What are the most important zombie films?

nightlivingdeadgirlAs a film geek and pop culture nerd, I have always enjoyed a good monster story.  When I was young, I was more interested in vampires, but as I got older, zombies gained some ground.  I have to confess, though, I’ve never much cared for werewolves.  Vampires are all about sex and immortality and danger and loss of innocence.  Zombies are a metaphor either for the inevitability of death or pandemics or human meddling in science beyond their ken.  Werewolves are I guess about how people are fundamentally animalistic or something.  Whatever.  Werewolves — ain’t nobody got time for that.

Point being, I have like 3 degrees in film and media and so therefore I am an expert on the evolution of the genre of zombies.  So, if you want to know what the most important zombie films are, you’re going to have to click the link over to Bite Club blog.  They’re in chronological order, not in order of importance.

They’re coming to get you, Barbara.

Tonight at 7PM EST – The Ashley F Miller Show Episode 3

Join me, Kate Donovan, and Adam Lee of Daylight Atheism as we talk:

Politics: Sterilization of Prisoners in California

Media: The Lone Ranger and the representation of Native Americans in film

Guest choice: The stigma of mental illness

You can RSVP to the “event” here and, when the hangout is on-air, it should send you a link of the YouTube page, or just come back here at 7 and the YouTube link will be up.

This is filmed in front of a live internet audience — if you’ve got input feel free to get in touch before or during the show by commenting here, on youtube, or on the event page.

It will also be edited and released as a podcast.

Podcast website: http://ashleyfmiller.libsyn.com/webpage

Podcast RSS: http://ashleyfmiller.libsyn.com/rss

Podcast on iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/the-ashley-f-miller-show/id666564480

Tonight at 7PM EST – The Ashley F Miller Show Episode 2

Join me, JT Eberhard of What Would JT Do?, and Nicholas Thurkettle of his eponymous blog as we talk:

Politics: Wendy Davis

Media: World War Z and the political nature of zombies

Guest choice: the surprise success of The Heat.

You can RSVP to the “event” here and it should send you a link of the YouTube page, or just come back here at 7 and the YouTube link will be up.

This is filmed in front of a live internet audience — if you’ve got input feel free to get in touch before or during the show by commenting here, on youtube, or on the event page.

It will also be edited and released as a podcast.

Podcast website: http://ashleyfmiller.libsyn.com/webpage

Podcast RSS: http://ashleyfmiller.libsyn.com/rss

Podcast on iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/the-ashley-f-miller-show/id666564480

Starting a Podcast/Live show – Feedback appreciated

Like this but with long hair. And in color.

Like this but with long hair. And in color.

So, for a very long time now I’ve been interested in starting a podcast.  Mostly because it seems like the perfect way to grow an audience and create more space for my public intellectualism, but partially because I used to do a vlog and I really enjoyed it.  I quit, however, because it brought so much harassment down on me that I couldn’t cope at the time.  I am ready to try it again.

If anyone has any thoughts, especially on the tech side of things, I’m interested in hearing them.

The idea as it stands right now is as follows, which is still very flexible:

The Intersectional Atheist: Dismantling Media, Culture, and Politics

What: A discussion of current political, media, and cultural events from an intersectional and atheist perspective.  Intersectionality is the study of how different kinds of oppression interact.  Focused on the ways in which race, class, gender, sexuality, religion, and geography interact to create systems of oppression — in the media and in the law.

Featuring three 10 minute discussions

  1. Political/Legal current events
  2. Media representation issue
  3. Guest choice

When: Weekly (Monday evenings est?)

Where: Google+ hangout on air to podcast

Who: Me and at least one other host a week

I get e-mail — Cinematic Appraisals: “Mind Science” or Pseudoscience

polygraphI got a very hurt e-mail from someone yesterday.

