Friday, August 31, 2018

The Artist: 2011

I didn't expect to watch another silent film after Wings, the first film to win Best Picture and supposedly the only silent film to win Best Picture. But apparently another silent film one, and that's The Artist. Although I suppose one could say that The Artist is not quite a silent film; there is some sound and talking. But trust, it's not much.

My surprise over The Artist winning quickly faded when I saw one of the producers: the Weinstein Company. Ah, yet again an Oscar campaign that resulted in a movie winning that didn't necessarily deserve the honor. (According to Vulture, Weinstein had a private showing of The Artist for Academy members and two of Charlie Chaplin's granddaughters were there--talk about a feeling guilty for what film used to be vote.)

The Artist isn't a bad movie. At times, it's fun with how it pokes fun at the overly dramatic actors of silent films. Just watching the trailer gives a glimpse at the sincere goofiness.

While the film has endearing moments, humor, and a dog--all qualities of an enjoyable film--it lacks what it needs to be deserving of an Oscar. Sure, a modern day silent movie is intriguing, but The Artist doesn't seem to do anything new with that genre or structure. The tilted of the camera at times to reflect George's dismay and fear over talkies becomes distracting rather than symbolizing George's confusion.
The Artist is a fine film, just not what I would think of as a Best Picture winner.

Friday, August 24, 2018

The Social Network: 2010

While The Social Network didn't win Best Picture (it was nominated), I decided to go ahead and watch it instead of rewatching the 2011 Best Picture winner The King's Speech as I had already seen it. And not rewatching The King's Speech had nothing to do with my feelings about the film. I actually really enjoyed the film when I watched it. This was a case of 2010 having a lot of amazing films I didn't see and still want to see. The Social Network just happened to be my pick from the list of nominees because it was available at my library and when I needed it. And yeah, I wanted to see Justin Timberlake's performance. I was curious.

Watching The Social Network felt odd at times because I kinda knew how the story would turn out. I mean, it's about Facebook. I know that Facebook has crazy success today (despite the whole Cambridge Analytica scandal) and that Mark Zuckerberg is still the CEO. So it was like watching Titanic in that case, only this time the ship dodged the iceberg and went on to make billions of dollars.

That being said, the film is incredible. Aaron Sorkin's dialogue was an absolute pleasure, as always. The sharpness fit the intelligent characters and the fast-paced tech world. The actors were believable, including Timberlake who plays the founder of Napster and is total scum despite what Mark in the film initially thinks of him. Visually, the film is fantastic. The quick cuts, the lighting, the types of shots--I loved how each shot told me more about characters.

The story ties up rather neatly, which made it clear to me that it wasn't exactly all true, and I'm okay with that. When I watch a film that isn't a documentary, I don't need the full true story as long as it's entertaining. But I do wonder how Mark Zuckerberg feels about the film because it is NOT at all flattering. (Turns out, he was hurt by the film. And knowing that makes me feel a little bad for liking it, but not that bad. After all, I think Zuckerberg is doing okay.)

Sunday, July 29, 2018

The Hurt Locker: 2009

For the 2010 awards, the Academy made one big change to the Best Picture category: instead of the usual five nominees, the Academy allowed up to 10 nominees. In researching for this post, I learned that the Academy used to nominate 10 films. In 1944, 10 films were nominated, but then in 1945, only five films were nominated. The cause for the more recent change focused on popularity; the Academy wanted to include more popular films as nominees. If you want to know more, check out this blog from The New York Times.

The change for the 2010 Oscars meant that films like Up and Avatar were nominated along with Inglourious Basterds and A Serious Man. You might think that with the increase in the number of films nominated that I would have seen more of the nominees, but that's not the case. In 2009 I was working full time and attending grad school part time at a campus that was two hours from work and one hour from home. My free time was filled with commuting. Of the 10 nominees, the only I've seen is Up, and that didn't win Best Picture overall but did win Best Animated Picture (as it should!). I've had opportunities to see Avatar and seen clips, but it's another James Cameron film so I'm just not interested. And I've never gotten around to seeing The Blind Side, which was also nominated that year. So as I watched The Hurt Locker, I didn't have a lot of context for its competition other than what I've heard about the other films nominated.

