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Links for the Day: 50 Greatest Summer Blockbusters, Edward Champion vs. Emily Gould, What Mise-en-scène Is and Why It Matters, The Skeleton Twins Trailer, & More

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Links for the Day: 50 Greatest Summer Blockbusters, Edward Champion vs. Emily Gould, What Mise-en-scène Is and Why It Matters, The Skeleton Twins Trailer, & More

1. “The 50 Greatest Summer Blockbusters.” Part one of The Dissolve’s ode to the biggest films Hollywood has offered us across the summer months.

“For our list of the 50 Greatest Summer Blockbusters, we decided to be strict in some ways and lax in others. Only films released in the United States between May 1 and August 31 qualified. That eliminated a lot of films that might have landed on a list of best blockbusters, including the Lord Of The Rings films (all winter releases) and The Matrix (released March 31, 1999). (In fact, only The Matrix Reloaded qualifies for consideration. Spoiler: It did not make the list.) Beyond that, however, we left it open, meaning films with laser canons and exploding Escalades qualified, but so did animated movies, comedies, and any other sort of film released during summer months. We let the calendar define what it meant to be a summer movie, but let our panel of 12 critics define what made a film a blockbuster, narrowing it down from 655 contenders over the course of three rounds of voting. The process yielded a diverse bunch of movies starting with a comedy about a man discovering love late in life, and ending with… Well, we’ll get to that.”

2. “Emily Gould, Literary Narcissism, and the Middling Millennials.” Edward Champion tears into the Friendship author.

“The Middling Millennials are hostile to nonfiction, history, politics, and any topic that is real or remotely challenging. They have been harming the literary clime with their relentless pablum for at least a good year, actively encouraged by hoary outlets like n+1, The Awl, The Nervous Breakdown, The Rumpus, and The Millions, all quietly hoping that this confluence of cheerleading and seductive reductionism will enlarge their cultural influence. While the actual population of Middling Millennials is difficult to measure (MFA vs. NYC, a volume published earlier this year by n+1, was allegedly substantive enough to attract the notice of The New Republic, The New York Times, and other outlets), the quality of the MM arguments are, on the whole, remarkably pauce—with thinking deracinated altogether, swapped with a fawning devotion more at home in a San Diego entrepôt.”

3. “How Do You Think It Feels.” Glenn Kenny reads Champion’s rant and comes clean.

“For quite some time I thought that being a colossal prick on the Internet was great sport. I thought that everybody else was doing it, and that I could do it better than most. I also had some idea that it was my duty to call bullshit on everyone who I thought was propagating bullshit. I thought this was a form of criticism that was just as valid as anything I would do in long form. It was perhaps even more valid, because blog posts and Internet comments and Tweets are How We Communicate Now, and if I could expose the frauds and mediocrities surrounding me, and all of us (by ’us’ I meant ’other people I deigned to approve of’), then I was performing a valuable truth-telling service.”

4. “What Mise-en-scène Is and Why It Matters.” A.D. Jameson explains it all.

“This is why mise-en-scène isn’t really a production term— as [Alexandre] Astruc had already noted by 1959, it’s not something that filmmakers talk about when they’re shooting (267). Instead, it’s a critic’s term, referring to the content of shots that appear in the finished film. And since it refers to the content of the shot, then it also must refer to camera movements, since panning and tracking changes the shot’s content. (The famous long take in Goodfellas that follows Henry Hill and his date as they enter the Copacabana via the kitchen features more than one setting, as well as numerous actors, props, costumes, and so on.)”

5. “Review: Transformers: Age of Extinction.” Kevin B. Lee on Michael Bay’s latest.

“It’s in the film’s half-hour climactic battle in Hong Kong that Bay’s visuals allow the viewer to occupy the frame, as the action threads the narrow gaps between the city’s high-rises. The strong verticality building facades and stairways suggests a very, very expensive update to classic Hong Kong action cinema, the kind that thrived before the colony’s handover to mainland China. The political anxiety of the local HK population expressed in those films are here replaced by more global contentions. At one point Chinese government officials heroically vow ’to protect Hong Kong at all costs’ an assertion of dominion that seems conspicuous within a Hollywood film (especially given how darkly the U.S. government is depicted)—until one considers that this is a Chinese co-production aimed at that nation’s booming box office. Hence we have shots of Mark Wahlberg holding a Chinese brand-name protein powder, Stanley Tucci drinking Shuhua milk, and a whopping 30 screen minutes featuring Chinese actress Li Bingbing (though she’s given little to do beyond sipping her branded Chinese bottled water and making eyes at Tucci).”

