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Oscars ’12 Post Mortem

Before we finally wash the bad taste of this past awards season out of our collective mouth, before we have to think for a few seconds to even remember what Argo was about, here’s a quick breakdown of what looked good and bad from where I sat last night.

Things I Liked

  • Fewer gimmicks! Outside of that protracted Family Guy-style opening, the show saw no real attempts to experiment with format, pay homage to film history without actually paying it homage, play This Is Your Life with the acting nominees, etc. For which I was grateful.
  • A Sound Editing tie. That gave Zero Dark Thirty its only win. And treated us to Mark Wahlberg gasping, “No BS, we have a tie!”
  • Shirley Bassey! Adele! Barbra Streisand! I’m OK with the Oscars turning into a really classy televised concert sometimes.
  • “One Day More” from Les Mis. Infinitely more palatable than how that number was actually staged in Les Mis.
  • Daniel Day-Lewis has jokes. Elaborate Meryl Streep jokes, no less.
  • Ang Lee winning. Especially because snub or no, his filmography > the fuck out of Ben Affleck’s.
  • Michelle Obama?!? was unexpected.

Things I Didn’t Like

  • Seth MacFarlane. His frat bro tone. His “Boobs” song. His bad-because-get-it-they’re-bad-jokes-that’s-the-joke jokes. His gay jokes, Jew jokes, sexist jokes, and especially his Quvenzhané Wallis joke. Fuck him.
  • Rudd and McCarthy flailing. I don’t understand why you’d put two hilarious actors onstage, then not have them say anything funny.
  • Hey, remember Chicago? Or Dreamgirls? Or Les Mis? Because those are the only musicals that matter and we’re going to devote an enormous chunk of time to them.
  • Denzel Washington’s Oscar clip. Hope everyone saw Flight already! Because that was its entire climax.
  • Seth MacFarlane again. He was really just so (predictably) insufferable that he overshadowed most minor quibbles I had with the show. Congratulations, everyone else! You’re off the hook.

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Oscars ’11 Post Mortem

Before we all forget about last night and dive head-first into 2012, here are my takeaways from the 84th Academy Awards. First I’ll list off a few tidbits that made me smile, then I’ll bitch to my heart’s content. (If you’re curious, I’ve also reviewed 8/9 of the Best Picture nominees.)

Things I Liked

  • It was quick! Fewer “educational” montages and less pre-award banter meant that this year’s ceremony was just nigh interminable instead of actually interminable.
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’s win for editing. Not only was it deserved, but it was a rare surprise on a night that had about two of them. I would’ve welcomed more variety like that.
  • Brad Pitt gushing about The War of the Gargantuas. To think: this bedrock of my childhood was also, per Wikipedia, this demigod’s “inspiration to go into acting.” Maybe we’re not so different after all!
  • In fact, all of the “my first movie” interstitials. They were candid and fun—i.e., the polar opposite of a typical Oscar segment. And they showcased folks like Gabourey Sidibe and Werner Herzog, so we all win.
  • The women of Bridesmaids. Maya Rudolph cracking dick jokes! Rose Byrne and Melissa McCarthy playing some weird Scorsese-themed drinking game! Can we get them to group-host next year?
  • Michel Hazanavicius’s last words of the night: “I want to thank Billy Wilder, and I want to thank Billy Wilder, and I want to thank Billy Wilder.” This flood of gratitude closed the show out on the highest note possible.

Things I Didn’t Like

  • Billy Crystal. Maybe I’m just in the wrong demographic. I have no built-in fondness for Crystal and don’t remember his prior hosting gigs. But when his jokes weren’t corny, they were tasteless, and they were all punctuated by a self-satisfied chuckle. Not to mention the blackface. I guess his Sammy Davis, Jr. impression is an old SNL thing, but why bring it back now?
  • That fucking “magic of movies” montage. Bad enough to have a montage with no point beyond “um, movies?”; even worse when the choices are so arbitrary. It had clips from the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s (favoring Best Picture winners), plus Twilight and The Hangover, and stretched back no further than 1969’s Midnight Cowboy. The lesson? The Academy’s fine with saluting pre-1970 film history, but only when it’s wrapped up in a cute little pastiche.
  • The Cirque du Soleil, whose performance had something to do with North by Northwest, I guess? Anyway, it ended up being a few more wasted telecast minutes.
  • That goddamn theme from The Artist. I’m already not a huge fan of Ludovic Bource’s Oscar-winning score, but hearing a piece of it repeated—with its implicit message of “Silent movies are kooky!”—every time an Artist team member won became grating. I get it already! They were kooky!
  • Meryl over Viola. I love Meryl. Love her in Death Becomes Her, Adaptation., “Bart’s Girlfriend,” etc. But she’s a one-woman awards dynasty. She isn’t “due” (she already won Best Actress in 1982, for chrissake) and she doesn’t need the career bump. Viola Davis, meanwhile, is a 46-year-old black woman who’s received only a handful of substantial screen parts in her lifetime. Winning would’ve made her the second woman of color to receive the award ever. So basically, fuck the Oscar electorate. Fuck them so hard.

