Defend Art, Not Celebrity

I thought I was done with writing about the Oscars, but those damn bastards at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences get me every year. Maybe I’m coming into the fray too late, and I had promised myself I would stop talking about such a non-issue, but as these things are wont to do, it ballooned into a larger battle that I actually care about.

I’m a big fan of comedy. I love and am fascinated by great standup work, comedy writing, films, etc. I think it’s one of the hardest things to do, especially as people age and get more serious and find they perhaps have less in their lives to laugh about. That is, of course, when they need it the most. As the always vituperative and hilarious Doug Stanhope once said about New York City “[It’s] why I filmed my special here…because it’s the last fucking place I wanna be.”

A short time after the Oscars telecast ended, someone manning @TheOnion tweeted the following: “Everyone else seems afraid to say it, but that Quvenzhané Wallis kind of a cunt, right?” I don’t follow the Onion’s twitter account, but I laughed. If my quoting of Stanhope wasn’t a good indication, I’m a fan of the shocking and grotesque in comedy. Most people on the Internet, however, were not pleased. There was a swift and angry outcry as it seemed every person with access to Twitter immediately came to Wallis’ aide.

While the tweet was no doubt risqué, and admittedly, perhaps not very thought-out in terms of potential consequences, I was somewhat baffled by the reaction. Yes, the person in question is nine years old, and yes, she no doubt would catch wind of it at some point and her poor unfortunate parents would have to explain it to her. It was probably a bad move on the part of The Onion.

Still, given the amount of backlash, you would have thought that whoever was manning the satirical paper’s twitter feed that night had posted snuff film footage. Within minutes, it became clear to me that most of the folks fanning the flames had completely missed the satirical subtext of the tweet, as it was clearly designed to lampoon the celebrity-obsessed gossip rag culture we’re currently mired in, full of hack “journalists” who seem to be attacking younger and younger stars for no real reason outside of their own success (see: Anne Hathaway, Kristin Stewart, et al). However, most of the people responding to the tweet were probably so mired in the modern swamp of irrelevancy that the reference flew right over their star-obsessed heads. Additionally, nearly 100% of those furiously typing way continued to perpetuate the false narrative that the word “cunt” belongs on the same level of gravity and shame as the word “nigger”, a position that is only made slightly less ridiculous by others who were claiming that the tweet was racially motivated.

The go-to comeback for the humorless is always “if you have to explain the joke, then it isn’t funny,” a companion argument to the tiresome “if I’m offended then it’s enough to call something offensive.” While I don’t want to give too much credence to these non-arguments, they highlight a point that is sorely missed in all of these recent discussions about how “appropriate” something is or isn’t.

It is not the job of comedians to be appropriate.

Comedy, in its most interesting and thoughtful forms, is inherently subversive. It’s a complicated art form that hinges on deftly dealing with expectations, irony, timing, and abstract thinking. I’m a firm believer that art should never be censored, and if we’re to accept comedy as an art form (something of which there can be no doubt), then we need to apply the same philosophy to our comedians. Likewise, the pearl-clutchers of the world should stop pretending that something being “not funny” has no bearing on an argument as to why something should or should not be said.

Similarly, host Seth MacFarlane of Family Guy fame was derided by scores of bloggers when he dared to poke fun at nudity in Hollywood with the undeniably silly musical number “We Saw Your Boobs”. The bit wasn’t any piece of comedic genius, but it’s hard to say what anybody in this day and age could find so insulting about what is clearly nothing more than self-aware, sophomoric antics (the whole thing is basically MacFarlane and other cast members pointing out members of the show’s audience who have appeared topless on-screen). However, as I drearily predicted on Oscar night, there soon followed a flood of “think pieces” setting the whole thing in the context of rape culture and the War on Women, as though it were comedians who were leading the charge into regressive gendering rather than whacked-out religious pundits and conservative politicians. My jaw dropped when I read one headline from Salon.com: “ ‘We Saw Your Boobs’ Is a Celebration of Rape on Film.”

