400 Screens, 400 Blows is a weekly column that takes an in-depth look at the films playing below the radar, beneath the top ten, and on 400 screens or less.
Awards season has begun, and I doubt you'll be seeing much mention of Charlie Kaufman's Synecdoche, New York (115 screens), except possibly in the "production design" categories. And the truth is that the film only partially works; it's quasi-insane in a good way, but it hits upon ideas that were better explored in Being John Malkovich (1999) and Adaptation (2002). It does have a great cast, however, and it's a shame that they'll all be overlooked. Philip Seymour Hoffman, of course, will shake it off and probably win some honors for Doubt. He's one of the greatest actors of our time, and we'll probably be watching high-quality Philip Seymour Hoffman movies for decades to come. No, I'd rather focus on the many great women that drift in and out of the film. Thank goodness for them.
Catherine Keener has been nominated for two Oscars (for Being John Malkovich and Capote) and for my money she'd be nominated for her devastatingly funny performance in Hamlet 2. She's clearly smart and amazingly versatile; she can play a bored housewife, but she can also turn men's heads with very little effort. Her gift is that she can hook you and then play with you by switching gears so fast you can't see them. She's lately segued into a series of wonderful character roles and will probably be around for some time.