Holiday Movies

December 26, 2007
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The holiday movie season started for me with a sneak of “The Kite Runner,” continued with the flawed-but-fascinating “No Country for Old Men,” took me through the nail-biting “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead,” sidetripped into the domestic drama “The Savages,” and culminated with a Christmas Day double feature of ”Sweeney Todd” (my second visit), and “Charlie Wilson’s War.” Even on the kidflick front “Bee Movie” was a bit better than I had hoped and “Enchanted” was sufficiently charming.

And I have yet to see the likely Oscar-nominees “Atonement,” “There Will Be Blood,” “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” and “Juno.”

Either I’m getting more selective or something interesting is happening in movie theaters right now. Specifically: Very good movies are getting made.

A few observations:

1. Apart from a few moments of “Sweeney Todd,” none of these films feature real call-attention-to-itself filmmaking. Are we returning to good storytelling vs. showboat directing?
2. Philip Seymour Hoffman is in three of the aforementioned films and gives complex, interesting and very different performances in each. If he isn’t the actor of the year, please tell me who is.
3.  “Charlie Wilson’s War” is unlikely to be a major hit, but it’s a savvy move for Tom Hanks, who has been in an interesting transitional decade. His back-to-back-to-back-to-back etc. hits of the 1990s gave way to a period of uncertainty (see “The Ladykillers,” “Polar Express” and the hedging-his-bets “The DaVinci Code”). What’s happening to America’s (once) favorite actor?
4. Similarly, it will be interesting to see where Julia Roberts’ movie choices go. In “Charlie Wilson’s War,” she is essentially playing the Glenn Close role. As with Hanks, her post-2000 choices have seemed transitional. Does she still have hits in her?
5. Although its gore and unrelentingly negative world view will certainly keep it from chalking up lots of repeat viewings, I’m trying to think of a better stage-musical-to-screen-musical adaptation than “Sweeney Todd.” Certainly it’s in the top 10—which would, for me, include “Fiddler on the Roof,” “West Side Story,” “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” “The Music Man,” “Oliver!,” “My Fair Lady,” “The Sound of Music,” “Chicago” and   … OK, so that’s nine. What should fill in the last slot?

Your thoughts?
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  • I really liked Hairspray. Although I didn't see it, I heard good things about Dreamgirls. Do they reach the heights of your top 9? I'm not sure. One of my all time favorite musicals didn't come from the stage - Yentl.
  • Yes, Lou. You must include Dreamgirls in the Top 10. And get rid of Oliver in favor of Hairspray. Both of these films restored my faith in Hollywood's ability to do a great stage musical. And they benefitted from the star turns, rather than being good in spite of them. Got both DVDs for Christmas, so I'm looking forward to seeing them again (Dreamgirls is all over HBO right now, though, and the bits I've seen remind me of what a great film it is.)

    OK, OK. I'll go see Sweeney. Yes -- I am the one Sondheim fan who does not particularly like Sweeney Todd -- I think mostly due to the inherent gore in the piece. So I'm sure I'll be mortified by the blood in the film, and will probably watch through my fingers. But I'll see it, just because it's Sondheim on film.

    Is it true that there's talk of making Follies into a movie? This might actually work. I think the technical difficulities of this amazing musical are what makes it nearly impossible to remount onstage. A film might be just what it needs!

    Saw Charlie Wilson's War last night, and loved it. Really fine performances by all of the stars -- and you're absolutely right about Phillip Seymour Hoffman. He's really just about the most interesting actor out there right now. I love all of his choices. And the great, witty banter of the screenplay made me wistful for The West Wing and Sports Night, my two favorite Aaron Sorkin TV shows. We need more of this sort of clever writing in the movies.

    Seein Juno tonight. I can't wait!
  • On the fence about Dreamgirls. Liked it well enough, but not enough to crack the ten. Am I the only person who thought Jennifer Hudson was overpraised for the part. To me, she didn't seem fully engaged.

    I enjoyed Hairspray as well, but I thought tipping it so much toward Travolta's character threw the balance off a bit. At its best, though, it was wonderful.

    For now, Marni, I'll keep Oliver! in the mix. To me, few movies hold up so well to repeated viewings. I'm not sure how important that should be as a factor but, heck, it's my list, right?

