Wednesday, December 31, 2008

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Christmas Time is Movie Time

It is already New Year's Eve. Wow. 2008 went by rather fast, actually, and I mean faster than previous years before it. I always felt that I had just a little more time to do this, a few more months to get that done. And yet here we are, with 2009 a little more than twelve hours away, and I realize how woefully unprepared I am for it.

That is to say: I missed I've Loved You So Long, I've yet to see In Bruges, and I'm the only person I know who hasn't seen Slumdog Millionaire. All this despite the fact that I've been seeing two movies a day since I got back home.

It all started with Frost/Nixon, which was great. I never know what I'm getting with Ron Howard. His Russell Crowe movies inspire and entertain me, while his Tom Hanks ones (well, not Splash) BORE me. Fortunately, Frost/Nixon belongs in the former, though no Crowe is to be found. It's a terrif ensemble, and I want to be the one person out there praising Michael Sheen instead of Frank Langella, but I can't. Sheen is great in this, don't get me wrong -- I love that he has an Interviewer Voice, slightly different from his normal one. But Frank Langella's Nixon is probably going ot be the standard by which all other Nixons are measured. Charming, professional, and a little sad, Langella gives us the Man instead of the Caricature. I'd say it's probably the best thing Howard's ever done, though I have to re-watch Cinderella Man before I'm certain.

And then, of course, there was Christmas. Time was spent with the family, presents were opened, all was well. My friends and I celebrated by catching a double feature: Doubt and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

Doubt probably has the most rewatchability, as it's relatively short and more than just a little outrageous. John Patrick Shanley's screenplay, like his stage version, is a little on the nose with everything, but everyone makes it work. His directing, on the other hand, is just awful. I am convinced that Doubt, the movie, is an experiment in Dutch angles, which Shanley probably learned about the week before shooting before. (Though I haven't seen Joe vs. the Volcano; maybe it's the same problem there) The acting's great, though. Meryl Streep is surprisingly funny, Viola Davis does what is expected -- that is, knock it out of the park -- and Amy Adams does some great stuff with an underwritten part. I must admit, I found Philip Seymour Hoffman to be more SHOUT EVERY LINE than was necessary. Howard Shore's score is forgettable; the story and direction would have benefited from Philip Glass.

Benjamin Button was not outrageous, however. Give props to writer Eric Roth and director David Fincher for making a story in which a man ages backwards, from old age to infancy, not ridiculous at all. It's rather sad, actually, though touching and romantic in places, magical in many, beautiful to behold in all. Cinematographer Claudio Miranda gives us some GORGEOUS shit to look at, with a golden past and a blue present. Alexandre Desplat's score is equally gorgeous and memorable, capable of invoking emotions all on its own. A terrific ensemble, too. Brad Pitt's great, but we all knew that. I am still astounded by everything Cate Blanchett does, but truly: where in the hell is she from? Olympus? Valhalla? The woman is unbelievably great at everything that's not royal.

Gran Torino was next, a movie that is all about Clint Eastwood. Forget the lame song, the false performances from the supporting cast, the cliche-ridden script. Forget all that. Clint's portrayal of a tough old racist is, yes, charming. It's a surprisingly witty performance, instantly quotable, though I wouldn't recommend doing it in certain areas. You wanna sit back and have a couple of beers with the man. I really do hope it's his last performance, for it's such a great note to leave on. He makes the movie. (Let me declare now, though, that I am still horrified by the movie's treatment of black people. I mean, it's just...shocking. Especially in 2008.)

Valkyrie is getting shit for no reason. We all know how a movie about assassinating Hitler is going to end. There's no surprise there. My God, though, the suspense of this film! We know what's to come, yet still was I on the edge of my seat, hoping maybe they would get away with it, trip off merrily into the sunset, and end World War II prematurely. Alas. I liked Tom Cruise a lot as Stauffenberg, but I'm a Tom Cruise fan. John Ottman's score is mainly to blame for the pulse-pounding nature of the flick. Tightly written, well-paced, good performances. Great stuff.

And, finally, we have Milk. Which was also great. Maybe I'm beginning to sound easy to please, but there you have it: Milk was great. Sean Penn's best performance to date, very admirable work from Gus Van Sant, a supporting cast that I just adored, great 1970s atmosphere captured by Harris Savides. Yowza. Wish Danny Elfman's score was more memorable, but at least it wasn't distracting, either. And Diego Luna bothered the shit out of me. Not just his character, either, I'm talking about the performance. It just all seemed wrong to me.

Well, my Top Ten of 2008 is soon to come. I can only hope that I've seen and discussed everything I needed to. Ciao, bella.

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