263 Comments
Dec 29, 2022·edited Dec 29, 2022

This budding trend of playing around with subtitles rather than considering them a neutral tool is very annoying. If you don’t translate something (in a common , modern, language) you are not “denying us information” , you are splitting your audience (which is nowadays always global) into two parts, of those who do and do not comprehend it. If the experience of comprehending or not comprehending is of any significance, this makes no sense, you’re basic declaring that this movie isn’t for German speakers (or alternatively, not for everyone else ). If it’s not actually significant then it’s a stupid , distracting gimmick. I blame Spielberg for starting this nonsense with not translating the substantial Spanish bits in the new west side story, and doing that for English audiences only (subtitles in other languages cover both English and Spanish !). As if movies weren’t in deep s_t already. Blah.

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It's perfectly fine for different people to have different experiences watching the same thing. If I as a non Spanish speaking American can't understand parts of West Side Story it serves to remind me that there are parts of American society where I can't easily participate. A Spanish speaking person won't have that experience, but that's perfectly ok because that particular insight didn't apply to them.

Also a trend that I despise is people who try to argue for or against a piece of art by making claims about how audiences in general might react. Who cares if you think they are "splitting their audience,” did YOU like it or not? Let other people decide for themselves if they find the subtle choices alienating.

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I've generally assumed when subtitles aren't provided for this or that bit of conversation, it's because the filmmaker wants viewers to experience lack of understanding as part of a desirable element of storytelling. You're right to point out that speakers of the unsubtitled language will necessarily experience the film a bit differently from those who can't understand it. But so what?

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Dec 29, 2022·edited Dec 29, 2022

But let me elaborate: I think the specific technique here is clumsy. It breaks the fourth wall. You’re not supposed to explicitly announce to the audience “ladies and gentleman, this is your director speaking , the following 5 seconds are meant not to be understood by you. Thanks”. By being *selective* about subtitles it’s exactly what you’re doing. It’s not just literally divisive, it’s crude.

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I generally don't like mannered, heavy-handed technique in cinema, so I hear what you're saying. I guess I just didn't notice it at the time...

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Success cures all. I guess I fear -perhaps prematurely- this becoming a trend and done ever more heavy handedly and excessively.

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You can see their faces and reactions. I think the -intent- was to just have you run off the impressions garnered from that, and not their words.

I kind of get it, but I don't know if it worked.

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founding

I think of the great scene in The Big Lebowski when The Dude is at Maude’s place, and she answers the phone in Italian, and then all her staff pick up the phone too, and they all giggle incessantly and we have no idea what happened.

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In Godfather Part II there is a scene in Italian without subtitles where a frantic shop owner who had given Vito Corleone (Robert De Niro) the brush off without knowing who he was tries to make amends. Or at least i swear i remember seeing a version like that. However, that seems to be more of an artistic choice to let the body language convey meaning than just switching off the subtitles, which does feel more artificial. I think the difference is that ending the subtitles interrupts "my flow" in following a foreign language film, whereas having some parts of an English language movie in another language just means i heighten attention to body language. As opposd to thinking WTF? How do i fix the subtitles?

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Precisely - the point is in switching them off. You can have a movie with no subtitles, and if you turned closed captions at home they can decide whether to translate the foreign language parts for you or write [swears in Italian], I've seen both done and it's all fine. I object to the breaking of the fourth wall in making the subtitles themselves part of the movie in a sense.

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Dec 29, 2022·edited Dec 29, 2022

It’s still crude to achieve the effect by switching off the subtitles. It’s a fourth wall break. Finding an in-story method sounds better to me as a general rule (unless breaking the fourth wall was part of the point there?)

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Subtitles wouldn't have worked for that scene - everything she says in German is in dense musical jargon which the audience wouldn't get in English.

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So don’t do it? That’s my opinion. It’s a subjective matter of taste obviously, you’re welcome to disagree :)

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The reality is that this is nearly always true of movies and literature. There are nods and allusions to previous work that add depth to a piece of art that some people will understand and others will simply miss. I think adding language to that mix has been a great advancement to film making.

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What she's saying is kind of technical and wouldn't be very comprehensible to non-musicians even with subtitles. It's things like: "try using only a light vibrato at bars 135-40."

When she says something the audience might understand, Field has her speak in English. (She says "forget Visconti" because Visconti uses the slow movement from Mahler's 5 in a famously terrible movie version of Death in Venice.)

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It seems vaguely akin to having Scarlett Johansson's and Bill Murray's characters whisper something to each other at the end of Lost in Translation...except instead of being inaudible for everyone, it feels like it is just punishing you specifically if you don't know German.

I don't necessarily think that is a rational response, but it was hard to overcome.

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Though to be fair, I still remember that inaudible whispering from Lost in Translation 20 years later, so maybe it achieved its intended purpose...

I remember because it was annoying though.

I need to know! I need resolution! Don't deny me that!

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They do this in Grand Illusion and The Third Man, it isn't a new trick.

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Isn't this also true of essentially any mysterious detail in a movie? When Lydia Tar's assistant says "you have that meeting with DG", there are audience members who will suspect that refers to Deutsche Grammophon and those that don't, are the latter also being robbed of an experience?

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As a bilingual person I was deeply moved by Spielberg switching between English and Spanish without translation. It felt natural, and it’s how recent immigrants and bilingual people in general actually speak and think. You still got the story through the visual language the context, and the performances. It was a choice made for bilingual people like me.

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"Another nice touch, I thought, was the decision to use untranslated German when Lydia is speaking during rehearsal.....But we are denied comprehension. At other times, German dialogue is translated via subtitles, but at the key moment when we might see the genius at work, our comprehension is withdrawn."

I hope that these passages will be reshot in English for the audiences in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and Liechtenstein, so that they are not cheated of the powerful cinematic effect of having their "comprehension" withdrawn and denied.

On second thought, better have it reshot in something other than English, since everyone in those countries can understand it. Nahuatl would provide the cinematic impact to a larger audience.

