15 words or less film review (full review to follow soon)
When I was a stupid teenager, my family was out at a restaurant and my father said something that I thought was ridiculous. For some reason I thought it would then be funny to walk up to him and smack him on the back of the head.
It did not end well.
Even now as I write these words, I am burning with shame over the memory. I share this story at the outset because it is important to know that what follows is not a judgment of the persons involved. I am in no position to judge. But it is an analysis of the actions and the behavior surrounding what happened.
As is my tradition, I sat up to watch the interminable long Oscar telecast this past Sunday. And as most people are aware, Chris Rock was presenting an award when he made a joke about Jada Pinkett-Smith's short hair. Then her husband Will Smith strode up to the stage and slapped Rock hard across the face.
Everyone and their brother have been sharing their reactions to this online. Since this blog deals with what is in the pop culture, I thought that I should take a few moments to share my thoughts. Feel free to disagree and debate with any of the points.
My reaction to what I saw was visceral. Even though I don't know any of the people involved personally, I developed a knot in my stomach that lasted the rest of the night. I remember once after school let out, a buddy of mine and I drove down to the mall. While walking around, two men at a watch kiosk got into a fight, with the other two employees trying to pull them apart. I had never seen a fight in real life and I was hit with shock. My feet felt like they were cemented to the ground. My friend and I each went to find some security guards, but we talked later about how unnerving that moment was. In the same way, I felt unnerved by Smith attacking Rock.
Let's start with the joke. Rock said to Pinkett-Smith, "Jada, I love you. GI Jane 2, can't wait to see you." Pinkett-Smith suffers from alopecia, which causes hair loss. As a result, she decided to cut her hair very short.
Some people do not think the joke was offensive. If I was Smith, I would have not found it funny. My wife has suffered from arthritis since she was a little child. If someone mocked her publicly for the way she walks due the damage to her joints, I would be incensed. But my own anger does not dictate the rightness of my actions. Apparently, Rock did not know about Pinkett-Smith's health issue and thought instead that she had made a fashion choice.
At this point, it should be noted that part of the job of a comedian at these events is to poke fun at the celebrities. Most of the time it is light-hearted, though it can get personal. Earlier in the night, one of the hosts made a joke about the Smiths and their open marriage. Apparently it is common knowledge that Pinkett-Smith has affairs with younger men while still being married to Smith. Sometimes these jokes can be very biting, as when Ricky Gervais last hosted the Golden Globes.
There is actually a reason for this. In the courts of kings, the jester was the only one who was allowed to mock the king without consequence. There was something important about making fun of those who are in power. It deflates some of that unavoidable ego that comes with the status. It is healthy to be roasted from time to time. I am blessed with many friends who know just the right buttons to push on me when I begin to act too arrogantly or annoyingly. They help keep me in check. The jester does the same thing. It is very healthy for the rich and powerful to be able to laugh at themselves.
Can the jester go too far? Absolutely. But the consequence should be in the form of the audience's response. It is incredibly disturbing to see someone physically assaulted over a joke. It is also shocking to me how many people have defended Smith's actions. I'm not shocked that people sympathize with Smith's anger. As I mentioned above, I would be livid in his shoes. But I have trouble understanding those who are justifying his attack. Some have said he was responding to the joke.
But jokes are not violence.
Jokes may hurt our feelings and jokes can be hateful and inappropriate. But they are jokes. Speech, unless it is directly calling for the physical harm of others, is not violence.
There were so many other ways for Smith to handle the situation. Imagine any one of these scenarios:
-camera cuts to Smith who does not laugh.
-Smith gets up and walks out of the hall in protest.
-Smith walks up to Rock, gets the microphone and tells his wife on national TV how beautiful she is and how beautiful all women with alopecia are.
In any of the above scenarios, Smith maintains the moral high ground and the debate would center around whether or not Rock should have told the joke. Instead, Smith has ceded all of the moral authority with his violent outburst.
Sometimes people use the phrase "chilling effect" to describe how an action could lead people responding in fear. Perhaps it is over-used, but I can completely see Smith's actions having a chilling effect to comedians. With Smith being lionized by some, this would embolden others to physically assault comedians who say something "offensive." The fear of offending the powerful and wealthy can only lead to a continued erosion of our society.
