8 Films That Should Never Have Been Nominated For Best Picture


Sometimes, the Academy gets it wrong.

For instance, these 8 films have two things in common:

  1. They were all nominated for best picture.
  2. They shouldn’t have been.

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  1. American Beauty (1999)

Shallow, pretentious, and more than a little misogynistic, American Beauty was somehow not only nominated but won as well.

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2. Crash (2005)

Oh my God.  How the Hell did this mess of a movie win?

 

3. Avatar (2009)

Yawn.  I’ve written at length about my dislike for this film so I’m not going to waste too much more space on it.  It would be nice if James Cameron was capable of writing dialogue that didn’t sound like something that would get a failing grade in a high school creative writing class.

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4. The Kids Are All Right (2010)

Acclaimed when first released, The Kids Are All Right was forgotten fairly quickly.  When seen today, it comes across like a sitcom version of life among the wealthy and out of touch.  I don’t think any film featuring an organic food restaurant is going to age well.

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5. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2011)

In the wake of 9/11, an extremely annoying brat bothers random people in New York.  One of the worst films ever.

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6. The Descendants (2011)

Alexander Payne’s comedy of tragedy and infidelity isn’t terrible but it wasn’t that great either.

7. Birdman (2014)

While it’s nice that Michael Keaton made a comeback, this is still one of the most overrated films of all time.  Will anyone care about Birdman in ten more years?

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8. The Big Short (2015)

The worst thing about the economic crash?  It gave us a movie like The Big Short.

Embracing the Melodrama #53: Crash (dir by Paul Haggis)


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For the past two weeks, I’ve been reviewing, in chronological order, some of the most and least memorable melodramas ever filmed.   We started way back in 1916 and now, after 52 reviews, we’ve finally reached the year 2004.  And that can only mean that it is time to review the worst film to ever win an Oscar for best picture of the year.  I am, of course, talking about Crash.

Crash is an ensemble piece that follows a multi-racial cast of characters as they deal with issues of race, crime, and — well, that’s about it.  In Crash, everyone’s life revolves around race and crime.  Well, I take that back,  There is at least one character whose life revolves around being a good maid to the white woman who employs her.  But otherwise, it’s all about race and crime.  The film is set in Los Angeles which, from what I’ve read, is actually a pretty big city but you really wouldn’t know that from watching Crash.  All of the characters in Crash are constantly and randomly running into each other.  I think director/screenwriter Paul Haggis is trying to make a statement about the power that coincidence plays in the world but, often times, it just feels like lazy plotting.

Anyway, here are the characters who are meant to bring Los Angeles to vivid cinematic life:

Brendan Fraser and Sandra Bullock play rich white people Rick and Jean Cabot.  Rick Cabot has just been elected District Attorney of Los Angeles County.  (Because when I think of a successful urban politician, I automatically think of Brendan Fraser…)  Jean is his materialistic wife.  At the start of the film, they’re carjacked by two young black men, which leads to Jean suspecting that every non-white she sees is secretly a gang member.  Later, Jean falls down a flight of stairs but she’s helped by her maid, who happens to be — surprise, surprise — not white!  Apparently, this teaches Jean an important lesson about tolerance.  The message, I guess, is that white people can be redeemed by interacting with their minority servants.

And then there’s Cameron (Terrence Howard) and his wife Christine (Thandie Newton) who are upper class and black.  Cameron directs sitcoms for a living and, at work, he has to deal with Fred (Tony Danza) constantly double guessing him and demanding that he reshoot scenes.  One night, as they leave an awards ceremony, Cameron and Christine are pulled over by two white cops — the racist Ryan (Matt Dillon) and his idealistic partner Hansen (Ryan Phillippe).  Ryan proceeds to molest Christine while giving her a pat down.  The next day, Christine is involved in a car accident on the freeway and is pulled from the burning car by none other than Officer Ryan.  The point here, I suppose, is that the same pervert who finger rapes you one night is just as likely to be the same guy who comes across your overturned car on the freeway.  For that scene alone, Crash deserves the title of worst best picture winner ever.

