Shorter some guy at John Nolte’s Aesthetic Stalinism for Dummies: “Hollywood romantic comedies are, as a rule, dreary and cliched, with dumb scripts leading inexorably and implausibly to the conclusion mandated by anachronistic gender essentialism. See, Holywood does make movies for conservatives!”
The norm — and I plead guilty — is to bash the Oscar nominations for their exclusions. But it’s always worth keeping in mind that arguing that the Academy should only honor outstanding pictures is sort of like arguing that the Hall of Fame is only for players like Mantle and Mays: whether or not it’s right on the merits, it’s never been the history of the institution. The typical Oscar winner is middlebrow dreck — Out of Africa, Forrest Gump, Jerks Off With Camera, Braveheart, Crash, Gladiator, American Beauty, I could go on — it’s also worth noting that if anything the list of 10 pictures has improved the quality. Of the pictures I’ve seen, all of the nominees on this year’s list are far better than the typical winner whatever their flaws, with two movies I’m willing to bet are also far better (True Grit and The Fighter) pending. (Also haven’t seen Inception or The King’s Speech or 127 Hours — have catching up to do — but all have decent reputations.) And if the list was cut to five, Winter’s Bone – arguably the best of the lot — would probably be the first one to go. (Indeed, as Jacob Levy notes, the biggest problem is that the Academy;s taste has almost gotten too good — no Crash or Beautiful Mind or Avatar to root against.)
If I have a pet complaint this year it’s the exclusion of Nicole Holofcener’s wonderful but regrettably ignored Please Give. Not that it had any chance of a best picture nom, but I was hoping for the token writing award that sometimes goes to films of quality.
Since I saw the picture this weekend, I thought I’d add some thought’s to Charli’s excellent post below. I should say at the outset that although I’ve been an Aaron Sorkin detractor since before critics still thought Studio 60 was a work of genius, I should say at the outset that The Social Network was…an excellent movie. I could cop out and give all the credit to Fincher, an outstanding if very uneven talent, but the script was in fact very strong. The story emphasizes Sorkin’s talents while minimizing his weaknesses — he was born to write the instant classic Larry Summers sequence, and plenty of scenes within this absorbing, well-paced film are almost as good.
On the issue at hand, I think it’s worth distinguishing between two critiques. There were some nagging weaknesses — in addition to Charli’s links, see Tracy Clark-Flory — related to the movie and its portrayal of women. In particular (whether they actually happened or not) the final club party out of a Katy Perry song and the “groupies” at the Bill Gates lecture feel like fratboyish Ben Mezrich embellishments, and the movie would have been better off without them.
On the other hand, to echo Dana Stevens it’s very important to not pin the misogyny of the characters on the filmmakers. Starting but by no means ending with Erica Albright’s much-quoted kissoff, Sorkin and Fincher take a clearly critical stance towards Zuckerberg’s contempt for women. To what extent the portrayal of Zuckerberg is accurate I have no idea (and given that this is a fiction film I don’t think it matters), but the implicit critique the film provides of it is actually one if its strengths.
…via the comments, Aaron Sorkin himself responds to criticisms, and again I don’t think he’s rationalizing. The portrayal of misogynist characters in The Social Network is no more a celebration of misogyny than Mad Men is a celebration of sexual harassment, glass ceilings, workplace alcoholism, etc.
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This means I definitely need to see Bonnie and Clyde when it screens at the Palace in a couple months. To be honest, on small screen viewings it has seemed to me a pretty good movie and nothing more than that. In part, I’m sure, this is because its more innovative aspects have become commonplace — but you can say the same thing about, say, L’Aventurra or The Wild Bunch or Vivre sa Vie, all of which hold up a lot better for me. But, then, I’ve seen all off the latter ones in proper big-screen showings, so maybe I’m missing something. And I’ve always liked Night Moves…
Glenn also has more on Tony Curtis here.
I hadn’t read Andrew O’Hehir’s screed against unemployed movie critic bellyaching until Wolcott linked to it, but I think that both O’Hehir and Wolcott make solid points about the future of film criticism. Wolcott:
I miss those days, but they’re not coming back, any more than the doors of CBGB’s will open to reveal the Ramones onstage, firing three-chord fusillades. What’s happening to movie critics is no different from what has been meted out to book, dance, theater, and fine-arts reviewers and reporters in the cultural deforestation that has driven refugees into the diffuse clatter of the Internet and Twitter, where some adapt and thrive—such as Roger Ebert—while others disappear without a twinkle.
