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After Midnight

A few weeks ago, I wrote about Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris as one of my “Most Disappointing Movies of 2011.” Then, as the year came to an end, I kept seeing it pop up on best-of-the-year lists, always praised as “witty” and “magical.” And now it’s right on course to Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Director, and Original Screenplay, with good odds of winning the latter. So, from the depths of my confusion and curiosity, I have to ask again: what is so great (or even good) about this movie?

Hell, I’ve been so earnestly curious that I rewatched it. Maybe I’d somehow missed the magic that first time around! But no, it actually got worse. I still love the wall-to-wall jazz soundtrack and the amber-tinted Parisian scenery; it’s certainly a pleasant movie to look at. (Although a tourist brochure does not a great movie make.) And it has a handful of supporting performances that make me smile: Marion Cotillard as “art groupie” Adriana, Adrien Brody’s rhinoceros-obsessed Dalí, and Corey Stoll as a hilarious, swaggering Hemingway.

But the whole movie’s premised on one long joke. It’s just Owen Wilson’s Gil being introduced to one Lost Generation luminary after another, then stammering in disbelief, “Hemingway? The Ernest Hemingway? Tom Eliot? You mean T.S. Eliot? Picasso? As in Pablo Picasso?” At first, it’s endearing; an hour later, it’s tiresome. The 1920s scenes are affable and sometimes funny, but they never go beyond facile wish fulfillment. They lie somewhere between a costume party and a wax museum, depicting their era as a time when everyone was a genius, went to parties, and fell in love with strangers from the future.

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Most Disappointing Movies of 2011

2011 was an incredible year for movies. I’ll be delving into its bounty next week with a year-end round-up. But as always, some movies just didn’t deliver. Saddled with impressive pedigrees or reputations, these three left me frustrated and disappointed…

Midnight in Paris

Woody Allen is back, I was told. It’s a return to form! His highest-grossing movie ever! Brimming with magic and wit! So I watched it, and saw… well, a series of Lost Generation caricatures more befitting a New Yorker article than a feature film. It’s pleasant enough, representing 1920s Paris as a haze of champagne and Cole Porter music, but also terminally self-satisfied. Its iconic writers and artists aren’t meant as real people, but automatons: they come onscreen, stroke the ego of Owen Wilson’s Allen surrogate, spout some stereotypical dialogue, then disappear. Corey Stoll has fun with Hemingway, and Adrien Brody makes a hilarious Dalí, but they’re still just idealized sketches. The film ends by disavowing nostalgia, yeah, but in a really facile and half-assed way. It’s a cute, fuzzy lark of a movie, a mildly cultured wish fulfillment fantasy, but that’s about it. (Extra points off for totally wasting Rachel McAdams as a one-note shrew.)

The Ides of March

I’m always game for a good political thriller. And a cast including George Clooney, Ryan Gosling, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Paul Giamatti? I couldn’t be gamer. But The Ides of March squanders them all on a silly, self-important story whose twists and turns are more funny than thrilling. Gosling plays a doe-eyed campaign strategist who worships at the feet of Clooney’s Obama-esque candidate. But the second he discovers that Clooney gasp spoiler once had sex with a cute intern, he pulls a 180 and becomes hell-bent on clumsy, nonsensical revenge. The movie’s political landscape is a total fantasy; its women are dispensable plot devices; and its dialogue is inert and overwritten, punctuated by random fucks like a bad Mamet imitation. Hell, the film’s most enjoyable moment is when Hoffman growls the words “tits and all.” I love movies about tense political chess matches. The Ides of March is a drunken game of political foosball.

