Friday, November 28, 2008

The age old struggle once again in '08: Slumdog Millionaire v. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

It may be premature to speculate on this, but everyone else is doing it, so why not me?

2008 is already looking like another one of those years where the top category's a hard-fought battle between a cold, cerebral, subtle, (god forbid) "thinky" technical marvel, and a more overtly emotional, "feely" movie that people feel more of a "connection" to, or that makes them feel better about themselves when they vote for it.


This has been played out several times in recent years, and unfortunately, the latter always wins. People love their raw emotional manipulation. People don't like to think. People seem to feel that any degree of emotional distance from a piece necessarily makes it less moving. There's no room for both emotion AND brains in a movie. That seems to be the prevailing notion, anyway.

This bothers me, because it's always struck me as a kind of reactionary overcompensation away from the tendency toward new technologies and modes of storytelling, at the expense of old-fashioned emotional stories that touch one's heart. Emotion is great, and I love being moved by a movie. I'd even go so far as to say that being moving (in some way) is an essential part of being a great film. BUT I'd prefer for movies to make me think, as well as move me. I believe that pushing boundaries, asking the hard questions, being challenging... all that stuff... is the other ingredient in what makes a great film great. That's why I always come down on the side of the big, cold, thought-provoking films, and thus why I am always disappointed.

Let's look at previous examples this decade:

Gladiator vs. Traffic vs Crouching Tiger

Case in point. The traditional, old-school epic about revenge and putting things right beats the marvelous Asian romance-wuxia fusion AND the challenging contemporary movie about the drug war. Granted, this time two better movies split the anti-Gladiator vote, but the outcome still proves my point. Not that Gladiator is bad, mind you. The other two are just better. But they LOST because they're "difficult" (i.e. challenging), whereas Gladiator is the same old yarn we've seen many times before.

A Beautiful Mind vs. LOTR: Fellowship vs. Moulin Rouge

This was touted as something of a threeway race at the time, but let's not kid ourselves: Moulin Rouge! never had a real chance to win. It lacked a director nod, and would've been a pretty big longshot even without that crippling hurdle. So the real fight here was between LOTR (the dazzling epic that made the fantasy genre respectable) and A Beautiful Mind (the biopic that made people feel happy). There were other factors at work here, as there always are, but again, the result proves my point. Mind, despite a 5-nom defecit, emerged the winner.

Chicago vs. The Pianist

This is sort of a counterexample, since Chicago did in fact win the oscar (it's Benjamin Button in the analogy, for those keeping score), while The Pianist, all small and emotional, just barely lost. But that was a timing thing. The Pianist could've won with a bit more time to grow. And the fact that it won three major oscars over the juggernaut that was Chicago, when most people thought it wouldn't win any, again proves my point. The Pianist was really quite good, though - Chicago couldn't really be said to be obviously superior - so I didn't care much about the outcome of this race. But there you go.

2003 is N/A because Return of the King had no real competition.

2004, however...
Million $ Baby vs. The Aviator
Classic example: The Aviator was a technical marvel and the assumed frontrunner, whereas Baby was a sleeper hit that made people cry. The feel-bad movie of the year! (key word: feel). Succumbing to the emotional manipulation, the voters handed Baby the statue, despite Aviator's huge nomination tally.

UGH. CRASH! vs. Brokeback Mountain
Need we even revisit this. Suffice it to say that the result here is consistent with the pattern: subtle films that make you think as well as feel, that don't offer instant emotional gratification, that require processing, that are challenging, that are technical marvels, DON'T WIN. Even when they have more nominations and MANY more precursors. The cheaply emotional, pedestrian, manipulative, nonsensical, self-involved, touchy-feely movies win. Again: UGH.

2006 and 2007 don't really fit the pattern. These two years resulted in two good winners, but the familiar "new and challenging vs. conventionally emotional" paradigm was not in place. This year, it seems, it will be. Button is this former, and Slumdog is the latter. If all goes as it seems it will, Button could get 11-13 noms, while Slumdog will be stuck in the mid-single digits. But that shouldn't keep Slumdog from an "upset" victory.

Just based on trailers and such, I already kind of love Benjamin Button. And Slumdog seems, to me, overly familar. I hope Button lives up to what seems like great promise, but I equally hope that the inevitable "huh?" reaction to it from some quarters doesn't doom its chances for victory.

For challenging films that treat their audience like adults are always the underdogs, no matter how it may seem. Just like Barack Obama.

"Up how many points in the polls? Whatever, I'll believe it when I see it."

Luckily, that one turned out well. We'll see how this next one goes.

The political analogy is, I think, is an apt one, for I see liberalism as the counterpart of the challenging film. It challenges us to think, to reject cheap emotional manipulation, to realize that there's room for more than one thing at a time (think AND feel! preserve my marriage AND allow equal rights for others! keep our country safe AND respected abroad! free market AND regulation!). Like challenging films, liberals often seem cold, scary and mechanical (hello John Kerry) until you actually stop to think about what they're saying. But I reject the notion that we cannot be both rational/thoughtful AND emotionally fulfilled. It's true neither in art nor in politics.

Anyway. This rant was brought to you by Adam C Keller, oscars and politics enthusiast extraordinaire, on a boring friday afternoon. Hope it was fun.

Now let's all root for Benjamin Button to go the distance, if only for the principle of the thing.


Thursday, November 27, 2008

WHEN CRAZY DREAMS STRIKE: Shirtless Hugh Jackman takes me 200 feet in the air!

I'm reviving this long-abandoned series (a former favorite of mine) because the dream I just woke up from demands it.

