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Best achievement in movies I did or didn't care about

vastleft's picture

I wasn't a great moviegoer in 2007, and I have yet to catch up with many of the Oscar-nominated films.

In fact, I've seen only six. And, frankly, the two "biggest" left me feeling a little chilly.

Few very well-made movies have made less of a lasting impression on me than No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood.

I don't demand a happy ending, but I do like, y'know, character arcs and just a little more understanding of the human condition along with my popcorn. Rich cinematography, bravura acting, and the muted-if-epic presence of directors whose work I've absolutely loved before don't, for me, make up for a deficit of storytelling and meaning.

More gainfully chilly was Charles Ferguson's No End in Sight, which bypassed the usual gating question of whether the U.S. invasion of Iraq was justified, and focused on how very not well the occupation was handled. Whereas Michael Moore's movies incite through entertainment, irony, and well-placed moments of poignancy, No End plants you in the cancer ward that is Bush and Rumsfeld's war. Slow-burn, sad, and true. Yet there is a character arc: the painful realization of smart, well-meaning, senior bureaucrats that the fuck-up is simply bigger than they are.

Speaking of being stuck in a ward, there is Julian Schnabel's captivating The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. The journey is somehow both existential and deeply passionate.

Possibly my favorite film of the year was Once, where an Irish busker and a Czech emigré make, as they say, beautiful music together. A gritty-yet-buoyant indie, international musical without (dare I say it?) a false note.

Yet, one movie towers above the rest, and that is Sicko by, of course, the aforementioned Mr. Moore.

As a corrective to the hubris it generally takes to make movies, most filmmakers come to realize sooner or later that their work isn't really going to change the world. This movie just may have, as a well-timed, well-placed defibrillator on the topic of Universal Healthcare for America.

I look forward to catching up with Juno, Michael Clayton, Gone Baby Gone, and others, in hopes that there are still Hollywood (or indie-Hollywood) fictional feature films that move me. Anyone seen those or others worth a look?

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Bruce F's picture
Submitted by Bruce F on

I agree with you about No Country For Old Men. I felt it was pushing a political message that I couldn't put my finger on, and so went looking for reviews on some of the blogs that I read.

I found a long, thoughtful one at Stan Goff's Feral Scholar, here's an excerpt:

[snip]
To my mind, those are the important questions of our day, and to the extent that modern cinema engages and struggles with those questions is the extent to which it remains relevant. To the extent that a film addresses those issues and reveals some truth, some sense of humanity standing up to the dehumanizing and implacable forces confronting the modern condition, that film remains important and relevant. To the extent that it fails in this challenge, it is no more than escapism – an adult version of cartoons (OK, if it is acknowledged as that.) – or nihilism, and the belief in the impossibility of finding individual meaning and dignity: a condition which the elite who run this world would love to see the great masses reduced to. Where is the nobility in this? Or are we just reviewing cartoons for our entertainment in elevated language here?

[end]

I'm going off on a little tangent here, though it does kind of come back on point.........

One of the movies that I missed this year was "Still Life" by Jia Zhang-ke. It tells the story of the devastation following the construction of the Three Gorges Dam in China. I loved his "The World" (2005). It introduced me to some of the faces behind a country I know nothing about. As long as I'm plugging - there's "Blind Shaft": a director with a Coenesque sense of humor makes a movie about coal miners in modern China.

The themes of desperation, violence and nihilism are present to varying degrees in the Chinese movies. The problem with No Country For Old Men is that's all it has.

vastleft's picture
Submitted by vastleft on

I didn't much care for Blood Simple, either, because it seemed to have nothing more to say than "people are assholes."

Their subsequent works (until now), granted our species some of its charm, even if our foibles are well and scathingly on display.

MJS's picture
Submitted by MJS on

The Coen Brothers' film was well done, and from a craft perspective it hit all its marks. I have read that it was faithful to the book, a story wherein the world depicted was unpleasant, peopled by abstracted vampires and opportunists and others who were doomed by fate & happenstance (we are all doomed, in a manner of speaking, so this didn't bother me). Tommy Lee Jones was damn good, as was Bardem, Stephen Root, Woody Harrelson et al, but the film ultimately offered nothing but real and existential death. Oh well.

No Blood For Oil is worthy of better dissection. Our nation, a land of hero myths and dirty deeds, has at its core many old themes that ricochet off each other: fathers and sons, deceit, betrayal, greed and so forth. Unlike "No Country For Old Men" this film goes beneath the outer dysfunctions down to the hard and unfathomable state of men who destroy a world that they could just as easily lift up and embrace. See this film in the context of Sam Shepard's work, of Chinatown, of Abrahamic texts--we are not so far off from cutting up the children for some dark and hidden purpose, are we? That a preacher is utterly destroyed, mostly for being a fallible human being, sets the bar high for anyone seeking to out-leap irony's flights.

The Preacher (well played by Paul Dano) didn't know what he was up against when he went to see Mr. Plainview one last time--this preacher with his Christian story of a magical father and son having been his bread and butter for many years, until at the very last he was face to face with the very real, very violent and capricious dark father who would destroy so many because "he had a competition" in him. Get it yet? Daniel Plainview's life: his "adopted" son denied, the preacher slaughtered, an alcoholic Old Testament construct eating blackened, day-old steak and destroying the world because he hated it (btw: greatest last line in a film in a long, long time)? Big themes, big ideas, well played. This movie is fucking awesome.

UPDATE: I just flashed on a Joseph Campbell quote: We are fishing for minnows while standing on a whale. Offered FWIW.

++++

vastleft's picture
Submitted by vastleft on

Is that "There... Blood" pretty early on says that we're in a world of shit, it briefly shows a little humanity with the father's concern for his son, and then it says we're in a world of shit.

I may be guilty of being a popcorn-chomping simpleton, but I like the redeeming yearning of Julianne Moore in "Boogie Nights" and "Magnolia," the earnest if silly pride of all the porn people (except the Colonel) in the former, and the wounded innocence of John C. Reilly and Melora Walters in the latter.

Of course, I'm not groovin' on the Old Testament as a great story, either (the start of Exodus was pretty cool, though, before things came unglued). However, I was pleased to have just learned what happens to people who play pick-up-sticks on the Sabbath (posting about that tomorrow).

I admit to usually being a wet blanket about epic storytelling. Not a fan of "LOTR," "Crouching Tiger," or "Spirited Away," among others. (Still, there are several epics among my favorite films, including "Apocalypse Now," "2001: A Space Odyssey," and "The Searchers.")

Sure, DDL did a fine job playing a big ol' character in the tradition of John Huston and Sterling Hayden, but I left feeling like I knew not one more thing about the world than when I came in.

I had a much different feeling tonight, charmed by the D.I.Y. antics of Mos Def, Jack Black, and company in the new Michael Gondry movie, "Be Kind, Rewind." Not a flawless movie by any stretch, but one from the heart, to borrow a term from an epic filmmaker.