Redoing the Best Picture Winners

The Shape of Water took home best picture last weekend, a pick that I’m not sure anyone was satisfied with. The movie is good, but easily inspires hate, featuring all sorts of quirks and a woman who falls in love with a fish creature as its main story.

There’s obviously a lot of debate when it comes to what should win Best Picture and Academy voters tend to pick movies that have trendy marketing for the year over something that will age well over time.

There’s a type of movie that should win Best Picture year by year and I don’t think it’s necessarily your personal favorite, but what’s considered the movie of the year, like an MVP of sorts. It shouldn’t be something that’s slight, but something that truly does feel important. And not important like it fits a certain theme of the year—though I think that can be good in capturing our moment—it should be something that’s cinematic, cinematically excellent on the widest scale. It doesn’t need to be avant-garde like the picks from the British Film Institute’s Sight and Sound (though perhaps more along those lines), but something that people will agree upon for years as being good. In this way it should be a little populist, the kind of movie that regular movie goers will say oh that’s a good movie without causing critics to roll their eyes (think Saving Private Ryan or Pulp Fiction).

This being said I thought it would be fun to go back and look through the last eleven years of best picture winners, replacing them with a movie that fits this description. Older years will be easier because there is an ability to see what has aged well and what hasn’t, but we’ll do recent years as well.

Years will be listed as the movie year and not the ceremony year.

2007

Winner: No Country For Old Men

 

What should have won from nominees: No Country For Old Men (There Will Be Blood is the more critically acclaimed and might be my favorite movie of all time, but we’ll give No Country the title here because it fits into that perfect mold of something critics and the people will both agree as good.)

What should have won from non-nominated movies: I’d still go with No Country, but Zodiac maintains a really high reputation all these years later and would be satisfying.

2008

Winner: Slumdog Millionaire 

What should have won from nominees: I haven’t watched Slumdog  in a while, but I do think it’s a pretty fun movie though it definitely does not work as the “important” work of art the Academy bestowed upon it this year. It’s a kind of silly love story about fate, not a serious reflection on poverty. 2008 was one of the worst years for best picture nominees and none of the nominees really fit the criteria. That being said, I pick Milk, Gus Van Sant deserves an Oscar, so he gets it.

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What should have won from non-nominated movies: The Dark Knight and Wall-E are both cited as the reason the Oscars increased their nominations. Wall-E is one of my favorite movies and is not only an amazing cinematic experience, but it increasingly looks like the future we are making for ourselves.

2009

Winner: The Hurt Locker

What should have won from nominees: The Hurt Locker also nicely fits the mold here, thank God it beat out Avatar which only holds up as a kind of laughing stock, if I could pick a number two it’d probably be Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds which is arguably his best movie.

HungerWhat should have won from non-nominated movies: Hurt Locker deserves and to come up with a non-nominated movie we’ve got to go toward the avant grade here. There’s Assayas’ Summer Hours, Denis’ 35 Shots of Rum, You the Living, and the one we’ll go with, Hunger—future Oscar winner Steve McQueen’s film about the Irish hunger strike, featuring a tour-de-force rise to acting fame by none other than Michael Fassbender.

2010

Winner: The King’s Speech

What should have won from nominees: Almost any of the other nominees would have been good, but The Social Network will be talked about for years and years to come.

What should have won from non-nominated movies: The Social Network is the definitive pick here, but if we had to pick another it would be Dogtooth, Yorgos Lanthimos’ creepy and wacky tale of a familial cult.

2011

Winner: The Artist

What should have won from nominees: Roger Ebert had The Tree of Life in his top 10 films of all time shortly after it was released, what else needs to be said. tree-of-life1

What should have won from non-nominated movies: The Tree of Life will always be in the discussion of best movies ever, but 2011 also had a lot of films that will be considered for time to come: Drive was a great experimental genre flick, Melancholia has an avid fan base, Take Shelter will continue to rise in estimation, and there are other beloved more genre-centric picks like Fast Five, We Need to Talk About Kevin, Attack the Block, Martha Marcy May Marlene, The Interrupters, and The Skin I Live In. A Separation is really the only one that competes with Malick though, so it gets the pick here.

