It was only six years ago that the name “Lady Gaga” would have sounded like nonsense, which is exactly what I thought of it when I first heard of the lady. I didn’t flip for “Just Dance” the way everybody else did and was rather annoyed when this seemingly vapid prostitute made her meteoric rise to fame (self-consciously foretold in her very first album title) based on nothing but paparazzi, money (honey), and boys, boys, boys. She was hailed as the greatest thing to hit pop music since you-know-who, and in my eyes, we already had a perfectly good Material Girl.
Some movies are tougher sells than others. Certain films are almost willfully difficult to sell. How about a nice uplifting movie called All Is Lost, which features exactly three instances of dialogue — some voice over in the beginning, a distress call spoken into a malfunctioning radio, and one expletive shouted to the heavens. (If I were in this character’s place, there would have been a lot more profanity.)
And if you give a major movie star AIDS, he’ll probably want an Oscar.
So it goes. The year 2013 is shaping up to be a year of Very Important Movies. Multiple Civil Rights stories are already gunning for prizes, including Fruitvale Station, The Butler, and (most promisingly) 12 Years A Slave. It is, naturally, tough to beat a well-made, well-acted slavery drama at the Oscars, because few “issues” have such import. But AIDS does. We’ve come a long way since Philadelphia, which saw Tom Hanks win a golden boy. And yet AIDS isn’t something Hollywood touches on too often, especially in a direct, “this whole movie is about it!” way. AIDS is a fresher topic than slavery, certainly.
In the Best Actor race, we’re likely to see the slavery contender (Chiwetel Ejiofor) vie with the AIDS movie star (Matthew McConaughey), and who can really say which issue trumps which? McConaughey is the bigger star, of course, and Best Actor often — but not always, Jean Dujardin — goes to a veteran Hollywood player. (Tom Hanks will likely also be in the running, but minus the AIDS this year.) It’s a good thing there’s no big Holocaust movie coming out in 2013, because then the battle would get really bloody.
My last review was Twelve Years A Slave, a movie that could very well top my year-end “Best Of 2013″ list, a movie that could very well win Best Picture at the Academy Awards next spring. But who knows? Success is hard to predict.
I’m pretty sure what you’ll find at the very bottom of my “Best Of 2013″ list, though, and that’s Escape From Tomorrow. Shot largely inside Disneyland and Disney World, the movie created some buzz at Sundance and has opened to astonishingly lukewarm reviews. (I say astonishing because, really, they should be so much worse.)
I saw Steve McQueen’s 12 Years A Slave last night, and I could so identify with the protagonist Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) — because I, too, have been subject to the twisted whims and brutal hand of cruel fates and a merciless master. I saw the movie in the Arclight’s Cinerama Dome, and as the final credits rolled, I was struck by a peculiar feeling of melancholy and despair. Not because I’d just been witness to an innocent man’s dozen years of brutal torture — no, something far worse. I searched my pockets, my wallet, under my seat… and yet I knew, without a doubt, that my parking ticket had been displaced some time ago, and certain suffering awaited me in the near future.
I checked my car, knowing it fruitless. I proceeded back to the Dome, which had already all but shut down for the night. I was told to try the box office, so I embarked upon a journey there, only to be met with a long line and an employee sympathetic to my plight who scoured for lost tickets, finding none. He printed me a movie ticket for my showing (since I had only a digital copy) and suggested I tell the people at the gates of my plight.
Slightly emboldened, I returned to my car and presented my ticket to the middle-aged Latina woman. Surely she would show mercy? I plastered on my best dumb blonde look (not really an act — I am pretty stupid), informing her that I had lost my ticket but the people at the box office said to present this movie ticket so I could be on my merry way. She would have none of my nonsense. “Did they tell you a lost ticket pays twenty dollars?” she hissed, having been through this charade before. Finally she surmised that since I had the movie ticket, I could get away with paying the $12 daily maximum rather than the $20 nightly maximum (what the difference is is beyond me). I complied, realizing I would never bargain myself down to the $3 charge per validated ticket. I was resigned to my fate.
Negotiating a $20 fine down to $12 is a lot like being a slave for a dozen years rather than your entire life — a little better, sure, but it doesn’t exactly erase the sting of those twelve years (or, in my case, twelve dollars). I drove away from the theater with a murderous rage in my belly, which only subsided when I compared my bad luck to that of Solomon Northup. Then I decided that it was a bit silly to feel sorry for myself after watching the abject horror and unthinkable torture he was subjected to oh so long ago. But still.
I couldn’t help but feel Solomon and I were a little simpatico. I should write a tale of my own misfortunes at the hand of an unforgiving master — Twelve Dollars A Slave, coming never to a theater near you.
Back in 2006, I had to make one of the toughest calls I’ve grappled with on a Top 10 List. (My life is really hard, okay?) Would my #1 film of the year be Paul Greengrass’ gripping, devastating docu-thriller United 93, taking on the 9/11 terrorist attacks, or Alfonso Cuaron’s gritty and equally gripping sci-fi thriller Children Of Men?
