MOVIES OF THE YEAR
1 Lord of the Rings
BY LISA SCHWARZBAUM
Hollywood can put men on Mars and dinosaurs in theme parks. But for all the technical alchemy available today, the ability to convey mythological grandeur is a gift not granted to many; it takes wizards to make art, in a business where the majority of us are Muggles at worst, hobbits at best. And in such a kingdom, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring rules. This is how a great movie can tell a great story — when all involved are confident enough (and talented enough, and blessed with enough gold in the corporate coffers) to embrace the classic literature on which it’s based as lifeblood, but not life support. Purists can rest assured that director Peter Jackson’s beautiful adaptation is devoted to the richness of narrative and density of detail in J.R.R. Tolkien’s towering fantasy trilogy The Lord of the Rings, the text on which the film is built. But movie lovers can also celebrate this first of three Rings installments because it’s so clearly, joyfully true to its artistic vision as a movie — a vision grounded in cinema-epic tradition — which, in turn, compliments the intelligence of its audience, both the scholars as well as the uninitiated. As its own universe, Fellowship is complete and enchanting. It’s also inspiring: Just as the Ring’s heroic quest falls to that most gentle and unassuming of hobbits, young Frodo Baggins, so the thrill and majesty of Tolkien’s resonant modern-day myth is enhanced by the steady devotion with which the filmmakers have worked their wonders.
2 IN THE BEDROOM Last year, in You Can Count on Me, Kenneth Lonergan raised the bar on American indie dramas with the words his characters spoke. This year, in a home-run feature directing debut, polygifted writer-actor Todd Field raises the bar on American cinematic storytelling with the words his characters don’t speak. This exquisite domestic tale about a tragedy and its effect on a middle-aged, middle-class married couple in a sturdy old Maine town, adapted from a short story by the late Andre Dubus (an American indie himself, come to think of it) says as much with the power of silence as with any words spat between Sissy Spacek and Tom Wilkinson as the grieving parents of a son dead from a gunshot. Instinctively, it seems, Field knows how to assemble images of sunrise and lobster traps and the curl of cigarette smoke into engrossing narrative. And instinctively, Spacek and Wilkinson rise to performances of precise truthfulness.
3 THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS Let’s call Wes Anderson’s yearning, eccentric, exquisitely realized family saga a snowdome drama. Let’s shake it up and watch where the snowflakes and glittery bits fall: on a romantic notion of a New York City just out of reach somewhere in the recent past; on a rueful, compassionate notion of family (or family mishegoss, the more expressive Yiddish for dysfunction); on the joys of an offbeat screenplay, and the beauty of poetic camera angles, and the charged power of a string quartet or a Beatles song. And then, just when the glitter settles and we think we’re holding the crystal globe of a film (from the inspired creator of Bottle Rocket and Rushmore) in the palm of our hand, the glass breaks away and we’re feeling a rush of emotion — love, even — for these oddball Tenenbaums with their privileges and limitations. And we don’t know how Anderson got to our hearts, but he did.
Wet Hot American Summer