List: ‘Best Picture’ Oscar versus ‘Significant Cultural Value’

After skipping this years Academy Awards last weekend, but nonetheless reading a lot about them online the next day, I started thinking about how much I enjoyed Spotlight (it’s fantastic), but also how much we will be talking about the film in 5 years or so. The Oscars have the reputation amongst, well, everyone, that in the past decade (or three) of getting the Best Picture so utterly wrong. Now this argument may be extended all the way to the inception of Best Picture in the 1920s, and the primary question about the futility of ranking of art is: By what criteria makes any one movie the best one of the year? Not so easy, but films that resonate, have been lifted into significance over time, and otherwise tickle the popular culture in interesting ways.

Will all due respect to The Dew Over podcast, which had guests (including myself) on a panel re-assess each year (one per episode) of the past several deacades, typically -but not always- in the context of the 5 or so Academy nominations for Best Picture, I took some time to consider the innovation value, cultural imprint, the overall ‘force of contribution’ to the medium of film for any film released in that year, from any country. (This is, obviously, as I see it, of course, not by any ‘scientific or consensus metric.)

I took a look at 1980 up until 2011. These dates were chosen because they constitute my main personal time consuming movies, as well as me living during their release. I was 6 in 1980, and my parents started taking me to movies often (weekly) at about that time, especially to films that were inappropriate for my age, but I digress. I have omitted the last few years due to the need for a little time and space for things to percolate in the culture. Feel free to discuss in the comments section (Obvious Disclaimer: Clearly this is more a fun exercise than a definitive one — because that ultimately is a futile effort, there is so MUCH content in this art-form we call film to really pin anything down, but us humans like our reach to exceed our grasp.)

The format is simple. I list the film awarded by the Academy for Best Picture, then I list what I believe is the ‘best representative’ of that year (yes it is slanted towards American cinema, sue me) and I list a ‘dark horse’ choice to keep things interesting.

The Best Picture Oscar – Ordinary People
More Significant Film of Lasting Cultural Value – THE SHINING
Dark Horse Pick – The Empire Strikes Back (Also: Raging Bull)

The Best Picture Oscar – Chariots of Fire
More Significant Film of Lasting Cultural Value – RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK
Dark Horse Pick – Excalibur

The Best Picture Oscar – Gandhi
More Significant Film of Lasting Cultural Value – BLADE RUNNER
Dark Horse Pick – Fitzcarraldo

The Best Picture Oscar – Terms of Endearment
More Significant Film of Lasting Cultural Value – RETURN OF THE JEDI (Star Wars)
Dark Horse Pick – Tender Mercies (Also: The Right Stuff)

The Best Picture Oscar – Amadeus
More Significant Film of Lasting Cultural Value – AMADEUS
Dark Horse Pick – Paris, Texas

The Best Picture Oscar – Out of Africa
More Significant Film of Lasting Cultural Value – BRAZIL
Dark Horse Pick – Back To The Future

The Best Picture Oscar – Platoon
More Significant Film of Lasting Cultural Value – BLUE VELVET
Dark Horse Pick – The Mosquito Coast

The Best Picture Oscar – The Last Emperor
More Significant Film of Lasting Cultural Value – FULL METAL JACKET
Dark Horse Pick – Broadcast News

The Best Picture Oscar – Rain Man
More Significant Film of Lasting Cultural Value – THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST
Dark Horse Pick – Grave of The Fireflies

The Best Picture Oscar – Driving Miss Daisy
More Significant Film of Lasting Cultural Value – DO THE RIGHT THING
Dark Horse Pick – The Killer

The Best Picture Oscar – Dances With Wolves
More Significant Film of Lasting Cultural Value – GOODFELLAS
Dark Horse Pick – The Sheltering Sky

The Best Picture Oscar – The Silence of the Lambs
More Significant Film of Lasting Cultural Value – THELMA AND LOUISE
Dark Horse Pick – Barton Fink

