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The Top 5 ‘Best Picture’ Winners Of All Time – Now Conspiring

best picture

In honor of the Oscars, Now Conspiring shares their favorite movies that have taken home the golden statue for Best Picture. Before we mention our top five picks, we find out where Adonis has been hiding and why Sam has beef with Bridget. We switched this week from playing Would You Rather to chatting quickly about some foreign films we have recently watched.

Question of the Week: What is your favorite Academy Awards Best Picture winner? Also, if you have any foreign film recommendations, let us know!

Go on…The Top 5 ‘Best Picture’ Winners Of All Time – Now Conspiring

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‘La La Land’ Is Not Overrated Because You Hate It

la la land

La La Land, starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling and directed by Whiplash director Damien Chazelle, is a clear frontrunner for Best Picture at the Oscars this year, and it will likely win. Weirdly enough, a lot of people across the filmgoing spectrum aren’t very happy about that.

The set up for the movie is deceptively simple: two dreamers living in present-day LA fall in love as they both struggle to accomplish their audacious creative goals. If that sounds a lot like Singin’ in the Rain, then you’re on the same page as the director. But as you watch the actual film, you’ll probably notice more material riffed from The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) than anything else.

It’s a contemporary musical, essentially, with original music and some bold homage cinematography, especially toward the film’s vigorous “What if?” epilogue. And though many critics and audiences have gone head over heels for the film, myself included to an extent, there’s been a decisive backlash against the merits of La La Land and whether or not it deserves all the praise it gets.

Yes, people are calling it overrated, and these complaints will absolutely be exacerbated if the film continues to clean up this awards season, already cinching several key Golden Globes this past week.

Overrating is Overrated

la la land

Now, I’ve always been quite open about my stance on calling films “overrated,” in that I think it’s an empty criticism. For the most part, I’m reacting to the fact that I didn’t resonate with a movie that was demonstrably more effective for a wide group of people at a very specific time. That may not “last,” and the film may fade away despite its momentary fame (see films like Crash and Avatar). But that doesn’t invalidate the positive moviegoing experience genuinely had by many…even if some watchers cling to a popular opinion instead of what they they really think, which doesn’t mean a film is overrated. It’s just been overhyped. Propped up on what it represents rather than what it does.

You can make an argument, then, that La La Land is overhyped, but I would also disagree with that, as well. Though the film can be as negatively deconstructed as any other creative property, it’s still incredibly well-realized and well-made. Even if you disagree with some of its core messages and what the script intentionally tried to communicate.

From here on out, this post contains SPOILERS for La La Land

The Subtlety of Homage

la la land

Some of the criticisms of La La Land are definitely valid and meaningful observations. The idea that it might lift a bit too much material from movies like Umbrellas and Singin’ is a worthwhile concern, especially in how the final moments of the film are directly inspired by the former. Simply put, a film’s use of homage has to be backed up by originality and imagination in many other areas, which is where I think La La Land expertly makes up the difference.

See, the music of La La Land, while good, is not intended to be the film’s main hook. Sure, it’s catchy, but as you’ll notice, it’s not amazing. The singing and dancing portions aren’t perfect, and that’s sort of the point. Chazelle set out to present a fantasy movie with dreamy cinematography, noted by the very first scene/musical number, which is a literal dream sequence to kick things off. But a “dreamy” fantastical movie wouldn’t have worked without grounded, motivated characters.

The world of La La Land would have been a pretentious bore (much in the same way it’s wrongfully criticized) if the main leads were allowed flawless performances. The point isn’t to entertain with flashy perfection, but rather with likable showstoppers who suck us in to a believable world, a musical trick that’s a lot harder to pull off if you’re at all familiar with the legacy of Broadway.  La La Land presents a creative solution that might come off as sloppy work otherwise if you’re not already aware of the real talent from Stone and Gosling.

