085. Brokeback Mountain (Directed by Ang Lee, 2005): A heartbreaking film. Everyone lost their minds last summer about Heath Ledger's amazing Oscar-winning performance in The Dark Knight, overlooking the fact that he'd topped that performance four years earlier in Brokeback Mountain as Ennis Del Mar, a man so quiet and closed off, he'd seemingly just as soon bite his own tongue off as talk too much. He ends up camping on the titular mountain with fun-loving rodeo-rider Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal). By day, Twist is called upon to look after the sheep, riding back to camp in the evening where Ennis cooks dinner, before riding back out to camp out with the sheep. Considering they're basically hired to play house on the mountainside, is it any surprise when they develop affection for each other? Neither of them will own up to their feelings ("You know I ain't queer," Ennis tells Twist), and once their seasonal work is over, they part ways, ostensibly forever. Ennis marries his longtime sweetheart (Michelle Williams), while Twist falls for female rodeo rider Anne Hathaway. But, neither can forget the other, Twist even tries to get rehired the following year to work on Brokeback, but is turned away by the boss, who has stumbled upon their secret. Eventually they begin to meet for fishing trips, rendez vous, what have you. Because of their time and place, they can't reveal their love, their feelings for each other. In that sense, there love is more of a curse than a blessing. Their moments together are too short, the moments in between too long. Ennis' wife stumbles upon his forbidden love and leaves him, and he stumbles about day to day, with nothing really to do. One of the saddest films I've ever seen, with beautiful cinematography, superb acting, and a great score.
084. Happy Times (Directed by Zhang Yimou, 2000): Fascinating human comedy that could only come from outside of the Western world, because, well, it's too darn weird. Zhao is a big dreamer, trying to woo a woman despite his lack of funds. He and a friend decide to rent out an abandoned schoolbus to young couples in need of privacy, and use the money to fund a a wedding well out of his price-range. His fiancee pawns off her step-daughter on him, thinking that since Zhao is presenting himself as a hotel owner, he can surely find a job for Wu as a masseuse. Wu is blind, so Zhao concocts a scheme where he places Wu in an abandoned building and sends his friends in as her clients. The massages are brusque and mechanical, never looking at all beneficial, sometimes even looking painful. They loop a cassette recording of downtown ambiance in the building so that she doesn't suspect the deception. Even though their relationship is based entirely around deception and trickery, Zhao begins to care for the poor unwanted girl, and she appreciates everything Zhao is doing for her, even as she begins to suspect it's not on the up and up. Roger Ebert expressed some grave misgivings about the plot, and the idea of a comedy based off of tricking a blind girl, but I think he's placing values on it that the film isn't interested in. There's nothing vaguely sexual or mean-spirited about what he's doing with Wu, it's just a guy without any means, trying to get along the best way he knows how. In the last stretch, the movie takes a shockingly serious turn, and it's really moving and sad.