Advertisements

Monthly Archives: February 2014

Oscarology: 2014 Edition

It’s chocolate? Now I want one more than ever!

Here are my predictions for this year’s Academy Awards, which will be televised on Sunday night and which have provided me with a nice excuse to write about some films I haven’t yet written about elsewhere (e.g., 12 Years a Slave, Nebraska, Her and Philomena). Readers should feel free to chime in with their own Oscar predictions in the comments section below. Cheers!

The front-runner: 12 Years a Slave

12years

I won’t go as far as the notorious contrarian critic who dubbed 12 Years a Slave “torture porn,” but I also can’t help but wonder if there isn’t something a little dubious about director Steve McQueen’s obsessive focus on physical suffering. While the film’s advocates claim that images like the one of flesh being literally torn from a slave girl’s back as she’s being whipped, Passion of the Christ-style, exemplify McQueen’s brutal honesty and uncompromising vision, I also think it’s too easy of a way for him to manipulate viewers’ emotions. Are such moments sad and disgusting and powerful to behold? Sure. The problem is that McQueen isn’t also capable of taking us into the hearts and minds of his characters. While I suppose it is progress to see a Hollywood movie tackle a quintessentially African-American story from an African-American perspective (i.e., without a white savior-character to play the role of reassuring mediator for white viewers), the protagonist Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is in a position where he’s unable to say what he’s thinking for 95% of his screen time, which ultimately makes the character little more than a cipher. Perhaps a Bresson-like voice-over for Solomon would have helped — though I imagine screenwriter John Ridley wouldn’t have had the imagination to access Solomon’s thoughts. As it is, Solomon does come across as more of a human being than, say, Jamie Foxx in Django Unchained (to which 12 Years a Slave is obviously superior), but Michael Fassbender’s villainous slave-master still ends up problematically stealing the show. Script issues and Masterpiece Theater-style direction aside, the acting is mostly excellent. The main reason why 12 Years a Slave will win the Best Picture Oscar, however, is for the same reason that Dances with Wolves did in 1991 — because of its perceived social significance.

The main contender: Gravity

gravity

When I reviewed Gravity upon its initial release last fall I said that it was an entertaining thrill ride that was being ludicrously overpraised by critics eager to compare it to everything from Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey to authentic avant-garde films — and I stand by that. This is obviously a great-looking movie; but I wish director/co-writer Alfonso Cuaron had the courage of his original convictions and made this as a dialogue-free film with only one character instead of pairing Sandra Bullock with George Clooney for a lot of hackneyed dialogue and unnecessary back story. In short, I wish it was the outer-space version of All is Lost. In J.C. Chandor’s gripping, lost-at-sea adventure, we watch a man actually do things. In Gravity, Sandra Bullock’s character does a lot of hand-wringing and tells us things. Gravity is the main contender to 12 Years a Slave at the Oscars mainly because it made the most money of any of the Best Picture nominees. But I have a feeling that, in addition to the shitload of technical awards it’s destined to win, the only major prize it will reap is Best Director for Cuaron. I’ve heard some people say they are excited that he will be the first “Latin American filmmaker” to win in this category but how many know the work of Emilio Fernandez, a better Mexican director who once upon a time served as the actual model for the Oscar statue, hmmmm?

The dark horse: American Hustle

american

Given the massive debts it owes to Goodfellas and Casino, this lightweight but genuinely oddball con-artist comedy seems to have polarized many critics into responses of either “It out-Scorseses Scorsese!” or “This is nothing but a cheap imitation of the master!” This is unfortunate because, while I don’t think American Hustle is nearly at the level of The Wolf of Wall Street, I also don’t see any need for hating on it. I enjoyed David O. Russell’s latest because it boasts the same modest virtues one can reliably expect to find in all of the director’s work: it features a bunch of entertaining scenes and juicy performances. And if there is a category in which Russell arguably can be said to best Scorsese, it’s in the admirable attention he shows to his female characters. Some Oscar prognosticators actually have had this as the front-runner for Best Picture but I think they’ve been fooled by its Golden Globes success, where its ghetto-ization in the Musical/Comedy category made it the winningest film of the night. When members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences have to choose between this and actual dramas, I suspect they’re ticking off boxes for the latter in almost every category; David O. Russell and co-writer Eric Singer will have to content themselves with the Best Original Screenplay trophy only.

