So Anyway, The Snyder Cut

Okay… I covered every best picture in Oscar history… ranked this year’s nominees to explain why I’m blasé about Nomadland beating Promising Young Woman… Comic TV Awards are at least two months out, longer if I stall to let the CW wrap the season… What’s left…

Well… guess I can talk about Zack Snyder’s Justice League.

Okay so for anyone who doesn’t know, here is the story as best as we understand it. You probably know the part where Zack Snyder left the movie during post-production, and Warner Bros. brought in the second unit director of Drew Goddard’s Cabin in the Woods to overhaul the movie into something quicker and more crowd-pleasing and accomplished only one of those things, but we have to go back a little.

You see, back in 2013, all of Hollywood was watching upstart Marvel Studios rake in money hand over fist after mega-hit The Avengers, and everyone wanted a piece of that Cinematic Universe pie, and nobody seemed in a better position to do it than Warner Bros., the owners of DC Comics. And man did WB need this, because after a decade and a bit of regularly-scheduled Harry Potters bringing in massive dollars, plus Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, Warner no longer knew how to function as a studio without at least one massive franchise to lean on.

This leads us to the two Cardinal Sins of the DCEU.

Number one: Warner Bros. wanted to get to The Avengers as quickly as possible. I mean, compare the box office tallies of Captain America: The First Avenger and the much, much worse but post-Avengers Thor: The Dark World, I see where their heads were at, but it demonstrates a profound misunderstanding of why Avengers was a hit.

Number two: they also wanted a new Dark Knight saga, and Dark Knight was the singular vision of Christopher Nolan… once he scraped some stupid off some first drafts by David S. Goyer, who clings to the comic book movie industry like a parasitic vine. So despite how divided audience and critical response was to the Nolan-produced, Snyder-directed Man of Steel, they went all in on Snyder’s pitch for a Justice League series that would sprinkle solo spin-offs in between Synder’s core Justice League story.

Again, a savage misunderstanding of how Marvel pulled off their big trick. Avengers worked because it brought all of these previously established characters (and also Hawkeye) into one movie, not because it introduced us to a bunch of heroes and spent the middle third of the movie nudging us in the ribs about their spin-off potential.

I was also going to discuss how Marvel has never locked into one director to steer the whole franchise, but that just gets into a debate on the Marvel House Style and how few directors managed to break out of it so let’s just move on from that.

So our two Cardinal Sins are a) rushing to the finish line, and b) going all-in on a divisive filmmaker’s five-film arc. And these problems went critical in a very predictable fashion in spring of 2016. Batman V Superman was a critical bomb, and may have opened huge, but had a massive, massive second-week drop-off, and was largely reviled for being dark, murdery, and joyless, and stopping midway through to set up sequels and spinoffs in very hamfisted manners*. And also it was seen as a bit of a mess, narratively speaking. The Ultimate Edition fixes that, but I dunno, maybe stop assuming you get to make all of your superhero movies Godfather length, Zack. It became very clear that Snyder’s grimdark vision was not clicking with the general audience, who much preferred Captain America: Civil War, which had more fun with its obligatory “heroes punch each other for a while” sequence but also managed higher emotional stakes.

(*If you want to tease the rest of the League through Wonder Woman clicking an email attachment, put that shit in the end credits where it belongs, did anyone pushing for Marvel-esque success actually watch a single Marvel movie**, Jesus Christ)

(**Other than Iron Man 2. Did everyone trying to start a Cinematic Universe only watch Iron Man 2? And then base all your plans off it? That is… that is nobody’s favourite Marvel movie.)

However, Justice League rolled cameras just weeks after Batman V Superman opened, so by the time they knew that Snyder’s initial plans were not going to play in Poughkeepsie, it was too late to switch horses and maybe find a director who didn’t think that Superman is only interesting if dead or evil. But it was clear that a course-change was still necessary, so studio execs pushed Snyder and writer Chris Terrio (who has a much-deserved Oscar for Argo, the dude can write) to lighten up Justice League*, pulled the plug on filming a sequel back-to-back, and also demanded David Ayer shove some jokes into Suicide Squad, eventually turning the final edit over to the people who made the “fun” trailer, but that’s a whole other thing.

