Sunday, November 18, 2012

The beginning of Awards season

One could argue that the awards season push begins at several points in the movie calendar, most of which center around film festivals. The discussions start at Sundance in January, continue through Cannes in May, die down over the summer - save for the one or two indie films that pop up or a couple of commercial movies that also achieve critical success - only to resume at a feverish pitch in August and September with festivals in Toronto and Venice. From then on, the pace stays steady until the market is flooded in mid-November and every movie with even a distant chance starts jostling for positioning and uses words like "nominee" and "winner" in its advertising. It could easily be argued that this weekend marks the "official" start to awards season with the wide release of Lincoln, a movie that is widely anticipated to contend for many awards. Entertainment Weekly has booted up their new feature section, "Prize Fighter", with new columnist Anthony Breznican, and I hope that Grantland's Mark Harris soon resumes his Oscarmetrics column, since I really enjoyed reading his commentary last year. There are usually between twenty and thirty films that are part of the conversation in any given year, depending on how strong or weak the field is, and there have already been a number of movies that have been tossed around as "serious" contenders. By my count, there are about sixteen movies that have already established themselves as significant parts of the narrative over the next few months, including several that are yet to be released. I find it interesting that the posturing and ranking has already begun, even before most movie-goers have even seen most of these movies, but so be it. According to my reading and some educated guesses, the movies that have been released that are already "in contention", as it were, are: Argo, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Flight, Lincoln, The Master, Moonrise Kingdom, and The Sessions. Those coming out in the next month that look to figure into the discussion are: Life of Pi, The Silver Linings Playbook, Les Misérables, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Zero Dark Thirty, The Impossible, Anna Karenina, Django Unchained, and Hitchcock. Of course, there is a lot of ebb and flow in this season, and a lot can change in just a few short weeks.

The "locks" for multiple nominations and a prominent place in the discussion:
1. Lincoln - Spielberg has again established his credibility and cemented his legacy with this biopic of Lincoln, which looks to figure in most races: Picture, Director, Actor, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Adapted Screenplay, and the artistic awards. If War Horse can be nominated for Best Picture, this one certainly can - and likely will.
2. Argo - This movie's commercial success essentially ensures its spot in the races for Picture, Director, maybe Supporting Actor, Adapted Screenplay, and some artistic awards. Plus, it has a lot of narrative threads going for it. It's a movie about making movies, it features an up-and-coming director with enough established work to warrant a nomination, and it has a pro-America stance.
3. Life of Pi - An Oscar-winning director (Ang Lee) making an "unfilmable" book into an already well-received adaptation seems like a lock to me for Picture, Director, Cinematography, Adapted Screenplay, Visual Effects, and some artistic awards.
4. The Silver Linings Playbook - David O. Russell's upcoming movie was well-received at TIFF and has a great narrative going for it, including the "serious" breakthrough of Bradley Cooper (for Best Actor?), Jennifer Lawrence (a likely Best Actress nominee), an Adapted Screenplay, and a well-established supporting cast. Seems like a lock for something.
5. Les Misérables - Tom Hooper's follow-up to The King's Speech might be only the fourth-most ambitious project on this list, which is saying something. Even if the film is not well-received - which judging from early reports seems unlikely - the film seems likely to be considered in the artistic fields. I think it's a likely contender for most prominent races, and that Jackman, Crowe, Hathaway, and even Seyfried may get some consideration too.
6. The Master - P.T. Anderson's auteur pic had a lot of critical love when it came out, though it has faded after it had little commercial success. Then again, this could be the Tree of Life for this year - a divisive film that is either loved or hated but that cannot be ignored. I think it will be considered and possibly will receive several nominations, including Best Picture, Anderson for Director and Original Screenplay, Actor (Phoenix), Supporting Actor (Hoffman), Supporting Actress (Adams), Cinematography, Art Direction, and Costume Design.
7. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey - I know Peter Jackson's critical and commercial success with the Lord of the Rings trilogy should make this seem like a slam dunk for a Best Picture and Director nod, but The Hobbit is a completely unknown entity. I expect, if it's well done, that it would at least receive a Best Picture nomination, but we won't know for another month or so. It will at least likely receive a number of artistic nominations, though.