In a recent blog post, Ebert counseled against dark despair and declared that this was the golden age, lit by a thousand points of light. The front lines of criticism may have dissolved, but a fresh multitude of voices have arisen, many of them inspired specialists in film noir, horror, anime, and pre-Code Hollywood. “What the internet is creating is a class of literate, gifted amateur writers, in an old tradition,” he wrote. “A blog on the internet gives them a place to publish. Maybe they don’t get a lot of visits, but it’s out there. As a young woman in San Francisco, Pauline Kael wrote the notes for screenings of great films, and did a little free-lancing. If she’d had a blog, no telling what she might have written during those years.” The print emigrants and upstart originals may not be addressing a general audience, but there’s no longer a general audience to address. They went thataways.
Indeed. While I reject the notion (which O’Hehir floats) that film criticism has become fatally disconnected from the moviegoing public, I do think that professional film critics are almost uniquely vulnerable to New Media. Many professionals can do a somewhat better job of thinking and writing seriously about film than many amateurs, but the differences aren’t so great that they justify professional employment for a large group of individuals. If Barack Obama: Socialist Tyrant made payment for film criticism illegal tomorrow, writing about film wouldn’t end; indeed, I wonder whether there’d even be a meaningful dip in criticism. People write about film for the same reason that they watch film; they enjoy doing so. Given opportunity and platform, people will write about film for free, and many will do so with insight. This doesn’t mean that the insights of the very best critics are without value, but it does suggest that the days in which every newspaper maintained its own critic are gone, and moreover that those days ought not be mourned at any length.
So apparently yesterday (or apparently not, but whatever; details…) was the day that Doc selected for his trip to the future at the end of the first Back to the Future. The series did a reasonable enough job of prediction (although these predictions are for 2015, rather than 2010), but in retrospect I think it missed out on the central transformation to occur between 1985 and 2010, which is the complete revolution in relationship between technology and information.
The iPhone and its kin aren’t precisely cinematic, but they do as well as any other technology in representing this transformation. Having Marty or Doc carry an iPhone back to 1955 or 1985 wouldn’t be visually impressive, but it’s remarkable what the technology could do even removed from its context. With the proper apps, any smart phone could play the same role as the sports almanac that drove the plot in Back to the Future II, and could also provide sufficient information about any other set of historical events worth caring about. It’s game playing capabilities would exceed those of any other handheld in 1985, and this is to say nothing of its ability to hold thousands of songs, podcasts, and movies.
Then again, the iPhone in 1985 is also a curtailed device; Marty could neither call anyone nor take advantage of the iPhone’s ability to connect to the internet. Detached from its technological context, the iPhone is powerful, but crippled. The BTF series actually did a reasonably good job of depicting this in the third film, where the Delorean proved useless without refined gasoline. Nevertheless, I think that the relationship between the iPhone and its context is more complicated, and more difficult to explain, than that of the Delorean. The iPhone is an interesting enough device in isolation, but its true power is only evident when it is connected with the modern information infrastructure. That infrastructure is very difficult to conceptualize if you’re not living in it; you don’t necessarily perceive the power to command instant information until you have it and lose it. But then, I suppose that all revolutions are difficult to understand unless you live through them.
While I’m not perverse enough to actually pay to watch the thing or anything, like Paul’s friend I’m happy to see the release of Sex and the City II — I am, after all, a connoisseur of the well-turned and well-earned hatchet job. One reason I can’t imagine watching it even for the camp value, however, is a problem that afflicts an increasing amount of Hollywood product:
Adding more weight to that side of things is the fact that the damn movie’s almost two-and-a-half hours long, which means a nearly four-hour hell multiplex experience is required for me to see the damn thing.
Although it’s not strictly relevant to me — I found the SATC unwatchable even at 30 minutes — if it’s your thing a tight running time in a genre picture can overcome a lot of aesthetic problems. But if a movie is going to go on for 150 minutes you need…content, multi-dimensional characters, writing, direction, something like that there.
Is Anchorman really the most quoted comedy of the last decade? Seems plausible; alternative candidates?
…as follows. Not a lot of thoughts, although the expanded Oscar list seems pretty OK by Oscar standards. I actually thought all four of the nominated films I’ve seen (Serious Man, An Education, Inglorious Bastards, Up In The Air) were at least good, which is unusual. I’m hoping this will get The Hurt Locker on the big screen in the provinces before I have to resort to watching the Blu Ray, am intrigued by Precious and District 9, am sure that The Blind Side ruins the excellent book, and will probably continue to pass on the inevitable winner Dances With Expensive Smurfs. I’m also happy to see Vera Farmiga get nominated…
Could this be any good?
The original falls comfortably into the “hopelessly flawed yet endlessly entertaining” category. I suppose that the biggest problem I have with the trailer is the implication that Gordon Gecko could actually be broke upon leaving prison…