Boston, Hollywood: A Make-Believe City that Turns Good Men into Proud Criminals

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“New York City was basically a character in the movie!” This is something you may have heard actors, directors, or anyone else involved in a movie taking place in NYC, say during its promotional tour. It’s annoying. It’s a cliché. It hardly means anything. Yet we know what they mean when they say it: this movie takes place in New York and has that kind of classic “New York” feel to it. The buildings! The people! The taxis! The (ugh) energy! All of these tropes have been played out time and time again, but they seem to keep working on people because it fits the image that New York City has purported onto society. Los Angeles has done the same thing with their own image: if New York is the cool, grounded city, where regular folks are grinding away to “make it,” then LA is the glamourous city with ritzy parties, populated by movie stars and producers, and fancy premiers, where the champagne never stops flowing.

By all accounts, both of these cities are normal-ass places to live. There are rich people, there are poor people; there are people who love it and people who hate it; there are people who live there because there are lots of jobs and there are people who are obnoxiously proud of living there or having been raised there. The fabricated images we have of these cities mostly comes from how they’ve been portrayed in movies and television and act as an idealized version of themselves, filled with meaningless platitudes about what it means to live there: “Come to New York! If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere!”

It makes sense that a city would want to project an idealized fantasy of what life there is like, so that its residents can feel good about being from a “cool” city where all the “cool” people live, when in reality, they’re just places people live; nothing more, nothing less. All this is to say that these two cities aren’t even the most grating when it comes to portraying a falsified image of what life is like in your city. The city whose popular media image induces the hardest eye-rolls goes, without a doubt, to Boston.

By all accounts, Boston is no different from any other city in America. It too has poor neighborhoods, rich neighborhoods, plenty of normal people going about their day, some crime issues and much more. Just a whole bunch of stuff you would find anywhere else. But instead of opting for the more conventional image of “look how great this city is” that NYC and LA bludgeon the world with, Boston seems to have leaned its image into the idea that it’s a dangerous place to live, full of crime and that only the hardened natives of the city could ever handle a place like that.

It’s a bizarre act of self-mythologizing that seems to have mostly worked on the public through popular media. When people think of tough, dangerous, crime-ridden cities, they probably think of Detroit or Oakland, but also often include Boston, based on what they’ve learned from extremely popular movies like “The Town,” “Mystic River,” “Gone Baby Gone” and “The Departed.” In reality, Boston doesn’t even rank in most top ten lists of the most dangerous cities in America, based on the number of violent crimes per 100,000 residents.

So if Boston isn’t actually all that dangerous (at least not more so than most other cities), then why are the films that take place there (often written, directed or starring Boston natives) so hellbent on making the world think it’s an unpleasant place to live? Even the movies that aren’t focused on violent crime, still linger on a general ambiance of morosity, like the broken-family tropes and drug addiction scenes in “The Fighter,” the brooding, working-class elements of “Good Will Hunting,” and just the overwhelming and unrelenting sadness of “Manchester By The Sea.” For every “Fever Pitch” or “Ted,” there are five movies about Whitey Bulger, the mob or crooked cops.

What we seem to have here is an entire city experiencing a major bout of Napoleon Complex. Boston seems to think, for some reason, that it’s some kind of societal underdog and that many people don’t think of Boston as a “cool” place to live or visit on the same level as New York, LA or even Chicago, it has instead decided to pretend it’s proud to be less cool, and that not just anybody could handle living on its mean streets, full of criminals and honest-working tough guys who work with their hands. “Whatevah, you little sissies from LA could nevah handle these streets anyway. Why don’t you go back to your fahkin’ juice shops and your vegan restaurants while we pave our streets with our bare hands in the dead of wintah without any coats on. Fahk you.”

The opening text in Ben Affleck’s “The Town” (which is, by all means, a great, thrilling crime movie) actually quotes an anonymous man saying:

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This is the exact kind of self-mythologizing that Boston filmmakers seem to salivate over: this idea that their city is a terrible place to live, but also that its residents are proud of how awful it is there. “The Town” actually refers to Charlestown as the “bank robbery capital” of America, a superlative that has been heavily contested by its own residents.

