Friday, January 25, 2013

The Unreasonable Movie Project (Vol. 9): The Fine Line Between Stupid and Clever

I saw De rouille et d'os (Rust and Bone) on January 23, and I do not want to tell you about it. I want to tell you about how tired I am, and that I've seen 12 movies in 17 days. I want to let you know I have another 18 movies to go before the Oscars, but that I will surely go blind or keel over by then. There's a decent chance there will be no Unreasonable Movie Project Oscar Picks or live-tweeting the broadcast because I will have passed out and slept through it. That’s what I'm telling you.

This has been building, but Rust and Bone pushed me over the edge. It’s the kind of movie that takes it out of you, and the perfect movie to address something I've been thinking about since seeing Beasts of the Southern Wild. What's the difference between being entertained by a movie (or not), and appreciating a movie as an art form (or not)?

The lines are not exact, but there are four basic types of movies:
  1. Good movies that you like
  2. Good movies that you do not like
  3. Bad movies that you like
  4. Bad movies that you do not like
Obviously, good movies that you like are the best of everything. The movie has entertained you, or provided you with whatever it is that satisfies you when you go to the movies. You liked the story, or liked the actors, or it made you happy or sad or scared and that’s what you expected. Good movies that you like also have value in a larger context, meaning that, other than just you, they please a large number of others, and possibly are recognized and/or win awards (like the Oscars).

Examples of good movies that I like: Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook, The Sessions, Pulp Fiction, Schindler’s List, Full Metal Jacket, Memento, The Hustler, and my favorite movie of all time, The Usual Suspects.

Then there are good movies that you do not like. This is a tricky category, and is defined as movies that clearly have value, but you did not enjoy watching them. They are well-crafted, or well-acted, or well-written, but they aren't to your taste. They are like a famous piece of art that you would never in a million years hang on your wall. Beasts of the Southern Wild fell into this category for me recently. I felt like there was value in what I was seeing, but I did not enjoy it. The messages of the movie didn't quite resonate, but I could appreciate the work. This category is also for movies that happen to trigger any personal tripwires. I react very strongly to any movies (or TV, or any other media) that deal with kids getting hurt or killed. I can’t deal with those kinds of stories any more, and I know that I can't be objective about them. Plus musicals...I can't handle musicals.

Other examples of good movies that I do not like: Happiness, Moulin Rouge!, Local Hero (I know several people who love this movie), Kids, A Clockwork Orange, and There Will Be Blood.

Bad movies that you like, more commonly known as guilty pleasures, are usually raunchy comedies or stupid action movies. They also might be really, really terrible B movies, which are so bad that the entertainment value is off the charts. Mystery Science Theater 3000 was founded on the principle of people hanging out and making fun of bad movies. Whether you are the kind of person who will admit to these guilty pleasures or not, we all have a list tucked away somewhere in our brains. Cable television survives on guilty pleasures.

Examples of bad movies that I like: Point Break (my wife loves this movie), Road House, Red Dawn (the original; see how almost any Swayze movie works here?), White Men Can’t Jump, Superbad, Rocky IV, Predator, The Fifth ElementHudson Hawk, etc.

Bad movies that you don't like are very bad. Usually these can be avoided all together by not being fooled by trailers, web site ratings from and, and word of mouth. A friend of mine has a theory that if a particular movie is being marketed TOO heavily, that's a sign of a bad movie. And if you hear that a studio refused to screen a movie for critics, that's a sign of a very bad movie.

Examples of bad movies that I do not like: Most horror movies, most Adam Sandler movies, Battlefield Earth, Bio-Dome, A Night at the Roxbury (or most movies produced by SNL's Lorne Michaels), and the truly terrible Napolean Dynamite (cue the torrent of Gen Y outrage...).

There are movies that fall in between categories. One of my favorite movies of all time is The Big Lebowski, and I don't think it's truly a 'good movie that I like.' It might very well be a guilty pleasure. I can think of a few other comedies like this, like Wedding Crashers, The 40 Year Old Virgin, and even Animal House, which could very well be the Gen X Napolean Dynamite. You never know how well a comedy will hold up. Like David St. Hubbins once said, "There's a fine line between stupid and clever."

Rust and Bone falls into the ‘good movies that I do not like’ category for me. I got through nearly the whole thing, and it was going to be a good movie that I liked. It's beautifully shot, and the director does an amazing job of telling the story visually. It's a wonderfully subtle example of "show don't tell" film-making. Marion Cotillard is very good, and has been nominated for several awards.

But then I had a very visceral reaction to a critical scene near the end. The movie was moving toward a natural resolution (I thought), but the writer wanted something more dramatic. Maybe it was necessary, but I did not appreciate it. It felt emotionally manipulative. I won't give it away, but know that it is a piece of art I cannot hang on my wall. But that's just me. Maybe you would hang it in your living room, right over your couch.

Next post: Movie night with the kids, featuring Frankenweenie, and then finding the most fun, energizing movie that remains on my list. Maybe Moonrise Kingdom, or The Hobbit? Maybe both!

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