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New Escapist Column! On How “The Dark Knight” Changed the Oscars…

I published an In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine on Friday, to mark the occasion of the Oscars.

The Dark Knight was famously locked out of the Best Picture race. However, it still had a tremendous impact on the field. Eleven years later, the snub of The Dark Knight has profoundly reshaped what the Oscars actually looks like, causing the Academy to dramatically alter a couple of its core underlying assumptions. Most of these changes are for the better, sparking an expansion of the Best Picture field that looks to have broken its long-standing anchor to the Best Director category, encouraging the recruitment of a younger voting base, and even paving the way for populist films like Black Panther and Joker at the awards.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

Hindsight is 2020: In Defense of the Best Picture Nominations…

It’s a strange position to be in, to mount a radical argument that the Best Picture race is actually fairly solid this year.

To be fair, there are legitimate grievances to be had. The Academy went with old favourites in several of the acting categories, overlooking amazing work. The Best Actress category would be stronger if the voters opted for Lupita Nyong’o for Us over than Charlize Theron for Bombshell. The Best Supporting Actress race would have been more interesting had Kathy Bates for Richard Jewell been replaced by Jennifer Lopez in Hustlers. The all-male Best Director category is also frustrating, considering the fine work done by directors like Olivia Wilde, Lulu Wang, Céline Sciamma, Lorene Scafaria, and more over the past year.

However, there is also something inevitable about the tone of the debate over the Best Picture race. The Academy Awards is never going to actually please everybody. There are several hundred films released every year that meet the criteria for eligibility. Taste is inherently subjective. Everybody likes different things. More than that, the Academy is a large body comprised of a variety of different voices, especially after recent diversity pushes to modernise the membership. Even if there was a list of (up to) ten films that would satisfy everybody, the Academy would never be the body to produce it. And that is okay.

Instead, the Best Picture nominees this year offer a snapshot of cinema as it was in 2019. They offer a glimpse of the breadth and the depth of mainstream movie-watching, a list of nine very distinct films that offer nine very distinct perspectives on where the medium is and where it might be going. The beauty of the Best Picture nominees this year is that there’s something for everyone, but nobody gets everything. This seems fair, even if the impulse is to want an entire slate that reflects personal taste.

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New Escapist Column! On the Oscar Success of “Joker”…

I published a piece at Escapist Magazine earlier this week, looking at the success of Joker at this week’s Oscar nominations.

Joker is an interesting film, primarily because of the passion and enthusiasm that it generates on both sides of the debate. It is a film with a strong following and a very strong opposition, and it seems that every observer must pledge allegiance to one side or the other. This is ironic, because it’s arguably the most interesting thing about a film that is largely remarkable for how safe it plays most of its creative choices – the irony only enhanced by how that modesty seems almost dignified amid the cacophony around it.

As such, it’s easy to miss how successful Joker has been, and how it has positioned itself as an obvious choice for the Oscar-nominee frontrunner. Of course, the polarisation around the film makes it highly unlikely to actually win the prize, but any sensible assessment of the film – its performance, its influences, its pedigree, its impact – would concede that it is very much the definition of a slam dunk for the Oscar nominations. More than that, the fact that it swept up the Oscar nominations is arguably a good thing for the Academy Awards, a welcome a long overdue reminder that big and popular films can succeed.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

New Escapist Column! “Knives Out” and the Suggestion that the Rich are Not So Sharp…

I published a new In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine this evening. This one covers something that I’ve wanted to talk about for a little while, which is the interesting aspect of this year’s recurring theme of class warfare that runs through works as diverse as Joker, HustlersReady or Not, Succession, Parasite and Knives Out.

To be fair, it is not unusual to see this sort of tension playing out on the big screen. After all, American cinema has long been fascinated by working class con men and hucksters getting one over on the wealthy establishment. However, what distinguishes the recent crop of media exploring this theme is the recurring suggestion that the wealthy are not especially sharp. Historically, the rich have been portrayed as canny and suave – often dangerous adversaries because of their ruthlessness and relentlessness. What is interesting about the class warfare dimension of this year’s films is the way in which money and success often seem to have coddled the wealthy leaving them surprisingly naive and foolish despite their arrogance and privilege.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

“Someone Who Hides Behind a Mask.” “Joker”, Superheroes, Vigilantes, and Pulp Friction…

A lot of digital ink has been spilled about Joker.

This makes sense. After all, it entered the discussion as a source of moral panic. It then emerged as a box office smash. It is a potential awards contender. And it provides an interesting intersection of genre. It is a hybrid of the dominant genre at the contemporary blockbuster with more ambitious and abstract awards fare. As such, it is not a surprise that Joker has dominated public attention in the way that it has. It seems almost tailor-made to generate discussion and debate, even if that can occasionally feel deafening.

That said, one of the most interesting and frustrating aspects of Joker is the way in which the film deliberately and consciously avoids crossing any particularly provocative lines. The film sidesteps a lot of potentially thorny issues of race and gender, perhaps wary of the potential internet blow back. If the film is making a point about anything, it seems to be a self-aware acknowledgement of the desire to imbue objects with symbolic weight and meaning even when they have not been designed to bear the weight. “I’m not political,” Arthur Fleck asserts, as political meaning is imposed upon him.

That said, there is something very interesting at the heart of Joker, something that likely emerged almost entirely by accident. Joker provides an interesting genre hybrid of the seventies and eighties vigilante thriller with the contemporary superhero blockbuster. And, in doing so, suggests an interesting throughline. Joker suggests that the superhero blockbuster isn’t as far removed from these urban power fantasies as the audience might like to believe.

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New Escapist Column! “Joker” as a Perverted Superhero Origin Story…

I published a new In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine yesterday. Naturally, it tackled the big release of the moment, Todd Phillips’ Joker.

Joker has been the source of a lot of controversy and attention. However, one of the most interesting debates around it has been the discussion over whether it counts as a superhero story at all – director Todd Phillips and actor Marc Maron have been quick to distance the film from the genre. However, despite these claims, Joker actually works very well as a perversion of the archetypal superhero origin story. In doing so, it suggests something interesting about the state of the genre at the current cultural moment.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

150. Joker – This Just In (#9)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guest Jenn Gannon, The 250 is a (mostly) weekly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users. New episodes are released every Saturday at 6pm GMT.

This week, Todd Phillips’ Joker.

In eighties Gotham, a failed clown descends into madness as the city breaks down around him. Garbage builds up in the streets as violence lurks in the alleyways. What kind of a man can survive such a world?

At time of recording, it was ranked 9th on the Internet Movie Database’s list of the best movies of all-time.

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