Cap vs. Thor: A Lesson in Epics

When Marvel first dreamed of bringing their vast Avengers / Phase I scheme to the big screen, they had two rather formidable obstacles in their way, namely Captain America and Thor.

In the beloved comics, both men not only are rooted in times long past, but are so squeaky clean as to be unrelatable (the same problem that recent adaptations of Superman faced, with varying degrees of success).  Blonde, beautiful, and beefcake-y, these mythic giants are possessed of an ethos that is so pure, so lofty that we may aspire to it but never fully expect to achieve it.

Eight years and billions of dollars later, we are in the dawn of Phase 3 with several more installations to come (not to mention an undetermined number of future phases!) and no ceiling for success in sight.  As for the “problem” of Cap and Thor, it would seem the Marvel geniuses solved it with aplomb.  The characters have enjoyed approximately equal success with one another both in the box office and in fan response, and are just as established and beloved as anchor members of the Marvel Cinematic Universe‘s Avengers as their original print counterparts.

Yet I personally continue to be far less satisfied with the Thor adaptations than with Cap’s, and it wasn’t until the credits rolled for 2014’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier that I could fully articulate why:

Thor makes me root for him to overcome and be better, as every standard hero should. 
Captain America makes me want to make myself better.

This is not to disparage Thor as a character, nor his value in the Marvel machine.  He is a perfectly likable protagonist and follows the hero’s journey structure well.  An incorruptible paragon of virtue, he never shies away from conflict or personal sacrifice in order to protect the realms and loves of his life.  He was also brilliantly set up by Joss Whedon as the only true match / neutralizer for Hulk, a major feat and pivotal role.

gifHe’s just so distractableThe big mistake they made in adapting Thor’s story was overemphasizing his romantic affections (even going so far as to create an insulting love triangle in Thor: The Dark World that only served to diminish Lady Sif and make Thor wishy-washy).  In truth, Thor’s weaknesses have only ever been arrogance and, of course, Loki.  (Thank God for Tom Hiddleston, the clear anchor of Thor’s whole franchise and without whom, Thor might devolve into an inconsistent, incoherent action figure.)

Meanwhile, Captain America is so firmly grounded in honor and truth that his greatest weakness is not having enough of himself to go around – the fact that he is, actually, mortal.  Yet when I look at Cap, I do not see an impossible standard.  I see who I wish I were, who I want to become.

CA gifCap’s heroics aren’t limited to combat and shield-wielding and running thirteen miles in thirty minutes (although those are all supremely fun to watch).  He also protects the innocent and confronts injustice and takes care of old ladies and throws himself between his team and harm.  Most of all, he is always the one who says, in the midst of the most horrific and lonely and hurtful of circumstances, “I’m not leaving you!”

This inevitably reminds me of Someone else I studied this weekend, One who took the worst I had to offer and still threw Himself between me and certain death.  And after He did so, He assured me that I can accomplish even greater feats when I allow myself to believe and try.

Thor shows me who I am.  Cap shows me who I want to be.  Lord, help my unbelief!

