I love movies and I'm always thrilled when I read about a film made for adults. It's a sad fact of life that the big budget productions, issued in the summer, all feature superheroes with super powers or Will Smith saving the universe --films intended to appeal to teenage boys, unless they're made to appeal to pre-teen girls with dreamy, pale-skinned vampires and pumped up wolfmen.
But by fall, the studios start bringing out serious films made for adults, because it's the build-up to the Oscars. (The nominations were announced on Thursday.) I liked last year's surprise Best Picture The Artist (a black and white silent film set in the 1920s?!), and 2010's winner, The King's Speech. I absolutely loved 2008's winner, Slumdog Millionaire, maybe more than most because I'd recently come back from India, where I posted about the reality of the homeless children begging in the cities. Slumdog Millionaire had a happy ending (boy gets girl and wins a million) and a big Bollywood dance number -- how could anyone resist?
But this year, it's looking as if I won't be buying tickets to most of the nominees for Best Picture, because I have this built-in protective mechanism which keeps me away from exceptionally violent films. And I'm not alone. I think many viewers don't want to see strung-out scenes of violence and torture. But this year, all the "serious" films seem to be over-the-top for violence.
By the way, the New York Times reported last week:
A chain saw finally pried the inhabitants of Middle-earth out of first place at the North American box office... "Texas Chainsaw 3rd" (Lionsgate) beat projections and took in an estimated $23 million for No. 1 ('Massacre' was dropped from the title after the Colorado movie shootings.) Quentin Tarantino's 'Django Unchained'...ended up second, selling about $20.1 million in tickets, for a two week total of $106.4 million."
This year, the top-rated (by the critics) films that will probably be nominated for Oscars have so much gore, violence and torture, I just don't want to put myself through it.
I did see Lincoln, which I liked -- although I didn't love it as much as Slumdog Millionaire. But I definitely think Daniel Day-Lewis will get the Oscar for best actor, and he deserves it. And Les Miserables, although it's been criticized for the unrelenting suffering in extreme close-ups, is also a film I want to see. I adore the Broadway soundtrack and tend to sing along at top voice when I'm driving -- but only when I'm alone, because I wouldn't want to submit anyone else to my singing. That would be another form of torture.
Which brings us to Zero Dark Thirty a film about the killing of Osama Bin Laden. The subject fascinates me and I was eager to see it until I read that the first half hour of the film is devoted to scenes of torturing a man by waterboarding. I know that a half hour of torture is more than I can sit through.
When I was seven years old in Minnesota, my very religious grandmother would take me to Bible movies, which often involved torture--Samson and Delilah among others. During the torture scenes I would run out of the theater area and huddle in the foyer to the amusement of the lady selling tickets.
Next we have Django Unchained by Quentin Tarantino. I liked Pulp Fiction, which had its moments of violence. But all the critics say Django is way over the top. The latest New York Magazine said of the film,
Connoisseurs of 'wet' gore will be especially delighted, given that every bullet generates a whoopee-cushion's worth of red sauce. The only violence that's not a kick is done unto slaves, who are whipped, torn to pieces by dogs, and, in a particularly ugly moment, driven to slaughter one another for sport... It's manna for mayhem mavens.
Does this make you want to rush out and buy a ticket?
I think that filmmakers believe that every time they make a movie they have to surpass the last one in terms of shocking the audience, either with sex or violence. Consider all the great films in which the sex happened off-camera (and was much sexier because of that). And think of Psycho, which terrified a whole generation out of taking showers. Nowhere in the shower scene of Psycho do you see knife slicing into flesh or even a naked body, and yet the murder is so much more terrifying because of what you DON'T see.
I saw the previews of The Impossible, based on a true story of a family caught in the terrible tsunami which ravaged Thailand in 2004. The New York Times review said in part: "The Impossible is also, in its way, a horror film, with nature as the malevolent force threatening innocent lives. The dramatic emphasis is on the anguish of a mother and her son, who survive the waves and are separated from the rest of their family." Evidently, much is made of the severe wounds the mother suffers, with lots of close-ups. People Magazine said, "It could turn a sensitive viewer -- and who isn't in these troubling days -- into a ball of anxiety."
I'm going to opt out of this one.
A movie I would like to see, but probably won't is Amour, the French-language film which many are calling the best of the year. It tells the story of a devoted couple, married for decades, when the wife suffers a stroke and begins to fail while the husband looks after her: "Her movement is restricted on one side, speech falters and dies to a moan; diapers are required," according to the New Yorker review. ..."Even George's resources are of no avail, and that is why he is forced to consider, at the last gasp, what love required him to do. All amour is fou."
I probably will force myself to go see this film, which is earning accolades, because, after all, my husband and I are in our seventies and have been married for over forty years, and the next stage in our life is what this film is about, but I have a feeling that's it's not going to be a fun evening.
I've heard really good things about Silver Linings Playbook, including that it is both funny and uplifting, but as soon as I told my husband it's about two people with mental health problems coming out of rehab, he vetoed going. And then people are suggesting that Life of Pi is likely to be nominated for Best Picture. I heard it's beautiful to watch, and the trailer is stunning, but I read the book and at the end wondered why I had invested that much time in the story of a youth who gets stranded on the ocean in a small boat with a tiger. I think the whole thing was a metaphor for something that I never figured out.
I've desperately wanted to see Beasts of the Southern Wild ever since I first read about it. Here's a bit from The New York Times:
One of the most striking aspects of 'Beasts', given its pedigree, is the way it blends realism and fantasy, allegory and observation. 'Once there was a Hushpuppy,' the narrator (herself the Hushpuppy in question, played by the remarkable Quvenzhané Wallis) informs us, and this 6-year-old girl, living in tough circumstances in a stretch of Louisiana bayou called the Bathtub, very much resembles the heroine of a fairy tale.
I would love, love, love to see this film, starring a sassy 6-year-old girl of rare courage, but it was so briefly in a local theater that I missed it because I was traveling. Maybe it will come back after the Oscars if it wins enough statuettes.
I think I'm not alone in wishing that serious filmmakers, trying to make serious films, would not feel the need for explicit torture and gore to make their point. We have enough of that in real life. We'll see on Sunday Feb. 24th if Oscar voters agree with me.