Saturday, February 25, 2012

Why The Oscars Make Me A Grouch



And so this weekend brings to us a simpler time: a time when we forget about our own multitude of problems such as "I wonder how I will grow up, succeed and raise a family in a world gone to shit", and instead worry about the problems of millionaires, being indignant instead over Ryan Gosling not being given a golden statue for the movie role that secured him his latest yacht.

Forget that half of Ireland is now mired in negative equity, that fact alone is confirmation that there's no justice in the world.

Yes folks, it's Oscar season: where each year celebrities get together and politely laugh at a flailing celeb on stage throwing light-hearted jabs their way in a manner that subtly screams both "Please remember that I exist" and "if you do remember that I exist, please give me a job." Billy Crystal returns this year for his ninth stint as host, serving as a last minute replacement to Eddie Murphy. On both accounts, 'nuff said.

Every year I solemnly swear to myself that I won't get sucked in. I remind myself that awards ceremonies are vacuous, masturbatory demonstrations of egomania. That they only exist to feed the self-importance of an ever money hungry pack of Hollywood mobsters determined to churn out drivel aimed at a 'mass market'. That this season is their chance to project their insecurities on the world and try to con it further into believing that they aren't slowly destroying that which they love: the art of film-making.

And yet every year, on Oscar night, I end up convincing myself that there's "nothing else on TV anyway" before promptly switching over to 'E!: Live From The Red Carpet' swearing that I'll dig out and dust off my DVD copy of 'Citizen Kane' any minute now. It continues to gather dust while I throw popcorn at the telly as the Best Actor in a Supporting Role lectures me about how war is bad and how drugs are bad and why two men should be allowed to become two dads.




My rant this year (and no, that wasn't even it, the above was merely a pre-cursor) could have come when the nominations were revealed. But I wanted to do my homework first. So I endeavoured to watch all 9 of the movies that found themselves nominated for 'Best Picture' first. I reached the credits of seven of them, which was good going considering this must be the weakest selection in some time. And I decided to post mini-reviews on my Facebook page, too. For those who haven't read said reviews, I shall share them and the major details you need to know about each movie below. For those who have, or who aren't interested and just want to skip instead to the blinding rage, just scroll down. I've added pictures and formatted the text nicely in preparation for such a circumstance.




Hugo

What You Need To Know: Martin Scorcese's (Goodfellas, Raging Bull, almost every great gangster movie you've seen that isn't called The Godfather) tribute to early cinema, telling the story of an orphan living in a train station in 1930's Paris. Aimed at a family audience and starring Ben Kingsley, Sasha Baron Cohen, Ray Winstone and Jude Law among other heavyweights.

My Thoughts: The only small negative is I wonder why Martin Scorcese thought a love letter to the birth of film would be something that would make good fodder for a movie aimed at kids. I think kids tend to like talking dinosaurs and wizards better than a history of cinematography.

But, aside from that, I enjoyed this much more than I thought I would.

Don't let trailers or the like put you off: a nice little movie that's gorgeous to look at. Oddly enough, it appears to be a love letter to the other Oscar nominees as it has elements of Extremely Loud, The Artist, Midnight In Paris and even War Horse. Not Scorcese's best work, but his worst is still better than most, and this is still far from his worst.





Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close


What You Need To Know: A young boy loses his father in 9/11. Yada yada yada, adventures, mystery, Asperger's. Tom Hanks is in it but don't let that deceive you into thinking it's worthwhile.

My Thoughts: Cringe. Cringe. And, indeed, cringe.

Lasted 30 minutes watching this. I didn't want to hate it either. But I've never seen a more unlikeable, creepy, annoying kid on screen. How could they write a character so poorly that you don't feel sorry for them when they lose someone in 9/11?! And yet they managed it.

"Can I kiss you??" (to a woman in her 30's that he's just met. The kid is 9) 

Bad. Just bad.




War Horse

What You Need To Know: Directed by Stephen Spielberg, War Horse tells the story of a horse sold, by its heartbroken young owner's parents, to fight in World War I. We see the effects of war, in various different capacities, through the eyes of said horse.

My Thoughts: Ah, a nice little movie. Not a Spielberg classic, not something you'll watch again and again like ET, but something daycent to watch if nothing else is on. And I had no interest whatsoever beforehand in seeing World War 1 through a horse's eyes. The Battle of the Somme scene was one of the best battle scenes I've seen. Turns out horses see some freaky shit.






