Month: December 2012

Kidman, Weisz, Watts Surprise at 70th Golden Globes Nominations

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While nearly anyone introducing Taylor Swift prior to any performance will spontaneously combust for now having to utter the words “Golden Globe nominee” prior to her name, The HFPA surprises everyone this year with a set of nominations that are not only going to change the state of the Oscar race, but also are of justifiable presence.

Brian Austin Green did not have to broadcast himself moving the lips and miming the voice of a Megan Fox who refused to get out of her bed this morning, as the actress was awake and well as she announced the nominations for the 70th Annual Golden Globe Awards alongside Jessica Alba this morning. The Hollywood Foreign Press Association has a tendency to nominate big names over big talent, even going as far as to shove films into incorrect genres (The Tourist in Musical/Comedy two years ago) simply because A-list, crowd-pleasing stars populate them. In true form, they didn’t disappoint in that category this year; Nicole Kidman made her second surprise round on the Oscar watch front this morning as she was nominated again by a major precursor organization for her supporting performance in The Paperboy. Lee Daniels’ first post-Precious film was met with lukewarm reviews and a defeatist release schedule, and was never a part of the Oscar conversation until yesterday, when the Screen Actors Guild nominated Kidman.

It’s too soon to tell whether or not Kidman’s role will build enough buzz to keep up with the pack, but her edging out the likes of Maggie Smith (Best Exotic Marigold Hotel was thought to be a surefire contender for many Globes) could very well lead to an Oscar nomination.

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Other surprising Globes drama includes the snub of Anna Karenina in all major categories although it oozed with standard Globes flair, Robert De Niro’s omission for his work in Silver Linings Playbook, and Beasts of the Southern Wild receiving a big fat zero in the nominations column. Anna Karenina wasn’t expected to make much of a splash at the Oscars, but the Hollywood Foreign Press has nominated Knightley in the past for her roles in lavish period pieces, one (Atonement) under the direction of Joe Wright, who also directed Anna Karenina. De Niro will still receive an Oscar nomination, and it’s safe to assume Christoph Waltz edged him out slightly here, but it’s good to see Quentin Tarantino’s latest effort, Django Unchained, pick up some late-season momentum heading into the Oscar race, a race which many had deemed its chances slim after advanced screenings began earlier this year.

Beasts of the Southern Wild, on the other hand, is a much more puzzling case. It’s generated enough buzz to be more than just “looked over,” but it failed to make much of a box office dent anywhere outside the United States ($1.2 million in the UK was its strongest run), and is expected to be nominated in at least two major categories at the Academy Awards (Best Actress for little Quvenzhane Wallis, and Best Picture). The case reminds me of Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life and its lack of nominations at the Globes last year. Both are currently my #1 film of the year (this supports my theory that the HFPA is against me), and both are enigmatic to a certain extent, stylistically superior to their competition, and both made under $15 million at the U.S. box-office, cumulative totals under $55 million worldwide.

Following a New York Film Critics Circle win, Rachel Weisz’s performance in The Deep Blue Sea picked up another major nomination, this time for Best Actress – Drama, from the HFPA. The film had an extremely limited release in the United States, but is widely available on Netflix as I write this. Her performance is tender, vulnerable, but never approaching the grating hysterical levels many actresses succumb to in roles like this. What excites me most is the building momentum for Jessica Chastain’s work in Zero Dark Thirty, which is quickly making the Best Actress race a neck-and-neck bloodbath between Chastain and Jennifer Lawrence. Chastain was largely overlooked for her work last year (she appeared in six fantastic films, each performance Oscar-worthy in its own right), but she has a serious shot at taking home the Best Actress Oscar come February. Although not in the same genre category as Lawrence’s nomination, a Golden Globe win (which she’s poised to do, none of her competition has generated as much precursor buzz than she, save for maybe Marion Cotillard) will give Chastain a veritable shove to the front of the Best Actress line.  It’s also great to see Naomi Watts make it into the category for her work in The Impossible, a Spanish production (with primarily English-speaking cast) that lost a majority of its Oscar buzz as other, higher-profile pictures pushed and shoved their way to the front of the line. Watts is long overdue for an Oscar win, so let’s hope this year can at least garner her a nomination (this push will certainly help).

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On the television side of things, HBO’s fabulous Girls receives two nominations (Best Actress for Lena Dunham, Best Comedy Series) and is poised to upset Modern Family just before its second season begins in January. Game Change, “that Sarah Palin movie,” picked up a handful of nominations as well, making HBO a veritable force on both dramatic and comedic fronts this year.

The least surprising nominations in television come in the form of Homeland’s nods in the lead acting and overall series categories. No surprise as the show continues to prove itself as the best on contemporary television.

