Friday, January 2, 2009

Week of January 2 thru January 8 (Mann)

What’s On At The Tropic
By Phil Mann

Time for this columnist to throw in his choices for Best Movies of the year. As a kind of cheat sheet I’ve been reading the lists of others. I might say that I’m amazed by some of the choices. So I won’t be troubled if you don’t agree with my list. This is a year with no standout favorites, and a striking divergence of opinions.

My favs, in alphabetical, not number, order:

Burn After Reading - The Coen Brothers revert to mad form after last year’s No Country For Old Men. You’ve got to love how they get guys like Brad Pitt and George Clooney to go goofy. This is a spy comedy with an edge, of sorts, that should teach the makers of lame things like Get Smart a few things

In Bruges and The Bank Job - Two great British crime movies, the first about hit men and the second about bank robbers, that combine tense plots with humor that comes out of the action and characters rather than being laid on them like a silly sauce.

Elegy – Thanks to Philip Roth for a novel that gives us a sympathetic aging Lothario. And thanks to Ben Kingsley and Penelope Cruz for bringing this unlikely couple to life.

Man On Wire – This is the documentary of the year in my book. An action-adventure story. A true triumph of the human spirit, and body. The images of Philippe Petit on the high wire between the now-vanished twin towers still echoes in my head.

Milk – More than just “based on a true story,” it really tracks the history of how Harvey Milk revolutionized San Francisco, and American, politics. Sean Penn is uncanny as Milk, and the story is richly developed.

Sex and the City – It’s not easy to go from a novel to a movie, but even more difficult to do it via a hit television series. The trick seems to be to use the same actors and take them to a new stage in their lives. The movie does it wonderfully. But you had to like what went before, or you’ll tear your hair out.

Slumdog Milliionaire – A brilliantly original combination of a love story, a political documentary, a thriller and a magic-realism fairy tale, all set in Mumbai, India. Go for the story; go for the scenes of Mumbai; go for the sheer entertainment of it. This is a sleeper hit, with no stars or big studio money behind it. But it’s a dark horse for the big prize. If you haven’t seen it yet, you’re in luck because it’s playing at the Tropic right now.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona – In some of my aimless TV watching I’ve stumbled on to the old Woody Allen classics recently – Annie Hall and Hannah and Her Sisters. IMHO (in my humble opinion) this year’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona is the first movie by Woody in decades that can stand up to those great ones.

And finally, not one film but a declaration of 2008 as the Year of World War II (again). The war ended 63 years ago, but I don’t think we’re ever going to run out of its dramatic possibilities. One somewhat new element this year was an attempt to humanize Germans. The central characters in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas were a death-camp commandant and his family. In Valkyrie (still playing at the Tropic now) it’s heroic officers trying to bring down Hitler. The Reader (coming to the Tropic in a few weeks) is about the love affair between a young German and and an older woman who turns out to have a dark past. But the old figures of ultimate evil haven’t gone away. Last summer we had The Secret, about French Jews trying to avoid the Nazis, with a surprising twist. The rapers in the documentary The Rape of Europa are Nazis who looted art collections. Coming to the Tropic later this month is Daniel Craig leading a pack of Jews in Defiance who are escaping you know whom. Last summer Spike Lee discovered WWII in Miracle of St. Anna. Etc., etc.

Let’s hope it never ends, because the only thing that will displace it is an even worse catastrophe.

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[from Key West, the newspaper -]

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