The Academy Awards Never Win

The 85th Academy Awards® will air live on Oscar® Sunday, February 24, 2013.

The nominations are in and the stage is set for another Academy Awards next month. Strangely enough, the Oscar nominees elicit a weird reaction every time they’re announced. Critically the Awards are treated as the hallmark of excellence for film, acting, directing, etc., but often we as a society tend to dismiss them when we don’t agree with the nominees and/or winners. In my discussions with peers, I’ve even heard that awards ceremonies in general are rather pointless due to bias and personal opinion, yet when they talk about an award-winning movie with revere, they’re quick to point out that it won an award. This bi-polar emotion just goes to show that the Academy Awards will never truly win in the court of public opinion.

Perhaps I’m pointing out the obvious here as these are likely feelings or thoughts we’ve all had at one point in time. Of course, there’s also a good bet that most people don’t even think about the Academy Awards at all. Regardless, I believe the Oscars, though flawed and prone to nominate similar films each year, serve a good purpose as far as awards go.

  1. Giving attention where attention is due

Often we can know a film will be on the nominee list before it even hits theaters. Some, however, surprise us and make it on the list with little to no fanfare. Off the top of my head, Winter’s Bone comes to mind as a film that was nominated for Best Picture and yet few had heard of and likely fewer had seen at the time of its release. It’s a fantastic movie – and notably Jennifer Lawerence’s first big role – that deserved the nomination and one that I might not have discovered otherwise. Often I hear family and friends argue that’s it’s precisely unknown films like Winter’s Bone that turn them off to the Awards because they haven’t seen them (nor, for that matter, do they want to see them).

These feelings were most pronounced in 2008 when the Academy nominated a relatively unknown movie, The Reader, for the fifth Best Picture slot over commercial and critical smash hit The Dark Knight. At the time, I counted myself as one of the many who were upset over what I saw to be a gross bias by the Academy of choosing weird, independent films over superhero ones. I realize now that I’ve never seen The Reader nor can I vouch for its quality, but what I can say is that, whether or not the Academy was mistaken in their nomination, a new movie is on my radar that would otherwise have flown by unnoticed. This list has grown over the years and gives me something to look forward to when considering what I want to watch over the weekend.

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  1. And the winner is …

Sometimes the Academy gets it right. Occasionally their eyes are open, their minds unbiased and the quality of the winners is undisputed. When it happens, I can’t help but sit back, grin and think to myself, “maybe humanity is worth saving.”

Again, this is obviously relative as different people will think different movies/actors/directors deserved to win over the actual winner. However, there’s a distinct difference between a great movie beating another great movie, such as No County for Old Men beating out There Will Be Blood, and a not so great movie like, oh I don’t know, let’s say Chicago beating out the likes of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. A good friend of mine was rooting for There Will Be Blood back in 2007 as we played a good round of Oscar bingo and, while he was disappointed with the final results, felt satisfied knowing that a worthy contender took home the big prize.

If all else fails, the Academy tries to put on a good show. I would wager that anticipation for the dresses and outfits on the red carpet are a bigger deal than the awards themselves sometimes. And if, at the end of the day, you still don’t like, agree with or enjoy the Academy Awards, there are always other awards ceremonies out there to satiate the desire to see your favorite films recognized and honored: the Golden Globes, the Screen Actor’s Guild Awards and – possibly the greatest joke of an awards ceremony – the People’s Choice Awards. But I can almost promise you’ll never see anything as cool as this photo at one of those ceremonies.

Ellen-DeGeneres-Academy-Award-Twitter-Oscar-Selfie-Photo

The Academy Awards Never Win

The Wannabes Best Of 2014 – Movies

2014 has been an interesting year for pop culture. It’s the year that made Chris Pratt a star, that almost saw North Korea dictate what we could watch, when comic book franchises decided they would never end, the Bible became the new hit with Hollywood, and diversity became the watchword. But like every other person does at this time of year, we felt the urge to distill the past year into just a few favorite highlights. Each day leading up to the new year, The Wannabes will be presenting their favorite pieces of pop culture from 2014. Up first: Movies. 

