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|Written by April Yorke|
|Thursday, 19 November 2009 00:00|
As the sage Ferris Bueller once observed, "Life moves pretty fast." With everything you've got to take care of each day, it can be hard to stay on top of pop culture ephemera. Consider all the smaller, niche people, places, and things that make up the cultural landscape, and forget about it. Fortunately, we've got your back. Below, find (Cult)ure's A to Z guide to what you've been missing in movies.
Anniversary Party, The
Jennifer Jason Leigh is a notoriously difficult actress to pin down, so it was kind of her to co-script and co-direct The Anniversary Party with Alan Cumming to provide us with a little insight. As one half of the couple celebrating their sixth anniversary after a year's separation, Leigh plays a formerly celebrated starlet now in her waning years. Her opacity is as firmly in place as ever, but there's also a more delicate, almost childlike quality that opens up the obsession-rejection nature of the central relationship.
Pop quiz: Super spy, near pathological dedication to his semi-spy daughter, complicated relationship with his murderous ex, played by a Canadian actor, answers to Jack B? 24's Jack Bauer, played by Kiefer Sutherland, right? Not quite. A few weeks earlier in 2001, Victor Garber took on a strikingly similar role on Alias, and he was the ultimate badass. He out-badassed the show's frontrunner for most badass, Lena Olin, by agreeing to remove her active tracking chip only to plant a passive tracker on her during sex. That kind of badassery is epic. Yet in movies he tends toward creepy (Legally Blonde) or fatherly (Titanic). When is someone going to let him kick ass the way he was meant to? J.J. Abrams keeps making room for Greg Grunberg. Garber deserves a little love, too.
For the last 20 years or so, our society has been caught up in a sexualisation of youth, and the chest hair of fully grown men on the big screen is just one of the many casualties. Imagine our surprise when Edward unbuttoned his shirt to show Bella what he looked like in the light, and, after we all agreed that the sparkle wasn't quite right (kind of looked sweaty, to be honest), we thought, "Is that . . . chest hair?" Could it be that an early 20s Teen Beat poster boy has chest hair? And he kept it for the next movie? YES! Finally, chest hair can come back and remind us all what men look like. Take that, boys.
Down with Love
Down with Love is the type of movie that's almost doomed to fail from the start. Were 21st century audiences crying out for a loving send-up of 60s Doris Day/Rock Hudson romantic comedies? Probably not. But Down with Love is a brilliant one nonetheless, seeing Renée Zellweger pen a feminist manifesto that encourages women to enjoy sex "à la carte" and getting caught up in Ewan McGregor's increasingly ridiculous attempts to take her down. Which brings us to . . .
Ewan McGregor, Feminist
If you've been following McGregor's career for any length of time, you've gotten used to getting a little something extra with the price of admission. By which we mean, there was a time when McGregor got his kit off regularly. It may shock you to discover that this was all an act of feminism on McGregor's part. At least that's what he told Craig Ferguson a few weeks ago:
There are a lot of reasons to still be displeased with Television Without Pity's sale to Bravo a few years back, but chief among them is the hiatus Fametracker has been placed on ever since. While TWoP snarked on TV out of love, Fametracker concerned itself with the people behind our favourite properties on screens both small and silver. The Fame Audit measured stars' relative worth, the five clones of Karl Malden helped predict the Oscars every year, and the truly imposing Hey! It's That Guy! list catalogued an ever growing number of character actors that keep catching your eye. 10 years ago, Tobey Maguire bested Joaquin Phoenix in 2 Stars, 1 Slot, only to come up against Jake Gyllenhaal three years later. What would the fine folks behind Fametracker have to say about Maguire and Gyllenhaal playing brothers? Guess we'll never know.
Why is that bottom dwellers like Uwe Boll can seemingly churn out a movie with little to no redeeming value every year or so, but talented filmmakers like Gary Ross languish for five years or more between pictures? Pleasantville's reverberations continue to this day (Supernatural's November 5 episode, "Changing Channels," owes it a debt), and the world needs more quiet character studies starring the likes of Jeff Bridges, Chris Cooper, and Maguire like Seabiscuit. So where is Ross hiding?
