Friday, June 17, 2011

Beginners


Like many of my reviews, I first saw this film last September at the Toronto Film Festival.  But unlike most of the films I saw there, I had no intention or interest in seeing it.  Nevertheless I had a free window and there wasn't anything else too appealing playing so I figured I'd give it a shot.  And I'm really glad I did because it was easily one of the best films of the 38 that I saw there.  So the question was, would I have the same feeling nine months later at my second viewing?

Ewan McGregor plays an artist overwhelmed by sadness.  And with good reason.  His mom passed away five years prior.  Shortly after that his dad, played by Christopher Plummer, came out of the closet and began dating men.  Shortly after that Plummer's character was diagnosed with cancer.  And then just recently he passed away.  The film is told non-linearly, bouncing back and forth between McGregor's last years with his father, his childhood with his mother, played by Mary Page Keller, and present day when he's met a new girl, played by Melanie Laurent.  Of course, the description doesn't do the film justice (and neither does the movie poster, of which the tone is very misleading.)

This is a film about love, understanding, family, sadness, grief, life, and death.  It's heartbreaking but also life affirming.  It's sad but also sweet and heartfelt.  It's a quiet film and it's very comfortable with its quietness, and embraces the quiet in all the right places.  But even though it's sad by nature I don't think you leave the theater feeling overwhelmingly sad, but rather with just the right balance of emotion.  At least I did.  Twice. 

Simply put, this is easily the best film of the year and the only Oscar worthy picture so far.  It's way early but I think it deserves a Best Picture nomination and all of the performances are nomination worthy as well.  I've never seen Ewan McGregor better.  He delivers more with a look than most actors could ever do with the perfect line.  And the same goes for Plummer, Laurent, and Keller.  Frankly, even the dog probably deserves a nomination, and I'm not even kidding.  And when all the performances are that great, and the tone is that perfect, you have to give credit to the director, Mike Mills, who in this case was also the writer.  His only other feature film credit is 'Thumbsucker' and I don't remember it being that good, but I may have to give it another try because he's clearly an amazing filmmaker.

This film totally deserves more recognition than it will undoubtedly receive, but unfortunately it's not the kind of movie that attracts a wide audience, and it was released too early in the year and Academy voters have short memories.  Well, it gets my highest grade and I won't soon forget it.

Grade: A+

5 comments:

  1. My only other source for movie news comes from Entertainment Weekly and they also gave it a glowing review. There's hope it will be remembered come award season...

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  2. Looking forward to this, but Melaine Laurent will also be Shoshanna to me. "Zait for ze Creme!"

    Thumbsucker was not good, but it was his debut and five years have passed. Not everyone comes out of the gate strong.

    Finally, they totally should have an Oscar for Pets. Much more compelling than sound direction or whatever. Wouldn't you love to see the nominees announced, then camera cuts to them sitting in the crowd. "... and for best Pet in a major motion picture, Dog - Beginners, Rocket Frog - Tree of Life, Oxen - Meek's Cutoff and Monkey - Hangover 2. Oh god, the oxen are goring Terrence Malick, quick add him to In Memorium tribute"

    Chris.

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  3. That's hilarious, CK. And I agree that would be a great addition to the Oscars. The only part that's unbelievable in your scenario is Terrence Malick actually showing up. Otherwise it could totally happen.

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  4. Hilarious comments!

    And I cannot wait to see this. With very little exposure to Ewan McGregor (other than in Little Voice, which I adored), I am quickly falling in like with this guy, simply from reading your reviews of his films, and of course, your grand tribute to him. Good stuff.

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  5. AGREED. Easily the best film of the year. I hope there's a fluke and the academy gives it to the one that deserves it the most for a change :)

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