Most years in Oscar history has always had a a front-runner, the kind of film that everyone assumes will win the Best Picture award come Oscar night. 2016 is no different, with the clear lead for the award being Damien Chazelle’s throwback musical La La Land. At this point the La Land Land think pieces are pretty much impossible to avoid, with everyone and their blogging mother eager to share their thoughts on the most talked about Oscar nominee. Opinions are all varied about whether or not the film actually deserves the win its about to get, or if it’s just another example of the Academy being behind the times about what people actually respond to.
In an effort to truly understand what makes all these different viewpoints tick, we here at Freshly Popped Culture have gotten together to present three different viewpoints about the film: one that thinks the film is vastly overrated, one that thinks the film does indeed deserve to win, and one that is (more likely to the consensus) somewhere in the middle. So, let’s debate, shall we? Does La La Land deserve to win Best Picture? Jared Russo, Justin Powell, and Matthew Legarreta talk it out, starting with…
Jared, a.k.a. The Stick In the Mud:
Are you fucking kidding me? Do we even need to have this discussion?
Every single god damn year we do this song and dance about the Oscars and almost every year it ends the same way: a group of people see a movie at a festival, and suddenly it is decided among the brain trust that there needs to be a winner, that winner being a movie that is either the true story based on a social issue or historical figure OR is about artists and entertainers making art either on the screen or TV or radio or on the stage. Nobody has a say in this, there is no room for discussion, it simply becomes fact. It doesn’t become about who should win or who will win, but how many this front runner will pick up.
Let’s cynically and reductively look at the list of recent winners to justify my thesis and my case:
- La La Land — Actors in LA suck their own dicks
- Spotlight — The true story of child abuse and how fucked up Catholicism is
- Birdman — Actors in NY suck their own dicks
- 12 Years a Slave — The true story of slavery and how fucked up the South is
- Argo — The true story of writers in LA sucking their own dicks
- The Artist — Directors in LA suck their own dicks, silently
- The King’s Speech — The true story of how fucked up the Nazis are
- The Hurt Locker — The true story of how fucked up the Middle East is
- Slumdog Millionaire — The TV industry sucks their own dick, with a killer dance number at the end
Now, this isn’t against the actual quality of the films themselves, in fact most of the movies in that list are quite good! A few are beyond terrific! I love some of those movies! That is not the issue at hand here, simply due to the fact that the best movies never win, the most experimental movies never win, the most bold and daring get punished and the safest picks are rewarded based on a mixture of a ridiculous voting system and lots of money being pumped behind the scenes. It is what it is; as long as nobody is breaking the law I could care less.
But come the fuck on, really? Did you people not see the other contenders? This is one of the strongest lists of nominees for Best Picture in quite some time, and they’re going with La La Land? I like that movie, it’s fine. Tons of problems, everyone agrees, you can nitpick it to death, but it’s forgettable and not nearly as impressive as Whiplash. But that is a much longer discussion for another day.
Am I an asshole for writing this column? My tongue is in my cheek, although that’s harder to get across in written form, I admit. This is mostly a rebuke to my friends and their arguments, I’m sure what they wrote is fine. I’m okay being the resident negative nancy.
The road to hell is paved with good intentions, and unfortunately the history of Hollywood is filled with way too many winners that in retrospect look short-sighted and awful. The academy’s batting average is horrendous and you can make up a canon’s worth of all-timers with what didn’t win. Did nobody see Moonlight? Or OJ: Made in America and I Am Not Your Negro? Why weren’t they included in the main list? I fucking LOVE Arrival and Manchester by the Sea to death, but come on, this is so stupid. I get the fervor, I get the backlash, I get the backlash to the backlash, and I approve of all the nominations tying the record, but at the end of the day it isn’t about La La Land being a mediocre musical or not, it’s about the strength of the competition and this year it’s way too good to award to Damien Chazelle’s latest.
Maybe in another year I wouldn’t be so irked. But god damn do I love Whiplash and I will see everything Chazelle makes going forward. Enjoy the gold coming your way buddy, I’m proud. And silver lining: at least Mel Gibson won’t win anything.
