Started at the POPSMUT, Now We Here: The End and Other Beginnings

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As a true American legend/general staple of the Oscar blogging community, I feel that as I move forward into 2014 and beyond, I must reveal that sentiment, above all, is kind of my thing.

We’ve been close since elementary school, the days when I used to come home on Fridays with a lunchbox bursting with plastic forks and spoons I’d accumulated during the week–utensils similar to the ones I saw my classmates tossing into the trash like they were nothing. But mine? No. I held onto mine dearly. “My mother gave these to me,” I told a lunch lady who dared to question my actions from atop her stained-yellow Keds of judgment, watching me place a used spork back into the box.

I don’t part with things easily. As many of my friends know, I linger in the movie theater long after the final scene is whisked away by the credits. I soak up the moment, the music, the experience that I’d just bathed in for the last two hours. It’s hard for me to get up and walk out–unless the movie was American Hustle or something.

Parting with this blog, however, has been a long time coming. I so tactfully named a future professional tool after something that sounds like an Xtube user handle belonging to a Scotch-laden man with an intense interest in geriatric male-on-male fellatio. I guess it’s more difficult to say after the fact that this blog was started as something for me to mess around with. It’s since grown into the foundation for a career I’m so desperately trying to have.

It’s through this space that I’ve been able to meet some incredible artists. I’ve interviewed celebrities, artists, designers, directors, writers–people, more than anything else. I’ve written about love, regrets, passion, resentment, life–strung together with the thread of film and pop culture, of course. But, the one thing that’s remained the same is the person behind the keyboard: me. I’ve single-handedly taken this blog from a silly side project into something I’m extremely proud of.

But, it’s time for something new. I am ending POPSMUT.

As I grow increasingly interested in writing as a career (screenwriting, journalism, etc.), I learn more and more with each passing day that the potential realities of breaking into the industry at age 24 (or “6th Anniversary of 18″, as I like to call it) are rapidly dwindling. Self-publishing (for more than just fun) is the route I’ve decided to take.

On August 25, 2014, I will launch Serving Cinema at http://www.servingcinema.com, alongside my longtime collaborator and friend, Alice Groesbeck. It will focus on Oscar season, the film industry, and culture in general. Our first major feature will focus on the release of a few key films during the New York Film Festival in late August (we’re in negotiations with one of our writers who’s going to be at the festival to bring his reviews exclusively to us). We’ve got a fantastic web designer who’s in the final stages of bringing our vision to life. We have tons of features lined up that will add a youthful life force into the crusty Oscar Blogging industry pool, and have gathered a great group of writers, collaborators, interns, and others to help make this a multimedia sensory extravaganza that will find a home in the hearts of tens of millions of adoring people across this great nation (or so we modestly hope).

We eventually hope to expand the site from mere videos, podcasts, and articles into an outlet for online-only independent filmmakers to showcase their work in a monthly spotlight/theater feature, but that’s all for phase 2. Phase 1 has barely left me any time to sleep in the past few months, so one step at a time.

Over the course of the next month, however, I’ve got a ton of other projects coming to life as well. Anaka Records will be flying (AKA putting me on a train because I’m terrified of air travel and refused to do it. I wish I were kidding, but I’m really rolling up for a business trip on rails) Alice and I to New York City on August 7 to collaborate with Alex Young (a singer I first interviewed on this blog in 2010, mind you) on a series of documentary-essays and web episodes/video projects surrounding her artistry and the city itself.

On September 6th, I’ll be traveling to Toronto to cover the Toronto International Film Festival–a legitimate Oscar precursor festival–for Serving Cinema as its first major feature.

My first short film (that I directed, acted in, and co-wrote with Alice), Dealing, is nearing completion, and will be edited (and released) by the end of the year. I’m also in the process of partnering with the Three Rivers Film Festival here in Pittsburgh to do some cross-promotion for my site and their list of filmmakers on this year’s slate.

I’ve accomplished so much (being humble apparently isn’t included in that assesment), and this blog as been there right by my side. It’s grown into more than just an outlet for expression. It has become an instinct, a gut-reaction for sharing ideas, an extension of myself as I try to write as personally as possible. I can’t do it all by myself if I want to expand, so we’re taking my little ball of passion and turning it into that Indiana Jones boulder (if that Indiana Jones boulder were a handful of people passionate about staying indoors/blogging about film).

Learning to exist with sentiment makes me a stronger person, a stronger writer and, hopefully now, a strong businessperson (with the help of my good friend Tyler Marchinetti, who’s helping out with some of the business aspects, like teaching Alice and I what “net gain” means and that people can actually sue us for the shade we throw now that we’re a business). Speaking of which, I know that if throwing shade at Jennifer Connelly and Argo over the years could translate into success, we’re already “recouping” (is that the right business word, Tyler?) whatever shame I brought upon myself by naming this blog “POPSMUT.”

Sentiment is my thing. Saying goodbye, however, is not. I’ll hang on to the craft I’ve perfected on this blog over the years and give it new life in a new home very, very soon. Hopefully we’ll uphold a legacy far better than Argo is upholding the Best Picture legacy from the clearance bin at your local supermarket (one last jab, for old time’s sake).

So, goodbye, PopSmut. You’ll be the used spork in my lunchbox of life forever. *pops Cristal in the hot tub* *clinks glass with my angel-winged ego of the future*

Joey.

Look for Serving Cinema to launch on August 25, 2014. 

Sierra Mannie: It’s Time For You To Lip-Sync For Your Life

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By: Joey Nolfi
Twitter: @joeynolfi

Sierra Mannie, it’s time for you to lip sync for your life.

The song you’ve chosen to present to us is a bitter one. The lyrics to “Dear White Gays: Stop Stealing Black Female Culture” (which can be found by clicking here ) are passionate and fiery, though narrow-minded and ill-informed. They make the point that homosexual Caucasian males don’t have the right to “act black”, as you’ve put it, because they’re white and therefore automatically endowed with a clear path to a long, prosperous, privileged life.

Of course no one has the right to steal or mock someone else’s culture–especially the select few people who undoubtedly do this to black people. It’s wrong. No one is denying that. We all see where you’re coming from and where you started. The problem, however, is that you drove your point into the ground by dragging another culture through the mud by making grand assumptions and insulting generalizations (that derailed your initial point) for the sake of the argument.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself. The first verse of “Dear White Gays” goes a little something like this:


“Maybe, for some of you, it’s a presumed mutual appreciation for Beyoncé and weaves that has you thinking that I’m going to be amused by you approaching me in your best ‘Shanequa from around the way’ voice. I don’t know. What I do know is that I don’t care how well you can quote Madea, who told you that your booty was getting bigger than hers, how cute you think it is to call yourself a strong black woman, who taught you to twerk, how funny you think it is to call yourself Quita or Keisha or for which black male you’ve been bottoming — you are not a black woman, and you do not get to claim either blackness or womanhood. It is not yours. It is not for you.”


That sounds incredibly spiteful, but I don’t blame you after the harsh critique you’ve received from the judges. Your runway outfit was, however, falling apart at the seams, my dear, and now the hem of your critique is tattered and ankle-length, when it could benefit from a bit more time, experience, and craftsmanship to extend it to the length of full red carpet realness.

Perhaps you should stop laying claim to all inequality and all struggle. You belong to neither exclusively. Struggle isn’t yours alone. You do not get to revel in your inequality only to use it as a license to box in other similarly-oppressed people. “White gays” as a whole are not the problem in this picture. You do not get to use and objectify inequality as an exclusive accessory, and as a tool to write edgy think-pieces that insult instead of inspire. You objectify things such as race and gender and take it upon yourself to make assumptions about ALL gay white males and define the lines. You’re segregating. The only thing “Dear White Gays” says is “You can only sit here. You can’t sit there,” though the factors you cite (Madea, Beyonce, names, an inflection of the voice) do not belong to or represent the black community exclusively. Still, this does not give someone the right to marginalize a black woman by assuming she’ll respond more positively if she’s called “girl” in casual conversation, and I truly believe that’s what you’re trying to say in “Dear White Gays,” it just gets lost in the steam of your anger.

The second verse is just as grating as the first, but still you make your best attempts at lip-synching through what you think you’re supposed to be saying, doing, and defending:


“Black people can’t have anything. Any of these things include, but aren’t limited to: a general sense of physical safety, comfort with law enforcement, adequate funding and appreciation for black spaces like schools and neighborhoods, appropriate venues for our voices to be heard about criticism of issues without our race going on trial because of it, and solid voting rights (cc: Chris McDaniel).”


and


“At the end of the day, if you are a white male, gay or not, you retain so much privilege. What is extremely unfairly denied you because of your sexuality could float back to you, if no one knew that you preferred the romantic and sexual company of men over women. (You know what I’m talking about. Those “anonymous” torsos on Grindr, Jack’d and Adam4Adam, show very familiar heterosexual faces to the public.) The difference is that the black women with whom you think you align so well, whose language you use and stereotypical mannerisms you adopt, cannot hide their blackness and womanhood to protect themselves the way that you can hide your homosexuality. We have no place to hide, or means to do it even if we desired them.”


