The Oscar's Accessibility: Necessary or Egregious?

I’ve waited a week’s time to release my thoughts on the decision from The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences to include a Best Achievement in Popular Film category for the 2020 Oscars. President John Bailey made the announcement last Wednesday, in addition to revealing changed details in the production of the show which will now be cut down to a three-hour broadcast, as well as bumping up it's cast date from early March too early February. In conclusion to those revisions, the Academy will also un-air the small awards such as Sound Mixing and Production Design, revealing those winners throughout the broadcast, instead of including them as a part of the show. 

It’s a whole new age for the Academy, one met by disdain and vitreal by Twitter. Many claiming that the move by the Board of Governors is one that collapses the integrity and legitimacy of the ceremony, celebrating spectacle and dismissing artistry. It’s a conversation that has sparked debate and consumed the fandom of filmmaking over the last week, and I’ve had my fair share of contradictions and changes of heart. 

It’s a bold move, one that invokes a response, to make a separate category that favors “popularity.” How the Academy will measure those qualifications for such a group remains unknown, but box office growth will most definitely partake a role in the classifications for achievement in this tier of filmmaking. The charts below display some evidence to the argument that the Academy doesn’t favor popularity as a criterion for best picture, as the last seven ceremonies rarely included films that were beloved by audiences. The most notable exception to that argument is James Cameron’s “Avatar” which remains to be the highest grossing film of all-time in global measurements, grossing $2.7 billion. The film would do well in the states as well, with a $749 million domestic cume. It’s the prime example for the counterargument, but many have described the nomination of “Avatar” as a plead or an apologetic move by the Academy in response to the criticism of their treatment of “The Dark Knight.” 

Highest Grossing Best Picture Nominees

Highest Grossing Movies

"Avatar" received a mediocre approval from critics as well, standing at an 83% rating on RottenTomatoes, the average rating being 7.5/10. On top of that, the film still lost out to Kathryn Bigelow’s “The Hurt Locker,” a film that grossed $17 million at the domestic box office. So the question remains, is this move by The Academy to become more “accessible” to a larger audience necessary or egregious? 

Being constantly reminded of the ratings drop that the ceremony has suffered over the years, it's worth mentioning that The Oscar’s was never meant to be a wildly popular show. It was a private party, a gathering of elitists, the night where “Hollywood pats itself on the back.” It was always meant to be that, so the films nominated or appreciated we’re meant to be the most artistic, the most daring, the most politically charged/relevant examples of filmmaking. In recent years, the political dilemma of the program has grown in waves, becoming the number one draw at times, to see how much trash these Hollywood celebs will talk about the president. (Not that I am opposed to that, he brings it on himself.)  

It’s never been surprising for me to see films such as “The Reader” get nominated over “The Dark Knight” or “Iron Man.” The Academy has never appreciated the experience of spectacle as much as geekdom or fandom. It’s always been far more attracted to reflection, specifically dramatic reflection. The hefty sweeps of emotion, the shouting and screaming, the films that reflect the power we have as human beings to intimately affect one another. These are necessary films, good ones too. Genre filmmaking has grown in popularity over the last decade in half though, as science fiction tales and caped crusaders have become the talk of the town at hair salons, coffee houses, and restaurants. No longer caged behind the doors of comic books shops or “Clerk” stores. 

While that evolution and development and diversification of fandom has blossomed, the Academy has remained fixated on the artistic shine of Hollywood. Providing footing and a platform for smaller and unknown films to gain some attention for the fresh voices they share with us as moviegoers. 

For me, I always saw the Academy as the night where my artistic side as a film lover was satisfied, where we honored those films that were relatively unnoticed by the masses. Not that movies like “Logan” or “Deadpool” or “Wonder Woman” shouldn’t be in the conversations for Best Picture or Best Director or Best Screenplay. These are movies that excite us and transport us to different places, but the Academy has never been about those movies. 

The Academy is fabricating a category as a necessary trait of modernization. It’s meant to be an example of their growing efforts to match the pace of fandom, an un-achievable feat seeing as nerdom changes and grows at a far more rapid rate than can be predicted. The point is to save ratings, to save face, and to give non-film nerds a reason to watch, hopefully. There is no reason for them to watch, and for most of us, there never was one. The Oscars can be a valuable tool in building someone’s careers, in providing a platform for new voices in the industry to be heard, in spreading messages of equality or #MeToo. It's a platform, a grand and prestigious one at that. It is both a night of self-indulgence and self-recognition for Hollywood folk, where they can sit back and reflect upon the greatness of the past and the future, while also providing legitimacy to societal grievances or cultural stigmas.

