Tuesday, September 9, 2014

My nominations for the 2014 National Film Registry

For those of you who don't know, the Library of Congress set up a National Film Registry for the United States that includes some of the most important, influential, popular, and significant American films of all time. The only qualifications are that they have to be at least 10 years old and be American productions.  The Registry brings in 25 new movies every year to honor films that are "culturally, historically, or aesthertically significant" and preserve them for all time in the Library of Congress Packard Campus for Audio and Visual Conservation in Culpeper, Virginia. 625 American films now comprise the Registry, and you, yes YOU get a say on what the next 25 films will be! 

For a list of films not yet in the registry, check out: 

You can check out more information about how to nominate films for the registry (the due date is September 12th, so act fast!) at: 

And if you just want to go ahead and email your nominations, just send a list (of no more than 50 movies), an optional sentence or two about why you want it preserved, as well as how you found out about the Registry to: dross@loc.gov

So without further or do, here are my picks for what I want to be in Registry (this was all included in the letter I sent to the Library of Congress)....

Superman (A.K.A. The Mad Scientist) (1941, dir. Dave Fleischer) Superman, the comic-book superhero who recently celebrated his 75th anniversary, is undoubtedly an American icon. The animated short from 1941 was created by the Fleischer Brothers and their studio, who had already made a name for themselves by adapting Popeye the Sailor-Man into cartoons and creating Betty Boop. It is the first appearance by Superman on film, and includes several lines that have become iconic for describing the character. (“Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s Superman!” and “Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound!”) While perhaps not the most-well known film adaptation of the character, it was a pioneer for the way the character was depicted and stands as an animation classic for the ages. 

Reefer Madness (1936-39, dir. Louis J. Gasnier) While very few film fans would attest to the aesthetic quality of the infamous cult film Reefer Madness, I believe it reaches the Registry’s qualifications that films be preserved that are “culturally or historically significant.” In our own era where marijuana policy is being debated, and several states have gone so far as to legalize it, it is important to look at a propaganda movie that helped shape discussion of marijuana policy in the United States despite its numerous fallacies, its exaggerated, melodramatic storyline and its exploitive nature. I think the inclusion of Reefer Madness would be like the inclusion of another controversial propaganda film, The House in the Middle, which is already in the Registry. Despite its negative reception and controversial legacy, I believe Reefer Madness is an important film to study in the history of marijuana policy in the United States.

The Birds (1963, dir. Alfred Hitchcock) Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds remains one of the most acclaimed, popular, and influential films from the “Master of Suspense”. It was named the 7th greatest thriller by the American Film Institute, and was a breakout role for Tippi Hedron. Its horrific scenes and imagery of bird-related chaos have been both paid homage to and parodied throughout American film and television.  It is truly a classic of American cinema.

Die Hard (1988, dir. John McTiernan) Die Hard is routinely ranked as one of the best action movies of all time. Props from the film, including Bruce Willis’ famous bloodstained undershirt, were donated to the National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian Institution. It spawned four sequels, a franchise that is going strong even today, and inspired high concept action movies for years due to its significant popularity and acclaim.

The Hunt for Red October (1990, dir. John McTiernan) John McTiernan’s follow-up to Die Hard was The Hunt for Red October, a tight Cold-War thriller based on the popular Tom Clancy novel of the same name. Considered by many to be one of the best spy movies of all time, the film follows CIA agent Jack Ryan, played by Alec Baldwin, as he tests his theory that a Soviet submarine captain, played by Sean Connery, will defect to the United States. The film critic Roger Ebert called it "a skillful, efficient film that involves us in the clever and deceptive game being played” and it was nominated for three Academy Awards, winning one for Best Sound Editing. It highlights the end of the Cold War, and the conflict between Soviet and American militarism in the 1980s in a way few other movies ever could.

Bull Durham (1988, dir. Ron Shelton) Writer/director Ron Shelton’s look at a minor league baseball team, the Durham Bulls, through the eyes of its biggest fan, Annie Savoy, is routinely called one of (it was ranked the fifth-best sports movie by the American Film Institute in 2008, and ranked third in sports movie by The Moving Arts Film Journal), if not the greatest sports movie of all time (a distinction bestowed on it by Sports Illustrated magazine). The film also costars Academy Award winners Kevin Costner and Tim Robbins as the team’s catcher and pitcher, respectively. The film was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, and it is a testament to the power of the nation’s pastime when it comes to matters of the heart, fandom, and devotion to “the Church of Baseball”. It is one of my favorite movies, and I was lucky enough to go a screening of the movie at the AFI Silver Theatre in Silver Spring, MD where seeing it on the big screen made apparent to me what a gripping, wonderful movie Bull Durham really is.

 Luxo Jr. (1986, dir. John Lasseter) Luxo Jr. has become a trademark short for Pixar Animation Studios. The titular Luxo lamp is the mascot for the company, and his trademark stomp appears at every Pixar title screen. It was the first CGI short to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Short Film. It earned praises for its photorealism, but John Lassester, the director and Pixar founder, said that he realized it resonated emotionally when an audience member at a technical conference, rather than asking him about the technical aspects of the film, asked if the bigger lamp was “a mommy or a daddy.” As early Pixar leader Edwin Cutmull writes, “As Luxo Jr. sent shock waves through the entire industry – to all corners of computer and traditional animation. At that time, most traditional artists were afraid of the computer. They did not realize that the computer was merely a different tool in the artist's kit but instead perceived it as a type of automation that might endanger their jobs. Luckily, this attitude changed dramatically in the early '80s with the use of personal computers in the home. The release of our Luxo Jr. ... reinforced this opinion turnaround within the professional community.”

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971, dir. Mel Stuart) Based on Roald Dahl’s classic children’s story about a magical candy factory run by the eccentric Willy Wonka (played by Gene Wilder) and the five lucky golden-ticket winners who get to tour the strange and wonderful place, filled with Fizzy Lifting Drinks, squirrels who crack nuts, and of course, singing Oompa Loompas. While originally made as a vehicle to promote a new candy bar from Quaker Oats, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory has delighted fans of all ages thanks to its impressive visuals and special effects, Wilder’s memorable performance as Wonka, and the great songs such as “Pure Imagination” and “The Candy Man Can” that have become a part of American popular culture. It was a childhood favorite movie of mine because of the immersive nature of Wonka’s factory and the catchy music, one that I believe I share with countless millions around the world.

Kramer vs. Kramer (1979, dir. Robert Benton) Winner of the 1979 Academy Award for Best Picture, as well as additional awards for Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay for Robert Benton, Best Actor for Dustin Hoffman and Best Supporting Actress for Meryl Streep, and four more additional nominations, Kramer vs. Kramer still remains one of the most important films to tackle the subjects of divorce, single parenthood, and parental custody, and became a part of larger conversations in American society about these issues.