Daredevil: a redemption story

At the risk of losing all of my fangirl street cred, I have to make an important confession: I did not hate the 2003 Daredevil movie.  DD 2003The script was weak, granted, and it struggled with tone and motivation (Am I an action movie?  A thriller?  A romance?  Which one will make the most money?).  But the cast was – brace yourself – quite good considering what they had to work with.  Ben Affleck was not the ideal choice, but he was more a victim of  trend than anything (this was, after all, the season of Bennifer – yuck).  Jon Favreau made an excellent Foggy Nelson, and Colin Farrell gave me nightmares as Bullseye. Most of all, this incarnation gave us the gift of Michael Clarke Duncan as Kingpin in a brilliant turn of blind casting (get it?).  I’m not saying Samuel L. Jackson owes Nick Fury to him exactly, but MCD definitely opened the door. The new series, which debuted on April 10th and is available for binge-watching life-consumption responsible streaming now, is an excellent step in a new direction and it honors the tone of the print character perfectly.  In a risky move, the show marks a departure from Marvel’s formula here by incorporating few to zero special effects; the action is all hand-to-hand, brutally visceral, and difficult to watch yet impossible to turn away from. I love it. There are only two evident weaknesses in Marvel’s armor, and Daredevil brings both of them to light: 1.  S-T-R-E-T-C-H-I-N-G The first four or five episodes of season one are amazing, with a few scenes and turns that are already becoming icons in the entertainment industry.  Episodes twelve and thirteen are suitably epic, neatly capping the series and setting the stage for many misadventures to come. In the middle, though…meh.  Part of it may be due to the nature of binge-watching itself; anyone who has devoted a weekend (or even more intensely, a mere day) to the consumption of a series knows, we get a little sluggish in the middle.  We get snacky or have to go to the bathroom, and sometimes maybe we don’t go to the trouble of pausing the show; we just turn it up a little as we go.  Maybe we nod off and miss a few lines, and it doesn’t feel worth backtracking to catch up.  In any case, thirteen hours of solid viewing takes a lot of commitment, and maybe we are missing some key elements of the production in the process. bingewatch It is also likely, however, that the traditional thirteen-episode season structure has become too constricting.  If show runners are required to fill thirteen hours with a story that could be told in ten, the inevitable result is redundant conversations, recycled fight scenes, and repetitive or thinly layered flashbacks (remember season three of Lost?  No one wants that.) Marvel is the pioneer of the universe-launching tent pole project.  Maybe now they can pioneer the however-many-episodes-it-takes-to-tell-the-story-and-no-more-no-less TV season? 2.  Girl Trouble Let’s have a look at the Daredevil character posters, shall we? DD 2015 Do you see the pattern?  Why is it (and I am genuinely asking here) that each of the male characters is facing me directly with grim determination, while the women are looking away?  Okay, so Claire Temple (played with refreshing badassery by Rosario Dawson) has a story line entirely linked to Matt’s so far, but she exhibits a good amount of internal conflict that could easily have made a compelling face-forward poster.  Plus, if she is who we think she is, her significance will only grow; why not let her demonstrate the same ferocity as the boys? Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll) is a bit more problematic.  In fact, her ambiguous gaze in an unspecified direction is pretty well appropriate for how her character plays out on the show.  It feels as though the writers wanted her to be an atypical strong female character so badly that they gave her too many story lines (all completely and inconsistently hanging on every male character in the show), thereby inadvertently creating a typical, mostly weak female character.   If hers were the only poster  looking away from the audience, it would have been fitting. (Side rant: Marvel has done an uneven job of representing women so far in the cinematic universe. Black Widow’s portrayal has varied wildly in the movies, depending on the director in charge of her. Gamora began Guardians of the Galaxy as a strong figure and the best fighter of them all, but by the end she was reduced to butt shots and squirming helplessly on the sidelines while the boys did all the important work.  And don’t even get me started on Lady Sif, Thor’s formidable fighting companion who was inexplicably and unforgivably reduced in The Dark World to gazing longingly Thor’s way as he pined for the milquetoast at best Jane Foster.  Ugh.) Despite its weaknesses, Daredevil the series has officially successfully redeemed the character known as The Man Without Fear for the conceivable future.  Here’s hoping we can forgive the mistakes of the past, and let Ben off the hook for Batman vs. Superman (because if DC can’t make that story awesome, it will not be his fault).

dd batman

The Book says Wherein Thou judgest another, Thou condemnest Thyself. -Matt Murdoch

quail

The scene: A dark, too quiet night in the bowels of some remote location.

The character:  A beautiful but foolish all-American young person.

The plot: S/he has come here with a group of friends to let off steam and maybe even get lucky, when suddenly (but only after receiving numerous warnings from the Internet, their travel agent, a grizzled but sage groundskeeper, and the groundskeeper’s faithful cocker spaniel), they are separated.  Each is now in a severe state of duress as they search for one another in all of the most logical places which naturally include the basement, abandoned boat house, topiary maze, and tool shed full of rusty but still sharp implements of construction or death.

The viewers:  We tend to fall into one of two categories.  Either we’re clutching the nearest pliable object – even if it is another person’s unsuspecting quadricep – and intoning futile bits of wisdom to the character (such as “Don’t go in there you MORON!”), or we are on the edge of our seats, gleefully egging them on to their gruesome but well earned doom.

And don’t we all say the same thing in these moments?  Something along the lines of, “Who in their right mind would ever really do that?”  We are so sophisticated as observers of the journey that we almost always end up losing respect or even sympathy for the characters.  They made a series of obviously poor choices to get themselves into such peril.  When it comes down to it, don’t they deserve what they get?

Honestly, I hope the real life answer is no, because I am here to confess that I make a lot of boneheaded moves when I am in the grip of fear.  Okay, it’s typically not as extreme as your average Friday the 13th gore fest, but movies are just exaggerated versions of our own stories, right?  I’ll even take it a step further: Not only do I often respond foolishly to my fears and foils, but sometimes I make the same mistakes more than once Picture that in Saw XXVII or whatever we’re up to now; the audience would be throwing real live tomatoes at that character!

