Tuesday, January 4, 2011

New Year, New Plans

A new year, a different kind of resolution. For the past year, I've been mostly blogging about television because it's one of the subjects that I feel most comfortable with. I have mostly stayed away from the movie industry even though it might be easier to get into, because there are far better people more qualified to bitch and moan about the sorry state of the cinema. I may think that certain critics are more rigid and curmudgeonly or that the film industry closely resembles a snake swallowing itself, but that adds nothing to the discussion other than my opinion, which is biased. Besides, as someone who prefers to see movies at home than go through the exercise of sitting through a film at a multiplex, my reaction to certain films is almost inevitably on tape delay.

But there is one aspect of the film industry I love, despite the fact that people have been bashing it since its founding, and that everything they've tried to do I still get thrilled by --- yes, the Oscars. There's something about awards shows that bring out the boy in me, even though I'm past thirty. And I follow the buildup to the Oscars with a fanaticism that probably would frighten all but the most loyal movie buff. But over the past decade, I've had my own series of problems with them, and while there's probably nothing earth-shaking in what I'm about to relate, maybe letting loose some of my confusion will help make me feel better.

Now, I'll admit to be an amateur film buff. I haven't studied the art of cinema much more than your average cinephile (if such a thing exists), so it doesn't take a genius to notice that the quality of films has been going downhill for quite some time. And sometimes it takes even less of a genius to notice that even the films that some people consider brilliant are anything but. However, my prejudices are inevitably shaped by my parents, who also love movies, but perhaps have grown a lot more rigid with their advancing age. My father loves movies, but he doesn't like how cheerless and unenjoyable even the very good films are, and while this may be partly due to my own prejudice, there's something to his position. Particularly over the past decade, cinema has been getting a lot darker in tone and in style of films. Dad may be unused to seeing copious amounts of blood on the big screen, but I am, and even I am dismayed by how much you tend to see in a lot of these darker films. No Country for Old Men was one of the best reviewed movies of the past few years, but I walked away from it thinking that I had just seen a glorified snuff film. I've seen mindful violence on a lot of network TV, but this was one of the films I thought that was glorified mindless violence. I've come to expect better from the Coen brothers (Fargo had a lot of violence too, but there they had a sense of black comedy which this film desperately needed.) I had a much similar feeling when I saw The Departed but I was prepared to show leniency as I've never much cared for the work of Scorcese. Heresy for a native New Yorker, I know, but that's my problem.

Of course, sometimes my parents dislikes come out of harder to justify reasons. Neither of my parents thought that much of Far from Heaven or Good Night, and Good Luck two movies which I consider among the better of the first decade of the twenty-first century, but I understand their reasoning. In the first case, my parents was familiar with the kind of films that the director was paying homage to; in the latter, they lived through the time, and thought that it had nothing new to say.

But sometimes watching a movie with them is a little strange, Part of its because we have now reached a stage in our movie-going relationship where I'm nervous about sex and violence in what they see. I want desperately to see Black Swan before Oscar night; but there's no way I'm watching a lesbian love scene in the same theater with them. I just don't have the stamina. More annoyingly, I think their opinion of a movie will sometimes affect my own sense of judgment. I can't help but think I might've enjoyed The Kids are All Right a bit more if I didn't have them looking over my shoulder. (I'll be coming back to this in a moment.)

But perhaps the real reason I don't enjoy watching films with them is that sometimes they will raise a mirror that I'm not comfortable with, particularly on critically acclaimed films. Last year, we sat and watched The Hurt Locker together, and they didn't have a good time. Normally, I try to defend the critics point of view, but when I saw it, I wondered--- what was in this movie that every critic in the world seemed to see in this? This was the best film of the year? Precious and Up in the Air were light-years ahead of it. And Invictus and The Last Station were ignored in favor of it. Maybe the academy was saying something arguing against the war in Iraq, but The Messenger did it a lot better, and much less flashily. And if they hadn't been in the room, I might have had been able to talk myself out of it.

I had a similar POV with Kids are All Right. Now I thought that Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo gave brilliant performances, but this was the film that every critic in America (almost) had gone into paroxyms of joy over? Maybe I would've thought it was funnier on my own, but I've seen this filmmakers work; I've come to expect better from her.

I am perhaps giving my parents more credit than they have earned --- I'm capable of making my own judgments a lot of the time, and most of the time, I see beyond the flash and CGI of films to see that there's no 'there' there But because some part of me doesn't want to give the critics the benefit of the doubt, I follow their judgment other than my own far more often with movies than I do with TV. This may be the main reason that I'm reluctant to delve into the world of the silver screen more than the smaller one.

But I'm going to rectify that at least a little over the next few weeks. Tune in next week when I continue to bite the hand that I want to feed me, and continue to criticize critics.

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