Moneyball

Margin Call

At the first critical dramatic pivot moment of J.C. Chandor’s solid Margin Call, Zachary Quinto’s Eric stares at his computer screen, carefully removing his earbuds, as the camera slowly cranes downward. The technique demonstrates that Eric has encountered urgent, potentially catastrophic information about the investment bank he is near-anonymously employed at. We never see what Eric sees; instead, the camera – and the audience – occupy the space of the computer itself, as if the information Eric sees should be projected directly on our imaginations. This technique is common amongst recent critically-acclaimed films that use information, math, data, code and the like as major elements in their plots; the information itself, implicitly meaningless and insignificant on its own to mass audiences who likely don’t possess the expertise of characters (or, for that matter, the filmmakers) is only made fleetingly available, if seen at all. Instead, traditional dramatic techniques illustrate the dramatic affect of the information. Films like Margin Call, Moneyball, and The Social Network balance reliable, empathetic experts (i.e., endearing nerds) with naïve everypersons or conventional narrative devices in order to demonstrate the importance of information, largely without exhibiting information itself. This is an interesting yet surprisingly conservative approach to information-grounded films released in the middle of the ostensible Information Age. Rather than paint a democratized landscape of data, these films posit that information is privileged almost exclusively to the intelligent and the young, and then these films contort themselves to speak to audiences outside specialized fields of expertise.

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Over Under - Large

While inspirational sports stories usually prove to be box office draws, when you make them you still run the risk of alienating the portion of the film-going audience who just don’t like sports. If someone doesn’t like basketball or football, how do you get them to sit through a story where people play basketball or football for two hours? Brad Pitt’s 2011 starring vehicle, Moneyball, was hyped by its fans as being a baseball story that anybody could get into. Its focus was more on statistics and science stuff than it was gameplay. It was more about bucking the system than it was winning the big game. And at its heart was a story about a failed man reclaiming his life and growing as an individual. There’s no need to be into baseball to enjoy all of that stuff, right? Major League, conversely, is a 1989 comedy that was aimed squarely at baseball fans. If you didn’t know about the Cleveland Indians’ pathetic standing in the league, if you didn’t have a long-standing relationship with hearing Bob Uecker’s voice talk about the game, and if you didn’t know the ins-and-outs of each position and exactly what it takes to be bad at playing them, then a lot of the movie’s charms were likely going to be lost on you. And if you could care less about whether or not the Indians beat the Yankees in the championship game, would you even be able to get anything out of watching this […]

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Culture Warrior

Editor’s Note: With Landon Palmer busy (read: probably writing a thesis on Sexual Deviancy in John Wayne Films in the Greater Context of Post-WWII America As Seen Through the Work of Southern Filmmakers), the excellent, insightful Adam Charles has stepped in to write this week’s entry. Enjoy. Few things have been as equally discussed and deliberated over the past few weeks than that of who Lionsgate was going to choose to take the reigns from Gary Ross to direct the second installment in The Hunger Games franchise. The first film had one of the biggest opening weekends in history (and it didn’t even require 3D price-hikes to get there), earned a positive majority from critics, and has a dedicated fanbase that defies demographic lines of fandom; and they’re chomping at the bit to see the next adaptation in the series, Catching Fire, as quickly as possible. Neither Lucas, Spielberg, or even Peter Jackson’s franchises could replicate just how much of the domestic populous is waiting for the next picture.

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Oscar 2012 Predictions: Best Picture

The Best Picture Academy Award is really what explains film as a collaborative effort. The Best Picture is what the Academy has found to be the best combination of every aspect that film has, whether thematically or structurally. The producers of the winner take home the Oscar, because, well, they footed the bill. They were also the decision-makers. We know its more of a gray area than that, but the classic Academy likes to think like classic movie-making. It doesn’t stop the Best Picture winners from being some of the greatest pieces of work in the artform. One film this Sunday will be written in along with films like It Happened One Night, On The Waterfront, The Godfather parts 1 & 2, and No Country For Old Men. That’s a list of 83 movies that will be or already are considered essentials when it comes to film history. We don’t look down on the nominees who didn’t win. What are they called? Oh, yeah. Losers. But, seriously, they are all films of value in some form or another, films that were still able to make their mark on some part of this history. But it’s that big boy. That one who gets its name yelled out at the end of the night, who hears the orchestra play their music for the climax of the show, that’s the one that’ll make headlines come Monday morning. Which one is it gonna be? The odds seem better for some, but here’s the breakdown […]