Here, in ascending order, are some of the things that go bump in the nights of my soul and the stupid responses I make:

5.  Scorpions – No really.  I can’t even look at them.  They’re so…crunchy-looking and lethal.  They are the embodiment of evil to me.  Gross.
Healthy response: Study them, learn about them, realize that I live hundreds of miles from their nearest ideal climate, so they pose no true threat to me.
My response:  Cringe and gag and refuse to approach their tiny exhibit at the zoo such that even my eight-year-old mocks my revulsion.

4.  Fatal illnesses, the more obscure, the scarier – It’s called hypochondria, and it’s a real thing, okay?  Mine is a mild form, but people still seem to find it comical to listen to me when I or one of my girls get sick.
Healthy response: Stay calm, observe or at most chart their symptoms so I will have data to share with the pediatrician should it become worse.
My response:  Ask them a dozen animated questions about everything from how they feel to how long that hangnail has been there, then hit the Internet for medical info and affirmation only to find – surprise! – a bevy of horror stories and endless possible diagnoses, scouring them until I am finally certain that we all have either this year’s cold virus or Scarlet Fever or terminal cancer.

not an effective technique

3.  Bad news – It doesn’t matter what kind: financial, political, death in the family…  They all bear the same weight on my scale of frightful forces.
Healthy response:  Take a deep breath and face it by gathering all of the facts, then formulating the best strategy for getting through whatever it is.
My response: Avoid, evade, and elude.  Maybe if I remain ignorant of it, it won’t be real.  Of course, that’s the equivalent of hiding under something and trying to disappear, thereby only making myself an unmoving target for the monster on the loose, but try telling me that when the phone rings unexpectedly.

2.  Irrelevance, obscurity, basically having no impact on the world or my piece of it – In the epic words of Eowyn from The Lord of the Rings, I fear “a cage…To stay behind bars, until use and old age accept them, and all chance of doing great deeds is gone beyond recall or desire” (J.R.R. Tolkein).
Healthy response: Move, act, risk, follow my dreams wherever they lead me, tell a better story with my life and pursuits.
My response: Fret about it in my journal, then divert myself via facebook, TV, or movies…basically other people’s stories.

1.  Being disposable – My dad left me when I was a small child for another family, my husband left me when our children were small for another woman.  It’s easy to infer a pattern, common denominator, or root cause there.
Healthy response: Spend time daily with God being affirmed and reminded of His love, promises, and sacrifices for me.  When I am bathed in the Word, I could never believe anything but that He made me completely unique to fill an irreplaceable role in His heart.
My response:  Get distracted by busyness and performing, which lead to comparison, which leads to judgment of myself or others, which leads to depression and believing that my worst fear is true.  So basically, I walk alone into the dark, foreboding room and right into the arms of the killer.

I’m getting better, I hope.  Self-awareness is a vital first step, and I have a great family wonderful friends to help me and hold me accountable and keep me out of the basement…when I don’t let myself get senselessly separated from them, of course.

 

blue like don

About once a month, I treat myself to a little something I like to call No-Hat Day.  No-Hat Day is when I temporarily cast off all the roles I try to fill in my life and do something that is purely me in the moment.  For a few hours, I’m neither doting mother nor dutiful daughter, boss nor subordinate, seeker nor sought; I can just be It’s a self-prescribed therapy, I suppose, and I love it.

Yesterday was my most recent No-Hat Day, and it will probably surprise no one to learn that I spent the time in a movie theater.  This was no casual jaunt to the cinema for the diversion of the day, however.  Instead, I got up early and traveled 45 minutes in the soaking rain (perfect) in order to fulfill a three-year-old dream: I finally got to see Blue Like Jazz.

Yes, I know it’s not as hotly anticipated  as, say, The Dark Knight Rises or maybe even Madagascar 3, but I have a deep emotional connection to this movie.  You see, Donald Miller (author of the book whence the movie gets its name) is a close, personal friend of mine.  At least, it has felt that way ever since he led our Sunday School class several years ago via the Blue Like Jazz audio book.  I forged some of my best friendships in that class during a very difficult time in my life.  While my heart churned with all the grief and darkness of divorce, our class conversations plumbed the spiritual depths of such heady topics as community, worship, and penguin sex.  It was just the tonic I needed, and I expected no less from the movie.

