Thursday, December 9, 2010

788. Two Lovers and the Strange Journey of Joaquin Phoenix

...Or How to Sabotage Your Own Film

This is a tough ten in which to choose one to discuss. There are two excellent documentaries (Dieter and Control Room), some great golden age screwball comedies (Ruggles and Major), a twisted classic (Freaks), and a VERY nerdy-emphasis –on-science-science fiction flick (Cube) to name just a couple. Though for today, I am going to focus on Two Lovers, a forgotten and unfairly overlooked film from last year.

Perhaps things would have gone better for this understated drama if the star hadn’t sabotaged the opening. Starring Joaquin Phoenix, it was during the press tour for Two Lovers that he began his “career transition” to aspiring rapper. Showing up on Letterman incoherent and with a giant beard, the film took a backseat to the filming of what would become key plot points in I’m Still Here, Casey Affleck’s worthy directorial effort in the genre of gonzo filmmaking. Though without a doubt, I approve of the satirical nature of I’m Still Here, I wished he instead would have done this during press for the bland Departed knock-off “We Own the Night.”

The plot of Two Lovers is pretty simple. Phoenix plays a man recovering from a major mental breakdown and is slowly beginning to date and become a functioning member of society. He is in the midst of falling for a plain, though stable girl, when he meets Gwyneth Paltrow, a mysterious ingénue with a similarly dark past. She is a whole basket of crazy and poor Phoenix doesn’t know happened as he falls in love with her. Their story progresses, things happen, and resolve somberly though faint rays hope, as all good indies do. It’s a pretty simple story but one of the best character studies over the past couple years.

I am not a Gwyneth Paltrow fan. I consider her Sylvia Plath biopic (creatively called Sylvia— ::begin rant:: enough with the biopics that only use the characters first name as a title! I am waiting for a Hitler biopic simply called Adolf. I get the simplicity but at this point, it’s horribly clichéd. Enough! ::end rant::) to be a cinematic crime, and I’m not even a Plath fan. Though in Two Lovers, she brings her Royal Tanenbaums-best. She even received an Independent Spirit Award nom for her efforts and the film itself garnered a few nominations for film and direction. Phoenix also delivers out an amazingly understated yet emotionally powerful performance. It begs the question of why, if he was so good, would he chose to completely wreck the integrity of the picture by having an emotional breakdown (albeit, a fake one) during the press tour?

He became the story and press focus rather than the film itself which it too bad. The indie film loving audience was scared away from seeing the film in theatres and it disappeared without a trace and only finally received some positive word of mouth when the ISA nominations came out. Still, Two Lovers is back to being an underappreciated, obscure film and given that I’m Still Here underwhelmed, I wonder what the fate of the film would be had I’m Still Here not been a factor.


781 Ruggles of Red Gap LeoMcCarey

782 I Was a Male War Bride Howard Hawks

783 Cube

784 Angel Face Otto Preminger

785 Little Dieter Needs to Fly Werner Herzog

786 Freaks Todd Browning

787 Traffic [2000] Steven Soderbergh

788 Two Lovers James Gray

789 The Major and the Minor Billy Wilder

790 Control Room

About the Top 800 Project:

Using the They Shoot Pictures Starting List of 7700 films (LINK) and my Netflix ratings, I sifted through the list and of the 4500 films I’d seen, I selected a random number of films I liked more than the others. The list was about 812 films. I kicked off 12 to get an even 800. The list chronologically goes up to 2009. Each blog entry will list ten films, one of which will be discussed in detail. The ten films will then be posted to HERE, a Google docs file compiling them. When the countdown finishes in what will be probably be a really a long time, I will begin discussing random films that I didn’t get to before.