The gist of this thinly-disguised grab for page views was that MacFarlane was fully aware that a tiny fraction of the movies he mentioned in the bit produced the alluded to nudity through depictions of sexual assault. Even if MacFarlane did know all this, I’d give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he went with titles that were easier to rhyme, such as Monster over The Devil’s Advocate, both of which Charlize Theron appears nude in. The takeaway from the piece is that since the song references movies in which the boobs in questioned are produced via rape, the song is gleefully celebrating rape. To be blunt, this is the kind of logical reasoning employed by a pre-teen who knows they are desperately losing an argument. Intent, at least in comedy, is everything, and this sort of willful ignorance of context and what it means to a piece of satire is lazy and insulting.

I was recently going through a round of fresh Stanhope videos, and found a particularly incredible clip of the comedian viciously throttling (with words, of course) some hecklers who had booed a young woman’s set. Seeing as I am an e-masochist of sorts, I scrolled down to the comments section, and was pleasantly surprised that most of the comments were supportive of Stanhope. One in particular stood out though, and read: “Stand-up is the new rock ‘n’ roll”.

How despicably, heart-wrenchingly true. The spirit of rock ‘n’ roll left mainstream music long ago, and we desperately need somebody in the creative battlefields to rock the boat and rattle the cages. Those who continue to gnash their teeth and insist that something must be done about these comedians who dare to have unpopular opinions would do well to remember that when you begin making rules about what can and cannot be joked about, you walk a very dangerous road. The end result of such rule-mongering is this: all comedy will end up sounding like it does during a Billy Crystal-hosted Oscars, and nobody wants that, right? Right??

A final note to the words on the tip of every naysayer’s tongue that reads this: of course anybody has the right to speak out against art they find despicable. Of course you can boycott and unfollow and picket and do whatever you want. But in the end, you will always lose, because expression blazes an indelible trail. That tweet, long since deleted from The Onion’s twitter page, is still burned into the memory of everybody who read it, and it continues to exist on the pages of bloggers who are supposedly decrying its lack of humanity, while they lick their chops and watch the hits roll in. Anytime anyone says “that’s not funny” as a justification for why something shouldn’t be, the eternal retort is “yes it is.” As long as there is one person in the world who finds something funny, and there always will be that one person, the ones who flail and rend their clothes and cry out “won’t someone think of the children” to the heavens will lose. “It’s not funny!” you say? Prove it, and perhaps stop and think long and hard about what your outrage actually accomplishes, for the sake of yourself and the sake of the society you live in. As the mortal Christopher Hitchens once said: “How dismal it is to see present day Americans yearning for the very orthodoxy that their country was founded to escape.”

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Final Tally

Just for the sake of posterity, here’s some roundup data on the Oscars:

BEST PICTURE: Argo

PREDICTION: Argo or Zero Dark Thirty (I guess this counts for 1/2)

 

BEST ACTOR: Daniel Day Lewis

PREDICTION: Daniel Day Lewis

 

BEST ACTRESS: Jennifer Lawrence

PREDICTION: Emmanuel Riva

 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Christoph Waltz

PREDICTION: Phillip Seymour Hoffman or Tommy Lee Jones

 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Anne Hathaway

PREDICTION: Anne Hathaway

 

BEST DIRECTOR: Ang Lee

PREDICTION: Steven Spielberg

 

BEST EDITING: Argo

PREDICTION: Zero Dark Thirty

 

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: Argo

PREDICTION: Argo

 

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Django Unchained (a happy surprise)

PREDICTION: Zero Dark Thirty

 

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY: Life of Pi

PREDICTION: Life of Pi

 

Leaving me at 4.5/10 yikes. I guess I don’t have a future as a bookie.

Gloriously Inappropriate

While waiting for a movie to start last week, I had the misfortune of sitting through a lot of terrible trailers and “Coming Attractions” infomercials (after the Sam Raimi “Wizard of Oz” remake and Bryan Singer’s dark and gritty reboot of “Jack and the Beanstalk” can we stop trying to David Fincher the fuck out of all our beloved children’s stories? Please?), but what made me laugh out loud was the spot for the sure-to-be-excruciating SMURFS 2. Aside from the cheapness of a single smurf talking along with a canned announcer, the ad contained this doozy of a tagline:

smurfhappens

What. The. Fuck.

