Posted tagged ‘Academy Awards’

Academy Award Predictions

February 5, 2010

So this year’s Academy Award nominations are upon us.  Having seen the list I have come to the conclusion that the sole goal of the Academy is to piss me off.

The first thing to stoke my ire was the the decision to include ten nominees for best picture.  At first I thought maybe some of the excellent small budget films that can’t afford to campaign against the big-studio blockbusters will actually get some recognition for a change.  Unfortunately, that isn’t how it worked out.  Rather than rewarding unconventional or non-mainstream films, the Academy used their bloated nomination format to give still more hype to mediocre big studio drivel.  

The Blind Side, for instance – a movie whose sole purpose is to exchange expensive movie tickets for some cheap sentimental tears – clearly benefited from the overblown nomination list while an excellent and original film like Moon still can’t get any Oscar attention.  There is no way that The Blind Side is better than Moon.

Then, of course, there are the two atrocities that continue to make cinema in 2009 a colossal joke.  Somehow, the tripe that is Avatar tied for the most nominations , including best picture, while the year’s best film, Where the Wild Things Are got none.  I’ve ranted on both of these topics enough in the last few months, so I won’t go into it again.  I don’t want to bore my readers, and, frankly, I’m emotionally spent.

As much as this year’s nominations have let me down, though, I still feel that, as a movie blogger, I have to offer my predictions.  So, since I’m convinced that the Oscars are nothing more than a giant, star-studded hoax whose aim is to fill me with rage (no, I don’t think I’m exaggerating and yes, I really am that narcissistic), I’m going to assume that the winner of each category will be the winner that will most piss me off.  Here, then, are my choices:

Best Original Screenplay – From what I’ve heard about Inglorious Basterds the writing was simply fantastic, so there’s no way it’s going to win.  Up was great, too, so it doesn’t stand a chance.  A Serious Man was not only a terrible movie, but the Cohen Brothers are my filmic nemeses, so they should be a lock for this one.

Best Adapted Screenplay – The fact that Where the Wild Things Are didn’t get a nomination here is enough to get me riled up, but I’m sure the Academy will top off this indignity by giving the award to the inexplicably over-hyped Up in the Air.

Visual Effects – This should be the one and only award that Avatar wins, and it probably does deserve it.  That, and the fact that every time I hear the word Avatar now I cringe, makes this one a no-brainer.

Sound Mixing – In making the Transformers movies, Michael Bay has taken a Megatron sized dump on my childhood.  I’m sure the Academy will follow suit by giving Revenge of the Fallen a gold statue.

Sound Editing – Since I have no real investment in this category it seems like a great chance for the Academy to slip in yet another punch to the gut by rewarding Avatar for completely wasting three hours of my life.

Short Film (Both Live Action & Animated) – I don’t know anything about the nominees, nor do I care to.  My guess is that, knowing this, the Academy will waste my time by giving the awards to whoever will make the longest and most incomprehensible speeches, as seems to be the case every year.  I mean, come on, we’ve never even heard of you or your film, why on earth would we want to hear you thank the film crew and your parents?   Just grab your phallic statue and get off the stage.

Music (Original Song) – I don’t know about the winner, but I’m guessing that we’ll get an uninspired performance of each song during the ceremony so that the Academy can fill more time and sell more commercials.  In fact, this is probably the safest bet of the night.

Music (Original Score)Fantastic Mr. Fox‘s music was interesting and memorable and actually contributed to the tone of the story, but Karen O didn’t get a nomination for her work on Wild Things, so I can only assume that the Academy doesn’t reward that kind of thing.  I’m guessing throw away orchestral music is more the Academy’s speed, so Avatar should get this one.

Makeup – Like the short film categories, this one is best when the award goes to someone giving a short acceptance speech.  Therefore, I’m assuming that this year it’ll be a three way tie and we’ll get to hear three people we’ve never heard of talk about how much they appreciate what their third grade teacher taught them about eyeliner.

Foreign Language Film – I haven’t seen any of these, so I’m going to guess that it’ll go to A Prophet since it’s French.  I have a complicated relationship to all things French.

