Administratia, Extra Credit, Oscar Extra Credit

2022 Oscars: Postscript

So. Hmm.

The online world is blowing up talking about one Incident in particular from last night’s ceremony (you know the one I mean). Everyone seems to be taking sides one way or the other and debating it; however, I think everyone involved did poorly, and more regret how all of the other moments from last night’s Oscars are getting overshadowed – and some of those moments are wonderful.

So instead of getting caught up in gossip, here are three other Oscar moments that make for much better conversation instead.

Lady Gaga and Liza Minelli teamed up to present the award for Best Picture – and honestly, something about that pairing just works. Especially since Minelli seemed to have a little trouble reading her lines off the teleprompter at one point – and Lady Gaga graciously and gently stepped in to help. “I got you,” she said quietly to Minelli. “I know!” Minelli gushed. It was a lovely class act – one queen adjusting another’s crown.

Men are starting to branch out away from the plain tux! We saw plenty of classic black tuxedoes – but we also saw Daniel Kaluuya in a green tux, Kodi Smit-McPhee in powder blue, Simi Liu in bright red, Sebastian Yatra in pink – and Timothée  Chalamet in a bare chest and women’s wear. (No, seriously – the jacket and pants are from Louis Vuitton’s women’s line.) I usually think talk about fashion on the red carpets is inane as all hell – but this feels like more of a sign that men are starting to loosen up and play a bit.

Best of all: an interaction in which everyone involved did things right.

When Youn Yuh-Jung won for Best Supporting Actress last year, she stole the show with a witty acceptance speech. One of her jokes was about how so many people in Hollywood kept mispronouncing her name. So last night, when she came out to present Best Supporting Actor, she began with a joke about how now the shoe was on the other foot – since now she was going to run the risk of mispronouncing the actors’ names.

But it was clearly a front. Because when she opened the envelope, she paused before reading the name – and instead, signed it. For the winner was Troy Kotsur, who won for his role in Coda. So instead of mispronouncing his name – Youn had taken the time to learn how to pronounce it in his own language, as well as in English. She also learned how to sign “Congratulations” to him when he approached the podium, and had the presence of mind to offer to hold his statue for him as he delivered his speech – since he speaks ASL and would therefore need his hands free. And instead of stepping back and away from him, she stayed close by, so Kotsur’s statue would stay in his peripheral vision.

And Kotsur’s speech was wonderful in and of itself as well. He started with a few jokes, mainly one about how he’d been tempted to teach President Biden some ASL curse words while the Coda cast was touring the white house (however, he joked, Marlee Matlin wouldn’t let him). Then he turned more serious – thanking the host of Deaf Theaters in the US for helping him work on his craft, thanking Marlee Matlin for advocating other deaf actors be cast in Coda, thanking director and screenwriter Sian Heder for flawlessly bridging the gap between the ASL and the spoken-word worlds, and finally thanking his family – including his father, who was “the best signer in my family” until he was paralyzed in a car accident. It was a wonderful speech, and you can hear his interpreter choking up about midway through. And – before his speech, and after, you can see everyone else in the audience was applauding Kotsur in ASL – hands up and waving.

….Let’s all talk about any of those things instead.

Administratia, Extra Credit, Oscar Extra Credit

Oscar Extra Credit – The Oscar Night Liveblog

Just a heads-up!

I have not always had the BEST luck liveblogging the Oscars in years past. Either the ceremony was no great shakes, or the computer I was on was managing to erase each of my entries as I added them. I was even trying to liveblog on the night of the famous Moonlight/Lala Land mixup, but my laptop battery ran out ten minutes before that happened and I missed it all.

But I’m foolhardy enough to try again. I am going to a livescreening at a Brooklyn bar, and this time I will charge up the laptop fully (and bring a spare extension cord just in case). So we will see.

Honestly, this year I’m only really invested in one category – one of the nominees for Best Original Song is Lin-Manuel Miranda’s lovely song “Dos Oruguitas” from the film Encanto. It’s used as a bit of a musical metaphor in the film, providing the score for a heartbreaking scene in which the matriarch of a Columbian family tells her granddaughter how she lost her husband in a war. “Dos Oruguitas” literally translates to “Two Little Caterpillars”, and the lyrics are about a pair of caterpillars so in love that they don’t want to let each other go – but they need to let each other go to go on and become butterflies.

I’ve been listening to this many times over the past couple weeks and I love it; the other songs it’s up against are some kind of run-of-the-mill also-rans, in my opinion, so things look good. This would also give Lin-Manuel Miranda “EGOT” status – EGOT being the name for those who’ve managed to win all four major US entertainment awards (Emmy for television, Grammy for music/recording, Oscar for film and Tony for theater). Even better, he’s also won a Pulitzer, an “Annie” award for Animated films, and a MacArthur Genius fellowship; giving him a much more rarified “MacPEGOAT” status.

