THE FOG OF WAR (Errol Morris)
Documentarian Errol Morris has an uncanny ability to get his subjects to expose themselves with their own words. He says he does it by simply giving them plenty of time to dig their own holes. In the first of his unofficial trilogy of vilified public figures, THE FOG OF WAR spotlights Robert McNamara, who despite a long career in business and politics, will unfortunately be most remembered as one the key architects of the U.S. policy that gave us the Vietnam War. Unlike Morris’ later two subjects, Donald Rumsfeld and Stephen Bannon, (who make their own cases for being considered downright evil), McNamara comes off as a deeply conflicted, thoughtful player in a troubled and troubling time. McNamara takes the opportunity here for a near mea culpa in one of the finest documentaries ever made.
LOST IN TRANSLATION (Sofia Coppola)
One of the great success stories of the cinema is how Sofia Coppola rebounded from the disastrous casting by her father in his GODFATHER III as Al Pacino’s daughter (after Winona Ryder became unavailable at the last minute). An actress she wasn’t. But instead of sulking away into oblivion, she re-invented herself as someone she was probably always destined to be —– a director. She amassed a most credible (if not particularly outstanding) list of credits, of which LOST IN TRANSLATION stands at the top.
Not really a drama, not really a rom-com, LOST IN TRANSLATION is just a carefully observed, bittersweet story of an almost-romance of two Americans, decades apart in age, while in Tokyo. When was the last time you saw one of those? Bill Murray and Scarlet Johansson are entrancingly watchable, but the credit must go to Ms Coppola for consistently striking the right tone to make this one memorable.
MYSTIC RIVER (Clint Eastwood)
Ok, I try to keep the purely “actor’s movies” out of this website. You know, the ones where the primary value of the film comes from the performances, as opposed to the concept or the director’s vision. Those movies (and their parts) belong on another website (“Essentials of Acting”, anyone?). It could be argued that MYSTIC RIVER belongs in that group. Everybody is good in this movie. Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, Marcia Gay Harden, Kevin Bacon, Laura Linney, everybody. If MYSTIC RIVER sneaks into the picks, then I guess it’s my way of saying “Good job, Clint Eastwood” for having the sense and the chops to make this work. Eastwood, as accomplished and professional as he is, eludes me as a director of exceptional note. And he’s had plenty of chances!
But never mind all that, just consider this his finest hour as a director (yes, even over THE UNFORGIVEN). See it, be taken by it, be more than a little disturbed, and see if you agree.