Justin, a.k.a. The Middle Ground
There’s a few levels to consider when thinking about La La Land. First, do I , Justin, think La La Land is the best picture of 2016? The answer is no, I believe Moonlight to be the best film of 2016. But I do think La La Land is a good film. I distinctly remember saying that La La Land was going to win Best Picture at the Oscars to the family member I saw it with, but I think that’s more about the Academy Awards than the film itself.
La La Land is designed to rack up awards in a lot of ways. Everyone knows Hollywood loves Hollywood, so a musical that equally odes to Singing In The Rain as it does to The Umbrella Of Cherbourg is something that is right up their alley. Mix in the indie cred of Damien Chazelle and that fact this isn’t from a major studio, and you sate any arguments this typical studio awards bait, you say that this film is risky in 2016, “people don’t like original musicals” and all.
But after the enthralling experience of watching La La Land in the theaters, you return to your home, and on the way, you begin to consider certain things.
Like that Gosling and Stone can’t really sing, though that’s not unprecedented. The previously mentioned The Umbrella Of Cherbourg doesn’t feature the best singers, but the problem is, that film came out 50 years ago. What people think about musicals has changed, and no better understanding of this can be seen than with Hamilton, a.k.a. the biggest drawing musical in the world.
Then you consider the narrative that this is a film about how Ryan Gosling is going to “save” jazz. Although this is problematic (especially when it’s paired with John Legend being the evil sellout), I tend to think Damien Chazelle is actually the problem here. If you have seen any of his other three films, Chazelle has a tendency toromanticize jazz, but what he also does make films about awful men. Guy, Andrew, and Sebastian are terrible people, possible sociopaths if you consider their lack of regard of other people and their only desire to indulge their wants. So the idea of this being a film about a white man saving a traditional black music kind of falls apart with that, especially since Chazelle’s first male lead was black but still: come on man, we could fixed a serious issue with this film in casting.
Lastly, this is a conversation we’re having because I’m pretty sure that we all agree that there’s a clearly superior film in Moonlight. But unlike previous years, Moonlight has had a lot of acclaim during award season. In fact, Moonlight has won the most awards, so when it comes to the grand daddy of awards (and I can make the argument that no award holds more in acclaim in an Oscar relative to it’s field,) why are we having this conversation?
Ultimately yes, La La Land does deserve some awards, but why does it deserve all the awards? Why can’t the Oscars just get out of its own way for once? Imagine the story it will be if the Academy Awards actually awarded something that WASN’T Moonlight? And its important that it does: people often greenlight projects that they know won’t be huge financial windfalls if they think they can get awards. If Moonlight wins, if Hidden Figures wins, you effectively change the narrative of American cinema, because studios will take more risks on telling different stories. And that’s probably more important than anything else.
Matthew, a.k.a. The La La Lover
It’s not easy being in this position, arguing for a film that has (somehow) become a bit of a pariah as far as Oscar candidates go. I don’t know what really happened to cause such a backlash against La La Land, although I have my personal suspicions (the awards cycle is a cruel beast, let’s just put it that way.) But despite what the internet tells me, I KNOW there’s a ton of people that love this film. I know that I’m not the only person who believes La La land is indeed the “Best Picture” of 2016. But, even if I was…
Or in Simpsons terms…
Because, look: I loved La Land Land. It was my favorite movie of the year, and gave me an experience unlike any other in 2016. I thought it was technically marvelous, emotionally complex, and thematically rich. I personally believe that a lot of the “hot takes” that are coming out about the film (including the “Ryan Gosling wants to save jazz=racism” thing) are not giving the movie a fair shot, and I think I’ve come to realize that the movie I saw is apparently not the same one others did.
And you know what? That’s okay. It’s also okay for people to hate (or more likely, moderately dislike) the film, even if it does sadden me a bit that people can be so cynical about something that’s so wondrous and hopeful. I really did wish that more people loved the film, even if I can’t begrudge them for their hatred. And here’s another fun trick: though I loved La La Land, I ALSO loved Moonlight, and Manchester by the Sea, and even Fences for that matter.
