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Is love difficult for Hollywood to capture because it isn’t real?

Okay, let’s try not to be so existential. I’m not looking to be cute. Love, or at least what we think as love, we experience in various forms, to varying degrees. It assumes the shape of loyalty, attachment, desire, inspiration, lust, warmth, friendship, empathy, commonality, electricity. It lasts lifetimes. Or it atomizes in three hours. Or two weeks. Or five years.

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We want certain things from a romantic comedy; there are requirements. Number one being, naturally, that the couple in question gets together in the end. Given that the film’s resolution is preordained, the challenge is, as it has been since the days of Claudette Colbert and Clark Gable, remains how to keep the journey engaging. Some movies, like Annie Hall (1977), subvert the format. Others, such as When Harry Met Sally (1989), embrace it, counting on sharp writing and distinct performances to distract viewers from the creaky plot mechanics.

Oscar-nominated The Silver Linings Playbook seems like it wants to fall within the first category, but in reality, belongs squarely in the second.

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In defending her masterwork, Zero Dark Thirty, at an event in Washington earlier this month, Kathryn Bigelow spoke of wanting to detail the “complexities” and “ambiguities” of the 10-year hunt for Osama bin Laden. Her screenwriter, Mark Boal, argued that the director gets grief because she operates from a “subjective” point of view, rather than an “omniscient one.”

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I am heading over to try Letterboxd, the new social media site for film-lovers. I hope to still write here when I have something to say.

There’s no getting around it. My summer viewing was piss-poor, almost indefensibly so. Along with that, I’ve let the blog falter longer than ever, and it’s left me unsure why I even still do it, or why I ever did. I’m not that anal about anything else, that’s for certain.

At any rate, I also lost the first version of this piece, so in order to post anything at all, I’m going to have to write extremely brief reviews of the films I watched this summer. Hey, that’s the trend on the web anyway, right? (Buzzfeed!) No one wants to read anything lengthy.

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NOTE: If you haven’t watched Season 5 of Mad Men, you shouldn’t read this.

I haven’t screened many films of late, but in a sense, I’ve been watching—or rewatching—one movie with more than 50 acts. I’ve gone back through all five seasons of Mad Men and in many cases, it felt like I was seeing an episode for the first time. A show that moves as slowly as it does wouldn’t seem to support multiple views, but in fact, Mad Men’s fierce commitment to detail makes revisiting it as pleasurable as thumbing through a favorite novel to locate that one sentence that stays on your mind.

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Let’s not bury the lede: I didn’t make it. I couldn’t watch 30 films in 30 days. Life intervened. I did, however, make it to 23. I suppose this needs to be filed under the category of Noble Failure. I also learned that if I don’t write the reviews directly after watching the films, I’ll never do it.  (And it took me an extra month just to finish this wrapup.) But I’m not giving up. We’ll try it again when the weather grows colder.

In the meantime, let’s take a look at what was able to screen:

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I was surprised how good I thought Paper Moon was. Like so many, I had become accustomed to the fall from grace narrative that has followed Peter Bogdanovich. His Sopranos appearances. His books on cinema. His incessant references to Welles, “Hitch” and others, always wearing the ever-present ascot. It’s all had the effect of someone playing a cameo in his own life, cobbling together bits and pieces of what he used to be.

But maybe Paper Moon shows us all that Bogdanovich ever was: a gifted critic with a gift for mimicry. The film feels something like The Grapes of Wrath played as a screwball comedy. John Ford fused with, I don’t know, Howard Hawks? There’s some Wellesian deep focus photography mixed in too. Bogdanovich’s influences are splattered everywhere. This was also true for The Last Picture Show and What’s Up, Doc? (both fine films in their own right). As the saying goes, you could do worse than to have Ford, Hawks and Welles as your influences. But which one was the real him? Or was it the director who later made At Long Last Love and Mask?

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Two things struck me about Humphrey Bogart in this picture: One, he’s in color. Like his contemporary Cary Grant, Bogart seemed to lose a little bit with the Technicolor revolution. The two stars were made for black and white.  Bright colors dulled their edge, even in terrific entertainments such as North by Northwest or The African Queen.

The other was the looseness and the warmth with which he played the role of Charlie Allnut, such as in the well-known sequence where he imitates hippos and monkeys. The pensiveness, the mistrust, that is such a hallmark of the Bogart persona is almost entirely gone, replaced by a sort of dimwitted generosity.

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Every generation gets its “coolest teen” picture. This was ours. And in a strange way, it presaged the geek, individualistic culture so dominant now. Ferris is entrepreneurial, anti-establishment, anti-institution. He seeks his own path, as they say. That’s what made the commercial during his year’s Super Bowl so disappointing. The mere suggestion that Ferris Bueller would grow up just to be another suburban, Honda-driving schmoe was a bridge too far. Too might light was let into the fantasy. What else? Sloane’s on her third marriage, addicted to Oxy or Jesus? Cameron’s a reality-show producer?

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