(*Terrio always meant to do that, as with Batman V Superman he was desperately re-writing and trying to add character arcs to an overly dark script from… David Goyer, Jesus, someone remove him from DC Films, by force if necessary)

And then a year later, Snyder finished a three and a half hour rough cut, and shortly thereafter the Snyder family was rocked by a horrible tragedy as Zack’s daughter Autumn took her own life. As such Snyder had to step away from the edit, and was unable to deliver the shorter cut the studio required. Because not even Lawrence of Arabia needed to be that long, Zack, Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings series delivered two massive, beloved hits but he still had to produce a shorter cut of Return of the King for theatrical release, Zack. And so Warner Bros. brought in Joss Whedon to overhaul the movie. Official accounts claimed Zack was fully on board, and even chose him to write/film a few additional scenes. Snyderbros view it very differently, and honestly everything we’ve learned since suggests Zack was just saying he was on board to avoid more bad publicity than this magnitude of re-shooting already attracts, just like how the cast, even Ray Fisher, claimed the reshoots were a fun and smooth experience and we know that wasn’t true.

So anyway the theatrical cut of Justice League was a weird hybrid, part super-serious Snyder action and part Avengers-style goofy banter, the villain plot was word salad, nobody had an arc, it was a major box-office disappointment. I was trying as hard as I could to like it, but the only review I was willing to write was as a subplot in a different post to highlight how much better the Arrowverse’s Crisis on Earth-X was.

And thus began the fan campaign to hashtag release the Snyder Cut, with fans believing that Zack Snyder had made a much superior version to what they called “Josstice League,” fed by Zack Snyder single-handedly keeping would-be-Twitter-replacement Vero in business by constantly sharing screenshots and behind-the-scenes photos, attempting to release his entire movie frame at a time.

Nearly three years later, in the midst of a global pandemic that had shut down the entire entertainment industry, Warner Bros was unable to release movies theatrically on the scale needed to turn profits, filming was being delayed everywhere, and they needed content for their fledgling streaming service HBO Max, so they said “Eh, screw it,” and gave Zack $70 million to finish his version of the movie to debut on streaming, something people had been expecting since HBO Max was announced. And now here it is, it’s out there, you can watch it, and I’m here to help you decide if you should.

A little over a month after that was a relevant question. Look I was busy with Art Vs Commerce at the time, Slumdog Millionaire and The Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy weren’t rewatching themselves.

Given that it’s four hours of movie, there’s a lot to cover, so I asked myself what one of my favourite video essayists, Jenny Nicholson, would do, and organized my thoughts into an internet-friendly numbered list.

(Patrick Willems would have made a framing sequence in the visual style of his subject but I’m not currently equipped for that.)

  1. Yes, it’s better, calm down
  2. The League: Better or worse?
  3. Style over substance
  4. The theatrical additions
  5. Worst arguments from Snyder fans
  6. Why I hate Knightmare
  7. The best version
  8. The ideal Justice League sequel plan

Next Page: Yes, it’s better, calm down

Ranking the Best Pictures, 2021 Style!

Okay. Wow. After six months… six months, what even is time… on a deep dive through Best Pictures Past, it’s time for a massive gear shift to look at Best Pictures Present, the nominees from 2020.

Which… okay.

Honestly I’m mad at the Oscars this year.

Seeing as the entertainment industry was shut down by COVID for most of the year, the Academy delayed the eligibility period, they were more open to streaming, they did whatever they could to ensure that the Oscars would not have to pick and choose from what few movies made it into theatres before the lockdown, or inadvisably during it, thanks for that Christopher Nolan, Tenet’s sound mixing was bad and you should feel bad.

Personally, I felt that after the trash fire of 2020, what we as a society (such as it is) deserved was the Trash Oscars. The Best Pictures selected only from what came out between January and early March, or snuck into theatres when America just… somehow got bored of fighting COVID. But no, what they felt we needed was a ceremony celebrating festival darlings, some streaming movies… eight mostly joyless films.

