Random Factoid #455

26 10 2010

Purgatory – it’s real.  At least for movies.

It’s an industry term that got some press over the weekend from The Los Angeles Times, and apparently it has been somewhat of a secret.  Did you wonder why Bradley Cooper and Renee Zellweger look so young in “Case 39?”  (The real question is did anyone actually see “Case 39?”)  Here’s an explanation for why that may be:

“‘Case 39’ was stuck in a little discussed corner of the industry: movie purgatory, where films with marketable stars — not just Cooper but Matt Damon, John Cusack, Eddie Murphy and Mel Gibson — can linger for months, even years, trapped by marketing disagreements, creative clashes, executive shuffles, money shortfalls or the judgment that they are such surefire flops that it makes no sense to throw good money after bad and distribute them.”

The alternative to movie purgatory is, of course, direct-to-DVD release.  I won’t watch a direct-to-DVD movie on principle, simply because if it’s not good enough to hit theaters, it’s not worth watching.  However, “Slumdog Millionaire” was stuck in movie purgatory for a time, so we can’t say that all movies that are in such limbo are bad.  But as far as I’m concerned, movie purgatory as a whole lot better than a straight-to-DVD release.





Random Factoid #453

24 10 2010

I don’t know why I felt so compelled, but yesterday afternoon I was flipping through the channels and found nothing on but “Slumdog Millionaire.”  I basically dropped everything I was doing and watched all two hours of it.

While I still maintain that it wasn’t the best movie of 2008, I sure did enjoy it more than I did a year or so ago.  I think I felt backlash syndrome when the entire world went “Slumdog” crazy, proclaiming it the best movie ever while I stood off to the side saying, “Psh, that was so three months ago.”  That’s what you get for being ahead of the game on indie movies.

I hate backlash, and the worst part about it is that the entire thing is external.  I loved the movie when I first saw it, but when everybody else loved it, I felt like the movie lost something.  It was no longer my little secret, it was their discovery.  Now that the movie has won 8 Oscars and made $300 million worldwide, there’s no way I can call this my movie anymore.

So now that I’ve watched it again, I really can say that I’m back on board for “Slumdog Millionaire.”  I really saw the technical mastery of Danny Boyle and what a dynamic director he is.  I’m now slightly convinced that it earned those tech awards that I was skeptical about the movie winning.





Random Factoid #216

1 03 2010

In 2007, I bought a book in New York City called “Oscar Season” by Mary McNamara.  It was at a random little shop in the city, and I was struck by seeing the golden statue concealing a gun.

Ever since that fateful day, I have told myself that I will read the book during awards season one year.

2007 came and went, “The Departed” won Best Picture, and I hadn’t read it.

2008 flew by, “No Country for Old Men” won Best Picture, and I still hadn’t read it.

2009 was fine, “Slumdog Millionaire” won Best Picture, and it continues to garner dust on my bookshelf.

Now, in 2010, barring some freak occurrence, yet another year will pass where “Oscar Season” has gone unread.  There’s always next year…

**UPDATE 3/21/10: Please see Random Factoid #236.**





Random Factoid #203

16 02 2010

Just some fun for you all today: some more reviews from before I started blogging.  These come from the MovieTickets.com website, and they were my replies to their friendly day after email requests.





FEATURE: Define “Best Picture”

14 09 2009

For those of you not familiar with the movie industry, several high-profile film festivals (Toronto, Telluride, Venice) have occurred over the past week, inciting much talk about the upcoming onslaught of movies that will be highly considered for Academy Awards.  For those who read the factoids, it is hardly a secret that this season also brings a rush of euphoria for me.  I will keep you posted with trailers and buzz, and I will also soon be posting early predictions for nominees.  But as kind of a warm-up for what is to come, I wanted to give my answer to the question an age-old question: how do you define “Best Picture”?  What you will read below is an English paper that I wrote last year for a compare and contrast essay, mainly what critics think and what audiences think about the best movie of the year.

