Directorial Debuts: Part II (1970’s)

The 1970’s is my favorite decade of cinema by far. Most of my most admired directors had their heyday during this ten-year period, and the majority of films I consider my all-time favorites came out here as well. In Part I of this series, I concentrated on the dearth of great film debuts since 2000 and I suppose there are a few reasons for this. And though the 1970’s brought us the debuts from the likes of Steven Spielberg, Oliver Stone, Ridley Scott, Wim Wenders, Ron Howard, Adrian Lyne, Catherine Breillat, and a host of other notable talents, I wouldn’t necessarily classify their first efforts as being overly impressive. Here are my Top 5 Directorial Debuts from the 1970’s. Again, this is surely not a list of who I believe the best directors are to come out of the decade…I’m just judging first films here and the impact it had on cinema and the rest of their careers. As always, I’d love to see who you might include.

5. Tobe Hooper (Texas Chainsaw Massacre, 1974)

One of the most influential horror films in cinema history, without question. And a film that will always freak me the fuck out. I’m not sure if it’s because Hooper’s film is so low budget (less than $300,000), but the quality of it gives the feeling of a snuff film that only adds to the fright factor. The aesthetic quality of the film is impressive and he does manage to get solid performances from a cast of complete unknowns. The irony with this horror flick is that it got an R-rating (though Hooper was fighting for a PG) and even Roger Ebert cited the movie “as violent and gruesome and blood-soaked as the title promises,” when in fact, there is very little blood or gore at all. A testament to the power of the mind and Hooper’s strong work here. Leatherface, inspired by real-life serial killer Ed Gein, is without a doubt, one of the most terrifying and haunting figures in movies, as he waits for his prey in his dilapidated home in the middle of nowhere. Hooper would go on to direct the ill-fated sequel and a host of other horror flicks, but has never managed to outdo this first grand effort.

4. David Lynch (Eraserhead, 1977)

Um…yeah. Not really sure what to say here. Perhaps Entertainment Weekly said it best when they wrote, “Eraserhead is about that which can’t be described.” I could not have put it better myself. Since its initial release, the film has become one of the all-time great cult classics and is the epitome of “the midnight movie.”  Those familiar with the extraordinarily remarkable resume of Lynch, will surely be able to see a number of his favorite themes being introduced here for the first time. Lynch started work on the film when he was given a small grant by the AFI Conservatory, but the money of course ran out and it took him over 5 years to shoot — in spurts. Eraserhead is certainly not for everyone…in fact, it’s not for most. However, you can surely see the singular artistic vision that is David Lynch’s — his style, pacing, use of music, visuals, are all on display, and if not for this work, Mel Brooks would have had nothing to be so impressed by to hire him to helm The Elephant Man.  One significant sidenote – the US Library of Congress selected the film for preservation in the National Film Registry in 2004. So there’s that…

3. Clint Eastwood (Play Misty for Me, 1971)

The Oscar-winning director behind such mighty works as Mystic River, Million Dollar BabyUnforgiven, and A Perfect World began his filmmaking career with this gripping psychological thriller. here, Eastwood plays a late-night disc jockey who has a brief fling with Evelyn Draper (a frightening Jessica Walter), an obsessed fan of his. It doesn’t take long for Draper to become more than a little obsessed with the DJ and eventually becomes quite the deranged stalker. The film was released before many stalker films of its kind began to come out, and, rarely seen, showcased a psychotic female villain. Fatal Attraction, anyone? After years and years of working in front of the camera, it is clear that Eastwood picked up a lot from working with great (and not-so-great) directors and puts that knowledge to most impressive use here. A sign of wondrous things to come from this mighty artist.

2. Erroll Morris (Gates of Heaven, 1978)

The movie that launched the career of one of America’s premier documentarians. Of course, the main focus of the film is about the pet cemetery business, but the way Morris frames the work, it becomes about so much more than that. Themes of the afterlife, the inevitability of one’s own mortality, what pets mean in our everyday lives seep through and stay with you long after the film ends. There is no narration at all — unlike some of today’s “documentary” filmmakers, Morris refuses to editorialize for us and tell us what to think. It’s a fascinating film that many — most notably Werner Herzog — thought would never see the light of day. Herzog famously wagered that he would eat his own shoe if the movie was ever completed. True to his word, the great director consumed his own footwear, and became the subject of the delightful short 20-minute film Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe. The score…Morris 1, Herzog 0.

1. Terrence Malick (Badlands, 1973)

Not simply a magnificent directorial debut, but one of the best movies to come out of the 1970’s, period.  Made for around $300,000, Malick began working on Badlands after his 2nd year at AFI. The film revolves around the cross-country killing spree of sociopathic Kit (Martin Sheen) and young Holly (Sissy Spacek), after he charms her away from her dead-end South Dakota town.   The film managed to steal the limelight from Scorsese’s Mean Streets when it played at the New York Film Festival and critics were unanimous in their praise for the new filmmaker who depicted the violence in a very cold and remorseless way rather than with brutality and gore. Using America’s Midwest as the backdrop, Badlands plays a bit like Bonnie and Clyde (and perhaps a forerunner to Stone’s NBK), but the characters seem more real and the acts, more haunting than Penn’s piece. This film will surely be on any “Best Debut” list, but there is surely a reason for that. Malick, one of cinema’s most visionary directors with a painstaking eye for detail, cemented his reputation at the onset here, prompting his star Spacek to say (after working with him), “The artist rules. Nothing else matters.” Amen.

NEXT UP: ‘DIRECTORIAL DEBUTS PART III’ will give us the best from the 1960’s. 

Top 5 Directorial Debuts: Part I (the 2000’s)

So this weekend, I was revisiting Sex, Lies, and VideotapeSteven Soderbergh’s explosive debut feature film from 1989 – and a few thoughts came to mind. First, was how fast time flies. I vividly recall seeing this intelligent and intimate little film in theaters with good friends and raving about it long after – 23 years ago! Second was how well the film holds up – a whole generation later, it is just as affecting and impressive as it was when it (and by proxy, Soderbergh) was the talk of Hollywood. Finally, and what inspired me to write this post was the question – where have all of the splashy film directorial debuts gone? You look at the 1960’s, 70’s, 80’s and 90’s and the names of filmmakers who came on the scene in striking fashion are pretty outstanding. The decade 2000 – 2009…well, not so much.

Take the 1980’s. And look at the awe-inspiring names who came out of it…not just directors who started in the 80’s, but those who made waves in their very first film. Soderbergh is just one – and with “Sex, Lies…” (and his Oscar nomination for it) you knew he was the real deal. Cameron Crowe (1989’s Say Anything), Barry Levinson (Diner), Sam Raimi (The Evil Dead), and Lawrence Kasdan (Body Heat) are just a small handful of filmmakers who burst on the scene in the 1980’s. Perhaps most notably would be the Coen Brothers, whose debut film Blood Simple came out in 1984. Most critics felt something special with the talents of Joel and Ethan. Vincent Canby of The New York Times sure did, declaring Blood Simple to be the most impressive debut feature since Orson Welles made Citizen Kane. Talk about lofty praise and grand expectations. Now, nearly 20 years later, the Coen Brothers have managed to surpass those expectations and remain at the forefront of American film directors, creating extraordinary work on a consistent basis.

The 1990’s? More impressive names and the talent, just as significant. Quentin Tarantino brought us Reservoir Dogs in 1991, Paul Thomas Anderson hit the screens with Hard Eight (1996), and Danny Boyle’s Shallow Grave was released in 1994. Other exceptional debuts? Larry Clark (Kids), Sean Penn (The Indian Runner), Christopher Nolan (Following), John Singleton (Boyz n the Hood), and Todd Haynes (Poison).

However, you’d be hard-pressed to find many stellar debuts since the millennium. Of course new directors emerge each year, but it seems that it takes them a few putts to actually sink one in. Very few come on the scene with guns blazing and a blitzkrieg of amazing press. So I did some research and looked up all of the directorial debuts since 2000. There weren’t very many to pick from, but here are my Top 5 Directorial debuts since 2000. I’d love to hear from you and see who you might put on this list.

5.  Scott Frank (The Lookout, 2007)

Frank’s resume as a screenwriter is super-impressive (Minority Report, Out of Sight, Get Shorty, just to name a few). What’s even more impressive? His debut as director with this smart, savvy and hugely entertaining crime thriller starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt. I was so impressed by it that I actually put it at the top of my favorite films of that year. Levitt’s character is a young athlete with a promising career. A tragic accident derails all of his hopes and dreams and years later, as he tries to sustain some state of normalcy, he is coerced into robbing a bank. A great achievement and a film that I would recommend to just about anyone. I am left wondering why it is taking so long for his follow-up…

4. Judd Apatow (The 40-Year Old Virgin, 2005)

He’s not just on this list because he’s a fellow Long Islander, but because he is responsible for bringing a new wave of comedy to a completely new generation of film-goers. I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to call him the modern day Mel Brooks or even (dare I say) Woody Allen. Known mainly as a writer, Apatow debuted with this delightful, smart, and hysterical film starring Steve Carell and Catherine Keener. In most of his works, Apatow has a tremendous knack for giving us perverse and (at times) disgusting comedy, but combining it with remarkable heart — as he does here with poor Carell and his little…problem. Apatow has also managed to highlight the comedic talents of a fresh new batch of actors who have appeared in a number of his projects. An impressive debut, a major player, and one of the funniest films to come out in recent years.

3. Jason Reitman (Thank You for Smoking, 2006)

Perhaps it’s in the genes. After a number of short films, Reitman came out with this dark comedy and was, in my opinion, one of the year’s very best. This biting satire stars Aaron Eckhart as a company spokesman for big tobacco. While trying to put a positive spin on a substance that kills millions, he tries to maintain some relationship with his young and impressionable son who looks up to him like a rock star. Great script, terrific performances, and deft direction. A memorable debut from a talent that has since come out with strong works such as Up in the Air and Young Adult — seeming to get the most from his gifted actors — and has clearly developed a style and voice all his own.

2. Neill Blomkamp (District 9, 2009)

A fantastic directorial debut and a movie that I put at the #1 spot of that year. Based on his short film a few years prior, District 9 offers a superb analogy of the horrific events that took place in District Six of Cape Town during the apartheid era and deals with themes of xenophobia and segregation. I’m not even a sci-fi fan at all, but I couldn’t help but be moved and amazed by Blomkamp’s masterful work. Love the style that it is shot in and Sharlto Copley delivers an outstanding performance as Wikus van de Merwe, a mild-mannered manager at the Department of Alien Affairs, whose entire life is changed when he becomes infected. And to think this was Copley’s first time acting in a feature film. This film is an extraordinary cinematic achievement — and it will be very interesting to see what the future holds for this very talented artist.

