Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Best of 2009: Oddities

Here are some (mostly odd) distinctions earned by films in 2009

Best opening credits: Up In The Air
Best movie poster: Cold Souls
Best reboot of a franchiseStar Trek
Best ensemble cast: Inglorious Basterds
Best Tarantino homage film: Kaminey
Best reason to not let your kids travel to Europe alone: Taken
Best visual transformation: Mariah Carey in Precious
Best CGI: Sam Worthington's atrophied legs in Avatar
Best unexpectedly good singer: Colin Farrell, Crazy Heart
Best expectedly good singer: Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart
Best single unbroken shot in a movie: the painful discussion between Ben Foster and Samantha Morton in The Messenger
Best tiger in a movie: The Hangover
Best fox in a movie: Fantastic Mr Fox
Best bird in a movie: Kevin in Up
Funniest nude scene in a movie: The Proposal
Best animated movie with a nude scene: Coraline
Most uncomfortable sex scene in a movie: Watchmen (Malin Akerman/Patrick Wilson)
Most comfortable sex scene in a movie: 500 Days of Summer (Zooey Deschanel/Joseph Gordon Levitt)
Most destructive movie campaigning by an actor: Joaquin Pheonix for Two Lovers
Most unlikable supporting characters in a movie: Away We Go
Most hard-working actor, male: Woody Harrelson (The Messenger, Zombieland, 2012); George Clooney (Men Who Stare at Goats, Fantastic Mr Fox, Up In The Air)
Most hard-working actor, female: Meryl Streep (Julie and Julia, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Its Complicated)
Most defamatory movie for McDonald's (since Super-Size Me): Precious
Most unintentionally bad timing in a movie: scene in Men Who Stare At Goats of a crazed soldier who opens fire at an army base
Smartest movie with aliens: District Nine
Softest movie with aliens: Avatar

I intend to come back and continue to populate this list as I remember more oddities from movies seen in 2009. Please feel free to comment with your own additions!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Best Of 2009: Performances

Here are film actors (alphabetically listed) who have earned their paychecks in 2009. And then some.

Actor, Male
Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart
Ben Foster, The Messenger
Morgan Freeman, Invictus
Joseph Gordon Levitt, 500 Days of Summer
Ranbir Kapoor, Wake Up Sid
Shahid Kapur, Kaminey
Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker

Actor, Female
Amy Adams, Julie and Julia
Zooey Deschanel, 500 Days of Summer
Melanie Laurent, Inglorious Basterds
Carey Mulligan, An Education
Konkana Sen Sharma, Wake Up Sid
Gabourey Sidibe, Precious
Meryl Streep, Julie and Julia

Supporting Actor, Male
Jeff Bridges, Men Who Stare At Goats
Woody Harrelson, The Messenger
Anthony Mackie, The Hurt Locker
Alfred Molina, An Education
Brad Pitt, Inglorious Basterds
Ryan Reynolds, Adventureland
Peter Sarsgaard, An Education
Christoph Waltz, Inglorious Basterds

Supporting Actor, Female
Vera Farmiga, Up In The Air
Samantha Morton, The Messenger
Paula Patton, Precious
Kristen Stewart, Adventureland
Emma Thompson, An Education

The Best of 2009: Television

I would like to think that I do not watch a lot of television (don't we all?). But I could be wrong. In the past year, I have stopped watching live television. I record my favorite shows on DVR and then catch up on them whenever schedule permits. Hence I cannot profess to have even superficially sampled everything this is offered on most television channels. My selection below of the best of television in the past year is therefore highly biased and based on restrictive sampling. For example, since I do not subscribe to any of the premium channels, I have not seen much of the supposed higher-quality shows (Big Love, True Blood, Dexter, The United States of Tara, The Tudors etc.) to be able to form an opinion about them. Also, I have taken the high road and not included guilty pleasures on this list, because.....well, I feel guilty about them.

The one thing that unites all of the shows on this list is the only thing that ultimately matters: great writing. 

1. Modern Family
This show is graced with the trifecta of great writing, perfect acting, and the most elusive of all, being of the moment. What sets it apart is that it is refreshingly free of cynicism; it chooses to be unashamedly sentimental. Even as it laughs at the foibles of each of the characters in the three related families it covers, it also has genuine affection for each of them. When I was watching this show last week, I paused the taping to take a phone call; upon returning I actually felt sad to see that there were only ten more minutes remaining in the episode. This is always a test of a good show. And Ty Burrell must be the funniest man on television right now; somebody get him an award already. The show started only in late 2009, but it already feels comfortably familiar. 

