Category: Best Original Screenplay


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One of the great myths of life is that love is something magical, that it exists beyond our electrochemical human functions, that it is pre-ordained and written in the stars. It isn’t. We love because of chemical reactions in our body, socialization, and the pool of people we have the geographic (or, in our modern time, digital) capability to love. But, just because something is natural doesn’t mean it can’t be beautiful and just because you can love others doesn’t mean that your love for a specific individual is lesser. Love would be less messy and less painful if we could recognize that we will never truly be one with another human being and simply celebrated the moments we can share with others who value our presence and affection. Perhaps more efficiently than any film since Manhattan, Spike Jonze‘s Her cuts straight to the core of romantic love, wrapping it all in a sci-fi world that seems all too real now.

It’s easy to talk about love in a logical way. It’s easy to recognize the evolutionary functions it no longer needs to serve. But living life in a way that maximizes your romantic pleasure and minimizes yours and (just as importantly) others romantic pain isn’t as easy as philosophical discussions. To err is human and we want to possess our partners. We want to be the missing piece of our partner’s existence and for them to be the same for us, but no one can meet those expectations and fantasies. And romance wanes and dissolves when the person we love isn’t the person we fell in love with and the cycle of loneliness and misery begins anew. So, it’s no wonder it takes a machine to solve this most human of dilemmas.

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There’s an hour and fifteen minutes section of Django Unchained that is arguably the greatest thing Quentin Tarantino has ever done. As someone who used to worship the man’s stylistics talents, that should say something. When Django and Schultz arrive at Calvin Candie’s plantation, the film becomes an examination of the spiritual costs of Django’s revenge and how he turns his back on his own people in order to save his wife. Unfortunately, the rest of the film is cartoon, bordering on slapstick. Had Tarantino kept the tone of the Candie plantation section up the whole film, Django would have easily been his best work yet. That same tonal inconsistency is the biggest misstep of 1991’s Thelma & Louise.

Hailed as a radical feminist parable when it was first released (a reputation that seems somewhat silly 23 years later), Ridley Scott’s (Black Rain) Thelma & Louise is a frustrating exercise in inconsistency. There are moments of intense, lyrical beauty in this beloved buddy road crime drama and unexpected insights into restless female desperation. But, most of the film operates in the world of cheesy B-movie pulp tropes, and it distracts from the message of the film. I spent most of the last half of the film wondering what a serious treatment of this material would look like and wishing I was watching that instead.

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I’d be hard-pressed to imagine anyone stumbling upon my blog who isn’t familiar with the basic premise of Thelma & Louise, though considering I only watched the film for the first time this week, I suppose anything’s possible. Repressed housewife Thelma (Geena Davis) is convinced by her liberated best friend Louise (That’s My Boy‘s Susan Sarandon) to go out for a weekend in the mountains. Thelma needs to get away from her controlling husband, Darryl (The Iron Giant‘s Christopher McDonald), and Louise needs a weekend away after a bad fight with her boyfriend, Jimmy (Kill Bill‘s Michael Madsen). Unfortunately, they’re never making it to that cabin.

Thelma, who hasn’t had a night of fun in decades, convinces Louise to stop at a roadside honky-tonk so the girls have a couple drinks. Thelma gets very drunk and starts dancing with a man who takes her outside and then tries to rape her. Thelma is saved at the last second by Louise sporting a large gun Thelma had packed for no apparent reason. Thelma and Louise are prepared to leave when the man can’t help but insult them as they’re walking away and Louise murders him in the parking lot. And, thus, the pair embark on a cross-country quest to escape the law as they are now wanted for murder (and eventually other crimes).

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There are elements of Thelma & Louise that are astoundingly wonderful for a film from 1991. Though I think aspects of the film’s gender politics aren’t nearly as radical as they’re remembered, for 1991, Thelma and Louise might as well have been Emma Goldman and Louise Bryant. When the film is focused enough to not be pulpy melodrama, there are quiet moments of Thelma and Louise on the road where you can feel the weight of not just the lawmen that are chasing after them but their whole tired lives and the limited opportunities afforded women of certain backgrounds. But, then the film will shatter that quiet power with gunplay and explosions.

The film’s cinematography from Adrian Biddle is stunning, arguably the best work of his career and some of the best camera work in any Ridley Scott film (Blade Runner seems like the most obvious competition). I disagree with most of the film’s Oscar nominations and consider it’s Best Original Screenplay win to be particularly puzzling, but it’s Best Cinematography nod was well-deserved, and maybe it should have won. Like the best road movies, Thelma & Louise captures the haunting beauty of the American country-side and the restless lives of the women racing through it.

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Unfortunately, Thelma & Louise can’t decide if it wants to be a serious movie or a fun movie, and it never manages to successfully be both. Films can be smart and fun (The Big Lebowski, Annie Hall, American Psycho, The Social Network, etc.). Thelma & Louise will go from being painfully smart and powerful one second to overwhelmingly dumb and pulpy the next. The scenes that are meant to be moments of female empowerment have their heart in the right place, but they come off as ridiculously cheesy when they occur. The most notable example being Thelma & Louise pulling over an obnoxious truck driver and then blowing up his semi.

I like pulp. Justified is one of my favorite shows on TV right now, and though the series got more cerebral in the later seasons, even at the end, Breaking Bad worked within the conventions of pulp storytelling. But those programs do it with internal consistency, and so I’m not brought in and out of two different versions of the same story. That’s where Thelma & Louise falls apart. Had it been all pulp, it would have likely been a riotous, feminist powered-action ride. Had it been all serious, it could have been the 90s response to Badlands. As it is, I felt like I was watching Ridley Scott struggle to decide what kind of movie he really wanted to make.

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None of this is to say that I didn’t enjoy Thelma & Louise. It had its moments of astonishing power, and the “fun” moments weren’t so much bad as they were “out of place.” But, this film is considered one of the true classics of 90s cinema and a definitive classic of feminist cinema and I don’t see how it’s really either. Give me Rachel, Rachel any day. Thelma & Louise simply concerns my belief that Ridley Scott is a good director on his best days, but almost never a great one.

Final Score: B

 

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I had intended to post this review earlier today. But, my body is sort of a mess right now. It’s a new school semester, and my body, long accustomed to sleeping in til well after noon, is fighting a hard fight against my intention to wake up every day no later than 10 AM. Case in point, I fell asleep after a full 16 hour day Monday night at around 2 AM but I woke up at 5 AM and was unable to fall back asleep until around 10 AM. I slept til 1:30 PM (when I had to get up for class), got back home at around four and slept til I left for work. My body doesn’t know what to do with itself. I have to be up at 9:30 AM today (so Wednesday morning) but it’s almost 2 and despite taking a sleeping pill, my body doesn’t want to go to sleep. I am, however, hell bent on correcting myself even if that means operating on minimal amounts of sleep on those days that I don’t work. I’ll do that if I have to. This is all meant to say that my blogging may be taking a backseat because of this (also cause of all of the homework I have to do).

