5 Terrible Moments from Five of the Fall's Best Films
We're on the verge of a star-studded Oscar season, but before we dig into the potentially embarrassing J. Edgar, the probably overblown War Horse, or the already-cloying Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, let's take a second look at five great films from fall and remember that they weren't so flawless either. In fact, these films all possessed one ridiculous moment that completely took me out of the otherwise believable drama. Did you have the same problems with Moneyball, Martha Marcy May Marlene, and Drive? Click through for our rundown.
Moneyball's critical success seemed like a statistical impossibility (guh-her!), but it's a smartly scripted meditation on Oakland Athletics manager Billy Beane's intuition, his successful 2002 recalibration of the team, and the almost mystically unwatchable sport of baseball. It's successful, that is, until the movie's conversational realism goes south when we're introduced to Beane's wide-eyed preteen daughter. At first she seems like a loyal, if unassuming girl, but in the most cringe-inducing minute of fall cinema, she reveals herself to be a brilliant singer-songwriter who strums a guitar and trills damning lyrics about her father's character. When do we hear her full, perfectly composed ditty about being a loser, you ask? Why, over the closing credits after her father's team loses! It's a little convenient. Especially since Billy Beane has no such singer-songwriter daughter, and the song she chirps is Australian artist Lenka's post-2002 tune "The Show."
Martha Marcy May Marlene
Martha Marcy May Marlene's glimpses into its fractured heroine's cult past are disturbing and engrossing, but it runs into trouble when chronicling Martha's new life squatting with her chilly sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson) and her arrogant husband Ted (Hugh Dancy) at their vacation home. The worst of it occurs when Martha, whose grasp of social norms is clearly shot to hell -- she tries sleeping in bed with Lucy and Ted while they're having sex; she swims nude in the middle of the day as neighbors abound -- endures a PTSD-grade conniption during the night. As she harrumphs up the stairs in a maniacal, nocturnal fit, she kicks away Ted, who tries to restrain her. Ted's reaction? Not to realize that Martha Marcy is exhibiting the most textbook trauma since Sybil, but to yell, "She's crazy!" and dismiss her animalistic terrors as selfish bitchiness. Come on. I don't care how many pontoon boats Ted owns; there's no way he's too rich to realize Martha's been through a dehumanizing hell.
Drive is undeniably the starkest, most stylish thriller of fall. It is also undeniably pretentious. I'm ambivalent about whether College's soundtrack contribution "A Real Hero," which reiterates the inanely literal lyrics, "He's a real hero and a real human being," needs to played twice during the film, but I'm very decided that there's no need for an inhumanely long, lingering gaze between The Driver (Ryan Gosling) and Irene (Carey Mulligan) at her apartment. The Driver is supposed to represent stoic, charitable heroism, but scenes like this squelch his pure intentions and recast him as a reticent homewrecker. He should want to help the beleaguered Irene, not bed her. Later in the film when he steals a kiss from Irene in a surreal elevator scene, the dissolution of The Driver's saintly intentions is clear. He's just a horndog with a decent coat and strong facestomping legs after all.
Bryce Dallas Howard's role as Rachael in the cute, inoffensive 50/50 is mysteriously one of the most poorly treated female characters of the season. As the cancer-stricken Joseph Gordon-Levitt's artsy girlfriend, she should be likable until Seth Rogen's character Kyle spots her making out with an arthouse hipster. Instead, the movie is mean to Rachael right as it begins; early in the film, we're treated to viewings of her artwork, which she assigns contrived, sophomoric titles like "Existence" and "Defiance" (the actual names are escaping me, but you get the point) -- and we're supposed to laugh at her moronic ideas. Meanwhile, her boyfriend is spending weeks working on a similarly contrived NPR segment about volcanoes for half the movie, so I can't decide whose artistic instincts are worse. Nevertheless, Levitt is treated like a lovable everyman and she's treated like a disposable, idiotic bitch as soon as the movie starts.
The Ides of March
Sure, The Ides of March skimps on deep intrigue and settles for surface-level political thrills, but it's chockablock with great performances. One of my favorites was Marisa Tomei, who plays a roving, no-nonsense New York Times reporter whose scoops compromise the candidates' campaigns. However, I could've done without learning that her name was "Ida," and that she represents -- wait for it! -- the Ides of March. I haven't experienced such a pang of punny pain since (500) Days of Summer when a girl named Autumn replaced Summer in the movie's final moments. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, we need to have a firm discussion about your movie paramours.