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Post-Oscars Recap and STAR WARS Forever

So, Happy 2016!

It’s hard to fathom that it’s been a full turn of the seasons since my last Geek Spasm. During my sabbatical, my family uprooted from the city to the ’burbs, and this full-time daddy of two spent less time at the movies and more time easing two kids into two new schools and getting used to our new home. We also said a sad goodbye to a beloved family member.

It’s been a blur, but let’s catch up.

First off, let’s briefly ponder Star Wars.

The long-awaited Episode VII: The Force Awakens surpassed even my most outlandish expectations, avoiding the pitfalls of the misbegotten prequel trilogy and restoring the series to its pulpy space opera glory. I am completely invested in the characters both old and new—can’t wait for Episode VIII!—and remain awed by the film’s superfluous blend of practical effects and restrained CGI. John Williams’ orchestral score is the icing on the cake, and his new symphony is pure elation.

The Force Awakens looks and sounds and smells like the Star Wars films of my youth, and hallelujah for it. The whole enterprise is a rebuke to just about everything that’s wrong with the prequels. I had so much fun I didn’t even notice until a repeat viewing that the screenplay liberally recycles story elements from each of the original three movies. Whatever; even Return of the Jedi deigned to bring back the Death Star, and in the chronology of the overall saga this just happened in the previous chapter. Maybe the very idea of a bigger and badder “Starkiller Base” is supposed to be another sly reference in a series of heartfelt homages to the original Star Wars movies we all grew up with.

Regardless, I love what J.J. Abrams has done for the future of Star Wars thus far, and I like what I’m reading and seeing about Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, due this Christmas—and if LucasFilm ever cements a title for what they’re calling all the external un-numbered non-episode Star Wars films in the pipeline, we’ll pass it along.

Meanwhile, Episode VIII is currently in the full swing of production (the release has been nudged back to Christmas 2017), and the second standalone Star Wars picture will follow in 2018 (it’s expected to be a Young Han Solo movie).

A new Star Wars movie every year is on order for the indefinite future, and every time I think about this a tiny part of my geek brain erupts with a giddy burst of sparkly rainbow confetti. Two years between “official saga” episodes is a darn sight swifter than the three-year sequel gaps audiences were accustomed to enduring in the ’80s, plus the earlier movies weren’t always readily available on VHS or cable TV to tide us over in between.

Nowadays, the cinema-to-DVD window is a scant three-to-four months and oftentimes a movie is officially announced for home video while still lingering in theaters—even a gazillion-dollar-grossing blockbuster like The Force Awakens is expected to land on Blu-ray shelves any day now (actually, it will arrive the first week of April). The original Star Wars took its good old sweet time to arrive on VHS in late 1982—more than five years after it first premiered. Five years. The struggle for fans was real.

Also come and gone: Oscar season.

The nominations for 2015’s Best Picture included the usual slate of sprawling epics and intimate character pieces, ranging from big box office successes to “sleeper” indie hits. No surprises, though I heard there was some grumbling over the ill-timed dearth of acting nominees of color among twenty possible slots…for the second year in a row.

My viewing track record for 2015 Oscar balloting was nothing to brag about: I saw half the films nominated for Best Picture, and overlooked many of the smaller films nominated in the acting, screenwriting, foreign and documentary categories.

Among the 50% of Best Picture nominees I saw on the big screen: Bridge of Spies (beautifully shot but not very emotionally enthralling; hardly among Spielberg’s finest works); The Martian (simplistic, but great old-fashioned popcorn entertainment); The Revenant (grim, gorgeous); and Mad Max: Fury Road (deserves every award heaped upon it, and then some).

The 50% folded into my Netflix queue: The Big Short; Brooklyn; Room; and Spotlight —none of which appear to be huge-scale epics that demand to be seen on the big screen, and I’m sure their impact will scarcely be impeded by the smaller scale of home video.

Once again, and defying any logical metric, only eight pictures were nominated out of a possible 10 spots in the category. This, and not racism, should be the true controversy of the Oscars: it ought to be an outrage of hash-tagged proportions that two additional well-worthy films could have been introduced into the Best Picture race to make it a round number of 10 nominees, and if it just so happened that one of those additional nominees was Straight Outta Compton or Chi-Raq or Beasts of No Nation then maybe it would’ve really shaken up the season and, perhaps, nipped in the bud all that feisty talk about a race boycott.

