Movie Forum: The Heroines, Heroes & Hiddleston Edition
Posted November 8, 2012
Every Wednesday, the Movie Forum convenes to discuss the latest news from the film world and answer questions submitted by you, the reader.
This week, reporter Scott Bowles and film critic Claudia Puig discussed the growing trend of strong female characters in Disney films, the Academy's tendency to overlook comedic and action-oriented performances, what makes a good remake and much more.
Enjoy the chat and submit your questions for next week below.
John Elliot: Welcome to the USA TODAY Movie Forum! I'm John Elliot, online producer for USA TODAY Movies and I will serve as your moderator. Joining me today is USA TODAY's film critic Claudia Puig and movie reporter Scott Bowles.
How this works - Each week we solicit questions, online, from our readers on certain movie topics.
This week? Disney's embrace of strong female characters, serious actors in action roles, Director-Performer relationships and Twilight's impeccably timed drama
Scott and Claudia will start by sharing their thoughts this week's topics, then we will move on to reader submitted questions.
SO…let's get the Forum started! And Claudia, let's start with you:
With two heroines in Wreck-It Ralph, (voiced respectively by Sarah Silverman and Jane Lynch) and Brave's Merida earlier this year, why has Disney has finally gotten the message about strong female characters?
Claudia Puig: Welcome, movie fans! Happy post Election Day to all!
And speaking of things political: Women, and by extension, girls are a key demographic in movies, as well as sociologically. Women accounted for 54% of the electorate and their support was critical to the president's re-election.
I don't know that the percentages of female moviegoers are, but the number must be substantial. I know that animated films are aimed at much younger females, but you also need to reach their moms, who invariably drive their children to the movies and approve of the movies their children see. And Brave drew a lot of mother-daughter viewing with tweens and even teenage daughters.
It used to be the conventional wisdom that girls would go see "boy movies" but boys wouldn't go to "girl movies". But I think that those lines have blurred to some extent and kids just go to good movies.
But Disney has been slow to get the message that girls can be something other than traditional princess that need rescuing. But they seem to have gotten the message this year and that's something worth celebrating. Even if Merida's lustrous red hair was more a topic of conversation than her archery skills.
Scott Bowles: Disney is a little slow to the game, but so is Hollywood. Take a look at a lot of Hollywood movies, and very few of them are not only not anchored by women, they're not necessarily for women. This year may see some of that change, as Twilight and Hunger Games put women in more heroic roles. But Disney reflects the industry at large.
Claudia Puig: I agree, Scott. Disney and Hollywood have both been slow to the game. I think Hunger Games may be a, pardon the pun, game changer for strong female heroines. But Disney and Hollywood probably reflect the world at large!
Scott Bowles: And let's not forget the progress pioneered by movies like Bridesmaids, which is going to increase pressure on studios to portray the genders at least more realistically, if not equally.
Claudia Puig: Great point about Bridesmaids!
John Elliot: In time for the weekend releases of Skyfall and Lincoln, let's talk Bond, James Bond (& Lincoln, Abe Lincon)! Why is Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln) a leading contender for Oscar gold while respected actor Daniel Craig (Skyfall) isn't even in the discussion? Why does Oscar honor the weighty portrayals and tend to bypass serious actors playing action heroes?
Scott Bowles: For some reason, the academy has stopped taking action and comedy seriously, though you could make a strong argument that making people laugh, or acting in mid-action, is tougher than drama. Why don't booms get respect, Claudia?
Claudia Puig: I DO think that making people laugh, and consistently for 90 minutes to 2 hours, is tougher than drama. No question. And acting with nuance and pulling of amazing physical feats is a special talent indeed. I really wish comedy got more respect. I think we may see some dent put into that old saw with Silver Linings Playbook, which can be considered a comedy as well as drama.
Looking specifically at Honest Abe vs. 007, of course Daniel Day Lewis is more than worthy of an Oscar nomination and pretty much always is with any role he takes! He's as close to perfect playing Lincoln as any actor could ever hope to be. And sure Bond doesn't require the same level of disappearing into a role as Lincoln does, but that other Daniel—Daniel Craig— embodies everything that the Bond character is, with charm, nuance and kick-ass action scenes.
I wish the Academy could try to transcend some of its snobbery and bias for serious, weighty roles. This not only goes for amazing performances as action heroes like Bond or Matt Damon as Bourne, but also for comic roles.