The Best Picture Oscar – Unforgiven
More Significant Film of Lasting Cultural Value – UNFORGIVEN
Dark Horse Pick – Raise The Red Lantern

The Best Picture Oscar – Schindler’s List
More Significant Film of Lasting Cultural Value – NAKED
Dark Horse Pick – The Piano

The Best Picture Oscar – Forrest Gump
More Significant Film of Lasting Cultural Value – PULP FICTION
Dark Horse Pick – Chungking Express

The Best Picture Oscar – Brave Heart
More Significant Film of Lasting Cultural Value – SAFE
Dark Horse Pick – 12 Monkeys

The Best Picture Oscar – The English Patient
More Significant Film of Lasting Cultural Value – FARGO
Dark Horse Pick – Trainspotting (Also: Crash)

The Best Picture Oscar – Titanic
More Significant Film of Lasting Cultural Value – THE ICE STORM
Dark Horse Pick – Princess Mononoke

The Best Picture Oscar – Shakespeare In Love
More Significant Film of Lasting Cultural Value – OUT OF SIGHT
Dark Horse Pick – The Big Lebowski

The Best Picture Oscar – American Beauty
More Significant Film of Lasting Cultural Value – FIGHT CLUB
Dark Horse Pick – Eyes Wide Shut

The Best Picture Oscar – Gladiator
More Significant Film of Lasting Cultural Value – IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE
Dark Horse Pick – Memento

The Best Picture Oscar – A Beautiful Mind
More Significant Film of Lasting Cultural Value – FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING (LORD OF THE RINGS)
Dark Horse Pick – Mulholland Drive

The Best Picture Oscar – Chicago
More Significant Film of Lasting Cultural Value – CATCH ME IF YOU CAN
Dark Horse Pick – City of God

The Best Picture Oscar – Return of the King (Lord of the Rings)
More Significant Film of Lasting Cultural Value – MASTER & COMMANDER
Dark Horse Pick – Lost In Translation

The Best Picture Oscar – Million Dollar Baby
More Significant Film of Lasting Cultural Value – ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND
Dark Horse Pick – Birth

The Best Picture Oscar – Crash
More Significant Film of Lasting Cultural Value – BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN
Dark Horse Pick – Cache

The Best Picture Oscar – The Departed
More Significant Film of Lasting Cultural Value – THE PRESTIGE
Dark Horse Pick – Children of Men

The Best Picture Oscar – No Country For Old Men
More Significant Film of Lasting Cultural Value – ZODIAC
Dark Horse Pick – There Will Be Blood

The Best Picture Oscar – Slumdog Millionaire
More Significant Film of Lasting Cultural Value – MAN ON WIRE
Dark Horse Pick – Synecdoche, New York

The Best Picture Oscar – The Hurt Locker
More Significant Film of Lasting Cultural Value – INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS
Dark Horse Pick – Enter The Void (Also: A Serious Man)

The Best Picture Oscar – The King’s Speech
More Significant Film of Lasting Cultural Value – THE SOCIAL NETWORK
Dark Horse Pick – Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World (Also: Melancholia)

The Best Picture Oscar – The Artist
More Significant Film of Lasting Cultural Value – TREE OF LIFE
Dark Horse Pick – We Need To Talk About Kevin

Please chime in with something obvious wrong, or a key title(s) I missed for each year.

Roy Batty @ 0

A happy birthday, literally, to Nexus-6 replicant Roy Batty, who on this day in 2016, came into existence (however that is done) in the fictional universe of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (which, by the way, is currently getting a sequel with Dennis Villeneuve at the helm.)

Or as they say in future Los Angeles, happy Incept-Date, Fucker.

David Fincher’s Seven @ 20.

True story: I went out for my very first date with my wife back in September 1995 to see a movie where Morgan Freeman and the up and coming movie star, Brad Pitt, track down a serial killer. My wife whispered in my ear that the opening credits was a remix of Nine Inch Nail’s Closer, and we lost our minds during the ‘Sloth’ sequence. To this day, I actually consider Seven to be a good date movie with the right person.

