Sunday, October 31, 2010

1962 - The Music Man

Don't forget to vote for which year Matt vs. the Academy should tackle next. You can do so by selecting one of the options in the poll on the right. For my American readers, consider it a warm-up for the voting muscles you will be exercising on Tuesday... unless, like me, you are not a U.S. citizen and are therefore ineligible to vote ... in which case, just vote in my poll anyway.

Today, in lieu of any Halloween festivities, I watched another contender in 1962's Best Picture race...


The Music Man
Director:
Morton DaCosta
Screenplay:
Marion Hargrove
(based on the Broadway musical by Meredith Willson)
Starring:
Robert Preston, Shirley Jones, Buddy Hackett, Paul Ford, Hermione Gingold, Pert Kelton, Ron Howard
Academy Awards:
6 nominations
1 win, for Best Score (Adaptation)

Popular on Broadway, Meredith Willson's The Music Man centres on a travelling salesman who calls himself Professor Harold Hill (Preston). Arriving in River City, Iowa, Hill attempts to con the townsfolk into buying instruments and uniforms for a boys marching band that he promises to lead. Only thing is: he has absolutely no musical ability whatsoever (although, he does appear to be able to sing and dance). With the help of an old pal (Hackett), Hill evades the scrutiny of the Mayor (Ford), but for the plan to really work, he has to keep the town's only musician, piano instructor Marian Paroo (Jones), from exposing him. He decides seducing her will be his best bet.

'Extravagant' is the first word that comes to mind when watching The Music Man. Brightly-coloured sets and costumes, super widescreen cinematography, familiar toe-tapping tunes (Seventy-Six Trombones and Ya Got Trouble, for example), larger-than-life characters. It's one extravagant musical number after another. The result is that River City and its inhabitants appear to have a polished veneer. Yet this feeling of make-believe - common to Broadway musical adaptations - is incredibly amiable, thanks to a delightfully humorous tone.

Meredith Willson's music is imaginative and fun with many tracks distinguished by their brisk rhythm and almost mechanical melody. Lyrically, the songs are clever and interesting, sometimes downright strange. I mean, who names a song "Shipoopi"? (I have to shamefully admit that I was not even aware of that song until I heard Peter Griffin's rendition of it.)

Clearly, it was an enormous task converting this stage success to film, and director Morton DaCosta uses some innovative camera techniques for certain sequences, including several extended takes. However, there are other times when it seems that he doesn't make the most of his medium. Despite the energetic choreography, certain shots feel unusually static because of the simplified camera placement. It's almost as if the actors are performing like they would on stage, all huddled together facing the audience.

Nonetheless, the cast all embody their characters perfectly. Robert Preston is smooth and charming as the swindler who grows a conscience. The Partridge Family's matriarch Shirley Jones is sweet as Hill's love interest. The supporting cast, including Buddy Hackett, Paul Ford, Hermione Gingold and Pert Kelton are all delectably comic. And little Ronny Howard (as he was known prior to his Richie Cunningham days) is adorably impressive, complete with outrageous lisp.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

1962 - To Kill A Mockingbird

I always enjoy seeing classic movies on the big screen. The cinema experience will always trump the home theatre experience, I guess, until the day that the cinema experience is the home theatre experience (i.e. when I own a house big enough for a private screening room). Among others, I've been lucky enough to see 70mm prints of Lawrence of Arabia and Ben-Hur, and I got my sci-fi geek on for the reissues of the first three Star Wars films in the late 1990s. But last weekend was a particularly personal thrill for me as I attended a special 25th anniversary screening of Back to the Future. I had never seen it on the big screen before (I was only nine years old during its initial release) but, through video and DVD, it became one of my all-time favourite films, one which, I'm glad to say, still holds up today, despite its mathematically erroneous pronunciation of 1.21 gigawatts. Seeing it in a room full of like-minded fans created an electrifying atmosphere - there were cheers when George knocked out Biff - and since I had already seen Parts II and III in the cinema, this recent screening finally makes the trilogy complete for me.

