It’s cold, it’s wet. It’s the perfect time to catch up with the overseas movie scene. Coincidentally, it’s Oscar season and a whole slew of ‘good’ films are just appearing in the shops here. A widely heralded good year for quality films (2007) has come face to face with the WGA writer’s strike, now into its third month in Hollywood. The Golden Globes were reduced to an hour long press conference announcing the winners. If the strike over future royalty rates on downloaded films isn’t resolved soon then the Oscars are next. The big stars are already resigned to making the most of the British Baftas.
Shanghaiist is not worried about the upcoming lack of hype, tears and borderline surreal acceptance speeches. Now we can settle down in front of the TV, away from the rain and crowds, and take in some of the new releases with a hype free mind. The main contenders are films about guys doing guy things. Not a large surprise. We managed to catch No Country for Old Men, Gone Baby Gone, Eastern Promises and There Will Be Blood. Don’t worry, no evil spoilers coming up.
No Country for Old Men is the latest offering from the Coen brothers. This thriller genre film sees them returning to territory they explored in “Fargo” and in their debut feature, “Blood Simple”. It’s 1980 and Josh Brolin plays a Vietnam veteran out hunting around the Rio Grande. He discovers the remains of a drug deal gone bad and hikes off with the money, closely followed by a seemingly supernatural assassin obsessed with inevitable fate. The Coen brothers are innovative filmmakers and they bring a number of chops to this film including a soundtrack completely devoid of incidental music. We liked it and saw why reviewers around the world were up in arms over the ending.
In Eastern Promises, a London nurse (Naomi Watts) takes a diary from a dead girl that leads her into the violent world of the Russian mafia. She meets an enigmatic hitman (Viggo Mortenson) and gets led deeper and deeper into their world. David Cronenberg brings his trademark graphic violence and disturbing images, including a set-piece that brings new definition to the term ‘naked violence’. It’s a dark and intelligent film, but one in which every Russian born character of note is a violent murderer, a prostitute or racist animal. At least one film on this subject was inevitable after the shock caused by the Alexander Litvinenko case in London in 2006, although this one sticks with gangs rather than dissidents.
There Will be Blood is Paul Thomas Anderson’s look at the early oil industry. Where there is Daniel Day-Lewis, there will be an acting nomination lurking nearby. The film starts with a single hole in the dusty ground and slowly works its way up to land grabs and pipelines. The main conflict of the story revolves around Day-Lewis’s oil man and a local evangelical preacher called Eli Sunday (Paul Dano). Like his previous movies (Boogie Nights, Magnolia) Anderson sets up breathtaking character based set pieces and lets the actors strut their stuff. We found this film to be so relentlessly guys-doing-guy-things, that this writer now doubts he is a ‘real man’. Do women get anything out of films like this? Female perspectives in the comments welcome.
Gone Baby Gone is the surprise here. Based on a Dennis Lehane novel (of Mystic River fame) it is directed by … wait for it … Ben Affleck. It tells the story of a local Boston private detective (Casey Affleck) who investigates the disappearance of a young girl. The more he knows the more ambiguous the case becomes and finally he is faced with a set of unclear choices. This film sets up the question/problem then doesn’t answer it. Instead it refuses to take a moral side and leaves you having to make up your own mind. We appreciate the assumption of viewer intelligence. Despite the ‘Bennifer’ tabloid monstrosity and ‘Gigli’ it shouldn’t be surprising that Affleck could direct such a mature effort. He originally crashed on the scene taking a writing Oscar for ‘Good Will Hunting’.
Not seen yet: Sweeney Todd, Juno (not a ‘real men’ pic).
Other tips: Back in the home arena, Lust, Caution is well worth the watch but beware, the uncensored version lacks subtitles and is a mix of Mandarin, Cantonese and Shanghainese. Polyglots only.