1. “The Birdcage.” Mark Harris on how Hollywood’s toxic (and worsening) addiction to franchises changed movies forever in 2014.
“Today we have a different model: The modern studio chief loves business, success, replication, and reliability, and nobody expects him to offer even the most cursory nod to anything that smacks of ideals that relate to content; that’s not what he’s there for. [Kevin] Tsujihara has an MBA from Stanford. He started out managing Time Warner’s interest in Six Flags theme parks, then moved to home entertainment, and early last year took over the whole business. He has never produced a movie; in fact, he is the first studio head to rise in the ranks purely through brand extension and ancillary divisions, and brand extension is what he’s all about. Besides the DC announcement, his big accomplishments have been to nail down those three additional Rowling movies to add to the studio’s portfolio of eight, and to turn one Lego movie into four—a ninja Lego movie, a Batman Lego movie, and (for purists, I suppose) The Lego Movie 2. This is what successful purveyors of goods do; they make more of what sells, they cull what doesn’t from the lineup, and they seek to create products in which quality-of-execution variability is never going to be too much of a wild card. MGM’s old, gloriously lofty motto was ’Ars Gratia Artis’; today, the only thing written in invisible ink on every studio gate is ’More of What Works,’ a credo that would be right at home at the entrance to any manufacturing plant.”
2. “She had a dream: the woman who brought Martin Luther King to the big screen.” Ava DuVernay was that rarity, a black female film director in a white man’s world. This is how she stepped up to record a moment in history that changed America for ever.
“Selma is certainly modest when compared to mega-blockbusters, where $200m production budgets are no longer uncommon. (Throw in more for marketing and distribution.) For independents, though, and especially for women, it’s significant. (The production budget often cited for Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker is about $15m.) The day I visited the Selma set, I was struck by how DuVernay had made the leap from low-budget film-making with a handful of people to commanding hundreds. ’I just need some white racists on this side!’ she yelled at one point. She later complained that the day had been chaotic, but she looked fully in command, her long hair tucked under a scarf, whether riding shotgun on a cart with Bradford Young or on the ground. Later, when lunch was called, DuVernay greeted the extras who poured off the bridge, calling out thanks and giving and receiving hugs. Among the marchers were men and women who had been there when the tear gas and blood were real. The march, she said, is ’a sensitive subject matter to that community’, and she was navigating through a weighty legacy.”
3. “Top 5 Experimental Films of 2014.” Michael Sicinski ponders what paradigms we’ve dislodged today.
“Even if innovation was in short supply, it was hardly absent. My top five films from this year all displayed something new. In some cases that something new was a way of organizing image and sound material that departed from shopworn avant-garde maneuvers; in other cases it was a posture or an attitude with regard to structure or representation, a refusal to adhere to established concepts of what experimental film looks like. Almost all of them expand the more time you spend with them. A few resemble documentary but are actually meticulously constructed. Others seem more overtly political than others, until those subtler works reveal their relationships of image, identity, and form, engaging in social and political discourse by other means.”
4. ”Mommy and Me.” Why Xavier Dolan’s Film Is Kyle Turner’s Boyhood.
“I spent my summer living in a suitcase, basically. I lived with my best friend for a couple of months and living with a couple of other friends because I was not allowed at home. The day I came home from university for the summer, I got into an altercation with my mother. She lunged at me. I struck her in the arm. She grabbed my wrists and twisted my arm. She slapped me in the face. It happened so quickly, all I can remember was the bubbling of my boiling blood, the tracks the tears left on our faces, and the shame I felt immediately after it had happened. As in Mommy, the world closed in on us. The next day, she went to police to ask about how to deal with the situation. It was mandatory, though, that the state press charges against me. I was arrested that afternoon. That event was the culmination of emotional and physical abuse on both of our ends after several years. It was the volcanic eruption of tension, hate, fear, sorrow, loss, the desire for love and validation.”
5. “The 19 Best Art Shows of 2014.” Vulture’s Jerry Saltz shares his picks.
“Art is born of many things, among them righteous indignation, messianic rage, and the drive for justice. Emma Sulkowicz’s powerful performance piece Carry That Weight comes from all these places and from great activist art as well, highlighting not just her trauma but the way Columbia turned a blind eye to it. Sulkowicz’s gesture is clear, to the point, insistent, adamant. Since September, she’s simply carried around campus, alone or with the offered help of others, a 50-pound mattress identical to the one on which she says she was raped. Enough said. The world heard, yet Columbia continues to look the other way; Sulkowicz continues to perform. Carry That Weight may not result in justice, but it may make universities think twice before looking past the plight of women. This work is pure radical vulnerability.”
Video of the Day: Terrence Malick’s Knight of Cups gets an official trailer:
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