If I hadn't just seen I KNOW WHO KILLED ME, I would have no problem calling NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN this year's one and only studio-produced masterpiece. But now that I've seen both, I genuinely think IKWKM is the winner of that coveted title (I still haven't seen THERE WILL BE BLOOD or many other still-to-come releases, so I'll reserve official judgment for my geeked out year-end wrap-up). That said, at least three times while I watched NO COUNTRY at the NYFF press screening, I thought to myself, "This might be the best movie I've ever seen in my life." Having not read the Cormac McCarthy novel, I have to say, the third act anti-climax left me feeling a visceral, immediate sense of disappointment and confusion. It took me a few minutes after the film had ended to intellectualize and come to terms with the unexpected playing out of events. When I did manage to do that, my overall enthusiasm returned. Still, I cannot deny that I felt a strange lack, so I'm here to warn first-time viewers--WITHOUT PROVIDING ANY SPOILERS--that the third act takes a perhaps unexpected turn with the narrative. My advice to you is to simply go with it and worry about all of that after the film has ended.
As for the movie itself, wow-wow-wow-wow-wow-wow-WOW. When FARGO was released and critics were labeling it a "modern classic," I wasn't too sure about that. Yes, I thought it was very good, but it wasn't extraordinarily great in my estimation. But when it comes to NO COUNTRY, I want to use all the superlative flags that were being waved in front of FARGO. I realize that we all have our Coen Brothers movies that we'd call masterpieces (for me it's BARTON FINK, for almost everyone else it's THE BIG LEBOWSKI), but NO COUNTRY has the air of being an objective masterpiece. Roger Deakins' cinematography, the sound design (who knew the lack of a score could create even more tension? The Coen Brothers did!), every single performance, this is filmmaking that is firing perfectly on every single cylinder. I don't just recommend that you see this movie in a theater, I DEMAND IT. (Also, I'm going to be Javier Bardem's terrifying cipher of a killer, Anton Chigurh, for Halloween next year; you heard it here first.)
On a different note, I finally saw Jim Brown's PETE SEEGER: THE POWER OF SONG at the IFC Center last night, and I found it to be incredibly inspiring (during the last fifteen minutes, as applause erupted around me, I found myself fighting away a stream of tears that wanted to make an appearance on my face). In a world that is losing its sense of community at a shameful, alarming rate, Pete Seeger's mission is more vital then ever. Granted, times have changed and it would be silly (not to mention impossible) to take the exact same approach in our quest to retain a semblance of humanity in this corporate, soulless, and impersonal world, but the fact remains that music, positivity, hope, peace, and a sense of connection between human beings is what makes life worth living.
In my current state of low seratonin, it's hard for me to turn the film into a positive right away--all I can see is how far off track we are--but there is no denying the power of this movie and the overall power of Pete Seeger's mission. At one point, he quit his wildly successful band, The Weavers, because he didn't want to appear in a cigarette ad. The thought of this reminded me how pathetic I am and how difficult it is to exist right now, especially living in the big city. If someone called me today and said they'd pay me five hundred bucks to make a commercial promoting cigarette smoking, I would take the money and start shooting right away. And I, like Pete Seeger, hate-hate-hate cigarettes. Okay, if that really happened I would say no, but the fact remains that this man never once budged in his morals and ethics, and it is a sight to see, especially when you're a shell of an adult like myself, who wants to be a better person but has somehow become a shriveled leaf in a tornado, letting the world push him around like a picked-on kid in a bully-filled playground.
It's too late to point you in the direction of Sergei Parajanov's awesome (and I mean that in the epic sense of the word) SHADOWS OF FORGOTTEN ANCESTORS, which screened at BAM this past week in a striking new print (can someone give programmer Jake Perlin a Medal of Honor, please?), but I had to mention it. It's rare that a film delivers on the promise of so much mushy gushing by seemingly every critic who's ever seen it, but SHADOWS straight up shocked and awed me. Honestly, watching it I was thinking just how much it put to shame something like Herzog's AGUIRRE (I've always had issues with that based on the hammy presence of Klaus Kinski), and I couldn't help but make a positive comparison to the great COME AND SEE. This is one of those classic works that you realize influenced just about every one of your favorite movies, but, somehow, it might be even better than all of them combined. How in the hell did they pull of some of those shots?! The best part is that I'm convinced it will only get more majestic and beautiful on subsequent viewings. I can't wait to see it again.