That’s not to say I went into it blind to all possibility of fault.  I am a movie fiend to the core, and I have been burned by films that I wanted to be great.  Actually, Donald Miller himself raised my standards for what makes good film by introducing me to the works of Robert McKee, Blake Snyder, and Steven Pressfield.  So I am not only capable of noticing flaws; I can be quite obsessive when I perceive them.

In that vein, I did notice that Act I felt a bit rushed.  I wanted to be more invested in Don’s relationships at home before he left, and I would have liked a more detailed transition for him than simply to drive away from church and end up at college with cases and boxes magically in tow.  I was also ready for more in the bookstore debate that Don attended – more intellectual substance to the arguments and fewer off-the-cuff remarks about feelings.  I know that BLJ the book spends time on the sense of awe that seems to transcend realism, but the topic seemed out of place in a public debate.  These blips were superficial, though, and didn’t detract from the story much.

However, to my acute dismay, I found BLJ guilty of my greatest cinematic pet peeve: sunny rain.  I hate it when there is a moment in the story that is clearly supposed to take place in near-monsoon levels of precipitation and you can totally tell that the sun was shining when they shot it.  It’s seeing the man behind the curtain.  I know it’s unavoidable sometimes, and they try to cover it up with special effects, but it breaks my engagement from the story because I can’t help but see the rain machine just outside of the shot.  Instead of feeling the sadness or turmoil of the moment that the rain is supposed to represent, I have to try to feel it.  Of course that’s a personal issue, and probably reveals more about flaws in me than in the movie.

Beyond that, I have nothing but praise.

My favorite character was Lauren.  Every good story has a counterpart who will challenge the protagonist by exposing or contradicting his point of view, and Lauren was the perfect counterpart to Don, the Han Solo to his Luke Skywalker.  She also embodied perfectly the ironic tension of church meets anti-church. In the same scene wherein she celebrated her own freedom by coming out as a lesbian, she exhorted Don to closet himself as a Christian for the sake of survival.  Likewise, he is constantly shocked by and speechless at her brass, but follows her lead and sometimes borders on using her for street cred.  I loved their dynamic.

In fact, my favorite thing about the whole movie may have been its unapologetic equal treatment given to the characters.  Lauren and the Pope were equally as likeable, flawed, intelligent, and honorable as Don and Penny.  Thus a glancing reference to Ephesians 6 became a brilliant thread from the conflict through the resolution.  In the beginning, Don’s hokey, earnest-but-missing-it youth pastor tries to protect Don from the enemy, found in sin and unbelievers, through a cheesy rendition of the armor of God.  In the end, Don comes closer to the heart of the passage: that the enemy is found not in people, but in the powers of injustice, pain, and disappointment – powers that hold sway over everyone in some area or another.  This is a message not found in many movies of any genre, and it cheered me.

Finally, I can’t talk about this movie without visiting the great confession booth scene.  I am firmly anti-spoiler, so I won’t reveal any of the details, but I will tell you I cried.  I cried for Don and his quiet acceptance.  I cried for all the people suffering from unresolved pain in the world.  Most surprisingly, I cried for myself because I want to be more like Don.  When I was navigating all of that pain and disappointment back in Sunday School, I was never brave enough to run into the world with arms wide open like he did – in rebellion or otherwise.  I simply processed and buried it and curled up on the couch, secure in my excuse to live a sheltered and ordinary life.

All of this bears much more thought and will probably resurface in future blog entries.  This one being more than long enough, I conclude now by offering public thanks here to Steve Taylor, Ben Pearson, and all those many names in the credits for bringing this project into the world – and especially to my good friend Don Miller for challenging me and calling me out and faithfully continuing to wield the pen.

Top 5 Movies for Easter

Ah, Easter – that holy season of faith, new life, pastel candy…and movies!  Okay, that’s every season for me, I know, but if movies reflect the hero’s journey (the best ones do), and Jesus is the best and greatest hero (He is), then it’s all a bundle of holy activity, right?

Here are my Top 5 favorite films for pondering the true meaning of Easter / Resurrection Sunday / National Day of Eating Chocolate in the Shape of Anything:

King of Kings
This is my favorite passion movie from childhood.  Yes, Jeffrey Hunter has blue eyes, and there are a few creative liberties taken with the story, but the additions enhance the story and do not oppose scripture.  The score is soaringly beautiful, the sermon on the mount is riveting, and Rip Torn is Judas as a young, skinny, hopeful guy!
Dare you not to cry – When Jesus visits John the Baptist in prison.
Favorite quote –
Mary Magdalene: “I am a woman of sin.”
Mary: (smiles)  “…who will share my table.”

