Master Shots: First and Final Frames of 55 Films Side-by-Side, by Jacob T. Swinney

The Meta-Story  and Worldview of many films is discernible from little more than their first and final shots.  Don’t believe it?  Watch this video! 

Jacob T. Swinney on Vimeo

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Final shot, Birdman (2014)

 

What can we learn by examining only the first and final shot of a film?

This video plays the opening and closing shots of 55 films side-by-side. Some of the opening shots are strikingly similar to the final shots, while others are vastly different–both serving a purpose in communicating various themes.

Some show progress, some show decline, and some are simply impactful images used to begin and end a film.

.

See also:

Inside Out Screenwriting: What’s My Final Image? by Jeremy Casper

Birdman Ending: Why That Obscure Final Shot Makes Total Sense, by Catarina Cowden

MUSIC: “Any Other Name” by Thomas Newman

Films used (in order of appearance):
The Tree of Life 00:00
The Master 00:09
Brokeback Mountain 00:15
No Country for Old Men 00:23
Her 00:27
Blue Valentine 00:30
Birdman 00:34
Black Swan 00:41
Gone Girl 00:47
Kill Bill Vol. 2 00:53
Punch-Drunk Love 00:59
Silver Linings Playbook 01:06
Taxi Driver 01:11
Shutter Island 01:20
Children of Men 01:27
We Need to Talk About Kevin 01:33
Funny Games (2007) 01:41
Fight Club 01:47
12 Years a Slave 01:54
There Will be Blood 01:59
The Godfather Part II 02:05
Shame 02:10
Never Let Me Go 02:17
The Road 02:21
Hunger 02:27
Raging Bull 02:31
Cabaret 02:36
Before Sunrise 02:42
Nebraska 02:47
Frank 02:54
Cast Away 03:01
Somewhere 03:06
Melancholia 03:11
Morvern Callar 03:18
Take this Waltz 03:21
Buried 03:25
Lord of War 03:32
Cape Fear 03:38
12 Monkeys 03:45
The World According to Garp 03:50
Saving Private Ryan 03:57
Poetry 04:02
Solaris (1972) 04:05
Dr. Strangelove 04:11
The Astronaut Farmer 04:16
The Piano 04:21
Inception 04:26
Boyhood 04:31
Whiplash 04:37
Cloud Atlas 04:43
Under the Skin 04:47
2001: A Space Odyssey 04:51
Gravity 04:57
The Searchers 05:03
The Usual Suspects 05:23

Copyright Disclaimer Under Section 107 of the Copyright Act 1976, allowance is made for “fair use” for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. Fair use is a use permitted by copyright statute that might otherwise be infringing. Non-profit, educational or personal use tips the balance in favor of fair use.

All-Time Top Films for Deep Culture Impact

Part four in series: The Oscar “Huh?!” Factor: Why Academy Voters Usually Pick the Wrong Film

Two decades of using film in the classroom has resulted in quite a few surprises in the stories with the deepest cultural impact on this generation.

by Gary David Stratton • Senior Editor

The list below is in no way infallible, but it sure could get a good Oscar weekend conversation going.  (See Deep Culture Impact Films for the ever-evolving DCI criteria.)

Key

Action/Adventure/Western

Comedy/Musical/Animated

Drama

Fantasy/SciFi

Thriller/Horror

* Indicates Academy Award Winner

url-51933  King Kong (F)

1936  Modern Times (C)

1937  Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs (C)

1939  The Wizard of Oz (F)

1939  Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (D)

1939  Gone with the Wind (D)*

1940 Fantasia (C)

1941  Citizen Kane (D)

1943  Casablanca (D)*

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1946  It’s a Wonderful Life (D)

1951  The African Queen (D)

1952  Singin’ In The Rain (C)

1954  Rear Window (T)

1954  On the Waterfront (D)*

1955  Rebel Without a Cause (D)

1954  Seven Samurai (D)

1956  The Ten Commandments (D)

1957  The Bridge on the River Kwai (D)*

20121210051712!Sleeping_beauty_disney1957  12 Angry Men (D)

1958  Vertigo (T)

1959  Ben-Hur (A)*

1959  Sleeping Beauty (C)

1960  Psycho (T)

1961  West Side Story (C)*

1961  101 Dalmatians (C)

1961  Breakfast at Tiffany’s (D)

1962  To Kill a Mockingbird (D)

Screen shot 2013-02-23 at 6.03.20 PM

1962  Lawrence of Arabia (D)*

1964  Mary Poppins (C)

1964  My Fair Lady (C)*

1964  Dr. Strangelove (C)

1964 Goldfinger (A) and the entire Bond franchise, especially 1965 Thunderball (A) and 2006  Casino Royale (A)

1965  The Sound of Music (C)*

1966 The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (D)

1967  Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (D)

1967  The Graduate (D)

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1967  The Jungle Book (C)

1968  2001: A Space Odyssey (F)

1969  In the Heat of the Night (D)*

1969  Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (A)

1971  Fiddler on the Roof (C)

1972  The Godfather (D) and 1974 The Godfather 2 (D)

1973  The Exorcist (T)

1973  The Sting (C)*

1973  American Graffiti (D)

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1974  Chinatown (D)*

1975  One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (D)*

1975  Jaws (F)

1976  Monty Python and the Holy Grail (C)

1976  Rocky (D),* as well as 2006 Rocky Balboa (D) and 2015 Creed (D)

1976  Taxi Driver (D)

1977  Star Wars: A New Hope (F) and 1980 The Empire Strikes Back (F)

1977  Annie Hall (C)*

raiders_of_the_lost_ark_ver1_xlg1978  National Lampoon’s Animal House (C)