Megan: Whiplash is about two unlikeable people being driven to madness, within the walls of a music school. But for everything great the movie is, I really loved what it wasn’t. It avoids teacher-student cliches, and it doesn’t have you rooting for the underdog, because although Miles Teller’s character is the student, he’s not a kind kid. He’s the protagonist, but the audience is never sure if he will or should succeed. The film also avoids unnecessary B plots, which was insanely refreshing. And the performances of Teller and J.K. Simmons are not to be understated. At times Whiplash had me covering my eyes—not because of violence or gore—because I truly felt the characters’ fear, hatred, annoyance, and desperation. It was almost too much to handle. It doesn’t matter if you know much about jazz or the songs played; the film itself is a masterpiece.

Amanda: The way I measure favorites is how much I want to be in the thing, and how much I think about the thing after it is over. And I’ll tell you this about Guardians of the Galaxy – I put silver beads in my hair like Gamora and have not stopped listening to the soundtrack yet. This movie had heart, wit and action scenes. Also: bald Karen Gillian! Marvel wisely took the risk on Chris Pratt and a talking raccoon, and I found myself totally delighted by the whole thing. I am Groot.

Andrew: I’ve also got to go with Guardians of the Galaxy. It’s just great on so many levels and everyone loves it.

Kate: For me it was a tie. Boyhood blew me away with the length of the project and the dedication of the actors. (Who would sign up to age 12 years on camera?) For more details see my previous post here. However, for pure enjoyment of a movie, Chef was such a winner. It was so light and fun and left me starving for food truck food by the end. Both films were completely different, but equally enjoyable.

Madeleine: The best film of 2014 was Chef — a charming, unexpected father-son story about food trucks. This unknown indie film made a surprising splash as a heartwarming yet not-too-sweet story. Go ahead and make a Cubano sandwich because you’ll have a major hankering for one after you watch.

Chelsey: My personal favorite film of 2014 was also Boyhood, but since Kate so expertly laid out why, I’m going to also mention my other favorite, The Lego Movie. Extremely clever, excessively funny, and exceedingly charming, I haven’t had as much fun and felt so many emotions with an animated film since Toy Story 3. In addition to the hilariously perfect animation (Lego ocean!), the twisty plot, nonstop jokes, and voice actors really helped bring this movie to life and pushed it past smart product placement into a legitimately brilliant franchise. Everything about this movie was, well, awesome.

Maricela: Weird, bombastic, and subtly heartbreaking, Snowpiercer illustrated just how successful action sci-fi genre films can be outside of the Hollywood system. Thank the Film Gods Harvey Weinstein didn’t get to chop up the American release like a butcher.

What were your favorite films of 2014? Let us know in the comments!

Up next: TV

The Wannabes Best Of 2014 – Movies

‘Star Wars VII’ and “Jurassic World” — trailers, teasers, music, and mystery

In case you don’t use social media of any sort, or you have no friends (yet somehow you choose to read this blog?), you should be well aware that two major franchises have released trailers (or teasers) for upcoming movies. Our own Amanda Taylor did a wonderful write-up about her reaction and feelings towards the “Jurassic World” trailer, which you can watch on her post. Today the internet collectively tried to tell everyone who was online that the teaser trailer for ‘Star Wars VII’ (yes, that’s how I’ll be referring to it) had been released, with the net result of me having to scroll down at least six full mouse-scroller-things to see anything that wasn’t that trailer. If you haven’t seen it, here it is:

If you are like some of my friends to claimed to have lost control of certain bodily functions from seeing the trailer, stop reading, go wipe, and then come back.

While I am immensely excited for the release of both of these films, and even more excited now that I have seen these trailers, I cannot bring myself to rave and post and repost the way some other people do. I want it to be clear that I am a fan, I am a geek, I know the lore, I will watch the movies multiple times; I just don’t work myself into an all-caps, social media frenzy like some other people. I’m looking at these things a little more quietly.

