There’s something terribly thrilling about a character stranded in a lifeboat, adrift on the perpetual sea. It’s a simple device, yet it contains the potential for all manner of tragedies and comedies, and so often with a necessarily limited number of characters to play out the action. Inside of these stories, the paltry refuge of a lifeboat becomes a metaphor for the world at large, and the characters within tend to serve as archetypes of our basest motives. The idea present in nearly all of these stories is simple: only when we are faced with our own mortality can we come to truly know ourselves. While this notion isn’t unique to the “lifeboat” story, it is rarely depicted with such purity. In Life of Pi, this conceit bears up most of the film, pitting the titular Pi against a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker, as they cling to life and hope, and to each other.
Category Archives: Oscar Winner
Telling the story of an historical icon is at once both daunting and simple. Daunting, because icons are owned by the masses, existing disparately in each of our imaginations. We own our icons, and when those icons are so thoroughly tied to our country’s history, we own them from a very young age. Yet this same disconnect between the truth of an individual and the public’s partial idea of that individual makes the task simple–take what you know to be fact and build on it. In Lincoln, Steven Spielberg has created a picture of the man established in fact, but accommodating of the Director’s own vision; a depiction that articulates the details of our nation’s greatest leader–from his spindly gait and agile mind to his quiet, cogent authority–while fully articulating the political swamp he navigated en route to one of our country’s most pivotal moments: the abolition of slavery with the 13th Amendment.
Argo begins with the events at the Iranian US embassy on November 4th, 1979, when protesters—incensed by their country’s inveterate political and societal turmoil—broke through the embassy gates and held the residents there for what would become a 444-day hostage situation. Serving as both setting and character introduction, this opening sequence is one of the most indelible and disquieting beginnings I have seen in the theater in a good long while, and provides us with a trove of useful info, both within the movie and without. Superficially, it pulls us headlong into the story, introducing characters and circumstances in a meticulously edited prologue, while building to a truly frightening climax that sets the whole picture in motion. Incidental to the exposition the scene provides is the realization that this is a seminal moment for Ben Affleck as a director. Argo is a strong film in many ways, yet this opening sequence suggests a caliber of talent not just absent from his first two titles, but altogether unaccounted for. It seems that Ben Affleck the Director is the real deal.
The “hero” as a concept or storytelling device is, and always has been, fluid. Some of us prefer the pure altruist—the Superman who does right simply because he knows what right is. Others need their heroes to be flawed or tragic, like Hamlet—angling for the light even as their blemishes define them. Others hanker for antiheroes, preferring Taxi Driver’s Travis Bickle, a psychotic knight in rusty armor. Indiana Jones is enigmatic in his heroism; vacillating between all heroic traits, occasionally embodying all at once. His position as an archaeologist leads him to scour the globe in the interest of saving and protecting precious antiquities. Yet isn’t the quest for history-defining curios inherently a quest of self-triumph? Dr. Jones, over the course of his story, is at once selfless and selfish, motivated one minute by his moral compass, and the next by the fame and glory latent in uncovering history’s secrets.
There are very few people anymore who can claim authentic, first hand knowledge of the Civil Rights movement. In the same way that I wouldn’t pretend to possess any particular insight into the fall of the Berlin Wall, having been alive during the 60s doesn’t grant you special insight into the race struggle. The only people who can really say that they were a part of things weren’t just alive in the 60s, but were decision-making adults with the self-awareness to adopt a position on one side or the other, and their numbers are dwindling. Which must explain why The Help, a film that simplifies and exploits one of this country’s most strained periods, and does so with broad, stereotypical character types and exchanges, has been nominated for Best Picture. Or it could just be that Viola Davis can make anybody like anything.
And finally, Part Three of the 2011 Wertzies. This post includes not only my thoughts on the Best Pictures of the year, but a new section looking at the year’s Most Overrated films.
Here then is Part Two of the 2011 Wertzies. My thoughts on the year’s best performances. As a reminder, all Runners Up are featured in ascending order, with the Winner of each category coming at the end.
And so, the 2nd Annual Wertzies; my picks for the year’s best of nearly everything. I’m taking a slightly different tack this year, with expanded coverage of my picks and the Awards divided over three posts. Additionally, the format has altered a bit, with Runners Up revealed in ascending order, and each category ending with the Winner.
To be clear, I haven’t seen everything, nor do I consider these awards to be anything more than my humble opinion as an amateur film reviewer. Elaborate and considered these thoughts may be, but they are nonetheless informed as much by individual preference as real objectivity. And with that in mind, I eagerly await your supplemental thoughts and heated contradictions.
“This might be an adventure!” exclaims Chloë Moretz’s earnest Isabelle, shortly after meeting the titular Hugo in Martin Scorsese’s latest. And it’s true, Hugo certainly holds an adventure for its two lead characters. But that moment holds a deeper truth: the awareness that, for children, the world is still a magical place, capable of anything. There’s a kinetic excitement to being young and away from your parents, because possibility has an unknowable depth, and you haven’t yet been infected by the rot of cynicism. Scorsese, like many directors before him, plainly adores this moment in time, because for him it is connected unequivocally with the magic of the cinema.
When Toy Story came out in 1995, it shocked people. Pixar’s style was entirely unprecedented, and understandably became the chief talking point, but no one could deny the quality of writing and storytelling behind the flagship film. At its heart, Toy Story is a film about nostalgia and childhood, a musing younger generations seem more and more intent on indulging. The Muppets isn’t as tied up in the more general existentialisms of growing up as Pixar’s debut, as it is so obsessed with the Muppet canon, but it is nonetheless the best film about nostalgia since Toy Story. Writer and Star Jason Segel hasn’t made a movie so much about how wonderful the Muppets are, as a film about how wonderful the Muppets are to him, and by proxy, his audience. And this is not a minor distinction. Making a film from the heart and not the head, at least in this case, makes all the difference in the world.