Amadeus (1984, dir. Milos Forman) Winner of the 1984 Academy Award for Best Picture, as well as additional awards for Best Director for Milos Forman, Best Adapted Screenplay for Peter Shaffer, Best Actor for F. Murray Abraham, Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design, Best Makeup and Best Sound Mixing, as well as four additional nominations, Amadeus is truly a film for all time. The film, which deals with composer Antonio Salieri’s competition with the famous composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in late 18th century Vienna, is a landmark period piece and stands amongst the most acclaimed films of all time thanks to its intriguing story, memorable performances from Abraham as Salieri and Tom Hulce as Mozart, and an intense visual sensibility brought to the project by director Milos Forman.

Jurassic Park (1993, dir. Steven Spielberg) Based on Michael Crichton’s acclaimed, best-selling novel about an island where the DNA of dinosaurs is harvested to make the extinct, ancient beasts come to life as theme park attractions, Jurassic Park still remains one of the highest-grossing and popular films of all time. Thanks to its groundbreaking realistic computer generated special effects, Jurassic Park is among one of the earliest and most successful adaptors of CGI technology with effects that still hold up as groundbreaking today. It delighted moviegoers, and inspired thousands, if not millions of young children to be interested in dinosaurs and the related science of paleontology.

Boogie Nights (1997, dir. Paul Thomas Anderson) Paul Thomas Anderson’s parable about the pornography industry in the 1970s San Fernando Valley, California shines a light on a unique and unusual time and place in American history. It follows the escapades of Dirk Diggler, played by Mark Wahlberg, a young man who falls into the seedy underbelly of pornography after being scouted by a director, played by Burt Reynolds. The film received Academy Award nominations for Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Original Screenplay, and features supporting turns from acclaimed actors such as John C. Reilly and Philip Seymour Hoffman. The movie that helped establish Anderson as a director is also one of his best, highlighting a history that people prefer to ignore and analyzing sexual and social norms during the Sexual Revolution.

The Lion King (1994, dirs. Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff) The most popular film of the “Disney Renaissance” of the late 80s-early 90s is an animated tale for the ages, a Disney film with no human characters that focuses on the rich natural history of the African continent. A modern take on Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the film deals with a lion cub named Simba, a prince who competes with his uncle Scar for who will rule his kingdom. Featuring some of the best Disney animation of all time, and immortal songs such as “Can You Feel The Love Tonight?” and “Hakuna Matata”, a subsequent adaptation as a Broadway musical, and numerous parodies and references in popular culture, The Lion King has cemented itself as a guaranteed phenomenon for children and adults of all ages. The Lion King was the first film I saw in theaters when I was 3, and it holds a special place in my heart.

 Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982, dir. Nicholas Meyer) Star Trek is an American icon, fueling space-age imagery and optimism about the future thanks to its groundbreaking vision by creator Gene Roddenberry. While it originated on television, Star Trek lived on for a new generation of fans in theatrical movies. The second film, The Wrath of Khan, is widely considered the best film in the long-running Star Trek film series. The plot deals with a reluctant Captain Kirk (William Shatner) returning to duty on board the starship Enterprise to deal with the promised vengeance of an old antagonist from the television series, Khan Noonien Singh, played by Ricardo Montalban. Featuring groundbreaking computer special effects, one of the most impactful and celebrated movie deaths in film history, The Wrath of Khan secured Star Trek’s place as a guaranteed cultural phenomenon, and became one of the franchise’s most popular and acclaimed outings.

Rosemary’s Baby (1968, dir. Roman Polanski) A scary thriller that examined sexual norms, norms about maternity and pregnancy, and still resonates with viewers today. Rosemary’s Baby is a horror tale of a young pregnant woman, played by Mia Farrow, who comes to believe that she’s pregnant with the spawn of the devil. Winner of a Best Supporting Actress award for Ruth Gordon, and a major watershed film in terms of the development of the respective careers of both star Mia Farrow and writer/director Roman Polanski, Rosemary’s Baby is an icon of American horror cinema that deserves to be ranked among the greatest.

Ghostbusters (1984, dir. Ivan Reitman) One of the most popular films of the 1980s, and indeed possibly of all time, Ghostbusters is the perfect combination of comedy and sci-fi action that has compelled audiences around the world for 30 years. Three paranormal scientists (Bill Murray, Dan Ackroyd, and the late Harold Ramis) discover that they can trap ghosts, and begin to form a massive business enterprise as supernatural exterminators. But when their evidence suggests an ancient god is going to destroy the world, starting with New York City, the Ghostbusters unite to use their smarts and skills to save it. Thanks to its witty script, celebrated comedic turns by the films’ leads, particularly Bill Murray as the egotistical Ghostbuster Peter Venkman and fun sci-fi action that enthralled kids and adults alike, Ghostbusters truly deserves a place on the National Film Registry, in this its 30th anniversary and the year in which one of its stars and writers, Harold Ramis, passed away. Ghostbusters is one of my favorite movies, and I hope its long-overdue recognition by the Registry happens in this significant year in the film’s legacy.

The Princess Bride (1987, dir. Rob Reiner) A fantasy beloved by kids and adults alike, The Princess Bride is an oft-quoted cult film that has captured the imaginations of generations of audiences. When a little boy (Fred Savage) is sick, his loving grandfather (Peter Falk) reads him a fairy tale story of the beautiful Princess Buttercup (Robin Wright), her long lost love Westley (Cary Elwes) and his competition for her heart with the cruel Prince Humperdink (Chris Sarandon). Featuring supporting turns from Wallace Shawn, Billy Crystal, Carol Kane, Andre the Giant, Christopher Guest, and Mandy Patinkin as the iconic swashbuckler Inigo Montaya (“You killed my father. Prepare to die.”) Ranked in the Writers Guild of America’s list of top 100 screenplays of all time, The Princess Bride is a timeless film that combines action, adventure, comedy, and true love into one very sweet package.

 Platoon (1986, dir. Oliver Stone) One of the biggest box office draws of 1986, and winner of Academy Award for Best Picture, Director, and Editing, Platoon is one of the best films about the Vietnam War, written and directed by Vietnam vet Oliver Stone, who brings his unique touch to the material. With iconic imagery and a gritty telling of the war, Platoon stands as one of the definitive visions of the Vietnam War.

Ordinary People (1980, dir. Robert Redford) Winner of the 1980 Best Picture Academy Award, Ordinary People is an intense drama that deals with a family’s struggle a mother, father, and son grieve the loss of an older son. Famous for its dramatic turn by Mary Tyler Moore, as well as Donald Sutherland, Judd Hirsch, and newcomer Timothy Hutton who received an Oscar for his work, Ordinary People is considered revolutionary for its depiction of young people and depression, two topics Hollywood had typically shied away from before this groundbreaking picture was released.

Dazed and Confused (1993, dir. Richard Linklater) Richard Linklater’s breakout hit about the last day of school in 1976 covers a multitude of young characters over the span of one day. Dealing with such themes as transitions and the drug culture of the 1970s, and featuring some of the most prominent music of the era, Dazed and Confused is a nostalgic look-back along the similar vein of American Graffiti. Notable for early turns from future Academy Award winners Matthew McConaughey and Ben Affleck and establishing Linklater as a filmmaker, Dazed and Confused was an icon of the 90s indie film movement, one whose legacy we are still feeling today.

