Film Fans

The Oscars get presented Monday night. Does anyone still care?

Titanic tied a record for the number of nominations for a single picture with 14. Pretty amazing! That breaks down to, what, a little over US$14million per nomination. And the picture just keeps chugging along, nearing the US$1billion worldwide box office take—the first picture ever to break that record. I was pretty excited about seeing this movie, but I have to say that I am stumped about what all the fuss is. Okay, I managed to remain interested in the movie for its entire 17-hour running time. Okay, even with all that water all over the screen I never once got up to pee. Okay, I should have hated the Celine Dion song but they played it at the end so I didn’t have to become annoyed with a montage underneath it since that’s what the music video is, anyway.

But… I just don’t get the big hoohaw. What am I missing, here? Is it just some bandwagon effect? Do people like it because they’re amazed they like it? Do they go in expecting to be bored and then they’re not bored so it’s this huge hit people see numerous times? It is undoubtedly technically marvelous. I saw some special about how they did the ship fly-bys and all the little people on deck don’t actually exist. They’re just CGI people. That’s pretty neat. And they built an almost lifesize Titanic in Mexico so they could shoot the movie near it. Wow. Big!

Admittedly, I’m not a romantic person. I’m a hidden romantic, meaning I actually enjoy romantic things but only when I’m not surrounded by an audience of people. And maybe I just wanted to like it so badly that I ended up only sort of liking it, but definitely not enough to want to sit there and watch it again. Nevertheless, it’ll win Best Picture. How could it not. I’ll be shocked as hell if it don’t.

The old woman will probably win, because she’s old. That always happens. When I was watching her scenes, all I kept think was “wow, the camera was inside her cornea and she never blinked!” Now that’s acting! And it’ll win for a slew of technical things, probably also for music and song. But where’s the excitement in that?

Will Cameron win for directing? For having the balls to spend US$200million for a movie with a given ending? For actually pulling it off when Costner can’t seem to make a good movie anymore and Eastwood’s last two have tanked and two of last summer’s guaranteed $100million+ blockbusters (Speed2 and Batman and Robin) died mercifully? Will he be rewarded by the Academy for outspending, outshooting and outdoing everything else ever made?

Can you say “duh”?

Porky’s Revenge

Do you think that when people are planning movies, they either shoot for the audience or shoot for the awards? Clearly, the majority of summer movies just want to make money and beget spinoffs that will make still more money. 1997 was the year of the big failure. “Can’t miss” movies like Starship Troopers, Alien Resurrection, the forementioned Splatman and Wrong One and Speed2: Get Me The Hell Out Of This Theatre were dismal failures and box office disappointments. Stars are no longer actors, they’re genre specializers. Spielberg tried to repeat his most amazing career year when he turned out Jurassic Park and Schindler’s List by cranking out a decidedly predictable and outright stupid JP sequel Lost World followed up with the boring, unentertaining slave ship drama Amistad and struck out both times. Lost World made money because it was first out of the gate, it was the sequel to one of the most successful and easily most entertaining movies of the past 10 years but I thought it sucked big donkeys. Only Goldblum’s drip-dry portrayal saved it from dying a total death.

Unlike Batman and Robin which was undoubtedly the worst film of the year. Absolute trash. Abominable doesn’t begin to describe it. I couldn’t even tell you what the hell it was about or who was related to whom. A movie that was spun from the depths of sequel hell and deserves to win the Razzie for every category under which it is nominated. If only the Oscars also singled out failures in the same manner, maybe Hollywood would learn something. And what is it about that ER guy I hate so much? I used to like him when he was on “Roseanne” and “Facts of Life”, but now that he’s a Big Star, that “acting” of his where he looks at the floor while he talks, man that bugs the shit out of me. You just want the other character to shake him and scream “look at me when you’re talking!” I call this method of acting the Soap Opera Hero, because all those bad actors have to deliver all those bad lines and I think they avoid looking each other in the eyes so they don’t laugh.

As far as the other categories are concerned, I couldn’t even be bothered with them. Jack Nicholson is nominated for again playing Jack Nicholson. I like Jack Nicholson, and I think he plays himself very well. I just wish Harrison Ford could get a part that would cop him an Oscar. Poor Harrison, though, keeps beating the pulp out of people after they beat the pulp out of him. You only get Oscar nods if you beat up women, I think.

Speaking of Pulp, Quentin Terrantino’s latest—which I have not seen—grabbed a few nominations though none of the buzz that greeted both Resevoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. Frankly, I think he’s trying too hard. He writes some tasty dialogue, but I’d love to see what he could do with a Woody Allen set piece. Forget the blood and guns and go for the belly laughs and groin heat, Q. You’ll be glad you did. Think of all the sitcom stars waiting for a career revival! I’ll bet you could get John Ritter for a song.

