Monday, January 22, 2007

LOVE AND HATE FOR UNCLE OSCAR********** Plus My Perfect World Oscar Picks and Nonscientific Predictions for Tomorrow's Oscar Nominations

Is it just me? Have I finally, after nearly 47 years, become completely jaded and unimpressed by the Oscars? It can’t be the movies, can it? Despite the usual claims that this year was more lackluster than not by the standards of any given movie year, 2006 seemed to me a pretty juicy one for movies, and it certainly helps stack the ratio of good to bad by having to be extra judicious in the theatrical releases I pay out of my own pocket to see—just like the Joe Moviegoer I am, I’m a whole lot less likely to bet my $11 on a movie that could go either way, and I tend to save titles with iffier expectations (Thank You For Smoking, The Devil Wears Prada) for DVD. Sometimes this process of elimination makes me end up wishing I’d seen the movie on the big screen (16 Blocks, Slither); and sometimes I’m made exceedingly glad for my reticence and a priori judgment calls (Clerks 2, Lucky Number Slevin). And even though I didn’t see everything I needed to see this year (yet), I know that there are plenty of movies in 2006 deserving of honor from the Academy.

So maybe it’s the fact that, in the dark shadow of the Directors Guild snubs of Clint Eastwood, Guillermo del Toro and Alfonso Cuaron, dear old, dotty Uncle Oscar looks poised to honor yet another contrived, good-for-you ensemble drama about man’s inability to communicate/connect with/tolerate his fellow man—after all, we’re all so much more tightly knit and understanding of each others’ foibles and prejudices as a nation of moviegoers after having been force-fed Crash; why not use the power of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to bring us all closer together as a bruised and battered humanity subject to the chronologically scrambled chaos theory of Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s Babel? (The models for these post-9/11 behavioral studies—the ensemble narratives of Robert Altman’s films—were never quite so morally tidy or relentlessly showy in their pessimism, and therefore routinely escaped Academy coronation.)

But it’s not all Babel’s fault. Any Oscar show that stands to be dominated by the uber-quirk of Little Miss Sunshine (a movie I liked) or the hype surrounding the glossy, insistently shallow Dreamgirls (a movie I sorta liked) promises to be less than fascinating. No less than absolutely assured is Helen Mirren’s ascendance to the Oscar throne, and good for her, by the way—she deserves it. The rewarding of this great performance is as tight a lock as any in Oscar history, even though it has yet to be officially nominated—the odds are more likely that the sun won’t rise on Tuesday morning, when the nominees are announced, than that Mirren will be left off the roster of honorees. However, though shoo-in status is sometimes directed toward the nominees that actually should win, they almost never serve to increase the amusement level for Oscar watchers on the big night. (Remember the feeling of that heavy blanket being dropped over the proceedings nine years ago when it became clear very early on that Titanic was going to dominate the awards even more than previously expected?)

And maybe my disinterest in this year’s awards can be traced to something as simple as my finally accepting, after nearly 40 years of resisting the idea, that the Oscars really don’t have much to do with what’s great, or even good, in any given year. There are just too many excellent, important movies floating through the halls of film history that never caught the gold man’s gaze to come to any other conclusion. Even film critics have admitted on occasion that movies they thought were brilliant and worthy of the highest praise have sometimes ended up looking a whole lot less worthy 10 or 20 years down the line. So why should the majority-vote conclusions of the Oscar voting body be any different? (All I have to do to drive home this point is think of how badly I ache to revisit the likes of Ordinary People, Chariots of Fire, Gandhi, Out of Africa or Rainman.) And to be honest, even in years when films like The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King and Million Dollar Baby held court at the Kodak Theater (both movies well deserving of the honors they received), I’ve had more fun poring over the individual observations of year-end critics top 10 lists and comparing them to my own observations and preferences than following the whimsies of Oscar leading up to his night of nights. And this is truer than ever when considering the movies of 2006.

To paraphrase the great popular romantic philosopher Peter Cetera (an Oscar nominee himself, by the way, for this), Oscar is a hard habit to break. I used to get up at 5:00 in the morning and watch the nominees announced by the bleary-eyed president of the Academy, last year’s Supporting Actress winner steadfastly by his side, keeping him from tipping over. I used to look forward to it with a ridiculous level of excitement. But this year, yesterday, as a matter of fact, my wife told me that Tuesday morning, January 23, was the big morning. Three days before the event, and it was news to me. If she hadn’t said anything, I feel sure I wouldn’t have been aware of it at all and would have been shocked out of my undies to see the announcement when I innocently clicked for my daily fix from the Internet Movie Database.

