erik lundegaard

Comfort vs. Questions: Taking the Kubrick Test with This Year's Best Picture Nominees

My friend Vinny alerted me to this short clip of Terry Gilliam talking about Steven Spielberg and Stanley Kubrick, and why the latter is superior to the former:

The dynamic Gilliam is talking about, the massive success of Spielberg versus the “what the hell?” response to Kubrick, is our fault, of course. We want what we don't have: comfort and answers. We don't even want clever answers. We don't want to work. That's the point of the movies for most of us. We go to the movies after work so we don't have to work. Critics, for the most part, are at work. Watching and writing about movies is their job, and everyone wants their job to have a little meaning. So that's what they search for.

Spielberg's “Lincoln,” as good as it is, gives us comfort and answers. The dilemma the president goes through is a tough one—freedom or peace?—but it's really not presented as much of a dilemma. We sense the right path, and we follow the film's protagonists onto that path, which is a path to victory. If you're in the mood, questions can be raised—chiefly: should Lincoln have just let the South go?—but you have to do the heavy lifting yourself. The movie doesn't help you in this regard.

The rest of the best picture nominees? Should we see how they do with the Kubrick test?

  • AMOUR: Opens in Seattle today. I assume it provides little comfort. It's Michael Haneke, for fuck's sake.
  • ARGO: Initially raises questions about U.S. and CIA involvement in Iran, but quickly becomes a thriller. The point is for the hero to get the scared people away from the scary people.
  • BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD: Questions are raised, chiefly “Is this post-Katrina? Global warming? What the hell is going on? And who would want to live here anyway?” But the ending is an answer: “Ah, that's what Wink was up to.” Preparing Hushpuppy for that. It's a great final image--Hushpuppy not being meat--but it's NPR wish-fulfillment fantasy. 
  • DJANGO UNCHAINED: No questions raised. QT is here to entertain us motherfuckers with guns guns guns.
  • LES MISERABLES: How hard do you have to work to make a movie about poverty and fomenting revolution and still provide comfort? You work this hard. Look down, look down.
  • LIFE OF PI: This is a movie that leaves us with a kind of O Henry question: Gérard Depardieu or the tiger? Which story do you prefer? Do you want the one where human beings are horrible, cannibalistic and isolated? Or do you want the story with the tiger? We want the story with the tiger, of course, which is the one we get. But even as it gives us this answer, this comfort, it reminds us that the whole of human history, certainly the entirety of religious history, is receiving just this comfort. We're part of the problem.
  • LINCOLN: Slavery is ended. Lincoln is martyred. His words ring on and on and on.
  • SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK: Smothered in comfort. As comfortable as watching a Sunday afternoon football game in sweats.
  • ZERO DARK THIRTY: It ends with a kind of question: What price, victory? Or: Who are we now, now that we've done this? But it could've raised the most important question of all and didn't. It suggests no one within the CIA questioned our enhanced interrogation program when many did. It dramatized the efficacy of that program when that's completely in dispute. It drank some bitter CIA Kool-Aid and spun it as heroics. This movie will never be nothing but a vast shame to me. Obviously it's a shameful period in our history, but it's also shameful for what this movie, created by very talented people, could have been. But it's not that. It's merely a murky Hollywood genre picture with a somber end.

So none of these movies (“Amour” pending) really pass the Kubrick test. You know a 2012 movie that does? “End of Watch.” But few bothered with it. Maybe for that reason.

Thanks for the clip, Vinny.

2012 best picture nominees: Academy Awards

Do any of these movies pass the Kubrick test?


Posted at 08:19 AM on Fri. Jan 25, 2013 in category Movies - 2012 Oscars  
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

COMMENTS

One Hundred and Thirty Five Penny Opera wrote:

Lola did a year-end-review on her blog, and found two movies that sound like they'd score pretty well on the Kubrick meter: http://chawedrosin.wordpress.com/2013/01/25/our-year-at-the-movies-2012/

You've reviewed “A Separation” here, but I don't know if I've heard you mention “Margaret”. Both are from 2011, though.

Comment posted on Fri. Jan 25, 2013 at 08:40 AM

Erik wrote:

Haven't seen “Margaret.” Heard good things. Both are moot for 2012, though. “A Separation” didn't get here until 2012 but it's considered a 2011 release since it got SOMEWHERE in the U.S. (NY, LA) before the end of 2011.

Most foreign films that get here would be big on the Kubrick meter. FOOTNOTE, for example.

Comment posted on Fri. Jan 25, 2013 at 10:21 AM

Jordan Muschler wrote:

May the Kubrick be with you.

Comment posted on Fri. Jan 25, 2013 at 07:15 PM

Reed wrote:

I still remember finishing There Will Be Blood, letting the credits roll to completion, and sitting there for another five minutes or so while I tried to wrap my head and my heart around everything I'd just witnessed. The only other films I've seen in the last five years that even came close to that level were Tree of Life and Biutiful. These are my kind of movies, but they're so rarely produced. I know they don't make movies for people like me, but I wish they could at least try every so often.

Comment posted on Sun. Jan 27, 2013 at 07:56 PM

Erik wrote:

Reed: I recommend Jacques Audiard's RUST AND BONE.

Comment posted on Sun. Jan 27, 2013 at 08:00 PM

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