So perhaps this isn’t the city of Boston with Napoleon Complex. Perhaps it’s actually the quiet self-mythologizing desires of a group of actors, directors, writers and producers from Boston that want to heavily imply how tough and street smart they are because of their Boston upbringing, without ever having to actually prove it. Matt Damon wrote “Good Will Hunting” about a genius boy from the wrong side of the tracks in Boston and despite actually being raised in Cambridge, MA, he probably wouldn’t mind if you just assumed he actually was a tough guy from a poor neighborhood in Beantown like his titular character.

I would never claim I’ve spent lots of time in Boston but I can tell you from the several visits I have taken there, that the city I’ve experienced could not be any more different from the city I see over and over again in movies. That’s not to say that my limited time spent there has allowed me to gather the “full” Boston experience but when someone visits New York or LA, even once, they’re bound to feel at least a few real-life traces of the fantasy that those cities project in popular culture.

If it were just one or two or even three movies that have visualized Boston in such a bleak palette, it wouldn’t be something worth noticing but when at least 15 mainstream films in the last 25 years have all made a specific point to see it as such, one can’t help but scratch their head and ask why. Of course there are stories that merit this kind of tone, such as real-life events like “Spotlight” and “Patriots Day,” but why does a fictional, crime thriller like “The Equalizer” and it’s even grittier sequel need to take place in Boston, especially when it’s based on an 80’s TV show that took place in New York City? Why make the specific choice to move it to Boston? One practical reason could be that it’s cheaper to film in Boston than New York and while that’s true, they also could have chosen any other city in America. Why can’t “The Equalizer” kill faceless thugs with a nail gun in Minneapolis? The reason is likely that there is an unspoken, yet generally accepted understanding that Boston is filled with crime and that it’s easy to swallow the idea that Denzel Washington needs to pulverize every generically evil person living there.

There’s a chance that it wasn’t always destined to be this way. Perhaps after the unexpected, smashing success of “Good Will Hunting” in the late 90’s, Hollywood immediately started looking into more scripts about crime and poverty in the Boston area; if it worked once, why wouldn’t it work again? If audiences kept lining up to see these movies and they kept getting showered with awards each year, why would they stop making them?


Academy Awards Given to Recent “Boston” Movies

Good Will Hunting – Best Original Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor
Mystic River – Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor
The Departed – Best Picture, Best Director, Best Film Editing, Best Adapted Screenplay
The Fighter – Best Supporting Actress, Best Supporting Actor
Spotlight – Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay
Manchester By The Sea – Best Actor, Best Original Screenplay


The issue for me always comes back to the general attitude of the Bostonians. Taking a look at a bloated movie like “Live By Night,” about Prohibition-era Boston, director and star, Ben Affleck, plays Joe Coughlin, a character who can only be described as “a badass war vet, who wears dope clothes, and doesn’t mind killing people in his way.” As you can guess, Coughlin gets caught up in the gritty, yet badass world of illegally distributing alcohol, even though his father is a POLICE CAPTAIN. It really just screams like the most ideal character a Boston actor would want to play: a badass dude who finds himself deep in the world of crime. It makes sense that Affleck would salivate over a role like that… hey let’s check to see who wrote the screenplay and dreamed up such a perfect Boston character: Ben Affleck.

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A perfect example of when someone comes up with a movie poster and then tries to build an actual movie around it.

As if that couldn’t be more on the nose for how Bostonians seem to idealize themselves and how tough their city is but how damn proud they are of that fact, the opening monologue delivered by Casey Affleck in “Gone Baby Gone,” a movie about a kidnapping in one of Boston’s poorest neighborhoods, literally just spells it out for the viewers, just so that there are no misunderstandings:

I always believed it was the things you don’t choose who make you who you are. Your city, your neighborhood, your family. People here take pride in those things, like it was something they’d accomplished. The bodies around their souls, the cities wrapped around those. I lived on this block my whole life. Most of these people have. When your job is to find people who are missing, it helps to know where they started. I find the people who started in the cracks and then fell through. This city can be hard. When I was young I asked my priest, how can you get to Heaven and still protect yourself from all the evil in the world. He told me what God said to His children, “You are sheep among wolves. Be wise as serpents, yet innocent as doves.”

Cutting through the gelastic pretention of that monologue, you’re essentially left with the same thesis of “people from Boston are cool and proud because this city is hard to live in. Fahk you; you just don’t understand.”

Maybe this just all seems like a fantasy that’s been carried out by Ben Affleck with some help from his brother, Casey and old pal, Damon, but the attitude has been purported in plenty of other popular films as well. Perhaps all of this traces back to the obsession over “Whitey” Bulger and his crime ring in the south of Boston. His Irish mob was put on screen in attempted detail in Scott Cooper’s “Black Mass” (a movie that wants to glorify him so badly without being accused of doing so that it essentially just kind of whispers to the audience, “pretty cool dude, huh?”) and more famously in a highly fictionalized version in Martin Scorsese’s “The Departed.”

Even thinking about “The Departed” makes me a little uneasy, and not just because I can visualize frat boys still going nuts over the opening riff of the Dropkick Murphys’ “Shipping Up to Boston” in 2019, but because this movie is likely the biggest perpetrator of Hollywood pushing the false narrative that Boston is, above all else, a tough-as-nails place to live. Where movies like “Good Will Hunting,” “The Town,” “Gone Baby Gone,” or “The Fighter,” attempt to approach the gritty Boston ambiance with some nuance (and they’re all better movies for it), “The Departed” uses it as its cool selling point; an entire movie that centers around the idea that you should watch it because it’s “cool,” and it’s “cool” because it’s about crime in Boston.

While “The Departed” could have taken some time to apply some realism to the situation it placed itself in or even go a step further and try to deconstruct the myth, it instead turns Boston into a crime-fantasy theme park, where it’s common for people in bars to horrifically maim each other over nothing, police officers to beat the shit out of each other on a regular basis and half a dozen people can murder each other without there being any real follow-up from law enforcement, because hey… that’s just Boston for ya. There is literally a full scene in this movie where Leonardo DiCaprio’s character cuts up someone’s face with a coat rack for a few minutes and it hardly matters at all. Jack Nicholson’s cringeworthy opening monologue essentially states that the only life choices for the citizens of Boston to make are whether to be a cop or a criminal…

This movie went on to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards. It’s stunning to see such a glaringly pulpy final product masquerading as something of grand intellect from one of cinema’s most celebrated directors, but I suppose the conversation surrounding Scorsese’s loss of nuance over the years, causing his movies to celebrate the thing they set out to critique, is a conversation for another day. The point is that millions of people saw it, then saw that it was rewarded by the Academy as a stunning achievement in filmmaking and saw that it was also embraced by the city of Boston, thus solidifying the city’s false narrative.

It’s not that these are necessarily bad movies either. Quite a few of them are really good (“The Departed” is not)! There just doesn’t seem to be any discernable reason for Boston to portray itself in Hollywood as the ‘edgy city that you could never understand unless you were born and raised there,’ other than a bad case of middle child syndrome. If places like LA, NYC, NOLA, SF and Austin are going to be so sought after by the masses then just pretend like you never even wanted people to like you; just act like people can’t handle how hardcore you are.

The thing is, people love Boston! For some reason though, if they can’t be #1 then they don’t even want to play. It’s a strange inferiority complex, as if the city is looking at the rest of the country with the stink-eye, saying “what you think you’re bettah than me? Fahk you.” Instead of boasting about everything the city has going in its favor, it has instead chosen to build a false mythology of crime, crooked cops, unending self-loathing and pain.

But has it? Perhaps it’s just the fantasy of a few Hollywood folks from the Boston area… we outsiders may never know for sure. This isn’t a condemnation of these movies; “The Town,” “Gone Baby Gone,” and “The Fighter” are all A+ movies, but why must people (no matter where they’re from) pretend that there is something the rest of the world just doesn’t know about where they come from?

Every town, city and neighborhood in the world has its unique problems, quirks and issues but when you constantly insist that one of them defines the area when it doesn’t at all… it just feel disingenuous.

