Tuesday, January 14, 2014

A Conversation with Vincent B. (Part 2)

In Part 2 of our back-and-forth discussion, Vincent and I talk about the lowly state of animated films in 2013, the unnecessary battle between Wolf of Wall Street and American Hustle, and the merits of Blue Jasmine and It's a Disaster. We end it all by each making our wacky predictions for this Thursday's Oscar nominations. But within all of that, Vincent tries to end our friendship by comparing Upstream Color to The Master.

VB: Not a great year for animation. When Frozen is hundreds of miles away from the second best animated film, you know that the form is running a stellar campaign for mayor of mediocreville. Not to playa-hate Frozen - I thought it was pretty good - but we haven't had a Persepolis, Toy Story 3, Wall-E or a Waltz with Bashir since... Toy Story 3, I guess.

JC: You didn't like The Croods?! I've noticed that the more interesting animated films "of 2013" are actually doing that "qualifying run" nonsense and won't be actually coming out in theaters till 2014. Like Mayazaki's The Wind Rises or the French film Ernest & Celestine (so basically, by "more interesting", I just mean "less English"). Both those films won't actually be seen by general audiences till February. Animation may end up redeeming it self this year, but in terms of films that people were actually able to see in 2013? You're right. Pretty Bare. I mean, I thought Frozen was absolutely fantastic, and we all know that Taylor loved it, but there was nothing else that I saw that was on that level. That being said, I found both of the Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs movies to be pretty adorable.

VB: Oh poop, I actually saw The Wind Rises (at the same international film festival that I saw The Selfish Giant at). I really liked it, but for whatever reason, I just never seem to connect with Japanese animation. The Wind Rises had solid thematics and a good story, but as an end to Miyazaki's career, I wish it were a bit more whimsical, as he's known for. Though I wouldn't call myself a fan, the dude is a legend. But it did not really connect with me emotionally. I appreciate it more than I actually like it.

Did you see Upstream Color? I figured, guess at how I know your movie tastes, you wouldn't have cared for it very much, but it has been on a lot of top ten lists. I think it's one of those movies people feel is important and great but don't actually know what the ef they just watched.

JC: I did see it, unfortunately. I'm just going to assume that anyone who placed it on their Top Ten did it for their Hipster esoteric choice that we discussed earlier. The level of pretentiousness in that film was suffocating. I'd also like to see Shane Carruth get a big enough budget now so that he doesn't have to cast himself in the lead because Primer proved he can be incredibly dynamic.

VB: Right!? I applaud it for ambition and Shane Carruth's micro-managing skills (since he pretty much did everything behind the camera and acted). It looked great and the editing feels like it was also phenoms, but I just derived so little as to what it all adds up to. Maybe not the best comparison, but why are we mad at Upstream Color for being so idiosyncratic/pretentious when something like The Master kind of falls into the same category, yet we really liked/loved it? PTA fanboys?

JC: For everyone's vociferous complaints, The Master isn't that hard to follow - until it's third act which is purposefully hard to distinguish between the reality of the story and Freddie's fantasies. I can't really talk about Paul Thomas Anderson in comparison to that shitty movie, so I will address The Master on its own. Fo some reason, it didn't catch with even some of his more dedicated viewers, but I think down the road we will realize it's a masterpiece. Not only is it one of the best directed films in several decades, it's performances are so brilliant and idiosyncratic, it's screenplay so hypnotic in its deviousness with structure. Just consider the scene in the department store near the beginning of the film - NO ONE HAS EVER SHOT THAT KIND OF SCENE THAT WAY. It's a revolution in and of itself, and it may not even be one of the ten most interesting shots in that movie. Paul Thomas Anderson is the king and we are all his subjects.

But enough of my PTA tangent, let's get back to 2013. I did notice that neither of us had The Wolf of Wall Street on out lists, which is a surprise because that is definitely the "it movie" that everybody's talking about right now, love it or hate it.

VB: Wolf of Wall Street is the only film that I saw in theaters twice. Just circumstance, not because I liked it so much. I actually enjoyed it much more that second time. But it didn't make my list for two reasons: 1) It did not need to be three hours long. 2) They barely even brushed up on the people Leo's character was screwing over. The makers obviously did this on purpose, but I feel like that would've been a pretty important aspect to cover. It's only really even talked about in one scene (when Belfort's first wife states "Shouldn't you steal from people who can afford it?" Not a direct quote, but something like that. Whatever). But I did love the movie, and Leonardo DiCaprio gave my favorite performance of the year. And I love that both Scorsese and Leo can/did make a movie like this at this point in their careers. Totally unexpected. Something so trashy and juvenile at points, but made with a huge ballsack and loads of conviction.

