Yes, many people are already writing their Top 10 movie lists for 2012. We're saving ours for the last week of the year, but while we wait for this full, rich, and weird movie year to end, we're going to start looking back at certain highlights. Today, it's our least-favorite individual scenes.
Red Hook Summer's big reveal
For most of its running time, Spike Lee's Red Hook Summer is a wistful, appropriately cranky jeremiad about Brooklyn, about New York City, about the ever-changing nature of the world by a filmmaker who's getting old enough that he's stomping his feet about the loss of the old ways. It features countless colorful characters, from the gaggle of ladies sitting on stoops and heading to church, to the two kids who make up the film's center, to, most of all, Da Good Bishop Enoch Rouse, played in riveting fashion by Clarke Peters.
Peters is the best part of Lee's film, a whirlwind of passion, insanity, and stubborn horsesense. The scenes in which Lee just lets the camera rest on Peters while he's giving a sermon are the film's most powerful; you could make a movie out of those scenes alone. He's a wholly original character, a damaged guy who nevertheless is an inspiration to everyone who relies on him and a legitimate role model for the grandson sent to live with him for the summer. It's fantastic work by Peters and another example of Lee pulling the best work out of an actor.
And then, out of nowhere, the movie pulls the rug out from under him. I'm not going to spoil the details here—I know, I'm writing about the worst scene of the year but not explaining what happens in that scene—but you'll know it when you see it. Basically, Lee just blows up his entire movie three-quarters of the way through, for seemingly no reason. He does nothing to lead up to that point, dropping no hints, laying no groundwork, and just launches that atom bomb and expects his movie to recover. It can't, obviously, and it doesn't help that Lee films the scene in such a strange, deliberately creepy way. Did he think we'd be able to come back and appreciate Enoch after that scene? That there could be any sort of understanding?
I'm still baffled as to why Lee would so blatantly torpedo his own film. (Here's one theory, one I don't quite buy but is a fascinating thought. Spoilers there too.) Did he feel his movie was too "small" and needed a bombshell to sell it? If so, that's an even bigger shame. Spike Lee loves grand gestures in his films, but with this particular scene in Red Hook Summer, he went beyond self-indulgence into self-immolation.
Clint Eastwood proves those darn kids wrong in Trouble With the Curve
(Note: If you haven't seen Trouble With the Curve and don't want to know how it ends, don't read this.)
There was only one movie scene in 2012 during which I had to restrain myself from saying out loud, "Oh, come on." That happened in Trouble With the Curve, the drama starring Clint Eastwood as predictably lovable crank Gus, an aging baseball scout whose team, the Atlanta Braves, wants him to retire. It's a movie filled with on-the-nose character beats. (When a workaholic lawyer wants to show she's changing her ways, she chucks her smartphone into a Dumpster. Poof! Now she isn't a workaholic anymore. By the way, don't try calling her; she doesn't have a phone now.) But the lamest moment occurs at the big finale, which really only works if you know absolutely nothing about baseball. Even then, you may still realize it's complete nonsense.
Throughout Trouble With the Curve, Gus has been fighting with the team's assistant GM (Matthew Lillard), a snotty Moneyball disciple whose ample number-crunching tells him that a highly prized prospect named Bo (Joe Massingill) is the right fit for their club. Oh, but old-school Gus knows that Bo is going to be a bust: His Spidey scouting sense tells him so. But as the movie winds to a close, all looks bad for Gus: The Braves sign Bo and are about to can Gus. But don't worry, this movie figures out a way to save our grumpy old hero's job in the most convoluted way possible.
His daughter Mickey (Amy Adams) has miraculously discovered that a lowly ballpark vendor (Jay Galloway)—who, it just so happens, was insulted by Bo earlier in the movie—turns out to be an amazing pitcher. And to prove it, Mickey brings the vendor to Turner Field to throw to Bo. The evil assistant GM laughs condescendingly in that way that jerks in unsubtle movies do, and then the vendor throws curveball after curveball, which, lo and behold, Bo can't hit. Oh man! Gus was right! Bo missed five curveballs in a row! This incredibly small sample size automatically invalidates an entire movie's worth of footage in which he rips the cover off every other pitch he sees! The assistant GM gets fired, Gus is redeemed, and everybody leaves the theater happy in the knowledge that Moneyball is for dorks.
Trouble With the Curve doesn't advertise itself as a realistic docudrama about modern baseball, but the dumb ways it gets baseball wrong are just maddening, particularly in this scene. For instance, I wasn't aware until watching this movie that the analytical weakness of sabermetrics was its inability to account for a hitter's susceptibility to a specific pitch that lots and lots of pitchers throw all the time. Nor did I realize that professional clubs habitually turn their backs on their big-money signees after they can't hit five pitches in a row during one random day. Or that they'll sign on the spot the kid who came in off the street and threw those five pitches. Or that they'll fire the assistant GM who signed the big-money guy. Man, baseball sure is cutthroat—and absolutely nothing like how the movie portrays it. But who cares when you can put together a really dopey, manipulative scene in which Gus is the big hero? It's enough to make you want to yell at an empty chair.
Grierson & Leitch is a regular column about the movies. Follow us on Twitter, @griersonleitch.