SMURF HAPPENS? Really? Have the dope peddlers (make no mistake, your kids are being sold things that are bad for them, just not on playgrounds) gotten so brazen that they’re willing to basically fess up and call their own products “shit”? After possible hours, days, or weeks of deliberation was a vaguely disguised version of “shit happens” really decided upon as the best two words to get parents to take their kids to sit through a terrible movie?

It’s not the first time this sort of thing’s happened. Remember ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS? No, not the original records and cartoons that were nominally funny for five minutes. The new, half-CGI Justin-beiber-tude romps starring Jason Lee as Dave (John Goodman is clearly the best choice, just based on his “ALVIIIIIIIIIN” alone, but Coen Brothers regulars don’t come cheap)! This wonderful piece of wholesome entertainment not only featured a cartoon rodent EATING ANOTHER RODENTS feces, but a lot of promo materials contained this delightful catchphrase:

munkyourself

Step 1: Munk your girlfriend without a condom.

Step 2: Spend $75 to watch computer rodents dutch oven each other for two hours (actual mothermunkin’ plot points).

Step 3: Munk right off back home, tell your baby’s mama you’ll be up in a few minutes, and then drink yourself to sleep on the couch while quietly sobbing before slitting your wrists in the guest bathroom sink at dawn.

THE 2012 OSCARS: COMMENTS AND PREDICTIONS

I don’t know if it’s more of a comment on the contenders or my own life that I’ve seen every single film nominated for a Best Picture Oscar this year, but to the best of my knowledge, this is the first time since I started watching the Oscars (somewhere around 12). It happened by the skin of my teeth, but when I realized that I only had three left with a little over a week to go, I figured I might as well grab for the ring. I did it, everybody, and on a year after they instituted that ridiculous “ten nominees” rule (although there are only nine this year, curious). For all the hatred and accusations of being out of touch, I have to admit that this year’s crop, while not having as many standouts, is notable for not having one movie I think is totally terrible. Have we officially outlived the days of Crash and Million Dollar Baby? Stay tuned…

Without further ado, my thoughts and judgments on all of the Best Picture nominees, critiqued in the order of viewing:

BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD

There’s a lot to like about this movie: a precocious lead kid (kid actors that don’t make you want to pull your hair out are the best), an otherworldly and serene ambience, and an overwhelming sincerity and wonder. However, at the risk of losing the last remaining shreds of my hipster film school graduate credibility, the sum of the parts isn’t very clear, and I find the overall message/themes to be confused. Are the titular “beasts” a product of Hush Puppie’s imagination, a manifestation of how frightening change appears to a six-year-old? Maybe, but I can’t say for certain.

LINCOLN

Spielberg’s latest offering is an unapologetic Oscar-grab, but it’s also quite enjoyable. Between the always-magnetic Daniel Day Lewis and the inherent appeal of the subject matter (what’s the deal with all the historical movies this go-round, anyway?) there’s little not to like, except for the vaguely bitter taste of a by-the-numbers statue race. I’m not saying  Steve-o didn’t try his damndest to make a good film, I think he’s one of the few directors who always does that. Still, all of the pieces look very familiar, and part of me just wants to be obstinate and hope that it fails so the Academy starts nominating more daring pictures. I wonder what’s going to happen once the most silver-haired crop of voters dies off…

LES MISéRABLES

I have a somewhat personal connection to this story, as my parents took me to see it when I was a kid, and something about the over-the-top, bombastic numbers lit me up and made me want to be able to sing songs like that. Without getting into the pitfalls of musical theater, there are just way too many missteps for me to say a lot of nice things about this flick. The decision to do all the audio with untrained actors singing some very difficult songs was a mistake, as is evidenced by 85% of the cast butchering their songs (Hathaway’s I Dreamed a Dream being a wonderful exception). The photography and production design is also very strange, making me think that the director was going for the feel of a fly-on-the-wall-of-a –Broadway-production rather than an immersive experience. It’s also been a while since I saw the stage show, but I don’t remember everything being quite so Jesus-centric. An resounding and triumphant chorus of “MEH!” for this one.

