When I was a kid my sister and I spent hours combing through, and listening obsessively to, my mother’s small record collection. Somewhere in there was an album of Barbra Streisand’s that looked something like this (I can’t remember if this was actually the one): 

In other words, everything about the image told the viewer, I have a big nose, and I’m proud of it. Even as a child, without knowing the specific dynamics of antisemitism and cruel views of women’s bodies, I understood that she was making a radical statement. (And who could have been more radically glamorous during the ’60s and ’70s than Streisand?)

Yet in the decades since, a good nose has been hard to find. Cinema is a particularly disappointing place for us nose aficionados who want to find a nice range on actresses. I even found myself coming up with some slightly embarrassing Google searches, mostly for naught. I’d venture to say that Barbra’s was the last truly beautiful, authentic big nose onscreen; in the decades earlier, the only one I can think of was Margaret Hamilton’s (and she was cast as The Wicked Witch of the West):

It’s a sorry state of affairs. A few months ago I wrote about the eternal beauty of a mouth with character, but I think having a real nose is even more radical. (Shall I be hyperbolic? There’s a genocide of real noses in film!) I even became confused because I remembered certain actresses having slightly more distinctive noses than they really do — only to find websites alleging that these women have had very clever and subtle plastic surgery. Where are the women with beautiful, distinctive noses like tennis player Steffi Graf’s (a woman I still think of as one of the most beautiful women ever to play tennis?

I think of a big nose as impossibly sexy and sensuous; as far as I’m concerned noses can be very effective tools in the sack, functioning as extra appendages, and I’m not just talking about their capacity for sniffing. Can it possibly be true that the beautiful and waif-like Claire Danes, with her Steffi Graf-like Germanic face, had the size of her nose reduced? It’s so depressing. One website accuses Penelope Cruz, Anne Hathaway, and Jennifer Aniston of having big noses — absurd! — but one can see that with claims like that floating around, it’s no wonder women are so eager to have work done. No wonder the genocide is underway when plastic surgery is so easily obtained.

The same isn’t true for for male actors. Just think of a couple of my personal favorites, Adrien Brody and Owen Wilson, who get piles and piles of work:

In fact, one of the funniest little bits of cultural referencing in recent film was Matt Damon’s disguise in Oceans’s 13, in which to seduce the gamine Ellen Barkin he donned a prosthetic nose he called The Brody:

If one digs deeper, one can find a few good noses. Vicki Lewis doesn’t get nearly enough work if you ask me, but she was great as the manic secretary on the old NewsRadio series and even more distinctive in the dramatic role in Pushing Tin (1999):

I’m telling ya, friends, it’s a sorry state of affairs. It’s bad enough that actresses have all manner of work done all the time — to make their breasts just a bit bigger, their butts a bit more luscious, their stomachs teeny. But we’ve been engaging in a war on great noses. No wonder we have epidemics of anorexia and plastic surgery among girls starting at age 11. You know what Barbra would say? I do:

Bring back the real nose. It’s a radical statement of identity and self-determination, not to mention ethnic pride and/or a willingness to see past superficial standards for female beauty. Wear your schnozz with pride.

Sometimes you pick up a film because, let’s say, it has two impossibly appealing male leads. I’d be hard-pressed to come up with two guys I like to watch more than Adrien Brody and Mark Ruffalo. And in case that wasn’t enough incentive to watch Rian Johnson’s The Brothers Bloom (and remember Johnson’s début film, the amazing Brick?), the story —  about two con men — is a longtime fascination of mine. (Let me pause to note that this is not my favorite film storyline — that belongs Dysfunctional Family films, movies about Incompetent Criminals, and films about Madness and Sanity.) But guess what? The girls steal the show out from underneath these male actors. I bow down at the feet of Rachel Weisz and Rinko Kikuchi.

Quick rundown on the tale, which is a good one: Stephen (Ruffalo) and Bloom (Brody) have been con men since children in foster care. Great con men. Thing is, Stephen has always been the one who had the true calling for it; Bloom has become increasingly reluctant, uninspired by his brother’s twisting, turning plans. He has begun to feel that his brother controls everything in his life, but he reluctantly agrees to engage in one more con, taking as their mark a reclusive heiress, Penelope, who lives alone in a New Jersey mansion (Weisz).

The last time I saw Weisz playing it for laughs was in The Mummy (1999), and boy did she drop that act for The Mummy Returns (2001). She’s so good here as a lonely, odd girl who teaches herself to play the banjo (and everything else) — and she’s that good because she’s not hamming it up. All those intervening years of increasingly meaty parts have made Weisz incredibly watchable, a canny actor.

