Midnight In Paris, I wrote a little about it before, was a film I was half-interested in seeing, and ending up seeing because there simply wasn't anything else worth consuming in the cinema. It turned out to be a charming, touching, humorous film, with a pinch of magic underneath it all. I must say it was a solid film, and unquestionably a Woody Allen film. I haven't seen more than a half dozen pictures from Allen, but you pick up on his style instantly. As I think back on Paris, I can' t help but envision him in Owen Wilson's place at the lunch scene near the beginning of the film. Allen does a remarkable job in creating and maintaing a consistent tone throughout the film, even though the content varies quite a bit. From a love affair to magically revisiting the Paris of the 1920s, Allen's vision is consistent throughout. People are in pain, but they can enjoy themselves. Whether the story is cutting deep or letting loose, you feel comfortable enough to explore the issues of the characters and story as much as you're willing. Through social media, I see that people are still discovering this film today, and can't help but be won over by its charm. When I saw the film in July, I didn't think it'd have a chance for critical recognition, nor did I think it would warrant recognition, but I'll be glad to see Allen and the film represented.
Tomas Alfredson was not nominated, but he would've received my vote for Best Director for his work on Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. When I think of the best films from the last five years, there are but a handful that jump into my mind: Gran Torino, True Grit, Up In The Air, Tetro, There Will Be Blood, and No Country For Old Men. In my mind, none of those come close to Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. No film has kept me in the moment like Tinker Tailor. Technically, I find no flaws with the film, nothing that doesn't fit properly, nothing out of place. You are thrust into the world of espionage, and it won't let go. It is 1973, the palette subdued, and it's like visiting an older relative's home. You're invited to stay, but you must show your elders respect, and kindly give them your full attention. Again, the tone that Alfredson establishes with the opening suspense sequence is the tone of the entire film. The territory is staked out, and now, we must make our way through to the end. Alfredson uses the power of cinema to engage us, the audience, in conversation. We are active participants along with Gary Oldman as George Smiley. Smiley spends a great deal of time reacting, and and taking things in, and I recall us peeping on the neighbors along with Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window. We're not with Smiley like we were with Stewart though, Smiley is too intelligent for us. This film keeps you in the moment, you can't think too far ahead, you can't think too much about what you've seen, you must stay in the moment, and Alfredson never takes you out of that experience. As Smiley figures out how to flush out the mole, and he is forced to bust out his breath mints, as the film crescendos, my heart was racing. The second time I saw it, my heart was still racing, even though I knew how it was all going to end. Alfredson knows how to build suspense. He keeps you invested and on that emotional roller coaster, requiring very little action, the threat of violence is always there, and you can feel it. Nothing in this film calls attention to itself, there's no shaky cam that reminds us of the cameraman. The music is marvelous, and it supports the emotion of the scenes so well that I often didn't notice it, I was rarely conscious of it. Repeat viewings only strengthen this film. If you start over thinking this film as you're watching it, you will become lost. But film is first and foremost an emotional experience. I would vote Tomas Alfredson as the Best Director because he produced a film of a singular vision, with a cast and crew that supported that vision, with incredibly absorbing performances, and technical mastery that was aimed at telling the story, while keeping the audience locked into the journey. Filmmaking is the most collaborative artistic venture, and Alfredson maximized every cast and crew member, every ingredient used in the filmmaking process, to deliver one specific vision that captured me like very little can.
I originally had no intention of seeing The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, but I was invited to see it, and I certainly wasn't going to decline. It's obviously derived from an incredibly popular trilogy, which I've not read, and Daniel Craig in the leading role, so it seemed like it could turn out to be a real winner. I had seen pieces of the original Swedish film, and got the impression it was a moody, investigative mystery thriller. The title sequence was very 007-esque, and the Immigrant Song as title music made me believe I was in for a lot more action than I was anticipating. After viewing the film, I would say that the 007 title sequence and the fast, hard hitting song were a mistake. Or was it? The biggest issue I had with Dragon Tattoo was the inconsistent tone. Unlike Tinker Tailor, which gives us a character to relate to before he darts off to a foreign land on a secret mission, Dragon Tattoo shows us the protagonists in a state of disarray after events that occurred before the timeline of the film. It took me a while to get into the film, because like Cowboys & Aliens, the scenes are constructed in the editing room, not in the camera. We need three different angles to Daniel Craig's face for some reason. I finally found myself into the story, and starting to get quite interested. Early Oscar buzz is putting Trent Reznor's music as the forerunner for Best Score, but I found it to be a hurdle. It didn't always support the emotional context of the scenes, like Alberto Inglesias did so marvelously with Tinker Tailor. The style of instruments felt different, too, from scene to scene, which can be effective if done properly, but here it felt jarring and unnatural. Halfway through the film, and I was feeling the editing was adequate at best, the score unfitting, and I didn't truly know who the characters were. Once I felt settled in and things were getting good, then it suddenly became cliche and absurd. When the villain is revealed, I felt like I was watching an episode of Dexter, and then to dispatch the villain they put in the obligatory action sequence that the titles promised, and the film completely lost me. My heart was racing, even the second time, for the buildup to the climax in Tinker Tailor. The climax in Dragon Tattoo? A revelation during a sex scene that led to a climactic conversation. This is not how you adapt novels into films. The film manages to drag on probably another half an hour, laying the groundwork for the sequels or trying to fill out the novel, I don't know. But I never felt any attachment to the characters, so I didn't care at all for way the film wrapped up. John LeCarre, author of Tinker Tailor, told Tomas Alfredson to make something different than the novel, and different from the seven-part miniseries that had been produced. Filmmakers ought to use the ingredients from a novel and turn them into a good film. Some of the ingredients from Dragon Tattoo felt like they were taken from Dexter and 007, they felt out of place. Whatever Stieg Larsson's vision for the novels was, I haven't a clue. A director is leading a massive team of craftsman who come together to produce a singular vision, but I didn't get that at all with Dragon Tattoo.
Most people I know wanted Fincher to win the Oscar for Best Director last year and his film The Social Network to win Best Picture. I didn't get it then, and I don't get it now. Sure, The King's Speech offered nothing new; but, it was well crafted and provided a genuine emotional experience for the audience. What are the Awards about? What is the criteria? I can honestly say that I've had zero conversations about Social Network in a year's time, and I have had conversations about King's Speech (and without the topic being about its Best Picture win). I don't think Fincher delivered an expertly made emotional experience with Dragon Tattoo or Social Network. Are his films going to revolutionize a younger generation of filmmakers? Perhaps, but I truly doubt he will go down in the history books as one of the Masters alongside Hitchcock, Ford, and Kurosawa. Those directors were daring, innovative, and they took chances and pushed boundaries, but never at the expense of story, character, or emotion - and those are three of the key ingredients to making a good film.