One thing I frequently ask myself is why these trailers exist, why they are made the way they are, and what the heck is a “teaser trailer” good for. So lets talk about the trailers and teasers for a moment.

Ostensibly I would say that the point of a trailer is to help build anticipation for a film. A teaser trailer is somehow meant to build anticipation for trailer? Anticipation is actually a very important element in the enjoyment of something. I’m totally on board with that notion. But the execution of that can be handled many different ways. In a TED Talk dealing with optimism bias and other cognitive stuff, Tali Sharot explains how anticipation can increase enjoyment (around 5:30). Basically, people would pay more money to have something great happen (in this case, a kiss from an attractive celebrity) in a few days, rather than immediately. In the test, people paid the most money for 3 days of anticipation. This is also why people like friday, even though they work, over Sunday, when they don’t work; The anticipation of weekend is preferred over ending it.

I don’t know how that translates exactly into anticipating movies. But I do know that these two trailer came out the same week and the movies are six months apart. So clearly someone had differing opinions about how much time to give people to think about things. I think it would be an interesting experiment to release no trailer until one week before the release, but that’s probably not an idea that will catch on…

This might be a good time to deal with the nostalgia factor that come into these trailers. Both films are building off an existing franchise. Both franchises have a ton of impact with huge demographics of people. And both have certain kinds of iconography that they use to tap into the nostalgia that many, if not most, people who saw these trailers can feel.

‘Jurassic World’ built on the basic premise of the original film, the fear of uncontrollable and powerful nature. It also built on some powerful imagery: walking alongside dinosaurs in grand, sweeping shots, approaching the island, the lab with the dino eggs, etc. It tied into the feelings of fear that many people had watching the original films (raptors are still scary). And finally, it played a portion of a fantastic theme written by John Williams.

‘Star Wars VII’ built on imagery like the desert planet, storm troopers, the Millennium Falcon, and the lightsaber. It did not do as much for building the story, or the emotions (at least for me). But it did play a portion of a fantastic theme written by John Williams.

I’m going to go ahead and throw this out there: ‘Jurassic World,’ I think, did better with the music, especially drawing me in for nostalgia. If you want more about the music in movie trailers, read this recent post by Kate Darowski.

Another element of these trailers is how much they are willing to show you. J.J. Abrams (who is directing ‘Star Wars VII’) is a big fan of mystery. He almost never reveals too much. Also, he often doesn’t reveal quite enough for some people. But the mystery is part of what drives him. And I think that is evident in the trailer for ‘Star Wars VII.’ I have tons of questions after watching it: who’s the first guy we see, why’s he in Stormtrooper armor, who’s the girl, why does her vehicle look so lame, who’s the guy in the forest (this one was followed by ‘Holy, that lightsaber looks so cool!’), why are those X-wings flying so low, who’s in the Falcon, and who’s shooting at the Falcon?

‘Jurassic World’ didn’t go in for so much mystery. But they didn’t show the super-dino, so they get points for not spoiling it too much.

I was going to write a bit about why people feel so much need to share the trailers on social media, what kind of social gain there is in being the first one to have seen it, etc. but that really belongs in a post about midnight showings (which I also don’t get excited for).

In the end, what it really comes down to is how effective were each of these trailers in promoting their respective films and building anticipation. Admittedly, I know that I will have the chance to see ‘Jurassic World’ six months sooner, but I’m not as excited for it as I am for ‘Star Wars VII.’ The trailer for ‘Jurassic World’ made me want to watch ‘Jurassic Park’ (and ‘Guardians of the Galaxy,’ but that’s not the point). The trailer for ‘Star Wars VII’ made me want to see ‘Star Wars VII,’ but it also made me want to not know anything about the story going in, so we’ll see how that goes when they release a full trailer and start telling us about the plot.

‘Star Wars VII’ and “Jurassic World” — trailers, teasers, music, and mystery

Change the Ending to “Mockingjay”

mockingjay_1

(Disclaimer: Major SPOILERS for the entire “Hunger Games” trilogy, both books and movies. If you don’t know how the books end or haven’t seen the movies, I suggest you read this later.)

