Films of the week: A portrait of the artist as a Kaufman double in Synecdoche, New York


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The Independent Culture


Synecdoche, New York

12.30am BBC1

(Charlie Kaufman, 2008) Having written several of the most original screenplays of the past decade, Charlie Kaufman made his directorial debut: an overwhelming ontological Möbius strip of a film about the interior life of a New York director (Philip Seymour Hoffman) working on an unending theatre piece "about everything". Surely, the most ambitious film ever made about the limitations of art. *****


The American

10pm Channel 4

(Anton Corbijn, 2010) A film in the tradition of existential European thrillers such as The Conformist and Le Samourai, The American doesn't have a lot of plot but it does have an intensified mood; an economy of style and expression; and a studied elegance and classicism. George Clooney stars as an inscrutable, apparently unfeeling hitman lying low in a small Italian town. ****


Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy

6am & 8pm Sky Movies Comedy

(Adam McKay, 2004) The pompous Ron Burgundy, Seventies San Diego's favourite local newsreader, is the character best fitted to the talents of the comedian Will Ferrell, and this is the most consistently hilarious of his semi-improvised comedies. Christina Applegate, as the female news anchor who turns Burgundy's world upside down, is a perfect foil for his absurdist bluster. ****



10pm Sky Movies Select

(David Fincher, 1995) In an unnamed city where it's always night and it never stops raining, two detectives, played by Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman, follow the trail of a serial killer who arranges his victims' corpses in tableaux to illustrate the seven deadly sins. Its plot isn't especially distinctive, then, but this influential thriller is so relentlessly stygian that it becomes a masterpiece of mood; a symphony of gloom. ****


Once Upon a Time in the West

12.35pm & 7.15pm Sky Movies Select

(Sergio Leone, 1968) After the US success of his Italian spaghetti Westerns, Sergio Leone made this one – which many consider his masterpiece – for Paramount. He cast Henry Fonda brilliantly against type as a remorseless gunslinger, and Charles Bronson and Jason Robards as the guns for hire who go after him. It is richly cinematic, uniquely styled, epic, elegiac and cruel. *****


Dancer in the Dark

1.15am Film4

(Lars von Trier, 2000) The concluding part of Lars von Trier's "Golden Heart" trilogy of films about saintly, suffering women stars Björk as an immigrant factory worker in Sixties rural America, saving for her son's eye operation. Her performance and her musical score and songs are all excellently realised, and it's an extremely potent – albeit self-consciously manipulative – musical melodrama. ****


The Kids Are All Right

11.10pm Channel 4

(Lisa Cholodenko, 2010) Julianne Moore and Annette Bening star as a well-off married couple whose teenage children establish contact with their sperm-donor father (Mark Ruffalo). On one level a very funny comedy of modern manners skewering a particular LA way of speaking, this sharply written film is also about ordinary, everyday family life – and how full of surprises it can be. *****