JC: Yeah, I was surprised that, despite it's notoriously messy post-production process, Wolf is actually really well edited. But I guess that's my fault for second-guessing Thelma Schoonmaker. Interestingly enough, I also have two distinct reason for not including it on my list: 1) Agreed on its length - no need to further expand on that; 2) It was the last movie that I saw, the one I needed to watch to finally put my list together. So, I kind of had to make a decision quick and it was just easier to keep my list the way that it was.

As for the moral question that has everybody in a tizzy these days (Fake Headline: Is Scorsese irresponsible for portraying Belfort's life with such pizazz? Or is it satirical?), I think we've seen enough movies that are fire and brimstone when dealing with this subject matter. (God, imagine if Oliver Stone got his hands on this material). I can name twenty movies about all of these dense consequences of capitalistic greed and the harm that being a sleazy, money-hungry Wall St. figure can have on your soul. Wolf of Wall Street is the first movie to focus solely on why you SHOULD become a NYC stock trader. Cause it's fucking fun. This moral dilemma is the same complaint that was thrown at Goodfellas and Trainspotting when they first came out. Now that time has passed, everyone realizes how great those movies are.

VB: I'm glad you bring up Trainspotting because I agree completely. I recall people slamming that movie because it celebrated drug use, but I had the opposite reaction. Sure, the film showed them having a blast and getting laid and all that stuff, but it was always viewed through a sort of Pros v. Cons lens. Pros: You have lots of fun. Cons: you have terrifying trips and discover a dead baby in your living room. Pretty sure the cons outweigh the pros.

JC: Obviously, you chose American Hustle in the whole media-manufactured Wolf v. Hustle debate. I'm not sure those two movies are similar enough to really square off the way some want them to, but they both kind of bang a similar drum about American excess and the price you integrity has to pay to make the biggest bucks in our culture. Sure, David O. Russell is doing Scorsese-light filmmaking but that's what he's been doing since The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook, it's just that this is the first film that really mirrors Marty thematically (or maybe it's just that he cast Robert DeNiro in a small part). But Russell works so much differently with actors than Scorsese does. Marty likes them to be comfortable, David likes them to be anxious, like he's shaking them in a can. Russell's female characters aren't necessarily better but they're always more in control plot-wise. And between the two movies, I found Amy Adams' performance to be the very best acting. I actually think Hustle is the very best work of her career and I like that David O. Russell is the first director to realize how incredibly sexy she can be. And that amazing scene toward the beginning where she has no make-up... GAH! It's the stuff of legend.

VB: I totally agree that it makes little sense that they keep being pit up against each other. Thematically, sure, but if people wanted to play that game, they should also mention every other movie made about the same topic just this year alone. Both directors just make films differently, and most importantly they FEEL different. I chose American Hustle over Wolf of Wall Street because I had less qualms with it and had tons of fun watching it. It's a mess, but that adds to the fun of it. Completely nuts. Amy Adams is one of my favorite actresses around right now and she was my favorite performance in American Hustle. That kind of good but also kind of not good British accent had me cracking up and the scene you mentioned was dynamite (boom baby). And the scene between her and Jennifer Lawrence in the bathroom was just awesome.

JC: All that said, I still think Wall Street is the better film. Where Wolf's improv flows and grooves, Hustle's is all over the point (which is kind of the point, I know, but still sloppy). Wolf was a little more interested in its thesis and had one central figure (and a maniacal performance from Leonardo DiCaprio) to filter it through. American Hustle was more interested in its characters, which I usually prefer, but it leads to several dead ends, I felt, where the plot is stunted by several scenes of line-o-rama type. I just felt like Wolf went as far as it could go, not because of some Lena Dunham-esque feeling of pushing the envelope just to push the envelope, but because he wanted to really show you what American excess can be. That it's about as the Nathan's Hot Dog eating competition (all those orgy/cokefest scenes were very disturbing and gross to me; anyone who watches that and thinks "Man I wanna be that some day" has some serious issues). But movies like The Act of Killing show that people DO watch these kinds of films and let it influence their bad decisions. So, maybe there should be more of a sense of responsibility. But who knows? Whatever the answer, I still enjoyed the movie.

