Thursday, February 23, 2012

Oscar Double Feature: Midnight in Paris and Moneyball

So Holy Oscar Sunday is coming up, and it turns out that of the movies nominated for Best Picture, I've only seen three:  "Hugo", "The Tree of Stupid", and "War Horse".  (Also I saw bits and pieces of "The Help, but who is counting?)  So, that means I need to fill up immediately on all the other Oscar Movies I haven't seen, particularly the ones I find interesting.  "The Artist" may be destined to win this Holy Sunday, but I'm not interested in it*.  "The Descendants" is way too depressing, life is depressing enough, you know?  So instead I took the two movies I thought could possibly be decent and well they were.

The problem is, that even though I liked both of these movies, I didn't love either of them.  Honestly, I thought they both were going to be rather light comedies, but unfortunately neither turned out to be particularly funny.  The best part is that both movies are perfectly fine on their own, they're not entirely shameless Oscar Bait movies like many films on the Best Picture list.  "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" comes to mind.  No, these were movies that were made by people who just wanted to make good movies, not win awards.  So for that, they were respectable efforts, both have interesting creative plotlines, and are worth seeing.  I wouldn't be unhappy to see either win Best Picture,  but its pretty much guaranteed that "The Artist" has that one wrapped up, so too bad.

Still, if you must watch any Oscar Nom'd movie, see "Hugo".  That's not to hate on either of the movies I'm currently reviewing, but "Hugo" was just considerably more fun than either of these.  I have to say, they were both better movies than "War Horse", if only because they were both more original and less emotionally forced.  But yeah, these movies should have been more fun, that's they're biggest problem.

First let's review the movie I saw second, "Midnight in Paris".  This would be the first Woody Allen movie I've reviewed for Planet Blue, which is interesting because the guy has made something like six quadrillion movies over the years, nearly all of which are romantic comedies of some kind based in New York.  Oddly enough, its his 21st century movies that I happen to like the most, like "Vicky Christina Barcelona" and "Cassandra's Dream".  Ever since he stopped casting himself as the lead in his own movies, he seems to have greatly expanded his horizons to all kinds of possibilities - you often can't even tell they are Woody Allen movies on first viewing.  Unfortunately for me, "Midnight in Paris" is pretty damn clearly a Woody Allen movie from the 70s or 80s.  He just cast Owen Wilson in the role he would have played if he were twenty years younger**.

I really did like the plot of "Midnight in Paris".  Owen Allen is a self-hating neurotic screenwriter that is visiting Paris with his girlfriend Rachel McAdams.  Woody Wilson wants to become a novelist and dreams of the classic "Lost Generation" days of Bohemian writers partying up in Paris back in the 1920s.  His love of the past is at least partially because his girlfriend does not understand his artistic passion, he hates her parents, he hates her pretentious friend Michael Sheen, and he thinks he'll be happier in the Roaring Twenties with F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway.  Luckily for Owoody Allson, he manages to stumble upon a portal to that very time period, stumbling onto midnight Parisian avant-garde parties with the greatest writers and artists of the 20th century.  So let's have dinner with Salvador Dali, flirt with Picasso's mistress, argue with Hemingway, and discuss literature with T.S. Elliot.

Now, immediately I will give "Midnight in Paris" props for making a very interesting plotline, and in fact brilliantly casting all these great titans of art.  The scenes in the 20s are amazing, every actor playing these geniuses are charismatic fun people who steal every moment.  Unfortunately, sitting in the middle of the movie is poor Owen Wilson, whose "awe shucks" kind of every man modesty leaves him as a weak supporting role compared to the awesomeness surrounding him.  This movie has an amazing cast, one of the best collections of acting talent I've seen from 2011.  I particularly loved the guy playing Hemingway, who managed to perfectly capture that man's sheer badass.  Ernest Hemmingway is one of the coolest people to ever live, in comparison, Woody Allen's avatar looks like he should be playing an extra, not a star in this movie.  It also really doesn't help "Midnight in Paris" that half the movie takes place in the present, where everybody is either a pretentious jerk a philistine jerk or somehow both.

Half the movie is an interesting study in the hurricane of artist brilliance that was Paris's golden age, and the other half is an awkward Jewish comedy - a classic Woody Allen movie.  I know the point of this movie is ultimate to choose the present and live your life, not your fantasies, you can't deny that the 20s turn out as the best parts of this movie.