DJANGO UNCHAINED

I know Tarantino’s latest obsession with revenge-soaked, genre-film historical revisionism doesn’t sit too well with some folks, but I’m a huge fan. I loved Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchained is almost as good. Though it does fall into the mid-career Tarantino trap of throwing “MOAR” onto the screen to keep the audience engaged (which works, most of the time), it’s also one of the few movies on this list of nominees that doesn’t feel like a blatant grab for gold (Beasts and Amour being the other two). I heard stories about production hell, but none of that comes off in the final product, which jumps between joyous and disturbing very deftly.

ZERO DARK THIRTY

I like Kathryn Bigelow. She’s clearly a talented director, she seems to pick good projects, and she survived being married to James Cameron, all of which make her a winner in my book. Oh, and she also made Point Break which is the greatest surfer/buddy-cop movie EVAR. Anyway, my respect for Bigelow makes me wish I liked the scripts she chooses more, or that her movies left me with more feelings than “that was pretty cool” before I forgot about them forever. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but Zero Dark Thirty had me engaged the entire time, but when the end credits rolled the movie started to fade. It feels like the movie’s main strength is its subject matter and editing, as cramming all those years’ worth of information into a (relatively) tidy package seems staggeringly difficult. The problem is, character development takes a huge blow because of all the time devoted to exposition, and all of the changes our lead goes through seems superficial and tacked on, almost as though Bigelow really just wanted to make a documentary.

ARGO

Ten years ago, if you told me I’d be this big of a fan of Ben Affleck I would not have believed you. I haven’t seen Gone Baby Gone, but The Town and Argo are both incredibly solid, and who knew that Affleck would do some of his best work when he was directing himself? The last of the historical trio, Argo is the film that relies on the inherent thrill of history the least (in fact, some are crying foul over the movie’s decision to blow up the CIA’s role and whitewash the plan’s Canadian origins). The tension is magnificent, particularly in the superbly edited finale. A few minus props for being yet another Oscar-grabber about how Hollywood saved the day (I’m looking at you Goodnight, an Good Luck), and for treating the phrase “Argo fuck yourself” as much more hilarious than it actually is.

SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK

I was skeptical about this one from the get-go, because it seemed like more tailor-made Oscar bait, and it kind of is, but the film succeeds in spite of that. A lot of credit is due to Russell and producers for making a big movie that deals with mental illness in a way that doesn’t either trivialize it (wacky roommate with OCD! LOLZ) or make it overly ponderous (pretty much every movie about mental illness in the history of ever). Russell also gets an incredible performance out of Bradley Cooper, but I knew that kid was going places ever since I saw him get reamed in a sports equipment shed by Michael Ian Black. The film’s ultimately a fluffy piece of feel-good cinema, but it doesn’t shy away from taking you to dark places on the way. BONUS ACHIEVEMENTS: Robert Deniro actually trying again and Jennifer Lawrence’s workout pants.

AMOUR

Film degree notwithstanding, until this flick, the only Haneke movie I’d ever seen was fifteen minutes of his own English language remake of Funny Games before I walked out. Never before had I seen a film with such brazen contempt for its audience. Similarly, Amour is hard to sit through, but as the title implies, all of the pain and darkness comes from a place of deep and incredible love, reminding us that giving yourself over completely to another person is one of the most incredibly painful and frightening things you can do, as well as one of the most wonderful. Everything about this film is masterful, and I saw at least one person leave the theater for a few minutes just to collect themselves. When the end credits rolled, a palpable wave of relief washed over the room, the same feeling you get when your breath starts coming back after a punch to the gut.

LIFE OF PI

Probably the biggest surprise of all of these movies, I expected to have an uncomfortable time sitting through Life of Pi. Ang Lee ticks off a lot of boxes from the Oscar checklist (ethnic origins, commentary on spirituality, incredibly bright and noisy visuals, and an on-the-nose message? All checks), but the film is truly unique, despite all of this. The visuals are nothing short of stunning, and despite my personal beliefs, help reinforce the theme of spiritual growth and guidance being the only comfort in a world that is strange, terrifying, and beautiful. Bonus points for the CGI animals looking really and truly amazing.

