The State of the Race (pt.2)

December 15, 2008

With the Word of the Year race in full swing, it’s time to turn our gaze on that other great race: what movies will be nominated for best picture?

Let’s start with stating the obvious: this is a weak year. Really weak. As in Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday–weak. Weaker than that pun. One could even say ‘bootylicious,’ as in ‘bootylicious’ adj. ” 1. Of rap lyrics: bad, weak. rare. ”

1992 ‘SNOOP DOGGY DOGG’ Fuck Wit Dre Day (song) in ‘Dr. Dre’ Chronic (album), Them rhymes you were kickin were quite bootylicious.

In 2008, everyone seems to have invested all their energies into electing a democratic president or Ponzi schemes; no-one seems to have wanted to make a great movie. Some movies have been very good (Slumdog Millionare, Rachel Getting Married, and The Dark Knight come to mind) while others have been, “Really? This is supposed to be great?”, a category that includes the vastly overrated Wall*E. (For what it’s worth, I will be offering proper reviews of these movies over the next week, and probably a reappraisal of The Dark Knight, a movie of whose brilliance I’m now certain.)

We finally have enough data to release the first round of our rankings. Here is the top 10. There is a lot of parity.

1. Wall-E, 2.003

2. Slumdog Millionare, 1.729

3. Milk, 1.54

4. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, 1.389

4. Frost/Nixon, 1.389

6. The Dark Knight, .84

6. The Wrestler, .84

6. Gran Torino, .84

9. Burn After Reading, .62

10. Revolutionary Road, .549

10. The Reader, .549

Even though it’s number one, I think Wall-E is the most likely movie of the top 5 to drop out, simply because it’s animated. I also expect TDK to move up as Guild awards come in. I can’t imagine that SAG and the Producers won’t offer up love to the 2nd highest grossing movie of all time, and an ensemble film at that.

After turning down offers to write for Yesterday’s Salad, and/or be a journalist for Rolling Stone Magazine, 1976-1979, former YS fav Aaron Sorkin decided that the best way to resurrect his fading career was with a political comedy, Charlie Wilson’s War. Charlie has many of the flaws of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (too much focus on God and religion) and not enough of the strengths (there are barely any scenes where characters chat while walking down hallways), and from time to time the movie is incredibly heavy-handed. Still, Charlie Wilson’s War is likeable, and if it doesn’t reach the highs of seasons 2 or 3 of The West Wing, it’s about as good as your average episode of Sports Night.

Tom Hanks gives a very good performance as Charlie Wilson. Wilson is not a very demanding part, but Hanks gives it his all nonetheless, becoming the character. He stops being Tom Hanks about 10 minutes in. Except when he cries. Julia Roberts looks fantastic and does a nice job delivering her lines. Philip Seymour Hoffman is excellent and quite funny, bringing a devilish playfulness to the part. The performance is almost a parody of his character in Mission: Impossible III; both characters are players in the game of global espionage, and both have the means to kill at a moment’s notice, but CWWPSH (whew!) is a deadpan bureaucrat. He jokes, but he’s almost more terrifying because we believe he can deliver on his threats. (Plus, there’s no Ethan Hunt to save us.)

The movie falters near the end. If No Country for Old Men was unsatisfying because everything was so open, Charlie Wilson’s War has the opposite problem of trying to make everything nice and neat. The action stops and everyone starts making speeches about what it all means, about the problems of getting involved in other countries and then disappearing, about the problems of wars fought for God, about the problems of arming Afghanistan. The themes themselves are unavoidable and worth telling; the problem is in the execution. Sorkin underestimates his audience. The people going to his movies are literate liberals who already hold his political views. He doesn’t need to hammer the point home as much as he does.

Charlie Wilson’s War will probably not be nominated for Best Picture. Then again, far worse movies have been.

Note: There has been a lot of movie coverage around here recently. My next post will probably have something to do with the Simpsons, Mass Transit, words, and alcohol. My plan is to review as many of the Academy Award favorites as I can. Please let me know if this is a good idea, or a bad idea.