For me, hands down, this year is all about Mickey Rourke and The Wrestler. His performance is so poignant, touching, and real. This is teeth gritting drama that punches along swiftly, sinking it's claws into the viewer from the get go, dragging you into wrestler Randy The Ram's sad world, where he once was a top dog champion now relegated to the nether world of weekend matches set up in VFW halls and grade school cafeterias. Much has been made of how this role parallels Rourke's own acting come back, and in interviews he plays along nicely, but the observation is short sighted at best. This is a stunning performance by a major talent who, given the opportunity to shine again, unfettered, is a revelation. His physical presence alone, the way Rourke bulked up for this role, is much like Robert DeNiro in Raging Bull- the thick, leather skinned, fake tanned, scarred up outer shell he wears here nearly a character unto itself. Director Darren Aronofsky, deciding for once to stop exploiting his pretensions, needed Rourke as much as Mickey needed him to make this sucker shine like the diamond ring in a cracker jack box of a film it is. Both men have constructed a modern era classic, and should be rewarded accordingly. Rourke already nabbed the Golden Globe for this, and should take home the Oscar if the academy isn't too blind.
MILK, on the other hand, I found quite mediocre. Sean Penn's performance as the gay Martin Luther King (my description) Harvey Milk is competent, but at many times annoying, as he staggers lightly through the film as if he were half way back in his I Am Sam impersonations of the mentally handicapped. Gus Van Sant's direction is typical of his now rather dull, dark lighting technique, a sort of compact, rustic yuppie stylization that has you struggling to stay interested. Josh Brolin is excellent as Dan White, Milk's murderer, and the rest of the cast do their best to make it more than your average bio pic, but it has a very early to mid 1990's feel-which might have been the better time to have this thing come out. As for now, it just seems like window dressing.
FROST/NIXON surprised me. I expected little less than a recreation of past events the world already knows well. Instead, I got a richly nuanced film dripping with subtle performances that'll have you talking about Frank Langella's wonderful Nixon impersonation-how he gets to the charm, the ease, the professional part of the man that history has left for cold and sour. The crimes are always present, however, in one instant Langella has you rooting for old Tricky Dick and then BLAMO!-he cuts an aside that'll make you cringe, all the while addressing the more complex nature of this towering world figure. Nixon's legacy after this film may be re assessed to a certain degree, as well it should be, but the ghosts of worse objectives will never dissolve.
REVOLUTIONARY ROAD was another surprise for me. This has been a favorite book of mine for quite some time, Richard Yates being one of our finest American novelists. Once I heard that old Leo was gonna star, I had serious doubts. And I was wrong. Decaprio, though possibly another 10 years from being a truly great actor, gets a part that is deserving of his looks as much as it is the best of his talent that he puts to good use here. Kate Winslet does a brilliant job as well, bringing this suburban horror show together with a stellar cast that includes the always great Kathy Bates, and a star turn from veteran actor Michael Shannon, who only in his 30's shows he has the muscle to be a front runner for best supporting actor at this year's big awards.
Lastly, for now, is GRAN TORINO, a movie with a mawkish, at times predictable, plot about the deep goodness of the human soul in times of adversity. It is also about friendship, honor, understanding, and the value of taking care of one and other, no matter the differences. A movie that cut straight to my heart, it made me laugh out loud, but also got me teared up just as much. Very worth seeing, even if it's not necessarily an award attractor.