2. 30 Rock
There is nobody I respect more on television these days than Tina Fey. I do not know if she has secretly found the secret to having forty eight hours in a day, but she is churning out the most creative, consistently high-quality content on television right now. Ten years from now, this show will be considered genius. And boy, is it funny or what. I came into '30 Rock' late, but am now a devoted fan of its rapid-fire, blink-and-you-will-miss-it, comedic style. It gets away with taking names, and calling out on what is wrong in popular media right now. It may look simple, but each episode is impossibly tightly crafted. If you are not watching this show you are missing out on spending thirty delicious minutes inside the head of the sharpest mind on the boob tube right now.

3. How I Met Your Mother
This show has been quietly defining excellence on television for the past four years. You will not find a bad episode of this show. Two dimensions more clever than "Friends", this show covers the lives of five thirty-somethings trying to have a go at relationships. It plays within the conventions of the sitcom in that the characters talk like no one we know, but when what they are saying is this funny, why complain? Watch this show back to back for two hours and the experience will easily best any romantic comedy playing in the cinemas. The acting from all of the leads is outstanding, but Neil Patrick Harris steals the show. I do not know the last names of the main characters of most television shows, but I do for this one. 

4. The New Adventures of Old Christine
I am surprised this show has not been pulled off the air yet. Not because it is terrible; quite the contrary. But because it gets away with some remarkably strong criticism of the far right. Maybe that is one advantage to a show that is not watched by too many...fewer people protesting. If it had higher ratings, "The New Adventures of Old Christine" would be on the target bullseye of many a conservative pundit. I like the fact that Julia Louis-Dreyfus' character on the show goes all out with being flawed, and the actress is refreshingly free from vanity in inhabiting this role, warts and all. Besides any show that has Wanda Sykes and Louis-Dreyfus is automatically insured against mediocrity. Funny stuff, here. 

5. Better Off Ted
I want to seek out the writers on this show and personally shake hands with them to congratulate them for the scripts. Once you get into the rhythms of 'Better Off Ted', it is hard to stop laughing. Like a distant cousin of '30 Rock', this show too goes gleefully into the surreal. Anybody who has been a part of a corporate environment will be smiling at how wickedly the show satirizes that milieu. It would be unfair to single out Portia De Rossi's corporate boss as the star of the show since she gets the best lines in every episode, but her delivery of the lines is flawless. And Lem and Phil, the two goofy scientists on the show, are maybe the most original and adorable characters on television right now. Just the sight of them puts a smile on my face. This may be the most criminally unwatched show on your TV screen. 

6. Men Of A Certain Age
Like 'Modern Family' and 'Better Off Ted', this show started in 2009 but I feel at home with it already. Unlike the shows above, this one is not a ha-ha funny piece of television. Rather it plumbs some rather dark territory in circling around the lives of three male friends in their forties, who are all dealing poorly in one way or another with where their lives have brought them. Ray Romano, who has already contributed to classic television with 'Everybody Loves Raymond' goes for something more hard-lived and rough around the edges with his next foray into episodic television. Because the show is in no mood for pat resolutions, or ascribing easy heroism to any of the lead characters, it is one of the few shows on network television that manages to be surprisingly gloomy (and a little angry), which aptly matches the current economic and cultural climate. Romano, bless his heart, has no intention of sugar-coating things on this show, and by the very adult treatment of the material here, may be on to creating something approaching significant relevance for our times. If the show stays on the air, that is. Start praying. 

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Best of 2009: Music

Nothing separates people as much as their taste in music. For a person you do not know well, it is still easy to speculate on their taste in say, movies. But music is another matter. Unpredictable, but still, musical tastes usually say a lot about a person. 

