TV: LOST: One Fan's Look Back

Written by Jordan Petersen on . Posted in Film

I started getting into LOST back in the summer of 2006, in the middle of the second season, so I ended up watching the first and second seasons simultaneously. My resulting desperation after the second season’s cliffhanger finale almost killed me. I was hooked forever.

Never the rabid fanatic, I sometimes took a season-long hiatus and then caught up in a week online. (Hulu is one of man’s sublimest inventions.) During those days when I’d watch four to five episodes at a time, LOST was my world. I cared more about what was happening to those characters than I did about pretty much anything. And I would frequently proclaim, as often as the subject arose, that LOST was the best drama on television, possibly the best ever created.

Admittedly, there were some problems. When Abrams and his buddies started the show, they intended it to be about four or five seasons long. But during the second season, ABC decided the show was too popular to let end. Adios, five-season cap. What happens to a show with a pre-determined story arc that loses its set length? Stuff starts to unravel. Storylines and ideas pop up that don’t fit into the grand scheme. Why not, if the show will never end? Thus began the dark age of LOST, when it no longer really knew where it was going. The third and fourth seasons made a lot of people very angry, which ultimately motivated the network to rethink and give it a new, six-season limit.

Anyway, blah blah blah. The point is, LOST has had some difficulty with cohesion, which, for a show like that, is nothing short of torturous for its viewership. The possibility that all those mysteries won’t ever get tied up or explained is a frightful contemplation. I’ve talked to a staggering number of people who sourly admit they gave up on the show halfway through.

But fans like me held fast with hope. The writers were too good to fail. The way I saw it, the show had proven its genius enough times to leave me with the confidence that its writers would wrap it up in a manner both unexpected and satisfying.

Well, was it?

Sunday night was the series finale. The final episode ever of a show that ran for over half the decade and made television history. I watched it in real-time (for the first time since last season’s incredible finale) on an HD projector, with a bunch of enthusiastic fans who were just as dedicated to respectful silence as I was, and snacks converted into DHARMA food supplies. It was an event.

The sixth season had been very good. Each episode had that precipitous momentum that suggests a desperately longed-for culmination, and a lot of questions were answered. But not enough. The finale, I hoped, would finally bring everything together. But in retrospect, even the last episode’s two-and-a-half hour length could never be enough time to answer all of my questions. My hope was unreasonable. At the conclusion of the final, apocalyptic episode of one of the most incredible television shows ever created, I was left cerebrally unsatisfied.

But I was emotionally satisfied. The finale (and indeed the entire sixth season) honed in on the most important elements of the show — the biggest story arcs and all of the most important characters — and worked out resolutions for them. And it did so beautifully. All of the emotional investment we had in these profound characters finally paid off.

Nothing in this accursed world is perfect. Under that disclaimer, LOST is still, even with all of its frustrating problems, one of the most impressive and powerful shows ever produced. The writing was nearly always brilliant, and the acting was superb; it was lushly designed, beautifully shot, and expertly edited. But above all, the characters gave the show its incredible strength. Their consistency, depth, and dimension were perhaps unprecedented. Their actions and choices were at once surprising and fitting. Their relationships were just as rough and wonderful as real human relationships always are. I cared about them deeply, which is the true mark of only the best fiction.

In short, I imagine I’ll go back to this show often. Because, even with its numerous flaws and frustrations, it earned my love and respect. It may not have answered enough questions, or adequately resolved its many complicated mysteries, but it was still worth every hour I put into it. Because ultimately, the point of the show wasn’t plot twists and mysteries, it was the exploration of love and hate, community and isolation, strength and weakness, corruption and redemption. It was about the depth of human need, suffering, and joy. It was about the stuff that matters.


FILM: Review: How to Train Your Dragon

Written by Jordan Petersen on . Posted in Film

Remember when I said I’d probably see this over the weekend? Guess what.

And it was wonderful. Every bit as wonderful as everyone seemed to be promising. Everyone, FYI, connotes Rotten Tomatoes and many of my close film-student friends. I went into the film with a lot of confidence and was solidly rewarded for my financial offering. (By the way, I didn’t see it in 3D, because I hate 3D — but I’ve heard that this one does it well.)

