A very movie new year

So our new year's weekend was all about the movies. Chris and I both unplugged completely and drowned ourselves in film (as well as some back episodes of Criminal Minds, with which we have both become obsessed). Our handful of rentals included the affable Mrs. Harris, an HBO film about Jean Harris, who was convicted of shooting Scarsdale Diet author Doctor Herman Tarnower. While not a great film, it's campy fun, with Annette Benning working the title role for all it's worth. It makes her performance in American Beauty look subdued. And Ben Kingsley turning in a first-rate bastard performance. Then we watched The Last Kiss, in which I was again baffled at the notion that doofy Zach Braff could land not one but two babes. Turns out it's based on an Italian flick from 2001, L'Ultimo Bacio. (Bit o' trivia: the guy who directed L'Ultimo Bacio also directed Will Smith's new movie, The Pursuit of Happyness.) It's not a terrible movie, but an okay movie, which brings me to lament the loss of the "okay" rating on the Netflix movie rating scale. I think two stars used to mean "it was okay." I liked having that option. There are a ton of movies that I don't exactly dislike but didn't exactly like either. I mourn the rating system for someone as ambivolent as me. Anyhoo, what was really surprising abou this flick, which is a young-adults-facing-responsibility tale is that the screenplay was written by Paul Haggis, the man who penned Million Dollar Baby and Crash. Talk about a departure.

We also watched The Black Dahlia, "directed" by Brian de Palma and starring Josh "Mole Boy" Hartnett, Scarlett "Lips" Johansson, Aaron "Why am I even in this movie?" Eckhart and Hilary "I may actually be a man" Duff. I put the word directed in quotation marks because my best guess is that de Palma was trapped under something heavy during production, therefore rendered unable to actually direct anyone. The result is an artistic free-for-all, with some actors playing straight, some playing Noir to the point of parody and others just pouting their way through a confusing and largely uninteresting plot. Damn, that was a waste of time. (It was also a waste of Eckhart, who was fantabulous in this year's Thank You for Smoking, in case you were wondering.)

The last rental flick we watched was The Notorious Bettie Page. If you want to see Gretchen Moll naked, here's your chance. Again, it's a perfectly okay film but when you get right down to it, there's just not much story in the story of America's favorite pin-up-girl-turned-bondage-model. I keep wondering if a better-written script could have made it a more enticing tale, but I'm just not sure there's enough substance there. Once again, where's my "okay" button?

Saving the best for last, we finally saw Babel this weekend too. From the same writer who did Amores Perros and 21 Grams (both of which I appreciated). It's a really sophisticated intertwining of three tales, all of which are related to the random shooting of an American tourist by a young Moroccan boy. Really fabulous cast, including Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Gabriel Garcia Bernal (LOVE him!) and a really terrific actress called Adriana Berraza, who may turn in the most riveting performance in a flick filled with them. It's a really jarring and fascinating tale about communication, grief and isolation.

I noticed in the headlines this morning that the Golden Globes nominations came out today, which means the Oscars can't be that far behind. After seeing so many mediocre movies this weekend, I'm eager to have my faith restored by catching some of the ones that are buzzworthy right now. I'd really like to see The Good Shepherd, Notes on a Scandal, Half Nelson, The Departed and, maybe Blood Diamond. Although I think I can only handle one DiCaprio flick per year.

So, you know...there you go.