The Top Five for 2007
No Country for Old Men
There Will Be Blood
I saw *Grindhouse* right away, because Tarantino is one of the directors on my short list. There were four directors on this list at the beginning of the year - - their new movie would be sure have me at the theater within two weeks, and that movie, even before I’ve seen it, will almost certainly be on my Top Five. Those four directors are:
Quentin Tarantino (*Pulp Fiction*, *Jackie Brown*, the *Death Proof* half of *Grindhouse*, etc)
Sofia Coppola (*The Virgin Suicides*, *Lost in Translation*, *Marie Antoinette*)
Pedro Almodovar (*Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown*, *All About My Mother*, *Volver*, etc)
Mary Harron (*I Shot Andy Warhol*, *American Psycho*, *The Notorious Bettie Page*)
By the end of the year another director was added to the list, but more about him later.
*Grindhouse* is a double feature of movies modeled after the trashy exploitation movies of the 70s. *Planet Terror* is a zombie movie directed by Robert Rodriguez (*Desperado*, *Sin City*, etc), and *Death Proof* is a car chase/maniacal killer stalking pretty young women movie directed by Tarantino. The movies are very different and (from what I’ve read) were polarizing for a lot of the audience: people usually loved one and hated the other. I loved both! They have snappy dialogue, great performances, and are directed with relish and skill. To make matters even more amusing, they roughed up the films in post-production to give them pops, scratches, skips, bubbles, and other classic elements of the trashy B-movie experience.
Continuing our trashy theme, this is a green screen action movie about the Spartans versus the Persians, with lots of blood and viscera and a heap of brawny manflesh (also some impressive horseflesh). Laughable, yet thrilling. Check your brain at the door, have a gay old time.
*No Country for Old Men*
The Coen Brothers (*Raising Arizona*, *Fargo*, *The Big Lebowski*, etc) are distinctive, extraordinary filmmakers, but their last two movies were total DREK. *Intolerable Cruelty* was exactly what the title says it is, and *The Ladykillers* was harmless junk, but so far beneath them. So I was thrilled to hear that their new movie was good. I saw it, and it’s not just good - - it’s great! Josh Brolin (so good as the doctor in *Death Proof*) achieves leading man status, Javier Bardem has a major breakthrough, Tommy Lee Jones does the Tommy Lee Jones show better than anyone, and Woody Harrleson! Who knew he had such poise, that he could be so powerful in his understatement? And as the only female lead, Kelly Macdonald, is tremendous. She played Maggie Smith’s maid in *Gosford Park*, and was Peter Pan onstage in *Finding Neverland*. She’s so good in this movie. It’s brilliantly written, brilliantly directed. One sequence is unbearably suspenseful. Great stuff!
*There Will Be Blood*
This is where the fifth director gets added to my short list: Paul Thomas Anderson. I loved his previous movies: *Hard Eight*, *Boogie Nights*, *Magnolia* (I’m bonkers for *Magnolia*), and *Punch-Drunk Love*. I saw the previews for *TWBB* and knew I’d be batty for it. It’s a symphony on American themes: greed, dirty dealings, religion, The Pioneer Spirit, and even a little bowling! Daniel Day Lewis gives the performance of his career, a colossal performance. *NC for OM* will probably win the Oscar for Best Pic, and I think it deserves it - - but *TWBB* is more ambitious.
The previews made it look like another drippy wartime romantic drama, but it was wonderful. Keira Knightley is that rarest of creatures: she’s a movie star, and she’s also an actress. The score is brilliant - - I can’t think of another non-musical movie that lets the music invade the real world of the movie to this degree. It’s overt without being overpowering. Very good movie.
This was a strange year, movie-wise. Lots of movies that I liked a lot but lacked lasting impact. *Pan’s Labyrinth*, *Juno*, *Zodiac*, *Elizabeth: The Golden Age*, they all did this. Beautifully made, well acted, well written, but missing that special something. The movie that wins by a nose is *La Vie en Rose*. It’s not great from start to finish, and A. O. Scott in the NY Times put it perfectly when he said, “So if you have seen *Ray* or *Walk the Line*, you will hardly require a summary of *La Vie en Rose*…” But it rises above the paint-by-numbers Hollywood musical biopic because of the performance by Marion Cotillard and because of the brilliance of the director, Olivier Dahan. One scene (don’t worry, I won’t give anything away) is so startling, it’s the best scene in any movie this year.
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Before I get to the other categories, let me take a moment to say that I won’t be writing an Oscar email this year. I’ve just plain lost interest in the Oscars. My love for movies has increased over the years, but my love of the Oscars is at an all-time low.
