It’s post about annoying indie cinema reminds me that I’m vastly behind on my movie posts. (Alas, I haven’t seen Little Miss Sunshine yet, but I can confirm that Miranda July’s New Yorker short story was indeed outstanding. Of course, I also liked Me and You and Everyone You Know— I think it’s in the “so often cited as overrated it’s actually underrated” category.) But any discussion of movies should start with The Departed.
The Departed is unlikely to be a strong best picture contender–it makes no grand statements, it’s not striving to be the great American cinema, and thank God. While I guess I can understand why someone with Scorsese’s reverence for American cinema wanted the awards he deserved, trying to please the MPAA was hell on his art. I strongly recommend Roy’s post about late Scorsese–I’ll even go the whole contrarian hog and agree that Eyes Wide Shut will look more interesting in 10 years. (Roy is particularly astute about Kurbick using Cruise “for his weaknesses as much as his strengths,” and about Sydney Pollack, who I wish would act more and direct less.) The most uneven and flawed ones–Casino and Gangs–were the most interesting; most of his other post-GoodFellas movies weren’t bad, but had no reason to exist. But the disappointment of making very skillful middlebrow Oscar bait and still not being rewarded seems to have had a clarifying effect. The Departed is lower first-tier or high second-tier Scorsese–or, in other words, I’ll be shocked if it’s not by far the best American movie of the year. And, of course, also see Roy on The Departed itself: “Scorsese got a hell of a good script and directed the shit out of it. This is not a bloated obsessional gig like the last couple — it’s a lean mean one, with a crackerjack cast and Ballhaus and Schoonmaker and Shore on deck. You can feel the pleasure of the material in every artist’s hand.” Exactly right.
It’s particularly striking when you see it after the overrated Scorsese homage A Guide To Recognizing your Saints, but from the first frame of the movie to the end your in the hands of a master, someone finally making movies for himself than for the MPAA. DiCaprio was awful, especially in comparison with Day-Lewis, in GONY and couldn’t quite carry The Aviator, but as part of an ensemble he’s very effective, holding up with Damon and Wahlberg. Nicholson is allowed to chew exactly enough scenery. And like Moriarty, Bernhard and Bracco Vera Farmiga provides the crucial, soulful center. His knack for pacing is back (and his ability to use rock n’ roll); the movie is long, but holds one’s attention throughout. (Because of a communication mixup we had to see the 10:30 show–a problem for my morning-person friend–but it wasn’t an issue.) The plotting starts to unravel a bit toward the end–if anything, it could have been longer–but it’s a terrific picture. Like Time Out of Mind, it’s a master returning to form after a long drought of the failed and merely good. And in what looks like an off-year, the movies needed him.
…A good point in comments: I actually like the very underrated The Age Of Innocence.