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Ridley Scott Blog A Thon-A Good Year

September 24, 2010

William  Johnson after  his piece on the  Gladiator,  follows up with  another piece on Scott’s  attempt at a  romance saga,  A Good Year.  Was the movie as bad as it  was made out to be?  Or  did Scott’s  attempt at the romance genre,  misfire badly? Check out what Will, has to say, his original piece was published  at  Secure Immaturity.

A Good Year smells wrong at first glance. When I saw the misleading trailers and looked at production stills I flat-out said, ‘nope, not gonna happen’. It didn’t make sense to me that Ridley Scott was making a romcom. And despite my intense respect and near worship of Russell Crowe, one of the greatest actor I’ve had the pleasure of watching, I thought that he was dipping into Ralph Fiennes/Maid in Manhattan syndrome. Finally the consummate artist, whose integrity has literally disrupted productions, was doing a money picture. From day one, this film was advertised wrong and, as a result, a ticket with my name on it was not sold: sorry Ridley/Russell, you don’t get my hard earned coin.

But I decided, years later, that I’d give A Good Year a shot. After watching State of Play and then Gladiator, I realized Russell Crowe, if not Ridley Scott, was worth revisiting. I wanted to say I an uber-fan of the man. . .so I might as well see ALL his work instead of talking shit about the ones I haven’t seen. But even as I took the rented DVD home (no Blu-Ray, damn it!) I was still skeptical. I told my mother that I didn’t want to see Crowe get all ‘lovey dovey’ and flirty. My mom, like always, told me to calm down and said the movie was great.

As A Good Year starts, it becomes abundantly clear that Ridley Scott is being Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe is being Russell Crowe because A Good Year, while falling into some predictable traps, is a top notch drama with comedic/romantic elements. What I thought was a crap-money project for all involved was actually a well-crafted labor of love. The film was a box office disappointment but that, in no way, means the movie is a pile.

Max (not to be confused with Maximus, played by Russell Crowe) is a typically smarmy, sarcastic but successful stock trader in London. He makes his enemies froth and his followers drool. During a possibly nasty investigation into his trading activities, Max is summoned to Provence to decide how to deal with his late-Uncle’s estate, a beautiful vineyard/chateau (in the movie it is considered rundown though, in reality, it is a stunning piece of beautiful). Max’s late-Uncle (played in flashback by Albert Finney) was Max’s only surviving relative and took care of him as a boy. We are lead to believe their lives together were good but, somewhere down the line, Max lost touch with his Uncle.

Max is set to sell off the place but a number of complications occur. For one, the caretakers of the place, who have been there for decades, are fighting to keep their precious home. Second, a woman comes to the estate claiming she is the illegitimate daughter of Max’s Uncle (which brings up the question of next of kin in regards to who owns the estate). Lastly, Max takes an interest in the local untouchable, Fanny (Marion Cotillard) though their initial meetings are hostile. It’s not hard to guess what happens: the rude boy (*sniffs*) becomes a man.

Much like Matchstick Men, which was also advertised incorrectly (but unlike A Good Year, blows hard), director Ridley Scott decides to give you the expected romcom bullet points but only after you’ve worked for it. There are so many moments in A Good Year where, with any other director, you’d know exactly what road is about to be taken. Instead, Scott manages to surprise and divert you enough that when the inevitable happy ending comes, it isn’t a let down or an artistic mind suck. In the end, A Good Year ends as I expected. . .but getting there, and everyone says the journey means more then the destination, was a fun experience.

Praising Russell Crowe is kind of pointless: the actor is near perfect. He plays chameleon yet again by completing inhabiting Max. I’m sure, as the news stories will tell you, it isn’t hard for Crowe to play  a dick but what Crowe does succeed in here. . .what I thought my brain couldn’t accept. . .is physical comedy, great comedic timing and the ability to be a heartthrob. I’m a dude and I was almost swept away by his charm. But I also might have been laboring a cold sweat from the intoxicating beauty of recent Oscar winner Marion Cotillard. Her role as the town mystery. . .the girl no one can have. . .makes sense. The woman is ridiculously perfect to look at: not a flaw on her.

That said the women in the movie kind of get the shaft a bit. A Good Year, you’d expect, would be a movie women drag their men to see with them. But the movie is very pro-male. All the women suffer from the dominant male gaze a bit too much in the movie. Scott takes his time to pan up and down the sleek form of the female body whenever he can and random shots of cleavage and exposed underwear (or exposed behinds) appear more then I’d have liked. It seemed the movie is purely from a male perspective and since I know I look at cleavage and asses whenever possible. . .the film surely captured that experience. The problem: when a shot is made up of showing Marion Cotillard’s underwear or Abbie Cornish’s ass it kind of defeats the purpose of focusing on their other attributes like brains and character. The women seem to be defined by their physical form. This bothered me a little bit.

But I won’t go as far to say the film is sexist. . .it just seems women are more objects then characters in some cases: goals to be achieved, tools to be used. Though the main character (Max) is kind of a sexist, the film is not shot from his perspective so the shot selection is off putting. Oh well. . .I’ll just write a letter to Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe. Scott will probably murmur something into the wind I won’t hear and Crowe will knock me silly with a phone.

Anyways, Ridley Scott is known for his artistic side. He made Gladiator based on his liking of a painting and his storyboards and notes for films like Kingdom of Heaven deserve to be in their own art gallery. A Good Year seems like an artist’s wet dream. Lots of wide shots of endless French landscapes and loads of cloudless days filled with bright sunlight making everything look impressionistic. Ridley Scott clearly enjoyed making this film. On the right TV and good ‘pause’ timing you could have some nice paintings on your wall with this film. Beautiful to watch, for sure.

I won’t go travelling the world telling everyone to watch A Good Year. It will definitely not work for everyone: its advertised as a romcom but it isn’t one. It eventually fits into all the romcom trappings though but after it tricks you into thinking it’s already done it three or four hundred times. Sadly, the last film I can think of that did that was The Terminal. At least A Good Year is a good movie (unlike The Terminal) and whether you want some lovey dovey time or a nice film to look at, A Good Year might have what you want. I say watch, with reservation.

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