Top Ten Movies: 1995

la ceremonie

Months and, *ahem*, maybe, just maybe, years back, I had promised 1995. Well… here it is! Better late than never, right? And an interesting year at that. Not memorable for heavyweight masterpieces that are largely part of the mainstream discourse today, with perhaps the exception of Heat and Seven. In fact, I’d call it a rather passive year. Those movies that have stayed with me certainly are the ones that relish in the languid. Lyrical experiments, if you must. I mean, just take a look at Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise. It’s about as antithetical as you can get when it comes to a romantic drama. And yet, it is one of the most astounding of its kind because it’s so naturally disarming. It almost appears too easy when so many others of its ilk toil for conventionality. And lyricism can also be a manner to describe a handful of other gems that came close to making the cut. I’m talking to you, Sense and Sensibility, Persuasion, and Smoke. There’s even an unsettling peacefulness all throughout Claude Chabrol’s La Cérémonie that is painfully effective in its layered observation about class. It’s all so wonderfully macabre. That, along with an essay length discourse I could easily have regarding its perfect summation, are reasons it lands at my number one.

1. La Cérémonie (Claude Chabrol)
2. Before Sunrise (Richard Linklater)
3. Heat (Michael Mann)
4. Safe (Todd Haynes)
5. Underground (Emir Kusturica)
6. Seven (David Fincher)
7. The White Balloon (Jafar Panahi)
8. Toy Story (John Lasseter)
9. Fallen Angels (Wong Kar-Wai) and La Haine (Mathieu Kassovitz)
10. Carrington (Christopher Hampton)

Safe is Todd Haynes doing Kubrick, while Underground is Kusturica channeling Fellini. The White Ballon still renders emotional power through its simplicity, something Middle Eastern films were insanely attuned in achieving at this peak period. Then there’s Toy Story, which is quite possibly the most influential film to this day, ushering a new mode of animation that has seldom seized to desist. Carrington beats out the Jane Austen flicks because beyond its entrancing oddness, it covers the Bloomsbury Group, a topic you NEVER see covered anywhere. Then there’s Fallen Angels and La Haine. The former, heroin for the film-crazed, while the latter comes to show just how the French New Wave method of moviemaking, with things like La Cérémonie, was beginning to look old-fashioned. Hell, the Kassovitz film had Vincent Cassel practically yanking the baton away from his father, Jean-Pierre Cassel, in the Chabrol flick.

Others that almost made the cut include Living in Oblivion, To Die For, Strange Days, and Dead Man Walking. In a recent viewing, I was surprised to discover just how dated Leaving Las Vegas has become. And Casino and Clockers are lower tier works from solid filmmakers. As for Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man. That there’s a movie that would have probably made the list had I watched it recently. But ten years has made it a bit of a haze, which is no fault of the film whatsoever.

Interesting stuff beyond that include Devil in a Blue Dress, Kicking and Screaming, The City of Lost Children, and The Addiction. But what I don’t miss is The Usual Suspects.

Next time: 1923… Yeah, yeah. I had promised that one too.

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Top Ten Movies: 1981

Cutter's Way

Not a memorable year for moviemaking. Other than Raiders of the Lost Ark, 1981 seems forgotten, tucked away in a decade that would help reinstate the overblown studio mechanism of the blockbuster as grand ruler supreme at the box office, a variation of the epic from twenty years before and one that would stay with us ’til this very day. Which is all the more reason for me to champion my number one pick. Cutter’s Way has got mythology in the making. Quietly released under the title Cutter and Bone – a more appropriate and superior choice – it was pulled, renamed, re-released, hailed by whatever group of small critics that actually got a chance to watch the damn thing, and vanished, awaiting some sort of “discovery” ever since. Well, it hasn’t gotten there yet, but I myself am living proof of word of mouth. Like the lingering echoes of the death nail that was Heaven’s Gate, Cutter’s Way is all the more devastating because it refuses to be forgotten, paralleling the near discarded mystery that gnaws away at the edges of its three leads, outcasts spited by something more than just life. Seriously, Jeff Bridges, John Heard, and particularly Lisa Eichhorn have hardly been any better, personifying a certain kind of American disenchantment that’s dulled them to the bone. Watch it and see for yourself. It’s a masterpiece. As for the rest, very good movies in a very off year.

1. Cutter’s Way (Ivan Passer)
2. Blow Out (Brian De Palma)
3. Lola (Rainer Werner Fassbinder)
4. Reds (Warren Beatty)

5. The Road Warrior (George Miller)
6. Possession (Andrzej Żuławski)
7. Coup de Torchon (Bertrand Tavernier)
8. Thief (Michael Mann)
9. Gregory’s Girl (Bill Forsyth)
10. Blind Chance (Krzysztof Kieślowski)

Brian De Palma has always been a kind of savant of imperfection, which is no knock off at all, believe me. But with Blow Out, the planets must have aligned because he sure delivered a thriller on par with its flawless inspiration. Then there’s Lola, Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s sinister continuation of his BRD trilogy and a gorgeous film to look at. Seriously, it’s my pick for favorite lighting in any film I’ve ever watched. Quite the hyperbolic overstatement but I’m sticking to it. Reds is possibly the best thing Warren Beatty ever touched, the thinking man’s Doctor Zhivago, and Possession is horror trash (my kind of genre) elevated to higher depths because of its raw take on jealousy, not to mention performances by its two leads that throw caution to the wind and so much more. So so much more. And have you watched Gregory’s Girl? Because you should watch Gregory’s Girl. A tiny quirk of a film that Bill Forsyth conducted with utter perfection.

The Road Warrior squanders the idea that sequels are distillations of their original source, and Thief builds up the tropes of the crime genre only to scrap them as a “I could give you what you want but I won’t” at the end. Then there’s Bertrand Tavernier’s Coup de Torchon, that does something quite remarkable by adapting a source material and throwing it in a whole other setting. I’m talking 180 degrees here. And it works!

A lot of stuff that could have easily made the list, and some had at certain points. But Blind Chance shares the spot alone for its pick your own adventure premise and making an inspired political drama out of it. I mean it’s Kieślowski! Has that guy ever made anything bad? But just to satiate, I guess that’s the word I’m using, your curiosity, the final slot could have gone to Jean-Jacques Beinex’s Diva, with a killer score to match its introduction to cinéma du look. Francois Truffaut was handling Hitchcock again with The Woman Next Door, introducing the film world to the wonder that is Fanny Ardant. And for that matter Lawrence Kasdan was doing just the same in America with Kathleen Turner in Body Heat, the best of the noir remake bunch that became a thing around that time (i.e. Sharky’s MachineThe Postman Always Rings Twice, Against All Odds). Then there’s Raiders of the Lost Ark, of course, which I like a lot but not enough apparently. And the list keeps going: The French Lieutenant’s Woman, Das Boot, Prince of the City, They All Laughed, S.O.B., Escape from New York, The Aviator’s Wife, Scanners, My Dinner with Andre, Modern Romance, Gallipoli, Mephisto. And finally the horror genre, particularly The Evil Dead and An American Werewolf in LondonThe others, while good, can’t match the fun of those two.

Next Month: 1944. I’m gonna start humming The Trolley Song, I know it.