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.
Diane Keaton, Something's Gotta Give
It's not billed as a superhero flick, but in Something's Gotta Give Diane Keaton accomplishes the impossible: in the most disarming turn by any actress this year, she swoops down and steals a movie from Jack Nicholson.
Her unearthly powers: the same wrinkle-nosed smile that devastated Woody Allen in Annie Hall; the comedic timing that made her a perfect foil for Steve Martin in Father of the Bride; the fresh-faced sexuality that proved her undoing in Looking for Mr. Goodbar. As Keaton draws from the well of characters that have enriched her career, poor Jack is putty in her hands. And, frankly, he seems to like it.
Don't dismiss Keaton as a comic lightweight, however. She also produced 2003's gut-wrenching Columbine-inspired movie Elephant. And there was even a semiserious notion behind her brief—and hilarious—nude scene. As she told director Nancy Meyers, "Somebody my age has to be naked in a movie!"
Runners-up: Geraldine McEwan as the scariest nun ever in The Magdalene Sisters; Helen Mirren as the unsheathed leader of the Calendar Girls; Catherine O'Hara as a contented superstar folksinger-turned-housewife in A Mighty Wind.
Concert for George, Directed by David Leland
A year after George Harrison's death, a few thousand friends—including Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, and Eric Clapton—filled Royal Albert Hall with music, laughter, and tears. One of the year's most life-affirming movies.
Runners-up: Blind Spot: Hitler's Secretary (chilling interview with the woman who took the führer's dictation); The Fog of War (Robert McNamara, against footage of Vietnam, looks at the camera and says, "We were wrong").
Breakaway Performance (50 and Over)
Eugene Levy, A Mighty Wind
Who'da thunk that Levy—whose characters on TV and in some 40 movies served as poster boys for the clueless unhip—would turn in this nuanced performance as an emotionally damaged folk singer? Oh, but don't get us wrong—he's as funny as ever, too.
Runners-up: Michael Caine for his twanging South Texas good ol' boy in Secondhand Lions; Kurt Russell for his sullen turn as an all-but-irredeemable cop in Dark Blue.
Best Foreign Film
Nowhere in Africa (Germany), Directed by Caroline Link
Yes, we know it won an Oscar last year—but it didn't turn up in theaters until last spring. So now, go rent this visually stunning, emotionally draining story of a Jewish family that flees 1938 Germany and settles on a farm in Kenya—only to find they can't escape the tragedy that swallowed up those they left behind.
Runners-up: Autumn Spring, Czech Republic (an old man refuses to take life seriously); The Barbarian Invasions, Canada (a dying man's family and lovers say goodbye); Russian Ark, Russia (a drama in one continuous shot).
Best Movie for Grownups Who Refuse to Grow Up
School of Rock, Directed by Richard Linklater
If only we could all share our passions with the unbridled fervor of Jack Black, who in this comedy stops just short of speaking in tongues as he preaches his frenetic gospel of rock 'n' roll. Playing a washout rocker-turned-schoolteacher, he electrifies a classroom of nerdy kids—and us, as well.
Runners-up: Finding Nemo, a warm-blooded fish story; Kill Bill: Vol. 1, stylish mayhem with no social significance in sight.
Best Movie Time Capsule
Down With Love, Set Decoration by Don Diers
The pink business suits! The vast apartments with spindly "modern" furniture! The kooky beatniks! This is the 1960s we remember—not from real life, but from those Rock Hudson/Doris Day comedies. "It was determined early," says Diers, "that the design would become a distinct character in the film."
Runners-up: A Mighty Wind, for its dead-on evocation of '60s folk-rock culture; Seabiscuit, for capturing not only the look of Depression-era America, but also the country's desperate craving for hope.
Best TV Movie
Angels in America (HBO), Directed by Mike Nichols
Only a subject as compelling as the 1980s AIDS epidemic—and a script as intellectually demanding as Tony Kushner's (from his play)—could draw us in for six hours. Sobering and spiritual, Angels refuses to blink at either the pain of death or the reasons for living.
Runner-up: My House in Umbria, in which Maggie Smith, magnificent as usual, portrays a terrorist bomb victim who invites her fellow survivors to her Italian villa.
Best Screenwriter (50 and Over)
Jim Sheridan (With Naomi and Kirsten Sheridan), In America
For his painfully intimate script about raising his family in New York City, he had his now-grown daughters first write their own 100-page screenplays about their experiences living in the family's Hell's Kitchen tenement.
"I wasn't even mentioned in either one of their scripts," the writer-director recalls. His synthesis, though, created a priceless look at children living in an adult world.
Runners-up: Nancy Meyers, daring to explore love over 50 in Something's Gotta Give; Anthony Minghella, faithfully tracking the odyssey of Cold Mountain; John Sayles, giving an authentic voice to his all-woman cast in Casa de los Babys.
Best Intergenerational Movie
Secondhand Lions, Directed by Tim McCanlies
An awkward city boy (Haley Joel Osment) is dropped off with two South Texas good ol' boys (Michael Caine and Robert Duvall). He helps smooth their rough edges (especially their habit of shooting at salesmen), but they have wisdom to share, too. "In this youth-driven culture, I don't think generations are around each other enough," writer-director McCanlies says.
Runners-up: Bend It Like Beckham (soccer kicks up a family conflict); In America (sorrow and happiness seal a family's love); Whale Rider (generations accept tradition and change).
Best Grownup Love Story
Something's Gotta Give, Written and Directed by Nancy Meyers
Granted, Diane Keaton is a bit young for Jack Nicholson. She's 58; he's a Neanderthal. Even so, they seem so…dare we say it…sexy. When, after a romantic night, they need eyeglasses to check the time, you know this is for real. As Meyers says, "I'm not going to write a movie about people this age and have them act like they're 32."
Runners-up: Love Actually's Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson; A Mighty Wind's Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara.
Best Director (50 and Over)
Joel Schumacher, Phone Booth
He took a story that was first pitched decades ago to Alfred Hitchcock, hired a then-unknown actor as his star, set virtually all the action within a three-square-foot area, and shot the whole movie in 10 days. Schumacher's advice for a younger director who might try to imitate his feat? "Don't do it," he says. "This movie works, but it's pure luck!"
Runners-up: Clint Eastwood, great and gritty with Mystic River; Alan Rudolph, still shunning the studios to make indie classics such as The Secret Lives of Dentists; Ridley Scott, keeping us guessing with Matchstick Men; Jim Sheridan, proving that family knows best with In America.