Friday, February 8, 2008

Overlooked in the race for rankings

As I've said I think the end of the year listing and ranking process for film and music is more than just a little pedantic and silly, but whatever. People are going to do what they're going to do regardless of how my non-entity self feels about the whole thing. It just occurred to me though that there were two really solid movies that came out last year that deserved to be on at least one list. If they aren't on any other, which would be a crime, they're gonna be on my list of two movies in no specific order that I really liked and felt were overlooked by the people who matter aka everyone other than me. Well, I do matter to myself, so I guess that's not really true. Whatever, you get the general rambling idea.

Numero uno: Romance and Cigarettes.

How people can go on about how wonderful that shiite of a remake Hairspray was and not think this musical was way, way better, I can't even fathom. Just because this movie doesn't end with the happiest of happy endings, doesn't mean it's not a feel good movie. The spirit of silliness that inhabits this film is in some ways mythic, dare I say it. It was an amazing fable about the travails of modern life, in a kind of comedic counter-point to Black Snake Moan, which I'm fairly sure also came out toward the beginning of the year and has also been overlooked in the rush to give out awards to all the same people and movies. I don't begrudge those people who win and get all the media attention, but I do wish the mainstream media would pay attention to off the radar stuff that may seem complicated to release or defies simple categorization. I'll admit that Moan was a tough one, but I would bet substantial money that Romance & Cigarettes could have turned a monster profit if the distributers would have gotten in on the game instead of being completely afraid of original material that isn't surrounded by the so-called buzz.

The movie was actually filmed several years ago, but no one would take on distribution. So, after what I assume was years of trying to get his film released, John Turtorro, the film's writer and director, leased a movie house in New York and self-released in one theater. It got solid reviews and was picked up, finally for a run in, what I have to assume was seriously limited release. All I know is it finally came to Boston after years of waiting with anticipation for this film. I had heard about it through the IMDB way back when it was just sketchy details available for the public, and the little red filming, or post-production brackets before the film title. When I finally saw who was in it, I flipped. The cast is immacutely culled for the type of off the wall comedic irony coupled with the Vaudeville and slapstick comic stylings that would be needed to make this kind of material work. All I knew at the time was that it was a musical written and directed by Turtorro, produced by the Coens, and starring Gandolfini, Surandon, Walken, Winslet, Buscemi, Mary-louis Parker, Aida Turtorro, Mandy Moore, Bobby Canavale, and the list goes on with regonizable names all the way down the most minimal speaking parts. All of this can, of course, be gleaned from the IMDB, so I had known years in advance that this film was out there, and had even read a glowing review of how good it was at some festival. The thing had been released in other countries for quite a while before it finally saw the light of day in American moviehouses.

I have no idea what the deal was on that, but it may have been the funniest film I've ever seen. Okay, that's a little hyperbolic, but it was massively funny. In a year that saw Juno birthed to the world with total adorement and deference, this movie should have gotten just a little bit of that glory. What's that? You say that Juno was unquestionably the wittiest film of all time. You may have a point, and you certainly have a valid position from which to argue. I'm not going to argue the point, but I will say that in the first five minutes of R&C we get these gems:
"I am not a whoremaster"
"Your father's on an all beaver diet"
We also get Steve Buscemi fantasing about putting tennis balls in the tennis pro's underwear. So clearly, Juno does not have the lock on slightly inappropriate hilarity. I do believe Diablo Cody would be envious.
Anyway, the film is just supercool. Chris Walken doing a soft shoe in the rain. A full-on drag down fight between Susan Surandon and Kate Winslet. Eddie Izzard as the church organist and spurned lover. There are so many killer moments in this movie. As the old-school beat looking character with whom I had a post-film discussion said: "It just makes you love movies again." Well said, sir.

Numero dos: Control
Okay, this movie was a little tougher on the system. It was not a feel good film. It was bursting with the angst so common to top-notch creative minds. Control is the story of Ian Curtis, the lead singer of Joy Division, and (spoiler alert!) it doesn't end well. Maybe one or two people know that, so I'm not giving too much away. This was ground that was somewhat covered in Micheal Winterbottom's Twenty-Four Hour Party People. The difference being this is more focused on just the Joy Division storyline, instead of the whole Factory Records rise and fall. It's all black and white, and it's pretty bleak. Even before we make it to Ian's frustrations trying to reconcile being a father and a burgeoining rockstar, the film gives us angstiness, dulling work routines, dealing with epilepsy, you get the idea. It's slow and unforgiving, but the music is a sickness. This is the reason that I have to give this movie some serious props. The actors do all the playing and singing, and that is what you hear when you see the reconstructions of live performances. I'll say that again in case you didn't get me. There is no overdubbing of the live performances. It's the actual live recordings of the actors playing the instruments and singing Joy Division's songs, and they nail it. That in and of itself is worth a look in my opinion. That and Sam Riley's spot on performance and recreation of Ian's frenetic dance style. It's all pretty intense, and the movie left me feeling brooding and introspective, but with a burning desire to get down to something of value and really break open the creative process. It also left me with a mild distrust of the surrounding world, and I looked sideways at everyone I passed on the street on my way home.

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