It seems almost every year there is a decent film –somewhat average, but entertaining– that touches ever-so-gently on something deeper while avoiding actually digging beneath the surface. That film somehow manages to be held aloft as daring, groundbreaking, award-worthy. I’m always amazed at how these mediocre films manage to fly so high in the minds and hearts of so-called film critics. Hell, it’s not just the critics, audiences and Academy members play a big role as well.
Now I’m really thrilled to see AMOUR finding its way onto top 10 lists and critics picks this year. Now THAT is a film worthy of its recognition, in this writer’s humble opinion. But I’m amazed by the response to SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK. Now don’t misunderstand me. I truly enjoyed the film. I was even surprised by how much I enjoyed Bradley Cooper’s performance, an actor I chose NOT to work with many years ago and now wish I had.
But SILVER LININGS does what so many films of its kind do: they start off with something potentially deep, something to explore, and then decide to take a lighter, easier route. SILVER LININGS –as a friend recently pointed out– descends into predictable Rom Com territory in its second half. Our hero takes his meds, meets a girl, and normalcy ensues. That doesn’t mean it’s not still enjoyable and worth watching. It is. Very much so. But Best Picture of the Year? Or even one of the top 10 Best Pictures of the Year? Best actor? Actress? Adapted screenplay? All three top NY Times film critics suggested that it should be nominated for top Academy Awards. Really?
I guess perspective is everything. I say it every year and I’ll say it again: People spend so much time watching Hollywood dreck, surface-level, risk-free filmmaking, that when something comes along that even hints at a deeper subject, Americans parade it through the streets as if it were a welcomed hero.
I was at a screening of ZERO DARK THIRTY recently that hosted a post-screening Q&A with the director, writer and one of the film’s stars. The evening’s moderator introduced the director by saying, “I’d like to introduce –and I think everyone here will agree this isn’t hyperbole– one of cinema’s greatest talents, Kathryn Bigelow.” I had to laugh out loud. Not that she hasn’t done a nice job on her last two films, but one of cinema’s greatest talents? You mean the director of BLUE STEEL and POINT BREAK? I thought THE HURT LOCKER was a good film, if not a tad overrated. I think ZERO DARK THIRTY is a good film. I enjoyed it. I admire the work Ms. Bigelow did on that film. But perspective here, folks! It seems to be the bar for greatness has been severely compromised.
I suppose what’s most distressing to me about this trend, this need to hold aloft average as great –or even really good as great– is that there are films and filmmakers out there, actors, actresses, writers, DPs, etc., who are far more deserving of that kind of praise, who are genuinely great cinema storytellers and artistic risk-takers, but whose films are barely, if at all, recognized in this country. All the while we “ooh” and “ahh” about the Emperor’s new clothes until we’ve convinced ourselves that they are truly glorious.