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We Pick our Favorite Movies of 2012

February 1, 2013
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Just for fun, Gus and I have put together our top five favorite film lists from 2012. See both below:

Gus Edwards

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The Imposter – a documentary by Bart Layton about a French young man who convinces a Texas family that he is their 16 year old son who has been missing for 3 years. It engaged and intrigued me. And I’m still asking questions about the situation all these months after seeing it.

The Paperboy – A tabloid movie if there ever was one. Many critics (mainstream and others) have picked it as one of the worst of the year because it, I suspect, it outrages so many of their middleclass values, which is of course the reason I like it so much. Lee Daniels directed.

Moonrise Kingdom – Wes Anderson’s children book of a movie that took me into a world of its own and delighted me completely.

Holy Motors – If Hieronymus Bosch was alive and making movies I think he would’ve made this one. But his stand-in Leon Carax did. It is a sort of made-up real life fantasia that has to be seen more than once.

Chasing Ice – A documentary about James Balog’s obsession with photographing the melting glaciers on Iceland, Greenland and Alaska. Global warming is the subject and the warning. It was directed by Jeff Orlowski.

And one more.
A Month in Mississippi – by Travis mills. A visual essay/ poem that is both enchanting and sublime. The only reason it’s not among the 5 listed above is that it’s a short and not a feature length film.

This list pleases me because it draws it not only draws from theatrical releases but also from stuff online.

Travis Mills

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1. Get the Gringo

True pulp.

2. Zero Dark Thirty

Another masterpiece from Bigelow.

3. The Imposter

The best thriller of the year, a documentary.

4. Jack Reacher

The second best thriller of the year, an old-fashioned smart action picture.

5. Dredd

The only movie this year that didn’t waste any time: short, brutal and much better than it got credit for.

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The 3 Ms: All You Need to Know About American Cinema in 2011

December 26, 2011
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Travis’ List of Favorite Films from 2011

This year there have been some good movies in theaters but none were more outstanding for this cinephile than three American films whose titles all happen to begin with M.

I feel the state of American cinema  is hard to define and yet these three pictures are somehow for me the perfect culmination of this particular point in filmmaking: an era on the brink of great change and reflection.

Here they are, which some short comments for each.

Martha Marcy May Marlene

The most frightening American film since the original Cape Fear (unless you count British director’s terror take on backwoods America Deliverance), this story of a girl who becomes involved in a cult and her attempt to recover from the experience is true horror. Her induction in a rather attractive/believable cult, the descent into its darker motives, and her escape are covered in flashbacks as she readjusts to normal life at her sister’s home.

The brilliance of this movie is that whatever bizarre traditions and mind-controlling methods are used in the cult, the most frightening moments come from the girl’s inability to behave as a normal human being anymore. With a perfect performance by Elizabeth Olsen and direction from Sean Durkin, I think this is the most important movie to see this year.

Midnight in Paris

A movie about nostalgia, about people who are in love with the past, about Americans in Paris, about being able to appreciate your own time as much as another, about walking in the rain.

Woody Allen’s movie is a magnificent picture: fun for his recreation of Lost Generation icons Hemingway and more, perfect in his casting of Owen Wilson as the Woody-protagonist (the best anyone’s ever done), and just plain beautiful. It’s a movie I never wanted to end.

Moneyball

No movie this year has impressed me more than this one. Director Bennett Miller and actor Brad Pitt tell the relentless story of a modern American pioneer. Pitt’s baseball-manager is the most dynamic character of the year. His attempts to run and play the game differently than the norm reflected my personal goals for making cinema outside the industry, with less money and more creativity. This film felt close; I could not divide myself from it.

As good as storytelling gets.

-TM


My 12 Favorite Movies and Why, by Gus Edwards

August 24, 2010
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My 12 Favorite Movies and why

by Gus Edwards

Intro

Lists, lists, lists. Everyone’s always making lists of the best books, best plays, best restaurants, best museums, best supermarkets and so on. The selections are based mostly on popularity polls or some experts listing his or her preference.  With movies there are lists everywhere, the best, the worst, the most popular, the highest grossing, the lowest grossing etc. Popular as they are these lists are still fun to read, ponder and argue about if for no other reason than they tend to reveal more about the person or group making the selection than they do about the films listed.