If you don't think Smith was lionized, notice how he received a standing ovation when he won his award. I am curious if anyone present had the moral courage to withhold their accolades for a man who assaulted their colleague Chris Rock. This happened on a night when wealthy celebrities like to preach and lecture to the world about how we are to live and behave. But when the time came to demonstrate some bravery in the face of violence, who held their ground? And I cannot help but think that Smith's sense of entitlement and status emboldened him to physically attack a man in full view of hundreds of witnesses and on international television.
During Smith's interminable acceptance speech, he apologized to the academy and the audience, but not to the man he hit. He began by comparing himself to the man he portrayed in his movie King Richard, by saying he was a fierce defender of his family. Even in that moment, he was justifying his violent outburst. He mentioned that Denzell Washington told him that when you are at your highest, that's when the Devil comes for you. This is true. But you can avoid the Devil's trap with humble penitence. Smith could have earned a great deal of good will in that moment by apologizing to Rock and stating how he didn't deserve the award after that shameful display. One of the manliest moments I've seen in movies is in the film Lean on Me. Morgan Freeman played Principal Joe Clark who put chains on the doors of his school in order to keep drug dealers out. This was in violation of the fire code, so they arrested him. When his students saw this, Clark did not cry out about injustice. He said, "I chained the doors. You break the law, you go to jail." Even though he did it for a good reason, Clark took responsibility like a man.
Smith did not.
To be fair, this is an ongoing story and many things could change. Just this morning I saw that Smith posted an apology to Rock written on Instagram. The text was humble and contrite. If I am being charitable, I should say that if Rock accepts the apology, then the affair is settled. If I am being cynical, I would say that Smith's publicists wrote the apology and are doing damage control. Within moments of the slap, I said to my wife, "Will Smith just killed his career." Who would want to work with him now, knowing that an off-color joke could trigger him to violence. If this is how he behaves in front of the whole world, imagine how he would behave with no one watching?
Based on Smith's jubilant partying after the awards, I have difficulty believing that he is truly penitent. But that is between him and God and Chris Rock.
Speaking of Rock, I am truly impressed with his poise and grace under pressure. I am a wimp. If I got decked the way he was, I'd probably start crying in front of the whole world. Instead, he did everything in his power to defuse the tension. He even said, "That was the greatest moment in the history of television."
I do not know where this story will lead. I hope there is a growing chorus of condemnation for Smith's actions. I don't mean to call out the cancel mobs on him. I believe in second chances and in redemption.
But when "King Richard" attacks the jester, it opens the door to more violence.
If we do not strongly condemn what happened, then we are saying that we no longer speak with our words, but with our fists.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” (Matthew 5:8)
One of the most important thing to remember about the Beatitudes from which this line is taken, is that they are not external rewards. God does not look at a heart to see if it has attained a sufficient level of purity and then decides to reveal Himself.
Instead, the Beatitudes involve the consequence of an internal transformation done by God’s grace.
What does in mean to be “pure in heart?”
The obvious meaning goes to sexual purity. While this is true, we should probably go a bit deeper. The sum total of Catholic morality cannot be reduced to sexual morality. It is definitely more than that (thought it also definitely not less than it either).
To be pure in heart means to be innocent. This does not mean the same thing as childish naïveté. If that were the case, then Christ would be telling us to become more foolish instead of wiser. And while “the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom” (1 Corinthians 1:25) it is generally a bad idea to move towards something that makes us stupider than we already are. Innocence is not the gullibility of a child who believes their older brother or sister who tells them that the Boogeyman is waiting in the closet for them to fall asleep.
Innocence is instead an attitude of receptiveness and wonder. We associate it with children more than adults, because the world is a new and exciting place for the young. There are all new experiences and fantastic mysteries to encounter in this world. Think about the first time you realized that the Earth revolved around the sun. Or remember how you felt when you came to discover that a prism could break apart the colors of the spectrum. Those early child-like moments would often fill you with a sense of awe that was almost religious.