The Passion of the Christ
If you can look past Mel Gibson’s shenanigans and subsequent fall (and I’m not suggesting that it is or should be easy to do), this is by far the most artistically rich film ever made about Jesus.  The unmitigated violence is hard to watch – and it’s supposed to be; I’ll never be able to watch the flogging again – but the script is unparalleled for its profound imagery and for portraying Jesus as the teacher, friend, and baddass that He always was/is.
Dare you not to cry – When Mary flashes back to Jesus as a running toddler.
Favorite scene – Tie: The Garden of Gethsemane and the resurrection.

The Easter Carol
It’s a Veggie Tale.  It has bunnies, eggs, stained glass art, and a little blue fairy named Hope.  What’s not to love?
Dare you not to cry:  The final scene in the cemetery.
Favorite scene:  The same.

The 10 Commandments
It’s impossible to appreciate the New Testament without understanding the Old, and there is no more reverent a look at the latter than this movie.  To be honest, I think Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner could have read the lines sitting on a stage in folding chairs and it would have been enough, but I enjoy the spectacle of it too.
Dare you not to cry: When Rameses casts Moses out.
Favorite scene: Mount Sinai, of course.

The Shawshank Redemption
It’s an unconventional selection for Easter, perhaps, but a sound one.  Based on a spring-themed novella by Stephen King in Different Seasons (original title: “Hope Springs Eternal – Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption”), this movie presents an unflinching look at “life” as a prisoner, and at the price, value, and beauty of freedom.  If you don’t see what that has to do with Easter, I can recommend a number of good Sunday School classes to try out.
Dare you not to cry: When Andy comes clean in the river.
Favorite quote (a.k.a. the best tagline ever): Get busy living, or get busy dying.

These are my standards; feel free to leave me yours!

hunger

“Destroying things is much easier than making them.”

I was a bookseller at Barnes & Noble when I first rejoined the work force, and it was a glorious time in my life.  What better occupation for me than to be literally surrounded by the written word and movies, and sometimes even the written word about movies?  Retail hours, sore feet, Black Friday…I genuinely loved every minute of it.

My first day on the job, they assigned me to the children’s section, and I resented it considerably at first. Just because I’m a mom, I protested to faceless authorities within the safe confines of my imagination, does that automatically mean that I like children’s books?  Or even children?

Within the week I got over myself, however.  Turns out that the children’s section was a veritable treasure trove of entertainment.  I became reacquainted with old loves such as the Pevensie children and Yertle the Turtle, and I brought home new family friends like Bad Kitty and Harry Potter.  I may literally have frolicked among the pages upon occasion.

Then came the day I was assigned to “zone” the teen section, located just outside of the main children’s annex.  (Tangent Alert: I loved zoning.  Zoning is the process wherein you go to each bookcase with a scanner and make sure that every book is in its proper place.  For this brand new divorcee and single mom, it was intensely therapeutic to be able to seize one little portion of my world and wrestle it into perfect order.  I highly recommend it.)

Of course, it’s impossible for me to lay hands on any book without perusing its contents, and while I am not known to be prudish or innocent (anymore), I was floored by the percentage of – and I am being kind here – absolute smut on those shelves. In one afternoon, I was exposed to violence, meanness, glorified bullying, pain and suffering, gleeful embrace of promiscuity…and that was in the Gossip Girl series alone!

Even more terrifying was observing how blithely detached parents were from their children’s reading habits.   Kids would come in, grab some random abomination off the shelf, and ask their grown-up in attendance (if there even WAS one) to buy it for them…and the grown up would just throw it in the basket without even a glance.  The one time I inquired of a mother if she had read the books, her puzzled eyes darted toward the door and she immediately checked out.

Ever since that day, I have been a firm believer in reading what my kids are reading.  So when my oldest came home from school touting The Hunger Games and crowing about how her book club was going to read it and see the movie, I set aside my Dave Barry collection and hunkered down for what was my new assignment as well.  Here’s what I found.

My first thought, not to be mean, was that Stephenie Meyer and a host of other YA authors should take notes.  Suzanne Collins has an economy with words that generates volumes of imagery from the simplest phrases.  Her style is therefore highly engaging; starry-eyed teens and seasoned adults alike find themselves surprisingly invested after the first chapter.

