Friday, February 6, 2009

Thoughts on Alexander Payne

Hey all -

My name is Nick, and I'm an Episcopal priest in the Dicoese of Newark. I'm honored to be one of the "Mockingbird at the Movies" contributors. I'd love (really) to know what you think of movies I suggest or talk about, so please post comments!

For my first official Mockingbird at the Movies post, I thought I'd pay to tribute to my current favorite director. You know, the kind of guy whose movie you'll see, no matter what A.O. Scott or Roger Ebert might think? Alexander Payne is the co-writer and sole director of Citizen Ruth, Election, About Schmidt, and Sideways. Of these, Election is, by leaps and bounds, my favorite. See it, but don't see it with your mom. In point of fact, maybe don't see any of these with your mom [Edit: he's not kidding!]. Payne adapts novels for his screenplays, so can't be given all the credit for the bleak human outlook, the painful humor, and the ultimate contentious pseudo-peace his characters find. However, the man is a genius for bringing it to the screen. Of special note is Rolfe Kent, his usual composer, who pokes musical fun at people and situations, and then, with a few chords, breaks your heart. See every one of these films. My personal rankings go 1) Election, 2) About Schmidt (watch for Dermot Mulroney and watch OUT for Kathy Bates), 3) Sideways (the resurrection of Thomas Haden Church), and 4) Citizen Ruth (the story of an Omaha huffer who gets pregnant, and caught between the radical right and left of the abortion issue). The joy of Payne's films is to see great actors playing tragically normal people. These normal people will make you laugh, make you cry, and ultimately, just make you happy that they got into a movie.

I think I'll start a tradition for my "First Friday" posts: Great Movies No One Has Ever Seen. I consider myself an evangelist for these movies, spreading their good news to Jerusalem, then all Judea, and even to the ends of the earth. They'll be mostly mainstream, not, say, French New Wave, just because that's the way my tastes run. So, to conclude:

Great Movie No One Has Ever Seen: Dirty Pretty Things (Stephen Frears, 2002)

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