The Brat and The Big Screen
By Justin Aylward
In recent days, there has been much discussion about the relationship between streaming giants Netflix and the Academy. Blockbuster director, Steven Spielberg, who has suggested that Netflix movies should not be eligible for Oscar’s recognition, has fronted this dialog. Among other things, he talked about how the theatre-going experience is under threat. ‘There’s nothing like going to a big dark theatre with people you’ve never met and having the experience wash over you.’ Although Spielberg did not mention any specific streaming network in his most recent remarks, in 2018 he did say, ‘I don’t believe films that are just given token qualifications in a couple of theatres for less than a week should qualify for Academy Award nominations.’
There are many complaints one can make in refuting Spielberg’s comments, and other figures in the film world have been quick to respond. But the most interesting facet of this debate is that no one side is right. Spielberg is the godfather of the blockbuster, since the release of his nerve-shredding thriller Jaws in 1975. From then on studios and distributors have realised the potential of spot-releasing their films, sending them out to theatres at certain times to attract a wider audience. Today we also see the release of aspiring Oscar-winners during the December window. But that’s not what bothers me. Instead I can’t help but hear a whininess in Spielberg’s voice as he puts forth his argument. He is the most prominent member of the director’s brat-pack, a group of young artists who graduated from the first major American film school and forging a path in Hollywood. Maybe I am being unkind, but Spielberg kinda sounds like a brat who has never been told ‘no’ in his life. He will never struggle to finance a movie, have it distributed, find an audience and feature during the lengthy awards season. If only other filmmakers had it so easy, we might not rely on streaming platforms. Netflix, Amazon, Hulu etc have brought projects that major Hollywood distributors will not support to audiences who would not otherwise have seen these films and television series. And it is a good thing that the visual arts can thrive outside the mainstream Hollywood circle. It is understandable that Spielberg wants to preserve that theatre-going experience,
but what does he think is going to happen; will film fans suddenly refuse to leave the house to watch a movie when they might watch one in their own living rooms? Maybe we should just destroy all DVDs; after all, we can’t watch them on the big screen. Spielberg has made many terrific films – no one can deny that – but many of his films rely intrinsically on the type of environment and atmosphere that is created in theatre screening rooms. There is a wide-eyed element to many of his best films such as E.T.,Jurassic Park, and Minority Report; the sheen of these movies is massively dulled when removed from the darkened airs of the theatre. But this debate shouldn’t became a contest between theatres and streaming services, because we can have both, and there are positives to each. It’s true that some movies just aren’t worth seeing outside the theatre – Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity is possibly the best example – but to state that films should only exist, or that they be birthed on the big screen is blind to the great emotional potential of the medium. You don’t need a massive screen to transmit the tones and emotions of film into your heart and mind. Not all films are cinematic, but it doesn’t make them any less worthy of an audience. I love a good spectacle and will never fail to be amazed by the far-reaching vistas that fill out cinema screens, but I will choose a film that moves my heart and shatters my mind any day over a visualistic feast, and I have seen such films on screens as small as laptop. Only seeing films in the theatre is like only eating in Michelin-starred restaurants, it’s nice, but it’s also a bit rich and extravagant. Sometimes you crave something simple, and many streaming platforms offer that.
Another matter I have often wondered about is the significance and prestige we have placed on the Oscars in the first place. As far as I am concerned the Academy can forbid any kind of film they want, I honestly don’t care. It won’t exacerbate my ill-feelings towards them any more. But if they do such a thing I hope it will further de-legitimise them as the benchmark of filmmaking achievement. For too long the Academy has been seen as the great paragon of assessment, the final arbiters of taste for whom all film fans should look to for guidance in their choice of film. Paradoxically, the Academies blindness is so obvious for everyone to see. Their decisions are often motivated by the desire to promote a clean, liberal image of their organisation, and not by a duty to try and recognise high artistic merit in filmmaking. If one positive can come from their choice to exclude movies released through streaming services for a place in the competition, it should be the final clarifier that the Academy no longer tries to identify the ‘Best Picture’, or ‘Best Director’, etc… because they don’t. They will select the best picture that falls under the narrow constrictions of their rules.
