The Movie Club

Feel the Love
Critic vs. critic.
Jan. 4 2007 12:50 PM

The Movie Club

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Dear Dana, Wesley, Carina, and everyone else,

Where to begin? Why not with the kissing? I'd argue that—as with most genre films—it's not the outcome that keeps love stories compelling, it's the seemingly infinite paths to that outcome. There's something innately satisfying—except maybe to those who have burned away every last romantic impulse—about seeing people who belong together find one another in the end. The only trouble comes when formulas harden and those infinite routes start to look less infinite. I'll confess to having a Stevensian™ aversion to most contemporary romantic comedies for just this reason, but I can still be disarmed by romance. I really didn't expect much of The Lake House, for instance, but it worked for me. It might have been the David Auburn screenplay, or that I saw it with my wife on a clear July night at a drive-in in rural Illinois instead of a screening room. But I think it mostly had to do with its portrayal of love as something that takes place in the context of a lot of hardship and disappointment instead of something ushered along by wacky sidekicks to the accompaniment of Sugar Ray songs. I think we'll grow tired of love stories when we grow tired of love (just as I'm pretty sure we'll have no use for war movies when we run out of wars). It's the storytellers who make love seem tired.

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I'll refrain from joining the anti-Babel pile-on, since I think the film has a lot to recommend it, namely the performances Dana points out and the always-considerable Iñárritu direction. I'm pleased this will be his last collaboration with Arriaga, which for me has been in diminishing returns territory since the terrific Amores perros. The scale's gotten bigger, but the impact has diminished. With Babel, I can't speak to grand operatic emotions that I just didn't feel, but I'll watch what he does next with great interest. Maybe he'll get me next time. Besides, if I wanted to pile on anything, I'd pile on Little Miss Sunshine. Sure, it embraces its losers, but who couldn't embrace losers as cuddly as those? The ad for the DVD may give away the ending, but (spoiler alert for those who haven't seen it yet) what's to give away, really? That dance sequence to "Superfreak" still feels as preordained as any movie-ending kiss. What happens the next day when they realize they're still stuck with each another? In reflecting on Robert Altman (which we should probably do here at some point, right?), I noticed how many of his films give raspberries to the American definition of success. This just didn't cut that deep.

So, to make a turn toward praise, was anyone else taken with Brick? The whole high-school-as-noir setup could have played like a gimmick but writer/director Rian Johnson made all the necessary connections between theme and style to reveal, in a roundabout way, what a damaging place high school can be. I was baffled that it turned up on some worst-of-the-year lists. It stayed near the top of mine late into the year. And overall it felt like a pretty good year for emerging filmmakers, given that it saw Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden's Half Nelson, Kelly Reichardt's Old Joy, and Fernando Eimbcke's Temporada de patos(Duck Season), to add to the list of notable Mexican directors. Granted, those last two have been making movies for awhile, but it still felt like a coming out year for them. Is it a coincidence that this should happen in a year when so many of the rising stars of the '90s kept silent?

And to keep things affirmative, let's talk about memorable performances for a bit. Countless critics groups have lauded Forest Whitaker and Helen Mirren, so why don't we shine a light on some of the less-noticed performances of the year? Anthony Minghella's Breaking And Entering didn't do much for me, but I loved Vera Farmiga's turn as a prostitute whose friendliness ended where her instinct for self-preservation began. I could take or leave Hollywoodland (preferably leave it), but it was nice to see that there might have been some reason for all that excitement over Ben Affleck. There's real pathos to his portrayal of a man who set out to become an actor and got trapped into being a star. I saw something similar in Gretchen Mol's performance in The Notorious Bettie Page, even if the film around it was disappointingly by-the-HBO-biopic-book. Maybe someone should make a film with nothing but actors who fell victim to their own hype. Maybe Josh Hartnett could join it.

Oops. Now I've squelched the positive vibe. Wesley, can you bring the love back?

Best,
Keith

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