But indifference to the awards themselves aside, the ritual of watching on Oscar night still holds sway over my better instincts of taste and common sense. I almost always find the show a whole lot more interesting, and less boring, than do the insta-pundits whose evaluations, perhaps tapped out on BlackBerries just outside the doors of the Governor’s Ball or Elton John’s Vanity Fair after-party, are featured in the morning-after editions of the Los Angeles Times and other publications that love to dis their Oscar cake and eat it too. I’m in the minority of viewers, too, who still think that David Letterman’s appearance as emcee added up to one of the best Oscar shows I’ve ever seen. However uncomfortable he might have been, Letterman was clearly too smart and loose for the room that night. I’d like to think, now that the era of Billy Crystal and Whoopi Goldberg seems, thankfully, to have passed and Jon Stewart’s sharp, irreverent performance has been hailed as a new standard, that Letterman might have a much more receptive audience were he ever to try the job again—Uma and Oprah might just get the joke this time.

So, yes, go ahead, Oscar, name Babel (which I will probably be shamed into seeing, despite my previous declaration of having no interest in it) as Best Picture of the Year; tell me Dreamgirls featured the year’s best editing, or Little Miss Sunshine the best original screenplay of 2006. I’ll grin and bear it, because even though you are an imperfect popularity contest insufficient to the task of actually honoring the best in movies regardless of public perception and/or box office performance, you’re still an excellent excuse for gathering about the TV (or the computer) and talking about the year’s movies one last time with friends and family. (So are the Independent Spirit Awards, for that matter, and this year Sarah Silverman is back! But the less said about the Golden Globes Awards, notwithstanding the acceptance speeches of Hugh Laurie and Sacha Baron Cohen, the better.) I will do my level best to be glad for the nominees that I like, especially if they win, and not worry about the absurdity of your inclusion of one or exclusion of another. I will try not to grind my teeth too intensely or roll my eyes more vigorously than my optometrist would recommend when a nominee I deem unworthy ends up reigning supreme. And I will struggle to remember that, as my wife constantly urges me at this time of the year, you, Oscar, mean virtually nothing except to those who win you and those who don’t. As a barometer for the quality of film culture, you are unreliable at best, blind and unforgiving at worst, and witheringly vulnerable to the overriding, prevailing wisdom of time. But as garishly enjoyable television, and as a peek into how the movie industry sees itself, through rose-colored contacts, as cosmetically and pharmaceutically and egotistically enhanced as any big-budget epic, you’re just about unmatchable.

Oscar, a lot of the movies of 2006 are too smart for you. Hell, I’m too smart for you. But you had me in 1969 with “And the winner is Midnight Cowboy” and you’ve got me 37 years later, for better and worse, with “And the Oscar goes to…” You are, at this point, for better and worse, an inextricable, though increasingly unimportant, element of the movies themselves for me. Your claims of devotion to the art of film are certainly no more laughable than the protestations of those who regally profess absolutely no interest in your ceremonial machinations. And I suspect we will continue this one-sided relationship until you do something really unforgivable, like name Rob Schneider best actor of the year, or bestow a lifetime achievement award upon someone like Uwe Boll or Dennis Dugan. Until that dark day comes, however, there will always be a place for you once a year on my living room television set, and room enough for a few words about you here.

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So, with an eye toward Tuesday morning, and a nod of acknowledgement toward the staff of critics at The New York Times, here’s a couple of lists to occupy your time (and, of course, mine) in the waning hours before the specifics of the Oscar race solidify. First, my Perfect World Oscar Nominations, a list of 10 categories populated only by the nominees I would choose, regardless of the likelihood they would ever be noticed by the Academy in the real world. Then, my last-minute, absolutely non-scientific, seat-of-my-sweat-pants guesses for what the list of actual nominees will look like in those same major categories. I profess no insight here, nor do I expect that my picks will be anywhere close to what will be announced on Tuesday—many far smarter, far more invested prognosticators than I will produce heavily considered guesses that are just as likely to have a mile-wide hole or two poked in them by the vicissitudes of Uncle Oscar’s tendency to throw in a monkey-wrench nomination here or there, just so we won’t think him too dotty or predictable. And that’s what I like best about the whole Oscar process—the ability of the Academy to set the likes of Sammy Rubin and George Pennacchio and Jillian Barberie all aflutter, the sleep barely blinked out of their eyes, as they chatter endlessly about “What were they thinking?” and how they just knew Ryan Philippe and Daniel Craig were locks for Best Actor nominations. Let the madness begin.

