EXPLORING THE ALCOVES OF CULT CINEMA …

The 100 Films Of The Decade: 50 – 41

50    Almost Famous (2000)

Dir. Cameron Crowe

A semi-autobiographical comedy drama from rock journalist-turned-director Cameron Crowe, Almost Famous tells the story of 15-year old William (Patrick Fugit), assigned by Rolling Stone Magazine to write an article on the road with ‘almost famous’ rock band Stillwater, on the false assumption that he is a much older and experienced journalist. Amidst the raucous rock ‘n’ roll comedy, a charming romance blossoms between William and band groupie Penny Lane (Kate Hudson). But the emotional heart of the film comes from Frances McDormand as the anxious disapproving mother whose two children have both escaped the trappings of home life, only for them to find truth in the adage ‘home is where the heart is’. The film’s wonderful enveloping rock soundtrack, containing choice cuts from Led Zeppelin, Simon & Garfunkel, Elton John and The Beach Boys among others, became just as popular and influential as the film itself. Hilarious, uproarious but also deeply touching, Almost Famous perfectly encapsulates the fundamental driving forces of love and music.

49    Persepolis (2007)

Dir. Marjane Satrapi, Vincent Paronnaud

In bringing her own graphic novel to the screen, Marjane Satrapi’s autobiographical account of growing up during the war and revolution in late 20th-century Iran becomes a captivating and poetic animated feature. Although set against a harrowing depiction of war-torn Iran, with an honest portrait of Iranian families’ hopes and fears, Persepolis‘s amusing coming-of-age tale is indicative of humanity’s resilient sense of humour when surrounded by tragedy. The teenage Marjane secretly buys banned western rock music, wears punk clothing and submerges herself in Austria’s bohemian youth culture during an expatriation, but her rebellious streak is offset by her shame at rejecting her own Iranian routes. The superb black and white animation flows from scene to scene with dazzling invention, faithful to both the stylised immediacy of graphic novels and smooth fluidity of the animated movie.

48    Moon (2009)

Dir. Duncan Jones

Just as Arthur C. Clarke’s prophetic decade of discovery came to a close, a film came along to conjure up comparisons with 2001: A Space Odyssey and revive interest in the great British science-fiction film. Sam Rockell gives a tremendous virtually solo performance as Sam Bell, stationed alone for three years at a lunar industrial base, with only the HAL-like robotic servant GERT (the sedate tones of Kevin Spacey) for company. But after a concussive accident in a lunar rover, Sam wakes in the infirmary to discover that he might not be quite as alone as he’d thought. Duncan Jones’ first feature makes excellent use of it’s relatively low budget, with superb sterile sets and impressive split-camera effects. Also of note is the excellent model work – a refreshingly tangible quality in an age of predominant CGI. But all this would mean very little if it weren’t for the film’s thoughtful and engrossing narrative. A brilliantly sustained claustrophobic puzzle of lost identity, Moon is no mere space oddity. (sorry!)

47    Sweeney Todd – The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street (2008)

Dir. Tim Burton

Stephen Sondheim had not licensed one of his musicals for the cinema since his dissatisfaction with A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum, but he wisely let Tim Burton make a film of his macabre stage masterwork. Leaving all the songs virtually intact, Burton adds his own visual opulence with a fantastically stylised recreation of back-street Victorian London. The score is fantastic, the gore is revolting and Johnny Depp sings like Anthony Newley. The greatest live-action musical since Cabaret, Sweeney Todd – The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street is a Grand Guignol triumph of razor-sharp excellence.

46    Control (2007)

Dir. Anton Corbijn

Retelling the troubled life and tragic suicide of Ian Curtis could have been a painfully morose experience, but Dutch photographer Anton Corbijn’s adaptation of Deborah Curtis’ Touching From A Distance is as richly rewarding as Joy Division’s own awe-inspiring music. Control‘s stark black and white presentation acutely reflects the haunting mood of the era, as if the iconic monochrome photographs of the band come to life before our eyes. Newcomer Sam Riley conveys great poignant apathy in a complex examination of depression and isolation. A poetic counterpoint to 24 Hour Party People, Control is one of the most beautiful British films ever made.

