New York values, script, film and truth: On the front pages of today's Post and Times, it's "hooray for Hollywood!"
Or possibly not! Seeming to possibly work from script, the Times seems to be wondering why Straight Outta Compton didn't merit a Best Picture Tinseltown nod.
On the famous paper's front page, Cara Buckley pretends to puzzle it out:
BUCKLEY (1/16/16): Is it the members who vote on the Oscars, the films, the campaigns behind them or something else?Without ever quite saying so, Buckley seemed to be floating the notion that Straight Outta Compton's omission from the Best Picture nominees was some sort of surprise—was possibly even an Oscar snub, a puzzle which calls for explaining.
On Friday, the day after the Oscar nominations were announced, revealing that all 20 contenders for acting awards were white and that films with black themes had been shut out of the best picture category, industry critics were asking how filmdom’s top awards could be so narrowcast a second year in a row.
The studios behind two films that focus on black characters, “Creed” and “Straight Outta Compton,” seemed to come late to the realization that their productions were awards contenders and proved unable to win enough votes. The Academy’s preferential voting system also works against films and actors not selected as voters’ top picks. And, perhaps the biggest factor of all, the industry’s overall offerings: Many of the 305 films eligible for Oscars did not, demographically speaking, reflect the lives and complexions of movie audiences.
“Every time I say the same thing: Until we get a position of power, with a green-light vote, it’s not going to change,” Spike Lee said in an interview a few hours after the nominations came out. “We may win an Oscar now and then, but an Oscar is not going to fundamentally change how Hollywood does business. I’m not talking about Hollywood stars. I’m talking about executives. We’re not in the room.”
Chief among the surprise omissions this year were Idris Elba, projected to get a best supporting actor nomination for his performance as an African warlord in “Beasts of No Nation”; Michael B. Jordan, the shining lead boxer of “Creed”; and the biopic “Straight Outta Compton,” about the seminal rappers N.W.A.
We wondered. Had any critics actually said that Straight Outta was one of the year's top films? We assembled our Oscar-nod research staff and told them to check it on out!
Take us behind the tinsel curtain, we commandingly said.
But first, let's divert to the Washington Post, which offers a front-page Baywatch report in today's hard-copy edition. At issue is a fiery Hollywood film which seems to explain what happened at Benghazi back in 2012.
Hooray for Hollywood—or possibly not! Goldman and Miller penned the Post's lengthy front-page report, which started out like this:
GOLDMAN AND MILLER (1/16/16): It is the most fateful moment in a movie that purports to present a searingly accurate account of the 2012 attacks that left four Americans dead in Benghazi, Libya: a scene in which the highest-ranking CIA operative at a secret agency compound orders his security team to “stand down” rather than rush off to rescue U.S. diplomats under siege less than a mile away.Oops! According to the officer in charge, the exciting film's exciting key scene "is entirely untrue!"
According to the officer in charge of the CIA’s Benghazi base that night, the scene in the movie is entirely untrue.
According to Goldman and Miller, the author of the book on which the film is based stands by his exciting account of what actually happened that night. The film's director, Michael Bay, is rumored to have been the inspiration for the syndicated TV series, Baywatch, or so it's apparently going to say in an upcoming biopic about his exciting life.
Whatever! As we watched the Post pick nits about the accuracy of the Benghazi film, we were struck by the newspaper's silliness. Just last week, the New York Times' A. O. Scott had helped us see how "dumb" it is to focus on questions of truth when Hollywood hands us a film about searing real-life events.
Readers, behave! In an analysis piece in the Times, Cieply and Barnes reported that some major Hollywood films were being frisked concerning issues of factual accuracy. In the passage shown below, Scott, the paper's lordly film critic, explained how stupid that is:
CIEPLY AND BARNES (1/8/16): Film aficionados tend to find the fact-checking of movies a feckless exercise.Silly dumb journalists, professors and other intellectuals! Who else would care about questions like these? Who else would care about whether crucial scenes in a film like Bay's are faithful to what actually happened, or are perhaps crazily inaccurate—are perhaps tending towards false?
