Monday, May 16, 2011

The Problem With Jennifer's Body

Please wake me up in about two years, so that The Hunger Games movie has come out and the fandom has had enough time to make their way through all the usual complaints a fandom undergoes when their beloved source material is changed on its way to the screen and I can talk with people again about the actual content of the story as opposed to whether or not every single person cast looks right for the role. And by looks right, not, I don't mean is made to look right via training and make-up and costume. I mean bitching about how a young actress actually has meat on her bones and is thus an inappropriate choice despite what the author and director say.

Despite being a bit above the target age range for Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games trilogy, about a month and a half ago I decided to give it a spur of the moment read and I admit I was instantly addicted. It's an engrossing story with what I think are generally interesting characters and pretty decent writing. I will happily discuss whether the love triangle is annoyingly overplayed in Catching Fire, whether Katniss' behaviour in Mockingjay is either due to proper characterization or author laziness, and whether the ending is sufficient or not.

What I cannot stand, however, are the same debates I participated in, intensely, mind you, once upon a time when I was a thirteen-year-old crazed and newly indoctrinated Harry Potter fan. Was I pissed that Daniel Radcliffe had blue eyes and not green and found it silly he wasn't wearing contacts to fix that? You bet. When I was older and I realized that a) such an obsession was stupid, b) that it really didn't matter that much, and c) that Daniel Radcliffe was unable to wear the contacts because of irritation, I got over it. I think most fans did eventually because we realized what a stupid little debate it was. Harry's blazing green eyes, like his mother's, are a huge deal in the books. In the movies, they're less so. They're still a deal - Lupin remarks on them particularly in the third film and I imagine they'll play their related role in the final film - but the films adjust for the problems faced.

These sorts of issues, as The Hunger Games movie inches slowly towards filming and, eventually, completion, are floating around the fandom in abundance. People are bitching about everything, and while Willow Shields' unibrow was a big hot topic, the biggest hot topic of all is the casting of Jennifer Lawrence as the beloved lead character of Katniss Everdeen. Now, I think Jennifer Lawrence is a great actress and I can completely see her personifying what I think is a strong female protagonist in Katniss. She probably doesn't look anything like I originally imagined Katniss to look like, but I can see it in her, just like I started to see Peeta in Josh Hutcherson, who also looks differently than one might have imagined Peeta (and don't get me started on the fans who are still obsessed with picking naturally blonde actors who are rather stringy in my opinion). Some people, however, are far too obsessed with the appearance, particularly parts of Jennifer Lawrence's appearance that are harder to fix than her hair color - and I'm not talking about the debate raging over Katniss' skin color, I'm talking about her weight.

The objections to Jennifer Lawrence's curves, to put it bluntly, piss me the fuck off. It rings in my ears of all the horrendous standards that we hold women up to and the ways in which women are still objectified so much in film as having to be whatever image we deem correct and if it doesn't fit with our mold, then it is wrong. I know that when most people comment on Jennifer Lawrence's curves, they don't mean that actresses can't be curvy. Of course not, we have Queen Latifah, known for her bodacious body. But this is really not the norm. We have such bizarre and unrealistic and every-changing standards for women and we never seem to be able to do it right. As Jennifer Hudson has lost weight, many of her fans have been rather shocked and disappointed that she felt the need to lose weight, while simultaneously people are constantly wondering if Gabourey Sidibe should lose some weight because she might be dangerously unhealthy. Don't get me wrong, I do think obesity is a problem in this country and not one we should glorify. But neither should we glorify appearances that are unattainable or at the very least extremely difficult for normal women to attain. While we encourage girls to embrace their curves, we continue to bash women whose weight changes regularly, like Kelly Clarkson. When Lady Gaga puts on a few pounds, suddenly her stomach becomes a huge national problem - Why isn't she as skinny as she was in the Telephone music video!?!?!? we wonder, because it's wrong for these women who are supposed to be visually perfect to ruin our images of them by being human. Weight fluctuation is hardly unheard of amongst the normal folk and beneath the personal trainers and strict diets, celebrities are normal folk too.

