This week on my podcast, Follow Friday, I spoke to Hot Pod founder Nick Quah, who has chronicled the boom of the podcasting industry since just after the first season of Serial debuted. Check it out!
Also: If you or your business have something to promote — a passion project, a new product, or anything in between — check out Follow Friday’s new “advertise” page. It’s a four-question form, which takes all of 30 seconds.
OK, enough housekeeping. On with the newsletter …
😱 Skipping the Oscars?
In any other year, there is zero chance that I would skip the Oscars, if such a thing was even imaginable. It is the one live TV event I show up for every year, and I’ve even thrown Oscars viewing parties with punnily-named food. The best menu was 2019’s, which included Cider-Man: Into the Cider-Verse, Bohemian Wraps(ody), Mahershala Cauli(flower), and Spike Brie.
This year, I finally, fully appreciate why the Oscars have been bleeding viewers for years, and why Hollywood is preemptively dismayed about tonight’s ratings.
I live in a city with several nice movie theaters, which makes it easy to keep up, in a normal year, with each year’s Oscar nominees. Those movies are accessible, affordable, and usually available at a theater with good-to-great picture and sound. Some of them even serve beer and have recliner seats.
But the number one reason I liked going to the movie theater, something I’ve thought about a lot over the past 13 months, is this: In the absence of talkative neighbors or bad equipment, movies are better there. It’s more fun to share a movie with other people, just as it’s more fun to see literally any singer or band perform live than it is to listen to them on your phone. The jokes are funnier, the immersion is fuller, the emotions are stronger; anything and everything on the big screen feels bigger, more important, more urgent.
When basically every movie is viewed at home — in my case, on a seven-year-old TV with a maximum audience size of two — the gap between old & new evaporates. I’m still watching too many movies, as anyone who reads my newsletters can attest, but I generally don’t go hunting for movies I don’t own and haven’t heard much about. And I’m certainly not interested $20 to rent a movie on my TV, a viewing experience defined by compromise and not worth $5-10 more than what I’d pay in a normal theater.
The only good reason to seek out an Oscar-nominated movie is cultural currency, i.e., to have an informed opinion about whether the winners and losers deserved their fate. And … eh. I follow dozens of movie obsessives on Twitter, and at least a half-dozen movie podcasts, and even they seem less invested in awards season this year. If I don’t have an opinion, I don’t think it’ll matter that much.
But hey, at least the beer is cheaper at home.
Plot twist: There is one thing that might get me to watch tonight’s Oscars, even though I’m less invested in the nominees and winners than I have been in at least decade. I learned from the Recode Media podcast that Ocean’s Eleven director Steven Soderbergh (!) is producing this year’s show, and may be doing some weird experimental stuff with the format. I sure hope he does!
Stuff I *have* watched recently
The King of Kong ★★★★ - An excellent low-budget documentary about people who take classic video games WAY too seriously. The most important thing it does is to take them seriously, probing and poking this subculture of poorly-dressed men for more than laughs; rather, it asks and answers why they care about being the best, and makes us believe in their silly competition as much as they do. Available to rent/buy on digital.
Flight ★★★½ - A smart, well-directed, and sometimes questionably-written portrait of alcoholism and denial, starring Denzel Washington as an airline pilot involved in a deadly crash. The sequence of the flight and crash itself is the movie’s standout scene, but the rest is a fleetingly surprising and frequently frustrating (in a good way, for the most part). Avaiable to rent/buy on digital.
The Mole Agent ★★★½ - A heartwarming documentary about an old man sent by a private investigator to infiltrate a nursing home in Chile. The man is adorable and immediately endearing, the other residents in the nursing home are also lovely, and the movie ultimately reaches an emotionally poignant and satisfying destination ... but I have some serious reservations about the filmmaking style and the privacy of the people who appear in it, which the filmmakers do not address. On Hulu, Hoopla, and Kanopy.
Gattaca ★★★½ - Outstanding world-building in this near-future science fiction movie, with great lead performances by Ethan Hawke and Jude Law … but the script leaves something to be desired. Some key character relationships, including a central romantic subplot between Hawke and Uma Thurman, are clunky and implausible. I liked this movie less on this viewing than I did the first time I saw it, but it’s still a very good low-key sci-fi. On Starz and DirecTV.
The Fast and the Furious ★★★½ - The only entry in the series I’d seen before, and the start of my attempt to watch through the whole thing (and some other movies in the F&F franchise’s orbit) before F9 comes out this summer. It’s a solidly entertaining crime/action drama, a line drive of a movie: Stylishly filmed, never boring, well-acted, but a little predictable and never exceeding expectations. On HBO Max, DirecTV, and USA Network.
Better Luck Tomorrow ★★★ - A promising and well-directed high school dramedy that takes some very weird turns. The actors are all good, but most of the characters are written inconsistently, and multiple seemingly important plot points are introduced and quickly discarded with hand-wavey dialogue, literally up until the end of the film. This makes the time I invested in the characters feel less worthwhile, which is a shame, because I was ready to really like this. On Amazon Prime Video and Paramount Plus.
Leave your reactions, questions, recommendations, and Oscar predictions in the comments below.