Carly at the Movies | Best films of 2008 now available

If you happened to miss any of the most-ballyhooed films of last year, they’re all finally available to valley denizens.
“Milk” and “Slumdog Millionaire” linger at The Visulite in Staunton, and “The Dark Knight” and “The Visitor” are both available on Pay-Per-View as well as on DVD. Two of the most interesting of recent films, “The Reader” and “The Wrestler,” are currently running at the Regal Downtown Mall in Charlottesville. Both are well worth the trip over Afton Mountain.

If you enjoy depressing films with adult themes, don’t miss Kate Winslet’s Oscar-winning performance in “The Reader.” It deals with the aftermath of The Holocaust, but for a change focuses on one of the perpetrators rather than the victims.

The film is set in the 1950’s Germany and covers four decades. It’s based on a best-selling novel by Bernard Schlink, and features remarkable and low-key supporting performances by the young German actor David Kross as Winslet’s teenager lover, and Ralph Fiennes as the boy when he grows up.

Like the best of films, this one does not force a conclusion or a moral message down your throat. It is quiet, it is subtle, and virtually heart-breaking as it unfolds over the years.

The plot is simple, the characters and their relationships are complex and fascinating. And it is not often, in film or real life, that one has call to feel real sympathy for anyone connected with Germany’s Third Reich, but your heart will go out to Winslet in what is obviously the best role of her career to date.

“Slumdog” copped a basket of Oscars, but I would have spread them around more evenly, and awarded Mickey Rourke the Best Acting statuette for his portrayal of “The Wrestler” instead of Sean Penn for “Milk.”

Rourke makes his Hollywood comeback as a broken-down old pug with a bum ticker, scratching out a living in these, the waning days of “professional” wrestling. He’s tired and lonely, fearful of dying alone, and attempting to connect to his estranged daughter, tightly played by Evan Rachel Wood, and a T-bar pole dancer that he fancies, bravely turned in by Marisa Tomei in an Oscar-nommed performance.

I can’t imagine anyone more suited for the lead role in this film. Rourke’s whole life is displayed on his face, and he fits perfectly into the sleazy world of small-time wrestling circuits.

A number of real wrestlers appeared in the film, and the backstage aspect of the game is fascinating. It’s a strange world for most of us, and director Darren Aronofsky captures it well.

While we are busy listing last year’s Best and Most Depressing movies, we really ought to add “Frozen River,” now out on DVD, starring Melissa Leo (who got a Best Actress nom for this one).

It’s set on our far northern border and Leo plays a trailer park type just-getting-by mom trying to keep life and kids together working part-time in a Dollar Store. Her hubby’s run off with the money they were saving to buy a double-wide, it’s Christmas, and holy cow what else could go wrong?

I must admit, I love this kind of films. See “Frozen River” and you’ll realize, hey, your life ain’t so bad.

And what do these three films have in common? That sense of impending doom that always hooks you into a movie until the final tear-drenched frame.

The only drawback is, sometimes you end up with soggy popcorn.

 

– Column by Carl Larsen


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