Art Vs Commerce: Oscar Bait and Endgames (2010s)

2019

And here we are. Over 90 years after Wings won the first Best Picture Oscar and Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans became the Pete Best of Oscar history. The end of our road. A year when the Academy found out that months later, people were in fact still mad about Green Book. Maybe that gave them a moment of pause. Maybe it convinced Academy voters to look outside the box and accept that maybe… maybe… maybe Hollywood wasn’t always the objective best in the world at making movies.

Whatever it was… two years after The Shape of Water, the Oscars were back into the Weird Stuff.

And The Oscar Goes To…

The Kim family live in poverty in a semi-basement apartment in a low-rent part of town. Son Ki-woo gets a gig posing as an English tutor for the daughter of the wealthy Park family, and through various grifts, cons, and forged identities and credentials, soon the entire Kim family have taken over jobs in the Park household, [title of film]s feeding on their host’s comfortable existence. And then things get weird. In ways you wouldn’t see coming (unless you’ve been spoiled since then). A friend put it this way: “It starts out Korean, then gets more Korean, then somehow gets even more Korean.” And I still don’t 100% know what that means but it seemed very complementary.

It’s a black comedy digging into one of the biggest problems facing modern society: wealth inequality. When we meet the Kims, they’re struggling, living off pilfered WiFi, taking gigs folding pizza boxes to keep their heads above water. The Parks are so accustomed to having hired help they need it to function, but also require the help to remember their place and not “cross the line.” Much like the Slumdog non-Millionaires, the Kims latch on to whatever’s going to lift them out of abject poverty, and squeeze their hosts for all they can.

Nothing to me sums up the film’s view on class disparity like a sequence involving a torrential rainfall. Right after the movie takes its first major twist into Bonkers-town, there is a dramatically appropriate storm; the Kims’ semi-basement is flooded, and they have to save what possessions they can and spend the night in a gymnasium with hundreds of other flooded-out people. The Parks have to cancel a camping trip and throw an impromptu garden party, while complaining that their driver smells like the subway.

I haven’t even touched on the crazy parts, which are significant, because if you don’t know where the story goes, you shouldn’t hear it from me. Just know that it takes some turns, they’re fun to see play out, and it sticks to themes of survival, class disparity, and how someone’s dignity can be pushed only so far.

And the cast is great, especially Park So-dam as Kim Ki-jung, the daughter of the Kim family, a natural born grifter who should be ranked up with the Ocean siblings and the guys from The Sting in terms of classic cinematic conmen.

And Rotten Tomatoes Says: It’s number one. The RT rankings claim this is the best Best Picture of all time. …Is it? Is it the very best? Or is it just the most recent? You can’t tell me that’s not a factor at this point.

Where did I rank it? Well… the blog ranking Best Picture nominees went by ceremony year, not release year, so… I didn’t. Hurt Locker (#50) and Avatar (#70) are on that list, but Parasite isn’t.

What was I rooting for? Parasite was fourth for me that year, and first was the most funny, gutting, moving, brilliant movie I’d seen in quite some time, Jojo Rabbit. Jojo is a goddamn masterpiece.

I once said that a writer couldn’t ask for a better gift than Mickey Mouse debuting on page one of this journey, or to be given both a hero (Yancey Cravat) and villain (Eddie Cantor) for the first entry. Well, perhaps I was wrong. Perhaps the greatest gift, symbolism-wise, was being able to close on a movie literally called Endgame.

The Box Office Champ

Well of course. Infinity War had packed in the crowds with the sheer scale of the crossover, then ended on a cliffhanger, we needed to see this one. But then a weird thing happened. When its box office began to taper off, and it was clear Endgame wasn’t going to pass Avatar, Marvel fans started a campaign to rewatch Endgame enough for it to claim the box office title. They made this franchise their identity so hard that they needed that box office record like a hockey fan wants their team to get a Stanley Cup. And it did, so James Cameron did the thing…

But it was a weird crusade, since both films were now owned by the same megacorporation. And adjusting for inflation, of course Endgame didn’t beat Gone With the Wind, you know it didn’t. Hell, adjusted for inflation it didn’t even beat Avatar. And then earlier this year, re-opening movie theatres desperate for product re-opened Avatar and it took the title right back.

