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Daily Reads: How the Oscars Can Solve Its Race Problem, The Shaming of Robert DeNiro, and More

Daily Reads: How the Oscars Can Solve Its Race Problem, The Shaming of Robert DeNiro, and More

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

1. Can The Oscars Solve Its Race Problem?
As you may have heard, the Oscars are very white this year, some might say the Oscars are so white (#OscarsSoWhite). The Oscars’ race problem is indicative of the film industry’s larger diversity problem, and the systemic prejudice that routinely keeps women and minorities out of movies. EW’s Nicole Sperling examines the Oscars’ race problem and whether or not they can solve it.

As the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite began trending, just as it did last year, ceremony host Chris Rock joked in a Twitter promo that he was thrilled to be hosting “The White BET Awards.” Then it got serious. Spike Lee, who was honored at the Academy’s Governors Awards months ago, and Jada Pinkett Smith announced they were boycotting this year’s Oscars and encouraged others to join them. [Note: Lee clarified to “Good Morning, America” on Wednesday that although he would not attend the Oscars, “I have never used the word boycott. … I’m not going, my wife’s not going. Everyone else can do what they want to do.”] Rock began facing pressure to resign as host in protest. Each day, more high-profile figures are lending their voices to the chorus calling for change. “For 20 opportunities to celebrate actors of color, actresses of color, to be missed last year is one thing,” said David Oyelowo, who starred as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the Oscar-nominated “Selma,” at an event on Jan. 18. “For that to happen again this year is unforgivable.” Although Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs (who has described herself as “heartbroken and frustrated” over the situation) has taken steps to make the Oscar telecast more inclusive — e.g., recruiting Reginald Hudlin (“Django Unchained”), who’s African-American, to co-produce the ceremony — only the Academy members can select the nominees. And that’s where the problem lies. A 2012 “Los Angeles Times” study found that the roughly 6,000-member Academy is nearly 94 percent Caucasian and 77 percent male, with a median age of 62. Invitations to join the elite organization are typically limited to high-ranking professionals who are nominated by at least two peers; once admitted, membership is for life. Since Boone Isaacs was hired in 2013, the organization has added more members than usual, including many women and minorities, and she affirmed her commitment to that mission, vowing in a statement, “In the coming days and weeks we will conduct a review of our membership recruitment in order to bring about much-needed diversity in our 2016 class and beyond.” For many, progress can’t come soon enough. “If we keep adding women and minorities at the rate we do, how long will it take? A hundred years?” asks one actress Academy member. “We can’t wait that long.” So how does the Academy fix its broken system?

2. The Shaming of Robert DeNiro.
This Friday, a little film called “Dirty Grandpa” starring Academy Award winner Robert DeNiro as the titular dirty grandpa and Zac Efron as his not-dirty son. To put it bluntly, “Dirty Grandpa” looks terrible, and is another in a long line of phoned-in DeNiro performances. Buzzfeed’s Anne Helen Peterson writes about the supposed shaming of DeNiro for his late-career acting choices.

And now — or, at least, over the last 20 years — De Niro’s been shitting on that legacy. Or so say the critics: “One of our greatest working actors has lost himself in crummy, mindless comedy,” writes “Los Angeles Times” film critic Betsy Sharkey. “If you’ve got other priorities these days, like the Tribeca Film Festival or Manhattan real estate or the restaurant biz, that’s terrific,” says “Salon.” “But then why inflict these strange and depressing spectacles on us?” And then there’s Piers Morgan: “Let’s be honest, De Niro’s more recent contribution to the big screen has verged on diabolical, a travesty of his talent.” He’s been likened to Nicolas Cage, whose recent films scream “running from bankruptcy,” or Liam Neeson, who’s descended into a genre of film most aptly described as “running.” Yet with few exceptions, De Niro’s choices don’t seem guided by some quest for fortune, which he has in abundance, or laziness. He loves to work. He might even be addicted to it. But in an effort to expand his legacy — or maybe just an effort to stay alive, and vibrant, and engaged — he’s found himself mired in films that might look good on paper but end up muddled messes. It’s not that De Niro’s exploded his legacy, then, so much as that the options for a man of his age and stature are collapsing around him, especially as studios have gradually ceased to nurture the small and medium-sized pictures that used to make up a solid portion of their release schedule. Indeed, the bulk of the films that compose his so-called legacy (“Taxi Driver,” “The Deer Hunter,” “Raging Bull”) would’ve struggled to get made, gone straight to VOD, or done poorly — as “Raging Bull” did back in 1980, grossing just $23 million as the realities of the blockbuster market began to truly take hold. There’s an argument that De Niro should survey the offerings around him, dub them unworthy, and recede into the shadows of Hollywood memory like some noble grandfather. But that’s film snobbery at best and thinly veiled ageism at worst. Which isn’t to suggest that the vast majority of these films aren’t bad — they are. But there’s a different way to think about the last decade of De Niro’s career: Instead of a desperate star clinging to the last vestiges of glory, he might be a journeyman actor who refuses, in a way not dissimilar from the trajectory of his entire career, to care about the things that other people would deem important.

