Tag Archives: The Martian

It’s Not Just #OscarSoWhite. It’s Hollywood

Every few years or so, the members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences like to congratulate themselves on achieving a milestone that demonstrates their tolerance, open-mindedness, and progressive thinking.


When Halle Berry became the first African-American performer to take home the best actress prize in 2002, for instance.

Or when Kathryn Bigelow was given the best director trophy in a small but unprecedented step forward for women filmmakers.

These moments, however, tend to be few and far between, as evidenced by tomorrow’s Oscar ceremony, the second in a row to egregiously exclude black and minority nominees. Thus, the resurrection of last year’s popular Twitter hashtag, #OscarSoWhite.

The lack of diversity in the 88th Academy Awards is even more glaring when you consider the talent Academy voters overlooked this year.

A biopic of seminal rap group N.W.A., “Straight Outta Compton” was critically well received and a box office hit, yet managed to snag only one nomination — for best original screenplay — when many expected it to garner a best picture nod.

The “Rocky” spin-off “Creed” was also critically acclaimed but was shut out, save for a best supporting actor nomination for the film’s sole white star, Sylvester Stallone.

This despite the talents of director Ryan Coogler and star Michael B. Jordan, who previously failed to earn much deserved nominations for their work together in the devastating “Fruitvale Station.” Jordan’s leading lady, Tessa Thompson, also turned heads with her performance.

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Michael B. Jordan in “Creed.”

Other seeming shoo-ins who were not nominated include Idris Elba,for his villainous turn in “Beasts of No Nation,” Elba’s astonishing young co-star, Abraham Attah, and Benicio Del Toro, recognized by several other groups for his supporting turn in “Sicario.”

Chagrin over the Academy’s blatant lack of inclusion has resulted in threats of boycotts — at least on the part of Spike Lee and Jada Pinkett-Smith — and the following statement of remorse issued by (black) Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs:

“I am both heartbroken and frustrated by the lack of inclusion. This is a difficult but important conversation, and it’s time for big changes. The Academy is taking dramatic steps to alter the makeup of our membership.

“… As many of you know, we have implemented changes to diversify our membership in the last four years. But the change is not coming as fast as we would like.”

Indeed, Academy demographics remain alarmingly exclusive. According to the Los Angeles Times, voters are 91% white and 76% male.

The newspaper reported that in 2012, the voting population was 94% white and 77% male, a makeup very similar to what we see today.

Though the Academy has made an effort to recruit more women and minority — not to mention younger — voters to their ranks, progress is slow in an organization in which members are appointed for life.

All things considered, it’s easy to see why a film like “Straight Outta Compton,” which was just as crowd-pleasing, stylishly directed and thrilling as best picture nominees “Brooklyn” or “The Martian,” could be passed over.


Corey Hawkins in “Straight Outta Compton.”

An aging, white audience is probably more likely to relate to the tale of a young Irish immigrant adapting to life in 1950s (aka the good, old days) New York or a saga that glorifies NASA (although it must be said that “The Martian” cast is surprisingly diverse) than a group of rebellious hip-hop artists who regularly ran afoul of the law while rising to the status of rap legends.

Despite losing its momentum to a certain degree in its third act, it’s hard to deny that “Straight Outta Compton” is best picture material. The scene in which Ice Cube, Eazy-E and Dr. Dre defy a police order to perform their infamous anti-cop anthem in a packed Detroit concert hall is as electric a cinematic moment as ever there was.

But let’s face it, if Cube and company were to take the stage to claim Oscar’s top prize, it would be as surreal a moment as when, in 2006, Three 6 Mafia won for their ditty “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” from “Hustle & Flow.”

(This remains, hands down, one of the most amazing Oscar moments of all time.)


The members of Three 6 Mafia show off their Oscars.

The Academy claims it wants to change.

Last month, the organization resolved by 2020 to double the number of women and minorities included in its voting body and instituted new rules allowing the revoking of voting privileges from inactive members.

These measures are a show of good faith, but the fact remains that the Academy isn’t going to change its ways until Hollywood does.

According to the L.A. Times, the group’s demographics reflect the realities of an industry that weaves a cocoon of opportunity, wealth and privilege around a tight band of almost exclusively white insiders.

“The executive branch (of the Academy), which finances the movies and determines what films warrant an awards campaign, is 98% white,” the newspaper said.

“The public relations branch, which strategizes those awards campaigns, is 95% white.

“Other branches reflect the entrenched nature of certain hiring patterns in Hollywood crafts, such as visual effects, which is 98% male, and cinematography, which is 95% male.”

Meanwhile, a recent study reports that only 29% of Hollywood speaking roles are filled by women.


It’s certain that tomorrow night’s Oscar host, Chris Rock, will have a few things to say on this subject.