Anyway, following that perennial tradition I have decided to list not my 10 but 12 favorite films with the following disclaimers.

A) – These titles are subject to change at anytime according to my mood, the temperature of the day or the position of the moon in the night sky.

And B) – I would like to declare that many brain cells were hurt and killed during its creation. As long as this is understood, we can go on.

Criteria

There are only three.

1) A film I can watch over and over again and discover something new that I hadn’t noticed before.

2) A film whose parts don’t bore me on repeated viewings.

3) A film whose dialogue I find cropping up in my everyday conversation.

The Films

(listed in alphabetical order)

Arthur (1981)

A hilarious human comedy that inverts all the conventional values to make a poignant yet radical comment on the way we live now and the values that inform our way of life.  The myth that “Poverty ennobles “ is taken to task  in this story of a rich drunk whose very weaknesses are his most endearing qualities. The film starring Dudley Moore and Liza Minnelli was brilliantly written and directed by Steve Gordon who sadly died a couple of months after it was released.

Dudley Moore who is brilliant in the title role said that the moment after he read the script that the role was something he could do without thinking much about it. “It fitted me like a second skin.” John Gielgud, Liza Minnelli and Ted Ross are also on hand to provide great supporting performances. This film was clearly a labor of love for all concerned.

Casablanca (1942)

Everyone’s all time favorite romantic thriller of love, foreign intrigue, patriotism, cynicism, greed and self redemption. All done in the mock serious tone that only Hollywood could manage. Rick’s Café Americain is the small solar system into which all sorts of human planets wander in search of hope, redemption and a new life. And Humphrey Bogart’s Rick is the emotionally damaged deity who dispenses favors and alters destinies. Ingrid Bergman plays the beautiful woman who touches his soul. Miss Bergman who said that she never got to know Bogart well either during the filming of Casablanca or after, once commented on his star appeal by saying that it was remarkable how a man so ugly could be so handsome.

This classic film is one of those happy accidents that sometimes happens in Hollywood (especially during the Studio System period) where a bunch of talented people are brought together to create a film based on an undistinguished work. In this case it was a play by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison entitled Everybody Comes to Rick’s. The work was then refashioned into a screenplay by Julius and Phillip Epstein along with Howard Kotch. Michael Curtiz, possibly the most underrated director in the Studio System was brought in with a dream cast that included Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henried, Sidney Greenstreet, Claude Rains, Peter Lorre, Conrad Veidt among others and a Hollywood masterpiece was born. The renowned critic Pauline Kael once called this film “a shallow masterpiece” and she was probably right. No film about war should be so much fun.

Citizen Kane (1941)

What can one say about this film that hasn’t been said before? It has been hailed and praised in so many places as “The greatest film of all time…The greatest American movie.”…Or sometimes as a masterpiece among many other masterpieces or pantheon films, not better but equal. Conversely there are many who have said that they find the film loud, bombastic and most damning, a bore. So much for the unanimity of consensus.

In the many film classes that I have taught the question always comes up: Why is Citizen Kane considered the greatest film ever? And it is always presented as a challenge with the subtext being; Justify that to me! And in spite of the fact that I have seen the film more than a dozen times and read or heard many, many justifications for it, I can never give a definitive answer. All I could tell them is that it is arguably the greatest film made with the emphasis being on the word arguably. In other words the subject is open to debate and everyone is free to agree or disagree or if they feel so inclined, list which film in their viewing experience they consider the greatest. In fact I even encourage it because our reaction to film is such a personal thing.

