Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Oscar-Shot!!! 2010 (Part 2 of 3) (EXTRA-JEWISH EDITION)

Oh, hi. I didn't see you there.


A Serious Man, dir. Joel and Ethan Coen

Coen brothers movies are hard to review. I've never seen a poorly-made Coen brothers film, but I have seen movies by them that I enjoy more than others. Burn After Reading, for example, isn't one of my favorites. But it's hard to impugn the thing from a non-taste perspective: the narrative is tight, the performances are wonderful (especially Brad Pitt, who should stick with comedy), and the dialogue is a strong point, as always with the Coens.

But I took very little away from the film. I didn't feel like I had just ingested a sharp satire of spy films or American paranoia. I just laughed and then left. This exchange sorta sums up my feelings about the movie:

CIA Superior: What did we learn, Palmer?
CIA Officer: I don't know, sir.
CIA Superior: I don't fuckin' know either. I guess we learned not to do it again.
CIA Officer: Yes, sir.
CIA Superior: I'm fucked if I know what we did.
CIA Officer: Yes, sir, it's, uh, hard to say
CIA Superior: Jesus Fucking Christ.

The Coens have made a career out of being pointless, though. Fargo was wonderful, but you'd be nutty to try to torture some philosophical/political subtext from it.

So when the Coens cross over into something approaching commentary, they grab my attention even more. Maybe it was just wishful thinking, but I felt like No Country for Old Men (my favorite Coen brothers movie) had quite a bit to say about a declining sense of traditional morality, especially in reference to the great John Ford/Anthony Mann Westerns of old. The sheriff in Old Men is essentially powerless to stop the forces of evil in his town. He's no Wyatt Earp.

A Serious Man, I think, had something to say, too. The Job-ish story of a hapless physics professor named Larry Gopnik (an Oscar-worthy Michael Stulhbarg), who endures a series of really unfortunate events, has much to say about Judaism's sense of divine justice and balance. Why does Larry, a seemingly just man, lose his wife (Sari Lennick) to slimy widower (you hate to put those words together) Sy Ableman (Fred Melamed)? Why is he forced to abandon his own home for a crappy roadside motel, which Sy refers to as "eminently habitable?" And why are his children (Aaron Wolff and Jessica McManus) such little shits? Maybe it has something to do with the Jewish fable (starring famed Yiddish theater actor Fyvush Finkel) that serves as a prologue to the film. Or maybe he's just a loser.

I see that as the fun of the Coens' filmography: it's always a blast to argue over whether their films actually mean anything. Or if they're just fucking with us.

ProgOSCARcator says:

Unlikely. It's great to see the Coens nominated, but I can't see this (wonderfully) super-Jewish movie getting a statue. I'll say 3%.

Inglorious Basterds, dir. Quentin Tarantino

What a welcome surprise this was! I had basically written QT (that's an annoying set of initials) off after the Kill Bill's and Death Proof demonstrated that the guy was more interested in listening to the sound of his own voice than making a good movie.

So when my every attempt to nitpick and dissect Inglorious Basterds failed miserably, I was happy to be wrong. Basterds, as we know from those great "ONE. HUN-ERD. NAT-ZI. SCALPS" trailers, follows a group of Jewish Allied soldiers ordered to assassinate the German high command and, more generally, fuck some Nazi shit up. They're led by Lt. Aldo Raine (there's Brad Pitt again!), and they find a mortal enemy in SS Colonel Hans Landa (played by future Oscar winner Christoph Waltz), better known as the Jew Hunter. Oh, and there's a B-plot involving a bangin' Jewish girl played by Melanie Laurent, who has her own bone to pick with the Jew Hunter. But although Laurent is solid, we're pretty much waiting for Waltz or Pitt to get back on screen.

Basterds works, first and foremost, because it doesn't let Tarantino's famous film geekery (and related need to comment on the art of filmmaking) get in the way of telling a good story. The unapropos dialogue is also toned down here. Nearly twenty years after Reservoir Dogs (and half a century after Breathless, which really pioneered the concept of non-plot advancing dialogue), we get it, T: it's funny to hear a bunch of killers talk about Madonna. But don't make half a movie (Death Proof) out of it.

But here, the two longest tangential conversations (I won't say which ones) serve both to showcase Tarantino's admittedly witty sensibilities and heighten tension. Listening to Christoph Waltz talk about nothing is waaaaay more nerve-wracking than listening to an average person talk about gutting his family.

ProgOSCARcator says:

I want this to pull off an upset SO BAD, both because it's legitimately one of the best movies of the year (which isn't necessarily synonymous with being a Best Picture nominee) and because it would confirm what that fortune teller told Harvey Weinstein. And with the new voting system (which forces Academy voters to rank their choices for Best Picture), this scenario is apparently slightly more likely.

I'll say 15%.

Another short version this week 'cuz I've got the flu (AKA, I feel like actually Culture Vomiting). Boohiss.