MADELEINE BRAND, host:
This is Day to Day. I'm Madeleine Brand.
ALEX COHEN, host:
And I'm Alex Cohen. Oscar nominations aren't out for another few weeks, but Slate's movie critic, Dana Stevens, has already made her selection for the best films of the year. She joins us now.
And, Dana, I was interested in this list. Many of them aren't mainstream. But we'll start with one that came out relatively recently, and it's called "The Wrestler." And you seem to be unabashedly smitten with this film. Let's take a listen to a clip. This is Mickey Rourke and Marisa Tomei in "The Wrestler."
(Soundbite of movie "The Wrestler")
Mr. MICKEY ROURKE: (As Randy Robinson) I want you to give this to your little guy. It's a Randy the Ram action figure.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. ROURKE: (As Randy Robinson) Tell him not to lose it. It's a $300 collector's item.
Ms. MARISA TOMEI: (As Cassidy) Really?
Mr. ROURKE: (As Randy Robinson) No.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. ROURKE: (As Randy Robinson) Come on. Hey, one beer.
Ms. TOMEI: (As Cassidy) (Laughing) OK.
COHEN: OK. Besides Marisa Tomei's squeaky little voice there, what's to love about this film?
DANA STEVENS: Well, you know, I'm glad you played that scene because that actually is my favorite scene, which leads up to my other favorite scene in the movie - in the center, sort of the part where Mickey Rourke and Marisa Tomei are falling for each other tentatively.
I did love "The Wrestler" to my surprise actually because the director, Darren Aronofsky, is not a favorite of mine. He's a big cult director who has a sort of small but very devoted following, and I've never fallen for any of his movies before.
Everyone talks about Mickey Rourke's performance in this movie, and he is quite amazing. But I feel like the whole unit just held together really well. All of the performances are very sound, and it's a very small-scale movie with handheld camera work.
I also rarely like sports movies or comeback movies, and, you know, I really can't stand watching things like wrestlers staple each other in the wrestling ring. It's got a lot of gory violent scenes, but it still managed to have this very beautiful and lyrical mood that just captured me.
COHEN: One of the films on your list is one that I've heard a lot of critics rave about, but I still don't get why they're so excited and maybe you can shed some light on this. It's a French film called "The Class." What's so great about it?
STEVENS: It's by a French director named Laurent Cantet, who is a little bit of a sort of sociologist come director. He's really interested in observing the way institutions work and, you know, sort of the way race and class interplay in people's real lives. And what he did was he used a real teacher, real French teacher in a real (unintelligible) high school.
But it's not a documentary. He sort of scripted - he spent a year with these students and this teacher and sort of semi-scripted situations that they would improvise from. And so the whole thing feels so natural and so real that you actually can't believe these people are acting, and it's a very interesting story which I don't want to give away here on the radio, but I can't think of anyone who wouldn't like this movie.
COHEN: Dana, another lesser known film on your list is called "Wendy and Lucy," and it stars Michelle Williams, and it's about a young woman and her dog headed to Alaska. What's special about this film?
STEVENS: I'm happy to see that this movie, although it's not getting a chance to be seen in many markets, is popping up on a lot of critics' 10 best list. I just looked at the New York Times' critics' 10 best list, and I think all three have been put on. It's just about a girl - you know, anything about her background or how she ended up in this situation, but she's sort of living out of her car with her dog.
And the plot of the movie is that she losses her dog in a small town, and she's on the road and, you know, what she goes through to try to find her dog. And it's so not sentimental - as sentimental as that plot outline might sound. and it ends up being a real microcosm of, you know, American society and what it is to be someone who's living at the just the margins of livability in that society.
COHEN: And finally, let's talk about a film that came out in a few cities last week to qualify for the Oscars, but it doesn't really come out main stream until the middle of next month. It's "Revolutionary Road." It stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. Let's take a listen.
(Soundbite of movie "Revolutionary Road")
Mr. LEONARDO DICAPRIO: (As Frank Wheeler) Sweetheart, what are you talking about? Where are we going to live?
Ms. KATE WINSLET: (As April Wheeler) Paris.
Mr. DICAPRIO: (As Frank Wheeler) What?
Ms. WINSLET: (As April Wheeler) You always said it was the only place you'd ever been that you wanted to go back to, the only place that was worth living. So why don't we go there?
Mr. DICAPRIO: (As Frank Wheeler) You're serious.
Ms. WINSLET: (As April Wheeler) Yes. What's stopping us?
COHEN: The last time these two were together was in "Titanic," which was a hit of epic proportions. What about this time around?
STEVENS: I don't - I seriously doubt that "Revolutionary Road" will be the kind of hit the "Titanic" was. But I have to say that Kate and Leo still have that chemistry, and they are great together on screen. Their performances are just wonderful in this movie.
Nonetheless, the movie didn't make my 10 best list because I felt, as a whole, it was doing things that'd already been done. The director, Sam Mendes, who's also Kate Winslet's husband, was the director of "American Beauty," another sort of critic of suburban emptiness, and I didn't think this movie went too many terribly interesting places that "American Beauty" hadn't already gone.
BRAND: Dana, you recently wrote in Slate that "Revolutionary Road" was a number of films that you described as grim bundles waiting under the Hollywood tree. Why so many downers in film recently do you think?
Ms. STEVENS: I don't know. I mean, maybe at every December into the near future will bring us grim green bundles because those are the kinds of movies that win Oscars. I think that the bundles I was referring to were "Valkyrie," "Revolutionary Road" and "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," all three of which are, you know, clearly being angled and timed, you know, to get Oscar nominations and all three of which are self consciously serious and somber and, you know, take themselves very seriously with some success at times, but, you know, not movies that are going to be light hearted or have a lot of wit about themselves.
BRAND: Slates movie critic Dana Stevens, thanks, Dana.
Ms. STEVENS: Thank you.