A few years ago, before I was at Freethoughtblogs, I wrote an article about a service offered to film producers called “Cinematic Appraisals”.  I had recently optioned my screenplay and I was generally up-to-date with everything, but a friend sent me a link to their site telling me I would have a field day.  It still reads like fake science and a potential scam, especially at $50/page, but I now also know that they are so unprofessional that they didn’t even realize I was the second highest Google result until a client pointed it out to them.

Of course, now that I have been reminded of their existence, I have to write about them again.

A potential client mentioned your blog as a top result when searching our company name, Cinematic Appraisals.

We are a small company that performs emotional response testing for investors and have no idea how we ever drew your negative attention. The Home page of our website states that we do not work for writers or agents (we refer them to The Writer’s Store, which offers a smaller-scale emotional response section at no additional charge with their script coverage).

Would you please do us the courtesy of explaining how our services have affected you and how you have determined those services are fraudulent, or of kindly removing the damaging post? Again, we are a small business who puts a great deal of time and care into the work we perform.

The really charming part of the website is where it explains it’s “patented” science, which sounds like someone holds onto an e-meter or is attached to a lie detector while reading the screenplay and they measure the “results”.  While there is some science being done to measure reactions to movies, as far as I have been able to find, there are absolutely no conclusions and nothing that could be extrapolated to reading a screenplay.

THE SCIENCE BEHIND THE MIND SCIENCE METHOD

Cinematic Appraisals’ patent-pending Mind Science Method is based on neuroscientific research (citation needed) conducted (by whom) over the last 40 years (citation needed). The Mind Science Method measures neurobiological triggers and reactions (how), assigning a proven value (citation needed) for each level (of what).

It’s long been known (by whom) that moviegoers psychologically fall into a state of “suspended disbelief” (citation needed) when watching stories play out on film (which is not the same as reading a screenplay), which is just the beginning of what goes on in the psyche and the body during film watching (citation needed). Viewers’ physiological responses also fluctuate depending upon their level of involvement with the story and action (citation needed). While watching something highly stimulating, the human body releases a host of limbic chemical responses (citation needed, which responses). The dose of chemicals released is proportionate to the level of emotional stimuli (citation needed), creating lasting emotions (citation really needed).

In other words, when the protagonist runs, the connected viewer’s heart rate will increase (citation needed). When the protagonist holds his breath, so does the connected viewer (citation needed). This state has been compared (by whom) to the state of partial hypnosis (not even “full hypnosis”? a state not entirely recognized by science, citation needed) —a state normally only achieved when dreaming (hypnosis and dreaming are the same? citation needed).

The Mind Science Method gauges this degree of connection with the material (the screenplay, they have, of course, been talking about watching movies, not reading) using our unique patented neurobiological algorithms (patented apparently means “not gonna tell you anything”). This allows the producer to tell when the screenplay produces this hypnotic-like state—and when it does not (citation needed). This allows a producer to reverse-engineer the screenplay to create one audiences will love (evidence?), before going through the expense of production.

Proven in the lab (citation needed) and the real world (citation needed) to correlate (ah, correlation) with neurobiological responses (which have apparently not been “proven” to correlate with success of a film).

The Mind Science Method has been lab tested (by whom) and is proven to correlate (but not measure?) with the actual psychophysiological responses of a subject to the screenplay. Testing measured neurobiological activity with a variety of electrodermal equipment including galvanic skin monitor, electromyrograms, a zygomaticaus, a corrogator, an EEG and EKG MP150WSW with Tel100C remote monitoring module data acquisition system (does this just mean lie detector?).

Over the course of years of testing and development, the Mind Science Method has been used to objectively (lol) rate more than 30 scripts for films with known gross box office receipts (and how did they do?), verifying the validity of our method (but not well enough for us to share the validity measures) and giving us a statistical basis (citations???) for predicting the success of a script with known Mind Science Method scores.

My response to the woman who e-mailed me was simple:

I am a blogger who writes about the entertainment world and skepticism. A producer who is a friend of mine alerted me to your website and I wrote about it, as I imagine you got from the original post, because the “mind science” as explained on your website seems to be pseudo-science and you provide no detailed explanation or scientific corroboration of your methods.