The established wild cards:
1. Moonrise Kingdom - It's hard to believe that Wes Anderson has never had a movie nominated for Best Picture or Best Director, and this film has had the kind of critical wherewithal to finally break through. It is likely to get strong consideration in the Original Screenplay category, though, as well as some artistic awards.
2. Anna Karenina - It's impossible for the Academy to ignore the combination of director Joe Wright and star Kiera Knightley, but who knows how much love this movie will get?
3. Zero Dark Thirty - There's a lot of hype about this project: it's from the director and writer of The Hurt Locker; it stars one of the breakout stars of the moment (Jessica Chastain); and it's very topical and seems to fit into the narrative of this year's movies (which are overall very political).
4. Beasts of the Southern Wild - An audacious indie picture that had a lot of buzz earlier in the year but that has faded recently. Look for it to figure in the races for Best Actress, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Original Score. It could get a Best Pic nom, but it's a bit of a stretch at this point.
5. Django Unchained - Who knows how Tarantino's latest will be received?
6. Hitchcock - A biopic with a number of famous actors playing famous actors. If nothing else, some attention toward Scarlett Johanssen seems likely (especially since she incredibly has never received a nomination)
7. The Impossible - Might be this year's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close - an emotional movie based on recent events (the 2004 South Asian tsunami) that strikes a chord.
8. Flight - Robert Zemeckis' thriller has been surprisingly well-received, and there's talk of a Best Picture nomination. I think it's much more likely that Denzel Washington will be considered for Best Actor, and that the movie will otherwise be ignored.
9. The Sessions - Another indie movie that seems more likely to be nominated for acting awards than for the main prizes.

The real wild cards:
1. The Paperboy - Lee Daniels' latest movie has not received much attention in its release, but it may garner some consideration for acting nominations.
2. The Perks of Being A Wallflower - The buzzy teen pic could get a few nominations if it is as good as everyone says it is.
3. Looper - I have been surprised not to see this movie mentioned at all in the discussion so far. It is a well-received sci-fi movie with some strong performances and a solid script. It probably won't garner much attention for the main awards, but a writing nomination might be up for grabs.

So, I'm already in my "movies to watch" mode with seven weeks before nominations are announced. I've seen Beasts of the Southern Wild, Moonrise Kingdom, and The Master. I would like to see Argo, Looper, and Lincoln as soon as I can, in that order. I'm looking forward to Life of Pi and The Silver-Linings Playbook in the next couple of weeks, and I'll be seeing The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and Les Misérables as soon as they open. The watching order of the other movies will be determined by how they are received and how much buzz they get over the next few weeks.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Top 10 "Haven't seen 'em, don't care" movies

I have spent a lot of my time as a cinephile thinking about the movies I want to watch, the movies that actually excite me and make me wonder and think and dream. Some of those movies are huge blockbusters, some are indie relationship pics, and some are silly comedies. Then there is a list of movies I should watch, which actually seems to be merging more and more with my "want to watch" list the more that I learn about movies. Some movies on this list are determined by awards buzz, some by critical favour, and some by commercial success; they are simply the kinds of iconic films that it is inexcusable not to watch and still call yourself a movie buff. Some of these justify the outrage vented upon that fragile admission: "You mean you haven't seen it?" I have a dishearteningly large list of those kinds of movies that I have not watched, but at least I have (mostly) learned how not to watch terrible movies instead. The movie from which I derive glee in not having watched, as I feel that my screen cred actually increases as a result of these omissions. Most of these kinds of films fall into the category of blockbusters, though there are a few sentimental kinds of movies that are featured here. So here is my Top 10 list of movies that I have no shame in not having seen; in fact, I take pride in not having seen these movies. It features a lot of sequels, and I know that if I actually counted up the movies on this list, there would be more than thirty, but I'm using artistic license to manage a familiar form in an inventive way. And trust me: I wish this list was longer. (Oh, how I wish that I could unsee Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.)

Any contemporary horror movies: Whether it's torture porn or found footage or J-horror or whatever, I know I'm not missing anything in not watching any horror movies over the past decade - or the past four decades, for that matter. I just don't like the genre in general, and I don't see much intrinsic value in its persistence. I'll go back to some of Kubrick's or Hitchcock's psychological thrillers, but I can't think of really any films in the modern iteration of "horror films", which arguably began, at least as a form in popular culture, with The Exorcist in 1974.

