A few of the movies that are hoping for award attention this year...
All of my comments about Police, Adjective can be duplicated for White Ribbon (Oct. 8, 2009, Landmark Sunshine, Aud, #1). White Ribbon is set in a small German village on the eve of WWI where mysterious bad things are happening. It's filmed beautifully but austerely. The director Michael Haneke has done at least two difficult if worthwhile films, The Piano Teacher (great performance by Isabelle Huppert) and Cache (Hidden). And I think the critical prize goes to Todd McCarthy, the chief film critic of Variety, who accurately warned me when he reviewed in May after it played Cannes that the film is entirely absorbing, longish, difficult to embrace, and medicinal. I did not fall asleep, but the movie really is very self-absorbed, with nothing at all to offer anyone outside of movie critics. It's better than Police, Adjective in that it doesn't devolve into parody, but it's so serious and full of itself that you almost wish that it would.
Heading back from Thanksgiving on Sun. Nov. 29, and right before I resumed the blog after the Sept/Oct/Nov hiatus, I did a layover in New Haven to see An Education (Aud. #2) and The Messenger (Aud. #8) at the Bow Tie Criterion Cinema, just off the New Haven campus and a mile or so from the train station. It was my first time going to the theatre. I'd long thought of maybe doing a stopover if schedules were to work out on a trip up to Connecticut, and they finally did.
The Messenger reminded me a lot of the very solid Taking Chance, an HBO movie in which Kevin Bacon plays a military officer escorting a soldier's body from Delaware to funeral. Except here, we've got Woody Harrelson and Ben Foster instead of Kevin Bacon, playing notification officers who provide the initial news to next of kin that their loved ones have died in action. I'd kind of say this is worth seeing/renting. Woody Harrelson is almost always interesting, and really underrated for having a diverse body of film work following on his role in Cheers. Zombieland and The Messenger would be a good year's work for anyone. And Ben Foster was good in Pandorum and good again here, again a nice year's work. But I'm not as big a fan as a lot of other people. Basically, Taking Chance managed to get away with being something like 76 minutes long because it was done for HBO so it didn't need to pad out to feature length. The Messenger does stretch to feature length, and I didn't care for much of anything that happened when the movie went off message. In particular, Foster's character falls in love with one of the next of kin played by Samantha Morton. Critics like her a lot, I don't, I didn't care about their romance very much at all. And Foster's character is doing so on the rebound from an ex girl-friend who's getting engaged to some other guy, and Foster and Harrelson end up going to her engagement party. It's an excruciating scene that wants to be the rehearsal dinner in Rachel Getting Married, but instead is just excruciating. If you rent it, you can fast forward through the bad parts.
An Education is also a mixed bag. The excellent Peter Saarsgard plays an "older" (upper 20s, lower 30s) man who takes to it with a high school student in the outskirts of London. The movie's set in the early '60s. It's made with a lot more vigor than a lot of other British dramas; I hate to call the 1960s historical or a period movie, but we really are getting to that point, just about. This is good, to the extent that we're not getting all caught up on the costumes. Bad, when the girl's father played by Alfred Molina becomes more caricature than character. It's short, pleasant enough to watch, Peter Saarsgard is very solid as the older man, the screenplay is by Nick Hornby (About a Boy, High Fidelity) and does have some nice touches. But I had one big problem, in that the film relies on broad sketches to justify the relationship between the man and the student, enough so that I couldn't buy into it. And the movie starts, the relationship starts, it goes along for a while, and then it ends. It didn't satisfy. There's nothing really all that bad about the movie, but at the same time I couldn't find the one quality to it that was so good as to justify the bother of it all.