All in all, the HFPA earns a solid B this year for their nominations. They’ve effectively stirred the pot without looking completely ridiculous, as they’ve sacrificed integrity for star power in nominating A-list superstars in silly unrelated categories in the past. HFPA, I tip my hat to you this year, but rap you on the nose with it on the way down for leaving Beasts out of the equation.

Full nominees:

MOVIES:

Best Picture, Drama:
“Argo”
“Django Unchained”
“Life of Pi”
“Lincoln”
“Zero Dark Thirty”

Best Picture, Musical or Comedy:
“The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”
“Les Misérables”
“Moonrise Kindgom”
“Salmon Fishing in the Yemen”
“Silver Linings Playbook”

Best Director:
Ben Affleck, “Argo”
Kathryn Bigelow, “Zero Dark Thirty”
Ang Lee, “Life of Pi”
Steven Spielberg, “Lincoln”
Quentin Tarantino, “Django Unchained”

Best Actress, Drama:
Jessica Chastain, “Zero Dark Thirty”
Marion Cotillard, “Rust and Bone”
Helen Mirren, “Hitchcock”
Naomi Watts, “The Impossible”
Rachel Weisz, “The Deep Blue Sea”

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Best Actor, Drama:
Daniel Day-Lewis, “Lincoln”
Richard Gere, “Arbitrage”
John Hawkes, “The Sessions”
Joaquin Phoenix, “The Master”
Denzel Washington, “Flight”

Best Actor, Musical or Comedy:
Jack Black, “Bernie”
Bradley Cooper, “Silver Linings Playbook”
Hugh Jackman, “Les Misérables ”
Ewan MCGregor, “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen”
Bill Murray, “Hyde Park on Hudson”

Best Actress, Musical or Comedy:
Emily Blunt, “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen”
Judi Dench, “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”
Jennifer Lawrence, “Silver Linings Playbook”
Maggie Smith, “Quartet”
Meryl Streep, “Hope Springs”

Best Supporting Actress:
Amy Adams, “The Master”
Sally Field, “Lincoln”
Anne Hathaway, “Les Misérables”
Helen Hunt, “The Sessions”
Nicole Kidman, “The Paperboy”

Best Supporting Actor:
Alan Arkin, “Argo”
Leonardo DiCaprio, “Django Unchained”
Philip Seymour Hoffman, “The Master”
Tommy Lee Jones, “Lincoln”
Christoph Waltz, “Django Unchained”

Best Screenplay:
Mark Boal, “Zero Dark Thirty”
Tony Kushner, “Lincoln”
David O. Russell, “Silver Linings Playbook”
Quentin Tarantino, “Django Unchained”
Chris Terrio, “Argo”

Best Original Score:
Dario Marianelli, “Anna Karenina”
Alexandre Desplat, “Argo”
Tom Tykwer, Johnny Klimet & Reinhold Heil, “Cloud Atlas”
Michael Danna, “Life of Pi”
John Williams, “Lincoln”

Best Original Song:
“For You” from “Act of Valor”
“Not Running Anymore” from “Stand Up Guys”
“Safe and Sound” from “The Hunger Games”
“Suddenly” from “Les Misérables”
“Skyfall” from “Skyfall”

Best Foreign Language Film:
“Amour”
“A Royal Affair”
“The Intouchables”
“Kon-Tiki”
“Rust and Bone”

Best Animated Feature:
“Rise of the Guardians”
“Brave”
“Frankenweenie”
“Hotel Transylvania”
“Wreck-It Ralph”

Cecil B. DeMille Award:
Jodie Foster

TELEVISION:
Best Television Comedy or Musical:
“The Big Bang Theory”
“Episodes”
“Girls”
“Modern Family”
“Smash”

Best Television Drama:
“Breaking Bad”
“Boardwalk Empire”
“Downton Abbey”
“Homeland”
“The Newsroom”

Best Miniseries or Television Movie:
“Game Change”
“The Girl”
“Hatfields & McCoys”
“The Hour”
“Political Animals”

Best Actress, Television Drama:
Connie Britton, “Nashville”
Glenn Close, “Damages”
Claire Danes, “Homeland”
Michelle Dockery, “Downton Abbey”
Julianna Margulies, “The Good Wife”

Best Actor, Television Drama:
Best Actor, TV Drama Steve Buscemi, “Boardwalk Empire”
Bryan Cranston, “Breaking Bad”
Jeff Daniels, “The Newsroom”
Jon Hamm, “Mad Men”
Damian Lewis, “Homeland”

Best Actress, Television Comedy Or Musical:
Zooey Deschanel, “New Girl”
Lena Dunham, “Girls”
Tina Fey, “30 Rock”
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, “Veep”
Amy Poehler, “Parks And Recreation”