Yesterday, I took a look at another classic from 1962's Best Picture race...


To Kill A Mockingbird
Director:
Robert Mulligan
Screenplay:
Horton Foote
(based on the novel by Harper Lee)
Starring:
Gregory Peck, Mary Badham, Philip Alford, John Megna, Frank Overton, Brock Peters, Collin Wilcox, James Anderson, Robert Duvall
Academy Awards:
8 nominations
3 wins, including Best Actor (Peck) and Best Adapted Screenplay

Harper Lee's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel made its way into most high school English classrooms, including the one I attended at Gymea Technology High School, making it a familiar story to most. For some reason, though, my main memory of the book is of the rabid dog. That and the wacky names of all the characters: Atticus, Scout, Jem, Dill. Even the Sheriff's name is Heck.

In a small Southern town during the 1930s, lawyer Atticus Finch (Peck) raises his two children, Scout (Badham) and Jem (Alford). The kids befriend their neighbour's visiting nephew, a young boy named Dill (Megna), and the three make their own fun on the streets, mostly by making up stories about the mysterious Boo Radley (Duvall), their reclusive neighbour that none of them have seen. Meanwhile, Atticus is assigned to defend Tom Robinson (Peters), a young black man accused of assaulting a white girl named Mayella (Wilcox). The girl's father, Mr. Ewell (Anderson) is not particularly happy about Tom receiving any kind of defense and he has a gang of likewise angry townsfolk on his side. Atticus attempts to keep the situation in the town under control as he mounts his case for Tom's innocence.

Atticus Finch may well be the most morally upstanding character in fiction. He is considerate, compassionate and incorruptible. Calm under tense situations, he stands up to bullies with a mild and rational temperament. A loving father, he teaches his children to adhere to the same moral code. And since it is typically a character's flaws that make him a fascinating study, Atticus comes across as entirely uninteresting as a lead character because he appears to be flawless. Don't get me wrong. We still love him and want him to succeed, but the truly interesting elements of To Kill A Mockingbird lie elsewhere.

To be honest, though, Atticus probably isn't the lead character anyway. The novel is written in the first person by Scout (and the film is narrated by the adult version of her, voiced by an uncredited Kim Stanley), so it would seem plausible to call her the lead. The story can certainly be considered her coming of age tale. Indeed, both Finch children learn a great deal over the course of the picture, the first half of which concentrates on their adventures.

Then, there is the grand courtroom scene. Even if Atticus himself is prosaically simple, the battle that he inevitably faces in court (and outside the court, for that matter) is dramatic and affecting. It is no secret that I love legal dramas, particularly those gotcha moments when a lawyer wins a point against his opposition. Atticus certainly has no shortage of those moments. However, the events in the courtroom seemed somehow unbelievable. Granted, I don't have a great knowledge of U.S. criminal law in the 1930s - and perhaps it is due to my familiarity with modern legal dramas both on the big and the small screen - but there were several moments during both lawyers' cross-examinations that I expected to hear the other yell, "Objection!" Some of the claims being presented seemed legally spurious. Nonetheless, the direction and the cast help to retain a tense atmosphere.

Gregory Peck won his only Oscar for this iconic role and despite my misgivings about the character's dramatic appeal, Peck's portrayal is strong and grounded. Both Brock Peters as the accused man and Collin Wilcox as the accusing woman deliver powerful performances making the most of their brief moments on the witness stand. And yes, that's a young Robert Duvall making his film debut as the mute Boo Radley.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

1962 - Lawrence of Arabia

Here's a little anecdote to illustrate precisely how neurotic I am...

