Cinema Psycho

"You know what? You have a losing personality." – Manhattan

My 2012 Pre-Ramble; I Ain’t Jokin’, I Got to Ramble

Posted by CinemaPsycho on January 20, 2013

Greetings and salutations, everybody! This is not my annual Top 10 list; that will be coming in a couple of weeks. This is my annual pre-Top 10 pre-ramble, in which I explain the nature of how my Top 10 list works (as it differs from most people’s in some important ways) and basically sum up the year in movies generally. This year, the ramble is going to be a little different, but I’ll get to that later. I separate the pre-ramble from the Top 10 list because putting the two together equals one fucking long article that takes forever to read and write, and no one wants that. Let’s start with explaining how my Top 10 list differs from other critic/bloggers and go from there.

Longtime readers already know this, but for any new people (nice to have you on board, by the way), let me explain how this works. Because I don’t live in a major city, I don’t always get to see a lot of the best films as they’re released. Some films don’t open wide until January of the next year, after the Oscar nominations come out. As most film fans know, a lot of films open in limited release initially and only play in major cities, so one has to catch up with them later on DVD or streaming. So I give myself an extra month to catch up on the films I really want to see, films that I think might have a chance of making my list. Often my list changes quite a bit because I made that effort to see those films. I’m still watching films from 2012 and my list is still changing from day to day. If I made my list on December 31st, it would be a completely different list, and probably not a very good one. My only criteria is that a film must have had some kind of theatrical release to the general public in the year 2012. No film festival bullshit – an average person has to have been able to go to their local theater and buy a ticket. So if it played in one theater in Iowa for a week, that still counts as a theatrical release. As long as some company put it out there for regular moviegoers to see, and you didn’t have to be some kind of “special person” to see it, it counts. My list, my rules. I feel that’s a more accurate representation of what’s actually out there in theaters for people to see. You may disagree, and that’s your right. But when I see someone’s Top 10 list and there’s a film that hasn’t actually been released yet on it, it invalidates the list for me. That’s how I feel personally. I’m anal about shit like that. I don’t do a Worst List because I try not to see that many films that suck that badly. I can’t claim to have seen everything, and I don’t make that claim. But I make an effort to see as much as I can.

Now, why do I even make a Top 10 list? Am I getting paid for it? No. I do it because I love movies. I do it because I want to celebrate the movies that I loved the most in the past year, and I hope that you will see the movies on my list that you have not seen. Obviously I cannot make you do so, but I hope that my recommendation will inspire you to check out a film or two that you might not have. That’s why I do it – because I love these movies. Because they contributed something positive and worthwhile to my life, because they were time well spent, because they knocked me flat on my ass. I hope they will do they same for you. Let’s face it, there is so much mediocrity out there, not to mention so much utter garbage that people waste their time on, and I do not understand why. When there are 10 films of pure excellence out there, why settle for less? Not only that, but the internet is so full of negativity and hatefulness and pure bullshit, and I hate that. This is my attempt to contribute something positive and useful. I may not be able to make a great film, but I can point you in the direction of 10 of them. It’s not about my ego or the order of the films or what films get left off or any of that. It’s about celebrating the films that I loved this past year. It’s about saying, “this movie kicked my ass, and here’s why.” If you can’t get down with that, then you might as well not read it.

Does this mean that the list is a list of personal favorites? Absolutely. Every Top 10 list is a list of personal favorites. Don’t let any critic tell you otherwise. Any “Best of the Year” list is made up of their personal opinion. Nothing else. I just don’t hide that. They are telling you what they think were the best movies, albums, books, TV shows, whatever of the year. It’s all opinion. What the “best movies” were is all subjective. Each individual will give you a completely different list. I’m giving you mine and saying, “these are the films I loved the most” because I’m not egotistical enough to think that my opinion stands for anything more than what it is. OK? In fact, I encourage everyone to make up their own list. Everyone’s a critic these days anyway, so go ahead and have fun with it. Or, just make a list of the films you loved without numbers or rankings. Whatever you like. I just do 10 because to me, 10 is a good round number. If you make that list, you’ve achieved something. There were a lot of films that I liked and really liked this year, but to make the Top 10, you have to make me love that film. You see the difference? Making the Top 10 means you made a fucking great movie. Listing runners-up and all that, to me that dilutes the whole point of it. But you can do your list any way you want. That’s up to you.