The comedian recently detailed the absurdities of Hollywood’s racial bias in a blunt, funny, evenhanded essay about the city he works in.

“It’s a white industry,” Rock writes.

“Just as the NBA is a black industry. I’m not even saying it’s a bad thing. It just is.”

Rock points out that, if you happen to be in the minority, Hollywood is a tough place to break into even at the most basic, unskilled job levels.

He writes that there is no such thing as color blind casting in Hollywood (“It was never like, ‘Is it going to be Ryan Gosling or Chiwetel Ejiofor for ‘Fifty Shades of Grey.'”) and that black women may be the most neglected of all performers in the film industry (“You can go to whole movies and not see one black woman.”)

Rock ends his essay on a hopeful note, saying that “change just takes time.”

Let’s hope it doesn’t take 20 more years of #OscarSoWhite for one of America’s greatest industries to correct a wrong it can no longer pass off as just one group’s problem.

Photos: http://www.bet.com, http://www.youtube.com, oscars.go.com.





Leo Out-Survives Matt: A Look at Oscar’s Best Picture Nominees (Part 2)

The Oscars may be so white — as the hashtag declares — but that doesn’t mean the Academy isn’t capable of change.

Hollywood’s most beloved awards institution may have a long way to go where race is concerned, but judging by this year’s best picture nominees, they’re taking some strides, or at least baby steps, whether in embracing a groundbreaking action flick with a bold feminist perspective or hinting they may finally be ready to give Leo that damn Oscar he’s been waiting for since 1994.

All joking aside — I plan to discuss the controversy over race in a separate post this week — the 88th Academy Awards promise to be unpredictable, if not exactly radical or revolutionary. (The ceremony and its accompanying coverage are set to begin at 4 p.m. Sunday on ABC.)

Below, I discuss the remaining four nominees for the best picture Oscar. May the best flick win.

For a look at the other four nominees, check out my previous post


The Martian

If the Oscars were voted by the people, there’s no doubt sci-fi dramedy “The Martian” would capture the best picture prize.

As crowd-pleasers go, the film is a doozy, grossing nearly $620 million worldwide after multiple No. 1 stints at the box office. Everybody wanted to see it. Everybody was talking about it.

At the Golden Globes, “The Martian” landed trophies for best pic in the comedy or musical category — in a bit of clever but odd positioning — and best actor for Matt Damon, also in the comedy category.

Those achievements aside, the movie seems destined to lose on Oscar night to a flick with more gravitas, say “The Revenant,” which is a little ironic for a film about the triumph of the human spirit against the most impossible odds.

Perhaps “The Martian” is easy to dismiss because of its lightness of tone, the way snubbed director Ridley Scott deftly blends humor, intensity and intelligence to portray the ordeal of an astronaut stranded millions of miles from Earth.

Not only does “The Martian” boast impressive visual effects — it’s nominated in that category as well as six others — it makes science look sexy in a way that few movies do. NASA and JPL have never appeared more hip or more glamorous, especially when staffed by the likes of Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Sean Bean and Chiwetel Ejiofor.

Best actor nominee Matt Damon does nerds everywhere a valuable service by making botanist and all-around genius Mark Watney the most hilarious and lovable brainiac we’ve met, effortlessly tossing off witty quips to the camera.

If we’re being honest, “Ex Machina” was the more original, stylish and haunting science-fiction offering of 2015. That said, while several of this year’s best picture nominees work hard to subject their audiences to vicarious tribulation, “The Martian” strives to do nothing more than uplift and entertain.

In a world where cynicism often reigns, that’s no small accomplishment.


The Revenant

Here is why “The Revenant” is almost certainly going to beat “The Martian” and every other film competing for best picture in this year’s Oscar race.

As the only man on Mars, Matt Damon’s stranded astronaut subsists on nothing but potatoes grown from his own manure and figures out some complicated math equations with nothing but terrible disco music and a video log to entertain him.

Tough? Yes.

But compare his hardships to the travails of Leonardo DiCaprio’s strapping fur trapper, Hugh Glass.

In “The Revenant,” Hugh is attacked by vengeful Native Americans, mauled by a raging mama bear, left for dead by his own men, buried alive, forced to cauterize his own wound with gun powder, swims through freezing rapids wearing a massive fur coat, jumps over a cliff on horseback, and then crawls into the animal’s oozing carcass for warmth. (And because said horse carcass was filmed by director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and master cinematographer Emmanual Lubezki, this scene looks like a painting you’d find hanging on the wall of a national gallery.)

On top of all this, Inarritu and his crew endured their own severe trials while filming “The Revenant,” shooting in freezing temperatures with natural light in the wilds of Canada. People almost died! The Academy can’t resist a story like that.