As someone on Twitter (don’t recall who) said, the only Awards Discourse worth having is when we decided suffering was more artistic than joy, because maybe this level of morosity isn’t what we needed right now. Maybe what we really needed was the unconditional love of Going My Way’s Father Chuck O’Malley.

Anyway I watched them all and now I’m gonna rank them and say which one I think least deserves to lose to Nomadland, unless that is my favourite, who knows, let’s find out!

And perhaps I’ll say what my Trash Oscar replacement movie would be. Won’t be easy, I only saw like two movies before theatres shut down… might need some legit good ones in there too. Also, since I just finished a rank order of every Best Picture in Oscar history (Art Vs Commerce, still available on finer internets everywhere), I’m sure you’re curious where these would be on the list if they won. Well, get curious, because you’re gonna find out where they fall between #1 and #94, they won’t be #94, I hit rock bottom in 1933 and there was nowhere to go but up for 87 years.

I’m sorry, Cavalcade, I know you didn’t ask to be dragged on the internet for six months, I mean how could you have known that was an option, but I seriously can’t remember a single moment when you didn’t bore me, unlike any of the following.

Next Page: The bottom half

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

[Clears throat, taps conductor’s podium]

One post more
Of my trek through Oscar history
Why I did this, still a mystery
We’re at the point of Oscar flicks
When studios all know the tricks
One post more

Bland films win to our dismay
Better nominees they’re ducking.
(One post more)
But then they’ll go the other way
Korean films, or monster fucking.

One more post of trying to find
(“Other Events” got really long)
Some logic to all of these Oscars
(Couldn’t stick to the deep cuts…)
Have I gone Beautiful Mind
(How I miss Yancey Cravat)
Or are the patterns truly there

One more post of duelling flicks
(And no more Joint Champions)
Only two more that I’m dreading
(Sometimes the hits got really bad)
Sadly lots of biopics
(And a little Michael Bay)
Come and finish this with meeeee

The past is done
Endgame is here

One post more

Decade’s full of superheroes,
A new Star War had begun,
But a bunch of rabid fanboys
Ruin both for everyone.

One post more

Disney runs amuck
Buys up all they can
Knows we’re all awestruck
For Marvel’s Iron Man
Princesses still sell
Pixar always scores
But why make a new thing when you can buy Star Wars

I once ranked all of these movies
(Even those that didn’t win)
So we’ll check in how they rate
(Hurt Locker was fiftieth)
Some of these are legit classics
(Can Casablanca be unthroned?)
Some are blatant Oscar bait
That’s right, King’s Speech
My fight’s with yoooooouuuuu

One post more

Four franchises hit their Endgame
We said goodbye to movie friends,
But nostalgia-based revivals
Prove that brand names never end.
(One post more)
Fans can be a gift,
Fanboys are a curse,
Now they won’t shut up
About the Snyderverse
(God curse all the toxic fanboys)
Next Oscars are not far away
Eight joyless films compete that day

So now we’ll all revisit
What 2010s films had in store

Ten more years
One more post

ONE POST MOOOOOORE

Next Page: The Baitiest Oscar Bait that ever Baited

Art Vs Commerce: Trilogies! Of Terror? (2000s)

Last time we talked about how Forrest Gump was a signal flare to the film industry that the Academy liked safe over challenging. Talk about racism, sure, but don’t make anyone uncomfortable, just have an old Jewish lady learn to be less racist because of her black driver, or have someone dismiss the KKK as “sometimes people do things that make no sense.” Don’t make Do The Right Thing, that’s too much. We are going to see more of that, and we’re going to see it quickly. In the 21st Century, Oscar Movie became a genre, Oscar Season its nesting ground, and the more studios tried to quantify what would get Oscars, the more bait-y Oscar movies got, the less they appealed to audience, the further Oscar ratings fell… and the Oscar Bump that boosted nominees’ gross began to vanish.

