Tuesday, May 17, 2011

From the archives: May 2008

Being reminded of one's hopes and predictions, years after the fact, can prove amusing or enlightening.

Even embarrassing.

My biggest claim to fame in this area, back in June of 1995, was insisting that Mel Gibson's ambitious, opulent Braveheart deserved to be that year's Academy Award-winning Best Picture ... and, lo and behold, it came to pass. (I wisely decided to quit while I was ahead; although I've made occasional predictions since, they've never involved possible Best Pictures.) It was a bold statement, that early in the year, particularly when the high-prestige Oscar-bait generally doesn't arrive until December. But I was convinced, and unexpectedly prescient; the proof can be verified in my original review ... which, if time and the Fates permit, eventually will be added to this blog. Until then, my triumph remains buried in microfilm archives accessible only to the extremely dedicated.

And that's the way it used to be, in an era when film commentary was limited to newspaper and magazine publication. Bold and often rash predictions were easy to make — and some critics made them constantly — because eyebrow-raising errors would be long forgotten and lost to public view a year later. Not so any more; in this Internet age, it's child's play to resurrect such statements.

While prepping this month's reviews for revival here, I noticed that two concluded with such observations. Having thoroughly enjoyed Robert Downey Jr.'s starring performance in Iron Man, I expressed a strong wish for him to reprise the role, should a sequel be forthcoming. It was, and he did. And if Iron Man 2 wasn't quite up to the quality of its predecessor, that wasn't Downey's fault; he did his best despite occasional sequences of "sophomore bloat."

On the other hand, I also insisted that Young @ Heart deserved to be the year's Oscar-winning Best Documentary ... and here I flopped miserably. Stephen Walker's charming film wasn't even nominated. Now, I can quite persuasively argue that this had less to do with my taste, and more to do with the Academy Documentary Branch's frankly weird nomination rules, but the fact remains: My eager insistence on Oscar gold, read three years later, seems quaintly naive. Ah, well. You still should watch the film.

As for the others that month, I'm delighted that so many viewers and critics were similarly impressed with The Visitor, a quiet little indie drama that brought star Richard Jenkins a well-deserved Oscar nomination. Such films often get lost, particularly during the bombastic summer season; The Visitor went the distance.

Son of Rambow, another indie charmer, did not. Seek it out; you'll be delighted.

On the third hand, I was a lone voice when it came to praising Harrison Ford's fourth Indiana Jones installment; everybody else — critic and civilian alike — took great delight in hurling often nasty barbs at this quite entertaining adventure. Sure, Ford was a bit long in the tooth, but the canny script took full advantage of that fact. And I remain mystified by all the people who complained about the "improper sci-fi elements" that surfaced in the final act ... as if this plot revelation were any more outrageous than, say, finding and opening the Ark of the Covenant, or confronting a voodoo priest who could rip a man's heart from his chest? Puh-leaze ... let's have some perspective here!

As usual, the early summer season also had its share of high-profile bombs, none worse than the limp, utterly soulless big-screen handling of the cartoon series Speed Racer. Looking back, I should have given it one star. The highly anticipated big-screen adaptation of Sex and the City also disappointed, because it trashed the well-developed conclusion to which the TV series had built, a few years earlier. (As it turned out, though, this first Sex and the City movie was a masterpiece, compared to the second one that followed, a few years later.)

And while I doubt that jazz/folk chanteuse Norah Jones has her heart set on acting as a second career, she did a respectable job with her debut in My Blueberry Nights. It's an odd little film, but appealing in its own way: by no means perfect, but worth one's time.

Step into the Wayback Machine, and check 'em out:

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Iron Man

Made of Honor

My Blueberry Nights

Sex and the City

Son of Rambow

Speed Racer

The Visitor

Young @ Heart

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