The Movie Club

Best Movies 2011: Shame should be ashamed of itself.

There is no single movie this year that everyone is excited about.

Michael Fassbender in Shame

Photograph courtesy Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Michael’s point about the audiences for The Artist is well-taken; even the suburban movie-loving parents in my neighborhood can’t seem to get themselves excited about the idea of a silent-movie pastiche, no matter how many articles tell them how charming or illuminating it is. I admit that my evidence is anecdotal—and quiet George Valentin continues to make loud amounts of money in limited release—but I think it points to a larger issue with this year in movies: There’s no single film that everyone is really excited about.

Am I alone in feeling a sort of movie-going malaise among the populace? Last year at this time, everyone I knew wanted to talk about The Social Network and The King’s Speech. The year before, everyone wanted to talk about Avatar and The Hurt Locker and Inglourious Basterds. Were they the best movies of the year? Maybe, maybe not, but they raised moviegoers’ interest, stoked their ire, inspired debate. To me, at least, 2011 has been a year in which few movies inflamed my passions. It’s a year filled with well-made pictures of the sort I wish Hollywood generated more often—The Descendants, Hugo, Moneyball, even The Artist. But while I enjoyed all of these movies, each of them struck me as flawed in some important way, and I’m not that inspired to agitate on their behalf.

The one movie that did get my engine going this year, alas, was Shame, which feels fraudulent in every way, from its gleaming surfaces to its laughably overblown soundtrack to the perfect teardrop rolling over Michael Fassbender’s perfect cheekbone in that perfect lounge where, in real life, no one would ever let Carey Mulligan sing a shoe-gaze “New York, New York.” Oh and what about the scene where he jogs to classical music? Or the part where his addiction drags him so deep into hell that he (gasp) gets a blowjob from a dude in a dimly-lit sex club? (As the writer Bryan Safi noted on Twitter, “I’d love to see a movie where a strung-out gay guy sinks so low and degrades himself so much for his addiction, he hooks up with a woman.”)

Shame has nothing to do with actual addiction, or the actual New York, or even actual human beings. Everyone and everything in Shame is gorgeous, right down to the (spoiler alert!) blood artfully splattered all over Carey Mulligan’s white T-shirt, which matches her pale white skin and bleached hair, which matches the white marble of Michael Fassbender’s bathroom, which matches the white-hot rage I felt when I watched this terrible movie.

Whew! Glad to get that off my chest. As the great and foolishly laid-off J. Hoberman once said, “Vent your spleen. In criticism, it’s better to be angry than depressed.”

So I watched Margaret! It probably would’ve looked better in a movie theater than in a tiny window on my computer monitor in a low-res stream with a watermark reading “Dan Klois Dan Klois Dan Klois,” but I still liked it quite a bit. The movie was filmed long, long ago—so long ago that two of its name producers (Anthony Minghella and Sydney Pollack) have died, so long ago that at the time I had essentially a completely different life. I lived in New York in 2005 and worked for a movie producer—a producer, as it happens, of Margaret. I believe I was one of several people who made notes on the script—notes that, judging from the screenplay that Searchlight has posted online, Kenneth Lonergan, to his everlasting credit, completely ignored.

Is it a perfect movie? Sadly, no. It’s baggy and messy and ugly at times. It introduces fascinating ideas and themes, then discards them, then blatantly underlines them in scenes where people read Shakespeare aloud or watch the opera. Could it have been shorter? Absolutely. I suggested as much on Twitter, which led film writer Ray Pride to note, “Outsiders Still Cutting Margaret,” and you know what? He’s right. The hell with me. I was long gone from that producer’s office by the time the battle over Margaret began, and have no inside information as to what happened, but I wish they’d just let Lonergan make his six-hour cut or however long it was going to be. It would’ve been too long, but it still would have been a million times more truthful, interesting, and relevant than Shame.

Man, when The Artist gets nominated for Best Original Screenplay and Margaret doesn’t, I’m gonna be depressed. Sorry, J. Hoberman.

Yours in malaise,