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Best Cameo, Female
Laura Elena Harring, *Nancy Drew*. I went to see the new *Nancy Drew* movie opening weekend. Is it possible that I’m the target audience for this movie? I really enjoyed it, and was actually afraid that it would make my Top Five for the year, but thankfully some other better movies took its place. In the movie, Nancy and her widowed father move into an old Hollywood mansion, which is (of course) haunted. The movie star (in flashbacks, photographs, etc) is played by the delectable Laura Elena Harring, who was the brunette in David Lynch’s epic navel-gazer *Mulholland Drive*. She’s divine.
Best Cameo, Male
Nicholas Cage, *Grindhouse*. The most fun part of *Grindhouse* was the previews they showed before and between the two movies. These are previews for movies that don’t actually exist. Rodriguez directed a preview for *Machete*, about a Latino on the rampage. Eli Roth (of *Hostel* and *Cabin Fever*) did *Thanksgiving*, a total gross-out about torture and cannibalism, a riot! Edgar Wright (*Shaun of the Dead*, *Hot Fuzz*) did *Don’t*, a horror movie - - “If you’re thinking of going in that house: DON’T. [shriek!] If you want to find out what’s behind that door: DON’T. [shriek!]” Also a riot. But the funniest of all was *Werewolf Women of the SS* by Rob Zombie (*House of 1,000 Corpses*, *Halloween*), a movie about how Hitler created a race of werewolf women to aid him in his quest for world domination. At the end of the preview they did a run-down of the actors in the “movie”, including Sybil Danning, Udo Kier, Sheri Moon Zombie, “…and Nicholas Cage as Fu Manchu!” And sure enough, Oscar winner Nic Cage was wearing a kimono and Fu Manchu mustache and laughing his head off.
Remembrance of Movies Past
*Suddenly, Last Summer*, from 1959. Based on the humid (I might even say lurid) play by Tennessee Williams, with a screenplay be the never-afraid-to-go-too-far Gore Vidal. Starring Katharine Hepburn as the nutburger manipulative Southern matriarch, Liz Taylor as her luscious young niece, and Monty Clift as the neurosurgeon Hepburn hires to give Liz a lobotomy! How quaint, how Southern. I shared this movie with my boyfriend Richard not long after we got together, and he agreed that Liz’s eye makeup is a bit too professionally done for her to be living in the loony bin. And her black cocktail dress is a bit too precisely fitted (she’s also wearing one of those stiletto bras, love that look). All three of the leads chew the scenery with relish - - I might even say they devour it! But the one thing that makes this movie high art instead of lurid trash is the fact that it’s directed by Joe Mankiewicz. He did *A Letter to Three Wives*, *All About Eve*, and *Guys and Dolls* earlier in the 50s, and his next movie after this was the Liz *Cleopatra* (poor guy). He directs this film with a sure hand, and Liz’s monologue at the end is sheer movie brilliance - - he takes a very stagey monologue and turns it into a bravura display of cinematic craft. Run, don’t walk!
Movie That Needs To Be Made
The NY Times had an article in March of 2007 about two brothers, Antoine Dowdell and Tarik Shah who are both jazz musicians. Tarik “has been held in solitary confinement since being arrested in May 2005 in New York on charges of terrorist activity.” Antoine visits him every other week and they talk about jazz and sing to each other. I’m getting teary just thinking about it! If you’re interested and want me to forward the article to you, just let me know.
So often I’m hot for a movie before it opens, but then it opens and I’ve gone tepid (but not torpid, thank God). Francis Ford Coppola’s *Youth Without Youth* is a perfect example - - I was RABID to see any new FFC movie (he hadn’t directed a movie since *The Rainmaker* in 1997), but then it came out this fall, got lukewarm reviews, and I decided to wait for it to come out on DVD.
But there are two movies coming out in the next few months that I KNOW I’ll see right away. German director Michael Haneke has directed a shot-for-shot remake of his 1997 sadistic masterpiece *Funny Games*. The story is that people were after him to do an English-language remake, and he said, “I’ll do it if you get Naomi Watts to play the mother.” They did, and he did. You probably know by now that I’m big on violence in movies (don’t know quite what that’s about, and have stopped wondering about it), and I can think of no other movie that’s so extreme in its sadism of both the characters and the audience. Something tells me this kind of recommendation isn’t going to make you rush to the theater…
And on the flip side, *Mamma Mia*! With my gal Meryl. Karen, Richard, and I saw a preview for it recently, and we all said, “We’re definitely seeing that.” It looks like good stupid fun.
Oh, and one more! Due out in December of 2009, *Nine*, a movie of the Broadway musical, which was based on the Fellini movie *8 ½*. Great show. Directed by Rob Marshall (*Chicago*, *Memoirs of a Geisha*), starring Javier Bardem in the lead (the only male role), Marion Cotillard as his wife, Penelope Cruz as his mistress, and Sophia Loren as his mother. I’m anxious to see who they cast in the other two key roles.
