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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Jackie Brown's Perfect Ending: Hit Me With Your Best Shot

One week after my first foray, I'm happy to join in for another version of "Hit Me With Your Best Shot," hosted by The Film Experience.

We're celebrating Jackie Brown on the basis of Quentin Tarantino's 50th Birthday.  I was also excited to rewatch this movie since I remembered it fondly but hadn't seen it since it's release in 1997.  It more than lived up to my memories, bringing an entertaining, low-key charm to it's great characterizations and iconic imagery.

When it came to best shots, there was no way I was going with anything that didn't involve Jackie Brown (the fabulous Pam Grier) herself.  As great as the surrounding characters are, the whole movie is a valentine by Tarantino to 70's era-blaxploitation star Grier.  One thing I love about Tarantino is his over-the-top love for cinema both high and low, and you can sense his giddy thrill every time he gets to frame a shot staring his screen goddess.

As I watched the movie, I was surprised how absent Jackie is from the beginning of the  plot, not making her main entrance (except for the opening credits) until about 30 minutes in.  We hear the name "Jackie!" and she turns around, looking ready for whatever comes.  This is one of my runner-up shots.

Throughout the movie, Tarantino gives us jailed Jackie, distressed Jackie, sneaky Jackie, superfly Jackie, and triumphant Jackie.  For her coolest look in the film, I also almost went with this shot, with Jackie at her sly, confident best.

Yet, in the end, I chose the last moments of the movie because it's just about a perfect ending, and a touch out of character for Tarantino.  I'm a sucker for endings poignant rather than sad or happy, and this fits the bill. Think of the over-the-top, violence-laden endings of Inglorious Bastards and Django Unchained, and then compare it to this quiet but emotionally fraught ending.  Jackie's finished with her scheme, outwitting both the criminal Ordell and the feds.  She's free and ready to take off for Spain.  Yet something is missing... she fell in love with bail bondsman Max Cherry, but something has kept him from declaring his love.

Is her lifestyle too intense for him? Does he not feel he's good enough for her obvious superfly qualities? Did they meet too late in life?  Hard to say, but the last shot and the lyrics of the awesome "Across 110th Street" give us a nice clue.

The Best Shot...

Been down so long, getting up didn't cross my mind
I knew there was a better way of life and I was just trying to find 
You don't know what you'll do until you're put under pressure
Across 110th Street is a hell of a tester.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Hit Me With Your Best Shot: Forbidden Games

As as an enormous long-time fan of The Film Experience, I’m thrilled to join Nathaniel and other great bloggers for this edition of “Hit Me With Your Best Shot,” where participants choose their favorite shot from a chosen movie.  This week is “Forbidden Games,” a 1952 French film by Rene Clement.

Childhood is such a mysterious thing.  We’ve all gone through it, and yet seem to forget so much of what it was like.  One of the things I love about being a teacher of third graders is the chance to see a period of life through children's eyes.

In Forbidden Games, Rene Clement invites us to do the same, experiencing the terrors of the world through two fiercely committed children.  These children are living in the cold, hard world of World War II, and the adults around them are not much help.  As death, destruction, and heartbreak happens around them, they remain focused on a feud with their neighbors.

This shot perfectly encapsulates much of the movie.  Young Paulette is working through her feelings of grief through her care for the graves of dead animals.  Religion is also new to her, and she is also constructing a childhood theology of how it works, with help from young Michel.

As they play their childhood games of creating graves for dead animals, this shot shows the intrusion of the uncaring adult world as Michel’s father creeps up the stairs to disillusion them further.  I also love how the subtitle froze on this scene.  As the children say “Our Father who art in heaven,” MIchel’s actual father (and adult reality) comes not from heaven, but from below...

Forbidden Games is a strange and haunting movie (available on Netflix instant watch) that was new to me, and it’s unique take on the antiwar genre is well worth seeing.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

BTP Awards: Best Supporting Actor and Actress

As I’m recovering from Oscar season, I finally have some time to look back at the many movies I saw last year and choose my favorites.  I’ll start today with the Supporting Actresses and Actors.

Supporting Actress

Amy Adams, The Master
A shining example of the depth an actor can bring to a small role.  As Peggy Dodd, Adams plays a wife fiercely committed to her husband, the cult-leader Lancaster Dodd, and his ambition. As the movie progresses, she becomes a sort of Lady MacBeth character, and it works even better with an actor as likable as Adams on the surface.  Adams has been doing stellar support work for years (see Junebug-NOW-if you never have), and one of these years Oscar will reward her. 

