LESSON #1: JANUARY SHOULD BE RENAMED “QUALITY MOVIE HIBERNATION MONTH”— Welcome to the doldrums of winter, folks. We all know the reality. This is the dumping ground for movies not good enough for the Oscars and not bankable enough for spring or summer tentpole status. Annually, expect a cheap horror movie success, a Liam Neeson ass-kicker, and big-stars cashing paychecks on weak projects. Get your enjoyment where you can with Bad Boys For Life, Underwater, Dolittle, and more. I’m a credentialed film critic with scruples. I haven’t been to a press screening since before Christmas. It’s that bad and always is.
LESSON #2: “SNUBBED” IS AN OVERUSED AND UNFAIRLY USED TERM— You know, I’ve been convinced. I’m going to drink the Aaron White Kool-Aid. When recently talking about film scores I’m listening to in the Feelin’ Film Facebook group, I labeled Matt Morton’s Apollo 11 score as “snubbed,” and Aaron admitted that term is wearing as thin with him as “masterpiece” is for me. I do need to realize that there’s only room for five nominees each year and that the Oscars are a popularity contest of a still-poorly-comprised voting body. These aren’t complete snubs. They have backers and votes, just not enough. They weren’t intentionally slighted and “snubbed” is too negative. Better terms are needed. Challenge accepted, Aaron.
LESSON #3: DIVERSITY AND INDEPENDENT FILM ARE STILL OVERLOOKED AT THE HIGHEST LEVEL— The challenge begins here. Let’s not use “snub” to still talk about deficiencies in the 92nd Academy Award nominations. For all of the so-called efforts of weening out inactive members and adding diversity, the results aren’t showing it between Green Book winning last year and this list of extremely plain nominations. Go ahead and get the #OscarSoWhite swag out again. The Academy deserves to be called out for this kind of thing. Women and people of color (and not just black, just ask the team of The Farewell) are still missing higher recognition. If you look at what was nominated and from what studio they came from, you will see money and favoritism talking. The movies backed by the distributors with the deepest pockets and most lavish “For Your Consideration” campaigns (especially Netflix and their quartet of The Irishman, Marriage Story, The Two Popes, and I Love My Body) scored the spots. If you were little and independent, like A24’s Uncut Gems, The Farewell, and Booksmart, you were ignored. Those losses are consistent top to bottom and not just in the major categories. It’s a minor miracle little shingle NEON squeezed what it could out of Parasite (6 nominations) and Lionsgate got anything at all for Knives Out and Bombshell. If this were politics, we would be talking about the equivalent of “campaign finance reform” from studios buying unfair favor and nominations. Maybe it’s time to open the ledgers and put some rules and limits on that.
LESSON #4: POLITICS IS GETTING IN THE WAY OF FILM CRITICISM— Speaking of politics, there’s a good chance this lesson and paragraph is the first of a future full “Soapbox” edition of “What We Learned This Week,” but I was highly intrigued recently by a piece from Jessa Crispin in The Guardian that posed the title question “Is Politics Getting in the Way of Assessing Which Films Are Actually Good?” My instant answer is a resounding yes. Between overly saturated opinions and the constant ego to share them without tact, there are critics that cannot write without spouting some personal assessment of politics or a movie’s politics. I could name names for hours. I call it “projecting” and I don’t think a film review is the place for that unless said politics are concretely stated by the filmmakers as intentional and deliberate. Call that objective over subjective. If that’s not stated, the critic is projecting and throwing s–t to walls to see what sticks for their own fancy, ego, and thirst for clicks. Don’t get me wrong. For as much as my website is called Every Movie Has a Lesson, I firmly believe “Every Movie Has Politics” too, but, again, that’s not material for a true film review. Save that garbage, guess work, or, hopefully, carefully manicured discourse for a hot-button editorial labeled as such.
DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based and Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson. His movie review work is also published on 25YL (25 Years Later) and also on Medium.com for the MovieTime Guru publication. As an educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical. He is a proud director and one of the founders of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle and a member of the nationally-recognized Online Film Critics Society. As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film now for over two years, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends while chipping in with guest spots and co-hosting duties, including the previous “Connecting with Classics” podcasts. Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, and Medium to follow his work. (#121)