Over the holidays, we wound up seeing a ton of films, both on DVD and in theaters. Here’s a quick run-down of all of them, from the best to the worst.
(1) The Lookout (DVD) – A stunning directorial debut by the screenwriter of one of our all-time favorite movies, Out of Sight. A slightly brain damaged ex-highschool hockey star tries to pick up the pieces of his life and gets involved in a bank robbery while trying to figure it out. Beautifully shot, perfectly edited, and with stand-out performances from everyone from Jeff Daniels in a supporting role to Joseph Gordon-Levitt amazing job in the starring role. Packs a real emotional effect by the end, without seeming contrived.
(2) Hoax (DVD) – Richard Gere deserves an Oscar nomination for his outstanding, multi-faceted performance as Clifford Irving, who fooled the whole world into believing he was writing Howard Hughes’ authorized autobiography back in the 1970s. A strong script and strong direction from Lasse Hollstrom give Gere the space to create a signature performance. Like The Lookout, nothing in this movie feels forced or simple.
(3) The Mist (in theaters) – I never thought I’d be putting a remake with no stars this high on the list, but The Mist has a few unexpected things going for it. First, the dialogue is largely intelligent and the actions of the people caught in the mist rarely devolve into the usual cliched stupidities. Second, the cause of the mist is portrayed in a way that is much more intelligent than usual. Without giving away too much, the beasties in question aren’t specifically out for human blood–humans are just kind of in the way. Some of the mist-shrouded shots of the creatures are awe-inspiring. Third, the movie has what we would consider a controversial and hard-edged ending that we felt may not have been totally earned but definitely got us thinking and talking about it. Yes, in some ways this is still a B-movie, but in others it was provocative, unsettling, and savage.
(4) Paris: Je T’aime (DVD) – This series of short films shot in various sections of Paris by respected directors and featuring actors from Nick Nolte to Natalie Portman focuses on relationships in mini-portraits that sometimes link up and sometimes don’t. Over all, a very enjoyable viewing experience, with some stupid entries, like a vampire sequence with the guy who played Frodo once again giving us his anguished and his happy faces, which are really all he can do. But if you edit that one out, or fast-forward, this really does give a good flavor of Paris.
(5) Daywatch (DVD) – The sequel to Nightwatch is somewhat confusing if you haven’t recently watched the earlier movie, but the marvelous images, ingenious situations, and Russian flavor make up for that. Ann enjoyed this one more than I did, but it’s still recommended. (Ann would probably have this in the #3 or #4 position.)
(6) No Country for Old Men (in theaters) – If not for one of the most retarded endings in the recent history of cinema, this would have been right under The Lookout on our list. The character of the sheriff is quite simply never integrated into the movie in the ways necessary for the ending to work. Instead, it feels as if the movie ends in mid-frame. I haven’t read the novel this Coen brothers’ movie is based on, but I’m pretty sure the emphasis in the novel creates the context and space necessary for the movie’s ending to work. I’m just guessing here, of course, but the ending scenes and the rest of the movie seem like they’re not from the same book. So all I can assume is that Coen brothers didn’t take all of the right things from the book to make that ending work. I’m all for subverting genre expectations, but if you don’t set up that subvertin’ correctly, you get the reaction everyone in the theater had: “What the f—-?!” Followed by rampant laughter.
(7) 28 Days Later (DVD) – This dog of a sequel not only features enough coincidence to fill three movies, but coincidence in the service of cruelty. Honestly, as long as it made sense, the virus could’ve been introduced into the UK any number of ways. It really didn’t matter. However, after a brilliant prologue showing the Carlyle character’s abandonment of his wife during the initial zombie virus, the movie just falls apart. From people getting free from the containment zone unrealistically to Carlyle’s building supervisor pass key getting him into high-security military areas to a lapse in the logic of the zombies themselves, to a US military strategy that includes snipers picking off zombies in crowds, this movie is just too stupid to live. Like most of the people in it. But, again, the worst thing about this movie is the cruelty of it. Instead of working with some of the complex emotional issues set up by the reappearance of Carlyle’s wife, the movie goes for cheap thrills and a really disgusting series of situations.
(8) 1408 (DVD) – The Jumanji of horror films, 1408 features a confused-looking John Cusak navigating his way through a series of cheap thrills induced by an evil room. At one point, the paintings come to life, dumping salt-water into the room, and it really is like watching a horrific Jumanji. Cusak literally has to chew the scenery in this pointless, vapid movie. Which is a shame, because for the first fifteen to twenty minutes, it looked like it might be decent.