If he does not win on Sunday, I shall kick things.

Administratia, Extra Credit, film

Digression: On Avant-Garde Film

We’ve covered one or two earlier experimental and avant-garde films before this, but we’re about to get into a whole lot more. I haven’t always had the best luck with prior surrealist films – and it got me thinking about surrealist, avant-garde and experimental films as a whole – because there are some I actually kind of enjoyed.

Before the list, most of the time I encountered experimental films was in an actual art museum, which emphasized the “art” side of the equation for me. They were things freed from the usually bare-bones conventions you’d expect from film – some kind of consistent characters and some kind of consistent plot. They weren’t “movies”, they were “art pieces”, usually either Statements the artist was making or just neat things they figured out how to do with film or a camera. I’ve visited museums in New York and in other major cities, and I always poke my head into a screening room if they have one set up – however, all too often I find myself turning around and heading out again.

But sometimes I linger to watch. And it’s not always the films with a plot that catch my attention – sometimes an artist has just caught something that strikes my fancy. Once in the Whitney Museum, I saw a film that was a parody of big-budget movie trailers, one which speculated what the trailer for a 2000’s remake of Caligula might look like. It was a spot-on parody – they’d even gotten Don LaFontaine to do the narration – and boasted an impressive list of A-list actors, like Helen Mirren, Benicio Del Toro, Gerard Butler, and Milla Jovovich, with Courtney Love turning up to play Caligula at the very end. I kept ducking back to watch that again and again, picking up new details each time. (Fair warning that it is also very, very sexually graphic in places, so be careful with this link.)

With another film it was the music that caught my attention – the film was nothing more than a garage band in an airline hangar doing a cover of Bob Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues in four different music styles while a whole gaggle of ten-year-olds stood around them and jumped rope. I don’t know what statement, if any, that was meant to make, but I lingered there to watch, singing along under my breath (“Johnny’s in the basement, mixin’ up the medicine…..”). Still another film was a deep dive into a pop-culture meme – that moment from the Star Trek: Wrath of Khan film where Kirk bellows “KHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAN!” The artist took that one five-second clip and just started playing – freezing on some frames, rewinding the same half-second and replaying it a few times over in a loop, reversing the film in places, and ultimately stretching that five seconds into a three-minute sequence where we watched every one of Shatner’s lip curls and eyebrow twitches over and over and drew out the suspense before the final line. With still another film, the filmmaker filmed a pacing black panther in a dimly-lit room, then turned down the light levels in the editing even further so you could just barely see anything. It was an eerie effect – you could hear the panther pacing and breathing, and every so often a soft growl, but all you could see was a vast field of black, with maybe a hint of movement here or what might be a reflection in an eye there.

I think I do well with experimental films like that, where there is either some kind of gimmick or sense of humor about the whole thing, so I can appreciate it on those angles without having to understand any kind of deeper symbolism. But if there isn’t…..well. There’s one series of films that has particularly baffled me over the years – Matthew Barney’s Cremaster Cycle, which is a five-film epic artistic statement purportedly about the “pure potentiality” of the embryonic development of the male cremaster muscle but also delves into the interconnectedness of (checks Wikipedia page) Greek mythology, Gary Gilmore, Johnny Cash, Celtic myth, Harry Houdini, the Freemasons, Goodyear blimps, and Norman Mailer. The trouble is that you’re not told that when you rock up to the video screen – you’re just somehow supposed to glean that from watching airline stewardesses huddle around tables covered in grapes and Vaseline, or a goat-human hybrid climbing up from an underground cavern to find themselves in the Chrysler building, or a dude with cloth stuffed in his mouth troweling cement over the gas caps on some old Chryslers. (Note: I have not made that up, all of those images apparently actually appear in various Cremaster Cycle films.)

Ultimately, I feel that any piece of film is supposed to communicate something to an audience. Sometimes that thing being communicated is straightforward – like “here’s a story about a little girl who gets swept up in a tornado and may or may not have been brought to a magical country called ‘Oz’.” Sometimes it’s a little opaque – “here’s a story about two lovers from different street gangs in New York City, but really it’s a remake of Romeo and Juliet.” Or, maybe that thing being communicated is “hey, trailers today all kinda look the same, don’t they?” Or maybe it’s just “hey, have you ever really looked at all the weird details in that ‘Khan’ scene?” Of course, sometimes an audience member may miss the thing they’re supposed to get from a piece of film, but may get some other message out of it, like “dang, Subterranean Homesick Blues actually works as a Bossa Nova piece.” But if your work is so opaque that the only way the audience can get any kind of message is by having a written interpretation on hand mean to explain everything, I question whether it’s the film that’s actually communicating anything in the first place.

