A Single Man (2009)
★★★★ / ★★★★
Tom Ford’s first feature film “A Single Man” embodied beauty from the inside out. Colin Firth plays an English professor who recently lost his partner (Matthew Goode) for sixteen years and is contemplating suicide. We get to observe what he does by himself from the moment he wakes up and how he interacts with others, such as his long time friend (Julianne Moore) next door, a Spanish stranger (Jon Kortajarena) and a student (Nicholas Hoult) who shows interest in him. We also got a chance to hear his self-deprecating thoughts and see tender fragments of the past when his lover was still alive. I love how this film felt more European than American. When it comes to its aesthetics, I was mesmerized by how everything seemed to glow due to the perfect lighting, how the wardrobes (with perfect creases at just the right spots) perfectly reflected the era, how the close-ups of the actors’ faces gave us information beyond what was said, and how the presence (and absence) music highlighted the emotional rollercoaster that the lead chaarcter was going through. Firth was simply electric. I totally forgot that I was watching him because I’ve never really seen this side of him before. I’ve seen him excel in romantic comedies but never have I seen him so controlled, so sad and so conflicted. There were times when tears started welling up in my eyes because I completely sympathized with what he was going through. Not only did he lose the person he loved as much as he loved himself (or maybe more), he lost a sense of security. At one point in the film, he lectured to his class about fear and it said so much about his own psychology. Goode was so charming, it was easy to see why Firth was so in love him. Moore was also sublime as an aging woman who still had feelings for Firth but had to control herself because she knew about his lifestyle. The way she hid the pain from her husband leaving her and her son not caring about her by immersing herself in alcohol and make-up was quite moving. I also loved Hoult as the student who saw profound sadness in his professor. (Admittedly, I thought his American accent was a bit off but maybe it was because I was so used to hearing his real accent in “Skins.”) His swagger was just so appealing to me; I couldn’t take my eyes off him. Lastly, the appearance of Kortajarena shocked me in so many ways because I was used to seeing him in high fashion photographs. Even though he wasn’t in the movie much, an acting career is a possible road for him. Ford highly impressed me because this was his first time directing a full feature film. The complexity in which he balanced the picture’s emotions and looks really drew me in–a quality that is sometimes absent even with the most experienced directors. I’ll definitely be on the look out for Ford’s next project. “A Single Man” is an ambitious film with tremendous and sometimes lowkey performances. It may not be the best film of the year but it certainly is one of the finest.
The September Issue (2008)
★★★ / ★★★★
Anna Wintour, the extremely influential editor of Vogue magazine, stated it perfectly in the very first few minutes of this documentary: Most people are scared of fashion and that’s probably why they make fun of it. Personally, I don’t think fashion is a ridiculous subject at all because it covers every aspect of beauty–something that is very important to me–not just when it comes to the clothes but the attitude that comes with them. Directed by R.J. Cutler, he documented all the hardwork, the conflict, the stress and the funny moments of what it took to release the September issue of Vogue. Two people are at the forefront: Anna Wintour and Grace Coddington, the editor and the creative director, respectively. I love that the movie covers the history of the two so we get some sort of idea where they came from and what it took for them to be where they are now. Although Wintour and Coddington have very different personalities, both of them are aware with how brilliant the other person is. Instead of competing with each other, they constantly push each other to be more critical and to continue to redefine beauty. While Wintour is truly a very intimidating ice queen, she’s not a total diva like how fashion editors were presented in motion pictures. She has her more tender moments, especially when she spends time with her daughter. On the other hand, I found Coddington to be very admirable because she’s not afraid to push for what she wants to be included in the magazine even if Wintour says “No” to her ideas time and time again. She’s a romantic and she remains to be a sweet individual despite the harsh realities of the fashion industry. While the two giants do have their disagreements, they share one crucial bond: They are very passionate with what they do and they want the magazine to be at its best. I was so engaged with this movie because there were times when I agreed with Wintour and there were times when I agreed with Coddington. I found it fun to see which photos would make it to the magazines, which was really hard at the same time because the photographs were stunning. This documentary is obviously targeted for people who are interested in fashion. However, for those who could care less about fashion should see this as well because it will undoubtedly show them that fashion is not a joke (though sometimes it can be). Like other more traditional jobs, it requires a lot of long hours, heartbreaking rejections, stress due to everything not going according to plan, and best of all, a thick skin.
Valentino: The Last Emperor (2008)
★★★★ / ★★★★
Over the years I’ve grown to love the fashion industry so watching this documentary about the legendary Valentino Garavani was a real treat. I was fascinated with watching him handle situations when people did not quite reach his vision. That frustration sometimes ended up in heated arguments and sometimes they ended up with a joke or a simple snide remark. The passion Valentino had about fashion sometimes took its toll with the people around him, especially his long-time business partner and lover Giancarlo Giametti, but if it weren’t for his persistence and perfectionist nature, his creations would not have been the same. I liked that Matt Tyrnauer, the director, took some of the picture’s time to go back into the past and tell his audiences where Valentino came from and how he met some of the most influential people in his life. I was so engaged when the legendary designer talked about the many inspirations he had from films and movie stars when he was around thirteen years old. And when asked by a reporter if he dreamed about being anything else other than designing for women’s clothing, there was something brilliant and amusing with the way he said his one-word answer. I’m glad that this documentary didn’t quite focus on all of Valentino’s accomplishments (although I wouldn’t mind watching that documentary if one decided to take on the project). The majority of it was about his final couture show, which was beyond extravagant, and the media’s ever-annoying questions on when he would finally retire. I’ve seen a few runways and shows but nothing comes close to the elegance of his models, the ravishing sets, and the inspired clothings. Every image of the film looked like candy I wanted to touch and relish. “Valentino: The Last Emperor” would most likely not reach the mainstream because it’s geared more toward fashionistas. However, if one is generally interested in beauty, or even better, the passion and effort to make something beyond exquisite and divine, this is definitely the one to see.