That said, then, shouldn't we choose actors who can physically embody the very specific framework we have in mind for a character? Dumb, dumb, dumb. I get it, Katniss' character is very specifically one who has suffered from malnourishment her entire life. But even if we get a sickly stick of an actress who could potentially perform the role of Katniss brilliantly, there's still a difference between a healthy, skinny body and a malnourished, skinny body. And let's face it, we're not going to cast someone that is literally malnourished - that is, unless Christian Bale was in the role and he would just make that choice on his own probably and the fans would hail him for it, but would it be right? Everyone also worries when Christian Bale does such a thing, and we'd worry for whatever actress that played Katniss that would do it too. But, BUT, beneath that worry, don't even lie to yourself, you'd be proud of that actor for taking such a dramatic step. You'd be impressed and pleased that the actor would be willing to take such a risk for the sake of art. I'm not going to lie, I'd probably be impressed too. But while being impressed, I'd also be disgusted.

There is a poster that hangs in the health services office in my college. It shows two pictures of legs. One is a starving child. One is a runway model. Their legs, despite one pair being cleaner than the other, are indistinguishably similar in shape. That horrifies me, which is the point of the poster. If you are naturally skinny, there's nothing you can help about that. Same with if you're curvy. But there is still, always, a difference between what is natural and healthy and what is unnatural and unhealthy. You can suffer from either no matter what shape or size you are.

We need to stop boxing women into categories based on their size though. Daniel Radcliffe has grown up to be a lot stockier than I imagined Harry in the books to be - Harry always seemed so stretched and, at times, lanky. Daniel Radcliffe is of more average height and weight in appearance. But he has also grown into becoming a better actor and a better Harry over the years. Movie!Harry and Book!Harry are different in their appearance and y'know what? That's okay, because Daniel Radcliffe still manages to capture the general essence of what the character of Harry Potter is, at least in the movies. A smaller debate has raged in the Potter fandom community over the looks of its female characters. In the books, Ginny is supposed to be very popular and supposedly pretty good-looking, but Bonnie Wright's beauty doesn't seem to be particularly played up in the movies making her a bit more plain. Alternatively, in the books, Hermione is generally pretty average looking from the perspective and her hair frizzy, but by the third movie, Emma Watson was clearly turning into a pretty young woman and her hair was no longer made to look quite so frizzy. I have long contended, particularly in Hermione's case, that these are just examples of how different the book and movie versions of the characters are. And THAT'S OKAY.

Why is that okay? First of all, when it comes to movie adaptations of books, I tend to believe that the best adaptations are more interpretations. Good adaptations should be done by fans of the original source material, but intelligent fans who have enough distance from the source material to be able to know what the story is about without obsessing too much on details that may be less important. My favorite example of an adaptation is Lord of the Rings. I love the books and the movies, but though they capture a similar plotline and a similar essence, they are truly different stories, but they are both grand and know what story they want to tell. My main problem with, say, the Harry Potter movie adaptations is that they're a bit scatter-brained, not just because of the different directors, but also because most of the earlier films didn't give strong enough hints of what this story was supposed to be about. I have no expectation that The Hunger Games movie will be just like the book, and I really hope it isn't. I want to watch something that takes the plot and the morals and the characters and shape them ever so slightly different to fit the very different medium that film is from novels. I want the actors to be good and the script to be strong and the effects to be well-done and all the elements of filmmaking to be well-executed, and if it isn't the same as the book, so long as it's well-made, I am totally okay with that.

Secondly, reality is not so easy to manipulate as the written world of a book and whatever live-action movies are, they are capturing something that was physically there, in reality, at some point (not counting CGI). Reality can be manipulated, but in a different way, for different reasons.

Finally, I want to break out of the boxes we have created for women. Katniss can still be Katniss even if her ribs aren't frighteningly protruding. I cannot accept the fact that women have to be defined by their appearance, that Katniss can only be a skinny girl, for instance. Stanley Tucci is a pretty fit individual, small and seemingly average in his weight and yet isn't Caesar Flickerman supposed to be rather rotund? I have not heard a single person complain that his stomach isn't the right size for the role. You may argue that that isn't the same, it doesn't define Caesar like it does Katniss, but Katniss is defined by much, MUCH more than her weight. If all Katniss was was a malnourished girl, she wouldn't be the strong character I believe her to be. Women's appearances are a part of who we are, certainly, but there is so much more that goes into defining ourselves, just like men, that I really wish we could stop placing more value on a woman's appearance than her other features. "The Girl Next Door" is more of a look than a personality type. "The Blonde Bombshell." "The Femme Fatale." These types and the many others women exemplify are so defined by appearance in our minds rather than attitude, and most of the categories really are about the attitude.

