Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)
Nope, this is so fucking dumb and ~whimsical~. It evoked the same brand of repulsion as Moulin Rouge! and The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, I think–it’s just kind of grotesque in all of the CGI-heavy, slapstick antics and mugging1 for the camera–and, of course, that’s cemented by the “Johnny Depp with wacky hair” reveal at the end. And yet, at the same time, it also managed to be super boring? 2 hours and 13 minutes doesn’t actually seem that long in the current franchise era–and it’s the shortest of all of the Harry Potter movies, Deathly Hallows–Part 2 excepted–but man, that is 133 minutes closer to your death and you feel every one of them.
I think I might have enjoyed it as a kid—after all, I enjoyed Phantom Menace as a kid. Before a certain age all of the tacky SFX stuff still comes across as fun and the misguided bureaucratic plotlines somehow don’t get to you, I guess. But god, what a mess. I can’t believe it’s going to be a franchise.
Rocket Science (2007)
Sure, fine. High school debate is ridiculous and there was probably even more comedy to be mined there, if the movie wasn’t so focused on the overcoming stuttering and coming-of-age aspects. Which are, like, valid aspects to focus on–it’s a respectable creative choice and not necessarily a case of “bad writing,” is what I mean–but not as interesting to me as specific contextual comedy.
An American in Paris (1951)
Some super outdated gender dynamics, but whatever, man: Gene Kelly! Gershwin! 1950s costuming!
The characters aren’t super sympathetic–or even un-sympathetic in especially interesting or well-developed ways–and the plot is, like, barely there. But–as with Anchors Aweigh2–who gives a shit, when it culminates in this:
And the next time I have Halloween costume party plans, which–who knows in how many years that may be–I desperately want to recreate Gene Kelly’s harlequin costume from the black-and-white art student ball at the end:
An Ideal Husband (1999)
Solid period aesthetics and some nice dialogue, but ultimately just felt very lightweight–too much like actors acting, and not characters living (a lot of the line delivery felt too much like “oh ho ho here is a saucy Oscar Wilde quote,” if that makes sense). Probably something to do with not transcending its stage play roots and taking full advantage of the film medium. Fitting that I watched this on a whim because it was available on BBC iPlayer–I can’t imagine why anyone would actively seek it out in 2017, unless they were super into Oscar Wilde or any of the actors.
So the weird thing about watching these critically-acclaimed, award-winning movies after all of the hype–well, for one I expected Mahershala Ali to be in more of it? But sometimes supporting actor really does mean just showing up for like twenty minutes (killing it in those twenty minutes, sure, but still). And a lot of the most significant moments had already been GIFed, so I was kind of just spending the movie waiting for them to happen and expecting to feel emotional about them, which maybe lessened the intended impact.
I know it’s like the whole point of his character, but god, every scene with Chiron was like “dude, can you please just fucking speak?”–The minimalist dialogue was super frustrating. Yeah, it’s Artistic not to have characters exchanging witty banter all the time, and better to have genuine awkward pauses than artificial quippiness, I guess, in this sort of movie that aims for some level of authenticity. But for me, at least, that sort of super internal, introverted character works better in books than in movies, since books (generally) let you follow their thought processes by means other than analyzing minute changes in their facial expressions.
The cinematography was cool, and it sounds like they did something similar to The Aviator in shooting through different filters for each of the three sections? Not sure I actually noticed the shift–which is fine, probably, it was sort of distracting in The Aviator.
Basically, I get that Moonlight is a Good Film and it definitely had some emotional impact–because I definitely had to get up and get tissues–but it wouldn’t be among my personal favorites of the year. Which is fine–it won Best Picture, so I don’t think it needs me to champion it.
Hidden Figures (2016)
This feels like the sort of movie you watch in class or on a bus trip sometime during K-12 and really enjoy in that context, but is maybe a little too formulaic to consider to be a “Good Film” out of that context? Still, yeah, I get that it’s culturally important that it exists, and maybe that’s enough to validate it’s nomination for Best Picture, because otherwise…there’s just such a difference in quality between Hidden Figures and, say, Moonlight, Manchester by the Sea, or La La Land. (But whatever, the Oscars are dumb3, so why should we care?)
I maybe would have preferred it if it had only focused on one of the characters and given a fuller picture of her educational background, career path, and home life, rather than the more shallow depictions of each of the three, but that probably would have been a harder sell to studios than the ensemble cast approach.
Also, yep, the scene with Kevin Costner hacking down the segregated bathroom sign was super dumb and tone-deaf, but that has been discussed to death already–still, it’s not even (just) the whole White Savior thing so much as how it seems pretty out-of-character. It implies a passion for equality or a long-standing frustration with the system that’s coming from nothing we’ve seen so far; with the way he’s been presented up to that point, he seems more like the type of scientifically-minded person who would consider himself too smart/rational to be a racist, but isn’t necessarily going to be motivated to do anything until he–or his work–is directly impacted. So maybe he still would hack down that sign (although apparently this scene is pure fiction), but that action wouldn’t be as imbued with emotion as the scene the movie presents–it would just be his way of efficiently solving the problem at hand.
Interesting to contrast the depiction of IBM in this with the depiction of Google in Lion…
1. All of the characters come across as either cartoonish archetypes or complete blanks. I don’t think anyone comes across enough as an actual person for the audience to get invested in their actions, but shippers have apparently still found a way. ^
2. To be clear, we’re not saying An American in Paris and Anchors Aweigh have at all the same level of Artistic Merit. (As fun as it is, Anchors Aweigh is just so, so dumb.) ^
3. There weren’t enough 2016 movies that I felt strongly enough about to make a The Actual Oscars are Dumb post this year, but yes, the Oscars remain Dumb. ^