Sunday, December 28, 2008

Hyperboles Gone Wild

Year in Review: Part 1 of 5

Recently I was discussing my CEP (Clint Eastwood Problem) with a friend. Frequent or even fairweather Oscar-time readers will know what that is since Eastwood makes movies every single year (he's become Woody Allen regular in his 70s). I find the megastar an overappreciated filmmaker. Though he's made some fine films (no argument from me there...and my estimation of Million Dollar Baby went up on a subsequent viewing) he's also made his share of mediocrities. Yet each and every film, even the ones that fade quickly and eventually produce many detractors (say, Flags of Our Fathers) open to anywhere from a few to abundant "masterpiece!" raves and impossible-to-miss Oscar buzz. This, if you're at all sympathetic to my "issue", is maddening. This, if you're unsympathetic, you'll view as only just and right. I bring this up because I was hashing Gran Torino out with a friend the other day. The following paraphrased conversation followed...
Nathaniel: I know it's an impossibility since movies require marketing and costs millions of dollars but just once I'd love to see a Clint Eastwood arrive that no one on earth knows he made. His name isn't on it anywhere. He doesn't star in it. What would the reviews be like?

Friend:
Yeah, that's impossible

Nathaniel: I know, I know... but let me get to my hypothetical.

READ THE REST ...
for my partial concession to Clint Eastwood fans, thoughts on the subjectivity of movie-love, The Dark Knight and other movies I sadly couldn't connect with as much as many of you...
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44 comments:

adam k. said...

See, this is also weird to say, but I'm actually kind of resentful toward The Dark Knight since it seems that in a weird way, it may have contributed to Heath's death. He apparently got very weird while doing the film, having to get into that character and such, had to start going on sleeping pills, etc. And at least from afar, it looks like that helped start the downward spiral into the weird place he was in when he was on so many meds and so out of it that the unthinkable happened.

So at least in my screwed up head, it was sort of the film's fault that this happened to Heath, and now the film was taking advantage. No way would it have made $500 million and been oscar-buzzed otherwise. No one's fault, but still plain as day. So it was just difficult for me to enjoy the film, knowing that. Plus, I had the same issues with the filmmaking that you did.

I mean, this new dark, foreboding Joker mythos is nice and all, and I'm glad Heath is finally getting the worshipful recognition he deserves, but I'd much rather he'd just never made Dark Knight and stayed alive instead. I can only imagine how someone like Michelle Williams must feel. I heard she couldn't even watch it.

This may all be way presumptuous or uncouth to say, but I've had a dark cloud over this film in my head all season, and that's why. This is just how it's all appeared to me.

On another note, Nat, do you agree that W really should've gone comedy (it is one, I think) at the globes, and that Josh Brolin should've picked up that statue? Even though the film's not very good.

Bryan said...

But isn't it fair to say that the Clint love has really waned the last few years, hasn't it? "Flags" didn't end up with any significant Oscar nods, and "Changling" was mostly met with yawns. The only recent pic to be nom'd was "Letters," and that one was actually pretty good. The only people who are truly on the Eastwood bandwagon are the (almost admittedly) mediocre Shalit/Lyons-level critics, whereas I think more intellectual critics have been basically fair to him. He also gets some awardage from the NBR-level groups, but who cares, really? Another nail in all their coffins.

While there is probably still an overenthusiasm, there's also an overenthusiasm for "fresh" "new" voices, like Diablo Cody, when if they weren't sold as fresh and new, they'd seem less inventive than Woody Allen, who made a much more intelligent and sophisticated comedy in his 70s. There are stupid biases all around, and I guess we have to live with them.

Arkaan said...

Yeah, I guess I don't understand Nathaniel's CEP except in the most general of terms. The overrated part of this year's awards was the part I was most dreading, simply because of Slumdog, Knight and Clint - a pretty brutal tandem of flimmaking I love and a fandom that doesn't bother me.

Anonymous said...

I'm totally totally with you on the Clint Eastwood thing and to be honest it deeply annoyed me when you upped MILLION DOLLAR BABY's rating from B to B+.
I really hated that as I had really admired you resisting the tidal pull towards that film in 2004 as I thought it was a truly lousy movie and was only winning hype because it was by Eastwood. I personally think even THE CHANGELING is a better movie. So yes, agree with you on Eastwood but totally disagree (and am disappointed) with your volte-face on MILLION DOLLAR BABY.

