Our third annual Movies for Grownups Awards once again asks the burning question: Is there a flicker of life after 50? Answer: You bet your sprockets there is. Here's your ticket to this year's winners of the coveted La Chaise d'Or trophy.
Best Movie from 2003
Mystic River, Directed by Clint Eastwood
Around the time the movie's action starts shifting back and forth between scenes of a child's First Communion and the discovery of her older sister's dead body, you know for sure that it was a good idea to leave the kids at home. That fearless juxtaposition of innocence and horror is just one of the elements that make director Clint Eastwood's Mystic River the year's most visually riveting, emotionally scorching, grown-up movie.
Grim, of course, doesn't automatically make a great film. Grim we've seen lots of times. But taking the grit of a down-on-its-luck South Boston neighborhood, crunching in three badly dysfunctional boyhood friends, churning it all together with a grisly murder or two or three…and somehow concocting from those acrid ingredients a human drama that is alternately harrowing and heartbreaking, well, that's not moviemaking. That's alchemy.
Eastwood directs so subtly that you forget there's anyone behind the camera (a trait echoed by the score, which he wrote). If there's a single special effects shot in the whole movie, we missed it. Brian Helgeland's screenplay examines each troubled character more deeply than a whole-body MRI scan. And stars Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, and Kevin Bacon seem so wearied by life, so weighed down by the awful secrets they bear, that they could at any minute physically collapse under the load.
Powerful stuff—and if someone hasn't already spoiled the vertigo-inducing plot twists for you, we're not going to do so here. We were gratified to see so many critics agree with us that Mystic River is the perfect movie for grownups. In the words of Boston reviewer David Brudnoy—who rates special mention here, since the movie was shot in his own backyard—it's a gift for that "movie-going cohort of adults craving movies aimed at adults."
Runners-up: House of Sand and Fog for daring to avoid a Hollywood ending; Lost in Translation for showing that you can survive middle age without being pitiful; A Mighty Wind for reminding us that our eccentricities can actually sweeten with age; Seabiscuit for a hero who does not kill anyone.
Bill Murray, Lost in Translation
Bill Murray has played a dim-witted greenskeeper (Caddyshack), a multiphobic basket case (What About Bob?), an egomaniac TV weatherman (Groundhog Day), and a bring-'em-back-alive ghostbuster (twice). So for this exquisitely multilayered role as a has-been action-movie star in the throes of a midlife crisis, we first considered honoring him with our Breakaway Performance Award (see below).
But Murray so dominates this movie—towering over the Tokyo setting like some self-absorbed Godzilla—that we couldn't resist giving him the top prize. Director Sofia Coppola knew he was perfect for the part, saying, "I stalked Bill Murray for eight months!"
At first, Murray seems to be recycling his old characters—even his karaoke bit here is an echo of his classic Saturday Night Live lounge singer act. But look again: Murray is playing his old personas as they are 30 years or so later: the bravado muted by realization of his limitations, the self-deprecating jokes, once ironic, now bearing a tinge of real self-awareness.
Runners-up: Albert Finney as a tale-spinning patriarch in Big Fish; Anthony Hopkins as a college professor with a secret in The Human Stain; Tommy Lee Jones as a determined grandpa in The Missing; Ben Kingsley as a tragically proud Iranian immigrant in House of Sand and Fog.