So, in conclusion, either the entire world needs to change or I really need to learn how to bite my tongue. Well, I've already got a scar from biting through my tongue a lot as a kid, I might as well keep up the hard work.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

On Film Criticism and the Ways I Watch Films

When I see a movie, there's a part of me of course that dissects the movie, that criticizes it. But I could never be a film critic because those criticisms are for me, so that I can become a better filmmaker hopefully by understanding what worked and didn't work for other filmmakers. I don't see the point of publishing my criticisms, particularly when the chances of the filmmaker seeing them is zero to none. Why should I criticize if not to be constructive?

When I see a movie, there's a part of me of course that has a gut reaction, that likes or dislikes the films for a variety of reasons that likely aren't technical. They can turn technical quickly, though. Liking the Keira Knightley Pride and Prejudice because it is so pretty ends up a compliment to the art direction and the fluid cinematography. Finding Twilight hilarious when it isn't supposed to be derides a bad story, bad acting, and so on and so forth.

When I see a movie, I want to enjoy it for whatever reasons. I never go into a movie wanting to hate it. Sometimes I'll go in expecting to not find it a good movie, but that doesn't matter because I still want to be entertained, which is why I've seen all three Twilight films despite holding no love for the franchise - they entertain me even if I don't think they're good.

It does matter to me if I think a movie is good or bad, but it matters equally if I think a movie is entertaining or not. As a movie-goer, I am an expert in neither, but in constant practice of deducing both.

Which one is more important to me? Well, that depends who I am watching that movie. If I am Sarah the Aspiring Filmmaker, it probably matters more to me if the movie is well-made or not. If I am Sarah the Amateur Movie-Lover, I don't really care about any faults of Tron: Legacy because I'm enjoying the ride so much. So I'll miss them, I won't discuss them, and I won't care.

These two sides overlap, of course. There's no helping letting them get in the way of one another, but that's good, because my favorite movies - maybe not the best movies ever made, but my favorite movies - fulfill both sides.

And I will criticize movies that people will roll their eyes about and tell me that it's not a "thinking" movie or that it doesn't deserve analysis or that I should shut up and just enjoy the ride, though honestly I don't do that to the extent several people I know do. To that I say it doesn't matter what the intention of the film was, it's what I take away that matters. If I take away from Tron: Legacy that lightcycles are badass, that's fine. If I take away from The Twilight Saga: Eclipse that Bella faces a common, old choice in fantasy fiction of choosing between the fantasy and the normal world in having to choose between her suitors, that's fine too. It's a selfish cause for me, to criticize films, because it gives me more to understand, helps me become better at my craft.

So what's the point of me rampantly denouncing the Twilight series as atrocious all over the internet? Sure, I do think they are bad movies, but who the hell is it going to help for me to criticize? Sure, some people have to do it as their careers and I don't deride them for that because they tend to be higher-profile, people listen to them (I amongst them) and listen to their advice based on their criticisms of films. That's great, because that can keep me from having a movie-going experience I might have regretted. Or, perhaps, it might keep me from having a movie-going experience that I would've enjoyed just the same, though it's likely hardly a life-ending dilemma if I miss out on Sucker Punch since the reviews came back bad.

It's the role of some to do that. It's not my job. Nobody's paying me, and even if they did, I don't want to. I don't like tearing down people's work for an invisible audience.

It always comes back to Ratatouille for me any time I breach these topics. Anton Ego knows where it's at. Even "bad" art takes effort, takes time, takes skill. Somebody wanted to do this and, likely, someone wanted it to be good. I'm sure there are the cases where it's ALL marketing, but honestly, there is something to this superhero trend - superheroes are interesting, fascinating, and sure, marketable - more than just some fat cat producer-type thinking it'll be a cash cow. That's part of it, but considering the things we see that work in these big budget flicks, even they have parts that stand up and shout "I WANT THIS TO BE GOOD." Everyone's definition of good might be a little different though. Put your cynicism aside, I'm not talking about one of those definitions being "it made money" - the definition I think would be most similar to that is "those explosions were so well-done the audience loved them." And sure, it takes some work to make good explosions, let's not pretend otherwise.

