89th Academy Awards: Ranked

This is my ranking of the Oscar nominees from best to worst. Having finally seen everything I can express my opinions without reservation. My Life As a Zucchini took too long for such a short film. The bold ones are my predictions to win.

Best Picture
Hell or High Water
Manchester by the Sea
Moonlight
Arrival
Fences
Hacksaw Ridge
La La Land
Lion
Hidden Figures

The only one in this group that I’m truly embarrassed to see there is Hidden Figures, at least it’s better than 2011.

Best Director
Denis Villeneuve – Arrival
Barry Jenkins – Moonlight
Kenneth Lonergan – Manchester by the Sea
Mel Gibson – Hacksaw Ridge
Damien Chazelle – La La Land

So many young and first time nominees.

Best Actor
Casey Affleck – Manchester by the Sea as Lee Chandler
Denzel Washington – Fences as Troy Maxson
Viggo Mortensen – Captain Fantastic as Ben Cash
Andrew Garfield – Hacksaw Ridge as Desmond T. Doss
Ryan Gosling – La La Land as Sebastian Wilder

Casey Affleck may not win this because a strange number of people hear “accused of sexual harassment” and turn him into a rapist in their minds. I’m hoping he will.

Best Actress
Natalie Portman – Jackie as Jackie Kennedy
Isabelle Huppert – Elle as Michèle Leblanc
Ruth Negga – Loving as Mildred Loving
Meryl Streep – Florence Foster Jenkins as Florence Foster Jenkins
Emma Stone – La La Land as Mia Dolan

Emma Stone deserves awards, just not for this. Natalie was a revelation.

Best Supporting Actor
Jeff Bridges – Hell or High Water as Marcus Hamilton
Mahershala Ali – Moonlight as Juan
Michael Shannon – Nocturnal Animals as Detective Bobby Andes
Lucas Hedges – Manchester by the Sea as Patrick Chandler
Dev Patel – Lion as Saroo Brierley

Jeff Bridges won me over by a hair.
Best Supporting Actress
Viola Davis – Fences as Rose Maxson
Nicole Kidman – Lion as Sue Brierley
Michelle Williams – Manchester by the Sea as Randi
Naomie Harris – Moonlight as Paula
Octavia Spencer – Hidden Figures as Dorothy Vaughan

One of those comical supporting vs leading situations.

Best Original Screenplay
The Lobster – Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthimis Filippou
20th Century Women – Mike Mills
Hell or High Water – Taylor Sheridan
Manchester by the Sea – Kenneth Lonergan
La La Land – Damien Chazelle

The Lobster has a confusing presence this year as it competed in other awards last year. Great category overall, hopefully La La Land doesn’t get the rolling vote for this.

Best Adapted Screenplay
Arrival – Eric Heisserer from “Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang
Moonlight – Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney from In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue by Tarell Alvin McCraney
Fences – August Wilson from Fences by August Wilson
Lion – Luke Davies from A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierley and Larry Buttrose
Hidden Figures – Allison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi from Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly

Hidden Figures getting a Best Picture nomination is one thing. People responded to it with alarming enthusiasm. But how can someone objectively look at the writing and celebrate it?

Best Animated Feature Film
Kubo and the Two Strings – Travis Knight and Arianne Sutner
Moana – John Musker, Ron Clements, and Osnat Shurer
My Life as a Zucchini – Claude Barras and Max Karli
Zootopia – Byron Howard, Rich Moore, and Clark Spencer
The Red Turtle – Michaël Dudok de Wit and Toshio Suzuki

Fantastic field this year, so much so that Finding Dory didn’t even get a nomination.

Best Foreign Language Film
Toni Erdmann (Germany) in German – Maren Ade
Land of Mine (Denmark) in Danish – Martin Zandvliet
A Man Called Ove (Sweden) in Swedish – Hannes Holm
The Salesman (Iran) in Persian – Asghar Farhadi
Tanna (Australia) in Nauvhal – Martin Butler and Bentley Dean

Excellent group of films. The Salesman will likely win thanks to Trump.

Best Documentary – Feature
13th – Ava DuVernay, Spencer Averick, and Howard Barish
I Am Not Your Negro – Raoul Peck, Rémi Grellety, and Hébert Peck
O.J.: Made in America – Ezra Edelman and Caroline Waterlow
Fire at Sea – Gianfranco Rosi and Donatella Palermo
Life, Animated – Roger Ross Williams and Julie Goldman

The top three here make an excellent trio. I suggest a marathon. It’s also a strange year with the mini-series getting a place as a feature film.

Best Documentary – Short Subject
Extremis – Dan Krauss
The White Helmets – Orlando von Einsiedel and Joanna Natasegara
Watani: My Homeland – Marcel Mettelsiefen and Stephen Ellis
4.1 Miles – Daphne Matziaraki
Joe’s Violin – Kahane Cooperman and Raphaela Neihausen

Decent group this year. Extremis tells the best story.

Best Live Action Short Film
Ennemis intérieurs – Sélim Azzazi
Timecode – Juanjo Giménez
Sing – Kristóf Deák and Anna Udvardy
Silent Nights – Aske Bang and Kim Magnusson
La Femme et le TGV – Timo von Gunten and Giacun Caduff

There is such a huge disparity in quality between the Ennemis and the rest of the field. La Femme et le TGV was painful to watch at times.

