Podcasts

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I am not sure I succeeded, ultimately, in convincing Devin Faraci and Amy Nicholson that Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker is worthy of entering their canon of the greatest films of all time but I certainly enjoyed myself.  Despite their casual rapport with each other, these two are total pros. I’m used to the “turn on Skype and ramble” form of podcasting but this was organized, thoughtful and Amy even brought notes. I do think The Hurt Locker is canon worthy, though it’s enjoyed a bit of a tarnish for having won Best Picture against Avatar. Often, the Best Picture winner has to take a dive for a decade or so after the Oscars because we all think we like winners — we like to be on the winning side — but after the win is achieved we have buyer’s remorse, I have found, much of the time. To date, no one has really captured the quagmire like Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal. They do this not in an obvious way but in a deceptive way, with metaphors weaved throughout. This idea of not being able to recognize your enemy, being there to fight something but what exactly? How do you retain your human core when you’re in that kind of a war? I still feel that The Hurt Locker achieves greatness by reaching for something profound and delivering an entertaining thriller at the same time.

It does not ever make the lists of the Greatest Films of All Time and many still believe that it was only praised because “it was directed by a woman.” I disagree with that. First, Bigelow isn’t a director who associates her gender with her work. She is an artist first and foremost — an artist who happens to be a woman. To not give her credit BECAUSE she’s a woman is what typically happens to women in our culture. The hatred comes from all sides, from women and men.  The film was also hit by both sides of the political spectrum — accused of being pro-war and anti-military all at once. To date, we have not been able to leave Iraq better than we found it. We keep going back — and therein lies the profound truth to be found in Bigelow’s most excellent film.

At any rate, have a listen!

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Craig Kennedy, Ryan Adams and I discuss 1933 and the 5th Annual Academy Awards. They weren’t as exciting as the previous year or the following year but it was the first ceremony to include the short categories, mainly because short films were popular but especially animated shorts, specifically, those featuring Mickey Mouse.

Grand Hotel won Best Picture, and remains one of those we look back on when digging up films that won without a Best Director nomination. In fact, Grand Hotel had no other nominations besides Best Picture and won.

Have a listen. Subscribe on iTunes.

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It seems Charlie Manson is all the rage now, thanks to the new series on NBC Aquarius with David Duchovny playing opposite Manson, who is all sexed up and like a character out of Dawson’s Creek.  But if you really want to deep dive into what impact the Manson murders had on American culture, specifically southern Californian culture, look no further than You Must Remember This Podcast, a creation of film critic and writer Karina Longworth.  While I’ll admit I hadn’t been listening to the podcast up to now, the new series got me hooked. Probably because it looks at the Manson murders from all possible angles – the film angle, the politics angle, how it changed things then, how it still has an impact now. Longworth knows her shit, which makes listening to it a full spectrum panorama of that time period.

Podcasts are all the rage now that Serial has remade the game, thus, one must always be on the hunt for the good ones that emerge in this wide open field where anyone can cook.  You Must Remember This is one of the good ones.  Check it out. Or subscribe on iTunes.

Sidenote: I grew up in Topanga canyon right about the time of the Manson murders. 1969-1970 I was only 4 or 5 years old but fully immersed in the world of all things flower children and hippies. I remember being so scared going to sleep at night after the murders. How do you even account for something like that? How do you even prepare for it if you’re Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate? Manson’s race war scheme, his brainwashed “girls.” It was unimaginable then and is unimaginable now.

Undated yearbook photo of Hae Min Lee, which  Justin George copied from one of Hae's former teachers at Woodlawn High School.

Sarah Koenig today updated fans of the wildly popular, game-changing podcast series Serial with an update on the new shows, yet another award they won and the recent news about the case against Adnan Syed. Syed was the subject of the podcast and is currently serving a life sentence, 15 years in, for the murder of his ex-girlfriend, 17 year-old Hae Min Lee.

While there have been plenty of websites salivating over the recent update on Syed’s case, including Huffington Post, The Frisky, and a few others, there is still a glaring flaw in the story that began with Serial and continues with the media covering the story.

