Oscar’s snub of ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ resurrected

The_Century_16_theater_in_Aurora_CO_-_Shooting_locationI give workmate Jon Briggs — a man making his way through a Criterion Collection bucket list — daily briefings on my Oscar movie marathoning. His dependable retort: “I vote for The Dark Knight Rises.”

And just because the Christopher Nolan showpiece isn’t nominated for a single statuette doesn’t mean Briggs’ vote doesn’t count. His is one of countless anti-Oscar comments tick-marking through social media feeds as the Oscar hype reaches its climax, five days before the 85th annual awards ceremony. Briggs feels about award shows much as I feel about the Super Bowl: lotsa grandstanding, wagering and belly-aching over nothing. Still, people get as invested in favorite directors, actors, even studios as others do with sports franchises.

Some have mused that last summer’s epic Batman flick isn’t a player this year because it’s forever tainted by the flickering shadows of 12 people killed, 57 maimed and dozens more forever traumatized in the Aurora, Colo., move theater massacre. Parading it past survivors might refresh their wounds, they say. Ignoring it, letting it die or fade away in some way serves the greater good.

dark_knight_risesBriggs argues merely that the Visual Effects category is a joke with its heavily CGI’ed nominees — that The Dark Knight Rises didn’t rely on as many computer graphic tricks to dazzle, that its more “realistic” studio techniques elevate it to a higher art form. I certainly see his point. Too much CGI or canned action puts me to sleep, and that’s one reason I don’t clamber to see the Lord of the Rings movies, and why I literally have dozed through most of them. That’s also why I mustered respect for Les Misérables director Tom Hooper for forcing his largely untrained cast to sing live, without a soundtrack, for a more visceral connection. And why I look forward to seeing Dave Grohl’s documentary Sound City, which celebrates the Van Nuys, Calif., recording studio that produced such benchmark LPs as Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours and Nirvana’s Nevermind on an old-fashioned sound board, before digital mastering started isolating musicians and dissolving their chemistry.

Movies, though, are a means to escape reality, and the magic of movies has always been about exploiting the latest technology to make the impossible possible. I, too, am a huge fan of old movies that do so much with so little. I marvel at their quaint resourcefulness. I remember many failed attempts at infusing even more reality, like Smell-O-Vision, into the fantastical cinematic experience. But one day — probably tomorrow at this rate — even the latest 3-D technology, Dolby sound and CGI gimmicks will seem amateurish.

So which is it? Do we want our films realistic or crazy-far-out? Do we go to the movies to divine truths of our world and behaviors, to mirror ourselves, or do we want our minds blown discovering new worlds? Do we ooh and ahh at special effects pulled out of someone’s butt, or at actors like Tom Cruise and Daniel Craig who perform so many of their own stunts? It’s a smorgasbord. Movies bring everything to the table, to serve us all. You can turn up your nose if you don’t dig a dish.

Escaping reality. That’s the horror of what happened in Aurora, when unimaginable reality visited upon them, their brains in an altered state akin to dreaming and truly defenseless because of their own suspended animation. A shattered reality.

And yet the “magic” of The Dark Knight Rises, for me — despite it being a kick-ass great film made more suspenseful as I watched dreading what I imagined those people felt and when they felt it — is that it sits there in the shadows of every film I have seen since July 20, 2012. It is there when the slide comes up instructing me to locate my exits. And I’ve already checked, so no need to remind me. It is there when I am in a sold-out, crowded theater and I don’t know whether to take comfort in that thought or to be frightened out of my wits. It is there when I am alone in a theater, watching the last show before closing and my third movie of the day because I am cramming on Oscar nominees, thinking no one else could be this crazy … and then someone strolls in and I wonder: Could he be crazier, and also be packing?

2007_0605_dupontmetroIt is there when I emerge from the Metro station at DuPont Circle in Washington, D.C., on my way to see yet another show, and the Walt Whitman quote etched in granite above my head reads: “Thus in silence in dreams’ projections, returning, resuming, I thread my way through the hospitals; the hurt and wounded I pacify with soothing hand, I sit by the restless all dark night — some are so young; some suffer so much — I recall the experience sweet and sad.”

And if The Dark Knight Rises is not there, somewhere, during Sunday night’s Oscars ceremony, I may become just as disillusioned with awards shows as my pal Briggs.

It deserves to be there, resurrected, along with the shadows of those innocents who expired just because they sought diversion from reality at the movies.


Weighing the merits of Oscar-movie bingeing

People think I’m crazy trying to see all of the Oscar-nominated movies in every category. My husband says: “Don’t go see something just because you haven’t seen it.”

