Academy Adjustments is a series of posts that will run up until the March 2 Academy Awards. Each of the Film Nerds will detail what single change they would make to the Oscars if they were put in charge of the Academy. You can see Part 1 here, Part 2 here, and Part 3 here.
Today’s post comes from Ben Stark.
ACCEPT NOMINATIONS YEAR-ROUND.
I don’t know about you, but my December is far busier than it needs to be. Not only am I trying to make more time for visiting friends and family, but I’m trying to buy gifts for my wife and others. Plus, things at work usually get a bit more hectic as customers try to wrap up projects before the end of the year. The last thing I need is the pressure to see the best films of the year in a four-week window… and yet that’s exactly what happens every year. Why? I’d argue it’s because studios only release their best work during this four-week period, despite having a fifty two-week year available to them.
According to Oscars.org, “nomination ballots are mailed to the Academy’s active members in late December and are due back to PricewaterhouseCoopers, an international accounting firm, in January.” This only leaves voters a few weeks to catch up on all the films that are in release, and it certain doesn’t leave enough time to visit or re-visit quality films from before September or so. If I have trouble seeing all the supposedly great movies released in a given year, what does that say about the voting members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, all of whom are undoubtedly much busier than me?
We all have short memories, and studios know this. That’s why it’s smart for studios to release their best films – the ones most likely to win awards – as close to the nomination process as possible. So, logic would dictate the necessary action: Expand the Academy Award nomination window, and you’ll expand the amount of desirable release dates available to studios for their best output.
Nominations would be gathered four times a year – in March, June, September, and December – via a secure online system. Nominations could be submitted any time during a given month, which would allow studios to campaign even more fervently throughout the year. For example, if a studio had a movie they were proud of in February, they wouldn’t have to sit on it (or its profits) until November. Instead, they could release it in time for March voting, making a strong publicity push for a film that’s fresh on everyone’s minds.
Yes, it would take a while for a year-round nominations to make a difference, but over the course of five or so years, it would completely shift the way studios release their movies. Not only that, but it would open the door for more movies to be heralded, more movies to be given Oscar attention, and would give more casual audience members the chance to see the great movies we film enthusiasts have to work so hard to seek out every year. If there are more films throughout the year with positive “Oscar” buzz, it would essentially create a mini-Oscar race every three months, driving up box office receipts and hopefully encouraging studios to make more awards-quality films. I don’t think I’m overstating it when I say that quarterly Oscar nominations could very well save cinema!
As is apparent by the release of films like THE HUNGER GAMES in March or GRAVITY in October, studios are willing to drop blockbusters outside of the traditionally lucrative Summer movie season. It’s time for them to spread their prestige pictures around the same way, and the best way to encourage this is for the Oscars to create a quarterly nomination process.
Please, members of the Academy: December needs your help.
Benjamin Stark is a filmmaker based in Huntsville, Alabama and writes the Speculatin’ a Hypothesis column right here at FilmNerds.com. You can check out his movies at his website, benstarkfilm.com and follow him on Twitter (@WonderMillFilms).
Academy Adjustments is a series of posts that will run up until the March 2 Academy Awards. Each of the Film Nerds will detail what single change they would make to the Oscars if they were put in charge of the Academy. You can see Part 1 here and Part 2 here.
Today’s post comes from Graham Flanagan.
GIVE US FULL-LENGTH OSCAR CLIPS FOR PERFORMANCES.
If I could change one thing about the annual Academy Awards broadcast, it would be the lack of substantial video clips that showcase the performances of the nominated actors.
It seems that, over the years, the length of these clips has dwindled a great deal.
Future broadcasts should build time for clips lasting AT LEAST 20 seconds to allow the work for which the actors are nominated to be appropriately featured.
I remember watching Academy Awards broadcasts in the 1990s that included clips for the respective nominees that reminded the audience about the reason their names were being read.
It also created an opportunity, in the pre-internet age, to give people watching in smaller markets a chance to see samples of the nominated work that had yet to make it to their local multiplexes.
I remember Oscar clips in those days running much longer than the ones we see today, and I always enjoyed hearing the crowd’s reactions.
The Oscars’ official YouTube page (an essential resource) removed the movie clips from ceremonies gone by due to licensing reasons. However, I found one YouTube user called Mr Awards Man who seems to understand exactly what I’m talking about.
He’s created a series of nostalgic montages that recreate the way in which Oscar clips were delivered in older broadcasts.
