If I were going to make a top ten list of movie top ten lists, Christopher Orr‘s would be number one. I love reading his end-of-year pieces in The Atlantic. The best of the year list is just the beginning. Then he goes into a brilliant examination of the year through a series of hilarious categories. This year’s best include:
Best Use of a 10cc Song: “I’m Not in Love,” Guardians of the Galaxy
Runner-up: “Dreadlock Holiday,” Life of Crime
Best Batman: Will Arnett, The Lego Movie
Best Alfred: Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, The Trip to Italy
Trends of the Year: Ironically self-conscious sequels (22 Jump Street, Muppets Most Wanted), drum solos (Birdman, Whiplash), Tilda Swinton in terrifying makeup (Snowpiercer, The Grand Budapest Hotel), Jason Reitman making awful movies (Labor Day; Men, Women & Children), final-act defenestrations (Birdman, Ida), tragic marital outcomes for Sienna Miller (Foxcatcher, American Sniper)
“Love Actually” has become a Christmas tradition. The assorted stories of romance, from comic to tender to bittersweet, take place at Christmastime, with a rousing performance of “All I Want for Christmas is You” from Olivia Olson.
I think it offers up at least three disturbing lessons about love. First, that love is overwhelmingly a product of physical attraction and requires virtually no verbal communication or intellectual/emotional affinity of any kind. Second, that the principal barrier to consummating a relationship is mustering the nerve to say “I love you”—preferably with some grand gesture—and that once you manage that, you’re basically on the fast track to nuptial bliss. And third, that any actual obstacle to romantic fulfillment, however surmountable, is not worth the effort it would require to overcome.
Of course, there are many people who feel differently and it seemed that most of them responded in writing. In Mother Jones, Ben Dreyfuss wrote a piece called “Why ‘Love Actually’ Matters,” noting that he had seen the film at least 40 times. “In ‘Love Actually,’ as in life, people fall in love for crazy reasons…Is the movie a meaningful blueprint on how to meet your life’s love and make it last with them forever? Of course not. But is it romantic? Yes! Romance is the big gesture. Romance is the love that erupts without a spoken word.”
I like “Love Actually” not because I think it’s a compelling celebration of love, or because it’s a good holiday movie, but because of how sad the film often is…. can be painfully clear-eyed about how difficult it is not to have access to that bounty of affection, and to what are supposed to be happy endings.
“Love Actually” shows awkward, charming, complicated entanglements that can be very instructive in thinking about love. To help explain why, I hereby declare my second in this duel: C.S. Lewis. Although a mid-century Christian apologist might seem like an bizarre choice for back-up in a battle about a romantic comedy, his book The Four Loves provides a helpful framework for examining the big question “Love Actually”asks: What is love, actually?
Well, for starters, it’s a lot more than romance. Some of the movie’s most “aww!”-inducing moments do involve big, dramatic declarations of the heart (more on that later), but the most interesting of the movie’s nine or 10 subplots are those that don’t quite fit the expected rom-com mold. That’s because they’re not romantic at all: They’re versions of the first two kinds of love Lewis writes about, affection and friendship.
I think there are two flaws common to many of the defenses of “Love Actually” I’ve seen in comments, on Twitter, and elsewhere on the web. The first is attempting to defend each subplot on an individual basis. I agree that (with one notable exception) any given storyline is perfectly defensible on its own merits. The problem, rather, is the patterns that emerge when you consider the film as a whole. One subplot about an older man wooing a much-younger subordinate? Fine. But three? And on it goes: not one, but two gags (three, if you count the Colin subplot) about how the only possible way a man could overcome heartbreak is with the assistance of one or more supermodels; two storylines in which women (never men) see their romantic lives shattered by obstacles that ought to be surmountable; and, most important, upwards of half a dozen subplots in which characters go directly from initial physical infatuation to (presumed) happily-ever-afters, without remotely bothering to get to know one another in between. These repeated themes are not coincidental.
The second mistake is trying to defend the Keira Knightley storyline, which is flat-out indefensible. Cut it loose, “Love Actually” fans! It’s an anchor that can only bring you down with it.
I “actually” found this debate more entertaining than the movie, which I find problematic but still fun to watch.
