Take Shelter (Jeff Nichols, 2011). There are enough things going on in Take Shelter that it is difficult to pin it down to one easy description (it’s like M. Night Shyamalan only good, it’s a horror story, it’s really about the poor state of the American economy, it’s a finely-detailed portrait of a schizophrenic). At times, I admit to being caught by surprise … whenever I thought I had the movie tagged, it moved in a slightly different direction. Everything improved once I gave myself over to Nichols’ vision, rather than trying to categorize the film from my own preconceptions. Take Shelter is not one of those insular, mysterious movies I usually dismiss; whatever fuzziness occurs is part of the representation of the life of the main character, who can’t always tell what is real and what is not. As is usually the case with movies about people struggling with psychological problems, I spent a lot of the film wavering between “been there, done that” and “I don’t like seeing myself on the screen”. My connection to this aspect of the movie means I paid less attention to the milieu of economic collapse than I should have. It is unfair to complain about Michael Shannon doing what he does so well, and he is very good here. Nonetheless, it’s hard to avoid the feeling that we’ve seen Shannon do this many times. More impressive is Jessica Chastain, who is excellent as the wife who wants to make things right for her husband but is fiercely frustrated that she can’t understand what he is going through. Chastain reminds us that the tortured individual causes collateral damage. #226 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 250 films of the 21st century. 8/10.
Hud (Martin Ritt, 1963). Sometimes it’s hard to figure out the logic of the Oscars. Hud was regarded highly enough to receive seven Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Supporting Actress. It won three Oscars, two for acting, one for James Wong Howe’s cinematography. But it wasn’t nominated for Best Picture, although there was somehow room for the legendary Taylor-Burton Cleopatra. Hud is an interesting, if schizophrenic, movie. The message seems to be that Paul Newman’s title character is a pure bastard, and, if you want to dig deeper, Hud, who “doesn’t care about people”, represents the emptiness of modern life. But, as played by Newman, Hud is the liveliest thing in the movie. His father, played by the Oscar-winning Melvyn Douglas, is sanctimonious, his nephew, played by Shane’s Brandon de Wilde, is a literary construct more than a person, leaving only Patricia Neal (also an Oscar winner) as the only person besides Newman who manages to get our attention. It’s an amoral movie … not that that’s a bad thing. In fact, that’s what makes it fun to watch. 7/10.