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MY PERFECT WORLD 2006 OSCAR NOMINATIONS

BEST PICTURE
Children of Men
Letters from Iwo Jima
Pan’s Labyrinth
A Prairie Home Companion
Three Times

BEST DIRECTOR
Robert Altman, A Prairie Home Companion
Alfonso Cuaron, Children of Men
Guillermo del Toro, Pan’s Labryinth
Clint Eastwood, Letters from Iwo Jima
Hou Hsiao-hsien, Three Times

BEST ACTRESS
Ivana Baquero, Pan’s Labyrinth
Gong Li, Curse of the Golden Flower
Helen Mirren, The Queen
Gretchen Mol, The Notorious Bettie Page
Shu Qui, Three Times

BEST ACTOR
Jack Black, Nacho Libre
Sacha Baron Cohen, Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious
Nation of Kazakhstan

Clive Owen, Children of Men
Ken Watanabe, Letters from Iwo Jima
Bruce Willis, 16 Blocks

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Jennifer Hudson, Dreamgirls
Gong Li, Miami Vice
Julia Stiles, The Omen 666
Meryl Streep, The Devil Wears Prada
Meryl Streep, A Prairie Home Companion

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Sacha Baron Cohen, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby
Mos Def, 16 Blocks
Paul Giamatti, The Illusionist
Kazunari Ninomiya, Letters from Iwo Jima
Mark Wahlberg, The Departed

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Nick Cave, The Proposition
Mike Judge, Etan Cohen, Idiocracy
Peter Morgan, The Queen
Kevin Willmott, The Confederate States of America
Iris Yamashita, Letters from Iwo Jima

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Alfonso Cuaron, Timothy J. Sexton, David Arata, Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby,
Children of Men
Susannah Grant, Karey Kirkpatrick, Charlotte’s Web
William Monahan, The Departed
Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Paul Haggis, Casino Royale
Jonathan Raymond, Kelly Reichardt, Old Joy

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
Ping Bing Lee, Three Times
Emmanuel Lubiezki, Children of Men
Guillermo Navarro, Pan’s Labyrinth
Wally Pfister, The Prestige
Tom Stern, Letters from Iwo Jima

BEST FILM EDITING
Joel Cox, Gary Roach, Letters from Iwo Jima
Alfonso Cuaron, Alex Rodriguez, Children of Men
William, Goldenberg, Paul Rubell, Miami Vice
Steve Mirkovich, 16 Blocks
Bernat Vilaplana, Pan’s Labyrinth

MY REAL WORLD 2006 OSCAR NOMINATION PICKS



BEST PICTURE
Babel
The Departed
Little Miss Sunshine
The Queen
United 93

BEST DIRECTOR
Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris, Little Miss Sunshine
Clint Eastwood, Letters from Iwo Jima
Paul Greengrass, United 93
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Babel
Martin Scorsese, The Departed

BEST ACTRESS
Penelope Cruz, Volver
Judi Dench, Notes on a Scandal
Helen Mirren, The Queen
Gretchen Mol, The Notorious Bettie Page
Meryl Streep, The Devil Wears Prada

BEST ACTOR
Leonardo Di Caprio, The Departed
Sacha Baron Cohen, Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious
Nation of Kazakhstan

Ryan Gosling, Half Nelson
Peter O’Toole, Venus
Forest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Abigail Breslin, Little Miss Sunshine
Emily Blunt, The Devil Wears Prada
Jennifer Hudson, Dreamgirls
Rinko Kikuchi, Babel
Catherine O’Hara, For Your Consideration

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Alan Arkin, Little Miss Sunshine
Adam beach, Flags of Our Fathers
Jackie Earle Haley, Little Children
Eddie Murphy, Dreamgirls
Jack Nicholson, The Departed

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Pedro Almodovar, Volver
Michael Arndt, Little Miss Sunshine
Ryan Fleck, Anna Boden, Half Nelson
Peter Morgan, The Queen
Iris Yamashita, Letters from Iwo Jima

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
William Broyles Jr., Paul Haggis, Flags of Our Fathers
Alfonso Cuaron, Timothy J. Sexton, David Arata,
Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Children of Men
Bill Condon, Dreamgirls
Todd Field, Tom Perrotta, Little Children
William Monahan, The Departed

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Speaking of love and hate and Uncle Oscar, Edward Copeland has the results of his survey of the Best and Worst BEST ACTRESS winners in Oscar history. Make a sandwich or two, pour a big mug of coffee, perhaps a Big Gulp, or whatever beverage you prefer, block off no less than an entire evening, and enjoy the bounty of data Edward has served up for this year’s survey.