Best Animated Short Film
Piper – Alan Barillaro and Marc Sondheimer
Borrowed Time – Andrew Coats and Lou Hamou-Lhadj
Pear Cider and Cigarettes – Robert Valley and Cara Speller
Pearl – Patrick Osborne
Blind Vaysha – Theodore Ushev

How did Blind Vaysha make it into this category? It’s the quality of a first year film student. Absolute garbage.

Best Original Score
Jackie – Mica Levi
Moonlight – Nicholas Britell
Passengers – Thomas Newman
La La Land – Justin Hurwitz
Lion – Dustin O’Halloran and Hauschka

Jackie’s score was earth shattering and beautiful. It was largely responsible for the transforming and emotional journey having such power. La La Land was just the score to a forgettable musical.

Best Original Song
“How Far I’ll Go” from Moana – Music and Lyric by Lin-Manuel Miranda
“Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” from La La Land – Music by Justin Hurwitz, Lyric by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul
“City of Stars” from La La Land – Music by Justin Hurwitz, Lyric by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul
“The Empty Chair” from Jim: The James Foley Story – Music and Lyric by J. Ralph and Sting
“Can’t Stop the Feeling!” from Trolls – Music and Lyric by Justin Timberlake, Max Martin, and Karl Johan Schuster (Shellback)

Moana had the best songs this year, but Shiny should have been the song choice. I would love to have seen Jemaine Clement perform it.

Best Sound Editing
Arrival – Sylvain Bellemare
Hacksaw Ridge – Robert Mackenzie and Andy Wright
Sully – Alan Robert Murray and Bub Asman
Deepwater Horizon – Wylie Stateman and Renée Tondelli
La La Land – Ai-Ling Lee and Mildred Iatrou Morgan

Both sound categories this year snubbed some of the best action films. BvS, Civil War, Deadpool, Doctor Strange, Fantastic Beasts, Warcraft, Star Trek Beyond, among others. Bizarre choices. Arrival’s use of sound however really added to the storytelling.

Best Sound Mixing
Arrival – Bernard Gariépy Strobl and Claude La Haye
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – David Parker, Christopher Scarabosio, and Stuart Wilson
Hacksaw Ridge – Kevin O’Connell, Andy Wright, Robert Mackenzie, and Peter Grace
La La Land – Andy Nelson, Ai-Ling Lee, and Steve A. Morrow
13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi – Greg P. Russell,[a] Gary Summers, Jeffrey J. Haboush, and Mac Ruth

Best Production Design
Arrival – Patrice Vermette and Paul Hotte
Passengers – Guy Hendrix Dyas and Gene Serdena
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – Stuart Craig and Anna Pinnock
Hail, Caesar! – Jess Gonchor and Nancy Haigh
La La Land – David Wasco and Sandy Reynolds-Wasco

There was nothing unique in La La Land’s production design, but it’s expected to win.

Best Cinematography
Silence – Rodrigo Prieto
Arrival – Bradford Young
Moonlight – James Laxton
La La Land – Linus Sandgren
Lion – Greig Fraser

How is it that Silence only ended up here? One of the best of the year.

Best Makeup and Hairstyling
Star Trek Beyond – Joel Harlow and Richard Alonzo
Suicide Squad – Alessandro Bertolazzi, Giorgio Gregorini, and Christopher Nelson
A Man Called Ove – Eva von Bahr and Love Larson

Creative creatures and villains top old man makeup.

Best Costume Design
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – Colleen Atwood
Jackie – Madeline Fontaine
Allied – Joanna Johnston
Florence Foster Jenkins – Consolata Boyle
La La Land – Mary Zophres

I often stress that modern films don’t get enough attention for costume design. La La Land is not a good example of one that should.

Best Film Editing
Moonlight – Nat Sanders and Joi McMillon
Arrival – Joe Walker
Hell or High Water – Jake Roberts
Hacksaw Ridge – John Gilbert
La La Land – Tom Cross

Moonlight and Arrival use editing in a deep way to tell their stories effectively. Hell or High Water and Hacksaw Ridge show expert level craft. La La Land just passes by.

Best Visual Effects
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – John Knoll, Mohen Leo, Hal Hickel, and Neil Corbould
Kubo and the Two Strings – Steve Emerson, Oliver Jones, Brian McLean, and Brad Schiff
The Jungle Book – Robert Legato, Adam Valdez, Andrew R. Jones, and Dan Lemmon
Doctor Strange – Stephane Ceretti, Richard Bluff, Vincent Cirelli, and Paul Corbould
Deepwater Horizon – Craig Hammack, Jason Snell, Jason Billington, and Burt Dalton

Jungle Book is the favorite to win and it was impressive. Exciting for a stop motion animation feature to get into this category. The uncanny valley aspect of Rogue One nearly kept it off my list but it really is pushing technology to its limit.

Strange year overall. We knew it would be after the controversy last year. Reactionary media reared its ugly head. Unfortunately it also gave us a mediocre, fluffy, and terribly overrated front runner. Gimmicky films winning always hurts.

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Franchise Fatigue

A conversation circling the film industry for some time has been the debate between original and franchise filmmaking. Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter permanently changed the game on film series, leading to a short turnaround of a new film every year or every two years. Marvel has taken things a step further with two and soon to be three films per year in a series. Today the term “franchise fatigue” has gained traction as more franchises put out a greater number of films in closer succession. There’s also a worry of depreciating audience numbers due to the perquisite of seeing the previous films. Will someone watch The Conjuring 2 without first seeing The Conjuring? Will they enjoy it less?

