Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Ides of March passed a few days ago. Normally, this would signal a number of things. First, if this was anything approximating a regular climatic year, we would be experiencing the first signs a spring. Instead, in Wisconsin at least, we are blessed with a continuous cavalcade of sub-zero (Celsius) highs and a foot of snow still on the ground. More relevant to this forum, however, is another seasonal event, The Hattys, which will not be influenced by the dire state of this State, and will proceed as scheduled.

The Academy, as always, likes to keep things fresh and experiment with the presentation format from year to year. This year, the nominees will be presented as a familiar top-ten style countdown list (it goes with saying that the "winner" is number one). There will certainly be detractors who dismiss it as trite, but there was a general consensus that it fit the candidates: a well-rounded-bunch lacking clear standouts. A great year for hats in movies? Unquestionably, yes. A great year for hat-centric movies? See for yourself - let's get right to it:

10. Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter - Included on the list because it's a Lincoln movie, but that's about the only positive here. As soon as the titular vampire hunting begins, the hat is off and stays off. The first of two Lincoln movies in the countdown - could there be any clearer sign that the trend of Hatty-baiting is getting worse than ever?  And speaking of Hatty-baiting...

9. Gangster Squad - A fedora-filled but ultimately hollow echo of last years winner, The Adjustment Bureau.  Simply slapping hats on all the main characters will only get you so far - in this case, number 9.

8. The Hobbit - Standard Middle Earth fantasy-helmet fare, but most heavy helmet-wearing was confined to a few opening scenes - particularly egregious after Gimli was helmeted over nearly the entire 58 hours of Peter Jackson's original trilogy. Additionally, most Tolkien-headwear scholars were disappointed to not see the antagonist, Azog, wearing an armored helmet.

7. The Grey - Another movie that starts solidly enough, with many cast members all wearing nice, warm knitted hats as they struggle for survival (remember, you lose 90% of your body heat through your head while stranded in a remote northern wilderness!). However, Liam Neeson eventually leaves his head unprotected, which is 1) a very silly thing to do given the circumstances and 2) asking for a serious demerit from The Academy.

6. Brave - There are a couple positives here. First, a crown (possibly more of a diadem) plays a minor role in the overall plot line. Second, a short but scene-stealing performance by a wimple - a breakthrough by haberdashery of the fairer sex. However, these strong points are overshadowed with Pixar's gratuitous and borderline obscene focus on Merida's ample head of hair. As anyone should know by this point, The Academy frowns upon any particular emphasis placed on uncovered noggins.

5. Django Unchained - It would be hard to have a top ten list any year without a cowboy movie making an appearance  and Mr. Tarantino gets bonus points for strategic bowler placement as well.  This may have been good enough to win a few years ago, but the bar keeps rising, and now Django sees itself barely sneaking into the top five.

4. Zero Dark Thirty.  This year, featured two contenders arrived with hats of dubious classification but unquestionable importance. One is still to come, but the other, Zero Dark Thirty, slides into the #4 slot because of the IR goggles strapped to the helmets of Seal Team Six.  Despite the Academy's uneasiness with the heavy helmet concept, the fact remains:  no helmet, no night-vision, no accurate shooting in the dark, no dead terrorists.  And we want to see terrorists dead - go America!

3. Moonrise Kingdom - Pillboxes, Scout Caps, Touques, Garrison Caps, Berets, and even the effervescent and underutilized Coonskin.  An unquestionably charming collection - however, this is an award for hat-centricity, and despite the cornucopia of headwear, Moonrise would still work, both artistically and mechanically, without it.  Sorry, the Hatty is not just an award for neck-up costuming.

2. Lincoln - Clear, unadorned stovepipe action. Solid supporting roles for civil-war era soldier caps - Kepis, Slouches, and the always popular Hardee hat.  Plus, Old Abe keeps it on while he's riding a horse. Spielberg definitely knows what he's doing here. However, as mentioned above, is this true hat-centrism? Spoiler alert - the stovepipe does nothing to prevent the death of America's greatest leader. For shame.

1. The Dark Night Rises.  Controversy has raged through the venerated halls of The Academy ever since the sixteenth of July, when a certain mask worn by Bane in The Dark Night Rises ignited a bitter schism. One faction was, a priori, dismissive of the entire film - yes, previous films had been discussed based on the presence of the bat-cowl, but this was only done because of lacking competition.  They considered the Bane-mask an extension of this theme, borderline headgear at best, and certainly not grounds for any commendations.  However, the other faction made a determined case for the mask to be elevated to true hat status, based on its extension past the crown of the skull, its contribution to the aesthetic of the character and its equally clear comic book origins.   Ultimately, this side not only won out, but was able to make the case that the film was the best candidate of the year, based on the unquestionable importance of this "mask" to the background, rise, power, and final demise of the film's main antagonist.  In essence, once the "hat" was established, the "centric" was never in doubt.  So congratulations, The Dark Night Rises, you are the most Hat-Centric movie of the year.