It’s a stage, for many things, none of which involve naming the best films of the last year, because the solution to the Academy’s problem, if they wish to address it directly, is quite simple. Open your mind. Open up to new ideas, to new genres, to new stories, to a new fandom. We all have our fair share of revelations as filmgoers, mine was recognizing my neglection for geekdom. Succumbing to the seduction of a “snob” critic’s ideology, pretending that a film with capes and quips is objectively worse than one that is sad, low-budget, and an indie-darling. Becoming more excited for films with the Sundance reefs than one with Marvel logos, despite growing up a comic book fan, despite growing up a fan of movies like “Indiana Jones” and “Star Wars.” Excluding my childhood, I thought to become a film critic was the equivalent of falling into the formula for the disapproval of popularity and the endorsement of artistry, as if they couldn’t co-exist, a similar dilemma the Academy faces.

I recognized my blissful appreciation for spectacle, to be wowed by the silver screen, to be engulfed by an adventure or a character or a scene that reminds me of why I love movies. The Academy has to find that same moxie. Needing to discover what makes them who they are, if that is the constant celebration of indie filmmaking, so be it, if it’s an inclusion of genre filmmaking, excellent. Either way, The Academy will still need to discover what they’re stage is meant to be used for, if not the propagating of required societal progressions or the pampering of Hollywood, then what?
 

Top 10 Movies of 2018 Thus Far..

It's officially the halfway point of the year, and it's fun to look back on the movies we've already seen so far, and debate between them. This list is my attempt to be a bit more objective than personal, choosing the ten films that I believe to the best we’ve seen this year, though some are more personally favorable for myself. That list of favorites will come at the end of this year along with a few other special top ten lists, but the challenge at admitting a film you love is not as well-made as another is always a trial that exhumes new perspectives, which is what resides before me today. Answering the question, if the rest of the year was absent of new films, what movies would I place as the best ten films for someone to sit down and watch? Those ten films reside below:

10. Love, Simon

Though a bit unoriginal for never escaping the tropes of the teenage rom-com that we all love to loathe for its inability to be remotely realistic, “Love, Simon” uses those tropes to normalize a subject matter that still faces its own stifles on-screen and in society. Providing a well-directed and well-acted glimpse at a young kid facing the hardships of coming out and falling in love for the first time. It’s a heartwarming venture for any of us apart of the LGBTQ community to watch, as well as one that may allow others to see sexual orientation in a more relaxed view, though I’m highly doubtful.

9. Deadpool 2

As far as comedies go, this is one of 2018’s best, and admittedly one of my favorites of the year. I can’t help but notice the lack of necessity for its dramatic framing though, and while that flaw may not affect my top ten favorites of the year list later this year, it does affects it's ranking in this list. Remaining as objective as possible, “Deadpool 2” is a proper sequel that elevates it's heroes, builds upon its universe, and delivers more laughs than the first. The action can be a bit quick edited for my taste, and the unnecessary fervent addition to the tone makes “Deadpool 2” a merely solid sequel, sorely in need of some private touch-ups. (That was dirtier than I meant it)

8. A Quiet Place

Comedians directing horror seems to be in high gear as of late, and it’s reaping big rewards, making me quite excited to see how McBride and Fradley’s “Halloween” turns out. Krasinski set forth a tough act to follow up though with “A Quiet Place,” a film that is as thrilling as it is fun. It has some standard usages of expositions and some plot holes that keep this film from feeling as scary as it is thrilling. Feeding off of fabulous sound design, great acting, and phenomenal direction, “A Quiet Place” may not be as scary as others, but is so enchantingly atmospheric that it's hard to ignore.

7. Black Panther

I know, I know, I know, Wakanda forever right?? I know, but I promised objective ranking to the best of my ability and though this film will most likely rank higher on my top ten favorites list at the end of this year, “Black Panther” still has a gaping hole within its storytelling. T’Challa is a figure whose arch is almost non-existent, his hardships are underplayed, and he never feels challenged. He’s the crack to be found in the film’s mural of excellence because the unique taste of Ryan Coogler and the sheer visual identity of the film provides an MCU film with more bite than bark, which is something we don’t see often. 

6. Incredibles 2

The most recently released film of this bunch, Pixar’s smashing sequel is not only a box office juggernaut but one made with high quality. Fourteen years removed from its predecessor, it delivers a film that doesn’t feel as dated as you'd expect. Providing a coordinated societal message that was homegrown in the original, while providing some exceptional animation. Its superhero plot is quite easy to figure out though, something that probably should have been as clever as some of it's more powerful messages on fatherhood and the empowerment of women. Despite that, “Incredibles 2” delivers on all of our expectations but isn’t quite the impeccable superhero film that the first film was.  

5. Paddington 2

A film that has been overshadowed by the phenomenal year of filmmaking that 2018 has been thus far, “Paddington 2” is a child-targeted film that remains smart with its jokes, and it's cuteness, and child-friendly messages are nothing short of exceptional. It’s not quite the fresh story that the first film was, but it's 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and near four-star rating from us showcases that this little bear has far more bite than you’d expect. I would love to have some marmalade with this Blu-ray, please. 

