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Nance

Don't harsh on "The Departed" too much -- it's worth seeing if only for the accents and the fine, fine Alec Baldwin/Mark Wahlberg efforts. I saw it in a theater where the management was saving on the electric bill by underpowering the projector bulbs, so the much-remarked-upon bloodshed was hardly noticeable. It may not have been blood at all, in fact. It could have been soy sauce.

This is the first year in a dozen that I've seen most of the Best Picture nominees. If you haven't seen Little Miss yet, that's the one that's most fun, IMO.

Pat

Just saw Pan's Labyrinth. Fun (but not for kids) - fantasy intersects brutal reality with no escape from dread on either side. I'm with you on Lucien Freud - he paints the living as if they were corpses...

Ken Houghton

Babel is brilliant; gets better with each memory. But it's not fun, though given that Three Kings is on your list...

Shira saw The Queen yesterday, and was the least enthusiastic of her group, though I suspect those were for non-film reasons.

Given your list, The Devil Wears Prada is well worth a look (Stanley Tucci was robbed).

I was invited to a free showing of The Pursuit of Happyness and didn't go. YMMV.

Judy

I saw The Good Shepherd twice -- it was well worth it. Even for three hours, it kept my attention and provided both the puzzle of trying to fit the timeline together from all the intercutting and the challenge of examining the CIA's role and secrecy, in general, to public policy. Matt Damon's character is one dimensional as conceived, a comment on what secrecy does to an individual.

Kate Marie

Does it have to be a movie I actually saw in theaters? In that case, I might have to go all the way back to the Lord of the Rings movies . . . no, wait, I saw In Good Company in a theater, and that was fun in the sense that you mean, I guess.

I suppose Little Miss Sunshine would be the most recent fun movie I've seen, though I actually didn't laugh at it until the second time I saw it. The first time I watched it, I was alone in a hotel room. I remember having laughed only once (at the end), but I may have smiled once or twice. The weird thing about my reaction was that I kept getting choked up at different points in the movie, and I'm still not sure what that was about except that there was an undercurrent of melancholy in the movie and in the actor's performances that I let myself get carried away by. I laughed plenty the second time, when I watched it with my husband.

Victoria

I digress from your specific question - but your comments remind me of something I noted while teaching film history. I picked up a little second-hand gem of a Bantam paperback that listed a series of film facts for every year since 1927: top twenty films a the box office, all manner of award winners, price of admission, attendance numbers, number of theatres, drive-ins, etc. Needless to say, there are few intersections between box office success and Academy Award winners. It was invaluable in pointing out the difference between film history as it is written - emphasizing critical and artistic successes as cultural markers - and what the majority of people were actually watching, which surely tells us something about those lives and times (but not in film history books). In short, one of the big things the Academy does is sculpt cultural memory.

Thanks to Ken for mentioning Tucci's perfection in The Devil Wears Prada. He never once went too far.

Of Good Shepherd, an actor-friend of mine whose father was in the military spy business in the 1950's, says that film was like a trip into his past... all the deadened adults he observed through the bannisters of the stairs during his parents' DC cocktail parties.


Kate Marie

Victoria,

If I'm understanding your point, I don't think I entirely agree with it. I took a cursory glance at a list of Best Picture winners, and it seemed to me that: 1) there were plenty of box office success in the bunch; and 2) where the Academy honored films that *weren't* decent box office successes, they were just as likely as not to be films that aren't considered seminal or important among film historians.

Take a look at 1941, for instance. The Best Picture winner for that year is How Green Was My Valley. Is that the picture from 1941 that film historians most honor and remember? [I say this despite the fact that I think the John Ford movie is beautiful, and I actually prefer it to the critic's darling, which is a very good movie in its own right, obviously.] I guess my point is that there is just as little intersection between what the Academy honors and what eventually gets considered "important" by film historians as there is between popular success and what gets considered important.

travy

great post and i would add that in these days of blogs and messageboards we are all critics now which can really muddy the waters when trying to pick a movie to watch. i'm not sure when it happened for me, but at some point i stopped trying to pick apart movies and just started watching them and judging them broadly on whether they worked or not and then whether or not they achieve "magic" by completely transporting me from my world to theirs.

so, after leaving the magical "little miss sunshine", rather than picking apart the retread characters or some of the faulty premises, i simply hold my grin in place and tell everyone i speak to, to go catch this magic little movie that will make you feel good about life and then leave it at that.

so lighten up wolcott! :^)

sfmike

"The Departed" is Scorcese in Boston via Hong Kong and one of the most enjoyable films I've seen in many a moon (and I haven't enjoyed anything from him since "Casino.") Even though the plotting is a bit Jacobean Revenge Play, it's great.

