The Top Five for 2006

*The Notorious Bettie Page*

*The Devil Wears Prada*

*The Queen*

*Marie Antoinette*

*Volver*

 

*The Notorious Bettie Page*

Written and directed by Mary Harron, who also did *I Shot Andy Warhol* and *American Psycho* (a previous Top Fiver), a biopic of 50s soft-core porn pinup Bettie Page.  Gorgeous movie to look at, the cinematography is delicious.  Glossy black and white, with the Miami scenes in the most extraordinary saturated color, like an old Lana Turner epic ("Just one little epic!").  Gretchen Mol was amazing, everyone was very good.  The script is brilliant, the director is a master.  What I liked best about it is that it was concise.  The ending felt just right, but it came as a bit of a shock that it wasn't longer.  I LOVE that feeling, rather than, "When is this movie going to end?"  Never a single dull or poorly executed moment.  The point of the movie, it seems to me, is that Bettie wasn't doing anything wrong or deviant, and everything about the movie - - the script, the performances, the cinematography - - supported that.  First-class filmmaking!

 

*The Devil Wears Prada*

I know this is a provocative thing to say, but Meryl Streep gives one of the best performances of her career in this movie.  Yes, up there with *Sophie’s Choice* and all the rest.  She’s so marvelously understated, she makes all her points with so little effort, and packs quite a wallop.  Try and imagine someone else - - Sigourney Weaver, for example, in the part.  Now you know how I love Sigourney, but imagine her delivery of Meryl’s best line - - she’s interviewing a young woman to be her assistant (played by Anne Hathaway):

 

MERYL: You have no sense of fashion…

ANNE: I think that depends on…

MERYL: No, no, that wasn’t a question.

 

Sigourney would stare down the girl and say with a decided <<froideur>>, “That wasn’t a question.”  Meryl doesn’t even look up from her magazine!  She has so many marvelous little moments like that.  I should also say that this is the first movie I saw with my boyfriend, so it has a special place in my heart.  I gave him the DVD for Christmas, and we watched all our favorite moments Christmas Eve night (and it only took about 20 minutes).

 

*The Queen*

I think this was the second movie I saw with the aforementioned boyfriend (his name is Richard, by the way, and he’s a dream).  If you think I’m big on the Royals, you should meet HIM.  Helen Mirren is going to win the Oscar, that’s all I have to say on the subject!  The movie does such a good job of keeping an easy tone while dealing with serious issues, and that kudos goes to the director, Stephen Frears (who also brought us *The Grifters* and *Dangerous Liaisons*).

 

*Marie Antoinette*

Gosh, ANOTHER movie I saw with Richard!  But really and truly, I think those same movies would be on my Top 5 even if he wasn’t in my life (but thank God he is).

 

There are three directors whose new movie will always make it on my Top 5, even before I’ve seen them: Quentin Tarantino, Pedro Almodovar, and Sofia Coppolla.  Sofia got a lot of weird press over this movie, and lots of boos at Cannes, but I loved it!  She had her own take on the story - - she gives it a very 1980s spin with the soundtrack (“I want candy” plays during one montage) and the acting style.  My favorite moment is early in the movie: Marie Antoinette (played by Kirsten Dunst) has been sent off, at the age of 14, by her mother (played by Marianne Faithfull!) from the Austrian court to the French court, to make an official alliance with France by marrying the Prince.  You see her in her carriage with her friends, playing cards, cuddling with her dog, looking bored.  Ten minutes of the movie go by and she hasn’t said a word.  I was getting very excited to hear what she was going to say, obviously Sofia was making a big buildup for her first line.  The carriage comes to a halt, a coachman opens the door, and she says in her little girl voice, “Are we there yet?”  A bewitching moment!  Oh, and the single most beautiful image of the year: M-A has just said goodbye to her husband Louis, who’s going off on a trip.  The camera shows the two of them saying goodbye and then a shot of her standing alone in the hallway.  The lighting, the checkerboard floor, the gown, Dunst’s stance, the framing of the shot - - I nearly wept, it was such a beautiful shot, and perfectly communicated the opulence and loneliness of the court.

 

*Volver*

The newest movie by Almodovar, one of the greatest filmmakers ever, with a stunner of a performance by Penelope Cruz.  My one wish for the Oscars was that she be nommed for Best Actress, and she was, so I’m happy.  This is his sweetest, most lyrical movie yet, and a return to the female-driven mileu that made his reputation.  I don’t want to say anything more, except that it’s a lovely movie, with the most gorgeous closing credits ever!

 

Honorable mention

*Drawing Restraint #9*

Do you remember me writing about the Cremaster series, a five-film cycle that I saw at the Guggenheim?  I described it as “an abstract mythology of the testicles”.  Not to everyone’s taste, but an amazing achievement all the same.  The writer and director, Matthew Barney, is partnered with Björk in real life, and they made this movie together, with a score by herself.  Here’s a synopsis, from Carina Chocano’s review for the LA Times:

 

The movie takes place aboard the real-life Japanese whaling ship, now a research vessel, the Nisshin Maru, one of the last built before the international ban on whaling took effect. The film begins with Will Oldham singing text of letters from postwar Japan as a woman wraps a fossil, then follows the two "occidental guests," Barney and Björk, as they make their separate ways onboard the ship. Once they arrive, they are ministered to and groomed in preparation for a traditional Shinto wedding. Meanwhile, on deck, the crew busies itself with the petroleum jelly mold. After the ceremony, the ship is rocked by a storm, and the Vaseline begins to melt and seep into the cabins below. Flooded by viscous liquid, the occidental guests join in a grisly but tender love-death, slicing at one another's lower extremities with flensing knives and breathing through spouts on the backs of their necks.