I recently endured my first cold of the season. The sore throat and the runny nose passed relatively quickly, leaving me in the niggling cough stage. A few nights ago, while sitting in an acting class, I felt a potentially disruptive coughing fit simmering just under the surface, so in an attempt to minimise the disruption, I instead released a short, sharp and perhaps oddly high-pitched hack. To my surprise, the girl sitting next to me kindly whispered, "Bless you," seemingly unaware that my audible expulsion was not, in fact, a sneeze. Not wanting to be unappreciative or rude, I let her error pass. However - and here comes the neurotic part - rather than risk another awkward blessing of a cough, I made a conscious effort henceforth to make my splutters sound more cough-like by invoking at least two or three distinct barks in rapid succession. Yep, I actually adapted my own coughs in order to avoid an embarrassing situation. Coincidentally, the monologue I had prepared for class that night was written by Woody Allen.

Yesterday, I undertook the epic task of watching an epic film nominated for Best Picture in 1962...


Lawrence of Arabia
Director:
David Lean
Screenplay:
Robert Bolt and Michael Wilson
Starring:
Peter O'Toole, Alec Guinness, Anthony Quinn, Jack Hawkins, Omar Sharif, José Ferrer, Anthony Quayle, Claude Rains, Arthur Kennedy, Donald Wolfit
Academy Awards:
10 nominations
7 wins, including Best Picture and Best Director

We are introduced to T.E. Lawrence (O'Toole) on his motorcycle speeding down a quiet country road. Suddenly, he swerves to avoid hitting a couple of meandering bicyclists, fatally crashing into the adjacent greenery. Yep, he's dead within the first five minutes of the film. But don't let that fool you. There's at least three and a half hours to go.

Flashback to about twenty years earlier and young Lt. Lawrence is stationed in Cairo during World War I. The other British Army officers don't take him too seriously, but his knowledge of the desert-dwelling Bedouin people is enough for his superiors (Wolfit and Rains) to send him to meet with Prince Faisal (Guinness). While crossing the desert, Lawrence's guide is killed by a feuding tribe member, Sherif Ali (Sharif), unhappy with the guide's use of his well. Lawrence survives on his own, eventually reaching Faisal. Defying his orders, he recommends a battle plan to the Prince in his fight against the Turks, which involves more desert crossing and working alongside Ali and yet another feuding tribe member (Quinn), who is also protective of wells. Through a few more battles and a few more desert crossings, Lawrence gradually develops a fondness for these nomadic people who, in turn, begin to reciprocate his respect.

To be perfectly honest, it is hard to explain what I like about Lawrence of Arabia. Sure, it is a fascinating study of a complex man. Sure, the script is eloquent and expressive. Sure, Peter O'Toole is engaging in the title role. But I'm not entirely sure I noticed any of those things while I was watching the film. For the fact is this picture is so incredibly epic that all those other elements seem to almost fade away. The epic landscapes. The epic battles. The epic duration. It's hard not to be genuinely impressed by the epic feat it must have been to get this film made.

The locations alone are spectacular to behold - a vast expanse of desert as far as the eye can see. Freddie Young's Oscar-winning cinematography is beautiful yet simple. Although, when it comes to stunning exterior shots, I've often wondered how much credit should go to the cinematographer and how much to the location itself. I mean, if nature presents you with breathtaking views, all you need to do is point the camera and shoot, right? But, obviously, I am rather offensively simplifying the cinematographer's art. Either way, the visuals are moving and effective. And considering the number of times that the characters cross the desert during the course of the picture, there is plenty of screen time devoted to its majesty.

Despite this grand scale, there is still room for intimacy, which is predominantly provided by Peter O'Toole's expert performance. Nuanced and passionate, he is certainly the audience's personal connection amidst all that epicness. Plus, anyone who can withstand the amount of grit that surely embedded itself in his face during filming deserves to be commended. Anthony Quinn was the other standout for me, portraying a proudly unrefined tribe leader.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

1962 - The Longest Day

In an attempt to get ourselves out of the house and experience more of the diverse offerings available to us in this great city, last weekend Kat and I participated in a unique production known as Accomplice: New York. It's hard to describe exactly what it is. Part interactive theatre, part treasure hunt, part film noir. Kind of a cross between Tony n' Tina's Wedding, The Amazing Race and The Sopranos. Along with a handful of other participants, our group was sent traipsing through the city, meeting our "contacts" and deciphering clues to solve a deeper mystery. The whole production is incredibly innovative and loads of fun. Highly recommended for those of you in New York, plus they also have shows in L.A. and London.