One Sunday in February or March every year, all the focus of popular culture turns to the Kodak Theater in Los Angeles, California, for the Academy Awards.  The glitz and glamour dominates the red carpet, yet the two most important people glide down the red carpet almost inconspicuously. Cameras do not flash in their face; people do not ogle at their outfits or speculate about whether or not they will end up in the tabloids; Ryan Seacrest from E! might interview them just for kicks.  Although just accountants, these two people hold a briefcase filled with twenty-four envelopes that will change the lives of many people.  Millions of moviegoers across the world watch the ceremony to find out the names inside the envelopes, but they stay tuned in to hear the presenter call out a movie, not a name.  They want to see what over 5,810 people working in the movie industry voted as the Best Picture.  However, for many moviegoers across America, their opinions do not match the Academy’s. Many of them have never heard of some of the nominated movies; some of the movies might not have played in their town.  With each passing year, a divide between what the general public perceives as Best Picture and what the Academy chooses as its Best Picture has grown wider and wider.

The Academy gave two awards for motion pictures at the first ceremony: one for “Outstanding Picture” and “Unique and Artistic Picture.”  At the next awards ceremony, they merged the two awards into “Best Picture,” claiming that the two categories were similar enough that they only merited one award.  And still to this day, the Academy Award for Best Picture represents the ultimate prize for any movie.  But are the members of the Academy voting for a movie that is outstanding or one that is unique and artistic?  Any movie can be outstanding, yet few merit the term “unique and artistic.”  It appears that they choose to award the outstanding because such an adjective is so opinionated that it can easily be swayed by many factors.

Recently, the process of selecting a Best Picture in recent years has become less subjective and more political.  The most well known case occurred in 2005 when “Crash” won Best Picture over “Brokeback Mountain,” the latter of which had won almost every award possible.  Because the movie focused on the lives of two closeted homosexual men, most people attributed its loss to homophobia.

The voters are often hand out Best Picture to a director that they like.  Handing out Best Picture along with Best Director has become all but standard practice: 59 of the 81 Best Picture winners also won Best Director. Many people assume that 2006’s Best Picture winner, “The Departed,” won only because they felt obliged to give an award to Martin Scorsese, then the perennial Oscar bridesmaid.

The Oscar voters also like to play it safe, rarely awarding controversial or provocative films.  In 1993, they awarded Best Picture to “Schindler’s List,” a film about the Holocaust.  Although many acclaimed movies were produced about the subject in the 50 years since the horrific genocide, “Schindler’s List” marked the first nomination for Best Picture for a film about the Holocaust.  The Academy generally receives movies set in the past more favorably than movies set in the present or future.  In 2008, “Slumdog Millionaire” was the only movie set in the present day.

The voters are notorious for selecting similar types of movies, which have become known as “Oscar Bait.”  To qualify as “Oscar Bait,” a movie needs an acclaimed director, a respected cast, and a subject matter that appeals to the Academy.  The Holocaust, elaborate period pieces, and biographies have become recent favorites.

It is difficult to gauge what the general public perceives as the Best Picture of the year.  Are box office grosses telling of the Best Picture?  Clearly not, otherwise Best Picture winners from this decade would include such classics as “Spider-Man 3,” “Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace,” and “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”  Usually the highest grossing movie of the year involves an adaptation of a comic book or another popular book series; often times sequels top the list.   These movies are made to pack audiences into the multiplexes.  The People’s Choice Awards cannot truthfully depict the public’s perception because they pick the same kind of movies that dominate the box office.