Whether it's a "bad" Hollywood blockbuster or a "bad" independent production, someone wanted to do something they thought would be good/entertaining. And why should we begrudge them that? We don't have to buy the tickets to see the movie if we don't want to, and if your cynicism is right, and in this case I imagine it is, not buying movie tickets will hurt all of these productions more than some scathing reviews. Saying "this is shit" will only go so far. Word-of-mouth is still powerful. For instance, I saw a rather terrible musical production on my college campus recently. What was I going to do to make sure none of my friends suffered the unfortunate fate of wasting their time seeing it? Not writing a nasty review in the school paper - I just told them it wasn't worth their time. Obviously, they'd make up their minds in the end if they were determined to see it, but it was one of those cases where it was so truly bad, I had to tell people it wasn't worth it. But my defense wasn't "well, the art direction was bad and the sound levels were rough and the script was jumbled" even though it was all true. My defense was "it's bad. It's boring. It's not worth it." Simple and still true.

Anyway, I'm going off on about fifteen tangents right now, so I will leave it at this. I think film criticism is, at a professional level, a generally good idea. However, as an aspiring filmmaker, criticism to me is important but a subject that must be handled well. When it comes to criticism, that's where we get into the specifics, complimenting and deriding different aspects. But if you criticize my film and you don't offer any suggestions, why should I listen to you? If you could make it better, then tell me how and I'll take your advice to heart. And if you have a gut reaction, an emotional reaction, a reaction that doesn't fit nicely into a proper critique, that's probably more important to me. I don't care as much if these small factors are good - if you liked my piece, or it made you feel something, that's important to me.

One of my classmates recently said that the best thing she ever heard from our professor was that her piece was doing what she had been trying to get her piece to do.

That's a pretty awesome feeling to know you're doing it right.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Dither, Dather, Teen Lit, Blah, Blah...

on top of being a sucker for dystopian/utopian/post-apocalyptic fiction of all varieties, I think there are several good reasons why I got so addicted to The Hunger Games, I finished all three books in the past two days.


Oh hey there, Battlestar Galactica, that's right, you're all about a mythological thirteenth tribe too. The way the thirteenth tribes are handled is very different, but the set-up is similar. Twelve colonies/districts formed out of the shambles of the past. I guess maybe the First Cylon War might equate the Dark Days? But BSG's history is sort of wonky on me, I can never figure at what exact point the twelve colonies officially band together. Then, shit happens to both the colonies and the districts, which leads me to...


Maybe why I can't like Gale very much is that he reminds me of the role of Marius in some versions of Les Miserables. Funny thing is, I kinda like Marius. But Gale, not quite so much. He's okay. I just feel as if the Peeta/Katniss/Gale love triangle is too contrived. It feels so obvious to me that Katniss and Peeta are perfect for each other and the only thing ruining Katniss realizing this is President Snow being all "CONVINCE ME" and nonsense. But regardless, I love a good rebellion story. Maybe that's why I love Star Wars so much. Beneath the typical story and the well-worn science fiction turf, it IS about a rebellion. Particularly Empire Strikes Back, which I think we can all agree is the bestest.


I can get criticism over Gale, and maybe even over Peeta, though I think both are clear in their characterizations even if I think Gale's just kinda meh in general, but Katniss is obviously a well-crafted and interesting character. In many ways, it's hard not to compare her to Bella Swan, because she is, in many ways, if Bella Swan were a more fully-formed character ... and had a plot independent of romance. And was awesome. Katniss is flawed, fabulous, and interesting. She reminds me more of Harry Potter's best moments, particularly once we're on to the rebellion phases, where she's learning and planning and becoming this leader she didn't know she was, not unlike Harry turning into a leader he didn't know he was with the DA and further.


Well, maybe not Gale. But whereas the only time I can take the Edward/Bella/Jacob love triangle even slightly seriously is when I break it down into ideas, ideas that also apply to the Peeta/Katniss/Gale love triangle, but more effectively probably because everyone in the Hunger Games is more likable. Although, shockingly, depending on my mood, I could argue Jacob's more interesting to me than Gale. God, I'm sorry Gale, I feel like I'm hating on you so hard. But the idea that centers around both is the female protagonist's choices - who she could be, and who she is. Had Katniss not competed in the Hunger Games, she says it herself, she and Gale would've been right. But I knew as soon as Peeta was the only one who could help her nightmares in Catching Fire that Katniss and Gale could never work because she's not that girl anymore. However, in Twilight, it's just literal and dumb and Bella has both worlds and godihatethatseriesitsdumb. Phew. What I mean to say is that ideas or not, the characters in The Hunger Games actually interest me. The major "love triangle" characters as well as pretty much all of the minor characters. Cinna. Rue. Finnick. The way even passing characters become beloved. Darius. Boggs. I have such mixed emotions about most of the characters, but the positive ones tend to win out. And I'm glad they're mixed - instantly loving certain characters makes me wary as to why I love them. Instantly hating characters bores me.