Reds (1981, dir. Warren Beatty) Warren Beatty’s epic about American journalist John Reed (played by Beatty) and his wife Louise Bryant (Diane Keaton) combines documentary-esque testimonies from real life people who knew the characters at the center of this drama and a stunning narrative about a fascinating time in history. The film chronicles Reed and Bryant’s relationship, and their journey getting involved with communism in various forms, culminating in Reed’s book Ten Days That Shook the World, where he chronicles what happened with the rise of communism in the former Soviet Union. One of the rare films to have nominations in all four acting categories at the Academy Awards, and winner of the Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actress, Best Cinematography, and Best Director, Reds is an intimate look at a person, a culture, and a political movement that shook the world.

The Big Lebowski (1998, dir. Joel Coen) One of the most famous cult films of the past 20 years, and quite possibly of all time, is the Coen Brother’s send up of everything from Los Angeles slacker culture to old film-noir mysteries. Slacker Jeff Lebowski, who prefers to be called “The Dude” (Jeff Bridges) is a man without a job who likes bowling with his friends Walter (John Goodman) and Donnie (Steve Buscemi) and smoking joints all day. That changes when, in a case of mistaken identity and a violation of the Dude’s beloved rug (“That rug really tied the room together, did it not?”), the Dude is thrown into a plot that is way over his head. Famous for its quick, quirky, profanity-ridden dialogue, along with Bridges’ laid-back performance as the Dude, The Big Lebowski has overcome its initial mixed reception to become a revered comedy classic.

Once Upon A Time… When We Were Colored (1996, dir. Tim Reid) Director Tim Reid’s story of segregation in the Deep South is a groundbreaking picture and a unique portrait of American history. As film critic Roger Ebert put it, “It is almost impossible to express the cumulative power of Once Upon a Time… When We Were Colored. It isn't a slick, tightly packaged docudrama, but a film from the heart, a film that is not a protest against the years of segregation so much as a celebration of the human qualities that endured and overcame.”

Paper Moon (1973, dir. Peter Bogdanovich) Peter Bogdanovich’s tale of a con-man (Ryan O’Neal) and the young girl who accompanies him who may or may not be his daughter (played by Ryan O’Neal’s real life daughter Tatum) is a black-and-white exploration of the Great Depression. Notable for the performance of Tatum O’Neal, who at age 10 was and still remains the youngest Oscar winner ever, Paper Moon is a stylistic and well-written film about lies, deceit, and a bond that evolves between two unlikely characters. 

Rain Man (1988, dir. Barry Levinson) Barry Levinson’s Rain Man, which in 1988 won the Academy Awards for Best Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, and a Best Actor award for Dustin Hoffman in his portrayal of Raymond Babbitt, an autistic savant. Raymond’s brother Charlie (Tom Cruise) learns of his brother’s existence after their late father leaves Raymond the majority of his estate after he dies. While Charlie, initially jealous, kidnaps Raymond away from the mental institution where he is being held, Charlie learns to appreciate his brother, and over time the two learn how to bond. Considered groundbreaking for its depiction of autism, Rain Man is a masterly directed, well-acted cautionary tale about the importance of family. 

1776 (1972, dir. Peter H. Hunt)A musical about the signing of the Declaration of Independence may not be the most appealing idea to many, but director Peter H. Hunt, adapting Sherman Edwards and Peter Stone’s acclaimed Broadway musical of the same name, pulls it off. John Adams (William Daniels) convenes a committee comprised of Benjamin Franklin (Howard Da Silva) and Thomas Jefferson (Ken Howard), among others, to draft the document that would become the Declaration of Independence. It also was politically controversial, as President Richard Nixon personally requested that the producer cut a song entitled “Cool, Considerate Men” because Nixon believed it to be an insult to his Republican party and conservative politics. Rooted in catchy tunes and an obligation to the real life history of the event, including talking about issues of loyalty to the King, slavery, and even “deep sea fishing rights,” 1776 deserves a place on the Registry because of its unique take on a quintessentially American story. 1776 was a family favorite of my family, and educated me, a young kid, far more about the factors and creation of the Declaration of Independence than I ever learned in school.

The Dark Crystal (1982, dir. Jim Henson) Jim Henson, perhaps most popular as the creator of the Muppets and his work on Sesame Street, brought some of his genius to realm of fantasy and special effects as he created The Dark Crystal, a dark children’s film featuring groundbreaking puppetry related effects to create the film’s many monsters and creatures. Filled with gothic imagery not usually found in the other children’s films of its time, The Dark Crystal stands as a testament to Henson’s genius and his pioneering work in puppetry, which would also be used in his subsequent film, the David Bowie musical Labyrinth.

The Thing (1982, dir. John Carpenter) Usually ranked as one of the scariest films of all time, John Carpenter’s The Thing has scared and thrilled audiences for over 30 years. A remake of The Thing From Another World (which is already in the Registry), which in turn was an adaptation of John W. Campbell’s novel Who Goes There?, The Thing takes place at a research base in Antarctica, as a shape-shifting alien threatens the group of scientists living in the desolate tundra. Hailed for its gory, graphic visuals and creature-based special effects, The Thing is an important icon in the history of American horror cinema.

Robocop (1987, dir. Paul Verhoeven) Robocop is a dark satire masquerading as an action/sci-fi movie. In future Detroit, police officer Alex Murphy (Peter Weller) is shot, but brought back to life as Robocop, a half-man, half-robot police officer with superhuman abilities that will be used to bring order back to the city. While its action scenes are well known, Robocop is a biting satire against the action movie culture and pop culture landscape of the 1980s. Predicting everything from the rise of compact discs to 24 hour news networks, the film has inspired fans of both satire and science fiction alike, thanks to the imagery brought to it by director Paul Verhoeven. The film was even featured and analyzed in the television series The Story of Film, and the city of Detroit will be erecting a statue of Robocop sometime in the near future.

The Shawshank Redemption (1994, dir. Frank Darabont) Constantly ranked one of the most popular movies of all time, particularly on the website IMDb (the Internet Movie Database) where it has held the top spot for many years as the movie ranked highest by users of the site, The Shawshank Redemption is a powerful film that is a testimony to the human spirit and friendship. Based on a short story by acclaimed writer Stephen King, Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) becomes friends with Red (Morgan Freeman) at the Shawshank Prison, where Dufresne has wrongly been convicted of murder. Dufresne perseveres despite a strict warden (Bob Gunton) and threats from other prisoners. While not an initial success, The Shawshank Redemption found second life on home video and cable television, and has subsequently left its mark on millions of viewers around the world.

