If animated shorts are the most popular of all short films, and if documentaries are the least glamorized category, then live action short films occupy this awkward space of not being widely sought after or distributed. Live action shorts are most prevalent at festivals and act as proofs of talent and concept for the filmmakers who produce them. Shorts are how many feature directors get their start, but even if we weren’t to consider them an investment for future talent, short films are an artform all their own that is distinct from the familiar feature-length narrative we’ve been conditioned to accept as a “movie.” This year’s Best Live Action Short nominees, like all shorts, are no less worthy of recognition than their feature counterparts. After all, compared to The Irishman, everything is a short.
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Documentary shorts are perhaps the least glamorized category of films to be recognized at the Academy Awards. With very little chance of theatrical release and usually produced as television programming, documentary shorts are often the result of hours upon hours of filmmaking without the attention that feature documentaries receive and without comparable monetary or professional recognition for the documentarians’ efforts. That’s why the Documentary Short category exists, to provide that kind of acclaim for five short works which would otherwise be lost to the annals of time and immense streaming libraries. And here’s what you can expect from this year’s five nominees.
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Of all the shorts categories celebrated at the Academy Awards, the animated shorts are what you could probably consider the most popular. Everyone knows animated shorts! They play in front of your favorite Pixar and Dreamworks movies, are brief enough to capture your child’s wandering attention span, and act as a testing ground for new animation techniques and methods of storytelling, often without needing to utter a syllable. However, if there’s one thing to learn from the Academy’s nominations each year, it’s that animated shorts are not always a family affair, often hitting upon very adult themes that complement gorgeously stylized visuals. This year’s nominations are no different in their variety, though for what it’s worth, I think the family fare might have the upper hand this year.
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The Flop House, in the words of producer and co-host Dan McCoy (writer for The Daily Show), is “a podcast where we watch a bad movie and then we discuss it.” That “we” includes fellow co-hosts Stuart Wellington (comedian and co-owner of the Hinterlands Bar in Brooklyn, New York) and Elliott Kalan (head writer of Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Return), and “unlike Mystery Science Theater, we aren’t riffing over the film, but we just give a synopsis and have a conversation. And hopefully it’s funny!” McCoy insists that they aren’t necessarily looking to “tear something down,” but they “just happen to find looking at bad movies fun.”
We had the pleasure of sitting down to talk with Dan McCoy about The Flop House, the annual holiday celebration of Nicholas Cage known as ”Cagemas,” and how the show has grown and changed over 12 years and 300 episodes.
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(This article is part of our Best of the Decade series.)
Representation of gender and sexual minorities in mainstream cinema has really taken off in the past decade, at least relative to decades prior, where LGBTQ+ audiences were fortunate to have one notable example in a given year, let alone options for seeing their experiences portrayed and dramatized. We’re still a long way from having parity with cisgender and straight representation, and it’s notable that the increase in quality representation didn’t really take off until the latter half of the decade, but change has definitely trended toward the positive.
So I present for your consideration, dear reader, ten of the best LGBTQ+ films of the past decade. Some of these are obvious, some less so, and I’m sure that there will be plenty of disagreement over how these are ranked and what didn’t make the cut. (Don’t hate me for not having seen Portrait of a Lady on Fire yet!) And that’s fine! As with any list that ranks works of art, I would encourage you to treat it as a thoughtful suggestion rather than an empirical declaration of the absolute best that the cinematic form has to offer. Not all of these may be for you. Some of your favorites may not be for me. But the point is to celebrate the space we now have to see ourselves reflected in the art we love.
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Adaptation, by its very nature, is transformative. A screenwriter must necessarily make changes to another form of written work in order for that work to function in the medium of film. Fans of the original work will often judge the value of the adaptation by fidelity to the source material, judging a film by how much it adheres to the story beats, tone, and even specific dialogue that they remember and appreciate from the work they grew to love in the first place. But sometimes the adaptational process subjects the original work to such transformative pressures that it’s barely recognizable.