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>>I hope that these passages will be reshot in English for the audiences in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and Liechtenstein, so that they are not cheated of the powerful cinematic effect of having their "comprehension" withdrawn and denied.<<

Wrong way to look at it IMHO. Lots of art—probably most—is experienced differently depending on cultural context. It's always been that way. Even a fully subtitled film surely is experienced differently by someone who needs/reads the subtitles than someone who speaks the language. I encourage filmmakers not to go out of their way (and risk compromising their artistic vision) on a quixotic mission to force sameness. Diversity (even of audience experience) is ok.

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After spending so much time defending Matt from fools and radicals in the Twitter-verse, I feel betrayed by this shockingly Bad Take on Thor: Love & Thunder! That movie was BAD. I like Guns N Roses LESS today because of how bad that movie was. (Christian Bale did a fine job though.)

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It’s a surprisingly uncommon take but honestly I think that post-Endgame Marvel Studios has a had a total meltdown on the Quality Control front. Shang Chi was mid-tier acceptable and it’s by far the best of the post-snap movies. Love and Thunder was a lazy mess, Wakanda Forever was a flop-sweat mess, Multiverse of Madness was shockingly incompetent, and Eternals may have actually killed Chloe Zhao’s career. You can grade a lot of these movies on a curve due to COVID and other ambient circumstances but at this point my default stance is to just wait for them to show up on Disney+ — the argument for spending $25-50/head to risk getting Covid in a theater just doesn’t wash.

(I’m making a bit of an exemption for the Spider-Man movies since they’re a co-production with Sony but even there the general trend has not been great and it seems like Tom Holland and Zendaya are done with the project.)

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"Shang Chi['s] . . . by far the best of the post-snap movies."

Parsing this carefully, I guess I can rationalize it because "Black Widow," while part of Phase 4, is technically a pre-snap movie.

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I had genuinely forgotten about Black Widow, which I think encapsulates the problem. I appreciated that they tried to make things right with Scarlett Johansson after finally booting Perlmutter, but the quality level of the movie itself was as highly variable as Ray Winstone's attempt at a Russian accent.

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Christian Bale was the best thing in that movie and it's shame his one big turn in the MCU had to be such an otherwise mediocre film.

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Here’s why Love & Thunder didn’t work for me like Ragnarok did. In Ragnarok there’s a funny planet (where Jeff Goldblum is king) and a serious planet (Asgard). So the funny stuff in no way feels like it’s undermining the serious stuff, and when Thor comes back to Asgard he’s ready to complete the hero’s journey. In L&T, on the other hand, every scene is at risk of being undercut by some Waititi irreverence. For instance, we need to think Gorr is a serious bad dude, so Sif gets her arm cut off by him…but there Thor is, joking about her severed arm. If the movie was just a send-up that would be fine, but the Jane stuff and the kid stuff is supposed to be straight. It’s just a mess, unfortunately.

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That was basically my thought as well. I think maybe Waititi intended to juxtapose the very comedic surface level stuff with the actual plot developments being very serious (Thor's lost his brother, his dad, his whole planet, failed to stop Thanos, is quite depressed at the start of Endgame, and now loses Jane) but to me it just didn't work.

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Interesting, I didn't even see that, but you're probably right about what he was going for. I get that the MCU is for kids, but they rarely seem to really deal with the sheer amount of trauma most of their characters would be dealing with. (Wandavision being the exception that proves the rule).

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Dec 29, 2022·edited Dec 29, 2022

I couldn't help but think of that when Drax and Mantis were flying over Hollywood in the GoTG Holiday Special (which was excellent!). The joke was that Drax forgot to turn on the invisibility cloak, but I can hardly imagine how horrified people who had just been through "the blip" would be at the sight of more aliens coming!

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I can't imagine a more likely way for the world to become fascist (i.e. movie version of Starship Troopers) than the blip. Humanity discovers its not alone and there are extremely advanced alien civilizations out there that can destroy us! We must use all powers of the state to advance so that it can never happen again!

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I think it’s not coincidental to this that Ragnarok’s script and story was primarily written by two of Marvel’s steadier in-house hands and then handed to Waititi to make his own thing out of, but L&T was his from story to script to final cut.

Sometimes a bit of aesthetic restraint and editorial feedback is helpful. Waititi is a talented guy but he seems to do best in situations where he has to bounce off a few other people rather than completely getting his own way.

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This is so right. It’s useful to juxtapose Thor: Ragnarok, Thor: Love and Thunder and Jojo Rabbit to understand how Waititi blew it with T:L&T. It’s the whipsawing between over-the-top burlesque and (literally) deadly serious. The oscillations are just too big and too frequent. In T:R and JR the down beats resonate (heh) because they’re jarring to the light and fun tone. You have a gnawing sense that the narrative is unsafe. Something really bad could happen between the smiles. It has power. As Matt points out correctly, T:L&T isn’t trying to get you to smile for the most part, it wants you to eye roll at the absurdity. But the down beats aren’t chords in T:L&T, it’s the pianist slamming his fists on the keyboard. Then right back to the ridiculous. And back and forth until you can’t stay emotionally engaged. It doesn’t work, which is pretty much what Waititi admits in hindsight. Oh, well.

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Where did he admit that? Not doubting--genuinely curious!

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I can't find it now, so it's possible I misread it. I recall thinking at the time that it was impressive for such a high profile director to acknowledge a misfire.

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If you do happen to find it, please come back and post — I’d be very curious to read it!

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Dec 29, 2022·edited Dec 29, 2022

I'm a ~ MCU fan. My wife more so. Love & Thunder was one of the worst movies we've seen. It was a struggle to finish. The best part was the Matt Damon cameo and that's not saying much.

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If you thought L&T was a struggle (and I agree: some good bits but they all mostly served to remind me how much better Ragnarok was) I can’t strongly enough urge you to stay far away from Multiverse of Madness, which I sadly suspect is going to end up regarded at the moment when Sam Raimi completely ran out of talent.

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I don't think he ran out of talent per se, his style just hasn't evolved at all in 40 years. There were so many clear "Sam Raimi" moments it almost felt like a parody.