1979  Apocalypse Now (D)

1979  Alien (F) and even better 1986 Aliens (F)

1980  Raging Bull (D)

1981  Raiders of the Lost Ark (A) and 1989 Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (A)

1981  Chariots of Fire (D)*

1982  Blade Runner (T)

1982  Tootsie (C)

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1982  E. T. The Extra-Terrestrial (F)

1984  Amadeus (D)*

1984  Beverly Hills Cop (C)

1984  Ghostbusters (C)

1985 The Breakfast Club (D)

1985  Back to the Future (C)

1985  The Color Purple (D)

1986  Top Gun (A)

1986  Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (F)  The best of the highly influential franchise… so far. (J.J. Abrams could change that.)

schindlers_list

1986  Ferris Bueller’s Day Off  (C)

1987  The Princess Bride (C)

1988  Rain Man (D)*

1989  Dead Poets Society (D)

1989  Field of Dreams (F)

1989  Do the Right Thing (D)

1989  Driving Miss Daisy (D)*

1990  Dances with Wolves (D)*

1990  Pretty Woman (D)

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1991  Terminator 2: Judgment Day (F)

1991  Beauty and the Beast (F)

1991  The Silence of the Lambs (D)*

1992  A Few Good Men (D)

1992  Unforgiven (A)*

1993  Groundhog Day (C)

1993  Jurassic Park (F)

1993  Schindler’s List (D)*

1994  Forrest Gump (D)*

Screenshot 2014-03-02 23.59.401994  Pulp Fiction (D)

1994  Shawshank Redemption (D)

1994  The Lion King (C)

1995  Braveheart (A)*

1995 The Usual Suspects (D)

1995  Toy Story (C) and the entire Toy Story trilogy.

1996  Jerry Maguire (D)

1996  Fargo (D)

1998  Saving Private Ryan (A)

AmericanBeauty

1996  Independence Day (T)

1997  Men in Black (C)

1997  Good Will Hunting (D)

1997  Titanic (D)*

1998  American History X  (D)

1999  American Beauty (D)*

1999  Fight Club (A)

1999  The Matrix (F)

1999  The Sixth Sense (T)

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2000  Gladiator (A)*

2000 Memento (D)

2001  Shrek (C) and the entire Shrek franchise.

2001  Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (F) and the entire Harry Potter series.

2001 Serendipity (C)

2003 The Return of the King (F)* and the rest of The Lord of the Rings Trilogy: 2001 The Fellowship of the Ring (F) and especially 2002 The Two Towers (F).

2003  Finding Nemo (C)

2003  Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl  (A) at least as part of the entire Pirates franchise.

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2004  Spider-Man 2 (F), the entire Spider-Man Trilogy and even the new franchise starting with 2012 The Amazing Spider-Man (F) series.

2004  The Passion of the Christ (D)

2004  Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (F)

2008  The Dark Knight (F) and the entire Dark Knight trilogy is definitely going to make the DCI list.

 

Films on the Deeper Culture Impact ‘watch list’

I suspect many of these movies will prove to be DCI films, but it is still too early to tell. 

2005  Crash (D)*

2006  The Departed (D)*

2012  The Avengers (F) and the entire Marvel Avengers franchise, especially 2008 IronScreen shot 2013-02-24 at 12.58.13 PM
Man (F), 2013 Iron Man 3 (F), and 2011 Thor (F)

2007  No Country for Old Men (D)*

2007  Juno (D)

2008  Slumdog Millionaire (D)*

2009  The Hangover (C)

2009  Avatar (F)

2009  The Blind Side (D)

2010 Inception (F)

2011 The Help (D)

2012 Django Unchained (D)12YAS-Poster-Art

2012 Life of Pi (F)

2012 The Hunger Games (F), and and most likely the entire Hunger Games series.

2013 12 Years a Slave (D)*

2013 Frozen (F)

2013 American Hustle (D)

2013 Gravity (D)

2014 American Sniper (D)

2014 Selma (D)

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2014 The Imitation Game (D)

2014 Guardians of the Galaxy (F)

2015 Spotlight (D)*

2015 Inside Out (A)

2016 Zootopia (A)

2016 La La Land (M)

2016 Arrival (F)

* Indicates Academy Award Winner

 

What films did I miss?

Why are ‘Deep Culture Impact’ Films so Rare?

Part three in series: The Oscar “Huh?!” Factor: Why Academy Voters Usually Pick the Wrong Film

In the past 40 years only three Academy Award-winning films managed to break into the coveted top 60 all-time box office earners. 

by Gary David Stratton, PhD • Senior Editor

ET is one of only 9 films on the AFI Top 100 list to crack the top 65 all-time box office hits

A century of motion picture production has generated a remarkably small cannon of films that have achieved true ‘Deep Culture’ Impact.  The odds against making a true “double-bottom-line” film–Critical Acclaim and, Popular Appeal–are nearly astronomical.

Never Tell Me the Odds!

At any given moment there are over 100,000 screenplays being shopped around Hollywood. These are the ones agents deem worthy of representing. The total number of completed screenplays is much higher.

