This almost brings me up-to-date:
The Dead Zone (David Cronenberg). I’ve seen this movie quite a few times, and I still think it’s the best Stephen King adaptation put to screen. It’s not a perfect movie, but it has one of the best Christopher Walken performances, as well as solid supporting work from Tom Skerritt, Brooke Adams, Anthony Zerbe, Herbert Lom, and Martin Sheen. I think this was the first movie Cronenburg directed that didn’t rely entirely on effects like exploding heads, and while his touch had not yet fully developed (he laid the Hitchcock homage on pretty thick), he still guided things with a sure hand. Watching last night, the only part of the movie that felt less than fully developed was the final act – while the “flash forward” featuring Sheen as a truly insane President (interesting to see now, knowing that “West Wing” was still to come) was as harrowing now as it was then, the denouement felt a bit perfunctory – like it could have used a little more backstory from the book. But still, one of my favorites.
Michael Clayton (Tony Gilroy). Why, why, why can’t we have more movies like this? Given all of the talent in Hollywood and elsewhere, is it too much to ask that we be provided with intelligent entertainment a little more often than we receive it now? “Michael Clayton” is an expertly made movie, with a strong story, and stronger acting. George Clooney again shows his versatility here, and seeing Sydney Pollack in his last role made me appreciate that his acting may have been just as strong as his direction. Everyone is good in this movie, and best of all, the viewer has to think a little bit, as opposed to just waiting for the next explosion. Good stuff.
Chocolat (Lasse Hallstrom). The only word, really, to describe a movie like this is “delightful.” Lasse Hallstrom has a great way with films like these, where the people and the relationships are just as important as the story. The story is fairly predictable, but the movie is never less than entertaining. As far as acting goes, the biggest kudos belong to Judi Dench and Johnny Depp. Depp doesn’t show up until fairly late in the proceedings, but just about manages to walk away with the entire picture, seemingly without even trying.
Gangs of New York (Martin Scorcese). Every now and then I fantasize about going back in time and spending a few years in an interesting place (sort of like the episode of Star Trek: TNG where Captain Picard lives half a life in the span of about an hour). Well, after having seen this movie, I think I can cross mid-1800s New York City off the list. I don’t think I’ve seen so much dirt in my entire life. And with so many scenes taking place where Daniel Day-Lewis did his butchering, I can only imagine that it didn’t smell so great either. But what about the movie? I’d put this in the category of “Scorsese near misses,” meaning that it is very good, but doesn’t quite approach the greatness of his best work. But I did learn quite a bit about New York history that I didn’t know before, and as usual admire the dedication that Day-Lewis puts into his work. Leonardo DiCaprio was good but not great, but I’m not sure that Cameron Diaz was quite up to the task of playing a thief. Of course, I’m probably reacting badly in reaction to the over-saturation of commercials this weekend for her upcoming Tom Cruise flick.