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This happened last year, when the Coen brothers' No Country for Old Men won Best Picture, and the ceremony registered its lowest TV audience ever (a mere 31.7 million). This is not a sign of a declining interest in cinema-going. Far from it. Recessions, like bad weather, are great for the movies. Britain alone has seen the biggest number of ticket sales for 40 years. The success of the Abba musical Mamma Mia - already, I am sure, very familiar to Standpoint readers through multiple viewings - has been remarkable. It's likely, though, that it will have to make do with its bazillions of dollars, because the chances of it turning up in the Oscar nominations, when they're announced shortly, are slim. Instead, and despite the similar success of The Dark Knight and Quantum of Solace, it's looking like another "small" and worthy year.

Some of the films which are already gathering media moss are opening here this month. One of these is Revolutionary Road, directed by Britain's Sam Mendes, and starring his wife, Kate Winslet, and her Titanic partner, Leonardo DiCaprio. Based on the novel by Richard Yates, it is a drama about a young couple fighting "conventionality" and "routine" in 1950s' America. Rather like that other poison-pen letter to suburbia, the slick and self-pitying American Beauty (also directed by Mendes), it has the themes that are beloved of many in the LA film industry (in the course of five years I met precisely one declared Republican working in it, and he was an agent). Us against them? Individuality crushed by conservative conformity? It surely cannot fail.

Like George Clooney's much-praised 2005 drama of the McCarthy era, Good Night and Good Luck, other films in the running this year continue Hollywood's trend of returning to examine or celebrate past social and cultural battles. The first part of Steven Soderbergh's epic four-hour retelling of the life of Che Guevara comes here stamped with Cannes approval. It has been praised for being even-handed, although the fact that we needed another one so soon after The Motorcycle Diaries speaks of an abiding fascination with Che. Benicio del Toro, however, who plays the title role, might find himself having to feign joy when the winner of the Best Actor award is announced: the strongest contender for this right now is Tinseltown's über-liberal and taker-up of good causes, Sean Penn, for Milk.

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B. Franklin
January 8th, 2009
4:01 PM
As an American myself, I can say with great confidence that there are many people here who are just waiting for the predicted earthquake known as "The Big One" - thereby dropping the abomination called California into the ocean - and delivering us from the greatest American eyesore since the world's largest ball of twine. Anyone care for some beach-front property in Vegas?

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