Are action films snubbed at the Oscars?
Are there really no good action and adventure films anymore, or is there an inherent bias toward them?
Action movies are not usually considered the crème de la crème of the film’s industries offerings. The frenetic pace and lack of storytelling pigeonhole many such films, appealing to our desire for dopamine and adrenaline while leaving our contentment system unfulfilled. On screen, the Oscars committee seems to prefer dramatic scenarios over high-speed chases. Yet is this always the case? Are all action movies void of enduring content?
The only action film up for an Oscar this year is Dunkirk, which follows previous war movies, such as Platoon, The Hurt Locker, and All Quiet on the Western Front, in the Best Picture category. Although Saving Private Ryan won a number of awards in 1999, even it couldn’t pull off the top award, which went to Shakespeare in Love.
War films are generally considered a separate category than action/adventure films; it’s hard to envision credible war movies without a dramatic element, as war is the most dramatic human endeavor imaginable. The very few action films that have won Best Picture include Mutiny on the Bounty, a 1935 film about a mutiny on a navy vessel in 1789; Cecil DeMille’s The Greatest Show on Earth, which in 1952 told the story of circus entertainers; the 1956 edition of Around the World in Eighty Days; Lawrence of Arabia, in 1962; and, in the nineties, big-budget films Dances with Wolves and Titanic.
Circa 1930: Members of the cast of the Universal film 'All Quiet on the Western Front' being handed chocolate bars by actress Lucille Webster. In the center, wearing glasses, is director George Cukor (1899 - 1983). (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
In 2017, two superhero movies crossed into dramatic territory, reminiscent of Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight trilogy: Patty Jenkins’s wonderful revival of Wonder Woman, featuring Gal Gadot, and James Mangold’s Logan, the inspired final chapter of Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine character. The other big financial winner is Thor: Ragnarok, but in this case, the awards committee was right in overlooking it. As with the second edition of Guardians of the Galaxy, it was light on meaningful narrative and heavy on action.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi did receive a few nods, including in the Sound Mixing and Sound Editing categories, as well as John Williams’s 51st nomination for Original Score. It also placed in Visual Effects, which is, as usual, dominated by action films: Blade Runner 2049, Kong: Skull Island, War for the Planet of the Apes, and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 round out that section.
That latter category makes you wonder: are action movies forever banished to the “looks great, but not serious” genre in the mind of the Academy? Jackman certainly didn’t outshine Daniel Day-Lewis or Denzel Washington, nor did Gadot best Frances McDormand or Margot Robbie, in terms of dramatic performance. But does the fact that their characters emerge from the pages of comic books prohibit them from ever breaking into the top three Oscars categories?
In 1972, The French Connection, based on a book about the lives of New York City cops dealing with drug dealers and international criminals, won Best Picture, Best Actor (Gene Hackman), Best Director (William Friedkin), as well as Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Film Editing. The American Film Institute has since named it one of the best American films twice, in 1998 and 2007. In 2005, the Library of Congress selected it for preservation for its cultural and historical significance.
The Oscars has experienced its share of controversy over recent years. After the #OscarsSoWhite criticism in 2015 and 2016, there remains a concern that the slight course-correction that has occurred is not going to last. This year also marks the first that a woman, Rachel Morrison, is nominated in the Cinematography category, for her work in Mudbound.
Speaking of women, this will be the first Oscars in the post-Harvey Weinstein era of Hollywood, which is certain to bring about its own speeches. For this edition, a special task force has been created to consult on issues of gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, disability, age, religion, and nationality. Disciplinary actions against anyone violating this new code of ethics are planned to be enforced.
Chadwick Boseman attends the European Premiere of Marvel Studios' 'Black Panther' at the Eventim Apollo, Hammersmith on February 8, 2018 in London, England. (Photo by Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images for Disney)
So action movies are not at the top of the list for anyone’s consideration. But it does make us ask: are adventure films getting less narrative and more derivative, or is there an Academy bias toward them? The fantasy-adventure film Lord of the Rings: Return of the King won Best Picture in 2004, and is the only fantasy film in cinema history to have that honor. Did its origin in high literature over comic books give it extra weight with the Academy? Given all the hype around this weekend’s opening of Black Panther, might we see Chadwick Boseman get a nod next year? (Kendrick Lamar certainly deserves one for his stunning work on the soundtrack.) Could Wakanda be home of next year’s Best Picture?
Derek Beres is the author of Whole Motion and creator of Clarity: Anxiety Reduction for Optimal Health. Based in Los Angeles, he is working on a new book about spiritual consumerism. Stay in touch on Facebook and Twitter.
What do we see from watching birds move across the country?
- A total of eight billion birds migrate across the U.S. in the fall.
- The birds who migrate to the tropics fair better than the birds who winter in the U.S.
- Conservationists can arguably use these numbers to encourage the development of better habitats in the U.S., especially if temperatures begin to vary in the south.