I don't remember much from it, though I know it was one of those epic dreams that I've already mostly forgotten (a broad sketch still remains in my head, though the details are gone). The one thing I still remember (how could I not!?) is the part where Hugh Jackman, all shirtless and glistening, somehow takes me up this giant ladder/flagpole/tall thing, all slow and romantic-like, out in the moonlight of the night. Don't laugh, it made sense in context (somehow). Just envy me and me active dream sex life. Cause in the dream, all bathed in moonlight, he kinda looked like THIS:
(except with shorter hair)

I totally remember even feeling vertigo (the happy woozy romantic kind) at the top, looking down and realizing Hugh was the only thing between me and a 200-ft (for argument's sake) fall to my death.

It was totally like something out of Superman, one of those things Superman would do to Lois Lane as a sweepingly romantic gesture to give her the ride of her life. Just... mmmmmmm. Now, I realize Hugh is more of a Wolverine than a Superman. But maybe that's where my subconscious got the superhero imagery from? I dunno. I guess the sweeping romance of Australia (which I saw last night) was stirred into the pot, too.

The rest of the dream somehow involved watching Hugh perform in a play, in a big open stadium-type theater (the same place where the 200-ft lift was). I was way up watching him from above (in the stands, I guess?) and he was below on the stage. I think I was sitting next to the director, who was telling him during the intermission that everything was great, but that he should switch it up a bit and be really energetic in the second act, and Hugh was like "alright, great!". I guess it was a rehearsal? And actually, maybe I was in the play? But I swear I was up top looking down. Weird.

I also remember bits of the dream where it was totally different and I was with a classmate agreeing to be in yet another film scene (that part was taken directly from life, where I've been doing a lot of that lately), and we were scheduling rehearsals. But those parts were boring. It was all about the Hugh. I think we were getting married or something in the dream, too, cause I remember being REALLY happy. I guess my subconscious decided to chuck Debora-Lee Furness' ass to the curb. Fine with me.

Anyway. I thought this would entertain you all. It was certainly fun for me. Shame that this can never fully replicate the euphoria of the experience. It was a really amazing dream.


Saturday, November 22, 2008

2008 Oscar predictions (because I apparently have nothing better to do on a Friday night)

1) Milk
2) The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
3) Slumdog Millionaire
4) The Dark Knight
5) Revolutionary Road

6) Doubt
7) The Wrestler

1) Gus Van Sant (Milk)
2) David Fincher (Benjamin Button)
3) Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire)
4) Chris Nolan (The Dark Knight)
5) Darren Aronofsky (The Wrestler)

6) Jonathan Demme (Rachel Getting Married)
7) Sam Mendes (Revolutionary Road)

1) Sean Penn (Milk)
2) Mickey Rourke (The Wrestler)
3) Leonardo DiCaprio (Revolutionary Road)
4) Brad Pitt (Benjamin Button)
5) Clint Eastwood (Gran Torino)

6) Frank Langella (Frost/Nixon)
7) Richard Jenkins (The Visitor)

1) Meryl Streep (Doubt)
2) Kristin Scott-Thomas (I've Loved You So Long)
3) Kate Winslet (Revolutionary Road)
4) Sally Hawkins (Happy-Go-Lucky)
5) Anne Hathaway (Rachel Getting Married)

6) Angelina Jolie (Changeling)
7) Nicole Kidman (Australia)

1) Heath Ledger (The Dark Knight)
2) Philip Seymour Hoffman (Doubt)
3) Michael Shannon (Revolutionary Road)
4) Josh Brolin (Milk)
5) Robert Downey Jr. (Tropic Thunder)

6) Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire)
7) Bill Irwin (Rachel Getting Married)

1) Penelope Cruz (Vicki Christina Barcelona)
2) Viola Davis (Doubt)
3) Rosemarie Dewitt (Rachel Getting Married)
4) Kate Winslet (The Reader)
5) Taraji P. Henson (Benjamin Button)

6) Marisa Tomei (The Wrestler)
7) Cate Blanchett (Benjamin Button)

1) Rachel Getting Married
2) Milk
3) Vicky Christina Barcelona
4) The Visitor
5) Happy-Go-Lucky

7) The Wrestler

1) Doubt
2) The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
3) Slumdog Millionaire
4) Revolutionary Road
5) The Reader

6) Frost/Nixon
7) The Dark Knight


Friday, November 14, 2008

I just can't seem to push those daisies...

So, recently I've tried getting into the endangered series Pushing Daisies. I bought the pilot episode, "Pie-Lette", on iTunes and assumed I'd love it and end up buying more. But that didn't happen. There are a great many things I admire about the show: Lee Pace, the camerawork, the beautiful sets, the music, Lee Pace, the music, Anna Friel, Kristin Chenoweth, Lee Pace. I even kinda like how the whole show sorta feels like it's taking place on a Nintendo Wii, what with all those CGI daisies and fields. But I just can't get into it.

I think I just don't like the writing. Does it get better and/or less cutesy after the pilot episode? I just can't really take it seriously and I get bored. Now, some people might say that it's not meant to be taken seriously. But I still get bored. And I feel bad, cause I know a lot of people who really like it. But I don't want to spend anymore money on this show, or put in the effort required to try to watch it some other way. And this is despite the fact that I think Lee Pace is sex on a stick and the cutest thing this side of Sasha Obama with a puppy.

I'm afraid I'm still on team 30 Rock all the way. You know, as comedies go. Obviously, BSG is still my show.


Wednesday, November 05, 2008


And what a chance Michelle took with that dress. It really reminds me of that ET look, when his heart was glowing through his skin. Am I right? I don't think it worked, necessarily, but I love her for going all out. Laura Bush's outfits were crap.


Sunday, November 02, 2008

Last Palin play before the big day:

OK, I lied, there was actually another one monday. But this was the last Saturday where Fey appeared.

This is not the best Palin skit, but it's still funny. My favorite part is the collectible Joe action figures.

Labels: ,