Thursday, April 24, 2008

They don't make 'em like they used to

In the past month I have watched all of the big winners from this year's Academy Awards. Overall they were reasonably enjoyable.

No Country for Old Men was my favorite of the bunch, certainly deserving of the Best Picture award. It was a tense, violent, exciting film with a fitting ending. Javier Bardem was superb as the bad guy.

Sweeney Todd was entirely delicious. I’m not a big fan of musicals, but who can resist Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter speculating in song about how pedestrians passing on the street would taste baked into a meat pie?

There Will Be Blood was not bad, although it centered on clich├ęd stereotypes of the greedy, deceptive oil prospector and compromised pastor.

Juno was by far the lightest and most enjoyable of the bunch, very different from the dark brooding mood of the others. The silly lyrics of the songs got old after a while. But the story was good, and the characters were well-developed. I appreciated the pro-life outlook of the film, which is a rare thing from Hollywood.

3:10 to Yuma was excellent. In the past year or two I have come to appreciate well-done westerns more than I did in the past. Dan Evans is an outstanding character who grows and develops as a father and husband and earns the respect of his son as he demonstrates that his honor is not for sale.

Ratatouille was charming and highly enjoyable – probably the best winner in the short history of the “Best Animated Feature” category.

Michael Clayton didn’t impress me much. Crooked lawyers and corrupt corporations have just been done way too many times.

Atonement was well done, with a complex and non-linear story line which starts out tragically and ends tragically. There was a section in the middle that I found confusing, and never did understand what was going on. It effectively made the point that it is unwise to make assumptions and meddle with things you don’t understand, and that righting past wrongs is better than living with the regrets of leaving them unresolved.

I have not seen Transformers, and I don’t intend to. I can find dozens of better uses for two hours of my life than watching a toy commercial.

While I found most of these films to be good, none rose to the level of great. Apart from Transformers, they did seem to buck the recent trend of substituting special effects and action for plot and character development. I also appreciated that several of the films dared to not provide a happy, feel-good ending. This year’s winners were certainly better than those from recent years.

More and more each year I find that the most effective way to get a really superb movie is to go back forty or fifty years and pick a title which has stood the test of time. It is hard to understand why modern-day Hollywood, with their huge budgets and advanced technology, has so much difficulty producing movies which compare favorably with films made decades ago. Perhaps it is because the expectations of the public have changed. To be a commercial success, movies must be loaded with gratuitous violence, sex, drugs, and foul language. While films used to reflect a moral worldview, the list of films above mirrors society’s nihilism. Or maybe Hollywood is just running out of ideas, and have resorted to remakes and reusing worn-out storylines. There certainly does not seem to be anyone making movies today who can match Alfred Hitchcock as a story teller, nor is there an actor with the stature of James Stewart or Cary Grant.

Some people have the preconceived idea that old movies are dull. I would encourage you to shatter that misconception by watching any of the following film classics.

Double Indemnity
North by Northwest
Lawrence of Arabia
A Witness for the Prosecution
Dial “M” for Murder
Bringing Up Baby


Fish-2 said...

I don't see enough movies. Well, to be exact, I don't see them until they're out on DVD, and then after the price has come down. Your recommended "old" movies included Casablanca. I watched that a week ago for the very first time, and I'm 68 years old. Where have I been all my life. Great movie. I now have to buy it because my memory has enough holes in it I will be able to enjoy it all over again in a year or two.

todd said...

You forgot Tommy Boy! Classic!