Writer, Editor, Author

Tag: Hugh Jackman

Why so serious, Oscar?

The nominees for the 81st annual Academy Awards were announced this morning. Yes, I was up at 5:30 a.m. PST to watch on TV and file a brief report for Animation Magazine.net. But reading the list itself was disappointing in the extreme.

Most of it came in the Best Picture/Best Director categories, which this year are for the exact same five movies, for which the choices are dull, boring and uninteresting.

Yes, a lot of his has to do with the exclusion of “The Dark Knight,” “Wall-E” and even “Waltz with Bashir,” all of which are superior movies that earned overwhelming critical, popular and commercial acclaim. (Yes, “Bashir’s” a little short on the commercial acclaim, but by the standards of films in its genres it already is a huge success.) And you’d think that kind of trifecta would have made an impact on the Academy.

Instead, what we’re left with is nominations for films that are decent but come up lacking in relevancy, entertainment value and even basic quality. But since they fit the Oscar mold and cater to the increasingly antiquated and odd predilections, they get the nod over material that genuinely entertained their audiences with stories that thrilled the heart and the mind.

So I just don’t get it. Especially the nomination of “The Reader,” which hasn’t even been terribly well reviewed but has the double whammy makeup factor of a good performance from Kate Winslet (and, honestly, is she ever anything less than great in anything?) and a Holocaust connection (didn’t the offensive inanity of “Life is Beautiful” cure of this weakness?).

But don’t take my word for it, let’s look at what the critics say as a whole on Metacritic.com and Rotten Tomatoes. (Yeah, it’s not perfect, but it’s a relatively level field from which to judge the overall critical reception of a movie.)

Metacritic posts the following marks for the best pic/director noms (in bold) and a few other popular contenders that missed the mark:

1. Wall-E — 93
2. Waltz With Bashir — 90
3. Slumdog Millionaire — 86 4. Milk — 84 5. The Dark Knight — 82
6. Rachel Getting Married — 82
7. Wrestler — 81
8. Frost/Nixon — 80 9. Iron Man — 79
10. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button — 69 11. The Reader — 58
And here’s what I found at Rotten Tomatoes for the same 11 pics:

1. The Wrestler — 98
2. Wall-E — 96
3. Slumdog Millionaire — 95 4. The Dark Knight — 94
5. Waltz With Bashir — 94
6. Iron Man — 93
7. Milk — 92 8. Frost/Nixon — 91 9. Rachel Getting Married — 88
10. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button — 72 11. The Reader— 60
What’s interesting about both is that “Benjamin Button,” which lead all films with 13 nominations and is generally considered the film to beat, and “The Reader,” are both at the bottom of these lists. For all the usual reasons, “Iron Man” was never in the mix, but “The Wrestler” and “Rachel Getting Married” would have made more sense than “The Reader.”

“Wall-E” did pretty well by most standards, earning six nominations. But being an animated film means it’s chances of a best picture nom are completely undercut by the animated feature category — which it’s not even a sure bet to win. I have this sneaking suspicion that the actors branch, the largest in the academy, will be put off by the lack of dialog in the first half of “Wall-E” and go for one of the others.

“Waltz With Bashir” has much the same problem. Despite being a tremendously effective documentary and finding a completely unique and appropriate animation medium to tell its story in, it’s consigned not even to the ghetto of animated feature but to foreign film. Again, its not even guaranteed a decent shot at winning that category, which has become notorious for overlooking outstanding films in recent years. (“4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days,” anyone?)

Which brings us to “The Dark Knight.” It’s hard not to think it was overlooked because it was a Batman/superhero/comic book movie. It’s really the only explanation. And choosing a mediocre bit of Oscar bait like “The Reader,” a warmed over retelling of a marginal media event like “Frost/Nixon,” or a beautifully crafted but emotionally hollow SF story — that no one involved with would admit is SF — like “Benjamin Button,” and you’ve got a pretty good case that the Academy’s nominations flat out failed to represent the best filmmaking of the year.