Video of the Day: You’ll have Jefferson Starship in your head all day after watching the official trailer for The Skeleton Twins:

Links for the Day: A collection of links to items that we hope will spark discussion. We encourage our readers to submit candidates for consideration to ed@slantmagazine.com and to converse in the comments section.

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Awards

Oscar 2019 Winner Predictions: Picture

The industry’s existential crisis has polluted this race so thoroughly that it feels eerily similar to the 2016 election cycle all over again.

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Green Book
Photo: Universal Pictures

“I’m hyperventilating a little. If I fall over pick me up because I’ve got something to say,” deadpanned Frances McDormand upon winning her best actress Oscar last year. From her lips to Hollywood’s ears. No one is okay with the Academy Awards the way they are, and everyone seems sure that they know how to fix them. Cut out the montages, bring back honorary award presentations, give stunt performers their own category, let ranked-choice voting determine every category and not just best picture, overhaul the membership ranks, hold the event before the guilds spoil the surprise, find a host with the magic demographic-spanning mojo necessary to double the show’s recent audience pools, nominate bigger hits, nominate only hits.

But first, as McDormand herself called for during her speech, “a moment of perspective.” A crop of articles have popped up over the last two weeks looking back at the brutal showdown between Saving Private Ryan and Shakespeare In Love at the 1999 Academy Awards, when Harvey Weinstein was at the height of his nefarious powers. Every retrospective piece accepts as common wisdom that it was probably the most obnoxious awards season in history, one that indeed set the stage for every grinding assault we’ve paid witness to ever since. But did anyone two decades ago have to endure dozens of weekly Oscar podcasters and hundreds of underpaid web writers musing, “What do the Academy Awards want to be moving forward, exactly? Who should voters represent in this fractured media environment, exactly?” How much whiskey we can safely use to wash down our Lexapro, exactly?

Amid the fox-in-a-henhouse milieu of ceaseless moral outrage serving as this awards season’s backdrop, and amid the self-obsessed entertainers now wrestling with the idea that they now have to be “content providers,” all anyone seems concerned about is what an Oscar means in the future, and whether next year’s versions of Black Panther and Bryan Singer’s Bohemian Rhapsody have a seat at the table. What everyone’s forgetting is what the Oscars have always been. In other words, the industry’s existential crisis has polluted this race so thoroughly that it feels eerily similar to the 2016 election cycle all over again, and Oscar’s clearly splintered voting blocs may become ground zero for a Make the Academy Great Again watershed.

In 1956, the Oscars took a turn toward small, quotidian, neo-realish movies, awarding Marty the top prize. The correction was swift and sure the following year, with a full slate of elephantine epics underlining the movie industry’s intimidation at the new threat of television. Moonlight’s shocking triumph two years ago was similarly answered by the safe, whimsical The Shape of Water, a choice that reaffirmed the academy’s commitment to politically innocuous liberalism in artistically conservative digs. Call us cynical, but we know which of the last couple go-arounds feels like the real academy. Which is why so many are banking on the formally dazzling humanism of Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma and so few on the vital, merciless fury of Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman.

And even if we give the benefit of the doubt to the academy’s new members, there’s that righteous, reactionary fervor in the air against those attempting to “cancel” Green Book. Those attacking the film from every conceivable angle have also ignored the one that matters to most people: the pleasure principle. Can anyone blame Hollywood for getting its back up on behalf of a laughably old-fashioned but seamlessly mounted road movie-cum-buddy pic that reassures people that the world they’re leaving is better than the one they found? That’s, as they say, the future that liberals and Oscar want.

Will Win: Green Book

Could Win: Roma or BlacKkKlansman

Should Win: BlacKkKlansman

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Awards

Oscar 2019 Winner Predictions: Adapted Screenplay

After walking back almost all of its bad decisions ahead of this year’s Oscars, there’s no way AMPAS isn’t going to do the right thing here.