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AFAICT, Rami fanboys rationalize any reported issues with "Multiverse" by blaming the PG-13 rating.

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Is the idea there that he could have even more deeply done a retread of his earlier, better movies if he’d been allowed to have more gore?

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They tend not to get that far into specifics.

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GOTG 1 was the best mixture of the serious&fun. Ragnorak did it well too. Goldblum was great and the Thor & Hulk conversations were funny. Hulk like fire; Thor like water. The ending was a bit corny. L&T basically just made Thor a joke. As Hulk said “Thor sad”. Waititi made him sad in a pathetic kind of way.

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Surprised Everything Everywhere All At Once didn't make it here

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author

There were parts of EEAAO that I really loved, but (and I'll admit that was weird of me) to me the film just actually didn't do anything to resolve the existential despair induced by the infinite worlds hypothesis.

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founding

I agree it didn’t resolve it, but I think it did a better job than most multiverse fiction of pointing out that this despair is a feature of it. I sometimes get that feeling watching Rick and Morty, but it seems like a byproduct more than something it wants you to acknowledge.

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>part of a big boost to woman directors after the 2012 iteration of the list was criticized for featuring almost no women.

does the identity of a movie's director change the aesthetic quality of the film?

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> does the identity of a movie's director change the aesthetic quality of the film?

I think people with centrist to center-right views on gender need to kind of get a grip on their antipathy to identity politics. Of course on some level the identity of the director doesn't change the aesthetic quality of the film. At the same time, *especially those people who take gender difference seriously* should acknowledge that men and women have different experiences of the world and that if we don't have stories that are told by women we are going to be missing out on a lot of potential stories and ways to tell stories.

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I think you're critiquing a strawman of the centrist argument here. At this point I think there are very few people who actually think there should be some limitation (formal or informal) on the number of movies made by or about women. The critique instead centers on the elevation of pieces of art wholly or in part on the basis of the identity of their creators or the identity politics of their subject matter. If we could all somehow know that the Sight and Sound poll raised the ranking of various female-directed movies solely because previous polls had, due to anti-woman bias, unfairly ranked them lower than they "deserved", I think almost no one would have had a problem with the new rankings. Instead, we all know there is a very good chance that the reason those female-directed movies shot up the rankings is *solely* a result of their being female-directed, and that in fact their artistic quality is not as high as their ranking should indicate.

The goal should simply be to remove any *artificial* barriers to recognizing quality art. No doubt a creator's personal experience plays a huge role in the art they create, and so there are a whole bevy of stories that might not get told if women are somehow artificially prevented from telling them. But the fact that someone is a woman doesn't mean the art they make is going to be good, even if it is about "women's stuff," and we shouldn't condescend to female artists by elevating their art even when it is bad or mediocre simply because they're female (nor should we condescend to POC artists by elevating their work solely because they're POC).

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On the one hand, I concede that this is subjective and we can't exactly say what those rankings *should* be.

But one thing that comes back to me is there was a book written by a Chinese person that won some prestigious book award (I forget what it is, unfortunately). When it came out that the author was actually just a white guy, the award was rescinded. To me, that's a problem, as the book didn't suddenly get worse when the author's real identity was revealed.

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Since you don't provide specifics about this case I will only answer the hypothetical but knowing new information about the author can definitely change the quality of the book (simplest example would be a fabricated memoir).

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It was a novel.

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If you can provide a link to the story I'll happily address the specifics but my point was not that only a memoir would be affected but that information about an author can often have an impact on the quality of the work and how it is interpreted.

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Dec 29, 2022·edited Dec 29, 2022

of course, and we should seek out art made by people from diverse backgrounds for that reason specifically.

My issue is that movies they thought weren't as good in 2012 are now considered much better because of the identity characteristics of the creators, which suggests that aesthetic quality is not the only criterion on which these lists are based.

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author

I don't really agree with that.

Let's take another example. One reason I characterized this as a my *favorite* movies of 2022 is that I didn't want to think too hard about the question of whether I really only liked "She Said" and "Not Okay" as much as I did it because they depict people in contemporary media careers. I'm probably biased toward those kind of movies. Which is fine, we like what we like. But it is also worth trying to take stock of our biases from time to time and ask questions like "have we, as an audience of male critics, been biased in our past construction of the cinema canon and shouldn't we take a harder look at some movies by female filmmakers?"

To me the clearest example of that on the Sight & Sound poll was the rising star of "Cléo from 5 to 7." This is now the top French New Wave movie instead of "Breathless" from 2012. These are both good films. They are both good films to show people as exemplars of the influential French New Wave style. One is more "boy stuff" and one is more "girl stuff." I think unreflectively, Breathless is more about stuff I'm interested in. But there are dramatically fewer famous movies on female-oriented themes and I think there's a real sense in which the new list that puts Cléo over Breathless correctly assesses it as a more original and more novel contribution to culture.

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Maybe this is a distinction without a difference, but I think your example mainly highlights the need for diversity in making these kinda lists, so that "girl stuff" movies and "nonwhite stuff" movies are not underappreciated.

And while I concede that people can/should change their minds and interrogate their biases, I think a practice where we update which art is what we considered good in ways that just so happen to reflect current political sensibilities makes criticism less trustworthy as a strict evaluation of artistic aesthetics. (Like, is it a coincidence that post-George Floyd, Rolling Stone updated their 500 Greatest Songs of All Time list so that the top 3 are all political songs by Black artists?)

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'Fight the Power' jumping to #2 seems embarrassingly reactionary. Tells you way more about how Rolling Stone has changed over this time than the music.

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I'd go with "reactive," rather than "reactionary" in this context.

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The problem is cinematic excellence is not the work of solo auteurs. It takes an entire staff and the money to go with it. Because black and female filmmakers have faced discrimination, they haven’t gotten their projects greenlighted nearly as often as white men. Even if they were equally good (or slightly better) at directing movies, they simply haven’t had the opportunity to make as many great films.

The same thing could be said of other capital intensive forms of excellence. Blacks and women would be underrepresented on lists of great scientists because they haven’t had much access to PhD programs and research funding until relatively recently. Ditto a list of the greatest Presidents or Supreme Court justices.

