Dear David and Jonathan, whose opening messages I have read, and Tony and Sarah, whose I have not,
First of all, my top 10 list:
1. Monster’s Ball
2. Black Hawk Down
3. In the Bedroom
4. Ghost World
5. Mulholland Drive
6. Waking Life
9. A Beautiful Mind
10. Gosford Park
… so there are five titles shared with David, plus his “almost made it” title Waking Life. The Gleaners and I is in my second 10. On the other hand, my runners-up list includes Bully, which he hated; I find Larry Clark one of the bravest of filmmakers, cutting close to the edge, taking the kinds of chances (albeit in a different style) that David admires in Freddy Got Fingered. Freddy was on my own worst list, but I can understand the case that could be made for it, as in a way Tony did, as deliberately shocking surrealism.
Some of these titles will open nationally in 2002, but since they are likely to be Oscar nominees and I had seen them, it seemed wrong-headed to wait 12 months to put them on a list. Certainly Monster’s Ball is a triumph. The movie has the complexity of great fiction and requires our empathy as we interpret the decisions that are made—especially at the end, when the movie avoids an obligatory scene that would have been conventional and forces us to cut straight to the point. I admired the way the movie ignored the conventional pieties about race relations and was about two specific individuals and their need and desperation. That Billy Bob Thornton released this movie and Bandits and The Man Who Wasn’t There in 2001 is remarkable. I much preferred his work in Monster’s to Man, because Monster’s tries to say something about human nature, while the Coen brothers film, which I liked, is basically about being a Coen brothers film.
In the Bedroom is not, in my mind, about vigilantism at all, but about a man driven to extremes by the pressures of his marriage. The buried subject of the film is the long-running discontent, even hostility, between the Spacek and Wilkinson characters, and how the death of their son brings that feeling to the point of such bitter blame that Wilkinson kills the ex-husband, not for simple revenge, but to definitively silence Spacek’s accusations. The key is in the title. The film’s last shot vibrates with passion, anger, and revenge, yes, but of the husband against the wife.
Waking Life wins a place on my list both for its qualities as a film and for its technological significance. This is the film that announces that commercial-quality animation is now available to low-budget independent filmmakers. Richard Linklater and his animation software guru, Bob Sabiston, made it a point to animate the film on desktop Macintoshes, proving that million-dollar workstations are unnecessary to make a film that can play in commercial theaters and not leave the audience scratching its heads about why they paid their $9. The animation itself elevates the cheap shot-on-video handheld look to mainstream theatrical visual quality.
I chose Mike Nichols’ made-for-HBO Wit even though it never played in theaters, because it was a movie that would have played theatrically before the multiplexes were taken hostage by teen-age boys. If it had been released on big screens, there is no doubt in my mind that Emma Thompson would have been a front-runner for the Oscar.
I am aware of a contradiction in my admiration for A Beautiful Mind and my dislike of Iris. Tony wrote about the way Mind glosses over some of the facts of its hero’s life. I went to the Web to read John Nash’s Nobel statement and did some other noodling around, but wrote my review essentially ignorant of those facts. Learning about them did not keep the film off my list; I do not go to the movies for factual accuracy but for emotional impact. On the other hand, as an admirer of Iris Murdoch, I found it cruel that while only one of her 26 novels has been filmed, Iris should have been made about her death by Alzheimer’s. A Beautiful Mind at least does justice to John Nash’s achievement; Iris makes Murdoch into one of those movie-writers who sits at a desk in a couple of shots but is primarily interesting because once she was young and heedless, and then she grew old and died. The movie also does a disservice to John Bayley; who would guess he is a great literary critic?
Sept. 11. I was at the Toronto Film Festival. I walked into Mira Nair’s Monsoon Wedding, enjoyed it, walked out happy, and saw the images on the television over the coffee bar. Screenings were canceled for the rest of the day. I did however interview Jeanne Moreau, who said she would not allow her life to be determined by “those bastards.” The next day screenings resumed, for the pragmatic reason that all the films and filmgoers were stuck in Toronto. I felt like going. I felt like burying myself in them.
Pauline. I met her at the 1967 New York Film Festival. I remember many meetings—once sitting with Martin Scorsese on the floor of a hotel room, boozing; at Cannes, when she was on the jury; in Los Angeles, at dinner with Robert Towne; at a screening of Days of Heaven, which she loudly disliked; in her New York apartment with Joe Morgenstern and Piper Laurie; in the Algonquin Bar, where she gathered (then) unknowns like Robert De Niro, Paul Schrader, and Brian De Palma; in Chicago … talking, always talking. All the praise for her writing could be applied as well to her conversational style, so alive and unforgiving. At the memorial service, the best of the speakers was David, who did not content himself with anecdotes, but came to grips with why she was a great critic, and how. His remarks should be published, in Slate or elsewhere, perhaps as a sidebar to this conversation