One example is when the two leads sing the reprise of “City of Stars,” and part of the way through, Mia messes up and laughs it off in the song. This one moment goes pretty far to encompass what La La Land is really prioritizing, and it’s not perfection.

Beginning and Ending

la la land

There’s also something to be said about how the film opens and how it ends: with a “Cinemascope” throwback and then a clear lift from Umbrellas, a timeless classic in the same celebratory vein. But this type of homage works because it fits the context of the movie, with aspiring talents who also compare themselves against the past. It makes perfect sense for someone like Sebastian (a movie buff established through his James Dean fixation) to fantasize his career, romance, and the struggle between the two within the backdrop of a familiar dream sequence.

When I first watched La La Land, I admit I was a bit cold from how the film transported Mia and Sebastian to their lives “five years later.” I found it quite convenient that both characters got exactly what they wanted, though the film presents it as a “Yeah, but at what cost?” By the end, both characters have given up their passionate, seasonal romance for their careers, and they seem bittersweet about it. But at first glance, it can be hard to reckon a message that suggests that giving up your love for others is what will lead to the exact success you want. It’s not very realistic, even for such a dreamy movie.

Thinking on this more, I’ve come to accept that La La Land traded its relatable character work in order to hammer the final message home more effectively, in that we would have missed Chazelle’s point if both or even one of the characters fell short of their goals. And the film’s more subtle explanation is that their amazing romance and support of each other is what pushed them through the impossible obstacles that kept them focused on getting what they each want.

Mia confronts Sebastian, for example, when he’s selling out his real dreams for momentary fame. If she hadn’t have done this, then perhaps the ending would have been more “believable” for us. Likewise, if Sebastian hadn’t traveled all the way to Nevada and demonstrated his love in the simple act of remembering even the obscure details of a girlfriend, Mia’s ending would have been the typical “I tried LA and failed” story.

Perhaps the movie makes you work a bit harder to accept all of that, but it hardly detracts from the film as a whole. If anything, it supports the case for La La Land being one of the more rewatch-able films of the year, despite the fact that it’s not even in my top 5, strangely enough. It’s still a movie I applaud, though, and will fondly revisit for years to come.

One last thing…

la la land

One frequent criticism of this movie that I do take umbrage with is the attempt to trivialize this story through a racial lens. That the movie is stuffed with “white entitlement” and “out of touch” elitism from Hollywood, which is supposedly why the movie is being so widely accepted by people in the industry.

My simple response to that is stop. I’m not white and I don’t live in LA, but I do have basic empathy. I can watch a movie with two leads who have harmless (and well-written) motivations that are shared by living breathing people in that very town, and I don’t have to cut down the purpose of this movie because it’s not something I directly relate with. For the same reason I can connect with Chiron in Moonlight through flawless filmmaking and writing, I can follow and hope for the best with Mia and Sebastian.

Is it so bad that Mia wants to become an actress? Should we stop making movies about people dreaming big and suffering to get it because of the connotations of appearance and privilege? Is it so bad that Sebastian wants to preserve music that’s quickly being forgotten, even if it’s not tied to him ethnically? The idea that he’s purported to be a white savior type suggests that his agenda is to “save jazz,” which is a projection of the critic, not something founded in the movie. Sebastian instead wants to celebrate a legacy in his own way, surrounded by others who do it justice and celebrate with him.

It’s just a shame that with a movie as technically impressive and crowd-pleasing as La La Land, we have to assign it so much baggage from other, lesser properties that actually commit these flaws, simply because we recognize a morsel of it and smell blood.

Wrapping Up

Despite my defense of La La Land, it isn’t among my favorite movies of 2016, though it lands in the top 10. It works the whole way through and has some tremendous moments, and I do want to shine a light on the great ideas here, rather than shout it down for its popularity. For many fans of musicals and movies in general, La La Land really is a must-see film.

Grade: A


Thanks for reading this. Seriously. You can subscribe to my posts by clicking “Follow” in the right sidebar. 

