The Best Movies of the Year that Wuz: Part Deux ½
Continuing in that fine week-old Cinemania tradition of highlighting what wuz the best thing about going to the theatres in 2003.
Hiking for Godot. An existential Blair Witch Project. The daemon, it turns out, ain’t in the woods, it’s lurking here (points to chest) deep within the darkest corners or yer everlastin’ soul. Two lads (Matt Damon, CASEY Affleck) out for a hike in the wilderness are looking for "the thing at the place," but instead the fellas end up at the end of the world, which turns out to look a lot like a giant salt bed. Damon and
Affleck are well-cast as cocky kids who play at life—conversations tend to degenerate into "game talk"—but who are ill-prepared when the play gets real. Van Sant’s use of spartan acoustical impressions—the crunch, crunch, crunch of feet on stone eerily marks the gents’ march to their doom--is stellar. Cinematography Savides’ terrible and wonderful shots of the beautiful, bleak, wide and indifferent sky succinctly highlights van Sant’s central concern with how we’ve grown apart from the world we attempt to inhabit.
Director Ken Loach’s riff on Francois Truffault’s 400 Blows has a contemporary Scottish setting and a performance by a young amateur actor that will knock you to your knees. Martin Compston plays the lad with the impending rites-of-passage birthday who will sell his soul to hold his family together. Now Loach will never be mistaken for Truffault as a cinematic stylist—his brand of filmmaking is much closer to the Dogme 95 aesthetic than French New Wave—but he continues to make films that refuse to sentimentalize the plight of the poor and disenfranchised in the so-called "first world." Watching Compston’s resourceful character hatch one plot after another in a desperate attempt to hold onto hearth and home is a powerful indictment of the forces at play in our society that are working overtime to tear this fabric of our society seam-from-seam.
All the Real Girls
Easily the most romantic and heartbreaking picture of the year, All the Real Girls captures those moments of new and first love with a freshness that is downright thrilling to this jaded viewer. Paul Schneider and Zooey Deschanel are marvellously tender, conveying those ineffable moments of bliss and confusion ("shhhhhhhh." "hello hello hello hello") that mark many a great relationship. Some complain that the mid-film twist that throws their relationship onto love’s rocky shores is contrived and out of character, but considering how Paul so idealizes Noel that he cannot bring himself to "defile" her by sleeping with her, something he has done to so many women before her, and as he has awoken in Noel the very real desire to experience love in all its aspects, I’d say that the moment in question is completely plausible and fits well within the story’s complex study of love. For more on this fine film, check out my full-length Apollo Guide review here.