The migration of birds — and we didn't even used to know that birds migrated; we assumed they hibernated; the modern understanding of bird migration was established when a white stork landed in a German village with an arrow from Central Africa through its neck in 1822 — draws us in the direction of having an understanding of the world. A bird is here and then travels somewhere else. Where does it go? It's a variation on the poetic refrain from The Catcher in the Rye. Where do the ducks go? How many are out there? What might it encounter along the way?
While there is a yearly bird count conducted every Christmas by amateur bird watchers across the country done in conjunction with The Audubon Society, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology recently released the results of a study that actually go some way towards answering heretofore abstract questions: every fall, as per cloud computing and 143 weather radar stations, four billion birds migrate into the United States from Canada and four billion more head south to the tropics.
"In the spring," the lead author Adriaan Dokter noted, "3.5 billion birds cross back into the U.S. from points south, and 2.6 billion birds return to Canada across the northern U.S. border."
In other words: the birds who went three to four times further than the birds staying in the U.S. faired better than the birds who stayed in the U.S. Why?
Part of the answer could be very well be what you might hear from a conservationist — only with numbers to back it up: the U.S. isn't built for birds. As Ken Rosenberg, the other co-author of the study, notes: "Birds wintering in the U.S. may have more habitat disturbances and more buildings to crash into, and they might not be adapted for that."
The other option is that birds lay more offspring in the U.S. than those who fly south for the winter.
What does observing eight billion birds mean in practice? To give myself a counterpoint to those numbers, I drove out to the Joppa Flats Education Center in Northern Massachusetts. The Center is a building that sits at the entrance to the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge and overlooks the Merrimack River, which is what I climbed the stairs up to the observation deck to see.
Once there, I paused. I took a breath. I listened. I looked out into the distance. Tiny flecks Of Bonaparte's Gulls drew small white lines across the length of the river and the wave of the grass toward a nearby city. What appeared to be flecks of double-crested cormorants made their way to the sea. A telescope downstairs enabled me to watch small gull-like birds make their way along the edges of the river, quietly pecking away at food just beneath the surface of the water. This was the experience of watching maybe half a dozen birds over fifteen-to-twenty minutes, which only served to drive home the scale of birds studied.
Explore how alcohol affects your brain, from the first sip at the bar to life-long drinking habits.
- Alcohol is the world's most popular drug and has been a part of human culture for at least 9,000 years.
- Alcohol's effects on the brain range from temporarily limiting mental activity to sustained brain damage, depending on levels consumed and frequency of use.
- Understanding how alcohol affects your brain can help you determine what drinking habits are best for you.
If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx a team of DNA sequencers has figured that out.
- A team at UMass Amherst recently sequenced the genome of the Canadian lynx.
- It's part of a project intending to sequence the genome of every vertebrate in the world.
- Conservationists interested in the Canadian lynx have a new tool to work with.
If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx, I can now—as of this month—point you directly to the DNA of a Canadian lynx, and say, "That's what makes a lynx a lynx." The genome was sequenced by a team at UMass Amherst, and it's one of 15 animals whose genomes have been sequenced by the Vertebrate Genomes Project, whose stated goal is to sequence the genome of all 66,000 vertebrate species in the world.
Sequencing the genome of a particular species of an animal is important in terms of preserving genetic diversity. Future generations don't necessarily have to worry about our memory of the Canadian Lynx warping the way hearsay warped perception a long time ago.
Artwork: Guillaume le Clerc / Wikimedia Commons
13th-century fantastical depiction of an elephant.
It is easy to see how one can look at 66,000 genomic sequences stored away as being the analogous equivalent of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. It is a potential tool for future conservationists.
But what are the practicalities of sequencing the genome of a lynx beyond engaging with broad bioethical questions? As the animal's habitat shrinks and Earth warms, the Canadian lynx is demonstrating less genetic diversity. Cross-breeding with bobcats in some portions of the lynx's habitat also represents a challenge to the lynx's genetic makeup. The two themselves are also linked: warming climates could drive Canadian lynxes to cross-breed with bobcats.
John Organ, chief of the U.S. Geological Survey's Cooperative Fish and Wildlife units, said to MassLive that the results of the sequencing "can help us look at land conservation strategies to help maintain lynx on the landscape."
What does DNA have to do with land conservation strategies? Consider the fact that the food found in a landscape, the toxins found in a landscape, or the exposure to drugs can have an impact on genetic activity. That potential change can be transmitted down the generative line. If you know exactly how a lynx's DNA is impacted by something, then the environment they occupy can be fine-tuned to meet the needs of the lynx and any other creature that happens to inhabit that particular portion of the earth.
Given that the Trump administration is considering withdrawing protection for the Canadian lynx, a move that caught scientists by surprise, it is worth having as much information on hand as possible for those who have an interest in preserving the health of this creature—all the way down to the building blocks of a lynx's life.
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