Film Editing – Given the inordinate and unnecessary length of Avatar I refuse to believe that they did any editing at all.  This three hour monstrosity should have been 90 minutes max, and yet they’ll get the award even though all four of the other films are clearly superior in this category.

Documentary (Short Subject) – See other short film categories.

Documentary (Feature) – It would take someone pretty naive not to know how screwed up the U.S. food industry is.  I’m all for doing what we can to make a difference, but Food, Inc. was poorly made and didn’t really tell me all that much that I didn’t already know.  This is an extremely important issue, but I just didn’t think that this was an extremely important documentary.  In other words, it’s just what the Academy is looking for.

Costume Design – This award is the whole reason that we have to endure at least one melodramatic period movie every year.  The Young Victoria should keep that trend going.

Cinematography Avatar‘s cinematography happened in three dimensions, which has never been done before!  James Cameron invented 3-D film technology, so he deserves this one for sure.  Oh wait, 3-D movies have been around since 1922?  Eh, he can have the award anyway.

Art Direction – Jungles with giant trees in them apparently pass for imagination in today’s Hollywood.  Chalk another one up for Avatar.

Animated Feature Film – Wow, the Academy actually can’t go wrong here.  This was a great year for animated film and, for the first time in years, Pixar isn’t a lock to win it (even though Up is one of their very best movies). I predict that the Academy will lose the envelope and there will be no winner.

Actress in a Supporting Role – Anna Kendrick’s performance was awful, and having to share the screen with George Clooney and Vera Farmiga, both of whom were excellent, just highlighted that she wasn’t up to the task, so I would say that Kendrick’s going to get it.  However, watching Farmiga try to act happy for her inferior co-star would be pretty amusing, and the Academy doesn’t want me to enjoy anything about these awards.  So, I’m going to say this one will go to Penelope Cruz, whose existence perpetually annoys me.

Actor in a Supporting Role – This is another one that the Academy inexplicably got right.  Every time Woody Harrelson has success, though, it makes it harder for me to picture him as Woody Boyd from Cheers, thus slightly diminishing my enjoyment of the greatest sit-com of all time.  For that reason, I think Harrelson will take it.

Actor in a Leading Role – Much like Harrelson’s success tarnishes my enjoyment of Cheers, Clooney’s makes it hard to think of him as George Burnett, and thus The Facts of Life falls a bit in my esteem.  He’ll win the award to spite both me and Tootie.

Actress in a Leading Role – Meryl Streep gave a wonderful performance in Julia & Julia (has she ever not given a wonderful performance?), but the film was just so bad.  As long as “yeah, the movie was terrible, but [insert great actress/actor here]’s peformance made it worth watching” is a common phrase in movie culture I just can’t support giving Streep the award.  Which means she’ll get it.

Director – As James Cameron walks towards the stage to accept his award, I’ll be posing the knife above my heart…

Best Picture – …and when Avatar wins Best Picture I’ll plunge it in.

Why Avatar Is an Over-Rated Pile of Dung

January 22, 2010

As I said in my last postAvatar has earned the dubious distinction of becoming a part of my “Over-Rated Pile of Dung” series even before it has left theaters for the first time.  This represents a concession: Avatar will go down as a classic.  Just writing that made me pull out half my hair (I’m saving the other half for when Avatar wins the Academy Award for Best Picture).  So, I’m preemptively going to explain why it doesn’t deserve to be a classic and should, instead, be permanently stricken from pop-culture.

Since I reviewed Avatar so recently, I don’t want to just repeat the critiques that I outlined there, so I’m going to take a slightly different approach.  I’m going to humor all of the idiots out there (Steven Spielberg among them) who have favorably compared Avatar to Star Wars.  So, let’s look at the similarities that the two films share – I’ll start with the praise:

1.  Ground breaking special effects – This is the one place that I will say Avatar shines, although even then it’s largely over-rated.  I will admit that the technology that allowed James Cameron to capture the performances of living actors and then transpose those performances onto CGI characters was original and impressive (whether or not any of those performances were worth capturing is another question).

