I live in St Andrews, which is a very small place, with a very small cinema, which shows a very small selection of what the world has to offer in terms of films. So I have seen depressingly few new films this year. Since summer I've only seen The Social Network, The Switch, The Other Guys, Certified Copy (Copie conforme), Inception and Alamar. It's a bit pathetic really, six film during two and a half months. Of course I've seen many older films, on DVD, like some Cuban films, and films by Douglas Sirk and Raoul Walsh, and the odd Hasse Ekman, so I'm not starved for cinema, it's just that by living here I miss out on what's new, the cinema of the here and now. Reading about new films is of course not the same as actually watching them. But I suppose I'll just have to watch them on DVD at a later date.
Since I've only seen six films I thought I say something about all of them. I actually liked them all, although The Switch was often-times slow and dimwitted. I wacthed it because I like Jason Bateman, and he didn't disappoint, other than for his poor choice of script. It (or at least Jennifer Aniston's comments about single motherhood) also upset Bill O'Reilly, and that has to be a good thing.
The Other Guys lacks on the visual side, but it more than makes up for it when it comes to the writing. It had some of the most outrageously funny and bizarre dialogue I've heard in a long time, and the story was on some levels pure genius, in its set-ups and twists. It's written and directed by Adam McKay, who previously has made the even better Anchorman - the Legend of Run Burgundy (2004), the less great but still good Talladega Nights: the Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006) and a lot of stuff for TV. He obviously has a golden pen, and a very good actor partner in Will Ferrell.
Alamar is perhaps the least known among these six new films, and it is also to most challenging, in that it has very little to offer in terms of plot, story or acting. It is more a meditation on nature and colour, in a sense it's like a film by Terrence Malick with only the lyrical parts kept. Alamar takes place in Mexico, on the coral reef Banco Chinchorro, where a man is taking his son out to fish before they will part, the son leaving for Europe with his mother. The film, written, directed, photographed and edited by Pedro González-Rubio, is deceptively simple, and makes for a very moving hymn to parenthood and nature, in all its unspoiled glory. The most beautiful part of the film involves a bird, a bird which becomes for a while a member of the family, and then suddenly disappears, leaving the boy devastated. It can stand as a symbol of how fleeting life and happiness, and possible nature in its pristine form, might be.
Inception is without doubt one of the most talked about movies of the year, not necessarily because it is better than other films but because it plays around with the viewer, self-consciously leaving us to ponder its games, levels and meanings. I don't want to dwell on it but I found the first hour somewhat boring, since there's far too much superfluous talk and too little gravitas. As the film progresses though it gains a lot, even though it moves into zero gravity. About its meanings and levels, I don't think it matters whether or not it ends with a dream, what matters there is that he is happy for once. I also think it is a mistake to think about it in a linear way, with five separate levels. Like the maze that Ariadne (clever name isn't it...) creates to impress Cobb in the beginning, the film's structure is circular I would say, and it's quite possible that all various levels are dreams, that there is no "reality" whatsoever at play here.
Certified Copy is also a film that plays a lot of games, and where there is talk all the time. It is also a film with many levels, and a film where it is not altogether clear what is real and what is not, and whether or not it actually matters. It is also a film of staggering visual beauty, filled with elegant use of off-screen space. It also, unfortunately, has William Shimell as the male lead. I don't exactly know what he did and why, but it felt like he thought he was in a zombie film, and acted accordingly although Juliette Binoche was radiant as usual. But sometimes I wondered if the film, and Abbas Kiarostami, weren't a bit too clever for their own good.
The Social Network is often referred to as "David Fincher's The Social Network", but with a writer of such esteem and recognisable style as Aaron Sorkin, I think we should ease up on the director-as-default-auteur and if we need to put names to it, say "Fincher/Sorkin's The Social Network". And as such names would suggest, it is a very great film, possibly the best American film I've seen this year. Sorkin's dialogue and structure and Fincher's use of composition, framing and focus are dazzling. It is both a display of supreme craftsmanship and a good snapshot of the world today, as well as a portrait of Harvard. And all the actors are flawless. As soon as it was over I wanted to watch it again. And again. Much like Mark Zuckerberg updating his facebook profile again and again in the last, moving, shot. Someone likened it to All About Eve (1950), and it is possible to see Sorkin as a modern day Joseph L. Mankiewicz. But I think Fincher has more style and passion as a director than Mankiewicz had, great as he was.