Paul Giamatti was great with the crabby and all, but William Daniels will always be my John Adams.
The movie has been signed by Michael Bay. This is the same man who directed “The Rock” in 1996. Now he has made “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.” Faust made a better deal.
Um, isn’t a boring, interminable, horribly directed, acted and edited movie with “bewildering” (non-) action sequences exactly what you would expect of the director of The Rock?
- Better than I expected, especially given the first set of reviews.
- Of all the changes small and large, most interesting was the subtle movement of Dan Dreiberg; he becomes the point of identification for the movie watcher in a way that he wasn’t for the novel reader.
- Rorschach well done. Also Dr. Manhattan; might as well have been invented for CGI.
- Film’s ending makes more damn sense than the novel’s.
- I don’t see how anyone who hasn’t read the novel could possibly make sense out of the movie.
- Will probably see again.
It’s hard to be a contender for “most apparently unwatchable movie released this week” when yet another attempt to turn a video game into a movie hits the screens, but the latest attempt to make a dumbed-down middlebrow Short Cuts about an Important Social Topic — this one about immigration — sure seems to be giving it the ol’ college try:
Crossing Over is an L.A.-based ensemble social-problem melodrama for people who thought Crash was a bit too subtle.
The most memorable scene is also among the most maladroit ever committed to film, a liquor-store robbery that begins with people getting splattered over the walls and builds to an earnest dialogue about the “sublime promise” on the faces of immigrants about to take the oath of citizenship. The scene is a career-killer. The whole movie is, in a way.
And yet, I also believe Edelstein when he says that “it’s better than Crash.” It’s always worth remembering that, overrated as Slumdog is, the Academy has done far, far, far worse. I mean, when you have history behind you like 1)Masturbates With Camera winning over GoodFellas, and 2)MWC not even being the worst movie nominated…I’d have to say that giving a Best Picture to an entertaining movie that peters out after an hour is one of Oscar’s better years.
I definitely agree with the “backlash” position on Slumdog Millionaire. It’s not just how embarrassingly cliched the last third or so of the movie is — not so much a Bollywood tribute as a tribute to Hollywood triumph-of-the-underdog-who-gets-the-girl-too-in-an-even-more-dreary-subplot movies — but that these cliches undermine the best parts of the movie, making the whole less than the sum of the parts. Although I would vote for Van Sant among the five nominees I don’t necessarily begrudge Boyle his inevitable best director award; it’s a tribute to his style and craft that the movie is as entertaining as it is despite its considerable flaws. But if the screenplay wins it’s a joke.
In addition, I should also say that The Wrestler isn’t just a movie with two great performances, it’s a tremendous movie, period, easily the best American movie of the year. For a full account, I’ll outsource to Stevens and Scott. One thing I do want to address, though, is the idiotic argument (sometimes made by defenders of the film) in some quarters that it’s just a Rocky clone with better acting/direction. I can’t imagine missing the point more. Pro wrestling makes such a great subject for a movie — and avoids the sports movie cliches that mar this year’s Best Picture winner — precisely because there can be no heroic triumph (or near-triumph) when there’s nothing to win. Neither the pre-destined winner nor the loser in wrestling are permitted the dignity of competition that made Rocky seem like a winner even when he lost, and the implications of this are explored with great effect. And there are lots of other nice touches — for example, the amazing scenes of the washed-up wrestlers hawking VHS tapes at the American Legion hall, the parallels between pro wrestling and sex work that are never belabored or (so rarely in the age in which Aaron Sorkin is considered a genius) theorized about by the characters. There are some minor flaws: in particular, the movie needed either more or less of the daughter, and ultimately the attempt to create a substantial arc with little screen time created a last scene between them that was glaringly implausible and sitcommy. But overall it’s a superb piece of work, and in addition to Rourke being a great story it’s gratifying to see a director of considerable promise and less accomplishment really pull it together.
I guess this should be an Oscar open thread.
…nice to see the shutout to the Maysles.
…I suspect a lot of pools just died on the best foreign film award.
…he is a great actor, and it’s certainly not surprising — you had to bet on him — but I’m still pretty disappointed that Penn won and Rourke’s historic performance was overlooked.
