Slumdog Millionaire deserves all the awards it's been getting. The premise is engaging and interesting. By learning how Jamal knew the answers to questions on So You Want to be a Millionaire, we learn about his life. The young actors who played Jamal and Latika were amazing. The poverty there is beyond anything I could have imagined, and the living conditions were horrifying. That this character could have survived with his sanity, much less with hope and compassion is miraculous after all he went through. I loved this movie and highly recommend it. (based on Q & A: A Novel by Vikas Swarup)
The Wrestler is Mickey Rourke, and I can't imagine anyone else playing that part. I enjoyed the scenes backstage when the wrestlers planned their choreography before their matches. It showed their camaraderie and friendship and then how they competed before the crowds. The injuries, steroids, isolation, and life have taken their toll on Rourke's character Ram and the others. He expressed so much with his eyes, body language, and expressions. Rourke's performance was haunting and stays with me. He tries to connect with Cassidy, a stripper played by Marisa Tomei, and to reunite with his daughter. What happens is heartbreaking but believable and inevitable. It was also well-written, performed, and directed.
Roger Ebert wrote: I cared as deeply about Randy the Ram as any movie character I've seen this year. I cared about Mickey Rourke, too. The way this role and this film unfold, that almost amounts to the same thing. Rourke may not win the Oscar for best actor. But it would make me feel good to see him up there. It really would.
The Reader has the perfect title. I didn't read the novel by Bernhard Schlink so didn't know what to expect. Michael Berg is played by David Kross as a teenager and young man. Ralph Fiennes plays him twenty years later. Kate Winslet has won a Golden Globe and BAFTA for her portrayal of Hanna Schmitz from thirty-something until in her sixties. She is the Meryl Streep of her generation and managed to play someone much less intelligent than she is believably and impressively.
Roger Ebert: I believe the movie may be demonstrating a fact of human nature: Most people, most of the time, all over the world, choose to go along. We vote with the tribe. What would we have done during the rise of Hitler? If we had been Jews, we would have fled or been killed. But what if we were one of the rest of the Germans? Can we guess what we would have done, on the basis of how many white Americans, north and south, knew about racial discrimination but didn't risk themselves to oppose it? Philip Roth's great novel The Plot Against America imagines a Nazi takeover here. It is painfully thought-provoking, and probably not unfair. The Reader suggests that many people are like Michael and Hanna, and possess secrets that we would do shameful things to conceal.
There are enormous pressures in all human societies to go along. Many figures involved in the recent Wall Street meltdown have used the excuse, "I was only doing my job. I didn't know what was going on." President Bush led us into war on mistaken premises, and now says he was betrayed by faulty intelligence. U.S. military personnel became torturers because they were ordered to. Detroit says it was only giving us the cars we wanted. The Soviet Union functioned for years because people went along. China still does.
Is The Reader a "Holocaust movie?" No. In terms of its two central characters, it is a movie about lacking the courage to speak when we should. That's something I think we can all identify with.
Revolutionary Road is another novel I haven't read. I was a child and teenager during the 50's and under its influence long enough to understand how it was. This movie presents an accurate account of that time when men's and women's roles were clearly defined, and it was a straight white male world - no deviations. All those men in suits and hats boarding commuter trains, walking on the sidewalk to work, and sitting in cubicles was effective. Kate Winslet's character was trapped in a life and place that stifled and suffocated her, and she wanted more for her husband and herself. It all worked.
Right after this movie, Linda and I looked at each other and didn't talk for a while. Then we said it made us feel blah. We talked about it Sunday when we met for lunch before more movies and said it dredged up a lot of bad feelings about the 50's, which led to the changes during the 60's that were in reaction to it. A moment of preaching: Liberation for one group frees other groups, everyone. Empowering minorities doesn't take away from the dominant culture but liberates everyone to be who and what they want to be and are. OK, off the soapbox now.
Ebert: Frank and April are played by DiCaprio and Winslet as the sad ending to the romance in Titanic, and all other romances that are founded on nothing more than ... romance. They are so good, they stop being actors and become the people I grew up around. Don't think they smoke too much in this movie. In the 1950s everybody smoked everywhere all the time. Life was a disease, and smoking held it temporarily in remission. And drinking? Every ad executive in the neighborhood would head for the Wrigley Bar at lunchtime to prove the maxim: One martini is just right, two are too many, three are not enough.
The direction is by Sam Mendes, who dissected suburban desperation in American Beauty, a film that after this one seems merciful. The screenplay by Justin Haythe is drawn from the famous 1961 novel by Richard Yates, who has been called the voice of the postwar Age of Anxiety. This film is so good it is devastating. A lot of people believe their parents didn't understand them. What if they didn't understand themselves?
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was very loosely based on a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald. I had some problems with it and kept trying to figure out how old his body was and how old he was inside. Cate Blanchett did her usual excellent acting and made it better by being in it. Brad Pitt did a good job, too, but not Oscar-worthy. It gave an interesting slant on historic events and times but was more about the character's age and how he responded to others and what he experienced. It was my least favorite, and I agree with this observation by Roger Ebert:
Given the resources and talent here, quite a movie might have resulted. But it's so hard to care about this story. There is no lesson to be learned. No catharsis is possible. In Fitzgerald's version, even Benjamin himself fails to comprehend his fate. He's born as a man with a waist-length beard who can read the encyclopedia, but in childhood, plays with toys and throws temper tantrums, has to be spanked and then disappears into a wordless reverie. "Benjamin" rejects these logical consequences because, I suspect, an audience wouldn't sit still for them.
According to the oddsmakers at MovieCityNews, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is third among the top five favorites for best picture. It may very well win. It expends Oscar-worthy talents on an off-putting gimmick. I can't imagine many people wanting to see the movie twice. There was another film this year that isn't in the "top five," or listed among the front-runners at all, and it's a profound consideration of the process of living and aging. That's Charlie Kaufman's Synecdoche, New York. It will be viewed and valued decades from now. You mark my words.