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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 The Best Supporting Actress race would have been more interesting had Kathy Bates for Richard Jewell been replaced by Jennifer Lopez in Hustlers.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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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Statistical Probabilities (Review)

Statistical Probabilities is an interesting episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, on a number of levels.

Most notably, it is the first episode to truly engage deal with the fallout from Doctor Bashir, I Presume. After all, the mid-fifth-season episode dropped a fairly substantial bombshell into the back story of Julian Bashir. In that episode, Bashir became the first Star Trek regular to be a genetically-engineered human, something that made him unique in the franchise. Bashir effectively became a character who could trace his lineage back to Khan Noonien Singh, from Space Seed and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

Gambling with people's lives.

Gambling with people’s lives.

However, Deep Space Nine had done very little with that interesting little nugget of a character idea. There had been token attempts to emphasise Bashir’s transformation through dialogue, by having the character speak like a computer and having Garak draw attention to it in A Time to Stand. However, Alexander Siddig was quite uncomfortable with this direction for the character, and made his distaste known. However, even those dialogue flourishes and exposition dumps were a superficial way of addressing a substantial change to the character.

Then again, Deep Space Nine is still getting used to serialisation. It takes a little while for the consequences of individual episodes to trickle down to later scripts. The alliance between Cardassia and the Dominion in By Inferno’s Light was left on the backburner for episodes like A Simple Investigation or Business as Usual before being explored in Ties of Blood and Water. Despite the impressive and sprawling six-episode opening arc, the delay between Doctor Bashir, I Presume and Statistical Probabilities suggests that delay is still in effect.

Drinking it in.

Drinking it in.

However, Statistical Probabilities is notable for the fact that it represents what might be the most direct point of intersection between the Star Trek franchise and the work of Isaac Asimov. Asimov is one of the most influential and iconic writers to work in science-fiction, formulating ideas and concepts that are taken for granted as genre shorthand by modern audiences. Asimov casts a long shadow over popular culture, including Star Trek. However, it is striking that Statistical Probabilities represents the most overt acknowledgement of his work.

Statistical Probabilities is essentially a Star Trek exploration of the concept of “psychohistory”, the fictional science at the heart of Asimov’s towering Foundation series.

Don't worry. Bashir would NEVER be that unprofessional.

Don’t worry. Bashir would NEVER be that unprofessional. Well, not this season.

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Could Avatar Flip The ‘Populist Oscar’ Debate?

With the Golden Globe firmly in hand, James Cameron’s double victory at the Golden Globes cemented Avatar as a serious contender for the Best Picture Oscar. Not that there was ever really much doubt about the film receiving a nomination: the Academy loves Cameron. It still just seems a surprise in a race that has generally seen debate over Precious, Up in the Air and The Hurt Locker, with a fringe advocating Inglourious Basterds. Still, give the people what they want, right? An Oscar win for Avatar clearly indicates that the Academy is moving back to embrace popular tastes, right? I’m not so convinced.

Yes, that's James Cameron biting his lips to stop himself from reminding you how awesome he is...

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