Emily Blunt, Looper
One of the coolest things about Looper was how it shifted from a busy urban sci-fi movie into a smaller, tighter, and character-driven movie in its second half.  As Sara, a single mom with a very special son, Emily Blunt is a key part of making the second half of Looper so terrific.  A survivor in a dystopian world, a protective mother, and a partner to our hero Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Blunt is simply terrific.

Jennifer Ehle, Zero Dark Thirty
As well-researched, smart, and suspenseful as Zero Dark Thirty is, there were certainly times when I think the audience could have used more of a human connection.  The spots where the humanity comes through most are in the scenes of Ehle playing Jessica, an outgoing intrepid CIA agent who is the counterpart to Jessica Chastain’s reserve.  You miss her character deeply when she is no longer on screen.

Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables
There’s simply no denying the power of Anne’s performance in Les Miserables.  While I was mixed on the movie as a whole, I was completely enthralled when Anne was on screen for her too-brief role.  Hathaway’s getting a lot of (mostly) undeserved derision on the internet, but she’s a true talent.

Alicia Vikander, Anna Karenina
Vikander, a Swedish actress who played the small role of Kitty, is probably my favorite discovery of the year.  She was also terrific in the foreign language nominated “A Royal Affair.”  In Anna Karenina, she plays a great character arc in just a handful of scenes, moving from naivete into a great lifelong partnership that contrasts with Anna’s doomed fate.  A real talent to watch.

My Pick: Amy Adams (The Master)
#2 Pick: Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables)

Runners-Up: Judi Dench (Skyfall), Sally Field (Lincoln), Helen Hunt (The Sessions), Isabelle Huppert (Amour), Jacki Weaver (Silver Linings Playbook)

Matches with Oscar: Both Adams and Hathaway (the winner) are on my list, while Field, Hunt, and Weaver are all on my runners-up list.  That said, this was easily the weakest of the four acting categories this year.

Supporting Actor

Samuel L. Jackson, Django Unchained
Since Pulp Fiction, Tarantino and Jackson have been a perfect blend of director and muse.  As Stephen, a collaborationist slave in the plantation of Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), Jackson plays the most fascinating, and at least ONE of the most despicable characters, in Tarantino’s epic revenge fantasy.  He’s a little funny and a lot terrifying.  

Jude Law, Anna Karenina
15 years ago, Law was a suave leading man. In Anna Karenina, he plays the older, severe Karenin, cuckolded husband.  He plays it beautifully and brings a large amount of sympathy to what could be a thankless role.  I think Law is an underrated actor who doesn’t work enough, so I hope he gets more great supporting roles like this.

Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln
Jones is so good as the fierce abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens, and it’s such a scene-stealing role, that I’m still absolutely shocked he didn’t win Best Supporting Actor this year.  The bombastic Stevens is a perfect counterpoint to Lincoln’s wry humor, and he has many of the best scenes in the movie.

Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master
With very heavy screen time, he's not really a supporting player, but I’ll follow the Academy’s lead.  Hoffman had quite big shoes to fill in his performance as Lancaster Dodd, obviously inspired by the Scientologist leader L. Ron Hubbard.  Much of the movie is an amazing duet between the calculated pomposity and charisma of Hoffman and the disruptive animal instincts of Phoenix.  Two exquisite and fascinating performances.

Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained
Another pseudo-supporting actor, but he’s great!  Just three years after playing the evil Hans Landa in Inglorious Bastards, Watlz almost matches that indelible performance as Dr. King Schultz, a german bounty hunter who teams up with the slave Django on a mission.  In Waltz, Tarantino has found another actor who acts as a perfect conduit for witty dialogue.

My Pick: Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Master)

#2 Pick: Tommy Lee Jones (Lincoln)

Runners Up: Leonardo DiCaprio (Django Unchained), Michael Fassbender (Prometheus) , Robert de Niro (Silver LInings Playbook) , Eddie Redmayne (Les Miserables) , Dwight Henry (Beasts of the Southern Wild)

Matches with Oscar: Jones, Hoffman, and Waltz are all on Oscar’s list as well.  De Niro was on my runners-up.  Alan Arkin (Argo) is nowhere near the list.  He was fine, but he’s been playing that character for years.