As it happens, Wes Morris’s review of Superman for Grantland touches on some similar points to what I explored in my essay on franchise films:
“Whether it’s Batman or Star Trek or Star Wars, the audience has been there before and can’t wait to go again — to find the Easter eggs hidden for only them, to bask in the filmmakers’ adherence to sacred texts. This obviates any real expectation that a movie will work as a movie, that it will be a piece of commercial art that takes you to some emotional or visceral place. Certainly, a few of these movies have cleared that bar: Christopher Nolan’s second and third Batman films achieve this, as do Bryan Singer’s X-Men and its first sequel. J.J. Abrams’s maiden Star Trek do-over went for something audacious. It contorted the parameters of nostalgia, using the series’s relationship to the vagaries of time and space to attempt to free itself from the oppression of fandom. But its sequel gave in and enslaved itself to the original films.”
Check out his full review here.
Star Treks, Iron Men, and the Movies: Examining the Franchise in Hollywood -
I’m very pleased to have my most recent essay, on the nature of franchise films in Hollywood, featured on the website for Bright Wall / Dark Room.
On the face of it, there is something alarmingly cliche about the new Star Trek movie, which clones a bunch of now-familiar Hollywood tropes into the comforting confines of the Starship Enterprise. From a storytelling standpoint, what I found most troubling was the ongoing Hollywood slavery to the concept of the ‘arc.’ Anyone who has read anything about the way screenplays are structured will be familiar with this concept, which states, essentially, that characters must start in one place and end in another; there must be a personal change as well as a physical one.
Or, The AFI List Project, #7: Lawrence of Arabia
I don’t know that Lawrence of Arabia is the greatest movie ever made, because I’m not sure that, in questions of taste, it’s possible to affix such definitive and concrete labels. I am sure, however, that it belongs to that very select group of films that have to be a part of that conversation; it is one of the few movies in history that delivers both deep narrative complexity and substantial sensual entertainment. And, if we are to discuss film as a visual medium, there may be no higher example of the visual art of moviemaking than Lawrence, with its vast landscapes and vividly saturated photography. Seen in a movie theater, one becomes aware that it is something akin to a miracle of cinema.
Or, The AFI List Project #73: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
One consistent theme that I’ve touched on in the Journal is the idea that the filmed narrative thrives most when it depicts characters on the margins, or completely outside, of the world that we know and inhabit. In part, that’s because the particular genius of the movies is the ability to tangibly create worlds that the spectator conceives of only abstractly or not at all. Thus, film gives a window into the lives of those that are outside our everyday existence: superheroes, aliens, outlaws, and all the rest.
On Sunday, this year’s Best Picture winner is going to be crowned, and all indications suggest that the big winner on the night is going to be Argo. No one seems to be particularly upset about this – something of a relief a year after all the spittle spewed by cinephiles over the victory of The Artist – but it does mean that Django Unchained and Zero Dark Thirty, the two movies on the docket that probably have the most fervent groups of supporters, are likely to be shut out completely. That’s not upsetting to me personally – neither movie made the cut on my top five films of 2012 – but both films, as the objects of such fervent (if minority) admiration, as two of the most controversial releases of the year, and as the two best examples of contemporary American auteurism to be found in 2012, are deserving of further exploration.
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Why The Oscars Matter -
An article on Django and Zero Dark Thirty to come, hopefully by the end of the week. Until then, from the archives to your computer screen, the Jentleman’s thoughts on why the Oscars actually do matter.
It seems like, everywhere I look, pundits reviewing 2012 in cinema are nodding their heads in approval and talking about how it was a “great year” for the movies. In comparison to what was, by any metric, a dismal 2011, they’re justified in doing so: at least this year the Best Picture Oscar won’t go to a creampuff French silent film about a Hollywood that never existed. Still, as I survey the year, I can’t help but feel that those pundits are letting their relief that things were better in 2012 cloud their understanding of what the year really represents.
Now that we’re fully into the swing of the awards season, with Oscar nominations and the Golden Globe winners already announced, it’s clearly past time for the most important and definitive account of the past year in movies: the Jentleman’s analysis of what went wrong, what went right, and what to take away from the year in cinema. As with last year, I’m kicking off with my ‘Worst Of’ list, mostly because it’s reliably my favorite essay to write in the year. Here at JFJ, the focus is usually on the thoughtful, constructive analysis of cinema, meaning there’s little room for vitriol and bloviating (though who knows how my readers construe the Journal in general…) Still, if there’s anything more pleasurable than the thoroughgoing love of a great film, it’s the experience of pure, unadulterated contempt for the depths of the cinematically inane.