The latest poll is ready for you to collectively decide which year becomes the next focus of review. Just move your eyes over to the right. Meanwhile, we begin our look at the nominees in the Academy's Best Picture race of 1962...


The Longest Day
Directors:
Ken Annakin, Andrew Marton, Bernhard Wicki
Screenplay:
Cornelius Ryan, Romain Gary, James Jones, David Pursall, Jack Seddon
(based on Ryan's book)
Starring:
Eddie Albert, Paul Anka, Richard Burton, Red Buttons, Sean Connery, Mel Ferrer, Henry Fonda, Gert Fröbe, Curd Jürgens, Alexander Knox, Peter Lawford, Roddy McDowall, Sal Mineo, Robert Mitchum, Kenneth More, Edmond O'Brien, Robert Ryan, George Segal, Rod Steiger, Richard Todd, Robert Wagner, John Wayne, and a whole lot of other people
Academy Awards:
5 nominations
2 wins

The term "ensemble piece" was never more appropriate than as a description of The Longest Day, unmistakably a gigantic collaboration. It relates the real-life events surrounding the Allied invasion of Normandy on D-Day, the 6th of June, 1944. The story is told from the perspectives of all sides - the British, the Americans, the Germans and the French. Literally dozens of characters, from top military leaders to the soldiers in the thick of it, engage in battles on beaches, in towns, on cliffs and on bridges. Meanwhile, Hitler sleeps.

As that rather lazy synopsis might indicate, it is difficult to capture the plot of The Longest Day for one very simple reason - it is immensely intricate. In fact, the picture's use of narrative is more akin to a sketch comedy show, except the comedy is only occasional and, of course, there is a single theme to every sketch. But essentially, the scenes are each brief episodes detailing a specific element of the famous military operation, many of which are only indirectly related to each other. While there are several subplots that carry through the length of the film, the majority of characters have relatively little screen time, sometimes only a scene or two. Subtitles are employed to display the name and rank of each new major character as they appear, which is only marginally helpful since there are just so bloody many of them!

The picture is based on a military history which was itself based on numerous interviews with actual participants in the events, some of whom acted as military consultants during production. Consequently, the film's authenticity is hard to deny. Indeed, many of the briefest episodes are easy to imagine as anecdotes told by someone involved. Adding to the authenticity is the fact that the German and French characters all speak their native language, plus the English-speakers emit a diverse range of seemingly authentic accents. (I suspect most, if not all, the actors were using their natural dialect.)

Despite - or perhaps because of - the film's employment of three directors (more proof of its collaborative nature), the visual craft on display is spectacular. In particular, the battle sequences are a sight to behold, brilliantly and elaborately staged. It is no wonder then that the film's two Oscar wins came in the categories of Black-and-White Cinematography and Special Effects.

Fittingly for an ensemble, the actors all deliver equally effective performances. A few of my favourites, however, were Robert Mitchum (pictured) as a casually stubborn American Assistant Commander, Richard Burton as a brooding British Flying Officer and Curd Jürgens as a frustrated German General. Coincidentally, Jürgens is not the only future Bond villain (he later played Stromberg) to appear in the film. Gert Fröbe (Goldfinger himself) plays an officer named Kaffeekanne, which is German for "coffee pot", the item he is never without. As if two Bond villains weren't enough, the original 007, Sean Connery, delivers his last pre-Bond performance as a Scottish Private.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Best Picture of 1994

The battle for Best Picture of 1994 included a particularly impressive selection of nominees. I realise that assessment is one that has prefaced almost every verdict I have delivered so far in this project, but this time I really mean it. In a decade and a half, four of these five films have achieved a rather prominent place within pop culture. Nothing to sneeze at.