Most Deserving of a Comeback
Ann-Margret. I have three words for her, and they are Va Va VOOM. She’s still got it, the old gal (she’s 67). I give you four movies, as proof of her talent and range: *Carnal Knowledge*. She can act. She was nommed for an Oscar for this movie, and never had a better role. *Grumpy Old Men*. She still reeks of charm and sex appeal. *Any Given Sunday*. She can stand her ground in a tiny role opposite Al Pacino in an Oliver Stone-directed movie about football. That’s saying something. And I’ll throw in *The Pleasure Seekers*, just because it’s a fab piece of 60s trash. She does a flamenco dance that is high-larious. She should get some better roles, I believe in her.
Viva La Diva
Cate Blanchett in *Elizabeth: The Golden Age* and *I’m Not There*. This gal’s the bomb, I love her in everything. She had great strength and force in *Elizabeth 2* (just overcoming those gowns and wigs is an accomplishment) and wowed everyone playing Bob Dylan in *I’m Not There*. I was a little less than frothy over her Dylan, because it seems just a trifle gimmicky. Plus she has the unfair advantage of being the only thing with any zip in the whole damn dreary movie. But she’s the real deal, and she never disappoints.
*Across the Universe* and *I’m Not There*. Both rock tribute movies by directors I love: *A the U* is by Julie Taymor (*Titus*, *Frida*, *The Lion King* on Broadway*) and reimagines Beatles songs, and *I’m N T* is by Todd Haynes (*Poison*, *Safe*, *Far from Heaven*) and gives us six different embodiments of Bob Dylan. Both of them aim high and come up WAY short.
*A the U* might have had the highest eyeroll count of any movie I’ve ever seen. Every ten minutes I was rolling my eyes and/or giving the heavy sigh. I may have even blurted “Oh puh-LEEZ!” at one point. Hated it. Now of course you can’t hate a movie unless it’s let you down - - last year’s *House of Wax* was a great flick because it knew what it was and knew how to do it. *A the U* and *I’m N T* aspired to be fresh and novel and arty and ended up being pathetic.
I saw *I’m N T* with my best friend Karen, and she said, as we were walking out, “That’s the longest movie I’ve ever seen.” It was 2 ½ hours long, so she’s not being literal, but it had no sense of going anywhere or caring about sustaining your interest. It was beautiful to look at, it was fun seeing those great actors (Christian Bale, La Blanchett, Richard Gere, the late Heath Ledger, and two others I didn’t know) doing “Bob Dylan”, and it was a particular hoot seeing Julianne Moore play “Joan Baez”. I’m still chuckling about that. But it was aimless and drab. Nice try, indeed. I’ll probably see it again on DVD, and hate it even more.
New Category: Horrorable Mention
I’ve developed a real mania for horror movies in the last few years. This summer I gave myself the project of watching some of the classics of the 70s: *The Last House on the Left*, *Scanners*, *The Texas Chainsaw Massacre* (which blew me away), *Suspiria*, lots of others. I heard that Rob Zombie was doing a remake of *Halloween* and was totally psyched. It was fantastic!
One of the stock techniques of horror movies is the chasing, delaying the kill. *Texas C M* is (from what I’ve seen) the high point of this technique - - there’s a scene where Leatherface is chasing the blonde girl through the woods, chainsaw a-growlin’ the whole time. I swear it goes on for twenty minutes, it’s BRUTAL. I found myself wishing he’d just kill her so I wouldn’t have the agony of waiting anymore! Well, in the new Zombie *Halloween*, for the majority of the movie there’s no chasing, there’s no cat-and-mouse teasing. If Michael Myers is in the room with you, yer goan git kiww’t! And he wastes no time: chop, remove weapon, walk away.
So at the end of the movie, when he’s stalking the girl he’s been after the whole time, and it really does take a long time for him to corner her, the anticipation is intense because you haven’t had a whole movie of it. My enjoyment of the movie was heightened by the funny young woman next to me who was talking to the screen at key moments. “Ah! Look out!” Stuff like that, very funny. At the end of the movie (spoiler alert, like you care) the central girl has been chased by Michael for ten minutes, at least, and ends up in an empty swimming pool, filled with leaves. Michael comes in after her, she’s crying, he’s about to kill her - - and he’s shot by his former shrink (played by Malcolm McDowell, what a hoot). The shrink leads the girl out of the pool, they show Michael face down in the leaves, not moving. The shrink puts his arm around her, brings her over to his car, opens the door, sits her down, slowly goes over to his side, sighs heavily, rests his head on the car. The woman next to me shouted out, “GET IN THE CAR!”, and the whole theater laughed. (Of course Michael wasn’t dead.)