In the film, the brothers Bloom find Penelope an eager mark, but not a predictable one. Unlike all their previous cons, Penelope doesn’t care about money — she becomes interested in con artistry itself, and is perfectly happy to use her funds to learn how to do it. Of course Bloom falls in love with her; how could he not? But the nicest trick of this film is making us fall for her too. She’s so earnest, so serious, and so accidentally beautiful; the drop-dead Weisz somehow behaves like those women we all know who don’t seem to understand how fetching they are. Seemingly without effort, Weisz pulls the rug out from underneath those other accomplished actors and compels us to watch her, makes us wonder what’s going on in her head. I’d like to say that Brody and Ruffalo are in on it, but I think they, too, must have been swept off their feet and left helpless to recover their control over the film.

Not that Weisz pulls off this caper alone. She’s assisted by Kikuchi playing Bang-Bang, an explosives expert and new member of the Bloom brothers’ team. In case you’ve forgotten, Kikuchi was magnificent in Babel (2006) as the deaf, angry Japanese teenager Chieko — the most stunning bit of acting in that film, even more notable because she did it without speaking. This part couldn’t be more different — Bang-Bang is wry (just look at the smirk on those lips), much, much smarter even than the Blooms, and has an even more daring sense of fashion.

Kikuchi is mute here as well, a choice I’m still mixed on. I’m sorry to see that such a great actor is getting into English-speaking films only without speaking. And I’m sorry she’s only slotted in here as a distant fourth place behind the other leads. But I can also see that Bang-Bang is a delightful part and that it’s a radically different one than in the tragic story of Chieko, allowing her to show the West more completely what she can do with her face. Kikuchi is having a great deal of fun.

Bang-Bang pursues her own agenda, but she likes Penelope, and the two of them form a strange friendship. Because the film is told via the perspective of Bloom, we aren’t given much of a glimpse into it — but it only seems all the more interesting when viewed from the outside. In fact, outside might be the best explanation for these two women: unlike the charming brothers, they don’t try to bank on their personal appeal or pretend to be anything other than the odd, laser-focused female outsiders they are. They are strange and compelling because they aren’t really seeking to please.

I don’t want to oversell the film: it’s a kind of B+ film that ultimately can’t quite make it out of that ranking (despite the cast and those beautiful clothes, which Brody wears as well as Weisz and Kikuchi). But it’s one of those great little movies that you watch late at night and feel warm and happy and committed to, particularly when we get to see Brody and Weisz falling in love — for by that time we are just as disarmed as Bloom is, and just as eager for their lips to make contact. It’s de-lovely. And for myself, I’m starting to think about catching up on the Weisz back catalogue.

Midnight in Paris (2011): Woody Allen’s surprisingly delightful film is the perfect way to enter into Summer Movie Mind: that mental state in which one doesn’t ask much from the movies except to cool down in that delicious air-conditioned dark and laugh at jokes that feel neither too challenging nor too cheap. To look at pretty people onscreen and receive a narrative resolution that works well enough. In short, this film is an amuse-bouche for summer movie watching.

There’s a line somewhere in the middle of Midnight in Paris in which our hero, Gil (Owen Wilson: why didn’t I ever notice what a good, better-looking Woody Allen he is?) tries to explain his love of cities. They’re better than stories, better than films, he explains — because they’re alive. In every neighborhood, around every corner you find something new, alive. He’s so exactly right on this score, and so reminiscent of Allen at his much-missed best, that the film does double duty: it also makes you want to schedule in a week in a great international city.

In this case he’s trying to explain his love of Paris — and if there’s anyone capable of convincing you to love a city, it’s Woody Allen. Those of us who forget everything that was annoying about Manhattan (by which I mean Woody Allen dating the 17-year-old Mariel Hemingway) do so because of the way it’s a love story to the city of New York. This one is even more delightful — because Allen and his Gil stand-in are both outsiders to the city of Paris, thereby drawing all of us in as compatriots. Whereas his New York movies always give me the teeniest barb, as if they’re trying to tell me I can never truly understand the city like a native, this one is just like the most perfect European vacation you can imagine.

The film is really a tale of how Gil finds himself — and the minute he meets Marion Cotillard as Adriana, we know that things have got to get better. She’s a beautiful woman who’s just as prone to romanticizing the past as Gil is — now Cotillard is one of those female actors who make me fall in love with them the minute they appear. But  the whole cast of bit characters are pitch-perfect delight, not least of whom is Adrien Brody in a short part.

I don’t know about you, but I have a feast of summer movies ahead of me: there’s the new X-Men: First Class, and then Harry Potter and Mike Mills’ Beginners (when, oh when, will this arrive at my local theater??), Larry Crowne (JustMeMike and I are planning another long conversation about it!), and Captain America, which I’m only going to see because my Dear Friend has been pumping up enthusiasm so effectively. And there are the weightier films — I’m so excited about Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life that I can barely speak; and then there’s the possibility I’ll get access to some of those other films we heard about via the Cannes Film Festival, such as The Artist and We Need to Talk About Kevin. In short, our movie waistlines will engorge with empty calories. Why not start with the perfect amuse-bouche: Woody Allen at his best in years.