I am a shameless fan of Wes Anderson and his quirky films and have been ever since my older brother recommended that I watch his first feature, Bottle Rocket. I loved it and eagerly awaited his next release, Rushmore, which happened to hit the theaters when I was living with said brother in Boston. On a frosty February evening the two of us along with my sister-in-law ventured from our living quarters on Dudley Ave. in Cambridge to the Kendall Square theaters and caught a screening. It quickly became one of my favorites films, where it still remains easily in the top 15 or 20 (depending on the day, of course). The ending was/is the clincher for me and remains my absolute favorite ending to any film I’ve ever seen. There are a number of reasons for this, which I will illuminate, but the single biggest factor is The Faces song, “Ooh La La” accompanying the denouement of the picture. This song brings up so many memories for me that when it played, I was just overwhelmed with happiness and nostalgia. This is why I love the movies.
Le enfant terrible, Max Fischer.
In comparison to Bottle Rocket, Rushmore is a polished film without the edges that Anderson‘s first feature has. With an increased dose of eccentricity, at least on the part of the main character, Max Fischer (so ably brought to life by Coppola family member Jason Schwartzman in his first film role), Rushmore sails. The story of Rushmore follows Max as he attends Rushmore Academy, a private school for children of the local and international elite. Max’s father is a barber and normally wouldn’t be able attend; however, when he was young, Max wrote a one-act play about Watergate that netted him a scholarship to the topflight academic institution. Max takes his involvement at Rushmore very seriously, enlisting himself in a plethora of clubs and activities and largely ignoring his studies, eventually finding himself on sudden death academic probation and facing expulsion. In the meantime, he befriends local steel magnate and father to twin classmates, Herman Blume, played by Bill Murray in what I believe is his finest performance. Herman takes Max under his wing and as they both fall for widowed Rushmore teacher Rosemary Cross (Olivia Williams), tensions and rivalries get the better of them…until the ending of the film.
Take dead aim on the rich boys. Get them in the crosshairs and take them down. Just remember, they can buy anything but they can’t buy backbone. Don’t let them forget it.
And this is precisely why “Ooh La La” works so well in the context of the triangular relationship of Cross, Fischer and Blume. The lyrics of the song have meaning for each of the characters. Blume looks at Max as the son he wished he’d had instead of Ronnie and Donnie, the twin nightmares. In looking at Max and what lays ahead for him, Herman reflects on his own journey. The chorus to “Ooh La La” fits so perfectly here: “I wish that I knew what I know now/when I was younger/I wish that I knew what I know now/when I was stronger.” Had Herman known before what he knows now, would he have married his ungrateful, cheating wife? Fathered his two bonehead sons? Would his life be as miserable? After the fledgling relationship with Miss Cross fails, largely due to interference by Max, and his wife sues for divorce (once again caused by Max), Blume finds himself having to start over again. Check the lyrics: “they come on strong and it ain’t too long/for they make you feel a man/but love is blind and you soon will find/you’re just a boy again.” Just perfection.
Max Fischer, renaissance man.
These words, however, are equally as applicable to Max, who, even though he is a young man not even 18, can take something from them. The entire first verse could easily be words of warning in reflecting on Blume’s experience: “I thought he was a bitter man/he spoke of women’s ways/they’ll trap you when they use you/before you even know/for love is blind and you’re far too kind/don’t ever let it show.” But the big difference for Max is he can heed these words, weave them into his forward trajectory, something that could be too late for Blume or even Miss Cross.
Max, Blume and Miss Cross – strange bedfellows indeed.
When Miss Cross removes Max’s glasses in this scene, she is reflecting back on her husband, Rushmore-alum Edward Appleby, who passed away and is the reason she is teaching at Rushmore. Earlier in the movie, she tells Max, “You remind me of him, you know?” And here it’s come full circle. She looks at Max like we assume she looked at Edward Appleby, whom she knew her whole life. The chorus also applies to Miss Cross here – if she knew what she knows now when she was younger, would she be so sad? Would she cherish the moments she had with him more? This is a contemplative moment that’s very powerful, because the basic notion contained within it transfers to us as viewers, causing us, perhaps, to undergo the same reflection each of these characters is undertaking. Without this song playing, I don’t know if that would happen. That the song plays out over the credits, not just over the scene alone, allows us to consider it and the film in context as it plays out over the plain black and white words on-screen.
Growing up, my father played Ooh La La the album a lot. Many good memories are attached to listening to this song and playing with the album cover (yes, we listened to it on vinyl) – the mouth opened and the eyes went from side to side when you pushed the top of it. So when Ruben, the DJ at the cotillion, spins it and the first guitar chord hit I was already in love. As the camera pulls back to capture Max and Miss Cross enter the dance floor, Anderson employs his signature (well, until Moonrise Kingdom) move of having the final scene of each of his films in slow motion. The song coupled with this technique is why I think this is the best ending to a film of all-time. For the first time, we see all of the major players of the film – Max, Blume, Miss Cross, Max’s father Bert (played by Seymour Cassel), Max’s new girlfriend Margaret Yang (Sara Tanaka), best friend Dirk Calloway (Mason Gamble) and headmaster Nelson Guggenheim (Brian Cox) – in the same frame, happy. By using slow motion, Anderson allows us to linger in this moment with the characters, to leave behind the viciousness with which the characters set upon one another leading up to this point and creates one of the most cathartic film moments I’ve ever witnessed. Part of me wishes it lasted the entire song.
Here is a clip of the ending:
Enjoy it. Watch it several times. Let the song wash over you. And if you haven’t watched Rushmore in its entirety, do so at your earliest convenience. It truly is fantastic.
God damn it. Another good one is gone. If you grew up in the 70s and 80s, chances are Harold Ramis made you laugh. Whether being careful not to cross the streams in Ghostbusters or battling Eastern Block communists in Stripes as an actor, or bringing the guffaws in monologues by Carl Spackler in Caddyshack or food fights in Animal House as a writer, or bringing the inevitable pain commencing after Sonny & Cher‘s “I Got You Babe” played while directing Groundhog Day, Harold Ramis had a great comedic gift and we are all better off that he shared it with us. Many of the great Bill Murray characters that he inhabited (Carl Spackler, Tripper Harrison, John Winger, Phil Connors, Peter Venkman) would not have happened without Ramis and for that we should all be grateful. And never forget, he took a John Hughes script for National Lampoon’s Vacation and helped create a classic American character. Thoughts and good vibes go out to the Ramis family and his friends.
First Phil Hoffman dies, now this. Fuck.
Here’s a clip from one of my childhood faves, Stripes:
Bill Murray is one of the finest comedic talents this country has seen since he burst onto the scene on Saturday Night Live in 1977. Over the last 36 years, he has charmed us, made us laugh and shown us his more dramatic side in his film work. The bulk of his work has been a resounding success while a few film…not so much (Wild Things, anyone?). Nonetheless, Murray is widely regarded as comedic gold and it’s hard to argue with that. In fact, his oeuvre is proof positive that this state is indeed on point.
Here are a handful of his performances and appearances that have added many pleasurable moments to my life:
Coffee and Cigarettes (2003) “Delirium” – himself
While Murray only appears in one vignette in this film, it is undoubtedly the best of the bunch. That he’s in it with The RZA and The GZA from The Wu Tang Clan (the finest hip-hop group of all-time) makes it all the better. Playing a caffeine junkie, Murray is admonished by the MCs for drinking straight out of the coffee pot while smoking a cigarette – over the top Murray at his finest. That he is able to hold his own onscreen with RZA and GZA is a testament to his talent. Not that they are supremely talented actors, but coming from completely different worlds can stress the connection made. None of that here. Getting to hear Murray called by his full name every time he’s addressed is fucking hilarious. This film came out in 2003 when Murray was starting to break the comedic shell and go for more quirkier and dramatic roles. Lost in Translation, which will be addressed shortly, came out that same year. Working with director Jim Jarmusch in this film as well as 2005’s Broken Flowers upped his street cred tremendously, not to mention his work with Wes Anderson.
Here’s the entire vignette:
Lost in Translation (2003) – Bob Harris
Lost in Translation was Murray‘sfirst real dramatic role since The Razor’s Edge in 1984 aside from his turn as Polonius in Hamlet (although he did have a small part in The Cradle Will Rock) and it was this performance that looked as if it would net Murray an Academy Award. Alas, the voters in the Academy chose to the award to Sean Penn‘s overwrought and heavy-handed performance in the vastly overrated Mystic River instead. Sigh. It’s in this role that we see Murray deliver the full range of his talent, something that is touched on in Groundhog Day as he tries to woo Andie MacDowell‘s character. Moments of loneliness, poignancy and longing are peppered with his signature comedy and Murray really brings to life Bob Harris, his deeply flawed alter-ego. Here’s an example:
That Murray was able to pull this performance off is testament to his ability as an actor, although big ups go to both Scarlett Johansson and Sofia Coppola for their parts in the process as well – no way he is able to do this without them. I frequently imagine him in real life lamenting getting paid seven figures for doing a commercial when he should be doing a play like his character Bob Harris does. The filming of the commercial he’s in Japan to film is priceless and one of the better scenes in the film:
I know a lot of people decry this film for being too slow and boring, but this was the piece of the puzzle that was missing in Murray‘s filmography. He shows here what a full talent he really is. I will also say that his version of Elvis Costello‘s “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding” is pretty top-notch. This guy can do it all.