It’s easy to get lost in the Oscar race, and to start turning on these (mostly great) pieces of art as the competition intensifies. But this isn’t sports, or even politics for that matter: you can love all these films without feeling like you have to dump on them because they are the frontrunner for the “big” win. I’m okay with people disliking La La Land, but in a world in which it wasn’t dubbed the Best Picture choice for the Oscars (and the predominately white film going against the minority led other choice, a conversation for a whole other article), I’m curious what the overall consensus on the film would be. Which is weird to say about a movie that has 93% on Rotten Tomatoes and a strong 8.5 on IMDB, but once again, that’s what this stupid competition ends up doing.
I understand where Jared is coming from, and see a lot of what Justin is saying too. But I don’t understand why all these factors have to change what I (and I imagine many others) feel about this film, and why we should just change our pick for the best film of the year because Moonlight being it would better contribute the industry. All I can do is talk honestly about my own experience, and in that sense, I am not going to stop loving La La Land, or be absolutely thrilled when it most likely wins Best Picture come Sunday.
But, hey, I was in this same exact position back in 2014 with Birdman, so I’m no stranger to having my opinion about the best film of the year going from widely accepted to culturally derided. I don’t want to harp too much about how persecuted I feel about all this, but all I’m saying is that Martin Scorsese is probably going to make a movie about me in a few years that stars an eternally tortured Andrew Garfield. And then when it becomes an Oscar front-runner, we can proceed to hate it too! The cycle continues.
So there you have: three very different viewpoints on what La La Land’s very likely Best Picture win really means. After listening to all three of us rant, where do you align? And be sure to tune into the Oscars this Sunday to see what ultimately gets the prize.
Although, come on now, it’s totally going to be La la Land. Let’s not kid ourselves.
EDIT FROM THE FUTURE: Well, color us surprised.
Also published on Medium.
10 Bold Predictions For Video Games in 2018
Plus, some 2017 prediction results.
I made a bunch of predictions last year, in video form, and I really hate when people make such bold prognostications and then just not go back and check the tape. What are the results? How did you fare? Are you a fraud? Luckily, I am not a wimp, and I have a better batting average than most “analysts” and “commentators” who predict live sports. Flip a coin for each match and you’ll do better than professional betters in Vegas!
This year I do not have a working laptop and for the foreseeable future will not, so we are transitioning from longwinded videos to TL;DR columns. Hooray! I typed out what I said last year, and will just post my new visions of what I see in my crystal ball for 2018. I am clairvoyant, I will bat 1.000 this year, watch me do it. But, before that, let’s review what my predictions were for 2017.
1. “GOTY is a mystery game, yet to be announced”
Correct! Because I count PUBG as a worthy choice for game of the year and it came out of NOWHERE and became a decade defining phenomenon like Counter-Strike once was.
2. “Kingdom Hearts 3 and The Last of Us 2 get no release date and only teases”
Sure, an easy one to make in hindsight, but it wasn’t at the beginning of last year and I’ll make similar claims about this year with these two games and more soon. I expect delays as far as the eye can see, for anything and everything.
3. “E3 is good again”
Sure, why not? It wasn’t as bad as the last few years, but nowhere near as godlike as what we remember it being in our childhoods. Holy shit I am old.
4. “There will be an industry freak out over something money related.”
I’m going to count this one. With loot boxes, blind boxes, EA’s gross versus revenue, and the price tag / budget of Hellblade, I think the industry and #gamers really got blindsided by how sinister and conniving 21st century capitalism has corrupted every facet of life. We are more aware of money now than we’ve ever been as a country, and a society. And the fucking ESA still won’t reveal sales figures, what garbage.
5. “Reviews will die”
They did to me, and while it’s not quantifiable in any real capacity (websites will still review games), I think they are essentially as useless as user reviews. IGN gave Prey a 4.0, and then they didn’t. PUBG got both a 9.5 and 5.0 from IGN…and then didn’t. Fortnite came out in a box at full price, and hasn’t traditionally been released yet by old standards. Let’s just throw all of it out the window and start again. And not to pick on IGN, they’re just the most high profile examples, but it’s impossible to review games like we used to; on a scale, with a score or number or letter grade, in a release window as tight as possible, or like how we review monitors and televisions and keyboards. It’s impossible. Just review games like movies; the best stuff comes out decades afterward and doesn’t incorporate what it cost or anything nonsense like that.
