One of the great music movies of the 1990s also happens to be one of the decade’s great comedies. Co-written by and based on the very dialogue-heavy debut novel by Roddy Doyle, The Commitments follows the creation and combustion of a soul band of working-class Irishmen and Irishwomen. A strong cast of affable unknowns mostly made up of actual musicians anchors the band’s believable rise and fall, darting between jokey rehearsals, buoyant performances of Otis Redding and James Brown classics, and home lives of kitchen-sink realism. As the band’s manager and organizer, true-blue soul fanatic Jimmy Rabbitte, Robert Arkins is a quick-talking hype man with outsized dreams of stardom, able to talk his motley crew into putting themselves out there and transforming raw talent into a relatively finessed style. The film balances an Irish lust for life and unpolished profanity with a likeable, warm camaraderie of the talented neophyte actors.
Browsing: Top Ten
Reading our friends at Movie Mezzanine this week putting together their lists of favorite films from the 1990s got me to thinking about the genre contours of that decade. In the United States at least, the boom in independent filmmaking brought with it a self-conscious attitude, and a pop culture-suffused sarcasm that could shift tones and registers on a dime, that still hasn’t quite left the mainstream. Alongside it came a wave of gross-out, over-the-top comedies expanding on the 1980s trend of testing the boundaries of an audience’s good taste. Animated films continued their ascendency to an all-encompassing mode of humor aiming to be amenable to every age group. As in all eras, verbal jokes and physical gags, highbrow and lowbrow, obvious and dry, vied for supremacy on movie screens of all sizes. Of all matters of taste, the sense of humor seems to be the most subjective and least susceptible to analysis, so I look forward to reading the gut reactions of our readers as to their own favorite funny films of the 90s. Have at it in the comments!
I knew this one would never happen, but bear with me. Whit Stillman’s films are lightly melancholy musical comedies, with the musicality emanating from his richly stylized dialogue when not actually in the form of a tune like “Love Train” from the end of Last of Days of Disco. Damsels in Distress is both his lightest and least earthbound film to date, wrapping college-age protagonist Violet’s (Greta Gerwig) do-gooder attempts at suicide prevention in, among other things, the form of a forced dance craze called the Sambola, a kind of mash-up of the cha-cha, waltz, and tango. The accompanying song (credited to Jeff Young and the World Sambola Chorus) is an unassuming, bouncy little number perfect as background for the dance moves and would be a fittingly daffy nomination for one of America’s foremost writer/director/satirist/entertainers.
Since we’re in the last throes of Oscar fever following the nominations announcement, it’s time to vent our frustrations! Last year around this time I listed my snubs of the 84th Academy Awards, and this year will be no different, including the caveats that I’ll only choose reasonable nominees that had a snowball’s chance in hell of making the cut and furthermore who or what would need to be cast aside to still keep the same number of nominations. Let loose in the comments on your own unmentioned favorites as well, whether or not they ever had a realistic shot.
Quentin Tarantino’s bifurcated paean to the high-octane, often low-budget and existential road movies of the 1970s works better on its own than as the second-half of the Grindhouse double-bill, but it nonetheless feels like a direct response to its unrepentantly macho, caffeinated forebears and is capped with an excitedly end-all final chase between our female protagonists and the dementedly suave and homicidal “Stuntman Mike” (Kurt Russell). Like Planet Terror and its game of spot-the-John Carpenter-references, Death Proof takes that filmmaker’s foremost on-screen collaborator and thoroughly villain-izes him, only to take him down a peg at his own game with three confident, Hollywood-savvy women (Tracie Thoms, Rosario Dawson, real-life stuntwoman Zoë Bell). Tarantino, acting as his own cinematographer, and frequent editor Sally Menke craft maybe the most viscerally exciting sequence of their careers, aided immeasurably by Bell’s patently dangerous game of “Ship’s Mast” upon the hood of their vintage Vanishing Point Dodge Charger. The seemingly offhand conversations and slow-motion violence of the first part of the film has suitably led up to this overcharged, hypersexual duel of old-school movie testosterone and a new generation of knowing, ass-kicking feminists.
A generous reading of the action film genre would favorably compare it to the musical in form and structure: narrative punctuated by bracketed-off, sometimes excessively-stylized sequences that provide emotional and cinematic high points. Today they’re destined for YouTube, but before the Internet these scenes and moments served as the best explanation for overworked, overwatched VHS tapes. Even the earliest examples of action/adventure and slapstick comedy cinema abounded with stunts and set-pieces meant to wow and etch themselves into the viewer’s memory, and this spirit lives on mightily in every choreographed fight, car chase, explosion, and James Bond pre-credits sequence. So post below your favorite adrenalized
My first foray into adapting Top Ten lists into the video format came in a bit overlong, but I feel it was worth it to list some Honorable Mentions and to savor the moments and gestures that define the range of my choices. While the bulk of the films listed are told from the young protagonist’s point of view, they’re surprisingly still considered adult movies, whether because they’re silent or from a non-English-speaking country or “old,” but I see them all as perfectly suitable for viewers within the protagonist’s particular age range. The demographics broke down to six boys (seven if you count the duo as two) and four girls, with an even wider gender disparity if one counts the Honorable Mentions. Personalities run the gamut from moody introspection to energetic exuberance, but each kid exhibits a healthy range of these traits in response to his or her dramatic circumstances (which I tried to highlight with my choice of clips).
Coming-of-age is one of the great narratives in art, and young people have only become more flushed with disposable income to pump into cinemas and for DVDs, so it’s no surprise that youths are some of the most frequent subjects of movies. From Chaplin’s The Kid with title character Jackie Coogan and the Andy Hardy cycle starring Mickey Rooney, to a host of 2012 releases like Moonrise Kingdom, I Wish, and Beasts of the Southern Wild, films that explore a pre-adult’s emotions and perspective are plentiful but rarely rise above the for-kids-only heap of juvenile junk. So we’re here to celebrate the greats, the kid characters and performances that most fully explore that endlessly fascinating and excitingly crucial stage of life, childhood. Celebrate the start of 2013 by letting us know your thoughts on my first list topic of the year: kids in film.
A delightfully uninhibited Georgian coming-of-age comedy, 27 Missing Kisses is the picaresque tale of teenage tomboy Sibylla’s (Nutsa Kukhianidze) summer of romance, paired with a similarly-aged boy (Shalva Iashvili) but smitten with his widowed womanizer father (Evgeniy Sidikhin). Uptight villagers are seemingly loosened by Sibylla’s fairy tale presence as sexual shenanigans happen under their noses and Emmanuelle gets shown at the local theater. Co-writer/director Nana Djordjadze merges a free-spirited wit with a Kusturica-like vibe for the foibles of close-knit village life, and lead actress Kukhianidze (who has subsequently appeared in Eastern European films and Neil Jordan’s The Good Thief) has an appealing, rollicking fearlessness. Numerous minor, sometimes surreal subplots abound, with probable resonance for those more familiar with the former Soviet satellite, but the focus on Kukhianidze and the randiness she brings to the sleepy town is what counts, even down to the poignant finale at the end of the season.
Since I’m not a regular reviewer like many of my colleagues on this site, I have the opportunity see many more “old” films per year than “new” ones, but even the vast majority of these are new to me. So since this will be my last list of the calendar year of 2012, I decided to indulge in an exercise favored by writers in the film blogosphere and run down my favorite newly-seen movies of the year. Whether in a theater or at home, produced last year or last century, if I hadn’t seen it before January 1, 2012, then it’s eligible to be on my list. Readers, feel free to tell us your own favorite discoveries in the comments below.