For me the reason that Citizen Kane is a great film is because it contains one of the greatest characters (in the person of Charles Foster Kane) that I have come across in literature or film. In theatre and literature there are many great characters who have transcended the confines of their plot or story and fix themselves into the collective consciousness of the world. Characters like Lear and Hamlet from plays carrying their name or Ahab from Moby Dick. Characters whose obsessions and dilemmas we ponder, wrestle with and puzzle over for years, decades and even centuries. For me Kane is one of them. Every time I see the film it sets me to thinking about a man who starts out with everything only to wind up empty, lonely and lost, and gets me to wondering why. And although I’ve seen the film so often I still keep hoping with each viewing that he will work things out.

The fact is I have no answers to the many questions posed by this film but the questions become more fascinating, tantalizing and provocative the older I become. This is what I believe constitutes the enduring interest and compelling factor of the film. Not the technical innovations in sound or visuals that Welles and his collaborators introduced. Those were wonderful and new for their times but they have been surpassed over and over again. But what hasn’t been is the riddle of Kane as created in the screenplay of Herman J. Mankiewicz and Orson Welles and the resulting film that Welles acted in, directed, produced and designed. Was this a work of genius or just a happy accident? We’ll never know. We just know that it exists and I for one am grateful for that fact.

The Dead Zone (1983 – Canada)

A melancholy horror (or horror genre) film adapted from a novel by Stephen King with a sad and vulnerable hero at its center. A man is accidently endowed with a gift for predicting the future that proves to be a curse that robs him of love, a future and ultimately of his life. The pessimistic mood of the film is all consuming. And the episodic structure provides a rhythm that is both satisfying and convincing. The performance of Christopher Walken as the central character is to me a model of what the harmony of acting, atmosphere and story should be in all films. David Chronenberg directed it. This is a film that reminds us of how terrific an actor Christopher Walken is despite the many parodies that has so distorted our view of him and his work.

Rio Bravo (1959)

This is western story of good and evil cast in the form of a medieval morality tale. The reckless brother of a wealthy rancher casually kills a man for no apparent reason other than he felt like it. He is apprehended and jailed to await transfer to a larger town where he will stand trial for murder. The prison is then surrounded by outlaws and each day the danger to the sheriff, (played by John Wayne) and his deputies, (played by Walter Brennan and Dean Martin in what is probably the best performance of his career), looms larger and more forbidding. And it is not until he enlists the aid of a young gunfighter (Ricky Nelson), , a saloon girl (Angie Dickenson) and a Mexican (Pedro Gonzalez Gonzalez) that justice triumphs.  This film contains thrilling gunfights, amusing comedy and even a lively musical number. All in all a gripping and highly entertaining motion picture made by one of motion pictures’ greatest directors Howard Hawks.

At the time of its release the film was, in some circles, considered to be a response to the award winning High Noon (1952) which in those paranoid times was considered to be a Leftist tract by certain individuals. Fortunately, with the passage of time, all that political baggage has fallen by the wayside and now we can appreciate both films for what they are, wonderful examples of motion picture art.

Singing in the Rain (1952)

To me this is the ultimate Hollywood film. A joyous, exuberant musical extravaganza that contains several of the best musical numbers ever recorded on film along with some of the most captivating dancing too. It is also the funniest and best plotted musical made and a lively and engaging look at Hollywood’s transition into the sound era. There are no dull moments in this film. It moves with the pace of a Bugs Bunny Cartoon and holds our attention all the way.

One area of the film that is hardly ever praised or even appreciated is its visual look that was provided by production designers Cedric Gibbons and Randal Duel and its cinematography courtesy of Harold Rosson. Much of the pleasure of the film is provided by its skillful use of color and great costume design by Walter Plunkett. Try to imagine the movie without their contributions and you can then appreciate how important they were to the entire mise en scene.

Everyone of course knows that the film was conceived by Gene Kelly who starred and co-directed it as well. He also choreographed it with the other half of his creative team Stanley Donen who co- directed the film and later went off to have a very successful directing career on his own. The script was written by Betty Comden and Adolph Green. One year later they recycled the same basic story into another terrific musical, this time with Fred Astaire called The Band Wagon (1953).

Singing in the Rain has been called the best musical ever made. Again the point is arguable but whether we agree or not it has to be acknowledged that it is a masterpiece in its own right.

