Year-End Roundup: What to See (and Skip) Before the Ball Drops

01300dpi Year End Roundup: What to See (and Skip) Before the Ball DropsAlthough we are in the midst of the annual December gridlock of last-minute releases glutting the market in time to qualify for a marathon of critical and industry awards shows, this will be my last movie column of 2010. Therefore, I will adjust my glasses, gulp an aspirin and endeavor, by popular demand, to ignore release dates and clock in with a roundup of the final main events on the overcrowded year-end calendar:

RABBIT HOLE

This meticulously nuanced, sensitively acted film version of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by David Lindsay-Abaire (who adapted his own screenplay) gives Nicole Kidman her best role in years, and she chews it like raw steak. She and the underrated but always reliable Aaron Eckhart play Becca and Howie Corbett, a couple coping with the death of their son in a hit-and-run accident.

People handle tragedy in myriad ways, and in this exemplary, heartbreaking study of grief, you will experience most of them with the tears of recognition that come from observing real life. Becca withdraws, shuns awkward but well-meaning friends who only want to reach out, fights with her pregnant sister (Tammy Blanchard) and humiliates her mother (Dianne Wiest). Growing irritable, edgy and progressively judgmental, she loses patience with group therapy and drops out of the meetings, shutting down and fighting loss by cutting Howie off from the bedroom. Howie erases the home videos, gives the family dog away and discards all traces of his son from his life. In a pitiful stretch for connection, she starts following a school bus carrying the boy who accidently hit her son with his car, and tries to befriend him, enraging Howie even more. No longer parents, they fill the spaces of their barren lives and beautiful but empty upper-middle-class home with private rituals and public mistakes: she bakes pies, he tries to sleep with a woman from his group therapy class (Sandra Oh) but backs out at the last minute. Clearly, these are people who cannot find the missing pieces to a life in crisis.

Surprisingly, Rabbit Hole has been directed with unexpected maturity and control by John Cameron Mitchell, and signifies a major departure for the underground miscreant whose forte has previously been sexually explicit material bordering on pornography, punctuated by ear-splitting rock ‘n’ roll. (I’m still recovering from the auto-fellatio in Shortbus and trying to wash out the noise from Hedwig and the Angry Inch.) He was apparently hand-chosen by Nicole Kidman, who produced Rabbit Hole. She chose wisely. Mr. Mitchell shapes the material expertly, coaxing from his two stars fine, emotionally frayed performances of range and grace as nice people tortured by misfortune. This movie is different from anything he’s done before, and a major step forward.

It is to everyone’s credit that nobody ever shifts gears and ties together the loose threads of lives hanging in the balance in time for a happy Hollywood ending. The sages always say, “Time heals everything.” Eschewing clichés, Rabbit Hole is disturbing yet refreshing evidence that for some people, redemption takes longer, and for others, the pain never goes away at all. (Opens Dec. 16)

 

THE ILLUSIONIST

From Sylvain Chomet, the brilliant French director whose great 2003 Oscar-nominated hit The Triplets of Belleville raised the bar for animated films throughout the world, comes a true masterpiece of visual enchantment. One of the most original and unique geniuses in cinema today, Mr. Chomet directed, wrote, illustrated and composed the music for this holiday jewel, an homage to the sweet, sad melancholia of the legendary French comic Jacques Tati. Adapted from an old, unproduced screenplay by Tati, The Illusionist follows the heavy-footed adventures of an aging, washed-up magician named Tatischeff, a relic from the old school of vaudeville who is rejuvenated by the affection and companionship of a young chambermaid named Alice.

Moth-chewed but still holding on to his dignity, Tatischeff leaves Paris and tries to jump-start his career in London, where he discovers the changing times have taken their toll on his kind of act. Rock ‘n’ roll bands now fill the seats of abandoned music halls. Jukeboxes have replaced live music. But in a shabby rooming house for performers in Scotland, the friendship that develops between the old man and the naïve, innocent girl feeds both of their needs-she rekindles his lost pride, and he lovingly buys her new clothes to replace her rags. She naïvely believes he plucks them out of thin air, so he takes a night job in a gas station to keep her dream alive. What he doesn’t realize is that her newfound beauty is turning her from a ragamuffin into a desirable woman. Desertion is inevitable. 

Mr. Chomet’s passion for hand-drawn figures gives the film the look of museum-quality watercolors that move. From the Scottish highlands to the bustling traffic jams of Edinburgh, the animation is so three-dimensional that when the illusionist’s disagreeable rabbit escapes through the hurling bodies of a trio of robust acrobats, wreaking havoc in the theater, you really feel as though it’s heading for your seat. Both natural and incandescent light filters through an elaborately designed department store photographed through plate-glass windows. The most amazing effect of all: Tatischeff (the real surname of Jacques Tati) enters an empty cinema where a tiny audience watches an actual movie clip of Mon Oncle, one of Tati’s classics. It has to be seen to be believed. It is such high art that you will never believe you are looking at one canvas at a time.