The Judd Apatow family of films: Look, I loved Freaks and Geeks, but I have not really watched much more than pieces of most of his movies. I should probably watch all of Anchorman and 40-Year-Old Virgin sometime (though I suspect the clips I have seen should suffice), and I admit that Bridesmaids (which he produced, but did not write) was brilliant, but most of his other movies seem superfluous to me.

Most James Bond movies: I know I'll probably see Skyfall, the 23rd Bond flick, which will make a grand total of four Bond movies I will have seen in their entirety: the middle two Brosnan movies in the late 1990s (Tomorrow Never Dies and The World Is Not Enough) and Casino Royale. I guess I never got into those marathons on TBS when I was younger.

Austin Powers 2 and 3: One of my first "I knew they would tarnish the original's charm" movie avoidances. I'm fine not being in anyone's belly or having seen the silliness of Mini-Me.

The Twilight Saga: I've considered watching the first movie with Rifftrax, a satirical commentary from the minds behind MST3K, but even that prospect can't make me stomach the thought of enduring any entry of this dreck.

Precious: Based on the novel "Push" by Sapphire - When the Oscar push for this egregiously-titled film was on, I wanted to see it just to see what all of the buzz was about. Then I realized that I would probably have hated it, so I never saw it, and guess what? It doesn't matter now anyway. This is probably the most memorable of its ilk in recent memory, but there's one (or more) every year. 2011 featured at least two: War Horse and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (with The Help and The Artist arguably on the short list). It's hard to tell what it will be this year, though. Maybe The Paperboy? (Not-so-coincidentally directed by the same man who directed Precious. Hmmm.)

Rocky V: As far as I'm concerned, this movie was never made. Rocky won the Cold War by beating Ivan Drago in 1986, and then we didn't hear what happened to him until 2006. Oddly enough, though, Rocky V isn't the only Rocky movie I haven't seen: I've never watched Rocky II. I guess it's just never come up.

Transformers 2 and 3: Against my better judgment, I watched Michael Bay's bastardization of my beloved cartoon several months after the first movie came out. I vowed that would be the last one I would watch, and it has been.

The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions: I knew that they were not going to be good, and I figured that they could only tarnish my memory of the first movie, so I never saw them in theatres. I dodged a couple of bullets there (pun intended).

Star Wars Episodes II and III: Even when I was a child, I didn't really love Star Wars. I enjoyed it enough, and I read many of the books, but I was ambivalent toward the series. I remember watching the re-releases of A New Hope and Return of the Jedi in theatres in the mid-1990s (though why I did not see, The Empire Strikes Back, the best of the original trilogy in its re-release is beyond me), and I had a few friends who were huge fans, so I gave Episode I a chance. And I fell asleep the first time I saw it, during the completely CG battle scene. So I gave it a second chance, thanks to urging from those same friends. And I haven't watched a Star Wars movie since.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

CLoTHES 2012: Movies and TV

Aside from a couple of years in which the only movies I watched were The Lord of the Rings trilogy, movies have been a pretty constant hobby in my life since I was about 15. I generally try to watch an average of a movie a week, and I usually end up seeing somewhere between 30 and 40 movies that are released in a given year. With 45 weeks gone in the year, I figure that I have watched 26 movies: 14 in theatres, and 9 that have been released this year. So, by my calculations, I'm 19 movies behind for the year, and I would need to watch an average of four movies a week from now until the end of the year to catch up. Of course, that probably won't happen, but I do plan to watch a few more movies in theatres before the calendar turns. But I'm actually mostly on track with going out to see new movies; it's at home that I have not been watching movies. I'm not sure why: maybe it's because my wife hasn't wanted to watch as many movies; maybe it's because I've thought that movies are too much effort; maybe it has just been a period in life in which I just don't watch movies. I miss watching movies, but I'm also strangely okay without them for now. It's not even that I'm watching more TV to compensate, either. I have only two shows that I've been following consistently this season, and I have only managed to check out one of the new shows on this fall. I'm not sure how long this period in my life will last, and I'm not sure what I think about it, but it is what it is for now. Maybe I'll just have to work at catching up on those movies...