What was never covered? That this was a domestic violence case. Violence against women is and has always been off the charts, particularly in relationships. Usually there is prior abuse but in this case there wasn’t any. Or was there? Serial left out almost every single piece of evidence that pointed to Syed as someone who was possessive, controlling and unable to let go of Hae Min Lee. Koenig left it out probably because she didn’t want to incite a mob but it’s something the media has never covered. They treat this case like your standard wrongful conviction case, like The Thin Blue Line or the Memphis Three. In fact, the case against Syed is strong. The evidence overwhelming. Why isn’t anyone in the media talking about this?

When the website The Intercept covered the story from a different angle, two of its reporters Natasha VC and Ken Silverstein found that the state indeed had a strong case. They interviewed the prosecutor, Kevin Urick, and the state’s witness, the one upon whom everyone freely lays blame, Jay Wilds.  Once it was known that Glenn Greenwald’s site was defending the state and not the victim, Adnan Syed, the two were put through turmoil and resigned.  That’s how badly the media wants this to be — NEEDS THIS TO BE — a wrongful conviction case.  The thing is, okay, if that’s so, show me.  So far, no one – not the lawyers on Undisclosed (the self-appointed defense team’s biased podcast that is working to sway public opinion and rip apart the case), not Koenig’s Serial. After all of this time, Asia McClain is what they’re going with.  That and Adnan Syed never being given the chance to appeal his case.

You have to do some digging on your own because you won’t find it listening to Serial (unless you listen multiple times and carefully). You have to read the trial transcripts and pore over the interviews. You have to look logically at what happened that day, where the cell phone pinged (butt dial my ass) and who lied about what. Further complicating matters is that there are many missing pages from the transcripts that many have been trying to obtain to fill the gaps. These have yet to be released and there is some speculation that they are being deliberately withheld to mitigate potential damage until the courts work through this latest appeal.  Maybe there is nothing on the missing pages. Maybe there is something. With this case, the more you read the more damning the case against Adnan Syed becomes. Most people don’t know this.  The journalists writing their updates stories on or about the case certainly don’t know this.

What is unforgivable both in Serial’s coverage of the story and in the recent coverage by the media is to overlook what likely caused Lee’s death and many women and girls just like her.

Here is what Serial just put up on their website about the Syed update:

Adnan appealed the circuit court’s decision to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, and was due to have a hearing next month. But last week, the Court of Special Appeals essentially paused the case, saying that Adnan can ask the circuit court to re-open his post-conviction proceeding so he can present a new statement from Asia. In January of this year, after Serial finished airing, Asia reiterated in an affidavit that she’d seen Adnan at the public library on the day Hae Min Lee went missing in 1999. And she also stated that Kevin Urick, a prosecutor, had discouraged her from testifying at Adnan’s post-conviction hearing. “Urick convinced me into believing that I should not participate in any ongoing proceedings,” Asia says in the affidavit.

Once again, Serial talks about Asia McClain without bringing up the contradictory evidence that she says, on Serial, “I would not have remembered if not for the snow.” She then adds “It was the first snow of the year.” Well, it didn’t snow on January 13th. There was an ice storm in the early morning hours of the 14th but no one would have noticed it on the 13th, certainly not waiting in the library.  The first snow of the year and also a day school was closed was the week before, January 8th.

Serial did not check the weather before recording episode 1 and only updated their website to report on the weather. Even they conclude it probably wasn’t the 13th, yet no mention of that here on Koenig’s update which seems to suggest that Serial is responsible for the swaying of public opinion and/or pressure on the courts to allow McClain’s testimony to be examined.

Even more problematic for McClain as a witness, though, and the prosecutors have made this abundantly clear in their response to the recent inclusion of McClain, her testimony was conditional. She made it clear numerous times that she would only testify in Adnan’s favor if she knew for a fact he was not guilty. She offered her “help.” Yeah, no. The truth doesn’t work that way. You were there, you weren’t. You saw him, you didn’t.”  She was such an unreliable witness, Syed’s defense attorney would have been a rookie to put her on the stand. The prosecution would have eviscerated her.

