Way back in 1932 filmmaker Josef von Sternberg resigned from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, noting it had “nothing to do with art and even less to do with science.” While it’s likely that this was in part the result of constantly losing potential awards to lesser talents, it was not without its truth. And every year they reinforce his statement by holding the Oscar awards—something that most of us approach with a strange mixture of apathy and addiction. We don’t take them seriously really — especially now that every half-assed, semi-credible organization has awards — but we seem to be compelled to follow them and watch them through some kind of Pavlovian effect.
Here at last are our picks for the ten best films of the year — and they’re sure to be the cause for much wailing and gnashing of teeth. One notable omission is sure to raise eyebrows and even hackles. I mean everybody is supposed to have 12 Years a Slave on his or her list, right? Here’s the thing (and I think I can speak for Mr. Souther, too), I have the utmost respect and admiration for the film. I think it is brilliant. I am cheering for Chiwetel Ejiofor to win that Best Actor Oscar, and I’ll be cool with it if 12 Years a Slave takes Best Picture. I think it’s a fine film and a powerful one, but something about the film feels just a little at arm’s length and keeps it from engaging me fully on an emotional level. That aside, here are the lists
Sitting here, staring at my computer screen while not really watching—off to the side— a movie even I don’t recognize on TCM, I find my mind wandering into the realm of considering the state of film criticism in our media-saturated world—and I’m not all that happy by what I see. But it’s less the criticism that bothers me than the way the moviegoing public seems to be taking it.
So there we have it for another year — the Oscars. The question is if there’s anything new to be said about them, and while the answer is probably “not really,” some comment is called for about the curiously all-over-the-map nature of this year’s selections and the general weirdness and — let’s face it — galloping ennui of Oscar and this year’s program.
OK, it’s Oscar season—you know, those awards that we all love to hate and call meaningless, but tend to mysteriously get worked about anyway. I have no idea why I care. I’ve sworn off them twice. I’ve called them embarassing on any number of occasions I’ve sworn at the TV profusely (and when I swear profusely even sailors turn beet red) and been tempted to hurl a brick at the screen (fortunately, I rarely have bricks at hand) more times than I care to think about. This year promises to be no different.
Here it is: the biggest, the bestest, the baddest roundup of the year. Once again, Mr. Souther and I have worn ourselves to a frazzle — two frazzles, in fact — sifting through the excitement (and occassionally, the excrement) of movie year 2012. We will please some, displease others, and probably make a few folks downright peevish.
I’d seen The Lost City once before, so I knew just how seriously deranged it was, but it had been a while. So this past weekend I decided to check it out a little — mostly to be sure it played OK, which is often a dicey proposition on these public domain titles. That’s really all I planned on doing. Honest. And I know that these things tend to become wearisome if you watch too much of one in one sitting. (The rule should be two episodes max.) Imagine my surprise when I ended up watching all four hours worth of barely coherent and totally unhinged nonsense.
Sitting here Monday morning with one eye on The Gay Divorcee on the TV—winner of the Best Song for 1934, back when the category made sense — the first thing that struck me about the previous night’s Oscar show was that the whole thing just plain needs rethinking. It probably won’t happen. After all, this is something put on by people who think Billy Crystal with a suspiciously too black beaver pelt glued to his head and looking one face-lift away from Joan Rivers is pretty edgy stuff. Still, it needs rethinking all the same.
So there they were bright and early announcing this year’s Oscar nominees to an unseen audience. There must have been an audience, though, because there was some unseemly whooping over the nominations for Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (I’m sure there was a good reason for this). And, no, I did not get up for this, I just happened to be up at the time. Now, the guessing and the kvetching begins—not to mention the studio shilling, which has already begun with the TV ads. Lotsa fun.
Here at last is the anxiously awaited (you were waiting anxiously, weren’t you?) honest-to-Lubitsch complete, in-depth, in detail, in all its debatable glory full list of the best and worse the movies of 2011 offered. At least, it’s such a list as things looked to Justin Souther and me. You may have seen our lists in the print edition a little while back. This expands on (and in one case at least alters) those earlier ones. Sit back and let’s see who we can please and who we can annoy this year.
I’m sure a lot of you view Chistmas as a moviegoing day. I’ve never quite gotten the hang of the idea myself, though I did get bamboozled into going to see Vanilla Sky in 2001, even though I’d aleady seen it once. That was also my first actual encounter with the idea of trooping off to a movie on Dec. 25, so imagine my astonishment when I found myself parked behind the theater in a section I thought only existed for romantic trysts and dealings of dubious legality. (Indeed, that does seem to be its function 364 days out of the year.) Assuming, however, that this is your cup of lapsang souchong, I’ll offer a few glimpses at what’s out there.
This is far and away the hardest thing I’ve ever had to write. The very idea that Ken Russell could be dead is unthinkable to me. This isn’t just the passing of one of the—not always fully appreciated—true giants of cinema. This is the passing of a friend of nearly 30 years—a man I unreservedly loved. The very fact that I am—for the very first time—writing something that he will not be reading is strange and saddening in itself. And that makes this even harder, making various regrets snowball into something almost paralyzing.