However, even if "Midnight in Paris" is not a perfect movie, its a smart movie.  Even I don't know every name that gets thrown around here, like who is Gauguin or Degas?  I'm not really an art scholar, so I'll have to apologize for my ignorance.  Its still great to see that kind of world.  Also, this was an interesting SciFi concept with some great twists at the end.  So even if it isn't all that enjoyable of a movie, its a movie worth viewing, just to dip your toes in the wonder that was the interwar artistic period.

"Moneyball" is about a much less grandiose of a topic:  baseball in the 21st century.  This movie has something of an interesting history, beginning first as an interesting hybrid of a movie:  part drama, part documentary, and part animation.  Sony, however, tossed all that straight into the bin and instead made a normal and significantly less revolutionary final movie.  They also ditched Demetri Martin in favor of Jonah Hill, which I guarantee you made this a worse movie.  Yeah, Jonah Hill is up for Best Supporting Actor, but let's remember, Demetri Martin is awesome.  Jonah Hill will never be more than a fat sidekick - even after he got skinny.

The plot of "Moneyball" is the story of Brad Pitt as Billy Beane, the General Manager of the Oakland As, the poorest team in all of Major League Baseball.  Every season in the Playoffs, Brad Pitt as to watch his team get ravaged by the raw financial power of big market teams, namely the Glorious Yankee Empire.  Worse, all the best players on the team have all moved away to higher paychecks in other teams, so Beane is left with nothing but scraps to take Oakland to the World Series.  Instead of following traditional Baseball logic, Beane finds Jonah Hill, an Ivy League Wizkid who has scientifically broken down baseball to a system where a team with mediocre players can beat A-Rod.  However, its never been tried before, and baseball is a shockingly conservative culture that doesn't like to be told that its been doing it wrong for the last 150 years.  Will this 'moneyball' system be the saving glory of the A's or will it be the final humiliation for Billy?

"Moneyball" has all the ingredients of a good movie and it is a good movie, far better than "Midnight in Paris".  However, its tone, I feel, is completely off.  More than anything else, this movie is a character study for Billy Beane.  We delve into his past - how traditional baseball scouts completely overestimated his talents and basically ruined his life by forcing him into the wrong career, we delve into his hatred of conservative old baseball men, and we delve into his relationship with his teenage daughter.  So ultimately, its not really much of a "sports movie", its a drama that's set in the sports world.  That means its considerably slower and more contemplative than something like "Coach Carter", which is mostly a comedy about how badass and crazy Samuel L. Jackson can be while teaching inner city Black kids that they can have a future.  No, this is a serious movie, and despite the inclusion of Jonah Hill, it never tries to be comedic.

And really, I'd rather watch "Coach Carter".  Brad Pitt has his moments throwing things in anger, but most of the time he's giving a very Oscar-pleasing measured performance.  The A's team he pulls together is a ragtag bunch of misfits that no other team would sign, making me hope that this movie would be something like "Major Leagues", but you don't really see much of the misfits.  The best parts aren't even baseball-related, its the moments of watching Billy wheel and deal his way against other Managers to get the players he wants.  And yeah, I'd rather watch "Major Leagues".  I can enjoy a contemplative movie that is trying for more than playing to the lowest common denominator, but seriously, shouldn't baseball movies be more fun?

Though really, "Moneyball" is worth seeing mainly because of the very last scene.  I won't spoil it, but its just an incredibly beautiful and simple moment - probably the best single movie moment in all of 2011.

And in the more negative viewpoint, "Moneyball" is the worst movie ever made.  Because Billy Beane's methods helped the fucking Red Sox win the World Series in 2004.  For thirteen-year-old me, that was the saddest moment of my entire life.  What an awful person.

Anyway, to conclude this strange post of mine, watch both these movies.  They're pretty good.  And in the next few days, I'll be writing my Academy Awards posts as I do every year, so you can look forward to that.

* Having seen about four silent movies now, I can safely say they are not for me.  I still need to see Fritz Lang's "Metropolis" but its not something I'm particularly looking forward to.  I just have to do in order to fulfill my evil plan of seeing every famous SciFi film ever made.

** I'm always rather annoyed by author avatars, especially glamorized author avatars that inexplicably bed ridiculous attractive women, like one Mr. Blomkvist.  Of course, Woody Allen back in the day got such hotties as Diane Keaton and Mia Farrow.  Let's ignore the long marriage with Allen's own adopted daughter that occurred afterwards...