I advise you to tell this assertion of black struggle over the struggle of others to Matthew Shephard. Hit a road block? That’s because he’s dead. Murdered in Laramie, Wyoming for his sexuality, for inciting a “gay panic” in two heterosexual males who took it upon themselves to end his life after inserting themselves into his with only violent intentions coursing through their veins. Matthew Shephard made no attempts to hide who he was. Hiding is dangerous. Silence is death, but dying as a victim of an ignorance-fueled crime–as who he was, refusing to change for anyone at the risk of his own life–is valiance in the face of injustice and hatred.

Tell this to all the gay men who are called “faggot” as they walk down the street. Tell them that your struggle is worse than theirs. Tell this to the gay people in your life who have to endure a colleague, a coworker, or a classmate saying something is “so gay” because they lack the empathy and vocabulary to describe something for what it really is, tedious and vapid.

Tell this to the gay men and women of states like Texas, Florida, and your very own Mississippi that do not offer any state level protection to LGBT employees.

Your “us-versus-them” rhetoric is dangerous. I think your intention was an “all-of-us” one, but your lack of empathy painted you into a corner and left you there.

The point is not to equate the black struggle with the gay struggle in every instance (there are varying degrees to both), but instead to embrace our differences and find community in shared oppression and acknowledge that regardless of whatever group society has assigned us to, we are all fighting a battle. Racism exists. It’s terrilble. Sexism exists. It’s terrible. This diversity in our collective, shared experiences as Americans being oppressed by the majority is what makes our culture as a nation so powerful. This shared struggle and mutual respect for one another is what it means to be American. No one is demeaning the struggle of any particular race—certainly not yours, as black people have had it hard over the years—and that means you shouldn’t demean the struggle of others, because ignoring the gay struggle makes your argument (that cultural appropriation is wrong) get lost in the process.

How you have written your opinions on white gays as fact is so problematic. You have no place or authority to tell others how to live their lives or how to endure their struggle. You do not get to say that your struggle is more important than someone else’s just because you’ve encountered a few assholes along the way. One group’s oppression is no less valid than another group’s because of the color of their skin. You don’t have to keep score because Americans have been working hard to promote equality to make sure no one has to. You say  “black people can’t have anything,” but I don’t think that is fair to the members of a community who have worked hard to succeed.

Especially people like Halle Berry, Denzel Washington, Mo’Nique, and Hattie McDaniel. These Americans prove that black people can have Academy Awards. Whoopi Goldberg, Lupita Nyong’o, and Maya Angelou prove that black women can make it in industries that are dominated by white men and dictated by the male preference. Barack Obama’s presidency proves that our country is breaking down walls and changing the future of diversity in America for the better.  He is proof that black people can have the most powerful position in the world.

To say that black people can’t have anything is to demean the leaps and bounds by those who have fought to achieve. Your words demean the accomplishments and perseverance of an entire race of people for the sake of grinding your axe over the way a few men (who happened to be gay and white) talked on Vine the last time you scrolled through it.

The characters you drop in “Dear White Gays,” the “attitude” you cite, and the stereotypes you acknowledge are only your perceived notion of what black culture is. On what day and at what conference did every black person decide that Madea was an ideal representative of the community?

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Let me tell you this: Madea is not only a camp character, she is a heterosexual black male dressing in societally-coded “female” attire; essentially, Madea (and Tyler Perry, the man under the wig) is appropriating the quintessentially multi-racial, multi-cultural, all-inclusive umbrella that is the art of drag.

No one talks about drag being filtered through the lens of straight culture to fit the “tastes” of the black culture you assume elevated Madea to some level of universal representation for the black community. Still, Madea as a character reduces drag to a cheap joke. Look at the funny man in the funny dress. Yet, drag culture perseveres. Drag culture endures. Drag culture ignores this sort of trivial squabbling about what belongs where and who can do what.

Would you be offended if I used the cast of “The Real Housewives of Atlanta” using every opportunity they have to talk about “shade” as a means to springboard a campaign against all black women to stop appropriating queer drag culture and its vernacular? (Hint: You’ve done it yourself in “Dear White Gays.”) I ask you to re-visit Paris Is Burning and think twice before you consider using the terms “shade” and “truth tea” before you write a piece about appropriating another’s culture.

But, even still, it’s ok. The gay community will not attack you for finding worth in something from their culture.

The bottom line is that things you cite as being “black” are superficial at most. A name. A movie character. An accent or way of speaking. A bit more life experience will teach you that being a part of something–whether racial, sexual, spiritual, or just plain human–is more than skin deep. It’s seeing the man under the wig, but still giving him two snaps and a crisp dollar bill for celebrating the dynamism of his taste without labeling it as appropriation in a reactionary bout of masked hatred.

Back to the stage. It’s almost over. Your lace-front is receding as you dip into the final bars of the song. You’re beat. You’ve lip-synched for your life. You’re sweating before the judges. The heel on your studded Jimmy Choo is giving out. But was it enough? Was throwing the gay white male struggle under the bus for the sake of promoting your own prejudice—thinly disguised as a critique of what a few gay white men have done—worth it?

Won’t you rip off the drag and strip away the ugliness you wrote and understand the acceptance of struggles other than your own? Or will you hang on to the faint, dated chorus of “Dear White Gays”? Either way, you’re going to have to join the ranks of all the queens–male and female–that have struggled before you, regardless of race, color, or sexuality.

Your points about cultural appropriation are valid. Of course someone who is white cannot possibly understand the full extent of the racial injustices black Americans must endure on a daily basis. No one is denying that. However, your critique of gay male culture and your insistence on making grand assumptions and assertions over the entirety of it is nothing but ignorance in bad, click-bait day drag with horrible foundation and a bad Shangela blend.

Now, sashay away.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @joeynolfi

Finding Summer Sunshine in ‘Tammy’ Beyond the Muck and the Fat Jokes

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By: Joey Nolfi

Twitter: @joeynolfi

What makes a movie worth something? In the blistering months of summer, we find ourselves flocking to the theater in droves to see them: the good ones, the bad ones, the everything-in-between ones. We accept the notion that this is a supposed to be a time for relaxation, a time to drift away from the 40-hour workweek and into the soft caress of increasing temperatures and cool breezes in that wide open space that’s in between your front door and your air-conditioned sedan.

But, being the good cinephiles that we are, we shut ourselves away in tiny, cramped, darkened little theaters and let others create the fantasy for us. We still associate film with escapism, just the same as we hold onto the coded image of summer as if it still bears the same fruits that three months of nothingness ahead of you in the waning days of May did when you were 15 years old.

Of course, the reality for adults is much different. Summer is simply supposed to be synonymous with easy, but the film industry often kicks into overdrive during these months, pummeling us with male-driven tentpole after male-driven tentpole in a cycle that’s driving its top-heavy films into the ground, pushing “minority” characters and stories to the side, and testing just how much audiences will put up with (grosses for 2014’s summer flicks thus far trail last year’s grosses by 15%, according to Deadline Hollywood) en route to a monolithically-male American film culture.

In an industry where real female characters in front of the camera are rare and a female eye behind the lens is even harder to come by, it’s unfortunate that a film like Tammy—one undoubtedly meant as a lighthearted tread through fields of breezy summer tastes that appeal to the masses—lands itself amid an inescapable storm of web-based chatter from all possible perspectives. People don’t want to let the film be as it is without all the extra baggage it may or may not be carrying with arms of its own. Still, we talk; “Tammy is a film about equality for big girls” some say. “Can we please stop talking about Melissa McCarthy’s weight?” others, like Entertainment Weekly’s Karen Valby did here) chime in. Tammy is being pulled in a million different directions so much that feels like we’ve run the course with it even though we’re still a good 24 hours away from its official opening.

What is true “worth” when talking about a summer blockbuster, then? If we tip so heavily to the side of male taste, is there room for anything else—even, say, a subpar overall film like Tammy—to be worth something in bits as opposed to as a whole?

Heavy discourse might be valid when talking about a film that’s worth something in the eyes of the masses, which Tammy will be if good word of mouth carries it past the modest $30-$40 million holiday haul it’s poised for, though we seem to be more preoccupied with throwing our own words around prior to seeing the actual film than seeing Tammy for what it is; a ridiculously uneven spectacle that digs its own holes that are similar in size and size and scope to the ones dug by others it so desperately seeks to climb out of. But, in the age of the internet court, where everyone’s voice is falsely validated by their ability to fit it into a 140-character space, criticism becomes something that altogether precedes content, and it’s dangerous to glob a film like Tammy into a grey box in an industry that so blatantly separates gender into black and white despite its shortcomings.