1. Todd Field (In the Bedroom, 2001)

Little Children was a remarkably powerful film and a tremendous achievement. But In the Bedroom marked Field’s debut as a filmmaker, after years of being in front of the camera. This film, starring Tom Wilkinson, Marisa Tomei, and Sissy Spacek was, in my estimation, one of the very best to come out the entire decade. Field not only adapts Andre Dubus’ short story with expert precision, but gets A+ performances from his entire ensemble and creates a mood and New England-y feel that is unmistakable. Field makes the kind of film I would so want to make — as we watch a grieving couple try to cope with the tragic death of their son — and see the father (a magnificent Wilkinson), begin to take matters into his own hands. I can’t tell you how many times I have sat through this movie – and it never ceases to move and affect me. To me, In the Bedroom is the debut of the 2000’s — and I will be in line very early to see his next film Creed of Violence later this year.

Other very impressive debuts by filmmakers I’d love to see more from: Sarah Polley (the very moving Away From Her), Steve McQueen (Hunger), Sean Durkin (Martha Marcy May Marlene), and I really hope that the brilliant writer and director Martin McDonagh (In Bruges) gets back behind the camera soon!

NEXT UP: ‘DIRECTORIAL DEBUTS PART II’ will cover the 1970’s, the best decade of cinema ever!!!

Top 5: Robert Downey, Jr.

So The Avengers — one of the most highly anticipated movies in recent years — comes out today. Judging only by the trailers and promos, it does not look very good at all and I remain indifferent to even seeing Joss Whedon’s Marvel Comics early summer blockbuster, even if it does co-star the stunning Scarlett Johansson. The film also marks the return of the character of Tony Stark (a.k.a. Iron Man) played by none other than 47 year-old Robert Downey, Jr., one of America’s most talented, if not complex actors of his generation.

His resume is a long and impressive one, appearing in films for pretty much his entire life – since age 5 actually, when he had a role in his father’s film Pound. If you blinked, you missed his stint on TV’s Saturday Night Live in 1985. He is usually associated with the 80’s “Brat Pack” gang for appearing in movies like Pretty in Pink, Tuff Turf, and The Pick-Up Artist – though I never really put him in that group. Of course he has had his troubles with the law and his drug addictions have been well-documented and publicized. But he has still managed to come out in the most spectacular of fashions – with 2008 bringing him to rock star/blockbuster status. Things were going so well for Downey that he even made it on The Time 100, Time magazine’s list of the most influential people in the world. Makes the word ‘comeback’ sound like a ridiculous understatement. In fact, his popularity seems to be growing the last few years. Anyway, with the release of The Avengers, I thought it would be a fitting time to list what I find to be Robert Downey, Jr.’s Top 5 performances thus far. As always, these are not a list of the best films he has been in – I am strictly looking at performance:

5. Zodiac (2007)

I have no problems with saying I did not enjoy this film, despite my admiration for director David Fincher and its appearance on a multitude of Top 10 lists of that year. I had problems with the script and its dreary pacing. Plus, as I’ve said before, it’s always a bit sad and painful to watch poor Jake try his heart out to less than adequate results. Having said that, I cannot deny Downey’s impressive performance here in which he plays newspaper crime reporter Paul Avery who begins to share information with a political cartoonist, as the two try to decode letters that have been sent to the paper by who they believe to be the Zodiac Killer. Downey almost always plays characters with tremendous egos with little humility and there is no exception here. But it is his performance that kept me (at least somewhat) interested. His sarcastic sense of humor helps this otherwise bleak film and he manages to wear the style and mannerisms of a beat reporter in effortless fashion.

4. Tropic Thunder (2008)

You may laugh at and mock me, but I don’t care. If I had a vote, it would have gone to Downey over the late Heath Ledger (I know – blasphemy!) for playing five-time Oscar-winning Australian Kirk Lazarus in this intelligent and amazingly funny Ben Stiller comedy. I know his casting here raised some eyebrows initially, but Downey does comedy extremely well, partly because he plays it completely straight. His Lazarus gets a pigmentation alteration surgery to play a black sergeant in a Vietnam film. What makes it even funnier is that, because he is such a dedicated Method actor, he refuses to break character while filming and only speaks in “Black English.” As Stiller’s acting rival, Downey is nothing short of hysterical. A brave role for him to take on and he was rewarded with his 2nd Oscar nomination for doing so (which, as we all know, he should have won). You see? Going full retard, can pay off Robert!

3. Less Than Zero (1987)

A very 1980’s look at the culture of the spoiled and the young in Los Angeles based on the novel by Bret Easton Ellis. The film surely has its many flaws and looks pretty dated by today’s standards, but one shining light in it is Downey’s performance as Julian, a young drug addict disintegrating before our very eyes. The movie’s portrait of drug use does seem genuine and at times, downright scary. The same can be said of what Downey does here….his commendable knack for making you laugh one moment and feel incredible sadness the next is clearly on display in this film that really cemented him as a true player in Hollywood. He played some great supporting roles before this (Back to School, Weird Science) and made the most of his screen time. But this truly made him legit and opened everyone’s eyes. Today, when people think of this movie, they first think of Downey’s harrowing and intense work. It should also be noted that it is so easy to fall into the hole of going over-the-top when playing such a character (as many often do)…but I see a lot of subtlety in his work here.

2. Iron Man (2008)

When I first learned that Downey would be starring as a superhero in Jon Favreau’s mega-blockbuster, I thought it a very peculiar casting choice to say the very least. I just didn’t see it — and I am sure many others felt the very same way. But after years of being very successful in film and TV, this is where Mr. Downey hit gold. Now it’s next-to impossible to think of Tony Stark and not picture the the brash Thespian. Tony Stark is an ego-maniac, and we love him anyway. He is eccentric, brilliant, self-promoting, cocky, sarcastic, and courageous. Downey is a master at playing these quirky and gregarious characters – but what makes him so special is that he is also able to show us the vulnerable and the frightened. Whoever thought of casting him at the center of the Hollywood heavyweight surely has more foresight than me. The first Iron Man flick worked in so many ways (unlike the obligatory sequel which was weighed down by an unfocused script), and Downey was indeed a huge part of that. He said of landing the role: “I prepared for the screen test so feverishly that I literally made it impossible for anybody to do a better job.” Whatever he did worked — and he has brought life to one of the more fascinating superheroes to come to the silver screen.

1. Chaplin (1992)

This selection is a no-brainer for me, even with Downey’s many great performances. You can count the number of geniuses who have worked in film on one, perhaps two hands — and Charles Chaplin is indeed one of them. Talk about enormous shoes to fill. Richard Attenborough’s movie left a lot to be desired, but you can’t say that about Downey and his efforts…he gives a tour de force performance and unlike anything he had ever done to that point. Of the project, Downey stated it was, “The biggest humiliation I’ve ever experienced. It was like winning the lottery, then going to prison. I realized that nothing that had worked for me before was going to work here.”  Downey does a brilliant job at not only nailing the monumental moments, but also, at capturing the tiniest of Chaplin’s nuances. He received his first Oscar nomination for his work here and solidified his stature as a leading man. Watch the video below — it is the magical (albeit fictional) moment when Chaplin experiences a life-changing epiphany and creates one of film’s most iconic characters – The Little Tramp. It is a wonder to watch and it gives you just a small glimmer of the masterful work Downey does here. Watch his eyes, his body language, the brows…it’s remarkable work. His best to date, in my opinion. But with the roll he is on, there is no telling what he’ll come up with next.

A quick P.S. — I loved Mr. Downey’s work in Short Cuts, Natural Born Killers, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and especially Wonder Boys…but as always, 5 slots goes by way too quickly.

Top 5 Tuesday: Martin Scorsese

I thought it was high time that The Lantern finally give one of America’s greatest filmmakers his due. In all honesty, I am somewhat embarrassed that it has taken me this long to post a list honoring the legendary Martin Scorsese. But to make up for my negligence, I thought it would be a good idea to get two separate Top 5’s composed by two huge Marty fans…Phil Carbo (who writes the ‘Ludovico Files‘ page) was gracious enough to share his personal favorites…and I have my own 5 faves here as well. And we are both in agreement…with so many classic films to choose from (including his many documentaries & shorts) since the late 1960’s, this was one challenging task. Five slots go way too quickly, and many great films are unfortunately left off both lists. Not only is he a master director constantly pushing the boundaries of filmmaking, but he has done so much for the preservation of film – and that, my friends, is pretty awesome. I mean really, is there anyone you would rather learn about the history of film than this guy? The man is a walking encyclopedia of movie knowledge. I can hear him speak about movies for hours and still want more. And to think that before becoming one of our most cherished directors, he was seriously considering a life as a priest. Instead, he became one of the most influential directors of the modern era — and at age 68, is still hard at work and entertaining us all. Here are our lists…they are surprisingly similar (so much for diversity…sorry guys), which surprised me just a bit. ENJOY!

Phil Carbo’s Top 5:

5. Bringing Out the Dead (1999)

I’m sure many will think this is an odd choice and question whether this is truly one of the top-5 films of Scorsese’s storied career but to me, while not bringing the best plot or pacing to the table, Bringing out the Dead is a film that is quintessential Scorsese.  First, it reunites him with screenwriter Paul Schrader and the two have an undeniable chemistry.  Schrader’s scripts typically reveal the darker side of New York and this film is, despite its slow pace, a perfect vehicle for Marty’s trademark, hyper kinetic style: close-ups, dolly shots, lightning edits, fast motion and all enhanced with a classic rock soundtrack that is prototypical Scorsese.  Sure Nicolas Cage is over the top — but when is he not?  Marty’s vision here actually lends itself to the hyped-up, manic performances.  Filmed almost entirely at the darkest hours of the night, it progressively exhibits a surrealness and frantic absurdity that feels born out of a nightmare.

4. After Hours (1985)

Speaking of nightmares, the kinetic pace and off-the-wall oddness of this black comedy plays out like a bad dream for both Griffin Dunne’s character and the viewer. Little known fact: Tim Burton was originally attached to the project, which would have been interesting because After Hours seems like more of a Burton film…but Scorsese, of course, makes the material his own.  One of his few comedies, he once again exposes the darker side of New York as the city becomes a central character.  As mentioned, the film taps into many of the motifs we all find in our dreams (the reoccurrence of locations, the feeling that one is running and running but can’t seem to get away, and a seeming randomness to everything going on).  The film ends strangely (apparently a point of contention during filming), seeming to imply that the “normalcy” of a 9-5 office existence is not necessarily a bad thing.  Whatever you take from it, one thing is certain – this is one of Scorsese’s more visually arresting films.