On the one hand, I fully expected to love Synecdoche, New York. Dargis’s rave (though an outlier) seemed persuasive enough, I liked the premise since I first heard about, liked many of Kaufman’s previous scripts very much, and loved the cast. This feeling persisted for the promising first half-hour, and I continued to root for it after it started to become tedious. By the end, though, rather than being charitable about this failed project, I ended up disliking it more than its many flaws probably warranted. Admittedly, this is partly a strong personal aversion to the kind of bullying, formless, self-indulgent “creativity” — in the last half of this picture reminiscent of Gilliam or Burton at their worst — that seems to demand that you respect the filmmaker’s inventiveness while skipping over questions about whether said inventiveness is communicating anything of interest or serving any actual artistic purpose. Kaufman’s oversize ambitions can be charming, but this project goes off the rails and seems interminable at 120 minutes. While Being John Malkovich in particular made the difficult combination of clever whimsy and emtional pain and cruelty work with surprising effectiveness, here it just doesn’t. Without any characters to work with — even with those gamely played by Hoffman and Morton, we don’t learn anything interesting about them that wasn’t already clear a quarter of the way into the picture — the failure ratio of the whimsical gestures is high and the ongoing succession of death and illness and heartbreak has increasingly little emotional impact. Perhaps, as many have suggested, he needs a Jonze or Gondry to act as a counterweight.
On the other hand, I was very skeptical about Revolutionary Road. The reason for this was that I recently re-watched American Beauty, and was amazed by how bad it was. The Chris Cooper stuff was obviously terrible on first viewing, but on the second I found even a lot of what I liked or tolerated the first time unbearable. So I was worried that Sam Mendes would ruin Yates’s brilliant novel. But he doesn’t — it’s a very good and faithful adaptation. Although some reviewers have said that Revolutionary Road is the umpteenth hell-is-the-suburbs movie, this is misleading. It’s true that Yates saw sterility in the suburbs (which he also saw in Manhattan), and perhaps this attracted Mendes to the material. But while American Beauty is the common good-man-ruined-by-the-suburbs-and-his-shrewish-wife (with the misogyny, it should be noted, much more developed than the anti-suburbia — it’s not clear in the end exactly what the suburbs prevented Lester from doing) — narrative, Revolutionary Road is something different and much more interesting: Frank is a man who frequently recites cliches about the suburbs and the duties of family to conceal that there’s no there there, and April (far from bringing him down) sets the destructive Paris idea in motion because she also needs to convince herself that Frank has a depth that doesn’t actually exist. Mendes executes this very well, and he’s always been good with actors. The main flaws of the movie simply result from the fundamental problems of adapting a good novel — it’s less rich, and one misses great set pieces like the description of Frank’s strategies for putting off responsibilities at the office or the cruelty with which he dismisses the uncomfortable truths of his mistress’ roommate. I think the decision not to replace Yates’s free-indirect prose with voice-over narration was sound, but this results in some crucial information being lost (if possible, I would urge reading the novel first.) But there are also improvements. The always tiresome “crazy”-person-who-is-actually-the-sane-one device, by far the weakest part of the novel, is actually better here, partly because Shannon’s nomination was richly merited and partly because in the compressed format of the film his assessments of Frank and April are less redundant. It’s not a great movie, but it’s certainly far better than the one that won Mendes his Oscar.
I was pleasantly surprised by Frost/Nixon too, but I’ll leave that for later. I suppose it could be argued that I should be more open-minded about Benjamin Button, but seriously — this kind of dialogue (and viewers of the film have informed me of even worse examples) is either the foundation of 1)a brutally funny Forrest Gump parody or 2)a terrible movie. And I don’t think anybody claims that it’s #1…
And what’s particularly clear this season is that the Academy will reward excellence, no matter if it comes from a big studio or a small independent. Sure, the big studio movie “The Dark Knight” came up short, but that probably had less to do with who made it and how much it brought in than with a third act that left some moviegoers and Academy members cold and confused.
This year’s Top 5 were studio and indie, big and little, broad and very specific. The string that pulls them together is not where the films came from in terms of backing, but where they come from artistically. Each of the films selected for a best-picture nomination — “Slumdog Millionaire,” “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” “Frost/Nixon,” “Milk” and “The Reader” — represents the auteur ideal, in which a director is bankrolled and left pretty much alone. It is no coincidence that these five films were created by directors who also received best-director nominations.