It was difficult for me to come up with my list of the best music of 2009. So I made it simple, I went with the twenty songs that I have played the most on my iPod recently, and then ordered them according to my current affinity for each song. The top five are definitely my current favorites, and are getting the most mileage out of me. Here is the full list:
  1. Rain – Mika (The Boy Who Knew Too Much)
  2. Running Away – Sacha Sacket (Hermitage EP)
  3. How You Survived The War – The Weepies (Hideaway)
  4. Circle – Sugarland (Live On The Inside)
  5. I See You – Mika (The Boy Who Knew Too Much)
  6. Hai Junoon – Pritam (‘New York’ soundtrack)
  7. They Bring Me To You – Joshua Radin (Simple Times)
  8. Kaminee Meri Arzoo – Sukhwinder Singh (‘Kaminey’ soundtrack)
  9. Where I Stood – Missy Higgins (On A Clear Night)
  10. Give It Away – Quincy Coleman (Also Known As Mary)
  11. Whatcha Say – Jason DeRulo (Whatcha Say EP)
  12. Knock You Down – Keri Hilson, Kanye West, Ne-Yo (In A Perfect World)
  13. Fireflies – OwlCity (Ocean Eyes)
  14. Happy – Leona Lewis (Echo)
  15. One Foot Boy – Mika (The Boy Who Knew Too Much)
  16. Say What You Mean - Chris Ayer (Don’t Go Back To Sleep)
  17. Echo – Gorrilla Zoe (Don’t Feed Da Animals)
  18. Don’t Stay – Laura Izibor (Let The Truth Be Told)
  19. If You’re Out There – John Legend (Evolver)
  20. Northern Skies – Dido (Safe Trip Home)

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Best of 2009: Movies

The past year was uncommonly good for movies. For me, at least. Good is the year, when you have to worry about which movies to remove from your ‘Best Of’ list instead of struggling to find worthy ones to fill the slots. For an unapologetic list maker such as myself this is a great time of the year, because I get to indulge in all sorts of Best of This, and Best of That lists.

Before I provide my thoroughly biased and completely unscientific list of the better movies of 2009, a few notes first.

A movie did not make it on to this list just because it was visually the most amazing thing I saw committed to celluloid this year (that would be ‘Avatar’). Also, strangely, a movie did not make it on to this list just because it was the smartest, most cerebrally engaging film I saw (that would be ‘Up In The Air’).  The principal criterion for a movie to make it on this list was, simply, that it moved me. And I do not mean this in the sense that it necessarily made me sad. Every movie on this list connected with me at a fundamental level and displaced something in my emotional build at the time I was watching it. In small way or large. Roger Ebert calls this ‘elevation’ - when a movie resonates with you and elicits a strong, personal, emotional response. It is the reason I go to the cinemas.

Also, I believe that these sorts of lists are silly and wholly non-transferable. By definition, my list is predicated by my life-experiences, my political and ethical beliefs, and my station in life at the current time. And by how my brain neurons are connected to be pleased by some things and not by others. None of these would apply to another human being. I sincerely hope that this list does not match what you might have come up with. Then you can tell me so, and nothing gives me more pleasure than to argue about movie lists.

With that long preamble, forthwith is my list:

1. The Hurt Locker
It was an easy decision to place this movie first on the list. This is the best action movie in a long time, maybe the decade. I just have not had such a visceral experience seeing any other movie this year. It has been more than twenty years, since when I watched “Aliens” on a rainy day in India, that I have felt this claustrophobic in a movie theater. The Hurt Locker has scenes so intense, and suspense so unbearable, that it took all my resolve to keep from walking out of the theater. The story of a specialized bomb-detonation unit in Iraq, this movie gets everything right. Watching it was like a slap to the face that left me wondering in amazement – and gratitude - that movies still retain the power to do this to us. This film also belongs in that rarefied cadre of movies that are about one thing but manage to be about everything else – reflecting the universe through the experience of a few. If I could spend my time accosting strangers on the street and begging them to see The Hurt Locker, I would.

2. Three Idiots
I laughed and I cried. Seems simple enough, right? But think about how many movies you have seen for which you can make this simple claim. Chaplin films perhaps, perhaps some early classics, but it remains a slim category. Released in the last two weeks of the year ('3 Idiots' is only now gathering steam) this movie easily catapulted itself toward the top of the list. It represents the best in current Indian cinema. Describing the life of students at one of India's prestigious Engineering colleges (where students are boarded on premises during their studies), and their fates post-graduation, the movie employs (the currently trendy) disjointed chronology to tell its story. But what inspired treatment of the material this is! From the witty dialog (which sometimes gleefully tips into the uncharacteristically vulgar), to the acting, to the script, it all comes together rather wonderfully. The movie is by no means perfect however; it goes completely over the top in a few places (a baby being delivered during a storm! With instruction over a webcam!), seems a bit too eager to please, indulges in contrivances (the female love interest turns out to be the College Dean's daughter!) and you can see the end coming an hour before it actually arrives. But it works. Kudos also to this film for driving home its messages so successfully without preaching. The movie is a triumph for all concerned. 