It is a sort of weird, almost divine providence that I wound up reviewing Rain Man a little less than two weeks after I reviewed Forrest Gump. On the surface, one could be forgiven for thinking they’re two similar films. They both involve a mentally disabled man that possesses astounding gifts who uses said gifts to enrich the lives of those around them. Praise the heavens that the surface is where these two films’ similarities end. Rain Man is, as I will posit, the anti-Forrest Gump. Where the latter deals in trite sentimentality, unearned emotional manipulation, and patently absurd twists of plot (it is the trope codifier for the “magical retard” [sorry for the offensive word]), Rain Man is firmly planted in the real world and though a clear emotional arc is traveled, an autistic savant doesn’t magically solve the problems of everyone around him.

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For those who’ve not seen the truly great bit of 80s filmmaking from director Barry Levinson (Diner), Rain Man is a genuinely moving (if occasionally predictable) spin on one of the most American genres of film, the road movie. A fast-talking, self-centered yuppie, Charlie Babbit (The Color of Money‘s Tom Cruise), finds out that his estranged father has died, and along with his Italian fiancee, Susanna (Valeria Golino), makes the trip from L.A. to Cincinnati for his father’s funeral and the reading of his will. But, Charlie finds out that all his father left him was a classic convertible and prize-winning rose bushes, not the $3 million estate that should have been his birthright. With some minor investigation, Charlie finds out that his father left all of his money to Raymond Babbit (Wag the Dog‘s Dustin Hoffman), an autistic savant living in a mental institution that is also the older brother that Charlie never knew he had.

And thus, as a bargaining tool to extort the mental institution’s head caretaker to give Charlie the $3 million that’s been set aside in a trust for Raymond, Charlie decides to kidnap his brother since Raymond’s stay in the hospital is voluntary and no one established an official conservatorship of Raymond after the dead of their father. But, Charlie quickly learns that caring for his brother will be much more work than he bargained for. Raymond is unable to process emotion and information in a way even remotely similar to normal people, and he is a slave to the routines of his life. If he doesn’t eat certain foods at certain times or misses his shows at their scheduled time or doesn’t wear clothes from a specific K-Mart, he starts to snap. Throw in a massive crisis in Charlie’s personal life, and the caretaking of Raymond proves to be an almost insurmountable obstacle. But, as Charlie and Raymond make their way across America, Charlie learns that maybe he can love this brother he never met.

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It almost goes without saying at this point that Dustin Hoffman’s performance in this film is one of the greatest screen performances of all time. Not to belabor my anti-Forrest Gump analogy, but in that film, one would be forgiven for thinking Gump wasn’t really retarded in a traditional sense. He was just slow. I’ve known non-retarded types in real life that are easily dumber than Forrest Gump. You believe for every second that he’s on screen that Hoffman has autism. Hoffman is one of the most famous actors of all time, and despite that, he completely disappears into the role of Raymond. Hoffman’s preparation for the role (he spent a year living with a real life autistic savant) is evident throughout the whole picture. And though Raymond is a very static character (more on that later), Hoffman finds a subtlety and range in his performance that is stunning.

However, despite his Best Actor win at the 1988 Academy Awards, Raymond is not the main character of the film. That’s Charlie, and it’s his arc of emotional growth that defines the film, for better and (slightly) for worse. As I said, Raymond is a static character. Any change he experiences over the course of the film is minor at best. He’s not capable of changing. He doesn’t operate under normal human terms. It’s Charlie’s turn from a greedy, narcissistic yuppie into a compassionate brother that cares more about being allowed to take care of his brother than his $3 million inheritance that makes the film. And unlike the way that Forrest touches everyone’s life, the relationship that forms between Raymond and Charlie is believable and emotionally wrenching. I am incapable of watching this film without crying every single time we make it to the custody hearing at the end of the film.

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It’s too easy to give all of the credit in this film to Dustin Hoffman. His performance is practically iconic at this point. But, let’s not forget that for a brief window in the late 1980s, Tom Cruise was an A-list talent, not just because of his stunning good looks (though that was clearly part of it), but also because of his natural talents as an actor. If you can watch Born on the Fourth of July and question Cruise’s acting creds, you don’t understand good acting. And because Charlie is the main character and because we have to believe his emotional journey of the film, the greatest burden of Rain Man nearly falls on Cruise’s shoulders. And though Charlie isn’t as great a Cruise creation as Ron Kovic, Cruise was expertly cast as the charming but soulless yuppie who is able to find himself in the presence of his brother.

Besides the fact that I don’t think Hoffman should have won Best Actor that year (he should have won Best Supporting Actor), my complaints about Rain Man are minimal at worst. Occasionally, the road trip segments of the film drag or seem repetitive. The business crisis that Charlie must race back to L.A. to thwart is thinly explained at best. And, despite my general love of this film’s emotional arc, occasionally it does seem like some moments are too neatly resolved. Particularly, any scene between Raymond and Charlie’s fiancee cross the line from genuine sentiment to Forrest Gump-style emotional manipulation (though, the movie is just as likely to subvert that later so maybe I shouldn’t actually complain). Whereas many film’s about mental disabilities unfairly play on audience’s emotions and sympathies, Rain Man manages to be painfully realistic yet still deliver a moving emotional through line. What more can you ask for?

Final Score: A-

 

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(A quick aside before my actual review. So, some context for long-time readers about why I haven’t done any other blogging this week. As some of you may know, I work at a bar where there are slot machines. Generally, they’re fairly safe, but every once in a while, they get robbed. I was robbed Tuesday at knife point by a dude on heroin. He put a big-ass butcher knife against my ribcage and made me give him all the money in the bar. Anyways, for obvious reasons, my mind hasn’t been on blogging and so I apologize for that and for the possibility that this review is going to be a mess)

The 90s were the true hey-day of independent cinema. Don’t get me wrong; there’s still an extraordinary amount of great independent film-making being done today (Margaret, The Master, Winter’s Bone to name a few). But, the birth of modern indie cinema as we know it in the early 90s was a pure feat of wonder that was only multiplied ten fold when visionaries like the Weinsteins (over at Miramax) realized that there was a mainstream audience for these independently developed films. One of the most popular (and well made) indie dramas of the 90s, which was overwhelmed at the 1997 Academy Awards by a certain movie about a ship and an iceberg, was the Gus Van Sant directed Good Will Hunting. And while age has worn a tiny amount of the luster off this still wonderful film, nothing can take away from the superb performances from Matt Damon (The Departed) and Robin Williams (Hook).