Of these 100,000+ screenplays, less than 5,000 per year are actually produced as independent films. These are the films vying for notice at Sundance, Cannes, Tribecca, Toronto, and other film festivals for major Studio purchase and hopefully distribution. They join a handful of Studio-produced films that are all but assured to end up on screen.

Of these 5,000+ films, less than 250 actually end up in national theatrical release each year, and another 250 or so distributed for limited release.  That means that less than 500 films per year make it to the local cinemaplex and/or art house theater.

The 2012 Best Picture winner garnered less than $45 million in domestic box office, normally not nearly enough for a deep culture impact
The 2012 Best Picture winner garnered less than $45 million in domestic box office, normally not nearly enough for a deep culture impact

Of these 500 films, only 10 to 15 garner enough critical acclaim for Oscar consideration in the “Best Picture” [1] and/or “Best Writing” categories (original or adapted screenplay.)

If you’re keeping score, that means that a screenwriter who manages to get an agent to represent their passion project has less than .02% chance of their movie even being  nominated for an Academy Award.  An indie producer who manages to achieve film lock has less than .075% chance of nomination. And that doesn’t even guarantee their the film will be profitable.

Of the 10 to 15 Academy Award-nominated films, many never reach the threshold of box office respectability requisite for broad “popular appeal.” For instance, 2012 Best Picture winner, The Artist, garnered less than $45 million in domestic box office, and 2010 winner, The Hurt Locker only $17 million. They may be great films, but not enough people will ever see them for the movie to have much of a cultural impact (although the rise of Netflix and other streaming services is changing that formula.) A film financier recently told me that their entertainment lawyer suggested that they would have a better chance of turning a profit if they purchased $10 million in lottery tickets.

Elite Company

Return of the King is one of only three post-1980 Academy Award winners to break into the 50 all time top grossing films

No wonder only THREE Academy Award-winning films have managed to break into the coveted top 60 all-time box office earners (adjusted for inflation) in the past 40 years.

Forrest Gump (1994)

Titanic (1997)

The Return of the King (2003)

These films are the type of rare gems I seek for use in teaching my students. They not only constitute what makes for a truly great film, they also help my students discover the stories that have most deeply shaped their lives. When combined with films like the nine in yesterday’s post, they form the foundation of a very rare canon of films to achieve deep cultural impact.

Could any of this year’s nominees join this elite company? Perhaps. Only time will tell, which measure is better for finding a ‘deep culture’ impact film: the 6000+ academy voters, or the test of time.

.

Next: 100+ All-Time Top ‘Deep Culture Impact’ Films


[1] In 2011 the Academy expanded Best Picture Nominees from 5 to as many as 10.

 

100+ All-Time Top ‘Deep Culture Impact’ Films (2014)

Part four in 2014 Oscar Week Series: Twelve Years a Slave to History: Why Academy Voters Often Miss the Real Best Picture.

Two decades of using film in the classroom has resulted in quite a few surprises in the stories with the deepest cultural impact on this generation.

by Gary David Stratton, PhD • Senior Editor

The list below is in no way infallible, but it sure could get a good Oscar weekend conversation going.  (See Deep Culture Impact Films to view my evolving DCI criteria.)

Key: Action/Adventure/Western • Comedy/Musical/Animated • Drama • Fantasy/SciFi • Thriller/Horror

* Indicates Academy Award Winner  – @Indicates NEW for 2014

king-kong-poster1933  King Kong (F)

1936  Modern Times (C)

1937  Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs (C)

1939  The Wizard of Oz (F)

1939  Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (D)

1939  Gone with the Wind (D)*

1940 Fantasia (C)

1941  Citizen Kane (D)

1943  Casablanca (D)*

url-4

1946  It’s a Wonderful Life (D)

1951  The African Queen (D)

1952  Singin’ In The Rain (C)

1954  Rear Window (T)

1954  On the Waterfront (D)*

1955  Rebel Without a Cause (D)

1954  Seven Samurai (D)@

1956  The Ten Commandments (D)

1957  The Bridge on the River Kwai (D)*

20121210051712!Sleeping_beauty_disney1957  12 Angry Men (D)

1958  Vertigo (T)

1959  Ben-Hur (A)*

1959  Sleeping Beauty (C)

1960  Psycho (T)

1961  West Side Story (C)*

1961  101 Dalmatians (C)

1961  Breakfast at Tiffany’s (D)

1962  To Kill a Mockingbird (D)

Screen shot 2013-02-23 at 6.03.20 PM

1962  Lawrence of Arabia (D)*

1964  Mary Poppins (C)

1964  My Fair Lady (C)*

1964  Dr. Strangelove (C)

1964 Goldfinger (A) and the entire Bond franchise, especially 1965 Thunderball (A) and 2006  Casino Royale (A)

1965  The Sound of Music (C)*

1966 The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (D)

1967  Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (D)

1967  The Graduate (D)

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1967  The Jungle Book (C)

1968  2001: A Space Odyssey (F)

1969  In the Heat of the Night (D)*

1969  Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (A)