3. 500 Days of Summer
This is a smart, witty, romantic film. I saw it and melted hopelessly in submission to its cleverness. Ladies and Gentlemen, this, is how you do it. There is enough creativity and heart here for three movies. Effortlessly funny, and sincere, it has connected with audiences, I think, because it is laser sharp in its realistic depiction of the ebbs and flow of early love, and what follows afterward. What to make, the movie asks, of a relationship where one expects so much more from it than another? The two leads of the movie (Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel) are so winning that they are not, for a moment, anything less than fully believable. Much has been made of the intentionally scattered chronology in the movie, but that ultimately remains a gimmick; this movie would have been just as effective were it told linearly in time. Charting the step-by-step development of a relationship between two very specific characters, this movie walked first into my brain, and then, the heart.

4.     Inglorious Basterds
This was the most memorable movie of the year for me; scene for scene, much of the movie still reels in my mind months after seeing it. Call it what you will: indulgent, revisionist, overly talky...but it is difficult to say that the movie falls short of being fully entertaining. The story of a group of American men brought together to militantly fight back the Nazi intercuts with that of the opportunity presented to a Jewish girl to exact vendetta for the death of her family at the hands of a brilliantly devious Nazi colonel. This does not exactly sound like giddy entertainment. But it is. Directing with everything he has in his toolbox, (and he’s got a lot), Quentin Tarantino breaks cardinal rules of the film book with relish here. Every expectation is cleverly circumvented. Christoph Waltz, who plays the Nazi colonel with an impossible balance of grace and evil has an assured lock on the Best Supporting Actor Oscar. The film is cleanly violent. More than half its dialog is subtitled. But who cares when it is this much fun. A superbly plotted episode late in the movie that transpires in a tavern alone is worth the price of admission. Yes, this is genius.

5.     Wake Up Sid
There are some movies that you connect with unexpectedly, and it almost seems like voodoo. Movies that are not on anybody else’s Best Of list. But they resonate deeply and with high fidelity with something within you. I relish such movies like a gift; I offer ‘Wake Up, Sid’. The movie represents the emergence of a hard-earned maturity in Indian cinema. At once, truthful, fun, and fully satisfying, this film is the story of a young man from a rich family who slowly begins to find his place in the world. While this expectedly leads to a realization of his own failings, the film altogether avoids the trappings of the standard character arc to demonstrate this. The caliber of acting, particularly from the main leads, is stellar. Every person in the universe of this film, from the smallest character to the leads, is fully realized and allowed to have their own voice. How refreshing to be able to say this, finally. Here is an Indian movie, thank the stars, with the willingness to abandon the weary formulas of traditional Bollywood for good and all - while still telling a worthy, robust story. If anyone complains about the sorry state of Indian cinema right now, it is gratifying that there are so many films released in 2009 that I can point to in defence of a counter-argument. Few would be stronger than ‘Wake Up Sid’.

6.     Up
The folks at Pixar knock another one clear out of the park, and ‘Up’ reaches higher in the skies than most of the previous Pixar entries. In refusing to cater to children as the primary audience, and choosing to infuse the film with a deep underlying sadness, the movie hits paydirt. It is not exactly original (I see inspirations from many other movies), and there are a few uneven parts. But it all comes together beautifully, particularly in a much talked about ten minute montage early in the movie that sets a new bar for economy in effective story-telling. If you are not devastated by the emotional wallop of those scenes, your heart may have been irreversibly calcified. There are many who have complained that the movie is too sad, and not appropriate for children. But really, what better way for a child to learn about personal loss than from a perceptive, heartfelt movie.

[What a wondrous year this has been for animated and children’s films. Along with "Up", "The Fantastic Mr Fox”, “Coraline”, and “Ponyo" can proudly sit on any list of the best movies of the year. And I have not even seen “Where The Wild Things Are” or “The Princess and The Frog”.]

7.     The Hangover
Who says that the lowbrow cannot be high entertainment? The putrid alley is as good a place as any to find humor, and yes, insight. I started laughing at the start of this film and just did not stop. The basic premise of the movie is clever – trying to reconstruct the events transpired over a night of debauchery in Las Vegas that none of the participants have any recollection of. What I liked about this film was that it dared to be as raunchy as it wanted, without apologies (or the market/studio-driven push to deliver a sanitized PG-13 film). As the movie progressed, I kept waiting for that first misstep, the first sacrifice made to a character to get a cheap laugh, and then sat up with delight realizing that this may actually not happen in this film. Doing good comedy is hard, and few films deliver on this promise. May their tribe increase.

