Seymour Movies: A Six-Pack of Post-Game Oscar Notes

Here are some things I didn’t have time or space to squeeze into this CNN thingee. (I had to sleep sometime after all):

1.) Watching some of “Jimmy Kimmel Live” last night & noting how the post-Oscar cast was more enjoyable, and a tad funnier, than what it followed (& that includes Your Local News), it occurred to me that all awards shows, except maybe the Tonys, will have to become desk-and-couch affairs if they expect to survive as annual broadcasts. I know historians now regard David Letterman’s turn-at-bat as a cataclysmic whiff. But imagine how he’d have done if he’d been in his comfort zone with Paul pouring the necessary smarm over everything. It may be another ten years or so before that happens, by which time desk-and-couch shows will be as obsolete as analog phones.
2.) If this year’s producers were so damned anxious to have a Broadway feel to this thing, why didn’t they just call Neil Patrick Harris to the captain’s chair & let him go nuts? He & Billy Crystal may be the only two people alive who know how to go meta with this glitz while still respecting it as glitz. Good luck boosting next year’s ratings.
3.) You know what was even more enjoyable than Kimmel or the Oscars? Cruising Facebook & Twitter for immediate reactions to last night’s awards. Maybe the future will really involve people showing up on red carpets in fancy clothes before heading into chat rooms to tap out the individual impressions through their FB pages or shoot their own video. The Academy will take care of the rest by mailing out the statuettes in advance. In Anne Hathaway’s case, at least, I though they did, anyway.
4.) I wasn’t surprised that both Lincoln and Zero Dark Thirty got relatively shut out, even though I thought right up to the end that the hacks respected Tony Kushner’s ability to effectively dramatize difficult material. Instead, the hacks got theirs by raising a middle finger to those who slapped Quentin Tarantino upside his head for turning slavery into, if you will, pulp fiction. (As I told CNN, wait twenty years…)
5.) Paraphrasing Oliver Stone, there’s the way America is & the way we ought to be. Argo, as I wrote in my CNN piece, was the way Hollywood & America prefer imagining themselves while Lincoln, The Master and Zero Dark Thirty reflected, in different ways, what they, and we, really are. That the Academy voters let controversy (or at least its prospect) get in the way of acknowledging those movies suggests that even the opposite edges of the continent are as polarized & tied-up-in-knots as the rest of America.
6.) People ooh-ed and aah-ed over Michelle Obama’s hook-up with Jack “King” Nicholson. (She has that effect on people, especially after she did the hippy-hippy-shake with Jimmy Fallon last week.) What I was hoping for, ever since last summer, was an excuse to put Clint Eastwood on stage last night and have Michelle’s husband show up in a chair off to Eastwood’s left. “Did you have something to tell me?” the president would have asked in, of course, the nicest possible way. A braver world than this would have allowed it to happen. As last night awards made clearer than ever, we do not live in a brave world, except when we’re tossing snark through our keyboards. In the meantime, I love you, Amy Adams & wish you better luck next time.

Seymour Movies: Some Quick-and Dirty Thoughts on “Zero Dark Thirty”

Kathryn Bigelow directing Zero Dark Thirty


IMMEDIATE REACTION: I know what you’re thinking. At this late date, who am I to put twigs on a fire that’s dying out anyway? After all, nobody cares a fig what I think about torture. I’m not sure I care either. It’s like what Randy Newman said about the Spanish Inquisition that “put people in a terrible position/I don’t even like to think about it/Well…sometimes I like to think about it….”

1.) I’m just going to throw this out: The Hurt Locker is a better movie, though there are stretches of righteous filmmaking in this one; not surprisingly, they all come as the movie approaches the precipice of shattering violence. (The build-ups to both bombings, especially the Christmas morning attack; the whole climax, etc.) It’s not entirely Kathryn Bigelow’s fault any more than it’s Jessica Chastain’s fault that she’s stuck playing not a character so much as a state-of-mind. (More on this in a minute.) To me, doing this story so soon is like someone making JFK in 1966 — and something tells me if Oliver Stone were able to do so back then, he would have. Even before the movie was released, I was wondering what the rush was to get this story on-screen, irrespective of the controversy over torture. (More on THAT in a minute, too.) If I chose to practice armchair psychology (& since it’s just us talking, why not), I’d guess that K.B. was drawn to the idea of a brilliant, ballsy young heroine whom no one — no MEN, specifically — takes as seriously as she demands to be taken. (I’d love to see K.B. someday do HER side of James Cameron’s The Abyss, though it wouldn’t necessarily have to be the same story.) I think Zero Dark Thirty is taking a beating mostly because its narrative is still current enough to be mistaken for journalism where if it were made and/or released ten or twenty years from now, the movie would be viewed correctly as historic events filtered through imagination. It may take twenty years for that to happen anyway.

