I missed last night’s Girls finale. Missed the whole season, in fact. This wasn’t due to any particular choice, it just so happened that after the first episode of the second round premiered, I had no urge to torrent it, convert it for use on my DVD player, and watch it on my incredibly fancy $40 TV. (That’s right—it’s a Trinitron.) The fact is, I just don’t like that show, and I’ve spent the last seven or eight months trying to puzzle out why.
There’s no good reason for me to dislike Girls. The show is funny, well-made, and occasionally features Chris O’Dowd. It’s about a place where I live and characters that are like people that I know. And Lena Dunham is ungodly talented—as a writer, but as an actor too. The show is sickening in a way that I like my television—sickening like Curb, like the British Office, like Peep Show—and yet it leaves me cold. The best answer I can come up with is a cop out, but a beautiful cop out, a cop out so elegant and wonderful that you will thank me for sharing it with you. Why did I lose interest in Girls?
Because I hate its stupid face.
It’s a wonderful phrase, isn’t it? I coined it in the run-up to the Oscars, when I was trying to explain to someone why I can’t stand Bradley Cooper. I ran through all the usual reasons—he’s not much of an actor, he always plays jerks, blah blah blah—and I finally realized that I was dancing around the fundamental issue. My distaste for Cooper’s work has nothing to do with the work itself. It’s completely irrational. There’s no good reason for it. I just hate his stupid face.
It works for any pop culture figure whom you dislike and can’t sort out why. Julia Roberts, Denzel Washington, James Franco, the dude from LMFAO? I hate all of their stupid faces. (Though not as much as I hate Bradley Cooper’s.) Because it’s an admittedly bad reason, because it wears its irrationality on its sleeve, it’s impossible to argue with. Try it out!
Does this mean I hate Lena Dunham’s stupid face? No. Her face is fine. She doesn’t really bother me at all. And her show has a lot to like about it. And yet, for no reason at all, I can’t watch it. It makes me angry, and that anger makes me confused. I’ve got no good answers. I just hate its stupid face.
Like a rather lovelier Rodney Dangerfield, Marilyn Monroe never got no respect. For one thing, she was funny, she knew it, and she hardly ever got a chance to show it off. We all know she could sing, but come on—she could really sing. And yet, she remains thought of as not much more than what Truman Capote called “a platinum sex-explosion.” (Of course, she was that too.) Capote thought a lot of Marilyn—there’s a beautiful scene with her in Music For Chameleons—but apparently Marilyn didn’t think much of him, because she didn’t own a thing he wrote.
That’s according to this rather nifty list of the books known to be in Monroe’s personal library. She did have quite a lot of non-Capote reading, though, ranging from the very very low brow (How To Talk At Gin, a cocktail party humor book) to the very very high (Proust!). Of course, we have no way of knowing how many of these books Marilyn actually read. Famous people have always gotten stuff for free, and I imagine that even today’s dimmest starlet has bookshelves full of high-brow reading material that somehow washed up on her doorstep.
But there’s something refreshing about imagining Marilyn curled up in her favorite chair—or even her second-favorite chair!—thumbing through a well-loved copy of, I don’t know…The Poems & Fairy Tales of Oscar Wilde. I have a lot of misplaced nostalgia for the studio system, and here’s another item to add to the pile. When stars were surrounded by an impenetrable wall of press agents, as they were in the ’50s, the studios were able to control celebrity journalism completely. This meant for celebrity journalism that was even duller than it is today—”Rita Hayworth Is Down To Earth And Just Like You—More Details Inside!”—but would have spared us the cesspit that is The Daily Mail.
(Please hold, as I waste ten or fifteen minutes looking at The Daily Mail. Ohmygod, Khloe Kardashian wears Spanx?! Seriously—don’t click on that. It will give them traffic and make you dumber. It’s just four pictures of Khloe Kardashian tugging at her dress and—oh. You clicked on it.)
By putting forward a version of its stars as, essentially, The Most Boring People In The World, the studio system allowed for them to have an inner life. (Did you know that Jimmy Stewart was a decorated Air Force pilot, and refused to let the studio publicize it because he didn’t want to act like serving your country was no big deal? Celebrity has changed.) Then, our celebrities were more interesting than we thought. Now, they are much, much more boring. (Except for Mila Kunis, naturally.)