It was easy to tell when I finished reading “The Hunger Games” trilogy that Hollywood would adapt the books to the big screen in a matter of years. The books had everything: action, a love triangle between teens, a dystopic future and a relatively interesting premise. While that’s a recipe for a financially successful movie, it doesn’t always translate to quality. Lucky for us the film adaptations for these books have been generally faithful to the source material, on top of which they’re actually pretty good movies. As a matter of fact, I’m just going to come out and say it: the movies have been better than the books so far.

The world-building, acting, visuals and a decent script help bypass “Hunger Games” author Suzanne Collins’ mediocre writing, which ultimately left me wanting. It’s because the movies have impressed me more than the books that I dearly hope and pray director Francis Lawrence takes a big risk and changes the ending to “Mockingjay: Part Two” before it’s released next year.

To explain to you why it should end differently than the book requires accepting one universal truth about the story’s main protagonist: Katniss Everdeen is a bad person.

This isn’t to say that she was always a bad person – in fact she’s a good person, or at least an OK one, for the first two books. However, like Walter White of “Breaking Bad,” Katniss slowly morphs from the hero to a villain of sorts. If you’ve read the books and are scratching your heads as to what I’m talking about, let’s have a short refresher course of what happened at the end of “Mockingjay.”

The Hunger Games

Katniss and the other remaining six victors of previous Hunger Games are made to vote by the new president Coin of Panem over how to deal with the defeated Capitol citizens, in particular their children. They are given the choice to either show mercy to the Capitol people or to hold one last Hunger Games for 24 children from the Capitol. And guess which way Katniss votes? (She voted yes to the latter). Please understand the significance of her decision, because not only does the vote go in her favor, the consequences of it are forgotten as soon as she assassinates president Coin who, she deduced, killed her sister. By voting yes, she’s essentially responsible for sending 23 innocent children to horrible deaths and one child to live with the horror of having killed and survived their peers, a fate Katniss knows all too well.

No matter how you spin it, this choice damns Katniss permanently. And you know what? This was a fantastic storytelling choice by Collins. Unfortunately, despite the bold direction she started to take in the conclusion, Collins trips at the finish line, opting to please crowds (and/or herself) instead of delivering a better story.

Now that we’ve established Katniss’ true character by the end of the series we can establish the three things that can be changed so that “Mockingjay: Part Two” doesn’t make the same cardinal sin as its source material.

1. Don’t treat Katniss like a victim at the end

Katniss has been a victim many times – a victim to circumstances, like when her father died and she basically had to become a mother to her little sister, and a victim to the Capitol in two consecutive Hunger Games. Despite the fact that she has been the victim so many times does not justify her choice to have one last Hunger Games. We call that revenge, which it turns out has been her principal motivating factor when fighting back against the Capitol.

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2. Don’t have Peeta end up with Katniss

This may frustrate those shippers who like to play the whole Team Gale/Team Peeta thing, but the truth is it makes no sense why Peeta, who admittedly is the most good-hearted person in the whole series, would end up with Katniss. Yeah, I get that he’s been in love with her for years, but he’s also the same person who argued vehemently against the last Hunger Games. Unlike Katniss, he understood that repeating the games using their defeated oppressors would only restart the cycle of violence – a theme that permeates the whole series. So why then would he ever choose to be with a woman who endorses the continued killing of children?

Also, this is not a suggestion that Katniss should end up with Gale by the end of the movies. Quite the opposite, I think it makes more sense that she end up alone.

3. Give Katniss the ending she deserves

One of my qualms with “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” is its completely unnecessary epilogue. However, it has nothing over the epilogue for “Mockingjay,” which shows a damaged but happy Katniss who has settled down with Peeta (also mentally scarred) enjoying a beautiful landscape with their two children. It’s a scene that emotes happiness and satisfaction that its lead protagonists have finally found peace after so much suffering. The problem is that one of those two protagonists doesn’t deserve the peace and happiness.