In other developments… People suddenly liked the ideas of Trilogies in the 2000s. Not just a franchise, but a Trilogy. If your movie made money, suddenly the creator “always meant for it to be a trilogy.” And several notable ones had the same pattern: make a relatively stand-alone movie with a neat premise (the stand-alone part is something studios forgot about in the past fiveish years); if it makes money, film a second that expands on the world you created, and a third that utterly disappoints wraps it all up, and for preference film those two back-to-back so we’re not wondering what happens to Han Solo for three years. Perhaps because the 80s and 90s brought us so many classic trilogies: Star Wars, Godfather, Back to the Future, Indiana Jones in a way. Jones was always more of series of standalones than a proper trilogy but we counted it. Meanwhile, franchises that tried to keep going indefinitely?

Well… to paraphrase a movie we’ll be talking about on page ten, you either die a trilogy, or live long enough to see yourself become Jaws: The Revenge.

And let’s be real… in two pages we’re going to be talking about another series that made the Trilogy look better. Gonna be spending about a third of this post on it, in fact. The One Trilogy to Rule Them All.

With that in mind… if the Best Pictures of the Aughts were the Fellowship of the Ring, which would each one be and why? Let’s find out!

Next page: Are you not entertained?

Art Vs Commerce: Rise of Oscar Season (90s)

So when last we left the dance between Oscar winners and the top earners, Commerce had blown up and left Art in the distance. The Oscars fell back into biopics, with four out of ten winners being biopics, also Amadeus which doesn’t count, and audiences started saying “Yeah, you do you, Oscars” and ignoring them.

Now this had two effects, from what I can tell. First off… art movies kind of… receded? For half the decade (off and on), the Oscars seem to be once again leaning towards crowd-pleasers over what was becoming their usual arthouse fare. Was this a conscious choice, or was it that the only people leaning into High Art were Merchant Ivory? (Merchant Ivory, purveyors of languid period romances, were in full swing this decade but never sealed the deal at the ceremony and were never big money films so we don’t discuss them much.) There definitely seem to be some years where, even at the time, I thought “Wow, not a big year for for art movies if these are the nominees.”

But then some studios had themselves an idea.

Sure their Oscar fare might not play well in the summer or against the big November/December tentpoles, nothing plays well in September, and if you release them too early in the year then people forget about them come nomination time… but here’s the thing. There’s a loophole. To be eligible for Oscar nominations, you only need to play a limited time in a limited amount of theatres by the year’s end. So you do a week in LA, maybe New York, open wide in January when nothing’s happening, get yourself a Best Picture nomination and scoop up an extra $10 million or so when the buzz hits.

And so begins Oscar Season. The time of year when studios who want some prestige, in addition to a multi-film action/comedy tentpole franchise starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson*, toss out some Great Man Biopics with flashy lead actor performances or classic literary adaptations or films that played well enough at festivals to warrant a “For Your Consideration” campaign.

(*I kid, I also some Dwayne Johnson.)

(Not that all studios are choosy about what movies got FYC campaigns, The Bone Collector got a FYC campaign, and you couldn’t tell me one detail about what that movie’s about if I paid you.)

(I will not pay you, I’m aware you’re on the internet right now.)

And where loopholes exist, monsters arise to take advantage. If prestige and money can go hand-in-hand again… well. The Golden Globes are easily swayed by shiny things and schmoozing with big casts (explain how The Tourist got a Best Musical/Comedy nomination otherwise, Hollywood Foreign Press, the few positive reviews were embarrassed about it), and enough money and pressure can get you on that Best Picture list at the Oscars.

A perfect situation for somebody trying to be an Old School Studio Head like Louis B. Mayer.

Exactly like Louis B. Mayer.

Right down to getting handsy or worse with your female talent.

Miramax Films was an incredibly influential studio through the 90s. Bought by Disney in 1993, they gave platforms to young, experimental, eventually heavily influential filmmakers: Kevin Smith, Robert Rodriguez, Stephen Chow, and one Quentin Tarantino. Miramax helped Peter Jackson get Lord of the Rings into production.

It was also run by an absolute monster named Harvey Weinstein, whose crimes were numerous and Hollywood’s worst kept secret, yet it took decades for him to be brought down, and now hopefully he’ll stay in prison and away from actresses until he’s too old to hurt anyone.