The Top 10 Worst Best Actresses

Some Actresses Not Quite Bad Enough To Make The Final List

Worst Performances Ranked By Ballot

12 Winning Best Actress Performances That Got Through The Voting Process Without Picking Up A Single “Worst” Vote

The Untouchable Actress Whose Performance Gathered Neither a Single “Worst” Nor a Single “Best” Vote

A Summary of the Survey Results (Part 1)

The Top 10 BEST Best Actress Winners

Performances That Weren’t Good Enough to Make the Top 10 BEST Best Actresses

The BEST Best Actresses Ranked By Ballot

18 Performances That Didn’t Get a Single Vote for BEST Best Actress

A Summary of the Survey Results (Part 2)

Whew! What an incredible survey. I can’t wait to dig into it myself! Edward, you have raised the bar for the Oscar obsessive, and I love ya for it!

More on the Oscars over the next month, to be sure, including a look at Ennio Morricone, who will be receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award at this year’s Oscar ceremony. Stay tuned.

17 comments:

andyhorbal said...

I think that this might be the year that I finally break the habit. It's not the movies, it's not "Oscar fatigue." It's the fact that I really, truly just don't care. It's easy for a regular person, the type who goes to see 5 or 6 films in the theater per year, to take a casual interest in the Academy Awards. But I begin to wonder if homo cinephile is capable of taking the middle ground: it seems it's "I love 'em," "I hate 'em," or "I'm totally indifferent" from here on in for me...

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Oh, I think homo cinephile can take the middle ground, and I think that's where I've been most of my adult life with the Oscars. But can he/she stay there? The pushmepullyou I've experienced this year between indifference and outright disinterest suggests maybe not. If it's the movies, then maybe next year I'll be back in full-on Oscar enjoyment mode when a better crop gets nominated. If not, well, what was that Biblical verse about it being time to put away childish things? The thing is, it's the Oscar show that I usually find inordinately entertaining, and not just for the camp/disaster-in-the-waiting factor. I genuinely do enjoy settling down for an evening where people at least pretend to be interested in the art of film, however fatuously. I'm reminded of that recent conversation with David Edelstein et al that Jim wrote about, where Scott Van Airsdale posed the question, "So, how long before we admit that Top 10s are completely intellectually bankrupt exercises?" I think pretty much everyone understands, at least on some level, that the Oscars are intellectually bankrupt. So, for those of us who remain interested, I guess the question is, why do we keep watching? Why do we keep following the horse race? Why do we, in any small increment at all, still care?

That Little Round-Headed Boy said...

Oh, Andy, young defender of cinema: You need to lighten up on this one. It's fun. Don't deny yourself. It's just like a big blog-a-thon, but with better looking bloggers (I'm just guessing there.) Just make a big plate of that macaroni and cheese of yours and have a totally cheesy evening!

Dennis Cozzalio said...

That's the word: fun. It's a less defensible concept, perhaps, especially if you take the idea of rewarding movies for their achievements at all seriously. But even the Independent Spirit Awards are fun-- even more so, some might say, than the Oscars. That's what keeps me watching the show, even when I'm less enthused about what I'm assuming will be the year's crop of nominees. That and the opportunity to see the likes of Federico Fellini, Charlie Chaplin, Michelangelo Antonioni, Elia Kazan, Robert Altman take the stage in past years, and this year Ennio Morricone. I may fret and fuss about whether it all means anything, but when it comes down to it, I can't imagine missing the broadcast. If I want to take the pulse on the year in film and try to determine what it means, well, I've got my friends in the blogosophere to help me do that.

Peter Nellhaus said...

Too bad they can't play music by Morricone during the entire show. I'm probably going to miss the show this year as I have no idea if there will be an Oscar broadcast in Thailand. It would figure that the year it looks like Marty will win, I gotta miss it. One possible outcome of the awards and a future obvious double feature would involve Queen Helen and King Forest. I did find your perfect world noms interesting, especially for Gretchen Mol.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Hey, Peter. If you have your all-region player with you and would like a dub of the show, I'll be dubbing it directly onto a DVD-R disc as it airs and would be glad to send you a copy, if you'd like. How are the thai chiles these days?

