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Peter T Chattaway

Revolutionary Road

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Revolutionary Road is the first movie to co-star Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet and Kathy Bates since a little best-grossing-movie-ever named Titanic, and it happens to be directed by Winslet's husband Sam Mendes, who won an Oscar himself for directing the subversive treatment of suburbia (subversurbia?) that is known as American Beauty. Like American Beauty, Revolutionary Road is about people who live in suburbia and hate it. If you have seen the trailer, then you know that they dream about living in Paris instead, because obviously it would allow them to be "free" and not feel like they were living in a cage. And the big question for me is whether the film accepts their critique of suburbia and their dream of Paris, or whether the film sees their critique of suburbia as snooty and arrogant and their dream of Paris as pathetically misguided.

Enter Anne Thompson:

This month, as Hollywood finally shines a spotlight on "Revolutionary Road," the film will send many readers to find the book. While at first the movie appears to be a close adaptation, and much of the dialogue and scenes do adhere to the book, it differs in one crucial way: It offers some hope. The movie leaves out much of the characters' ugly backstory, and the characters' plan to move to Paris isn't just a silly, ridiculous fantasy.

"Paris is a metaphor for escape -- about the place you dream of where you can be yourself and find who you were again as a young person," Mendes says. "If you never believe that is possible, there's no tragedy."

As embodied by Winslet and DiCaprio, the Wheelers are warmer and more sympathetic than Yates' creations on the page.

"In the movie, you believe they love each other," says Rudin, who came back to "Revolutionary Road" more than 30 years after he discovered the novel as a 17-year-old casting director for Jonathan Demme.

Karina Longworth sums it up by saying that the filmmakers "chose to take [the characters] dreams seriously where Yates drily mocked and criticized".

Hmmm.


"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Kyle Smith:

The Wheelers have a nice house, a nice family, friends and access to New York City. They don't have artistic fulfillment (April failed at acting and Frank, though he has an artist's yearnings, hasn't even picked a medium), but if they aren't geniuses in New York they're not going to suddenly become talented in Paris. "It is possible that Parisians aren't the only ones capable of leading interesting lives," Frank says, a line that infuriates April. But how much of a dullard do you have to be to think otherwise?

This film's contempt for the vast majority of American lives is nearly absolute. Just a couple of generations ago, the idea that we must all find our jobs delightful or spiritually engaging would have seemed laughable. Not everyone, our grandparents would have gently reminded us, can act on Broadway. . . .

The moral of "Revolutionary Road," the stand-up-and-jeer part, is this line: "Plenty of people are onto the emptiness, but it takes real guts to see the hopelessness." To assume people you don't know and don't try to understand are empty and hopeless, though, is a characteristic of a shallow, smug, incurious mind. It's Sam Mendes who is punching a time card here.

Barbara Nicolosi:

Sub-text of the whole damn mess of a movie:
Marriage and family life is one big sh*thole of a slow death..... And, actually, I suppose that pagan marriage is that. So, you know, maybe this is another one of those projects about which John Paul II noted, "Contemporary artists have become very good at showing us what human life without God looks like." But if I were Kate Winslet, I would be concerned about what my husband Sam Mendes is brooding over on his side of the bed at night.

Script:
Flat. Not really one good dialogue line in the whole two hours. No imagery. No twists. No clever choices. Just a slow spiral to nowhere. What can you really say about a movie whose primary raison d'etre is to resentfully murmur that being a grown-up is hard and requires sacrifice? I kept wanting to say to the selfish characters on the screen, "Hell, have a beer. Have two."

Performances:
Highly melodramatic. Leo winces painfully through two hours. Kate masters that undead look that rich, Hollywood types seem to think should be the appropriate demeanor for middle-class people who aren't famous.

Some lovely cinematography, but everything else about this film comes off as an arch and cynical parody of the 1950's. It's
American Beauty
without whatever fun was in that previous hate-filled rant against the quiet life in traditional American suburbia. . . .