There are a number of examples from this year where performance has declined in direct sequels. Of course other examples exist of the reverse, Captain America: Civil War, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and Deadpool are all attached to massive franchises and doing just fine. Looking at 2016 thus far:

The Conjuring $57m vs. The Conjuring 2 $53m (6-day)

This series experienced a very slight drop in dollars matching its slight drop in tomato meter score. Surprising though, as very few well reviewed horror films are released in a given year and currently it’s the only horror film in theatres. Perhaps the high tension low gore original alienated some audience members looking for the next film by the director of Saw.

Now You See Me $38m vs. Now You See Me 2 $29m (6-day)

A 15% rotten tomatoes drop but both films were rotten to begin with. Was there really a precedent for this film to have a sequel? The first film grossed $117m domestic on a $75m budget. Granted there was an extra $234m overseas but still that’s not exactly franchise material. Someone must have really believed in that second script. Otherwise this film could have stood nicely on its own as a mediocre caper film.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles $126m vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows $65m (13-day)

This is mostly a case of poor reactions to the first film. A live action Ninja Turtles film was bound to make money bringing the nostalgic crowd, the action hungry moviegoers, and the families looking for something to distract their young ones for two hours. The trouble was that it disappointed most of those groups. The name had enough strength to supersede the poor reviews but not enough to earn a second chance. The second film actually had slightly better reviews but not “fresh” and not enough to get people to try it again. Personally I enjoyed the first film better than expected and look forward to watching the sequel someday.

Alice in Wonderland $268m vs. Alice Through the Looking Glass $63m (18-day)

With a scaled back budget, a non-Tim Burton director, and a waning appreciation for Johnny Depp it should surprise no one that this did not do well. Also there is an unfortunate lack of literary knowledge in the movie watching community and few people knew what Through the Looking Glass was. I spoke with one less informed person who shared that she thought it was another version of the same story, not a sequel. Others believed it was an original story, not related to previous texts.

Neighbors $129m vs. Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising $53m (25-day)

What a waste that this film was turned into a series. Neighbors was a pleasant, contained, and surprising comedy. It’s one of those moments where I wish they had taken a page from Edgar Wright’s playbook and used the same actors and director in a new comedy. Unfortunately the fact that no one wanted a sequel to the competent 2014 film is overshadowed by the numerous feminist blogs proclaiming it failed due to misogynist Hollywood not believing in a female antagonist or the “girl-power” message of the film. The same excuses will likely be used for Ghostbusters’ inevitable failure.

Divergent $150m vs. Insurgent $130m vs. Allegiant $66m (Final)

This should less be called franchise fatigue and rather YA fatigue. The steady decline in box office performance matches reviews pretty well but also reflects the viewer frustration with protracted ending films. The novel Allegiant was split in two similar to Mockingjay, Deathly Hallows, and Breaking Dawn. This technique is really only a justifiable step when the novel spans near 800 pages like Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Allegiant doesn’t exactly have the depth of story to span four hours.

Olympus Has Fallen $98m vs. London Has Fallen $62m (Final)

Again, why was there a sequel? This wasn’t a huge grossing film to begin with and it could have easily stood alone as a mediocre R-Rated action film. Instead it now has an awkward and underperforming sequel. Both films were rotten but there was a slight drop in reviews again.

Snow White and the Huntsman $152m vs. The Huntsman: Winter’s War $47m (53-day)

This is one of the weirdest runaway disasters of sequels. It was odd back in 2012 when Universal announce that the action heavy fairy tale was to be turned into a trilogy. After that things became even more complicated when the director and star of the first film came out with a complicated romantic entanglement removing both parties from the pending sequel. After that one of the two title characters was removed and the sequel was reworked as a prequel with a first time director, leading to one of the worst reviewed wide release films of 2016.

Ride Along $134m vs. Ride Along 2 $90m (Final)

The first film came around the time when Kevin Hart’s particular brand of Eddie Murphy mimicking swelled in popularity. Both films seem equally bad based on reviews and having seen neither I can’t quite comment on the narrative logic of a sequel, but it certainly seems like the diminishing returns were rejected by audience members.

Zoolander $45m vs. Zoolander 2 $28m (Final)

Something I struggle with frequently is a disconnect with my generation’s nostalgic tendencies toward bad pop music, bad fashion choices, and bad comedy movies. Zoolander was released in an era when I despised any slapstick comedy. That loathing still remains on a low simmer but I’m slightly broader minded today. Regardless Zoolander is a terrible film and never deserved the cult status it inexplicably achieved. The fourteen years later sequels seldom work out but this one seemed ripe to please fans if only it had delivered a worthwhile film. This time it was a trite and derivative pulpit piece about the body positive movement that will be as dated fourteen years from now as the references to celebrities from the 90s are in the original film.

God’s Not Dead $59m vs. God’s Not Dead 2 $20m (74-day)

It feels wrong to even consider this a film but unfortunately it is. These films, along with the other mindless bait for self-righteous religious types, are made with such little money that there is no risk in putting them out for the shockingly large group of people who will pay to see a cheap production support their hollow beliefs.

Kung Fu Panda $215m vs. Kung Fu Panda 2 $165m vs. Kung Fu Panda 3 $143m (137-day)

A distinct difference between Pixar and Dreamworks is that Pixar believes in a solo film. Although frequently demands of executives get in the way and lead to sequels like Toy Story 3, Cars 2, Monsters University, and Finding Dory, Pixar makes a habit of allowing each film to be open and shut. Dreamworks on the other hand looks at each film as an opportunity to start another Shrek-like franchise. Kung Fu Panda is one of the more deserving entries in that, improving as the films continue; showing real class and genuine talent as they expand the cultural and cinematic references within each film. Sadly audiences have not met each film with the same enthusiasm and I question whether or not a Kung Fu Panda 4 is in our future.