2012

Winner: Argo

What should have won from nominees: It’s crazy that the Oscar’s got it so wrong three years in a row, picking movies that literally nobody talks about other than in Oscar mistake discussions. Lincoln could easily fit, but Zero Dark Thirty is excellent and captured America with a tight precision.

What should have won from non-nominated movies: The Avengers and Skyfall compete as populist picks, Looper and Moonrise Kingdom are two of my favorites, Holy Motors was beloved by critics, but it’s Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master that maintains all the buzz.

2013

Winner: 12 Years a Slave

What should have won from nominees: I haven’t rewatched 12 Years, but I thought it was an amazing movie the first time I saw it and I imagine it will continue to hold up. Her is the definitive number two here.

What should have won from non-nominated movies: Nothing stands out like 12 Years or Her, but you can’t go wrong with picking Linklater’s (final?) Before movie Before Midnight.

2014

Winner: Birdman (or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

What should have won from nominees: Boyhood was such a fun experiment and it was executed so well. It details that time period perfectly, but should also hold up for years for the way it literally shows what growing up is like.

What should have won from non-nominated movies: It’s kind of strange looking back now that Interstellar was not nominated. Any time you have that thought it likely means that it should have been when looking back years later. People were mixed on it years back, but it does seem like it has only grown in estimation as the years have went on.

2015

Winner: Spotlight 

What should have won from nominees: Spotlight is actually a pretty good pick, but I have to go with the most exciting action movie in years, Mad Max: Fury Road, which will likely be considered amongst the best action films ever. mad max

What should have won from non-nominated movies: Inside Out was absolutely spectacular, Creed was way better than it had any right to be, Tangerine introduced us to characters rarely seen on screen, but it’s Carol’s lush winter romance that was most beloved and will likely grow with audiences.

2016

Winner: Moonlight

a24-A24_Moonlight-Full-Image_GalleryBackground-en-US-1501867156317._RI_SX940_What should have won from nominees: Moonlight definitely deserved it (even if I actually did like La La Land better on first watch, at least), but if we have to pick another I think Manchester By the Sea’s sad ruminations on loss will grow in affection more than La La Land will, though I do think Arrival will also be remembered fondly.

What should have won from non-nominated movies: There’s not an obvious pick here, of Zootopia, Paterson, The Handmaiden, Silence, Everybody Wants Some!!, and American Honey, I think I’m going to go with Silence, because the people who like it, really like it.

2017

Winner: The Shape of Water

What should have won from nominees: Get Out slightly over Lady Bird.

What should have won from non-nominated movies: The Florida Project will also be watched for years and years to come, there’s just so much life in that movie.

And now, the definitive list of movies that deserve to be named as the Best Picture of the year:

2007: No Country For Old Men

2008: Wall-E

2009: The Hurt Locker

2010: The Social Network

2011: The Tree of Life

2012: Zero Dark Thirty

2013: 12 Years a Slave

2014: Boyhood

2015: Mad Max: Fury Road

2016: Moonlight

2017: Get Out

What are your thoughts? Any movies you think deserve the title of Best Picture of the year?

Dad blogging, culture, and tacos: Baja California Fish Tacos

There are not many guides out there about trying to keep up with movies when you have a young child.

I know this, because I’ve looked.

I figure professional critics use their normal work hours to go and see movies, while those of us who are in it as hobbyists must decide a few things. Is this a serious hobby? Something that can be sacrificed or pushed back? Obviously parenting is all about sacrifices–it’s sort of the driving force of raising a child, yet I do think I want to make a commitment to keeping up with my interests, down the road my children should appreciate that.

