Thursday, September 5, 2013
Riske Business: Oscar Flashback (2004)
The Aviator (dir. Martin Scorsese)
Finding Neverland (dir. Marc Forster)
Million Dollar Baby (dir. Clint Eastwood; WINNER)
Ray (dir. Taylor Hackford)
Sideways (dir. Alexander Payne)
Adam: I remember in 2004 being really impressed with the nominees for Best Picture. The thought "Wow, finally a year where they only picked movies that I like" crossed my mind. Back in its original release, I was super impressed by The Aviator's movie-ness, which I thought made it stand apart from most biopics. It felt like a biopic for a guy who deserved a biopic -- rarely the case with this genre. Finding Neverland made me cry, which is the only thing I can remember about it. Side question, does a movie making you cry automatically make it a good movie?
Million Dollar Baby really worked for me at the time, too. Super sad, but surprising. I also thought the ending raised a lot of interesting questions and stayed true to the characters. Ray was a movie I liked, but it's like giving a Best Picture nomination to Jamie Foxx. I had to work overtime convincing myself it was more than a good movie. I didn't think it was a great one. This circles back to my comment about if the subject deserves a biopic. I don't think Ray Charles does exactly. He was a genius, he was blind, he philandered, he did drugs, and he owned the masters to his music. The last part especially rings hollow to me. He owned the masters to his music. Am I, as an audience member, supposed to be like "Woo-hoo...I'm so happy for him"? I think the movie I liked the most was Sideways because it was just really f-ing good. It was a comedy that was funny, a drama that was interesting, great performances, good screenplay. It seemed the most un-fussy to me.
Patrick, back in 2004, did you think this was a good Best Picture race? What did you think of the movies back then?
Gladiator). At the time, I thought Million Dollar Baby was really good and powerful, so I was ok with it being nominated (and winning). I have wanted to go back and watch it again exactly ZERO TIMES in the nearly 10 years since. There's a lot to like in The Aviator and maybe it's due for a re-watch, but it's always felt to me like another Gangs of New York—great stuff in there, but a mess overall. Ray is a good performance/impression and has moments of energy, but the movie is kind of lousy (and the fact that Taylor Hackford was nominated for Best Director would disgust me if I gave a shit -- the man already gets to go to bed with Helen Mirren, he doesn't need a participation trophy). Finding Neverland is well-acted garbage, taking the fifth slot because Miramax always gets one in there. The only movie out of the group that I still really like is Sideways which, if I were giving out the awards, would have won easily.
I don't want to turn this into a rant against the Oscars, but looking at this list of nominees after not thinking about it for a decade just proves how irrelevant the Academy Awards are. Because my gut reaction to reading that group was "REALLY?" I'm positive that's not the best 2004 had to offer. Eternal Sunshine isn't on that list. Looking at the nominees now, it's like someone drew five movies out of a hat.
Also -- yes, a terrible movie can still make you cry. My wife and I cried at The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Not because the movie is good (it is not), but because it was the first movie we went to see after having our first kid and the movie ends with a little baby boy QUIETLY DYING. It was awful, and we were in bad shape. But that was about us and not about the movie being good, which, again, it is not.
Are there movies from 2004 you would have rather seen nominated? Are there any movies on that list that you think have stood the test of time? And should that even be a qualification for what gets nominated or recognized?
I agree with you that Sideways is the only one of the Best Picture group that I would stop and watch on TV. Shockingly, I own all of these movies on DVD and think I have watched them a combined two times since I bought them. Finding Neverland, Ray and Million Dollar Baby are still wrapped.
While I don't think the five nominated movies were the best 2004 had to offer, I have to say that looking back on the list of movies from that year, I can see why they were chosen. 2004 was a good year for fun movies, but there wasn't much else. I like Eternal Sunshine, but it's never been a movie that I've ever loved. It's a little too Urban Outfittersy if you catch my drift. I really like Before Sunset, Spider-Man 2, Kill Bill Vol. 2 and Friday Night Lights. Those four are movies I could re-watch today, especially over the five nominated picks. I guess those four plus Sideways would be the five I'd want nominated. How about you? What would you have like to seen get recognized?
I think a movie standing the test of time should be taken under consideration. Since the Academy Awards are sort of silly (which I'm realizing more as we talk about the movies nominated in 2004), let me ask you a more interesting question from a similar, but different angle. When you make a top 10 list at the end of a year, do you factor in if a movie will stand the test of time? Is it a reflection of what you liked or maybe where you are in life during that year? Are they movies you felt had something to say about the times the world was in during that year? etc. I tend to go with my gut and pick the movies that got me the most excited during the year (in short, what movies did I have a crush on). I'll then fill out the list with the movies that I admired a great deal but didn't have an emotional connection with. I have so much trouble with late in the year movies and figuring out where to place them. For example, I had The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Fincher's version) as my No. 4 movie a couple of years ago and now I'm perplexed by that.
I think a problem with the Oscar races is twofold: 1) many late November and December releases depend on awards for marketing and grosses, so I think the movie industry sort of has an unspoken acknowledgement to nominate a Million Dollar Baby or The Aviator over something like Kill Bill Vol. 2. and 2) Since the Oscars focus so much on movies from late in the year; they (along with critics groups) get caught up in the moment and overreact since they are not afforded the luxury of having more breathing room to live with the movie.
