Bill Murray entered a new phase of his career with this movie. He brought his trademark sarcasm to the role of weatherman Phil Connors, but added so much more, making his work here stand as one of his best performances. As Phil gets trapped in Groundhog Day, he goes through the various reaction phases (anger, denial, acceptance) of a man stuck in the same day for what seems like eternity--and so does the Murray performance. It's a role that allowed him to do everything in his range.
And range was not something really associated with funnyman Murray at the time. He had tried his hand at drama with The Razor's Edge, a film that was almost universally panned. He had modest success as a director with Quick Change, but his most memorable performances were as lovable goofballs (Ghostbusters, What About Bob?, Stripes). Groundhog Day let him show his dramatic side successfully, and it acts as a precursor to great work like Rushmore and Lost in Translation.
That's not to say the film isn't loaded with vintage comic Murray moments, such as Murray's roadside confrontation with a cop in a snowstorm, and the hilarious sequence in which he allows a groundhog to drive a truck.
What makes his work here so complete are the moments in which Phil goes through extreme emotional states, from total suicidal desperation to complete happiness. Murray conveys these moments convincingly, and winningly. There's a definite argument that this is the best work he's ever done, and it's certainly the best performance he's delivered in a comedy.
Andie MacDowell has taken some heat over the years for her dramatic skills, but I happen to think she is near perfection here as Phil's love interest. She possesses a natural sweetness that is the perfect counterbalance to Murray's messed-up character, and it's easy to see why the character is smitten with her. Chris Elliott gets some good laughs as Larry the cameraman, showing a major gift for deadpan humor.
It's hard to believe director Harold Ramis and Murray haven't collaborated since this 1993 classic. The two spent a lot of time together in the '80s. Their voices will be together in the upcoming Ghostbusters video game, but that hardly counts.
Special Features: Ramis reveals plenty in his commentary, including his estimation that the Murray character was stuck in Groundhog Day for about 10 years, whereas the original script called for him to be there for 10,000. There are some deleted scenes, including one in which Murray has become a pool shark. Making-of documentaries and an interview with Ramis make this a good one.
My pick for worst Oscar nomination this year would be the one bestowed upon Cate Blanchett for this blowhard of a movie. Mind you, I love some Cate, and she deserves to win with her other nomination as Bob Dylan in I'm Not There. But this film was a task to watch, and the Blanchett performance is partially responsible for that.
It seems that her only motivation is to be loud and grouchy, with lots of screaming and finger-wagging. The story is a mess of false history and chronological impossibilities. In short, the movie isn't that good.
I actually liked it a little more than most critics, but I came nowhere close to recommending it. It's a movie that manages to make Clive Owen look totally lost. Director Shekhar Kapur and Blanchett did a much better job with Elizabeth, their first stab at the character.
Special Features: A director's commentary, deleted scenes and a short making-of documentary. Not bad, but nothing to get all that excited about.
Milla Jovovich shows up for another round as Alice, the zombie-killing genetic experiment. This time, she bands together with a new group of survivors on their way to Canada, and they get attacked not only by human zombies, but also evil zombie birds. Set pieces include a dilapidated Las Vegas (which really fell apart after only five years without upkeep). There are a couple of jolts, but this is mostly just a rehash of the same old thing. Jovovich is a good action star, but she's given little to do other than look great (and she does). Ali Larter is brought in as a possible successor in sequels, though she, again, is given little to do.
The zombie makeup is average at best, and Iain Glen is campy stupidity as an evil doctor using Alice clones for some unexplained reason. His eventual transformation into some sort of super zombie is unintentionally funny.
Special Features: Blu-Wizard allows you to pick and choose the way you watch features, and that's cool. There's a lot of stuff, including commentaries and documentaries, and as usual with Blu-Ray, it looks great.