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Oscar 2012 Predictions: Best Actor

Each year, there’s a certain group of people who bemoan the Oscars (and pretty much every other organization’s awards) for being nothing but a popularity contest. They’re right, of course, but the Oscars also helps set the standard for quality films… at least quality films from those who are popular in the industry. However, when it comes to the Academy Award for Best Actor, it’s probably the biggest popularity contest out there (only to be matched by the battle for the Best Actress Oscar, of course). It’s not just about who gave the most solid performance in a motion picture, but also who schmoozes the best at parties and on the red carpet. These awards are also often sewn up early and are less unpredictable than the lower profile awards for Costume Design and Sound Editing (Jane Eyre and Transformers represent, yo!). Still, as one of the “big six” awards, Best Actor is an important one. A nomination alone can breathe new life into a career. Just look at what it did for John Travolta in the mid-90s. Likewise, winning an award can help make you a superstar, like it did for Nicolas Cage around the same time. (Of course, now the Academy claims no responsibility for Cage’s more recent career choices.) In any respect, this year’s race for Best Actor presents a slate of great performances from newcomers and veterans alike, even if it’ll all be a popularity contest in the end. Read on for the nominations and my […]

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Oscar 2012 Predictions: Best Adapted Screenplay

While it’s inevitable that one day, perhaps one day soon, the Best Adapted Screenplay category will be jam-packed with reboots and comic book stories and robot superheros flicks, it’s not quite that day just yet. For now, Adapted Screenplay (which, over the years, has also been called Screenplay Adapted From Other Material, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium, and Best Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published) is the refuge of book nerds and theatre wonks. And, also, weirdly enough, sequels (did you know that all sequels are automatically considered adaptations because they must be based on the original story?). This year’s category includes some of the year’s best films (and one I absolutely hated, mainly because I love the original material so much), from a family drama to a kiddie flick for grown-ups, all the way to a political drama and a sports drama and a big, smart spy flick. But, in my mind, there’s just one clear nominee deserving of the award – but do you agree? Read on for the nominations and my predicted winner in red…

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Avengers Walking!

What is Movie News After Dark? It’s a nightly movie news column that seeks to dazzle you with facts, figures, commentary and hyperlinks. And hyper-facts, figure-links and perhaps some commentary on figures. But enough about Chris Evans’ abs… We begin this evening with a still from a very intense walking sequence in The Avengers. It’s one of a pair of new photos released yesterday via Marvel.com, featuring Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye, Chris Evans as Captain America (said to be the central character of Avengers) and Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow. At least one of these characters appears to be showing off a little more skin than usual.

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Culture Warrior

For the first time in recent memory, I’m going into Oscar Sunday having no idea who is likely to take home many of the major awards. I’m sure there are entire websites out there devoted to an accurate prediction of who and what will take home the gold on Sunday, but there seems something a bit different about this year. Of the nine films nominated, I don’t have a clear sense of what would be the top five had AMPAS not changed the number of entries in the top category. While The Artist may clearly have more of a chance than, say, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, there’s no grand battle between likely leads like there was between The King’s Speech and The Social Network last year. And I don’t think I’m alone in stating that this year’s uninspiring list of nominees seems to reflect a growing indifference against the ceremony itself. Sure, on Sunday, like I have every year since I was eleven years old, I’ll watch the entire ceremony from beginning to end. And, like every year since I was twenty-one years old, I’ll make fun of the pompous and excessive self-congratulatory nature of the proceedings. But while in most years I have had some skin in the game, besides the two nominations afforded to the excellent Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and the presence of the transcendentally excellent Pina in the Best Documentary Feature category, this year I didn’t even get a sense that the Academy was awarding […]