And finally, McClain might have even seen Syed in the library – that doesn’t exonerate him from having murdered Hae Min Lee. They don’t want to find something to exonerate him. They don’t need to. They merely have to show that he did not get a fair trail and hopefully get him out of jail.

Whether he gets out of jail or not is not my concern, personally. I do care about the truth and I do care about the murder of a promising, intelligent young 17 year-old.  And I do think Serial and every piece of mainstream media coverage that has come after it has ignored what very likely happened to Hae Min Lee and continues to happen to women all over the world every minute of the day.

Here are the pieces of the story Serial left out, inexplicably, and what everyone else is leaving out – completely ignoring the dynamics that might have led up to the murder.

In order to find proper coverage of the relationship I had to dig down deep in the main Serial Reddit sub to find a post that lays out things pretty clearly – a statement by “Debbie”–

Adnan was very over protective of Hae. He never made her sustain from seeing her friends but he did suggest she spent more time with him. He wanted to know where she was going, when she was going, who was she with, almost like he was her father.

From Hae’s Diary:

The second thing is the possessiveness. Independence (indiscernible). I’m a very independent person. I rarely rely on my parents. Although I love him, it’s not like I need him. I know I’ll be just fine without him, and I need some time for myself and (indiscernible) other than him. How dare he get mad at me for planning to hang with Aisha?

Serial leaves out “possessiveness” when covering this. Koenig writes it off by saying Hae then says “he brought carrot cake!” In every instance where she could have told Hae’s story a little better she deflects any possible suggestion that he was a controlling, possessive kid who could not handle his girlfriend dumping him for an older man.

Serial also leaves out that Hae once hid from Adnan and had a teacher lie for her when he showed up looking for her. She was due to work with the teacher but opted out, trying to avoid Adnan.  The teacher, by the way, is never mentioned on Serial at all, nor is any of her testimony.

Even with all of that deflection, though, Serial cannot exonerate Adnan Syed.  Everything they checked checks out. They flail around at the end with Nisha call, finding some tiny print that YES, maybe it could be a butt dial for over two minutes.  That is just one improbability.   To find Syed not guilty you have to accept the least probable situation all the way down the line.  No one has yet calculated the percentages on that but I’m guessing they would be up there with getting struck by lightning.

As a fan of Serial I am so amazed and appreciative that Sarah Koenig kicked ass as she did. As a mother, a woman and a feminist I’m heartbroken that they could leave out something so important as Adnan’s behavior leading up to the murder.  While it started out telling Adnan Syed’s story it never adequately told Hae Min Lee’s. They tried but never got there. They owed it to Lee’s family to bring up the issue of domestic violent homicide – to even use those two words together on the podcast. They never did.

These are important words to “leave in” considering the prosecution thought of this as a “domestic violence case” but how many listeners of Serial got that? How many reporters writing their update stories the case even bother including that? Adnan is treated as the victim again and again.

Because public opinion is shaped by the media, and the media wants this to be a wrongful conviction case, this story will keep rolling along until the public gets what it wants. Adnan Syed’s verdict will be overturned, he’ll go free. Sarah Koenig and Serial will take partial credit. Rabia Chaudry and her Undisclosed podcast will take the rest of it. Fan letters will pour in from all over the world. Syed will be on every network news programs – morning, noon and night. This is the direction the story wants to go in.

It doesn’t want to go in the direction of the even bigger tragedy.  Probably the most thorough read on this has been covered by only one person, as far as I can tell, and that is Ann Brocklehurst who wrote “Serial podcast rehabilitated a schoolgirl’s murderer, so where’s the feminist outrage?” Read it.

Where is the feminist outrage? Completely missing in action.

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I was a bit astonished to read this story over at PBS about the new podcast for supposed Serial fans. It has been picked up and circulated as “continuing where Serial left off.” Yeah, no.