Or just say hello on Twitter: @JonNegroni


Oscars 2016 Live Blog & Predictions

oscars live blog

WRAP UP: This was a fantastic night. I finished my predictions at 9 correct out of 17, so not too shabby. The biggest surprise: the triumph of Mad Max winning everything except for the biggest awards. A meme was finally put to rest (hopefully) with Leo winning his Oscar, and Brie Larson is at last a household name. Oh, and I somehow guessed Spotlight would win Best Picture, much to the confusion of everyone else in my living room. Go figure.

Go on…Oscars 2016 Live Blog & Predictions

Snarcasm: Let’s Talk About How the Oscars Don’t Matter (Again)

oscars don't matter

Snark + Sarcasm = what you’re about to read. 

A hit piece on why the Academy Awards are pointless comes about once every 33 seconds, like a YouTube comment about how Donald Trump supposedly “tells it how it is” or a Tweet referencing that other thing you don’t like.

What I never come across is an article that says, “Well, the Oscars are important for good reasons you’re probably not aware of.” Not a surprise considering conversations around the Oscars usually boil down to a few clever hashtags, rather than some real discussion.

And who better to trash the Oscars than a film critic? Joanna Connors wrote this thinker for the aptly named Cleveland.com,

Oscars 2016: Why the Academy Awards matter, and why they don’t

Spoiler alert: she only talks about why they don’t matter, but you knew that already.

 As we approach the total fabulosity that is the annual Academy Awards ceremony Sunday night…

Look, just because “fabulosity” is technically a word doesn’t mean we, as a society, should remind everyone.

…I find that I can barely dredge up even mild excitement about it.

That’s terrible news for everyone.

Maybe it’s the #OscarsSoWhite issue.

Reasonable.

Maybe it’s that “The Revenant,” a movie I loathed, is poised to win a lot of the awards.

Even more reasonable. I also loathed The Revenant.

Maybe it’s the very idea of ranking films at all, the absurdity of declaring one better than all the others.

Are you seriously criticizing the practice of ranking? You know, that thing everyone instinctively does, proving why Buzzfeed is the first thing you see on Facebook every morning?

It’s not absurd to award someone for doing something competently. It just so happens that the only useful way to evaluate competence is through comparison, AKA ranking. Pretending this practice is somehow insane is what’s truly insane.

Whatever the cause, I’ve had so little interest in the Oscars over the past few weeks that I’ve started to wonder: Do they really matter?

I’ve had this same existential crisis about craft beer and Jennifer Lawrence, but you don’t see me protesting Hunger Games with a Bud Light in my hand.

Of course they matter to the people who win them. Obviously. Winners get that exciting moment in the spotlight and the chance to thank their minions ad nauseam.

OK, let’s attack people who get excited about winning the most prestigious award in entertainment. How dare they value themselves?

And if we’re going to call earnest fans of a movie “minions,” then what does that make your readers, Joanna?

They reap more tangible benefits, too. Money. Winning actors, actresses, directors and even some below-the-line workers such as art directors will see their price tags go up for future movies. Winning films will get a nice bump at the box office.

In other words, the Oscars have gone on to greatly benefit filmmakers by giving them enough prestige to create more interesting, remarkable films. Well, sometimes that’s how it works out.

But apparently, none of that matters because Joanna hates “top 10” lists.

But do the Oscars matter as a judge of artistic merit? No. They don’t. They never have.

“This ultimately subjective practice has absolutely never been subjective.”

Don’t believe me?

Hey, at least she’s self aware.

OK. Let’s do this. Close your eyes, just for a moment, and think back to your high school prom. (Don’t worry: This will only sting a little.)

Is she talking to herself at this point? Fine, I’ll go along with this.

closes eyes to imagine prom

All I see is a cover band doing a terrible rendition of “Hey There, Delilah.”

Got the image? A parade of lovely, over-made-up girls wearing beautiful, overpriced gowns, some of them revealing much more than their fathers would like. Boys in tuxedoes, staring dumbfounded at the girls.