As someone who still hasn't seen It's a Disaster (and has little excuse to have not considering it's streaming on Netflix), would you say that it was 2013's best movie dealing with America's obsession with the Apocalypse? At least it didn't have zombies. (Did it?)

VB: With It's a Disaster, I loved the scale. It was a large scale event focusing on how a small group of people handle it. 99% of the film takes place inside a house, and the other 1% are outside that same house. This decade has seen a ton of these movies - Seeking a Fried for the End of the World, Melancholia, World War Z and 5 million others. It's a Disaster takes it to its smallest arena. But it is not just about the coming of the end. It's a comedy following a group of girlfriends and their significant others coming together for a brunch party. What makes the movie so darkly hilarious is that, despite the end of all things they know coming to an end, Jenny still can't get over how Jim would rather the watch football game then go shopping with her. That's not a direct example, but an attempt for me to explain that these characters continue to get worked up over the most trivial upper-middle-class white people problems even as the world around them crumbles. It also features my second favorite ensemble cast of the year (behind American Hustle, duh).

I noticed that you didn't have Blue Jasmine on you list and I was actually pretty surprised. I did not think I would have loved that movie as much as I did. I haven't totally loved a Woody Allen film since 1994's Bullets Over Broadway. The closest thing since was probably Match Point. I know I'm in the minority, but I didn't care for Midnight in Paris. Too cutesy/sentimental, where Blue Jasmine was... not. Intently observed, sharp, darkly funny and tragic. And Cate Blanchett was - sweet lawd Jesus - she was amazing in that.

JC: Blue Jasmine was definitely great. I thought it was Woody's best movie since 1999's Sweet and Lowdown (I'm not very high on Match Point). It's definitely one of the best movies of the year, but I feel like it owes all its power to that Cate Blanchett performance. She's on a devastating, awards-eating avalanche toward her second Oscar, which I have no problem with - but I wasn't exactly stricken by much else in the film. I mean, the screenplay is fine, but the story is such a shameless reworking of Streetcar Named Desire that it kind of gets undermined at that end. I also wasn't really blown away by any of the performances outside of Blanchett and (welp) Andrew Dice Clay. I think Woody is always making the exact movie that he wants. We get so hung up on Woody's Back! or Woody's back to his ol' tricks! as if he's even thinking about that. The dude just does whatever he wants, churns out a movie a year and a lot of them are great - and some not so much.

As we close out our discussion here, it's probably important to note that the Academy Award nominations are coming out on Thursday. Let's end this with each one of us giving our three wacky predictions for what will happen on Thursday morning. Here are mine (they're all actor-related, which wasn't intentional but kinda just what happened):

1) Despite a freshly-minted Golden Globe win, Leo DiCaprio will end up NOT nominated for Best Actor for The Wolf of Wall Street, inciting rabid Leo fans to go ballistic and talk about how stupid the Oscars are and how Leo doesn't even really want one anyway.

2) Streep fatigue finally sets in and she is snubbed for a Best Actress nomination for August: Osage County (which is ironic since it's her best performance in decades), leaving the door open for Amy Adams to get in for American Hustle. Streep-lovers go insane, take it out on Adams and totally ignore the fact that one of those spots is going to Emma Thompson for a lazy performance in a terrible film, Saving Mr. Banks.

3) James Gandolfini gets a posthumous nomination for his sweet work in Enough Said which adds extra sad sauce when he appears in the depressing-as-fuck 'In Memorium' sequence that night - subsequently, someone at my Oscar party will drop their jaw and yell "JAMES GANDOLFINI IS DEAD!?" and I'll punch them in the throat.

VB: 1) Amy Adams, despite winning a Golden Globe for her performance in American Hustle is snubbed at the Oscars, leading her to believe that it was because she only showed most of her boob for 90% of the movie and her entire boob 0% of the movie. As a result, she wears the most lovely Armani Italian-leathered capris, paired with similarly leathered sexy boots. And top less. In protest.

2) Despite also winning the Golden Globe and being a the front runner for Best Director ever since Gravity was released, Alfonso Cuaron will not even be considered for an Oscar nomination for his envelope-pushing direction. Afterwards, he will be cast as the lead in the next Batman reboot and be internet-shamed for months.

3) Frozen will be nominated for Best Animated Feature (totes, duh) but will ultimately lose to a little-known limited re-release of Spacechimps featuring the voice work of Academy Award winner Cuba Goding Jr. You will find this amusing, but Taylor will take her own head, shove it into your kitchen sink and drown herself. You are suddenly happy again and there is no longer famine.

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