Archive for Best Director

THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1991)

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 24, 2018 by cdascher

The_Silence_of_the_Lambs_posterCome with us, back to Valentine’s Day, 1991. All over America, suitors are planning the perfect romantic evening. Dinner perhaps? And look, a new spooky movie opening today. What better than a few scares and the winter chill to send that special someone into your arms! I think this Valentine’s Day is going to end very well, don’t you? Two hours of cannibalism, mutilation, flying semen and lotion-in-the-basket later, I’m pretty sure The Silence of the Lambs ruined thousands of first dates, but it was on its way to becoming a modern classic.

Let me start by addressing the obvious: This is a movie that wouldn’t be made today. It is undeniably transphobic. Jame Gumb – the only manifestly queer character – commits crimes that are inextricably linked to his gender dysmorphia. This is a world where being trans is pathology, and one that can be expressed violently. I want to acknowledge this, but I don’t want to spend too much time belaboring the point, castigating a movie from almost three decades ago. I’ll leave the subject behind by saying that in writing this, I’m genuinely second guessing which pronouns with which to use in discussing the film’s antagonist- evidence that we’re living in a future The Silence of the Lambs could not anticipate.

Silence is a thriller in the tradition of Hitchcock. It plays like a magic show, with audience expectation managed by misdirection. We start with a young woman jogging alone at dawn. Are we about to witness a crime? No, it’s Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) training for the physical requirements of her training. Buffalo Bill cuts off his victim’s clothes. Are we witnessing some sex crime? No, he has an entirely different and macabre agenda. Of course there is the famous switcheroo at the film’s climax, where we think the FBI team is raiding Buffalo Bill’s house, but no – Starling walking alone into the villain’s lair and her comrades are in an empty house hundreds of miles away.

The most crucial act of misdirection, though, falls to an actor. Anthony Hopkins is tasked with giving a portrayal Hannibal Lecter sufficiently engaging that our eyes never wander to the plausibility of a middle aged psychiatrist-turned-cannibal who can pick locks, escape detection and seemingly kill at will despite having no allies and a decade of only whatever exercise could be managed inside a small cell. The veteran actor’s perversely charismatic cannibal snob is what allows the movie to work. It was a career defining- and award winning- performance for a reason. It probably also helps explain why an earlier adaptation of the character, sans-Hopkins was not a success. Continue reading

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UNFORGIVEN (1992)

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 20, 2018 by cdascher

Unforgiven_2Allow me to pose a question. Is there any mode of storytelling more fundamentally American than the Western? Not just movies, but literature, visual arts, anything. The cowboy is nearly synonymous with America itself. And so my second question. Why is it that in the 90 years of Academy Awards- largely a celebration of the American film tradition- has that most uniquely American of film genres been awarded Best Picture only three times? In the Awards’ fourth year, Cimarron took the prize, and while I maintain for the record it isn’t as bad as its reputation, I think Cimarron is seen nowadays as a Best Picture in name only. A full 51 years passed before another Western took the Oscar (Dances With Wolves), then Unforgiven two years later. Since then, nary a Stetson has been seen on the awards podium.

In Unforgiven, Clint Eastwood (who also directs), plays William Munny, a reformed outlaw now widowed and struggling as a farmer. He is coaxed out of retirement by a young man seeking to carry out a contract on two cowboys who participated in the facial slashing of a prostitute. They’re joined by ex-outlaw Ned (Morgan Freeman) and run afoul of sheriff Little Bill (Gene Hackman) on their way to the job.

You love Cimarron so much, hehe. I think it may still rank as one of my least favorites of the films we’ve watched, but I am glad to have seen it. I have to say I have long held a prejudice against westerns, and this one wasn’t half bad. It’s hard to not despise Eastwood from my perspective because I think he has abhorrent political views, but his character is a compelling one in this film. The scenes where he is with his kids before he sets out on this expedition are my favorite; they tug at the heartstrings, and when you see that he is a bit frail and out of it, you almost feel like you should look away. This is the sort of feeling I got as a kid when my dad would trip or something – there was a sense of not wanting to witness him feeling any embarrassment, though maybe that is connected to some toxic and dangerous ideas we as a society have about masculinity. Continue reading

ANNIE HALL (1977)

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 10, 2016 by cdascher

AnniehallposterThe bad news has been confirmed by researchers from Scotland’s Heriot Watt University: watching romantic comedies is bad for our love lives. This validates the therapists who tell anecdotes about frustrated individuals coming in expecting to encounter in life a quasi-magical special person who will know their desires and feelings innately, without being told. We all know the familiar rom-com formula that has been an industry staple since the golden age of Hollywood: two people meet in the most novel of circumstance, they go through a phase of misunderstanding or mutual hostility before realizing how right they are for each other and achieving True Love. A successful template for a movie plot, yes, but as the researchers point out, it can distort our perception of reality and belie the hard work of communication and the development of trust and rapport that characterize successful relationships in reality. But people love their romantic movies! So what to do?

Perhaps this blogger can suggest to the Scottish researchers an antidote of sorts: 1977’s Annie Hall. In it, the protagonist, Alvy Singer, contemplates his failed relationship with the title character and we follow him through a series of remembrances in his attempt to make sense of it all. These vignettes aggregate to tell the story of a romance that follows an arc much more similar to real world relationships, but is nonetheless funny and ultimately heartbreaking.

Also, the guy who made it turned out to be a despicable deviant.

It’s really hard to watch this for the first time as someone who has great disdain for Woody Allen. The film is an easy, pleasant, enjoyable watch, but I couldn’t turn my brain off entirely to its creator. I found myself at times wishing we were seeing the film more through the eyes of Annie, played by Diane Keaton. Continue reading