If you’ve been following the podcast, or the case, you know there are two sides to the story. What you will be getting is one side. Where Sarah Koenig and her team worked tirelessly for a year on the case of Adnan Syed, at the behest of Rabia Chaudry (Adnan’s longtime friend and most fierce advocate and fundraiser) they were not able to find anything to exonerate him. They dug deep and found the investigators work to be solid, the defense (while not ideal) certainly not corrupt – and that cell phone ping up at Leakin Park in the evening when Syed said he was nowhere near Leakin Park. At the end of Serial, Koenig concluded that the state did not prove its case and thus, she could not have found Syed guilty as a juror. But did that mean she thought he was innocent? No, it didn’t. She said she harbored doubts, despite her own clear inclinations to see him as innocent of the crime of murder of Hae Min Lee.

Where Koenig ended up is where many Serial fans continue to reside. They loved Serial for that very thing, its back and forth between guilt and innocence. The new podcast, be warned, is no such thing. It is clearly on the side of Adnan’s innocence, with hopes to help overturn Syed’s case on appeal. They are also raising funds, up to about $90K right now. So if you are one of those who are on TeamAdnan, this podcast is for you. Unfortunately, though, you are going to find the so-called lawyers involved in the case to be essentially working exclusively for the defense, poring over every tiny detail to exonerate Adnan.

The Innocence Project has not yet been able to find anything to exonerate him, nor did Serial, nor have these lawyers on Rabia’s team to free her friend who has been behind bars for 15 years and has virtually no internet con

The only problem here is that the media, specifically PBS, is reporting the story like it is really a deep dive into the case – when it is not that. It’s nowhere near that. Flavorwire and a few other outlets are reporting the story truthfully – this is an “exonerate Adnan Syed no matter what” podcast.

Chaudry was unhappy with how Serial concluded thus she has been tirelessly working on Adnan’s behalf to undo the damage the show caused. Whether it did damage or not is yet to be determined, however. So far there is no smoking gun that has been revealed. Syed still has no explanation for where he was that night and the evidence still points to his guilt. On the other hand, this team led by Chaudry is very persistent – they are smart lawyers and the law is easily exploited, especially with a case like this one where there were not only errors but significant problems.

I’m not interested in an informercial on the case of Syed. After months and months of research into it, after Serial’s year-long exploration, if the Innocence Project can turn up something, or if there is a DNA test that can exonerate Adnan, nothing concrete has turned up so the defense team (self-appointed) is trying to break apart things like autopsy and cell phone records — there are experts on the other side of things who will say the opposite. You won’t hear that on this podcast, which is one sided.

The only thing left – besides someone coming forward and confessing (or Adnan himself confessing) is the DNA, which the defense did not elect to test at the time of trial, neither did the prosecution. Syed had reportedly wanted the chance to plead out but his lawyer did not give him that chance. Unless more witnesses come forward or another perp is discovered, Syed’s best bet is to get out on a technicality – for the courts to find so much fault with his case to begin with they throw it out and he is freed after 15 years in. Chaudhry and her team are hoping with enough publicity generated and enough of a fan base they can pressure the court to overturn the case. They are even selling “free Adnan” t-shirts.

From the outside looking in, if you didn’t really know this case well, you would think it really was a clear cut case of wrongful conviction. Usually when you look at a case, like the filmmakers did with the teenagers in Memphis accused of killing those young boys, you can see glaring flaws. Not so with this one. It seemed as though Sarah Koenig was hoping to stumble upon flaw, that she was getting close, but she never got there. She never hit the one thing that would prove no way could he have done this. Even the alibi witness brought up on Serial is iffy for a couple of reasons that listeners of Serial never found out about because they weren’t featured on Serial. Even Chaudry was upset with how Serial turned out, the show did seem to mislead listeners into thinking the case against Syed was weaker than it actually was. Trial transcripts, police interviews all paint a much different picture of the case than even Serial did. It seems as though we in the media are programmed to lean towards innocent no matter what, which could turn out to be case here. So far, though, nothing concrete can prove it.

Most people believe they don’t know the answer to whether or not Syed is guilty. They are waiting for something. After reviewing the writings in this case by the lawyers involved in the new podcast, it is a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing so far. But if I were invested in Syed’s innocence I would definitely listen. I am not. Just disappointed that the media is pretending it’s another Serial. There will never be another Serial. There are a few good true crime podcasts around, like Criminal with Phoebe Judge – and the backlogs at This American Life.

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“In the beginning, there was Louis B. Mayer. And he looked over the kingdom of Hollywood and its glory and said, “This is good.” And then he saw stirrings of unionism among studios craftsman and he said, “This stinks.” – Inside Oscar

Thus, the Academy Awards were born. We’re going backwards in time to the beginning of it all, back when Louis B. Mayer needed a dominant force to control the growing power of the unions. An organization was concocted to, among other things, mediate labor disputes, clean up tawdry content to satisfy the Hays Office and promote technical achievements in the film industry. Mayer wanted an elite club made up of the most popular and influential of the five branches, actors, directors, writers, technicians and producers.  Mayer was going to be in charge of choosing the members.  And, according to Inside Oscar, even though they planned on having an annual banquet of sorts for the membership, awards were not part of it.

On January 11, 1927, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences became a thing.  The first awards were “for distinctive achievement.”  By the following year, 1928, the awards committee had a voting system. Each Academy member would cast one nominating vote in the branch.  One person chosen from each branch (five people) would then choose the winners.   The privilege to vote in the awards was emphasized by then President Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. who said:

All members of the Academy are urged as a special duty and privilege to fill in their nominations of the Academy Awards of Merit with full recognition of the importance and responsibility of the act. Academy Awards of Merit should be considered the highest distinction attainable in the motion picture profession and only by the impartial justice and wisdom displayed by the membership in making their nominations will this desired result be possible.

What we call Best Picture now was to be called Best Production and it would go to the “most outstanding motion picture considering all elements that contribute to a picture’s greatness.”  They also had a separate award called “Artistic Quality of Production” that would honor the production company with the “most artistic, unique and/or original motion picture without reference to cost or magnitude.” In other words, they divided the big money makers from the smaller artistic pursuits, a trend they might be forced to back to since Hollywood is now moving in a very different direction.

Funnily enough, in the early days of naming the awards, Louis B. Mayer removed “International” from the name of the Academy to help build up the reputation of the Academy itself. They might want to rethink that name now as well.

In any case, Fairbanks said that these awards might help improve Hollywood’s image overall, “the screen and all its people were under a great and alarming cloud of public censure and contempt. Some constructive action seemed imperative to halt the attacks and establish the industry in the public mind as a respectable legitimate institution, and its people as reputable individuals.”

The statuette — from Inside Oscar:

As the Academy members filled out their nomination ballots, the founders of the Academy deliberated over what kind of trophy, plaque or scroll the ultimate winners would receive Mayer left the design of the award in the capable hands of Cedric Gibbons. While Gibbons was at an Academy meeting listening to Board members talk about the five branches and the need for a strong image for the film industry, he sketched away and then revealed his design: a naked man plunging a sword into a reel of film. The five holes on the reel, Gibbons explained, represented the Academy branches.

For the production of the statuette, the Academy gave $500 to an unemployed art school graduate named George Stanley, who sculpted Gibbons’ design in clay. Alex Smith then cast the 12 1/2 inch, 6 3/4 pound statuette in tin and copper and gold-plated the whole thing. The Award was ready; now it was time for the first winners.

We’ll be discussing Year One on our next podcast. Stay tuned.

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“He’s a psychopathic killer but so what.” “You seem like a man who wouldn’t want to waste a chair.” “If the road you followed has led you to this, of what use was the road?” “The coin ain’t got no say.” “I’m just looking for what’s coming.” “But you never see that. Beer. That’s what coming.” “That’s foolish. You pick the one right tool.” “Are you going to shoot me?” “That depends. Do you see me?” The pitch perfect Coen brothers masterpiece was one of those “too big to ignore” points in Oscar history where a career high meets overdue status meets making history. It couldn’t lose. The trick for anyone reading the race that year was realizing that. So many didn’t. They falsely believed that the ambiguous ending would count the film out, that Oscar voters would be too soft to recognize greatness when they saw it. So many didn’t understand the ending. They said things like “it ended so many times.” How silly it all seems now, looking back. Like Schindler’s List, The Departed, The Hurt Locker, and 12 Years a Slave the movie would have had to SUCK not to win. The lure of making history combined with cinematic greatness can’t be and will never be denied. Continue reading…

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2006 stands apart as one of my favorite Oscar years because it was like this past year in a way. It’s rare that the film I personally WANT to win actually wins. It was made all the sweeter by my own instincts about it winning being right on the money, as opposed to what many of my colleagues thought – that it was too dark to win, that a movie where Leonardo DiCaprio died at the end couldn’t win, etc. But I had a feeling that if Scorsese got even remotely close to a crossover crowd pleaser he would slam dunk the thing without breaking a sweat. And that’s exactly what happened. It still makes me happy looking back on it.