''Movies that are not documentaries are works of fiction, whether or not they deal with real events,'' A. O. Scott, the co-chief movie critic for The Times, said. ''The only people dumb enough not to understand this are certified intellectuals—journalists and college professors, mostly—who need fodder for columns or something apparently important but actually trivial to wring their hands about.''
We're going to admit it! When we read that statement by Scott, we thought his upper-class "New York (Times) values" were just perhaps possibly showing.
Such upper-class figures are too grand to worry about the way a film like Bay's can possibly mislead millions of people about the important events which drive our political debates. Who's dumb enough to care about that, this pampered son of two professors ever-so-thoughtfully asked.
"What is truth?" Pontius Pilate once asked. We're not sure Scott knows or cares, given his role at the Times.
Citizens, can we talk? It actually matters if films like Bay's take liberties with the truth. Meanwhile, how about Straight Outta Compton? Until Buckley started possibly working from script, did anyone think it belonged on the list of Best Picture nominees?
Uh-oh! At Buckley's own New York Times, none of the film critics did!
Scott compiled a list of last year's 21 best films; the Compton film wasn't on it. Stephen Holden named eighteen films. He skipped Straight Outta too.
The film didn't make Manohla Dargis' list of the year's eleven best films, though it did appear in her unranked list of "another 26 favorites." Rightly or wrongly, no one at the Times had seemed to think that Straight Outta Compton deserved that Best Picture nod.
Did other critics rank the film as one of last year's best? It didn't make Vanity Fair's top ten, or its seven runners-up. It didn't make The New Yorker's list of the year's top thirty, which rated Spike Lee's Chi-raq as 2015's best film.
It didn't make The Atlantic's top twelve, or its ten honorable mentions. Dana Stevens skipped it at Slate. It didn't appear on her list of her "ten favorite titles," or her list of five runners-up.
Lists like these are subjective. There are many other best film lists; we're sure that Straight Outta Compton appears somewhere other than at Rolling Stone, where its musical theme made it a natural sixth-best pick. (According to rumors about possible gossip, El Chapo helped make the selections.)
Our point is this. Whatever its merits may have been, very few people, including its own producers, seemed to think that Straight Outta Compton belonged on the list of the year's Best Pictures—until Buckley perhaps decided to possibly type from script. At that point, she began to wonder why it had been excluded, not to say snubbed.
Buckley's scriptwatch appears on this morning's front page. The Times is often strong on script, perhaps a bit fuzzy on truth.
The Times' conception of film-versus-truth: Last week, we shielded our young analysts' eyes from some of Cieply and Barnes' report.
Good lord! At the New York Times, examples like these come to mind in discussions of film-versus-truth:
CIEPLY AND BARNES (continuing directly from passage above): In fact, some of history's best-loved films probably would not have withstood a contemporary fact-checking.The real-life Lawrence stood 5-foot-5; Peter O'Toole was taller than that! Such examples come to mind when the giants at the Times ponder questions of film-versus-truth.
For instance, in ''The Pride of the Yankees,'' the Lou Gehrig biopic that garnered 10 Oscar nominations and one win in 1943, Gary Cooper badly distorted Gehrig's almost sacred farewell speech at Yankee Stadium, ending rather than leading with a famous line about being ''the luckiest man on the face of the earth.'' Elsewhere, a doctor supposedly gives Cooper the harsh truth about his pending death from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. ''It's three strikes,'' he says. But in real life, doctors, at the request of Gehrig's wife, soft-pedaled the news, saying he might live.
In David Lean's ''Lawrence of Arabia,'' which won seven Oscars in 1963, including the trophy for best picture, Omar Sharif's Sherif Ali was a fictional character—or at best a composite—as were at least a half-dozen central characters. Peter O'Toole, the film's lead, was also nearly a foot taller than the real T. E. Lawrence, who stood about 5 feet 5 inches.