Road winning best picture were slim to none but it was my horse in the race and we all hold a vast capacity for self-delusion.

But if there's a third guarantee, after death and taxes, it's that the Oscar's will let you down. It seems as if the almighty powers of nostalgia are just too great. Which is why I question whether it's even worth getting mildly disgruntled about.

Unfortunately I'm stuck with a love for movies and Mad Max is one of the only Hollywood movies to come around in recent memory that got me excited about the medium and all its potentials. It made me giddy about movies again by tapping into all the reasons I fell in love with movies in the first place: the wild creativity, a sense of wonder and amazement at seeing someone manifesting their dreams - it is audacious.

Now I know everyone didn't fall in love with movies for these reasons and this is by no means the only reason I love movies. And I also know that we can't help which movie it was that left that some important imprint on us, what we may consider an ideal movie or perhaps a Best Picture.

Notice how visually interesting a movie about the newspaper business can be?

You can't knock anyone who might look at the great film All the President's Men, see a kind of picture that should be made more often, and therefore cast a vote for Spotlight. But here's where a movie like Spotlight (and The Revenant for that matter) differs from Mad Max: it simply excels at being a type of movie. It doesn't have any ambitions beyond telling its story effectively, which it does entirely through a good script and solid performances by its actors.

Yes, Mad Max: Fury Road excels at being an action movie but it also creates and immerses you in a wholly unique and thoroughly realized world filled with subversive and thought-provoking themes. It does this by expertly using every single facet of the filmmaking toolkit and what you end up with isn't just good storytelling but also an ambitious technological marvel that pushes the boundaries of the medium forward.

You can make an argument for The Revenant getting close to this level of filmmaking but at its core it comes up far shorter in the story department. There's nothing new or memorable in a tale of a man keeping himself alive to exact revenge. In reading interviews with Tom Hardy where he talked about his perspective on his character, it's easy to think of the flip-side to The Revenant as being a much more interesting movie. We've seen far fewer movies follow and try to get inside the head of the doomed target of revenge. As it is, the only interesting thing about the movie is its cinematography, technological wizardry and the crazy story behind the making of the movie.

So why did Spotlight win Best Picture? Did Mad Max and The Revenant split the vote? Or does it come down to nostalgia?

The Oscars are more often than not steeped in nostalgia. These events often have a theme that will enable the ceremony to look back and honor past glories and contain more than one touching montage-style highlight reel. And this is largely unavoidable since movies are inherently suited to evoke and take advantage of the immense powers of nostalgia.

No one is immune to these powers. It's easy to be like Max from Kicking and Screaming and be despairingly nostalgic for conversations you had yesterday. And it's even easier to let nostalgia blind you when it comes to judging the quality of a movie.

So, in a way it makes perfect sense the most nostalgic movie nominated for Best Picture would win. The Oscars often honor non-threatening movies and what's more comforting than Spotlight? The movie could easily be mistaken for being made at any point in the last 30 years, if it weren't for some passing references to the internet.

I made this point last week, but Spotlight makes it even more obvious: When it comes to the Best Picture, the Oscar's aren't interested in change, forward thinking or making advancements in filmmaking. Perhaps the members save that kind of thinking for the technical awards and it doesn't even enter into the criteria for Best Picture. But, man, is it dispiriting.

I get excited when I hear people like William Friedkin and David Byrne talking about not having a nostalgic bone in their body. Maybe these two guys aren't the most relevant people in popular culture nowadays but at least they continue to move forward. They know nostalgia is a creative killer. The worst thing any industry or art form can do is nurture thoughts about how better things used to be back in the good old days.

Yes, nostalgia is an unavoidable part of human nature but so is being unimaginative and unoriginal - which is what nostalgia can lead to in any art form unless you're extremely clever about it. What we can try to do is fight these tendencies as best we can. Certainly, we can also try to award movies that fight these tendencies and represent imaginative and original voices.

Spotlight isn't a bad movie, but its win is bad for movies just as Leo's win is perhaps bad for acting. You can hope that wining an Oscar for Best Picture might increase attention for the need of good investigative journalism and change in how the Catholic church operates. But the irony is that it will likely have very little effect because when movies like Spotlight win Best Picture, the honor just keeps losing its value.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Oscars, Good God Y'all, What Are They Good For?

We’re now into the 88th year of celebrating, or condemning, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences as they honor some movie industry folks with shiny awards everyone likes to call Oscars. And once again the debate arises over whether this ceremony holds any relevance other than seeing the American version of royalty mix and mingle with each other in public. After all, we must know, what is she wearing!?

I’ll admit, as a movie-loving kid I looked forward to the Oscars every year. In fact, I’d say that these past few years are the only Oscar telecasts I’ve missed since I was old enough to remain awake for the endless ceremony. And that’s mostly because I’m halfway around the world without cable or satellite TV. But even as a kid, it was probably clear to me that the main attraction was maybe hearing some funny jokes from the host and seeing Jack Nicholson in his shades cracking everyone up with a simple smile.

It was obvious to me early on that the Oscars, just as with box office receipts, is no accurate barometer for quality filmmaking. And this has been the case since year one.

This might be a good time to tip the hat to a site that Paddy hipped me to: Oscars and I. Here is where you'll find a noble man venturing to watch 88 years worth of Best Picture nominees. It is highly entertaining to read about his endeavor, but I do not envy the amount of arguably bad and truly boring movies he will have to sit through to.

