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Monthly Archives: April 2013

On gender equality, Oscars, and great female performances

I made a list on Letterboxd recently where I picked my favorite movie nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars each year, as well as ranked the other nominees. Obviously, I skipped years where I haven’t seen at least two of the nominated movies. As I’m still a relative newbie to the world of film, there’s a lot that I haven’t seen, but I still ended up with 27 years where I had seen multiple Best Picture nominees, which is more than I had expected. Since it was a fun exercise, I went ahead and did the same for Best Actor. 22 years for that one. Not too shabby.

Then on to Best Actress, and a disappointing 14 years where I’ve seen at least two Oscar nominees. For 8 of those 14 years, I’ve only seen the bare minimum of two.

What does this mean, then? That what the Academy finds appealing when it comes to movies about women is not the same as what I’m drawn toward? Maybe. Or it could be a symptom of the fact that I don’t tend to gravitate toward movies about women in general.

Is this bad?

I seem to be stumbling upon a lot of writing and works on subjects of gender inequality and feminism lately, whether it’s a gaming website explaining why they won’t back down on the subject of misogyny in video gaming or a tumblr dedicated to showcasing bizarre examples of female anatomy in comic books (somewhat NSFW). I won’t pretend to be fully immersed in these issues, but I do feel they are a problem – a big one at that – and something worth devoting time to at least read about every now and then. The same goes for any kind of discrimination, whether it’s based on gender, sexual orientation, religion, race or what have you.

In particular, what I find worrying is the notion that male is the standard. The norm. The default. This is prevalent in movies too. On the viewer side of things, we have the thing where films about females are often automatically dismissed as “chick flicks”, whereas films with a clearly male perspective are somehow thought of as “for everyone.” Production-wise, there’s the notable lack of female directors and screenwriters compared to males, not to mention the short shelf-life of female actors – once you’re not young and hot any more, it will be harder to get good roles. Compare this to the guys: Brad Pitt is 49 years old, Johnny Depp is 49, George Clooney is 51, and Tom Cruise is 50. Are there any women in Hollywood of that age with as much fame and star power as them? Sandra Bullock (48) perhaps, but after that it’s slim pickings. That’s not even getting into an issue I myself keep wrestling with all the time: the word “actress” itself. Is it okay to use the word? If we have a specific word to refer to female actors, doesn’t that imply that male actors – generally referred to as just “actors” – are indeed the norm? So is using the word “actress” just perpetuating the problem? I feel like maybe it is, and that using “female actor” and “male actor” is no problem, so I tend to opt for the latter myself.

Because in a post on great female performances, why not a pic of Meryl Streep?

Because in a post on great female performances, why not a pic of Meryl Streep?

 

I want to make an effort toward being a more well-rounded movie watcher. I’m not always doing everything I can towards that goal – I still watch way more contemporary films than old ones, for instance – but this recently uncovered Oscars-related gender difference is bothering me in particular. Not because the Academy is to be trusted with recognizing greatness – because that’s not really their thing anyway – but perhaps because even when they turn their eyes toward female actors, they’re still not exactly concerned with rewarding strong female characters, or movies about them, as such. A portion of the performances they nominate for Best Actress can be more accurately described as major supporting roles for male leads. And even then I’m lagging behind in my watching of them.

I’m planning on filling in the blanks as far as Best Actress nominees go anyway. I need to do more, though. Especially for my sanity. After some brief examination of AMPAS’ Best Actress nominated movies stretching back to 1990 (see, I told you I lean contemporary), it’s predominantly important-sounding period biopics. Not saying that these can’t be great films, but diversity is good.

This is where you can help out. I’m open for suggestions of great female lead performances that were not nominated at the Oscars. Preferably undisputed lead roles. If the movie itself is great too, that’s even better. The films don’t have to be new, or American, or anything, really; what matters is that the central performance is a great one.

What are some of your favorite female lead performances NOT nominated at the Oscars?

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Posted by on 9 April, 2013 in Misc., Oscars

 

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Ebert

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Odds are that if you’re reading this post, you’ve already heard about the passing of Roger Ebert. Perhaps it shouldn’t come as a shock, considering the myriad of health troubles he has been having lately and through the years. But it is. You can’t fully prepare for something like this.

Ebert was instrumental in shaping the way I approach movies. Living in Sweden, I never saw his and Siskel’s TV show as I grew up. My only knowledge of Ebert at the time was just of the very shallow “he reviews movies” variety. Once I started getting into movies big time 5 years ago, this would change. I wanted to gain better understanding of films – not just how they work, but how I as a viewer could approach them. I started looking for critics online through who I could learn, and it of course didn’t take long until I found Ebert and his vast collection of reviews and essays.

I did not always agree with him on what movies are good or bad, but this never mattered. What I liked about his writing was how well he could articulate his thoughts and explain why he felt this or that worked, or why this or that didn’t. Later on, I would read his memoirs “Life Itself”, and find out that his wonderful way with words wasn’t exclusive to the world of film.

One of the main things I took from Ebert was his respect for actors. Rarely would you see him slam an actor in one of his reviews. He understood that an actor is but a small part in a big machine, that acting is a two man job shared by the actor and the director, and that so much of how a character comes across on the screen is out of the actor’s hands. Even when he was underwhelmed by a movie, he wouldn’t place the blame on the actors. But he would praise them whenever he felt it was warranted. This might sound dumb, but I always felt a kinship with Ebert because of how he was one of few critics who shared my admiration for Nicolas Cage. Ebert always called Cage one of the greatest actors of his generation, something I will always agree with no matter how much shit the actor tends to receive.

Not only has Ebert been instrumental in shaping me as a movie-watcher, but he is also one of the main reasons why I blog about films. Even that doesn’t fully cover everything. I have been in awe of how the man has just kep persevering and fighting on in spite of his health troubles and losing his voice. He transformed himself, no longer reviewing on TV but writing more than ever, always with a positive outlook. He fully embraced social media and made his voice heard through it. If there was someone in the world I would say was my role model, it was Roger Ebert.

Words fail me now. Even though I never met the man, I know I will miss him regardless. I end this post with two things. The first is a link to a post I wrote over a year ago, where I briefly talked about Ebert and then shared a number of my favorite quotes of his.

The second is my deepest condolences, which go out to the friends and family of Roger Ebert.

 
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Posted by on 4 April, 2013 in Misc., News

 

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Monthly Report: March 2013

One year ago, I made my first Monthly Report post here on A Swede Talks Movies. I didn’t plan for this at the time, but the Monthly Report has become the real rock of this blog. Even as the amount of posts has decreased throughout the last year, the Monthly Report provides regularity and stability. I like that.

Mighty Aphrodite (Woody Allen, 1995)
The whole Greek theater angle was largely lost on me. The story itself is solid Woody Allen, with a couple of pure gold lines here and there and some effective and affecting performances. Not the best film I’ve seen from the director, as in the end it doesn’t really go anywhere, but it’s a fine enough watch.
3/5

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (Lorene Scafaria, 2012)
For some reason, I was expecting something more comedic. I was also expecting something not as good as this ended up being. The whole coming apocalypse thing is shown with lots of fascinating details, but the real goodness here comes from the relationship building between Steve Carell and Keira Knightley. Superb chemistry, and I found myself genuinely moved by their story. It’s a healthy reminder of just how great Carell can be with the right material, and of how Knightley is capable of so much more than just looking good in a period dress. Perfect ending, too.
4/5

TheRaid-1

The Raid: Redemption (Gareth Evans, 2011)
Badass to the highest degree.
5/5

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (George Roy Hill, 1969)
I haven’t explored the western genre enough to really say with any degree of certainty that it isn’t my thing, but what I can say is that there is little about the genre that makes me inclined to investigate it further. I liked this movie, though. The banter between Paul Newman and Robert Redford made for a lot of fun scenes, and the story of the two outlaws was compelling stuff. The extended music scenes felt a bit weird, though.
4/5

Shame (Steve McQueen, 2011)
Some movies manage to really get under my skin. It might take a little while, but once they get through, they’re free to work whatever brand of magic they’re capable of, and it’ll just stick with me in a certain way. This does not mean that they’re better movies than others; it just means that they manage to operate in a different manner than most. Shame is such a film, and it achieves it through spellbinding long takes, a tremendous lead performance by Michael Fassbender, and a take on addiction different from the norm in films. The previous McQueen-Fassbender collaboration, Hunger, was a movie I admired more than I liked. Shame, I admire and adore in equal measures.
5/5

Valhalla Rising (Nicolas Winding Refn, 2009)
The most boring movie I’ve seen in quite some time.
1/5

Barry Lyndon (Stanley Kubrick, 1975)
The lavish production of it all is what I found myself liking most about this film. The whole shebang looks great, from the costumes to the art direction to the environments. My main problem is Barry himself, who for most of the film is really quite boring. The story fortunately picks up a bit in the second half. All in all, though, this is one of my least favorite Kubrick films.
3/5