The Silence (1963 – Sweden)

This film represents Ingmar Bergman in his most maddeningly enigmatic and provocatively inaccessible phase. It presents the story of two sisters at odds with each other passing through an unknown and unnamed European country. One sister (Ingrid Thulin) is sickly and possibly dying, while the other (Gunnel Lindblom) is aggressively healthy, sexually restless and perversely unpredictable. They stopover at a hotel where a group of curious circus performers are staying. These performers do strangely comic (but unfunny) antics in the hallway while various kinds of military hardware (tanks etc.) pass through the town at night. Most of the action is seen through the eyes and sensibility of a ten year old boy who is the son of the sickly sister. A crisis occurs between the two protagonists and the following day one moves on while the other remains. Nothing is explained, nothing is resolved yet this film remains for me one of Bergman’s most provocative and engaging works.

Bergman and his works are somewhat forgotten today but there was a time when he was considered one of the greatest or possibly the greatest filmmaker that cinema has produced thus far. Perhaps the statement was extravagant and extreme but his body of work deserves

serious observation or re-observation because they represent an intellectuality that is rare in cinema.

The Sweet Smell of Success (1957)

If a fiction film ever captured the pulse of a city at its most amoral, ruthless and cruel aspect, it is this hilariously bitter study about the relationship between a powerful newspaper columnist played by Burt Lancaster and a cunning, and insanely ambitious press agent played by Tony Curtis.  Both have never been better although at the time their masterful performances went unnoticed and unheralded. The characters take on larger than life proportions and are given pungently memorable dialogue (courtesy of Ernest Lehman who wrote the original novella from which it was adapted and playwright Clifford Odets) to match the scale of their ambitions and deeds.  This is a film that has been quoted and misquoted over the years. Still on each successive viewing its power still holds.

It was directed by Alexander Mac Kendrick, an American who lived in England for many years and made several distinguished films including The Ladykillers (1955), Sammy Going South (1965) and High Wind in Jamaica (1967). Then he left Hollywood to become Dean and a professor at The California Institute of the Arts where he taught film and produced many students who have gone on to make a place for themselves in the film industry due to his excellent teaching.

Talk to her (2002 – Spain)

To my mind Pedro Almodovar is among the most talented writer/directors in the world today or possibly the best. I hate absolutes so I’ll only go that far. He has won awards from all over including 2 Academy Awards and continues to expand the horizons of the international cinema with each successive film he releases. With Talk to her, my favorite of his considerable body of work, Almodovar tells three love stories with a dimension and a generosity of spirit that is his and his alone. Of all the directors on the international scene he strikes me as the most sophisticated both in his technical expertise and in his world view. His films deal with the trials and tribulations of social and sexual outsiders with both insight and wit that seems to echo the philosophical statement “Nothing human is alien to me.” Or the religious one “There but for the grace of God go I.” Talk to her is my favorite but his entire body of work is worth viewing for anyone who is remotely interested in the state of cinema today.

Vertigo (1958)

To me this is the ultimate chase film. And that chase operates on several levels.  There is the chase after the mystery involving Carlotta, then Scotty’s obsession with the illusion of love that he thought he had found and searches so frantically for, and finally the chase or search for the truth about what really happened. This is a terrific mystery that poses many tantalizing questions some of which get answered, many of which don’t because there are no answers to the larger questions about the mysteries of life.

Alfred Hitchcock’s work has always been so deceptively simple on the surface that for years he was viewed as merely an expert practitioner of light entertainments. But in the last 25 years or so film critics and academic theorists are beginning explore and analyze the complex subtexts that lay below the surface of all his major works. Books after books have been and are being written about it, so much so that he is today the most written about American director.

This film Vertigo is to me his most complete and complex work. A work that bears repeated viewings if only to appreciate the multiple levels on which the story is told.

