What We Learned This Week: February 26-March 4

LESSON #1: INDEPENDENT FILM IS ALIVE AND WELL: PART 1— In upset fashion at the 89th Academy Awards, “Moonlight” and its $1.5 million budget just became the most inexpensive Best Picture Academy Award winner in modern history (and likely all-time if you adjust for inflation).  Not only is the film a hopeful door opener for multiple types of diversity, the ramifications of its win will send studios prospecting to find the next “Moonlight” and the next Barry Jenkins.  We saw a similar push during the 1990s and 2000s when big studios absorbed indie film shingles like Miramax.  Don’t be surprised if the same happens to hot spots like A24 Films.

LESSON #2: INDEPENDENT FILM IS ALIVE AND WELL: PART 2— For the viewers, independent film is alive and well because of so many easily accessible and affordable VOD platforms.  Between Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu Plus, iTunes, Google Play, and On-Demand services from cable providers, the menu of storefronts and available titles is bottomless.  This past Sundance Film Festival’s Grand Jury Prize winner, “I Don’t Feel at Home in this World Anymore,” dropped on Netflix on February 24.  Last year’s winner, “The Birth of a Nation,” waited until an October theatrical release where bad press caught up to it.  Access is becoming instantaneous.  You don’t have to drive to a big city or an obscure arthouse theater anymore.  It’s a win-win for both sides because these little films gain larger audience reach than single-week arthouse runs and everyone gets a little piece of the VOD and subscription service pie.

LESSON #3: WHEN FORGIVENESS LOOKS LIKE CONDONING INSTEAD— I’ve tip-toed up and down this Casey Affleck/Mel Gibson/Nate Parker soapbox of forgiveness, double standards, and the court of public opinion all awards season since coming to Feelin’ Film.  Elle magazine published a fantastic piece this week entitled “What We Lose When We Give Awards to Men Like Casey Affleck.”  Look back at the portion of the audience that would not give the “Manchester by the Sea” winner a customary standing ovation.  Look at Brie Larson’s body language of solidarity.  No matter how much I think Casey Affleck was the best male lead performance from last year and how, on paper, he deserved the Academy Award on Sunday, the cloud of accusations will detract from his victory until the issues are gone (which might be never).  The optics on his win are rightly questionable, if not downright terrible, when you take the bigger picture into consideration.  There’s a slippery slope here of recognizing talent colliding with competing moral expectations.

LESSON #4: ACCIDENTS HAPPEN.  HOW YOU RESPOND SAYS A GREAT DEAL ABOUT YOU— The SNAFU moment of the final Best Picture presentation will be replayed and talked about for decades on future Oscar telecasts.  It created a shockwave comprised of blame, confusion, hilarity, and, in the end, understanding and mutual respect.  While we were pinning a Steve Harvey tail on the Faye Dunaway/Warren Beatty/PriceWaterhouseCoopers donkey, “La La Land” producerJordan Horowitz was the hero of the moment.  His graciousness to “right a wrong” in the moment saved potential outrage, petulance, and further embarrassment.  Even better on the day after, directors Damien Chazelle and Barry Jenkins were interviewed in an excellent Variety article showing no hatchets existed that needed to be buried.  I cannot say everyone in the Dolby Theatre would have handled that accident as well as the teams from “La La Land” and “Moonlight.”

LESSON #5: NO AWARDS WILL EVER VALIDATE OR TAKE AWAY YOUR PERSONAL LOVE FOR A FILM— No matter who or what you wanted to win this past Sunday night, the love you have for your favorite films and performances should never go away.  Have pride in what you love.  No award results should tell you what you love ahead of your personal choices.  Similarly, no award snubs should devalue your beholden appreciation for your favorites.  When you say the words “this was my favorite film” to a friend, a loved one, or a peer, that recommendation goes a whole lot further than some award winner sticker or quote on the DVD sleeve or lobby poster.


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson.  He is also one of the founders and the current President of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle.  As an elementary educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, Medium, and Creators Media.

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