The Parnassus Times

April 5, 2008

The List is Life: #88

88.

The Dame;

Joan Crawford.

Perhaps most readily remembered for her feud with Bette Davis which came to a head in 1962 with her being blown off the screen in Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? and maybe forever tainted by the damning portrait painted by a bitter daughter in Mommie Dearest, the career that Joan Crawford enjoyed for over 30 years beginning at the dawn of the sound era seems to have been generally forgotten. She was an Academy Award winning actress with numerous acclaimed films under her belt, she worked with major directors and major performers. In Mildred Pierce she gave one of the more iconic performances of the golden era, and a decade later in Nicholas Ray’s Johnny Guitar, she took the lead as the westen was turned on its head, with strong women in the central roles. One of the greatest of the greatest age, she has insured that she’ll never be forgotten.

The Dude;

Paul Schneider.

Entering into the acting profession at the age of 24 (making him a late comer by todays standards) in the films of David Gordon Green, George Washington and more notably as the lead alongside Zooey Deschanel in All the Real Girls, Paul Schneider has in a just a few short years established himself as one of the more accomplished supporting actors in the movies today. In 2005 he took a side role in Cameron Crowe’s Elizabethtown and with his quirky small town simplicity, literally stole the show from the leads. Then in 2007 he had what could be termed a breakthrough year, with polar opposite roles. Firstly appearing as the villainous Dick Liddil in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, a supporting role that he filled with both sinful sleaze and unabashed charm in equal degree, and an almost entirely opposite turn as a quiet, loving brother trying his best to cope with an awkward situation in Lars and the Real Girl. He’s a wonderfully subtle, assured and diverse actor whose career is certainly heading for great heights.

The Director;

Sydney Pollack.

I would venture to say that Sydney Pollack’s finest accomplishments have come in front of the camera rather than behind it. Always taking small roles in movies, he has on more than one occasion, ended up being the finest member of the cast, perhaps most notably in his tiny role in Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut. However none of these on screen accomplishments can take away from the fact that Pollack is an Academy Award winning director and producer. It was his Robert Redford-Meryl Streep epic Out of Africa that brought him this acclaim, but from where I am sitting his finest work comes in smaller, more character driven movies, where the performers, not the wondrous grandeur take centre stage. As the tagline to his 1969 Jane Fonda vehicle¬† They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? declared, “People are the ultimate spectacle” and rarely is that more in evidence than in Sydney Pollack’s films.

The Picture;

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Steven Spielberg, 1977)

Though most widely remembered for the grandiosity of the final sequence, Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind is a film that is at heart one of his most intimate and human films. Driven at full force by a wonderful performance from Richard Dreyfuss, who won the Oscar for 1977’s The Goodbye Girl, but should probably have picked up the award for this film. It is a performance both comic and dramatic, filled with the wondrous curiousity of an overgrown child yet at the same time shot through with a certain darkness in its examination of a mans obsession and subsequent neglect of his family. It is that performance around which this film is built; there are brief moments of alien spectacle propping it up throughout, making sure that we remember that we are truly not alone in this one, all mysterious, all beautiful to behold but ambiguous in intent, and it all builds to a wondrous crescendo, that magnificently glorious finale in which all is revealed, truly epic spectacle, human curiousity and those 5 beautiful notes.

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March 16, 2008

The List is Life: #96

96.

The Dame;

Sissy Spacek.

Ever since her major film breakthrough in 1973 as the naive teenager Holly in Terrence Malick’s Badlands, Sissy Spacek has been an interesting actress to watch. Equally comfortable playing quiet, restrained young girls as she did in the Malick picture and in her most famous role to date in Brain DePalma’s Carrie, as she is at the ever popular art of cinema biopic-ing as she displayed in her Oscar winning turn as Loretta Lynn in Coal Miner’s Daughter, and as the quietly furious grieving mother in her final nominated turn to date in Todd Field’s In the Bedroom. She’s an actress capable of perfectly subtle and quiet, restrained turns.

The Dude;

Tom Hanks.

Many a term has been attached to Tom Hanks over his long and storied career. Whether we refer to him as the ultimate everyman, the new Jimmy Stewart, what cannot be denied is that over the two decades since his first Oscar nomination he has proven himself to be one of the most talented and capable actors of his generation. From his pure, unadulterated childhood innocence in Big, to the weary fighting spirit of Philadelphia, American simplicity in Forrest Gump, the quiet, humble masculinity of Saving Private Ryan, or the large stretches of wordlessness that populated Castaway, in which he held the screen with his physicality and nothing but a volleyball for company, Tom Hanks has proven a versatility not found among many of his era. Truly one of the good guys.

The Director;

Nicholas Ray.

Nicholas Ray left the University of Chicago after a year to study architecture on a scholarship under Frank Lloyd Wright where he learnt the importance of space and scope that would come in great use for a filmmaker with as beautiful an eye for visuals as he did. His socialist/communist leanings soon came between student and mentor and Ray departed for New York where he became involved in the theater until his good friend Elia Kazan hired him to work as assistant on feature debut, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. From there Ray’s star grew and grew till the mid 50s when he was doing some of the most iconic work in Hollywood, a western centred around a woman in the magnificent Johnny Guitar and the iconic Rebel Without a Cause, a title worthy of the rebel who guided it to immortality.

The Picture;

El Laberinto del Fauno (Guillermo Del Toro, 2006)

Guillermo Del Toro started making movies in 1993 and he has always had a taste for the fantastic, from the gothic horror of his first, Cronos, to the sci-fi thrills of his English language debut, Mimic, through the comic book rides of Blade II and Hellboy, Del Toro has always wandered in strange realms. That wandering finally came to a beautiful crescendo in 2006 as the Spaniard turned in the most acclaimed film of the year, a tale of startling fantasy and harsh reality, balancing both worlds with perfect precision and taking the audience into the imagination of a young girl, along the harsh road she travels and the difficult lessons she learns. It is a beautifully crafted dark fantasy, written, directed, performed, shot and scored with the greatest love and passion. Growing up and facing the world has never been so painful or so beautiful.

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