Monday, February 02, 2009

For Once in My Life...

...I'm 100% with David Denby. And I have been since October, when I first saw Slumdog, so don't hound me about a "backlash." No backlash could possibly make up for the obscene, um, "frontlash" that this antic, tasteless, over-scored, poorly written and acted, structurally impossible movie has been enjoying. Winter '05 had a great Best Picture coronation and a soul-killing presidential inauguration. If you can only have one or the other, I'm obviously pro-'09, but still.



Blogger Sam Brooks said...

I saw Slumdog Millionaire on the night it came out here, Friday, and found it to be a movie all about surfaces that hides some very mixed and underthought messages. My viewing partner thought it was one of the best shot, editted and written movies of the year. I'm not going to say who is in the right, but I agree with most of the articles that slam the film and think it's one that nobody is going to like in about five to ten years.

Getting to the point, the line that I disagreed with in the articles the most is that Frost/Nixon is an important movie that is saying something. I've never been so reluctant to like a movie that is 'good'. There's just a massive space where a great movie is meant to reside. I swear if you replaced Peter Morgan's other screenplay this year, The Other Boleyn Girl, with this movie, we'd be seeing it nominated for Best Picture instead.

I can understand Slumdog's slew of nominations because it's a movie that some people can get passionate about and support; Frost/Nixon is just so sterile and ultimately meaningless that I can't see anybody remembering it even halfway through this year.

Rant over. Can we just cut out all the technical nominations and just leave the acting categories, where there were some decent and interesting choices?

7:49 PM, February 02, 2009  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

I'm with you about Frost/Nixon, Brooke, though to be fair, I think Denby is being quite sarcastic in those locutions about the film. Note the acrid way in which he introduces The Reader and F/N as "prestige" products that don't merit their self-imposed solemnity, and I think he means Saying Something in that fussily earnest but empty-headed way that for him (and for me, and for you, I'm gathering) brings to mind Guess Who's Coming to Dinner and Judgment at Nuremberg. I think F/N is comfortably better than the former and not as interesting as the latter, but I think his point stands, and it sounds like we're a trio in agreement.

7:54 PM, February 02, 2009  
Blogger Sam Brooks said...

I get what he means now better, but I am very quick to jump to attack Frost/Nixon for whatever reason. A different viewing partner from the Slumdog one said it was a 'really good' movie but he didn't quite know why.

However, in response to him more than you, I don't really find The Reader and Frost/Nixon to be comparable outside of the 'Prestige Picture' label. The Reader is a film that is clearly about something, however vague that may sound, and at least succeeds to have a little bit more resonance outside of it's characters and plot. To say nothing of how much more interestingly it is shot and acted and how absurdly more skilled David Hare is than Peter Morgan.

Frost/Nixon, as has been covered, is a movie that is strictly limited to it's subject matter. There's nothing to read into. To use a bad metaphor, it's like golf. It's all there in front of you, unfolding slowly and by the end of it you don't know why you've spent two hours on it.

I still don't know how I've managed to muster up an near hate of a movie that isn't at all a bad movie. Just a slightly good movie.

10:16 PM, February 02, 2009  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

I completely agree with you, FWIW. To take one concrete example, I think it's pretty criminal that F/N just plows right past so many of the taped hours of the interviews that the whole movie is about so that we essentially get montaged straight from the first two disastrous ones (which themselves are hardly captured in full, illuminating detail) right to the "triumphant" one at the end, when Frost pulls out all the exact stops that the script has telegraphed that he will. It's a ridiculously simple-minded and mechanical script, and it makes Sheen's and Langella's jobs remarkably easier and, I would think, more boring by not allowing them to flesh out some of the psychological minutiae of the interviews themselves - even if Team Frost wrote them off as "bad" - rather than having all those extra-curricular scenes and redundant characters just tell us when Frost fails or succeeds.

