Category Archives: The Roundup

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The Roundup: January 19

A bit late this week, but in case you missed it, I was busy writing my own posts this week! One about Five Graves to Cairo, and one returning to the American Movie Critics book with Ryan McNeil. So check those out and also, all of these. :)

Cinema

Lights, Camera, Taking Action by Manohla Dargis at the New York Times

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The state of women in Hollywood doesn’t seem to be improving very much, and may even be worsening if you compare stats on female filmmakers and characters in 2014 to stats from fifteen years ago. Manohla Dargis talked to a bunch of people who are trying to do something about it with a variety of approaches. She also collected some quotes from female filmmakers about working in the industry here as a supporting document. Meanwhile, Monika Bartyzel used her Girls on Film column last week to discuss the ways that female filmmakers still do need powerful allies.

American commercial cinema has long been dominated by men, but I don’t think there has ever been another time when women have been as underrepresented on screen as they are now. The biggest problem isn’t genuinely independent cinema, where lower budgets mean more opportunities for women in front of and behind the camera. The problem is the six major studios that dominate the box office, the entertainment chatter and the popular imagination. Their refusal to hire more female directors is immoral, maybe illegal, and has helped create and sustain a representational ghetto for women. The barriers that female directors confront are numerous, substantial, structural and ideological, which is why activists are attacking biases on a number of fronts.

How Much Does a Hollywood Oscar Campaign Cost by Stephen Follows

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This is just…wow. I’ve already eschewed the Oscars as pretty irrelevant for years, but this is really just the nail in the coffin. The most brilliant and groundbreaking film in the world couldn’t win an Oscar if it didn’t have $10 million in the budget for an Oscar campaign. As a side note, if an Oscar win only nets a $3 million box office bump, I wonder if these economics will last much longer anyway? I suppose the prestige boost is worth something, but how much?

Estimates for the total amount Hollywood spends on Oscar campaigns each year range from $100m up to $500m. True figures are hard to come by so it’s tricky to know what’s true and what is carefully placed rumours by Hollywood friends, enemies and frenemies.

In 2002, the New York Times reported that “the most aggressive studios have mounted campaigns that by some estimates have already cost more than $10 million, easily double what a successful effort totaled only two years ago”. That’s twice the average cost of winning a seat in Congress.

Many non-studio films find themselves priced out of the running.

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The Roundup: January 12

Cinema

Film Fact-Checking is Here to Stay So Let’s Agree on Some New Rules by Ann Hornaday at the Washington Post

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The biggest controversy this week has been over the acclaimed film Selma and its possible distortion of history in its portrayal of LBJ’s role in the Selma protests led by Martin Luther King Jr and other black activists. This plays into the whole cottage industry of fact-checking that has sprung up, which hits everything from historical dramas like Selma to science fiction like Interstellar. Ann Hornaday has one of the best takes on the fact-checking trend as a whole, arguing for educated viewers who are capable of dealing with the fact that movies aren’t always 100% accurate and the reasons for those differences are the important thing, not the differences themselves. Many writers have come down fully on the side of artistic license (Bilge Ebiri at Vulture, Sam Adams at Indiewire, and Elaine Tang at the New Republic), but as a history buff myself, I personally like Andrew O’Hehir’s more moderate approach. I do think historical accuracy matters; it’s not just something that should be tossed aside lightly. But I also think films often gloss over or shift historical fact to get at larger truths in completely valid ways, and fact-checkers need to appreciate that.

But viewers have responsibilities, too. If accuracy has become a formal element of historical dramas, then the ensuing fact-checks have become just as integral a part of how we view them. That means it’s incumbent on audiences to engage in a mode of spectatorship that, rather than decide who’s right, can listen to and respect expert critiques, and still open themselves up to a piece of filmed entertainment that speaks to less literal, more universal truths.

The correct question isn’t what Selma “gets wrong” about Johnson or King or the civil rights movement, but whether we are sophisticated enough as viewers and thinkers to hold two ideas at once: that we’re not watching history, but a work of art that was inspired and animated by history. That we’re having an emotional and aesthetic experience, not a didactic one. That the literalistic critiques of historians and witnesses can co-exist — fractiously, but ultimately usefully — with the kind of inspiration, beauty and transformative power that the very best cinema such as “Selma” can provide.