I don’t know if you’ve heard my Pixar diatribe, but I’ll spare you. Summed up, Pixar is the best. No one else usually comes close. But this time Dreamworks came really, really close. This is shocking. They made a film that cared about story at least as much as it cared about the “wow, cool!” special effects and the-kids’ll-love-this components. And it didn’t treat its audience as though none of them possessed an IQ greater than that of a doughnut.

The result was an honestly exciting movie with deeply sympathetic characters and dialogue that managed to be very, very funny. I haven’t been this impressed with a non-Pixar animated film since Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, which was mercilessly hysterical. But the difference between the two films is that Cloudy was working toward goofball absurdism (and succeeded fantastically), while Dragon wanted to be epic and meaningful. Do you know how hard that is? It’s hard because you run the risk of turning out a story with too many protagonists, or obstacles that aren’t dire or threatening enough.

Villains are common because they’re easy. They are most often false caricatures of human weakness. The destruction of a despicable villain is the quickest and least responsible road to the audience’s satisfaction. Think of Disney’s Gaston (from Beauty and the Beast) — a character who is present for the sole purpose of providing the audience with satisfaction at his destruction.

But this one takes the higher road, and pulls it off. The writers didn’t go for cheap tricks, suffocating cliches, or safely simplistic moral ideals. There was a monster, but no villain. And the monster isn’t necessarily what you expect. I won’t say more about that because I have a morbid fear of spoilers, but I will say that the community in the film is eventually faced with a problem. The older generation — represented by an enormous, wonderful Viking with a thick Scottish accent (thank you, Gerard Butler) — believes with fair justification that the problem ought to be solved one way, while our protagonist, the champion of a new school of thought, feels quite differently.

But not once did I get the feeling that the filmmakers were ridiculing the older generation for what they did. The misguided nature of their actions was unfortunate, almost tragic, rather than condemnable. So, sure, the kids saved the day. You have to expect that. But they didn’t do so at the older generation’s expense. In fact, they had to work together. It is a film full of well-intentioned people. No one is demonized, and everyone ends up better for their experiences.

And did I mention that the film was exciting and hilarious? And cool? And way fun? Seriously. Go see this movie. It’ll be in theaters at least for this week and next, so finish up whatever you’ve been doing that’s been keeping you away from the theaters, and Go. See. This. Movie.

Kick Ass

FILM: Weekends Are For Movies: April 16-18

Written by Jordan Petersen on . Posted in Film

You may have noticed (depending upon how committed a Rhombus-fan you are…I hope you noticed), there was no “Weekends are for Movies” feature last week. That was due mostly to the fact that there was only one film getting a wide release last weekend, but that’s a poor excuse. So I apologize and hereby commit to better consistency.

Here’s the list:

Date Night (PG-13) — I’m going to talk about this film now because I failed to do so last week, and it might be the most worthwhile film in the theaters. I can’t say that definitively because I haven’t seen it, but I do know it has a 71% on RT, and that it stars Tina Fey and Steve Carell as a married couple caught up in some action-comedy scheme à la The Man Who Knew Too Little (starring Bill Murray back when he was still funny.) It was directed by the same guy who helmed those awful Museum movies with Ben Stiller, but that’s not necessarily the kiss of death. One can hope nye unto expectation that Fey and Carell are smart enough to go for a smart script.

Kick Ass (R) – If you’re a fanboy (aka boy or girl devoted obsessively or at least embarrassingly familiar with the world of comic books), you have heard about this film, and nothing I say can possibly better inform you. However, fanboys represent a relatively minor cross section of humanity, so I’ll assume that the majority of Rhombus’ readers haven’t ferreted out every possible shred of information about this film. It’s based on a graphic novel by the same name by Mark Millar, who is also responsible for such texts as Wanted. A lot of people have been going nuts about this latest adaptation of his work.

The simple rundown of KA is that a young teenage boy decides to don a costume and become a hero. He gets the snot beat out of him while also doing some of his own butt-kicking. Videos of him end up on YouTube, inspiring others and… you get the idea. It’s running at 75% on RT, which is impressive, and Matthew Vaughn (of Stardust fame) directed it. This one is going to have to get my recommendation, but with the disclaimer that with an R-rating on this subject matter, it’s bound to be bloody and at least moderately vulgar. But hey, you’re going to see a movie called “Kick Ass.” What do you expect?

