We are now in the
winter early spring of our cinematic discontent…
On the one hand, February and March are deserts of bad movies… On the other hand, I have a couple of weeks after the Oscars to catch Birdman.
I did see a movie this weekend which had received acceptable reviews. I knew that Entertainment Weekly had given Kingsman a quite respectable B. I did not check out Rotten Tomatoes, which I should have. I was not sure exactly what the movie was about other than it involved Colin Firth as a spy, and that it had Mark Strong and Samuel Jackson. Colin Firth was dressed in exquisitely tailored bespoke suits, and Mark Strong (who has been one of my favorite actors since Stardust) spoke in a beguiling Irish brogue, so it seemed like a safe bet to risk 26.50 (two adult tickets plus Fandango’s fees) and two and a half hours on. I forgot to check the level of violence in the film. Mistake.
Even Colin Firth in gray worsted cannot make up for heads graphically exploding, or for most of the victims being people of color and the heroes all white, or Samuel L. Jackson’s ridiculous lisp. The movie also gave me nightmares and cold sweat. I wasn’t screaming when the Caltrain ran over me in my dream, but that’s only because I could not breathe.
I have specific rules for movies with graphic violence (defined to mean any movie with explicit blood and gore): the violence must be unavoidable to the story, must not feel choreographed, and must not be terribly cartoonish. Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan, Martin Scorcese’s The Departed, and David Cronenberg’s exceptional A History of Violence, all meet those requirements. And, among recent releases, Selma.
Speaking of Selma, one theory of why the movie was essentially overlooked by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences speculates that it was the victim of a badly run “campaign.” Specifically, that the film’s studio failed to get the screening DVDs to voters in time. Seriously, people? I remember when “screeners’ were not sent out, and voters actually had to gasp! go to a theater to see the nominated films.
Screeners undermine the Oscars in a couple of different ways. First, I am convinced that they lead to lazy viewing. Sitting in your living room (or home theater — this is Hollywood, after all) and watching with a cocktail in your hand is a much different experience that seeing the same film in a theater with other people. I have always felt that Crash was favored over much better movies (Capote, Good Night and Good Luck) perhaps because viewing a movie on your television requires less discipline that watching the same film in a cinema. (Yes, I saw all three of those movies. Both Capote and Good Night and Good Luck had better writing, acting and directing than Crash; Capote was more far more nuanced and thought-provoking, and Good Night and Good Luck had better cinematography.) I have never seen Brokeback Mountain, so I have no idea whether is is a better film than Crash, though the outcry after the latter won Best Picture indicates a lot of people thought so.)
Also, DVD viewing favors some movies over others. The opening shots of Star Wars, where the Imperial ship goes on and on, is far less impressive viewed on a small screen. As far as this year’s Oscar contenders go, to take the two I actually saw, The Imitation Game loses nothing by being watched at home. On the other hand, the scene of the marchers facing off against law enforcement and vigilantes on the Edmund Pettis bridge in Selma needs the large screen to really work on an emotional level the way that it should.
Even theaters have come to the conclusion that movies are better shown on a big screen: Fathom Entertainment runs groups of classic films at selected locations. Watching All About Eve with other movie buffs is more rewarding than simply catching it on Turner Classic Movies. I’ve done both recently. And All About Eve is not an epic movie, the way that Selma or Lawrence of Arabia are.
The Oscars are not the Emmys. They should reward movies that need to be seen larger than life.
DVDs can also turn a communal experience into a solitary one. Recently, I’ve seen movies at theaters that were empty other than myself and a couple of friends. While this allowed us to talk during the previews, it also felt… empty. Being part of a group of strangers laughing or cheering together provides part of movies’ magic.
To get back to the Oscars, Neil Patrick Harris fell disappointingly short of the (admittedly high) expectations that most people had of him. It just goes to show that writing award show material is an art, and that even hosts as gifted as NPH can only do so much to rescue the writers. Some of my favorite moments seemed ad-libbed, such as when NPH observed, following J.K. Simmons’ win for Best Supporting Actor, “He won an Oscar. [followed by the ending music for the ubiquitous Farmer’s Insurance commercials which feature Simmons].” (The ending magic trick, which explained the laborious ongoing joke about someone watching the box, was cute. It almost made the gag work.)
Simmons, one of my favorite character actors, gave one of my favorite speeches, by ignoring the usual litany of people who get thanked (other than his family) and instead admonishing people to “Call your mother. All of you.” Patricia Arquette’s call for equal pay and opportunities struck a chord (certainly with Meryl Streep, who was shown cheering Arquette on), as did Graham Moore,the screenwriter of The Imitation Game basically providing a live “It Gets Better” video. (Streep has a sense of humor, and was the good natured butt of one of the better jokes of the evening: “The Best Supporting Actress category has four outstanding actresses, and in accordance with California law, Meryl Streep.”) John Legend’s and Common’s performance of and acceptance speech for the song “Glory” were both staggering. And Lady Gaga once again showed that yes, her usual pop material notwithstanding, the girl can sing. In one of the “aw, how cute”moments, she seemed genuinely overwhelmed by Julie Andrews’ reception of her performance.
Turner Classic movies has been running its “31 Days of Oscar.” As a result, I have been able to patch a few holes in my cinematic experience: I’ve been meaning to see Gaslight, The Philadelphia Story, and North by Northwest for years, and now I have. I also saw Gigi again yesterday. Later this week they are going to show Shakespeare in Love and Chicago, and next Monday are going to run the Lord of The Rings trilogy in sequence. TCM is a great channel. Give me TCM, DVR so I can see movies that air when I’m at work, and a rum and coke, and I am a happy camper.
My next quest is to find out which theaters are showing the live-action and animated short films. The only one of either category that I’ve seen is the (winning) animated short Feast, and that only because it was shown before Big Hero 6. (And, boy howdy, was I glad that Big Hero 6 got Best Animated Feature, although I would have been okay with How to Train Your Dragon 2 winning. Also, it was about time that Alexandre Desplats won Best Score for something.)
Is anyone of you up for hunting down a good foreign film? I was thinking of maybe Ida, which in addition to wining Best Foreign-Language Film was nominated for Best Cinematography.
See you at the movies.