Also, as an opening credits nerd, this film had one of the most influential credit sequences in the past several decades. If you go see the Whitey Bulger movie, Black Mass, you will see that designers are still doing this sort of thing, even today.

The sequence where Morgan Freeman peruses the library is one of my favourite things ever put on film. Happy birthday to one of the most meticulous and weirdly dark pop-culture hits films ever made.

The Force Awoke Almost 40 Years Ago

So it’s Saturday and I can post whatever I want. Those are the rules. When the Star Wars VII trailer was first unleashed to the world a couple of weeks ago, people all over the place were sighing and pooh-poohing the thing. It’s too fake and glossy looking they said. The lightsaber doesn’t make sense they said. There’s too much CGI they said. I, on the other hand love the trailer – especially the more I watched it. In my comments I mentioned that the trailer actually looks a lot like scenes from the original movies. It’s very minimal and open when it needs to be, detail oriented and claustrophobic when it needs to be.

I found this trailer today which kind of proves my point. It even shows moments that I specifically mentioned in my comments.

What this mock trailer also proves of course, is that it’s ludicrous to judge a movie based on six or seven 3-second shots from a movie; context is imperative. But I think in terms of visuals, from what I can see, Abrams has nailed it.

The Director’s Club: SAM FULLER

I recently made a guest appearance on the Director’s Club Podcast talking at length with Patrick Ripoll about the career, craft and overall style of the great Sam Fuller. Over the course of a few hours we also talk about Do The Right Thing, the short films of Kenneth Anger, the bawdy polish mind-melt film, The Saragossa Manuscript, and many more tangents and such.

Specific Fuller films covered at length are The Naked Kiss, Shock Corridor and Pick Up On South Street, but we touch upon many others with the exception being his film and TV westerns.

You can find the full podcast over at The Director’s Club.

Is Woody Allen “Irrelevant?”

In a recent Cinecast Episode, the guys were asked where they would place Woody Allen amongst the elite directors of all time and the word irrelevant was thrown around.

So is Woody Allen an “irrelevant” director at this point in his career? Well first of all, what does it mean to be irrelevant? And what does “this point in career” encompass? For the latter, let’s just take the past ten years = past ten films = roughly 20% of filmography/career. For the former, that’s a little trickier. Webster defines relevant as “having significant and demonstrable bearing on the matter at hand; having social relevance“. The matter at hand would obviously be film direction. So does being demonstrable mean sheer output of film? It certainly could, but if that’s the case, obviously Allen would have no trouble passing the bar on this one as he releases about one film per year. So that isn’t it.

Does irrelevant correlate with number of tickets sold i.e. box office numbers? That makes a little more sense, so let’s lightly analyze…

Blue Jasmine N/A
Rome with Love $73,244,881
Midnight in Paris $151,119,219
You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger $34,275,987
Whatever Works $35,097,815
Vicky Christina Barcelona $96,409,300
Cassandra’s Dream $22,658,532
Scoop $39,215,642
Match Point $85,306,374
Melinda and Melinda $20,085,825

Now compared to Iron Man or Man of Steel (or any other movie about a man made of metal), the above graphic’s numbers might as well be in pennies. But in comparison to like-minded films, these are honestly pretty respectable numbers for low budget, indie dramedies/thrillers playing in less than 800 screens. Before Midnight isn’t done yet; but for a well respected, beloved franchise, why is it only at a measly $11 million and won’t come anywhere near Allen’s numbers – all the while playing on 900 screens? How about Mud? $21 million. Are Linklater and Nichols considered irrelevant? One is a highly established and extremely well received director and the other is an up and coming hot shot in indie cinema who is equally well-received critically. Don’t know/like those names? How about Joss Whedon and Steven Soderbergh? Their two films currently wrapping up semi-wide releases made a whopping $4,169,353 and $32,172,757 respectively. I would hardly call Whedon or Soderbergh irrelevant directors (putting aside Soderbergh is now done making movies). Hell, even 2 Guns starring arguably two of the most bankable stars in Hollywood right now barely make the same numbers Allen’s films do (on average) while playing on over 3,000 screens!