When I asked my friend who'd finished the books recently if I'd be satisfied, she was hesitant. Because as amazing as everything is in and logical as the ending is for His Dark Materials, I can never finish those books with satisfaction. It just rips my goddamn heart, even if it's a fairly happy ending. And I think we can all agree that the ending of the Harry Potter series hardly ties up the loose ends satisfactorily enough. Let's not even get into that Epilogue. Book series frequently leave me with something to be desired in their ends. The Giver trilogy's third book was incredibly weak, IMO. Don't even get me started on how much I can't take The Last Battle (though I'm hardly a Narnia fan at large). The only one I've read that works is Lord of the Rings for obvious reasons, like, Tolkien would never write an unsatisfying ending. I'd rate Mockingjay somewhere between HDM and HP. It's more satisfying than either, but HDM is still generally better IMO. Sorry, Peeta, I may be a little in love with you, but Will Parry is my wallpaper. And I'd rather be Lyra than Katniss, even though I like them both plenty. Anyway, my point is, the books end in a place that works for me, that doesn't rub me the wrong way, though I feel as though surely there could've been more; obviously the last few chapters are a bit rushed. But it's okay.

I could've sworn I had more points relating elements of The Hunger Games to other popular culture things that have fascinated me, but I'm blanking beyond the Harry/Katniss talk and the Thirteen/Twelve Districts/Colonies. Bah, well, I'll just have to make a second installment when it comes back.

so the end point is that I really enjoyed these books.

They were all interesting, all good, fit together well, worked well enough separate (as is not uncommon in trilogies, I find, the first book works better on its own than any of the others), provided me with moments that made me sad, made me laugh, made me roll my eyes (though mostly delightedly... mostly). God now watch the movie be a hot mess. Although, not gonna lie, Josh Hutcherson seems visually perfect for Peeta. Even if I'm like "WTH Miley Cyrus' ex-boyfriend for Gale? Are you trying to make me like him LESS?"

Last note: how on hell is the movie going to get away with a PG13 rating without sacrificing the brutality that makes the books so engrossing?

okay, lengthy ramble over.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Putting on The Red Shoes

Recently, I watched The Red Shoes for the first time. Not because it was recently released, not because anybody told me I had to see it, and not for a class. I watched it in part as a responsibility as a screener for Bard Film Committee but mostly because I was intrigued. I had first heard about The Red Shoes from A Chorus Line, where the girls sing about what inspired their love for ballet. Of course, everyone had seen The Red Shoes.

But I hadn't. And I haven't seen a lot of movies, a constant reminder I need to hash out at people when they assume that, being a film major, I've seen everything, from Raging Bull to Casablanca to The Room (which I also recently finally watched) to whatever random movie you can dream up. I can guarantee, I haven't seen a lot of movies. Just browse People there have seen way more movies than I have.

Back to The Red Shoes. It is a beautiful movie, a movie I would watch again, a movie that is both inherently similar and extremely dissimilar to Black Swan, another ballet movie only the one this generation will think of more often than a 1948 masterpiece like The Red Shoes. You can tell it is older. There are no gross-out moments, the psychology present inspired by the ballet The Red Shoes for our female protagonist is very different from the psychology inspired by the ballet Swan Lake for our female protagonist in Black Swan. The people in their lives are very different.

But I didn't write this blog post to compare and contrast two very different movies that both happen to follow a similar idea of a ballet affecting a ballerina's personal and professional life so strongly.

There is a moment in The Red Shoes that I kept wanting to bring up in my Aesthetics of Gaming class yesterday that stuck with me but I could never find the right moment, particularly because we were discussing something that the medium of film just wouldn't have fit in comfortably with. We were talking about narrative and games, the debate over whether games are narrative or if they merely share elements of narrative because games are so inherently different. We have spoken in the past about game logic and we spoke today about gameplay and about what are the characteristics of games, a question we have been approaching all semester.

In any medium's logic, there are things we would take for granted or that we do not question because of the medium. There are plenty of moments like that in every film. Film is interesting, not unlike most mediums in this way though, because people do expect different things of film logic. Sometimes we expect films to make sense linearly. Sometimes we expect films to test our suspension of disbelief. It doesn't matter whether it makes sense because it is in the film and that is how the film goes along.

