Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Best films

I have previously noted that I am now a regular filmgoer, thanks to the influence of my friend Brad. We try to see a new film every Tuesday evening and then repair for coffee for conversation about the film (and anything else that floats across our consciousnesses). It's not especially a theological enterprise (although Brad is a professor of theology at a local college), but it is significant how theology and films intersect. (How many courses are there in universities and colleges on "faith and film" or the like?) In fact, we are often led to theological considerations by the films we see, and I think that is as it should be. Films are a wonderful preaching (and source for material for preaching). Apparently Mel Gibson sees it that way, anyway -- though I can't testify to his results, because I never saw the Passion.

Well, as a part of preparing for Tuesday nights, I regularly watch At the Movies, a review program with Roger Ebert and Richard Roeper, both Chicago SunTimes film critics. I have been watching Ebert for decades (yes, literally), and although it took a while, I am warming to Richard Roeper (although when they disagree, I still tend to end up on Ebert's side). We're such fans of the program that we refer to the critics and the program as "the guys" -- as in, "the guys are on now" or "I wonder what the guys will say about that movie."

Well, this is the time when they name their choices for the ten best films of the previous year. And I list their choices here, hoping that I break no copyright laws by claiming this fair use. You can check out the actual reviews yourself -- here for Roger Ebert and here for Richard Roeper.

Ebert's picks (from #1 - #10, best first) are:

Brokeback Mountain
Me and You and Everyone We Know
9 Lives
King Kong

Roeper's are:

New World
9 Lives
Brokeback Mountain
History of Violence
Walk the Line
40-Year-Old Virgin

Go figure!

I have missed a lot of these films (it just goes to show that there are lots of good movies about), and I heartily disagree about several others. How can that be?

For example, how can Crash figure in the top three for both? It was an OK film, raising some interesting and unfortunately perennial issues. But I didn't really think that it did so in a way that was particularly new or gripping. (Matt Dillon was good, however, and I think maybe he deserves an Oscar nomination.) So, too, Brokeback Mountain.

Now I know that some may doubt this sentiment, but I wanted to like this movie. And from the hype I was expecting to be blown away. And then it shows up in both the guys' lists. But I found the thing frankly disappointing. I guess I found some of the Ang Lee landscape shots pretty cool (but then, I'm a Great Plains, flat-earth fellow, so mountains of any kind are impressive to me). I thought the premise was hackneyed and didn't really present anything new -- except maybe for the cowboy angle, but my friends tell me (of course, I wouldn't otherwise know) that that's a common theme in gay porn. The characters' falling into lust wasn't set up very well; the consummation of their physical affections didn't ring true. The theme of "we'd get no respect" is a given -- if a lamentable one -- for 1963 (when it begins).

What's going on? Are liberal-progressive types reminded by such films of their guilt at the ways of the world such that they let their emotions color their intellectual analysis? If all it takes for Heath Ledger to earn an Oscar for his performance is a deep-throated mumble, then I'm completely baffled -- and ready to begin to believe the right-wing cant about "leftist Hollywood."

Of the movies the guys name, I applaud Yes and Millions. Yes was written (and performed) in rhymed verse. And while there were some sort of rough edges to some of the narrative, I think the accomplishment of Sally Potter's script is wonderful. (Joan Allen is also one of the most beautiful women in films, and that didn't hurt, either!) Millions was just plain charming -- and the little rug rats who starred pulled off their parts with great elan.

So there it is: Correct my judgment; help me to understand. But for heaven's sake, Go to the movies!

A happy, healthy, spirited 1006.


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