Saturday, January 17, 2015

Oscar Edition - The Wes Anderson Conundrum

So, I'm always conflicted about the Oscars, and basically every award program for commercially produced films (Independent Spirit Awards included. You bunch of sexy sellouts) . Honestly, who cares about award shows that are essentially nothing more than marketing campaigns for media properties that hardly need more brand awareness? And then there's the messy knot of trying to hand out merit awards to art, as if one could really be superior to the other, and the headache inducing clash of seeing purely commercial properties and high art put into head to head competition, with one awarded above the others by vote of a phenomenally homogeneous panel of judges.

Which is my way of saying, I don't generally pay super close attention to what the Oscars are up to. But I still do love seeing the filmmakers I love getting recognition, because I want to see more movies from them, and while I'd like to think that merit of work would be enough for artists to continue to get funding, we're also not naive enough to think that it doesn't come down 100% to money. Except perhaps for Terrence Malik, if you're not making a profit, you're not getting backers on your next project. A smaller or more niche film is going to need wider distribution to find it's audience, but paradoxically is less likely to make its way out of limited release, or even escape the event horizon of VOD nowadays, making it harder for the people who would like to see niche films to find them in the first place, because the more off the main road a film is, the less likely it is to show in the 30plex chain cinemas. No, you're only going to find those showing at the three screen urban art houses. Until they get Oscar nods. Then suddenly the multiplex has room on the dance card. It's a vicious cycle.

This year we have two filmmakers who came to the awards via the quirk route - Richard Linklater and Wes Anderson.

Linklater of course directed the refreshingly experimental Boyhood, but long before that, he helmed what has become the equally far reaching Before trilogy, which, if you haven't seen them yet, stop what you are doing and go find them. Now. Don't come back until those credits roll on Before Midnight.

Anderson has been slowly building one of the most cohesive and precious collections of films ever put together, over the past 20 years. And while I love Anderson's work, with his dollhouse chic art design, his impeccable taste in music, and his thoroughly developed voice, there is something I am starting to take issue with in his work.

Anderson's first commercially produced and distributed work was 1998's Rushmore, which, being set in a private boy's school can be forgiven for a certain top heaviness and homogeny among his characters. His follow up, 2000's The Royal Tennenbaums, expanded half a breath to included the same number of female characters, and also featured Danny Glover as Henry Sherman, accountant and love interest of the Tennenbaum matriarch Etheline.
Since Tennenbaums on, his films have become less inclusive, more whitewashed, and even more male centered. Moonrise Kingdom came the closest to cracking out of this shell, but while it featured a female lead, it still centered around a male organized institution, allowing him the convenience of writing a heavy majority of male roles. Anderson writes in a style that I describe as a 14 year old boy explaining what he thinks adults are like, and I mean that as a compliment. There's a challenge to writing from a child's perspective, even if it is in a satirical way.

I love your films, Wes, but is it impossible to write about anyone other than independently wealthy or upper middle class white men?

And yet, I was happy to see The Grand Budapest Hotel nominated, and in so many categories. I also think that lack of diversity needs to be a pressing discussion among artists in both film and literature, and an especially salient point in a year when a brilliant film like Selma is nominated  for best picture, but nothing else, and every single acting nomination was for a white actor. Is there really no work of merit being made by anyone else?

Anyway, on to my stats for the  year. An addendum to this list - books are new to me, but not all the films are first viewings. This is just a little compilation, mostly for me, of what I've seen for the year. I'm not sure what I'm going to do with this list yet, but hey, with the new year, there was a perfect opportunity to do some actual journaling with this blog, so why not? Might make for some interesting stats, might not. Maybe you'll be reminded of something you wanted to see years ago and never got around to, and now you're trying to remember what the heck it was. And now you'll know. You're welcome.

Film Count 2015 : 18
Watched this week:
(*not first viewing)

Brick Mansions
Pee Wee's Big Adventure*
The Darjeeling Limited*
The Gambler

Things that are technically TV shows even though I only watch them streaming on the computer: 7

Low Winter Sun
Inside Amy Schumer
The New Yorker Presents
Project Runway AllStars

Books of 2015 : 4
New this week:

Lockwood & Co. The Shrieking Staircase
Miss Marple Complete Short Stories
Object Lessons - Paris Review Anthology

Things I'm Eagerly Awaiting in 2015 this week:

The First Bad Man, Miranda July
Nightcrawler (Missed it in theaters, out soon on video)

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