The Movie Transfer Window
By Justin Aylward
Chloe Zhao, the young director who made her breakthrough feature in 2018, has been touted as the next blockbuster director for Marvel’s new franchise film The Eternals. The announcement was made in September, shortly after Zhao’s masterful film The Rider was released in theatres around the world. The film, an elemental masterpiece about mortality and a young man’s place in a world in which he can no longer function, is one of the most revered films of the last twelve months, cropping up on numerous top-ten lists. But what is most conspicuous about the news is how Marvel executives eyed Zhao for the job after seeing the film. What does a production company that produces loud and tech-heavy superhero franchises see in the proven director of quiet, humble, and considered tales of down on the ground Americana? It all sounds rather sketchy to me.
In a funny sort of way it’s a bit reminiscent of the scandalous ‘tapping up’ swindle that occurred in the world of football, and the biannual transfer windows. I don’t suspect the major Hollywood moguls of operating through nefarious means,
but I do wonder if they are perhaps trying to appeal to a new theatre-going demographic. This theory does crumble somewhat under scrutiny when you understand how lucrative superhero and ‘comic book’ movies have become in the last decade. Maybe it’s too much to expect that the financiers are hoping to upgrade the likes of Ant-Man and The Green Lantern to new levels of artistry.
What would the film world be like see if a more frustrated Tony Stark in Iron Man 4, a rich and powerful man struggling with his wealth, tired to find charitable means to expend his money; Marvel meets Preston Sturges. Audiences will love it. Or what if Wade Wilson aka Deadpool collapses in the throes of an existential crisis? Stamp that franchise with the mark of Ingmar Bergman and see what happens. Whatever it is that inspired the appointment of Chloe Zhao, it is curious to wonder if the often-oversold genre of action/superhero flicks are set for a makeover of which the finest auteurs such as Luis Bunuel or Jean Renoir would be proud. Such films may leave audiences scratching their heads and wondering what conversations in the dark with God have to do with saving the earth from flinty stalwarts. But it would provide us with more to ponder than the average Marvel or DC offering. That’s okay with me.
Green Book, and the Oscar Playbook
By Justin Aylward
Last Sunday at the Academy Awards, Green Book won the Oscar for Best Picture. The result was a surprise and brought a curtain of silence over the audience. Among the guffaws and yelps at the Dolby Theatre and the hand-wringing and keyboard-banging on social media, is a message worth considering. It is a recurring reality that the winner of the best picture award is quickly forgotten – can you remember what film won in 2009? – but the films selected by the Academy as the best picture are not where the message is contained. The choice of best film actually reveals more about A.M.P.A.S. than anything else. It’s all a big marketing ploy, and the best way for them to show to the world what they are all about. So what does Green Book’s triumph tell us?
The film, by the birdbrain-comedic director Peter Farrelly, was received tepidly by critics, many noting the tired trope of the white saviour narrative, while others called the film soft, Hallmark material. But hey, at least it doesn’t force people to do some actual thinking, and that’s just the way the Academy likes it. Green Book may be a wishy-washy, rose-tinted piece, but that’s what appeals to the voters. A movie like Green Book will never cause a major stir, or even a meagre pater among the broader film world. It is merely a piece of entertainment like a knockoff antique; it has the appearance of stateliness and prestige, but you soon find the surface is tainted by cracks and cheap paint.
The Academy knows that soon enough film audiences will forget all about why they loathe the movie, but in the meantime the Academy can enjoy the short-term gratification of patting itself on the back for a job well done. It’s as though they are willing to be fooled into showcasing their liberal credentials on a film that isn’t nearly as liberal and proud as it thinks. In the past, the Academy has shown its’ favour for films and performances of a specific type. This has become so evident that some have speculated that actors can carefully tailor their way to Oscar glory. Look at some of the winning performances from years gone by; a precedent is put on roles that show perseverance, characters overcoming circumstance (Erin Brokovich, The Theory of Everything, Room, The King’s Speech, Silver Lining’s Playbook, Dallas Buyer’s Club). The Academy also has a liking for historical figures who have shaped the world we live in today (Lincoln, Darkest Hour, The Iron Lady, The Queen).