Something I’ve long known but almost never been able to get anyone to talk about is the internal politics of the Oscars, which have become insular and restrictive enough to make die-hard Legion of Super-Heroes fans or 1990s X-Men continuity freaks look normal by comparison. A lot of academy members vote for films to support people they’d like to work with, to secure their next job or simply out of some distorted idea that they should vote for a film like “The Reader” just because its serious nature is inherently more valuable than anything a cartoon or a superhero movie could do.

And it’s that last prejudice that really sinks the noms choices, because it’s obvious that a lot of the most innovative filmmaking, a lot of the best work, the films that are connecting with their audiences in significant way, are films like “Dark Knight,” “Waltz with Bashir” and “Wall-E.” Like “Star Wars,” which was passed over as best picture for “Annie Hall,” or “Forrest Gump” trumping “Pulp Fiction,” this will go down as one of those years of regret for the Academy. And their ratings will hurt because of it, no matter how good (or not) Hugh Jackman is as host. And if the Academy continues to nominate films that only fit its seemingly narrowing niche of acceptability, they risk tarnishing their image as the pre-eminent awards in the industry. It doesn’t take much to become a laughing stock — just ask the HFPA how much hurt that one Pia Zadora mistake inflicted and how long it took to heal.

There is hope, however, and it’s “Slumdog Millionaire.” Thankfully, at least one of the films nominated for best pic/director has some energy, gets the blood pumping and actually has people excited to see it do well. Perhaps it’s a coincidence, but I don’t think it is, that director Danny Boyle has eclectic tastes and has made great movies in all kinds of genres, including “28 Days Later” (horror) and “Sunshine” (sci-fi — I may be the only one, but I liked it).

So if I could give one message to the academy, it’d be: Why so serious? Relax. Enjoy going to the movies. And for God’s sake, get over your English teacher. Movies don’t have to adapt Proust, Hemingway, Dickens, the Bible or Faulkner to be serious entertainment. Let movies be movies, and remember — this is supposed to be fun, but it’s also supposed to be a process that honorably searches out and rewards the best filmmaking of the year, regardless of genre or medium of origin.

‘O Logan, Where Art Thou?’, a.k.a. another Fox-Marvel movie misses the point

A few days of thinking about the new trailer to “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” that officially hit the web Monday have me downgrading the clip from my first impressions. In case you missed it, here’s the trailer:

X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE HD

There’s a lot going on in this clip, but this appears to be a great example of how movies sometimes try really hard to be faithful to the comics and yet somehow still get it completely wrong. These clips show interesting bits and pieces of the character’s comic book history, starting with “Origin” and progressing to the pivotal Silver Fox-Sabretooth story that first appeared about 20 years ago in Wolverine #10. So far, so good.

What’s most problematic is the introduction of William Stryker and the implication that Logan turned to the Weapon X program intentionally to get back at Sabretooth. Stryker was made part of Logan’s past in the franchise-best “X2,” but this particular change is a major one for the character that significantly alters his entire motivation and points out just how much the character has changed (and not necessarily for the better) in his nearly 35-year history.

The first real definition of the character came at the hands of Chris Claremont, who wrote Logan almost esclusively from 1975 to the early 1990s, and evolved Logan from a wild man whose instinct for mayhem won out over brain power to the famed “failed samurai” of the Frank Miller-drawn 1982 miniseries. Much of the character’s appeal to fans came from Claremont’s resistance to nail down an origin or a past for Logan — in retrospect, a great idea for the way it teased fans used to having every aspect of a character’s life and motivation fully laid out before them. Logan himself stated on many occasions that he cared not a whit for who was responsible for what happened to him or for digging up his lost memories. He lived in the present, and eventually a little bit for the future.

But Wolverine’s popularity couldn’t keep writers from trying to fill in Logan’s past. Barry Windsor Smith’s “Weapon X” was the first, but while it portrayed the event of how Logan got his claws it was wisely light on the details of who was responsible. What was definitely clear was that this was done to him against his will — and the trauma it caused largely responsible for his lack of control over himself and his lost memories. This still worked within the overall X-Men universe, as the forces that experimented on Logan against his will was another example of the mutant-human conflict.

So having Logan turn to Stryker and willingly undergo the Weapon X procedure and join Stryker’s special team is a radical change. Instead of a wild loner, or victim of experimentation, Logan’s now motivated by his desire for revenge on Sabretooth. This is a more conventional character, but that’s not surprising given the direction the comics (and the movies) have been taking for years now. Fox could have made a much more distinctive movie if they’d gone the Japan route — but it appears that’s the last thing the studio expects from its superhero franchises.

Looking at the rest of the trailer, the sheer number of mutants appearing in this film is impressive, though in danger of treading on the comics’ unfortunate tendancy to connect everyone to everyone else at every opportunity by throwing in Emma Frost and what looks like a young Storm. (Young Scott Summers is apparently in the movie, too.) Gambit looks good, though I’m still not sold on Liev Shrieber as Sabretooth. And the final line Jackman delivers just lacks the kind of aggression you’d expect from the character.

In the meantime, we’ve got “The Spirit,” which is increasingly looking like niche fare (I haven’t seen it yet), and “Watchmen,” which is becoming so big a movie that it likely will affect how Hollywood treats superhero movies for years to come — for good or ill.

Bits: Jackman hosts Oscars; Kahn and Eastwood; VFX contenders

Deadlines and holiday travel have limited posting this week, bur here’s a few tidbits that I came across:

* I haven’t seen if the trailer for “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” that’s supposed to be running before “The Day the Earth Stood Still” has been made available online yet. But Hugh Jackman’s all over the place, having been named the host for this year’s Oscars telecast.

* Looking at the newspaper ads for Clint Eastwood’s “Gran Torino,” I spotted a name in the credits familiar to comics readers of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s: Jenette Kahn. An exec producer on the film, Kahn was publisher and/or editor in chief of DC Comics for something like 25 years.

* No fewer than four comic book movies made the cut for the Oscar’s visual effects semifinals: “The Dark Knight,” “Hellboy II: The Golden Army,” “Iron Man” and “The Incredible Hulk.” That list of 15 contenders will be pared down to seven for the famous VFX bakeoff in January, with the top three from that event getting actual nominations.

* And Bettie Page, queen of 1950s pinup girls and inspiration for countless comic artists, has died at age 85.

‘Wolverine’ pic: Overstuffed or lean and mean?

New pics from “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” show up seemingly every week, presumably because a trailer is imminent with the release of Fox’s “The Day the Earth Stood Still” on Dec. 12. The film, which isn’t out until May 1, will be the first big test of how well Fox can handle the X-Men franchise in the wake of “X-Men: The Last Stand.”

The first major concern is that this film is trying to bite off too much. The photos and cast list on IMDB indicate that we’ll be seeing Logan fighting as far back as World War II, his relationship with Sabretooth (unhinted at in “X-Men”), a whole bunch of mutants making their first film appearances and possibly elements of the still-controversial “Origin” series from 2001. All of which just makes this thing look way too crowded, what with Deadpool, Beak, Silver Fox, William Stryker, Agent Zero, Gambit, The Blob, John Wraith and, apparently, Scott “Cyclops” Summers all set to show up. You have to wonder if there’s room left in such a film for Wolverine, especially with Fox actively talking about a spinoff for Deadpool. Alternately, charges of not giving each character their due are sure to come up, as is a question of coherence and clarity for folks who don’t know all these folks’ backstories. That kind of storytelling is the sort of thing that could turn the general audiences away from superhero pics, much the way they frustrate the casual comics fan.

On the plus side, the pictures look interesting. Jackman’s really bulked up his physique and looks as good as ever in the role. The much-leaked Comic-Con footage shows a lot of action, which could go a long way toward overcoming story weaknesses. And Fox and Jackman have a lot on the line with this, so you can be sure they will do everything they can to avoid disaster. I also like the idea of having an actor like Liev Shreiber play Sabretooth — he’s the sort who can give it the kind of depth it needs. Not being too much of a Deadpool fan, I still think Ryan Reynolds is good at that sort of wise-cracking hero thing and another good choice. Gavin Hood remains an unknown quantity — “Tsotsi” was acclaimed, but rumors of troubles on the set last year and the dispatching of Richard Donner to smooth things out is less than encouraging.

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén