Thursday, July 17, 2014

Can a Critic Be Too Political?

If you read movie commentary of any kind chances are you read Awards Daily.  Run by Oscar guru Sasha Stone, Awards Daily (formerly Oscar Watch) is far and above the biggest Oscar commentary site on the internet.  It was one of the first blogs to seriously comment on the Academy Awards race, getting so big that opinions from the site have been rumored to sway the race in certain directions (many Academy voters read the site).  I don’t read Awards Daily anymore.  Whenever I make the occasional return to the site I’m reminded why.  It’s not because the articles are poorly written or trite (because they certainly aren’t).  It’s not that I consider her (and co-editor Ryan Adams) to ruin movies by their overanalyzing of films (can you truly overanalyze a film).  No, I don’t read Awards Daily anymore for one reason: Too much politics in their writing.  This also happens to be the subject this blog post is about.

Yes, I’m going to use Awards Daily as a punching bag here, but what I want to discuss is politics in reviews and blogging.  For the most part if you run a personal blog or website you are pretty much free to write whatever you want.  Though you may have gotten into this business to write about your lifelong passion you – like everyone else – have to return to the real world at the end of the day.  If you primarily write online (and really, who doesn’t these days) chances are you use Twitter, Facebook, and all those other social media apps.  It’s pretty easy for the world to intrude.  You’re sitting there writing your review of “Captain America: Winter Soldier” when a news article pops up on Twitter to remind you that women feel like their rights to choose are being taken away by the Hobby Lobby case.  You go back to your review and realize that for how many years we’ve gotten superhero movies we have yet to get one starring a woman (no Wonder Woman or Sailor Moon).

It’s little things like this I notice in my daily routine that can sort of sour the mood on what I’m writing about sometimes.  Do this long enough and soon you’ll want to use your voice for more than just talking about movies; you’ll want to write about movies with purpose.  This I understand because I, in many ways, watch movies to help understand the world and people better.  Some movies are more important than others and I feel the urge to say something I feel is “important.”  Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t.  When talking about documentaries it’s hard to keep politics out of the discussion.  So yes, I understand the dilemma critics and bloggers face when there comes a time or two where you want to shout to the world what you feel is a great injustice in your eyes.

Whether it be Obama, Bush, healthcare, religion, or whatever you want it to be, once in a while you will say something about your personal beliefs that will rub someone the wrong way.  So the problem isn’t that you are going to say something at one point the question is how MUCH will you say?!  This is where things get to be a lot murkier.  This is also where we return to Awards Daily.  Sasha Stone pays for Awards Daily and thus has every right to say what she wants to say.  So in 2009 she is all for Kathryn Bigelow winning Best Director because a woman has never won before.  When “Django Unchained” wins Best Original Screenplay and Best Support Actor she’s online the next day complaining to Hollywood that only white people from the film won awards while the black people didn’t (were any of them worthy of awards in the first place?).

She always makes sure to mention that the Academy voting membership is mostly white, old men (to her credit there ARE stats to back this up, but why bring it up every other day).  She’s extremely anti-religious.  The last big thing was she wanted to see was Steve McQueen winning Best Director and Picture for “12 Years a Slave.”  Because it was her favorite film of the year, right?  Nope, she wanted him to win because it was time for the Academy to start making up for their mistreatment of black people by giving him these awards (her favorite film that year was “The Wolf of Wall Street”).

If you disagree with her on any of this in the comments she will block you on the site.  If her co-editor Ryan gets to you first he will do no less than make you feel like a bully because you have the nerve to actually DISAGREE with her!  Again, this is her site and she has every right to do this.  For me I should mention my site gets enough readers (and now YouTube viewers) that if I were to start getting political I could probably stand to lose a few readers and the results wouldn’t be felt very much.  I try not to do that though because what would that prove?  Would I gain converts?  Not likely, most people reading my site are looking for movie opinions not what I think about how Obama is handling nuclear talks with Iran…maybe if there is a documentary on the subject I can talk about that, but otherwise my readers don’t care.