Early in the Oscar season, I thought maybe The Revenant might win Best Picture simple because Hollywood can’t stop drooling over Alejandro González Iñárritu. The proof: he won Best Director for the second year in a row. It’s not a secret to say I was always rooting for Mad Max, simply because Fury Road is a reaffirmation of everything film geeks love about old-school movie magic, but it makes sense that the Academy would ultimately bestow its top honor to the film Spotlight— an investigative drama about Boston Globe journalists exposing systematic pedophilia within the church—because the Academy frequently favors the “hot topic” movie that exposes a stark and ugly truth about a powerful institution behaving atrociously.

As for the grumbling that the lack of nominees of color for a second consecutive year is indicative of a history of Oscar racism, evidently Will Smith’s wife, Jada, is miffed that Will’s heavily accented performance in the NFL conspiracy drama Concussion was egregiously overlooked for an Oscar nomination, and along with the omission of any persons of color among the twenty acting nominees for a second consecutive year, doesn’t that just prove the Academy is racist.

All of a sudden it’s “Oscar So White” as a hot Twitter hashtag and trash talk of boycotting from the likes of Al Sharpton and Spike Lee (whose own Special Achievement Oscar is still warm from being minted—I trust Spike appreciates the awkward irony). What I still cannot figure out about the protestors’ rationale is how the lack of colored nominees this year in any way undermines the achievements of colored artists who have come before them, blazed the trail for them and, frankly, made their puny little careers and egos possible in the first place. The history of black actors and actresses winning Oscars pre-dates the Civil Rights movement by more than two decades, and by saying the Academy is racist, they’re implying none of this rich and important history counts in the equation.

How dare Jada Pinkett Smith or Stacey Dash or Spike Lee or Al Sharpton suggest the Oscar-winning legacies of the likes of Hattie McDaniel, Sidney Poitier, Louis Gossett Jr., Jamie Foxx, Cuba Gooding Jr., Morgan Freeman, Whoopi Goldberg, Forest Whitaker, Denzel Washington, Octavia Spencer, Mo’Nique, Halle Berry, Lupita Nyong’o, Jennifer Hudson, Prince, Isaac Hayes, Irene Cara, Stevie Wonder, Lionel Ritchie, and Common & John Legend don’t matter—the list of talent here is so staggeringly impressive it makes you wonder how somebody could ever discount it and still claim to have respect for their elders and peers. And lest we forget, 12 Years a Slave won the top Oscars for Best Picture and Best Director (Steve McQueen) a mere two years ago. By screaming for a boycott, the criers imply that film, its director, and those many other Oscar-winning artists that preceded it are meaningless. How dare they?

Justifiably so, the producers of the Oscar telecast jabbed back sharply, with a filmed Angela Bassett bit that celebrates Black History Month—as in chubby Caucasian actor Jack Black, hardy-har-har—that succinctly mocks Mrs. Smith and deflates her campaign on behalf of her conspicuously silent husband. There was also a bizarre appearance by Stacey Dash, paraded onto the stage as the ostensible liaison for Oscar race relations, and she evidently can’t wait to help her people, but she seemed to be the butt of a joke that defied her—and viewers’—comprehension.

The dust has settled on “Oscar So White 2015” and the media agenda for next year’s controversy-in-waiting is no doubt already being drafted, but at least we now all know the acceptable span of time for the Academy to go without naming a nominee of color is one year. With this resolved, please somebody finally tell me which performance last year by a man or woman of color deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as the Oscar-winning work of Denzel or Morgan or Sidney or Whoopi or Lupita or Mo’Nique.

Didn’t think so, but 2016 is looking up.

A few more Oscar tidbits: It’s pretty awesome to see how much love Mad Max: Fury Road received—winning six out of the seven technical awards is no small feat, and it racked up more Oscars than any other film of the year. I’m also glad to see James Bond get some token Oscar love for Best Original Song, even if Sam Smith’s falsetto ballad “Writing’s On The Wall” is nowhere near as indelible or haunting as Adele’s “Skyfall.”

I’m not mad that Star Wars didn’t score any Oscars. Truly, it’s not Best Picture material and the tally of technical nominations is award enough, ample validation that the sights and sounds of the movie are totally up to snuff. Alas, I never felt the audio and visual artists broke any ground in The Force Awakens,  not in the same way T2 or Jurassic Park pushed the outside of the envelope, and not in the same way I felt the artists behind the subtly amazing Oscar-winning visual effects of Ex Machina truly delivered something new.

Next Geek Spasm, I’ll catch up with Superman and Batman in DC’s long-hyped set-up for its even-longer-awaited Justice League movie universe, and also take a look at the evolution and immediate ramifications of Hollywood’s latest feeding frenzy—the super-raunchy, extra-gory, way-too-intense-for-children “R-rated” comic book movie.

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