And the Oscar goes to … Wonder Woman! Can a superhero film take home best picture?

Patty Jenkins blockbuster torpedoed sexist stereotypes and triumphed at the box office. Now it faces its biggest challenge: winning over Academy voters

Dickenss line, It was the best of times, it was the worst of times seems strangely appropriate to the world of comic-book movies in 2017. Over the past couple of years weve seen some of the worst superhero films ever committed to celluloid , among them Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad. Yet weve also been treated to more glowingly reviewed comic-book films than ever before.

Rotten Tomatoes rates X-Men spin-off Logan, Marvels Spider-Man: Homecoming and The Lego Batman Movie all among the years best-reviewed films. And thats to not mention Marvels new effort, Thor: Ragnarok (amazingly at 98% at the time of writing) and Patty Jenkins groundbreaking Wonder Woman (92%).

Indeed, Warner Bros is so delighted with the excellent response to Jenkins movie that it is prepping Princess Diana of Themyscira for a full Oscars run, perhaps hopeful that the Academys recent injection of more younger voters and more female voters might help catapult the superhero epic to a best picture nomination at the very least. It seems a fair shout: Warners The Dark Knight remains the only superhero movie ever to win an Oscar in the major categories (posthumously for Heath Ledgers spiky turn as The Joker, which won him the best supporting actor gong in 2009), while Jenkins previous film Monster saw Charlize Theron win the best actress Oscar for her portrayal of the serial killer Aileen Wuornos.

Its hard to imagine future superhero movies carrying such cultural weight as Wonder Woman. Not only was it the best movie about a DC superhero since The Dark Knight, it also registered way beyond its core audience of geeks, winning praise for Jenkins deft use of warmth and humour to torpedo sexist narratives. It became so much a part of the 2017 conversation that the film-maker found herself caught up in a row with James Cameron over what a strong, powerful female hero should look like.

Still, if 2017 really is to be the year in which the genre movie finally takes over the Oscars, there may be better candidates than Wonder Woman. For big ideas and visual panache, Denis Villeneuves Blade Runner 2049 ticks all the existential boxes, and there have been few more impressive films than Matt Reeves War for the Planet of the Apes, with its brooding, dystopian vision and gasp-worthy technical audacity. Some might argue that Wonder Woman is not even the best superhero movie of 2017, an honour that could be handed to James Mangolds mesmerisingly dark and brutal Logan.

Patty Jenkins. Photograph: Lower/SilverHub/Rex/ Shutterstock

And yet Oscars often go to the most Oscarly movies, rather than the best ones. The question for Academy voters might be whether Jenkins big-hearted superhero epic suits the moment better than any of the alternatives. Its more than possible to make a case for Wonder Woman to defeat the odds and emerge triumphant, even if we dont know what the competition will be.

Film historians might look back on 2017 and note that this was the year in which certain previously untouchable Hollywood moguls found themselves publicly excoriated, leading to a change in attitudes towards the treatment of women by men in positions of power. What better way to honour that profound societal shift than to celebrate a totem of strong feminity, a superhero who refuses to be kept in the box that society has placed her in; who is comfortable with her own strength but avoids the puffed-up boastfulness of her male counterparts? It would be a triumph against the odds, but this is a well-reviewed movie that has struck a tone with many, and stranger things have happened.

In the unlikely event that Gadot finds herself on stage at the Dolby theatre in Los Angeles celebrating a best-picture win for Wonder Woman, there will be many who take that as a sign that these are not the worst of times after all.

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This Week In Pop Culture (9/29/17)

9/29/2017: How Standalone Films Will Actually Save The DCEU

By Luis Prada

Batman Forever sucks. But there was one moment in it that made kid-me so happy. During a conversation with Dick Grayson, Bruce Wayne casually mentions Metropolis. With one word, the standalone Batman movie lets us know that it takes place in a larger universe, one which includes Superman, without a distracting cameo. It looks like DC and Warner Bros. are going back to that tactic. In news that should surprise no one, they are having some reservations about the DC Extended Universe. This kind of thing happens when only one of the four movies in the series doesn’t require fanboys to talk themselves into thinking it was good.

