I’ve been seeing so many movies during the last month that I haven’t had time to write about them. So this article is a way of playing catch-up. All but one of the movies were in the New York Film Festival (although I saw two of those after the festival at other venues).
For me the highlight of this year’s NY Film Fest was definitely the Janus Films retrospective of classic foreign films, a ‘sidebar’ at the Walter Reade Theater, one of the best venues anywhere for seeing movies – superb projection and sound in an intimate, comfortable setting. These wonderful films are being released in new DVDs this week by Janus and Criterion, but seeing them on a theater screen was a sublime experience.
The new movies, at least the ones I saw, were a mixed bag. This is often the case at the NYFF. Supposedly 1500 movies were winnowed down to the 25 actually shown, which means for every one accepted, 59 were rejected. And yet, just as in every other year I’ve attended, I saw several movies that made me think, I’m glad I don’t have to sit through those other 59 – because the one that did make it seems unworthy of being shown in such an esteemed venue (and at $20 a ticket). Certainly this is a completely subjective judgment, although it’s shared by most people I’ve attended with over the years.
In the main festival:
The Queen is Helen Mirren, and Helen Mirren is The Queen. Although it is certainly the better film, The Queen resembles The Devil Wears Prada in being almost impossible to imagine with someone else playing the pivotal role. And Meryl Streep’s performance in Prada and Mirren’s in The Queen are the acting high points of the year – exhilarating star turns that take their respective movies into realms their makers must hardly have dared hope they could go.
When I heard about this film’s premise, I groaned inwardly. How could they bring it off? Actors playing such familiar figures as Tony Blair and the British royal family, during the period surrounding the death of Princess Diana – it seemed a recipe for a silly, grotesque failure. And yet as deftly scripted by Peter Morgan and directed by Stephen Frears, The Queen is a comedy of manners with a real heart. It’s not a great movie, but it’s a marvelous entertainment, both hilarious and moving. (The closest equivalent may be Mike Nichols’s movie adaptation of Primary Colors, in which the Clintons were fictionalized into characters in a sly comedy that was satirical but not cruel.)