All these winners are perfectly worthy of the prize, but the decision-making that went into highlighting these performances was more about drawing attention to the Academy branch itself as to the actors who created the work. Sometimes the bias is so obvious as to be blinding. Who else would the actor’s branch of voters rather nominate than actor’s who play actors or other performers (Bohemian Rhapsody, La La Land, The Artist, Walk the Line, Ray). There has been a historical shutout of certain movies throughout Oscar history. There is a good reason why horror and comedy have never forged a strong footing in any of the major catergories; anything that smells of genre – especially a popular genre – must be ignored. But that great irony in all this is that in doing so, the Academy has created a genre of its’ own. Where do you think the Oscar bait comes from, after all?
Justin Aylward Joins MBE As Article Content Writer
Movie Burner Entertainment are proud to announce that Justin Aylward has joined the team as article content writer. We are all looking forward to seeing Justin’s writing having worked on various online film magazines, most recently filmdebate.co.uk, and the now defunct onthisdayinfilm.com.
Darrin Gauthier Steps Down As Senior Writer At MBE
Senior Writer Darrin Gauthier has stepped down from his role as Senior Writer at Movie Burner Entertainment. Darrin has wished all the team at M.B.E. every success and we would like to thank Darrin for his contributions to the Blog over the past two years.” – John Walsh (Editor in Chief)
Top Ten Favorite Films of 2018
By Gianni Damaia
I have always had a fondness for top tens. I’ve even considered doing an entire podcast all about “ranking” different themes. Perhaps one day, Sound Pollination…
Every year, I rank the new releases I’ve seen. Originally, I only ranked ten. Then twenty. Now I rank every new release I watch throughout an entire year. For the sake of this blog, I’m only going to detail my Top Ten of the year, with a few honorable mentions to toss out there.
HEY READ THIS DISCLAIMER
A couple of things to note: 1) there are still a few films on my watch list that I have yet to see that could theoretically cut into this list. Most notable among them is If Beale Street Could Talk. If something you loved didn’t get mentioned in this list, it’s possible I haven’t seen it. So please, let me know what I might have missed! I’m easy to reach via email, twitter, whatever. 2) This is my favourites list. I talk all the time on the podcast about my personal belief that your favourite is not necessarily what you think is the best. If you don’t subscribe to that belief, that’s totally fine, but please refrain from any bashing just because I liked some big Hollywood blockbuster more than your favourite critical indie hit. I’ll justify all my picks, and try to summarise a quick review for each of them (rating included) so you can see how I thought about them objectively too. You’ll notice some ratings may be higher for films that are ranked lower, and that is by design. I don’t want my list to just be what I thought was the most technically or artistically masterful of the year. Overall, I’m making this list to celebrate my experiences with this year in film, so I want you to celebrate it with me!
These are the movies that are just barely outside of my Top Ten this year. They’re fantastic in their own right, and I would recommend them highly for various reasons, but I’m saving actual reviews for the list itself.
My Honorable Mentions (theoretically) could be as long as I want, but I’m limiting it to 3 because I genuinely think these 3, on a different day, could edge their way in there. Check them out if you appreciate well shot, stylized masterpieces in their own right. Now, prepare for some hot takes…
Mission Impossible – Fallout
This movie is debatably the most fun I had in theaters this year. Sound design and stunt work has never been more refined, in my opinion. This is a high octane, action thrill ride that deserves the praise of being one of the greatest action movies of this generation. That being said, the spectacle doesn’t always shine brighter than the writing. Like any genre film, Impossible falls prey to a lot of narrative cliches and stereotypical heroism tropes that have become customary. Bad guys will be devious for the sake for it, and good guys will lose only to eventually gain the upper hand at the last second. Still, the direction makes Fallout more than the sum of its parts, it’s just frustrating to see clunky writing in an otherwise flawless spectacle. 8.5/10
As I’ve sat with Deadpool 2 longer, I’ve realized that it doesn’t quite have the longevity that I wish it did. I find it’s impossible for this film, and its predecessor, to not win you over eventually with charming satirical wit and crudely abrasive style. Deadpool 2 fixes a lot of the issues with the first Deadpool. It avoids meta-textual jokes completely excusing sub par narrative choices, and instead invests considerable time into developing Wade as a character instead of a flagrant comedian. It is still overlong, and occasionally feels insecure as if it’s worried the audience will be bored if it tries to just make a fun superhero movie. Jokes begin to feel relentless in a bad way, but with each one that lands, I do find myself increasingly more fond of Deadpool. There was a time when Deadpool 2 held the number 2 spot on this list. The more I reconsider, the more the joke seems to fade. But I’d be lying if I said Deadpool 2 wasn’t terrific fun. Also Domino is the MVP. 9/10