Looking at all of this evidence I see a correlation which I identified earlier this year with BvS: average audience members are paying more attention to reviews. Of course there are some who will supersede the suggestion of the tomato meter and watch a film in spite of its poor reviews due to a love of the actors, franchise, etc. but that group is dying out. Unfortunately, as I have detailed in previous posts, the tomato meter is hugely flawed as a method of gauging the overall critical reaction to a film. The other conclusion to draw from this 2016 data is that some films should really not have a sequel. Rather than complaining about the big franchises, which is what most pundits focus on, it is the small sequels that drive moviegoers to feel frustrated.

Finding Dory opens this weekend and due to the good will of the previous film (thirteen years ago), the positive reviews (95%), and the lack of quality family films in cinemas currently lead to projections of a record breaking opening weekend. Although I do know many individuals who feel slightly betrayed by the unnecessary sequels Pixar has turned to recently, Finding Dory included, and may hold out on this film for at least a few weeks. Next weekend we see the first sequel to Independence Day, a film that twenty years ago would have unquestionably sparked a franchise today and does not hold up upon more current viewings. The $306m domestic return from 1996 is unlikely to be matched this year.

Later this year we will see a third in the ongoing Purge series, which is common enough for horror films to have a running series of cheaply churned out sequels. Saw set the bar high with seven sequels in a row, so this third film starring what appears to be a retired porn star is unsurprising. Ice Age has its fifth film released this year after the franchise low with its fourth outing. Animated films have an unfortunate tendency to generate running series with underwhelming originals and Ice Age has taught children the most bizarre concept of our planet’s history. First the Ice Age occurs, then global warming, followed by dinosaurs, and finally continental drift all occurring within the adult lifespan of a sloth. Another low performing action film, The Mechanic, is getting a sequel after its $29m performance. Bridget Jones is getting a strange revival this year after the second film led to disastrous results. Perhaps they will work Renee Zellweger’s new face into the story. Underworld has gone up and down in its performance but the fifth film comes out this year after the fourth film met a franchise high four years ago. Jack Reacher, Tom Cruise’s recent proof that he cannot open a thriller, gets a sequel this year and unfortunately it does not have the gimmick of Werner Herzog as a villain. The novel series has enough popularity to suggest this franchise could have a future but this second film is really the last chance to snag audience members. Ouija has a sequel, more evidence that any and all horror films can get sequels regardless of quality or box office performance. And another thirteen years later sequel, Bad Santa 2 will hit theatres this year to the chagrin of anyone who valued the unique original.

My closing question is whether it is better to have unnecessary sequels churned out trying to squeeze extra dollars out of those who paid to see the first film, or if derivative and blatant imitation films are superior. In the 1980s there were a number of notorious films with the same basic premise as Alien released under different titles but following the same plot points. Deep Star Six, Leviathan, and so on acted as that cheap sequel we see today. Is it better because it doesn’t cheapen the original Alien and left it open to a worthwhile sequel six years later? Is there value in keeping the connectivity to the original in most cases? Many sequels try to exist in a vacuum to prevent viewers from feeling left out if they haven’t seen the original, a common complaint coming out of Captain America: Civil War. But as I see it the value of a running series is the ability to reference that earlier material. If the film exists as an individual entity then it may as well be original. Why make The Conjuring 2 and not another “true” haunted house film if you’re not going to leverage the pre-existing character development?

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Biting Kneecaps

This weekend brought me to another film criticized for its emphasis on visual style over substance. Hardcore Henry (originally titled simply Hardcore) is one of those “first of its kind” films like The Blair Witch Project that offers a new method of filmmaking. Blair Witch introduced the found footage genre, used primarily in horror films, in which a film can be made on a low budget by hiding crunchy visual effects with shaky images, dark lighting, and grainy quality. Seventeen years ago this was a reflection of the time in which camcorders were just reaching a quality level where a feature film could be shot using one. Today there is the illustrious GoPro which cuts down considerably on the shakiness that plagues films like Cloverfield and gives a much stronger first person perspective by following head movement. I recall in Richard Roeper’s review of Cloverfield he stated that the character would need a camera strapped to his head to get some of the shots. Well now he can.

Director Ilya Naishuller made a few music videos for his band Biting Elbows using GoPro technology containing the kind of dangerous action that could only be filmed in Russia. After experiencing internet support Naishuller began a crowdfunding campaign to create a feature film in the same style. The end result was Harcore, then picked up by STX for distribution at TIFF for $10m.

90 minutes of GoPro footage is a long time for the average viewer. Many audience members walked out a few times to take a break from the experience. My wife took her eyes off the screen for a few moments toward the end of the film and was unable to completely get back in, leading to some motion sickness. Personally I felt none of this but stepping back into my own body and biking home was an odd feeling of sudden control.

Mad Max: Fury Road had an intentionally sparse plot but within that story there was a lot of opportunity to discuss and explore deeper content. Hardcore Henry is about as shallow as it gets. This is fun for its own sake. Gleeful intense violence and action broken up by short scenes of dialogue stitching together the loose narrative. Both the story, which is not worth discussing in detail, and the style of the film are reminiscent of video games.

