Talk To Her – This was my first Pedro Almodóvar film, and I’m a bit conflicted about it. On the positive side: the colors are beautiful, the actors are excellent (Geraldine Chaplin!), the dance and film within a film sequences are both stunning and hilarious, respectively. On the negative: I don’t know what to do with the ickiness at the heart of the story. If we’re supposed to sympathize with Benigno, well . . . ew. If Benigno is supposed to somehow represent a generalized idea of how men don’t listen to women, or don’t appreciate them or ignore them, that’s both awfully cynical and insulting, if also kinda funny. Basically, I loved every part of the film that didn’t have anything to do with its story. But once Lydia’s story ended and it became all about revealing the depths of Benigno’s depravity, the movie lost its balance for me. I want to have liked this more. The #6 film of 2002.
Kings And Queen – Novelistic melodrama from director Arnauld Desplechin. Emmanuelle Devos plays an art dealer who’s father is dying. Her son (the father of whom is long dead gets along well with her ex-husband (Mathieu Amalric, excellent as always) but not her super-rich fiancee. Ex-husband, is locked up in a looney bin and may or may not be totally insane. Despite the low-grade instant netflix video (I assume) this is a beautiful film, with great performances and a fascinating approach to character. Desplechin actually succeeds in making unlikeable characters sympathetic and sympathetic characters unlikeable, all without any of the characters actually changing throughout the film, if that makes sense. Plus, it’s got “Moon River”. I love “Moon River”. The #7 film of 2004.
Wendy And Lucy – Another location-specific American indie in the same vein as Chop Shop or Ballast, and comparable in quality to those films. Michelle Williams plays a woman traveling through Oregon on her way to Alaska who stupidly attempts to shoplift some food for her dog, and even more stupidly gets sent to jail for most of a day because of it and even more stupidly has had her dog stolen while she was gone. So, those elements, fundamental to the film, didn’t really work for me. But Williams and Walter Dalton (as the Walgreen’s security guard who helps her out as much as he can, which isn’t much) are so good that they almost sold me on it. The direction, by Kelly Reichardt, is what you would expect from this kind of movie: solid, realistic, unspectacular. The ending is sad, but necessary, as Williams finally seems to realize that her plan to drive from Indiana to Alaska in an ’88 Accord probably wasn’t so wise. The #11 film of 2008.
Far From Heaven – Like Talk To Her, a movie I wanted to like more than I did. It’s a pastiche of Douglas Sirk films, with Julianne Moore and Dennis Haysbert recreating the housewife/gardener dynamic from All That Heaven Allows. Except for this film, director Todd Haynes adds the twist that the gardener is black, changing the class issues from Sirk’s film to racial ones. And, in a twist too far, he gives Moore a husband (Dennis Quaid, trying hard) who’s working on trying to not hook up with other men every chance he gets. Haynes just piles on the social issues, and the humanity gets buried behind the topicality. The movie either needed to be a lot longer, giving it a more novelistic scope (at only an hour and forty-five minutes, surely there was room for greater detail on Quaid and Moore in particular), or a lot shorter, focusing on just the Moore/Quaid or Moore/Haysbert relationship. In every other respect, the film is fantastic. The set designs are wonderful, often putting even Mad Men to shame, but the real star of the film is the lighting: deep reds and blues, gold highlights breaking through the colors, magic hour sunsets and greens for danger, it’s all so lovely. The #7 film of 2002.
My Winnipeg – I might have a new favorite Guy Maddin film. This documentary about his home town is everything I always complain that documentaries aren’t. Yeah, it’s got a lot of great stories and interesting facts and shows me a world I didn’t know all about before (but kind of did), but it does it all from an intensely personal perspective with a unique style that adds something new to the documentary form. To be specific, Maddin adds to the convention of recreations by re-enacting scenes from his own childhood in an attempt to understand his mother, and by extension his hometown (town and mother being equated right off the bat). He hires a bunch of actors to play his siblings except for his mother, who he says will play her self (she is in fact played by actress Ann Savage, from the great ultra-low budget noir Detour). It’s a particularly Maddin-esque bit of silliness that nonetheless fits the weirdness of a city that held seances in a city hall designed as the world’s largest Masonic Temple and has the highest sleepwalking rate in the world. I have no idea how many, if any of the stories Maddin tells are true or false. It doesn’t matter. I want to live in a world where it’s all true. The #5 film of 2007.