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Charles Krauthammer

Discoveries, Real and Imagined

By Charles Krauthammer
Friday, December 24, 2004; Page A17

When it comes to music, my wife is oracular. Every so often she puts on a CD of some little-known artist and says, "This is interesting, you've got to listen," and six months later Diana Krall is the toast of the Grammys.

I feel I should be doing something with this foreknowledge -- like the guy who writes to "Wall Street Week" convinced that molybdenum is going to be very hot and inquiring how to do a molybdenum play on the stock market. Sadly, I have never been able to cash in on my wife's uncanny prescience. But I have tried to hone a similar (and equally unremunerated) talent in my own preferred field: film.

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I had one early success, discovering Bogart (for myself) long before he was cool. The discovery was entirely accidental. I was 15, and my older brother and I set out halfway across Long Island to see "Harper," the new Paul Newman private eye flick. It was a double feature -- we only went to double features, hence the drive -- and the B picture was something called "The Big Sleep."

Never heard of it. Never heard of anybody in it. But when we walked out of the theater, "Harper" was not on my mind. Bogart was. I asked my brother: "Who is this guy?" He did not know. None of his friends knew. No one we knew knew.

I had to know. I am not sure whether I was drawn more to Bogart's cynicism or his uprightness. But the combination, housed in the driest insouciance, was irresistible, the very definition of manliness. I was hooked.

Yet it was not until I moved to Cambridge, Mass., a decade later that I discovered that my fascination with Bogart -- by then I'd seen every one of his great movies from "The Petrified Forest" to "The Maltese Falcon" to "The Caine Mutiny" -- was no private fixation. My eccentricity had gone mainstream, with Bogart festivals at the Brattle Theater and not one but two local joints (the Blue Parrot and the Casablanca) to bring you back to Rick's.

Generally, however, the movie gems I have discovered -- "Lies My Father Told Me," "The Stranger" (the Mastroianni version of the Camus novel) -- have remained private secrets, so unremembered that not even Steve, the maestro of my local video store, has heard of them.

Last month I thought I had stumbled on another secret gem. It was Thanksgiving. My son was home from college, and we decided to go to a movie. I had done some online perusing earlier in the day, looking for a film I knew nothing about. I wanted to be surprised -- a rare event these days with newspapers, TV and the Internet telling you everything there is to know about a movie before you reach the ticket booth.

In fact, blessed as I am to be a reader of The Post's Stephen Hunter, the best movie reviewer alive, there is often no reason to actually see any movie personally, as it were. Hunter's ribald, rollicking, Falstaffian reviews are invariably better than the movie he is writing about. I often read him, then choose the superior alternative: I stay home and watch a wildlife documentary in high-def.

So this time I picked something I had never heard of, "Sideways," playing at the local art house. The theater is just about empty. The movie is sublime, all the richer for being a surprise from beginning to end.

My first reaction upon seeing it is gratitude. With so many mindless movies around, one is simply grateful for any movie this intelligent. And this one is at once clever, funny, moving -- a tightly scripted four-actor ensemble framed, improbably and brilliantly, by meditations on wine.

It does subtle, it does slapstick, with equal ease and command. "Sideways" is so delightful at every turn that you wish you could see it fresh -- and be surprised again like the first time. That being impossible, I did the next best thing. I started proselytizing. First I took my wife, then friends, vicariously reveling in their surprise and delight.

I began noticing something: The theater was filling up. Originally near-empty, it was half-full my second time, sold out my third. That is when I realized how out of it I was. My little secret movie then is named best picture of the year by the New York and Los Angeles film critics and receives more Golden Globe nominations than any other movie.

Some secret. Once again, there will be no molybdenum play for me. Just a nice holiday treat for you. You realize that I told you very little about "Sideways." I want you to see it fresh and be surprised. Don't read up on it. Trust me on this one. See it.

letters@charleskrauthammer.com


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