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Oscar Contenders Round-up

Oscar nominations drop in less than a week. Yes, awards season is heavy upon us, with all its implicit fun and horror! I’ve already reviewed three big Oscar players—The Tree of Life (love), The Help (hate), and Midnight in Paris (eh)—but have yet to touch on the season’s other talked-about titles. The following is my attempt to rectify that:

The Artist. I was delighted by the cuteness and chemistry of Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo, who give a spry pair of performances attuned to the film’s silence. And writer/director Michel Hazanavicius has an eye for visual gags, which dot the film: the dancing legs, the take-after-take courtship, the ascension of Peppy’s name, etc., etc. But The Artist never really coheres, coming across more as a set-piece variety hour than a fleshed-out feature film. Its tragedies, when they arrive, don’t stick—Dujardin’s alcoholism and depression always seem to have a wry smile lurking beneath them, and a climactic suicide attempt is punctuated by a joke. The film’s story is all but an afterthought, schematically stitching Singin’ in the Rain onto A Star Is Born.

Guillaume Schiffman’s gleaming photography gorgeously invokes the memory of “classical Hollywood,” but to what end? The film never really gets beyond the shock of its own retro-novelty, preferring to be vaguely about the idea of “silent movies” rather than any historically real silent cinema.* (This meta-silence explains its “Dream Factory” Hollywood setting, which could’ve been constructed from issues of Photoplay.) When it does make concrete allusions (to Citizen Kane and, infamously, Vertigo), they’re hollow and don’t fit their contexts. The Artist suggests the gist of silent movies (i.e., “they didn’t talk”) but doesn’t follow through; it’s very limited in outlook and execution. Kudos, certainly, to Hazanavicius and company for merely making a functional latter-day silent movie. I just wish they’d made more than a broad pastiche that teeters toward “They don’t make ’em like they used to!” pandering. Well, at least the dog’s cute.

*Hazanavicius himself seems strangely misinformed about 1920s filmmaking. In one interview, he claimed that under the Hays Code, “People don’t kiss, there isn’t any kissing in my movie, the dancing scenes are the love scenes.” I’m really curious where he got the impression that no kissing signifies “an American way to tell a story.”

Next: Hugo, The Descendants, War Horse, and Moneyball.

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Link Dump: #49

You know a horror cliché that I just love? When animals hiss at people who they just know are going to transform into monsters. Kitties, especially, seem to have a sixth kitty sense about these things. For example: the kitty above, hissing and clawing at Henry Hull just before he changes into Werewolf of London‘s titular lycanthrope. Keep at it, awesome kitty! And now, links:

  • The reliably excellent Roderick Heath of Ferdy on Films writes about MST3K’s Manos: The Hands of Fate episode.
  • Jonathan Rosenbaum objects to Pauline Kael’s Raising Kane while the New Yorker picks five essential Kael reviews.
  • Mark Harris names three stupid Oscar rules. (And when it comes to stupid, inconsistent, counterproductive Oscar rules, this is just the tip of the iceberg.)
  • If you want to read the text of the frivolous Drive lawsuit, you can do so here. It actually reads more like a bad essay out of Film History 101. Highlights include the following:

“Virtually no film critics described in any detail, if even mentioned, the allegorical nature of DRIVE, despite the importance of allegory in DRIVE. This is for inexplicable reasons.”

Well, we have a clear winner out of the past week’s search terms, and it’s “betty boops pussy on fire.” Yeahhh.

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Slashers and Statues: Horror at the Oscars

By Andreas

It’s time for me to pontificate about horror movies and the Oscars. As such, let me lay out a couple basic propositions:

1) In their ongoing attempt to reward quality filmmaking, the Oscars have infamously preferred a certain type—namely, “prestige” pictures that can seem to advance film as an art form while catering to (and flattering the intelligence of) a broad audience. Serious and “ambitious” dramas, by and large, trump their less overtly dignified brethren in Oscar’s eyes.

2) Meanwhile, “horror movies” have been ghettoized by mainstream film critics and moral authorities, who deride them as anti-prestigious, cheap, morally/artistically suspect, etc. It’s a process that’s slowly being reversed, but old habits die really hard.

