Dear Dana, Wesley, and Keith,
There was a goblin king with a pendulous neck-goiter in The Hobbit? I’ve already forgotten that image—and thanks a lot for reminding me, Dana, just as I was having a bite of my morning cereal. That whole movie was just so atrociously ugly. I felt as if it were sizzling at me for three hours, leaving grill marks on my eyeballs. As you suggested, Dana, 48fps is probably just TMI. Maybe we need that little break between frames we get with 24fps, a fragment of time that allows our brains to catch up to the images in front of us.
And Keith, I’m with you on this idea of spectacle just not being enough, even though I do long for spectacle in the movies. That’s one of the reasons I enjoyed Life of Pi—I really felt I was in the presence of a movie, something larger than life. (Plus, it doesn’t hurt that I just really dig tigers.) I have that feeling so seldom at the movies these days; it’s not something I got with, say, the hyper-aware showmanship of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises.
Speaking of which, was that movie actually released this year? People seemed to be talking about it for all of about 5.2 seconds before moving on to something else (though the tragedy in Aurora made the picture a topic of conversation for all the wrong reasons, something I would never wish on any filmmaker). This is by now an old complaint, but movies churn through theaters so quickly these days—if they ever reach theaters at all—that nothing stays in the public conversation for very long. There are exceptions, of course, particularly when it comes to the year-end prestige pictures. (We are still talking about Django Unchained and Zero Dark Thirty some two weeks or more after their release.) But many movies that are hyped at the time of their release barely stick around in the public consciousness until the following Thursday. And Dana, your comment about how the spectacle of Life of Pi somehow distanced you emotionally from the movie resonated with me: As much as I enjoyed watching the picture, when it came time to compile my year-end favorites, it somehow didn’t make the cut.
Speaking of year-end best-ofs, Wesley, you asked me to say a word (or two, or two hundred) about The Master, a picture I didn’t like very much. I didn’t even care enough about it to hate it. Joaquin Phoenix, an actor I generally like very much, baffled me. (Slate alum David Edelstein over at New York cracked me up when he compared Phoenix’s diction to that of Robin Williams’ Popeye.) The performance and the movie around it felt like a tired stunt to me—and arty movie stunts can be great, especially when they’re shot on our beloved, nearly antiquated 65 mm film stock. But I didn’t think the daddy-issue framework was sturdy enough, or interesting enough, to carry the thing. What did strike me at the time of its release was how much it had awed so many critics. And while I want to allow everyone his or her individual awe—no one, for example, must ever trash-talk my beloved Richard Parker—I did note an element of defensiveness about The Master, particularly in the Twitterverse: I kept seeing these comments along the lines of “It’s so deep, you have to see it more than once.” I didn’t happen to think it was deep at all—just as some people don’t think the marvelously vexing Holy Motors, my favorite movie of the year, is all that deep—and I resented the assumption that I (or anyone else) couldn’t know my own mind after just one viewing. I wrote about that response, and then Dana took the baton and wrote, very eloquently, about her own experience of seeing the movie for a second time, and then a third. It was kind of like our own mini-Movie Club! And I have to say, that wrangling with the question of “What might be gained from re-viewing a movie that didn’t wow you the first time?” was far more interesting to me than the movie itself.
Wesley, in your defense of the year’s “trashy” movies—I don’t really like to use the word “trash” to distinguish highfalutin movies from lowbrow ones, but I surely know what you meant—you mentioned a picture that’s near and dear to my heart, Steven Soderbergh’s Haywire, which did end up making my 10-best list. Gina Carano’s performance is a marvel of physicality, and that includes the way she pours her considerable curves into a cocktail dress. And for pure sexiness, I still can’t get over the Ms. Bossy-pants order she gives to mild-mannered Michael Angarano as the two speed off in his nerdy little car: “You’re going to fix my arm while I drive, OK, Scott?”
Wesley, you also brought up another movie that found little love among, well, anyone. The Paperboy sure is junky, but I wasn’t bored for a minute. And as clumsily made as the movie is, I loved the relationship between semi-privileged white kid Zac Efron and longtime family housemaid Macy Gray—the way, for instance, Efron knows the names of Gray’s kids, while his old-school hard-ass father (Scott Glenn) has never made an effort to do so. That struck me as much more believable than most of the stuff in a far more earnest movie like The Help.
One other thing about the year: I used to hate Matthew McConaughey, who appeared in The Paperboy, Magic Mike, Bernie, and Killer Joe (did I miss anything?), all released in 2012. Now I love him. What happened? Maybe what I really used to resent was the way, for years, he was being sold to us as swoony leading-man material. Like, we desperate wimminfolk were supposed to get in line to run our hands all over his well-oiled pecs or something. And maybe he did play up to that image, at least a bit. But when I saw him the year before last in The Lincoln Lawyer, I realized he had stopped annoying me. I hate when that happens! All of a sudden, there’s something really casual and free about him—he’s a disciplined actor who makes it look as if he’s just tossing it off. Especially in Magic Mike, I found him a joy to watch. Getting older seems to agree with him: Liberated from the shackles of being a certified sex symbol, he can now enjoy just being an actor. Watching that kind of evolution is, for me, one of the great pleasures of moviegoing. So much better than well-oiled pecs. And certainly better than pendulous neck goiters.