Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Screener Season: Part Two

Monday, November 20th
Police Beat (DVD-R): Here's a little movie so obscure that The A.V. Club didn't even review it, though it played a few big cities this year after wowing people on the festival circuit in 2005. It's really something, too: a gorgeous, elliptical movie about an African immigrant who gets a job as a bicycle cop in Seattle and spends his days pedaling around and carrying on an internal conversation with his absent girlfriend, while he cleans up after a series of disgusting sex crimes and domestic disputes. The problem is that there's about an hour's worth of movie, tops, in this 80 minute package, and while its aimlessness never gets annoying, it's too bad that a movie that looks so great, and has such a distinctive point of view and strong sense of place, can't come up with a dramatic hook or spark of inspired meaning. Even still, I'm surprised this movie hasn't gotten more attention. I know we're living in age where sumptuous images in indie films have become commonplace (it's like the late '60s all over again), but the way director Robinson Devor uses water imagery and the disorientingly skewed perspectives from the Seattle hills is never less than stunning. I'd stack it up against Wong Kar-Wai (whose Chungking Express this movie resembles). And though the lead actor isn't all the emotive, he conveys loneliness well, which is all he really has to do. Plus, the crime re-enactments–all drawn from actual cases–are frequently tense, and cumulatively disturbing.
Grade: B+
On the list? Wow, so close. Not to get all list-philosophical, but this is the kind of movie you want to put on a Top 10, to call attention to it, and to avoid being that guy who has the same list that everyone else has. But you can't force it. If the movie's not good enough, well, that's what Honorable Mentions are for.

Little Miss Sunshine (Academy screener): I went into this one with no preconceived notions, because even though some critic friends of mine absolutely hated it (most notably Jim Ridley, who savaged it in The Village Voice), other critic friends of mine liked it a lot (including Philadelphia City Paper's Sam Adams). And our own Nathan Rabin was guardedly kind. I confess I fall more on the Ridley side, with a few exceptions. I could've watched a whole movie about Steve Carell's suicidal Proust scholar and his sullen nephew, because both those performances were strong, and because their dynamic was interesting–the adolescent sullenness and its grown-up variation. I also thought the shots of that goofy yellow van rolling down the highway were really beautiful, especially when the music was just right. (Props to the filmmakers for making good use of Sufjan Stevens' transcendent "Chicago.") But the "aren't we freakish?" character contrivances and one-mishap-after-another plot was like the worst of National Lampoon's Vacation crossed with the worst of Todd Solondz. Worse, it doesn't even make any sense. Not that I require dogged realism in a comedy, but when a movie presents itself as something smarter and more insightful than the average multiplex fare, I expect it to at least have enough sense of logic that its central plot device–the "Little Miss Sunshine" beauty pageant itself–would seem like a reasonable event, and not something so shoddily run that a little girl could make it to the finals without apparently having competed before. The climactic dance sequence was stupid and painful to watch, and I'm the kind of person who thinks that nearly every movie would be improved by a climactic dance sequence. In the end, Little Miss Sunshine is a movie that applauds itself for celebrating the weird and the daring, but the movie itself is a thoroughly conventional madcap comedy with art-house pretensions. (It's no Police Beat, in other words.)
Grade: C-
On the list? No way, man. This movie has been getting a lot of Oscar buzz, because it's such a weak year for "Oscar caliber films"–which as we well know, is not the same as "great films"–and because audiences genuinely love it. Which means that for the next couple of years I can count on people coming up to me and saying, "You know what I just saw and really liked? Little Miss Sunshine!" While I nod politely.

Wednesday, November 22nd
Notes On A Scandal (critics screening): Shouldn't say much about this upcoming social drama, adapted from Zoe Heller's novel by Closer scribe Patrick Marber, because I'll be reviewing it for real in a couple of weeks. But for the record….
Grade: C
On the list? Nope.