Now is a great time to go to the movies. In the last weeks of 2008, the Hollywood studios released their best pictures of the year so that these films would be uppermost in people’s minds during the awards season, which is already under way. These high-quality movies will also likely stick around in theaters a little while longer than they might at other times of the year, which makes it easier to get out to see them.
1. Slumdog Millionaire is billed as the feel-good movie of the holiday season, but you shouldn’t show up expecting instant gratification from this film. In fact, the movie has some pretty grim aspects, from a police-inflicted torture scene early in the film to gritty portrayals of Mumbai slum life. I thought the torture scene could have been left out of the movie, but the depiction of two young brothers and how they manage to fend for themselves is exhilarating. The boys as young adults are less interesting, and the film’s end is pure fantasy, but that’s Bollywood. It worked for me.
2. I read some negative reviews of The Reader that almost kept me away. But I vaguely remembered that I had read the book years ago, and I like Kate Winslet and Ralph Fiennes, so I took a chance, and I really liked the film. I think the performances by the three primary actors are good, and the exploration of the male character’s conflict was interesting to me.
3. I went to Doubt to see the always good Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman and to see how Amy Adams would do with a less-perky role. Knowing only the outlines of the plot, I expected the movie to be a somewhat formulaic tale about a priest suspected of molesting a child. Early on in the movie, Streep didn’t convince me of the integrity of her nun/school principal character-she just seemed like Meryl Streep playing cranky. However, as the film proceeded, the details of the alleged victim’s situation became more clear, and the story and the characters gained complexity. I ended up finding the movie more thought-provoking than anticipated and thinking that all the actors did pretty well, although I’d still rather have seen Cherry Jones than Meryl Streep as Sister Aloysius.
4. I had read a lot about the making of Milk and some about the history and principal characters, so there weren’t many surprises while watching the movie. I liked the grainy look of it, which I thought did give it a ’70s feel and blended well with the bits of real footage that the filmmakers incorporated. I thought Sean Penn did a great job portraying Harvey Milk, based on the few clips I’ve seen of the real man. Thirty years after the assassination and a few months after the passing of Proposition 8, this movie is a very timely reminder that California still has some work to do to secure equal rights for all its citizens.
5. Watching the Watergate hearings and Nixon resigning are my first political memories, so Frost/Nixon was a must-see for me. While I wouldn’t call this a life-changing movie, I enjoyed Frank Langella’s portrayal of the disgraced president and the glimpse of what life might have been like for him after leaving the White House. The timing of this movie is impeccable-playing as it does against the backdrop of another Republican president and administration leaving the offices that many think they’ve abused.
6. The Wrestler is probably not for everyone. I’m no fan of professional wrestling (or boxing, for that matter), and I had to look away from the screen during a couple of the fight scenes, but I’ve always liked Mickey Rourke’s characters, so I wanted to see his latest work. He does do a great job, and the story is a pretty convincing take on what the end days of a pro wrestling career might look like. Marisa Tomei is also very good.