Thursday, December 31, 2009
The decade is coming to an end. It seems just yesterday I was at my friend's house in Staten Island celebrating 2000 and the new millenium. And now it's been 10 whole years. It's been a pretty crappy decade for movies, music, books, and everything in between. As far as movies go, here's my list of the 10 best of the worst decade for films of all time.
3 Movies that just miss the top 10:
The Lives of Others (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, 2006)
The Return [Vozvrashcheniye] (Andrei Zvyagintsev, 2003)
Donnie Darko (Richard Kelly, 2001)
10/ Mulholland Dr. (David Lynch, 2001)
9/ Memento (Christopher Nolan, 2000)
8/ Million Dollar Baby (Clint Eastwood, 2004)
7/ The Departed (Martin Scorsese, 2006)
6/ City of God (Fernando Meirelles, 2002)
5/ Lost in Translation (Sofia Coppola, 2003)
4/ Y tu Mamá También (Alfonso Cuaron, 2001)
3/ Brokeback Mountain (Ang Lee, 2005)
2/ The Pianist (Roman Polanski, 2002)
1/ Requiem for a Dream (Darren Aronofsky, 2000)
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
William Friedkin’s criminally underrated 1985 cop drama is to the L.A. scene what his famous Oscar-winning film The French Connection was to the New York scene. Friedkin, with that film and his infamous follow up, The Exorcist, both a waning memory at this point in his career, turned to the kind of film he does best-a gritty portrait of con men, and the cops who stop at nothing to chase after them. The cop in question is played by William Petersen, now of CSI fame. The con man, played by a young Willem Dafoe, is a counterfeiter, sly as a fox, and smart as one too. The film’s centerpiece is an incredible, high octane car chase sequence, one that not only rivals the classic chase scene in The French Connection, but one that might stand out as the best one ever put on film. The movie has just the right amount of drama, sexiness, action, violence, tension and ultimately, a jaw dropping conclusion you’ll never see coming.
To Live and Die in L.A. is underappreciated for several reasons. One, it doesn’t star Gene Hackman, who is probably one of the 10 or 20 greatest actors of all time, who headlined Friedkin’s previously successful French Connection. Two, it didn’t win the best picture at the Academy Awards. In fact it got nominated for exactly zero Oscars. It also didn’t come at a time when film was changing. Back in the early 70s, Friedkin’s peek, the old ideals of Eisenhower and the 50s were being thrown out. The new ideals of LBJ, and Nixon were in. Rock n Roll ruled the airwaves. Sex was in. Drugs were in. And movies like The French connection, which mixed clever storylines with fast paced action, made it a staple of the generation. But in the 1980s, these kinds of movies were being made less and less. It was all about Star Wars and Indiana Jones and Back to the Future. Basically, the formula for the franchise type films that rule the industry today was laid out 25 and 30 years ago. Friedkin drove himself into oblivion after The Exorcist premiered to rave reviews and shattered box office records too.
He decided to direct a remake of the classic The Wages of Fear, this time called Sorcerer. It was a flop. Three years later, he made a film with Al Pacino called Cruising, a brilliantly dark and seedy tale of a cop who poses as a gay club-goer in order to find a killer who goes after gay men. During filming, it was boycotted to the point that every scene had to be re-dubbed due to the excessive amount of noise during shooting, which mostly took place outdoors around New York City. The movie also flopped. Freidkin finally went back to basics with To Live and Die in L.A. in 1985. It might be his best film, if not for the sheer madness that is The Exorcist, and I mean that in a good way. It’s a film that opened my eyes to the ways the public can ruin a great film, to the point of complete obscurity, as well as vault a film to the top of popularity. Friedkin crafted together a fantastic and original story, filled with real characters with real emotions, as well as a fast paced cop thriller, with great car chases, and a particularly super-hot love scene which I think is so much sexier and cooler than 99% of the ones you see in movies today.
And then there’s the ending, surely one of the best ever, which, even if you end up hating this film for whatever reason, is essentially worth seeing the film on its own. William Friedkin is definitely one of the more forgotten filmmakers of the late 70s and 80s, but with the transition that came with the changing of the decades, it’s definitely not surprising and Friedkin is not alone. Other great filmmakers who lost a lot of respect and admiration in the 1980s include Hal Ashby, Michael Cimino, Peter Bogdanovich, and Robert Altman. Friedkin continues to make films every few years but his career never recovered and L.A. remains his last brilliant effort.
Friday, December 11, 2009
I love Woody Allen. I mean, I really do. I am in love with this man. He is simply one of the great creative geniuses of our time, and each time I see a film of his, his talent and skill astounds me more and more each time. In fact, because he’s been around for so long, he pretty much transcends generational gaps. He was a great comic in the 1950s and early-60s. He was a great up and coming writer in the latter part of the 1960s. And he essentially established himself as a premiere filmmaker with some of the most innovative and cerebral romance and comedy films of all time in the 1970s and 80s, like Annie Hall and Manhattan.
Even though some people think he hit a snag in the 1990s and early 00s, I think he made some very competent pictures like Husbands and Wives, Hollywood Ending, and perhaps his most underrated film, Celebrity. However, towards the middle of the 00s, Allen began to deviate from his earlier work in an attempt to establish a new reputation as a serious filmmaker. In 2005, he directed what is possibly his most acclaimed film since Hannah and her Sisters, released all the way back in 1986, Match Point, starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Scarlett Johansson, and most critics and fans likened the film to the classic Dostoyevsky novel Crime and Punishment. Indeed, the film was a big departure from Woody’s typical romantic comedies, and the decision to make a serious thriller paid off, as it is one of the biggest worldwide grossing films of his long career.
