best film:  Nostalgia from Andrei Tarkovsky

  • The narrative isn’t easy—it’s up there with Mirror for being his most opaque
  • Uncontestably stunning camera movements and achievements in décor and mise-en-scene that interrupt quiet and stillness (usually with water running somewhere and a German Shepard in the mix)
  • A magnificent cinematic painting of an ending—truly one of cinema’s great images to close a film
  • For Tarkovsky it is the first of two collaborations with longtime member of the Bergman trope of actors- Erland Jospehson
  • Open in mist and fog—lovely opening shot. The car moves out of frame and then back in and Tarkovsky doesn’t chase- he slowing tracks in

one of the most beautiful films ever made

  • Continues camera moving imperceptibly closer via tracking shot
  • Gorgeous black and white flashbacks. It’s from MIrror. Audio of water trickling like every one of his films. Often you hear overlapping audio with muted contemporary dialogue over the flashback (which makes me think we’re talking about partial surrealism)
  • There’s an odd bit of ego here with Tarkovsky’s work. In Mirror he had a poster of Solaris (if Spielberg did this, and he does— he’d get crushed for it, and he does). In Nostalgia, two characters talk about Tarkovsky’s father’s poetry with great reverence
  • In almost every scene there is the use of mirrors and water/rain.

Still frame breathtaking photography all over the place

  • Several “oners” or tracking shots. One is along a rustic Tuscan rock wall when introducing Josephson
  • Tarkovsky loves shooting in open hallways with doors open and the wall at the end there is a painting or lighted piece of art. I can see Tarkovsky’s influence on Peter Greenaway with his framing, rigorously mirroring in his images and layered mise-en-scene
  • Countless images of rusticated Tuscany region
  • Josephson’s dilapidated house is a marvel of mise-en-scene
  • I was continually impressed with the technical skill involved with the hiding of the camera in all the mirror work
  • The domestic relationship in the film had some scenes of great acidly like that of a Bergman film
  • The pond/lagoon/tidepool thing set piece is brilliant. It’s like right out of Solaris or Stalker. This and the house of Josephson are ridiculously well-done and the film just ramps up from there to the end. It’s a 2-hour film but the first 30-40 are the weakest
  • A meditation on love, regret, and memory

the arrangement of characters to create sublime compositions- whether they are captured in medium shot…

… or long shot

  • I laughed at loud at the Camby NYT review. He closes with “nothing happens” and while tearing the film apart in the review says “Mr. Tarkovsky, whose earlier films include ”Andrei Rublev,” ”Solaris” and ”Stalker,” may well be a film poet but he’s a film poet with a tiny vocabulary. The same, eventually- boring images keep recurring in film after film – shots of damp landscapes, marshes, hills in fog, and abandoned buildings with roofs that leak. The meaning of water in his films isn’t as interesting to me as the question of how his actors keep their feet reasonably dry.”
  • The mirror has meaning in the narrative- there’s a duality between the Josephson character and Oleg Yankovskiy character
  • Tracking shot lighter carrying shot prior to final image is wonderful as well. Very dramatic and stylistically loud. 9-minute tracking shot ending in a wonderful shot of the flame in hand
  • The final mise-en-scene shot is utterly gob smacking.

The final mise-en-scene shot is utterly gob smacking.

 

 

most underrated:   Rumble Fish from Francis Ford Coppola.  The lack of appreciation for Coppola’s Rumble Fish is a mystery to me. It is a visual experiment from one of cinema’s great masters. The black and white photography is immaculate, the young cast is so talented, and Coppola meddles with atmosphere like he does in Apocalypse Now. The tracking shots may be the best of his career. The fact that the TSPDT consensus has still kept it out after all these years is amazing. Anyone who gives the film a negative review is a) wrong and b) focusing far too much on things like screenplay strength and narrative for me to approach or ever come to agreement with.

the scope may be smaller than the Vietnam War and somewhat adapting Conrad’s Heart of Darkness– but the cinematic inventiveness on display from Coppola serve as proof that he has not fallen off yet in Rumble Fish

racking the various lenses to get beautiful (and distorted) imagery

Rumble Fish is the middle film in Coppola’s  “underrated trilogy” (my term). One From the Heart was in 1981, this in 1983 and The Cotton Club to come the following year. I’m not going to argue that these films compare with Coppola’s work in the 1970’s–  but it is much closer than the consensus believes.

a visual explosion like this is superior to any well-acted, well-written, but otherwise cinematically quiet film (we get twenty to thirty films like the latter every year —- if we’re lucky we  get maybe ten to twenty films a decade like Rumble Fish). 

 

most overrated:   Local Hero is a nice little film but shouldn’t land at the #625 slot on the all-time list like the consensus would have it.

  • A unique and rich take on the comedy, the fish-out-of-water comedy
  • If there are most than half the reviews mention how “charming” it is and it extremely charming. Affirming– filled with Forsyth’s splendid wit
  • The Mark Knopfler guitar score is superb- the soundtrack was a huge success—Knopfler would do Princess Bride as well.

 

gems I want to spotlight:  It isn’t top tier Mike Nichols or top tier Meryl Streep but Silkwood is a nice little thriller that not many people have seen. Star 80 is Bob Fosse’s last film. It is flawed- but has some high-highs (Fosse’s editing) and Eric Roberts is very good as playing the disturbing husband in this little inside-Hollywood, seedy true story (involving a thinly veiled character playing the Peter Bogdanovich). Lastly, Risky Business is a terrific film. Yes- it has the Tom Cruise in his underwear/Bob Segar iconic scene- but the direction is more than solid and I’ve always adored the Tangerine Dream pure-1980s musical score.

