Tuesday, February 26, 2008

I'd follow Mitch Albom anywhere no matter how off-topic...

You remember how I said I wasn't going to write a post about Jason Whitlock's thoughts on the Oscars? Turns out I was just thinking of the wrong Sports Reporter.

I'm not going to watch the Oscars tonight.

Good for you...it was pretty boring, as usual, although I think Jon Stewart was pretty good under the circumstances. Of course, I'm a massive Daily Show fan, so I'm biased. I know my beloved fellow poster Djmmm46 (old Djemmie!) hated him, but hey...it's hastily written comedy performed in front of the worst crowd imaginable. Kind of hard to judge.

Normally I do. But I've spent enough time and money on the most depressing, dark and disturbed lineup of movies I ever can remember. I don't need to see them get rewarded.

He's totally right - this year's films were fucking badass. You remember the milkshake scene? C'mon, you fucking remember the milkshake scene.

DRAINAGE!!! Sorry, where was I? Oh yes...

Am I the only one who remembers when they actually gave Oscars to movies that had happy endings?

Hmm, let's see (spoiler alert!)...
2006's The Departed: everyone except Alec Baldwin and Marky Mark gets killed.
2005's Crash: everybody either dies or has their life shattered, final scene is proof that racism will always continue as long as road rage exists ("Speak American!" is the kind of slogan even John Rocker can get behind).
2004's Million Dollar Baby: Clint Eastwood kills somebody and for some strange reason doesn't feel totally awesome about it, which is a definite departure from, well, every other film he's ever made.

2003's The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King: I have no idea how this ends...I fell asleep somewhere around the fifth epilogue. Although I heard Frodo got taken to some mystical afterlife bullshit. Kinda bittersweet, if you ask me, even if evil was essentially annihilated.
2002's Chicago: Never seen it, but it basically ends with two murderesses who hate each other getting off scot free. And I'm sure Mitch Albom, a law-and-order kind of guy, would not consider such immorality a happy ending.
2001's A Beautiful Mind: A guy who is crazy ends up being respected and honored but is still basically crazy. This is the closest we've come to a happy ending thus far, and this film prominently involves electroshocking Russell Crowe. Actually, you're starting to talk me into it.
2000's Gladiator: The hero dies and hallucinates about his dead family before he does so. Also the Roman empire is bizarrely abolished two hundred years early in favor of a restored Republic, probably creating some hellish alternate universe where Rome never falls like that one episode of Star Trek. (Yes, I know it was an alien planet, not an alternate universe. As though that somehow makes more sense.)
1999's American Beauty: Kevin Spacey gets shot by a militant homophobe and he never even has sex with Mena Suvari. Now that's a modern tragedy.
1998's Shakespeare in Love: Shakespeare doesn't get the girl as she leaves for a faraway land with a man she doesn't love. It's like Casablanca...with Shakespeare! Somehow, Casablanca plus Shakespeare equals lowest-common-denominate romantic pablum. I hate everything.
1997's Titanic: The ship fucking sinks. This is also the second film on this list where Leonard DiCaprio horribly dies. Not that I'm complaining.
1996's The English Patient: It's apparently a tragedy and Ralph Fiennes dies, I think, so not really a happy ending. Honestly, no one on the internet is willing to give away the ending of this decade-old film. I can see why Elaine hated it so much.
1995's Braveheart: Mel Gibson dies after being horribly tortured, which I'm sure was fun for him but isn't really a happy ending for the audience. Of course, as a Brit, I was rooting for Longshanks the whole time, mostly because he was played by Patrick McGoohan, and nobody fucks with Number Six...

Unfortunately, Sophie Marceau's Princess Isabelle totally messes up King Edward's victory by getting impregnated with William Wallace's child and whispering this news to the King as he dies. So nobody wins...except the French.
1994's Forrest Gump: Jenny dies. NEXT!
1993's Schindler's List: The fact that this might have the happiest ending yet (I mean, Schindler saves as many as he can and redeems himself in the process, and the final scene at the cemetery really illustrates how powerful the good he did really was)...well, that fucking terrifies me.
1992's Unforgiven: Clint seems a little more comfortable with killing everybody, but this film is way too morally ambiguous to have a clearcut happy ending.
1991's Silence of the Lambs: The most dangerous psychopathic cannibal alive escapes and resumes killing people. I don't think so.
1990's Dances with Wolves: The ending is pretty happy, I guess, but the whole "destruction of Native American civilization" thing puts a damper on the proceedings.
1989's Driving Miss Daisy: The movie ends with old people discussing being old. That's the closest we've gotten, considering neither of them are horrifically impaled at the end of the scene.
1988's Rain Man: Tom Cruise is less of an asshole and Dustin Hoffman is still autistic. Is that happy?
1987's The Last Emperor: China goes communist. It'll be a sad day in hell when I call that a happy ending.
Since we've now gotten to before my birth, I feel comfortable saying I don't remember when the Oscars gave the Best Picture award to films with happy endings. For what it's worth, I think you've got to go all the way back to Tom Jones from ninteen-sixty-fucking-three for the last film that goes out of its way to wrap things up happily for pretty much all its characters. Although Rocky has a pretty happy ending, I guess, considering it's a film about a loser.