Death at a Funeral (R) — There’s black comedy (think Dr. Strangelove), and then there’s Black comedy. Think Chris Rock, Tracy Morgan, Martin Lawrence, Danny Glover, Zoe Saldana, and token white dudes James Marsden, Luke Wilson and Peter Dinklage, who I swear is the best short actor ever. That’s actually a pretty wonderful line-up, and while some people I’ve talked to think the preview looks dumb, I think it looks promising — and RT is backing me up. So there, dumb people those of you who disagree with me. Who knows if I’ll ever actually see this movie, but I’ll tell you one thing: I adore Tracy Morgan.

How to Train Your Dragon (PG) – But not in 3D. At least, that would be my personal recommendation, because 3D is gimmicky and annoying. People have been finding transcendence, entertainment, and inspiration in films for over a hundred years without having stupid pointy things jabbing at their faces or going involuntarily cross-eyed. So disregard the 3D and listen up when I say that this film has been getting better buzz than any of the others out right now. People love it. Like, all people. If you want to go see something that’s truly entertaining and would be safe to watch with children and the elderly, this is probably your best bet. It’s a couple weeks old, but if I can carve out time for a movie this weekend, I’ll go see this one.


FILM: Movies for Poetry Month

Written by Jim Dalrymple on . Posted in Film

A lot of the time, real poetry gets a bad rap. It’s foisted on teenagers in high school English classes, most of whom have no idea why they’re reading it, and who are excited to put it permanently behind them. Or at least, that was my experience.

Poetry, however, doesn’t all suck. And in fact, this month is officially National Poetry Month, which celebrates the best works by both living and dead poets. (Yes, there still are people writing serious poetry — and it isn’t all penned by “anonymous” or ideally suited to church.) So if you haven’t read a poem since looking at “The Red Wheelbarrow” when you were 15, now is a perfect time to give it a second chance. Poetry, after all, may be a dying art, but knowing a thing or two about it can still make you look like a badass.

In celebration of National Poetry Month, what follows is a list of poetry-related movies. Maybe you’ve seen them, maybe you haven’t, but chances are you haven’t read everything by all the poets they depict. So this April, watch a movie, read a poem, and impress a girl or boy.

Dead Poet’s Society (1998) — Let’s just get this one out of the way. It’s a great film and drops the names of a bunch of poets. If you’re like me you’ve also probably seen the “carpe diem scene” dozens of times in school and church. If you haven’t seen this movie, crawl out from under your rock. It’s worth a watch, or a bunch of watches, but if this is the only poetry movie you’ve seen lately, try some of the others.

The Raven (1963) — This film is classic Vincent Price: campy, funny in a strangely knowing way, and macabrely delicious. The fact that it also stars the the legendary Boris Karloff is icing on the cake.  It’s based, rather loosely, on Edgar Allen Poe’s long poem “The Raven, which you may have read in an English class. Or, you may be familiar with the poem from The Simpsons‘ episode “Treehouse of Horror,” in which it was read by the velvet-voiced James Earl Jones. In any case, Price’s version of “The Raven” provides a good introduction to two cultural essentials: classic poetry, and classic B movies.

O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000) — Sure, you’ve seen this one, but were you thinking about “The Odyssey” while you were watching it? This Coen brothers film is indeed based on Homer’s epic poem, and also happens to be one of the auteur-ish duo’s most beloved works. Apparently, the Coen’s decided to base the film on “The Odyssey” only after they had started working on it and noticed the similarities between the two stories. Still, it features a great soundtrack, tragicomedy laughs, and manages to familiarize people with one of the greatest literary works in Western civilization.

I’m Not There (2007) — This movie could arguably appear on this list simply for being about Bob Dylan. However, as good as Dylan’s lyrics are, I’d argue that they’re still just that: lyrics. Instead, this film is here for its depiction of the seminal American poet, Allen Ginsberg. Ginsberg is typically associated with the beat movement, and is accordingly still an icon of angsty, disaffected counterculturalism. His most famous work, “Howl,” was even considered obscene and put on trial (via obsenity charges against its publisher). In I’m Not There, actor David Cross’ depiction of Ginsberg — as a kind of ironic sage —  manages to capture an artist’s poetic ethos as few films have.