The long shot: The Wolf of Wall Street

wolf

The Wolf of Wall Street is by far my favorite of the Best Picture nominees. Unfortunately, I think it is going to lose in every category in which it’s nominated: it’s too disturbing, too controversial, too culturally relevant. Leonardo DiCaprio gives his finest performance as an adult, topping his criminally underrated work in J. Edgar, as Jordan Belfort, a sleazy penny stockbroker who swindled his way to the top of a billion-dollar empire by ripping off gullible 99-percenters and not showing a shred of conscience. DiCaprio’s penchant for playing obsessive, intensely-focused characters reaches its apotheosis here: not only does he show a surprising flair for physical comedy (Jordan’s Quaalude-addled crawl towards his Lamborghini has already proven itself to be a time-capsule moment), but his delivery of Jordan’s insane pep-talks to his throngs of employees comes across as rousing as Henry V‘s “St. Crispin’s Day” speech: “This right here is the land of opportunity! This is America! This is my home! The show goes on! They’re gonna need to send in the National Guard to take me out, ’cause I ain’t going nowhere!” (I hope, now that DiCaprio has played this part, however, that he has the good sense to dial down the intensity and do as little as possible in his next role.) But DiCaprio won’t win an Oscar for this. He’ll win at some point in the future for a performance that will probably be much less interesting than this one — just as Scorsese already got his Oscar for the least interesting of his recent works (The Departed).

The “number five” slot: Her

her

If there is one reason to see Her, a film built around the clever but also cloying premise of a man falling in love with his artificially intelligent operating system, it is for Joaquin Phoenix, who proves yet again that he is one of the finest actors working in American movies. Phoenix, especially since his return from what at the time seemed like a misguided, potentially career-ending hiatus, has the uncommon ability to convey the notion of a tortured soul. In The Master, The Immigrant, and now Her, he never seems to be trying too hard, never seems to be projecting, and yet the slightest inflections in his voice and the faintest glimmers of thought behind his mercurial green eyes can evoke entire worlds of emotional pain. It can’t be easy for an actor to play a man in love with a computer and yet Phoenix is always believable here. Unfortunately, 100% of the power generated from Her stems from his performance. Like every Spike Jonze film, Her is also annoying in a twee, indie-rock sort of way — a movie with a quirky and “innovative” exterior that masks a conventional and deeply sentimental core. Has no one noticed that this is essentially a remake of Lars and the Real Girl? Both feature generic rom-com plots about immature, irresponsible men who learn to become mature and responsible through the experience of having a romantic relationship with a non-human. The OS in Her and the sex doll in Lars finally serve the same function: to allow the socially inept male protagonist to become the kind of person who is ready for a “real” relationship at the end of the movie. If this film seems to be resonating with viewers, that’s probably because of its reassuring but reactionary message that one day humans will be able to become less reliant on technology. Her is not likely to win any Oscars.

The we-expanded-the-nominations-beyond-five-so-that-we-could-include-this-acclaimed-medium-budget-studio-film-that-has-no-chance-of-winning slot: Nebraska

nebraska

Nebraska, a black-and-white road trip comedy from Alexander Payne, is a pleasant and affecting surprise, especially following the same director’s emotionally phony and aesthetically boring Descendants. Woody (Bruce Dern), a senile codger, and David (Will Forte), his middle-aged mediocrity of a son, bond while traveling from their home town of Billings, Montana to Lincoln, Nebraska where Woody mistakenly believes he will claim a million dollar prize following a sweepstakes letter he received in the mail. Payne, a Nebraska native, is a deft hand at small-town Midwestern portraiture, and he absolutely nails the feelings of mutual disappointment between parents and children that are so common in life yet so rarely broached in American cinema: the scene of Woody revisiting his childhood home accompanied by his own sons unexpectedly caught me by the throat. Nebraska is not likely to win any Oscars.

The we-had-to-nominate-Harvey-Weinstein-for-something-even-though-he-has-no-chance-of-winning slot: Philomena

philomena

British director Stephen Frears (The Hit, The Grifters, High Fidelity) is a good craftsman so it’s too bad he’s willing to put his talents to the service of this kind of middle-brow/Oscar-bait/Weinsten Company material: Steve Coogan, who also produced and co-wrote, plays Martin Sixsmith, a journalist covering a “human interest” story involving the title character’s decades-long search for her son after he was taken from her by a convent and sold to adoptive parents in America. Judi Dench gives a typically fine performance as Philomena (or Philo-mania as Leo DiCaprio would say) but everything else about this is earnest, stodgy, dull and, finally, predictable. It may be of marginal interest, however, as the first movie to reflect the reign of Pope Francis: it seems specifically designed to appeal to liberal Catholics — you know, the kind who pride themselves on being more tolerant than those other Catholics?