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As a film on the topic of undiscovered genius, Good Will Hunting is slightly hit-or-miss. But, as a film on the idea of social alienation and the long-term psychic costs of abuse and abandonment, Good Will Hunting remains one of the most emotionally powerful films of the 1990s. I bring up the aspect of undiscovered genius because though the film makes clear, time and time again, how absurdly smart Will is, those moments aren’t nearly as interesting as the time he spends with Robin Williams and Minnie Driver. Perhaps, there’s a slight coldness to the Stellan Skarsgaard (Thor) sections of the film, but mostly, the Oscar-winning script from Matt Damon and Ben Affleck (Argo) shines so bright when we’re confronting the emotional problems of one of the most psychologically complex characters of the 90s that everything else just pales in comparison.

Unbeknownst to anyone but his circle of friends, a lonely, angry MIT janitor, Will Hunting (Matt Damon), is a genius of nearly Einsteinian proportions. When a Fields medal winning MIT Professor (Stellan Skarsgaard) puts a complex mathematical proof on a chalkboard at the beginning of a new semester, none of his students are able to solve the proof, but Will is. But, Will, an orphan with an angry streak a mile wide, doesn’t want to be the genius the world wants him to be. But, after punching a police officer, Will is given the choice between going to jail or going to math lessons with the professor as well as weekly therapy sessions. After pissing off every therapist who comes his way, Will finally meets his match in Sean Maguire (Robin Williams) whose brand of tough love reaches the emotionally damaged young man. But, when a bubbling romance with a Harvard girl (Minnie Driver) revs up Will’s abandoonment issues, it threatens to undo all of the work he’s accomplished with Sean.

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First and foremost, I feel relatively certain in my proclamation that this is the best performance of Matt Damon’s career. The only reason I can’t say the same thing for Robin Williams is that Dead Poet’s Society exists. Will Hunting is the type of meaty, complex role that any young actor would kill for, and perhaps because he wrote the script with co-star Ben Affleck, Damon is acutely aware of the psychological pathology on display in his character (an abused child with a genius intellect with crippling abandonment and intimacy issues). Throw in the heart-wrenching vulnerability and emotional nakedness that he displays as his walls are slowly torn down, and it’s easy to see why Damon’s performance and the Will Hunting character have become an archetype in cinema for the troubled genius.

But, the best performance of the film is Robin William’s Sean Maguire. It speaks directly to Robin William’s immense talents as a performer that though he is most famous for comedic roles like Aladdin‘s Genie or the DJ in Good Morning Vietnam that he is also capable of producing jaw-dropping feats of dramatic acting. Robin Williams won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar at the 1997 Academy Awards, and looking at the list of the other nominees, I can’t imagine anyone else winning. Once again, the role and the performance have become so iconic that the tough and troubled mentor has become its own archetype. Sean helps Will work through Will’s issues, but Will is just as instrumental in helping Sean work through his own problems. And William’s beautifully understated performance (which still allows him to utilize deadpan humor to great effect) is a wrenching and haunting portrait of despair and mourning.

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In fact, my only substantive complaint about the film is Gus van Sant’s direction which leans a little too far into 90s indie cliches that we’ve thankfully gotten rid of since then. It’s not that his direction is bad. There are inspired shots, but often the film feels leading. Where the screenplay is showing subtlety or restraint, the film’s visual composition (and particularly the score when it’s not Elliott Smith songs) are too obvious. It’s a similar complaint that I have with Forrest Gump, but clearly, Good Will Hunting is leagues better than that film. And, though I appreciate how Will’s romance with Skylar is used as a way to examine Will’s abandonment issues, Skylar’s characterization is fairly paper-thin. She is more of a plot device than a character in her own right, and in the face of the richness of Will and Sean, it’s a shame that such a major character seems so flatly drawn.

If by some stroke of poor luck, you’ve yet to see Good Will Hunting, you need to remedy that situation immediately. It is one of those rare defining films of a decade that is completely deserving of the praise heaped upon it. It’s not quite perfect. I think when I sat down to watch it the other night that I was likely to give it one of my rare “A+”s and it didn’t quite cross that threshold, but it’s still an absolutely superb film. It actually makes me sort of sad to think that Matt Damon’s early career dedication to subversive and complex roles like this and Rounders has disappeared as he’s took on the task of less complex, blockbuster roles (The Departed a major exception). I wish he would go back to the indies that helped turn him into the star he is now. And Good Will Hunting is 100% responsible for that.

Final Score: A

 

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Every movie lover has that one film that you can put in a million times, and every time you watch it, you get something new out of it. With our favorite films, repeat viewings become not only a type of security blanket where we can bask in the predicted pleasures of a treasured piece of art, but they increasingly become extended sessions of wonder that one team of filmmakers (from the director on down) were able to get things so perfectly right. They are films that infiltrate every aspect of our lives and we learn and evolve with these experiences so that sometimes, if the film is great enough, something about the film grows to define part of you. I am a lifelong film lover, but 1977’s Annie Hall is my favorite film of all time, and not only is it the crowning jewel of Woody Allen’s career, it’s the most important romantic comedy ever made.

Manhattan may be deeper; Midnight in Paris may be more whimsical; and Crimes and Misdemeanors may be more tragic, but no other film in the Woody Allen canon has transformed cinema to the extent of Annie Hall. Taking the most overdone film genre of all time, the romantic comedy, Annie Hall turned every genre convention on its head. From expectations for a happy ending to the classic manic pixie dream girl archetype to the notions of linear storytelling to a respect for the existence of the fourth wall, Annie Hall obliterated the standards of 1970s storytelling and prior with a rapturous disregard for the way movies were meant to be made. Clearly enthralled with Fellini and Bergman, Woody Allen brought foreign art-house sensibilities into the mainstream.

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Like so much of the best cinema, Annie Hall is an especially autobiographical film. In a vein similar to Chasing Amy (or even Allen’s later Husbands and Wives), Annie Hall is a cinematic portrayal of a crumbling relationship played out by the real life partners in the relationship itself. Neé Annie Hall in real life, Diane Keaton (Love and Death) plays the titular object of Allen’s desire. Diane Keaton was Woody’s greatest muse of the 1970ss, and with Annie Hall, Allen fuses a fantastical and romanticized embellishment of his youth thrown into the tragic downfall of one of the great relationships of his life.

