None of these will probably come close to scraping my year-end Top Ten (or Top Twenty, for that matter). They’re not bad, or even mediocre—just a little flawed, that’s all. They don’t possess the vision or surprise of something else I’ve recently seen, and hope to write about in-depth soon.


American remakes of French films are usually trite, dumbed-down abominations, so does it follow that a French remake of an American film should have the opposite effect? I can’t fully say—I haven’t seen the original, James Toback’s FINGERS (1977), although I’ve been meaning to for some time. The narrative’s a tad convoluted: It revolves around Tom (Romain Duris), a petty criminal who suddenly aspires to become a classical pianist after running into the mentor of his deceased mother (also once a pianist). However, it buoys an intense, unhinged tour-de-force lead performance from Duris (Harvey Keitel played this role in the original). At times, it appears that director Jacques Audiard re-made Toback’s film as a blatant excuse to construct little more than an early Scorsese homage. It’s certainly more alive than anything Scorsese’s done lately: claustrophobic, kinetic and stylish without feeling empty. Admittedly, some stretches were a snooze (many of them revolving around Tom’s “business”), but whenever the focus was on Tom immersing himself in music (whether through headphones or at the piano or simply in his mind), the film provided the invigorating rush I always hoped FINGERS would.


Although Todd Solondz wants his viewers to think and even laugh a little, much more than that, he wants them to squirm. His latest doesn’t scale the heights (depths?) of HAPPINESS, but neither does it fully get stuck in the tasteless dead ends of STORYTELLING. It has a strange gimmick: the central figure’s a girl named Aviva whose most urgent desire in life is to get pregnant, only she’s played by eight different people throughout the film. No, Solondz hasn’t totally gone bananas—there is a method to his madness, explained (rather poignantly) late in the film. It also allows him to add a few more hot-button issues to his repertoire (teenage pregnancy, abortion, the handicapped and gender politics among them). At worst, he wrings them for their shock value, but at best, he achieves a funny/creepy balance HAPPINESS excelled at and hints that he might even like Aviva and some of the twisted souls she meets on her journey. I wish he did so with as deft and kind of a touch as Ricky Gervais (THE OFFICE), though.


I’m surprised Don Roos hasn’t done more work in sitcoms, and I don’t mean that as a jibe. His latest Altman-like pansexual ensemble piece could’ve made a decent HBO series had it been expanded and cut into six easy-to-digest half hours (perhaps another TALES OF THE CITY?). As a two hour feature, it drags in spots and seems a little glib in others. It’s missing a protagonist as alive and kicking as Dede (Christina Ricci) from THE OPPOSITE OF SEX, although Maggie Gyllenhaal comes close. In her best role since SECRETARY, she’s a blissful id of a seductress, and not a bad karaoke singer, either. As a flustered abortion clinic counselor, Lisa Kudrow also gives her strongest performance since, well, TOOS. In fact, the entire cast is pretty sharp—even Tom Arnold comes off well in an understated (!) turn as a successful businessman. So, it all adds up to good, light acerbic fun--nothing too demanding, but far less shallow than most of its contemporaries.


This follows the template set in place by spelling-bee documentary SPELLBOUND: profile a disparate group of kids who share one talent in common, and follow them as they compete in a nail-biter of a tournament honoring that talent. In this case, it’s ballroom dancing classes for New York City pre-teens. Since the film initially follows three schools, all from widely varying neighborhoods throughout the five boroughs, we don’t get to know the kids as intimately as we did in SPELLBOUND: this one’s much more about the process of/reasons for teaching such an unconventional skill to what in most cases are inner city kids. Still, it’s hard not to feel something when one school of considerable underdogs makes the citywide finals. So, it doesn’t have the depth and weight of its predecessor, but it does retain some of its heart.