The moment in The Red Shoes that stuck with me is not one of those more grand special effects moments come into play, like when the waves crash onto the stage or when the newspaper turns into a person and back into a newspaper again. The moment I am thinking of is when Vicky jumps, literally, into the red shoes on the stage. It is a moment of editing that has been used for a long time and a technique to signal a sudden appearance or disappearance. It is not new, it is not revolutionary, and yet I couldn't help but think "if this were not a film, if this were a real ballet, how would she get the shoes on? Would she sit down, pull off her normal ballet shoes, and put the red ones on? Would she go into the shoemaker's shop and emerge wearing them?" It too a while before it hit me - this isn't a ballet, it has no reason to be a ballet, and the logic that would fit into a ballet or some other form of live theater does not apply to film. This is a problem when people compare film and theater too literally, because the logic is so different. We don't need to see what we see in theater - we can see something much different. Both will make sense in their homes, but if we were to see theater logic in a film or vice versa, what we would see instead would be even odder, I think. If we had seen Vicky sit down and put on the red shoes, I would have thought "oh, well, she's performing a ballet in the film so of course they need to show the ballet logic she would actually be performing." But that would not fit in with the rest of the special effects we see throughout Vicky's performance of The Red Shoes. The film chose to use film logic in a way that we would understand that this is not how a ballet would go, but this is how the film goes.

This made me think, amidst our class discussion yesterday, about the way in which different mediums interact with each other and whether viewers or players are aware of those differences, if we just accept them, or alternatively, if using one medium's logic in another medium's would not be bothersome or noticeable at all. Many elements can cross between different mediums, as our discussion of elements of narrative fitting in with games proves, but there are techniques, there are greater pictures that are specific in their way to their medium, I believe. And it is odd to think about them, and jarring to imagine them cross-pollinating.

In the end, my main point is that I would encourage further observation for moments like that. That, and I think everyone should go see The Red Shoes.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Bard Video Project - "I Have Sex"

While I'm really sorry I've been so super busy this semester, which has made it hard for me to find the time to write and post awesome blog posts, I have a project I wanted to share that I did during my free time since Wednesday before last. It's a very important project in my opinion and I've already posted about it a bajillion other places, but I thought here wouldn't hurt either, plus I can keep anybody who does read this updated that I am still around even if I'm extremely inattentive to this blog.

The explanation of the video can be found at the source, but here's the video as is:

Monday, January 24, 2011

A Couple Dream Nominees

In roughly twelve hours, we will have our Oscar nominees 2011. There will be names of films I have yet to see and others I didn't like enough to understand why they're nominated. Amidst my existence of seeing mostly just the popular choices, not having quite the opportunity to be exposed to under the radar films before other people get a chance to tell me to see them, there still seem to be disappointments for me when nomination morning comes. I doubt anything tomorrow morning could upset me the way I wanted to break my television when The Dark Knight was snubbed for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay (all of which it deserved, in my opinion), but I'll still be disappointed in the likeliest of circumstances.

Thus, like everyone else, I have a few names and roles and things I'd like to see nominated come tomorrow morning. Let's run through some of my dream nominees, shall we?

While I liked Winter's Bone, I understand some people calling it "overrated" - it is a well-crafted film, a well-written story, and features some brilliant performances. However, I probably won't be too disappointed if it isn't nominated for Best Pictures. Jennifer Lawrence will get her due, which she deserves. I'll be more disappointed if John Hawkes' scarily intriguing and, as every role should be, complex and layered performance isn't nominated. Jeremy Renner for The Town or Matt Damon for True Grit were also good, so I can't complain too much, but John Hawkes would be my pick. If the supporting actress race were less challenging this year, I'd be more outraged at Dale Dickey's exclusion as well. The bizarre chorus of angry women in Winter's Bone and The Fighter were so fascinating. But, like I said earlier, Winter's Bone is a strong, well-crafted film from Debra Granik, in only her second feature film.

The Fighter is getting loads of notice for its performances, particularly its strong supporting performances from Christian Bale, Amy Adams, and Melissa Leo and while they all deserve the attention, Mark Wahlberg's lead role is fan-friggin-tastic. I loved The Departed and thought he was great in that, but his more reserved performance here was even better and this will be the one he won't be nominated for an acting award for.

