Okay, so the writer’s strike has you wondering how exactly to make those evening hours go by without actually having to resort to studying. And, with the upcoming holiday on Monday, you might be worried that the influx of unexpected free time will leave you bored without the boob tube. Well, before you begin cursing the Writers Guild of America – whose only real sin is rallying for what this writer thinks is their rightful recompense anyway – why not take advantage of the T.V.-less time to catch up on some of the fantastic flicks generating a big buzz, before the awards season blossoms. After all, if last weekend’s Golden Globes press conference was any indication, the strike may be putting the kibosh on all the red carpet kibbutzing, but the awards are still being handed out as usual. And, unless you want to be the last loser to catch up on what exactly all the excitement is about, I suggest you screen as many of these circa 2007 cinematic gems as possible before people start to look at you funny for not knowing who Frank Lucas is.
Before we begin with the films for which Artsweek has a personal affinity, in solidarity with the writer’s strike we’re going to flout awards-show protocol and start with the honorable mentions. These are movies worth making the time to screen that may not have made it onto our larger list of awards-show shoo-ins. They include “Hairspray,” “Lars and The Real Girl,” “La Vie En Rose,” “Away From Her,” “I’m Not There,” “Lust, Caution,” “The Kite Runner,” “Persepolis” and “National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets” – just for fun.
Now that that’s out of the way, fans of the kind of filmmaking that can only be quantified via the unabashed use of the term ‘genius’ are probably already Coen brothers devotees, and are well aware of the fact that “No Country For Old Men” stood head and shoulders above the rest of the reels screening in theaters this past year. But for those few souls who somehow missed Artsweek’s pick for best film of the year, there is still hope. Goleta’s very own bastion for the best indie movies, the Plaza De Oro Twin at the aptly-named address of 371 S. Hitchcock Way is still holding a 7:30 p.m. screening of the fantastic film. Like in every Coen brothers movie, though, timing is everything. So make sure you see this awe-inspiring adaptation of the classic Cormac McCarthy novel before it’s too late.
Reap the benefits of the fact that Santa Barbara tends to get films a good two weeks after they’ve already opened everywhere else, and take advantage of some of the other critically-acclaimed movies that are miraculously still showing in S.B. “Charlie Wilson’s War,” the Aaron Sorkin film chronicling America’s involvement in the war between the Soviet Union and Afghanistan, is a powerful political drama that packs the kind of punch “Lions for Lambs” wishes it would have. Julian Schnabel’s drama “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” is already on most critics’ hit-lists for the most award-worthy films of the year. And “Juno” is yet another example of how truly hilarious unplanned pregnancy can be – at least when it’s in the hands of some solid screenwriting talent. With enough precocious puns to please even the most finicky filmgoer, “Juno” is definitely worth seeing, if only so you know who rapidly up-and-coming newcomer Ellen Page is when she hits up Santa Barbara’s own International Film Festival later this month.
If you can’t make it to the theater, you can at least cozy up with a good DVD or two, and who better to cozy up with than Aussie actor Russell Crowe. Sure, he has a tendency towards tiresome, testosterone-fueled antics off-screen, but onscreen, he’s still got the kind of magnetism that helped make two of the year’s most action-packed movies work. In “3:10 to Yuma,” Crowe plays the enigmatic villain to Christian Bale’s captivating cowboy do-gooder. The chemistry between these two master actors is intense, and the movie’s taut cinematography and expertly executed action sequences make James Mangold’s version of this classic western worth renting. Fortunately, it came out on DVD on Jan. 8. Unfortunately, you’re going to have to wait until Feb. 19 to check out Crowe’s other award-worthy performance in the scintillating crime drama “American Gangster.” Directed by Ridley Scott, this movie gives ’70s-era mob movies a contemporary twist and showcases the stellar acting talents of both Crowe and Denzel Washington. Continuing in what turned out to be this year’s trend of taking the formula of classic crime movies and using it to make modern masterpieces, David Cronenberg’s “Eastern Promises” showcases the shadowy and sensuous world of the Russian mob. Starring the incredibly talented Viggo Mortensen and featuring Cronenberg doing the kind of deliberate drama for which he’s recently become famous, “Eastern Promises” is an intense and incredible film.
For something that’s just as epic, but a little less violent, check out “Into The Wild,” director Sean Penn’s sweeping cinematic ode to the classic Kerouac-esque odyssey. Starring Emile Hirsch, who has already received nominations from the Screen Actors Guild, The Critics’ Choice Awards and The British Academy of Film and Television Arts for his work as Christopher McCandless in the film. The movie chronicles McCandless’ journey across America – and that’s just the beginning. See the whole thing, stunning cinematography and all, courtesy of Arts & Lectures in Campbell Hall at 7:30 p.m. on Jan. 23. Or, rent the DVD, which comes out on March 4.