The new strategy is to eliminate unnecessary crossovers between characters and focus more on standalone stories that each nod at the larger universe. Or, as DC President and Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns put it: “The movie’s not about another movie.” And with that, those of us who’ve written angry walls of text lambasting DC and Warner Brother’s insistence that their cinematic universe try to accomplish everything Marvel’s did in a fraction of the time can give our weary keyboards a rest. Just over a month away from the release of Justice League, they finally get why Marvel’s interconnected universe works so well.

Marvel’s success isn’t lightning in a bottle. It’s the work of careful planning by people like Kevin Feige, the president of Marvel Studios and the guy who, in essence, acts as the director of the entire MCU. His overarching vision for the cinematic universe gives every movie and show a sense of organic cohesion. In his system, each filmmaker is allowed to put their own spin on a property without too many instances of jamming in references because they need an Avengers movie ten minutes ago.

The news pairs well with Warner Bros. wanting to put DC properties in the hands of “master filmmakers and make sure they all coordinate with each other.” That’s exactly the strategy that Marvel used to establish their universe before they earned the right over a dozen movies later to have the Hulk costar in Thor: Ragnarok. A few well-placed references in a standalone movie go a long way.

9/28/2017: 17.2 Million People Watched Young Sheldon. What?

By Lydia Bugg

Look to your left. Now look to your right. Statistically speaking, one of the people you just looked at watched the premiere of Young Sheldon last night. 17.2 million viewers tuned in to the series’ premiere. It was the biggest comedy premiere in four years. Roughly all of the pop culture thinkpieces this morning were about Young Sheldon, but I have to wonder: Who is the audience for this show? Did anyone who doesn’t write about pop culture for work actually tune in?

I know how important it is to have a dialogue with people, so I tried to reach out to a Young Sheldon viewer. But I couldn’t find a single human person who watched the show. Here is a real conversation one of our writers had with a Big Bang Theory fan about Young Sheldon:

Do any of us want to see the child? If so, why? Can this show surprise us in any way if we already know so much about how it ends? I personally would love to see a twist ending wherein Young Sheldon murders someone. It would add a dark undertone to all the episodes of Big Bang Theory, as we watch Old Sheldon and silently contemplate the fact that he’s a murderer who has escaped justice. If I knew that was coming, I would totally watch Young Sheldon.

As it is, I have not seen the show, but 17.2 million other people apparently did. Doesn’t that number just seem a little bit baffling? 17.2 million people? Are we sure it wasn’t 17.2 million dogs whose owners left the TV on while they were out? Was it maybe 17.2 million televisions that were hooked up at CBS’s Chuck Lorre watch-farm? Was it 17.2 million children who were being forced to watch the show as a cruel and unusual punishment?

Where did these 17.2 million people come from? What are their stories? Can someone please contact This American Life and ask them to do a Young Sheldon segment? I need more information on these people, and why they want to see the child. Is the child really a thing that needs to be seen? Apparently if you ask 17.2 million people, they will say yes.

9/27/2017: This Reaction To The Harry Knowles Scandal Is Everything Wrong With Nerd Culture

By Mark Hill

Harry Knowles — the film critic who described Blade II as a movie that “starts with long licks with a nose bump on the joy button slowly” and Guillermo del Toro as a director who “takes the audiences’ clit in his mouth and just licks it like crazy” — has, shockingly, been accused of sexual harassment and assault by five women. The accusations, as detailed by IndieWire’s Kate Erbland and Dana Harris, include that he repeatedly grabbed a woman’s ass and thighs without her consent, that he responded to requests for screening tickets by promising them in exchange for a kiss or nude photos, that he grabbed an Alamo Drafthouse employee and told her he wanted to see her naked, and that he told a woman who was trying to network that “you can have my vienna sausage anytime.”

Naturally, some people have heroically leapt to Knowles’ defense. One woman was accused of lying and fabricating evidence, and told that she didn’t deserve to be a writer in the film community. That, of course, is a reference to Jean-Luc Godard’s famous belief that a woman can’t truly appreciate the art of cinema until she’s groped by a famous fan, then dutifully ignores it because they’re told that’s just part of the creep’s wacky personality. And film writer Scott Weinberg found this defense of Knowles by Louis Black (not to be confused with famed comedian Lewis Black), the co-founder of The Austin Chronicle and SXSW. Black wrote:

“My Harry Knowles Story: I watched as Harry through his leadership brought film nerds together, completely changed and expanded their impact on film and their standing in the industry, while making stars and giving power to geeks who for generations before had found their greatest fame in limited circulation fanzines. No one wrote for AICN for the money, the [sic] wrote for the power and prestige and the sheer joy of communicating with an audience of like minded film enthusiasts who had never come together before. Film nerds though their status changed, are still film nerds. The moment the opportunity presented itself they turned on Harry with a ruthless vengeance.”