Best Actor, Television Comedy Or Musical:
Alec Baldwin, “30 Rock”
Don Cheadle, “House of Lies”
Louis C.K., “Louis”
Matt LeBlanc, “Episodes”
Jim Parsons, “The Big Bang Theory”

Best Actress In A Mini-series or Motion Picture Made for Television:
Nicole Kidman, “Hemingway and Gellhorn”
Jessica Lange, “American Horror Story: Asylum”
Sienna Miller, “The Girl”
Julianne Moore, “Game Change”
Sigourney Weaver, “Political Animals”

Best Actor in a Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television:
Kevin Costner, “Hatfields and McCoys”
Benedict Cumberbatch, “Sherlock”
Woody Harrelson, “Game Change”
Toby Jones, “The Girl”
Clive Owen, “Hemingway and Gellhorn”

Best Supporting Actress in a Series, Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television:
Hayden Panettiere, “Nashville”
Archie Panjabi, “The Good Wife”
Sarah Paulson, “Game Change”
Maggie Smith, “Downton Abbey”
Sofia Vergara, “Modern Family”

Best Supporting Actor in a Series, Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television:
Max Greenfield, “New Girl”
Ed Harris, “Game Change”
Danny Huston, “Magic City”
Mandy Patinkin, “Homeland”
Eric Stonestreet, “Modern Family”

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In an Angelina-less Year, the HFPA Struggles to Nominate; Let’s Predict

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Like a pesky acquaintance crawling out of the woodwork to ask a favor, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association prods its way into our lives yet again as the second most-relevant set of awards season nominations are announced at 5 AM (PST).  Megan Fox will do the honors this year, although I wouldn’t be surprised if a “satellite” transmission from her bed as Brian Austin Greene moves her lips and mimes her voice (does she even get up that early?) is used instead.

Luckily, there were lots of films relevant on a global scale released this year. Argo, Zero Dark Thirty, The Impossible, Rust and Bone, Amour, and Anna Karenina come to mind as films that ooze with HFPA flair.

While the Screen Actors Guild surprised us all with a few whacky nominations and omissions just yesterday (Nicole Kidman sneaking in for The Paperboy, Emmy winner Julie Bowen of Modern Family somehow out of the race), I wouldn’t expect much in the way of deviation from this year’s pack of films already on the Oscar pathway, especially since it’s going to be hard to nominate HFPA darling Angelina Jolie as she made no contributions to the film industry this year.

Unless they figure out a way to add an emergency last-minute category (simply titled “Angelina Wins Everything), here’s how I see the nominations playing out:

Best Picture (Drama):

Argo

Zero Dark Thirty

Lincoln

The Master

Life of Pi

Django Unchained

Anna Karenina (If they decide to sneak another one in there)

Alternate: The Impossible

 

Best Picture (Musical or Comedy)

Les Miserables

Silver Linings Playbook

Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Ted

Hope Springs

Hyde Park on Hudson (If they decide to sneak another one in there)

Alternate: The Sessions

 

Best Actress (Drama)

Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty)

Keira Knightley (Anna Karenina)

Marion Cotillard (Rust and Bone)

Naomi Watts (The Impossible)

Emmanuelle Riva (Amour)

Quvenzhane Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild) (If they decide to sneak another one in there)

 

Best Actor (Drama)

Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln)

Ben Affleck (Argo)

John Hawkes (The Sessions)

Joaquin Phoenix (The Master)

Anthony Hopkins (Hitchcock)

 

Best Actor (Comedy/Musical)

Bill Murray (Hyde Park on Hudson)

Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook)

Hugh Jackman (Les Miserables)

Tommy Lee Jones (Hope Springs)

Bill Nighy (Best Exotic Marigold Hotel)

Mark Wahlberg (Ted) (If they decide to sneak another one in there)

 

Best Actress (Comedy/Musical)

Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook)

Judi Dench (Best Exotic Marigold Hotel)

Meryl Streep (Hope Springs)

Barbra Streisand (The Guilt Trip)

Anna Kendrick (Pitch Perfect)

 

Best Supporting Actor

Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Master)

Robert De Niro (Silver Linings Playbook)

Tommy Lee Jones (Lincoln)

Alan Arkin (Argo)

Leonardo DiCaprio (Django Unchained)

 

Best Supporting Actress

Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables)

Sally Field (Lincoln)

Helen Hunt (The Sessions)

Amy Adams (The Master)

Maggie Smith (Best Exotic Marigold Hotel/Quartet)

 

Best Director

Ben Affleck (Argo)

Steven Spielberg (Lincoln)

Tom Hooper (Les Miserables)

Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty)

David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook)

 

Best Screenplay

Argo

Lincoln

Silver Linings Playbook

Zero Dark Thirty

Amour

“The Hobbit”: Unexpected Journeys & Blindsiding Gimmicks

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It’s hard to think of a series in any medium renowned with more critical, audience, and scholarly devotion than J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. What began as a series of novels has grown into an enormous worldwide phenomenon spanning video games, comics, toys, and of course, films. But, while all signs point to the contrary, Ian McKellan, star of Peter Jackson’s highly acclaimed cinematic adaptations, recently became angry with a reporter at a press junket for the series prequel, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, for labeling it a “franchise.”