The we-expanded-the-nominations-beyond-five-so-that-we-could-include-this-blockbuster-that-has-no-chance-of-winning slot: Captain Phillips

The we-expanded-the-nominations-beyond-five-so-that-we-could-include-this-indie-film-that-has-no-chance-of-winning slot: Dallas Buyer’s Club

Here are my final predictions:
Picture: 12 Years a Slave
Director: Alfonso Cuaron (Gravity)
Original Screenplay: David O. Russell and Eric Singer (American Hustle)
Adapted Screenplay: John Ridley (12 Years a Slave)
Actor: Matthew McConnaughey (Dallas Buyer’s Club)
Actress: Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine)
Supporting Actor: Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave)
Supporting Actress: Lupia Nyongo (12 Years a Slave)

Here are my personal numerical ratings for the Best Picture Oscar contenders:

The Wolf of Wall Street: 8.8
Nebraska: 7.8
American Hustle: 7.7
Gravity: 6.9
Her: 6.4
12 Years a Slave: 6.3
Philomena: 5.9

I have no interest in seeing Captain Phillips or Dallas Buyer’s Club. Peace out.

streaker

Advertisements

The Last Ten Movies I Saw

1. The Stuart Hall Project (Akomfrah)
2. Insidious: Chapter 2 (Wan)
3. What Now? Remind Me (Pinto)
4. Stranger By the Lake (Guiraudie)
5. Waxworks (Leni)
6. Empire Builder (Swanberg)
7. Devil’s Doorway (Mann)
8. Ida (Pawlikowski)
9. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (Demy)
10. The Strange Little Cat (Zürcher)


Now Playing: Gloria

Gloria
dir. Sebastian Lelio, 2013, Chile

Rating: 8.6

gloria2

Now playing at Landmark’s Century Center Theatre in Chicago is Gloria, a terrific 2013 Chilean comedy/drama from the young director Sebastian Lelio. While South American cinema has for decades been tragically — and ironically, given our geographical and linguistic affinities — under-distributed in North America, especially in comparison to its European and Asian counterparts, Gloria has arrived here with a fair amount of positive buzz. Most of the praise has deservedly been centered on the brilliant Paulina Garcia, who won the Best Actress prize at the Berlin International Film Festival where Gloria premiered last year. I was first hipped to Lelio’s movie by the Chilean director Fernando Lavanderos (whom I interviewed shortly afterwards and whose Las Cosas Como Son was one of the best films to play Chicago in 2013 that hardly anyone saw). Lavanderos explained that he and Lelio had worked together years ago on a documentary television show about a family living in the slums of Santiago but when he asked if I was familiar with “Gloria,” I mistakenly assumed he was referring to the 1980 John Cassavetes movie by the same title. “No, no,” Lavanderos said, laughing. “This year was the premiere of Gloria, a Chilean film influenced by Cassavetes.” This threw me when I got around to seeing Lelio’s movie recently; the Cassavetes connection does not seem obvious at first — Lelio eschews the emotional histrionics and harrowing quality associated with the legendary independent American director’s best work and allows his movie to coast by on a good deal of low-key charm instead — but both filmmakers might be said to favor a character-centric cinema that feels unusually and impressively attuned to the emotional textures of everyday life. Like Cassavetes, Lelio trains a patient camera eye on his lead character and audaciously resists taking easy emotional shortcuts. As a result, I found his Gloria to be, well, glorious.

?????????????????????????

It has become an axiomatic truth that the vast majority of Hollywood movies have no substantial roles to offer actresses over 40. It is therefore heartening to see a new Latin American movie that is focused so intensely on a female character in her early 50s: Paulina Garcia has to carry the movie by appearing, as the resilient title character, in literally every scene. Even more impressive is how Gloria, a divorcee, is not a stereotypical neurotic single woman desperate for midlife romance (though she does briefly find that) but rather an ordinary, smart, sexy, well-adjusted woman who is content to live alone, loves her grown children, works at what looks like a mundane office job, listens to pop music, and spends her free time dancing at her local discotheque. (She is not perfect. We also see that she can be vindictive and even, on occasion, self-destructive.) It is while dancing at the club that Gloria, whose good looks are almost obscured by the unfashionably large frames of her prescription glasses, meets Rodolfo (Sergio Hernández), a 60-something gentleman and recent divorcee who picks her up by asking if she’s “always this happy,” a line that makes her erupt into laughter. A passionate affair ensues. (I should point out here that I also found it refreshing to see erotic sex scenes — and nudity — involving actors in their 50s and 60s. The world would be a much healthier place if it were more common to see love scenes featuring actors of diverse ages and body types.) The film’s central conflict eventually emerges from Rodolpho’s commitment issues — specifically Gloria’s annoyance at how he seems to prioritize attending to the needs of his two adult daughters and ex-wife, all of whom he supports financially. But this is, thankfully, also a movie that is in no real hurry to do anything: it does not put its characters through the paces of a formulaic plot, nor does it seem eager to give viewers a familiar set of emotional experiences. Lelio’s camera merely observes Gloria and if audiences have fallen in love with her, that’s likely because Lelio has not insisted that we have to.