"The Queen" I found extremely boring, with the beautiful Helen Mirren Being Dowdy and Stoic. Yawn. It's probably going to be a lot better as a DVD.

Jennifer

"i'm not sure when it happened for me, but at some point i stopped trying to pick apart movies and just started watching them and judging them broadly on whether they worked or not and then whether or not they achieve "magic" by completely transporting me from my world to theirs.

so, after leaving the magical "little miss sunshine", rather than picking apart the retread characters or some of the faulty premises, i simply hold my grin in place..."

:)!!!

Sometimes the magic just happens, why do we need to look under its skirt...

daveminnj

little miss sunshine. best
ensemble acting i've seen since
i can't remember.
the freshest movie i've seen
since my beautiful launderette.

Chris the Cop

The Departed - very, very good. Matt Damon is not a joke and he just nails that that Boston tough guy persona. (got a nomination to boot.) Only problem is it's got a downer ending. The movie is (very) loosly based on the exploits of Whitey Bulger, and his partner, Steve Flemmi, absolute stone pyschopaths who ran it all in Boston for 20 years. But I digress.

The Good Shepard is also very strong, but Damon just can't pull off the sort of brooding/silent/lurking in the shadows/knows all the secrets/spook effect he's trying for here. He's good in The Departed, but only because he's not carrying the movie and he plays a character who's mostly whipped by the gangsters, although Leo just annihilates him in the scene-stealing category.

Greg

"But they don't make many that are fun just because they are well-made, well-written, full of laughs, chills, thrills, spills and surprises and feature real movie stars doing excellent work but obviously enjoying themselves."

Funny, this is an excellent description of why I love The Departed, and I'm rooting for it to win Best Picture. I think you're giving too much weight to Scorsese's reputation as a great artist. The Departed is not a "spinach movie" in any sense. I give that label to Kundun, The Age of Innocence, or Bringing Out the Dead, but The Departed is more popcorn than spinach.

Dawn

Little Miss Sunshine was the most fun I've had at the movies in a long while. I saw it twice with different groups of friends and laughed all the way through both showings. I have to confess I had never seen Steve Carrell in much of anything - I was a late-comer to 'The Daily Show' and missed his days there - and I will now go see anything he is in. I may even watch the NBC version of 'The Office'. Maybe.

I love the Oscars mainly for the chance to concentrate on movies for a few weeks. And I have fond memories of watching the show with my mom as a kid, so I never miss it now. I have friends who's husbands don't get into it, so I have them over and we have a party.

Least fun I've had at the movies recently: Babel. I loved 21 Grams and was prepared to at least like Babel, but I just couldn't. It gave me a splitting headache. I thought most of the behavior of the characters was so unlikely and unbelievable that I could not get invested in the stories. I just got frustrated. Maybe that was the point, but it was not the emotional ride I wanted. Kind of like watching Studio 60!

jillbryant

It's so fun to see there are so many people who enjoyed Little Miss Sunshine. I have some movie fan friends who liked it but didn't love it. I really think that has to do with expectations. If you're told a movie is fantastic, you (subconsciously?) almost LOOK for things that make it NOT great. On the other hand, I know when I'm told a movie is bad, I will watch it with a low bar setting and think, yeah, it is bad but the scenery is so pretty. I did love Little Miss Sunshine, though, and the dance at the end had me literally laughing and crying at the same time.

It's funny - last year was supposed to be such a bad year for movies and I thought it was great - Capote, Brokeback Mountain, The Constant Gardener, The Squid and the Whale, etc. This year has just seemed so thin. Maybe because, I'm like Lance and haven't seen the contenders because the release schedule just did not work for me. I want to play anyway though but I can only say for Oscar contenders - Babel is on my list as is Half Nelson.