Il Postino (1994) — I like all the movies on this list, but Il Postino might be my favorite. It’s the kind of film that’s unwaveringly committed to its story, while somehow also managing to be heartwarming and charming. The story depicts a chapter Chilean poet Pablo Neruda’s exile, as well as the fictional relationship that he forms with an Italian postman. As the postman delivers mail to Neruda he learns about the power of poetry, first in love and eventually in politics. Neruda’s poetry is affective and simply amazing, and few films that include poetry are as overtly about it as Il Postino. However, and perhaps most importantly, Il Postino ultimately makes the argument that poetry matters as a force for good in the world.

A Knight’s Tale (2001) — With Heath Ledger’s death in 2008, this film will always be remembered as one of the star’s funnest and most adored works. Yet, it’s also important to remember that the film is possibly the most entertaining depiction of Chaucer in all of cinema. In the film, Chaucer is basically Ledger’s PR man, giving rousing speeches before violent tournaments. In real life, Chaucer is perhaps the first person ever to write poetry in actual English. He wrote The Canterbury Tales about a bunch of pilgrims, which along with his other works helped turn English into a formal, normalized language. Of course, none of that is shown in A Knight’s Tale, but the film at least portrays the poet as a man with a propensity for eloquence.


FILM: Sundance All Year

Written by Jordan Petersen on . Posted in Film

Have you heard about this? I can be almost homogeneously certain that you have not, because I hadn’t before last week. It’s called the Sundance Institute Film Series, and it’s perhaps one of the coolest things ever.

Our editor, Steve, e-mailed me recently about a set of animated films that would be screened up at the Tower Theatre in Salt Lake City. The press release billed it as an “Animation Spotlight,” wherein audiences could see films that had been featured at recent Sundance Film Festivals. How could I pass this up? Easy answer: I couldn’t. So I petitioned my wonderfully accommodating and open-minded girlfriend for her company, and off we went last Thursday night to see what this thing was all about.

There were three filmmakers whose films were featured — Corky Quakenbush, Yi Zhou, and Carson Mell, all of whom were present during the screening of their respective films. Each of the filmmakers’ styles of animation were about as different from each other as the medium will allow.

Quakenbush is a stop-motion guy, and his stories tapped into the rich irony of pop culture and were often very funny. Zhou is every inch the abstract artist. Her films were feelings rather than stories, and the images that she created were haunting, beautiful, and wonderfully inaccessible. Mell is a one-man show. His animation consisted mainly of cartoonish drawings with his own mouth inserted into the image to give life to his characters. And his stories were utterly fabulous, demonstrating a poetic sensibility that is… well, rare. (Here’s an example, but be forewarned: some of the language and subject matter are not for children.)

The filmmakers also took the stage for some casual Q&A. I even raised my hand with this disquieting question, “How do you eat?” Their answers were personal, honest, and informative. (Quakenbush talked about his desire to see micropayments escape the confines of a pipe dream — Jon, if you’re reading this, I’d like to request an article…)

All in all, the event was delightfully satisfying. I expected good things, and they were delivered. Are you jealous? Don’t be. You see, the Sundance Institute does something of this nature every month. Next up:

“Samson & Delilah” (with director and screenwriter Warwick Thornton)
Thursday, May 6th
Park City Library, 7:00 p.m.

The deal gets even sweeter: these screenings are free. You may find yourself thinking that living in Utah doesn’t afford you the kind of opportunities for cultural exposure you would find elsewhere, but the fact that Sundance is here and active more than just one month out of the year proves that you’ve just got to know where to look. So right now, I’m telling you, look here.

Clash of the Titans

FILM: Weekends Are For Movies: April 2-4

Written by Jordan Petersen on . Posted in Film

This marks the first of a weekly installment about what movies to look out for at the theaters each weekend. I’d love to start off with a complete list of all the films that are out now, some info about them, and my opinions of which are worth your while, but that would take way more of my time and yours than I think either of us really want. So instead, I’ll assume you’ve done a little digging for older films, and have some curiosity about what gets released this weekend. On that note, here’s what’s new this weekend:

Clash of the Titans (PG-13) — With a score of 41% on Rotten Tomatoes (hereafter RT), you might want to think twice about this one. It’s full of stars and effects and mythology, and it’s the first “BIG” movie to hit the theaters in months (oh, those dismal winter months), but this one probably wasn’t outfitted for the intellectually discerning audience. And that’s OK, right? We don’t need all of our films to make us think hard. Roger Ebert liked it, and for all the right reasons, it seems, so I’m confident that this film will satisfy most people’s appetite for popcorn. It was also directed by Louis Letterier (The Incredible Hulk with Edward Norton), which means at the very least the film will have some really great energy. You can also see it in 3-D, which could be either an incentive or deterrent.

Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married Too? (PG-13) — Tyler Perry is a man that makes a lot of people angry. I’m not sure why. He’s a pretty good filmmaker, and he knows his audience extremely well. He also makes admirably moral films, a commodity that is becoming increasingly rarefied. So go him, and go his films. I won’t say you have to go see this movie, but I will say that it is probably pretty good. And you’d probably end up liking it and… feeling good. That’s sort of the point of his films, I think.

The Last Song (PG) — Do you just loooooove Hannah Montanna Miley Cyrus? Well then I have the most fantastic news! I think that’s all I need to say. (Except for maybe this.)

A Prophet (R) — This one comes out today at the Broadway Centre Cinemas in Salt Lake. Depending on where you live, this might be a bit of a drive, but this one is still worth some notice. It got nominated for Best Foreign Film at the Academy Awards not too long ago, and a lot of people thought it would win. I can’t speak for the film personally, as I haven’t seen it, but I do know a number of people who were pretty impressed with it at Sundance.

And that’s it. Future weeks might be more exciting (or more boring — always a possibility), but for this week, this is what’s new. As obvious as it is, I actually find Movies.com to be supremely helpful when I’m in the mood to spend some time at the theaters on any given day, so I recommend a visit if you (weirdly) didn’t know about it.


FILM: Who is Roman Polanski?

Written by Jordan Petersen on . Posted in Film

Roman Polanski has problems. He’s suffered some pretty awful things, and he’s done some pretty awful things. The man should be neither vilified nor justified, and those who do either are looking for an easy way out of a very complicated human being.

You may not know who I’m talking about, and that’s alright. But if you have any meaningful interest in film, this man merits serious consideration. Suffice it to say his most recent, The Ghost Writer, got released a couple weeks ago and I saw it, which motivated me to get a few thoughts down about the man and his films.

You’re most likely to have heard about The Pianist (2002). It won a few Oscars (including Best Actor for Adrien Brody) and immediately stood out as one of the finest Holocaust films ever made. I didn’t end up seeing this one until last year, but when I did it bowled me over. I’m not much of a crier, and at most a really good film might get a tear or two out of me. But ten minutes into this film, I was crying and I didn’t quite stop until a good while after the credits had stopped rolling. It was just one of those experiences.

Shortly thereafter I learned that it shared the same director as another powerful film I had seen a couple of years prior – Oliver Twist (2005). I should note here that Charles Dickens is (predictably) my favorite author. I don’t think anyone has ever come as close to transferring the deep brilliance of Dickens’ work to film as Polanski did with his adaptation of Twist.

Two weeks ago, I got my first taste of one of his much earlier films, from 1965, Repulsion. It is about sexual abuse, and it is one of the only films that has ever truly, deeply, lastingly frightened me. When that film was over… How can I say this? I wanted to be held.

And so it was with somewhat high expectations that I entered the theater to watch his latest. Polanski, it should be noted, is a critic’s filmmaker, which is evidenced by Ghost’s score of 77% on Rotten Tomatoes. With a score like that, and this director’s track record, I looked forward to a well-made film. Perhaps political, perhaps slow, but of a high filmic caliber.

As expected, it was cinematically superb. The composition of every shot was beautiful, the excellent cast delivered excellent performances all, and the dialogue was tight and clever. It was also, however, a bit of a mess, and here’s why. It meant to be an R-rated film, and “language” was going to get it there. But then the distributors, or whoever, probably realized that they had a deliberately slow-moving thriller on their hands (it moves sort of like real life, which can be revelatory but fails pretty roundly to be very thrilling). So they went ahead and dubbed over all the instances of the almighty F-word with vaguely less offensive words. The result was essentially an edited movie, which was weird, but very PG-13. And still very slow.

In all, I wouldn’t recommend using this as your entry into Roman Polanski’s films. It’ll probably bore you. I wasn’t bored, but I certainly wasn’t deeply affected either. But I think people should get into his films–at least one or two. The things he’s done (and you can read all about it elsewhere) are condemnable. But some of his films are so supremely worthy of our attention that to dismiss them would be irresponsible.