3. Taxi Driver (1976)

This film and my next are pretty much no-brainers.  When one thinks of Scorsese, it’s impossible for Taxi Driver to NOT come to mind.  It is a dark and deliberately paced film and contains one of DeNiro’s top 5 best performances.  Story aside, it is impossible not to marvel at the craft of filmmaking Scorsese brings to this film.  From the opening shot of the taxi driving slowly through puffs of city steam to the shocking and graphic shootout (that ironically turns Travis from psychopath to hero – at least in the public eye) the entire film has an uneasy edge.  Marty developed his trademark themes of alienation and Christian guilt in early films such as Mean Streets, but with Taxi Driver he was at the top of his game, and in the process helped to define the gritty, maverick style that 70’s film is known for (and sadly missed).

2. Raging Bull (1980)

From opening frame to end, Raging Bull showcases the artistic genius of Scorsese like no other. Filmed in black and white (with one amazingly inventive color sequence), Raging Bull lays bare the tragic despair of Jake LaMotta, a man so full of self-loathing, that he abuses and alienates everyone around him, including his wife and brother with unspeakable brutality. Robert DeNiro once again proves his incredible ability to morph into character like no other actor of his time.  The violence both in and out of the ring is graphic, with close-ups of blood spurting from open wounds, and dialogue that makes some scenes downright uncomfortable to watch; all ultimately help us understand this unrepentant character.  This film was made during a difficult time in Scorsese’s life.  He was battling addiction and saw a bit of himself in LaMotta’s fall from grace. In this sense, it’s one of Scorsese’s most personal and autobiographic films (the theme of redemption comes up in many of his more accomplished works).  As a side note: It’s also the first time Joe Pesci would give an ass-kicking to Frank Vincent (a recurring cycle in several subsequent films until Vincent gets his ultimate revenge in Casino).

1. Goodfellas (1990)

I could easily write a Masters’ thesis on Goodfellas.  In my opinion, it’s not only Scorsese’s best, but it also happens to be my favorite film of all-time. It’s the first film that made me understand the medium as an art form. Goodfellas takes all the elements of great cinema to create the feeling that you are experiencing all of the joys, anger, paranoia, and desperation of each character.  And truth be told, I wasn’t even that interested in seeing it when released in 1990.  My friends had to convince me into going.  This probably had something to do with the fact that I had recently watched Sergio Leone’s ganster epic, Once Upon a Time in America, and while a good film, is just too slow for my taste.  At nearly 2 ½ hours, I suppose I expected the same from Goodfellas, but boy… was I wrong.  From the very moment the title zooms across the screen to a revving engine to Sid Vicious’ cover of “My Way” over the end credits, the movie never fails to electrify in its brilliance.  Scorsese has since made other phenomenal films in the genre (Casino, Gangs of New York and The Departed come to mind), but Goodfellas sets the gold standard for a plethora of the modern crime dramas that followed and remains the high-water mark of Marty’s career.

Peter’s Top 5:

5. Gangs of New York (2002)

I had about three different films in this slot before finally deciding on this ambitious work. More than any other Scorsese film in recent years, this one for me most resembles his stellar films of the 70’s & 80’s. I love the historical context of Lower New York’s “Five Points” district (1846 – 1862) and how Scorsese creates this past world. Daniel Day-Lewis gives another towering performance here as “Bill the Butcher,” the leader of the natives looking to oust all of the immigrants making their way to shore. John C. Reilly, Liam Neeson, and Jim Broadbent give fine supporting performances. I’m not a Leo-hater by any means and his performance here is adequate, but his irregular Irish accent does bother me. The production design and period costumes are stunning – and the camerawork is gripping. A majestic American tale – and my favorite Scorsese movie of the past 10+ years.

4. After Hours (1985)

I know many would put his other black comedy King of Comedy (1982) on the list instead, and I would have no problem with that. But for me, this cult classic is one of my all-time favorite comedies. Joseph Minion’s script is an absolute trip, the camera never stops moving, and the all-star cast turn in some great performances. This is a wonderfully quirky and imaginative “New York movie” following the many misadventures and dangers that sheepish Paul Hackett (Griffin Dunne) encounters one evening as he simply tries to make his way home. As Phil cites above, Tim Burton was slated to direct this first – but seeing it now, I can’t imagine anyone else doing it. This is a genuine Scorsese flick and a must-see for any fan of his work.

3. Taxi Driver (1976)

A classic, gritty New York motion picture. Seeing it years later gives you such an authentic sense of how Manhattan (especially the seedier parts of it) was in the 1970’s. This is early Robert DeNiro, which means he gave it his Method-best (wish he were still here with us, btw). As the lonely, dejected ex-Marine Travis Bickle, DeNiro gives us one of the silver screen’s most terrifying characters – a ticking time bomb that can go off at any time as he drives through the streets of New York late at night, disgusted at what he sees. Scorsese assembled a great supporting cast – led by a young Jodie Foster, Harvey Keitel, Albert Brooks, and Cybill Shepherd. Paul Schrader’s script is authentic and inspiring and Bernard Herrmann’s music captures Bickle’s state of mind perfectly. A graphically violent movie, it’s surely not for the faint-of-heart. But it remains a mesmerizing character picture with a fantastic denouement that resonates long after.

2. Goodfellas (1990)

A beautiful & explosive piece of filmmaking – and one of the very best mobster movies of all-time. I was always fascinated by how beautifully Scorsese and his creative team captured the many decades that this epic film spans…from the 1950’s through the 1980’s, Goodfellas encapsulates each period so well. The costumes, art direction, and music featured…all marvelously executed as we watch the rise and fall of the Lucchese crime family. Joe Pesci as the psychopathic Tommy DeVito is scary as hell, Lorraine Bracco was robbed of what should have been an Oscar-winning performance, DeNiro gives another well-crafted performance – and Ray Liotta does a terrific job of holding the entire film together. In fact, he has never been better. As impressive as the film is from a moviemaking standpoint, Scorsese managed to make this one hell of an entertaining flick – its 2 ½ hours breezing right by and you want another hour of it all. Love the “Layla” sequence and that impressive long tracking shot through the Copacabana is always a wonder to watch.

1. Raging Bull (1980)

In my opinion, this is Scorsese’s masterpiece. It is in no way one of those films I can turn on and watch at any time. I need to emotionally brace myself for this one because it is hard to stomach at times. Let’s face it…the guy is a fucking animal. Robert DeNiro is at the top of his game here as the brutish middleweight boxer Jake LaMotta,  giving arguably the best performance of his career and one of the greatest performances in film history. Joe Pesci is terrific as his brother. Calling Michael Chapman’s black-and-white photography breathtaking and stunning is still not doing justice to his work here. Thelma Schoonmaker’s editing is crisp and fierce. One of the greatest bio pictures ever made and an instant classic to be sure. This is a haunting, powerful film that is a mesmerizing piece of filmmaking. Marty’s best work to date.

Peter’s Honorable Mentions:

My Voyage to Italy (1999)
Casino (1995)

The 10 Creepiest David Lynch Moments

As a tremendous admirer of David Lynch and his artistry, I thought this was a brilliant idea for a post by the writers of Zen College Life (www.zencollegelife.com). I personally feel that he is one of only a select handful of American filmmakers who you can classify as a true “auteur.” Katina Solomon was kind enough to send this my way and after reading it, I felt I must publish it here on The Lantern to help spread the Gospel of Lynch. Some amazing and haunting scenes are listed here…give it a look! — P.E.

When your name becomes an adjective, you know you’ve made it. Case in point: the word “Lynchian” now means, essentially, a movie characterized by stark images, eerie moods, arresting sound design, and often graphic and twisted depictions of the human form. In other words, it’s like watching the most beautiful nightmare you’ve ever had, torn between wanting it to end and wanting to see if it gets weirder. David Lynch. He’s a masterful, remarkably assured filmmaker who’s proven himself to be one of the American greats, yet even by his own special standards, the scenes below are full-on creepy. They’re dark and ominous, and they share a common fear of the unusual and unknown. Many of them are marked by the sudden appearance of something unsettling that’s made all the more so for the way it just kind of shows up in the middle of a scene that’s already surreal. Don’t know what we mean? Throw some headphones on and get comfy, then. Time for a trip down Lynch’s rabbit hole.

10. Every Single Moment in Eraserhead

Lynch’s first film remains his most disturbing. Shot on a shoestring budget in the 1970s, the film is a gross, often revolting work that revolves around a deformed creature with no limbs and a monstrous face. Placing a heavy emphasis on emotional states over linear narratives, the film is a blast of bizarre visions and creepy encounters that Lynch may never top (not that he should.) Even for Lynch die-hards, this is a tough one.

9. The Televised Rabbits in Inland Empire

Significant portions of Inland Empire involve a faux-sitcom set featuring a three-member family with human bodies and rabbit heads. The images come from “Rabbits,” a series of video shorts Lynch made in 2002. On paper, the set-up sounds like a cheesy kids comedy, but in Lynch’s hands, it becomes so weird and menacing and uncomfortable that you don’t know what to do.

To view the scene, please click here.

8. The Shooting at Room 47 in Inland Empire

Totally nonlinear and endlessly challenging, Inland Empire offers some of Lynch’s most upsetting imagery (which is saying something). The movie’s basically a series of scenes that only loosely form a plot, and the action comes to a head when Nikki (Laura Dern) confronts the evil Phantom and shoots him, only to see his face turn into a grotesque version of her own. Seriously, this will mess you up…

To view the scene, please click here.

7. Club Silencio in Mulholland Drive

Only Lynch could make such a moving and beautiful scene so rattling. The final moments of Mulholland Drive exist almost outside of time and reality, playing with the fabric of dreams and death just like the rest of the film. We get our heroines back, briefly, freed from suicide and sex games and everything else that’s plagued every version of them, and we also get a stirring song that raises the nature of seeing versus believing.

6. The Mythical Origin Story in The Elephant Man

Probably the most accessible film Lynch made until 1999’s The Straight Story, The Elephant Man was nominated for a host of Oscars and earned praise for its cast. The opening of the film, though, is vintage Lynch, blending sight and sound into a weird metaphorical origin story that sees a woman trampled (and maybe more) by a herd of elephants. Even in a film as straightforward as this one, the “Lynchian” vibe is inescapable.

To view the clip, please click here.

