Saturday, March 12, 2011

The 30 Day Movie Challenge: Days #3+4

One too many distractions yesterday left me without time to complete an entry for yesterday. So, to play a little catch up, here's days 3 and 4 of the challenge.

Day #3: Favorite Comedy

Now this was a tough one. I have nothing against comedies, but some of the ones that make me laugh the most do so at the expense of plot and character development. It's a real challenge to find a film that really makes me laugh yet also is admirable from other perspectives. And that's why my pick for my favorite comedy comes down to Armando Iannucci's In the Loop (2009).

Essentially doing to the Iraq War what Dr. Strangelove did to the Cold War, Iannucci's ensemble satire is something of a comedic masterwork for many reasons. First and foremost is its phenomenal script, written by four writers and adapted from the UK sitcom The Thick of It. In addition to the cutting satire, the script's combination of swearing, word play, awkward pauses, and pop culture references comes together to create a spectacularly funny film. Every time I've seen it (which is a lot), there's some new line I discover, usually because I was too busy laughing at something else on a previous viewing. A lesser film might throw as many attempted jokes and funny lines at you, but In the Loop is remarkable because the vast majority of them work (and there's certainly not a flat joke among the bunch).Delivering the hysterical script is one of the most finely tuned ensembles in recent memory, a considerable achievement considering the size of the cast. Everyone delivers their lines to perfection, although standout honors have to go to Peter Capaldi as perpetually angry Malcolm Tucker, and Mimi Kennedy as an anti-war government official. Capaldi in particular shines throughout his constant anger, and gets to deliver many of the film's greatest lines. It's a real tour-de-force, not something that can often be said of comedic performances, and a key scene in the United Nations meditation room actually gives the character the tiniest bit of vulnerability, only making Capaldi's work even more impressive.And like Capaldi's work, the film never once slows down or starts to lose its comedic staying power. Granted, the last 20 minutes or so become less reference-heavy (and almost thriller-lite in intensity), but this only helps the film's impact become even greater. It may be built mostly for rapid-fire laughs, but In the Loop works equally well as a goofy satire of behind-the-scenes political shenanigans. It's also the perfect modern companion piece to Kubrick's masterful Cold War satire, and I hope that Iannucci's less-seen film will one day be held in equal regard. It certainly deserves it.

Day #4: Favorite Drama

Continuing my love of films about the creative process comes my pick for favorite drama. And while this is a film that certainly has its funny moments, and is far from being truly heavy in nature, it's still a compelling work. That film is Milos Forman's Amadeus (1984).

It's often been criticized for playing with history, although I think the accusations are rubbish. Not that I think the accusations are false; I know that they have validity. But this is a movie, after all, not a documentary. And what Peter Shaffer's script (adapted from his own play) may lack in historical accuracy, it makes up for it with superbly executed story telling. At 2 hrs and 40 minutes, Amadeus remains lively and enjoyable the whole way through, time and time again. Like 8 1/2, part of its success comes from looking at something very personal (artistic creation) on a bigger, grander scale. As a production, it's gorgeous to look at, and regardless of what advances have been made in the 27 years since its release, its beauty remains undiminished. Mozart and Salieri's world comes richly to life, big and beautiful enough to match the large personalities and egos that populate it.Yet while Mozart's (obviously incredible) music gets the most play time, its his rival who runs away with the show. As the jealous Salieri, F. Murray Abraham gives one of the all-time great leading performances, and deservedly picked up Best Actor at the Oscars. He communicates Salieri's combination of admiration and bitter envy on many levels, my favorite of which comes when he sarcastically talks back to a crucifix/God for giving him the exact opposite of what he prayed for: "Grazie, Signore!" But the film also deserves credit for giving both men equal treatment. Mozart (Tom Hulce) is certainly fleshed out as well, and the way Salieri uses his relationship with his father to literally haunt him is one of the film's best subplots. We get to see both of these characters in their personal and private lives, which only serves to make the story even richer. Amadeus works because it works as the cinematic equivalent of one of Mozart's compositions: big, brash, and emotional, but also wildly artistic and beautifully composed.

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