I am happy to write further about the science behind your service if you are willing to provide any peer-reviewed, scientific studies. Or any further information about what exactly the service you provide is, how it works, why it costs that much, any evidence that the responses you measure are accurate measures of emotions, any evidence that emotional responses are related to film success, or any projects that have been successful through your help.

OSCAR Liveblog

12:04 Seth McFarlane was pretty good.  Best moment? JLaw tripping and laughing about it and Ben Affleck crying.

12:02 Closing number from Chenoweth.  GAYEST OSCARS EVER.  WE ALL WIN.

11:57 17/23

Best Picture:

Will win: Argo
Should win: Django Unchained
Should have been nominated: Hunger Games

11:54 Michelle Obama is gorgeous.  Jack is gross, but, you know, adorable in his gross way.

11:53 SHELLEY!?!??!?!!!!

11:52 Meryl and DDL are like prom king and queen of this shit forever. Jack Nicholson is perennial class clown.

11:49 Jennifer Lawrence wins for Best Animated GIF!!!

Daniel Day-Lewis is funnier than the host.

11:48 16/22

Best Actor:

Will win: Daniel Day-Lewis for Lincoln
Should win: Joaquin Phoenix for The Master
Should have been nominated: Anthony Hopkins for Hitchcock

11:45 Meryl Streep looked like she was scratching her butt, but she was just dealing with the fact she was stepping on her dress.

11:44 Jennifer Lawrence is so funny – You’re all standing up because I fell and that’s really embarrassing .

11:43 15/21

Best Actress:

Will win: Jennifer Lawrence for Silver Linings Playbook
Should win: JLaw (A); Quvenzhané Wallis for Beasts of the Southern Wild (E)
Should have been nominated: JLaw for Hunger Games

11:41 REACHED MY TWITTER LIMIT ARGH

11:33 Ang Lee. Boo. 14/20

Best Director:

Will win: Steven Spielberg for Lincoln
Should win: Benh Zeitlen for Beasts of the Southern Wild (A); Michael Haneke for Amour (E)
Should have been nominated: Kathryn Bigelow for Zero Dark Thirty

11:31 New Grey Poupon Commercial! I was just talking the other day about how I missed Grey Poupon commercials!!

11:26 I AM SO EXCITE I DIDN’T THINK HE’D WIN but now Emmett and I are tied and I’m not gonna win. 14/19

Best Original Screenplay:

Will win: Zero Dark Thirty (A); Django Unchained (E)
Should win: Django Unchained (A); Moonrise Kingdom (E)
Should have been nominated: Looper

11:24 14/18 (A); 13/18 (E)

Best Adapted Screenplay:

Will win: Argo
Should win: Argo (A); Silver Linings Playbook (E)
Should have been nominated: Hitchcock

11:22 She was so adorable accepting and trying not to cry and mess up her makeup.  LUVHUH.  Gayest Oscars of all time?

11:16 13/17; 12/17 Congrats Adele

Best Song:

Will win: Skyfall
Should win: Ted

11:12 Wow Scarlett Johannson has a good voice!

11:10 12/16 (A); 11/16 (E)

Best Score:

Will win: Life of Pi
Should win: Life of Pi

11:09 CATHERINE ZETA JONES DRESS IS AMAZING.  Queen Latifah wearing something from David’s Bridal.  Renee looks like she’s got stung in the face by a bee.

11:08 Tired. Is it over yet?

11:05 The problem with opening with Shirley Bassey is that you set the bar so high that even Babs doesn’t seem terribly impressive.

11:01 Nora Ephron ;_;

RAY BRADBURY ;_; ;_;

11:00 Tony Scott ;_;

10:58 George Clooney has aged so much with the beard that it makes me uncomfortable that he’s introducing the dead people.  Don’t Die George.