We have to pick and choose what we pull from films like Tammy, which stars Melissa McCarthy as a 30-something slob with an ex-job, soon-to-be-ex-husband, and an excommunication from a reality, as she attempts to capitalize on her newfound freedom with a road trip to Niagara Falls with her grandmother, Pearl (Susan Sarandon), though they veer far off track and the film careens into all-over-the-place territory as Tammy embarks on a true journey of self-discovery. McCarthy’s script (co-written with her husband, Ben Falcone, who also directed the picture) feels like a series of aimless vignettes that wear the same comedic gimmicks that McCarthy has relied on for three years now so extremely thin that the barely-there thread connecting everything feels as if its about to snap and coil in on itself if one more self-deprecating fat joke or improvised run-on slithers out of McCarthy’s mouth.

Take it like any subcultural film movement appropriating the normative culture’s use of words that are derogatory (the “f” word, the “n” word), but McCarthy’s use of fat jokes at first doesn’t seem like a harnessing of control, but rather feels like a repetitive reliance on an easy gag. The laughs are there, but the punch isn’t. For that reason, it’s nearly impossible to leave the discussion about weight and gender at the door, namely because the film is more than attributable to McCarthy’s own doing: she wrote the script, after all, and her husband called the shots on set. That doesn’t do much for objectivity on their part, and it makes for a film that feels more self-indulgent on McCarthy’s part than it does self-revelatory for the character she’s created on the page and on the screen…for the first half, that is.

So, the overwhelmingly negative response the film is receiving from initial screenings is warranted for the most part: the film’s first half is a silly romp that does very little to elevate itself above the rest of the summer muck. Again, we must be careful, as so rarely are we given female characters like the ones in Tammy that the film surrounding them takes a backseat to the importance of their existence as characters in the first place. The film’s back half, however, turns the nose of the sinking ship toward the sun.

For starters, it’s become quite common to observe that Melissa McCarthy’s body type doesn’t fit in with the normal blueprint Hollywood has drawn for women to build upon, and when lines like “you didn’t fuck the ice cream man just for the ice cream, did you?” and “I kind of got into the pies” punctuate a film that includes scenes of an overweight woman struggling to climb over a small counter top and falling to her knees after dropping three feet off the top of a table, what is an audience supposed to think? McCarthy begs us to view her body as a comedic tool, and while that makes it impossible to leave discussion about its star’s body out of the equation, it does indicate that there is a consciousness to her methods.

xmelissa-mccarthy-susan-sarandon-tammy.jpg.pagespeed.ic.KmtdTVSL3lTammy is a studio production aimed at pleasing the crowds, and it will do that on some level, but the film also explores things you’d never see in the male-driven industry today, thanks largely in part to McCarthy’s power as a box-office draw and audience darling. There are female characters (even lesbians!) that are defined by more than their sexuality and/or their relationship to a man—in a Hollywood production! Though the lack of objectivity and more creative license given to McCarthy in terms of script and performance speaks to her power as a female star with a box-office draw, her decision to include the fat jokes in her own script indicate a comfort and an acceptance of her body. That’s obvious. It’s just wholeheartedly discouraging to see her reducing herself to fodder for trailers with material that’s just not very creative, and altogether makes her body something that we have to think about as something someone has to “accept” in the first place. Is there something wrong with you if you aren’t Melissa McCarthy but have Melissa McCarthy’s body type and no outlet to show off your self-deprecating humor?

Sure, we can say that it’s unfair to talk about women’s bodies and focus on the weight, but Melissa McCarthy’s films seem to fixate on it more than the rest of us do: the jokes are at the expense of her weight and wouldn’t work on a skinny person. McCarthy doesn’t use these jokes as a crutch beyond the first half of the film or so (they’re peppered throughout the entire thing, but ultimately don’t define it), she’s just playing up her assets, and she treats her body as such; she doesn’t create a character who’s disgusting, but rather someone who’s in control of losing control of her body for comedic effect.

It’s this consciousness of what makes McCarthy “different”—both as someone who doesn’t fit the “normal” mold of Hollywood actresses and as a powerful woman in an industry dominated by men—that makes aspects of Tammy accessible in a way we’re not used to seeing in a big-budget Hollywood production. There’s a deliberate effort to construct a non-mainstream, non-typical woman and give her the agency that beautiful, rail-thin leading ladies in other films don’t even get. Without spoiling anything, we do see Tammy getting a choice along her path to romance, the freedom from hinging her life’s decisions on the pursuit of a man, valuable, complex relationships with women based on things that don’t have to do with men, and the power to be the agent of her own story, not dangle from the hands of someone else. This is a story about women helping women, even if the beginning bits distracted us along the way.

So, what does Tammy want to be, and what does it end up being? It’s a line we can’t clearly draw because the film itself is so structurally misshapen, but we can appreciate what little glimmer there is to be extracted from the earnesty of its all-poweful female star and screenwriter. We can’t blindly accept films like Tammy as a whole simply because there are elements that subvert the norm. A mediocre product from a woman, starring a woman who contrasts what other studios are pushing doesn’t make it a great film, but you can make a dry, crusty, dirt-browned potato shine like a juicy red, freshly-plucked tomato; you just have to tilt it a little and lift it into the sun for closer inspection.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @joeynolfi

Academy Invites 271 New Members Including Megan Ellison, Lupita Nyong’o, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Barkhad Abdi, Olivier Assayas

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By: Joey Nolfi
Twitter: @joeynolfi

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences today announced the list of 271 names of industry professionals that have been invited to join their ranks that now extend to around 7,000. Again seeking to diversify and broaden the Academy’s collective perspective, major industry players from around the world such as Megan Ellison, Lupita Nyong’o, Barkhad Abdi, Olivier Assayas, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Chris Rock, June Squibb, Hany Abu-Assad, and Jean-Marc Vallee will now cast their ballots alongside the traditionally old, traditionally white American male Oscar voters. Though only one woman was invited to join the Director’s Branch (Gina Prince-Bythewood), French filmmaker Claire Denis, who was invited to join the Writers Branch, often pulls double duty behind the camera as director and on the page as screenwriter of her films (most recently with her underseen, underappreciated Bastards just last year). Though the full list of members has never been revealed publicly, Lee and Low Books compiled this infographic that highlights the Academy’s diversity gap: Academy Awards Infographic 18 24 - FINAL - REVISED 2-24-2014 FULL LIST OF THOSE INVITED TO JOIN THE ACADEMY:

Actors (the largest branch of the Academy)
Barkhad Abdi – “Captain Phillips”
Clancy Brown – “The Hurricane,” “The Shawshank Redeption”
Paul Dano – “12 Years a Slave,” “Prisoners”
Michael Fassbender – “12 Years a Slave,” “Shame”
Ben Foster – “Lone Survivor,” “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints”
Beth Grant – “The Artist,” “No Country for Old Men”
Clark Gregg – “Much Ado about Nothing,” “Marvel’s The Avengers”
Sally Hawkins – “Blue Jasmine,” “Happy-Go-Lucky”
Josh Hutcherson – “The Hunger Games,” “The Kids Are All Right”
Julia Louis-Dreyfus – “Enough Said,” “Planes”
Kelly Macdonald – “Brave,” “No Country for Old Men”
Mads Mikkelsen – “The Hunt,” “Casino Royale”
Joel McKinnon Miller – “Super 8,” “The Truman Show”
Cillian Murphy – “The Dark Knight Rises,” “Inception”
Lupita Nyong’o – “Non-Stop,” “12 Years a Slave”
Rob Riggle – “21 Jump Street,” “The Hangover”
Chris Rock – “Grown Ups 2,” “Madagascar”
June Squibb – “Nebraska,” “About Schmidt”
Jason Statham – “Parker,” “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels”
David Strathairn – “Lincoln,” “Good Night, and Good Luck.”