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But that’s not all!

There’s also Detective Graham Waters (Don Cheadle), who has been assigned to investigate a police corruption case that would not be out of place in an episode of … well, just insert your own generic cop show title here.  Graham also visits his mentally unstable mother who demands that Graham find his younger brother.  Now, of course, as soon as we hear this, we know that Graham’s brother is going to have to turn out to be one of the other characters in the film.  Since there are only three other black males in this film (and since Cameron appears to be the same age as Graham), it’s not difficult to figure out who it’s going to be.

It’s either going to be Anthony (Ludacris) or Peter (Larenz Tate), who also happen to be the same two men who carjacked the Cabots’ car at the start of the film.  Larenz Tate probably gives the best performance in this whole sorry mess of a film, even if his role is ultimately a thankless one.

There’s also a locksmith named Daniel (Michael Pena), who finds himself being stalked by an angry Middle Eastern man.  Daniel’s story contains a hint of magic realism, presumably because Paul Haggis was reading something by Gabriel Garcia Marquez while writing the script.

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You can fault Crash for many things but you also can’t deny that it’s far more ambitious than the typical bad film.  In the space of 112 minutes, Paul Haggis attempts to say everything that needs to be said about race and class in America.  Unfortunately, while watching the film, it quickly becomes obvious that Haggis really doesn’t know much about race and class in America.  Hence, the film becomes a collection of scenes that think they mean something while actually meaning nothing.  Crash is less about race in America and more about how other movies have traditionally portrayed race in America.  Unfortunately, director Haggis does not have the self-awareness to truly bring the subtext of screenwriter Haggis’s script to life.

The main theme of Crash seems to be that everyone has a good side and a bad side and that you can the hero of one story while being the villain of another.  That’s not a bad theme, it’s just an incredibly mundane one.  The film illustrates this theme by continually having a character say something racially offensive just to then have him do something heroic in the very next scene.  As a result, the characters don’t come across as being so much complex as just incredibly inconsistent.  Crash is never as deep as it thinks it is.

Reportedly, Crash was inspired by Paul Haggis’s own experience of getting carjacked.  Haggis has said that being a victim of crime led to some intense soul searching on his part.  Hopefully, Haggis got something better than just Crash out of the whole experience.

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Trailer: Life of Pi


One of the upcoming films that everyone’s been predicting will be a major Oscar contender is Ang Lee’s Life of Pi.  To a certain extent, I thought some of that hype might be because everyone knows that, even though Lee was named best director,  Crash totally stole the award for best picture from Brokeback Mountain.

(Seriously, even my cousins from South Texas — the majority of whom wear cowboy hats and take the term “real man” quite seriously — have commented to me that Brokeback Mountain was a better film than Crash.  And you know what?  I agree with them but I also think that Capote was a better film than both of them.)

However, I’ve just seen the trailer for Life of Pi was I have to admit that I was blown away and, by the end of it, I was nearly moved to tears.  In many ways, this trailer feels less like an advertisement for a movie and more like a touching and powerful short film that could easily stand alone as a work of art.  After seeing this trailer — despite the fact that, as I’ve probably mentioned before, I’m just a little bit terrified of the water (or, more specifically, drowning in the water) — I can say that Life of Pi is a film that I’m very much looking forward to seeing.

 

What Lisa Watched Last Night: The 83rd Annual Academy Awards


Last night, I watched the 83rd Annual Academy Awards.

Why Was I Watching It?

Why was I watching it?  I was watching it because I love awards shows.  I love them in all of their tacky, silly glory.  I was watching for the clothes, the celebrity meltdowns, and the infamous acceptance speeches.  I was watching because James Franco is hot and Anne Hathaway is adorable.  I was watching because I loved Black Swan and I was only mildly impressed with the Social Network.  I was watching because, as a film lover, my year starts and ends with the Oscar ceremony.  You boys have got your super bowl.  I’ve got my Academy Awards.