Whew! So those are my mini-reviews for each of the nine best picture nominees, and now my official predictions and personal votes for each of the major Oscar categories:

BEST PICTURE

Should Win: Amour

Will Win: TOSS-UP Zero Dark Thirty or Argo

BEST ACTOR

Should Win: Joaquin Phoenix, The Master

Will Win: Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln

BEST ACTRESS

Should Win: Emmanuelle Riva, Amour

Will Win: Emmanuelle Riva, Amour

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Should Win: Phillip Seymour Hoffman, The Master

Will Win: TOSS-UP Phillip Seymour Hoffman, The Master or Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln (although Leonardo Dicaprio should have been nominated for Django Unchained and should win)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Should Win: Amy Adams, The Master (under protest, none of these roles are really worth an award)

Will Win: Anne Hathaway, Les Misérables

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

Should Win: Life of Pi

Will Win: Life of Pi

 BEST DIRECTOR

Should Win: Michael Haneke, Amour

Will Win: Steven Spielberg, Lincoln

BEST EDITING

Should Win: Zero Dark Thirty

Will Win: TOSS-UP Zero Dark Thirty or Argo (but probably Zero Dark Thirty. Sidenote: why the fuck was Silver Linings Playbook nominated for best editing?)

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Should Win: Silver Linings Playbook

Will Win: Argo

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Should Win: Django Unchained

Will Win: Zero Dark Thirty

THAT’S ALL FOLKS!

How To Not Be A Jerk at the Movies

 

As a prematurely old codger who still believes that a darkened theater is the best place to see movies, I’ve noticed more and more, especially since moving to New York City, that people these days just don’t have the same respect for the cinema as they used to. This might be because they weren’t educated from a young age on proper theater-going etiquette by a cinemaphile mother, as I was, or it might just be because they are idiots who lack common sense. Whatever the reasoning, more and more people these days seem to treat going to the movies like throwing something on in the background while you chat in your buddy’s living room. For the young, the stupid, and the initiated who are hate-reading this and are then going to post it on their loudmouth bad audience member friends, a list of ways to maximize your neighbors’ movie-going experience

1. DON’T TALK

Just don’t do it. I would qualify this and say that an occasional whisper to somebody right next to you is fine, but judging by the flicks I’ve sat through lately, nobody really knows how loud their voice carries in an open room where NOBODY ELSE IS TALKING. So just shut up, seriously. It’s not only annoying, rude, and disrespectful to other members of the audience, but it makes me hate you for possessing the childlike trait of verbal diarrhea. Laughing during a comedy is fine. Shrieking during a horror movie is fine. Vocalizing anything for the rest of the audience just makes you look like an insecure fuckwit who can’t go two hours without being the center of attention. Bonus hatred points if you repeat the last few lines of a funny joke after the laughter has died down. Also, if somebody actually has the balls to shush your ignorant ass, take your lumps like a grownup and shut up, instead of acting like the person telling you to stop ruining everyone’s experience is an asshole.

2. Turn your cell phone OFF

Not on vibrate, not on silent, but OFF. We all know you can’t be trusted with an object that placates your ego (yes, I get the warm fuzzies when I see the “notifications” icon too) that lights up in a dark place. A buzzing and/or lit up phone during a movie is just as irritating as a a ringing phone or some jerk talking on a phone. If you’re a heart surgeon on call or if your mom is in the hospital and you just had to get away for a minute, thanks/my condolences, but take it out into the hall, or if you absolutely can’t stand to be unreachable for two hours, maybe you shouldn’t be at the movies in the first place.

