Tag Archives: Academy Awards

The Horror of “Get Out”

23 Feb

A week away from the Oscars means a rumination on a nominated movie is a great idea. A good friend and writing mentor, Jeff Meyers, has a take on “Get Out” I find extremely thought provoking and fascinating, so much so I asked him to let me post his ideas here. Whether you liked the movie or not (I realize as much as it invigorates many of us it befuddles others) , I think you will find his essay worthy of consideration and discussion.

It’s no secret that, historically, horror has been regarded as junk entertainment, a genre that relies on cheap thrills and lurid subject matter to draw audiences. And while critics have been willing to extoll the technical and cinematic achievements of the genre, they typically overlook the thematic, intellectual, and emotional resonance of the genre.

The well-deserved nomination of Get Out for this year’s Best Picture Academy Award is only the sixth time a horror film has been considered for such an honor. The first, 1973’s The Exorcist came 45 years after the Oscars were first introduced. Since then, only The Sixth Sense, Black Swan, Pan’s Labyrinth (Best Foreign Language Oscar) and Silence Of The Lambs (the only one to win… and regarded, by some, to be a thriller rather than horror), have been given such regard. Classics like King Kong, Bride Of Frankenstein, Psycho, Alien and The Shining were all, notably, overlooked.

Exorcist small

This dismissal of horror as a serious-minded expression of cinematic art and opinion has such a long and pervasive history that even some its own practitioners feel a need to distance themselves from the label, lest they be devalued as artists. 

In the introduction to The Walking Dead graphic novel, creator Robert Kirkman insisted that his goal was not to scare anyone, and that he wasn’t writing horror but rather “social commentary and character.” Writer-director Jordan Peele asserted that Get Out is not a horror film but rather a “social thriller.” 

With all due respect, Kirkman and Peele are wrong. While genre labels are often fluid and inexact, there is little doubt that a graphic novel that involves hordes of flesh-eating zombies, and a movie about a mad scientist that cuts out the brains of his victims in order to replace them with someone else’s brain qualify as horror. The rejection of the label is undoubtedly the result of those long standing dismissals of the genre. 

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A Movie for the Political Season Vol. II

7 Oct

Spellbound, a 2002 documentary about kids competing in the Scripps National Spelling Bee, is hands down one of the most entertaining movies ever made. You may not think a movie on this topic could ever be enjoyable but damn! Alternately hilarious, joyous, spellbinding (had to go there) and heartbreaking, the second half of the movie also becomes as riveting and suspenseful as The Fugitive or Die Hard. 


Beautiful in its narrative simplicity, the first half of Spellbound introduces us to eight different teens. We meet each contestant, one after the other, in short vignettes. We find out about their families, their interests, their various quirks. Then all arrive at the National Spelling Bee and, given the wonderful emotional work done by the filmmakers in the first half, the spelling bee itself is an absolute nail biter. When I saw it in the theatre, people were audibly reacting in the second half as if it was the original screening of Rocky. As Ann Hornaday wrote in the Washington Post, “This just might be the most action-packed suspense thriller of the summer.” 

Please don’t let the title of my post put you off. Spellbound is not an outwardly political movie. It truly is wildly entertaining and is one of my personal favorite movies of all time. (I’ve seen it many, many times, it is that much fun to watch.) Yet given everything that is currently going on in our country — and world —  Spellbound, without trying to do so, has a subtle yet very powerful message, much more so than when it was released almost 15 years ago. Given the broad range of families depicted in the movie, Spellbound will make anyone who watches it, whatever their own background and political belief, proud to be an American. At the same time, it might challenge some beliefs on what exactly our nation of immigrants means.

For a few years, Spellbound was unfortunately difficult to find. It’s such a good movie and was so popular, at times even used copies on Amazon were going for over $50 dollars. While I still can’t find it streaming anywhere, a bunch of very cheap used copies have turned up on Amazon:


This is worth the few dollars the DVD copies cost! So stop what you are doing and watch this movie!

The Oscar Nominations

16 Jan

I’ve never done an Oscar post but, hey, this half a film blog, it’s time for a new post and the nominations came out this morning. If you need a primer on who is nominated, click here.



If you read my last post, 2013 In Review, you read about my favorite films of the year: her, Inside Llewyn Davis, Prisoners, American Hustle and Before Midnight. I won’t go over my reasons for loving these again. But while it is no surprise Prisoners received little love from the Academy, it’s a damn shame Llewyn Davis also was almost completely overlooked, save a well deserved nomination for Cinematography, which, thankfully Prisoners also received. Prisoners is simply too dark and unsettling for the current Academy to embrace. It’s also regarded as a mystery-thriller. While Prisoners is much deeper than a standard mystery-thriller, this type of movie rarely gets love from the Academy, hence Alfred Hitchcock’s scandalous lack of nominations over the years. Llewyn Davis, though… well, I guess I can’t say it is a huge surprise, given how many people did not like the film. Those of us who love it, though, continue to champion it as one of the best films in many years. I am confident years from now this snub will be looked back on as, well, a polite terms would be short sighted.



I’m thrilled her was nominated for Best Picture. I was worried. It’s so modern and original and deep I figured a lot of the older members might not get it. (This happened when the equally brilliant Inception was completely overlooked.) Spike Jonze thankfully received a well deserved screenplay nomination and has, I think, a very good chance to win. His not being nominated for Best Director, though, is a huge shame, particularly given his slot was taken by Martin Scorcese. The Wolf Of Wall Street isn’t a bad film. It’s extremely enjoyable (I’ve watched it twice and could watch it again) and boasts some terrific performances. As with many Scorcese movies, though, it’s overlong and a bit of a mess. The elegance, humor, beauty and creepiness of her, combined with the fact it has a great deal to say, should have given Jonze the slot.  Alas, my own guild, the Directors Guild Of America, did the same thing to my great irritation. DGA, you at least should know better. Alfonso Cuaron pretty much has a lock on Best Director for Gravity. When he wins, it will be deserved. But David O. Russell could be a surprise win here and that would make me just as happy, even more so to be honest. I love American Hustle and think Russell is the best director working in Hollywood today. Two years in a row all four acting categories have been filled with actors from his movies – Silver Linings Playbook (winning Best Actress) and American Hustle. A year before that, with The Fighter, three actors were nominated and two won. This is very rare and is indicative of the work he is doing.