What Was It About

This year, the big question was would best picture be taken by the Social Network or by the King’s SpeechI predicted that the Social Network would win and I was wrong.  The Academy gave best picture to The King’s Speech which, unlike Black Swan (my personal choice for best picture), is a film that is very easy to love.  Don’t get me wrong.  I loved The King’s Speech and, seeing as how I wasn’t exactly a huge fan of The Social Network, I can’t complain about the Academy’s decision (though apparently almost everyone else can).

By the way, as far as my Oscar predictions went, I ended up going 15 for 22.  I correctly predicted all of the categories except for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Foreign Language Film, Best Editing, Best Costume Design, and Best Cinematography.  So, in other words, I correctly predicted all of the awards except for the ones that actually mattered.  However, I am proud to say that, as the broadcast started, I predicted that it would last for 3 hours and 15 minutes and by God, I was right.

So there.

What Worked

Roger Ebert called last night’s ceremony the worst he had ever seen so I guess it’s no surprise that I actually enjoyed it.  I certainly felt it was an improvement over last year’s ceremony which was pretty boring except for when Kathryn Bigelow won best director.  There weren’t any endless tributes, self-congratulatory speeches about how important the film industry is for the survival of the world, and we didn’t have to sit through any pre-scripted, awkward banter between poorly matched presenters. 

As for the hosts, James Franco appeared to have mentally checked out before the show actually started but he was nice to look at.  Anne Hathaway, meanwhile, was a bundle of nervous energy and you know what?  I would have been too.  For the first time in my history of watching the Oscars, I could actually relate on a personal level to what was happening on the stage.  I’ll take the charming awkwardness of Franco and Hathaway over Hugh Jackman any day.  Ebert disagrees.  He apparently tweeted that Kevin Spacey should host.  And, if I ever felt like spending three and a half hours watching some smug jackass singing Under the Sea, I’d agree with him.

I liked the opening film montage, which featured Hathaway and Franco going into Alec Baldwin’s dreams in order to learn how to host the show.  If nothing else, it paid tribute to just how much of a cultural phenomenon Inception actually was last year.  (At the same time, it also pointed out just how ludicrous it is that Christopher Nolan — who is hot along with being a genius, by the way — was not nominated for best director.)

Probably my favorite presenters were Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake.  Kunis looked great and Timberlake won my heart all over again by announcing that he was actually Banksy.

The In Memoriam Tribute was actually pretty touching this year and I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that the audience has finally figured out how inappropriate it is to break out into applause in the middle of it.  A lot of viewers were apparently angered that Corey Haim wasn’t included.  Personally, I was disappointed (but not surprised) to see that Jean Rollin was left out.

For me, the best acceptance speech came from David Seidler as he accepted his Oscar for writing The King’s Speech.  His speech touched me as a former stutterer but on top of that, he delivered it with just the right amount of humility and humor.  Aaron Sorkin could learn a thing or two from Mr. Seidler.

Finally, I said earlier that I was hoping for just one upset win to keep things interesting and, to my surprise, the show provided me one when Tom Hooper beat David Fincher for best director.  Even among those who expected the King’s Speech to take best picture, the general assumption seemed to be that Fincher would win best director.  Personally, I think Fincher would have won best director except for the fact that people tended to think of The Social Network as being an Aaron Sorkin film as opposed to a David Fincher film.  In all of the preliminaries leading up the Oscars (the Golden Globes, the critics awards), the emphasis was always put on Sorkin’s screenplay as opposed to Fincher’s direction.  David Fincher was almost treated as an after thought and, as a result, Tom Hooper won best director.

(Of course, personally, I was rooting for Darren Aronofsky.)