Thus, Annie Hall is the decades spanning tale of the life and loves of Alvy Singer, a purposefully transparent stand-in for Woody Allen. A marginally successful stand-up comedian, Alvy lives in New York. With his best friend Rob (Tony Roberts) and two ex-wives, Alvy’s life isn’t exactly a shining example of having your life together. And his world is only complicated when he’s introduced to the ditsy, sensitive, and complex Annie Hall who bounds into Alvy’s life like an electric jolt to the heart. But the gulf in their intellectual ambitions and Alvy’s own cynical, pessimistic outlook on life spell an inevitable doom for their on-again/off-again relationship.

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If you have ever been in a failed relationship, Annie Hall is a sprawling, exquisitely detailed roadmap of everything that could have possibly gone wrong. Even if you’re a 24 year old kid from rural WV who had never even been to NYC until years after watching this film for the first time, Woody’s tale of lost love, regret, and the rush of dawning romance is timeless and universal in its appeal. I remember watching this film for the first time as a sophomore in high school and immediately being overwhelmed by a sympathy with Alvy Singer, and the relatable nature of this story has only gotten more painfully intense as I’ve gotten older and had more experience in the type of tale Woody has crafted.

And, that attention to detail and brutal effectiveness in detailing a relationship on its way up and just as quickly on its way out is what has made Woody Allen one of the greatest American filmmakers of all time. It would have been too easy to paint a one-sided portrait of the collapse of his time with Diane Keaton, but instead, Allen showed an honest, subtle look at the dynamics between men and women and the ways that we desire different things in life and how those desires can spell doom for love. Annie has become one of the go to examples of the “manic pixie dream girl” but if you actually watch the film, it’s clear that Annie is meant to deconstruct that typical male fantasy.

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But it isn’t just the effective realism and honest intentions of the film that makes Annie Hall the classic it’s become (though that’s certainly a major part of it). Annie Hall stands head and shoulders above its peer because it was the first major film to successfully incorporate serious themes and an actual emotional message with laugh-out-loud fourth wall shattering humor. Over the course of Annie Hall, Woody Allen doesn’t just lean on the proverbial fourth wall; he takes a chainsaw and demolishes it until you’re not sure if the fourth wall ever existed in the first place.

Having his characters directly address the camera, incorporating not only flashbacks but flashbacks where the present day characters can interact with the people in the past, using animated interludes, devolving into downright fantasy, and using sardonic thought bubbles to explain the actual thoughts of characters during dialogue, Annie Hall isn’t afraid to remind you that you’re watching a movie, and it’s better off for it. Some great films have aped this style since ( (500) Days of Summer an obvious example), but no movie has so successfully married the heartwrenching, the hilarious, and the surreal as well as Annie Hall.

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Diane Keaton won a well-deserved Best Actress Oscar at the 1977 Academy Awards for her portrayal of Annie, and the only performance by a woman in a comedy that I can think that is better than her turn in this film was Jennifer Lawrence last year in Silver Linings Playbook. Diane Keaton may have essentially been playing herself, but it was a fierce and now iconic portrayal. What makes Woody such a great writer is that he writes such complex roles for his female leads, and Annie is possibly the best role he’s ever written. Diane Keaton sees Annie through virtually the complete human emotional experience, and she never falters along the  way.

Woody lost that year for Best Actor to Richard Dreyfuss for The Goodbye Girl, and I actually agree with that decision from the Academy. Woody’s turn as Alvy is probably one of the top three performances of his career, but there’s simply no denying that Woody is better behind the camera than in front of it. There are moments here and there where Woody stops acting (even if he’s supposedly conversing with a friend in the film) and just starts performing one of his stand-up routines and the difference in his cadence is too apparent. Still, when the scene calls for it, Woody Allen too hits all the right emotional and dramatic points required for the film.

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I could go on an on about how Annie Hall is a perfect snapshot of life in the 1970s or how brilliant the “It Had to Be You” interludes are or how Allen’s neurotic, nebbish Alvy Singer became the basis of a million rom-com heroes to come, but I think I have probably bored all of you enough with my adoration bordering on worship of this masterful film. I’ve written three unpublished screenplays, and it’s no stretch of the imagination to say that Annie Hall is (with Chasing Amy and Pulp Fiction) the reason I want to be a film-maker. If, in my life, I can write a film that is one-fifth as good as Woody’s opus, I will consider my career a success. I’ll leave you with a quote.

Alvy Singer: [narrating] After that it got pretty late, and we both had to go, but it was great seeing Annie again. I… I realized what a terrific person she was, and… and how much fun it was just knowing her; and I… I, I thought of that old joke, y’know, the, this… this guy goes to a psychiatrist and says, “Doc, uh, my brother’s crazy; he thinks he’s a chicken.” And, uh, the doctor says, “Well, why don’t you turn him in?” The guy says, “I would, but I need the eggs.” Well, I guess that’s pretty much now how I feel about relationships; y’know, they’re totally irrational, and crazy, and absurd, and… but, uh, I guess we keep goin’ through it because, uh, most of us… need the eggs.

Final Score: A+

 

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Oh Quentin Tarantino, why do you tease me so? When was your last truly consistent film? Jackie Brown? Kill Bill Vol. 2 and Inglourious Basterds (especially Basterds) are overflowing with brilliant moments, but they are either flawed in some structural way (Basterds) are simply, intentionally not serious (Kill Bill and Basterds). I honestly believe that he hasn’t been able to put together a consistently perfect film from beginning to end since his Jackie Brown/Pulp Fiction heyday. His penchant for excess and for cartoonish genre caricatures have taken over his rock solid characterizations and peerless ear for quotable dialogue. As a long-time fan of the Western genre and Quentin Tarantino, I’ve long awaited Django Unchained, and while the film is literally perfect for an hour and fifteen minutes (possibly the best work Tarantino has ever done for that time frame of the film), Tarantino’s juvenile sensibilities and lack of an internal editor turned Django into a bloated, imperfect “what could have been.”

That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy the film. Django Unchained is an unquestionably great film. The missteps it takes generally remain in the shadow of the moments of true inspiration in the film although they are just glaring enough to consistently draw you out of the picture. The stretch of the film where Tarantino nails the themes he’s trying to capture (more on that later) are dark, complex, morally ambiguous, and consistently subversive in a way that only Tarantino seems to be able to achieve. But because the film decides it has something to serious to say, it’s general inability to see through on those grand statements and it’s constant devolvement into slapstick-levels of comedic violence creates a frustrating and ultimately immature emotional dichotomy for the movie that begins to tear itself apart from the inside as Django progresses.