The Hurt Locker is about war. It's not about the people who fight in war (although it was has three main characters) or what the war is about. It's not about what's right or wrong. The way the film was shot makes the audience be part of the disconcerting, overwhelming nature of being in a modern war. Unlike other Academy Award Best Picture winners set in war, The Hurt Locker is set in a modern war, in early 2000s when the United States invaded Iraq. The story is about three men who disarm bombs as other soldiers patrol streets under the military rule that followed the invasion. That plot alone sets the film apart from the other war stories I watched in that I didn't set any epic battles. There is one shoot-out scene but only with a few men involved on each side. The lack of epic battles, though, doesn't make The Hurt Locker any less intense than other war films. If anything it's more intense because it's so intimate.

What unsettled me the most was the use of sound in the film. When Will (played by Jeremy Renner) wears the bomb suit and all you can hear is his breathing echoing in the suit, the danger becomes palpable. Add in Will's need for adrenaline, and these scenes put me on edge. In one scene, the combination of Will's breathing, footsteps, and the gravel scraping along the bombs along with music create so much uncertainty for the audience.

The use of the handheld camera in this scene adds to that uncertainty. All this unsettled moment with the eerie music and sharp sounds made me think that Will wasn't going to survive this situation. Director Kathryn Bigelow deserves recognition based on this scene alone. And the Academy agreed with me: Bigelow was the first woman to win an Oscar for Best Director.

Would I watch The Hurt Locker again? Probably not, but that isn't due to the film being bad. I would watch scenes again to look more closely at Bigelow's decisions for shots and mise-en-scene, but as a whole, the film was so intense that I think once is enough for me.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

No Country for Old Men: 2007

I'm still processing this film. I watched it on Saturday night with my husband, and I'm not quite sure what to make of it. But I'm going to try to write about it in hopes that I'll figure something out.

No Country for Old Men won four Oscars: Best Picture, Best Director for the Coen brothers, Best Supporting Actor for Javier Bardem (so creepily, disturbingly good in his role as Chigurh), and Best Adapted Screenplay. The film is dark. Really dark. As in I can't believe that one person could be that cold-hearted and evil. Bardem convinced me that Chigurh cares about nothing, and any time he was on screen I knew that something awful was going to happen. The film is based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy, so I'm thinking that characterization is from McCarthy's original work, but the Coen brothers' writing and directing combined with Bardem's skill make for a character who is so horrific in his indifference to life that it made watching the film uncomfortable. I was uncomfortable when I saw the death and even more uncomfortable when I didn't because those unseen moments seemed worse.

I hesitate to write too much about the film because I don't want to spoil anything. The story is about a sheriff in west Texas even though it seems more about Llewelyn (played by Josh Brolin) who is welder who comes across a drug deal gone bad and takes the money for himself. Llewelyn doesn't think twice about taking the money: it's there and he's there, so why not? Later when his life is in danger, he refuses to give the money up. His defiance seems idiotic at times but then other moments when he manages to escape death seems almost heroic. But then I would remember that he stole drug money, so there's really nothing heroic in that. And it's not like he went to the police to report the drugs sitting in the dry Texas country. Nope. He just takes the money, sends his wife to her mother's home, and leaves town when he realizes his life might be in danger. Llewelyn keeps telling his wife that they are retired now; he's convinced that he will get to keep this money. His arrogance (or is it stupidity) is what stopped me from seeing him as heroic or even a decent person.

I spent a lot of the film thinking about Llewelyn, but at one point, I realized the film isn't about him. It's about the sheriff, Ed Tom Bell, played by Tommy Lee Jones. Typically, when I think of Tommy Lee Jones, my mind goes to Men in Black or silly action movies like Volcano, both of which came out in the 1990s when I watched movies more frequently (high school meant a lot more time for movie watching when I had fewer responsibilities at home). Clearly, neither of those movies show what Jones can actually do as an actor. Or perhaps they do because Jones can be in those and in a film like No Country for Old Men.

Maybe I need to watch No Country for Old Men again. Or maybe I need to read the book. Or maybe both. Because writing this post hasn't helped me as much as I had hoped in figuring out what this film is about. But that might be the point; perhaps I'm not supposed to fully understand these characters, their motivations, and their relationships.