Reeling with Ryan Lattanzio

This Week: Auteur Theory


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I'm a contrarian when it comes to movie talk, and often unfoundedly so.

Now that "The King's Speech" has picked up Best Picture, it will join the ranks of movies I love to hate. It was a fine movie - but now, thanks to Oscar's blessing, it just turns me off. But fret not, my "King," for you're in good company because people (mostly old ones) love you. As for Tom Hooper, I'm sure he'll crank out many an old-fashioned historically revisionist romp in his time.

Who the hell is Tom Hooper, you ask? Yeah, I'm with you. Don't really know this guy either. He's a nobody in my book, but he was apparently enough of a somebody to be crowned Best Director on Sunday. And oh, what a waste of a Sunday, when I could've been hand-washing my socks or racing a turtle.

When it comes to Best Director, I suspect the Academy was faced with too many great filmmakers so they picked the runt of the litter. "This film was made against all odds," Hooper said of his Weinstein-produced, conspicuously Oscar-baiting feature. Do tell: What odds are those?

So many bold visions went unrecognized on Sunday. While Mr. Hooper evidently sees the world through a rosy, English-royalty-smudged lens, David Fincher sees it through steely ultra-cool widescreen; Darren Aronofsky through gritty Steadicam. Fincher and Aronofsky films are all about direction, unlike "Speech," whose strength is in the performances, not the director. Still fresh off their 2008 sweep for "No Country for Old Men," the Coen brothers didn't have a shot in Oscar hell - but even they would've been a better choice. And though David O. Russell is something of a sellout after a decade of indie quirk-fests like "Flirting with Disaster" and "I Heart Huckabees," at least "The Fighter" is highly cinephilic, which is the mark of an auteur.

Last month, Entertainment Weekly - a bastion of journalism, I know - published a list of the "25 Greatest Working Directors" that was as frustrating as the Academy's taste. EW staffers ranked David Fincher as the best working director, obviously in the wake of "The Social Network." My man Aronofsky - never a subtle filmmaker, but mmph! how I love his bravado - clocked in at number five. I love the guy, but c'mon: How is his work superior to the prodigious catalogue of Terrence Malick, maker of some of the all-time greats, who came in at eighth? And do these people honestly believe that Steven Spielberg is the third best director working today? He hasn't made a good movie since "Minority Report," and that was ten years ago. You should never put credence in EW but, like the Academy, they are arbiters of taste.

I'm urging that we reject these tastes imposed upon us and give up the ghosts of Hollywood fogeys - Tom Hooper is a fogey-in-training, a total non-revolutionary - in favor of the hyper-modern maestros of the moment, like those other Best Directors. I will always gravitate toward auteurs who don't just go against the grain, but define it. To follow an auteur's career is to really know the man behind the curtain. As a kid I remade Hitchcock scenes using my mom's camera (taping over milestone family moments to do it). Auteurs invite imitation, and imitation is the sincerest if most annoying form of flattery, which is how cinematic precedents are made.

So there's my nail in the Oscar coffin, where the fogeys belong. Next year, we'll all collectively dig out that coffin again and prop up ol' Oscar so he doesn't look as dead as he actually is.

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