Sadly we will have to come back to Harvey sooner rather than later. But let’s see what we can get through before then.

Our new game? The 90s are where the Oscars fell back into some legendarily bad calls. So we’ll be asking what the real best picture was, or what should have taken the box office crown. (No decade owns bad choices by audiences, that is forever.)

(I’ll give the 90s this, at least the Domestic/International Box Office Champs sync up more than they don’t. I’m gonna miss that moving forward.)

Next Page: White saviours, alive and otherwise

Art Vs Commerce: End of History (1960s)

Okay. We made it through the 1950s, a decade in American history revered by middle-class white cishet male Christians, and rightfully seen by everyone who doesn’t fit that description as a patriarchal ethnostate dystopia, and wow but their choices in movies backed that up. But it’s the 60s now: the early days of the sexual revolution, the Civil Rights movement, war protests, hippies, rock music gets better, it’s a decade of change and upheaval.

So how, if at all, did the movies reflect that? Well, off the top of my head, when the decade started the Hays Code was officially still in place, and by the end an X-rated movie won Best Picture, so… bit of a shift there. In fact, in honour of that, this decade’s Recurring Bit will track how Hollywood’s self-censorship gradually collapsed with “What’s Good, Hays Code?” Parallel to that, this is the decade that the old-school studio system finally died out, and New Hollywood was born. It was, in a way, the end of history.

Sword-and-sandal epics didn’t go away in the 60s, in fact we’ll cover one soon enough, but the big ones did get dramatically less “Yay Jesus” and the Oscars seemed to be kind of over them. Sure some got best picture nominations, because we still have a couple decades of the Academy thinking “Look if that many people watched it, it must be worth a nomination,” but when it came to handing out the big prize it’s like they were saying “No, we gave Best Picture to Ben-Hur, now we’re done, that was the deal,” and went back to throwing the trophy as far away from a biblical epic as they could.

And one correction to my last entry: I was misinformed about when the Three Stooges retired. Apparently they had a resurgence in 1958, swapped Joe for Curly Joe, and that trio kept going all the way to 1970. Look that’s not a major part of film history, frankly the Curly Joe years aren’t even a major part of Stooges history, but I reported a false fact and felt the need for a correction.

Onwards.

Next Page: Sword and Sandal epics get gritty, but the Academy doesn’t care

Art Vs Commerce: Musicals, Bible Stories, and Bad Choices (1950s)

Into decade three of our deep-dive into Oscar history! And where are we spending most of the 50s, Patton Oswalt?

Big name producers started spending a lot of time on Bible stories. A lot.

A lot.

Biblical epics are all over this decade, and when they won the box office, it often wasn’t by a narrow margin. Audiences seemed to love these things so much they’d flock to one even if it wasn’t, you know… good. At all. And they tended to be so long. On the other hand, they’re the first movies I’ve seen in this project to say “You know, slavery is pretty bad,” even if they’re so laser focussed on Roman or Egyptian slavery that even I can’t tell if American audiences were supposed to think “Hey, maybe we shouldn’t have done that either.”

I’m gonna warn you right up front. Audiences in the 1950s made some dumb, dumb choices at the box office. There were a lot of classic, iconic films being made in the 50s, but they kept getting passed over for trash. Hot trash, to be fair, but trash all the same. We start to see some proper musicals much more often this decade, so I may slip in some musical flair here and there, but successful or not, they ain’t all great.

Between the runtimes and the constant reminders that Jesus Was Pretty Good Actually, if any decade of this project were gonna break me… this would be it.

Meanwhile, the Academy drifted into… very bland waters. There’s weird variety in subject and tone, leading to serious tonal whiplash if you watch them all in a row, but still often bland. Yes, we often accuse the Oscars of picking movies that speak to their oddly specific preferences rather than movies of lasting influence or impact, but this decade… honestly I’m not sure what possibly could have drawn Oscar buzz to a lot of these. Sure there are three or four bangers from film history, but some of these winners…

I have a friend, or possibly a nemesis, depends on mood, who would pretend that he was finally going to watch the first season of Pennyworth, and then out of, I can only assume purest spite, instead watch the dumbest trash reality show available and text our group chat all about it*. (Flirty Dancing? Really? Come on, you are only hurting yourself, man.) In this case it’s like sometimes the Oscars said “We are not giving one of your Jesus epics a Best Picture Oscar, we will give it to literally anything else.” Why were they so set against big religious pics? Well, my main theory is they’re not very good, but most of them still managed Best Picture nominations, including the two worst/most aggressively Christian so… I don’t… I’m definitely not out to say “Jews control the film industry ” but–

Next Page: Hey there Delilah

(*In fairness we now get antsy waiting for him to share his terrible, terrible guesses about The Masked Singer.)

Art Vs Commerce: How Green Was the Golden Age? (1940s)

And we are back for another decade of cinema history: the Best Pictures and box office rulers of the 1940s. Last installment was a dream for screenwriters, for it not only provided the looming presence of the Rise of Disney, but gave us a hero in Frontier Journalist and Vigilante Preacher Yancey Cravat, Attorney at Law, and a villain in C-grade Groucho Marx/Blackface Enthusiast Eddie Cantor. But as we leave the 30s behind us, it’s sadly time to say goodbye to impossibly noble Yancey, and thankfully also to Eddie.

You know, unless there’s a really good reason to bring them up.

One thing I’ve noticed is that the Golden Age of Hollywood was all about the producers. Cecil B. DeMille, Samuel Goldwyn, David O. Selznick, that handsy son-of-a-bitch Louis B. Mayer, these were seen as the men behind the movie. Today, it’s the director who gets that acclaim, with the exception of Hollywood’s reigning king, Kevin Feige. Look at Argo. Did anyone make a fuss about the producers? No, and one of them was George goddamn Clooney. The possible first large exception to the producer being a bigger deal than the director came to Hollywood this decade, and we’ll talk about him very soon, but for now, it’s Goldwyn, Selznick, DeMille, and Mayer’s world.

What’s interesting to me about the 1940s is that black and white was still the default. Gone With the Wind was in full Technicolor, Wizard of Oz was mostly Technicolor, so obviously that was an option, but plenty of films we’re about to talk about, in this entry and the next one, were still black and white. I find this peculiar given how fast silent films dried up in the wake of The Jazz Singer. This blog series covers 166 films, and only three were silent: Wings in the late 20s, when sound was in its infancy; City Lights in the very early 30s, because Charlie Chaplin was loath to adapt with the times; and one in the 2010s of all damn places because someone thought it would be clever. But black and white stayed the standard for over a decade after Gone With the Wind.

(Yes I’m aware black and white film is still a thing but for good or ill it’s an aesthetic choice rather than a practical one, The Lighthouse wasn’t trying to save money.)

So while sound was an industry game-changer that every studio rushed to incorporate, the the 40s colour was more like 3D or IMAX now. Not every movie does them, fewer still use the right cameras the whole time, because that’s added expense, and you need to be sure you’re getting it back. The big tentpoles might shoot in 3D, or just get the post-production conversion, but your Get Outs and John Wicks, for example, do not.

So, if colour is only for the Big Shows, how would World War II and the post-war era treat cinematic tastes?

At least one very high high this decade, and a spectacular low, and they were the same year.

Next Page: The Master of Suspense and The King of Charm

Dan’s Quarantine Theatre, Vol. 3: Electric Boogaloo

So we’re still doing this, huh? Well, glad that the closest I’ve come to self-harm is a very strong urge to give myself what would no doubt be a disastrous haircut. My shaggy-ass hair is legit driving me crazy.

While society has begun to tentatively reopen enough for me to see friends in open spaces while two metres apart, 90% of Lockdown Life is still finding stuff to watch, and I, your Pop Culture Sin Eater (why isn’t that the name of my blog…), am here with recommendations and maybe some cautionary tales.

Keeping it a little shorter this time. And once again, here’s a Table of Contents, in case you want to pick and choose.

Hide and Seek of DOOM
Adios, Runaways
Forget your troubles, come on get Happy!
Speed Round

Next page: Like I said, Hide and Seek of DOOM