The Movie Club

Spaaaaaaartaaaaaans!
Critic vs. critic.
Jan. 4 2008 11:55 AM

The Movie Club

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Beowulf. Click image to expand.
Beowulf

Once and for all, damn it: No Country for Old Men is a masterpiece of the first order, the second order, or some other order. Whatever the case, here's to Dana for penning the two finest lines of criticism I've read all year: "It blows a hole in our brains, over and over again, without explanation, and then asks us to walk out going, 'Wow, that was quite a hole you blew in my brain. Thanks.' " Thank you.

Moving on. I'm Not There is empty cerebration, or pure emotion, has everything to do with Bob Dylan, or nothing. All I know is it made me cry. (Anything besides Ratatouille bring tears to your eyes in '07?) And that much-maligned Billy the Kid section now seems to me, after three viewings, the heart of the entire project, the extra dimension Haynes needs to elevate his material beyond a merely (merely!) dizzyingly (wheee!) clever freefall through, as one of the Bobs puts it, "sign language." This is where Haynes takes his biggest imaginative risk and finds his richest emotional payoff. It's right on the edge of risible, no doubt ("The greater the success," as Bresson once wrote, "the closer it verges on failure"), but would the movie really be better without it?

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Hmm, what else? We've already done abortion, defiled the corpses of two or three of the most famous filmmakers in the history of cinema, and confirmed Southland Tales as the greatest movie ever made, or maybe it was Ratatouille. I forget. Amazingly enough, we've even started talking about stuff people actually saw! Continuing in that vein, let me introduce a new topic: Judd Apatow. He makes funny movies. Shall we all agree that pretty much takes care of it? 

And now, I believe, it's time for confessions. Critics ought to keep themselves honest by appending a Top 10 Missed List to their annual choice of favorites. Our fearless hostess started the party by disclosing, most admirably, two Important Movies she missed in '07 (along with 99.99 percent of the population), Syndromes and a Century and Colossal Youth. So, I think it's only fair for Wesley to do the same. Scott is off the hook, cuz I'm pretty sure he saw all 600-plus movies released in the United States last year, and several hundred more at the dozen or so international film festivals he attended without the help, improbably enough, of a hard-core crystal meth habit.

Since Dana fessed up to a pair from my top 10 list, let me cop to a total avoidance of Once, despite universal insistence that this quirky, unplugged Irish mumblecore musical indie romance (or whatever the hell it is) is not, repeat NOT, as annoying as it sounds. That was the easy part. This one is gonna sting: Away From Her. Didn't do it. Dunno why. Atonement, Gone Baby Gone, IntoGreat Silence. Oh, and confidential to the blogger who shit all over me for skipping Bela Tarr's The Man From London at Toronto: I caught up with it, and you know what? Meh.

I did, however, see Beowulf in 3-D (huzzah, segue!) and had a grand ol' time every time some object, invariably phallic, lunged off the screen for a near-miss virtual poke in the eye. This movie's got one serious dick-obsession. Zemeckis and his animators consistently emphasize the funky region by eliding it outright from the body (poor Grendel), sticking weapons into it (poor Grendel!), disrobing the hero and flinging him around too fast to see the thing that everyone—you know you were—was straining to size up, doing an extended sight-gag routine with various objects hiding the goods, and so on. Simultaneously horned-up and sexless, Beowulf taps deeper into castration anxiety than the lame-brained pseudo-transgressions of Hostel II, not to mention the quandary of the Silver Surfer, that intergalactic neuter who roams the galaxy on an externalized penis at the behest of a planet-gobbling vagina dentate.

Beowulf is 300 times more interesting than 300, insofar as it vigorously undermines the heroic ethos right from the start. Was there a less sympathetic alpha-male protagonist this year than Beowulf, that lying, power-mad blowhard? Ultimately, alas, the movie ends up just as reactionary as the saga of the über-abtastic Spaaaaaaartaaaaaans! since all the world's troubles ultimately derive from—what else?—the destructive seduction of Woman. 

Which brings us, of course, to Black Snake Moan. I still get funny looks for writing this, but what can I say? I'll take a bat out of hell like this rude, crude, berserkazoid blues jam any day over the neurotic peeping of a sparrow like The Savages.

Chirpy chirpy cheep cheep,
Nathan

Nathan Lee is a film critic for the Village Voice.