5. The Figure Behind the Diner in Mulholland Drive

Originally written as a TV pilot before being retooled and partially reshot, Mulholland Drive is a haunting Mobius strip of a movie that slides back and forth between dreams and reality in ways specifically designed to leave viewers unsure of what’s happening. The creepiest moment is one that feels totally unrelated to the surrounding story, too. Set at a diner called Winkies, the scene deals with a man confronting a nightmare that turns out to be real. It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve seen the movie, or what your theories are about this scene’s meaning: it will still scare you. Here’s part one; the conclusion is below.

4. The Chat with the Mystery Man in Lost Highway

It sounds misleading to merely refer to Lost Highway as unsettling, as if the rest of Lynch’s c.v. was a lighthearted romp through Candyland, but there are some really spooky moments here that almost defy description. (David Foster Wallace memorably profiled Lynch during the film’s production for Premiere magazine.) The plot is almost too Lynchian to try and sum up, but it starts out dealing with a man (Bill Pullman) who finds himself haunted and stalked by a pale old Mystery Man (Robert Blake). After a brief vision of the Mystery Man, our hero meets him at a party and has a supremely eerie conversation with him that seems to break the rules of space and time.

3. Frank Booth’s Dry-Humping Fit in Blue Velvet

Blue Velvet was Lynch’s art-house redemption after the bloated mess of Dune, and he didn’t mess around: the film’s loaded with the symbolism and sexual themes that are prevalent in much of Lynch’s work. Chief among these is a wild man, Frank Booth (played with insane lust by Dennis Hopper), who gets off by dry-humping Isabella Rossellini while huffing from a gas mask. Even for a movie that kicks off with a guy finding a severed ear, this is a rocky scene.

2. The Appearance of the Navigator in Dune

Lynch’s version of Frank Herbert’s sci-classic is, well, not without its flaws. Lynch spoke out against the film, saying that producers had kept him from having final cut and implementing his own personal vision. Still, the film remains a stark and often ugly work of modern art, and it’s packed with the physical grotesqueries for which Lynch is often known. Easily the most unnerving is the giant navigator that at once is phallic and vaginal, a mutant in a glass case who can fold space and time and who has paid a bodily price for being submerged in the magical spice that gives him his powers. It’s impossible not to see him and feel a chill.

1. Agent Cooper’s Dream in Twin Peaks

Twin Peaks was the kind of daring, what-is-going-on type of TV show that now exists on cable. But in 1990, you could actually get a network to take a chance on a murder mystery that chucked the whodunit plot in favor of weird characters, dream sequences, and pie. Agent Cooper’s dream at the end of the second episode (after the two-hour TV-movie pilot) became an instant pop culture sensation thanks to its style, execution, and indescribable oddity. It’s vintage Lynch, and it set the stage for the rest of the show’s iconic run.

By Katina Solomon
(Zen College Life website)

The 20 Best Movies About — Money!!!

The good folks at AccountingDegree.com reached out to me a little while ago and sent me a pretty sweet Top 20 list. I would think that such a site would be sending me the Top 20 ways to get a better refund on my taxes — but this was a very well thought-out list outlining the greatest movies about the mighty dollar. A pretty clever list idea, to be sure. Now, mind you, this is not my personal list. I should work on my own Top 10 in the very near future. But I was pretty happy to see P.T. Anderson’s masterpiece on here, as well as James Foley’s adaptation of David Mamet’s Pulitzer Prize winner. Good choices…and some I would have never thought of. I will give absolute credit here to Rose King who is the person thoughtful enough to send this list to me in the first place. Are there any you can think of that are missing? — P.E.

20 BEST MOVIES ABOUT MONEY

Money, even for those who don’t work in finance, is still a part of everyday life. Every time we buy food, pay bills or go to work, we deal with it. Because money permeates so much of what we do and what motivates us to be both very good and sometimes very bad, it makes a great movie subject. Here are some of our favorite films about the supposed root of all evil, taking a look at greed, generosity and everything in between.

Serious Films

Addressing greed, crime and business, these films take a hard look at how humans interact with money.

Wall Street (1987): This Oliver Stone classic comes with the tag line, “greed is good” and that’s just what values the film reflects with its corrupt, money-hungry characters caught up in the 80’s ideal excesses.

Boiler Room (2000): This modern twist on a film noir follows Seth Davis (Giovanni Ribisi) as he attempts to get a legitimate job and please his father after dropping out of college and running an illegal casino. What he doesn’t realize is that the stock brokerage where he finds work is far from legal and may just ruin his life.

Glengarry Glen Ross (1992): This feature film adaptation of a David Mamet play documents the lives of four desperate Chicago agents who will do anything to sell some less-than-desirable real estate to prospective buyers.

There Will Be Blood (2007): Daniel Day Lewis’ portrayal of the ruthless oil baron Daniel Plainview won him an Oscar (among numerous other awards), and there perhaps hasn’t been a better or colder portrayal of a driven businessman on film. Despite the character’s success in the film, he remains lonely and isolated from all those around him, even his adopted son, showing that money truly can’t buy happiness.

Barbarians at the Gate (1993): Based on the book of the same name, this movie takes a look at the real life events that occurred during the buyout of Nabisco. Viewers will see businessmen fight it out for the rights to the company, slowly bidding up into the billions, creating a large shadow of debt for whomever ends up with the company.

American Psycho (2000): American Psycho isn’t about money per se, but the serial killer at the center, Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale), will go to any ends to maintain his yuppie Wall Street lifestyle – even murdering business rivals. The film skewers materialism, narcissism, greed and the often shallow nature of American consumerism.

Pi (1998): Pi follows a brilliant young mathematician who is working on a formula that would help him to understand the natural world. While making stock predictions, he stumbles upon a mysterious 216 digit number that could be the answer he’s looking for, but other groups, stockbrokers and religious theorists want the discovery — and are willing to do anything to get it.

Indecent Proposal (1993): What would you do for money? That’s the question this classic film asks, as a mysterious man (Robert Redford) offers a married couple (Woody Harrelson and Demi Moore) one million dollars for just one night with the wife. While they need the money, the realities of getting it may just drive them apart.

Casino (1995): Where there is money, there is crime and that’s just what viewers will find in this gangster film from Martin Scorsese. Enforcers help make sure that the mafia gets its cut of casino profits.

Lighthearted Films

Money can sometimes make us act foolishly and these movies explore its comic side in society.

The Money Pit (1986): If you’ve ever purchased real estate, you know how much money needs gets poured into a home to keep it looking nice. In this film, a young couple (Tom Hanks and Shelley Long) finds a home they love, but happens to be in great need of repair. They sink every last penny into the project, which presents them with disaster after disaster in this humorous take on home-ownership.

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946): This uplifting Christmas classic starts off sad with a downtrodden George Bailey (James Stewart) wanting to kill himself over the failure of his bank and loan caused by misplaced money stolen by greedy, cold businessman Henry Potter. Yet with the help of a guardian angel, he learns powerful lessons about friendship, generosity and the value of life.

Trading Places (1983): When a homeless man (Eddie Murphy) and a Wall Street power broker (Dan Aykroyd) unwillingly change places, hijinks ensue. While the film takes a humorous look at how each is ill-equipped to live the life of the other, it also offers real lessons on the value of life over that of money.

Brewster’s Millions (1985): When a young man (Richard Pryor) inherits millions from a rich uncle, he is required to spend $30 million in 30 days to inherit the full fortune. The catch is that he can’t spend anything on himself; he must help others and gain nothing from every penny he spends.

Jerry McGuire (1996): Sports agents are pretty money-driven in their profession — and they have to be — but in this film we see one who has grown tired of the drama. After suffering a nervous breakdown, Jerry McGuire (Tom Cruise) writes a mission statement detailing how dishonest he finds the industry, causing him to lose his job and follow a path that ultimately leads to a much more fulfilling career.

Other People’s Money (1991): Stars Danny DeVito as a corporate liquidator who sets his sights on a wire and cable company run by a straight shooting, old-fashioned businessman played by Gregory Peck. In the end, DeVito’s character has to decide which he loves more, the businessman’s daughter whom he has fallen for, or money.

Documentaries

Get a window into the real-life financial troubles going on in the world through these documentary films.

Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (2005): When Enron went under in 2001, it took millions in employee retirement and benefits with it, while the guys at the top made off with everything. Viewers of the film will see the systematic accounting fraud which caused this collapse and the long-ranging effects it had on employees and their loved ones.

Capitalism: A Love Story (2009): Whether you love him or hate him, Michael Moore brings up some interesting issues in this film, an indictment of the current capitalist system and the financial crisis that’s still going on.

Maxed Out (2006): Credit cards allow us to buy a wide range of things without carrying around a load of cash, but they come with some pretty hefty financial strings attached. In this film, viewers will see just how credit card debt is hurting the average American and what predatory and abusive practices in the credit card industry are doing to hurt consumers.

In Debt We Trust (2006): Another hard look at debt, this film shows the major economic changes that have occurred over the past few decades both for the average person and our nation as a whole.

The Ascent of Money (2008): In this award-winning PBS movie series, viewers will learn about the long history of banking, money and credit from the Middle Ages up to the present day.

~~ by Rose King

To go to the actual list on the AccountingDegree website, please click here.

Top 5 Tuesday: Rotten Remakes

I think most film buffs approach remakes with glaring skepticism. And why wouldn’t we? Most remakes turn out to be pure crap – trying to rebuild/rehash a movie that was perfectly fine to begin with. Successful ones (True Grit, Let Me In, Scarface, The Ten Commandments) are few and far between. This year, we have two that are nothing short of sacrilegious (we already had Arthur, which falls into that very same category). As a product of growing up in the 1980’s (which I am not at all proud of), there is absolutely no reason why we need another Footloose. Yes, the 1984 film is completely dated, campy and oh-so 80’s – but that is part of its charm. This remake, which is based on the stage musical, looks to be a train wreck. And shame on you, Mr. Dennis Quaid for being a part of this…you’re better than that. We also have the American remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo to look forward to – and thank God because it has been over a full year since the original! David Fincher is an accomplished director with loads of talent – so it is shocking to see that he would rather regurgitate someone else’s work rather than bringing us something new and exciting this holiday season. Chances are I will not see either one. I usually stay far away from these remakes, mainly out of loyalty to the original. I can’t give Fincher’s film my $10. Sorry, there’s no way. I’d feel too dirty.

So in the spirit of remakes that should never be made – I thought I’d dedicate this week’s Top 5 Tuesday to five truly shitty remakes. Now, mind you, I haven’t seen all that many. On principle alone, I will look the other way more often than not. I could never cash in any dignity I might have to see remakes like Arthur (2011), The Stepford Wives (2004), Death at A Funeral (2010), or The Women (2008).  I have heard how horrendous they are and I don’t need to waste my time. But here are 5 that I was unfortunate enough to have seen. Please feel free to share your own!

