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Daily Reads: Why Getting the Most First Place Votes Doesn’t (Necessarily) Mean a Best Picture Win, Why ‘Empire’ Is a Breakout Hit, and more

Daily Reads: Why Getting the Most First Place Votes Doesn't (Necessarily) Mean a Best Picture Win, Why 'Empire' Is a Breakout Hit, and more

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

1. Most First Place Votes ≠ Best Picture. Whatever wins Best Picture is the one that got the most number 1 votes, right? Wrong. The Los Angeles Times’ Glenn Whipp explains why it goes to the film with the broadest support.

Indeed, interviews with academy members suggest that many don’t understand the finer points of the system. That lack of understanding could mean the difference between front-runners “Birdman” or “Boyhood” winning the academy’s biggest prize. In a close race like this — or, say, last year’s contest between “12 Years a Slave” and “Gravity” — the ways in which voters engage or ignore the nuances of the system matter deeply. “When people tell me, ‘I’m just voting for “American Sniper,” and that’s it,’ it infuriates me,” says an Oscar-nominated producer who requested anonymity because the academy forbids members to talk publicly about voting. “That just defeats the purpose of the system. Essentially, they’re wasting their vote.” Read more.

Also read: The Wrap’s criticism of the Times article.

2. The Great but Imperfect “Boyhood.” Is “Boyhood” the greatest movie ever or a movie that’s winning over critics because they relate to the protagonist? Neither, and Ashley Clark wrote about the opposing thoughts playing in his head.

I loved Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood,” for reasons I outlined in a brief write-up above. That said, it’s an imperfect workMuch of whatever opprobrium has been directed toward it has, not outrageously, focused on its representational approach. One recurring allegation, more or less boiled down: with its pretentions-to-universality title and monocultural core cast, “Boyhood” posits the white, middle-class experience as default. And it’s certainly true that some critics have fallen into a trap by lauding this representationally limited film for its portrayal of the quintessentially “American” experience, consequently—without pre-planned malice—abetting the replication of patterns of cultural dominance all too familiar to those of us (like me, a critic of color in a white-dominated field) who fall outside the previously described demographic. Read more.

3. Why “Empire” Became a Breakout Hit. Fox’s “Empire” has been a surprise smash. Why? The Village Voice’s Inkoo Kang lists five reasons:

Hip-hop is arguably the most creatively exciting (and politically vexed) musical genre today, but it’s rarely given its due by the larger culture. (There are notable exceptions, of course.) Through its songs and its storylines, “Empire” samples the diversity of hip-hop while retaining a necessary cynicism about how it’s marketed (fake celebrity romances, planted gossip on tabloid websites, exploitation of the tween market). The show’s writers also make compelling use of the conflict between Lucious and Cookie to explore hip-hop’s economic schizophrenia: the authenticity of the streets versus the aspirations for the penthouse or executive suite. Read more.

4. The “Fifty Shades” Wars. Fifty Shades of Grey” author E.L. James and director Sam Taylor-Johnson argued over much of the film’s direction, and Taylor-Johnson might pull out of the sequels because of it. The Dissolve’s Rachel Handler chronicles their battles:

The film’s tone. James wanted the film to be as “racy” as the book. Taylor-Johnson “wanted the movie to be more than just a collection of S&M scenes.” Winner: Taylor-Johnson, who deprived us of all manner of tampon-related erotica.

The film’s use of jellyfish. Taylor-Johnson wanted to use a jellyfish as sexual innuendo. “Everybody else”—i.e., James—was all, “What the fuck? No.” Winner: James, and, if this is true, the general public. Read more.

5. The Oddball Oscar Categories. Best Foreign FIlm, Documentary Feature and the various short film categories are the ones that break the Oscar pool. Grantland’s Mark Harris selects his picks carefully:

I used to do really well in guessing the shorts winners; then I made the fatal mistake of actually watching the films, and these categories became my Waterloo. Although I think you might not have any worse luck if I handed you a ballot, a blindfold, and three darts, I am not paid to abdicate responsibility! So what’s hot in cartoons this year? Sadness, death, loneliness, decay, and despair! “The Bigger Picture” is about two brothers dealing with their aging mother. In the painterly “The Dam Keeper”, a town is threatened with toxic devastation because the lonely piglet who protects it feels ostracized and bullied (I know that sounds kind of depressing, but when you see it, you’ll realize that it’s actually hugely depressing). “Me and My Moulton,” by past winner Torill Kove, is a childhood memoir of parental narcissism drawn in the flat style of certain Scandinavian kids’ books from the 1970s. And the hilarious, innovative “A Single Life” — which clocks in at well under three minutes and would get my vote — ties the entire life cycle of a woman to a needle skipping on a record player. Given this competition, the natural winner would seem to be the cheerful counterpoint (and sole American competitor), Disney’s exuberant “Feast,” a kind of canine version of “Boyhood” that’s heavy on awww. But Disney almost never wins this category; people who sit through all five cartoons tend to want to demonstrate that they can go for the less-than-obvious. So I’m giving the narrow edge to the longest and saddest of the bunch.

Winner: “The Dam Keeper”

Close Second: “Feast” Read more.

6. Jon Stewart’s Next Move. Jon Stewart is leaving “The Daily Show,” so what’s his next move? The Hollywood Reporter’s Bill Carter says it’s probably not whatever you’re expecting.

Jon himself consistently describes what he has been doing as “fake news,” but clearly that did not stop a significant segment of the viewing audience from taking his bravura performances so seriously that speculation about his future now includes discussion of network anchor positions and big-time politics. There is, however, an enormous gulf between what Stewartcould do and what he will do. One close friend of long standing calls the speculation that Jon would consider a dive into politics “literally insane,” adding: “This is the last guy I have ever met who would run for an office. He is diametrically opposed to that world.” Read more.

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