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Which brings me to Match Point, the newest feature from Allen, and one of his best. Many critics, some of whom I respect, have been sneering at Allen for years, but they’re all suddenly jumping on the “comeback” bandwagon. I’m proud to say I never left Woody and don’t consider Match Point a comeback, but a continuing example of the man’s talent as a filmmaker and as a chronicler of contemporary romance and relationships.

Match Point, set and filmed in London, is Allen’s take on the criminal world of the writings of Dosteyevsky and Patricia Highsmith. It also contains echoes of two important 1950s movies, Strangers On A Train and A Place In The Sun. It’s a movie in which luck is a primary thematic element, and the desire to belong to a higher social strata is key to the goings-on. Instead of Allen’s popular jazz, blues, or ragtime riffs on the soundtrack, we are treated to operatic music, especially the voice of Enrico Caruso.

Eschewing his familiar high-strung comedy for robust romantic drama, writer director Allen sets forth the tale of a tennis pro (good enough to play in some tournaments, but not good enough to be a true champion) whose pouty lips and laid-back persona are appealing to those he meets. One wonders what kind of life Chris (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) has left behind before we first encounter his charms. Has he always been a bit of a charlatan? Chris’ coaching at an exclusive British tennis club leads him into the upscale social whirl of a hail-fellow-well-met, the amiable Tom Hewitt (Matthew Goode).

Allen delivers a fast-paced film as Chris’ becomes part of Hewitt’s family circle, thanks to his romance with and marriage to Tom’s sister Chloe (Emily Mortimer). Tom’s wealthy father, in spite of the tsk-tsking of his snobby wife, gives Chris an important position in his corporation and eventually Chris is as perfectly set as anyone could possibly want to be. Or so we think.

The fly-in-the-ointment is Nola (Scarlett Johansson), a breathtakingly sultry American woman, a wannabe actress, who is Tom’s fiancee. Chris may have serious feelings for Chloe, but she doesn’t excite him as much as Nola, both of whom are working the system far beyond their societal level. Upwardly mobile doesn’t begin to describe it. Soon Chris and Nola are having a major league affair. At the crisis point that Allen delivers with an overhand smash, Nola gets a little top jealous, a little too possessive, and a little too nuts. Chris is faced with an unwanted dilemma. Should he give up his ritzy life, which he finds a glorious fit to his dreams, or should he give up Nola, who satisfies his carnal desires like no other woman ever has? Like Highsmith’s Tom Ripley who created a fantastical make-believe world, Chris has to write an ending that would please his selfishness. I shall keep secret the rest of the film, but Allen makes it all deliciously believable.

Match Point is a masterpiece of dark wit and even darker psychology. The entire cast is spot-on perfect, and contemporary London is a seriously inviting backdrop. Call it a comeback, call it whatever you want, but for me, Woody Allen never went away. Match Point proves I was right all along.

I wrote extensively about Brokeback Mountain in my Toronto Film Festival article last October. Based on a short story by Annie Proulx and directed by Ang Lee from a screenplay by Larry McMurtry and Diana Osana, it’s a punch in the gut for audiences used to traditional views of gay love. Although innumerable independent features have showcased homosexual relationships, Brokeback Mountain is considered a rarity because it’s got a big-name director, two hot young adult male stars (hot in terms of career outlook and good looks), and is being released by a major American corporation. Focus Features may concentrate on little films, but it’s still an arm of Universal, which is owned by NBC, which is owned by General Electric. Of course, all of this might come as a surprise to everyone connected to the gay-themed film Making Love from 1982. That movie is written and co-produced by Buffalo’s Barry Sandler (a graduate of Kenmore West High School). It has a big-name director (Arthur Love Story Hiller), and it stars two hot young adult male actor of time (Harry Hamlin and Michael Ontkean) – with Kate Jackson, one of Charlie’s original “Angels” added for good measure. The feature was released by one of Hollywood’s legendary studios, Twentieth Century Fox. Making Love is not dissimilar from Brokeback Mountain in that it’s essentially about a married man torn between heterosexuality and homosexuality. The thrust of the new movie is that in pre-sexual liberation America (1963), two young hardscrabble workers, ranchers really, not cowboys, are hired to herd sheep in the beautiful Wyoming wilderness. The film was actually shot in Alberta, Canada. After a few cold nights in the mountain, Ennis Del Mar (Ledger) and Jack Twist (Gyllenhaal) make powerful love together in their tent. Their first sexual act is almost caveman rough. They are drawn by something they can’t explain and will never be able to explain. It’s America before the sexual curtains were opened. When Ledger mounts Gyllenhaal, the two men are tearing away myriad mythologies about the Old West, the New West, ranching horsemen, heterosexual panic, and homosexual passion. The roughness of that first night leads to more comfort with their man-on-man sex act. But as all pleasant revelry goes, this too must end. The herding job is over for the season. Ennis is more conflicted by what he’s done, but Jack wants much more than seasonal sex under the stars.