3. How To Use Twitter Without Going Insane.
In this day and age, many cinephiles express their sentiments on Twitter. Like any other social networking tool, Twitter can be used to foster community and share fellow interests, but its 140-character limit can often be a hindrance to full understanding, especially when passions run high. The Washington Post’s Sonny Bunch writes about how to use Twitter effectively without going insane.

As someone whose day job exists at a website that is blissfully free of comments sections, I sometimes think of Twitter as the place where the commenters come to you (you won’t believe how often I get mansplained to). The key to using Twitter without going insane is to realize that Twitter does not have to be a conversation. In fact, it’s often at its best when it’s not a conversation. This isn’t to say that you should withdraw from interacting with people entirely and use the site solely as a news-aggregating service and megaphone announcing when you have new work, as Lowrey and Riesman seem to have done. I’ve actually made a few friends on the service, which is not at all sad in any way. But you get out of Twitter what you put into it. And if what you put into it is “fighting with nobodies over stuff that doesn’t matter,” your Twitter experience is going to be rather dreadful. Note: This isn’t a “Twitter problem.” It’s a “you problem.” The most important thing to remember if you want to use Twitter without going insane is this: No fight on Twitter has ever, ever been worth having. There has never been a time when two people engaged in a serious political or philosophical or economic or artistic discussion on the medium and came away thinking, “Wow, my intellectual life is better as a result of that charade” If I had to make a list of impossible things that would never happen, “having a useful fight on Twitter” would be right at the top of the list. You simply can’t do it in 140-character bursts, and any “tweet storm/tweet essay” longer than five tweets should be punishable by catapult. So if you find yourself engaged in a conversation and thinking, “My God, this other person is so wrong and here are all the reasons why and why won’t they just listen to me and admit it” … step away from your computer. Close your browser.

4. The Last Two Cents on 2015.
Unlike other publications that cram in their year-end coverage in the month of December, Reverse Shot slowly doles it out in January of the following year. There has been the Best of 2015 and the 11 Offenses of 2015 pieces, but now we’re at the end. Reverse Shot compiles all of their remaining opinions and feelings about the last year in film in their Two Cents column.