Yesterday, my son had a terrible night sleeping and only ended up getting a half hour between 5:30 AM and 10:30 AM, much less than typical. Now usually when he is sleeping I use the time to get the necessities done: showering, eating, getting dressed, etc… I knew that he would still battle rest if I laid him down even as he was getting tired, so I rocked him to sleep in my arms, kept him there, and opened up Netflix on my laptop. I was able to watch all of Nocturama, a French thriller I had been hoping to see (read my thoughts here). I hadn’t planned on being able to watch the whole thing, but in a rare Rumpelstilskin move, my son slept for 2.5 hours.

For those of us who are big time movie geeks, watching a movie in separate showings is pretty antithetical. It interrupts the flow, the story, and disrupts the magic of it all. But I suppose the cinephile parent must accommodate for this, expecting consistent interruptions when trying to get through 2+ hours of the artistic format we fell in love with. Having a son is more beautiful than I can describe and interrupted movies are a small burden to bear.

For you cinephile parents out there, were you able to keep up? Do you have strategies? Feel free to comment below.


Today’s tacos: Baja California Fish Tacos

Today’s taco run was also interrupted. Not by my son’s schedule, but by accidentally leaving the car lights on overnight and not having a vehicle to get anywhere.

It ended up being all right because there’s a nice taco place over by our apartment that’s within walking distance. We went there at noon to try their fish tacos.

What we listened to on the way: Nothing, because we walked.

What we ate: Shrimp, fish tacos

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Baja California Fish Tacos replaced a sushi spot right next to the gas station that we use, a super convenient way to get fish tacos, giant burritos, and ceviche at all times. This is their third location, with two other spots in Los Angeles. Confusingly there’s another local chain of Baja themed Mexican food serving across Orange County called Baja California Tacos, there’s no relation, though there may be a rivalry, as that chain is also highly acclaimed (I might get out there one day for a comparison).

I had wondered how it would do, as the sushi place had went out of business. It certainly wasn’t having any problems when I went there, with a line going out the door as it served customers on a Monday afternoon.

This is where there was some slight difficulty. I had a giant stroller and it made it very difficult to navigate an already claustrophobic restaurant that was packed tight with people.

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I went for a shrimp and a fish taco getting both with a fried batter upon the cashier’s recommendation. Each was good, stuffed to the brim with toppings: a slaw-like cabbage, creamy sauce, and pico de gallo. The problem with getting a fry batter is it can easily get soggy, particularly when topped with an amalgam of fresh garnishes.

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The shrimp did not really suffer this problem, though the batter easily separated from the shrimp throughout each bite, the shrimp easily maintained its chewy consistency beneath. The fish was not able to withstand the moisture, sogging up like a paper towel, too fragile to everything going on. The combination of all the toppings still made for a delicious bite, but wasn’t able to deliver on what you’re looking for–that crispy and fatty bite that comes with fried batter. The shrimp was the better of the two and is definitely recommended; going grilled might be the way to go when ordering tacos de pescado.

My son’s thoughts: He stared at me, perhaps a bit concerned by the crowd noises around him. When we went to leave I got a little nervous as to how we would be able to make our way through the crowd with the stroller. Luckily there was a side exit with no fire alarm where we snuck out without drawing attention.

Best Films of 2017

There’s still a lot of good stuff I haven’t seen that it’s almost embarrassing to release this list. Yet, here are ten movies I really enjoyed in 2017 that I can feel proud to put here. I will update as I catch up over the next couple of months. UPDATED: 2/27/18 to include Nocturama The Florida Project

12.  Mudbound 

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One of the most gorgeously shot films of the year, Mudbound is almost novelistic in its approach to two different families in the World War II south. The very land they live on, tilling away for their livelihood should make them equals, yet the unjust power structures and hateful racism do not make it so. Even acts of war that should unite disparate parts of the country are divisive for some (the film focuses on the uniting of two characters based on this). Dee Rees’ film is utterly gorgeous, it unravels a bit at the end, but the first half is tight, some of the best storytelling of the year.