In some ways it's much harder to make a comedy that works 100% of the time than a drama. And great comic performances are at least as worthy as great dramatic performances.
Scott Bowles: And there may be an action contender in the mix here. Denzel Washington is considered a near lock as a pilot in Flight. Beyond that, though, we're seeing Daniel Day-Lewis get the buzz for Lincoln and Anthony Hopkins gaining momentum for Hitchcock. But it's definitely another year for emotion, not motion.
Are there any action-oriented performances that stand out, Claudia?
Claudia Puig: The main one I can think of would be Christian Bale in The Dark Knight Rises. And of course if he were nominated it would also sort of take into account his past performance in Dark Knight. He brings so much to that role. Just ask George Clooney or Michael Keaton
John Elliot: Let's look ahead to two literary adaptations coming to theaters: Anna Karenina…and Twilight.
Anna Karenina marks the second collaboration between Joe Wright and Keira Knightly (Pride and Prejudice). Why do directors repeatedly work with certain actor/muses and why does that tends to work well?
Claudia Puig: There must a certain chemistry between directors and their muses, since we've seen so many directors from indie filmmakers like PT Anderson and Wes Anderson to Martin Scorsese and Clint Eastwood work with the same actors. There is likely an understanding, maybe even a shorthand between director and actor muse. The director knows what the actor is capable of and the actor has a sense of what the director wants. It's like their native speakers of the same language in a way. And for the audience it's great to see the result of that conversation.
Scott Bowles: I'm not sure you can consider Twilight a literary adaptation so much as a pop culture smorgasbord. But directors can be a lot like fast-food patrons with their favorite happy meals. Once they find a dish that works, they rarely stray from the menu. Which is why you see actors like Daniel Day-Lewis and Denzel Washington at the top of the list so often. They don't have reputations as the easiest actors to work with, but some of the most serious. Ultimately, that inspires filmmakers as much as talent.
Claudia Puig: Yes, some directors may be like lion tamers with those actors considered difficult, or at least know how to be on the same wavelength and get out of the actors' way. I'm thinking of those actors like Day Lewis who really really take their roles seriously. And actors like him who presumably don't suffer fools are probably more than happy to work directors they really respect. It's a symbiotic, mutual admiration society.
Scott Bowles: Speaking of collaborations, one to look for is the director-writer re-pairing of Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal, who combined to do the best picture winner The Hurt Locker. They're back with Zero Dark Thirty, the story of the chase of Bin Laden that is gaining serious heat. That's a pairing I can't wait to see again.
John Elliot: Finally, any thoughts on the impeccably timed off-screen/on-screen drama of Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson?
Scott Bowles: That's a great question. This is one of those instances where no publicity is going to hurt the film, particularly when it's making headlines for romantic tension. There are more than a few people who consider the timing of the break-up a litte too convenient. Certainly, it's not going to hurt the movie. How closely are you paying attention to vamp love, Claudia?
Claudia Puig: Unfortunately, Scott, I feel compelled to pay far more attention to vamp love than I'd like to. And having said that, I hear those two pale lovebirds (bats?) are back together again.
Scott Bowles: The bigger question here may be where the actors go after that. Their careers have been cemented by the book and their off-screen romance. What happens when the Twilight screen goes dark? Stewart had success with Snow White and the Huntsman, but Pattinson has struggled.
Claudia Puig: I'm a cynic when it comes to Hollywood "romances" but whether it's love or breaking up, it's not hard to do when Hollywood comes calling and box office receipts are in the balance....Whether Stewart and Pattinson are together or broken up, it all helps the Twilight juggernaut. And you're right Scott that Pattinson hasn't found his non-Twilight footing. Cosmopolis was a bad choice, as was playing Salvador Dali a few years ago.
John Elliot: Now, let's move on to questions submitted by our lovely readers!
Harriett Sullivan from Fairview, TN:
I loved The Avengers! I know action films hardly ever win anything but would love to see Tom Hiddleston nominated for best supporting actor. Any chance of that happening?
Claudia Puig: Thanks, Harriet. Good question. The Avengers fired on all cylinders. Joss Whedon knows how to make a great action film and give characters some depth. And it was really well cast. But I doubt that we'll see any acting Oscar nods coming out of it. If it were to go to anyone, it would be Hiddleston. He stands a small but worthy chance of being nominated, and it's easier to be nominated for less serious roles if it's supporting actor than actor in a lead role, but I think it's a real long shot.
