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January 15, 2015

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Gittes

Great post about Selma, Glenn. Call-to-action anythings are not the sort the majority enjoys. Look at how MLKs "I have a Dream" speech is so popular compared to his " War in Vietnam" speech.

Still confused at the general indifference toward Che.

Matt Zoller Seitz

This is so great and so right. "Selma" is a process movie over and above anything else. That's a big part of what makes it so special, and that makes its storytelling so unusual for a historical drama; it's surely also why it's so generous in its distribution of screen time among so many characters who don't have the initials MLK.

Dan Coyle

I think Nolte's being triggered:

https://www.breitbart.com/big-hollywood/2014/03/19/ordinary-people-is-amuch-better-film-than-raging-bull/

george

"Look at how MLKs "I have a Dream" speech is so popular compared to his " War in Vietnam" speech."

Right. The King speeches that are quoted today are the ones almost everyone can get behind. The Vietnam speech would get him accused of "hating the troops" now, and his speech on economic inequality would get him blasted for waging "class warfare," although that may be his most relevant speech today.

Petey

It's time for another round of the popular @confessyourunpopularopinion theater!

While I thought Selma was an excellent movie, which I'd happily recommend, were I a member of the Academy®, (which I'm not), I would have 'snubbed' the film. I've got a problem with heedless historical inaccuracy on factually IMPORTANT TOPICS, and I thought Selma really did cross a line on LBJ in a couple of places. (Just to further clarify, I'm not totally crazy. I thought the Califano piece was over the top.)

Similarly, had I loved Mississippi Burning (which I didn't) or Zero Dark Thirty (which I didn't), and been a member of the Academy®, (which I'm not), I would have 'snubbed' them too for the same reason.

Now, I fully understand the dramatic and artistic rationales for the inaccuracies in Selma, (as I do in the other examples), but with factually IMPORTANT TOPICS, I think there are sometimes lines not to cross, and which are properly responded to with a 'snubbing' reaction by the closest thing to an official body the industry has.

All that said, Glenn's rationale for the lack of Academy® response is far more likely the actual rationale than my objection. A genuine smart take.

Mike

There are also the circumstances of the film's Oscar campaign to consider: bad timing and bad decisions. I'm not discounting Glenn's points but, as I'm sure we all know, there are huge factors in the Oscar races besides actual opinion. Pretty balanced piece here:

https://www.vulture.com/2015/01/selma-where-did-its-oscar-campaign-go-wrong.html

Fide

Maybe Selma's director wasn't nominated because she doesn't deserve it. I haven't seen the movie, but please do not pay too much importance to the oscars. BTW I enjoy Ordinary People as the elegant, greatly directed film as it is [the selection of close ups, especially during the psychology sessions are extraordinary], sometimes more than that boxing overrated movie with fat faked-nose [is that acting?; the one time I agreed with Pauline Kael] De Niro. Both films, Ordinary People and Raging Bull, are very good, but one has been unjustly maligned.

partisan

Speaking about oscar snubs, I haven't seen AMERICAN SNIPER yet. But when I do, and if I don't like Bradley Cooper's role, I have pre-emptively decided to blame you other all the other Eastwood fans among American movie critics for robbing Ralph Fiennes of a nomination.

Mark F.

Lots of people today would have loved to have had their picture "snubbed" with a Best Picture nomination. Just sayin...

 Brian Kerk

Selma didn't do well because once all the critics who wanted it to he good because they thought it was important weighed in, people actually went to see it and saw a dully written history textbook with middling direction that was only raised to the level of "good" by the actors. DuVernay certainly tried to make it soar at the end, with the big speech. She just failed at it. It was a completely average film. Maybe the BAFTA and Oscar voters saw the film for what it was, because they're not critics with agendas.

Oliver_C

To paraphrase the late, great Gilbert Adair: it's not enough for a film director's heart to be in the right place; the camera has to be as well.

Nathan Duke

Good take on the "Selma" snub, Glenn. It was one of my favorites of the year as well - and I thought DuVernay and Oyelowo certainly deserved spots above some of the other folks who were nominated.

And I have to say, I'm really tired of the arguments about its "historical inaccuracy," which, to me, are just as grating as the What X Gets Wrong About X Argument. Of course, there are some examples of the way in which history is depicted that make me roll my eyes (most notably, the colonists gearing up for the fight against the British at the end of "The Patriot," during which one of the colonists tells a slave that he was "proud to fight with him." Yeah, right).

But I agree with your argument that it was within DuVernay's rights in the manner in which Johnson - who, despite the Voting Rights Act, has been said to have exhibited some racist tendencies - is portrayed.

george

At least SELMA doesn't depict LBJ as a conspirator in the JFK hit and cover-up, as Oliver Stone's insane movie did.

I haven't seen AMERICAN SNIPER yet, but a lot of critics seem to have a personal grudge against Eastwood and the film. Mark Harris' Twitter comment that people who like SNIPER are not Eastwood advocates but "Eastwood enablers" is typical of the tone. I usually agree with Harris' comments, but his obsessive Eastwood bashing has gotten annoying.

A lot of reviews, especially online, have reviewed the director's supposed conservative politics instead of anything that might be on the screen. Eastwood has become the symbol of an old white guy who makes movies that old white guys like, which apparently represents everything wrong with Hollywood.

And, yes, people are taking the SELMA "snub" (some snub, it got a Best Picture nom) way too seriously. They're taking the Oscars way too seriously. The Oscars are basically just a TV show. Most winners are forgotten in a few years.

george

I wish movie critics would get back to discussing movies, and whether they're any good.

The year-end overview, Golden Globe and Oscar chat has been mostly about racial and gender politics: Why are so many white men still directing movies? Why are so many white men still running studios? Why couldn't BOYHOOD have been GIRLHOOD instead, and why did it have to be about a white family? It would have been a better movie if it had been Lorelei Linklater's story. (Thanks, Amy Nicholson.)

This is the sort of political correctness that drives millions of white guys to vote Republican.

As for SELMA, I'm not sure what people want. A quota system to guarantee that a certain number of black performers are nominated every year? Or a certain number of female directors? I think this "firestorm of outrage" has been ginned up by bloggers (always the loudest and angriest voices) and journalists who have no interest in movies but know how to exploit a "controversy."

Cliff

"It would have been a better movie if it had been Lorelei Linklater's story."

Well, that's almost certainly true, isn't it? She's just more interesting to watch and think about as a character/person.

Petey

Subtweeting your commenters is funny.

And, BTW, I'm glad to see you've changed your avatar specifically for Davos...

george

"It would have been a better movie if it had been Lorelei Linklater's story."

Just to clarify, I don't agree with that statement. I was passing along what LA Times critic Amy Nicholson and like-minded fans have been tweeting for a while. Nicholson's exact quote was: "Look at Lorelai (sic) Linklater and tell me the movie wouldn't be better if she was the star."

Yes, Cliff, Lorelei was interesting in BOYHOOD, but a movie starring her wasn't the movie her dad made. She's already shot another movie, so maybe she'll have an acting career.

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt3184964/?ref_=nm_flmg_act_1


george

Oops, Nicholson writes for the LA Weekly. I think she replaced Karina Longworth.

Glenn Kenny

Yeah, I don't wanna pick a fight with Nicholson, but I've never been one for the "this imaginary movie is the one that SHOULD have been made" school of criticism (also known as non-fan fiction, I guess), and in this particular case the imputation/suggestion is a pretty grave insult to both Richard and Lorelei Linklater. There, I said it.

Cliff

I'm perfectly alright with having insulted Richard Linklater, but I'm not sure how it is I'm supposed to be insulting Lorelei Linklater by admitting that I spent a lot of the film's runtime wishing I could check in to see what her character was up to instead.

In any case, I'm pleased to have an inspired a tweet by the lead singer of one of America's foremost art-rock outfits.

george

It gets worse. Nicholson thinks THE 400 BLOWS should have been about a girl, too.

https://www.slate.com/articles/arts/the_movie_club/features/2014/the_movie_club_2014/boyhood_and_boys_stories_in_movies_why_i_didn_t_like_richard_linklater_s.html

Glenn Kenny

"I'm perfectly all right with having insulted Richard Linklater..." Sorry, nothing for that but an eyeroll. Go get 'im, tough guy.

"You're a white man, and I think you're wonderful." Yeah, the Slate Movie Club sure has a way of bringing out the best in anyone writing for it.

Petey

"I've never been one for the "this imaginary movie is the one that SHOULD have been made" school of criticism"

Fully agreed. It's a basic category error in reviewing, and it's actually been a long-time staple of 'popular' film reviews.

"There, I said it."

I was being fully un-ironic when I said subtweeting your commenters funny. But still always happy to see you engaging in the comments.

Petey

"I wish movie critics would get back to discussing movies, and whether they're any good. The year-end overview, Golden Globe and Oscar chat has been mostly about racial and gender politics..."

Another basic category error. Oscar® chat is NEVER about movie merit. It's ALWAYS about some form of politics, which is how it SHOULD be, since Oscars® themselves are always about some form of politics.

Why does The Hurt Locker win instead of Avatar? Could it have something to do with the fact that one depicts the US military is a positive manner, and one depicts the US military as an evil enemy?

If we add perceived a perceived nihilism/bleakness vs power-of-art/uplifting dichotomy to a very broad definition of 'politics', it gets to be an every year kind of thing. The Academy® is quite concerned with the image it presents of the industry, to both a domestic and international audience, which for them, utterly trumps artistic merit.

