Thursday, July 31, 2008

More Movie Mania! The Nifty Nineties

I got mighty close to either giving up on this film meme or just going the list route, for as my years went on, my film watching did not, and I feel more and more a fraud. (Honest, I really do feel bad about having strong opinions about things I don't know enough about. Not that that usually stops me.) So. Take all of this was a mighty grain of salt. Or a chunk of grainy B&W film. I probably know the films of 1939 better than those of 1999.

On top of that, all the cool kids are doing the top albums of your life already. So I've got enough meme-ing to do to last me the summer.


I could put this documentary in anywhere (well, any 7 years), but this seemed to be the edition to do it, Michael Apted's wonderful longitudinal project 35 Up. How wonderful humans are, how changeable. We actually do get acts. Who knows if we'll really get the post-life acts some hope for, but perhaps the funniest look at that is Albert Brooks' delightful Defending Your Life, if for nothing else than that it shows Meryl Streep at her most normal and angelic all at once. Plus Rip Torn cracks me up. Then there's Trust, the first of the brilliant two year run by Hal Hartley. One of the sneakiest love stories of all time, which is the way I like them, plus is there a more attractive young couple than Adrienne Shelley and Martin Donovan? Not to mention the film offers the best defense ever for television: "I had a bad day at work. I had to subvert my principles and kow-tow to an idiot. Television makes these daily sacrifices possible. Deadens the inner core of my being."


Sticking with Hartley, there's Simple Men, a story of a crook and his straight-arrow brother on the lam, of course finding women with whom to fall in love, while hoping to track down their estranged dad, the infamous anarchist shortstop. Let's not forget the dance number set to Sonic Youth. I'm also a sucker for the spot-on cynicism of The Player.

Weird year. I keep looking at the list of releases but come up with the same film over and over--Groundhog Day. If you've ever been to Puxsutawney, and fortunately I've only been through on the bus, you'd know this is comedy perched on the cusp of horror.

Ever a fan of fractured narrative, and a fan of the French New Wave, I have to tip my cap to Pulp Fiction, even if it led to too many bad wannabe films and meant we had to deal with Tarantino thinking he's important for decades. I loved the flat-out great story, actually hiding some class criticism, of Quiz Show, with its fine performances. Speaking of that, there's the ultimate femme fatale turn by Linda Fiorentino in The Last Seduction--either she's been the worst used actress in the last 15 years or it's all she had in her. Then there's Heavenly Creatures, which makes me really really scared of teenage girls.

Babe. C'mon you liked it too, admit it. It's an adorable talking pig! And two years from this that sweet farmer will be so mean in LA Confidential--people really do act! To see people seemingly not acting, there's the lovely love story Before Sunrise, only lovelier because of Julie Delpy. I know some people hate this one (one friend once wrote "I can go on my own boring dates, George, I don't need to watch them on film"), but it's lyrical to me. And ends with K. McCarty singing Daniel Johnston. I haven't seen it but once, but Jarmusch's Dead Man sure left an impression as another anti-Western Western (see earlier entries McCabe and Mrs. Wild Bunch). And, like everyone else, the narrative game that is The Usual Suspects was a blast for me, too.

I find myself falling back on the Coens over and over, so I guess I like them more than I thought. Fargo is Frances McDormand's most acclaimed if not best performance, but it sure centers the film. Then there's the Faulkner does Texas Lone Star--completely engrossing and not as heavy-handed as some John Sayles, whose films I always want to like more than I end up actually liking. They're too earnest or something. Actually, Sayles v the Coens is quite a pairing, as many think they're not earnest enough. Maybe Sayles should write them a script and see what happens. Oh, and I almost forgot Irma Vep, one of those films about film, but much much more.

Perhaps my favorite film of the past 15 years is The Sweet Hereafter. Totally harrowing, on some level, but the idea of community grief is fascinating, and the way it keeps almost but not quite getting to the bus accident, making you both want and not want to see it.... Great performances by everyone, but especially two people who make almost any film better, Sarah Polley and Ian Holm. No moment in film period, last 15 years or more, matches the flashback and the fierce look on the baby's face, the utter struggles we have trying to help each other in often the cruelest of ways. If you haven't seen this film, rent it at once.

Confession time--I have never seen The Big Lebowski or The Thin Red Line. Hey, where did everyone go? OK, now that I have either no readership or credibility (or both), I'll ask for a 1998 mulligan. And in the meantime Rushmore gets the nod for finding (allowing?) the sadness in Bill Murray.

I have to admit to a guilty pleasure here, as it's true, I'm terribly fond of Dick. It's not a great film, but as satirical romps go, it's hard to beat, no pun intended. While Kirsten Dunst makes her airhead just a bit smarter than the Nixon White House, the real joy is in all the non-impression versions of the "real" characters, from Dan Hedaya's Nixon to Woodstein being lampooned by Will Ferrell and Bruce McCulloch. Again, narrative games make Being John Malkovich a joy, plus who wouldn't want Catherine Keener in his head? As for some more gravitas, there's Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, with Forrest Whitaker's best performance.

I'm glad I kept looking at lists for this year as I almost put O Brother Where Art Thou? as the default--a fine film that proved Clooney could carry a picture and that T Bone Burnett's soundtrack could, too. But in the unrequited love sweepstakes nothing matches Kar Wai Wong's In the Mood for Love (released internationally in 2000 and the U.S. in 2001, so sure I'm cheating but it is a film about infidelity after all). As Slant Magazine says, the film is "ravishing beyond mortal words."

To see my previous flick picks hit the magic links: 1963-70, 1971-80, 1981-90.

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Blogger Drew said...

Good on you for giving Dick its due credit. (Ha.) I've spent years telling people to watch it. It does a great job of being dumb funny and smart funny at the same time. Also, I'm not sure Dunst and Michelle Williams have ever been quite as appealing.

6:01 PM  
Anonymous Bryan said...

Lone Star is one of the finest films ever made - and probably the highlight of 1990s film making.

To 1995, I would also add the Wayne Wang/Paul Auster collaborations Smoke and its "sequel", Blue In The Face - although the latter isn't really for everyone.

7:13 PM  
Anonymous Bryan said...

And while I am busy modifying your list instead of creating my own, I would also add Nobody's Fool starring Paul Newman to 1994. Not only is it a great film, but it was also Jessica Tandy's final role.

7:18 PM  
Blogger George said...

I like Smoke and Blue in The Face quite a bit, yes, or at least I did--they seem a bit vaporous in memory, pun intended. The BITF soundtrack is quite good, too.

Haven't seen Nobody's Fool so it can be #too-high on the Netflix list.

9:55 PM  
Blogger Heather said...

The Sweet Hereafter has been added to your DVD Queue at position 46.

If only there weren't so many movies that I needed to see, but at least I can follow directions.

11:38 AM  
Blogger Mike said...

I also enjoyed Dick.

(How can I say that without snickering?)

8:23 AM  
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