Sharlto Copley (District 9, Chappie, Maleficent) is the saving grace of this film. The South African actor brings energy, humor, and moments of empathy to an otherwise uncharismatic feature. His playful banter, comedic timing, and huge range in characters  help to keep us interested between bouts of shooting, stabbing, and punching our way to the McGuffin.

This film has a very narrow audience. I think the older the viewer the more likely to experience some motion sickness and find the rampant mayhem objectionable. Personally since most of the cast is Russian I never feel much sympathy for them. To a certain degree the experience is like playing a first person shooter on easy, the film even has a tie in with Payday 2. I left feeling excited to play some games at home but not necessarily to have that same experience again.

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29% RT, B Cinemascore, 68% Drop

If you followed the last couple weeks of progress for Batman v Superman these numbers should be all too familiar. There’s a big push and pull on this film in the media. I want to address each of these.

Previously I have spoken about the troubled rating system of Rotten Tomatoes. The web site culls from a huge range of critics, sourcing everything from AO Scott of NY Times to Kevin Carr of Fat Guys at the Movies. Likely if I ran a better and more consistent blog my review would count. Within the 311 reviews you get a broad spectrum of intellectuals and philistines; personally I’m only interested in the former. Another challenge is the thumbs up/thumbs down voting system. Few reviewers have a two point rating scale, some don’t even have a rating scale at all and instead expect you to read their review. As a result there’s a lot of interpretation on the generation of the yes or no vote on each film.

In response to each of these issues the site has created alternate ways of viewing data. One is a “Top Critics” option that cuts the 311 down to 47. Additionally it has an average rating where instead of a two point scale the film is now ranked on a 100 point scale. For Batman v Superman the 29% two point scale vote changes to a 4.9/10, meaning a much more favorable 49%. There are also alternative aggregation sites like MetaCritic, which ranks the film at a similar 44/100 based on a more narrow 51 critics. But attempting to read a review and generate a 100 point scale rating from it is inherently flawed, particularly in a film as divisive as this.

As a whole it is fair to say the critical community did not love this film, however I would not characterize the reviews as poor but rather mixed. Few critics hailed this film as a masterpiece and few hated it outright. Frequently when a film breaks records on opening with a low tomato meter score the question is raised of what viewers thought. There are even more flawed methods of judging that, but here we go.

Cinemascore, a great way to find out what people in the mid-west thought about the film on opening night when asked by a pushy marketing rep. The film earned a B, which headlines compared to Green Lantern (a reviled earlier DC film), but also matches the score of the critically celebrated Batman Returns. Conversely the fantastic 10 Cloverfield Lane, with stellar reviews, found only a B- from those same audience members. Meanwhile dreck like God is Not Dead 2 gets a perfect A. Needless to say the enormous emphasis placed on Cinemascore is undeserved.

Once you understand that viewer polling doesn’t give a clear picture of audience responses you may look to user ratings on web sites. Rotten tomatoes, as the premiere aggregator of critical response, is often looked to for user ratings through its parent company Flixter. Currently from nearly 200,000 votes the film sits at 70%. From a smaller pool once again MetaCritic users rate it 7.5 among roughly 3,000 votes. IMDB is my favorite source for user ratings and typically has the highest numbers, currently 225,000 votes and the film sits at a 7.3.

One of the challenges with these rating systems is that the voters know the results. As an occasional voter myself I know I will typically either rate a 10 or a 1 based on whether I feel the current rating is too high or too low. Regardless of the flaws of the system, sourcing hundreds of thousands of users can give at least a foggy picture of what audiences think and mid-70s is neither great nor terrible. Of course just like Cinemascore targets middle America sourcing web sites target tech savvy younger viewers.

This is all extremely relevant to the conversation of “word of mouth”. Currently there is a lot of finger pointing at why the film is performing worse than expected. Negative reviews started coming in Tuesday before its Friday opening, giving viewers plenty of time to shy away, and thus the perspective is that the word of mouth that typically makes up for the second and third weekend grosses is mostly negative. I feel that this is untrue and rather the media coverage of this as a failure is influencing viewers to skip this film or wait for the home media release. I also want to take care not to give too much weight to the suggestion that it is underperforming.

The film had the biggest opening weekend of any film in March, in Spring, on Easter weekend, and so on. Right away, it’s not underperforming. Second weekend it brought in $52m, dropping around 68%. That’s a significant drop but not out of place for a fan film. The Twilight films, the Harry Potter films, and many superhero films have big second weekend drops thanks to super fans seeing it many times in opening weekend. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, currently the eighth highest grossing films of all time, had a second weekend drop of 72%. Not to say this film will get there or that people are not turning away from seeing it. I have had many personal conversations with casual movie viewers or comic book fans who have either decided to wait to see it or skip it entirely.

The perception ultimately does not match the film. Dialogue around the web suggests that this is a complete mess. A disaster of poor editing, incoherent storyline, lifeless and joyless action, and generally an unworthy second entry into this new cinematic universe. For anyone who actually chooses to see the film they will meet a mostly competent and often excellent film. There are outstanding performances from most. Visually stunning, viscerally thrilling, and overall a fun experience.