Casting Directors
Douglas Aibel – “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” “The Immigrant”
Simone Bär – “The Monuments Men,” “The Book Thief”
Kerry Barden – “August: Osage County,” “Dallas Buyers Club”
Nikki Barrett – “The Railway Man,” “The Great Gatsby”
Mark Bennett – “Drinking Buddies,” “Zero Dark Thirty”
Risa Bramon Garcia – “Speed,” “Wall Street”
Michelle Guish – “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” “Nanny McPhee”
Billy Hopkins – “Lee Daniels’ The Butler,” “Disconnect”
Ros Hubbard – “Romeo & Juliet,” “The Mummy”
Allison Jones – “The Way, Way Back,” “The Heat”
Christine King – “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader,” “Star
Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith”
Beatrice Kruger – “To Rome With Love,” “The American”
Marci Liroff – “Mean Girls,” “Pretty in Pink”
Debbie McWilliams – “Skyfall,” “Quantum of Solace”
Joseph Middleton – “The Twilight Saga: New Moon,” “Legally Blonde”
Robi Reed – “For Colored Girls,” “Do the Right Thing”
Kevin Reher – “Monsters University,” “Finding Nemo”
Paul Schnee – “August: Osage County,” “Dallas Buyers Club”
Gail Stevens – “Zero Dark Thirty,” “Slumdog Millionaire”
Lucinda Syson – “Gravity,” “Fast and & Furious 6”
Fiona Weir – “J. Edgar,” “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2”
Ronnie Yeskel – “The Sessions,” “Atlas Shrugged Part 1”

Cinematographers
Sean Bobbitt – “12 Years a Slave,” “The Place beyond the Pines”
Philippe Le Sourd – “The Grandmaster,” “Seven Pounds”
James Neihouse – “Hubble 3D,” “Nascar: The Imax Experience”
Masanobu Takayanagi – “Out of the Furnace,” “Silver Linings Playbook”
Bradford Young – “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints,” “Pariah”

Costume Designers 
William Chang Suk Ping – “The Grandmaster,” “In the Mood for Love”
Pascaline Chavanne – “Renoir,” “Augustine”
Daniela Ciancio – “The Great Beauty,” “Il Divo”
Frank L. Fleming – “Draft Day,” “Monster’s Ball”
Maurizio Millenotti – “Hamlet,” “Otello”
Beatrix Aruna Pasztor – “Great Expectations,” “Good Will Hunting”
Karyn Wagner – “Lovelace,” “The Green Mile”

Designers
William Arnold – “Lovelace,” “Crazy, Stupid, Love.”
K.K. Barrett – “Her,” “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close”
Susan Benjamin – “Saving Mr. Banks,” “The Blind Side”
Bill Boes – “The Smurfs 2,” “Fantastic Four”
Tony Fanning – “Contraband,” “War of the Worlds”
Robert Greenfield – “Priest,” “Almost Famous”
Marcia Hinds – “I Spy,” “The Public Eye”
Sonja Brisbane Klaus – “Prometheus,” “Robin Hood”
David S. Lazan – “Flight,” “American Beauty”
Diane Lederman – “Lee Daniels’ The Butler,” “Tower Heist”
Heather Loeffler – “American Hustle,” “Silver Linings Playbook”
Christa Munro – “Jack Reacher,” “Erin Brockovich”
Andy Nicholson – “Gravity,” “The Host”
Adam Stockhausen – “12 Years a Slave,” “Moonrise Kingdom”

Directors
Hany Abu-Assad – “Omar,” “Paradise Now”
Jay Duplass – “Jeff, Who Lives at Home,” “Cyrus”
Mark Duplass – “Jeff, Who Lives at Home,” “Cyrus”
David Gordon Green – “Joe,” “Pineapple Express”
Gavin O’Connor – “Warrior,” “Miracle”
Gina Prince-Bythewood – “The Secret Life of Bees,” “Love and Basketball”
Paolo Sorrentino – “The Great Beauty,” “This Must Be the Place”
Jean-Marc Vallée – “Dallas Buyers Club,” “Young Victoria”
Felix van Groeningen – “The Broken Circle Breakdown,” “The Misfortunates”
Denis Villeneuve – “Prisoners,” “Incendies”
Thomas Vinterberg – “The Hunt,” “The Celebration”

Documentary
Malcolm Clarke – “The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life,” “Prisoner of Paradise”
Dan Cogan – “How to Survive a Plague,” “The Queen of Versailles”
Kief Davidson – “Open Heart,” “Kassim the Dream”
Dan Geller – “The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden,” “Ballets Russes”
Dayna Goldfine – “The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden,” “Ballets Russes”
Julie Goldman – “God Loves Uganda,” “Gideon’s Army”
Sam Green – “Utopia in Four Movements,” “The Weather Underground”
Gary Hustwit – “Urbanized,” “Helvetica”
Eugene Jarecki – “The House I Live In,” “Why We Fight”
Brian Johnson – “Anita,” “Buena Vista Social Club”
Ross Kauffman – “E-Team,” “Born Into Brothels”
Morgan Neville – “20 Feet From Stardom,” “Troubadours”
Matthew J. O’Neill – “Redemption,” “China’s Unnatural Disaster: The Tears of Sichuan
Province”
Rithy Panh – “The Missing Picture,” “S-21: The Khmer Rouge Death Machine”
Lucy Massie Phenix – “Regret to Inform,” “Word Is Out”
Enat Sidi – “Detropia,” “Jesus Camp”
Molly Thompson – “The Unknown Known,” “Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer”
Cynthia Wade – “Mondays at Racine,” “Freeheld”

Executives
Adrian Alperovich
Sean Bailey
Len Blavatnik
Nicholas Carpou
Nancy Carson
Charles S. Cohen
Jason Constantine
Peter Cramer
William Kyle Davies
Christopher Floyd
David Garrett
David Hollis
Tomas Jegeus
Michelle Raimo Kouyate
Anthony James Marcoly
Hiroyasu Matsuoka
Kim Roth
John Sloss

Film Editors
Alan Baumgarten – “American Hustle,” “Gangster Squad”
Alan Edward Bell – “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” “The Amazing Spider-Man”
Dorian Harris – “The Magic of Belle Isle,” “The Mod Squad”
Sabrina Plisco – “The Smurfs 2,” “Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow”
Tatiana S. Riegel – “Million Dollar Arm,” “The Way, Way Back”
Julie Rogers – “Wreck-It Ralph,” “Kit Kittredge: An American Girl”
Mark Sanger – “Gravity”
Joan Sobel – “Admission,” “A Single Man”
Crispin Struthers – “American Hustle,” “Silver Linings Playbook”
Tracey Wadmore-Smith – “About Last Night,” “Death at a Funeral”
Joe Walker – “12 Years a Slave,” “Shame”
John Wilson – “The Book Thief,” “Billy Elliot”

Makeup Artists and Hairstylists
Vivian Baker – “Oz The Great and Powerful,” “Conviction”
Adruitha Lee – “Dallas Buyers Club,” “12 Years a Slave”
Robin Mathews – “Dallas Buyers Club,” “The Runaways”
Anne Morgan – “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone,” “A Little Bit of Heaven”
Gloria Pasqua-Casny – “The Lone Ranger,” “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”

Members-at-Large
Peter Becker
Jeff Dashnaw
Kenneth L. Halsband
Jody Levin
Tom MacDougall
Chuck Picerni, Jr.
Spiro Razatos
Mic Rodgers
Kevin J. Yeaman

Music
Kristen Anderson-Lopez – “Frozen,” “Winnie the Pooh”
Stanley Clarke – “The Best Man Holiday,” “Boyz N the Hood”
Earl Ghaffari – “Frozen,” “Wreck-It Ralph”
Steve Jablonsky – “Lone Survivor,” “Ender’s Game”
Robert Lopez – “Frozen,” “Winnie the Pooh”
Steven Price – “Gravity,” “The World’s End”
Tony Renis – “Hidden Moon,” “Quest for Camelot”
Angie Rubin – “Pitch Perfect,” “Sex and the City”
Buck Sanders – “Warm Bodies,” “The Hurt Locker”
Charles Strouse – “All Dogs Go to Heaven,” “Annie”
Eddie Vedder – “Eat Pray Love,” “Into the Wild”
Pharrell Williams – “Despicable Me 2,” “Fast & Furious”

Producers
Jason Blumenthal – “Hope Springs,” “Seven Pounds”
Dana Brunetti – “Captain Phillips,” “The Social Network”
Megan Ellison – “American Hustle,” “Her”
Sean Furst – “Daybreakers,” “The Cooler”
Nicola Giuliano – “The Great Beauty,” “This Must Be the Place”
Preston Holmes – “Waist Deep,” “Tupac: Resurrection”
Lynette M. Howell – “The Place beyond the Pines,” “Blue Valentine”
Anthony Katagas – “12 Years a Slave,” “Killing Them Softly”
Alix Madigan – “Girl Most Likely,” “Winter’s Bone”
Paul Mezey – “The Girl,” “Maria Full of Grace”
Stephen Nemeth – “The Sessions,” “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas”
Tracey Seaward – “Philomena,” “The Queen”
John H. Williams – “Space Chimps,” “Shrek 2”

