- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 16, 2010

Heart of ‘Inception’

“It’s not easy to distinguish yourself in a film with eye-popping visuals, a plot so convoluted decades from now we’ll still be trying to figure it out, and a cast that includes Leonardo DiCaprio, Michael Caine, Ellen Page, Cillian Murphy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ken Watanabe and Thomas Hardy.

“But Marion Cotillard left an indelible imprint on ‘Inception’ as a woman for whom DiCaprio is willing to bend the laws of space and time. Without Cotillard’s tragic humanity and intense chemistry with DiCaprio, ‘Inception’ easily could have gotten lost inside its own elaborate machinery, but their bond lends the film an essential emotional grounding.

DiCaprio specialized in overly intense men with tragic, troubled relationships this year, and Michelle Williams was similarly haunting in a small but key role similar to Cotillard’s in ‘Shutter Island.’ Yet it’s Cotillard’s poignant performance that helped make ‘Inception’ a genuine pop-culture phenomenon with broad appeal, not just another geeky sci-fi mindbender.”

- Nathan Rabin, writing on “The Best Films of 2010,” on Dec. 16 at the AV Club

Hip, hip …

“Thanks to monitoring groups such as MEMRI.org, many in the West have become more aware of the tone of popular culture in the Arab and Islamic world. As a result, we have a better understanding of the way anti-Semitism has become a staple of popular culture there. But one needn’t focus solely on the hatred of Jews and Israel that is so prevalent in Islamic societies to understand the shocking differences between what is accepted and even applauded in these cultures and our own.

“The New Republic’s Ruth Franklin attended the Marrakech Film Festival in relatively liberal Morocco this month. Her account might have focused on the Western stars in attendance and ‘the glitz of the film festival’ or ‘the charm and warmth of the Moroccans.’ Instead, she wrote about a film screening in which a largely Arab audience reacted with spontaneous applause to a scene in which two women are stoned by a mob.”

- Jonathan S. Tobin, writing on “What Audiences Applaud in the Arab World” on Dec. 16 at Commentary

L.A. story

“[Sofia] Coppola sets the terms for [‘Somewhere’] her exploration of life in a city in which cars are at once avatars - communicating to strangers who we are - and impenetrable vessels that force us to keep to ourselves. If the Chateau is, as Team Somewhere is fond of saying, the ‘third character’ in the movie, then Johnny Marco’s Ferrari is the fourth. [The running subtext of ‘Somewhere’] is that unique-to-Los Angeles psychodramatic condition: the car as extension of self.

” ‘I think people totally connect their personality with their car,’ Coppola says. ‘It’s definitely specific to L.A. [and to] just spending all that time driving around. In New York, you’re walking around and interacting with people. I like those moments when you can listen to music and be kind of sealed off, but it does isolate people.’

” ‘Somewhere’ is Coppola’s first film set in Los Angeles, and her first to deal directly with the emotional consequences of a professional Hollywood life. An avowedly personal filmmaker, she has until now chosen stories set in far-off times and places, creating de facto distance between her scripts and her autobiography. For her to consider Los Angeles a worthy subject, she had to leave it.”

- Karina Longworth, writing on “Sofia Coppola: Lost at the Chateau Marmont,” on Dec. 16 at L.A. Weekly