Wednesday, February 8, 2012

AFI Top 100 Countdown: #80 THE APARTMENT

Directed by Billy Wider
Written by Billy Wider and I.A.L. Diamond
Starring: Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, and Fred MacMurray

AFI Top 100 Criteria:

Critical Recognition: Formal commendation in print, television, and digital media.

*91% on

*"With tremendous performances by the two leads (Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine), this is yet another "must see" title to be found on Wilder's resume." James Berardinelli, ReelViews

*"Elevates the workplace romance into a sublime erotics of officious addresses (the omnipresent Mister and Miss) and economic conundrum." Ed Park, Village Voice 

Major Award Winner: Recognition from competitive events including awards from peer groups, critics, guilds, and major film festivals.

*Academy: Won Art Direction, Film Editing, Original Screenplay, Director and Picture.  Nominated: Sound, Cinematography, Actress (MacLaine), Actor (Lemmon), and Supporting Actor (Kruschen)

*Golden Globes: Won Actor (Lemmon), Actress (MacLaine), and Picture. Nominated: Director

Popularity Over Time: Includes success at the box office, television and cable airings, and DVD/VHS sales and rentals.

*Budget: 3,000,000 (estimated)

*Gross: $25,000,000 (estimated) 

*Rentals: $9,300,000 (estimated)

Historical SignificanceA film's mark on the history of the moving image through visionary narrative devices, technical innovation or other groundbreaking achievements.

Cultural Impact: A film's mark on American society in matters of style and substance.

*Adapted into a Broadway musical, Promises, Promises.

Javi: I'm not sure what movie Jonesy was watching, but this was probably one of the most annoying movies I've ever seen. Every single character is a complete and utter piece of shit. The dialogue of this movie was pretty snappy with Shirley MacLaine delivering some of the funniest lines and having some of the best scenes. For all senses and purposes, this was a good movie; it was well directed and beautifully shot black and white film.

Here's a basic thing that I have to have whenever I'm watching my movies is some form of empathy for the characters, especially in a comedy or drama or whatever this movie could be classified as. I cannot feel any sort of sympathy for any of these characters. I sort of hate C.C. Baxter the most. He is the worst sort character by being a completely whiny ass-kisser to trying to feign having a spine while trying to show off to Ms. Kubelik with all of the ridiculous swell stuff he has. I mean, this guy deserves all of the crap that happens to him. To me, him quitting and telling off Mr. Sheldrake, while being cleverly written, is not a sign of maturity, but a sign of throwing a tantrum.

Don't even get me started with Ms. Kubelik who's the worst kind of concubine you could find who not only is too stupid to think that she has a chance with a married man, but falls so many times for the the BS he puts out that she's upset to the point of the whiny, Hot Topic-type-of suicide attempt.. And to Sheldrake is just too easy to pick on; he's a complete prick.

So where do we go from there? There was some very witty dialogue in this movie. One of my favorites was, "You just can't go during breakfast and say, 'Honey, pass the milk, I want a divorce.'" Examples of dialogue like that made me not want to turn off the whole movie completely. As to the actually plot? It was very well paced with everything flowing smoothly and not ever feeling like it's lingering on any plot point too much. The fact that it's a Christmas movie, like GREMLINS and DIE HARD, and yet not we see none of the usual visual or thematic holiday cheer. This almost feels like the opposite of IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, where the black and white only shows the loneliness and despair that one can feel from the holidays. As the Baxter and Kubelik show, they are fundamentally flawed in that they're looking for any sort of comfort anyway they can.

It's interesting to think about the ending, because to me, Baxter and Kubelik grew as characters, as they well should, but especially Baxter did not grow up enough. It's baffling to think that anyone would want someone like Kubelik after seeing how insane she is. Ugh, like I said, I hate to be so dismissive of this movie, but I hated everyone here. I'll definitely be checking out more Billy Wilder movies, so I can find one with better characters.

Jonesy: The modern-day definitions of movie genres have jaded me a bit. When I heard THE APARTMENT was a comedy, I automatically think side-splitting antics, stock characters, and physical comedy. Yes, that definition rings true to today's horrible comedies we're subjected to, but the term comedy didn't mean the same thing 50 years ago. Comedy was more about witty dialogue and dynamic characters.

THE APARTMENT follows an average working man, Lemmon, as he goes about his day to day life trying to climb up the ranks in his job to become an executive. He also has a semi-lucrative business on the side. He lets certain upper management fellas use his apartment to entertain their illicit affairs. I say semi-lucrative because he doesn't make money off of these men; he gets "paid" by their recommendations to the big boss man, MacMurray. During all of this he attempts to date the elevator girl, MacLaine, who is dealing with some baggage of her own.

Even though it's labeled as a comedy, the film doesn't shy away from more serious and heavier plot aspects. What's fantastic about this script is the characters seem like one-dimensional stereotypes, but they end up being very dynamic and interesting. Lemmon begins as almost a lovable, yet susceptible yes-man, but in the end, he's just another lost and lonely working man trying to find his place for himself. He thinks he has found it in MacLaine, but she has her own demons. A woman who, like many of us, is stuck on a man that she should let go. We've all been there at some point. There's someone you just can't let go of no matter how much you tell yourself you're better off. Both Lemmon and MacLaine are lost within their own problems and come together through some unfortunate circumstances. Through each other, both realize what they probably want out of their respective lives, but actually taking that leap is a completely different situation.

And I'm not sure what Hollywood is trying to say, but between this movie and Mad Men, it seems that the corporate world of the '60s was just filled with booze and affairs. Even though the situations the characters put themselves in can be frustrating, the script was my favorite part of the film. There is so much underlying text that Lemmon and MacLaine had to work with. There's nothing forced about their performances and are a joy to watch.

THE APARTMENT is one of those rare movies we don't get much nowadays that relies purely on characters telling story without any extra bells and whistles. Though I wouldn't put this in comedy category, it definitely has some funny moments. Plus, this was my first Billy Wilder experience, and now I'm ready to for more

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