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In Defense of Blockbusters: Are We Unduly Harsh on Big Budget Hollywood Movies?

I was just remarking how much I love cinema – how much I am predisposed to like a film – and I got thinking, why are we so harsh on big budget Hollywood films? Don’t get me wrong, the studio system produces its fair share of crap, but it seems to be the target of choice for any person looking to decry the death of modern culture. We’re assured, virtually everywhere, that the blockbuster is meant to be a cheap, disposable form of entertainment – and that it’s simply a “guilty pleasure”, if at all. I’ve noticed this trend quite a bit of late, as this is the time of the year that movie geeks look ahead to the summer season and realise… seemingly to their horror (though it can’t possibly be to their surprise)… that the summer is filled with big-budget mainstream blockbusters from wall-to-wall. Ignoring the fact that Hollywood’s annual cycle is highly predictable these days (save only the emerge of what I like to call “quirky March” in recent years), why is the arrival of the summer fare universally treated as a bad thing?

Swimming with sharks...

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Metro Film Fight Club: The Fighter

The wonderful folks over at Ross v. Ross asked me to contribute a very special edition of Film Fight Club, going over the ten Best Picture nominees. I stood in the corner for The Fighter, Marky Mark and what is left of Christian Bale. You can pick up a copy in the morning, or check it out here.

I got this guy in my corner...

UPDATE: Guess what just got put on the IMDb Hitlist? If you guessed Robert Rodriguez’s shoe ad, you guessed correctly, but that’s beside the point. Yep, we’re up there. Thanks to everyone for inviting me to take part, and it was a pleasure to cover the race with a bunch as witty, clever and insightful as that selection.

Putting the “-ess” in “Sexist”: Why Do We Have a Best Actress Award?

The fact that no woman was nominated for Best Director (after Kathryn Bigelow became the first female to win last year) has caused a stir at this year’s Oscars. I’m not an excessively politically correct individual (just read the blog), but I like to think I’m sensitive to issues like that. Presumably the presumptive female directing nominees would have been either Debra Granik for Winter’s Bone or Lisa Cholodenko for The Kids Are All Right, and – to be honest – I don’t think either was better than any of the five existing nominees. The continued snubbing of Christopher Nolan bothers me far more.

As I thought about the complaint more and more, part of me wondered when the gender of an individual becomes important for awards like this – my gut feeling is “never.” The best is the best, why should we handicap or install quotas? Except for the fact that we do have gender quotas for certain awards. This train of thought led me wonder why we still have a Best Actress and a Best Supporting Actress category… And, to cut a long story short, I really couldn’t think of a good reason.

Are we kidding ourselves?

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Oscar Fatigue and the Pain of a Predictable Race…

You know what? At this stage I’ve seen nine of the ten Best Picture nominees this year, and I’m quite happy. There isn’t a stinker amongst them, and all I’m short is 127 Hours (maybe this weekend, before the ceremony). And yet, despite being happier with the field than I have been in quite a while, I have to admit I’ve grown somewhat tired of the Oscars this year. Usually there’s some element of surprise, but everything this year seems so sown up that there’s really no energy left in the race. One need only look at the overwhelming consensus at Awards Daily to get a feeling for how stale the race is. Admittedly there’s generally a frontrunner or two, but this year it seems that most of the major awards might as well be handed out before the ceremony begins (just to make things more efficient).

You'd have to be trapped under a rock not to see the way this race is going...

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Non-Review Review: Winter’s Bone

In many ways, Winter’s Bone is the Best Picture nominee most typical of the modern Oscars (or, at least, the criticism of the modern Oscars). While The Fighter echoes the every man appeal of Rocky, The King’s Speech is the archetypal historical and “triumph over adversity” tale, The Social Network is classic morality tale with a modern sheen and True Grit is the nostalgic entry, Winter’s Bone speaks the “indie” attitude that we’ve seen become dominant in the past decade. It’s a film rich in atmosphere and mood, with a bleakness that threatens to escape the screen and devour the audience whole, but it favours this lush approach over pacing and engagement. To say it is glacial, is an understatement.