Perhaps the most accurate indicator of the moviegoer’s Best Picture is the IMDb (Internet Movie Database) poll.   On this website, hundreds of thousands of moviegoers rate movies on a scale of one to ten stars.  IMDb uses a weighted average to get a rating of the movie, and they maintain a chart of the 250 best-rated movies.  The ratings give a fairly accurate representation of how the public feels about a movie; however, the system has a few flaws.  When a movie initially hits theaters, people flood the site and rate the movie very highly.  After some time, people revisit their ratings and lower them, and the average drops.   Readers often give movies with controversial subject matter one star to drop their average.  “Milk,” a 2008 Best Picture nominee about the first openly homosexual man to hold public office in the United States, was in the IMDb’s 250 highest rated films before it received the nomination.  But once the nomination highlighted the theme of the movie, homophobic voters rushed to IMDb to rate it one star.  Now, “Milk” has received 1,146 ratings of one star; unforgettable films like “Paul Blart: Mall Cop” and “Fool’s Gold” have less one star ratings.  With no completely legitimate means of discovering what movie audiences across America think is the Best Picture, maybe the Academy voters discount the opinion of the average moviegoer in general.

So why can’t the mainstream moviegoer and the Academy voter find harmony in a pick for Best Picture?  Perhaps the Academy has forgotten what Best Picture really means.  David Carr of The New York Times said, “It should be the kind of movie that is so good that it brings both civilians and the critical vanguard together.”  Ideally, a mixture of box office success and critical praise would result in a Best Picture win (or at the very least a nomination).  But if the Academy believed in such a formula, “The Dark Knight,” the film with the highest critical praise and box office gross, would have won Best Picture in 2008.  And while that year’s Best Picture winner, “Slumdog Millionaire,” was a box office sensation, the film relied on the awards season to fuel its box office.  According to Boxofficemojo.com, over 65% of its gross was accumulated after it received the nomination for Best Picture.

The average moviegoers of America have a way to show the Academy how they feel about the Best Picture choices.  Ratings of the Academy Awards telecast have shown how pleased America is with the likely winner.  When “Titanic,” the highest grossing movie in history, won Best Picture in 1997, over 57 million people watched the show.  The highest ratings that the show has received came from when the Best Picture winners were box office successes, such as “The Lord of the Rings.”  But when the Best Picture went to low-budgeted, little seen independent films like “Crash” and “No Country for Old Men,” the ratings fell to all-time lows.

Every individual looks for something different in a Best Picture.  Some are looking for a movie with cultural resonance.   Some are looking for the movie that can make them laugh until they cry.  Some are looking for a movie that makes a unique, artistic statement.  Some are looking for a movie with most exhilarating car chase.  Although the process of choosing a Best Picture winner is subjective, maybe a day will come when a movie will find us that can satisfy all that we are looking for, both for Academy voters and normal moviegoers alike.

What do you think?  Is it possible to have a movie that can unite the critical vanguard and the audience at the megaplex?  How do you define Best Picture?  How many questions do I have to pose before you comment?!?

Until the next reel,
Marshall





Random Factoid #45

11 09 2009

As I stare at the blinking cursor struggling to come up with a factoid at this late hour, I think to myself, “What could I possibly say to to entertain my readers more?”  I am waiting, watching that cursor appear and disappear pensively as if it holds the key to unlocking the factoid inside of me.  From black to white it turns, and I’m sure by now, you are thinking, “Quit buying time and give me the darn factoid!”  Well, fine!  Here it is, you voices resonating in my head.

I make my own “Academy Awards” each year; that is, I nominate and award who I think should be receiving the Oscar.  Sorry, “Slumdog Millionaire,” all your Oscars went to “The Dark Knight.”  And Helen Mirren, hand back that statue; it’s going to Kate Winslet for “Little Children.”

I used to make this list at the end of the year, but now I start in May.  I already have the majority of the big categories filled with the exception of Best Supporting Actress and Best Adapted Screenplay, in case you were wondering, which obviously you were if you have trekked through the entire factoid to get to this last extraneous bit of information that I could let run on for forever, but I have chosen to give you a break and end the sentence now.





FEATURE: Mindless Moviegoing?

