(WOMENSENEWS)–This month’s film banquet began Nov. 4, when cinemas served up "Another Happy Day," a complex family drama that plumbs the dysfunctional relationships of three generations who reunite for a wedding, complete with heavy emotional baggage. Writer-director Sam (son of Barry) Levinson’s affecting first feature presents a richly textured tapestry of emotions. It’s quirky, painful and humorous in turns. With a trio of B-named actresses — Ellen(s) Barkin and Burstyn and Kate Bosworth–heading an A-list ensemble of actors, it’s a very satisfying movie.
In the category of stunning movies is "Tomboy," by French writer-director Celine Sciamma. It’s about Laure (Zoe Heran), a pubescent girl who, when her family moves to a new town, introduces herself to her new peers as Michael; a boy. No explanation. It just happens. Laure-Michael’s life becomes a thrilling, fraught-filled balancing act, especially after her pre-pubescent sister (Malonn Levana) discovers and threatens to expose her charade. The movie offers a fascinating study of sisterhood and young Heran fulfills her dual characterization with astounding sensitivity, subtlety and sophistication, creating enormous tensions. Her performance is the centerpiece of this brilliant film.
"Charlotte Rampling: The Look," is an intimate biodoc that gives us the revered actress, sublimely wise at age 55, baring to filmmaker Angelina Maccarone her innermost thoughts about exposure, age, resonance, taboo, desire, demons, death and love. Rampling’s reminiscences–while chatting with photographers Peter Lindbergh and Juergen Teller, writers Paul Auster and Frederick Seidel, and filmmaker Barnaby Southcombe–are orchestrated with samplings of Rampling scenes with Woody Allen, Dirk Bogard and other co-stars.
Another documentary, Andrea Blaugrund’s "The Other F Word," follows punk rock stars Mark Hoppus (Blink-182), Flea (Red Hot Chili Peppers), Tim McIlrath (Rise Against) and Jim Lindberg (Pennywise) as they mellow in fatherhood, balancing antiauthority onstage personas with cuddly daddy roles at home. Engaging, amusing and full of surprises.
Troubled Sisters in ‘Melancholia’
Opening Nov. 11 is Lars von Trier’s lyrical, surreal doomsday-driven "Melancholia," starring Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg as troubled sisters acting out the intricacies of their relationship while clocking the approach of a rogue planet that threatens to annihilate life on Earth. Von Trier’s exquisite cinematography is spellbinding, but it’s Dunst and Gainsbourg who enrapture. Their performances place "Melancholia" on the list of great sister films.
"The Greening of Whitney Brown" is a movie about a tween, made for tweens. Whitney (Sammi Hanratty), a popular, pointedly superficial schoolgirl is transplanted from her Philadelphia manse to her family’s rural homestead when her father loses his job. On the farm, her new best friends are a horse named Bob and her long lost granddad, both of whom teach her, predictably, to be a better person. Scripted by Gail Gilchrist, the movie is oh-so-sappy, but its wholesome values and cheerful disposition give it merit.
In "Jack and Jill," comedian Adam Sandler takes a stab at playing his own twin sister, an unlikable bully who comes to spend Thanksgiving with her brother’s family. Many of the film’s gags are in bad taste. You could omit this one.
On Nov. 18, James Westby’s "Rid of Me" opens; serving up a tremendous performance by Katie O’Grady as Meris, a newlywed pushed by her insensitive husband and his unwelcoming circle of friends into abandoning her posture as an obliging wife, and adopting a stance that’s a bit twisted; wickedly and deliciously so.
Two Nov. 18 openers deal with the issues of heritage and place.
Britta Wauer’s documentary "In Heaven Underground" explores the legacy of Berlin’s Weissensee Jewish Cemetery, the age-old burial place that survived the Holocaust intact and is still a peaceful, beautiful retreat. Commentaries by caretakers, historians and others are riveting. The survival of the cemetery seems miraculous; or were the Nazis superstitious about ghosts?
Set in Hawaii, Alexander Payne’s "The Descendants" is about a clan of prominent Haole landholders. Matt King (George Clooney) is riding a rough wave: While his wife is in a coma he discovers she’d been unfaithful. His troubled daughters–one teen, one tween–are extremely needy. His relatives expect him to sell their pristine land–their heritage– to developers, despite the impact on the island he loves and traditions he admires. Payne’s script is dazzlingly smart, his direction impeccable. Hawaii is the star of this movie, but Payne’s cast is luminous, too. Clooney is brilliant. Look for a special glow from young Shailene Woodley, whose performance as Clooney’s teenage daughter is likely to rocket her career into orbit.
Michelle Williams plays the iconic Ms. Monroe in "My Week with Marilyn," opening Nov. 23. Based on Colin Clark’s (Eddie Redmayne) memoir about the actress during her work with Sir Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Brannagh) on "The Prince and The Showgirl," it’s the stuff of legend. Directed by Simon Curtis, the film shows Monroe in public and private, revealing different facets of her personality. By smartly avoiding outright imitation, Williams manages Monroe’s mannerisms and captures her spirit. Williams’ compelling characterization is stirring Oscar buzz.
"The Artist" is writer-director Michel Hazanavicius’ fabulous period piece about Hollywood. George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) and Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo) are a delightful duet of silent movie stars challenged to adapt to the talkies. Can their careers and friendship survive? Shot in black and white, with title cards and a marvelous musical score replacing dialog, the film captures the era and offers superb silent performances by Bejo, Dujardin and John Goodman, as a Hollywood mogul. Bejo’s Peppy is the most memorable. You’ll love her, and this film.
Directed by David Cronenberg, "A Dangerous Method" is a fictionalized account of the professional rivalry between Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen) and Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender), and their mutual relationship with Sabrina Speilrein, a pivotal patient. Keira Knightly’s performance as Sabrina illustrates behavior associated with hysteria, the term attached to the "women’s disorder" then thought to be caused by "disturbances of the womb." Add to that very interesting history lesson the gripping tensions between the trio of leads, lovely period sets and costumes and beautiful cinematography and you’ve got a worthy film.
"The Legend of Pale Male" flies into theaters Nov. 24, Thanksgiving Day. Janet Hess’ remarkable documentary chronicles the life of a gorgeous red-tailed hawk that in 1993 nested on a posh Fifth Avenue co-op, resisted all attempts to evict him, and over the years developed a huge following of avid fans, many traveling from around the globe to New York City to watch him swoop to and from his perch. "Pale Male" is a singularly tenacious bird and a superb film for which we should all give thanks.
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In addition to covering film for Women’s eNews, Jennifer Merin writes about documentaries for About.com (http://documentaries.About.com ) and is president of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists (http://www.AWFJ.org ), a nonprofit organization of the leading women film journalists in the U.S. and Canada. She is also a member of the Broadcast Journalists Association.
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