Movies viewed as research for this post:

The Fighter
The Departed
Gone Baby Gone
Ted
Ted 2
The Town
Good Will Hunting
Spotlight
The Heat
Shutter Island
Black Mass
Patriots Day
Fever Pitch
Live By Night
Stronger
The Equalizer
The Equalizer 2
Manchester By The Sea
Mystic River
Last Flag Flying
The Social Network

You’re Watching the Wrong Movies on Airplanes

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A friend of mine recently told me that she loves movies but hates going to the movie theater (groan). When I asked how she stays up-to-date on the current state of cinema so well if she eschews the theater, I was expecting the normal answer of piracy but I was pretty shocked and disappointed to hear her response: she watches nearly all new movies on airplanes.

While I am a firm believer in the idea that every movie is meant to be viewed in a theater (yes, everything: comedies, action movies, thrillers, dramas, etc…), I understand that when a screen is shoved in your face for 6 hours as you fly back to New York from San Francisco, you’re probably going to watch a movie to kill some time. Action movies will look awful on a small screen and if there are any intense scenes involving airplanes, those will get cut, R-rated comedies are heavily edited for inappropriate content, and prestige dramas are also scrubbed clean of any Puritan social faux pas.

So, for the longest time, I always argued that you should watch something you’ve already seen and liked but haven’t watched in a while. Doing this means you won’t be too interrupted when the person next to you gets up and goes to the bathroom and then returns to their seat in 56 seconds*, if something is edited, it won’t really bother you because you know exactly what you missed, action scenes matter less because you’ve already seen them in all their theatrical glory before and those tense dramatic movies won’t have the tension cut in the middle of a pivotal scene by the pilot making an announcement about turbulence.

But last year I started doing something that I think might be even better than watching something I’ve already seen. I was on a flight to Puerto Rico, scrolling through the 80-something movies they had available and came across something that seemed interesting to me and I had an epiphany: you should always watch PG-13, 2000’s-era romantic comedies on airplanes. It was so simple yet so elusive. These are movies that I’ve never watched before and in any other situation would never willingly sit through, I don’t care if they get interrupted by announcements or other airplane-related distractions, the romantic scenes are so vanilla that there’s nothing to edit out, the comedy is tame enough to be left in and because humans are subconsciously more mentally vulnerable on airplanes, your emotions are more extreme, thus the lame jokes seem funnier and the final emotional payoff feels more satisfying than if you were watching the movie on TBS over the weekend.

My girlfriend (yeah, I know girls; no big deal) could not have been more perplexed as she saw me chuckling along with the predictably tame hijinks of “Bride Wars” on a flight last year and again this past weekend as I got visibly fired up watching Matthew McConaughey chase Kate Hudson to airport at the end of “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days.” All of a sudden when I had nothing else to do and my life rested in the hands of two pilots I couldn’t see, I became engrossed in the meaningless clichés and platitudes that the 2000’s-era romcoms championed themselves on. Suddenly, poor portrayals of “boys bein’ boys,” date nights gone wrong and sassy roommates seemed like pretty entertaining fare for a movie.

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A friend of mine told me he watched “Dunkirk” on a plane once and said he didn’t see the big deal about it. Maybe it just wasn’t his cup of tea; It’s entirely possible that he wouldn’t have seen the “big deal” about it even if he saw it on the big screen but he did himself and the movie a complete disservice when he decided to watch 2017’s largest cinematic spectacle on a 5-inch screen while someone next to him got up to take a crap every 35 minutes; not to mention a third of the film takes place in dogfighting airplanes, which is heavily edited for airplane viewing.

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Even something profoundly mediocre, like the recent Resse Witherspoon flop, “Home Again” kind of came around and worked for me in the final scenes while watching it in the sky. I don’t think I would even enjoy watching “Dunkirk” on a plane (mostly because I’d fear Tom Hardy would be seconds away from blowing me out of the sky); I had the choice to watch it just yesterday and I thought to myself, “no thanks.”

Don’t try to catch up on the movies everyone was talking about a few months ago on the plane. If you truly care to watch it, find a way to watch it at least on your TV at home. No one wants to hear your thoughts on your bastardized airplane viewings of “Call Me By Your Name” or “The Shape of Water.” But I will happily listen to your hot takes on your airplane viewing of “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past.”

