This will be my 300th post and I never figured my blogging efforts would last this long. I wanted to do something special for my 300th post, but was at a loss as to what to write about.
I had a couple of topics in mind, but couldn’t make a final decision. You would think I was deciding the fate of the world.
No more muddling though, so this post will be a mix of those topics, ideas that have been noodling around in my mind of late, with the recent box office sensation “The Avengers” at the center of all this upcoming meandering. I beg for lots of indulgence.
I’ve been happily participating in the weekly Alternate Oscars series at the wonderful Wonders in the Dark website. They’re up to 1941 now, the year John Ford’s “How Green Was My Valley” beat “Citizen Kane” for Best Oscar honors.
I love “Citizen Kane” and, audaciousness and inventiveness aside, I think it’s a hugely entertaining movie. But “How Green Was My Valley” is an equally glorious achievement in its own way, and I don’t have a problem with it earning top prize that year.
It’s very easy to pick on the Oscars, and how they often get it wrong, and how they honor conservative, playing-it-safe movies instead of more groundbreaking work. How rarely, we say, the Oscars get it right.
But I love the Oscars and always have, and while the Oscars may not always get it right, I think the Oscars often act as a fascinating barometer reflecting society – and movies – in that given year.
The Artist’s Oscar Win
The 2011 Best Picture Oscar winner was the charming “The Artist”, a black and white silent movie about a matinee idol’s fear of the upcoming talking picture revolution. Some might think “The Artist” to be a slight fable, a nice enough movie, but hardly Best Picture material.
I’m wondering how it may have resonated with Academy voters. “The Artist” is set in the late 1920s when silent movies were giving way to talkies. There was much fear in the air in the early years. Stars were afraid how their voices would record, there were sound synchronization problems and the formerly mobile cameras were now still.
Today, the motion picture industry is facing a different kind of revolution, but one that has many in the industry looking similarly askance. 35mm film gives way to digital projection, distribution patterns change from theaters to home viewing, not to mention watching the latest blockbusters on handheld devices. There’s also the fear that someday, CGI figures will replace the performers themselves. Not to mention costume designers, set designers or construction crew people who will see their jobs go away as more and more images are added via greenscreen in the post-production process.
I wonder if many Academy members were subconsciously identifying with George Valentin, the lead character in “The Artist” and wondering what their futures hold. The clothing styles may change, but the trepidation of what new technology means to the motion picture industry is the same whether its 1928 or 2012.
The Amazing Popularity of “The Avengers”
Like I said, there is often more to popular entertainment than meets the eye. I wonder what is so appealing about “The Avengers?” I know two people who loved it, and thought it was one of the best movies they had ever seen. But the Marvel Comes universe was new to them, had never seen any of the Marvel movies that preceded “The Avengers.” and no idea of the back stories of Iron Man, Thor, the Hulk, etc. So it wasn’t the continuation of the story they were responding to, or the appeal of seeing their comic book heroes come to life.
“The Avengers” is a happy surprise, well cast in a smart screenplay, and a marvelous turn by Tom Huddleston as the villain Loki, There’s some solid laughs here, and a couple of crowd-pleasing moments that elicited more audience cheers than any movie I’ve seen in ages.
Still, I wonder how much of it may be wish fulfillment? For the first half of the movie, The Avengers are a most dysfunctional group bickering and sparring. But when the alien menace attacks New York City, differences are put aside, the Avengers work together as a team and defeat the enemy, all for the common good.
Surely I was not the only one thinking why couldn’t this happen in real life with our politicians? The country is currently faced with seemingly insurmountable problems, yet much of Washington remains fiercely partisan. Instead of coming together to face our challenges, they continue to bicker, stall and point fingers at each other. Nothing gets done.
I think audiences may be seeing “The Avengers” as a wish fulfillment experience, especially as its coming in the midst of ever-increasing bad economic news. If the idiots in Washington can’t get their act get together, at least our movie heroes can.
Could “The Avengers” Be Nominated For Best Picture?
Back to the Oscars.
Like millions of other people around the world, I’ve seen “The Avengers” and found it a most enjoyable time at the movies. If I had to rate it on a scale of one to four stars, I would award it three stars.
Since its immense popularity among all age spectrums, I began to wonder if the Academy will honor it with a Best Picture nomination?