NATHANIEL R said...

adam i don't really buy into the myth that dark characters screw up actors internally. I'm guessing whatever demons Ledger had he had with or without ennis del mar and the joker in his life, you know?

as for W. is it comedy? one of the problems I had watching it is that I wasn't sure Stone meant for it to go in either direction. Maybe he wanted it open ended but it felt too open to me. Normally i like ambiguous tones but i'm not at all sure about what that movie had to say exactly... (p.s. Brolin was excellent)

bryan you're right both on the waning and the biases in other directions, too. But even with a waning awards power other better movies are still routinely shoved aside from honors that would really help them (the AFI list, the NBR lists, the BFCA) etcetera) in order to always make room for the Eastwood pictures. It's frustrating. But i will try valiantly not to talk about it next year no matter how well the Nelson Mandela picture is recieved.

arkaan dread no more. it's over ;) maybe next year i won't do the overrated and "worst" lists (coming soon) because I always feel icky somehow about going negative when I'm more excited to hand out the awards for "BEST"

anon i still have problems with M$B but Nick and Mike talked me into loving more ;) and Eastwood's general aesthetic (which he rarely alters even when a film would benefit from altering) worked much better for what that movie needed.

Anonymous said...

Well, in fact "The Dark Knight" hysteria could be called overrating even by someone who gave it "A", so I'm not surprised (or bothered) that you call it the most overrated movie of the year, even though I think it's one of the year's best. I'd even say it's one of the most overrated movies ever.
Howler

Anonymous said...

And I don't think you should give up listing "the bad": jeez, some of your comments on them are hilarious, and I bet that even for people who don't necessarily think the same way. I laughed my ass of while reading about Jessica Alba's "most improved acting" with "new face movements" last year.
Write about the bad and be funny, please ;)
Howler

NATHANIEL R said...

HOWLER --good point on the "A" and still overrated bit. how could it not be?

Anonymous said...

Well, in that case Nick and Mike are to blame then (whoever they are).
I presume Nick is the one who has the site with the Oscars for best actress where he does a year by year summary?
In that case, he has bad taste anyway (likes Swank in "Boys dont cry" far too much, doesn't like Bette Davis much, doesn't like Deborah Kerr) though I love reading his write ups and it is a great idea (I just wish someone with better taste had come up with it).
I hardly think he is someone whose influence you should come under - you have much better taste.

Arkaan said...

I'm mixed on worst lists. On the one hand, can you have the good without the bad? I've already limited my viewings to films I think I'll like (so I miss a lot of Hollywood blockbusters), but on the other hand, my worst lists end up including a mix of films I genuinely hate (La Vie en Rose, Lars and the Real Girl in 07) and films I just think are overrated and mediocre (Once, Zodiac).

Joe Reid said...

Aw yeah. You'll take your anonymous-commenter lumps and LIKE it, Nick Davis!

Anyway, Howler's comment on an "A" movie nonetheless being overrated is kind of how I'm feeling about WALL-E this year. Dark Knight is a B+ movie getting overrated.

I'm with Nat in not buying the dark-characters-killed-Heath scenario. And I'm not sure how much his death really helped box-office wise. Awardage, sure, though I think he's still a nominee if he's alive today. Just probably not the presumptive favorite. All hypothetical, sadly.

As for Million Dollar Baby, it really is the cream of Eastwood's '00s crop -- didn't deserve the Oscar but it's a good movie.

Christine said...

I too have CEP. It's good to know I'm not alone in my disease. Other than The Unforgiven, I can't think of a film of his that I've really liked.

I agree that if Dark Knight or WALL-E get a best-picture nod that would be good news for fans of genre movies. Dark Knight might get one, but I don't think WALL-E will. My memories a bit hazy, but wasn't the best animated category created because people were in an uproar when Beauty and the Beast got a best picture nomination years ago?

Last year two of the animated film nominations--Ratatouille and Persepolis--could have easily had nominations for best picture, in my opinion, if it weren't for the best animated category.

NATHANIEL R said...

christine --actually a lot of people were very happy when BEAUTY & THE BEAST got nominated. There were actual cheers from the media when its name was read during that televised nomination announcement.

It probably cost THELMA & LOUISE the spot which is a shame because imo, they were the two best of that year.

Matt Riviera said...

This is such a great post. I find "most overrated" or "worst of the year" lists awkward and distasteful. But yours has so many positive, insightful comments thinly hidden under the vitriol, and is so clearly animated with a love of cinema which renders any list playful rather than judgmental, that I can't help but look forward to the next installment with trepidation.