As it happens Halloween falls on a Monday this year and while that’s a pretty crummy day for Halloween to permit itself the luxury of occuring for most people, it actually works out rather nicely for me. You see, to the degree that I have a day off—and let’s face it, this is generally a seven-day-a-week gig—Monday is that day. At least, I’m not writing reviews and I don’t have to go anywhere, so I can spend this Halloween in the company of my favorite horror movies. Sometimes I’ve been known to take the coward’s way out and just turn on TCM on Halloween, but I’m not that keen on their line-up this year, so I’ve come up with with nine choices of my own (that seems the largest number I might realistically get watched). And being that horror is one of my favorite genres, all this meant was a trip over to the shelves.
I know there are those who actually believe that 2011 has been a good year for movies. I can’t agree with that—nor it seems can most people. But there’s always the chance that I’ve been forgetting something. With that in mind, I went over all the new films I’ve seen that impressed me enough to get the full five stars. This came up to five titles: The Illusionist, 13 Assassins, Incendies, Midnight in Paris and Point Blank. It’s a point of debate as to whether The Illusionist can technically be counted as 2011, since it opened in limited release in 2010—and since I saw it in 2010. Incendies, on the other hand, counts, since it only opened enough to qualify for Oscar consideration in 2010. So I’ll discount The Illusionist, but keep Incendies as a possible “Best of” contender.
I have a friend who I sometimes think exists mostly to prove—even though he’s a few years my junior—that there are more curmudgeonly folks in the world than I. (Unfortunately, he hasn’t a name that rhymes with anything like “cranky.”) The other day he was celebrating the existence of a highly dubious article on the tanking of summer blockbusters this year (at least five of the films cited were not big-budget flops, just common garden flops). I took issue with this on the basis of factual wobbliness and the fact that a lot of the summer crap is what helps to keep the good stuff viable. The whole thing then escalated into the assertion that it wouldn’t matter to him if they never made another movie, which, of course, served to escalate the argument even more.
There it is, sitting there like a visible conscience. It’s a box. It contains a lot of packing and another box. It’s all on the nice armchair that only gets used by cats—who, I might add, are not pleased with its presence—and the occasional intrepid visitor who doesn’t mind getting up covered in cat hair. Inside the innermost box lies—or so I am told—a 100 percent region-free Blu-ray player. I’m assured it will play any region DVD and any letter code Blu-ray disc. State of the art technology at my fingertips and all that. It’s of the “so simple it operates itself” variety—no tricky settings, just pop those babies in and go. What it is not, however, is “so simple it sets itself up.” Therein lies the reason it’s resting on the chair.
Yeah, I know, it’s really a good while till Halloween, but I want to get an early start on at least one aspect of it this year. I’m sure most of you reading this know that I’m involved with the Thursday Horror Picture Show. In point of fact, the programming of it and just about everything else about it is in the hands—and warped minds—of Justin Souther and myself. It’s very much like the Asheville Film Society, but on Thursdays and with horror movies. It’s also in the hands of the people who come to the movies. Now, nothing says horror pictures like Halloween, so I’d like this Halloween season to be something special.
Last week sometime I was approached to be part of a group of critics submitting—for Lubitsch knows what reason—their picks for the 100 greatest or favorite films of all time. Somewhat against my better judgment, I said yes. I probably would not have said yes if that “or favorite” phrase had not been attached. Anyone who believes him or herself actually qualified to categorically name the 100 greatest movies ever made is frankly deluded—for a variety of reasons.
I have an unusually heavy viewing/reviewing load this week (and I really do not remember making a deal with Justin that involved me seeing The Smurfs, but he says I did, so I must have), so this is going to be on the short side. It’s also going to be on the self-serving side, which is to say I’m looking for input on something.
Ah, that venerable movie critic phrase—“Not for everyone.” It has weathered the years and is still trotted out with no little frequency. I’ve used it myself more than once or twice. Taken at face value, it’s really at least a little idiotic, since it suggests the existence of movies that are for everyone—and let’s face it, your chance of finding even one such movie is slightly less likely than coming across a Carolina Parakeet. Of course, no one using the phrase actually means to suggest the existence of any such thing.
With the Asheville Film Society fundraiser showing of the 1933 King Kong coming up on Wed., July 20 (7:30 p.m. at The Carolina), I’ve found myself spending a lot of time recently with that simian gent. Yeah, there have been three versions of King Kong—and that’s not counting offshoots, knock-offs, rip-offs, and sequels of a highly dubious nature—but really has anything ever come close of the 1933 original? Certainly, the 1976 remake is negligible at best and blasphemous at worst. Peter Jackson’s more respectable and respectful 2005 version has its merits, but does it linger in the mind the way the 1933 film does? Is it in itself in any way iconic?