So at this point, Joanna is deriding the very existence of prom, including your own, in order to illustrate a completely unrelated point.

“Hey, prom is meaningless! Just like your dreams.”

SHE IS A FILM CRITIC!

You’re mingling with people you know – everyone knows them — but you’ve never actually spoken to a lot of them. You’re nervous and excited.

Yes, Joanna gets paid to write about movies. But no judgement here, considering the band is now doing “Dangerous” by Kardinal.

Everyone is buzzing: Who’s the most popular? Who will score tonight? And, most important, who will be crowned prom queen and king?

Go on.

Now, step back for a minute and imagine that almost all the people who get to vote for the king and queen are 63-year-old white guys, many of whom have not set foot in a high school (or on a set) in years.

She…she’s joking. She has to be joking. This can’t be real.

Some of them have never even seen the kids they vote for; they’re voting based on what their friends – and probably their grandchildren – like.

Please, for the love of Snarcasm, don’t let this be her metaphor.

And so, ladies and gentlemen: There you have it. The Oscars!

No. Just no. This…NO.

Joanna, your metaphor/analogy, or whatever you want to call this is wrong on every level I can fathom. For one thing, you seem to have absolutely no knowledge about what the criteria is for being in the Academy. In your mind, you just have to be an old white guy, apparently.

And I don’t blame you for this assumption, considering that is what the Academy is mostly composed of. But have you ever wondered why?

The Academy is made up of the top filmmakers, writers, engineers, technicians, and actors of all time. Their knowledge of what it takes to make a great film make your prom analogy read like a 7th grade essay on Huckleberry Finn. 

People in the Academy have won Oscars in the past, which is a practice that ensures the very artistic merit you’re questioning. Is this perfect? No, because the traditionally white institution has led to exactly what you’re complaining about in terms of age and demographics, and this won’t be resolved until Hollywood itself grows more diversely.

Either way, it’s the antithesis of some creepy old dudes voting on prom king and queen, which is just a cheap shot.

Being “prom king and queen” is built on relationships between high schoolers. Winning an Oscar is determined by artistic evaluation of a film by the best people in the craft. Undermining the Academy in this way is like saying a film critic is useless because I once ate bad fish sticks at a Red Lobster recommended by Yelp.

A popularity contest that has almost nothing to do with artistic merit, decided by mostly white, mostly male, mostly older voters who are not required to see all of the nominated films, and probably haven’t.

If it’s just a popularity contest, then why do unpopular movies win so often? (She references this later on by saying Citizen Kane lost to a movie no one’s ever heard of).

And the assertion that these voters haven’t seen most of the nominated films is misleading, considering the fact that they would have to watch over 500 films in a year in order to do so. That’s why marketing and Oscar buzz is such a crucial facet of this process. Again, it’s not perfect, but it’s vastly more effective than strapping these guys and gals to a chair and forcing them to watch Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2.

How many of these guys saw Idris Elba in “Beasts of No Nation”? How many of them have even heard of Idris Elba?

I agree that Beasts of No Nation deserved a nomination, but Joanna is just guessing that they didn’t watch the film at all because it helps her opinion look correct. In fact, she even cites an anonymous voter later in this article who HAS watched Beasts and talks about why he doesn’t like it, refuting this entire point altogether.

Led by its president, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the Academy is taking steps to correct this imbalance. But that may take a few years, and even then, there’s no guarantee the voters will actually see the nominated films. Even if they do, they might still vote based on personal popularity.

The alternative is forcing these voters to watch a preselected list of movies that deserve to win Oscars based on the opinion of…who knows? See, it’s not reasonable to make sure they watch all of these films, but it’s also unreasonable to assume they need to. The Oscars are an institution built on popularity integrated with artistic evaluation. Trying to forcibly shut one of these aspects out is just absurd.

