Category: Film

Oscars 2010: The Last Second Primer

The Oscars, once again trying to do something to mix it up, have further diluted their already severely degraded brand. Much as Chris Rock said that the Oscars are about movies only white people watch (being as the world is divided into two distinct groups: white people and black people; white people talk like this and black people like this), this year they’re trying to make the whole thing that much more populist – and therefore meaningless.
Ten Best Picture nominees, but only five Best Director nominees. This is the same thing as there being only five Best Picture nominees. The Best picture and Best Director don’t always line up; one need only look at 2005, when Ang Lee rightly won Best Director for Brokeback Mountain, and Paul Haggis’ execrable Crash took Best Picture.

You may have noticed that Brokeback Mountain still gets mentioned for many reasons, not least of which being the still somewhat raw tragedy of Heath Ledger (a bizarrely opposite parallel to the movie itself), while Crash is mentioned largely for the fact that it undeservedly won Best Picture and the various shallow implications it had for race relations.

Ten Best Pictures! What a spread! They run from the criminally overrated (An Education, Up in the Air), the way out there (District 9), the sadly without a chance (Up), the extremely popular (Avatar), to the totally mystifying (The Blind Side).

Alice in Wonderland (2010)

In the perfect world, Alice in Wonderland could be released without having to be considered by people above a certain age as “Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland”. If the exact same movie had been made by someone with no name to speak of, the viewers would be more free to loudly proclaim that the movie kind of sucks.

I’m free to do that now, of course: this movie kind of sucks.

There’s a stigma to having done so, though. Had I loved it, I would have been a Tim Burton sympathiser in a dense jungle of haters. Had I hated it, which is almost my position, I would have been a petty fool who can’t understand true greatness.

So ignore Tim Burton, and take Alice in Wonderland on its own merits: fact is, it doesn’t have many. It’s simply not a good or interesting movie, and no name can mask that fact.

Up in the Air

Critical darling Up in the Air is a movie that could stand to get me into a lot of trouble. This is largely because I don’t understand why it was the favourite of so many critics in the last year; it is a well-made movie, and a good one, but to me it had none of the emotional resonance that I expect from something like this.

Avatar

The trajectory of Avatar for me was an initial reaction of “what?” then “oh, okay,” then “yes, that looks quite good”, then “I must see this, right now”, then “I have my tickets. I must not think of this film until such time as I see it, lest I overhype myself and die.”

Then Avatar came out today and … yes. This is what movie making is about. I could point to an entirely different film, different genre, different crafting, different styling, and say “this is what movie making is about” – and that is what movie making is about.

Avatar is a specific brand of amazing and perfect movie making. All of the cliches apply here: a labour of love, a man at the peak of his performance, best movie Cameron has made since Titanic … but they’re all true. Especially that last one.

ABSOLUTELY NO SPOILERS INSIDE!

Ponyo

Miyazaki Hayao is one of the stalwarts of Japanese animation, and possibly the only director known by filmic people in the Western world. After a thirty year career of increasingly telling humanity how terrible and polluting they are, Miyazaki finally returns to the spirit of wonder evident in the heroines of My Neighbour Totoro. In Ponyo he has made a movie about the relationship between a five year old boy and a magical fish girl. In his old age, the man has truly become the freewheeling Miyazaki.

The Girlfriend Experience

It’s ironic that Rowan and I didn’t pay for The Girlfriend Experience. We made our way to the cinema through the worst kind of storm (the sort that lasts only as long as it takes you to get from point A to B) to see Ponyo, only to find that it had been cancelled due to an accidental double booking for a festival called “Queerdoc”, which I’m assuming was tonight featuring a documentary about lesbians.

They said that they were sorry, but that they could comp us tickets to anything else that night. Not willing to wait around two and a half hours to see the late Ponyo, we decided to see The Girlfriend Experience instead. Then, during dinner, I realised that this was still a Soderbergh movie, and that it would finish in time for the late showing of Ponyo. We bought tickets for Ponyo before we went into The Girlfriend Experience, and I’ll be honest: I spent a great deal of The Girlfriend Experience looking forward to seeing Ponyo.

Rowan said, at the end of the screening, that “it’s the first movie I’ve seen in a long time that I didn’t like at least a part of”. I’m not that extreme, but really: The Girlfriend Experience is like a more airheaded, shallow version of Gawker. The sad fact is that the movie seems to reflect a certain reality: people like this exist, and they’re just as horrible as they appear on the screen.

Up

Pixar is one of the greatest film studios presently in operation. They are a studio with a consistent vision and a strong distaste for making the same film twice. Above all, they don’t just make great animation, they almost always make great films. Pixar is a studio captained by people with a deep respect for every aspect of their craft, and they have impressed once again with Up, which finally sees release in Australia this month.

Inglourious Basterds

Am I the story of the Negro in America?

I had to see Inglourious Basterds twice to properly appreciate it. The first time was one beset with hang ups: expectations of a film, expectations of history; I came away from it thinking that it had great moments but was uncertain as to its quality as a whole movie. It turned out that the film has great moments, yes, sequences of incandescence that outshine its remainder; thing is, the remainder is still almost as great. It’s now safe for me to say that Inglourious Basterds is an unqualified success: a blissful piece of film making and a great film on top of that. If it took me a week to realise that, it’s my own fault.

When Twitter Fails, They Don’t

Earlier on Twitter I lamented the cult that has risen around Joss Whedon. Two people tried to slap me down for it. Then I remembered tonight that “The Trio” existed, and that this is a bad thing indeed and I was entirely right to be critical.

Twitter’s down, so I’m sharing it with you here.

Coming soon: Coraline (written but not edited; a good film!); the awful state of children’s film based on trailers (“Say Hello to my Little Friend!”); Funny People (when I find out when the damn thing is out here) and finally, GI Joe, which I’ve already lined up tickets for.

Public Enemies

Public Enemies is not, as I was informed the day that I saw it, “the worst movie ever”. It’s not a particularly good movie, but it’s not a bad movie. The most accurate word for Public Enemies is “flat”. In a few more words, I would go on to describe the cinematography as “extreme close up HD shaky cam”. One of the best things that Spielberg, for example, does in his treatment of period film is to make them feel as if they were made in the time they’re set; Munich, despite whatever else you might say about it, felt like a seventies film.

While there are obvious aesthetic and practical considerations to take into account in the making of a period piece set in the twenties (Clint Eastwood did a pretty good job in Changeling), Michael Mann’s choice to shoot Public Enemies in HD and with such proximity to the actors divorces the film from the audience. Alienating the audience with cinematography is not a good idea when you’ve chosen to tell an interesting story in an unengaging fashion, eking flat characterisation out of normally talented actors.

Public Enemies had the chance to have it all: bank robberies! Johnny Depp! Style! Panache! It’s not dull and it’s not a bad movie, but it simply doesn’t work. It’s a movie that asks its audience to sit there and watch for two and a half hours. Their eyes won’t slide off the screen, but will they give a damn about what they’re seeing? It would be a tough gambit for the studios, but this is a movie where the poster is better than the finished product; good promotion and a good cast will carry it so far, but how will it fare on word of mouth here in Australia?