Godard’s Best Picture Win: When a Critics Group Dares to Break With Critical Consensus by Jason Bailey at Flavorwire

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When I saw the headlines that Jean-Luc Godard’s latest film Goodbye to Language had won the National Society of Film Critics’ award, I was like, “huh, that’s weird” – followed by “kinda cool, though!” Turns out most people were as bewildered as I was, but not as pleased, as award-predicting sites quickly called out the NSFC as irrelevant and attention-seeking, suggesting that a critics’ award that doesn’t play into the Oscar race is pointless. Which is, let’s just call things what they are, horseshit. Jason Bailey lays out the arguments well. Meanwhile, Indiewire’s Sam Adams comes down strongly arguing that critics’ awards SHOULDN’T be relevant to the Oscar race, and Film School Rejects’ Scott Beggs points out that awards season itself is pretty irrelevant, since there are too many good movies in a year for awards to recognize all of them.

Twelve major critics groups have called Boyhood the year’s best film. Birdman took the big prize from seven other groups; The Grand Budapest Hotel, two. What would another Boyhood win have added to the conversation — about that movie, or about the year in movies? Little to nothing. What does a prize for Goodbye to Language add to those conversations? A great deal. It draws attention, at least among those paying attention, to a difficult, challenging, off-the-map film from a living legend (and one who, as Hitfix’s Kristopher Tapley notes, has never won that prize before). And, perhaps more importantly, it notes that this was not just a great year for movies, but a diverse one, where — contrary to the previous month of awards and prognostications — there were more than three to five films worth celebrating.

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The Roundup: January 2, 2015

This is the first Roundup since the beginning of December, so just count this as covering anything posted during December – and yeah, there are a couple older than that, because I worked extra hard this week to clean out my article backlog completely. And I was successful! Let’s see how long this particular New Year’s Resolution can last, but I’m starting my feedreader with a clean slate as of January 1st and hopefully can manage not to get behind on reading.

Cinema

The Birdcage: How Hollywood’s Toxic Addiction to Franchises Changed Movies Forever in 2014 by Mark Harris at Grantland

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This is a great piece, though it starts off covering a lot of ground that we’ve heard before (franchises are about building expectation for the next thing, etc.). Harris has a lot of insight into film history and it’s very helpful. I’ve seen a lot of people trot out the “but Hollywood has always had series, like Andy Hardy or Ma and Pa Kettle” counterargument, and he debunks that quite well. Not really an answer to this, but something to think about as a counterpoint is the surprising number of thoughtful blockbusters we had in 2014. Maybe if we’re stuck with franchises, we can at least get smarter ones?

That’s not where we are anymore. In 2014, franchises are not a big part of the movie business. They are not the biggest part of the movie business. They are the movie business. Period. Twelve of the year’s 14 highest grossers are, or will spawn, sequels.2 (The sole exceptions — assuming they remain exceptions, which is iffy — are Big Hero 6 and Maleficent.) Almost everything else that comes out of Hollywood is either an accident, a penance (people who run the studios do like to have a reason to go to the Oscars), a modestly budgeted bone thrown to an audience perceived as niche (black people, women, adults), an appeasement (movie stars are still important and they must occasionally be placated with something interesting to do so they’ll be cooperative about doing the big stuff), or a necessity (sometimes, unfortunately, it is required that a studio take a chance on something new in order to initiate a franchise). A successful franchise is no longer used to finance the rest of a studio’s lineup; a studio’s lineup is brands and franchises, and that’s it.

How the Death of Mid-Budget Cinema Left a Generation of Iconic Filmmakers MIA by Jason Bailey at Flavorwire

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A byproduct of the kind of franchisization Mark Harris is talking about in the article above is the loss of the midbudget, not-quite-mainstream film and the auteurs known for them.

