Friday, February 27, 2015

Top Five Pet Peeves of the 2014-15 Oscar Season

The Oscar season is always draining – emotionally and physically, given the length of the broadcast – but there's still one last drop of blogging to be drained from my fingertips before officially calling it a year: My annual rundown of personal highs and lows from the season that was. I find it the perfect way to purge any lingering feelings before psyching myself up for the coming cinematic calendar, which is sure to have its own slate of travesties and triumphs.

I'll be posting my top ten in the form of two top fives. We'll get the ball rolling with the five things that bugged me most during the 2014-15 film awards circuit:

5. The Zadan/Meron regime
I defended them the first time (2013) because the plethora of musical numbers was novel and they were all so good (and I was slightly drunk). I ignored them the second time (2014) because the winners list was so satisfying, it was easy to overlook the show's many deficiencies and miscalculations.
But the time has come to say, “enough is enough”. These two have got to go. Even if you enjoy all the musical performances (and once I can revisit them separately from the tension of Oscar night, I often do), the fact stands that they add nothing to the ceremony itself. This pair has talent, but they waste it on promoting one tiny, not-all-that-popular genre of entertainment with tributes to either A) decades-old movies, or B) more recent projects that they themselves have produced; Chicago, Dreamgirls, Smash...
I know you guys are sore about having your names left off the Oscar ballot for Chicago, and that Smash got cancelled, but it's not all about you! The aesthetic format of their telecasts have grown stale as well. Time to get actual clip reels back together for the In Memoriam segment and the craft categories. No matter how beautifully those animated title cards have been graphically designed (and they were indeed beautiful), they're no match for a swift montage that actually highlights the films we're supposed to be highlighting.

4. Big Hero 6
When The LEGO Movie suffered its bizarre snub on nomination morning, I was more bemused than outraged. I enjoyed the film well enough, though it was hardly a masterpiece in my eyes. But had I known it would lead to this, I'd have kicked up a much bigger fuss. Of the six animated films I saw this year, Big Hero 6 sits comfortably at the bottom. Obviously I was biased, but it looked like clear sailing for DreamWorks' How to Train Your Dragon 2, transparently the superior of the three American toons in the running (we knew the GKIDS treasures never stood a chance). But the sharks at Disney smelt blood in the water, and had the mullah to make a significant phase-two campaign push. What's most annoying is the unshakable notion that Dragons 2 lost because it's a sequel. If the Academy could have just looked past the numeral in its title, they'd have seen that it's leagues more imaginative and dramatically substantial than the oppressively formulaic BH6; By far the most dubious winner in this category's young history.

3. The Imitation Game campaign
Whether Harvey Weinstein's nefarious tactics succeed or come up short, they still bother the hell out of me! Be it his passive aggressive “Some movies you feel” campaign for The King's Speech in 2010-11, or that wretchedly adorable mutt Uggie walking every red carpet with The Artist team in 2011-12, his PR tricks always smack of manipulation. But this one takes the cake:

The suggestion that you could redeem the wrongs done to Alan Turing by honouring a movie that liberally fictionalizes his life and skittishly skirts his sexuality is not only flawed to its core, but outright distasteful. I can sleep well knowing that Graham Moore would probably still have won Best Adapted Screenplay without this exploitative advertizing, but that nauseating billboard will still haunt me.

2. #OscarsSoWhite
In a classic example of the Internet devouring and decrying something it doesn't fully understand, this hashtag of disapproval for the Academy's most Caucasian nominee slate since the 90s became the season's defining slogan. This is typical of an outrage culture dependant on extremist headlines to attract page hits, but it seems pointedly unfair that AMPAS became the target of this overly harsh criticism. The nuance of the situation was lost on all but a precious few who recognized that this wasn't a symptom of racism within the Academy, but of racial under-representation in the film industry as a whole. If most of your movies are made by white males, for white males, and about white males, then it stands to reason that most of the really good nomination-worthy work is going to come from white males. The absence of Selma in almost all major categories can also be attributed to its late entry into the race, putting Paramount in a tight spot with not enough time to get screeners out to the guilds. But there is one more non-negligible factor that played a role in the Selma snubs, and that was chief among my pet peeves this year...

