Sunday, February 12, 2012

2012 King of the Hill Movie Challenge

Drive v 10 Things I Hate About You
Last Sunday, we had company over to watch Drive instead of the Super Bowl. After watching Drive, we agreed to watch something fluffier. 10 Things I Hate About You was the choice. How will a gritty action and a romantic comedy fare against each other?

For those who do not know, the 2012 King of the Hill Movie Challenge is my system for determining the best movie of year that I saw. One movie from each month will be selected and, at the end of the year, I will do a tournament style showdown where they will take each other on until the final movie has been selected. Bracket placement will be determined by the number of movies the monthly movie faced and won.

First Contender: Drive

Director: Nicolas Winding Refn

Writers: Hossein Amini, James Sallis

Staring: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, and Bryan Cranston

Drive is, without a doubt, gritty and dark.  It opens with a calm, cool getaway driver (Ryan Gosling) waiting for some robbers to return to the car from a heist. During the escape, the driver never loses his cool, even when those sitting in the back of his car are clearly starting to freak out about their pursuit from the authorities. The driver succeeds with his getaway and walks away as if nothing had happened at all.

Notice how I keep referring to the protagonist as “the driver”. In the movie, his name is never mentioned. In the ending credits, the character is only identified as “Driver”. This is a very interesting method of storytelling. Denying critical information about someone is a way to keep the audience invested in the character. Drive doesn't just withhold the character's name. Drive also denies a lot of information about Ryan Gosling's character. Midway through the movie, we learn that the driver just arrived one day.  There is no history to this character at all.  Another trick is seen at the start of the movie.  For the first fifteen minutes of the movie, the driver rarely speaks.  This hooked me onto the character early on.  Later, when the movie gets really crazy, I found myself forgiving the driver for some of his behaviors because I was hooked on his mysterious nature.  I can't think of a movie that uses this technique better than Drive.

The story itself was decent, albeit dark. Drive is about the driver and his romantic interest in Irene (Carey Mulligan). This is complicated by the fact that Irene is married and her husband is in prison. The driver, who cares more for Irene than her husband does, attempts to help Irene's husband get out of tough situation. This creates a downward spiral that doesn't let up until the movie ends.  The movie also has several of the goriest scenes I have seen in a while. If you do not like blood and gore, this is NOT the movie for you.

Challenger: 10 Things I Hate About You

Director: Gil Junger

Writers: Karen McCullah Lutz, Kristen Smith

Staring: Heath Ledger, Julia Stiles, Joseph Gorden-Levitt

10 Things I Hate About You is a movie based on the William Shakespeare play, The Taming of the Shrew. The movie follows Patrick Verona (Heath Ledger) and his attempt to woo Kat Stratford (Julia Stiles). I'd call the story formulaic, but this is based off of Shakespeare after all. Patrick is a tough, shop class student at school that everyone is afraid of. Cameron James (Joseph Gorden-Levitt) wants to date Kat's sister, but can't until Kat has a boyfriend of her own. So Cameron and his friend Michael (David Krumholtz) trick Joey (Andrew Keegan) into paying Patrick to date Kat.

This formula is pretty common place in movies these days. Guy lies about something to girl. Guy reaches the point that the original lie no longer matters. Girl learns about lie. Guy has to convince girl that the lie no longer matters. Guy eventually gets girl back. 10 Things I Hate About You stands higher than the rest of the field of this formula. First, it rightfully attributes that the plot premise is from The Taming of the Shrew. Second, the movie is well directed and well cast. The movie avoids common place cliches, common for movies at that time, with twists to the characters. Joey, the “villain”, is a model, not a football jock. Michael, the goofball, is decently liked in school. Patrick isn't just a shop guy, he also has a history that gives his character depth.

This is the hardest decision I've had to make so far. I enjoyed both movies quite a bit. Picking which movie won has been difficult. When I started writing the post, I hadn't yet decided. However, having now written out my response to each film, I can come to a decision. 10 Things I Hate About You is a great film. If you haven't seen it, rent it. However, 10 Things I Hate About You is a retelling of a famous story. Drive has a plot I've never encountered before. It has a type of character I would normally loathe that I actually sympathized with. I can't overlook that.

Winner: Drive

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