March 16, 2023 

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Hello ARTery readers,

Well, that was a relief. The 95th annual Academy Awards came off without anyone being assaulted, and turned out to be a fairly pleasant experience, as far as these things go. Like most movie fans, I have a longtime love-hate relationship with the Oscars, which started when I was 7 years old and “Chariots of Fire” beat my beloved “Raiders of the Lost Ark” for Best Picture. (Many years later, I may or may not have tried to throw the television out of a dorm room window after “Pulp Fiction” lost to “Forrest Gump.”) Over time, I’ve trained myself not to get too emotionally invested in winners and losers as determined by a self-selecting group of people with historically terrible taste. Instead, I’ve become more concerned with what these awards mean for movies.

When I was growing up, the Academy Awards were the one night a year you’d get to see larger-than-life movie stars on television, your only chance to be blessed with the likes of Jack Nicholson, Clint Eastwood or Elizabeth Taylor holding court in your living room. But nowadays, we can’t get away from celebrities, who are annoyingly ubiquitous on social media and the talk show circuit and everywhere else you look. It diminishes them. Backed by multimillion-dollar promotional campaigns, the year’s prospective nominees slog through the same speeches over and over during a months-long gauntlet of public appearances, rubber chicken dinners and televised precursor awards that are basically all auditions for the big night. By the time the Oscars finally roll around, most of us are sick to death of these people and their films. No wonder the ratings keep going down.

My favorite part of this past Sunday’s ceremony was when “Creed III” stars Michael B. Jordan and Jonathan Majors presented the award for Best Cinematography. First, they gave a quick tutorial on Spike Lee and cinematographer Ernest Dickerson’s trademark double-dolly shot, and then a mini-history of how Orson Welles and Gregg Toland pioneered the practice of cutting holes in the floor to provide lower vantage points from which the camera could look up at the actors, making them appear more menacing and powerful. A visual demonstration followed, turning the presentation into a delightful two-minute film school class before the nominees were even read. It was fun to watch, and you learned something about how movies are made.

This was a welcome correction to last year’s debacle, when several of the craft categories were deemed unworthy of being broadcast live. (Some smart people in my industry think that Sunday night's gaudy, mid-show infomercial launching the trailer for “The Little Mermaid” remake was a quid pro quo with ABC’s parent company Disney in exchange for airing all 23 honors. I believe it.) Or that time a few years ago when TV actors Will Ferrell and Julia Louis-Dreyfus pretended not to know what cinematographers do before handing them a trophy. The Oscars are the only awards show that behaves as if it’s ashamed of itself for existing, an attitude bolstered by the smug indifference of host Jimmy Kimmel, another Disney indentured servant and unfunny guy who doesn’t seem to like movies very much. It's a low bar to clear, but at least this year's ceremony didn't actively insult any of the craftspeople being honored for their work.

Last Sunday morning, I swaggered up to the WynnBET Sportsbook window at the Encore casino and put $20 down on “Top Gun: Maverick” to win Best Picture. The attendant looked confused for a moment, conferred with a superior and then kindly explained that they were no longer taking bets on the Academy Awards. I had to go home and do it on DraftKings. No matter. I knew I wasn’t going to win, but I wanted to bet on Tom Cruise the way he bet on us. This crazy sonofagun fought off hundreds of millions in streaming offers and insane pressure from the studio moneymen, holding the movie close to his vest over two pandemic years just so we could all finally experience it in theaters, the way it was meant to be seen. I went back five times. If people are still going to the movies in 20 years, it’ll be because “Top Gun: Maverick” saved the industry. That’s Miracle #1.

Miracle #2 is “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” a bawdy, sci-fi martial arts adventure that somehow won seven Oscars. You’ve never seen a movie like this before, and the fact that it could win in such a rout upends every traditional Oscar narrative about casting, release dates, subject matter and any other conventional wisdom. You don’t have to love the film to love the fact that this wackadoo adventure full of R-rated humor starring a 60-year-old Asian lady who once drove a motorcycle onto a speeding train for Jackie Chan could somehow sweep the night. Even if it doesn't erase the sting of "Raiders" losing all those years ago, seeing Indiana Jones reunited onstage with his old sidekick Short Round was the kind of magic moment that keeps even cynics like myself turning in.

Now let's see if we can get Michael B. Jordan and Jonathan Majors to teach some more film classes.

Sean Burns
Film Critic

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Things To...

Do: Southie's Saint Patrick's Day Parade (check out the rest of our weekend picks here).

Eat: An omelet with butter-sautéed morels from the "My Vermont Table" cookbook.

Read: Post-apocalyptic novel "The Last Beekeeper," reviewed by our book critic Carol Iaciofano Aucoin.

Listen: Aoife O'Donovan's "Nebraska" (she plays several shows in and around Boston this week).

Watch: "Champions," a sports film that pleasantly surprised film critic Sean Burns.

A Message From Harvard Art Museums

Discover a more complete story of art from the Spanish Empire—and a broader definition of American art—through an unparalleled collection of Spanish colonial paintings. Visit all galleries for FREE on Sundays. Learn more here.

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— Irene Li, The Common: "Increasing Accountability in Boston's restaurant scene"

Featured Event

Sound On Global: Mehmet Ali Sanlıkol with George Lernis and A Far Cry present "A Gentleman of Istanbul”
Join us for a concert celebrating the album debut of “A Gentleman of Istanbul,” a collaboration with composer Mehmet Ali Sanlıkol and Boston chamber orchestra A Far Cry. This symphony, which blends Turkish traditional, western classical, and jazz music, follows a seventeenth-century Ottoman world traveler, Evliya Çelebi.



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Psst... Nominate your favorite local artists of color to join our 2023 Makers cohort by April 2. Learn more.

Arts & Culture Fellow Lauren Williams helped produce this newsletter.

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