“1917”: The Marathon of Battle

1917!

Our young heroes navigate the long walk to the Oscars, fraught with snipers, barbed wire, raging rapids, and Joker fans.

Despite my peculiar and not impenetrably defensible fandom for the Academy Awards, I’m galled every December and January whenever myriad ostensibly august awards-handout bodies bestow major nominations upon films seen only by critics and the privileged residents of New York and L.A. Once those hoarded films have picked up accolades from those anointed viewers, then the studios deign to roll out their preordained champions to the rest of us. I feel this same frustration whenever caucuses in Iowa and South Carolina choose our political nominees for all us flyover states, whose own primaries are less a useful part of democracy and more the patronizing equivalent of handing us a googly-eyed Fisher-Price phone and letting us pretend to call someone who cares.

The rousing new World War I adventure 1917 strutted off the red carpets and arrived in theaters five days after winning a Golden Globe for Best Drama According to Some Drunken Cabal Who Attended Special Screenings in Their Country Clubs. The only Golden Globe I’ve ever cared about is my own head, but I was intrigued by its high-concept design and its director/co-writer Sam Mendes, whose Skyfall remains my all-time favorite James Bond film, a preference that vexes cineastes who’ve actually seen more than ten Bond films. If my math is accurate, I fail to number among them. But now that I’ve seen it for myself, Monday morning’s Oscar nominations don’t bother me the same way.

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“Spectre”: Restoring the Common Bond

Spectre!

“How hard would it be to change our Tomatometer rating to 105%?”

In one of the precious few MCC movie reviews ever to draw non-positive responses, I called Skyfall my favorite James Bond film of all time, based on having seen maybe ten or eleven of them in all. Even as a kid I never got excited about the concept of a globetrotting sophisticate who’s more into booze and hook-ups than he is into crimefighting. At least Batman confines his vices and his expensive suits to his off-duty civilian hours. If Bond were an Inside Out character, the simplistic emotions ruling his head would be Sex, Suaveness, Sarcasm, and Slaughter.

After the welcome reboot of Casino Royale and the redundant vendetta of Quantum of Solace, Skyfall struck me as the apex of Daniel Craig’s 21st-century take, which built to a genuine emotional arc for the usually one-note character, supported by stunts genuinely thrilling without resorting to renamed sci-fi Bat-gadgetry, by updated camerawork, and with none of the nonsense of the last two Pierce Brosnan farces. It was a film designed to reach beyond the typical fan base, and for me it worked.

Spectre, in contrast, is less about director Sam Mendes deepening the impact he made on the aging series last time, and more of the intellectual property’s longtime producers giving Bond Classic fans more of what they want. Lucky them, I suppose.

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“Skyfall”: My New Favorite James Bond Film, Says Lifelong Bond Hater

Historically speaking, the average moviegoer loves James Bond films a lot more than I do. I have nothing against the spy genre itself, but the Bond concept never appealed to me. Based on the trailers, the TV commercials, the very few Bond films I caught, and the same five scenes constantly referenced throughout pop culture, my impression of the scripts for most Bond films went like so:

PANICKY POLITICIAN: Ladies and gentlemen, a deformed billionaire Dick Tracy reject has a preposterous plan to take over and destroy the world, and we’re not sure in which order. We need our best man to stop him.
BRITISH CIA HEAD: How about James Bond? He’s a millionaire who knows a lot about sex, bartending, and tuxedos.
PANICKY POLITICIAN: Brilliant. Send him a million-dollar car and a box of our latest, deadliest, billion-dollar single-use Sharper Image toys.
BOND JAMES BOND: There’ll be sex, right? I was promised sex.
FUNNY-FACE VILLAIN: I’m killing your sex partner and stealing your scenes! And also incidentally detonating things and ruining world peace because of issues.
BOND JAMES BOND: Not my sex partner! You fiend.
[Bond chases or runs from henchmen, using up his toys one by one. There are explosions.]
BACKUP SEX PARTNER: Job well done. Join me in my lair.
BOND JAMES BOND: Way ahead of you. Do you like expensive booze?

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