There’s a director who has been nominated for six Oscars. He even won once. His 2015 film was a critical and commercial success. It made over $350 million and has a 98 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.
There’s another director who has been nominated for...
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There was a lot of paranoia about spoilers in the days and weeks (and months [and years]) leading up to the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Trailers gave almost no indication of a plot beyond the presence of a) stars and b) wars. The official poster didn’t include a picture of Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker for fear of revealing his fate. Even press screenings were delayed until the last possible moment to keep the lid on J.J. Abrams’ latest mystery box for as long as humanly possible.
Did you spend most of the holidays screaming at your television and engaging in debates over Netflix’s Making a Murderer? Was your morning commute last winter accompanied by the voice of Sarah Koenig from Serial’s debut season? Did you totally lose your shit during The Jinx finale? Welcome, fellow true crime TV addict, you are not alone.
Movies have long been a means of escapism, where one can slink away from their chaotic or mediocre lives into the anonymous oasis of a movie theater, or more often lately, into our streaming-equipped bedrooms and living rooms. I often think of Pauline Kael’s “Trash, Art, and the Movies” essay, in which she champions less prestigious pictures, the ones that make the most invigorating, lasting impressions on us, regardless of whether they’re regarded as “the best” films. “It’s the human material we react to most and remember longest,” she wrote. As much as movies enable us to escape the daily responsibilities of life, offering a chance to explore another world for a few hours, sometimes they bring us right back to ourselves. It’s when we’re left alone in the darkness to sit with ourselves that something transformative happens. It’s in those moments that a film, or even television, can lodge itself in our brains or hearts, injecting its roots until blossoming into larger revelations long afterward. Escaping through art can be the most cathartic and revealing process, where what’s on screen ends up holding a mirror back at us, perhaps seeing the things we don’t look at every day outside the theater. I like think Edward Hopper got it right. In one of my favorite paintings, Hopper’s New York Movie, a lone woman stands on the edges of a movie theater, her head down in deep contemplation as a film plays on screen. This is where the personal and the cinematic intersect.
Anyone who’s attended American film school in the last 20 years, has learned a variation of the same Hollywood history of the 1960s and ’70s. With the original moguls near retirement and death, and new competition from television, studios were in dire shape by the end of the ’60s. They reversed their fortunes by embracing younger audiences, adult content and themes, and new filmmakers; men like Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Robert Altman, and Dennis Hopper. But just a few years after this so-called “New Hollywood” era of experimentation began, it was wiped out and replaced by another, far more profitable model pioneered by directors like Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. They took B-movie premises and genres and coated them in A-movie gloss, and their movies — Jaws and Star Wars — essentially reshaped the American movie industry by inventing the concept of the blockbuster.
When Lucasfilm initially announced the lineup for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, it wasn’t long before the studio began populating the cast with exciting choices: Daisy Ridley and John Boyega in lead roles, Gwendoline Christie, Oscar Isaac and Lupita Nyong’o in supporting roles, the return of Carrie Fisher — all of which proved the limitless, inclusive potential of a galaxy far, far away. What we didn’t (and couldn’t) know was just how diverse the flagship film in the new era of Star Wars would actually turn out to be, and it’s all thanks to one very simple, very effective casting choice.
It wasn’t a long time ago or a galaxy far, far away. (It was 2012. In Orlando.) That was the site of the sixth Star Wars Celebration, Lucasfilm’s semiannual convention for all things Jedi. The 2012 edition of the four-day nerdstravaganza included autograph signings, photo ops, Star Wars speed dating, droid races, and something called the “Super-Secret Star Wars Panel with Todd, Seth, and Matt.” “Todd” was animator and director Todd Grimes; “Matt” was Matthew Senreich and “Seth” was Seth Green, the co-creators of the stop-motion animated sketch show Robot Chicken. Their secret: The announcement of a Star Wars television series set between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope called Star Wars: Detours.
The Bechdel test has long been a barometer for the quality and prevalence of female characters in fiction, often cited when we discuss the discrepancy of women in meaningful roles in film and television. In a superficial sense, Jessica Jones and Carol don’t have much in common — aside from strong women in leading roles, thoughtful narratives and fantastic performances — yet both of these stories not only serve as living and breathing examples of earning an A+ on the Bechdel test, but of going a step further by defying the basic, antiquated conventions that necessitated the test in the first place.
Year-end awards are supposed to honor the best in cinema. But it might be more accurate to say they honor a narrow sliver of the best in cinema; only films released from October thru December; only the stuff promoted by the big studios; only movies deemed “important” or “serious” or “biopics about dead famous people.” The impulse to make lists and give out prizes is a good one, but more often than not that impulse results in one big echo chamber, with pundits predicting — and critics and guilds rewarding — the same half-dozen contenders.
It’s rare for a movie trailer to give me chills. But the trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens did.