Movies - The Oscars postsSaturday January 05, 2013
The 2011 Best Picture Nominees by IMDb Ranking: Revisited
Last February I posted the IMDb ratings for the nine best-picture nominees from the 2011 movie season, professed perplexity at “The Help”'s relatively high rating (8.0, or third-best among nominees), as well as “The Tree of Life”'s relatively low one (7.1, or second-to-last among nominees), and promised to revisit in a year or so to see how IMDb's raters, whoever they were, had sorted it out.
Longtime reader, and inveterate IMDb watcher, Reed, warned me, in the comments field, that “Tree of Life” would plummet. “It is not a movie that will be appreciated outside of a theater setting,” he wrote, adding parenthetically, “Yes, I know almost all movies' IMDb ratings decline over time because the demographics shift, but I imagine that casual viewers will be particularly unkind to 'Tree of Life'...”
He was right. But they were even more unkind to another of the best picture nominees:
|2011 Best Picture Nominee||2012 IMDb||2013 IMDb||Difference|
|Midnight in Paris||7.8||7.7||-1|
|The Tree of Life||7.1||6.8||-3|
|Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close||6.4||6.8||4|
2012 ratings taken during February 2012; 2013 ratings taken the morning of January 5, 2013
“Hugo”? Really, people?
Scorsese's kid drops 5, “The Artist,” “The Descendants,” and “The Tree of Life” all drop 3, “Midnight in Paris,” “Moneyball” and “War Horse” all drop 1, “The Help” stays the course, while “Extremely Loud,” lambasted by the critics a year ago, rises an astonishing 4 points.
The best movie of the bunch is now tied for last; one of the worst is now second and holding.
The way of the world. It's not cream that rises. Help.
“The Help” doesn't change; “Extremely Loud” gets closer; “Hugo” barely hangs on.
Wait, What Exactly is Acting CIA Director MIchael Morell Saying About 'Zero Dark Thirty'?
Michael Morell, the acting director of the CIA, took the odd step of sending an internal memo to his agents externally, via the CIA's website, to talk about the inaccuracies in Kathryn Bigelow's film “Zero Dark Thirty.”
Some of the stuff he talks about is of the “Who gives a shit?” variety. Hundreds of agents are reduced to a dozen? That's always done. That's dramatic license. Because hundreds aren't a story; one is.
But Morell's key point is his second point:
Second, the film creates the strong impression that the enhanced interrogation techniques that were part of our former detention and interrogation program were the key to finding Bin Ladin. That impression is false. As we have said before, the truth is that multiple streams of intelligence led CIA analysts to conclude that Bin Ladin was hiding in Abbottabad. Some came from detainees subjected to enhanced techniques, but there were many other sources as well. And, importantly, whether enhanced interrogation techniques were the only timely and effective way to obtain information from those detainees, as the film suggests, is a matter of debate that cannot and never will be definitively resolved.
Except he's not making much of a point, is he? He says it's false that enhanced interrogation techniques were part of the program that led to Bin Ladin. Then he says, “Some [of that intelligence] came from detainees subjected to enhanced techniques, but there were many other sources as well.”
Wait, what? I'd heard no info that led to OBL came from tortured detainees.
I mean, how is Morell not contradicting himself in this graf? Is he saying that the intel gathered through enhanced interrogation came from a source other than the CIA? Because if that's the case, that, for me, falls within the realm of dramatic license, and “Zero Dark Thirty” is off the hook.
Again, the issue for me with this film is the misrepresentation of the efficacy of torture. Period. But if that efficacy is not misrepresented, if in fact some of our OBL intelligence came from detainees subjected to enhanced techniques, and if ZDT doesn't overplay its hand in this regard, then I'm interested again.
Morell, in attempting to edify, actually muddies the waters. Makes me think of a fictional CIA director from a 1970s movie: “You miss that kind of action, sir?” “I miss that kind of clarity.”
The Two Controversies of 'Zero Dark Thirty'
There are two controversies about “Zero Dark Thirty” but only one gets written about. That's the “does it or doesn't it?” controversy: Does the film suggest that the “enhanced interrogation methods” of the Bush administration, i.e., torture, led to the intel that led to Osama bin Laden? Many critics have said yes. Owen Gleiberman said yes, almost enthusiastically, on December 5:
Part of the power of Zero Dark Thirty is that it looks with disturbing clarity at the ''enhanced interrogation techniques'' that were used after 9/11, and it says, in no uncertain terms: They worked. This is a bin Laden thriller that Dick Cheney and Barack Obama could love. At the same time, the film spins its fearless — and potentially controversial — stance toward the issue of how the U.S. treats its prisoners into a heady international detective thriller.
It also borders on the politically and morally reprehensible. By showing these excellent results—and by silencing the cries of the innocents held at Abu Ghraib, Bagram, and other 'black sites'—it makes a case for the efficacy of torture.
Glenn Greenwald, safely on the other side of the Atlantic, compiles a list.
I first became aware of the controversy last week via Dexter Filkins in The New Yorker and was astounded.... by how long it took the controversy to come to light. That's the second controversy. By this point, “Zero Dark Thirty” had already won how many year-end awards? From how many organizations and critics groups? New York Film Critics Circle, Boston critics, D.C. critics, National Board of Review. And it took Dexter Filkins and Frank Bruni in The New York Times to bring the controversy to light?
What the fuck were the critics thinking?
