Sunday, January 06, 2008

A Few Notes on the '07 Movie Year

Happy new year, my kittens!

I had hoped to be able to cobble together some notes on the movies I saw in '07 like I did for '06, but I'm even less confident this go round in my ability to say anything remotely meaningful about any of them. For a number of reasons: I missed out on catching a bunch of flicks I think I probably would have liked while they were in theaters and just haven't gotten around to renting them yet (Zodiac most esp., though Away from Her also comes to mind; I heard surprisingly great things about In the Valley of Elah, and, shit, has Margot at the Wedding disappeared already?), I just haven't found time to see the current crop of requisite Oscar bait yet (No Country for Old Men, There Will Be Blood, Charlie Wilson's War, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly), and over and above even those excuses, as I mentioned a little while back, I simply haven't been bowled over by much of anything recently. With all the blather about how great a year this has been for film, I really have to wonder where I've been these past twelve months. Or, am I letting the hype get to me against my better, more intuitive judgment? At any rate, I did have a chance to see a few things recently (though I've been unusually busy and unfortunately haven't had a chance to schedule any of the daylong binges at the theater I generally like to indulge in this time of year).

I can see why a lot of people really liked Atonement, but it just left me cold. I think part of it is that I'm finally beginning to realize that "redemptive power of fiction" movies kind of bug me; this is probably why I didn't much care for Pan's Labyrinth either. (CTLA, as my unofficial Boswell, I'll rely on you to remind me if I've conveniently forgotten anything out of this subgenre I actually do like.) McAvoy continues to impress me, though, and of course the mise-en-scene was utterly lovely. But, for the most part, it felt like the most spot-on example of Eddie Izzard's priceless "arranging matches" bit since the heyday of Merchant Ivory.

I had high hopes that Juno would be the feminist response to Superbad that I've been waiting for, doesn't even manage to be a feminist response to Knocked Up (which needed the corrective less). It's...cute? I dunno. For all the excitement about Diablo Cody's writing style, a lot of the attitude felt flat--when it wasn't feeling forced, that is. I think the thing I liked most about it (aside from Cera, obvy) was Juno's relationship with the Jason Bateman character, mostly because, OMG, I have so been that girl (pregnancy to one side, of course) who didn't quite want to admit to herself that just hanging out and talking shit about music and movies with a married or otherwise committed guy can actually be really inappropriate in certain situations. Also, thumbs all the way up for Allison Janney.

I'm wholly unqualified to say absolutely anything meaningful about I'm Not There, but I'm glad I saw it nonetheless. It's a complete mess, of course, but it's a 100% worthy experiment and I gotta give credit where credit is due when directors are really swinging for the fences. Though, aside from perhaps Velvet Goldmine (which, for me, is really more about the yummy homoeroticism anyway), I don't really go in much for Haynes--I loved Rosenbaum's line in his review of I'm Not There that "Widely described as a tribute, it frequently comes across as a series of insults" and think it could apply equally well to Far from Heaven. (Also, RIP Rosenbaum's tenure as chief critic at the Reader.) For me, the film succeeds best when it's least insulting, and that's during the musical sequences: the paranoid nightmare of "Maggie's Farm," the almost painfully allegorical vaudevillian Old West funeral of "Goin' to Acapulco," and OMG the slightly creepy but not unmoving "Pressing On." A propos of which, jane dark's sugarhigh! is, as ever, correct in the assessment that Christian Bale is the best faux-Dylan of the bunch (yes, eclipsing even the lovely Ms. Blanchett). I'm sure there's a more sophisticated meaning in this than I'm able to parse, not being terribly well-versed in Dylanology, but I found it fascinating that Bale's "Jack Rollins" is the only Dylan who's allowed to age discernibly. (Time clearly elapses in the course of Heath Ledger and Charlotte Gainsbourg's subplot, but it's nowhere near as marked.) Anyway, blah. I can't say I wasn't bored at times, especially in the final stretches, especially during most of Gere's scenes, but it gets major points for ambition.

Sweeney Todd, on the other hand, gets a huge wet kiss for its absolute lack of ambition. Srsly. As a dyed-in-the-wool musical theater dork, I've found it kind of difficult to get behind the movie musical revival of the past few years mainly because most of them feel like they're trying too hard to be clever or sexy or contemporary or whatever. Sweeney Todd, though, just kind of gets in and gets the job done and gets out. Which I never would have thought Burton would be capable of at this point in his career. I don't think I've ever seen the show performed on stage, and I don't even know the score all that well, but as soon as I started hearing those weirdo Sondheim chord voicings, I felt all snug and warm and ready for the blood to flow. Depp's singing is competent but limited (I lost count of how many times he fell into the typical amateur's trap of putting a little scoop and a growl on a note in an effort to shoehorn some intensity in it; nice try, but not so much). Bonham Carter is competent and somewhat less limited; plus also, she's just got that look. Put a crazy dress and some crazy hair and some crazy makeup on that lady, and half the work is done right there. Helps of course to be reminded, as here, that she's still capable of putting that look into the service of her performance, rather than the other way around. The ingenues absolutely nail it to the wall with their fluty singing voices and swoony-moony-googly eyes; I forgot how much pleasure can be wrung out of the standard-issue earnest young lovers subplot when the roles are well cast and don't really try to carry too much of the weight of the piece. I know we're supposed to be disturbed by Judge Turpin's murderous inclinations and incestuous advances, but Rickman is almost too legitimately sexy to be creepy. In a different movie, that would probably have played as an interesting and vital shade of gray, but here I think it's just a slightly misfired consequence of the casting. It doesn't ruin the movie by any means, but I did kind of find myself distracted by it. And, going into the movie, I thought Baron Cohen would probably be the only thing I'd like about it, so, given how much I actually enjoyed myself throughout, his performance was just icing on the cake. I don't mean to rave about Sweeney Todd too much, but these days I'm just happy when I don't immediately forget about a film as soon as I leave the theater.

And, with memorability as a main criterion (or, a movie's ability to "stick with me," as I usually put it), I'd have to say one of my surprise favorites of the year, after Inland Empire, would be Into the Wild. The Holbrook performance, sure, of course, but I find myself thinking really fondly on the always-appealing sense of open-road freedom it celebrates and revels in, as well as the way it gets that elusive tone just right--the combination of "devil-may-care charisma and pernicious youthful idealism," to quote myself. (Barf.)


DS blogs--hurrah!

Dear Jesus, white girls is bitches who will not let me love them. O Jesus, King of Kings, please make the bitches appreciate my style. Amen.

Be sure to check out Kirstiecat's Best 2007 Music Photography set over on Flickr. Gorgeous, compelling shots from a photographer who's been nothing but a joy to track these past months.


Jonesalicious said...

Oh dear lord, how I hated Sweeney Todd. I hated, hated, hated it. I left the theatre laughing in sheer mockery.

I love you though, so I appreciate the review. :)

Happy 2008!

Anonymous said...

the phrase "king of kings" raises that prayer from funny to riotous.


Anonymous said...

Great write-up here about the year in film, a year that I too have missed out on since I live in a land where the projectors never glow and the reels just won't turn. Thanks for linking to that blog about Rosenbaum's retirement. It used your brand of hotlinking comedy ("most" "onerous" "tasks"). May 2008 in film be less onerous for us all. --ctla [P.S., didn't you like *Shakespeare In Love* once upon a time? Does that fit into the subgenre? Other Stoppard works may fit here, too (*The Real Thing* or *Arcadia* or *The Invention of Love*)...I'll keep checking my diary for other potential exceptions...]