11. The Shape of Water 

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This movie shouldn’t work. The trailer was awful, riddled with cliches, and looked kind of lame. But what Guillermo del Toro ends up crafting is something far weirder than it ever should have been. Del Toro is willing to go for the hard ‘R’ in his tale of a woman falling in love with a strange swamp creature. Sally Hawkins is mute, Richard Jenkins is gay, and Octavia Spencer is a black woman in mid-civil rights America. These are the characters  coming up against the system’s powers and if it takes a woman falling in love with a swamp monster to upend the powers that be, then so be it.

10. Nocturama 

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A film about terrorism in France that’s actually saying more about youth, rebellion, and consumerism. Nocturama starts slowly, skating along with little dialogue as a group of disparate teens enact an unknown plan. Slowly we see the execution of a terrorist act, one that we are given little insight into, why have these characters in their late teens and early 20s pulled of this stunt? It doesn’t really matter, instead the movie spends most of its time focusing on the aftermath, not in a Reservoir Dogs – like violent mystery of what went wrong, but by giving us a look at these passionate youth as they hang out in an expensive mall, waiting out the evening so they can make their escape. There’s no answers given, little motivation, but slowly layers are peeled back, and we see the desperate passion, regret, and immaturity at work in each of them. This is a masterclass in editing, pulling together plot strands while providing equal measures and clarity and ambiguity.

9. Logan Lucky 

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Steven Soderbergh’s return to directing is a heist movie as far removed from the white collar bank robbing of Ocean’s 11 as one can get. Set in the deep south and lead by a fantastic cast of Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Daniel Craig, and Riley Keough, Soderbergh again has crafted a charming, hilarious, and thrilling film. It’s littered with jokes, some obvious, some subtle, and the robbery, this time of a Nascar race, legitimately pays off. It didn’t get the hype of most of his other movies, but I loved it.

8. Blade Runner: 2049

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This is what I wanted out of a Rian Johnson Star Wars a fully realized and unique point of view brought into an existing franchise. There are those who have argued that’s what Johnson does and certainly the situation was quite different, but what Denis Villeneuve brings here is on masterpiece level. Each scene is designed with an artist’s touch and there was perhaps no better cinematographic moment than the arrival into Las Vegas. It’s slow-paced and contemplative, everything I would want in a modern day sic-fi mystery.

7. Call Me By Your Name 

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A sensual and sultry coming of age story, set during an 80s Italian summer Call Me By Your Name follows Elio, a 17 year old boy, as he discovers who he is. To call it a “coming out” story is too shallow, the film explores every confused tendency of a 17 year old, allowing room for Elio to try things exuberantly, experimenting, and failing confusedly, until he finds what makes him alive. The film more subtly allows his amour, Oliver, one who seems to have confidently already come of age, to stumble over his insecurities and what he has previously been allowed to be or not be.

The film ends with something near a pep talk in which we get a hint of where Elio’s life will go, his, a life met with acceptance and understanding by those around him, will turn out much different than Oliver’s. We only get a small taste of it, but the final shot, a minutes long close up of Elio as he stares at the fire, contemplating his first romance, shows the disparate paths they will take. It’s sorrowful, yet hopeful, Elio will take the piece of this summer with him, building his life off of it in the ways we should move forward, not letting the past take away from the present, but using it to build something better and more beautiful.

6. Dunkirk

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A gorgeous exploration of the heroics of survival. Nolan takes a step back from his characters, letting their looks and silences and gasps for air fill in for a traditional plot. It’s a breathtaking piece of cinema, one that captures the chaos of war, not just in battle, but in the confusing way it flips our morals, how we justify our actions, and who we consider to be heroic. Here the warrior flees and cowers, while the civilians march into battle and each is somehow justified for their actions. War can never be just for it causes a spectrum of human experience to arise in a muddled and grey ethical playground.