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Two years before the beginning of the Civil War (which lends a dark fatalism to the timing of most of the film), German bounty hunter/retired dentist King Schultz (two time Oscar-winner Christoph Schultz) makes a living killing criminals for the U.S. Government. They may be wanted “dead or alive,” but dead is easier to transport. As the film begins, Dr. Schultz is hunting the Brittle brothers, three former foreman on a large slave plantation. Schultz’s only lead is Django (Horrible Bosses‘ Jamie Foxx), a slave from that same plantation who has been separated from his wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington). Schultz buys Django (in a classic Tarantino cold-open) with the promise that if he can help him find the Brittle Brothers, Schultz will give Django his freedom and $75. And the hunt for the Brittle brothers is only the first act of the film.

After Django and Schultz score the Brittle Brothers Bounty (I can’t possibly imagine that being a spoiler), the real meat of the film begins when Django joins Schultz to become a bounty hunter in his own right so that he can buy the freedom of his wife. And after a winter of hunting criminals, Django and Schultz track down Broomhilda’s new owner, a Francophile slave master and slave fighting ring baron, Calvin Candie (The Departed‘s Leonardo DiCaprio). Understanding that Candie won’t sell Broomhilda at a reasonable price willingly, Django and Schultz concoct a plan to infiltrate Candie’s plantation, “Candieland” (I shit you not), to free Django’s beloved. And if that means that Django will have to go undercover as a black slaver (the lowest of the low in the 19th century black community), so be it, although the real threat may not be Candie but Candie’s scheming head house slave Stephen (The Avengers‘ Samuel L. Jackson) who immediately loathes the free Django.

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Like every Tarantino film before it, Django Unchained‘s greatest strength in addition to its stellar dialogue is the absurd depth of its cast. Jamie Foxx’s performance is probably the slightest out of the primary characters (well, Kerry Washington’s performance is fairly forgettable but she’s rarely on screen and her characterization is intentionally paper-thin), but even he finds the steel and anger that transforms Django into the force of pure revenge he becomes by film’s end. Christoph Waltz won an Oscar for playing King Schultz (his second for a Tarantino film) and while Schultz isn’t nearly as compelling or complex as Basterd‘s Hans Landa, but Christoph Waltz is one of the best foreign actors to grace American screens in decades so I’ll forgive Tarantino if he couldn’t make this role quite as great as the past one (though Philip Seymour Hoffman should have won for The Master. Him or Tommy Lee Jones in Lincoln).

Funnily enough, I don’t even think that Christoph Waltz gave the best performance in the film. That was either Leonardo DiCaprio’s Candie or Sam Jackson’s Stephen. I know that’s an unpopular opinion but both characters were far more complex and better written, and they required more talent to play, and both actors seemingly totally lost themselves in the part. I might even go as far to say that Candie is possibly the best performance of DiCaprio’s career. He took to the bad guy so much better than I could have ever expected. Candie has a slick, charming side, but DiCaprio also displays the fierce evil and anger rooting in his heart. And Sam Jackson… just Jesus. In the entire Tarantino canon, Stephen makes a strong case as the most despicable/brilliant villain yet (only behind Hans), and Sam Jackson’s devotion to brutalizing every classic Uncle Tom stereotype ever is insane. DiCaprio and Jackson were robbed of Oscar nominations.

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And, as I’ve said, the film’s second act is perfect. Literally. It’s probably the best hour or so any Tarantino film ever made. And that’s saying something since I worship the man. It has something serious to say about slavery, revenge, and the moral inequities we are willing to commit in the name of something good. Unlike a lot of films about slavery, it is not watered down in this movie whatsoever. In fact, its portrayal of slavery is so dark (and accurate) that it may come as a shock to many modern audiences. And Django nearly loses himself in the character he has to portray in order to enter Candie’s farm. He allows slaves to die and be beaten and he is as awful to them as the whites just to rescue his wife. It’s moral ambiguity at it’s finest, and up to a climactic dinner where Django and Schultz are on the cusp of freeing Broomhilda.

Which makes the rest of the film such a frustrating affair. Don’t get me wrong, I could watch the film’s final forty minutes over and over again. I could watch Jamie Foxx kill slave-owners in an orgiastic display of blood lust all day, but what makes that explosion of violence different from Basterds is the lack of a metatextual subtext shaming the audience for enjoying the gore so much (i.e. Inglourious Basterds eventually became a satire of overly nationalistic war films). Django is simply a revenge fantasy played brutally straight. Except not because it’s a cartoon in live-action for gore-chasing grown-ups. I understand that something can be both serious and juvenile, but Tarantino doesn’t toe that line as well in Django as say Woody Allen or even Chasing Amy-era Kevin Smith. And because of the movie’s constant mood whiplash, you can never tell when you’re supposed to be taking a scene seriously and when you’re supposed to be laughing at the silliness of it all.

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I loved Django Unchained. When it was done, my dad and I talked about how much I enjoyed it but I also had to immediately temper it with the various criticisms that I laid down before. I would have loved to see a version of this film that Tarantino plays more seriously. I think that could have been the best movie Tarantino had ever made. As it is, Django Unchained has all of the hallmarks of a great Quentin Tarantino film. Sharply realized characters, quotable dialogue, a distinct visual style, and a never-ending supply of fun. But it also falls prey to all of the curses facing his most recent crop of films, mostly an excess of violence removed from a serious context. It’s not enough to make me not love this movie and I’m sure I’ll watch the hell out of it like I have every Tarantino film, but it fails to reach the apex of Tarantino greatness because it doesn’t seem to know exactly what movie it wants to be.

Final Score: A-

P.S.: It may however have the best Tarantino soundtrack ever for what that’s worth.

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“Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.”

It’s arguably the most important line from arguably one of the most important film of the 1970s. It’s the last meaningful line of Roman Polanski’s masterpiece Chinatown, but I can begin a review of the film with it because it manages not to spoil the cataclysmic event that has just occurred while at the same it manages to encapsulate the mood and style of the film in two clipped sentences. Among movie types, and especially among lovers of great screenplays, few films are as iconic as Chinatown. Robert Towne’s script is often heralded as the single greatest screenplay of all time. For aspiring screenwriters, it is introduction to screenwriting 101. And for director Roman Polanski (Repulsion), it is usually cited as the crowning achievement of his career. Few films can live up to the hype that surrounds every facet of Chinatown. Not only does Chinatown live up to its own hype, it exceeds them to simply be one of the greatest American films of all time.