Scott Bowles: I doubt you're going to see a single performance emerge come Oscar time, but you may see the movie. There's a strong sentiment that Avengers was classic Hollywood, the kind of escape studios once offered regularly but rarely do now. It's likely going to have to defeat Batman, though, as the academy does not have a history of accommodating multiple superheroes.
Claudia Puig: Scott, which of those films would your money be on--Dark Knight or Avengers? And where do you think Looper plays into the Oscars? Or does it?
Scott Bowles: My money would have to go with Dark Knight Rises, only because of the history of the franchise and the tragedy it had to overcome. The academy changed its policy to include more movies after it didn't nominate The Dark Knight, and there will be quite the protest if Chris Nolan is shut out again for another crime fighter. Who gets your superhero nod, Claudia?
Claudia Puig: I think Looper would have the Inception slot, and a lot depends on how many nominees, but it's a long shot. If there's 5, I don't know if any of these action films have a chance. With 8 possible slots, I think at least one might. And if so, it could go to Dark Knight, since Academy voters certainly admire Christopher Nolan as you say Scott and might want to honor his Batman films. Still having said that, none of the Harry Potter films got nominations even though people lot thought the last one had a good chance of getting nominated. And the tragedy in Colorado could work against it, casting a pall over Dark Knight's chances.
Murphy from Atlanta:
Do you think Joaquin Phoenix's disdain for the Oscars will make the Academy vote for someone else?
Scott Bowles: Not at all. The academy really doesn't seem to hold many grudges -- witness Roman Polanski's win for The Pianist. What's working more than disdain is competition. I think he'll get nominated for The Master, though I'd be stunned if he has to give an acceptance speech.
Russell Crowe is living proof that disdain doesn't work against you come Oscar time.
Claudia Puig: The Russell Crowe phenomenon is alive and kicking in Hollywood, Scott I agree with you completely.
We've certainly seen people who have publicly spoken out against the Academy get nominations, like Marlon Brando or Woody Allen. But they are also huge stars and Joaquin Phoenix has not reached that level of star status. I think those weird appearances on talk shows and I'm Still Here, the documentary by Casey Affleck about Joaquin are still in people's heads, but that may not hurt his overall chances with the Academy, at least for a nomination.
Hollywood tolerates a lot of personal eccentricity---especially when it accompanies great talent. And people remember his portrayal of Johnny Cash in Walk The Line probably more than they remember the strangeness of I'm Still Here. So, I guess my answer is a qualified no. I don't think Phoenix's disdain for the Academy or other factors will affect his getting nominated. Remember, he has been nominated twice before (supporting actor in 2001 for Gladiator and 2006 for Walk the Line) and Academy voters tend to re-nominate. But when it comes to winning, that's where it could come into play. I don't see him beating Daniel Day Lewis.
Nigel from Atlanta:
I feel that 2011 was an overall better year for movies than now. All the nominees were great last year, and there were even amazing movies that weren't even nominated like Drive, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, The Ides of March and so on. Are there films this year that are going unnoticed because of lack of press? What chance do these movies have at the Oscars?
Claudia Puig: We're on a role for great questions. While there's no real edgy arty thriller like Drive this year. There are indeed films that fell through the cracks.
Seven Psychopaths was a clever dark comedy which came out recently but failed to gain much traction. The Sound of My Voice was a really unsettling psychological thriller about a cult leader who claims to come from the future starring Brit Marling. Netflix that one. June was a particularly good month with Safety Not Guaranteed, Your Sister' Sister and Seeking a Friend for the End of the World. For light but good indies there was also Ruby Sparks and Celeste and Jesse Forever.
Looper, which we already touched on, was a brainy thriller and a couple of great documentaries were Searching for Sugarman and The Invisible War.
Oh and there was a great Norwegian film called Headhunters that came out early in the year.
Scott Bowles: If there's a little film that has my interest and very few press clippings right now, it would have to be The Impossible, the true story of survival through the tsunami. Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor and Tom Holland star. Climate change movies remain big in the business in Hollywood, if not DC. But this one still flies beneath the radar.