5. Get Out

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Jordan Peele crafted a horror flick that uses racism, stereotyping, and white guilt to creepily subvert our society and the conventions of the genre. It subtly captures how horrifying it is to live within an unaccommodating white space before building to full on scary movie. All the horror tropes work well here, Peele invites you to think about larger social themes while slowly terrifying you. Peele was always excellent at creatively crafting comedy around the inequalities in our world while Key & Peele was on and here he’s found a way to amplify it across a feature length film, showing a keen ability behind the camera. It’s one that will be talked about for years to come.

4. The Florida Project

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There’s perhaps no more of an empathetic filmmaker out there than Sean Baker. Both of his films tackle complex and often frowned upon areas of the world, from Tangerine, his story of two trans-prostitutes in inner city Los Angeles to his latest work, The Florida Project, a look at daily life in a Disney World adjacent hotel that illegally houses poor families. This is a heartbreaking story, but one that’s filled with so much life, carried by the mischievous and troublemaking Moonee, a young girl who spends unsupervised time running throughout the Florida swamps creating real trouble for those around her. Her situation and the situation of those she spends her time with is awful and Baker makes her mother’s actions almost forgivable even as she leads her daughter down an awful path. This is a movie that celebrates the lives of those who are forgotten, even as they make mistakes and hurt those around them, Baker is there to tell their story and he does it beautifully. (Oh and Willem Dafoe is as good as advertised, the movie is beautiful, and it might have the best ending of any film from 2017).

3. A Ghost Story 

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Nothing about David Lowery’s latest is conventional, despite this it constantly moves in a new direction, from its initial reflections on losing a loved one to its grander ambitions of meditating on all of life and what we leave behind. It’s gorgeous, mostly silent, and plays with the ghost convention, asking questions of what we contribute to the world and if it ends up being nothing more than ourselves are we okay with that?

2. Lady Bird 

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Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut is a heartwarming, heartfelt, and often funny coming of age story, telling of the battle for the teenage soul between the sincerity and carefree youth and the insecurity that comes with self-awareness in growing up. It’s completely lived-in, likely drawing from Gerwig’s own teenage experiences. Gerwig, who was already a proven talent in acting (Greenberg, 20th Century Women) and writing (Frances HaMistress America), has now again shown an immense ability to direct, guiding along a pitch perfect picture that encapsulates growing up. She and Saiorse Ronan guide us along this journey across the highlights and pitfalls of youth. It also serves as a loving tribute to one’s hometown (in this case Sacramento), the place you’re forever inextricably attached to, but anxiously await to escape. Did I mention that I grew up in the greater Sacramento region? Yeah, this movie hits home.

1. The Big Sick

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An almost perfect rom-com that justifies the existence of the oft-maligned genre. The Big Sick tells the true tale of comedian Kumail Nunjiani meeting and falling in love with his wife Emily (they co-wrote the script and he stars in it). To do so, he has to overcome the delicate balancing act of immigrant parental expectations against society’s, as well as a devastating sickness that puts Emily in a coma. Equal measures of laughing and sobbing fill this one and it’s remained my favorite all year even against more ambitious pictures. It’s strength rides on how charming it is and how it uses this charm to pull off the full gamut of emotions. Every single character’s story line produced an emotional reaction from me. When I look years down the road, I imagine this will be the movie I have returned to the most, throwing it on in almost every scenario, and having it fulfill whatever emotional void I’m feeling.

Three Films for Easter

This isn’t going to be an altar to Passion of the Christ, instead the focus will be on what I believe to be the two main themes of Easter: sacrifice and new life (or resurrection). These films provide exploration of the theme of sacrifice, especially that which leads to new life for the self or another. Exploring movies that are not explicitly religious or even more broadly are not directly about Easter, yet contain themes that evoke that period can bring about deeper reflection on what it means to us. Filmmakers are often today’s best storytellers and when they tell stories about things that match up with what we are celebrating we should dive into the middle of those stories, allowing them to sweep us up.

