It’s That Time of Year

So, about that dance sequence in 'Spider-Man 3' ...With the big Thanksgiving movies off and running, it’s time to bring out the Oscar contenders — or at least the smaller, less expensive wannabes the studios hope will find their audience before the real prestige pictures open on Christmas Day. What’s on this week, you ask? Well, let’s take a look.

“Armored”: Okay, this one’s not an Oscar contender — it’s a heist thriller that’s been bouncing around Sony’s schedule for a while now. Not screened for the press, either, which isn’t always the best sign. On the other hand, Laurence Fishburne!

“Brothers”: Susanne Bier’s stark tale of siblings split asunder by war and duty gets Americanized in Jim Sheridan’s uneven, radically recast version, which lops a decade or so off the characters’ ages — replacing Ulrich Thomsen with Jake Gyllenhaal, and Connie Nielsen with Natalie Portman — but doesn’t adjust the script accordingly. (How old is Natalie Portman supposed to have been when she gave birth to her first child?) Still, there are some decent moments before Sheridan cranks up the bathos.

Everybody’s Fine“: Another remake, this one based on Guiseppe Tornatore’s 1990 melodrama, with Robert De Niro stepping into the role of the alienated paterfamilias originally played by Marcello Mastroianni. De Niro’s terrific, but the movie around him is pretty saccharine.

“Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould”: Michele Holzer and Peter Raymont’s reverent portrait of the legendary pianist hits all the expected notes, as it were, without ever quite breaking through to the “within” part. This is likely because Gould will forever be impenetrable, but the title sets up expectations for a more aggressive take on the artist’s psychology that simply isn’t there.

“The Private Lives of Pippa Lee”: Once again, Rebecca Miller demonstrates that as a filmmaker, she’s a really good short-story writer. (Yes, I know this was based on a novel, but it’s an awfully episodic novel, making for an even more episodic movie.) Worth seeing for Robin Wright Penn’s performance, but you won’t lose anything if you wait for the DVD.

Red Cliff“: John Woo’s original version of this spectacular war epic runs 282 minutes, in two distinct parts; that’s longer than “Gone with the Wind”, longer than “Lawrence of Arabia”, longer than Soderbergh’s “Che”. The North American version runs 150 minutes, slicing away nearly half the picture. But the battle scenes look so much better on the big screen than they do on the import DVDs …

Up in the Air“: Jason Reitman follows “Thank You for Smoking” and “Juno” with another tale of a self-confident character undone by unexpected vulnerability; yes, it’s slick and commercial, and a hair on the cold side, and an obvious Oscar vehicle for Clooney, but you know what? It got under my skin. And Clooney’s pretty terrific, when all is said and done.

3 thoughts on “It’s That Time of Year”

  1. I’m pretty sure Armored is a remake of Yves Simoneau’s Quebec classic Pouvoir Intime, which if you haven’t seen it is really good. Not sure if it’s available on DVD though.

  2. This isn’t about any of the movies that came out today, but you write about other stuff occasionally and I read something pop culture-y today that I thought to run past you. Harlan Ellison is nominated for a Grammy in the best spoken word children’s category. Is this one of the signs of the apocalypse? I’m scared.

  3. @ Shlomo — they’re not acknowledging the connection, if there is one. I have very fond memories of the Simoneau film; how he ended up making such dull hash out of the new “V”, I cannot understand.

    @ Chris — have you heard Patton Oswalt’s new album? There’s a bit about a trickster god who gets one chance per year to screw with people in the Los Angeles area; obviously, this is his contribution to 2009. (Oswalt is himself among the Grammy nominees, by the way.)

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