I am very interested in films with interesting female characters and open to the work of female directors. (Though frankly I find it much easier to appreciate good acting than good directing, good directing is transparent and lets you focus on the actors and the setting, heavy handed directing sucks). It doesn’t follow that women have had enough opportunities to make great films to win many spots on a 100 greatest films list. However, it should be possible to put two or three female directed films on a best 10 of 2022 list without exalting bad films

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I also just found Cleo to be more pleasurable on a scene to scene level because the protagonist isn’t the worst person in the world like he is in Breathless. I find that avant garde movies by female directors are often not as interested in flogging their audiences for wanting characters to be somewhat likable if flawed rather than total psychopaths. SWM film critics over the last half-century seem to like to be flogged, and they think the rest of us should enjoy it too. But as movie critics have diversified (not all SWM) the move has been to reward movies that balance pain and pleasure a little more. Cleo isn’t an easy film to love, but it ain’t Breathless. Jane Campion’s movies are thorny and difficult, but they’re also often willing to indulge in typical dramatic genre beats. Kathryn Bigelow makes action movies that seem dumb but are actually smart. Etc.

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Is aesthetic quality forever fixed once a film is released? A film that anticipates future problems and developments, perhaps by decades, can increase in aesthetic quality over time. A film that blithely makes stupid assumptions about the future can age poorly

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that's a very interesting point!

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I'd submit that "aesthetic quality" is a mix of objective and subjective criteria. If the shadow of the boom mic keeps showing up on the backdrop in your film, I'm skeptical that any degree of future reassessment of aesthetic quality is going to put it on the Sight & Sound Top 100.

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Dec 29, 2022·edited Dec 29, 2022

I think a strong version of this argument “only a woman/ a man can do x properly” is wrong. But I do think a “statistical” one is right, ie women are *more likely* to get women and portray female characters properly (and less likely to get men etc). Of course the best writers and directors of any sex basically get everything right , but even so: *on average* the types of stories that would interest an excellent male director would differ from an excellent female director.

A second argument is not about the product but about fairness in opportunities. There is an argument that talented women were not given a shot *because* they were women, and that calling out the lack of women directors would help some at least get through the door. Again I would only support a very limited version of this kind of “affirmative action” logic: 1. Temporary: once women directors become normal this argument needs to end 2. Once you get your shot the movie of course needs to be judged on its merits, and presumably it’s success would carry you from there on.

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One feature of a great novelist is they can write deep, convincing characters of either gender. Franzen is a great novelist because he has created compelling female characters. Houlebecq is a brilliant satirist and makes me laugh harder than Franzen, but he is mediocre novelist because all of his female characters are basically fuck toys and his more interesting male characters channel different facets of his own personality.

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Funny you mention that. This may be true for certain great novelists, but I think it is rare. Many years ago, I was in a writing program which was basically one-on-one mentorship by an established writer, and some networking. The common caution was that female writers are usually able to write male characters better than vice versa.

In movies it definitely stands out. e.g. Last night I watched Alfred Hitchcock's Foreign Correspondent. The heroine is an ingenue. Hitchcock is considered canon. Sure there were the likes of Bette Davis and Katherine Hepburn, but half-assing female characters was and has been quite common. I don't mean in terms of whether the character is a feminist, but whether it is fully developed.

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I don’t know. Badly written male characters are also common, and perhaps increasingly so. The idea that women can write men better than men can write women sounds very implausible a priori. It’s possible however that successful female authors had on average to meet a higher bar than their male counterparts because of society’s sexism, which might mean they are better on average due to selection effects, hence not an apples to apples comparison.

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It's not just "bad writing", it's the kind of bad gender writing that gets documented on the MenWritingWomen subreddit. There's not really an equivalent women-writing-men ubiquity to that outside of pulpy romance.

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There is an increasingly common problem with depictions of men in popular media nowadays. They are increasingly flat and incompetent or villanous (or both). I don't know however whether it's particularly women who write them thus. I'm speaking only about TV and movies, not sure if this holds at all for literature.

P.S.

There is however a very serious problem of lack of any boy-centric literature for kids recently. There have been a few NYT articles about this. Again, not sure to what extent this is about female-authors dominating the genre, or the expectiaotns/tastes of publishers from authors of both sexes.

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I absolutely agree female writers are generally better with male characters than vice versa. It’s probably a byproduct of natural selection: women have more compelling biological reasons to understand men’s feelings and emotions than sex addled men have to understand women’s feelings. However, the best male writers can write women.

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I think it's more that in a (still, though to a lesser degree) male-centred society, women have to pay more attention to men's thoughts and behaviour than men do to women's. When learning, I expect that writers of both sexes get show more writing both by and about men to learn from.

I suspect that most black writers can write white characters better than most white writers can write black characters for the same reasons.

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I don't know about black and white writers, but I can assure you a woman can get a pick-up in a bar much more easily than a man. It's not a man-centered world, and most women give no thought to what men think.

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I wonder how gay male writers fit into that paradigm, but I shamefully don't think I've read that many. Gay men would know how men act and think because we are men, but we also have more platonic relationships with women that could be drawn from and aren't distracted by our sexuality when it comes to writing women.

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One of the problems with this, especially when reading older fiction, is that so many writers were closeted that you can get the trends completely crossed up.

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Agreed! But since the greats are few and far between it’s important we have diversity of the mediocre to balance their weaknesses and blind spots!

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So answer me this. I totally get the importance of female screen writers. I get the importance of having female actresses rather than boys in drag. What do female directors add? Maybe I don’t understand the role of directors well enough, but if a script is written by a woman and characters are acted by women, wouldn’t that capture the female experience even if the director has a penis? Do we insist that a novel be edited by a woman in order to sensitively portray women’s’ lives? And if female directors are so important, why not female cinematographers? Female producers? Female makeup artists and graphics effects specialists?

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Dec 29, 2022·edited Dec 29, 2022

I think the director is considered the most important role in the film, far more than any other. If I’m not mistaken they tend to be the key decision makers in casting, make significant changes to the script, have a say with regards to the scores, postproduction and much more. In a real sense it’s “their” movie. But movies aren’t my strong suit and I think others here would be much more capable to answer your question.

