Archive for the ‘Allan’s 90s Countdown’ Category

by Joel

This post is a tribute to Allan Fish, who has just concluded his ambitious, erudite, and stimulating countdown of every era in film history (a top 100 for the first 35 years of cinema, a top 25 for the 1930s, a top 50 for the ensuing decades of the 20th century, and another top 100 for the decade just past). The project was launched on the popular website Wonders in the Dark in the autumn of 2008. A poll was attached to the end of each countdown, so that the readers could voice their own opinions. Not that they needed the excuse – if anything defined the excitement around Allan’s exercises, it was the fantastic discussion which sprouted from many of his choices, sometimes voyaging far abroad from the starting point, spanning hundreds of comments and dozens of topics. Many of these were among the best conversations I’ve had on the internet – or anywhere else for that matter.

There were numerous contributors to the buzzing atmosphere, not least of whom was Sam Juliano, the irrepressible administrator of Wonders in the Dark, who drummed up enthusiasm and participation in Allan’s countdown with the exuberant discipline of a Falstaffian ringleader. And then, of course, there’s Allan himself. A thirtysomething Brit who has seen just about every major film known to man, he also harbors a no-bullshit attitude and a brooding sensibility. Though bruising at times, he was the perfect yin to Sam’s yang – and their odd couple routine defined the site’s bright but unpretentious tone from the get-go. More important, his virtually peerless immersion in film history provided a wealth of choices for the countdown and he drew on them with gusto. Many times his #1 (not to mention lower-ranked picks) took us by surprise and sent us scurrying to the margins of filmdom to polish off his proclaimed masterpieces.

In several paragraphs, Allan would summon up the world of the movie effortlessly, giving a bit of history and story, but focusing on the film’s mood, its connections to other movies (and books and TV shows and plays…), and whatever it is that drew him in the first place. These short, succinct, yet highly evocative pieces were intended to evoke curiosity and excitement, and in this they were assisted by an often bold and original image – a screen capture in almost all cases, snapping a picture in the midst of merry movement, making us want to see more. The remainder of this tribute focuses on these pictures. Rather than lay these images out in the order of his ranking, I’ll fuse them into a seamless portrait of movie history, a voyage into the silver screen’s past, starting with the most recent and ending with the earliest glimpses of the medium’s potential.

Click on the picture and you will be taken to the review in question. (And if you click on the picture topping this post – an arresting, sultry frame from the French miniseries “Mesrine” – you will arrive at a list of all Allan’s countdowns in numerical order.) Enjoy…

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(France/Poland 1991 98m) DVD1/2

Aka. La Double Vie de Véronique

Four Colours: Yellow

p  Leonardo de la Fuente  d  Krzysztof Kieslowski  w  Krzysztof Kieslowski, Krzysztof Piesiewicz  ph  Slowimir Idziak  ed  Jacques Witta  m  Zbigniew Preisner  art  Patrice Mercier, Halina Dobrowolska 

Irène Jacob (Weronika/Véronique), Halina Gryglaszewska (aunt), Kalina Jedrusik (gaudy woman), Aleksander Bardini (orchestra conductor), Philippe Volter (Alexandre Fabbri),

One would be forgiven for thinking that Kieslowski had premonitions of his death, a feeling I had ever since I noticed the use of the number 270641196 in Three Colours: Blue (see the essay from that film for an explanation).  I deliberately avoided watching this earlier Kieslowski film again after first seeing it in 1991 because I wanted to wait for a suitable DVD version to be released.  (more…)

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(UK 1992 85m) DVD2

Shining a torch into the night sky

p  Olivia Stewart  d/w  Terence Davies  ph  Michael Coulter  ed  William Diver  md  Robert Lockhart  art  Christopher Hobbs  cos  Monica Howe

Marjorie Yates (mother), Leigh McCormack (Bud), Anthony Watson (Kevin), Nicholas Lamont (John), Ayse Owens (Helen), Tina Malone (Edna), Jimmy Wilde (Curly), Robin Polley (Mr Nicholls),

Watching Terence Davies’ autobiographical piece was, to this reviewer, rather like flicking through a family album, heralding from a family barely removed from that depicted in the film, in location, time and spirit.  It isn’t a prerequisite to be acquainted with the north, or with Catholicism, or remembrances of the 1950s, but it certainly helps.  And though those who cannot tick those boxes can and do enjoy and celebrate the film, they do miss something in the translation. (more…)

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Magnolia (no 3)

(USA 1999 188m) DVD1/2

I shall smite all thy borders with frogs

Joanne Sellar  d/w  Paul Thomas Anderson  ph  Robert Elswit  ed  Dylan Tichenor  m  Jon Brion, Fiona Apple  m/ly  Aimee Mann  art  William Arnold, Mark Bridges  cos  Mark Bridges

