Joe Wright‘s Anna Karenina (Focus Features, 11.16.12) will have its detractors (in my screening today five or six people were actually chuckling at it during a high-emotion scene in the late second act) but for me it’s a serious, drop-your-socks knockout — the first truly breathtaking high-style film of the year, a non-musical successor to Moulin Rouge and a disciple of the great ’70s films of Ken Russell (and by that I mean pre-Mahler Russell, which means The Music Lovers and Women In Love) as well as Powell-Pressburger’s The Red Shoes.

You either go with the proscenium-arch grandiosity of a film like Anna Karenina or you don’t (and I was just talking in the Bell Lightbox lobby with a critic who didn’t care for it) but if you ask me it has all the essential ingredients of a bold-as-brass Best Picture contender — an excitingly original approach, cliff-leaping audacity, complex choreography, the balls to go classic and crazy at the same time, a wild mixture of theatricality and romantic realism, a superbly tight and expressive script by Tom Stoppard and wowser operatic acting with a special hat-tip to Keira Knightley as Anna — a Best Actress performance if I’ve ever seen one.

The brazen idea behind Wright’s film is that he’s presenting a completely theatrical environment, and therefore defined by and subject to the terms of live theatre. The film literally takes place in a 19th Century theatre with the orchestra seats removed, and yet it’s a special kind of theatre that dissolves and opens up from time to time — regularly, literally — and thus allowing Wright and his players to run out or zoom into a semi-naturalistic world. But one is mostly aware that we’re watching a play that is choreographed like a musical or a ballet with broad but delicious acting and some magnificent dance sequences and killer production design and break-open walls and actors sometimes freezing in their tracks and becoming tableau.

I can imagine some people saying “whoa…this is too much” but like I said, either you understand the concept and accept it…or you don’t. I loved every minute of it except for a portion in the third act when it seems to run out of gas. But it revs up again at the finale.

I’m being kicked out of the Bell Lightbox press lounge as we speak so I guess I’ll have to add to this later on this evening, but I couldn’t feel more excited and elevated.

Those snide bitches who chuckled during this afternoon’s screening needed to be hauled out by the collar and slapped around. If they had been watching Wright’s film as a literal theatrical presentation (and it could be presented that way with modifications), they wouldn’t have dared to laugh at any projection of tragic intensity. No one who understands and respects theatre would do that.

I didn’t mean to suggest that Anna Karenina is as good or almost as good as Moulin Rouge but without the music — it’s a much tonier and classier production than Baz Luhrman‘s film, in my view, although it’s coming from the same general ballpark. And of course it’s a much darker thing than Moulin Rouge, given the Leo Tolstoy source material.

I hate having to stop writing but I’m really being kicked out of here…eff me.