11 08 2009

I’ve heard a fair few jokes that start with “There are only two kinds of people in this world.” Many people think there are two kinds of moviegoers in the world: those who rush to go see the latest blockbuster just because of its stars or because it has stuff blowing up, and those who prefer what they perceive to be more substantive and tasteful filmmaking, usually independent or art house films. I say, why can’t you be both? I most certainly am. I love little indies like “The Hurt Locker” and “(500) Days of Summer,” but I also enjoy movies like “The Hangover” and “Star Trek.” I live for November and December when the majority of the movies nominated at the Oscars are released, but I also get excited for May and June when the summer puts forth movies for all tastes.

But, alas, I am one of very few people my age that can make such a claim. I can guarantee you most of my friends haven’t even heard of “The Hurt Locker;” heck, some of you all reading this probably haven’t. And that’s alright, but we won’t be seeing any movies like it in the future if Americans consciously choose senseless entertainment like “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” over higher-brow movies. On occasion, the two have been able to blend successfully, in movies like “The Dark Knight.” Yet few will dispute that movies with such a plot might not have been so commercially viable if they had not worn the front of your typical blockbuster.

The legendary movie critic Roger Ebert has some harsh words for my generation, saying that we may be headed for a “Dark Age” in cinema, mainly due in part to teens who throw their money mindlessly at the big-budget studio movies. He thinks that because we don’t read reviews from critics regularly, we are more prone to drink the blockbuster Kool-Aid. He even goes as far as to suggest that we don’t even care about reviews and that we don’t even have the brainpower to go see the movie that isn’t showing on the most screens at the multiplex. The root of this mindset is “the dumbing-down of America” that has sprung from our worthless education, failing to provide us any sort of curiosity in anything beyond what we see constantly advertised.

Ebert does bring up some good points. It is the teens who swarm the theater every weekend and never fail to go see the hit movie of the week. It is the teens who demand more action, more star power, and bigger explosions. It is the teens who line the pockets of Michael Bay and the studios that let him put such garbage on the screen.

But I don’t think he is entirely right. There is hope for this generation, and I have seen it. Back in December, I was among the first to see “Slumdog Millionaire.” Before it was the sensation that it became, I couldn’t get anyone to go see it. I had a friend who ridiculed me for seeing it instead of “The Day the Earth Stood Still.” That same friend is now one of the movie’s biggest fans. I also convinced him to go see movies like “Frost/Nixon” and “The Reader” before they were nominated for Best Picture over movies like “The Unborn” and “Paul Blart: Mall Cop.” I spread the word about these movies and I got my friends to see them, and I think they were pleasantly surprise when they not only knew, but had seen many of the nominated films at the Oscars.

That hope is extending past Oscar season, when it is easy to support indies. Many of my friends are discovering “(500) Days of Summer” and “The Hurt Locker” without a huge media push (or even my own push). These are the same people who saw movies like “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” and demanded more for their money and their time. I think what Ebert fails to comprehend is that although many of us go see these movies, that doesn’t mean we love every one we see. We are a curious bunch: curious to find the next “The Dark Knight” in a heap of blockbusters and curious to find the next “Slumdog Millionaire” in a mass of indies. Critics and parents often have different tastes from ours, and how will we know unless we take a look for ourselves? One man’s “G.I. Joe” may be another man’s “Citizen Kane.”

It is easy to look at all the terrible movies that have been released recently and think that American cinema is in a bad state. And yes, my generation has been the driving force behind the spawning of so many of them. But give us a break. We want to be enthralled by movies just as much as any adult. We seek out good entertainment too, but blockbusters are usually the first place we look. We teens are the target audience of comic-book movies, and that has produced beloved critical darlings like “The Dark Knight” and “Star Trek.” We love raunchy comedies, and that genre brought “Knocked Up” and “The Hangover,” both of which were lauded more than Best Picture nominee “The Reader” (according to Metacritic). We are not the root of the problematic dearth of great entertainment at the movies, but we are the easiest to blame. Even if you were to eliminate the types of movies that give critics such a headache, such as comic book adaptations and frenetic action movies, there would still be bad movies. But whether you prefer blockbusters or indies, we can all do our share to demand better quality from the movies that we watch.

Until the next reel,
Marshall