The nominees for Best Picture of 1994 are:
  • Forrest Gump
  • Four Weddings and a Funeral
  • Pulp Fiction
  • Quiz Show
  • The Shawshank Redemption
Five very accomplished films, all with bucket loads of merit. The sole romantic comedy of the bunch, Four Weddings and a Funeral, is the first one out of the running for my top honours. Partly due to the innate unfairness that labels comedies as less significant as other genres, and partly due to its saturation of slightly underdeveloped supporting characters.

The other four pictures are much harder to separate. Quiz Show, the nominee with the least success cementing its place in film history, suffers mildly from the ambivalence that is elicited by its likeable but morally questionable lead character. Nonetheless, the film is still immensely engaging. Forrest Gump, Oscar's choice for Best Picture, offers a somewhat passive lead character, yet remains emotionally impactful with plenty of charm to boot. Pulp Fiction is, on occasion, gratuitously wordy, but its humour and inventiveness far outweigh any flaws.

Thus, we are left with the film that IMDb users have voted their number one film of all time, The Shawshank Redemption. It may not necessarily take that crown in my all time list, but it certainly has my support as 1994's best. It is a masterly film that succeeds on many levels, drawing the viewer in with humour, pathos and suspense.

Best Picture of 1994
Academy's choice:

Forrest Gump

Matt's choice:

The Shawshank Redemption


Your choice:



Your opinion can be made by using the poll above to select your favourite 1994 nominee. Soon, we will begin our next year of review. We head to the 1960s again to take a look at the following bunch.

And the nominees for Best Picture of 1962 are:
  • Lawrence of Arabia
  • The Longest Day
  • The Music Man
  • Mutiny on the Bounty
  • To Kill a Mockingbird
Stay tuned...

Saturday, October 9, 2010

1994 - The Shawshank Redemption

Last chance to vote on the next year of review for Matt vs. the Academy. The poll is in the panel over to the right. Since there is currently a tie, there is rather a good chance that the next person to vote will single-handedly decide the result. Unless, of course, that person creates a three-way tie, but let's not put ideas into his head.

Last night, Kat and I sat down to watch the last of the nominees from 1994's Best Picture contest...


The Shawshank Redemption
Director:
Frank Darabont
Screenplay:
Frank Darabont
(based on the novella "Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption" by Stephen King)
Starring:
Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman, Bob Gunton, William Sadler, Clancy Brown, Gil Bellows, Mark Rolston, James Whitmore
Academy Awards:
7 nominations
0 wins

In 1947, softly-spoken banker Andy Dufresne (Robbins) is convicted of the cold-blooded murder of his cheating wife and her country club lover. Despite his adamant claims of innocence, he is given a life sentence and shipped off to Shawshank prison, where he initially has trouble with a gang of sodomising bullies. Soon, he befriends fellow inmate Red (Freeman), known for his ability to smuggle in any item from the outside. Upon request, Red acquires a rock hammer for Andy, ostensibly so he can carve chess pieces. Thanks to his financial knowledge, Andy also gets in good with the prison guards, doing their taxes each year. This eventually leads the cruel and corrupt warden (Gunton) to utilise Andy's smarts to help him launder money.

I sincerely wish there were a way to forget about the story of The Shawshank Redemption in order that I may view the film again with fresh eyes. When you know they're coming, all those wonderful little surprises have the edge taken out of them just a tiny bit. However - and here's where this picture excels - even for those who are familiar with the plot's details, the sequences are executed so impeccably that the emotional manipulation is retained. I still found myself moved by the plight of long-term inmate Brooks when he is finally released. I still found myself shocked by the warden's heinous plan to subvert Andy's chances for a new trial. And I still found myself amused by Andy's final revenge.

It's a testament to Frank Darabont's script and direction that this stands as a rare example of a film that continues to be an enjoyable experience upon multiple viewings. In fact, perhaps it is because I have seen it a few times before that I felt as though as I was in safe hands. I realise that sounds a bit arty-farty, but I don't really know how else to explain it. There is a comfortable feeling as you watch the events unfold - as if you are being guided through this journey by a protector preventing you from any personal danger ... Okay, now I sound like an idiot, so let's move on...

