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.
Tag Archives: Oscar Winner
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.
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.
Though quantifying “cool” is and will always be more guesswork than anything, we seem to nonetheless know it when we see it. Certainly people knew it’s presence in Steve McQueen, the penultimate “cool guy” of the late 60s/early 70s. McQueen was nonchalant and effortlessly charming both in his films and real life, and with his affinity for cars and bikes, became the figurehead for celebrity leisure. Like James Dean before him, McQueen seemed to get by mostly on not giving a fuck, though McQueen’s mellow aloofness seems more natural than Dean’s cultivated independence. With Bullitt, McQueen and Director Peter Yates seem intent on bottling this charm and pouring it in large doses over the entirety of the film; a style that works pretty well, until you start worrying about those pesky little nuances like plot and character.
There are films that you watch and there are films that you experience, and in almost every case, a Stanley Kubrick film will fall into that second category. This becomes clearer when you tell somebody that you recently watched one of his films and they ask you what it was about. Try and answer. Sure, you can give a plot summary, but trying to articulate what the film was about is like trying to describe color to a blind person. There’s simply too much there. Never is this truer than in 2001: A Space Odyssey, Kubrick’s legendary masterpiece devoted to the majesty and mystery of our universe. Kubrick himself said in a 1968 interview, “You’re free to speculate as you wish about the philosophical and allegorical meaning of the film—and such speculation is one indication that it has succeeded in gripping the audience at a deep level—but I don’t want to spell out a verbal road map for 2001 that every viewer will feel obligated to pursue or else fear he’s missed the point.” His purpose was not to tell us what to feel, but simply to make us feel something immense. If, somehow, you come out on the other side of this remarkable piece of cinema without being moved, without feeling something, then friend, you’re doing it wrong.
My latest viewing of Orson Welles‘ career-defining masterpiece was a palette cleanser, pulling me with great finality out of the quicksand of the 2011 Oscar race and refocusing my scope. Sometimes it takes a great film to do this, and through most of my career as a watcher I’ve used tent-pole titles to widen my perspective. This is a necessary joy at times, but Citizen Kane is, obviously, far more than just a refreshing film from another era. It is a complex portrait of one of this country’s most successful and monstrous businessmen, and the starting gun of a media war. It is the shining achievement of Welles’ career, as well as his undoing. It is considered by many to be the greatest film of all time.
Sometimes, in some ways, it feels as though Christopher Nolan might be tricking us. After Inception‘s release there were endless conversations and references made to the film’s strenuous complexity. People spoke of it as though it were as mysterious as Lost, when the reality is that it just sort of feels that way. Sure, Nolan is weaving a complicated fiction, but are there really that many stones left unturned? Are there really that many elements of this story left ambiguous? It seems much more the case that Nolan has simply done a masterful job of convincing us that if we want to appreciate this story, we had better stay on our toes. Meanwhile, as we kill ourselves trying to appreciate every last technical tidbit, we become immersed in this: an astonishing action movie with a broken heart.
60 Second Review
There are two kinds of movies. Movies that exist in the present, that you can consider and weigh and appraise impartially, and movies from your childhood; movies that have been a part of you since as far back as you can remember. Beauty and the Beast is squarely with the latter, insomuch as I don’t feel confident I can even have an objective response to it. This isn’t exclusively because I grew up with it, though that plays a huge role. Nearly as important is Disney’s masterful wielding of nostalgia. All of their films, even the ones you’re seeing for the first time, contain that magical schmaltz of childhood. Though every so often you get the feeling you’re being just a little bit manipulated, it’s easy enough to just go with it.
Beauty and the Beast really is a lovely little film, in spite of it’s tonally guiding hand. The music is as strong as any of Disney’s best films of that era, and the animation represents their highest tier work. Likewise the breakdown of characters is as solid a collection as any, with a hero and a villain and a beautiful princess who is, in fact, not a princess. If there’s a negative aspect to the film that has made itself more evident since childhood, it’s got to be the one-dimensionality of the characters. As with many Disney films, the secondary characters tend to have more personality then the primaries, and the starker the contrast between those two groups, the harder it is to ignore. Belle is boringly refined and and the Beast is more of an overgrown child then anything; certainly effective character types, but they don’t seem to grow in any other way than towards each other.
Nonetheless this is a fine entry into the Disney canon, and a more than vital contribution to their utter dominance of the nineties.