Next I had to address the violence because that is the number one concern of us concerned parents who just want to know if we should be concerned or not.  My vote is: not.  Is it really all that violent?  Oh, yeah.  It definitely is, but there is nothing gratuitous about it.

It may have helped if she had stated it sooner, but Suzanne Collins explains at the end of the third book that the story came in honor of her parents, who – having lived through it themselves – made it a point to educate their children about war.  Taken in this context, the violence has meaning and is vital.  You’re supposed to cringe when the children are bleeding and the oppressed are powerless and the authorities are making sport of it all.  The book is not bandying atrocities about lightly; rather, it’s bringing them to light for a new generation to see and understand.  War, injustice, propaganda…these are all heavy and unpleasant topics, but very real and happening today, and therefore worthy of exposition.

Finally there are the the characters themselves.  They are strong and vivid, and watching them traverse their painful landscapes is appropriately difficult but enthralling.  I like the protagonist, Katniss Everdeen, the most in this book of the three, yet I found her almost too realistic.  I wanted her to be unflappable and pure like Superman, fueled only by a desire to right injustice, while instead she is often more reluctant and bent on survival.  Yet the choices she makes in the face of her reservations are precisely what make her a hero.

It is inexplicably common for The Hunger Games trilogy to be deemed a girls’ saga simply based on the fact that the protagonist is a girl.  I find this viewpoint dated and mildly offensive; after all, no one claims that Harry Potter and Percy Jackson belong to the boys.  And while The Hunger Games is not for everyone, it is certainly not limited in its relevance by gender application.  When the movie releases later this month, hopefully girls and boys alike will light up not only their social media with their thoughts, but also their living rooms and dinner tables.

oscar open

“So tonight, enjoy yourselves because nothing can take the sting out of the world’s economic problems like watching millionaires present each other with golden statues.” ~Billy Crystal

Dear Academy,

It pains me to say this, but there is a growing rift between us.  I love movies, and I have been a staunch defender of you and your eccentric ways.  I publicly support your broadcasts and your sometimes brilliant, sometimes barely tolerable efforts to draw in viewers via opulence and voyeurism. I have even thrown parties in your honor.

This year, however, you have excluded me in such a brazenly ignorant fashion that I must finally speak my heart and the first question I must ask is this:  No Alan Rickman?  NO Alan Rickman?  Are you freaking kidding me?!  Okay, you may see the Harry Potter films as somewhat beneath you (and we’ll get to that in a minute), but this is a man who went far above playing a role to perfection.  He actively informed the source material.  J.K. Rowling shaped the way she herself, the creator and original voice of a whole unseen world, saw and wrote Severus Snape based on the dimension Alan Rickman gave him.  How can that not be worthy of even the tiniest bone you could throw?

As egregious as this is, I believe it is symptomatic of a greater problem: You think you care about me, and you want me to believe it too, but deep down we both know it’s just an illusion.  Oh sure, your public persona is very affectionate towards me.  Every year you make a big display of trying to appeal to me through your choice of hosts and directors, your red carpet interviews, and your behind-the-scenes specials.  But the truth is that you only want me for my money.

That is the worst part, really.  You make millions and millions of dollars off of me.  You endlessly analyze and lament how much I’m spending and on what movies every week, and you compare it to years past, seeing what is trending well with me and trying to get me to spend more.    In fact, your entire industry depends on me, yet when it comes to the self-proclaimed highest honor that you can bestow, you not only disregard my input; you actively use financial success as a pall over any material’s artistic value.  On top of that, the films you do applaud are those to which I have little if any access to see for myself.

Not everything you do is wrong of course.  You finally got around to nominating Gary Oldman, although most of his performances and especially his brilliant turn as Beethoven in Immortal Beloved were no less deserving.  You expanded the category of Best Picture to be more inclusive of voting numbers – allowing that sometimes it seems most likely as a way of kissing up to your favorite directors.  And nominating Viola Davis and Rooney Mara this year almost makes up for your irresistible compulsion to list Meryl Streep (I swear, the woman could appear as herself in a documentary and you’d find a way to qualify it).

You may argue that you are the expert and you can assert your freedom as such to recognize or not any films and actors that you well choose.  I agree!  But if that is to be your stance, please stop pretending to care what I think.  Stop wondering why each year’s broadcast viewership is down; in fact, stop broadcasting it at all.  Just rent out the Kodak theater for yourselves and spend every February worshiping each other in private and leave us alone to watch what we choose – probably a comedy or a popcorn flick, or anything with Alan Rickman in it.