So, I just got invited to write here yesterday; I should write something soon, I thought today. The obvious problem with that is: it’s been a while since I watched any movies. Well, I watched Melancholia recently, but I already wrote about that, and it’s not good manners to re-post. So, here I am, the Muriel awards page open and wondering which of these to write about, or whether to write about all the highlights of last year.
Let’s see: what was special to me about 2011? Definitely, the fact that I watched not one but three of the movies on the list in the theatre before any academies had had their ungainly countenances glimpsed in their vicinity. And that’s not the whopper: one of them was The Tree of Life (I went and watched it again, the night before my GRE, because I was just that exhilarated by its having come to a theatre in Chennai — not because I liked it too well, mind you).
So, here’s what I’ll do. I’ll start from the bottom of their best picture list, and work my way up (see what I did there — gave you a taste of the very end; now you’ll read all the crap in between just for that).
Which begins with a notable absence: Tarsem Singh’s Immortals. This was, admittedly, a wildly uneven movie; strikingly beautiful at some points but mostly full of that LotR/Gladiator gritty epic aesthetic that I so deeply hate. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I was probably unduly impressed by the movie, as I watched it right after the absolutely terrible Tintin movie (Sathyam Cinemas is an amazing establishment, to have me feeling that that was a good day). But still, I am as a rule unduly impressed by sloppy movies with brilliant ideas at their cores, which reminds me of the other big absence. We’ll get to that next paragraph, but Immortals has some truly amazing ideas; it is, in some ways, a rebellion against my criticism of it. There’s gods, and there’s men, and the men live in the world of Gladiator while the gods live in a world of shiny gold trails. I don’t have the space to go into it here, but the short of it is that it is a movie about the importance of mythology in the foundation of a culture, and simultaneously a thought experiment of what would happen if the world of mythology met the world of reality (dirt v/s shiny gold trails, people) — but it’s all a bit schematic till the son of the hero, newly raised to godhood, looks up with his demigodly vision and sees an amazing panorama signifying the fight ongoing for ever and ever and ever. Seeing two Zeuses there, it’s almost as good as hearing Cassius say, “How many ages hence/Shall this our lofty scene be acted over/In states unborn and accents yet unknown!.”
Now, the other notable absence, a movie even more heady and convoluted at its heart than Immortals. But it is a movie of such hated repute that I will not mention its name till I have praised it some. So, I think of Zack Snyder to feminists as one would think of Sanjay Gandhi as compared to a birth control campaigner; while feminists complain about the objectification of women, the hon’ble Mr. Snyder went and put a (blue) penis on screen in — and kept it there for a significant portion of — one of the biggest releases of that year. Not necessarily the best way to fight objectification, but typical of the man’s commonsensical insanity. While we are on feminism, the movie in question is a feminist movie — that puts four heroines on screen in bondage clothes. See, the clothes in question are a symbol of oppression; you know what they say no, about how revealing clothes, forced prostitution and lobotomies go hand in hand? While meta-meta-meta is definitely not a level you want to expect a blockbuster audience to feel connected to, I think the widespread derision that Sucker Punch got out of the critics is far from deserved. Andrew O’Hehir has the right idea when he says:
Zack Snyder’s “Sucker Punch” is like the Nietzschean Superman of CGI action movies. It’s so far beyond good and evil as to make its morality irrelevant, and to undermine any verdicts you might render about its meaning or quality. A ridiculously ambitious and perhaps fatally flawed mashup of ideas, themes and influences, it’s more like a Quentin Tarantino movie — or more like the platonic ideal of a Tarantino movie — than any movie Tarantino has ever personally made. I can’t be sure whether it’s brilliant or idiotic, although I’m pretty confident it’s both, and not always in different places or at different moments.
While this is closest to what I feel, it’s incredibly heartening to find the amazing Stephen Russell-Gebbett hailing it as the movie of the year. This guy should have voted for the Muriels.
Actually, now that we are talking about movies with the wonderfully expressive Emily Browning in them, there’s a third miss-out on that list: Julia Leigh’s Sleeping Beauty. This movie, unlike the other two, is not a mess; it’s so far to the other end that its very orderliness gets slightly annoying at times. The story’s very simple: beautiful girl needs money, takes a quasi-prostitute job where she gets drugged to sleep and old men can do anything they want to her body except penetrate her vagina (“a temple,” apparently). Also a study on sexist oppression and gender roles and suchlike, this movie plays as if it were assembled in a Booker prize training course, in the worst possible way. I hate books like this, usually, but books like this don’t have the acting skills of Emily Browning, and few Booker prize winning writers have something as original to say about the reclamation of sexual freedom as Julia Leigh; in a nutshell, the movie asks us whether doing this job is a confirmation of gender roles or an expression of the woman’s sexual freedom, and upends the question at the end by critiquing the wild charge at the misogynists mentality of the heroine.
Well, it seems I’ve hit a thousand words. I should probably stop and call this post “Guinea Pigs can’t be everywhere” (no need to scroll back up; it is called that).
It seems that every month I watch a movie that makes me lament my linear classification of movies from “great” to “The King’s Speech.” Actually, I don’t have a linear classification, but I do lament — that I have no systematic non-linear scheme that can facilitate my telling people to watch Sucker Punch without having them come back and take me to task for Zack Snyder’s insanity. I mean, take Roger Ebert’s ‘Great Movies.’ While all of those movies are undoubtedly great and worth watching, people just don’t understand that I’d rather spend my time on Sucker Punch or Attack the Block (whose Muriel performance — middle of the lists in almost every category — made me feel like I had scored a personal triumph) than on any of the sappy E.T. sort of thing. Er, so make sure, next time you put on The Tree of Life, to double bill it with Immortals; it’s all man v/s god after all.
To conclude, I actually quite like The Tree of Life and fully believe it deserved the extra hundred and twenty bucks; I’m just pissed off that it won the Golden Muriel in the year of Coriolanus, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives and Melancholia. And I agree that E.T. is a great movie. But I do hate The King’s Speech (which I haven’t actually sat through all the way).