O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU (Joel & Ethan Cohen)
The Cohen Brothers’ tribute to Preston Sturges runs deeper than the in-joke reference of the title (to SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS). Like so many of Sturges’ own classics, BROTHER is a high-concept, episodic laugh-riot, chock-full of wacky characters, but grounded in a kind of sweetness. George Clooney proves that he is a kind of modern-day Cary Grant, adept at both drama and comedy, and not afraid to look goofy doing it. The plot of three escaped convicts in 1930’s Mississippi takes you places that you (and they) never expected to go. The Cohen Brothers like to take risks, relying on their instincts and cinema savvy. Even their lessor efforts are worth seeing. But with BROTHER, they hit the jackpot.
AMERICAN PSYCHO (Mary Harron)
No better skewering of the yuppie culture of the 80’s & 90’s (….and today!) exists than Mary Harron’s adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’ darkly comic novel. While the focus is on the insanely murderous Patrick Bateman (played with customary brilliance by Christian Bale), Harron paints a broad picture of an environment that encourages, even rewards the most narcissistic, the most ambitious, the most sociopathic. It’s no wonder that Ellis (with a few minor reservations) endorsed this cinematic bombshell.
BOILER ROOM (Ben Younger)
At first glance, BOILER ROOM looks like it might be just like a dozen other movies, creating an all-male inclusive universe where the testosterone runs high and so does the bullshit as everybody seems to have a smart-ass line to give. But if you let it play out, you’ll find a savvy look at the sordid side of the stockbrocker racket from people who seem to know what they’re talking about. Giovanni Ribisi is perfect as the smart kid who has a little racket of his own going, but wants to get on the inside of something bigger. The lines around legality and morality get blurry real quick. He knows it and we see it. Ben Affleck’s monologue is one of the greatest in modern film, leading many to believe that maybe there wasn’t that much acting going on as he reveals his “inner” asshole.
BOILER ROOM deftly blends the “real” world into the big picture to keep our hero’s dilemmas in focus. First-time director Younger does an incredible job and the film rivals the kind that, dare I say it……..only Scorsese is supposed to be good at. It’s no wonder that while preparing THE WOLF OF WALL STREET, Scorsese had everyone watch BOILER ROOM. He later executive-produced Younger’s BLEED FOR THIS (20016).
DANCER IN THE DARK (Lars Von Trier)
I wonder if anyone ever really knows what Lars Von Trier is trying to do when he makes a movie, including Von Trier. All we know for sure is that he goes outside the box every time he does it. As a viewer I have learned to just let a Von Trier film wash over me (or on occasion, assault me). I am often dazzled as much as baffled by what I experience. And when it’s all over, I give it the proper time to see how I assess it all, to see what resonates.
As challenging as it is for the viewer, there are greater challenges, even risks (artistic as well as psychic) for everyone involved in the making of a Von Trier film. In DANCER IN THE DARK, you can add Bjork to the list of participants. Von Trier puts his actors, especially female, through the mill. Just ask Emily Watson, Nicole Kidman, Charlotte Gainsbourgh, Kirsten Dunst, etc. But there’s something absolutely heroic about every one of their characters. Here, Bjork is no exception.
HIGH FIDELITY (Stephen Frears)
I think we can all agree that the world is a better place with a movie about a record store, especially since they don’t really exist any more. Fortunately, this movie (from Nick Honsby’s novel, moved to Chicago from London) pretty much nails the record store experience. Having worked in them myself back in the day, I can say that manager John Cusack’s small staff of Jack Black & co. represent the perfect composite of just about everyone I ever worked with. Of course, what goes on in the store is not all that this movie is about. Just as working in record stores wasn’t what my whole life was about. It just seemed to inform everything else that I was doing………which wasn’t much. In HIGH FIDELITY, the difficulties of John Cusack’s love- life provide the main story, as well as the double meaning of the title. It’s all done with smart humor and insight.
POLLOCK (Ed Harris)
When I first saw POLLOCK I thought, “This is the best movie about the creative process that I’ve ever seen”. Having seen it again, I feel the same way. Actor-director Ed Harris has really created something extraordinary. He not only made a biopic that (from all accounts) accurately portrays the life and work of the modern icon of painting, Jackson Pollock. He also took us into the inner turmoil and cathartic release that all of us artists can experience……..whether we perform, paint, write, express. Pollock’s drip-painting innovation has its admirers and its detractors (I happen to be among the former.) But before Pollock started all that, he had to stare at an empty canvas (or sheet-paper or whatever) and figure out what the hell to do. Harris captures that lonely moment as well as cinema can do.
POLLOCK was a labor of love for Harris. The fact that he was the right man at the right time for the job is just another example of the recurring role of serendipity in the ongoing story of cinema.
SEXY BEAST (Jonathan Glazer)
A tough-as-nails crime drama, made even tougher by the brilliant performance of Ben Kingsley as one of the most evil dudes who ever hit the screen. Kingsley’s “Dave” is about as far from his Ghandi as you could get. Kudos to everyone for pulling this one off.