Of all the things John Cusack should be remembered for, let the adaptation of Nick Hornby's High Fidelity that he co-produced, co-scripted, and starred in top the list. Throughout, Rob Gordon is an unrelenting narcissist, reflecting on his Top 5 most painful breakups inasmuch as they can help him understand not how to change in order to prevent women from leaving him in the future but why his present-day girlfriend moved out. And then he does this, flipping everything you thought about the character on its head:
McShane's Al was the centre of Deadwood, his presence on his balcony as necessary as the rising and setting of the sun. It helped that Deadwood was one of best shows of the last decade and possibly one of the best of all time. Naturally, it met an untimely demise with at least another season's worth of plots left unresolved. McShane moved on to Kings, a wildly ambitious series that placed a modern day Saul (McShane), David, and Goliath in a fictional country where God still played a vital political role. Of course, it was cut off after just one season. Yet in movies, McShane turns up in bit parts in Hot Rod and Death Race. When is Hollywood going to make some room for someone of McShane's Shakespearean gravitas? He could blow the roof off the place.
When François Girard set out to make a film in which he followed an object through time and space, he created The Red Violin. Such an extraordinary object deserved an extraordinary score, but Girard didn't select the most beautiful, expressive, challenging pieces in the history of violin. Instead, he hired composer John Corigliano and let him have at it. Think you're hearing Mozart, Beethoven, Verdi? Think again. It's all Corigliano. Each piece is carefully crafted to remind us who the protagonist of this film really is. From the opening sequence showing the violins hanging in the workroom, jostling like children on a playground, to the moment when the violin finally finds its home, Corigliano's score carries Girard's art house fare far beyond theatre walls.
A teen romance starring Jesse McCartney of all people certainly doesn't sound like the kind of thing you should make a point of watching, but you should. You really should. Keith is disarmingly charming, particularly its leads Elisabeth Harnois as a goody-two-shoes slowly driven bananas in a yellow truck by McCartney's eponymous rebel. For such a small movie, it has the courage of its convictions. Sometimes that's worth more than you think.
Let the Right One In
With the latest craze for vampires, it's a shame that this Swedish novel-turned-movie doesn't get more play. The vampire adheres to the standard mythology (no sunlight for Eli), but the movie also uses her power to turn a story about the bonds and boundaries of friendship on its ear. Add in strong work from its young performers and a haunting atmosphere, and you've got a story that would give even Eric chills.
Mystery Science Theatre 3000: The Home Experience
There is an MST3K home game, but you don't really need instructions to figure this one out. Sometimes sitting at home snarking on Highlander with your best friend is better than spending an entire day watching The Godfather, The Godfather Part II, Citizen Kane, and Raging Bull. That's all we're saying.
National Film Board's Online Archives
Arts organizations are slowly giving themselves over to the digital revolution, and the NFB is no slouch in this trend. They put their massive 70-year history online, which means that Norman McLaren's Neighbours and Richard Condie's The Big Snit are always at your fingertips. What could be better than that?
The Men Who Stare at Goats is a so-so movie that's currently doing so-so at the box office. Lord love him, but why is George Clooney such a big star? Is it really the good looks and old fashioned charm? Has he ever had a legitimate hit? . . . Oh, sorry, got distracted: Ocean's Eleven is on again. Never has there been a more stylish caper that's as fun to watch as it appears to have been to film. Carry on, George.
Sanitized for TV versions of movies are generally good for a laugh (yippe-ki-yay who now?). Leave it to those geniuses behind Shaun of the Dead to take it one step further and completely re-film scenes with the swear words scrubbed. In a special feature, "Funky Pete," all the c's in certain four letter words become n's, culminating in Nick Frost exclaiming, "Funk yeah! [sotto voce] Prink." Try it on your friends today.
We didn't think much of Adam the Woman Hater on Day 3 of 24. Back when Heroes was worth our attention, Quinto's portrayal of Sylar certainly made us sit up and take notice. In Star Trek earlier this year, as Quinto sizzled easily with both Chris Pine and Zoe Saldana, we knew it to be true: James Spader has finally found someone to inherit his throne. Well played, Steff.