I’ll continue to duck into those booths in museums, of course – and urge you to do the same – and I’ll also be steeling myself for the avant-garde stuff on the horizon, hoping for Khan and dreading Cremaster.


The List Grows Again

So: in a month or so, we will be getting yet another edition of the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die book. Which means I will be adding another few films onto my list.

I was curious to see what they would add, considering just how weird the cinematic scene was last year, during the depth of the pandemic. Would they allow in any of the films that went straight to streaming? Would they accept any of the direct-to-video stuff? Or would they keep to the few films that went into theaters?

Advance forecasts say…a little of everything. Here’s the shortlist of possible new additions:

  • Vast of Night
  • The Assistant
  • Rocks
  • Saint Maud
  • Tenet
  • Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
  • Soul
  • Never Rarely Sometimes Always
  • Lovers Rock!
  • Nomadland

I strangely feel like there was more to choose from last year, but – I just had a look at a couple “2020 in Film” lists online and there…kind of wasn’t? A couple of these options seem like odd choices, but they may have made it on the list simply because it was also a really odd year.

I won’t officially put them in the roster yet until we get a confirmation from someone who actually has the book in their hand.

Administratia, Extra Credit

In Which I Disagree With Martin Scorcese

This is admittedly a digression from the Crash Course. Say this is more like you’ve run into your professor in the hallway and you get into a conversation on the way to class.

So Martin Scorcese is making some waves right now with an essay he’s written for Harper’s Bazaar, in which he finds some fault with the current state of the movie industry. He begins with a memory of being a younger film fan here in New York in the late 50s and early 60s, excitedly tracking down some of the films just then coming stateside from France or Italy, marveling how he would be able to jump from an Andy Warhol art film to a screening of The Cranes Are Flying to Jean-Luc Goddard’s Breathless, and capping things off with a screening of the latest work from Federico Fellini. Then he goes on to lament that today, “the art of cinema is being systematically devalued, sidelined, demeaned, and reduced to its lowest common denominator, ‘content’.”

This isn’t the first time he’s made an argument about “the art of cinema” and how it differs from “movies”. In 2019 he famously made waves by dismissing the MCU as “not cinema” – it was cheap expendable stuff, he seemed to imply; people cared more about film as an art form back in the day, he said then. And he says that again now, and this time puts forth an example of what he means; most of his Harper’s essay is an ode to Fellini’s artistry in particular, with Fellini’s film 8-1/2 as Scorcese’s favorite work.

Now, on the one hand I do get what Scorcese is saying about film as art. There is a difference between a film that is the latest entry in a franchise, and a film that is a smaller passion project. Scorcese says that right now, “content” is a catch-all to describe “all moving images: a David Lean movie, a cat video, a Super Bowl commercial, a superhero sequel, a series episode.” And there absolutely is a difference between a David Lean movie and a Superbowl commercial.

I’m afraid I disagree with Scorcese on two points, however. His earlier comments about the MCU got several people’s hackles up, as he seemed to suggest that since the MCU films weren’t “cinema”, that they were somehow a little….lesser-than, and not to be taken seriously. It’s possible he didn’t intend to leave that impression – but if he did, I couldn’t disagree more. Yes, superhero movies are big and flashy and special-effects-heavy, but the people writing for Marvel are saying some nuanced and complicated things in those films. The current WandaVision miniseries is painting a surprisingly complex portrait of someone seeking to escape trauma and grief, and is simultaneously presenting a satire of cheesy family sitcoms and how their handling of serious fare changed and evolved over time. And as for film – I went to see Black Panther largely because it was such a clear cultural touchstone, but I walked out surprised that it had given me some food for thought about distribution of natural resources and wealth, and a given community’s responsibility towards its neighbors in the global community. The fact that the people saying those things were discussing a fictional metal and were dressed in panther-eared armor didn’t distract me from what they were saying in the slightest.