You Were Never Really Here
Seeing You Were Never Really Here twice was a necessity for me. After one viewing, I simply didn’t have enough context for what I saw. The intensity of this film is palpable and sits with you long after the credits have rolled. But I couldn’t determine if the artistic choice of disjointed backstory made the film stand out, or too distant to truly appreciate. Upon rewatching, everything clicked. The tragic, fragmented layers of Joe slowly unravel to compliment his increasingly delicate circumstances. There’s so much to be said about how the film talks about the ignored torment inside of us, the inability to overcome our past, and the constant search for a will to live. The funeral sequence is one of my all time favorite sequences of this year, and the way Joaquin Phoenix navigates the journey of this film like a fuse seconds away from ignition will be something for actors to marvel at for years to come. This is truly a masterful film. Lynne Ramsay very occasionally allows for eccentricity to get in the way of the narrative, but all in all it’s a minor grievance (and admittedly, more of a personal preference for the most part). For those of you fretting that You Were Never Really Here is not getting awards recognition it rightly deserves (but likely won’t get due to poor release timing), fear not. Because the attention Lynne Ramsay has received will be resulting in her stepping on that stage for whatever future project she has lined up. 9.5/10
I fully understand the criticism surrounding this film. I have read several rebuttals against Green Book, yet I still have no regret in placing it on my Top Ten of the year. This is a masterfully written dramedy with considerable heart, levity, and exploration of its characters. It feels almost streamlined right from a book on how to write. The chemistry established between these two men on a quest for one’s personal identity in the veil of a concert tour is one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve had all year. Mahershala Ali continues to prove himself to be one of the most expressive, emotionally impactful actors of the current age. Viggo Mortensen, once again, disappears into his role, infusing it with vitality and vibrancy that feels impossible to emulate. Together these two carry this film to my number 7 spot. I vehemently detest the trend of critical film enthusiasts to discredit a movie just because it attempts to make you feel. Cynicism has its place in cinema, but so does warm-hearted material. I fully acknowledge that this is not a perfect film. The villains are cartoonish, and the first act is slow. But if my smile has a hard time leaving my face for the bulk of a movie, I have to give credit where it’s due. 8.7/10
A Quiet Place
I’m a sucker for John Krasinski. I have only ever had two ugly cries watching anything. One was during Amour, the other was during The Office. He has a special place in my heart. But so does horror. Particularly mainstream horror, which feels impossible to pull off effectively if you’re not working under the banner of A24 or James Wann (and even then…). With A Quiet Place, I found one of the most thrilling experiences in modern cinema. This is an absolutely relentless film, effectively compounding tension like a series of bricks on a balancing plate. At any given moment, this ludicrous chaos should fall to pieces but it doesn’t. Krasinski never lets you breathe. The world building is strong (save for some expository newspaper clippings that feel a bit on the nose), with each moment of reprieve potentially offering a glimpse at answering burning questions about the family and the circumstances surrounding them. Occasionally, a moment or two of character building may feel out of place in the tight wire act of the thriller, but the thing that A Quiet Place nails that I find so rare in horror films is that it made me give a shit. I wanted these people to survive the night. And Krasinski made me want that with less dialogue than a 4 minute short film. This is everything I look for in a horror film. 9.3/10
The Sisters Brothers
An excerpt from my review this year, “The Sisters Brothers is an exceptionally restrained and reflective western…if you enjoy Westerns, and exceptional performances with deeply internalised characters that reveal themselves gradually, this is a movie to add to your shelf.” Couldn’t have said it better myself. I recognise that The Sister’s Brothers isn’t perfect (if you want to hear why, go check out the full review), but I was overjoyed to see a smart, contemplative western navigate character building in such a beautifully methodical way. I want more movies that take their time, and allow the audience to breathe in the full expansive experience of the characters and draw their own conclusions. 8.7/10