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Dec 29, 2022·edited Dec 29, 2022

There are absolutely bunch of people who argue for the importance of women in those other positions too. (When I attended an Alanis Morissette concert earlier this year, there was an ad running on the Jumbotron before the show about 97% of sound engineers being men and that whatever organization placed the ad would not stop until 50% were women. The ad repeated so many times that my 11 year-old son commented out of the blue, "Wow, they really want women to be sound engineers," so then we had a brief discussion about whether it actually makes sense to insist that every profession has to have 50-50 male/female representation to prove that there isn't sex discrimination in it.)

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I feel Hollywood is sufficiently bottom-line oriented that it is one sector where quota-ization won't gain excessive momentum and dilute the quality of the product.

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founding

And yet they went decades with a strong quota for male-written and male-directed films.

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I don't think it's accurate to describe that as a "quota" because that implies a deliberate approach to numbers. It would be more accurate to say they forwent making female-written and female-directed films based on their perception of their (un)likelihood of success.

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founding

Right. But in economic terms, the effect should be the same.

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The effect is the same, but different? If you are deliberately choosing to not produce/distribute films made by identity group "X" for no reason other than because those films were made by identity group "X," then you know that you're losing out on profits. If you are sincerely (but mistakenly!) convinced that films made by identity group "X" will not perform well at the box office, so you forego producing/distributing those films, you'll actually lose out on profits, but will *believe* that you're doing better financially than if you'd made those films!

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I mean the quality of the product is alrseady deteriorating to judge from both box office numbers (and subsequent financial losses) and common opinion… I don’t blame “quotas” for this but the idea that market forces will assure that Hollywood continues to make roughly the same quantity of “good” or popular or financially successful movies appears empirically wrong.

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Well, given the inherent subjectivity of film quality, I'd hesitate to use "empirically" as you've just done. There's boatloads of wonderful content out there. The problem is lack of time to view it all.

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Box office , at least, is empiric, as are profits, and speaks directly to the hope that market motivations would be a quality guarantee.

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I view film and TV in the 21st century as two flavors of the same genre (video storytelling): the latter is just long-form cinema, and in my opinion has emerged in the last 20 years as the decidedly superior format (although short form video storytelling—cinema—certainly has its place, and can often be quite wonderful).

Anyway, I suspect if we looked at total revenue, the sector as a whole wouldn't have much to complain about. And if profits are harder to come by, it's likely because of fierce competition, low barriers to entry, and so on.

I'm a generation older than you, and the quality available on the small screen is startlingly better than what I grew up with. And so the shift away from movie theaters flows not from a decline in quality in movies as such, but from *massively* better offerings available in one's living room.

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Really? The Oscars introduced explicit diversity requirements that will take effect in 2024 and I presume studios will be working to meet those: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/09/movies/oscars-best-picture-diversity.html

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That's terrible news.

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awards bait films may be an exception. if the purpose is to get awards and the jury wants to elevate female directors, won’t studio execs give the jurors what they want?

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The identity of the artist informs any artwork.

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sure, but does that informing impact its quality (a sincere question -- I honestly don't know where I stand!)

Like, if an author writes under a pen name of a different race, does the quality of book diminish when people find out he or she's not of that race? (Sounds silly but this specific thing has happened more than once).

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I am not a keen enough observer to tell whether it always does, but I think it can. Off the top of my head, a couple of examples which stand out in terms of the character, themes, and style in a genre: Wonder Woman (a few years ago), Prime Suspect (1990s). Both where the director/creator and the main star are women.

I highly recommend Prime Suspect. It is one of the best police procedurals I watched. Each "season" is basically one case, and could be watched as one movie. Helen Mirren is great. The way the show depicts sexism in the workplace is great. The plot is always interesting.

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Mirren's in the new "Yellowstone" prequel. (At least I think it's a prequel, haven't seen it, nor have I ever watched "Yellowstone").

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Quotas are back, baby!

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I'm oddly heartened by how many commenters found the unsubtitled Spanish of West Side Story off-putting. I get that it's true to the Spanglish spoken by real Puerto Rican immigrants, but honestly it makes the movie pretty unintelligible if you yourself don't speak the language. And it's clear that the film is actively trolling the audience on this front: everyone in the movie (the Jets, the cops, Anita) are constantly demanding that the Sharks speak English, and they comply briefly, but two lines later it's back to Spanish.

You can call it a "bold and pointed choice" as A.A. Dowd does in his review, but it's like Nolan and his increasingly incomprehensible dialogue being drowned out by the score: at the end of the day filmmakers need to be asking themselves how important it is that their audience is able to understand what is being said.

I don't want to keep harping on this point, but I do have one more thing to say: if you're like me and you grew up here you probably learned Spanish as a second language in school, y pues, si hablas un poquito, puedes entenderla, más o menos. But this film is about **immigrants**, and if you're like my friend who I watched this with, who came to America from China and doesn't speak a lick of Spanish, you kinda get the feeling that the film wasn't made for him and doesn't care whether he liked it one way or the other, and that does feel a little ironic to me.

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Dec 29, 2022·edited Dec 29, 2022

Spot on ! it oddly also basically identifies the audience with the Anglo side, which to my mind kind of misses the point...

I'd note parenthetically that barely a single one of the actors playing those "Puerto Rican immigrants" is either Puerto Rican or an immigrant, but it's ok because they are all "Latinx" as the producers proudly bragged again and again and again (including the star role who is half Colombian half Polish-and it seems at least third generation American- which we are supposed to take as a a huge advance and historical righting of wrongs by the stark contrast to the previous actress in this role who was the daughter of Russian immigrants...)