10:51 “Harry Potter and the Half-Drunk Princess.” – hahahahahahahaha PourMyCoffee on Twitter Love you Dan Rad and KStew

10:50 Lincoln! Dammit. 11/15 (A); 10/15 (E)

Best Production Design:

Will win: Les Miserables
Should win: Anna Karenina
Should have been nominated: The Dark Knight Rises 

10:47 In defense of Anne Hathaway, who I love. http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2013/01/31/why_do_people_hate_anne_hathaway_one_reason_is_simple_sexism.html

10:45 Sandra Bullock is my soulmate

736739206

10:39 You know, the women have really brought it with the singing tonight. Maybe Les Mis would be better if it was actually Lesbo Mis.

10:37 I love Adele’s voice so much that it almost overcomes how much I don’t really like this song.

10:34 BAM ARGO ASHLEY PULLS AHEAD OF EMMETT! 11/14 (A); 10/14 (E)

Best Editing:

Will win: Argo (A); Zero Dark Thirty (E)
Should win: Argo (A); Zero Dark Thirty (E)
Should have been nominated: Hunger Games

10:32 AWWWWWWW

BD62OERCUAAJTVg

10:28 There was an ad for Nashville with someone singing Fame and telling us to remember her name.  Unfortunately, I have no idea who she is and don’t care enough to google it.

10:23 TO THE SURPRISE OF NO ONE 10/13

Best Supporting Actress:

Will win: Anne Hathaway for Les Miserables
Should win: Anne Hathaway for Les Miserables

10:21 http://www.buzzfeed.com/hillaryreinsberg/sexist-things-at-the-oscars

10:19 There have been other ties in Oscars history, including in 1969 for best Actress. Hepburn and Streisand

10:17 WHAT A TIE.  I’m counting it but in addition to ZDT, another to Skyfall. 9/12 WHAT

Best Sound Editing:

Will win: Zero Dark Thirty
Should win: Zero Dark Thirty

10:14 now 8/11 EVERYONE IS BRITISH

Best Sound Mixing:

Will win: Les Miserables
Should win: Les Miserables
Should have been nominated: Pitch Perfect

10:12 Love Ted.  And Marky Mark.

10:10 Star Trek people to give sciencey awards.  Makes sense.

10:03 Les Miserables after all that amazing singing just highlights how marginal it is.

10:01 Damn. Jennifer Hudson.  She’s still no Shirley Bassey.

Still not impressed with Hugh Jackman’s nasal voice.

9:55 I can’t lie: I love Catherine Zeta Jones in this role.

9:54 John Travolta clips from Hairspray! Best!

9:52 Jennifer Garner and Jessica Chastain look nervous and awkward. 7/10

Best Foreign Language Films:

Will win: Amour
Should win: Amour

9:50 People on Twitter upset about Best Doc going to the “not hard” documentary.  It’s a filmmaking award, not a cause award.

9:46 Love JLaw

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9:44 Ben Affleck is so much better with long hair and a beard.  6/9

Best Documentary Feature:

Will win: Searching for Sugarman
Should win: 5 Broken Cameras
Should have been nominated: Mea Maxima Culpa

9:39 Liam Neeson makes this sound VERY DRAMATIC.  He is going to fuck you up if you don’t like this movie.

And then some good Led Zeppelin.  HARDCORE

ARGO FUCK YOURSELF

9:37 INOCENTE!! I am wrong, but congratulations! 5/8

Best Documentary Short:

Will win: Open Heart
Should win: Kings Point

9:36 Curfew was edited on a Macbook Pro.  I COULD BE UP THERE.  If the only thing necessary is a Macbook Pro.  That’s all it needs right? Right?

9:35 5/7

Best Live Action Short:

Will win: Curfew
Should win: Curfew

9:33 Great advertising timing Kerry Washington on right after her Scandal advert!

9:28 BOW. THE. FUCK. DOWN

Diamond Jubilee - Buckingham Palace Concert

9:26 Shirley Bassey is 76.  76.

9:25 Halle Berry Looks So Good.

She also said Pussy and “Guaranteed to make your heart feet bastard.” Yes girl yes.