 

trends and notables:

  • 1983 seems like a forgotten year with both of its masterpieces (one from Tarkovsky, one from Coppola) woefully underrated by the consensus. Again, Tarkovsky works so infrequently (1979 his last) that any year with a film of his is a special year (he only has one more left). And, 1983 is a pairing up of the same auteurs at the top from 1979 with Stalker and Apocalypse Now. Coppola, since coming onto the scene in 1972, would direct six (6) top five (5) of year films in eleven (11) years. That is simply outstanding.
  • Still, 1983 can’t quite measure up to 1982 (which feels like a once in a decade-type year). Even if 1983 is strong at the top, films like Zelig, Risky Business, A Christmas Story and The Big Chill should be somewhere between 11-20 on a year-end best of list—and for 1983— they all land on the top 10.
  • From an auteur standpoint- Mike Leigh gets his first archiveable film in 1983 with Meantime. Leigh would help promote the talents of many of the greatest acting talents from the UK during this era- both Gary Oldman and Tim Roth are a part of that here.
  • 1983 would also be the first year with an archiveable film for Ed Harris (The Right Stuff and Under Fire) Michelle Pfeiffer (Scarface) and Kim Basinger (what a year for blondes- Never Say Never Again).
  • I’m not just writing this because of Tarkovsky’s film from 1983—but you’ll see a big nostalgia boom in 1980s cinema. It does feel like just about every decade reacts to the decade (or decades) before it and in the 1980s you see a wave of throw back films to the “good, ol’ days”- here in 1983 it is represented in The Right Stuff, A Christmas Story, and The Big Chill.

a spectacular capture here with the sunsetting, the silhouettes in the foreground and the flyover above– from The Right Stuff

  • With Scarface, Brian De Palma continues his hot street. This would be his third top 10 film of the decade so far already

Tony Montata (Al Pacino) in a perfect composition here from De Palma’s Scarface.

It is often paired with 1984’s This Is Spinal Tap from Rob Reiner but Woody Allen’s Zelig here in 1983 gets some credit for starting/restarting the mockumentary subgenre. Without a doubt, Luis Bunuel had been here before (1933- Las Hurdes) but still.

 

best performance maleJames Woods gives the best performance of the year as Max Renn – David Cronenberg’s TV producer with some body horror morphing issues. Al Pacino swings for a home run and hits a….stand-up double in Scarface as Tony Montana. It is a memorable character. It is a big, loud, over-the-top performance but with a director like De Palma and a writer like Oliver Stone I don’t think it would fit for Pacino to go pensive and coy.  Undoubtedly, Pacino turned a corner around And Justice For All 1979—loud and brash—different from the bulk of his work in the 1970’s up to that point. Mickey Rourke lands here for really his combined work in Rumble Fish (1983), Diner (1982) and his scene-stealing in Body Heat (1981). Rourke is this rare breed of sensitivity and masculinity (these are the reasons for the Brando comparisons in the early 1980s) that does not happen often. The last mention in 1983 here is for Sam Shepard in The Right Stuff.  There is no lead actor in The Right Stuff– it is an ensemble piece and the there are a dozen excellent actors in it- but Shepard is almost separate from the rest of the film. He does give the best single performance and the opening 25-minute prologue on the breaking of the sound barrier is its own little marvelous short film.

With De Palma, Pacino, and Oliver Stone (screenplay) this is a match made in heaven in terms of three artists who aren’t afraid to go for excess

best performance female:   Sumiko Sakamoto is the only actor represented here in 1983 for her work in Imamura’s The Ballad of Narayama.

 

top 10

  1. Nostalgia
  2. Rumble Fish
  3. Videodrome
  4. Scarface
  5. The Ballad of Narayama
  6. The Right Stuff
  7. Zelig
  8. The Big Chill
  9. Risky Business
  10. A Christmas Story

 

Videodrome– unquestionably David Cronenberg’s finest work to date in 1983

yet another from Philp Kaufman’s The Right Stuff. This was shot by the great cinematographer Caleb Deschanel. This here is echoing Ford’s The Searchers

 

Archives, Directors, and Grades

A Christmas Story – Clark R/HR
A Love in Germany- Wajda
And the Ship Sails On- Fellini R
Baby It’s You – Sayles R
Danton- Wajda R
El Sur – Erice R
First Name: Carmen – Godard R
Heat and Dust – Ivory R
In the White City – Tanner
L’Argent- Bresson
Life Is a Bed of Roses – Resnais R
Local Hero – Forsyth R
Meantime – Leigh R
Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence- Oshima R
Never Cry Wolf- Ballard R
Never Say Never Again – Kershner R
Nostalgia – Tarkovsky MP
Pauline at the Beach- Rohmer R
Return of the Jedi – Marquand R
Risky Business – Brickman R/HR
Rumble Fish- F. Coppola MP
Scarface- De Palma MS
Silkwood- M. Nichols R
Star 80- Fosse, R
Suburbia – Spheeris R
Sudden Impact – Eastwood R
Tender Mercies- Beresford
Terms of Endearment- J. Brooks
The Ballad of Narayama- Imamura HR/MS
The Big Chill- Kasdan HR
The Dead Zone – Cronenberg R
The Dresser – Yates R
The Hunger- T. Scott R
The Meaning of Life – Gilliam, T. Jones R
The Right Stuff – P. Kaufman HR
Trading Places – Landis R
Under Fire- Spottiswoode R
Videodrome- Cronenberg MS
WarGames – Badham R
Zelig – Allen HR

 

 

*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