All Is Lost (J.C. Chandor, 2013). Times are changing. In the olden days, when a venerable screen star in his 70s took on a role like this one (i.e. the only character in the entire movie), it was a guaranteed Oscar nomination. But Robert Redford is different. For one thing, he’s only been nominated as an actor once, for the frivolous The Sting (he was far from the best actor that year, but he was also far from the only actor cheated out of an Oscar because some goofballs gave it to Jack Lemmon in Save the Tiger). So here, he carries the movie on his weathered back, and the film gets nominated for … Best Sound Editing? What Redford does here is interesting, because he doesn’t ham it up … this isn’t Anthony Quinn we’re talking about. There is very little dialogue, and Redford underplays throughout, not because he lacks the acting chops, but because he’s committed to the character, who is a bit too busy trying to survive to worry about winning an Oscar. Chandor, who also wrote the script, creates an almost abstract movie out of the ingredients. I know nothing about sailing, and thus I had no idea what Redford’s character was doing during the film. I trusted that he was doing the best he could, and that he, at least, did know what he was doing. But without the context, without Chandor beating us over the head with explanations, we’re left with a series of actions that seem purposeful due to Redford’s assertive presence, but which are otherwise opaque. It’s not quite like Sisyphus … Redford doesn’t repeat the same task over and over. But there is always a task to be done, and Chandor doesn’t hold our hands. 8/10. Chandor has only directed one other movie, Margin Call, which was OK and which might make a good companion piece. Tom Hanks in Cast Away seems like the obvious choice, though, and a good way to see how masterful Redford is in this movie.
The Naked Spur (Anthony Mann, 1953). The Anthony Mann-James Stewart Westerns from the 50s are only surprising the first time you see one, but even once you come with expectations, they tend to be good ones. They are held in high regard by many, while I’d say they’re in the good-not-great category. The Naked Spur is as good as any. It plays like an outdoors chamber piece, with only five primary characters … there is a battle with Indians that is sadly cavalier about casualties, and the ending has some spark, but mostly The Naked Spur is a character story, closer to existentialism than to Stagecoach. Once again, Stewart plays against type as a man with a dark side … he did this more often than people seem to remember, it’s probably incorrect to say he was playing against type. Janet Leigh brightens things up a bit, and Ralph Meeker is always fun to watch. Count me as someone who thinks Robert Ryan has done better … the kindest thing I can say is that he’s playing a sociopath, but I don’t really buy it. He just relies too much on inappropriate laughter. The film looks great, and if Mann’s Westerns aren’t up to the level of movies like Red River, The Searchers, or Rio Bravo, well, they’re good enough. #910 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of all time. 7/10. For more Mann-Stewart, check out Winchester ‘73 or The Man from Laramie.
Groundhog Day (Harold Ramis, 1993). 8/10.