Ted Turner may be the greatest accidental hero in the history of film preservation.
Let me back up and take the long way around to get to this point. I'm going to try something different this year and keep a media journal for myself, to not just break down what movies I watch but every bit of media I ingest. When, how much, where, what I used to watch them. I'm curious about my own diet, but also about our media diets in general.
With this in mind, I realized that I wanted to pick just the right thing to start 2012, and so I opened Netflix Instant and pulled up the documentary "These Amazing Shadows," a movie about the National Film Registry and why it was created, how the films are chosen, who chooses them, and what it all means.
I had not seen the film before, and it's a lovely piece on the cultural importance of movies, the nature of film preservation, and how we share our cultural history. One thing the movie reminds me of is the way these films that have become old hat, ingrained to the point of white noise to some of us, are always new to someone, and there's an importance to the idea of keeping them pristine and available so that future audiences have their chance to have that experience. Yes, I've seen "Wizard Of Oz" so many times over the course of my life that I barely "see" it when it's on, but this ongoing Film Nerd 2.0 project with my kids underlines the idea that every viewer has their first time with films, and setting the stage the right way for that first viewing can mean so much. You can ruin a movie by showing it wrong, and you can make an afternoon into magic if you show it right.
Ted Turner may be the greatest accidental hero in the history of film preservation.
I made a mention of a Girl Talk concert the other night on Twitter… well, actually, that's not true. I RT'd someone else's mention of the show, and I got a surprised response from someone who seemed amazed by the idea that I have any other interests than film, which is fair. When you spend as much time writing and talking about one subject, it would seem to be the defining thing about you.
But of course, there are other ways I spend my time, and other things I give my mental real estate to, and music and games and books are all part of what I feel keeps me sane and interesting and engaged each and every year, all of them ingested for different reasons and in different ways and in different quantities. I decided that the last thing I run every year should be this article, the one that bats clean-up for all the other End-Of-The-Year pieces.
The big one, of course, in terms of time spent putting it together and considering it, is my Ten Best Films of 2011 list. And I think that turned out pretty well. My piece about the next ten film, the Runners-Up, was also solid, I thought. And then there was my list of The Ten Worst Films of 2011 as well. All of those took time.
The mail from you guys about the liveblogging this week has been interesting, and if it's something you'd like to do on some sort of regular schedule, we can try that in the new year. I would happily pick some of my favorite movies on Blu-ray and a time when we can watch them together. Or newer movies. Or movies I've never seen, but should have, which could be interesting as well.
Whether we continue it or not, though, I'm glad to have finally sat down to see these movies again. Time had diminished them somewhat in my mind, reduced them to the set pieces and the spectacle and the hype, and I had forgotten what really makes them special, the human and emotional content of the movies. And now, as I gear up for "Return Of The King," I'm nearly as excited as I was before I saw the film for the first time in 2003, eager to see everything tied together.
Tonight's going to be a long one, so I just had a sandwich, I've got a few drinks set aside, and I'm powdered and primped and ready to go. We've got over four hours of movie ahead, which will make this an Oscar-length live-blog. A marathon. And as I said last night before "The Two Towers," it's been long enough that I really have forgotten much of this movie already.
I'm amazed at how many remarkable moments I'd forgotten. That whole bit at the end of "Towers" between Frodo and the Nazgul is gorgeous and creepy and bizarre, and I'd totally forgotten it, and I'd forgotten the way Frodo almost attacks Sam for stopping him, furious at the idea that he didn't get to hand the Ring over. Wonderful, and this revisit is giving me all of these moments anew, which is one of the reasons I intentionally set them aside for a while.
Toshi has been arguing his case like he's appealing his own death sentence, passionate and determined, absolutely ready to sit down and watch all three films with me right now. Only... he's not. Not really. He gets images in his head and treats them as nightmare fuel in a way that even Allen doesn't. Toshi tends to really feel the movies he watches, engaging with them deeply, and I think these films are full of stuff he's really not equipped to see yet.
But the interest is there, and so I showed him the trailer for "The Hobbit." He immediately understood that it was "more" of "Lord Of The Rings," and I made him a deal. He can see the movie in theaters next Christmas with me, but only if we read the book (as in I read, he listens and discusses) before the film comes out. He says he's up for it, and if so, this should be a real treat of a year.
But for now... let's press play and start the final steps of this giant journey...
Sorry we missed the second night, but a horrifying stomach flu raced through the McWeeny household over the last 36 hours or so, and last night was my turn to transform into some sort of horrifying Slurpee Machine From Hell. Now that we've conquered that and banished the illness, it's time to dive back in with a second round of liveblogging our Return To Middle-Earth.
Two quick notes. First, I promise to spell Ian McKellen's name correctly tonight. And second, I am startled to realize that I remember very little about the way these next two films actually work. I know I've seen them, I know I've reviewed not only the theatrical but the Extended cuts before, and I know the general shape of things. But when it comes to remembering the specific beats and scenes, I'm drawing a bit of a blank...
... and I LOVE that.
I love that these return viewings are fresh for me. As fresh as possible, anyway, considering how many times it feels like I watched everything the first time around. In this case, they're so massive that it feels like I'm wading into something new all over again. I'm excited. And now the disc is in the player and here we go...
We just wrapped up a Film Nerd 2.0 screening of "The Muppet Movie," and the boys are irritated that they have to leave the room now. I love that they're excited about these movies, and they know the time is coming that they'll see them. But this time through is all about me enjoying them anew and getting a better sense of them as movies, something that's been a long time coming.
So why now?
That's the question that seems most appropriate as we begin the journey. It's 6:00 PST on December 27, and we just hit play on "Fellowship Of The Ring" for the first time since mid-2004.