1971  Fiddler on the Roof (C)

1972  The Godfather (D)* and 1974 The Godfather 2 (D)*

1973  The Exorcist (T)

1973  The Sting (C)*

1973  American Graffiti (D)

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1974  Chinatown (D)*

1975  One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (D)*

1975  Jaws (F)

1976  Monty Python and the Holy Grail (C)

1976  Rocky (D)*

1976  Taxi Driver (D)

1977  Star Wars: A New Hope (F) and 1980 The Empire Strikes Back (F)

1977  Annie Hall (C)*

raiders_of_the_lost_ark_ver1_xlg1978  National Lampoon’s Animal House (C)

1979  Apocalypse Now (D)

1979  Alien (F) and 1986 Aliens (F)

1980  Raging Bull (D)

1981  Raiders of the Lost Ark (A) and 1989 Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (A)

1981  Chariots of Fire (D)*

1982  Blade Runner (T)

1982  Tootsie (C)

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1982  E. T. The Extra-Terrestrial (F)

1984  Amadeus (D)*

1984  Beverly Hills Cop (C)

1984  Ghostbusters (C)

1985 The Breakfast Club (D)@

1985  Back to the Future (C)

1985  The Color Purple (D)

1986  Top Gun (A)

1986  Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (F)  The best of the highly influential franchise… so far. (J.J. Abrams could change that.)

schindlers_list

1986  Ferris Bueller’s Day Off  (C)

1987  The Princess Bride (C)

1988  Rain Man (D)*

1989  Dead Poets Society (D)

1989  Field of Dreams (F)

1989  Do the Right Thing (D)

1989  Driving Miss Daisy (D)*

1990  Dances with Wolves (D)*

1990  Pretty Woman (D)

url-9

1991  Terminator 2: Judgment Day (F)

1991  Beauty and the Beast (F)

1991  The Silence of the Lambs (D)*

1992  A Few Good Men (D)

1992  Unforgiven (A)*

1993  Groundhog Day (C)

1993  Jurassic Park (F)

1993  Schindler’s List (D)*

1994  Forrest Gump (D)*

Screenshot 2014-03-02 23.59.401994  Pulp Fiction (D)

1994  Shawshank Redemption (D)

1994  The Lion King (C)

1995  Braveheart (A)*

1995 The Usual Suspects (D) @

1995  Toy Story (C) and the entire Toy Story trilogy.

1996  Jerry Maguire (D)

1996  Fargo (D)

1998  Saving Private Ryan (A)

AmericanBeauty

1996  Independence Day (T)

1997  Men in Black (C)

1997  Good Will Hunting (D)

1997  Titanic (D)*

1998  American History X  (D)

1999  American Beauty (D)*

1999  Fight Club (A)

1999  The Matrix (F)

1999  The Sixth Sense (T)

url-10

2000  Gladiator (A)*

2000 Memento (D)@

2001  Shrek (C) and the entire Shrek franchise.

2001  Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (F) and the entire Harry Potter series.

2001 Serendipity (C)@

2003 The Return of the King (F)* and the rest of The Lord of the Rings Trilogy: 2001 The Fellowship of the Ring (F) and 2002 The Two Towers (F). (Okay, it’s only been 11 years since the last LOTR film, but I think it’s safe to say that Peter Jackson’s majestic adaptation of Tolkien’s classic will hit a very high DCI mark. )

 

Films on the Deeper Culture Impact ‘watch list’

Screen shot 2013-02-24 at 12.58.13 PMI suspect many of these films will grow into DCI films, but it is still too early to tell. After all, we have to wait at least twelve years!

2002  My Big Fat Greek Wedding (C)

2002  Spider-Man (F), the entire Spider-Man Trilogy and even the new franchise starting with 2012 The Amazing Spider-Man (F) series.

2003  Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl  (A) at least as part of the entire Pirates franchise.

2003  Finding Nemo (C)

2004  The Passion of the Christ (D)

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2004  Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (F)2005  Crash (D)*

2005  The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (F) (The weakness of the other completed films in the franchise stands in the way of Chronicles (the movie) having the same high DCI as Lewis’s books.)

2006  The Departed (D)*

2007  No Country for Old Men (D)*

2007  Juno (D) (If the Juno Effect has cultural staying power this could end up being one of the top DCI films of all time.)

2008  The Dark Knight (F) and the entire Dark Knight trilogy is definitely going to make the DCI list.

Inception poster

2008  Slumdog Millionaire (D)*

2009  The Hangover (C)

2009  Avatar (F)

2009  The Blind Side (D)

2010 Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (C)@

2010  Inception (F)

2011  The Help (D)

2011 The Intouchables (D)@

2012  The Avengers (F) and the entire Marvel Avengers franchise, especially 2008 Iron Man (F), 2013 Iron Man 3 (F), 2011 Thor (F), and 2013 Thor II: The Dark World (F)

2012  The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and 2013 The Desolation of Smaug (F)

2012 Django Unchained (D)

2012 Life of Pi (F)

2012 The Hunger Games (F), 2013 The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and most likely the entire series.

 

 

Twelve Years a Slave to History: Why Academy Voters Often Miss the Real Best Picture

A college professor reveals the method behind his madness in NOT always choosing Academy Award-winning films when selecting the stories students live by for classroom use.  Part one in 2014 Oscar Week Series.

