The Oscars have been over for a while, and I find myself thinking about the way the awards doom otherwise good movies to unreasonable scrutiny, and ultimately, dismissal. There is a long list of Best Picture winners that I personally wouldn’t call the best movie of the year. In many cases (for some reason, I keep thinking of The Artist right now), I wouldn’t even call them the best movie amongst the nominees for that year. Despite the fact that no one allegedly cares about the Oscars, Best Picture winners tend to piss off an awful lot of people. Generally speaking, it’s not specifically the movie’s fault that an awards show you don’t like gave it significant recognition. But winning Best Picture, or worse yet, sweeping the Oscars, seems to brand a movie for life, for good or ill. It’s often too bad. A good movie is suddenly forced to compete with every movie released that year, every major Oscar winning film before it, and every movie in the history of the medium that should have won, or should have been nominated, but didn’t.
What’s my point? If you haven’t a Best Picture winner, and you’re planning to watch it, try to get stupid gold statue out of your head. In the same way that a box office monster isn’t necessarily a good movie, an Oscar-winning film shouldn’t be defined by that award. I like mentioning Oscar winners where it concerns people or films I like. I also like the trivia.
At the same time, I also think the fact that the Oscars can still define films, rather than the other way around, is one of the reasons why the Oscars are so goddamned annoying.
But it’s over for another year. We’re now left to consider the spring and summer movie releases, whether or not fiction can catch up to the cartoons horrors of our current reality, and how much more juice Hollywood can squeeze out of the current, ravenous demand for 80s and 90s nostalgia.
At some point, and feel free to remind me, we need to talk about the shitty original movies Netflix keeps putting out.
And no, I don’t judge you for your nostalgia frenzy. I’m as guilty of indulging it as anybody.
I mean, I don’t know about you, but you couldn’t keep me away from Michael Keaton playing the bad guy in a fucking Spiderman movie.
Jim Jarmusch Double Feature
Gimmie Danger (2016): A+
Paterson (2016): A-
Certainly, this is a great time to be a fan of Jim Jarmusch. In one corner, we have Gimmie Danger, which is likely to stand as the definitive documentary about Iggy Pop and The Stooges. In the other corner, we have Paterson, which has Jarmusch masterfully telling a deceptively simple story of a poet/bus driver (Adam Driver) named Paterson, and his life in Paterson, New Jersey.
We’re clearly dealing with two different subjects. Yet there are shared qualities to be found between them. One fictional, while the other is non-fiction, both stories nonetheless deal with creative types. Both Paterson and Iggy Pop are brilliant men, although obviously very different from one another. Throughout both films, we watch as they struggle in one fashion or another to find a creative purpose. Their paths differ wildly from that point, yet both exist and move throughout crumbling burbs that are populated by the unique, the dammed, the kind, and the hopelessly confused.
And of course, Iggy’s story is one of rage and near-suicidal dedication to anarchy. Even after he gave up drugs and alcohol, Iggy continued to use his energy to seek and destroy the bullshit that chokes society with varying degrees of force. He’s doing it right now, even in what is likely, and finally, the twilight of his career. Gimmie Danger is a powerful celebration of a powerful figure, one of the few true architects of punk rock. It pays tribute to a vital artist.
And then you have Paterson, who never screams. He never raises his voice. He absorbs everything, tries to be the best human being he can possibly be, and puts the excess into his poems. Paterson as a film might be the least pretentious tribute to poetry in recent memory. It is another compelling character study from Jarmusch. It might be his best one in twenty years.
Both films consider the subject of art. The fact that Jarmusch could move between two completely different figures is a singular achievement. He is still one of the best filmmakers working today.
Rules Don’t Apply (2016): C-
Rules Don’t Apply, which is likely to be the last movie Warren Beatty ever makes, perhaps even appears in, isn’t great. Overlong, and filled with shallow, unlikable characters, Beatty’s first film in years is filled with unfortunate, baffling problems. Baffling, if only because at one time, you could count on Beatty to be capable of something a little more. At this point, I would have simply settled for entertaining, engaging. Both of those qualities can be found in some of Beatty’s past performances, as well as in his past works as a writer and director.
