Tuesday, February 26, 2008

List Making

As a film lover (and as a music fan), I find that I am inextricably bound to a fondness for list-making, for rank ordering the best of the best, for almost arbitrarily ordaining certain pieces of artistic work as more artistic than others. It is silly. I am aware. But, it is also fun and convenient.

Citizen Kane would be just an amazing movie without the title of greatest film of all time (see “Sight and Sound” magazine, the American Film Institute, etc.), wouldn’t it? However, calling it the best, or putting at the top of a list, applies some greater meaning to the wonder of the film.

This ranking and ordering of pop culture is why we love our awards shows so much (never mind that this year’s Oscars were the lowest rated in the history of the Nielson rating). There is still a marked boost in the ticket sales and DVD sales of movies that win awards.

People like to feel smart. If you saw the best picture winner of a given year, then you can say that some part of you recognized and applauded greatness. More kudos to you if you saw the documentary and foreign film winners, but how much hipster, street-cred do you really need?

Does it matter if you didn’t see every best picture nominee this year? Will you be laughed at in board meetings? Will your friends shun you and, one by one, cease to return your phone calls? Probably not, and if they do, then they weren’t really your friends in the first place. However, it is never a bad thing to garner a little outside, “scholarly” opinion (big quotes around scholarly; film is the people’s medium) when choosing your next movie experience.

The point is that organizing our culture into digestible lists of Top Tens and Best ofs is a populist move, but it serves a greater purpose when used to exemplify what we find most enjoyable and inspiring in our art. It is a good thing and highlighting a good thing, with awards and lists and honorable mentions and schoolyard chatter, is a great thing.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Academy Awards Reactions

So, the Coen brothers dominated the night. I am not sure that it came as a surprise to anyone. With No Country for Old Men taking awards for best picture, director(s), and screenplay, it seems as though the awards had been a foregone conclusion since November of last year. However, the night offered many surprises, almost all of them pleasant.

Tilda Swinton’s win for her supporting work in Michael Clayton was particularly nice to see. If Clooney is the heart and Tom Wilkinson the soul, then Tilda Swinton is the blood and guts that keep the wheels turning in Tony Gilroy’s legal thriller, a film I called the best American film of the year (it being edged out for best film on my list by Le Scaphandre et le Papillon). Swinton’s work is devilishly understated and remarkably profound. That she received the award is a great boon to the academy’s membership.

Coming down to the wire, the right actress won in the best actress race tonight as well. Marion Cotillard gave perhaps the best performance of the decade (all due respect to Mr. Day-Lewis) as Edith Piaf in the underappreciated biopic La Vie en Rose. Not since Deniro in Raging Bull has an actor been so fully engulfed in a role. Her performance was screaming to be recognized, and it, thankfully, was.

Other surprises: The Bourne Ultimatum takes home awards in every category in which it is nominated, three in all; Taxi to the Dark Side wins best documentary (deservedly) over the heavily favored No End in Sight and Sicko; The Golden Compass awarded for best visual effects, and if I may say: where did that come from?

Moment of the Night: Jon Stewart brings original song winner Marketa Irglova back on stage to give her acceptance speech. Giving the little known performer her well deserved moment in the spotlight showed class all the way around.

Welcome to Last Cinema Standing.

Hello to all of you out there in movie fandom. This is and will be a blog devoted to film and the love and appreciation thereof. My mission statement: I promise to preserve the cultural relevance, to promote the social significance, and to celebrate the artistic integrity of the film medium until the last movie studio burns down and the last cinema in the world is torn to the ground and an internet café put up in its place.

Welcome to Last Cinema Standing.