Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Love it or loathe it? (Not the Oscar telecast)

As expected, the Oscars were rather predictable with the possible exception of what's being described as a "Kanye moment" between two acceptors of the Oscar for best documentary short film. Other than that, the foreign film I wanted to win (The White Ribbon) didn't. The animated short I least wanted to win did. Pretty well no one won whom I wanted to win, but I was expecting that because there are few surprises at the Academy Awards. I had to be content with enjoying the fact that there were at least three awful evening gowns. (Thank-you, Charlize Theron.)

Of the ten nominated films, one, I would say, falls into the category of "films you either love or hate". I was actually rooting for Up in the Air which of course didn't win a single thing, but A Serious Man is the kind of film that neatly splits commenters at movie sites such as IMDb or Yahoo Movies into "love" or "loathe" camps. I am so glad I saw this film on DVD, because the DVD extras really helped. The film begins with a beautifully filmed, baffling folk tale set somewhere in Eastern Europe where an old man may be (but probably isn't) a dybbuk. (The DVD also contains a useful Yiddish glossary for those of us who are goyim.) An interview with the Coen brothers assures us that this story has nothing to do with the ensuing film. Imagine my relief.

Things only get odder as we enter into a nightmarish week in 1967 for a Jewish professor, where everything goes wrong and he blunders in a haze of bewilderment toward his son's bar mitzvah. Said son, a rather obnoxious boy of thirteen (is there any other kind?) attends the ceremony good and stoned and stumbles his way to the ritual appointment with the mysterious elderly rabbi who now refuses to see anyone but kids who have just been bar-mitzvah'ed. I can't embed the clip, but here 'tis.

I imagine people who hate this film (and there are a fair few) are bothered by the lack of a clear storyline. This is probably the same reason that so many people hate 2003's Elephant, a movie that follows about half a dozen students through the same ten minutes leading up to a Columbine-type school massacre:

It takes a while to realize that with the introduction of each new character (announced by their names appearing on the screen), we move back to about the same point in time. The camera falls in behind, and follows each student as he or she move through the endless halls of an American high school. (I remember the shock of traveling in the States when I was a teenager and seeing how enormous the high schools are there. They call them "campuses", like universities.) It's only when we meet the young shooters that we drop further back in time to see their strange detached manner while they plan to murder their peers. What's even more disturbing is that their detachment matches that of their future victims who move through the few minutes they have remaining of their lives with little genuine interaction with each other. I understand much of the dialogue was improvised, which may add to the isolation.

I watched this for the first time in the company of elder daughter who was still in elementary school at the time. This didn't do much to ease her jitters about high school, although I assured her that although this may reflect the atmosphere of a typical high school in the United States (and anyone with an experience of this may correct me if I'm wrong), it bears little resemblance to the Canadian high school experience, at least as I remember it. Now that she's about to graduate, I should ask her if I was right...

Other love-it-or-hate-it films? I see a great divergence of opinion about Happy-Go-Lucky, a film about which I blogged a little over a year ago. This was a charming (I thought) albeit rather plotless film following a few weeks in the life of an optimist. What makes this character interesting is that her cheerfulness can veer from charming to grating. Maybe this clip will give you an idea. (Warning - if you're expecting a sexy scene here, you'll be disappointed):
As I recall, Poppy's back problem is a very small episode in the movie, and we never see her physiotherapist again. The whole movie's kinda like that. I loved it.

A movie I didn't love was Moulin Rouge which I think may be the perfect example of a film you either love or hate. It irritated the blazes out of me, yet I know plenty of pleasant and perfectly intelligent people who adore this flick.

What do you think? Is there a movie you love that others can't stand? Or vice versa?


Lisa Rullsenberg said...

I'm with you on Happy-go-Lucky.

Films I really hate? Not sure. If I think I'm gonna hate them I tend not to engage (silly I know, but nothing is going to make me want to see Borat no matter how many people rave about it to me). I don't always manage this. I'm never getting back those hours watching 'Cats and Dogs' which though inoffensive was such a waste of time...

I loved 'Last Action Hero' with Arnie, even though most people hated it. There must be more...

Persephone said...

I was thinking along the lines of films that people you love and respect seem to love, but you can't understand why. (I think I might have issues with Baz Luhrmann; I obviously don't "get" him...) Anyway, films you watch because they've been recommended and you go "Hunh?".

Ann ODyne said...

I agree completely with your MoulRouge comment. I wish I had not even seen it, but a friend forced me to share her DVD experience. 'Our Nic' must be on the set of her 2nd film of this year, as she was not visible at the oscars thank you God.

I was torn between wanting Jeff Bridges and/or Colin Firth to triumph I must say.
I cringe at the acceptance speeches. Sandra Bullocks was OK.
Being actors, they all get carried away suddenly having their own dialogue, and need to be reminded that they did not cure cancer.
I would love to see a similar big night of indulgence and accolade for research scientists!

Persephone said...

Yeah, but would we watch it? For all we know, there is such a wing-ding for research scientists, but only for those in the employ of the larger drug companies. Or the military. I shudder to think...