What is clear looking back at Oscar’s history is that they rarely acknowledge the truly innovative, remarkable or even memorable movies of any given year. Judging from the nominations, the award ceremony is largely a grand effort at maintaining a mediocre status quo and handing out awards to people who do a good job of being respectable and not rocking the boat.

Certainly this is the case for the Best Picture category, where a winner emerges from the largest pool of an elderly white folk mind-hive desperate to keep things from changing. Sometimes, in the pinko infested pool representing the writer or documentary categories, you might see a nice win for something that truly represents a step forward for filmmaking. Here’s where you might find an award given to a Coen, Charlie Kaufman or Errol Morris - people who could accurately be described as having an independent, forward-thinking voice.

There are Best Picture outliers and yes, even sizable chunks of time where you can look back at the nominees and see the movie industry coming to terms with itself. At the 40th ceremony in 1967, following wins for The Sound of Music, My Fair Lady and A Man For All Seasons, you see a seismic shift sprouting a crop of amazing nominees including Bonnie and Clyde, The Graduate and the sweaty winner, In the Heat of the Night. But by the 53rd Oscars in 1980, the studios had realigned and Ordinary People, the filmic equivalent of slightly toasted white bread, emerged victorious over The Elephant Man, Raging Bull, Coal Miner’s Daughter and Tess.

There were signs in 1991 of another possible sea change when Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs won Best Picture. Indie film was seeing a resurgence at the time with movies like Reservoir Dogs and Sex, Lies and Videotape making waves. But, by now the studio stronghold was secure. Lessons had been learned in the 60s and 70s and there was to be no further uprisings. All the major studios sprouted “indie” branches, gobbling up the darlings of Sundance and keeping everything in order. In what feels like a grotesque message of maintaining the status quo, the rest of the 90s includes the following: Forrest Gump, The English Patient, Shakespeare in Love and Titanic.

And this feels like a trend that could continue forever more. You might get one outlier here or there followed by a drastic reaction in the other direction. In this way, the random hodgepodge of modern era Oscar winners doesn’t even provide much in the way of sociological insight. For its first 60 years you could at least look back on nominees and awards and get a sense of what was popular at the time and maybe get a window into what people were responding to. But for the past 20 plus years, even that sort of relevance is gone from the Oscars. The King’s Speech? The Artist? Chicago?! It feels like random nonsense.

When a popular movie does win these days, all you can really do is shrug and say, “Oh yeah, that’s when all those Lord of the Rings movies were coming out.” Or, “What the fuck were people thinking with that Titanic craze?” Perhaps it is a sign of the times, but the popular movies of the past few decades tend to signal a response to advancements in special effects over any sort of relevant theme or concern - even when they win Best Picture.   

The Hurt Locker wasn’t a blockbuster or a masterpiece but it does feel like an outlier simply by addressing a highly relevant sociological problem in PTSD. But like 12 Years a Slave or Crash, the issues being addressed are ones we’ve been dealing with since before the start of the 20th century. Perhaps the insight provided here just goes to show how little we’ve really grown over the past millennia. (And yes, Crash is a perfect example of how we shouldn’t award movies based solely on its good intentions.)

You can argue that at least Best Picture winning movies like Ordinary People and American Beauty still accurately reflect the endless navel gazing that goes on in middle to upper class white society. Given the predominance of wealthy white men that make up Academy voting pool, you could imagine them pointing to these movies as sign that the Oscars have remained a relevant indicator of societal concerns.  

But, really, it isn’t difficult to see that the folks behind the Oscars are well aware of their lack of relevance. Since 2009 they’ve increased the number of possible Best Picture nominees in the blatantly desperate hope that more movies will attract more viewers. There are two very Hollywood mindsets at work here. The first, increased viewership equals an increased relevance, is flimsy at best. The second, when in doubt add more crap and see what sticks, is a classic way to simply make matters worse by further diluting the waters.

You’d think that people in the movie industry would recognize the power of a good narrative. Why not gain relevance by simply telling the story of the ever-evolving art form of the movies. Sure, old people are always going to be scared of change and unwilling to award something that could be perceived as a threat to the status quo but if the Oscars want to be taken seriously they need to embrace it. Stop awarding forgettable nonsense like The King’s Speech and Chicago just because Harvey Weinstein’s a bully. Relevance comes by recognizing innovative work, not mediocrity.

By going in this direction it could at least hold its head up high as being a respectable awards ceremony. The only other game in town that gets anywhere near as much attention is the Golden Globes. And at this point you could argue that they’ve become more respectable by not pretending that they have any respectability to begin with. The Golden Globes are honest and unashamed about the inherent meaninglessness of awards and the fact that it’s all about who campaigns more diligently and sends more fruit baskets or whatever to the members of the Hollywood Foreign Press.

By their very nature, these things are always going to be a popularity contest, but it’s not hard to make the nominees an accurate reflection of who made the biggest impact on the industry in the previous year. Obviously, history will be a better judge of what movies end up having the biggest long term affect on filmmaking but by continuing to tip its hat to stale biopics like The Theory of Everything and The Imitation Game, Oscar is going to continue to come off as an equally stale product.

This is the very same reason there’s been increased animosity towards the Academy Awards this year. More people seem to be noticing that by looking back at the past decades of nominees you get no sense of narrative, of evolution, diversification or progress. Indeed, it is boneheaded and backwards thinking for the Oscars to believe that at this point they can have any real impact on the future of the industry. It’s going to continue to evolve, diversify and progress with or without them. So the smart move, and relevant move, is to get on board and shine a light on it.