Watching and reading many reviews and discussions about the film bring back familiar points over and over. One is length. This started as a 3 hour film cut down to 2.5 hours, leading to some of the complaints about pacing and editing. For some reason people still think “too long” is a sound criticism of a film but in this case it is entirely inept. Man of Steel, the previous film about only one of this this film’s multiple leads, came in about six minutes shorter. The Dark Knight trilogy, frequently discussed as a benchmark of quality storytelling in the DC Universe, consistently put out films over 2.5 hours. Simultaneously criticisms are made about the film’s length but not including enough character development, exposition, explanation, establishing moments, and so on that are easily lost when trying to accommodate short attention spans.

Another complaint I really struggle with is the statement that the fight scenes are too short. Particularly the titular battle only lasting seven minutes. This complaint comes from the same people who disparaged Man of Steel for its epically long fight scenes. You cannot have it both ways. Speaking of epic, concerns about how dark and violent this film is have come about. I even heard in one debate the question, “What about the children?” Batman has not pandered to children since Christopher Nolan repaired the damage done in the mid-late 90s attempting to appeal to families. The Dark Knight trilogy pointedly disregarded pre-teen viewers. The series made Batman adult, dark, scary, gritty, violent, verbose, and barely made it to PG-13.

Violence is another part of this discussion. Batman killing villains is a frequent source of sorrow from quasi-fans. I give the qualifier quasi because more devoted fans would know that in previous Batman films, especially the first Burton film, he does a lot of killing. Blatant mass murder type of killing. And fans of the Batman comic books, especially The Dark Knight Returns (from which this storyline draws much inspiration), will know that Batman is often pushed to a point of killing or at least extreme violence. His code of no killing is a struggle, it’s an internal battle, and that is what makes it interesting.

The things I look forward to most about the DCEU are the ways in which it separates itself from MCU. I’ve always liked Marvel more than DC. Batman is essentially the only good superhero in DC and it takes a lot of work to bring its other characters up to the level of Marvel. MCU has a lot of quality material to work with and can afford to play it safe now and then. DCEU needs to strike hard and fast to generate a fan base. The Green Lantern film from 2011 served as an excellent example of how presenting a popular DC Comics character without adapting it for mainstream viewers can backfire. Green Lantern is dumb, his powers are silly, and I sincerely hope the 2020 Green Lantern Corps fixes that somehow.

MCU echoes much of the vocal minority on the internets furious about one thing or another. It shamelessly objectifies men in every film yet never objectifies women. It works hard to represent diverse values and reacts quickly to create more ethnic diversity once criticized. DCEU has shown its first female superhero as a sexy, bare-legged, short skirted heroine. There is a shot of her during the final battle where Doomsday knocked Wonder Woman on her back and we see slightly between her legs that my wife described as magical. Similarly in the Suicide Squad trailer Harley Quinn is shown in cheeky short shorts bending over at the hips. Men are still the focus sexually, Henry Cavill and Ben Affleck have never been more exploited, but at least there is something on the other side.

Lastly I think there is a fundamental difference between DCEU and MCU that reminds me of the difference between the English and American approach to Theatre. In America we want to spoon feed the story to the dumbest audience member. In England the perception is that the audience must rise to the material. Frequently during college the question of “will the audience follow this?” would arise and if the director came from England the typical response would come of, “that’s up to them.” Marvel is attempting to turn more and more average viewers on to comic book movies. They are doing this by making the films as accessible as possible, casting a wide net, and trying to keep fans happy. DC has taken a kind of reverse approach by making a film explicitly for fans. It has almost no exposition and a loosely threaded narrative that is best tied together by a strong knowledge of the comic books. It’s the equivalent of the end of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban where the whole Dumbledore exposition is cut out and only the book readers fully understood what took place. Even though I did not always understand references I found the not knowing more satisfying than pedantic over-explaining.

Speaking on the ridiculous calls for Zack Snyder to resign as director, suggesting that the studio would actually acquiesce to those demands is ludicrous. Some historical precedent exists here. Looking at MCU, the film that started the series (Iron Man) acted as the flagship film of the franchise as it grew. Jon Favreau directed the first film and when he presented Iron Man 2 he took on a role as the artistic leader of this project. But Iron Man 2 disappointed and after that he did not return to the franchise outside of playing the bit role he cast himself in, Happy Hogan. Then as the film series progressed Joss Whedon took over as the leader by directing the first Avengers. Embraced by fans and critics alike, Whedon played a role as the person to step in and guide the directors of other Marvel films for the next few years. Then when Avengers Age of Ultron met critical mediocrity, some meh responses from fans, and less box office success than its predecessor he stepped down as director for the third in the series.

There are a lot of complaints about meddling in MCU films that have led to numerous directors leaving projects. Edgar Wright left Ant-Man during pre-production and Black Panther went through numerous directors before finally getting one to agree to their terms. Part of the trouble with managing this mega franchise concept is that everything has to match. Ryan Coogler cannot create any story he wants and tell it exactly how he wants to for Black Panther. The character he creates, the story he tells, and the style in which he tells it has to match the other films to a large degree. In essence the further we go into this two movies per year (soon growing to three) schedule the more like a TV series it will become. Not surprising that TV directors like the Russo brothers and Alan Taylor have started joining those projects.

Zack Snyder has never impressed me as a director. I thought Dawn of the Dead work as a commercialized and updated version of the classic. 300 and Watchmen were page to screen adaptations that succeeded just as well as the source material. Legend of the Guardians served its purpose and Sucker Punch showed his hubris. In Man of Steel he didn’t really impress me much as a director but I don’t think that he is inherently bad or wrong, just not innovative and perhaps that’s what this kind of franchise needs. Directors with strong voices like Edgar Wright or Ava DuVernay don’t really belong in the business of making MCU 12 or 15.