Shawshank becomes yet another nominee from 1994 with brilliantly provocative music. The effective score is provided by Thomas Newman in his unmistakably haunting style - soft sustained strings overlayed with intoxicating piano chords. You may also recognise the inspirational end credits theme, which has since been borrowed for numerous film trailers.

Tim Robbins leads the cast with a mostly restrained portrayal of a frustrated man waiting for his moment. The always brilliant Morgan Freeman scored the only acting Oscar nomination for the film with a superbly amiable performance. The ensemble is filled out with an array of engaging character actors, including Bob Gunton delivering an elegantly evil turn as the warden, and James Whitmore supplying a great deal of the film's pathos as Brooks, the elderly inmate who doesn't want to leave.

Monday, October 4, 2010

1994 - Forrest Gump

One of the lesser known perks of being a SAG member is that I now have the opportunity to join the SAG Film Society (for a nominal fee, of course), which allows me to attend any of their four or five screenings per month that take place at the DGA Theater. Mostly, they are films that have just hit the cinemas, but occasionally there is a preview screening of an upcoming release. At the risk of sounding elitist, I have noticed something fascinating from the couple of events that I have attended so far. Somehow, these screenings are a much more pleasant affair than watching a movie with the general public. Perhaps it's because of the near capacity attendance, so the communal atmosphere exudes excitement. Perhaps it's because of the odd rule restricting any food or drink inside the theatre, so the distracting crackling sound of candy wrappers is absent. Perhaps it's because the industry audience are more respectful of the film-going experience, so there is nary a whisper during the course of the picture. Which, I guess, means that I am an elitist.

Yesterday, Kat and I spent a lazy Sunday afternoon watching another 1994 Best Picture contender...


Forrest Gump
Director:
Robert Zemeckis
Screenplay:
Eric Roth
(based on the novel by Winston Groom)
Starring:
Tom Hanks, Robin Wright, Gary Sinise, Mykelti Williamson, Sally Field
Academy Awards:
13 nominations
6 wins, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor (Hanks)

As Forrest Gump (Hanks) sits down on a bench to wait for his bus, he begins talking to the stranger next to him. He tells her of his childhood growing up in Alabama with his very supportive mother (Field) and his best friend Jenny (Wright). Although intellectually slow, he inadvertently becomes an influential part of U.S. history during the 60s and 70s, meeting most of the Presidents along the way. He's a college football star, a war hero, a ping pong champion, a shrimp boat captain and a distance runner. All the while, Jenny pops in and out of his life, but she always remains on his mind. As the people at the bus stop come and go, he continues his story undeterred, talking to whoever will listen to his simple tale.

It would be easy to dismiss Forrest Gump as just a mindless piece of fluff. Things just seem to happen to the main character with very little action on his behalf. Most of his major accomplishments are not achieved due to any hopes or desires that he may possess, but rather those around him shove him into the spotlight. He becomes a football star because the coach notices he can run fast, but Forrest has no clue what he is doing. He inadvertently sets the Watergate scandal in motion, not because he feels a sense of duty to report the burglary he is witnessing, but because he can't sleep with all those flashlights shining into his room. Even when he saves his entire platoon by carrying them safely out of the jungle, it is more of an act of necessity than genuine heroics.

Yet somehow, Forrest's complete lack of awareness of his influence on the world around him merely makes him more adorable. Yes, the story is fluffy and rambles on from sequence to sequence with no real direction, but Forrest's puppy dog behaviour and oddly enchanting vocal inflection more than compensate to create a sweet and funny film. Plus, the relationship between Forrest and Jenny, a subplot full of charm and poignancy, acts as the story's spine, preventing the picture from becoming totally aimless.