 

*(side note: when someone next to you goes to the bathroom and you pause the movie, should you even un-pause it while they’re gone? They’ll be back so quickly and then you have to re-pause the movie so they can sit down again. It hardly seems worth it but I do it every damn time.)

Why Are You So Mad That Star Wars is Changing?

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This isn’t something I really thought I would or even want to write about but in the wake of recent events, it seems like the right time to do it. When it comes to Star Wars movies, I’m completely indifferent. I don’t have particularly strong feelings about them in any direction. Having said that, being indifferent to Star Wars somehow makes me a “hater” because of how much its rabid fanbase comparatively loves it. To me they always seemed like okay movies; I saw them when I was a kid but didn’t connect with them all that much, so I don’t have this burning nostalgia for them in my heart that others who really grew up on them do. I thought lightsaber battles were cool but that was about the extent of it.

Star Wars rarely seems to break into the realm of legitimately “good” movies. What works for Star Wars is that it is incredibly imaginative and because of that, they have a giant impression on children, who (and I know this hurts, fanboys) are the target audience for these movies. Yes. Star Wars, at its core, is a movie for kids, and there’s nothing wrong with that. The reason fanboys get so angry about Star Wars is their refusal to accept that. They enjoyed it when they were kids but they are not kids anymore, so when this franchise deviates from the established formula that they are nostalgically comfortable with, they throw a fit.

This isn’t all Star Wars fans. I am sure the vast majority of them are well-adjusted adults who have no problem with the franchise changing beyond Luke fighting Darth Vader. The problem is, well-adjusted people don’t make the news. No one wants to hear about people who politely enjoy things. Unfortunately, a loud minority of racists and misogynists are going to make the news every time, no questions asked. These are the folks that don’t want change. Change is different. Change is scary. Change is hard to embrace. It’s much easier to eat at McDonald’s every night because you know what you’re getting and that’s the same mentality that has driven these Star Wars fans insane; it’s as if McDonald’s changed their menu and that is unacceptable to them. So they have decided to viciously attack something they claim they love very dearly.

Just take a look at what has happened only in the last few months: Kelly Marie Tran (who was wonderful to watch in The Last Jedi) had to leave Instagram due to awful vitriol from “fans” of Star Wars; director, Rian Johnson has received numerous death threats for making The Last Jedi not fit smoothly with what is expected, no demanded, by the “fans” in a Star Wars movie and now there is a boycott of Solo, the newest movie, because these “fans” hate Kathleen Kennedy for trying to tell new stories within this universe. The message is clear and I’ve said this loooooooong before all of this ridiculous backlash took place: these fans do not actually want “new” Star Wars movies, they just want the same ones over and over again with a slightly new coat of paint to keep it a little fresh. They want it the way it was when they were kids; if it isn’t exactly like that, then it is not Star Wars.

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It’s mind-bending to think about. You have an imaginative franchise that takes place across a vast galaxy of planets and all you want to do is keep going back to Tatooine and the Death Star?? It wasn’t interesting at all to see an old and bitter Luke Skywalker? You just wanted him to come and save the day, yet again? How is that interesting at all? You had three whole movies of that exact thing already.

A friend once said to me, “but that’s not who Luke Skywalker is; he would never act like that.” Why not? He’s fucking made up. They can make him do whatever he wants. It’s not like they completely bastardized him; he didn’t grow a tail and breathe fire… a bad thing happened to him and they explained why that made him bitter. What’s the disconnect? You are absolutely allowed to not like it; you can even hate it, but you cross a line and make a complete fool of yourself when you threaten to assault anyone who was involved in making that creative choice.