What so many fans of Avatar seem to forget, though, is that James Cameron didn’t invent CGI or 3-D film-making.  Sure, he might have pushed the limits of what CGI had done before, but so has just about every major CGI movie of the past decade or so.  And 3D movies have been around for decades.  In both of these regards Avatar just seems like an incremental step rather than a paradigm shift.  The special effects in Star Wars changed the way movies were made.  The special effects in Avatar will do nothing of the sort.

2.  Original Aesthetics – It’s easy to forget since we’ve seen so many copies of it in the past thirty years, but Star Wars‘ “used universe” look was completely original back in 1977.  We hadn’t seen anything like it.

The colorful jungles of Avatar?  Nothing new.  The Jungle Book, Pocahontas, the Star Wars prequels, heck, last summer’s Up all used some variation of bright saturated colors in natural surroundings to try to give a simultaneously familiar and exotic look.  The overall color palate was eye-catching, sure, but so is the color pallet of Lady Gaga’s wardrobe, that doesn’t mean I want to stare at it for three hours.

3.  Imagination – Wookies, TIE-Fighters, Lightsabers, R2-D2, Jawas – Star Wars was full of iconic characters, vehicles, and creatures.  Sure, George Lucas has been grasping at straws ever since but, for a brief period in the late 70s and early 80s, his mind seemed to be bursting with completely original ideas that are still instantly recognizable as belonging to the Star Wars universe all these years later.

Avatar does nothing but recycle old ideas.  Sure, the creatures that the Navi ride have six legs and nostrils in their necks, but at their core they’re still just horses.  The flying creatures are just pterodactyles with an extra set of wings.  The giant land creatures that run crashing through the jungle are just overgrown bulls with hammer-head shark noses.  And if 18th century caricatures of Native Americans ever somehow mated with Smurfs, and someone pumped the resulting love-children full of growth hormone, the Navi just might be the result.  Cameron’s imagination is so used up that he even recycles the mechanical suit that Ripley uses to fight the alien in Cameron’s own Aliens.  That’s right, he’s had twenty five years to come up with something new but, apparently, was too busy giving Celine Dion an excuse to make overly-sentimental soundtracks to actually have an original idea.

4.  Politics – Okay, most of us don’t think of Star Wars as a political movie, but it did contain some simple political messages.  It’s a celebration of the power of the individual and the inner self over a mechanized society aiming for homogeneity (meaning that, thirty years later, we could still learn something from Star Wars).  Sure, as a message it’s pretty simple.  But that’s what makes it effective and enduring – Lucas realized that the archetypal, pulp entertainment aesthetic of his movie wasn’t conducive to complicated political interventions.  To try to force it would just be laughable.

Which is exactly what Avatar‘s politics are: utterly and completely laughable.  Big corporations are bad!  Oh no!  Everyone in the military (except the token woman) is evil!  Oh my!  Nature is good!  Hooray!  Science will save us!  Yippee!  Colonization is dastardly!  Oh dear!  When Cameron incorporated lines straight out of Dubya’s mouth I just cringed.  I’m sure there are plenty of pseudo-liberals who just gobbled that stuff up (most people in Hollywood, for instance), but its lack of sophistication and complexity ultimately fails to make any kind of meaningful political statement.

And, really, how could it?  The problems that we’re facing as a society are complex, detailed, and specific.  The simple black/white, good/evil dichotomies of Avatar just aren’t up to the task of engaging the current political moment any more than Star Wars was equipped to take on The Vietnam War or Watergate.  Lucas new this, and steered clear.  Cameron didn’t, and ended up insulting liberals and conservatives alike, not to mention Native Americans, who Cameron apparently still thinks are nothing more than nature loving noble-savages.

Of course, the similarities between Star Wars and Avatar go beyond the praise that people lavish upon them.  They also extend to some of the common critiques of the films.  Here are some examples:

1.  Predictability – It doesn’t take long for most audiences to figure out the basic narrative trajectory of both films.  Lucas, though, gets away with it because the predictability was part of the point.  He was consciously drawing on archetypal narratives following his discovery of Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces.  Then, he combined that with his love of matinee serials like Flash Gordon.  The story was supposed to be predictable.  What kept Star Wars fresh and exciting was all of the imagination that I’ve already mentioned.  We’ve seen the hero’s journey before, but we’ve never seen that hero accompanied by a Wookie and a beeping three-legged trash can of a robot.

