Posts Tagged best picture winners
Year of Release: 1994 Directed by Robert Zemeckis. Starring Tom Hanks, Robin Wright, Sally Field, and Gary Sinise.
Or, as I like to call it: Forrest Junk. Be warned, I spoil the entire movie.
Maybe I was just in the wrong mood. Maybe I’m just really strange and dislike movies designed primarily to play off the viewer’s emotions. But if you like Forrest Gump, do not read further. This film pulled off the rare achievement of taking everything that annoys me about cinema and combining all those factors into what may have been the most excruciating 140 minutes of my life. I hated, hated, hated, hated, hated this movie.
It began with the opening music. It was a little sappy, but I smiled and thought the film would be sweet and touching, if overly sentimental. Instead, it was one preposterous situation after another, a cast of characters who ALL make a blade of grass look intelligent, stealing scenes from vastly superior movies (The Princess Bride reference was particularly unforgiveable), grating voiceovers that only repeat what is being depicted, slow tracking shots that do nothing assist the story, a nonsensical tweaking of history, a dating of events that makes some narratives play out too quickly and others too slowly, and stupid metaphors that make no sense at all. Life is NOT like a box of chocolates, and you always know what you’re going to get in a box of chocolates: some nutty, some caramels, some creams, and some dark chocolate, and there usually is a chart so you can identify which chocolates are what.
An example of the lousy timeframe: Forrest and Jenny reunite in the summer of 1968, the last full year of LBJ’s presidency, by whom Forrest was awarded the medal of honor. Therefore, Forrest could not have been in Vietnam for several years, because when he went off to war Jenny ran away to California where she struggled to support herself as a street performer. But that was also in 1968, because during the flashback she was performing outside a theatre which is showing Rosemary’s Baby, which first opened on June 12, 1968. Is the film saying that she spent three or four years trying to get to California, and then hooked up with a band immediately after arriving, right before Forrest came home?)
Also, someone with an IQ of 75, who is named after the founder of the Ku Klux Klan, who has been thoroughly taught segregation his entire life, and makes comments to that extent, is not going to turn around and offer to assist a black woman who drops her books. That’s smug, audience pleasing, patting ourselves on the back propaganda, if there ever was any.
I get it. Dwelling on details like that is missing the point of the story. But let me summarize that story:
Mama becomes whore
To send stupid son to school.
He meets and sleeps with
Jenny, a pretty
Girl abused by her father.
She runs away, and
He lives through hist’ry.
After Vietnam and porn
They reunite in
They sleep together once more,
Have sex and a kid.
Then she leaves, because
The film needs sorrow. He then
Runs and runs and runs.
And that is profound,
Since Forrest was once crippled.
Then he finds Jenny,
But their time is brief
Since she was a junkie and
Dies of AIDS. The end.
What is moving and profound about that? A cynical part of me thinks this was so popular only because it was raising awareness for HIV and AIDS. Because there is no other way this could seriously have won best picture over: Quiz Show, Pulp Fiction, Ed Wood, Three Colors: Red, Three Colors: White, The Hudsucker Proxy, and Bullets Over Broadway. Heck, if the academy wanted to select a feel-good crowd pleaser with gratuitous voiceovers, The Shawshank Redemption, for all its flaws, is a hundred times better than this.
As I see it, there are two possibilities 1) all those who love this film have been duped or 2) I am weirder than I realized, and I am missing some basic human emotion gene. I am going to go with 1).
And in conclusion, to call Forrest (and this film) stupid would be an insult to stupid people.
Content Advisory: Several implied sexual encounters, some with partial nudity; references to pedophilia; one strong vulgarity many other milder ones; drug use; some wartime violence; and ham-fisted manipulative dishonestly throughout. MPAA rating: PG-13
Suggested Audience: Adults
Personal Recommendation: F
Year of Release: 1986 Directed by Oliver Stone. Starring Charlie Sheen, Willem Dafoe, Tom Berenger, Keith David, and Johnny Depp.
If you are a fan of this movie, I suggest taking your blood pressure medication before reading this review. For I come to bury Platoon, not to praise it. The flaws of this film substantially outweigh the tiny amount of good that it debatably accomplishes, good which can be found in other vastly superior Vietnam War films.
Vastly superior Vietnam War films would most notably include Francis Ford Coppola’s masterpiece Apocalypse Now and Stanley Kubrick’s flawed but compelling and thought provoking Full Metal Jacket. Both of those films tell intriguing stories that challenge the viewer and make him consider and think about what he has seen. Platoon, on the other hand, relies on cheap emotional manipulation and shock tactics to hammer its point home: war is EVIL, and it makes soldiers do EVIL things. Apparently, Oliver Stone believes we need two hours of lousy, predictable, manipulative storytelling to tell us that war is evil.