However, and excuse me for procrastinating, but when discussing someone like Woody Allen, its impossible not to mention a few little nuggets about his life’s work, the movie I’d like to actually talk about is the one directly preceding Match Point by exactly one year.
The film is Melinda and Melinda. It is another of Woody’s greatly underappreciated rom-com’s which stars Radha Mitchell playing dual roles, and Will Ferrell as the “Woody Allen” character. This clever little gem was perfectly constructed and begins in a small café, with four friends casually sitting together, one of whom is played by frequent collaborator and fellow classic comedy performer, Wallace Shawn, who enjoy a cup of coffee and breezily discuss a story about a woman named Melinda. Shawn, being a comedy playwright feels that her story would make for a great comic tale. His friend, on the other hand, being a serious playwright, decides her story takes on more of a tragic tone. And so, these two friends decide to tell play out their interpretation of the story in their heads, one re-telling it in a comic fashion, the other in a tragic one.
And so, the movie really starts. We begin with the tragic version first. Melinda barges in on a dinner party hosted by her long time friend, played by Chloë Sevigny, and desperately asks to stay over while she re-assembles her sanity. As the story progresses, we come to realize that Melinda, in the tragic version is exactly that-a tragic figure. After having an affair with a younger photographer, her rich husband leaves her, and takes the kids with him, leaving poor Melinda, alone and depressed. When we switch to the comic version, this time, Melinda, barging in on her neighbors, played by Amanda Peet and a wonderfully refreshing Ferrell, is more of a light, and fun single woman who is getting over the marriage which fell apart due to her husbands infidelity.
Although the story feels like a classic genre tale from the man who does them best, heck he literally invented the modern romantic comedy, he never ceases to dose the film with his usual banter of psycho-philosophical banter about life, love and affairs. But what makes this film so unique, is that at the core of it, it is actually very poignant. The cast which is primarily made up of comic actors, such as Ferrell, Peet, as well as Steve Carrell who plays Ferrell’s best friend, still manages to make us think and make us feel for them in a somber way, mainly due to Woody’s exceptional script and direction.
The film ends somewhat abruptly, but it doesn’t matter. Woody crafted together such a great work that it didn’t matter how he ended it, or in what fashion. The movie stands out with its great cinematography, smart and witty script, featuring a wonderful performance by Mitchell, who I’m surprised didn’t catapult to some kind of stardom after this film, and of course sharp and tactful directing by the master himself, Mr. Woody Allen.
While most people write off his recent work in favor of his oldies, which are rightfully considered to be classics, it wouldn’t hurt people to give some of his newer films a little more attention. I think you’ll find that Woody, after all these years and all these decades, has still got it.
Thursday, December 3, 2009
I decided to go with a foreign film for this particular review. Y tu Mamá También is one of my all time favorites, maybe my all time favorite foreign movie. It is a Spanish-language film from writer/director Alfonso Cuarón and was released in 2001 to rave reviews.
But what can I say about this movie that hasn't already been said? I'm about eight years too late to say anything new or refreshing about it. I'm eight years too late to give it a great, raving review, because I'd be about the millionth person to do so. But, like with so many great movies of the past, it’s impossible to praise a film of this magnitude in a new or unconventional way. So I'll just do it in an old and conventional manner.
The film is beyond words really. It was funny, it was sad, it gave me chills sometimes. The movie is one of the rarest ever, one that has everything; romance, drama, comedy, great acting, brilliant camera work, and one of the wittiest, yet profound written scripts to come around in a long time. The story revolves around two teenage boys, best friends since childhood, who decide to take a road trip with an attractive, slightly older woman, who just found out her husband cheated on her. Bent on quasi-revenge and just wanting to live life to the fullest as a new, free woman, she decides to awake the boy’s sexual desires in ways they never imagined possible. It’s a funny, witty film, yet it’s filled with a lot of drama, sadness and ultimately, tragedy.
There is one particular scene that is absolutely mesmerizing; I will probably never forget it as long as I live. It is a scene near the end when the characters spill their guts out about their various trysts, while drunk out of their minds at a beach side café. The scene lasts about 10 minutes and is completely uncut. The actors do a superb job of revealing their deepest, darkest, and funniest secrets about the girlfriends in their lives. The lead actress, who is permanently ingrained in my memory now, performs a seductive dance looking straight at the camera, as if, looking at the audience and seducing us the same way she seduced the boys in the film.
Y tu Mamá También is a unique work of art. It came at a time when film was changing. The 90s ended with joy and sadness in the movie world. New filmmakers emerged (David Fincher, Sam Mendes, P.T. Anderson), while others passed on (Akira Kurosawa, Stanley Kubrick). But once the 00s began, Hollywood went from being dominated by popular indie hits from Quentin Tarantino and Kevin Smith, to dominating the indie world with endless movie reboots from the past and franchises derived from kids books, amusement park rides, and animated stories.
But the director broke through barriers by creating a film that can be appreciated by a wide audience. Cuarón created a film that is universal. It features wonderful directing, a stylish script, and a refreshing story that was never lost in translation, as some foreign films are sometimes. Cuarón followed up his small, yet brilliant $5 million movie made in his native country, with an installment of Harry Potter, a $130 million big Hollywood production, and the futuristic thriller Children of Men, which netted Cuarón two Academy award nominations.
Y tu Mamá También is a timeless movie, and one that will live on forever. As people discuss The 400 Blows and The Graduate and Annie Hall, and other generation defining classics like them today, there remains hope that they will talk about Y tu Mamá También in the same fashion 10, and 20 and a 100 years from now.