Sunday, January 17, 2010

Golden Globes, Comedies and (500) Days of Summer

Just one look at the Golden Globe nominations for Best Picture-Musical or Comedy made me want to weep. It’s clearly been an awful year for the comedies when average movies like “It’s Complicated” and “Julie and Julia” are nominated. Even “Nine” comes as a big surprise considering the serious lack of critical acclaim for the film. Nevertheless, I can’t comment much on “Nine” as I haven’t really seen it. However, the cold response it has gotten makes its inclusion fairly surprising.

The Globes’ Best Picture – Musical or Comedy category has almost always featured uniformly excellent films which were either exceptionally loved by the critics or the audiences and in rare cases, both. However, this year’s nominations are woefully bad. In fact, the nominations in the Best Animated Film is far better and made me doubt whether there was any sense in excluding them altogether from the Best Picture category. I mean, if foreign films can be nominated in both categories (like “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon” at the Oscars), why not animated ones? In fact, “Toy Story 2” and “Beauty and the Beast” have actually won in this category in the past.

Let’s look at each of the movies: “It’s Complicated” by Nancy Meyers (“Something’s Gotta Give”, “The Holiday” and “The Parent Trap”) received largely negative reviews across the board. Despite excellent performances by the always awesome Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin, it was, at best, a cute movie that one would forget 15 minutes after leaving the theatre. It severely pales in comparison even to Meyers’ own works like the charming and lovely “Something’s Gotta Give” and the cute and heart-warming “The Holiday”. This is perhaps the most undeserving nomination I have seen in the last 10 years at least. There were several better films which were way better and would make a fitting entry into this category: “Whip It!” which was a kick ass directorial debut from Drew Barrymore; “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist” had solid critical consensus and was a much better romantic comedy; However, star power prevailed and a movie like this was nominated.

Julie and Julia” was another comedy directed by Nora Ephron, another director occasionally dishes out charming romantic comedies like “Sleepless in Seattle” and “When Harry Met Sally” (as a writer) when she isn’t doing downright insipid work like “Lucky Numbers” and “Bewitched”. The movie also received a lukewarm response at best and the only thing that went outright in its favour was the delicate and delightful performance of Meryl Streep. Disappointing in many ways, the movie could’ve been a classic had it had a little more charm and a better conclusion. The food looked delicious and Meryl Streep can look fabulous in almost any role. But that is not enough reason to nominate a film! A solid alternate choice would’ve been a movie like “In the Loop”, a biting satire on war poking fun at both, the British and the American. It opened to a strong critical response and was a well made comedy. However, “Julie & Julia” was chosen, an odd choice indeed.

That brings me to the other two nominees of the year. I do believe that the competition is only going to be between “The Hangover” and “(500) Days of Summer”. Now, “The Hangover” is also an odd choice for any awards ceremony (apart from MTV Movie Awards). I have never seen a raunchy comedy being nominated for Best Picture in any major award ceremony. However, it is a welcome oddity unlike the two other nominations above as it recognises that raunchy humour doesn’t necessarily always result in a solid movie. With a solid screenplay and a superb cast, “The Hangover” indeed was one of the better comedies of the year. It had the support of both, the critics as well as the audience, a rarity in the Hollywood awards scene. It is also possibly most likely to win.

However, of these nominees, if there is any movie that, I think, deserves to win the Best Picture – Comedy or Musical this year, it’s without a doubt, “(500) Days of Summer”. The freshest romantic comedy of the decade, it is a little masterpiece from a first-time director. The story of the love of Tom Hansen for Summer is smart, sweet, poignant and beautiful. Any person who has ever really liked someone or been in a relationship will see himself/herself in at least some parts of the film. Also, it is one of those rare romantic comedies that is not a chick flick and manages to stand as a great film generally (like “When Harry Met Sally” or “Juno”). In fact, this is in some ways, more a movie for guys than girls, maybe a first for the genre I think.

As far as technique is concerned, the thing I love the most about this movie is that the director uses a variety of tools to tell the story: there are black and whites, parallel scenes about what was and what could have been, song and dance sequences, movie clips from classics like “The Graduate” and “Star Wars” and so on. However, when you see the movie as a whole, surprisingly, all of these diverse methods and techniques fall in place to form a remarkably solid and consistent whole. The usage of these devices to tell the story does not disturb the narrative of the film at all. In fact, it enriches it. There is not a single unnecessary frame in the film, it is just right. In terms of direction, this is perhaps one of the finest debuts ever. In terms of performances, Joseph Gordon Levitt (who has also been nominated for the Best Actor – Comedy or Musical category) carries the film on his shoulders and as Tom Hansen, he is immediately relatable in the most natural way. He underplays even the most dramatic scenes with such finesse that he is arguably the best actor of his generation (see his other movies like “The Lookout”). Zooey Deschanel is joyous, beautiful and yet, like moonshine, inscrutable and enigmatic. She is perfectly cast as a quirky, attractive but difficult Summer Finn. Her flashbacks are brilliant in setting the tone for her character and her final scene is just perfect. This is a movie that is worth remembering. It stays with you for a long time after it’s over as you sit and reminisce about the things that were.

In the end, barring “The Hangover” and “(500) Days of Summer” this is still the most horrible line up of movies the Globes has ever come up with for the Best Picture – Comedy or Musical category. There were plenty of better candidates out there which I saw. Plus, there were others which I haven’t seen yet but which were received very well by critics (like “World’s Greatest Dad”). Hopefully, they will at least choose the right movie as a winner. Either way, we will know in about 8 hours or so.

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