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Monday, January 11, 2010

Looking Back at the Aughts..... Lost in Translation and Happy-Go-Lucky

As the decade comes to a close, there have been a plethora of critics coming up with "Best of the Decade" list. While I'm tempted to do the same, I also came to a realization. There are many films I remember fondly that I'd love to see again and see how they hold up. There are other films that I liked but did not love and deserve another chance. And (believe it or not) there are still a few prominent films from the decade that I missed. I hoped to spend much of the beginning of this year watching/rewatching movies from the past decade. Sometime this summer, check back for my totally arbitrary (but deeply felt) best of the decade list. I'm also accepting any and all suggestions for movies that I should consider!

Here are thoughts on a couple movies I recently rewatched and brought me great enjoyment:

Lost in Translation (2003)

I've probably seen this movie and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind more than any other films of the decade. There is so much I love about this film, I hardly know where to begin. I love the performances. Bill Murray gives one of the performances of the decade as a washed-up film star sick of life and now doing crappy Japanese commercials to make some quick cash. Only a great comedic actor could simultaneously bring such humor and heartbreak to the surface. While 18-year-old Scarlett Johannson never reached the heights of this performance as Charlotte again, she was a perfect fit for this role. World-weary before her time, she is just as lost as Bob.

What I may love most is the mood of this film. It perfectly encapsulates the ennui felt by the character. It's also an interesting meditation on the inherent pleasures and loneliness of being a stranger in a foreign country. Japan is really the third major character in this film, and director Sofia Coppola shows us many sides of the country.

When I think of this movie I think of my favorite scenes: Charlotte and Bob's night out singing karaoke, Charlotte's visit to the countryside, and, of course, the sublime ending. A truly great film of the decade.

Grade: A

Happy-Go-Lucky (2008)

I saw director Mike Leigh's movie last year, and I admired it a lot for its message and its performances, particularly the lead one by Sally Hawkins in (to my mind) one of the most egregious Oscar snubs in years. She won just about every critics award and then was passed over by Oscar. Still, I wasn't in love with the movie as a whole. It was pleasant and fun, but it didn't fully hit me.

Watching it again, I kind of fell in love with the movies, and I'm now embarrassed it was only a runner-up on my2008 top 10 list. If I redid it, it would easily make it to number 6. Happy-Go-Lucky tells the story of Poppy, an inescapably cheerful British schoolteacher who lives a full life and attempts to bring joy to all around her. She also is taking driving lessons from Scott, a racist and bitter man whose worldview is utterly opposed to Poppy's. And there is pretty much the entire plot of the movie.

What gives me so much joy about the movie is the individual scenes and moments. Sally Hawkins is unafraid to make her character pass the line of annoying, yet you still can't help but love her. She brings her incredibly specific personality to every scene. Every other actor also feels completely organic in their role. I especially liked Alexis Zegerman in her role as Poppy's longtime roommate.

Could it have been a bit better? Perhaps. I would have liked a little more encounter with the darker side of life, if only because Poppy's final scene with Scott is so incredibly powerful. For a movie that is so light in its plot and light on its plot, though, it actually gives you a lot to think about. Just thinking about Poppy now, I'm smiling.

Grade: A-

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