Here’s his montage for Best Supporting Actor in 1995:
Hopefully the producers of this year’s show will return to a similar format. That is undoubtedly a difficult task, though, since the show is always injected with so much superfluous fluff that the clips showcasing the nominated performances are elements that can be easily excised in order to be done before the 11 ‘o Clock news.
It’s every actor’s dream to be nominated for an Academy Award. One would hope the Academy would take the time to remind the audience how the lucky few in attendance actually achieved that goal.
Graham Flanagan is a senior video producer at BusinessInsider.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Graham_Cam, and listen to his recent Aspect Radio contributions, where he discusses the work of Philip Seymour Hoffman and the truth behind IMAX’s variable screen sizes.
In 2013, I watched 12 “classic” films that I hadn’t ever seen before. It worked out well, and I’m doing it again in 2014! Here are the final 12 films I’ll be watching. Friends from Film Nerds, Aspect Radio, and the Hollywood Gauntlet and Fabisch Factor facebook groups voted and helped me whittle down the list to just 12. Needless to say, I’ve got plenty more years of movie-watching left before this Shelf of Shame is empty.
January – DOG DAY AFTERNOON (Sidney Lumet, 1975)
VIEWED JANUARY 25th – I was expecting great things from Sidney Lumet, a director whose work I’ve not seen much of, and of course I had heard great things about Al Pacino’s lead performance, but what I wasn’t expecting was the amazing work from Charles Durning. I was primarily familiar with Durning from his fantastic comedic work as Pappy O’Daniel in The Coen Brothers’ O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU?, but his turn as negotiating officer Moretti is absolutely staggering. Every performer in Lumet’s somewhat comic heist movie feels exceptionally lived-in and organic, but somehow Durning’s work is what really blew me away. Overall the film moves extremely quickly, but for some reason I felt a disconnect when it came to John Cazale’s tragic Sal character. This will probably subside with future viewings.
February – THE STING (George Roy Hill, 1973)
VIEWED FEBRUARY 18th – Being that George Roy Hill’s BUTCH CASSIDY & THE SUNDANCE KID is one of my all-time favorite movies, my expectations were very high for Hill’s reunion with Paul Newman and Robert Redford. While THE STING doesn’t have its predecessor’s visual flair, structural experimentation, or winsome anachronisms, it’s still a very entertaining and satisfying caper film. It’s more of a Redford vehicle than a showcase for Newman, which is – again – a slight disappointment, but Redford certainly has plenty of screen presence to hold his own. What’s immediately apparent about THE STING is its incredible production value. The art direction and costume design is staggering, and along with the wonderful interstitial title cards, go a long way in creating an absolutely organic, lived-in environment for its characters. Hill doesn’t let any of the design go to waste, either; much of the film is shot in slow, open wide shots that make sure we get to see all of our characters living in the world created for them. As with most 1970′s classics, the supporting cast is fantastic, as Charles Durning makes another welcome appearance. He’s joined by the great Robert Shaw in a glowering villain role, as well as a very charming Harold Gould and a scrappy, likable Jack Kehoe. All in all, THE STING was a warm, effervescent caper delivered to me in the dead of winter, and it couldn’t have been more welcome.
March – THE GREAT DICTATOR (Charlie Chaplin, 1940)
April – THE GREAT ESCAPE (John Sturges, 1963)
May – BRAZIL (Terry Gilliam, 1985)
June – HANNAH & HER SISTERS (Woody Allen, 1986)
July – PATTON (Franklin J. Schaffner, 1970)
August - TRAINSPOTTING (Danny Boyle, 1996)
September – ELEPHANT (Gus Van Sant, 2003)
October – VIDEODROME (David Cronenberg, 1983)
November – M.A.S.H. (Robert Altman, 1970)
December - THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (John Sturges, 1960)
Just like last year, be sure to check in monthly to make sure I’m staying on schedule! Here‘s the list on Letterboxd.
Academy Adjustments is a series of posts that will run up until the March 2 Academy Awards. Each of the Film Nerds will detail what single change they would make to the Oscars if they were put in charge of the Academy. You can see Part 1 here.
Today’s post comes from Craig Hamilton.
STOP PERFORMING THE BEST SONG NOMINEES.
If I were in charge, you would never again see a performance of any of the Best Song nominees. Not every song is performed every year, but most years, at least a few songs are performed from the best song category. Since the Oscars feels like it has to act like the Tony’s, there are always a few musical numbers performed throughout the broadcast that aren’t the Best Song nominees. In hindsight, these almost never work and they will certainly suffice without the inclusion of the Best Song nominees. I can understand the need to liven up a show with music, but why tack on additional performances of songs that few people know?
