March 02, 2007

Friday Talkback

Light line-up; chalk it up to Oscar fatigue.
Next week: Borat (DVD); Melodious Mondays concludes.

24 comments:

Justin said...

Awwww...I was hoping for a negative-stars Black Snake Moan review. ;)

Bill C said...

This just arrived in my inbox from a publicist, presumably in an effort to get it recirculated. Nevertheless, it raises some interesting points, so I don't mind reprinting it here. What do you think? Personally, I agree that Seinfeld's Oscar-night presentation was pointlessly hostile, if typically narcissistic.

"An open letter to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

I had the great fortune of attending the 79th Academy Awards following my nomination as producer for a film in the Best Documentary Feature category. At the Awards ceremony, most categories featured an introduction that glorified the filmmakers’ craft and the role it plays for the film audience and industry. But when comedian Jerry Seinfeld introduced the award for Best Documentary Feature, he began by referring to a documentary that features himself as a subject, then proceeded to poke fun at it by saying it won no awards and made no money. He then revealed his love of documentaries, as they have a very "real" quality, while making a comically sour face. This less-than-flattering beginning was followed by a lengthy digression that had nothing whatsoever to do with documentary films. The clincher, however, came when he wrapped up his introduction by calling all five nominated films "incredibly depressing!"

While I appreciate the role of humor in our lives, Jerry Seinfeld’s remarks were made at the expense of thousands of documentary filmmakers and the entire documentary genre. Obviously we make films not for awards or money, although we are glad if we are fortunate enough to receive them. The important thing is to tell stories, whether of people who have been damaged by war, of humankind’s reckless attitude toward nature and the environment, or even of the lives and habits of penguins. With his lengthy, dismissive and digressive introduction, Jerry Seinfeld had no time left for any individual description of the five nominated films. And by labeling the documentaries “incredibly depressing,” he indirectly told millions of viewers not to bother seeing them because they’re nothing but downers. He wasted a wonderful opportunity to excite viewers about the nominated films and about the documentary genre in general.

To have a presenter introduce a category with such disrespect for the nominees and their work is counter to the principles the Academy was founded upon. To be nominated for an Academy Award is one of the highest honors our peers can give us, and to have the films dismissed in such an offhand fashion was deeply insulting. The Academy owes all documentary filmmakers an apology.

Seinfeld’s introduction arrived on the heels of an announcement by the Academy that the number of cities where documentary films must screen to qualify for an Academy Award is being increased by 75%. This will make it much more difficult for independent filmmakers’ work to qualify for the Best Documentary Feature Award, while giving an advantage to films distributed by large studios. Fewer controversial films will qualify for Academy consideration, and my film Iraq in Fragments would have been disqualified this year. This announcement came as a great disappointment to me and to other documentary filmmakers. I hope the Academy will reconsider its decision.

On a final note, I would like to point out that there was no mention of the Iraq War during the Oscar telecast, though it was on the minds of many in the theatre and of millions of viewers. It is wonderful to see the Academy support the protection of the environment. Unfortunately there is more than just one inconvenient truth in this world. Having mention of the Iraq War avoided altogether was a painful reminder for many of us that our country is living in a state of denial. As filmmakers, it is the greatest professional crime we can commit not to speak out with the truth. We owe it to the public.

I hope what I have said is taken to heart. It comes from my concern for the cinematic art and its crucial role in the times we’re living in.

John Sinno
Academy Award Nominee, Iraq In Fragments
Co-Founder, Northwest Documentary Association"

Anonymous said...

I thought that response was gonna be about how the asshole exhorted us to "trash the movie theater" before presenting an award to the enivro-doc. But I guess that guy is pretty exclusively focused on the Iraq ommission and the general documentary diss, which is how many liberal/lefty activists are: only one cause exsists. I know that's what he's accusing them of, but I think one could imagine that if they beat the Iraq drum all show and never mentioned the earth, he'd have been okay with that.

I did hear about the change in elligibility on local public radio, and that is pretty insane. They don't even have that kind of regulation for Best Picture, do they? I don't even think there are four different documentaries that screen in enough cities every year.

Alex Jackson said...

Typical liberal panty-wringing. What an utter dipshit. Has he been living under a rock or something. If anything, the Academy's requirements for distribution are accomodating of the popularity documentaries are currently enjoying. To say that it is going to keep films about controversial subjects from finding recognition strikes me as especially absurd in the age of Michael Moore.

James Allen said...

Having mention of the Iraq War avoided altogether was a painful reminder for many of us that our country is living in a state of denial. As filmmakers, it is the greatest professional crime we can commit not to speak out with the truth. We owe it to the public.

Oh, Jesus Christ. And I mean that literally. Do we have a cross somewhere, because this guy seems hot to be nailed to one.

(Although I do agree that Jerry Seinfeld is a dickhead.)

Seattle Jeff said...