A stronger approach would be to wrap up the series with the scary truth that this story is, at its core, a tragic one, either with Katniss ending up as a lonely alcoholic like Haymitch or with having the realization that her “happy ending” is jaded and wrong considering the choice she made.

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Of course there are other routes a director could take with the ending – other choices that I haven’t thought of yet. What I do know is that “The Hunger Games” series actually has real-world significance (see: ISIS) about the cyclical nature of war, violence and oppression that shouldn’t be sullied by the false belief that violence stops more violence.

In this regard, Collins failed to deliver a worthy conclusion despite having all the ingredients and ideas necessary to do so. Hopefully the director of “Mockingjay: Part Two” won’t also leave audiences hungry for a better ending.

Change the Ending to “Mockingjay”

Zombies-’nuff said

Zombies have become a big thing in the last few years. That is definitely not news to anybody. But why do we gravitate to zombies, and how nuts is this whole craze going? Let us explore.

Old-school zombie stuff is very different from the modern zombie. If you want details, you can read about it on wiki (yes that’s the disambiguation page; there is that much content on zombies). Old-school really leans towards the non-fiction zombie page. I don’t know a lot about haitian folklore, nor religion, but I knew that zombies were associated with it. The basics are that a zombie is a corpse that is reanimated to serve some kind of purpose. That was the common view of zombies for a long time. There’s a few older monster movies with zombie stuff, but I don’t know that anyone really talks about them.

The popular zombie really changed thanks to Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead.” At that point the zombie became the undead, flesh-eating, infecting, mindless force of nature that we have come to know and…well…we’ve come to know it. What a crazy game-changer. Now we’ve got zombie everything. You can participate in zombie runs, you can go play zombie paintball to test your zombie-kill-shot prowess, you can watch plenty of zombie shows and movies from the last few years, you can learn the science of how zombies work, you can listen to songs by the Cranberries, you can read mathematical models and speculative essays about zombie outbreaks, you can see how Pentagon strategists use zombies to keep their strategic brains working, and you can even embrace the philosophical zombie (ok, that one’s a stretch). Clearly we are getting close to the critical mass of zombie-mania. (Is anybody doing a zombie reality show? I wanna see 12 strangers interact in a series of zombie-challenges: Clear the house without getting bit, refuel the car and get back to the group, create some kind of social structure, make decisions about who can join the group, etc).

Now, there are plenty of theories that get bandied about regarding why we as a society have an obsession with zombies. I do not have the answer. It’s possible that there is a fixation with the idea of killing people, but without killing people. Maybe it has something to do with the reality of death; death is something everyone either has some experience with, or will have experience with, and seeing that topic in an artistic medium could be some kind of catharsis. There might be something fascinating about a corruption of a common wish; it’s not unusual to wish that someone dead would come back to life, but seeing that idea twisted into something awful is psychologically powerful. There’s even something to be said for the perversion of the Judeo-Christian resurrection concept acting as a point of interest.

With Halloween coming up, monsters and ghosts and death are going to be all around us. There’s going to be more than a few zombies mixed in with that. Maybe next time you see one, take a second to think about why it draws us all in.

Zombies-’nuff said

A fond look at the past

This week’s post is partially inspired by a recent film, but will be focused on stars from back in the day. I was recently invited to watch the award winning silent film “The Artist” with some friends. This got me thinking about some of my favorite old-timey stars and performers and I realized something: that kind of showmanship is probably never going to come around again.

There are some really great people to look at in the past, and I’ll be highlighting just a few. Feel free to add your favorites in the comments.

Buddy Holly

I had heard the name Buddy Holly before this week. I had heard songs by Buddy Holly before this week. I had never put the two together to actually create a figure of who he was. What a guy! Listen to this song:

Buddy Holly died in the late 50s. He was 22. That is a tragedy. He was one of the pioneers of rock and roll. I have no idea what he might have done with his music with an extra ten years, but you can hear the influence he had on some of the biggest names in popular music.