Here is the trailer:
Kingpin (1996) – Ernie “Big Ern” McCracken
The most low-brow film on this list (it is a Farrelly Brothers film after all), Kingpin has Murray playing his most loathable character of all-time. A scumbag professional bowler with a killer combover that would make Gene Keady envious, Big Ern McCracken is Roy Munson’s (Woody Harrelson) nemesis. McCracken is responsible for getting Munson into a situation that cost him his right bowling hand and his promising career as a young bowler. Since that day, Munson planned revenge, but the much-loved-by-the-public McCracken proves to be a difficult nut to crack.
Finally, Big Ern is above the law!
That McCracken is so awful is an interesting role for Murray because he never redeems himself like his characters in Scrooged or Groundhog Day. You hate him as much at the end as the first time you meet him. Murray really sells it well, though….all while drinking Tanqueray and Tab.
However, this is vintage Murray and worthy of mention among the fun roles he’s played. While this movie is the typical gross-out affair you’d expect from the Farrellys, Murray cuts above all of it and is able to play the perfect villain. That said, this is a fun movie to watch if you’re looking for mindless entertainment.
Here is the trailer:
You can watch the entire film here:
Ghostbusters (1984) – Dr. Peter Venkman
I doubt that I need to elaborate much on Ghostbusters as it has remained an American comedic/sci-fi centerpiece since it was released in 1984. The premise is three paranormal activity professors (Murray, Harold Ramis and Dan Aykroyd) get kicked out of the university in which they work and start their own apparition removal and storage business. When Dr. Venkman’s girlfriend, Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver), gets possessed by the demon Zuul and announces the coming of Gozer, shit really hits the fan. The Ghostbusters, with new addition Winston (Ernie Hudson), must save humanity and specifically New York City from destruction and domination by Gozer.
All right! This chick is TOAST!
Outside of Caddyshack, this may well be Murray‘s signature role. This movie endures, largely due to Murray, to this day. My own children love this movie and both think Venkman is the best character because he’s so funny. They particularly like it when he gets slimed:
Even in his rarefied profession, Venkman seems to have issues figuring out what to do with Dana/Zuul. As we see at the beginning of the film, Venkman doesn’t put much effort into his job. This passive attitude carries over into his interaction with Zuul, which is among the funniest parts of the entire film. His delivery is perfection and you can see where doing stand-up at Second City in Chicago and working on Saturday Night Live aided him in his comedic film career so well.
I, for one, am glad that Murray is stone-walling the production of a third Ghostbusters movie. To me, trotting the four ‘Busters out again is as sad an attempt to cash in as Lucas and Spielberg doing yet another Indiana Jones film. Please. Stop.
For those of you who have been under a rock for the past 30 years, here’s the trailer:
Groundhog Day (1993) – Phil Connors
Groundhog Day is one of the better screenplays written in the last 20 years and Murray‘s performance as Phil Conners does that script serious justice.The premise of Groundhog Day is a loathsome Pittsburgh television weatherman gets sent to Punxsatawney, Pennsylvsania, on February 2 to cover the annual Groundhog Day ceremony where Punxsatawney Phil (name is a coincidence?) either sees or doesn’t see his shadow predicting the length of what remains of winter. His terrible attitude, general rudeness and overall disdain for his fellow man, especially of those who reside in Punxsatawney, are the likely cause of karma to catch up to him. When he wakes up the next day, he realizes he’s repeating Groundhog Day again. And this happens again, and again, and again, and again. As he desperately tries to break the cycle, he resorts to extreme behavior at first using his dilemma to exploit the circumstances then falls into deep depression trying to kill himself to end the cycle…to no avail.
Seriously, if I have to hear “I Got You Babe” ever again…
In what I can only imagine was a difficult shoot having to do the same scene multiple times but varying actions and dialogue ever so slightly, Murray shines. Witnessing his transformation from grumpy prima donna to a well-intentioned, thoughtful man is pure joy, one of the few times I accept a happy ending in a film. I have to ask myself, would I enjoy the ending to this film if it wasn’t Murray in the Phil Conners role? Likely not, especially since I truly detest Andie MacDowell, or better known as She-Who-Can-Ruin-a-Movie-with-the-Delivery-of-Two-Lines (“Is it still raining? I hadn’t noticed”). This is a fun movie which is open to interpretation.
Here’s the trailer:
Stripes (1981) – John Winger
Stripes is one of my favorite Murray films, although not necessarily his best. He plays John Winger, a slacker cab driver who has nothing going for him. His best friend Russell (frequent collaborator Harold Ramis) falls into this camp as well. They both decide that they need a change in their lives, so they decide to join the Army. Winger’s general smartassness immediately gets him in trouble with Drill Sergeant Hulka (Warren Oates), but also endears himself to the rest of the platoon.
After finishing their basic training on their own when Sgt. Hulka is injured, Winger and company are selected for the top secret EM-50/Urban Assault Vehicle (read: Winnebago) project in Europe. When Winger and Russell and their two MP girlfriends (Sean Young and P.J. Soles) take the EM-50 for a spin through West Germany, the rest of the platoon are forced to go after them. When they accidentally end up in communist Czechoslovakia, the platoon are captured leaving Winger and his posse to come to the rescue.
That’s the fact, Jack!
Murray‘s snarkiness is off the charts in Stripes and that’s one of the things that I love best about his characters, and John Winger is no exception. Even though he can be such a shithead, you can’t help but love him. Murray is fortunate to be surrounded by other great actors to play off of – John Candy, Judge Reinhold and John Larroquette – with perhaps my favorite ancillary character, Francis “Psycho” Soyer (Conrad Dunn) who has perhaps the most memorable monologue of the film. This film is fun and what Murray‘s early work was all about. It’s dated because of the fall of the Soviet Union, but gives a glimpse into tensions back in the Cold War…with a comedic spin.
Here’s the trailer:
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004) – Steve Zissou
As Murray has gotten older, he played more crotchety and curmudgeonly characters. Steve Zissou is no exception. A once famous ocean explorer/filmmaker a la Jacques Cousteau has hit bottom when his friend Esteban du Plantier (Seymour Cassel) is eaten by a rare jaguar shark. He then motivates his team to track and kill the shark, filming the escapade. When he is about to embark, his producer tells him he has no money for the film. He is saved financially by a son, Ned (Owen Wilson) whom he fathered many years before but never reached out to. As they set out on the journey, they encounter many obstacles – Zissou’s ego, attack by pirates, mutiny by their interns and a feud between Ned and Zissou’s chief of staff Klaus (hilariously played by Willem Dafoe).
Team Zissou discussing the plan.
The whole quest is also being covered by Oceanographic Explorer journalist Jane Winslett-Richardson (Cate Blanchett) for an article on Steve, who falls for her. The only problem is (well, besides that he’s married) is his son Ned has also taken to her, despite her being pregnant with another man’s child. So a lot is at stake with this journey – not only Steve’s personal quest, but also his professional reputation, is under the microscope. So when shit blows up like The Godfather, he steps and tries to right the wrongs that can only be attributed to his poor leadership.
Steve with his ship, The Belafonte.
Steve is another Murray character who isn’t likeable. At all. But Murray somehow gets us to root for him to complete his quest for the jaguar shark, despite being responsible for Ned’s death, the implosion of his team and the bond stooge (Bud Cort) being kidnapped by the pirates. As I noted above, had this been another actor, would we have done so? That’s the mystique that Murray brings with him. As a man who seems like he’s just another one of the guys and very approachable, we tend to identify with him and therefore take his side despite our misgivings about Zissou. This is a shrewd move on director Wes Anderson‘s part. As in most roles where Murray plays a bastard, he does redeem himself. The scene where they finally encounter the elusive jaguar shark is very touching:
I firmly believe 2003-2005 was the golden age of the Murray dramatic comedy with Lost in Translation, Life Aquatic and Broken Flowers. I truly hope that Wes Anderson chooses to use Murray better in any future films. His characters seem like such a throwaways in The Royal Tenenbaums, The Darjeeling Limited and Moonrise Kingdom, especially given the robustness of the performances in both this film and Rushmore.
Here’s the trailer:
Caddyshack (1980) – Carl Spackler
This one is a no-brainer and the role that may be most closely associated with Murray. The reason is he’s fucking hilarious in this movie. Playing Karl Spackler, Murray channels the inbred golf course maintenance worker in a performance that is exaggerated, over-the-top and plainly outrageous – all of which makes the movie better. In a film that has about as many quotable moments as any film in history, it’s Murray/Karl who steal the show, which says quite a bit with comedy heavyweights like Chevy Chase and Rodney Dangerfield also starring. Whether it’s his diatribe about caddying for the Dalai Lama or the Cinderella Storyor he and Ty Webb doing cannonballs, it’s hard to deny the humor of these scenes and the value Murray adds to them.
