The Parnassus Times

March 11, 2009

The List is Life: #76

76.

The Dame;

Olympia Dukakis.

Born in 1931, to Greek immigrants in Massachusetts, Olympia Dukakis began her career on stage, performing in Shakespeare and repertory companies, before making her Broadway debut at the age of 30. Though little success came her way at first, she found her home Off-Broadway on the smaller, more intimate stages, winning Obie and Drama Desk Awards for her work, winning acclaim in productions of  The Rose Tattoo, The Seagull and  A Man’s a Man, to name a few.  In 1973, she and her husband founded the Whole Theater Company in Montclair, New Jersey, which they ran until 1988. It was during that late 80s period, that she finally made her mark on movies. Having appeared in small parts all the way back to the early 60s, she landed the role of Cher’s mother in Norman Jewison’s  Moonstruck, beautifully, subtly underplaying the role to great impact, she won a Supporting Actress Oscar, for a breakthrough role at the age of 57. Since then, she has established herself as a regular working movie actress in projects as varied as  Steel Magnolias, Mighty Aphrodite and  Mr. Holland’s Opus, as well as a standout turn amongst the wonderful ensemble of Sarah Polley’s Away From Her. Along with her newfound cinematic success, she works regularly on TV and has never abandoned the stage, where at the age of 77, she still performs AND directs.

The Dude;

Ewan McGregor.

Emerging in the mid 90s, during the era of Cool Brittania, as emerging director Danny Boyle’s leading man of choice, Ewan McGregor established himself as a sturdy young performer in Shallow Grave, before becoming nothing less than a 90s British icon following his strung out performance in 1996s Trainspotting. The following year, director and star, along with writer John Hodge and producer Andrew McDonald, attempted to make a mark on the US, with A Life Less Ordinary, though the film couldn’t be considered much more than an interesting failure, it opened the way for McGregor to land the role of the young Obi-Wan Kenobi in George Lucas’ new Star Wars trilogy, and the international recognition that brought his way. Leading roles in creatively vibrant movies like Moulin Rouge!, Down with Love and Big Fish followed, but no matter how high his star has risen, McGregor has never abandoned his roots, with films like Young Adam and Scenes of a Sexual Nature bringing him back to the small, humble roots of Britain, and his global motorcycle adventures with friend Charley Boorman, Long Way Round and Long Way Down both stand as symbols of his desires, dreams and ambition beyond the screen. McGregor is an established Hollywood leading man, not afraid to take risks, not afraid to go back to basics, and effortlessly watchable with his easy, laidback charm.

The Director;

Michelangelo Antonioni.

Discovering drawing and music as a child, Michelangelo Antonioni took up the violin and gave his first concert at the age of 9, before abandoning the instrument upon discovery in his teens…of cinema. In his early 20s he began working as a film journalist for a local newspaper for 5 years, before moving to Rome where he began writing for the nationals official fascist film magazine, Cinema. After only a months he was fired, whereafter he attended the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia, studying film technique, this was another chapter of his life that never took off, withdrawing just 3 months later. Through the early 40s he worked as assistant on numerous productions, where he met Roberto Rossellini and worked with Marcel Carne. In 1950 he directed his first feature, breaking the neorealist hold on Italian cinema and portraying the middle classes of society. He was not afraid to venture outside his own nation, making films in France and in England, even tually tackling the working classes in his work, social alienation prevalent throughout his movies. In 55 he had experimented with the style that came to prove his trademark, replacing conventional narrative with sequences of seemingly unconnected events, shooting in long takes, often with sparse use of dialogue. 1960s  L’avventura played at the Cannes Film Festival to a wildly mixed reception, bringing the director to the international stage. He followed it up with the remaining two parts of a thematic trilogy, La Notte and  L’eclisse seeing him work with major stars and further establish his reputation. Following this he left mainland Europe, travelling first to Britain where he produced his ode to the swinging 60s  Blowup, signifying once more his refusal to rest on common ideas of plotting and reliance on dialogue, the film brought the director Oscar nominations for writing and directing, which saw him travel to America, where he turned out the duo  Zabriskie Point, again following his trademark style and utlizing a soundtrack of popular hits, and then Jack Nicholson vehicle  The Passenger. Afterwards he went back to Europe where he spent the rest of his careerworking mainly in his native language, producing features and segments in omnibus films. He continued working till he was 91, dying in 2007, at the age of 94.