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Dec 29, 2022·edited Dec 29, 2022

Maybe some day Matt could write about the incredibly superficial way (like to the point that it should really be insulting) Hollywood manages to treat subjects with any sort of Latin American connection even while loudly congratulating itself for its enlightened attitude. (The hype about "Maya and the Three" was the one that really broke me on this subject -- Netflix fell over itself bragging about all the Latino star power for the show, but the story is explicitly set in *pre-Columbian* America and, AFAICT, none of the leads self-identifies as being Native American to any meaningful degree! And the dialogue communicates to us that we're watching a show set in ancient Mesoamerica by being peppered with Spanish. It would be like making a show that's specifically supposed to be about Celtic Britain, casting mostly Italians in it, and having the characters speak partially in Latin!)

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Dec 29, 2022·edited Dec 29, 2022

As another example among many, look at the flack James Franco got for being cast as Fidel Castro (especially from John Leguizamo), despite Franco being a reasonable match for Castro's ethnic background (not that it should matter much). To be fair though, Leguizamo just says these things in a desperate attempt to stay relevant.

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Honestly, unless there really is something cinematic about the visuals, sound or action – so specifically visually artful films like Barry Lyndon, or the Tree of Life, or more conventional epics like Dune or Top Gun or Avatar – there's just no reason to go to the cinema. I really want to see Tár, but I'd much prefer to just watch it at home than at the theatre, and that's what I'll wait for. I don't really see a space for those kinds of movies in the cinema in the long run – and I think that's true of the vast majority of movies, both mainstream and arthouse.

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"Honestly, unless there really is something cinematic about the visuals, sound or action – so specifically visually artful films like Barry Lyndon, or the Tree of Life, or more conventional epics like Dune or Top Gun or Avatar – there's just no reason to go to the cinema."

I don't know what kind of sense it makes to argue about this.

My personal perspective is that going to the movie theater is fun. You get a big soda and some snacks. You get to sit in a nice big loungy chair. Even movies that aren't visually spectacular look better in a pitch-black room on a big screen. Even a film like Tár that you don't think of as relying on epic qualities turns out to have sound cues that play really well in a big theater setup. And I enjoy the energy of watching with other people.

That being said, I live in a row house that has slightly weird narrow rooms. If I had a basement man-cave with blackout shades and an optimal home viewing angle and surround sound, I might not like going to the movies as much as I do. I also live a convenient ten minute walk from the movie theater.

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I think a lot of people have kind of forgotten about how great movie theaters are because of the pandemic - I've been living the vaxed and relaxed life for a long time but only started going back to the movie theaters in October (to see Tar at the NYFF). I enjoyed the experience so much I've started going almost once every other week again.

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I definitely agree that if you think a movie theatre is in and of itself a better experience, my critique makes no sense – it's a good experience and you need to decide how much money/time it's worth. I'm not sure that's true for most people anymore and I don't think it is for me – I need a movie to justify its cinematic experience. I kinda feel Avatar has that, especially since I missed seeing the first one in theatres, but it's rare.

There are a bunch of aspects of movie theatres that I think are negative, but the one that causes me concern is the inability to pause. I wonder if people's attention spans just aren't geared towards watching full-length movies anymore, especially slow and plodding ones – we're just so used to drifting in and out of things and watching them at YouTube length. I'd like to think that's not true of me, but then again I have a half-finished Poirot episode open in another tab....

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After COVID, I was of the mindset why go to the movies? Then I get swept up in the Top Gun hype and went. It was the perfect movie to remind me of some of the things Matt lays out and more. I left feeling good and have gone back a few times since. Movie theaters should be sending Tom Cruise a Christmas Cake.

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There are a number of problems with going to the theaters. The first is my wife’s tastes are completely different from mine. Going alone feels weird and I don’t have any local friends who share my tastes.

The second problem is many, possibly most, movies suck I’m reluctant to commit two plus hours of my time to something that I probably won’t enjoy. If I stream, I’m only risking $4. but if I go to a theater with someone, I’m basically stuck there.

The last movie I really enjoyed seeing in the theater was Les Miserables in January 2013. Not coincidentally, I was on crutches from a skiing accident and couldn’t do much outside. That same weekend, I also went to a Falcons playoff game for the one and only time.

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>There are a number of problems with going to the theaters.<

Try going to the movies in China. Domestic audiences here are jaw-droppingly horrible when it comes to Hollywood films (which are generally subtitled, not dubbed): they can't understand/don't need to listen to the dialog. They rely on subtitles. And so they, uh, talk. With abandon. All through the film. And make phone calls. And answer phone calls.

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Good god. I would completely and gracelessly lose my shit.

I wonder if there’s a market for an Alamo style experience in China? Surely in a country that big there’s got to be enough of a minority of cinephiles that there might be some money to be made catering to them

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Losing your shit has approximately zero effect. One's only resources are: go off peak when you absolutely know the theater will be all-but-deserted, watch it at home, or (if you really want the cinema experience) only buy tickets for Chinese films. Audiences are quiet for the latter, of course, since they want to hear the dialog.

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Adding onto this, in a theater you can't pause the movie to take a bathroom break. Pre-pandemic I used to look up what parts of the movie were safely skippable for that because I either had to skip out on getting the huge soda and popcorn (which is missing out on half the fun of going to the theater) or suffering through the third act with my bladder about to burst.

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Tar has such visuals.

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I worry that Tar will lose a huge amount of its steam if watched at home - it is visually propulsive in a way that lends it to theater viewing. Sort of like Parasite, which I loved in theaters but which did less for me at home.

It is also much better than Barry Lyndon or Tree of Life! I'm incredibly said it bombed.

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I think virtually any film is better with the very large screen provided by a cinema. The question is does the enhanced viewing experience outweigh the drawbacks associated with heading out. For me the answer is almost always "no" unless I can go on a truly off-peak time. And even then...

But I'd definitely like to see the Avatar sequel in a movie theater. Not even sure if it's being released in China, but maybe I'll catch it on a Tuesday afternoon...

I saw Tar in my living room and liked it just fine (indeed I thought it easily lived up to the hype).

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The Avatar sequel has racked up $104 million in China so far. Not sure how many theaters it's in, but that sounds like a lot.

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Good to know. Maybe I'll catch it next week.