If history is any indicator, Brad Pitt and the TWELVE YEAR’S A SLAVE producing team will deliver their carefully prepared acceptance speeches Sunday night. Yet history also reveals that, when it comes to picking the film audiences will recognize as truly great twelve years from now, Oscar voters often miss the mark.

by Gary David Stratton • Senior Editor

When it comes to picking the film that will be viewed as truly great in TWELVE YEARS, Oscar voters often miss the mark. (Photo: Indiewire)
If recent history is any indicator ‘Twelve Years a Slave’ (Center) will beat ‘Gravity’, (upper left and continuing clockwise) ‘American Hustle’, ‘Dallas Buyers Club’, and ‘The Wolf of Wall Street.’ (Photo: Indiewire)

 

And the nominees are:

American Hustle [1]
Captain Phillips [2]
Dallas Buyers Club [3]
Gravity [4]
Her [5]
Nebraska [6]
Philomena [7]
12 Years a Slave [8]
The Wolf of Wall Street [9]

 

 

Sunday night tens of millions of viewers from nearly every nation on earth will tune in for the coronation of Hollywood’s “Best Picture” of the year.  Studios spend millions of dollars in countless screeners, screenings, billboards, interviews, Variety Ads, Twitter campaigns, blog attacks, and countless party conversations, seeking to sway the roughly 6,000 members of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences voters to crown their film as King or Queen of the industry.

This year’s battle between expensive (and lucrative) visual special effects (VFX) driven Gravity and smaller (and less lucrative) historical period piece Twelve Years a Slave looks awfully familiar to the past three year’s battles between VFX-driven commercial hits Avatar, Hugo, and Life of Pi and smaller period pieces The Hurt Locker, The Artist, and Life of Pi and Argo. The historical films are riding a three-year winning streak, and there is little reason to believe this year will be any different. Everything points to Brad Pitt and the Twelve Year’s a Slave producing team giving their carefully prepared acceptance speeches Sunday night.

Mistakes of History

But do the Oscars always get it right? You wouldn’t think so looking at the award’s history. Arguments are legion. Nearly every year is controversial in one way or another. The truth is, many if not most Oscar winners simply don’t stand the test of time. For instance, there are few Academy voters today who would argue that Shakespeare in Love (1998) was anything close to a classic, yet it somehow managed to win over Stephen Spielberg’s WWII epic, Saving Private Ryan.  The 1968 musical Oliver was certainly endearing, but not nearly as enduring as 2001: A Space Odyssey. Why does such a careful and democratic  process often fail?  Here are a few reasons.

Politics as Usual

Many Oscar winners have “outside the film” appeal to voters that may not always be a genuine indicators of greatness. The Hurt Locker (2009) was a compelling film, but it is hard to imagine how voting might have gone if Katherine Bigelow had not been in a position to be the first female director to win top honors. (Or, if Avatar director, James Cameron–Katherine’s ex-husband–had not alienated many academy voters with his “I’m king of the world” Oscar acceptance speech for his 1998 Titanic win.) In fact, Katherine’s might have been more worthy of winning for last year’s Zero Dark Thirty, but other political factors led to actor/director Ben Affleck’s film Argo winning after he was snubbed in the nominations for best director.

Even more dramatic are the publicity efforts launched by studios and internet devotees in order to promote their films and sometimes smear their rivals.  2011 winner The King’s Speech had to overcome an alleged smear campaign launched by devotees of The Social Network that all but overshadowed the equally deserving Inception.

A Series of Unfortunate Timings

15 years later, it is hard to imagine how ‘Shakespeare in Love’ won over Spielberg’s WWII classic.

Some films are simply too far ahead of their times to even receive a nomination for Best Picture. Citizen Kane (1941) is near the top of most “All-Time Great Films” lists, but lost to the long forgotten How Green is My Valley. Hitchcock’s cutting-edge masterpiece Vertigo is still watched in film schools, while only the most die-hard fans ever watch 1958 winner Gigi. 1999 genre-bender The Matrix couldn’t even garner a Best Picture nomination, yet few doubt that it will be studied as a classic for years to come.

Other great films lose Oscars simply because they are up against other greats the same year.  Forrest Gump (1994) garnered a much-deserved Best Picture Oscar. Yet few would argue that it was unequivocally better than two other celebrated films in the same year: Quentin Tarantino’s groundbreaking  Pulp Fiction, and Shawshank Redemption (currently #1 on IMDB‘s greatest movies ever made.)

Sometimes a film’s novelty gives it a short-term popularity. The unique silent film aesthetics of 2012 winner The Artist helped give it the upper hand over more conventional films. Yet many purists point to the social importance of the civil rights movement portrayal of The Helpthe acting excellence of The Descendants, and/or the overall of craftmanship of Martin Scorsese’s Hugo (11 nominations) as more deserving.

The truth is, the public-relations-driven, artistically myopic, and sometime overtly political nature of Hollywood often make an Oscar a highly unreliable measure of long-term greatness.

How Shall We Then Choose?

The 2011 Picture of the Year had to overcome a smear campaign

What about this year? I am passionately committed to Twelve Years a Slave winning Best Picture, but is my judgment clouded by my passion? If the professionals don’t always get it right, what hope do we mere mortals have? Maybe not much. But over two decades of using film in the classroom has taught me that there might be a better way to predict which film will have true staying power. Although I started out using only Academy Award-winning films, I quickly realized that the Academy isn’t very good at selecting the stories my students live by. So I developed a new set of indicators for picking films that are not so much a slave to contemporary fashion and more in line with which films are still changing students’ lives TWELVE YEARS or more after their Academy Award campaign winds down.

