July 12, 2010

The Other Summer Movies

There has been a lot of strum and drang out in Hollywood about what a lackluster summer this has been at the movies.  Total box office is down, actual admissions are down and the spirits of moviegoers are low.  Despite the success of "Toy Story 3" and "Despicable Me", there have been a lot of supposedly sure-fire hits that have been underperforming not to mention some eviscerating reviews of movies like "Sex & The City 2" and "Knight and Day". 

But hope exists and you can find it in a couple of small, daring independent films that are the best commercial features out this year.  They are two movies about modern family that could not be more different in style and tone but share one thing in common which is a rarity in mainstream movies lately; the ability to tell a coherent story without anything exploding.  These diamonds in the summer of rough are "I am Love" and "The Kids Are All Right".  

"Love" is the work of an Italian director Luca Guadagnino, who has such a sure visual style and old Hollywood touch that the movie feels like something from the 1950's.  However, it's sexual explicitness along with a riveting and nuanced performance by Tilda Swinton cue its modernity.  I don't want to say much to give away the film's surprising storyline other than it's a sweeping portrait of a wealthy Italian family and its unlikely matriarch.  Simply put, if you like your cinema with a capital C this is not to be missed.

"Kids" is the fourth feature of indie auteur Lisa Cholodenko.  Her previous films ("Laurel Canyon", "High Art") were all extremely well-crafted and had their comic touches as well.  But this film is a revelation. In scenes that are equally hilarious and heartbreaking, this movie explores the complexity of modern family life with a real tenderness and compassion.  Annette Benning and Julianne Moore's portrayal a lesbian couple seems so real that Warren Beatty must be feeling a bit nervous.  Benning is particularly wonderful and will surely be taking home some awards later this year.