No doubt every great director has a celluloid turd or two up their professional sleeve (Spielberg, Kubrick, even Capra, et. al.). And, I think many film-goers mistakenly believed director Ridley Scott had misfired with A Good Year and avoided this movie for the simple reason that they could not accept Russel Crowe in a semi-comedic role of hedge fund manager-cum-vintner. These moviegoers were misled into thinking that the usually stellar Ridley Scott stumbled in his semi-personal A Good Year. Personal because of his friendship with the book's author, Peter Mayle, from whence/whom this film was adapted. And personal as well because the film's location was just down the road from Monsieur Scott's own pied-à-terre. Allow me, however, a moment Dear Reader to encourage you to take the chance and watch this fine film, if for no other reason that it serves as an enjoyable travelogue that stands up to repeated viewings.
Why do I love this little film? There are many reasons that one could prattle on about in a space similar to this across the Internet (as many hacks like yours truly do): excellent cast, cinematography, blah, blah, blah. All true -- especially the last blah. But, as an avid film-buff, cinephile, or cinéaste, I have seen my share of total crap movies and the rare films that just have excellence smeared all over them like jam on a nicely toasted piece of buttered sourdough. A Good Year is of the latter ilk.
Précis: the film focuses on a hedge-fund manager who is reacquainted with the French chateau and values of his youth after his favorite ex-pat uncle (Albert Finney) has passed away. Max (Crowe) falls in love with a local (Marion Cotillard, La Vie En Rose), and must ultimately choose b/n the millions back home in the post-modern London of Max's present or the good life found in the convivial setting of Max's past
From its opening shot, you hear the quality that went in to the making of A Good Year with Oscar-worthy work by sound editors Per Hallberg and Karen Baker Landers (both previous Oscar winners). A Victrola plays a french jazz record, with it's melody aloft, echoing off of the walls and pond of the tree-lined estate. This is an oft-overlooked part of film-making that evinces a real love for the project itself, viz. the SOUND. (Think the first two Godfather films, Lawrence of Arabia, etc.). The score and the soundtrack are equally good here (I listen to the soundtrack weekly). Then there's the way this film is lit by the DP (Phillippe Le Sourd) who paints with impeccable taste. The scenery just soaks up the color and lighting of the French landscape and gives the viewer a visual feast. Ridley Scott and Le Sourd shoot London in a way that breathes fresh life into your typical exterior establishing shots -- perhaps the way only a Briton could direct.
Everyone in A Good Year is terrific. I mean spot-on casting down the line. One of my favorite actors in recent years is Tom Hollander (Possession, Pride & Prejudice), who steals scene after scene. And, truth be told, Russell Crowe does a solid turn here in a role not typically found on his CV. The film works on many levels for me personally, and I find it to be one of those movies that I can watch multiple times (like Wonder Boys, or To Catch a Thief). Bottom line, I thought I'd mention A Good Year and give you a few things to consider and perhaps even pique your interest in seeing one of my favorite guilty pleasure films.