This time of year brings a glut of fine films released in time for Oscar consideration. Because I’m a certified movie snob, I cannot be seen at The Tourist that garnered an embarrassing 17% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, even though Johnny Depp promises to please me more than 17%. And I couldn’t possibly pay to see that predictable romantic comedy with Reese Witherspoon, even though she’s cute as a button and I feel like one day she will find another Walk the Line role that’s more June Carter than ditzy blonde.
So, my friend and I went to see Black Swan. It was creepy but predictable and left me wanting to take ballet lessons. But not the en pointe kind; that’s insanity.
I watched Eat Pray Love on DVD, which was as terrible as I knew it would be, but like the book, it left me wanting to visit Italy. And India. And Bali.
Despite my aversion to the Coen brothers (yes, I realize I’m the only one who doesn’t get them), True Grit was an engrossing Western, well told, that revolves around a sassy young girl determined to avenge her father’s death—the kind of girl you want on your side who can silence foolish men with a cutting word or glance. It’s also stars some guys—Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, and Josh Brolin—but they’re no competition for this firecracker. It left me talking like a cowboy with a hankering to don spurs and shoot a rifle.
Revolutionary Road: not revolutionary, but disturbing in that American Beauty kind of way (same director) starring the same Titanic duo of Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio, except without the ocean liner. Oddly though, there was a steamy love scene with a hand pressed to a foggy window that recalled that scene in Titanic. Unintentional homage? Who knows, but, I liked it enough.
Please Vote for Me: an unusual one-hour documentary on the first Democratic election in China—for the position of class monitor in a third grade classroom. Let me tell you, third graders are cut-throat little suckers. The movie is an interesting reflection on democracy, life in China, and how kids are mean wherever you go.
The Road: it’s as bleak and dark as an end-of-the-world movie should be; and if the world has to end, I would like Viggo guiding me toward salvation. Or toward the grim road where the few surviving people in the world are out to get you—and eat you. Though in an ideal after-world, he would be clean-shaven and scrubbed clean.
An Education: a must- must- must-see. Carey Mulligan is delightful, and Peter Sarsgaard is more than delightful even when he’s not delightful. A charming movie with a message that as a woman, makes you go: right on, sister. Right on.
Last evening, in search of answers to life’s greatest questions, I caught a German film called Enlightenment Guaranteed and thought: perfect. If I watch this movie, the universe will be revealed to me.
In actuality, the film has lingered on my Netflix list for a year now in the no-man’s land of Availability: Unknown. After enjoying How to Cook Your Life last year, a quiet, humorous take on cooking through the lens of Buddhism, I was excited to see that the MFA was hosting a Doris Dörrie’s retrospective. Yup, these are the things that excited me. Plus, enlightenment was guaranteed, so I figured if I didn’t have a spiritual awakening, I could get my money back.
The premise was this: two brothers embark on a spiritual journey, one willing, the other not so much, but their path to enlightenment is littered with obstacles that frustrate, enlightenment drifting farther and farther away. Overall, it was enjoyable watching two bumbling guys navigate chaos in their quest to find serenity; the woman behind me, however, made me feel like I was missing the absolute hilarity as she belly-laughed through every single scene. Her enthusiasm was remarkable in its endurance, really; for her, enjoyment was guaranteed.
If your teenager wanted to drop out of high school, would you let him? Canadian author and film critic David Gilmour didn’t see much of a choice. His son was failing classes and unhappy; encouragement and lecturing didn’t seem to help. Instead, he offered his son a pretty sweet deal: he could drop out of school and live at home rent-free if he agreed to watch three movies a week with his dad who would do the choosing. Gilmour writes about the experiment in his new book The Film Club.
I imagined Gilmour taking an academic approach, carefully selecting movies with a lesson or generating discussion questions and requiring his son to write reflection papers. Instead, he played it cool, doing a little research on each film and offering up a scene to watch out for or throwing out a few facts, keeping his commentary brief. Teenagers’ attention spans being short and all. Movie fare ranged from French New Wave films to the work of Woody Allen to a viewing of Basic Instinct, never getting bogged down in the esoteric or limiting the club to obscure foreign films.
While the two-member movie club provided the teen with a foundation for film discussion, the real moments of teaching and connection happened when the conversation flowed—the son confiding his relationship difficulties and the father sharing his own experiences. The movies sparked discussions about much more than lighting and acting.
I went down the list of some of my favorite movies and wondered what my fictitious child would glean from my selections. Lost in Translation: don’t wander around Tokyo depressed; Amelie: falling in love is hard, even in Paris; There Will Be Blood: don’t go into the oil industry; Pride & Prejudice: marry the guy who ignores you; The Station Agent: loners need friends too; and one standby with a decent message: Dead Poets Society: sieze the day. The moral instruction may be lacking, but the conversation would undoubtedly flow.
What movies would you assign?
Today’s announcement of the Oscar nominations made me happy for one of my favorite little movies of 2007. “Once,” a charming low-budget film about a busker in Dublin who is befriended by a sweet-natured Czech pianist makes you think it’s going to be standard boy-meets-girl fare. Instead, it’s an unconventional romance in the form of a modern-day musical. And trust me, I hate musicals. But not to worry; no one breaks out into a song and dance number. Instead, the songs the two write together are weaved into the plot organically.
The most beautiful number, “Falling Slowly,” has been nominated for an Oscar, and if there’s any justice in the world, it will beat out the three nominated songs from Disney’s “Enchanted” (seriously, three?) and the cloying number from “August Rush.”
This is the song when the pair first sings together.