Take, for instance, Taika Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit. Ostensibly, Waititi adapted the screenplay from a novel by Christine Leunens titled Caging Skies, but if you’re familiar with the kinds of films Waititi makes, Caging Skies seems like an exceedingly odd choice to inspire this particular filmmaker. Most notably, Caging Skies is a very, very bleak story. It is so bleak, in fact, that even though the book jacket for the recent U.S. printing describes the story as “darkly comic,” that darkness is so stifling that I struggle to understand why anyone would think it’s remotely funny. And yet, when you look at Jojo Rabbit, the bones of this story are still there, even if radically altered to serve different ends.
This post contains spoilers for Jojo Rabbit.
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(Welcome to The Unpopular Opinion, a series where a writer goes to the defense of a much-maligned film or sets their sights on a movie seemingly beloved by all. In this edition: The Dead Don’t Die has been critically panned, but it’s far more insightful than it’s being given credit for.)
I get it, okay? The Dead Don’t Die can be a really hard film to like. It’s a bitter, cynical, downright abrasive film that takes more pleasure out of being smug about zombie films than it does about being a zombie film. It’s understandable that it’s going to turn a lot of people off with its extensive-bordering-on-excessive commitment to deadpan humor and its absolute disdain for what is surely a large portion of its target audience. It’s a comedy that is hostile and bleak, paradoxically playing off our collective despair in a way that only a fraction of the audience was ever going to be able to laugh at.
But I am more than happy to be in that minority of folks who can enjoy it.
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(Welcome to The Soapbox, the space where we get loud, feisty, political, and opinionated about anything and everything. In this edition: non-binary actor Asia Kate Dillon plays a non-binary character in John Wick: Chapter 3 and that means more than many people may realize.)
As a non-binary person who loves cinema, I’ve resigned myself to the reality that I won’t ever see my gender represented in mainstream popular culture. There have been major advances in binary transgender representation – particularly for trans women, though there’s still a long way to go there too – but for those of us who don’t fit neatly into the categories of men and women, there isn’t a whole lot out there specifically meant for us. I find myself identifying with the masculinity of some characters, the femininity of others, and the gender-bending expressions of specifically queer art often scratches an itch for seeing gender-nonconformity represented in the works I’ve spent my life adoring and analyzing. But I never get to see a person who looks like me in the artistic medium I love, at least not without some major caveats.
But John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum offered me something new. But we’ll get there in a moment.
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(To celebrate the release of Missing Link, we’re revisiting the stop-motion animated films of Laika this week and discussing why they’re so special. Today: Kubo and the Two Strings is a moving parable of love and remembrance.)
Memory is a fragile, fickle, formative thing. It’s manipulable and elastic, but it’s also the base of our identities, the metric by which we measure our personal growth and change, the mechanism by which we form opinions and make judgments about the world. This is why we tell ourselves stories, to give our memories a continuity of purpose and meaning, and if there’s one thing that stop-motion animation studio LAIKA understands about those self-told stories, it’s that they are our primary connection to those who came before us.
Kubo and the Two Strings is a story about holding on to family through our memories, and how love is born from memories, even when we don’t have conscious access to them or simply have stories to go by.
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(Welcome to The Unpopular Opinion, a series where a writer goes to the defense of a much-maligned film or sets their sights on a movie seemingly beloved by all. In this edition: Zack Snyder’s Watchmen adaptation is a best case scenario situation.)
I will be the first to admit that Zack Snyder’s interpretation of Watchmen isn’t perfect. In fact, in some respects it’s a very strangely paced and plotted film, very long with meandering diversions into the psyches of its large and often disconnected cast to the point that it’s a turn-off for casual viewers looking for just another superhero movie. However, it’s one of the few comic book films that attempts a faithful adaptation of a specific and limited comic run, rather than just of the characters or brands that usually inspire the films of the Marvel and DC cinematic universes. Because of this, the film is often maligned as either being too faithful to its source material, not faithful enough, or even decried for its very existence, as comic author Alan Moore has in no uncertain terms.
10 years on (Watchmen opened on March 6, 2009), it’s easy to look back on Watchmen and recognize what the film was attempting and the ways it succeeded rather than failed, and while Moore’s comic is still the gold standard for telling this story, Snyder’s commitment to making a cinematic parallel made for probably the best version of this film we could possibly have hoped for.
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