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Home » Culture and Criticism

Cinemarch Madness: Streep Division Semifinal

Submitted by on March 27, 2013 – 4:29 PM5 Comments

grunge film background

by ferretrick

Full disclosure — I haven’t been able to see the following films, but I’ve read the Wikipedia plot summaries: Amour, Jacob’s Ladder, and Kids. Of those, only Amour seems to be a contender to me. Spoilers ahoy (and throughout): The “Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” maneuver is extremely difficult to pull off and usually pisses off the audience, so I think Jacob’s Ladder is out. Kids sounds horrible, but also somewhat dated. Amour sounds absolutely devastating. Just about everyone, including me, has a similar story of an elderly loved one’s slow decline and will relate to this film. I think it would be a lock except that it’s not yet available for home viewing, so a lot of people may not have seen it yet.

Children of Men: depressing and bleak as all hell, and in several other divisions “it coulda been a contender,” but not here. Dystopian literature always has a hard job, because you can close the book/turn off the TV and go back to your nice life and remind yourself that it’s just a story and humanity is not really going to die out because women stop giving birth (if anything, overpopulation is a bigger danger). So, can a story based on that compete with historical fiction like Sophie’s Choice, or could happen to you/did happen to you/you know someone who went through this like Amour? I don’t see it.

Pan’s Labyrinth is out for the same reason. It’s a fine film that succeeds on every artistic level I can think of; the little girl is terrific; it’s definitely sad, but I don’t see fairytale animation competing with a real-life tragedy.

Brokeback Mountain is certainly one of my favorite movies (fuck you forever, Crash), certainly sad, but devastating? No, not seeing that, especially not today as the Supreme Court debates gay marriage. Yes, it’s a different time/different culture, and being “out” was probably not even a term yet, but Jack and Ennis’s misery is somewhat of their own making. They could choose happiness with each other. Jack could choose to finally quit Ennis, and if not be happy, at least exit a relationship that’s as much emotional torture as it is joy. And let’s not forget entering into loveless marriages and bringing kids into it as well. I’m not saying I don’t sympathize with Jack and Ennis or that the film doesn’t make me cry, but do I find them as sympathetic as completely innocent victims like Sophie or the Bagbys of Dear Zachary? No.

Requiem for a Dream and Sophie’s Choice. Ugh. I’m sure I’m the minority opinion, but I didn’t find either of these that effective. Requiem for a Dream was over-the-top ridiculous sensationalist anti-drug propaganda like Reefer Madness. Just for starters, modern ECT therapy is given without informed consent only in very exceptional circumstances, and the patient is not conscious during the procedure. Also, by the fiftieth round of the diluted-pupil etc. shots, I wanted to choke Aronofsky with some black swan feathers while screaming, “IT’S ALL ADDICTION, WE GET IT! GOD!” Ellen Burstyn’s performance was amazing; nothing else about the film is.

Sophie’s Choice: The scene is as gut-wrenching and difficult to watch as anything else in the lineup and Streep is amazing, but the rest of the film…no. Kevin Kline can be great in the right role, but he’s terribly miscast here, chewing every bit of scenery. And the ending did not work at all for me. The Emily Dickinson reading is too precious, and the final monologue…I’m paraphrasing here: “I let go of all the rage and sorrow not just for Sophie and Nathan, but for all…” Well, how nice for you, Pretentious Artsy McFeelings, but maybe let the people who were actually there decide that. The full passage in the novel isn’t so tone-deaf, but it’s all wrong here. Also, you are a grown male who goes by the name of “Stingo.” Shut up times a million. However, it won its initial round by a wide margin even over Grave of the Fireflies, so it probably goes through.

Dear Zachary is my hands-down number-one pick for the entire contest. As I told Sars, even using the word “spoiler” in this context seems flippant, as if it was no more than dropping something from the upcoming season of Game of Thrones. But if you have managed to remain “unspoiled” and you don’t know what’s coming, as I didn’t, it’s an unbelievable gut punch. The first part of the film has certainly been sad, maddening at times, but kind of beautiful in a way that leaves you with hope. Then it socks you with the reveal and never stops punching till the end.

Will win: Dear Zachary and Sophie’s Choice. [“I think Brokeback will place here, but my predictions’ suckitude is legendary by now.” — SDB] Should win: Dear Zachary and Amour.

Streep Division: Vote for the TWO (2) harshest films.

  • Dear Zachary (22%, 116 Votes)
  • Requiem for a Dream (15%, 78 Votes)
  • Amour (15%, 77 Votes)
  • Sophie's Choice (12%, 64 Votes)
  • Kids (11%, 60 Votes)
  • Brokeback Mountain (9%, 47 Votes)
  • Pan's Labyrinth (7%, 38 Votes)
  • Children of Men (7%, 36 Votes)
  • Jacob's Ladder (2%, 12 Votes)

Total Voters: 277

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(Confused? Aren’t we all. Heh. But the Cinemarch Madness FAQ is here, and you can find the complete semifinal-polls list over here.)




  • attica says:

    PL is still getting my vote. I saw an interview with a director in which he asserted that death was a starting point, and he seemed cheered by that, but boy howdy, that’s not a bandwagon I can get on. Telling yourself that cool things happen after death may be comforting, or it may be a way to maintain a horrible status quo during life. I know which side of that I fall on. That movie bleaked me out and made me mad.

  • Haras says:

    I’m in total agreement with ferretrick’s assesment of Sophie’s Choice. Certain scenes are devastating…yes, Streep is very very good. The rest of it? Completely annoying and tiresome. Kevin Kline grated my every nerve.

    Amour should win this whole entire thing as far as I’m concerned. The more realistic a downer movie is, the more devastating it is. And there were so many small intimate moments that were spot on when it comes to end-of-life care. It turned out that I actually never cried because the whole film was vibrating at such a high pitch of sorrow that my brain didn’t even know when to let the tears come. Yeesh.

  • Meg says:

    I’m with you, Sars, the fact that Crash beat Brokeback Mountain still pisses me off.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    That’s actually the esteemed ferretrick on the writeup here — but I agree with you both. I didn’t despise Crash as much as some people did; it had a few nicely done moments in it. But its victory read to me like Hollywood self-congratulation regardless of what it beat, and what it beat made the win enraging.

    Not that we should take the Oscars that seriously, but: you know.

  • Rachel says:

    While I agree with ferretrick about the Requiem dilated-pupil shots (works once, maybe twice. After that, re-read your textbook for more ideas), I was just horrified at the end of that movie. Squirmy, gross, can’t-sit-still, horrified. Never, ever watching that one again. Horror.

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