4. Lost in Translation (2003)
I’ve heard over the years since this movie came out that some people say they don’t get the hype about it and why did it get such critical acclaim? To me there is probably more of a simple equation at play – you are either a Bill Murray lover or a Bill Murray hater. Being someone who came of age in the era of “Stripes”, “Caddyshack” and “Ghostbusters”, you can firmly put a check in the Bill Murray lover column for me. And while I can still endlessly watch the Murray movies from my childhood, it sure is nice to add one to the adult column. Now, I’m generalizing as Murray has had many great roles in recent years, though usually they are more of the supporting character-type, such as the many great roles he has had in Wes Anderson’s films, including my #7 pick “The Royal Tenenbaums”, and especially his role in Anderson’s “Rushmore”. Yet throughout his great career, he has never had a more grown up and layered role than his role in “Lost in Translation”, and the role stands quite in contrast to the man-child type roles that made him famous. This is a beautiful movie written and directed by Sofia Coppola (helping us forever forgive and forget Sofia’s turn as an actress in Godfather Part 3). Murray seems to be playing an alternate reality version of himself – a big time Hollywood star, perhaps on the downside of his career, who is in Japan to earn a fat paycheck filming a whisky ad. The movie is best at making you feel Murray’s isolation at being a stranger in a strange land, and then experiencing the feeling of hope and optimism that a lost soul can begin to feel when finding something to grab a hold of. In this case, what Murray’s character finds is a muse who rescues him from endless boozing at the hotel bar. His muse is played by Scarlett Johansson, who was a ridiculously young 18 years old at the time the film was shot, but she credibly passes as a young bored newlywed in her early 20s and as a kindred spirit to Murray’s character. The plot is as simple can be, yet the movie hits every emotion making you laugh even as it breaks your heart a little. I will admit every time I see the film, I somehow hope that I will hear the parting words that Murray’s character whispers to Johansson’s at the end of the film. But that’s probably part of the magic of the film and the genius behind Coppola’s decision making – she makes those last words inaudible so that in an act of transference, each viewer can take from the movie what he or she needs to.
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