Friday, November 09, 2012

Thoughts on the American election

Like many Canadians, I was relieved that Obama won re-election. For my part, I never doubted that he would, even when polls may have been skewed otherwise. I knew Romney was the perfect presidential loser before he won the nomination, and I have not been wrong so far about the loser of an American presidential election (I even predicted Bush over Gore, though I may have been helped on that one). I do not think that Obama has been a great president, but I certainly did not want to see where the US - and the world - would end up with any candidate who would cater to the far right. I'd like to think that Joss Whedon's delightfully tongue-in-cheek rendition of Romney's possible election bringing forth the zombie apocalypse ensured an Obama win, but we'll never be certain. Either way, Obama has been given the same chance that W., Clinton, and even Reagan were given - to either redeem themselves or to completely destroy their reputation. (Consider that W. actually had a passable first term, and our memory of him would be a lot different if he had lost in 2004.) I think that it's a move in the right direction for the US, and I sincerely hope that Obama can spend more of this term focusing on internal affairs rather than the world's problems (Chavez might be right on this one). But most of all, I'm glad that the constant rhetoric is over for now - or at least that it will die down for a year or so. The division between the two parties seems to be so entrenched by now that the bickering never fully ceases. Even in the 2008 election - the only truly decisive contest of the past four elections - Obama, perhaps the most motivational candidate since JFK - had only 52.9% of the popular vote. The results in most states are assumed well before election day, and it seems that any given election will depend on the few "battleground states" that swing between the two parties. I know Canada's first-past-the-post system has its own eccentricities and flaws, but the electoral college system - and indeed, the vast majority of the American political scene - seems to be beyond help in its current state. If nothing else, this election should continue to prove to Americans that their existing system is broken, and that it will take significant effort by any government in the future to get beyond the rhetoric and make positive change. Obama may not be able to make the kind of progress he would like to see because of the perpetually antagonistic nature of American politics, but I hope that both parties can get past their myopia and work toward a better America for everyone. Or maybe, that someday, Americans will be able to vote for a third party without throwing their vote away. There's always hope.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

CLoTHES 2012: Gaming

Someone asked me today "what do you do for fun?" As I thought about it, I realized that if I had to choose the single defining hobby of my life at this point - that is, the activity that I would choose above all other activities - it would be gaming. Board games are my primary social activity right now. I've always enjoyed board games, and I think I really started to get into them about five or maybe six years ago, but it has only been in the past two years that it has become one of my primary hobbies. I now log every play in my BGG account, and I routinely check local online sellers for deals. I log about twenty plays a month, and I spend an average of 4-6 nights per month playing games. I have a gaming group of a few friends with whom I talk about upcoming games and strategies and with whom I coordinate my purchases to ensure the best cross-selection of titles. I have 60 games I would buy instantly if I had the money and a wish list of over 150 games I want to play, which itself includes at least 20-30 games I would buy without playing just because I know I would love them. As I have spent more time playing games, I have certainly refined my tastes and realized what kinds of games I really like. I really like the "eurogames" style of play: fairly simple rules, lots of strategy, (nearly) complete player control, and high replayability. I tend not to enjoy games with lots of fiddly pieces, a high luck factor (ie. dice), or with a mechanic that gets old quickly. I can talk knowledgeably and freely about designers and mechanics like I can directors and cinematic techniques. I have just finished participating in a beta test for a soon-to-be-released game. I am definitely a Board Game Geek.
I play video games mainly as a solo gaming activity, often for a few hours each week. I'm still primarily a retro gamer, though I have been enjoying more recent titles on Steam (and I'm looking forward to the WiiU). It's one of my primary activities to relax, since there's really no way to multitask when playing games. I would be defined as a much more casual gamer at this point, mainly because I typically don't play the kind of titles and log the hours of a so-called "hardcore gamer" does. My recent stretch has been playing through Rare's 3D platform games for the N64: Banjo-Kazooie, Donkey Kong 64, and Banjo-Tooie; Star Fox Adventures for the GameCube is likely next in the rotation. Video games are a great distraction for me - not a huge time consumer.
One development in my video gaming is being more intentional about my collecting. I have collected video games for almost two and a half decades, and I still have many of my original games going back to 1990 (including my original NES). I have gotten hooked on the Game Collecting subreddit, and I have Video Game Price Charting as a link on my phone for when I see games "in the wild", as we collectors say. I have also logged my account at My Video Game CollectionVG Collect, which includes my wishlist of almost 200 items. I don't think I ever plan (or even hope) to own them all, but it's the search that's fun in the meantime. I always hope to play more games, but I'm learning to buy them as I play them, unless they are available for an unbeatable deal. By the way, feel free to let me know if you have any erstwhile games sitting around somewhere that you'd be willing to let go sometime. And that's my evaluation of my current status as a gamer!