8.     The Messenger
There is a scene in the movie “The Messenger” where two US Army personnel (played by Woody Harrelson and Ben Foster) walk up to the front yard of a woman’s (played by Samantha Morton) home to inform her that her soldier husband has been killed in Iraq. She guesses the news before they can say much, takes a few moments to look calmly in the distance, and then turns around to the men and says “This must be so hard for you”. The unexpected turn of the scene devastated me. This is a grim movie, but also one of the year’s most honest and rewarding. It is the story of two men whose job it is to inform families of the death of a son/daughter/spouse in combat (and hence the title), and features several such wrenching scenes. That the movie never gets gratuitous in the handing of these scenes is a testament to the maturity of the script, and the direction. One of the two men (Harrelson) is a seasoned informant; the other is being trained for this function. These are not cookie-cutter characters, and the script does not allow any easy outs for the two tortured individuals the men portray. Like the best movies about war, “The Messenger” will support your own political beliefs, no matter where you stand on the spectrum. It also has hands down, the best acting I have seen this year. I will lose my faith in cinema if Woody Harrelson, and Samantha Morton in particular, are not recognized for their terrific, beautifully toned performances in this film.

9.     Invictus
Last year, after watching ‘Gran Torino’, I said that I wanted to be like Clint Eastwood when I grew up. ‘Invictus’ this year is further proof of that sentiment. I don’t know how he does it, but here is Eastwood again with an equally effective film. I am frankly surprised that Eastwood is not celebrated more; how many other 79 year old film makers do we know who are delivering new high-quality films once, sometimes twice, a year. And these are films remarkable in the diversity of their tone and subject matter (his 2010 release will be a supernatural thriller). Invictus is loosely based on real-life events surrounding the early days of Nelson Mandela’s presidency in South Africa, and his stubborn push to support the then floundering (and predominantly white) national rugby team to a seemingly impossible win in the 1995 World Cup - in an effort to heal raw racial tensions in the country. Yes, it is a sports movie at the end, and how many of those have we seen already? But by picking this story, Eastwood makes the outcome matter. There has been criticism that Mandela’s portrayal in this movie verges on the saintly; but I saw it as just inspiring. I don’t know how else to say it, but this film is suffused with a sense of (well-earned) goodness. How daunting for an actor to portray a much beloved world personality who is still alive. Morgan Freeman is up to it. He plays Mandela as a man comfortable with blurring the line between being good and getting a few opportune things done at the same time. This movie is a fine example of Roger Ebert’s belief that what moves us most in the movies is not the very tragic, but rather it is individuals doing good in spite of themselves and their circumstances.

10.  Departures (Okuribito)
The winner of last year’s Best Foreign Film Oscar (unseen by most at the time) this Japanese film is clear from the start about its intent to emotionally manipulate the audience. But that does not take away from its effectiveness. A recently fired cellist from Tokyo moves back to his hometown village with his wife. Since being unemployed he cannot seem to be able to find his feet, and frustrated, he answers a cryptic newspaper job offering under the title “Departures” presuming it is for a travel agency. It turns out it is for employment at a place where the dead are prepared for burial. Against his instincts - and judgment - he takes on the job at the funeral home and begins to get trained in the proper Japanese rituals for preparing the bodies of the recently deceased. If this sounds morbid, it is not. There is actually much humor in this film. There is something be learned from the observation of families who have recently lost a loved one. Ashamed to tell his wife about his true vocation, the protagonist nevertheless builds a tenuous trust with the owner of the funeral home and his daughter, which drives the plot for the remainder of the film. This is not a subtle movie, and some of the treatment is heavy-handed. But the film is sincere, and the potency of its message of tolerance is undeniable. Funny, yet affecting, this is the kind of movie that I can recommend without worry to anyone.

Movies that could just as easily been on the Top Ten list:
Adventureland, District 9, Duplicity, An Education, The Fantastic Mr. Fox, Kaminey, Love Aaj Kal (Love, Today and Yesterday), Star Trek, Up In The Air

Movies that could make it to the list but are unseen by me (yet):
Moon, Where The Wild Things Are.

Outstanding movies caught at film festivals in 2009:
Bombay Summer, Bunny And The Bull, Deliver Us From Evil, I Killed My Mother, Karma Calling, Phobidilia, Shades Of Ray.

