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15ish Overlooked Movies by the 86th Academy Awards

This is maybe a little past due, but it’s been on my mind and I’m not anchored by things like “deadlines” so I am not beholden to your “timeframes.” 2013 was a really great year for movies. I know this because I saw a shitload of them and I really liked them. Some were really groundbreaking (Her), some were universally beloved (Gravity), and some were really, like, important (Dirty Wars).

This year, I thought in a lot of cases, the Oscar winners were 100% deserving; it really seemed like the Academy got it right almost across the board and there were no upsets on my end (except for during short film live action Helium beating Just Before Losing Everything, because, fuck your fucking feelings, Helium, JBLE was about domestic violence and did way more with subtlety than you could even imagine (I digress). I thought 12 Years A Slave should have won best picture on principal. I would have been happy if Her had won, but it won best original screenplay which is on point. I liked that Lupita won best supporting actor in a female role, even though June Squibb was adorable (and I loved the way her face lit up when Lupita won; that’s class, y’all). And, of those nominated, I can’t imagine a more deserving winner than Gravity for visual effects. 

But, that said, like every year, the Academy totally snubbed a bunch of people who really should have been recognized. I know, I know, awards are subjective and the value of a film is really more about how it makes you think and feel and every person is different, all that bullshit. And not being nominated does not devalue the work that these people did, as they were, in most cases, critically acclaimed. And also, there’s only so much space, so some people are going to get left off and all that. So let’s just say, this is is a list of titles who, in an alternate universe where everyone wins, would have been included. And that all of this stuff is worth your time to think about and compare and discuss.

(I’m just going to tell you that there are 15ish, but I’m not actually going to number them, because that implies some kind of rank, which I am not doing)

 

Inside Llewyn Davis – Joel & Ethan Coen

Inside Llewyn Davis (2013) Poster

Yes, I am still upset about this. I am scratching my head for months about it. When previews of this came out in the middle of this last year, it was such clear Oscar bait that it was on everyone’s list. It was almost universally adored and some people say was an obvious choice for best picture. To be fair, it was nominated for best cinematography and best sound mixing (both of which it lost) but come on. This should have been nominated for best picture, best actor, best supporting, best directors, best original screenplay, etc. It wasn’t even nominated for best original song which makes the least amount of sense because it had the actual best original song of the year and there were only 4 songs nominated (5 if you count “Alone, Yet Not Alone” whose nomination was revoked). At first I thought the oversight was due to some sort of technicality; maybe the studio or the Coens didn’t want to bother with submitting it for nomination because the awards are bullshit or subjective, but the fact that it got those two technical nominations tells me that isn’t the case. Maybe it wasn’t eligible for those other categories because the Coens are nominated seemingly every year? I think what people like me actually believe is that the Academy is conspiring to ignore the Coens because they must have done something, were too good, too brazen, too maverick for the industry. But that’s probably not true. It’s just such a good movie and I wish I knew why it wasn’t nominated for more awards.

What I like about it is that, aside from the sleek look and the dreamy version of the early 60’s folk scene, it tells the story of one of the failures. It’s Greenwich Village before anyone knew who Bob Dylan was, folk singers are a dime a dozen. Llewyn Davis is struggling as an artist after his bandmate jumped off a bridge, and all of his friends agree that Mike carried the band, so it makes sense that there’s not really a place for him. We find Davis jumping from couch to couch, unable to afford a winter coat, and pissing literally everyone off. The narrative eventually reveals that he actually fathered a child who is now living with a single mother in Ohio. And it’s just failure after failure for Davis. I imagine the Coen brothers slinking into a record store, thumbing through the dollar bin and finding some forgotten dime-a-dozen folk record, and looking at the second guy, the number 2, and thinking, that’s whose story we should tell. There is another story that is untold about that kid in Ohio wondering who her dad is, having a stunted existence without her father, and she tracks him down in the 80’s in New York to find a bloated junkie who hits her up for money who wasted his life, and maybe Inside Llewyn Davis is the story she tells herself about the father she never knew. I love it so much. The story of the other guy who didn’t make it.

Don Jon – Joseph Gordon Levitt

Don Jon (2013) Poster

JGL has been doing excellent work. Critics have been saying “he’s really starting to come into his own” for years. Well this movie is it, written directed by and starring Joseph Gordon Levitt, and it didn’t get dick at the Oscars. It was one of those that I would have ranked up with Her in terms of “better than the Oscars” or “too good for the Oscars.” Just in terms of being a really great, entertaining movie, but maybe not Oscar calliber, sort of like punk rock in a way. The movies we should remember for longer than an awards season, movies that become longtime favorites. Or, at least, that’s how I felt when I saw it the once, so that’s my memory of it.

