Monday, January 28, 2013

Movies of 2012, Historical Awards

            History serves as a good source of story ideas, some of which live on as such important and impactful events that they are burned into the cultural zeitgeist ("Titanic") (Trailer), others are so insane that they just sound like movie ideas ("Charlie Wilson's War") (Trailer), and then there is the third category of events that are mostly forgotten because they just don't stand out in spite of the drama in them ("Thin Red Line") (Trailer), so you spice those up with a lot of musical numbers.

The History is Complex Award: "Lincoln" (Trailer)
            "Lincoln" is basically like an episode of "The West Wing" circa 1864.  It has a lot of really good work by a lot of really strong actors, including the greatest of living actors Daniel Day Lewis, who I think was possessed by Lincoln's ghost through most of this movie.  Everybody is on their A game and while I found myself caring about the strength of the narrative and the portrayals I can't say it was my favorite movie of the year.  It in many ways shows the inner workings of politics, a struggle between the deep held beliefs of those who know what is right, those who are in it for the work and prestige, and those who are on the wrong side of history.  "Lincoln" shows how dishonesty and compromising values can sometimes be necessary in order for a much more substantive long term game plan of greater liberty to foster even when beset by the small minds of a very evil time in history.  It is a really good movie.
            There are some instances I found odd, like the ending, anyone who saw the movie will agree it should have ended with Lincoln walking out the front door as his assistant and friend watches him go, quietly admonishing him for leaving his gloves behind.  That image had a lot of sad but at the same time hopeful meaning in it, that Abe did leave the world with his work not yet completed, that more can be done and it is left to us.  Then the movie keeps going.  Little odd.
            Overall it is my pick for what will win Best Picture, even if I think "Django Unchained" (Trailer) is an overall better movie and should get the award.  I should also say, this is not a movie I feel a need to ever watch again, I would like to see a making of, and I will probably read "Team of Rivals", but this is a story that is rather too heavy to pop in on a sleepy Saturday for fun.  Probably could watch it on President's Day though.

I actually sort of hated this scene.  The Gettysburg Address was not a well received speech in its time and it serves only to wank the one thing people know about Lincoln before the rest of the movie totally subverts the popular myth.

The History is Weird Award: "Argo" (Trailer)
            This movie is genetically engineered to appeal to me.  It has one of my favorite Writer/Director/Actor, Ben Affleck at the helm, banks a lot on the complex and stressful aspects of political intrigue and espionage, it shows the ins and outs of a convoluted scheme so awesome it has to be real, and it is frequently funny as hell.
            And when I watch it I can't really point to anything wrong with it.  I know they take some liberties with things and make the threat of discovery far more Sword of Damocles-ish for the sake of Hollywood, but I don't care.  There is even a really good juxtaposition at one point, pairing a script reading of the fake movie, with the Iranian press conference talking about the hostages, it shows the importance of theatrics and gaudy images to push a frequently disingenuous message.  But much like "Lincoln" I don't feel a need to watch it again, I feel that I got all I needed out of it and that is all I want.
            It is clever and smart on a lot of levels and it is highly recommended, and I don't know why I don't think even more of it.

The History is a DRAMA QUEEN Award: "Les Misérables" (Trailer)
            Not History per-se but certainly based around a historical era, I choose to lump it in here with the rest of the Historical movies because I can.
            This thing has structure problems out the melancholy kazoo.  It seems almost like three movies (as they enter the Belly of the Whale 3 distinct times) with linking characters and themes... And it should have been multiple movies, with scenes of spoken dialogue to allow the actors room to act instead of just singing.
            I also take umbrage with the amount of cliché's in it (and it is unfair to call them cliché because this story probably helped pioneer them as story devices), but much like I appreciated "Citizen Kane" for what it had been in its era, I have to say that since this story was penned narrative has evolved, and having two young people fall in love at first sight, or having the virgin-whore complex on full display irks even my most forgiving mentality.
            I do like a lot of the visual metaphors, the first one I really took notice of is a scene of Hugh Jackman, as a slave, being forced to retrieve a snapped flag mast which has fallen to the ground.  So you have a slave carrying a heavy burden, attached to the French flag which is drenched in muddy water; the symbol of the oppressive regime that rules France right now, dirty and burdening a people unjustly oppressed maybe?  That is smart and serves to elevate the material.
            There is also the issue of most of the music being rather awful, and really jumbled too, I have no idea what the lyrics were for many of the characters through the group sing-alongs.  This again underlines the need to let them speak some of their lines, let the film be broken up for the purposes of allowing the audience to digest and mull over the huge sweeping, decades spanning narrative.  As is you the audience end up feeling really tired by the end.
            And another thing I dislike: Russell Crowe plays my favorite character, who has the best outfits in the whole thing, and one of the more interesting perspectives on the world.  He doesn't go to heaven.  I hate that.
            And one more thing: Anne Hathaway is in the movie for maybe 15 minutes (I literally forgot she was in this movie at all till her ghost showed up in Heaven at the end) and she is nominated for best actress; she's good, but she isn't a main character, this sort of trophy dispensing bugs me.

The History is a Slow Build to a Big Finish: "Zero Dark Thirty" (Trailer)
            Just because it is modern history, doesn't it mean it didn't happen.  There are moments in this movie in which I am flabbergasted by the extreme stupid on display by the Central INTELLIGENCE Agency but I take it as either the manufactured reason for a massive security failure, or possibly that human beings are human and make stupid mistakes with some frequency.
            I like how even handed it is with the portrayals of torture, surveillance, and ultimately the military op that killed Osama, I even like the acting by the guy who does the deed, reacting like he can't quite believe it, and probably lamenting that his name won't appear in history books until he is 80.
            I suppose it can be a little boring at times (nearly any scene in an office) and really unpleasant other times (all the torture) but it does have a pay off at the end, and I like the realism of it, when movies show a military operation in a fictitious scenario it always goes off without a hitch, but showing people how the experimental helicopters, compact explosives, and other complex equipment can fail and teams have to roll with those punches is really interesting and tense, and gives the viewing public a much needed perspective on how even the most elite of teams still has to deal with complications.
            It, like all others on this list, probably won't get a re-watch from me.

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