 

Next: 

 


[1] Charles Roven, Richard Suckle, Megan Ellison and Jonathan Gordon, Producers

[2] Scott Rudin, Dana Brunetti and Michael De Luca, Producers

[3] Robbie Brenner and Rachel Winter, Producers

[4] Alfonso Cuarón and David Heyman, Producers

[5] Megan Ellison, Spike Jonze and Vincent Landay, Producers

[6] Albert Berger and Ron Yerxa, Producers

[7] Gabrielle Tana, Steve Coogan and Tracey Seaward, Producers

[8] Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Steve McQueen and Anthony Katagas, Producers

[9] Nominees still undetermined

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oscar Fail: Is an Academy Award a Reliable Indicator of a Truly Great Film?

College professor Gary Stratton reveals the method behind his madness in Teaching Worldview Through the Academy Award-winning Film.  Part one in 2014 Oscar Week Series.

Academy voters will crown this year’s ‘Best Picture.’ But will anyone remember it in twenty years?

by Gary David Stratton • Senior Editor

Sunday's Academy Awards Show seeks to honor "truly great" films, yet history reveals that Oscar voters often miss the mark.
Sunday’s Academy Awards Show seeks to honor “truly great” films, yet history reveals that Oscar voters often miss the mark.

And the nominees are:

American Hustle[1]

Captain Phillips[2]

Dallas Buyers Club[3]

Gravity[4]

Her[5]

Nebraska[6]

Philomena[7]

12 Years a Slave[8]

The Wolf of Wall Street[9]

Sunday night tens of millions of viewers from nearly every nation on the planet will tune in for the coronation of Hollywood’s “Best Picture” of the year.  Studios have spent millions of dollars in countless screeners, screenings, billboards, interviews, Variety Ads, Twitter campaigns, blog attacks, and countless party conversations, seeking to sway the roughly 5,500 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences voters to crown their film as King or Queen of the industry.

But do the Oscars always get it right? You wouldn’t think so looking at the award’s history. Arguments are legion. Nearly every year is controversial in one way or another. In many cases, Academy voting turns out to be a major “Oscar Fail.”

Factors in ‘Oscar Fail’

Some Oscar winners are beloved in their day, but don’t stand the test of time. There are few Academy voters today who would argue that Shakespeare in Love (1998) was anything close to a classic, yet it somehow managed to win over Stephen Spielberg’s WWII epic, Saving Private Ryan.  The 1968 musical Oliver was certainly endearing, but not nearly as enduring as 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Other Oscar winners have “outside the film” appeal to voters that may not always be a genuine indicators of greatness. The Hurt Locker (2009) was a compelling film, but it is hard to imagine how voting might have gone if Katherine Bigelow had not been in a position to be the first female director to win top honors. (Or, if Avatar director, James Cameron–Katherine’s ex-husband–had not alienated many academy voters with his “I’m king of the world” Oscar acceptance speech for his 1998 Titanic win.) In fact, she might be more worthy of winning for this year’s Zero Dark Thirty, but that is unlikely now that she’s “already won” her statue.

15 years later, it is hard to imagine how ‘Shakespeare in Love’ won over Spielberg’s WWII classic.

Some films are simply too far ahead of their times to even receive a nomination for Best Picture. Citizen Kane (1941) is near the top of most “All-Time Great Films” lists, but lost to the long forgotten How Green is My Valley. Hitchcock’s cutting-edge masterpiece Vertigo is still watched in film schools, while only the most die-hard fans ever watch 1958 winner Gigi. 1999 genre-bender The Matrix couldn’t even garner a Best Picture nomination, yet few doubt that it will be studied as a classic for years to come.

Other great films lose Oscars simply because they are up against other greats in the same year.  Forrest Gump (1994) garnered a much-deserved Best Picture Oscar. Yet few would argue that it was unequivocally better than two other celebrated films in the same year: Quentin Tarantino’s groundbreaking  Pulp Fiction, and Shawshank Redemption (currently #1 on IMDB‘s greatest movies ever made.)

Sometimes a film’s novelty gives it a short-term popularity. The unique silent film aesthetics of last year’s winner The Artist helped give it the upper hand over more conventional films. Yet many purists point to the social importance of the civil rights movement portrayal of The Helpthe acting excellence of The Descendants, and/or the overall of craftmanship of Martin Scorsese’s Hugo (11 nominations) as more deserving criteria.

The 2011 Picture of the Year had to overcome a smear campaign

Even more dramatic are the publicity efforts launched by studios and internet devotees in order to promote their films and sometimes smear their rivals.  2011 winner The King’s Speech had to overcome an alleged smear campaign launched by devotees of The Social Network that all but overshadowed the equally deserving Inception.

How The Shall We Then Choose?

The truth is, the public-relations-driven, artistically myopic, and sometime overtly political nature of  Hollywood often make Oscars an unreliable measure of true greatness.

So… what of 2013? Many believe it is a two-horse race between Spielberg’s biopic of America’s greatest president (Lincoln) versus the cinematic adaptation of the world’s greatest musical (Les Miserable.)  But is it?  Could Ben Affleck’s sweep at this year’s SAG Awards indicate that his Oscar-snub for Best-Director  created a huge sympathy vote for Argo? Could the fact that Silver Linings Playbook is the first film in over three decades to garner Best Actor nominations in all four categories  factor into voter’s minds?

