Sunday, January 20, 2008

Best Film of the Year: The Savages

On Friday I went to see two matinees back to back. I can't remember the last time I did this, and it will likely be quite a while before I do it again.

I started with The Savages, Tamara Jenkins's new film starring Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney as adult siblings dealing with their father's health. Tamara and I used to go to the same dog park in NYC. In fact, a mutual friend introduced us one day by saying "Ken, did you see The Slums of Beverly Hills?" And, without thinking, I said "I HATED that movie." As I was saying, I thought two things. One, I didn't actually hate it, and in fact, claiming to hate a film is really kind of silly. Two, the person sitting in front of me was probably the director, Tamara Jenkins. But I couldn't stop the words. Tamara burst into laughter, confirming that it was, indeed, her. From that day on, we were dog park friends. Usually, one or the other of us was reading something in galleys, and we'd compare opinions. Sometime later, after I'd left New York, I ran into on the street. I was back in town for a funeral, and when I began explaining that, in response to her simple hello, I broke down on the street in front of her. And then never saw her again.

So, this is how I came to see The Savages. I don't want to give too much away, except to say that the performances are great. The movie is funny and heartbreaking. It reminded me of living in New York--and it reminded me of why I left New York. There are animals that play important roles, but they aren't cutesy or manipulative--and for that alone there should be a reward. Afterwards, in conversation with one of the theater staff, we talked about how few memorable films there were this past year. It was difficult for any of us to really remember what we'd seen. But two days later, I like The Savages even more than I did on Friday.

We followed that with There Will Be Blood, which begins with promise. The first hour or so is great--and then it all falls apart. I won't go into detail, since I'm sure many people want to go see it on their own. But it eventually becomes a remake of Citizen Kane, with one great difference. Kane started out with some humanity and then lost it to greed. Daniel Day Lewis's character is all greed from the very start, so he has nowhere to go and nowhere to take the audience.

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