Weekend (1967 – France)

Jean Luc Godard’s radical collage that uses a weekend trip and a traffic jam as a metaphor for the state of society as he sees it. The film is angry, satirical, confusing, maddening, obscene and irritating in a variety of ways. But it is never dull. This is a film full of references derived from virtually every aspect of our culture including literature, cinema, politics, music, history and philosophy. I look at this film at least once a year to remind myself of how adventurous cinema can be in the hands of a true iconoclast. And an iconoclast Godard is indeed. He has broken every rule of filmmaking only to re-invent them in a variety of fractured ways that is constantly pointing to the future possibilities of cinema as an art. In his controversial career he has been called everything from genius to madman. And according to your point of view he is either one or the other or even possibly both.

Woman in the Dunes (1964 – Japan)

The stripped down simplicity of its setting (itself a symbol and a metaphor), the clarity and beauty of its characterizations, and finally (also most importantly) its existential philosophy to which I subscribe makes this one of my favorite films of all time. This film was adapted from a novel by Kobo Abe’ who also wrote the screenplay. The director Hiroshi Teshigahara and Abe collaborated on several adaptations of his novels but this award winning film starring Eji Okada and Kyoko Kishida is the one they are best known for.


My 12 Favorite Movies, by Travis Mills

August 24, 2010
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Adventures of Robin Hood

Hollywood sweep. The true swashbuckler. Captain Blood is great but I can’t escape the bright colors of Robin Hood. By bright colors, I don’t just mean the gorgeous Technicolor.  I mean the soaring music, unafraid to inhabit the mythic quality of the story, to play for fun and to play for thrill. I mean Olivia de Havilland, looking good enough to storm a castle for. I mean Errol Flynn interrupting a banquet of rich snobs, knocking guards away with the antlers of the deer he carries on his back. I mean sensational moments, one after the other.

Directed by ultra-prolific Michael Curtiz, Robin Hood is the perfect action movie: playful, it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It indulges only in the magic of cinema and never have I felt such magic on screen.

Barry Lyndon

Not prolific but almost always excellent, Stanley Kubrick created a few masterpieces and some great films. For me, Barry Lyndon is the best of his work.

All of his films are funnier than they get credit for, and Barry is the funniest. Though it is certainly tragic to watch Ryan O’Neal’s character rise to fortune and fall from grace, a subtle humor runs throughout the movie. This humor is one of the secret touches of Barry Lyndon that make it so good.

The narration tells us in most cases what will happen before it does but this doesn’t ruin suspense because Kubrick’s movie is about how things happen. The pace and rhythm are unique and refreshing, like many of the camera moves which zoom in and out of gorgeous compositions. Ryan O’Neal is better than he was ever expected to be. He is in almost every scene in the movie’s three hours and is perfect in every one of them.

A master of literary adaption, Kubrick created a movie where  in every frame, every line of dialogue, every time the music comes in and goes away, I feel the touch of brilliance.

Le Dernier Combat (The Last Battle)

It begins while our post-apocalyptic hero screws a blow-up doll, the closest he can get to human affection, male or female. From there, Luc Besson takes us to a burnt-out city where the sky rains fish. Only half-way into the movie we learn why no one has spoken a word thus far (it isn’t just a French obsession with Charlie Chaplin, though it does feel like The Tramp meets Mad Max).

Words are sparse in Le Dernier Combat and so is beauty but both are present, reserved for small delicate moments. Black and white and bleak, Besson makes the fight between a couple of men the last real human battle.  He reduces conflict to a simple goal, lets us feel all the horror of failure and the surprise of hope. It is as dark and beautiful as the future can get.

How Green was my Valley

One of John Ford’s non-Westerns, How Green was my Valley is an unforgettable portrait of childhood. The story takes place in a Welsh coal mining village. Ford follows one family, its leader the father played by Donald Crisp. There are many sons, the youngest is Roddy McDowall, the narrator, the eyes through which we see all the events. As conflict arises in the mine, the family is spread apart, some of the sons push for a union while the father remains traditional. His one daughter, played by Maureen O’Hara, falls in love with preacher Walter Pidgeon but marries a rich man out of duty.