All the nominees I'm pulling for on varying levels of expectancy:

Best Picture: Exit Through the Gift Shop
Best Picture: How to Train Your Dragon
Best Director: Banksy, Exit Through the Gift Shop
Best Director: Debra Granik, Winter's Bone
Best Actress: Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit
Best Actress: Emma Stone, Easy A
Best Actor: Mark Wahlberg, The Fighter
Best Supporting Actress: Barbara Hershey, Black Swan
Best Supporting Actress: Dale Dickey, Winter's Bone
Best Supporting Actor: Cillian Murphy, Inception
Best Supporting Actor: Michael Sheen, TRON: Legacy
Best Supporting Actor: Jon Hamm, The Town
Best Supporting Actor: John Hawkes, Winter's Bone
Best Adapted Screenplay: How to Train Your Dragon
Best Adapted Screenplay: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
Best Documentary Feature: Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work
Best Documentary Feature: Exit Through the Gift Shop
Best Visual Effects: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
Best Original Score: TRON: Legacy
Best Original Song: "Despicable Me" from Despicable Me

...and I'm kinda out. Some of these I'd be pulling for more than others (the music categories are some of my more fervent endorsements; that song from Despicable Me was perfect and I adored every aspect of the soundscape of Tron: Legacy, including and particularly the score). Jon Hamm, Michael Sheen, and Cillian Murphy I have no expectations for and their competitors are worthy. Barbara Hershey I feel deserves it more than Mila Kunis. Hailee Steinfeld I feel is really a lead performance and a good enough one that even her young age shouldn't keep her sitting in the supporting field. Exit Through the Gift Shop I just loved if it wasn't obvious. And Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work was just so well-crafted and so enjoyable and interesting, for lack of a better word. HTTYD is as good as TS3, and I wish I could give more love to Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, but it is hard to root for just one part of it.

It's really disappointing how few films I've seen this year, though. Shame. Shaaaame. I'll try to fix that in future years. But, mostly, I feel that also I just agree with at least half of the likely nominees.

Honestly, if there were anything I wanted to really push for, it would be a lockout for Alice in Wonderland (which will at least get a few nods if not wins), and switching out The Kids Are All Right for Best Picture with Winter's Bone. Maybe just ditching The Kids Are All Right in screenplay too - I wouldn't even mind shut outs elsewhere, but that'd be hoping too much. Hater that I am...

Well, Oscars, do your worst. Actually, please don't. Do your goddamn best, got it?

Night Before Oscar: List Update

Let's update that list, shall we?

Likely/Possible/Longshot Contenders I Have Seen:
- Alice in Wonderland (unfortunately)
- Black Swan
- Despicable Me
- Exit Through the Gift Shop
- The Fighter
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I
- How to Train Your Dragon
- Inception
- The Kids Are All Right
- The King's Speech
- Love and Other Drugs
- Shrek Forever After (also unfortunately)
- The Social Network
- Shutter Island
- Tangled
- The Town
- Toy Story 3
- Tron: Legacy
- True Grit
- Winter's Bone

Likely/Possible/Longshot Contenders I Plan to See/Might See:
- 127 Hours
- Animal Kingdom
- Another Year
- Blue Valentine
- Get Low
- I Love You, Phillip Morris
- The Illusionist
- Inside Job
- Made in Dagenham
- Never Let Me Go
- Rabbit Hole
- Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
- Waiting for "Superman"
- The Way Back

Not a whole lot of changes, but a few. I'll make a valiant effort to see a few more after the nominees for Oscar are announced tomorrow, and, truly, I'm genuinely interested in seeing all of these movies, awards or no.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Likability, The Kids Are All Right, and This Year's Awards Front-Runners

A subject that's addressed when it comes to the awards season and when it comes to movie-goers in general is likability. Not necessarily of the actors, but certainly of the characters. A fond and frustrating memory serves as example: when watching Battlestar Galactica with my mother, she couldn't stand nearly any of the characters because she didn't find them likable. Likability is something that changes from person to person; I, on the other hand, can only say I honestly strongly dislike one major Battlestar character, though I hardly love them all.

