Return of the Psycho-Critic

Drawn to extremes: the Oscar-nominated "Ryan"
Copper Heart Entertainment

At the movies, as everywhere else, it's the year of the Big Adventure redux. We've already gone back to meet the Focker and the Phantom, Fat Albert and Winnie the Pooh. The third Blade is tearing up the second-run circuit and Apollo 13 has been blown up to IMAX. We've looked back at '70s action (Assault on Precinct 13) and '70s porn (Inside Deep Throat); even '70s poster girl Patty Hearst got plastered all over again in Guerrilla.

Now brace yourself for a big, big return to the Me Decade: to '70s TV (Bewitched, The Dukes of Hazzard), '70s sports-movies (The Longest Yard, The Bad News Bears), and '70s action figures (James Bond, King Kong, Darth Vader, the Love Bug, the Pink Panther, the Living Dead)--all coming soon to a theater near you. Is it not a super time to pledge your allegiance to American pop?

Whatever your vote, it's in the spirit of formulaic nostalgia that the critic hereby releases his own inferior sequel: Part II of a series, begun in December, where the professional reeler's interior monologue spills out of his head and onto the page. Actually, my "original" column ("Confessions of a Psycho-Critic") was modeled on one written in the '60s by Andrew Sarris, who pioneered the practice of interviewing himself. So we might more accurately call this a sequel to a remake--which, in the season of The Ring Two, isn't unique either.

As anyone who lives to love movies is bound to feel conflicted even in his distaste for the coming attractions, the split personality of the following discussion seems fairly appropriate. But for various reasons, including the imminent departure of my beloved editor to a New York magazine (and the inevitable loss of my beloved auteur at the Oscars on Sunday), the mood on both sides of the table is a lot closer to depression.


City Pages: So are you excited to watch the Academy Awards?

Rob Nelson: Uffda. Can I be honest? I'm not excited. I think people who gravitate to movies as a way of getting in touch with what's unique about themselves naturally feel alienated by the Oscars. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, they call it: a fancy name for the rich people who run the film industry. They throw their megawatt spotlight on a small number of their own movies and convince people that these are the only films to see in order to keep up with the Joneses. I guess I see movie-love as a more personal, more eccentric endeavor that doesn't have quite as much to do with helping power consolidate itself.


CP: Huh?

Nelson: I just mean that the Oscars are expressly designed to favor the upper echelon of the industry: the people pointing the spotlight and voting for the winners and reaping the benefits. The hype invariably hurts the smaller, more idiosyncratic movies, which have trouble finding screens or audiences because everyone is busy ticking those five Best Pictures off their to-do lists. That's the unstated purpose of the Oscars, in fact.


CP: So what's a movie lover to do?

Nelson: Well, the best thing to do on Sunday is attend the Minnesota AIDS Project's Oscar party at the State [Theatre]. They put the show on a big screen, they have live hosts who are usually pretty funny, and there's a ton of free dessert; all the proceeds go to MAP and District 202. People hoot at the screen, make catcalls--it's fun.


CP: Any predictions?

Nelson: Yeah. I predict that Martin Scorsese [nominated for The Aviator] will lose to an actor again this year: He'll lose to Clint Eastwood [director of Million Dollar Baby] just like he lost to Kevin Costner in '91 and to Robert Redford in '81. It's his legacy. [Scorsese] needs to know that losing the Oscar is actually a greater honor than winning it. But I think he'll take it hard again, and the loss will affect his work. He just needs to win the damn statue and move on. But I fear it won't be this year.


CP: I take it you don't like Million Dollar Baby.

Nelson: Oh, I do. I like it a lot. I actually think it'd be a perfect Best Picture-winner for wartime. Its message is really strong: We send our young and poor off to fight and die for "freedom," whatever that means, whatever the cost. And if it's freeing for them, if it's about glory for them, who are we to tell them it isn't? War movies are always hard or impossible to make in Hollywood during wartime--but boxing movies are always popular then. I suppose the ring is as close as you can get to the battlefield without being "political."


CP: Speaking of what's "political": There has been a lot of talk this year about the exclusionary process by which documentaries and foreign films are nominated. Any thoughts?

Nelson: Yes: I think most of the great docs and foreign films of the last several decades haven't been nominated for Oscars. Looking on the bright side, though, the short films nominated this year are a pretty amazing bunch. There's this film from Canada called "Ryan," about the animator Ryan Larkin, who went from revolutionizing the field of animation to panhandling for spare change in Montreal. The film itself is animated: It's psychedelic-looking, a bit like Waking Life, although it was animated entirely by hand. You could say it's a drawn documentary. Then there's a more traditional short doc called "Mighty Times," about the African American schoolchildren who marched for civil rights in Birmingham in 1963. It's a beautiful film and a heartbreaker; it really helps put our smaller problems in perspective.


CP: It's so infuriating that you never get to see the short-film nominees.

Nelson: Well, this year you can: The Riverview Theater is showing the Oscar shorts on Saturday and Sunday at the First Annual Twin Cities Gold Film Festival. [Editor's note: The program starts at 2:45 p.m. on both days.] Nathan Block, who owns and operates the Plaza Maplewood, put this series together out of his own desire to see the movies and celebrate the smaller work; plus he was outraged to discover that Academy voters aren't required to see them. It couldn't have been an easy program to put together--there are eight shorts on the bill, including both "Ryan" and "Mighty Times"--but he did it. That's movie love.


CP: So there's some reason to support the Oscars this year, right?

Nelson: Well, yeah--I guess there is. I think I'll buy a ticket to the MAP benefit and watch the show at the State: hoot at the screen, throw popcorn, be irreverent. You cheered me up. Thanks.

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