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Culture Warrior

The Oscar montage reel is a genre on its own. It’s transparently demonstrative of the overall function of the Academy Awards. These montage reels summarize and make explicit what the annual ceremony attempts to accomplish writ large: to create and solidify a canon of important American films, along with a delimited understanding of their importance. Yes, the Oscars have occasionally given a voice to the indie underdog and rush through their obligatory movies-with-subtitles category, but besides the occasional screenplay nomination for a truly innovative film and the rare foreign language film that broaches through the marginal categories, the Oscars are by and large a celebration of American cinema, specifically Hollywood cinema. During the 2006 ceremony, a moment occurred that has been seared into my memory. I haven’t been able to find a clip of it online since it aired six years ago, so I hope this isn’t wishful or inaccurate. The 2006 ceremony consisted of a spate of overtly political films, as Crash, Brokeback Mountain, Munich, Good Night and Good Luck competed for top honors, and Syriana was in the running for other awards. In likely hopes of gaining cultural capital from celebrating mainstream cinema’s rarely explored but ever-present political function, the Academy aired a self-congratulatory reel of past Oscar-nominated films that have addressed other topical social problems, from In the Heat of the Night to Philadelphia. When the lights came back and the audience applauded with anticipated decorum, host Jon Stewart then graced the stage and stated, in a […]

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Culture Warrior

A week and a half ago, Anthony Hemingway’s Red Tails was released. On the surface, the film breathes Hollywood oxygen through-and-through. It’s a WWII era action film that uses its setting for broad family-friendly cheese-banter and CGI-heavy eye candy rather than an opportunity for a sober interrogation of history. Red Tails looks and feels like any Hollywood film geared toward as mass an audience as possible. But the studio that’s distributing it – 20th Century Fox – didn’t pay a dime to produce it. The reported $58 million cost to make Red Tails came solely out of the pocket of producer George Lucas, who had been attempting to get a film about the Tuskegee Airmen made since the early 1990s. He was continually met with resistance from a studio system that saw anything less than the biggest guaranteed appeal to the largest possible audience as a “risk,” including a heroic true story about African-American airmen. The ideology that closed the doors on George Lucas of all people reflects the same business mentality that inspired Jeffrey Katzenberg’s lengthy warning to other studios in a memo written during the same years that Lucas was first trying to get Red Tails financed.  In the memo, Katzenberg warned studios regarding their practice of exponentially centralizing all their resources in a few very expensive projects, resulting in high risk, little room for experimentation, and an increasing reliance on that coveted monolith known as the “mass audience” (which, to make things even more complicated, now includes […]

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The Reject Report - Large

Not to be confused with Reject Report, The White, which is what happens after we do battle with the Balrog. Reject Report, The White is never NEVER wrong. But in our current form we have to take into account things like star power and demographics and mass appeal, the kinds of aspects that go into making a film financially successful. This week sees three new movies wanting that success and one Oscar contender expanding to wide release. Liam Neeson fights wolves, Sam Worthington faces a ledge, and Katherine Heigl takes on…money, I guess. I’m not really sure. Only one of these movies can be the victor while the other two scrounge for scraps to make up $10-15m. Not even worth the effort really. It’s the Reject Report, and you shall not pass. Okay, now you can pass. Go ahead.

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It’s been a year filled with silent screen stars seeking redemption, the 1920s coming alive in Paris, a young boy searching for the first great director, sex addicts in New York City, horses going to war, maids of dishonor, and skulls getting crushed in elevators. Now it’s time to celebrate all of those things and more with the 84th annual Academy Awards. They’ve come a long way since the Hotel Roosevelt in 1929 (although sex addicts have almost always been a fixture). Get to ready to smile, ball your fists with snubbed rage, or be generally unsurprised. Here they are. The 2012 Oscar nominees:

