Oh blogging. You are the occasional pastime that makes me absurdly unhappy, for the most part. That’s because I don’t do it as often as I would like, and so when I do I over do it and write posts large enough to choke Cthulhu. And this last post in Listmania metastasised as soon as I started complaining about something; griping posts tend to run out of control. Friend of the blog @Beggarsoshat said to me after my Listmania! Crew Contributions post that he looked forward to me listing my favourite dolly grip of 2011, and after I had stopped crying because of how much he had cut me to the core, I wondered if there was maybe something in that. Why not keep spinning this out? I’m scratching my blogging itch even though all I’m doing is lazily transcribing the thoughts I’ve had lying around in my “mind palace” for months anyway.
But how could I? How could I keep talking about last year’s movies when I’d only seen 120 of them? Simple; why not talk about movies released in 2010? People love reading reviews of movies released 14 months ago. I traditionally do this during Listmania! season as an aside in the last post, but as this post had already gone all top heavy, why not post this section on its own without all of the other photo-heavy stuff I had planned on posting (and which will turn up in Listmania ’11: Miscellaneous Movie Observations: Part Four, and probably Five, Six and Seven too)? And so here we are, with a couple of thousand words on three movies that I’m sure only a handful of people have already talked about. After all, the first movie here was a pretty obscure little number.
Best Film(s) From 2010 That We Saw In 2011: True Grit / Tangled
Both of these movies were released in the UK just after SoC finished its last Listmania (which was done a lot quicker and with less baloney than this one, I can tell you), but would have radically changed the state of my Best Movies of ’10 completely. Both would have breached the top ten, with True Grit possibly making it into the hallowed and legendary top five of that year. The Coens were coming off the back of one of their least accessible — but most highly regarded — films with A Serious Man, and True Grit represents one of their “crowdpleasers”, if that’s the right word, as they did with No Country For Old Men and Burn After Reading. This is a slightly different beast, too dramatic to qualify as one of their comedies, but too funny to be a tragedy. It’s the most successful blending of their two different “flavours” to date.
The pleasures of this magnificent Western are numerous, but the best thing about it is the precise dialogue, which evokes the Wild West in a way only David Milch has ever come close to achieving. This poetry — so often evident in their writing but at its most striking here — is matched by the photography by Roger “King” Deakins, who does career best work with shadows and darkness; the night-time ride to save Mattie is one of the most haunting scenes in recent cinema, a dream painted almost solely with black. Hailee Steinfeld shines in her first role, perfectly riding the line between charmingly forward and obnoxiously precocious. I can picture her playing The Hunger Games‘ Katniss Everdeen far more readily than Jennifer Lawrence — an actress I admire but who is too old for the character, as are co-stars Liam Hemsworth and Josh Hutcherson.
She’s matched by Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon, who both have their own balancing acts to do, between humour and drama. While Bridges has the flashier character to work with, Damon has a harder job, playing a dandified and ridiculous ranger LaBeouf who wins over Mattie and the audience despite being an awful blow-hard. Obviously, he succeeds; with each performance SoC realises how lucky we all are to have such a thoughtful, charming actor working today. This is not to take away from Bridges, though, who is as good here as he is in The Big Lebowski. This was already a late-career classic from the Coens, but his vastly entertaining turn pushes True Grit up there with Lebowski, Miller’s Crossing, and A Serious Man.
But I’ve had trouble figuring out whether I love it more than Disney’s Tangled, which so completely fried my brain at IMAX that I became a fervent and boring proselytist for it for months after. If you’re a 3D sceptic, this is the movie to change your mind. Seeing this in 3D, on that vast screen, was a memorable, tear-inducing experience I shall cherish forever. The whole film is great fun and filled with lovable characters (none more so than defiant horse Maximus), but the most memorable scene is also the single greatest use of 3D I’ve ever seen. Being in that room, dwarfed by the vast IMAX screen, was the most immersive cinema experience I’ve ever had. The illusion of being surrounded by floating lanterns was utterly convincing; when I wasn’t distracted by wiping tears from my eyes, that is.
The songs by Alan Menken feature lyrics from his sometime collaborator Glenn Slater; a happier fit than Stephen Schwartz, at least on this small sampling. They’re rich and funny and charming, reminiscent of his best work with the late, much-missed Howard Ashman. They’re the cherry on top of a superbly well-designed movie, that matches its symbolism (the light motif is present throughout) with its story so deftly that I wanted to applaud throughout. I’ll even go so far as to say… ::deep breath:: …I think I like it more than Beauty and the Beast, and I really loved Beauty and the Beast. It’s a triumph for Disney; a thrilling modernisation of their animation technique that pays humble tribute to the studio’s history, and possibly a portent of great things to come. SoC can’t wait to see what comes next.
