Saturday, November 25, 2006

Ebert's Best: 1980


1. The Black Stallion
2. Raging Bull
3. Kagemusha
4. Being There
5. Ordinary People
6. The Great Santini
7. The Empire Strikes Back
8. Coal Miner's Daughter
9. American Gigolo
10. Best Boy

Saw most of Ebert's picks for this year, some of them only once, back in the day. The Black Stallion might be worth another visit. The only recollection I have of that movie is, "This sure ain't Star Wars."

In that same vein, I went with a grade nine classmate to see Kagemusha because the movie's ad campaign went something like this: "GEORGE LUCAS PRESENTS KAGEMUSHA: THE SHADOW WARRIOR!! ... (a film by akira kurosawa) ...." I expected a big screen version of Shogun, minus Richard Chamberlain; what I got was my first exposure to AKIRA KUROSAWA -- in lurid colour, no less. The nightmare sequence where Kagemusha is tormented by the ghost of the man whose identity he's assumed was particularly disturbing. When Ran came out some years later, I was among the first in line.

I've seen Raging Bull a bunch of times, to the point where I'm disinclined to see it again. This movie is a visual stunner (including the plus-sized DeNiro), and the acting is downright feral. But I can't help thinking, "This is a young man's film." A brilliant young man, to be sure. Scorsese seems to be staring hard at bad decisions driven by untamed ego -- youthful decisions, the sort that are given a pass when a man chooses the path of maturity. If you like your movies to be moral fables, this is the one to watch.

Being There: Peter Sellers used to claim his unique ability as an actor was to disappear. For those of us who grew up watching the Pink Panther movies on TV, that claim was a little hard to swallow. This movie went a long way to supporting his self-assessment. Brilliant.

Ordinary People: People were blown away by this movie (me, too). There were only two conversations that took place afterward: either you discussed the psychologically perceptive script, or you discussed the acting talent. No-one suspected Mary Tyler Moore had this role in her; everyone wanted to see what the cast members -- particularly the kids (Timothy Hutton and Elizabeth McGovern) -- would do next. Of the bunch, Sutherland remains the most interesting one to watch. As for Hutton and McGovern, well ... funny how these things go, isn't it?

The Great Santini -- a theatre friend of mine once said his fondest dream would be to cast Robert Duvall as King Lear. Duvall's bullhorn stylings in movies like Gone in 60 Seconds would make this casting call look dubious, but another look at The Great Santini (particularly when contrasted to The Apostle) reveals an actor of substantial range and subtlety. Hey, I'd pay money to see a Duvall/Lear.

And finally, to complete the year's circular theme: The Empire Strikes Back: Lucas's greatest crime was to follow up Star Wars with a sequel that improved on the original. My take: Lucas had women of strong character on his payroll, including his then-wife Marcia (editor) and screenwriter Leigh Brackett, who looked at his typing, identified the emotional heart of the matter, then took the appropriate care to frame it properly. Alas, this was never to occur again.


Anonymous said...

You're forgetting Duvall in the Godfathers.

"Tom, can you get me off the hook? For old time's sake."

"Can't do it, Sallie."

Of course, that was in the 70's. But much later in that Costner western, (what was it called?) Open Range, he proved he could still perform and not just chew scenery.

Whisky Prajer said...

Curious how The Godfathers manage to showcase understated actors who have since become synonymous with scenery chewing (Pacino, especially, but also DeNiro, Duvall, Dianne Keaton and the late Bruno Kirby). Given Coppola's outsized reputation, you'd think he'd get outsized performances from his cast. Nope. It's all studiously measured stuff.

Anonymous said...

You make an excellent point. FFC's always been able to do that, though he sometimes chooses not too (Apocalypse Now, Tucker: The Man and His Dream). He's obviously passed that ability on to his daughter (at least, I think so).

But hey, I also thought of Duvall in Lonesome Dove where he dials it way back even during the action scenes.

And there will never be another Bruno Kirby. I miss that guy.

Bijoy said...

Nice post, its a really cool blog that you have here, keep up the good work, will be back.

Warm Regards

Biby Cletus - Kagemusha Movie Review