December 31, 2009

WHY OSCAR-NOMINATED MOVIES SHOULD BE WATCHED MORE THAN ONCE

... before making that final judgement as to who is deserving and who isn't. See, the problem with a lot of the more recent Academy Award-winning pictures (in my mind) is that they don't hold up upon repeated viewing. One could argue that is not the intention, that it is enough for them to be the "best" movies of that particular year. But look at where that led in the past few years. The rise of the important picture vs. the decline of mainstream movie making.

Let me point out my definition of what I think they consider to be important: it is a movie that tackles a sujet (what a wonderfully pompous word that is, eh?) that has either been overlooked or that has not been given enough attention by the mainstream, mainstream primarily being still defined as white, American and male.

Movies like Brokeback Mountain, while without a question tackling an important societal issue (and something that should be lauded on its own merits) or Slumdog Millionaire (which didn't go over very well with those in India, for the most part, but then again, who likes to look at their own filth) have won primarily on the strengths of that notion that movies should have a deeper insight, that they should have an effect on society in some such way or another that we look at things we never looked before, and either be outraged or understanding.

Now, I believe both movies to have been important movies in the sense as well, just as I consider Good Night And Good Luck to have been an important movie at the time, exposing the complicity of the media and its owner in pushing the points of view of a few wealthy people and powerful institutions, and how to fight it.

That didn't make it a good movie.

I watched it, I watched Brokeback Mountain and Slumdog Millionaire as well... each of them twice, and I have no desire to watch them again. Ever. Once their grand ideas, their importance is played out, they have nothing left to say anymore, and upon repeated viewings they are ... mostly boring as stories. There is no incentive to go back and revisit them, either for characters or scenes or even plot.

They are all surface. They wear their political, social or intellectual aspriations like a cheap perfume (Paul Haggis' movie Crash also belongs in this category), and once that wears off we are faced with more often than not the lumbering undead that is the movie's script and the performances, which are mostly uneven (if I am being kind) and often one-note. And why shouldn't they be? After all that is their primary reason for being there in the first place, to push a viewpoint, an agenda... and before a Fox News retard comes in and agrees with me, I say, that is okay. Sometimes it is needed. But that doesn't make them good movies.

It merely makes them a replacement for what good journalism should be. In other words, we are more and more in a society where the burden of uncovering and highlighting a shortfall in our world is being put upon the creative forces, because the ones who should be doing their jobs... aren't.

But that doesn't make them good movies.

With that in mind, let us take a good luck at the frontrunners of this year's Oscar race, the ones that all critics have pretty much locked in now (and I believe they are right, those are the ones which will wind up being nominated). I have watched them all at least twice, and so should you, before making an informed decision.




PRECIOUS
An overweight illiterate teen, twice raped by her own father, finds a new lease on life with the help of social workers and goes to school. Did I mention that she is black? No? Well, she is. Did I mention that the rape resulted in her having kids? No. Well, it did. This is what this movie is. Not on, not two, no, three Jerry Springer specials and Movie of the Week stacked up upon each other, and after you have gone from I cannot believe something this horrid is going on in today's world, you reach the point of Oh, come on now fairly quickly. On the second viewing, having gone past the emotional shock effects, I found myself bored beyond belief and the acting to be superficial and not too far removed from anything and everything that plays in German TV in the afternoons, where they parade the worst of the worst every day to elicit just as similar an emotional response from the audience. Does this go on in the world today? Without a doubt. But the movie is shameless about it, just as those TV shows are, and it uses the story for the same reason and to have the same effect.




UP IN THE AIR
George Clooney as a guy who fires people for a living travels around the country and finds out that not only he is in danger of being fired, no, he also has to readjust his philosophy in life by acknowledging even he needs human companionship. Well, that movie didn't even hold up on first viewing for me. It has some nice speeches delivered by Clooney, but it comes across as that woefully annoying salesman who knocks on your door and tries to sell you the new, better Verizon package. Really! You will never want any other service again! Clooney himself is one of the major problems, or rather it is a problem what he has turned into. Affable and shallow, he slips into the same persona he plays in Nescafe commercials over here, and sure enough, it means he is slick, but never, not once, do you find yourself caring about the person he plays. It is beautifully shot and soundly constructed, that movie is, but again, upon second viewing I could not help but wonder how boring it all was.




