Saturday, February 23, 2013

Final 2012 Oscar Predictions: Fly-By-Night Edition

Seriously, you guys.
You guys, seriously.

I don't think I'm exaggerating or overreacting when I say that this has easily been the most unpredictable, tumultuous, bizarrely satisfying Oscar season in the ten years that I've been following them (....ohmygod I am getting way too old). The process leading up to nominations was exciting, the nominations themselves were both hugely surprising and (even more surprisingly) largely well-deserved. And the competition for some races, even the big ones, has raged; there's an invigorating lack of obvious front-runners in so many categories.
Basically what I'm trying to say is that I'm probably going to get most of these wrong, and I'm going to love it. So take these with a grain of salt. Don't put too much money on anything I say. Pretty much I'm going to be throwing darts and hoping for the best, and I wouldn't have it any other way. So let's get to it!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Best of 2012, part 5: My Dream Oscar Ballot/Discussions About the Future

Alright, the list madness finally comes to an end. Today's really more of a wrap-up than an actual post. Just in case reading hours and hours of lists isn't your thing, I'm going to list all my picks here. No commentary, just alphabetical nominees with winners in bold. Stick around for the end and you'll be rewarded with a video! Oh happy day! And if you're around after that, we'll have a little discussion about the future of this blog.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Best of 2012, Part 4: Craft Categories

Well, it's the last big 'best of' post for another year, so I suppose we all ought to savor this together. Today we're going to look at all of the craft categories, which is to say all of the awesome elements of film-making which most audience members tend to ignore. So let's shower these movies and these people with love! Someone ought to, after all.
Before we get started, I suppose I ought to define some categories:
Art Direction: Production design: creating, designing, and building the world in which the movie takes place. Generally associated with set-building, but also stretches to conceptual aspects
Costume Design: ...The design of the costumes.Visual Effects: Special Effects. CGI, models, etc.Makeup: Editing: Editing the movie: cutting in some places, lengthening in others. Generally responsible for the rhythm of a film, as well as keeping continuity and making sense of the plot.Cinematography: In layman's terms, how pretty the movie is. Screen composition, lighting, camera techniques, etc.Original Score: Music composed for the film itself.Sound Mixing: Blending the four film sound elements (dialogue, sound effects, ambient noise, music) to create a coherent overall mix.Sound Effects Editing: creating the sound elements and sound effects heard in the film.Original Song: Songs written specifically for the film.

Now that we've got all that straight...

Monday, February 18, 2013

Best of 2012, Part 3: Acting

Once more into the breach, dear friends...(as an aside, I don't think a year goes by in which I don't reference Henry V while blogging. Weird.) Today's post is a doozy, so I'm just going to throw myself into it. Today we're talking about acting; arguably the easiest element of cinema for the joe-average moviegoer to appreciate and evaluate. So I'm gonna get around to appreciating.
Note-I'll try to include youtube clips where I can, but too many of these movies haven't made it to DVD yet, so clips are kind of scarce.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Best of 2012, Part 2: Directing and Screenplays

Hello again! I've no idea how (or even if) any of you made it through yesterday's embarrassingly large post, but if did make it through unscathed, then you're a stronger person than I. In deference to your clearly superhuman abilities, I'll try to keep this post a little shorter. Today, we'll look at the categories I like to be the most judgmental about, because they're the categories I plan to be not successful in professionally: directing and screenplays! So let's get to it.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Best of 2012, Part 1: Top 20, Zen Awards

I know, I know, this is so ridiculously late this year that all "best of" lists have lost their relevance, because that's the movie culture we live in these days--we follow every insane detail of production for a full year before a movie comes out, and then after opening weekend no one talks about that movie again. Well, I say the hell with that. Let's think about some movies that are (gasp!) maybe a few months. Even older. Shoot, if I wrote this blog on a regular basis we'd spend most all of our time talking about movies from decades ago, because that's just how we roll here.
(As an aside, the less noble, more realistic version of why this is late is because I've been waiting all year to see Michael Haneke's Amour, and it only opened in town yesterday. So stay tuned to see if it was worth the wait.)

Now, I'm not going to pretend that there's really any suspense as to what is going to take #1 this year. Anyone who's talked to me about movies within the past 6 months has probably already had an earful about my pick for this year's best (and yes, it's exactly what you think it is). That doesn't mean, however, that there isn't a ridiculous amount of riches to be found in 2012's other cinematic offerings. Really, last year was a ball-crushingly fantastic year for movies. I'm settling on 20, but the order is probably somewhat arbitrary; I've been changing things around all week, and I'm still not sure I'm totally satisfied with things. So I'll rattle off my top 20, and then we'll dive into my annual silly awards.

Check them out after the jump!

