Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Mopping Up Culture Vomit: I'm Jordan Pedersen, and James Cameron is my favorite director

I get tired of "style."

That's not a fair stance, I realize. It's also not entirely accurate, considering that every movie (nay, every work of art) is a product of stylistic decisions, good or bad.

But whenever "style" gets mentioned specifically in a movie's writeup, I switch off immediately. Any critic who can't come up with a better descriptor than "stylish" is an idiot, anyway. That's like saying your favorite food is "tasteish."

Maybe I'm being unfair. After all, if this hypothetical movie had anything more than "style" going for it, it wouldn't be the only thing the (bad) critic noticed.

Nah, stylishness still pisses me off.

I saw Snatch for the first time last week. And, more than its (allegedly) memorable characters or its (sorta) intricate plot, I noticed its (actually) obnoxious director.

True, Snatch is singular. There are some gorgeous sequences (the fights are all wonderful), and it's funny as hell. And, most importantly for Guy Ritchie, there's no mistaking that it's a Guy Ritchie movie.

And that's what I found so annoying. Ritchie's got talent, but he's so insecure with it. Why else would he spend every available moment trying to prove his talent with trick photography? Slo-mo, fast-mo, montage, montage, montage. It's like hanging out with a hyperactive teenager who keeps namedropping all the "cool" bands he listens to.

"We get it, Jordan, you think you're cool. Now stop talking about AFI."

I've started to respect filmmakers with less to prove. I've started to prize movies that don't shove technique or their "radical" philosophical/moral/social agenda in my face (2008's Wanted being heinously guilty of both).

Which is why James Cameron has become one of my favorite directors. His movies are quietly masterful. I know it sounds odd to refer to James Cameron as quiet, but he's quiet about his talent. He's akin to Howard Hawks (The Big Sleep); audiences could spot a Hawks picture simply because they enjoyed it so much. His "invisible style" is, ironically, his hallmark.

I question the intentions of a Guy Ritchie or a Timur Mekmambetov (Wanted). Like Cameron, they make action movies (certainly crowd-pleasers), but are they primarily concerned with entertaining the audience? Or are they more about proving how unique they are?

James Cameron strikes me as a tremendously selfless director. His goal, above all else, is to produce a perfectly entertaining movie. That's why his scripts are perfect (Aliens), his production values top-notch (Titanic, but just about all of his movies), and his filmography uncluttered (quality over quantity, after all).

Dude is a douchebag, though, which may explain him being less than prolific. You can't make movies in studio system if everybody hates you; just ask David O. Russell.

I've made my acceptance of asshole behavior well-known. And James Cameron has certainly produced enough brilliant art to warrant a bit of egomania.

His douchiness, after all, is in service of making great movies; he's a Nazi because he cares (about his audience if not his actors).

And his movies are great because they're so much fun. Aliens has some truly insightful things to say about humanity and corporate dysfunction, but it's a great movie because it's purely entertaining from beginning to end. There are social politics in Titanic, but there's also a giant fucking sinking ship and a great love story.

James Cameron makes great movies. Great in scope and great artistically. And his movies don't concern themselves with telling you how great they are.

But audiences seem to feel guilty about having fun. They enjoy great action movies but somehow think less of them than great dramas. That's a mistake; thrilling an audience isn't any easier than tugging their heartstrings. And, again, a confident filmmaker is often content merely to entertain his audience.

So don't discount the James Camerons of the world simply because they make fun movies that don't shove their technique in your face.

I don't think the newest Avatar trailer is much better (or worse) than the infamous teaser. But Jimmy's earned my trust.