After all, "The World Has Changed." That first line seems very appropriate now. It's been ten years since this was released, and the landscape of the modern blockbuster seems very different. It's strange to see a new production diary for "The Hobbit" or to see the first trailer and to see how well Jackson appears to be recapturing the exact vibe of his first trip to Middle-Earth. I wasnt sure he'd be able to do it, but more importantly, I wasn't sure audiences would still want to see it. As acclaimed as these three films were, and deservedly so, I still think this is one of the great weird flukes in film history.
Watching the prologue play out again, I'm amazed they were able to start the films this way, kicking off with this crazy infodump, but he makes this history lesson feel positively lyrical. It helps when you have a voice as hypnotic as Cate Blanchett's telling you this tale of how the Ring was created and changed hands. I think it's also smart because it sets up that there is magic and the scale of the world and the darkness that is possible in the series, and it lets you know up front what sort of ride you're in for.
I find that the act of making a Top Ten list each year probably takes up way more headspace than it should for me. I sweat over it. I wrestle with each spot on that list. I spend days moving things up and down the list until I feel like there's nothing that I can movie anywhere else.
And the films that just narrowly miss that Top Ten are almost always films I love just as much as the films that made the Top Ten. It's just that the order shook out in a way that often leaves me tied in knots. How can I love a film this much and not find a spot for it in that top ten? It's a good problem to have, and 2011 was a year where I could easily have made three totally different Top Ten lists and each one would have been equally valid and filled with things I adore. I'll leave it at 20, though. There's the main Top Ten that we ran the other day, and now this, my list of the runners-up. And what a strange and diverse group of titles it is.
As with the Top Ten list, if it showed at a public screening this year, it qualifies for my list, and I think this represents a pretty strange and wonderful range of experiences that were possible to have for ticket-buyers this year.
Just as 2011 delivered some delirious highs, there were also some moments of jaw-dropping wrong-headedness, movies that aimed high and failed completely, and ineptitude on a level that is almost infuriating. If we're passionate enough to pick the ten films that did everything right, you can bet we're passionate enough to pick the ten that got it all wrong.
I considered titles like "Jack and Jill," but the Happy Madison stuff is such a uniform sort of terrible that I find it hard to work up the energy to truly hate them. I may think the "Twilight" films are terrible, but "Breaking Dawn" is so well-made that even if I don't like the text, I can respect the wrapping paper they've put it in.
No, to make this list, a film had to really spectacularly fumble it all, and if you throw in some truly nasty subtext, you've got a winning combination. I dislike every single one of these films in an active and engaged way, and I have no interest in ever sitting through any of them again. The great part about the end of the year is that you can put awful movies like this in your rearview mirror and move on.
But not without one more kick to the ribs...
For the past few days, I've been dropping hints about which films did make it onto my list of the best 20 films of the year by sending out tweets of the titles that didn't make the list.
Look, this whole thing is absurd anyway, so why not have some fun with it? Lists aren't definitive in any way, because they can't be. I can't tell you what movies will mean the most to you in any given year… only which ones meant the most to me. Lists are really the best way for you to gauge a critic, because it's the most revealing moment in a year. This is where every critic lays their tastes bare and says, "This is what ultimately mattered to me about this year." This is the moment where people line up to say, "Wow, I'm glad you included that" and "I'm not sure what that is" and "Are you stupid or drunk or both?"
We do the top ten as a video piece now, and Alex Dorn has put together another knockout look back at my ten favorite films of the year. Remember, I included anything that played any public screening I attended, whether theatrical or at a festival, so some of what I include this year may not hit screens near you until 2012, and some of what you guys saw theatrically this year may have qualified for last year's list for me.
Forget the countdowns and the vague teases and the bootleg shot-on-a-cell-phone versions. Thanks to Apple.com, the first trailer for Ridley Scott's "Prometheus" is live and online, and it's a trip.
I guess at this point, all the games that Fox and Scott have been playing about "is this an 'Alien' prequel or not?" seem silly, because it's screamingly apparent from the trailer that this is set in the same general reality. My guess is they just don't want to use the word "prequel" because of the expectations that sets about things tying together neatly. This does not appear to be a story all about setting up the specific incident on the Nostromo in the original 1979 film, but rather a story about what led to a world where that incident could have happened at all.
What excites me here is the scale of this and the idea that we're getting the sort of strange and heightened SF that seems to barely exist these days. It's a chilly trailer, designed to unsettle and tantalize, and it does both quite well.
I wish I were more resistant to Stephen Daldry's movies.
He's given to the sort of grand gestures that can drive me nuts in some filmmakers who don't earn those moments, who work at the depth of a car commercial, but put to service of some fairly well-groomed material. And I'm a guy who really liked "Everything Is Illuminated," the first film that was adapted from the work of Jonathan Safran Foer. I think this guy writes lovely little books that filmmakers can get crazy about, gorgeous little challenges. Here, he's crafted a narrative that depends completely on finding the right kid. You've got to believe this kid and his relationship with his parents, and the parents have to work quickly, and you have to be ready to be sucker punched by this one, because it's going to work you, and in more ways than many people will expect.
I think any advertising for this makes it fairly clear that the main hook is "Boy loses his father, WHO HAPPENS TO BE TOM HANKS, in 9/11, and then struggles." That's clear. And to be fair, that sort of is the whole movie. A boy struggles to deal with the loss of his totally awesome father in a very famous tragedy. "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close." Here's a U2 song. I see this movie coming, and it makes me nervous. It looks to me like it will be shameless. And if you listen to some other critics, the movie is shameless. It is that worst case scenario.
But I don't think so.