Star Wars also benefited from Lucas’ sense of pacing.  He knew that his narrative arc was familiar, so he kept things moving.  There’s some kind of action almost every ten minutes, but the action never lingers – the heroes get out of one scrape and then land in a new one.  Furthermore, he didn’t overstay his welcome – Star Wars clocks in at a very reasonable 120 minutes.

Avatar is almost three hours.  Cameron doesn’t keep things moving.  He lingers.  And lingers.  And lingers.  It isn’t just that we know how the whole story is going to end, we know how individual scenes are going to end, sometimes twenty to thirty minutes before they finally, mercifully come to a close.

But the reason that we know how they’ll end has nothing to do with an homage to classic pulp narratives or to Cameron’s understanding of archetypal figures.  We know how they’ll end because James Fenimore Cooper wrote this story two hundred years ago.  Then Kevin Costner made a movie out of it in 1990.  Then Disney turned it into a cartoon in 1995 (and got a lot of criticism for their portrayal of Native Americans, I might add).  This recurring noble-savage/Pocahontas story isn’t grounded in archetypes that have been around as long as the act of storytelling, it’s grounded in racism that’s been around since the establishment of our country.  As such, this isn’t a narrative that needs to be retold any more than it’s a narrative that takes three hours to tell.

2.  Bad Dialog – Maybe this is why Cameron chose to quote Dubyah – the woodenness of the former President’s speeches fits seamlessly with the woodenness of Cameron’s script.  On this point, though, I will admit that Star Wars isn’t any better.  The dialog in Star Wars is often quite bad.  So congrats to Avatar, it finally matched Star Wars in something.

3.  Bad Acting – Again, congrats to Avatar, it is the equal of Star Wars on this point as well.  That being said, Harrison Ford brings a natural charisma to his role and Alec Guiness was superb as always.  The closest thing Avatar can boast is Sigourney Weaver, who gives it an honest effort but doesn’t have enough screen time (and when she does, she usually has to fight through a CGI Smurf suit) to carry what is otherwise a horrible collection of acting talent.  Carrie Fisher could blame it on drugs – I’m waiting to find out what the cast of Avatar will use as an excuse.

So that about does it.  Avatar resembles Star Wars in only the worst ways.  Ironically, Star Wars was a low-budget film, costing roughly 10 million dollars, whereas Avatar had a bloated (and wasted) 280 million dollar price tag.  While Lucas made film history through ingenuity and creativity, Cameron made the most technologically advanced film ever by simply buying the most advanced technology.  Apparently he also bought a few Golden Globes and, probably, some Academy Awards to boot.  None of this, though, will change the fact that Avatar is an Over-Rated Pile of Dung.

Reasons I Hate Movies #3: Award Shows

January 19, 2010

The Golden Globes are behind us and they have proven, once again, that award shows have no positive impact on film whatsoever.  Which isn’t to say that the shows themselves can’t have some entertainment value – Ricky Gervais was, after all, hilarious.  But what made him funny was that he constantly took pot-shots at the actors and repeatedly used his sarcasm to point out just how unimportant these multi-millionaires that we shower with awards and attention really are.

Unfortunately, that irony seemed lost on the many undeserving winners.

And such is the irony of award shows.  Presumably they exist to reward good film making but, instead, all they do is keep bad movies and unimportant actors in our collective conscious far longer than they deserve.  Sure, there is the occasional deserving win – No Country for Old Men for instance – but those movies would have stood the test of time with or without an award.  Those movies don’t benefit from the award nearly as much as the award benefits from them since it acts to validate the accuracy of the award.  But once they secure that validation it seems that award shows remain intent upon spending it on crappy films that we should all forget but that, because of a Best Picture Oscar or a Best Director Golden Globe, people will continue to talk about for years.