Worst Film From 2010 That We Saw In 2011: Morning Glory
Until last year it looked like the movie output of Bad Robot Productions was going to be less diverse than their TV division, which has tried (and failed) to tap non-nerd audiences with Six Degrees and What about Brian? It’s worth praising them for adding Morning Glory to a roster that so far contains only sci-fi and spy movies (not counting Joy Ride), but the addition of something this unchallenging makes you wonder if Bad Robot’s other movies are as cynically produced as this. Even with a terrific cast (including Harrison Ford, in his liveliest performance since The Fugitive) and an interesting director, it has an enormous handicap: a rote script by dreaded screenwriter Aline Brosh McKenna.
If Michael Bay is a cinematic villain for aiming all of his movies at the same Mountain-Dew-drinking, FHM-absorbing, Call-Of-Duty-playing fratboy demographic, then can we add Brosh McKenna to Hollywood’s rogues gallery for making numerous movies from the same template in which a doofy woman — with work skills so brilliant and yet so poorly depicted that she almost appears to have mystical powers — has trouble finding a man due to a habit of occasionally bursting with an emotion-geyser like all the normal people don’t. So far ABM has churned out 27 Dresses, The Devil Wears Prada, I Don’t Know How She Does It, and now Morning Glory; it’s almost impossible to tell the difference between them as they come tumbling down the conveyor belt like malformed Barbie dolls.
Among its crimes: trying to make us believe that Rachel McAdams’ awkwardness is representative of some large cross-section of the female audience, and that bagging Patrick “Saintly and Uncomplicated Love Interest” Wilson is some kind of victory for these mythical klutzy women; making Diane Keaton rap with 50 Cent in a display of cinematic desperation unmatched by anything else released in the past four years; punishing McAdams by making her run in high heels in almost every scene, which just makes her look like a lunatic with superhumanly strong ankles; inadvertently making Anchorman — a Dada-esque comedy — the superior comment on the treatment of women in the TV industry; setting up Harrison Ford as a villain with the AWFUL crime of criticising McAdams’ fringe/bangs; making me pine for another Bridget Jones sequel just to stop Brosh McKenna from going back to that dried-up well.
Worst of all, it attempts to make a case for breakfast news as something worthwhile, something as necessary as serious investigative journalism. Ford’s Mark Pomeroy is portrayed as a conceited horse’s ass who has a snooty attitude to the fripperies of breakfast TV, objecting to the clowning of Daybreak’s jokiest segments. We’re meant to be excited when he abandons his serious self in order to make a frittata in an effort to magically summon McAdams from her job interview with NBC (because all job interviews are done in the morning while you’re supposed to be at work).
This character moment, which shows what he is willing to sacrifice in order to placate his producer McAdams, softens him — a nice twist on the romcom trope where a romantic interest humbles himself in order to win the girl. And yet no matter what side-effects this final act has, we can’t escape the fact that this is a betrayal of a good point personified by the grizzled old news hound pining for his old career. All the way through the movie he’s right about the importance of investigative journalism, and McAdams is so averse to his philosophy that he has to lie to her to get her to cover the scandal story he’s been trying to tell her about for weeks, and only seems to recognise its value for the sake of plot convenience. And to stop her looking like a complete idiot.
This is similar to the scene in Devil Wears Prada in which Meryl Streep defends fashion from criticisms that it isn’t important. It’s a very well-acted speech by a great actress, but her claims that high fashion is what eventually trickles down to the lowest forms of clothing — that the Cerulean blue she celebrates in haute couture one month becomes the blue that everyone wears later — isn’t really the answer to the question “why should we care about fashion”, because if we weren’t wearing that shade of blue we’d just wear another. What she’s arguing for is the influence of fashion journalism, which is fine, but it’s a bit disingenuous to assume that without Vogue we wouldn’t know how to dress ourselves. Though I will say InStyle is a fine publication (one for @Ms_RH there).
So here we’re meant to swallow the line that breakfast TV is an essential component of the news cycle, that it acts as the “sugar” that sweetens the “fibre” that constitutes news. As if the world isn’t awash with sugar, while fibre is rarely present in our news diet. Anyone who watches, say, BBC Breakfast (which SoC has railed against before), will note that what little serious news is shown inbetween puff pieces and appearances by the magnificently oleaginous Chris DeBurgh is poorly researched, biased, and revealing of the presenters’ poor preparation. Any time the show covers matters of popular culture more racy than Midsomer Murders, or youth issues, will know that this is less fibre, more asbestos.
So to see a movie attempt to make excuses for something inconsequential, when in actual fact it’s salty and challenging investigative journalism that needs to be celebrated, is like hearing the self-defensive and unconvincing justifications of someone caught watching something frowned upon by others — say for example, a cliche-ridden Aline Brosh McKenna movie that sets back gender politics about 20 years. If you want to watch a breakfast show that spends more time covering Al Roker being a clown than it does serious issues, that’s your prerogative. If you want to argue that this is important, do it by making your case, not by belittling serious journalism. And Bad Robot? Stick to what you know best (i.e. lens flares).
Will this ever end? Can I keep this going forever? If not, I’m taking a break from it as soon as Listmania! is finally brought to heel, which will either be by mass reader apathy or a typing coma.