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Why THE ARTIST Should Win Best Picture

18 Feb

The Academy Awards are upon us. It is no surprise that in the run-up to the Oscar ceremony, numerous awards have coalesced around one movie, giving it ‘frontrunner status.’ This happens most every year. What is surprising this year, though, is the movie itself. It was filmed in black and white, not color. It’s a true silent movie with virtually no sound or dialogue, save a few key, clever moments. And the two main characters, George and Peppy, are played by actors heretofore unknown to 99.9% of Americans, those of us working in the movie business included. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you The Artist.

Also not a surprise is the backlash that has erupted against the movie. This happens to the frontrunner each year and it happens for a variety of reasons, from the desire to have a good horserace rather than an inevitable winner to the love for a personal favorite that has no chance in hell of winning (see Tree of Life fans). This year the backlash is intensified by the jealousy and resentment of Harvey Weinstein, a brilliant producer who was smart and passionate enough to snap up The Artist at Cannes while everyone else stood around praising a movie they didn’t have the balls to release. Go Harvey. (He’s a hero of mine, what can I say?)

While the backlash has revolved around a number of arguments, the possibility of Harvey releasing yet another Best Picture included, the main attack I keep hearing is “the movie is fluff. It isn’t about anything. Or, well, it’s about a rich actor who suddenly can’t find work. My heart is breaking.”

I’d like to take a two-pronged approach here: Bullshit. And so what.

Let’s start with the latter. Oscar history is strewn with Best Picture winners about something that are near impossible to watch. They won not because they were good movies, but because they were about something. Ok, fine. But they sure as hell don’t tell a good story, nor do they entertain. Telling an entertaining story, by which I mean holding someone’s attention in an engaging way, is ultimately what movies are about. Sure, if I learn something or am deeply moved while watching, wonderful. But ultimately a movie’s reason for being is to entertain. I’ve seen The Artist four times now and each time I’ve seen it, the audience has laughed, cheered and clapped their way through the movie, then literally danced out of the theatre, appropriate given the deliriously joyful way the movie ends. My Facebook post when I saw the movie the first time was ‘Pure. Unadulterated. Joy.’ I stand by that. When a movie is as joyous and wildly entertaining as The Artist, and is also incredibly well crafted on every level, that’s reason enough for me for it to win Best Picture.

But what about being ‘about something’?

Every person I know who has seen and loved the movie has repeated to me in their comments a variation on a theme. While certainly loving the movie for the experience it provided, each also said they found it relevant to their lives and the world today. It resonated deeply with them. When you talk to people who feel this way about The Artist, some universal emotions and themes emerge that the movie explores beautifully. The fear of losing your job and the problems that occur if you do lose your job. Not only your job but your place in society and your identity. The struggle to define or redefine yourself in a world that seems to be changing faster than is possible to keep up with. How to survive personal adversity and find a way to overcome emotional and circumstantial strife.

The Artist addresses all of this, at times in very dark, emotional fashion. The journey George takes in the movie is a journey all of us take at some point in our lives, if not repeatedly. And he survives. One of the supremely satisfying things about great movies is the chance to see characters we love triumph over adversity. The Artist allows us to experience this yet again and it does so while also veering brilliantly from the traditional Hollywood formula. Usually in such stories, a lead character like George, after a series of obstacles and revelations, pulls himself up from the gutter on his own strength and ingenuity. In The Artist, however, George is redeemed not through his own wiles but through the love of another… an extremely talented and successful woman, no less! (Hello, feminists?? Peppy is a remarkably strong female character. Smart, talented, able to stand up to a studio boss, capable of great emotion and love… she rocks.) Only by humbling himself, admitting his pride and accepting the love and care of Peppy is George able to come back from the brink and survive. This is pretty original in terms of classic Hollywood fare, which tends to celebrate the individual over community. It isn’t often that a Hollywood hero has to rely on others for help. Given the adversity many in our society are facing currently, The Artist not only entertains, it resonates.

Were there other great movies this year? Certainly. Two of the best movies of the year, Warrior and MI:4, were not even nominated. Moneyball is nominated, thankfully, and like The Artist, Moneyball is also one of the best crafted and most entertaining movies of the last few years. (That Bennet Miller’s direction is not being cheered to the sky is perhaps this year’s most egregious oversight.) But The Artist is the movie that should win. I haven’t even discussed how difficult it was to pull this off so effortlessly, and for a modern audience no less. And along with everything else, it celebrates the medium as well! The opening strains of Ludovic Bource’s brilliant score call to mind Franz Waxman and Sunset Blvd (click link below for one of the best CD’s you will ever purchase), and from that opening moment each successive shot or scene celebrates and references great movies of the past, reminding us of why we go to the movies, why we love the movies. This movie cheers, it entertains, it sweeps you off your feet with a wonderful romance, and, dammit, it instructs as well.  The Artist is magical in all the ways a movie should be. And for that alone it deserves Best Picture.

There are many great composers out there. We’ll debate many of them in upcoming posts. But Waxman is amazing. If you don’t have this CD, it’s incredible:

The Best Of Franz Waxman (CD on Amazon.com)

(click on comments section to leave a comment… would love to have you join the discussion!)