9:20 And the best makeup and hair goes to Les Miserables 4/6

OH YEAH PINK TIGHTS

Best Makeup:

Will win: The Hobbit
Should win: Hitchcock (A); The Hobbit (E)
Should have been nominated: Looper

9:18 The winner of MOST costume goes to Anna Karenina 5/6

Best Costumes:

Will win: Anna Karenina
Should win: Anna Karenina
Should have been nominated: The Dark Knight Rises

9:16 Honestly, I think the Jaws music is a good idea and they have to do something to control the length of the broadcast.

9:13 OMGICANTEVENWHAT

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9:11 I feel like voters don’t know the difference between vis fx and cinematography. 4/5 of predictions

Best Visual Effects:

Will win: Life of Pi
Should win: Life of Pi
Should have been nominated: Looper

9:08 I love Robert Downey Jr So much.  And Sammy L J.  3/4 on predictions.

Best Cinematography:

Will win: Life of Pi
Should win: Django Unchained (A); Anna Karenina (E)
Should have been nominated: The Dark Knight Rises

9:05 K, these previews all make me want to cry.  Won’t lie. OMG Wallis is adorbs.

Lol Clooney drinking the free booze tossed to him from onstage.  That’s awesome.

9:02 KILT Y’ALL

mark-andrews-kilt

9:01 BRAVE!!!! 2/3

OMG LOVE HIS KILT

9:00 Paperman!!!! 1 for 2!

8:58 Nate Silver lied to me.  Otherwise I can’t find in substantial difference in the coverage of this event and the election.

8:53 Christoph Waltz is adorable.  And we’ve finally got some Jack Cam.

8:52:

Best Supporting Actor:

Will win: Tommy Lee Jones for Lincoln
Should win: Philip Seymour Hoffman for The Master (A); Robert DeNiro for Silver Linings Playbook (E)

Actual Winner: CHRISTOPH WALTZ

Love him, he’s wonderful.

8:49 I’ve seen Sally Field make out with Seth McFarlane and Daniel Radcliffe tap dance with Joseph Gordon Levitt. As cringeworthy as much of this opening was, uh, that’s kind of boss.

8:47 Sally Field making out with Seth followed by a Disney cover.  Oh ABC, what are you.

8:45 DAN RAD tap dancing with JGL!?!?!?! <3

8:40 Ah brief glimpse of jokes and now too dorky to survive.

8:36 Oh good finally getting controversial!  Rihanna joke. Mel Gibson joke.  Yikes.  And by yikes, I mean YES

8:35 Seth is vaguely funny.  He looks so young compared to the amount of stuff he’s done.  He looks like he could be 24.  Mocks the directorial snub of Argo.

I think it would be really hard trying to be “normal” humor.

8:30 Seriously the coverage is so boring that I’m excited to see the commercials instead.  It’s going to start sooon

8:22 Talking to the producers.  Still don’t care.

8:06 Adele looks like a giant next to Kristen.  Clooney looks old.  Gone from salt and pepper to mostly salt.  J Garner is wearing a beautiful color with an ass ruffle running down her back.  Daniel Radcliffe is wearing a giant bowtie.  Sandra Bullock is awkward cute. This is boring.  When does the show start?  When does my pizza get here?

7:57 DAN RAD DAN RAD DAN RAD <3<3<3

7:55 My Oscars predictions in full, along with Emmett’s, are at this link.  He and I didn’t disagree on very many predictions.  In fact, in all of the categories, we came up with a different prediction only twice — Best Editing (Argo vs Zero Dark Thirty) and Original Screenplay (Zero Dark Thirty vs Django Unchained).

7:50 Here’s a picture, courtesy Tom and Lorenzo, my favorite people in the universe.

Nicole Kidman Oscars 2013

7:40 OMG Nicole Kidman looks amazing.  And I never like Nicole Kidman!  Yes, I’ve given in and am watching the pre-show.  Charlize Theron is a giant.  Kristin Chenoweth is teeny.  I almost stepped on her once at a Starbucks and thought she was a little kid and then I was too embarrassed to also say I loved her voice, so I just… got out of her way.

