When analyzing the current state of Hollywood, anyone who sees even a handful of films in a year would be able to identify the horror genre as the one whose quality has declined the most drastically. A genre once filled with terrifying delights such as “The Shining” and “Poltergeist” or B-movie campfests like “The Evil Dead” and “Friday the 13th” series has become tired and bland with a heavy reliance on useless jump scares. Rather than fit in on either side of the spectrum these recent releases such as Ouija, Annebelle, and a slew of others just sit in the middle, lifeless direction directing audiences from one tense less scene to another.
David Cronenberg’s career can be split down the middle, one half blood-and-gut splattered, heads blown off in “Scanners,” genders swapped in “Videodrome,” genes mutated resulting in the manifestation of the grotesque, the physically repulsive in “The Fly.” The other half is a much more subdued horror. The comfort of Americana corrupted in “A History of Violence,” the darkest recesses of the mind in “A Dangerous Method,” fame violent and vane in “Maps to the Stars,” the latest Cronenberg film set to hit theaters nationwide this weekend.
Just because you’re making a movie about the smartest people in the room doesn’t mean that you’re automatically one of them too.
The artistry behind the con movie is one of unpretentious misdirection and sincere cleverness, a combination that some filmmakers are unable to pull off convincingly. This usually occurs when the script lies in a questionable state, because underneath the stylish filmmaking, glossy camerawork, and crackling dynamic of the cast, the con movie needs a cemented plot as foundation. You could argue this for just about any movie, but in the con movie it’s especially important because without valid twists and turns or a plan that logistically checks out, it’s easier to make an audience feel unfairly duped instead of excitedly surprised or intrigued. The finest examples of the genre make the paramount nature of a concise script pretty clear: “The Sting” or the Sinatra-starring “Ocean’s 11” and it’s Soderbergh-helmed remake, “Matchstick Men,” and “The Grifters” are high-and-mighty in terms of writing, with George Roy Hill, Lewis Milestone, Ridley Scott, Stephen Frears and Soderbergh provided ample slickness to make it function cinematically. Proper slickness also involves a sense of invisibility, which is why it’s easy to plug Soderbergh as arguably the most successful in recent tacklings of this genre. There’s a persuasive ability to con movie filmmaking which lures you closer and closer to predictability, before it comes around and surprises you in a fitting way. Again, misdirection and cleverness, two necessary principles, and both require great skill to maintain.
When the first “Hot Tub Time Machine” came out back in 2010, even as a wee lad I remember feeling skeptical about the premise. The movie turned out to be enjoyable enough as a sleepover party time killer (bad pun intended), and it had its moments. Although it wasn’t the kind of movie that my friends and I quoted regularly (especially considering that “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World” and “Kick Ass” quickly removed any memory of the hardly bearable experience), it was decent overall. The problem is that the concept wasn’t built to last, and director Steve Pink really shouldn’t have tried to milk it any further, and judging from the sequel’s god-awful script, he probably didn’t get a lot of money for it in the first place.
Tonight is the night. After months of campaigns and swarms of critic circle lists, various Guild awards, and a constant change in momentum behind so many of this year’s previous frontrunners, we are finally in the 11th hour of the 2014 awards season. Voting has long ceased, the ballots are finally counted and recounted, envelopes are sealed and history will yet again be made tonight in the beautiful Kodak Theater on Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles, California. This has been on hell of an awards season and there are still a number of key categories that will remain a surprise until the envelopes are finally opened. Last year, we saw a race to the finish between “12 Years a Slave” and “Gravity” and the end result was a suitable Best Picture/Best Director split. We also saw four deserving, though long set in stone, wins in each of the acting categories and everything else below the line fell into place accordingly and expectantly. This year we have a similar situation, Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood” goes head-to-head with the guild sweeping “Birdman,” a 12-years-in-the-making meditation on youth in the early 2000’s and a satirical ensemble comedy about the pains of celebritism and ego. But, amazingly enough, that is not the only battle going down this evening. The Best Actor category is still a question mark, and the screenplay categories are still being juggled, as are some other interesting categories. It should be an exciting night for film lovers and, as hosted by the lovable Neil Patrick Harris, a highly energetic and potentially quite musical evening of cinematic celebrations as well.
But before things get moving this evening, we must lay out our predictions. For the first time I will be posting my ballot alone here at Reel Reactions. I’ve bolded my predicted winner and have also discussed potential upsets and hopes for the less sure categories. Take a look, leave a comment, and enjoy the 87th Annual Academy Awards.
The sport movie is a tired and formulaic genre, and no film proves this more than “McFarland, U.S.A.” While watching, I couldn’t help but think of another sports film, “Foxcatcher.” Perhaps this is an unfair comparison, but I think it highlights an important aspect of filmmaking: Intent. Bennett Miller took the story of John DuPont’s relationship with the Schultz brothers and made it scary, sad, and beautiful all at once. Niki Caro took the story of the 1987 McFarland High School cross-country team and made it uninteresting, uninspired, and dumb. For what it’s worth, Caro likely made exactly the film she wanted, which begs the question: what the hell is the point of purposefully making a boring, generic movie?
As far as high school comedies go, there’s little left to infuse the genre with that hasn’t previously been done. We’ve seen takes on cliques and the stressful nature of teenage social life several times over, most recently in “21 Jump Street,” a film that, by taking the classic teenage drama and combining it with buddy-cop action, made it fresh enough that the familiar hallways, classrooms, and bedrooms are a tad easier to stomach. “The DUFF” is the latest entry to a list that includes “The Breakfast Club” and “Clueless.” While it does little to separate itself from its thematic predecessors, “The DUFF” boasts moments of greatness to the point that I’m disappointed it wasn’t funnier.