I'm as young as I'll ever be.
Oin ‘Captain America’ and the state of Marvel movies
You’ve probably heard, if you’re at all interested, that Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a good movie. I can do little else than assure you that it is. It’s an exciting action flick that builds on Captain America as the character has been established and does some interesting ways. There is some bad dialogue and some shaky-cam annoyance but it’s damn fun. Also, it’s not really much like any other Marvel movie. It has a similar sense of humor and the cast is all intact but the tone of the movie is different, owing more to a spy thriller than what we’re come to expect from a comic book movie. And that’s great.
The story floating around the internet is that president of Marvel Studios, Kevin Feige, is allowing filmmakers to work with a lot of freedom. That needs to be said with a caveat because it’s also been written that he has a big board in his office with plans for Marvel movie plots that runs to 2028.
But the thing that made Jon Favreau’s Iron Man so good was that he and Robert Downey Jr. were allowed to make the movie they wanted. The Avengers was great because Joss Whedon was allowed to work. This most recent Captain America movie feels the same. It feels like outside of the broad-strokes Marvel Universe plot points that needed to be addressed, the story and direction of the film was truly in the hands of the filmmakers and less the studio bosses. It’s been a series of fine tuning, of course. Iron Man 2 strained under the weight of Marvel Studio interference and Favreau eventually quit directing the movies because of it. But Marvel is learning. Favreau was replaced by Shane Black and Iron Man 3 bore his unmistakable imprint. And it was better than the previous sequel.
It’s not fool proof. You can’t always make good movies. But Marvel seems like they’re cultivating a system where filmmakers are going to be allowed to use the infrastructure of this universe as it’s already been built to tell very different stories that are connected by a shared reality and a few shared characters but not necessarily anything else. If Marvel can continue to hire good people (picking up James Gunn to direct Guardians of the Galaxy may have been genius) and tell them “You need to work in this broad stroke, but otherwise it’s all yours,” then I’m very excited. It’s what made reading comics exciting. The character you knew and loved being taken in different directions by new writers and artists with fresh takes is good and it’s good for business.
At some point, it’s not going to work. One of these Marvel movies is going to lose some money because they’re all so expensive and it’s a streak that can’t last. Making a good movie is too hard. The question, then, is what will the studio do when something fails? Hopefully they have the guts to get back on the horse and put their trust in someone else again. It’s not going to work 100% of the time but it’s the only way to make good movies.
The Ten Year Oscars: 2004
Welcome to the 2nd Annual Ten Year Oscars, wherein the esteemed Academy of One (me) corrects the mistakes of Oscars past with the benefit of hindsight and my own inflated sense of my own opinion.
Check out the 2003 awards (given in 2013) here: http://joeybear.tumblr.com/post/45670583016/the-ten-year-oscars-2003 (apologies, I can’t embed links right now)
And the 2004 Oscars go to…
Who won? Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. Who should’ve won? City of God.
I get it. LotR:RotK was a huge accomplishment and the culminating film of one of the most successful franchises ever but Peter Jackson doesn’t get to break the rules. The actual Academy was willing to give out its best picture to this film as recognition for the other two films but I say that’s not OK. Meanwhile, re-watching all of these movies with the ten year distance, the over-indulgence is worse than ever and RotK had a handful of bad CGI moments that the first two films didn’t suffer from. On top of that, there are no great performances in this movie. The only great performance in any of them is Ian McKellen in the first film. This was the weakest of the three movies, anyway.
I wanted to give this to Finding Nemo, a lot but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. City of God was an incredible, stylish gangster picture disguised as coming of age dramedy. It was foreign so it was never going to get its due in America but everything that Slumdog Millionaire will do, stylistically, 5 years from now will have already been done by Fernando Meirelles in this movie. I’m just sorry it took me ten years to see it.
Movies that have benefited most from the decade?
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pear, debatably, because 3 sequels later people might be sick of the movie but now we know that the original was good enough to spawn this big of a franchise and that speaks to . Also, Lost In Translation, now that Scarlett Johansson is a movie star and Bill Murray is a folk hero. This is a remarkably quiet and small movie to still be so recognizable in popular culture. A contender for the 10-year BP, for sure. Also, Goodbye Lenin has found an audience it didn’t have a chance to reach ten years ago.