“This is not ‘X-Men,’” he growled.

The “franchise” descriptor carries heavy connotations of factory-like production with cheap values, cheaper gimmicks, and a knack for cunning repeat dips into the pockets of faithful audiences en masse.

McKellan’s frustrations are not unfounded. Has Lord of the Rings ever shared the same receptive space as industry heavy-hitters like Spider Man or Twilight? Peter Jackson’s tender handcrafted a series of arresting whimsy coupled with powerful parabolic implications. What made Jackson’s Lord of the Rings film series stand out from a franchise-obsessed film industry are everything that make The Hobbit look like only a smear of ash cast from a raging fire.

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The Hobbit is a prelude to the highly-decorated Lord of the Rings series, chronicling the exploits of Bilbo Baggins, a band of dwarves, and Gandalf the wizard as they seek to reclaim treasure stolen by a dragon, Smaug. Recognizable characters from the series are all here, albeit with presence motivated only by nostalgic longing for familiarity versus any sort of narrative necessity, but since the film is part one of three (as a matter of fact, actors billed in the film’s credits, such as Evangeline Lily and Benedict Cumberbatch, do not even appear in this installment), that still remains to be entirely seen.

The Hobbit takes the simple premise of its source material and stretches it into a nearly three-hour epic of spectacular vignettes, causal relation often thrown to the wind as the film seems keen on molding juicy come-to-life visuals for fans of the literature versus forging a cinematically individual path of its own. For this, The Hobbit works on its most artificial levels, suffering as whole in the process. The imagery is crisp, the production design lush, and the quality of projection some of the finest you’ll see on cinema screens this year. The problem, however, is that these elements work against the film’s credibility as true fantasy, the kind which exists as an ethereal essence versus a noticeably crafted product. The Hobbit’s spectacular qualities (particularly the 3D visuals, as well as the high projection rate at nearly 48 frames per second) nearly always outshine its narrative roots, in short; in fact it is brevity of editing and effective pacing that seem to escape the scope of Jackson’s focus, something that didn’t plague his initial Lord of the Rings trilogy.

THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY

Even fantasy requires an anchoring thread of realism, which is present in The Hobbit but altogether stifled by artificiality that emphasizes the presence of the camera and, ultimately, the confines of the audience’s spectatorship. The beauty of the story at heart is hard to grasp when the audience is beaten over the head with 3D gimmicks and film speed that makes even the simplest of movements far too crisp and constructed not to devote attention to. The future of cinema is leaning towards an even greater 3D revolution, and the Lord of the Rings series is one far too rooted in the history of other mediums to be hampered by the cheapest of visual trickery.

Perhaps the film itself is mediocre, or maybe the lense through which we view it is tainted by a film industry overgrown with spectacle over substance, rendering The Hobbit‘s presence trivial and unrefreshing. It then becomes Peter Jackson’s mistake, then, to allow such a visionary franchise succumb to the pitfalls of convention that his Lord of the Rings series rose above over a decade ago.

There’s a scene towards the end of the film which sees a standoff between two characters. One (larger, more intimidating than his challenger) taunts his opponent, mockingly asking him what he’s going to do to stop the blunt force of the impending attack. After an unexpectedly quick slash to the face and stomach from his measly opponent, the large foe humorously quips “well, that’ll do it” before falling to his death. At once, the exchange is funny, and on another, completely out of character for the scene, the film, and the tone of the entire series. It’s hard to imagine J.R.R. Tolkien writing such a shallow calling out to the audience’s conscious, but I guess novels are often described with such qualities that “jump off the page.” It’s an unsurprising shame when, taken too literally with technical bells, whistles, and 3D effects, the same sentiment can’t be trusted to make average cinema truly great.

Sexual Colonialism; Feminine Assimilation in “I Spit On Your Grave”

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Meir Zarchi’s I Spit On Your Grave (1978)presents a narrative in which a single female is raped by a gang of males. Released in the same decade which produced a female character, Ripley, revolutionarily prevailing as the strongest person aboard a spacecraft during a monstrous attack in Alien, I Spit On Your Grave similarly gives a female character enough agency to seek deadly vengeance for an attack against her. However, although Jennifer ultimately kills the men who rape her, I Spit On Your Grave presents her feminine sexuality as an easily manipulated entity, allowing the male sexual mentality to reinvent traditional sexual practices on its own terms. As a result of that that process coupled with the fact that the film remains, as Carol Clover states, “aftermathless,” Jennifer ultimately objectifies herself and assimilates into the male mentality through her acts of vengeance, reconstituting her feminine societal position as a result of male-driven sexual domination.