I also had a great moment in the elevator at Warner Bros talking to their publicist about The Departed. He/She said “We’re not expecting it to do much.” They took out one singular FYC ad for that campaign, or maybe a few but they never went out too far on a limb with it. Perhaps because Warners had the Eastwood double Flags of Our Fathers and Letters From Iwo Jima. Both films deserved to be recognized for Best Picture, in my opinion, but the critics only went nuts for the latter, which did end up getting/winning Best Picture. A few pundits even predicted it to win, but it was always the longest shot of the five nominees.
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The morning after Brokeback Mountain lost I got an email from a reader, a very young reader in a foreign country, who told me that he would have killed himself that night had he not found Oscarwatch. The reason was mainly that he’d found a place where people were bitching about it – loudly, as is our wont. We knew it meant a lot that Brokeback Mountain, which had won an unprecedented amount of awards heading into the race – taking even the Producers and Directors and Writers Guild awards. But one other movie was pushing through the crowd, one that won the SAG ensemble, the Eddie and the Writers Guild. Crash had a couple of things going for it over Brokeback Mountain, though for many of us (with the exception of a scant few like David Carr, for instance) it was unthinkable. Not to dump on Crash continually as I don’t think it’s the worst film to win Best Picture, but all four of the other nominees were superior in terms of ambition and artistry.

But Crash had much in the way of appealing to actors. It was also strong on themes of race and at that time racism trumped homophobia. Perhaps it still does. Perhaps you can’t even compare the two as I don’t think you can. They represent separate histories, separate fights, separate aches. The Academy could do the racism thing back then but they just couldn’t go there wholly with Brokeback Mountain, this because many of them refused to see it. The same fate was awaiting 12 Years a Slave if voters hadn’t put their might behind a film that would mean more than just the usual “like” button being clicked. So good for them – I feel confident that if they saw 12 Years they would be more than proud of their vote, just as if they’d seen Brokeback Mountain they would have seen one of the most richly told and moving stories of 2005.
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2003 was the year Peter Jackson, and his collaborators, finally collected gold on their Middle Earth trilogy. Return of the King was the grand slam, filling the bases and bring it all home. It won all of the 11 Oscars it was nominated for. The bigger fan you were of the films the better you did on the Oscar contest that year.

But there were other movies, most notably, Lost in Translation. Sofia Coppola’s lovely, lyrical coming of age film starring Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray. It was also the year of Clint Eastwood great Mystic River. Sean Penn ended up winning the Oscar but many thought Bill Murray should have won instead (and were predicting such). That race was really the big story.

Funnily enough, Sean Penn and Charlize Theron (who are now dating) both won that year. Theron won for her astonishing transformation in Monster.

City of God was another standout. We’ll be discussing this year this week. Any comments or questions in advance, please put them here.

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2001 will always be remembered as the year the first black actress won in the lead category. It wasn’t just that, though. Both Halle Berry and Denzel Washington won that night.  Here we are, an unbelievable twelve years later and no black actress has come close, save Viola Davis – whose part just wasn’t big enough, whose wasn’t naked enough, and who wasn’t Meryl Streep. I’m all for giving Meryl Streep all of the Oscars. I think she’s the best actor, male or female, currently working in Hollywood or maybe ever. I am dazzled by her work in August: Osage County — and it’s hard to believe that woman is the same one who was in The Devil Wears Prada and Julie and Julia. That she’d only won two Oscars was shameful, considering. And yet…readers grouse about my bringing this up – well, you should have been around in 2001, when Halle Berry and Denzel Washington were in the Oscar race.  You think it’s bad now, my friends.

