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Thursday, January 29, 2015

Reel Trendy: Oscars and the Movies That Court Controversy

Posted By on Thu, Jan 29, 2015 at 1:26 PM

Hollywood’s biggest night of self-congratulatory pat-on-the-backs known as the Academy Awards is just around the corner and we couldn’t be more excited to partake from afar in the high status circle jerk. 

On Sunday, February 22, in a span of approximately three hours to eternity gold trophies are won, “teams” of strangers thanked, careers will flourish while others go stagnant, cosmetic contracts are sealed and everyone the world over is left with the same burning question, “What was she wearing?”

The fact that this is an evening meant to honor and celebrate the year’s best films remains an afterthought as most of the night’s conversations become less about the movies and more about the boobies.

However, things are significantly different this time around as we’re in the midst of a major shift in the national cinematic dialogue after the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences revealed its list of nominees for the annual festivity on the early morning of January 15.

There’d be no talk of high slits or low busts on this day. That comes later. Instead social media would explode with pointed accusations toward the Academy of racism, sexism and general bad taste. The two movies at the top of the controversy: American Sniper and Selma. Both earned coveted best picture nominations with the former coming on surprisingly strong with six nominations total and the latter barely invited to play with two nominations. The good news is that this is perhaps the most widely discussed Oscar race since 2010’s David and Goliath epic that was The Hurt Locker vs. Avatar and we couldn’t be more excited since this adds some much needed tension in an otherwise mostly predictable year.

We suspect that neither American Sniper nor Selma will win the top prize but their inclusion in the Oscar race and the public’s outcry on their behalf inspired us at SF Weekly to look back at some of the Academy’s most enduring trends of the 2000s with this first entry in a five-part series. This week’s topic is movies that caused a stir. There’s a reason why Oscar is gaunt and bald.


American Sniper
/ Selma (2014)

In one corner you have the film about the white war hero and in the other you have the film about the black non-violent icon. Neither was expected to brew a storm but come January 15 both became the unlikely talk of Tinseltown due to Oscar's recognition and lack thereof. Suddenly words like propaganda and racism  became the hashtags of choice associated with these otherwise unassuming pictures. 

Clint Eastwood's film about Chris Kyle, the so-called deadliest sniper in American history, has become a full-fledged phenomenon breaking box office records left and right in just under two weeks of nationwide release. It's now on a clear path toward becoming 2014's highest grossing film (chin up, Guardians of the Galaxy) and the most profitable war film of all time (our condolences, Saving Private Ryan). The controversy stems from the film's source material, Kyle's wildly popular memoir of the same, which many critics have labelled racist for his use of "hateful rhetoric" toward Muslims. You know a film is buzzworthy when you have the outspoken likes of Sarah Palin, Michael Moore and even Seth Rogen coming out either in support or reproach of the work in question. However, the film's biggest sin perhaps, according to some, is that it politely sidesteps any real issues while audiences are expected to treat it as high art and commentary based on the its awards prospects. Whatever the outcome, best picture frontrunners Boyhood and Birdman better watch out because there's a lethal sniper on the loose and there's no telling where he'll set his sight next. 

Where does Selma fit into all this? Let's just say that this was the snub heard all around the world namely for the film's director, Ava DuVernay, who would've become the first African-American female filmmaker to score a best director nomination had she not been overlooked. Some cite the film's supposed inaccurate portrayal of President Lyndon B. Johnson as the reason for the cold shoulder while others proclaim racism and sexism as the cause. We'd like to stay positive and say that DuVernay is in the good company of other powerhouse directors who've been snubbed like Christopher Nolan. More on him later. As for the Academy, just squash all of our doubts and accusations by further diversifying the voting body. 

Consensus for American Sniper: $200 million domestically and counting with 72% critics' approval rating
Consensus for Selma: $39 million domestically and counting with 99% critics' approval rating

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Jonathan Ramos

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