This year’s slate gives us PSTD-drenched flashbacks to the legion of fanboys defending the honor of their beloved caped crusaders in our various comments sections. Grouse though I may, there’s no denying that even this category’s historical resistance to the superhero genre is futile now that the blockbuster genre has all but taken over blockbuster filmmaking. Or is it? Yes, three of the nominees this year are straight from the Haus of Marvel, but does that change the fact that, barring some borderline exceptions like the first two Indiana Jones films or Forrest Gump, a measly two superhero movies—Superman and Spider-Man 2—have ever actually taken home the award here? Add to that the potential for vote-splitting between the carbon-copy spectacle of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, X-Men: Days of Future Past, and Guardians of the Galaxy, and you’re left with a two-pony race. (You could argue that Guardians’s snarkier tone sets it apart from the other two, but only if its VFX strategy had offered a strong visual corollary.) Three years ago, we were pretty sure that the expressive CGI primates of Rise of the Planet of the Apes would survive the freight train of momentum behind Hugo in the tech categories. The wizardry animating Caesar and his ilk has only improved since 2011, but it bears repeating: Do Academy voters actually like this franchise? Or any franchise? You can count on one finger the number of sequels that have won in Oscar’s most sequel-friendly category in the last 10 years, so you have to assume Interstellar’s going to smack the competition down like a mile-high tidal wave.
Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes (#1–10 of 4)
1. “A Raised Voice.” How Nina Simone turned the movement into music.
“Simone’s explosiveness was well known. In concert, she was quick to call out anyone she noticed talking, to stop and glare or hurl a few insults or even leave the stage. Yet her performances, richly improvised, were also confidingly intimate—she needed the connection with her audience—and often riveting. Even in her best years, Simone never put many records on the charts, but people flocked to her shows. In 1966, the critic for the Philadelphia Tribune, an African-American newspaper, explained that to hear Simone sing ’is to be brought into abrasive contact with the black heart and to feel the power and beauty which for centuries have beat there.’ She was proclaimed the voice of the movement not by Martin Luther King but by Stokely Carmichael and H. Rap Brown, whose Black Power philosophy answered to her own experience and inclinations. As the sixties progressed, the feelings she displayed—pain, lacerating anger, the desire to burn down whole cities in revenge—made her seem at times emotionally disturbed and at other times simply the most honest black woman in America.”
1. “Elaine Stritch R.I.P.” The tart-tongued Brodway actress and singer is dead at 89.
“Plain-spoken, egalitarian, impatient with fools and foolishness, and admittedly fond of cigarettes, alcohol and late nights—she finally gave up smoking and drinking in her 60s, after learning she had diabetes, though she returned to alcohol in her 80s—Ms. Stritch might be the only actor ever to work as a bartender after starring in a Broadway show, and she was completely unabashed about her good-time-girl attitude. ’I’m not a bit opposed to your mentioning in this article that Frieda Fun here has had a reputation in the theater, for the past five or six years, for drinking,’ she said to a reporter for The New York Times in 1968. ’I drink, and I love to drink, and it’s part of my life.”
1. “Interview: Ellen Burstyn.” The Actress on Her Glorious Career, Being Under-Directed, and Wormholes.
“Directors tend to kind of let me do what I want to do. As a matter of fact, when I was doing Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, the one I won my first Emmy for, the director came up and he gave me a direction. He said, ’What do you think about doing it this way?’ And I said, ’Oh, yeah, sure.’ But as he walked away, he said, ’You don’t mind me saying that to you, do you?’ And I said, ’Mind? It’s the first piece of direction I’ve gotten in ten years! I love it!’ I tend to do a lot of homework before I come in, and I offer my interpretation. I haven’t really had the experience of a director not liking it. They’re usually pretty good, enthusiastic partners, but they don’t impose usually a concept over mine. I’ve liked all the directors I’ve worked with a lot. And the ones I like best are the ones that have really good taste about what take was best.”