Lost in Translation is a lovely movie, reminiscent of In the Mood for Love. Whether you think it's lovely but insubstantial, or lovely and great, will depend in large part on what you expect from greatness. Director Sofia Coppola has this father you might have heard of ... and despite the excellence of The Conversation, her dad did his best work on the epic scale of the first two Godfather movies. Sofia has a different idea of scale, it would seem: Lost in Translation is about small things that matter greatly, and the best things about the movie are the tiniest. There is a scene where Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson are lying in bed together. They are both clothed; they're talking about stuff that matters in their lives, stuff they can't talk about with the people who really know them, stuff you can talk about to a stranger you've connected with. There's always a slight undertone of sexuality in the scenes these two share, but it's not icky the way May-December often is in today's films, because the sexuality remains an undertone, while the meat of their relationship is their emotional/philosophical connectedness. They lie on the bed, Murray on his back, Johansson on her side facing Murray. And as they talk, and drift off to almost-sleep, you see her foot lightly touching his leg. The movie's entire notion of scale can be seen in that foot touching that leg: it's unbearably intimate, but it's not at all icky, nor is it "precious" ... it's just two strangers connecting.
Murray is indeed wonderful here ... he deserves his Oscar nomination for Best Actor, although the only people who should be surprised at his fine work are folks who haven't been paying attention to Murray during his years of excellent acting. Still, it's keeping with the small scale of the movie that Bill Murray, capable of manic extravagance, keeps that mania mostly under wraps. He understands what the movie needs, and he delivers it, which is great acting (this is not like when Robin Williams decides to try for an Oscar by playing a "serious" role). Johansson is lovely as well ... with so many actresses in their mid-20s passing themselves off as teenagers in movies and teevee, how interesting it is that Scarlett Johansson, still in her teens, seems so appropriately in her mid-20s in this movie.
Many critics I admire are giving Lost in Translation their highest accolades. I like it a lot, but somehow giving it an 8 on a scale of 10 seems appropriate for a movie that does such a good job of arguing in favor of smaller scales. It is a worthy candidate in all the Oscar categories for which it is nominated (Best Picture, and two to Coppola for directing and screenplay).