End of Year Roundup--Somewhere, Forbidden, Inception, The King's Speech, The Wrestler, The Shining, Invasion of the Body Snatchers...
SOMEWHERE I actually saw "Somewhere" long ago at the London Film Festival but disliked it so much I couldn't bring myself to write about it at length. Apparently, neither could Anthony Lane, who gave me the idea for a roundup, and whose assessment of the film very nearly matches my own--"In one prolonged shot, Johnny circles his car fast around a track, but the futility of a noodling movie star is hardly a revelation of the absurdity of the human condition, or whatever this movie is supposed to be about." Indeed, Stephen Dorff's Johnny Marco is the flattest imitiation of a Mastroianni-esque character one could devise. "Somewhere" was as bad as "Nine" in its complete misunderstanding and degradation of Italian cinema, not to mention women. (The only viable female is Johnny's eleven-year-old daughter played by Elle Fanning and an obvious stand-in for Coppola's younger self.) I was a fan of "Lost in Translation" despite my big problems with its gross condescension towards the Japanese. Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson were just so incredibly watchable, whereas "Marie Antionette" was entirely unwatchable. "Somewhere" has some nice shots of the Hotel Marmont and Sunset Boulevard but was mostly just plain boring and horribly misguided. But this is blissfully a roundup so I won't go on. Let's just say the highest compliment I can pay this film is that it made me think of the lyric from "Hair": Claude Hooper Bukowski/Finds that it's groovy/To hide in a movie/Pretends he's Fellini/And Antonioni/And also his countryman Roman Polanski/All rolled into one/One Claud Hooper Bukowski. If only Sofia Coppola had a tad more of Claud Hooper Bukowski's ambition.
FORBIDDEN "Forbidden," seen at a Frank Capra retrospective at the National Film Theatre/British Film Institute (one of the great perks of London), was a surprise. Not your usual Capra or Stanwyck fare--the film is about a librarian who has a passionate affair with a married man--an ambitious but very likeable politician (only Capra could pull any of this off)--while on holiday and subsequently gives up everything--including their child--for him. The power of Stanwyck's performance allows the film to investigate love's complexity with a rare depth and maturity. I actually came away from the film empathasizing with her choices. Nevertheless, Capra himself loathed the film calling it "two hours of soggy, 99.44% pure soap opera." During the filming, Stanwyck fell off her horse, injured her back, and had to spend every night of the rest of the filming in the hospital in traction. Capra would blame the film and the equestrian accident for Stanwyck's definitive refusal to marry him.
INCEPTION Glad I saw this on a plane and very post hype. But still I was bored. Doesn't even come close to the genius of "Memento" or even "The Matrix." Saw everything coming way before it did and the love story was plain stupid.
THE KING'S SPEECH Oops, wrong King. So what if it's historically inaccurate. So what if it's a feel good story that lacks any subtlety whatsoever. It's entertainment at its best in the sense that it doesn't have any ambition to be anything more than it is so fulfills its promise from start to finish. Besides, I saw it with my mother who loved it because she remembered as a kid listening to the stuttering King on the radio and being embarrassed for him. If Colin Firth doesn't get an Oscar for this I'll eat my hat. And Geoffrey Rush deserves a nod. Without them this film would have been nothing at all.
THE WRESTLER I saw this with my mother too and she repeated throughout the entire film: "Why would anybody ever want to watch this?" I thought Mickey Rourke's performance eerily too good. The film comes nowhere near the brilliance of "Raging Bull" but does have moments of sublime intensity. The love story with Marisa Tomei (always wonderful) and the daughter thread very banal. I was actually relieved at the lack of redemption, but could have been spared the Christ image during the denouement. Finally, I have to agree with my mother here.
THE SHINING Quite simply one of the best films ever made. This should be required viewing for any student of film, really anyone interested in the creative process. It is a veritable primer in perspective. A multi-layered work of genius, my favorite scene, of course, is when the amazing Shelley Duvall peers down at the typewriter Jack has been writing his magnum opus on, while the camera takes precise aim up at her, the typewriter smack in the center of the frame. As she reads the by now infamous line, "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy," she--and we--are struck dumb by the great and horrifying truth that creation and destruction are one. The film is the enactment of T.S. Eliot's line, "There will be time to murder and create," via the inimitable horror/humor of Stephen King as envisioned by Stanley Kubrick. Unbelievable. I so identified with Jack it was disturbing.
INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS By far the best of the three versions is the one starring Donald Sutherland and Jeff Goldblum. My mother's verdict: "This should be required watching for all citizens of the United States every six months to ensure we all don't become Republicans."
THE TRIPLETS OF BELLEVILLE One of the most deeply feminine and feminist films I have ever seen, albeit made by a man.
THE SOCIAL NETWORK I saw this on the plane home from LA. I had avoided seeing it because I just didn't think I could take one more film telling me how irrelevant women are. But on a plane I can take anything and yes women are entirely irrelevant here but I did enjoy the epic battle between Jew and Gentiles. Ah those Winklevoss twins really got what was coming to them (a 60 million dollar settlement). And what a hero for our times that Zuckerberg, a veritable saviour. He's given us Facebook, a monument for all time, a wonder of the world, a human cultural legacy up there with the pyramids, The Divine Comedy, Star Wars. Where would we be without him?
