The Top Five for 2008

Sex and the City

Speed Racer

Frost/Nixon

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Slumdog Millionaire

 

Honorable Mention: Man on Wire, The Reader

 

*Sex and the City*

I saw it opening weekend with my friend Susie, and the highlight of the movie was being in a sold-out movie theater filled with 300 female and honorary female *SatC* fans - - they gasped! and awww'd in unison, it was a riot.  And the movie itself was delightful.  Fabulous fashions - - some lightly gripping drama (like a newborn holding your finger) and some high-larious laughs.

 

My best friend Karen reminded me of the theory that *SATC* is actually about four gay men, and I’d like to add my diagnosis on the issue - - the four women aren't gay men, they're a gay man's fantasy of what it is to be a woman.  So sad that so many thousands of women have bought into that fantasy themselves.  I'm sure someone has written a doctoral thesis on the subject.

*Speed Racer*

I saw it on the IMAX screen, and it was stunning.  Total entertardment - - nothing but bright shiny colors and flashing images.  Not a single original thought in the whole film, and some cliched dialogue that had me laughing out loud.

 

Pops Racer: I couldn't have been more proud of you, son. Not because you won, but because you stood up, you weren't afraid, and you did what you thought was right.
Speed: It didn't amount to anything. It was completely meaningless.
Pops Racer: How could it be meaningless? I saw my son become a man. I watched a man with courage and integrity drive the pants off of every other driver on that road. This is not meaningless. This is the reason for a father's life.

 

I feel so lucky to have seen it on the IMAX screen, because it wouldn't have been half as good on a normal-sized screen.  I’ll have to give it a whirl on DVD, see if it holds up at all.

 

*Frost/Nixon*

I saw the play on Broadway and it knocked me on my wide Dutch ass.  So exciting and so complex.  Frank Langella totally nailed Nixon in his portrayal, it was a tour de force.  I had my doubts about the movie, just because I didn’t think it could have the impact of seeing the story and those actors live in the theater, but it was very good, very satisfying.  Langella is just as good as he was onstage, and what a thrill to have a document of the play that everyone can see.  I read that George Clooney had interest in directing it, and I think I would have liked it more if it was directed by him, rather than the solid but rather unimaginative Ron Howard.

 

*The Curious Case of Benjamin Button*

This was such a beautiful movie, the best movie of the year.  I can’t think of another movie that has such a wonderful mixture of sweetness and sadness.  My friend Jim hit the nail on the head when he said it had a magical realism quality about it.  Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett both put in beautifully nuanced performances.  And it’s a long movie, but I never felt like it was going on too long.  It was effortless, and I was sad for it to end.

 

*Slumdog Millionaire*

This movie was so well done, a really good movie.  And without a doubt the best-crafted screenplay of the year.  I really enjoyed it and appreciated it.  It didn’t turn my crank like it did for some other people, but it’s definitely on my Top Five.

Honorable Mention: *Man on Wire*

This is a very sweet documentary about Philippe Petit, the French tightrope walker who rigged a wire between the Twin Towers and walked between them in 1974.  It’s such a good movie, very sweet.  I’m not sure I quite believe every twist and turn of the story that he tells about how they smuggled their way up the towers so many times, but it’s an amazing story and an amazing film.

*The Reader*

Wonderful movie, very low-key drama.  Marvelous leading performance by Kate Winslet, and an even more impressive small double role by Lena Olin.


Two other movies I have to address

*Milk* and *Revolutionary Road*.  I had my hopes up for both these movies, and they let me down.  I went to them PRAYING that they’d knock *Speed Racer* out of my Top Five, and they didn’t.  I’m not saying that they weren’t as good as *Speed Racer*, I’m saying I didn’t like them as much - - and yes, in a sense, they weren’t as well made.

 

The problem with *Milk* was its tone.  I’m a huge fan of Gus van Sant and was so looking forward to his take on this story, and he delivered a standard issue Hollywood biopic.  I felt like I was watching *Ray*, *Walk the Line*, or any of those other movies.  All we needed was a music-filled montage - - er wait, I think we had a few of those.  There were two things that raised it from the level of rubbish, and they were the quality of the story and Sean Penn’s amazing performance.  He did such a beautiful job, he really nailed the tenacity and the sweetness of Harvey Milk.  I hoped that Frank Langella will win Best Actor at the Oscars for playing Nixon, but I wasn’t disappointed when Penn won.

 

And *Revolutionary Road* - - I love di Caprio and Winslet, and was excited to see them together in a movie again.  I saw *Titanic* four times in the theater, a record that was shared with *A Room with a View* until *Kill Bill* came along, and I saw both parts in the theater five times each.  Plus *Revolutionary Road* was directed by Sam Mendes, and I’m a huge fan of *American Beauty* and his Broadway production of *Gypsy* (that was the one with Bernadette Peters, not the more recent production with Patti Lupone).  I was told the movie was a huge downer and incredibly depressing, and I LOVE movies like that, but this one just wasn’t dramatically satisfying for me.  The two characters were just plain cruel to each other, and not in an exciting way, like George and Martha in *Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?*  I got the feeling that they didn’t belong together and felt trapped in their marriage, and though I understand that that happens in real life, especially in the 50s, I don’t necessarily want to see a movie about it.  But snaps to all of the actors for doing really good work, and also to Albert Wolsky for the costumes, which were so perfect.  Some other movies he’s done (better movies!): *The Turning Point*, *Manhattan*, *All That Jazz*, *Sophie’s Choice*, *Star 80*, *Bugsy*.

