Tag Archives: Oscars

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.

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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. 

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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:

https://www.amazon.com/Spellbound-Ted-Brigham/dp/B0000WN13Q

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.

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BEST PICTURE 

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.

BEST DIRECTOR

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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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