Nashville (July 25/01)
Long before there was a Paul Thomas Anderson or a Martin Scorsese, there was Robert Altman. Altman pretty much invented the style of filmmaking that Scorsese and (in particular) Anderson now embrace - the idea that you can have multiple characters and multiple storylines, and weave between them as often as you like. But with Nashville, Altman fails at this simply because out of the 24 characters, only one is really compelling.
Nashville takes place (where else?) in Nashville, over the course of a few days as many different people live their lives and prepare for a rally supporting a fictional presidential candidate. Altman presents folks from all walks of life - there's a famous rock star, wannabe country singers, lonely housewives - and tells their stories in a method that's best described as haphazard. He never really spends enough time with any one character to make you care about them. And since there's no real plot, this method of filmmaking gets real old, real fast (and this is a 160-minute movie!).
But that would be okay if - as in Anderson's Magnolia or even Altman's far superior Short Cuts - there were at least a few characters worth caring about. But that's just not so here. Altman's more interested in presenting stereotypes, sort of as a way of painting a bigger picture of the country music business and of America in general at that time (the '70s). By the time the movie's over and all has been said and done, only one character really stands out - Tom, the self-loathing rock star played by Keith Carradine. In the film's only great scene, Tom has just bedded a married housewife (played well by Lily Tomlin) and, as she's getting ready to leave, he's already on the phone to another woman! That was a compelling sequence, and it was made all-the-more-so by Carradine's excellent performance.
And finally, as if it wasn't enough that Nashville wears out it's welcome almost immediately, it's practically a musical. There's at least 45 minutes of just songs, which range from bluegrass to country to marching bands. Had Altman shaved some of these tunes, there's no way the film would plod along as badly as it does in it's current state. You really have to be a fan of this kind of music to enjoy most of Nashville.
Nashville is inexplicably considered by many to be one of the best films to emerge from the '70s, yet the film feels incredibly dated and more of a time-capsule artifact than anything else.