And such was the case last night.  A movie like The Hangover was fine for what it was – a mildly amusing way to lose two hours of a Sunday afternoon.  But an award winning film?  That’s ridiculous.  But now it won’t simply laps into obscurity as it should since it has inexplicably changed from a throw away comedy to an award-winning piece of cinema.

Which brings me to my two biggest complaints about last night’s show: the almost complete exclusion of Where the Wild Things Are from the nominations, and the infuriating celebration of Avatar.

I’ve already chronicled my love of Where the Wild Things Are, but I realize that it isn’t everybody’s cup of tea.  It is unusual and unsettling and asks a lot of the viewer on a narrative and emotional level.  In other words, it’s a provocative and original film.  Maybe it doesn’t deserve to win many awards since it didn’t achieve widespread appeal, but it definitely deserved at least a nomination – after all, it takes something truly remarkable to polarize audiences the way Wild Things did. It doesn’t, though, take anything remarkable to try to get some cheap laughs out of a few Mike Tyson gags, yet that apparently warrants not only a nomination, but a Best Comedy or Musical Award.  Love it or hate it, Where the Wild Things is an affecting experience.  The Hangover is nothing of the sort.

And then there’s Avatar.  I’ve already chronicled my disdain for this film, so I won’t go into it here.  Instead, since the acclaim that it’s achieved is so colossally undeserved I’m going to give it a very dubious honor: it will be the first movie to ever become a part of my “Why [classic movie] is an over-rated pile of dung” series before it even leaves theaters.  This will be the subject of my next post.

But the very notion that I could already be objecting to the “classic” status of Avatar brings me back to my initial objection to award shows.  The Golden Globes that Avatar won for Best Director and Best Drama, and what I fear are the inevitable Academy Awards for Director and Film that I foresee coming in March, will make Avatar, like Gladiator and  Crash before it, an instant classic, event though it is a horrendous piece of trite and unimaginative garbage.  Without award shows, the novelty of 3D would eventually wear off and everyone would probably come to realize what a bad movie Avatar really is.  But with the backing of a bunch of gold statuettes, the movie-going public will continue to erroneously believe that a technological marvel (which Avatar admittedly is) is also an artistic marvel (which it definitely is not).

But mark my words.  Award shows aside – in twenty years, love it or hate it, viewers will remember Where the Wild Are on a level that Avatar isn’t even sophisticated enough to know to try to achieve.  I just hope that means more to Spike Jones than silly trophies do.

Decade in Review – 10 Most Overrated Films of the Aughts

December 26, 2009

It’s that time of the year when all of the “Best/Worst of” lists start to appear and, of course, this year we get the “Best/Worst of the Decade” lists.  Usually, these appear in the format of “10 Best” and “5 Worst,” but, here at The Movie Hater’s Movie Blog I like to focus on my disdain, so I’m flipping it around.

So I’ll start with my “10 Worst” list.  Actually, this first list isn’t about the “10 Worst Films of the Decade” so much as the “10 Most Over-rated Films of the Decade.”  These are movies that achieved high levels of critical acclaim, box-office success, or Academy Award attention, but that didn’t deserve any of it.  I didn’t rank the films in order of their overall awfulness but, instead, ranked them by the gap between the level of adoration for the film and my level of derision.  So, while Slumdog Millionaire is a better movie than Transformers (though just barely), it still ranks #1 on my list because Transformers didn’t achieve quite the same widespread celebration that Slumdog did.

But enough with the explanations – here is the list:

#10.  The 40 Year-Old Virgin (2005)

 

I had heard so much about this movie before I saw it that I couldn’t wait to join the “in” crowd who had seen and loved it.  Turns out, this was a mildly amusing comedy, not the groundbreaking, side-splitting romp that everyone made it out to be.  By the end, I just kept thinking, “okay, I get it, he’s forty and he hasn’t had sex – what else you got?”  The answer, unfortunately, was “not much.”