Chinatown was Roman Polanski’s first film after the brutal murder of his wife Sharon Tate (as well as several family friends) at the hands of the Manson family (for more information on that terrible incident, I highly recommend Vincent Bugliosi’s true crime novel Helter Skelter). That’s an important piece of background information because the the senseless destruction in his personal life translates into one of cinema’s most evocative tales of despair, fatalism, and the darker realities of life. In fact, Robert Towne’s original screenplay was much lighter and Polanski made him change the ending to something much darker and tragic. Roman Polanski transforms the horrors of his own life into cinema’s starkest portrayal of inhumanity and simultaneously manages to deconstruct the entire film noir genre into its true, seedy building blocks.

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Robert Towne’s story for Chinatown is like marvelously constructed bit of modern architecture where a million tiny pieces keep this dizzying structure in place, but if you were to remove just one piece, the whole building would come crashing down. Jake Gittes (About Schmidt‘s Jack Nicholson) is a private detective specializing in catching spouses in moments of infidelity. A fastidiously dressed man, obsessed with his image, Jake is excellent at his job. In fact, it’s his talent for snooping into other people’s private lives that ends up getting him in trouble and tangled in a case that not only threatens his career but his very life. One day, a woman claiming to be Evelyn Mulwray (Diane Ladd) appears in Jake’s office and asks him to see if her husband is having an affair. And thus, a tangled web of lies, deceit, and murder begins.

Working your way through the labyrinth of Chinatown’s script for your first time is one of a true cinephile’s great pleasures so I fret over spoiling too many aspects of the film. Let us throw down some basic building blocks then without revealing too much of what’s to come. Jake is great at what he does and it doesn’t take long before he catches Mr. Mulwray spending a day with a beautiful young girl. But, somebody steals his photos of the rendezvous and puts them in the paper. The real Mrs. Mulwray (Faye Dunaway) threatens to sue Jake for defaming her husband’s name but it isn’t long before Mr. Mulwray winds up dead in a reservoir. Jake wants to find out who set him and Mr. Mulwray up and along the way he stumbles into a web of public corruption more powerful than he could have ever imagined.

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I could harp on this for pages and pages and feel like I’ve already over-emphasized it, but Robert Towne’s screenplay is the real star of the film (though virtually every other facet of the film is practically flawless as well and is what makes the film such a timeless classic). Whenever you hear someone talk about the fundamental dynamics of a functional screenplay, Chinatown has all of them. From the opening images of the film down to its shocking denouement, Chinatown never wastes a second. Every line and every action has meaning. There is no filler. Even seemingly minor incidents come back in massive ways. In fact, most people’s second viewing of Chinatown will be spent marveling at all of the subtle and easy-to-miss foreshadowing that Towne accomplishes in the first couple of acts. This is a thinking man’s mystery that only gets more enjoyable upon repeated viewings.

It also doesn’t hurt that Chinatown is both an exercise in film noir mastery but it also manages to drop a ten megaton nuclear bomb on every film noir cliche that came before. Similar (but superior) to Gene Hackman’s Harry Moseby in Night Moves, Jake is a a three-dimensional figure. Rather than being a vision of honor in a world of seedy gangsters and dangerous femme fatales, Jake is just a guy doing his job that cares a little too much what others think about him. He’s got a soft spot for dames, and he just can’t let things go. But for all of the ways that Chinatown darkens and expands on the foundations that classic noir left before it, it still does all of the crime-solving and mystery-unraveling better than anything else out there. Thanks to the breadcrumbs of clues that Towne distributes, the slow series of revelations throughout the film never seems forced or beyond belief.

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If you’ve ever seen a Roman Polanski film before, whether it’s Tess or Rosemary’s Baby or any of his other classic films, it’s very obvious that Polanski is a very visual film maker and Chinatown is no exception. The movie is very fond of long, long takes. The average take in a film (even back in the 70s when the takes were longer) was about four or five seconds. Chinatown‘s takes are often somewhere between 30 seconds and a full minute. There’s a certain technical wizardry involved in almost every shot of the film and Chinatown was one of the first great noir films shot in color. And, even without the help of black and white, Chinatown still makes great use of the shadows and soft lighting that defined the noir genre before. But at the end of the day, what stuck with me the most visually with the film were the long takes which heightened the immersion of the film to a massive degree.

And just to be the icing on the well-directed, masterfully-written cake, the performances are all highly impressive. Jack Nicholson gives easily one of the top five performances of an already peerless career as the beleaguered J. J. Gittes. Jake is cocky, charming, smooth, a little bit racist, and all-around kind of a dick. However, the role lacks any of the manic energy you often associate with Jack Nicholson (i.e. in The Shining). And so, you get to see how talented Nicholson can be even when he has to be restrained and subtle. It’s one of my favorite “change of pace” roles from one of Hollywood’s favorite leading men. Also, perhaps as a young person, I’m just so used to seeing “old man Jack Nicholson,” but watching Chinatown, you are immediately and constantly reminded why Nicholson was an iconic sex symbol and notorious ladies man. He’s able to be a charmer even with a massive bandage covering his nose.

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Faye Dunaway provides easily one of the definitive femme fatale performances in all of film noir. It is as important to the genre as Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity. But what makes Dunaway’s performance one of the greatest of all time is, perhaps, helped by the script which slowly unravels the onion of her character, but also because Dunaway finds the dualistic nature that composes the haunted and almost broken Evelyn. It’s really a shame that Mommy Dearest ruined her career because she was one of the all-time great female leads. Legendary director John Huston (The Maltese Falcon) also provides a stunning turn as Evelyn’s evil and very powerful father, Noah Cross.

It is entirely possible that I have now overhyped this film for any of my reviewers who have somehow managed to get this far in their lives and still have not seen Chinatown. It’s one of the greatest movies ever made, and those expectations are a little hard to match. I hope you ultimately feel the same way about it as I do. Just a little over a week removed from my “A+” score for Glengarry Glen Ross, we’re back here again for Chinatown. Both films deserve  perfect marks. What’s crazy is that either today or tomorrow, I have to watch The Godfather: Part 1 and within a week or so, I’ll be watching The Godfather: Part 2. That likely means that we’re going to have the most “A+”s in a single 50 block unit of movies that I’ve had since 2011. I’m excited about it though.

