WORDS ON FILM
BY NOLAN LAMPSON
Move to a song. Go ahead. Snap your fingers, move your head, stomp your feet. Go along with the melody, along with the rhythm, making sure every precise beat or note in the song corresponds with your movements. Free yourself in the music, feel your weight collapse from it. Once you’re at this stage, start to dance. Start to strut, to skip, to sing. And after that, cruise your getaway car at full speed through the tunnels and alleyways of downtown Atlanta in order to complete heists, robberies, stick-ups, and the like. Congratulations, you’re in the world of Baby. Yes, his name is Baby. You know, like the human species from the rough ages of zero to fifteen months. Like a baby, he doesn’t say much. Like a baby, he is adamantly shy. Like a baby (who listens to music), he listens to music.
Though it isn’t Baby Mozart that drives the new Edgar Wright action-thriller, it is music, so much so that even with its burning rubbers and humming engines and screeching asphalts, the film could be compared less to a Fast and Furious and more to a Singin’ in the Rain. Like, if Gene Kelly had jumped off the lightpole, James Bond-ed his umbrella into a shotgun, and barrelled through a bank heist before jumping into a cheetah on wheels off into the sunset. That’s your little insight into Baby Driver. Does it sound cool? Does it fire up your senses? Does it seem like the ultimate summer movie? The answers should be yes, yes, and yes because the answers are, in fact, yes, yes, and yes. Overtime there may have been some clouded thoughts over what is the ultimate summer movie, and its presence might have been confused for money. We are in the age of the summer comeback, saying sayonara to the sloppy stuff and wholly welcoming the wonders of the summer hit. And make no mistake: Baby Driver is the summer hit.
Through the regular truisms of Edgar Wright editing and flashes and crash zooms and whip pans, we find ourselves in the center of Baby’s world (with a strong performance by un-John Green-ified Ansel Elgort), who makes his living in a Drive-esque manner of being the local criminals’ Uber driver. He does this with attentive care and indifferent morality until he meets a girl (shocker) who forces him to question his decisions and his involvement. Of course, he’s got Kevin Spacey on his back, Jamie Foxx down his throat, and a ringing in his ear which only music can drown out. It’s a thrill-ride that is so good not on the basis of its content alone, but how well it’s paced, and how unpredictable the results are even when the circumstances are so clear.
Like its main character, Baby Driver doesn’t do a lot of talking; instead, its audio counterpart is divided between its ongoing, rebellious, vintage soundtrack -- with a combination of modernist and classic that the film itself likes to jump-rope between -- as well as its action sequences, which may just be the crown jewel of the whole thing. There’s not much to limit Wright here, because these scenes play to his greatest strengths, and this is well-aware to him; every moment in these sequences is glorious, silky-smooth, and just...art. If you cannot put on a serious face and say, these car chases around Atlanta, for all their violence and havoc, are *beautiful*, then you haven’t seen Baby Driver (so stop reading and go out and watch the damn thing).
Though there is certainly violence in these scenes, I don’t believe Wright has to create justifications for his violence; people have been imploring him, and us, to think about what it says in our culture for a movie to include gun violence is just another part of the show, as anecdotal, as a catchy technique or lens through which the story is told. What, then, does it say about our culture that we observe these “faults” and analyze them in a film alongside other moments of Jamie Foxx’s character turning to others and asking them, “Do you really think I know a fuckin’ thing about Barbra Streisand?” Baby Driver may not be an objective eye; in the stylistic approach, there are glorifications that seem to be made. But it certainly isn’t endorsing those on screen which battle our protagonist; their violence is his regret and a part of his demons, and so too for the audience.
Wright’s latest is great. It’s wholesome. It redefines the summer movie while still having the rebellious attitude of “we don’t care about definitions”. It captures a contradiction between moving forward and throwing it back, between creating precise details and making it raw. It holds so many elements, spinning so effortlessly in its runtime, it’s more of a movie buffet; take what you want and be happy, because there is so much there, ripe for the picking. It’s loud, brash, abrasive, bold. It’s thunderous, mischievous, hilarious. Its heat burns to the touch, but its icy cool is the foundation of its story, allowing itself to be outright slick as the wheels that drive it forward. It’s a masterwork of the summer movie.
Hello all! Of course, this is the time of the year. The Super Bowl has already passed for sports fans, and now, we film fanatics get ours. The Academy Awards, which televise on February 26th at 5:30pm PST, are the gateway into Hollywood’s proudest and most lavish achievements, and the ceremony always brings surprises, and usually, also, controversy. In the wake of the #OscarsSoWhite movement, the attention now comes to Donald Trump, whose enacted travel bans of several countries in the middle east has led to one prominent nominee not being able to attend (more on that below). It will be a night of celebration and reflection, but such reflection will not always be entirely happy, and the ceremony will likely try to offer a perspective on the issue.
But, of course, we must not forget the underlying factor: films, and those who made them. I have been holding Oscar ballots in my hand every late February for three years, and I am somewhere between the 80-85% range on accuracy (for the Oscars exclusively -- Golden Globes bring that number down pretty significantly). So, it is time to rejuvenate the spark, and make sure, of course, that you come out on top within your Oscar ballot pool. So, let’s go! (Note: I don’t predict shorts. I don’t plan on ever “predicting” something that’s basically circling a random letter on a multiple-choice test.)
Will Win: La La Land
Should Win: Moonlight
And it begins. After Sunday night, La La Land will be one of the biggest films in Oscar history, and will pave its way into permanent Hollywood history with the absolute Indiana Jones-boulder-type smash it will have. And it will end here, at the end of the ceremony, confetti on ready, and it will absolutely be no surprise when Damien Chazelle’s musical takes it all. Don’t trust a tight race; this one won’t be close. Of course, I’d love it if my favorite of the year, Moonlight, took it all, but it will have its due with another few Oscar wins. Again, no secrets to hold back: La La Land takes it 100%.
Will Win: Damien Chazelle, La La Land
Should Win: Barry Jenkins, Moonlight
Yeah, again. Not really pulling for an upset here. Those who always connect Picture-Director ‘just because’ are not really factoring anything in historical or likely, but here, it will be the case. Chazelle, at a baby-faced 32 years-old, will be the youngest person to ever win the coveted Director award. It’d seem like a huge achievement, but for Chazelle and Co., it will be just icing on the endless cake of victory. This is turning into less of a prediction post, and more of a “LA LA LAND WILL WIN EVERYTHING” post, but this year, those two are truly interchangeable.
In more ways than one, 2016 was both a disappointing year for movies, while altogether one that could be seen as incredibly exceptional. The state of Hollywood came into question multiple times as the big-bucks blockbuster hits were seen as critical failures, and the box office (as a result of such criticism?) took hits as well. As well as the rising trends of in-home streaming services, I believe the average moviegoer is becoming more in-tune with word-of-mouth, as always, but also critical success or lack thereof. Whether this trend will continue is yet to be seen, but as of now, I think the pastime of going to the movies has occurred for long enough that audiences are only becoming collectively smarter, and by way of that, they are becoming more aware of just how much it sucks to see a bad movie.
comments on the screen by nolan lampson.