Iggy said...

I don't know if Ledger's death has shaped they way we see The Dark Knight. I really think it shapes the movie itself. Wasn't it still in the editing phase when he died? Maybe Nolan (or the studio) decided to give his character more prominence at the expense of Harvey Dent or maybe they decided to chose Ledger's edgiest takes instead of more average ones, but the truth is that the movie belongs to him. Whatever it is, I think it's within the movie. And with the movie as it is, it would still belong to him, no matter if dead or not. I think the shot of him as a nurse, as unsettling as it is, will become part of movie history just as the image of Lecter tied and wearing the mask or Pfeiffer singing on a piano.

As for Eastwood, I like most of his recent work (those I have seen), A Perfect World being my favourite, partly because I think it was Costner at his best.

Personally I think after critics re-discovered him with Unforgiven, they instantly labelled him as one of the greatest last auteurs as some kind of Scorsese. As for myself, I see him more as a craftsman, in the old (good) Hollywood traditional way. As one of those directors that were capable of going noir and screwball and both highly efficiently (if not masterly). Eastwood reinvents western, tells love stories, makes WWII movies, etc. And I love that, that the same director can tell such different stories efficiently. But my point is that I don't see him as an "auteur" because I don't see in his movies a common theme(s), or just that "something" that unifies all his work. Sure he's got his own style. But I think you're right, if I was taken to a movie theatre blindfolded, without any information and no credits, I don't know if I could instantly recognize a movie as his, not in in the same way you can tell you're watching a Scorsese, an Allen, or a Coens just after five minutes.

So imo, this mistaken status of auteur plus him being some kind of symbol of some part of America it's what makes him a critical darling, regardless what he does.

And for the record: I like both auteur directors and craftsmen, just in the appropriate doses (as everything else).

Christine said...

Nathaniel,
Yeah, you're right. I think a lot of people who cover films and the public in general were thrilled when Beauty and the Beast got nominated (it's a stunning movie and deserved a nod), but I remember there was some unease about a cartoon getting a nomination for best picture from some members of the Academy. I still think that the "Best Animated Feature" category is an attempt to keep animated films out of best picture contention, even though, technically, films can be nominated in both categories.

The protest about "Beauty and the Beast" seems insane now because it was nominated in the same year as the mediocre "Bugsy" and the completely overrated "JFK." In hindsight, does anyone think either of those two movies are better than "Beauty and the Beast"?

Joe Reid said...

In JFK's case, I do.

I'm not sure I buy the Animated Feature category as being as much of a hindrance as other people think it is. No more so than the Foreign Language Film category is a hindrance. Crouching Tiger made the Best Pic shortlist after all. Animated films had an uphill climb before that category was added and they have an uphill climb today. The genre bias would be there no matter what.

Herzog said...

Agree 100% on your Clint Eastwood Problem. Can't stand the over-recognition he gets these days. I'm getting tired of his annual "I want an Oscar" film or films.

On the other hand Woody Allen, a much more original, inventive, uncompromised and talented american filmmaker is not getting the recognition I feel he deserves. Where's his Thalberg? His AFI Lifetime Achievment Award? Not that he cares about these but he surely deserves them much more than Eastwood.

Glenn said...

JFK is stunning and I'd definitely rate it over Beauty and the Beast, however glad I am that the latter scored a nod.

In regards to The Dark Knight I remember recently I was discussing it on a blog and this guy was saying it was the greatest superhero movie ever made and one of the greatest movies period. I attempted to debate him on this and he asked what superhero movie was better and I said "Spider-Man 2" and he actually had the gall to say "that's just a phase. eventually you will realise that spider-man is nothing and the dark knight is everything."

Honestly, how can anybody even attempt to rationalise crap like that?

About the negativity of "worst of" lists, I generally like them because I feel they tend to actually show more personality in a critic than best of lists. Not people like you, Nat, because your best of lists are actually lists of the best of the year and not a list of movies the Academy is fawning over and that you think will help make your "prominent" due to your awe-inspiring ability to telegraph what everybody else will like.

But to throw well-loved titles onto a worst of list says a lot about a critic.

Wait, did any of that make sense?

Bernardo S said...

I don't hate The Dark Knight but if you dare post anywhere that it is not the best movie ever made you will get attacked.