4. Annihilation

Original, hypnotic, and incredibly intricate with its storytelling, “Annihilation” is easily one of 2018’s best. It’s stylistic direction from Alex Garland, and a unique all-women group of heroes delivers a lot of perspectives on the mutations of humanity that are equally riveting to the masterful worldbuilding. Though the film slows itself down for unnecessary exposition, “Annihilation” has to for some audience members to get what’s going on. It’s not a box office juggernaut, but it's another successor of the sci-fi boom which focuses on savvy audiences who relish in the challenges of the story while being endlessly satisfied with cinematic brilliance. 

3. Avengers: Infinity War

Though my review for this points out a multitude of flaws, the sheer magnitude of this film forces it to become a force worth reckoning with. I can’t say that my personal subjectivity didn’t play a factor in reviewing the film, which is the whole point of a review, but this list delivers its spot at number three for its incredible achievement of balancing a multitude of branching storylines. Offering action with that of drama, levity with emotional torment, while introducing fans of this heroic universe to it's best villain yet, one that is brought to life with an exceptional performance from Josh Brolin. It’s not near as flawless as the two films that rank above it, but its enormity of storytelling is something historic to see. 

2. Won’t You Be My Neighbor

Powerfully heartwarming and heart-wrenching is Morgan Neville’s in-depth look at, what his son describes as “the second coming of Christ,” Mr. Rogers. It delivers a multitude of urgent messages for a country divided by ideologies, reminding us of the power of love and how every relationship stems from the lack of it or the amount of it. Few documentaries get noticed by average moviegoers; this is one worth seeing. Providing an intimate look at a man who represented the best of what we can be, leadership that seems to be in short supply these days.

1. Hereditary

It’s hard to believe this film is Ari Aster’s first feature, especially since it's a masterpiece of horror filmmaking. It’s chillingly disturbing and discusses a hefty subject of mental illness which can be both terrifying and saddening, something the film balances between. Walking between the lines of horror and drama in which this film can evoke a deep level of emotion as well as lingering with its haunting imagery. Not to mention the immaculate performances from Toni Collette and others who provide another level of excellence to a film already manifested as something of rare perfection. It’s creepy, dramatic, intricately written, masterfully directed, and wholly original, what more could you want from a 2018 film?

Fandom Out of Control

This past week, the cinema was met by a whole lot of confrontation, which as someone who loves that buttle of ideologies and opinion as much as anyone, I was excited. However, there’s a difference between some favorable and respectful discourse, and strawman terminology to tear down the person more than the opinion being disputed. This editorial is meant to touch on that subject and many others in regards to the modern day fandom of filmmaking, or the lack thereof it, because you don’t see these kinds of disputes when it comes to films like “Hereditary” or “Call Me By Your Name” or any other type of low-budget, highly reviewed, stylized, or artistically manifested kind of film. 

Instead, those films go under the radar with little to no gripes from the audience, not because the audience loved it, but because of the lack of attendance from them. It’s a give and let go kind of a thing that makes the mass general of audiences look hypocritical, and we as critics usually have to bite our tongues for this, but viewers have lost their touch with the language of film. I know that comes with a lack of impact because I am not such a critic that writes for a prestigious paper like the Washington Post, or a prestigious site like RogerEbert.com, or a film-heavy site like the Hollywood Reporter. 

I know that I stand on my own two feet by my lonesome in protest, and it’s almost immodest to dub myself a critic when I maintain no press credentials, little viewership, and a self-funded, unpaid, blog. But I see more than 150 movies a year, keep the ticket stubs, read books about filmmaking and film criticism, and in constant support of young local filmmakers like Weston Davis. I put my time in, and though I am not noted for it or recognized for it, I feel that one day I will be, which will make this article bittersweet to look back on because it's on that is bluntly honest. 

I say this with the utmost amount of confidence though in that the massive amounts of general audiences are unempathetic, lazy, and unreliable as filmgoers. I am not asking them to see films and notice the framing of a medium shot, or the duality of a screenplay, or the relevance of a movie to something else from the sixties era of television; I am merely asking them to think. 

Challenge yourselves, be inspired to see films that are different or that stand opposed to your beliefs whether they be political or religious. Marc Bernardin once stated, and I am paraphrasing, that most filmgoers don’t know or care who made the movie that they’ve paid money to see, and he’s right. 

