Movie Talk: Silver Linings Playbook, Amour, and the Best Directors

Movie Talk: Silver Linings Playbook, Amour, and the Best Directors

Jake: Tell me, Roid. What makes Silver Linings Playbook so good?

Lloyd: Roid? Jake, please.

So I remember seeing the trailer for SLP, and thought, “eh”. Admittedly, I didn’t realize at the time it was a David O. Russell film, nor did I realize how superb Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence are at acting.

I went in to the film with relatively low expectations (relative to say, The Master), and came out just as elevated and just as awed and amazed as I did after The Master. This was totally unexpected, but I completely enjoyed SLP.

O. Russell reminds me of Alexander Payne. Both have an ability to show “real” people on screen. I’m talking mostly about the extras. Watch The Fighter, watch Sideways, and you’ll see what I’m talking about. If an Oscar could be given for casting, I think Payne and O. Russell would take it each time.

What makes SLP so great, I think, is how it tries to show what life is actually like. Normally one might think, “What’s the big deal?”, but in the sea of absurd storylines, seeing real life on screen is oddly astonishing.

We all have problems. Our families are not perfect. We are not great. And sometimes it’s nice to know we’re not alone, and I think a film like SLP reminds us of that—we’re not alone.

And it doesn’t hurt to have the writing, directing, acting, and editing that O. Russell commands.

Jake: Okay, sorry. "Tell me, ロイド." Better?

The crazy thing, for me, about Silver Linings Playbook is that it does something so ordinary so well that it becomes extraordinary. Right? I guess my real question is: Why is Silver Linings Playbook good and so many of the other movies about life, just, not?

If I told you ahead of time that Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence were going to make one of the best movies of the year, and that it would be about two depressed people competing in a ballroom dance competition, and that Robert DeNiro would be in it and NOT be bad, would you have believed me?

I really like Grantland’s Trailers of the Week posts, and I’m always interested in what Dan Silver has to say, because he seems to have seen everything. This is what he said about the SLP trailer last summer: “[B]y the end, here’s all I came away with: It’s a film about two social outcasts who come together to challenge their public perceptions by competing together in a ballroom dancing competition … oh, and did I mention? These two recluses are male and female and they fall in love. ‘Blah,’ right?”

And the thing is, he was right!

At first glance, this movie fit perfectly into the “sea of absurd storylines.” The difference: Good writing, good directing, good acting, good everything. They seem to have made a good version of all of those gimmicky romantic comedies we’ve ever seen.

So, how does this thing fit in with the rest of the Best Picture nominees? Match it up against Amour, for example, a movie that just bashes you over the cardiovascular system. Or Lincoln, the classic big studio Oscar flick. Is Silver Linings Playbook actually really good, or is it just better than the other versions of the same thing?

Lloyd: “If I told you ahead of time that Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence were going to make one of the best movies of the year, and that it would be about two depressed people competing in a ballroom dance competition, and that Robert DeNiro would be in it and NOT be bad, would you have believed me?”

Yes—if you had mentioned David O. Russell. Otherwise, no, of course not.

I don’t read Grantland directly, but rely on a source whose name rhymes with Schmason Bao, to forward me pieces of interest - some of which I find very entertaining.

The key to SLP is that it’s not a romantic comedy. But a story about a son who doesn’t find a reason to live. It’s really about the son, as opposed to the boyfriend/lover, etc.

So I don’t really think it compares to Amour, and actually find it more interesting to compare it to The Master, or even Lincoln (I swear I’m not trying to find every way to link every topic to The Master, but it’s happening). It’s a very male thing - the man who becomes disillusioned, or wavering. And perhaps there’s a father or father-figure in there somewhere. You could say this is true between Hoffman and Phoenix in Master, Day-Lewis and Levitt in Lincoln, and here with DeNiro and Cooper in SLP.

Do you think I’m onto something, at least with that connection between those three films?

Jake: The tense family dynamics in Silver Linings Playbook are definitely huge for the story. Who can forget that scene where Bradley Cooper fights his parents in the attic, or the one where Jennifer Lawrence shows up and proves that the dancing is beneficial to the Eagles' performance? The latter was, I think, one of my favorite scenes of any of these movies.