Poor Tom Cruise didn’t even have a movie out last year. He spent all his time stuck in England with his lovely wife Nicole making Eyes Wide Shut with the Director’s Director, Stanley Kubrick who, for my money, is famous for not moving the camera. Today’s music video graduates can’t seem to sit still for a moment and Stan, all he does is stick the Panavision on its tripod and rev up the lights. Then the camera stares at the actors behaving reserved and quiet for about 12 minutes before a jump-cut to a vase or something. This, then, is revolutionary. It’s been reported that this movie—another record-holder not for budget-busting but for the longest shooting schedule in history—is about two clinical psychologists with so many sexual fetishes between them that they make the Marquis d’Sade look like Jerry Falwell. Can’t wait to see Tom in a rubber dress, how about you?

On Down The Line

I guess the reason I don’t care about the Oscars like I used to is because I don’t see as many films as I used to. I still follow entertainment news, but since the time between the release of a film theatrically and its appearance at Blockbuster averages about four months, I’m not in a big rush to see anything. In another time, I might have been like Harry Knowles, the rotund film fan who runs Ain’t It Cool News, the depository of film rumors and spoilers. Harry clearly loves movies, all movies, and every aspect of them. His site, though not much to look at, regularly draws a long list of Hollywood movers and shakers and receives the inside dope on everything that’s going down and coming up from the ever-widening world of movie-making, from Kevin Smith’s Jersey-based flunky network to the cold mountains of Sundance, from the encrusted Hollywood Studio machine to South By Southwest in Harry’s hometown of Austin.

I used to be that fandom fanatic, eating Hollywood output like candy, spending my money on movie posters, lobby cards, original scripts and soundtracks. But somewhere along the line it stopped being interesting. Maybe because movies and entertainment in general is so much of an industrial beast now rather than a fun pastime. You can see the monster moving its large arms, lining up licensing contracts, trying to recoup the insane amount of cash it takes just to get the lumbering behemoths out to theatres any more. The studios keep saying we, the audience, is demanding bigger and better with every release. Better, yes. Bigger..?

All I want is something I can’t predict. I don’t want to plunk down my $7,50 and know the movie’s ending before the opening credits are over. Hell, half the time you can see the whole bloody movie in its trailer! How great an experience can it be if a two-hour chunk of my time is best summed up in four minutes? And they think we’re so stupid! They introduce a few narrowly defined character types and give away everything so we don’t have to figure it out. The exceptions to that rule, usually a film by the brothers Coen, and lately the crime dramas from nowhere like The Usual Suspects and Hollywood Confidential, are too rare. Why can’t I get interesting characters, unpredictable situations, entertaining comedies with brains? Why do they always go for cheap (easy) laughs?

The Future Looks Dim

Nothing’s going to change. It can be argued that it is now the same as it ever was. It’s show business and Hollywood needs sure things to keep going. Look at what we’ve got coming out this year: Lost In Space, Godzilla, The Avengers, Species 2 (yarg!), The X Files Movie, Eddie Murphy as Doctor Doolittle for Chrissakes! Lethal Weapon 4 (wasn’t the black cop supposed to be retiring in Lethal Weapon 1?) in July. Astronaut Bruce Willis detonating a meteor with his fist. Schwarzenegger does Heston in an Omega Man rehash. Antonio Banderas in the year’s biggest “Why?” traipsing around as Zorro…

So, why is this? Is it our fault? The audiences’? Do we require that movie descriptions can be capsulized to less than 10 words? Must everything be familiar, but gussied up with new CGI effects so we can go “ooh!” for the 12 seconds it takes to demolish a building? Frankly, I’ll go see Godzilla. The teasers look fun. But I’ll be hoping in the back of my mind that Gamera makes an unscheduled appearence and that it’s playing on a double bill with War of the Gargantuas. And, yes, you can look forward to another Pre-Viewed Review of summer blockbusters coming in May to a glassdog near you.

Meanwhile, I probably won’t be among the undoubtedly billions of Titanic fans watching the awards come Monday. Frankly, I liked Titanic well enough but it was definitely not the Best Picture of the Year. Having attended South By Southwest this week and realizing you or I could have made literally 200 movies with the budget it took to make this one, and realizing that any major Hollywood movie will necessarily contain predictable situations (because after all, who was surprised when the boat sank and everyone died?) involving wooden performances fulfilling bland characterizations traveling through feel-good plots so we all can live an illusion for a few good minutes (or long hours, as the case may be), I also know why the people I saw and met in Austin had to go make their movies on their own. Their productions may have been raw, their actors green, their dialogue stiff, but they had passion for it. It wasn’t all about money.

Is James Cameron a hero for turning down his salary to get his film finished? No, of course not. Is the Academy a farce for not recognizing Leonardo’s contribution to the film. Again, no. It’s always been political, like everything else. Should any of that make you not care about the awards?

Frankly, I’m pretty apathetic about that.

March 19, 1998

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