5. Planet of the Apes (2001)

I have to say – I didn’t mind Tim Burton’s remake of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I enjoyed his Alice in Wonderland too. But this? This was uncalled for. All of the impressive make-up and special effects could not hide the fact that this was a total wash. And the terrible ending? Burton himself said that it wasn’t supposed to make any sense, and to me, that is inexcusable. It strikes me as very odd that most of these abysmal remakes tend to be of classic films that do not need another treatment. That is surely the case here, as the 1968 original starring Charlton Heston is a sci-fi classic. A fine cast assembled here – but the film is too self-involved with its heavy make-up and the story goes every which way. A terrible screenplay in fact – with none of the insight, irony and impact of its predecessor.

4. The Pink Panther (2006)

I will say that I admire Steve Martin – as a comedian, a writer, and as an actor, I have great respect for him. He seems like one very smart guy. But even smart guys make dumb mistakes. This is one of them. I am not a huge fan of the original films starring the enormously talented Peter Sellers, but I have always had a fond appreciation for them. Sellers brought a subtlety to the infamous role of Inspector Clouseau that was quite charming to viewers – we rooted for him, we were always on his side, and yes, many feel in love with this character. This was due obviously to Sellers’ approach, but also Blake Edwards. In this tragic remake, the only thing “funny” about it seems to be Steve Martin doing the French accent without any of the charm or wit of the original films. Everything is so grossly over-the-top and extremely childish in its comedic approach. Yes, the film made money and because of that, garnered an unworthy sequel – a sad statement in itself about what Americans are willing to go and see in the theaters. This may not be the travesty that was Son of the Pink Panther (1993), but it remains unoriginal, unimaginative, and worse yet, unfunny.

3. The Wicker Man (2006)

The original 1973 thriller is a cult classic and is still held in pretty high esteem. With good reason – it was friggin’ creepy! This Neil LaBute remake was just friggin’ funny – and not in a good way at all! Very reminiscent of Wiseau’s The Room. LaBute has potential as a filmmaker, but he hit all the wrong buttons on this one. And Nicolas Cage? Yeah, that guy who once took home an Oscar…he is nothing short of laughable in this. Cage can be really really good (Matchstick Men, Adaptation) or he can be really really bad (insert any of his action flicks here) – but in The Wicker Man, he is simply embarrassing. Every time he yells or begins to lose it here, it is funny to watch, especially when he points a gun at Rose and proclaims, “Step away from the bike!” This is bad stuff, people. It makes for a funny “comedy,” but that surely was not LaBute’s intention – and for that, this goes down as a futile faux pas.

2. Psycho (1998) 

Isn’t the point of attempting to direct a remake to bring one’s own unique vision to the work? To enhance the original somehow? To add one’s own artistic sensibilities? Not for hit-or-miss director Gus Van Sant who decided to re-create an American classic by simply doing a shot-for-shot version of the original. In English class this is called plagiarism. In movieland, it should be called lazy and insipid. First, why even attempt to remake a staple in cinematic history directed by the man known by many as “the master of suspense.” This was an embarrassment and nothing short of pointless. Van Sant was able to assemble a fine cast for his needless experiment, but that didn’t help at all. Critic Leonard Maltin hit it dead-on when he called the movie, “an insult, rather than a tribute to a landmark film.”

1. Swept Away (2002)

I’ve walked out of a movie theater only a handful of times in my life. This was one of them. In my defense, I was “forced” to go and I went unwillingly, knowing of the atrocity which waited for me. And I took my seat — and watched. But I simply couldn’t take it anymore – the pretentiousness, the silliness, the arrogance, the boredom. I had to get up and get out. And really – should I have expected anything more from director Guy Ritchie? What made the original 1974 film (directed by Lina Wertmueller) so amazingly effective was that it managed to make a significant statement as to social classes in society in a very controversial way. It was also sexy and romantic with two remarkably talented lead stars (Giancarlo Giannini and Mariangela Melato). Viewed by many as being somewhat misogynistic (which I totally disagree with), I always found it fascinating that it was directed by a woman. This remake was a vanity project from start to finish and never should have been attempted, especially with Madonna in the lead role. She was a disaster. And I don’t give her most of the blame – this is all Ritchie’s inadequacies, as writer and director of this miscarriage.

And 4 More for Good Measure — Because These Stunk Too!

Poseidon (2006)
The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008)
Sabrina (1995)
Gloria (1999)

Top 5 Tuesday: Spooky Stephen King

According to IMDb, Stephen King’s wonderful novel Bag of Bones is currently in production for a TV series. This made me very happy as I am a very big fan of that book and, of the writer himself. Mr. King and his writing talents get short-changed by many critics, mostly because he is so insanely popular. I have always believed that the enormity of his success has hindered his standing as one of our country’s finest modern-day writers. But anyone who has had the opportunity to read his insightful book, On Writing will truly be able to have a deeper appreciation for the author as he speaks to the art and craft of the writing process.

So Stephen King has written a bazillion short stories and novels – and a bazillion films have been adapted from these works. Some brilliantly executed, while others – eh, not so much (there are actually 7 Children of the Corn films). I thought to devote this weeks Top 5 Tuesday to the scary films based on his stories. Now before you start screaming, “Where the hell is The Shawshank Redemption?! Stand By Me? How can you forget The Green Mile?” I will state up front that I chose to stick with the horror/thriller genre, which constitutes about 90% of the movies. For the record, both “Shawshank” and “Green Mile” would positively make my Top 5, as I think they are both marvelous films directed by the very talented Frank Darabont. But since Stephen King is mostly associated with “the spooky,” I stayed in that direction.

I’m not a connoisseur on horror films by any means. But I do enjoy a good scary movie every now and then, and I especially admire the few smart horror films released (last year’s Let Me In, for example, was terrific, based on the even better Swedish film). And I have enjoyed many films based on the works of Mr. King through the years. Here is what I consider the 5 best:

5. Firestarter (1984)

I know this may not be included on everyone’s list, but I appreciate and enjoy this science fiction thriller an awful lot. Based on one of King’s earlier works, Mark L. Lester does a very good job at bringing his vision to the screen. One standout here is that King adapted the screenplay himself, which has rarely been the case since. The story is a good one too. Little Charlie McGee (Drew Barrymore) has a powerful and dangerous gift for a young girl…pyrokinesis. The United States government is threatened by this and wants to take her away from her father (David Keith) for their own use. The father, Andrew McGee, had previously participated in a medical experiment that gave him telekinetic ability. The father-daughter relationship here is played very nicely. And a strong supporting cast (which includes Art Carney, Martin Sheen, and Louise Fletcher) gets to shine here too, especially George C. Scott as the enigmatic John Rainbird. It may look a bit dated at this point, but the story and Lester’s execution still holds up mighty well. Like Carrie and Cujo, Firestarter ranks among the best early movie adaptations of Sir King.

4. Misery (1990)

I’m not a big fan of Rob Reiner at all, but I can’t deny the fact that he did a terrific job at bringing this tremendous 1987 novel to the screen. Unlike most of King’s stories, this one doesn’t have a supernatural element to it – but it is, at times, horrifying – and in many areas (mainly due to the splendid editing), very suspenseful. James Caan plays Paul Sheldon, the famed novelist who gets into a terrible car accident on his way west with his brand new novel. He is “rescued” by Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates), a nurse, and brought to her remote home. Sheldon’s #1 fan promises to take good care of him. Caan and Bates have a wonderful dynamic together – and Ms. Bates gives one of cinema’s most horrifying performances – so well-deserving of the Oscar she won for her work here. The character is already enmeshed in film lore (“You dirty bird!”) and though most of the movie takes place in her home, Reiner keeps the film from feeling claustrophobic. It’s a marvelous story woven by Mr. King – with a terrific screen adaptation by William Goldman, one of our best screenwriters. And Mr. Caan, known mainly for playing “the tough guy” or “hothead,” is also so good. It is refreshing to see him play such a composed character – and one who is so utterly helpless. Misery is a beautifully shot film that always has me putting my hands to my face.

3. The Dead Zone (1983)

David Cronenberg directed this wonderfully creepy, suspenseful and thought-provoking flick. Christopher Walken plays a mild-mannered schoolteacher who gets in a terrible car wreck and awakens from a coma five years later, only to find his former life all but gone. He has however developed the fantastical ability to tell a person’s secrets simply by touching them. When he shakes hands with the Senatorial candidate Greg Stillson (Martin Sheen), he foresees him becoming president of the United States and the man behind instigating a nuclear war with Russia. The film raises some provocative questions – but it is clear this all stems from the mind of Stephen King. The hunt for a local serial killer is eerie indeed and Walken’s telekinetic visions are gripping. Walken is terrific, as he’s given a great character to sink his teeth into. The film deserves mention on this list solely for the way he screams to a young boy’s obstinate father, “THE ICE IS GONNA BREAK!” It’s perfect Walken!

2. The Mist (2007)

I love this film! Love it, love it, love it!!! And how awesome is Frank Darabont at bringing King’s work to the screen?! This is a sensational and courageous piece of filmmaking – horrifying, profound, enthralling – and has one of the very best endings in recent years. The ensemble cast is stellar – all recognizable faces, but I am so glad they decided not to go “the star route” with this one. Andre Braugher, Marcia Gay Harden, William Sadler, Frances Sternhagen, Toby Jones, and Jeffrey DeMunn are all given such rich characters to play with and they are all wonderful here. The film though, revolves around family man David Drayton (played by Thomas Jane, who I had not heard of before, and hold the film together quite nicely). After a terrible storm, David takes his young boy to the local grocery store. The store loses power and the patrons are then alerted to a mysterious, oncoming mist. Most of the action from here on out takes place in the store as the shoppers are literally trapped. And what is outside (not to mention what attacks the store) is spine-chilling and great fun to watch! Some amazing elements take place between the locals as they remain trapped and form their own sects within. Fascinating religious themes come into play and again, King illustrates how well he knows how the human mind works in dire situations. A must-see horror movie – a must-see movie period!