I guess what I'm saying is that Silver Linings Playbook isn't something new or special just for what it is. Lincoln is. People could argue against The Master, but I think that one is, too. Remember what we were talking about last week, about the significance of seeing these movies? I don't think Silver Linings Playbook had that going for it, and if it did, it was only because of Bradley Cooper's beard and Jennifer Lawrence's, um, being in the movie—and the fact that everyone who saw it early on told everyone else it was a great movie. Not to sell anyone short, but Lincoln was going to be significant unless Spielberg messed it up. Silver Linings Playbook was going to be cliché unless David O. Russell made it great.

Lloyd: I agree that it wouldn’t be significant to see SLP, unlike Lincoln, ZDT, and Master. The reason, I think, being that it’s a rather uncomplicated film. There’s nothing about SLP that says, “You have to see this movie, it’s so amazing”. But once you see it, you realize that it is, in fact, amazing.

O. Russell doesn’t try to win you over with anything spectacular, at least anything tangibly spectacular. You can argue that Master captures you in how gorgeous it is, from the very first image, not to mention how anticipated PT Anderson films are. Lincoln’s theatrical dialogue and ZDT’s unveiling of recent events all scream “must see”. Django is yet another epic in Tarantino’s body of work (and Moonrise Kingdom serving the same for Wes Anderson). But SLP isn’t strongly anything. You probably are right that many folks saw it because of Cooper or Lawrence being in it. But those people probably didn’t expect how good it would be—lucky for them.

Jake: Do you think that's a trait that Amour shares? For my money, Amour was the most powerful movie of the year. What an amazing work of art. The acting was phenomenal. The storytelling was stellar. That's a movie that didn't win anybody over on gimmicks.

Watching Amour made me curious about how foreign films are chosen for awards like this. I'm particularly interested in this section from Michael Cieply's article on the nominations a couple of weeks ago: "[The Academy directors] branch members, who number about 370, and certainly talk among themselves, occasionally decide to honor a generally overlooked maker of foreign-language films whom they believe to be at the top of his or her game." It's almost like it's an overall achievement award for foreign filmmakers and an award for one individual work by English language directors.

I left this movie thinking it was the most important movie I've seen in a while. I loved the experience of watching Zero Dark Thirty. I really enjoyed The Master. Amour was like watching my future self fade away at the end of life. Lloyd, what was your feeling watching this movie?

Lloyd: Amour was a difficult film to watch. For me personally, I thought, “why did I watch that”. I’ve seen family members deteriorate in the same way as Anne, and it’s nothing anybody wants to subject themselves to. It’s incredibly exhausting, and watching Amour reminded me of that.

Amour is a brilliant film and, along with ZDT and Master, among the best of the year. Michael Haneke is a brilliant writer and director. The acting is superb. The cinematography is beautiful. It is good. But for me, it is not better than The Master.

I came out of Amour feeling similar to as I did when I came out of The Tree of Life. I was exhausted, I was not lifted, and struggled with what to think. It really is a film with no catch—it’s just about love and death. It is important because it’s honest. I think we too quickly dismiss age, and growing older. We promote health and youth, and Amour reminds us of our mortality and the inevitable. It’s not pretty. So I’m torn in this way about Amour.

I think I might have read that same article about the directors branch of the Academy. A lot of the studio directors have died recently, and a lot of the new entrants are foreigners, changing the game. No doubt this is why Benh Zeitlin is nominated for Best Director for Beasts of The Southern Wild—his first film. Why the directors branch chose not to nominate PT Anderson, I do not know. The omission of Kathryn Bigelow also makes no sense. Get rid of Zeitlin, Lee, and Spielberg. Replace them with Bigelow, Anderson, and Tarantino. Then you’d have a list worth watching for.

Jake: Yes. I like that list. To wrap things up for this week, which one of those would you take for the Oscar?

Lloyd: Out of the best picture nominees, it seemed Lincoln was the frontrunner, but Argo has a lot of recent momentum. What should win is either ZDT or SLP. I still think The Master is the best film of the year. But if I had to bet money, I think I’d give it to Lincoln. Affleck is not nominated for best director, so I’m betting on Lincoln. Of course, I would love to be surprised.

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