Hey so I got behind on my movie blogging, and then I got even further behind, and eventually catching up looked like it wasn’t going to happen, so now I’ve decided to just leave the past in the past, which is a shame, because you are totally missing out on my thoughts on many Oscar-nominated movies, as well as Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains, which is amazing. I will try to write up some of the “lost months” at some point in the future, since I do have some notes.
- A Woman of Paris (Charlie Chaplin, 1923): So what happened is, several years ago, I had a passing urge to be more of a Chaplin completist, so I went to zip and added a bunch of movies to my queue. Then, I went to grad school, put my account on hold for two years, and then reactivated the account. Now that I really don’t care that much about Chaplin (City Lights is still my favourite but seriously I don’t think I need to know his whole career), zip sent me three Chaplins in a row. Limelight I saw a couple of weeks ago in the “lost months,” and thought was okay. I really wanted to see it because it’s the only time Chaplin and Keaton still worked together, and I thought it would be all poetic and lovely and stuff, but it had too much of Chaplin’s maudlin side to be much fun. This one, well it’s Chaplin’s first “serious dramatic film” as the title card at the beginning explains. UGH, I thought. It’s about a poor village girl (Edna Purviance) who leaves her true love through a misunderstanding and goes to Paris and then starts seeing this rich engaged playboy type (Adolphe Menjou), but then her true love comes to Paris with his mom and he’s an artist and his mom can’t stand her son wanting to marry someone like her, since she’s basically a whore. Blah blah suicide. Let’s put it this way. It was not as bad as you’d think. It’s briskly paced, the roaring twenties party setpieces are goregous, it’s well-acted — clearly Chaplin knew how to put together a film. The biggest problems were that it failed as a moral drama. It made being the mistress of a rich Parisian playboy, something I actually think would be pretty boring, look like a really sweet deal. You get cool clothes and a great apartment, and Menjou seemed like way more fun than the artist dude she really loved. He never really got mad at her; he seemed to find everything she did delightful. All in all, it really seemed like the way to go. But, more importantly, it just seems like Chaplin was wasting his gifts. His silent comedies are really great — combining visual poetry with sentiment, cuteness with social conscience. Honestly, if you’re Charlie Chaplin, why would you make a better-than-average melodrama when you could make a comedy that no one else could even touch?
- I Want To Live! (Robert Wise, 1958): I did unreservedly love this though, at least at the time. Susan Hayward won the Best Actress Oscar for her performance as Barbara Graham, a real woman who sort of drifted around being a petty criminal, then, according to the movie, was unjustly implicated in the murder and robbery of an old lady. There was a whole media circus and her lawyer and this one journalist tried to get her sentence commuted, but in the end, she went to the gas chamber. The movie shows the whole thing and basically portrays her as a fun-loving lady who passed bad cheques, but was wholly innocent of murder. The whole thing rests on Hayward’s portrayal, and she makes Barbara funny and likable and sympathetic — though after the movie Robert Osborne said that Hayward actually believed Graham was guilty. Which, for me, made the way the movie totally sold me on her side of the story more interesting. Other things that were good: contemporary jazz soundtrack, the Academy-Award-nominated-but-awfully-unsubtle cinematography, and the bit at the end where (Pulitzer Prize-winning) journalist Ed Montgomery turns off his hearing aid to drown out the roar of horns honking in apparent celebration of Graham’s death (a bit that Revolutionary Road apparently stole from this).
- Slumdog Millionaire (Danny Boyle, 2008): I finally saw this this week when I realized I’d only seen 2 of the Best Picture nominees this year. Then I realized Doubt didn’t actually get the Best Picture nomination, so I had only seen one (Milk, natch). Anyway, post-Oscar hype (I saw this Thursday), it’s still not a bad movie. If it had been a better year for movies and there was a No Country For Old Men up instead of a bunch of boring middlebrow stuff, I might feel like Slumdog took the award from something greater, but it’s not like Synecdoche, NY or My Winnipeg or Let The Right One In were going to win any more than The Dark Knight or Iron Man was. Of all the nominees, this movie felt the least like it was produced solely to win awards (though its promotion did nothing but position it that way) and the most like it was made for people to watch and enjoy. Its form was pure, pure melodrama, from the children in peril to the last-minute rush to pick up a cell phone — but it still felt fresh. The cinematography and editing were bright and modern, the music is actually relevant to the setting as well as sounding current (MIA was involved!), and most of all, I loved the way the media played a role. The fact that Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, which gives normal kid Jamal a kind of reality show pseudo-fame, is the centre of the story and the device that brings him and the girl together. Plus, you know, it ends with a dance number.
I kind of feel bad that I’d seen so few of the Oscar movies this year? I still might see The Reader, I guess, but I am really just not particularly interested in all the middlebrowness of it all. After reading the the Film Experience’s Oscar symposium that pretending the Oscars are really supposed to honour the “best” movies of the year is completely insane. It’s never going to be that, it’s always going to be a record of what seemed the biggest and the most movie-ish that year, and I’m kind of okay with that now and I just wish they could get through it in less than three and a half hours. (For the record, though, I loved the totally irrelevant cracked-out Baz Luhrman-stravaganza which I’m guessing will not be well-remembered, but only because it was so insane. They just kept adding in songs! Songs that don’t go together! Some of which are not really from musicals! (“At Last”?) And placing High School Musical 3 in the same context as West Side Story!)