You don’t own Star Wars. Nobody does (well, Disney does). Toxic fandom is nothing new. These are the same kinds of people that sent Damon Lindelof death threats because they didn’t like the finale to Lost. I get it, you love these properties and franchises and you get nervous about them being tampered with; you have an idea in your head of how they should play out and you get angry when it doesn’t go that way. But don’t you want to be surprised? Don’t you want to say, “wow, I never saw that coming!” If you perfectly guessed how an entire movie or TV show will play out, aren’t you upset that you knew the whole thing before it even started? You should want to be surprised. You should want to see new faces and new situations. I know you like The Force Awakens because it rehashed all the Star Wars tropes you already loved but do you really want to keep seeing the exact same movie over and over and over and over again for the next 50 years?

Netflix: The Savior & Destroyer of Mid-Budget Movies

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While it may be doing damage to the classical theatrical experience, Netflix investing in mid-budget movies is unfortunately a net positive. As we’ve come to find in recent years, studios seem to mostly be making two kinds of movies: giant tentpole blockbusters, like “The Avengers” and the teeny tiny indie that they hope will be the next “Little Miss Sunshine.”

Why gamble on a movie that costs $50 or $65 million that may only end up grossing $98 million back? It makes much more sense to dump truckloads on something that will make billions or spend as little as possible on something that might turn out to the charming little hit of the season? It’s a reliable business model; I get it.

But mid budget movies are something we desperately need. It’s nice to see a few A-listers in a dramedy, courtroom drama or cop movie. Unfortunately, much like romantic comedies, they have become few and far between. Yes, you’ll see them from time to time when the right kind of money and star power come together: a movie like The Judge (an overlooked gem) doesn’t get made unless it has the undeniable box office gravity of Robert Downey Jr, and the 2010 remake of True Grit doesn’t get made unless it has the Coen Brothers directing with an all-star cast. The problem is, these used to be the movies that dominated most of the movie calendar and there would only be blockbusters in the summer and Christmastime; now we have movies like Deadpool and Black Panther, that come out in February and Logan come out in March. This year we’ll get a Venom movie in October. Even Avengers: Infinity War was changed to the last weekend in April for maxim box office receipts.

So where can a mid-budget movie thrive if no studio will pay for them? Netflix. For a few years now, Netflix has been testing the waters in terms of original movies. They’ve made some attempts at Oscar bait (Mudbound, Beasts of No Nation & First They Killed My Father) and they’ve even thrown their hand into blockbuster territory (Bright), but now they’re starting to realize where they can really thrive: mid-budget movies that studios are too scared to make. In 2018 they’ve already dropped, Mute, The Cloverfield Paradox, Game Over Man and When We First Met. All of those would have had a hard time finding a home at a major, theatrical studio.

So why is it unfortunate that Netflix is carrying the mid-budget torch when no one else will? It’s simple: all movies are meant to be seen in theaters. That’s it. There is no counter argument. You should see art in the medium it was created for. I have plenty of friends that tell me “I just saw (insert movie title here) and it thought it was shitty.” Oh really? Did you see it in theaters? “No.” Did you watch it on a phone/computer/TV/airplane? “Yes.” Then you did not see the movie, you watched it. Seeing a movie implies that you went to a movie theater to literally see that movie. I re-watched Interstellar a few weeks ago… but I didn’t see it.

Movies are meant to be seen in a theater. You cannot have distractions. I don’t care how fucking sick your home theater setup is, it is not as good as a movie theater. In a movie theater, you have no control over anything and that is how it should be. At home, you can talk to the person next to you, you can check your phone, you can get distracted by literally any outside visual stimulation. Film is a long-form version of visual art. If you break the tension with anything, then the moment is lost. I know lots of you may think that just seeing something in your room won’t distract you, but it will; it’s how the human brain works. We see things and then we think about them.

I have friends that have told me “I won’t see a movie in theaters unless it’s some Avatar-level of visual effects” (you know who you are). That is an awful way to see movies. All cinematic stories deserve to be seen without being interrupted, without being paused to take a crap, without your roommate coming in and loudly cooking in the kitchen.

That’s why Netflix is a necessary evil. I’m grateful that The Meyerowitz Stories is able to exist because of Netflix but I also wish I could have seen it in a theater. As time goes on this will only get worse. There is one simple cure to this: go to the movies. See things that look interesting to you; I love blockbusters too but if we aren’t careful, eventually a movie like “The Nice Guys” won’t even have the power to grant a theatrical release and eventually, we’ll all just end up going to the movies to see which new superhero is fighting which new supervillain.

