While the awards season is all abuzz about the Oscar nominations for best film...
Dallas Buyers Club
12 Years a Slave
The Wolf of Wall Street
I would like to steer you to two films which are not on that list, but are keepers.
The Great Beauty and The Past.
In fact, I'd have no problem driving 30 miles and paying my $10 to see them. (Actually, I paid $13.50 and drove 36 miles roundtrip!)
To be accurate, The Great Beauty is nominated, but in the Best Foreign Language Film category. In addition, both films were nominated in the same category at the Golden Globe Awards with The Great Beauty winning.
The Great Beauty , or La Grande Bellezza, comes to us from Italy. It is an absolutely wonderful, poignant film with superb acting, wicked humor and sharp dialogue. It's always a delight to hear a well-written script delivered by exceptional actors under the direction of a director at the top of his game and cut by an editor with a feel for nuance, measure and timing. Add Rome at night captured in all its splendid, cinematic glory and you have the perfect ingredients for a damn good film.
Here's the gist.
The wonderful Toni Servillo plays a journalist, Jep, who has charmed, seduced, imbibed and sexed his way through the magnetic and lavish nightlife of Rome for decades. He wrote just one novel, years ago in his 20s, and it became a huge success, the stuff of legend. So, Jep becomes a legend in a city historically full of them, in a city that seduces them and opens every enticing door for them until, at some inevitable point, it slams the door shut. Jep's success at such a young age has put him in the elite literary and social circles. Every club, party, restaurant and glamourous event, he's invited. Wine, women, dancing, conversation, debate, drugs and more are a nightly, often until sunrise, occurrence.
We meet Jep on the occasion of his 65th birthday which just happens to coincide with a shock from his past. Suddenly, Jep is taking stock of his life. Is it a life wasted, of endless parties with people who, in the end, really didn't matter?
There is a great scene in a club where Jeb is moving through the crowd in one direction and passes a 20-something guy going the other way. They momentarily find each others eyes. In that moment, Jep sees himself back in his younger days. The realization that it's been 40-years since he was that guy, that young, that relevant has an incredible impact on him. As this haunts him, he turns his wicked tongue and biting wit on himself and his friends. The journey through the extravagant nightclubs, parties, and cafés as he tries to get a handle on the past four decades shows Rome in all its glory and as a very willing, seductive accomplice.
There is a fantastic after-hours scene on Jep's balcony (which overlooks the stunning Colosseum). Roughly ten of Jep's acquaintances sitting around drinking, smoking and pontificating on this and that. Suddenly, a woman starts to rip into Jep for not writing a second novel in the 40-years since his first book. What happens next is one of the best written, acted and directed scenes I've seen in some time. And to give credit where it is due, Paolo Sorrentino not only directed The Great Beauty, he wrote it as well. Do yourself a favor, go see this film!
The other movie I believe is worth your $10 is The Past, or Le Passe. It is a Iranian film shot in Paris. How's that for a combo? It stars Berenice Bejo. She was Oscar nominated for her role in the Oscar winning film, The Artist, back in 2012. She plays a French wife who is deserted by her Iranian husband. He returns to Paris after four years to finalize their divorce. However, as most things are in France, it becomes incredibly complicated. There are twists and turns, surprises and a shock or two. The film is powerfully acted with spot on performances that just draw you, little by little, into the thick of it. The Past is directed with a superb, sensitive hand by Asghar Farhadi. Farhadi penned the script as well. You may remember that Farhadi won the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar in 2011 for A Separation. In doing so, Farhadi became the first Iranian filmmaker to ever win an Oscar.
So, the pedigree of this film is tremendous and it does not disappoint. Unlike The Great Beauty, which shows Rome in all its beauty, The Past does not give Paris the same treatment. In fact, there is really no visual indication it is Paris and it doesn't matter.
The storyline is great, acting superb, writing fantastic and the direction perfectly in sync. Farhadi has a keen eye and hand for building tension through tiny bread crumbs revealed little by little until, ultimately, we are lead to revelation after revelation.
Now having said all of that, you should know this is not a film that wraps everything up nicely at the end. But what it does leave you with is the film itself. It stays with you long after you leave the theater, and that's a good thing.