Over the years the two will marry, have children, but never forget their sex together. (Michelle Williams plays Ennis’ wife. Anne Hathaway is Jake’s wife.) The two men will also never forget the hold homosexuality has over their lives. Jack is clearly the one more in love, but Ennis, who is certainly in love with Jack, simply has no way to understand it or how to bring that love to the next level – meaning living together as Jack wants. After all, we’re in mid-1960s to mid-1970s America. Today we might say that Ennis just couldn’t process the information. The two men do get together for the occasional fishing trip – just the two of them – and their sexual passion never subsides. Ennis may say that he isn’t a “queer,” but he also tells Jack, in the movie’s best line of dialogue, “I wish I knew how to quit you.” That’s a line that rings true for tens of millions of people, gay or straight.

As Brokeback Mountain progresses, the men will never forget each other. Wives may wonder who the good fishing friend is, even meet him, but that’s about as far as it goes. Ennis wife even demands to know if fishing is really happening on the trips that the two men take. The laconic Ennis, who seems to exist in a kind of emotional house arrest, will never discuss with anyone those nights of passion with the more eager and playful Jack, who, for his part, seems able to charm his way out of most dire situations, or so we think. Eventually their lives cross with a harsh reality and the movie takes a tough turn.

Beautifully acted, written, directed, and photographed, Brokeback Mountain compels audiences to walk in its characters’ shoes. The movie is never once condescending to the story or to the audience. The era in which these two men found their taste of homosexual love was a time and culture when their kind of desire needed to be spoken of carefully, if at all. The movie doesn’t so much shatter the myth of the cowboy West as it redefines it. People who truly believe that the rugged men who set across a harsh but beautiful American wilderness didn’t make love with each other are only deluding themselves. Brokeback Mountain is a myth-busting masterpiece. By Michael Calleri ALT Movie Editor

There are two exceptional new movies currently on tap at area theaters. The films are Brokeback Mountain and Match Point, and they deserve to be seen.

Please spare me the canard that Woody Allen hasn’t been terrific since the 1970s. I’ve seen every movie Allen has made, and I can accept that some of his movies have been less than solid. But the reality of the situation is this: Allen’s creates very interesting films, with superior casts, and dares to have ideas sprinkled throughout the dialogue.

I guess the notion of adults carrying on actual conversations is so 1930s, but the director has nothing to apologize for when it comes to his cinematic content. Certainly everything doesn’t click as wanted. But considering the state of American movies today, the guy’s a genius, right up there with Martin Scorsese and Robert Altman. And the critical-of-Allen crowd whose film references means Goonies is a masterpiece and Ghostbusters is the be-all and end-all of cinema – you know who you are – are just deluding themselves and really don’t care about movies and, frankly, don’t know much about them in the first place. Sure Allen’s previous film, Melinda And Melinda may not have been kicking on all cylinders. And yes, maybe I can’t remember all that much of Anything Goes, but these were well-made features, crafted with style, even if the wit fell on deaf ears and the intelligence escaped a lot of people.