It was weird, but harmless. Giving this Disney movie more box office than that Disney movie doesn’t hurt anyone, it’s not like there was some massive harassment campaign like the Restore the SnyderVerse idiots. Anyway.

Infinity War was all about cramming as many major characters as they could into Thanos’ big fight. Endgame is the actual capstone to the MCU to that point, and they managed to combine all the best ways to do that. One: it has an increased focus on the original six Avengers. Plus Rhodey. And Ant-Man. And Rocket Raccoon. And Nebula, who in some ways in the heart and soul of the movie. I said increased, not exclusive. Two: it’s a nostalgic victory lap of past movies such as Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, and… um… the worst one, Thor: The Dark World, plus return appearances by Tilda Swinton, Robert Redford, and the old SHIELD Strike Team (plus Agent Sitwell, who let himself go a little, didn’t we all) homage Dr. Strange and The Winter Soldier. And we still have the giant battle with literally everyone (except the more permanently dead ones, and the less-permanently dead Vision). It follows up Infinity War, incorporates everything the franchise had become, and honours the main six who got us there, that’s what you want from a concept like this. It ties up the Infinity Saga so well you barely notice it setting up three different Disney+ shows.

Some fans say Infinity War is better based on the fight scenes, and to me that’s pre-teen nonsense. What Endgame lacks in fights it makes up for in powerful character beats. That learning flick football might be one of the most significant moments in Nebula’s life. Rocket realizing that he and Nebula were the last Guardians left. The way the movie crackles into a new gear as soon as Ant-Man shows up, his reunion with Cassie, and his brilliantly delivered, slightly unhinged rant about time travel to Steve and Natasha. That Steve giving Sam the shield is set up by Steve doing what Sam would have done during the blip, running a support group. Thor and Frigga. “I’m still worthy.” Tony and Howard. Clint and Natasha’s fight to be the sacrifice. “It was supposed to be me.”

Of course there are still quibbles. The most important moment in Bruce Banner’s character arc happens offscreen during the time jump. Natasha doesn’t get a funeral. Thor is an excellent depiction of depression but they also love making fat jokes at his expense, those don’t mix. Banner spends most of the movie as Hulk but only does one Hulk thing and is barely in the final fight. We’re just ignoring that the first time Thanos used the stones, they didn’t hurt him at all? Hell, they healed that massive chest wound Thor gave him. I mean I assume Etiri was better at making gauntlets than Tony but an acknowledgement of that would have been nice. The “All the women (except Nat) together” group shot is largely meaningless. The brown wasteland of the climax isn’t overly impressive. And the last hour is a cacophony of fan service, which is brilliant if you’re into it but less so if you’re not.

But overall? Probably the best possible conclusion to 11 years of interconnected movies, a very enjoyable experience, an achievement unlikely to be equalled any time soon, especially not by any “Hey what if Superman were bad” Zack Snyder edge lord nonsense.

Did you know there are actually some Marvel fans who feel Thanos was underpowered in this movie? Dude gets wailed on by the strongest available Avengers and barely even takes a knee, has a helicopter blade weapon that counters any attack, and they think he’s not powerful enough, Jesus Christ.

(Also the Russos’ one concession to the runaway success of Black Panther was having T’Challa be the first one through the portals. That’s not a critique, I just like pointing it out.)

And Rotten Tomatoes Says: 94% from critics, 90% from audiences, sure it had some backlash but we sure did love it.