Lone Ranger — A Bad Movie Sparks Some Good Comments
Posted on July 13, 2013 at 8:00 am
It’s often more fun to read about a bad movie than a good one (more fun to write about a bad one, too). “The Lone Ranger” is not a terrible movie. It does not inspire the kind of horrified hyperbole of legendary hubristic disasters like “Battlefield Earth” but it is the kind of bad movie that inspires some exceptionally thoughtful insights. Some I have particularly enjoyed include:
The film has plenty of weaknesses—an unevenness of tone, a surfeit of plot convolutions, some problematic political echoes—but its central flaw is that it is absurdly, punishingly overlong. Tucked away somewhere in its 149-minute running time, there is a clever, corny summer diversion lasting perhaps an hour and three-quarters. But this is the era of the Big Cinematic Event, and if you don’t want every single dollar of a $200-million-plus budget to be waved in your face—well, you may as well stay home and watch TV….somewhere around the hour-and-a-half mark, The Lone Ranger makes the fateful decision not to end. Worse, the movie keeps not-ending for another full hour. Unnecessary backstories unspool, tiresome gimmicks get rolled out—look! there’s Helena Bonham Carter as a tough-but-decent prostitute whose wooden leg is really a gun—and dull new villains are revealed to be behind the perfectly compelling originals. The final action sequence (also set on a train) proves to be as exhausting as the first was amusing, with the body count escalating unpleasantly and the William Tell Overture—used sparingly throughout most of the film—commencing to trample everything in its path.
This leads to an hilarious discussion of more movies that should have done more with less.
I can’t say whether I might enjoy a Transformers movie that was under two hours long—but one reason that I can’t say is because the ones that Michael Bay has offered up to us have clocked in at 144, 149, and 154 minutes respectively. And it’s not just the summer blockbusters: Les Miserables was a polished, well-crafted film that labored under the misconception that viewers wanted to pass the 19th century in real time. And don’t get me started on Peter Jackson’s first installment of The Hobbit or, like the movie itself, I might never stop.
Even the most widely criticized movie has its defenders, and I always like to listen to those who see more in a movie than I do. On Rogerebert.com, Matt Zoller Seitz wrote an excellent review about the small, personal film he found inside the blockbuster:
or all its miscalculations, this is a personal picture, violent and sweet, clever and goofy. It’s as obsessive and overbearing as Steven Spielberg’s “1941” — and, I’ll bet, as likely to be re-evaluated twenty years from now, and described as “misunderstood.”…How do you adapt the Ranger for multicultural, post-9/11, post-financial-meltdown America? That’s the question. The filmmakers grapple with it amusingly, and throw in large-scale action, broad slapstick, and black-comedy banter while they’re at it.
Jeannette Catsoulis tells us the Oscars should embrace the lowbrow in Las Vegas CityLife: tudios spend all year milking dollars from young people only to turn around at Oscar time, overcome with shame and a newly minted commitment to quality, and nominate a bunch of old-lady favorites. (Only one of this year’s nominees is even set in this century.) Am I — gasp! — arguing for award by populism? Damn right I am: If Hollywood wants support for its sickeningly expensive, annual display of onanism, it needs to be proud of what it does best. Leave the recognition of Art to the Independent Spirit Awards and the Director’s Guild and give Oscar back to the people who keep him in business: average Americans.
She makes a compelling argument that the movies overlooked by Oscar like “Dark Knight” and “Quantum of Solace” are not just bigger at the box office — they are better. In the future, the organizers should give Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin co-hosting duties (with no restrictions on the jokes), have Matt Stone and Trey Parker write the intros, give Stan Lee as many awards as possible and invite Miley Cyrus and the Jonas clones to sing the nominated songs. Christopher Orr also objects to stuffiness of the nominees at The New Republic, which he describes as “the mushy middle, a showcase of high-toned, politically palatable films meticulously engineered to approximate art.” “WALL-E,” for my money the best film of the year, was relegated to the animated-film ghetto from which only “Beauty and the Beast” has ever emerged. “The Dark Knight”–which, for all its flaws, was an ambitious, fascinating work of pop mythology–will have to content itself with whatever technical awards it can scrape up. (Best Visual Effects! In your face, “Iron Man!”) And even as the Academy ignored the summer’s big mass-cultural phenomena, it simultaneously managed to skip over the fall and early winter’s quieter, more thoughtful indies–“The Wrestler,” “Rachel Getting Married,” and the bleak, bewildering “Synecdoche, New York.” Dana Stevens in Slate finds the “aestheticization of Indian poverty unsettling” in “Slumdog Millionare” and is bothered by the “icky premise” of “The Reader.” She wistfully hopes for more “weirdness,” not just in the movies but from the actors, to make it more fun to watch.