CLASSICS: American Beauty

American Beauty
Directed by: Sam Mendes
Written by: Alan Ball (screenplay)
Starring: Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening, Thora Birch, and Wes Bentley

American Beauty shouldn’t be the kind of movie Oscar loves.  It’s hard to watch a movie that begins with a man saying that masturbating in the shower will be the highlight of his day and pair it alongside other Best Picture winners like The King’s Speech or Shakespeare In Love.

That’s not even the biggest reason American Beauty defies the Academy, though.  At almost every chance the voting members get, they favor superficial uplift over true grit.  Yet when you look closer at this movie (as its tagline instructs you to do), you see that there is no happy ending, at least not in the traditional Best Picture sense.  Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey) really does die like he says he’s going to in the beginning.

Movies that blatently tell you their outcome are usually more surprising than ones with a big reveal at the end.   Sometimes knowing the conclusion is more baffling than not.  How can a man who’s already dead die, and why will we care?

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ARCHIVE REVIEW: Julia

Julia
Directed by: Erick Zonca
Written by: Roger Bohbot & Michael Collins
Starring: Tilda Swinton, Aidan Gould, Saul Rubinek, and Kate de Castillo

Make no ifs, ands, or buts about it: Tilda Swinton is one of the finest actresses of her generation.  So sublime and brilliant is her technique, that even in a dud like The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe she manages to give you something to watch.  And then there is Julia, a movie that is actually good, where she inhabits the heart and soul of her character, leaving you stunned, disgusted, and many other things by the time the credits roll.

As the title character, Swinton plays an alcoholic nothing hired by a neurotic Mexican neighbor (Kate de Castillo) to kidnap her son and reunite them across the border.  This plot seems like something you’d see in a glitzy Hollywood caper, and the characters in Roger Bohbot and Michael Collins’ screenplay seem conscious of it.  When Julia tries to explain the scheme to some of her confidants, they look at her like she’s a fool, which she is.

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