Saturday, February 9, 2013

The Writer's Dilemma

Today, for some reason, I feel like going crazy and temporarily dispensing with lists/predictions/whatever else (though don't you worry, this time next week this space will be silly with lists).
Today, we're going to talk about me, and we're going to like it.
When I'm not trying to register infinitesimal movements of the Oscar-Buzz needle, or drowning in a flood of well-written academia, I do try to write for myself. Granted, this doesn't happen very often. Generally, where I am in my life requires me to write at least two papers a week, not always in English (Wenn ich deutsche Fans habe, hallo! Bitte schreib einen Kommentar, damit ich mein Deutsch ├╝ben kann!). So I frequently find myself writing lengthy essays on postmodern identity crises in European road-trip movies, or Barbarella as a feminist treatise on the male gaze, which, as it turns out, tends to drain me of my creative desire. So even if I have an idea I feel like expressing, generally it gets lost in a dreamy haze of MLA citations and "therefore, we can infer"s.
And there's another problem--My muse is fickle as hell. I don't know how to describe it. Though the word 'muse' feels unbelievably pretentious, I don't know what else to name that strange part of my warped little noggin which sporadically generates creative output. Sometimes I think I can only write when I'm feeling nauseous, exhausted, and emotionally turbulent. Other times, I've no idea. Really, there's no method or madness to the manic fits which let me fish something out of the wacky stew of disparate impulses that passes for cognitive thought these days.

The point: combined with my schedule and my arbitrary-as-hell creative process, I almost never write anything, and when I do, I very rarely think it's anything worth reading.

The counterpoint: I've been writing like crazy for the past few weeks. Like, 100 pages worth of crazy. I've finished a first draft of a screenplay for the first time since high school, which is both wonderful and kind of embarrassing. And what's more? It might actually be good. It's certainly not good yet, but I feel like I've got the foundation for something that might not  suck. Who'd have thought?

A problem: Now, I understand that everything any writer produces is implicitly personal. We are, after all, only human, and can only really relate the experiences we've actually had. And sure, maybe you dress them up with car chases and sex scenes, but even the most ridiculous movie is founded on the basic human engines that motivate everyday life. So I don't have a problem that what I've written feels personal to me. Everything that I write should feel personal. If it doesn't, I'm clearly being derivative, or unadventurous, or bland.

But where's the line between the kind of personal which every writer uses, and the kind of personal which might be pushing it a little? I have to admit that what I've written is in no small part based on my experiences, on real people. Hell, I haven't even bother to change names yet (though this will of course happen before this ever sees the light of day). Granted, the 'people' in my script are composites of a few people, or have been tweaked, or idealized, or warped in some way until they don't resemble their real life counterparts so much as a bizarro-world doppelganger of my own invention. But still, isn't it a bit strange? I'm not the first person to do it, but I can't help but feel odd about it. I also have to admit that a few sequences of dialogue are lifted almost verbatim out of my life, and a few scenes (one in particular) are drawn directly from my life. And this all feels strange to me. And somehow wrong. Maybe because it's too personal--like I've exposed too much for it to feel like anything other than a vanity project now. Maybe because I'm writing, in part, about real people, who might find it strange to experience being seen through someone else's eyes. Even if the reality of these characters is that they don't actually exist, that they're just shades pulled out of some half-experienced memory that have been manipulated past easy recognition. It's still strange. Unethical, maybe? I honestly have no idea.

Here's another problem: what I've written really could be good, and I very strongly believe that it has that potential simply because it came from such a personal place. What better can I write than my own feelings about things I've actually experienced? I don't know that I'm capable of writing a good war movie. I've never been to war, I've never felt those emotions, I'll never be able to really confer any actual honesty on anything I try to make in that setting. What I can do honestly are the things I've perceived. And really, aren't the most universal emotions conjured through the most specifically personal works of art? Though I hate using the word 'art' in connection to anything I try to do, don't all artists create things under the assumption that what they've felt and seen are universal? Sometimes I think the point of art in general is to bring a singular perspective to the emotions and perceptions we've all had before, and by making someone examine their own emotions through the lens of another person's life, you can create something of meaning or value. So maybe by going for broke and tossing my own life into a word document, I'm hoping that maybe I can say something that puts words to something everyone has felt, but might not be able to describe.

Or maybe I'm just being really, really pretentious.

So here's my question, and I'd really, really love it if you engaged with me here: Is it ethical/acceptable/right for someone to use their own life so blatantly to create a piece of fiction? As writers, are we capable of doing anything else? Or is it just a form of cheating? Am I short-changing my own creative impulses by yoking them to something so aggressively tangible and pedestrian? And is it understandable to base my characters on people in my life, or is it just creepy as hell? Seriously. I'm asking. I want to know what you think. Because I've written something that just might have the potential to become something good, but I might end up sitting on it, because it feels too strange to explicitly tether my reality to my creativity.