Sunday, May 9, 2021

2018 Oscars in Review Part 1

Back in 2018, I undertook the ever more thankless task of seeing and reviewing every movie nominated for any Oscar, and I made it much closer to accomplishing that goal than I ever had before. Most of said awards contenders didn’t merit more than a Not Worth the Effort treatment, and in retrospect it seems foolish to have spared some of them even that much time. Regardless, the deed is done, and it would be a waste to let such writing be lost now. I hope the reflections captured in these reviews have retained their vitality for longer than the films that animated them.

... No, U

I saw one critic for a major publication (I think Vox) extol The Hate U Give as “Oscar-worthy”. The fact that any adult who writes about film for income could reach such an assessment says less about the quality of the movie than it does about the diminished reputations of awards shows and the destitute state of mainstream cinema in 2018. The Hate U Give cynically meshes two of the worst film genres, viz. YA book adaptation and socially topical drama, to engineer a truly obnoxious cross-breed guaranteed to irk both adamant Black Lives Matter and All Lives Matter proponents through its money-grubbing determination to reach as broad an audience as possible.

Although the story is credited to a novel published in the wake of the Michael Brown shooting, the themes and general plot structure can’t escape the shadow of Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing, which many would consider the quintessential American film about subsurface, post-Jim Crow racial tensions. Any conservatives who have voiced disapproval of that 1989 opus might look to The Hate U Give as a teachable moment, seeing as it dispenses much the same politics with markedly less subtlety, artistry, humor, and impact than the already transparent original.

The political grandstanding and speechifying of The Hate U Give hinges on a policeman who pulls over the main character, Starr, and shoots her demonstrably irresponsible friend, who refuses to comply with simple orders and reaches into his car for a large black comb. Rather than shrouding this beat in ambiguity, director George Tillman Jr. clearly shows the officer firing out of ignorance and panic, mistaking the comb for a deadly weapon. So he renders the rest of his film aggravating to watch, since the audience possesses vindicating information not available to the emotionally compromised characters, whose irate demands for “justice” are framed as essentially noble despite being objectively wrong.

The myopia and emotional core of the film’s argument mirrors the Left’s demonization of spectators who supported Justice Kavanaugh in the context of the plainly astroturfed smear campaign against him; even after the allegations against him crumbled, the #believewomen mob dug their holes even deeper, whining that Kavanaugh’s defenders, even if right, “left no doubt what they think of women”. On a more topical note, I once got into an argument about police brutality with a white college friend, who happened to be a more scrupulous consumer of hip-hop than anyone I’ve known. After I stated my case that forensic evidence didn’t incriminate the men who shot Michael Brown or Trayvon Martin, said friend responded, “Yeaaaaa, but still, you have to admit there is a pattern.” The Hate U Give takes a similar stance in that it absolves a particular officer of murder but sides with his ignorant prosecutors anyway, merely because the tragedy falls into an immaterial “pattern of racism” not substantiated by DOJ statistics. The cop is banished from the screen, never allowed to speak for himself or interact with Starr after the death. Granted, his withdrawal does go against schmaltzy Hollywood tradition requiring reconciliation between victim and victimizer, but it also serves to deface and otherize him.

The Hate U Give possesses a plot in the loosest sense: its protagonist begins in one state of mind and a series of events effects a change in her character through conflict. How these events causally link together and form a narrative takes a back seat to the naked outrage, spite, and grief that the actors blare each passing moment. The movie feels like a procession of disjointed scenes designed to admonish and instruct the viewer more than to advance the narrative.

For example, Starr arrives at her private school sometime after the central shooting to discover that her peers are walking out of class in protest. Such a display doesn’t follow from their personalities, and one of the white girls says something like, “We can’t get in trouble if everyone skips class. Plus it’s for a great cause!” Starr seems justifiably wary of their motives, and the filmmakers deserve credit for questioning the purity of student protesters, who the media pathetically and irrationally lionize at every opportunity. Nonetheless, in an inexplicable breach of narrative integrity, the very next scene shows us an emboldened Starr, spurred after several days of moping to break her silence to the local news. A selfish mob’s unconvincing act of affectation finally compels our heroine to conquer her inhibitions and tell the truth, or so the editing implies.

I took a lot of notes on this movie, being rather captivated by the brashness of its shortcomings, but translating them into a coherent essay wouldn’t be a prudent use of anybody’s time in Biden’s America. Despite their many similarities, Hate’s sins are of a different nature than Do the Right Thing’s, as the newer movie is aimed squarely at the type of unmarried white woman of childbearing age who plasters her Instagram stories with ugly, brightly colored infographics, urging her peers to “educate themselves”, call out their friends and family for their Racism, abolish their own whiteness, and immediately commit to a regimen of anti-white literature, Netflix content, and “resources”. Needless to say the average viewers of the movie wouldn’t know how to interpret Tables 14 and 15 of the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ Criminal Victimization report of 2018 if a Buzzfeed quiz walked them through it.