What it gets right is characters. You know JGL and know he’s a slender, smirky boyish man, with a surprising acting range. In this he’s a beefed up Jersey Shore type, whose whole life can be jotted down in a list format. You also have Scarlett Johansson, in one of her most successful roles in years, as a Jersey girl who is a good Catholic and makes his life miserable. It accurately portrays porn addiction and the conflict it can have with the people in your life. There’s also some good work from Julianne Moore as a kind of older manic pixie dream girl, who they try to assign some depth to, which Moore delivers perfectly. Does it pass the Bechdel test? No. Should it be taken with a grain of salt? Yeah probably. Is it really funny and good? Yes. I would have liked to have seen it nominated for best original screenplay, maybe best director. Maybe best actor. Maybe best supporting. I don’t think it should have won over the ones that did, but I would have liked to see it nominated.

 

Frances Ha – Noah Baumbach 

Frances Ha (2012) Poster

How was this not nominated? They called it Greta Gerwig’s Manhatten. In his follow-up to Greenberg, Noah Baumbach directed a film written by and starring Gerwig, who is also his romantic partner that tells a story that will be familiar to anyone who has watched Lena Dunham’s Girls. Frances is out of college and figuring out her shit, in a kind of arrested development, not ready to have a big career and establish herself. We watch her struggle as her close friendship falls apart, and in any good human story, we watch her change and grow as a human. It wasn’t the best movie of the year, but it was one of those that you see on the nominated list that they give to the remarkable indies. Should have been nominated for best actress, best original screenplay, maybe best director. It was on a bunch of lists and NPR ate it up as NPR often does. Any kind of nomination would have made sense to me. Now Gerwig will have to try harder or show more range if an Oscar is something she cares about, which, to be fair, probably is but says she doesn’t.

 

In A World… – Lake Bell

In a World... (2013) Poster

 

If you have ever said “chicks aren’t funny” you should see this movie. Actually, first, you should go fuck yourself. And then you should see this movie as penance. It is written by, directed, and starring Lake Bell, who you should know from Children’s Hospital, one of the funniest and most subversive shows on Adult Swim, which has work by Lake Bell that is just amazing. This film is a microcosm for the sexism of the film industry in a really unexpected place: voiceover work. Her character is the daughter of the most sought after voiceover actor in the business, who misses no opportunity to talk down to her and demean her actual work as she follows in his footsteps. When she beats him out for a big voiceover gig, all hell breaks loose. This film makes you appreciate voiceover actors, the movie preview narrators, and makes salient feminist points about women working in a boy’s club. It’s fucking good. It should have been nominated for best original screenplay, maybe best actress and best director. 

 

Lee Daniels’ The Butler – Lee Butler

Lee Daniels' The Butler (2013) Poster

 

First of all, let’s just say it, this movie is pretty bad. But I am surprised it wasn’t nominated for anything. Despite how bad it was, when it came out, critics were raving about it and it seemed like everyone was telling each other to go see it. When I saw it, I was disappointed about how bad it was, but I still expected it to get some nominations, because the Academy will often pick big bloated sentimental movies that touch on history and civil rights, even when it gets them wrong. What it gets wrong is the fact that this butler is based on a real guy, but they completely fictionalize the dude’s life. Way to take a man’s identity while telling him it’s paying tribute to him, Hollywood. Also, why is the director’s name in the title of the movie? That’s weird. But what it gets right is acting. Oprah Winfrey should have been nominated and maybe won best actress for this movie. She plays against type as an alcoholic mother whose family is falling apart. Their son Forrest Gumps his way into scene after scene of important civil rights moments, from the sit-ins at Woolworths, to the Freedrom Rides in the south, to Fred Hampton’s shootout, to MLK’s shootout, to fucking Apartheid solidarity. The movie is called The Butler, because dude waits on a lot of presidents, but maybe it should be called the Fucking Magical Pixie Freedom Fighter Who Somehow Managed To Be At Every Milestone of The Civil Rights Movement. That dude should be studied and interviewed and put on display in a really gross way. But he wasn’t, because I guess the Academy was like, “We picked our black people story, so we’re just gonna go with this one, thanks.” But, to be fair, 12 Years A Slave was better in every conceivable way, so, whatever. I still think the Academy has room for more than one black person in each category. See also Fruitvale Station.

