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About a Boy (2002)
Great performances all round
`About a Boy' is simply the best movie I've seen in a very long time. It has a broad appeal, and will draw you in from the opening moment if you give it even the slightest of chances. I loved the book and was wary, like so many others, of how the adaptation would work. Well, they did a brilliant job, beginning with the casting of Hugh Grant.
I'm not really a fan of Grant: sure he was entertaining in Four Weddings, but his stock, foppish English-upper-class act got stale very quickly. Clearly he allowed himself to be stereotyped too early in his career. Well it seems as though he's turned a corner with the role of Will in `About a Boy.' Gone (or at least muted) are the mannerisms that I used to find annoying. Here he uses his hands, eyes and facial expressions in more subtle ways, and to great effect. He also plays a much more realistic, flawed character and believably so. From now on I think the name Hugh Grant will draw me to movies rather than put me off them.
What can I say about Nicholas Hoult as Marcus except to echo what so many others have said what an astoundingly convincing performance! He conveys very well the innocent honesty of a boy forced to grow up too fast in a world with which he isn't really in synch. He was aggravating when the plot called for it, tight-lipped at the right times, awkward in the best traditions of early adolescence, winning and off-putting like any youngster (or adult for that matter). He impressed me most in his interactions with his screen mother, in the scene where he explains to Will in a heartbreakingly matter-of-fact tone how he copes with his misfit existence, and in his encounter with Rachel's son Ali. In fact I don't think he puts a foot wrong in the whole movie. In my opinion Nicholas Hoult absolutely nailed the character.
Toni Collette and Rachel Weisz do wonders with roles that are, admittedly, under-written. Let's face it, `About a Boy' is the Will (& Marcus) Show. That's just how Hornby wrote it. But both actresses give their characters as much depth as the movie's constraints allow. Collette's Fiona is perhaps an unlikely portrait of the average single mother suffering from mental illness, but she convinces us because she is so sincere in a movie with so many laughs, you can't help feeling moved by her tears or her expressions of affection for her son. And Weisz, despite having an even smaller part, is no less convincing in her interactions with Hugh Grant's character.
Add to the mix Augustus Prew's brief but extraordinary performance as Ali and the sweet and sour character of Ellie so ably performed by Nat Gastiain Tena, then you have perhaps the best ensemble cast in any movie made so far this year, and perhaps the best we're likely to see in all of 2002!
This film's a winner!
It was as long ago as March 2001 that I first saw There's Only One Jimmy Grimble during its short-lived run in movie theatres across Canada, and I feel lucky that I did. Coming as it did in the wake of Billy Elliot, I didn't know what to expect. What I saw was a clever, touching, fast-paced film with a hero every bit as appealing as Jamie Bell in the person of Lewis McKenzie, who plays the title character. In fact the entire cast was excellent. The adult actors play their roles very honestly, passionately in some cases, and yet they don't eclipse Lewis McKenzie who never puts a foot wrong. You find yourself caring very intensely about the ups and downs in his life, and although the plot is somewhat predictable, getting there is more than half the fun. Also, for those who appreciate the deft use of soundtrack to enhance a film, you'll be most impressed.
A note however to those who are considering the film and who aren't familiar with the Manchester accent or with British professional football (soccer) -- and I don't think this qualifies as a spoiler. It wasn't until my second viewing that everything fell into place, and only thanks to some research in the interval. A lot of the dialogue and plot revolves around the rivalry that exists in Manchester between its two professional football clubs - Manchester United (often referred to as ManU or "Red" after their team colours) and Manchester City (ManCity, City, or "Blue"). Jimmy is a fan of the latter, a team that has seen better days, and goes whenever he can to their matches at the stadium located on (and therefore known as) Maine Road (?). This rivalry accounts in large part for the animosity between him and Gorgeous Gordon Burley and references to it often appear in the dialogue, making the accent even more impenetrable than it need be. Bear this in mind and go see Jimmy Grimble. The accents needn't scare you: even after my first viewing I knew that the movie, like Jimmy himself, was a winner.
Billy Elliot (2000)
Billy Elliot - The Class of 2000
To say that Billy Elliot is the best movie of 2000 is to damn it with faint praise, since this year's crop is pretty uninspiring. Better to compare it to movies of the past few years, and even then it would stand out. It is a phenomenally good film, and perhaps even groundbreaking in its own way, since it goes against the trend of quirky, violent, sex-obsessed moviemaking that's become so popular recently. We've finally been given a film with a good, almost mythic story, complicated yet believable characters, a masterful blend of emotional intensity and critical restraint, and a series of dance scenes that are authentic, inspiring and completely integral to the plot.
No wonder critics have been falling over themselves in heaping praise on Billy Elliot. No wonder it's been holding its own in the box office despite being shown in a mere handful of theatres (one-quarter to one- sixth as many as the big Hollywood blockbusters) and despite its receiving hardly any promotion at the moment. Its success is being driven by word of mouth. And what is the word? Here is a movie that appeals to your heart, head, funny bone, eyes and ears, and last but not least your feet, for the music and the movement will have you wanting to get up and dance. And it achieves all of this without insulting the intelligence. I sometimes wonder how the movie would have been done by Hollywood: Billy would have been made a more pathetic figure; the people in his life rendered more black and white; characters would have either remained caricatures, or made to develop in the blink of an eye. All such excesses are avoided in Billy Elliot, where the characters develop in a totally believable way, where Billy invites admiration instead of pity, and where the silences, looks and gestures all leave so much to the imagination. The dictum "Less is more" is clearly the guiding principle behind the film.
The buzz for Billy has been so positive that people sometimes come away disappointed that their lives haven't been changed. So don't go expecting a "knock 'em dead" Hollywood rollercoaster. Billy Elliot is far more subtle, though the emotional moments are all the more powerful because of that. You can however believe everything that has been said of Jamie Bell. He has an outstanding screen presence and carries the movie on his little shoulders with breath-taking naturalism. His dancing is honest and powerful, and very masculine. He makes you forget that all the other actors give the performances of their careers in support. If the Oscar were awarded without consideration for age, career, box office draw or Hollywood clout, Jamie and his movie would win hands down.