Movie of the Moment (for Worse): “The Hateful Eight”: On this very website, Reverse Shot lifer Nick Pinkerton referred to Quentin Tarantino’s latest offering as “a bloated, torpid, and largely graceless piece of work.” Another longtime RS contributor, Adam Nayman, said of the same film in the pages of “Cinema Scope”: “‘The Hateful Eight’ may really be sort of terrible.” And at “Vice,” RSer Ashley Clark called it “a sickening experience; three-plus hours marooned in front of the projected fulminations and fetishes of an untrammeled egotist.” I can’t say I much disagree with any of these very smart gents, which is why I’ve found the regular drift of my thoughts back to “The Hateful Eight” more than a little perplexing. Why haven’t I been able to let this bloated, torpid, sort of sickening whale of a film just drift off to sea? Perhaps it’s because that at the tail end of a just-god-awful year here in ‘Murica, in which indignities and horrors were manifold, and our society, at least as refracted by our news media, seemed strained in every direction, “The Hateful Eight” washed up on shore at 2015’s end with a thud and seemed to encapsulate it all. Though set during the Reconstruction, it’s a readymade Cliff’s Notes of shitty late-Obama America: Whites hating Blacks; Blacks hating Whites; both hating on Latinos and all feeling pretty ok about abusing women as well. In this world, guns are everywhere, authority is fleeting, the profit motive reigns supreme, memories of the Confederacy loom large and an absent Lincoln, unable to defend his legacy, is just left twisting in the breeze. Now, noting that these are elements in a film is quite a different thing from arguing that they’re marshaled toward a designed end. Tarantino’s had a spotty record, at best, in this regard, seeming most adept through his career when he’s purposely unpacking and diagramming the machinery of the movies themselves (his two best films: “Death Proof” and “Inglourious Basterds”) than anything at work in society at large. In his other films, he’s proven himself a kind of voracious cultural sponge that locates and soaks up latent tendencies from the ether and repackages them — see how he condensed the Clinton era’s hunger for anything resembling the countercultural (“Pulp Fiction”) and the mainstreaming of fascination with black culture (“Jackie Brown”), or how “Kill Bill Vol. 1” seems born from that early aughts moment of global cultural proliferation. It’s this ability that’s allowed him to remain so popular. And it’s this sensitivity that makes me wonder to what degree “The Hateful Eight” is an awful, miserable sit on purpose, while knowing full well that this is a dog-chasing-tail argument. So, after his biggest box-office success, one of our most obnoxious filmmakers made a movie whose worldview lines up with the Republican presidential debates or a Donald Trump rally. I’m writing this just as CNN announces that Sarah Palin has endorsed Trump for president, the most noxious nexus in American political life in quite some time. This is the one of QT’s movies that might have more to tell us about itself, and us, as it ages. It functions as the opposite of Reverse Shot’s best film of the year, “In Jackson Heights,” which shows Americans our best selves. “The Hateful Eight” may not be the Quentin Tarantino film anyone wanted, but it may be the Quentin Tarantino film we deserved. — Jeff Reichert

5. In Memoriam: The Ziegfeld Theater, 1969-2016.
The Ziegfeld Theater, one of Manhattan’s very best movie theaters, is closing after 47 years of business. Many New York cinephiles took to Twitter to mourn the loss of such a integral part of their film education and a city-wide landmark. At her blog, Farran Smith Nehme pays tribute to the late, great theater and explored why it closed.

Movies, as the Siren wrote in her novel, are the people’s art form. For all the glitzy premieres held at the theater, like any other venue it needed people who could attend regularly. And as the years went by, fewer and fewer working-stiff film lovers lived within striking distance of the Ziegfeld. It is at 141 West 54th Street in Manhattan, between 6th and 7th Avenues. It’s close to a lot of subway trains. But the Ziegfeld is a long-ass haul from much of Brooklyn. It is a shlep from much of Queens, where a lot of shallow-pocketed cinephiles also live. From the Bronx or Staten Island, fuggedaboudit. Combine that with the rise of ever-more-pristine home video versions of the crowd-pleasers that once were the Ziegfeld’s bread and butter, and, well. You can call it laziness, if you want to be a scold. But when you’re scraping by, as so many ordinary New Yorkers are, time is money. An hour to get there, an hour to get back, after long hours of however you’re earning a living — that isn’t a small physical and mental consideration. If you are paying a sitter a typical NYC rate, it’s a pretty large monetary factor as well. Who does live close to the Ziegfeld these days? Well, there’s this charming edifice, which casts a shadow like a middle finger raised to Central Park, and is filled with condominiums bought as investment properties, many of them empty for large blocks of the year. (More are on the way.) When these owners are in town, the Siren suspects they spend more time at expense-account restaurants and the offices of personal shoppers than they do in the red-velvet seats of the Ziegfeld. There are many hotels in the immediate vicinity, full of tourists on the phone to the concierge, begging for tickets to “Hamilton.” When you spend New York money for a visit here, a ticket to a movie seems like awfully weak tea. “‘The Force Awakens’? Really? C’mon honey, we can see that back in Phoenix. If we can’t swing ‘Hamilton,’ let’s try ‘The Book of Mormon.'” The Ziegfeld was a swell location for the Siren when she lived on Avenue A, and even better when she lived on 125th Street and Broadway. She can remember when they still allowed smoking in the balcony. She can remember standing on 6th Avenue, very far back on the line to see a dazzling 70mm version of “Vertigo.” Such was the space at the Ziegfeld that even though it was sold out, she had a great view. The Siren can still hear the sympathetic groan that went up from the audience after a certain tragic death in “Lawrence of Arabia.”

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