Great stories like that and more on Ashley Oscar Liveblog 2013!!

Oscar Predictions for Every Category (slightly OCD)

83rd Academy Awards¨ Press Kit ImagesEmmett and I put together a predictions list for the Oscars that I am going to share with you.  Tonight, I’ll be live blogging the event.  This is not because I think the Oscars are particularly right in their judgments, but more that I just love the Oscars.

Best Picture:

Will win: Argo
Should win: Django Unchained
Should have been nominated: Hunger Games

Best Director:

Will win: Steve Spielberg for Lincoln
Should win: Benh Zeitlen for Beasts of the Southern Wild (A); Michael Haneke for Amour (E)
Should have been nominated: Kathryn Bigelow for Zero Dark Thirty

Best Actor:

Will win: Daniel Day-Lewis for Lincoln
Should win: Joaquin Phoenix for The Master
Should have been nominated: Anthony Hopkins for Hitchcock

Best Actress:

Will win: Jennifer Lawrence for Silver Linings Playbook
Should win: JLaw (A); Quvenzhané Wallis for Beasts of the Southern Wild (E)
Should have been nominated: JLaw for Hunger Games

Best Supporting Actor:

Will win: Tommy Lee Jones for Lincoln
Should win: Philip Seymour Hoffman for The Master (A); Robert DeNiro for Silver Linings Playbook (E)

Best Supporting Actress:

Will win: Anne Hathaway for Les Miserables
Should win: Anne Hathaway for Les Miserables

Best Original Screenplay:

Will win: Zero Dark Thirty (A); Django Unchained (E)
Should win: Django Unchained (A); Moonrise Kingdom (E)
Should have been nominated: Looper

Best Adapted Screenplay:

Will win: Argo
Should win: Argo (A); Silver Linings Playbook (E)
Should have been nominated: Hitchcock

Best Animated Feature:

Will win: Brave
Should win: Brave

Best Foreign Language Films:

Will win: Amour
Should win: Amour

Best Documentary Feature:

Will win: Searching for Sugarman
Should win: 5 Broken Cameras
Should have been nominated: Mea Maxima Culpa

Best Score:

Will win: Life of Pi
Should win: Life of Pi

Best Song:

Will win: Skyfall
Should win: Ted

Best Sound Editing:

Will win: Zero Dark Thirty
Should win: Zero Dark Thirty

Best Sound Mixing:

Will win: Les Miserables
Should win: Les Miserables
Should have been nominated: Pitch Perfect

Best Production Design:

Will win: Les Miserables
Should win: Anna Karenina
Should have been nominated: The Dark Knight Rises

Best Cinematography:

Will win: Life of Pi
Should win: Django Unchained (A); Anna Karenina (E)
Should have been nominated: The Dark Knight Rises

Best Editing:

Will win: Argo (A); Zero Dark Thirty (E)
Should win: Argo (A); Zero Dark Thirty (E)
Should have been nominated: Hunger Games

Best Visual Effects:

Will win: Life of Pi
Should win: Life of Pi
Should have been nominated: Looper

Best Makeup:

Will win: The Hobbit
Should win: Hitchcock (A); The Hobbit (E)
Should have been nominated: Looper

Best Costumes:

Will win: Anna Karenina
Should win: Anna Karenina
Should have been nominated: The Dark Knight Rises

Best Animated Short:

PAPERMAN WILL AND SHOULD WIN ALL OF THE THINGS <3<3<3

Best Live Action Short:

Will win: Curfew
Should win: Curfew

Best Documentary Short:

Will win: Open Heart
Should win: Kings Point

Oscar Noms 2012 — Analysis Forthcoming

SHOCK OF THE DAY: No Kathryn Bigelow for Best Director

Lead Actress: Naomi Watts, Jessica Chastain, Jennifer Lawrence, Emmanuelle Riva, Quvenzhane Wallis