You wore green so you could hide. I don’t blame you – you’re a tramp!
This movie is so much fun, if a little dated. It’s certainly worth the watch if you’ve never seen it and are a Murray fan. Be the ball.
Here’s the trailer:
Rushmore (1998) – Herman Blume
I’m sure folks are tired of me writing about Rushmore, but it’s hard for me to deny what a damn fine film it is. I’ve highlighted just about every aspect of this film – opening scene, ending scene, usage of Faces’ “Ooh La La”, best Wes Anderson film, etc., – but never touched on Murray‘s performance as Herman Blume with any substance. I think it is his role that has been most deserving of accolades and awards. I also think it is his most surprising performance as well.
I’m a little bit lonely these days…
Murray‘s performance as the steel magnate is filled with surprises – at times it’s comedic, others melancholic, depressive and some full of life. Herman Blume is a fully realized character where flaws abound, but not so many that we can’t empathize with him or his series of plights that crop up throughout the film. Even though his arc is secondary or even tertiary with regards to screen time, it’s no less important. His journey is as important as Max’s and Miss Cross’ as they are all intertwined. His introduction is key to setting up the character and Murray knocks it out of the park (clip runs a little long giving us the introduction to Max Fischer as well):
What rich person tells less fortunate kids to take dead aim on other rich kids and to take them down? This is one reason I love this character, and by extension Bill Murray, so much. As I’ve stated multiple times in this post, without Murray in the role, I just don’t think that this character or this film is as effective as it is. It really is an exquisite performance.
Here’s the trailer:
Since brevity isn’t exactly my strong suit, I think I’ll limit this list to ten. His role as Hunter S. Thompson in Where the Buffalo Roam could easily slide onto this list. He doesn’t play the role as insane as Johnny Deppdid in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, but the performance is still quite good. NIXON!The film is uneven to say the least, but it is worth a watch if for only the hotel room scene.
Another that could find its way onto this list is Tripper from Meatballs. While the film plays a little corny these days, Murray is really great in the mentor role at Camp North Star. And as far as I’m concerned, any film that features David Naughton‘s “Makin’ It” and Chris Makepeace‘s sweet hair is pretty badass.
So there you have it – Bill Murray‘s finest. I hope that Murray mixes his roles in the future as he now seems to be gravitating towards more dramatic fare. He does well when he spreads his wings and there is always a comedic angle to the roles he takes, but I miss the pure comedies he’s done in the past. I guess in the end, it just doesn’t matter. Keep doing you, Bill.
What’s your favorite Murray role or performance?
P.S. Thanks for the cameo in Zombieland. Quite amusing.
Last week, I wrote about my 10 favorite scenes to open a film. So, in the parlance of our time, turn about is fair play – so I thought I’d write about my favorite ending scenes. As I thought this over and compiled my list, I couldn’t narrow it down to only 10 and even 15. So here are my top 16 favorite film endings. The ending of a film can be a revelation, tying the entire film you just watched all together in a perfect bow, it can leave the resolution to characters’ dilemma open-ended allowing you the license to think and discuss what became of them and the events before, it can piss you off asking what the fuck the writer and director were thinking (Oliver Stone – I’m looking at you for that shit ending to Savages, which sucked anyway), or it can totally destroy a film begging you to ask yourself why you just wasted the 90-120 minutes you just spent watching it.
Now, Let it be known that watching many of these may give away key points to the films. I will have tried to list which have spoilers. Beware.
Lastly, I urge you to watch all of the following films. They are all fantastic. They wouldn’t have left the impression on me that they did if they weren’t.
Here we go…
(this is the entire film – watch from 1:43:20-1:46:20)
It is unfortunate that this film remains relatively unknown to many in this country. It’s really incredible. I was fortunate to see this at the Chicago International Film Festival in 2004 where it won the Gold Hugo, its top prize. And well deserved, I might add. The film follows a group of slacker subway ticket controllers in Budapest as they try and find out who has been pushing patrons in front of oncoming trains. Led by Bulcsú (Sándor Csányi), the group must deal with their hotheaded boss, rival gangs of ticket controllers, punk kids and an ethereal girl dressed in a bear and fairy costumes (Eszter Balla) who may or may not really exist. This film is extremely ripe for interpretation and presents many mysteries that challenge its viewer. That it is Hungarian probably turns some people off. Don’t let that bother you – you know you watched Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and that shit had subtitles too. This may not have hot ass kung fu, but it does have a narcoleptic who provides very funny comedic moments and a peek into a different slice of the world you might not otherwise see.
The Crew – Professor, Bulcsú, Tibi, Lecsó and Muki
This film ending may not mean much without the entire context of the film, but I do know it is one of the most satisfying I’ve seen. I’ve provided a link that allows you to watch this badass film for free. DO IT.
Kiss Me Deadly (1955)
SPOILER – this one pretty much gives away the entire premise of the film, so BEWARE.
Made at the height of the Cold War, Kiss Me Deadly is exceedingly representative of the Red Scare and McCarthyism. A film noir staple, this one’s got it all – beatings, intimidation, dames, broads, cars, guns, double-crosses…and a mysterious box that everyone seems to want to get their hands on. The ending is one of the more twisted and deranged I’ve seen, but it fits so well with all of the other bizarre shit that happens before it. Without a doubt one of the most memorable I’ve seen and it certainly deserves to be on this or any best-of ending list.
This film features Cate Blanchett, who I feel is the finest actress working today. Typical of her role choices, this is one you wouldn’t expect from many Hollywood women. She plays a school teacher living in Italy whose husband dies of a drug overdose. When she sees a chance to get even with the powerful drug lord who was responsible, she plants a bomb intended to kill him. When that plan goes wrong, four innocent people die. With the help of a young policeman (Giovanni Ribisi), she escapes and goes on the run. The film ends with the inevitable confrontation between her and the police and what director Tom Tykwer (who has two films appear on this list) gives us is one of the most elegiac endings I’ve ever seen. It completely blew me away.
The Breakfast Club (1985)
Probably the most the iconic ending of all the films from my childhood. I’ve recently written about this film here so I won’t elaborate too much more than I already have. This ending is a great example of the synergy of filmmaking elements – music, narration and editing all play keys roles in contributing to why I think this ending is so wonderful. Without Brian Johnson’s (Anthony Michael Hall) narration of the letter coupled with the Simple Minds’ song “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” and the cuts between Vernon (Paul Gleason) in the library and John Bender (Judd Nelson) walking home over the football field, I don’t think this would have been anywhere near as successful and the perfect culmination of the events we had witnessed the prior 97 minutes.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
SPOILER ahead – not in the scene above, but the text below.
In the portion of the film that precedes this one, you just can’t get over how damn depressing it is. Chief (Will Sampson) suffocates McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) after he’s been lobotimized. Just gutting. But what comes next is uplifting and really takes the edge off that scene. McMurphy’s death, both in the physical and spiritual sense (Nurse Ratched and the doctors took care of that over time), gave life to Chief who can be held no more by confines of the sanitarium and in a way, gives life to the rest of the group who remain. I remember seeing this film at a very early age (perhaps too early – Todd Solondz would have been jealous) and it left an indelible mark on me. This is my father’s favorite film of all-time (outside of Lonesome Dove, which is technically a mini-series) so it always reminds me of him.
The Bad News Bears (1976)
The inappropriateness of this ending is what touches me so deeply, I think. That any film would show kids from 11-13 years old drinking beers and cursing after losing in the championship of a Little League baseball tournament hits this guy right where it hurts – these are kids, especially Tanner (Chris Barnes), who could have been me. Their philosophy of “Wait ‘Til Next Year!”, a favorite mantra among us poor Chicago Cubs fans, is also one I employ in my real life, always banking that next year will be better (it usually isn’t). This ending also marks the transformation of manager Morris Buttermaker (Walter Matthau, so perfectly cast) from drunk who cares about nothing but himself and his liquor to showing this band of misfit kids how to be ballplayers, how to never give up and play the game the right way. Except for the beer. And cursing. That the other parents join in the celebration in this clip is unreal.
Engelberg and Tanner imbibe after a tough loss to the evil Yankees.
This ending is the product of its times, which is good. Not a chance this ending is ever made today. Case in point: the what-I-assume-is-a-SHITTY-remake Richard Linklater put together (never have and never will watch it – why mess with perfection?) in 2005. In the end of that one, the kids drink non-alcoholic beer. SIGH. I also love the pull back of the camera capturing the American flag in the frame. ‘MURICA!!!