Are these qualities non-existent in this story of Howard Hughes (Beatty), one of his young actresses under contract (Lily Collins), and a young, overly ambitious chauffeur (Alden Ehrenreich)? I wouldn’t go that far. As Rules Don’t Apply lumbers across a story of Hughes entering the final demented years of his unhappy life, coupled with a story that tries to find chemistry between Collins and Ehrenreich (it fails miserably), there are moments of brilliance. Beatty might be a shadow of his creative glory days, but he’s far from a hack. Rules Don’t Apply, a project Beatty has reportedly worked on for years, is clearly a labor of love. It features a pretty great performance from Beatty as Hughes, moments in which you can fully understand why Beatty persisted, and a solid ensemble that generally keeps us entertained.
Unfortunately, these things do not save us from the dismal chemistry between Collins and Ehrenreich, the fact that this movie did not need to run over two hours, and a complete lack of anything that could be even sarcastically construed as a point. As probable swan songs go, Rules Don’t Apply isn’t the worst way to mark the end of an area, which began with Beatty, Faye Dunaway, and Arthur Penn in Bonnie and Clyde. But the sparse good points of Rules Don’t Apply prove to be as annoying as they are pleasing. They suggest something that could have been so much more.
La La Land (2016): C+
If you can get past the bland characters and pitifully pointless story, La La Land is a marvelous tribute to movie musicals. The fact that it captures the spirit of the films that came from studios like MGM (who particularly excelled with the genre) without actively ripping them off is commendable. Damien Chazelle wants to celebrate movie musicals, jazz, and Los Angeles. From a visual standpoint, he succeeds.
He succeeds so brilliantly, an awful lot of people seem to lose sight of the movie’s numerous weaknesses. Again, there isn’t much of a story, and literally anyone could have played our stalwart lovers. That everyone loves Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone to bits, and keeping in mind their great shared energy, it’s easy to forget that these characters bring nothing to the table. La La Land is beautiful. Sometimes, that’s enough. The problem is that the film has a posture that arrogantly suggests it offers something more. It doesn’t. As I was consistently reminded of this during the movie, it was sometimes difficult to enjoy the aspects of this film that are absolutely stunning.
The Founder (2016): B+
At 65, Michael Keaton still has enough charisma to carry an entire movie. That isn’t to say that director John Lee Hancock doesn’t masterfully handle a film that condemns and appreciates the lengths one will go to with their idea of the American Dream. I’m definitely not implying that The Founder isn’t filled with marvelous performances from the likes of Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch. The Founder is a good film in many ways.
However, I would also argue that The Founder reaches the status of a great film on the shoulders of Michael Keaton as McDonalds chain founder Ray Kroc. Keaton has been on a considerable roll since Birdman, and it’s good to see that he continues to use the momentum to steal our attention in high-profile projects. The Founder is an immensely satisfying, surprisingly complex continuation of his comeback.
Chopping Mall: B+
The only significant problem I have with this near-perfect 1986 B movie is that it doesn’t feature enough in the way of Paul Bartel and Mary Woronov. Then again, nothing ever did.
No one is going to pretend Chopping Mall is a good film, in the sense that The Founder, which also gets a B+ rating in this column, can be considered a good film. But Wynorski’s best film in a career filled with cheap flicks and trash pics is way too much fun to hate. The performances are negligible. The story of robots attacking horny teens in a shopping mall after hours is ridiculous. But the movie has that wonderful charm of everyone trying to make this goddamn movie work, regardless of its many, many, many, many limitations. What Chopping Mall lacks in finesse it makes up for in technique and humor. It offers abundant examples of both. Best enjoyed with like-minded friends. Perhaps a few “special” brownies.