Let’s face it, unless it comes from a musical, the Best Song nominees are either a part of the opening or closing credits of their respected movies or they’re practically a part of the score itself. I’m not arguing getting rid of this category, even though I could, because it’s evident that some years there shouldn’t even be a category for Best Song. In 2011, only 2 songs were nominated and really “Man or Muppet” was the obvious winner. One couldn’t help but feel like “Real in Rio” was a pity nomination to keep things interesting. In fact, only twice in the last 5 years have there been 5 nominees for Best Song. That’s not counting this year, where there are 4 nominees.
And what’s with this not performing all nominees? Sounds a bit unfair doesn’t it? How do you know which to perform? Sorry, Bombay Jayashri, but you can’t perform “Pi’s Lullaby” tonight because we got Adelle! What if the song that wins the Oscar isn’t performed while the losers are? What a disaster! Either all or none, I say. Actually, none, I say.
Here’s how much time would’ve been spent performing ALL of the songs had they all been performed over the last 5 years:
2008: 14 minutes 50 seconds 3 nominees
2009: 15 minutes 26 seconds 5 nominees
2010: 16 minutes 39 seconds 4 nominees
2011: 6 minutes 44 seconds 2 nominees
2012: 17 minutes 11 seconds 5 nominees
That’s an average of just over 14 minutes and that doesn’t count the extra time that would inevitably be added on due to queuing up and applause and transitions and what have you.
You can do a lot with 14 minutes. For one, you could make the show 14 minutes shorter. Or you could add a category; maybe Best Lighting. But you’d be better served using that time to broaden the setup of the tech categories. You can use that time to enlighten the audience and viewers on just what all goes into Sound Mixing or Visual Effects. Show us a clip of the Sound Editors in a room shoving wooden sticks into buckets of mud to get just the right sound of a barefoot Mesoamerican who’s trying to keep his head. Don’t be afraid to split-screen that mug with actual footage from the film. Play some behind-the-scenes footage of Roger Deakins filming a James Bond skyscraper fight scene on a Shanghai night. These nuances are all part of what makes the films so great and it’s all undeniably more interesting than hearing the Best Songs performed live. What’s that? You think the techie stuff is boring? What are you doing watching the Oscars? What are you doing reading this? I ban you from further readership!
You can find more from Craig at citizencraig.com, and be sure to follow him on Twitter (@citizen_craig), where he and his wife are staging scenes from the best films of 2013 with their one-year-old daughter, Beatrix. It’s the cutest thing you’ll ever see. Here she is as Theodore from HER:
You can also find Bea’s scenes (@BeaMovies) on Twitter and Instagram. Stay tuned to FilmNerds.com during the remainder of February for more Academy Adjustments!
Here’s the first in a new series of posts that will run up until the March 2 Academy Awards. Each of the Film Nerds will detail what single change they would make to the Oscars if they were put in charge of the Academy. First up is Ben Flanagan!
LET US WATCH ALL THE NOMINATED SHORT FILMS.
Last year marked the first time in my moviegoing life I’d seen all five animated shorts nominated for the 2013 Oscar in that category. It took long enough to see that day, but thanks to YouTube, it finally happened.
So last year, I had a dog in the fight — quite literally, in fact, given my favorite of those shorts was “Adam and Dog,” which sadly did not win. But it felt good to care about these films and the budding careers of those responsible.
Prior to the occasion, I had an interest in seeing the nominated films, but there was no local theatrical or online venue where I could do so, therefore, I had no rooting interest when these categories came up during the respective broadcasts over the years. I didn’t care, and the Academy gave me no reason to do so.
I found that watching the 2012 animated short nominees was one of the more fulfilling film experiences that year and could not wait to make this a tradition of mine for the subsequent ceremonies. (Note: I have yet to see the 2013 nominees, and I still haven’t seen any live-action or documentary short nominees.)
That said, if film lovers and Oscar ceremony viewers do not have easy access to watch all 15 nominees, then I would totally nix the categories, at least from the ABC broadcast. Or announce the winners in and out of breaks. It reduces their importance, but if no one has seen the winning films they announce, then what’s the point? We have zero context for what we’re seeing on television, and we’re either changing the channel or, at the very least, taking bathroom breaks during their often moving speeches.