I could hire an elite team of academics to formulate a more tone-deaf answer, and they wouldn’t be able to top that if they dedicated their entire lives to the task. For readers who are wondering why so much fuss is being made about a man whose profound thoughts on Heroes were dedicated to obsessively analyzing a high-schooler’s hymen and virginity, Knowles launched the film-focused Ain’t It Cool News in 1996. The site became huge thanks mainly to the fact that it was one of the first websites where anyone could discuss movies (and, of course, the nipple-pinching “rampage of orgasms” that might be contained within one). That’s hard for anyone who’s had internet access since birth to appreciate, but to a certain generation of nerds, getting involved in a large, like-minded community was revolutionary. It was proof that they weren’t alone in the world.

Despite a writing style that could best be described as “hypersexual ape taught English in a futile attempt to cure its attention deficit disorder,” Knowles went on to launch an influential movie festival, become prominent in the Austin film scene, and generally make himself kind of a big deal. He scored plenty of mainstream media attention, to the point where he appeared on Roger Ebert’s show. Some of the women accusing him viewed him as a gatekeeper who could help them break into film writing — or ruin them if they dared to speak up. So Black’s not wrong when he says that Knowles brought film nerds together and changed the landscape for fans. He’s just misplaced his priorities so badly that scientists will need to invent a telescope more powerful than any which exists today in order to locate them.

Black’s response is the perfect summation of the attitude that creates shitty people who doubt women when they accuse icons of harassment. There’s this persistent idea that nerd culture is a fragile thing that must be sheltered from reality at all costs, lest an army of bullies straight out of 1980s stereotypes wash it away in a flood of swirlies. The “power and prestige” of nerds is more important than any silly little complaint some woman might have about being “assaulted.” Look how he phrased his comment. It’s “My Harry Knowles Story,” as if his story is just as relevant as those of women who didn’t like getting grabbed by a man whose very first thought on actress Hayden Panettiere was “born August 21, 1989, now 17 (legal in Texas, which is important, because her character is in Odessa, Texas).”

People who are like Black — and you only have to spend a few minutes online to find a lot of them — believe it will be 1996 forever. That they’re part of those “generations before who had found their greatest fame in limited circulation fanzines.” That it’s somehow still shameful to, gasp, like geeky movies, and that anyone who admits to doing so is the real hero. But 1996 was a long time ago. Black is right about Knowles helping nerds get power. But once you have power, you’re not an outcast anymore, and you can’t keep acting like one, no matter how much you think you identify with the movies about them. That’s how people like Knowles get away with abusing their power, and why when the truth finally comes out, people rush to their defense. The allegations suggest that Knowles’ response to finally getting power after being the underdog has been to become a sexual bully. Meanwhile, defenders like Black try to pretend he is still a victim, even while he victimizes others. It’s a pattern we’re going to see until either we collectively stop believing that people who have geeky interests are somehow still wacky, misunderstood outcasts in this day and age, or the Universe grinds to a halt. You know, whichever comes first.

9/26/2017: James Cameron Has A Billion-Dollar Problem

By Daniel Dockery

James Cameron is finally making a sequel to Avatar, the 2009 landmark film which introduced us to a new era in special effects filmmaking and blue animal-people sex. And by “a sequel,” I mean that he’s making four sequels, one after another, with the first projected to be released in 2020. And together, they will cost a billion dollars. This is the worst thing that could possibly happen to James Cameron.

It’s not the worst thing because Avatar, for all of its achievements, is just kind of a bland bonanza of CGI and tired themes, and the next four films in the series will probably be more of the same. That lack of a reliance on anything resembling a fresh story will probably help it in overseas markets, which gobble up stuff like this and The Mummy and Pirates Of The Caribbean and Transformers — franchises which eschew traditional elements like “adequate dialogue” and “consistent narratives” for two-hour strings of chases and explosions.

