OFF THE CARPET: Let it all bleed out

Posted by · 10:57 am · November 30th, 2009

Saoirse Ronan in The Lovely BonesEvery now and then this season, I’ve sat down and taken on the fool’s errand of deciphering what 2009, the year in film, has been “about.”  It’s silly because a given film year is the result of years and years of preparation and development, so to think a collective thematic consciousness settles in is a bit of a stretch.

This year alone we have a swift production that at this time last year saw the filmmaker still in the editing suite for his late-2008 entry, while on the other side of the spectrum, a forward-thinking director will finally see the end of a decades-long journey for an anticipated “game-changer.”  Movies come from a thousand different places and a thousand different perspectives.

Nevertheless, I’ve always come back to one thought on this year’s slate of films: catharsis.  With expected exceptions here and there, in one way or another, the bulk of what we’ve seen on screens in 2009 has very much been about emotional purging, bleeding out the past and, not to be too on-the-nose with the zeitgeist connotations, change.

Let me illustrate.  The most and the least compelling examples are the best place to start: Lars Von Trier’s “Antichrist” and Clint Eastwood’s “Invictus,” respectively.

Von Trier’s film is clearly the filmmaker’s own psychotherapy writ large, on the surface, the tale of a couple in grief over the loss of a child.  On other levels, the film is about the discovery of the power of the self over trauma and the destructive capabilities of outside influence and perspective on that recuperation.

Eastwood’s film, meanwhile, and as mentioned many times in this space, is about a nation healing the wounds of the past through the elation of sport.  Perhaps of all the films in play this season, it most reflects America’s crossroads, but other films concern themselves with the here and now as well.

“2012,” for instance, would hardly seem fitting in this consideration of the year’s films, but there is something purifying about seeing Roland Emmerich crank his cinemapocalyptic stylings to 11 on the way to cleansing the earth of most of its population and entirely changing the face of its ecosystem.

(from left) Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin in It's ComplicatedAlong similar lines, what could be more cathartic than seeing Eli Roth plugging round after round into the pulp of the Fuhrer’s skull in Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds?” Even the entertainments are on board here.

Speaking of which, the most recent example to cross my path, “It’s Complicated,” tells the story of a divorced couple once in love, and regretful of the past, shedding the convention of their lives in favor of one more romp that may, or may not, be just what the doctor ordered.

The animated films found their way to these themes this year as well, not least of them being Pixar’s “Up,” about an elderly man clinging to the past, caught up in the fantasy of a shared dream, who ultimately learns the value of the relationships that still exist for him.

Similarly, moving from popular animation to low-budget live action, “That Evening Sun” is the story of an ornery southern coot so obsessed with the order his world once had that it takes the cleansing power of fire to ultimately reveal the road in front of him, a road that leads away from his comfort zone and, indeed, away from the past.

“Up in the Air” is, as the tagline notes, about a man trying to make a connection.  But more to the point, it is the story of a man in suspended animation, unaware of just how unfulfilled and incomplete he and his life might be.  It takes unanticipated heartbreak to jerk him back to attention and set him back on course for a life of substance…hopefully.

“The Lovely Bones” is the story of a murdered girl with unfinished business and her family’s journey toward acceptance, while “A Single Man” features Colin Firth as a gay man utterly destroyed by grief over the loss of his lover, so much so that he seems to sleepwalk through life, desperate for meaning.

And if ever there was a movie this year about the search for meaning, it’s the Coen brothers’ “A Serious Man,” a film that perhaps ultimately offers up the message that catharsis, like any number of things meant to make life a bit easier to push through, is pointless when one considers the random, unavoidable suffering the universe has in store at any given turn.

(from left) Michael Stuhlbarg and Fred Melamed in A Serious ManThis idea of purging the past is everywhere this year.  One could go on and on: Robert Zemeckis’s “A Christmas Carol,” Lee Daniels’s “Precious,” Guillermo Arriaga’s “The Burning Plain,” John Hillcoat’s “The Road,” etc.  And certainly, for obvious reasons, you can point to the year’s war triolgy — “Brothers,” “The Hurt Locker” and “The Messenger” — for further evidence.

Is it merely coincidence that so many titles share this theme in the first term of an African American president who built his campaign on the promise of a new direction and immediate healing?  To be honest, probably.  But regardless, it is so intriguing to note how it has played out across any number of genres, filmmaking methods and artistic choices.

One of the first places we turn when looking to emotionally mend is an artistic outlet.  At the end of the day, maybe it makes perfect sense that 2009, the year in cinema, has so concerned itself with that idea.  As always, we’re trying to make sense of this world, these times and, most certainly, what the future might have in store.

The Contenders section has been slightly updated, and the sidebar predictions have received their weekly grooming.  One major film is left: James Cameron’s “Avatar,” while Guy Ritchie’s “Sherlock Holmes” also lies in wait.  Soon enough, the year, the decade, will draw to a close.

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33 responses so far

  • 1 11-30-2009 at 11:03 am

    j said...

    I still stump for Cornish & Campion – more likely in screenplay. As long as Streep & Up are in the respective categories too, I don’t care who they have to throw out to make this come true.