The film stages the clash of male and female sexuality in its presentation of a diegetic space where its characters are presented as polar opposite, unable to coexist in the same setting due to their societal origins. The dichotomy is fleshed out via a key binary opposition pitting country and urban life against each other. Jennifer comes from the city whereas the rapists inhabit a rural locale. The film establishes the opposition during the beginning sequence of the film which sees Jennifer leaving her life in the city for the summer, hoping to clear her mind during a trip to a rural town. Jennifer’s city life is starkly contrasted with that of the rural town primarily through the usage of sound and imagery. The city is characterized by car horns, tall buildings, and other aural and visual signifiers of human life. On the other hand, the town is a quiet place devoid of the hustle and bustle of the city, whose sounds are noticeably absent as Jennifer transitions from one setting to the other. Natural sounds such as birds chirping and wind blowing through the trees serve to isolate the noise Jennifer’s car makes, contrasting its mechanical drone with the foreboding silence of the country.

Jennifer is introduced as a well-off urban resident with a job as a writer. Upon meeting Johnny for the first time at a gas station in town, Jennifer explains that she hopes the quiet, serene atmosphere of the country will facilitate a train of thought for which to write a new story She idealizes and objectifies the country life, assuming that it is a much simpler place than the city she inhabits, therefore hoping to channel that simplicity into clearing her mind of stress and city-induced pressures. Because Jennifer compartmentalizes settings such as the “city” and “country” as signifiers of entirely different ways of life (placing them on two separate planes of complication; the city is sophisticated, the country is simple), she essentially “others” or exoticizes the rural town, hoping to pillage (or rape, in a sense) its resources (the “simple” train of thought it will provide her) for her own financial gain (in the form of her story, which she will assumedly profit from).

The film emphasizes Jennifer’s exoticizing of the rural setting through the aforementioned scene where she meets Johnny at the gas station. Jennifer exits her car and asks Johnny to fill her tank up. She makes conversation with him, telling him that she’s enjoying the act of stretching her legs (which we later learn Johnny assumes is an act of Jennifer “asking for” his sexual attention). The long shot is broken by a shot-reverse shot “conversation” of sorts between Jennifer and two other men (Stanley and Andy) who take turns throwing a knife into the ground for their own entertainment. The editing in this scene allows us to see Jennifer’s reaction to the men’s activity, viewing it with an almost condescending smile. Jennifer observes this act as an outsider observing a foreign practice seeing as throwing a knife into the ground is a useless act when placed in the context of city life. The scene also intersperses shots of Johnny observing Jennifer observing the knife throwing, looking her up and down in a sexualized manner. Jennifer “others” the rural town’s residents by exoticizing their location and behavior, while they “other” Jennifer by objectifying her as a sexualized object. The setting itself also functions to “other” Jennifer in a scene which sees her enjoying the liberation a secluded place like her summer cabin offers her. Jennifer removes her clothing and enters the river beside the cabin, the camera zooming out further and further until it seems to hide behind the foliage on the banks opposite Jennifer. In a sense, the audience’s perspective as voyeur (which undermines Jennifer’s assumptions about seclusion providing her with peace, foreshadowing the “intrusion” of the four men who rape her) is emphasized while at the same time the setting itself “others” Jennifer’s presence by dwarfing her scope in relation to the woods as the shot zooms out.

In terms of male sexuality, that which pervades the male group in the film is presented as highly colonialist in terms of its function. As Johnny, Matthew, Stanley, and Andy discuss sexuality while they fish (prior to the rape of Jennifer) they speak of it as a tool to conquer or spread their dominant ideals. Johnny insists that the group tries to “find [Matthew] a broad,” in essence legitimizing Matthew as a man by conquering a female and making her his possession. Andy then muses on “chicks” from Los Angeles, saying that the city is “swarming with chicks looking to get laid.” Stanley echoes the sentiment, saying that “chicks come from all over the country,” and their only desire is to “get laid.” The men view feminine sexuality as something which needs conquering, and they are entitled to provide that sexual “completion” for these females because they are endowed with a penis, the tool which will “lay” the women who apparently so desperately desire it. This sets the stage for Jennifer’s rape, which functions as an act of not only sexual gratification for the men, but also as a means for them to fulfill their role as sexual colonist in the world as they see it (a world which, unlike the city where Jennifer comes from, is one where women have no individual power for which to hinder the seed of the males from spreading).

