Pre-Oscars: 2011

It’s rather short notice–though that doesn’t mean that this will be a short post–but I thought I should write at least a little something about the Academy Awards prior to the ceremony tomorrow, the 26th of February.

Over the past decade, I’ve tried to make it my goal to see every Best Picture nominee before the evening of the Awards ceremony. Of course, the Academy had to go and make it twice as difficult to see all of the films over the past 3 years, but I’ve done my best and since about 2001, I have manged to see all but 5 or 6 films in time for the awards. I still haven’t seen The Blind Side, and I don’t feel bad about that at all.

Now, despite my devotion to seeing what are considered the “best” films of the year, I find that as time goes on, the Academy Awards hold less value to me as a movie fan.¬†Ever since Seabiscuit got a Best Picture nod in 2003 and Crash won in 2005 I’ve put less stock in the awards. I still find they can be a reasonably accurate way of measuring what some of the better films released in any given year are, however, I find that the Awards don’t always reflect what I personally feel are the best films of the year. That said, at least one of the Best Picture nominees is usually a movie that I like quite a bit. I’m actually happy that they’ve decided to nominate more than 5 films for Best Picture. That definitely increases the chances that I’ll really like the nominees.

One other thing I’ve noticed as time goes on is my increased interest in the writing awards. Of course, this has something to do with my interest in writing more and learning more about writing both about and for film and television. Also, I think that the words on the page are kind of what makes or breaks a movie from the beginning. If you don’t start with a good script (or even a particularly good story), it is hard to create something worthwhile. Sure, there are art films and experimental films that might be made on the fly or might be made without scripts at all, but I’m continually fascinated by the idea and process of screenwriting and to an extent, the translation of a work from script to screen.

Regarding awards for performances, the verdict is still out for me. I think it’s worthwhile to honor the year’s great performances, but I also have a difficult time believing that there aren’t several more performances that are just as deserving of accolades. This year there are 20 nominees from 14 different films (5 of which are best picture nominees). Even if the group seems small, there are always things the Academy seems to get right (it’s about time for Gary Oldman, for instance). Also, they typically throw in at least one or two acting nominations from films that might have been underseen, overlooked, or foreign (consider Demian Bichir for A Better Life, which I must admit, I haven’t seen).

All things considered, I must think the Oscars have some value if I’m willing to devote a post to them, along with trying to watch all of the Best Picture nominees. I think they are a very good starting point for studying which films were big at certain times. I also think that over the years, the Oscars have become a treasure chest full of Hollywood history. Even if something is fair-to-middling, the fact that it has gone on for 84 years gives it some credibility.¬† I also think that the Oscars are always a great topic for debate. Despite the sometimes narrow field, it’s nice for awards-giving bodies to whittle the nominees down in all categories for film fans/scholars to criticize, argue about and choose sides over. I’m sure I’ll have plenty to say during the ceremony tomorrow, and next year, and the year after.

It wouldn’t be an Oscar post without some kind of prognostication. I must admit that the only major categories that I’ve seen every nominee in are: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actress and Best Adapted Screenplay (I’ve also seen every nominee in Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Art Direction, Cinematography, and Editing). Rather than pick for every category, I’ll offer a few thoughts and then rank the Best Picture nominees, according to my current opinion (which is always subject to immediate change).

A) It would be a travesty if Emmanuel Lubezki doesn’t win Best Cinematography for The Tree of Life. He should also have won for Children of Men in 2006, and perhaps even The New World in 2005. If Lubezki gets snubbed, I’d be okay with Cronenweth winning for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

B) I’ll accept it as a victory of some kind if Drive manages to win Best Sound Editing. Even with the relatively small number of 2011 films I’ve seen, I’d probably place Drive at the top of the list. Too bad this is its only nomination.

C) Adapted Screenplay: could see it going to anyone but John Logan for Hugo. Would be cool to see Clooney/Heslov win for The Ides of March, or Dean Pelton from Community (Jim Rash) and the gang win for The Descendants. Wouldn’t count out Sorkin/Zaillian for Moneyball, a film I was surprised that I liked so much.

D) Supporting Actor: Plummer probably deserves it. He’s 82 years old and finally winning an Academy Award will put him one Grammy shy of his EGOT.

E) Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer: I’m not about to get into a whole political/racial debate about the Academy Awards. I just think it’s cool that both of these ladies are nominated and I think they both have a good shot at winning.

F) The Help: It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I liked Davis, Spencer and Chastain especially. I think there were several underdeveloped areas in the story, particularly considering the men in this world, but I also think it’s really interesting to see a movie that (as far as I can remember) might not pass whatever the male equivalent of the Bechdel Test is. (It appears that The Descendants–and perhaps Hugo–are the only other Best Picture Nominees that pass the actual test).

I could go on, but I won’t. Here are the rankings (1 is best):

9. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close – too saccharine, probably works better as a book

8. War Horse – some striking scenes, but what was the last “great” movie Spielberg made? It’s not this.

7. The Help – Actually pretty entertaining, could’ve used a bit of cleaning/tightening up of side stories.

6. Hugo – A pretty strange fantasy, though I really like that it’s part of the resurgent trend of Hollywood nostalgia. Sacha Baron Cohen is fun too.