1. The Shining (1980)

Is this really a surprise to anyone? I know Mr. King wasn’t exactly thrilled with what director Stanley Kubrick did with his superb 1977 novel, but this is a horror classic, and surely one of the very best ever made. The TV mini-series was nothing compared to this absolutely sinister film. As caretaker for the stately Overlook Hotel, Jack Nicholson gives a sensational, multi-layered and horrifying performance. Of course, he is perfectly cast here. Shelley Duvall, a seemingly unusual choice to play his wife, counters Nicholson perfectly. We are treated to gorgeous cinematography, impeccable production design and a sense of terror from the very opening of the film. Those freaky twins, the woman in Room 237, Grady telling Jack what must be done with his wife and child, the elevator, REDRUM – it all makes for a beautifully woven creepfest helmed by one of film’s greatest directors. The ambiguous ending (with the black-and-white photograph) always fascinates me – with the song “Midnight, the Stars, and You” eerily playing in the background. Even if “Shawshank” were in the mix for this list, I’m not entirely sure if this masterful film still wouldn’t be at the very top – it’s that freakin’ good!

Top 5 Tuesday: David Mamet

As a devoted fan of the theater, I have long been a fan of the works of the prolific playwright David Mamet dating back to his edgy early works from the 1970’s. I always look forward to his new plays and books – and seeing productions penned by him whenever I can. Of course, it didn’t take very long for Hollywood to recognize his brilliant writing talents and he has been writing feature films since the 1981 remake of The Postman Always Rings Twice. He has since written over 20 screenplays and has proved himself to be a notable filmmaker as well, having written/directed ten movies, debuting with House of Games (which Roger Ebert called the best film of the year – this, when the venerable reviewer was still critical and on top of his game). While re-watching Sidney Lumet’s wonderful 1982 film The Verdict last week (which was written for the screen by Mr. Mamet), I was inspired to devote this week’s Top 5 Tuesday to the works of one of today’s greatest writers. Narrowing it down to only five proved to be very challenging, but here are the chosen ones that Mr. Mamet wrote or directed or both.

5. Wag the Dog (1997)

A truly witty, marvelous and affecting political satire. Directed by Oscar-winner Barry Levinson, the script here just bleeds one Mamet line after another (“We’re not gonna have a war, we’re gonna have the appearance of a war”) which is a delight to take in. It is nearing election time and the president of the United States is facing a career-destroying sex scandal. Conrad Brean (Robert DeNiro), one of his top advisors, hires a seasoned Hollywood producer (Dustin Hoffman) to create a war through the media so that the president can come out the hero. The producer asks, “I’m in show business, why come to me?” to which Conrad responds, “War is show business, that’s why we’re here.” Great stuff. The chosen country? Poor Albania. And what the two are able to stage in our fight against this little country is laugh-out-loud funny. DeNiro and Hoffman shine here — and they have a terrific supporting cast to work with. Though incredibly funny (especially Hoffman chewing up the scenery), there is a lot to frighten the viewer — and the film’s end is powerful and tragic. Mamet co-wrote the script with Hilary Henken — very intriguing to see him work with another.

4. Homicide (1991)

Perhaps this one may not rank among the favorites for fans of David Mamet, but it grows on me each time I see it. I think it is one of his strongest, most intelligent works — and for those familiar with Mamet’s script and prose, you can easily tell that the subject matter is a very close and personal one to him. Jewish homicide detective Bob Gold (Joe Mantegna) is trying to capture a murderer — until he is suddenly re-assigned to another case…one for him, that he wants no part of. Like a lot of Mamet’s works, a primary theme to this engaging, insightful and powerful film is the search for the self. Gold is a lost man, though he may not be aware of this at the onset of the film. But this new “minor” murder case takes him on a journey that opens his eyes to the world around him and to his very own roots. Mamet has always handled the issue of race head-on, but with tremendous authenticity — and he does the same here. Mantegna is incredible here and again, as in other works, the film goes in directions that you surely do not expect. This was Mamet’s third effort as a film director, and his growth and maturity in style are evident. His style is not at all flashy — he works only to tell his story. But this remains a great work — and it gets better with each viewing.

3. The Verdict (1982)

A remarkable film and one of the very best courtroom dramas of all-time. This was Mamet’s 2nd screenplay and his early style and rhythms are easily detectable here. Frank Galvin (a magnificent Paul Newman) is an ambulance chasing, alcoholic lawyer with a questionable past. He is given the opportunity to spiritually redeem himself and salvage a tarnished career when he takes on a medical malpractice case. Though his case is very strong, the forces working against him (and there are many, including a judge who acts way out of line) push him to the brink. Galvin is repeatedly offered to settle, but the case proves to be about much more than just dollars for him. Newman turns in one of his greatest performances here (which in itself is saying a hell of a lot), and Mamet’s dialogue rings genuine, gritty, and smart. The characters are beautifully woven and the arc he creates for his protagonist is the stuff of great screenwriting. There were many scripts being considered for this film adaptation — and it is easy to see why Lumet went with this one. And though Mamet initially kept the actual verdict out of his script, Lumet convinced him otherwise, which makes for a ending that keeps you on the edge of your seat. A triumph in every way.

2. House of Games (1986)

There are those who would argue that The Sting is the greatest con film ever made. I would make one strong case for this dark, twisting, brilliant film that marked Mamet’s directorial debut from his very own ingenious script. A famous psychiatrist (Lindsay Crouse) decides to help one of her patients who is in grave danger for incurring gambling debts with the wrong people. By doing so, she is introduced to a shadowy and seedy underworld inhabited by con men. She is befriended by Mike (a perfectly cast Joe Mantegna) who shows her the ins and outs of getting other people’s money. The film is dark and makes for a wonderful modern film noir. You never know what the next move will be and the numerous twist-and-turns keep you forever guessing. Mamet has also brilliantly captured the nuances of speech of these diabolical people (“It’s called a confidence game. Why? Because you give me your confidence? No. Because I give you mine”). What’s fascinating to note is that he makes Mike and his merry men very likable people and in a way, we kind of root for them. Their small bits and witty banter show their strong comraderie and their affection for one another. Ricky Jay and the late J.T. Walsh are standouts here. But the story revolves around Crouse’s doctor — she is finding out about herself throughout the course of the movie. And what she ends up discovering might be more frightening than getting conned out of all your life savings. This is a superb achievement in filmmaking — and Mamet truly made a remarkable splash as a director here. If you haven’t seen it and you are into dark, stylized noirs — this is a must-see.

1. Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)

The play was monumental and to make a successful transition to film can be very challenging. Some make the transition seamlessly (like this one), while others (like Mamet’s American Buffalo) aren’t nearly as successful. It is also an oddity that the film’s classic scene where Blake (an impressive Alec Baldwin) comes in to berate all of the salesmen present wasn’t even in the actual play. The all-star cast here are all on the top of their respective games, making this one of the greatest ensemble turns in film history. The mostly interior settings take place in the real estate office and the chinese restaurant across the street. The salesmen are all experiencing tough times and are given great incentive by Blake to produce — or else. Remember? A-I-D-A. Blake proclaims, “A-I-D-A. Attention, Interest, Decision, Action. Attention – Do I have you attention? Interest – Are you interested? I know you are, because it’s fuck or walk. You close or you hit the bricks. Decision – Have you made your decision for Christ? And Action.” The golden “glengarry leads” are stolen in the middle of the night and the 2nd act of the film is devoted to discovering who in fact could have swiped them. The dialogue is rapid-fire, obscene and pure Mamet.  Al Pacino, Ed Harris, Alan Arkin, and Kevin Spacey do a tremendous job at nailing down the cadence and rhythm of the dialogue — and Jack Lemmon gives (in my estimation) his finest performance. These are not likable men — and this is surely not a film for everyone. But those who do appreciate it can recite lines verbatim like they would any other cult classic. James Foley directed this film, which Mamet adapted for the screen — and as much as I admire House of Games, this had to be number one.  For those who have seen it, you know why. And always remember — coffee is for closers only.

Honorable Mentions

I know this is cheating, but any fan of the above-mentioned films or David Mamet himself, should do themselves a favor and watch a few of his other great works such as: the very funny State and Main (2000), the wonderfully woven The Spanish Prisoner (1997), his terrific Chicago-based dialogue in The Untouchables (1987), and the thought-provoking/controversial Oleanna (1994).

Top 5 Tuesday: Colin Farrell

In addition to the new ‘Friday Flashback’ segment, I thought to also include a ‘Top 5 Tuesday’ as well. Not too wordy – just a quick Top 5 list of various filmmakers, actors, movies, and such. And in watching Peter Weir’s inspiring (and beautifully shot) 2010 film The Way Back last week, I was reminded of how impressive and diverse the resumé of Colin Farrell is becoming. I know that he has a reputation for not being the most well-liked of celebrities, but every time I see him speak, he comes off as self-effacing, witty, intelligent, and genuine. I must admit, I like the guy – and more importantly, I like watching him work on screen. His idol Al Pacino (so he has awesome taste to boot) went so far as to call the Dublin-born star “the best actor of his generation” – and that might not be so absurd a thought. How many times have we heard that Johnny Depp or Edward Norton (both great talents) are so great at selecting the projects they work on…that they have such terrific range? This is, for the most part, quite true. But since bursting onto the scene, Farrell should start to be recognized as being in that very same boat. Courageous, smart choices (let us pardon him for Alexander and Miami Vice, shall we) in big-budget and indie films – showing remarkable range. Here are what I think Colin Farrell’s Top 5 Performances are to date:

5. Tigerland (2000)

Farrell really started to open some eyes with his Texan twang in this gritty Joel Schumacher film. The movie follows a small band of recruits inFort Polk, LA during their training before they are shipped off to war. Here, he played Private Roland Bozz, a draftee who opposes the Vietnam War and has a knack for getting into trouble and helping others get discharges. Farrell shows great range here and, though he appeared in The War Zone just a year prior, this was the role that launched his career of working with some of the world’s finest directors.

4. The Way Back (2010)

A great turn in a strong supporting role here. Farrell plays Valka, a Russian criminal who will stab you if you don’t give him your sweater when he demands it. But Farrell also makes sure to give his tough thug a soft side too, which he does gracefully (as he shows when he speaks of his beloved homeland). The film follows a group of prisoners who escape a Russian gulag during World War II only to walk 4,000+ miles to freedom inIndia. The movie is grand in scope with gorgeous art direction and cinematography. Farrell, as part of a terrific ensemble of international actors, stands out in his very complex role. I know he was not nominated for an Oscar, but I do hope he was given the serious consideration he rightfully deserved.