The Help

What You Need To Know: A young author trying to get a break in 60's Mississippi sees the racism suffered by the black maids working for her family and peers. She attempts to write a landmark book, interviewing them, to tell their side of the story.

My Thoughts: Should be required watching for Liverpool fans.

Forget your 'Descendents' and 'Tree of Life', THIS is an Oscar nominee. A bit cheesy in parts, a bit cliché in others (black people like fried chicken...did you have to go there?) but an important movie that tackles racism from a day-to-day standpoint and told in a very nice, approachable way too. Watch it.




The Tree of Life

What You Need To Know: Somebody dies. Some people are upset. And I don't get paid for doing this so I didn't stick around long enough to give a shit about anything else.

My Thoughts: I turned this off after 20 minutes. It's appropriate that Sean Penn is the lead here, because the first 20 minutes were very Sean Penn: preachy, pretentious and you sense that there's a good idea in there somewhere but you just have to get past a whole lot of wank to see it, so ultimately it's not worth the effort.

The first 20 mins are shot like a music video more than a movie: loads of 'deep, pensive' camera shots and abstract images while someone voiceovers another deep, introspective thought. But I just wanted to watch a movie, not be lectured. 

Maybe you might get something from this if you've recently suffered a tragic loss. And you have my sympathy if you do. Because, if it's anything like this film, that's fucking horrible.




Moneyball

What You Need To Know:  Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill star in a true story about how General Manager, Billy Beane changed Baseball by adopting a strategy based around computer-generated analysis. Look, it didn't sound good to me either, but neither did 'The Social Network', so bear with me.

My Thoughts: Really, REALLY enjoyed this movie. Then again, I'm a sucker for sports analysis (though I hate Baseball) and stories about re-inventing the wheel. Jonah Hill didn't deserve his Best Supporting Actor Oscar nominee but I like the guy anyway so good for him. Brad Pitt keeps you interested in what is quite a complicated story and lets it shine. If you don't like sport, it's still a good movie. But if you do, plus the politics and cogs in the wheel behind it, then you should love it.




Midnight in Paris

What You Need To Know:  Woody Allen's return to form, starring Owen Wilson, Michael Sheen and other names that are clearly visible in the above poster. A rom-com about a writer who is holidaying with his girlfriend in Paris, becomes enchanted by the city, and is transported back in time as a result. Obviously.

My Thoughts: A sweet little movie. Not fantastic, but charming. My only problem is that Owen Wilson is too much of a goof to get away with being an art-loving writer. I didn't fully buy it. But then again, he makes the movie more likeable with his Woody Allen impression, so I can forgive them casting him. Grand if you're stuck for something to watch.




The Descendents

What You Need To Know: A Hawaiian workaholic land baron (George Clooney) has to confront several (buzzword alert) 'harsh realities' after his wife ends up in a coma. He must attempt to reconnect with his distanced daughters while also concluding a deal that will make his family rich.

My Thoughts: Alright, let's get one thing clear: I like George Clooney, but I don't give a shit about him trying to bag another Oscar. I don't care about his 'range' as an actor or having more 'meaningful' roles as he enters the autumn of his career. I want George Clooney to be a charismatic, bad ass like in Ocean's or Dusk Til Dawn. That's it.

So stick him in a bleh movie like this (that tries to be a dark comedy but isn't nearly dark or funny enough) and I don't care. Watchable like, but don't go out of your way at all. Disappointing. And not Oscar worthy.







The Artist
What You Need To Know: The runaway favourite for 'Best Picture', Jean Dujardin stars in this black-and-white, near-silent movie about an actor in 1920's Hollywood who finds his career and life on the wane as silent film takes a backseat to 'talkies'. Again, don't let all of this put you off. I cannot stress this enough.

My Thoughts: I...loved this movie. But I don't want to tell you anything about it because that will only deter you from it. Except that it has possibly the greatest dog known to mankind in it. And the leading actress is a beaut. Trust me: give it a chance. They don't make them like this anymore.

Well...except for when they made this. Obviously.

 And now, with all of the actual relevant Oscar talk out of the way, it's time for your regularly scheduled...


I'm going to preempt the obvious replies to what is about to follow: I know awards are bullshit. I know not to let the Academies, SAGs or BAFTAs opinion on certain movies sway my own, or to even take them seriously. My own favourite movie of all-time, 'Pulp Fiction', was snubbed for 'Best Picture' in favour of 'Forrest Gump' in perhaps its most serious crime against cinema's legacy of all-time. (As was Shawkshank, incidentally)

However, sometimes you hear something so unnervingly baffling that you just have to swing your head around in disbelief and scream "What?! WHAT?!?!"