I guess he means I should use more discretion based on buzz.

Therein lies the rub. The fact something is nominated is enough buzz for me. Exercising no discretion is the point. Technically, I lean anti-buzz by seeing everything. My method rejects those marketing/media campaigns that seal the winner before the envelope gets unsealed.

Sure, someone had to do some marketing just to get on the nominees’ list. But most of them have no chance in Jupiter of winning. Predicting the winner isn’t what this is about. It’s not who will win but who should win that interests me. The two are rarely aligned.

I’m not a moviegoing addict. (Is that denial speaking?) If I were, I would see all the crap out there and go to the movies every week. I don’t. I see maybe four first-run movies a year. When the nominations come out in January, however, I go looking to be inspired. I want to sample la crème de la crème, but I don’t have time to just throw darts, nor do I want some Google or Amazon search engine analyzing my “tastes” and saying: “If you liked that, you’ll like this.”

Nope, it’s diversity I seek. Pure who-woulda-thunk-it-gee-whiz discovery. I use the list of nominees as a starting point, but typically my muse is holed up far down the list.

I’m also interested in discovering what themes have bubbled up, like water. What the latest commentary on society — humanity — might be, as reflected by these artists.

Filmmaking is an art, so what better place to sample rich nibbles than from those who stretch the envelope with experimental shorts?

dripped-1-510x286One particular animated short, which didn’t even get nominated but is on the “highly commended” list, sums it up for me this year. It comes from France and translates as “Dripped.” Luckily, the folks who put out the Academy members’ voting reel didn’t have enough nominees to fill it up — attention spans are shrinking, so the animated nominees are shorter than ever — and they included some also-rans.

“Dripped” is about an art thief who fills his walls with master works, and then eats them.

chez-eddy-dripped-surface-and-surfaceHe gets a momentary high by transforming into the theme of the work, whether a cherubic angel or a cubist monstrosity. He ingests all of the art in his possession then glumly stares at empty walls. Having depleted his sources, he gets resourceful and tries his hand at creating his own art. When he eats his own work, though, it sickens him. He retches in disgust. His creations just aren’t good enough. And doesn’t every artist feel this way in the beginning?

Eventually, he drips some paint where he hadn’t intended … and the dam of inspiration bursts open. He creates a style, eats it and is transformed into beautiful drips of paint that somersault joyfully along city streets.

Cut to the art gallery, where his own works of dripped paint now line the walls. He’s arrived.

d1And so it goes for artists. Everything stinks for a while, but at least you try, while sampling other great works dripping with inspiration. Maybe you aren’t exactly stealing ideas, but something rubs off and allows your own style or idea to break through.

That’s what I’m doing here: bingeing on art. Insatiably. The message for us all here is “I coulda been a contender.”

There’s no shame in being an also-ran, Drippers, because it means at least you ran.

Where I stand as of today:

  • Amour
  • Argo
  • Beasts of the Southern Wild
  • Django Unchained
  • Les Misérables
  • Life of Pi
  • Lincoln
  • Silver Linings Playbook
  • Zero Dark Thirty
  • The Master
  • Flight
  • The Impossible
  • The Sessions
  • Brave
  • Frankenweenie
  • ParaNorman
  • The Pirates! Band of Misfits — may catch it On Demand. not necessary, as I’ve already seen animated feature winner, shhh.
  • Wreck-It Ralph — will catch it at second-run theater for $2
  • Anna Karenina — I’ve passed up many chances to see this … somehow can’t get up for it, but it’s now On Demand, so no excuses
  • Skyfall
  • Mirror Mirror — On Demand. If time.
  • 5 Broken Cameras — found it on free Internet download.
  • The Gatekeepers — Opens in D.C. Friday, plan to see it
  • How to Survive a Plague — CAN’T FIND IT. won’t see it.
  • The Invisible War
  • Searching for Sugar Man — will catch it On Demand.
  • Hitchcock — at last! On Demand.
  • The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey — will see it at Smithsonian IMAX this weekend.
  • Chasing Ice — will download song it’s nominated for, at least.
  • Ted — My ultimate anti-buzz demonstration: I refuse to see this, despite the fact creator Seth MacFarlane is hosting the Academy Awards show and I do like teddy bears. I will download the song, tho.
  • Kon-Tiki (Norway)
  • No (Chile) — doesn’t open locally until March 1, but found it on free Internet download.
  • A Royal Affair (Denmark) — one local theater is still showing it. Hoping it lasts through the weekend. Otherwise, don’t care, because it looks a lot like “Anna Karenina,” plus “Amour” will win this category.
  • War Witch (Canada) — CAN’T FIND IT. probably won’t see it.
  • Marvel’s The Avengers
  • Prometheus — available On Demand.
  • Snow White and the Huntsman
  • Moonrise Kingdom — available On Demand, and this WILL be the next one I rent. Writing categories are a must for me.