    While we're on the subject, I'd put Oliver!, Chicago, and The Sound of Music into the category of movie musicals that actually improve on the source material. Any others?

    Oh, and another tip: Sondheim's Company will be aired in 2008 on PBS's Great Performances. It really is remarkable that, while so many shows go unpreserved (at least for the massive), there are good from-the-stage videos of Sweeney Todd, Into the Woods, Passion and (let's hope) Company.
  • Juno kept me entertained. I'm an admitted fan of the nerd-as-protagonist movies (especially Rushmore) so I had pretty high hopes going into it. While some of the language was kind of teeny-bopper (Oh my blog!) I could somehow relate to the characters who were obviously born about 10 years after me. Then I looked up the writer, Diablo Cody, Google her for her amusing blog, and learned that she's only 13 months older than I am--she was born in June 1978. But many people in the audience were much older and still laughing out loud, so that part isn't so important.

    But I do feel like an underachiever after reading her bio (other than her so-called hobby...) and I see she has a myspace account so I plan to ask her to be my friend. So at least I can pretend that I knew about her before her big screenplay-writing success.
  • I saw Sweeney Todd last night, and LOVED it. I have played Lovett before, so I do have a fondess for the piece, but thought that they did a magnificent job of bringing it to the screen. The casting was fantastic, and the acting made up for any vocal weakness, although overall the singing was better than I expected it to be. I particularly enjoyed the atmospheric elements you can capture on screen that you can't on stage, i.e. the bugs running over the pies, the general filth of Victorian-era London.
  • I think another Norman Jewison screen musical should complete your list of best screen adaptations - JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR. I think Jewison did something pretty bold and interesting by giving the movie its own reality, neither realistic (the old-school Biblical epics had been done to death by that point) nor fully theatrical (it's unquestionably a cinematic imagining of the story, with abstract and theatrical elements to it). The cast, too, is excellent - it doesn't get much better than Ted Neely and Carl Anderson as Jesus and Judas in that show (though I would love to have seen the Ben Vereen version). Okay, Mary Magdalene is merly okay, but the rest are great.

    As for OLIVER, I'll never understand how it beat Zefirelli's ROMEO AND JULIET, THE LION IN WINTER, and 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (which wasn't even nominated!) for Best Picture. Possibly the most ridiculous Oscar choice ever.

    Believe it or not, I also think the film of CHICAGO is rather overrated. I greatly prefer the stage version, as its storytelling is spare and sharp. I don't think much of the stuff added to film the was really useful. It did have a great cast, though, with the exception of Rene Squinty Zellweger. But THE SOUND OF MUSIC, of course, *is* clearly superior to its stage counterpart. I don't know why anybody does the show on stage anymore - why compete with helicopter shots of the Alps and Julie Andrews?
  • upfront - i've been married to the blog author for 19+ years. but i swear, i did not see who contributed the list of the top 9 screen adaptations when i read it and thought that person brilliantly read my mind. (anyone else hearing the pina colada song? but, i digress.
    second, tsk tsk shame on you anti-Oliver people! I just came across my original album of the movie (yes, purchased the year the movie came out) and found it holds up jolly well.
    as for #10 - it's a struggle - perhaps South Pacific or King and I???
  • Brian,

    I agree that Superstar works--thanks in large part to effectively reimagining it for the screen. And if you are a fan of Superstar film, you really need to see the Mr. Show parody of it. Jeepers Creepers.

    I think Oliver! holds up better than any of the film's you mentioned for that year. Terrific performances. A great mix of music. And a look of it's own. Plus, you know, I had a crush on Nancy.

    And even if you don't like Oliver!, I object to the most ridiculous Oscar choice ever lable. Have you not see The Greatest Show on Earth? Titanic? Gladiator?
  • Oooh...the coveted #10 spot...I'm a big King and I fan from my childhood, but there's also Annie. This show is like The Sound of Music for me--love the movie, not a fan of the stage version. I loved Annie so much as a movie, the first time I saw a stage version as a kid, I was so worried about how they were going to get a raised train trestle on the stage. And then I was annoyed when there wasn't one and all they got was a New Deal for Christmas.
  • According to Sondheim, your 10th is Sweeney Todd. Unfortunately, he mayb have taken away a few of your choices:

    http://www.scena.org/columns/lebrecht/080109-NL-movie.html

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