Of the nominated films, Black Swan was my favorite, followed by 127 Hours, Inception, Winter’s Bone, and the King’s Speech.  I thought The Social Network was a good film but certainly not a great film and, to be honest, I’ve come to resent being told again and again by various online, self-appointed film gurus that my refusal to unconditionally love The Social Network is somehow an indication of a character defect on my part.  Seriously, some of these Social Network partisans make the Avatar people look tolerant by comparison.  I’m sure these people have spent last night and today ranting their little hearts out about how the Academy sucks and how The Social Network is clearly the greatest film ever made.  And to them, all I can say is get over it.  If you were watching the Academy Awards because you seriously felt that the awards actually mean anything, then you’ve obviously still got a lot of growing up to do.

That said, I make no apologies for being ticked off over the award for Best Feature Documentary but more about that below.

What Didn’t Work

Well, I’ll get the big one out of the way first.  This was the only time I actually got angry while watching last night’s show.  I’m talking, of course, about Inside Job winning best documentary.  This upset me even though I had actually predicted that Inside Job would defeat Exit Through The Gift Shop.  My objection comes down to this — Inside Job was the Capt. Hindsight of documentaries this year.  Inside Job was basically a documentary that told us what we already know and then encouraged us to pat ourselves on the back for agreeing.  In a year that was actually a pretty good one for documentaries, Inside Job was the least challenging of all of the nominees and therefore, I guess it’s not a shock that it won.  Meanwhile, Exit Through The Gift Shop — a film which should have been nominated for best picture — was ignored.

Add to that, I was really hoping for a chance to see how Banksy would accept the award or if he would even show up at all (or if he would turn out to be Justin Timberlake).  Instead, I got the director of Inside Job going, “You know, nobody’s been arrested for the bad economy yet.”  Well, if that’s what you think should happen then go to talk to the people who make and enforce laws.  But you’re on an awards show, buddy.  And if you think anyone watching an awards show is going to take action just because of some comment you weakly muttered during your acceptance speech, then you really are out of touch with reality.

We were reminded one too many times that we were watching “the young and hip Oscars.”  The young and hip Oscars would not have featured Celine Dion singing.

I really wish the Oscars would stop trying to force some artificial “theme” on each year’s ceremony.  This year, they took time to celebrate “the greatest films” of Oscar Past.  The problem, of course, is that most of the greatest films of Oscar past didn’t win best picture.  Usually, they ended up losing to movies like How Green Was My Valley, The Greatest Show on Earth, and Crash.

Aaron Sorkin won best adapted screenplay as we all knew he would and, as usual, he came across as smug and condescending during his acceptance speech.  The whole, “Daddy’s an Oscar winner now…” thing would have been touching if not for the fact that it’s been used at least once at every single Oscar ceremony in history.

Trent Reznor did not say, “I want to fuck you like an animal” while accepting his award for scoring The Social Network.  However, I must say, Trent cleans up well.

Technically, yes, James Franco was not real impressive as co-host.  The general consensus on twitter was that he was stoned but I can’t say too much against him because he’s James Franco.  Even when he showed up in drag, he was still James Franco.  I know some people looked at Franco last night and thought, He’s not even trying.  I looked at Franco and thought, yum…..

“Oh my God!  Just Like Me!” Moments

There were a few and most of them had to do with Anne Hathaway.  Most of the comments on twitter concerning Hathaway’s performance as host were not kind but I don’t care.  I love her and I think her lack of polish was actually rather adorable.  If I was hosting the Oscars, I would probably take a few moments to brag about my dress as well.  I know I’d certainly probably start giggling at random moments.  I also know that I’d probably get a little bit annoyed with James Franco’s lack of commitment to the show as well but you know what?  I’d still get all sorts of naked with him after the show because he’s James Franco and he just does things to me.

(If anything, last night’s show proved that the difference between a hot guy and all other guys is that a hot guy can get away with it.)

My other big “Oh my God!  Just like me!” moment came when Melissa Leo won for best supporting actress for the Fighter and dropped the F-bomb on national TV.  I would so do that too.  I mean, it’s an Oscar!  God knows what I’d end up saying if I ever got one.

Lessons Learned:

I’ve seriously got a thing for James Franco.