As you get older, the magic of these moments begins to dull. They say that familiarity breeds contempt. Perhaps that is a bit too far. Instead, I would say that familiarity dulls wonder.
I used to hate walking. I would avoid it every chance I got. As a teenager I was a true couch potato, moving only when necessary. I carried this attitude for most of my life. I would literally grumble if I had to walk more than a few yards from one place to another. Then a few years ago I broke my back. I was in the hospital for a month, unable to stand on my own. It took a few surgeries and months of therapy (along with the amazing help of my most beloved wife) until I was completely healed.
Now, I don’t hate walking.
In fact, I love walking. As I take the steps up and down at work, I am in constant awe that I can stand upright and move the way that I do. It is so odd that we human beings can do so much balanced on these two appendages. And yet we do it all the time without giving it much thought. Since my accident, I do give it constant thought, I am in awe of what it means. This is part of what it means to look at things purely: to appreciate the gift that is in it.
But let us return to the common understanding of purity of heart. This attitude of innocence should also be taken in our relationship to our fellow human beings. The main problem with lust is that it causes you to see another person, someone who is made in the image and likeness of God, as an object of your pleasure. You may not use those terms, but when you focus only those qualities of person that excite your bodily pleasure, you reduce them to only the things which have value to your satisfactions. When that happens, you obscure that image of God in them because you can only focus on these superficialities.
Stepping away from the sexual component, we look at other people for many other superficial reasons. Perhaps a person at work approaches us and we cringe because we think that they have an annoying laugh. Or perhaps we cozy up to the boss because we really want to advance in your profession. In both cases, you are not looking at the person with eyes of innocence and wonder. In the former case, you relate to the person in terms of how they inconvenience yourself. In the latter, you see the person in terms of how they can advantage your life. Human beings are complicated and often we do not completely objectify the people around us. But the more we focus on our own reactions to them and not upon the person in himself or herself, we turn them into an object.
Tonight are the Academy Awards!
Last year, I predicted that those Oscars would be the least watched Oscars in history. I think that may be true again this year, but I am not as sure. The vast majority of the movies nominated have never been seen by most people. We still had a lot of people not going back to the movies and even the streaming movies nominated failed to generate a lot of interest. It still boggles me that Spider-Man: No Way Home was not nominated. I'm nat saying that it should definitely win Best Picture, but this was the movie that broke the pandemic slump and proved that people will still go to the theaters. It is also a high quality film that manages to successfully blend together three film franchises into one while also telling a compelling story. If that isn't a cinematic feat, I don't know what is.
As I have always said, just because a movie is popular and successful, it does not therefore make the movie good. But there is also a reason why many of the movies nominated fail to find an audience: they aren't very good either.
I used to think that the reason Hollywood kept nominating and awarding these more obscure movies was because they wanted to be the taste makers: they wanted to tell you what you should and shouldn't like. It used to be that if a movie won a Best Picture Oscar, there would be a bump in interest in revenue by the general public.
But now, I'm not so sure. With these awards, I don't think they actually care whether or not general audiences ever see them. The Oscars feel more like a closed club of members who are only trying to impress each other. More and more I get the feeling that we are not invited to watch, but instead we are the plus one of someone else who got the invitation and the Academy doesn't care what we think.
That's all well and good if they want to go that way. But all of the fun and interest in this Oscars will evaporate.
But I know the Academy has some interest in its audience. For that reason they removing some of the awards from tonight's telecast. There has been a lot of complaining and I don't agree with all of the cuts. But as someone who has been criticizing the show for being way too long, this is a positive step in the right direction.
However, the show is still 3 hours long. So if they cut the categories only to supplant it with filler, then what was the point? I don't need to see 5 montages that celebrate the history of "Hats of Hollywood" or something stupid like that.
As I said, the main problem is not so much the length of the show but the movies that are nominated. I was pleased to see that two of my Top 5 Movies of the Year have been nominated for Best Picture. But I have seen less than half of the movies nominated in that category. I do have to say that I am very happy that both Dune and CODA have been recognized. I'm excited that CODA is a strong contender. Being on Apple TV, there was a much smaller audience. But is is such a lovely little movie that had me thinking about it long after and made me really feel something in the way that most movies this year did not.