Charlie Sheen plays Chris Taylor, a wealthy white collar American student who drops out of college and enlists to fight in Vietnam as a way of proving that he can accomplish something on his own and also as a means of rebelling against his parents. Since he is a new recruit, none of the other soldiers respect him, and they spend much of their time belittling him and giving him humiliating tasks like cleaning the outhouse.
Fortunately for Taylor, one of his superiors, Sergeant Elias (Willem Dafoe) takes a liking to him and defends him against some of the rougher soldiers. Elias welcomes Taylor and they bond over a shared joint of marijuana when some of the nicer privates invite Taylor to their late night recreational drug party.
Unfortunately for Taylor, the moral and conscientious Elias is locked in a power struggle with the sadistic and power hungry Sergeant Barnes (Tom Berenger), who tries to make life miserable for Elias and his privates. We know Elias is the good guy, because he criticizes the war and calls it pointless, whereas Barnes loves the war as a way to brutalize both the Vietnamese and American soldiers who question his ruthless tactics. Barnes has a badly scarred face, while Elias is good looking. Barnes lies to his superiors, but Elias’ reports contain the truth. Barnes rapes women and shoots children for fun, and encourages his soldiers to do likewise. Elias beats up Barnes when he catches him murdering civilians, which causes a fight to break out between the privates who support Barnes and those who support Elias.
As an extension of the conflict between Barnes and Elias, Barnes’ privates make life difficult for Elias’ privates, because they are the villains and that is what they are supposed to do. In case you were wondering, it was Elias’ privates who invited Taylor to the marijuana party. Barnes and his privates do not miss an opportunity to bully, humiliate, and outright torture any soldier they do not like. Soldiers they dislike include nearly all of the African American soldiers, because the bad guys apparently have to be racist as well.
Every character and situation is an extreme caricature. There is no nuance or subtlety; no complex human beings who struggle with temptations to do evil, sometimes overcoming them, sometimes not. Instead the brutality becomes increasingly absurd and dehumanizing without any balancing counterpart. Since there is no sympathetic character to ground the viewer in the story, the brutally graphic violence becomes boring and desensitizing. It does not come across as horrific, because every situation is so extreme that there is no way for horror to upset the normal order of operations. If Stone had gone the slightest bit more extreme, Platoon would have been a comedy along the lines of Monty Python’s gory “Salad Days” or dark “Killer Joke.”
After two hours of watching the most contrived scenarios imaginable as soldiers debase themselves and sink to greater moral evils than the Vietnamese that they are fighting, Oliver Stone still fears that the audience is stupid and may have missed the blatant moral message that he has been bludgeoning into the viewer since the first scene. To explain the moral message that war is bad, Stone employs gratuitous voiceovers from Sheen as Taylor explains that war is horrible because it makes men no different than the enemy that they are fighting.
I beg to differ; in Platoon, the Vietnamese are honorable, family loving, and only depicted as fighting in self defense. Barnes and his privates are so repulsive, considering the absence of any moral order, the conclusion in which Taylor descends to Barnes’ level is natural and easy to predict well over an hour before it occurs. Barnes’ actions which drive Taylor over the edge are also obvious long before they happen.
In the film’s defense, I will admit that there were some scenes with very strong camera work that created the claustrophobic sense of oppression from the Vietnam jungle as well as the sense of hopelessness from the seemingly lost cause of the Vietnam War. However, that hardly saves the film.
Challenging, profound, harrowing, and masterpiece are all words that I have heard used to refer to Platoon. The words that come to my mind are: emotionally manipulative, predictable, in-your-face preachy, and desensitizing due to absurdity. I found this film so frustrating that it is one of the rare times that I truly cannot understand what anyone sees in it. Just because a film is about a tragic subject or contains shocking violence does not make it good. The way that a film presents its subject (important or not) is the determining factor for its artistic merit. Even as someone who mostly agrees with Stone’s points concerning the great evils that war can tempt men to commit, his irritating, manipulative, and extreme presentation obliterates any worthwhile message that Platoon might have had.
Content Advisory: Many gruesome and graphic depictions of wartime atrocities, much profane and obscene language, recreational drug use, and fleeting rear nudity. MPAA rating: R
Suggested Audience: Adults with discernment
Overall Recommendation: D+
Year of Release: 2002 Directed Rob Marshall. Starring Renee Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Richard Gere, Queen Latifah, and John C. Reilly.
I have always been disappointed to see the number of Christian movie critics who dislike this film. Admittedly, the tone of the film is fairly dark, and nearly all the characters revel in various forms of immorality; however, the film carefully examines a world that enables such behavior.
