The last hope to save mankind has failed and there are exactly three weeks left before the world will be destroyed by an 70-mile wide asteroid named Matilda. Dodge Peterson (Steve Carell) just wants to keep living his normal life, but how can he when his wife Linda (a blink-or-miss cameo from Nancy Carell, Steve’s real-life wife) literally jumps ship as soon as the news comes in? He tries to act like everything is normal, but even that’s impossible, and an attempted suicide only ends up pairing him with a cute dog to accompany his final days.
I have to admit that I’m fairly unversed in the films of Faye Dunaway. There’s not really any agenda to speak of; I just haven’t gotten around to seeing much of her filmography. At this year’s TCM Classic Film FEST 2012 I was able to rectify that, seeing both The Thomas Crown Affair and Chinatown. The films aren’t exactly related – one being a caper and the other a post-noir – but the actress turns in some very interesting performances in each. I figured it would make for an interesting post to try to take a look at her performances in each of these films and suss out which one was the better. Should be easy, right?
It’s tough deciding what to write about first for a film festival. For my AFI FEST 2011 series I tried to go in linear order as best I could, but that went out the window as later showings all vied for my attention. In the end I only reviewed a handful of films when I could have reviewed pretty much everything. This year I aim to fix that and put more of a Flickchart spin on my festival coverage, starting with the TCM Classic Film Fest 2012. There will be a couple of single reviews, of course, but I’ll also be ranking and comparing some of the films I’ve seen based on a theme or particular element that ties the films together.
I’d like to start this post series with a look at TCM’s selection of Noir films. Considering the theme of the festival was “style in the movies,” it’s only natural that they would have films from that genre handy. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to work all the Noir films into my schedule, but the ones that I did see were an absolute treat.
But which one was best? Which one had the edge over the others? In true noir fashion, let’s set all the cards on the table and see how it all shakes out!
I think of myself as a Coen Brothers fan. Honestly, I do, even though I’ve never seen Fargo, their supposed masterpiece — a fact that might lose me a fair amount of readership before I even get to the end of this sentence (still here?). The Big Lebowski will undoubtedly be in my top 10 movies of all time when the dust settles (it’s currently at #11), and O Brother Where Art Thou will probably be in my top 100. The Ladykillers — although it likely won’t make an appearance in my top 250 — was entertaining enough.
Well, make room for No Country For Old Men. Make room to see it at the theater. Make room for it in your DVD collection. Make room for it in your list of the greatest all-time movies. Really, it’s that good.
No Country is set in Texas in 1980. The anchor of the story, as intimated in the movie trailer, is a satchel of drug money carried home by Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) after he finds it near the corpse-strewn site of an ill-fated drug deal. Turns out somebody was interested in getting their money back, surprisingly enough, and it’s not long before Moss is on the run from the bad-news collections man, Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem). Chigurh hunts for Moss and his satchel in a manner so methodical and unrelenting that it saturates every little nook of the movie with an all-enveloping tension and dread. The pacing of the pursuit is alternately swift and measured, depending on what befalls each of the men as their respective paths meander toward an eventual intersection.
But despite the gunfire, the chases, the struggles, and the occasional explosion, what gripped me the most was the quiet: the “space between.” It’s there, just behind the weathered voice of Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) telling us about how the lawmen used to be in those parts, in those desert towns near where he grew up. It’s there, as Moss hunts a pack of deer in the desert with his rifle, in every click… of… his… scope… as he calibrates his aim, never moving his eyes from his living target, with only a light breeze as an aural backdrop. The closest touchstone here might be The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: recall the opening scene, unveiling an empty landscape of desert and wind, until a second later, a man’s close-up face, lined and stubbled, swings crisply into view, and for three or four seconds he simply stares — right through the camera, at the horizon behind you. Such it is with No Country For Old Men: an excellent story, told at the pace that fits it, never rushing, dwelling on all the right details, and free of the cinematic artifice (like heavy-handed scores) that too often serves to remind you that, oh yeah, this is just a movie.
Every one of the characters in the film is terrific; not just Jones’ aging sheriff, Brolin’s go-it-alone everyman, Harrelson’s too-smart bounty hunter, and Kelly Macdonald’s role as Moss’s wife, but all of the incidental characters we happen upon along the way. It’s the canvas of everyday folk — from the gas station owner to the manager of Moss’s trailer park — that undergirds the film’s fundamental believability.