Interesting. I hadn't thought of the King and the Queen. If Prince gets a nomination for Best Song (Happy Feet), why, all we'd be missing is a princess? Jennifer Hudson, perhaps?

Flickhead said...

If it'll make you feel any better, the last time I watched an Oscar telecast, John Huston, Akira Kurosawa and Billy Wilder were on stage together to announce the Best Picture winner. (Out of Africa, 1985.)

Burbanked said...

Wow, Dennis, I figured that I was the only film fan alive who was utterly tickled by The David Letterman Year. If anything it pointed out how incredibly pandering and on-the-nose that Billy Crystal had become. The fact is that that crowd doesn't really want sardonic humor and caustic wit. They're there to celebrate themselves in as back-patting a fashion as possible, and it was a bit surprising to me last year that Stewart got the accolades that he did.

As frustrating and ultimately empty an experience as it tends to often be, however, I can't not watch it. It's not even an issue, or a question in my house. It's more of a given than the Super Bowl (and I live in Pittsburgh, for Rooney's sake).

And for every person who says that the show is too long and wishes that the Oscar producers would remove the edited film pieces and montages, I'd like to suggest, in the words of my deal old dad, that they can happily go blank themselves.

blaaagh said...

I'm with you on Gretchen Mol's performance: hers, for me, is maybe the most memorable of the year. I also think your list of perfect world nominations is an incredible feat of paying attention--and good judgment.

As for the relevance of the Oscars...I've spent much of the last year watching old films I'd scarcely heard of, and never before seen, many of them recommended by you, and I am comforted by the fact that, no matter what the academy picks as "best," those films will either hold up or they won't. Certainly I have been carried away by one film and find several years later that I find it terrible, or just uninteresting. You're right, though: the show itself is intermittently wonderful for all the moments of candor, of ancient directors and actors tottering up to the stage to be honored, and for those moments of party-night affection like when Meryl Streep & Lily Tomlin introduced Robert Altman, and his pithy speech which followed. How could I miss the opportunity for something like that? And yeah--I still think it should run long; make the tribute clips longer, let people make longer speeches, etc.

andyhorbal said...

I'm fun, damn it! And I'm surrendering anyway: the nominations are interesting this year: they had me at Penélope Cruz. I think I underestimated the effect of seeing almost every nominated film...

Round-Headed Boy, Dennis, I'm sure that I'll be sitting in front of my television with that macaroni and cheese and a bottle of champagne just like last year. So I'll be good and be quiet now!

Anonymous said...

Wait, you spent an entire paragraph bashing Babel and you haven't even seen it yet?

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Producer Lynda Obst and critic David Edlestein are e-mailing back and forth about the Oscars at Daily Intelligencer.

Obst had some interesting things to say in her most recent e-mail about two movies-- Babel, Blood Diamond-- I’ve resisted and one movie-- Little Miss Sunshine-- that I liked but wasn’t as taken with as have many have been. Here’s what she said:

Little Miss Sunshine may be the industry underdog favorite. That was a secret I was going to share with you — until yesterday, when it was voted best picture by the Producers Guild, which kind of tipped my hand. Why does the industry love it? Maybe because we are one big dysfunctional family. Or maybe it's because we're all individually nutty, and our real families are cuckoo. All I know is that it is NOT because it's the only movie we can agree on. (What does that mean, anyway? We certainly didn't all agree on Crash, and it won!) When I saw it the week it came out, I laughed, cried, never stopped thinking about it, and said, "This is the movie to beat." No other movies compared to it. It's about finding grace through helping someone else achieve an impossible goal; how through family, even non-functioning family, the slightest efforts to come together turn to joy. This is profound. And uplifting. I would like to remind you and your other critic friends that there is nothing wrong with uplifting if it is earned and real. It can change the world. Or one person. I am deeply envious of the producer who found this script. Works like that are why I make movies.

I agree that it is delightful and right that Leo should be nominated for his terrific performance in Blood Diamond. His accent was so perfect, I was reminded of Meryl doing Isak Dinesen in Out of Africa, and what a moment in acting that was. But his accent was a throwaway — not the centerpiece of the performance. What an actor. And yet it's Forest's year. I think. The range in his performance was operatic.

