400 Screens, 400 Blows is a weekly column that takes an in-depth look at the films playing below the radar, beneath the top ten, and on 400 screens or less.
I'm thankful for Rachel Getting Married (300 screens), for making me feel as if I were at an excruciating wedding without actually having to be there, and for making me feel as if I knew the extraordinarily wounded lead character, Kym (Anne Hathaway), no matter how monstrous she acts sometimes. But most of all for making me feel something.
I'm thankful for The Dark Knight (345 screens), for being like a 1940s film noir, reflecting the utter despair we feel about the world in 2008, but for making it entertaining and making us feel as if there's still a tiny scrap of hope left. Mainly, I'm thankful for movies that took on despair as a theme, but didn't show it.
I'm thankful for smart villains, like Heath Ledger's Joker. But I'm also thankful for quiet villains, like Ralph Fiennes in The Duchess (154 screens), who does all those terrible things for what he thinks are pretty good reasons, not simply because he's hateful or evil. I'm especially thankful for no moustache-twisting (and no moustaches).
I'm thankful for a good, bread-and-butter Western like Appaloosa (350 screens), 'cause sometimes you just want to see a Western.
I'm thankful for the first hour of WALL-E (213 screens), which proved that you can still make a movie with just pictures. And I'm thankful for the sparkling screenplay of Burn After Reading (134 screens), which shows that good writing still counts, too. I'm also thankful for the hilarious images of Brad Pitt sucking down Jamba Juice and getting sucker-punched. And I'm thankful for J.K. Simmons' all-time great closing line.
I'm thankful for Bill Murray's entrance in City of Ember (148 screens).
I'm thankful for a healthy serving of irony in JCVD (24 screens), giving us a very French, very intellectual essay on the nature of cinema, but doing it through the filter of a drive-in action movie. I'm also thankful for artful kung-fu in Ashes of Time Redux (7 screens) and artful vampires in Let the Right One In (28 screens). Break out the popcorn, but with a dash of caviar and saffron. Tasty!
I'm thankful for feel-bad holiday movies like A Christmas Tale (36 screens) that never get phony or maudlin or goopy. Movies like this understand that the more misfortune, suffering and backstabbing going on, the more interesting the holidays are. (See: It's a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Carol, etc.)
I'm thankful for Woody Allen finding peace in Vicky Cristina Barcelona (35 screens), having worked through a decade of anger, displacement and other artistic issues. Yes it's filled with beautiful girls, beautiful scenery and lots of sex and romance and art, but the key character is the one played by Patricia Clarkson, and the key theme is one of regret, but also the concept of accepting regret and coming to terms with it.
Finally, I'm thankful for Happy-Go-Lucky (202 screens), which is about looking directly in the face of ignorance, anger, poverty, dread and disappointment and somehow finding a bit of a smile.
I'm thankful for movies that helped us understand the world and to feel a part of it.
Happy Thanksgiving, dear readers. May we all be more prosperous in the new year.