 

* * *

 

The Other Categories

Best Cameo, Female

Charlotte Rae in *You Don’t Mess with the Zohan*.  The movie was stupid, but she was so good in it!  There’s a scene where Zohan (Adam Sandler) is styling her hair and you see her in three-quarters-closed profile.  I turned to Richard and said, “That’s Charlotte Rae!”  A few minutes later she had her scene with Adam Sandler, and the first time they showed her from the front, about twenty hands shot up in the theater, people saying to the person next to them, “That’s Charlotte Rae!”, or more likely, “That’s Mrs. Garrett from *The Facts of Life*!”  It reminded me of when my Crazy Aunt Kathy and I saw *La Giaconda* at the Lyric Opera of Chicago years ago, and at that unmistakable moment in the “Dance of the Hours”, you could see everyone in the audience turn to the person next to them and say, “Holy Christ, they’re playing ‘Hello Muddah, Hello Fadda!’”

 

Best Cameo, Male

Chris Rock in *Zohan*.  He had what was without a doubt the funniest bit of dialogue for 2008, playing a dreadlocked cab driver:

CAB DRIVER: First time in New York?

ZOHAN: Yes, my friend.

CAB DRIVER: What brings you here?

ZOHAN: I had a dream.

CAB DRIVER: I had a dream, too.

ZOHAN: What dream you have?

CAB DRIVER: My dream was to come to America and make enough money to send for me brothers and sisters so that we all can enjoy freedom together!

ZOHAN: This is good dream.

CAB DRIVER: Oh yes it is.

ZOHAN: Dream come true?

CAB DRIVER: No, man!  My brothers and sisters were hacked to death.  But I love the Chinese food here - - incredible!

Remembrance of Movies Past

*Rebecca*.  Have you seen it lately?  I always thought it was Hitchcock lite, but it’s really a stunning piece of cinema.  And all three performances, by Joan Fontaine, Larry Olivier, and especially Judith Anderson - - they’re all right on the money.  Check it out.  And read the book!

 

Movie That Needs To Be Made

You may not have heard, but *Xanadu* was recently made into a smash-hit Broadway musical.  I saw it three times, it was a laugh riot.  One of the brightest lights in this brightly lit production was singer/dancer/actor/hunk Cheyenne Jackson.  Charming guy, killer body, and an out gay man.  He did a cover story with *The Advocate* and said that his dream is to do a movie about Rock Hudson.  He would be so great, and aren’t we about due for that movie?  There was a terribly cheesy TV movie in 1980 with *Another World*’s Thomas Ian Griffith as Rock Hudson, but surely we deserve more than that.

Eagerly Anticipated

*Coco Avant Chanel*.  A biopic of the young Chanel starring Audrey Tautou.  I’m sure to love it. 

 

*Nine*.  The movie version of the Broadway musical, which in turn was based on the Fellini movie *8 ½*.  *8 ½* is one of my favorite movies of all time (the current top three are *8 ½*, *Laura*, and *Thoroughly Modern Millie*), and the musical is marvelous.  The movie was supposed to have Javier Bardem in the lead, but he dropped out due to “exhaustion”.  Daniel Day Lewis took over, and I want to believe he has the charm to succeed in this role.  He’s the only guy, so he has to have something, and a lot of it.  The leading ladies: Penelope Cruz, Judi Dench, Nicole Kidman, Kate Hudson, Marion Cotillard, and the one and only Sophia Loren.  My cup runneth over (in Loren’s case, a D cup).

 

*Happy Tears*.  See *Teeth*, below.

 

*Inglorious Basterds*.  No, that’s not a typo - - that’s how they’re spelling the title.  It’s not every year that we get a new Tarantino movie, but this is one of those special years.  This is a WWII pic about a group of Jewish-American tough guys going through the Reich and scalping Nazis.  Sounds like good clean fun for the whole family!  With Brad Pitt, Eli Roth, Diane Kruger, Mike Myers (!), and can you believe it, Cloris Leachman.  I’ll be there Friday of opening weekend.  No excuses.

 

Follow-up on previous Eagerly Anticipateds: *Mamma Mia!* - - see below.  And *Funny Games* was spectacular, just as sadistic as the original, and it was a treat to see Naomi Watts, Tim Roth, and Michael Pitt in a remake of this great German movie.  Definitely NOT for everyone, but it hits the spot for movie masochists like <<moi-même>>.

 

But *Che* was a huge disappointment.  It was a huge hit at Cannes, but the French love anything that’s overlong, boring, and impenetrable.  My brother Howard urged me to see it every time we talked on the phone for six weeks.  I said, “This is what netflix is for, I can’t be bothered to spend five hours in a movie theater seeing a biography of Che Guevara.”  But he told me I needed to see it in the theater because it’s the kind of movie where you have to be held captive.  If you see it on DVD, you’ll spend the whole weekend watching it and it’ll suck.  So a few weeks ago I saw that it was still playing at IFC Center downtown, I had a day free, and I decided to go see it.  I called Howard when I got home and left a message on his voice mail: “Hi, this is Chris.  I just came from seeing *Che*.  It was 37 hours long, and so incredibly boring.  Please call me up and explain to me why you liked it and why you thought it was good.”  He called me back and gave a classic Howard response: “I didn’t say I liked it, I didn’t say it was good - - I just said you needed to see it.”

 

A few Eagerly Anticipateds from 2006 came out this year: *Bernard and Doris* was a made-for-HBO movie about Doris Duke and her butler, it was very good.  I saw FF Copolla’s *Youth Without Youth* on DVD, it was arty but dull (though in comparison to *Che* it was fascinating and swift).  *The Women* was the worst movie I’ve seen in a long time.  Totally unfunny and unforgivable.  But Candy Bergen gets the Teflon Meryl Award for putting in a great performance in a truly dreadful movie.

 

Most Deserving of a Comeback

I saw *The Empire Strikes Back* again this year, and wondered - - what ever happened to Billy Dee Williams?  I see on imdb that he had a recurring role on *General Hospital* in 2007-08, and I imagine that’s a good gig, but he deserves a good juicy movie role.  How about him and Miss Ross making a dual comeback?  How about *Mahogany: The Sequel*.  Oo, that is RANK.

Viva La Diva

Emma Thomspon in *Brideshead Revisited*.  The movie wasn’t so good, but she was unbelievable.  She played the frosty old money lady of the house, and her performance was grand and hollow.  That takes real talent, to pull off that combo.  I can’t think of anyone who could have done it better.  And she looked like a dream with that white hair.  And her clothes were just too divine!

Nice Try

*Mamma Mia!*.  You know this was on my Eagerly Anticipated list last year.  I thought it would be good stupid fun, but it turned out to be just stupid.  The fault lies squarely on the shoulders of the first-time film director Phyllida Lloyd.  She directed the original London production, so I guess they thought she’d do a good job with the movie.  Well, she didn’t.  The tone was relentlessly high key, it was exhausting.  And the staging of the musical numbers was way too literal.  It had too much verve and not enough style.  But it proved once again that Meryl Streep can do no wrong!  I called this the Teflon Meryl Award above, and I think that expression is a keeper.  She was wonderful in it, it was sort of perplexing how she could put in a good performance in such a dog.

 

Horrorable Mention

*Teeth*.  This was a movie about a high school girl in a repressive family.  Her name is Dawn.  She does some heavy petting with her boyfriend, he goes too far, and pays a dear price.  She didn’t know it, but she has what is known as a “vagina dentata”.  Think of a woman who can do one-stop shopping at the gyno and the dentist.  I read about this movie and was totally hopped up to see it.  I told my best friend Karen I was seeing it, explained what it was about, and she said, “Only a gay man would see that movie.”  It turns out there were plenty of women and straight men there, and from what I saw the women shook their heads and the men squirmed and squealed.  I’d never heard manhood in such danger!  That was really the highlight of the movie, though the movie itself was plenty fun.  It was directed by Michell Lichtenstein, who is the son of pop artist Roy Lichtenstein.  His next movie is called *Happy Tears*, will be out sometime this year, and stars Demi Moore, Parker Posey, Rip Torn, and Ellen Barkin.  I’m totally there!

New Category: How Could I Have Missed It?

I first came up with the idea of this category in 2005, when I saw *I Heart Huckabees* on DVD.  I went kuh-RAY-zee for that movie, and it still amazes me that I didn’t see it in the theater.  It didn’t make my Top Five because I didn’t see it when it came out.  I don’t think there was another movie like that, where I really regretted not having seen it in the theater, until *The Diving Bell and the Butterfly*.

 

My boyfriend Richard raved about it, saw it with his friend Paula and told me I needed to see it.  I said, “It’s a Tard Movie, I’m not up for that.”  A Tard Movie is a movie that has one tardy gimmick holding the movie together and making it worthy.  *Forrest Gump* is the ultimate Tard Movie, and I DESPISE that movie.  *The Diving Bell and the Butterfly* also had the misfortune of coming out not long after *The Sea Inside*, which had Javier Bardem playing a quadriplegic.  I saw the previews for that one and it looked gruesomely mawkish.  I assumed *The Diving Bell and the Butterfly* would be just as bad, or at least not my kind of movie.

 

I got it on DVD from netflix (how I adore netflix!).  Richard and I watched it together, and I was blown away.  I said to Richard after we finished, “This is to the Tard Movie as *Psycho* was to horror movies.  It’s so far above the established genre that it completely transcends the genre.”  *The Diving Bell and the Butterfly* is a real work of art.

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