So I propose we either totally get rid of these categories during the main broadcast of the Academy Awards, or the Academy, and ABC make a greater effort to show these movies to viewers who have less access to those who live in cities where they may hold the occasional screening at a handful of theaters across the country.
I’m crossing my fingers for the latter. These folks and their art deserve their day in the sun.
The 2013 film year didn’t disappoint, and neither did its soundtracks featuring beautifully composed original scores and brilliantly chosen songs to accompany the films.
Take a look back at some of the shrewdest choices the filmmakers made and the unexpected collaborations between them and many of the best composers in Hollywood, including the likes of Hans Zimmer and Cliff Martinez.
You may not consider this the best movie music of 2013, but each choice left an astounding impression on me that I won’t soon forget. These sounds remain inside my head, tumbling back and forth and forcing me to revisit some of the instant classics that made 2013 one of the best film years I can remember.
Jimmie Noone – “Blues My Naughty Sweetie Gives To Me” (from “Blue Jasmine”)
Steve Jablonsky – “I’m Big” (from “Pain & Gain”)
Hans Zimmer – ” What Are You Going To Do When You Are Not Saving the World” (from “Man of Steel”)
Ramin Djawadi – “Pacific Rim”
Hot Chocolate – “Every 1′s a Winner” (from “Frances Ha”)
M83 – “Waking Up” (from “Oblivion”)
Britney Spears/James Franco – “Everytime” (from “Spring Breakers”)
Sleigh Bells – “Crown on the Ground” (from “The Bling Ring”)
Cliff Martinez – “Wanna Fight” (from “Only God Forgives”)
Mike Patton – “The Snow Angel” (from “The Place Beyond the Pines”)
Oscar Isaac & Marcus Mumford – “Fare Thee Well (Dink’s Song)” (from “Inside Llewyn Davis”)
Matt and Francesca Scalici return with another episode of Cinematrimony. This time, Matt and Francesca discuss the second installment in The Hunger Games franchise, Catching Fire. Francesca is a huge fan of the books while Matt entered the series a bit skeptical, though both mostly enjoyed the first installment of the film franchise. What do they think of the second entry in this big-budget series? Matt and Francesca discuss this and more in this episode of Cinematrimony.
Matt and Francesca Scalici return with another episode of Cinematrimony. This time, Matt and Francesca discuss Alfonso Cuaron’s space thriller Gravity starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. Does Bullock’s performance carry the weight of this intense, character-driven thriller? Matt and Francesca discuss this and more in this episode of Cinematrimony.
Well, the inevitable has finally happened. After a few years of speculation about the future of Indiana Jones in the fallout of Disney’s acquisition of LucasFilm, news broke yesterday that Disney now holds the rights to all future Indiana Jones properties, from movies to cartoons to toys to video games to theme park rides. There are a few ways to take this news as a fan of the kind of cinema that spawned RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK.
The first, most obvious (at least to me) reaction is a negative one. A massive, faceless corporation continues to gobble up once-original and fresh franchises with the intent to manufacture more money. Disney owns Marvel, Pixar, Star Wars, the Muppets, and Mickey Mouse, all of which were at different times symbols of individual expression, vivid imagination, and counterintuitive cinematic storytelling. Certainly, movies have changed. The trend of conglomerate-owned studios – an environment in which Indiana Jones was born, after Gulf & Western purchase of Paramount – has been extrapolated into a bizarre status quo in which, essentially, two global behemoths (Disney and Warner Brothers) seemingly own 98% of the world’s popular entertainment.
Like I said, that’s a whole separate conversation, but it leads us to a healthy assumption to make – and say – out loud: INDIANA JONES AS WE KNOW HIM IS DEAD. The thing with that is that he’s been dead since 1989, when Lucas, Ford, and Spielberg rode him into the sunset before Best Director Oscars, visual effects revolutions, career slumps, CEO responsibilities and grandchildren changed each man, respectively. It seems that INDIANA JONES & THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL – a movie which I still think is a good movie, despite being an inorganic fit into the previous three films’ saga – is going to function as an odd, ill-fitting bridge between the two phases of the character’s history.
Let’s make it clear: To the people that control his destiny, the words “Indiana Jones” no longer name a character. They name a brand.
“Indiana Jones” is no longer Harrison Ford in the fedora and leather jacket.
“Indiana Jones” is no longer this man:
“Indiana Jones” is now this logo:
I’d wager to say that absolutely none of us – including myself – are happy about that, but it’s a fact that we have to live with, and once I get over my righteous indignation, I can begrudgingly admit that I’ll show up to the movie theater to see any movie with that logo on the poster.
With all that ugliness and sadness on the table, let’s quit dragging our feet and get into it. Aside from all the toys and video games and soft drinks and fruit snacks and theme park rides and sippy cups… Where do the Indiana Jones films go from here?
Scenario 1: Sequel
It’s been rumored for years that enough of the key players are passively interested in a fifth – and presumably final – outing for Harrison Ford’s Indiana Jones. There are a lot of variables in this formula, however. These “key players” are all in their sixties or seventies, and while there are lots of things that make RAIDERS films special, one of the most obvious things is physicality. Cinema is movement, clearly, and one of my favorite quotes about RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK is that it is “the reason God created cinema”. We need a hero that can run, jump, and fall, and we need a group of people behind the camera that can run, jump, and fall with him.
The one thing that makes me optimistic about this scenario is the idea of the “Spielberg Apology”. When Steven Spielberg makes a film that is critically reviled, he follows it up with a film that is critically praised. CRYSTAL SKULL led to TINTIN, WAR HORSE, and LINCOLN. A.I. led to MINORITY REPORT. THE LOST WORLD led to SAVING PRIVATE RYAN. HOOK led to JURASSIC PARK. And, of course, the one that started it all… 1941 led to RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. I think that if this movie gets made, it will get made with the knowledge that CRYSTAL SKULL disappointed the majority of the fanbase, and hasn’t aged well.
So, that’s the positive; the negative is that for Disney, this is not a very good long-term plan. There are no franchise possibilities for a star in his 70′s, and I think even the densest executive would deny any franchise potential in Mutt Williams, considering that character’s emasculation and Shia LeBeouf’s generally falling star image and refusal to be a Hollywood darling. So, while this film might happen if all the pieces fall into place relatively quickly, I think to Disney execs it looks like a necessary trifle to get to a larger goal.
Scenario 2: Reboot
This might be our worst case scenario. It’s also the most likely. After all, why would Disney tie to a series of films that they can’t make money off of by? Remember, Paramount retains distribution rights for the first four films. However, once we accept that this corporately owned intellectual asset – not character, remember – is going to exist beyond that glorious shot at the end of INDIANA JONES & THE LAST CRUSADE, it’s a very clear reality. I will add that it also makes sense in character terms. Since the character’s inception, Indy has been inspired by James Bond, and one of the 007 series’ greatest assets is its malleability. This isn’t STAR WARS or LORD OF THE RINGS, where timelines and strict continuity are essential.
The problem arises, however, when you note the fact that the character is a metaphor for 20th Century America. I’d argue that a “modern day” Indiana Jones makes very little sense, although Bond is always updated to be contemporary. There might be an acceptable way to reboot Indy; cast a charming actor as the pre-RAIDERS adventurer working as a grad student. Show him meeting a young Marion Ravenwood. Show his relationship with Brody and Abner Ravenwood. If you hire great technicians and a promising young actor like Joseph Gordon-Levitt or Jake Johnson, this could be a promising start. Clean reboots have worked for Batman, PLANET OF THE APES and 007 in both critical and financial terms. But again, there are so many specific things that make those first three RAIDERS films soar that this is much thinner ice.
Scenario 3: Experiment
To me, this is the best case scenario. There are a number of ways to creatively extend the *shudder* franchise potential of the corporately owned intellectual asset labeled as “Indiana Jones” that might be new and different enough to mimic the blast of imagination and wonder that was RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. Imagine a more globalized Indiana Jones where the franchise is handed off to a grown-up Short Round, who adopts the mantle of Indiana Jones into the 1960s, 1970s, and even 1980s. This keeps the America metaphor going and also opens the door to appeal to some of the great modern Chinese filmmakers like Yimou Zhang or the Korean filmmaker Kim Jee-Woon. If you’ve seen his epic THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE WEIRD, you’ve essentially seen an update of the Indiana Jones formula, and it works marvelously.
However you slice the reboot or handoff or prequel, however, you’re going to lose that one element that is so painful to lose: Harrison Ford. Yes, the actor hasn’t set the world afire with his performances in the last 20 years or so, but for hardcore Indiana Jones fans it’s still hard to let go of his presence in the franchise. This leads me to the most obvious and absolute best case scenario:
GIVE INDIANA JONES TO PIXAR.
