Films I Watched - December, 2002

  • 12/18 - Sabrina (1954) - Throw together an actress only a year from her stunning work in one of the better romances of the early 50s (53's Roman Holiday) and two of my favorite "man's man" actors ever, Humphrey Bogart and William Holden, in a movie directed by the great Billy Wilder, and frankly, you get one of the most romantic films Hollywood ever churned out. Sophisticated, knowing, and able to make points about class and wealth while very seldom dipping into preaching territory, Sabrina is a sparkling film that glows with love's warmth rather than the wildfires of lust. If Audrey Hepburn is cast in her normal role as one of the cutest charmers ever, then it is a special delight to see Bogart and Holden out of their usual waters playing the aging business man and the forever-fratty playboy. Holding to Wilder's usual lean, controlled style, Sabrina may not strike new ground, but it certainly runs through the paces of a romantic film better than most, and one cannot help but be carried off by it. This is what a great romance from the decade should be, and it is enchanting and wonderful.

  • 12/5 - Auggie Rose (AKA Beyond Suspicion) (2000) - I love a dying breed. According to the commentary on this disc, this breed is called tweeners. They are films, usually dramas, which are too 'small' for the major studios to want to deal with, but not 'hip' enough for the indie scene to pick up. Auggie Rose (you'll probably find this film under its dorky new name, Beyond Suspicion, at your video store, if at all - don't be fooled, as this ain't a thriller) is a wonderful little drama that nearly fell between those cracks. Jeff Goldblum, giving one of his best performances, is a customer in a deli / liquor store when a robber storms in seeking cash and from surprise shoots a stock clerk. The clerk dies, and Goldblum feels a little responsible. He becomes obsessed with the dead clerk, and this film begins with telling the story of his guilt and his search for information about Auggie Rose. Eventually, however, this film shifts entirely, and the film focuses more on the identity of Goldblum's John Nolan rather than Auggie Rose. It is a twist I've seen handled horribly before, but writer / director Matthew Tabak manages this transition with understated skill, and Goldblum certainly carries much of the credit for carrying this trick off as well. Anne Heche is the main female star, and while I've since read some reviews dissing her performance, I feel she did just fine. There are a few unbelievable moments, and one subplot in particular felt extraneous and served as little but dead weight, but this little film is a moving, thought-provoking drama of the sorts that both seldom are made today and that I eat up like ice cream. I highly recommend this film to drama lovers. In fact, consider it an honorable mention for my top ten list of 2000.

  • 12/1 - Things You Can Tell Just By Looking At Her (2000) - I'll be keeping my eye on Rodrigo Garcia. With Thing You Can Tell Just By Looking At Her, he has made a stellar debut and frankly outdoes Magnolia at its own game. This too has many Californian narratives set up as occasionally intersecting short stories, and Garcia manages to avoid pretentiousness while designing an obviously literary film. The list of actresses in this film reads like a who’s who of fantastic film and television actress of the nineties - Holly Hunter, Kathy Baker, Calista Flockhart, Cameron Diaz, Amy Brenneman, Glenn Close - and each actress does terrific work here, and that is vital to this film. This film is very out of step with most modern films. It is not for plot addicts. In fact, if you need wild twists and turns to converge in a tidy, wrapped-up ending, avoid this film. Most storylines have little plot resolution, even if they have an emotional conclusion and resonance. This is a character film, one which turns on the slightest tic of an eyebrow or a hesitant glance rather than identity revelations or perception tricks. Maybe that helps explain why this film never received the theatrical release it deserved. Regardless, it is the stronger for focusing on persons over plot, and unlike most anthology films, each story is as strong as the ones that surround it. I really enjoyed this film, and I believe I shall add it to my top ten of 2000. It manages to share what cannot be shared without explicitly explaining it. That's great drama, friends. Be sure to catch the inside reference to One Hundred Years of Solitude, easily one of the best novels of the last century (Gabriel Garcia Marquez is Rodrigo's father).