Christopher Orr

A New Era Begins

No, not that one. This one:  

The Orrscars 2008

2008 was an odd year for film, and not a good one. The summer blockbusters were uncharacteristically satisfying, but the end-of-the-year awards season was disappointing. Last year, there was no overlap between my ten top movies and the ten top money makers (sorry, Spidey 3); this year, three of the top five earners (Wall-E, The Dark Knight, and, yes, Iron Man) made my list. By contrast, a number of the recently released awards hopefuls (Milk, Doubt, Frost/Nixon) left me relatively cold. A strange case of cinematic seasonal affective disorder? Readers can judge for themselves.

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It is presumably an unintentional irony that it is more than two hours into The Curious Case of Benjamin Button that star Brad Pitt observes, “I was thinking how nothing lasts.” It is more ironic still that nearly another half-hour passes before co-star Cate Blanchett concurs: “Nothing lasts.” Benjamin Button is stately, gorgeous, intermittently moving, and very, very long.

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Will Smith is testing us. Over the summer, he tried to get America to swallow the idea of a do-gooding p.r. flack (played by Jason Bateman) in Hancock. We did swallow it--and worse--to the tune of $228 million in domestic receipts. With Seven Pounds, Smith goes further, trying to force the idea of a do-gooding IRS agent down our throats.

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There’s a moment in director Ron Howard’s Frost/Nixon, when James Reston Jr. (Sam Rockwell), who has written multiple books about Richard Nixon, sees the disgraced ex-president (Frank Langella) in the flesh for the first time and is taken aback: “He’s taller than I imagined.” Indeed he is. As portrayed by the 6’4” Langella, Richard Nixon is not merely taller than Reston’s imagination, but quite a bit taller than the 5’11” historical record. It’s a physical disparity that might not pose such a problem if the cinematic president did not tower over the actual one in so many other ways as well.

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“What do you do when you’re not sure?” intones a priest (Philip Seymour Hoffman) to his flock. “That’s the subject of my sermon today.” So begin the epistemological explorations of Doubt, which writer/director John Patrick Shanley has adapted for the screen from his Pulitzer-winning play.

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Gus Van Sant's Milk is not a bad movie. Star Sean Penn eschews his characteristic bluster, offering a powerful yet modest performance as Harvey Milk, the openly gay San Francisco supervisor who was assassinated in 1978. The supporting roles are also sharp, in particular Josh Brolin as Dan White, the disturbed former supervisor who killed Milk and Mayor George Moscone. And Van Sant's direction is generally smooth, if extremely conventional.

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Dear Baz Luhrmann, You have a problem, and the first step toward solving it is recognizing it: Despite your manifest gifts as a filmmaker, you can’t do tragedy. And you need to stop trying. Your 1992 debut, Strictly Ballroom, was an utter delight, a sprightly mélange of comedy and romance, dancing and music, attractive stars and cartoonish (but not irredeemable) villains. Since then, I fear, you’ve gotten badly off-track. We can set aside 1996’s Romeo+Juliet for the moment, because I confess I have never made it through the film despite multiple attempts.

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Are English-speaking directors stupid?

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Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) is the new kid in town. (To anyone out there mentally cuing up the Eagles: Please stop.) When her mom (Sarah Clarke) decided to uproot from Phoenix and hit the road with her dorky, minor-league ballplayer new husband, Bella did the only sensible thing and opted to move to the tiny hamlet of Forks, Washington, to live with her dad (Billy Burke), the local police chief.

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