Random list of films I've seen but haven't devoted a proper blog to with rating @ to @@@@@
The Vagabond (Directed by Raj Kapoor in 1951 when he was just 27, this steamy melodrama represents the birth of Bollywood. The incredible chemistry between Kapoor and his leading lady Nargis is irresistable. And I saw it at MoMA for free. I love New York.) @@@@@
Margin Call (Nothing new here, didn't get my blood boiling at all and the subject--Wall Street greed and arrogance usually does. Some good acting from a great cast but pretty forgetttable. I imagine the play was better.) @@
Young Adult (I think Charlise Theron might be my favorite actress at the moment. She's got talent plus diva quality. This film is one note but she's so fabulous.) @@@@
Shame (a shame, waste of Michael Fassbinder's considerable talents. Carey Mulligan singing New York, New York excruciating and not in the way intended. Plus is that New York? It occured to me while watching that Steve McQueen should watch Pasolini's opus and take notes.) @@
One Day (Help, the accent! Ugh. Anne Hathaway botched this one.) @
Crazy, Stupid, Love (Ryan Gosling, need I say more? Besides, it was really very funny at times. And the casting is just perfect.) @@@@
Ides of March (George Clooney's future may be as a director. This effort was admirable and entertaining. Plausibility a bit stretched but I didn't care much. Besides, Ryan Gosling, need I say more?) @@@@
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (Second best film of 2011 for me. Gary Oldman channels Alec Guinness and I love the change of glasses to mark time. BBC series, however, still the best . If you want to read more about the book/film/series two excellent pieces, both in The New Yorker, are Anthony Lane's "I Spy" http://nyr.kr/uXIWBb and David Denby's "We are all Smiley's People" http://nyr.kr/zzS9vr) @@@@@
The Skin I Live In (Best film of 2011 for me--Almodovar pushes the form like no other director. Here he explores the pygmalion myth as only he can.) @@@@@
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (As a good a rendition of the book you'll get but ah, the book. Doesn't really translate to film. Maggie Smith great.) @@@
The Godfather (Hadn't seen it in years but what a flawless film. The horse head was a stroke of genius as was casting Diane Keaton as Al Pacino's wife. Marlon Brando, as always, was sublime.) @@@@@
Nowhere Boy (directed by artist Sam Taylor-Wood and also surprisingly mediocre. Straightforward biopic without any attempt at innovation. HBO would have done it better. Anne Marie Duff and Kristin Scott Thomas saved it from total irrelevance.) @@
The Ghost Writer (directed by Roman Polanski and surprisingly mediocre. Ewan McGregor saved it from total boredom. Hitchcock touches nice but not enough-Ok plane fare.) @@
Frida (directed by Julie Taymor is gorgeous to look at but the script was not up to the visuals. Salma Hayek superb but not oscar material since though crippled her face remains beautiful.)
La Vie en Rose (Incredibly depressing--didn't want to learn so much about the Diva. Cotillard excellent, obvious oscar for portrayal of yet another fallen, defaced woman.
Notes on A Scandal (Thin but Judi Dench is superb. She totally outshines Cate Blanchett. Equation of repressed lesbian stalker with female statuatory rapist interesting. At least Dench didn't turn out to be a serial killer.)
It's Complicated (Perfect plane fare, especially while trying to avoid volcanic ash cloud. I laughed out loud at least twice. Fun to watch Alec Baldwin completely upstage Steve Martin.)
Bulletproof Monk (Not nearly as good as the phenomenal Kung Fu Hustle, but entertaining nonetheless. My 9 yr. old loved it.)
A Serious Man (Seriously boring but then again maybe I just didn't get it 'cause I'm a goy.) @
2012 (Blah disaster movie in which a novelist who sells only 500 copies is the hero and one of the chosen. LOL.) @
Defiance (Casting excellent-Daniel Craig, Liev Schreiber, Jamie Bell-and story excellent--about class and morality among Eastern European Jews during holocaust--but script very mediocre.) @@
Two Loves (I always wonder how films like this one ever get made. No there there. Though Pheonix plays the icky vulnerable male with panache.) @
Inglourious Basterds (Like the kitchen sink after an inedible feast. Worse than a bad Cohen brothers film. Flaccid and unfunny.) @
Valkyrie (Don't bother. Boring, slow, flat. Such a shame as I really loved Singer's Usual Suspects. Cruise's fault no doubt.) -@
The Departed (Solid later Scorsese fare, lots of blood and plot twists but just barely holds together. DiCaprio surprisingly good and I always love Baldwin.) @@@
Word Play (excellent documentary about the NYTimes crossword puzzle geeks. It gave me serious nerd envy.) @@@@
Rachel Getting Married (cast evenly black/white yet black actors get no lines of any significance. Even Anna Deveare Smith only mumbles. Shameful.) @
District 9 (Sci Fi at its best. Philip K. Dick would approve.) @@@@@
American Graffitti (quite experimental and what a young Harrison Ford) @@@@
My Man Godfrey (Depression era romcom with the sublime William Powell and Carole Lombard. All too relevant.) @@@@@
Julia (unlikely thriller made great by uber actress Tilda Swinton) @@@@
The Eyes of Laura Mars (70s fashion thriller with Faye Dunaway and Tommy Lee Jones) @@@@@