Culture Crash 19-07: The Academy’s Unforced Errors

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Welcome to Culture Crash, where we examine what’s new and old in entertainment.

As you may have heard, this year’s Oscars have been a disaster since the word “go.” Over the past few months, the Academy has announced a Best Popular Film award, that Kevin Hart would be the host, and that only two of the nominees for Best Song would be performing. All three of those ideas stirred up controversy and all three have been reversed. Best Popular Film has been shelved for discussion another year, this year’s awards show will not have a host, and all the Best Song nominees will perform.

So, problems fixed, right? Well, not so fast, because the Academy is committing another unforced error. Higher-ups at the Oscars have begun insisting certain awards will be announced during commercial breaks and occur off-air to trim the show’s runtime, and I guess to skip on giving hard-working craftspeople their shining moments.

Awards are, of course, arbitrary. Ranking art is a personal endeavor, so calling someone the Best Actress or Best Director of a certain year is relatively insignificant. What many of us who love awards shows like the Oscars are attached to is the celebration of an art form we cherish. I disagree with the winners more often than not, but I like seeing the craft celebrated; I like having a list of things worth checking out, and I like getting a glimpse behind the scenes at the editors, screenwriters, and costume artists who make the movies we all go see. To steal these moments from those artists is to ignore the greater purpose of the show in the first place.

It’s not supposed to be about stargazing celebrity obsession. I mean, okay, of course, it is. But it isn’t just that, or at least it shouldn’t be. It should also be a celebration of filmmaking. To eliminate so-called “lesser” awards so Lady Gaga or Christian Bale can have more time to shine is a shame. The Oscars air once a year. I wish the Academy would let that show serve to honor as many people as possible and not just the famous ones in the fancy tuxes.

I’m Evan Rook. 

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Culture Crash 19-05: On Ethan Hawke and Oscar Snubs

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Welcome to Culture Crash, where we examine what’s new and old in entertainment.

Every year when the Oscar nominations come out, there is a wave of backlash in regards to the people and the films that were snubbed. This year, one of those notable snubs was actor Ethan Hawke for his work in First Reformed. It would have been his fifth Oscar nomination and his third as an actor since he has two as a screenwriter, but it also really felt like it could have been his first Oscars win.

Now, First Reformed isn’t my favorite movie. It was good, it challenged me and made me think. But it just didn’t all click with me the way it has for others. What is definitely true, though, is that Ethan Hawke was great in that film. It’s frustrating to me, and others, that his work with this wholly original character is overshadowed by so many impersonations and imitations. What Christian Bale and Rami Malek did in embodying Dick Cheney and Freddie Mercury is impressive, but it still boils down to just being really good copy-cats. There is something magical about an actor you love becoming a new person you’ve never laid eyes on before, as they do in original fictional films. And for that, I do think Ethan Hawke was deserving of a nomination, if not an outright win.

But there’s something deeper at play, too. We feel for Ethan Hawke because we like Ethan Hawke. He’s been a working film actor for 34 years and he’s been in the spotlight since 1989’s Dead Poets Society. Through his subsequent roles in Richard Linklater’s Before Trilogy and Boyhood, as well his work in other films like Gattaca, Training Day, Reality Bites, and countless others, Ethan Hawke has earned our affection.

It’s in Hawke’s collaborations with Richard Linklater that I and so many others really opened up a space in our hearts for Ethan Hawke, because he’s charming and honest, and because it really feels like he’s playing versions of himself. Hawke’s character in the Before movies went through a divorce right as Hawke was dealing with his own public divorce. Hawke’s character in Boyhood tells stories just like Hawke does on late-night programs. And he lights up the screen with Hawke’s natural combination of charisma and charm with philosophical meanderings and good comedic timing.

So yeah, many of us were hoping Ethan Hawke would win his first Oscar for First Reformed. Instead, he’s a notable snub. And that stinks, but to cheer ourselves up we have his whole catalog of great films to look back on. And his work in First Reformed didn’t go anywhere, it still exists. Awards don’t limit our capacity to like the things that we like.

I’m Evan Rook. 

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Culture Crash 18-50: A look ahead at the movies set to dominate awards season

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Welcome to Culture Crash, where we examine American culture–what’s new and old in entertainment.

Awards season is officially upon us. The Golden Globes have already announced their nominees, which are as questionable as always. Year-end lists are being finalized, and Oscar buzz is reaching a roar for some contenders. But now is also the time when many of these movies are being released in the first place. So, here’s a guide of what to keep an eye out for to get ahead of the nominee pool.

A Star Is Born and First Man are two contenders that have already spent some time in theaters. While First Man has begun to fade a bit and failed to generate much interest from the Hollywood Foreign Press, it did grab a nom for Claire Foy. And, it would be a minor shock if she and Ryan Gosling were both shut out of the actor races at the Oscars, while the film is still strongly in the mix for Best Picture. Of course, A Star Is Born may be the centerpiece of this year’s field- with Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga poised to each receive multiple nominations. Cooper for acting, writing, and directing; And Gaga for acting and songwriting.

