Caught up with three of last year's Best Picture nominees on DVD recently. Some brief thoughts:
Good Night, and Good Luck
I have to say - I knew it would be dry, but I didn't know it would be this dry. That's not to say that I didn't like it - I did - but I wasn't as caught up in the drama of it all as I thought I'd be. It's a quiet, short, small movie, impeccably acted, lovingly filmed, and with some fine jazz singing throughout. But I expected the material, the drama of this journalist standing up to power and, in effect, dethroning it, to be livelier and more engaging. Instead, it was quietly impressive, and yet somehow antic-climactic. Still. Straithairn is simply great as Murrow and Clooney is affable and ingratiating as producer Fred Friendly (talk about a name you'd never make up as a fiction writer). One note of interest - one of the CBS secretaries/assistants is played by Alex Bornstein, comedian of Mad TV and Family Guy fame. How odd. Not that she's bad - she's fine in a very, very small part - but it just seemed strange that she'd be cast in such a serious film, and in such a non-descript part.
Who knew Heath Ledger could act this well? Count me among those who praised his performance here - anyone who tries to dismiss it as nothing more than an actor mumbling quietly simply doesn't know his stuff. Ledger's Enis Del Mar is a fully realized character, a complete person up there on then screen. Gyllenhal's Jack Quick was less well-defined, especially as he aged--there were moments where it felt uncomfortably like Gyllenhal was playing dress-up. This is but a quibble though, overall this was deeply moving film. Ang Lee manages to paint for us this relationship with relatively minor strokes, and by the end I was hurting for these two men who would never find peace. All the women impressed as well--with Michelle Williams as the stand-out. Again, who knew she could be this good? And the score, simple and repetitive as it was, melded with the material perfectly. This is one of those scores that remind you that film scores sometimes don't stand alone well. In support of the film, the simple, repeated themes are remarkably effective. On disc, they're just, well, simple and repetitive.
Wonderful. I wasn't sure how much I'd be liking it going in, being a sadly rather apolitical creature, but this is Spielberg, and he's yet to disappoint me. (For the record, yes, I do like Hook, and I have yet to see Amistad.) This is one of those pictures where every piece contributes beautifully to an organic whole - the quiet production design, putting everything firmly in the 70s without being obnoxious about it; the dignified, old-school acting (Spielberg's use of European actors in most of the supporting roles, as opposed to American character actors doing accents, pays of fin spades); the expertly deployed use of suspense; the stark and matter-of-fact use of gore; and the film's unflinching insistence on not trying to answer unanswerable questions. I've now seen four of the five films nominated for Best Picture (I'll get to you at some point, Capote), and I have to agree with what many critics said--this was an exceptional field. I can't say I'm sorry that Crash beat out wither Munich or Brokeback Mountain, but neither could I say that I's be sorry if it hadn't. A great year for film.