Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

02 July 2007

Best Animated Feature 2007

I hate when it's been a long time since I blogged about movies, because then I have a backlog of films to talk about and I have to post about four movies at once. The real reason I have to do this is because I've been watching (as you might :-) have noticed) far more movies than is normal for me. This probably a) because I'm kind of bored with the Robert McRuer book I'm reading and b) because I'm feeling very, very lazy of late.

I also have not been watching any 2007 movies lately. They just haven't been interesting me for some reason since I got back to Florida. But I have remedied that, and two of the movies below are actually from this year and have appeared on the 2007 list to your right:

First off, the movie that is sure to win Best Animated Feature at the Oscars next February: Brad Bird's Ratatouille. It's a brilliant piece of animation, with some wonderfully memorable characters. It's also absolutely hilarious, and the laughs are all gotten through clever, well-thought-out jokes. There are no easy gags here. (The character that had me laughing the hardest was the Peter O'Toole-voiced food critic Anton Ego.) And the film is definitely a Brad Bird movie, by which I mean, that Ratatouille is more of an action movie than anything else. It's also a movie about food, and some of the food fixed in the film is downright brilliantly conceived. There is a reason this little rodent chef becomes the toast of Paris. He really knows what he's doing. Pixar, too, has done it again. You're going to love this movie.

Rachid Bouchareb's Days of Glory (Indigènes) is a war movie similar, in a lot of ways, to other war movies of the late 1990s, especially Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan. The film follows four Algerian soldiers who have been recruited into the French army in World War II. The soldiers, despite hard work and loyalty to the French, are consistently passed over for promotions and never given leave, while their white compatriots are both promoted, and frequently allowed to visit their homes. There are no boats take them back to Algeria, one white colonel argues, but he is then reminded that "there were boats to bring them here." I have to confess that I got a little worried while I was watching this film. I was afraid it was going to be a rags-to-riches story like USAmerican filmmakers are known for where the Algerians fight hard and some of them die, but they prove their loyalty to France in the end and everyone in France recognizes what a mistake they've been making all along, even though it's too late to reward most of the Algerians for their service because so many are dead. But the ones that are still alive are rewarded and celebrated and take their place beside the white people who have treated them with contempt for so long. The movie didn't go in this direction, thankfully. And the parallel scenes to Saving Private Ryan serve to point up this difference in a way that is truly ingenious (the end of the film is the best part). Instead of a redemptive end to the film, the Algerian soldier we follow returns home to his poorly furnished flat and sits on his bed alone. And then we find out in a title card that the French government is still refusing to pay these Algerian soldiers their pensions after all these years. It's a powerful message after all, even though the film tends toward the conventional.

Michelangelo Antonioni's The Passenger is brilliant. This film is from 1975 and it stars Jack Nicholson and Maria Schneider (she of Last Tango in Paris fame). It's a superbly photographed mystery that follows Jack through Africa to Germany and finally to Spain, where the last hour or so of the film is spent, soaking in the Spanish scenery. It's a movie about identity and fleeing the lives that we build for ourselves that trap us. The Passenger has long been forgotten, but was released again in theatres last year and has now made an appearance on DVD. You should definitely check it out. The last nine or so minutes of the film is a single (virtuosic) shot that is both shocking, confusing and compelling. I loved this movie.

Umberto D. is a classic Vittorio de Sica movie, from about the same time as Shoeshine and The Bicycle Thief. It is almost as well known as those two movies, but it is significantly different as well in some interesting ways. Umberto D. follows a depressed old man, who is contemplating suicide, and it seems to be a sad movie about a disaffected character in the way his earlier movies were. But Umberto D. is really a kind of comedy, or, at the least, it has a happy ending. The old man in the film is, finally, kind of ridiculous and funny, at least that's how I see him. He is a sad man, or thinks he is a sad man, but all of his sadness is a kind of silliness, really, and the film ends upbeat, with a celebration of the man's relationship to his little dog, Flike. You know how I feel about the elderly, so I couldn't totally sympathize with this old codger, but I kind of think De Sica had that in mind.