Art Vs Commerce: Oscar Bait and Endgames (2010s)

2015

If there’s one thing we’ve loved doing lately, it’s remember stuff. Nostalgia is a big business, possibly because I can’t remember the last time we as a society made it to New Year’s Eve without thinking “Can’t wait for this terrible year to be over.” TV shows get revivals, movies get remade, old IPs get renewed into splashy movies because enough of them succeed that if you back one and it fails you won’t get fired. Ready Player One didn’t become a best selling novel and a Steven Spielberg movie because we hate saying “Hey, I remember that!”

And to stretch the theme a little to fit the whole year, one film said “Hey… remember journalism? Remember when newspaper reporters could just investigate an important story and we’d just listen to them and nobody would shout ‘the main stream media is biased?’ Wasn’t that great?”

And The Oscar Goes To…

Based on actual events. In 2001, the new managing editor of the Boston Globe (a softspoken Liev Schrieber) feels that a series of lawsuits over a priest accused of child abuse, and insinuation from the lawyer trying the cases (Stanley Tucci, always love some Tucc) that the Archbishop of Boston knew the priest was an abuser and didn’t stop him, merits further examination, perhaps by the paper’s investigative team, Spotlight (Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, and Brian D’Arcy James). The team soon find that the story is much bigger than they ever suspected, but exposing the whole truth and the extent it was covered up (to a point where it’s publishable in an age of journalistic standards) in the heavily Catholic city of Boston isn’t going to be easy.

This one is stellar. just stellar. Even in 2015, years after the rampant child abuse coverups were public knowledge, it sells the growing shock of the Spotlight team as they discover just how much worse the problem is. Particularly effective is a scene where an expert on the issue (Richard Jenkins, appearing only as a voice on the phone) informs them that their estimation of 13 pedophile priests in Boston alone is almost certainly far, far too low. Also the scene where one of the team realizes that the halfway house the priests get sent to in between parishes is around the corner from his house. It sells the lasting pain and shame of the victims, those willing to talk and those not, and from the first scene how deep the coverup goes. Cops, prosecutors, judges, Catholic school officials, lawyers, keeping the offending priests secret was a well-oiled machine.

The cast is basically perfect. Ruffalo’s growing outrage, Keaton’s steeliness in the face of opposition, McAdams’ quieter anger and empathy for victims, John Slattery as their editor, Tucci as the overworked lawyer just trying to bring the scandal to light, no wonder the SAG Awards gave it Best Cast, even if it wasn’t the Best Picture frontrunner it would have earned that.

Just an incredibly powerful reminder of the power of independent investigative journalism. And bold to play 9/11 as “that thing that slowed down the Spotlight team’s work.” Though a better use of 9/11 than American Sniper’s “Thing that drives Chris Kyle even though nothing he’s doing is remotely connected to Al Qaeda,” sorry I know I said we were done with that one but I hate it so much

And Rotten Tomatoes Says: It’s at number five, under The Godfather and over It Happened One Night, dang that’s high. Not… not necessarily wrong, though, but… it’s high.

Where did I rank it? This one’s all the way up at number three, under Hidden Figures, which I maintain is the total package, and over the excellent crime flick Hell or High Water. Esteemed company. I’d been watching every Best Picture nominee for eight years, but this is one of the ones I would have rushed to see no matter what.

What was I rooting for? Second year in a row, my favourite won the prize! Man those were the days.

Now let’s see how nostalgia got monetized.

The Box Office Champ

Star Wars is back, babycakes!

There were two ways the new Disney-ordered trilogy could go with Star Wars. They could cling to the familiar, hooking people with nostalgia for the original movie to sell the new one, or they could blow it up, take it in new directions, be bold and different.

J.J. Abrams went with the first choice, and honestly, then and now I still think he made the right choice. It had been ten years since Star Wars was any bigger than the Clone Wars series. The prequels were largely reviled, as the kids who grew up on them hadn’t rallied together online to claim they were underrated (they are not). So Force Awakens had two jobs: remind people that they loved Star Wars and why, and introduce a new cast of protagonists. And from the first scene, they were managing both. The first spoken lines being “This will begin to put things right” was seen as a promise. So yeah, Abrams hews close to familiar beats from the original movie. He puts his own spin on them, but there’s a desert planet, an escape from Stormtroopers in the Millennium Falcon, a cantina, the Sith villain sports a helmet for the first half, and there’s an Even Bigger Death Star in the form of Starkiller Base, though Abrams combines the “Save Leia” and “Blow the bitch up” portions into one sequence.

Yes it has a few problems. As I said back in the 70s, the Empire and Rebellion made sense right away, but we’re only just now beginning to get a sense of what the First Order’s specific deal is, a year after their last movie came out. There is no way the hyperspace laser fired by Starkiller Base would be visible in another system, let alone the world it blew up: if Elon Musk blows up Mars tomorrow you might be able to see it with a telescope. Captain Phasma looks cool as hell but has nothing to do. Why give a cameo to the cast of The Raid and not give them a fight scene? And like every Star Wars since 1980, it doesn’t really work as a self-contained movie, it might resolve some key arcs and story points, but it functions as one part of a larger narrative. But I can forgive all of that, because it is fun as hell. It’s good Star Wars.