No, it’s the worst thing because it forces Cameron to hit the impossible revolutionary standard that he’s set up for himself. Anything less than the next big trend in movies is a failure. The Terminator and Aliens are seminal ’80s horror/action classics. Terminator 2 was part of a generation of films that included Jurassic Park, which ushered in a blend of CGI and practical effects that filmmakers still struggle to top to this day. At the time of its release, Titanic was the highest-grossing movie ever, and also looked damn impressive. Avatar pioneered new motion capture techniques and stereoscopic filmmaking. Hell, the only Cameron film in recent memory that didn’t serve as an overthrow of the previous era of movies was True Lies, and even that thing cost about $100 million.

Where do you go when you’ve defined your career through being the man who pushes us into the future? Sure, Cameron is a bit of an insufferable douche, but I’m not sure that he deserves the title of “That guy who sucks now because he didn’t blow our minds that one fucking time.” Which he will inevitably be if each Avatar sequel doesn’t out-gross the last one, and doesn’t present us with some new technique in shooting film that’s made completely out of moon dust and dreams or whatever. But he’s got nowhere left to go. With James Cameron, it’s either Pandora or retirement.

9/25/2017: Supersize Me 2: What The Chicken?

By Ian Fortey

Following the huge success of his massively debunked sorta-documentary Super Size Me, Morgan Spurlock is back with Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken!, a film more important today than at any time in history, if for no other reason than that “supersizing” hasn’t been an option at McDonald’s in 13 years. Way to stay relevant, Old Man Spurlock.

This new film, which YouTube Red snatched up for $3.5 million, carries the abominable subtitle of “Holy Chicken!” because that’s a thing people say somewhere? “Holy cow!” is a thing people say, so maybe “Holy Chicken!” grew from that? Anything from “What the Cluck?” to “Motherclucker!” to “Cock-a-Doodle-Don’t” would have clearly been superior titles for this movie, unless it turns out it’s about the zany misadventures of a rooster who was somehow elected pope. Sadly, it’s not, as the doc will focus on giving “insights into the food industry of today — an industry which uses trigger words like ‘all natural’ and ‘free-range’ to sell people on the illusion of health and self-improvement.” So we can see how “free range” chickens aren’t actually free, and not a single chicken is allowed to be pope.

As our earlier article shows, almost nothing in Spurlock’s original documentary made sense, and was widely shredded from numerous sources for being, to put not too fine a point on it, a pack of shady, shitty lies. But surely this new film will provide an honest portrayal of fast food, right? According to Deadline, the sequel follows Spurlock as he opens a restaurant to “attempt the same deception of consumers that so many restaurants pursue, all to demystify an industry that prefers to keep consumers at a remove.” So a pack of shady, shitty lies, but this time on purpose!

If the first movie was Spurlock on the receiving end of the fast food industry’s nefarious and liver-destroying victuals, and this movie sees him turning the tables as a purveyor of wicked and ill-conceived delights, expect that we’ll be seeing people eating what they think is free-range, non-GMO, organic chicken, but what is actually the severed foot of a hobo on bath salts. But in a way that teaches us a valuable lesson about consumer culture and nutrition, and not how to lie to people for money.

For more, check out This Week In Pop Culture (9/22/17) and What Stupid Thing Is Trending Now? (9/24/2017).

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Christian Bale transforms for Dick Cheney role by eating ‘a lot of pies’

Christian Bale was nearly unrecognizable at the Toronto International Film Festival Monday as he gears up for his upcoming role as former Vice President Dick Cheney.

Bale, 43, has dramatically transformed his body for movie roles before, including losing 65 pounds by eating only an apple and a can of tuna a day for “The Machinist,” or bulking up for his role as Batman. 

The secret to Bale’s next transformation, he revealed, is pie.

In order to gain weight and develop the appropriate body type for the role, Bale told Variety, “I’ve just eaten a lot of pies so far.”


The film, which is slated to be a biopic of Dick Cheney, is still untitled and has not yet started production.

According to Variety, Steve Carell will star alongside Bale as Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and Amy Adams will play his wife, Lynne Cheney. Bale and Adams co-starred together in “American Hustle.”

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