I'm not going to rant to you about the omissions of 'Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy' or 'Drive', though both would be worthy of one, but they are receiving more than enough post-snubbing outcry on their behalf that doing so at this stage would be pointless. I'm going to rant about both the Academy's choice to omit what was, for me, unquestionably the 'Best Picture' of the year and I'm also going to rant about the disgraceful lack of outcry from the general public at this film not getting its due credit.

I'm going to rant about Harry fucking Potter.

Even Daniel didn't see that coming


What...in the ever-loving fuck...is wrong with the world when the 'Lord of the Rings' sweeps the Oscars after the conclusion of its third installment and Harry Potter doesn't after its eighth?!

Look, I'm not going to start a debate on LOTR vs HP...because it's not even a debate! Harry Potter wins time and again, hands down!

The 'Lord of the Rings' trilogy is like when someone has a really interesting story to tell, but they're such a stickler for the little details that it just drags on...and on...and on...until you know what, you don't really care anymore.

"So me and Joey were getting chased by two dragons okay? And I wasn't aware that dragons even existed. However, Joey informed me that a rare tribe in the upper regions of the most northern point of Mongolia were still rumoured to be still breeding them. It had also been widely debated over whether the species were in fact, herbivores or carnivores. Obviously, given the fact that they were chasing us, they were carnivores. Although they never actually ate us, so I guess the debate still RAGES on. Anyway, that's all off topic, where were we?"

"Just stop."


Nearly twelve hours of my life were devoted to waiting for the writers to get to the fucking point when, in reality, they'd killed off the most interesting person in the trilogy (Gandalf) in the first movie. Yes, he was resurrected in some white wizard shit. But, much like Jesus, Dumbledore and the pop group 5ive, the resurrected version just wasn't the same. He became like a veteran of 'Nam, who'd obviously experienced some heavy shit, but was too war-weary to talk about it. So he just kind of ghosted around for a bit while you sat there thinking "I've sat through hours of crap for THIS?!"

Don't be fooled: he could've held on. The dude was a fucking wizard. But even Gandalf chose to jump from this sinking ship.
The only other memorable part of the film was some gnome-looking creep walking around looking for his 'precious'. You know what else is precious? My time, that I'll never get back after watching those movies.

I mean, you look at Harry Potter, or even the Star Wars series, and each individual movie is kind enough to have a coherent story of its own. And the title of each instantly explains to you - like a helpful, informative bookmark - what story you're about to go into. You hear the words 'Chamber of Secrets' or 'Goblet of Fire' and instantly know what portion of the story you're happening upon and fondly remember your favourite parts and how they all conspired towards the ultimate end goal within the entire series.

But with 'Lord of the Rings', it's as if they just baked a cake with no concept of portions and how much is too much, then decided to weakly divide it up because I suppose they had to else, god forbid, they might make one good, legible movie instead of a three-pronged, marathon cash cow.

You disagree? Well ask yourself now, without going to IMDB or Wikipedia, what's the distinct difference between 'The Fellowship of the Ring', 'The Two Towers' and 'The Return of the King'? A 'fellowship' sounds like a wink-wink name that gay men had to conjure up to organise singles nights before homosexuality was legalised. I seem to recall about 175 long shots of different round towers and castles in the movies, so I'm finding it difficult to recall which are the really important pair they seem to want me to remember. And who was the king again? Frodo? Aragon? Bilbo? Is Bilbo dead actually? If Frodo was the king, why is he returning? Was he a king in a previous life or something? Why wasn't Gandalf made into the king, he came back from the dead? And why is there still an hour to go after the main issues are resolved?!

"Ohhh...but JRR Tolkien! He was a genius and that's how HE wrote it!"

No. JRR Tolkien was obviously a very disturbed individual who had far too much time on his hands that he created a different language, a series of maps and an entirely new world, all likely because he felt the need to escape his own, potentially miserable, existence. That's a sad story. He should have been psychologically evaluated and given help, not worshipped. Just because his escapism from cold, hard reality managed to connect with millions of similar individuals doesn't make it right. Nazism connected with millions of like-minded people. He could've used his suffering and obvious flair for writing to help others, instead his solution to the problem was "Don't get attached to rings. They're dangerous. Wizards may die if you do." What kind of message does that send out?!?


No, it's absolute bullshit that we've had to sit through not only those movies, but an Oscars dedicated to them...and then have to sit through another ceremony blatantly ignoring a vastly more important, influential series of adapted family novels.