I worry more about director choices like Patty Jenkins who has directed one film completely carried by an Oscar winning performance (Monster) or Seth Grahame-Smith who wrote the schlock novels like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. David Ayer and James Wan are neither great nor terrible and will likely make competent films at least. It feels like the reddit community is treating Zack Snyder as though he’s another Michael Bay, Brett Ratner, Marcus Nispel, or Roland Emmerich. None of those directors could accomplish what he has here.

I re-watched Man of Steel last night in my recent fervor around Batman v Superman. This time I found many of the same moments that previously troubled me but also saw so much good to outweigh it. But more than anything I saw where Snyder learned from his mistakes. There are dreadful sequences in which everything is explained in MoS, while BvS explains almost nothing. Countless lives are lost and barely acknowledged during a fight scene, BvS actively sees our heroes avoiding populated areas when destruction ensues. Don’t we want to let him continue to grow and improve this franchise instead of throwing out everything and starting from scratch?

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Predictions and Preferences

Picture

Winner – The Revenant

My vote – Mad Max – Fury Road

Write in – Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Director

Winner – Alejandro G. Innaritu

My Vote – George Miller

Write in – Ridley Scott

Actor

Winner – Leonardo DiCaprio

My Vote – Michael Fassbender

Write in – Michael Fassbender (Macbeth)

Actress

Winner – Brie Larson

My Vote – Charlotte Rampling

Write In – Charlize Theron

Supporting Actor

Winner – Sylvester Stallone

My Vote – Tom Hardy

Write In – Benicio del Toro

Supporting Actress

Winner – Alicia Vikander

My Vote – Jennifer Jason Leigh

Write In – Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina)

Original Screenplay

Winner – Spotlight

My Vote – Ex Machina

Write In – The Hateful Eight

Adapted Screenplay

Winner – The Big Short

My Vote – The Martian

Write In – Steve Jobs

Animated Feature

Winner – Inside Out

My Vote – Shaun the Sheep

Write In – The Good Dinosaur

Animated Short

Winner – Sanjay’s Super Team

My Vote – World of Tomorrow

Original Score

Winner – The Hateful Eight

My Vote – The Hateful Eight

Write In – Mad Max: Fury Road

Original Song

Winner – Til It Happens to You

My Vote – Writing’s on the Wall

Write in – Remove this category

Sound Editing

Winner – The Revenant

My Vote – Mad Max: Fury Road

Write In – Avengers: Age of Ultron

Sound Mixing

Winner – The Revenant

My Vote – Mad Max: Fury Road

Write In – Avengers: Age of Ultron

Production Design

Winner – Mad Max: Fury Road

My Vote – Mad Max: Fury Road

Write in – Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Cinematography

Winner – The Revenant

My Vote – Mad Max: Fury Road

Write in – Macbeth

Makeup and Hairstyling

Winner – Mad Max: Fury Road

My Vote – Mad Max: Fury Road

Write in – Legend

Costume Design

Winner – Mad Max: Fury Road

My Vote – Mad Max: Fury Road

Write in – Crimson Peak

Film Editing

Winner – Mad Max: Fury Road

My Vote – Mad Max: Fury Road

Write in – Inside Out

Visual Effects

Winner – Mad Max: Fury Road

My Vote – Mad Max: Fury Road

Write in – Avengers: Age of Ultron

Foreign Language Film

Winner – Son of Saul

My Vote – Son of Saul

Write in – The Brand New Testament

Documentary Feature

Winner  – Amy

My Vote – The Look of Silence

Write In – Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief

Documentary Short

Winner – Body Team 12

My Vote – A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness

Live Action Short

Winner – Shok

My Vote – Everything Will Be Okay

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131 in 2015

2015

  1. Mad Max: Fury Road
  2. The Revenant
  3. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
  4. The Hateful Eight
  5. Steve Jobs
  6. Spotlight
  7. What We Do in the Shadows
  8. Sicario
  9. Macbeth
  10. The Martian
  11. Inside Out
  12. The Big Short
  13. Ex Machina
  14. 45 Years
  15. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
  16. Room
  17. Chappie
  18. Kingsman: The Secret Service
  19. Son of Saul
  20. Avengers: Age of Ultron
  21. The Look of Silence
  22. A War
  23. The Brand New Testament
  24. Far From the Madding Crowd
  25. Shaun the Sheep
  26. Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation
  27. The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
  28. Theeb
  29. The Lobster
  30. Creed
  31. Carol
  32. Bridge of Spies
  33. Everest
  34. It Follows
  35. Labyrinth of Lies
  36. Brooklyn
  37. Winter on Fire
  38. Mr. Holmes
  39. Ant-Man
  40. Beasts of No Nation
  41. Spectre
  42. Tangerine
  43. Mustang
  44. Cartel Land
  45. The Fencer
  46. Anomalisa
  47. The Lady in the Van
  48. The End of the Tour
  49. The Boy and the World
  50. When Marnie Was There
  51. The Hunting Ground
  52. Joy
  53. Trumbo
  54. Bone Tomahawk
  55. Suffragette
  56. Slow West
  57. Crimson Peak
  58. Youth
  59. 99 Homes
  60. Going Clear Scientology and the Prison of Belief
  61. The Danish Girl
  62. The Night Before
  63. Listen to Me Marlon
  64. Legend
  65. Black Mass
  66. The Walk
  67. Goodnight Mommy
  68. Love & Mercy
  69. The Hallow
  70. While We’re Young
  71. Ballet 422
  72. I Am Big Bird
  73. Dope
  74. The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out a Window and Disappeared
  75. Clouds of Sils Maria
  76. The Visit
  77. Straight Outta Compton
  78. Cinderella
  79. Racing Extinction
  80. Tomorrowland
  81. Jurassic World
  82. The Good Dinosaur
  83. What Happened, Miss Simone?
  84. Mockingjay Part 2
  85. Krampus
  86. In the Heart of the Sea
  87. I Smile Back
  88. Iris
  89. Goosebumps
  90. The Program
  91. Concussion
  92. Terminator Genisys
  93. A Little Chaos
  94. The SpongeBob Move: Sponge Out of Water
  95. Minions
  96. The Peanuts Movie
  97. Red Army
  98. Black Sea
  99. Infinitely Polar Bear
  100. The Last Five Years
  101. The Gift
  102. The DUFF
  103. The Green Inferno
  104. Amy
  105. Focus
  106. Danny Collins
  107. Grandma
  108. Jupiter Ascending
  109. Run All Night
  110. Unfriended
  111. Poltergeist
  112. Ted 2
  113. Magic Mike XXL
  114. Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials
  115. Insurgent
  116. Man Up
  117. Trainwreck
  118. Home
  119. American Ultra
  120. Insidious Chapter 3
  121. Hotel Transylvania 2
  122. Pan
  123. San Andreas
  124. The Age of Adaline
  125. Chi-Raq
  126. Woman in Gold
  127. Spy
  128. Pitch Perfect 2
  129. Dark Places
  130. Fifty Shades of Gray
  131. Furious 7
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Watch Me, Watch Me

