House Logo
Explore categories +

The Help (#110 of 22)

Macklemore, Warped Queer Advocacy, and Why Dallas Buyers Club is One of the Year’s Worst Films

Comments Comments (...)

Macklemore, Warped Queer Advocacy, and Why <em>Dallas Buyers Club</em> is One of the Year’s Worst Films
Macklemore, Warped Queer Advocacy, and Why <em>Dallas Buyers Club</em> is One of the Year’s Worst Films

A few months back, I was driving out of New York, and Macklemore’s “Same Love” came on the radio. It was the rare Top 40 track with markedly gay-themed lyrics that had nothing to do with Lady Gaga. And it was rap. I’ll freely confess that music is my weak spot as a popular-media journalist, and I’ll admit that I jumped to some serious stereotyping conclusions when I heard the song. Though it didn’t have, from what I’ve gathered, Frank Ocean’s cool poetic stylings, I instantly assumed “Same Love” was by Ocean, because, ya know, he’s the most popular queer rapper. Perhaps the lyrics marked some hypothetical experiment—an instance of a (mostly) out artist using words like “if I was gay” to reimagine the experiences of growing up closeted (or questioning) through the eyes of a contrived straight person. Regardless of what this knee-jerk reading might say about my inability to discern one rapper’s musicality from another’s, it all felt, well, nice: Here was a queer artist with an explicitly gay-themed song that, while not even particularly catchy, was getting major play on a major radio station. Inevitably, I quickly learned that my Frank Ocean song wasn’t by Frank Ocean at all, but by a white, straight rapper who was ostensibly sticking up for me and his gay uncles. To crudely summarize a swirl of conflicted feelings, suddenly the song wasn’t so nice, and, definitely, wasn’t so cool.

Oscar Prospects: Zero Dark Thirty

Comments Comments (...)

Oscar Prospects: Zero Dark Thirty
Oscar Prospects: Zero Dark Thirty

Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty was certainly made to seem special, kept under tight lock and key before being slowly, strategically unveiled at year’s end, but few pundits likely predicted the gravity of the film’s Oscar potential, and that Bigelow may well have another winner on her hands. As 2012 winds down, it’s beginning to feel a lot like 2009, when The Hurt Locker stormed ahead as the little contender that could, and sat poised to not just claim the Academy’s top prize, but make Bigelow its first female Best Director. If you want to go by precursor buzz alone, Zero Dark Thirty has now stepped ahead of Lincoln as this year’s Best Picture frontrunner, claiming top kudos from The New York Film Critics Circle, and topping the 10-Best lists of early-out-of-the-gate critics like David Edelstein and Lisa Schwarzbaum (Owen Gleiberman and Richard Corliss, who also revealed their lists, included it among their picks as well). For whatever it’s worth in this early stage, the film also picked up five nods from the International Press Academy, landing Satellite nominations for Picture, Director, Actress (Jessica Chastain), Original Screenplay (Mark Boal), and Editing (Dylan Tichenor). And as of this very writing, the National Board of Review has named Zero Dark Thirty its Best Film of the Year, with Bigelow taking the Director trophy. It’s more than safe to assume that the movie has an ironclad slot in Oscar’s top race, if not a damn good shot at ending up ahead of the pack.

The Conversations: Bamboozled

Comments Comments (...)

The Conversations: Bamboozled
The Conversations: Bamboozled

Ed Howard: Towards the end of Spike Lee’s viciously funny media parody Bamboozled, there’s a shootout between the police and a militant rap group in which all the black members of the group are quickly killed, leaving behind the one white guy (played by MC Serch of real-life hip-hop outfit 3rd Bass). As the cops put him in cuffs, this one survivor repeatedly cries out to them, “Why didn’t you shoot me?” It’s such a poignant moment because he seems to be pleading with them, begging them to treat him the way they’d treated the black members of the group, demanding that he not be spared because of the color of his skin. He’s so upset, not only because his friends are all dead, but because he’s realized an essential truth that Lee is getting at in this movie: no matter how well he’d fit in with his black peers, no matter how fully he’d been accepted by them and participated in their work, he was still separated from them, cut off from their experience of the world at a very basic level over which he could have no control.