I can't believe I'm going to keep going after that incredibly long and somewhat pointless exercise, but I've still got some bile to spew at Mitch Albom, so here we are.

There's not one happy ending in this lot -- unless you consider an unplanned teenage pregnancy resulting in someone else's adoption a happy ending. That's the big payoff in "Juno."

Let's see...the adoptive mother was healthy, financially secure, and a committed parent. The pregnancy was traumatic, of course, but Juno's parents were incredibly understanding. Oh, and it ended with Michael Cera and Ellen Page getting together, and I'd gladly switch places with either of them in that relationship. So yeah...pretty happy. Or are you such a black-and-white moralist that any unwed teen who accidentally gets pregnant must be condemned to a hellish existence forever as a punishment? In which case...fuck you, Mitch Albom.

Otherwise, you have "There Will Be Blood," in which a tyrannical oil baron destroys everyone and everything around him; "No Country for Old Men," in which a serial killer destroys everything and everyone around him; "Michael Clayton," in which greed gets nearly everyone killed, and "Atonement," in which a false accusation ruins the lives of all involved.

Um. Remind me again.

Why do we go to the movies?

I think it's to be entertained. You know what I found entertaining? The elemental force of badassery that is Anton Chigurh...

Oh, and I think being thought-provoked and transported elsewhere are legitimate reasons to see movies. Sure, I like the occasional happy film as much as the next guy. It's not as though Enchanted doesn't exist if I really need to be filled with cinematic sugar.

Now, I'm not a Pollyanna. I enjoy films. I collect them. And I understand that not every story ends with music swirling and heroes walking off into a sunset.

No, sometimes it ends with a dude dying from Lou Gehrig's disease while spouting quasi-profound bullshit to some random asshole. And by "random asshole", I of course mean "that specific asshole Mitch Albom."

Seriously, this is one of Morrie's pearls of wisdom: "When you learn how to die, you learn how to live." I'm supposed to be moved and enlightened by that horseshit? The Sphinx from Mystery Men came up with better stuff than that, and even Ben fucking Stiller was able to work out he was just spinning formulaic bullshit. That's right. A Mystery Men reference. Deal with it.

But lately there's this sense that unless a movie is dark, violent and hopeless, it can't be "real." It can't be "art." It can't truly "matter." I put these words in quotes because it feels as if critics and awards committees define things that way.

That's not really fair. Juno and Knocked Up were both critically lauded and pretty upbeat, but of course since they don't show Ellen Page and Katherine Heigl being burnt at the stake or crushed between two rocks for their wanton lust, they can't possibly count. The Great Debaters did reasonably well with critics and highlights a moment of triumph in race relations during a difficult period. Charlie Wilson's War is supposed to be pretty fun. Once is hopeful even if it's a little melancholy. And what about Ratatouille? Or the previously mentioned Enchanted, for that matter?

I mean, I do think there are tons of dark films at the moment, and considering the current cultural milieu, I'm not exactly surprised. But I'll avoid any generalizing pop sociology bullshit of my own and just say that there are plenty of happy movies being made.

So instead of praise for, say, "The Bucket List," a film that everyone I know has loved and which has a positive message about getting old and sick, most critics attacked it as too "sentimental."

Right...because it was kinda cloying and sentimental. But then, you are the Tuesdays with Morrie dipshit, so I guess by your standards The Bucket List was emotionally austere like it was some kind of Erich Rohmer flick.

And anyway, if I want to see Jack Nicholson deal with old age and death, I'll watch About Schmidt, which at least has the common courtesy to throw in some hot Kathy Bates nudity. Ooh mama.

Meanwhile, we get an Oscar nomination for "The Savages," a movie about getting old and sick that is so depressing, you want to jump off a building.

