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American Excess

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American Excess

Last night’s American Idol finale was an exercise in excess, with award-show posturing complete with faux awards presented by host Ryan Seacrest and superstar guest performances, including Fergie—who awkwardly warbled through her hit “Big Girls Don’t Cry” before being joined by her fellow Black Eyed Peas for a performance of their latest single, “Boom Boom Pow,” a song that does the exact opposite of epitomizing a singing competition—and a seemingly dazed and confused Rod Stewart. The only thing missing was a dry-ice-and-fire-filled group performance of Queen’s “We Are the Champions.” Oh, wait, there it is.

I stopped paying attention to the conveyor belt of alternately mediocre-but-smartly-packaged and quirky-but-completely-unmarketable talent that is Idol around the time that viewers gifted themselves with Taylor Hicks, but it’s clear the show is close to buckling under the weight of its over-bloated surfeit. In many ways, the finale was perfectly married to the season’s purported frontrunner, 27-year-old neo-glam rocker Adam Lambert—he of the man-polish, eyeliner, jet-black emo hairdo, and heavy-metal shriek. Lambert was joined on stage at one point by Kiss for an over-the-top spectacle of a duet that involved, yes, more dry ice and fire.

So it was poetic, perhaps even cosmically auto-corrective, when “dark horse” Kris Allen—he of the unthreatening, boy-next-door good looks and multi-instrumental skills—upset Lambert for the win. Allen’s Idol journey ended just as it began, with an endearing modesty and accessibility (even his reaction to winning was restrained, a striking contrast to Lambert’s theatrical bombast) and an understated performance style that’s focused on the music itself. And yet he held his own alongside country superstar Keith Urban during the finale, displaying a down-home authenticity that will likely be a hell of a lot more bankable in the real world than Lambert’s melodramatic, sexually ambiguous (at least to the tween girls who voted for him) glam show.

While there are some who are quick to point to the media’s apparently “coded” characterizations of Lambert to explain Allen’s “surprise” win (am I not allowed to use the word “theatrical” without fear of being labeled a homophobe?), 12-year-old girls are unlikely to be swayed by a bunch of bloggers…or Simon Cowell. If last night’s finale is any indication, the producers of Idol had been grooming the admittedly talented Lambert for the win, but America clearly had other ideas. Maybe now the show will take a cue and tone down the, uh, theatrics and get back to basics.

This blog entry was originally published on Slant Magazine on the date above.

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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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Watch: Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir, Starring Honor Swinton Byrne and Tilda Swinton, Gets First Trailer

Joanna Hogg has been flying under the radar for some time, but that’s poised to change in a big way.

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A24
Photo: A24

British film director and screenwriter Joanna Hogg, whose impeccably crafted 2013 film Exhibition we praised on these pages for its “disarming mixture of the remarkable and the banal,” has been flying under the radar for the better part of her career. But that’s poised to change in a big way with the release of her latest film, The Souvenir, which won the Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Prior to the film’s world premiere at the festival, A24 and Curzon Artificial Eye acquired its U.S. and U.K. distribution rights, respectively. Below is the official description of the film:

A shy but ambitious film student (Honor Swinton Byrne) begins to find her voice as an artist while navigating a turbulent courtship with a charismatic but untrustworthy man (Tom Burke). She defies her protective mother (Tilda Swinton) and concerned friends as she slips deeper and deeper into an intense, emotionally fraught relationship that comes dangerously close to destroying her dreams.

And below is the film’s first trailer:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t9Al2nC0vzY

A24 will release The Souvenir on May 17.

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Awards

Oscar 2019 Winner Predictions: Sound Mixing

For appealing to voters’ nostalgia for drunken karaoke nights of yore, one film has the upper hand here.

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20th Century Fox
Photo: 20th Century Fox

Given what Eric wrote about the sound editing category yesterday, it now behooves me to not beat around the bush here. Also, it’s my birthday, and there are better things for me to do today than count all the ways that Eric and I talk ourselves out of correct guesses in the two sound categories, as well as step on each other’s toes throughout the entirety of our Oscar-prediction cycle. In short, it’s very noisy. Which is how Oscar likes it when it comes to sound, though maybe not as much the case with sound mixing, where the spoils quite often go to best picture nominees that also happen to be musicals (Les Misérables) or musical-adjacent (Whiplash). Only two films fit that bill this year, and since 2019 is already making a concerted effort to top 2018 as the worst year ever, there’s no reason to believe that the scarcely fat-bottomed mixing of Bryan Singer’s Bohemian Rhapsody will take this in a walk, for appealing to voters’ nostalgia for drunken karaoke nights of yore.

Will Win: Bryan Singer’s Bohemian Rhapsody

Could Win: A Star Is Born

Should Win: First Man

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