The 400 Blows (1959)
This ending literally stunned the jury and everyone else at its screenings at the 1959 Cannes Film Festival. 27-year old François Truffaut, film critic-turned-director, earned Best Director for The 400 Blows and helped usher in the French New Wave with the film. And the ending of this film is one of the most famous in film history. The freeze-frame of Antoine Doinel (played by Jean-Pierre Leaud), Tuffaut‘s alter-ego, looking directly into the camera was nothing like anything that had been done before, especially in french cinema where the young critics who turned into filmmakers (Godard, Resnais, Chabrol, Rohmer and Rivette) had grown tired of the boring traditional filmmaking that had occurred since the war. They sought to change it and boy did they ever. This final shot of Antoine leaves us to wonder whether he will emerge from the shitty circumstances that led him to reform school or if he will fall back into the behavior that got him there. Neither hopeful nor pessimistic, Truffaut leaves the viewer to decide what Antoine’s fate is…at least with this film. He did go on to make three more films about Doinel (all played wonderfully by Leaud).
SPOILER – this clip and subsequent commentary gives the ending of the film away.
As a HUGE fan of Patrick Süskind‘s novel Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, I was always wary of whether it could make a great or even good film. With many sequences inside the head of protagonist Jean-Baptiste Grenouille and the overwhelming description of the olfactory smorgasbord he encounters in the novel, I just wasn’t sure it could be done. Tom Tykwer, along with German superproducer Bernd Eichinger (may he rest in peace) and Andrew Birkin, crafted a script that captured the best elements of the book and transferred them to the screen…well, except Dustin Hoffman‘s Italian-esque accent – what the fuck was that? Anyway, this is a grisly story and Grenouille’s (Ben Whishaw, the new Q in the Bond films, worked nicely in his role) fate deserves something special. Just when we think he’s gotten away with his murder spree at his trial, we get the proper ending that Süskind gave us in the book, which is absolutely fitting given his actions throughout the film. And thus the magic of cinema takes us by surprise again.
No Country for Old Men (2007)
This is quite possibly the most polarizing ending of a film I’ve ever witnessed. When I saw this film in the theater, about 80% of the people there moaned and complained out loud about how terrible it was. To me, it seemed like the perfect ending to such a brutal film, Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) telling of a dream about his dead father ushering him to heaven, there waiting for him. As Bell states, he is about 20 years older than his daddy ever got to be and I think that this dream revelation he gives also tells us why there is no country for old men like him – bored, desperate now that he is retired, waiting to meet his daddy on the cold, dark mountain, horn of fire in hand. This ending is pure Cormac McCarthy, writer of the novel on which this film is based. While the film adaptation of the ending is different as Bell tells his wife about the dream, the book describes it as sort of in Bell’s head without him verbalizing it. This film ends very abruptly and I think is a bit confusing to people who may not be aware of the book or how McCarthy writes. That doesn’t take away from how honest and fabulous it is.
The King of Comedy (1983)
SPOILERS in the clip and the comments.
Scorsese is insane. He makes touchpoint films that resonate well after they are released and The King of Comedy is one of them as I wrote here. With all of the intense interest in “celebrity” culture, now so more than ever, this film remains increasingly more pertinent. What is depicted in the clip above is suspect as we don’t know if these events are really happening or if they are just the machinations of antihero Rupert Pupkin (Robert De Niro). If you’ve seen this film, you know that Pupkin has a mock talk show set in his mother’s basement where he practices his comedy routines and television demeanor.
Ladies and gentleman – Rupert Pupkin!
So this film comes full circle from when Rupert acts out a scene at the beginning of the film as if Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis as a stand-in for Johnny Carson) asks him to take over his talk show for 6 weeks to the epilogue where he is a huge thing and everyone wants a piece of him. That the announcer says Rupert’s name seven times in his introduction is a key to me that this is all a delusion – hearing his name on television is all he’s ever wanted. That he is such a hit elsewhere – new TV show, book deal, fans greeting him at prison – is also a key. I could be wrong here, of course. Nonetheless, it’s a fascinating ending to an incredible film. One of Scorsese‘s best.
SPOILER: this pretty much gives it all away. If you haven’t seen this film and plan on doing so, don’t watch or read.
Director David Fincher and writer Andrew Kevin Walker bring the thunder in this thriller. John Doe (Kevin Spacey) takes detectives Mills (Brad Pitt) and Somerset (Morgan Freeman, another role in which he gets to play the wise, old sage) to the brink of his own madness. With 5 of the deadly sins already acted out by Doe and his victims, the ending gives us the final two – envy and wrath. This is one the most clever and creepy endings to a movie I’ve ever seen. Who can blame Mills for what he does even though Somerset is right? Doe does win by Mills blowing him away. Mills doesn’t break his character, though. It would have been a cop out (pun intended) if he had not shot Doe for his transgressions and I’m glad that Fincher and Walker kept it that way. Everything that Mills does leading up to this moment leads us to believe he would shoot him. It makes for a far more powerful ending and is a good comment about mankind’s will to do/not to do the right thing when faced with extraordinary circumstances.
There Will Be Blood (2007)
Who would have thought this film, of all things, would be the impetus for one of the more overused memes in recent history? Milkshakes. This final scene is the culmination of a man, Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis in one of his most exquisite performances), completing his fall from venerable oil man to money hungry lout. Where we probably once respected Plainview for having taken in the young son of a worker killed in an accident and stood up for himself against bigger oil outfits, that respect has all but gone by this point in the film. I must sickly admit, though, that I found some pleasure in Plainview’s extermination of Eli Sunday (Paul Dano) in this clip. Supposedly a man of God, Eli, like Daniel, becomes a money hungry cretin, forsaking his duties as a preacher in the quest for the wrong almighty…the dollar. Look no further than this clip that comes before the “I drink your milkshake” portion:
Eli cashes in his faith, his beliefs for money: “I am a false prophet. God is a superstition!” He is as soulless and Daniel is, but his transgression is far worse than Daniel’s, who never postures as anything but who he is – a businessman. While brutal and unflinching, this ending is the logical course of the film and one that has made a lasting impression on me since I first saw it.
Since this film is told backwards, the ending of the film is actually the beginning of the story. It’s here we see Leonard (Guy Pearce) begin his quest anew in his search for John G., the man who he believes murdered his wife and damaged his hippocampus, giving him a condition where he can’t make new memories.After putting in the work, trying to figure maintain coherence, you get here and it sets everything up that you just saw. The real question is: can you remember what you saw prior to this scene to piece everything together? That he lists Teddy (Joe Pantoliano) as the John G. he’s looking for as a grudge gives an insight into Leonard that up to this point we wouldn’t have imagined. Teddy is perfectly correct when he says, “You don’t want the truth. You make up your own truth.” And when Teddy catches Leonard’s ire…it’s lights out.
I have this condition…
This is a film that really needs several views to grasp what’s going on. Director Christopher Nolan is very tricky in the editing of the film and hides nice little morsels in there that sway the meaning of the film…should you catch them. If you don’t, the meaning changes, which isn’t a bad thing. Couple that with its reverse structure, which mirrors Leonard’s condition, and you have a truly unique film that will likely blow your mind. One of the most original films in years, this is a can’t miss.
The Usual Suspects (1995)
SPOILER – this will without a doubt give away one of the best endings ever. If you haven’t seen the film and plan on doing so, DO NOT watch this or read the commentary below.
If you’ve seen this film, you know why this ending is so badass. The real question isn’t whether Verbal Kint (Kevin Spacey, yet again on this list) perpetuated the crime that killed Hockney (Kevin Pollak), McManus (Stephen Baldwin), Fenster (Benicio del Toro) and Keaton (Gabriel Byrne). This clip leaves no doubt in that. The real question is, is Kint really Keyser Söze or is he capitalizing on the myth/legend of Keyser Söze, one that he tells to Agent Kujan (Chazz Palmintieri)? There is no definitive answer that I’ve ever seen, although I would fall into the latter camp. This is undoubtedly the best twist ending ever in my mind, much better than The Sixth Sense and even better than Psycho.
He’ll flip ya…he’ll flip ya for real.
The Thin Blue Line (1988)
Once again – SPOILERS.
This film literally saved a man’s life, much like the Paradise Lost films have done for the West Memphis Three. Think about that. If it weren’t for the inquisitiveness of director Errol Morris, the absolute finest documentarian working today, Randall Adams would still be serving his life sentence for murdering a police officer, a crime he never committed, had he not passed away in 2010. The absolute power of this film is unparalleled. Not only did Morris, with the help of several other folks in Texas, do the legwork to uncover the inconsistencies in the testimony, HE GOT THE DAMN CONFESSION OF THE REAL KILLER. He did what no officer of the law could do and he did it through film. If this doesn’t convince people of just how influential films can be, ask Randall Adams’ ghost. This is one of the most amazing films ever made and would fall into my top 10 favorites of all-time.
This film has my favorite ending to any movie I’ve ever seen. The tensions and rivalries that have gotten the better of the characters Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman), Herman Blume (Bill Murray) and Rosemarie Cross (Olivia Williams) throughout the film come to pass here. Max has moved past his crush on Miss Cross and is now dating Margaret Yang (Sara Tanaka), but there is work to be done, wounds to be healed including Max’s. When Reuben (Stephen Dignan), the DJ at the cotillion, spins Faces’ “Ooh La La” and the first guitar chord hits, it’s like magic. When Miss Cross removes Max’s glasses in this scene, she is reflecting back on her husband, Rushmore-alum Edward Appleby, who passed away and is the reason she is teaching at Rushmore. Earlier in the movie, she tells Max, “You remind me of him, you know?” And here it’s come full circle. She looks at Max like we assume she looked at Edward Appleby, whom she knew her whole life.
