The Movie Club

Elle Fanning in Somewhere Provided My Favorite Movie Moment
Critic vs. critic.
Jan. 7 2011 1:14 PM

The Movie Club

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Still from Somewhere. Click image to expand.
Elle Fanning in Somewhere 

Because we switched the order of things, I didn't get to properly beat up on The Fighter, a movie that aside from three things—Mark Wahlberg, Amy Ryan, and those amazing sisters, with their gloriously fried perm-heads and acid-wash jeans—I could barely tolerate. I won't detail my problems here, except to say that, with the exception of the performances I've just mentioned, why is there so much damn acting in this movie? Melissa Leo is big, all right. She's big all over the place. It's the sort of thing that doesn't just beg to be noticed: It knocks on your door, kicks it down because you didn't respond fast enough, comes in and steals your TV, your laptop, and your toaster, whacks you upside the head with a two-by-four, and finishes by shouting, "Gimme an Oscah, ya fuckin' retahd!" Now that's acting.

Look, I know that sometimes a big, flashy performance is just what you want and need. And Leo sure has done the heavy lifting; she's definitely playing a recognizable type. But if a believable type is what you're after, why not just get (the great) Tracey Ullman? I tend to prefer the kind of acting you can't see, identify, and dissect so readily—you know, the kind that's totally impossible to write about. That's why Michelle Williams, in Blue Valentine, left my jaw hanging open. I can't tell you what Williams is doing, because I can't see what she's doing—all I see is a woman who's always been reflective (though not passive), a foil to her husband's roaring flame, and it appears to be killing her. You always hurt the ones you love? I'll say.

And now there's no time left! A few things I loved in 2010: The way I Love You Phillip Morris so convincingly turned a prison cell into a honeymoon suite (complete with Johnny Mathis records). Vanessa Redgrave, searching for her long-lost love (and look! It turns out to be her real-life husband, Franco Nero!) in the perfectly pleasing, and heartfelt, Letters to Juliet. The chilling, funny, exhilarating-as-hell murder sequence set to Blue Oyster Cult's "Burnin' for You" in Matt Reeves' glorious Let Me In—as you pointed out, Matt, remakes can also be reinventions. (And I'm pretty psyched to forget about those snoozy Swedish things, already. Bring on Rooney Mara!) The character design of Gru in Despicable Me—Alfred Molina reimagined by Charles Addams, sexy in a despicable way. (Also, in that same movie, Steve Carell's killer phrasing of the throwaway line "I hate that guy." Inexplicably funny—but then, most things that can be explained aren't funny.)

Then there's James Newton Howard's score for The Tourist: Lush, sophisticated and, for once, not phoned in, as Howard, Zimmer, and so many of the other go-to biggies are often guilty of. In I Am Love (a movie I Am in Love with), the vision of Tilda Swinton going about her daily errands in a loose, sand-toned coat slung around her shoulders that looks like it cost two-hundred-gajillion dollars, not because it did, but because she's inside it. Johnny Knoxville turning himself into a trompe-l'oeil bull target in Jackass 3D. (Ouch. Not everyone has a cock. But we all have a coccyx.) And the scene that gets to me more than anything I've seen all year: Elle Fanning's coltish, assured-yet-tentative ice dance (to Gwen Stefani's "Cool") in Somewhere, and the way Stephen Dorff's character is at first indifferent to it, until he realizes this is possibly the last time he'll see her as a girl—grown-up life is waiting for her on the other side of one of those leaps. I already know what it's like to be a daughter. In that moment, Coppola and Dorff showed me what it's like to be a father.

These past five days have been pure pleasure for me! Love to you all—

Stephanie

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Stephanie Zacharek is chief film critic at the Village Voice.