Speaking of Oscars, found this nice quote from the LA Times

When you gather a roomful of pretentious Hollywood types, all of whom think they’re artists, no one wants to admit “that the face of the industry is Adam Sandler and Ashton Kutcher,” rather than Helen Mirren and Daniel Day-Lewis. The Oscars have become an exercise in professional amnesia—“the night when the industry gets tanked up and forgets what it does for a living.”

Bill: Speaking of movies not on DVD, caught Wisdom tonight starring Demi Moore and Emilio Estevez...the only reason I sat through the whole thing was because it was filmed largely in my hometown. Ever want to realize what a good film Bonnie and Clyde is, watch Wisdom...

Bill C said...

Wow, this is just like The Number 23: Two for the Seesaw helmer Robert Wise actually ghost-directed Wisdom!

Haven't seen it since I was 12 or 13 years old, myself. The only thing I remember is a scene where Charlie Sheen played a fast food manager or some such thing. (Speaking of which, Fast Food Nation is fucking awful.)

O'JohnLandis said...

The last shot of Fast Food Nation is pretty funny. "It's all connected! Soylent McDonald's is Mexicans!"

Is there anyone who's less consistent than Richard Linklater?

And for everything that's wrong with that press release, I don't at all disagree with the thesis. At a bullshit event, you artificially inflate the supposed worth of everything equally. That equal worth is what makes the lesser awards feel fake. To dismiss one category just to earn a few laughs goes against the uplifting lameness of the rest of the night. If a presenter dismissed all the Best Picture candidates as being depressing, that would be some kind of scandal. And if the five Best Picture nominations had to be picked from the ten films with the widest release, that would be a major scandal. Thus,

If anything, the Academy's requirements for distribution are accomodating of the popularity documentaries are currently enjoying.

I truly don't understand what this means. Documentaries are getting more popular, so the contest should be rigged so that those popular ones win and everyone feels happy that they've heard of the Best Documentary winner?

This seems like an overcorrection from the years when all the popular documentaries didn't get nominated.

Patrick Pricken said...

"The important thing is to tell stories, whether of people who have been damaged by war, of humankind’s reckless attitude toward nature and the environment, or even of the lives and habits of penguins."

I'd say that is all terribly depressing. But to each his own, I guess.

I also thought it's be about "Jerry Seinfeld disses cinemas" and not "the Iraq War is ignored at an entertainment show". For what it's worth, I found Seinfeld's appearance to be quite funny, if only it was one of the rare moments of actual cutting humor on the show.

James Allen said...

That Jerry Seinfeld can be thought of as "cutting" pretty much shows how generally safe and bland the whole procedings are, as Seinfeld's stand-up comedy in general couldn't cut butter (at the recent "Night of Too Many Stars" he appeared to rapturous applause and did a bit on cell phones that was about 8 years out of date.)

Then again, it is simply an industry back-patting ceremony, so why anyone thinks it should be a life changing (or truth telling) experience for the viewer is beyond me.

The Captain said...

Absolute proof of Mel Gibson's absolute insanity:

"Waldo (or Wally) from the famous Where's Waldo? (or Where's Wally?) books appears in the film, just in one frame, approximately at the 01:27:44, the "dead bodies" scene."

See the YouTube here

Dave Gibson said...

AJ's name-calling aside—I am also amused by the annual invocations of the Academy's alleged integrity and principled foundation. The Oscars are simply the Tiffany wing of the Hollywood Casino. Indeed, the Oscars tend to follow the theory that if they call it “art” enough times, then it will be “art”. However, I can hardly argue with the frustration that Sinno must feel over the revamped qualifications for Documentary Noms; though he's certainly being naive if he ignores the obvious monetary roots of such a decision. Of course this will only serve to further dilute the pool of Doc Noms, celebrating only the (relatively) popular, superficial likes of this year’s winner. As a card-carrying liberal pantywaist myself who probably sees more docs than any other type of film; I can only remind Sinno of the words of a far superior comedian--"I'd never want to belong to a club that would have me as a member"

Ian Pugh said...

Mel may be batshit insane, but he's still got the business eye to accommodate his crazed vision--gotta love how the Waldo parody is legally distinct from the genuine article.

Speaking of crazy filmmakers, I recently discovered that Renoir, My Father, Jean Renoir's biography of his dad Pierre-Auguste, opens thusly: "In 1915 a Bavarian sharpshooter did me the favor of putting a bullet in my leg." A motive for the air rifle assault on mad Bavarian Werner Herzog?

Alex Jackson said...

If anything, the Academy's requirements for distribution are accomodating of the popularity documentaries are currently enjoying.

I truly don't understand what this means. Documentaries are getting more popular, so the contest should be rigged so that those popular ones win and everyone feels happy that they've heard of the Best Documentary winner?

This seems like an overcorrection from the years when all the popular documentaries didn't get nominated


Eh, you might be onto something. I'll need to work this out.

