#200. September 11th

While the 20th Century might have officially ended on January 1st, 2000, I think that, culturally, it actually ended on September 11th, 2001. The tragic events that took place across America that day truly thrust us into a new world and a new age of caution and terror. While many of the children today weren’t even born when the 9/11 attacks happened, the history books will inform them of the day’s importance. Of course, it was only going to be a matter of time before films would be made about September 11th. The challenge then becomes: how do we approach this with tact and sensitivity? A lot of people lost their lives during that fateful day, so their tragedy should not be seen in any sort of humorous or irreverent light. This week’s two films look at the horrors and effects of September 11th, both at home and abroad.

Zero Dark ThirtyZero Dark Thirty
Year: 2012
Rating: R
Length: 157 minutes / 2.61 hours

After the dust had settled, then-President George W. Bush proclaimed a “war on terror” in Iraq and Afghanistan to track down the terrorists responsible for the devastating attacks on United States soil. Many films have been made about this war resulting from 9/11, all to varying forms of success. From some comedies that loosely use the war as a setting (including The A-Team (2010) and The Men Who Stare at Goats (2009)) to serious dramas that have won major awards (like The Hurt Locker (2008)), the Iraq War has been used as a backdrop similar to many films that came before it using the wars of their time. However, the most important battles on the war on terror were not necessarily fought by soldiers, but by analysts. Films like Fair Game (2010) tried to convey this, but none have been able to match Zero Dark Thirty (2012).

The true end to the war on terror occurred nearly ten years after the September 11th attacks. While subsequent wars on terror may have emerged, the assassination of Osama bin Laden by Seal Team Six on May 2, 2011, marked the end of the pursuit of the terrorist leader responsible for 9/11. Of course, the only reason why Navy Seals were able to find bin Laden was due to the relentless efforts of Maya (Jessica Chastain), a young CIA intelligence analyst who started working to find Osama in 2003. After many years of little to no progress, with many lives and careers ruined, Maya finally hits pay dirt. A series of connections leads her to find where bin Laden is hiding, which prompts her leadership to organize a raid on the complex. Highly trained soldiers with advanced equipment descend on the humble abode to finally end the decade-long pursuit.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly CloseExtremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Year: 2011
Rating: PG-13
Length: 129 minutes / 2.15 hours

Even though closure on the September 11th attacks wouldn’t come for many more years, there have been many films made about that day. From movies about the people on the planes (United 93 (2006)) to the people on the ground in New York (World Trade Center (2006)), there have been few films that have dealt with the families of those who died during the attacks. Since everything happened so suddenly, many struggled to cope with the loss. Those who perhaps had the hardest time dealing with the death of a loved one were the children whose parents were in the World Trade Center when it fell. Fortunately, as we’ve seen time and again in tragedy after tragedy, the community steps up to lift itself past the hurt and forward toward healing. Released on the same year as the final scenes of Zero Dark Thirty, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2011) reminds us of the strength of a community.

Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn) is a socially-awkward boy of nine years old who is coaxed out of his shell by his father, Thomas (Tom Hanks). To do so, Thomas sets up scavenger hunts throughout New York City which require his son to interact with many, diverse people. Unfortunately, Thomas is killed when the World Trade Center falls on September 11th. A year later, Oskar meets a silent old man (Max von Sydow) who does not talk due to a similar trauma during World War II when his parents died. After having found a mysterious key in his father’s closet days before, Oskar and the old man set out to discover what the key goes to. As Oskar conquers some of his fears, he starts to realize the old man is his grandfather and plays back Thomas’ final answering machine messages. Finally, Oskar finds what the key goes to, and is somewhat disappointed until he learns of his mother’s (Sandra Bullock) involvement in setting up the search.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 sides of September 11th

#199. Katheryn Bigelow

Hollywood is an interesting place when it comes to diversity. The predominant roles in films have often gone to Caucasians. The predominant directors have often been men (and white men at that). For over 80 years, these actors, actresses, and directors have been rewarded with a multitude of Oscars, reinforcing the stereotypes. It hasn’t been until recently when the awards have been going to people who don’t “fit the norm.” As such, Hollywood is on the cusp of many interesting films. Actors have paved the way, but now we are seeing much more diversity in our directors. It seems that almost every award season sees a new “first” for these prestigious awards. Katheryn Bigelow is merely one of these “firsts” and has managed to keep the momentum from her Oscar breakthrough. This week’s two films examine her best work.

The Hurt LockerThe Hurt Locker
Year: 2008
Rating: R
Length: 131 minutes / 2.18 hours

The Academy Awards held for films released in 2009 were interesting for many reasons. First, the nominees for Best Picture were expanded from five to 10, an amount that hadn’t been seen since 1944. Secondly, most films that win Best Picture also win Best Director, which did not have an expanded list of nominees. As such, two of the nominees for Best Director were James Cameron (for Avatar (2009)), and Kathryn Bigelow (for The Hurt Locker (2008)). These two directors used to be married to each other; so much of the media attention surrounding the event was devoted to who would win, especially since Cameron had already won the award for Titanic (1997) over 10 years prior. Even so, Bigelow managed to take the win for Best Picture and Best Director, thus becoming the first woman to ever win the Best Director Oscar.

Some of what made The Hurt Locker so successful had to do with its realism. Filmed in Jordan, the locations had a very similar feel to the Baghdad setting of the Iraq war in 2004. Furthermore, the sounds recorded while filming were used in the final cut of the movie and were not dubbed in later. What I found most refreshing about The Hurt Locker is its ability to be about a recent war, but devoid of any politics surrounding it. Soldiers diffusing bombs are under extreme amounts of danger so the realities of war could be revealed through this film without any partisan skewing one way or the other. There is a human element to the film as well, not only with the soldiers amongst themselves but with the local population and their families back in the United States. With this humanity, audiences could definitely relate to the personal struggles of the soldiers.