Of all of them, though, I’d be willing to bet that one will stick in your mind more than any other: Bardem’s Anton Chigurh. He’s the rare bad guy who stands apart from all the other bad guys you’ve ever seen, who is so different — in his posture, his idioms, his tone of voice, his method of killing, and his uniquely twisted sense of ethics — that he trods deftly through the minefield of antagonist cliches so well stocked by those before him, and becomes a template all his own. The fear of this guy comes not only from the fact that he murders without guilt or even that he seems to like it, but that he sees it as his duty, and that clemency might arbitrarily be granted by the unseen workings of a mind gone wrong, and can hinge — clad in the armor of moral certainty — on no more than coin toss.
Did I say that Fargo is considered the Coen Brothers’ finest work? Oops. A fair amount of reportage says the 1996 movie might’ve just defaulted to the title of runner-up, has-been, also-ran. I know that hurts to hear, dear Fargo people; and maybe the zeitgeist has it all wrong. Maybe this is a case of the new and shiny getting top billing over the…well, 1996, all deeper quality issues aside. But why listen to anyone else? Do what I plan to do: Hit the theater, if you haven’t seen No Country yet; pull out the DVD of Fargo, if you haven’t seen it recently; watch them both. Weigh their relative merits. And then call it. Friend-o.
If No Country For Old Men ain’t the Coens’ masterpiece, it’ll do till the masterpiece gets here.
I wanted to take this opportunity to kick off what hopefully will be the first of many reviews of the latest movies for our Flickchart Blog with one of the year’s most critically acclaimed films, “No Country For Old Men“.
The latest film from the Coen Brothers marks its place by accomplishing what few films can – making a great movie by disappointing the viewer with every resolution. This is not to say that it isn’t a fantastic achievement, in fact it’s quite the opposite. “No Country For Old Men” allows you to only predict what you think will become of the incredibly well-realized and detailed characters. It sets the scene with deliberate pace as Llewelyn Moss (ex-Goonie Josh Brolin) happens upon a drug deal gone wrong and unwisely makes the choice to take home the leftover spoils. This sets in motion a series of unwise choices that leaves him running from the year’s most brutal and ruthless bounty hunter Anton Chigurh (played by the scene-stealing Javier Bardem, whose choice of weapon will be forever injected into cult stardom).
Along the way, Tommy Lee Jones plays the same role we’ve seen countless times (The Fugitive, Men in Black, U.S. Marshals, The Hunted, Natural Born Killers, etc.) of the aging lawman Ed Tom Bell trying to save the day and catch both men before everything is torn up in their path. Although Jones’s character has hardly changed throughout his career, he still manages to keep you rooted to the realism of the story and every wrinkle in his aging face lends itself well to his place in the modern Western setting of the film. The only underdeveloped part was filled by Woody “High Times” Harrelson as an all-too brief clean-up man working for the “client” to take care of the mess Chigurh leaves behind.
The number one complaint of anyone who sees this movie will be its ending – and while avoiding spoilers – its safe to say most people will leave wanting more and desperately seeking closure. This movie is guaranteed to trick you several times by almost entirely avoiding cliches and never once becoming predictable. There are wonderfully played out thriller scenes that are as tense as any horror film of late. Many scenes throughout cause you to question who you’re rooting for to win between the three men as they slip by one another. The film’s best moments are its quiet ones with focus on the minute details that other films often have difficulty translating from novel to screen. The Coens masterfully frame and give time to these instances so that you can soak in the mood and atmosphere completely.
It’s a film I’m glad to have seen, but will end up sitting alongside films like Requiem for a Dream and Schindler’s List as “Movies Not To Watch Again For A Long While“. It leaves you with something – something that you’re not sure how to take in, or how to feel about. But at the very least, it gives you a sense of time and place that few films deliver.
Where would I predict this movie to end up on my list? Top 20? Not a chance. Top 250? It’s possible. Top 500? Almost guaranteed.
At some point in the future, we’ll start doing more deep-linking of these reviews into Flickchart to help guide you towards finding out more information about the films we discuss. Our hope as well is to allow you to jump directly from any review to say that you have both seen it, and allow you to rank it against other films out in theaters. Hopefully our proper public launch will kick off at some point before 2008. We’ve got a lot of really cool things to come and we’re working hard to get as much of the initial functionality prepared before we let you all see what we’ve been cooking up.