Mulholland Dr. Directed by: David Lynch Written by: David Lynch (screenplay) Starring: Naomi Watts, Laura Harring, Justin Theroux and Ann Miller
David Lynch’s Mulholland Dr. seeks to do nothing less than redefine cinematic narrative. By playing off expectations- those that precede dread and anticipate desire- he creates a hallucinatory dreamscape that, like many dreams, is populated with familiar people, repeated locations and maddening symbolism.
Figuring out what a dream means is a common point of relation among people, though producing that experience on a film and draining it of the personal angle of a friend or family member makes Mulholland Dr. quite a challenging experience to interpret, especially on only one viewing. We’re being tasked with interpreting the dream of someone we do not know.
Broadcast News Directed by: James L. Brooks Written by: James L. Brooks (screenplay) Starring: Holly Hunter, Albert Brooks, William Hurt and Joan Cusack
From a modern perspective, this monologue by Albert Brooks in the last third of James L. Brooks’ Broadcast News is cringe-inducing, because it became true:
“What do you think the Devil is going to look like if he’s around? Nobody is going to be taken in if he has a long, red, pointy tail. No. I’m semi-serious here. He will look attractive and he will be nice and helpful and he will get a job where he influences a great God-fearing nation and he will never do an evil thing… he will just bit by little bit lower standards where they are important. Just coax along flash over substance… Just a tiny bit. And he will talk about all of us really being salesmen. And he’ll get all the great women. ”
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?
Blow Out Directed by: Brian De Palma Written by: Brian De Palma (screenplay) Starring: John Travolta, Nancy Allen, John Lithgow, and Dennis Franz
It’s sad that Blow Out, perhaps the finest film I’ve seen from the 1980s if not certainly one of the top five, is a forgotten relic of that decade. Director Brian De Palma is known more for 1983’s Scarface, which looks like child’s play compared to this masterpiece. John Travolta is known for fading into obscurity until Pulp Fiction, yet in this film he gives his greatest performance.
In a decade where the political propaganda of Top Gun and the teen angst of John Hughes’ films are the lasting impressions of American cinema, it’s easy to see how a film like Blow Out that uses a dominant color palette of red, white and blue in a story of political corruption and murder, would fade away. Thanks to those people at The Criterion Collection, it has resurfaced and been redistributed for the generation that missed it so they can get swept up in its mastery.
Directed by: Jules Dassin Written by: Jules Dassin Starring: Melina Mercouri, Jules Dassin and Giorgos Foundas
Once a winner at Cannes, the Oscars and countless Greek award ceremonies and festivals, the 1960 Greek film Never on Sunday cleverly bypassed censorship and introduced a bridge between America and the mysterious culture of the Greek people.
Never on Sunday focuses on Ilya, a, dare I say it… whore. Though this prostitute is far different from the American portrayal of sex-for-money broken, diseased women. Ilya is beautiful, radiant, loved and respected by all the men, sailors and other prostitutes in her seaside town. She doesn’t name prices; she picks them along with her men. Shouldn’t she get to pick her clientele? She is the embodiment of the highlights of Greek culture. Her world is filled with adventure, sexual liberation, dance, music, drinking and the company of generous, hard working Greek men who adore her. Continue reading →