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The film emphasizes male sexual dominance intruding upon Jennifer’s feminine space in two key scenes. First, Jennifer finds a handgun in a chest of drawers when she first moves into the cabin. The camera switches between a shot of the gun and Jennifer’s face, emphasizing her weary reaction to its presence. Guns generally represent male aggression and power, and in this case Jennifer is uneasy about the gun’s intrusion upon her feminine space she hopes will facilitate her writing, but decides to leave it in the drawer (foreshadowing her transformation from feminized victim to masculine aggressor). Another notable scene which emphasizes the male intrusion upon Jennifer’s feminine space occurs shortly before the rape. Jennifer is writing her story as she sits on a hammock overlooking the river. An interior monologue is audible in which Jennifer recites what she is writing. She writes in a romantic style as birds chirp lightheartedly overhead, using flowery phrases such as “the fabric of her life,” describing “the big city, her job, her friends,” and the things which “other” her from the country setting and the male rapists. Her monologue (and romantic state of mind) becomes muffled as the sounds of a motorboat carrying Andy and Stanley approaches, drowning out her thoughts and rendering her momentarily unable to write as male presence disrupts her.

Jennifer’s rape indicates the full penetration of both Jennifer’s feminine, urban world and her sexual barriers at the hands of a dominant male group from the country. The male group presents her as the conquered object to Matthew, with Johnny telling him to “come on, we got her for you,” as they hold Jennifer down. Johnny’s words indicate the assumed (on the part of the males) roles for males and females in the world. Johnny views Jennifer as an object which must be captured, conquered, and codified as someone’s possession. As one in the group sexually assaults her, Jennifer is held down by the others. This indicates that while Jennifer is a victim, she is not placed on an equal plane. The act of male-on-female rape occurs at the hands of a group who rely on each other for moral support (they shout words of encouragement to whoever is currently raping Jennifer) as well as physical support (they hold Jennifer down). Matthew’s desire to rape Jennifer is also depicted as reliant upon the approval of his peers in order to produce any sort of actual pleasure for him. He only rapes her because the other males encourage him to and make fun of him when he says he doesn’t want to. Matthew finally succumbs to their desires, pleasuring the other males in the group with his compliance versus raping Jennifer for his own sexual satisfaction. This defines male sexuality as a colonialist exploit, pillaging Jennifer’s body as if it were a piece of land (or a piece of meat) for their own conquest. The power the male group has over Jennifer becomes apparent through various reconstitutions of “traditional” sexual ideals their exploit produces. The men rape Jennifer, they do not “have sex” with her. The act is forced, not consensual. Andy sodomizes Jennifer instead of entering her vagina. The act takes place outdoors instead of in a bedroom between multiple partners instead of involving one male and one female. The male sexual mentality is presented here as having enough power over feminine sexuality to reinvent the practice of sexuality itself.  Each of the aforementioned factors (primarily the act of sodomy engaged in instead of vaginal penetration) functions to indicate the male group’s interdependence of its individual members, fitting into how Robin Wood describes sexuality as “a mere by-product that one can choose or not… [there is] no logical reason remains why sexuality should be restricted to heterosexuality”.

The proceeding transition from Jennifer’s passive state to her aggressive state begins with key visual parallels which signify the shift. After she is raped, Jennifer is shown cleansing her body in the shower. She washes away the red blood which covers her body, indicating that she is shedding her “city” self (she was introduced to the audience wearing a bright red dress). A graphic match connects a scene where Jennifer drives to a church to seek forgiveness for her act of vengeance to the scene where she leaves the city to come to the country. Jennifer is positioned on screen left, aligned in profile view to the camera. Where the skyline of New York City was in the initial scene towards the beginning of the film is now replaced with a graveyard. As Jennifer enters the church, she is wearing dark pants (another contrast to her feminized city attire), indicating her shift from feminized victim to masculinized aggressor.

Although Jennifer succeeds in killing each of the men who assaulted her, she is not presented as a dominant female. In her act of revenge, rather, she is further implicated as a weak character. Because Jennifer kills the men because they raped her, the film presents feminine power only coming after a male has sexually violated her body. Before the rape, she is barely strong enough to stand up straight in her rowboat as she is dragged out of it let alone put up a decent fight. The men’s reconstitution of traditional sexual practices goes against what Jennifer would seemingly consider “normal” circumstances under which to have sex (judging from her romantic writings, etc.). The act of rape “awakens” Jennifer’s masculinized side, causing her to then accept the male presence in her life, retrieve the gun she felt weary of before, and attempt to use it to subdue the rapists.

