The Movie Club

Best Movies 2011: Ralph Fiennes packs a lot of meaning into a hug.

The complicated hugs of Ralph Fiennes.

KAL PENN as Kumar and JOHN CHO as Harold in New Line Cinema's and Mandate Pictures' comedy "A VERY HAROLD & KUMAR 3D CHRISTMAS," a Warner Bros. Pictures release.
Kal Penn and John Cho in A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas

Photo courtesy of New Line Cinema.

I’ve loved reading your great movie moments of 2011. Here are mine.

1. Two scenes, one in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows—Part 2 and one in Coriolanus. In both scenes, Ralph Fiennes clutches his nemesis like a lover and hurls them both out a window to the ground below. In Harry Potter, he’s playing an inhuman monster; in Coriolanus, an all-too-human war hero. But in both films, Fiennes made use of his otherworldly aspect—that sense you get that he just might be operating on a higher plane than the rest of us—to create indelible characters. In both these moments, Fiennes conveyed not just rage and fury but a desperation to connect with Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) and Aufidius (Gerard Butler)—even if it’s a connection meant to destroy them both. (In both movies—spoiler!—it only destroys Fiennes.)

2. Late in David Weissman and Bill Weber’s documentary We Were Here, the soft-spoken caregiver Ed Wolf talks about the May 11, 1989, issue of the Bay Area Reporter, in which the newspaper printed headshots of the nearly 500 men who’d died of AIDS in San Francisco in the previous year. We’ve already fallen a bit in love with Wolf, who’s dignified and sensitive and clearly still recovering from those terrible years in the busiest AIDS ward in the city. As Wolf describes how hard it was to read that issue, Weissman and Weber present those lost faces in the black and white of newsprint. It’s an almost overwhelming moment of sadness in a movie that’s full of such moments—and essential viewing for anyone who wonders how communities are born and how they persevere through terrible times.

3.  In Lynne Ramsay’s We Need to Talk About Kevin, Tilda Swinton’s Eva comes home to a house that’s been splattered with red paint by locals still angry at the school massacre perpetrated by her son. It’s dark out and the porch light is off, so she enters in the shadows and turns on an inside light while she’s standing in front of a hall mirror—only to be shocked by a vivid red streak running down her face. It’s a great horror-movie shot in a film that explores what happens when horror invades not just your present but all your family memories, as well.

 4. This extraordinary exchange, between the cheerful 80-year-old subject of Bill Cunningham New York and its director, Richard Press:

Press: So I’m going to ask you two very personal questions you may or may not want to answer. It’s completely up to you. Have you ever had a romantic relationship? In your entire life?
Cunningham: [Laughs delightedly.] Now do you wanna know if I’m gay?
Press: Yes.
Cunningham: [Laughs.] Isn’t that a riot. Well, that’s probably why the family wanted to keep me out of the fashion world. They wouldn’t speak of such a thing. [Pause.] No. I haven’t.
Press: Never in your entire life.
Cunningham: No. It’s never occurred to me. I guess I just was interested in clothes. That’s the obsession. It’s probably a little peculiar.
Press: Is that something you regret?
Cunningham: No, I wouldn’t even think about it. No, I don’t regret it. There was no time! I’m working night and day! No, it was—in my family, things like that were never discussed. So it hasn’t been in my head, on my mind, I wouldn’t have known a thing about it. So they needn’t have worried. Years later I surmised that that must have been in the back of their minds.
Press: But you’ve had good friends.
Cunningham: A few people that I’ve known, yes. Oh, you mean—
Press: Just friends.
Cunningham: Oh yeah, yeah.
Press: Antonia was a dear friend.
Cunningham: Oh, I love those kids!
Press: And Suzette.
Cunningham: Yes. I suppose you can’t be in love with your work, but I enjoyed it so much that I didn’t—yeah. But hey, listen, I am human.
Press: Exactly.
Cunningham: [Laughs.] You do have body urges or whatever but you control it as best you can.
Press: And the other question is, and again you don’t have to answer this, but: I know that you go to church every Sunday.
Cunningham: Oh yeah. [Lowers head.]
Press: Is religion—is that an important component of your life? [Cunningham begins quietly weeping for 20 seconds. Outside the apartment, a horn honks.]
Press: We don’t have to talk about this.
Cunningham: Yeah, I think it’s a good guidance in your life. Yeah, it’s something I need. Yeah, I guess maybe it’s part of your upbringing, I don’t know. Whatever it is. You do whatever you do as best as you can work things out. I find it very important. [Laughs.] As a kid I went to church and all I did was look at women’s hats! But later, when you mature, for different reasons.

5. Neil Patrick Harris’ sign-off to the boys in the exceptionally funny A Very Harold and Kumar 3-D Christmas, which is perfectly in line with the film’s cheerful vulgarity throughout: “Well guys, see you in the fourth one!” Here’s hoping this ever-better series keeps providing contact highs for years to come.

Thanks for including me, and here’s to a great 2012,