I’m Sorry I Didn’t Like _____ as Much as You?

I thought Inside Out was good. I didn’t love it to the same degree that it seemed the rest of the world did. People seemed to think it was the cleverest thing ever put on screen. The movie was fine; it had a few laughs along the way but I didn’t love the concept and I felt like it tried too hard to get you to cry. If I want to cry, have your movie build up to a reason to cry within the story, don’t just have a bunch of scenes that exist solely to try to get me to cry; have a reason for it. All that being said, I think it’s a good movie. One day, someone at work was raving about it for about 5 minutes and then asked me what I thought about it. I told them I thought it was good and they gave me a perplexed look.

“Just good? You didn’t love it?”

“No but I thought it was fine.”

“Why are you so cynical? How could you not like that movie?”

And from that moment, I was labeled as an Inside Out hater. I was confused. I said I liked it. Some movies, I’ve come to find, are just like that. Even though we live in an age where everyone thinks they have the most singularly individual taste, some cultural phenomenona come along that dictate we all universally adore something or universally damn it. Any deviation from this, even a slight one, is wrong.

I liked Black Panther but when I told someone I thought some of the story was a little dull they were thrown damn near into a fury about how wrong I was. Again… I said I liked it; I just don’t fully subscribe to the zeitgeist that demands I love every aspect of it.

Some people think Call Me By Your Name is absolutely brilliant. I thought it was pretty good but it was also a lot of Euro-glamorizing and a little short-sighted to try to tell the audience that a kid’s first romance at 17 will be the absolute most special connection he’ll ever make in his life especially when the two actors didn’t really have the greatest chemistry. Of course, when I told a friend that, I was informed that I had no idea what I was talking about and that I didn’t understand it at all.

This perplexes me. Why does it bother someone if I don’t love something to the exact same degree that they do? It goes the other way too: I know that The Accountant is a pretty crappy movie but there are a few things I like about it. Upon telling that to a friend who hated it, I was branded as someone who loved it. What are you talking about? I said I liked a few small things; now here I am defending a movie that I didn’t even really like.

Maybe since I’ve never been a complete fanboy of any particular genre or franchise, I don’t get quite as swept up in the unrelenting hype around certain movies? I’ve listened to friends lecture me about Star Wars and the deep, very serious nature of these movies, that to me that are decent enough but I didn’t grow up with, so I don’t have the metamorphic pressure of decades of nostalgia fueling my hype. Can’t I just think Star Wars is pretty good? It doesn’t seem much better than most other blockbuster franchises.

What about Harry Potter? It was never really my thing; those movies were never particularly great nor particularly horrible either, but when I say that, I’m met with rage. I told a friend that I thought Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was decent enough and they ranted to me about how wrong I was: the world of Harry Potter is not cute and it does not center around imaginative creatures; it is a very dark story about pain and suffering and making it into a movie that isn’t rated R does a complete disservice to the source material. Oh? I didn’t realize. I thought they were kid’s books about a magical orphan boy.

Look, of course, anyone is allowed to feel strongly about a movie. I feel strongly about lots of movies, but for some reason they often tend to be ones that few people care about (I’ll always fight for you, Everybody Wants Some!!), but can’t we accept that someone who partially agrees with us is at the very least on our side? Wouldn’t you rather have a spirited debate with someone who feels differently about the art you love, rather than sit around giving it unending praise together?

Oh, and now that I think about it, Inside Out actually isn’t that good.

Best Picture Framing Breakdown

Each year most people divide their Best Picture Oscar breakdown into two categories: “what will win” and “what should win.” The meaning of “what will win” goes without saying but “what should win” typically means the person’s favorite movie of the year… the one they want to win.

For the first time (at least the first time I can think of), I have actually split “what should win” in two and now have three separate designations bouncing around in my mind: “what will win,” “what should win” and “what I want to win.”