I wish that I knew what I know now, when I was younger.
The usage of slow motion in this scene, a technique favored by director Wes Anderson in the final scene of every film he’s made up to Moonrise Kingdom where it was noticeably absent, is superb. It allows us to linger in this moment, to cherish what these characters are feeling as they’ve finally rounded this corner that caused them all so much grief. The song coupled with this technique are so perfect. For the first time, we see all of the major players of the film – Max, Blume, Miss Cross, Max’s father (Seymour Cassel), Margaret, Max’s best friend Dirk Calloway (Mason Gamble) and even Rushmore headmaster Nelson Guggenheim (Brian Cox) – in the same frame, happy. Without a doubt, one of the most cathartic film moments I’ve ever witnessed. Part of me wishes life was a never ending loop of this scene – slow motion dance and Faces’ “Ooh La La.” What a wonderful world it would be.
I haven’t assigned a number to each of these as I had in the post about my favorite openings. This list was too hard to quantify in that way. I can honestly say that the endings to Rushmore and The Thin Blue Line are the two that hit me most on an emotional level and I would feel safe slotting them in at #1 and #2. Other than that, I can’t do it.
We are three weeks (well, 20 days) away from the thing that each year, no matter what I do, I can’t take my attention away from – The Academy Awards. Each year in early January (used to be February), I hoot and howl about how the Academy has gotten it wrong with who they’ve chosen for the nominees for the best film has to offer for the previous year. “How can this happen year-in and and year-out?”, I ask myself. Well, I sometimes need a gentle reminder that Hollywood is a self-perpetuating machine whose vanity knows no bounds and that the studios need to raise the profile of their films in order to make even more money so the whole their whole operations stays afloat to offset the 987,368 teenagers, college students and tech savvy webheads who just illegally pirated versions of all of the Oscar fare as I wrote this. Also, what would all of those MBAs with no idea what creativity and art are do without being responsible for and ruining some of the major pieces of our culture, right? Puh-leese.
I am routinely reamed by those in my circle of friends and family for passing judgement on movies I haven’t seen or books I haven’t read. However, I don’t think it takes Sherlock Holmes to figure out that the Twilight series of books are pure shit and that the film adaptations are just a condensed, distilled version of the same shit. So convict me in the highest court of that crime. That many of the Academy voters have expressed themselves that they rarely see most of the movies nominated for the awards each year, how are we to take what their votes say as anything other than biased or even bought (Harvey Weinstein, what say you?). I recall watching the Oscars in 2001 when Lynn Redgrave was interviewed going into the ceremony and she said that the only film she had seen of those nominated for that year was Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, the fabulous Ang Lee martial-arts epic, so she voted for it. Great taste, as it was undoubtedly my favorite film of the year next to Jonathan Glazer’s insane Sexy Beast; however, it pretty much sums up the Academy Awards in a nutshell. They are mostly a vanity project and by no means an accurate representation of what is the best in filmmaking. If that were the case, Dances with Wolves would never have beaten Goodfellas for anything at the 1991 Awards.
I could go on and on and on about this, so I will spare anyone reading this that diatribe. Now, mind you – I did not see every film released this year and as of yet, I still have not seen three films nominated for Best Picture (Amour, Life of Pi and Les Misérables), so this list will only cover the films that I HAVE seen.So, after careful review, here are what I think the major category nominees should have been this year with whom I perceive should be the winners:
Beasts of the Southern Wild Cosmopolis Holy Motors How to Survive a Plague Looper Moonrise Kingdom Searching for Sugar Man The Master* (winner) We Need to Talk About Kevin Zero Dark Thirty
In all, 2012 had some very interesting films. I think it continued the rise of the documentary, which as a storytelling platform gets stronger in content and creativity each year. Two, How to Survive a Plague and Searching for Sugar Man, even made it into my top ten films of the year and there could have easily been one or two more sneak in. Unfortunately, I have not been able to see Amour. Something tells me it would have made this list as well. Beasts of the Southern Wild was simply amazing. With this as a first effort, I expect to see great things from director Benh Zeitlin in the future. His collaboration with cinematographer Ben Richardson is one I hope continues on for years. Without a doubt this was the best photographed film I saw all year. David Cronenberg‘s adaptation of Don DeLillo‘s novel Cosmopolis was perhaps the most pleasant surprise of the year. DeLillo is my favorite novelist and his works seemdifficult to translate to the big screen, so I was very skeptical. Cronenberg‘s script captured the DeLillian dialogue very well and dare I say this, Robert Pattinson was adequate in delivering the cadences of DeLillo’s words. I need a shower after that. Holy Motors is the year’s most insane trip and you can read my synopsis of it here.Director Rian Johnson brought Looper (his first film since 2008’s The Brothers Bloom), a futuristic time-travel noir, to the big screen and didn’t disappoint. Joseph Gordon-Levitt‘s prosthetic nose and smirk made him a dead ringer for a younger Bruce Willis. I finally got to see Zero Dark Thirty and was mesmerized. Jessica Chastain is exceedingly good and ZDT proves to be another fabulous Kathryn Bigelow/Mark Boal collaboration. As always, Wes Anderson packs on the quirk in the tale of young love in his Moonrise Kingdom. Never disappointing, Anderson delivers another fun romp with the help of his ensemble cast of Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Jared Gilman, Bruce Willis, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton and Kara Heyward. The Master is the film I believe is the best of the year. Its portrayal of the tumultuous (let the cliches roll…) relationship between eternal fuck-up Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) and religious (cult) leader Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is grand in scale and chronicled exquisitely by writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson. Performances from the three major players – Phoenix,Hoffman and Amy Adams – are as good as any you’ll see.
Paul Thomas Anderson – The Master * (winner) Kathryn Bigelow – Zero Dark Thirty Leos Carax – Holy Motors Lynne Ramsey – We Need to Talk About Kevin Benh Zeitlin – Beasts of the Southern Wild
This category is always difficult for me to say who’s best. One thing I can say for sure is that Steven Spielberg is wholly undeserving of this award and I firmly believe he will take home his third Oscar for Lincoln, one of the most overblown films in recent memory. Anderson gets better with every movie and The Master is no exception. His ability to frame the relationship between the film’s two main characters in such a compelling way earns him this award. He probably deserved the Oscar for There Will Be Blood and he certainly deserved it for Magnolia, which I think was the best film of the first decade of the 2000s. The other four directors in this category are all deserving and created amazing films. Lynne Ramsey has made three of the most dark, original, and incredibly visceral films I’ve ever seen. Morvern Callar may be my favorite of them, but this year’s We Need To Talk AboutKevin is one to be reckoned with, and is especially pertinent since the Newtown shootings this past December and the onging talk of gun control since Columbine.
Denis Levant – Holy Motors* (winner) Daniel Day-Lewis – Lincoln Tom Hardy – Lawless Joaquin Phoenix – The Master Brad Pitt – Killing Them Softly
As much as I love Daniel Day-Lewis and his performance in the uneven at best Lincoln, Denis Lavant‘s virtuosic performance in Holy Motors moved me the most this year. In what covers nine different scenarios in the film, Lavant literally transforms himself from beggar to deviant troll, from a dying man to a motion-capture artist among other roles. Rare is a performance that sticks with me for days after watching it. This one did. I doubt you’ll ever see anything else like it. Tom Hardy continues to amaze me in each new role in which I see him. His performance in Nicolas Winding Refn‘s Bronson is one to study for all you up-and-coming actors. His most notable role of the year as Bane in The Dark Knight Rises was certainly enjoyable as well. Brad Pitt reunited with The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford director Andrew Dominik for a talky hitman pic reminiscent of Stephen Frears‘ The Hit delivering a gritty performace as Jackie Cogan. Phoenix returns to the form of his pre-I’m Still Here days matching Philip Seymour Hoffman scene-for-scene in The Master.
Jessica Chastain – Zero Dark Thirty Jennifer Lawrence – Silver Linings Playbook Tilda Swinton – We Need to Talk About Kevin Quvenzhané Wallis – Beasts of the Southern Wild* (winner) Rachel Weisz – The Deep Blue Sea
This may have been the most difficult choice of all of them. Swinton and Weisz both deliver haunting performances in their respective roles. Chastain is amazing as well. I think she is the most watchable actress working today because she can even make her role in something as bad as The Help enjoyable. Jennifer Lawrence has a quality that makes me always want to see more of what she can do. I really liked her in this role. But, for my money, Quvenzhané Wallis was undoubtedly the best of the bunch. Not even 9-years old when Beasts of the Southern Wild was filmed, she explodes on the screen from the outset of the film. Her portrayal of Hushpuppy is nuanced and has a depth one might never imagine an 8-year is capable of displaying. I was completely entranced by her. I sincerely hope that if she continues acting that she is able to maintain the power that she put into this film. If so – watch out, Meryl Streep. Without a doubt, the best performance by a child that I’ve ever seen.