The Picture;

Se7en (David Fincher, 1995)

At the age of 30, David Fincher had made his feature film debut as director of  Alien 3, a film in which he went to war with 20th Century Fox over script and budget issues. It was at the time, the most expensive film ever made by a first time director, and as such, the restrictions put on him, were perhaps no surprise. With his second film, Fincher scaled all that grandiosity back, focusing his film around the well established Morgan Freeman, and rising stars Brad Pitt and Gwyneth Paltrow. Built around a righteous serial killer in an age when such a thing was unseen in cinema, Fincher’s gloomy meditation on the state of the world established him as a master of creating dark and vivid atmospheres. Gripping from the first to the last, not least when the uncredited killer finally walks onto screen, Se7en took serial killer movies to another level, proving both an…entertaining viewing experience, and a provocative, thought provoking piece of cinema, finding that ideal balance between being mainstream and uncompromising,  it heralded the emergence of a major new talent at the forefront of the new wave of American moviemakers.

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April 2, 2008

The List is Life: #90

90.

The Dame;

Sally Field.

One of the most expressive of actresses, Sally Field is a performer capable of breaking hearts with the slightest twitch of her brow. Working steadily and successfully for almost 40 years in the business, Field began at the age of 20 playing Gidget, the role immortalised by Sandra Dee on the big screen in a short lived television series. If this, and her first major screen appearance in Smokey and the Bandit did little to establish her credibility as a performer, the 2 oscars she won for Places in the Heart and Norma Rae certainly established her as one of the greats of her generation, leads in smaller projects and fine supporting turns in bigger projects followed, before at the age of 60 she returned to the small screen once more, winning acclaim and awards for her role as the matriarch in Brothers and Sisters. She’s a highly accomplished actress on stage and screen, whose career doesn’t look like it’s going to be slowing down any time soon.

The Dude;

Kevin Spacey.

Rising to fame in the late 80s and early 90s with supporting turns among fine ensembles in films like Working Girl, Henry & June and Glengarry Glen Ross, Kevin Spacey’s star began to rise when he played the monstrous Buddy Ackerman in Swimming wth Sharks before catapulting through the roof one year later when he turned out the double header of Se7en in which he stole that films final act and frankly, the entire film itself from its fine cast, before going on to turn in an Oscar winning and frankly iconic turn in The Usual Suspects. He continued on with fine supporting work in films of differing quality from A Time to Kill to L.A Confidential, and voiced the villain in Pixar’s second animated feature A Bug’s Life before going onto secure immortality and winning the lead actor Oscar for the Best Picture winning American Beauty. In the 9 years since, Spacey’s film work has been rare, perhaps realising he could never really top his achievement in that arena he has turned his attention to the theatre, where since 2003 he has been working as the creative director at the Old Vic, one of the London’s oldest playhouses. The majority of his time has since been spent doing all he can to recapture the glory in the medium that first made his name.

The Director;

Paul Greengrass.

Paul Greengrass first established himself as a filmmaker to watch at the ae of 47 when he directed the award winning drama Bloody Sunday, the film depicted the harrowing events of Londonderry in January 1972 and was most notable for the documentary style in which is was shot. Greengrass quickly took the opportunity that his nefound fame afforded him and crossed the Atlantic where he directed the Bourne Supremacy and the Bourne Ultimatum, building upon the success of Doug Liman’s fluid, slow burning original with fast paced, breakneck and claustrophobic action that established both he and his unique style on the Hollywood radar. His harrowing United 93 also displayed his ability to continue to perform in that humble, human arena that had helped established his name to begin with. Though he now approaches the age of 53, Greengrass remains a director to watch on the Hollywood horizon whether at the helm of blistering action pictures or small scale human ones.

The Picture;

Bringing up Baby ( Howard Hawks, 1938 )

Though not the first of the great screwball comedies of the last 1930s, Bringing up Baby may well be the finest of its type. The now immortal Katharine Hepburn was, at the time, considered box office poison. Her anti-Hollywood attitude working in complete contrast to all industry conventions, dressed in pantsuits, wearing no make-up, an intellectual who refused most interviews with the press her single Best Actress Oscar was not going to save her from being one of the most unpopular stars of the era. Yet her effortlessly natural comedic turn here is one for the ages and alongside Cary Grant she forms one of the great cinematic pairings, the two of them sparking off one another from first shot till last, delivering laugh after laugh whether together or apart. Howard Hawks, whose most famous film to date was the gangster picture Scarface, turns his hand to comedy for the first time since his early forray into the genre in 1934’s Twentieth Century and this time surpasses that attempt in almost all respects, proving himself to be one of the most diverse and widely capable directors in the history of the movies.

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