Friday, December 8, 2006

Three're very well known

Finally I finish. I love reading lists, but this list was a huge mistake from start to finish. It took forever, and I ended up making sweeping generalizations and overviews of movies I hadn't seen in years. I stand behind my opinions, but this site was supposed to be about thinking hard about culture, not trying to extrapolate from distant memories of things I didn't like when I watched them. Now that I have said it is unimportant, here are thousands of words to read:

Terrible Oscar Winner I somehow dropped off my list

Driving Miss Daisy (1989) – This is a very sweet movie, with a benignly positive message that everyone gets and everyone leaves the theater with that “I just drank a warm cup of America-coco with little marshmallows of vague humanism in it” after glow. The obvious charge against this movie is that Morgan Freeman’s character is reminiscent of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s most famous character. I don’t want to go there, because I think it is revisionist to say that Sidney Poitier played regressive characters, when he was always the most educated, well spoken and heroic character in every movie he was in. It is simply absurd to say that every black character who is civil in the face of white abuse is an “Uncle Tom.” There is nothing wrong with maintaining your composure and not sinking to the level of the small minded; of course, there is also nothing wrong with standing up for yourself with force and conviction. In Do the Right Thing, Spike Lee addresses the MLK-Malcolm X dichotomy far more poetically than anything I can add, but I will note that most of the characteristics typifying an “Uncle Tom” are found in peaceful nonviolent protest.

That said, at best this movie doesn’t have much of a racial point to make and so it becomes the limited story of twilight friendship. Morgan Freeman and Jessica Tandy are both fantastic and it is generally well done, but it probably shouldn’t have won for Best Picture (though it was in a mediocre field of Field of Dreams, My Left Foot-which I haven’t seen, The Dead Poets Society, and Born on the Fourth of July- which I also missed/avoided). I would have given the award to Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989)- AKA Matchpoint, the Prequel- but I’m a sucker for Woody Allen.

Terrible Oscar nominees

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982) – Terrible is a strong word, E.T. is just a nothing of a movie that became a classic like sentimental weepers often do. Don McKellen, of the Village Voice, destroys the movie in one of the best-written film criticisms I’ve read. An excerpt:

"E.T. is a dog movie. Genre-wise, I mean. It's about a boy meeting a dog, naming it, taming it, learning from it, and growing up. Of course, the genre is superficially disguised as science fiction, as was the fashion at the time. Star Wars, Alien, Outland, and Blade Runner are among the many other films of the period that were deliberate sci-fi updates of established genres. But, in the case of E.T., there's no way to overlook the dog-yarn genealogy. The script makes things quite clear with lines like "I found him, I'm keeping him!" "He's trying to tell us something," and "E.T. phone home," a repeated refrain that evokes that most famous of canine titles, Lassie Come Home. "

I can’t top that, so you should just read the article.

The Prince of Tides (1991) - Oscar Nominee. I never really got into the Godess New York Singer/Actresses, Babs, Bette Milder, Liza Minelli et al, so the female lead doesn’t get any sentimentality points from me. The ultimate story is one of sacrifice, where the leading man leaves the love of his life to return home to his wife and child. To top it off, Nolte is Bab’s therapy patient, so their intimacy compounded because they really got to know each other on the couch before they got to know each other Biblically, on the couch. I guess this was edgy in the 80s, of course The Sopranos does a better job with this subject every episode and tops that by not telling the viewer everything expressly. Whatever, I wasn’t this one’s target demographic anyway.

The Sixth Sense (1999) - Oscar Nominee. For the purposes of full disclosure, I knew the ending before I saw the movie, so I didn’t get the big shock that I guess everyone else did. That said, a great movie should be reliant on more than just a twist, something that M. Night Shymalan should learn before making “Big Twist 6: She’s really your Sister” or whatever. I know that this one was a big hit back in the day, but it is just a tightly written genre movie, it doesn’t improve, redefine, subvert or do any of the other things that great genre movies do. This is Rooster Cogburn, not The Searchers.

Erin Brockovich (2000) - Oscar Nominee. This out is more Movie-of-Week's than The Prince of Tides. I can hear it now: “Erin Brockovich is a struggling single mom just trying to support her family, yet she takes on the biggest water company in the country because she can’t stand to see them getting away with with murder. Will she let the good looking motorcycle rider next door distract her from her quest? With Julia Roberts, Albert Finney and Aaron Eckhart as Generic bad boy, join Lifetime on Saturday for this unbelievable tale.” Pass.