 

3. interMission (2003)

This Irish black comedy (directed by John Crowley) was one of the year’s very best, in my opinion. Again, Farrrell co-stars as a significant piece to a much larger puzzle playing Lehiff, a petty and dysfunctional criminal. The intersecting stories weave seamlessly throughout and, as usual, you can’t take your eyes away from what Farrell is doing on screen – especially in the scenes that involve Detective Jerry Lynch (Colm Meany), a man who has dedicated himself to ridding the streets of Dublin from scum like Lehiff. This movie went under the radar here in the States – and I would highly recommend it for anyone who missed it.  Yes, he has played the “tough guy” a few times, but he always manages to create many layers underneath that give us characters more depth and help us empathize with his plight.

 

2. At Home at the End of the World (2004)

Another huge box-office flop and another film that landed on my Top Ten Films of 2004. Why did no one see this heartwarming, funny, original, and beautifully crafted film (with a great score by Duncan Sheik)? Farrell gives a riveting, uninhibited performance here as Bobby Morrow, a young man who grew up only knowing tragedy – and becomes best friends with the awkward and openly gay Jonathan (Dallas Roberts) in high school. The two couldn’t be more opposite – but that is what makes them inseparable. The film follows their very close friendship through the years – as well as the 3rd party of the trio, Clare (Robin Wright Penn). Farrell creates a tender and “real” character in this moving Michael Mayer film. From the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Hours, this film covers a 12-year span – from the suburbs of Cleveland to the Big Apple. A great piece of storytelling – and again, Farrell brings to it, a great sense of warmth and humanity. 

1. In Bruges (2008)

Can you believe Farrell tried to talk writer/director Martin McDonagh out of casting him for this superb film??? Thank God, McDonagh didn’t listen. Not only is this a brilliant film (McDonagh’s first feature length), but Farrell once again gives a tremendous performance, this time playing Ray, a novice hitman who has been racked with guilt since botching his first assignment. He is sent by his boss Harry Waters (a wonderfully over-the-top Ralph Fiennes) to stay in Bruges with his elder accomplice Ken (Brendan Gleeson) until they receive further instructions. Really, Harry has ordered Ken to rub out Ray for the blown assignment. This is without a doubt a must-see film — and one of the best comedies to come out in recent years. Farrell’s chemistry with Gleeson throughout the film is terrific, which is absolutely key to making this original black comedy work. Farrell garnered a Golden Globe award for his stellar performance here — whatever that’s worth, as those awards are beyond ridiculous, but he creates a character we can completely empathize with…he makes us laugh throughout, but also adds such pathos to the confused hitman that we can’t help but feel sorry for him. I can’t say enough about this fantastic movie — and Farrell clearly shines, as he usually does. Now it’s time he starts getting noticed for doing so with each film he appears in.

10 Fun Film Superlatives for 2010

Two things. One is that with 2010 now complete, everyone’s Top 10 lists have been coming out. I can’t do this just yet as there are still a handful of films I need to see before composing my own. I never like to rush such a list as I take it kind of seriously (too seriously, if you ask me) and it takes a while for me to figure it all out. So my personal Top 10 List of 2010 will probably be posted in the next few weeks.

Second nugget. I don’t follow any Awards shows, but have been glued to the Oscars since I was a child. I watch them each year without fail and many close to me refer to the Oscars telecast as my Christmas. I know they are very political in nature, but this does not seem to deter my passion for following them. Each year that the nominees are announced, I (like most of my film blogging companions) am left feeling happy for some who are recognized and angered at the omissions who I feel were worthy of great praise. I see where all of the marketing, campaigning and politicking take effect and taint the list of nominees. So, I have come up with my own solution. Now that I wield such enormous power with this Film Blog, I will start my very own listing of Awards — The Magic Lantern Awards. I will post my own list of nominees in the “major” categories and decide upon a winner, who will be awarded the prestigious Lantern (small print: actual award not real). Sure it will all be just one movie buff’s opinion, but I shall not be swayed by anything doled out by the media or other awards ceremonies. So I will be working on that and releasing the nominees quite soon (I know – you are all waiting with bated breath).

In the meantime, here are 10 superlatives (or stand-outs) in film for the 2010 year – 6 very positive and 4 that are…well, not so positive. As always, your comments and feedback are encouraged. And here we go!

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

Awarded To: The Red Riding Trilogy

This honor does not go to a terrible film that I wasn’t expecting much from in the first place (see Grown Ups or Cop Out). This is for a movie I thought would be great and turned out to be a big let-down. When I saw the trailers for The Red Riding trilogy, I couldn’t wait to see all three films (1974, 1980, 1983) that centered around the Yorkshire killer. It looked suspenseful, exciting and dark. Turns out that it was all one big snoozefest. I couldn’t believe how slow and uninteresting it all was. What a downer.

MOST OVERRATED FILM

Awarded To: Inception

I have already come to terms with the fact that Christopher Nolan’s opus is going to garner a slew of awards and nominations in the months ahead. I want to make clear that I don’t think this was a bad film at all. There were some great aspects to it (see my review here). I just never got on the bandwagon that many bloggers and critics hitched to declaring it to be some kind of masterpiece. It was visually stunning and challenged its audience. But there was a lot left to be desired, such as plot holes, poor characterization, and much needless over-indulgence on Nolan’s part. Again, not a bad flick – just so highly overrated.

Honorable mention should go to all the praise that Jesse Eisenberg is getting for his lead role in The Social Network. I really liked this movie and he was fine in it – but he really didn’t do anything he hasn’t already done in his other films. Same delivery, same persona, same style. I am hoping that a ‘Best Actor’ Oscar slot isn’t wasted on this mediocre performance.

BIGGEST PIECE OF SELF INDULGENCE

Awarded To:     Prodigal Sons

I wanted to go with Casey Affleck’s I’m Still Here – absolutely fitting in that it seemed as if Joaquin Phoenix and Affleck served only to gratify themselves here with this ho-hum project. In the end, I had to go with Prodigal Sons, a documentary by Kimberly Reed. Reed happily turns the camera on herself (and her family) in her return to Montana for her high school reunion where she was once a star athlete, and yes, a young man. In her long absence away from home, she had a sex change operation which has caused much friction between herself and her adopted brother, Marc. Marc made for a fascinating subject, but Reed is so overly concerned with herself throughout the film that we are left wanting more of an exploration on Marc. It is oh-so-obvious that she wants so desperately to get dramatic reactions from her old classmates when they now see her as a woman. It backfires, as everyone seems more than fine with the extreme transformation. The whole time I kept thinking this came off as a glorified home video made by someone who wants much more attention than she deserves. A real, “Look At Me!” piece of filmmaking.

BIGGEST WASTE OF MY VALUABLE TIME

Awarded To:     Catfish

Again, I’d love to go with Grown Ups here, but I kinda knew what I was in for walking into the theater. Instead, I’ll go with the “documentary” that led viewers to think one thing in the trailer and provide something completely unsatisfying with the end product. I have made my strong feelings pretty clear in earlier postings (see here), so I will try not to repeat myself. Suffice it to say that this was a manipulative, anti-climatic and insulting film. And after the appearance made by its creators (Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman, & Nev Schulman) on the nationally televised “20/20,” I still say that they’re hypocrites (see why here). This was a tremendous waste of 87 minutes that I will never get back – 87 minutes that I would have rather spent doing something else that I hate…like trying to repair something or ironing all of my trousers…even turn on any of the crap that airs on primetime TV would have been a welcome reprieve.

And Now For The Good….

 

BEST ENSEMBLE CAST

Awarded To:     The Fighter

Marc Wahlberg, as the struggling boxer Mickey Ward, is very good as the centerpiece to David O. Russell’s powerful film….the supporting cast around him is nothing short of extraordinary. The casting could not have been more ideal here. Melissa Leo again proves that she is one of our most gifted actors (though often overlooked) in a towering performance as matriarch of her clan. Though the character doesn’t win our sympathy, Leo certainly owns the screen and commands our attention. Jack McGee plays her husband and is terrific as a man torn between his loyalty towards his wife and his dilemma-ridden son. All of the Eklund sisters are cast beautifully and have the look and feel of Lowell, Massachusetts. It is also a pleasure to watch Amy Adams finally take off the princess tiara and get her hands dirty in a meaty role that she takes complete advantage of. Adams is wonderful and is a force to be reckoned with as she battles wits with her boyfriend’s over-protective mother. She is also pretty damn sexy to watch as well. But the real standout among this talented ensemble is Christian Bale. Now, I am not a fan and I really don’t much care for the guy, but I never let my personal feelings inhibit my critique and what this gifted actor does as Dicky Eklund, the drug-addicted former boxer clinging to a what-might-have-been past, is nothing short of spectacular. Sitting in the theatre, I could not believe what Bale was doing and he had my complete attention. A marvelous performance that is deserving of every accolade I am sure it will get. A stellar job by a top-notch cast.

Honorable Mentions - The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and You will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger

BIGGEST WAKE-UP CALL

Awarded To:     Waiting for Superman

As I said in my initial review (which you can view here), if you have a child or want to see how pathetic the education system is in this country (as opposed to others who are ahead of us by leaps and bounds), then you must see this eye-opening documentary by Davis Guggenheim. The statistics here are startling as teachers and school systems across the country continue to fail the generations of tomorrow. Unlike Guggenheim’s An Inconvenient Truth, which I considered to be a somewhat biased documentary with some errors in facts presented, Waiting for Superman is not subjective at all and lets the facts do all the talking. The film explores our joke of a tenure system as well as those educational crusaders who know how to turn the madness around and educate our children properly – but fight tremendous opposition and a futile uphill battle. Like Food, Inc., The Cove and Jesus Camp, this is an alarming wake-up call for anyone who is willing to open their eyes.

MOST IMPRESSIVE BREAKTHROUGH PERFORMANCE

Awarded To:     Noomi Rapace (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo)

This was a toughie as the distinction could just as easily go to Jennifer Lawrence (Winter’s Bone), Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit), or Chloe Moretz (Kick-Ass; Let Me In) – all doing astounding work in 2010. I must also add that it is nice to actually embrace and feel good about the success of a child star…I was getting so used to experiencing my knee-jerk reaction of wanting to turn off the TV if my eyes landed on Dakota Fanning.

In the end though, I was left most impressed by the work of Swedish actress, Noomi Rapace for her jaw-dropping performance in the Stieg Larsson trilogy (mostly for its 1st installment, which I still can’t get out of my mind). Rapace turned in one of the most courageous performances by a leading actress that I have seen in years (Tilda Swinton in Julia or Mimi Rogers in The Rapture come to mind). As the troubled and fearless computer hacker Lisbeth Salander, Rapace is flawless and is more than up to the ever-demanding task of everything this poor character has to endure. And it’s not simply what Rapace must portray, but her every move, however subtle, is right on the money. It angers and upsets me that her name is barely being mentioned by critics throughout all of the year-end Awards hoopla. Was the first film released too soon in the year? Is everyone’s memory that poor? Or is it because she is a foreign actress that we are not acknowledging this remarkable talent? Whatever the case, the American version of this trilogy is (sadly) in the works and I don’t even have to see it to feel secure in the fact that no matter how effective Rooney Mara may be, she won’t come close to what Rapace was able to capture here.