The reason this is coming to mind is my very recent (as in just finished about thirty seconds ago) viewing of The Kids Are All Right. Obviously, a lot of good things have been said about it considering its high tomatometer rating on rottentomatoes and its critical support and awards circuit support. However, I went in to watch this without expecting anything too brilliant, though hoping for it. I was honestly still pretty disappointed. It took the entire movie for me to understand why Anette Bening is getting so much attention and, honestly, she deserves it for making a character that could be so easily disliked into probably one of my favorites in the movie (besides the kids because, as the title says, the kids are all right, even though the adults are pretty ridiculous). Jules, on the other hand, while given a valiant effort by Julianne Moore, I simply could not stand. While I didn't appreciate Nic's trashing of composting (living in the rural area of upstate New York, I have composted my entire life as composting means opening the back door and chucking apple cores into the woods or, alternatively, walking about a hundred feet to our designated compost pile). I, however, could not stomach Jules accusations of her gardener being a druggie (and firing him!) and later her knowingly wrongful assertion to Nic that he did blow.

The thing is, obviously, if a character is bad or annoying or frustrating that doesn't make them unlikable. Just look at Daniel Plainview, The Joker, Mark Zuckerberg, hell, even the entire Gossip Girl cast (well, save Jenny and Vanessa in my opinion as they are both incredibly unlikable in my opinion). Bad people make fascinating characters, but it takes a good writer and a good actor to make them worth watching. I'm not a huge fan of either Mark Ruffalo or Julianne Moore, but I'd liked them in films past (i.e. Zodiac and A Single Man, respectively). However, here, whether it's their fault or just plain old bad, melodramatic writing, I couldn't enjoy Jules and Paul. I get it, dysfunctional family, unconventional family, and family values all wrapped into one. Interesting setting, which I enjoyed. However, the actual story and the use of those two characters made me cringe and groan and pull my laptop up to take a break from the movie and browse some websites.

I'm a bit surprised The Kids Are All Right hasn't entered the conversation in this way as I've heard plenty about the likability surrounding the characters of The Social Network and The King's Speech, but that's probably because TSN and TKS are front of the pack for Best Picture while The Kids Are All Right is looking at a nod only. Personally, I'm not sure I'd even give it that. The story just turned me off so much and those two characters, sometimes three, were so unbearable, I couldn't take it.

It's worth noting, however, that there's a difference between bad characters we love and bad characters that are just bad and it's usually because the latter category tries to argue that they are good people. That's not really the case with The Kids Are All Right or with any actually quality story-telling - good character studies try to prove the humanity of their characters rather than defining them as good or bad.

However, somewhere along the way, I just think this study failed. I could see that Jules and Paul were human, flawed but good-intentioned, and yet I couldn't get behind them at all. I didn't want to see anymore of them. I could not have lasted another hour with them.

This is what interests me when I've heard criticisms about The Social Network's characters and how unlikable they are because my very first response after I saw The Social Network was that I could have watched those actors play those characters for hours more. Mark Zuckerberg and Sean Parker were pretty jerky, the Winklevoss twins were hardly nice guys, and Eduardo Saverin was hardly perfect, but I was so fascinated by them and the way they interacted with one another. Mostly, it was thanks to a great (albeit partially fictional, but who really cares about that besides the people whose names were borrowed?) story and great writing.

I'm having a hard time really pinpointing what makes me think The Kids Are All Right failed to entertain or interest me, but I think I'm going to go with the story. The set-up, the concept, the ambiance, the general filmmaking, and the acting (for the most part) was all well-done and enjoyable. But something about the ways in which the characters are portrayed through the story leaves them unflattering in a painful and cringe-worthy way. Simply put, I didn't like it.

But, like I said earlier, likability is all about opinion. While I dislike the characters of The Kids Are All Right but love the characters of The Social Network (and The King's Speech for that matter), not everyone agrees. It's much easier, after all, on paper to adore the middle-aging married couple (because or even if they are lesbians) than a twentysomething billionaire or a British prince. However, that's not how stories work. Stories convince you that even if Mark Zuckerberg is a selfish prick or even if Prince Albert is stuffy and royal these characters are people too and they're human and interesting.

Likability will always play a part. I usually haven't had a real problem with it, since I am first in line to defend unlikable characters as real, but something about these characters, something about this story left me dissatisfied and frustrated.

On a slight ending note tangent, I saw Love and Other Drugs a couple weeks ago now and I was actually originally planning to write a blog post on that, particularly on the likability of Anne Hathaway's character versus Jake Gylenhaal's and how I found the latter to be more likable because how he was written as opposed to the former (and I'd half-jokingly blame that on the male writers - it is hard to write a strong female character, isn't it? and, back on topic, The Kids Are All Right had to write two! AND they had a woman at the other end of the pen, so phooey).