Thursday, January 1, 2009
Best Movie of 2008
I'm going to go off the reservation a little bit here (I can do that on MY blog) and write a movie review. The last one I did (almost exactly a year ago) was about No Country for Old Men and it wasn't exactly laudatory. This time I have good things to say about a Hollywood production. Here it goes: WALL-E is hands down the best American movie of the year. That's right, I'm claiming that a hyper-modern, next generation cartoon from the Pixar people who gave us Toy Story ought to win the Best Picture award this March. And it shouldn't even be close.
Since my wife is pregnant and I was on call, our New Year's Eve game plan was to rent a couple movies and set up shop on the couch. WALL-E had arrived in the mail from Netflix a few days prior so I said what the hell. If we hated it, we also had Hancock as a back-up plan. Turns out we made the right decision.
WALL-E, being a Pixar production, gives you that quasi cartoony/realistic feel that was mastered in the technical excellence of Shrek and Finding Nemo. Now, I found Nemo to be fun, mindless entertainment. But I wouldn't watch it again. The story was predictable and overly sentimental and rather formulaic. And I'm not an Ellen Degeneres fan. And Shrek, funny and stimulating as it was, struck me as a little mean spirited and overly ironic, weighed down by cheap gags and easy sarcasm. WALL-E's aspirations are much more modest.
WALL-E presents an apocalyptic vison of a future earth devastated and scorched by the wasteful misdeeds of now absent humans. We meet WALL-E, a trash compacting robot, alone on a ravaged, sered planet, building skyscrapers of cuboidal compacted detritus. During his labors, he collects certain items of interest and stores them at his trash bin compound, a wasteland Smithsonian of Americana and nostalgia. The first half hour of the flick is a majestic display of subtle characterization and wit. More individuality and humanity is wrung out of 30 minutes of this mute little robot buzzing around the barren landscape that one can find in the the entire oevre of Brad Pitt. The visual effects are also astounding. The dried-out brown riverbeds look like furrows clawed into the clay by giant talons. I could have watched WALL-E compact trash alone with his cockroach companion all night.
But the story must go on. WALL-E's world is disrupted by the arrival of EVE, a robot drone sent from a mothership in space to search for signs of life on earth. Of course WALL-E falls in love with EVE, prompted by his repeated viewings of a scene from "Hello Dolly". With his help, she finds a single plant sprout and he smittenly follows her back to her ship. And this is where we find out about the humans. They've all turned into sedentary, morbidly obese tubs of lard who jet around in these automatic self-propelled luxury lazy boys with a giant entertainment screen projected in front of their faces at all times, deluged by products and ads and vapid amusement. It's a vaguely totalitarian society, albeit the less frightening kind (Brave New World vs. Nazi Germany). The satire on American consumerist society and selfishness is especially biting given the recent turn of events on Wall Street. The bad robots who run things don't want the humans to find out about the vegetation; as a result, EVE and WALL-E are identified as rogues and adventures ensue.
Ultimately, order is restored, the humans return to earth and EVE realizes her "feelings' for the indomitable, doting WALL-E and everything ends happily ever after. I know, I know, it sounds mawkish and maudlin but somehow it isn't. There is a simple earnestness to this movie that is rare in our current times. Whether in real life or in the arts, we have been induced to think that ironic detachment is the supreme state of mind. And now a pervasive irony "tyrannizes" us, says David Foster Wallace. It's considered gauche to believe that authentic feelings and emotions are possible. Love and respect and awe are all placed under the microscopic eye of bemused irony. It's a dark road that we travel down. Thus we see the celebration of such things as Seinfieldian irreverence and soulless superficiality and the mean-spirited Hollywood blogs and the proliferation of brutally graphic violence and sex in our movies. We saw a pointless exercise in meaninglessness like No Country for Old Men garner a pile of Academy Awards last year. This year we may very well see Heath Ledger rewarded with a best actor Oscar for the protrayal of a vicious, amoral, anarchist in the Dark Knight.
To be earnest about the human condition is now grounds for ridicule, apparently. We are now conditioned to question our spontaneous emotional responses to situations. Is it ok to cry at the funeral of a loved one? Will someone overanalyze the shudders of my shoulders as I sob and make a joke of it? Can I be privately moved by the way my wife laughs at slapstick comedy when she doesn't know I'm looking? Is it ok to get excited about a child's glee on Christmas morning? This is where we're heading. And it doesn't need to be this way. It's ok to mean what we say, unconditionally. It's ok to feel anger or fear or love. Some things in life are hallowed and ought not to be subjected to the aloof appraisals of irony and cynicism. Life is dark enough; we don't need the Dark Knight and his critically acclaimed nemesis to remind us of this. Sometimes, the sight of two robots holding hands on a desolate wasteland is plenty sufficient.....