“‘Birdman’ opened in the United States on October 17. It is not, financially, a consequential movie; it was released by Fox Searchlight, the prestige, indie-ish subdivision of 20th Century Fox; it has made decent money (nearly $21 million domestic) for the kind of film it is; it will win a bunch of awards over the next three months and lose a bunch of others. It is a good movie, but the type of good movie it is has nothing to do with what the movie industry is about. What the movie industry is about, in 2014, is creating a sense of anticipation in its target audience that is so heightened, so nurtured, and so constant that moviegoers are effectively distracted from how infrequently their expectations are actually satisfied. Movies are no longer about the thing; they’re about the next thing, the tease, the Easter egg, the post-credit sequence, the promise of a future at which the moment we’re in can only hint. So it’s appropriate that the two most important movie events of 2014 weren’t movies at all, but rather what amounted to a pair of live-action trailers.”
"One Year Later: 'The Wolf of Wall Street'": The Dissolve's Scott Tobias reassesses Martin Scorsese's Oscar-nominated film from last year.
"'The Wolf Of Wall Street' isn’t an indictment of Jordan Belfort. It’s an indictment of Wall Street, a furious response to the greed and financial chicanery that led to the 2008 recession. The lynchpin of the whole film is the scene Belfort has with Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey), the coke-snorting, chest-thumping, 'geese-feeding' bigshot who takes Belfort to a three-martini lunch to celebrate his first day on the job. Like the Alec Baldwin scene in the screen version of 'Glengarry Glen Ross'—another great movie about salesmen, masculinity, and the capitalist ethic—it’s the big shove that sends the film careening down the hill. The young cub expresses his excitement in working for the firm and its clients, but Hanna cuts him off: 'Fuck the clients. Your only responsibility is to put meat on the table.' Nobody knows anything about whether the stocks will go up or down, Hanna continues, so it’s the broker’s job to 'move the money from the client’s pocket into your pocket.' It’s possible investors will get rich, and it’s possible they’ll hemorrhage money, but it’s absolutely assured that the brokers will collect their commissions. The house always wins."
"Five Years Ago, 'Avatar' Grossed $2.7 Billion But Left No Pop Culture Footprint": Scott Mendelson of Forbes takes a look back at James Cameron's instantly forgettable mega-blockbuster.
“‘Avatar’ is the highest grossing film of all time by such a margin that we may not see anything approach its global cume for a very long time, if ever. Yet for all intents and purposes, the film is all-but-forgotten. It did not become a cultural touchstone in any real sense. Kids don’t play Avatar on the playground nor with action figures in their homes. There is little-if-any ‘Avatar’-themed merchandise in any given store. Most general moviegoers couldn’t tell you the name of a single character from the film, nor could they name any of the actors who appeared in it. Even its strong showing at the Oscars hurt the film, as the narrative turned into ‘mean and scary James Cameron’ against ‘weak and helpless Kathryn Bigelow’ as if the former Ms. James Cameron needed any sympathy votes as she went on to become the first female Best Director winner for ‘The Hurt Locker.’ ‘Avatar’ didn’t inspire a legion of would-be ‘Avatar’ rip-offs, save perhaps for Walt Disney’s disastrous ‘John Carter.’ It didn’t set the mold for anything that followed save its use of 3D which turned the post-conversion tool into a valuable way to boost box office overseas. If ‘Avatar’ has any legacy at all, it is by normalizing and/or incentivizing studios to release their biggest would-be tent poles with some kind of 3D modification in order to charge more money for tickets.”
"The Elf on the Shelf is preparing your child to live in a future police state, professor warns": As reported by Peter Holley of The Washington Post.
“For some, the Elf on the Shelf doll, with its doe-eyed gaze and cherubic face, has become a whimsical holiday tradition — one that helpfully reminds children to stay out of trouble in the lead-up to Christmas. For others — like, say, digital technology professor Laura Pinto — the Elf on the Shelf is ‘a capillary form of power that normalizes the voluntary surrender of privacy, teaching young people to blindly accept panoptic surveillance and’ [deep breath] ‘reify hegemonic power.’ I mean, obvs, right? The latter perspective is detailed in ‘Who’s the Boss,’ a paper published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, in which Pinto and co-author Selena Nemorin argue that the popular seasonal doll is preparing a generation of children to uncritically accept ‘increasingly intrusive (albeit whimsically packaged) modes of surveillance.’ Before you burst out laughing, know that Pinto comes across as extremely friendly and not at all paranoid on the phone. She’s also completely serious.”
"North Korea Is Not Funny": The Atlantic's Adrian Hong argues that "The Interview" "is not a courageous act of defiance against a dictator." Related: BBC's Nathan Fowler explains "why North Korea fears 'The Interview.'"
“Humor can be a powerful tool for surviving in a closed society, and lampooning dictators can lend latent popular movements the confidence they need to challenge their oppressors. In Libya, dissidents heaped mockery on the Qaddafi family in the early stages of their Arab Spring revolution. In the Soviet Union, activists like Natan Sharansky employed dark humor to weather persecution and labor camps. In a ‘confrontation with evil,’ Sharansky once observed, it is important ‘to take yourself and everything that’s happening very seriously, to understand that you are part of a very important historical process, and that’s why everything [that] you’ll say and do has tremendous importance for the future.’ Nevertheless, he added, ‘it’s very important not to take anything seriously, to be able to laugh at everything, at the absurdity of this regime, at this KGB prison, and even at yourself.’ Yes, North Korea has long been ruled by an eccentric dynasty of portly dictators with bad haircuts. Yes, the propaganda the regime regularly trumpets to shore up its cult of personality is largely ridiculous. And yes, we on the outside know better, and can take comfort in pointing fingers and chuckling at the regime’s foibles. But it takes no valor and costs precious little to joke about these things safely oceans away from North Korea’s reach. When a North Korean inmate in a political prison camp or a closely monitored Pyongyang apparatchik pokes fun at Kim Jong Un and the system he represents—that is an act of audacity. It very literally can cost the person’s life, and those of his or her family members. To pretend that punchlines from afar, even in the face of hollow North Korean threats, are righteous acts is nonsense.”
The staff of Slant Magazine ranks their picks for the Ten Best Film Scenes of 2014.