Alan Silvestri's music is nothing short of divine. Some may call it sappy but Kat and I didn't choose it to feature in our wedding ceremony for nothing. The entire score is touching and inspirational. Not to mention the soundtrack full of provocative hits of the era, perfectly selected to match the images on the screen, including Everybody's Talkin', a song written for another Best Picture winner, Midnight Cowboy, and heard in this film during an homage to Dustin Hoffman's famous "I'm walkin' here!" scene.

Tom Hanks earned the second of his back-to-back Best Actor Oscars for the title role. He plays the simpleton with heart, delivering a very moving final speech. Robin Wright's performance as the troubled Jenny is intelligent, never slipping into cliché. Gary Sinise offers a touchingly raw portrayal of Lieutenant Dan, and with the help of some incredible visual effects, he is utterly convincing as an amputee. And before he saw dead people, Haley Joel Osment appears briefly here as Forrest Junior.

Friday, October 1, 2010

1994 - Four Weddings and a Funeral

As we jump headlong into October, the smell of awards season is wafting in the not-too-distant air. I've been trying to catch up on some lost cinema time, taking in a few movies this week, each of which could possibly hear their titles announced come nomination day. The American, a gripping thriller full of paranoid tension; The Town, a gripping thriller full of heart-pounding excitement; and Inception, a gripping thriller full of mind-bending twists. Three very different pictures, each satisfying my need for being gripped and thrilled.

Today, I viewed a film of a rare genre for a Best Picture nominee, the 1994 romantic comedy...


Four Weddings and a Funeral
Director:
Mike Newell
Screenplay:
Richard Curtis
Starring:
Hugh Grant, Andie MacDowell, Kristin Scott Thomas, Simon Callow, James Fleet, John Hannah, Charlotte Coleman, David Bower, Corin Redgrave, Rowan Atkinson
Academy Awards:
2 nominations
0 wins

Before the world had even heard of Harry Potter, this quirky comedy was the biggest British box-office sensation. Charles (Grant) is an awkward bachelor with a tight-knit bunch of equally awkward friends. The group, all apparently single, seem to be constantly watching those around them getting married. At one such wedding, Charles very briefly meets Carrie (MacDowell), an American in town for the occasion. The two spend an intimate night together, but Carrie is back to the States the next morning. Over the course of the next several months, they keep running into each other at various nuptials, never seeming to be able to get their timing right.

Four Weddings and a Funeral is a charmingly witty piece from a rather successful writer/star pairing. Hugh Grant has appeared in several films penned by Richard Curtis and it's clear to see why. Curtis writes such endearingly bumbling dialogue, playing right into Grant's forte. Grant and the rest of the cast are given such exquisitely constructed comedy bits, some of which might even seem at home on a TV sitcom (Curtis co-wrote Blackadder, after all). Nonetheless, they work equally well here without removing the viewer from the story at large despite the punch lines occasionally sounding very ... well, punchy.

The plot itself is rather simple. In fact, the title says it all, really. The vast majority of the action takes place almost exclusively within the five ceremonies. The film's appeal is in its characters and its relationships, and in true Curtis style (he wrote and directed Love Actually, after all), there is a multitude of minor characters filling in every nook and cranny. However, it is this excess of characters that inadvertently prevents total satisfaction. Several of the major supporting characters, despite having well-written distinct personalities, have largely underwritten journeys. Understandable, I suppose, when you consider that there are no less than half a dozen principal characters, each with stories requiring resolutions. The main storyline also suffers slightly with Charles' and Carrie's relationship seeming a tad too intermittent to be truly as deep as it is portrayed. I mean, they only see each other for one day at a time every few months. But perhaps I'm just being unromantic...

Hugh Grant plays Charles to sheepish perfection with constantly furrowed brow. For a rather unapologetically promiscuous character, Andie MacDowell plays Carrie inexplicably sweetly. The entire supporting cast are all impeccable, capturing the humour and pathos brilliantly. Standouts are: Kristin Scott Thomas, strong as the rich bitch, despite her unrequited love story being one of the more glossed over subplots; John Fleet, adorable as the clumsy, happy-go-lucky buffoon; and Rowan Atkinson, in superb comic form as the inept vicar.