This is one of the most romantic movies I have ever seen. Bill Murray plays Bob Harris, an American actor in Tokyo making $2 million to promote whiskey rather than "doing a play somewhere." Sofia Coppola wrote the film with Murray in mind, a completely believable claim from the second-time director. Murray is perfection as the road-weary actor, jet-lagged, jaded by a dragging marriage and caught off guard by Tokyo's culture. He befriends Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson), and one of the more romantic platonic relationships ever put to screen ensues. Johansson comes into her own in this film, with Lance Accord's cinematography a virtual love letter to her beauty--no actress or actor looked better in a movie last year. Murray's Oscar nomination is well-deserved. He plays melancholy better than anybody, and when Bob is sparked to life by Charlotte's friendship, Murray makes it genuinely moving. The film isn't without its fair share of humor, but it's the love story that makes it something to remember. It also has one of the year's best soundtracks, featuring the likes of My Bloody Valentine and the Jesus and Mary Chain. A great, great movie.
SPECIAL FEATURES: "Lost" on Location, a behind-the-scenes documentary partially shot by Coppola's husband (director Spike Jonze), captures some of the insanity involved in a Tokyo shoot. It's a must-see for Murray's white-robe dance routine to Elvis Costello's "Alison," and his warbling rendition of "Scarborough Fair." There are extended and deleted scenes, some of them worthy of the film. A Conversation With Bill Murray and Sofia Coppola, shot in Rome with Murray looking very Ernest Hemmingway, is a nice substitution for the lack of audio commentary on the disc.
One of 2003's most notable breakthrough performances came from Evan Rachel Wood in this intense look at female adolescence. Shunned at school for her goofy wardrobe, Tracy (Wood) befriends Evie (Nikki Reed, who co-wrote the screenplay with director Catherine Hardwicke). Evie is the most popular girl at school, and she's also a little too advanced for her age. Tracy gets caught up in a world of drugs, sex and teen pastimes like punching each other in the face for fun. (Actually, I don't recall that one from my childhood.) The first time I saw this film, I found it a little too frantic, and Tracy's transition from model student to hell-bent rebel seemed a little too fast. The film plays better upon second viewing. Wood is terrific in the central role, as is Holly Hunter as her beleaguered mother. Severely underrated actor Jeremy Sisto lends a hand in the supporting role of Mom's boyfriend and has a cool moment with a Zen chicken. I love that use of the Liz Phair song at film's end. There should be more Liz Phair songs ending movies.
SPECIAL FEATURES: Some of the participants in the disc's commentary (Hardwicke, Wood, Reed, actor Brady Corbet) are obviously having fun with the concept, as evidenced by their occasional screaming and talking over one another. Hardwicke does provide some decent insights into the film, including some backdrop as to how she and Reed conceived the script. A making-of featurette is pretty routine, but the deleted scenes are definitely worth a glance.
This year's biggest Oscar crime has to be Paul Giamatti being passed over in the Best Actor category. Giamatti (also snubbed by the Golden Globes) nailed comic-book author Harvey Pekar, catching all of the infamous grouch's cantankerous traits, both physically and verbally. It's a performance as good as any other last year, but chances are not enough Academy voters were able to catch the film for voting purposes due to the Oscar-screener ban that was in effect for a few months. The film deserved recognition as well. It's a truly unique effort, incorporating real footage of the actual Pekar into the comic re-creations starring Giamatti. It's good to see Pekar get some recognition. He seemed to be in hiding since David Letterman banished him from his show many years ago (something the film chronicles). Judah Friedlander is funny as super nerd Toby Radloff, Pekar's file clerk co-worker. When Friedlander first speaks, it seems that he might be overdoing the characterization. Then the real Radloff shows up in the documentary footage, and it's realized that Radloff is right on.
SPECIAL FEATURES: The audio commentary is a fun one, featuring Giamatti, Pekar and wife Joyce Brabner (played by Hope Davis in the movie). Pekar says little, as expected, with Joyce doing most of the talking. A DVD-ROM animation conversation between Pekar and good pal Toby, focusing mainly on fast-food quality, is good fun. Cool menus, including Pekar walking down a comic book street, add to the spirit of the film. My Movie Year, a comic-book insert written by Pekar, makes this a great package.