Jennifer is also only able to kill the men after she sexually seduces them. She offers Matthew a “summer [he] won’t forget,” to which he responds with sexual arousal as Jennifer welcomes him on top of her. He is far too invested in completing the sexual act to notice Jennifer slip the noose which will kill him around his neck. Similarly, Jennifer lures Johnny back to her home (after feigning romantic feelings for him just before shooting him in the woods) and castrates him with one hand while pleasuring him with the other. In both cases, Jennifer must first play into the role of the feminized sexual object before she can act as the masculinized aggressor exacting revenge. In essence, Jennifer does nothing to advance the female position in the film. She yields to male sexual desire in order to get what she wants, becoming the sexual object, overpowering male sexuality by playing into their expectations of women who only desire to get “laid” which, while still technically yielding the result Jennifer wants (their deaths), relegates her to an inferior role once again.

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Jennifer succeeds in killing all four men, but the fact that the film remains “aftermathless” only further implicates her as a weak character . Carol Clover’s emphasis on the film’s lack of an aftermath forces her readers to consider the film’s absence of a concrete solution to the film’s occurrences. Jennifer, a member of “city” society who relies heavily on her roots as an urban resident, is not given any sort of legal outlet for which to prevail. She simply kills the men in secrecy. It is unknown whether or not Jennifer truly “gets away” with killing the men, so the true “aftermath” of the film remains unknown. What is clear, however, is the fact that the last impression the audience has of Jennifer is that of a murderer. She has only triumphed in getting “even” with the men as she sees fit, not as the strict laws which govern her urban society would dictate. The film ends with Jennifer as a byproduct of dominant male aggression. She is a changed woman who bares not only the physical scars of her rape but also the mental ones which resulted from both it and the murders she committed, allowing (even in their deaths) the dominant male mentality which victimized her to reconstitute her life yet again.

I Spit On Your Grave focuses its audience’s attention on the dichotomies between urban and rural life and the male and female sexual mentality. Despite her shift from feminized victim to masculinized aggressor, I Spit On Your Grave ultimately concludes with its protagonist as a weak person whom has completely (consciously or subconsciously) submits to male power. Through its depiction of the binaries between urban and rural, victim and aggressor, and male and female, the film uses Jennifer as a tool for which to show the undying power of male sexual domination through to its conclusion, which sees her as a byproduct of their sexual crimes despite her position as a financially empowered woman of the city at the beginning of the film. While she uses her status as a victim to fuel her revenge plot, it is still the male’s actions which fuel hers, forcing her to submit once again to their ideals of women as sexual objects without any sort of justice-based narrative conclusion to affirm that what she’s done is “right.”

The Road to Oscar; the Relevance of Originality in the Race

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There’s no denying the social and cultural force that the film industry has grown into for the American people. Ushering in new ideas, fantasies, and stories for a willing audience to indulge in, letting us live out the dreams that play over in our heads night after night, the film industry is a longstanding conduit between our reality and the “reality” we so desperately seek to inhabit in times of need. Movies are our escape, and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences champions the very best of such devices year after year.

If we look back at past winners of the Oscar ceremony’s top honor, the significance of each year’s respective Best Picture to American culture is glaring. 2008’s Slumdog Millionaire, a ravishing, colorful emotional epic of renewed perspective and undying hope for a better future paralleled the historic Presidential Election which saw Barack Obama give “power” in America a new face. A year later, The Hurt Locker not only attempted to delve deeper into Middle Eastern conflicts that took up a huge portion of topical discussion during the 2008 Presidential Election, but also catapulted a female director to the forefront of Oscar recognition. At a time when issues of women’s/gay/”minority”/civil rights in general were gaining momentum in the political arena, the Academy again asserted film’s social “relevance” as a sign of the times as Kathryn Bigelow (whether fully deserving or not) became the first woman to notch a win in the Best Director category.

The social climate of the nation has changed drastically throughout much of recent memory. The first four years of Obama’s Presidency haven’t gone over well with the American public. His election to a second Presidential term over Mitt Romney this past November proved the nation is divided almost evenly. The economic downturn (whether attributed directly to George W. Bush or diffused onto the shoulders of Oabama) has seen record numbers of unemployment, working families living in homeless shelters, and the disappearance of the middle class becoming a very tangible reality for average American households that form the bulk of the film industry’s consumer base. Thus, 2011’s Best Picture, The Artist, took us back to times of grandeur and prosperity; the silent era of Hollywood’s roaring heyday, when film stars were poster children for the prosperity of a nation versus a distant metaphor for the unattainable life so many Americans have given up dreaming about.