If anyone should be upset in critical circles, it should be Carey Mulligan fans. I want to know who in the fuck decided not to campaign Wildlife hard for awards season. There is no discernible reason for Mulligan to not be nominated for big awards this year, yet where is the buzz? Paul Dano has made one of the most beautiful, introspective coming of age stories of the year with Wildlife. This is a haunting tale of tragedy forcing maturity out of a child caught between two worlds. The ending of this movie rocked me to my core. The characters feel so flawed and honest, but seeing them through the lens Dano creates is what makes them so special. Joe’s father is given limited screen time to allow us to understand the flawed credibility of our main character. Joe’s dad is an impenetrable figure, a constant symbol of what Joe always wants to be. In his mind, his dad is perfect. His life with his mother is perfect. And the heartbreak of this film is growing to discover, along with Joe, that none of those preconceived notions are true. Is it somewhat of an uphill battle to understand character motivations? Yes. But Dano excites me as a filmmaker because he allows for room to be critical. He wants you to lament along with Joe, “why is this happening,” and on that merit alone he succeeds. 9.5/10
An excerpt from my review this year, “The complexity demonstrated in the subtext shows Burnham to be a powerful screenwriter, but what makes him a master is the way he builds the film to subvert your expectations.” Bo Burnham has successfully captured exactly what I admire so much about his comedy: his ability to link humor and tragedy without appearing obvious. Eighth Grade is not just number 3 for me because it is a masterful example of capturing relatable drama, but also because it’s the most surprising movie of the year for me. I detail exactly what I thought was ever so slightly missing from this movie in my full review, but it becomes irrelevant this far into this list. Never in my life would I have anticipated a story of an eighth grade girl resonating with me so much, but here we are…me sitting in my kitchen writing this after watching Eighth Grade for the 3rd time, already eager to watch it again. 9.3/10
Spider-Man: Into The Spiderverse
This is what I always wanted from a Spider-Man film: High stakes action, quick witted comedy, poignant emotion. The list goes on. And it’s gorgeously animated! This is one of the most stunning, vibrant animation styles I’ve ever seen. Most people have a hard time giving credibility to animation. Hell, I have a hard time convincing people to go see this movie. I promise you, this is worth your time. The only issue I have with this movie is its occasionally frustrating spatial relationships, particularly with fight scenes where things get somewhat difficult to follow. Having just rewatched the Rami films, this is the best Spider-Man movie by miles, in my opinion. Spiderverse wisely uses your knowledge of Spider-Man to its advantage to build stylistic ingenuity into its narrative, but it’s not necessary to know anything. I truly believe this film has mass appeal, so much so that I’m trying to get my parents to see it. And my parents are people that I don’t even try to force Princess Mononoke on because I don’t think they’d appreciate its artistic value. See this movie. Because animation deserves your attention when it’s this good. 9.4/10
If you’re someone who jumped down to number one just to roll your eyes, I won’t have any of your shit. This is my list, ok? Is Creed 2 perfect? No. Far from it. In fact, I would hesitate to say it’s top 20 BEST films I’ve seen this year. But Creed 2 is still a great movie. The first act is clunky and struggles to establish a consistent pace. It’s motivational, predictable, and melodramatic. But on the flip side, this movie features some of the most emotionally resonant scenes of the year. It’s an absolute powerhouse in sound design and choreography. I’ve loved Rocky for as long as I can remember. It wasn’t until the first Creed that I reinvigorated that love after so many years. It doesn’t take much to make a Rocky film number one on my list of favorites in any given year. But this film did more than deliver the bare minimum. Creed 2 perfectly compliments Rocky 4, making it debatably the most significant and impactful sequel in the franchise. And take note of how effectively this movie builds its villains as sympathetic humans in stark contrast to the hero’s occasionally questionable morals. This movie is doing so much right, and I swear by that regardless of personal bias. By my ranking, this is the 4th best film in the franchise, and I’m sorry if you really wanted to see something else get number one on this list, but my list was never going to be about the most flawless film I saw. It’s about what resonated with me. And the thing I enjoy the most about film is the conversation it brings. So I relish that you might be reading this shaking your head, because that means we’re going to have a hell of a great conversation about it. 8/10
That’s my list. Hope you enjoyed it, at least a little. Feel free to reach out to me to give me your Top Ten!