A belief I have battled for some time is the suggestion that the Best Picture nominees should somehow reflect the most popular movies of the year. This weekend on SNL Michael Che stated that he was less concerned about the lack of diversity among nominees but rather the movies “no one has seen”. His two examples of unseen films were Brooklyn and Room. Brooklyn earned $25m thus far and Room has earned $6m. Brooklyn has 16,585 votes on IMDb, Room has 20,664. This certainly correlates to the prevalence of online piracy diminishing the box office of Room. By comparison Straight Outta Compton, his suggested alternative, has 72,091 votes and $161m. It was also in wide release four months prior to either of the compared films. Certainly more people have seen Straight Outta Compton than Room and Brooklyn combined.

This suggestion undermines the purpose of awards ceremonies. The intention is to honor the best works of the year, not to celebrate the most popular. I feel no need to argue that what is popular does not always equate what is good. But just for a point of comparison let’s look at what the best picture nominees would be if we were looking solely at dollars earned.

  1. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
  2. Jurassic World
  3. Avengers: Age of Ultron
  4. Inside Out
  5. Furious 7
  6. Minions
  7. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2
  8. The Martian
  9. Cinderella
  10. Spectre

This is the list of top domestic earners from 2015. Let’s add to this list Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation since it is in the top ten Worldwide. The Martian is actually on the list of eight nominees. Star Wars has five nominations and I’m sure was close to a best picture nomination. Inside Out is part of the animated category. Cinderella has a costume nomination and otherwise these films are not recognized in any other category. But should they be?

What’s one thing that nine of these eleven films have in common? They are all sequels, spinoffs, or remakes. Star Wars 7, Fast and Furious 7, Avengers 2 (Marvel Cinematic Universe 11), Jurassic Park 4, Despicable Me 3, The Hunger Games 4, Cinderella, James Bond 24, and Mission: Impossible 5. The only two films that haven’t been seen before in some form or another are Inside Out (Animated Feature Nominee) and The Martian (Best Picture Nominee). The Oscars isn’t big on franchise films. There have been very few sequels nominated for best picture and there’s a reason for that.

Think of the Oscar nominees from 2001-2003. Every year Lord of the Rings was nominated for best picture. It became a foregone conclusion that Lord of the Rings would be nominated each year. For a longer running series like the Marvel Cinematic Universe or Star Wars there could be no end to its nominations. Every year there will be at least two MCU films and for the next six years there will be a new Star Wars film. Those will continue to dominate the box office but the awards circles want original works that stand on their own as great films.

Looking deeper into Oscar history decades back there are plenty of examples where a film was barely seen then nominated for Best Picture. Instead of taking these as an affront to your personal taste level if you haven’t seen them, use this as an opportunity to expand your horizon and explore different types of movies rather than seeing Ride Along 2. Kevin Hart will still scream loudly next week. And just like with foods the principle of “don’t knock it until you’ve tried it” applies. If you haven’t seen Brooklyn or Room, or any nominee for that matter, don’t complain about it being nominated unless you’ve seen it. Many of the people complaining with the hashtag #OscarSoWhite are threatening to boycott the ceremony because only white actors were nominated. I suspect they have not seen all of the fifteen nominated films for acting categories. So before you post again about how Will Smith deserved an Oscar nomination for his offensively bad performance in Concussion watch these.

  1. The Martian
  2. The Revenant
  3. Spotlight
  4. Bridge of Spies
  5. Room
  6. Brooklyn
  7. The Big Short
  8. Steve Jobs
  9. The Danish Girl
  10. Trumbo
  11. Creed
  12. Carol
  13. The Hateful Eight
  14. Joy
  15. 45 Years

If you watch all fifteen and you still think the celebrity impersonators in Straight Outta Compton deserve recognition, then you can talk.

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