Tuesday, July 22, 2014

50 Days 50 Films - #6 "Moon" (Duncan Jones) ... also, why Woody Allen won't be on this list

Okay, before I talk about Duncan Jones's "Moon" (2009), let me address an impromptu, oddly hostile message I got from someone reading this blog who asked if, now that I'm coming to the end of my list, I would "put [my] prejudices aside" and cover a Woody Allen movie.

Short answer: No.

Long answer: I have engaged in a couple Facebook debates about the child molestation allegations against Allen, and I think it's been pretty clear that — without knowing anything — I tend to at the very least remain suspicious. Do I have any information that Allen is guilty? No. Do I think he's creepy and gross? Yep.

Do I feel hypocritical because I included a Roman Polanski film on this list? Yes, I do. Can I justify it? No, not very well. When it comes to Polanski, I've drawn a somewhat arbitrary line in my brain between the films he made before his rape conviction and the films he made afterwards. I fully admit that the distinction doesn't really hold up to any sort of objective logic, but I cling to it because I do enjoy those earlier films and I can't completely toss them out of my heart. The most I can do now is try to avoid the later ones, because they (and he) ick me out.

Which is basically how I feel about Allen. He just icks me out.

I do not deny the quality of some of his films. But this isn't meant to be a "greatest films of all time" list. These are my personal favorite films. And, ick factor aside, Woody Allen just isn't my thing. I can kind of appreciate a film like "Annie Hall" or "Hannah and Her Sisters," but I can't say they provoke a strong emotion in me one way or the other. Whatever. I'm just not a fan. So get off my dick, rando.

Okay, with that out of the way, let me get to "Moon."

I'm not very often floored by movies anymore. This is probably a result of having gone to film school and then continuing to pursue this whole filmmaking thing as a vocation. A lot of the magic is frankly gone for me. Like most film students, I can sort of see the proverbial Man Behind the Curtain whenever I see a movie, and it has become harder and harder for me to simply let myself go and get swept up the way I used to.

There's that whole adage that if you love working on cars, you probably shouldn't become a mechanic. As soon as something becomes your job, it ceases to be your escape.

So it is with a very palpable sense of shock, relief and utter joy that I can say "Moon" completely and utterly grabbed me. Seeing this film for the first time was a rapturous experience. I haven't been this caught up in a film in fifteen years, maybe longer ("Let the Right One In" and "Rust and Bone" come close).

Duncan Jones is, of course, the son of David Bowie. But don't let the implied Hollywood nepotism sway you. This is probably the most self-assured, exquisitely crafted science fiction film in two decades, and it's unthinkable to me that this a debut. It's an instant classic, destined (I believe) to be mentioned in the history books right alongside "Blade Runner" and "2001: A Space Odyssey" forever.

On paper, it's not the most wholly original concept. And certainly the overt nods to earlier films in the genre have garnered the film its fair share of criticism. But just set that aside and let yourself fall into the story. Sam Rockwell delivers one of those powerhouse performances that come along maybe once in a generation. Daniel Day Lewis couldn't have done better. I've screened this film multiple times in my classes, have broken it down scene by scene, and I have still not found one false note in his portrayal of Sam Bell, a lone technician going slowly insane in an isolated mining base on the moon.

Rockwell carries the film entirely on his shoulders, but he gets a strong assist from Kevin Spacey as the voice of GERTY, a sentient computer that is very deliberately meant to evoke memories of HAL-9000. But Spacey manages to find odd little emotional nuances in his soothing robotic monotone that give GERTY shades of life and, dare I say, humanity that you would never expect. He creates a character that transcends the classic influence and becomes iconic on its own.

"Moon" and "Let The Right One In" are recent films, and they arrived late in my development as a cineaste and filmmaker. So rather than provide a bedrock influence to my own work (the way, say, "Jacob's Ladder," "Texas Chain Saw Massacre," and "Blue Velvet" did), they raise the bar and show me a way forward.

These are films — "Moon" especially — that I wish I had made.

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