Tonight I will be watching, but without much interest.
You are invited to play our amended Oscar game this year.
|Do you want me to use your real name on my blog?||No|
|BEST PICTURE - MY CHOICE||Dune|
|BEST PICTURE - MY PREDICTION||CODA|
|BEST DIRECTOR - MY CHOICE||Steven Spielberg (West Side Story)|
|BEST DIRECTOR - MY PREDICTION||Jane Campion (The Power of the Dog)|
|BEST ACTOR - MY CHOICE||Denzel Washington (The Tragedy of Macbeth)|
|BEST ACTOR - MY PREDICTION||Will Smith (King Richard)|
|BEST ACTRESS - MY CHOICE||DID NOT SEE|
|BEST ACTRESS - MY PREDICTION||Jessica Chastain (The Eyes of Tammy Faye)|
|BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR - MY CHOICE||Troy Kotsur (CODA)|
|BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR - MY PREDICTION||Troy Kotsur (CODA)|
|BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS - MY CHOICE||Ariana DeBose (West Side Story)|
|BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS - MY PREDICTION||Ariana DeBose (West Side Story)|
|BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY - MY CHOICE||CODA (screenplay by Siân Heder)|
|BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY - MY PREDICTION||CODA (screenplay by Siân Heder)|
|BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY - MY CHOICE||Belfast (written by Kenneth Branagh)|
|BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY - MY PREDICTION||King Richard (written by Zach Baylin)|
|BEST ORIGINAL SCORE - MY CHOICE||Dune (Hans Zimmer)|
|BEST ORIGINAL SCORE - MY PREDICTION||Dune (Hans Zimmer)|
|BEST ORIGINAL SONG - MY CHOICE||“Dos Oruguitas” — music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda (Encanto)|
|BEST ORIGINAL SONG - MY PREDICTION||“Dos Oruguitas” — music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda (Encanto)|
|BEST ANIMATED FEATURE FILM - MY CHOICE||Encanto (Jared Bush, Byron Howard, Yvett Merino and Clark Spencer)|
|BEST ANIMATED FEATURE FILM - MY PREDICTION||Encanto (Jared Bush, Byron Howard, Yvett Merino and Clark Spencer)|
|BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY - MY CHOICE||Dune (Greig Fraser)|
|BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY - MY PREDICTION||Dune (Greig Fraser)|
|BEST COSTUME DESIGN - MY CHOICE||Cruella (Jenny Beavan)|
|BEST COSTUME DESIGN - MY PREDICTION||Dune (Jacqueline West and Robert Morgan)|
|BEST FILM EDITING - MY CHOICE||Dune (Joe Walker)|
|BEST FILM EDITING - MY PREDICTION||Dune (Joe Walker)|
|BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING - MY CHOICE||Dune (Donald Mowat, Love Larson and Eva von Bahr)|
|BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING - MY PREDICTION||The Eyes of Tammy Faye (Linda Dowds, Stephanie Ingram and Justin Raleigh)|
|BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN - MY CHOICE||Dune (production design: Patrice Vermette; set decoration: Zsuzsanna Sipos)|
|BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN - MY PREDICTION||Dune (production design: Patrice Vermette; set decoration: Zsuzsanna Sipos)|
|BEST SOUND - MY CHOICE||Dune (Mac Ruth, Mark Mangini, Theo Green, Doug Hemphill and Ron Bartlett)|
|BEST SOUND - MY PREDICTION||Dune (Mac Ruth, Mark Mangini, Theo Green, Doug Hemphill and Ron Bartlett)|
|BEST VISUAL EFFECTS - MY CHOICE||Dune (Paul Lambert, Tristan Myles, Brian Connor and|
|BEST VISUAL EFFECTS - MY PREDICTION||Dune (Paul Lambert, Tristan Myles, Brian Connor and|
|BEST INTERNATIONAL FEATURE FILM - MY PREDICTION||Drive My Car (Japan)|
|BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE - MY PREDICTION||Summer of Soul (Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, Joseph Patel, Robert Fyvolent and David Dinerstein)|
|BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT - MY PREDICTION||Audible (Matt Ogens and Geoff McLean)|
|BEST ANIMATED SHORT FILM- MY PREDICTION||Robin Robin (Dan Ojari and Mikey Please)|
|BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM- MY PREDICTION||“The Long Goodbye (Aneil Karia and Riz Ahmed)|
Anti-Catholic Philosophy Mature
One of the great things about reading Batman comic books is that they can be almost anything. One issue could have Batman facing off against a Joker death trap and then the next he could be on the Planet Apokolips, in an alien exo-suit punching Darkseid in the face. And then the next week, he could breaking into the FBI disguised as a fire-fighter in order to solve a missing-person's cold case, But this would be after his previous adventure when he took on a group of ninja-assassins with his bare hands.
