Sayles. Sayles is an Altman acolyte surely influenced by Nashville-largely making politically charged ensemble dramas set in a specific area and at a specific time. His debut Return of the Secaucus Seven was a thoughtful portrait of a group of friends reflecting on their past and where they are today- a film that would influence (or at least remarkably resemble) the 1983 ensemble hit The Big Chill from Lawrence Kasdan. Sayles often wrote screenplays or acted to make money for his films and is a major figure in independent cinema (a career arc remarkably similar to John Cassavetes). After his debut he made a thoughtful Springsteen-infused (he made a bunch of videos for The Boss) teen film, Baby, It’s You, and then from there was off and running with his ensemble dramas set in West Virginia (Matewan), Chicago (Eight Men Out), Texas (Lone Star),  Florida (Sunshine State). His strength for the purposes of this list is his depth- that’s eight films in the archives and at least 5 (Passion Fish isn’t that strong, I already mentioned his sophomore effort being a teen film) could be companion pieces.

Best film: Matewan. Critics argue Lone Star is his best but I think it’s his most beautiful film- shot by Haskell Wexler who worked on Days of Heaven and was the DP for Bound For Glory, Virginia Woolf– this is the movie that set Sayles’ style for the next 20 years.

though Sayles’ work is about the collective whole, his shining moment as an auteur is 1987’s Matewan

total archiveable films: 8

top 100 films:  0

top 500 films:  0  

top 100 films of the decade:   1 (Matewan)

most overrated: Sayles doesn’t have one. His one film that lands on the TSPDT top 2000 (ouch—man he is underrated overall) is Lone Star at #1184 and that’s not overrated- a good spot for that film.

most underrated Matewan. There are a few that are underrated but this should be in the top 1000 and isn’t in the top 2000- I don’t understand why.

Matewan is Sayles’ most beautiful film- shot by Haskell Wexler who worked on Days of Heaven and was the DP for Bound For Glory

gem I want to spotlight : I’ve talked about Matewan enough here and I think people will find Lone Star because of Matthew McConaughey so I think Eight Men Out is the choice. The cast is strong and almost unbelieveably deep from John Sayles’ favorite David Strathairn Michael Rooker to John Mahoney to John Cusack (it is one of the few Sayles films that doesn’t feature the always reliable Chris Cooper). It has Sayles’ trademark ensemble, political, historical specifics with the baseball backdrop—great storytelling.

Sayles remarkably can tell a story from 15-20 maybe even 25 different perspectives- a masterful storyteller

stylistic innovations/traits:

  • Ensemble films set in a specific place, conflict of politics, greed often being a theme, people under attack from corporations or systems. Nashville and Altman clearly the lineage— thought as an indie-god who sometimes had to moonlight as an actor or writer for more lucrative films it’s Cassavetes
  • Literary – the acting and writing is the focus – dissecting alternating motivations
  • He did work with Haskell Wexler (Matewan) and Robert Richardson (City of Hope) – actors often worked with Chris Cooper and David Strathairn but is a sprawling ensemble in 6 of his 8 archiveable films
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I almost can’t believe it exists in 1987- Matewan is such a 1970’s film, natural lighting, politically charged
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the tableau shot here and above mirrors Sayles narrative voice with the varying perspectives and many voices in his films

top 10

  1. Matewan
  2. Lone Star
  3. Eight Men Out
  4. City of Hope
  5. Sunshine State
  6. Return of the Secaucus Seven
  7. Baby It’s You
  8. Passion Fish

By year and grades

1979- Return of the Secaucus Seven R
1983- Baby It’s You R
1987- Matewan HR/MS
1988- Eight Men Out R
1991- City of Hope
1992- Passion Fish R
1996- Lone Star HR
2002- Sunshine State R

*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film

MS is Must-see- top 5-6 quality of the year film

HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film

R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives