We Are the Story


I wasn’t going to address this because it has nothing to do with awards season and is so inside baseball no one really gives a crap, but what the hell, Jeff Wells has libeled our very own Ryan Adams and something has to be done about it.

Ryan has been banned from making comments over at Hollywood-Elsewhere and if I make one on his behalf it’s deleted. He’s a good friend, someone whom I can count on to keep the site running so that I can occasionally go out to the market, walk the dog or have anything resembling a social life. Before he came on board, I could never leave this site. I am grateful to him, appreciative of his kindness, his hard work and his friendship. He’s done nothing but have my back since 2006. He does not deserve to be called a “wee man,” or to have his character assassinated by a Jeff Wells rage spiral gone wrong and a lot of people who are too scared to use their real names but must lash out savagely under the comfortable cloak of anonymity, otherwise known as “mama’s skirt.”  Really tough there, like spitting on people’s heads from a bridge where no one can see you.

 In his distorted rundown of our podcast Jeff Wells casually throws around the word ‘racist.’ In our discussions of how Selma has been dinged this awards season never once did we use the term “racist.” The focus of the discussion has been mostly around the portrayal of LBJ in the film. It has become a nearly insurmountable story. It is a film ABOUT racism. What we’ve said was that the people who dominate the conversation, who fall too easily into the trap Oscar season sets for contenders – a system that is very easily manipulated by savvy publicists – tend to be white men. Does that mean they’re racists? No.  I don’t think this effort to sink Selma IS about racism. But it is about the cultural identity of white men and their defensiveness of that identity and their dominance of the media — purely and simply. There are so many “white men” and the defensiveness of some in the white male voice that dominates the media.  So many great reviews and defense piece – like this must-read in Vulture.

We don’t throw around the word “racist” casually.


“How far that little candle throws his beams! So shines a good deed in a weary world.” – Shakespeare and Willy Wonka

I have been online for twenty years. I didn’t start this website, then Oscarwatch, until 1999. I’d spent most of my time chattering with people from all over the world about movies on a usenet listserv. Back then there really wasn’t a web to speak but once the internet turned into the “World Wide Web” suddenly a whole new dimension opened up. Anyone could start a site as long as they had a modem, a computer and the willingness to learn HTML. You could compete with the established magazines because they were slow getting online and as long as your site looked professional and kind of, sort of, sounded professional you could be taken as a legitimate “source.” That aspect of online “journalism” has not changed. Anyone with a site, anyone who calls themselves a film critic can be one. They can get themselves on Rotten Tomatoes. They can join the Broadcast Film Critics (or they used to be able to). They can define themselves as professionals and no one really cares whether they are legit or not, ethical or not. They have no editors who do the hiring and require credentials. That has been great and it has been devastating.

Since I came in through the backdoor, I have never seen myself as a journalist or a film critic. Sure, I write reviews but I’m not a critic. I am what Harry Knowles would call a “film advocate.” I don’t tend to write negative reviews (I don’t feel qualified to speak with authority in that regard) and I believe film criticism, like art and architecture criticism should be limited to those who really have the insight, the talent and the experience to be qualified to judge people who actually have their boots on the ground and are putting their careers on the line to make movies.

I also have never thought of myself as a journalist. The closest I’ve come to that is being part of the Women Journalists Online. That’s because journalism is, as George Orwell would say, writing what no one wants you to write. The rest is just public relations. Journalists have to care about the story over all things. I do not. I cannot.

This year, Anne Thompson — who really is a journalist — and one of the best in the Oscar blogging world (what she does can’t be confined to simply Oscar blogging) decided to buck the current trend of predicting films no one has seen. Thompson is on the Gurus of Gold and Movie City News but she is the only one swimming against the tide, refusing to predict films she hasn’t seen. You might look at her list and think, huh? Where is Unbroken? Where is Interstellar? But you see, they have not yet been seen and she is refusing to play that game anymore. I think it’s quite remarkable.

My contender tracker to the right side of my page has always only tracked films that have been seen. When I first started there was only my site and Tom O’Neil’s Gold Derby. The idea of predicting films that hadn’t been seen was simply not done. That was because, firstly there were hardly any “Oscar bloggers.” Blogging, as such, barely existed. Film critics would put out their Oscar predictions towards the end of the year but there was no industry for that as there is now. As new sites began to launch, a new movement was afoot to predict films that hadn’t opened and in some cases that hadn’t even been filmed. Oscar watchers in forums and on some websites liked projecting way into the future, gambling on the future success of some films. It mostly, I have to say, didn’t pay off. Every so often the “on the page” Oscar contender would live up to expectations and actually get nominated. Those who predicted them “sight unseen,” as we called it, would then have bragging rights, even though it was just a guess based on “pedigree,” subject matter and the people involved.

Well that whole practice has turned the industry completely around. Now, sight unseen predictions are used by publicists to drum up Oscar buzz for films no one has any idea whether they will fly or not. Anyone paying the slightest bit of attention can tell you what might win based on subject matter and filmmakers. It’s much harder to predict once people have seen the films. Only then can you tell the pros from the amateurs. Anne Thompson, this year, is playing the game the way it should be played, the only way you can really be A) fair to the productions by keeping the door open to other possibilities than “the list,” and B) really know what the fuck you’re doing when you say this film might get nominated for Best Picture but it depends on what’s coming next.

I refused for many years to participate in “sight unseen” predictions but I had to if I wanted to be included on Gold Derby and Gurus of Gold. That’s how the game was played. It never occurred to me to do it the way Anne Thompson is doing it. She is just that ballsy. And frankly has earned that right.

Now, it must be said that there is no indication whether sight unseen is better or worse than what’s been seen. In fact, in some cases, it can be blinding. Scott Feinberg has seen David Fincher’s Gone Girl and as a result has decided not to predict it for a nomination for Best Picture or Best Director. Anne Thompson did just the opposite. She saw the film and is now predicting it for a nomination for Best Picture and Best Director. But, she says, it could be knocked out by what’s coming next. Feinberg, by contrast, is betting already that whatever unknown thing coming next is going to be more beloved than what has already been seen.

It is much harder to predict the Oscars after having seen the films because then you have to factor in your own opinion and like it or not it does always come back to what “they” will think, not what YOU think. And what they think doesn’t always have to do with how good a film is. I know that my own opinion would have had so many films up for Best Picture that never got near the Kodak (Dolby). But I also have seen the opposite. I’ve heard people — very good Oscar predictors — say things like “No Country for Old Men will never win Best Picture” or “The Departed will never win Best Picture.” We make these grand proclamations based on our own opinion because we second guess what “they” will do, what “they” can handle and by the looks of it, this is what most people think about the Academy:

They are pansy-ass wimps who can’t tolerate 1) a tragic, dark ending, 2) a movie not about a good person. And they only like 1) movies about redemptive (usually male these days) hero and 2) preferably set in a time not our own, preferably WW2 but the 1930s will suffice, or even the 1970s, 1980s. They are old and so they like nostalgia, representations of what life used to be like. These voters, though, picked No Country for Old Men, The Departed and the Hurt Locker — a phase in their recent history I myself cannot get over because it was so unexpected, so startlingly refreshing and really seemed to knock down those preconceived notions of what and who “they” were. But enter The King’s Speech, The Artist and Argo and things rubber-banded back to the old way. Thus, when Scott Feinberg predicts a Gone Girl shut-out he is doing so based on that recent history.

The other reason for doing that is that voters only have five slots for Best Picture now. When they had ten slots (2009, 2010) they had the freedom to pick animated films, genre films, films directed by women. With five they are more inclined towards the sappy, the feel good, the films about heroic people. With five, can you imagine any grown man (and they’re all basically men) choosing an animated film as one of their top five of the year? Or even a genre film? Or any film with unlikable characters? This is how one of the best films last year, Inside Llewyn Davis, was shut out. With five, the heart gets involved. Thus, Feinberg’s forecast about Gone Girl could prove true.

The Producers Guild has ten slots, not five, and thus their list often throws people off a bit. They have a preferential ballot with ten slots. The Academy has a preferential ballot with five slots and then they also include the extra movies that were close to getting in. But we’re still basically talking about five choices.

On the other hand, a good movie is a good movie is a good movie and Gone Girl is a great fucking movie, whether the 6,000 voters in the Academy realize that or not. Sometimes they do recognize it. Anne Thompson, at this point, is betting they do, and so am I.

I will be watching Anne Thompson’s predictions (but no pressure!) throughout the season and compare them to other predictions to see whether it really does many you a better predictor or not. But one thing I know for sure: whether it makes her a better predictor or not it makes the world safer for movies overall. It expands rather than limits the list of possibilities. It returns the Oscar race back to its former state when every film had a chance, when these films weren’t dependent upon the lowered expectations of film bloggers who, like film critics, are really only as good as their imagination allows. Anne Thompson has always taken bold chances as a predictor — she was among the first to predict Ang Lee to win Best Director in 2012 and this year among the first to mention Whiplash’s possibilities. The more people who play it safe, prejudging what “they” will do, the more the field gets limited to the few sheep remaining in the pen once the bloggers decide what “they” will and what “they” won’t go for.

Here’s to hoping she starts a trend.

When Kenneth Turan recently decided not to include his negative review of Boyhood, allowing the film to enjoy the rare 100% on Metacritic it stopped me in my tracks. I thought, wow, really? Turan knew that Boyhood was a great film that a lot of people were enjoying. He didn’t count his ego and his reputation and his opinion as being greater than the ultimate success of this film that so many put their blood, sweat and tears into. What a classy move.

When I started my website the first thing I did when a movie came out what check to see what Todd McCarthy at Variety (then) and Kirk Honeycutt at the Hollywood Reporter (then) thought. Theirs were always the first reviews to be released. They would sometimes come out on a Friday. We would all work together to gather the reviews — there was no Rotten Tomatoes then, nor Metacritic. Kenneth Turan would be next over at the LA Times. But remember, these reviews would just start to show up online the day before, or sometimes the week before, the film opened. It was unheard of to have critics ringing in a couple of weeks before a film opened.

The next important voice to ring in were the New York Times critics — I believe A.O. Scott was at the Times, though I think Manohla Dargis was still at the LA Weekly. Elvis Mitchell and, I think, Janet Maslin were at the New York Times. Glenn Kenny was at Premiere, I do believe, or Anne Thompson. We would then hear from Owen Gleiberman and Lisa Schwarzbaum at Entertainment Weekly. And of course, there was Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel in Chicago. Of all of these critics the only one who really engaged with the online world was Ebert, who was an early adopter. Such made up the sum total of the majority of important film critics back in 1999. The only thing that mattered was what they thought of the films.

If McCarthy and Honeycutt had negative things to say it didn’t matter that much because further down the road were the bigger outlets that could easily undo those reviews. People often remembered the reviews that came after — they didn’t collect them on a chart and measure a film’s worth against that score. There was no Twitter where a mob can form and the cool kids decide what people should like, what’s uncool to like, and how you will be ridiculed for liking a film — or even disliking a film because you go against the tide. Film critics are under assault, especially women, if they go against a fanboy pic — god help any of them who write a negative review of Interstellar.

On the other hand, on a much smaller scale, there is a deforestation happening in American film. It isn’t such a big problem internationally, as we can see from the diverse offerings at the Cannes film festival. But here in America, the indie scene might be thriving but the movies in theaters that are about anything other than a remake or a sequel? They’re migrating to television. The international filmmakers are taking over because in those countries they do not have the fluffer machine in place here, they don’t have opening box office obsession and they do not raise branded generations.

Perhaps that explains why there hasn’t been an American film director to win Best Director at the Oscars since Kathryn Bigelow did it in 2009. Five years ago. Of course, Ben Affleck might have broken that trend had he been nominated. At any rate, if you don’t see the deforestation here you’re not paying attention. Sure, the indie scene will always thrive, and thus, the Independent Spirit awards is really where American film finds its support net.

Films are nearly impossible to get made, especially expensive films. They always have been, they always will be. In my world, however, critic reviews can often make the difference between a film being rewarded both at the box office and in the awards race. So, who cares, right? The average e-pinion of someone is deemed more important than anything else in a time frame of the five minutes it takes to read a review. It is that fast, the dismissal. If you have universal acclaim for a film that still doesn’t mean audiences will agree with the critics. In fact, these days, it usually means the opposite — they can’t believe why the critics were so over the moon for such a terrible film.

The opposite is proving even more true — the correlation between box office sales and film reviews tells you that the majority of people out there don’t even bother with film reviews anymore. Any good the film critics might have on impacting the future of film has long since vanished. But they do have an impact in the awards race, and the small segment of the public that does still care about original and vital film, both American and international, not just the branded fast food $200 million hits. There is still a community of people out there in the dark who care about film, the future of film, the freedom for great artists to flourish in such a despairing, depressing market where opening box office counts.

There is room for all kinds of art in film. There is room for entertainment on a massive scale, for comedies and romance. There is room for happy endings and period pieces that win Oscars. There is room for biopics and sci-fi. I wish there were more original works than sequels but hey, you can’t have everything.

What Kenneth Turan saw when he took a look around at the praise for Boyhood was a community supporting the efforts of a dedicated, grass roots filmmaker who took 12 years to make a film. He didn’t step into the room and act like Ned in Shakespeare in Love – like HIS OPINION was the ONLY THING THAT MATTERED and that the bigger picture did not. He recognized that maybe it was just him. Maybe his own peculiarities did not allow him in to a film that so many people loved. And so he wrote about that. He didn’t put his review into the score machine that can sink movies now. He didn’t play the gotcha game and didn’t open himself up to all of the anger from Boyhood fans. He had done it back in 1997 by being one of the few dissenters of Titanic but again, look at that how that one turned out: it became the highest grossing film of all time (until Avatar knocked it out) and won Best Picture. Turan’s review would have had no impact on that film. But it would have significant impact on Boyhood and he knew that.

That, to me, is balls. What I see from other critics is that their opinion seems to matter above all other things and the last thing they’re going to do is take a look at themselves and think, you know, maybe it’s just me.

Even Bosley Crowther, who famously wrote that negative review of Psycho added a caveat — the royal “we.” He made his point by saying — here is the film. This is what we thought of the film.

That’s the way it is with Mr. Hitchcock’s picture — slow buildups to sudden shocks that are old-fashioned melodramatics, however effective and sure, until a couple of people have been gruesomely punctured and the mystery of the haunted house has been revealed. Then it may be a matter of question whether Mr. Hitchcock’s points of psychology, the sort highly favored by Krafft-Ebing, are as reliable as his melodramatic stunts.

Frankly, we feel his explanations are a bit of leg-pulling by a man who has been known to resort to such tactics in his former films.

The consequence in his denouement falls quite flat for us. But the acting is fair. Mr. Perkins and Miss Leigh perform with verve, and Vera Miles, John Gavin, and Martin Balsam do well enough in other roles.

The one thing we would note with disappointment is that, among the stuffed birds that adorn the motel office of Mr. Perkins, there are no significant bats.

He did no so such thing, however, for Bonnie and Clyde, where he (again famously) wrote:

It is a cheap piece of bald-faced slapstick comedy that treats the hideous depredations of that sleazy, moronic pair as though they were as full of fun and frolic as the jazz-age cutups in Thoroughly Modern Millie. And it puts forth Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway in the leading roles, and Michael J. Pollard as their sidekick, a simpering, nose-picking rube, as though they were striving mightily to be the Beverly Hillbillies of next year.

It has Mr. Beatty clowning broadly as the killer who fondles various types of guns with as much nonchalance and dispassion as he airily twirls a big cigar, and it has Miss Dunaway squirming grossly as his thrill-seeking, sex-starved moll. It is loaded with farcical holdups, screaming chases in stolen getaway cars that have the antique appearance and speeded-up movement of the clumsy vehicles of the Keystone Kops, and indications of the impotence of Barrow, until Bonnie writes a poem about him to extol his prowess, that are as ludicrous as they are crude.

Such ridiculous, camp-tinctured travesties of the kind of people these desperados were and of the way people lived in the dusty Southwest back in those barren years might be passed off as candidly commercial movie comedy, nothing more, if the film weren’t reddened with blotches of violence of the most grisly sort.

Arthur Penn, the aggressive director, has evidently gone out of his way to splash the comedy holdups with smears of vivid blood as astonished people are machine-gunned. And he has staged the terminal scene of the ambuscading and killing of Barrow and Bonnie by a posse of policemen with as much noise and gore as is in the climax of The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.

This blending of farce with brutal killings is as pointless as it is lacking in taste, since it makes no valid commentary upon the already travestied truth. And it leaves an astonished critic wondering just what purpose Mr. Penn and Mr. Beatty think they serve with this strangely antique, sentimental claptrap, which opened yesterday at the Forum and the Murray Hill.

He ended his career after that review but he might have saved it, or softened the blow somewhat by admitting — just maybe — it was him? I mean, just maybe? Critics today write with such authority because they think that’s how you’re supposed to write a review. But the truth is, the good ones write subjectively so that you know full well that it is their opinion. The bad ones write as though they’re speaking for everyone when they casually dismiss a movie.

This way of writing film reviews has become so irritating to me that I have limited the amount of reviews I read — if it isn’t a subjective take, I do not give a damn. I’m not reading a review as though it’s on Yelp or Amazon. I want to know who you are and why you thought this. I know a lot of these critics personally and knowing them helps me understand why they evaluate films the way they do. There isn’t a single one of them whose opinion I would value over my own. Not anymore. Perhaps as a young woman of 34, which is how old I was when I started, but not now, as a woman almost 50 years old. Now I know what makes a movie good and I can plainly see when the riches of a film, even with so many bad reviews, far outweighs the massive amounts of e-pinions ringing in on that movie.

In the end, one has to come back to trust. Know the critic before you trust the critic. Do not take their advice until you’ve measured it against what you know to be true. Their opinion comes from a combination of life experience, education, expectations, a little narcissism and whatever mood they carry in with them the day they see the film. Just because someone is published on a website does not make their opinion necessarily more valuable than yours. Trust me, getting published on a website now is a lot easier than it used to be.

Michael Page ruminated on this topic, built a spreadsheet and came out deciding that audiences, not film critics, are better at predicting what he would like. I myself have never found the be all, end all of what I would like. I find we are all so peculiar and our moods are so easily influenced, there isn’t a single person I could look to for helping me decide. But over time, audiences do tend to unearth the best films. From Vertigo to Shawshank Redemption, somehow time sorts it all out.

I have always admired Kenneth Turan. I count him as among the few critics whose opinion I have always trusted but after he bucked the system, bucked the trend, by refusing to play the game as it’s defined now — he measured his opinion against the success of a fledgling. That showed me that he really does get the bigger picture of what is happening to film right now.

Thus, Anne Thompson and Kenneth Turan are changing the game, bit by bit, tiny move by tiny move. There were here when I started and they’re still here. My hat goes off to the two of them — if no one else noticed what they’ve done, I most certainly have.


“Die, white boy,” said a loud voice behind me when one of the white characters, a good guy, was finally taken out. I won’t tell you which one, lest I be accused of a spoiler, but suffice it to say there are many different kinds of people in Purge: Anarchy, the sequel to the overnight success of the first film, The Purge. It was probably the most ethnically diverse cast I’ve seen in a while, a cast that mirrored the demographics of the audience I was sitting with. The minority in the house, no doubt about it, were the white people. This was in downtown Burbank, a smaller offshoot city near Los Angeles, otherwise known as that rolling mass of flat suburban wasteland: “the valley.” If you’re a fan of Paul Thomas Anderson you are already well acquainted with “the valley.” He romanticized it a bit. It is the part of the city where I now prefer to live, as I can’t tolerate the hipsters in Silverlake, the annoying yoga/organic/entitlement culture of the Westside (the worst drivers, the worst traffic), nor the tattooed posers in Hollywood. So the valley it is. NO one really wants to live here so it is nice and emptied out. You can Lebowski to your heart’s content here — shop for groceries in your bathrobe or tool around town in a beater car. No one notices status. No one cares if you have a back tattoo or not and no one is honking at you for cutting them off, flipping you the bird from the quiet airy confines of their hybrid Lexus. I would live in Malibu if I could afford it. Then again, they don’t want no Lebowskis in Malibu.

After another sweaty afternoon trying to beat the impossible (but dry) heat, my niece presented herself at my doorstep. A wisp of a 17-year-old who is always in the know about everything, who says things like “I’ll just Uber there and then Uber back. No big. It’s cheap AF.” My daughter, on the other hand, a much taller 16-year-old was busy sewing her cosplay outfit for Comic-Con next weekend and never says things like that because it would never occur to her that there was such a thing as Uber. They are as different as a hot cup of black coffee and a frosty glass of strawberry lemonade but they are as close as sisters. “Want to see The Purge,” the niece said, wherein Uber was invoked. But I’m not quite ready to surrender teenage girls to Uber so I agreed to take them. It didn’t occur to me until later, too much later, that this was Friday night we were talking about. Friday night at the most hotly sought-after ticket to a movie that teenagers wanted to see. I was a mom taking two teens to a movie on Friday night. I didn’t belong. It would be like seeing a farm animal in a supermarket. But I didn’t really want to sit in a baking apartment either. Besides, Uber? Really? I would drive them. I would do one last parental act on a couple of young women who have really outgrown this whole dynamic, which rips my heart in two. I have been taking my daughter to the movies since she was six months old. That’s what you do when you’re a parent. You take your kids to the movies.

As a blogger and sometime “critic,” though I hate the term because I am not one, I spend most of my movie going experiences amid other bloggers, industry types, critics and wanna be critics. They sit mostly silently. They rarely applaud anything. And they’re poker-faced, for the most part. Essentially in their collective effort to be “critical” of movies they have mostly robbed the fun out of the experience. This suits one well for a quiet movie like Boyhood, for instance. Who wants to sit there watching a movie like that with a guy who says things like “Die white boy” sitting behind you? But for a movie like The Purge: Anarchy or Dawn of the Planet of the Apes you want a big crowd of people for whom these movies were intended. And I can tell you, The Purge: Anarchy is not really a movie aimed at critics. Neither is Tammy, nor Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (though the critics loved that one).

The biggest difference, probably, between my poker-faced familia and this Friday night movie crowd was the color of everyone’s skin. My crowd is probably 95% white. This crowd was easily 80% Hispanic. But it was a mix, to be sure, of many different ethnicities. I’d recently read the MPAA’s most recent movie going status report which show, as a Hispanics are the ethnic group most likely to buy movie tickets. I find this somewhat surprising, given that Hollywood doesn’t give Hispanics much of a mirror image of themselves. That is, if Hispanics think of themselves as a demographic. They probably don’t. They probably think of themselves as just plain old movie goers who like all of the big stars like Mark Wahlberg and Johnny Depp, whether they are Hispanic or not. One can’t be sure of anything where vast generalities are concerned. One can only speak about one’s own personal experience. As a woman I see very little in the way of good female characters. It depresses me.

What I do know is that I’ve been railing against the 14-year-old boy demographic for years — if they aren’t the biggest ticket buying group I have to rethink that. Moreover, I can’t be that Gran Torino crowing about Hispanics and their tastes at the movies. So I have to just shut about it all, I suppose. Either way, there we were, by far the minority in this audience. Teenagers were everywhere but there were also adults of many different ages, couples, date night and elderly. There were no babies, but there was an omnipresent armed security guard at the door.

There were many lit-up cell phones and chatter before the movie started, but once it did the audience quieted down and became completely wrapped up in this violent but entertaining fantasy about the 1% and our government out on a night of purging, the one day a year people can commit any crime, “including murder” and get away with it. The purge is supposed to make you feel cleansed of your hatred so that the country can go on peacefully for the rest of the year. It is icky and subversive, very confrontational and seemed to scratch the itch this audience had — every time someone bad was bumped off the audience erupted in applause. They loved the lead dude: He’s got guns, he knows how to use them.

The Purge: Anarchy is a fun night at the movies for sure. If you’re going to shell out $15 clams for a movie it better deliver, that was what I got from this crowd. They would have a low tolerance threshold for a movie that didn’t deliver. The Purge: Anarchy has a good message, too. It is anti-purge, of course, as it should be, even if sometimes you start wondering what you would do in that instance. Would you kill? It also has a decidedly anti-gun message. It lampoons America’s fetish for guns and violence and absolutely saves its most vicious attacks for 1%. At one point it started to feel like the beginning of something — a kind of revolution of sorts. Could the people actually rise up? Would they? The people in our country who are most like to rise up are those who stockpile weapons in their bunkers for fear of the government taking their guns away.

The radical gap between the audience I saw this film with – aka the ticket buyers — and the cloistered, closed-off world of the critics I watched movies with at Cannes and will continue to watch movies with throughout the year is startling. I would urge more of those who write about movies to actually go to movies, with audiences, not just with handpicked snowflakes. I suspect, if more critics saw what audiences were like they would judge movies meant for those audiences (and not for critics) differently.

For so many of us, a movie like Transformers is the end of everything. It signals the utter breakdown of cinema as we know it. Would this crowd have sat still for any of the Best Picture nominees last year? I like to think they would have gotten very involved in 12 Years a Slave, if they’d gotten a chance to see it. But mostly what I got from them was this: these are middle-class, hard-working people who just want to go out and have a good time on Friday night, make a real night of it, with popcorn and soda — do you remember those days? I have to reach back pretty far but I do remember those days. That is how I grew up — in the theater, watching movies, making a night of it every Friday.

It isn’t that adults don’t go to the movies anymore. It’s that fewer and fewer white adults go to the movies, not nearly as many as other ethnic groups. And no, I can’t judge all of movie culture from one night at the movies but it was an eye-opener, to be sure, regarding some of the generalities I sling around on a daily basis. I will have to rethink a few things about where I think movies are headed.

Either way, Snowpiercer and The Purge: Anarchy, and even Dawn of the Planet of the Apes are all about one thing: the oppressed rising up. If I were part of the ruling class I might start to feel a little uncomfortable right about now.

As for the teens, both declared The Purge: Anarchy a good movie. They liked it as much, if not more, than the first one. They were embarrassed that they brought me along, I could tell. They did me one last favor, one last summer night, escaping the unbearable heat of the valley and disappearing into a forgotten world.

If you don’t know who LexG is you probably don’t read Hollywood-Elsewhere or Movie City News. The jokes are pretty inside but some of you might find them funny if you follow along the insular drama. Before you get offended on my behalf just remember, it isn’t the worst thing in the world to be sexualized at my age. Just saying.



After I exited a theater showing of Gravity, a nice man handed me a flyer for a movie, a test screening for The Monuments Men. Excited, I grabbed one and signed up on their website fully planning to attend. Unlike some people who go to test screenings, I would not report publicly on it. At the very least, I would show the filmmakers that much respect but I was curious to see it and if the studio wasn’t inviting people yet, well, why not. But I changed my mind after thinking about it. It was a test screening, not meant to be a fully presented film to audiences. Sure, it could turn out really well – the audience stands at the end and applauds wildly. But test screenings are like reading screenplays.

Continue reading…

Businessman Consulting Glowing Crystal Ball

Businessman Consulting Glowing Crystal Ball

Yesterday I spoke with Daniel D’Addario over at Salon about Nate Silver covering the Oscars.  What he said was spot-on – it really comes down to this – in the Oscars the narrative matters. In politics, not as much, or certainly not in the same kinds of ways you can turn around an Oscar race. One great debate by Romney wasn’t going to really change how the poll numbers were stacking up for Obama, for instance.

There are two kinds of people who cover the Oscars – those who care about how they turn out and those who just want to be right about how they will turn out. In the fifteen years I’ve been covering the Oscars I went from being someone who really just wanted to be a good Oscar predictor to someone who cared more about the outcome – I did what you are never supposed to do whether it’s National Geographic shoot, a court case, an NSA hookup, politics or Oscar predicting: I got emotionally involved and there is no turning back. But some people really want to be the Nate Silver of Oscar predicting. They want every year to be a good year because their method, whatever it is, “works.” I would posit that whatever method worked one year won’t work the next year and that you can get really close but at the end of the day you will never be REALLY good unless you take risks that defy logic.  Ultimately, though, predicting the Oscars well is, to me, is less important even than predicting the weather and in both cases you can still be wrong.  I’ve seen even the most confident of Oscar predictors be completely wrong. But if you’ve just had a good year, as Scott Feinberg had last year, you are in a position to tell people what it takes to be a good predictor.

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A day or so ago there was a sudden photo of Coming Soon‘s Ed Douglas in the hospital. He’d been at Cinema-Con working when he found out he had acute leukemia. But of course, like most of us freelancers he has no health insurance. Thus, his buddies have set up a fundraiser page to help with mounting hospital bills.

Thing is, Ed is one of the good guys. I’ve known him at least ten years and had the occasion to hang out with him when he came to visit LA a while back. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone nicer covering the film beat. Ed has somehow emerged as one of the best in the business without becoming a pompous ass. He has been particularly supportive of what I do — and it ain’t easy being a woman in what is mostly a male-dominated industry. Ed has never once treated me like I was the lesser sex and has always been supportive and respectful. I don’t think I’ve ever told him how much I appreciated that. His illness has now made me realize what a tight family we have all become.

Ed is going to fight and hopefully he can pull out of this. But they’re raising money. $50K. Hopefully we can work together to get it covered. Here’s the link to the donation page.



Kathryn Bigelow is a torture apologist, Leni Reifenstahl and according to an article in The Hollywood Reporter, not the one who really directed Zero Dark Thirty and now, the other really great female director, Lynne Ramsay, is “hysterical,” having had a “hissy fit” on the set of the Natalie Portman movie, Jane Got a Gun.  Maybe we can figure out a way to verbally stone enough of them to make sure another strong woman never emerges in Hollywood again.

Whatever happened there was morphed into what has become all too commonplace in the way people talk about women. Film.com’s Callum Marsh nails the chorus to the wall with his latest piece, “Lynne Ramsay, and Why We Need to Talk About How We Talk About Female Directors“:

That wide swaths of the (overwhelmingly male) film-nerd public would flock to social media to express grossly misogynistic thoughts after the slightest opportunity presents itself is perhaps not so surprising. But what is surprising—and what’s much more disconcerting, given the circumstances—is how deeply and needlessly gendered the response to this story has been from professional journalists and news organizations. Leaving aside the somewhat unexpected shift in default editorial sympathies from the artist to her producer, the articles reporting this story have continued to lean on language tailored, at least implicitly, for gender-based condescension.

One reason I’m glad a man wrote that is because people like you always take a piece like this written by a woman with a grain of salt. Come on, admit it. You do. Yes, those of you reading this, at least some of you, will tend to dismiss it: “Oh there she goes again.” But when a male writer calls out misogyny people listen. Really listen. So cheers to Callum Marsh.

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Every time one of these erupts God punches a kitten in the face.  I suspect it will be similar to the LA Times, the New York Times and various other sites that cover Oscar news.  So, get ready Oscar watchers.  Here comes another one.