6. Everything I said about the Nintendo Switch doing poorly.
Dead wrong. Let’s move on.
7. “It will be the Year of Delays”
Points for me, every year is a year of delays! Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha but I promise I won’t do that again this year. But it will happen. Watch.
8. “eSports creeps more into the mainstream”
Another one that can’t be scientifically proven, but I feel like that has been the case. When both of my parents call me up and tell me they saw a game on TBS, I think that has to count for something.
9. “Valve does something new, not DOTA related”
I WAS SO FUCKING CLOSE and then they had to make their new card game a DOTA 2 thing. Fuck you Valve. I’m giving myself half credit for that and their VR line-up, and that Portal bridge game thing. Collectively, they count!
10. “Borderlands 3 makes its debut”
Eh, you win some, you lose some.
By my skewed point of view, that’s 7.5 out of 10. Not bad! Let’s try and go for 10 out of 10 this year, which is the same score IGN gave Skyward Sword ROFL remember that shit? Reviews died at that exact moment, RIP review scores.
Now let’s get into the nitty-gritty of 2018. Here’s the 10 things that will almost definitely be happening in the world of games this year.
1. Indie games have a weird year
There’s not as many high profile ones as you’d think, and they continue the recent trend of not being a serious GOTY contender for some reason. There will be some flops, kickstarter fails, delays, and whatever the endless runner Super Meat Boy Forever turns out to be. I expect some smaller studios to go for VR, or make a double A type game ala Hellblade and itso facto you have a recipe for a very strange time for indie developers and publishers.
2. More and more trade shows really start to morph into something else we do not recognize, and we are all scratching our heads by the end of the year.
Outliers like Sony’s Playstation Experience a few weeks ago will become the norm as all expos become PAX-lite to get more people, and companies start to break away from the norm and just do their own thing for announcements. EA essentially pulled out of E3 already, Bethesda and Nintendo just hit play on a video, Rockstar doesn’t show up and they already have the biggest game of 2018, and fucking Tokyo Game Show has been on life support for years now. Have less expectations overall, and subscribe to more Twitch channels, that is the future.
3. We get an all-time blockbuster in sales this year
One that sells like crazy hot cakes, and yes I am hedging my bets because it is going to be Red Dead Redemption 2, let’s all be real here. 2K’s financial year is going to look like a supernova with no signs of slowing down. Red Dead 2 could hit some ridiculous number like GTA V, where it comes out of the gate strong, and just hit milestone after milestone: 10 to 20 to 30 to 50 to 80 million, something preposterous like that.
4. The industry will begin to self-regulate loot boxes
Worldwide governments (but mostly ours, let’s be honest) will fail to actively do what they SHOULD do and ban loot boxes as forms of gambling that seek to prey upon children and adults who are prone to addictive behavior…a.k.a everyone on planet earth except monks. But the industry slowly self-regulates based around the hot topic created by consumers that there needs to be a certain way to do things for microtransactions, mostly spurred by Apple’s decision to force games on iOS to show the odds on all blind boxes. When Microsoft inevitably unveils their new Avatar achievement reward system, they should be very weary of the consequences.
5. A significant number of high and low profile games will star women this year.
It will mirror the movie industry’s big 2017 (Wonder Woman, The Last Jedi, and Beauty and the Beast were all the highest grossing movies last year). I imagine a top selling game stars a woman as the playable protagonist and if that happens to be The Last of Us Part II then I really nailed this one. Maybe we get a Horizon sequel soon, but that would be asking too much, wouldn’t it?
6. The Nintendo Switch begins to stall
After a ridiculously strong start, Nintendo has less gas in the tank than we would like (Metroid Prime 4 and Bayonetta 3 are not coming any time soon, and I don’t count ports of Wii U games, that is just obvious and necessary). Microsoft has more gas in the tank than you would think (they fucking better for their sake), and Sony does nothing to try and fix their whole “we release nothing during the holidays” approach to their first party line-up (I expect a March through August gameplan for God of War, Spider-Man, Detroit: Being Human, and Days Gone, if that still exists).
7. Battle royale games are FUCKING EVERYWHERE
…With lots of fun twists, and a lot of copyright infringement. Maybe even, from franchises you don’t expect. I also predict an actual The Hunger Games announcement because people would be stupid not to license that out in some way.