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003) - Oscar Nominee. On first viewing, I enjoyed this movie for all the exciting derringdo and seamanship. That said, the plot is weak, including a scene where Captain Jack (not the cool one, the literary one) learns a tactic from a bug. I think Russell Crowe was just a guarantee for a Best Picture nod in this period, because this was the third year in a row featuring one of his movies up for the highest honor this side of a Moonman. It is an excellent portrayal of life at sea, but the Discovery Channel makes those three times a month and it only gets a .025 rating for its troubles. Period pieces always get overrated come Oscar time.

Finding Neverland (2004) - Oscar Nominee. In an infamous, and amazing, response to Crash winning Best Picture, Annie Proulx, the writer of the short story “Brokeback Mountain”- the basis for the movie of the same name, stated:

The prize, as expected, went to Philip Seymour Hoff-man for his brilliant portrayal of Capote, but in the months preceding the awards thing, there has been little discussion of acting styles and various approaches to character development by this year's nominees. Hollywood loves mimicry, the conversion of a film actor into the spittin' image of a once-living celeb. But which takes more skill, acting a person who strolled the boulevard a few decades ago and who left behind tapes, film, photographs, voice recordings and friends with strong memories, or the construction of characters from imagination and a few cold words on the page?”

I often wonder the same thing as four of the past six Best Actor/Actress wins have been for people playing real people. Biopics are my least favorite genre of movies (well, second least favorite. Musicals are the worst. THE WORST!). They have such a clear-cut structures that they are entirely predictable, and the focus is generally on mimicry rather than innovation. I don’t read biographies (well, actually I was reading a kid’s bio- well, maybe it was for adults, but you couldn’t tell by the idiotic writing- of Andy Warhol, all I wanted to know about was Edie Sedgewick and Bob Dylan and they covered that in no detail 10 pages. I knew it was a mistake to read anything but fiction) for the same reason. I don’t really care how some famous person overcame various obstacles to become famous, which is of course the plot of every biopic, biography and auto-bio. Finding Neverland doesn’t elevate the discussion of Peter Pan, if anything it turns it into something small and cliche, instead of a subversive classic. On top of that, the real J.M. Barrie was slightly pedophilic and the villain of the piece is a woman who is worried because a man starts spending his time with her grandchildren. Boring, pointless, inaccurate, cliched and nominated for Best Picture. Par for the course.

So to conclude, here is a numbered list of the most overrated movies of our (my) time. Note, this is a list of disparity between actually quality and esteem. Both values are subjective and I am just going with my guy. By the way, I somehow ended up with 26 movies, which is better since there are 26 years covered in my poll (27 really, but whatever, 2006-1980=26 so there it is).

1. Forrest Gump (1994) - Oscar Winner.
2. Dances with Wolves (1990) - Oscar Winner.
3. Braveheart (1995) Oscar Winner.
4. Crash (2005) - Oscar Winner.
5. A Beautiful Mind (2001) - Oscar Winner.
6. Star Wars: Return of the Jedi (1983) -
7. Titanic (1997) - Oscar Winner.
8. Driving Miss Daisy (1989) - Oscar Winner.
9. A Few Good Men (1992)
10. Gladiator (2000) - Oscar Winner.
11. American History X (1998)
12. Erin Brockovich (2000) - Oscar Nominee.
13. The Prince of Tides (1991) - Oscar Nominee.
14. The Sixth Sense (1999) - Oscar Nominee.
15. Scent of a Woman (1992) - Oscar Nominee.
16. As Good As It Gets (1997) - Oscar Nominee.
17. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982) – Oscar Nominee
18. Finding Neverland (2004) - Oscar Nominee.
19. Sex, Lies and Videotape (1989)
20. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003) – Oscar Nominee
21. Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) – Oscar Winner
22. American Beauty (1999) - Oscar Winner.
23. Kagemusha (1980) - Palme d'Or Winner.
24. Magnolia (1999)
25. Scarface (1983)
26. Goodfellas (1990) - Oscar Nominee

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