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Sylvia

July 19, 2009

by John Farr

If you enjoyed Sylvia, you might also enjoy these great films:


Hard Eight

WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

Down and out after blowing it all at the casinos, doltish amateur John (John C. Reilly) is slumped outside a Reno coffee shop counting his last dimes when Sydney (Philip Baker Hall), a long-faced veteran card sharp, buys him breakfast and offers him some priceless tips. Two years later, Sydney and John are partners, but John threatens to blow their business venture when he falls for Clementine (Gwyneth Paltrow), a dim-witted Vegas cocktail waitress who turns tricks on the side.

WHY I LOVE IT:

Before he became famous as the director of “Boogie Nights,” Altman acolyte Anderson directed this intriguing indie about three hard-luck denizens of the seedy Nevada casino scene. Anderson’s forte (like his late mentor’s) is his feel for atmosphere and character, and here he builds “Eight” from quiet, somber drama to shocking neo-noir, especially once Samuel L. Jackson steps into the picture as a blackmailing thug. Reilly and Paltrow (playing boldly against type) shine as tragic casualties of their own low-watt brain cells, and Hall is superb as the heavy-lidded, avuncular gambler with inscrutable aims of his own. If you like a bit of Vegas sleaze with your slow-burning thriller, drop a dime on “Hard Eight.”


Layer Cake

WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

Matthew Vaughn’s twisty gangster picture concerns a nameless cocaine middleman (Daniel Craig) who foolishly believes he’s got his risky business well under control and can get out anytime he pleases. His cocky efficiency annoys one of his superiors however, and soon our hero’s tidy little enterprise is turned upside down with a couple of distracting side-bar assignments, which lead to some double- and triple-crosses. Is our nameless anti-hero clever enough to put himself back together again?

WHY I LOVE IT:

Breathless and slick, intelligent and dense, this dynamite thriller marks an auspicious directorial debut for Vaughn, who produced Guy Ritchie’s “Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels” and “Snatch”. This picture lacks the black humor of these earlier features, but trumps them both on sheer impact and excitement. Craig is terrific in the lead, though two other performances- Colm Meaney as elder crook Gene and Michael Gambon as ringleader Eddie Temple- elevate the film to immediate classic status. I say: let them eat “Cake”.


Control

WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

Corbijn’s searing biopic follows the personal and professional travails of Ian Curtis (Sam Riley), front man for the seminal Manchester post-punk outfit Joy Division, who hanged himself at the peak of his fame. In the mid 1970s, Curtis forms a band, fathers a child with devoted Deborah (Samantha Morton), and attempts to manage an extreme form of epilepsy, all while battling the inner torment that would eventually consume him.

WHY I LOVE IT:

With his debut film, photographer Anton Corbijn recreates the milieu of working-class Britain and the raw Manchester dance music of that era with an almost documentary fidelity to tone and detail. But it’s the wrenching performance of newcomer Sam Riley, channeling the turmoil and isolative temperament of Curtis, and a gutsy turn by Samantha Morton as his aggrieved wife, that gives this film its edgy emotional force. Filmed in stark black-and-white, “Control” is an elegy to the existential agonies of a legendary figure who will forever epitomize the British post-punk music scene.


The Bridge

WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

Inspired by a story in The New Yorker, documentarian Eric Steel spent an entire year filming San Franciscos Golden Gate Bridge, the worlds most popular suicide destination, with a small crew, training a zoom lens on potential jumpers. Weaving in frank, stirring interviews with friends and family members of those who did leap to their deathssome caught on filmSteel gives us a remarkable glimpse of how mental illness, untreated depression, and a crushing sense of hopelessness drives many well-loved people to end their lives.

WHY I LOVE IT:

Though some may balk at the “snuff film” aspect of Steel’s project, “Bridge” is actually a fascinating, compassionate film that humanizes those who succumbed to their personal demons. Not only does it carry a strong anti-suicide message-one impossibly lucky survivor of the jump, teenager Eric, is one of the film’s most compelling voices-it also offers valuable insights into our shared life experience of love and despair, anger and disappointment. Despite its somber, too-seldom-discussed subject matter, “The Bridge” is an important film with a haunting, elegiac feel.


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