The truth is, no one knows!

If the professionals don’t always get it right, what hope do we mere mortals have? But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. In fact, over a decade of using Academy Award-winning films to teach philosophy and theology have taught me that there might be a way to predict which film will have a ‘deep culture’ impact.

 

Next: High Culture? Pop Culture? Shouldn’t a Great Film Impact ‘DEEP CULTURE’?

 


[1] Charles Roven, Richard Suckle, Megan Ellison and Jonathan Gordon, Producers

[2] Scott Rudin, Dana Brunetti and Michael De Luca, Producers

[3] Robbie Brenner and Rachel Winter, Producers

[4] Alfonso Cuarón and David Heyman, Producers

[5] Megan Ellison, Spike Jonze and Vincent Landay, Producers

[6] Albert Berger and Ron Yerxa, Producers

[7] Gabrielle Tana, Steve Coogan and Tracey Seaward, Producers

[8] Gabrielle Tana, Steve Coogan and Tracey Seaward, Producers

[9] Nominees still undetermined

 

 

 

 

 

All-Time ‘Deep Culture Impact’ Films

Part of 13 series: Hollywood & Higher Education: Teaching Worldview Thru Academy Award-winning Film

I love The King’s Speech, and would vote for it as Best Picture (if  had a vote), but based upon what I’ve learned from past films, I suspect that another film will have greater ‘deep culture’ impact upon the next generation.

by Gary David Stratton, Senior Editor

Nearly two decades of using film to teach worldview to undergraduate students has resulted in a few surprises in which films have had the deepest cultural impact on a generation. (See, High Culture, Pop Culture, What about ‘Deep Culture’?)The list below is in no way infallible, but it sure could get a good conversation going.

Key: A-Action/Adventure, C-Comedy, D-Drama, F-Fantasy/Science Fiction, T-Thriller/Horror, *-Academy Award Winner

1939  The Wizard of Oz (F)

1943  Casablanca(D)*

1946  It’s a Wonderful Life(D)

1954Rear Window (T)

1959  Ben-Hur(D)*

1968  2001: A Space Odyssey (F),

1971 Fiddler on the Roof(M)

1972  The Godfather(D)* and The Godfather 2 (D)*

1973The Exorcist (T)

1973  The Sting (C)*[1]

1974  Chinatown (D)*

1975 One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (D)*

1975  Jaws(D)

1976Rocky(D)

1977  Star Wars: A New Hope (F) & 1980  The Empire Strikes Back(F)

1979  Alien (T), and 1986 Aliens(T)

1981  Raiders of the Lost Ark(F) and 1989 Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (F)

1981  Chariots of Fire(D)*

1982  E. T. The Extra-Terrestrial(F)

1982  The Godfather(D)*, and The Godfather 2 (D)*

1984  Amadeus (D)*

1984  Ghostbusters(C)

1986  Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (F) The of the best highly influential franchise… so far.

1987  The Princess Bride(C)

1989  Dead Poets Society(D)

1990  Dances with Wolves (D)*

1991 Terminator 2: Judgment Day (F)

1991  Beauty and the Beast (F)

1993  Groundhog Day(C)

1993  Schindler’s List (D)

1994  Forrest Gump(D)*

1994  Pulp Fiction (T)

1994  Shawshank Redemption(D)

1994  The Lion King(F)

1995  Braveheart (A)*

1997  Good Will Hunting (D)

1997  Titanic (D)*

1998  Saving Private Ryan(A)

1999  American Beauty (D)*

1999  Fight Club (A)

1999  The Matrix(F)

1999  The Sixth Sense(T)

2000  Gladiator(A)*

2001  The Lord of the Rings Trilogy: The Fellowship of the Ring(F), 2002  The Two Towers (F), and 2003  The Return of the King (F)*

2002  Spider-Man(F)

2004  Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind(F)

2005  Crash (D)*

2008  Slumdog Millionaire(D)*

2008  The Dark Knight (F) and the entire Batman franchise [3]

.

And… drum roll please… my pick (educated guess) for which of the TEN films nominated for 2011 Best Picture will have the greatest long-term deep culture impact…

2010  Inception (F)

I love The King’s Speech, and would vote for it as Best Picture (if  had a vote), but based upon what I’ve learned from past films, I suspect that Inception’s imaginative story and evocative images have the best chance of actually shaping “the stories we live by” as a culture.

What films did I miss?

.

Next Post in Series: The Blind Side Leading the Blind: Better Faith-Based Filmmaking through Better Stories

 


[1] Probably should be a double mention for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid(1969), since I’m not sure The Sting would have won if voters hadn’t realized they blew it in the first Newman/Redford movie.

[2] Other than perhaps the J.J. Abrams’ updates.

[3] Honorable Mentions: Back to the Future (1985), Field of Dreams (1989), Pretty Woman (1990), A Few Good Men (1992), Jerry Maguire (1996), Independence Day (1996), A Knight’s Tale (2001), The Departed (2006)*, Little Miss Sunshine (2006), Juno(2007), Up in the Air (2009), Avatar(2009), Toy Story 3 and the entire Toy Story trilogy.

Is Winning an Oscar a Reliable Indicator of a Truly Great Film?

