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Elaine’s Year in Review
By Elaine Hegwood Bowen
I remember as a kid going to the movies and being taken away by the scenery and what was being portrayed on the big screen. Then, and even now, if movies are supposed to transport the viewer from one place to the other, if only for a short time, then The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is my pick for one of the best movies of 2008.
Brad Pitt’s performance as a man who was born under curious circumstances and goes on to live the best life imaginable, with so many adventures and realized opportunities, was mind boggling.
At first, I wasn’t too keen on even seeing the movie, because, frankly, it seemed like a strange movie. But after much hype, and learning that underrated actress Taraji P. Henson had a prominent role, I was sold on seeing it.
And I’m glad I did. The movie was just mesmerizing, I suppose, for me because it covers a unique subject matter; and I know sci-fi and Hellboy and other movies take us away from ourselves and onto a thrilling adventure, but The Curious Case of Benjamin Button deals with life, simple life, but that which is lived backwards.
And it deals with all the pains and joys associated with life, as an inexperienced and sheltered Benjamin Button goes off to explore the world; trying to carve out his piece of enlightenment. He’s already seen many people come and go at the retirement home where he was raised by his adoptive mother, Henson. But when he finally lets loose and reunites with Daisy, played by Cate Blanchett, it’s such a great love story, albeit a short-lived one.
When Daisy comes back in the end to take care of an aged Benjamin, who is now an infant approaching the end of his life, that was just the icing on the cake!
Another good movie for me was Seven Pounds, which I also labeled as a love story. And even when I had figured everything out, it was still compelling. In Seven Pounds, Will Smith plays Ben Thomas, a complicated IRS tax collector with an unknown past that’s the crux of a movie, where he’s out to redeem himself for a silly mistake that costs many lives. His motive for helping others isn’t entirely clear at the beginning. I was intrigued by his generosity; but you sense that Ben is suffering from a great loss.
While there are many people in the movie that Ben is trying to help, the majority of the movie centers on Ben and the beautiful Rosario Dawson (Emily), who is suffering from congestive heart failure. He hunts her down at a hospital, even spying on her mostly unaware in her room, until he’s finally sitting at her kitchen table telling her he’ll suspend her IRS account for a few months, as she struggles with bills and anxiously waits for someone to die in order that she may hopefully live through a heart transplant. (WHEW!)
Their relationship resembles an emotional roller coaster ride, and Emily is mystified by Ben’s kindness, even though he seems aloof. Once they finally click, their romantic exchanges are sweet and well measured. Finally, Ben’s brother, Michael Ealy, makes sense of the entire movie.
It was a tear jerker for me; so I guess if it brought tears to my eyes, then it was—in this case—a good movie!
For another favorite, there couldn’t be two more clever men than David Frost and former President Richard Milhous Nixon as portrayed in Frost/Nixon.
Frost/Nixon revisits the time of Nixon’s resignation and subsequent pardon by President Gerald Ford, which meant that Nixon, who died from a stroke in 1994, never had to atone or answer questions surrounding the Watergate break-in.
The movie details the negotiation of an interview with Frost and Nixon using every trick in the book to make as much money as he can and to avoid discussing details of his presidency that he felt he didn’t want to rehash.
There are no previews of the final questions, just some agreed-upon rules regarding how much time could be committed to Watergate, a mere 25 percent. After the first scheduled interview, Frost would take a beating, as Nixon cleverly grandstands on questions, effectively “talking the clock away” with insignificant ramblings about certain events.
Frank Langella as Nixon is brilliant, absolutely brilliant, in his portrayal as “tricky Dick.” English actor Michael Sheen as Frost is very compelling; with a strong, albeit small, role for Kate Jennings Grant as journalist Diane Sawyer; as well as Kevin Bacon as Jack Brennan, Nixon’s former Chief of Staff.
Other highlights on my list include The Wrestler, starring Mickey Rourke, who just won a Golden Globe Award; indie films Trouble the Water, a homemade documentary about Hurricane Katrina; America the Beautiful; Sixty-Six and Kings of the Evening.
And while I can mention Spirit, Meet the Browns, Lakeview Terrace, and a host of other movies as ones on which I could have saved money, in an effort to keep this review positive, I won’t bother.
Elaine Hegwood Bowen Elaine Hegwood Bowen is an editor, writer and critic in Chicago.
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