Sunday, December 05, 2004

I ♥ Hollywood (this week)

Most weeks, I'm probably muttering something about the uninspiring state of contemporary American movies. But not this week--I've just seen two certifiable peaches.

I got high off Alexander Payne's last one, but he's really topped himself with Sideways.

In fact, though he's made just four films, Payne is already a world-class movie satirist. Citizen Ruth (1996) is in some ways his harshest, most vitriolic film, and Election (1999) might be his boldest, most gasp-inducing--maybe it strikes me that way because I'm a teacher by profession, and it portrays teachers less flatteringly (and as more real-live human) than any other movie I've seen.

But all the elements of Payne's style and content, honed a little sharper with each film, come together in Sideways to result in a classically perfect movie. It's one of those rare good films that movie-appreciating audiences are flocking to in good numbers. There is some justice in this world.

David O. Russell's I ♥ Huckabees is a pricklier proposition. I'm convinced that it's one of the most experimental and cerebral films to ever come out of Hollywood. It is a "meaning-of-life" comedy--a philosophical dissertation that wears its wide-ranging disquisitions with casual lightness.

I ♥ Huckabees is also the most original American release I've seen this year. My attempt to synopsize this madcap metaphor-laden movie is doomed to failure. So, I will simply say this--It is sort of a screwball comedy but unlike the classic Capra and Hawks movies from the 1930's, it is less about class or gender than about the dialectics of daily life.

I know--that sounds muddier than mud itself. So, please just go see the movie--and when you do, don't look for classical perfection. Look instead for a shambling, stimulating head-trip.

Free of hip irony or shallow smugness, it is in the end an old-fashioned, hopeful, and yes, ♥-felt film.