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Anne Hathaway, likely Best Supporting Actress winner in Best Picture contender “Les Miserables”

The road leading to the 2012 Presidential Election drove a wedge between Americans not unlike the Union/Confederacy split depicted in this year’s Lincoln, which chronicles a time in U.S. history bearing resemblance to the social climate we endure today. Slavery, violent opposition to the man we call President, and an increasing hostility between opposing views of social, civil, and economic ideologies make Lincoln a timely piece of perspective for contemporary unrest. It’s no surprise, then, that the filmis an early frontrunner to take the Best Picture prize in February. Les Miserables, another heavyweight contender, bears parabolic similarities to the Occupy movement, Zero Dark Thirty and Argo bringing up the rear with musings on the ever-sizzling conflict in the Middle East and the boiling pot of uncertainty that no politician, country, or war could put a lid on over the past decade.

The bleakness doesn’t wear off until we examine the latter half of 2012’s Best Picture contenders; i.e., the Silver Linings Playbooks and Beasts of the Southern Wild—multiple pictures that are still “in the race” but don’t stand a chance at taking home the Oscar come February 24th. Silver Linings Playbook and Beasts of the Southern Wild tap into an almost fantastical notion of optimism amidst tragedy, the former chronicling post-personal-meltdown recovery and the latter compartmentalizing pure, individual struggle of residents trapped within with a weather-ravaged, poverty-stricken, fantastical Katrina-esque village fighting oppression from a class of bourgeois oppressors. While Silver Linings and Beasts are adapted from other works, they capture the spirit of perseverance post-trauma. Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence overcome adversity and create a unique emotional environment as “minorities,”  whereas little Quvenzhane Wallis, portraying a six-year old girl in Beasts, captures the “rebirth” of youth, her character forced to grow up (yet retain the undying spirit of optimism) in a world with no time for innocence or purity.

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Andy Samberg and Rashida Jones in the Oscar-worthy “Celeste and Jesse Forever,” that will most likely go unnoticed by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences.

The thematic nature of Beasts makes me question why the Academy (and its precursor award brethren) hasn’t embraced a more fantastical branch of filmmaking 2012 was rife with. Films like Beasts, Prometheus, The Dark Knight Rises, and Holy Motors use their whimsical nature to make powerful statements on the persevering spirit of humanity in times of dire opposition. Grounded more in “reality” but still spiritually ambitious, films like Celeste and Jesse Forever, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, The Master, The Hunger Games, and The Grey delve deep into territory which sees humans overcoming obstacles far beyond their control. Celeste and Jesse Forever, being the most “human” of the bunch, sees a woman’s journey to spiritual homeostasis come after learning to cope with the absence of a lover while keeping him close as a “friend” in her life. It’s a task that seemingly pales in comparison to overcoming the psychological control of a cult (The Master), fighting back against an oppressive government (The Hunger Games) or finding true love amidst the end of the world (Seeking a Friend for the End of the World), but one that shows the evolution of the human spirit endures even in the simplest of vignettes involving a boy, a girl, and the universal thread of love.

Another interesting contender (only for technical categories at this point, it seems, although Emily Blunt still has slight buzz for her supporting performance) is the sci-fi actioner Looper, about do-overs, internal strife, self-hatred, and the often intangible idea of fresh beginnings. The sentiment could be applied to anyone at any given time, but Looper’s insistence on ridding our reality of darkness and preserving it for fresh perspectives of change are, perhaps, the most “relevant” to the culture of 2012 America as we head into a second term with President Obama.

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Jessica Chastain, only slightly behind Best Actress frontrunner Jennifer Lawrence, struggles between her duty as an American and her impulses as a human in Best Picture contender “Zero Dark Thirty.”

The lack of “originality” in what’s vying for the Oscar for Best Picture this year frightens me a little. Out of the ten films Awards Daily (one of the most accurate prediction sites on the web) acknowledges are in the running for Best Picture (Zero Dark Thirty, Les Miserables, Silver Linings Playbook, Lincoln, Argo, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Life of Pi, Flight, The Master, Moonrise Kingdom), only two are not “based” on some other form of media/socio-cultural figure or event (Moonrise Kingdom and The Master). With the National Board of Review and the New York Film Critics Circle naming Zero Dark Thirty their Best Film of 2012, and other precursors pointing to either Argo, Lincoln, or Les Miserables, The Master and Moonrise Kingdom find themselves somewhere near the bottom of the pack (if they pick up a nomination at all). Small buzz for Michael Haneke’s Amour, about aging, death, and the degenerative mental capacity that comes with them, has been building since its screening at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. While likely to win Best Foreign Language film but almost assuredly out of the Best Picture race, perhaps it taps into the most terrifying element of humanity, which is not oppressive governments or masked supervillains blowing up football stadiums; it’s the potential for human fracture, the potential for degeneration, the potential to “forget” the very things that make us who we are and, in turn, losing the ability to preserve the “feelings” of our times within original fiction that seems to be slipping by the Academy’s scope of interest in a time where “escape” is needed the most.