One Last Time… Other Events in Film

  • With the purchase of 20th Century Fox, Disney moved ever closer to a dangerous monopoly on US film. They now own 40% of the concept of “entertainment.”
  • Elsewhere in Superheroes: The best one this year is Shazam! and if you haven’t seen it, correct that; fanbros who swear they don’t hate women because look how much they love Alita: Battle Angel start review-bombing Captain Marvel before it’s even released, and as a result it makes a billion dollars, how’s “Get woke go broke” working out, fellas; Spider-Man: Far From Home manages to be even more about Iron Man than Homecoming was; the non-Guillermo Del Toro Hellboy reboot is not warmly recevied; Joker makes DC a billion dollars and gets nominated for Best Picture and I spent that fall/award season internally screaming “Not like this, not like this” because that movie is flawed; and if Fox was determined to give Dark Phoenix a do-over, why did they hire the same guy who wrote X-Men 3 to do it again? How was that gonna end?
  • Fast? Furious? It has been speculated that a source of the conflict between Vin Diesel and Dwayne Johnson is that Vin takes these movies deathly seriously, while Johnson’s brand is a smirking glibness, and those didn’t mesh well. So you can see how the best move was to send Johnson and Jason Statham off into their own spinoff, where they can lean hard into how dumb these movies get and have fun with it, and Vin can wrap up Dom’s story without the distraction. Anyway Fast and Furious Presents Hobbes and Shaw is dumb as rocks but I enjoyed the hell out of it.
  • This Year in Martin Scorsese: The Irishman is incredibly self-indulgent. It’s an hour too long and no de-aging tech in the world would make Robert De Niro walk like he’s not in his 70s.
  • If you haven’t watched Rian Johnson’s Knives Out I must inform you that you are not living your best life.
  • Terminator: Dark Fate is the best Terminator since 1991, and anyone who skipped it because the leads were girls deserves to be kicked in the nuts once a day. You also owe Elizabeth Banks’ Charlie’s Angels reboot an apology.
  • Disney makes huge bank with live action remakes of Aladdin, which at least tries to do something new, and The Lion King, which does not, and is just a much worse-looking cartoon Lion King. The most innovative (because the original was under an hour), Dumbo, is the least successful, and the most pointless, Lion King, hauls in more money than physically exists, what is wrong with you people
  • I could do 2000 words on what went wrong with Rise of Skywalker, see if I still find something to like in it despite it failing to give Finn an arc, prioritizing callbacks and desperate fan service over theme and coherent character journeys, and the terrible choice of “Rey Palpatine,” but there’s no time. Suffice to say nothing sums up the sequel trilogy like Kylo Ren’s helmet. JJ Abrams gave his new villain his own Vader-style helmet, Rian Johnson said “No, that’s been done,” and has Kylo smash it, then JJ has him fix it and go back to the helmet. Two directors with radically different visions for where to take the franchise probably wasn’t the way to go.
  • The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part is still fun but its much lower box office shows how quickly the “Ha ha they’re all Legos” premise got overexposed.
  • Godzilla: King of the Monsters brings classics like Rodan, Mothra, and Ghidorah into the MonsterVerse, and it’s giant monster fun for all. It didn’t do well, so let’s just be glad Godzilla Vs Kong was already too far into production to call off.
  • Once Upon a Time in Hollywood gives Tarantino a chance to really marinate in 60s Hollywood, his favourite Hollywood, then surprise it’s another historical revenge flick!
  • Two horror movies I did not expect to enjoy as much as I did, more than I’d apparently like It: Chapter Two, which I’d been eagerly waiting for: Ready or Not, which is super fun; and 47 Meters Down: Uncaged, because “Stuck underwater, low air, pitch darkness, sharks?” That’s a movie.
  • Want an “End of franchise” movie worse than Rise of Skywalker? John Rambo fights Hispanic criminals sneaking over the border in Rambo: Last Blood. Poor taste, not surprising.
  • The only people who saw Rene Zellweger’s comeback movie Judy, about the final gigs of Judy Garland, were award voters. Hopefully some people checked it out once she won every acting trophy available.
  • Dolemite is My Name is like if The Disaster Artist were actually heartwarming.
  • Even in the wake of The Irishman, Gemini Man is the nightmare scenario of going nuts with CG de-aging. It put the “Old Will Smith Vs Young Will Smith” cart before the “We have a story for this” horse.
  • In Richard Jewell, Clint Eastwood attempts to lionize a complicated everyman, while demonizing a real-life reporter who couldn’t defend herself on account of being dead since 2001. Maybe he should stop.
  • Tom Hooper tried to bring the cinematic realism that ruined Les Miserables to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats. It’s horrifying, not remotely competent in execution, but it gets in your head.

Next Page: At long last, our denouement

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