The Future

In theory, I love a lot about Miranda July’s sophomore feature. I love the idea of filtering midlife ennui through oddball metaphors with all the clarity of a children’s book. I love loose, unconventional approaches to storytelling and I love kitties. But wow, I hated watching The Future. July and co-star Hamish Linklater play a thirtysomething couple who, dominated by entropy, move incrementally toward pet adoption. When they speak, it’s in a halting deadpan; when they make choices, they bow to the gods of whimsy. Eventually they break up—and this would be poignant, but all emotion has been smothered out of The Future by a pillow of affectations. The film’s occasionally inspired, as when July chats with a pair of friends who age, give birth, and die over the course of a few shots. But it’s all so solipsistic, so barren, and so grating, with two protagonists who only vaguely resemble real people. A hellish Future indeed.

Did you enjoy these, or were you similarly underwhelmed? What were your great disappointments of 2011?

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Link Dump: #54

Ah, Tigger: top made out of rubber, bottom made out of string, the hyperactive bane to parents everywhere. Did you see the new Winnie the Pooh movie? It was a really cute, modest effort that got financially crushed under HP7.2‘s enormous heel. But it’s still very funny, well-cast, and worth watching. (Hell, “Everything Is Honey” and the not/knot routine are both solid gold, and it’s only an hour long.) Now that I’ve plugged one of 2011’s sweetest animated treats, here are some links…

We had a few odd, off-putting search terms this week. First, as usual, are the vaginal ones: “truly the best pussy movie show” and “funny thinkings that women put in cunts.” Then “dark blood satanic pentagram,” which sounds like an excerpt from My Immortal. And speaking of bad Harry Potter fanfiction, “albus and rose incest.” Yep. All right.

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You Cannes Always Get What You Want

By Andreas

Now that Cannes 2011 has wrapped, here’s a short list of my most-anticipated films from the festival. With any luck, most or all of them will be headed to an arthouse theater near me soon!

  • Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris. The lackluster trailer and Woody’s recent track record weren’t exactly getting my hopes up, but once I learned that Kathy Bates and Scott Pilgrim‘s Alison Pill play Gertrude Stein and Zelda Fitzgerald respectively, I knew I’d have to see it. Will Owen Wilson make a suitable Woody surrogate? Will it be so cutely erudite that I’ll throw up? I can’t wait to find out!
  • Lynne Ramsay’s We Need to Talk About Kevin. I already wrote about how intensely I want to see this, and that intensity continues to grow. An Oscar-caliber Tilda Swinton performance! John C. Reilly! Stream-of-consciousness narrative! YEAH.
  • Michel Hazanavicius’s The Artist. I’m excited by both The Artist‘s plot—it’s a silent comedy/melodrama about Hollywood’s transition to sound—and its loose resemblance to Guy Maddin’s movies. It sounds like the best kind of cinephile junk food.
  • Sean Durkin’s Martha Marcy May Marlene. I can’t wait to see Durkin’s debut feature, a harrowing cult-themed drama (which, like Midnight in Paris, played out of the main competition). The fact that it co-stars John Hawkes from Winter’s Bone is icing on the cake.
  • Terence Malick’s The Tree of Life. Although sometimes put off by his ponderousness, I adore Malick’s childlike wonderment at the world. (And just try not to be blown away by the house-burning sequence in Badlands.) I’m a sucker for cosmic spectacle, so Malick’s long-awaited Palme d’Or-winner might just do the trick for me.
  • Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia. Speaking of cosmic spectacle, the trailer for Melancholia really impressed me, and the casting of John Hurt and Charlotte Rampling as an old married couple would get my ass in the theater to see Transformers 3. When mixed with Von Trier and the end of the world? Ohhh yes.
  • Pedro Almodóvar’s The Skin I Live In. I’m just crazy about face transplant movies like Face Behind the Mask, Eyes Without a Face, and The Face of Another. If I can get that with Almodóvar’s uniquely dark, sensual sensibility, I will be a happy moviegoer.
  • Nicholas Winding Refn’s Drive. This is tied with Kevin, Melancholia, and MMMM for “most most-anticipated.” Ryan Gosling in an existential action movie? Yes please, and thank you.

What Cannes-tastic new movies are you excited to see?

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