Karina Longworth:

The dolts and bores the Wheelers plan to leave behind all question the practicality of the gambit, with the exception of John Givings (Shannon), the mentally imbalanced adult son of the couple


"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Sr. Rose Pacatte:

Revolutionary Road is based on a 1961 novel by Richard Yates. I grew up in the 1950


"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Saw it last night, and was stunned


"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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Christian wrote:

: Saw it last night, and was stunned


"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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If you want to make the case that it doesn't, then where, for example, are the suburbs-dwelling characters who are NOT even more pathetic than the Wheelers?

I'm happy to discuss this (I think), but can you specify what you mean by "pathetic"?

American Heritage Dictionary:

pa

Edited by Christian

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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I suppose that's just another way the film insulted you, but I felt sad for them. As I stated earlier, I would think anyone who has spent time with friends who then disappear from their lives would feel a connection with these characters, but I guess that opinion is not widely shared.

Interesting. You just sold me on the movie. Looking forward to seeing it now.

(And what's with the Karina Longworth love around here as of late? She is popping up in a lot of threads. Not trying to cast aspersions on her criticism, just wondering how this trend started.)

Edited by MLeary

"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

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Christian wrote:

: I'm happy to discuss this (I think), but can you specify what you mean by "pathetic"?

Definition 3: "pitifully inferior or inadequate". It is, of course, this inferiority and/or inadequacy that can arouse this sympathy or compassion. But it can arouse other things, too, as we see at the very beginning of the film when Leo has to deal with Kate's awful performance in the stage play.

: I'm not sure what you're getting at here, unless it's the fact, as Karina Longworth put it, that the "crazy guy" is the truth-speaker. If it's that, then I have no problem with it. Why is it a problem that someone who's institutionalized might see through a facade that everyone else has erected?

Apart from being a cliche, it just reinforces the idea that "everyone else" is pathetic. Especially if the movie really DOES regard him as a "truth" speaker, which apparently the book might not have done.

: So the film would've worked better if it had looked, I dunno, grimier?

Ha! Actually, the film does make URBAN life look kind of dull and grey. But that just makes SUBURBAN life look all the better, doesn't it?

: But if a direct connection to the material is necessary, then I'd say that, like the Wheeler's lovely house (which IS commented on, more than once), the film is, to some extent, about how outward appearances can be deceiving.

Well, yes. But as more than one person has pointed out, there is something a little odd about people who grew up during the Great Depression and World War II bitching and complaining about how good their life has gotten, all because it doesn't seem "real" to them. There have been hellish visions of 1950s conformity, but this film doesn't give us one (except, perhaps, for the urban stuff, which is, by definition, somewhat removed from the domesticity of the marriage etc.). What this film does give us is a heavily dysfunctional and delusional married couple that bitches, squabbles and complains about 1950s conformity.

: They feel contempt for their friends and neighbors? Did I see a different movie?

Apparently! Though I was thinking mainly of the suburban setting. The whole story hinges on the idea that the Wheelers' neighbours think the Wheelers are "special" (though why, I don't think the movie ever explains), which in the privacy of the Wheelers' minds apparently translates to "we're better than them, and we're going to prove it by moving to Paris and doing things non-conformistly and living a 'real' life", etc.

: Also, you don't think the film wants us to feel compassion for that couple at the end of the film?

The question is whether the couple next door is more "pathetic" than the Wheelers. They are certainly confused and even disturbed by the Wheelers' non-conformist plans to move to Paris. He

lets himself be used by Kate

, essentially granting her the position of strength (pathetic though that strength might be). And the only reason they can stay together is because they live in a state of wilful silence and denial. Likewise, Kathy Bates and her husband have a marriage that seems to be working because

he, too, resorts to silence and ignorance in the end

. (It's interesting, in this light, how often Kate keeps telling the men in her life to stop talking. Those who speak tend to say uncomfortable things -- inconvenient truths, if you like. Better not to say anything, then, if one wants to survive, to merely get by. And from the point of view of the Wheelers, when they are in full "we want to live a 'real' life' mode", merely getting by is definitely the more-pathetic option.)