The separation of the last two might be confusing. If you want a movie to win, wouldn’t that mean you think it should win? Most of the time yes, but it can vary based on what you think makes a movie the Best Picture of the year. Some define it simply as the best movie that came out in the given year, but sometimes I find the best isn’t always my favorite. Some see it as the movie that defined Hollywood in that given year; the movie that represents the cultural conversation of the time. For some, it can mean the movie that is most representative of the filmgoing experience: something that cannot be done in any medium other than film; a testament to what is possible in film alone.

In years past, the last two ideas usually coincide. I thought an air-tight, cinematic political thriller like “Argo” was not just something designed solely for the big screen that wouldn’t work as anything else than a movie but also represented a Hollywood shift back to prestige filmmaking with a beefier budget that was more prevalent that year along with other films such as “Django Unchained,” “Les Misesrables,” “Zero Dark Thirty” and even “The Avengers.” It spat in the faces of movies that felt like they were built for awards, like previous winners “The Artist” and “The King’s Speech.” It was a big screen achievement that also represented what Hollywood stood for that year.

This year isn’t so simple.

We know that in all likelihood, “The Shape of Water” will go home with the Best Picture trophy on Sunday. It will win. It shouldn’t win, because it isn’t a film that has permeated the culture in any significant way and I definitely don’t want it to win simply because I just didn’t really connect with it, but it will win. This is the type of movie that most people in the Academy can agree is pretty good. It will rank somewhere in the top 5 Best Picture contenders for most members and the because the new Best Picture preferential voting system awards the movie that finds the nicest medium consensus, it will take home the statue.

The movie that should win is “Get Out.” I saw “Get Out” a while after I had already heard the uproarious hype and adoration it received, so I went in with expectations that probably could not be met… and thus they were not met, though I still thoroughly enjoyed it. It is one of the best movies of the year and certainly better than “The Shape of Water.” The reason “Get Out” should win is because of what it represents in culture both in and out of Hollywood. Beyond the fact that it is a milestone for diverse filmmaking in Hollywood, it is also a movie that came out over a year ago that people are still talking about today. That simply does not happen anymore. Even movies that are supposedly a big deal don’t stay in the cultural conversation that long; no one is talking about “The Last Jedi” or “Thor: Ragnarok” anymore, and those came out just a few months ago. The culture exploded into conversation about those films and already that conversation has faded. People are still talking about “Get Out;” in that sense alone, how can you rob it of the top prize? Think of all the Best Picture winners that everyone forgot about just weeks later: no one was still thinking about “The Artist,” “Spotlight” or even something as idiosyncratic as “Birdman” after they took home the gold. “Get Out” is a horror movie, a genre that the Academy makes a point to eschew from consideration, that is nominated for Best Picture, that is still culturally relevant.

This obviously brings me to what I want to win. Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk” is a masterpiece of filmmaking. It operates on a plane high above anything we’ve seen in years, maybe ever. It can only exist in film. It wouldn’t work on paper or as a miniseries; the way in which the story is told can only function in a tight, 100-minute feature film. It is a soaring achievement, where not only the interweaving plotlines elevate each other but it is synced brilliantly with Hans Zimmer’s score to constantly ratchet up the tension. You cannot pause this movie. You cannot go to the bathroom during this movie. You cannot look at your phone during this movie. Any small fracture you put into your viewing experience would irrevocably disrupt the tension. The degree of difficulty is so high, you would imagine Nolan would at least pad it with bankable stars or at least some “Spielberg” moments of triumph and spectacle to rest on for a moment but he doesn’t. He is so confident in the lean muscle of his concept that he lets this juggernaut break all the rules, and thus rise to a triumph more impressive than anything else we’ve seen. “Dunkirk” is the pinnacle of what film can be, and that is why I want it to win. It makes it all the more criminal that he at least won’t win the Best Director statue either.

I loved “Lady Bird” and would be absolutely delighted to see it win. While I was initially taken with “Three Billboards,” I’ve soured on it since viewing it. I appreciated much of what “Call Me By Your Name” had to offer. I would still prefer any one of those films to be awarded Best Picture of “The Shape of Water,” which is still a pretty good movie, but wouldn’t it be nice if we could walk away from Hollywood’s night meant to award the best of its industry feeling better than just pretty good?