THE BLIND SIDE
Oh, I admit it. That movie manipulated the Sweet Jesus out of me. The scene in which Sandra Bullock gets told, after changing her old study into a new bedroom that "I never had one," followed by "A room?", followed by "A bed." is heartbreaking, but again, it isn't the scene that is heartbreaking, it is the notion that in this day and age, something like that can still happen, especially since we go into this movie being told, pssst, this is all real, this is not made up, this really happened. But upon second viewing, I am sorry, especially to Sandra Bullock who I genuinely like, but again – as with Precious – it feels like one of those movies you get bombarded with every other day of the week, and the only difference between those and this one here is that they got better actors together. It is also not the type of movie you buy and watch and watch over again.




THE HURT LOCKER
War is like a drug, the movie states, and that is pretty much all you need to know. Uneven in its construction, it has no real plot, just scene after scene after scene. Some of them are visercally scary (like the one where Guy Pearce gets blown up), but mostly the movie feels like the re-enactment of a documentary, where movie actors take the places of real soldiers. Add to that the soundly silly cameo of Ralph Fiennes (in a scene that really made no sense, kids, remember, war makes no sense, it is just a series of waiting and bullshit and waiting and bullshit, rinse, lather, repeat...). Again, I feel this may be an imporant movie, especially considering that we get our news from the real wars in small dosage, and without any emotional connection, but as a movie, as an actual story, it almost reminded me of a bad Hemingway short story (and make no mistake, whatever they tell you in school, most Hemingway short stories are just little slices of observation that never really go anywhere), meaning it never outgrows the roots of journalism that it is supposed to be... and the movie never enters the place where stories are told. On second viewing, I switched it off halfway through, because once the "Where is this all going?" leaves you, there is nothing left to say.




INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS
That is a movie, right here, that at least one critic (the dude from the LA Times) considers to be the default winner of the next Oscars. Could that happen? Yes, I believe so. If there is any one group more infatuated with Nazi fetishism than Neo Nazis or sexual deviants, it is the Academy. Play a Nazi or play a retard, you get your Oscar for sure. Even the grand Miss Kate Winslet, upon predicting such a thing in Ricky Gervais' Extras, had to play a retarded Nazi (!) to actually win the damn thing! The movie is essentially everything what is right and what is wrong about Tarantino's movies, only bigger. Or should I say, it isn't even much of a movie, more like the highlights of a bigger movie, Inglourious Basterds: The Opera, which I am sure exists in a different universe, and it is roughly 14 hours long. Here, we get five scenes from said opera, all of which are beautifully constructed but never quite make one coherent movie. It's like in Grindhouse, where Good Ole Quentin simply told us MISSING REEL, motherfuckers! I'm just going to show you the GOOD STUFF! It's somewhat lazy, that type of writing is, and as a result – upon second viewing – you find yourself wanting to skip certain scenes. I thought that the opening, Once Upon A Time... In Nazi-Occupied France, holds up the best, because it features the most mundane evil that has graced the screen in a long, long time. (side-note: I watched the movie in both English and in a German dubbed version, and I'll be damned if the German dubbed version doesn't happen to have a voice over dubbed in at the end of that scene, making the joke that the escaped Shoshanna just might wind up running all the way to America, where she even might run for President one day. That is completely not there in the US version. Huh? What was that all about? Did Quentin know this? Shouldn't he be told, if he doesn't know?) Christoph Waltz is evil. No doubt about it. But it isn't because he has an ideology, or because he believes in something. as he explains, he is merely doing his job, and he is very good at doing his job, and his job is to kill Jews. That, ladies and gentlemen, is a good metaphor for what was going in in Nazi Germany. That is why it was evil. It was mundane. Just business. Unfortunately, the movie quickly deteriorates into Jewish Revenge Porn, almost humming along in the same way as the atrocious torture porn movies made by one Eli Roth, who here comes across as a Golem-like Marlon Brando wannabe, and when he hits the Nazi Feldwebel with his baseball bat, I couldn't help but feel repulsed, and you know you are in trouble when your audience chooses a Nazi over who is supposed to be your hero. The same with the portrayal of Hitler and Goebbels. None of them are human, and one may argue that they shouldn't be, because it makes the ending of the movie so much more poignant, but all I kept thinking while watching the movie theatre sequence a second time was that Chris Columbus did this in Gremlins, and it was a lot funnier. Even Waltz's performance deteriorates throughout the movie, until the end, it is a quick shot of "It's a BINGO!", the point where his character not only jumps the shark, he gets three other sharks and turns it into a Shark Orgy. Basterds has the same issues as many, if not all of Tarantino's movies. Whenever faced with the decision to go for old-fashioned story telling or with a quick razzle dazzle, he opts for the latter. Which makes for some damn fun cinema the first time around, but said razzle dazzle wears thin very quickly, and then you are left with the fact that you haven't seen a movie, you have seen five scenes from a bigger movie, the one that is out there, never to be seen. And could somebody please stop Quentin from watching 1970s exploitation movies? But anyway, I do think that the Jewish Revenge Porn part will be a big part if and when that movie wins big Oscar. The witch is dead! The witch is dead! It's a shame, though. It could have been a much better movie (and before somebody tells me about Brad Pitt... any plank of wood could have played that part)