Obviously, both are owned by Disney. Obviously, this would take Indy into the realm of animation, where age can be worked with. It unfortunately loses the series’ tradition of real stunts and practical effects, but THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN and THE INCREDIBLES have taught us that if you build a real enough world, and your action sequences are well-choreographed, the action can feel plenty real.
This would help both the Indy franchise and Pixar as a company, in my opinion. It would give Pixar a slightly more “grown-up” secondary direction to supplement its primarily G or PG-rated animated features. It would give Indiana Jones access to some of the best creative minds in the industry, and allow those minds to play in a playground that surely influenced them all. It would make money for Disney by combining two properties that have both been criticized for stagnation and repetition. All of the technicians from the original films can be brought in to consult. With his TINTIN experience, Spielberg could even come in and direct – although I don’t think anyone would be offended by a Brad Bird or a Pete Doctor taking the reins – and, best of all, Harrison Ford can come in and comfortably perform his part for as long as he’d like. The same goes for all those great supporting characters played by Karen Allen, John Rhys-Davies, and yes – even Sean Connery.
So with all that said, let’s just remember that even if Disney announces an ADVENTURES OF MUTT WILLIAMS teen soap opera to be aired on the Hallmark channel next Monday, or if they recast Indiana Jones as a skinny jeans-wearing Zac Efron hunting for Kim Jong Un’s hair product, none of these take away those amazing films from 1981 to 1989.
The Indiana Jones of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK might never be coming back, but that only makes his adventures all the more special.
Thanks for reading! Be sure to check in on Cinematrimony and Aspect Radio for some great film-related podcasts, and if you’d like to keep up with my moviemaking, check out my shorts at benstarkfilm.com. We’ll be premiering a new music video this week, so keep your eyes peeled for that!
Last year, I was able to move 4 films and one massive anthology television series from the Shelf of Shame to my Vault of Victory. It was a good initiative, but I think I can improve on the model for myself.
12 supposedly great films. One year. One film a month. It’s called SHELF OF SHAME XTREME, people.
EDIT (04/15): I swapped Wild Strawberries and Bicycle Thieves due to Criterion’s announcement that the former will see a blu-ray release in June.
Post-Viewing Update (January 28): I managed to squeeze in my first SoS title right at the end of the month. I watched David Lean’s snow-bound answer to 1962′s sandy LAWRENCE OF ARABIA on a fantastic blu-ray, with the sound turned all the way up. As expected, the film is a visual and aural marvel, although the romance between Yuri (Omar Sharif) and Lara (Julie Christie) didn’t quite hit for me. It’s hard not to compare the sweeping romance of ZHIVAGO to the big scale action of LAWRENCE, but they are wholly different movies. ZHIVAGO deserves its place as a classic, and it’s final moment is a masterwork in narrative pay-off. Interestingly enough, this film’s cultural impact was made clear in a conversation I had with my parents when I mentioned that I was watching it. As soon as I said the title, my dad started whistling Maurice Jarre’s iconic theme, and my mom revealed that it was the first movie she ever got to see in a movie theater. It’s wonderful to discover, for the first time, a cinematic gem that crosses generations.
Post-Viewing Update (February 28): That’s right, I squeezed another cinematic classic in at the very last minute out of obligation. You can ridicule me or you can admit to yourself that you’ve done the same thing before. My biggest embarrassment is that I put it off in favor of watching episodes of BREAKING BAD, which is a great TV show… and yet, the greatest TV show going still pales in comparison to great cinema. Yes, PATHS OF GLORY is unmistakably great cinema. Stanley Kubrick’s camera movement is suitably Wellesian, Kirk Douglas’ performance is perfectly heroic and iconic, and the screenplay stages things in such a grand and universal way that we often forget about the specificity of the situation at the core of the story. Aside from some of the most influential tracking shots of all time, the film shows off an incredibly efficient battle scene, using dolly and zoom lenses to connect wide group shots to character-focused close-ups in a way that must have influenced Zack Snyder’s speed ramped zooms in (the far inferior) 300. Of course, it takes more than fancy camera work to make a great film, and what soars here is the characterization. Two quick examples: PATHS OF GLORY features bookend scenes showcasing a pair of wonderfully written villain characters whose motivations are clear, understandable, and monstrous. Finally, the unexpected performance of Timothy Carey, who really functions as the heart of the film, was absolutely stirring and emotional without losing its context or leading the film into sentimentality. His desperation and hopelessness must have been a clear influence on the Coen Brothers and John Turturro for Bernie’s famous death march in MILLER’S CROSSING.