Part of 10 series: Hollywood & Higher Education: Teaching Worldview Thru Academy Award-winning Film

If the professionals don’t always get it right, what hope do we mere mortals have?

by Gary David Stratton, Senior Editor

Choosing the best film for use in teaching students worldview, ethics, theology or politics is a maddening process. I started out using only Academy award-winning films. However, I quickly ran into a problem. While the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences works extremely hard to select the one “truly great” film each year worthy of the Oscar for “Best Picture,” they weren’t always the films that had deeply impacted the stories of my students.

Which led me to an important question: Do the Oscars always get it right? You wouldn’t think so looking at the award’s history. Arguments are legion. Nearly every year is controversial in one way or the other.

Some Oscar winners are loved in their day, but don’t wear well over time. There are few today who would argue that Shakespeare in Love (1998) was an enduring great, yet it won over Spielberg’s epic WWII classic, Saving Private Ryan.  The 1968 musical Oliver certainly endearing, but not nearly as enduring as 2001: A Space Odyssey. (Ironically, it is hard to even imagine a musical winning today.)

Other Oscar winners have “outside the film” appeal that may not always be a genuine indicator of the films greatness. Hurt Locker (2010) was a great film, but would it have won if Katherine Bigelow wasn’t the first woman director in recent years to be in a position to win? (Or, if Katherine’s ex-husband James Cameron, director of Avatar, hadn’t alienated many in the academy by his “I’m king of the world” Oscar acceptance speech for Titanic.)

Some films are too far ahead of their times to even receive a nomination for Best Picture, but are now recognized as all-time greats.Citizen Cane (1941) is near the top of most “All-Time Great Films” lists, but lost to the long forgotten How Green is My Valley. Hitchcock’s cutting Vertigo is still watched in film schools, while only the most die-hard fans ever watch 1958 winner Gigi. The Matrix (1999) couldn’t even garner a nomination forBest Picture, yet few doubt that it will be studied as a classic for years to come.

Other great films lose Oscars simply because they are up against other greats in the same year. Forrest Gump’s (1994) cutting-edge technology and stellar acting from red-hot Tom Hanks garnered a much-deserved Best Picture Oscar. However, it is hard to argue that Gump’s Oscar was more-deserved than the two arguably better films of the same year: Pulp Fiction, and Shawshank Redemption.

The truth is, the public-relations-driven, artistically myopic, and sometime overtly political nature of both the studios and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences often make Oscars an unreliable measure of true greatness.

Last year was no exception. The battle between front-runners, The Social Network, and The King’s Speech was fraught with controversy. So much so, that many thought we might see a surprise spoiler, such as The Black Swan, The Fighter, True Grit, or even, Toy Story 3, win the day. We didn’t.

King’s Speech won going away.  But will it wear the test of time? 

If the professionals don’t always get it right, what hope do we mere mortals have? But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. I’ve never tried a reader’s poll before, but now that Two Handed Warriors is approaching 1000 readers, I thought we’d try.

Vote for your choice for this year’s Best Picture, on the right side of page. Next weekend I will post the result along with my own picks.

 

Next post in series: High Culture, Pop Culture: What about FIlms with ‘Deep Culture’?

.

What is Your Favorite Oscar “Snub” and/or most “Poser” ?

 

Oscar Week 2011: Fresh story ideas a tough sell in Hollywood, by Nicole Sperling

The LA Times: February 20, 2011

The five films competing for original screenplay all had long, difficult paths to the big screen.

Original Screenplays, once the staple of Hollywood's verdant creativity, are in danger of going the way of the Dodo

David Seidler first sparked to the idea of writing a movie about the life of King George VI in 1980. A stutterer himself, he found the real-life narrative of the English monarch’s struggles to overcome a debilitating stammer moving and profoundly relatable, but Seidler understood that it wasn’t going to be easy to see his script turned into a feature film.

First, he had to wait for the Queen Mum to die; he had asked the royal matriarch for her blessing to tell her husband’s story, and she had requested that he wait until after her passing, since the memories of that time were still too painful. And then, the 73-year-old Seidler explains, there was another, possibly even more significant hurdle: “It was the subject matter.
“If I had gone into any executive office in Hollywood to pitch a story about a dead king who stutters, I would have been out of there in 30 seconds,” he said. “They would have thought I was out of my mind.”

Seidler has a point. For years now, the notoriously risk-averse Hollywood studios have been spending their money on the safest bets possible, big-budget projects and potential franchise properties that usually are based on a book, a video game, a toy or even an amusement park ride. It’s a trend that shows no signs of abatement, with Universal working to bring Stretch Armstrong to the screen, while Paramount develops a Magic 8 Ball movie among many other projects that have been co-opted from the toy aisle.

“We used to make toys based on our movies, and now we are making movies based on toys,” said Nina Jacobson, former head of production at Disney who’s now an independent producer. “We used to be the generators of intellectual property, not just recyclers of it.”

It’s a fact that’s helped drive many of the industry’s most highly acclaimed screenwriters — people such as Steven Zaillian (“Schindler’s List”) and Akiva Goldsman (“A Beautiful Mind”) — to devote more of their time to plum writing assignments such as Zaillian’s current work on “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” and Goldsman’s adaptation of Stephen King’s “The Dark Tower,” rather than develop their own ideas.

And it paints a grim picture for many screenwriters hoping to tell original tales…

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Take the Two Handed Warrior Oscar Poll (on right)