Movies that benefited the least?
Well, Seabiscuit got itself 7 nominations that year and won nothing and was then quickly forgotten by everyone. Also, Master and Commander came out that year. Remember that? Oh, and as usual, any movie built around its incredible CGI suffers so LotR:RotK lands here and, oddly enough, so does PotC:CotBP, which means I should’ve split the difference and kept it out of both categories but I didn’t so here we are.
Who won? Sean Penn for Mystic River. Who should’ve won? Johnny Depp for PotC:TCotBP.
First of all, movie titles were so too fucking long in 2004. Second, Bill Murray has a legitimate gripe here but think about Pirates and all of its sequels and about how good that movie is and think about what it would’ve been like with literally anyone else in the lead. As good of a movie as it was, Depp holds it together with his wacky creation that pulls this magic trick of being the most fun part of the movie but also grounding it. Plus he draws your attention away from just how bad of an actor Orlando Bloom is. It’s a mircaulous performance. That fact that he doesn’t break down and cry at any point for his “Oscar clip” shouldn’t disqualify him.
(sidenote: has such a bad actor ever had a better year than Bloom had with the final chapter in LotR coming out the same year as the first chapter of PotC? Fuck that guy.)
Who won? Chalize Teron for Monster. Who should’ve won? Chalize Theron for Monster.
If there was another contender, it was Naomi Watts in 21 Grams, which was a staggering performance that might have road a wave to Oscar glory in a lot of other years but Theron gave one of the best performances ever captured on screen here. I went into that movie thinking the makeup was going to be doing a lot of the work but its Theron’s weirdo charm that she lends to the disturbed character that really makes it compelling and scary. It’s a juggernaut performance. Can’t be denied.
Who won? Peter Jackson for LotR:RotK. Who should’ve won? Clint Eastwood for Mystic River.
Eastwood’s control in Mystic River is absolute. Everything. And I refuse to reward Peter Jackson for the weakest of 3 movies that I can’t ignore are, indeed, 3 separate movies. If he wanted to make an 11 hour movie then he should’ve made a min-series. Fernando Meirelles deserves more consideration here and I have him over Jackson, too, but Eastwood’s hand is what makes Mystic River so good and if you haven’t had a chance to revisit that film, go do it. It’s still terrific.
Oh, and it needs to be said: Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini really deserve some love for the reality-bending American Splendor. They can’t win it but they had more balls than anyone this year.
Who won? Sofia Coppola for Lost In Translation and Fran Walsh, Phillippa Boyens, and Peter Jackson for LotR:RotK.
Coppola wrote a great script that probably deserved to win even though Steven Knight’s Dirty Pretty Things script was incredible and needs mentioning. The travesty of the year was LotR:RotK beating Braulio Mantovani’s City of God adaptation. I honestly don’t like shitting on LotR so much but it won 11 awards so I can’t escape it. Peter Jackson’s movies were incredible and the ambition of them does need to be rewarded in some way but guess what? They were all poorly written. A good adaptation knows what to use and what to lose from the source material and these movies just took everything they could cram into the film. Meanwhile, Mantovani’s tonal juggling act is hugely impressive and worth the win, easily.
This wasn’t a great year for big prestige movies. Along with Seabiscuit, we got Cold Mountain, Big Fish, and The Last Samurai. All good movies that have been mostly lost in the shuffle. In 2004, if it looked like an Oscar movie and it walked like an Oscar movie, it really wasn’t. 2004 was a much better year for genre movies. Kill Bill Vol. I, 28 Days Later, X2: X-Men United, and Elf, the only modern Christmas classic. Also notable releases: Old School, A Mighty Wind, Love Actually, and The Cooler (which I love but couldn’t shoehorn into any categories as a winner).
Finally, in researching this, I learned that the Lindsay Lohan/Jamie Lee Curtis Freaky Friday remake has an 88% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. That’s remarkable. Not that I’m going to see it.