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go search on eBay for a copy of the strangest sounding book in Marilyn’s archive: Stoned Like A Statue: A Complete Survey Of Drinking Cliches, Primitive, Classical & Modern by Howard Kandel & Don Safran, with an intro by Dean Martin. I want it!
I’ve never been able to get into Veronica Mars, the UPN mystery series that became a cult hit a decade ago. Kristen Bell, who stars as the spunky high school sleuth, leaves me cold—my favorite thing I’ve ever seen her do was get shot in the head on Deadwood—and the over-reliance on narration made it impossible for me to get through the pilot. It reminded of Brick, a too-cute film, and the half hour or so I was able to watch of the pilot seemed to place the show in my least favorite of all sub-genres: noir pastiche.
But it seems the Internet disagrees with me. This morning, show creator Rob Thomas took to Kickstarter, asking for $2 million to turn the long-lost television show into a feature film. In less than a day, he’s been pledged more than $700,000. He has 30 days to go. Assuming the rate of pledging doesn’t fall off—which it will, until the last week or so—he’ll wind up with enough to make Jaws twice. (He would also need to kidnap Steven Spielberg, force him to build a time machine, and then explain why it’s important he make Jaws two more times.) So it looks like Veronica Mars Goes Big Screen is going to happen.
What have fans bought with their $700,000? $10 buys a copy of the script. $25 gets a t-shirt. For $400, Kristen Bell will follow you on Twitter. For $5,000 you can screen the movie in your home town; for $6,500 you get to name a character in the movie; for $10,000 you get a walk on role:
Here’s the scene — Veronica is eating with the man in her life. Things have gotten tense between them. You are the waiter/waitress. You approach the table, and you say, “Your check, sir.” We guarantee you will be on camera as you say the line. Unless you go all hammy and ruin the scene and we have to cut you out, but that would be a sad day for all of us. Just say the line. Don’t over-think it. You’re a waiter. Your motivation is to turn over the table.
Actually, you can’t do those last two things. Three people have already plunked down their $6,500 to name a character in the script, and someone has already purchased himself a $10,000 walk-on role. I find this incredibly depressing. Anyone who is that desperate for a taste of stardom should mail me a check for $9,999. I’ll write and produce a play for you to star in, where you get to talk for an hour instead of just three words. Throw in an extra $6,499, and I’ll even let you name your own character!
Which producer will be the next to cash in on his fanbase? Will Judd Apatow try to crowdsource Freaks & Geeks: The Movie? How about a kickstarter to revive My So Called Life, Crime Story, or Police Squad, starring a computer generated version of Leslie Nielson? Using digital technology to revive a beloved, cancelled-too-soon TV show is a tempting thing. When the new episodes of Arrested Development are released in May, we’ll see for the first time whether or not it’s a good idea. When the richest, dumbest man on Kickstarter gets a chance to say, “Your check, sir,” we’ll see it on the big screen. But my gut tells me that cancelled TV shows are like dead bodies. They shouldn’t be brought back to life.
At South By Southwest this weekend—and oh, how I hate to start a paragraph with that phrase—one interesting nugget drifted up through the mire of tech blather and start-up cultishness: Danny Boyle is working on a sequel to Trainspotting. He’s got everything in place to start shooting a sequel to his beloved 1996 Scottish heroin romp—everything except for a script and a cast. But, as Boyle told Indiewire, he’s feeling “very optimistic.”
“This has been a long time coming,” he said. “There’s always been this long term plan for ‘Trainspotting 2,’ if John can produce a decent enough script, I don’t think there will be any barriers to Ewan or any of the cast coming back,” he said. “I think they’ll wanna know that the parts are good so they don’t feel like they are letting anyone down.”