OK, that’s enough of that. Let’s talk about 2012. This is normally where I would make broad generalizations about the year’s movies, because that’s what people like me do at this time of year. I’m not going to do that this year. Because when I think of 2012 right now, the two words that come to mind are tragedy and controversy. This was one of those years, when some truly horrible and awful things happened, and some people chose to blame it on the movies. Even intelligent people who really should know better by now. And look, part of me understands it on some level. When truly horrible, gut-wrenching things happen, it’s only human to look for someone or something to blame. I get that. I am the last person to diminish or make light of such tragedies, believe me. Things like Aurora and Sandy Hook are no joke to me. I am an adult (all evidence to the contrary) and these things sadden and enrage and sicken me just like they do everyone else. I am not immune to those feelings, and even now I am still feeling them. I’m as sad and pissed off as anyone about it.

However. I honestly believe that “violent movies” are not to blame. I believe that if Hollywood suddenly stopped making “violent movies” and “violent shows” tomorrow, absolutely nothing would change. Let me explain why. A friend of mine recently gave me some information that I was not aware of. He sent me a link to a list of school shootings in America, the entire recorded history of them. It turns out there have always been school shootings in America, going back to the early 1800s and every single decade since then. Don’t believe me? Look it up. It didn’t start with Columbine – as long as there have been schools and guns in this country, there have been shootings in schools. Long before movies were even invented, long before video games and TV and even radio, there were school shootings. The only difference is that the guns are more efficient now and they kill more people in these events. The truth is, violent people do violent things. Crazy people do crazy things. Period. Adam Lanza’s problem wasn’t that he saw too many fucking Tarantino movies. Can we agree on that, at least?

Look, I am not here to argue about guns. That’s not my job, and this is not the place for it. I consider it a waste of time. Go to a political site and argue about that all day if you want to waste your time. Let the politicians work that shit out. I’m here to talk about movies. I can tell you that I have seen a lot of movies with gun violence in them. Probably more than the average person. I grew up in the 80’s, when even the romantic comedies had guns in them. I’ve seen films ranging from 48 Hrs. to John Woo and practically everything in between. Some of them several times over. Guns in movies are just something I take for granted. But I have never picked up a gun in my entire life. Never even touched one. Never felt the need or inclination to be a gun person. Just not my thing. And I grew up in a redneck town, so I’m well aware of gun people. I grew up with kids sitting around the cafeteria talking about their favorite guns like they were hot chicks or something. Never rubbed off on me. Seeing guns in movies doesn’t bother me, nor does it make me want to go out and get one for myself. I wasn’t raised to be paranoid of the government. I didn’t watch Death Wish and go, “ooooh, THAT looks like fun!” I’d be more worried about shooting myself in the fucking foot if I had one, because that would be my luck.

So what does this mean? Does it mean that maybe there’s no connection between screen violence and real violence? I don’t know. Maybe it means that intelligent people watch movies differently than people who are stupid and impressionable? Could that be the case? Because if a person is stupid and impressionable, well, they’re going to see just about everything differently, aren’t they? You can’t blame a movie for that. That’s their problem. I’ve always understood that there’s a difference between what I see on the screen and what happens in real life. Even when I was a dumb kid. I’ve always understood that you can’t make a realistic movie about cops, criminals, soldiers, gangsters, cowboys (yes, old people, Westerns are violent), and so on without including guns at some point, because that’s what they use. What do you want the actors to do, point their fingers at each other and yell, “Bang Bang!”?? Give me a fucking break. Are there some movies that fetishise guns? Sure (looking at you, Expendables). And that could be toned down a bit, granted. But in general, guns are used in movies out of necessity, to tell a story realistically. Hollywood can’t pretend that they don’t exist, or they wouldn’t be able to tell any stories about anything.

This is the problem that we seem to have now, that people don’t seem to just accept movies as movies any more – as filmed (or digitized, I guess) stories about subjects with characters who do things we might not do in real life. Apparently movies are just supposed to be direct lines into the director’s brain now. Kathryn Bigelow shows torture in her movie, so she must love torture! She must be a crazy torture-loving asshole! Never mind that she herself says the movie doesn’t endorse torture – she shows it, so that’s enough to condemn her, right? IT’S A MOVIE. Quentin Tarantino shows violence in his movies, so he must be a violent person who loves violence in real life. IT’S A MOVIE ABOUT VIOLENT PEOPLE. Can we really not see the difference any more? Can we not separate the film from the filmmaker? Is it that difficult to separate movies from real life? Jesus Christ people, have we all gone fucking nuts? Just because someone shows something in a movie doesn’t mean that’s what they’re telling you to behave like in real life! That’s like saying Silence of the Lambs is an endorsement of cannibalism. “Jonathan Demme says cannibalism is cool!” What about Psycho? “Alfred Hitchcock tells the audience to kill their mothers!” How about Scarface? “Brian De Palma says cocaine is A-OK!” Yes, these are all absurd arguments. That’s my point.

OK, you want to know what I’ve learned from a lifetime of watching “violent movies”? Here goes: I’ve learned that shooting at the police is never a good idea. I’ve learned that violent people usually wind up dead or in jail (neither option sounds good to me). Unless you’re the Zodiac Killer. I’ve learned that guys get raped in prison. A lot. I’ve learned that if you commit murder or rape, even if by some small chance you get away with it, there’s usually someone who wants to get revenge on your ass. I’ve learned you don’t fuck with any woman in a James Cameron film. I’ve learned that joining the Mafia or any criminal organization usually ends in your death or imprisonment. I’ve learned that you do not try to outrun or outdrive the police (I knew someone who tried the latter once; it did not end well). I’ve learned that no matter how many guns you have, the authorities have more than you do. I’ve learned that bullets only bounce off Superman and robots (and sometimes Jason), but they will definitely kill you. I’ve learned that the good guys are much better shots than the bad guys. And most of all, I’ve learned that, whatever you do in life, do not piss off Mel Gibson. Seriously.

Even if half of that shit isn’t true, I still learned it from watching “violent movies”. What I did not learn was to pick up a gun and go shoot random people in public. Of all the hundreds, maybe thousands of movies I’ve seen in my life, I’ve never seen any movie like that. I don’t think that movie exists. If it does, I don’t want to see it. That doesn’t reflect the movies I have watched. We definitely have problems in society, but telling made-up stories is not one of them.

Let me leave you with this thought. It’s also about a made-up story. I recently read a Stephen King story called “Big Driver” (from the Full Dark, No Stars collection of novellas). It’s basically about a rape victim who eventually gets revenge on her attacker. With a gun. It’s more complicated than that, of course, but that is the gist of it. It’s a very dark, violent and vivid story, and not for all tastes. It’s also extremely well-written and powerful. I liked and admired this story quite a bit. What I admire most about it is that King doesn’t tell the reader how to feel about it. He simply tells the story from the victim-turned-avenger’s point of view, and lets the reader sort out the morality of the situation for themselves. In other words, he lets you decide for yourselves if what she is doing is right or wrong. He doesn’t stop in the middle of the story to remind us, “now children, shooting people is BAD, mmkay?” or even “two wrongs don’t make a right, you know.” The story simply is what it is, and it’s up to you to decide whether you agree with her actions or you disagree, or if you are neutral. Maybe you understand why she does what she does, maybe you don’t. Either way, I imagine that millions of people have read this story by now (King being a bestselling author and all) and I haven’t heard of anyone protesting “Big Driver” or anyone committing murder because of it. People seem to just accept the story for what it is, and feel however they feel about it without wanting to string up Mr. King by his ankles.

Wouldn’t it be nice if people responded to movies in the same way?

So that about covers it. My Top 10 list will be up in a couple of weeks. Thanks for reading, and if anything I’ve written here upsets you, please try to refrain from shooting me. I’d appreciate it. Thanks.

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