 

I saw this with Karen, Jere, and Dale, and Dale said after this flesh-slicing scene, “Finally, a realistic depiction of marriage.”

 

*Inland Empire*

David Lynch is up to his old tricks!  And a few new ones - - this movie was shot on digital video, and he says he’ll never go back to working on film.  It was 2 hours and 45 minutes long, and it felt very long, but what would you cut out?  You have to admire a movie that has no desire to make sense.  Don’t you think?  Laura Dern has the only truly leading role, and she makes the most of it, she’s fantastic.

 

* * *

 

Other categories

 

Best Cameo, Female

Julia Ormond, *Inland Empire*.  Remember her, the hot new thing for about two years in the 90s?  She was in *Sabrina* and *Legends of the Fall*, rapturously gorgeous English brunette.  She has about ten minutes total onscreen in *Inland Empire*, and totally takes over.

Best Cameo, Male

James Naughton in *The Devil Wears Prada*.  Who, you may ask?  He’s done a lot of stage work, has won two Tonys for Best Actor in a musical (he played Billy Flynn in the current revival of *Chicago*).  He has no more than ten seconds onscreen in *Prada*, playing Meryl’s husband, but he’s got such presence and is so damn handsome that you could SWEAR he has a whole other scene.

 

Remembrance of Movies Past

The first movie that Richard and I saw together was actually *Sunset Boulevard* - - we watched it in his apartment at sometime around 4:00 AM one morning, on his laptop.  I’ve seen this movie at least once a year for the last ten years, and it never gets old and always has something new and extraordinary to discover.  One of the greatest movies ever.

Movie That Needs To Be Made

The New Yorker had an article in their 10/9/06 issue about Richard McNair, who has escaped from prison twice.  Courtesy of youtube, you can see a dashboard video of him sweet-talking his way out of an interaction with a cop:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d2B1Bxo9kZg

This would be a perfect movie for Josh Hartnett, directed by Steven Soderbergh or George Clooney.

 

Eagerly Anticipated

Netflix has totally rehauled my pattern of seeing movies - - there are so many movies now, most of them dramas, that I just don’t go see in the theater anymore.  There are three movies that I will see on DVD, and am eager to see, but didn’t quite make it to see them in the theater: *Babel*, *Little Children*, *Children of Men*.  My apologies to the filmmakers, but ya gotta make choices in this town.

 

The only new-for-this-year, still-to-be-made movie I’ll mention is *First Man*, written and directed by Diane English, the creator of *Murphy Brown*.  It’s about a female President and her husband, played by Meryl Streep and Robert DeNiro.  Won’t that be fun?

 

Follow-up on Eagerly Anticipated from last year:

Still to be made or released:

*Bernard and Doris*, *Youth Without Youth*, *Marie-Antoinette*, *The Women*, *Che*, *Therese Raquin*, *Megalopolis*

Came out this year, but didn’t get around to seeing them: *All the King’s Men*, *Manderlay*

Came out this year: *Marie Antoinette* (see above)

Most Deserving of a Comeback

Candice Bergen.  She’s so great, don’t you think?  I know she’s got a juicy role on *Boston Public* now, and I’m happy for that, but I want her to have a real part in a movie.  She had a charming small role in *View from the Top*, that dreadful Gwyneth Paltrow-as-flight attendant vehicle from a few years back, she was marvelous in that.  And she was great in her recurring role on *Sex and the City*.  I want her to have a really primo supporting part in a major movie.  It can be an indie film, that’s fine - - but make it good, and make her great!  She’s got another Oscar nom in her, I just know it (she was nommed in 1979 for *Starting Over*).

Viva La Diva

Jennifer Hudson in *Dreamgirls*.  She was responsible for some of the most exciting moments at the movies this year.  Richard and my best friend Karen and I went to see it at the Ziegfeld Theater, a gorgeous huge old movie theater, just a few days after it opened, and the audience was INSANE.  They cheered and screamed and applauded after every number, it was positively nutty!  And Ms. Hudson was the biggest hit of all.  I hope she has a big career, she’s got lots of talent and verve.

New Category: Nice Try

I was in the theater watching Brian DePalma’s *The Black Dahlia* a few months ago, and a half hour into the movie I said to myself (not aloud), “Hm, looks like I have a new category for the Top Five: Nice Try!”  This award  goes to a movie that’s loaded with talent yet somehow misfires.  There’s a lot to admire in it, but it doesn’t hold together very well.  It misses the mark, it gazes into its own navel, it bites off more than it can chew.  *The Black Dahlia* had all the makings of a fun and good movie: a great, grisly subject being directed by the perfect person, high schlockmeister DePalma.  He’s incredible in the right thing (*Carrie* couldn’t be any better) and has had his share of failures (see *Femme Fatale*, or better yet, don’t).  And it was starring a marvelous cast: Josh Hartnett, Aaron Eckhart, Scarlett Johansson, Hilary Swank, and the incomparable Fiona Shaw.  Hilary Swank had a great time in this movie, seemed to realize it was crap but knew she was going to be supreme - - but Shaw gets the scenery-chewing award for her brief role.  To use a phrase I invented and never use often enough, she was so far over the top, she could no longer see the top.  It’s like she read the script and said, “Two parts Lady Macbeth, two parts Blanche Dubois, and a splash of Ed Gien for color.”

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