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Daily Reads: Why Mediocre Movies About White Guys Have the Oscar Edge, Being Smarter About Cultural Outrage and More

Daily Reads: Why Mediocre Movies About White Guys Have the Oscar Edge, Being Smarter About Cultural Outrage and More

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

1. Mediocre Movies About White Guys = Oscar Favorites. “Selma” aside, there aren’t too many movies vying for Best Picture that aren’t about white men, and few of them are as good as “Boyhood” and “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” Todd VanDerWerff of Vox writes about why it’s easier to be nominated for an Oscar if you’re a mediocre movie about a white guy.

Above all else, the most perplexing question here is why “Wild” has seemingly been given up for the Oscar dead, despite featuring work from Reese Witherspoon (in its lead role) that seems nomination-bound. I am in no way, shape, or form going to argue that “Wild” is a great film, but it’s certainly a good one, and it’s much better than several of the assumed nominees. Literally the only answer I can find here is that “Wild” isn’t about the great struggle of a white guy to overcome something or other. It is, instead, the story of a woman’s personal struggle to overcome her own self-destructive tendencies. And we too often look at a story like that and suggest, “Huh. Nice enough, but it’s no great shakes.” Read more.

2. How We Tell Stories About Cancer. The coverage of the death of Stuart Scott and the CNN broadcast of the Roger Ebert documentary “Life Itself” both celebrated men who fought cancer by living their lives as fully as they could. Jeff Jensen of Entertainment Weekly, who has previously written about the death of his wife of cancer last year, admires these stories, but he also notes that those who are overwhelmed by their diseases shouldn’t be judged.

Last fall, we heard about Brittany Maynard, the 29-year-old Oregon woman suffering from terminal brain cancer who chose to take her own life to spare her family the agony of attending to her deterioration and to complete the authorship of her story by going out on her terms. One day after her suicide, we got the story of Lauren Hill, a student-athlete at Mount St. Joseph in Cincinnati, who fulfilled a dream of playing college basketball despite physical limitations due to brain cancer. I encountered the Maynard and Hill stores on the same night in November, on the same newscast, four months after Amy’s death. They ripped me apart, pressing on parts of my experience I had not dealt with, but needed to; specifically, the horror of Amy’s decline, the slow dismantling and then too-fast obliteration of her personality. Some of Hill’s ailments were very reminiscent of Amy’s ailments. The echoes disturbed me and exposed me. Maynard wanted to spare her family? I can only empathize. I know her choice was unacceptable to some, but you know, the whole damn business just isn’t fair, to anyone. Don’t judge her story. Just let it break your heart. Read more.

3. Paul Thomas Anderson and Thomas Pynchon’s “Inherent Vice.” “Inherent Vice” is the first Paul Thomas Anderson film to feature as much as someone else’s voice as his, in this case original author Thomas Pynchon’s. Yet it’s still a PTA film through and through, and Geoffrey O’Brien of The New York Review of Books addressed the strange mix of Anderson and Pynchon.

The words in Anderson’s film are mostly Pynchon’s; the plot elements too, however freely they have been culled and transposed; the free-associative multiplicity and ricocheting mood changes are carried over with a miraculous lightness of touch. Yet “Inherent Vice” the movie is utterly its own thing, as thoroughly a piece of Anderson’s imaginative universe as of Pynchon’s. If Pynchon’s Doc Sportello could stare at a movie and feel puzzled by what he’s seeing, here it’s as if the movie stared back, infusing the materials of the novel with further ambiguities of emotion and association, pervading it with the actual California sunlight that feels like the movie’s binding force. People glide through it or are trapped or exposed by it. It offers promises of innocent happiness or flattens everything with an overlay of blinding impersonal brightness. Read more.

4. The Big Idea in “Interstellar.” Christopher Nolan has a tendency to construct his movies around Big Ideas, but what’s at the heart of “Interstellar?” Bilge Ebiri writes that it’s all about survival.

Survival is what pushes NASA to mount a decades-long secret project to send humans into another galaxy, with no idea what they’ll find. But survival is also why textbooks have been changed to reflect the nonsensical claim that the Apollo missions were just a hoax to help bankrupt the Soviets; the idea is echoed later, more benignly, on the spaceship Endurance, when Coop tells a frightened and claustrophobic Romilly (David Gyasi) that “some of the finest solo yachtsmen in the world don’t know how to swim.” When you can’t escape, you persist. Read more.

5. Being Smarter About Cultural Outrage. It’s easy to be outraged by the alleged crimes of Bill Cosby and Woody Allen, among others, but should their work really be tossed out of the canon? Alyssa Rosenberg of The Washington Post writes that we need to have a more measured response.

But if we erase the poorly behaved and mentally unwell from the rolls of art, what are we left with? Gone might be the comedian Richard Pryor, whose tormented upbringing produced a tormented adult, who mined his life and experience for his routines. Gone would be vast swaths of hip-hop. A number of fashion icons and the houses they created would be untouchable because of their anti-Semitism and outright affiliations with the Nazi regime. Read more.

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