SHORTS — It’s a wrap! (My picks, in an upcoming post.)

  • Inocente
  • Kings Point
  • Mondays at Racine
  • Open Heart
  • Redemption
  • Adam and Dog
  • Fresh Guacamole
  • Head Over Heels
  • Maggie Simpson in “The Longest Daycare”
  • Paperman
  • Asad
  • Buzkashi Boys
  • Curfew
  • Death of a Shadow (Dood van een Schaduw)
  • Henry

Water under the Red Carpet

H2O is a major player in movies nominated for Oscars 2013. (UPDATE from the Red Carpet: DreamWorks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg, when asked why there was such an amazing field of movies and talent this year, replied: “There must be something in the water.”) If you need a drinking game for Sunday’s event, you might consider taking a swig each time you hear a plug for these water-saturated nominees.

Beasts of the Southern WildBeasts of the Southern Wild (up for Best Picture, Actress in a Leading Role, Directing, Adapted Screenplay): Squatters living in the bayou are preyed upon by melting ice caps, furious storms and cataclysmic flooding.

reg_1024.lifeofpi.tigerswim.mh.072612Life of Pi (up for Best Picture, Cinematography, Directing, Film Editing, Original Score, Original Song, Production Design, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Visual Effects, Adapted Screenplay): No biblical flooding here, but an ungodly storm capsizes a boat loaded with zoo animals, and it’s The Young Man and the Sea — only sub an adult Bengal tiger for the great marlin. Even the protagonist’s name, “Pi,” is short for “Piscine” — French for “pool” — and as a youth he’s dared to drink of holy water, which he does, before a priest helps quench his thirst for both water and every ounce of religion he can absorb.

the-impossible-movie-reviewThe Impossible (up for Actress in a Leading Role): In a word: tsunami.

runningwaterAmour (up for Best Picture, Best Actress, Directing, Foreign Language Film): Well, there was that running tap — Hitchcockian suspense!

The Master (up for Actor in a Leading Role, Actor in a Supporting Role, Actress in a Supporting Role): This post-World War II intrigue has its share of, ahem, seamen [sic] and boats, but it’s more about a sailor who has lost his moral compass and his pursuit of spiritual cleansing — plus a dizzying consumption of rot-gut spirits.

Skyfall (up for Cinematography, Original Score, Original Song, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing): 007 plunges into the water after being “killed” and before his resurrection.

Les Misérables (up for Best Picture, Actor in a Leading Role, Actress in a Supporting Role Original Song, Costume Design, Makeup and Hair Styling, Production Design, Sound Mixing): Possibly the best shot since Titanic of a tilted boat takes your breath away in the opening scene, and although there’s water, water everywhere, you are immediately thirsty. Plus, it seems to rain a lot (A Little Fall of Rain never hurt anyone) and everyone sweats a lot, the audience cries big crocodile tears and there’s that whole sewer sequence.

Emotionally drenching Les Miz.

Emotionally drenching Les Miz.

Django Unchained (up for Best Picture, Actor in a Supporting Role, Cinematography, Sound Editing, Original Screenplay): During one of Django’s visions, he sees his wife, Hilde, as something like the lady in the lake, misty-eyed and surrounded by mist.KonTiki

Kon Tiki (up for Foreign Language Film): Crossing  the South Pacific on a tippy raft in shark-infested waters — c’mon, dive in!

Moonrise Kingdom (up for Writing-Original Screenplay) Raging floods and raging hormones flow through this “camp” fairy tale of puppy love between two misfits. And aren’t we all misfits? Especially fun is the bit where the boy walks past one of those old sentry water fountains and plays with it, as we all did in school, just to marvel at how it worked.

Asad (up for Live-Action Short): South African/U.S. filmmakers track a young boy at the crossroads of becoming either a Somali pirate or legendary fisherman. An animal from the sea helps seal his fate.


There’s certainly no shortage of gorgeous water shots for movie lovers to drink in this year.

For your drinking game, you might even toss in “Flight” (about a high-functioning alcoholic who happens to be a commercial pilot) and the documentary short “Redemption,” about canning in New York City — people down on their luck who live off of recycling bottles and cans. Haven’t yet gotten to the drippy animated feature “The Pirates! Band of Misfits” or the “Chasing Ice” flick about the actual melting ice caps. Give me time.

Eeek. Running out of time.