Now that the Venice Film Festival has come to an end and the Toronto Film Festival is drawing to a close without my ever having gotten near them, I thought the time had come to do a brief round-up of movies that everybody’s going to be discussing until the nominations are announced for the Academy Awards next year.
Hollywood productions always get the lion’s share of attention at international festivals, from
journalists paparazzi if not juries, but this year in Venice, American cinema made a splash with the jury as well. Something that wasn’t exactly received with cries of joy. Brad Pitt’s win as Best Actor for The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, in particular, seems to have raised hackles. The Sexiest Man Alive (twice), rich, one half of a parental-unit with Angelina Jolie and acting chops? Unfair!
So let’s examine that one first. Although some have called the movie slow and slack and wonder whether Pitt’s celebrity is bound to have an adverse effect on the movie (as in media outlets will focus on Pitt to the extent that they forget all about promoting the movie), most seem to love the film. The big surprise is said to be Casey Affleck, who apparently blew everybody away with his portrayal of Robert Ford.
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
The next controversial movie to score big in Venice was the Ang Lee-directed Chinese language Lust, Caution, which won Best Movie. The story of a young woman who infiltrates a group of mahjong players in order to seduce the influential husband of one of the women so that she can kill him, the movie shocked festival goers with its raw intimate scenes. Did they really do it, was apparently the question that everybody wanted answered. Don’t you love it that no matter how pretentious your column is in the newspaper, given a chance everybody really wants to know the prurient details first. Lee wouldn’t answer, but here’s the trailer. And no, it doesn’t have any interesting scenes for you to watch. In fact, Lee is already planning to censor scenes for the Chinese market so unless you live in the USA, where the film will be released with an NC-17 rating, chances are you’ll have to wait for the director’s cut DVD to see the movie in its original, festival winning form.
Creating a storm of quite a different sort is Brian DePalma’s Redacted. Based on the horrific al-Mahmudiyah killings in Iraq, wherein a group of American soldiers raped and murdered a 14 year old schoolgirl along with her entire family, Redacted has already begun making waves States-side, primarily from people who haven’t even seen the film such as Bill O’Reilly (shocking!). I can’t find a trailer for the movie or a clip in English, so I’m going to post the following newsclip that basically outlines the plot. Please bear in mind that since this clip was shot, three of the men charged in the incident have been court-martialed while others are either awaiting trial or sentencing.
David Cronenberg teams up with Viggo Mortensen once more in Eastern Promises, the story of a Russian who comes to London to drive a cab for the Russian mob but ends up meeting Naomi Watts, a midwife who not only sticks her nose where it isn’t wanted but also suffers from an affliction called Can’tShutTheFuckUp-itis. Much violence ensues as you might expect. Highlight of the movie? An extended fight scene in a sauna featuring a very naked Viggo. I was already booking my tickets when I found out that Cronenberg had managed to do some sort of editing voodoo and presented us with Viggo the Gentalia-less. Party pooper. But I’ll still watch.
I’d have included Michael Clayton in this list in any case just so I could post that pic up above, but turns out this George Clooney starrer is shaping up to be one of those quietly solid movies of the year with various people speculating on a Best Actor nod. Directed by first timer Tony Gilroy, the man more famous for writing/co-writing all three Bourne movies, this one sounds a bit like Erin Brokovich – The Story From the Other Side. Tilda Swinton (patting Clooney on the head above) is an ambitious corporate lawyer who’s having a very, very bad week. She’s this close to settling a case for her company and cementing her career when the lead lawyer has an attack of conscience and begins sabotaging the whole thing. To add to her woes, the guy who usually fixes these things (Clooney) gets subverted too. Hmmm. I’ve just made it sound like this is completely Swinton’s movie when it’s actually Clooney’s. Oh well. Tomato, tomahto.
Everyone says this is the year of the war movie so it must be true. At any rate, here’s Paul Haggis back with In the Valley of Elah and according to everybody who’s seen it, it’s the Crash of war movies. I didn’t care for Crash all that much from what I’d heard of it but I still saw it because I loved at least two people who starred in it (big surprise, considering half of Hollywood landed a part). I’ll probably watch this one too because it has Tommy Lee Jones as a father who makes the painful discovery of what serving in Iraq has done to his son.
In the Valley of Elah
Rendition continues the trend, this time with Reese Witherspoon, Jake Gyllenhaal and Meryl Streep. Witherspoon is a wife whose husband has been kidnapped for suspected links to terror and Streep is the CIA big gun who authorizes his “extraordinary rendition” while Gyllenhaal is the subordinate who carries the whole thing out. Something about this movie strikes me the wrong way and I don’t know what it is. Somebody watch and tell me what you think.
List of movies coming out this fall here.