gloria

One of my favorite aspects of Gloria is how the film resembles a musical and indeed occasionally seems to threaten turning into one without ever doing so. One of Gloria’s defining characteristics is her love of pop songs and Lelio features more than a few scenes of her singing along to them — sometimes while driving to work and listening to the radio but also, in one exceptionally lovely sequence, while she is waxing her legs at home. These scenes provide two crucial functions: to establish the rhythm of this woman’s life, the routines of which become the rhythm of the movie, and to subtly clue viewers into her emotional state: one of the film’s key sequences features Gloria attending a house party whose revelers engage in an impromptu jam of a song by Antonio Carlos Jobim. Gloria stands apart from the crowd and sings softly along, her voice barely audible. The counterpoint between her and the other party guests reveals her sadness in the fashion of a true movie musical, prompting viewers to reflect upon exactly what in the preceding scenes may have caused her to feel this way. After a muted climax involving revenge that is too good to give away, the film ends with its most energizing sequence: Gloria attends a wedding reception and, after hesitating for a few moments, joins the wedding guests on the dance floor. Her theme song is playing, the Spanish-language version of Umberto Tozzi’s “Gloria” (made famous in the U.S. by Laura Brannigan’s English-language cover). Singing and dancing with more abandon than she has at any other point in the movie, Gloria loses herself in the music and the moment. The meaning is clear: she will survive and she will endure. I was depressed to come home from seeing Gloria and log onto the Internet Movie Database to note that some user reviews referred to it as “boring,” “pointless” and “slow.” Have viewers become so accustomed to formulas and cliches that they cannot see the “point” of a movie in which those qualities are absent? I personally felt I could have watched this woman’s life unfold onscreen forever.

You can view the trailer for Gloria on YouTube below:


The Last Ten Movies I Saw

1. Letter from an Unknown Woman (Ophuls)
2. Bringing Up Baby (Hawks)
3. Gloria (Lelio)
4. 2 Days in Paris (Delpy)
5. We Are What We Are (Mickle)
6. Sherlock Jr. (Keaton)
7. Scandal Sheet (Karlson)
8. The Tracker (De Heer)
9. Cleo from 5 to 7 (Varda)
10. A New Leaf (May)


Adventures in Early Movies: Interior New York Subway, 18th St. to 42nd St.

Still from Interior New York Subway, 18th St. to 42nd St.

The name G.W. “Billy” Bitzer belongs on anyone’s short list of the greatest cinematographers of all time. A true innovator, even a genius, in his field, Bitzer shot over a thousand movies between 1896 (the very dawn of the motion-picture medium) and his retirement during the early sound era in 1933. Among his considerable achievements are shooting virtually all of the major masterpieces of D.W. Griffith, including A Corner in Wheat (1909), The Musketeers of Pig Alley (1912), The Birth of a Nation (1915), Intolerance: Love’s Struggle Through the Ages (1916), Broken Blossoms or The Yellow Man and the Girl (1919), True Heart Susie (1919), Way Down East (1920) and Orphans of the Storm (1921). Among the cinematographic innovations he is credited with creating and/or popularizing are illuminating a film set through artificial lighting (as opposed to using sunlight as was customary with early cinema), as well as the use of backlighting, close-ups, fade-outs, lap dissolves, soft-focus photography and tracking shots. Less well-known is that Billy Bitzer also directed seven movies himself between 1896 and 1907 (the last of which was D.W. Griffith’s first film, The Adventures of Dolly, on which Bitzer served as both director of photography and uncredited co-director). Most of Bitzer’s directorial credits were for “actualities,” early, short documentaries where the line between cinematographer and director was oftentimes blurred. Among Bitzer’s short filmography as director, however, one film stands tall as a masterpiece of its era: Interior New York Subway, 18th St. to 42nd St. (sometimes also referred to by the abbreviated title New York Subway).