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This Week in Blu-ray

Hey look, it’s an edition of This Week in Blu-ray. We’d bet you didn’t see that coming, did you? Anyway, it’s back to the grind with plenty of great new Blu-ray releases to talk about. Everything from one of the best shows on television to Brad Pitt revolutionizing the game of baseball to a few releases from previous weeks that we’re sad to have missed. This includes, of course, a release from last week that has us developing a severe case of mysophobia. Boardwalk Empire: The Complete First Season It has taken HBO something like forever to get their premiere drama out on Blu-ray and DVD, but the story of Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi) and his power struggles at the top of 1920s Atlantic City is more than worth the wait. From an all-star cast led by Buscemi, Michael Pitt, Michael Shannon and Kelly McDonald (alongside Paz de la Huerta’s naked body), Boardwalk is one show that does not fail to keep its audience glued from episode to episode. Which makes it the perfect title for a Blu-ray purchase, as you’ll want to keep watching until you hit the end. And with its beautiful menus, well-designed and sturdy packaging and decent assortment of extras, the Blu-ray set feels right at home in the stylish world of Nucky and friends. It’s the collector’s item that you’ll want to have on your shelf for years to come.

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This Week in DVD

Welcome back to This Week In DVD! Not a big or high profile week of releases, but there are some solid titles just the same. And there’s even a theme! Of sorts. More than a few of the titles below far exceeded my expectations including HBO’s Boardwalk Empire which I feared would be little more than a period piece Sopranos, Anna Faris’ latest comedy (What’s Your Number?) that I never expected to be so damn funny and charming, and my pick of the week about the accounting behind the business of baseball. Because seriously, how could that not be boring as dirt? As always, if you see something you like, click on the image to buy it. Moneyball Billy Beane (Brad Pitt), the general manager of the Oakland A’s, tries to end his team’s losing streak with an unorthodox mathematical approach to picking and playing his players. We all know baseball is the most boring team-based sport in the world, so it would seem to follow that a two-hour plus movie about the behind the scenes management of a baseball team would be a complete and utter snooze-fest. But Moneyball is a fascinating watch even when Pitt and Jonah Hill are just bouncing stats back and forth and comparing players. The end feels a bit underwhelming, but getting there is far more interesting and engaging than any baseball game.

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The Writers Guild of America has released the nominees for their Writer’s Guild Awards today, and while there’s certainly some room for quibbling as far as their choices go, the screenplays they’ve nominated in their film categories are at least a diverse array of projects. There’s something here for everyone. I balked at these choices a bit on first glance, they’d left off many of my favorite films of the year. But after thinking about what was missing for a few seconds I started to realize that a lot of the films I really loved over the course of 2011 relied more on mood and photography than they did their screenplays. In my mind, there was no real superstar script this year, like Inception and The Social Network last year. I loved things like Drive and Shame, but did their greatness really lie in their screenplays? Still, I can think of a handful of things that I would have liked to have seen included that weren’t. As far as original screenplays go, I think a film like Warrior was a master of structure, and is more deserving than something like Bridesmaids, which was a fairly generic comedy plot and which probably relied largely on improvisation for its humor. And I really miss a nomination for something like The Skin I Live In when it comes to the adapted screenplay section; especially when they’ve nominated a film like The Help, which cannot name writing as one of its strengths. Check out […]

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The Best Films of 2011

It has come time once again to move from celebrating the worst, most annoying and most discussed films of the year — something we do at the front of our Year in Review for a reason — and start celebrating those films that have earned places in our hearts, celebrating all the best of 2011, a year that, on the whole, wasn’t such a bad year at the movies. And once again I’m honored to present my top picks of the year, as the Publisher of Film School Rejects. It’s not a vanity thing, but more of a tradition. Since the site’s inception, I’ve always presented my best of the year as The Editor’s Picks. And while I’m honored by this opportunity and enjoy it immensely, if you’re anything like me, you’re probably waiting with bated breath for what will come later in the week when we release The Staff Picks. Because they are the ones who are really interesting. But until then, you get me and my odd gathering of best films from the year that was.

