best film: Heat from 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 canvas that no one had done before.
- Pacino plays Lieutenant Vincent Hanna and De Niro plays master thief Neil McCauley. They are on opposite sides of the law but have very much in common. They are both so dedicated to their respective crafts that it rises to the level of art. There is an obvious admiration and mutual respect between the two.
- Mann staked his claim to the mantle of one of the art form’s greatest action auteurs with the real effect set piece work. The opening heist, the sound design, the semi-truck—this obviously influenced the likes of Christopher Nolan. There is no The Dark Knight without Heat.
- If you are discussing the collision of acting artists in Pacino and De Niro you have to give the edge to De Niro here as Pacino blinks first. They are both excellent, but Pacino’s improvisations often distract- he is singing, “I’m Donald Duck” and “get killed walking your doggy” – it just needs to be just reined in a little (you’ll notice the theatrics are downplayed in the marvelous coffee shop scene with De Niro). I love a good larger than life, drug-induced (cocaine addict according to Pacino), swaggering character and performance—but this just needs to be dialed back.
- The narrative is just a smooth crime drama machine in motion—writing that would make any great writer jealous like “for me, the action is the juice”.
- Mann utilizes these gorgeous tight shallow focus close-ups during the final meeting of cop and thief.
- The final frame at the 166-minute mark with Pacino’s Hanna embracing McCauley is held—an absolute stunner of a composition that fittingly ends this masterpiece.
most underrated: Cuaron’s work in the 1990s needs saving (none of his three films are on the TSPDT consensus top 1000) so I want to acknowledge A Little Princess missing from the consensus list here. But, the choice for this category in 1995 is 12 Monkeys. It does not land on the consensus top 1000 list at all.
- 12 Monkeys finds Terry Gilliam back in the world of retro looking future dystopias (Brazil) and this dense (and genius) narrative is a perfect match for the Gilliam aesthetic.
- a near constant use of the canted/dutch angle– Gilliam is surely an acolyte of Welles– even more here than his previous efforts
- heavy use of the wideangle lens- disorientation, surveillance and paranoia– a perfect stylistic visual choice for the narrative and larger Gilliam aesthetic
- look to the ceiling as a reference point- Gilliam puts the world of 12 Monkeys at an angle again and again
- The quirky looking hazmat suit, the exposed duct/pipe design set up in the credits like we’re in Antonioni’s Red Desert. It is worth noting that as we go through the time zones (it is a complex set up)—which include 1917, 1990, 1996 and 2035 it isn’t just the 2035 future that is meticulously designed. Gilliam’s Philadelphia in 1996 is a nightmare. There’s a powerful scene of Tom Waits screaming on the radio as they enter the city in disorienting low-angle shots of the high rises
- Gilliam shows the high and low angles of the empty city in the opening
- Bruce Willis is admirable in the lead-but he proves worthy of the casting when many had their doubts in 1995 (he’s obviously a huge star at the time but not known for his acting chops—his back to back 1994 and 1995 with this and Pulp Fiction largely put that to rest). It is Brad Pitt who steals every scene he’s in playing Jeffrey Goines- a man riddled with ticks and monologues (diatribes on sanity and germs). He’s on the screen for maybe 10 minutes and goes nuts 3-4 times— it is a very good role.
- There is constant doubling in the narrative and the visuals- repeatedly questioning the reality of what we’re watching. We get the shower/cleaning/delousing both underground in the mental hospital. We get the panel of doctors in a row just like the panel of scientists/leaders in the underground future. There’s the blurring of characters, objects and lines from the screenplay over the timeline that is very well done. The Cassandra complex, the Vertigo tree rings scenes– there’s a puzzle factor to the film but it holds up to repeat viewings after the mysteries are revealed. It is based on Chris Marker’s La Jetée (Gilliam claims to have never seen it) — an impressively intelligent and ambitious Hollywood undertaking.
- Like Brazil’s fantasy cutaways, and the red knight cutaways in The Fisher King- Gilliam uses the white out slow motion dream sequences here to intercut into the main narrative. This is obviously a trait of Gilliam’s at this point.
- Gilliam’s reoccurring overhead shot here- overhead in a solitary cell—same as Brazil and Fisher King
- Paul Buckmaster score is a sort of blend of the Seinfeld jingle and the zither score from Anton Karas in The Third Man
most overrated: Emir Kusturica’s Underground is #294 on the all-time TSPDT consensus list which makes it #1 for 1995. The consensus top 11 of 1995 also has room for Babe, Toy Story and Eastwood’s The Bridges of Madison County.
gems I want to spotlight: The City of Lost Children from Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet has impressive worldbuilding and sits somewhere in the sphere of Gilliam and Guillermo del Toro.
trends and notables:
- For whatever the reason, eight of the top ten films from 1995 are from American directors
- Casino, Heat, Safe, Se7en… is 1995 the year of the one-word titles? Haha. Ok, but seriously 1995 is notable because it marks the summit for both Michael Mann and Jim Jarmusch. These are two top 100 auteurs with such distinct voices.
- In 1995 Scorsese is playing his greatest hits here with Casino but the vibrancy in the visual and stylistic filmmaking is not stale in the slightest. Yes, it is clearly inferior to Goodfellas, but it is still an artistically ambitious work from one of the greatest auteurs of all time.
- Tom Hanks is a massive star in 1995. This is the final leg of the Philadelphia, Forrest Gump and Apollo 13 three year run (and throw in a vocal credit for Toy Story). Many thought he would win his third consecutive best actor Oscar in 1995 (losing to Nic Cage eventually). Apollo 13 is the second biggest box office hit in 1995.
