Just because I’m paranoid doesn’t mean people aren’t trying to kill the movie

Posted by · 10:01 am · October 29th, 2008

Frank Langella in Frost/NixonFor the most part, I really enjoyed Sasha Stone’s recent “State of the Race” column at Awards Daily.  Stone’s been kicking around this beat for longer than she’d probably care to remember and she has a gift for thinking deeply about the insanity of an Oscar race.  But I think she takes the issue of “tension” this season slightly over the top by leaning a bit too heavily on the eagerly posted sentiments of a new-to-L.A. blogger trying to make his mark.

She starts like so:

Over at Hollywood-Elsewhere, Jeff Wells reports that both Milk and Frost/Nixon are pretty good, in his estimations.  He gives them both about an 8.5 on a scale of one to ten but says he doesn’t understand what the early impressions of Frost/Nixon were about and the so-called bad buzz he heard about Milk was also unfounded.

She then quotes Scott Feinberg, an Oscar blogger who seemed to think people with a measured response to “Milk” had somehow lost their credibility because they didn’t leap at the hero worship of the tale and felt the film didn’t resonate as deeply as it might have.

To begin with, it’s clear Feinberg made the comment to elevate his status a bit.  “Look, people send me tips.”  That kind of thing.  But beyond that, we’re not at the stage of rival publicists killing this film…yet.  And while I’m sure Wells understands that, I’m not sure that Feinberg does.

Long lead press and trade features staffers made up the majority of those who’d seen “Milk” prior to yesterday’s trio of screenings in California (two for the press here in L.A. and a premiere/benefit in San Francisco).  There’s no agenda for them to convey lukewarm sentiments to the film, so to blow their reactions and their motives into something false is very irresponsible.

Moving on to Wells, today he is forced to defend his declaration that anyone who took away an overly haloed reaction to the film and its handling of a clearly beautiful man is “mean spirited” and lacks “compassion.”  Hard not to take that as an insult, and I’m not even someone who was writing Wells with these “tips.”  I’m just a bloke who happens to share some of the reserve of his tipsters.

So to bring it back around to Stone and her column, I don’t think we’re in the midst of a big conspiracy theory season and I really don’t think it’s fair to frame it as such.  These things become inflated and snowball on the blog-o-sphere until reality is lost in the shuffle.

Just as an example, our own Guy Lodge posted a controversial review of “Frost/Nixon” out of the BFI London Film Festival a few weeks ago.  Wells picked up the story and turned it into something finite, “the London naysayers,” etc.  So did other outlets.  Sure, some of the reception to the film was chilly in Britain, but to read Lodge’s thorough assessment would have been to understand things as gray, not black and white.  And leave it to our resident Brit to step in and at least try to stop the over-amplification:

“London haters” is a bit strong, I think. For one, I certainly didn’t HATE the film — it’s too intelligent and well-crafted for that. I just felt no emotional connection while watching it.

So there are a few concerns here.  At the top, I think we as bloggers have to be careful to understand the context of our work and how that context can be dismissed with a quick quote here and there.  That is a lesson I truly hope Feinberg learns sooner rather than later, for his sake and, certainly, for the sake of the LA Times, who rather hastily threw him an editorial voice after behind-the-scenes plans for the upstart fell through.  But this idea of “now, now, now,” a “boil it to an essence” brand of journalism is, above all else, why a distaste for what we do can so quickly present itself.

An Oscar season isn’t defined as early as September or October so we really shouldn’t be looking to do so by holding the second-hand opinions of others as gospel of any sort.  But in that same vein, we can’t decide to tear down their assessments as unfounded simply because they weren’t in line with our own.  It simply isn’t fair to begin a character assassination campaign against those who aren’t on board for “Frost/Nixon” and “Milk” 100 percent.  That is the perpetuation of a new and, if less damaging, certainly more disrespectful lie.

With that in mind, I’ll simply leave you with one of Hollywood Elsewhere’s commenters:

I love that you’re challenging the integrity of anyone who might not like this movie. Mean spirited? It sounds to me like a defensive reaction on your part, since — reading between the lines of your quick review — you seem to know that the film isn’t anything special, but feel compelled not to be regarding as cynical or “overly demanding” yourself.

→ 8 Comments Tags: , | Filed in: Daily

8 responses so far

  • 1 10-29-2008 at 11:01 am

    Jonathan Spuij said...

    I agree. well written Kris. I think that too quickly there’s a polarisation between love and hate for Oscar hopefuls with nothing in between. While it is also true that with such early buzz people want to make a decisive point by saying it is either a ‘go’ or ‘no go’ for a BP nod, but there’s much more to it than just that.
    I for one am currently not that excited about Milk. I don’t know, somehow with all the forced buzz surrounding the film, I don’t like it. But when I see I will probably love it nonetheless.

  • 2 10-29-2008 at 11:19 am

    The InSneider said...

    Kris I think we’re in total agreement on this film and this issue. More to come soon…

  • 3 10-29-2008 at 11:39 am

    Patrick F said...

    Excellent piece. I thought Guy Lodge’s review was very insightful, and I thought he made it clear that he still liked the performances.

    Frost/Nixon was always going to polarize people because of people’s feelings about Ron Howard as a director and Peter Morgan as a writer. I think Guy Lodge and Jeff Wells both be right. This isn’t like sports or elections where there is a clear cut win or loss. Reviews are by definition subjective.

    I tend to think that Jeff Wells is often more interested in shaping the Oscar race than reporting on it, and I kind of feel that his reviews tend to the extremes for that very reason. I think Feinberg probably fell into this same trap, and being new to the scene, that doesn’t seem unforgivable.

    “Milk” is promising to get people all riled up anyway, so I’m expecting we’ll see a “Crash”-style split among critics.

  • 4 10-29-2008 at 11:58 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Actually I anticipate the great majority of critics will love the film. My reservations aren’t unique, but I do think they’ll be a part of a minority.

  • 5 10-29-2008 at 12:09 pm

    Jamie said...

    So I am really glad that we have gotten so many reactions to the film, but wasn’t there supposed to be an embargo? Does everyone just get around that by framing their pieces as news rather than reviews?

  • 6 10-29-2008 at 12:23 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Jamie: Basically. But I’ve been as careful as possible to keep my reaction to a bare minimum. I have a lot to say about this film.

  • 7 10-29-2008 at 3:57 pm

    sasha said...

    For the record, the tension I referred to wasn’t the stuff between the bloggers but the feeling of the season itself, what with no movies being seen and all.

  • 8 10-30-2008 at 9:14 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Thanks for the clarification, Sasha.

    I must say, I am shocked that this post has been the point of controversy it has become to a select few. I wouldn’t even have addressed it in this space if Defamer hadn’t picked it up and spun it into something it isn’t. But I’m thankful to the readers here and elsewhere who clearly understood the essence of this piece.