A Pretentious Takedown of Middlebrow Cinema

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This is going to be pretentious.

The end of the year usually produces a swarm of movies as studios throw out everything that could possibly win an award. The summer is known for its blockbusters–large and loud movies, with big time actors attached to them–the end of the fall to the winter emphasizes darker stories with artsier and riskier looks and content. This is an exciting time for me, usually overwhelming (I literally make long lists of notes of which movies I should see, where I will–and can–see them, and how I can afford to see so many movies without breaking the budget) and filled with a lot of great movies. But the studios aren’t dumb, there are strategies in place–why and when a movie should get released. The awards ceremonies are usually more generous to give out awards to those that come out later in the year–they have a strange sense of film amnesia where the first seven months barely count and so studios release films accordingly. Studios don’t really want awards though, I’m sure there is some sense of pride for a studio releasing an award winner, but the sense of pride does not outweigh their number one motivator: money.

The studio system’s whole purpose is to make money, thus they try to find films that will win the awards, because movies that win awards, particularly the big ones, attract a bigger audience even if they tend to be edgier. The ads show this all the time, big golden text lines the top of the film saying “nominated for seven Academy Awards, four Golden Globes, three Independent Spirit Awards, nine BAFTAS, and the MTV Movie Award for Best Kiss”. Awards are the reasons why studios push for artsy movies, not for artistry’s sake, but to gain a large crowd on a smaller budget.

This is fine, it’s going to happen, but when this is the case it creates the need to mimic what has come in the past. There is a certain style of Oscar movie usually involving some sort of liberal, edgy topic, an actor losing a lot of weight for the role or an actress not wearing any makeup. These are sort of emulated year after year in hopes that people will jump on board.

That’s the thing, these movies are created to fit into a certain sort of mold, when they are actually quite safe and seem methodologically produced to trick people into thinking they are seeing something important. These films come off as being really out of the box, creative, and dramatic, but really they’re not. This year’s version of these movies are two British biopics about important historical figures–The Theory of Everything and The Imitation Game–both are period pieces, have lower budgets, and a good cast, but also seem to fall into every trope you can imagine for these films. In year’s past The King’s Speech, The Artist, The Help, The Blind Side, and Dallas Buyers Club all gave this vibe–important movies about history, race, or some other marginalized group. Most of these films are actually fine, they are pleasant tales and I would be fine with this if people didn’t feel like they had done some sort of cinematic duty by seeing it.

People know that I like movies, so I often get asked about which movies are good and whether I’ve seen [blank]. But the movies that often rise to the top as being depictions of cinema or indie films or whatever are these middlebrow, faux-artsy films that seem to somehow suck in people whose last movie in theaters had been the fourth Transformers movie. There is no challenge to them at all, but they are advertised as life-changing cinematic experiences.

Alright, enough of the complaining–people are gonna watch what they are gonna watch and I’m not very likely to recommend Under the Skin (my favorite movie of this year) to very many people, because I truly believe they will not like it. Let’s just not let the studios do this to us, we’re manipulated enough already. If you want to see something to impress people who like movies or those at your Oscar party make sure you see Boyhood (likely the best picture winner and a fantastic portrayal of a boy’s life), Selma (one of the best biopics ever probably), or Whiplash (an intense movie about a drummer that I think has the potential to be a real crowd please and features future best supporting actor winner JK Simmons).

Overrated: The Beach

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Let me start this off by saying this, I think the beach is fine. The ocean crashing onto beautiful sandy shores, surfers riding waves hanging loose as they navigate breaks, children building sand castles attempting to defy the incoming tide, girls trying to improve their beauty by making their skin darker, etc… These are all fantastic, ideal things to be doing, that is if you’re in a Beach Boys song…

In reality the beach is usually a fairly terrible place. Before you go off on me, allow me to explain by first making one clarification. The main crime the beach commits is not living up to the expectations it sets for itself. The beach (and maybe this is The Beach Boys fault) is supposed to be a touch of heaven on earth. Middle class families everywhere plan their vacations and their weekends around it. It is where everyone wants to be. Let me also say that for those readers whose lives revolve around the beach: avid surfers, beach bums, residents of cities that are “____ Beach”, I am not trying to attack your lifestyle and the culture you have created around it. If that is what you love then that is beautiful and wonderful; it is the foundation of your life. For those of us who sit on the outside, who covet beachfront properties, wishing that our toes could touch the sand, this is for you.

My first complaint about the beach is not inherently its fault, rather it is probably the fault of people like you and I, us coveters of beach culture. The beach is crowded, all the time. In order to get a good spot, one must get there early in the morning, not only to claim a patch of sand, but to find a parking spot. Beach towns are not naturally filled with large parking spots, because of the beach, they attract the population of major cities making their parking situations as difficult as going downtown.

Following GPS directions that take you down to the water, the beautiful beach comes into sight. You drive past looking left and right for parking spots. And you drive. And you drive. And you OH WAIT! THERE’s A SPOT! Nope, there’s a motorcycle. And you drive. Usually the best you can get is a parallel parking job, 20 minutes walk away and whoops you have to carry your boogie board, lunch, towel, sunscreen, and other paraphernalia because you forgot to drop someone off!

By the time you actually get down to the beach and find your spot it is time to take off your clothes. This is the beach, clothes are not required. After lathering yourself with a sunscreen and sand spread you start to feel a little chilly. What is happening? My iPhone said the weather was supposed to be 82 degrees! Where is all this wind coming from? Sorry, it’s the beach buddy. Always cold, but never clothed.

The next thing to do, how about get into the water? There are plenty of fun things: body surfing, boogie boarding, running away from the waves, jumping over them… These are all great fun! After spending 30 minutes gradually getting into the water (it’s too cold for anything else) and shaking your foot to get some of the feeling back, you decide to head back to your towel.

Sand attack.

A wet body and sand stick together better than white on rye. And there is nothing, absolutely nothing you can do to prevent this. It will get you and it will get you everywhere. But don’t worry, there’s a solution for that! There are these cool showers you can take before you go to wash off all the sand stuck to your body. Did I say cool? I meant freezing cold. You stand there in piles of other’s wet sand as freezing water rushes down your body. In order to dry off you use your towel. The towel that was just laying in the sand minutes ago… Repeat.

How about lunch time? Picnic lunches are always fun. Except for a couple of reasons. 1. We Americans are the worst at packed lunches. Trust me, I’ve seen a lot of packed lunches from all over the world and ham sandwiches+chips+grapes+cookies are the worst. 2. The beach only makes eating terrible lunches even worse.

Eating lunch begins the second battle with the sand as sandwiches, Doritos, and fig newtons inevitably become coated with a crunchy layer of the stuff. Oh and as you try to brush off sand grains from your white bread, the boy from the family next to you has begun to feed the Seagulls pieces of his Oreos and Here. They. Come.

But don’t let that get you down, beach sports always sound like a great idea. As a lover of all sorts of competitions, playing sports on the beach is certainly an attractive idea. Wanna throw around a frisbee? Sorry it’s too windy. How about some football or whiffle ball? This is a great idea, filling the heart with euphoria, which all comes crashing down as soon as the older woman next to you gets smacked with a badly thrown ball (a guarantee). The beach is too crowded for any sort of gameplay.

The beach is one of the only places where we will put up with all of this and still believe that we are having a fantastic time. Add onto this the risk of sharks/drowning, overpriced restaurants, and disgusting bathrooms and it seems like the beach is actively trying to cause you to have a bad time. But hey if the sound of those waves and the feel of that sun upon your back and sand between your toes is worth it to you, go for it!