As the picture travels through light and dark moments, McDowall’s character grows up, not physically, but emotionally as he sees both the courage and hypocrisy of the adults around him. I love the film not only for its moments of tragedy, which are great, but the instances of joy. Always a little clumsy with his use of humor, Ford uses scenes familiar to his canon and they are better than they ever were: scenes of drinking and singing, fist-fighting, moments of simple logic faced with sophistication.

I don’t think childhood has ever been captured better on screen. Though it isn’t the best representative of John Ford’s overall work, I find it his best picture.

Perhaps my favorite of all these, How Green was my Valley

Lessons of Darkness

Werner Herzog denies that his documentaries are documentaries, and claims that his fiction films like Aguirre are documentaries. His entire body of work is undefinable; it can only be called film, pure film. He is the most daring, the most exciting filmmaker alive.

Of all his work, Lessons of Darkness is the best in my opinion. Is it a documentary? Well, at the end of the Gulf War, Herzog flew over Kuwait in a helicopter with his cameraman. Together they captured the oil fields on fire. But this isn’t the same breed of film we see in the political-agenda docs that have become so popular. Herzog calls it a science-fiction film and it is. The fires spout from the earth like giants. Our world doesn’t look like our own. This is the journey to another planet. Herzog even reads scripture over the images.

A filmmaker bound to the quest for new images, for fresh landscapes, Herzog creates in Lessons of Darkness a film like no other. It defies story, it even defies experimentation. He tests the boundaries of the visual medium, what it can do and will do, by showing us the parts of nature that we don’t even realize, how alien they are to our consciousness.

Only Angels Have Wings

At this point in my life, I could make a list like this filled with only Howard Hawks movies. I am in love with his cinema. His worlds are filled with men that I want to have as friends, women I want as lovers. I wish that I could inhabit any of his films, to be stuck forever up on the screen trying to prove that I’m the best with his reporters, his flyers, his cowboys and his soldiers.

Of all his that I love, Only Angels Have Wings I love the most. It’s about a bunch of flyers who deliver mail out of a small South American town. They’re led by Cary Grant, fearless, professional, unable to associate with women emotionally because they always want to ground him from what he does. It’s scene after scene of the Hawks ethic: men test each other’s ability, men and women snap at each other with wit, the shamed man gets a chance to prove himself, the hardened one finally gives in to the woman who isn’t as tough as she seemed, I guess neither of them were.

There’s a scene where a pilot without good eyesight goes out on his last run, a fog-filled flight that spells suicide. He crashes on return. Grant tells him in the privacy of a tent that his neck is broken. The pilot asks his best friend to leave him alone. You see, he’s never died before and he doesn’t want to do it badly the first time.

Some think that the debate of the great American director hedges between Hawks and Ford. Like another of Hawks characters says, I wouldn’t want to live on the difference.

The Passion of Joan of Arc

One image of Renee Jeanne Falconetti in Carl Theodore Dreyer’s Joan of Arc is enough to haunt me forever. The performance is harrowing, as the young plain girl is faced with interrogation from high religious and political figures. Her eyes are wide and filled with the kind of mystery that still surrounds Joan. It is perhaps the most perfect casting ever.

The film, silent and filmed almost entirely in close-ups, looks like none other. It is simultaneously beautiful and horrible to watch. The camera moves still seem fresh and modern. The Passion of Joan of Arc is a film that surpasses the evolution of the medium.

Places in the Heart

Overlooked in the history of American cinema are simple stories that evoke subtle truths. My mind goes to two great films from the 80’s: Tender Mercies and Places in the Heart. But Robert Benton’s story of a mother, played by Sally Field, recently widowed with two children and her struggle to bring in a cotton crop is the one that sticks with me the most.

She discovers friendship and love in the hands of Danny Glover, a wanderer who knows how to do the things she doesn’t, and John Malkovich, a bitter blind man who finds a home. The film shows people doing great and horrible acts without the overbearing style that has plagued so much of cinema about poverty and racism; this has none of Stanley Kramer in it.

The ending, my personal choice for the best ever, is poetic and touching. It perfectly completes this American story.