MOST DESERVING OF AN OSCAR NOMINATION
(Though Will Likely Be Snubbed)

Awarded To:     Noomi Rapace (see above)

                   

You can also include Michael Nyqvist for the same film, who many overlook and is overshadowed by the “showier” role of Lisbeth. I also fear that Hye-ja Kim’s fascinating performance in Joon-ho Bong’s compelling Mother will go unnoticed, due to either forgetfulness and/or sheer ignorance. Jeff Bridges rightfully won the Oscar for ‘Best Actor’ last year and I hope that doesn’t deter those in power to nominate him once again for his magnificent turn as the drunken U.S. Marshal, Rooster Cogburn in the Coen Brothers’ impressive remake of True Grit. It should come as a shock to no one that Bridges is the epitome of awesomeness in this gripping western.

BEST FILM YOU HAVEN’T SEEN

Awarded To:    Cemetery Junction

I was getting used to seeing Ricky Gervais in ridiculously funny comedies, but here, he and co-writer/director Stephen Merchant present us with a more touching and heartfelt dramatic comedy. This is one of the films that I can’t imagine anyone watching and not enjoying it. Set in the 1970’s in a blue-collar English town, the movie revolves around 3 young friends, with one (Christian Cooke as Freddie) dying to get out and onto bigger and better things. The supporting cast is great, which includes a stuffy Ralph Fiennes, Emily Watson, Felicity Jones and Gervais himself in a backseat role as Freddie’s father. I also appreciated the depth given to all of the supporting characters and what they were going through too. Gervais’ scenes are quite amusing, but the film is a moving drama at heart that showcases the scope and talent of Gervais and Merchant. I don’t recall ever seeing this in U.S. movie theaters, but I rented and did a write-up of it (see here) because I was so happily surprised at how good it was. Charming and poignant, the movie tackles such themes as love, family, friendship, and loyalty. A great little film that unfortunately, I don’t think many have seen just yet.

Honorable MentionsMy Dog Tulip and La Barbe Bleue (Bluebeard)

MOST DELIGHTFUL SURPRISE

Awarded To: Kick-Ass and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (TIE

                                    

These two films were such pleasant surprises to me and among the year’s best films. Matthew Vaughn’s highly entertaining Kick-Ass took me completely off-guard with its intelligence, humor and unpredictability. Chloe Moretz rocked in this movie as Hit Girl and Aaron Johnson made a charming lead as the awkward teenager who has fantasies about becoming a real life superhero. Nicolas Cage hammed up his supporting role – and I mean that in the best way possible. Judging by the way it ended, a sequel is surely in the works and this time, I won’t wait to rent it. I have high hopes now.

As far as Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, word of mouth led me to finally watch this one. I’m not big on Michael Cera. I mean, he’s funny at what he does, but he only does one thing. Here, he is pretty much the same (albeit a different hoodie), but the film is just done in such a unique, stylish fashion. Adapted from a graphic novel, Scott must defeat his new girlfriend’s 7 evil exes if he has any shot at staying with her. Sounds silly, but I loved it. The screenplay (like Kick-Ass) is clever and the supporting cast is great. If you haven’t seen either of these films and you’re in the mood for a comedy, I would surely recommend both — as they had me laughing out loud.

So that’s it. Ten fun movie superlatives to kick-off the end of 2010. Now to get to those few films I have yet to see – and work on my exalted Top 10 List…and the nominees for the 1st Annual Lantern Awards! I know…you can’t wait, right?

The 5 Greatest Performances by Al Pacino

I’ve written this before — in my humble opinion, Al Pacino is the greatest living film actor we have today. Olivier passed away in 1989 and Brando left us in 2004. The highly venerated throne is now occupied by Mr. Pacino. Not only must he be admired for his wide-ranging, iconic roles on the silver screen, but he always has enough respect for the craft of acting to return to his home, the theatre. In fact, he just finished playing Shylock in this past summer’s Shakespeare in the Park production of The Merchant of Venice. He will be reprising this role on Broadway in the coming weeks. Nicholson, DeNiro, even Day-Lewis (who I think is a close #2 to Sir Pacino) wouldn’t be caught dead on the New York stage — let alone do Shakespeare! This is what sets him apart — in addition to his phenomenal performances in two films by HBO (Angels in America and You Don’t Know Jack). He is much more versatile than most give him credit for. People think all he does is yell and scream — this is simply nonsense and a poor observation. I would ask those people to take another look at his strong work in People I Know, Scarecrow, Chinese Coffee and Frankie & Johnny as reminders. In any case, I took another look at his impressive resume and decided to come up with what I believe to be his Top 5 performances of all-time. They are not the five best films he was a part of, but 5 seminal feature-film roles, from my perspective. Give it a peek — and let me know where you agree and disagree…

#5. Ricky Roma (Glengarry Glen Ross, 1992)
You never open your mouth til you know what the shot is.

As brilliant as he is in Serpico and Insomnia, I just couldn’t omit this Oscar-nominated performance from the list. I think half the battle in performing in a work written by David Mamet is getting down the cadence and rhythm of the dialogue, which Pacino does here quite eloquently. The cast, as a whole, shines — and Pacino’s supporting role, blends in very nicely, though mostly apart from the rest of the lowly salespeople. His Ricky Roma is super-confident, suave, above the rules, and a great liar to those he dupes into buying swamp land in Florida. The way he manipulates Jonathan Pryce is a marvel to watch — and the way rips into Kevin Spacey (“Who ever told you you could work with men?!) is astounding.

#4. Lowell Bergman (The Insider, 1999)
To me, you are not a commodity. What you are is important.

This Michael Mann film is sensational and highly underrated. And Pacino’s turn as a producer for the widely respected “60 Minutes” news program is multi-layered, discreet and potent. His chemistry with Russell Crowe here is exceptional and you can feel the turmoil he is going through with this magnificent dilemma hanging on his very shoulders when CBS suits decide not to include a potentially damaging interview, leaving the research chemist (Crowe), dangling in the wind and afraid for his very life. Pacino spends so much effort trying to get Jeffrey Wigand to trust him…to open up and speak — and when he finally does, he feels a responsibility towards him; to protect and defend him. It is a terrific film that illustrates an interesting side of broadcast journalism — and watching Pacino work in this territory makes for great drama. It’s one of those movies that, if I catch on TV, I cannot turn away from it.

#3. Tony Montana (Scarface, 1983)
I always tell the truth. Even when I lie.

Brian DePalma’s movie has its flaws, but Pacino totally immersed himself into the vicious, drug-addicted, murderous (but loyal) gangster, Tony Montana. How many times have you heard people quote from this film (“Say hello to my little friend…”)? That’s all Pacino. The accent, the walk, the gestures…though the film might not be for everyone, he created a truly iconic character here. It’s amazing how much strength and power Pacino commands in such a small frame (about 5′ 7″) — but that’s what he does here. No one in their right mind is messing with this guy and if they do…well, you’ve seen the movie. Pacino pulls out all the stops in Scarface and he chews a lot of scenery — but it is all within reason and all justifiable when you think of the lunatic character he is playing. I love his commraderie with Manny (Steven Bauer) — that is, until he sees him with his sister. The scene with his mother is a powerful one — and his rapport with Robert Loggia and F. Murray Abraham is terrific. The film — and the character especially, have become symbols in certain sub-cultures of the society. This says something. It is an over-the-top performance, but not in a hammy way at all…he is an artist losing all of his inhibitions and delving fully into a frightening human being.

#2. Sonny Wortzik (Dog Day Afternoon, 1975)
The guy who kills me… I hope he does it because he hates my guts, not because it’s his job.

One of the great New York films of the 1970’s and, for my money, the best bank heist movie of all-time. This character is on edge from beginning to end — you never know when he’s just going to lose it…or, being the “brains” of the group, hold it all together. It is a tour-de-force, seminal Pacino performance in every way and what a way to follow his work in The Godfather: Part II. Here, he plays a man who has nothing going for him and nothing at all to lose. So he robs a bank to pay for his lover’s sex change operation. What ensues is a classic, suspenseful hostage situation filmed superbly by Sidney Lumet. Pacino here is intense (“Attica! Attica! Attica!!!“), vulnerable, even funny. In fact, there is a lot of humor throughout the film and part of what makes it so humorous is that Pacino plays it as straight as can be. The situation is so absurd, that this allows the humor to come about in natural fashion; not forced at all. Sonny is centerstage throughout, barking commands every which way (to Charles Durning, and the wonderfully talented John Cazale), trying to keep an eye on the prize and not lose control of himself or the situation. Pacino is doing so much all at once, you feel you kinda have to keep up with him. But it is all marvelous — and he creates a character that we ultimtely end up feeling great pity for…a testament to the great performance.

#1. Michael Corleone (The Godfather trilogy, 1972, ’74 & ’90)
If anything in this life is certain, if history has taught us anything, it is that you can kill anyone.

What were you expecting…S1mone??? I put all three Coppola films together here or else three of the five slots would be taken up by The Godfather. And yes, I do include his excellent work in the vastly under-appreciated third installment. What can you say? Michael Corleone is one of the greatest characters in the history of cinema. A big part of that is surely due to Pacino. This made him. And to think that Paramount Pictures didn’t want this unknown anywhere near the movie. It seems ludicrous, even blasphemous to think of any other actor kissing the simple-minded Fredo (“You broke my heart, Fredo“), slapping Kay when she informs him of the abortion, shooting Sollozzo and McCluskey (look at those eyes sitting at that restaurant table), or marrying the beautiful Apollonia. Michael was supposed to be “the good son,” the war hero coming back home to make his father proud. As soon as he comes up with the idea to kill Sollozzo, his entire fate is changed. To watch Pacino subtlely develop this complex character from the original film to its sequel, and finally, the third film is one of the great accomplishments by any actor in silver screen history — and that is not hyperbole. It is riveting, majestic and flawless work.

Of course, other classics could just as easily be on this list — but 5 slots goes very quickly and again, I am looking at performance only. It’s a very challenging task, but I will take these 5 any day — and am eagerly looking forward to his future work, especially his turn as King Lear in Michael Radford’s upcoming film due out in 2012. I can absolutely get into that!

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 320 other followers

%d bloggers like this: