Friday, August 12, 2011

Freeze Frame: The WSW Roundtable Take 2


We're back once again with the second in our bi-monthly series of discussions on the film world today. Meredith from M.Carter @ The Movies wasn't able to join us last time, but I'm glad to say that she's here now (although Clara from Just Chick Flicks couldn't make it this month). Returning with us are Univarn from A Life in Equinox and Andrew from Encore's World of Film and TV.

1. AMPAS announced a change in the Best Picture Oscar voting, in which anywhere from five to ten pictures could be nominated for Best Picture. Is this a good or a bad change? How does this compare to the previous two years of ten nominees?

Univarn
The biggest problem I've always had with the AMPAS is that they've seen themselves as the judges of film for all time, instead of merely markers of the prevailing opinion of that particular time. Not to mention a platform through which films with lesser reach, but still demonstrable quality, can appeal to those without the time or resources to notice them. For the former, I like this rule as it'll likely keep well acknowledged mediocrity like The Blind Side out of contention because people can't think of a 10th film, but for the latter I fear it'll trample down on films like Winter's Bone whose Academy nominations went a long way to helping boost the career of Jennifer Lawrence, one of our bright young starlets. Of course, the AMPAS has always struggled between critical aspiration and populace want. People want to see movies they've seen win - not realizing what they see and why they see it is often very controlled - and critics want movies they've supported to win - not ready to acknowledge that history shows they're wrong about films all the time as well.

If they all just listened to me a few years ago they would have changed "Best Picture" to "Movie Most Likely to Be Hated By a Small But Loud Contingent Of the Population Who Bothers to Remember in Fifteen Years" and be done with it. Yes it's a bit wordy, but there's no substitute for specificity.


Meredith
Although the concept of a nominee list "in flux" (i.e., not fixed at one standard number of entries) might bother some, I think AMPAS made a smart move. A set number is no problem in a year overflowing with great, high-quality films, but on years where the turnout is significantly weaker (here's looking at you, 1991) there could be pressure to find 10 movies -- any 10 movies -- to fill out the category. Though the 83rd Academy Awards did have 10 great entries for best film, other years might not be so lucky. I'd say it's better and smarter to vary the number of entries to allot for less-than-stellar turnouts.

Andrew
Well, I suppose nothing is really explicitly good or bad but I think this is an even worse idea than the reversion to the ten nominees. I was one of the many who was unimpressed with the movement to ten nominees because I felt it diluted the prestige of a nomination but this development is even murkier, to me. Guy Lodge (of In Contention) wrote a great article which essentially touched on the issues that worry me most about this move to a varying number of nominees. The way the ballots are counted means that even if your #1 film isn’t one of the potential nominees it still means that your #2, #3 (or lower) choices may still come into play in the other “rounds” of ballot counting. But, this new system only has one round which means that a lot more ballots may get discarded which could result in members voting for what they think might get nominated (in order for their ballot to mean something) instead of what they want (at the risk of their ballots meaning naught). And, really, I think it’s so severe to tell filmmakers that in X year there were on this amount of worthy films and so on. Sure, we do that we when we discuss the nominees, but it just seems so uncharitable to vary the nominations from year to year. AND it makes predictions more difficult, which is the ultimate nuisance.

2. The pursuit of the international market has had an effect on the way summer blockbusters have been made, from Fast Five to The Hangover Part 2 to Cars 2. What’s your opinion on this? What does it mean that international sales have been shown to bump up the profits of critically-panned films such as Pirates 4 and Transformers 3?


Univarn
You can definitely see the trend shifting in that direction as blockbusters become more generalized and less Americanized. Especially over the past few years as comic book heroes have become increasingly played by non-American cast members - even though they still play a shade of the archetypical American hero. That goes a long way in defining the shift, but the US marketplace still remains the sole, numero uno, locale for box office take. While the foreign marketplace in many cases match, or double, the US take, that's hundreds of countries spread across the world versus one. Not the best compare one could make, or the most streamlined of markets to target.

However, as the marketplace begins to shift from a handful of super monetary holders to a larger group, I wouldn't be surprised to see some more Asian or European friendly blockbusters enter the marketplace. This will become expecially important to Hollywood who seems more than happy to just try and distribute the ever increasing production value of Asian films - especially Chinese - abroad not taking the time to realize the monster of a market just waiting in the wings there.

Meredith
In one sense, it's great that movies in general are making their way to a wider market, but in another it means that bells and whistles matter more than quality (as is usually the case). While movies like Winter's Bone languish in smaller releases and garner less money, films like "Transformers 35" [linger] (do not pardon the sarcasm). It feels a little like we're training the international film audience to lower its expectations, to expect that originality and talent have no place in mass-released films. Given my deep love and appreciation for small, independent films, that makes me worry. Though these films continue to garner release and followings through indie aficionados, it would be nice to see less sequels and more truly original works.

Andrew
Well, I don’t know how it is in the US, but from what I’d presume audiences are more likely to get information on which films are being panned or not (every station seems to have some critics’ corner or whatnot) but foreign countries don’t pay so much attention to the critics’ word and whatnot which means foreign audiences aren’t as knowledgeable on what critics are loving, so they see whatever. Still, American audiences seem just as likely to flock to the cinema to see critically panned films as critically acclaimed ones, so I could be wrong.


