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Margot at the Wedding

Director: Noah Baumbach
Cast: Nicole Kidman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Zane Pais, Jack Black, Ciarán Hinds, John Turturro

(Paramount Vantage; US theatrical: 16 Nov 2007 (Limited release); UK theatrical: 8 Feb 2008 (General release); 2007)

Review [5.Mar.2008]
Review [26.Nov.2007]
Review [19.Nov.2007]


Jennifer Jason Leigh Margot at the Wedding

Known for playing women-on-the-verge in dark art house pictures for years, and working with many modern masters (Robert Altman, The Coens, David Cronenberg, and Jane Campion among them) has earned Leigh the reputation for being able to handle playing rough, raw characters that other, less experimental actresses would shy away for fear of alienating their fans. In Margot, as the glowing Pauline, however, she does a 180 and turns in the most sweetly nuanced, gentle, and funny performance of her career. Credit director (and Leigh’s real-life husband) Noah Baumbach for being able to show viewers this candid, relaxed side of the always-edgy actress, but credit Leigh even more for stepping outside of her comfort zone and playing fearlessly against type as a soft, feminine, nurturer who is at odds with her harpy of a sister. Matt Mazur

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Director: Jason Reitman
Cast: Ellen Page, Michael Cera, Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman, Allison Janney, J.K. Simmons

(Fox Searchlight; US theatrical: 5 Dec 2007 (Limited release); UK theatrical: 1 Feb 2008 (General release); 2007)

Review [13.Apr.2008]
Review [5.Dec.2007]


Ellen Page Juno

Plenty have complained about Diablo Cody’s too-smart-by-half screenplay for Juno, which channeled Heathers when it wasn’t screaming “Behold my cleverness!” The reason that doesn’t matter? Ellen Page. Although not her breakthrough role (critics who missed her in 2005’s table-turner of a stalker thriller, Hard Candy, should have their licenses revoked), it definitely announces her as a force to be reckoned with. Devastatingly cynical or meltingly vulnerable as the situation demands, she invests the role of the not-as-smart-as-she-thinks teenage mom with more gravitas and humanity than the slick script could even conceive of. Chris Barsanti

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Gone Baby Gone

Director: Ben Affleck
Cast: Casey Affleck, Michelle Monaghan, Ed Harris, Morgan Freeman, Amy Ryan, Edi Gathegi

(Miramax; US theatrical: 19 Oct 2007 (General release); 2007)

Review [19.Oct.2007]


Amy Ryan Gone Baby Gone

At first, Amy Ryan’s Helene McCready is better at playing the grieving mother than she is at actually being one. For all her tears and bile, she seems but a small piece in the puzzle of her daughter’s disappearance. However, once Gone Baby Gone turns from procedural to morality play, Helene takes on new meaning. When revisited, she’s cleaned up and trying to be a parent, but still self-involved. She artlessly flirts with Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck), who agrees to watch her kid while she goes out with a guy who saw her on TV. Ultimately, she stands as an argument both for and against her right to her child. Ryan’s ability to convey Helene’s transformation without making her likable at any point gives Gone Bay Gone more depth than any of the film’s more self-consciously profound moments. That she achieves this with so little screen time is even more remarkable. Shaun Huston

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Margot at the Wedding

Director: Noah Baumbach
Cast: Nicole Kidman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Zane Pais, Jack Black, Ciarán Hinds, John Turturro

(Paramount Vantage; US theatrical: 16 Nov 2007 (Limited release); UK theatrical: 8 Feb 2008 (General release); 2007)

Review [5.Mar.2008]
Review [26.Nov.2007]
Review [19.Nov.2007]


Nicole Kidman Margot at the Wedding

Calling an actor’s work career-best is risky. Calling Kidman’s work in Margot her best is not only accurate, but astounding, given her output since 1995—To Die For, Moulin Rouge, The Others, and her brave Dogville, could all reasonably be called “career-best”, too. The actress reinvents herself from the outside in for the prissy, self-absorbed writer who crashes her estranged sister’s wedding. Kidman is dark, funny, and inventive opposite Jennifer Jason Leigh, in an inspired, wild bit of casting. She isn’t afraid to upturn the dark corners of Margot’s damaged psyche, and she isn’t afraid of tarnishing her reputation by playing an almost unredeemable harridan. Kidman, more transformative than ever, gives the most misunderstood performance of the year. Matt Mazur

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Lust, Caution (Se, jie)

Director: Ang Lee
Cast: Tang Wei, Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Joan Chen, Wang Lee-Hom

(Focus Features; US theatrical: 28 Sep 2007 (Limited release); UK theatrical: 4 Jan 2008 (General release); 2007)

Review [5.Oct.2007]


Tang Wei Lust, Caution

If you told an actress that, for one part, she would be required to summon both the buttoned-down, quietly agonizing sexual suppression of Maggie Cheung in In the Mood for Love and the frequently unbuttoned, not so quietly agonizing sexual uninhibitedness of Maria Schneider in Last Tango in Paris, she’d almost certainly take a pass. Somehow Ang Lee readied newcomer Tang Wei for that tremendous challenge and, somehow, she pulled it off with emotional precision to spare. I suppose it might’ve helped that co-star Tony Leung’s character is something a cross between Brando’s Paul in Last Tango and, uh, Leung’s own Mr. Chow from the Wong Kar-wai picture. Either way, she’s aces. Josh Timmermann