Sunset Boulevard

Up against all the actors of old, William Holden remains my favorite. True, he is more WASP than the rest of them, but there is something about his attitude, a constant sense that he knows just a little more than the others around him. Sometimes he even seems to know ahead of time how bad a situation he’s in but stuck like a fated character in a Thomas Hardy novel, he plays out his doom in dry sarcastic form.

Sunset Boulevard is Billy Wilder’s best, a Hollywood nightmare of fame desired and lost. Holden takes a job from Gloria Swanson’s psycho-starlet. He can tell from the start its a bad idea (we know too since he narrates the movie, drowned in a pool). Still the journey is more important, far more entertaining, and frightening than the outcome.

What elevates this movie above most horror, and it really is a kind of horror, is that however insane Swanson might be, she remains human. Created by Hollywood, it is impossible for her to want anything else but to be what she was in her prime. This makes her own destruction and the destruction she brings to Holden’s life timeless and tragic, especially when Holden discovers but is unable to experience true love with Nancy Olson.

Sure, the last shot and line are about as common as “Rose Bud” but the movie itself contains some of the best directing, acting, writing, and shooting of any film ever made.

The Thin Red Line

Terrence Malick’s adaptation of the James Jones novel is like no other war movie to come before or after it. It throws away convention, diving into the narrative of many, many soldiers, as the movie floats in an out of their heads and the lush jungle. At a young age, because of its unfocused style, I was unable to comprehend its worth and therefore hated it. For a few years now, it has become one of my favorites.

The Thin Red Line represents the best use of Terrence Malick’s poetic visual style. It seems to complete what he began with Badlands and Days of Heaven and does not go astray like The New World. Though it possesses an unending cast of familiar faces, it strays away from the multi-character form established with Nashville and often replicated. The connections between soldiers is not determined by consequence, but that they each have a unique war experience on the same island in WWII, each as valid as the next. There are many great performances, as small as John Savage who appears in a couple of shots, and as large as James Caviezel who serves as the closest I could conventionally term a “main character”. Sean Penn is stripped of any over-the-top moments, Elias Koteas shines as an officer with law background unable to comprehend the simple sacrifice method of the army, John Cusack is the hero that his colonel Nick Nolte admires but cannot understand and vice versa.

The cinematography, the tribal chants that grace the soundtrack, it all combines into a terrific picture.

The Thing

John Carpenter’s remake of the Howard Hawks-produced The Thing From Another World couldn’t be more different from its origins. Departing from the gut versus science action sci-fi classic, Carpenter created the ultimate horror film. And The Thing is horror, not science-fiction. Though the plot revolves around an alien landing in an icy landscape, the real conflict concerns human interaction, whether one man can trust another, if a man can really trust himself, and visually it dwells on the mutilations of the body.

Kurt Russell leads a cast of great faces like Keith David and Wilford Brimley. They all pull their weight in what becomes, after its introductory first half, a tale of paranoia. Never have I felt suspense so much as the scenes where Carpenter has his characters test each others blood for sign of infection. The camera waits in silence for the Thing to reveal itself as it does in the end when the last two survivors wait in the freezing cold to find out if and which one of them is the intruder.

Wild at Heart

Wild at Heart exists between the two halves of David Lynch’s career. After and less conventional than his most hailed Blue Velvet and before he wandered into the super-abstract dream-enigmas that began with Lost Highway and evolved into Inland Empire, Lynch created something quite odd and unique in his adaptation of Barry Gifford’s novel.

A lovers-on-the-run road movie, Wild at Heart maintains a basic plot while Lynch’s wilder side riffs on The Wizard of Oz and Elvis Presley. On the soundtrack, heavy metal music blares, as well as Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game” and a traditional symphony score. This movie is as diverse as the American landscape and its people, willing to go places we don’t expect or have even imagined.

It features Nicolas Cage at his most unpredictable, Laura Dern at her sexiest, and Willem Dafoe at his creepiest. It is David Lynch at his best, and story-driven American film at its most daring. Most of all, it is just fun.