This becomes less of a review of The Ghost Writer, which turns out to be a mediocre film, than it is a brief contemplation of what an artist is to his art. What have we to do with a man who may very well be lost? What have we to do with his work? Are the two separable or not? And if we can receive the man’s work without also accepting the man, should we?

These are honest questions for which I do not have satisfying answers. I’m interested, for those of you who have made it to the end of this article, to hear what you have to say, especially if you are at all familiar with Polanski and his films.


FILM: Review: Alice in Wonderland

Written by Jordan Petersen on . Posted in Film

Alice in Wonderland is one of my favorite philosophical texts. The rabbit-hole and looking-glass motifs represent a fantastically rich source for out-of-box thinking in dramatic narrative. Some of the most powerful stories and films borrow from that tradition and by so doing reach a depth of subconscious resonance that is often disturbingly surreal and intensely meaningful.

Some years ago, I watched a Czech adaptation of this narrative called Alice from 1988 in one of my film classes, and I was basically alone in singing the film’s praises. I easily understood why my classmates seemed to be so upset: the film was unmercifully strange, starkly surrealist and impenetrable. I loved it for exactly all of those reasons. To me, the significance of Lewis Carroll’s book was best served by Alice’s unsettling images. The film transported me to a state of subconscious disorientation in a way that no other film has.

Tim Burton had more conventional fare in mind. He wanted to reach a broader audience, which is entirely justified by a budget of roughly $200 million. You’ve got to make that money back. So I sat down in the theater with that in mind, my expectations set as closely as I could manage to the filmmakers’ probable intent.

The film delivered. The production design was numbingly abundant and unique, although I couldn’t help but be reminded of his recent adaptation of that chocolate factory movie. But that wasn’t a terrible thing. The creatures and character of environment were impressively imaginative and thrilling. I loved the look and feel of the film just about as much as I was hoping I would.

The character actors were all extraordinarily fun and effective. Depp’s Mad Hatter switched unaccountably between a slurred, lisping pattern of an implacable accent and a kind of poetic Scottish bravado. Helena Bonham Carter was delightful, as always, and sported her gigantic heart-shaped head heroically. My favorite, however, turned out to be Anne Hathaway’s white queen. It’s difficult to describe her absurd, self-aware, princess-style grace as she floated from place to place and interacted with everyone. She was a sheer pleasure to watch.

The writing was quite good as well. It managed to stay almost totally clear of the unforgivable triteness that clogs most family-oriented material. That’s a feat in itself, and ought to be commended (as I am this moment so doing).

Yet the newest incarnation of Carroll’s classic had but one fatal flaw: a wooden Alice. Mia Wasikowska (a doozy of a last name, I know) is a new face, and that really is what the film needed; unfortunately, it also needed someone more dynamic and captivating. She faded into oblivion whenever she had to share the screen with anyone else. Her performance, while not terrible, was essentially forgettable. This was an enormous problem because the way in which this film was crafted depended upon an engaging Alice. Burton’s is a hero film, and so the audience must emotionally invest in the protagonist. The casting of Wasikowska was a mistake, and as a result, the hotly anticipated Alice in Wonderland by (insert drumroll here) Tim Burton was fundamentally unsatisfying.

In all, I’m disappointed, but not upset. Filmmaking is hard, and things are bound to go wrong, and there was a whole lot that went right with this one. The other thing that I have to remember is that I rarely love Tim Burton’s films upon first viewing. They typically grow on me over time. I’m not sure about Wonderland, but fortunately, I won’t at all mind seeing it again.

Jordan Petersen is a film correspondent for Rhombus.


FILM: The 82nd Academy Awards

Written by Jordan Petersen on . Posted in Film

The Oscars are kind of silly, aren’t they? It’s one big popularity contest devised by the popular. They are filmmakers congratulating themselves for making films.

Okay, I’m not actually that cynical about this subject, but I want to make it clear that I can understand the cynicism. It’s mostly fair. But the fact remains that the Oscars matter, and they will probably continue to matter for a long time. Any association with an Oscar, whether a win or just a nomination, will benefit a filmmaker’s career. And we all know that actors get more and better work after Oscar recognition. This is just the way the industry works.

So, despite myself, I cared. I wasn’t going to watch any of it last night, but then I did. In fact, I never have, but I decided at one point that I might as well, as deeply entrenched as I am in everything film. I started to watch in time to see the Best Male Actor, Female Actor, Directing, and Picture categories. My thoughts follow.

In general, the parts of the event that I saw were warm, classy, and mostly entertaining. There were no Sean Penn moments or even overtly stupid nominations. The whole thing felt like what you sort of hope the Oscars will feel like. Maybe a little too dramatic for what it is, but it’s fun to get caught up in the moment. I was also very gratified by the overall lack of political axe-grinding.

Jeff Bridges took Best Actor for Crazy Heart, and while his speech treaded dangerously on the line between grateful and awkwardly ecstatic, the win was well-deserved and long overdue. He’s got a very large body of work behind him, and he’s an exceptional actor. It was good to see him finally take the little gold man home.

Sandra Bullock took Best Actress for The Blind Side, and her acceptance speech was wonderful. It was sincere, graceful, funny, and down-to-earth. She successfully pulled quite a few other people up to share the honor, including the other nominees. And she’s another excellent artist who is certainly deserving of the award.

This year, there were two films that were in a rather heated contest for Best Picture, and you probably already know which ones. They both had nine nominations, but couldn’t be more different in terms of style and content — though, significantly, they were both a type of military film. Avatar put on full display its director’s personal hatred for the military. The Hurt Locker‘s director has profound respect for those who serve, a fact which lent Kathryn Bigelow’s film its greatest strength. (It might also be interesting to point out that she and James Cameron spent a few years as husband-and-wife two decades ago.) And Locker swept the house this year, taking home six of its nine nominations, including Best Picture, Best Directing, Best Editing, and Best Original Screenplay. Avatar limped away with three: Best Cinematography, Art Direction, and Visual Effects (of course, and fairly).

Of particular note is that Bigelow is the first woman to take home the award for Best Directing. You may hear rumors that I jumped out of my seat and fist-pumped for both the Best Director and Best Picture announcements. For the record, these rumors are true. It was a good night with the Academy.

Jordan Petersen is a film correspondent for Rhombus.

FILM: An Open Letter to the Academy

Written by Jim Dalrymple on . Posted in Film

Dear Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences,

This year is a momentous one for the Oscars, primarily because you’ve nominated ten movies for best picture. Bravo. When I saw which movies had made the cut I was especially surprised. Up in the Air and The Hurt Locker I was expecting, but District 9? Hell yes!

Sadly, however, your august body of voters have chosen this year to overcompensate for past stodginess by also nominating Avatar. Like everyone else on the planet, I’ve seen Avatar. And I had a good time. I bet it was even fun for you too, and you probably didn’t feel that guilty about taking a break from all the French New Wave and Italian Neorealism.

The problem is that Avatar really isn’t great. It’s popular and it certainly looks pretty, but what else does it have? Cartoonish bad guys? Topless aliens? When it comes right down to it Avatar is just a Fern Gully mash-up with an enormous budget. It’s impressive, yes, but hardly profound. (This very publication has a review here that says as much.)

Which brings me to my point: please don’t let Avatar win Best Picture. It’s true that last year’s slighting of The Dark Knight was stupid and it’s understandable that you don’t want to make the same mistake twice. However, remember that being popular or impressive isn’t the same thing as being great. Also, there are a whole bunch of other best picture nominees that are popular and acclaimed. Why not give the Oscar to Up, The Blind Side or Inglourious Basterds? These are also all movies that people actually watched.

The problem is that I keep reading about how the contest for best picture is going to come down to The Hurt Locker and, of course, Avatar. The former is a great war movie and, if still in the not-widely-seen genre, is complex and lingering enough to deserve a nomination. Avatar isn’t. I know that I’ve criticized the Academy before for being out of touch (here, for example), but I had hoped for some kind of balance between quality and popular appeal. An Avatar win, on the other hand, will say that it’s one or the other.

So this year keep throwing the fans a bone, but don’t blatantly pander. You proved me wrong about taking “business as usual,” but don’t completely jump ship on quality.

With all due respect,

Jim Dalrymple

Jim Dalrymple is a regular culture correspondent for Rhombus.