Our critics explain why they loved ''There Will Be Blood'' and ''I'm Not There''
I’m Not There
It’s a biopic, an essay, a folk-rock opera, and a dream, all rolled into the headiest musical ever made. It’s also the year’s most daring vision, though the obsessive head-tickling sprawl of Todd Haynes’ sublime meditation on the music and mystery of Bob Dylan wouldn’t amount to a hill of guitar picks if the film weren’t also so intimate and reverent and moving. The glory of I’m Not There is the way Haynes invites us not just to watch, but to enter the movie and wander around inside it; to fuse with Dylan’s quest for something uncanny — a beauty that could save us all. Haynes divides Dylan into six different actors, riffing on the mythological trickery of his image as a folk singer/rock star/outlaw, but the reason for this gambit isn’t that Dylan was actually such a chameleon. (As a cultural shape-shifter, he paled next to the Beatles, David Bowie, or Madonna.) Rather, what the actors project is how he kept changing inside as he searched and burned his light out from within, only to restore that light with each new ”self.” You touch Dylan’s rapture, and the sadness on the other side of it, when Richard Gere, as a Western wanderer, comes across a bandstand ensemble playing ”Goin’ to Acapulco”; when Heath Ledger, as a sullen superstar, his marriage in tatters, gazes into the abyss that opened after the ’60s; and whenever Cate Blanchett is on screen in her blithely spectacular performance as a drugged-out pop idol who crucifies himself with the media’s lies. When ”Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” mists its way across the soundtrack, and Blanchett-as-Dylan fixes the audience with a Mona Lisa smile, it’s the most gorgeous moment in any movie this year: an image of transcendence lost and found. —Owen Gleiberman
There Will Be Blood
There can be no substitute: In an extraordinarily strong year for ambitious movies in general and serious American movies in particular, There Will Be Blood stands out, as unique in the ferocity of the storyteller’s filmmaking vision as it is in the story he tells. Here is the epic, essential American saga of silver miner-turned-oilman Daniel Plainview, living embodiment of historically admirable capitalist impulse run to rampant, bitter greed. No one works harder or with more focus than Plainview for the oil-rich California land he gobbles up at the start of the 20th century — and, for that matter, no actor digs more deeply in the service of character than Daniel Day-Lewis, who, even silently chipping at earth as the movie begins, stakes his ongoing claim to thespian greatness. The particulars of Plainview’s tragedy as a man bound for self-immolation, loosely built on the foundation of the 1927 novel Oil!, by Upton Sinclair, have been reassembled and embellished so daringly, so personally, and with such breathtaking artistry by writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson that it is impossible to separate style from bedrock content. There will be time, in weeks to come, to discuss this profound, important new classic of American cinema at length and to reflect on how Anderson and his creative collaborators have exploded archetypes of business, religion, and even fatherhood sky-high. For now, at least, here is the place to say that There Will Be Blood is a movie to rattle the soul. —Lisa Schwarzbaum