Few of them do, and if they do, it's usually because of some roundabout knowledge involving a director’s personal life, far more than his artistic outings. Like that of a James Cameron, who people were seemingly unaware of until his Wonder Woman comments, despite him being one of the most prominent directors working today. Maybe it's a short-term memory loss thing, I’m not sure, but general audiences continuously feel as if they're steaming with vitreal and disapproval. As if they walk into to see a movie like “Hereditary,” knowing the critical buzz it's received, preparing to hate it. Never attempting to understand why critics loved it, which leads me to my next point in that of the laziness of audiences. I have had too many friends tell me they hate critics because they hate Rotten Tomatoes because the site gave a film that they liked a lousy score. 

The problem in that logic resides in the steps it took to get to that opinion, Rotten Tomatoes is an aggregate system, using a significant amount of reviews from individual critics and combining their grades to average out a score of fresh or rotten. An important note there is an average score, it’s that small stat in tiny font that resides underneath the Tomatometer that you can see in a web browser, under that you’ll find the total number of reviews listed, the number that are fresh, and how many are rotten. If a film maintains an 8/10 average rating out of more than 100 reviews, that is an A to A+ film for critics, movies like “Moonlight” and “Psycho” and “Wizard of Oz” reside in this place. Something with 7/10 is usually something like “Thor: Ragnarok” which is a film that everyone liked, but no one loved. 

The point of all of that is to say that people get upset about a grade, never reading the full story into how that grade came to be, like reading one of the reviews listed. For example, “Get Out” was a movie that I, and pretty much any other savvy filmgoer loved. It has a 99% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the one review that is rotten has an enormous fallacy in the center of their argument, confusing the movies ideals and motives with something else entirely. It’s a bad review, one that you can argue with, something general audiences could do more of the same of, but they never read the reviews, but rather the last paragraph that summarizes their opinion. 

Then again, maybe I don’t want audiences reading our reviews. Not because I fear criticism, but because I fear the backlash, something that seems to be back in fashion these days, with “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” receiving such hatred and vitreal that it's sent one of their stars, Marie Tran, off of Twitter entirely. Continually relating back to this us versus them mentality which has existed for years, in the seventies, it was Trekkies versus Star Wars fans, a fight that has gone on for ages. There’s Predator versus Alien, Michael vs. Jason, DC vs. Marvel, Anime vs. Comics, WWE vs. WCW, and the list goes on, but they all had a sense of respect and dignity attached to them. No one ever turned to racial slurs, political transgressions, or personal attacks on people’s beliefs and what not. 

For Tran, it was a bunch of so-called “Star Wars fans” choosing the dark side and redacting their fair criticisms of a film to racial invective, misogyny worded, rape and death threats. They were hurled at her at an unrelenting rate that drove Tran to do the rational and fair thing which was to shut down the access given to them, by her. It was an event that took up all of the headlines this week in cinema news, turning her Cinderella story of staring in her first feature film, which was a Star Wars film mind you, and being the victim of its criticisms. 

She’s not the only one though, Rian Johnson’s twitter handle is a mess, and Daisy Ridley stood up for an anti-gun political belief that was soon met with the same bitterness and hatred as Tran’s inclusion in the most divisive film of the decade. She’s been stripped down from her social media pages with nothing but an Instagram profile pic and a bio that read “Afraid, but still doing it anyway.” She’s not the first to do it, not just Star Wars fans, but the vitriol of the internet seems to have no bounds as of late as in 2016 Leslie Jones was sent off of social media for taking part in the “Ghostbusters” remake. Having a constant pile of sexually violent and racist tweets thrown at her that ended up driving her to step down from the technological world that is supposed to birth more connection and not division. 

It begs the question: what do fans want? Not only Star Wars but movie lovers in general. The only franchise with constant support from audiences is the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a franchise that, in all fairness, is usually more of the same than anything nuanced or unique. Do fans want that though? Do they desire mediocrity and familiarity over the risk of nuanced and failure? Are they okay with their favorite films remaining stagnant and unprogressive? 

It seems that way as if fans are shouting “if it ain’t broke; don’t fix it,” as films like “Black Panther,” “Ocean’s 8,” and others that are trying to breathe new and fresh air into cinema are met with some barrier, as some audiences seem upset by that format, though the box office may not show it. It’s as if they’ll pay to see it, just to complain about it, which leads to me to quote the princess of Wakanda, Shuri, by stating “Just because something works doesn’t mean it can’t be improved.” Shouldn’t that be our entire goal, to improve what works? 

I know I’ve already spoken out of turn, and I have ranted long enough, but the fandom is out of control. It’s reaching a tipping point that is driving film studios mad by this point, basically forcing them to become something their not, whether it's DC trying to start its own universe of heroes or Universal trying to birth its own multiverse of monsters. Fans are asking studios contradicting questions, and it's time fans take a good, long, hard look in the mirrors and either figure out what they want or figure out how to watch a movie like an adult. Star Wars fans most of all,  who seemingly have forgotten the teachings of a little green puppet who warned them about the perils of hate.