My current Top 5

My current Top 5

4/24/2011

Number 41: Titanic (Best Picture Ranking)

Titanic is among a few Best Picture winners that aren’t only celebrated movies but a true phenomenon – surely everybody old enough in 1997 still remembers how big this movie became and how it tied Ben-Hur as the most honored movie by the Academy ever. I still remember that I saw this in cinema once (surely very unusual since almost everybody I know saw it multiple times) and it was the first time ever that, while watching a movie, I started to analyze it a bit, something I had never done before – up to this point in my life, I only watched a movie without thinking too much but I still remember how I was the only one not laughing at Billy Zane’s character’s remarks about Picasso since I thought it was such a cheap trick by Carmon to make him look stupid since the audience already knows he is wrong. This is surely not a revolutionary observation but, as I said, for me it was a pretty big deal and it was also the first time I actually complained about a screenplay in my life – too limited, too much silly dialogue, too simple. But: despite all the problems of the movie, I still loved it – it seems that even most movie critics back then had the same reaction. After that, I went through the phases probably a lot of viewers went through, too: the first time I saw Titanic again after that I still enjoyed it. Then, years later, I wanted to watch it again – and found it unbearable. The plot became even worse for me and I turned off the TV after 10 minutes because I thought everything about it was just horrible. Well, now I watched it again for my ranking and found that, by now, I have turned back – I don’t love it as much as I used to when I was younger but I also don’t hate it anymore as I did when it was ‘cool’ to hate it. By now, I think that Titanic is a terrific spectacle that has obvious flaws but these flaws somehow work perfectly fine in the context of the film

The problems with James Cameron are that he has an undeniable talent for big epics, for visual style and for overwhelming the audience without burying them in special effects. But at the same time, he has no talent for writing believable characters, for developing a plot or even for natural dialogue. The love story between Jack and Rose could not be more banal – the evil mother, the freedom-loving, spirited daughter, the evil fiancée, the poor but smart and wonderful guy. It’s all as one-dimensional as possible and again, James Cameron has no feeling for classes or for different characters – as much as he is an expert with technical aspects, he has no talent for human emotions. But the strange thing about Titanic is – somehow it still works. The simplicity of the plot that used to bother me so much is still the movie’s biggest flaw but James Cameron has the advantage that, even though he might be bad at writing, he is still a ‘good bad writer’ – meaning that it, for some strange reason, still turns out to be just right. Somehow, the love story simply works, the obstacles for Jack and Rose captivate the viewer and their fate becomes almost as tragic as the sinking of the ship itself. James Cameron both harms and benefits the plot – he has the talent to turn the average level of his own work into a fulfilling and satisfying experience thanks to his ability to present this average level as something truly worthwhile. The cast of Titanic works fine but not great in any way. Kate Winslet does the most with her material and her natural charm helps her immensely. Leonardo DiCaprio too often looks like a 12-year old boy but he, too, contributes to the success of the story very much. Gloria Stuart provides some nice moments at the older Rose but nobody else truly stands out – expect for Billy Zane who tops the limitations of his character with an over-the-top and almost unbearable performance.

So, why does Titanic work so well even so it shouldn’t? The screenplay is borderline-bad, the actors are mostly only adequate – but under the direction of James Carmon, it all becomes strangely fascinating. He may not know the limitations of his writing but he knows how to present it on the screen to the greatest effect. Of course, the main reason for Titanic’s success is the atmosphere – the amazing art direction, the costumes, the cinematography, the score, even Celine Dion’s voice at the end somehow just feels right at this moment (but I can’t stand that song at any other moment). And the sequence of the sinking is still one of the most thrilling and shocking action scenes ever filmed.

Titanic is not perfect – but it perfectly gives the illusion of being very close to it. It’s an unforgettable roller-coaster ride of emotions during which James Carmon very well knows how to involve the audience as much as possible. That way the story of Jack and Rose and the story of the Titanic become truly unforgettable – maybe also because of the noticeable flaws but mostly because of the overwhelming spectacle and its touching heart.

6 comments:

Malcolm said...

This is my all-time favorite movie. And I am not ashamed to say that. I have seen it like 15 times, and I still can't get over it.

It's not perfect, but it is. Really strange.

Cameron doesn't have talent in writing, but he has a lot of substance in executing. Movies like this are more of an experience, and these kinds of movies actually doesn't really need a masterclass screenplay for it to work.

The film is more of a director's movie, and it's one of the best directed movies ever.

I'm really glad that this was that high on your list (I was initially expecting 60s or 50s).

Would you pick another movie that year for best picture?

Louis Morgan said...

I would put it much, much lower. I myself cannot get past the rather poor writing, and after that I have never been particularly into disaster films anyways.

Anonymous said...

The screenplay is not great but on the other side costumes,art direction,score,editing are brilliant.But despite its massive action what resonates with people is the love story.Leo and Kate caught imagination of this generation the way Bergman and Bogart did in Casablanca.You just fall in love with the characters.Jack and Rose already make one of the greatest screen couples of all time and the greatest screen couple of the last 40 years.

Derek Bowman said...

This is my 2nd favorite Best Picture Winner (out of the 55 I've seen) so I'm sad to see Titanic out so early.

I understand that the script is pretty bad and cliched, but to me the movie is so emotionally rich that I can't help myself. The performances are solid (I think Leo's better than Kate). I understand the hate, but I can't help but love it.

I'm glad you don't hate it. =)

Anonymous said...

Wow, I thought this would be way higher, it is certainly better (or at least more interesting and watchable) than The Deer Hunter which has yet to show up. I thought it would be top 20 at least.

Anthony said...

"Titanic"'s script is infamous for not being exactly "high caliber" but the fact that it still serves the movie well enough and that the movie manages to rise above its many faults and becomes an engrossing epic that is highly entertaining pretty much its entire length and was still worthy of its awards notice is quite a feat.