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Occupy Wall Street (#110 of 17)

Oscar Prospects: The Dark Knight Rises

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Oscar Prospects: The Dark Knight Rises
Oscar Prospects: The Dark Knight Rises

For those who thought 2012 would be the year in which the Academy made amends to Christopher Nolan, that auteur of urban spectacle whom many believe has twice been robbed of a directing nod, a certain mad gunman likely dashed those already slim hopes. Before James Eagan Holmes opened fire in a Colorado screening of The Dark Knight Rises, ultimately leaving 12 viewers dead, there might have been a chance for Nolan’s trilogy capper to at least crack the Best Picture shortlist, if not shuffle him into the running for Best Director. It wouldn’t have been the first time Oscar voters rallied around a beloved hopeful, anointing his latest work as a way to honor all of his recent output (which, it should be noted, has made gajillions of dollars for the industry). But many will probably prefer to make a statement with abstention, celebrating films that don’t stoke the fire of the whole too-much-violence-in-cinema argument. It’s absurd that a freak incident, albeit tragic, is causing such drastic Hollywood ripple effects (like the re-cuttingof the upcoming Gangster Squad), and it’s a bit of a shame that, on top of all else, such a nasty PR mess had to befall the folks at Warner Bros. But all that says nothing of the movie’s disappointing stance as the weakest of Nolan’s Batman epics. Even if there’d been no bloodshed beyond what appears on screen, The Dark Knight Rises likely wouldn’t have reached its expectations as a reparative honoree, making up for the 2008 Best Pic snub that allegedly revived the 10-wide field.

Winding Down Occupy! Scenes from Occupied America

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Winding Down: Occupy! Scenes from Occupied America
Winding Down: Occupy! Scenes from Occupied America

Occupy! Scenes from Occupied America, the latest book from the editors of the Brooklyn-based literary journal n+1, would seem to have arrived just in time. As I write, much of what Occupy Wall Street meant in 2011 looks as though it will be a memory in 2012. Major occupations throughout the country, including the flagship encampment at Zuccotti Park, have been dismantled. Others that remain, like the one in Washington, D.C., face the growing threat of eviction and the deteriorating weather of a North American winter in full effect. Mainstream media coverage, ambivalent even during the movement’s high watermark, has turned definitively to a more reassuring, if less comprehensible, strain of political theater in the Republican presidential primary. Whether or not this decline in profile and enthusiasm is permanent, the evident phase-change merits a look back at the movement’s first chapter.

The writings assembled in Occupy!—from the journal’s editors, as well as other writers and thinkers sympathetic to OWS—chronicle the movement’s first month and a half, from the settlement by protesters in a small park in New York City’s Financial District, to eventual expansions in Oakland, Atlanta, Philadelphia, and Boston. The book consists of first-person anecdotes about life and activity within the occupations, as well as essays on various theoretical and practical aspects of the movement as it grew. Many of these pieces originally appeared in the Occupy! Gazette, a special newspaper printed by n+1, and on the journal’s blog where content about OWS is regularly posted. Also reprinted are speeches made at encampments in New York by Judith Butler, Angela Davis, and Slavoj Žižek. The book’s account ends two weeks before the Zuccotti eviction and the subsequent Day of Action on November 17 that found some 30,000 marchers in the streets. The preface acknowledges that these events took place as the book was going to print, and its posture is one of defiance: “You can pull up the flowers but you can’t stop the spring…The movement and this book are not over.” It sets the tone for much of what is to come, namely articulate endorsement of its subject. For all the collection’s problems, mistaking its audience isn’t one of them.

Oscar Prospects: Margin Call

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Oscar Prospects: Margin Call
Oscar Prospects: Margin Call

Margin Call is an awards season anomaly, an off-the-radar drama that, even after having performed well at festivals, never seemed to be a serious player, its tacky posters and mishmash cast of (mostly) B-Listers suggesting a gem bound for little more than a cult life on video. But after netting some very good ink from some top Gotham critics, one of whom dubbed it “the best Wall Street movie ever made,” the film became an unlikely buzz gainer, and went on to collect three Independent Spirit Awards citations (two nods and a Robert Altman Award win), a National Board of Review Spotlight Award for first-time writer/director J.C. Chandor, and a Best First Film award for Chandor from the New York Film Critics Circle. The artistic community’s general support of—or, at the very least, deep fascination with—the Occupy Wall Street movement has certainly helped this smart, well-acted, dawn-of-collapse thriller to gain attention beyond a Certified Fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes. But the perception of certain critics—and wannabe tastemakers who fancy themselves critics—that Margin Call is a bona fide Oscar candidate in multiple categories, including Best Picture, is the stuff of wishful delusion.

UC Davis: A Lesson in Civil Disobedience

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UC Davis: A Lesson in Civil Disobedience
UC Davis: A Lesson in Civil Disobedience

By now you’ve seen the video and heard the outrage: A group of student demonstrators at the University of California Davis supporting the Occupy Wall Street movement and protesting violent police action against University of Berkeley protesters two weeks earlier were pepper-sprayed by UC Davis police. If the incident doesn’t become an iconic, defining moment of the Occupy movement a la images of black Americans being hosed down by police during the civil rights movement, it has at least galvanized the cause and ignited a long-overdue debate about police aggression circa 2011.

While the UC Davis police were acting on orders by the university’s chancellor, Linda Katehi, it’s unlikely she instructed Lt. John Pike to nonchalantly stroll up and down and shower the students with military-grade pepper spray at point-blank range like he was killing cockroaches in his kitchen. No reasonable civilian would begrudge police officers their right to protect themselves while in the line of duty, but despite UC Davis Police Chief Annette Spicuzza’s statement that the pepper spray was used because students were preventing the officers from leaving, video and photographs of the incident contradict her account. Even Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly—who likened pepper spray to a nice, peppery vinaigrette on The O’Reilly Factor last night—thinks Spicuzza’s claim is bogus.