Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Best Films of the Aughts (80-89)

89. Wendy and Lucy - dir. Kelly Reichardt (2008)
"You can't get an address without an address. You can't get a job without a job."

88. Morvern Callar - dir. Lynne Ramsay (2002)

"Fuck work, Lanna. We can go wherever you like."

87. Mystic River - dir. Clint Eastwood (2003)

"Their daddy's a king. And a king knows what to do and does it. Even when it's hard. And their daddy will do whatever he has to for those he loves. And that's all that matters. Because everyone is weak, Jimmy. Everyone but us. We will never be weak. And you, you could rule this town. And after Jimmy, let's take the girls down to the parade. Katie would like that."

86. Match Point - dir. Woody Allen (2005)

"I never got along with her, but this is just tragic."

85. Moulin Rouge! - dir. Baz Luhrmann (20
"What's his type? Wilting flower? Bright and bubbly? Or smoldering temptress?"

84. Stevie - dir. Steve James (2002)

"You expect me to say something when my fiancee's sitting right here? So I can get in trouble with her? I know when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em."

83. Vera Drake - dir. Mike Leigh (2004)

"That's not what I do dear. That's what you call it. But they need help. Who else they got to turn to? No one. I help them out."

82. Prodigal Sons - dir. Kimberly Reed (2009)

"I've told people about myself. They've stood up and walked out of the room, never to talk to me again. There's one sentence I can tell people that can make them never want to talk to me again."

Spotlight--81. My Life Without Me - dir. Isa
bel Coixet (2003)

"Hey my buddy, Penny. I'm not going to be at your birthday party, but there's nothing I'd like more in the whole, wide world. I bet Grandma's made a special birthday cake just for you with your name on it in big chocolate letters. Penny, I want you to know that the day you were born, I held you in my arms and that was the happiest day in my whole life. I was so happy I couldn't even speak. I just stroked your little feet and cried with happiness. Without you, I could have never found out that lions eat pancakes or that the bed could be a raft. Try and look after Patsy, okay? I know it's hard 'cause sometimes she makes you mad and everything. I know it's not easy being the big sister, but I know you can do it. Mommy sends you millions and millions of kisses."

What a deplorable, unpleasant and implausible premise Isabel Coixet's My Life Without Me begins on. Ann, a young woman in her early twenties (a fantastic Sarah Polley) who lives in a trailer with her unemployed husband and two young daughters discovers that her days our numbered. Stricken with ovarian cancer, she has two months to live. Rather than disclosing this information to her family, Ann decides not to burden them and instead records audio tapes for her daughters for each of their remaining birthdays until they turn eighteen and tapes for her husband as well. As if this character couldn't seem any more detestable and selfish, she also finds it prudent to sleep with another man (she's only ever slept with her husband) just to see what it's like. She meets Lee (Mark Ruffalo) and the two begin an affair. What a horrible person! Who on Earth would want to spend 100 minutes with this woman, watching her playing the admittedly shitty hand she's been dealt, doing the wrong thing at every turn. I'm not being facetious. I'm simply marveling at how the way I reacted to the premise of My Life Without Me was wholly different from my reaction to the film itself.

Isabel Coixet has crafted a lovely, airy and evocative piece of filmmaking. As abhorrent as the logline seems, it can also read as a setup for something much more maudlin, sanguine and Lifetime Movie of the Week than the result we are given. The subject matter is prickly and unpleasant. The film does not pretend that what Ann is doing is commendable and based on some kind of all-knowing altruism. Sarah Polley is a pitch perfect as Ann. She seems to have such a knack for internal psychology, something that not all actors can claim. The scene in which Ann first learns of her illness is played very interestingly, and it's quite thrilling to watch the choices Polley makes. She doesn't underplay the moment which, given the sedate nature of the narrative, would have felt at once obvious and forced. Nor does she blow it up into a big exercise where she can chew the scenery. She starts off with humor, then goes in for the kill like a shark in the water. "What the fuck is wrong with me?" she asks the doctor, an abrupt shift after cracking wise for a beat. Her face registers the shock and she conveys a woman who is collapsing in on herself. Between her performances here, in The Sweet Hereafter, hell, even in Splice, a film's determined to strip a mildly interesting premise of its sheen in service of a telling an incredibly lame, by-the-numbers thriller, Polley seems to pack an actorly wallop. Even going back as far her days on Road to Avonlea, she always presents a very subtle, intriguing maturity. I understand, on the most basic level, why Polley's ratio of high-profile roles, even in smaller character pieces, seems disproportionate to her talents as an actress. She seems quite loyally stationed in the Canadian film scene, so in a way, that limits the number of projects we'll see her in. She's pretty, but not breathtaking and some might even say that she has an otherwordliness about her fact (much like Samantha Morton, Emily Watson and even Tilda Swinton) that limits the number of roles casting directors are willing to imagine her inhabiting. And lastly, and most intangibly, she always seems to read as very prickly and complicated. But the fact that she is always so interesting to watch still causes me to selfishly want more of her. I'm not so naive as to imagine a Katherine Heigl level of visibility, but I wouldn't mind a Michelle Williams-style career from Sarah Polley.

This is by no means a perfect film. It sometimes meanders, though never in ways that are not compelling. Mark Ruffalo, who I mentioned in my write-up of You Can Count On Me does seem best at playing the selfish manchild, but it doesn't always serve the narrative. While fine here, he does contribute (maybe adversely) to the film's misanthropic nature, but it doesn't sink the film and I'm still not convinced, after several viewings, that Ruffalo was miscast. He serves as the perfect foil for Ann's husband, Don (Scott Speedman). Don is sweet, stupid and satisfied. There aren't many notes to play, but Speedman seems to understand the character perfectly. Imagine Ryan Gosling's Dean in Blue Valentine, with better hair, less beer in the morning and more baffled than openly hostile about his wife's emotional wanderlust. Interesting side note: My Life Without Me and Blue Valentine would make for a fascinating (albeit very depressing) double bill. Despite all of the aforementioned limitations, I found myself enthralled with My Life Without Me. The characters are observant and flawed. The dialogue is unfussy and believable. The same, I suppose, could be said of Isabel Coixet's more heralded 2008 offering Elegy, which I enjoyed well enough and would hardly recommend passing over on one's Netflix watch instantly queue. But there was a certain artifice and sheen about that film that left me admiring much, but ultimately feeling little by the last frame. I felt My life Without Me and I couldn't take my eyes off of it.

80. United 93 - dir. Paul Greengrass

"Hi mom, it's me... this really kind woman handed me the phone and told me to call you."

Next: 70-79

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