New generation, old joy - Page 2

It was a good year for boy-men at the movies
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Old Joy 's overcast Oregon woods function in much the same way as Mutual Appreciation's crummy, minimalist flats and protagonist Dan Dunne's shut-in apartment in Half Nelson. The two estranged friends in Old Joy take a camping trip to get away from their lives but end up considerably more cloistered, with the trash-strewn, damp woods hanging over their heads as much as their past-tense relationship does. One especially lyrical shot shows the woods' reflection rotating in their car's window as they U-turn, lost in more than one sense. Meanwhile, in several of Mutual Appreciation's key scenes, the figures involved in the central ménage à trois listlessly rock back and forth, the thrift furniture and frameless mattresses an extension of their essential fear of commitment. And then there's Half Nelson's Dan, an anguished hero split between a passion for teaching and a drug addiction, his shuttered, bookish flat betraying self-entrapment and lapsed idealism.

Lapses are another common denominator here — many of these films' most affecting images are the silent beats in which we see the actors registering a sense of loss, be it nostalgia (the pause in Old Joy following Mark and Kurt's conversation about a favorite record store going out of business) or regret (Dan's hollowed expression when caught smoking crack by a knowing student). Mutual Appreciation's characters have hardly started their adult lives, but when rocker Alan looks at himself in the mirror, in drag after a drunken odyssey, the seed is already there; 10 years down the line, his problems will be Mark's and Kurt's. Politics hang in the air like weather (Mark listens to Air America with a blank expression; Dan is distant while his parents discuss their bygone activism) as if preemptively remembering the present. Kicking and screaming, no: instead, as Kurt's Old Joy tag goes, "Sorrow is nothing but worn-out joy." It's hardly a sentiment to stake a straightforward portrait of a generation on, but while these films probably lose something in box office terms for not having the cachet of Reality Bites or, for that matter, The Graduate, they more than make up for it with their uncloying characterizations. Even Brando might find the roles opaque, but for these films it would be a mistake to confuse ambiguity with aimlessness. *

MAX GOLDBERG'S 10 FAVORITE THEATRICAL RELEASES (WITH A TWIST)

Old Joy (Kelly Reichardt, US)

L'Enfant (Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, Belgium/France)

Mutual Appreciation (Andrew Bujalski, US)

The Intruder (Claire Denis, France)

Iraq in Fragments (James Longley, US/Iraq)

Flags of Our Fathers/Letters from Iwo Jima (Clint Eastwood, US)

Half Nelson (Ryan Fleck, US)

The Proposition (John Hillcoat, Australia/UK)

Three Times (Hou Hsiao-hsien, France/Taiwan)

A Scanner Darkly (Richard Linklater, US)

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