Monday, December 11, 2006

More Oscarliciousness: Film round-up 2

It's funny to think that when he started out, Pedro Almodovar probably had more in common with John Waters than about any other director. While Waters has (somewhat sadly) continued to play in his adolescent sandbox (I still [sometimes] love him, but c'mon), Almodovar has quietly become one of the most soulful filmmakers of his generation. Volver is a beautiful, beautiful film filled with luminescent camera work (by Jose Luis Alcane, working with Almodovar for a fourth time), a lovely little script by Almodovar himself, and most of all some superb performances by a number of Pedro's women. Carmen Maura is back in the fold for the first time in 18 years, and is marvelous as Irene, but obviously the star here is Penelope Cruz, better than ever back in her native tongue, as Raimunda. The camera clearly loves her (clich├ęs are just that because they're sometimes true), and she loves it right back. This isn't a film of Pedro of yore, filled with cheap jokes; Volver is a loving look at women and the bonds of family which tie us, even after death. One of 2006's best, just barely below...

...The Queen, an unexpectedly moving, powerful film, and undoubtedly the finest work of Stephen Frears' career. Peter Morgan's script is the crown jewel here, a masterwork of economy and dialogue; Frears' direction is a close second. Performances are fairly great across the board (though James Cromwell isn't quite believable as Prince Phillip, and Sylvia Syms is overrated as a Queen Mother given not much to do): Helen Mirren in the lead role, of course - she melts into the role as Foxx and Hoffman have in Oscared years past - but also Michael Sheen's marvelous work as Tony Blair (he gets the private Blair behind the public one) and the sadly unlauded Alex Jennings as Prince Charles, a difficult role to which Jennings brings many layers of complex emotion. I left the theater stunned by how much I admired, and loved, this film. Both films: A

Also: I won't be seeing Babel, I don't think, because I finally saw Inarritu's last film, 21 Grams. And I hated it. The acting was superb, especially on the part of Naomi Watts, but the back-and-forth-in-time gimmick (and that's its only reason for being) was maddening, and the script so cloying I just kept looking at the clock, waiting for the film to end. It seems to me that Inarritu's a filmmaker who's truly crawled up his own ass, and that's a shame - he clearly has some talent, but needs some fucking focus. 21 Grams: D

I'm with you on Babel, dear, but The Queen's insights still struck me as essentially inert (and I prefer Frears' My Beautiful Laundrette Dangerous Liasions, and The Grifters, among others)
I'm with Alfred on Frears' best, The Grifters in particular.

I'm also incredibly tired of accolades for portrayals of real people, as good as they may be. It is much more difficult to create a living, breathing human being from the raw page than to have known mannerisms, tics and makeup to fall back on. There is a reason Rich Little is not considered one of the greats.
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