What to Rent

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In which film savant Iggy Cortez tells you what to watch on Oscar’s eve.

Joining the ranks of Fellini and Kurosawa, Robert Altman will receive a life-time achievement award during this year’s Academy Awards. Although the Oscar’s prestige has considerably diminished in the past few years, Altman’s recognition should be universally lauded, as he is arguably the best living American director and certainly one of the most consistently inventive. He has a rare gift of both exploiting the potential of the genre movie while subverting it from within. Because face it, no matter what enjoyment you may get from a Western or Noir, if performed unimaginatively, the genre movie is the ultimate platform for reifying roles, presenting moments that may shine on their own, but that collectively impose a certain oppressive system of belief. Out of all his movies, Gosford Park is certainly one of the best and also one of the most misunderstood, particularly by supposed cinephiles who rather stupidly dismiss it as an exercise in glamour, disregarding its aesthetic profundity simply because Altman does not perform existential back-flips and pirouettes.

Playing with the genre of the detective story, Altman creates an organic portrait of class identity and universal misery, but more importantly he creates an aesthetic object that manages to suggest complete and utter flux. Purposefully structuring his film along a meaningless story line, Altman seduces with the strength of his actors’ performances, his perfect orchestration of a constellation of interweaving subplots and a subtle cinematography that, like a master’s brushstroke, has both grace and muscle. Anglophiles will also enjoy this film’s remarkable cast that, rather ironically for a film with declassification and anti-snobbery at its heart, confirms the long-standing suspicion of the British star system’s superiority over America’s. In particular, Helen Mirren gives the performance of a lifetime as Mrs. Wilson, the stoic governess and “perfect servant” who haunts Gosford Park. A master of eloquent micro-economy, her performance shines in a movie filled with outstanding portrayals that come to life, full blooded and compelling, with even the fewest of lines.

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  1. Phil

    Fellini mention, natch.

  2. Yar

    You're all about the fellini/kurosawa references. Me, I'll just watch American Beauty instead.

  3. alpha male

    yeah, i'm gonna need the tv tonight from 9-11 pm. i'm watching american beauty tonight with my latest 14-year-old catch.

  4. m

    what with his review of 'transamerica' in this week's spec, and his selection of 'gosford park,' i have to say that mr. cortez has gone hollywood. next week: iggy selects lion king 1 1/2 JKLOL

  5. Elle

    transamerica and gosford park are hollywood? barely!

  6. Anonymous

    next stop: brokeback mountain

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