Of course, he’s said this before, making me wonder if Trainspotting 2 isn’t the British version of Ghostbusters 3, which I can only assume Bill Murray will be forced to field questions about while doing press junkets in the afterlife. But at least Boyle has some source material in the form of Porno, Irvine Welsh’s 2003 sequel to the original novel. I had a copy of Trainspotting in high school, but never got past the first chapter, turned off as I was by Welsh’s celebrated stream-of-consciousness-in-a-Scottish-brogue, which reads like Robert Burns on steroid rage. I hadn’t realized that the book was a British sensation—just like Jordan!—and famous for being the most shoplifted book of 1993.
(Incidentally, how do they track that? Do they notice what’s going missing through inventory, or do they track the number of people who are caught trying to steal a book? If it’s the latter, than the distinction should be known as the “most popular book among talentless amateur shoplifters,” which doesn’t sound as cool.)
If anything, the sensation around Welsh’s original novel reminded me of the rhapsodic response to Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club—a mindblowing book that seemed to promise the arrival of a new literary talent, whose appeal was only amplified by the film. Reading reviews of Porno and Welsh’s other sequels to Trainspotting, it seems like he may have gone in the same direction—the Times review of the book says that “nothing he has published since Trainspotting…has come close to matching that book’s furious iridescent glare.”
The ending of Trainspotting always seemed to be a bit of a cheat—a happy ending to a story that had no business ending well. But the sight of Ewan McGregor’s Rent Boy scurrying off into the dawn, his friends hard-fought drug money clutched in his fist, was so feverishly delightful that I didn’t mind. After all, what’s a heroin comedy with a cheery ending? I’d always wondered where Rent Boy ended up, but also not wanted to know—a recovering heroin addict with a sack full of stolen money is not a man you expect to live very long.
And yet, it seems, Rent Boy survives. Porno opens with him living in Amsterdam, long sober, but having converted his addiction into (sigh) life as a gym rat. Back in the Isles, Sick Boy has decided to return to Scotland to take over a pub and start shooting porno; Begbie has just gotten out of jail, and Spud is writing a book…for some reason. It sounds like a terrible way to start a book—even the more positive Guardian review admits it doesn’t get going until Begbie’s entrance around page 100—but perhaps Danny Boyle can do more with it. Just so long as he doesn’t spoil the image of Ewan McGregor, smiling his way across London Bridge, his future stuffed into the bag on his shoulder.
Oh, who am I kidding? Nothing can spoil that.
A few weeks ago, I asked if NBC’s new-and-improved, Theresa Rebeck-free Smash had a chance at becoming a hit. Despite its general crumminess, the show’s first season was a modest success, and at the sick man of broadcast television—a big four network that is currently ranked #5, behind Univision—modest success was nothing to sneeze at. In theory, losing the show’s crackpot showrunner couldn’t hurt. People watched the show when it was awful. If it got better, maybe they would get their friends to tune in.
Not so fast, NBC! In February, I summed up season one of Smash thuswise:
Much of it was bland, nutrition-free network television. Some of it—the Ellis storylines; the unending focus on Rebeck’s charisma-free son, whom I nicknamed Carpet—was truly the worst stuff I had ever seen on television. And then, once an episode, usually when Jack Davenport or Christian Borle or any of the rest of the show’s truly excellent leading cast was given an honest moment, there would be something amazing.
98% garbage with 2% brilliance? That’s a ratio that will keep me coming back. But will improving the rotten 98% destroy the 2% as well? Will Smash become merely average?
Five episodes in, the answer is yes. Having ironed out its highs and lows, the show has become a great big “meh.” And why bother with “meh” when you could be enjoying the crackling excitement of, I dunno, The Americans? (More on that next week.) I’ve watched every episode this season, and I couldn’t list the major storylines without slipping into a nap. (“Derek and Kevin team up with a pair of up-and-coming musical writers to…zzzzzzzzzzzz”) No longer catastrophic, the show has become a mediocrity, and even at NBC—the network that’s losing out to Talking Dead, a show where people talk about Walking Dead—mediocre won’t cut it.