Basically, Hate is an unmistakably racial attack designed to confuse and make catatonic the demographic that is both essential to preserving European heritage and disturbingly suggestible to destroying it. Tillman masterfully reroutes young white women’s maternal instincts from traditional, natural, and healthy outlets to morally inverted political activism, making his work a particularly pungent strain of heinous. Spike Lee, on the other hand, is reputed to make movies for discerning adults and academics and is known for his cinephilia, surprisingly counting nothing less reactionary than Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto among his list of Essential Films. Which craftsman is more to be abhorred—the competent handyman of the American Regime or the vengeful radical who should know better—is up to the individual to judge.


On the basis of what I read before walking into Border, I expected to see an offbeat romantic “fairy tale” in discount Guillermo Del Toro mode, rounded out with a weird and shocking sex scene for the masses to giggle over on the ride home. I wish I could say that the movie subverted my expectations by providing something remotely watchable, maybe with a Timely and Relevant anti-Trump twist. I mean, why else would you name your movie Border? A title like that in today’s political climate is practically begging for a self-righteous volley against the unholy leviathan of ICE. To deliver anything less is, shall we say, borderline clickbait. After all, Anne Hathaway informs me that Herr Drumpf is “gassing children”.

Unfortunately for this author’s bemusement, Ali Abbasi’s sophomore film is more The Shape of Water than BlacKkKlansman, and more boring than I could possibly have imagined. To describe the film as “fantasy” or “fairy tale” would cheapen both those genres, as nothing outside the bounds of science happens until an hour in, at which point complications accumulate at a ridiculous rate. Whereas the first half discreetly follows the footsteps of world arthouse cinema, the second half evokes a more convoluted, Hollywood style of wrapping a story up, imparting a king’s trove of questions without answers. Audiences can decide for themselves which half is worse. Ambiguity!

So, my readers ask, what is this Swedish film about, and why was it conferred the lesser-known Un Certain Regard at Cannes? The movie centers on Tina, a baggage inspector whose genetic anomaly gives her the ability to detect contraband items by scent, including an SD card loaded with child porn toted by one unlucky chap. Technically, she explains to a skeptical officer, she smells emotions such as fear or guilt and “puts two and two together” to identify culprits. One day, Tina halts a traveler named Vore who has a facial deformity similar to her own, although the typically indie introversion of the protagonist masks her primary motive, whether that be distrust or infatuation. Over repeat encounters, the devilish stranger prods her to embrace her wild side, through everything from eating maggots to frolicking naked in the river. Soon he dispels one of her foundational insecurities—infertility—with an astonishing revelation: she was not meant to procreate with humans because she is a troll, designed by nature to copulate with other trolls, which of course she does.

I cannot remember if the trailer for Border disclosed said twist, but given that it’s the premise of the movie, I don’t have any qualms about unveiling it. After the watercooler scene of intense lovemaking and personal discovery, the plot pivots away from unlikely romance to grotesque mystery. Remember the aforementioned phone filled with kiddie porn that seemed like a B-plot to showcase the protagonist’s profession and the ineffectual bureaucracy for which she works? It turns out that that’s the main conflict of the movie, and someone is more involved in it than our heroine suspects! We also learn of Vore’s vengeful scheme to wage a covert race war against humans, which forces the enlightened Tina to choose between a terrorist radical she fancies and a more dignified struggle for troll rights.

Border has received attention mainly for coming from the writer of Let the Right One In, a coming-of-age horror flick that spawned a compulsory American remake. Whereas Tomas Alfedson’s vampire film abounds with memorable compositions and stark, wintry negative space, Ali Abassi shoots his troll-focused film like an interchangeable Sundance movie, full of tight close-ups and gloomy, hazy exteriors. If nothing else, this method grants the audience plenty of time to marvel at the impeccable monster makeup, which arguably deserved more attention than the prosthetics of Vice.

I don’t foresee this movie finding much of an audience outside of cinema-holics, but I’ll leave it to better-qualified gender studies majors at Slate and The Atlantic to expound on how the reversed genitalia of the trolls subvert and challenge binary, heteronormative concepts of gender that continually poison and have poisoned Western culture for thousands of years. As for general filmgoers, I can point to, if not recommend, another boyfriend-from-hell thriller entitled Beast, which came out of Ireland the same year and has been largely overlooked. Neither of these movies rewrites the wheel, but Beast does keep one guessing until its wonderfully jolting end, and more importantly, it clocks in three minutes shorter.

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