The Marx Brothers

My introduction to the Marx Brothers actually came from one of my older brothers, who was something of a film buff. At some point it became clear that these guys are absolutely amazing. They are seriously on another level. While there are a number of them in the films,  there are really just three worth talking about (sorry Zeppo). I don’t know how it is possible that no one has produced a documentary about these guys and called it “Marxmanship.”

Groucho just created such a persona. Glasses, cigar, mustache, eyebrows. He was a character in every way. In some ways, he created a caricature of the character he made. The fast talking is a whole separate thing. You just have to see him perform for a few minutes to see that he was writing a chapter in the book of on-screen comedy.

Harpo does almost the same thing, but without ever speaking. Physical comedy is his thing. Also, faces. You can’t help but laugh at him. Harpo Marx is a coat, and a hat, and a curly blond wig, and a million props. Anyone who does good physical comedy today, probably learned something from watching Harpo.

Chico is my personal favorite. I find his background to be tremendously interesting. Before they all became film stars, he helped support the family by playing the piano. Sometimes he would book to play at two separate lounges and one of his brothers would wear a wig and play in his place (until they noticed that he was as good as when he was booked). This piano playing made it into some of the films and this demonstrates the real skills of a performer. He just owns the piano and the crowd. He doesn’t need to look at what he’s doing. He just makes it happen. Sometimes it looks like he’s just throwing his hands towards the keys, and somehow a melody comes out.

Bing Crosby

Bing is one of the old school triple threats. That doesn’t really happen anymore. I once heard someone say that Bing was a singer who could also act and dance, whereas other triple threats would be dominant in a different area. That is absolutely true. But he still makes it work. His performance is one of the biggest reasons that it is ok to watch “White Christmas” half-a-dozen times during the holiday season.

It’s very tempting to address other greats, but I want to leave that to the comments section. Anybody I’ve grossly overlooked?

A fond look at the past

Royal Rumble: Netflix vs. Movie Theatres

crouching tiger

The Netflix empire took another proud step forward this week in its quest to dominate the TV and movie industries when it announced that the streaming service would release its first big budget movie, the sequel to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, next year. Make no mistake, this is a big deal.

Consider this: unless you’re heading to the dollar theatre or a matinee showing, you’re paying around $9-10 every time you go to see a new movie. Want some snacks but forgot to sneak some in? Prepare to pay double what you paid at the door.

Now Netflix comes by offering you the chance to watch a brand new movie for a smaller charge with snacks that you made yourself or at least bought at market price. Furthermore, you’ve got the best seat in the house, can pause the movie when you realize that you forgot to pee before you started the it and all you’re sacrificing is the theatre experience.

An imaginary poll of moviegoers showed that many would take Netflix’s offer and stay home. I might count myself among them instead of going to the theatre, but I also know that I enjoy the experience of watching a movie for the first time on the big screen. Whether the two — Netflix and movie theatres — can successfully exist simultaneously has yet to be seen, although the latter doesn’t seem to think so.

In making this announcement, Netflix made new enemies of two of the largest movie theatres, Regal Cinemas and AMC Theatres, both of which recognize the threat that Netflix poses to their industry. Both theatre companies released statements this week that they would not license the movie or help in this experiment in any way, because why on earth would they when fewer people will buy tickets from them? Both companies already posted record lows this summer in ticket sales — they can’t afford a competitor like this.

Granted, the move to produce movies isn’t entirely unexpected for Netflix. After proving that shows made exclusively for its streaming service could be as high quality as any show made on network television (or higher in many cases), the next obvious move would be to prove that it could do the same with a major motion picture. What isn’t clear at this point is how successful Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: The Green Legend will be financially.

If audiences receive the movie with open arms and Netflix posts a healthy profit, I can almost guarantee that movie studios will start looking to streaming services as the new frontier to distribute their bigger-budget films.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that this news heralds the end of movie theatres as we know it, but you can bet changes are in store. Hopefully such changes include the dramatic lowering of concession prices.

Royal Rumble: Netflix vs. Movie Theatres