: I suppose that's just another way the film insulted you . . .

Eh? That seems a little presumptuous, don't you think?

As per the original post in this thread, I was originally ambivalent on the question of whether the film shared the Wheelers' contempt for their surroundings (and thus for themselves, once Leo decides that maybe he wants to stay put in suburbia after all). But after hearing about the changes that were made from the book, and after hearing that Kate Winslet and her husband have defended her character's final actions as some sort of "feminist" statement, I have to assume that the film does, in fact, share their delusion on some level.

: As I stated earlier, I would think anyone who has spent time with friends who then disappear from their lives would feel a connection with these characters . . .

Huh. What can one say, except that there is more than one kind of friend out there.

MLeary wrote:

: And what's with the Karina Longworth love around here as of late?

What's not to love? :)


"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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: They feel contempt for their friends and neighbors? Did I see a different movie?

Apparently! Though I was thinking mainly of the suburban setting. The whole story hinges on the idea that the Wheelers' neighbours think the Wheelers are "special" (though why, I don't think the movie ever explains), which in the privacy of the Wheelers' minds apparently translates to "we're better than them, and we're going to prove it by moving to Paris and doing things non-conformistly and living a 'real' life", etc.

Hmmm. I'll have to ponder this some more. I recall the neighbors being surprised by the Wheelers' decisions because it shook up their outwardly comfortable lives to some extent. I don't know that I got that the neighbors thought the Wheelers were "special," although the husband of the couple they spend time with has some thoughts going on inside him that may be more than physical attraction. (You didn't mention the co-workers; do they think the Wheelers are special? Isn't what they think of the husband -- at least what the Dylan Baker character thinks -- at least as important as what the friends think of the couple?) Like you said, I'm not sure the movie explained all this as clearly as it might have, although I prefer to see that as somewhat mysterious, and interesting, rather than a failure of adaptation (I wouldn't know, not having read the book).

Edited by Christian

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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For some reason, I think of the Kathy Bates character first and foremost when I think of the people who regarded the Wheelers as "special".

As for Dylan Baker and the other urban types, do any of them know the Wheelers as a couple, per se? Or do they just know Leo from the office?


"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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I'm with Christian on this. Best 2008 film for me (although there are one or two others I want to see before I finalize that.) This is Qoheleth at his darkest. There is a sense of doom about our ability to find the meaning of life (as Qoheleth sometimes seems.) Its 1955 setting is a bit subversive in that it calls into question the myth of the 50s as a time when life was good (at least white suburbanites). Twisted my expectation from trailers in that

it's not his midlife crisis we focus on, but hers.

Exceptional acting. In the final big fight scene, I'd have sworn Winslet was channeling Bette Davis (and I mean that in the best possible way and with great respect for both actors.)


A foreign movie can't be stupid.

-from the film
Armin

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Darrel Manson wrote:

: Its 1955 setting is a bit subversive in that it calls into question the myth of the 50s as a time when life was good (at least white suburbanites).

Is there anything really "subversive" about that these days, though? I mean, especially in a film directed by a guy who won an Oscar for directing American Beauty nine years ago? Isn't it more of a "conventional wisdom" kind of thing than a "subversive wisdom" kind of thing nowadays?

Edited by Peter T Chattaway

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Perhaps, but as with all myths, it doesn't die easily. The 50s continue to be felt as a golden age, likely because it was for baby boomers who may have never sensed the turmoil in our parents' lives until we were well into adulthood. This is a story of what Brokaw called "The Greatest Generation." That designation reflects, I think, a visceral reaction to that age - the culmination of the American Dream. The flaws may have been noted before, but it is still a challenge to the common perception of that time as a soft, rose-tinted period.

While American Beauty made the case that suburbia was not heaven, doing it again in the 50s gives it a deeper dimension.


A foreign movie can't be stupid.

-from the film
Armin

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Darrel Manson wrote:

: While American Beauty made the case that suburbia was not heaven, doing it again in the 50s gives it a deeper dimension.

I dunno, after the likes of Pleasantville, Far from Heaven and The Hours, the whole 1950s angle just feels tapped out, to me.