Last season’s least-watched episode of Smash attracted 5.34 million viewers. This season, even the premiere couldn’t match that high. Without The Voice as its lead-in, Smash has been forced to stand on its own two feet. Like a shit-covered toddler trying to walk himself to the bathroom, the result hasn’t been pretty. Ratings have been sliding like a clipart stock market graph, this week coming in at a nauseating 2.6 million. Rumor has it that a commitment to the show’s granddaddy has NBC locked into airing the entire second season, but apparently the season finale has been reshot to give the show some “closure.” If ratings keep plummeting, expect the show’s remaining episodes to be quietly burnt off in a Saturday afternoon marathon. It’s possible the series will end before any of its major questions are answered, namely, will Bombshell ever make it to…zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.
Ironically, the only compelling storyline in this season is the meta-commentary on the showrunner’s departure. In season one, Debra Messing’s character, Julia, served as Rebeck’s stand-in—a relationship between character and creator that hamstrung the show. As Kate Arthur reported in Buzzfeed, “Rebeck based the character on herself, and yet wouldn’t allow Julia to have a good arc that would satisfy or endear her to the audience.”
If the writers wanted to give Julia something to do that was hard and that she would eventually get through, “Theresa would say, ‘It’s not a struggle! She doesn’t have a problem! She’s the hero! She saves everything!’” said someone who witnessed this oft-repeated discussion.
Another source added: “The writer had such a strong identification with that character that she couldn’t actually write well for her, or allow interesting stories to develop. The writers were trying to push into more interesting territory for that character, and Theresa blocked that creatively. Even if she might think, Well, I wanted Debra Messing to be the star, she didn’t allow that to happen.”
Without Rebeck there to keep an eye on her, Julia has been rewritten as a writer who is crippled by arrogance. Blind to Bombshell’s problems, she is so unwilling to rewrite her own work that she threatens to destroy the show. Dedicating a storyline to shaming a fired employee is twisted, infuriating and quite possibly insane—in short, everything we hate/loved about Smash in the first place. As the network flails, perhaps a desperate attempt to save the show will lead to more of this weirdness. Smash may get awful again, but I don’t think it could ever get bad enough to make a comeback.
For an industry populated by gossips, Broadway is too often a sadly tame industry. Long gone are the days of Walter Winchell and J.J. Hunsecker, when stars were unhinged and producers were savage beasts. These are the days of Disney, when risk is high, profit is higher, and everyone knows it’s smart to play nice. When the odd bit of scandal drifts down from Forty-Second Street—a Spider-Man, say, or a Rebecca—we gobble it up like starving men. And now, Broadway has given us something new to chew on.
On February 20th, the producers of the upcoming Broadway drama Orphans announced that they had lost one star. Due to unnamed reasons, Shia LaBeouf departed the show after a week of rehearsal, leaving co-star Alec Baldwin to stand alone. As soon as the agonizingly brief press release went out, the rumor mill began to churn.
The story that emerged was not quite as good as Jeremy Piven’s tuna overdose in 2008, but it has proven to be a nice story of (depending on how you read it) LaBeouf’s Hollywood cowardice or Baldwin’s New York madness. The details have emerged courtesy of LaBeof’s delightful habit of tweeting photos of emails. In the first exchange, released a few weeks ago, director Daniel Sullivan said that the two actors “are incompatible,” and that “this one will haunt me.” Baldwin replied to console him, saying “I’ve been through this before.”
That last is a reference to his 2006 production of Entertaining Mr. Sloane, when co-star Jan Maxwell quit after Baldwin put his fist through a wall. LaBeouf did the same thing during rehearsals for Orphans, but he did it in character. Although Baldwin has a history of scaring off co-stars, his reputation remains untarnished, with Broadway preferring to fire parting volleys at the retreating Transformers star. Michael Riedel quotes sources saying that LaBeouf’s “performance in the rehearsal room was ‘erratic’ to the point of being ‘volatile.’”
Since then, LaBeouf has been replaced by Ben Foster—the creepy kid from Six Feet Under—and Broadway is placid again. Asked about LaBeouf’s flight, Baldwin has been faux-charitable, saying theater “isn’t for everyone,” and explaining to New York Magazine that he doesn’t really care what LaBeouf thinks about, uh, anything.