Public Relations
Larry Angrisani
Nancy Bannister
Christine Batista
Karen Hermelin
Marisa McGrath Liston
David Magdael
Steven Raphael
Bettina R. Sherick
Dani Weinstein

Short Films and Feature Animation
Didier Brunner – “Ernest & Celestine,” “The Triplets of Belleville”
Scott Clark – “Monsters University,” “Up”
Pierre Coffin – “Despicable Me 2,” “Despicable Me”
Esteban Crespo – “Aquel No Era Yo (That Wasn’t Me),” “Lala”
Peter Del Vecho – “Frozen,” “The Princess and the Frog”
Kirk DeMicco – “The Croods,” “Space Chimps”
Doug Frankel – “Brave,” “WALL-E”
Mark Gill – “The Voorman Problem,” “Full Time”
David A. S. James – “Mr. Peabody & Sherman,” “Megamind”
Fabrice Joubert – “Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax,” “French Roast”
Jean-Claude Kalache – “Up,” “Cars”
Jason Katz – “Toy Story 3,” “Finding Nemo”
Jennifer Lee – “Frozen,” “Wreck-It Ralph”
Baldwin Li – “The Voorman Problem,” “Full Time”
Nathan Loofbourrow – “Puss in Boots,” “How to Train Your Dragon”
Lauren MacMullan – “Get a Horse!,” “Wreck-It Ralph”
Tom McGrath – “Megamind,” “Madagascar”
Dorothy McKim – “Get a Horse!,” “Meet the Robinsons”
Hayao Miyazaki – “The Wind Rises,” “Spirited Away”
Ricky Nierva – “Monsters University,” “Up”
Chris Renaud – “Despicable Me 2,” “Despicable Me”
Benjamin Renner – “Ernest & Celestine,” “A Mouse’s Tale (La Queue de la Souris)”
Michael Rose – “Chico & Rita,” “The Gruffalo”
Toshio Suzuki – “The Wind Rises,” “Howl’s Moving Castle”
Selma Vilhunen – “Pitääkö Mun Kaikki Hoitta? (Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?),”
“The Crossroads”
Anders Walter – “Helium,” “9 Meter”
Laurent Witz – “Mr. Hublot,” “Renart the Fox”

Sound
Niv Adiri – “Gravity,” “The Book Thief”
Christopher Benstead – “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit,” “Gravity”
Steve Boeddeker – “All Is Lost,” “Beasts of the Southern Wild”
Beau Borders – “Million Dollar Arm,” “Lone Survivor”
David Brownlow – “Lone Survivor,” “The Book of Eli”
Chris Burdon – “Captain Phillips,” “Philomena”
Brent Burge – “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug,” “The Hobbit: An Unexpected
Journey”
André Fenley – “How to Train Your Dragon 2,” “All Is Lost”
Glenn Freemantle – “Gravity,” “Slumdog Millionaire”
Greg Hedgepath – “Frozen,” “The Incredible Hulk”
Craig Henighan – “Noah,” “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”
Tony Johnson – “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug,” “Avatar”
Laurent M. Kossayan – “Red Riding Hood,” “Public Enemies”
Thomas L. Lalley – “Mr. Peabody & Sherman,” “Star Trek Into Darkness”
Ai-Ling Lee – “Godzilla,” “300: Rise of an Empire”
Stephen Morris – “Monsters University,” “Fruitvale Station”
Jeremy Peirson – “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” “Looper”
Mike Prestwood Smith – “Divergent,” “Captain Phillips”
Alan Rankin – “Iron Man 3,” “Star Trek”
Oliver Tarney – “Captain Phillips,” “Philomena”
Chris Ward – “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug,” “The Hobbit: An Unexpected
Journey”

Visual Effects
Gary Brozenich – “The Lone Ranger,” “Wrath of the Titans”
Everett Burrell – “Grudge Match,” “Pan’s Labyrinth”
Marc Chu – “Noah,” “Marvel’s The Avengers”
David Fletcher – “Sabotage,” “Prisoners”
Swen Gillberg – “Ender’s Game,” “Jack the Giant Slayer”
Paul Graff – “The Wolf of Wall Street,” “Identity Thief”
Alex Henning – “Star Trek Into Darkness,” “Hugo”
Evan Jacobs – “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” “Olympus Has Fallen”
Chris Lawrence – “Edge of Tomorrow,” “Gravity”
Eric Leven – “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2,” “The Twilight Saga: Breaking
Dawn Part 1”
Steven Messing – “Godzilla,” “Oz The Great and Powerful”
Ben Matthew Morris – “Lincoln,” “The Golden Compass”
Jake Morrison – “Thor: The Dark World,” “Marvel’s The Avengers”
Eric Reynolds – “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug,” “The Hunger Games:
Catching Fire”
David Shirk – “Gravity,” “Elysium”
Patrick Tubach – “Star Trek Into Darkness,” “Marvel’s The Avengers”
Bruno Van Zeebroeck – “Lone Survivor,” “Public Enemies”
Tim Webber – “Gravity,” “The Dark Knight”
Harold Weed – “G.I. Joe: Retaliation,” “Star Trek”

Writers
Chantal Akerman – “A Couch in New York,” “Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce,
1080 Bruxelles”
Olivier Assayas – “Summer Hours,” “Irma Vep”
Craig Borten – “Dallas Buyers Club”
Scott Z. Burns – “Side Effects,” “Contagion”
Jean-Claude Carrière – “The Unbearable Lightness of Being,” “The Discreet Charm of
the Bourgeoisie”
Steve Coogan – “Philomena,” “The Parole Officer”
Claire Denis – “White Material,” “Beau Travail”
Larry Gross – “We Don’t Live Here Anymore,” “48 Hrs.”
Mathieu Kassovitz – “Babylon A.D.,” “Hate (La Haine)”
Diane Kurys – “For a Woman,” “Entre Nous”
Bob Nelson – “Nebraska”
Scott Neustadter – “The Spectacular Now,” “(500) Days of Summer”
Jeff Pope – “Philomena,” “Pierrepoint – The Last Hangman”
John Ridley – “12 Years a Slave,” “Undercover Brother”
Paul Rudnick – “In & Out,” ”Jeffrey”
Eric Warren Singer – “American Hustle,” ”The International”
Melisa Wallack – “Dallas Buyers Club,” “Mirror Mirror”
Michael H. Weber – “The Spectacular Now,” “(500) Days of Summer”
Terence Winter – “The Wolf of Wall Street,” “Get Rich or Die Tryin’”

Associates
Matt Del Piano
Joe Funicello
Robert Hohman
Paul Christopher Hook
David Kramer
Joel Lubin
David Pringle
Melanie Ramsayer
Beth Swofford
Meredith Wechter

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @joeynolfi

Oscar Season Diary #12: How Soon Is Too Soon? Don’t Take “Big Eyes” Reactions To Heart

Stars On The Set Of "Big Eyes"

So often does Oscar season turn into a public war of tastes that we lose sight of the race that’s happening right in front of us.

The Oscar race is an ever-evolving beast. With the influence of the online community, the court of social media, and the guilds and critics circles all jockeying to push films into the race before anyone else, Oscar Season now stretches across the better part of a year where it used to fit comfortably within the confines of a few months’ time.

As early as May, just a little over two months since the Oscar telecast, we find the discussion revolving around the traditionally un-Oscary Cannes Film Festival. We can try to talk about it in an Oscar context all we want, but that festival will never be a legitimate stepping stone across the Academy pond. The ideologies of both the Oscars and Cannes force an undeniable divide; one is there for the satisfaction of studios and English-speaking audiences (namely the United States, of course), while the other is a celebration of the congregation of art, cinema, and culture along the shores of France’s finest coastline.

Still, the Oscar pundits want to do their shoving, their squeezing, their hammering of the season’s potential players into the respective boxes they’ve cut out for them–whether they fit or not. Of course, aside from Cannes, the reality is that we’ve barely scratched the surface of the festivals that matter in an Oscar context. Telluride, Toronto, and Venice are all still some time away, with slates that have yet to be announced.

And here we find ourselves squabbling about Oscar potential from all ends of the arena. Just last week, a focus group screening was held for Tim Burton’s much buzzed-about Big Eyes, a live-action biopic about the life of artist Walter Keane and his wife, Margaret. In attendence were general audience members and Oscar bloggers alike (apparently the Awards Watch crew attended).

Granted, even before we saw pictures from the set, the film’s cards were presumably aligned for awards season greatness: Tim Burton, a beloved and iconic filmmaker, has yet to win (or be nominated , for that matter) for an Oscar for a live-action film, and Big Eyes boasts a cast that features Oscar-charged talent like Christoph Waltz (two-time winner),  Danny Elfman (four-time nominee), and Bruno Delbonnel (four-time nominee).

