Friday Movie Roundup: All Hail, Kathryn Bigelow

We didn’t need the Academy Awards to tell us that Kathryn Bigelow is a really good director — she’s been that for more than 30 years. —-

Armed with a visual art background — she studied painting at the San Francisco Art Institute, won a scholarship to the Whitney Museum’s Independent Study Program and eventually graduated from Columbia’s film school — Bigelow made her filmmaking debut with The Set-Up (1978), which featured two guys beating each other up for 20 minutes. As critic Amy Taubin recently noted in Film Comment, it “contains in embryo everything that would preoccupy Bigelow through the seven feature films that followed: the seduction of violence for viewers and participants, the codes of masculinity, the familiar forms of action genres, and the structuralist aesthetic that dominated the art world in the 1970s.”

A trio of striking films — The Loveless (1982); Near Dark (1987), a sweet precursor to the vampire craze; and Blue Steel (1989) — preceded her mainstream breakthrough, Point Break (1991), an entertaining if logistically implausible thrill ride that to this day never fails to stop channel surfers dead in their tracks.

Bigelow returned four years later with Strange Days (2005), an ambitious, unabashedly audacious Philip K. Dick-style sci-fi thriller that blew more than just its characters’ virtual-reality-addled minds — it polarized critics and, more importantly to the Hollywood bigwigs who already didn’t know what to do with her unique talents, took in just $8 million at the box office despite a budget of $42 million. (For the record, I loved it, flawed ending and all.) What followed wasn’t pretty. The Weight of Water (2000) didn’t even get a theatrical release, and K-19: The Widowmaker (2002) was an even bigger flop than Strange Days — it took in just $35 million despite a $100 million budget and the presence of Harrison Ford.

Yet Bigelow would have the last laugh: The Hurt Locker (2009) — which she made independently for $11 million, and which would yet again feature her superior technical skills — won six Oscars at Sunday night’s Academy Awards, including Best Picture. (Interesting tidbit, especially given her commercial track record: Adjusted for inflation, it’s the lowest-grossing, at $13 million, Best Picture winner ever — Avatar made more in one day — not to mention the rare winner that actually was one of its year’s best films.) It also won Bigelow an Oscar for Best Director, a designation that’s been apparent for some time now.

As for opening films, it's another tough week in that only one of the four had an advanced screening. That Paul Greengrass' latest collaboration with Matt Damon is one of the three that didn't have a screening is perplexing.

Opening films:

GREEN ZONE — Director Paul Greengrass (United 93 and the Bourne series) and Matt Damon team up for another breathless action/thriller, this one about a U.S. Army officer (Damon) who investigates a possibly bogus claim that Iraq is hiding Weapons of Mass Destruction. Sound familiar? Co-stars Greg Kinnear, Amy Ryan and Brendan Gleeson. (Opens wide Friday.) — Jason Gargano (Rated R.) Review coming soon

OUR FAMILY WEDDING — A pair of competitive, egocentric fathers (Forrest Whitaker and Carlos Mencia) make the run-up to their kids’ (America Fererra and Lance Gross) wedding day a living hell in this comedy from Brown Sugar director Rick Famuyiwa. Hey, Forrest Whitaker, I thought winning an Oscar meant first dibs on more discerning fare? (Opens wide Friday.) — JG (Rated PG-13.) Review coming soon

REMEMBER ME — Rob Pattinson tests the post-Twilight waters in this romantic drama centering on a young, troubled couple (Pattinson and Emilie de Raven) in New York City. Alan Coulter (Hollywoodland) directs a cast that also includes Pierce Brosnan, Lena Olin and Chris Cooper. (Opens wide Friday.) — JG (Rated PG-13.) Review coming soon

SHE’S OUT OF MY LEAGUE — For a guy straight out of central casting for a real Kevin Smith film or one of the Judd Apatow bromantic factory projects, skinny geek Jay Baruchel certainly has the potential to be more than a dark-haired clone of Michael Cera. Take his latest turn in She’s Out Of My League, where he plays an airport security checkpoint worker who meets a successful party planning “Hard 10” (Alice Eve) who starts to cozy up to him, much to the chagrin of his (and her) friends and family. (Read full review here.) (Opens wide Friday.) — tt stern-enzi (Rated R.) Grade: B

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