The Shining (1980, dir. Stanley Kubrick) A film whose imagery has permeated all aspects of popular culture, The Shining is ranked as one of the scariest films of all time, thanks to its lead performance by Jack Nicholson and the meticulous effort put into by director Stanley Kubrick. Adapted from Stephen King’s bestselling novel, Jack Torrence (Jack Nicholson), his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and his son Danny (Danny Lloyd) stay at an hotel as its caretakers during the off season. Jack then begins a decent into madness, motivated by the hotel’s mysterious history and the ghosts that haunt the building. Famous for Nicholson’s screaming “Here’s Johnny!” as he attempts to break into a bedroom, The Shining has inspired so much analysis and so many theories that it was the subject of a documentary, Room 237, released in 2012. It is worthy of all of it, as The Shining keeps viewers guessing and coming up with new interpretations viewing after viewing, year after year.

Der Fuhrer’s Face (1943, dir. Jack Kinney) An unusual oddity of World War II propaganda, Der Fuhrer’s Face features Disney’s famous Donald Duck in Nazi Germany, satirizing the Nazi’s blind devotion to Der Fuhrer, Adolf Hitler, and satirizing Nazi Germany itself, depicting Germans as bumbling, fat, angry and militaristic. Donald Duck, realizing the horrors of Nazi Germany, wakes up and realizes he’s dreaming, and hugs a miniature Statue of Liberty, saying how grateful he is to be American. A unique example of World War II propaganda, Der Fuhrer’s Face was lauded at the time with an Academy Award for Best Animated Short, and popularized Spike Jones’ popular song for which it was named. Historically, it serves as an interesting examination of how Disney animators decided to spotlight the Nazi menace during the Second World War. 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Dear Hollywood Directors: Please stop casting your daughters in your movies


On Friday, I saw Richard Linklater's Boyhood. It was a movie I had been looking forward to for a long time. I'm a fan of Linklater's work, from his most indie and experimental (A Scanner Darkly) to his most mainstream and popular (School of Rock). To me, Boyhood seemed to be the merger of two of his most celebrated works, a combination of trying to encapsulate the true-to-life nature of the Before trilogy and the teenage zeitgeist of Dazed and Confused. Long story short, I loved Boyhood. It's probably my favorite movie of the year so far. It really does a lot elevate the stereotypical "coming-of-age" movie thanks to its "filmed-over-12-years" gimmick and its cleverly written screenplay. But that's not what this blog is about. Because I think Boyhood stands as the culmination of everything Linklater has done before this. It will stand as a testament to his talent as a filmmaker and storyteller far beyond the confines of the year 2014. Which makes his decision to cast his own daughter in a lead role all the more baffling.

Lorelei Linklater, pictured here looking incredibly happy

Linklater cast his daughter Lorelei in the role of Samantha, the sister of Boyhood's main character Mason Jr., played by Ellar Coltrane. And remember, Boyhood was shot over the course of 12 years as Coltrane and Lorelei Linklater aged and grew up in real time. And while Ellar Coltrane met and auditioned with Linklater to be the lead in such an ambitious project, trivia about the film courtesy of IMDb has this to say about Lorelei's casting:
Richard Linklater cast his daughter Lorelei Linklater as Samantha because she was always singing and dancing around the house and wanted to be in his movies. 
It also says:
Richard Linklater jokes that he didn't so much cast her in the movie, as give in when she insisted on playing the part after hearing about the project. 
Rather than go through an audition process like Coltrane, Lorelei Linklater apparently got the role because her dad said "Hey! She likes to sing and dance! She'll be great in the film!" despite the fact that most human children on planet Earth like to sing and dance when they're little. Also, Lorelei had the advantage of getting to nag the director whenever he was nearby, which was, suffice to say, a lot. Remember when I said that this is the culmination of everything Linklater has done? Boyhood was ambitious, and casting stars when they're under 10 and hoping that they'll turn out okay when they're 18 is incredibly risky! Why couldn't Linklater had chosen a professional young actress, one who would be more aware of the risk and who was better trained to play this role and be a part of this movie for 12 years? Especially because the way it's written, the character of Samantha is supposed to be a few years older than the character of Mason, and Lorelei Linklater is only three months older than Ellar Coltrane. That gets very distracting towards the end, as Linklater's character is supposed to be college-aged but looks about 17 (probably because she was).

Lorelei, on the far left, doesn't look THAT college-aged, don't ya think?

But hey, maybe Linklater saw something great? Maybe Lorelei was able to give a very strong performance? Maybe because of their father-daughter relationship, they were able to mold Samantha into a strong character to stand behind her on-screen brother as the focal point of the movie? Except that didn't happen. IMDb trivia has this to say:
At about the third or fourth year of filming, she lost interest and asked for her character to be killed off. Linklater refused, saying it was too violent for what he was planning. 
And you know what? It's pretty, almost painfully, obvious she lost interest about halfway through filming, and her acting suffers because of that. She is, without a doubt, the worst actor in the movie. Ethan Hawke as the divorced father Mason Sr. is amazing, and the performance of Patricia Arquette as their mom is also really good. They bring weight and gravity to the film, and their trials, emotions, and presence as parents is something instantly relatable. And while I'm not sure it is going to go into the echelons of great child-star performances, Ellar Coltrane is also really good. He matures with the movie, and as such can take on weightier material as the story demands it. There are a lot of scenes, particularly at the beginning, where Coltrane acts like a kid would: being on the verge of tears, being huffy and puffy, and that was the genius of Linklater's original concept. Coltrane was at the age where he could easily channel the emotions of the scene, which I believe wouldn't have worked if the character or the actor were a just couple of years older.

But Lorelei Linklater? At best, she's adequate. There's some scenes where she's not great, but not that bad either. For example, she does a good job of being the annoying sister at the beginning of the film. There's a scene of her waking her brother up by singing Britney Spears that seems like something an older sister would do to her younger brother, and she does that stuff adequately enough.

But at worst, she's downright distracting. There's a scene where Ethan Hawke's character is talking to Samantha about safe sex, and she's getting embarrassed. Her performance is downright painful. She does a lot of acting with her hands in this scene, hiding behind her arms as Ethan Hawke's character questions her. Her inflection is just monotonous, not reacting with shock as her father probes question after question about her sexuality. And sure, I guess you could say that a lot of teenage girls act that way at that age, but a better actress could have come up with a more creative way of expressing Samantha's discontent at her father's questioning that didn't involve her giving a stereotypical valley-girl-esque "Daaaaaaad, stahhhhp..." as her reaction.

Daddy's little girl...

It seems that Linklater is the latest in a series of directors to cast their daughters in lead roles. And sure, directors such as Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, and Peter Jackson have included their daughters for what are essentially cameos in their films. What I'm talking about is casting a daughter in a lead role in a film. One of the better recent examples is Judd Apatow's 2012 film This is 40.


And while the film seems to be somewhat autobiographical (Apatow's real life wife, Leslie Mann, plays the wife-character Debbie in the film), Apatow took it a step further by casting his own daughters Maude and Iris Apatow to play the characters of Sadie and Charlotte, respectively. The Apatow sisters are reprising roles they originally played in 2007's Knocked Up, also directed by Judd Apatow, and This is 40 is kinda-sorta a sequel of sorts to Knocked Up.