Julianne Moore (Linda Partridge), William H.Macy (Quiz Kid Donnie Smith), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Phil Parma), Tom Cruise (Frank T.J.Mackey), Jeremy Blackman (Stanley Spector), John C.Reilly (Jim Kurring), Jason Robards Jnr (Earl Partridge), Melora Walters (Claudia Wilson Gator), Philip Baker Hall (Jimmy Gator), Melinda Dillon (Rose Gator), Alfred Molina (Solomon Solomon), Michael Bowen (Rick Spector), April Grace, Ricky Jay, Michael Murphy, Henry Gibson, Thomas Jane, Luis Guzman, Miriam Margolyes,

Ladies and germs, may I present the most ambitious masterpiece of American nineties cinema.  If ever a film demanded multiple viewings to pick up its textures and nuances, this is it.  Some called it pretentious, indulgent and even overlong and they have a point, but very few filmmakers have the balls to run with their indulgencies to the point where greatness is achieved.  Boogie Nights promised much, especially in its director’s handling of its eclectic ensemble cast, but Magnolia surpasses it easily.  Indeed, one can see his ensemble being the finest seen since the days of John Ford and Preston Sturges and his style being the modern successor to Altman.  They, and he, are that good. (more…)

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(USA 1998 96m) DVD1/2

In case I don’t see ya…

p  Scott Rudin, Andrew Niccol, Edward S.Feldman, Adam Schroeder  d  Peter Weir  w  Andrew Niccol  ph  Peter Biziou  ed  William Anderson, Lee Smith  m  Burkhard Dallwitz, Philip Glass, Wojciech Kilar  art  Dennis Gassner, Richard L.Johnson  cos  Marilyn Matthews  spc  Michael J.McAllister, Larz Anderson, Craig Barron

Jim Carrey (Truman Burbank), Laura Linney (Meryl), Noah Emmerich (Marlon), Ed Harris (Christof), Natascha McElhone (Lauren/Sylvia), Holland Taylor (Truman’s mother), Brian Delate (Kirk Burbank), Paul Giamatti (Simeon), Blair Slater (young Truman), Harry Shearer (Mike Michaelson), Philip Baker Hall, O-Lan Jones,

If they handed out prizes for originality at award ceremonies, surely Peter Weir’s brilliant satirical fantasy cum Kafkaesque nightmare would have won in 1998, and probably for its decade.  It would also prove to be a revelation to those who saw Jim Carrey as just a rubber faced comedian and to those who thought that true originality had long since disappeared from the cinema.  All assumptions are fatal, even that your life is your own. 

            Truman Burbank is a seemingly happy 30 year old, with a loving wife, a long standing best friend and a fear of water, following the death of his father in a boat accident when he was a boy.  But what Truman doesn’t know is that his father didn’t die because it was all faked as part of his fake life.  A life that is being broadcast 24/7 to an audience of millions from within a cocoon of a giant studio enclosing the fictional town of Seahaven.  But then he thinks he sees his dead father as a hobo on the streets… (more…)

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Actress (no 5)


(Hong Kong 154m) DVD0 (Hong Kong only)

Aka. Ruan Lingyu; Centre Stage; Yuen Ling-yuk

Actors are madmen.  I am one of them. 

p  Leonard Ho Koon-Cheung  d  Stanley Kwan  w  Yau Tai On-Ping  ph  Poon Hang-Sang  ed  Peter Cheung  m  Siu Chung  art  Pok York Mok

Maggie Cheung (Ruan Lingyu/herself), Tony Leung Ka-Fai (Cai Chusheng), Cecilia Yip (Lin Chu-chu), Carina Lau (Li Lili), Lawrence Ng (Chang Ta-min), Han Chin (Tang Chi-shan), Lee Waise (Li Min-wei), Paul Chang (Boss of Lianhua),

She’s a legend” Maggie Cheung says of Ruan Lingyu, and it’s hard to argue.  Stanley Kwan’s dissection of the life and death of the great Ruan Lingyu is not only one of the most complex biopics ever made, it is also one of the most complex films of its decade.  Actress is not a film for everyone for it challenges us in ways that may not be appreciable on initial viewing.  Your average biopic goes about simply telling the story of its protagonist’s life.  As Jonathan Rosenbaum observed, “any historical movie worth its salt historicises the present day along with the past, and this movie explicitly juxtaposes our own inadequacy with those potent clips of Lingyu herself.”  What we have here is a dramatisation of the life of Lingyu inter-cut with not only clips of the surviving films of the great actress but also, most tellingly, interviews with the cast and crew behind the scenes making the film, and even interviews with surviving figures from the thirties, including Li Lili and a very frail and close to death Sun Yu. (more…)

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(France/Poland 99m) DVD1/2

Aka. Trois Couleurs: Rouge

Geneva fraternity

p  Marin Karmitz  d  Krzysztof Kieslowski  w  Krzysztof Kieslowski, Krzysztof Piesiewicz  ph  Piotr Sobocinski  ed  Jacques Witta  m  Zbigniew Preisner  art  Claude Lenoir