The road ahead is bleak...

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What if the Best Picture Posters Told the Truth?

Truth be told, I’m a little behind this week. I took a trip down to Sligo at the weekend and I’m preparing for a film noir blogothon next week (stay tuned). So posting this week may be a little… scattershot. Anyway, in a nice way to tie into those wonderful BAFTA poster redesigns from last year, this year we have – courtesy of theshiznit.co.uk – a simple question: what if this year’s Best Picture nominees told the truth, up front? Instead of vague names like Winter’s Bone or Inception or The Fighter… well, that last one’s pretty spot on… but what if the movies just told you everything you needed to know, on the poster? They might look like this…

(click to enlarge)

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How Learnt to Stop Worrying and Love the Oscars…

This is a bit of a belated reaction to the Oscar nominations announced last Tuesday. Going in, I was pretty much agreed with the general consensus – in fact, the only prediction I really bothered to make was that Christopher Nolan would be snubbed in the Best Director categoryagain. A lot of people were surprised that he was omitted, but I really wasn’t – the Academy has made some cosmetic changes, but there’s still that sense of elitism which excludes the director of “common” blockbusters. Anyway, perhaps it’s because I predicted it, but I’m actually fairly okay with the list of nominees this year. When the one snub is the snub you see coming, there’s really not too much to complain about.

Leo won't be strutting to the Oscars this year...

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Are the Oscars Still a Pipe Dream for Christopher Nolan?

As I write this, the clock is counting down. The Oscar race is in full swing. And I look back, and I really haven’t written too much about it. There are two reasons for this. The most obvious is that I haven’t seen too many of the contenders. Of the headliners, I have seen both The King’s Speech and The Social Network. I have yet to see The Black Swan, 127 Hours or True Grit. Of the lower-tier Oscar films, I have really only seen Inception and The Kids Are All Right. It isn’t that I don’t want to see them, it’s just that it has been a busy January and things have gotten in the way. The other reason I haven’t been blogging about it is because – barring what the competition between The King’s Speech and The Social Network says about the Academy – it has been a pretty bland year. There are so many “locks” that the race has become almost boring. In fact, the only real question I’m at all concerned about is whether Christopher Nolan will finally get that Best Director nomination he so sorely deserves.

Could this turn the Oscars upside down?

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Should There Be a Distinction Between The Best Picture and the Best Director Oscar?

Ignoring the fact that, in practice, the Best Director Oscar simply exists to be a “runner-up” award in a really tight Best Picture race (like with Crash and Brokeback Mountain), with there being a huge overlap between the winners in both categories, I have been thinking a bit recently about whether there should be a more practical distinction between the two. Perhaps we should divorce the two awards, and decouple them in public consciousness. Of course, this is a purely academic argument (as the Academy voters will continue to associate them), but is the link between the two yet another indication of Hollywood’s director-centric culture?

Is it two for one?

 

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Why The Social Network isn’t an “Outside” Choice for Best Picture…

I enjoyed The Social Network. Hell, I loved The Social Network. I think it’s easily one of the best films of the year. It has – deservedly in my humble opinion – generated a huge amount of buzz about the Best Picture Oscar. However, the more interesting facets of discussion measure the film against the other favourites, like The King’s Speech or Black Swan. A number of these arguments suggest that The Social Network deserves the Oscar because it is “more socially relevant”, even painting the Oscar voters at a crossroads – forced to choose between a modern film (The Social Network) and a classy but stuffy period piece (The King’s Speech). However, I find this argument rather disingenuous. While the Oscar voters in that situation would undoubtedly be choosing between two solid films, I think it clearly misrepresents the appeal of David Fincher’s deconstruction of the American Dream.

Will Academy voters be getting a friend request?

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