Looking at the above examples, I’d say box office is a poor decision maker on deciding a film maker’s “relevance.” Sure you could come up with counter-examples but that would only help in kind of proving my point. If our annual box office competition has taught us anything, it’s that numbers are unpredictable and don’t really tell us much about the quality of a film or it’s director, cast or crew. And even if they did, in terms of where Allen’s types of films play, how many screens they’re on and what their competition is, the numbers are relatively large.

Who is Allen’s audience? On the above mentioned Cinecast, it was brought to light that it’s only old people going to Woody Allen films. While I think that might be a bit of a sweeping generalization, it’s kind of hard to dismiss. *Personally speaking, the latest Allen film I saw in the theater (Blue Jasmine), was roughly 90% over the age of 65. And to take it further, probably 75% of those people were closer to 80 years of age. And I’m not kidding. But it was a packed house. So this begs the question: is relevance directly related to the demographic a film maker is shooting for?

As sad as it is, I think this might actually be the best argument for proclaiming Woody Allen irrelevant. My gut reaction to this statement was “poppycock.” I mean what does it matter who the people are sitting in the seats? Why does it matter that they’re old? Cinema isn’t just for the kids. It’s for everybody. Still, in terms of film making craft and new ideas, Allen is hardly the trendy, hip, ground breaking director he once was. Despite making quality pictures, he isn’t really pushing anything new – in fact it’s arguable he’s consistently retreading old territory. Wes Anderson is a favorite around these parts but he’s already being criticized in some circles for just doing the same old same old over and over again and he’s a director with only seven features under his belt. Seven. Allen has upwards of 45. But it’s his old territory; and like Allen, there will always be people wanting to play in that playground even if they’ve seen it before.

Still, doing something over and over again hardly makes a person relevant. Trying new things and striving for originality and breaking some new ground creatively is what keeps the buzz going. It’s why people continue talking about you and anticipating your next project.

But back-pedaling again even further, maybe one could argue that these types of films make him even more relevant for a particular niche/demographic. Is it fair to say Tyler Perry is irrelevant because he only makes movies aimed at the black audience? Is Almodóvar irrelevant because almost all of his films are about gender identity, women’s issues and/or homosexuality? These examples open a whole new can of worms that I’m not really interested in exploring at the moment, but they do help illustrate that just because someone is making films for a very specific audience (intended or otherwise), doesn’t necessarily make them irrelevant on the whole. Maybe irrelevant to teens. Maybe irrelevant to action fans. Maybe irrelevant to vulgarians. But certainly not irrelevant to an entire generation of film-goers who look extremely forward to each and every release and are going to miss the hell out of Woody Allen when he’s gone.

*As a side note, my theatrical screening of Blue Jasmine was a Tuesday matinee. This could help explain the age demographic of my particular screening. It might also explain slightly lower than average box office numbers as well. Since movie going numbers are inexplicably tethered to dollars rather than tickets sold, it would make sense the dollars shown are smaller since the majority of the film’s audience is going during the day. Ya know, because old people can’t stay up after 8pm. Again, another can of worms.

The last bit of input I could bring in would come from critical reception. Rotten Tomatoes can be a bit arbitrary and each individual is going to have different opinions on artistic work; but in general, really high numbers (above 85%) mean a fairly high quality film that is both entertaining and smart in what it’s trying to accomplish and in general most people really enjoy.

Blue Jasmine 89%
Rome with Love 43%
Midnight in Paris 93%
You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger 45%
Whatever Works 50%
Vicky Christina Barcelona 82%
Cassandra’s Dream 46%
Scoop 39%
Match Point 77%
Melinda and Melinda 53%

So of the last ten Woody Allen films, only one was outright horrible (Scoop), six of them fall into the mediocre or slightly less category, while four of them turned out to be pretty darn good – again, from critical standpoint. This is pretty all over the map. The guy isn’t making masterpieces time and again yet quite often he’s making highly successful, interesting and entertaining films. And it’s not only critics talking. The Academy (i.e. The Oscars, i.e. people in the industry) certainly takes note occasionally and adds to Woody Allen’s legacy as well.