Like you, I admit to being guilty of over-generalizing somewhat: there were moments, though I'm forgetting them now, when I remember thinking that F/N had paused long enough for some flicker of human reality to emerge through all the schematics. But I think it's a pretty stilted exercise; I agree that it isn't as interesting as The Reader, which at least avoids these problems for far longer, even if it plunges right into them later; and I hate its nomination even more than I do the noms for CCBB and Slumdog, even though I consider them "worse" movies.

And it's not even about hating Ron Howard. I remember Apollo 13 as being pretty wonderful, and Ransom having plenty of strong moments.

10:46 PM, February 02, 2009  
Blogger Sam Brooks said...

I think it all comes down to laziness: From the voters and the filmmakers. Reading what you just said, I realize that this film could have been perhaps not significantly more than it was, but a more full and believable Best Picture nominee than it is now. The film is just so casually standing among the nominees, with no supporters and no real haters. It's just there.

As it is, it's only legacy will be a Trivial Pursuit: "Which Academy Award nominee for Best Picture in 2008 was the only one to receive no wins?" And, god willing, I won't know the answer.

11:41 PM, February 02, 2009  
Blogger Calum Reed said...

I know they're both Stanley Kramer films but I think he's being incredibly unfair lumping Judgement In Nuremberg in with the stagey one-track Dinner. Like any good courtroom drama it's really classy and open, and it manages to confront the issues of the holocaust (which is apparently still relevant in this day and age) without hiding behind the event or portraying much as a given. The Reader doesn't do that (although it's not primarily a courtroom drama) and gets totally sentimental and bogged down in its final act, btu I I liked it a lot for its richness of character and the way that their relationship shaped him but never really ever changed. I agree with Nick though that I hate the reasons for its nomination, and that it took the place of something likely more deserving, or at least more daring.

Even though Slumdog is a worse film I really dislike Frost/Nixon's nomination the most. The beginning is so bright and breezy like Charlie Wilson's War but then it gets all far-reaching with its "the world needs to know" mentality and for all the inpenetrability and self-masked nature of Nixon his self-orchestrated downfall feels really cheap and easy. Way too vanilla for my tastes.

6:06 AM, February 03, 2009  
Blogger Guy Lodge said...

I must embarrassingly admit (and I do feel genuinely embarrassed, which says a lot about the film) that I like "Slumdog Millionaire" a lot more than you do -- but "like" is the operative word. I like Boyle's manic, if rather derivative, visual sensibility. I like the cluttered, attention-seeking score. I even kind of like Beaufoy's gleefully dumb narrative contrivances.

I like them in the sense that I bought into them sufficiently while watching the film to feel generally entertained, even as I was aware of the sledgehammer-level of manipulation at play.

But I don't LOVE any of these things. And I'm a little perplexed as to how so many people have fallen in love with a film that has absolutely nothing to say. "Slumdog" aims for nothing more than to be liked, so the general reaction thus far I think has rather overshot the film's own demands.

I can't remember the last time there was a Best Picture race where I did not love at least one film in the lineup (even if it was, as so frequently is the case for me, the one nominee that doesn't have a prayer). I actively dislike "Frost/Nixon" and "The Reader." I feel absolutely nothing at all about "Benjamin Button." (Why should I, after all -- Fincher clearly doesn't.)

I'm left weighing up "Milk" and "Slumdog," and wondering why I have to choose between two films that each land on the lower rungs of a great filmmaker's oeuvre. If I were an AMPAS member, I think I would exercise my write-in option.

The only consolation I'm getting from this dreary year is that years from now, when Danny Boyle eventually passes, the obituaries will label him "the Oscar-winning director," even if no one can remember what he won for. It's probably better that way.

Sorry for the long post, but I do feel better now!

8:05 AM, February 03, 2009  
Blogger tim r said...

Except maybe for "antic" (which I'd replace with "endless", or maybe "gloopy") I think the adjectives in your original post could equally apply to Benjamin Button. And I think Denby is great on that, even better than he is on the toxicity of Slumdog.