Babel: An Oscar picture for sure. But one with a problem — half the serious moviegoing audience refuses to see it. It's just too grim. It is the opposite of Little Miss Sunshine. Many people find it didactic and contrived, but that's the filmmaker's intent. The movie worked for me. The portrait of the U.S. border guard is horrific, and in general, America's efforts to be constructive are viewed with utter despair. But that's why we invite non-American filmmakers to make meaningful films. Babel needs an Oscar. The resistance to the film must be broken.”

I think I’m in for an interesting weekend at the movies.

P said...

I am amazed that there is never any mention of Michael Ritchie’s fantastic Smile, from 1975, when it comes to Miss Sunshine. A superior film, on all levels.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

P, I'm always glad to be reminded of Smile-- it is a great movie, one of the few movies, in my opinion, that approached the sensibility of a Robert Altman film with any success without feeling like empty homage or utter rip-off.

As for Little Miss Sunshine, there's plenty of obvious differences betwen the two, but the disdain reserved for the creepy underpinnings of beauty paegants are certainly shared between them. And I think, even though their structures are dissimilar, there are interesting comparisons to be made in the way the two movies look at the American family and the value of not winning. Smile is definitely superior, though, I think. Little Miss Sunshine is plenty enjoyable in its own right, but is also comparatively conventional.

How does everyone feel about the rest of the nominations?

Jen said...

So much to comment/reflect on... BUT, in the meanwhile... let me just say that I FLOVE the fact that you acknowledge the fact that David Letterman's hosting performance is SERIOUSLY unappreciated.

You and I will stand alone in front of St. Peter, Dennis, it's clear...

Christian said...

Dennis, your aversion to "Babel" is disappointing. Along with "Pan's Labyrinth" and "Little Children" -- another film dismissed by critics I've spoken to, who place it among the "suburban angst" dramas of the 1990s -- it's one of three films I saw this year that I'd describe as outright masterpieces.

The antipathy toward "Babel" by so many has really surprised me. I can't think of a better Best Picture winner, but if that comes to pass, the howls of protest such recognition will be greeted with will be more than any film Best Picture winner in recent memory.

I'm still not sure why Innaritu can't break through as a major contender as Best Director. We all know it's Scorcese's year, supposedly because he "regained" his mojo from 1990. That's all well and good, and he's way overdue, but Innaritu pulled off a dazzling feat with "Babel," juggling multiple languages, cultures, and personalities to produce an intense but ultimately uplifting tale of the human condition.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Christian: I did finally fight off my aversion and saw Babel Saturday night. While I found it nowhere near the structural mess and aggravating pile of misery that 21 Grams was, and while I found it extremely well-acted throughout, I just can't buy the notion that it's all that visually interesting, structurally illuminating, or even all that intense (outside some squirming over the fates of those two kids broiling under the Sonora Desert sun).

Sure, I get what Innaritu is going for, but it seems to me that he's using this intercutting of the stories to mask the basic banality of their themes and narratives.

I want to take time to write a more substantive piece about the movie before Oscar night, but in a nusthell, I was talking about it to a friend in an e-mail yesterday, and as I expressed to him, I found the
ratio of general unpleasantness to artistic rewards way too lopsided here in favor of the former. And, like in 21 Grams, I began to wonder, about halfway through, if there's any room in Inarritu's vision, while pursuing all these universal truths about our inability to communicate globally and personally, for a moment of simple pleasure. In Babel the only ones that show up are staged under a gathering cloud of doom-- that cheerful Mexican wedding is shot through with portents of agony to come that are there not to accentuate the joy of a couple coming together, but merely to serve as a simplistic contrast to all the misery to follow, as if to say, be happy now, for this too shall pass. (This is profound?)

And I guess I'm just tired of big-time directors using the threat (and the delivery) of violence or death upon innocent children to amp up their big statements.

I don't resent Babel the way I did 21 Grams, and I certainly respect the opinions of those, like you, who think it's a fine movie. (To steal an apt response from a fellow critic who found much disagreement directed his way regarding his review of The Black Dahlia, your mileage may vary.)

And if Babel gets crowned on Oscar night, I doubt there'll be as much outcry, because I don't think it insults the audience's intelligence the way Crash does. Personally, I'll just shrug and chalk another up to Oscar, who has definitely gotten it wrong a whole lot more often than he's gotten it right.