Burton has assembled a gaggle of overdue players that, in an ideal world, sets the stage quite nicely for Oscar legacy/career awards for himself, Elfman, and Delbonnel. It’s Amy Adams’ turn in the other lead role, however, that has Oscar pundits’ hearts aflutter.

Since 2005, Adams has gone five Oscar nominations deep without a win. Her rabid online fan base is keen on 2014 being her year to finally win; whether it’s just another bout with wishful thinking (that her fans should have long grown tired of by now, as this seems to be the same story heading into every Oscar year after her second nomination in 2008 for Doubt) or a legitimate prophecy remains to be seen, but that doesn’t stop those with a voice–hidden behind the screen and typed word–from shouting praises from her end of the ring.

Awards Watch was quick to spout about guaranteed nominations for Waltz and Adams. Others chimed in with–what seemed to be–overwhelming approval for Adams’ performance. She’s been “overdue” in the eyes of her fanbase for quite some time, and while it can absolutely work in your favor when final ballots go out (and your name is on them, as happened with Kate Winslet in 2008), the art of being “overdue” has little relevance this early in the race, especially when applied to the awards season trajectories of Julianne Moore (who won Best Actress at Cannes for Maps to the Stars) and Amy Adams here.

Still, that doesn’t stop the internet age from fostering a community where self-importance breeds a necessity for anyone from an Oscar blogger to a nobody to push something–anything–into the race, but it’s simply unwise to make guarantees this early in the game.

It’s completely safe for people who’ve seen Big Eyes to speculate on nominations and gauge a film’s potential, but prophesizing a win at this point? It’s ridiculous, and it’s an increasing trend in the digital age. I’m all for using an informed perspective to gauge how well something will do at the Oscars, but with major performances by actresses who are–quite frankly–better than Amy Adams in general that haven’t been seen yet (along with the fact that we don’t even know if these buzzed-about performances will be campaigned in lead or supporting), it’s very unwise (and potentially detrimental to Adams’ awards trajectory this year) to peg her as a winner this early.

Remember how the eye of the target immediately became 12 Years a Slave when Vulture’s Kyle Buchanan in September declared it the Best Picture winner? Early praise (and such definitive statements) make the film in question both the sexiest dish for a minute, and immediately fodder for the online court to push it to the background as the “obvious” choice. Early praise is essentially helping a film on its way to front-running to instant death. This early, it’s nothing more than loudness for loudness’ sake.

Screen Shot 2014-06-17 at 8.03.21 PMThe guys over at Awards Watch are borderline obsessed with their red-headed divas, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but giving them early access to an already-hyped potential vehicle for Adams’ long-awaited Oscar only runs the risk of inflating their reaction, which I guess is good press from the studio’s marketing standpoint. The problem with taking these types of early Twitter reactions seriously in the grand scheme of the race, though, is that they’re immediate, unfiltered, and squished into 140 characters, where you’re forced to talk bigger instead of talking better, and inflated again by the fanboys on forums and blogs that seek them out after the screening. Audiences and pundits are waiting for an excuse to explode with praise for a film that’s already charged with Oscar conversation, especially this early in the year. This seems to happen every time an Oscar movie is screened early. They’ll freak out and heap praise immediately because:

A) They’re excited that they’ve seen it before everyone else
B) It fills the egos of those who’ve seen it because they were able to see it before anyone else, so of course they’re going to capitalize on that esteem by inflating their reaction as a means to validate the fact that, well, they’ve seen it before anyone else

I’m not doubting Adams’ performance at all. I actually have high hopes for it, though it’s just really tough for me to take seriously the opinion of an Adams’ fanboys who were given early access to one of her films, but the excitement (and the thirst) of those who’ve seen the film already is far too real and pre-established to amount to a serious reaction or gauging of her placement in the race thus far, and preview screenings without embargoes on audience reaction are only tools to aid in the film’s publicity machine.

It’s important to pay attention to people’s reactions to these screenings as a whole, and not take the word of a few loud individuals who want to make their opinion on the film matter more than the collective. As a whole, it seems like people liked Adams’ performance. If you dig deeper, you’ll find that a good number of people actually feel that Waltz outshines her (see Oh No They Didn’t!’s review by clicking here).

The opinions of these chosen few don’t mean anything more or less than that, and a single day of screenings should, by no means, be used to say that an actress is going to win the Oscar when the landscape she’ll be competing in hasn’t even been laid out yet. It’s just irresponsible and false amplification of an untested, tiny sliver of a much larger race with fixings that have yet to fall entirely into place.

It all amount to little more than jockeying for the pole position, to being able to shout one’s own stance at Ground Zero, and our obsession with “being there” at the beginning instead of being in the moment when everything’s unfolding is turning the Oscar race into a dull screaming match between voices that don’t really matter.

As much as we’d like to gain control, to wrangle our favorites from the grasp of the studios who fuel their Oscar campaigns and steer them along the path to greatness, we lose sight of one thing: it’s all in the hands of the Academy, and we must surrender control until the time to intervene is just right. Keep the shouting to a minimum until all the pieces are in play, no?

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @joeynolfi

‘Edge of Tomorrow’ and the Age of the Great American Flop

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The dust has settled after the typical weekend clash; tentpole after tentpole, soaring budget after soaring budget coming for each other’s throats and the number-one slot at the box-office. Prestige is in the numbers, and it’s clear that the box-office titans of years past have little sustainable clout with the contemporary audience.

Tom Cruise is one of those hardened box-office warriors whose armor is beginning to crack. His Edge of Tomorrow, which reportedly cost around $178 million to produce, earned an estimated $29 million this past weekend, well below what a film of this caliber should be hauling in. Cruise isn’t the only megastar to fall short of expectations as of late; Johnny Depp hasn’t carried a film to more than $80 million in the U.S. since he last rode the waves of the Pirates of the Caribbean series back in 2011, and Will Smith’s After Earth earned only $60 million from American audiences just last year. It’s becoming ever-apparent that:

1)       The age of the “movie star” and box-office success going hand-in-hand is dead

and

2)      The American industry is driving itself into the ground with a stacked slate of tentpoles that never have a chance for survival

There’s nothing  wrong with shifting away from individuals toward broader appeal and familiarity (with a young adult novel, a comic book, a long-standing superhero franchise, etc.)  to secure box-office success, but it’s hard to let it go nonetheless. While Depp, Smith, and Cruise—whose last film to ride past $100 million domestic without the help of pre-established series popularity (the Mission Impossible series) was 2005’s War of the Worlds—find their films doing well in overseas markets (Depp’s The Lone Ranger earned $170 million in foreign receipts, while Smith’s After Earth raked in $183 million), their domestic fall from grace isn’t due to an indifferent general public. The worldwide appeal is there.

Quality is something audiences still value; Edge of Tomorrow received near universal acclaim from critics and moviegoers alike. Warner Bros. pushed a major pre-release campaign that hinged the film’s success on good word of mouth; the studio held at least three preview screenings in many major markets over the last few weeks, and the reaction was largely positive. If you build it, they will come in droves—if it’s free, as most word of mouth screenings are.

The problem with today’s film industry is not that that the tentpoles (for the most part) are inferior works (Godzilla, Edge of Tomorrow, X-Men: Days of Future Past, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier are just a few examples of 2014 blockbusters with stellar critical reviews), it’s just that the industry is overcrowding its own shell and pushing itself out of every orifice.

Edge of Tomorrow never had a shot; riding between Angelina Jolie’s Maleficent last weekend and the YA adaptation The Fault in Our Stars this week, Cruise was sandwiched in between two event pictures with a much higher profile than his—which rode on his star appeal alone. Maleficent is Angelina Jolie’s first live-action turn in four years and appeals to the grossly-underrepresented female audience, and The Fault in Our Stars comes pre-packaged with an audience comprised of fans of the novel it’s based on. The market for Edge was satiated only two weeks prior with X-Men and Godzilla. In short, Cruise didn’t have a home in the crowd.

If we look back to the beginning of the blockbuster—let’s just use Jaws, for example—the films themselves were an event that rode through to success simply on being an event. From its opening on June 20, 1975 through the next 30 days of release, Jaws never made more than $7 million per weekend. Let’s jump to 1997, when Titanic—which went on to hold the record for top-grossing domestic release until Avatar in 2009–opened to $28 million in December, followed by a steady stream of weekend grosses ranging from $35 million to $1 million when it fell out of the Top 10 exactly six months later.

Sure, the blockbuster was a new concept in 1975, and the 1990s were heavy on action-oriented films, but the success of films with astronomical budgets was not entirely dependent on how top-heavy a studio could make a film. Blockbusters are becoming so frequent that they’re the norm, not the event.