45    Punch-Drunk Love (2002)

Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson

A terse excercise in passive-aggressive strangeness,  I was initially perplexed and confounded by Paul Thomas Anderson’s unusual romantic comedy, but repeated viewings revealed a quite extraordinary work of subversive, unconventional romance. Casting Adam Sandler is the first great provocation, his character of Barry Egan being a darker, more damaged version of the actor’s usual misfit persona. Then there’s the soundtrack, with Jon Brion fusing random off-kilter drum rhythms and an oppressive harmonium together with Shelley Duvall singing ‘He Needs Me’ from Popeye. The screen fills with bold splashes of colour seemingly at random, and Phillip Seymour Hoffman turns up as a violently abusive phone sex-line supervisor. Disorienting and odd, Punch-Drunk Love is a typically daring assault on a generally bland genre by a true cinematic visionary.

44    Frost/Nixon (2008)

Dir. Ron Howard

Who’d have thought David Frost would be at the centre of the greatest cinematic clash since Hans Gruber fell to his death. But Peter Morgan creates another exciting rendering of real events after his success with The Deal and The Queen. Shaping the film as an intellectual boxing match, the heavyweight self-satisfied ex-president Richard Nixon (Frank Langella) squares up against lightweight wheedling showbiz playboy David Frost (Michael Sheen). But the encounter soon develops into a crucial opportunity for both parties to salvage their reputations. It could be argued that Ron Howard makes little concessions to cinema in adapting the play, but it hardly matters since the acting and dialogue are pitch-perfect. A riveting dramatic duel.

43    Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)

Dir. Hayao Miyazaki

The boundless creativity and imagination of Studio Ghibli proved the perfect company to bring Diana Wynne Jones’ fantasy novel to the screen and brought anime supremo Hayao Miyazaki out of his short-lived retirement. The story brims over with elaborate fantasy and frankly defies a one-sentence summary, but among the many fantastic creations on display are Calcifer the vivacious fire demon, the repulsive Witch Of The Waste, and the devoted prince-turned-scarecrow Turnip Head. Howl’s Moving Castle casts an intoxicating animated spell and is another sparkling gem on Studio Ghibli’s rich cinematic crown.

42    Frozen River (2008)

Dir. Courtney Hunt

A powerful first feature from Courtney Hunt, Frozen River is a timely reminder of those living on the literal peripheries of society during the economic downturn. In a remarkable début film performance, Melissa Leo plays struggling single mother Ray Eddy, who resorts to smuggling immigrants across the dangerously icy Canadian border as a means of supporting her children over christmas. Entirely filmed on location in snowbound Upstate New York, the grim setting adds a menacing power to this intense story of despair. Close-ups of Ray’s stark pale face and dry cracked skin have the same dramatic impact of Dorothea Lange’s famous photos of Depression-era mothers, and this film is an equally significant document, albeit fictionalised, of a financially stricken era. Frozen River offers the rare merging of a sharp socially conscious drama with an urgent edge-of-the-seat thriller.

41    I’m Not There (2007)

Dir. Todd Haynes

The intrepid Todd Haynes revealed the dramatic strategy of his remarkable film by explaining “He’s like a flame: If you try to hold him in your hand you’ll surely get burned. Dylan’s life of change and constant disappearances and constant transformations makes you yearn to hold him, and to nail him down”. Of course, this most distinctive and audacious of biopics isn’t really a biopic at all. The name Bob Dylan is only mentioned once, in the opening credits as ‘inspired by the music and many lives of Bob Dylan’ (hence he’s ‘not there’). Six disparate actors, including Richard Gere, Heath Ledger, Ben Whishaw and even Cate Blanchett, portray six fictional songwriters at various junctures of creative life. I’m Not There brilliantly captures the extraordinary, multi-faceted career of a musical giant in a bold cinematic style.

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