Thus Oscar® chat that ignores this is missing something fundamental. For what you are looking for, I'd suggest yearly Top However Many lists, not to mention actual reviews.

Cliff

"Sorry, nothing for that but an eyeroll. Go get 'im, tough guy."

Fer Christ's sake. I just meant, you know, that he's an adult and he's the person who actually made the movie. It's weird that we're not allowed to have a valid discussion about the fact that the lively girl with the healthy command over the art of sarcasm makes for a prescriptively more interesting presence on screen than the hesitant, mopey boy with the blank personality.

For me, it's not even about "Linklater made the wrong movie," it's just...the girl is more interesting. How is it all that different than, say, feeling instinctively disgusted by the end title card of The Imitation Game and wishing the movie hadn't made the strategic elisions that it had? Am I only allowed to judge the movie as a historical thriller qua historical thriller and ignore the fact that the story feels dramatically unfulfilled because of the way it's framed by the filmmakers? In both cases, there's a thing happening on the margins of the story that seems to have more dramatic potential than the thing happening at its center.

Zach

"Non-fan fiction." Love it. This also drives me up the wall, thanks for dubbing it so adroitly, Glenn. FWIW, this is also what ol' Richard Brody is doing when he rails against the film for presenting an "absurdly sentimentalized version of childhood." He sees what he thinks BOYHOOD's proper template should be; he wants it to be "A Nos Amours," with plenty of scenes of risky sex and domestic violence. It's too bad he missed what the actual film was doing.

Glenn Kenny

Well, we've only got the movie that's been made. I agree that Lorelei Linklater plays an intriguing character, that as a performer she's got a lot of charisma, all that. And if your mind wandered to wondering where she was at during the portions of the movie in which she was absent, Cliff, then the movie clearly wasn't working for you and you're entitled to have a less-than-enraptured view of it. That being the case, speaking strictly from a place of critical logic, it does not NECESSARILY follow that a movie that was devoted entirely to her character would be a better one, or that you would like it better. That's all. To say you were more engaged by Linklater is one thing, and that's valid. Everything else is speculation. So that's my only objection. And yes, I do think it's insulting to dismiss an actual work done by actual people in favor of your own speculative work. It's a MINOR insult, sure, but it's still an insult. So to conclude: it's no skin off my nose that you didn't like "Boyhood" as much as I did. My objections/irritations in this discussion only have to do with modes of discourse. And in any event, you're still a long way better off from Amy Nicholson's "why do I have to care about a GUY?" complaint about "400 Blows." Is it just me, or is there something inherent about the "Slate Movie Club" format that makes many of its participants write like 12-year-olds? "Rachel Portman forever," is that really a thing?

OK, I'll stop now. I'm in a baaaaaaad mood.

One more thing though: Yes, Zach, agreed. I love Richard B. but yes. And the thing is, we already HAVE "A nos amours," which IS great. Not to mention Breillat's "Une vraie jeune fille," also great. When I think what Richard wants from "Boyhood" I immediately flash to Swanberg's "Kissing on the Mouth," and then, well, I can't even...

Michael Dempsey

"Boyhood" is the title of Richard Linklater's movie because the boy has been designated as its central character, and the bulk of the principal scenes do focus on him. But he is not the only one who has been affected by the film's lengthy production process and by life itself.

As the film makes perfectly and touchingly clear, the aging process (that is to say, the flow of time -- the film's real subject) that changes him over 12 years alters his sister just as much, and how this happens to her gets plenty of attention as well.

The same applies to their parents, who don't begin their time passages as children but do become visibly and tonally different right before our eyes, although not to the same degree or in the same ways as the children do.

All the more so because, unlike the kids, they are portrayed by two famous actors whom moviegoers have already been watching grow older over the years, only not in the same movie and not with any boosts from makeup or CGI.

So "Boyhood" is also "Girlhood" and (to a less drastic,or at least different, degree) "Adulthood" as well.

george

"And in any event, you're still a long way better off from Amy Nicholson's "why do I have to care about a GUY?" complaint about "400 Blows."

Sadly, some people can't relate to a movie where the protagonist is of another gender, race or culture. These are the "I wanna see movies about people like ME" crowd. But one of the great things about movies (and fiction in general) is that they can put you in the shoes of people who AREN'T like you. That's why Ebert called movies "a machine that creates empathy."

"Is it just me, or is there something inherent about the "Slate Movie Club" format that makes many of its participants write like 12-year-olds?"

Yes, even smart people like Stephanie Zacharek and Dana Stevens seem to lose several IQ points in those discussions.

Zach

Yes, Glenn, I agree - we can have "A nos amours" and "Boyhood" - two very different approaches, and both terrific films, among many others about similar subjects (although, as Michael Dempsey says, BOYHOOD is really about time passing, regardless of the different generations experiencing it). As for the Swanberg, well, I've yet to see that one. I'm in no hurry.

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