Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Missmediajunkie v. The Art House

I have come to the conclusion over the past few years that I'm really not cut out for any kind of serious film study or analysis. And frankly, as obsessed as I am with the movies and with seeing as many great films as I can, I'm really not very good at appreciating them. Every year I familiarize myself with all the big art house titles, all the award winners and the critical darlings. And every year, I'm bored out of my skull by the majority of them. Sometimes I'll get lucky and one will resonate with me in just the right way, like "Embrace of the Serpent" or "War Witch." But far more often than not, I wind up bored and uneasy, wondering what other film-lovers saw in a movie that I didn't.

I've experienced a particularly bad case of disconnection with the art house this season. Paul Verhoeven's "Elle," Park Chan-wook’s “The Handmaiden,” Babak Anvari’s "Under the Shadow," Pedro Almodovar's "Julieta," Kleber Mendonça Filho's "Aquarius," Mia Hanson-Love's "Things to Come," and Maren Ade's "Toni Erdmann" have all left me disappointed. It's especialy infuriating because most of these films feature older female main characters, which is something I always want to see more of. I certainly liked and appreciated some of the films, and I'm very happy that I had easier access to them this year, but nothing has really gotten me truly emotionally engaged. And I've found that I need that kind of engagement to really want to explore and discuss a film more in-depth.

Ultimately, what I really want out of a movie or television show is to be entertained. What I'm entertained by tends to be more highbrow than the usual Hollywood studio fare, but only up to a point. Also, I admit that I'm a snob, who readily follows what's trendy and getting a lot of attention. I want to be all erudite and knowledgeable about cinema, but there are certain lofty corners of the landscape that I simply don't have the desire to maintain more than a very shallow relationship with, because they're so endlessly tedious to me. While I watch the Cannes winners and keep up with the auteurs, usually I'd much rather be watching the latest episode of "Game of Thrones" or the newest Marvel movie. There are artsy, intellectual films that I honestly do adore, and I do my best to seek them out, but I'm just not as enthusiastic about them as I feel I should sometimes, as a media geek.

Let's take "Toni Erdmann" as an example. The German comedy was rapturously praised at its premiere at the 2016 Cannes film festival, and actually sparked some controversy when it lost the Palm d'Or. It topped the 2016 Sight & Sound poll, and even landed a spot on a recent BBC list of the greatest 100 films of the 21st century. I finally got my hands on a copy last month, and found myself slogging through a 160 minute film about a stressed out businesswoman navigating a thorny business deal, and her practical joker father, who wants to help alleviate her misery. It's a mostly understated character study married to scenes of wildly lowbrow humor and touching whimsy. There were some great laughs and surprises, but 160 minutes of anything can be a difficult watch, and "Toni Erdmann" just ran far too long.

I know it's not just foregn cinema, because I had a great time with 2016's foreign genre movies, including "The Wailing" and "Train to Busan" from South Korea, and the newest "Godzilla" movie from Japan. Also, I had similar difficulties with some of this year's American indie films, including "Moonlight," "Kate Plays Christine," "Indignation," "Swiss Army Man," "Certain Women," and "Other People." Maybe it's just been a tough year, or I'm going through another round of burnout. Maybe my tastes are changing as I'm getting older and more tired, and I just want to watch less challenging movies for a while.

And why am I telling you this? Well, this has definitely been affecting my writing lately, and is the big reason why you're not getting reviews for most of the films I listed in this post. I think it's best to be forthcoming and honest about this, especially with my Top Ten list coming up soon. But more about that in a few weeks.

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