Best Supporting Actor
Garrett Hedlund – On the Road Dwight Henry – Beasts of the Southern Wild Philip Seymour Hoffman – The Master Christoph Waltz – Django Unchained Sam Rockwell – Seven Psychopaths* (winner)
I think this was the strongest category in terms of great performances for the year. Obviously, only two of mine match up with the Academy’s choices, the three excluded – Alan Arkin in Argo, Tommy Lee Jones in Lincoln, and Robert De Niro in Silver Linings Playbook – were relatively safe choices for the actors who had similar performances in prior roles that I just don’t think stood out. Garrett Hedlund delivered the most surprising performance as Dean Moriarty in the screen version of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. A firecracker, he really captured the energy of Dean from the novel. I was very impressed. Christoph Waltz was great again for Quentin Tarantino in Django Unchained. They obviously work well together as Waltz took home the Oscar for their last collaboration in Inglourious Basterds. Dwight Henry was just phenomenal as the sick father to Hushpuppy in Beasts of the Southern Wild. I’m curious to see if he’ll get any more juicy roles like this one in the future. Hoffman is steady and measured in The Master, the perfect counterpoint to Phoenix‘s forceful mood swings. However, I think Sam Rockwell, one of the most underrated actors working, stole the show in Seven Psychopaths. He’s funny, frustrating, and crazy all while driving the action of the film. Just top-notch. Rockwell‘s been doing it this way ever since 1998’s Safe Men. He might be the most fun actor to watch.
Best Supporting Actress
Amy Adams – The Master* (winner) Kara Hayward – Moonrise Kingdom Ann Dowd – Compliance Edith Scob – Holy Motors Juno Temple – Killer Joe
These performances really run the gamut of roles and are no less interesting than many of the lead actress roles. Kara Heyward is so delightfully rebellious in Moonrise Kingdom, making me wish I was as cool as Suzy Bishop at any part of my life. Ann Dowd brings in the most frustrating performance of the year in Compliance as the fast food manager who allowed a female employee to be strip- and body-cavity searched as well as sexually assaulted by her fiancee because of someone prank calling acting a police officer. Edith Scob‘s angelic counterpart to Denis Lavant‘s many incarnations in Holy Motors was a true pleasure to watch. Juno Temple‘s turn as Dottie in the deliciously perverse Killer Joe nearly won me over. I have loved her in everything I’ve seen her in, from Kaboom to Cracks. But, alas, Amy Adams‘ performance as the hard-as-nails wife of Lancaster Dodd in The Master won out. No matter what the role, Ms. Adams brings a fire that is unparalleled. Her exchanges with Freddie throughout the film are extremely tense and delivered flawlessly. You might not think the woman who played the lead in The Muppets and Enchanted would be capable of such ferocity…unless you saw The Fighter.
Best Documentary Feature
Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry Chasing Ice How to Survive a Plague* (winner) Jiro Dreams of Sushi Searching for Sugar Man The Imposter
As I said above, documentaries just keep getting better and more interesting. There were so many good ones this year, I couldn’t narrow it to five, and had trouble limiting it to six. Those listed above explore the following subjects: a Chinese dissident artist at odds with the Communist government (see review here), a nature photographer chronicling the effects of climate change/global warming on the glaciers of Greenland, Iceland and the US, the fight for AIDS activists to get access to proper medication to stave off the epidemic that rages so rampant in the 80s and 90s, the tale of Japan’s finest sushi chef, two South Africans’ search for a lost American musician who despite being a star of Elvis proportion in their home country was never known here in the US and the story of a young French man who assumed the identity of a missing Texas 13-year old. Whew! Each of these films have far reaching cultural or social implications, but none of them in their scope, importance or depth measured what David France‘s How to Survive a Plague captured. Chronicling one of the most important chapters in the US’s recent history, France shows us the group of courageous activists who fought for AIDS rights, especially to essential medical care, and saved thousands, perhaps millions, of lives. I can’t speak highly enough of this film.
Best Original Screenplay
Holy Motors –Leos Carax Looper – Rian Johnson The Master – Paul Thomas Anderson* (winner) Moonrise Kingdom – Wes Anderson & Roman Coppola Zero Dark Thirty– Mark Boal
What’s original? What makes a script good? This is an argument movie execs and filmgoers squabble over all the time. Who’s right? Eye of the beholder, I guess. These five films represent the best of what little that’s original that gets made in Hollywood. As I’ve said, The Master, in my eyes is the best film from top to bottom. I could hardly not say it has the best script and I believe it does. PT Anderson has written the scripts to all of his films and he has gotten better with each one. Subjects and characters vary widely in his films and that’s why I think he’s so successful – he concentrates in no one particular area and he fleshes out beautiful characters (even if their beauty lies in their evil) and places those characters in scenarios that fit them. He is at the top of his form in all disciplines of the game. That’s not to say the other scripts are any less good. I connected well with The Master and it stuck with me ever since. I think Holy Motors is just as challenging of a film as The Master, but it didn’t hit me on the same level. I’m such a fan of Rian Johnson‘s work and Looper is a worthy addition to his oeuvre. Brick remains one of my favorite films. Johnson just brings extra to the table when he writes. He should have a long, interesting career ahead of him.
Best Adapted Screenplay
Argo – Chris Terrio Beasts of the Southern Wild – Lucy Alibar & Benh Zeitlin* (winner) Cosmopolis – David Cronenberg Frankenweenie – John August Silver Linings Playbook – David O. Russell
One thing most people might notice here is that Tony Kushner is absent from this list for his script for Lincoln. Two reasons why that is, even though it is an evocative, colorful script – first, the pontificating speeches made by every character in the film no matter what the situation bored me. Was everything that folks said at that time really worthy of being in the speech Hall of Fame? Secondly, if you write an ending that bad, you are disqualified. If Spielberg or a studio exec are responsible for either, let me know and I will gladly add you to the list. Even though I know the Oscar will go to Kushner or Terrio, I just don’t see how anyone could watch Beasts of the Southern Wild (see my review here) and not shout out in amazement at what they had just seen when compared to any of the other films nominated by Oscar or even by me. The arc of Hushpuppy, her father and the residents of the Bathtub is crisp with pertinent deviations that add layers to the story. It is an amazing film worthy of any award. David O. Russell continues to surprise me as he makes more and more conventional films as he gets older. His last two, The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook are a far cry from his earlier fare like the subversive Spanking the Monkey and the existential I Heart Huckabees.
Caroline Champetier – Holy Motors Mihai Malamaire, Jr. – The Master Jeff Orlowski – Chasing Ice Ben Richardson – Beasts of the Southern Wild* (winner) Gökhan Tiryaki – Once Upon a Time in Anatolia
There were some really gorgeous films this year and each of the above had cinematography that didn’t just capture what was happening on camera, but played a vital role in the story being told. None did so more than Ben Richardson‘s work on Beasts of the Southern Wild, although Gökhan Tiryaki‘s work on Once Upon a Time in Anatolia was mesmerizing and haunting. I was blown away by both. I know documentary films never get a nod in this category, but how can one watch Chasing Ice and not applaud the effort by Jeff Orlowski? What Caroline Champetier was able to achieve in the shifting tones and scenes of Holy Motors was nothing short of Herculean. PT Anderson‘s films are such visual feasts, full of camera moves and interesting angle, Mihai Malamaire‘s efforts on The Master are as commendable as any above. I will say this: never in a million years did I think two of my top ten films of the year would have Bruce Willis in them. That’s why I love film – you never expect what you’re going to get.
As I said before, 2012 was a great year for film, especially if you stepped outside the wide releases each week and poked around for something a little different. It’s out there people. Challenge yourself. You might just enjoy it.
2013 looks to be an amazing year as we have the following new films coming: Errol Morris’ documentary on Donald Rumsfeld, the Coen Brothers’ folk rock film Inside Llewyn Davis, Wong Kar-Wai’s The Grandmaster, Chan Wook Park‘s english-language debut Stoker, Ridley Scott‘s The Counselor – a realization of a Cormac McCarthy original script, Jim Jarmusch‘s vampire flick Only Lovers Left Alive, the new Ryan Gosling/Nicolas Winding Refn collaboration Only God Forgives and Terrence Malick’sTo the Wonder among many others.
With Wes Anderson‘s Moonrise Kingdom arriving on DVD this week, I thought I might as well put some thoughts down about his films leading up to this latest release. While not the largest collection of films, they represent a group either widely loved or widely dismissed for their hipster-ish quirkiness.
Here is the order I believe to be his least fine to his absolute best:
7. Moonrise Kingdom
By rating Moonrise Kingdom as my least favorite Anderson film doesn’t mean I didn’t like it or that it was a bad film. To me, it didn’t seem to fit well into his collection of work despite receiving some of the best critical reviews of his career.