And many film actors, though, who are purely film actors, they’re kind of like celebrity chefs, you know what I mean? You hand them the ingredients, and they whip it up, and they cook it, and they put it on a plate, and they want a round of applause. In the theater, we don’t just cook the food and serve it. You go out in the garden and you plant the seeds and you grow it. You know, it’s a really very, very long, slow, deliberate — it’s the opposite of film acting.
Baldwin: “We start Monday. But I’m so fucking tired.”
LaBeouf: “I’m a hustler. I don’t get tired. I’m 26, chief.”
Baldwin: “Listen, boy. I’m not your fuckin’ chief. You got that? Ha. Hahahahaha. Let’s go.”
What does this tell us about the creative process of famous actors? Nothing. But it’s a nice reminder that most actors are children at heart, incapable of letting someone else have the last word. Shia LaBeouf is clearly not cut out from Broadway, and it was good of him to quit the show as soon as he realized that. Remember—he didn’t force these producers to cast him. They picked him for the sake of name recognition, and nothing more. If he’s being excoriated for cutting and running, I think it’s because the critical establishment feels like it’s been cheated out of a pan.
And Alec Baldwin? Well, I’m happy to see that in private email conversations, he’s just as crazy as I like to imagine. If LaBeouf thinks he can turn New York against Baldwin with screenshots of fairly innocuous emails, he’s proved something I’ve long said about film actors. A job that requires you to work for no more than 45 seconds at a time does not do much for your capacity for critical thought.
Stanley Kubrick and I weren’t the only people who were sorry that he died. Stephen Spielberg has felt the loss keenly. A.I. was originally a Kubrick project, and after the legendary director gave up on the film, Spielberg worked closely with him to complete it. Now, more than a decade after Kubrick’s death, the two will be working together again.
Kubrick spent the late ’60s and early ’70s researching, writing, and trying his damnedest to film a sprawling biopic of Napoleon Bonaparte, and now Spielberg is planning to turn his icon’s unfinished work into a miniseries. But this project has languished for a long time, and even the man who made Lincoln may not be able to bring it back from the dead.
Rare among visionaries for actually making his epic dreams come true—consider 2001, Spartacus and Barry Lyndon—with Napoleon, Kubrick reached higher than ever before. Over two years of intensive research, he employed dozens of assistants, eventually producing thousands of pages of notes and tens of thousand location stills—a treasure trove that was recently assembled in a very expensive, very pretty book. In a typically modest letter to his producers, he made the famous claim that, “It’s impossible to tell you what I’m going to do except to say that I expect to make the best movie ever made.”
To defray the cost of his cast of thousands, Kubrick planned to film his interiors in France and his battle sequences in Romania, breaking production up into thirds to allow for added planning time. His plan was to “shoot with available light” and “exploit the fully dressed interiors of the period which are readily available in France,” suggesting the movie might have had the dreamy look he later used to bring Barry Lyndon’s eighteenth century alive. His proposed budget was $4 million—impossibly low, considering that the comparatively simple 2001 cost over $10 million. Sensing madness, Hollywood finally pulled the plug.
It’s also possible that they read the script. Kubrick’s 1968 version of the script, which he later discarded, is available online for your reading pleasure. Its opening pages are heavy with clunky narration. I was forced to stop after this gem, a bit of voice over read from young Napoleon’s diary:
Life is a burden for me. Nothing gives me any pleasure; I find only sadness in everything around me. It is very difficult because the ways of those with whom I live, and probably always shall live, are as different from mine as moonlight is from sunlight.
This is not the script Spielberg will be working from, and I’m sure whatever we finally see of Napoleon—if it makes it through production at all—will feel more Spielbergy than Kubrickian. Knowing that historical accuracy can hamstring the creative process, Spielberg will probably have the good sense to set aside most of Kubrick’s thousands of pages of research. He won’t shoot with natural light, he won’t employ a cast of thousands, and the film will probably look more like Lincoln than Barry Lyndon. Spielberg will make it his own.
After more than four decades in production, Napoleon may finally start shooting. It probably won’t be the best movie ever made, but at least it will be a movie.
