With Oscar nominations on the horizon to discuss, we round out a somewhat random discussion of the year in movies 2012. Doug holds court on Django Unchained, Sarah welcomes Doug into the Joseph Gordon-Levitt fan club, and we both agree on what Alan Arkin might tell the Academy if he is snubbed on a best supporting actor nomination.
Doug: We’ve got to talk about Django Unchained if we’re discussing the best movies of the year. And beyond that, who would have thought that Quentin Tarantino, of all people, would make the movie that inspired the most sort of self-reflection for us as a society. I mean, Spielberg makes Lincoln, but it’s Tarantino that hits the hot buttons on race and slavery. I got into it all a bit in my review of the movie. But you’re going to have moments of uncomfortableness about what you’re liking and not liking about this movie. And what other people are laughing at, maybe a little too heartily. For me, Tarantino strikes the right balance, though, and he is really masterful in Django at steering the audience in the direction he wants them to be steered. He’s a master at that in general, but he really does it here.
Sarah: That’s true, he is a master at that. He’s obviously a master at staging violence for effect. And he’s also the best at rethinking how you present stories. In lots of different ways over the years. I haven’t seen Django yet. I was with my family over the holidays and when we were discussing which movies we should see when we were together, I flat out said I’m not going with my parents to see Django. Just not happening. But, yeah, Tarantino’s movies are always conceptual, and they always have a fresh take on how you tell the story.
Doug: Yeah, and I think Tarantino has earned his spot as the best writer, particularly of dialogue, of the great directors.
Sarah: I might disagree with you on Tarantino as the best writer of dialogue. I think I’d have to throw Kevin Smith in there. That’s all he’s really writing is dialogue. Might put him up as the best.
Doug: I always try to defer to you with respect for you Kevin Smith love, but…
Sarah: OK, I won’t try to say he’s better than Tarantino at dialogue. I just wanted to say he’s up there. For writing dialogue, Kevin Smith is up there. But they’re two completely different types of film makers, so it probably isn’t right to really compare them.
Doug: I’m not sure why this struck me so much in Django, but one of the reasons I say Tarantino is the best writer is because he so clearly loves his characters so much. For a guy who is killing so many of them off, he puts so much into them. He’s so all about the characters. Really, when you think of Tarantino’s movies, the characters are what you think about above all.
Sarah: And when you see them on screen, you completely understand them. Even the smaller characters. Obviously, John Travolta in Pulp Fiction isn’t a small role…
Doug: Well, Vincent Vega is a pretty big role.
Sarah: OK, yeah. But there were so many characters in that one that are memorable. And with Travolta, he’s so memorable that you almost forget he dies halfway through the movie, but Tarantino does the great stuff with the story where Travolta “comes back” into it. And it’s the characters that you remember from Pulp Fiction, as much as anything. John Travolta, Uma Thurman…
Doug : Samuel Jackson.
Sarah: Bruce Willis.
Doug: Don’t leave out The Gimp.
Sarah: So many more, too. And they’re all great, interesting characters.
Doug: Well, speaking of great characters, there are plenty in Django. Not the least of which is Dr. King Schultz. Man, the best supporting actor field is loaded this year, but I’d love to see Christoph Walz win again in another Tarantino movie after winning the Oscar for Inglourious Basterds. I’ve been enjoying doing my Dr. King Schultz impression around the house. So well written, especially the particularness and preciseness of the words he uses.
Sarah: I look forward to seeing it, because I have heard he is great.
Doug: In the first third to half of the movie, it’s sort of Dr. King Schultz’s show. But as the film moves along, Django and Jamie Foxx really takes over. Jamie Foxx builds to be one of the baddest asses you’ll ever see in a movie. And I don’t want to overlook the slow burn of his performance, which is key to the movie working. But, again, I give Tarantino full credit for manipulating the audience for the big payoff. Even with the violence. Almost all of the bad guy on good guy (usually white on black) violence is played very, very realistically. It’s visceral and super uncomfortable. But most of the good guy on bad guy (usually black on white) is cartoonish and over the top. You’re really cringing at the violence against the slaves. It walks right up to the line, and gets pretty edgy. Even Tarantino has said he had to pull some of it back, because it…
Sarah: Makes the audience too uncomfortable?
Doug: Yes. He talks about almost losing the audience. And not being able to get them back. In the end, this is a movie with a message, absolutely. But ultimately it’s a spaghetti western, a save the girl movie, a classic revenge film. Tarantino wants to pull the rubber band back as far as he can, so when it snaps back and you get the payoff the audience is primed to see it, and they want to see it, they want to cheer it. But you don’t want to pull the rubber band back so far that it snaps and you lose everything. I can’t speak for everybody, because I can completely understand a person who says Tarantino took things too far. But for me, he got it just right. I’d go so far as to say this is probably my second favorite Tarantino movie.
Sarah: Behind Pulp Fiction, of course.
Doug: Of course.
Sarah: Unless Tarantino puts John Travolta in another movie, and makes it like Django, you’re not going to back off that one.
Doug: You have to like that Tarantino is self-aware enough, too, to kind of no what he does well and stick to it.
Sarah: He could probably do a lot of other types of things, and do them competently, probably even very well. But he does what he does so well, it’s great that he has stayed focused.
Doug: Yeah, Django is on my top tier of movies for 2012, along with Life of Pi, Zero Dark Thirty, and probably Dark Knight Rises and even Looper. There are a lot of other good movies from this year, but those 5 stick out in my mind the most.
Sarah: I saw that you liked Looper. It’s nice to see you finally get on the Joseph Gordon-Levitt bandwagon.
Doug: I’m all about some JGL now. JGL is my guy.
