Saturday, March 7, 2009

In Bruges (Or: Best of 2008?)

Leading up to the Oscars (and before this blog launched), I declared 2008 a dud year. No truly great films, I said. Some promise, some incredible moments, and one (very) near miss (Wall-E was 75% magical and 25% lame story about humans).

I hadn't seen In Bruges* when I said this.

*I blame a case of Epic Trailer FAIL for that:

HBO bailed me out recently, showing me this hilarious, clever, and strangely heartbreaking film. I had one slight problem with it, but it involves spoilers and it's only in one scene and it's really not that important a scene anyway*.

*For those who have seen it, I'm talking about what happens right after Brendan Gleeson's character leaves the bell tower, late in the movie.

Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson are hit men of some kind, and Ralph Fiennes (who doesn't show up on screen until late) is their employer of some kind. The reasons are vague. You learn things about the characters as they go -- there's no forced exposition here. Farrell's character makes a crack about Gleeson's being gay. Later you find out he's not, just through the course of natural conversations and situations.

It's not important, Gleeson's sexuality. But it's an example of a detail that just sort of emerges as the film goes on. Nothing feels forced. And yet, Bruges is consistently funny -- laugh-out-loud funny -- which is important because it also deals with some pretty heavy issues. Death, for one, is huge in In Bruges. The capacity to change is there, too. Honor, and what it costs, and whether it's worth it.

Here's the thing: It all works. It philosophizes, but it doesn't batter your head (like, say, the bell tower guard when he tells Fiennes the tower is closed for the evening). Just as Watchmen was an example of how not to philosophize on film, In Bruges shows how it's done, all while making you laugh with jokes and gags* that seem wholly natural, within the film's framework.

*Unlike, say, Little Miss Sunshine, much of which felt like quirk for the sake of quirk.

Was In Bruges the best film of 2008? I don't know. Much as I'm an Oscars obsessor, I always find the process somewhat silly; it's a stamp placed all-too-hastily and based on a swell of emotion or echo-chamber trend (see: Crash or Milk). But here's guessing In Bruges' impact lasts longer than some of the films that just got feted in that big Hollywood ceremony. Here's guessing that when I look back at 2008, In Bruges will be one of the first films to come to mind.

-Colin Farrell deserved real Oscar consideration for this role. Good lord, why didn't we hear more about this?

-Speaking of Oscars, The Film Experience blog recently called Ralph Fiennes one of 10 actors most overdue for an Oscar. His work here doesn't outshine, say, the dude playin' the dude disguised as another dude, but it's still pretty outstanding.

-Final Oscars point: That makes two '08 Original Screenplay nominees whose writing is infinitely better than the shoddy work in Milk, which won the award.

-Obscure reference of the movie: The character Jimmy (Jordan Prentice) is an American dwarf and an actor, filming in Bruges. What he's filming? A dream sequence -- which immediately brought to my mind this hilarious scene from the virtually unknown 1990s indie Living in Oblivion (Steve Buscemi, Catherine Keener, Dermot Mulroney and dwarf thespian Peter Dinklage).

-Which brings us to our line of the movie: "I hope your midget doesn't kill himself. Then your dream sequence will be f-----."

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