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Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (Stephen Daldry, 2011)
Rough goings early on with this one, as I didn’t like the main character – more to do with the writing than Thomas Horn‘s performance – and found there to be too many shortcuts. Having the kid always carry around a tambourine that he shakes whenever he’s nervous is a lazy way to show his emotional state, for instance. That said, this film definitely managed to win me over as it went along. It unabashedly tugs on the heart-strings, and Daldry ultimately makes it work. Bonus points for fine performances by Max von Sydow and Sandra Bullock.
4/5

Set It Off (F. Gary Gray, 1996)
Very run-of-the-mill bank robbing movie, full of clichés and overwrought melodrama. Not very good.
2/5

Cleanflix (Andrew James & Joshua Ligairi, 2009)
A surprisingly compelling documentary on the business of edited movies, IE when companies buy and edit movies to remove content they deem unsuitable or immoral. Fair arguments are made for both sides of the argument, and while the process to me certainly seems legally wrong, the movie did make me pause to ponder the morality of it. This was more than I expected to do, so that was cool. What drags the movie down is the form, with lots of talking heads and floating text to provide narration. You watch it for what it has to say, not for the way in which it says it.
3/5

The Girl (Fredrik Edfelt, 2009)
Heartfelt and frank story about a 9-year-old girl (Blanca Engström) who has to spend a summer taking care of herself. The clash between childhood and adult life is potent here, and the movie does a good job in sweeping you along in its smooth pace. A Swedish film that rises a bit above the norm.
4/5

About Schmidt (Alexander Payne, 2002)
Jack Nicholson is great here. It’s the kind of performance that make you wish there were more strong meaty roles like this one for older actors out there. The rest of the film is good too, although I was a bit bothered with the over reliance on narration in various forms to tell the story of Warren’s state of mind.
3/5

[Movie]11-14 (2003)

11:14 (Greg Marcks, 2003)
A black comedy thriller of sorts, with a number of different plot threads that intersect with one another. I found the tone of humor to be an ill fit for the more gruesome parts of the story, but it’s nonetheless fun to see in what ways the various plots are connected.
3/5

Morning Glory (Roger Michell, 2010)
The story of a plucky young career woman getting a new job and having to deal with old cranky people in order to show what she can do is nothing new; Morning Glory’s writer Aline Brosh McKenna herself handled similar subject matter four years prior in The Devil Wears Prada. The formula still works here though, largely thanks to Energizer bunny Rachel McAdams and a Clint Eastwood-channeling Harrison Ford. The whole movie is imbued with an energy that many comedies are missing these days, in fact. Everything just clicks. Morning Glory doesn’t break new ground, but it offers for a very fun time regardless.
4/5

Trailer Park Boys: Countdown to Liquor Day (Mike Clattenburg, 2009)
Me and a friend were nursing hangovers and flipping through Netflix when we saw this film none of us had heard about before and decided to give it a go. We didn’t know that it was based on a TV show, and not the first film to be based on it either. Regardless, I enjoyed it. The material itself runs a bit thin at times, as there’s not enough to fully sustain its 102 minutes, but the characters are amusing and have an off-beat kind of dynamic with one another. I found myself wanting to see more of them, so…
3/5

Trailer Park Boys: The Movie (Mike Clattenburg, 2006)
…naturally, I checked out this one too. It’s roughly on par with Countdown to Liquor Day. A bit better paced and with a sharper plot, but it’s not quite as funny – possibly due to less focus on Bubbles (Mike Smith). Nonetheless, I don’t see how you could like one of the films and not the other.
3/5

Skärmavbild 2013-04-02 kl. 11.15.57

Intolerable Cruelty (Joel & Ethan Coen, 2003)
Oddly flat in content for a Coens film, but the humor is there and the cast has a good bit of fun with it all. The ending seemed weird to me, but then that’s par for the course when watching one of the brothers’ movies for the first time, so I’m not holding that against it too much.
3/5

The Substitute (Robert Mandel, 1996)
Pretty bad in most every way, from the clichéed story and poor action scenes to the cheesy acting. But it’s at least the kind of bad that you can laugh at if you watch it with some friends. If I can give Troll 2 a score of 3/5, I can give this one a 2.
2/5

Total # of new films seen: 18
Average score: 3.3 / 5
Best film of the month: Shame
Worst film of the month: Valhalla Rising

 
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Posted by on 2 April, 2013 in Monthly Report

 

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