1. Selma smears
Historical fiction always faces an uphill battle when it comes to the sticky matter of “artistic license”. This is particularly true of good historical fiction, which must often massage facts or perceptions for the sake of dramatic construct. But what makes the attacks on Selma's veracity (specifically its depiction of LBJ) truly aggravating is how other fact-based Best Picture nominees got off virtually scott free. Complaints about Chris Kyle's alleged sociopathic sadism obviously fell on deaf ears as American Sniper shot past $300M at the box office, while the anachronistic dialogue and fabricated 'eureka' moments of The Imitation Game led it to an Oscar for, of all things, writing. What Ava DuVernay does in Selma is warp the lens of history to show all her characters from multiple perspectives, arguably a tougher and more artistically justified reason for doing so than for mere narrative convenience. Mark Harris wrote the best film article of the year on this issue, and I highly recommend reading it if you haven't done so already. Alas, those wise, artful liberties may have been what cost Duvernay's film the awards attention it deserved, and that is nothing less than excruciatingly unjust.

Phew! Glad I got all that off my chest! Stop by tomorrow for my top five awards season highlights.


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  2. I was pleased with Big Hero 6's Oscar victory.

    I for one delighted that HTTYD2 lost because that film has been so hailed as a masterpiece and I just don't see it after two viewings. At best, it benefited from adding the mother aspect and maintains well-shot flight scenes amidst an always-dependable John Powell score. However, at worst, the emotion just didn't feel organic at all, especially considering the risky narrative choices that just didn't pay off. Furthermore, the script has enough "dragons in peace with humans" statements for one to call it preachy and feel embarrassed for the voice actors who have to say those lines. The first film was likable and succeeded in its risks, but the second film was bloated and missed on many of its story choices. I left the theater wondering whether the people who praised the film saw the same film that I did. If DW is going for a trilogy, then HTTYD2 ain't no Back to the Future Pt. 2 and definitely not an Empire Strikes Back; it was more like Temple of Doom. They better improve on the threequel.

    Speaking of DW, all three of their films--Mr. Peabody & Sherman, HTTYD2, and Penguins of Madagascar--disappointed me to varying degrees. Just because DW can release three films in one year doesn't mean they should. Plus, it's not like Home looks any more promising.

    On the other hand, BH6--while formulaic--stuck to tried-and-true narrative decisions that didn't feel artificial, but acted as foundation for the rest of the story. I'm a film person who, if I had to, prefers the stock story with just enough spices to make it stand out and surpass its goal over an ambitious story that falls way short of its goal. As opposed to Stoick's death which came out of nowhere and didn't land properly--it felt like they just wanted to kill a character--Tadashi's death turned the rest of the film into a bit of a murder mystery and I admired that. The visuals, to me, matched HTTYD's flying scenes, and the colors of the costumes as well as San Fransokyo only enhanced the excitement. When it made those foreseeable narrative decisions, they executed them as promised. Of the nominees, it was my 3rd favorite and the one I had money on (because Song of the Sea and the Tale of Princess Kaguya--the latter which made it as high as #5 on my favorite films of 2014 in general--had little to no chance of winning anyway and I invested myself in that realization) and my #5 favorite animated film of the year. While a bit disappointing, the rest of my top 5 were either not-nominated or too obscure to gain votes, so I'll take BH6's Oscar victory. In fact, I love how BH6 and Feast both won the animation awards, making it the first time that the feature film and the short film that preceded it both won their Oscars.

    When BH6 won, the entire party I was at cheered--myself included. All of us understood that HTTYD2's flaws that most people just seemed to ignore or gloss over would make it a weak winner over time, while BH6--certainly not the best of the nominees, for sure--seemed appropriate considering Birdman's victory as a film that makes a commentary on the superhero genre and the onslaught of films from said genre in the rest of the film industry.

    Who knows? Perhaps I just liked BH6 more and disapproved of people calling HTTYD2 a masterpiece even when it possessed were some serious faults within. You may find BH6's victory disappointing, but I for one found its victory to be a pleasant surprise (and, admittedly, one I was forecasting considering its victories at the Visual FX and both Sound guilds).

    If each of us can admit that our views can be valid, then...
    ...Baymax, I'm satisfied with my care.