I understand if This is 40 is semi-autobiographical, so it makes sense to cast your wife and kids in the movie. But there's a clear difference between Leslie Mann and her daughters. Leslie Mann was an actress before she met Judd Apatow, and she has worked in plenty of films that aren't directed by her husband. But his daughters? They aren't really trained actors. Neither of them have done work beyond their father's movies (though apparently Maude Apatow will do an upcoming stint on Lena Dunham's popular HBO show Girls, although the show is ALSO produced by her father).

Maude Apatow, seen here being hugged by some sort of troll-like creature that will be her Girls costar...

And to be fair, neither Maude or Iris has a scene where they're as awful as Lorelei Linklater was in Boyhood. They're pretty natural actresses. But did Apatow have to cast them? Sure, Knocked Up was a relatively low-budget, family-affair kind of thing, and they only get a few moments of screentime in that. But This is 40? Besides the obvious leads played by Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann, the movie is pretty focused on the daughter characters in the movie. And like I said, neither of them are awful, but think about how actresses who were better trained could have brought some depth and gravity to the performances. In the commentary for the film, Apatow goes on and on about what great performers his daughters are, and it really comes off as somewhat arrogant. I think This is 40, as a film, suffers a lot of tonal shifts, character and plot inconsistencies, and is just kind of a hodgepodge of a movie. Maybe casting better actresses as the daughters could have remedied some of that. Remember, actors are creative people, and can bring things to the material that the director or screenwriter didn't necessarily see. It changes how much liberty you're going to take with a script if you know that your dad is the one that wrote it AND he'll be on set directing you. Hell, the script is probably based in part on real-life events that happened to the real-life Iris and Maude (Apatow admitted that the character of Sadie's obsession with the TV show Lost comes from his real life daughter Maude's obsession with the show), which means they are essentially reenacting specific events in their lives rather than interpreting scenes and dialogue the way actors and actresses are supposed to.

"Be on your best behavior, or daddy's going to write another scene of you acting up!"

One of the better examples of a director casting his daughter in a movie comes from Clint Eastwood and the highly-underrated Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.  Eastwood directed the film based on John Berendt's book of the same name, it actually has a pretty impressive cast. Kevin Spacey, John Cusack, and Jude Law are all in it, as are more eccentric character actors such as Irma P. Hall and The Lady Chablis (who plays herself).

Alison Eastwood plays the love interest of John Cusack's character. And sure, she's fine. She does nothing to truly elevate the role, nor does she do it a disservice. The only thing I can notice is that her accent, which is supposed to resemble that of residents of Savannah, GA where the story takes place, is a little wonky at times. But hindsight tells us that there were plenty of great actresses that have subsequently proven themselves that would have been available to play the role. Could it have worked better with someone like Charlize Theron or Renee Zellwager, or Jennifer Aniston or Cate Blanchett in the role? Would the film have resonated more with audiences? Again, this is all hypothetical, but if Eastwood had taken a risk instead of going with the safe choice, that being his daughter Alison, the movie could've turned out to be a memorable early turn from an acclaimed actress, instead of being a film now mostly known for its male performers.

And of course, there's the pinnacle of "director's daughter syndrome": Sofia Coppola in a little film called The Godfather, Part III. Now first, let me state that I'm a huge fan of Sofia Coppola...'s directorial efforts. She has really distinguished herself as a great filmmaker thanks to films like The Virgin Suicides, Marie Antoinette, The Bling Ring, and most obvious of all, Lost in Translation, for which she received the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. Thanks to the influence of her father, the great Francis Ford Coppola, she has become a unique talent behind the camera.

Coppola, with the Oscar she won for writing. WRITING.

But man, oh man, is her performance in The Godfather, Part III bad. Like, really bad. Not only did it distract from the rest of the movie, a lot of people attribute her performance as one of the main reasons the film didn't work. Now, personally, I like Godfather III, I don't love it, and it doesn't come anywhere close to the cinematic achievements of the first two films. But one of the biggest factors in me not loving it is Sofia Coppola's performance. If Lorelei Linklater is monotonous in Boyhood, Sofia Coppola comes off as a space alien who doesn't quite grasp human emotions or inflection in Godfather III. In fact, Coppola received a Razzie, the award given out as the anti-Oscars to the worst movies and performances of the year, for her role in the film. One Youtube video even claims she gives one of the top 10 worst performances ever captured on film, right up there with Nicholas Cage in The Wicker Man and Keanu Reeves in Bram Stoker's Dracula.

What, no love for Tommy Wiseau?

Controversy surrounded Coppola when it was revealed that she was the replacement for the talented Winona Ryder, who was originally supposed to play the role after a winning streak of movies that included Beetlejuice, Great Balls of Fire, Heathers, Mermaids, and Edward Scissorhands. Surely someone with Ryder's experience and star-power could've been the replacement, not just the daughter of the director. The controversy around Coppola surrounded her to the point that she completely gave up acting in order to focus on her directing and screenwriting work.

Simultaneously, this scene represents her on screen death and the death of her acting career...

Look, directors. I get it. Your daughter is special. She's the apple of your eye. She's daddy's little girl. (In doing research, it seemed to me that daughters of directors are disproportionately chosen over the sons of directors to star in films.) And sure, it makes sense to cast someone you know, someone you know very well, your own flesh and blood in your movie. And maybe because you feel like because they are your daughters, you can talk differently to them than you can other child actors. After all, it's probably easier to be critical of a kid you've known since the day she was born than it would be a kid you barely know. Child actors can be demanding, they can be bratty, they can come with showbiz-parents that mess up a movie or ruin their child's performance.

But it makes things too easy, and movies ultimately work because of risks taken. It would have been easy for William Friedkin to cast a niece or a cousin for the lead in The Exorcist, but instead we got Linda Blair, whose performance is one of the most memorable aspects of one of the most iconic American films of the 1970s. It would've been easy for Martin Scorsese to make Taxi Driver years later as a vehicle for his daughter Domenica, but that would've denied us the revelation of the actress he did cast in the role of the prostitute, a young girl named Jodie Foster. It would've been easy for Luc Besson to cast his daughter as the girl in Leon: The Professional, but that would've denied us the big break for a young actress named Natalie Portman.

This is what happens when you take risks with young actresses...

And sure, Tatum O'Neal might've gotten the role in Paper Moon just because she was the daughter of the lead star Ryan O'Neal, but her father and director Peter Bogdonavich worked with her to craft a performance for which she won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, and what is widely considered one of, if not the, best child performance in the history of American cinema. I just don't see that level of devotion with directors like Linklater, Apatow, or Coppola. They just kind of seem to expect that because they know their daughters, and their daughters know them, that's all that's required to craft a good performance.

Not every kid actress can be Tatum O'Neal...