Maybe they were thinking what I was thinking when I saw the trailer last month. It begins with hints of the torture to come, and some part of me thought, “Wait. The movie isn't suggesting we got good intel from this torture, is it?” But that thought, that blip, was ignored because the rest of the movie looked fucking good. It looked serious and important, and—I'll say it—2012 has been a lousy year for movies. We needed something good to come along, something serious and important to make us excited about the movies again and wash away the bad taste left by the dreck of summer: all those big and bombastic and flailing and flopping pictures. “Zero Dark Thirty” looked IT. It looked like THE ONE.
Now even Washington, D.C. is getting involved. Senators Diane Feinstein, John McCain and Carl Levin, after a screening of ZDT, sent a letter to Sony Pictures chairman Michael Lynton condemning the film:
We believe the film is grossly inaccurate and misleading in its suggestion that torture resulted in information that led to the location of Usama bin Laden...
The use of torture in the fight against terrorism did severe damage to America’s values and standing that cannot be justified or expunged. It remains a stain on our national conscience. We cannot afford to go back to these dark times, and with the release of “Zero Dark Thirty,” the filmmakers and your production studio are perpetuating the myth that torture is effective. You have a social and moral obligation to get the facts right.
The response from Bigelow and Boal thus far? Flailing and flopping. They talk about how the movie is not a documentary. They bring up the irrelevant fact that the U.S. government did torture people—as if that were the controversy. Here's Bigelow a few days ago:
The point was to immerse the audience in this landscape, not to pretend to debate policy. Was it difficult to shoot? Yes. Do I wish [torture] was not part of that history? Yes, but it was.
The movie has been, and probably will continue to be, put in political boxes. Before we even wrote it, it was (branded) an Obama campaign commercial, which was preposterous. And now it's pro-torture, which is preposterous... Everything we did has been misinterpreted, and continues to be...
I'm not saying the film is a documentary of everything that happened, but it's being misread... Look at it as a movie and not a potential launching pad for a political statement.
That's some weak tea.
How could they not know? That they were stepping into one of the most heated debates of our time? And how could Bigelow, who wishes that torture had not been part of our history, misrepresent the efficacy of that very torture?
Now the critics are splashing us with their own weak tea. Jeff Wells, over at Hollywood Elsewhere, who is insanely anti-“Lincoln” in the best-picture Oscar race, and thus insanely pro-“Zero Dark Thirty,” makes the following argument in the wake of the Senators' letter:
Obviously Al Qaeda allies were tortured during the Bush admistration so what's the problem? How do Diane Feinstein, Carl Levin and John McCain know for a fact that no good information resulted from torture? They believe this because they've been told this, but how do they really know?
His first sentence is again not the issue. The rest of his argument confuses things even more. His goal is obfuscation here. The tactic of lawyers and pundits when the facts aren't on their side. Because it really comes down to this:
- Does “Zero Dark Thirty” show that intel gathered via torture led us to Osama bin Laden?
If the answer to that is “Yes,” they've misrepresented the facts as we know them. Their only possible saving grace is that they know other facts, more so than Senators McCain, Feinstein and Levin of the U.S. Armed Services Committee. If so, then they should own up. They should let us drink that strong tea. But if they drew the line themselves between torture and the intel that led to Osama bin Laden, a mea culpa of the most massive kind is in order.
Does she or doesn't she? Some say she still does.
Oscar Predictions ... for 2014?
Most of us are busy enough trying to keep track of (and see) this year's Oscar contenders (only 23 days, 11 hours, 58 minutes as of this writing, according to the clock on the Film Experience site), but Jeff Wells over at Hollywood Elsewhere is all “Been there, done that” with 2012 movies. He's moved onto 2013 movies and the 2014 Oscars, listing the top 16 likeliest picks: from John Wells' “August: Osage County” (No. 1) to Baz Luhrman's delayed “The Great Gatsby” (No. 16).
Based upon storyline and past performance, I'd put “12 Years a Slave” (“A man living in New York during the mid-1800s is kidnapped and sold into slavery in the deep south”) by Steve McQueen (“Shame,” “Hunger”) higher than #15. Ditto “Foxcatcher” by Bennett Miller (“Moneyball,” “Capote,” “The Cruise”) at #9.
BTW: The cast in these two movies alone? Benedict Cumberbatch, Brad Pitt, Michael Fassbender, Paul Dano, Paul Giamatti, Michael Kenneth Williams, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Alfre Woodard. Sorry. That's just the cast for “12 Years a Slave.”
The past is always bleak. The future is always bright.
Chiwetel Ejiofor in “12 Years a Slave.” The past is bleak, the future is bright.
Quote of the Day
“When I arrived in L.A. [in 1974, to receive an honorary Academy Award for his lifelong contribution to film and film preservation], I thought that the Oscar was like our Legion of Honor. But it's much more important than that because everyone and his brother gets one of those eventually. An Oscar is truly a serious matter. I didn't realize how much it meant. It's comparable to being chosen as a master craftsman by one's fellows in the time of the guilds.”
--Henri Langlois, in the documentary "Henri Langlois: The Phantom of the Cinémathèque” (2004). Langlois, who is considered the father of film preservation, the auteur theory, and the Nouvelle Vague, took film more seriously than the Academy. He took the Academy more seriously than the Academy.
Twitter: @ErikLundegaardTweets by @ErikLundegaard