Final Score: A+

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As a political science major, movies, books and TV shows that are about politics tend to hold a special place in my heart. Whether it’s The American President (which romanticizes the White House and idealistic government) or Mr. Smith Goes to Washington or The West Wing, I have a fondness for fiction that does politics right. And the early days of cinema were rife with great political satire from the aforementioned Mr. Smith all the way up to the 1960s and DrStrangelove (which is coming up soon on my list to review for this blog). When the 1940s Preston Sturges Oscar-winner The Great McGinty wound up near the top of my Netflix queue, I had never heard of the film before. And that’s a shame because The Great McGinty was an uproarious satire of the graft and corruption at the heart of American party politics in the 1930s and 40s that I enjoyed almost every minute of.

Daniel McGinty (Brian Donlevy) is an American expatriate living in an unnamed Banana Republic when the film begins. After another cast-off from the states attempts to kill himself in McGinty’s bar, Daniel takes the time out to explain his life story and how he wound up on the run. A couple years earlier, McGinty was just another bum on the breadline. But when a local hand in the party machine pays McGinty to vote under an assumed name, McGinty shows such a knack for voter fraud and has enough guts that the Boss (Akim Tamiroff) decides to hire Daniel as an enforcer in his racketeering schemes. And it isn’t long before they decide to have Daniel run for mayor and have him win. But when Daniel’s arranged marriage to his former secretary (Muriel Angelus) turns into a real romance, her morality and his own essential decency prove to be his down fall.

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Unlike other Preston Sturges screwball comedies, The Great McGinty isn’t quite a straight comedy, and although I referred to the film as uproarious earlier, that’s more of an indication of the wit and energy of the film rather than how much time I actually spent laughing. Although perhaps it is more like the screwball comedies than I give it credit before, because like those films, The Great McGinty proves to be a series of snowballing incidents that avalanche one after another until the film’s final moments. For the most part, The Great McGinty is a non-stop reminder of how flavorful and smart the classic comedies used to be while operating under the strictest morality codes thanks to being part of the Hays Code era. Although the film doesn’t prove to be quite as insightful as Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, it’s still a wonderful, character-driven comedy.

This may be the only role that I’ve ever seen Brian Donlevy in and I can’t for the life of me figure out why he wasn’t a bigger star in his day. He brings such life, intelligence, and sensitivity to the role of Daniel McGinty. Whether he’s fighting in the back seat of a town car with the corpulent Boss or reading a bed time story to the children of his newly wed wife (which she had from a first marriage), Donlevy taps into the basic humanity of McGinty while still reminding you of his toughness in the scenes where he coerces and intimidates others to suit his political needs. I’m not saying Donlevy was on par with the Bogies or Grants of the day, but I’m legitimately shocked that this actor had totally escaped my attention until just now. Throw in his wonderful romantic chemistry with Muriel Angelus, and it was a film with delightful lead performances.

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I love raunchy modern comedies (Horrible Bosses, Harold & Kumar, etc) but there’s just something so appealing about the wit and innocence of the classics like this. Even when they make dirty jokes (at least for the time) or allusions to sex, it is handled with such an agile subtlety and grace that it reminds you how heavy-handed even the best modern raunchy films can be. There was a scene where McGinty’s wife is helping him undress after he’s had too much to drink, and he grabs her hand as she’s taking his money-roll out of his coat. He then more or less implies that he’s had a prostitute try the same trick on him. And The Great McGintis simply bursting with that kind of understated humor and sly references. It may not be an all-time classic, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t soak up as much fun as possible in this screwball of a ride.

Final Score: B+

 

Despite my occasional jaded cynicism, I am a pure romantic at heart. My relationship history is virtually non-existent, but you show me a great love story and my heart instantly melts. Most of the romances we see in the movies and read about in books are pretty awful, but when a genuine love story makes its way on to the screen, I almost invariably connect with those films in a deeper emotional way than I do with movies that are more “serious” and that I may score higher in terms of their grade. Two of my three favorite films are romances (Annie Hall and Chasing Amy), and the flirtation between Mia Wallace and Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction is still an unforgettable part of number three. Woody Allen just made his 42nd movie (I’m going to go ahead and let that sink in for a second), the wonderful and whimsical Midnight in Paris, which is the second film in my series of Best Picture Nominee reviews, and without wanting to jump the gun, it may be safe to say that this is Woody’s best movie since Hannah and Her Sisters or even Manhattan. The man may be 76 years old, but he’s still got it and there still aren’t any American filmmakers with a career as consistent and prolific as Woody Allen.

When engaged couple Gil Pender, successful Hollywood writer and aspiring novelis, (Owen Wilson) and Inez (Rachel McAdams), Gil’s young and bourgeois fiance, visit Paris with Ines’s parents, their relationship is put to the test when Gil’s desire to adopt a bohemian lifestyle as a writer in Paris clashes with Ines’s wishes for Gil to return to Hollywood and continue working in movies even though it’s killing him artistically. Their relationship only becomes even more strained when a midnight walk along the Parisian streets takes an oddly surreal turn when Gil finds himself transported to 1920’s Paris and rubbing elbows with literary and artistic luminaries like F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso, and more. While Ines is pushing him to live a more conventional lifestyle by day, Gil is living his nostalgic, romanticized fantasy by night. When Gil meets the alluring Adriana (Marion Cotillard) and begins to fall in love, his loyalty to his fiance and the world she wants him to inhabit is put to the test.

Maybe it’s because I’m a huge classic literature nerd and I have the same romanticized visions of 1920’s France full of expatriated Americans that Woody Allen shares, but I adored this film. The writing is the most inciseful and directly hilarious that Woody Allen has been in years. His recent films have had this simmering darkness and even though I thoroughly enjoyed Vicky Cristina Barcelona, there was something in it that seemed to lack that joyous and melancholic spark that defined his earlier pictures. Midnight in Paris doesn’t suffer from this problem. It’s opening shots of Paris set to gorgeous jazz instantly recall the iconic opening of Manhattan (and this time the opening monologue rolls during the credits crawler), and the characters engage in the artistic-intellectual conversations that were a hallmark of earlier Allen pictures; although now Allen has looked back on his occasional pretentiousness and pokes some fun at the more pedantic nature of some of his film’s conversations.To top that all off, you get a wonderful look at a man struggling between safe and secure love, finances, and societal approval against a desire to be true to his self artistically. If the film has any one major flaw, it is that Ines doesn’t seem as well developed as some of Allen’s other female heroines. Allen normally writes the best female characters (which is why so many of them win Oscars), and Ines simply doesn’t live up to those high expectations.