The film is set in prohibition era Chicago among the jazz nightclubs and liquor joints. Roxie Hart (Renee Zellweger) idolizes the showbiz lifestyle and dreams of becoming a star performer like her idol Velma Kelly (a phenomenal Catherine Zeta-Jones). In order to get an inside connection, Roxie is sleeping with an acquaintance who promises to get her started in show business by speaking to his friend about her talent. Once Roxie discovers that her lover has no connection in show business, she shoots him in cold blood and lands in the Cook County Jail.
While in prison Roxie meets Velma, who is also under arrest for the murder of her sister and husband, whom she caught cheating on her. Both women hire Chicago’s best lawyer Billy Flynn (Richard Gere) to get them acquitted. With his aid, they lie, manipulate, and swindle the justice system, the media, the public, and one another.
I have heard complaints that in Chicago the guilty live happily ever after while the innocent are punished and are losers in general. That is true, because the entire film is shot from Roxie’s perspective and is meant to showcase her obsession with the razzle dazzle façade of show business. She also lives in a society that shares her fantasies; consequently, the media and the public have no interest or sympathy for the virtuous. Well behaved people do not sell newspapers, make headlines, and are too boring to waste the time defending. However, the darkness and shallowness of a world that defines success by the veneer of fame and celebrity is bitingly satirized over the course of the film.
To emphasize the fantasy of Roxie’s obsession, the musical numbers are shot as an imagined stage performance, complete with stage lights, sexualized nightclub costumes, as Roxie looks on or participates with awe and wonder. The frequent edits cut from performer to performer as Roxie absorbs the scene, never stopping to examine the squalor that is at the heart of this world that she admires.
At one point, as Roxie dreams about her future as a famous Chicago vaudeville stage performer she sings, “The name on everybody’s lips is gonna be Roxie…They’re gonna recognize my eyes, my hair, my teeth, my boobs, my nose…” Roxie views herself as an object whose value is determined by her celebrity status.
The opening number, “And All That Jazz,” along with director Rob Marshall’s choreography, perfectly sets the tone for the film. It is the only song not filmed in the fantasy world of Roxie’s imagination. Instead she looks on with envy as Velma performs the famous showstopper. For one note, the film cuts to Roxie performing the song in her imagination, and then returns to her affair, the sole purpose of which is to promote her stage career. Velma’s dance moves even mirror the motions of Roxie as she begins to make out with her lover. All of Roxie’s actions during this number are meant to propel her into the world of all that jazz.
Although Chicago is filmed from Roxie’s perspective, the film does not condone it. The film draws the viewer into Roxie’s fantasy with topnotch production numbers, but via the quick edits from fantasy to reality, the film makes one seriously consider how Roxie is achieving her goals.
When Roxie does receive a warning to the consequences of her actions, she chooses to recede even further into deceit and theatrics. Perhaps she has trapped herself into this world, or perhaps the celebrity worshipping public has forced her there. Either way she masters perpetually performing in order to beguile the public. As Roxie sings at the end of the film, “You can like the life your living, you can live the life you like, you can even marry Harry, but mess around with Ike. And that’s good isn’t it? Grand isn’t it? Swell isn’t it? Nowadays.” As long as she maintains her swell performing status, nothing else matters to her.
There are many elements of humor in the film, but the humor does not arise because the immorality is funny. Instead the satire presupposes a moral compass that the actions of the characters are wrong and absurd. If killing one’s husband by firing a warning shot that happened to go into his head, because he popped his gum too loudly was acceptable, the murderers’ rationalization of their actions would not be humorous.
Two scenes really stand out to me in Chicago. One is “We Both Reached for the Gun,” when Billy and Roxie manipulate the press, who in turn manipulates the public, into believing her sob story about repentance and self-defense. The marionettes of the press and Roxie, all controlled by Flynn, perfectly shows how the obsession with celebrity allows people to believe whatever they want to be true. At the end of the performance to emphasize Flynn’s good nature he gulps down a glass of milk; it is the prohibition after all.
The other scene is “The Cell Block Tango.” Why is that? It is the most risqué number in the production, and seemingly the most morally problematic. The lyrics are a celebration of moral relativism and celebrity-worship carried to an extreme. As a result, I think it is the number that ties the entire musical together, reinforcing the major flaw of all the characters. If the purpose of life is to put on the best possible show by whatever possible means, then these murderers certainly have succeeded and are not wrong.
As dishonest and smooth talking Billy Flynn sings, “What if your hinges all are rusting? What if, in fact, you’re just disgusting? Razzle Dazzle them, and they’ll never catch wise.” Through Marshall’s quick and careful editing, the movie does catch wise, critiquing any worldview that places fame above all else.
Content Advisory: A semi-explicit sexual encounter, several highly suggestive dance sequences, skimpy costuming with partial nudity, some smoking, vulgarity, and brief violence. MPAA rating: PG-13
Suggested Audience: Adults with discernment.
Personal Recommendation: A+