Looper

Joseph Gordon-Levitt; Bruce Willis

Focused on a dim near-future, Looper is about having to deal with choices made in the present, past, and future; where the self can literally come back to haunt you. It’s generally a sci-fi time travel picture from future Star Wars director Rian Johnson, but a character’s choice in the end perfectly matches this list’s theme. Gazing at a dark future, with grimmer prospects than the one’s currently slogged through, the character chooses to sacrifice, putting hope in love and in ending a cycle of violence. Although we don’t see if the sacrifice does indeed lead to new life, another character is resurrected in this action; there is no greater love than he who lays down his life for his friends.

The Kid With a Bike

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The Dardennes’ 2012 film focuses on a boy abandoned by his family and the relationship he makes with a woman who happened upon him at a moment in need. Cecile de France’s Samantha serves as a surrogate mother, taking on a boy whom she has no responsibility over and who doesn’t really seem to want her most of the time. Caring for a child is near-sacrificial in the way that a child takes precedence over the needs of a parent, but this sacrifice is often made in the loving embrace of a parent/child relationship. Samantha depicts a self-denial that is pure love, with Samantha opening her arms in a loving pursuit that can only be said to resemble the divine.

Selma

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I talked about this a bit earlier this year, but Selma cuts deep into the questions about sacrifice from the one of the greatest figures to sacrifice their life for the greater good of their people and humanity. Selma shows Dr. King both at his greatest–with full-blooded speeches inspiring people and decrying injustice–and at his most doubtful–questioning the cost of the movement he has created, the toll it takes on his family and marriage, and whether he is taking the right steps at all. Sacrifice and freedom are measured and weigh heavily here, but it is the pursuit of new life in freedom that makes it worth it all.

Standard warning that though these films may match up with certain themes of Easter, the characters depicted in these stories may not make choices in line with religious principles.

A Pretentious Takedown of Middlebrow Cinema

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This is going to be pretentious.

The end of the year usually produces a swarm of movies as studios throw out everything that could possibly win an award. The summer is known for its blockbusters–large and loud movies, with big time actors attached to them–the end of the fall to the winter emphasizes darker stories with artsier and riskier looks and content. This is an exciting time for me, usually overwhelming (I literally make long lists of notes of which movies I should see, where I will–and can–see them, and how I can afford to see so many movies without breaking the budget) and filled with a lot of great movies. But the studios aren’t dumb, there are strategies in place–why and when a movie should get released. The awards ceremonies are usually more generous to give out awards to those that come out later in the year–they have a strange sense of film amnesia where the first seven months barely count and so studios release films accordingly. Studios don’t really want awards though, I’m sure there is some sense of pride for a studio releasing an award winner, but the sense of pride does not outweigh their number one motivator: money.

The studio system’s whole purpose is to make money, thus they try to find films that will win the awards, because movies that win awards, particularly the big ones, attract a bigger audience even if they tend to be edgier. The ads show this all the time, big golden text lines the top of the film saying “nominated for seven Academy Awards, four Golden Globes, three Independent Spirit Awards, nine BAFTAS, and the MTV Movie Award for Best Kiss”. Awards are the reasons why studios push for artsy movies, not for artistry’s sake, but to gain a large crowd on a smaller budget.

This is fine, it’s going to happen, but when this is the case it creates the need to mimic what has come in the past. There is a certain style of Oscar movie usually involving some sort of liberal, edgy topic, an actor losing a lot of weight for the role or an actress not wearing any makeup. These are sort of emulated year after year in hopes that people will jump on board.

That’s the thing, these movies are created to fit into a certain sort of mold, when they are actually quite safe and seem methodologically produced to trick people into thinking they are seeing something important. These films come off as being really out of the box, creative, and dramatic, but really they’re not. This year’s version of these movies are two British biopics about important historical figures–The Theory of Everything and The Imitation Game–both are period pieces, have lower budgets, and a good cast, but also seem to fall into every trope you can imagine for these films. In year’s past The King’s Speech, The Artist, The Help, The Blind Side, and Dallas Buyers Club all gave this vibe–important movies about history, race, or some other marginalized group. Most of these films are actually fine, they are pleasant tales and I would be fine with this if people didn’t feel like they had done some sort of cinematic duty by seeing it.