- Todd Haynes may not quite be Linklater or Tarantino but with Safe he announces himself as a worthy part of that 1990s indie new wave class.
- Toy Story might actually be the closest thing we have to a technological landmark in 1995. It is the beginning of Pixar and the first film of note to make the switch from drawing animation (around since essentially the 1930s) to digital computer animation.
- 1995 is Noah Baumbach’s true debut– Kicking and Screaming. Baumbach is age 26.
- For actors we have firsts for Gwyneth Paltrow (daughter of archiveable actress Bythe Danner) in Se7en where she is very impressive.. Paltrow is the sole bright spark in the film—and it is formally fitting that she is snuffed out—devastating. And she is dazzling in her few scenes.
- We also have a first for a young Casey Affleck in Gus Van Sant’s To Die For. Van Sant should be praised for helping to discover and foster young acting talents throughout his career (Matt Dillion, Matt Damon later, River Phoenix).
best performance male: Robert De Niro is lights out in the first (Heat) and fourth (Casino) best films of the year. He deserves two mentions for 1995- and he definitely had the edge on Pacino in Heat if you are ranking performances in this film. So, the answer to this category in 1995 is De Niro. De Niro has strong contenders behind him though in 1995. Johnny Depp gives the best performance of his career in Dead Man. His comedic blank stare is perfect for the Jarmuscian style. I wish these two would have worked together again. Depp’s work definitely feels like a nod to Buster Keaton with his ironic deadpan. Depp’s performance here is pivotal to the brilliance of the film- he underplays it perfectly- he lets all the loud noises come from around him. Joe Pesci riffs on his Goodfellas performance with his work in Casino– the napoleonic Nicky Santoro. He walks like a bulldog. De Niro and Pesci are doing great work together and they make for such great sparring partners (here, Raging Bull)—it is a testament to both that the other is not just blown off the screen. Brad Pitt gets a joint nominee here for his work in both Se7en and 12 Monkeys. Kevin Spacey very much deserved the best supporting Oscar for his work in The Usual Suspects (throw in a bone chilling performance as John Doe in Se7en for the cherry on top for 1995). Morgan Freeman rounds out the trio from Se7en getting a mention here. His work in Fincher’s film is no less than Pitt or Spacey- he just does not have the second 1995 film to add to the resume. Still, this is a mention in back to back years for Freeman in this category- the best stretch of his career for sure. Speaking of career peaks, though his single best performance may be from Die Hard in 1988—Bruce Willis is here again in 1995 for 12 Monkeys after his work here with Tarantino from 1994’s Pulp Fiction. Vincent Cassel arrives like a bat out of hell in La Haine. All of these actors are mesmerizing in their work here in 1995—very strong year for this category.
best performance female: There are three very worthy standouts here in 1995. Julianne Moore leads the way with her work in Todd Haynes’ Safe. Moore plays Carol. She’s like a Lynne Ramsay vessel—full of internalizations and ambiguity. Carol is retreating, frail- weight loss for Moore with the physical performance. Sharon Stone is next for Casino. Sharon Stone holds her own with Scorsese, De Niro and Pesci. Stone is intoxicatingly beautiful one minute and just about equally bat-$hit crazy the next- and truly excels at both sides of that coin. Susan Sarandon slides into a slot here for 1995 with Dead Man Walking. She does not land for 1995 alone- but this marks the third exceptional performance (Bull Durham in 1988, Thelma & Louise in 1991) on a borderline top 10 of the year film this felt fitting to finally add a mention for her.
- Dead Man
- Twelve Monkeys
- The Usual Suspects
- La Haine
- Before Sunrise
- A Little Princess
Archives, Directors, and Grades
|A Little Princess – Cuaron||HR|
|Apollo 13 – Howard||R/HR|
|Before Sunrise- Linklater||HR/MS|
|Casino – Scorsese||MS/MP|
|Clockers – S. Lee||R|
|Clueless – Heckerling||R|
|Crimson Tide- T. Scott||R|
|Cyclo- Tran Anh Hung||R|
|Dead Man – Jarmusch||MP|
|Dead Man Walking- Robbins||HR|
|Devil in a Blue Dress- Franklin||R|
|Dolores Claiborne- Hackford||R|
|Fallen Angels- WKW||HR|
|Get Shorty- Sonnenfeld||R|
|Ghost in the Shell – Oshii||HR|
|Heat – M. Mann||MP|
|Il Postino – Radford|
|Kicking and Screaming- Baumbach||R|
|La Ceremonie – Chabrol||R/HR|
|La Haine- Kassovitz||MS|
|Leaving Las Vegas- Figgis||HR|
|Maborosi – Koreeda,|
|Mighty Aphrodite- Allen||R|
|Richard III- Loncraine||R|
|Rob Roy- Caton-Jones||R|
|Safe – Haynes||MS|
|Sense and Sensibility- A. Lee||R|
|Se7en – Fincher||MS/MP|
|Shanghai Triad- Yimou Zhang||R|
|Strange Days – Bigelow||R|
|The Bridges of Madison County – Eastwood||R|
|The City of Lost Children- Jeunet||HR|
|The Flower of My Secret- Almodovar||R|
|The Usual Suspects – Singer||MS|
|To Die For- Van Sant||R|
|Toy Story – Lasseter||R/HR|
|12 Monkeys – Gilliam||MS|
|Ulysses’ Gaze – Angelopoulos|
|Welcome to the Dollhouse – Solondz||R|
|White Balloon- Panahi|
*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