In his current essay, Scorcese also seems to suggest that in the past, “cinema” was valued more by moviegoers; that it could be found on more screens, that it was more prevalent, that there was more of a demand for it. I disagree here as well – there has always been cheaper forgettable stuff, designed to appeal to the mass market, alongside the more “artistic” stuff. For instance, let’s take Scorcese’s beloved 8-1/2. That came out in 1963 – and while a handful of other “cinematic” works also came out that year, it also saw the release of some films Scorcese didn’t mention in his essay:

  • The Sun Of Flubber
  • The Day Mars Invaded Earth
  • Follow The Boys
  • Operation Bikini
  • The Courtship of Eddie’s Father
  • It Happened At The World’s Fair
  • The Nutty Professor
  • The Girl Hunters
  • Island of Love
  • Captain Sinbad
  • Jason and the Argonauts
  • Tarzan’s Three Challenges
  • Gidget Goes To Rome
  • Beach Party
  • Flipper
  • The Three Stooges Go Around The World In A Daze
  • X: The Man With The X-Ray Eyes
  • Under The Yum Yum Tree
  • Gunfight At Comanche Creek
  • Take Her, She’s Mine
  • The Pink Panther
  • Who’s Been Sleeping In My Bed?

I would wager that Mr. Scorcese would not categorize any of those films as “cinema” either. I would also wager that back in 1963, he was tutting about them just as much as he tuts about the MCU today. And most importantly – I would wager that Mr. Scorcese doesn’t even remember that those films came out at the same time as 8-1/2, and that he was rolling his eyes at them.

My point being, then, that I suspect Martin Scorcese is making a complaint about how the movie business today cares less about art and more about commerce, but that he is basing his complaint on a selective recollection of what the movie scene was like when he was younger. He doesn’t remember those films today because they weren’t designed to be remembered, just like many of the films today aren’t designed to be remembered either. His remembering more Fellini on screens back in the 1960s isn’t a sign that the public cared more about art – it’s a sign that he cared more about art, and just forgot The Sun Of Flubber existed too. He’s also forgetting that many of the theaters showing the films he cared about were smaller independent outlets, as opposed to the big cineplexes showing Gidget Goes To Rome or other guaranteed money-makers.

And the good news is, that hasn’t changed today. In 2018 I went to see Black Panther at an Alamo Drafthouse theater, but could also have seen it at any one of six different other movie houses within three blocks of that theater. I later saw Infinity War and The Force Awakens at similar big-box movie houses. But I also saw Call Me By Your Name and Get Out at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s theater, and Three Billboards Outside Ebbings, Missouri in another smaller theater, the same place where I’d go on to see Parasite a year later. The artistic films have always had to compete with the big dumb popcorn films, and all such films manage to find their audiences and after a couple decades it’s the artistic films are the ones people are more likely to remember. Or, rather, it’s the quality films people are more likely to remember – for there are some quality films masquerading as big dumb films sometimes.

So I wouldn’t worry about things, Mr. Scorcese; cinema is doing just fine, as fine as it always has.


A Much Longer Syllabus!

Well, gosh.

As I mentioned a couple weeks ago, a new version of the book 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die has just been released, and because I’m insane a completist that means that the movies they added are ones I’m adding.

Like, there’s a lot though.

  • Lamerica (1994)
  • Toy Story 4 (2019)
  • Avengers: Endgame (2019)
  • Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Portrait de la jeune fille en feu) (2019)
  • For Sama (2019)
  • Booksmart (2019)
  • Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019)
  • The Farewell (2019)
  • Joker (2019)
  • Parasite (2019)
  • Monos (2019)
  • Little Women (2019)
  • The Lighthouse (2019)

I guess it’s…..a good thing that we are coming into winter and I am on an enforced bedrest due to a broken knee. Now if I could translate that into writing the reviews as well as watching the movies I’d be all set.

Administratia, We Have Buster Sign!

I Fall Down Go Boom

Buster Keaton's “Sherlock Jr.” Live Film Score by Tim Carless – The  ArtsCenter


On Sunday afternoon I watched my next film. On Monday – the day I planned to write the review – I unfortunately had a bad fall while walking to work, and have broken my kneecap. I am now forced to spend the rest of my week keeping my leg as still as possible until this following Monday, when I can get surgery to stabilize it and then start proper recovery.

As a result, my review is going to be an eensy bit delayed, hence my throwing up Buster Sign. Come Friday I may go stir crazy and try a draft anyway, but for now I’m still figuring out how to maneuver myself to and from the bathroom without Roommate Russ having to tend to me. (I think I got it, fortunately, which is a bit of a relief for us both.)

Thank you for your patience.


List Updates – Forecast

Rear Window: A Perfect Blend – Reelistics Views

So periodically there is a new edition of the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die book, and when that happens there are changes to the list. And when that happens, I have more films to add. A new version of the book drops next month; early indications show that the updates may include the following films:

  • Parasite
  • Joker
  • Little Women
  • For Sama
  • The Lighthouse
  • Once Upon A Time In Hollywood….

I’ll hold off adding them until the book is actually published and in stores and someone can check what it involves. But thank God they included The Lighthouse – it got very little attention at the Oscars and it absolutely should have had more.