Lead Actor: Bradley Cooper, Daniel Day-Lewis, Hugh Jackman, Joaquin Phoenix, Denzel Washington

Best Picture: Beasts of the Southern Wild, Silver Linings, Zero Dark 30, Lincoln, Les Miserables, Life of Pi, Amour, Django, Argo

Best Director: David O. Russell, Ang Lee, Steven Spielberg, Michael Haneke, Benh Zeitlin

Adapted Screenplay: Beasts, Argo, Lincoln, Silver Linings, Life of Pi

Original Screenplay: Flight, Zero Dark Thirty, Django Unchained, Amour, Moonrise Kingdom

Best Foreign Film: Amour, No, War Witch, A Royal Affair, Kon-Tiki

Supporting Actress: Helen Hunt, Amy Adams, Sally Field, Jackie Weaver, Anne Hathaway

Supporting Actor: Christoph Waltz, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Robert De Niro, Alan Arkin, Tommy Lee Jones

2012 Movies, Part 1: Top 5 Films

djangoblueThe Extraordinary
Fantastic movies of 2012

I’ve seen a lot of movies this year and wanted to discuss all of them in-depth, but realized that was way too much for one post.  So, to start with, this is a list of my ten favorite films of the year and a discussion of the problematic aspects of many of them.  It is possible, of course, to love a movie that has issues, and many of my favorite films of the year focus on the privileged.  So without further ado, my top 10 films and their strengths and weaknesses.

1. Django Unchained: The story of a slave and an enlightened German bounty hunting and seeking revenge in antebellum South.  This is my favorite movie of the year.  It deserves nods for Best Directing, Best Screenplay, Best Soundtrack, Best Original Music, Best Ensemble, Best Western Since Blazing Saddles, Most Brilliant Unnecessary Carnage, and Best Conversation Starter.

Representation: Bechdel Test: Fails. The beautiful and awesome Kerry Washington is the damsel in distress who, unfortunately, doesn’t do anything proactive.  Zoe Bell has a brief appearance, unrecognizable and badass as a villainess.  There are also several slave women who are there to be eye candy or Mammy and Leonardo DiCaprio’s character has a sister, who meets a wonderfully horrific end.  And, with the loss of Tarantino’s brilliant editor Sally Menke, there aren’t any women in above-the-line positions on the film.  On the other hand, the film makes strong use of African-American characters, who have complex interactions with the Institution, making it a surprisingly nuanced portrayal of slaves.

2. Hitchcock: The story of the making of Psycho and the relationship between Alma Reville and Alfred HItchcock.  I love Helen Mirren so much I would go see her in anything and she has some wonderful moments here.  Anthony Hopkins is good as Hitchcock, but it is really Mirren who steals the show, especially since so few know the story of the woman behind the man.

Representation: Bechdel Test: Pass, I think.  It’s a biopic about Hitchcock, who is a man, and nearly every conversation is about him.  But I’m fairly certain his secretary, played by the wonderful Toni Collette, and Alma discuss the script, which Alma rewrites for her husband.  The story is not strictly historically accurate, but it is fascinating, especially as an attempt to give credit to the woman who was so instrumental to Hitchcock’s success.  In a way, the film is very empowering in as much as it reveals just how much Alma contributed. There are, of course, no people of color in the film, arguably because that’s what Hollywood and Hitchcock’s circle looked like in 1960.

Great interview with Helen Mirren:

3. Silver Linings Playbook: The story of a man trying to overcome his bipolar disorder so that he can reunite with his wife who meets a young woman struggling with her grief from her husband’s death.  The trailer did not make me think that this movie was going to be particularly special, but the reviews were so positive that I went to see it anyway.  Although I have some issues with the end, it is an incredibly well-made movie and both Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper are perfect in their roles.  The scene-stealer of the movie, however, is Robert DeNiro, who I would give best supporting actor to in a heartbeat.