I gave The Dark Knight a 14/20 which is a very good score in my scoring method. Do I think it's the best movie ever/ of the year? Far from it. Do I want my money and time back? Not at all. (However, I think that without Ledger it would've been a 13 or 12)

--We are living at a time when motion pictures can be either masterpieces or pieces of crap, and that's definetely not the point. I understand when people don't like Moulin Rouge! or Dancer in the Dark as much as me (or even more divisible choices such as Margot at the Wedding) and I am able to respect their choice, as long as it's complemented by an appropiate explanation. This is something that fanboys should understand some day.--

whitney said...

I feel the same way about Clint Eastwood's directed movies, but for some reason or another I want to see every film he acts in (which these days are one and the same). There is something about that steely-eyed glare that I just can't get enough of. Except for that monkey movie. I had enough of that after a few minutes.

Daryn G said...

About ten years ago, I thought of Clint Eastwood as the official Director of Sam's Club Studios. In other words, he, or his production team, seemed to be picking movies to make based on what books were in the 20% discount rack at Sam's Club--Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, Bridges of Madison County, Mystic River, Flags of Our Fathers. It was really irritating and I never got over it. So Eastwood's movies come and go without making much of an impression on me. But I admire his work as an actor with Sergio Leone.

Christine said...

Glenn,
For me this is the huge problem with sci-fi or fantasy films. It's not that there are not some great films in those genres. It's that there are fans that are so devoted that you can't have a reasonable discussion with them about the merits of the films. It seems either you think the films they like are the best of all time or you are a loser/elitest/snob/misguided uninformed film-goer who doesn't recognize the genius of whatever film is being supported.

I want to support you, sci-fi, fantasy, and horror fans (I am, in particular, a die-hard horror fan), but how about some critical distance?

Christine said...

Also, when's the Isabelle Adjani post that you promised coming?

adam k. said...

I still say this Dark Knight hysteria would simply not have been the same had Ledger been alive. And that would've spilled into both the box office and awardage areas. But also, whoever said his death may have affected the editing and post-prod choices on the film has an excellent point.

Maybe it's not the Joker that killed him, as that is quite a leap to make, but I also think it's quite a coincidence that things started getting weird with him all during that shoot. I guess the demons make it possible for him to portray those characters, and also make him unstable. It all bleeds together in the end.

Also, Nat, please do keep doing the "overrated" and "worst" lists. They're very fun. Just keep them clever, playful and relatively free of spite, and it's all good.

Anonymous said...

"The Dark Knight" and "Slumdog Millionaire" are both excellent films that not only deserve the "hype" they've been getting and gotten, but also Best Picture nominations. I'd be thrilled with either film winning the Oscar there.

Styx said...

Heath Ledger would have been the frontrunner for the best supporting actor Oscar alive or not. The performance is that iconic, that great. Oscar history aside, voters wouldn't have been able to overcome the groundswell of critical and commercial acclaim for his work and the film itself to snub him or allow someone else to become the frontrunner. And frankly, in this meh year in supporting actor contenders, it wouldn't have been that difficult for Ledger to be the frontrunner in either case. If your biggest competition is Robert Downey Jr. in "Tropic Thunder," then yeah, whatever to that. I also think it's crass to suggest that the film made the huge BO it did b/c of Heath's death, or that his Oscar chances are solely tied into his death. I don't think people are that morbid. Sentimental, maybe, but people know landmark performances when they see them, and Heath's Joker is one.

I also agree that the demons that were in him (if we're to even call them that -- we don't know what was going on in his personal world other than his separation to Michelle Williams) were at play long before him filming this role. If the film's demands exacerbated those demons and led him to overusing the sleeping pills and such, that's unfortunate and terrible, but I believe that something else was going on beforehand, and the film's dark content shouldn't be the pointed gun in his demise. There have been plenty of villain performances done over time by actors who have managed to maintain their sense of well-being afterwards without diving into the abyss. Something else was going on.

Anyway, I'll be rooting for Heath Ledger and "The Dark Knight" all the way at the Oscars. Go get 'em!

Anonymous said...

Was there really that much criticism over "Beauty and the Beast" in BP that year? And enough of a stir was caused to get the animated category in play? It took the Academy ten years to get with the program then if that was the case.

The Know Nothing Know It All said...

It's not just "mid-level" critics who worship at his altar. A.O. Scott, considered by some (himself in particular) to be high brown likes to sing his praises without a shred of objectivity. I saw him and Todd Field on a panel earlier this year and when Scott started comparing Eastwood's directorial style to Mike Leigh, I think I actually saw Todd Field roll his eyes a bit.

And to those crying to see Clint Eastwood get an acting win...really? Over Rourke or Penn? If it's about nostalgia and age, what about Langella who's never even been nominated? I pray that the Academy chooses not to complicate things and doesn't nominate Eastwood for actor. Even with the lack of precursor support, if he gets nominated, he'll win.

NATHANIEL R said...

christine sorry that isabelle adjani post was for a future project. it wasn't really intended to be "soon" :(

Trent Sketch said...

Eastwood does have a seemingly rigid aesthetic that could turn people off. I get that. I didn't particularly care for Changeling when I got around to it, but loved Gran Torino. I honestly think it's the best English-language film I've seen since The Queen, and the best since The Lives of Others.

The racial slurs were uncomfortable to hear. They also felt appropriate to the character and tone of the film. Eastwood plays an old man who probably doesn't understand why he's still alive yet lives like he's in the 1950's. Would the film have benefited from a broader vocabulary and fewer dog eating jokes? Possibly. But it's a minor quibble.

Now The Dark Knight...that's an overrated picture.

adam k. said...

I'm not so sure Eastwood would win if nominated, at this point. That's tough to manage, after you weren't even nominated for the globe or SAG. Unless the category is best supporting actress. I suppose if globe and SAG offer a split decision, he could swoop in. But right now, I'm thinking Sean Penn will win both.

Man, I really wish Murray or Depp had won in '03, so a Penn win this year would be a foregone conclusion.

Raul! said...

There's something to be said when a critic as level-headed and smart as Manohla Dargis raves about a Clint Eastwood film. Is it really Clint's fault that he has an excellent track record going into his 70's? You also seem to overlook the fact that there was a gap of 11 years before Clint was nominated again after "Unforgiven." Frankly, he didn't deserve to be nominated for anything during that period--except maybe for "A Perfect World." Since then he's made some choice films and each best director nomination since then has been well-earned, in my opinion.

Kamikaze Camel said...

Much like Nat would like to see a movie released without any Clint references to see what the reaction would be, I'd like to see Clint make something like Blood Work or Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil completely unchanged to see the reaction it gets.

NATHANIEL R said...

raul Manohla also loved Flags Of Our Fathers... she has a CEP too ;)

paulyv8 said...

Thank you for continuing to highlight to overblownness of Batman. Once the 2nd half of the movie started (wasn't this really 2 in 1) with Two Face, it was ridiculous.

I just saw Benjamin Buttons. I would say this is the hands down hyperbole of the year. It sucked. And was a three hour journey through cheese.

Arkaan said...

Blood Work is Clint's best film of the decade.

Christine said...

Good to know about the Isabelle Adjani post is coming some time. Looking forward to it. Could the whole blog just be about 1980's foreign-language cinema, 1930's musicals, and horror films of all eras? I would contribute a deep enthusiasm, albeit no money or job prospects for you. Sorry, I have no connections, as I'm officially poor.

NATHANIEL R said...

christine... er, no ;)

but i do have big plans for next year as always IF i can figure out some way financially to write more than search for off-writing jobs

Kaifu said...

That's a good list, Nathaniel. However I think Changeling is far more worthy than Gran Torino, and of course the latter is the one getting all the attention now.

I finally saw Rachel Getting Married last week. I guess I'm alone on this but I don't get all the praise.

NATHANIEL R said...

Kaifu --you're not alone. Rachel Getting Married was quite divisive.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Nathaniel on The Dark Knight. Whenever I see all the praise it gets and ythe OScar recognition, I think "where the hell was everyone when Batman Begins" came out. That was a more coherent story, it contained the novelty of this Batman world, and it had the first interesting "Batman" I´d ever seen. The Dark Knight was all over the place with its story and characters. I still really enjoyed it, but as an overall film, I felt Begins held itself together better as a film (couldn´t they have saved Two-Face for the next film?)

Allan said...

I am a HUGE Eastwood fan. I feel he was underrated as an actor and director in the 1970s and 1980s. Perhaps he has been getting a little too much acclaim in recent years, but my favourite movies of 2003, 2004, and 2006, were Eastwood films: Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby, and Letters from Iwo Jima. I was pleased when they were all critically acclaimed. I thought Changeling was a fine film, and Gran Torino, though not as polished, was very enjoyable. As Dirty Harry once said, "Opinions are like a--holes' Everybody's got one."

Anonymous said...

I really can't respect anyone's opinion when they use the word "overrated," as that tends to mean "I didn't like it so I'll act superior to everyone who did."