I may feel differently if we get another rosy vision of the '50s when Back to the Future has its 30th anniversary, though! (Part II in that series did take place in both 1955 and 2015, so we may have cause to revisit that trilogy in six years.)


"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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I


"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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I agree that it's not about suburbia or even the 50s, it's about weltschmerz with the 50s burbs serving as what so many view as an "ideal" world. It's power is not found in some sort of voyeuristic look at a world gone by, but in the visceral recognition of ourselves and the ever elusive sense of meaning. Isn't that what the Wheelers are constantly battling over? Dreams vs. reality; what could be vs. what is; grabbing for life vs. settling for a life; a leap of faith (in oneself) vs. fear.

I wonder if Frank's words to Shep

at the hospital ("She did this to herself") only refers to the abortion (and possibly suicide) or refer to her dreams that blocked her from finding happiness where she was.

Actually, I suppose Frank meant the former, the film means the latter.

Actually, I think this film has several layers that can be appreciated. For example, April is stuck in a pre-feminist age in which her fulfillment is supposed to come from being wife and mother, but it isn't. For her the escape to Paris would mean that she would get to work, be productive and provide as Frank is doing now. What she doesn't recognize is that she might be just as unsatisfied in that as Frank is. 1955 was when Miltown was introduced, and housewives across the country started having their little "happy pills" (which have changed over the years, but still pharma makes a load of of the happy pill du jour). I think the popularity of Miltown reflects the discontent of post WWII women in the constraints of the day.

Frank on the other hand, may have talked a good dream, but I don't think he ever had one other than what they have. He's still waiting to decide what he wants to be when he grows up. There is a sense that he is probably living his dream -- he is becoming his father (and probably doing just a bit better than his father). He may talk about him with a slight disdain, but he also asks the big boss if he ever heard of him. Part of the process of selling the better job to Frank is the comment that his father would be proud.


A foreign movie can't be stupid.

-from the film
Armin

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Peter, you might enjoy John Nolte's review over at Andrew Brietbart's new site, Big Hollywood.

Nolte hates Revolutionary Road and finds Doubt "monstrous." Because the new site is devoted to criticizing the current Hollywood in an effort to reform it, I didn't, and don't, expect a lot of glowing reviews of current product from Nolte. Still, I'm a little disappointed by this initial crop.

Don't get me wrong: I think such a site can be useful. I'm just put off by the predictability. In his Doubt review, Nolte refers, with contempt, to the idea of "nuance" as applied to perceptions of that film. I wonder how much nuance we'll get from Nolte's reviews. Not much, probably, although I imagine I'll agree with the guy from time to time.

Edited by Christian

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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Darrel Manson wrote:

: While American Beauty made the case that suburbia was not heaven, doing it again in the 50s gives it a deeper dimension.

I dunno, after the likes of Pleasantville, Far from Heaven and The Hours, the whole 1950s angle just feels tapped out, to me.

Not sure if it counts since it's the early 60's, but after watching a few Mad Men episodes lately I'm definitely feeling the "not-so-good-old-days" as a recurring theme. When was the last time there was a high profile "those really WERE the good old days" film? Maybe some people still look back on it that way, but apparently not many filmmakers, me thinks...


"You guys don't really know who you're dealing with."

"Oh yeah, and who exactly are we dealing with?"

"I'm the mother flippin' rhymenoceros."

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It's not a matter of how they've been treated of late, it's the 50s mythos. I think the reason so many have been picking on the fifties is because it is viscerally ingrained in us as "good old days" even if in our heads we know they weren't. As I said above, I think a lot of this is that for boomers (such as me) the 50s were a carefree time.

If you wanted to make a film set in the "good old days," when would you set it? Politically, the 50s (at least the post-McCarthy 50s) were pretty bland. Ike was the national grandfather/war hero. There is an arms race and nuclear proliferation, but still we were on top. It's not until Cuba in 62 that the threat became real. Cars were getting bigger. Things were still made in the USA. The 60s were filled with turmoil. The 70s (the age of disco) might be able to make a claim, but it's also the time of Watergate and a decline of trust in institutions. The 80s are when Gordon Gecko is preaching "Greed is good". And as Randy "The Ram" says, the 90's sucked. And so when we want something set in "the American Dream" it happens in the 50s, even though we know how tarnished that age really is.