The end result, as a cursory glance over Oscar history will tell you, is that horror movies are almost never recognized by the Academy. To expand on that, let me hazard another proposition:

3) Because of these biases, horror masterpieces are constantly ignored by the Oscars in favor of absolutely inferior movies that look safe and award-worthy.

None of this is especially revolutionary thinking. In fact, genre bigotry like this is widely accepted as one of the Academy’s major weaknesses. But I do think there’s plenty more to be learned by closely examining that “almost never.” When does the Academy embrace horror? The short answer is “Roughly once a decade.” The long answer is “It depends on what you consider horror.” Let me explain by going chronologically…

Read a near-comprehensive history of horror at the Oscars after the jump.

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Link Dump: #45

This week’s lucky kitty, being held by Natalie Wood, comes to us courtesy of the Super Seventies tumblr. This week’s collection of links, meanwhile, is extra-swollen with informational goodness, since we didn’t have one last week (blogathon and all, you know). Also, keep in mind that we’ve got one more week of “normal” blogging before we switch over to all-horror, all/most of the time, for October. And now, enjoy:

We had two search terms of note over the past couple weeks. The first, which made laugh out loud, was “what is antarctica pussy?” It’s one of life’s big questions. The second was “сатанисты фото,” which is apparently Russian for “satanists photo.” I feel like somebody has a very flawed impression of what we write about at Pussy Goes Grrr!

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Raising Brows

By Andreas

“If it had been released 50 years ago, The Help would have been the cinematic event of the summer.” This is how critic Stephen Farber began a piece on middlebrow message movies published two weeks ago by the L.A. Times. No, I’m not kidding, and oh, it gets worse. The whole article reads like a satirical attempt at bad, counterintuitive criticism. Maybe there’s a good argument to be made for valuing gently progressive, Stanley Kramer-esque dramas in the 21st century, but Farber sure isn’t making it.

That opening sentence certainly doesn’t bolster his credibility. Does he seriously think that the only difference between 2011 and 1961 is that critics now are more “persnickety” and less open to middlebrow fare? Does he really not suspect any legitimate reasons, reasons other than widespread critical bias, why the passage of that half-century should lead to “lukewarm” reviews for The Help? This colossal blind spot (or should I say blind side?) hobbles his argument from the get-go, because most of the vitriol currently aimed at The Help is spurred by its racial politics first and its status as a well-intentioned prestige picture a distant second.

But no, if you ask Farber, critics are unmoved by The Help and its bland brethren because these days, they cherish trashy genre movies instead. (He doesn’t mention Pauline Kael by name, but her influence is obvious.) So these poor, tasteful movies suffer the indignity of—as Farber says of The King’s Speech— “not [being] universally loved.” They might win Best Picture, but what’s the point if a few heartless critics still mock them? Alas, the tragic plight of a middlebrow, Oscar-baiting drama… hey, you know, that sounds like a pretty good story for a movie!

Honestly, the piece is so lazily written it’s like he’s asking for bloggers to dissect it. He quotes negative reviews of social problem dramas like The Whistleblower and A Better Life as evidence of anti-middlebrow bias, but never takes on the critics’ claims with any specificity. He never even addresses the possibility that these might just be, say, mediocre or bad movies. He also twice refers to middlebrow dramas as “ambitious,” even though they’re defined by their formal conservatism. To quote the bard Inigo Montoya, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Farber closes out his argument with this kids-these-days sentiment:

Younger critics in particular are desperate to prove that they’re hip, and so they champion esoteric, highbrow movies — “The Tree of Life,” “Meek’s Cutoff,” “The Future” — that most audiences are more likely to find ponderous, impenetrable or impossibly precious. These younger reviewers also have a fondness for lowbrow fare — gross-out comedies like “Superbad” or violent genre pictures like “Bellflower” and “Zombieland.”

Clearly if us kids weren’t so focused on hipster posturing, we could appreciate the real pleasures of cinema: preachy melodramas about Real World Issues! This anti-youth potshot is in character with the rest of the article, whose overall point seems to be, “Why can’t critics go back to loving mediocre, respectable movies like they used to?” The answer, of course, is that they do. Many critics have been blown away by The Help, just as many swooned at The King’s Speech. Mediocre movies will always find an audience eager to have its intelligence and taste flattered.

All told, I think Farber’s article really pissed me off because it’s unnecessarily whiny. It’s good-natured whining, sure, but when your only grievance is that critics aren’t pouring enough adulation onto middle-of-the-road dramas, that’s definitely whining. The whole piece is spectacularly misjudged; thankfully, Mark Olsen offered up a very smart retort, again in the L.A. Times. No offense to Mr. Farber, who sounds like a fine writer and fellow, but when all you have to say is “I want more movies that alleviate my guilt and don’t take risks,” you don’t really have anything meaningful to say.

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