A few points:
- Like Chotiner, I find it hard to see that list emerging from any kind of serious effort to reward excellence. Does anybody want to make the case that The Reader is one of the best films of the year? And I would probably rather see it again than see the 3-hour Forrest Gump remake, and certainly don’t believe that “excellence” and “Ron Howard” have ever had anything to do with each other. Even the two good movies here are good in very predictable ways — Slumdog‘s structure could be as much a tribute to underdog-wins-at-the-final-buzzer sports movies as Bollywood, and well-crafted as it is Milk also achieves the nice mix of allowing Academy members to congratulate themselves while playing it safe. (I’m guessing that it would have been nominated even if it had been a lot worse — cf. Philadelphia.)
- On a pedantic note, what Carr is describing is the precise opposite of the “auteur ideal.” “Auteur” critics were most interested in the shows of personality by directors that could be seen within studio product, not autonomous writer-directors.
- More importantly, I think the key problem here is the common fallacy of evaluating the means of production rather than the art. I’ve never understood someone saying they’re a fan of “indie” movies or music; process isn’t art. It may be true that, all things being equal, nearly full autonomy leads to better art, but it’s also obvious that there are so many exceptions — collaborative, commercial projects that are compelling art and sincere, personal creations that are dreary art — that rules are meaningless, and what matters is the quality of the work rather than the purity of the creation. Sometimes, gifted artists given autonomy will produce masterpieces; other times they will use the autonomy to try to prove that they can make a better 3-hour movie with Brad Pitt cast in a non-comic role than Martin Brest. I don’t think the latter case should be confused with “excellence.”
…UPDATE: My initial thoughts can be found here.
By request, a thread to discuss the nominations. I will have a couple of movie roundup posts in the near future, but I would say that after a couple years of better-than-usual Best Picture nominations, all 5 this year are all again definitively middlebrow Oscar-type pictures, although with varying degrees of doorstopness. I do have to add the caveat that I can’t yet comment on Frost/Nixon or Forrest Gump II, although I would be shocked if the latter wasn’t the least watchable of the 5. Of the nominees, the surprisingly non-didactic and entertaining Milk would be my choice; I’ll say more about the good-but-highly-overrated Slumdog later. The Reader was a little better than it seems on paper, mostly because of the actors, but I wouldn’t say it was a good movie or anything. I was foolishly hoping that The Wrestler would get a token movie-too-good-to-win nomination, but that didn’t happen.
As many have already said, it’s good to see Anne Hathaway and Melissa Leo get nominated (I agree that the former’s movie would have merited Best Picture and Director nominations); I’m also glad to see Tomei (every bit as good as Rourke) get a supporting nod. I would have liked to have seen Kristin Scott Thomas, although the annual Meryl Streep slot does make the odds worse. Among ignored pictures, allow me to also cite Darnell Martin’s Cadillac Records, not a great movie but a very good and entertaining one that would seem to be an Oscar kind of movie in a just universe.
And, of course, the fact that An American Carol didn’t receive 15 nominations is proof that the nominations are a IslamoCommieNazi conspiracy.
…Another list of exclusions. I guess I need to see Happy-Go-Lucky?
Can a movie present itself as historical, grossly distort the facts, and still be considered good art?
Yes. Actually, I would take a position diametrically opposed to Becks’s; basically, if historical accuracy would make for worse art, then the artist pretty much has a responsibility to ignore it. Of course, given that I haven’t seen the play and have an extreme Ron Howard aversion Becks may well be right about the effects of historical inaccuracy in the specific case of Frost/Nixon; I certainly can’t say. But, for example, I remember being extremely annoyed that so much discussion about Jim Sheridan’s largely forgotten but superb In The Name of the Father focused on alleged historical inaccuracies rather than on the (very high) quality of the film. If strict literal accuracy would have made for worse drama, a good artist’s choice is obvious, and I would say that fiction’s value as a work of art is almost entirely independent from its historical accuracy whether we’re talking about Shakespeare or contemporaneous filmmakers.
I have never pictured Jack Aubrey as looking even vaguely like Charlton Heston, but apparently Patrick O’Brian did. I suppose that I might be more open minded about that possibility if I hadn’t seen Master and Commander before reading the first Aubrey-Maturin novel; the film obviously has its failings, but in general they concern the Maturin character (which is a completely and utterly different animal in the film than in the books), and the related issue of Aubrey being just a trifle too clever. Physically and in mannerism, though, I thought Crowe captured Aubrey almost perfectly. Even Crowe’s performance in Gladiator isn’t particularly Heston-esque, and his turn as Jack Aubrey just didn’t remind me at all of Heston.