' Cinema Romantico: 10 Items or Less

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

10 Items or Less

This is a re-posting of an entry originally written last December. It is being re-posted today for several reasons. 1.) It was, as you may or may not know, the best film of last year in the estimation of Cinema Romantico. 2.) It seems to have only been released in approximately 3 cities for approximately 2 weeks. 3.) It is being released today on DVD. Therefore we here at Cinema Romantico are urging all of our loyal readers who may have missed the opportunity to view this one at the theater to rent it at your earliest convenience. Then sit back and let the magic of cinema take you away.

It seems a lot of the time the best movies of the year sneak up on you. It's not always the case, of course, but often the movies you anticipate the most turn out to be the ones that leave you the most dissapointed. Quite frankly, I didn't even know a movie called "10 Items or Less" existed until I saw an ad for it in the newspaper last week. It appeared intriguing and so I chose to check it out. In "Dr. Strangelove" it was General Buck C. Turgidson who said, "I hate to judge on a thing like that until all the facts are in" and, heeding his statement, I will hold off on making any absolute declarations. But what I will say at this point is that "10 Items or Less" is undoubtedly the best film I've seen so far this year.

Disclaimer: this film was engineered specifically for a person such as Nick Prigge and may not be so specifically created for you. The movie's foundation is built on two things - character and dialogue. Plot is virtually non-existent. The story is slight. Morgan Freeman stars as a famous actor (of action thrillers with Ashley Judd - wink, wink) who has not worked in four years. He is entertaining an offer for a severely independent film. The role calls for him to portray a store manager and so he winds up at a crummy grocery store on the outskirts of L.A. in order to do "research".

Once there he meets a feisty cashier (is there any other kind?) named Scarlett who works the 10 items or less lane. The two of them inevitably bond. The actor (whose name is never mentioned) is supposed to have someone from the "crew" pick him up but this person never shows. The actor only knows the phone # for agent but it's a Jewish holiday the next day and no one is there, though I will leave it to you to decide if this is true or the Actor's ploy.

Scarlett has an interview for a job as a secretary at a construction company and this is what passes for "plot". The Actor treats the interview like an audition and coaches Scarlett as they lazily meander their way through L.A.

As the Actor Morgan Freeman gives the performance of the year. We think of him as such a stoic actor but here he is playful, vibrant and alive. I love watching an actor having a good time as he performs and it is clear that Freeman is having an total ball. The Actor is dropped into a world he doesn't know at all and it is genuine fun in watching Freeman lighten up as he helps Scarlett in her quest, meets people he would otherwise never meet and experience unfamiliar things for the first time. Watch as the duo enters a certain superstore with which we're all familiar:

Him: "This is amazing."
Her: "It's Target."
Him: "Fantastic."

As the cashier Paz Vega is Freeman's equal. The duo excels at everything they are asked to do and even help lift moments that may very well have felt saccharine in lesser hands, such as the moment when they provide "10 items or less" in their lives they want to get rid of or keep. But they sell this scene. They really sell it.

The romantic angle you would expect is never played up. The bond remains platonic. This is refreshing. The decisions the two characters wind up making feel like the decisions they would have made even if they had not met this other person. But their chance encounter helps to make them feel more assured about their decisions and their direction in life.

The film is a celebration of the Perfect Day. We've all had them and they're always unexpected. There comes a moment when Freeman and Vega are cruising the freeway and listening to Paul Simon and the looks on both of their faces perfectly express two people who have just realized they've had the Perfect Day. And you can tell they're - as another character in another movie says - "reminiscing this right now".

So okay, let's see, things I want to keep - 10 items or less. My family. My friends. Bruce Springsteen. The holiday season. Eggnog lattes. Nebraska going to the Cotton Bowl. Nameless, beautiful women on the train. Stanley, from "The Office". Chili with cheese on top. And, oh yeah, movies like this one.

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