 

Ender’s Game – Gavin Hood

Ender's Game (2013) Poster

My god, I’m so glad this movie didn’t suck. It should have won the award for Best Movie That Came Out of 20 Years of Production Hell. Seriously. If they had made this movie any earlier it would have been unwatchable. However, the special effects are now so good that you can nail a movie like this and they did. The acting wasn’t the best, and the writing wasn’t amazing, but as far as adaptations go, it was true to the book and the special effects were fucking awesome. Specifically the weird bugger creature they show at the end. Throughout the book and the movie, the narrative sets up this horrible boogey man of these bug aliens that supposedly took over the world. They require you to do army service in elementary school, to prepare you to be a soldier in case they come back. (plot butchered due to laziness / foggy memory / go fuck yourself). So they get Ender who comes from a tradition of pure benevolence from his sister Valentine, and cunning malevolence from his brother Peter. Which will he choose against the buggers??? Once we finally see them, the payoff is so sweet, because it doesn’t look like a crude cartoon, it doesn’t look like Toy Story, and it doesn’t look like a puppet. They nail the happy medium to make a thing that is terrifying and awe-inspiring. And that is what it should have won an Oscar for. Or at least been nominated. The film was written and directed by a person who comes off as a true fan who respects the material, though I wouldn’t have nominated it for writing, directing, or acting. Just special effects and maybe best use of a short actor thinking he’s bigger than God. 

The Place Beyond The Pines – Derek Cianfrance

The Place Beyond the Pines (2012) Poster

Ever since I saw him in The United States of Leland I have not been able to take Ryan Gosling seriously. That mealy-mouthed, affected, sweet-boy thing ranging only as far as spurned bad-boy; I just haven’t been able to buy it. I can always tell he’s acting and I never lose myself in his characters. The fact that he is Ryan Gosling takes me out of it. Same with Leonardo DiCaprio. And like Leonardo DiCaprio, there are a few exceptions. This is one. In his follow up to Blue Valentine, Derek Cianfrance has made a three-part narrative that is consistently haunting, ominous and moving throughout, tied together beautifully with Mike Patton’s amazing score. First, there’s the story of Gosling, fathering a child and then trying to raise money for that child through crime. Then if focuses on Bradley Cooper, the cop investigating that crime, and then years later, when Gosling’s son is a teenager clashing with Cooper’s son. On paper like that it sounds like it could go either way, but I’m telling you, it is solid, despite 00:55 of the trailer (which I could not escape ahead of every movie I saw for like 8 weeks, just that due, over and over again saying “Shuh-Zam!”) For me, this could have been nominated for best picture and I would have bought it. I would have bought best director, best actors for Gosling or Bradley Cooper, best supporting for Cooper or Ray Liotta. Best original screenplay maybe. But definitely this film was snubbed for best score. 

 

The East – Zal Batmanglig

The East (2013) Poster

I guess I’m wondering when Brit Marling will start to get recognition for her work. She’s really good you guys. She’s always in these little cerebral indie movies that come around and then disappear again and you forget about them, but she’s always really great. I would like to see her get bigger, I guess. The East is Zal Batmanglig’s follow-up to Sound of My Voice, also starring Marling. It tells the story of a co-op of left wing terrorists whose cause is protecting (avenging?) the environment. And Brit Marling has to infiltrate them to report their next moves. But guess what you guys! She starts to sympathize with them!! Conflict!!! The East was not the best movie of the year and should not have been nominated. But if it had been nominated for best actress or original screenplay or director, it would have also satisfied the token darling indie requirement. You should see it if you haven’t.

 

Enough Said – Nicole Holofcener

Enough Said (2013) Poster

To be honest this movie was actually kind of mediocre. I always see Nicole Holofcener’s stuff and am usually pleased, but this movie was kind of disappointing for what it was. The preview tells you every single piece of information you need to know. They’re both divorced! They meet! Julia Louis-Dreyfus starts to work for his ex-wife! Madcap! Insanity! Ensues! Honestly, if Julia Louis-Dreyfus was not the lead in this, it would have been less goofy, and maybe it could have been darker. James Gandolfini is, as always, everything you want him to be. But man, would this have been a different movie with a different cast. Having said that, though, wouldn’t it have been nice if Tony Soprano won an Oscar posthumously? Wouldn’t it be just great if Elaine from Seinfeld got nominated? Wouldn’t it be awesome if more writer/directors who were women were recognized by the Academy for their contributions to film? 

