1992

best film:  Malcolm X from Spike Lee Spike Lee’s Malcolm X is rarity- a biopic that is filled with cinematic ambition. Denzel’s singular achievement is the definition of tour de force—a top five performance of the decade. But Spike Lee is going for as much stylistically as he was in 1989’s Do the Right Thing. He pulls out all the stops visually combining a painterly production design with an active camera. Spike uses his patented double dolly shot (especially when combined with the use of a closeup)—sort of a variation on the Mean Streets' shot (the Harvey Keitel “Rubber

19922021-12-27T20:18:23+00:00

La promesse – 1996 Dardenne

Though not their debut, 1996’s La promesse was the artistic breakthrough film for Belgium realists Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne. It is certainly fitting that the first image in their first major film is Jérémie Renier – the most recognizable Dardenne actor (along with co-star Olivier Gourmet here). In true neorealist lineage tradition (Bicycle Thieves), Renier (playing Igor) steals a purse from a old nice lady. Renier is 15-years old here, Roger (played by Gourmet) is his mentor and father. The are hustlers. Roger is a lout, criminal, and terrible influence. There is a bit of Dickens' Oliver Twist here

La promesse – 1996 Dardenne2021-07-30T00:42:29+00:00

No Sudden Move – 2021 Soderbergh

Soderbergh keeps going- and here’s to hoping he makes one a year like No Sudden Move for as long as he can. This is his eighteenth (18TH) archiveable film. Like Out of Sight (1998- and one of his best) this is shot and set in Detroit. Soderbergh shoots fast and is a big part of his own crew (he’s his own DP and editor- both using pseudonyms) but David Holmes (Ocean’s Eleven, Out of Sight, Haywire) is back to do the energic. jazzy score. There are quick little scale splashes like Bernard Herrmann’s famous Taxi Driver Soderbergh does not

No Sudden Move – 2021 Soderbergh2021-08-30T13:12:46+00:00

Heat – 1995 Michael Mann

Heat is both the summation of Michael Mann’s previous efforts, and an artist at his clear peak. After his biggest financial success in 1992’s The Last of the Mohicans, he had the juice to go back to his urban jungle—cops vs. thieves—and do it with the long-awaited meeting of Al Pacino and Robert De Niro on screen (the two had been dancing around each other for decades after working together, but separately, in The Godfather: Part II). Mann here does not look to tell a cop versus thief story—he looks to tell THE cop versus thief story—on an epic

Heat – 1995 Michael Mann2021-08-29T12:48:27+00:00

The Last of the Mohicans – 1992 Michael Mann

It is remarkable how well Michael Mann made the transition from high art contemporary urban crime films (Thief, Manhunter) to historical action epic. Whatever genre or subgenre you classify The Last of the Mohicans as, it undoubtedly, is one of that genre’s finest. Mann and his go-to (Manhunter, Heat, The Insider) cinematographer Dante Spinotti chose to use natural light for an extremely high percentage of the photography. Especially since large portions are shot at night, this gives the film a lot of rich golden colors and browns. The Fort William Henry scenes (amazing set piece- Oscar winner best sound

The Last of the Mohicans – 1992 Michael Mann2021-08-29T00:03:27+00:00

1991

best film:  The Double Life of Veronique from Krzysztof Kieślowski Kieslowski’s The Double Life of Véronique is so enigmatic and lyrical—it almost makes his previous films seem like prose and this is his first attempt at poetry (more description than praise or a critique). This has a melodic tone- and it is not just because Veronique and Veronika are musicians It does confirm that the visual director that emerged from Dekalog is the one from A Short Film About Killing– he brings back the color filter (this is green, but a softer dream-like almost transparent green hued mist—not the harsh dystopian green/yellow with the

19912021-10-04T15:21:55+00:00

Seven Beauties – 1975 Wertmüller

Lina Wertmüller opens Seven Beauties with World War II and Hitler documentary footage. She is interested in creating a wildly engaging tale (the imagination behind the original screenplay is hers as well) of humanity’s ugliness. Lina Wertmüller is famously the first female director to be nominated for an Academy Award (the film was nominated for foreign language film, her writing, and Giancarlo Giannini for best actor was as well). Giannini plays Pasqualino Frafuso and the story oscillates between a flashback to Pasqualino’s days in Italy, and his trials and tribulations after as a prisoner, in an insane asylum, in

Seven Beauties – 1975 Wertmüller2021-08-27T13:30:58+00:00

You Only Live Once – 1937 Lang

It is a tad stiffer than 1945’s Scarlet Street and 1953’s The Big Heat, but You Only Live Once has an argument to be called Fritz Lang’s greatest American film. You Only Live Once stars Sylvia Sidney (top billing as Joan Graham) and Henry Fonda (as Eddie Taylor). Fonda’s Taylor is an ex-con and an unfortunate victim of circumstance in a cruel world (Lang’s world). They end up as lovers on the run -preceding Gun Crazy, Bonnie and Clyde, Badlands, Natural Born Killers, and all the others. This was a big film for Fonda- it is not his debut,

You Only Live Once – 1937 Lang2021-08-26T14:46:33+00:00

Reds – 1981 Beatty

With just the handsomeness of the production and the fine writing and acting throughout, Warren Beatty’s Reds would have been one of the stronger films of 1981. However, Beatty, brilliantly, chose to weave in interviews those who knew John Reed (played by Beatty himself) and Louise Bryant (Diane Keaton). These “witnesses” help create a fabulous formal structure (one that inspired Rob Reiner’s When Harry Met Sally). There is a simple but beautiful consistency to the visual design of their sections of the film. This is Beatty’s most ambitious project behind the camera. There is all this talk about Heaven’s

Reds – 1981 Beatty2021-08-25T12:41:04+00:00

1990

best film:  Goodfellas from Martin Scorsese Goodfellas is narrative and stylistic cinematic bliss. I could watch it once a week. It has everything from some of the more memorable characters of the back-half of the 20th century (acted to perfection by Ray Liotta, Joe Pesci, Lorraine Bracco, Robert De Niro and the rest of the cast) to a sustained visual brilliance throughout the entire running time. A cinema enthusiast could write an entire paper on the Copacabana shot/sequence which is amongst the greatest shots of all-time. The opening freeze-frames are fantastic as are Scorsese’s work with slow motion tracking

19902021-08-24T13:09:29+00:00

Tampopo – 1985 Itami

Tampopo is not a film you want to go into with an appetite. “Lukewarm ramen is not ramen”- this is a great food film. Jûzô Itami’s film has a fairly simple premise: Goro and Gun (a young Ken Watanabe) try to help Tampopo – she owns a noodle shop- teacher/student. There are little vignettes (all dealing with food) throughout- some of them are siloed, and some of them (like Koji Yakusho’s gangster in the white suit) run throughout. The gangster says “you’re at the movies, too?” to the audience breaking the fourth wall to open the film. With the

Tampopo – 1985 Itami2021-07-23T17:00:07+00:00

Manhunter – 1986 Michael Mann

Michael Mann’s Manhunter confirms the promise of 1981’s Thief. It makes him one of the most exciting cinematic voices to emerge from the 1980s. The opening is a marvelous shot—Mann starts with the blue sky, and tilts the camera down to Dennis Farina (as Jack Crawford) on the right facing the beach, and a sun-kissed William Petersen (lead, as Will Graham) facing the camera on the left. We have a great camera movement and character blocking right there in the first shot. The film’s greatest single frame may actually be the shot of Kim Greist (as

Manhunter – 1986 Michael Mann2021-08-23T13:12:50+00:00
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