A gay ol’ guide to your Christmastime moviegoing options
It’s Christmastime, when Hollywood pulls out its big guns — and this year, big blue people were holding some.
But there’s hype and there’s payoff, and with Dec. 25 actually falling on a Friday this year, many films are vying for your attention. Here are the best, all opening this weekend.
A Single Man. We all hoped that fashion designer Tom Ford could make a watchable movie, but who expected he could turn Christopher Isherwood’s Ulysses-like story of one day in the life of a gay man in 1962 and make the best film of the year? But that’s exactly what he did.
It isn’t just that the imagery in A Single Man reflects a photographer’s eye (it does, although with the flat, somber color palette of Bruce Weber more than David LaChapelle); it’s gorgeous but not flashy. Ford assuredly handles all the complex, often silent emotions of a closeted college professor (Colin Firth, in the performance of the year, flashing bits of Michael Caine by way of Yves St. Laurent) who, left alone after his partner dies in a car wreck, plots the last hours of his life.
Filled with ache and longing that is vivid and tactile, it’s as if Douglas Sirk was allowed to explore taboos through the lens of Edward Hopper. (At the Angelika Mockingbird Station).
Broken Embraces. Because he’s his own writer and director working outside the Hollywood system, Pedro Almodovar’s output swings wildly between brilliant (Bad Education, Women on the Verge) and dreadful (Kika, The Flower of My Secret), but Broken Embraces falls firmly on the genius side of the ledger.
Hopping back and forth between the present day and 15 years earlier, it tells how a film director ended up blind, the woman (Penelope Cruz) for whom he gave up everything and the twisted game being played by a gay young man.
Like another release this season, Nine, it’s a movie about the making of movies, which could make it seems like clubby navel-gazing. Instead, it has a lived-in feeling, with Hitchcockian turns and seductive visual style.
Sherlock Holmes. We Americans love our comic book heroes (or at least Hollywood says we do), so every year becomes a shell game where studios find ways to reinvent the super-powerful with human flaws.
Brits don’t need comics; they have literature. And for them, detective Sherlock Holmes is the Dark Knight and Spider-Man with an opium addiction and few mechanical props. Brain-power fuels his ass-kickery, not gadgetry.
Director Guy Ritchie’s vision of Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) and his lover … er, "best friend" Dr. Watson (Jude Law) sheds the Meerschaum pipe and deerstalker hat for less fussy accessories but modernizes the relationship; in one scene, the dialogue sounds far more like a lover’s quarrel than you’d find in most romantic comedies.
But while the techniques (prudent uses of CGI, and editing style reminiscent of The Matrix) are contemporary, as is Holmes’ psychosis (he’s plainly O.C.D., the Monk of Victorian London), Ritchie cleaves closely to the basics of the story, while allowing Law and especially Downey to have a field day. This is smart filmmaking that indirectly dresses down Dan Brown and J.K. Rowling while appealing to the comic book fan. I’d be happy to see a franchise out of this dynamic duo.
It’s Complicated. Infidelity is funny. Not just ha-ha funny, but strange. In It’s Complicated, cheating is at once liberating, healing, confusing and flat-out hilarious for Meryl Streep’s Jane, who’s celebrating a decade of independence from ex-husband Jake (Alec Baldwin). Then suddenly she finds herself having passionate sexual trysts with the hairy Flintstone of a man in between his trips to the fertility clinic to get his twentysomething wife pregnant. When Jane is courted by a nice-guy architect (Steve Martin), she must decide whether to rekindle her long-dead marriage or embark on a new romance.
Directed and written by Nancy Meyers (Something’s Gotta Give, What Women Want), the film’s breezy, effortless camaraderie among its trio of stars produces unexpected laugh-out-loud moments. Perhaps because the drama in their lives is dealt with in a mature manner that feels real, in spite of the farce-like hijinks that ensue, it’s all a pleasure to behold.
Even among Hollywood heavyweights, one of the best performances comes courtesy of John Krasinski, whose Harley knows way too much about his mother-in-law’s dalliances and suffers the moral and emotional consequences of keeping her secret. His befuddlement and anxiety is comedic greatness.
It’s Complicated is a splendid showcase for its talented cast and writer-director, but it’s the portrayal of middle age as a hopeful, joyous and sexy time of life, proving that fun doesn’t have to end in our perky-skin days. It just needs a little extra time and a few prescriptions to help it along. (At the Magnolia and in wide release.) •
The best in movies
1. A Single Man (pictured). Tom Ford’s melancholy, gorgeous portrait of love (see review above).
2. Up. Just why doesn’t anyone but Pixar make movies anyway? The first five wordless moments of this animated epic are as lovely as storytelling gets … and it gets better. Dug may be the best new animated character of the century.
3. Valentino: The Last Emperor. The subject of this documentary isn’t really fashion, but the breathtakingly rich love affair between designer Valentino and his artistic and lifetime collaborator.
4. The Hurt Locker. Though far from perfect, no film stuck with me for weeks as much as Kathryn Bigelow’s examination of the Iraq War.
5. Broken Embraces. Pedro Almodovar, back in top form (see review above).
6. Taking Woodstock. Ang Lee’s visually arresting historical comedy shows an unexpectedly gay side to the preeminent social marker of the second half of the 20th century.
7. (500) Days of Summer. Smart, heartfelt, swoonful and yet not sentimental? This cheeky boy-loses-girl date flick could have single-handedly reinvented the modern romantic comedy.
8. Away We Go. This tender, funny travelogue about a pregnant couple’s quest for a new hometown was as joyous as it was cringe-inducing — not a mean feat.
9. An Education. Carey Mulligan’s assured performance and a smart, complex script made this the arthouse gem resonate.
10. Sherlock Holmes. Pure fun — and purely cinematic (see review above).
— Arnold Wayne Jones
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 25, 2009.