Post-Viewing Update (March 23): Wow. I’ll freely admit that it took me a good while to get into the groove of this, the most famous and well-regarded film of Yasujiro Ozu’s prolific career. For a Westerner like myself, the film grammar of non-Kurosawa Japanese cinema from this era is unnerving. Ozu moves his camera maybe once in TOKYO STORY, and his characters are often framed in similar planes, giving up depth to describe setting rather than character. He connects people to places, and then cuts freely within those places to denote movement or relationship dynamics. Of course, the timidity of his grammar is perfectly matched by the stone cold facades put upon by his protagonists; this is a post-WWII Japan in which desperate grasps at normalcy bury the emotions we so easily and sloppily express in our own modern culture. Ozu’s long-suffering parents, not wanting to disturb the lives of their busy and distracted adult children, take lethal pangs of loneliness and regret on their ever-smiling chins. This is truly a masterpiece of empathy and tragic warmth. Watch it and let it simmer.
Post-Viewing Update (April 29): Well, they can’t all be home runs, I suppose. BEN-HUR has been the biggest surprise of this year’s Shelf of Shame so far. I was really expecting to be enthralled by this highly regarded legend of epic Hollywood filmmaking, but in the end, I was merely impressed. When it comes to pacing, dialogue, plotting, and performance, there’s really nothing here that rises above “high” Biblical tales like THE ROBE or even “low” pepla like ROMULUS AND REMUS. Where BEN-HUR really soars, however, is in its staggering spectacle and incredible stunt-work, essentially isolated to the truly magnificent Chariot Race sequence. It doesn’t take much more than a brief glance at Wikipedia to see that the true star of the film is stuntman Yakima Canutt. Overall, I’m glad I finally caught up with BEN-HUR, but more than anything I’m shocked at how much THE SIMPSONS has shaped my perception of this film. Constantly waiting for the line uttered in this scene from “A Star is Burns”, I was eventually disappointed to never hear Charlton Heston utter to Jesus, as if to C. Montgomery Burns, “Truly… you are the King of Kings.”
Post-Viewing Update (May 18): I’m no stranger to Billy Wilder’s work. I spent a few months in college watching as much of the Austro-American’s films as possible, and it’s hard to be a film nerd long without stumbling across his legendary collaboration with screenwriter I.A.L. Diamond. I’m very happy to say that SOME LIKE IT HOT easily joins the ranks of the great Wilders, right up there with SUNSET BOULEVARD, ACE IN THE HOLE, and the masterful and overlooked ONE, TWO, THREE. I wasn’t expecting the film to be such an effective gangster movie, which was a pleasant surprise, but that isn’t to say the comedy somehow pales in comparison. Tony Curtis is a revelation here, and Jack Lemmon does not disappoint. In reading more about the film, I was surprised to find out about the problems caused by Marilyn Monroe, considering the great work of hers that ends up on screen. I’ve always been suspicious of AFI’s number one ranking of this film on its 100 Years… 100 Laughs list, but as fellow Nerds Graham Flanagan and Matt Scalici assured me, SOME LIKE IT HOT is a legitimate all-timer.
WILD STRAWBERRIES (Ingmar Bergman, 1957)
BICYCLE THIEVES (Vittorio De Sica, 1948)
Post-Viewing Update (June 19): After studying Italian Neo-Realism via ROME, OPEN CITY in college, I never felt much of a desire to return to the genre. Yes, I find the sociopolitical context of the movement fascinating, but the stories themselves have never really appealed to me much. I’m a fan of the more expressionistic Fellini years, and in terms of counter-culture cinema, the French and American New Waves are certainly more my cup of tea. That said, the textbook example of Italian Neo-Realism is undeniably a great film, with or without its cultural and temporal placement. The deft way Vittorio De Sica uses film grammar is something I wasn’t expecting, as he employs camera movement and mise-en-scene quite gracefully to underline emotion: Whether it’s a tracking shot late in the film following young Bruno eye-line as he discovers a hard truth about his father, or the proliferation of bicycles in the fore- and backgrounds of scenes in which our desperate lead character, Antonio, is overwhelmed by what he cannot possess, the film is a masterclass in tying film craft to character empathy.