So far in 2014, we’ve seen approximately 13 major blockbuster releases; that’s an average of nearly two per month thus far, though the majority of them have fallen in the summer release window. Seven films with budgets of over $100 million (some coming in at nearly $200 million) have been released since April; 5 more uber-expensive tentpoles will release from now until August. That number would have been 6, but Warner Bros. pulled Jupiter Ascending from its original July release date and re-slated it for February of next year (they cite issues with post-production and visual effects, but it seems like the studio was feeling burned from the heat of competition).

When blockbusters are released in rapid fire succession like this, there’s bound to be ones that slip through the cracks. It’s simply unwise to create an industry where bloated-budget films fail not on quality, but because they’re no longer capable of being “event” pictures because the event is now the standard.

The fact remains that we’re seeing consistently-underperforming films with budgets of over $100 million. Foreign audiences (namely Asian markets) have shaped American productions for quite some time now, but something needs to be said for the American audience becoming an afterthought.

There’s nothing that separates a film like Edge of Tomorrow or Pacific Rim—two quality productions deemed “flops” because their budgets far outweighed their American grosses—from each other or from other action-oriented an event that makes them worthier of the general audience’s dollar. Audiences would rather save their money for a brand they’re familiar with (Marvel, DC, etc.) instead of risking it on a title they have no prior relationship with.

But, as the top-heavy numbers get bigger, the studios get more ambitious and the competition gets stiffer; this would explain why May box-office hit its lowest levels since 2010; the drop-off for huge openers is part of the equation when you go bigger, harder, and faster on tiny little legs trekking up a mountain of buzzy pre-release anticipation. If we take a look at the Top 100 opening weekends of all time, 80 of them were released between 2004 and 2014, 18 of them within the last year alone. Of the Top 20, only one was released before 2006 (and it was still a superhero film, 2002’s Spider-Man). Nearly all of the contemporary top-grossing opening weekends are sequels, animated family films, superhero films or, yes, sequels to super hero films.

Again, the movie star used to be that point of familiarity. A movie star could really make something out of an adult-oriented narrative that would have found little success otherwise; now we rely on broader concepts of appeal to drive our box-office, but it’s all front-loaded. Even the front-loaded are front loaded, as The Fault in Our Stars earned nearly $25 million on its opening Friday, but dipped to $12 million and $9 million on Saturday and Sunday. In fact, since the last weekend of March when Noah premiered, every film that opened to more than $40 million (aside from Neighbors and Maleficent) dropped over 57% of their audience in their second weekend. Why? Because they don’t have room to breathe. Noah faced Captain America the week after; Spider-Man faced Godzilla 14 days after opening; Godzilla faced X-Men, X-Men faced Maleficent, and Edge of Tomorrow faltered in the wake of Angelina’s box-office reign–all within seven days of each other, respectively.

It’s no surprise, then, that films like Edge of Tomorrow aren’t reaching their audience the way blockbusters used to. It’s a film that, 15 years ago, would have waltzed past the $150 million domestic mark in three or four weekends. Cruise will be lucky if Edge limps to $80 million in North America. When the “movie star” was a business, an industry unto him or herself, films like Edge of Tomorrow were given room to spread their wings and soar. When audiences have a film like this to choose from at least once or twice a month, it’s harder for them to justify spending money on a something they’re unfamiliar with when they know they have 10 superhero flicks to catch just around the corner.

Perhaps Warner Bros. is on to something, here; the studio dumping months have turned into an ideal, wide-open space to drop big-budget films at a time when they’re all crowding toward the summer slate like never before. Just this year, their The Lego Movie soared to nearly $250 million domestic with a February release date, while the studio’s Gravity rocketed to $270 million from American markets in October of last year.

Everyone loves a good event picture here and there, but the battle for weekend supremacy and who can go bigger is a tired one, and the tentpoles aren’t going to stop. It’s hard to find a slot in the picture for gargantuan puzzle pieces, and we’ve created a crack in the armor of the titans. The implosion is imminent unless the air supply increases for those who can’t breathe.

Follow the author on Twitter: @joeynolfi

Director Ingrid Veninger Talks Women in Film, the Canadian Identity, and ‘The Animal Project’

“There’s a quote by Cassavetes…”

She trails off for only a split moment, pausing our conversation so she can skim through something (Her personal archives? Her email? I never find out) to locate it. A few shuffles here, a few seconds there, and she’s got it, reading it crisp and clear with the assertion of assurance on her side.

The only thing you need to make a film is to not be afraid of anybody or anything.

I prepare to agree and tell her how much I like the quote; it’s standard interview etiquette to flatter your interviewee, I remind myself. I open my mouth to chime in with my approval, but she continues.

“…and I love John Cassavetes, but I think to myself, ‘that’s just not me.’ I’m afraid and full of doubt. I am uncertain all the time, but I think to live and create and be in the world in spite of that or with that, through that, and being afraid and doing it anyway, being uncertain and plowing through anyway, that’s much more interesting to me.”

It’s dangerous to make assumptions with Ingrid Veninger.

She doesn’t fit into any particular box, but again, assuming she’s obligated to is a colossal misjudgment of her character.

“To me, it’s all about where I feel comfortable, because I feel comfortable on a subway full of misfits and outcasts and people from elsewhere, because people are struggling to belong but are also ok with who they are.”

But, like any filmmaker with a product on the market, Veninger has to tackle the task of making her creative, individualized, highly unique voice heard amidst a sea of what can often seem like audience indifference when the masses are used to their Spidermans and Iron Mans.

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I first saw her latest film The Animal Project, which is readying for a worldwide June 6th release on Vimeo VOD and iTunes Canada, when she brought it here (personally) last November as part of Pittsburgh’s annual Three Rivers Film Festival. I found it odd that such an accomplished international filmmaker would make a mid-sized American city like Pittsburgh a travel priority; after all, she’s helmed (written, produced, directed, or a combination of all three) 18 films, and has shown a few of them at the Toronto International Film Festival (her Modra was named one of the 10 best Canadian films at TIFF a few years back) and elsewhere abroad.

“[Film festivals] are not about the money, but they are about exposure. With each film festival comes, hopefully, a little bit of local press and a live audience that you can exchange with,” she says of her insistence upon traveling with her films from places like Santiago to Ashland. “That exchange with living people happens at film festivals, and for me it’s crucial.”

There were maybe a little over 20 people in the audience when The Animal Project screened here in Pittsburgh, and Veninger made a point to probe us with questions, but I get the sense that she would’ve delighted to speak about her work to only the projectionist and a house full of empty seats if no one at all had shown up. While the goal for anyone working in any business is to earn some sort of revenue, Veninger hopes for something much simpler.

“I just hope some cool adventures come out from all of this,” she says.

It’s clear to see that Veninger cares about her films like they’re living, breathing children that have sprung forth from her flesh and being—and she treats them accordingly, seeing it as her duty to show them off and talk about them to strangers, like a parent with a child on the honor roll every semester.

“Every time I wanted to make [The Animal Project] sparkle and shine, the film said ‘no can do’,” she says of the decision to minimize non-diegetic music within the film. “Music was just getting in the way of [the film’s tone]. Music could have tied a lot of thematic ideas together, aided in transitions, created a bigger emotional impact…but every time I explored putting music in the film, it rejected it. I had to stay out of the way of the simplicity and the bareness and the rawness because that’s the purse essence of the film. The film isn’t always going to do what you want it to do.”

I realized it then at the screening (and even more so now as I speak with her during our interview) that there’s an ever-present urgency with which she speaks about her work, and it comes through whether she’s holding a microphone thirty feet from you at a Q&A session or talking via cell phone some 400 miles away. She sometimes revisits topics we’d covered earlier in our interview, and some she felt like needed to expand upon just a bit more without a second thought. She isn’t being rude when she talks enthusiastically over me, she’s just having trouble keeping the ever-churning, gloriously enthusiastic ideas she has at bay.

When you speak with her, it’s clear that she’s focused on her words, how they’re coming out, indicating how tactfully she’s pulled from the sea of ideas that’s ever-present in her creative brain. These waters are not intimidating or fearsome, uninviting, or unnavigable; Veninger overflows with passion for her subjects, her work, her family, her craft—and at first glance it might look like she’s in over her head. That’s not the case, even in the slightest.

“It’s an exciting time to be an independent filmmaker,” she says. “We can make high quality work for very little money, and it’s really hard if you have no one championing and supporting you. You can’t do it by yourself.”

But, it’s the refined subtleties of Veninger’s films that make the struggle of being an independent filmmaker look like a breeze. She’s involved in all aspects of production on her films. She writes, she directs, and finds herself doing everything in between. She might not be able to do everything herself, but Canadian magazine Maclean’s has dubbed her the “Toronto’s reigning queen of DIY cinema” thanks to her extremely hands-on approach.