The story follows young love as it blossoms between Sam (a A Khaki Scout attending camp on New Penzance Island) and Suzy (a resident of the island) despite protestations from family members and scout troop leaders forcing the two to run off together. There are some very tender moments in this film and it is one of the better and most accurate depictions of young love I’ve seen in a long time. However, this film is a good example of Anderson being able to get great actors for his films and really doing nothing with the characters, a problem he has had since The Royal Tenenbaums. I thought that TildaSwinton, while having a hilariously wonderful character name Social Services and knocking her role out of the park, was underused. Bill Murray and Frances McDormand play Suzy Bishop’s father and mother. They add a little depth to the film, but they too are underused. Criminally so. Anderson‘s landscapes are populated with interesting characters, but frequently there are too many. This film is the most egregious on that front in the Anderson universe. Also, Anderson‘s departure from using his signature final shot in slow-motion in this film bummed me out. I always looked forward to seeing how Anderson would end his films. I was let down with this one.
I would still rank this film above virtually everything being released in theaters these days. Its heart is in the right place, but when taken in context with other Anderson works, it just didn’t hit me at the level that the rest of his films did.
6. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
When I heard that Bill Murray was reuniting with Anderson to star in the leading role of thi film, I was VERY excited. Murray shines when they work together and I had very high hopes, especially with Cate Blanchett lending her incredible talent to the picture. I wasn’t disappointed either. Even though this ranks #6 on my list of Anderson‘s films, I love it dearly and it illustrates how good his films really are…at least in my estimation.
The Life Aquatic follows the story of Cousteau-like documentarian/mariner Steve Zissou (Bill Murray) as he tries to find the rare and elusive jaguar shark that killed his best friend and fellow mariner Esteban du Plantier (Seymour Cassel). As he is about to start the mission, which is also being filmed, a man named Ned Plimpton (Owen Wilson) introduces himself to Steve claiming to be his son. So this further strains his already tenuous relationship with his wife Eleanor (Anjelica Huston) as well as with his crew chief Klaus (Willem Dafoe) who sees himself as the son Steve never had. Couple this with Ned having to fund the new expedition as investors have become scarce, tension mounts. As the expedition commences, the crew comes under attack by Somali pirates, robbed, and the bond company stooge (Bud Cort) present to keep the film is kidnapped initiating the crew of the Belafonte (Zissou’s ship) to take action. And all of this is being covered by pregnant journalist Jane Winslett-Richardson (played by the magnificent Cate Blanchett) for a cover story for Oceanographic Explorer magazine.
The father-son angle is a little overplayed, but never tips into ridiculousville. The animation of all of the sea animals by Henry Selick (Nightmare Before Christmas, Coraline) is awesome and gives a cool additional touch of detail to the film. Pelé dos Santos'(Brazilian musician Seu Jorge) renditions of David Bowie songs played throughout the film (in Portuguese no less) are fun and a typical Anderson touch whose soudntrack choices go from the amazing (Rushmore) to the overwrought (The Royal Tenenbaums).
This film was co-written with one of my all-time favorite writer-directors Noah Baumbach whose Kicking and Screaming I have highlighted before. These two are a match made in heaven. Their dialogue is second to none in contemporary film.
5. The Darjeeling Limited/Hotel Chevalier
The Darjeeling Limited is one of Anderson‘s films that I think most would put at the bottom of the list. I’ve always been curious as to why others feel that way about this film.
I will be the first to admit that this isn’t the strongest film of the group However, there is just something about it that I love. The film follows three brothers, Francis (Owen Wilson), Peter (Adrien Brody) and Jack (Jason Schwartzman) as they travel through India on a mystery trip. The three brothers haven’t spoken since the death of their father and really don’t get along all that way. Francis is hoping the trip helps them bridge the gap that has been built between making them close again. As you might expect, that isn’t the case. While all of Anderson‘s film focus on relationships, this one rings best with me. I have three siblings, all of whom I get along with very well, but I understand the problems that can crop up between them. This film is a good depiction of issues that can tear apart a family and somewhat bring them back together.
The claustrophobic nature of the titular Darjeeling Limited train that the men are traveling on helps bring conflict about quicker and with greater effect. I think this is one of the genius parts of the script and the film. After having been apart from one another for a while, being forced into the same cramped space draws out the issues each of them have with one another. How many families could survive a trip like this, even on the best of terms?
This is Anderson‘s first film shot on location outside of the country and cinematographer Robert Yeoman (who has shot every Anderson film) really captures the beauty of India showing us the exotic people and landscapes. Get this man an OSCAR. This film was co-written with Jason Schwartzman and Roman Coppola, son of Francis Ford Coppola and represents Anderson‘s first deviation from writing by himself or with the Wilson brothers.
Hotel Chevalier is a short film that played in front of Darjeeling Limited in theaters and is the prologue to Jack’s story. Living in the Hotel Chevalier in Paris since leaving America after his father’s death, Jack gets an unexpected phone call from his ex-girlfriend (Natalie Portman), one that isn’t exactly welcomed. When she comes to the hotel, they start to have sex, but stop in the middle, the pain of the past gaffes in the relationship surfacing. Jack asks her if she wants to see his view of Paris (see picture above) and they retreat to the balcony, contemplating what has transpired and what may transpire between them. Watch here:
As Darjeeling Limited tells us, Jack has left this girl behind, on the run from her again. This is an interesting little film. It is typical Anderson, flush with camera moves taken directly from Luis Buñuel and employed in so many of his other films.
4. Fantastic Mr. Fox
Anderson‘s first foray into animation, Fantastic Mr. Fox is just that…fantastic. Based on the children’s novel by Roald Dahl, Fantastic Mr. Fox is the story of Mr. Fox (George Clooney), Mrs. Fox (Meryl Streep) and their son Ash (Jason Schwartzman) are trying to live a normal life. Mr. Fox, a newspaper columnist, has lost his former spark, his zest for life, when he was an animal thief. So, on the sly, he decides to revive his old thieving habits with the help of Kylie Sven Opossum (Wallace Wolodarsky) and commences stealing from the big three farmers in the area – Boggis (Robin Hurlstone) who specializes in chicken farming, Bunce (Hugo Guinness) who specializes in duck and goose farming and Bean (Michael Gambon) who is a turkey and apple farmer. When the farmers find out that Mr. Fox is stealing from them, they decide to kill him. They lay in wait as he returns from a night mission and Mr. Fox narrowly avoids death as they blast him with shotguns shooting off the trademark of any fox, his tail. Needless to say, it hits the proverbial fan when Mrs. Fox finds out about this. Mr. Fox had sworn to never jeopardize their lives stealing after a close call when they first met as young foxes. The farmers then decide to go all-in and dig the fox out. This sets off a shockwave through the underground animal community of which Fox and his family are a part. Since the farmers are hell bent on eradicating Fox, they have no regard for the others if it means getting him. The animals lose their homes, have no food and are angry with Fox…until he initiates the heist of all heists.
This film is one of very few examples where I think the film outshines the book. Now, this is one of my favorite kids books of all-time, so that’s quite an endorsement. Anderson and Baumbach‘s additional material that didn’t appear in the book are some of the film’s strongest parts. I loved the Kristofferson (voiced by the director’s brother Eric) addition and the fleshing out of his interactions with Ash (who is merely a supporting unnamed character in the book). They are very funny and poignant. The Whackbat scene is the best inclusion of new material because it is adds to the Kristofferson-Ash rivalry, but also encompasses all that is really Wes Anderson‘s quirkiness. Have a look – pardon the bad video quality, but it’s the only full clip I could find:
Another detail I appreciated was the substitution of “cuss” where actual curse words would be. Mr. Fox’s usage of clustercuss makes me smile every time I hear it.
The top-notch voice cast helps add to enjoyment of the film, and it is chock full of Anderson, but also features folks like Darjeeling script co-writer Roman Coppola, revered Italian-American chef Mario Batali, and former MTV VJ Karen Duffy thus adding to the eclecticism of his films.
Once again, I dearly love this film and it is one that I will show my children, gladly, when they get just a little older.
3. The Royal Tenenbaums
The Royal Tenebaums is perhaps Anderson‘s most serious film. All of his films tackle depression and alienation, but this one has it in spades. It’s also the first film to really feature an all-star ensemble cast, something that Anderson has kept up in each of his films since.
The Royal Tenenbaums focuses on the Tenenbaum family, headed by lawyer and patriarch Royal (Gene Hackman in arguably his best role since the French Connection) and matriarch/archaeologist Etheline (Anjelica Huston) and their three children – Chas (Ben Stiller), Richie (Luke Wilson) and Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow). All three children had above average aptitudes in their own areas – Chas in international finance, Richie (“The Baumer”) in tennis and Margot in dramaturgy. Etheline wrote a book about them making them famous and simultaneously synonymous with being a prodigy. However, as time went on, each of them with exception of Etheline has their own downfall: Margot wilts under criticism for her work, drops out and marries stiff psychologist Raleigh St. Clair (Bill Murray), Richie falls in love with Margot (who is his adopted sister) and after she marries Raleigh has a breakdown on the court costing him (and Royal) money and fame, Chas loses his wife in a plane crash and becomes obsessed with the safety of him and his children, and Royal is disbarred and jailed for tax evasion and sued twice by Chas. So after giving us this story (narrated masterfully by Alec Baldwin), the film gains traction as it chronicles the contemporary Tenenbaums.