Thursday, November 01, 2012

CLoTHES 2012: Music

It seems that the hardest of my collections to keep under control is my music. Not only does the maintenance of physical albums (sorting, filing, uploading, etc.) take time, but the management of files and music online take a significant amount of time - especially because I'm a stickler for correct file names and finding as many b-sides and rarities as possible. (I know, I know - a true #firstworldproblems if ever there was one. But I continue forward.) It seems that I have developed a pattern that I unofficially have to sort through my music every two years or so. I don't plan for it, per se, but I know when it's time; it's kind of like getting a haircut - I just know when it's time, and it usually ends up being the same duration between each visit.
Previous to last week, the last time I cleaned out my music collection was in August 2010 ("AKA "The Day the Rap Rock Died", when I expunged the vast majority of that erstwhile genre from my collection; the time previous to that was when I moved across the country in 2008, when I divested myself of much of the contemporary Christian CDs that had continued to hang around well past their "best before" date (which, by my count, was February 2003, when Switchfoot released The Beautiful Letdown. I'll probably write a post sometime soon about how that album marked the death of "Christian music", at least for me. But now I digress.). Furthermore, as I reflect back, I can note significant changes to my collection and listening every two years or so. So it makes sense that for the past couple of months that I have felt an almost insatiable need to organize, resort, and quantify my music collection and purge the albums on the fringes. It took a few hours to re-sort through all of the physical albums, but I learned a few things in the process, and I realized that I could actually write the first entry of the Comprehensive Life of Turner Hobby Evaluation Survey (or CloTHES, for short) that I promised several months ago. So what did I learn about the current state of my music listening?
I buy fewer albums than I ever have (either in physical or electronic format). I've had a trend downward in the past three years or so (which probably not-so-coincidentally also marks a time of fluctuation in my employment, but I think it also shows that I'm a bit more choosy in what I buy now. I'm not necessarily listening to fewer albums or less music, though - I'm just buying fewer and listening to more music online before buying it. With that said, I have 124 albums on my wish list, and I would go out and buy almost any one of those discs without a second thought. Oddly enough, even though I'm buying fewer albums, my wish list is not significantly larger than it has been - perhaps more evidence of a more refined palate. My tastes have not changed very significantly over the past few years. I probably add four or five new artists to my listening rotation in any given year, but it's getting more difficult for new artists to catch on with me. Most of the music I buy (at least two-thirds) consists of releases by artists I already listen to, and a new artist really has to blow me away (a la The Civil Wars or Mumford and Sons) to edge their way in. I do listen to a lot of new artists online, but few of them make the cut. I guess it's not too surprising that my tastes have leveled out. Summer 2006 was the last time I remember making a significant shift in what I listened to, and it was also the last time I really had time (before my teaching career started) to invest the time and effort into discovering new artists. I also was entering my mid-twenties, which also marked a leveling out in habits across the board for me, so music is just part of the equation.
I have also discovered, perhaps unsurprisingly, that most of the CDs I am purging are discs I bought for cheap at thrift stores. In fact, most of the discs I buy now are from thrift stores, usually for $2 or $3, and a lot of them are CDs I might like but are not sure hits for me. I think my reasoning is generally that if I see an album I'm not sure about for only a couple of dollars that it's worth the risk. I am not sure what percentage of these tentative purchases actually stick around, but it's probably under half (just as it was a decade ago with demos from Christian music stores), so that's probably a good indicator that I should cut this habit out. After all, I could probably buy another new album I want every month or two with the "couple of bucks here and there" that is being spent on albums I don't end up keeping anyway. I'll have to remember this thought as I'm thrift shopping over the next few months.
Overall, I feel like I'm less passionate about music, but I'm more refined in my tastes. Music does not play a kind of central role in shaping my identity as it did even a few years ago, so it's more of an activity of aesthetics and enjoyment than of identity at this point. I go to a show or two a year (as opposed to half a dozen or more), and it's a much smaller part of my life now. I remember seeing older friends make this same transition, and it's interesting to see how it's happening to me. It's still important to me, and I really enjoy being part of the general dialogue and musical world, but I can feel it slipping away more and more. And I'm actually okay with that. I guess there is more to life than music; I just never thought I'd be the one to say that.


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