But really all this is beside the point of the film except that it is set in the 50s not to correct our vision of the 50s, but to show the emptiness that exists in all times. It would be easy to talk of the existential emptiness of the 80s, but in our hearts we still keep the 50s as Happy Days. Reminding us of the emptiness in that period means we don't get to be wistful as we deal with our own voids.


A foreign movie can't be stupid.

-from the film
Armin

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I agree that it's not about suburbia or even the 50s, it's about weltschmerz with the 50s burbs serving as what so many view as an "ideal" world.

Reading over this, I think I need to clarify. the 50s suburbs serve as a foil "ideal" world in the film that the viewers will see as less than ideal. For the Wheelers, Paris is the "ideal" world and the 50s burbs the "real" world.


A foreign movie can't be stupid.

-from the film
Armin

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CHristian wrote:

: Peter, you might enjoy John Nolte's review over at Andrew Brietbart's new site, Big Hollywood.

Hmmm, bits of it seem familiar. Did he port this over from his previous website, Dirty Harry's Place?

: Nolte hates Revolutionary Road and finds Doubt "monstrous."

Yeah, I think he definitely missed the point with Doubt. He sometimes does that with the films he reviews. I do agree with Nolte at least some of the time, but as conservative Catholic critics go, I lean more towards our very own vjmorton and SDG.

Darrel Manson wrote:

: I think the reason so many have been picking on the fifties is because it is viscerally ingrained in us as "good old days" even if in our heads we know they weren't.

Depending on what you mean by "us", of course. In MY experience, there was a lot of '50s love in the '80s (of which Back to the Future may be the most visible example), but there were also a number of artists back then, such as David Lynch, who were openly critiquing '50s-ish suburbia for its kitschiness and/or conformity. And of course, once grunge got going in the early '90s, pretty much nobody had anything positive to say about either the original '50s or the rehashed '80s version of the '50s.

: If you wanted to make a film set in the "good old days," when would you set it?

Depends what sort of "goodness" you're looking for. You can watch a film like Dazed and Confused and see all the characters bitching and moaning about how sucky the '70s are, and yet the film is clearly a nostalgic throwback to the way things used to be in the '70s, as seen by people who aren't so enamoured with the '80s or '90s. And of course, liberal-protestor types still look back extremely fondly on the '60s.


"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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: Nolte hates Revolutionary Road and finds Doubt "monstrous."

Yeah, I think he definitely missed the point with Doubt. He sometimes does that with the films he reviews. I do agree with Nolte at least some of the time, but as conservative Catholic critics go, I lean more towards our very own vjmorton and SDG.

Off-topic for this thread, I realize, but ... has Steve seen DOUBT yet (I'm more eager to see his reaction than that of any other critic -- and yeah Dirty Harry did more than miss the boat; he wasn't even at the right port).

I looked in the DOUBT thread here, at Decent Films and at Jimmy Akin's and don't see any indication that he has.

Steve?

Victor


Yeah ... well ... I'm gonna have to go ahead and disagree with you there on that one.

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Off-topic for this thread, I realize, but ... has Steve seen DOUBT yet (I'm more eager to see his reaction than that of any other critic -- and yeah Dirty Harry did more than miss the boat; he wasn't even at the right port).

I looked in the DOUBT thread here, at Decent Films and at Jimmy Akin's and don't see any indication that he has.

Steve?

I have a Doubt screener and will be catching it soon. It's just that I'm still in 2008 crunch mode -- I haven't yet finalized my top 10 and I want to see as many contenders as possible (and I Doubt that particular film will make the cut).

Thanks for caring. :)


“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

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Since I commented in this thread about the possibility of Deakins competing for an Oscar against himself again this year, this time with


"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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