For non-Oscar, I also want to see Casino Royale and The Prestige. I did enjoy some movies this year - I think a fun (but not funny one) is The Illusionist - and, if rented, definitely listen to the Director's Commentary after (the one for Little Miss Sunshine was great too.) I also enjoyed Brick, Inside Man, Tristram Shandy and interesting (although I wouldn't say I enjoyed it and definitely NOT for the kids) was Hard Candy. Part way through it became too much for me but, the acting was pretty mesmerizing.

I always watch the Oscars and they do make a difference to me as far as seeing a movie. Also, to get political for a moment - no matter what the right wing says (and I'm sure we'll hear some crowing about how audiences are down or the decadence or whatever) - I think movies and music are one of America's most positive exports.

tigtog

Not pure fun, maybe but:
The Queen - I found it fascinating as history-meets-soap-opera, riveting for Mirren's performance, and full of subtle sly humour. Any PG Wodehouse fan should get more out of it than just a dowdy stoic monarch.

Volver - Penelope Cruz is warm, strong and gorgeous. The relationships between the women are detailed and believable. The humour is underlying rather than upfront, and is very dark (Harold and Maude territory minus the farce).

Kevin Wolf

Re movies to catch, I too recommend Little Miss Sunshine and The Queen. Helen Mirren is excellent.

Liked The Departed but wasn't bowled over. Had recently seen the Hong Kong film it's a remake of (Infernal Affairs). While Scorcese is faithful to the original, the original in turn is more subtle and does a better job of mapping out who is who and why we should care.

Lance, I think the problem these days, and I'm not the first to point this out, is that movie production had become so expensive that only "big" movies got made - and we know the type of movie favored in that arrangement.

But in the past couple of years this arrangement started to break down because there's expensive and there's prohibitively expensive. The major studios have started quasi-indie divisions to crank out product, like horror movies, which is beginning to pay off and broaden the available choices for viewing.

In other words, a form of B-movie is making a comeback. That's what's been missing.

Melanie

I can't believe the Illusionist only got one nomination - it was one of the better movies I saw last year. And what about the "Painted Veil"? Oscar must not like Edward Norton movies.

I saw Volver also and think it would rate as a "fun" movie.

I would like to see "Notes on a Scandal" - it just came to the local cinema.

Greg

After Clerks 2, Little Miss Sunshine was the worst movie I saw last year. It was full of obnoxious indie cliches (Old person obsessed with sex, check. Edgy teenager who reads Nietchze, check. Obligatory gay character, check.) and using the literally the oldest plot device in the history of storytelling, the road movie. Quirky for quirk's sake. For example, take the teenager. How does it make sense at all that a Nietchze-obsessed teenager given to stunts like a vow of silence would have any interest in joining the military? And how would he have gone so long without finding out he was color-blind?

Dave G.

Half Nelson was the best movie I saw all year.

Kate Marie

Greg, I don't know about the vow of silence part, but why would a Nietzsche-worshipping teen *not* want to join the military?

Lance

Greg,

Echoing Kate's question. But also, the kid doesn't just want to join the military. He wants to go to the Air Force Academy and become a test pilot, which, by the way, is the original path to becoming an astronaut. Anybody can go for a soldier. Only a special and specially selected recruit gets into the Academy and only a very special type of officer goes on to become a test pilot. It's Paul's version of making himself a "winner" in life's beauty pageant.

Reading Nietzsche and taking his vow of silence are, along with his weight-lifting, acts of self-discipline that he hopes will toughen him up and make him special in a way he suspects he is not.

Not saying you have to find that a clever bit of filmmaking, but it's not simply eccentricity for eccentricity's sake. In fact, the characters aren't really eccentric. They are all just looking for ways to be "special," to be winners instead of losers, which is to say, ordinary. The trouble with being ordinary is that ordinary people suffer heartbreak and disappointment and pain.

