Angst Me Anything

Welcome to Deprogramming101’s answer to Reddit’s popular feature “Ask Me Anything!”

Among the things I enjoy in retirement is hosting sessions of “Cinema and Conversation” at Story & Song Bookstore Bistro.  During last month’s discussion of Christopher Guest’s For Your Consideration, an attendee asked my opinion of the movies up for this year’s best picture Oscar.  In the interest of “truth in advertising,” let me begin by confessing, to date, I have only screened five of the ten nominated films. 

To set the stage, I owe the impetus for this post to my wife.  When she suggested her choice for best picture might be Top Gun: Maverick, I knew she was sending me a message.  Not so much about that particular film, but the other contenders.

I start with Triangle of Sadness, the one viewed most recently.  To paraphrase comedian Kevin Pollak’s review of The Hours (2002), “Triangle of Sadness is two hours and 27 minutes of my life I will never get back.”  This is what happens when a writer/director, in this case Ruben Ostlund, cannot decide if he wants to make a reboot of Ship of Fools, The Perfect Storm or Lord of the Flies.  You end up with Perfect Fool of the Flies.

Which brings me to Tár.  Not to be outdone, Todd Field consumed two hours 38 minutes of my life that I will never get back.  This is the Moby Dick and A Man in Full of cinema. Like Herman Melville (whaling) and Tom Wolfe (horse breeding), Field believes his audience is incapable of understanding the protagonist without a 45 minute dissertation on conducting and obsession.  An indictment shared by one critic. “If you can get through the first hour, it’s worth it.”  It reminded me of Voltaire’s quote after delivering a two volume commissioned work, “It would have been shorter if I had more time.”  Considering this was Field’s first movie in 16 years, it begs the question, “How much more time did you need?”

To make it short and sweet, did we really need The Banshees of Inisherin and Everything Everwhere All at Once to affirm the term “dysfunctional relationships” is redundant?  These stories, centered on mismatched friends and a nuclear family, both have merit.  Stellar performances.  And in the case of EEAAO, an imaginative utilization of time travel and manic editing.  Still, both films fall in line with the theme du jour, the color of angst.

To reiterate, I am not suggesting these motion pictures lack effort and professional achievement by the directors and actors.  The primary example being Elvis, which I intentionally avoided, although it was readily available on HBO MAX.  Why watch a movie about an out-of-control celebrity barreling toward an early death at the hands of a manipulative manager, when we have been subjected to the exact same story with more appropriate casting?  The Donald as Elvis and Roger Stone as Colonel Parker.  And much like best actor nominee Austin Butler, Trump and Stone seem possessed by and unable to escape their on-screen personas.

As for the other movies I have not seen, I have no interest in All Quiet on the Western Front since a reboot is being produced in real time in the trenches of the eastern front in Ukraine.  As regular followers know, I do not consider CGI an acceptable substitute for a good story and script, especially when it comes to sequels.  As you might already surmise, as far as I am concerned, Avatar: The Way of Water can go the way of the dinosaurs.

However, I am intrigued by Women Talking.  Critic Mark Kermode (Observer/UK) describes it as “A tale that is at once timely and timeless.”  If only it could be the successor to the original Star Trek, during which creator Gene Roddenberry used metaphor to address issues of social importance otherwise considered taboo by the networks’ standards and practices divisions.  Can a tale about subordination to an isolated religious community provide insight about fealty to a political cult?  Unfortunately, critic David Stratton (The Australian) warns this is a “tough-minded yet sensitive film that could pose a bit of a challenge to some audiences.”  In other words, those most in need of seeing it, most probably will not.

The one movie I anxiously await is The Fabelmans, as the result of an interview with Steven Spielberg by Stephen Colbert.  The Late Show host asked his guest about a scene from the movie in which young Sammy Fabelman makes an amateur movie starring his family and neighbors. “It suggests you see things through the lens of a camera you do not see with the naked eye.  Is that true?”  Spielberg’s positive response suggests there are more powerful insights awaiting those who watch the film.

Despite the variety of characters and locations, the selection of these 10 nominees makes sense when you remember who picks the finalists. To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, “We in Hollywood highly resolve these movies shall not have been made in vain–that this artform shall have a rebirth–an industry of the angst-ridden, for the angst-ridden, and by the angst ridden.”

For what it’s worth.


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