Movies Grow Some Political Balls...and Other Timely Observations on 2005

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Being a professed opinionated political junkie, I’ve got to hand it to Hollywood: this past year has been a positive one for topical cinema. Not long ago, back in February, just months into President Bush’s second term in office, my cynical past self would have told you that Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 (by espousing divisive anti-Bush conspiracy theories right before the 2004 election) had discouraged entertaining yet politically aware moviemaking for good, damning us to another year of clueless movies to go with our even more clueless President.

How pessimistic I was. Quite the contrary, fortunately this past year ushered in an audacious, spirited comeback of the timely journalistic-style film, putting an undeniable spin on continuous right-wing deception from the White House and Congress. While top Democratic movie biz players failed to deliver in campaign financing and celebrity PR efforts to defeat Bush in 2004, they are now rapidly making up lost ground, attempting to rile up the public through the movies.
You thought Bush’s rating went down because of the growing budget deficit, deliberate misleading statements, corporate cronyism, Cheney’s poor aim, and Will Ferrell’s hilarious new impression sketch? Wrong. With the moderate box office success and critical acclaim of such fare as Good Night, and Good Luck, Syriana, Munich, The Constant Gardner, and Jarhead, widely released films are starting to develop a critical conscience, and the timing couldn’t be better.

Now, more than ever before, we need our movies to challenge where we stand on the issues that affect our everyday lives, or, at the very least, help us keep an open, critical mind with respect to the powers that be. As I write this, the top dogs at our friendly local major media conglomerates are investing millions into movie products that subtly (or not-so-subtly) attack such heavyweight industries as oil, pharmaceuticals, and the faulty intelligence surrounding Operation Iraqi Freedom - not just for kicks, but because they know people will go to the theater to inadvertently experience George Clooney’s political beliefs while idealistically imagining him as our President in 2016. Unbelievable, right? Well, believe this: 2005 also brought us thoughtful biopics of troubadour/songwriter Johnny Cash (Walk the Line) and Depression-era boxer James J. Braddock (The Cinderella Man), two legendary figures whose stories frequently evoke the struggle to overcome class-based adversity.

And if that wasn’t enough, to top it all off, this year Jon Stewart becomes the first flaming liberal fake news anchor ever to host the Oscars. The Academy could have gone the Billy Crystal route again, but they didn’t. If hand-picking the bolder, more progressive Stewart flavor over safe bet Crystal or wildly irreverent Chris Rock is any indication of where movies are headed, then wow, I haven’t felt this good about political movies since 1976, and I wasn’t even alive then.

As this window of opportunity opens wider into a promising yet unpredictable 2006 and beyond, it may seem risky for the studios to artistically address some of the great injustices of our times and still turn out a decent profit, but my hope is that the execs will keep on flashing the topical greenlight anyway. Superman’s resurfaced Clark Kent might change some kid’s life by saving the world onscreen, but issue-based films have the power to explore and question the ways our own world needs to be saved, not as a simple hero solution, but as rapidly changing pieces to a bigger, more complex puzzle. Film history is stocked with entertaining, intriguing, and relevant reflections of our society that, much like Edward R. Murrow, serve to help us better understand and learn from the greater implications of a fleeting moment in time.

While I don’t predict 2006 will bring us the next Dr. Strangelove, I definitely see the political genre continuing to evolve, building on its 2005 momentum. And if you long for escapism amid the chaos, don’t worry; it still dominates for a hefty percentage of 2006 releases. You can always forget about your mounting credit card debt while immersed in the mindless, exhilarating thrill of summertime blockbusters, and of course, who needs to align with the moral majority when you’re transfixed by the most fantasmic porn your permanent tax cut can buy?

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Surprising Lack of Political Balls on Brokeback

Brokeback Mountain is many things to many people. I hear movie reviewers and people I know shouting out short answers in my head. Picturesque! Heartbreaking! Sexually Arousing! Amazing! Is It Over Yet?! And then there’s the kicker: Politically Groundbreaking! And that is where I must draw the line on this reckless exaggeration of what I believed to be a mediocre film. Off the top of my head, I can think of two homo-hero movies that are more politically groundbreaking and controversial: In & Out and Philadelphia. Brokeback Mountain is a story of obsessive, sexual love as an aggressive, repressed addiction, not a comment on our current views on homosexuality and whether gays should be able to get married and (according to most conservative talk show hosts) raise little homos to dress as dazzlingly as Liberace. Anyone behind the effort to make this film into a heated political discussion is probably just afraid that the gays are taking over Hollywood. Who knows? Maybe they’re onto something.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps you could begin a career in aeronautical engineering. You could participate in building devices that can fly in the air as well as travel the sea. Something to consider. Film Reviewer for the New Publication: Los Angeles Daily
They would love an oppiniated little firebrand such as yourself. Your new Sketches as well in this post are Fantastic!

2:57 PM  

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