New, Old, and 2004

There’s a lot to cover today. New films, old films, 2004, and some great festivals.

First, I can’t recommend Hotel Rwanda enough. I saw it last night, and if a better film came out last year, I haven’t seen it. By now you all know the story. Don Cheadle plays Paul Rusesabagina, the manager of a posh hotel in Rwanda during the upheavals of 1994.  Rusesabagina (an actual person now living in Belgium) saved over 1200 Tutsis from the genocide that took hundreds of thousands of lives while the world watched.

For obvious reasons, Hotel Rwanda is often compared to Schindler’s List. Director/co-writer Terry George took a very different approach; this film feels more like a suspense thriller and less like a historical epic. And make no mistake–this is one of the scariest, most nerve-wracking films ever made. You pretty much spend the whole time at the edge of your seat, wondering how Rusesabagina is going to bluff, lie, and bribe his way out of another seemingly hopeless situation.

If my description sounds repetitive or unbelievable, let me assure you that the movie is none of these things.

By the way, I managed to see The Aviator last week, as well. It’s good, but not great. Hotel Rwanda has my vote for the best film of 2004, The Aviator has my bet for winning the Best Picture Oscar.

Overall, 2004 was an excellent year at the movies, with signs of better things to come. Among the good signs:

  • Jamie Foxx proved to be a major actor and star with Collateral and Ray.

  • The big special effects blockbuster of the summer, Spiderman, was also an excellent character study of a young man getting pulled apart by separate and conflicting desires and responsibilities. The action was great, but it was so much more than an action movie that it (hopefully) raised the bar for future summer fare.

  • A lot of what I heard about The Passion of the Christ upset me (I didn’t see it), but I’m still glad that a movie with subtitles became the big hit of the spring.

  • And one of the big hits of the summer, Fahrenheit 911, was a documentary.

  • At one point last spring, two (count ’em, two) black and white movies were in first-run release; The Saddest Music in the World and Coffee and Cigarettes.

  • Major movie studios (or at least their art film subsidiaries) released three films with NC-17 ratings (The Dreamers, Young Adam, and A Dirty Shame). Unfortunately, the way things are going in the country right now, I doubt we’ll be seeing more of this.

Okay, on to the revival and specialty theaters I’m supposed to be writing about. The Pacific Film Archive is reopening this week after its usual holiday break, and the line-up they have for the new schedule makes me want to live in that theater. They’re starting with a series curated by film historian David Thomson, built around his new book, The Whole Equation. Thomson is showing a terrific collection of Hollywood classics and interesting historical oddities, and introducing each film. Other series include Japanese Experimental Film & Video (continuing from previous series), movies about games, an African film festival, and Film Preservation Week. I’ll discuss more films as they come up.

Also starting this week is Noir City

, The San Francisco Film Noir Festival, at its new home at the Balboa.