3. Get there on time

Look, I don’t know how many times I need to tell you that the theater isn’t your house, but even when I’m watching movies at my house I don’t walk in front of people and take them out of the experience. This is slight compared to the last two, but it’s still really annoying and can be highly distracting. The optimal viewing experience means nothing in front of me should have my attention except what’s happening up on the screen. When I went to see LIFE OF PI this evening, some usher kept walking down the center aisle with a flashlight and checking something on some clipboard. I have no idea what he was doing, and I’ve seen it happen twice now in this theater. I’m at a loss as to what this clipboard is and why it needs to be stored at THE VERY FRONT OF A MOVIE THEATER WHERE EVERYBODY CAN SEE YOUR FLASHLIGHT. Whoops, sorry, went on a bit of a side-tangent there. Be on time, try to get there before the trailers end.

4. Airplane Rules

As far as your actual seating goes, follow the same etiquette as you would on a brief plane ride. Don’t hog the armrest, don’t kick the seat in front of your or carelessly and abruptly smash the back of your seat into some poor sap’s legs (that’s for you, fellow giants). Get up and move around as little as possible, ESPECIALLY if you have to walk by people to do it. Most importantly, keep in mind that we’re all trapped in this space and have to share it.

5. Bring your kids at a reasonable hour

I miss my beloved Alamo Drafthouse for many reasons, but chief among them was their delightfully discriminatory attitude towards children: no unaccompanied minors, no minors PERIOD after 9pm (though I think they might have scaled this back), and no babies except for designated screenings on certain days. This one makes you a bad person for two reasons: you’re once again behaving like a selfish prick because you’ve tuned out your kid’s screaming and whining, but you’re also a bad parent because you’re taking your infant or toddler to a scary/noisy movie. Explosions in 5.1 dolby surround can’t be good for a developing body’s ears. To all you parents out their crying about having no social life, allow me to lay out your options once and for all: 1)stay home and rent something 2)get a friend, family member, or a sitter to watch your kids while you go to the movies 3)stop watching movies until your kids are old enough not to cry through them.

Just to recap: don’t talk, turn off your phone, be on time, and don’t be an asshole. Easy enough, right? Continue reading

The Artist as a Dictator OR The Death of the Audience

There’s a lot of debate flying around these days as to the state of movies, television, and by extension, art in general (these being the two artistic mediums that still have thriving industries built around them). The abbreviated conversation goes something like this: now that we are in the midst of the Internet age, never before have we seen such unprecedented access to both art and creative tools. This is generally accepted as a blanket statement. The point of contention: is this necessarily a good thing?

To begin, we need to consider what exactly constitutes the line between artist and audience, in the context of our times. In days long gone, this was a black and white distinction; an artist was someone who created artistic product, and an audience was made up of individuals who consumed the product. Art and commerce have been married for quite some time, and thus the input of the audience has always been a factor, as far as those individuals concerned with the commercial success of art have been concerned (these being, namely, those individuals and/or conglomerations of individuals with enough capital to produce art on a mass scale, referred to hereafter as “patrons”). Before the Internet had given everyone with a pulse and limited brain function the ability to make their voice echo across time and space, the methodology by which artists and patrons monitored the pulse and wants of the audience was crude and imperfect. In hindsight, pretending that these methods yielded anything but a vague shadow of the audience’s plainly stated wants and needs seems ludicrous. The studios drew conclusions about trends and assessed risk based on box office performance, something they still do. Focus groups took tiny slices of the audience and showed them pieces of films prior to release, making tweaks in order to maximize the potential for commercial success. Many artists complained and still complain about this practice, but without getting ahead of myself, the tweaks and edits based on focus group data pales in comparison when stood alongside the state of the industry today.

I’ve often heard disembodied voices, far older than my own, speaking on podcasts about the “voyeur” aspect of movie fandom these days. Even back in the mid to late 90s, nobody knew very much about films until they had been screened and critics had published their opinions in things called newspapers. In those days, the breadth of criticism immediately available to a household was blessedly small. I remember my mother, a weekly movie-goer, knew all of the critics on the staff of The Dallas Morning News’ names, and made decisions about which films to attend based on how consistent she found the critics’ opinions to be. That was true of a middle-aged housewife then, but even I, a budding film enthusiast with access to the Internet (albeit through a dinosaur-like 56kbps modem) knew very little about even films I was looking forward to besides basic plot summaries, directors, and stars.

