February 25, 2008

Observations from the 2008 Academy Awards

My wife and I are huge movie buffs (like any film geeks, we can have conversations using movie quotes) and as such, the Oscars is our Superbowl. For us it is the highlight event at the end of a long season of movies. Last night was no different as the 80th Academy Awards took place.

There weren't too many surprises.. Daniel Day-Lewis, check. Javier Bardem, check. Marion Cotillard, check. As far as acting awards went though, Tilda Swinton was a shock to us, as it was to her too it seemed. That's not to say she didn't deserve the award as her performance in Michael Clayton was great. I had my money on Cate Blanchett's portrayal of Bob Dylan in I'm Not There with strong considerations given to Amy Ryan and Saoirse Ronan.

As far as the movie awards go, I assumed it would be a total toss-up between Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood and the Coen Brothers' No Country for Old Men. The only surprise is that the latter film completely swept the former, with the exception of the Best Actor category which No Country didn't have a nominee in.

Some people might argue that Diablo Cody's script for Juno was a surprise winner over Ratatouille in the Best Original Screenplay category. The latter movie was considered the highest critically acclaimed film of 2007 and was an easy winner in the Best Animated Film category. However, while it was the best animated film of last year, being animated was also its downfall for the screenplay nod. And history has shown that the Academy is afraid to truly award animated films with the more significant honours. I would even argue that they only created the animated categories because animated films weren't going away and at some point would begin to deserve serious consideration as movies. Rather than give animated films equal consideration to non-animated films, they created the animation categories to appease this grouping instead. Therefore, Juno winning for Best Original Screenplay was a given, in my opinion. However, I also don't believe the win is without some justification.

For the production awards, The Bourne Ultimatum kicked serious butt. The movie won for Best Film Editing, Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing. If anything this shows that most of the Academy members take their roles serious and really do look at the technical and production merits of all films. The Bourne Ultimatum was up against some big movies such as No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood and if either of these films had won these categories no one would have blinked or at worse it would have been assumed these were just given considering the level of impact these films have. Kudos, to the Academy members!

Jon Stewart was a capable host. I don’t think his performance was as strong as his 2006 appearance. Considering the uncertainty of the awards taking place and short time frame to script the awards following the writers’ strike, it wasn’t that bad. The only real struggle seemed to come from his attempts to comment on the upcoming presidential elections and seamlessly connect it to the Oscars. His political jokes seemed much more natural in 2006.

My parting observation on the 2008 Academy Awards is somewhat more a political-ish one. While Hollywood is generally seen as a haven of the left, they still have honour within them. In that regards, they gave a nod to American troops serving in Iraq by having several of them present the nominees and the winner of the Best Documentary Short category. However, while it may just be the skeptic in me, I giggled at the fact they presented the award to Freeheld, which is about the struggle of Laurel Hester and her fight with the New Jersey Board of Chosen Freeholders to have her same-sex partner receive her pension benefits after she passed away (she was dying of cancer). I giggled because the U.S. military has a very discriminative policy against gays and lesbians which essentially amounts to ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’. There are also too many negative stories about the experiences of homosexual soldiers being harmed in some way coming out or being outted. There just seemed to be something ironic or some sort of 'wink' occurring at that point. Though, the Academy prides itself on the secrecy over the winners up until the envelope is actually opened so there is plausible denial in this case.

And with that, there are my observations on the 2008 Academy Awards. Until next year…

February 15, 2008

Last Kick at the Bucket for the National Post?

It has never been a secret that the National Post has played itself to the right-of-centre crowd, a group that isn't directly targeted by either The Toronto Star or The Globe and Mail; more so when Conrad Black was owner and less so with the Aspers now in control. All the while Canada's third-place national paper has been a losing venture with losses estimated to fall between $15 million and $60 million each year since its inception. There are likely several factors that have contributed to these losses despite having an apparent hold on a particular political spectrum. Particularly, the audience they want is already partially established with The G&M while the rest are established with papers from the Sun Media group.

And that is what may be the real explanation for the out reach to characters such as Shaidle and McMillan and giving them space for their nauseating brands of bigotry and twisted logic. The National Post has spent many years and lots of money failing to attract the right-of-centre crowds away from the established and better written G&M. Therefore, the NPs only option to right the ship, as it were, is to go after the other part of the same crowd, those who are enamored by the like of the Sun. Turning to Shaidle and McMillan is the perfect start since these two are willing to say anything to draw attention and attack anyone that is remotely to the left of their views.

I have my doubts the plan will work: - For far too long the NP has tried to reach out to establishment and the intellectual elites and in the process has alienated droves of ‘common’ people – the same people that are already established with the Sun-media papers. - Despite the Sun-chain being well-known for its right-wing stance and employing quacks of its own (i.e. Michael Coren), in recent years it has been employing columnists from across the spectrum (Sheila Copps, Syd Ryan, etc.) to broaden its appeal – likely from the understanding that their original target audience is considerably small. - A big part of the appeal of the Sun-media papers is their elaborate sports sections. In fact, I would argue that it is the largest appeal of the paper since on a daily basis there are typos found within the news sections but not within the sports. - The NP will never put a Sunshine Girl in their paper.

Where the NP may gain by courting the followers of Shaidle and McMillan is with the few, truly far-right group of Canadians. The type of people that reference and advocate lynching, shooting, mass killings, etc. of others that don’t share in their extremely narrow points of view which Shaidle and McMillan court everyday. One only has to glimpse at McMillan’s latest stunt where she demeans Holocaust survivors in order to ‘prank’ Warren Kinsella. Or take a look at the many supportive comments left at both Shaidle and McMillan’s sites or callous comments sent to others, to understand the people I'm referring to. These are people without logic, common sense, compassion or joy and are seemingly ready to blame and lash out at others at any given moment for lacking these traits. If this is where the NP is looking to go then I say by all means do it because it will be the last thing they'll be remembered for; the hiring and courting of racists and other bottom feeders.

The NP is seemingly taking its last kick at the proverbial bucket to stay afloat. Which it won’t be able to do. Hopefully, while it’s on its downward spiral into oblivion and obscurity it will give a fleeting wave to Shaidle and McMillan and the like who will also eventually follow in its path.

Allow me to provide my own insensitive addendum to this: There must be a punch line in here somewhere about the fate of the NP’s founder, Conrad Black, and his fortunes of late and hitting rock bottom and the NP itself spiraling downwards while hiring some of the lowest common denominator. Or maybe not...

Further Reading:
*A week of blogging demagogues at the National Post?
*The National Post just got more Toronto Sun-like.

Quotes from people smarter than me...

"If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich" ~ JFK

"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. " ~ Martin Luther King Jr.

"Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. " ~ Benjamin Franklin

"First it is necessary to stand on your own two feet. But the minute a man finds himself in that position, the next thing he should do is reach out his arms. " ~ Kristin Hunter

"When you're a mayor and you have a problem you blame the provincial government. If you are provincial government and you have a problem you blame the federal government. We don't blame the Queen any more, so once in a while we might blame the Americans." ~ Jean Chretien

"Which is ideology? Which not? You shall know them by their assertion of truth, their contempt for considered reflection, and their fear of debate." ~ John Ralston Saul

"It is undoubtedly easier to believe in absolutes, follow blindly, mouth received wisdom. But that is self-betrayal." ~ John Ralston Saul

"Everybody dies, Tracey. Someone's carrying a bullet for you right now, doesn't even know it. The trick is to die of old age before it finds you." ~ Cpt. Malcolm Reynolds (Firefly, Episode 12)