Rachel Getting Married
Of all the reasons to remember and rewatch Rachel Getting Married, let's put aside the performances, the cameos, and the camera work. Jenny Lumet's screenplay does something so courageous it seems downright groundbreaking: centering a celebration on a tragedy, Lumet dares to give every character a point. Not a point of view, but an actual, legitimate point in each argument that comes up. That's scary and brave storytelling, and each element (the performances, the cameos, the camera work, and -- above all -- Jonathan Demme's direction) comes together to support it.
Some Kind of Wonderful
When John Hughes passed away suddenly this August, his death was met with the usual critical re-examining of the writer-director's latest and greatest works. One movie, penned by Hughes and directed by Howard Deutch, was conspicuously absent from the lists: Some Kind of Wonderful. Pretty in Pink, which came out a year earlier and is in some ways an identical film (poor kid gets a shot at rich kid, missing and messing with best friend's undying love in the process), but it's also a superior film in many ways. While PiP culminated in the prom, Wonderful simply culminated in a date, giving it more room to examine relationships and characters instead of putting the focus on a big high school moment. Also, Keith's "when am I going to be old enough, Dad?" speech should be given out in ninth graders' freshmen orientation packages.
In the last decade, it's become clear that Hollywood has absolutely no idea what do with Colin Farrell. Save In Bruges, most of his film roles have felt miscast to varying degrees. So what's to be done? Go back to the source. It was Joel Schumacher's Tigerland that made people on these shores sit up and take notice of Farrell, and it's still one of his finest performances. As a private in advanced infantry training just days away from shipping out to Vietnam, Farrell was a charismatic natural born leader hell bent on using his abilities for anything other than what Uncle Sam wanted. In doing so, he managed to give strength to a collection of scared boys not yet ready for the horrors of war.
Like much of David Gordon Green's work outside of the hilarious Pineapple Express, Undertow is more tone poem than straight up movie. As such, it can be difficult for the audience to connect unless they are already on the same wavelength. While it remains unsatisfying in some ways, Undertow is also deep, mythic, and devastatingly sad, anchored by naturalistic performances, and gorgeously captured by cinematographer Tim Orr.
Todd Haynes' biopics are always underrated; Velvet Goldmine is just one of the many: a deeply ambitious movie that takes towering legend David Bowie and filters his life, both true and rumoured, through Citizen Kane, picking up dialogue from Oscar Wilde along the way. It's as much about the devastating effects of success, celebrity culture, and sexuality as it is about David Bowie. While most movies can be boiled down to a handful of key scenes, Goldmine is truly greater than the sum of its parts.
Wet Hot American Summer
This entry could easily be "Wain, David," but Wet Hot American Summer is a minor key masterpiece that deserves to be celebrated on its own gonzo terms. Summer camp/summer movie parodies aren't exactly a dime a dozen, but Summer is the cream of the crop nonetheless. By blowing every single convention thinkable out of proportion, stacking the cast, and cramming the plot into one crazy day, director and co-writer David Wain is responsible for one of the most endlessly funny movies ever made. Let's watch:
A man in a wheelchair who can control others' minds and bodies, making him one of the most powerful mutants alive? Having Patrick Stewart play him is just a bonus.
You Can Count on Me
You Can Count on Me is the exact kind of small, quiet, moving art house fare that sets critics all in a tizzy during awards season, piling accolades on stars Laura Linney and Mark Ruffalo, only to disappear from public consciousness shortly thereafter. Kenneth Lonergan's only released directorial effort to date is still the same small, quiet, moving art house fare it used to be, and Linney, Ruffalo, and Matthew Broderick's performances are still worthy of praise. Next time you're at a loss at the video store, pick this one up.
Is there a better name for a roving character actor than Zeljko Ivanek? Much like the actor himself, it's instantly recognizable, setting off a chain of remembrances of performances past and leaving you wondering what this new entry will offer. While most character actors settle into a type, Ivanek shows no real interest in that beyond the broad strokes. It's that wiliness that will keep audiences guessing for years to come and will hopefully continue to make him impossible to overrate.