2.) By now, I’ve read & heard just about every attack on Zero for its depiction of torture; that it glorifies or misrepresents torture as being key to getting a lock on Bin Laden’s whereabouts or is shilling some kind of thinking-person’s version of “USA! USA! USA!” triumphalism.  (For balance’s sake, I shall include both Greg Mitchell’s measured dissent of the movie in his Nation blog and Glenn Kenny’s elegant and thorough skewering of the movie’s attackers.) As I’ve already said, I think the movie kind of asked for the pummeling it’s getting by throwing all this stuff out there unmediated by time’s passage & the intervening revisions & disclosures that could broaden understanding of the whole War-on-Terror era. But if the leftist pundits out there truly believe that the movie’s audiences are going to watch these waterboarding-and-boxing-in scenes & feel in any way ennobled or roused by the CIA’s savvy, then it sounds to me as though they’re not only underestimating people’s intelligence (to say nothing of their capacity to be grossed-out), they’re sort of buying into the blinkered bullshit about the Power of Movies without any real knowledge, intuitive or otherwise, of what that Power really is. (Getting back to JFK, do you really think that movie changed anybody’s mind about whether or not Oswald acted alone? If anything, that movie bullied people into thinking, “Who cares anymore who killed Kennedy?” — just as, it could be argued, Spike Lee’s Malcolm X swallowed or exhausted whatever public acrimony or controversy remained about its subject, too.)

3.) And as for the triumphalism, I REALLY don’t get where that criticism comes from. You most emphatically do not walk away from Zero Dark Thirty feeling cleansed, cathartic or especially patriotic. If anything, it comes across as an anti-revenge revenge movie, if that makes any sense. From the very beginning when you hear the wailing of the soon-to-be-dead woman in the soon-to-collapse Twin Towers to the very end when you see Chastain’s Maya, isolated on a transport plane she has all to herself, weeping & desolate & not quite sure anymore who she is or where she goes from here, Zero Dark Thirty resounds as nothing so much as a melancholy dirge on America in the ten years between the raids of both 9/11 and 5/1; of what we became or compelled ourselves to become in the wake of a heretofore unimaginable trauma. (This review, from what seem like eons ago, puts it better than I just did. )Maya is the embodiment of that mind-set, a blank space upon which we’re supposed to project our own seething desire for closure or payback. She doesn’t have any past except the one we’re supposed to conjecture. (Did she have some connection with the woman on the phone in that 9/11 prelude? I haven’t read anything that suggests that, though I’m sure it’s out there somewhere.) That Chastain makes this enigma substantial enough to carry this movie is, I suppose, reason enough to give her an Oscar nomination. Still, a blank space is no substitute for a real person & not even that moist coda she delivers is enough to make me believe in her. She likely had less to work with in The Tree of Life & she somehow evoked everything about that mother’s past, present & future. I guess if Zero does anything for her, it’ll make her a convincing starship captain in some Star Trek sequel, assuming she ever wants to go where no method actress has gone before.

4.) So little does Zero troll for patriotic cheers that I think it hurts its own chances for collecting any Oscar whatsoever. Argo. Now THERE’S a movie that makes you stand up and go “USA! USA! USA!” at the end. It’s the principal reason the Academy now regrets not giving Ben Affleck a director’s nod & why it now looks as though his movie’s poised to eat everybody else’s lunch, even Abe’s. Just as Rocky trounced All the President’s Men & Network in 1976 & Crash beat out Brokeback Mountain in 2006, the movie that makes Hollywood feel better about itself will likely clobber the movies that feel too much like Homework. (Remember: I’m forcing myself not to care this year who wins what…)