Throughout the film, Lee has multiple characters try to take on the attributes of a race other than the one indicated by the color of their skin: black people trying to sound white, white people trying to sound black, and of course many people of various races donning blackface as a TV-inspired fad. For the most part, Lee has nothing but contempt for these characters; MC Serch’s character is the one arguable exception, and in the end he can no more escape the color of his skin and what it means than anyone else in the film. I’m starting at the end, to some degree, because this sequence is so suggestive of the film’s themes, and also because we should probably admit up front that we’re two white guys about to discuss a film that has a very provocative and challenging view of race and racism. It’s a film that’s at least in part about how it’s all but impossible for one race to understand the experience of another—especially whites thinking they understand what it means to be black.

Bamboozled follows the black TV executive Pierre Delacroix (Damon Wayans) as he develops a blackface minstrel show that he thinks will expose the racist attitudes of the media but only winds up feeding into and inflaming that racism. I didn’t entirely know what to make of this movie when it came out in 2000, but I’ve come to believe that it’s one of Lee’s best, right up there with Do the Right Thing. A bold satire that doesn’t pull any punches, Bamboozled is a deeply discomfiting film that’s purposefully exaggerated and outlandish and yet is packed with real-world references that ground its satire—even that shootout with the white survivor is based on real events. Lee is exploring the history of racist entertainment in the US, and as the closing montage makes clear, he’s suggesting that the same forces that made Birth of a Nation and the vaudeville caricatures of comics like Mantan Moreland so popular are still very much present, in a more covert way, in the modern American entertainment industry. As a result, Bamboozled does what great satire always does: it takes a scenario that should seem ridiculous—it’s hard to imagine an actual blackface variety show being aired on American TV today—and uses it to explore the submerged but very real racial attitudes that underpin all sorts of entertainment that only seems less racist than Delacroix’s Mantan: The New Millennium Minstrel Show.

Oscar 2012 Composite Winner Predictions

Comments Comments (...)

Oscar 2012 Composite Winner Predictions
Oscar 2012 Composite Winner Predictions

Below is a complete list of our predicted winners at the 2012 Academy Awards.

Picture: The Artist
Directing: Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist
Actor: Jean Dujardin, The Artist
Actress: Viola Davis, The Help
Actor in a Supporting Role: Christopher Plummer, Beginners
Actress in a Supporting Role: Octavia Spencer, The Help
Original Screenplay: Midnight in Paris
Adapted Screenplay: The Descendants
Foreign Language Film: In Darkness
Documentary Feature: Undefeated
Animated Feature Film: Rango
Documentary Short: Saving Face
Animated Short: The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore
Live Action Short: Tuba Atlantic
Film Editing: Hugo
Art Direction: Hugo
Cinematography: Hugo
Costume Design: Hugo
Makeup: The Iron Lady
Score: The Artist
Song: “Man or Muppet,” The Muppets
Sound Editing: Hugo
Sound Mixing: Hugo
Visual Effects: Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Oscar 2012 Winner Predictions: Picture

Comments Comments (...)

Oscar 2012 Winner Predictions: Picture
Oscar 2012 Winner Predictions: Picture

That the Best Picture category’s “Will it be six or will it be seven?” question was settled as close to 10 as possible without actually being 10 isn’t merely a mark of how much of a mess this year’s Oscars are. It’s also proof positive that, despite paying lip service to the hundreds of films “eligible” to be nominated for Best Picture, by the time publicists and studios have had their say, there are never more than maybe two dozen movies in the mix. If nine movies in this hardly vintage year could reach the minimum requirement of being listed first on five percent of all ballots, then frankly the bar isn’t high enough. Even if the board of directors fixes what they’ve broken and revert next year to the five-deep slate, no matter how heartening it is for fans of The Tree of Life (which exists in an entirely different league from the rest of the other nominees) or Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (ditto), it can’t seem like much of an honor to be nominated now that the category’s perverse sliding scale has revealed just how limited Oscar voters obviously see their pool of choices.

Oscar 2012 Winner Predictions: Adapted Screenplay

Comments Comments (...)

Oscar 2012 Winner Predictions: Adapted Screenplay
Oscar 2012 Winner Predictions: Adapted Screenplay

Conventional wisdom suggested that adaptations of the biggest bestsellers would make up much of this year’s shortlist—barring, perhaps, the sourly gynecidal Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and its nightstick-in-the-naughty-hole vengeance. So it’s something of a blessing that the 100-odd-page translations of Kathryn Stockett’s The Help and Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, whose own wisdom is quite conventional indeed, weren’t counted among those movies’ recognized achievements. The best-known tome to see its adaptation make it into the final five is John le Carré’s inimitable classic Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, just one reason this category boasts one of the 2012 Oscar season’s finest lineups. Since politics can never be ignored, it’s worth noting that Tinker Tailor has an extra edge here considering nominee Peter Straughan’s wife and co-writer, Bridget O’Connor, passed away before the film hit theaters. But then again, such a sad truth may be precisely what got the unsure hopeful over the nomination hump, and a second sympathy-boosted triumph doesn’t seem likely.