 

Prisoners – Dennis Villeneuve

Prisoners (2013) Poster

This movie was way better than I was expecting. Seeing the preview a bunch of times, I thought, that is going to be mediocre and convoluted. But still, had to see how they pulled it off. Very surprising how good it was, how invested I became. If you saw the preview, you know it’s about some little girls that get abducted, and then the father (Hugh Jackman) tries to take the law into his own hands and then some dark shit happens. I could have seen nominations for Jake Gyllenhaal and maybe for the director. But definitely for Melissa Leo, who if you haven’t noticed already, beings 1001% to every single role she does. This one stays with you.

 

Pacific Rim – Guillermo Del Toro

Pacific Rim (2013) Poster

What Pacific Rim brings to big budget action movies that the others do not, is a fucking story. Giant monsters who live inside the Earth (or, like, maybe in another dimension whose portal is located in the center of the Earth, or really fucking far down) rise to the surface and start to wreak havoc. To fight back, nations begin building giant robot suits in what can only be called the greatest premise for a videogame ever made. However, what’s cool is that the culture inside the movie has hero worship of the men in the suits. There’s merchandising, posters, t-shirts, Teams Edward and Jacob, etc, which rallies the humans against the devastation those demons wrought, their only fighting chance. Also, cool fight scenes. Del Toro does not disappoint. This should have lost to Gravity for special affects. Instead it wasn’t even acknowledged by the Academy.

 

The Spectacular Now – James Ponsoldt

The Spectacular Now film.jpg

Like many other indie dramas, this easily could have been a filler nomination over some of the others. It has a very dreamy hazy look to it, and the narrative unravels in an interesting way. This is Ponsoldt’s third feature film and you can’t even tell from the preview that it’s actually about a boy struggling with alcoholism. Come to think of it, alcoholism is featured prominently in every film this dude has made, so he must have some kind of liberal agenda. Or maybe dude likes to drink. But it’s the story of a kid who is sort of blithely flunking through his life and talking his way out of things. He isn’t over his ex who left him because of his enormous personality flaws and falls in with a younger, smarter girl who has a good reputation. It goes some interesting places. I could see it nominated for original screenplay and actor in a female role for Shailene Woodley, or best supporting actor for Bob Odenkirk. It would be nice if Bob of Bob and David starting getting accolades, because his best roles have been after his work on Breaking Bad. Pretty good.

 

We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks – Alex Gibney

We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks (2013) Poster

Every single film Alex Gibney makes is great. He’s responsible for Enron: The Smartest Guys In The Room. He also did Taxi to the Dark Side which also got much praise (won the Oscar for best documentary), No End In Sight (nominated) and if you haven’t seen Casino Jack And The United States of Money which studies Jack Abramoff, or Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Elliott Spitzer, you really really ought. So Gibney gets recognition for his work, as well he should. But why was this left off the list? Maybe he gets nominated so frequently he’s no longer eligible? Or maybe he didn’t submit it? Or maybe the right wing Hollywood bigwigs are keeping this film under wraps (what? no). It studies the leaking of diplomatic cables by WikiLeaks and focuses on Chelsea Manning’s (nee Bradley) interactions with Julian Assange. It’s really interesting and like all of Gibney’s films, gives you a clear and comprehensive timeline of the sequence of events leading up to a topical issue. It will be very valuable for the historical record. What I also like about this film is its treatment of the Julian Assange rape case. It does not make him a hero and makes sure to distance itself from Assange’s actions while still recognizing the work that was done in a fairly objective way. It also allows you to sympathize with Chelsea Manning’s struggle as a trans person in the army. There were a lot of good documentaries that were not recognized this past year that should have been. These include Pandora’s Promise, which successfully makes the case for responsible nuclear energy as an alternative to coal and oil, and Stories We Tell, which recreates filmmaker Sarah Polley’s family troubles in a very evocative way. Also ignored were Manhunt (which should be watched in conjunction with Zero Dark Thirty), After Tiller, and The House I Live In, which should have been nominated as an oversight for not being nominated the year before. It completely undoes the war on drugs. 

 

Blue Is The Warmest Color – Abellatif Kechiche

Blue Is the Warmest Color (2013) Poster

This film had a lot of problems but I am still surprised it wasn’t nominated for best foreign feature. First, let’s try to unpack the title. In the US it’s called Blue Is The Warmest Color. In France its title translates to The Life of Adele, but it’s based on a comic book whose French title translates to Blue Angel. So that’s weird. Having not read the graphic novel, I cannot speak to what the original story was, but the film is about a girl who becomes infatuated with another girl and starts having very well-documented sex. It is about desire and objectification and growth and loss and devastation and loud sucking noises. I mean, I liked it, but I think I liked it because I benefit from its existence because I’m a straight dude. My understanding is that the gay community (including the author of Blue Angel) wasn’t that into it. It was too much of a male fantasy which is a very accurate description. But still, it won the Palme d’Or as well as a host of other shit, so it stands to reason it would be nominated for an Academy Award for best foreign language film. However, according to After Ellen, the reason it wasn’t nominated was because it was not released in its native France until after the deadline. So whatever. It’s not Netflix. Watch it alone or with a partner. Bring a kerchief to dab your forehead every so often, cuz that shit steamy.

