February 24, 2013
UNASKED-FOR THOUGHTS ON MOVIES

I keep reading things about the Oscar movies that I think are dumb and wrong so instead of just composing and deleting Tweets about those things I am just going to write this here on Tumblr where everyone can safely ignore it.

"Zero Dark Thirty" is pretty evil but lots of great art is pretty evil. It’s probably not great art but it’s a better film that most of the other nominees. The torture thing would’ve been a total non-issue if the film had more clearly carried the message that torture was useless and only good-old-fashioned detective work and "Homicide"-style non-torture interrogations (with misdirection and trickery!) produced workable leads — but making that message more explicit would be anathema to a director like Bigelow who likes ambiguity, even when ambiguity produces a dishonest and arguably immoral message. So the film fucks itself by having Dan the Torturer repeatedly tell detainees that he’ll "break" them, and then later when they divulge the necessary intel, we are totally allowed to believe it’s because Dan the Torturer Broke Them With Torture.

The film’s only actual political message is that a detainee program is strategically preferable to an assassination program, but obviously it doesn’t grapple with the moral or legal questions surrounding a detainee program at all.

Jessica Chastian shouldn’t win because her character did not exist. She was a cipher. Every single male character in the movie (plus the one other female character) had a great little moment that succinctly and efficiently established exactly who they were, Chastain was just an unrealistically beautiful avatar of single-minded obsession. She’s good but there’s nothing to reward. Dan the Torturer was a way better character, and the scene toward the last act where he’s a clean-cut Washington hack was a great moment. Dan the Torturer and his monkeys should get all Oscars.

Everyone has sort of missed that the film has a really downer ending, where killing bin Laden doesn’t actually lead to any sort of catharsis at all. Chastain is by herself in an airplane weeping because she has no personality or life outside of killing this guy who just got killed, the end, go America?

"Argo" should probably win because it’s the sort of thing we all wish Hollywood would do again, which is make very professional pieces of entertainment product. It’s dishonest as hell obviously but it’s suspenseful and the performances are good and the script sounds smart and it looks nice. The end is atrocious though, when the fun little ’70s-influenced suspense flick receives a swelling-music all-the-characters-hugging-and-celebrating montage straight out of a horrible ’90s end-of-the-world action movie. "We did it!! let’s hug and cry and turn up the strings" is how Michael Bay movies end. Then the music gets even more treacly as Affleck — THE FORGOTTEN HERO WHOSE COURAGE CANNOT BE PUBLICLY ACKNOWLEDGED POOR CIA AGENT — returns to his wife and child, whom we do not care about. Plus the end credits photo-comparison "LOOK HOW GOOD I DID AT RECREATING THIS STUFF" thing is very silly. This should’ve had ZDT’s ending, woulda been way more ’70s. The best part of this movie was that I don’t think it was longer than two hours.

I wish David O. Russell would go back to making insane movies that no one sees but if Hollywood is going to keep rewarding him for making heartstrings-tugging blue-collar dramas I guess he will keep doing that. “Silver Linings Playbook” is good and sweet, and sorta oddly reminiscent of “I Heart Huckabees” in a lotta ways even if it’s not remotely as ambitious or brilliant. I keep getting annoyed when I see people — lots of people! smart people! — claim that it has an insulting and stupid “love will solve mental illness” message, because all of these people missed the very important plot point in which Bradley Cooper starts taking his meds. Once he does he a) stops being delusional and b) starts behaving less selfishly. It’s actually a very marked change in his behavior and it’s not “true love,” it’s listening to his doctor.

DeNiro is actually good in this, and he’s helped by the fact that he can be kindly and avuncular but his film history allows the plot point that he’s got a violent and scary past to resonate without him doing anything.

Thank god Anne Hathaway was not in this.

  1. dogunderwater reblogged this from pareene and added:
    Maya characterization in ZD30. Also word on love not...solving mental illness
  2. pareene posted this