billy G.W. “Billy” Bitzer in an undated publicity still from later in his career

Interior New York Subway, 18th St. to 42nd St. is a movie as interesting for how it was made as for what it depicts. It is a nearly five and a half minute short film consisting of a single unbroken tracking shot in which Bitzer photographs a New York City subway car from behind as it travels from the 18th Street station to its destination of Grand Central. The film was shot on May 21 of 1905 and, ingeniously, Bitzer illuminated the subway’s dark interior by setting up artificial lights on another train running on a track parallel to the one he was photographing. (The train with the lights can be glimpsed twice during the film, on the left side of the frame: first in the opening moments and again at around the 3:45 mark on the video I’ve included below.) Anyone who has ever ridden the New York subway will marvel at how little its interiors have changed in the past 109 years when watching this movie today. Although Interior New York Subway, 18th St. to 42nd St. is a good example of the popular early film genre known as the “phantom ride” (where a camera was mounted onto a forward-moving vehicle), its highest point of interest today is probably the climactic moment when the train pulls into Grand Central station and comes to a full stop. After witnessing a subway ride that feels like it could be occurring at any time anywhere in the world for approximately five unedited minutes, the camera dramatically pans left and the viewer is suddenly thrust into the New York City of the early 20th century, only months, in fact, after its subway had first opened. It is shocking to see how the passengers all appear exceedingly well dressed: the women wear dresses and hats with flowers in them, the men wear suits and bowler hats, flat-brimmed straw hats and even top hats. Poignantly, several of the men, women and children on the platform stop and stare directly into Bitzer’s camera. It is an unforgettable and precious time capsule, captured through a remarkable feat of engineering by one of the cinema’s great early stylists.

Interior New York Subway, 18th St. to 42nd St. is preserved in the paper print collection of the Library of Congress. There are many versions of it floating around on the web. The one I’ve linked to below, taken from the Unseen Cinema DVD, has the best image quality I could find:


The Last Ten Movies I Saw

1. Man with the Movie Camera (Vertov)
2. Philomena (Frears)
3. Woody Allen: A Documentary (Weide)
4. The Lower Depths (Renoir)
5. The Wild Bunch (Peckinpah)
6. Nosferatu (Murnau)
7. Last Year at Marienbad (Resnais)
8. The Great Beauty (Sorrentino)
9. The Girl from Nowhere (Brisseau)
10. Bringing Up Baby (Hawks)


Now Playing: The Great Beauty

The Great Beauty
dir. Paolo Sorrentino, 2013, Italy

Rating: 5.6

great

Now playing at The Music Box Theatre in Chicago (and the newly refurbished Wilmette Theatre in Wilmette) is Paolo Sorrentino’s The Great Beauty, an Italian art film that has generated a good deal of critical acclaim since it debuted at the Cannes Film Festival last May. It won the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film last month and is considered by many to be the front runner in the same category at the Oscars next month. It seems that, more than ever before, critical opinion in America now coalesces around a single “foreign film” each year (e.g., A Separation in 2011, Amour in 2012), conveniently allowing a single “foreign director” to be feted in Hollywood for several months on end during “awards season.” This presumably also allows the American public the chance to feel cultured without having to expend too much effort — i.e., by seeing only a single non-American movie each year. (Hey, who has the time to keep tabs on what these foreign filmmakers are doing when you can just let Sony Pictures Classics be your gatekeeper and narrow down the choices for you?) But even a couple of my cinephile friends have jumped on the Great Beautiful bandwagon and urged me to see the latest from Sorrentino, a director with whom I was previously unfamiliar. I am sorry to say I now have little desire to fill in on this filmmaker’s prior work, as talented of a visual stylist as he may be; I was intensely disappointed by The Great Beauty, a movie that tries to capture the zeitgeist but is so tired, stale and reactionary that it gives the impression it could have been made 50 years ago with only minimal changes to the dialogue (e.g., removing its fleeting derogatory references to Facebook and reality T.V.).