Popularity and distribution are not the same thing though. And it goes without saying that the Oscars don't necessarily recognize quality. If I'm the big studio guy and I think I have a doc that has a chance of getting Oscar recognition, I'll have to distribute it heavily.

Carl Walker said...

Well Alex, the docs aren't really done by the big studios, right? I'm too lazy and too busy to look it up, but I would imagine that the Doc winner was the only nominee distributed by a specialty wing of one of the majors (the now-defunct Paramount Classics), and in addition, the only nominee to have gotten a wide enough release to qualify under the new rules. It seems like we are gonna end up with shit like My Date with Drew and Mad Hot Ballroom (the popular crap docs from 2005, I can't really think of any from 2006) as the nominees now, which is disturbing, obviously.

I did finally figure out why they might be doing this, though. You folks might have already known this, but I was reading that to vote in the Foreign or Doc categories, you have to have seen all five nominees... in theaters! not on a screener (this is also supposed to explain the lame Foreign win). So I guess they will have more voters in these categories when the films will all be lowbrow enough to have been seen by more people. Hooray.

(btw that anonymous comment was mine).

Vikram said...

I like the new blog look

Ryland Walker Knight said...

Walter, I really dig your ZODIAC review. The movie has only grown in my brain since I saw it. I still think it's flawed but it's probably the best thing Fincher's ever done. And especially because it feels the exact opposite of SE7EN: there's a respect for victims in this film that was wholly absent from the earlier film. Still, there's an odd fetishizing of the violence, which complicates his cause, you know? It's why I liked the second half so much more. The second half was absolutely perfect, I'm pretty certain. And claims that it's dramatically flat -- uh, okay, I guess -- are kind of bogus and misguided reads: I think that misses the point. The point is that there's not Ever going to be a final answer. To anything. Even the book Graysmith writes, which you can find in the library, doesn't solve the case! It's that staredown that cements it for him, at least. I think there's something there about the gaze being the final say-so. The film ends with a "virtual" line up, you know? I'll have to think about it some more but in the meantime, I wrote a review for Cal's newspaper. You can find it here. They wrote the wordiest title (and subtitle) ever that kind of misinterprets my essay but, well, there it is, in print, final. Or is it? Bwa ha ha! jk. Take it easy.

Also, you ever read any Nicholson Baker? Or, did you read the stuff he wrote for The New Yorker about San Francisco getting rid of the library's card catalog? It's good stuff. (Much better than Vox, which is his only Bestseller.) And it made me wonder if he's seen ZODIAC and what he thinks about this movie so obsessed with papers and books and, well, catalogs.

Chad Evan said...

Agree absolutely that Zodiac is Fincher's best, most refined film--watching it, I kept feeling he'd finally reached full mastery of expression, and no longer needs to show off his undoubted technical excellence by loading every scene with cinematic razzle-dazzle. Not that I'm against such showy technique, mind you--it's absolutely central to some director's styles, but with Fincher I always felt it was working against his true talent for nastiness and grime: his work is about implosions, not explosions. I also think working from a true story helped him enormously, and I hope he can retain this level of confidence when he returns to fictional stories.

Rick said...

Awwww...I was hoping for a negative-stars Black Snake Moan review. ;)

Agreed. Can someone please rip this movie a new one? And maybe add a personal attack of Brewer and his Labutian treatment of women? And throw in Samuel Jackson if you want, someone who I hate more and more everyday. He went downhill for me ever since he said he didn't want his Star Wars character to go out like a bitch. And it seems that Sam has never displayed actual vulnerability in a film.

Does anyone know of the critic ( or is he more of a celebrity gossip columnist ) Lou Lumenick? This guy actually compares Black Snake Moan to Baby Doll. Black Snake Moan is so freaking bush league, how can it even be mentioned in the same sentence as a classic? I do not know much about Lou, is he really that crazy?

corym said...

I don't know how many watch the show, but does anyone care to comment on last night's Battlestar Galactica?

Anonymous said...

Has anyone here actually seen Black Snake Moan?

Justin said...

Re: BSM, I have not seen it. But it looked like the kind of thing that would raise Walter's blood pressure.

Re: BSG--I am normally a fan, but parts of this season have been angering me, so I've been in wait-for-DVD mode. {reads spoilers} Holy crap!

corym said...

Justin

What exactly has been bothering you about this season?

In my mind, Season 3 seems to be following the same pattern as Season 2: twelve core episodes buffered by stand-alone episodes. The show has always been hit-or-miss when it isn't focusing on the main plotline, but I think Season 3's core episodes have been as strong as any in the series.

The show also had a hell of a lot of hype to live up to this year.

Justin said...

I dunno, corym, just stuff like people acting out of character--like, remember when Helo sabotaged their virus attack on the Cylons, and Roslyn didn't have him thrown out the airlock, or even threaten to? That's just one example--I swear there's been others that I'm blanking on right now.

Also: a bit too much of that "wrap everything up & return to status quo in 50 minutes" stuff, when Moore et al.'s Star Trek roots show a little too much.