I will say this – the complaints usually start with “it should be about the work.” And that’s partly true. But you have you have remove yourself from the small picture and look at the big picture.  The work is about opportunity, subject matter, and public interest. What drives those things determines who gets to try their hand at the great parts. We’re not quite at the place where Hollywood feels free to cast actors in a way that ignores race.  Black actors still have to play black parts in films that tell black stories. Those films, as it turns out, almost always have to carry the burden of being both politically correct, not insulting to the black community and not insulting to the white community, plus appealing to the, let’s face it, almost exclusively white community of critics. Those stories have to be universal enough to appeal across the board. It just doesn’t happen, my friends.  I always get the angry resistance to affirmative action having a place in a film awards race. Nobody should win “because they are black.” I’ll go along with that as long as we can also agree that people don’t get all of the great roles because they are white.

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It was a dramatic Oscar year, one where Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan was expected to take the big prize. Spielberg had won the DGA, after all, and would go on to win Best Director. But there were some rumblings afoot that Shakespeare in Love, the film that was heading into the Best Picture race with the most nominations, was going to win. The Los Angeles Times’ Kenneth Turan had predicted Saving Private Ryan but admitted later that his story had gone to print too early and that by the time the Oscars themselves rolled around, he could feel the surge for Shakespeare in Love.

Supposedly it was the year a whisper campaign took down the big dog, passing around the idea that Saving Private Ryan was really just about “the first 45 minutes.” Shakespeare in Love, however, is one of the best films to ever win Best Picture, in this site’s opinion, having seen the film now over 100 times at the very least. I know every line of it by heart. People often mistake Shakespeare in Love for just a sappy love story. Indeed it is anything but. Can you imagine a movie like that coming out now? Where the whole thing turns on a well-born lady’s (“I am not so well-born) desire to be an actor (“I’m sorry Mr. Winslow. I wanted to be an actor.”) Shakespeare himself emerges as a shadow behind Christopher Marlowe (“Lovely waistcoat. Shame about the poetry.”) — Shakespeare eventually finds his muse in Lady Viola. The film has one of the most beautiful endings I’ve ever seen.

Therefore, I don’t think the Academy was wrong in awarding Shakespeare in Love. I am planning to revisit Saving Private Ryan, a film I didn’t much like when I first saw it back in 1998. Perhaps after I see it again it will resonate better. I felt at the time that it was too sentimental in its conclusion — like on the level of War Horse. But I do look forward to revisiting it.

One thing I do know, however: Saving Private Ryan pretty much deserved to win Best Picture for those first 45 minutes alone. Wherever the movie goes after that is a different story. But those first 45 minutes — unforgettable.

In the end, Shakespeare in Love would enter the race with 13 nominations, winning 7. Only four films in Academy history have gotten 13 nods and not won Best Picture. Saving Private Ryan would enter with 11 and win 5. The other nominees were The Thin Red Line, Life is Beautiful and Elizabeth. Cate Blanchett was probably the rightful winner of Best Actress. Ian McKellen the rightful winner for Best Actor. Both lost.

Please leave questions for us in the comments if you’d like.

The Shawkshank Redemption might be the best film that never won Best Picture, or very nearly that. But nothing was going to beat Forrest Gump that year, not even Pulp Fiction. 1994 seems to be a memorable year for many film fans because of those two movies specifically. Both are continually celebrated the way the older generations celebrate Citizen Kane and Vertigo. Shawshank is somehow the most poetic thing when it concludes, proving that the way a movie ends is the most important thing about it.

The other film that was, I thought, significant was Robert Redford’s Quiz Show. Somehow, John Turturro was not nominated for Supporting Actor.  Quiz Show is a good example of the Oscars not really embracing films that depict Hollywood, or in this case, television, in an unflattering light. They much prefer when they’re freeing hostages from Iran.

If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments section.  Oscar Podcast will be uploaded some time Monday night.

