We’ve been really, really good this year about seeing the good movies when they come out and not waiting until the day before the Oscars to see stuff. And this year has been good for movies. In the last six weeks, here’s what I’ve seen:
- Rob and I saw “Juno,” the near-perfect, feministy counterpart to “Knocked Up,” a few days after it finally opened here. I liked it more than Rob did, but I really, really liked it. Ellen Page is, as A. O. Scott wrote, terrifyingly talented. She’ll be nominated for an Oscar, and the screenwriter, Diablo Cody, will win an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. Because the movie is all about the script and the direction, neither of which cover up the deep, moving emotional core with too much hipster irony. Though there is some hipster irony: The Moldy Peaches are all over the soundtrack. It’s the funniest, sweetest movie I’ve seen in a long time. I cried at the end.
- Atonement is one my favorite books; when I read it two years ago, I was devastated by the ending, bursting into tears in the living room and flummoxing Rob. It’s a beautiful, enveloping, and shocking book, and it’s nearly unadaptable. I say “nearly,” because it almost all ways, the film version is wonderful–gorgeously directed, designed, written, and acted. It’s also very moving, but the ending doesn’t work at all, because the film, unlike the novel, is not told in the voice of the person who makes the ending so astonishing. The director, Joe Wright, managed some visuals in the last few minutes that almost make up for the lack of aesthetic power that the filmed ending has, but not quite. Still, it’s an excellent film.
- I haven’t seen “Sweeney Todd” and “There Will Be Blood,” so I can’t say this for sure, but “No Country For Old Men” is, so far, probably the best movie of 2007. Okay, no. It’s definitely the best movie I saw in 2007. We don’t get all sorts of things here, in the sticks. Still, it was one of the movie-going experiences that leave you in awe of what can be accomplished with the medium. It’s actually better than “Fargo,” which is my favorite movie, and it gives us Anton Chigrh, who is now one of the greatest film characters ever. Violent and bloody, philosophical and ironic, gorgeous and ugly, haunting and mysterious, and funny, funny, funny, the movie still sits with me, weeks after I saw it. Actually, it’s so layer with symbolism and throw-away-but-actually-important lines that I really need to see it again. Wow.
- His Dark Materials, the trilogy of which The Golden Compass is the first part, is, like Atonement, one of my favorite works of literature. I read it the same year that I discovered Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell; it was the year I discovered that fantasy could be literary and magical and fun and not totally grating like C. S. Lewis books. And while the filmed version of The Golden Compass is totally defanged–every bit of social and political commentary about the Catholic Church has been removed–it’s still gorgeous and fun and as perfectly cast as the filmed version of Atonement. And the litter furry daemons are so frickin’ adorable! I had a good time. It would have been nice if it had been better, though.
- By no means is “Michael Clayton” the towering work of cinematic art that a bunch of early reviews made it out to be, but it’s a damn fine thriller, with George Clooney justifying his he-got-fat-and-died Oscar in the otherwise mediocre “Syriana.” Tilda Swinton, continuing in her streak of brilliant antagonists, made the movie for me, because her evil was not mired in sociopathology, but rather in shortsighted, irresponsible ambition. I didn’t like the corporate crime that the plot hinged on, though, because it seemed almost James Bond-ishly silly. And Tom Wilkinson was over the top. But some scenes, like the one in the still here, were just brilliant. A really fun movie.
- When I first started putting this list together, I liked “The Darjeeling Limited” more than I do now. It’s very pretty, and there were some funny moments, but it’s late 90s twee irony thing is getting really, really old now. And Owen Wilson and Jason Schwartzman really bug. Hard. The only actor in the movie that seems to be actually acting–instead of hamming–is the always amazing Adrian Brody, who, I think, decided to be in another movie and ignore whatever “acting” advice was being thrown at him. Because I actually cared about him. While I wanted everyone else in the movie to drown in the river with that little boy.
- Okay, this movie is called “Beowulf,” but it has almost nothing to do with the Anglo-Saxon epic of the same name. Well, it does in the first third, and then all hell breaks loose with the story. But I had a blast nonetheless. It was thoroughly exciting, and it was funny, too. And the huge fight with Grendel at the beginning was totally redunculous because Beowulf was bucknaked, and hottt, and his peepee was covered up by the most strategically places props ever. Fun times.
- Back when I was a publishing monkey, I worked for Dennis Lehane’s agent, and it was during a very exciting time in his career–the whole Mystic River era. Towards the end of my time at the office, one of his older novels, Gone Baby Gone, which had been bouncing around Hollywood for a while was bought–not optioned, bought–by Disney and Ben Affleck. Affleck was going to write and direct, and I, for one, was worried. This is the guy who had just made “Gigli.” And “Daredevil.” And “Surviving Christmas.” And “Jersey Girl.” He hadn’t been in anything remotely good since “Bounce,” and that’s only an arguably good movie. Really, he hadn’t done anything to be proud of since “Good Will Hunting,” and more than a few people were willing to say publicly that they didn’t think Ben and Matt actually wrote that script. And then someone–an agent, his new wife, God, who knows–said something to Ben, and he made a major shift. He made “Hollywoodland,” which was a fine movie with an amazing performance from Ben that should have gotten him an Oscar nomination and did get him on the Golden Globes. And then he made “Gone Baby Gone,” and it was good. Really, really good. Sure, it has some problems, mostly involving Morgan Freeman sleeping his way through his rather key role. (Monohla Dargis digs into the rest in her unusually smart review.) But Ben’s little brother Casey, who is the lead, is a revelation, as is Amy Ryan, and even Ed Harris is good, though a bit over-the-top, per usual. And the tone of the film is dark, seemy, gut-wrenching, and mired in the clannishness of Boston’s Southie. Ben really directed this movie. And it’s pretty great. Yay for Ben. And, yeah, yay for Dennis. Another great movie. The next movie based on one of his books is going to star Leo Dicaprio and be directed by Martin Scorcese.