Post-Viewing Update (July 25): Wow. One of the great tragedies of the millennial culture wars is that it’s rare that we get a piece of art that’s both angry and understanding. Here is a film that is ultra-specific in its region and culture, but universal in its voice. The heart beat of DO THE RIGHT THING thumps to the same rhythm as today’s American cultural frustrations: The anger, the tension, the defensiveness, the victimization, and the alienation. It’s all there in a film that’s over 20 years old. What’s even more phenomenal is that in the midst of all this complex thematic work, we get a fantastic ensemble character drama. No two characters exist in Spike Lee’s film without bumping into one another at one point or another, and by the time that happens, the audience is completely prepared to understand each character’s perspective. It really is a marvel of a screenplay in construction, a tour de force of both comic and tragic performances, and a visually arresting and vibrant work of directorial flare.
WILD STRAWBERRIES (Ingmar Bergman, 1957)
Post-Viewing Update (August 22): It’s getting really hard to think of new things to say about all these obviously great movies. A few of the dream sequences had the existential horror of HOUR OF THE WOLF or THE SEVENTH SEAL, and yet the scenes of young people living and loving were as breezy as a Truffaut film. I think that’s what keeps me coming back to Bergman. Despite his reputation as a morose brooder, his films always show off a wit that I forget, and every scene is built like a well-constructed short film. There are very few wasted moments in Ingmar Bergman films. Like I said, there’s not much to say other than “Yes, I agree with everyone that’s ever seen WILD STRAWBERRIES in that this film is an absolute masterstroke.”
Post-Viewing Update (September 29): This is one of the few titles from this year’s SoS that I watched with my wife, and boy was that a great choice. I didn’t expect this to be such an effective romantic comedy, but that’s exactly what it is at its height. The film does feel especially constructed to be the height of 90′s indie film glory, what with the participation of the Weinsteins, Lawrence Bender, Kevin Smith, and Gus Van Sant, but it succeeds despite a level of calculated 90′s smugness. Robin Williams is absolutely fantastic, and while the part of Will Hunting isn’t all that compelling, you can see a dynamite actor in the making when Matt Damon is onscreen.
Post-Viewing Update (October 19): This was the year’s obligatory horror pick, which I also decided to make a David Cronenberg film. I’ve not seen a ton of Cronenberg – and I’m honestly afraid of tackling much of his filmography. This was a great title for a wuss like me, as the film is clearly influenced by comic books (and has just as clearly influenced comic book movies, especially Bryan Singer’s X-MEN), and is very pulpy and plot-heavy. That said, SCANNERS doesn’t seem to me to be an essential classic of the sci-fi horror genre, but it’s a very fun, slick piece with a dynamite ending.
Post-Viewing Update (November 29): Probably the most high-profile film by Alfred Hitchcock that I had yet to see, STRANGERS ON A TRAIN is a pretty embarrassing blind spot for any average movie buff. However, this is one of those rare cases where coming to a well-regarded classic with fresh eyes might help me digest the film with a bit of measured consideration. If you combine a stellar Dimitri Tiomkin score, a fantastic Robert Walker performance, and some exquisitely staged Hitchock-ian sequences of suspense, you have the makings of a wonderful ride. However, it’s hard to hold up this film’s stop-and-start momentum and straightforward story against the lean mechanics of REAR WINDOW and THE THIRTY-NINE STEPS or the shocking subversion of VERTIGO and PSYCHO. This is Hitchock in his prime, for sure, and an absolute must-see, but it’s a more humble and lyrical entry than I was expecting.
Post-Viewing Update (December 29): I am a Miyazaki neophyte. Before SPIRITED AWAY, I had only seen PRINCESS MONONOKE, and I’m starting to see the appeal of this masterful animation director. The fluidity of Miyazaki’s films is staggering, and it seems that the story of SPIRITED AWAY provides the perfect platform for this fluidity, both in terms of physical subjects and narrative structure. The film uses the logic of dreams and nightmares as effectively as David Lynch or Werner Herzog, often to similarly horrifying effect. I look forward to seeing more and more of Miyazaki’s masterpieces, now that he’s announced his retirement with THE WIND RISES.
So that’s it! My 2013 Shelf of Shame is complete. I stayed on schedule and had an amazing year watching some truly great films for the first time. There wasn’t a bad film in the lot, but of course I had to rank them in order of personal preference. Click on the list to see it posted at Letterboxd.
So what now? Well, it’s about to be a New Year, and there are more films to be seen, so keep your eyes peeled for 2014′s Shelf of Shame post!