Oscar Winner Predictions 2012: Supporting Actress

Comments Comments (...)

Oscar Winner Predictions 2012: Supporting Actress
Oscar Winner Predictions 2012: Supporting Actress

It’s more than just a little politically chancy but still unavoidable to look at Octavia Spencer’s sunny Oscar odds though the filter of co-star Viola Davis’s ascendance in the Best Actress category. But if voters are capable of feeling all right with themselves for rewarding Jessica Chastain’s miracle year with what most cognizant viewers recognize as one of the least distinguished of her six or seven roles last year, then we don’t feel quite as bad regarding Spencer and Davis as a mutually beneficial tag team, a thematic (ahem) salt-and-pepper-shaker duo that makes audiences feel mighty proud about honoring both. If anything, it’s Spencer’s role as The Help’s secret ingredient-wielding Minny Jackson (the maid who knows her value and thus must remind herself “no sass” even when walking up to Chastain’s absurdly understanding heiress) that strikes the most direct hit upon the movie’s target audience. Davis’s Aibileen absorbs an unjust world’s every last dribble of shit, but Minny literally excretes it and serves it up with a smirk. In the end, both women get to dress down Bryce Dallas Howard’s microcosmic representation of Southern evil, but only one of them has the satisfaction of sending her gagging out of the room.

Oscar 2012 Winner Predictions: Actress

Comments Comments (...)

Oscar 2012 Winner Predictions: Actress
Oscar 2012 Winner Predictions: Actress

At this point, being a Meryl Streep diehard who also cares about Oscar hoopla is a kind of brutal self-flagellation. Year after year, be it a silver fox in a royalty role, a can’t-miss Brit in a Holocaust film, or a rom-com sweetheart awarded for years of box-office gajillions, there’s always someone younger, fresher, or less-anointed to make voters feel better about passing on Streep, their near-perennial Oscar queen. This year, of course, the guilt-free alternative is Viola Davis, whose movie-carrying brilliance in The Help is fortified by the unavoidable race discussion, which, whether you pray at the church of Tate Taylor or Tavis Smiley, is all but certain to catapult her to victory. Up to now, Streep and Davis have more or less split the precursor trophies, and Streep has a fresh Kennedy Center Honor and Berlinale career kudo in her corner, but it’s next to impossible to imagine Davis’s snowballing awards narrative being derailed in the place where it would wring the most tears. Yes, a 2012 Best Actress win for a black woman in a maid role sends all kinds of regressive messages, but stronger yet is the voter urge to self-congratulate by coloring Oscar history, however sad the truth of the matter. Indeed, Streep had better hope she stays in her seat, for a win might make her look as monstrous as the shrew she so embodies in The Iron Lady.

Oscar 2012 Winner Predictions: Animated Feature

Comments Comments (...)

Oscar 2012 Winner Predictions: Animated Feature
Oscar 2012 Winner Predictions: Animated Feature

Putting aside the Academy’s shocking diss of Steven Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin in this category, I was with Eric here at first: “I guess we should never underestimate this branch’s desire to make the category look like it deserves to exist.” The branch, after all, passed up Cars 2 and Happy Feet Two, films few seem willing to go out on a limb for—and Winnie the Pooh, well, that wasn’t exactly the second coming of The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. But after rallying to see the five films that made the final cut, I’m thinking that singing penguins might have actually legitimized this category.

The most delightfully animated feature in this bunch, Kung Fu Panda 2 is still at best a slab of warmed-over holiday seconds, and one whose statistical chance of winning is perhaps smaller than Demián Bichir’s. Then you have Puss in Boots, another glossy trifle from the House that Shrek Built that frequently, if shamelessly, brought a smile to the face of this recently anointed cat person. A better dissertation on family than either of them is The Cat in Paris, the wafer-thin but quaint account of a young French girl who discovers that her kitty moonlights as a jewel thief’s partner in crime. The film gets my personal vote by virtue of being the most unpretentious and least corporate-looking nominee in the category.