So let the events begin. Don't be shy to let me know how wrong I have been with this list!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Au Revoir Les Enfants

I happened to catch 'Au Revoir Les Enfants' ('Goodbye, Children') on television last month. Not all movies regarded as classics stand up to that stature when you get around to seeing them. This one did for me. 

Sometimes, events in our life we would rather forget take on mythic shape. These are events that stay with us through our lifetime, burned as they were onto the blank screens of our mind. And yet when they are actually occurring they seldom register as being of any importance at all. It is only the passage of time, and the vantage of perspective that grant them significance afterward. ‘Au Revoir Les Enfants', probably the most regarded movie made by Louis Malle, starts out as being a simple telling of the childhood life of one boy (a stand-in for the director’s own experiences), and at the end becomes a documentation of a singular event that can be fairly described as life-altering.

The movie covers the story of two boys in a boarding school run by priests in Nazi-occupied France during WWII. The movie is seen through the eyes of a French boy who develops an initial rift - and eventual friendship - with a new boy at school. Upon finding that his friend is Jewish and is being kept hidden at the school by the priests, this barely registers as information of any significance to the boy in the routine business of being kids of a particular age. The film captures the mundane daily activities at the school and the shifting allegiances that develop in that environment. And then an act of unwitting betrayal gets committed upon which the moral pivot for the entire story balances. One of the strengths of the movie is that it is left to the viewer to determine whether this act – entirely casual, and clearly unintentional – leads to the eventual terrible outcome in the movie. Regardless, that act probably left a strong enough imprint in the director's real life that drove him to make this film. How could it not?

About twelve years ago, I had gone for a job interview to Boston. It had snowed all morning and then become warmer by midday, creating much slush. After finishing my interview, I was in a rush to catch my flight back home in the evening. Already a bit late, and realizing that I needed to return the rental car still, I was eager to make up time on my drive to the airport. The temperatures had begun to drop as I got on the freeway. Surprised that none of the other cars were in the leftmost lane, I impatiently took to that lane and began passing the other cars. It was snowing lightly, but the visibility was good. About a mile after zipping past the other cars, I felt my car wheels catch, just as I realized that I had been probably driving on freshly frozen clear ice in that lane. You are told many times that the last thing to do when the car wheels catch is to hit the brakes. And yet, in the moment, slaved by every instinct in your body, that is exactly what you do. As I jammed on the brakes, my car spun like an energized orbiting satellite on its axis. It did two rotations and then stopped in the adjoining lane but in the opposite direction, facing oncoming cars. As cars changed lanes before they whizzed by me, I calmly turned my car around in the right direction, and drove off. I must have driven about five miles before my heart started racing and the import of what had just happened to me sunk in. I was shaking by the time I boarded the plane, but when the actual event was occurring I recall being completely calm, guided who knows by what - some evolutionary instinct, or inadvertent release of chemical(s) into the bloodstream? In the years since then, the images have come back to me often - of the speeding cars heading directly toward me  - and then parting just before approaching me. And I know this is something that I will remember always. I am not even remotely suggesting that my little episode is similar in impact or importance to the event that transpires toward the end of ‘Au Revoir Les Enfants’. But oddly, that evening on the Boston freeway is what I was reminded of most as the movie sunk into me in the days after seeing it.

There are two particularly impressive things about ‘Au Revoir Les Enfants’.

One of the more difficult things to do in movies is to capture childhood well. Somehow European movies have done a better job with this. Few are the films that get the rhythms of childhood just right. The harrowingly important priorities of a child, the immediate needs, the small things that can mean so much. The ease with which hostility can get exchanged between children. The slow and unconscious building of trust and friendship. This movie captures all of these cadences just right. To ascribe this to the autobiographical nature of the film would be to take away from its merits. You would be hard-pressed to not recognize your own growing-up experiences, no matter how varied, within the scenes of this movie.

And yet the movie willfully avoids melodrama. Movies by definition are meant to be...well, cinematic. And one of the more difficult things to do in movies is to shun the dramatic. To be factual and banal in each moment. To trust that the accumulation of the scenes will eventually register as a whole of some importance, and to not be tempted to impart drama or tension to individual scenes. This is a risky thing to do but when it works, it can provide rich dividends in terms of audience impact. How chilling for a viewer to find themselves in a movie that edges up on them slowly and without fanfare devastates them. ‘Au Revoir Les Enfants’ is a good example of this.