5. Midnight in Paris – I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this movie. The film was a pleasant surprise, considering what the preview set me up for. I guess there’s a reason it’s Allen’s highest-grossing film. I haven’t seen enough of his work to rank it, but I liked this one quite a bit.

4. The Tree of Life – I’ve only seen it once. I need to see it again. I’ll probably never understand it. But it’s just so darn beautiful. There must be something to a movie when I can watch the preview for it several dozen times in a week.

3. Moneyball – I’d like to watch it again, but I was surprised by how much I liked this one too. Most of the performances were pretty low-key and realistic, and it wasn’t just a baseball movie.

2. The Descendants – I honestly should see this one again too. I feel like Clooney was the least “Clooney” he’s been outside of a Coen Bros. film (and perhaps Syriana), which isn’t necessarily a good or bad thing, I just think I was watching the character on screen, not Clooney playing the character. I also liked Shailene Woodley as his older daughter.

1. The Artist – I was on the bandwagon for this film ever since I first heard about it in the summer of 2011. It took until January for me to get a chance to see it. Despite the fact that it is essentially a 2011 version of any of several movies from the early 1920s, I was won over by it. In particular I liked its spot-on use of the silent film form, its love for old Hollywood and its incredibly charming leading man (go watch the OSS: 117 films when you get the chance).

President’s Day

Apostrophe placement is something that I am often concerned with. Whether it is worrying about my own use of the punctuation mark, criticizing others for their misuse, or simply thinking about its in contractions and possessives, the apostrophe is something that constantly comes up. The reason it comes up today is because of the holiday today. I’ve chosen to spell it as a singular possessive, as if the day belongs to one president because, as far as my limited research tells me, it does belong to just one man: George Washington.Image

Statue of George Washington as a Roman General by Antonio Canova. The original sat at the center of North Carolina’s State House in Raleigh from 1820 until it was destroyed when the State House burned to the ground in 1831. There is now a copy from 1970 in the current Capitol Building.

You see, Washington’s birthday is February 22. In 1880, that date was celebrated as a holiday for federal employees in Washington, DC, and then in 1885 it was extended to all federal employees. Then, in the 1960s, congress decided to make some federal holidays fall on Mondays just to give people consecutive days off so they could watch all three Lord of the Rings: Extended Edition movies in one weekend while still leaving time for important Saturday and Sunday broadcasts like NCAA and NFL football and Mad Men. The Federal Government proclaimed the third Monday in February the date for recognition of Washington’s birthday. Of course, mathematically, the third Monday will never fall on Washington’s actual birthday.

Anyway, some state governments began to recognize the holiday as “Presidents Day,” (you choose where to put the apostrophe), because of the holiday’s proximity to Abraham Lincoln’s birthday (February 12) as well as Washington’s. I don’t remember every celebrating anything other than Presidents’ Day on the holiday, though I remember seeing both Lincoln and Washington’s birthdays on the calendar in elementary school. Lincoln’s birthday is not a federal holiday. In fact, MLKJ is the only other person to be honored with a Federal holiday in the US.

So, I guess that we’re technically celebrating Washington’s birthday on the 3rd Monday in February, but depending on where you are, it might also be called President’s Day, which you can interpret as a celebration of one president, two presidents, or, if you really want to be all-inclusive, EVERY president. Still, it would seem that celebrating just Washington is the most historically correct. That said, I’m not opposed to slapping myself on the forehead every April 23rd in honor of James Buchanan.

(info for this post, and more in-depth exploration of the holiday can be found in this article by CL Arbelbide)

Happy Birthday

This blog was created on my birthday, but just barely.

I’ve been considering starting a blog on and off several times over the past 6 months or so, but I have not found the motivation to actually start it, until now, it seems. I set the goal a couple of weeks ago that I wanted my blog to be born on my own birthday, but this post just a bit late late. So much for plans. I just consider it an accomplishment that I’ve actually come to this point, and I hope to go much further.

I wasn’t sure what the best way to introduce my blog might be. Should I do a statement of purpose? Should I simply ramble on about things that might appear here? Should I clearly set a format and tone right away? Should I try to make the posts as polished as possible, or should I be unafraid of poor sentence structure and the possibility of spelling errors, rampant informality or odd tonal shifts? At this point, I’m just going to wing it (in a semi-organized fashion) and just see where this takes me.

There are some things I want to achieve with this blog:

1. I want to use it as a place to exercise and hone my writing skills

2. I want this blog to be a challenge for me to commit to something

3. I want this blog to function in some ways like a journal. Journaling is something I regret never doing regularly in years past.

4. I want to share my interests with others (who will, at least initially, be friends and family)

That’s a good start I think. I may get to a manifesto eventually, but I’ll keep it loose for now. As for the content of this blog, I expect most of it will be centered around popular culture and entertainment in some way, particularly the realms of film and television. Other topics that will likely appear include music, the NFL, history, books and anything else I might think of.

So there’s that. Here’s to trying something new and hoping it will be fun, productive, lasting and worthwhile.