Smell of Popcorn

film reviews & musings by Max Lalanne

Making the case for The Hunger Games as one of the year’s best movies

Posted by Max Lalanne on October 2, 2012

So I recently re-watched The Hunger Games, and while this article will indeed be about its many notable merits please note that I’m not saying it should be considered in the commencing awards season at all. I’m not doing that because a) Hunger Games would never stand a chance at even being considered seriously by Oscar voters in a million years, b) Jennifer Lawrence is doing fine on her own with her Silver Linings Playbook thus eliminating the need for campaigning with this film, and c) the truth is it’s simply not that much of an individual achievement to warrant a Best Picture nomination. Although, granted, it would’ve been a different case had it been released last year. Ahem.

But it is excellent, certainly a bar-raiser for YA novel adaptations that cater to their main audience of teenagers while still being enjoyable for adults and everyone else to enjoy – not that there have been any of the sort recently, which makes Hunger Games quite a remarkable pioneer also. Critics generally liked the film when it came out in March, though many quasi-dismissed it as an Americanized, if you will, version of Battle Royale (“You know what they call The Hunger Games in France? Battle Royale with cheese” was a rather popular meme at the time). Though I haven’t seen the subversive Japanese cult hit (nor the Arnold Schwarzenegger action picture The Running Man), my only response to that is my agreeing with the sentiment that everything has been already done and its the execution that matters. End of discussion.

Why is The Hunger Games one of this year’s best movies? Because it’s smart and moves along at a peppy yet unhurried pace, because it doesn’t dumb down anything for its perceived audience who were, after all, old enough to understand that the source material – Suzanne Collins’ trilogy – was very good stuff, or at least the first book was. Because it doesn’t overdo it, masterfully and even sophisticatedly executed by director Gary Ross without tripping headfirst into the pitfalls of most YA movies, ridiculous romantic subplots and all included. Because it’s a film that, like well-crafted cinema should, stands up to multiple viewings without revealing its flaws. And because it has another great performance from  Lawrence.

It’s easy to say that The Hunger Games shouldn’t count in Lawrence’s “notable” filmography between, and alongside, her star-making indie Winter’s Bone in 2011 and Silver Linings Playbook, because, you know, it’s a lead role in a mainstream movie that didn’t challenge her too much or was too complex or whatever. But whoever says that is wrong. Lawrence really carries the movie on her shoulders, and imbues just the right amount of headstrong, slightly aggressive stubbornness mixed in with restrained vulnerability that, together, prove a marvelous result. It’s a quiet, understated, and softly nuanced performance but one that is powerful in itself and helps the film a lot.

The supporting cast is pretty great, too. Josh Hutcherson is likably disarming, some of the edge that belonged to his lovelorn character Peeta in the book is non-apparent here but that’s okay. Woody Harrelson pulls off the constantly swilling if well-meaning mentor Haymitch with great, skillful carefulness. Liam Hemsworth is hilariously wooden but thankfully his hunky Gale has all but five or so minutes total in the film. Elizabeth Banks is absurd but not distracting as the dithering Effie Trinket. Lenny Kravitz is a quiet, blink-and-you’ll-miss-him presence. And Stanley Tucci, sportingly doffing a blue wig and a megawatt smile to play couldn’t-care-less television host Caesar Flickerman, is just genuinely brilliant.

So. My point. If you passed on watching this movie in theaters because you were afraid of the hysteric teenage masses/didn’t want to watch another “teen movie,” do youself a favor and rent The Hunger Games because it is indeed, one of the best films of the year. Not being a so-called “prestige” late fall picture nor having the too-cool-for-school popular clout as fellow box office successes (like The Avengers) enjoy, if there’s one movie that’s in danger of being forgotten by the end of this year it’s this one.

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