Here’s a fun game of “Would You Rather?”:
I’m not a total Tarantino fanboy, because I’m not generally a fan of any filmmaker who keeps making different variations of the same movie. (I have this problem with Wes Anderson, too.) Some people just love a particular filmmaker’s obsessive patterns, and love returning to that same formula again and again. I don’t. After a few such films, I begin to crave something new.
That said, Quentin Tarantino’s films tend to rank reasonably highly for me. They are vibrant and unusual, even if certain aspects of them grow predictable over time. They defy typical Hollywood studio conventions, except that now they all adhere to the same Tarantino conventions — and is that really any different or better, when you can still see what’s coming from a mile away? The dialogue crackles, while there is almost always a conceptual problem in the storytelling — such as, why are the Inglourious Basterds so expendable from the story of Inglorious Basterds? Tarantino’s stories set out to do one thing, and then get distracted with another character or storyline, and that becomes the movie. Usually, it’s still a fun diversion. But isn’t it time Tarantino tried something different?
If you’re a cute white girl from Ireland, at least.
Recently, in this galaxy, I saw a film called Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and I bet you did too.
The film has already grossed a predictably record-shattering $240(ish) million in the United States, and more than twice that worldwide. The internet and all media and every single human person on the planet are abuzz with all things Star Wars. And here’s some more.
Now that Mad Men is over, we’re seeing its star players pop up as supporting players all over the place — mostly (surprise, surprise) in the workplace. Elisabeth Moss was part of the team of duped journalists in Truth, John Slattery helped highlight the Catholic church’s crimes in Spotlight, and Jessica Pare showed Saorise Ronan some tough love as a department store manager in Brooklyn. These all feel, more or less, like extensions of these characters’ Mad Men personas — while Spike Lee, on the other hand, shows us a side of mild-mannered secretary Dawn Chambers we never expected to see.
This is neither the first nor the last time I’ll discuss awards season in relation to a movie that has maybe a 5% chance of nabbing an Oscar nomination. Every year, there are those surefire heavyweights — this year, films like Spotlight, The Revenant, and Room (to name a few) — and then there are the also-rans that enter the conversation, sometimes just for a fleeting moment, for one solitary standout element. Remember that time we thought Jennifer Aniston could get nominated for Cake? Or when Saving Mr. Banks felt like surefire Oscar bait, until it was entirely snubbed aside from Thomas Newman’s score?
For those of us who like such things, this is a fun (if somewhat overwhelming) time of year, as we check out as much as we can of what the studios and the indie scene have to offer, all of them vying for just five or so slots in the big races. There will inevitably be an outcry at performances in smaller films — those that gain recognition from critics’ groups and guilds, but not the Academy — and could have gone much further if they’d only been seen by more people. Most of the fringe films that bubble up in the awards season conversation will never actually get that sweet, sweet Oscar lovin’, but of course, that’s not all that matters. It doesn’t mean they’re undeserving.
James White is such a movie.
Whether you’re a fan of former president George W. Bush or not, you have to admit his term contained some profound low points, kicking off with 9/11 and ending in a nasty recession. You may or may not blame Bush himself for these and other pieces of unfortunate Americana in the 21st century, but let’s face it: as a nation, we’ve had better.
Several of the big blights the nation grappled with during the (second) Bush regime are reflected in films from the past 15 years, dealt with explicitly in Farenheit 9/11, Recount, United 93 and Oliver Stone’s W., and more subtextually in Munich or 25th Hour (or any number of others). It’s only about now, though, that we’re able to step back and see things in context, which is why we’re getting movies that deal with these themes at a smaller, more intimate level. We’ve seen a lot of movies about the forest. Now we’re seeing the ones that are about the trees.
We’ve heard many times that the so-called “War on Drugs” really is an actual war. Traffic, a Best Picture nominee from way back in 2000, remains the cinematic authority on the topic, and probably had more influence on the aesthetic of modern movies than almost any other film. Nowadays, plenty of dramas and thriller look like Traffic. Back then, only Traffic did.
Sicario, the latest film to take us south of the border to the war zone, shares a lot of DNA with its predecessor in terms of its look and feel — not to mention one of its stars, Benicio Del Toro — and a focus on of good cops feeling powerless against the forces of evil, weighing the pros and cons of compromising their values. Sicario might be the first of the films to tackle this subject, however, that actually feels like a war movie.