I loved Rey, I loved Finn, I loved Poe, they were all great characters with great debuts I was excited to see more of. Maz Kenada was fun, I wish she’d gotten to do more (maybe she will on a Disney+ series, I dunno). I enjoyed Kylo Ren and his struggles against the Light Side. Harrison Ford slid right back into Han Solo, and he and Chewie bursting onto the Falcon is a beautiful moment. And Abrams shot the hell out of it, there are so many great shots and amazing scenes. The dialogue is fun, the pacing is great, it felt fresh and new but comfortable and familiar all at the same time.

Sure maybe it had a few too many “hey remember this” moments, like Finn finding Luke’s old trailing orb and the holo-chess board, and looking back that should have been a red flag, but overall Star Wars was back and it felt great. I still absolutely dig this one.

And Rotten Tomatoes Says: The 93% from critics holds up, the 87% from audiences is probably the “Yeah but when you get down to it, it’s a little samey” kicking in.

Other Events in Film

  • Also raking in those nostalgia dollars? Jurassic World, a movie so deeply rooted in 90s nostalgia that a character literally wears a Jurassic Park shirt and says “The original was better.” This fits my “nostalgia” theme for the year so well you’d almost think I misread the box office stats and thought we’d be discussing it in-depth until the last minute or something, but that’s obviously crazy.
  • This Year in Superheroes: Avengers: Age of Ultron makes massive bank but less massive than the last one, only coming in fourth globally, which is seen as a disappointment. I blame the sequence where Thor gets in a hot tub to watch a bunch of sequel teases. It introduces a new Avengers line-up which would be thrown out two movies later. Elsewhere… Ant-Man is a fun little heist movie if heavy on the standard Marvel origin story;
  • This Year in Bond: Spectre brings Blofeld back into Bond lore after over forty years, and Christoph Waltz was perfect casting… sadly their attempt to tie the whole Craig era together with Waltz as a secret mastermind of the last three villains didn’t work. It could have, if only Quantum of Solace had been a better movie and we’d stayed invested in a recurring nemesis and larger meta-story, but sadly Quantum was Quantum and here we are.
  • Fast? Furious? Furious 7 brings the franchise to Peak Ridiculous while saying goodbye to the late Paul Walker as Brian O’Conner. Also how did it take until the seventh movie for the most Jason Statham franchise ever made to have Jason Statham in it? Fast and Furious was now so big it outgrossed Age of Ultron internationally, and this is when I decided I needed to know why.
  • Writer/director Christopher McQuarrie joins Mission: Impossible with Rogue Nation, and the franchise was now better than ever.
  • Another long-dormant franchise whose revival went better than we could have expected? Mad Max: Fury Road, which got itself a Best Picture nomination. (Anyone who thought Force Awakens might snag one was fooling themselves.)
  • People I trust have nothing but good things to say about the Paddington movies, which began this year.
  • Taken 3 became a cautionary tale in editing action sequences, managing to fit 13 cuts into a seven-second shot of Liam Neeson’s John Taken climbing over a fence. It’s ridiculous.
  • Meanwhile, Colin Firth decided it was his turn to be a middle-aged action star in Kingsman: The Secret Service. It’s either bonkers fun or annoyingly dumb, depending on your tastes.
  • I suppose I should acknowledge that 50 Shades of Grey came out this year. There. I did it.
  • Disney lets Brad Bird turn one of their theme park lands into the Ayn-Rand-for-kids movie Tomorrowland. I’ve seen it but couldn’t describe it, it’s that unmemorable. It fails so badly that Disney decides movies without a strong IP attached are a losing proposition (the worst possible reaction), and cancels that Tron threequel I’d been hoping for. Screw you, Tomorrowland.
  • Terminator tries to reboot, bringing back Arnold and casting Emilia Clarke and Jai Courtney as Sarah Conner and Kyle Reese, and there’s no point explaining, it flopped hard, so there’s no need to know the details.
  • The Minions finally get overexposed when they get their own spin-off movie, which works hard to make it clear Minions never served Hitler. (But would have.)
  • Writer Taylor Sheridan begins his series of tense, fascinating, incredibly bleak western-set films with Sicario.
  • The Martian becomes the poster child of Category Fraud at the Golden Globes, winning Best Comedy/Musical despite not really being either. I mean it has some funny moments here and there, but overall? Not a comedy. They even managed to nominate actual comedies that year…
  • By way of a for instance, The Big Short uses comedy highly effectively in an attempt to make people understand why the 2008 financial crash happened, and could/will again.
  • Leonardo DiCaprio wins an Oscar for The Revenant because he actually jumped into freezing water and actually threw up after actually eating raw bison liver and I’m sorry, by that logic, the cast of Jackass would have been eligible for Oscars. I guess they just wanted to give him one so he’d relax and stop fishing for it.
  • Quentin Tarantino goes back to the old west with The Hateful 8, which… isn’t his best.
  • Whoever greenlit that live action Jem and the Holograms movie chose violence, I tell you what.

Next Page: The Upset of All Upsets

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