Joanna goes on to cite three examples of Academy voters who said mean things about actors in the nomination. Yeah, hard-hitting evidence:

explaining why he won’t vote for Sylvester Stallone for Best Supporting Actor, the voter said, “He’s a pig…. I can’t stand Sly as a person.”

“Tommy Lee Jones has been such a bitter guy — all that scowling at the Golden Globes? I’m telling you, people don’t like the guy.”

“Jennifer Lawrence I was on the fence about, but she lost me with that ‘Saturday Night Live’ bit [in which she ‘trash-talked’ her fellow nominees]; I thought it was mean-spirited and shows a lack of maturity on her part.”

Sound like high school to you?

Yes, because you purposefully leave out important information in order to mischaracterize what was really said by these voters.

Let’s take the voter who said “I can’t stand Sly as a person.” This wasn’t all he said. His entire quote includes that he didn’t think Stallone’s performance was all that great compared to Mark Rylance and Tom Hardy. In other words, he evaluated an actor and compared him to the competition. Mentioning his personal disdain of Stallone was an aside.

In the rest of that article, the voter even mentions how he nominated Tangerine, which stars actors of color and is about a transgender sex worker, for Best Picture. He also gushes about SpotlightThe Revenant, and other movies in a meaningful way. In other words, he’s a person, not a quarterback.

That quote about Tommy Lee Jones? Buried in a sea of sound criticism yet plucked out of context in order to make some grandiose point.

See, these voters weren’t really just talking about their reasons for voting. They were digging into their overall perceptions and how that shaped their opinions. There’s a lot of substance in their commentary, but Joanna noticeably draws attention away from their artistic merit in order to prove they have none.

Do I need to list all the great movies that should have won the Academy Award and did not?

A pointless exercise. Yes, we all know the Academy doesn’t get it right all the time, but that’s simply because the voting process actually isn’t much of a popularity contest. It’s more of a percentage contest that can split votes and create surprises.

Going further, we have other award shows that pay attention to what the critics and general audiences like. Those are the shows that will award movies that remain in the minds of most people for years, but that doesn’t mean the Oscars need to do the same. If we only go by the films “everyone likes,” then that means Fast and Furious 7 should be up for Best Picture.

Roger Ebert himself once said that the Oscars are important because of how they draw attention to what the industry honors each given year. Even if they get it wrong sometimes, that’s fine because we still glean insight from these decisions and how they shed light on cinema of the past.

I could go on, but I’m feeling too depressed.

Over the Oscars not being exactly the way you want them to be? For someone who doesn’t think the Oscars matter, you’re getting pretty riled up over them. That or the prom experiment took an unexpected toll on you.

I’ll watch the Oscars Sunday, because it’s my job. Otherwise, I wouldn’t. I confess that I haven’t watched in past years, when it wasn’t my job.

That’s so interesting.

oscars don't matter

Not even the dresses interest me any more, now that the stars don’t dress themselves and rely instead on stylists and designer freebies.

Yup, even the fashion is corrupted. Keep going, Joanna.

Where’s the fun in everyone looking perfect? Why does anyone care who they’re wearing, if it wasn’t their choice?

This is so tedious. It actually depresses you that people work hard to look good when thousands of cameras are blaring at them. Next week, Joanna is going to write an article about how much she hates colorful logos on dish soap.

This year, the only thing that sparks my interest is what the host, Chris Rock, will say in his monologue about the All White Oscars. I can’t wait to hear his message to all those older white guys who have been in Academy forever, the ones who will give Leonardo DiCaprio the Best Actor Oscar because – well, because he’s such a great guy! Everybody loves Leo! Haven’t seen the movie, but they say he’s wonderful in it.

That’s right, Joanna is asserting that most of these guys haven’t even seen The Revenant, a box office smash with audiences and critics. She has no evidence for this aside from the quote that says the voters don’t see “everything,” which consists of hundreds of movies she hasn’t seen either.

