What We Learned This Week: February 10-16

LESSON #1: THE ACADEMY OF MOTION PICTURE ARTS AND SCIENCES WAS (AND STILL KIND OF IS) CARELESS, UNINTELLIGIBLE, AND DISRESPECTFUL TOWARDS THEIR OWN INDUSTRY— On Monday, Academy president John Bailey revealed that rumors were true.  In an effort to shorten a bloated show and improve ratings, four categories were announced to become relegated to commercial breaks.  At the last minute before the publishing of this post, they relented. The four that were getting the cold shoulder were Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Makeup and Hair-Styling, and Best Live Action Short.  The damage is done and they still deserve the lecture.  Let’s start a train of “to say it simply” sentences.  Begin with careful use of time.  You can’t tell me there weren’t smarter cuts of time possible in a hostless telecast.  Trim the gags, bits, montages, and other weak joke fluff.  Cut the half-hour red carpet show and just leave that to E! where it belongs.  How hard would that have been? Maybe they needed to consult an editor… oh wait… Second, look at optics. I was astonished that in the room of AMPAS decision-makers, a team of artists and industry professional peers, there was a lack of perception of what this kind of move looked like.  Did they not just get slammed this past year for the silly Popular Film category suggestion?  Does no one internally pay attention?  This became a double defeat in the court of public opinion before the awards even arrive and they stood down Friday.  The AMPAA looked like they can’t handle or put on their own show after 90 years and the subtraction immediately looked like disrespect.  Doing this wasn’t appeasing casual fans who are impatient with award shows more than it alienated the base of true fans.  It’s the cinephiles and movie lovers that bring in the casual fans, not the other way around.  Alienate them because you dumbfoundedly admonish your own people and you ruin the whole thing with bad press and social media outrage. 

LESSON #2: PUBLIC PRESSURE WINS BECAUSE IT CAME FROM THE RIGHT LEVEL OF PEOPLE— The pressure it took on the Academy to properly honor the people below the title was to rally people above the title.  I’m not the type to boycott anything, but I get why people weren’t going to watch the Oscars (and they still might not).  The group fixed it are the precious people the TV cameras beg to see: ACTORS.  They are the largest voting body in the Academy. If the #MeToo movement has taught us anything, they had clout and these were fitting politics to flex.  They look great and unselfish today to honor their fellow artists. The preening performers rallied get behind the craftspeople that make them look good and insisted on their proper inclusion. The Academy rightfully blinked.

LESSON #3: BAD CGI CAN KILL A MOVIE BEFORE IT STARTS— The latest new teaser of Disney’s Aladdin re-imagining gave viewers our highly anticipated first look of the special effects being used to morph the jovial Will Smith into the famed blue genie.  And holy cow did the internet react.  Memes for days!  The fallout calls to mind so many frequent and intersecting WWLTW lessons.  I could bring back my frequent plea for Disney corporate patience where the studio can avoid rushing these projects, but this one’s been in development with director Guy Ritchie for three years.  That’s more than enough time to spend money, go back to however many drawing boards, and get something to look right, especially with Disney’s deep pockets.  I could spout off about excessive and unnecessary marketing, but this trailer is actually the smallest amount of peek compared to other teasers.  It just looks like crap at this point and is going to need tricks under its sleeves.  I could try to preach to let Will Smith and this Aladdin incarnation be its own thing without comparisons to Robin Williams and etc, but that’s not possible when one its objectives and reasons for being is to blend and update the animated original.  I could try to stump for patience to see the full film before judgment, but the damage is done, echoing similar a unfinished-effects-buzzkill 2003 gave us for Ang Lee’s Hulk.  I’m calling it now.  This will be your Solo-level box office “underperformer” (I won’t say “bomb” because all of these movies are too big to fail) for the Mouse House in 2019.  This will set off a momentary pause button that makes the studio question how and why they do these re-imaginings in the same way they gave Star Wars some reorganization last year.  I say temporary because that feeling will only last 56 days, the amount of time between Aladdin‘s box office debut and the arrival of The Lion King on July 19, which has played its cards far better to make an absolute killing.

LESSON #4: SEE SOMETHING PRETTY— In honor of Valentine’s Day and as a celebration of the art of cinematography before Oscar bounces them like a football timeout, treat yourself to some of the finest artistic visual beauty that exists in cinema.  The American Society of Cinematographers recently published this list of the 100 best shot films of all-time.  Topping the list are Lawrence of Arabia, Blade Runner, and Apocalypse Now!, three damn worthy champions of cinematography.  Spanning vistas and shadows to color and monochrome, this films on this ASC list are sterling examples of why this art is important.  Create a new checklist for yourself with this one.

DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based and Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson 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 new member of the nationally-recognized Online Film Critics Society.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film now for over a year, 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 special “Connecting with Classics” podcast program.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, and Medium to follow his work.

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