Like the Superbowl for Art Fags

As previously mentioned (so goddamn previously that if you scroll down slightly, you’ll see it), this marks the first year in a long time, if ever, where I’ve seen 3 of the 5 Oscar nominees for Best Picture before the ceremony. Due to constraints of time (2 1/2 hours plus the amount of my day ruined by the supposedly devastating ending of Brokeback Mountain have kept me from seeing it), money ($10 for a movie I won’t even like, blah blah blah…), and the complete lack of interest in seeing white, liberal guilt manifest itself (I suffered my way through Syriana enough to never, ever want to sit through the “Shaun, this movie is fantastic! It’ll change your outlook on things! Really!” tripe of Crash), I usually only see one a year, if even that. I typically catch up after the hype dies down (as was the case with Babel–the anti-Syriana— which I saw a year after it came out and with Traffic– the terrific mold the vapid corn syrup of Syriana was poured into– almost ten years after) due to the aforementioned restrictions as well as my general antisocial nature OK-ing Blockbuster but not a movie theater. So this year’s Oscars are kind of exciting (or at least they will be until I start watching them and realize that maybe jumping back and forth between them and a Futurama marathon may be more my speed). And like many, I’ll throw a trash can through the window of my local McDonald’s if Juno takes home Best Picture over the sparse, dark intensity of No Country for Old Men or There Will Be Blood.

This is not to say that Juno was not an enjoyable movie; it is simply that Juno wasn’t THAT enjoyable of a movie. Much like an overeager friend that means well but sometimes tries too hard to be funny or provocative but really means well beneath it all (*ahem*), once you let down your uber-hip defenses, Juno is a movie that will leave you feeling warmed and even somewhat moved. Much like last year’s version, titled Little Miss Sunshine, sometimes a movie that tries to evoke indie quirk even more than the Strokes or The Life Aquatic can still pull off some cool stuff, even yielding enjoyable results. Hell, the movie sports BOTH Michael and George Michael Bluth; no film that gives a subtle nod to Arrested Development can be all bad. No, Juno is not unique, and even if it is, it’s not for the right reasons. But it’s by no means the shit film that many make it out to be. (Go here for a much better synopsis of this idea.)

The biggest problems with Juno lie in the forced-quirky directing of Jason Reitman (Ivan’s son, and if you can’t learn from the mistakes your dad made in Evolution, My Super Ex-Girlfriend and the second half of Stripes, go open a Hedge fund… can you open a Hedge fund?) and the force-of-ipecac-forced-quirk script by Diablo Cody, noted ex-stripper and blogger (you see what I’ll have to do to get a screenplay taken seriously?). And they’re both nominated in their respective fields. While Reitman could be argued for, Diablo Cody is like a five year old that wanders downstairs after being sent to bed and starts to dance for her parents’ drunken friends: if you laugh at the cuteness of the child begging for attention, it will only encourage it into more bad, obnoxious behavior. Even nominating Ms. Cody for her terribly flawed script is giving her an OK to do more crap like this; if she wins, it will only solidify her one good thing/ sixteen “good?” things approach to writing. Juno would have been a near-excellent movie if she would have toned the script down. Granted, this would have meant our YouTube-ified culture wouldn’t have gravitated toward it’s near-constant stream of wackiness and pop-culture references (can we pass legislation ruling that Thundercats is no longer a hip and exciting reference?). An Oscar for Best Original Screenplay would teach Diablo Cody nothing, and judging by the genuinely sweet and moving moments this movie possesses even despite its occasionally cringeworthy dialogue, if she does things right, she could write a wonderful script right around the time her “I USED TO BE STRIPPER!!! REALLY!!!” looks start to fade.