#9.  Transformers (2007)

Sure, critics were pretty harsh towards this movie and, for once, they got it right (although this one was kind of a no-brainer), but the box-office draw was astounding – and unexplainable.  This movie exemplifies two of the reasons I hate movies – I had very low expectations, and yet it still managed to disappoint.  I expected nothing more than cool scenes of giant robots fighting and transforming with a loose plot holding it together.  Instead, I saw frantic, unintelligible action scenes that didn’t make creative use of the robots ability to transform, and really no plot to speak of.  I left assuming that this movie would be a Van Helsing sized flop but instead it turned into one of the top grossing franchises of the decade.

#8.  Avatar (2009)

This one slipped in right under the wire – too bad for the aughts.  Avatar wanted so badly to be an imaginative epic that would change the way films were made.  Instead, it rehashed a bunch of racist stereotypes from the 18th century, wrapped them up in a CGI Smurf suit, put them through a bunch of clichéd blockbuster narratives, and took three hours to do it to boot.

#7.  Gladiator (2000)

The winner of the decade’s Award for Most Undeserving Academy Award goes to Gladiator.  The whole thing is just a cheap knockoff of Braveheart.  While Braveheart’s battle scenes succeeded in creating excitement through jarring depictions of war’s brutality, Gladiator tried to create excitement through choppy camera work and frantic editing.  While Breaveheart told a moving story of a man who channels his love of his wife into fighting for his country’s freedom, Gladiator used a screaming Russell Crowe to tell a clichéd story of a man seeking revenge.  I could have rented Braveheart, saved a trip to the theater, and had a better time.

#6.  Crash (2004)

This was easily the most heavy-handed, contrived, and poorly made film to ever win Best Picture at the Academy Awards.  I have my theories about why it won, but, regardless, it was undeserving.  The plot lines were manipulative and yet completely predictable, the comments on race felt like they were coming from a college freshman who’s just seen Roots for the first time, and the editing felt like a chaffing two hours of filmic masturbation.

#5.  O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)

I, of course, have my on-going issues with the Coen Brothers, but the bottom line here is that Homer told this story way better.  I can only assume that the legions of fans either never read the original, blindly allow the Coen Brothers to dictate to them what clever film-making is, and/or love bluegrass music.  None of those things applies to me, so I reacted to the movie with what it deserves – a great big “EH.”

#4. Pirates of the Caribbean – Trilogy (2003, 2006, 2007)

If you ever want to get trashed one afternoon, watch the first Pirates movie and take a drink every time there’s an underwater shot showing someone falling from a boat into the ocean.  If you ever don’t want to get trashed one afternoon, take a drink every time Pirates 2 takes a break from elaborate action sequences to actually offer some plot and/or character development.  If you want to watch Pirates 3 one afternoon, make sure you get trashed first.  How these movies became one of the biggest franchises of the decade, and how the first film even garnered critical acclaim, is beyond me.

#3.  Napolean Dynamite (2004)

Before I got around to seeing this movie I often heard its fans reciting various lines from the film and would inevitably think to myself, “I don’t understand why that’s funny but, I haven’t seen the film, so I’m not in on the joke.”  Then I saw the film.  I still don’t understand why it’s funny.  I chuckled briefly a couple of times, but that doesn’t even come close to warranting the kind of cultish devotion that this film ended up achieving.

#2.  The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

As I’ve said before, Wes Anderson puts me in mind of a line from the Simpsons: “the whole thing smacks of effort.”  Anderson’s audacity as a filmmaker works when his characters follow suit (as in Rushmore and Fantastic Mr. Fox), but the painstaking earnestness of his style just felt jarringly out of whack with the detached, morose insincerity that drives the narrative of the this film and its characters.

#1.  Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

Sometimes it feels like I’m the only person in the world who doesn’t like this movie.  Sure, the kids were cute and their Dickensian struggle was charming, but then they grew into bad actors with no chemistry.  Meanwhile the central contrivance of the whole film (the game show) was, well, contrived.  The best thing I can say about the film is that it makes abject poverty cute.  How that translates into an Academy Award for Best Picture is beyond me.

So that’s that.  In my next post, I’ll try to enter the unfamiliar territory of positivity by giving my five favorite films of the decade.