Actors are creative people. They thrive on having the odds stacked against them. And yes, child actors in particular can be fussy, or poorly trained, or just generally be kind of bad. But please, please stop casting your daughters in Hollywood movies. Unless you're Jon Voight and you're going to direct a movie starring your daughter, Angelina Jolie, it just doesn't make sense. Most of the time, it just doesn't work. Casting your daughter pretty much guarantees a performance that will be, at best, adequate. Additionally, it distracts from an otherwise great movie (like Boyhood) or denies other actresses the chance to craft a memorable performance (like This is 40 or Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil) or sometimes, it can almost wreck an entire movie (looking at you, The Godfather, Part III). Acting isn't as easy as everyone thinks it is. It requires work, training, a certain level of empathy and creativity. I know your daughters are nagging and nagging for a role in a movie, but please, be the voice of reason. Just say no.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

In defense of the blockbuster, part 5: Conclusions

So, you've read my points. You've (hopefully) considered my points on everything from popularity to the economics of big movies to the increasing amount of racial and gender diversity and how the quality of modern-day blockbusters might just be better than ever...

So, what can I conclude now that I've spent over two months and four previous blog entries defending big, mainstream Hollywood blockbusters. Well, here ya go!

1) The way we're framing the conversation about blockbuster movies is wrong, and it needs to change. 

When I started writing this blog series, a friend reached out to me and said the following:
"[I'm] intrigued to see what your arguments in favor of blockbusters will be! I probably won't disagree with you entirely because I still see blockbusters but I am definitely more choosey about which I see and the more I learn about the business and talk to those involved, specifically independent directors like Jordan Vogt-Roberts of The Kings of Summer (we had lunch... and he gave a very strong argument against modern blockbusters) who still hold cinema to be something sacred and are trying to break into the scene apart from studios, the more I agree with what you would call the cynical opinions. I think they simply may be more aligned with reality. But I do want to hear your opinions before I say anything else!"

This was my response:
"I think part of the problem that I'll talk about is that the whole conversation we're having about blockbusters is askew. I think it boils down to a very "us vs. them" argument, and that's not the way it should be. There is this idea either that you go see the latest Wes Anderson, Alexander Payne, Lars Von Trier, etc. movie or you go to the multiplex, but that there isn't any overlap, that film fans have to ultimately pick a side. I don't want to discredit your film director friend, but there's this whole idea that Hollywood is a system, and only the best directors go "outside the system." Well, that seems a discredit to directors that started indie, then moved on to bigger movies (like Chris Nolan), or directors who switch it up between big movies and smaller, more intimate dramas (like Spielberg). I think indie film fans are likely to paint all blockbusters as dumb, over the top sensory overload products all directed by Michael Bay (which discredits Nolan, Alfonso Cuaron, David Fincher, etc.) while fans of blockbusters are more likely to paint indie film fans as hipster, out-of-touch, artsy, and pretentious (which is a wide brush to paint fans of any genre, nonetheless something as broad as independent cinema). The reason I'm writing this is because I think the way we're framing the conversation is wrong, so I wanted to clarify some things and hopefully get people to reexamine the conversations we're having about film today in new ways."

This conversation summed up what I hoped to accomplish with this blog series, and I hope maybe I've gotten you, most wonderful reader, to maybe reconsider a lot of the anti-blockbuster sentiment that's going around today. But I think that there do seem to be these two camps in terms of a lot of discussion today among film aficionados. One of the camps is very much in indie film tradition. These are your art-house friends that roll their eyes when you mention the latest Marvel movie but can't wait to talk about the Palme D'Or winner at this year's Cannes Film Festival. This camp watches a lot of independent and foreign cinema, perhaps exclusively.

"Why, yes, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives is so MUCH better than Blue Is The Warmest Color. The work of  director Apitchatpong Weerasethakul is just truly sublime!" *snobby laugh*

In the other camp, you have most of the general cinema audience. People who shell out money for big blockbusters without thinking about problematic issues in the work of directors like Michael Bay, Roland Emmerich, Brett Ratner, etc. You got fanboys and fangirls who practically worship the big franchise movies that come out, kids who enjoy big action that's a little thin on story... and good dialogue... and good themes. But a lot of them are just regular people who want a 90-minute to two-and-a-half-hour break from their everyday lives. People who want to turn their brain off and be entertained by something on a big screen surrounded by a bunch of other people who also want to turn their brain off and be entertained by something on a big screen. 
The revolution will not be televised. It will be projected on a giant movie screen. IN 3-D!

Then you have people that fall into the middle, a group of which I consider myself to fall into. These are people who can go and appreciate something as goofy, but well-made like Pacific Rim but can also appreciate indie, foreign, and other acclaimed movies. I think a lot of fans of genre cinema, cult cinema, and other smaller niches fall into this category.

People in the first camp I mentioned, let's call them Camp A, are more likely to depict Hollywood as a sort of system. It's institutionalized, it's incorporated, it's about profit margins and never about the art, they argue. Only the best, most creative filmmakers go outside the system so that they cannot be hindered by a corporation in terms of their freedom of expression, they would also say. 

Well, "best" is a relative term for directors that go outside the system...

...Well, I for one think that's a fallacy of an argument. It's the old "reductio ad absurdum" argument, reduce the other side of an argument into its silliest, most absurd qualities, and exaggerate truths and in some cases make up lies and have people believe they're truths in order to paint their side as wrong and your side as right. First of all, no one is arguing that Hollywood isn't a system. But system makes it seem rather Matrix-like, a giant conspiracy of higher-ups all scheming and plotting against creative types. It's a business. This is America, a capitalistic society. And like any business, Hollywood needs to take risks, make money, hire people, fire people, maintain growth, and any other term any other econ major can rattle off. 

As for the idea that only the best, most creative people are people "outside the system," well, that's kind of an insult to any number of famous directors I've mentioned in previous installments. Let me just say this right now: no director, living or dead, would turn down the opportunity to have millions upon millions of dollars, the biggest stars, the Hollywood hype-and-publicity machine, and cutting edge visual effects at their disposal to help make their dreams a reality. Even the most guerrilla filmmaker would be unlikely to turn down such an opportunity, even if it meant potentially compromising his or her own vision. And that's the thing. Hollywood looks at breakout hits from indie and foreign directors, and offers them opportunities to work in tentpoles and franchise movies where their unique vision is likely to succeed. To talk about going outside the system seems to say that there's no opportunity for advancement, no opportunity for a unique, quirky director to resonate with mainstream audiences, and film history has proved time and time again that isn't the case. 