Representation: Bechdel Test: Fail.  Chris Tucker, John Ortiz, and Anupam Kher offer faces of color and interesting, complicated characters.  While they are not the leads, they have meaty roles that offer them more to do than most films give their secondary characters.  All three of them are incredibly charming and funny.  Lawrence is, of course, a fantastic and fun woman who is complex and, while she needs a little rescuing, she is also rescuing Cooper from his life as well.  She is strong and vicious and sweet in turns.  Jacki Weaver is also great as the mother.

Not the spitting image of Ben Affleck

Not the spitting image of Ben Affleck

4. Argo: The true story of a CIA agent pretending to be a Hollywood Sci-Fi movie’s location scouter to rescue 6 Americans from Iran.  I normally can’t stand Ben Affleck as an actor, but I love real-life intrigue stories and, it turns out, he was actually really good in this film.  Roger Ebert named this as his number one film of the year, and while it didn’t quite reach that for me, I understand why it did.  It is, as he says, the most “movie” movie of the year and, like Ebert, I am very much interested in popular movies as much as I am in high film, if not more.  John Goodman and Alan Arkin are brilliant as ever.

Representation: Bechdel Test: Pass.  This is very much the story of tricking the Iranians and Iranians hating Americans, so there’s not a lot of positive feelings given their way.  Affleck is also playing a person of Mexican heritage — on the one hand, it’s awesome that a movie got made with someone named “Mendez” as the hero and it never would have gotten made without Affleck, on the other hand it’s a shame that the movie plays down his heritage and didn’t have the ability to give the opportunity to someone who is Mexican American.

beasts

5. Beasts of the Southern Wild: The story of a little black girl living outside the levees in New Orleans and how she survives a big storm and her father’s illness.  I was fully expecting this to be my favorite movie of the year — I love magical realism stories about children.  Plus, Obama recommended it to Oprah, who named it her favorite film of the year — if that’s not endorsement, what is?  It didn’t make it to number one, but it is an incredible movie.  Quvenzhané Wallis is incredible in the lead.

Representation: Bechdel Test: Pass.  While I found this movie empowering and meaningful as a depiction of rural, Southern life, there has been substantial disagreement from others.  While Obama and Oprah loved it, bell hooks thought it was a portrayal of the noble savage and black matriarch stereotypes.  I personally think the entire movie subverts those stereotypes with a strong black single father who is fiercely devoted to his daughter, if not affectionate, juxtaposed against the strong teacher figure who helps her with her father’s illness but doesn’t ever take care of her — and I don’t see how a six-year old who is dependent on others to survive is a “matriarch”.

Honorable mentions: Brave (Bechdel Pass, no people of color); The Hunger Games (Bechdel Pass, strong secondary characters were people of color); Rise of the Guardians (Bechdel Fail, no people of color); Wreck-it Ralph (Bechdel Pass, no people of color); Zero Dark Thirty (Bechdel Pass, one minor character and bad guys were people of color)

Films on other people’s lists that I haven’t seen: The Dark Knight Rises, The Amazing Spiderman, Snow White and the Huntsman, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, The Oranges, Moonrise Kingdom, Safety not Guaranteed, Take this Waltz, Life of Pi, Amour

Pina: Jagged and Beautiful

Short post today, as finals are gnawing on my free time.

In 2009, German choreographer Pina Bausch died, five days after a cancer diagnosis, and two days before filming was to start on a documentary about her art. The film was released earlier this year.

A classically trained ballet dancer for most of my life, I rarely find modern dance appealing, particularly Expressionist stuff, which seems haphazard and out of sync to my eyes. Bausch’s work, however, is so raw and vehement and strange that I find myself staring…for the entire documentary.

An interpretation of The Rite of Spring with a dirt-covered stage. Dancers outdoors, in a cafe, gleefully tipping over chairs. Kontakthof, performed in three variations, with three different ages, the last grey-haired and over the age of 65.

Much of the documentary is shot with the dancers outdoors, and sometimes the sun is too bright and the train is too loud, but the dancers throw themselves into each other anyways. Which is, I think, how a lot of life works.

Trailer below, movie on Netflix.