Beyond those, Barry Jenkins has released his follow-up to Moonlight with If Beale Street Could Talk. A wonderful adaptation of the James Baldwin novel, the film expertly uses lighting and cinematography to celebrate black love… and to tell the heart-wrenching and familiar tale of a corrupt criminal justice system. The Favourite is another strong contender this year. Its trio of actresses- Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, and Rachel Weisz have garnered a lot of attention for their roles in this comedic take on the royal period piece that’s unlike anything you’ve seen before. And Netflix’s big swing this year comes in the form of Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma, a Spanish-language film that is inspired by Cuaron’s own childhood in Mexico City. Roma is in a limited number of theaters and is now streaming on Netflix.

Of course, there are other contenders as well. BlacKkKlansman and Eighth Grade are streaming on-demand. Black Panther is on Netflix. Adam McKay’s Vice will be released on Christmas, and other contenders like Widows, Can You Ever Forgive Me, and Green Book are all in theaters now.

It’s a busy time of year for all of us- and especially for the film community. The options are out there, and the time to stay in the loop for nomination season is now.

I’m Evan Rook. 

Stay in the loop! Follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook! Subscribe and review on iTunes!

Culture Crash 18-39: 2018 Fall Films

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Welcome to Culture Crash, where we examine American culture. What’s new and old in books, film, and entertainment.

Now that summer is behind us, it’s time for fall movies to take over.

Of course, there are some big ones coming, most notably Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Gindewald, the next installment in JK Rowling’s wizarding world. But there is a lot of excitement for some non-franchise films as well.

Typically, the day Oscar nominations are announced is a day when the majority of the public shrugs their shoulders and says ‘I’ve never heard of these movies.’ But each year presents a new opportunity to get out ahead of those confused hours, and if you want to have a good sense of the awards season to come, these are the titles to keep your eyes peeled for.

This week will see the release of the eagerly anticipated Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga remake of A Star Is Born. The movie has been earning rave reviews from film festivals and its release is coupled with a steady Oscar buzz.

A movie I’m particularly excited for is Widows, a thriller directed by Steve McQueen, co-written with Gone Girl and Sharp Objects author Gillian Flynn. The movie has one of the most exciting casts in years, headed by Viola Davis. Widows tells the story of an armed robbery gone bad–one where all four robbers are killed in the attempt… and their widows attempts to finish the job in their stead.

Other movies set to dominate conversation over the next few months include If Beale Street Could Talk, Barry Jenkins’s next film, an adaptation of the James Baldwin novel; First Man, Damien Chazelle’s retelling of Neil Armstrong’s mission to the moon; Can You Ever Forgive Me? Marielle Heller’s biographical film about Lee Israel, a writer who resorted to forgery, starring Melissa McCarthy, and Roma, Alfonso Cuaron’s passion project set in 1970s Mexico City.

This is the time of year cinephiles look forward to: the time when big swings come from exciting directors and we get to bask in all of its glory.

I’m Evan Rook. 

Culture Crash 18-09: Oscar Sunday

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Tonight’s the night. Hollywood’s biggest night – the “Academy Awards.” The nominations were announced a while ago, so we’re here to help jog your memory on some of the big contenders, as well as where you can watch them for some last-minute cramming:

Dunkirk is an intense re-telling of Operation Dynamo, the successful evacuation of over 300,000 British soldiers trapped on a French Beach by Nazis during World War II. The film was one of the biggest box office hits of the year and is nominated for the eight awards tonight, including Christopher Nolan for Best Director, Best Picture, and a number of technical categories. Dunkirk is available to purchase and rent in all formats including DVD.

Lady Bird is a coming-of-age drama of a young woman in Sacramento circa 2002. The movie tells the fraught and relatable story of a mother and a daughter struggling to get along over the course of a year. The film is writer Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut for which she became the fifth ever woman nominated. Saorise Ronan and Lauri Metcalf are nominated in each of the Actress categories and the film is nominated for a few other awards, including Best Picture. Lady Bird is available to rent or buy on Digital platforms.

Get Out was one of the most talked-about movies of the year and tells the story of Chris, an African-American man visiting his girlfriend’s white family. The premise sounds familiar until the movie takes a turn into thriller/horror territory. Director Jordan Peele became the first black director to be nominated for Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Picture on any one film. It is also his first film. The movie is available to purchase or rent in all formats, and is streaming on HBO Go.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri follows the story of a grieving mother challenging the local police who have been unable to solve her daughter’s murder. The movie takes a controversial look at race and privilege in America, mostly through actor Sam Rockwell’s role, for which he is the favorite for Best Actor. The movie is also nominated for Best Picture and six other awards. The film is available to rent or buy on all platforms.

Finally, The Shape of Water is about a mute woman who falls in love with a strange  aquatic being that is held prisoner by the US government during the Cold War. Director Guillermo del Toro is the favorite to win Best Director and the film is a strong contender for Best Picture and a number of other awards, including Best Score, on the show tonight. The Shape of Water is available on digital streaming platforms.

Tonight, it’s almost certain those 5 movies will win the biggest awards of the night, so a last-minute cram may help you understand what all the fuss is about when they’re accepting their statues.

I’m Evan Rook.