Blue Jasmine N/A
Rome with Love 0/0
Midnight in Paris 4/1
You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger 0/0
Whatever Works 0/0
Vicky Christina Barcelona 1/1
Cassandra’s Dream 0/0
Scoop 0/0
Match Point 1/0
Melinda and Melinda 0/0

If relevance is determined by your peers opinion of your output, Woody Allen might fail in this regard. A nom here and there is certainly better than most film makers and the highly acclaimed Midnight in Paris helps, but in general he isn’t the Spielberg of the 1980s and in this regard probably isn’t all that relevant in award land. Which also sort of compares him with other film makers of today.

Still, it does seem that big name actors and actresses are clamoring to work with him: Baldwin, Clarkson, Cruz, Bardem, Sarsgaard, Blanchett, Winslet, Watts, Page, Eisenberg, Hopkins, Banderas, Sheen, McAdams, Wilson, Hawkins, McGregor, Ferrell, Farrell, Gerwig and many more. Some of them giving the best output of their careers (Cruz, Johansson, Brolin). Possibly even Blanchett and that’s really really saying something!

Judging audience reaction is a bit trickier; particularly for Allen’s films. Basically all I have to go on is the internet and since the internet is mostly a youth game and since we’ve established that in all likelihood Allen’s key demographic is senior citizens it’s unlikely to find too many reactions online from this source. Again using Rotten Tomatoes as a guide, the audience ratings fall mostly in line with critics (slightly below in most cases) and one might surmise that this is because the old folks aren’t running home from the theater to blog about the movie they just saw or click a radio button on some ratings web site.

I did briefly look at the average ratings for some of Allen’s films over on LetterBoxd and they mostly seemed to generally fall in line with what I see on Rotten Tomatoes. Again, this doesn’t really tell us much as the average age of a LetterBoxd user is probably somewhere around 26 (just a guess).

So we’re still kind of stuck with the same question: what does “relevant” even mean? After all this digging I conclude it’s kind of a conglomerate of all these things mentioned above; with some things bearing more weight than others. Basically I think “relevant” is a little bit too broad of a term and too difficult to pin down an actual definition for in the case of an artist. Allen’s films may no longer be considered “event” pictures, but I lay that problem at the feet of the general audiences of today, not Allen. For the most part, people want and demand amazing CGI effects, 3D IMAX and explosions these days. If Kubrick were still alive and working today would he be putting up $100 million box office numbers? Maybe, but I kind of doubt it. Eyes Wide Shut did pretty well back in the summer of 1999 but it had a lot less to compete with and there was the X factor of Kubrick’s death and the last chance to see one of his new films on the big screen. So maybe a poor example I guess. But it does make me wonder if Kubrick was still around making awesome movies, would people go around calling him irrelevant if it was mostly just film snobs like you and me going to see them and only making $60 million?

My final gut reaction is this, if someone is calling Woody Allen an irrelevant director at this point, it could be true, but it’s their own damn fault, their own misgivings and their own short-sightedness. Though it’s true that not all of his films are always really kicking in the most efficient gear, about every other one is received very well both critically, financially (relatively speaking) and from the audience (as well as can be determined from the web tubes). They maybe don’t have quite the panache that modern film makers are exploiting today and anything remotely resembling experimentation is non-existent, but that doesn’t mean these aren’t solid films that many people are still talking about today.

Watch the 1993 masterpiece Super Mario Bros. in full!


Once or twice a year, something reminds me of that this movie happened. Today, I was reminded of it when I saw an original NES for sale on Craigslist.