Not that I'll particularly defend Frost/Nixon, but I will say that at least the performances bring some nuance to the material there where they so utterly don't in Slumdog or BB. I had to write a thoroughly milquetoasty review of it here, and I suppose I stand by some of that faint praise, but it sure is hard to get worked up about as a Best Picture nominee. Ditto The Reader, though like most of you guys I marginally prefer it.

What's a man left with? Milk. Ah, Milk. I do think that's a proper movie.

12:12 PM, February 03, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hell yeah, David Denby. And I never thought I'd say that, either. I usually never agree with this guy (well, not never, but it's quite uncommon).

And I also agree with your brief assessment of Slumdog Millionaire. I actually left during the film for a few minutes to accept a phone call. The last time I did that was during August Rush (something I was forced to see). Walking out of the movie, I couldn't believe how many serious intellectual-types told me, in a serious, quiet tone usually reserved for the likes of The Godfather, that Slumdog was "amazing. Incredible. A masterpiece. You have to see it." Like...come on! "But what will we live on?" "Love..."

What is this world coming to?!

8:29 PM, February 03, 2009  
Blogger Glenn Dunks said...

I have not seen Frost/Nixon or The Reader. The latter hasn't been released yet and despite my trying I just can never seem to get to the cinema to catch the former - am I dreading being ambivilent towards it? perhaps. Perhaps I'm dreading actually liking it and not being able to get angry at it for cruising through this season like a cheap hustler. ...speaking of Milk (zing!) I gotta say that I really liked it as it's one of those rare moments where a biopic is both solidly made from a technical standpoint, but also uses said achievements to illuminate a story that needs to be told about a man whose life needs to be told. Unlike the pretty pictures of something like Walk the Line, which... well, who really needs to know Johnny Cash's story. Or unlike La Vie en Rose, which revolves around somebody who has lived a fascinating life, but whose filmic recreation was a sloppy gharish megalomaniac mishap.

When I saw Slumdog I... liked it, but couldn't really create much enthusiasm for it. I really loved the music (the soundtrack is great) and it looked impressive even if it was derivative of much better movies and said beauty was, unfortunately, entirely un-ironic.

However the writing was quite silly and the acting even worse. Worst of all though I, like you Nick, reacted negatively towards this perceived notion that it is a "feelgood" and "heartwarming" "hymn to life". When did police brutality, eye-gouging, electrucion torture, domestic abuse and child warfare become "heartwarming"? And I find it bizarre that nobody seems to ever mention that one of the movie stills most frequently used to go along with articles about the movie - this one - is actually of the kid taking a shit. Literally. The way the light is streaming through the wood panels and the "i'm a dreamer" look on the child's face seem to distract everyone from the fact that he is currently squatting over a hole taking a dump. Sorry about the language, but god dammit, that's not exactly the sort of stuff I like in my feelgood movies, okay?


6:07 AM, February 04, 2009  
Blogger Catherine said...

Oh dear, Glenn, you made me spit coffee all over my computer screen. How did I not pick up on that with the image of the kid?! Bwahahaha.

Out of the five Best Pictures, I've seen everything except Benjamin Button, which give me my due, only opened today. I have to admit, I am dreading going to see it (although I obviously will at some point). Yeesh. I loved Milk, admired The Reader without actually liking it very much, enjoyed Frost/Nixon a whole lot more than anybody else seemed to and as for Slumdog...let's just not go there. Because it opened here a good while after the US, I had already read lots of the backlash and I went into the theatre clearing my mind, determined to take the film on its own merits and not to be overly swayed by the negative critical reactions I'd already read. But holy crap. I've never had such a bad reaction to a film - it was literally a visceral reaction: I came out of there shaking and hardly able to walk, I was so repulsed/angry at it.

7:29 AM, February 06, 2009  
Blogger tspatil said...


I love this site and your thoughtful reviews. When is the one where you slam Slumdog Millionaire going to go up? I can't say that I was overly impressed with the film, but I certainly didn't have a D+ reaction to it. I want to see the logic behind the final grade.

3:31 PM, February 11, 2009  

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