The new David Bowie is currently available to stream for free on iTunes, and the question on everyone’s mind is, “How sad should this make us?” The Next Day is the onetime superstar’s first album since 2003′s indifferently-received Reality, and it hasn’t been hotly anticipated so much as warily watched out for. If this were Springsteen or the Stones, no one would worry too much. We know they’re doing fine. But Bowie made his bones as an artist, and just because he hasn’t made any good art in decades doesn’t mean that his ambition is gone. This is a man whom we don’t want to fail.
In this week’s New York Magazine, Bill Wyman has an excellent retrospective on Bowie’s long and complicated career, in which he concludes that Bowie hasn’t done anything important since the late ’70s. I think that’s a bit of a stretch—Let’s Dance may not be revolutionary, but it’s a shitload of fun—but Wyman’s overall point is well considered.
The new “Where Are We Now?” is a similar meditation on life made suddenly fragile. “Fingers are crossed, just in case,” he sings. His memories, he tells us, are like “walking the dead.” In the video, the star looks, shockingly, quite old. It’s a brave performance, reminiscent in certain ways of his heyday—and isn’t old age a mask as well? The memories of the stars from the sixties and seventies are formidable. They were inventing not just themselves but a new world. In it, they roamed like mad princelings, fucking just about anything that moved and taking in all it had to offer. Isn’t it unfair to expect them to accomplish new revolutions?
Listening to the album this afternoon, it’s certainly not revolutionary. It’s the same dreamy, slightly irritating pop that he gave us in Reality and 2002′s Heathen. But even though the songs are forgettable—with the possible exception of “How Does the Grass Grow?” and “(You Will) Set The World On Fire?”—it’s good to hear Bowie again. His decade out of the public eye was prompted by a heart attack, and it was starting to seem like he would never going to record again. How frightening, to think that one of rock’s greatest creative talents had lost his spark completely. But here he is again. On The Next Day’s upbeat numbers, it’s easy to picture him in the studio, dancing a little as he sings. Compared to the image I’ve had of Bowie for the last few years as a frail, sickly recluse, this is an improvement.
So, how seriously should we take this album? Do we give Bowie a pass, because we’re happy to know that he’s still well enough to record? Or do we hold him to a higher standard? I’d like to know what David Bowie thinks about the album. Is he proud of it? Is he just happy to have it finished? Is he expecting this to spark a revolution?
I’m sure of one thing: David Bowie doesn’t give a damn what I, or anybody else, thinks. If nothing else, I’m grateful for The Next Day for reminding me that Bowie is, as ever, defiant. Defiant of death, defiant of critics—still in the studio, hard at work and having fun.
As if the United States Postal Service didn’t have enough trouble, a little-noticed news item ran this week that suggests they are about to make a powerful new enemy: East Tennessee’s favorite daughter, Miss Dolly Parton. In 1996, Parton founded the Imagination Library, which sent a free book every month to children in Sevier County, the forever-impoverished mountain community where she was born in 1946. (Huh. Never thought of Dolly as a baby boomer.) In 2000, she took the program nationwide, partnering with local libraries and community groups to spread the love of reading across the United States. It’s an uncontroversial charity, because everyone likes reading.
Everyone, that is, besides the Post Office. The local newspaper from Maryville, Tennessee, reported this week that the Post Office has begun throwing out Imagination Library books that were returned due to a bad address. Although the local Kiwanis Club was once allowed to pick these books up free of charge, Uncle Sam has changed his mind. Post Office flunky David Walton said:
They are wanting to go pick those books up without paying that return fee. We can’t afford that. They are wanting to … bypass that fee that most other mailers pay. For some time, they have been getting away with that. It’s costing us money.
For the Post Office, I predict this will prove a fatal mistake. You may not know it, but Dolly Parton knows how to scrap. Although her public image is cuddly, Dolly is tougher than a well-seasoned cast iron skillet. I’ve been thinking about her a lot this week, after hearing a rebroadcast interview with the singer on NPR Sunday night. The fourth of twelve children, Parton grew up in a one room cabin, and spent her youth in the kind of not-terribly-picturesque poverty that breaks some people and turns other into country music stars.
