Everyone expects PL to win Best Foreign Film on Sunday, and it may actually deserve it. Setting aside all the mass culture American reasons(highest grossing Spanish film ever, most well known nominee), it is an amazing film and a beautiful achievement. As the Oscars approached I've seen a lot of second guesses about the "future" quality of Pan's Labyrinth. There seems to be a lot of speculation about whether the blend of fantasy and political horror story will stand the test of time. Guillermo del Toro clearly doesn't want to be Hayao Miyazaki or Isao Takahata, so that criticism doesn't necessarily hold any water.
The more important thing to look at is that del Toro was the far superior Mexican director of the praised films this year. Babel, to put it succinctly, SUCKED. The 2.5 hours you might spend in the theater could be summed up by the following: "life sucks and it hurts, but if you have to choose a color to suck in, don't choose brown. White and yellow are way better. Hell, in the 21st century, red is probably better, but no one really knows because no one tells those stories except David Treuer." Seriously, don't waste your time with that convoluted shit. When it takes the gold on Sunday, it'll be another blow for real cinema fans.
Babel displayed none of the maturity that Pan's Labyrinth showed at every turn. There were no surprises, no moments where people behaved in anything other than the most mechanistic, deterministic way. A truly affecting movie about "fate" or "god" or "connection" involves surprises, moments where, beyond all reason and cynicism, goodness is actually rewarded, evil actually punished. It doesn't hurt when the good are uniformly punished on film; it only feels manipulative and schematic.
The reason the Japanese story resonates is because it is so tangential; the young girl hurts even without her father's complicity in minor international incidents. She would act out and self-destruct even if her father were an arms dealer who shot Cate Blanchett himself. Her hatred, anger, and despair was the only part of the film that made sense. When you compare this to Naomi Watts in 21 Grams and the "model and the dog" segment of Amorres Perros, it telescopes what Gonzales Inarritu does well and magnifies what he does very very poorly.
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