Since Criticwire is currently undergoing renovation, no average grades are available for films this week, but links to individual film pages for new releases follow after the discussion.
Leonard, you've written extensively about silent film -- not only about individual films, but how films from the silent era continue to entertain contemporary audiences. What do you make of "The Artist," a new silent film about the beginning of the sound era? Is it in tune with silent film traditions? Or perhaps a modern commentary on an archaic practice?
LEONARD MALTIN: The highest compliment I can pay "The Artist" and its director, Michel Hazanavicius, is that there were times when I forgot I was watching a new movie. I've spent a lot of my life watching silent movies and this film actually persuaded me that I was doing that. If it were just a stunt, I don't think it would be getting the reaction that it is. It's not a stunt; it's more of an attempt by a contemporary filmmaker to work in a different medium that what's used today. He pulls it off with grace and charm.
The film covers a six-year-period, from 1927 to 1932, when the talkies arrived and silent film basically went extinct. To me, the most compelling sequences are those where Hazanavicius actually uses sound effects, moving beyond the boundaries of silent cinema to illustrate the evolution of the medium.
That brings us to "Hugo," a movie that covers several generations of film production rather astoundingly well, even applying 3-D effects to silent cinema. Caryn, since you just saw "Hugo," how would you compare it to "The Artist"?
LM: Well, you know, he didn't write this film. I liked his last two films very much. My troubles with Cronenberg are about his most visceral, early period, although there's a lot that's visceral about "Eastern Promises." I think "Eastern Promises" and "A History of Violence" are terrific. I think of "A Dangerous Method" more as a Christopher Hampton movie than as a David Cronenberg movie. Hampton wrote the screenplay more than 15 years ago.
And it does feel distinct from Cronenberg in terms of the genre as well. It's almost more a love story than a history of psychoanalysis.
LM: It is in part a love story, but also such a fascinating character study of Jung and Freud, leaving the Keira Knightley character out of the equation just for a moment. These two men are such mythical figures to us because of the influence they had on the world. Here, we see them as real, flesh-and-blood human beings, with frailties, egos and failings as well as brilliance.
Caryn, as a fan of Cronenberg's early films, how would you place this film in his career?
CJ: I'm a big fan of Cronenberg, both his early and later work. I would agree with Leonard that this clearly has Hampton's mark on it as much as Cronenberg's, but I do think you see a surprising element of Cronenberg here in how well he balances those relationships and the nuances you pick up between them. I think that there is something in the excessive quality of the relationship between Jung and Sabina Spierein (Knightley), and in her own madness, that is of a piece with Cronenberg's themes throughout his career. There is a dark undertone of obsession here that resonates in everything he has done. But it's certainly one of the most nuanced things he's done.
Let's talk briefly about the awards season. We've discussed four films here that you both like quite a bit. Are we leaving anything
LM: We've been sort of forced into awards season a little early this year, but we're not through it yet, so I think it's a little premature. Caryn and I agree that it would be hard to think of a better movie this year than "The Descendants." It has so much; it's such a rich film. I just saw it for the second time, because Alexander Payne visited my class at USC, where we screened the film. I got as much out of it the second time as I did the first. It's so human. I know that's a weak word, but I think of Payne as a humanistic writer-director. I really admire his sensibilities.
CJ: I think it's probably his richest work, and it will be hard to beat for my choice as best film of the year. I hope it doesn't get overwhelmed by bigger, splashier films. It's so rich, so deep, and the performances are so understated, I just hope it doesn't get pushed aside. I can't wait to see it a second time and I'm not surprised it holds up well.
LM: At the same time, the other four films we've discussed all have Oscar-worthy work in them. I already mentioned Williams; I also think Viggo Mortensen and Michael Fassbender are rather extraordinary in "A Dangerous Method."
CJ: There are a lot performances we haven't seen yet, too. I haven't seen Meryl Streep in "The Iron Lady," or Glenn Close in "Albert Nobbs." I think only "Hugo" is something I would put on the list for best picture.
IW Film Calendar:
Opening This Week | Coming Soon | All Films A-Z
Films Opening This Week:
The Artist (IW Film Page)
My Week with Marilyn (IW Film Page)
Hugo (IW Film Page)
A Dangerous Method (IW Film Page)
The Edge (IW Film Page)
Arthur Christmas (IW Film Page)
The Muppets (IW Film Page)