Tough call. United 93 looked back at a recent horrific event that had a massive impact on an entire generation. Children Of Men looked forward, presenting a bleak glimpse at a future that felt unfortunately plausible, especially in a post-9/11 world. They were two of the most intense cinematic viewing experiences I’d ever had, and remain as such. Either would be a top contender for my #1 in most of the years since, since they’re stronger films than many of my favorites from other years. Ultimately, though, I had to go with United 93, because the story it told was true, the world was still sensitive about the events of that day, and it was handled both delicately and unflinchingly. It provided a much-needed catharsis, though not exactly one that left audiences feeling good. It’s practically unimaginable to think of being on one of those planes, but United 93 forced us to be there. It was too much for some, but for me it was an important reminder of the smaller-scale aspects of something that become so hugely, sadly profound.
How do I know? Because I’ve been to space — or, at least, gotten as close as I’ll ever get, thanks to Alfonso Cuaron’s immersive Gravity.
And so it ends.
Can I now safely say that Breaking Bad was the best TV drama there ever was? Not without watching a whole lot of other TV dramas I haven’t caught up with yet, and not without stirring up a heated debate. There are a good number of other series that would vie for that title — the closest contender being The Sopranos, probably, in terms of popularity, critical kudos, and game-changiness. Unlike that series, Breaking Bad had a modest beginning, capturing the attention of only a handful of television viewers (including myself). It took three or four years before I could say, “Breaking Bad is the best show on TV right now” without being met with a blank stare.
Over the past six years, though, it has developed into a major pop culture staple — not just a flash in the pan, I think, but one that’ll be here to stay for years to come. There are all kinds of Breaking Bad memes out there; enough merchandise you’d think Walter White’s saga was a Disney movie; and if you happened to glance at Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter last night, you probably had your fix of chatter about this finale.
Best show ever? Who knows? Who can say, yet, so definitively? There will never be a consensus. This season, though, I’d venture to say that Breaking Bad achieved a level of pop culture relevance not even enjoyed by The Sopranos — you’ll see more Breaking Bad Halloween costumes out there than you would ever see from The Sopranos. This is, in part, because the show is viewable by more people thanks to Netflix and its home on AMC rather than HBO, and also because social media has made sharing our thoughts on pop culture a much bigger “thing” than it was a decade ago.
But it’s also because Breaking Bad is, like, a really good show, you guys.
“Why don’t you just die already?”
For once, the Sunday night television conversation was centered around a different series last night — Dexter, and how utterly disappointing the finale was.
I’ve only seen the first season of Dexter, but I know that the show has disappointed fans for the past few seasons, and it’s for the very reasons that Breaking Bad hasn’t (as Entertainment Weekly pointed out). Breaking Bad is spending its final episodes tightening the screws, dealing with the consequences of our antiheroes’ actions, and killing off a few important figures in this world. After last week’s wrenching dispatching of Hank in the masterful “Ozymandias,” there’s another death in “Granite State,” and while the deceased party isn’t exactly as much of a fixture on Breaking Bad as Dean Norris was, in her own way, she’s integral.
Dexter‘s series finale occurred on the same night that Breaking Bad won a well-deserved Emmy for Best Drama, and an equally well-deserved award for Anna Gunn’s acting, which has always been phenomenal but has really kicked into high gear for Season Five. (Her stellar work in “Fifty-One” has now been matched by “Ozymandias.”) After six years, Breaking Bad has evolved from hidden gem to water cooler phenom and, finally, Emmys champion. It’s particularly poignant that the show has found both its largest audience and the pinnacle of its critical applause right at the bitter end — but better late than never, right? As the show itself is starting to prove in these grim final episodes, sometimes justice does get served, even if it’s too little, too late.
Leave it up to Breaking Bad to kill off one of the four leads in an episode and have that not be the scene everyone is talking about.
Last week’s “To’hajiilee” was, for me, a mixed bag. A mostly good bag, but with a few questionable items mixed in. I didn’t like its cliffhanger-y conclusion, which felt very safe and very “TV.” (Breaking Bad seldom actually feels like TV, in the classic sense.) We’ve all seen shows that put one of the heroes in mortal peril at the end of an episode, only to immediately arrive at a miraculous conclusion at the beginning of the next. It’s very Batman — Adam West version, not Christian Bale. I trusted Vince Gilligan and company not to stoop so low on this show, but that didn’t change the fact that I felt dissatisfaction more than I felt suspense about Hank’s fate.
I knew I’d need to see this week’s episode to really know how I felt about that ending, and I still think there are a number of ways “To’hajiilee” could have ended that would sit better with me. If we had seen Hank shot in the leg. If we saw Gomez die. Or if we cut out before the first shot was fired. These are a few possibilities, but there are more.
However, the fact that “To’hajiilee” didn’t end to my liking doesn’t mean that just about everything in “Ozymandias” isn’t flawless. It’s one of the best hours of TV I’ve ever seen. Also, one of the tensest and most wrenching.
A surprise from Breaking Bad? Not exactly. But still, this show really outdid itself tonight.