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BlacKkKlansman
Photo: Focus Features

Eric and I have done a good job this year of only selectively stealing each other’s behind-the-scenes jokes. We have, though, not been polite about stepping on each other’s toes in other ways. Okay, maybe just Eric, who in his impeccable take on the original screenplay free-for-all detailed how the guilds this year have almost willfully gone out of their way to “not tip the Oscar race too clearly toward any one film.” Case in point: Can You Ever Forgive Me? winning the WGA’s adapted screenplay trophy over presumed Oscar frontrunner BlacKkKlansman. A glitch in the matrix? We think so. Eric and I are still in agreement that the race for best picture this year is pretty wide open, though maybe a little less so in the wake of what seemed like an easy win for the Spike Lee joint. Nevertheless, we all know that there’s no Oscar narrative more powerful than “it’s about goddamn time,” and it was so powerful this year that even the diversity-challenged BAFTAs got the memo, giving their adapted screenplay prize to Lee, Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, and Kevin Willmott. To bamboozle Lee at this point would, admittedly, be so very 2019, but given that it’s walked back almost all of its bad decisions ahead of this year’s Oscars, there’s no way AMPAS isn’t going to do the right thing.

Will Win: BlacKkKlansman

Could Win: Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Should Win: BlacKkKlansman

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Awards

Oscar 2019 Winner Predictions: Original Screenplay

This season, Hollywood is invested in celebrating the films they love while dodging the cultural bullets coming at them from every angle.

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Green Book
Photo: Universal Pictures

You know, if it weren’t for the show’s producers effectively and repeatedly saying everything about the Academy Awards is terrible and needs to be changed, and the year’s top-tier contenders inadvertently confirming their claims, this would’ve been a comparatively fun and suspenseful Oscar season. None of us who follow the Academy Awards expect great films to win; we just hope the marathon of precursors don’t turn into a Groundhog Day-style rinse and repeat for the same film, ad nauseam.

On that score, mission accomplished. The guilds have been handing their awards out this season as though they met beforehand and assigned each voting body a different title from Oscar’s best picture list so as not to tip the Oscar race too clearly toward any one film. SAG? Black Panther. PGA? Green Book. DGA? Roma. ASC? Cold War. ACE? Bryan Singer’s Bohemian Rhapsody. Even awards-season kryptonite A Star Is Born got an award for contemporary makeup from the MUAHS. (That’s the Make-Up Artists and Hair Stylists Guild, not the sound Lady Gaga fans have been making ever since A Star Is Born’s teaser trailer dropped last year.)

Not to be outdone, the Writers Guild of America announced their winners last weekend, and not only did presumed adapted screenplay frontrunner BlacKkKlansman wind up stymied by Can You Ever Forgive Me?, but the original screenplay prize went to Eighth Grade, which wasn’t even nominated for an Oscar. Bo Burnham twisted the knife into AMPAS during his acceptance speech: “To the other nominees in the category, have fun at the Oscars, losers!” In both his sarcasm and his surprise, it’s safe to say he speaks on behalf of us all.

As is always the case, WGA’s narrow eligibility rules kept a presumed favorite, The Favourite, out of this crucial trial heat. But as the balloting period comes to a close, the question remains just how much enthusiasm or affection voters have for either of the two films with the most nominations (Roma being the other). As a recent “can’t we all just get along” appeal by Time’s Stephanie Zacharek illustrates, the thing Hollywood is most invested in this season involves bending over backward, Matrix-style, to celebrate the films they love and still dodge the cultural bullets coming at them from every angle.

Maybe it’s just tunnel vision from the cultural vacuum Oscar voters all-too-understandably would prefer to live in this year, but doesn’t it seem like The Favourite’s tastefully ribald peppering of posh-accented C-words would be no match for the steady litany of neo-Archie Bunkerisms spewing from Viggo Mortensen’s crooked mouth? Especially with First Reformed’s Paul Schrader siphoning votes from among the academy’s presumably more vanguard new recruits? We’ll fold our words in half and eat them whole if we’re wrong, but Oscar’s old guard, unlike John Wayne, is still alive and, well, pissed.

Will Win: Green Book

Could Win: The Favourite

Should Win: First Reformed

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