The other two I saw– There Will Be Blood and No Country for Old Men— have been receiving the kind of acclaim that automatically sends movies right to the overrated bin (my second-least favorite bin at Wal-Mart). The problem is that they’re not overrated in the least; they’re two disturbing, dark, intense films that truly simultaneously skullfuck our gore-phobic and gore-obsessed (Hostel and Captivity, anyone?) cultural wasteland while providing the depth and weight usually associated with films like Atonement. Another problem is, despite the chatter that these two films needs to be compared to eachother (which on top of both being violently misanthropic films coming out in the same year, they were both filmed in the same town), they’re both unique films that can be equally appreciated separately. And in true snob/hipster fashion, if you compare two things, one must become complete and utter shit in comparison to possibly the best thing ever made.

No Country for Old Men is the harder of the two to penetrate, which is part of its appeal: it’s a smart, well made movie that through its cold, unconventional characterization and mindfuck of an ending effectively weeds out the casual “this movie got great reviews” moviegoer that could at least nuzzle up to the semi-warm quirkiness that lay under the cold exterior of Fargo. And that is by no means a knock against Fargo; while Fargo was occasionally kind to its audience, No Country for Old Men out-and-out loathes it, resulting in a movie that allows for no one to think its “okay.” Like any great piece of art, No Country for Old Men doesn’t cater to those who may like it casually; it cuts right to the goddamn chase in the first few minutes of the film with Javier Bardem choking the shit out of a podunk local cop with the handcuffs he’s locked into. Half the audience squirms and looks at their watch while the other half squirms, smirks, and marvels at the merciless tone that’s set. The ending, though “controversial”, is the perfect period to the film (though undeniably an ellipsis): 3/4 of the New Rochelle theater I saw the movie in gave out an audible, frustrated bellow. Dumb motherfuckers.

With NCFOM walking that fine line between complex and unaccessible jackoffery like an acrobat, the moments of raw emotion that pepper There Will Be Blood as to lift it above a cold period film with lots of wide-angle shots make it look like Hallmark Channel fare in comparison. And yes, I’ve seen this movie twice in the theater already compared to No Country for Old Men‘s once, but this does not make There Will Be Blood any less of a cold, disturbing movie. While the irony of calling a film There Will Be Blood only having 5 or so instances where there is some stands in contrast to NCFOM‘s offputting and realistic gore-o-rama, the film’s emotional violence is just as look-away-from-the-screen intense as that scene where the aforementioned Bardem is digging a bullet out of his own thigh. The growing (or arguably always-present) distance between Daniel Plainview and those that care about him is brilliantly enthralling. And those that creamed their tight hipster jeans over No Country for Old Men immediately upon its release shamed There Will Be Blood‘s final scenes for being too over-the-top. While a great amount of independent cinema is based in all-tension-no-release as to jar typical audiences hungry for closure, the impact of There Will Be Blood is based in the intense release of tension in its final act. Daniel Plainview’s collapse is epic and disturbingly tragic. I considered the movie pretty overhyped during its first two hours the first time I saw it. The ending, though, reframed the first half of the film as the walkway leading to Daniel Day Lewis’ International House of Acting. While isolated, yes, cynical motherfuckers may be somewhat right in calling it Oscar begging. But as an end to the film, it functions as the justification of the movie’s first dry and sparse two-thirds. Much like Al Pacino’s brilliance in the Godfather movies lies in his restraint rather than the few times he explodes, Daniel Day Lewis earns the virtuoso flair he exhibits in the movies final minutes. And that last scene, the most hated by the movie’s detractors, is an awe-inspiring punch to the fucking gut that leaves me breathless each time I see it, and will continue to after I purchase it when released on DVD, walking right past the overrated bin to the $10.44 rack.

So the Oscars better not suck this Sunday. And unless the South Broadway McDonald’s doesn’t want me to go all Serbian protester on their ass, Juno better not win. No interpretive dance, no long montages paying tribute to the use of the telephone in movies, no warmed over Jon Stewart (you’ve got writers now; fucking USE THEM!) , no validation for Diablo Cody. You hear me, Academy? And Comedy Central, I expect that episode where everyone crashes on the Amazonian planet with Bea Arthur as the voice of the robot to be a part of your Futurama marathon, just in case I need it.

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