AwardsDaily’s saying has long been “covering the Oscar race 24/7” but we expect others to steal from us – that’s how it goes in the blog eat blog world of Oscar coverage. But they’re planning to also call their sight “Awards Intelligence” – which  is, come on, a bit silly. Most would agree there is nothing intelligent about awards coverage.  The awards coverage is competitive because of one reason and one reason only: ad money. Very few of us are out here because we actually care about how the Oscar race turns out. You can tell the difference by those who were out here doing it long before they ever got paid to do it.  I’ve been doing it since 1999, when Tom O’Neil and I were the only ones covering it year round. Lots of great sites have come and gone since – Fennec, Zeusefer, Alex Fung — but few of us have the stomach for it to last.


In an ongoing dialogue between the two major critics at the Times, Manohla Dargis and AO Scott on film criticism today:

Dargis: As critics, all we have are our beliefs, ideals, prejudices, blind spots, our reservoirs of historical and personal knowledge, and the strength of our arguments. There are empirical truths that we can say about a movie: it was shot in black and white or color, on film or digital, in widescreen or not, directed by this or that filmmaker. But beyond these absolutes there is only our thinking, opinions, ideologies, methodological approaches and moments in time. That isn’t to say that criticism is a postmodern anything goes; it is to admit that critics are historical actors and that our relationships with movies, as with everything in life, are contingent on those moments. Her moment was exciting. So too is ours.

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Yesterday, Jeff Wells of Hollywood-Elsewhere.com and I met up with Tom O’Neil at the historic Sunset Tower hotel in Hollywood to talk about the new Gold Derby.  Most people already know that Gold Derby has predictions from Oscar peeps, but you probably didn’t know that you can create a user account, friend other Derbyites and share your predictions?  You can also bet your own predictions with a numbers thingy that I don’t really understand and will fail miserably at but that shouldn’t stop you, smart readers.  If I were you, I’d head on over to Gold Derby as set up your own user account so your predictions can be recorded and counted.  And if you do, friend me!

And if you’re curious how the new Gold Derby works, Tom has made a video that explains it.  I’ve embedded it after the jump, along with some photos.

Meanwhile, if you’re curious about our podcast, it starts with Jeff, Phil and I tossing stuff around, box office, The Ides of March and then it heads on over to the Sunset Tower where we chit chat with Tom.

Have a listen!

Oscar Poker Episode 51

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It’s that time of year again for the critics who are lucky enough to still have jobs writing about movies to complain about the Oscars and the Oscar coverage.   I get it. I get that no one wants to see their beloved films dumped into the chute and set loose to run a race to win.  I get it that they wish all coverage about the Oscars, the contest, the winners, the losers would just “die in a fire.”  I get it that they long for the days when “it was about the movies, man.”  What I don’t get is why they don’t see the bigger picture.

Manohla Dargis said, quoted by Jeff Wells at Hollywood-Elsewhere.com (who gets a lot of heat from his readers whenever he brings up the O word because movies are pure, damnit. They don’t need awards to make them great — they don’t need awards so that deals can be made so that money can be made so that MOVIES CAN BE MADE -they are made on the collective love by the film critics who still have jobs and can still reach a wider audience and don’t they know that awards make a mockery of the proceedings because all anyone who watches the Oscar race cares about is who wins or loses!):

“It’s a drag how late-summer, early-fall festivals like Telluride and especially Toronto are now too often seen as warm-ups for the Oscars. Both events solicited that attention, and grew more influential as a result. Yet is that what we want from film festivals? This isn’t as true of Cannes…because it takes place in May and remains a showcase for world cinema and French cultural patrimony. It’s where Brad Pitt can work the red carpet, but also where filmmakers as dissimilar asTerrence Malick and Apichatpong Weerasethakul can be talked about without that chucklehead, Oscar, sucking up all the air in the room.”

It’s a drag, man.

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Tom O’Neil has officially left the LA Times and explains his reasons why — Goldstein, who used to write about the Oscars before a whole industry sprouted up, is named as one of his replacements.  Oh Patrick.  Oh Patrick. Oh Patrick.  This is going to be a fun Oscar year if the likes of Patrick Goldstein are going to take off their flip flops and get into the hot tub with the rest of us grease monkeys.  The mind reels at the possibilities, the insults that will fly, the bitterness, the competition.  Just another day in the blog eat blog world.   Tom’s reasoning:

But human nature being what it is, I always privately yearned to resurrect my dear old Gold Derby, of course, and I had ambitious plans for it. I wanted to make it more interactive –- to empower users to make their own predictions and compete against the experts. Last year, when I told my Times bosses that I planned to do just that, they were surprisingly supportive and offered to help. They took on the job of ad sales and did a terrific job while I remained at Latimes.com writing about Oscars, Emmys, Grammys and more.

So look for Tom’s insights and more predictions over at Gold Derby.  What I like about this move is that there are only a few of us independents left out there.

Kris Tapley’s InContention, it was announced this morning, will move to Hitfix.com as early as Monday.  This is a shakeup in the Oscar world to a minor degree, as Tapley will be doing the same thing he’s always done, with his main writer Guy Lodge along, only it will be over at incontention.hitfix.com (or some URL to that effect).

It was announced earlier that Scott Feinberg left his own site, Scottfeinberg.com, to become the writer for The Race over at The Hollywood Reporter, so that’s two independent Oscar bloggers who now join much bigger sites.  It’s an interesting turn of events in any case.