And I just want to point out that Joanna’s dripping, dramatic, disdain for this collective group of homogenous human beings feels just like the thing she’s criticizing them for. Irony? Coincidence? Apathy? Take your pick.

Also, I forgot to mention that one of the voters she criticizes early on in this article hates The Revenant just as much as she does. But I’m guessing she just skimmed the parts of the article that didn’t support her rant.

OK, but do the Oscars matter?

Well, do movies matter? Because if so, then a ceremony that attempts to highlight the best of cinema certainly matters. We can debate all day on how good of a job the Academy is doing, but dismissing them entirely is a pure exercise in immaturity, akin to telling your readers how depressed you are that celebrities love to wear dresses.

The problem is that it’s so incredibly easy to say the Oscars don’t matter. You can throw in your two cents right now and complain away about the Academy and how flawed it is. In fact, it’s “cool” to hate on the Oscars, judging by how quick people are to jump on criticizing it.

Yet just take a look at some of the movies elected this year. Who would have guessed that Mad Max: Fury Road (the most non-Oscar bait movie of all time) would be nominated for 10 awards, including Best Picture? Or The Martian, a sci-fi blockbuster featuring a director no one has cared about in years getting a nod, despite being filled with scientists who aren’t evil for a change?

My point is that while the Oscars aren’t perfect, they continue to change. “Oscar bait” as we know it today is incredibly different from the tastes of a decade ago. The Academy gains new voters—and new perspectives—every year. And countless people will watch great movies every year because they watched the Oscars, a curated collection of movies that matter to the people who make them.

Let’s continue to hold the Academy accountable for a lot of things, but can we please get off this absurd conclusion that they don’t matter because they may not matter to you?


Hey! If you’ve come across a silly article that deserves the Snarcasm treatment, send it my way via Twitter or the comments below!

I’m Jon and thanks for reading this. You can subscribe to my posts by clicking “Follow” in the right sidebar. Or just say hey on Twitter! @JonNegroni

Oscars 2016 Breakdown

oscars 2016 breakdown

This week on Now Conspiring, we discuss the Academy Award nominations and provide our picks for each category. Throughout, we review several movies like Dirty GrandpaAnomalisaCarol, and The End of the Tour.

QUESTION OF THE WEEK: Who do you think should win this year’s award for Best Picture? (Feel free to add any other picks for the other categories if the mood strikes).

Go on…Oscars 2016 Breakdown

No Surprise: The Nominees For ‘Best Picture’ are Ridiculous

oscars 2015 best picture

The nominees for Best Picture aren’t very surprising, save for Gone Girl getting snubbed in favor of noticeably weaker films. But first, here they are:

  • American Sniper
  • Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
  • Boyhood
  • The Imitation Game
  • Selma
  • The Theory of Everything
  • Whiplash
  • The Grand Budapest Hotel  

One of the trends you’ll notice on this list is that it’s very biopic heavy. Four of them are direct biopics, while another two are indirectly centered around the actor being the movie’s gimmick (Birdman and Boyhood). Only two of these movies are just that: Movies.

These are all great films. The only one of these I didn’t enjoy was Birdman, mostly because it’s such an uneven film made that way because it wants awards.

The only thing about it that worked for me was Edward Norton, but everything else felt so condescending toward nothing. It was just two hours of people screaming at each other for no reason but to vent out frustrations I couldn’t care about.

I sort of understand the appeal of stories that make no sense. But for me, narrative has to have cohesion, or else I’m not going to appreciate the movie as a whole. So for that reason, I’m not on the Birdman bandwagon.

Whiplash is still my favorite film of the year, and I’m also excited to see Selma and Boyhood getting their due. But Imitation Game and American Sniper beating out Gone Girl and Wild seems like a huge “We hate Ben Affleck and Reese Witherspoon” message from the Academy, even though Rosamund Pike and Witherspoon got the obligatory Best Actress nods.

And no, Interstellar doesn’t deserve to be on this list, but I feel terrible for Matthew McConaughey’s snub for best actor.

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