He’s back… the man who made the Deadites and that fabled Book of the Dead, The Necronomicon, a fright fan household name. Yet ever since he struck professional paydirt with an oddball Western starring a then hot Sharon Stone, Sam Raimi has wondered away from his horror roots. Over the course of the next few decades, he made two thillers, a baseball themed drama, and then literally re-invented the post-millennial popcorn comic book superhero blockbuster with his Spider-man movies. And now he’s tackling the family film (?) genre. That’s right, his recent release for Disney’s (??) Oz the Great and Powerful has just broken $80 million at the box office on its opening weekend, securing his legacy as both commercial king and ruler of the crepshow.
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In the waning days of the VCR’s grip on home video, the studios were stumped. Sell through titles were stalled, the eager movie fan frustrated with the format’s lack of definition and extras. While laserdisc provided an avenue for these desired bonus elements, the digital revolution finally stepped in and made such special editions possible—and along with all the added bells and whistles came the director’s cut. With the added space on the DVD disc, studios gave filmmakers a chance to flesh out their films on the new media, giving contractually obligated commercial versions a viable supplement—and in a few cases, supplanting. Indeed, as the new technology thrived, almost every release saw a “uncut” or “extended” take, with material sometimes added without the artist’s consent or control.
Well, Oscar has come and gone, and with his naked goldenness, another movie season is setting into the snarky sunset. It was a weird year, one were no single title dominated. In fact, both the competing awards shows and the Academy seemed ready to rewrite history as one acknowledged winners that the other could be bothered to even nominate, and visa versa. With Argo walking away with the top honors, in spite of such equally impressive works as The Master and Holy Motors, one can argue that the voting membership is still locked in safe, commercial mode. Even the snubs seem set up to send a particular message, one that tempts fate by suggesting that even the most rock solid lock of a pick - in this case, Ben Affleck as director - is far from a given.
Like the proverbial bar bet where everyone believes they’re right, pointing to Oscar and acknowledging the many missteps in reward judgment they’ve made is an exercise in communal commentary. For all the times AMPAS shows drive and determination, they more often than not resort to politics, pandering, and the lure of overpowering publicity. And then there are those cases were personal preference, not universal aesthetics, lead to isolated and individualized criticism. Again recognizing that the voting membership is comprised of all previous nominees, along with occasional invited inductees, the insular nature of the beast is pretty darn obvious. But as was pointed out in a previous article on the subject, some mistakes just seem egregious in nature.
We critics love to give Oscar the razz. After all, they get it wrong so many times that, inherently, we view it as an out of touch, deeply political body whose process allows art to die at the hands of studio artifice. Recognizing that the voting membership is comprised of all previous nominees, along with occasional invited inductees, the insular nature of the beast is pretty darn obvious. But there are other instances where the Academy bungles its business so badly that you have to wonder if senility hasn’t set in, a kind of all encompassing lunacy that adversely affects the aesthetic of the constituency. It’s the bungles that burn our biscuits the most, slights and celebrations that mock the very nature of film.