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ZOMG! Sasha’s quote from her review of Rise of Planet of the Apes is featured in national TV spots.

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Tweeps are going apeshit over some VIP screening tonight.

  • @slashfilm (Peter Sciretta) Rise of the Planet of the Apes vindicates this summer movie season. It will surprise you. It’s worth your time and money.
  • @wellshwood (Hollywood Elsewhere) “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” is a bit of a “Spartacus” liberation saga — how the apes rose up! — augmented by science and human greed.
  • @JackGi (Jack Giroux) Rise of the Planet of the Apes is definitely the smartest and most ambitious blockbuster of the summer.
  • @firstshowing (Alex Billington) Ohh yes it’s true, Rise of the Planet of the Apes may just be the best movie of the summer. Loved it so much. Andy Serkis is so amazing!
  • @davidehrlich (David Ehrlich) RISE OF THE APES: see what good direction can do? Wyatt elevates a competent script into the most satisfying blockbuster of the summer.
  • @douggpound (Doug Lussenhop) “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” is not a doc about the tea party?
  • @Laremy (Laremy Legel) Finally seeing Rise of the Planet of the Apes this evening. I hope none of the crowd gains sentience …

How far have effects evolved?  Check out the origin of the species after the cut.

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“How does it feel to have all that power?”

I read with great interest this Eric Snider piece on the demise of the house that Cinematical built with equal parts interest and disgust. As someone who has been online since 1999, and watched many sites come and go, the shift from html to blog, and now the swallowing up of little sites by bigger sites, I was shocked to see something as valuable having well known, well connected, informative writers downgraded to “unprofessional” writers who are expected to continue writing for the exposure of it.

The model of writing for links and exposure is a good one, just not in this case, not when millions are being spread around like a virus. ¬†Did they really think they could shift the staff at Cinematical so dramatically and no one notice? ¬†Have they never heard of Twitter? ¬†Don’t they know that it is the writers — those names we have come to know and trust – that drive us to Cinematical, not necessarily the name of the site alone?

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Just as the news that Eugene Hernandez and Todd McCarthy’s exit was not looking good for Indiewire (as this NY Times story suggests), another press release announces Anne Thompson has been named Indiewire’s Editor at Large. This is a smart move for Indiewire, as Thompson has the eye of the tiger and will serve this position and Indiewire with vigor. Thompson served as deputy editor of Variety.com before they started to lose money. But she quickly bounced back with Thompson on Hollywood at Indiewire.

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The LA Times has just announced something I already knew, I must confess it, that Tom O’Neil is bringing back his wildly popular site, Goldderby.com:

For the past five years, The Times has licensed O’Neil‚Äôs Gold Derby blog, which provided multimedia punditry for The Envelope. He will continue in his role as a regular Envelope contributor for the upcoming awards season, posting to a new, yet-to-be-unveiled blog and writing for the print editions, while also overseeing the return of GoldDerby.com. The revamped and re-established Gold Derby site, which can be accessed via TheEnvelope.com, is wholly owned and operated by Tom O‚ÄôNeil and The Times will exclusively handle advertising sales.

That’s the big news. Tom will launch his site on November 1, no doubt with the Derby assembled and maybe the forum too? Tom will have one foot still in the LA Times The Envelope. If any of you are curious about the history, I will delve into it after the jump.

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Hollywood-Elsewhere just posted a quote from Rope of Silicon’s Brad Brevet, which reads:

“The past few years of Oscar predictions have become quite boring as the conversation leading up to the show pretty much dictated the winners,” he continues. “Could it be the same again as the Social Network crowd reaches a fevered pitch?” While The Social Network “speaks squarely to the heart of the Gen-Y crowd” and The King’s Speech is “the one film that’s right up the Academy’s alley,” the game will be affected this weekend by Social Network ticket sales ” “another bullet point for the conversation to focus on.”

However, says Brevet, “true cinematic advancement in the Best Picture field won’t come with a Social Network win. Something like Darren Aronofsky’s ballet thriller Black Swan or Christopher Nolan’s Inception would mark an actual step forward. Will Nolan get the requisite ‘he deserved it Oscar for Batman 3 diminishing its cultural and cinematic significance? And when will one of Aronofsky’s forward-thinking features get the recognition it deserves?

“Oscar pundits wanting to crank the dial need start pushing films and decisions that truly change the landscape.”

And that’s because Oscar pundits are responsible for the Academy’s choices? On what planet, Brad? The votes are not determined by committee. The Academy members are not mindless drones who sit there trying to appease bloggers and critics.

I’ll never forget an interview I had with one older member who said that they don’t pay much attention to the jibber jabber: they vote for what they consider the “best movie.” The bloggers, critics and publicists can, perhaps, place in front of them a group to choose from but in the end, they are coming at their vote from a wholly different perspective from our own. They don’t write about movies, most of them; they make movies. Many of them have seen wunderkinds come and go – critics have been shoving films down the Academy’s throat for decades. Great films by daring directors have often not gotten attention by the Academy. This is why people say stuff like “it’s not an Oscar movie.” And that statement is true, for the most part, except when it isn’t. A great film by Academy standards is usually the one most people would agree upon as the best film of the year. The key word here is “most.”

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