8. The return of the Dark Souls clone
And they will make much bigger splashes this year. And please, for the love of all that is holy, make it Bloodborne 2, Miyazaki-san, — Jesus Christ already! Just announce it.
9. We finally see get teases for…
Cyberpunk 2077, Borderlands 3, Division 2, a new Diablo, a new Bioshock project, Halo 6, Ghost Story and Ken Levine’s new game, and the return of a very classic franchise. I think Splinter Cell or Crimson Skies or Perfect Dark, but maybe Left 4 Dead? Who is to say, honestly, I don’t know. It won’t be Half-Life 3, though — sorry everybody, that ship has sailed. We also finally hear more about The Last of Us: Part 2, and Kingdom Hearts 3, and the Final Fantasy VII remake, and Shenmue 3, and they are all 2019 or later. Not one of those things is close to this calendar year.
10. Sony finally announces PSN name changes
…Then they suffer a major data breach because of the changed coding. Later on in the year, we hear juicy rumors and leaked details of the PS5 and it fuels the fire of a wild year for Playstation. Sony refuses to acknowledge anything. Andrew House is not there anymore, after all…it’s going to be an interesting 2018 for them, that’s for sure.
And for the gaming industry overall, well we’re at it. Let’s just hope it’s also a good one.
Jared’s Top Ten Games of This Horrible, Godforsaken Year
As I’ve gotten older, I have less free time (stop me if you’ve heard that one before, right). I’m one of millions of Gen X and Millennial children who grew up with games as a daily part of their lives, a main hobby, ageing and maturing alongside with the rest of the industry. And with less time for anything to do, and exponentially more content and media and art to consume than any time in the history of civilization, everyone has to make sacrifices and decisions. Okay, maybe that sounds more dramatic than it really is, but it’s becoming increasingly clear to me that everyone I know cannot have a conversation about anything they experience or like or want to recommend because we are all too fractured as a society to embrace the same things. With the exception of sports and Game of Thrones, I don’t watch the same shows as my friends, or see the same movies, or read the same books, or listen to the same music, or really do the same things. The games we play barely crossover, and if everyone isn’t up to drop $60 on the same title at the same time for co-op, it’s a total waste. Especially since now there is a division between discs and digital, which plants a flag in the ground on whether you keep or return the game you intend on playing. It’s maddening, and I know why so many people want to go back to a simpler time; and that isn’t even getting into the quality of old versus new, don’t even get me started on how this console generation compares to the previous ones.
And now I sort of despise the way I play video games, because I try to cram in as many podcasts and YouTube videos in as I can possibly fit into my head and my schedule. And that means turning down, or off, the audio completely on games to double dip and multi-task. It’s my version of listening to the radio during the gym, or the drive to work, or whatever you normal people in the world do with your time. For me, it’s intentionally playing games in a way that fit my lifestyle, for the worse, out of convenience, and I hate it but I can’t stop doing it.
Instead of taking on different titles, I’m mostly now just looking for idle side quests to complete as I fly through my back catalog of pods, that help me catch up on everything else I’m missing that I deem critical, like politics or the NBA. And out of all the open world games that I grinded through, the second best one was Horizon: Zero Dawn (the first is further down on the list, you already can tell what it is). And it ended up right outside my top ten, which shows you how good this year was (for the first 8 months at least).
If you watched that video I did (above this) about satisfying gameplay loops, then you’ll know why I dig Horizon so much. And if you don’t have the time or can’t be bothered to, basically the main hook of games like this and Far Cry 3 is enjoying the constant running around and exploring and finding things to do, things to kill, animals to skin, items and abilities to upgrade, quests to complete, which help the former which feeds back into the cycle to complete the latter, and so on and so forth. If you can make a pretty game that is somewhat interesting with tight controls and a unique spin, then you’re pretty much set, but Horizon took things a bit further when it came to the art direction and story and world, and mostly the fact you fight giant robot dinosaurs. With bow and arrows and traps and shit. It cannot be simply stated how fucking awesome that is, but also how fresh is it considering you’d think someone should have already done this concept. But oh well, Horizon ended up being the Turok reboot I always secretly wanted, and I didn’t have to play on an N64 controller to get it. But I did have to endure the PS4 controller, which I really don’t love playing with, so onto the other honorable mentions!
