While the title A Most Violent Year is certainly eye-catching and provocative, it also might end up being an unfortunate curse on the film it’s attached to. It really only describes the background of this low-key, calmly restrained struggle for legitimacy and success, that is suggested much more than it is shown. Through that title, and recurring radio news updates about violent crime throughout the film, we see the world that Abel and Anna Morales want to escape and rise above. This New York City of 1981 is a world of danger and desperation, a horrible time and place not to be on top of the heap. The title, and everything it suggests, is ultimately just context for the story of Abel and Anna Morales, and the people they leave in their wake.
As 2014 prepares to close and my ensuing Favorite Movies list takes shape, I find myself looking back not just on this past year but the one before it as well. 2013 had plenty of great movies, and for all of the good movies I did include on my list last year I wonder if there were others to which I didn’t give due credit… or maybe some that I gave too much credit. While film criticism tends to be built around immediacy and forward motion, I thought it would be worthwhile to look backward for just a moment and reconsider the movies of 2013, and see what might have fallen through the cracks.
The very first scene in Selma is Martin Luther King Jr and Coretta Scott King in Stockholm for Dr. King to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. As they dress, the couple talks about how things will be once everything has settled down: the Kings dream about running a small church, with Martin teaching occasionally at a university. It sounds like a nice, simple, comfortable life. Of course, it’s heartbreaking to listen to, knowing that King would be dead only a few years later. It’s even more heartbreaking when you consider that, had King not been assassinated, he probably never would have been able to live that quiet, secluded life. Had King lived even until the present day, he probably still would have been just as active and vocal, fighting to right the same wrongs he did back in the 1960s, wrongs that are sadly still all too common in 2014. That sort of relevancy might grant Selma some additional impact but even if 2014 had been a banner year for American civil rights, Selma would still be a terrific movie, one that is touching and dramatic as only the best movies can be.
With Inherent Vice, Paul Thomas Anderson has added another piece to his thematic masterwork: a chronicle of the 20th century in America. PTA showed us the death of the Old West and the dawn of institutionalized greed in There Will Be Blood, he captured the postwar drifting and self-delusion of the 1950s in The Master, he gave us the excess and and hedonism of the ‘70s and ‘80s in Boogie Nights, and chronicled the existential angst and frustration of the end of the century with Magnolia (seriously, he just needs to adapt The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay and he’d be pretty done). Now with Inherent Vice, he gives us a sprawling fable about the national identity crisis that came with the end of the 1960s. And while that fable makes use of the various film noir archetypes to help frame its message, in the end it is a much more fluid and casual narrative, one that is focused more on capturing the mood of its setting than on spinning a yarn. While the resulting film may not so much be my cup of tea, I can’t help but admire what it accomplishes.
Let’s get this out of the way right up front: The Interview is far from Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg’s best film. And let’s be honest, after this whole ridiculous circus that has built up around the film, there was a very good chance it could never live up to the hype and expectation. In the end, it is not sharp enough or brazen enough as a satire to justify all of the whining coming from North Korea, which really only underscores the fact that Kim Jong Un is at least as ridiculous as he’s being portrayed in the film anyway. But while The Interview might not be as outright funny or insane as some of Rogen/Goldberg’s better work, it is still a well-constructed movie that gets some things very, very right, and reminds me that they are a directorial duo worth watching.
Last night, Stephen Colbert signed off from The Colbert Report after almost a decade of some of the most incisive and brilliant political comedy we might ever see. While I’ve sadly not been watching Colbert regularly for the last couple of years, during college he (along with Jon Stewart) was appointment television, and even as my regular viewership has waned there’s always a video online worth watching. While television has never been a huge focus on this blog, and variety/late-night television even less so, how could I not address the end of such a great piece of comedic work, and one of the great cultural forces my generation has seen?
We learned that torture is legal and morally acceptable. We learned that cops can murder anyone they want as long as the victims are black. We learned that you’re allowed to be a serial rapist if you’re on TV. We learned that women who make and review video games are allowed to be harassed out of their homes. And most recently we learned that our right to free speech is secondary to the ego of a despot in another country.
It is absolutely not hyperbole to say that the cancellation of The Interview’s release is an outright tragedy. We just got censored by another damn country… how does that even fucking happen? For all the talk after every terrorist attack that our values are under siege, THIS IS OUR VALUES UNDER SIEGE. This is our freedom of speech and free assembly being forced out of our hands by some thug on the other side of the globe. I don’t give a fuck how scary you think Kim Jong Un is, he doesn’t deserve the level of sanctity that we reserve for… pretty much NO ONE ELSE EVER.
Let’s skip past the fact that Homeland Security deemed the threat of movie theater attacks as not credible, and that even a country as ridiculous as North Korea would not incite a full-blown war with the United States over a damn movie, and that the theater owners were clearly more motivated to cancel the movie based on potential monetary costs and liability rather than safety concerns. The real heart of the matter for me now is the number of people, both online and in my personal life, that accept all of this, and that act as if the filmmakers and studio were in the wrong in the first place. How can anyone believe that? How can anyone think that a bunch of dudes making a goofy comedy justifies an unprecedented cyber attack and an abandoning of our most core of values? No, it doesn’t matter if The Interview depicts Kim Jong Un getting blown up by a tank (or whatever it is); there are many other cinematic touchstones of similar movies that made similar choices, that were released as they should have been.
In 1988, Martin Scorsese made a film of The Last Temptation of Christ, which among other things shows Jesus being tempted with a normal human life while on the cross (that normal life including marriage and sex with Mary Magdalene). Obviously, many Christians did not appreciate such a portrayal of the head of arguably one of the biggest communities in the world. Among other protests, this lead to a Molotov cocktail attack on a theater in Paris that showed the film. But do we think that Scorsese shouldn’t have made the picture? Do we think that Christ is above portrayals either reverent, mocking and human? And if we at large are not going to bend over backwards to avoid offending Jesus, who millennia later still has millions of followers, why the FUCK do we care what fucking Kim Jong Un thinks of us?
I am sure that I will see The Interview eventually. Be it through VOD, Blu-ray, or some kind of special screening months or years from now, it will happen. But it should happen sooner rather than later, because the last thing we should be doing is telling the world that we can be convinced to not go see a movie by some online bluster from across the world’s biggest ocean. In summary:
North Korea, FUCK OFF.
Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, James Franco, Randall Park and everyone behind The Interview: keep on keepin’ on, your film has just become legendary.