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Daily Reads: ‘Boardwalk Empire’ as TV History, How Awards Season Distracts From Film Festivals and More

Daily Reads: 'Boardwalk Empire' as TV History, How Awards Season Distracts From Film Festivals and More

Criticwire’s Daily Reads brings today’s essential
news stories and critical pieces to you.

1. How Awards Seasons Distracts from Film Festivals. Every fall festival season sees not just the Toronto, Venice, Telluride and New York Film Festivals, but speculation from awards prognosticators as to whether or not, say, “Birdman” has the stuff to go all the way to Oscar night. But is this distracting from the films themselves? Jason Bailey of Flavorwire thinks so, and he explains why Oscar talk is ruining film festivals.

And what’s genuinely gross about that industry is its utter reductiveness. Year after year, it boils film culture down to a horse race, treating movies as competitors riding “momentum” or battling a “backlash” or overcoming a “snub,” rather than as what they (or at least the best of them) are: art. Yet what’s particularly odd about Oscar obsession is its built-in cognitive dissonance — every year we drool and fume and predict, as though it is all Very Important Work, while simultaneously acknowledging that nobody actually takes the judgments of Oscar voters very seriously, because they are so wrongso very often. If you’ll pardon the graphic imagery, the Oscar Industry has become a giant circle-jerk, and perhaps the film press assembling at fall festivals could put their junk away and just watch some movies. Read more.

2. Beyonce Is Not a Great Actress, and That’s OK. Beyonce Knowles is many things: a pop star, a diva, a feminist icon. One thing she’s not is a movie star, something that’s remained outside of her reach because, frankly, she is not a particularly good actress. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, and Meghan O’Keefe of Decider explains why.

The reason that Beyoncé might never become a major movie actress is because she is too good at being Beyoncé. Let me explain… See, the appeal of Beyoncé is twofold. As I said before, she’s an absolute perfectionist. Every move on stage is rigidly planned and meticulously executed. This is a woman who strategizes every move. Even when she’s producing a documentary about her life, she’s the one producing and directing it. Beyoncé is always in control. A truly great actor must be disciplined, but he or she must never be completely in control. An actor has to have emotional vulnerability, an instinct for improvisation and the willingness to let others lead a scene. Honesty and messiness are preferable to perfection. Beyoncé’s very nature makes it nigh on impossible for her to let go and portray a character’s truth. Read more.

3. The Most Surprising Nudity on “Orange Is the New Black.” “Orange is the New Black” is remarkable for its focus on women on a male-dominated market, not to mention for the frankness with which it deals with women’s problems. But so many people remember the graphic lesbian sex scenes in the show that they missed one nude scene that was just as frank yet revolutionary as the rest of the show: one involving not one of the younger women, but Lorraine Toussant’s villain Vee.

The scene plays out so naturally — all while Vee sits in bed, topless. It’s almost as if no one on set noticed (although, of course, it’s a conscious directorial decision); her breasts just happen to be exposed. It’s not sexual in nature, even though it takes place after the two characters have sex. It just is. This kind of visual honesty is already commendable, but what’s striking it’s a 54-year-old African-American actress in the scene — not typically the kind of performer you expect to be topless. Furthermore, Toussaint brings a raw sexual quality to the scene that feels so effortless — she’s in complete control, both as a sexual being and as a business mogul. Again, that ruthlessness is constantly on display for the viewer, even when the other characters in the room casually miss it. Read more.

4. Why “The Leftovers” is The Most Daring Show on Television. 
“The Leftovers” just finished its first season on HBO, and it was a hell of an interesting run even if it didn’t work for everbody. In fact, The Hollywood Reporter’s Tim Goodman appreciates it precisely because it didn’t work for everybody. He makes a case for why it was the most daring show of the past season.

“The Leftovers” has been described as depressing television (it certainly can be). There’s melancholia to it, a byproduct of its existentialism. But the real beauty of “The Leftovers” is that the show is about discovering what happens to people when something unexplainable and horrendous happens to them. The answers that “The Leftovers” seeks are varied and do not begin nor end with how or why the Sudden Departure happened. That’s the provenance of a procedural. “The Leftovers” isn’t a show about logic and concrete conclusions. It’s a show about what happens to the human condition when you severely mess with it. When you shake it and upend it and give it stimuli and end results it’s not necessarily built to process. That’s a fascinating idea for a show in that said reactions can be all over the map — and in “The Leftovers,” they are. Read more.

5. A Critique of Capitalism Starring Shane CarruthLast year, Shane Carruth made one of the most striking and audacious films in recent memory with “Upstream Color.” This year, he’s lending himself to another director, Alberto Rodan, for “everything & everything & everything,” a short film that critiques capitalism. The Dissolve’s Noel Murray draws attention to this film that brings an unexpected comic performance from Carruth as Morgan, a man who discovers a machine that produces fancy doorknobs for free.

“everything & everything & everything” is mostly a film about capitalism, showing how Morgan overextends himself, trying to maximize profit while he’s still got product to move. Morgan doesn’t derive any satisfaction from his success, because it doesn’t give him the same dreamy feeling that he gets from looking out the window. (In that way, “everything & everything & everything” resembles Mark Osborne’s classic animated short “More.”) Mostly though, this short is a nice showcase for Carruth, who could have a great future as a character actor if he weren’t such a talented filmmaker. As Morgan, Carruth is equally adept at buzzy business-speak and at looking sad, lost, and ennobled in a way by what he lacks. He’s an every-shlub. Read more.

6. “Boardwalk Empire” as TV History. 
Terence Winter’s prohibition-era gangster drama “Boardwalk Empire” just entered its final season on HBO. It’s never been the draw or the object of obsession that “The Sopranos” and “The Wire” were in the 2000s, but Entertainment Weekly’s Darren Franich argues that’s strangely appropriate. As the show morphed from show about a “Great Troubled Dude” to a show about all of the fascinating young upstart characters in the margins, it became more interesting and more reflective of changes in TV history, a shift from “The Sopranos” to “Orange is the New Black” offbeatness and “Game of Thrones” sprawl.

“Boardwalk Empire” is great TV history because, in both the content of the story and its style, it seemed to reflect all these changes without ever quite getting a handle on them. 2010 was the year that “Mad Men” executed its mid-run transformation, rebooting the show in a new office and with a new glittery style. And 2010 was the year that “Breaking Bad” began to really become “Breaking Bad”: The year of Gus Fring, the year Walt stopped teaching. 2010 was the year of “The Suitcase” and “The Fly,” the two great bottle episodes of our time, and a demonstration of how much more those shows could do with less. “Boardwalk Empire” never opted for less. In its second season, there was an Incest Episode–was it chasing “Game of Thrones”? Its third season was the wildest, the most over-the-top, and my personal favorite–Bobby Cannavale played Al Pacino in “The Devil’s Advocate” playing Wile E. Coyote. The show seemed to be rebooting itself towards a season Big Bad model. (Did they think they needed a Gus Fring?) But then season 4 went in the opposite direction, becoming a sprawling tone poem with the characters circling in beautiful stasis. Read more.

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