As always, Woody Allen assembled a stellar cast to bring his script to life. If it weren’t for Owen Wilson’s career-defining drawl (as opposed to Allen’s thick New York accent), this could have easily been a young Woody Allen role. Owen Wilson must have watched a ton of Woody’s older films before shooting this film because he successfully evokes that neurotic, intellectual energy that Allen brought to these types of parts and Owen Wilson also brings a sensitivity that had been lacking in some of his earlier roles. Oscar winner Marion Cotillard was a delight (as always) as the bewitching Adriana. She’s a French talent that’s been getting plenty of exposure since winning her Oscar for La Vie en Rose, and she deserves it. I can’t blame Gil for falling in love with Adriana when she’s as gorgeous and intriguing as Marion Cotillard. Rachel McAdams made due with the material she was given, but as stated before, it was a light role. Corey Stoll was a fantastic Hemingway whose uber-masculine intensity often became the film’s deadpan comic relief. Adrien Brody also made a small part as a boisterous Salvador Dali when Gil had dinner with Dali, Man Ray, and Luis Bunuel. Katherine Bates also made a fine Gertrude Stein.

Woody Allen’s films have often been as much a visual tribute to the cities where they take place as they have been sharply scripted stories, and Midnight in Paris is no exception. Much like Vicky Cristina Barcelona captured the stunning beauty of Spain and Manhattan was Allen’s loveletter to his hometown, Midnight in Paris is a stunning ode to the city of lights. Not since David Lean captured Venice in all its glory for Summertime has a director so fully captured the magic of a city. This is easily Allen’s most visually distinct film since the black and white magic of Manhattan. Whether it’s night-time strolls along the Champs-Elysses, the grandeur of the Eiffel Tower, the elegance of the arc d’Triomphe, or the modernism of the Louvre, Woody simply captures the romanticized feel of the city. It also doesn’t hurt that the period costume work is simply fabulous and makes me want to start dating a flapper and wear 1920’s suits. It’s another gorgeous film from one of the best screenwriters and directors of all time.

I’ve long since stopped debating in my mind about whether or not Woody is the greatest American director of all time. His only real competition at this point is David Lynch, but David makes his films far too rarely and with too much intentional obscurity for me to ever derive the same kind of simple pleasure that I get from watching a Woody Allen picture. Woody’s films make you think but also hit you on an emotional level and for every burgeoning intellectual or simple movie lover out there, Woody will always hold a special place in your heart. He may be sort of despicable on a personal level, but that doens’t dilute his genius one iota. This is Woody’s best film in ages, and if you haven’t taken a stroll through Midnight in Paris, do yourself a favor and watch it. It is the romance of the year (if not the last several years).

Final Score: A

I have not made it much of a secret on this blog or in my personal life generally that I am not a man of faith. I would consider myself to be a “teapot agnostic”, so named for a thought experiment conducted by Bertrand Russell as  counter-argument to the “You can’t disprove God” rationalization for religious faith. Russell’s teapot refers to a hypothetical teapot that may or may not be in orbit around the earth. I can’t disprove that the teapot is there, but that doesn’t make it any more likely that it does exist. That being said, I have a moderate amount of respect for the power to commit good that religion can inspire. However, I also have an extreme cynicism towards organized faith brought on by all of the violence and tragedy that has been committed in its name over man kind’s history. Centered heavily in the sort of religious faith and love that can do good in our communities, 1944’s Going My Way, winner of many Academy Awards including Best Picture and Director, takes a positive look at Christian love than even a jaded cynic like myself can respect, but that doesn’t save the movie from being an incredibly boring and slow two-hour slog through the worst aspects of older cinema.

A comedy/musical/drama hybrid, Going My Way stars Bing Crosby (Best Actor, 1944) as Father Charles O’Malley, a Catholic priest sent to a financially strapped parish on the verge of being repossessed by the bank. His predecessor, Father Fitzgibbons (Barry Fittzgerald, Best Supporting Actor 1944) is a cantankerous old traditional priest who is blind to the needs and realities of his failing church. Father O’Malley is from a more progressive and liberal theological school, and it’s up to him to get the community interested in the church again and to help raise the money that will keep it from being shut down. Father O’Malley’s special gift is his angelic voice and song-writing skills, and before Father Fitzgibbons even knows it, Father O’Malley has formed a choir of the local boys who were nothing but hoodlums before he arrived, and it isn’t long before he’s attracting the attention of a famous singer at the Metropolitan Opera.

Say what you will about his alleged past of severe child abuse (which is indescribably tragic), Bing Crosby is a heck of a performer. All of the music of the film occurs diegetically, i.e. within the context of the scenes, and hearing Bing Crosby croon out old standards (including an original song for the film which won an Oscar) is a delight. He also has a fairly dry sense of humor. He isn’t a spectacular dramatic actor but he doesn’t disappoint in this role. Barry Fitzgerald was the real scene-stealer as the curmudgeonly older priest. I honestly believed that he spent half of the movie not knowing where he was in some addled senility. Fitzgerald easily nailed the self-righteous and stuck-in-his ways aspects of any older clergyman, but he also showed a sensitive and kind side that explained much of his oblivious naivete. I wish I could say anything positive about the large host of child actor’s but I really, really can’t. The red-headed kid that was the head of the choir gives the boy from Shane a run for his money in the bad child-acting department.

As much as I enjoyed the performances, the story itself wasn’t enough to keep me engaged with the film. Running at a lengthy 2 hours and 10 minutes, there wasn’t enough substantive plotting to keep me engaged or some other stylistic or character heavy aspect to make up for deficient storytelling. As much as I liked Father O’Malley, I knew very little about him or why he was so progressive compared to his peers. Father Fitzgibbons felt fare more fleshed out, but he too seemed disappointingly ill-defined. Also, the story itself just never amounts to much more than some slight conflicts at first between Fitzgibbons and O’Malley and then O’Malley’s plot to raise money for the church. None of that was particularly insightful or exciting. Films can get away with being boring if they’re smart or intimately detailed or have something important to say. Going My Way is none of those things, except perhaps panderingly heart-warming (though I admit I did shed a tear the film’s end).

Maybe I’m too cold-hearted and cynical to enjoy this supposedly inspiring film, but my problems with it are more associated with simply how boring and stale the story of the film is. For fans of classic movies, this film has garnered quite a reputation for itself, so you need to watch it, if only for Crosby and Fitzgerald’s performances. I’ve made this observation on this blog before, but it bears repeating. I am simply incapable of enjoying dramatic films before the 1950’s. While Netflix categorized this as a comedy, it definitely had dramatic elements and they were far too moralistic and idealistic for me. If you’re of a religious orientation, you’ll most likely adore the over-all message of true Christian love and tolerance that this film displays, and that (along with the performances) is virtually all this film had going for me. It officially gets the worst score I’ve given a film that won Best Picture at the Oscars.

Final Score: C+