My world came crashing down in a heap when I realized today that Room would most likely be a persistent contender throughout Oscar season. I don’t merely think this is a strained, stifling, suffocating thing to sit through — I know that by any seasoned, fair-minded, been-around-the-rodeo standard it’s at least that if not worse. I know what I damn well felt and thought when I watched Room a few days ago in Toronto, and I don’t want to go through that experience ever again. It’s like sitting in a holding tank. And yet so many Toronto viewers (primarily women as the film preys upon maternal feelings) were taken with it. It feels bad to be alone, to stand against a mob that not only thinks but insists otherwise. It hurts. On top of which I’ve probably lost any shot I had at landing a Phase One Room campaign from A24. This is what integrity amounts to every so often. You write a few words that you feel are necessary and true, and the next day five or ten grand flies out of your pocket.
I posted a rave of Baltasar Kormakur‘s Everest two and a half weeks ago, and then did Telluride-Toronto for two weeks. Everest opened two days ago. It does a lot right and almost nothing wrong, and yet it wound up with a mystifying 73% Rotten Tomatoes rating and an even stranger 64% on Metacritic. All interested parties (i.e., those who saw it) are asked to respond to the following statements in my 9.2 review:
(1) “Everest is realism at its most immersive and forbidding, and a very strong docudrama with several actor-characters you get to know and like and care about, and edited with exactly the right amount of discipline (there’s no padding or deadweight) and clarity and feeling. It delivers real sadness but it doesn’t squeeze it out because it doesn’t need to. It doesn’t cheat or exaggerate or use CG that you can spot very easily, and because it puts you right into the grim horror of what happened to eight climbers trying to ascend Everest on May 10th and 11th of 1996.”
(2) “This is easily the most assaultive and intimidating (and yet oddly thrilling) recreation of the Everest environment I’ve ever seen or felt, and a riveting drama about guys who didn’t have to die but did, mainly because the commercial expedition leaders wanted their client’s money (each climber paid about $65K) and because they wanted their clients to feel satisfied, and because they chose to ignore warnings about developing bad weather.
I know what brilliant, gripping, well-crafted cinema feels like, and I’ve come to recognize the strategy of selling a bag of emotional goods to a particular audience, and I’m telling you like I’ve never told anyone in my life that Lenny Abrahamson and Emma Donoghue‘s Room (A24, 10.16) has been way over-praised by invested women and feminized critics, mainly because it pushes certain maternal buttons.
That’s the only reason it has won the Grolsch People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival — the women’s vote pushed it through.
Key passage from my TIFF review: “Room is agony. The story sucks and the emotional currents, while strong, just fret and shudder and play out in a vacuum. It’s a film about confinement, confinement and more confinement. Okay, with a nicely delivered spiritual uplift moment at the very end. But the feeling of physical and psychological entrapment is nothing short of lethal. I for one felt like a dog in an airless box.”
Brie Larson might land a Best Actress nomination, okay, but I will take $100 bets right now against anyone who says it’ll be Best Picture-nominated. Update: I’ve thought about this a bit more and have decided against taking bets. Bizarre as this seems, it’ll probably be nominated — a notion I find extremely depressing. I feel awful about this. A movie I know is very unpleasant to sit through is being embraced big-time.
Last night I shuffled over to the Grove to see how Black Mass would play a second time. The first reaction is always the truest, but sometimes a film will improve its game upon a second or third viewing. Spotlight, I can tell you, was a little bit grabbier the second time and that was after falling in love with it initially. Michael Clayton gained slightly the second time and even more so the third time. But Black Mass went down a bit. Because it’s basically just another violent, decently-shaped but unexceptional Boston crime saga (this happens, that happens, this happens, that happens) with an ice-cold, husky-eyed mofo at the center of it and a profoundly irritating second lead — Joel Edgerton‘s John Connolly, a cloying low-life with a Bahstun accent and a closet full of blue suits and a tendency to over-sell almost every line and scene. Edgerton drove me crazier and crazier. I finally had to get out of there. I bailed at the 85-minute mark.
Two days ago MCN’s David Poland suggested that Spotlight might be this year’s Argo, only better. What is an Argo/Spotlight flick? A team of earnest professionals — The Avengers in a real-life, human-scale mode — pool their resources to solve or significantly impact a real-life problem. But that’s where the similarity ends. Argo bent or fabricated facts and threw in a little Hollywood bullshit (emotional caressings, smart-assy dialogue, fake-suspense endings) to sweeten the package. Spotlight is a lean, strictly-business, bullshit-free dramatization of a landmark investigative report by the Boston Globe about widespread perversion and corruption in the Catholic church. It operates on a plane way, way above Argo.
Let’s clear the air. Those who called Argo a Best Picture humdinger when it first screened during the 2012 fall festivals have since felt twinges of regret. It won the Best Picture Oscar only because there was nowhere else to go after the stinking Stalinist takedown of Zero Dark Thirty — easily the finest Best Picture nominee of 2012 — and because not enough voters were able to realize what an inspired, once-in-a-blue-moon, 21st Century anxiety romcom Silver Linings Playbook was (partly due to HE commentariat pissheads who wouldn’t stop slagging it).
Argo was the last Best Picture contender standing. It won by a default fallback situation. It won by way of a huge collective “why not?” — basically a shrugging of shoulders.
I always enjoyed and admired Argo as far as it went, but when the “oh, my God!” reactions started pouring in I stepped back and said, “Wait, wait, wait…hold on.” Just to refresh everyone’s memory, here’s what I wrote on 9.14.12, or only a few days after Argo‘s first Telluride screening:
Excerpt #1: “What’s this Argo obsession that Sasha Stone, Kris Tapley and Roger Ebert are putting out? Drop to their knees in worship? What film can steal its Best Picture thunder? Will you guys please take it easy? Argo is a very fine thing — a well-crafted, highly satisfying caper film with a certain patriotic resonance that basically says ‘job well done, guys…you should be proud.’ But the hosannahs are a bit much.