"That quirky Lucas kid that made American Graffiti a few years back? He'll never make another movie, I'll count on it..."- a movie executive circa 1975

Certain prestige pictures are always lifted up as pinnacles of achievement on film, just as the case is with any major medium of art. There's an obvious difference between reading Shakespeare and reading Danielle Steele, but Danielle Steele readers don't seem as heavily chastised in literary circles as Roland Emmerich or Michael Bay fans are in film circles. It's unfair to criticize a certain model of film-making, in this case blockbusters, for simply catering to the middle, and not trying to reach the pinnacles of a certain medium of art. As I pointed out before, even the late, great Roger Ebert didn't believe that there was anything wrong with film as "pure entertainment." And as I also mentioned before, not every movie can be a black-and-white French existential masterpiece. I think most of us would want to see an action movie, or a horror movie, or any genre movie every once in a while. Not every movie has to be amazing art, well-made entertainment can be value enough for a lot of these movies. 

I might venture to guess that a lot of anti-blockbuster sentiment is fueled by a sense of jealousy. Blockbusters tend to make tens to hundreds of times what most small indie films make. And sure, fans of these smaller movies are perhaps rightfully peeved when a well-directed, well-written, well-acted film only grosses a fraction of a percentage of what a bigger movie grosses. But that seems to deny something I hold to be true: films always find the audiences they were intended for. Maybe big blockbusters do appeal to the masses, but that does not discredit the achievements of smaller movies. Blockbusters open across thousands of locations at once, have months, if not years, of the active Hollywood publicity and hype machine at their disposal, and are carefully crafted to appeal to most moviegoers. There's no way a small indie could compare with that, nor should they. A film should be taken on their own respective and individual merits, whether it was financed by a big studio or a quicken loan, and while popularity should be a part of that, it shouldn't be the ONLY factor the equation. 

So there you have it. I believe the reason that there are so many negative perceptions about mainstream Hollywood blockbusters is because they are a part of a larger cultural conversation (or perhaps war is a better term) about high-art vs. not-high-art. But while I'm all for larger cultural conversations on anything, particularly when it relates to film and art in general, this does not need to be a conflict between two dueling sides. There are plenty of ways to compromise For people who distrust Hollywood, this means not automatically dismissing something because of its higher budget, attraction of big stars, special effects, etc. For mainstream film fans, it means owning up to the fact that a lot of blockbusters are brainless entertainment, but that there is plenty to analyze and consider in watching these films. It could even mean opening yourself up to new genres and new types of films, not exclusively watching whatever is playing at the multiplex. 

Or, to put it another way...


I don't see a reason why blockbusters have to be constantly chastised time and time again by film aficionados. You can judge an individual film based on its individual merits (or lack thereof), but to chastise an entire style, an entire genre, an entire system of movie-making seems detrimental (and I'll get more into that a little later with my second point). 

But let me clarify this: smaller films and larger films are not at odds against each other, despite what you might have been told or believe. Whether or not the latest superhero film does or doesn't do well does not. DOES. NOT. impact in the slightest whether or not the next Wes Anderson, or Terrence Malick, or Alexander Payne, or Lars Von Trier film gets greenlit. Creative people and artists, whether they have budgets of $100 million, $1 million, $10,000 or $1 will always find a way to distribute their films if they are passionate about it. In our age of digital revolution, the Internet and things like Youtube and Netflix are revolutionizing and challenging regular models of film distribution. The Coen Brothers will get the chance to make another movie because of their previous track-record. It doesn't boil down to some stereotypical Hollywood exec smoking a cigar and deciding what gets money, despite what the people in Camp A will tell you. If anything, having "indie" (I have that in quotation marks because how indie can something truly be if it's financed by a major studio...?) movies that are financed by major studios legitimizes them in a sense. It gives them credibility, Oscar buzz, critical acclaim, which often (but not always) leads to success at the box office or on home video. These are the movies that are much likely to be timeless, much more to get on the Library of Congress National Film Registry, much more likely to be remembered for generations to come. Why would a studio want to throw that all away for the sake of what Brett Ratner wants to do...?

"TOWER HEIST 2, BITCHES!!!!"

In this era of the Internet, where any regular person can have a platform to speak, many people have made their anti-blockbuster sentiments known to wide audiences thanks to video blogs, articles, forum posts, etc. And I've noticed a lot of these people that are cynical of modern blockbusters are products or children of the New Hollywood era of the 1970s or the independent film movement of the 1990s. And sure, when these people were coming of age and first getting into film, there were renaissances in both film as art and an emerging market for indie film, respectively. But Hollywood has changed, but I would argue (and you can read my previous installments to see why) not for the worse. Basically, these cynics are controlling the conversation, and treating an entire, major subset of films being produced today as worthless. If we want rational conversation about blockbusters, which includes focusing on individual films rather than making generalized statements about the entire American film industry, we need to change the conversations. Blockbusters aren't always bad. Blockbusters aren't inherently evil. Blockbusters are not inherently in conflict with smaller films. It's time that we started to change the conversation, because if we don't, we're just going to be debating the same issues over and over again, and we'll never reach a resolution.

2) "Never hate a movie."

This is a quote attributed to director Quentin Tarantino, and it's one I use and reflect upon in discussing film. (Actually, my knowledge of this quote comes from an article written by the online blogger known as Film Critic Hulk. He makes some valid points, but man, is that caps-locks/talking-like-the-Incredible-Hulk grating!) Basically, the premise is even in bad movies there is something to take away. Bad movies can inform you as to how to make better movies, but more than that, I think (and perhaps I'm way off base here) that it is also saying that no film has no redemptive qualities.

So ever since reading that, I've become a lot better about hating movies. I don't think I hate any movie. Sure, there are plenty of movies I dislike, and I can go into depth about why I dislike them, but I don't hate any movie. I even look at my least-favorite-movie of all time not as some sort of pinnacle of human failure, but as a failed comedy that went over-the-top in trying to appeal to as much of the culture of the time as possible. You might have gathered from these entries, or knowing me generally, that I am not a fan in the least bit of the film Prometheus. As much as I dislike the narrative structure of that film (and how it completely ruins the canon and themes of the Alien movies) I can appreciate the visual style, the performances (especially Michael Fassbender's) and the direction of the movie. Even a movie I strongly dislike is not totally beyond redemption in my eyes. There's a lot there that can be and should be admired.

It seems like so much of our discussion of blockbuster movies stems from misplaced hatred, and while each of us is free to dislike or like whatever movie we want-

Except this movie. No one can like this movie. NO. ONE.

Hating something just goes beyond that. And what movies are more hated than blockbusters? Even the most ill-respected indie movies still have the "indie movie" credibility aura around them. They're still screened at festivals, they're still talked about as something "underground". Even the indie movies most likely to isolate or confuse audiences still has this aura of credibility because they're outside Hollywood.

Meanwhile, it's easy to get on a bandwagon of hatred, especially towards our biggest and popular of movies, the blockbusters. And perhaps it is well deserved when it comes to something like The Last Airbender, hating something and dismissing that it has any redeemable aspects to it is a bad habit to get into. It dismisses the work and talent that went into making the movie. It dismisses the artistry and the effort that went into orchestrating the film, designing and producing various aspects from the design to the actor's performance. No movie is totally beyond redemption. Hating a film robs you of the opportunity to analyze both pros and cons, what works and what doesn't. As I mentioned before even with the films I most dislike, I try to look for something redeemable, something positive that the film did well. 