Doc from Manassas, VA:
I often feel why make remakes of Classic movies since their classics to begin with, they are usually horrible. Examples such as Psycho and King Kong come to mind.
My question is, are their any remakes of classics that are actually great in their own right?
Scott Bowles: What a great question, Doc (are you an MD, or is that your nickname?) -- and a small list. Hollywood can't help but try to fix what ain't broke, which usually breaks it more. But there are some nice remakes recently: The Italian Job, 3:10 to Yuma and, as our producer John points out, Dawn of the Dead. This year, Anna Karenina is our classic remake. It work for you, Claudia?
Claudia Puig: I think Anna Karenina is pretty great, though it's not really a remake of a classic movie, but a re-imagining of a classic novel. Still, it does work for me, mostly because it does something clever and different with a very well-known tale.
I'm not a big fan of remakes, in general. Isn't the very notion of a remake of a classic like a xerox of a xerox? And why make remakes of movies that have been done perfectly in foreign languages? And remakes of movies that came out like a year or 2 before, like a very funny British film Death at a Funeral which someone felt the need to Hollywood-ize. Having said that I did think David Fincher's Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was pretty good. And I aree about 3:10 to Yuma and of course the Oceans 11 movies. I'd add Cape Fear and David Cronenbourg's The Fly to this short list.
Scott Bowles: And there's some precedent for remakes at the Oscars. The Departed was a remake of the Asian hit Infernal Affairs. And 1991's Cape Fear garnered Oscar nominations for Robert De Niro and Juliette Lewis. The problem with touching the classics is the Academy is VERY loyal to the past, so you have to come with the goods.
Claudia Puig: So, once we're on the duplicating topic...which Dragon Tattoo breathed more fire for you, Scott?
Scott Bowles: I am a huge fan of Fincher, but the original gets the benefit of the doubt for me because it had the challenge of tackling it without a template. How about for you, Claudia?
Claudia Puig: I agree with you and I'm also a huge fan of Fincher. Just watched Seven again the other night and it's still so good. And Zodiac was so great. And Social Network was perfect.
So speaking of Swedish remakes, which vampire movie---the original Swedish Let the Right One in or the American version appealed more to you, Scott? I liked them both possibly equally which is a rare thing with remakes...
Scott Bowles: I guess I'm a true fan of the oldies, because I'm voting original again. What I'm waiting for is a remake of the classic Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo.
Comment From Ashley Jade
I'm joining this conversation a little late but I just wanted to make an observation and tie between heroines and the Avengers. Did anyone else notice that Natasha Romanoff was basically the only character that didn't have her own break out film. I think this did her character a disservice. Millions of movie goers who are just now getting into the Marvel franchise have not been officially introduced to this character like "the boys" have (i.e. The Hulk, Iron man, Thor, Captain America). I think this sends the wrong message…
Scott Bowles: You brought us full circle, Ashley. This folds back into the role of women in Hollywood. Fanboys can be the toughest audience of all on female heroes (witness Catwoman). But given the right vehicle, like Hunger Games or Twilight, and the gender difference come crashing down. But Claudia is the only expert in this panel...
Claudia Puig: I can't wait for the remake of That's My Boy.... So I'm an expert by virtue of my gender? Fanboys would heartily disagree with you, Scott...But considering that Joss Whedon is such a great director for female kick-ass heroines (loved Buffy) more about Natasha does seem like a glaring omission. But who knows what Whedon has up his sleeve for sequel action?
John Elliot: Well, I think it is time for us to wrap up unfortunately!
Thank you Claudia and Scott. And a VERY big thank you to all our readers who participated and submitted questions.
Scott Bowles: Thanks for joining us on post-election Wednesday. Congratulations or condolences, depending on your political proclivities. But now we can get to the election that really matters: Oscar votes!
Claudia Puig: Yes, thanks for all the great questions and comments. And from one election to the next....Wonder if Weinstein and the big studios will spend as much as Obama and Romney on their "For their Consideration" ads...
John Elliot: Remember: you can submit your burning movie questions all week long, right here.
Check usatoday.com tomorrow for Claudia's reviews of Lincoln and Skyfall and look out for an upcoming piece by Scott on Hollywood and climate change.
Thank you all for joining us for the USA TODAY Movie Forum! Please join us again next Wednesday, Nov. 14 at 3 PM EST/12 PM PST for another edition of Movie Forum.
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