In the interview—which I recommend listening to if you find yourself hungry for thirty minutes of molasses-smooth Tennessee drawl—Dolly does her usual sweetheart routine. But underneath, her ambition shines through. Asked by the host why she found success that eluded the rest of her family, Parton’s voice says that she succeeded through the grace of God. But her tone knows different.
Incredibly ambitious from a young age, Parton began performing at the Grand Ole Opry in her teens, and moved to Nashville the day after her high school graduation. In such a hurry that she didn’t bother washing her clothes, her first stop was a laundromat, where she met the man she would soon marry. Fame came quickly, but not easily, and from the way she speaks, I get the impression that she has no time for people who aren’t willing to sacrifice everything in pursuit of their goals.
I’d always liked the idea of Dolly Parton as a nice lady who rose to the top. But the idea of her as a relentlessly ambitious, bosomy Gordon Gekko, I find, is inspirational in a much realer way.
Do I really think that Dolly’s about to take down the United States Post Office? No. But if she wanted to, I’ve no doubt she could. Ain’t nobody bigger than Dolly.
In case you doubted me, I kept my promise last night to avoid the Oscars. Instead, I pretended it was an ordinary Sunday night, drinking beer, watching Worst Cooks, and listening to “Tom’s Diner” at a bar. (Enjoy having that stuck in your head for the rest of the day, sucker.) But that doesn’t mean I can’t have opinions, and as long as Bullett keeps signing the checks, I will continue to foist them on you.
Today I’m wondering if Argo might have been better off not winning Best Picture. Take away that honor, and the film remains an underdog—forever remembered as the little (big budget, star driven) movie that could. Argo was a fun movie, but calling it the best picture of 2012 only underlines. It’s been pointed out elsewhere that Argo is wildly inaccurate. God knows I don’t give a damn about historical accuracy, but even for those whose tastes run towards the swashbuckling, the last twenty minutes—when gritty tension explodes into cartoonishness—were too much for me.
The movie is remarkable not because it’s great, but because it’s well-made, clever and exciting—three things Hollywood does far too rarely these days. That’s nifty, but not transcendent. Put the weight of best picture on this flimsy little movie, and it falls right to pieces. Argo is a good movie, but if it’s the best of 2012, then Hollywood is in worse trouble than I realized.
(Let us take this moment to gaze upon the evening’s finest gif. Watch that for ten or fifteen minutes, and proceed to the next paragraph once your brain begins to function again.)
From my perch on the bar stool, far away from the TV, I was quietly rooting for Zero Dark Thirty—an ambitious film that might be described as Argo with balls. The onetime frontrunner’s failure to pick up any major awards is being chalked up to Congressional backlash over the film’s depiction of torture, suggesting that historical accuracy is only necessary if a film paints Uncle Sam in a bad light. Where was this Congressional outrage when the Bush administration was pioneering enhanced interrogation? Well, that’s a question for another article. Zero Dark Thirty has its own flaws, but it’s a much better film than the best picture-winning Hurt Locker, and deserved the same amount of love.
Between Argo and Zero Dark Thirty, which will be remembered in thirty years? Although I don’t think it great, there’s no question that Argo will stand the test of time. It’s an irresistible movie, and popcorn flicks age well. Zero Dark Thirty is so of-this-moment, that I don’t think it will be comprehensible to anyone who hasn’t spent the last ten years watching the news. The climactic scene, when—spoiler!—Osama bin Laden gets shot in the face? It’s glossed over. Every American knows what happened on the third floor of the house in Abbottabad, so there’s no need to dwell on it.In ten or fifteen years, I’m not sure that the ending of that movie will make any sense.
“Wait—they killed him?” our children will say. “Where was the shootout? Where was the music? Where was the fucking ending?”
“Don’t curse like that, kiddies,” we’ll answer back. “The ending happened in your mind. It’s a beautiful thing when a piece of art causes your brain to complete the story for yourself.”
“That’s bullshit, Dad. Stop wasting our time and give us more of your awesome, retro ’90s candy.”
My imaginary kids are right—it probably is bullshit. My whole point in skipping the Oscars was that what the Academy says doesn’t matter, but here I am—spending the morning after mulling over the results. You beat me again, Oscar.