Chris the Cop

When I said Matt Damon nailed that tough guy persona above I meant Mark Wahlberg ...oops. Sorry

Greg

I understand that he doesn't just want to join the military, per se. But his personality in general is complete at odds with the culture of the military. He's the sort or person that would get beaten up and called a faggot in high school by the sort of person who would join the military. If he just wants to fly planes there are other avenues to do that, but his ambition is more specific than that, he wants to join the Air Force. He can successfully go without speaking for a very long time (not sure of the specifics--a year?), yet we're supposed to buy that he's performing this radical act of non-conformity so that he can later submit himself to military discipline? The level of naivete this requires actually parallels rather closely with his sister's ambition to become a beauty queen (enough that I'm beginning to think it was deliberate). The difference is he is not a small child, so this level of naivete isn't credible on him.

Now that I mention her, I should point out that I did like Abigail Breslin's performance, and her character as written. She was the only decent thing in the movie, and if Little Miss Sunshine wins any Oscars, I hope it's for her and not Original Screenplay, or God forbid, Best Picture.

Kate Marie

Greg,

"He's the sort or person that would get beaten up and called a faggot in high school by the sort of person who would join the military."

-- Sorry, but now who's guilty of "obnoxious indie cliches?" I have a cousin who looked very much like that kid when he was in high school, and he is in the military, and he's not the "sort" of person who would beat someone up and call them a faggot. I don't know exactly what "sort" of person you think joins the military nowadays, and I don't know that there's any evidence to support your claim about the "sort" of person who joins the military, but it's been my experience that cool, non-conformist, teenagers who wear black are at least as likely to call people faggots as the "sort" of people who join the military.

Ahem. Sorry. It was a casual remark and you probably didn't mean it quite the way it came across to me.

As for the teenager, joining the Air Force can actually be quite a non-conformist thing to do, depending on his particular high school milieu. But my question was really more about what Nietzsche had to do with it. Becoming a test pilot or fighter pilot seems to me a perfectly Nietzschean thing to do.

Are there cliches in Little Miss Sunshine? Sure, but there's nothing new under the sun. I don't care so much about cliches unless the movie fails somehow to transcend them or to invest them with new life. I'm probably giving away too much about my personal aesthetic, but look at a movie like Moulin Rouge (the recent musical). That's a movie chock-full of cliched roles and hackneyed song lyrics. Is there a moviegoer (or La Boheme devotee) who doesn't know how it's all going to turn out within the first few minutes of the movie? But that doesn't bother me so much. What I'm interested in is whether and how the movie is going to make me care, *anyway.* How I think it does that is a subject for another comments thread, I suppose. My basic point, though, is that Little Miss Sunshine may use some of the conventional tropes of the indie film, but, well . . . The Searchers uses some of the classic tropes of the Western, and I don't mind about that, either.

Tim S.

Casino Royale. Visually fun and just enjoyable in a way I don't remember Bond movies being since, well, I started going ("Moonraker"). It's startling how when we talk in my group of moderately movie-savvy friends about the best movies of the year, people nod to "The Queen" and "The Illusionist" and "Little Miss Sunshine" and "The Departed," but their eyes just light up when you mention "Casino Royale."

Td Raicer

I almost never get to the movies anymore. I find that tv actually produces more that I enjoy: Buffy, Wonderfalls, Deadwood, Rome, The Sopranos, House, Dr. Who, Lost etc. (though even those I mostly watch on dvd, rather than when broadcast). The last movie I saw that I really enjoyed was, not surprisingly, Joss Whedon's Serenity, the film conclusion of his series Firefly. If I was going to go to see one of the Oscar nominees, I'd probably go see Venus, because Peter O'Toole is one of my gods, and I hope he finally gets his Oscar.

Greg

I know I was stereotyping, that's the problem; all the film gave me to work with were stereotypes. One film character I thought of when writing that post was Anthony Swofford from Jarhead, who read Camus through basic and the Gulf War. But that movie showed me how this person could be the sort of person who would read Camus and the sort of person who joins the military. I never felt like the kid in LMS was a real person. He felt like he was just a storytelling device that the writers gave a bunch of arbitrary traits without a thought to how they could coexist in the same person. And so did most of the characters in that movie. And that's why I hated it.

Now that you mention Moulin Rouge and The Searchers, Kate, it makes me realize that this sort of film has become a genre all of its own, and indie filmmakers of the future should recognize that fact, and learn to work within the genre.

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