  1. honestly cannot finish reading your Moneyball review without laughing xD

    Let me point out your numerous errors that obviously point out that this movie is possibly your first in-depth look at the game and its history, beyond a casual day at the ball park with your dad:

    1. The A's never made it to the world series during the movie.

    2. The Yankee's did NOT sign A-Rod until 2007, he wasn't apart of the team until the Rangers traded him to the Yankees in 2004.

    3. The A's, or Athletics, never traded away all their good players, that would be an idiotic move, rather all their good players left for better money, the prime example being the one given in this movie is Johny Damon (The Royals brought him into this world btw...just sayin'...Go KC!) and how he left for the Boston Red Sox for a 4 year multi-million dollar contract.

    4. Yankees Suck...

    5. I have the right to say that until you can name the answer to the next three questions:

    1. Name how long the GLORIOUS Red Sox lasted between the time they won it all before 2004, and when they won it all in 2004. (give you a hint, it's more than 50 years)

    2. Bet you can't even name how many championships the Yankees have nor can you name what years they won them in.

    3. Name the longest world series winning streak by the Yankees.

    Until you can answer those three questions, the Yankees suck, the Yankees suck, the Goddamn Bankin' Yankees suck.

    To anyone: Wanna test my baseball knowledge? Shoot me a question, I'm writing my IB (International Baccalaureate) 4000 word essay on the topic of Baseball's (The Negro Leagues and MLB in particular) effect on American culture and society.

    -- Vincent

    Btw...Bleed Royal Blue, it's OUR TIME

    1. 1. I know. What was Billy Beane's motivation in that movie? To win the World Series. I wasn't giving away the ending... like you are.

      2. A-Rod has been playing baseball since 1997. Nothing about my mention of him implied that he was playing for the Yankees at the time this movie is set. He was an overpriced player even back in 2002.

      3. Poor choice in wording on my part. Since been corrected.

      4. This is just factually wrong.

      1. The Red Sox last won a World Series in 1918. They were then punished by God with 86 years of suffering for trading away Babe Ruth. 86 years of mediocrity is not exactly glorious by any definition.

      2. The Yankees have won 27 World Series championships. As for the specific years, I don't really give a shit.

      3. I'm guessing its the early 50s when the Yankees won every year for like five or six years. Might also have been the 30s, I forget.

      Finally, to shoot my own question: who ARE you? And why do you think I care enough about baseball to engage in a silly trivia battle? Everybody knows that Football is better.

    2. I am unsure why knowing a bunch of trivia about winning streaks or number of championships won makes somebody's opinion about a movie more well-informed.

    3. @ Blue:

      I am Vincent, that is who I am. And you are pretty close, 1949-1953 is when they won it for 5 straight years, they won it in three straight in the 30's. I honestly would like to say that I either ticked you off by saying the Yankees suck enough to con you into taking my trivia quiz, or you really do care about baseball, despite the truth that football has forced its way into being America's now modern pass time. Baseball is now America's past time. At any rate, who am I? As I said I am Vincent, last name shall not be disclosed, I am an IB diploma candidate for my high school in Nebraska and history is my game to play with as I please.

      For the record, The Natural, now there is a good baseball movie.

      I could rudely rant onward about how the Yankees suck, but I would be ignorant to say so, as they are a historically great franchise with many victories and records. My only argument would be that they suck because they buy all the good players, thus thwarting competition from small-market teams. However, I will not because I would like to not make a bad impression that I am some troll or whatnot.

      @ SideburnsPuppy:

      It is relevant because in order to more appreciate a movie like Moneyball, one has to know some history on the sport, because there is a key part of this movie, that only people who know their baseball history, will appreciate. I encourage people to read up on the history of all teams mentioned in this movie, then to re-watch the movie again (assuming you have already seen it that is) in order to better appreciate the trials that the rag-tag Oakland Athletics team overcome. For the record, the teams involved are the Philadelphia/Kansas City/Oakland Athletics, Kansas City Royals, and Boston Red Sox

    4. @VinnySox: No bad impressions taken. Good to have you around.

    5. Glad to hear so :)
      Heh...VinnySox...I like that...mind if I use it? :P
      -- VinnySox