While we weren’t looking, the mid-budget adult-oriented motion picture has all but disappeared. And the gifted directors behind them are in danger of disappearing as well. Movie wonks and box-office watchers have written and talked about the death of mid-budget filmmaking, but mostly in business terms — as opposed to personal ones, contemplating the phenomenon’s effect on the individual artists it cripples. There’s an entire constellation of cult and indie stars, filmmakers who came of age in the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s, who have either vanished from the current scene or are struggling to maintain a place within it. How many of that generation’s auteurs have we lost? How many great movies — how many Blue Velvets and Hairsprays and Traffics and Do the Right Things and Godfathers — are they, thanks to the current myopic model, not making?

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The Roundup: December 1

Cinema

Is the Word Overrated Ruining Film Criticism? by Clarisse Loughrey

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The Guardian’s new series “My Most Overrated Film” where guest columnists write about a film they think is overrated has gotten a lot of response from the critical community, and most of it’s not positive. Here’s a good essay on the issues surrounding a series like this; she also explores some reasons why people feel the need to declare highly-regarded films as overrated. Sam Adams at Criticwire goes even further, declaring that “overrated is a garbage word, and I can’t disagree. As is probably clear from my stance on evaluative criticism and positivity, I have little use for the concept of something being overrated, much less building a whole post series around it. Stuff like this is basically clickbait in this format; don’t give the Guardian your clicks.

And yet the problem with this overuse of ‘overrated’ is that such arguments tend to exist in a vacuum. It’s great to shake up the establishment, but if we challenge Hitchcock and Kubrick, are we then automatically burdened with offering up the alternative? The real issue is perhaps less to do with the attacks themselves, but with the perceived arrogance and cynicism of its author. Do critics always have the best intentions when they go after the “classics”? It’s hard to say, but we can safely assume there will always be those who deliberately set out to incite scorn and unhealthy debate, just as there will always be the attention-seekers, the click-bait sensationalists.

Nathan Rabin vs. the IMDb Top 250: The Best Years of Our Lives by Nathan Rabin at The Dissolve

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Nathan Rabin has started going through the IMDb Top 250 in random order, which I think is a pretty fun series to do in general. He puts post-WWII classic The Best Years of Our Lives on top of the several he’s seen so far for the series, and it is a fantastic film, for all the reasons he talks about and more (Myrna Loy!).

Wyler’s film tells the story of an entire generation of lost men who came home from the greatest triumph of their lives only to discover that they had to fight a new war, for recognition, direction, self-respect, and for the wives, lovers, and jobs they assumed would always be there for them no matter what. It manages the singular quality of being at once intimate and epic. The Best Years Of Our Lives represents the studio age at its best. It’s adult, mature filmmaking that didn’t just feel important and socially significant, it was and remains important and socially significant, preserving the weary, uneasy mood of the moment that created it.

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The Roundup: November 14, 2014

Cinema

Quiet on the Set and…Panic! by Greg Ferrera at Movie Morlocks

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This is a nice companion piece to the American Movie Critics conversation Ryan and I recently had on Alexander Bakshy. Bakshy was bullish on the coming of sound, but he was in the minority. Greg points out how panicked most studios and filmmakers were, trying to figure out what to do with this newfangled technology.

Charlie Chaplin, a July, 1928, article, expresses his concerns that the cinema would quickly devolve into “photographed stage plays,” and one story starts off with the suggestion that cinematographers will be put out of work as the sound engineer takes over and the camera gets locked in place. If you ever needed proof that people have unreasonable fears about anything and everything new, just read stories from 1928 about sound in movies.

The 50th Freeze Frame: The Godfather by Ryan McNeil at The Matinee

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I always enjoy Ryan’s “classic” series, looking at a still from a classic film and discussion its meaning; this time, he gives his analysis in a brief but trenchant paragraph, saving space to reminisce over the previous 49 entries in the series.

Today marks the fiftieth image in the series, and in honour of the half-century mark, I decided to keep it simple: I’ve gone with my favorite shot from my favorite classic. There are dozens of other iconic shots from THE GODFATHER that I could have chosen, but for me, so much about America is said in this one frame.

All around it is the untamed natural environment it came from. Front and centre is one of the game-changing inventions that made it great. Inside of said invention, we have a glimpse of the violence that has defined it for more than 200 years. In the background, the promise of what it could be, what it wants to be, and what so many want to deny it being.

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