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I think that some movies that don’t visually scream “you must see these visuals in theaters!” are directed to be seen that way and are much more engrossing there. I think of Welles’ version of Touch of Evil, and The Lighthouse. Movies where the sound and images are meant to work on you in the large theater space, and do, and are much more immersive when seen that way.

Tar definitely has that quality. Field knows what he’s doing and, I’m convinced, directed with the theater experience in mind.

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Dec 29, 2022·edited Dec 29, 2022

I would *really* like it if Field joined the Coen Brothers / P. T. Anderson / Wes Anderson / Terrence Malick club where they let him make a move every few years.

If you read about his failed projects from the last two decades they all sound amazing: Joan Didion came out of retirement to co-write a political thriller with him and they didn't produce it!

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I had to stop reading about potential Field projects a few years ago, it was making me crazy. Here’s a good summary:

https://theplaylist.net/lost-unmade-projects-director-todd-field-20221006/2/

I would love to see Field’s Blood Meridian.

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Just like how the character Tar plausibly fits into the classical music landscape of the past 30 years, you could write a fictional history of American movies since the 90s where all Field's projects get produced and he's seen as his generation's Stanley Kubrick.

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I kinda included Barry Lyndon precisely because I hate it, it's extraordinarily beautiful but my god do I not understand how it's a movie. But seeing it in a cinema (having been convinced to give it a second chance) made me at least appreciate an aspect of it.

Probably, though, there's just no space for movies like Tár at cinemas, or they need lower budgets to break even. I wish the streaming model wasn't so opaque, it produces a lot of good things but it's so hard to tell if things that do well artistically are doing well from a business standpoint.

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Barry Lyndon is great except for the fact that the dude playing the protagonist can't act, but that is a hard problem to overlook.

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Everything Everywhere All At Once was my movie of the year. I watched it with my wife and she had an incredibly powerful emotional reaction to it. It lead to a deep discussion about mothers and daughters, cultural and generational immigrant issues and the different kinds of love we experience. It was one of those films that I think brought us closer together in some way. So my reasons for loving it are very personal but art is a personal thing.

MY put together a great list and I’m going to watch Not Okay now.

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I love that it was both a universal film about the particulars of the Chinese immigrant experience, and also a rollicking multiverse romp about the despair of having everything available instantly on the internet.

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"rollicking multiverse romp about the despair of having everything available instantly on the internet" - I didn't even interpret it that way , interesting! I think the multiverse thing, when done right - as it was there- is open to many interpretations. To me it was a more basic metaphor about facing up to our inability to go back and make potentially better choices, the goal of being truly happy with how we ended up, appreciating it even as we're disillusioned about it?

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My favorite too! I think it also nailed the balance of humor and sadness, and has the most original and effective interpretation of multiverse I’ve ever seen! Really great movie !

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Agree! Also, Stephanie Hsu is also one of my favorite rising stars. She has both great comedic timing and obvious dramatic chops. Those are difficult things for actors to master and the best ones can do both well.

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Very true! In fact all the actors were great which of course is a very important part of the movie's success!

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I think the problem with the Elvis movie is, in fact, that it’s ahistorical but not for the reasons Matt gives (which are good reasons to be ahistorical). The problem is that the real Elvis isn’t an interesting person. Elvis is a professional who does the singing for a business. The missing subtext of his Las Vegas residency is that big bands like that are good back ups for people who can’t really play their instrument. The same is true for, say, Bob Dylan and Brittany Spears who are bringing something else (song writing and dancing), but Elvis is mostly just brings a famous name in then novel format. The movie is about a dreamy, highly motivated artist but he never pretended to be that. The movie just isn’t about Elvis, it’s about a sort of self-image rockers like to have post-beatles, when the leve of projected artistry needed for rock and roll ramps up.

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I know nothing about Elvis and haven’t seen the movie but this is an interesting enough take that I’m going to change both of those things. Thanks!

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I knew and cared nothing about Elvis, but I still enjoyed it.

I now know marginally more about Elvis, and still don't care about Elvis.

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It’s a fantastic movie, it’s just has nothing to do with the person it purports to be about

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Dec 29, 2022·edited Dec 29, 2022

The musician biopic is probably my least favorite genre, and yet I quite enjoyed Elvis. You pointed out that's probably because the movie isn't about Elvis but about the projected image of rockers, but I'll go one further.

I think Baz Luhrmann - a bona fide pop music/rock'n'roll lover judging by his past works - clearly doesn't like Elvis' music. There's not one Elvis song presented in full in the film. There's barely even any Elvis song played in the film that is unadorned, everything is given a modern remix or mashed up with something else. There's not even that hoary scene that is a staple of this genre - the "Eureka" moment where the musician/s comes up with his genius work, sitting alone at a piano or darkened studio or something, while the camera slowly zooms in with hushed reverence. Elvis' actual music is not celebrated, it is tossed off and incidental in the movie that seems pointedly intentional.

Instead, it's clear Baz was mainly interested in two things: Elvis' ability to, for his time, inspire a manic sexual reverie in the people of stodgy mid-century America; and the wily manipulations of his manager Col. Parker to both capitalize off that and rein it in. So, unique for this genre, this musican biopic isn't a hagiography about the artist and not a nostalgia journey through his works. It has an honest-to-god story about two characters in conflict because of what they want out of each other. This is terrific! It makes the movie feels like a real movie with a tale to be told and not some memorial service/greatest hits package that often kills other movies of this type.

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Gonna put in a good word for "Banshees of Inisherin". Of course unfortunately my modern mindset, two of the first thoughts both my wife and I had when started watching the movies was a) "I really wan to visit this area they shot this movie and b) "these working class cottages the characters live in are probably now worth over a million dollars".

But as a fable about the absurdity that was the Irish Civil War, I really thought it worked well.

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I love "In Bruges" so much and heard so much braise for "Banshees" that I was really excited to go see it and to me it just didn't work. The lead actors are great. I love Kerry Condon and she's great. The scenery looks great. Some of the dialogue is funny and winning.