Yes, there were a lot of good "lesser" (they are not lesser, they just don't get recognized for awards) genre-type movies that came out in '04 -- Eurotrip, Zack Snyder's Dawn of the Dead remake, Hellboy, The Chronicles of Riddick [that's right], Cellular, Team America -- I could go on and on (I realize that I saw just about every major release that came out that year). But Kill Bill Vol. 2 and Before Sunset and Shaun of the Dead and I Heart Huckabees and Spider-Man 2 and, yes, Eternal Sunshine are pretty great movies, genre or not. Even fucking Spanglish is as good as or better than three of those movies nominated.
I don't get the Urban Outfittersy critique of Eternal Sunshine. I've contended that it's the best movie released in the first decade of the 2000s. I don't know if it's for that reason that I haven't wanted to revisit it (for fear that the spell would break) or if the fact that I haven't wanted to revisit it means it's not as good as I thought. But it had more imagination and emotional honesty (coughDOUCHEcough) than, again, three of the Best Picture nominees. Maybe even Million Dollar Baby, but I won't know that until I have to kill my protégé.
Ten Best lists are very, very tricky. I've tried in recent years to be more honest with myself, since I know in the past I have put pressure on myself to include movies that I probably didn't like as much as I thought, but it was already December and all the "good" movies were coming out and I needed to have 10 movies. I end up putting too many late-release movies on my list because I've seen them the most recently and, to use your words, still have a crush on them. That's how War Horse got on my list just two years ago. And I'll maintain that that is a VERY well-made movie, but I can live the rest of my life and never see it again. So should it be on the list? Probably not.
But that's very different than the Oscars, because those aren't subject to the tastes of just one person. A whole committee of people make those decisions, which helps explains why they tend to make shitty, bland decisions. When's the last time you felt like watching The Artist? Or Slumdog Millionaire ? That's not to say they are bad movies, and there are undoubtedly people who love them, but this notion that they are somehow the BEST representation of Hollywood moviemaking that year is a joke. Is Finding Neverland REALLY one of the five greatest accomplishments of Hollywood in 2004? The answer is no. Here's how you can tell -- it basically only airs on, like, Lifetime Movies these days. No truly great movie airs only on Lifetime. It CAN air on Lifetime, but not ONLY Lifetime.
The Oscars are a broken system, probably one that is beyond repair. It has everything to do with the "narrative" of the campaign and nothing to do with the movie AT ALL. When Avatar was nominated for Best Picture in 2009, I was still in my anti-Avatar phase and complained about what a joke it was -- it was only a recognition of the movie's box office. If that movie had come out and done John Carter numbers, it would not have been nominated. But why not? It's still the same movie no matter how many people see it. So Ray gets nominated because Jamie Foxx has this great story and does a good impression and everyone's caught up on the narrative of the making and selling of the movie. But the movie itself is flashy and kind of lame.
It's hard for me to talk about the Oscars without coming off like a mad grandpa. They serve a function and they get people talking about movies, so I don't begrudge anyone who enjoys them. But that list of 2004 nominations is evidence of just how big a joke they are.
Last complaint: we both agree that Jamie Foxx is the reason Ray got nominated for Best Picture. So how does Sideways get a best picture nomination, but Paul Giamatti is every bit as important to that movie's success as Foxx is to Ray (maybe even more so, since he's just MAKING UP his character) but doesn't get nominated?
I completely forgot about Dawn of the Dead and Shaun of the Dead being from 2004. Both are great movies. My Urban Outfittersy comment for Eternal Sunshine was probably more dismissive than I intended since I do like the movie. It's more of a reaction to the kind of people I knew at the time who loved it than the movie itself. I would totally revisit it if I were you. I think it improves on multiple viewings. The thing I'll always remember about that movie is I was in a happy relationship the first time I saw it and it left me cold, but the second time I saw it was after I was dumped really badly for the first time and I found it very moving.
Anyhow, this was a fun exercise?
In closing a few questions,
-Does a movie going through the gauntlet of an awards season make you more tired of it and less likely to want to return to it? I think it might. For example, I know The Social Network is a fast-paced, entertaining movie but I never feel like re-watching it because I feel like I lived with it during its initial release and subsequent awards season as much as I'll really want to.
-What are some biopics about musicians that are better than Ray?
-How's Wimbledon? (another Dunst ‘04). It's on my DVR. My living room has turned into the Kirsten Dunst career retrospective as of late.
I understand what you're saying about the "awards show gauntlet." I don't know if it's more a testament to a movie's worth or my own ability to tune out the white noise of Oscar season, but I feel like I'm able to revisit good movies (or at least movies I like) no matter what. Meaning I could watch The Social Network or Inception right now, but definitely not The King's Speech, the movie that beat them both. But that's because while I thought The King's Speech was fine, I wasn't crazy about it in the first place.
Of course, there are those "good" movies that I'm less inclined to go back to. Back in 2009, I was fine with The Hurt Locker beating Avatar for Best Picture (because it should have been Inglourious Basterds anway). I have never felt like watching The Hurt Locker again, even though it's the better movie. And Avatar...well, you know...
Off topic but to answer your question, there are a LOT of musical biopics better than Ray. I like Walk the Line better, even though it's pretty much the EXACT SAME movie. The Buddy Holly Story. Great Balls of Fire! Does Sid & Nancy count? My favorite musical biopic of the last 10-20 years is I'm Not There, because it found a completely different way to approach a very stale genre.
I haven't seen Wimbledon since the theater, but I remember really not liking it at all. And I'm glad that what started as a discussion of Best Picture winners can end with an offhand pan of Wimbledon. Only at F This Movie!, people.