Analyze This. Directed by Harold Ramis. I’ve become a much bigger fan of Robert De Niro in the past year. Seeing New York, New York (though it’s uneven), Awakenings, Backdraft, Marvin’s Room and this film helped me see more of De Niro’s ability to connect to his characters. De Niro plays Paul Vitti, an anxiety-ridden mobster who seeks the help of Dr. Ben Sobel (Billy Crystal), which of course results in a bunch of very funny scenarios. De Niro and Crystal have great comedic chemistry; the screenplay by Peter Tolan, director Ramis and Kenneth Lonergan (to me, a surprising credit) is full of memorable lines. There are also some nice supporting performances from Joe Viterelli (as De Niro’s sidekick Jelly), Kyle Sabihy as Crystal’s teenage son and Chazz Palminteri as another gangster. One negative point would be that Lisa Kudrow doesn’t make much of an impression (or at least not a terrific one) as Crystal’s bride-to-be. Still, Analyze This is a lively comedy with more than enough zingers to go around.
Galaxy Quest. Directed by Dean Parisot. If you’re looking for a sci-fi action comedy that people of all ages can watch, look no further. Galaxy Quest, which is also the title of a “Star Trek”-type show from the 80s, takes that fictitious show’s group of has-been actors (played by Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman, Tony Shalhoub, Sam Rockwell and Daryl Mitchell) into real outer space when aliens see the show and assume that it’s an actual document of how human beings live. The actors are forced to summon all possible courage in order to save their new alien friends (including Enrico Colantoni and Missi Pyle). At age 49, Weaver looks absolutely gorgeous; Rickman, who spends the entire movie wearing a silly headpiece that looks like some kind of brain, is uproarious; Rockwell, however, is the real scene-stealer. He has many of the film’s best lines and gives even the smallest gesture a ton of genuine hilarity.
Notting Hill. Directed by Roger Michell. I don’t care what anyone says: I think Hugh Grant is great. No, he’s not Gary Oldman or Daniel Day-Lewis, but Grant is a charming and adorable leading man. Like the earlier triumph Four Weddings and a Funeral, which was also penned by Richard Curtis, Notting Hill is a wonderful romantic comedy. For me, the best part is how much I like Julia Roberts as the love interest; I didn’t think she was particularly great in Mystic Pizza, Hook or America’s Sweethearts. In Notting Hill, however, Roberts has a truly well-written role, allowing her to express her humorous and dramatic sides rather well. The supporting actors are excellent, with Rhys Ifans in an especially wacky, BAFTA-nominated role as Grant’s flatmate, Spike. Tim McInnerny, Hugh Bonneville, Gina McKee and Emma Chambers and also have nice moments, along with a brief appearance by Emily Mortimer.
A Slipping-Down Life. Directed by Toni Kalem. I’d like to start out by saying that I read the original novel, written by Anne Tyler and published in 1970, a few months ago and was impressed. While the film adaptation is not perfect, it captures the book’s uniquely unnerving qualities. Lili Taylor, whom I consider the single most underrated and underutilized actress in the business, is a great fit for the role of Evie Decker. Similarly, the choice to use Guy Pearce as Drumstrings Casey is an inspired bit of casting; at that point, Pearce was best known in the US for his roles in L.A. Confidential and The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, neither of which makes him look like a candidate for playing a small-town rocker with a slow North Carolina drawl. Both actors play their parts with an admirable ease that comes from real understanding. The rest of the cast is good too, with particularly plum roles for a still-up-and-coming John Hawkes, a young Sara Rue and veteran character actors Irma P. Hall, Veronica Cartwright and Tom Bower. If nothing else, check out the film for its soundtrack featuring Pearce’s fine vocals.
10 Things I Hate About You. Directed by Gil Junger. I have a complicated history with this film. I first saw it not long after Heath Ledger died. I realized that the only film of his I’d seen was The Patriot, so I sought out this teen comedy based on The Taming of the Shrew. I was glad to find that it’s a sweet, amusing movie, filled with plenty of great late 90s music. Ledger is well-matched by a headstrong Julia Stiles in what is probably one of her best performances. The cast also includes young talent in the form of Joseph Gordon-Levitt (still in his “3rd Rock from the Sun” days), Larisa Oleynik, David Krumholtz, Andrew Keegan and Susan May Pratt, besides character actress Allison Janney. Although it still feels painful to revisit the filmography of Heath Ledger since his death affected me quite strongly, this film is a bright, upbeat testament to his youth and likability. Plus, his rendition of “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” is lovely.