Sci-fi and fantasy movies are often left out of the big award show nominations; those top spots are almost always reserved for the A-list buzzed-about dramas and comedies, so it wasn't very surprising when Rian Johnson's Looper was excluded from the nominations list, both for the Oscars and the Golden Globes.
Despite Looper's position as the 2012 Toronto Film Festival's opener and in spite of numerous critics' rave reviews, the film wasn't even considered for the year's top prizes. The funny thing is, Looper doesn't qualify as solely sci-fi. Anyone who's seen it can tell you that there are sci-fi elements, yes, but there is a heavy drama/action component to it, as well as some dark comedy. If I had to classify it I would call it an action sci-fi movie, in a similar vein to The Terminator films.
So while it wasn't surprising that the film wasn't nominated, it was disheartening. Movies are becoming cookie-cutter, aren't they? Looking at the Best Picture Oscar nominees for this year, we have a biopic, a musical brought to screen (for the 11th time!), a movie about mental illness and one about war. Same old, same old. Looper has an ingenious, original plot with elements that haven't ever been seen before (and some that have already been seen, but are used to great effect). To Johnson's credit, in order to make Looper such a huge success, he had to create an entirely new universe with a different sort of society. While that provides him with a gigantic blank slate to work on, surely it must have been difficult to create every subtle nuance and detail in his future Earth. We're treated to several of these imaginative brainwaves: hallucinogenic drugs are taken via eyedrop, there are bins for your blunderbusses (guns) at entryways and time travel is possible, but banned for the general population.
And that's another thing. Haven't most modern movies (and most TV shows) butchered the element of time travel? Not only does Johnson's film keep the viewer's brain intact by not dwelling too much on it, but he injects a nod to the complexity of time travel in the dialogue between stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis. It even evoked laughter in the theater, and honestly it was nice to have a director respect the intelligence of his audience instead of explaining away every last detail. Just as with the iconic Back To The Future, time travel is a central component of the film, but it's not all the film is about.
Other great aspects of the movie bear mentioning as well -- like the major gear shift in the middle of the film, where we jump from futuristic urban landscape to rural country wasteland almost seamlessly. I don't know if I've ever seen a movie where the environment changes so drastically, yet it has no effect on the vibe or feel. The characters remain lost and confused, yet still driven to their respective goals; Johnson hits a home run with this.
In a year when young talent is rewarded (little Quvenzhané Willis being nominated for Beasts Of The Southern Wild), it's too bad that a fine child actor (only five years old at the time of shooting) like Pierce Gagnon is being sidelined. At times downright scary and at other times absolutely endearing, Gagnon's performance in Looper is better than some adults I've seen onscreen this year -- and just to reiterate, he's only five. Because of the perceived genre of this movie, Gagnon was passed over.
The Oscars and Globes really missed an opportunity here. If it were up to me, I'd have nominated Looper (at the very least) for Best Original Screenplay. It's one of a small handful of original movies I saw in the entirety of 2012 -- not a remake, not a biopic, not a sequel or a prequel, not part of a trilogy. Just a very unique action sci-fi movie, passed over in favor of lots of stuff we've seen before.
(I just want to say that I recognize the originality of some nominees like Django Unchained, Argo and Beasts of the Southern Wild to name three -- I just wish Looper was recognized, too.)
A fanciful film with the patina of hyper-realism, Looper is well served by actors who behave not as if they were dropped carelessly into the future but spent their whole desperate lives there.
The dystopian setting... makes for some bold cultural commentary, but as usual with Johnson, <a href="http://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/looper/Film?oid=7424334">the engaging ideas feel like affectations rather than products of a fully developed sensibility</a>.
Gordon-Levitt is flinty, and Willis, on his A-game, is fiery. Together, <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/entertainment/tv-movies/movie-review-looper-article-1.1169552">they take us on a helluva trip</a>.
"Looper" weaves between past and present in a way that gives Johnson <a href="http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20120926/REVIEWS/120929993">and his actors opportunities to create a surprisingly involving narrative</a>.
Johnson establishes the machinery of the time-travel concept, <a href="http://seattletimes.com/html/entertainment/2019259160_apusfilmreviewlooper.html?syndication=rss">then steadily pushes it into the background in favor of exploring his characters and the difficult questions they face</a>.
A clever, clever contraption about trading in your future to feed your present, <a href="http://movieline.com/2012/09/26/review-looper-joseph-gordon-levitt-rian-johnson/">and the lost boys and regretful men who willingly embrace such a bargain already believe they have nothing to live for or look forward to</a>.
As in the very best Anthony Mann and John Ford westerns, <a href="http://www.slantmagazine.com/film/review/looper/6552">Looper at once understands the visual power of violence and is deeply critical of it</a>.
Looper imagines a world just near enough to look familiar, <a href="http://www.ew.com/ew/article/0,,20483133_20620084,00.html">and just futuristic enough to be chillingly askew</a>.
If high-toned futuristic time-travel pictures with a splash of romance float your boat the way they do mine, <a href="http://nymag.com/movies/reviews/edelstein-looper-2012-10/">you'll have yourself a time</a>.
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