Away We Go, Sam Mendes (2009)

The husband and wife are absolutely unremarkable people who also happen to be the coolest, smartest, most reasonable, and funniest people you’ve ever met. They’re like your best friends except minus all of the things that are annoying or weird about your best friends. They get pregnant and go on an odyssey to find the best place to raise their child. Along the way they meet a lot of people who are imperfect: Self-defeating people, pretentious people, insecure people, paranoid people, etc. In the end, they decide the best place to raise their child would be to raise it exactly where the wife was raised. This makes sense, because the wife is perfect, and if they raise the kid where she was raised, then chances are the kid will be perfect too, and then their objective will have been realized and they can die perfectly happy. I hope it works out for them, but if it does, I never want to hear from them again. If, alternatively, something happens to make them massively unhappy, I’d be interested in knowing about that.

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Road House, Jean Negulesco (1948)

If I were a programmer at Film Forum or something, I might put together a group of noirs that take place in the sticks, as opposed to the city. Out of the Past, for sure, and also this one. I know there are others; I just can’t think of them right now.

This is a pretty straightforward story of two guys after the same girl. It’s distinguished by its unusual setting, as mentioned, and by Lupino’s gorgeously ravaged voice.

The Wrestler, Darren Aronofsky (2008)

Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream depressed the hell out of me. It was one of those movies you see and you feel like its misery sticks to you for days afterward. The Wrestler isn’t depressing; it’s sad, and quite beautifully so.

Aronofsky’s interesting. Four films so far, all quite different but with a consistent wistful darkness. It will be fun to watch him grow.

State of Play, Kevin Macdonald (2009)

Pretty good! But not great. The movie’s got this baroque D.C. corruption/sex/extortion/murder/bribery scandal plot, but it’s not really about that, it’s about the decline and decay of contemporary journalism. It’s no All the President’s Men, though. Why? Because that movie had the guts to be about a real scandal, rather than a made up one. Russell Crowe digging the dirt to get David Addington put away. That wouldn’t have been as sexy, but it would have been more satisfying.

The Messenger, Oren Moverman (2009)

This is not a perfect movie. There are a few flabby passages, and a few overly determined scenes. There are some fatal–though not necessarily obvious–inconsistencies in the script. The first-time director sometimes seems unsure of where to put the camera and where to point it. But the imperfections serve to accentuate what a truly superb work this really is. The cast–Samantha Morton in particular, closely followed by Ben Foster and Woody Harrelson–is absolutely fantastic. (Samantha Morton, I have to stress this, is amazing. I can’t remember the last time I saw a performance this good.) The script takes serious issues seriously without pandering to us or trying to edify us. The mise-en-scène perfectly captures the comfortable banality of contemporary American spaces–TV rooms, bars, malls, kitchens, cars, etc. And best of all, above all, the movie never hurries to make connections or draw conclusions. Silence is permitted, digression is permitted, reflection is permitted, and so genuine thought is possible.

Given the complexity of the subject matter and Moverman’s lack of experience, it’s all the more amazing that this turned out so well. It could have so easily been a disaster. I see that Moverman is at work on a Kurt Cobain picture. Another project with long odds, for sure, but seeing this makes me think he might be able to pull it off. God knows Van Sant didn’t.

A slightly bizarre afterthought: This reminded me of nothing so much as the sublime You Can Count on Me, another of the very few movies I can think of which seems to depict actual human relationships rather than cartoon versions of same. Screen those two as a double bill and you’ll be walking around with your guts turned inside out for a week.

Three Novellas, Joseph Roth

We have here “Fallmerayer the Stationmaster” (1933), “The Bust of the Emperor” (1935), and “The Legend of the Holy Drinker” (1939). I suppose the last of these is the most famous (partially because Roth died not long after writing it and partially because it seems to offer autobiographical insights), but my favorite is the middle one, which sums up Roth’s keen sense of the social, political, and cultural dynamics of the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian empire in a single bittersweet parable. All three short pieces are well worth the read.