To the age-old tradition of animation, Mr. Chomet adds the literary illusion of  French literature by Proust and Pagnol. The Illusionist is 80 minutes long without one wasted second, and almost totally silent—living proof that a film doesn’t need words when it’s so chock full of feelings.  (Opens Christmas Day)

 

Comments

  1. btsg says:

    absolutely on target…why do actors who cannot be heard due to a thin, scraping, muffled or squeezed voice “decide” it is best to take all that times ten? Eastwood in Heartbreak Ridge, Lambert in Highlander 2, Thorton in Sling Blade? It sounds revolting and makes my ears hurt with this misdirected and overdone vocal approach. Not every dialect south of St. Louis sounds like Lower Alabama. Maybe that’s why every new male actor from “Deyn Eynder” ends up with a semi NYC/Chicago accent.
    JB takes the “Nick Nolte Award for Non Verbal Utterance” Bravo, a new champion of yeeeauuuch.

  2. Oneswb16 says:

    that review for true grit was flat out retarded. you must not have been watching the same movie

  3. Bligh says:

    Spot on. Coincidently, I had just watched the 1969 version about 1 week prior to this remake. My first question to myself after watching the remake was”why did they bother?”

  4. biffula says:

    Wow. I didnt even know that fossil queen Rex Reed was still alive.

  5. observer1512 says:

    thank you for being one of the few to point out the truth about True Grit and the Coen Brothers.

  6. Mwimsey says:

    I just saw True Grit and am puzzled about why people seem to love it so much. I believe Mr. Reed is one of a few who actually paid attention to the movie. Some of my favourite actors are in this film, and I don’t think they did a bad job, but the material they had to work with was just too thin and pointless.

  7. Dudeduck says:

    what are you guys talking about? true grit was an accurate portrayal of the book, and about the mumbling what do you expect your cowboys to be well-mannered and dressed in silk shirts or something, rooster is a filthy drunken bounty hunter he is supposed to be like that and if you take that away from him you might as well make a movie out of another book

  8. Nickytheknuckles says:

    Wow, you are a hack. Only a jaded queen like Rex Reed would slam “True Grit” and the “pretentious” Cohen brothers. Take a look in the mirror, then go find me a Ferrari 360 for $45,000.

  9. Count of monte cristo says:

    True Grit was not great, it was not terrible either. The most engaging part was the little girl with the gift of a sharp tongue. I have to agree though that the Coen brother movies, especially in their dialogue, come off as pretentious. Being an adult who isn’t intimidated by big words, I am also not entertained or moved by them. Compare a Coen brothers’ dialogue with a Horton Foote dialogue and weep.

  10. Tristan Criveau says:

    Will Cohen brothers fanboys quite raving? He gave an HONEST review, which is more then I can say for most critics out there. It was an alright movie, but it had nothing over the original except the usual advances in cinematography. It really didn’t need to be made. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with making a movie like this for a quick buck, but that’s what happened. It doesn’t deserve an Oscar. No innovation or heart went into this movie like O Brother, Where Are Thou? which I believe is honestly one of the best films of all time.

    The Cohen Brothers have simply become film-makers. They only have so many ground breakers in them, like anybody.

  11. i agree it was a pointless exerciser.

  12. Scutter28 says:

    i think anyone who went should have known they were gonna get a simple coen bros. story. all their movies are kinda deadpan and original. i loved it. it was no “unforgiven” but it was great and the steinfeld girl did a better mattie than that ugly redheaded pastyfaced woman from the original.. i remember when i was a kid i thought she was the ugliest thing

  13. Bobby Jessica Gomez says:

    I agree 100% with Rex Reed’s review of True Grit. If this is considered “great” art by most people, I don’t even want to know what those same drooling vegetables deem as “bad” art. Unfortunately, these are no longer evaluative criteria on which a film is rated, but when I attend a movie, I expect there to be story, acting, direction, and at least a modicum of intelligence. In viewing True Grit, I received none of the above. After the movie ended, it felt like someone took a crap in my eyes. I think Jeff Bridges’ version of Rooster Cogburn is more suited to The King’s Speech than True Grit. As soon as Jeff appeared in the film, I had to activate the subtitles. Only every 215th word was an “actual” word. Throughout the movie, it sounded like he was savoring at least 3/4ths of an enormous Subway Shit-Long. (I believe I heard that the guy who did the captions is now the head honcho of Bedlam.) Same goes for the equally unintelligible Tom Chaney, played to retardation by veteran jackass Josh Brolin. The Brothers Coen-tard must be having the time of their lives fucking gullible audiences in the ass.

    Great cinematography, though.

  14. David says:

    True Grit is one of the best films I’ve watched in the last 10 years. Brilliant performances by all. Flawless writing, spot on cinematography. It’s masterful filmmaking. How, oh how, did you get that so wrong?

  15. David says:

    True Grit is one of the best films I’ve watched in the last 10 years. Brilliant performances by all. Flawless writing, spot on cinematography. It’s masterful filmmaking. How, oh how, did you get that so wrong?

  16. They didn’t “bother” it’s not a remake you moron. It’s a movie based off of a book. They did NOT use the older version of this film as source material therefore it’s not  a remake. Holy shit are you stupid.

  17. C_Andiron Rfcblb says:

    Fag