Sarah: Oh, and you’ve even adopted the acronym. Even better. You’ve finally come around, even though I’ve been on JGL for a while now. It all started with Inception. I’ve told you about this and you did put me in my place about it, that JGL didn’t actually conceive of this scene, he just played it. But such a great scene. The scene where they’re in the second level of the dream…
Doug: Oh, yeah, Inception. I loved it, even if I still don’t understand much of it.
Sarah: JGL has to figure out how to pull them from the second level to the third level. But on the first level, they’re literally dropping from bridges. There’s no gravity. So, JGL has to figure out what to do. He’s turning the room, he’s on the ceiling, fighting. Then he figures out how to tie his compatriots up, put them in an elevator, then blow everything up so the elevator plummets and they can get to the next level. JGL nailed that entire sequence. He just jumped to a whole new category for me in that movie, and that scene in particular. I knew from there that this guy could do some really awesome stuff. And that’s where I started my “They should put Joseph Gordon-Levitt in every movie” stance.
Doug: Maybe the reason I didn’t latch onto JGL then is because I didn’t understand it then, and I still don’t understand it even after you just explained it to me. Inception was much more about a concept and style, I thought, than so much the acting. Even in Looper, the concepts are big.
Sarah: Well, we talked earlier about actors that are good at picking cool films and attaching themselves to good quality. He’s picking cool films and he’s getting the opportunities to be in them. Even in Dark Knight, he has some moments but he’s not incredibly strong in it.
Doug: Yup, I thought he was sort of just there in Dark Knight.
Sarah: Gary Oldman in that movie, as always, did more with less than just about anybody. But JGL has his moments. Particularly when he’s telling Batman without telling him that he knows who he is, or near the end when he’s helping take down the bad guys.
Doug: He has his moments. Although I have to say I’m not sure as Dark Knight Rises ended I was thinking, “I can’t wait to see a ‘Robin’ series with Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Robin.” You just don’t. As opposed to Christian Bale, who was a brilliant Batman. I still wasn’t a JGL convert at that point. Even in Looper, I’m not going to say…
Sarah (laughing): That he should be in every movie? He’s already in a lot, with lots of different types of roles. Lincoln, Looper, 50/50, Batman, several others. He’s able to play lots of different roles.
Doug: I’ll say this, I used to think JGL and Shia Labeouf were pretty much the same guy. But definitely not now. I’m not sure I think Labeouf should be in anything. But I’m happy to see more JGL.
Sarah: And can I say that a lot of my JGL love has to do with his involvement in several small films and projects supporting civil liberties. So, just a few extra points for his cred. He did one where he was pointing out that you have rights to take photos and video of the police at things like protests at the political conventions. They aren’t allowed to take your camera as long as you’re not interfering with them.
Doug: And I would imagine if you’re a Hollywood hotshot walking up to them with your camera, that would be less of a problem than if you’re just some ham and egger from Haw River, NC doing it.
Sarah (laughing): Yes, and Gordon-Levitt was trying to let people know that they have rights. So, bonus points to him for apparently being a cool guy on top of his acting ability.
Doug: Points to him for that, for sure. So, maybe we’ll both do specific year end rankings elsewhere, but for me my top tier of movies would probably be some combination of Django, Life of Pi, Zero Dark Thirty and Dark Knight Rises. Haven’t seen Amour yet, which is promising.
Sarah: And for me, it would be something like Skyfall, Paranorman and even The Hobbit.
Doug: I’ll say this, too. To pick a random movie, I liked Argo quite a lot, but I doubt it would make my top 10, or maybe even top 15, of the year. That’s how strong a year it was this year. And take Argo and throw it into last year’s movie crop, and it might be top 3 or 4.
Sarah: Well, I liked Argo probably more than you did. So, I definitely agree that it would have been one of the movies of the year last year. But I thought Affleck did a great job with Argo, especially with the suspense of the finish of it all. Argo is no Tinker, Tailor, as a comparison, but I’d put it right there on my second tier for this year.
Doug: Well, yeah, Argo is no Tinker, Tailor. Argo is quite a bit more fluffy than Tinker, Tailor. But going back one last time to the strength in the supporting actor category, Alan Arkin could win for one or two line readings in Argo. One of them was one word—“Taco”. The other was the always to be remembered…
Sarah: Argo f**k yourself?
Doug: Argo f**k yourself. If Arkin doesn’t win an Oscar, that’s what he should tell the Academy.
Sarah: You’re right, though, Argo would be ranked much higher in past years than it would be this year. I mean, I don’t know if I’d rank it higher than that black and white movie from last year, I can’t remember the name of it.
Doug: If you can’t remember the name of it, Argo is probably better than it. I think you’re thinking of The Artist?
Sarah (laughing): Yeah, if I can’t remember it, maybe it wasn’t that great, although I’m not sure I’ll remember Argo a year from now, either. For straight entertainment value, though, you can’t argue too much with Argo. Say what you will about it, Argo is well paced, it moves.
Doug: Yes, it does move. And you throw out there sheer entertainment value. I love Life of Pi. It’s really entertaining in its own right. But part of what I love about it is what it represents and the fact that a movie with a nice, simple message like that can still win us over.
Doug: And Life of Pi is right up there. But for sheer entertainment, getting the juices flowing, and watching a movie for the love of movies, I might have to go Django as my favorite. If you think Django crosses too many lines, or you think using slavery is too sacrosanct of subject matter to use as the center piece of a cartoonish, spaghetti western revenge flick, I can respect that. But I am with it. And say what you will about it all. If you’re going to do revenge movies, can you think of two groups of people that you’d love to see get their comeuppance more than Nazis and slave owners. You’ve got to give Tarantino that. He does know how to pick his bad guys. Oh, and by the way, my name is Doug. The “O” is silent.
Sarah: And I’m Sarah. The “H” is silent.