Irène Jacob (Valentine Dusseau), Jean-Louis Trintignant (Judge Joseph Kern), Jean-Pierre Lorit (Auguste), Frédérique Feder (Karin), Samuel Lebihan (photographer), Juliette Binoche (Julie, from Blue), Benoit Régent (Olivier, from Blue), Julie Delpy (Dominique, from White), Zbigniew Zamachowski (Karol Karol, from White),

Let me not waste words; Three Colours: Red is one of the greatest films of its decade by a director at the summit of modern European cinema.  Kieslowski’s whole oeuvre is ripe for discovery by millions of people, from his masterful Dekalog through La Double Vie de Véronique to this final trilogy.  Though he was planning another trilogy on heaven, hell and purgatory, which was incomplete after his death in 1996, surely even he couldn’t have topped matched this, the final part in his Tricolor trilogy, based on the symbolism of fraternity, and the last of his Tales of Three Cities (Paris, Warsaw and Geneva).

            Valentine is a young student and model in Geneva.  Her boyfriend is being unfaithful with a woman who is also being unfaithful to her partner, a young judge.  One day Valentine runs over a German shepherd, which she traces back to its owner, a retired judge, who likes to listen in to the phone conversations of those in his neighbourhood. (more…)

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(Denmark/UK 1996 159m) DVD1/2

Talking to God

p  Vibeke Windelov, Peter Aalbeck  d  Lars Von Trier  w  Lars Von Trier, Peter Asmussen  ph  Robby Müller  ed  Anders Refn  m  Joachim Holbek  art  Karl Juliasson

Emily Watson (Bess McNeil), Stellan Skarsgård (Jan), Katrin Cartlidge (Dodo), Jean-Marc Barr (Terry), Adrian Rawlins (Dr Richardson), Sandra Voe (Bess’ mother), Udo Kier, Jonathan Hackett,

It’s when two people are joined with God” Watson’s Bess responds to the question of what matrimony is in the opening sequence.  That’s one way of looking at it, but it’s more indicative of the strictly Presbyterian upbringing of her remote island (Shetland or Orkneys, it’s not made entirely clear); she is, from the outset, looking like she’s ready to meet her maker.  So much so that when she eventually does leave this mortal coil, it’s as if she’s returning home and it’s hard to feel any sorrow.  Certainly that is what Von Trier seemed to be saying, with his miraculous bells from on high.  (more…)

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(USA 1999 159m) DVD1/2


p/d  Stanley Kubrick  w  Frederic Raphael, Stanley Kubrick  novel  “Traumnovelle” by Arthur Schnitzler  ph  Larry Smith  ed  Nigel Galt  m  Jocelyn Pokk (including “Jazz Suite” by Dimitri Shostakovich)  art  Les Tomkins, Roy Walker  cos  Marit Allen

Tom Cruise (Dr Bill Harford), Nicole Kidman (Alice Harford), Marie Richardson (Marion), Sydney Pollack (Victor Ziegler), Rade Scherbedgia (Milich), Leelee Sobieski (Milich’s daughter), Todd Field (Nick Nightingale), Alan Cumming (desk clerk), Vinessa Shaw (Domino, the hooker), Faye Masterson (Sally), Sky Dumont (Sandor Szavost),

Stanley Kubrick’s final film must surely qualify as one of the most misunderstood of recent times.  Much of the blame for that, of course, must be laid at the late master’s own feet due to the laborious shoot, beginning in late 1996, going through cast replacements and all sorts of delays before the final release, and then Kubrick’s untimely death in post-production.  This in addition to a frankly awful marketing campaign helped the film to its modest critical reception and decidedly cold box-office performance.  (more…)

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(UK 1999 182m) DVD1/2

The Gadarene Club

p  John Chapman  d/w  Stephen Poliakoff  ph  Bruno de Keyser, Ernie Vincze  ed  Paul Tothill  m  Adrian Johnston  art  John-Paul Kelly  cos  Susannah Buxton

Lindsay Duncan (Marilyn Truman), Timothy Spall (Oswald Bates), Liam Cunningham (Christopher Anderson), Emilia Fox (Spig), Billie Whitelaw (Veronica), Arj Barker (Garnett), Blake Ritson (Nick), Andy Serkis (Styeman), Sheila Dunn, Jean Channon,

It’s time for a personal favourite here, one of the great achievements of either screen in the last two decades, but also typical of the way television is overlooked for its bigger brother.  And yet look at films such as Dekalog, Berlin Alexanderplatz, Heimat, Das Boot and Fanny and Alexander.  All are works that are listed in film guides and yet were originally made for the small screen.  Of writers at their peak around the time of the millennium, surely the best would have to be Stephen Poliakoff, whose delights have ranged from the enigmatic Friends and Crododiles to the affecting Gideon’s Daughter, from the intricate Perfect Strangers and the less successful but still memorable The Lost Prince.  All of which leads one to beg the question, why go for this? (more…)

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