I doubt many of the people who go to Awards Daily cares to get the daily dose of anti-Republican, anti-religious, militant feminist views they get.  Chances are they just want to know things like whether or not Steve Carell will get an Oscar nomination for “Foxcatcher” (Note: I can’t confirm or deny anything, but…yeah, I’d place money on that happening this year if I were you).  For me being political on your site is not about being right or wrong, it’s about respecting your readers.  You have an audience of various people from different religions, political parties, and age groups.  You most likely have Brony’s reading your site as well.  I feel that film critics should bring people together to help better understand and love film, not antagonize them because they don’t support birth control or don’t believe in that “big sky bully.”

If you want to be a film critic or blogger I feel you must use these talents to do good with them.  Write good reviews, engage is positive discussions, and use the films you watch to expand your mind.  Don’t use your site as a political soapbox.  Awards Daily does this but I think what people feel above all else when they visit sites like that (whether they agree with the author or not) is disrespected.  Most of the posts on that site are meant to make people feel bad about themselves.  If this is what you want to do then I can’t stop you.  Obviously there’s a market for it.  If there wasn’t chances are Rush Limbaugh and Michael Moore wouldn’t be making money doing what they are doing.  For me though I think you are using your gifts to do more harm than good.

If you want a more streamlined example I suppose you can just think of what you feel when your Facebook friends flood your news feed with their political rants…hmm, I think I might have saved myself a few paragraphs if I had used that example instead. -_-;

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

How to Pick and Sort Movies

Just a little sample of how I database things.

Sometimes to keep myself entertained I play games in how I watch my movies for the day.  Granted, how good the day is largely rests on what movies I see, but on the days I don't have a screener to go to I have to rely on stuff at home.  Just to make things a little more interesting I sometimes put restrictions on what I can watch.  Today I wanted to make sure I watched a couple of Oscar nominated movies for my book (regardless how many nominations they got).  I was in the mood for something exciting so I limited my choices to action and thriller.  I also didn't want to watch something that was dumb, but sometimes that is out of my control.  What I do then is I usually browse the high rated movies on IMDB to see what people like and what they don't.  This is no garuentee that you'll stumble upon (these people listed "Fight Club" as one of the top ten best movies of all time...not a bad film, but top ten of all TIME?!).

Once I get some ideas the first thing to do is to check and see if I have it on DVD or BluRay.  Film critics tend to buy a lot of movies for review purposes that end up being tax write off's, so it's not unusual for us to sometimes have dozens of films on disk that we've never actually seen (sometimes not even opened).  I don't know how most critics sort their movie collection, but I keep certain types of films together in order of the year they were released: Best Picture Winners, Disney, Pixar, BluRay 3D, get the picture.  The most maddening group is the Criterion Collection, which I sort based on the number on the spine.  The rest I sort alphabetically.  This sort of sorting (ho ho) alone is not enough on it's own though.  The second thing I do is keep a database on my movies.

The information covers title, year, director, stars, rating, and format (typical for most people who keep movie databases).  I add a couple more options though that most people don't include: Criterion and Oscar.  If a movie has won Best Picture, Best Animated Feature, Best Documentary, or best film anything at the Academy Awards I put an X in the the 'Oscar' column.  That lets me know to look for the movie on my Oscar shelf instead of on the shelves of regular movies.  If a movie is a Criterion film I put the number in the Criterion column.  I didn't use to do this, but as my collection grew I found finding the Criterion movies extremely frustrating.  Unless the database indicated it was a Criterion title I could be looking for it for hours.  If I didn't number it the result would be the same.

You have to think about these things if you plan to have a big movie collection.  If you have a movie collection of at least thirty titles I think making a database is something to consider.  You might not get it very high, but it's always good to get started early so that this is a much easier project.  I started my first database when I was 12 years old and my family had over 400 VHS tapes.  It took almost a whole week to database those movies and I wish I had started sooner.  Having a database is essential for any movie fan unless you plan to buy all your movies on UltraViolet where they will be on the cloud and neatly sorted for you already.  For the record, both movies I ended up watching where good movies, I had one of them on DVD, and ironically they were directed by Michael Bay and Tony Scott, two directors I typically don't like.

Yep, some days are more interesting than others.