Put it this way: Harry Potter saved the dying hobby of reading for this generation. That's no exaggeration: what other series of books have you seen throes of people queuing up outside Eason's for in the past decade? Its sales figures speak for itself and, as a result, we will now have a generation growing up impressing the importance of reading upon their children and queuing up outside bookshops around the world for whatever lucky sap manages to capture the world's imagination next.

Not only that, but the films also played a massive part in that phenomenon. How often do we see classic novels bastardised and downright destroyed for the sake of profit? Too often; studios aren't commissioning much new material and either recycle old movies or stick to adapting proven stories, which are rushed on screen to meet a deadline.

The Harry Potter series did none of the above: it took its time, selected its cast and crew carefully and made sure to ensure each movie told the required story clearly for newer fans while ticking older fans' boxes simultaneously.

It assembled perhaps one of the greatest casts in cinema history and allowed them the freedom to re-configure their characters in their mould, bringing a careful-but-fresh perspective to each role as a result. That Alan Rickman wasn't nominated for his career highlight role as Snape is almost as infuriating in itself as the lack of recognition for the picture in general.


And it did all of this over eight movies. Over 10 years. It would've been so easy to lose its way during that period: there was a mountain of information that needed to be packed into each movie and an ever-growing multitude of fanboys to very easily piss off. But the series didn't do that, it grew in strength and momentum. It darkened as the books had, giving each a fresh light to view the story through. Fans cried where they had in the books, some even moreso, and last year's finale put a fitting full stop on what had been a journey of 15 years for those who had been there since the beginning.

Harry Potter was our Star Wars. Star Wars 3D is right now selling out cinemas, entertaining a new generation, 25 years after its release. And it still means as much to its fans as it did upon its release. That's what Harry Potter will mean to us in one, two, three decades and then to our children and grandchildren.

Pop culture can all-too-often be fleeting, instantaneous and fickle. How many fads have you seen come and go over the years? Doesn't it sicken you now to hear 'I Gotta Feeling' by the Black Eyed Peas? Whereas you probably danced like a maniac to it when it was released. Especially in the Facebook/Twitter/YouTube generation, we make a huge deal about something for an extremely short space of time, get bored, and move onto the next thing.

As that generation evolved, as it grew up really, Harry Potter transcended that idea. It flew in its face. Many have probably not even read this far because they saw the blog's length and thought "too long...NEXT!" The very idea of Twitter plays upon our short attention spans to care about something longer than 140 characters. And yet, among all of this, are a series of lengthy books, and later movies, which we will gladly make time for because they're worth it. In 2012 of all eras, that is astounding.

I cried during the last one, repeatedly (although my 3D glasses covered my tears nicely). Not just because it was a sad story. Not just because I was didn't want Fred Weasley or Lupin to die. Because I was sitting beside my then 9-year old little sister watching it. And I knew that something we had shared over the years was now gone. I started reading the books before she was born, read them to her as soon as she was old enough to understand, gave her the bulkier books when she was old enough to read herself, and from the third movie took her to see each one in the cinema.

I vividly remember watching each one sitting beside her, seeing her grow rapidly before my eyes, our bond was solidified over the years because we both loved those movies and those few hours we got to share them together. It brought us closer. Harry fucking Potter has been a key part of my relationship with my sister. The same goes for millions of families worldwide.

And you're telling me that, having done all of the above, it doesn't deserve the same amount of recognition as a rom-com with Owen Wilson? As a baseball movie with Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill? As George Clooney's attempt to show the world he can do BOTH comedy and romance? THOSE are more important than this iconic series that has transcended so many barriers with literally everything pulling against it?!

Bullshit.

Even 'The Artist', my favourite of the bunch, doesn't stack up. It's important in a cinematic context (in the age of mega 3D blockbusters everywhere, it shows that you don't even need colour or sound if there's enough depth and heart to tell a great story). And it's a quality film you'll watch time and time again. But it just doesn't cut the mustard when you compare it in story, importance, performances, in any context against Harry Potter. And, even if 2012 has to be the year of 'The Artist', Harry Potter deserved to at least have a shot against it. I could live with that.

But for 8 other movies, including the appalling 'Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close', to have that shot and for Harry Potter to be left fighting for pittance in the Costume Design award? That's criminal.

So fuck you Academy. Fuck you very much. Not that you'll read this, the average age of an Academy voter is 61, so out-of-touch with the modern world that they probably think a blog is a marshy area on a farmland. Please hurry up and either retire or die, you've had your time. Move over so the Oscars can be something worth giving a shit about again.

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