Royal fakes like he has stomach cancer in order to gain back time and trust from his children and Etheline. All bite on the bait except for Chas, who still remains skeptical of his father and his intentions. During this time, Royal finally gets the chance to know his family in a way that he never had. He meets and spends time with Chas’ two sons Ari and Uzi, makes peace with Margot since he was critical of her always making sure to point out that she was his adopted daughter, and bonds with Richie, who is the only one who shows real compassion toward Royal.
Of course, it all blows up as Royal is found out to be faking it by Henry Sherman (Danny Glover), Etheline’s new fiancee. Royal, in addition to reconnecting with his kids, was trying to rekindle the fire with Etheline. In one of the funniest exchanges in any Anderson film, Henry and Royal have this back and forth, which is enough reason to watch the entire film:
Margot’s relationship with Tenenbaum-wannabe and best friend to Richie, Eli Cash (Owen Wilson) tips Richie over the edge in the most somber and serious scene in any Anderson film. Richie is still in love with Margot and the news of her affair causes Richie to attempt suicide. Here is the clip (not for the faint at heart):
That this sequence has Elliot Smith‘s “Needle in the Hay” playing over it is extremely prescient in that Mr. Smith himself committed suicide in 2003.
This film has much to like about it. The cast, despite Ben Stiller and Gwyneth Paltrow (both of whom have very limited range or utility to me in any film), shine. Gene Hackman, like Bill Murray in Rushmore, delivered an Oscar-worthy performance and one of the best of his career. The quirkiness that Anderson started in Rushmore is amped up in this film x100 and to great effect. Have a look at one of artist Miguel Calderon‘s paintings featured in Eli Cash’s apartment:
It is details like these that separate Anderson from most contemporary filmmakers. I will admit that Anderson tries too hard in certain aspects of his films to make them “cool” and the soundtrack to this film fits that bill. Whereas the Rushmore soundtrack complemented the film, the soundtrack for this film seemed to be populated with songs that were cool rather than serving a purpose to advance or enhance the story. I will say that Mark Mothersbaugh‘s score is just as lovely as that of Rushmore, though.
Nevertheless, this is a movie that has all of the hallmarks of a great film. Check it out if you haven’t.
2. Bottle Rocket
Bottle Rocket is Anderson‘s first film, the one that got it all started. It was my first introduction to Anderson and the Wilson brothers. It was one of those transformative experiences when you realize that all of the big budget glitz, in almost every case, can’t match a well-written story that highlights interesting characters in challenging, humorous situations. No egos get in the way in this film since everyone involved, with exception of James Caan, are virtual unknowns at the time this film was made. This is a film with edges, unpolished in places, but is better off for it.
Bottle Rocket is an almost Capra-esque, slapsticky version of a crime film. It is one that has a heart and, unlike films like The Godfather, you end up sympathizing with criminals that have earned that sympathy.
The story of this film follows Dignan (Owen Wilson), a wannabe criminal who “breaks” his best friend Anthony (Luke Wilson) out of a mental health facility (which Anthony checked himself into voluntarily) so that they could start a crew of guys to work with local crime boss Mr. Henry (James Caan). Dignan prepares a 50-year plan, which is carefully sketched out in marker in a spiral-bound notebook. With Anthony in, they only need a getaway driver and they enlist the help of their friend Bob (Robert Musgrave). Here’s his interview, which really gives you an idea of who Dignan is:
After getting the crew set, they rob a bookstore to get Mr. Henry interested in what they have to offer his operation. While on the lam (“On the run from Johnny Law…ain’t no trip to Cleveland”), Anthony meets housekeeper Inez (Lumi Cavazos) at the hotel where they are staying and falls in love with her. Their relationship blossoms over the few days, annoying Dignan who believes this will interfere with his long-term plan. Things are really thrown off when Bob’s brother Future Man (played by a third Wilson brother, Andrew) is arrested and Bob deserts Anthony and Dignan causing a rift between the two that appears unbreachable.
After all settles down, the three men come back together to pull off a large-scale caper with Dignan at the helm. And just when we think Dignan is going to get the payoff for his hard work…
Bottle Rocket was actually shot as a short film before being turned into the feature-length film. Of course it’s different, but it’s good to see where the film started and to see its evolution. You can watch the short here:
Future Man is without a doubt my favorite character name of any movie character. It is so incredible. I only wish I had crafted such a character myself. And one of the great triumphs of this film is when Future Man meets Mr. Henry. Absolutely hilarious. It’s so hard not to root for Dignan throughout this film. He is so dedicated to his preparation and work, that you just want to see him succeed.
Finally, this film’s ending is one of the most devastating things I’ve ever seen. That it’s shot in slow motion, an Anderson trademark up to Moonrise Kingdom, is key. We are forced to linger in Dignan’s realization of his future and it is painful.
This film is as good as any first feature I’ve ever seen. Anderson started off with a bang, no doubt.
In comparison to Bottle Rocket, Rushmore is a polished film without the edges that Anderson‘s first feature has. With an increased dose of eccentricity, at least on the part of the main character, Max Fischer (so ably brought to life by Coppola family member JasonSchwartzman in his first film role), Rushmore sails. The story of Rushmore follows Max as he attends Rushmore Academy, a private school for children of the local and international elite. Max’s father (Seymour Cassel) is a barber and normally wouldn’t be able attend; however, when he was young, Max wrote a one-act play about Watergate that netted him a scholarship to the topflight academic institution. Max takes his involvement at Rushmore very seriously, enlisting himself in a plethora of clubs and activities and largely ignoring his studies, eventually finding himself on sudden death academic probation and facing expulsion. In the meantime, he befriends local steel magnate and father to twin classmates, Herman Blume, played by Bill Murray in what I believe is his finest performance. Herman takes Max under his wing and as they both fall for widowed Rushmore teacher Rosemary Cross (Olivia Williams), tensions and rivalries get the better of them.
There are plenty of reason this is my favorite film of Anderson‘s. Bill Murray‘s performance is certainly one of them. His malaise and apathy towards his life is refreshing. Murray, for the bulk of his career, has always played such self-assured, confident characters. His turn as Bob Harris in Lost in Translation changed all of that and I think we as moviegoers are better for it. His collaboration with Anderson has been hit or miss, though. His supporting roles have been throwaways, which is a shame since he clearly shines in his work with Anderson.
The explosive debut of Jason Schwartzman as Max Fischer is another. While his work outside of his collaboration with Anderson hasn’t been as strong (Bored to Death is pretty damn awesome), he clearly works well within the Andersonsystem. Max Fischer is not your typical high school character and Schwartzman brings him to life in memorable fashion. It would be hard to imagine anyone else in that role or any of the subsequent roles he’s played in with Anderson at the helm. When watching Rushmore, I find that I want to be Fischer, even though he has issues. To be dedicated to anything as much as he is to Rushmore is enviable. Here is a short example of who Max is:
Without the likeability that Schwartzman brings to the role, I doubt that would be the case. Imagine if someone like Shia LeBeouf were cast? Sweet Jesus in a dump truck. He couldn’t get away with something like this:
I would measure Rushmore‘s soundtrack against any other in an argument about which might be best. Anderson‘s nearly all-British Invasion track list is a sonic tour de force that stands on its own as a killer mixed CD. When coupled with the film, it’s a knockout. Is there a song better than “Nothing In This World Can Stop Me Worryin’ Bout That Girl” by the Kinks that could have been played during Herman Blume’s sons’ birthday party as he jumps into the pool? I doubt it. In the clip above introducing Max Fischer, Creation’s “Makin’ Time” is the perfect accompaniment. The good thing about the songs used on the soundtrack is that they aren’t this big hits of any of the bands, with the exception perhaps of “Ooh La La” by The Faces.
And this film has my favorite ending to any movie I’ve ever seen and the bulk of the reason for that is the usage of said The Faces song. Growing up, my father played Ooh La La the album a lot. Many good memories are attached to listening to this song and playing with the album cover (yes, we listened to it on vinyl) – the mouth opened and the eyes went from side to side when you pushed the top of it. So when Ruben, the DJ at the cotillion, spins it and the first guitar chord hit I was already in love. As the camera pulls back to capture Max and Miss Cross (Olivia Williams) enter the dance floor, Anderson employs his signature move of having the final scene of each of his films in slow motion. The song coupled with this technique is so perfect. For the first time, we see all of the major players of the film – Max, Blume, Miss Cross, Max’s father, Max’s new girlfriend Margaret Yang (Sara Tanaka), best friend Dirk Calloway (Mason Gamble) and even headmaster Nelson Guggenheim (Brian Cox) – in the same frame, happy. By using slow motion, Anderson allows us to linger in this moment with the characters, to leave behind the viciousness with which the characters set upon one another leading up to this point and creates one of the most cathartic film moments I’ve ever witnessed. Part of me wishes it lasted the entire song.
So that’s that. If you had to rate your favorite Wes Anderson film, what would yours be? Click it below!