Sunday Night Journal — January 15, 2012

Good NYRB (!) Review of Tree of Life

I haven't been online much for the past couple of days, but I wanted to mention this, which Rob G sent me a several days ago. As Rob noted, the review doesn't say much about--the reviewer presumably doesn't get--the real spiritual significance of the movie, but I think he's very good on the aesthetics and psychology.



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Thanks that looks great

A wonderful review. He hits the nail on the head a few times. I hadn't thought of the distilled-through-memory angle on The Tree of Life before.

Good to see that ToL got a few Oscar noms -- Best Picture, Best Director and Best Cinematography. Of the three I think it has the best chance for a director's prize for Malick, but it's probably a long shot. Brad Pitt got a nomination for best actor, not for this film, but instead for Moneyball, which I haven't seen.

The biggest snub this year as far as I'm concerned is the passing over of Michael Shannon for a best actor nod for Take Shelter. His performance in that movie is just stunning -- don't know how he was missed.

Well, I'm one of those who thinks the Oscars are as likely to be a guide to what to avoid as what to watch. Still, I'm glad to see ToL honored. Certainly well deserved.

Yeah, I have very mixed feelings about them too. But every once in awhile they transcend my misgivings.

I didn't see many of the nominees this year, but I thought that 'Hugo' and 'War Horse' were both quite good (esp. the latter.)

I haven't seen either. Of course.

War Horse is worth a trip to the theatre for. It's a big old-fashioned adventure movie of the John Ford/David Lean variety, with lots of great scenery.

Hey, I just finished writing something about these nominations, and then I come here and see that y'all are thinking the same things.

It's nice to see the film nominated. Chances of winning? Probably not high.

I'm talking about The Tree of Life.

Be careful or Deccers will accuse you of speaking from your gut. Just teasing AD, we all like you.

I'm pretty sure past Oscar awards show a pattern of not being won by long obscure vaguely plotted mystical reveries.

That is, history says ToL must lose.

Yeah, as I said above I'd be surprised beyond belief if it won best picture, but it wouldn't be as surprising to me if Malick won best director.

I'd love it if it won either prize, but I'd be v. surprised. I'm usually disappointed and occasionally horrified, eg prize for The Reader

Just in case it's not obvious, I was tweaking Art's use of historical precedent to predict the future. Although I would in fact be surprised if ToL won, not necessarily because it's odd but because it's not odd in a way that would appeal to Hollywood leftism. Wasn't that movie that won a few years ago, Cars or Crash or something, sort of odd?

Crash. It was unconventional in some respects -- an ensemble cast and a non-linear plot -- but it wasn't half as unconventional as ToL. It also wasn't very good.

I liked Crash very much and was glad it won best pic that year. It wasn't so much non-linear, as it was a collage of intertwined stories. Each of the small stories was a sort of parable which were all interconnected in some way as parts of one larger parable. It's not an exercise in realism (although many elements, and several of the imbedded stories, are certainly realistic), it's more of an exercise in the moral imagination. I remember that Roger Ebert had a pretty perceptive review of it at the time.

Of course, many complaints about it had to do with the fact that it beat out 'Brokeback Mountain' for best pic that year. The PC crowd didn't like that, and attacked 'Crash' accordingly.

Hmm, I had the impression--a very vague one--that Crash was pretty PC. I seem to recall people saying they thought that was why it won.

Yes, I expressed myself badly: Crash is multi-threaded, as Rob says. I think the reasons I didn't like it were (a) it was structurally sort of similar to Magnolia but not nearly as good, (b) it felt like a self-conscious "issue" film ("race") that was a bit didactic, and (c) it starred Sandra Bullock. Prejudices all around, I know, but that's how it was with me!

Variations of "issue film" and "didactic" are what I vaguely remember reading at the time. I like Sandra Bullock, though--I mean as far as Hollywood leading ladies go, I find her more likeable than some. But that's on the basis of lightweight stuff like Miss Congeniality (I think that's the name of it--the one where she's an FBI agent going undercover in a beauty contest--stupid but fun).

I think 'Crash' could very loosely be called PC inasmuch as the overarching theme of the film was racial and national prejudice, but many of the sentiments expressed (black racism against whites, for instance, or the prejudice of certain Middle-Easterners against each other) are not PC at all. In addition, many of the characters talk and behave in decidedly un-PC ways. It is an "issue" film (as I said, Ebert wrote that it was made up of parables) and in that sense could be called didactic, but it's not a "preachy" movie imo. Remember that I'm a bit of an unreconstructed Northerner and I tend to balk at knee-jerk PC-ness. Can't say I found anything to balk at here, as the lessons were spread around rather evenly!

Sounds interesting. And I could probably stand to look at Sandra Bullock.

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