 

Ain’t Them Bodies Saints – David Lowery

Ain't Them Bodies Saints (2013) Poster

This is the film that inspired this post. I had meant to see it but didn’t get around to it and then watched it today on Netflix (disc (luddite)) and I have to say there is no reason it should not have been nominated for best picture. It also should have been nominated for best actor, best actress, cinematography, score, direction, poster cover, and, I dunno, credits? It is in the same vein as Place Beyond The Pines. Like, this movie is legit good. If it had not won anything it would have been fine if it was at least recognized by the Academy, but no. It’s not a new story; couple succumbs to the pitfalls of a crime spree, interact through letters while he’s in jail, dude gets out, they flirt with running away together. But its beautiful imagery and careful direction and solid delivery of literary lines. I dunno guys. This movie is great. I’m not saying it’s the best movie of the year, I’m just saying, see it. I’m just saying some really good movies came out in 2013 and not all of them were Oscar nominees. Some will just have to stand on their own merits, as well they should, and maybe they won’t get the chance if we don’t word of mouth keep them alive. 

 

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Aside

In December, I performed at Chicago’s Paper Machete at the historic Green Mill tavern. My piece was on the death of Paul Walker who was more remarkable in death than in life. For your convenience, I am the first reader. … Continue reading

The Perks of Being A Smartypants

Friend Susan said the following: do you feel like there are people in the world who are like, too smart for you to talk to?  or do you feel like you can basically hold your own with everyone?

i am thinking about how rare it is that i feel like someone is smarter than i am, and that is making me feel like maybe i am a snob.  but then i was like, but maybe everyone feels like this and i am not a snob.

like i can name people who are smarter than me, or who are smarter about stuff that i am not smart about than i am, but like, in general, i would never be like “oh you are really smart, i can’t even talk to you.”  but people say that to me sometimes.  but i hate it when they say that.

 

To which I replied: People say that to me about musical taste. Like they don’t want to tell me they’re actual favorites out of fear that i’ll judge them. As if i am just like not fun and don’t understand how joy works or something. Or they just really really hate themselves.

I cant think offhand of anyone who i wouldn’t talk to because they are too smart. But i can think of a lot of people i would feel like i would make a giant dork of myself in front of because of my admiration or intimidation of.

But like. Noam Chomsky. If i had something to say to Noam Chomsky about something I cared about i maybe would. And i would not tell him he was too smart for me to talk to. Even though like
He is. But he’s also a teacher and a farter and so he must be able to relate to other humans in different ways than smartypantsness.

 

 

And that’s when she said: The most important part of this email is when you called Chomsky a “farter.” 

 

And then I sent her the below image:

Image

 

Aside

The following story was originally published earlier this year in The Logan Square Literary Review Jack and Dani are sisters. It is 1995 and they are 12 and 9 respectively and they are dragging, between the two of them, four … Continue reading

Aside

I sat with Joe in the capitalist chains on Belmont Ave. It was the first time I had seen him since he moved to England in January or February. And we talked about the process of writing. And he said … Continue reading

Brian Johnson

Brian Johnson is a stand-up guy.

When he was temping at an AIDS support office that provided counseling, referrals, literature and more, he brought me a grocery bag full of free condoms. It may as well have been Christmas. We grabbed them by the fistful and threw them around the room like confetti. I wanted to share the wealth. I dumped a pile on my friend’s bed, so when she got home from work she would be greeted by nights of worry-free safe sex. It was a joyous time.

Not since college had condoms been as free and as plentiful as when Brian Johnson was temping. As adults we had to start spending actual money we earned on boxes of condoms at the store. And they usually only had six at a time. It was pathetic. Adulthood is stupid.

When Brian Johnson got laid off at the AIDS center due to cut-backs, he started working at the Red Hen Bakery. He started bringing home bags and bags of leftover muffins, scones, and croissants.

Brian Johnson is a stand-up guy.

The Last Blog I Will Ever Start About A Blog

Dear blog,

Today I started a blog. Hopefully this will be the last blog I start.