great

One friend recently described The Great Beauty to me as “an Italian Holy Motors,” presumably because, like Leos Carax’s masterpiece, it is amazingly photographed, vaguely flirts with surrealism (both a dwarf and a giraffe appear) and functions as a series of extended set pieces revolving around the same character rather than following a more traditional linear plot. I was therefore crushed to find myself coming to the conclusion that Sorrentino’s film is, on a deeper level, the polar opposite of Carax’s. Holy Motors is a movie that shows, with a great deal of cinematic sophistication, how notions of identity have become increasingly fragmented in the internet/video game age. It is also a film that, perhaps even in spite of Carax’s’s intentions, connected with young people: when I took a college class on a field trip to see what I perceived to be a somewhat “difficult movie,” I was absolutely astonished to find that literally all of the students enjoyed it, immediately identifying with its multiple-avatars-as-protagonist premise. (While Carax may act like a curmudgeonly luddite in interviews, as a filmmaker he still regards the medium with a childlike wonder that comes across as infectious to viewers.) The Great Beauty, by contrast, attempts to deal with what its creator sees as a crisis in contemporary Italian culture: the difficulty of creating meaningful art in a shallow and decadent age. Unfortunately, Sorrentino frames this already cynical dilemma in the most retrograde terms imaginable — as a Fellini-esque fantasia centered on a creatively blocked artist — and winds up not only venerating the past but clinging desperately to the past as an artist himself, the only aesthetic solution he can find for his perceived cultural malaise.

great

The protagonist of The Great Beauty, Jep Gambardella (Toni Servillo), is a writer in his mid-60s who authored an acclaimed novel, The Human Apparatus, decades ago but never followed it up and has since devolved into working as a tabloid journalist. Jep is a socialite who attends swinging parties and interviews celebrities, and has thus become a fixture of the gossip columns as much as the subjects of his articles. He dreams of writing a new novel but, surrounded by people he considers “animals,” can’t muster up the enthusiasm to write about “nothing.” If all of this sounds familiar, that’s because the film is pretty much an exact mash-up of La Dolce Vita and 8 1/2, Federico Fellini’s masterpieces from 1960 and 1963, respectively. Jep, Sorrentino’s hip alter-ego, is a cultured man who appreciates the exalted history of Italian art but also finds the sheer weight of it stifling — it’s the source of his creative paralysis. Sorrentino indulges his own love of Italian art history (music, painting and sculpture) on his soundtrack and through his images, which he pointedly contrasts with a modern Italian culture he despairingly identifies only with “fashion and pizza.” The only contemporary artists we see are frauds: a performance artist (female, beautiful and nude, of course) who idiotically runs headfirst into a giant stone column, and a little girl who randomly splashes buckets of paint onto a massive canvas that we are told will sell for “millions.” Sorrentino reveals his hand by juxtaposing this cartoonish latter scene with a solemn one in which Jep makes a visit to an art museum in the middle of the night. There, the director’s low-angle camera circles around an ancient statue, a tracking shot that itself is a visual quote from Roberto Rossellini’s Journey to Italy (1954); even Sorrentino’s conception of cinematic beauty can’t escape the burden of his country’s glorious past.

great

If there is a saving grace to The Great Beauty, it is Toni Servillo’s performance as Jep. The twinkle-eyed Servillo has a rakish charm reminiscent of Ben Gazzara and Jean-Paul Belmondo whenever they played aging-Duan Juan types, and his shark-grinned visage remains compulsively watchable even as the film surrounding him sinks into tedium. Unfortunately, this terrific actor deserves something more dignified than his character’s climactic encounter with a 103-year-old nun, a Mother Teresa lookalike meant to symbolize “tired religion” with mind-numbing literalness. (At the end of the film, Sorrentino actually cuts from this decrepit woman crawling up a flight of stairs to a flashback of the night young Jep lost his virginity, a juxtaposition of sex and religion that would have made even Fellini’s eyes roll.) I did see a great new Italian movie with “Beauty” in the title last year, one that more thoughtfully examines the role of Catholicism in contemporary Italian society: Marco Bellocchio’s euthanasia-themed Dormant Beauty. Even though many people, including me, consider Bellocchio to be Italy’s best living filmmaker, and even though that film features the great Isabelle Huppert in a strong supporting turn as a nun, it only screened once in Chicago — at the Gene Siskel Film Center’s invaluable European Union Film Festival — before disappearing for good. But, then again, the tone of Bellocchio’s movie is sincere instead of ironic and lacks The Great Beauty‘s flashy cinematography (not to mention copious party scenes and tits), and I suppose that’s just not the kind of thing that’s ever going to be up for a Best Foreign Film Oscar.

You can view the trailer for The Great Beauty on YouTube below:


%d bloggers like this: