When you watch four movies in four days (part of my relentless quest to see all the 2009 Golden Globe contenders), you can’t help but rank them as a group even when they have nothing in common except the fawning sycophants in the Hollywood Foreign Press Association.
This week’s fab four: “Inglourious Basterds,” “Up,” “The Hurt Locker,” and (ahem) “Paranormal Activity.” I know “Paranormal Activity” didn’t get nominated for anything, but I wanted to watch it because it was the only movie that didn’t get nominated for anything. Like the Special Olympics, the Golden Globes are structured so that everybody goes home with some sort of award. When a movie doesn’t, I figure that’s a very special movie indeed. Anyway, I like scary films.
More on that later. Right now I’ll rate the other three in order of personal preference: First, “The Hurt Locker.” Second, “Up.” Third, “IB.” (I will use the abbreviation because I hate the senseless and intentional misspellings Quentin Tarantino seems to find so amusing.)
So, two war movies and an animated fantasy. But really, “IB” is a fantasy too, so that leaves only one war movie. And this amateur film critic doesn’t mind war movies, particularly when they don’t romanticize war, or go the other direction and preach a political sermon. Kathryn Bigelow, the director, shows us an Iraq where politics don’t matter. It’s just these three guys who find themselves in an incredibly lethal environment, and how each comes to terms with it. Implausible in a couple of places, but compelling throughout.
“IB,” likewise, cares nothing about politics. Or history, or realism, or subtle shadings of character. Tarantino imagines a Nazi Germany where ragtag band of remorseless Jewish warriors is able to take down the entire Nazi high command, including that one guy with the stupid mustache. It’s a comic book of a movie, by turns funny and horrifying, as Tarantino movies are apt to be. It also owes most of its mojo to other World War II caper movies like “The Dirty Dozen.” It’s a movie I’d watch again in a year or so, but I really don’t see this as advancing the art of cinema, or even Tarantino’s body of work. At some point, I’d like to see him quit with the homage to old movies, and return to making his own.
Then there’s “Up.” I’ve grown cynical of Disney’s animation machine — it seems like they do about a dozen of these a year — but I rented “Up” because friends seemed to regard it as remarkable. And really, it is a cut above things like “Wall*E,” which scored an Oscar last year. I like it better because the story is better. And I loved the little montage near the beginning, which traced the arc of an ordinary life and extraordinary love about as movingly and economically as it’s possible to do. It still suffers from hyper-cuteness in too many places, but it’s aimed mostly at kids so what are you going to do? This one will win every “animated feature” award there is to be had at Oscar time. I’m OK with that.
Now, about “Paranormal Activity.” I was largely oblivious to the viral buzz this film had going last year, but it was rated pretty well on Netflix, and well-regarded scary movies are hard to find. Especially scary movies with a budget of around 15 grand.
You probably know the setup: A young couple starts life together in a suburban tract house, only it’s not just the two of them. The boorish young man takes the Best Buy approach to supernatural infestation, buying an expensive video camera to record everything that goes on in the house. Let’s just say that turns out to be not his best idea. The movie works mostly because it never leaves the house, creating a claustrophobic dread that amplifies the eerie little manifestations seen by the camera.
“Paranormal Activity” is a direct descendant of “The Blair Witch Project,” but it’s about 10 times better. For one thing, there’s a tripod. I still get a little seasick when I recall trying to sit through the bouncing videography of “Blair Witch.”