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Why pay to be depressed at the movies?
The Oscar voters might accidentally honour David Lynch for ‘Mulholland Drive’ but only because in their befuddled brains it actually made sense.

Scene from Ghost World
It is certainly the case that the most watchable films for 2001 were not made in America by the major studios.

The Golden Globes were announced yesterday. Prizes for the best films and performances of 2001. The snag is, we haven’t seen almost half of the films honoured as they have not opened in the UK and of course since we are a year behind the USA with their TV shows, we haven’t seen the episodes so honoured. I beleive they have already been seen in Cape Town, Timbuktu, but not London ...

‘A Beautiful Mind’ our own Hackwriter Yvette Barnett reports is 'brilliant and made her cry', but the premise of a sexist mathematician becoming a schizophrenic and coming up with game theory for the Rand Corporation doesn’t quite grab my imagination, no matter how good Mr Crowe is. The trailer looked sharp and it's always good to see Ed Harris there. but maybe I just don't want to cry right now. I note that although ‘In the Bedroom’ won a Golden Globe award as well and is just about to open here. It is another film about family life, boy dating girl from the wrong side of town that looks thoroughly depressing, no matter how great Sissy Spacek and Marisa Tomei are in it. So utterly depressing is the best foreign movie, the Croatian ‘No Man’s Land’. They could and should have chosen ‘Amelie’ but no one gives prizes for ‘happy’ movies apparently. Better luck for that film in the Oscars. Just as 'Ocean's Eleven' is fun and harks back to a different era, it wouldn't win an award because well you just aren't allowed to have fun and hark these days.

I note that Jim Broadbent won a best supporting actor for ‘Iris’ which has just opened here and this is another bleak depressing story about the disintegration of a famous writer’s personality.
I was very happy that 'Moulin Rouge' won a prize, thoroughly deserved because it at least has passion and verve and has completely reinvented the musical. I would have liked to have seen ‘The Royal Tenenbaums’ but that hasn’t opened here either. Gene Hackman gives a great performance we are told but…

And that brings me to the point, as aspirant screenwriters you can trot along to British Screen, the Film Council and any lectures by film makers and they will go on about the ‘audience’ and how the Americans will only make films that target 18 year olds. Clearly this is a load of balls. Perhaps this was true twenty years ago but films are made for the potential awards now, bugger the 'audience'. What sells is disease, madness, agony and pain and getting through it.

Right now we have American financed films such as Fred Schepsi’s ‘Last Orders’ about some old blokes down the pub celebrating the ‘wasted’ life of one of their drinking pals – the audience for this vehicle starring Michael Caine, Helen Mirren, Bob Hoskins and others is what? 70 plus. Who the hell wants to watch old blokes boozing and shouting and not even being as funny as Alf Garnett. The same went for the long disappeared 'Strictly Sinatra'. Dull, depressing, anti-audience. ' Rat Race' might appeal to someone who misses 'Death Race 2000', or Burt Reynolds movies, but few others. Is no one asking about audience at all? There certainly isn't one in the cinema.

'A Beautiful Mind’ is directed by Ron Howard, so right away you know it has a happy ending and lots of hugging by tearful men in it. Yes yes, this is why it wins awards, but no, I’ve seen ‘Good Will Hunting’, one ‘maths’ film is enough for me. (Yet I know that Carine will want to see it and drag me along so she can cry and then get cross with me for being so unmoved).
Alzheimer’s disease is awful and I hopeand pray I never get it, but persuade anyone under 24 to see ‘Iris?' other than devoted Kate Winslet and Judi Dench fans? Girlfriends will have to work very hard to get their blokes into the cinema for this - but no doubt like me they will be dragooned.

You might argue that these same arguments would militate against me going to see Robert Altman’s latest movie ‘Gosford Park’, winner of Best Director at the Golden Globes, but you would be mistaken. Despite the awful, excesses of ‘Dr T and the Women’ his last film, ‘Gosford Park’ has the witty and sarcastic Maggie Smith in it and from all else meanness and biting bitchiness will ensue. It will be funny and that counts a lot. There just isn’t enough ‘funny’ out there.

Cynically we know that the reason Miramax and others jump onto the ‘lets make a depressing movie about a mental or physical disease chopping down someone famous life’ is because historically it wins awards. Nevertheless I don’t want to see these films and thus I feel culturally disconnected. Of course the voters at the Golden Globes are the overseas critics based in LA and they obviously have their own agenda. You know they will be far too cynical to give ‘Harry Potter’ an award and too cowardly to give the excellent ‘Ghost World’ anything for fear of condoning Steve Buscemi’s character in the film. There are so many films that could have been rewarded but are excluded because there can only be one ‘Best Foreign Film.’ It is certainly the case that the most watchable films for 2001 were not made in America by the major studios. Nevertheless, come the Oscars, where the average person with a vote is already suffering from cancer or alzhimers, you know ‘A Beautiful Mind’ and ‘Iris’ has been made just for them. . The Oscar members might accidentally honour David Lynch for ‘Mulholland Drive’ but only because in their befuddled brains it actually made sense.

I also don’t want to see ‘Black Hawk Down’, not because it is a boys movie about violence in Somalia, but because it most likely will not give a moments glance at the Somali point of view. Yes they were vicious warlords and life is short, stupid and dangerous there, but seeing as a thousand Somalis died in this operation, I think they feel quite differently about the subject than the US financiers and politicians. For the same reason you can keep ‘Behind Enemy Lines’. Just another bombastic film about more American heroes and nasty Europeans getting in their way.

So, what will I see? Well I am looking forward to ‘Monsoon Wedding’ if it ever escapes London and finds it way to the multiplexes. (Otherwise I have to justify spending £15 on a train and £9 on a ticket to see it, plus £4.35p for a coffee and sticky bun at Starbucks – almost every movie I see costs around £30 or more to see so it has to be worth it. This is the problem of living outside London and cinema going in general).

‘The Royal Tenebaums’ will be a must, ‘Rushmore’ his last film being so good. I suppose ‘Vanilla Sky’ but advance word isn’t good on this, although it is one of the best trailers I’ve seen since ‘Scooby Doo’ (I’m serious). The curse of Penelope Cruz will bring any movie down. She was good in ‘Jamon – Jamon’, but that is it. Of course ‘Monsters, Inc’, looks great and ‘Oceans Eleven’ has to be fun. At least no one is going to be dying of cancer in that one.

With luck there will be a good French thriller to tide me over between and some independent film from China or Japan or somewhere where you learn something and watch something beautiful. Last year’s ‘In the Mood For Love’ was a revelation and one hopes something like will turn up.

I hear good things about ‘The Glass House’ opening next week. And although I also hear that the ‘Shipping News’ isn’t a patch on the book, I will probably go to watch Kevin Spacey in that and ‘K-Pax’ when they finally arrive.

Other films that look interesting for 2002 but we await release are Steve Martin in 'Novocaine', John Woo's 'Windtalkers', with Nicolas Cage, the Butterworths 'Birthday Girl' with Nicole Kidman, 'The Business of Strangers' with Stockard Channing and Julia Stiles. 'The Emporer's New Clothes with Ian Holm doing his Napoleon again should be amusing. Perhaps Mike Figgis with 'Hotel ', and from Japan 'Warm Water under a Red Bridge' will be refreshing and 'new'. From France (although I have seen it) the arresting Betty Fisher will surprise people. It starts strangely and and makes you uncomfortable, then from out of nowhere becomes a comedy. 'Time Out' from, Laurent Cantent looks worth waiting for as well.

So, maybe I am not culturally deprived after all, perhaps it is just around award time the drizzle of depressing films is unleashed to empty the cinemas whilst they redecorate or something. Meanwhile, whilst you go and see ‘Lord of the Rings’ for the tenth time (just to make sure Sean Bean is really dead), join me in a rebellion. This year skip the poignant human dramas about disease and the like and leave them for Eastenders or Emmerdale storylines; or novels, such as Johnathan Franzen’s ‘The Corrections’, this brilliant but depressing genre is just getting out of hand.

Let 2002 be about the reinvention of cinema and entertainment. And may this be the last year of the British Gangster movie. Surely there has been enough now. 'Lava' and the awful 'Shooters' opening this very week to uniform terrible reviews.

* Oh yes, if you want a decent soundtrack as opposed to the actual film – buy ‘Spy Game’ soundtrack. 90 minutes of experimental material and quite thrilling music. Pity about the film, but you can’t win them all hey.

© Sam North 2002

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© Hackwriters 2002