(By the way, all of these are actual Batman comic book stories).
I bring this up because I love how the same is true about the Batman movies. We've gone from the Tim Burton dark fantasy to the camp of Joel Schumacher (which was reflecting the tone of the 1960's Adam West Batman), to harrowing hero's journey of the Christopher Nolan trilogy and even the super-heroics of Zack Snyder's vision. But now with The Batman we get something that we really haven't seen before:
Batman the Detective.
The Batman takes place two years after Bruce Wayne (Robert Pattinson) started his war on crime. He is still out there beating street thugs in the grimy streets of Gotham, wondering if he is making any real difference. Things begin to take a dramatic turn when Lt. Jim Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) calls Batman in to the murder of the mayor (Rupert Penry-Jones) by a mysterious new threat that they call the Riddler (Paul Dano). This investigation pulls Batman deeply into the Gotham underworld to encounter reigning crime boss Carmine Falcone (John Tuturro) and his henchman Oswald "Penguin" Cobblepot (Colin Farrell). Along the way he comes across the mysterious Selina Kyle (Zoe Kravitz) who may have similar goals to him but also has an agenda of her own. All the while Alfred (Andy Serkis) does his best to keep Bruce from going over the deep end and plunge into the moral abyss into which he is staring.
The biggest criticism I have heard others say about this movie is that it is too dark and too long. To be sure, the cinematography is very dim. But like Joker, director Matt Reeves is creating a strong sense of space in this movie. Gotham is a claustrophobic, murky urban nightmare. All the life and color feels drained from this film, which corresponds to the intense depressive nature of Bruce. All of the gadgets and technology feel just slightly ahead of its time, but grounded in the real world. In fact, this is the most grounded Batman film I have seen, and that includes Nolan's films.
In regards to it being too long, I can respect that critique. The narrative is not as tight as it could be. However, this did not really bother me. Watching this was like watching season 3 of Daredevil: the story took time to unfold the characters and plot lines. I enjoyed the fact that the story would take turns in ways I did not see coming and pursue those plot lines to the point where you almost forgot the original thread.
This movie is not for children. Even with a PG-13 rating, this is much more mature than any other Batman film. Not only is there violence and murder, but the methods of killing are horrific. One of them involves someone hooked up to a contraption with rats. Most of the deaths are off-screen, leaving the horrors to your imagination, but children would fill in the blanks in a way that would be a bit much.
But the darkness and violence perfectly reflect the kind of Batman stories on which this movie is based. The story that The Batman takes its main inspiration from is The Long Halloween, which is one of the greatest Batman detective stories. Even though he is the world's greatest detective, this story challenges him in ways he did not see coming.
Reeves and co-screenwriter Peter Craig have given us the closest thing to a noir-Bat story that we have seen. I mentioned before the focus on atmosphere, but they also give us a fresh take on the character. This Batman is so close to being over the edge that he is just a hair's breath away from being like the criminals he pursues. In this world, there is no "Bruce Wayne" persona. Instead at all times, even when out in public, there is only the intensity of Batman. Thankfully, Reeves and Craig trust their audience enough not to have to rehash the entire origin story, but instead focus on new and interesting twists. It pushes Bruce to a place where he has to question his entire war on crime.
Whenever a new Batman is cast, there is a lot speculation as to whether we are getting a Keaton or a Clooney. Pattinson is fantastic in this role. As I wrote, his Batman is pure intensity all the time. He is a joyless fantastic who is always looking, searching for threats and evil intent. He, thankfully, does not go over the top with the voice like Christian Bale. He also isn't stealthy, but makes his heavy footsteps heard and enters a scene with presence, trading stealth for fear. It is easy to appear silly in the costume when surrounded by normal characters like cops, but Pattinson makes it work. I really believed his unrelenting focus.
The other performances are also excellent. This might be one of Tuturro's best. He is powerful in how subtle he is. His cool demeanor speaks to the character's confidence and power. Farell's Penguin is like a cross between a 1940's film gangster and a Robert DeNiro impression, but it works. His over-the-top performance provides some of the only levity in the film. Kravitz is great as Selina, with great chemistry with the stoic Pattinson. Serkis' take on Alfred is very interesting. He leans into the more grizzled and less refined version of Alfred that we find in the comic book Batman: Earth One. I don't want to speak too much of Dano's performance because part of the intrigue of the movie is how little they show of him through most of the movie.
One of the lines that was hyped much in the trailers is Batman saying "I'm vengeance!" He says this early on and this is an important thematic element throughout the movie. Since his parents' murder, Bruce has been motivated by revenge. He takes out his rage on all those who break the law. You can see that in the way he ruthlessly and ragefully beats his enemies to a pulp. His quest is one of selfish catharsis at the beginning rather than a noble search for justice. And as he falls deeper into the underworld of crime the more it threatens to consume him.
As a Catholic, I found this theme incredibly compelling. Even if he is doing the right thing, he is still doing it for the wrong reasons and that makes his quest fall on the immoral side. Part of his journey is one where he has to confront who he is and why he is doing what he is doing. Using the Riddler as a foil helps because in his own twisted way, he is on the same path as Bruce. But the question is whether or not Bruce is the same as him or the opposite. All the other characters deal with questions of moral compromise and either overcome or succumb based on their journey.
If I had any problems with the film, there are two, but they are not deal-breakers. The first is that there is some inconsistency in the action. For example, there are times when Batman is taking on two machine gun blasts to the chest as if it nothing. Then in another scene, one shotgun blast almost kills him, necessitating someone to come and save him.
The second is that while Matt Reeves does a masterful job of telling a cerebral and moody story, there still was just a little bit of emotion missing. This could simply be my own personal approach to Reeves movies. His Planet of the Apes films are expertly made, but I felt a slight emotional distance despite the excellence of the story. People often complain that Christopher Nolan's films lack emotion, but I disagree. The ending to The Dark Knight never fails to make me feel something. But the only thing holding The Batman back from reaching the perfection that is within its grasp is the fact that it doesn't pull enough at the heart. It is exceedingly intersting, but it isn't incredibly moving.
Despite this, I find myself thinking of the movie with fondness. Reeves has done a commendable job here and has set up a new Batman franchise that I cannot wait to see unfold.
OBJECT: Get the most points!
HOW TO PLAY: Fill out a score sheet for each category with your choice (who you want to win) and your prediction (who you think WILL win).
1. MAJOR AWARDS
-Best Supporting Actor
-Best Supporting Actress
-Best Original Screenplay
-Best Adapted Screenplay
-Best Original Score
-Best Original Song
-Best Animate Feature
On the night of the Oscars, give yourself 1 point for each correct guess in MY PREDICTIONS. If you get a prediction wrong, subtract 1 point. Give yourself 1 point for each correct guess in MY CHOICE. There is no penalty for incorrect guesses for MY CHOICE.
-MY CHOICE = Steven Spielberg, "West Side Story"
-MY PREDICTION = Jane Campion, "The Power of the Dog"
-MY CHOICE =Will Smith, "King Richard"
-MY PREDICTION = Andrew Garfield, "Tick, Tick... Boom!"
-MY CHOICE = Kristen Stewart, "Spenser"
-MY PREDICTION = Kristen Stewart, "Spenser"
If Jane Campion wins Best Director, gain 1 point for a correct guess in MY PREDICTIONS, but no points for an incorrect MY CHOICE (total points = 1)
If Will Smith wins Best Actor, gain 1 point, for a correct MY CHOICE, but subtract 1 point for an incorrect MY PREDICTION (total points = 0)
If Kristen Stewart wins Best Actress, gain 1 points for correct MY CHOICE and 1 correct MY PREDICTION. (total points =2)
You may NOT make a guess for a MY CHOICE in a category if you have not seen any of the films in the category. You may, however, make a blind guess for the MY PREDICTION section even if you have not seen any of the nominees.
2. TECHNICAL AWARDS
-Best Visual Effects
-Best Sound Editing
-Best Sound Mixing
-Best Production Design
For these, give yourself 1 point for each correct guess in MY PREDICTIONS. Give yourself 1 points each correct guess in MY CHOICE. There is no penalty for incorrect guesses for MY PREDICTIONS or MY CHOICE.
3. MINOR AWARDS
-Best Documentary Feature
-Best Documentary Short
-Best Animated Short
-Best Live Action Short
-Best International Feature Film
For these, give yourself 1/5th of a point (.2) for each correct guess in MY PREDICTIONS. Since so few people have seen these, there is no MY CHOICE section. There is no penalty for incorrect guesses for MY PREDICTIONS.
Fill out the below score sheet and send it to me. I will be the designated score-keeper. You may change any choice up until the broadcast begins.
The winner will receive bragging rights and recognition on this blog.
(This was originally published right before Ash Wednesday)
A passage from JRR Tolkien has always stuck out in my mind since I remember encountering it:
“The Hobbits named it the Shire, as the region of the authority of their Thain, and a district of well-ordered business; and there in that pleasant corner of the world they plied their well-ordered business of living, and they heeded less and less the world outside where dark things moved, until they came to think that peace and plenty were the rule in Middle-earth and the right of all sensible folk. They forgot or ignored what little they had ever known of the Guardians, and of the labours of those that made possible the long peace of the Shire. They were, in fact, sheltered, but they had ceased to remember it.” (Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring)
I am a 21st-Century American. I imagine that most of people who read these articles are the same (though perhaps I have a few international readers). My generation has been blessed to be like the Hobbits of the Shire, who have lived in relative peace and prosperity. That is not to downplay all of the serious troubles that we have experienced, nor the outrages of events like 9/11.
But events in the last few months remind us how so many people around the world do share in the stability that we have in our country. All of us, I’m sure, were horrified as people of Afghanistan surrounded the airports hoping to flee the Taliban. And that same horror resurfaced as we witness the invasion of Ukraine. In the latter, someone pointed out that this was the largest deployment of troops since World War II.
For the first time this year, I have been employed to teach a world history course. I have long been a student of history, so this has been a dream come true. Trying to distill the human experience into a single school year has been a challenge. But one of the things that I have noticed and my students have picked up on is how utterly violent and dark much of human history is.
The story of the human history is mostly one of war, repression, poverty, and violence. One war leads into another, which leads into another, into a seemingly never-ending cycle of violence. I am not saying this to be fatalistic. History is also filled with people who bring love, peace and reform, like Our Lord or St. Francis of Assisi, or Pope St. John Paul II. Yet most people in the world live in an instability caused by the looming threat of violence. It is difficult to imagine having to take up arms to repel a foreign invading army in our streets.
This week we will be coming upon Ash Wednesday. This day is an important time to remember that this world is often a place of scarcity and pain. Ash Wednesday reminds us that we are dust and we will return to the dust. This means that ultimately, the things of the world are dust. As St. Paul writes, “What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ…” (Phil 3:8). If the things of this world do not someone how bring us closer to God and to each other, then they too are dust.
CS Lewis once said that “Prosperity knits a man to the world. He feels that he is finding his place in it, while really it is finding its place in him.” Our relative prosperity and peace in the US may act a spiritual lullaby to make us drowsy to the business of the soul and dream only of the business of our own comfort.
Ten years ago I ranked the Batman movies. At the time there were only eight. Now there have been twelve (if you count the two version of Justice League as two movies and don't count Joker).
Rather than re-rank the movies, I thought we should look back at the eight men who have portrayed the Caped Crusader and rank their interpretations of the character.