Honorable Mentions: Gorogoa, Uncharted: Lost Legacy, Tacoma, Yooka Laylee, A Hat in Time, Hand of Fate 2, Prey, Hellblade, Absolver, Hollow Knight, AC: Origins, and a ton of other little small indies I liked a lot but didn’t love
Also: The SNES Classic does not count
Considering my time with the greatest console maybe ever, and the greatest game maybe ever, there is just nothing like holding a SNES controller and flying through Super Mario World. There is literally nothing else like it, and since it’s my favorite game of all time and takes me back to my glory days of the ‘90s I refuse to not include it on my end of year list. I won’t put it above actual new games that came out, but still, I’ve never gone all the way through Super Metroid before and now I have, and I’m better off for it, that shit is lit as fuck (as the kids nowadays say). You will be too if you can find one. I don’t have much else to say, it’s pretty much what you’d expect it to be, the classic edition mini SNES, and worth every penny. Now only if it had Super Mario All-Stars, TMNT IV Turtles in Time, and Mario Paint, then it would be number 1 on this list. But it doesn’t count. Not even going to use the Star Fox 2 argument, that game is not good.
Nintendo Switch Sales Have Reached A New Milestone, But Just How Successful Is The Console So Far?
Compared to Nintendo’s last console, at the very least, the answer is…very.
At this point in time, I have yet to purchase a Nintendo Switch…but, to be honest, I kind of want to. I’m having some major FOMO with Nintendo’s newest console, especially considering the rapturous response that both Super Mario Odyssey and The Legend of Zelda: The Breath of the Wild received in the past year. I just feel incomplete as a gamer by not playing both games, what with Game of the Year Awards coming around, and both games seemingly taking every prize. There’s no other way to say it — not having a Nintendo Switch makes me feel like I am missing out on a big part of video games…which is the first time I can say that about something released by Nintendo in quite a while. And looking at these newly released Nintendo Switch sales numbers, I am far from the only one who probably has that opinion.
As revealed by Nintendo themselves, the Switch recently pushed over ten million total units in worldwide sales. That number was likely achieved through very strong Black Friday sales, which I can personally bear witness to — during my Black Friday shopping, I witnessed a whole lot of carts with Nintendo Switches (Switchii?) in them, with giant displays set up simply to supply for what seemed to be a heavy demand for the handheld/console combo. But even putting Black Friday aside, the Nintendo Switch has sold pretty well since its release in March…though it’s important to contextualize those numbers just a little bit.
Passing ten million units sold in 10 months is pretty good, but it’s not quite a record-breaking number or anything. In fact, the Nintendo Switch is only slightly ahead of where Microsoft was in sales of its Xbox One after a year of release, and those numbers were widely seen as a disappointment at the time. And both were outpaced by the initial sales of the Playstation 4, which passed the 10 million mark nine months into its release.
Still though, a lot of the conclusions made by the number crunching can mostly be viewed through the prism of expectation: the Playstation 4 was seen as a huge seller not just because it sold a bunch, but because it outpaced its predecessor by a substantial amount (don’t forget that, in the final days of the Playstation 3, it was dead last in terms of sales.) The Xbox One, comparatively, was seen as a sales disappointment, even though it still pushed an impressive amount of consoles…just not as many as the powerhouse that was the Xbox 360 did. And, returning to the Nintendo Switch, ANYTHING would have looked amazing to Nintendo coming off the complete failure of the Wii U, which only sold a staggeringly poor 13.5 million units TOTAL by the time it was discontinued in 2016. So the narrative becomes thus: the Playstation 4 is a massive success, the Nintendo Switch is a noteworthy success, and the Xbox One is a disappointing failure.
The reality? All of them are doing pretty damn good, really. Between the three none are really failures, and as consoles evolve to be more “iteration” based (with the likes of the Playstation 4 Pro and Xbox One X mudding up the works), the competition between them is probably going to became far less noteworthy as things go on. But, still, all three systems are healthy sellers which, for the sake of the industry, is probably for the best. After all, a little competition never killed anyone, right?
Also published on Medium.
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