Chicago (Directed by Rob Marshall)
The performances are brilliant, topped by Supporting Actress winner Catherine Zeta-Jones as cabaret star Vilma Kelly who leads a rousing rendition of cellblock showstopper “He Had It Coming” In fact almost all of the supporting cast, Queen Latifah, John C. Reilly (who knew?) and Tay Diggs and Christine Beranski is in fine form. I will admit that I had fun at Chicago, it was what a movie musical is suppose to be – it was bouncy and entertaining, a sexier vision of the old Hollywood musical.
What is interesting is the very fine line that Cathy and Raymond have to walk. This was the late 50s, when any contact between a black man and a white woman could mean financial and social ruin for the Whittakers and possibly jail time for Raymond. It is a dangerous time and these two intelligent beings understand the boundaries set before them.
Her attraction to a black man is the least of Cathy's problem. Another rears its head one night when Frank is working late and Cathy goes to the office to take him some dinner. To her horror she finds him in his office sitting on the side of the desk kissing another man. It is here that we begin to understand the distance in their relationship. We understand why he leaves for work in the morning having poured booze into his coffee, he's trying to numb the pain. We understand why The Whitaker's have no sex life.
In The Pianist, Brody played Wladyslaw Szpilman, a Jewish pianist who witnesses the cruel restrictions being instituted by the Nazi regime and tries to hold on to the music in his mind as he evades the Nazis by hiding the ruins of the Ghettos. With the war brewing in Iraq and citizens under Saddam Hussein being pressed under his thumb, Szpilman's story could not have been timelier.
Brody's was just one of many great performances in 2002, particularly
in the Best Actor category. Many felt that this was the best list this
category had seen in more than a decade. For me, it was loaded with good
work with only Day-Lewis being the exception. His work was as the sweaty,
scenery chewing villain in the so-so Gangs of New York was memorable
but a little one-dimensional. For me, the category might have been
made just about perfect with the inclusion of my choice for the award,
Robin Williams for his chilling performance in Mark Romenek's little-seen One
One day during the visit by Nina Yorkin (Connie Neilson), a regular customer, Sy carefully notices that there is one picture left on the roll. Holding the camera back he takes a picture of himself. This seemingly innocent gesture is, for Sy, a gesture of recognition. What Nina doesn’t know is that over the years Sy has developed a sort of obsession with the family bliss that shows through in Nina’s photographs. He wants Nina and her family to recognize him and he tries to get their approval in small gestures like giving Nina’s son a free camera and making double prints free of charge.
The Yorkins, Will, Nina and 8 year old Jake are comfort food for Sy, they contrast sharply with his den of loneliness and routine. Their photos show a pretty family which stands out among the usuals like "The Cat Lady", a woman who obsessively empties roll after roll of her cats and "The Amatuer Porn Artist", the shifty guy who keeps taking nude photos of his girlfriend. Sy fantasizes about being part of the Yorkin family and breaking away from his meaningless life as he wanders through their photos of birthdays, christmas’, anniversaries, vacations and family bliss.
Then, something happens. A young woman drops off photos of herself being intimate with Will. It is here that Sy's vision of the Yorkins begins to crack. Attempting to sabotage the affair, Sy “accidentally” drops the photos of Will and his lover into Nina’s photo sleeve hoping that Will will get his cumuppance. When he doesn’t get the reaction he expects, Sy comes unglued. It would be criminal of me to reveal what happens next except to say that it isn’t what we expect. What I can say is that Romanek balances the routine everyday nature of the first half of the film with an ending that is just as balanced so that everything that happens makes complete sense.
This was the second time in 2002 that Robin Williams had played a psychotic. The first was in Chris Nolan’s Insomia. There, as here, Williams shows portrait of a man whose frustration bubbles slowly under the surface as the irritations of world begin to invade his private comfort zone. Sy wants to remain in his fantasy and as the fantasy and the reality begin to cave in around him you can see him desperately trying to patch the holes and keep the illusion alive.
