Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Savoring a Sure Thing

As I keep marching forward through Oscar nominees of the past, I am occasionally regretting that I splurged so early on so much good stuff and left a steaming pile of Greatest Show on Earths and Great Santinis to contend with in my future. "Great," needless to say, is a false promise in both instances. I'm also wading through a lot of interesting mediocrities like Birdman of Alcatraz and—here we go again!—The Great Ziegfeld, for which I've written short reviews.

Every now and then, though, it restores my faith to return to a known goodie from Oscar's past that I haven't seen in a long while, and which I'm now bound to appreciate with a different critical eye. A perfect case in point is Silkwood, Mike Nichols' superb and humane dramatization of the life of Karen Silkwood, a nuclear-plant employee who died in a very cryptic auto-crash, just as she was preparing to expose her company's most lethal and reckless abuses against their workers. I've written a long review of the film which I hope you'll read and enjoy, but let me add what an awe-inducing treat it is to see Meryl Streep working at her level best with a top-drawer script and director. Sure she was the best thing in A Prairie Home Companion and among the best in The Devil Wears Prada, but her genius in those movies lay in her savvy, lively approaches to the parts, neither of which permitted a truly satiating characterization. Also, she was so conspicuously better than most of what surrounded her in both films that she was almost an unwitting liability, calling a sizable bluff of two enjoyable larks that could have been much, much better. Still, Silkwood, the first of her many and fruitful collaborations with Mike Nichols—my loving tribute to their subsequent Postcards from the Edge is here—requires no caveats for anyone involved, before or behind the camera. It's a better, fuller, more ambitious movie than it needed to be, and a great palliative, albeit a depressing one, in a summer full of films that are several shades slimmer than they promised to be.

(Image © 1983 ABC Films, reproduced from the Internet Movie Poster Awards site.)

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6 Comments:

Blogger Vertigo's Psycho said...

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11:38 PM, August 09, 2006  
Blogger Vertigo's Psycho said...

There's at least one unforgettable moment in The Great Santini when the title character taunts his son (Michael O'Keefe) after the boy has beaten his ultra-competitive father in a basketball game- in this scene Robert Duvall's Santini makes Dunaway's Crawford look like Parent of the Year. I was glad both actors (especially O'Keefe) were nominated, and I think Blythe Danner is also excellent as the wife who knows her husband is an overbearing bastard, but nevertheless stands by him in true-blue early 1960's housewife fashion.

The Greatest Show on Earth does look great on the recent Paramount disc (the color's terrific). The movie's mindless fun (and I certainly prefer it over many of the more 'important'-yet-pretentious BP winners), and most of it is not too painful to watch.

11:39 PM, August 09, 2006  
Blogger tim r said...

I completely agree with you about Silkwood, I think it's excellent and under-regarded. It's a real movie about real people. Much as I like it too, I think The China Syndrome could have done with a dose more of that reality, actually...

Great to see you up and blogging again!

8:20 AM, August 10, 2006  
Blogger NATHANIEL R said...

love silkwood too. even kurt russell is good in it.

1:31 PM, August 11, 2006  
Blogger Nick Davis said...

Great to see the Silkwood love.

@VP: I can get behind O'Keefe. I liked Danner a lot in her early scenes, before the script basically trapped her into rehashing The Same Scene we always get from the wife who clings to an inadequate man. Duvall I just didn't get: this looked like an easy performance to me, though I did like that taunting scene that you mention. None of this made it any easier to stomach the subplots with the stuttering black kid and the town bully and all those barking dogs, or the klutzy interpolations of the flying footage. Just not my cuppa.

As for Greatest Show, I agree with you that the color palette is its best asset—side-by-side, I guess, with its earnest commitment to big, loud, Barnum-style spectacle. But the narration, the numbing performances (save Gloria Grahame, always fun), the moribund plotlines. This ranks pretty far down there on my list of Best Picture winners...though it is surrounded, as you suggest, by a whole lot more contemporary stuff. (The cocktail party from hell: "Mr. DeMille, I'd like you to meet Mr. Rain Man...")

1:06 AM, August 18, 2006  
Blogger Vertigo's Psycho said...

Grahame's my favorite in Earth, too. I'm sure I'm too forgiving of the film's faults due to the gorgeous color (the print I saw on DVD really blew me away). I'd probably place the film mid-range in my list of favorite Best Picture winners, but there's not a lot of Oscar's BP's I truly love (All About Eve leads the short list).

1:45 AM, August 18, 2006  

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