Right...because getting old and sick is often very difficult when you're not a multi-millionaire. This reflects reality and does so in a way that doesn't condescend its audience. Is this a film everyone will want to see? Of course not, and I wouldn't expect them to. But to imply it's somehow not artistically valid? Seriously, dude, fuck the shit off.

Instead of a single nomination for "The Great Debaters," a historic and uplifting film, we get best actor, picture and director nominations for "No Country for Old Men," which sets a record for murders by a man carrying an air tank (which he uses to blow a hole in one victim's head, just so he can have his car).

You're right. That part was pretty awesome.

Here's a news flash: Killing without remorse doesn't make a story art. Cold and cynical dialogue doesn't make a story valuable.

That's true. Shoot 'Em Up obviously isn't art, although it is pretty sweet in a "I can't believe any film is this gleefully dumb" sort of way. It's when these films combine such violence with...oh, I don't know...let's say weirdness, dysfunction, and twisted irony that they become interesting.

It's no accident the films nominated this year, for the most part, didn't do much box office. People don't go to the movies to see weirdness, dysfunction or twisted irony.

Why you gotta go plagiarizing me, Mitch? And anyway, the Oscars is (at least theoretically) about rewarding the most artistically relevant films, not the most popular. The line admittedly gets really blurred and often its choices are total bullshit, which is why I don't particularly care either way about them, but don't blame the Oscars for not picking movies based on your own made-up criteria.

Most go to be entertained.

True. What's your point?

This doesn't mean that "Spider-Man 3" or "Shrek the Third" automatically should get Oscar nominations. But those films, at the top of the box office list last year, do share a good-guys-win ending. There's a reason people gravitate to that.

They also featured lazy pop culture references and a ridiculous emo strut. Also, I'm pretty sure the main reason people went to see these films is because of that "three" in their title. You know, because the original movies were actually pretty good. (Although would it kill movie Spidey to make a wisecrack? Just once?)

And it wasn't always considered beneath the Academy to celebrate it. In 1973, "The Sting" won best picture, and "American Graffiti" and "A Touch of Class" also were nominated. In 1979, "Kramer vs. Kramer" won, and "Breaking Away" and "Norma Rae" were nominated. As late as 1994, "Forrest Gump" took the best picture honors. Today, it's hard to imagine that film would even get nominated. Too many cynics would call it sweet and hopeful.

Dude, Jenny died. From AIDS. Oh, but she was a druggie, so that's OK, right?

And I guess that's what I miss. Hope. If movies were meant to reflect only the real-life worst in us, why would we need them? We could use mirrors.

Certainly true in your case.

Don't misunderstand. I get the skill and patience these actors and directors have put in. I see the hard work, from the writing to the lighting. But the humanity Frank Capra or even Steven Spielberg celebrated is getting buried now, under this desire to explore the dark, the macabre and the dysfunctional.

Have you seen Mr. Smith Goes To Washington? There's a random sequence where the new senator Jefferson Smith reads an article he doesn't like and proceeds to beat up the entire Washington press corps...with no discernible consequences. And this in a film where his opponents are actively looking for any reason to destroy him. It's A Wonderful Life is about a dude who needs an angel to talk him out of committing suicide. Also Arsenic & Old Lace is about old people killing other old people. Face it, Mitch...if Frank Capra were working today, he'd be making No Country for Old Men. Or at least Intolerable Cruelty.

There's a moment in "No Country for Old Men" where Javier Bardem's character is about to cold-bloodedly kill yet another victim when the victim says, "You don't have to do this." And the character chuckles and says, "They always say the same thing."

And he does it anyhow.

Right...it's a statement about his psychosis and twisted moral code and the completely different way in which he views the world from other people. It's a brilliant line perfectly delivered. The fact that "he does it anyhow" is exactly the point, not some gratuitous exploitation.

I guess to the people who keep celebrating the worst of human nature, I would also say, "You don't have to do this." But they're gonna do it anyhow. All I can do is spend the three hours tonight watching something else.

May I suggest Oprah Winfrey Presents: Mitch Albom's For One More Day, where "a suicidal former baseball player is granted one more day with his deceased mother." It's only two hours long, but I imagine you can spend the other hour working on 2010's surefire smash hit Untitled Mitch Albom/Adam Sandler Project, which I'm sure will be really uplifting and inspirational and also really artistic. How many gay panic jokes has Mr. Sandler requested, by the way?

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