I was only eight years old when I first saw the Super Mario Bros. movie. Imagine my excitement: not only were they making a movie about that awesome Mario game I spent so much time playing, the good guy from Roger Rabbit was playing Mario. As we first popped the movie into our VCR and the familiar NES music played over the opening credits, fading into whacky cartoon with talking dinosaurs narrated by Dan Castellaneta (aka Homer Simpson), I was immediately confused.

And that confusion never ceased during the entire 100 minute runtime.

I probably watched the film a dozen times as a kid. I never quite understood what it had to do with the video games that I loved so much, but I tolerated it – maybe even strangely enjoyed it. Now as an adult, I enjoy it for other reasons, mostly because I get a kick out of its campiness, how bizarre the entire script is, and the complete disaster that it turned out to be.

A meteorite somehow splitting the earth into two parallel universes. Dennis Hopper as an OCD, greasy-haired King Koopa. Giant “de-evolved” goombas. Fisher Stevens. The silly backstory for why Mario and Luigi were two Italian plumbers saving a princess.

Imagining the studio execs coming up with all of this as a means of capitalizing on Nintendo’s popularity is even more amusing.

Even more interesting are the almosts of this movie. Roland Joffé (The Mission, The Killing Fields) was the first to propose the film in a studio meeting. Danny DeVito and Harold Ramis were in talks to direct at one point. Tom Hanks was once on board to play Mario with Hoskins being brought on due to being a “more profitable” actor. Oh, the what-ifs.

As it would turn out, the film would bomb making less than $21 million back of its $45 million budget. Critics and gamers alike slammed it. And since then, Hoskins hasn’t spoke very kindly of it or its duo of directors. “The worst thing I ever did? Super Mario Brothers,” Hoskins said in a 2007 interview with Guardian. “It was a fuckin’ nightmare. The whole experience was a nightmare. It had a husband-and-wife team directing, whose arrogance had been mistaken for talent. After so many weeks their own agent told them to get off the set! Fuckin’ nightmare. Fuckin’ idiots.”

You know what, though? The movie is right here for you to watch in its entirety. See if you can resist.

Happy 15th Birthday, BOOGIE NIGHTS

Hard to believe that P.T. Anderson’s Porn Industry opus Boogie Nights is celebrating the 15th Anniversary of its release today, in celebration, here we are running our Finite Focus post on one of the many classic scenes from the film.

From one of my absolute favorite films of all time, comes one of the best extended sequences in the film: the drug deal gone wrong. There are so many things going on in this scene all at once that should have the viewer holding their breath with anxiety. Before the scene even starts there is a tension in the air so thick that we know something bad is about to happen. We have three stupid guys about to do something really fucking stupid and they’re coked out of their minds to boot.

The two most glaring things that radiate in this scene are the aural cues. The overpowering, uncharacteristic soundtrack for a scene like this and the firecrackers exploding off screen. I love how the loud 80’s music is almost blasting out the dialogue and how the drug king (Alfred Molina) is totally oblivious to the obvious tension by the young visitors and meanwhile, in a David Lynchian sort of moment, he could care less about a Chinese kid, standing just out of frame lighting firecracker after firecracker, which is obviously getting nerves on edge (even more than they already are) of our young heroes.

Throw in a Marcelius Wallace type with a big frakkin gun who is just over their shoulder checking the bogus coke out while Molina’s character plays Russian Roulette for fun and talks about mixed tapes (a drug dealer’s version of Cusack’s talk in High Fidelity). Still the firecrackers continue.

Finally, Diggler (Wahlberg) just stares at the wall for what seem like forever while we listen to the mix tape, in full-blown, space-out mode before coming to his senses. Just as things look like we might get out of this little charade unscathed, Todd Parker does something really, REALLY stupid.

God, I love this scene…


Neil Armstrong 1930 – 2012

From the Earth to the Moon… and now the great beyond. A childhood (and adulthood) hero has today passed from our presence. A daring and courageous guy who captured the world’s attention and hearts with just a single step. If anyone on this Earth is to be remembered for something truly amazing, noteworthy and awe-inspiring, it is surely Neil Armstrong.

Go luck sir. And God speed.