Ernest Hemingway had the right idea. Or maybe it was Corey Stoll playing Hemingway in the Academy Award-winning film “Midnight in Paris.”
“It was a good book because it was an honest book, and that’s what war does to me,” he said in the movie, talking about one of his first novels. “And there’s nothing fine and noble about dying in the mud unless you die gracefully. And then it’s not only noble but brave.”
Among all of the films nominated for the Academy Award’s best picture, including “Midnight in Paris,” none had what Stoll/Hemingway was talking about. Some were certainly graceful, but none were brave.
Sure, “The Artist” was shot in black and white and was a silent film. It was certainly bold to make a movie that literally says nothing in a time when everybody seems to have something to say, but bold is not brave. Making a movie about the golden age of film isn’t brave—it’s panning for little golden men in creeks of stagnant film nerds.
The same goes for Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo,” another movie about movies. Though charming and soaked with raw youth from breakout actors Chloe Moretz and Asa Butterfield, Scorsese’s first family movie falls short of brave.
Consider the best pictures from the past decade. “The King’s Speech.” “The Hurt Locker.” “Million Dollar Baby.” “Gladiator.” They’re all great movies, but do they stack up to “Patton”? “The Sound of Music”? “The Godfather”?
It seems to me that movies were once brave productions of wit and magic and incredible acting from incredible actors. They were about real, honest-to-goodness people played by actors willing to be their characters. Just look at “The Sound of Music,” for example. It’s a three-hour movie musical about a nun who marries a Nazi.
Take another one of my favorite films, “White Christmas,” with goofy performances from Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye. But if you can find me a scene as viscerally touching as when Maj. Waverly’s eyes swell after he’s surprised with a party honoring his service I’ll give you everything I own.
That was the golden age of film. And it’s dead.
Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Owen Wilson’s character from “Midnight in Paris” nailed me as a flawed fool when he talked about nostalgia.
“Nostalgia is denial—denial of the painful present,” he said. “The name for this denial is golden age thinking—the erroneous notion that a different time period is better than the one one’s living in. It’s a flaw in the romantic imagination of those people who find it difficult with the present.”
So yeah, maybe I am wrong. But at least I’m brave enough to admit it.