To be clear, this is not necessarily a critique of their acting ability. Sometimes great actors turn in bad performances or they are directed to perform in a way that does not translate well on screen. This is also not a critique necessarily of the films themselves, but only of the portrayal of Batman in their individual movies.
8. George Clooney
The fact that his only performance as Batman is in the worst Batman movie ever made is incidental. Clooney is a fine actor, but he doesn't do any real acting here. As horrible as Arnold Schwarzenegger and Uma Thurman are, they at least give every ounce of their energy to creating their characters. Clooney reads his lines like he is a guest host on Saturday Night Live doing a Batman sketch. It is a completely empty performance.
6. Adam West
Over my many years, I have gone back and forth on my feelings about the Sixties era Batman. As a child, I loved it. As a teen, I hated it. As an older man, I can see its appeal and charm, though it is not for me. Like Clooney and Kilmer, West portrayed Batman in an overly silly and comical tone. But unlike them, West gave himself over completely to character and created something iconic, whether you like the icon or not. His voice is unmistakeable and performance is so dead-pan dramatic that you can't help but admire his commitment to the bit.
5. Kevin Conroy
The only reason why Conroy is not higher on this list is that his portrayal is limited to his voice. But Batman: Mask of the Phantasm is such a fantastic Batman movie in part because of what Conroy is able to make us feel about the character using only that one acting tool. His voice is distinctive that to this day people still keep coming back to him to voice the Dark Knight. Other voice actors have tried to follow in his footsteps, but no one has been able to match him.
4. Christian Bale
Bale's performance as Batman over the course of The Dark Knight Trilogy was very good. We got to see him evolve from angry young loner to super hero to broken veteran. I love watching the wild-eyed anger in him as he approaches Joe Chill to kill him. There is an understanding that being Batman means being close to madness, but it also means having the nobility to stop from going over the edge. His "Batman-voice" has become so ubiquitous that whenever people do Batman impressions, they turn to him.
3. Robert Pattinson
This may be my most controversial choice here. It is possible that the freshness of Pattinson's performance is making me weigh him more heavily. But there was such a fire-like intensity to everything Pattinson did in his turn as Batman that I haven't seen in anyone else. Unlike other Batmen, for Pattinson, there really is no Bruce Wayne persona: he simply is Batman all the time, with or without the mask. In every scene he is in, the rage at the injustice of losing his parents burns through him. Already within two years of starting, he is overwhelmed with a weary cynicism, but that fire still burns so brightly. You can feel his near-insanity, even more-so than in Bale's performance, which is why I have ranked him ahead.
2. Michael Keaton
I remember so vividly my initial reaction to the casting of Michael Keaton as Batman back in the 1980's: "They cast 'Mr. Mom?'"
And yet, Keaton is one of the most revered portrayers of Batman and with good reason. Five years ago I wrote: "It was Keaton's idea to give him the lower-registered voice that has become standard in our portrayals of the Dark Knight. He gave him his cool and distant demeanor.Watch Keaton's performance when he is not playing 'Bruce Wayne' and he is simply inhabiting Bruce's world. He is stoic and restrained."
You can see this best in the moment he leaves the roses where his parents were killed. Keaton plays the moment with perfect restraint while letting you feel the hidden depths of emotion. And when is Batman, you completely believe his ferocity, focus, and power. The only reason he is not higher on the list is that he would sometimes slip into his familiar "crazy guy" schtick and he would feel a bit more like Beetlejuice than Batman.
1. Ben Affleck
Anyone who has read this blog for a while knows that I think the world of Affleck's Batman. As an avid comic book reader, his Batman is the one that most closely resembles the Batman that I've spent years reading about.
In the past I've written: "I know I may get some hate for this, but Ben Affleck's Batman is the best representation of the comic book Batman I have ever seen on the big screen. This is not a knock against Michael Keaton or Christian Bale. But Affleck's Batman is a grizzled, war-scared veteran of the war on crime; he is a hulking wall of muscle that seethes with righteous rage, and he projects a sharp intelligence. The killing part is still very problematic, but otherwise it is like the Batman from the comic books came to life on the screen."
Affleck did everything to bring this version of Batman to life and he embodies all of the best aspects of the other performances into one.
How would you rank the cinematic Batmen?