Twilight Of The Ice Nymphs – Another wacky Guy Maddin film (Archangel, The Heart Of The World), this bizarre fairy tale is notable mostly for the lush colors of its magical mise-en-scène. The plot revolves around a series of love triangles. Ex-convict Peter is in love with Juliana, who’s married to Dr. Solti, who’s in love with a statue of Venus. Zephyr (played by Alice Krige, from Star Trek: First Contact) loves Peter and Peter’s sister, Amelia (played by Shelly Duvall), is in love with Dr. Solti. Amelia is also feuding with Cain (Frank Gorshin, The Riddler from the Adam West Batman), who wants to inherit her ostrich farm. While the plot isn’t as dizzying as Archangel, it doesn’t seem as profound or resonant either. Beautiful, abstract and romantic, it has a lot in common with Seijun Suzuki’s Princess Raccoon, the other contender for the strangest movie I’ve seen this year. The #13 film of 1997.
Borat – The funniest movie of the year, and the year’s biggest indie hit. Sacha Baron Cohen gives a brilliant comic performances as a malapropistic TV reporter from Kazakhstan on a quest to discover America and bring back Pamela Anderson. Equally misunderstood, and attacked, by the left and the right, Cohen, who was very good this year in a supporting role in Talladega Nights, plays a misogynist, anti-semitic boorish racist who alternates between offending decent people, pointing out the somewhat hidden prejudices of some less decent people and engaging in some hilarious scatological stunt-based humor (the wrestling sequence is one of the more striking scenes in recent film history, over-the-top, absurd, disgusting, it tiptoes along the line between comic bravado and desperation). Basically, there’s something to entertain and offend just about everyone. Shot in a typically documentary style by Larry Charles, the real auteur is Cohen, who gets my vote for the performance of the year.
Follow The Fleet – A good, but not great, Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers musical, directed by Mark Sandrich. It isn’t as consistently enjoyable as their best, Top hat and Swing Time, but does contain what may be their best single dance sequence. The plot, such as it is, revolves around Astaire’s sailor trying to win back his old dance partner (Rogers) while his friend, Randolph Scott, of all people, gets romanced by her sister. The typical Astaire-Rogers mix of cheesy light comedy, generally revolving around unfortunate miscommunication punctuated by dance sequences follows. All’s fine and entertaining enough, but the film’s finale, set to Irving Berlin’s “Let’s Face The Music And Dance” is nothing short of brilliant. Essentially a film in itself, the dance has a story in which Rogers is rescued from suicide by Astaire, it’s an intensely emotional dance, a perfect combination of movement, mise-en-scène and music. As if knowing that anything after the dance would be anticlimactic, the rest of the film’s plot is resolved in about three lines of dialogue and the movie’s over.
Directed By John Ford – Peter Bogdanovich’s documentary about Ford, in which Ford is a famously uncooperative interviewee was refurbished by Bogdanovich, with new clips and new material, along with interviews with contemporary Ford admirers like Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg. It was shown on TCM a few times during their Ford Month, and on the whole is a fairly standard biography of the director: talking heads mixed with movie clips and familiar anecdotes. Especially notable is an audiotape provided by Ford’s son, who had left the tape running on Ford and Katherine Hepburn when they thought they were alone. Eavesdropping on their conversation feels very uncomfortable, especially when Ford tells her he loves her. One of the more disturbing, and touching things I’ve seen in a documentary. The #8 film of 1971, depending on how you look at it.
The Horse Soldiers – Another in the John Ford TCM series, this 1959 film stars John Wayne and William Holden as the commander and medical officer of a Union cavalry unit sent far behind enemy lines to destroy a Confederate supply route. There’s a bit of the old war movie trope of the anti-violence doctor vs. the professional soldier in the interactions between Wayne and Holden, but it’s not overbearing. And Holden, who I usually can’t stand, isn’t that bad here. Episodic in structure, some of the sequences work brilliantly, while others fall into averageness. Constance Towers’s character, a Southern Belle taken along for the ride because she’ll give away their plans, is introduced at a fancy dinner that features some hilarious cleavage jokes as she tries to flirt with Wayne. But after that, she becomes a rather generic and annoying love interest type. The most celebrated, and moving sequence in the film is a regiment of young boys from a local military academy marching off to war despite barely being taller than their guns. It’s one of the great episodes in Ford’s late career films. The #13 film of 1959.