Williams’ performance is, at first, understated with quiet passages that allow you to watch his eyes and see that he is always thinking. Sy is the portrait of a man who remains invisible and remains very good at his job because it allows him to keep his illusion going. Routine is a manner of remaining inside his fantasy because he knows that he can never have the life that the Yorkins enjoy.
We are all use to the Robin Williams that we see on The Tonight Show,
the wacky nut who is always on. Here he buries all that and Sy emerges
as a man who smiles pleasantly while he manages the routines that feed
his own mania. In a way he reminds us of Travis Bickle, another meaningless
soul who goes unnoticed and fixes his attention on his obsession. Bickle
wanted to be the savior for Iris, the teen prostitute, Sy wants to live
the idea of an idillic fantasy that is different from the hundreds of
meaningless photos that he The difference is that in Sy's case he wants
to remain in his fantasy. Sy is a damaged man who hides in his ordinariness,
and is best left inside his dillusion. He is the kind of man who is dangerous
if the fantasy is pulled out from under him without medical help.
The better role in The Hours went to Julianne Moore who plays the suicidal housewife (in the 1950s) with homoerotic tendencies. That role, and her work in Todd Haynes Far From Heaven (which is my choice) made her the seventh actress to be nominated for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress in the same year. Both performances are essencially two sides of the same character. Laura Brown is the pristine 50s housewife who sees her world crumbling under the weight of manic depression and Far From Heaven's Cathy Whittaker finds her world crumbling under the weight of her husband's homosexuality and her own attraction to her African-American gardener.
Of the two, I think the latter was the better performance. Moore has harder notes to hit in Far From Heaven (and more time to explore it) because it is a role that requires her to express a great deal of emotional weight. From the first frame, we almost feel her channeling the likes of Dorothy Malone and Jane Wyman who were the stars of some of the best of Douglas Sirk's 50s soap operas. With her bouffant hair-do, patterned dresses, her pleasent sitcom mom smile and her mannered dictation delivered through a flawless New England accent, Cathy goes through the motions of fawning over carpet samples and table flower arrangements as if she's a graduate of high society training.
She is so perfectly mannered that, as the movie opens, we find her about to be interviewed by a woman from the society column who is going to do a profile on the perfection of the Whittaker's life. Ironically, it is exactly this point in her social standing that it begins to crumble. Spotting a black man in her garden she walks out and asks if she can help him. His name is Raymond and he explains that he is the son of the Whittaker's regular gardener who has just died. Cathy's good heart allows her to feel pity for him (actually I think she is struck by the fact that he is not the stereotype that she imagined) and she touches his arm just as the columnist is looking out the window. Soon she becomes the butt of jokes as the ladies around the neighborhood begin referring to her as "A friend to the Negro". And her problems only get worse.
Taking dinner to her husband Frank who is working late, she finds him in his office kissing another man. Feeling homosexuality to be a curable disease, Cathy takes him to a doctor to see if he can be cured. The doctor doesn't help much but Frank assures her "I'm going to lick this thing". Cathy seems convinced but she seeks refuge in her own painful secret and begins seeing Raymond. Their tender, sweet relationship is the kind that you feel that in a later decade would have blossomed into a loving romance. Raymond and Cathy keep their distance, knowing the danger they face being seen talking to one another. They don't dance around eroticism but they look deeply into one another eyes and we feel their connection.
Moore is the perfect actress to play Cathy. Her face is so delicate that you can see her heart breaking in her eyes and when she is wounded she becomes one of those rare actresses that you want to embrace. There are whole scenes where another actress would be . Look for example at the scene where she meets Raymond in front of the movie theater. She can't express very much on her face given the situation but you can see her lip trembling and her eyes convey words that Cathy herself can't express.
Cathy, in the hands of another actresses, could have been made into a withering dimwit
or a radical but Moore finds all the right notes. The character is about
as knowlegable about race and sexual orientation as any other woman of
her time but Moore conveys intelligence and a willingness to pursue her
friendship with Raymond even though she knows that it can ever be. She
follows instinct different from those given to her by the society of her
time. She breaks out of the feirce binds of her time not necessarity to
walk on the hot coals of an interracial realtionship but at least to approach
it and feel the heat.
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