  • 2 11-30-2009 at 11:06 am

    Dan said...

    So The Lovely Bones is back on the list, eh?

  • 3 11-30-2009 at 11:42 am

    Fitz said...

    Really hoping Serious Man sneaks into the 10 best picture nominees.

  • 4 11-30-2009 at 11:58 am

    The Other James D. said...

    I went on a [terrific, thank you] date last Wednesday, and we both decided how eager we were to see “A Serious Man”. After being a little…over the Coens with their past two films, I just watched this. And I LOVED this.

    Michael Stuhlbarg is brilliant and is now my winner over Renner/Rockwell. In a just world, he would knock out one of the previous winners for their spot.

    The Academy better nominate this fucker!

  • 5 11-30-2009 at 12:02 pm

    ninja said...

    I`d replace:

    a) Mirren with Ronan (too great a buzz to be ignored and she was already nominated so newcomer she isn`t) ,

    b)Freeman with Renner (honestly can`t believe that voting on autopliot will happen here and push Renner out)

    c)Maybe Day-Lewis with Mortensen. Haven`t seen Nine but Mortensen is fantastic in The Road and in almost every scene of the movie.

    d) Marshall with Richie, Jackson or Ford. I`m not changing Cameron because I hope Avatar will be a huge success on every level but I think that Marshall is most vulnerable here if Nine is deemed a lesser Chicago. Also, if Cameron failed, one of proposed three would take his spot.

  • 6 11-30-2009 at 12:09 pm

    The Other James D. said...

    a) You’d replace Mirren, not Bullock??

    d) Richie…lolwut? C’mon now.

  • 7 11-30-2009 at 12:22 pm

    ninja said...

    hey, buzz on Richie movie has been strong so I gather that he got his mojo back.

    And, yes, I would replace Mirren. She`s a recent winner and Bullock`s chances are growing by a day (or millions of dollars per day that Blind Side rakes in). Also, I admit the bias but I would be very happy to see Bullock nominated. The woman is very underrated and it`s terrific to see an actress over 40 pulling in such crowds. Coupled with best reviews of her career, I don`t see how she cna miss out.

  • 8 11-30-2009 at 12:28 pm

    The Other James D. said...

    She could still miss out by the Academy considering “The Blind Side” too bland and mediocre. I’d like to see her in it, and I think she ought to get at least one nomination in her career, but I’m not feeling it yet. And besides, Mirren is earning tons of raves and many who’ve seen “The Last Station” consider her the film’s VIP. I am not predicting Ronan either, as I think the buzz will be all on Tucci. Instead, my fifth slot prediction is Marion Cotillard.

    And eh, “Sherlock Holmes” just looks so ridiculous. I don’t buy it as even close to awardsy. I can see it being an enjoyable crowd-pleaser, but not much else.

    For what it’s worth though, I do agree with #2 and #3 combined. Renner will, hopefully, get a few critics awards to strengthen his chances. He’ll need at least a couple, probably, and a good “The Hurt Locker” campaign, but I don’t see voters being all that impassioned to vote for *both* Day-Lewis and Freeman this year.

  • 9 11-30-2009 at 12:31 pm

    SHAAAARK said...

    It’s kind of absurd to see critics try to find a “theme” or defining spirit in the films of a year, and yet at the same time wildly entertaining.
    But I would like to point out that Where the Wild Things Are is nothing if not catharsis. Also, Star Trek is catharsis for the series, allowing its fans to come to terms with the dense continuity that had bogged down the series, and renewing everything that was good and fun about the series to begin with.

  • 10 11-30-2009 at 12:40 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Obviously there are other examples.

  • 11 11-30-2009 at 12:41 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Anyone who says “replace Mirren” hasn’t seen the film.

  • 12 11-30-2009 at 12:43 pm

    ninja said...

    “Instead, my fifth slot prediction is Marion Cotillard.”

    I have a hunch that Nine will miss out in Best Actress category. Cotillard is divine actress but her role (screentime-wise) seems to be borderline between lead and support. Correct me if I`m wrong since you know these things better than I do. I still give Ronan the edge because she`s a clear lead, no catgeory controversy or fraud here. As for Bullock, her movie may be bland but its boxoffice certianly isn`t. That may help her stay in media eye which sometimes is more important than reviews itself. As for Mirren, how about a real shocker of a veteran replacing a veteran aka Streep snub? I don`t wish it but perhaps Streep-Mulligan-Sidibe trio isn`t as strong as it appears? I could see Sidibe miss out as the real buzz is really with Mo`nique.

  • 13 11-30-2009 at 1:01 pm

    Loyal said...

    Avatar appears to fit the catharsis theme as well. Wounded war vet given one last chance to fight for what he thinks is important, only to learn an entirely different lesson.

  • 14 11-30-2009 at 1:07 pm

    Maxim said...

    Nice column, Kris.

    I still claim that EVERYTHING I’ve seen from “Sherlock Holmes” looks terribe. Granted I haven’t seen the film but… the reviews would have to be strong.

  • 15 11-30-2009 at 2:04 pm

    Caleb Roth said...

    Colin, not Tom Firth.

    Adapted Screenplay: Julie and Julia over The Lovely Bones? Really?

  • 16 11-30-2009 at 2:12 pm

    Lance said...

    Any chance that “Mary and Max” might be an update on the sidebar for animated feature? I just saw it and I think it’s the best of that group. Reviews are very strong as well.

  • 17 11-30-2009 at 2:21 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Weird mixture of Tom Ford and Colin Firth. Thanks, Caleb. Heh.

  • 18 11-30-2009 at 2:37 pm

    AmericanRequiem said...

    Kris, are you going to do a review of the lovely bones?

  • 19 11-30-2009 at 2:46 pm

    Bryan said...

    Cinemapocalyptic. Well played, sir.

  • 20 11-30-2009 at 2:47 pm

    Bryan said...

    And damn. Am I actually going to have to see The Blind Side now?

  • 21 11-30-2009 at 3:32 pm

    Chase K. said...

    Kris, this is a marvelous piece. Well done.

    It’s hard to characterize “Antichrist” in 2-3 sentences, but you did a pretty good job.

  • 22 11-30-2009 at 4:17 pm

    Adam Smith said...

    Your Sandra Bullock prediction disturbs me. Excuse me while I cross my fingers and make a blood sacrifice to Ra the Sun God to ensure you’re wrong.

  • 23 11-30-2009 at 4:18 pm

    Adam Smith said...

    Though I admire the balls it took to put that prediction out there–one that will pay off handsomely if you’re right.

  • 24 11-30-2009 at 4:50 pm

    Joel said...

    I personally don’t think Bullock will get in. Perhaps in the Globes for Drama, but “The Blind Side” is terribly bland as a film and the Academy will notice this. I assure you. It’ll get completely ignored.

    Kris, you did seem to forget “Nine” as a shoo-in for Sound Editing (you have it as a Best Bet for Sound Mixing, which is why it struck me as odd), but other than that I think your predictions are spot-on. Mine are constantly changing. And I see you added “Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant” into the Makeup predix. Very nice. I hope it happens. It may not, but hey, we can dream.

    And the piece is indeed marvelous.

  • 25 11-30-2009 at 7:03 pm

    ninja said...

    watching Gotham awards. What a beautiful woman Kat Bigelow is!

  • 26 11-30-2009 at 8:29 pm

    half empty said...

    Bullock might have a shot at winning the damn thing. Popular actress who’s been around forever, popular film, no dominant frontrunner. It’s unlikely that any of the performances that appear to be in the running will sweep the precursors. And Bullock is just now starting to gain steam…she’s set up to peak at exactly the right time. Sibide and Ronan are in divisive movies. Mulligan and Streep have been presumed nominees for a full fucking year…where’s the momentum there? I’m not personally pulling for Bullock, but I think it’s a mistake to discount her chances.

  • 27 11-30-2009 at 8:50 pm

    Alex said...

    I have a feeling Invictus could take off with them people who like The Blind Side. Mediocrity +sports + black people = winner.

    Plus Clint is a Republican. (a libertarian but still)

  • 28 11-30-2009 at 11:00 pm

    Mr. Gittes said...

    Wow. I just saw The Cove. It’s the best movie of the year. Can a documentary be nominated for best picture? The Cove features the best ending of a film that I’ve seen in a long time. I hope people don’t forget this.

  • 29 11-30-2009 at 11:11 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Joel: I wouldn’t say I “forgot” Nine for sound editing. It’s not going to be recognized there. Musicals never are.

  • 30 11-30-2009 at 11:13 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    By the way, moderating a Q&A tonight with Bridges, Cooper and Burnett, it struck me that one of the reasons I wanted to write this piece was the journey to sobriety present in Crazy Heart. Then I went and forgot to include the damn thing in the piece. Ah well, you get the point.

  • 31 12-01-2009 at 5:32 am

    Adam Smith said...

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t Sound Editing usually more related specifically to sound effects (the guns, the booping and the beeping, the explosions, etc.), whereas Sound Mixing is more about the overall sonic landscape? That’s why musicals shine in the Sound Mixing category, and why Nine could potentially win. I’m personally predicting a win there for Star Trek, but I may be biased toward the best sonic landscape I’ve heard on film all year.

  • 32 12-01-2009 at 9:07 am

    Tyler said...

    Every other year it seems, the film they like best wins Sound, but the film with the most complex sound work wins Sound Editing. See Slumdog Millionaire/The Dark Knight, Dreamgirls/Letters From Iwo Jima, Ray/The Incredibles. There’s a few factors at work, but a musical is in an excellent spot to win Sound. Sound Editing is more effects-oriented.

    I think District 9, Star Trek, Up, The Hurt Locker and Avatar are pretty safe. They’re the best combo of loudest and most critically acclaimed. Nine won’t get nominated there, musicals never do.

  • 33 12-02-2009 at 5:49 am

    Marshall said...

    OK, so after publishing my first Oscar predictions, I now realize how hard it is. Kudos to you for making it seem so easy! Our predictions bear some striking similarities because I visit here so frequently, but our Best Picture predictions are fairly disparate.