Pulp Fiction Directed by: Quentin Tarantino Written by: Quentin Tarantino (screenplay) Starring: John Travola, Samuel L. Jackson, Uma Thurman and Bruce Willis
It’s hard to weigh the merit of a movie like Pulp Fiction. Quentin Tarantino’s bloody chat-fest had a sudden and immediate impact on the landscape of American film, yet it’s still young in the eyes of the art form. It is a classic like all those old movies you associate with that word (some of which it references), yet it’s filled to the brim with sleaze.
Pulp Fiction forges its story of fragments of other movies, most of which wouldn’t have made it past the cutting room floor. There are heated exchanges about fast food in Europe, riffs on the sexual nature of foot massages and lengthy discussions on what a television pilot is. All of those happen in the first scene that hit men Vincent (John Travolta) and Jules have together.
After a similarly chatty opener where two lovebirds decide to rob a diner, these two hit men banter back and forth. Much has been made of the highly stylized dialogue, so much so that these types of conversations have earned this director his own label: “Tarantinoesque.”
American Beauty Directed by: Sam Mendes Written by: Alan Ball (screenplay) Starring: Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening, Thora Birch, and Wes Bentley
American Beauty shouldn’t be the kind of movie Oscar loves. It’s hard to watch a movie that begins with a man saying that masturbating in the shower will be the highlight of his day and pair it alongside other Best Picture winners like The King’s Speech or Shakespeare In Love.
That’s not even the biggest reason American Beauty defies the Academy, though. At almost every chance the voting members get, they favor superficial uplift over true grit. Yet when you look closer at this movie (as its tagline instructs you to do), you see that there is no happy ending, at least not in the traditional Best Picture sense. Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey) really does die like he says he’s going to in the beginning.
Movies that blatently tell you their outcome are usually more surprising than ones with a big reveal at the end. Sometimes knowing the conclusion is more baffling than not. How can a man who’s already dead die, and why will we care?
Magnolia Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson Written by: Paul Thomas Anderson Starring: Tom Cruise, Julianne Moore, William H. Macy, and Philip Seymour Hoffman
Capturing the entirety of the human experience is an ambitious goal, one that many filmmakers never really feel up to tackling. Paul Thomas Anderson thinks its third feature material. Let’s face it though, the movies are better when the focus is narrowed.
That’s not to say Magnolia is not a beautiful, often breathtaking piece of work. It is, in fact, a blueprint of sorts of the new decade of filmmaking that was to follow in the year 2000. The seemingly unrelated yet interwoven storylines of films like Traffic, Babel or Crash meet the bizarreness of network television polluting Requiem for a Dream. Bookending the film is the snarky know-it-all narrator you may know from Woody Allen films.