The reason I am leaving out Avatar is that I have made my points about this movie prior to this post. Superficially, that movie by Cameron may be Ferngully Dances With Smurfs, but upon second viewing I say many things that unlocked in front of my eyes, and just as he did with Titanic, Cameron proves himself to be an old-fashioned storyteller who does archetypical, symbolic stories and wraps them up in the latest and best technology. Whereas all the above mentioned movies go straight for your brain (Precious, The Blind Side, Up In The Air, The Hurt Locker) or your balls (Inglourious Basterds), Cameron always aims for your heart. Sure, he misses sometimes (or offends your political sensibilities), but just as he did in Titanic, all the razzle dazzle he provides is merely window dressing for what is at the heart of Avatar: a love story. And just as I did with Titanic, I enjoyed the movie more the second time around, when I was no longer gasping at things. And sure, I still believe Sam Worthington is a block of wood, but the rest of the movie makes up for him.

In the last fifteen years or so, there were only two instances where storytelling won out over flash and superficial "shock'n'rock'em". There was Titanic and there was The Lord Of The Rings (which won for the third part, but essentially, those Awards were for one big fucking movie of 12 hours). Both of these movies are throwbacks to the good old Hollywood. The Hollywood of Ben Hur and Lawrence of Arabia, when it was still instrumental to give an audience something that they could only experience on the big screen.

When I look at Hollywood today, it appears to me that the viewpoint movies have won out, and there is a serious disconnect between audiences world-wide and the Academy. And no, I am not talking about political liberalism or conservatism, not by a long shot. I dislike both in my movies, I have my movies with milk and sugar, thank you very much. I am talking about movies that take you places, I am talking about, yes, I am talking about escapism, because that is what good movies are, in a good way. They take you to places, and while I do believe that there should be room for important movies that do take a viewpoint, I believe it should be done in a more symbolic way, and not so much in your face. We know how the world looks outside our windows, we get the shit that is called news every day delivered into our homes, and we may feel despair more often than not.

Why go out and pay 15-20 Euros/Dollars to have more shoved down our throats?

That is the great disconnect between the audience and Hollywood today, which sees crowd-pleasers merely in terms of How Many Fucking Toys Can We Sell? Oh god, Transformers 2! Terminator: We Are Fucking Done, Professionally! GI Joe: I Gots Your Cobra Right Here! and have no respect for the audience in those "projects", while they get together in a big circle jerk to congratulate themselves on those important movies!

And with that in mind, I predict another incredibly boring, retarded and self-congratulatory Oscar night early on next year that nobody wants to watch.