But I just can't get past the fact that the basic story of the movie is really dumb. The key turn of events that sets the action of the film in place don't seem to me like something that would happen. And while of course unrealistic stuff happens in movies all the time, it then seems to me like the other characters in the movie don't respond in an appropriate way. It's fascinating to watch the photography, the acting, and the banter as they swirl around this nonsense story but it's still nonsense.

And while I know some people liked the Irish Civil War stuff, to me as a parable about that history it just totally fails to do justice to the conflict.

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I guess for me that was sort of the point. Whatever reasons Brendan Gleeson had for ending a friendship, the lengths he went to prove his point (spoiler alert) including cutting his fingers off I thought worked well for me. As well as the collateral damage it brought; most tragically to Dominic and the donkey. You can say it trivializes the actual causes of the war and perhaps that’s right (perhaps there was good reason for more committed elements of the IRA to literally fight to the death for full independence), but I think McDonough has a point with the sort of pointlessness of being so committed to the conflict. Thought the most telling moment of the movie was when the policeman was at the pub noted he was going to oversee an execution and yet couldn’t say which side was executing whom.

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This is fun! I liked it a lot. More people should talk about movies because movies are good.

Slight correction, Jim Cameron uses motion capture, not stop motion. Stop motion is what Ray Harryhausen, Henry Selick, and sometimes Wes Anderson do. Motion capture is dots and computers, stop motion is puppets and still cameras.

Can’t wait for 2023’s movies!

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Gonna need a piece breaking down the economic and ethical implications of room-temperature conductor unobtanium and whale longevity juice amrita. Where are the EA people when we need them?

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Great list, generally, and even more evidence that I really ought to get around to Tár.

That having been said, I thought Love and Thunder was awful. Abysmal. It was kind of a kick in the face to Ragnarok, which balanced (a ton of) comedy very well with the storyline, whereas I thought L&T just looked like Waititi completely let off his leash, unedited, with a result that seemed like it couldn’t decide whether it was trying to capture the magic of Ragnarok or trash it for humorous effect. The storyline and effects were half-baked at best (and the CGI goat scream was cringy the first time, let alone the 5th).

Compare all of this to Waititi’s earlier work, and I think it’s pretty clear how much he benefits from working within the constraints of a smaller budget and some good editing. Hunt for the Wilderpeople and What We Do in the Shadows are amazing little films with a ton of heart that balance humor with genuine commitment to the storyline, even when it gets absurd. Ragnarok had glimpses of that same throughline. Love and Thunder never did.

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Strongly seconded. There were a bunch of interesting ideas kicking around in there but they just did not cohere at all into a watchable movie.

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Agree! The 2(?) minute montage with the kids near the end is amazing, but everything else was mostly bad. If it wasn't a MCU movie, it would be an after thought that nobody saw...which is the worst thing about the MCU. It rewards blah movies with enough cash to keep going.

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For me, the recent trend in films, especially "serious" films like Tar," is to focus a lot of attention on the filmmaking and much less on the story. (Actually, I think the same is true of a lot of contemporary newspaper and magazine feature writing.) Too bad -- I think a film should tell a story so that the audience can be engaged and, if possible, lose yourself in it. Instead, we get many films (like Tar, also Glass Onion, many others) that constantly focus the audience's attention on this or that cinematic effect, which as often as not increases confusion rather than clarity. So my nomination for best film of the year is The Duke -- a really terrific satirical comedy, perhaps the only movie in recent decades that follows the great tradition of Ealing comedies from the 1950s England. Beautifully done, beautifully cast, with a point of view about British society. Not highly promoted, but who cares?

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I can’t stand idly by with you criticizing Glass Onion. That movie was fecking entertaining and definitely had a lose-yourself quality.

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I watch too little contemporary stuff to generalize too much. But my experience has been similar. Artists seem both more self-absorbed in showing off their craft, and also more in thrall to their hardcore fanbase, at the cost of storytelling that appeals to, well, me. I wonder if that is what Prestige art is.

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Thanks for this -- I'll be sure to check some of them out (those I haven't seen, that is). I gotta say... as a lifelong film lover, I am very down on the current state of cinema. I'm not sure if that's because I'm approaching middle age and it's starting to show, but I *kindasorta* don't think so.

I got into movies during high school, at the height of 1990s indie cinema -- the *new* "New Hollywood." The CGI extravaganzas that film the movie theaters these days don't speak to me. I find most of the writing to be subpar and despite the vast sums spent on special effects, the output is visually uninteresting. I have not seen TAR yet -- I'm looking forward to it -- but I gotta say, even though there films I saw that I thought were good, literally NOTHING I saw this year was better than anything I watched on the Criterion Channel.

I want to support the local theaters, but it's tough. For the most part, they project digitally rather than on actual film. And not to be a snob, but *I* project digitally at home -- I've got a 4k projector. I can get a similar presentation and immersive theater experience without having the movie interrupted by theater talkers. And then I can watch movies that I'd prefer seeing, rather than what Hollywood's been offering ever since the near-death of the mid-budget movie.

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Dec 29, 2022·edited Dec 29, 2022

Don't blame yourself! I think it's pretty clear that art in general, and specific media in particular, have good and bad periods (the "golden age" and the "renaissance" are known terms for a reson!). Disney really did not produce almost anything worthwhile between roughly 1970 to 1990, and then had an amazing decade, and since is then arguably again in slow decline. Movies in general, I think, had a kind of "golden age" in the 1990s, while TV was kind of Meh (with important exceptions of course) whereas TV has a had - it seems to me- a very good period from roughly 2010 give or take onwards, while movies are in a slump. Not sure how prose authors are doing, but poetry is definitely nowhere near the cultural importance it had a century ago, and so forth. These things actually shift, not just our subjective judgment of them.

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I totally agree. Still, I always considered myself a Movie Guy: others have sports, video games, music, etc. I've always had the movies. And so I'd like to stick with them through thick and thin. But it's tough!

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It's possible that the key is to be more aware of movies that are direct-to-streaming, or in more limited cinema distribution, that are still good, even as the blockbuster are dominated by superhero movies (who are in very noticeable decline in the past couple of years, even by the limited standards of that genre).. There is always good stuff even in bad times, it just takes far more effort to find it.

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