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Culture Warrior

Usually I’m quite cynical about end-of-year lists, as they demand a forced encapsulation of an arbitrary block of time that is not yet over into something simplified. I typically find end-of-year lists fun, but rarely useful. But 2011 is different. As Scott Tobias pointed out, while “quiet,” this was a surprisingly strong year for interesting and risk-taking films. What’s most interesting has been the variety: barely anything has emerged as a leading contender that tops either critics’ lists or dominates awards buzz. Quite honestly, at the end of 2010 I struggled to find compelling topics, trends, and events to define the year in cinema. The final days of 2011 brought a quite opposite struggle, for this year’s surprising glut of interesting and disparate films spoke to one another in a way that makes it difficult to isolate any of the year’s significant works. Arguments in the critical community actually led to insightful points as they addressed essential questions of what it means to be a filmgoer and a cinephile. Mainstream Hollywood machine-work and limited release arthouse fare defied expectations in several directions. New stars arose. Tired Hollywood rituals and ostensibly reliable technologies both met new breaking points. “2011” hangs over this year in cinema, and the interaction between the films – and the events and conversations that surrounded them – makes this year’s offerings particular to their time and subject to their context. This is what I took away from this surprising year:

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Good morning from Los Angeles, where we announce major award nominations at 5:30AM on a Thursday morning. That’s how much we value your sleep patterns and sanity. Now that I’ve pulled myself out of a state of under caffeinated shock over some of the Golden Globe nominations – namely, that Ryan Gosling was nominated for lead actor in both the drama and comedy and musical categories, though neither of those nods was for Drive (Crazy, Stupid, Love.? really? I had no idea that the Hollywood Foreign Press Association was so into abs!). Beyond that jolt to the system, there were a number of standard choices for the awards. The Artist? Well, of course? But all that Ides of March love? Interesting. The Artist leads with six nominations, followed by The Descendants and The Help with five each, and The Ides of March, Midnight in Paris, and Moneyball with four nods. But despite the overwhelming sense that (per usual) the Globes are just softball awards, there are some surprisingly good picks buried amongst the fluff – Tilda Swinton getting a lead actress (drama) nomination, Michael Fassbender earning a lead actor (drama) nod for Shame, Bridesmaids and Midnight in Paris up for Best Picture (comedy or musical), Charlize Theron getting a lead actress (comedy or musical) nomination for Young Adult, The Skin I Live In up for Best Foreign Film, and Albert Brooks getting his nod for supporting actor for Drive (drama). The Golden Globes will air live on January 15. Check out […]

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The Reject Report

What? Tintin? I know what you’re thinking. “I know we had Daylight Saving Time this morning, Jeremy, but you’re taking this “time travel” business a little too far, aren’t you?” You’ve probably notice we’re still at the beginning of November and haven’t been transported magically to December 21st when The Adventures of Tintin gets its US release, and you’d be both observant and right. However, Tintin, world figure that he is, got his release in several foreign markets on October 26th-28th. The ignorant American that I am didn’t bother to address this until now. Well, here you go, foreign markets. It’s your day to shine. The Adventures of Tintin has already pulled in $125.3m in foreign territories, pretty much guaranteeing its worldwide success well before its North American release. The film is already generated income from over 5000 locations in 21 foreign markets, but most of its dollars have come from the United Kingdom and France so far. It made $21 million from France last weekend and $10.9m from the UK. Spain and Germany were also big markets for the film, pulling over $10m from the locations combined.

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The Reject Report

Yes, we know. It’s a little early to be celebrating Christmas already. It’s actually a lot early to be celebrating Christmas, but what’s good enough for the weekend box office is good enough for the Reject Report. There is a Christmas movie hitting this weekend, A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas, and it’ll be looking to take dollars and laughs away from the other new release, Tower Heist. As much as we’d all like to see Brett Ratner go down in flames to the might of Harold & Kumar, that outcome might not be so foregone. Doesn’t matter to our Christmas spirit, though. We’ll still be singing carols and hanging out underneath the mistletoe. Alone. Practicing on the back of our hands. Oh, right, the box office.

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published: 04.17.2014
D+
published: 04.17.2014
B-
published: 04.16.2014
B+
published: 04.16.2014
C-

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