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Michael Clayton

Director: Tony Gilroy
Cast: George Clooney, Sean Cullen, Tom Wilkinson, Tilda Swinton, Sydney Pollack

(Warner Bros.; US theatrical: 5 Oct 2007 (General release); UK theatrical: 28 Sep 2007 (General release); 2007)

Review [5.Oct.2007]


Tilda Swinton Michael Clayton

George Clooney’s Michael Clayton and Tilda Swinton’s Karen Crowder have at least one thing in common: they’ve both made careers out of doing errands for the wealthy, the powerful, and the corporate. However, where Michael has seemingly done so for his own purposes, and is now disenchanted with his life, Karen drank the Kool Aid. In two of Michael Clayton‘s best scenes, writer-director Tony Gilroy and editor John Gilroy cut between Karen practicing and preparing for important talks and the actual delivery of her remarks. In these sequences Swinton demonstrates the nature of her character’s job. When she starts having people killed, we see how this performance has swallowed Karen whole, compromising her humanity. Swinton never plays Karen for pity, but she does show the tragedy of valuing institutions over people. She is simultaneously exercising and being crushed by forces larger than herself. She embodies the film’s critique of corporate America, perhaps even better than the title character. Shaun Huston

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The Brave One

Director: Neil Jordan
Cast: Jodie Foster, Terrence Howard, Mary Steenburgen, Naveen Andrews

(Warner Brothers; US theatrical: 14 Sep 2007 (General release); 2007)

Review [14.Sep.2007]


Jodie Foster The Brave One

Many misinterpreted Neil Jordan’s vigilante drama as a feminized Death Wish riff, when the truth is far more disconcerting. Certainly, Foster uses past action heroism as a frame of reference, but then she adds unexpected moments of mistrust and tenderness to what is a true portrait of a woman on the verge of the biggest breakdown of her sheltered life. From finally seeing the city she loves as a source of terror to witnessing her own descent into murderous madness, it’s the kind of tour de force work we’ve come to expect from this amazing two time Academy Award winner. Bill Gibron

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Away from Her

Director: Sarah Polley
Cast: Julie Christie, Gordon Pinsent, Michael Murphy, Olympia Dukakis, Kristen Thomson, Wendy Crewson

(Lionsgate; US theatrical: 4 May 2007 (Limited release); UK theatrical: 27 Apr 2007 (General release); 2006)


Julie Christie Away from Her

In the ‘60s, her work in Darling, Dr. Zhivago, and Petulia catapulted her to the top of the era’s A-list. Yet after more mid ‘70s triumphs, she seemed to quietly disappear from the limelight. In 1998, her work in Alan Rudolph’s Afterglow earned her yet another Oscar nod. Now, almost a decade later, her heartbreaking performance as an Alzheimer’s patient in Sarah Polley’s poetic film has critics buzzing anew. Still stunning at 66, the aging actress proves that she’s a rather quiet diva of the dramatics, making the potentially maudlin subject matter of the story into something quite magnificent. Bill Gibron

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Director: William Friedkin
Cast: Ashley Judd, Michael Shannon, Harry Connick, Jr., Lynn Collins

(Lionsgate; US theatrical: 25 May 2007 (General release); 2006)

Review [24.Oct.2007]


Ashley Judd Bug

Private sex tapes aside, it’s pretty darn rare in this day and age for a Hollywood star to put something out there that’s legitimately shocking. Sure, Halle Berry and Charlize Theron won praise and awards for “de-glaming” to play people with real problems, but neither performance made me sit up right in my theatre seat, or widen my eyes as far as they go. Where Ashley Judd allows herself to go in the final act of Bug is someplace scary and nasty and raw and, yes, really shocking. It’s a place that most hungry up-and-comers—much less their handsomely compensated A-list heroes—wouldn’t dare venture near, at least without a parachute or a life jacket or the guarantee of an Oscar at the end of the tunnel. Judd nails it without so much as her panties. Josh Timmermann

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I’m Not There

Director: Todd Haynes
Cast: Cate Blanchett, Richard Gere, Heath Ledger, Christian Bale, Michelle Williams, Julianne Moore, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Ben Whishaw, Marcus Carl Franklin, David Cross, Bruce Greenwood

(Weinstein Company; US theatrical: 21 Nov 2007 (Limited release); UK theatrical: 21 Dec 2007 (Limited release); 2007)


Cate Blanchett I’m Not There

It would be next to impossible for any actor to play Bob Dylan. The singer songwriter remains an enigma in a medium that easily tolerates such mysteries. Now add the notion of capturing him circa 1965, in the midst of his influential heyday. Finally, give the role to a woman. Yet that’s exactly what director Todd Haynes did for his epic mock biopic on the famed protest pin-up, and the results were revelatory. Blanchett gets completely lost in the role, relying on her own interpretation of the underlying public persona to redefine Dylan’s many facets. It’s a stunning, ethereal experience. Bill Gibron

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