So that is why “The Revenant” is nominated for 12 Oscars, including best director, cinematography, editing, costume design and visual effects, not to mention best actor for DiCaprio and best supporting actor for Tom Hardy, who co-stars as Glass’ scalped and scheming nemesis.

And that is why “The Revenant” won best picture in the drama category at the Golden Globes while Inarritu picked up a trophy for best director. (The film also seized the top prize in other major contests, including the Directors Guild Awards and the BAFTAs.)

That is also why it will finally be Leo’s year after four slights by the Academy in the past. It’s fitting because DiCaprio’s performance in “The Revenant” is like nothing he’s done before, largely silent, deeply physical, with a great, grizzly beard to cover up all that boyish charm.

Yep, it’s the beard that finally did it.

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As a journalist, I can’t help but feel an overwhelming affection for “Spotlight.”

The movie is a slow-burning but suspenseful look at how the Boston Globe’s special investigative team uncovered the scope of the Catholic church’s sexual abuse scandal in the early 2000s, eventually winning a Pulitzer Prize for their reporting.

Directed by writer and character actor Tom McCarthy, “Spotlight” is a disciplined, elegant, old fashioned morality tale in the vein of the iconic “All the President’s Men.” It’s a film that inspires outrage, sorrow, and ultimately hope, but it also happens to perfectly capture a fleeting, not-so-distant era in print journalism.

The events of “Spotlight” begin in 2001, only a few years after I began my career at a local newspaper. The movie sent me flashing back to those glory days of print, shortly before the entire industry imploded. From the demeanor of the reporters, to the clothes they wear, to the look of the newsroom, this film is just like being there.

Those days may be long gone, but I love how “Spotlight” champions thorough, thoughtful, brave reporting, the kind of careful, indispensable journalism that has mostly vanished since the rise of the speedy, sensational, soundbite-ready era of social media. At the same time, the movie is honest enough to acknowledge the limitations of the press.

“Spotlight” features a remarkable ensemble of actors working as a team, just as their characters do in the film, to reveal and clarify a scandal so shocking, sprawling and shrouded in secrecy it was almost impossible to fully grasp at the time of its unfolding.

Liev Schreiber as the new editor — not to mention a Jewish one in a predominantly Catholic town — who pushes his staff to pursue truth at all costs. Michael Keaton as the tenacious but cautious leader of the Spotlight team. Any one of the actors in “Spotlight” could have easily scored nominations.

Rachel McAdams and Mark Ruffalo are the ones the Academy chose to vie for Oscar votes in the best supporting actress and actor categories. Their performances are remarkable, at the very least because they reminded me of some of the fine, dedicated newspaper reporters I used to work with.

“Spotlight” isn’t just a showcase for some truly commendable acting. It’s also a sober recognition of the victims who came forward to expose the church’s abuse, an absorbing procedural detailing the ins and outs of the investigative process, and a gripping reminder of the limitless potential for corruption when power goes unchecked.

Mad Max: Fury Road

“Mad Max: Fury Road” is everything an action buff could ever want in an action movie. But it is also much more than that.

This sequel/reboot/whatever-the-heck-it-is to 1979 post-apocalyptic classic “Mad Max” is groundbreaking in every way, from its technical innovations, to its surreal but immersive fantasy world, to its unprecedented feminist point of view.

No other movie in 2015 thrilled me, captured my imagination and stayed with me like “Fury Road” did. It was hands-down my favorite cinematic experience of the year.

Here’s what I said about it when I included it in my Top 5 list:

“At 70 years old, director George Miller thoroughly overhauled the action movie with this insanely inventive follow-up to his original “Mad Max” trilogy.

“Part environmental fable, part feminist fever dream and 150% high-octane action extravaganza, this irresistible rush of a flick pairs Tom Hardy’s taciturn Max with one of the most bad-ass heroines of all time — Furiosa, a bald, one-armed truck driver played by Charlize Theron in a blend of toughness and true emotion.

“With its tribal-punk-rock-scrapyard-demolition-derby aesthetic, ‘Fury Road’ is a movie of primitive, streamlined power. It’s ferociously bleak and violent but also — dare I say it? — quite lovely.”

The fact that “Fury Road” was nominated for best picture, not to mention nine other trophies, is groundbreaking in itself and virtually unprecedented. For whatever reason, the Academy has been quick to snub action films, especially those with fantasy or science-fiction elements.

We fans of the genre know better though, that action movies can be just as thought-provoking, artful and compelling as weighty dramas, lavish period pieces or nimble comedies.

Because of Oscar’s long-held bias, “Fury Road” isn’t likely to claim the night’s top prize, but its very presence in the ceremony could herald a welcome, overdue shift in the Academy’s thinking.

Photos: http://www.foxmovies.com, http://www.youtube.com.