The 2013 Oscars, 7 Days Later

The Oscars happened a full week ago – or, in layman’s terms, about 4 billion tweets ago. (No, really.) Given the frantic pace at which our culture moves nowadays (for example, I suspect that the use of parenthetical statements may become passé before I manage to close this one), that constitutes an eternity. In other words: the 2013 Oscars are now, like the Civil War and VHS tapes, an object of historical study.

Here, then, are my scholarly historical findings.

1. Argo won “Best Picture” for three reasons.

First: It was a clever, wonderfully paced action movie – the kind of film that Hollywood supposedly once made, but which these days is the exclusive provenance of Ben Affleck. Not the year’s best film by any stretch of the imagination, but still a really good flick.

Second: It depicts a tale of Hollywood redemption. The message of Argo is this: “Hollywood is a silly, upside-down place, but in the end it saves lives and gives us all hope. Sure, it may be full of hot air, but that’s the hot air of freedom, my friends, and don’t you ever forget it.” You can see where Hollywood voters might enjoy that theme.

Third: It is a tale of Hollywood redemption. By 2005, Ben Affleck’s career had devolved into schlock and sewage, a typical Hollywood decline into commercial crap. But he rebounded like a champ, directing a trio of smart, entertaining movies – Argo being the third and best. It’s Hollywood’s favorite kind of story: not just a comeback, but a comeback that tells the world, “Hey, crack all the jokes you want, but Hollywood has more class and artistry than you think.”

Lincoln was better. But Argo was better for Hollywood.

2. Don’t blame Seth McFarlane. Blame the cynical suits who hired him.

Somebody brings a chimpanzee to a grocery store. It goes crazy: knocking over aisles, flinging feces, singing off-color songs about breasts. Do you yell at the chimpanzee, tell it to grow up; “this is a public space, dammit, and you’re going to behave yourself, you selfish chimp”?

No. You yell at the idiot who brought a chimpanzee to a grocery store. Continue reading

Lincoln, Titanic, and Why Great Movies Run Too Long

To be fair, the 13-year-old girls who propelled Titanic to box-office glory are now… almost 30.

Being of sound mind and body, I hereby affirm that Titanic is one of the greatest films ever made. Allow me to suggest some responses to this confession:

•“So charming! I never knew you were a squealing twelve-year-old girl.”

•“You mean… the most commercially successful movie of all time? How marvelously creative of you!”

•“Ah yes, what is it you love – the cheap theatrics? Flop-haired young Leo? Or do you just like watching things sink?”

But before you downgrade my intelligence and write me out of your will, let me explain. After holding out for 15 years, I saw Titanic for the first time last February. I expected a sweeping, corny romance – a decent date movie, if a little long.

Don’t run on the boat! Jeez. Some people.

What I saw was a profound – and profoundly depressing – movie about class. James Cameron knew what he was dealing with: a story of how the rich people not only get the fancy food, the comfy beds, and the pretty wives, but how, when the ship goes down, they get the lifeboats, too. Everything in the movie – from Kate Winslet’s cartoonishly evil fiancé to the longwinded framing device focused around an expensive jewel – goes to serve this point. The message of Titanic is stark and terrifying: We are animals. When death comes knocking, the rich will survive, and the poor will die in the ice.

A romantic swim. (Coincidentally, “A romantic swim” was the working title for the film.)

But you can’t sell tickets to a three-hour lesson in man’s brutality towards the poor. Nor should you try. You need a counterpoint, a ray of hope, a story showing how human feeling can cut against the selfish instincts of class. You need sweetness, idealism – anything that can transcend the terrible darkness of the history.

You need, in other words, a teen romance. Continue reading

Django Unraveled: Scattered Thoughts on a Scattered Movie

My friend and I walk out of our screening of Django Unchained, not talking at first.

Him: Did you like it?
Me: I think so. Did you?
Him: Yes, but I don’t want to tell anybody that.

That, I think, is the whole point of Django.


An illustration: take Samuel L. Jackson as the head house slave.

He’s hilarious. He channels his charisma and wild energy into a witty, petty, sycophantic villain, endlessly fun to watch and even more fun to root against, the perfect foil for Jamie Foxx’s stone-cold hero. He’s loveable and loathsome, stealing every scene he’s in, and even some that he’s not.

And I am a terrible, terrible person for reacting that way. Continue reading

Oscar-Nominated Animated Shorts

Adorable, quick, and Oscar-nominated! Give it a half hour, and you’ll have seen four of this year’s nominated films, without having to suffer through any gratuitous violence or anything French.

Head Over Heels (10 minutes)
PG-13 for elderly sweetness, dubious interpretation of Newton’s laws, stereotypical footwear


Paperman (6 minutes)
PG-13 for office drudgery, improbable flight paths, sentient tree products


Adam and Dog (15 minutes)
PG-13 for biblical nudity, interspecies love triangle, prolonged frolicking


Fresh Guacamole (2 minutes)
PG-13 for high caloric content, low actual content

Frequently Asked Questions about Skyfall

Is this really the best Bond movie since GoldenEye?

Yes. It features:

  1. Dragons
  2. Skyscrapers
  3. Freudian free-association techniques
  4. A heartwarming story about rats
  5. The beautiful blonde locks of Javier Bardem

And of course, the three Bond staples:

  1. Explosions
  2. Sexual innuendo
  3. Explosions that function as sexual innuendo

But I heard it was overrated.

Also true.

So you disagree with the fawning critics, including… yourself?

Next question.

What’s the plot?

The year: 2012. The threat: cyberterrorism. The villain: mysterious.

Only one man stands between you and your suspension of disbelief. He takes his martinis shaken, not stirred. He sleeps with some women out of strategic necessity; others, simply because he can. He is the world’s greatest hand-to-hand combatant, even though everybody he fights is exactly as talented as he is. And he does not practice defensive driving. Continue reading

“Argo”: How Much Fun is a Hostage Crisis? Actually, a Lot

7-word review for the ADD-afflicted: 
Good historiography? Probably not. Good filmmaking? Absolutely.

70-word review for the busy: Argo is a strange hybrid: one part high-energy suspense film, one part historical reenactment, and one part satire of Hollywood. Plenty of potential pitfalls: Will it come across as preachy? Will it veer too far from the truth? Will it seem ghoulish and cynical for making a real-life crisis look like so much fun? Like the so-crazy-it-just-might-work scheme that it depicts, Argo really shouldn’t come together. But somehow it does.

700-word review for the procrastinators:

Filming a joy-ride caper movie about the Iranian hostage crisis runs a lot of the same risks as, say, making a joke about race. You’ll bother some people no matter what, but you can probably get away with it, as long as it’s a really good joke.

Lucky for director Ben Affleck – and for us – Argo is a good joke. Continue reading

“The Cold Light of Day” Offers the Warm, Urine-Scented Bath of Familiarity

PG-13 for ominous briefcases, murky abduction scenarios, the blinding gleam of a bald action hero’s head

Release Date: September 7, 2012


Bruce Willis: Did you set me up?!
Sigourney Weaver (with an incredulous laugh): Did I set you up?
Bruce Willis: DID YOU SET ME UP?!


Willis: Did you set me up?
Weaver: (with an incredulous laugh): Did I set you up? Bruce, are you ad-libbing cliches here, or what?
Willis: No, Sigourney, that’s my line. Continue reading