“DIY is like, doing it yourself with a village,” she says. “Film really becomes a living organism, and that’s really exciting to me…the push and pull of it, for me, is the essential practice of filmmaking, and it is a practice. You have to keep doing it. You can get out of shape really quickly. It’s a muscle.”

It’s this sort of attitude—facing the world army with a tiny village (usually a crew of 2 to 4 other people) on her side—that makes Veninger such a sensation in the independent film world. Her work feels refreshing in that it features characters you’d never see in a commercial Hollywood release.

She writes characters who are flawed, who are unabashedly themselves, who are real; but, they’re also all the more relatable for those reasons, and with The Animal Project, Veninger chooses to let them speak for themselves without much influence of the director’s hand, and the process of creating the film speaks to that.

The Animal Project is a rarity as a film and as a concept. Veninger says she knew she wanted to make a film in Toronto, where she lives, but she didn’t have any idea for a script when she set out to make the film. She contacted talent agencies throughout the city, met with 100 actors who were willing to blindly donate three months of their time to a project without a script, and whittled that group down to the final eight who appear in the film.  Once she had talent secured, she went off and wrote the script without the actors knowing who they’d be playing or what they’d be doing.

Her background as an actor (she has appeared in over 100 different projects) helped her connect with the group she’d assembled for The Animal Project, and exploring the dynamics of the unknown alongside the film’s talent was very important to her going into the film.

“It was kind of a test of faith. I wanted to take a leap into challenging myself in a different way. I wanted the creators, the actors, and the crew to take [the test] with me. If no one was with me, The Animal Project wouldn’t exist,” she says. “Some of the ideas in the film are about performance and about authenticity. Acting is about being truthful in the moment, but it’s also about lying. Actors are professional liars, and I really wanted this film to be raw in its performance. The actors are really naked up there, and being naked is a really important part of The Animal Project.”

The film is certainly a marvel for its uniqueness. There’s an ever-flowing emotional current running throughout the film, which follows a group of diverse characters as they embark on a new acting project (and bouts with self-discovery as a result) together, but that current is urgent without being pushy. Since the actors, characters, Veninger, and the audience are each jumping into this experiment together, it puts us all on the same plane. Everyone wins when they’re playing on one team, and Veninger has created a film that requires an equal amount of investment from all participants.

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“I took a leap into a process that was kind of irrational, but that I had an instinct about. The actors took a leap also, being full of fear, being quasi-trusting, and had an instinct about it being worthwhile. The characters took a similar leap in becoming part of The Animal Project, but do it and it’s irrational and it could fail and lead nowhere, but they do it. The audience is taking a leap into the film, too, as an audience watching something that’s irregular and odd and unconventional and shouldn’t really work, and hopefully it does in some way. That makes it feel original and fresh and exciting.”

Keeping things fresh and exciting might seem difficult for a director who’s seemingly played every role in front of and behind the camera. Veninger has been many things throughout the course of her career. She’s been a mother, a director, an actor, a producer, a spouse; and there are struggles that come with that. Taking time away from family wasn’t something she wants to do, so she finds ways to incorporate her personal life into her films. Her son, Jacob, has worked with her numerous times, including having a lead role in The Animal Project, while her daughter Hallie (who starred alongside Veninger in the brilliant i am a good person/i am a bad person) works as a costume designer on her mother’s features.

I love working with my family. They trust me. There’s a shorthand between us, whereas working with new people there’s always a process of ‘get to know you’ and resistance,” she says. “I respect [my kids] so much, especially working together, and then we have these amazing experiences of traveling to film festivals around the word, so it contributes to the family. My personal goal, especially as a woman, is to balance being a responsible parent, with holding a long-term relationship, and challenging myself as a filmmaker. There is a limit to how much I can push.”

It’s not like family is automatically a confine, though. Veninger is proof that a strong, creative voice can be the focus of a career. She just finds a way to meld it with her personal life, so her films become extensions of herself, and she’s not afraid to be herself in an industry that so often pretends like she–and her indie colleagues–aren’t there.

“I think [filmmaking] shares elements with being a parent. A director is a parent,” she says of sending her projects, her family, and her vision out into the world in film form. “You know, you have a kid and they want to wear something or they want to do something that is going to make them have a really tough time at school. You know if they just put on the nice little dress and wear the shiny shoes, they’ll be really accepted and loved and celebrated. When I was in Kindergarten there was some drawing assignment, and I can remember painting the sky magenta, and the teacher came by and said the sky has to be blue, and I really wanted to keep it magenta. Basically, my picture didn’t get put on the bulletin board of all the most beautiful pictures, and part of you just [tells yourself to] paint the sky blue and you’ll get on the board.”

Just don’t count on her to condone that perspective any time soon.

“In this age of bigger, stronger, faster, my impulse is to go smaller, simpler, truer,” she says of her work. “In this pace I feel like I want to slow down and retreat a little bit, making films in a very modest way for a little bit of money with a very small and tight creative group of people that I love and respect as opposed to going big or going home. That’s not my philosophy; it’s more about going inside and being as truthful as you can.”

Veninger’s earnesty is valuable. She’s not going against the grain for the sake of countering or subverting mainstream taste. In fact, she wants to connect with more people through her work instead of turning them away. There’s truly something for everyone in Veninger’s films. They’re arty and alternative, but not inaccessible, and with the Vimeo VOD release, the film will be available worldwide for everyone to consume. Casual moviegoers love for things to be easy, but the fact remains that Veninger faces an uphill battle as a female in a male-dominated field. She is proof, however, that great storytellers are women; her films are proof that female-driven narratives (with deep female characters who are agents of their own stories, mind you) exist, it’s just that the studios are reluctant to catch on.

The pUNK Films Femmes Lab

The pUNK Films Femmes Lab

“I feel like in many films I’m seeing slivers of women, but I’m rarely seeing whole women, and women are really complex. I’m interested in the nooks and the cracks and the flaws and the people that are struggling,” she says. “Women who are struggling as mothers, as creators, as partners in their world are so much more interesting to me than seeing some sort of bullshit façade of someone that has their life together and is just kind of quirky and funny and quippy and cute and really hot in bed with flawless skin and isn’t constipated.”

Veninger validates her own stories and characters within herself, so she doesn’t need it from the industry at large. She does hope, however, that English-Canadian filmmakers can one day share a unique identity on the world stage.

“French-Canadian cinema does have its identity. We see what Xavier Dolan is doing in the world, we see what Jean-Marc Vallée has done previous to Dallas Buyer Club, and now he’s exploded. Quebec also has so many incredible women filmmakers,” she says. “English Canada, I think, from the international industry’s point of view is just seen as America. I mean in Cannes I was at a round table with a sales agent and I asked her if there’s any difference from [her] perspective between an English-Canadian film and an American film, and she said no. The challenge for English-Canadian film is if an international institute is going to acquire an English film, they tend to go toward the film with movie stars or names attached as directors, and that’s what Canadian films are competing against in terms of sales. We have to be even more original and even louder about the great films we make, and we have to really start fostering the appetite for our indigenous cinema inside our country.”

These aren’t just empty words merely hoping for advancement of the medium in her country. Aside from making films, she’s also busy putting female filmmakers to work with her pUNK Films Femmes Lab, a collaborative program that involves six female writer/directors from Canada working to create six feature scripts. The program has attracted interest from Oscar-winner Melissa Leo, who ponied up $6,000 for a first look at the scripts as the lab, which has its final meeting later this year, makes headway.

It all sounds like a bit much for one person to do, no? There’s beauty in the seemingly chaotic, overwhelming way of floating from project to project with such intensity, but she finds a way. The sea of ideas might be vast, and the sea of opposition from an industry that wants to set her out in a makeshift raft of sameness or slap labels onto what she does or where she comes from might make the waters a bit choppy, but if there’s anyone in the world who doesn’t need a paddle, it’s Ingrid Veninger.

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The Animal Project will open theatrically in Toronto at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. Tickets here: http://tiff.net/programming/new-releases/the-animal-project

On JUNE 6th, 2014, The Animal Project will be on iTunes throughout Canada here: https://itunes.apple.com/ca/movie/the-animal-project/id871991994

….and VIMEO VOD throughout the world, excluding Canada here: https://vimeo.com/ondemand/theanimalproject

Watch the trailer here: http://theanimalprojectmovie.com/#watchTra

Visit http://www.punkfilms.ca/for more information on Ingrid’s work

Like The Animal Project on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/TheAnimalProjectMovie

Follow Ingrid Veninger on Twitter: @punkfilmsnow

Follow Joey Nolfi on Twitter: @joeynolfi