3. Bridesmaids is an R-rated comedy with an all-female ensemble cast that has done well. Is its success a fluke or can we expect more female-centric comedies to come? Do male audiences feel threatened by female comedy, or is that only a myth?

Univarn
What? They let comedies featuring females exist? The audacity! *adjusts monocole and smoking pipe* "In my day women were too busy cheating on their spouses with pool boys and posing in idealized 1950s' kitchen magazines to partake in such tomfoolery! Next thing you know they'll be telling me women have the right to be paid equal wages, or engage in professional sports. Poppycock! I won't have it. No, no, no. Not allowed in my over exaggerated non-existent world in which everything was awesome only for me and sucked for everyone else. How did the world ever come to this? One moment I was walking along, pushing the poor, women, and random people who don't look like me off the side walk as I please, and next thing I know I have to let them hold jobs, and aspire to something greater in their lives. Well, at least I'll always have professional football; they'll never let women get near that. Bunch of sweaty men wrapped in tight polyester, pounding against one another, mud and grass lathered across their masculine bodies. Brings a tear of joy to my eyes just thinking about. Damned good ol' days."

On a serious note: I'm quite happy to see female comedies get recognition, and I hope Bridesmaids is a sign of things to come and not a flash in the can. I'm not sure how many more Katherine Heigl "romantic comedies" I can stand knowing exist before I go off the deep end.

Meredith
The success of Bridesmaids is absolutely NOT a fluke. Female moviegoers are hungry for a new kind of comedy that does not pander or try to sell the Cinderella, swept-off-our-feet fantasy. Look back to summer 2008 and you'll recall that the Sex and the City movie was a huge hit. Sure, some of its success had to do with the deluge of show fans, but overall I'd argue that the movie succeeded because it spoke to a female fanbase largely ignored (or talked down to in swill like Something Borrowed) by directors and producers. Sex and the City did not pander or play make-believe; it dealt with the very real and poignant relationships of strong, capable, vulnerable women grappling with marriage, motherhood, menopause -- real issues. And I think Bridesmaids succeeded for the same reason. Kristen Wiig wrote a film aimed at smart women floundering through life, and she made it funny and intelligent and awkward and very, very honest. That's why I think so many moviegoers -- men included; I haven't met one yet who didn't love Bridesmaids -- couldn't get enough of the movie. I hope that the movie's success is a wake-up call for up-and-coming screenwriters: If you write smart, witty, real movies about women, we will come see them.


Andrew
I didn’t fall that hard for Bridesmaids. It’s enjoyable, but hardly the godsend it’s being made out to be – I think. I’ve often wondered why women-only films haven’t worked out in recent years, because women-centred TV shows have worked; Desperate Housewives and Sex and the City come to mind and they were both well loved by critics and audiences (the latter more than the former). What’s interesting is even though Sex and the City didn’t translate that well to cinema it still made a lot of money, and women are obviously a major portion of cinema viewers so I don’t think it matters of male audiences are threatened by female only comedy (which I doubt). If half of the women drag their husbands/boyfriends to the theatre it doesn’t matter if they WANT women onscreen or not, it’ll make money.

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Previously:
Take 1 (3D, video-on-demand, movies for adults)

6 comments:

  1. I love this discussion format and you've asked some really great questions. It's interesting that the round table seems to have more confidence in women audiences than international ones. I'm not sure if it's true that international audiences pay less attention to reviews. I just think that the larger market further extends the chasm that also exists in the U.S. between blockbusters and independent films. On the plus side, both of these moves might help to bring a greater diversity to movie casting. Fast Five, for example, had one of the most racially diverse casts of any film I saw this year.

    As for AMPAS, it's pretty clear that the Board of Governors has a particular view of what they'd like the Best Picture category to look like (for better or for worse), but their membership keeps voting for a different set of films (again, for better or worse), and the studios--or at least some studios--seem to be able to adjust their campaigns faster than the governors can tinker with their rules. It will be interesting to see how this plays out (and how long it lasts), but it seems clear that we film lovers will now have two places to lay the blame when our favorite movie doesn't make the cut--the membership that didn't vote for it, and the rules that "robbed" our favorite of its #8, 9 or 10 spot.

    Great discussion! I look forward to the next installment.

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  2. I'm beginning to think that AMPAS makes voting for Best Picture as complicated as they do in order to rig it so that certain movies will have better chances than others. But maybe I'm just being too cynical.

    Glad you liked the discussion.

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  3. Awesome roundtable! I don't think Bridesmaids is a fluke. There is obviously high demand for female-centric movies but Hollywood has ignored this demographics because they never felt they could capitalize on it outside of the occasional factory-stamped romantic comedy. There will certainly be more movies with the same formula but they won't do as well.

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  4. One thing I should've specified in the question was how 'Bridesmaids' drew more comparisons to movies like 'The Hangover' than to 'Mamma Mia' or 'The Devil Wears Prada,' which is one big reason why it was perceived as so unique - the women were getting as raunchy as the men. Whether that can be considered progress is another issue.

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  5. Even though I still think the idea is terrible, I have to give props to Meredith for raising a salient good point about the AMPAS change.

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  6. Honestly, simply figuring out this new voting process gives me a headache.

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