People know that I like movies, so I often get asked about which movies are good and whether I’ve seen [blank]. But the movies that often rise to the top as being depictions of cinema or indie films or whatever are these middlebrow, faux-artsy films that seem to somehow suck in people whose last movie in theaters had been the fourth Transformers movie. There is no challenge to them at all, but they are advertised as life-changing cinematic experiences.

Alright, enough of the complaining–people are gonna watch what they are gonna watch and I’m not very likely to recommend Under the Skin (my favorite movie of this year) to very many people, because I truly believe they will not like it. Let’s just not let the studios do this to us, we’re manipulated enough already. If you want to see something to impress people who like movies or those at your Oscar party make sure you see Boyhood (likely the best picture winner and a fantastic portrayal of a boy’s life), Selma (one of the best biopics ever probably), or Whiplash (an intense movie about a drummer that I think has the potential to be a real crowd please and features future best supporting actor winner JK Simmons).

You Don’t Watch Good Movies

“Thinking is boring, of course (all that silence), which is why so many industrially made movies work so hard to entertain you. If you’re entertained, or so the logic seems to be, you won’t have the time and head space to think about how crummy, inane and familiar the movie looks, and how badly written, shoddily directed and indifferently acted it is. And so the images keep zipping, the sounds keep clanging and the actors keep shouting as if to reassure you that, yes, the money you spent for your ticket was well worth all this clamor, a din that started months, years, earlier when the entertainment companies first fired up the public-relations machine and the entertainment media chimed in to sell the buzz until it rang in your ears”

-Manohla Dargis in her article “In Defense of the Slow and the Boring” co-written with AO Scott for the NY Times, find the rest of the article here.

Movies are the most under-appreciated out of all the main art forms. Music, although typically bad within popular realms, at least has had the Arcade Fire win the Grammy for best album and has far more support and respect than that of film making. Although the world is obsessed with Lady Gaga, most people I run into college age and older have a taste for something with some quality. Even Starbucks plays some fairly good music, so even if the population chooses to not listen to quality music they are forced into it when they go buy their 5 dollar lattes 3 times a day.

I also have found increasingly good taste when it comes to television. Lately, the medium has not only released great shows (or so I’ve heard) on channels like AMC, Showtime, and HBO, but also on primetime TV channels like NBC.

Other art forms like painting or sculpting are not really commercial and those who are fans of those mediums are usually true connoisseurs of it, while most in the general population really don’t care at all.

But movies on the other hand, make millions of dollars a year. The problem is not in a lack of consumption, but rather in what is chosen to be consumed. There are constantly lines out the door each weekend at the cinema complex and “dinner and a movie” is still probably the most popular thing to do on a date, but rarely are movies given the respect of other art forms. Rather, they are seen as pure entertainment.

While recently scanning different peoples profiles on the popular social networking site Facebook, I checked out the movie interests section to see which movies each individual “like(s)”. Most have the typical run-of-the-mill classics like Star Wars or The Goonies, and there is even the occasional arthouse flick like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind or Fight Club, but nothing that steps outside the boundaries of cult classicism. Those most interested in movies are usually into some specific genre like horror films or sci-fi movies. Even the artsiest of my “friends” choose to “like” quirky, minimal comedies about depressed men and the manic pixie dream girls that save them as folksy indie rock songs play in the background.

Nobody I know stays in the know of the latest films to be released or the true global classics of the last fifty years, which isn’t something you would expect except out of cinephiles, yet I know many people who keep track of all the latest albums and cool songs (thank you Pitchfork).

Even the amount of views this post will get and how many people will actually read the links I have provided about this problem by the aforementioned Dargis and Scott, as well as the piece by Jeffrey Overstreet at the end of the article, is proof of the lack of thought that the person puts into moviegoing.

