2002 Top 10: #1
"The Hours" was my pick for the best film of 2002. No other film involved me quite as much as this did, nor did any film move me so effortlessly. A film with a completely different feel than its melodramatic-seeming trailer, director Stephen Daldry trusts the material and trusts his actresses and actors enough to keep things dry; the film rarely lets sappiness enter and earns its emotional moments. The film's big speeches feel right, and the littlest conversations between characters can hold just as much power and emotion.
"The Hours" adapts Michael Cunningham's award-winning novel about three women from different eras, connected by the novel "Mrs. Dalloway". There's author Virginia Woolf (Nicole Kidman), housewife Laura Brown (Julianne Moore) and editor Clarissa (Meryl Streep). In the first story, Woolf is trying to write Mrs. Dalloway, despite persistent health problems. The second story has housewife Laura Brown trying to cope with problems with her claustrophobic existence and marriage to her husband (John C. Reilly) by reading "Mrs. Dalloway". The third story has Clarissa preparing a party for her terminally ill ex-husband and poet, Richard (Ed Harris). She's not able to confront her worries about her ex-husband's health, trying to put herself into the planning of the upcoming party.
These three stories parallel each other and occasionally merge in a way that's delightful, unexpected and doesn't feel forced. The picture is a triumph of many things, but writing and editing are certainly two of them. Pulling it forward are not only marvelous performances that are rich and involving, but the Philip Glass score. Although I've never been terribly fond of Glass's minimalist works, his score really propells and lifts this movie, adding an energy and flow that makes an effective film even more involving. A film with a great deal of depressing subject matter (such as suicide) never is weighed down or too oppressively somber.
The idea of Julianne Moore, Nicole Kidman and Meryl Streep likely screams "Oscar Attempt!" to many, but I was amazed at their performances here. All are certainly marvelous actresses, but they really work with the material wonderfully, offering subtle and moving efforts. Kidman remains my favorite of the three, though. Despite being covered by make-up and a prosthetic nose, she still manages to provide a powerful, deeply involving performance. It's fascinating to watch her choices, as there's so many subtle movements and gestures throughout her performance that speak volumes. Moore (who continues to be the one actress who I think sheds tears more convincingly than anyone else on-screen these days) also turns in a performance that, while similar to character-wise to her role in "Far From Heaven", is played differently. It's more on-the-surface, more troubled. Streep is as good as always, presenting a strong arc as her character goes from confirming her contentment to seriously questioning whether she really is happy. I enjoyed the supporting performances, as well. Ed Harris is powerful as the ill poet, while Claire Danes, Stephen Dillane (who should be in more movies - he's terrific as Woolf's husband) and Allison Janney offer superb efforts.
I was one of the few who didn't care much for director Stephen Daldry's "Billy Elliot", but "The Hours" is a complete success all-around. A deeply moving and powerful film about love, choices we make and exploring our existence, "The Hours" is a masterpiece that only gets better with each additional viewing.
VIDEO: "The Hours" is presented by Paramount in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The presentation is generally a very fine representation of what I saw when viewing the picture theatrically last year. Filmed often with what appears to be natural light, the movie still appears crisp and well-defined, with consistent clarity.
The presentation does suffer from a few problems, but they're of little concern. Very light edge enhancement can be seen in a few scenes, but it's nothing too distracting. The print does show some grain, which I think may be intententional, but it also does show a couple of minor specks. No compression artifacts are seen. The film's natural color palette is well-rendered, with no smearing or other concerns. A very fine effort from Paramount.
SOUND: "The Hours" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.0. Although the phrase "dialogue-driven" would certainly describe the soundtrack, it does break free of that. While certainly not aggressive, subtle touches of surround use (the sound of water running in the river in the opening scene, sounds of the streets as Clarissa walks to the flower shop, etc) immerse the viewer in the scene. The Phillip Glass score is also quite nicely reinforced by the rear speakers. Audio quality is fine, as the score sounds crystal clear, while dialogue and ambient sounds are clear and natural.
Commentaries: There are two commentaries - one with actresses Nicole Kidman, Julianne Moore and Meryl Streep and the other with director Stephen Daldry and novelist Michael Cunningham. The commentary with the three actress will certainly be the main attraction and it definitely isn't a dissapointment. The three have been recorded separately and their comments edited together. Although the three do stop to praise many of those who they worked with in the film, they also do go under the surface and do go into more detail about what they appreciate about the other's performances or effort. When not talking about the efforts of others involved in the picture, all three do go deeper into their characters and analyze their preparations for playing the roles. Streep is rather funny at times, and Kidman provides a lot of good background about the production and her role. Moore is pleasant and provides a lot of useful information about her methods of acting. The commentary with the director and novelist is a little more dry and not quite as entertaining, but the two still do manage to offer some fine background about Virginia Woolf and the history of the production, as well as the troubles of adapting such a complex book. Both tracks are worth listening to.
Featurettes: Four featurettes are offered: "Three Women", "Life and Times of Virginia Woolf", "The Lives of Mrs. Dalloway" and "The Music of the Hours". The three film-related featurettes are good mixes of interviews and behind-the-scenes footage; thankfully, although there are moments where those involved stick with how wonderful everyone else is, there are definitely some insights offered as to characters and acting, as well. The "Virginia Woolf" piece is a well-done effort that gives viewers more background and understanding of the author.
Trailer: The film's trailer (in Dolby Digital 5.1) is included, and deserves notice. Those who haven't seen the trailer should watch it after they watch the movie and see if they agree it makes it seem like a very different movie in tone. I don't like the voice-over, I don't like the music in the second half and the whole thing makes it look like standard fare.
Final Thoughts: I still strongly feel that "The Hours" should have walked away with Best Picture. The film deals intelligently and thoughtfully with issues that everyone faces in their lives, while also offering three absolutely marvelous performances. Paramount offers a fine DVD, with excellent supplements and very good audio/video. "The Hours" is a must-see; very highly recommended.
The Film ****