For example, something I liked in The Last Airbender was when it ended...

Recently, there's been a lot of negative buzz about The Amazing Spider-Man 2. And I can understand where a lot of that comes from. The villains are not fully realized, it suffers from a confusing plot and muddled character motivations. But there are a lot of standout moments. The movie might actually be one of the best performances of Spider-Man on film, thanks to the energy brought to the role by Andrew Garfield. And while the action pieces leave something to be desired, there's a very tender moment between Aunt May, played by Sally Field, and Peter. She gets emotional in asking why Peter wants to know about his parents, when she was the one who was a mother figure to him for years. She ends this by stating "You're MY boy, Peter!" It's a raw, emotional moment, something never before seen in a Spider-Man movie, something that adds to the character, and perhaps even goes beyond what the original incarnation in the Marvel comic books ever did. There are certainly admirable aspects to The Amazing Spider-Man 2, which include the performances, some of the dialogue and more emotional scenes, and that amazing risk of an ending (I won't go into spoilers). Sure, there's problematic aspects to the film, and those should not be completely ignored. But I don't hate The Amazing Spider-Man 2, and neither should you. However, it has been hated on and hated on, with some people comparing it to Batman and Robin for some reason...?

Unless I missed the cameo from Coolio in Amazing Spider-Man 2, I doubt that comparison is apt...

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 has become the latest victim in our hatred-fueled, social-media driven, snarky, banal analysis of blockbusters. Even our critics, who are supposed to be fair in their reviews and weigh the positives and negatives of a film, seem to be fueling this trend. A.O. Scott, the film critic for The New York Times, got a lot of heat for his review of The Avengers back in 2012, and rightfully so. In the review, he says things like "the light, amusing bits cannot overcome the grinding, hectic emptiness, the bloated cynicism that is less a shortcoming of this particular film than a feature of the genre" and "In Germany, [Loki] compels a crowd to kneel before him in mute, terrified awe, and The Avengers, which recently opened there to huge box office returns, expects a similarly submissive audience here at home. The price of entertainment is obedience." Long gone are the days where a critic like Roger Ebert or Gene Siskel would like or recommend a movie for sheer entertainment value. Our critics have been replaced by the more snarky, more cynical people like Scott, or Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter (whose review of Les Miserables still remains one of the snobbiest things I've ever read). The fact that our critics have different, contrasting opinions about defines a film's value drives home to individual movie-watchers that there is a lack of consensus. 

In our social media driven culture, where everyone has a soapbox, it is easy to get wrapped up into a particular argument or way of thinking without examining it or analyzing it critically. So many times, I have seen this phrase on Facebook or Twitter: "THIS IS THE WORST MOVIE I HAVE EVER SEEN IN MY LIFE!!"

If that's true, you haven't seen that many movies, because I don't care how bad it is, it's not Birdemic bad...

There's too much petty hatred in terms how we as individuals view art. Even as disappointed as I was with recent blockbusters Iron Man 3 and Maleficent, I tried to think of things the films did well, and that helped quell a since of deeper hatred in my reviews of them on both Facebook and Reddit. I'm not saying you have to like everything, just try to have an open mind, and don't give into a particular sentiment about a group of movies simply because you were told to. Never hate a movie. 

I think people are attracted to the opinions of a Todd McCarthy or an A.O. Scott, or RedLetterMedia's online show Half in the Bag, or other Internet-exclusive video reviews like CinemaSins or YourMovieSucks because they are so critical, they are skeptical and cynical about blockbusters. People love a good narrative about an overarching power structure keeping the little man suppressed. Why not turn Hollywood into that villain? It's easy to get so wrapped up in their particular perspectives that you forget to take a step back and realize that, as I hope I have laid out in this series, there are plenty of admirable aspects of our blockbusters that are so often forgotten in our discussions about them. So next time someone tells you they hate a movie, particularly if it's a blockbuster, ask them something they liked, something they thought was done well, or just one good thing about it that they can think of. Never hate a movie. 

You'll make these guys very proud.

Tarantino would say that you can take the aspects you like of a movie you didn't like, and utilize those positive aspects to craft a better movie if you are trying to be a filmmaker. Blockbusters often use experimental techniques to display action, and directors like Tarantino have utilized various techniques they've learned from even the most reviled blockbusters to do it better the second time. Blockbusters have sort of become the testing ground for issues like how to display, edit, and film action scenes. As despised as he is, even Michael Bay has vocal supporters ranging from Oscar-winning director James Cameron or film theorist Jeanine Basinger or even the Criterion Collection. (Yes, THAT Criterion Collection. I'm just as shocked as you are.) Their praise isn't about things like acting or story, but moreso on the way Bay frames shots and films action scenes, which has actually been hailed as very inventive. (You can read more about it here.) And sure, while it's easy to dismiss Bay for lowest-common-denominator stories, even he that is considered the Master Of All That Is Bad About Modern Blockbusters, can't be dismissed entirely according to some of the most respected people and organizations in Hollywood. Never hate a movie.

Tarantino's message is one I think we as film aficionados and fans should get behind. He actually made waves a few months ago for putting such critical disappointments such as Kick-Ass 2, or flat out box-office bombs like The Lone Ranger on his list of favorite movies of 2013, alongside more mainstream fare like This Is The End, Gravity, and The Conjuring. He has become a voice for reexamining blockbusters, through this "never hate a movie" mantra. And we, as film fans, should embrace that message. It took a long time for cultural enthusiasts to embrace the idea of film as art. What service are we doing if we dismiss such a broad amount of popular films every year simply because of what they are, or how large a budget they had, or that they were studio products? Are we drawing a line around what is good and acceptable and what isn't? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and it seems our society has embraced this type of movie as a whole. For all their issues, for all the criticisms, they can't be easily dismissed. They shouldn't be easily dismissed. They are just as much a part of cultural dialogue as any other piece of art, any other thing that is produced for the masses. They are a product of our times, yet perhaps some of them will outlive us all. They shape the imaginations of the young, provide entertainment to the masses, and not all of them, but most of them are creative works made by passionate people who collaborated together to make something great. Never hate a movie.

So you want my advice? Go see blockbusters. Analyze them. Question them. Love them! Like them! Dislike them, but never hate them! Don't listen to people who dismiss them. Don't listen to rants about the "Hollywood system." Like what you like, dislike what you dislike, and see a lot of movies and see a lot of blockbusters, because whether good or bad, they will teach you something about how to (or not to) make a movie, or just entertain you, make you think, make you laugh, or anything in between. These are movies, and these are why people love them.

"TOP OF THE WORLD, MA!"




This concludes my "In defense of the blockbuster" blog series. I hope you have enjoyed reading them as much as I have enjoyed writing them. And while it might be a while before I try something this ambitious again (two months on a blog series... I need a break), definitely keep on the lookout for more blogs on a wide range of subjects coming soon. Stay tuned, and thanks for stopping by!