In most movie discussions, I tend to keep my mouth shut; my opinions and views are so far skewed from the norm that I have become entirely unable to participate in talk of cinema. Yet I refuse conformity, if only because of my weariness of watching the same plotlines unfold while not so great actors act out one dimensional characters to the sound of millions of dollars! Well, at least they’re all good looking…

People, step outside your cinematic comfort zones. Go see Of Gods and Men or Terrence Malick’s forthcoming The Tree of Life or Kurosawa’s Ikiru or something that isn’t made for the sole purpose of shutting down your brain. At least every once in a while?

“Most American Christian moviegoers, like most Americans, want flashy, fast-paced entertainment, not art that moves at the speed of life, or art that quietly asks them to think things through. But this is a quiet film that asks you to pay attention. That is a strength, not a weakness. By inviting you to pay attention, it will become a part of you, an experience you’ll remember and discuss. Thus, it denies you many of movie conventions that have conditioned us to get comfortable and turn off our brains.The only music we hear in the film, with only a couple of exceptions, is the music made by nine Trappist monks in prayer. Many scenes are almost silent, as the monks go about their daily tasks wrestling with difficult questions about their responsibility to follow Christ. ”

-Jeffrey Overstreet on why Of Gods and Men won’t do well in the American church and in America as a whole. Read the rest of the article here.

Rango

Johnny Depp and Pirates of the Caribbean director Gore Verbinski’s latest collaboration takes place far away from the storming seas that the Black Pearl swayed on and finds itself in the deserts of an unknown location, likely somewhere in California or Arizona.

Depp plays Lars a lizard in this animated feature who creates plays with inanimate objects while in his cage as somebody’s pet. He longs for meaning, for some sort of tension to occur in his life outside of his plastic environment. His wish comes true when his cage is thrust from the vehicle he rides in (no backstory is given to his prior life) and he is forced to survive in the desert. A place, that technically, he is made for, but has yet to ever live in.

As the story continues, he eventually finds a town called Dirt, where he makes up a new identity for himself, a tough cowboy like figure named Rango. After a few accidental victories over the town’s bullies and a bird that haunts the town, he is thrust into the sheriff’s position; one that apparently is refilled often.

The town is in a water crisis and with the water supply running low, it is up to the sheriff to both protect the existing water supply and to look out for the people he rules over. Of course, he is not alone in this and in charge of the town is the mayor (voiced by Ned Beatty), who controls when the water is to be given out.

From here, the plot is fairly predictable. There is a corrupt leader, our hero tries to save the day but somehow fails and ends up revealing that he is not the hero he claimed to be, he is thus outcast while the town suffers at the hand of the corrupted leader, the hero realizes that within his true self he has the ability to save the day (and figures out the key to the whole problem) and returns to face his fears and the corruption that lords over the town eventually getting the girl in the end.

Its unoriginal plot structure wasn’t the most pathetic I’ve ever seen, but when you’re sitting in the theater trying to determine how much time is left based on what point the movie is at in the typical hero archetype, you know there is some sort of a problem.

Rango never really seemed to add up. Subtle parts that seemed like they would come back to mean big things thematically, never really appeared again. There are certain shots, characters, and interactions that would have lead down interesting paths had they been pursued, but evidently Verbinski wanted a more cookie-cutter like film. It seemed like it either wanted to go a lot deeper than it did and failed, or they had to cut scenes out for time/marketing purposes.

Depp is great as the voice of our false hero and the animation is fantastic. The filmmakers really attempted to go for something different animation and editing wise and  this was certainly successful, giving the film a more artsy edge to it than its other animated competitors. Just Rango himself looked amazing, and it is a wonder how they were able to make his eyes look like they did. If only they would have put more of that focus and originality on the plot, we could have had a pretty good film on our hands, instead it turns into a run-of-the-mill animated film that is not really worth recommending.

2.5/5