Last year, I got an enormous break during Oscars season. A preponderance of the most highly regarded movies were neither violent nor overly intense, meaning that I was comfortably able to sample the best that filmmakers of that particular season had to offer.
This in contrast to Oscars-worthy movies of other seasons which drove me away, sometimes simply with their titles. For which I, in fact, am grateful, since they gave me unequivocal signals to stay away. A movie such as There Will Be Blood promises, uh, well…blood. I mean, you don’t call a movie There Will Be Blood and then not deliver any. People would clamor for their money back.
“What happened to the blood!”
For me, it was a blessing. There Will Be Blood. “Thank you.” And I stay away.
There Might Be Blood?
Still too risky. I’d give it a pass.
If you recall, however, last year offered a rewarding selection of plasma-free offerings such as American Hustle, Nebraska, Her, Blue Jasmine, Philomena and The Wolf of Wall Street. (I characteristically passed on Captain Phillips, Twelve Years A Slave (the message of which I would have easily absorbed had the man been a slave for only a weekend; and I wouldn’t have gone to that movie either) and Dallas Buyers Club (which I subsequently caught on cable and really enjoyed, demonstrating that I can occasionally be overzealous in my movie skipping.)
So now it’s this year, and the new crop of Oscar-worthies are arriving. And I’m hoping I am as lucky as last year, because I usually watch the Oscars, and I find the show more interesting when I have actually seen some of the movies.
Recently, I broke the ice with Birdman.
It was not an auspicious beginning.
Michael Keaton (who played Batman in the movies) plays an actor (who played Birdman in the movies) attempts to revive his career and his reputation by mounting a serious play on Broadway.
Okay. A believable concept, but hardly original. In real life, Tabloid Trainwreck Lindsay Lohan is currently trying to re-launch her acting career in London, appearing in David Mamet’s Speed-The-Plow. So it happens. But in this movie, I felt like a mainstream idea had been injected with heroin.
Billed as a “black comedy” – which, to me generally means (DELIVERED WITH CONDESCENDING SNOOTINESS): “We think it’s funny, even if you and your ridiculous bourgeois sensibilities do not” – and co-written, produced and directed by Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu, Birdman made me feel out of sync with the movie from its earliest moments, my discomfort escalating to the point where – well, we came late to a theater with assigned seating so Dr. M and I were unable to sit together – I asked the stranger sitting beside me “Can I go home now?” The woman did not bother to respond.
I don’t know. I have complained in the past that American-style movies are too predicable, virtually all of them having the same underlying premise: “Somebody wants something, and they get it.” But this movie with its decidedly non-American ambiance annoyed me in its own way.
The characters in Birdman are all tightly wound, and dangerously unpredictable, although one thing you can predict is that they will not behave acceptably.
In bed with a female character is the play, Ed Norton, portraying an actor who only “comes alive” on stage, suddenly suggests that, rather than going through the motions, they actually have sex onstage in front of the audience. And, for a moment, it appeared like that was what was in fact going to happen.
For me, at least, comedy and raw intensity are not a fortuitous mix. I cannot laugh when I am tightly clenched. So even, when Keaton gets himself locked out of the theater and in order to get back in in time for his entrance, he has to race through a crowded New York theater district in his underpants, I was unable to enjoy this Moment of Mirth because earlier, upon being informed by his girlfriend that she’s pregnant, Keaton, after a moment’s contemplation, angrily grabs her below the belt, and then insinuates his hand menacingly up her body. For me, that and the “underpants scene” are an incompatible mix.
Watching that “grabbing” scene, I felt like I had been transformed into an involuntary voyeur. Plus, I always think about that it’s two actors up there doing that. My mind immediately goes to the conversation:
“You know, on Page 11, I’m going to go for your… I mean, it’s in the script, so…”
“Don’t worry about it. It’s not my crotch you’re going for. It’s the character’s.”
To borrow a line from a recent blog post,
Anyway… wait, one more.
The actor goes home to his spouse,
“What did you do today?”
“My character did stuff. I didn’t do anything.”
It all makes me uncomfortable, which perhaps reveals more about me than about the movie. Rotten Tomatoes gave Birdman a 94% approval rating. The public has spoken. I’m an idiot.
What concerns me more than being an idiot, however, is that I appear, from the entertainment arena at least, to be gradually disappearing. I cannot write anymore, commercially, and I am concerned in the not too distant future, there’ll be nothing I will be able to even watch.
Well, it’s still early in the Oscars season.
Maybe I’ll make a comeback.