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schindler-s-list-original2

There are very few Oscar years like 1993, when Schindler’s List won Best Picture. Inevitability took hold in the decades before, say, the 1970s frequently. But after the 1970s, when everything changed, surprise winners were more likely. Then, after Chariots of Fire all bets were off. But the Schindler’s Lists in Oscar history are few and far between. That is, a perfect storm of an overdue director, subject matter and execution. Very few films rise to the level of Schindler’s List, not in Spielberg’s career, not in Hollywood at all. But for this Academy, you might think of Schindler’s List as the ultimate Oscar Best Picture winner.
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Unforgiven won the Oscar for Clint Eastwood in 1992.  The best picture nominees that year did not include the year’s best film which was Robert Altman’s The Player. Oscar voters like to reward movies about themselves in a flattering reach-around. But they don’t like it so much when a writer, or a director, nails them. The Player’s basic plot repeats itself continually in Hollywood. Whether it’s the drugged out and discarded hooker who became a modern day Cinderella in Pretty Woman to every focus-grouped happy ending you see before you now.  In The Player Hollywood is moving towards their new motto, “Movies Now More Than Ever.” Probably Altman and co. had no idea what Hollywood would become in 2013.   The Player was nominated for Director, Screenplay and Editing. Malcolm X nominated for Best Actor and Costume.

Not for Best Actor for the brilliant Tim Robbins and not for Best Picture – of course.

Husbands and Wives, A River Runs Through It, and most notably, Malcolm X also ignored. In their place: A Few Good Men, Howards End, Scent of a Woman, The Crying Game.  The Podcast will go up probably around Monday – give or take.

 

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1989 is one of the years we continually refer back to as it was both one of the only Oscar years where Best Picture went to a film without a directing nomination for its director, and it was also the year the Academy shut out Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing.  I wrote about it for an Oscar Flashback already.

Essential viewing for next week’s podcast would have to include both Driving Miss Daisy and Lee’s exceptional, groundbreaking, all around brilliant Do the Right Thing.  The other films in the Best Picture race, Field of Dreams, Dead Poets Society, My Left Foot and Born on the Fourth of July could also be seen if you wanted to be thorough, though it’s easy to see why Driving Miss Daisy handily beat the competition.

This was also the year Daniel Day-Lewis and Denzel Washington won their first Oscars and kickstarted their formidable careers.  It was also the year Michelle Pfeiffer got the closest to winning a Best Actress Oscar, coming off the heels of the previous year where she showed her range with Dangerous Liaisons, Married to the Mob and Tequila Sunrise.  But how do you deny Jessica Tandy? You don’t.

Strangely, one of Woody Allen’s best films, Crimes and Misdemeanors was not nominated for Best Picture.  Another film worth seeing from that year is Enemies, A Love Story, which earned acting accolades. I have not seen that film in years but it was always a personal favorite.

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rain-man

In case you are interested, Craig Kennedy, Ryan Adams and I have been going through the Oscar years starting with the 1970s. This week we tackle 1988 when Rain Man won Best Picture.

Rain Man is one of the few films to go down as the box office champ of the year and win Best Picture.  Other films that can claim that title include:

Lord of the Rings: Return of the King
Titanic
Forrest Gump
Rocky
The Sting
The Godfather
The Sound of Music
My Fair Lady
Lawrence of Arabia
Ben-Hur
The Bridge on the River Kwai
The Greatest Show on Earth
Going My Way
Mrs. Miniver
Gone with the Wind
Mutiny on the Bounty

Now, it’s much harder to earn both number one at the box office and win Best Picture. The chasm between what sells and what Oscar voters like has never been wider in all of Oscar history.

Other interesting things to note, both 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Graduate were number one for the whole year. Imagine such a population of moviegoers.  This, according to Wikipedia.

Roger-Ebert

In case you missed it, our latest podcast was dedicated to Ebert. Have a listen.

Next week we will return to the 1970s, with the year Godfather II beat Chinatown.

In case you aren’t sick of us by now, here is another podcast with Tom O’Neil where we sort sift through the ashes of this crazy year.  Head on over to Gold Derby.

Last night, Craig Kennedy, Ryan and I do the Podcast Thang for episode 19 of Oscar podcast. You can subscribe to it on itunes if you’d like, or click here to listen.  

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