I watched the last hour of the Oscars. Before that, I was at a yoga class. This particular practice is called "Restorative Yoga." You do an hour-and-a-half of poses without ever standing up. When I originally took "Restorative", I characterized it as napping with strangers.
(This is a tiny glimpse of me in a nutshell. I make fun of something; then I end up loving it. Which is one reason I could never be a movie critic. I'd have to write my review of every movie twice.
The First Review: I wanted my money back.
The Second Review: It could be my favorite picture.)
The Oscars don't mean anything to me. For one thing, I wasn't nominated for anything. (Apparently, to get nominated, you have to actually do something in movies, aside from just going to see them.) Secondly, I don't see violent pictures, which, I think, rules out every "Best Picture" nomination this year.
I did make the mistake of seeing "Best Picture" winner, Slumdog Millionaire. The reviews said it was cheerful. It was, except for the torture of the main character, the selling of the girl of his dreams into prostitution, and the blinding of a little boy's eyes with acid. I wanted my money back. (I am not planning to see Slumdog again.)
My favorite movie that I saw last year? The Wizard of Oz. I saw it on television. I also enjoyed, among others, Lawrence of Arabia, All The President's Men, Singin' In The Rain, Red River, High Noon, Double Indemnity and Casablanca. Ditto on where I saw them.
The Oscars mark "on the curve." It's "Best Picture" this year. If it weren't, the above pictures and other indisputable classics would be nominated over and over.
They don't do it that way. The Academy chooses five of what they consider the best from that year. They never say, "The best pictures of 2008? Well, none of them were that great. We'll see you next year. Good night, and drive carefully."
Instead of more than three hours, the Oscars telecast would be over in twelve seconds.
By now, I imagine, anyone under a certain age is pretty much sick of me, though my contemporaries may be more forgiving. Here we go again. Another round curmudgeonly grumbling. A tedious reprise of, "They don't make 'em like they used to".
How about some perspective, huh? When it came out, Casablanca was considered standard fare. The Wizard of Oz didn't get all raves either.
There's no place for any of that! Not while enjoying our nostalgic look through the rear-view mirror. Sing it, Baby. The old is great; the new is garbage. Blah-buh-blah-buh-blah-blah-blah.
Or, more emphatically,
Listen to me. I know it's an unpopular thing to say. I know art's supposed to be subjective. But, I'm telling you,
There's good and there's bad.
And everything in between.
As a writer, I can tell good writing from crap. I can tell if a story holds water. I can tell if it omits essential steps in its development, or it doubles back on itself, repeating the same series of moves over again. I can tell if it builds naturally to its climax. I can tell if that climax pays off. I can tell if the movie resolves itself smoothly, or stumbles on its way out the door.
I can tell if the characters are heart-beatingly multi-dimensional or stereotypical stick figures I can tell if the movie made me think, or moved me emotionally in a disturbing but illuminating way.
Wait a minute. You don't have to be a writer. Anybody can be sensitive to these elements. You may not articulate them that well. (I may not have articulated them that well myself.) But if you're open, you can feel them in your kishkas (Yiddish for "gut").
I realize there are movies that scored huge at the box office which are totally lacking in these aforementioned considerations. But in my view, no movie ever made less money because it happened to make sense.
Another wild assertion? Movies that make sense stand the test of time.
"Special Effects" are constantly being topped. But you can't "top" logical believability and emotional truth. Certain values are timeless. Cave men could get The Wizard of Oz.
Yes, some issues are generational. Some values have changed. It would be hard to do a contemporary movie whose "big, dark secret" is, "He's gay." A response by today's audience would be, "So?"
Judd Apatow marries corny with introspective, generating comedies that are hilarious, and feel new. The old movie standards wouldn't have allowed such shenanigans. Though the exploitation of "no standards" can be wildly uneven. When the liberating freedom is used skillfully, the results are shockingly refreshing. Or to younger audiences, just funny.
Today's movies offer a sped-up tempo, a nod to the familiar (to the young) fast cutting of MTV, commercials and video games. But "faster" needn't mean, "The story doesn't make sense." Why can't a movie move quickly, but remain logical? I don't know, but invariably they don't. (TakeMission Impossible. Any number.)
On the other side, moviegoers who've been around a while are often brought low by a debilitating dose of, "We've seen that already."
They're trying to get the antagonist to "break on the stand". In Frost/Nixon, it's Frank Langella. In A Few Good Men, it was Jack Nicholson. In The Caine Mutiny - it was Humphrey Bogart.
It's exactly the same scene!
By its third incarnation, people who are familiar with those movies are like, "Are they doing this again?!"
For whatever reason, or combination of reasons, it feels to me like movies have lost something. Maybe it's the glamor. Sean Penn ain't Cary Grant. Maybe...well, you know this stuff. The Youth Market. Language sacrificed to international distribution. The robotic attention to the bottom line. Maybe it is even that they're running out of ideas.
All I know is,
The movies aren't as good.
"Best Animated Feature" - Wall-E?
Please. The jailed mother, touching trunks with her big-eared baby through the prison window bars? The quintessential alcoholic fever dream - "Pink Elephants on Parade"? A flock of hipster crows chirping,
I've seen a peanut stand
I've seen a rubber band
I've seen a needle that winked its eye.
But I think I've seen about everything
When I see an elephant fly.
And if that's not the best, try Lady and the Tramp.
Earl Pomerantz's blog can be reached at earlpomerantz.blogspot.com