Initial thought tells me no, it doesn’t deserve it. Another thought tells me no comic book movie should get a Best Picture nomination. As enjoyable as some of them are, most of them come down to adults running around in costumes surrounded by CGI effects. I can’t think of a single comic book movie deserving of a Best Picture nomination except for “Superman” (1979). (No, I haven’t forgotten about “The Dark Knight” (2008), and think it’s one of the 10 most overrated movies of all time.)
But then I began thinking of my Oscar history. The Academy has a long history of awarding a Best Picture nomination to the most financially successful movie of the year. If movies like “The Ten Commandments” (1956), “Airport” (1970), “The Towering Inferno” (1974) and “Star Wars” (1977) can get the nod, why not “The Avengers”?
Yet another thought tells me comic book movies are unworthy of serious Oscar consideration. As a genre, comic book movies are like swashbucklers. They have a pretty basic plot, good guys vs. bad guys, a pretty girl or two, action, intrigue, and a rousing action conclusion. Pretty basic stuff, and all cut pretty much from the same cloth.
But if I was a member of the Motion Picture Academy in 1938, I would not hesitate to mark my ballot for “The Adventures of Robin Hood” as Best Picture of the Year. It may be the easiest Oscar vote I’d ever make.
Sure, it’s as basic a plot as you can get, with little or no subtext at all. It’s an adventure film in the best sense, and while hardly a film for academic studies and one to be pondered over afterwards, it remains as satisfying a movie as I can imagine. It’s the one swashbuckler that I can see winning a Best Picture Oscar.
So maybe one day a comic book movie will come along as exhilarating as “The Adventures of Robin Hood”. It’s not “The Avengers”, but maybe the next one will be the comic book equivalent of Errol Flynn’s classic.
More on “The Avengers”
If I do a Ten Best list at the end of the year, I don’t see “The Avengers” making the top 10, but top 20 for sure. I can’t get totally behind it for several reasons. It’s a bit overlong (as most movies today tend to be), is lacking a good musical score and peters out with a wimpy final scene. Plus, the idea that superheroes on display here are seemingly invulnerable takes away from the overlong battle scene at the end.
Regular readers of this blog will know how important I consider a film’s musical score to be. Some films need minimal, or no scoring, and some can get along with just source music, But darn it, there are times when a big, brassy, triumphant, melodic, thematic score is called for. A movie like “The Avengers.”
Instead, the usually reliable Alan Silvestri delivers a routine score that could have been placed in any generic action movie.
It doesn’t ruin the movie, but it doesn’t do it any favors either. I forget who said it, but a famous film composer once said a film composer’s job is akin to a mortician’s. They can’t bring a body to life, but they can make it look pretty.
A memorable score can’t save a bad movie. It’s never happened and never will. But a memorable score can make a bad film bearable, a memorable score can turn a good film into a great one and a memorable score can turn a great film into an iconic one.
I don’t blame Mr. Silvestri, as he probably delivered what was asked of him. Too many directors today are afraid of music and don’t know how it works. They’re afraid it will take away from their “vision.” So they ask for it to be as bland and unobtrusive as possible. Films today suffer because of it.
Also in the demerit column is the film’s final scene. I’m not talking about the scene showing an upcoming menace during the film’s credits or the hilarious post-credits sequence, but the film’s final scene. It’s a scene between non-superhero characters played by Samuel L. Jackson and Cobie Smulders and it’s dull. It’s so dull I can barely remember it. To end an exciting comic book movie with a scene as dull as anything found in the dullest night in Dullsville, USA is disappointing.
I’m thinking of the final shot of a smiling Christopher Reeve flying over Earth in “Superman” (1978) backed by that exhilarating John Williams score. I wished “The Avengers” had ended in a similar way, something to send the audience out soaring.
I swear filmmakers today are afraid of using music to elicit an emotional response from viewers, as if that were a bad thing. I recently saw the teaser trailer for the new 007 film “Skyfall” and it’s OK, but it’s backed by the most generic music imaginable, making it look, and sound, like every other action movie in the marketplace. It’s a Bond movie, for God’s sake, put the Bond theme in there and make it something special. It’s not rocket science folks.
I promise to be more cohesive in Post #301. I do hope to blog several more times before my participation in the William Wyler blogathon, hosted by The Movie Projector, June 24-29. I’m thrilled to be writing about the great western classic “The Big Country” (1958) on Tuesday, June 26. That post will also be more cohesive.