Thursday, October 23, 2014

Vino Movies: Take IV

Continuing in our nearly year-long listing of the top five winery/vineyard/wine themed movies, we're up to the number two pick, a movie that was roundly trashed by critics and ignored by audiences when it came out eight years ago:

A Good Year

Why was the movie so despised? Perhaps critics and moviegoers were expecting more from Ridley Scott, director of such classics as Alien, Blade Runner, Thelma and Louise and Gladiator. Maybe they were getting tired of Russell Crowe, who by then had gained a reputation of being, for lack of a better term, a total asshole in real life. Whatever the reason, we find A Good Year to be a hugely entertaining, well acted, beautifully filmed, and quirky love story set on a picturesque (but of course) chateau in Burgundy.

Crowe stars as Max, a day trader in London who's coming off a major trading victory, adding to his already inflated ego and bank accounts. Soon after his latest victory, he learns of the passing of his uncle (played by Albert Finney, excellent as usual), who raised Max on his chateau in Burgundy. Through flashbacks, we see hints of the unusual relationship between Max and his uncle, and we also see traces of how Max became the brilliant, albeit totally self-centered, financial wizard he is now. He travels to the vineyard, with the sole purposes of fixing it up, appraising it, and selling it. This being a Hollywood romantic comedy (although Scott, being the auteur he is, a very unique romantic comedy), his initial plans are met with interference.

The interference comes in the form of two female characters, played by Abbie Cornish and the always easy on the eyes Marion Cotillard. Cornish plays Christie, mysterious woman who claims to be the daughter of Max's uncle, who's traveled from Napa to hopefully take over the chateau. Cotillard's Fanny Chanel is the owner of a local café who met Max when they were kids. There are several subplots involving the assessment of the vineyards and the chateau, and the quality of the wine itself (wine fans will get some belly laughs from these scenes).

What makes the film special are the eccentric characters, including Max, who despite his overbearing arrogance has some appealing and funny qualities (Crowe is perfect in the role), Finney in his flamboyantly gruff mode, Max's best friend and financial manager, as well as the larger than life vineyard manager and his wife. Australian actress Cornish and Cotillard, who have since become very familiar faces (and in Cotillard's case, Oscar winner), are believable as would-be romantic interests for Max (Max is initially skeptical of Christie's claim).

The shots of the vineyards are intimate and Scott puts you there on the Chateau, thanks to whimsical touches in the barrel room and the pool and tennis court. The film is not as cynical as Sideways, and not as sexually explicit and profane, so A Good Year works as perfectly as a "Virginia winery movie night" type of movie.

The music is also wonderful, keeping in the spirit of the slightly off-kilter charm of the movie (a combination of French pop songs, French covers of American pop songs, and Harry Nilsson tunes).

Trailer for A Good Year:

If you missed the Notebook's first three choices in the Top 5, click here.

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