Movies I need to see:
- Ginger & Rosa
- Beasts of the Southern Wild
- Zero Dark Thirty
- Silver Linings Playbook
- The Master
Movies I need to see:
Todd Haynes made his name and reputation with “Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story,” a notorious and legendary short film that used Barbie dolls to chronicle the pop star’s slow descent and eventual death from anorexia-related complications. A lawsuit from Richard Carpenter and music-licensing issues ensured that the film would never receive an official legal release, but Haynes fruitfully explored similar thematic material with Safe,a quietly terrifying psychological drama that cast a never-better Julianne Moore as a housewife who develops a strange series of maladies that rend her orderly and conformist lifestyle asunder and send her on a desperate journey to identify and cure her illness. Much of what makes Safe so terrifying is its open-ended ambiguity: Moore seems to be allergic not to any specific substance, but rather to the stifling conformity and plastic artificiality of her surroundings. As played by Moore with a heartrending combination of strength and vulnerability, the film’s protagonist is immaculately put-together on the outside but rotting away from incurable soul-sickness on the inside, a victim of a world that pushes her into stifling roles that deny her fundamental humanity and drive her methodically insane.
#13: Boogie Nights
Paul Thomas Anderson was still wearing his influences on his sleeve when he made Boogie Nights, which combines the sprawling ensemble and overlapping narratives of a Robert Altman movie with the juiced-up filmmaking of Martin Scorsese at his most muscular. A story of many lives united by a common profession—pornography—it doubles as a study in changing times and the way even the most underground forms of expression got commodified in the ’80s. But it’s also an old-fashioned Hollywood—well, San Fernando Valley—rise-and-fall story about a kid (Mark Wahlberg) who ascends through the porn industry, lets success go to his head, and risks losing his soul in the process, all shot with breathless momentum and soundtracked to era-appropriate hits that often seem to be telling variations on the same story of innocence lost.
The Coen brothers’ first breakout hit crystallizes all their strengths as writers and directors: The diamond-sharp plotting, the unparalleled gift for stylized language (in this case, the quotable dialect of native Minnesotans), the exacting control over every aspect of the production. What makes Fargospecial, beyond the Coens working at the peak of their craft, is that it considers the crime thriller in moral terms, turning the bloody mayhem over a scheme gone wrong into a reflection on the bedrock values of home and family. The Coens sharply contrast the desires and temperaments of its two main characters: a car salesman (William H. Macy) who arranges to have his wife kidnapped to bilk ransom money out of his wealthy father-in-law, and a pregnant police chief (Frances McDormand) who waddles her way to the bottom of the case. In McDormand’s steady gumshoe, Fargo has an unforgettable hero who can piece together the clues without comprehending the crime.
Alexander Payne spares no one in this needle-sharp high-school election satire—not Matthew Broderick’s overinvested teacher, not Reese Witherspoon’s overachieving class presidential candidate, not their cohorts and classmates, all of whom act out of self-interest disguised as being for the benefit of others. Everyone thinks they’re the hero of the story, but the only nice guy is the one who’s too dumb to know any better. Witherspoon has never been better than she is in the role of Tracy Flick, who’s all scary, steely ambition barely concealed by her chipper persona, and Broderick keeps pace with her as a man who’s acting in spite while telling himself it’s for some kind of greater good. But it’s Jessica Campbell who gets the movie’s best scene in her rousing campaign speech on behalf of apathy. Choosing not to participate has never looked so appealing.
#36: L.A. Confidential
By the mid-’90s, Curtis Hanson had earned a reputation as a talented journeyman, a hardworking director whose name hardly anyone knew. But a string of early-decade hits (Bad Influence, The Hand That Rocks The Cradle, The River Wild) won him the clout to take on an ambitious dream project: James Ellroy’s borderline-unadaptable 1990 novel L.A. Confidential. Part noir, part cross-section of 1950s L.A., the film cast a pair of then-barely known Australian actors—Guy Pearce and Russell Crowe—as cops whose differing approaches to their jobs puts them at odds with one another, until evidence of crimes bigger than either had ever imagined brings them together. Working with screenwriter Brian Helgeland, Hanson streamlines the plot and tones down the era-appropriate racism of Ellroy’s novel, but captures the novel’s sense that creeping rot touches both the city’s upper echelons and lowest depths. It’s a stylish but substantial crime film wrapped around a history lesson and acted with brio by a cast determined to do more than just fill out a bunch of handsome period clothes.
Whit Stillman’s debut about the “urban haute bourgeoisie”—uptown, upper-class New York teens navigating debutante season—is set in a world that’s acknowledged as outdated even to those participating in it. But being aware of the ridiculousness of their status doesn’t stop them from also taking it seriously. Animated by Stillman’s hilarious, clever, puffed-up dialogue, the characters are overeducated and spend an awful lot of time in formalwear, but their personal dramas are of a very normal and relatable variety. The contrast between the struggles they undergo with romance and friendship and the efforts to intellectualize them are as poignant as they are comical, and the film manages to make a pricey cab ride to the Hamptons into a ridiculous but noble gesture.
#46: Heavenly Creatures
Years before he conquered the world by bringing Tolkien’s Middle-earth to life, Peter Jackson made his reputation as a serious filmmaker (following several gross-out horror-comedies) with this fact-based account of the homicidal friendship between two teenage girls in 1954 New Zealand. Just to show off, he also discovered both Kate Winslet and Melanie Lynskey, playing best friends (with vaguely implied benefits) who retreat into a fantasy world they create together, realized by Jackson as a phantasmagorical magnification of their construction-paper fortresses and Plasticine figures. When one of the girls’ mothers takes steps to separate them, things turn ugly, but the film is less interested in the sordid details of the real-life crime than in depicting the overwhelming fervor of adolescence, when everything feels like either the most glorious experience of your entire life or the end of the universe.
Ellie Kemper as Rebecca, Bridesmaids
With the advent of Wes Anderson’s latest entry into his compendium of eight—the movie Moonrise Kingdom, out in New York and Las Angeles Friday—there’s enough of a catalog to ensure that there’s one for each of us. So, what’s your favorite Wes Anderson film? You would be amazed at what your preferences say about who you are, at least according to this entirely unscientific but completely authoritative exploration:
Brb renting Bottle Rocket, The Life Aquatic, and The Fantastic Mr. Fox…
David Edelstein reviews ‘Deep Blue Sea’: “This is Rachel Weisz’s movie. She’s as luminous as a Pre-Raphaelite portrait, yet she brings to Hester a high-wire, modern tremulousness, as if that portrait were melting into something Impressionistic — much like the movie itself, a lyric re-imagining of Rattigan and a tone poem of genius.”
Looks like a deep, dark movie. I could go for some a’ that right now.