That’s all gone now. Entire scripts are available with the click of a button months before projects even begin principle photography, to anyone with even the slightest idea of where to look. Criticism, in the classical Roger Ebert vein, has nearly bitten the dust, or at least, it’s become borderline meaningless. By the time a film actually hits opening day in the United States, it’s already been released in several other countries, been illegally downloaded by 50% of its target audience, and dissected so far past the point of rigor mortis that a critical, well-thought out inspection of the film’s artistic merits is completely moot. We have 9 out of 10 critics/bloggers writing “exclusives” about posters for movies that don’t come out for another year, for God’s sake.

There are many reasons to hate the Internet, and they have been written about many times, but it’s impossible to couch them in anything other than an inherently cynical worldview, so I won’t beat around the bush: it’s great that everybody with an Internet connection can pick the latest buzz about the movie industry to death. That is, until the movie industry begins taking the “village of idiots in extremis” model of discourse to the next level. Here’s an experiment to try. Go on any website that allows comments, be they news sites, Reddit, or even YouTube. And begin debating (trust me, it won’t take long to find an opinion you disagree with wholeheartedly). Keep at it, and count how long it takes before you throw up your hands in disbelief and ragequit the conversation, then count how long it takes for you to recall the incident to one of your friends. Now forget all of those times, because it will take your friend exactly zero seconds to tell you some version of “it’s the Internet, who cares?”

Somewhat paradoxically, it’s the movie industry that should be taking the advice of our friends to ignore people like our friends who make a lot of noise about what movies they like and don’t like, and more importantly, what sorts of movies they want and don’t want. To be perfectly blunt (and not to point fingers at you, dear reader), most people on the Internet are probably stupid, and it’s even more likely that most people making a lot of noise on the Internet, facebook, social media, and other things that constitute the “new media feedback loop” that so many studios and marketing “geniuses” put stock into nowadays are even stupider. Should we really be trusting anybody, much less somebody who sits around the aintitcoolnews forums all day to accurately describe not only what they want (a dubious proposition in and of itself), but for them to come together with other likeminded commenthounds to present a stunningly accurate picture of what film audiences want?

All angry rants aside, this seems to be a problem of economics. Those who defend movie-thieving often point to overall ticket sales being up (as though that had any bearing on whether not theft is wrong), but the truth is behind the curtain. Movies, at least “mainstream” movies, are doing commercially better because they are doing artistically worse, and they are doing artistically worse because the commercial stewards of movies have figured out exactly how to give the lowest common denominator what they want, which seems to be sheer, unadulterated garbage. This strategy may be working for the patrons of commerce in the short-run, but from a long-term point of view, it seems like a misstep.

The bulk of folks watching mainstream, summer blockbuster, tentpole pictures these days are what I call “distraction” viewers. They go to movies for release and release alone, and tend not to care that A Good Day to Die Hard is boring, or that Grown Ups isn’t funny, or that The Smurfs is like sticking rusty nails through their eyes. These viewers only want product, and they want it now. The commerce patrons want to supply this content and they’ve allied with advertising to drive home just how cool all of the franchises nobody has cared about for the past fifteen years are today (Battleship, Transformers, The Wizard of Oz, Jack and the Beanstalk, Hansel and Gretl, Snow White, the list goes on and on). This seems like a foolproof system, giving easy to churn out junk food to dumb intellectually obese people and watching the cash flow in, but eventually the theater system in America is going to get so terrible (it’s hard to imagine it being worse than it is now, but it’s well on its way), that even these tried and true cash cows will stop trudging out to the multiplex with their broods of failure and instead opt to stay home (which will become a more attractive option as the tech gets better).

The people who will save the industry in the long-term are the ones being given the shaft right now. People who want to watch real movies and real stories rather than 90 minute rehashes of fairytales or toy commercials will see movies less and less, and by the time the capsized industry rights itself, it may be too late to get them back with tentpoles that aren’t dreamed up by the marketing department. Maybe.

On the flip side, another reason movies are so bad now is that all of this voyeuristic audience-shirking (the refusal of the audience to remain uninvolved with the production of the artistic product) is killing novelty. When was the last time you were ever truly surprised in a theater? Is that because the studios and filmmakers are getting lazier and shoveling the tripe on without trying, or is it because the audience is so obsessed with fancying itself part of the creative process that they are just as bored with the project by opening day as the fimmakers are? Audiences (and people in general, really) today remind me of spoiled children who constantly make demands for things they think they want and then find themselves painfully empty once they get them. Why not leave storytelling to the storytellers, leave filmmaking to the filmmakers, and stop pretending that seeing a lot of movies makes us experts on what Paramount should or shouldn’t do with its summer slate?

Once we, as audience members, acknowledge that professional artists got to be professionals because they are uniquely gifted at connecting with people, then perhaps we can let go of this notion that our opinions on the creation of art means anything, and that an undue focus on our “wants” and “needs” has yielded a tableau of things that aren’t good for us. Even the most indulgent parent won’t let their child eat happy meals every day, not only because the parent knows it’s not good for them, but because raising a child isn’t a democracy. Making a movie shouldn’t be one either.

A BRIEF HISTORY OF ATROCITY: The Oscars

So this Sunday, the dog-and-poniest of dog-and-pony shows, The Oscars, will be upon us. I’m not quite sure what keeps me coming back, year after year, like some sort of battered wife, but no matter how many self-indulgent tirades spurt out of the mouths of “winners”, no matter how many expertly engineered snorefests are proclaimed “best picture”, no matter how many awkward pauses and groan-worthy live TV moments drift off the screen, something about the words “live”, “movies”, and “several hours long event” keeps me chomping at the bit.

Staggeringly, the Oscars may be the most tolerable of the major awards shows: The Golden Globes are pretty much an Oscars dress rehearsal at this point, and the Grammies long ago left me covered in the dust of irrelevancy. The less said about the Tonys and the VMAs the better. I’m 27, and in pop culture years, that’s fucking ancient. These things aren’t for me anymore, if they ever were. At least when I watch the Oscars, I’m occasionally treated to a montage of films from a time when directors tried their damndest to make a good “pitcha” and the awards were won by happenstance (or maybe Orson Welles was sleeping with half of Hollywood, who knows).

In honor of the upcoming masturbatory marathon, let’s take a brief look at the most ridiculous Oscar snubs and missteps in the show’s long and shameful history (in no particular order):

CITIZEN KANE LOSES BEST PICTURE

Not only did the Academy snub what most critics agree is one of, if not the best film of all time (it’s usually somewhere in the top 5 of most lists circling around), the Oscars are indirectly responsible for planting an inferiority complex in the head of a devastated Welles. He spent the rest of his career trying (unsuccessfully) to top himself. Maybe we should thank them for flicks like Touch of Evil and F for Fake.

DRIVING MISS DAISY WINS BEST PICTURE

It would have been bad enough that this charming Uncle Tom in the Big City tale took home the highest honor (allegedly) that a movie can receive, but it did so in the same year that Spike Lee’s best flick, Do the Right Thing wasn’t even nominated for best picture. In fact, it received only two noms for best supporting actor and best screenplay, which it lost to Denzel Washington in Glory and The Dead Poet’s Society, respectively.

CRASH WINS BEST PICTURE

Maybe the academy was going for a make-up call for all the years of alleged racism, but the cartoonishly shlocky white guilt extravaganza that is Crash (not to be confused with the very good and creepy flick by David Cronenberg about having sex with car crash victims) was not the way to go. The whole thing reads like a two-hour long after-school special. Once the silver-haired gentlemen at the head of the table had thrown the scraps down to the floor, it was back to plenty of noms for movies about white people saving the day (see: The Blind Side). This year was actually an incredibly mixed bag…Crash beat out Brokeback Mountain, Syriana, Goodnight and Good Luck, and Capote for best picture (hey guys, remember when there were only five best picture nominees?), but Three Six Mafia also won a fucking Oscar, so I guess we can call it a wash. Also, not that anyone but film geeks like me care about this, but Wally Pfister and Batman Begins lost cinematography to incredibly visual experience of Memoirs of a Geisha (wtf?!).