Zero Dark ThirtyZero Dark Thirty
Year: 2012
Rating: R
Length: 157 minutes / 2.61 hours

Riding high after her big win with The Hurt Locker, Bigelow must have realized she had found her niche: war films. A mere four years later, she took up the task of bringing to film the story of the assassination of Osama bin Laden by Seal Team Six. What is impressive to note is that, before her nomination and win with The Hurt Locker, Kathryn Bigelow had only directed seven films, the first of which, The Loveless, was made back in 1982. 30 years later, with a Best Picture under her belt, Zero Dark Thirty (2012) was also nominated for the Best Picture Oscar. By this point, the nominations had shrunk down from 10 to nine, merely due to a change in the nomination process that bounded the number of nominees between five and 10. Even if Zero Dark Thirty’s only Oscar (of five nominations) was for Sound Editing, it still remains an impressive film.

Around the same time of The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty starts in Langley, Virginia at the Central Intelligence Agency. Maya (Jessica Chastain) is a new analyst who is tasked to get as much information as she can on Osama bin Laden. Since Osama is the leader of al-Qaeda, the terrorists responsible for the September 11th attacks, finding him is her top priority. In the first few years of her job, she works with Dan (Jason Clarke) to obtain key pieces of information through various forms of torture. After surviving a bombing in Islamabad in 2008, her tactics are forced to change as politics back home have shifted. There are more CIA casualties as Maya gets closer to finding an important person linked to bin Laden. As information unfolds, a secret operation is organized to go in and take out Osama. In the gripping final minutes of the film, the operation is executed. Will they succeed?

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 Bigelow blockbusters

Bacon #: 3 (Born in Flames / Eric Bogosian -> Deconstructing Harry / Demi Moore -> A Few Good Men / Kevin Bacon)

#198. Jeremy Renner

Have you ever noticed that some actors just appear out of nowhere? One year, they’re doing minor roles, then the next they’re on the red carpet, nominated for an acting Oscar. Depending on how long they’ve been acting before they break onto the A-list scene, their career will often flourish and grow from this point forward. The visual recognition of someone really helps to bolster their involvement in bigger-budget films, thus propelling them further into stardom. The trick then remains of maintaining that visibility in cinema. Some can do it well and eventually win the awards they were nominated for when they arrived on the scene. Others burn out and aren’t seen much after a few years. Jeremy Renner is definitely the former of these two scenarios, and this week we will highlight two of his leading roles.

The Bourne LegacyThe Bourne Legacy
Year: 2012
Rating: PG-13
Length: 135 minutes / 2.25 hours

One way to maintain your popularity with audiences is to become involved with a franchise. This way, you will always have a role to fall back on if your other projects don’t pan out. After Jeremy Renner hit the scene in the late 2000s, he was picked up on two long-running and popular franchises. These two franchises put him alongside some famous actors, which means he’s still in a supporting role for now. In the Mission Impossible franchise, Renner portrays William Brandt, the chief analyst to the IMF Secretary, whereas, in The Avengers (2012), he portrays Clint Barton (codename: Hawkeye), an archer agent for S.H.I.E.L.D. These two roles fit in nicely with his involvement in another action franchise: the Bourne series. Instead of a support role, he takes on the main spotlight in the fourth film for this franchise that relied on Matt Damon for three movies.

In the world of covert government operations, the Department of Defense has its own “super soldier” program in “Operation Outcome.” This is a different program from the Treadstone and Blackbriar initiatives run by the CIA, the very same of which created the titular Jason Bourne (Matt Damon). One of Operation Outcome’s best agents is Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner), who is in Alaska for a training exercise. Even though the DoD program uses chemical enhancements of its soldiers, the fact that the CIA programs are now under increased scrutiny causes them to shut down Outcome. After surviving a drone attack on the Alaskan cabin where he was staying, Cross soon finds out that the “chems” he uses for his job are the only thing keeping him alive. He’s addicted and must now carefully find his way back to society to get more of his pills, all the while evading government detection.

The Hurt LockerThe Hurt Locker
Year: 2008
Rating: R
Length: 131 minutes / 2.18 hours

Before The Hurt Locker (2008), Jeremy Renner was in a lot of films that didn’t do very well, critically speaking. Most see his involvement with this Best Picture as his arrival as a movie star. The nomination he received for Best Actor in this film was also evidence to this as well. It wasn’t long before he was nominated again, this time for Best Supporting Actor in The Town (2010). Even though he wasn’t nominated for anything in American Hustle (2013), the fact that he is regularly cast in films that are seen as award-worthy shows he has figured out how to prolong his career. The strategy is twofold: act in “fun” films to get audiences to like you, while also making sure to act in “serious” films to get the critics to like you. I look forward to seeing if this strategy will pay off for him as he continues his career.

A fitting match to the aforementioned The Bourne Legacy (2012), the opening quote of The Hurt Locker is quite apt, “The rush of battle is a potent and often lethal addiction, for war is a drug.” William James (Jeremy Renner) is a Sergeant First Class who is assigned to Iraq to lead an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) unit for the U.S. Army. After a series of close calls and diffused bombs, it becomes clear James does what he wants, regardless of the consequences to him or his team. Unfortunately for his team, he gets results. The thrill of adventure soon disappears as he is sent home to his wife, Connie James (Evangeline Lilly). Raising their infant son together doesn’t provide nearly enough excitement, so William decides to go back to Iraq to do what he loves: diffusing the bombs that threaten the safety of everyone.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 remarkable Renner roles

Bacon #: 2 (American Hustle / Robert DeNiro -> Sleepers / Kevin Bacon)