Archive for film

Review Bag IV: Three Men On The Brink (Ray, Ferrera, Romanek)

Posted in Faith/Spiritual, film, Reviews - Film with tags , , , , , , , on August 4, 2010 by N.W. Douglas

Shattered Glass (2003) Billy Ray

The first viewing was satisfying, the second was refreshing, and now the third time proves ever more the charm.  Quietly released in 2003 and soon after forgotten, Billy Ray’s dramatization of the outing and fall of Stephen Glass — a wunderkind writer for The New Republic who fabricated dozens of stories in whole or in part, and was fired in 1998 — is holding up very nicely.  The plotting always impresses me; it’s lean, subtle, and guided with a steady hand through several layers of flashbacks, lies, and supposedly objective narrative.  For such a static, indoors-set film, the choice to shoot it in scope seems puzzling at first, but the results speak for themselves: Mandy Walker’s images are sleek and satisfying, and beautifully framed on just about every straight line to be found in an office setting.

What most stuck out on this viewing was the open ending: TNR editor and Glass-inquisitor Chuck Lane reading off the titles of various Glass stories he believes were cooked, while Glass remains silent, indicating that each title listed was indeed fabricated in some fashion.  The scene jumps back into Glass’ little narrated world that began the film – a sort of journo-dreamland in his head where he’s contentedly waltzing around a convention – before being pulled back to reality, sharply, by Lane’s voice: “Steve?”  Glass looks up and the image cuts to black.  On the one hand, it’s a simple reinforcement of the flimsy fantasies that Glass has cooked up – he’s deluding himself as much as he’s trying to fool us – and only the hard voice of Lane, the true journalist, can shatter the illusion.  Lane defeats Glass one last time.  This is an effective and understandable reading of the film and its stated themes.

At the same time, I wonder if Ray is quietly commenting on the subjective nature of narrative filmmaking itself, and especially that of film narratives that are “based on a true story” or “true events.”  After all, the title of the film refers to Stephen himself, so the uttered “Steve?” and subsequent silence from Glass almost seems like a veiled admittance that the very film that contains it is itself “fabricated in part,” however small or necessary the changes may be.  In fact, one might begin to question the ethics, if any, of docudrama filmmaking, especially in how the end result of such endeavours often results in a condensed “record” that replaces (or outright creates) the public’s perception of the real incident, which may or may not have already been specially crafted by various media outlets.  It is this, Ray’s focus on a storyteller — a facts-based one by profession, but a storyteller all the same — justly condemned for his falsehoods,  that allows the film, caught in its own tension between truth and fiction, to fold back on itself.

The audience is left in a similar position to Glass’ colleagues, who chose to disbelieve the evidence of his lying because they liked him so much, except the only relationship viewers have with the film’s “heroes” is through the virtuous portrayal of Chuck Lane; Peter Sarsgaard’s acting is efficient in quickly establishing Lane as a no-BS truth-teller and allying him with the viewer, while the audience grows irritated with Glass’ shenanigans.  But like Glass’ friends, we too are placed in a position of epistemological bias, and once Lane has won the day, the viewer that is convinced of his own objective sight (established by Ray’s navigation of perspectives; by beginning with Glass as a sympathetic if somewhat irritating kid and ending with him as the king of weasels, slain by the righteous Lane) may find it hard to return to a more balanced view of these determined people, seeing both the truth-tellers and the liars in all of their humanity.

How many novels does Stephen Glass have to write before he’s redeemed and maybe even appreciated for his supposed gift for fiction making?  Can this film, with its condensed account of the events, be blamed for writing Glass’ story sort of like Glass might?  By all accounts and the assurance of involved parties, Ray’s reconstruction sounds accurate.  But it will never be perfect.  I wonder what real-world consequences have been added to Glass’ plate because this film exists and tells the story in this particular way.  And what that might mean for docudrama type films in this age; its own ability to entomb certain accounts of incidents bolstered by the all-seeing, all-remembering networks that make up our daily lives.

Bad Lieutenant (1992) Abel Ferrara

It’s a slog.  It may be one of the most rewarding slogs in it’s genre — it leads to a climax that proves genuinely affecting, depending on your tolerance for the miraculous — but that doesn’t make it any easier to watch.  Ferrera treads a fine line between exploiting the sordid situations of his anti-hero — see how far I can go with this bit of depravity! — and allowing them to shock, horrify, and browbeat the viewer into harboring absolutely no hope for the salvation of the Bad LT (Harvey Keitel).  By the time Ferrera lingers over a long heroin-shooting scene, all feelings, including revulsion, seem to have fled the picture.  For both the (resilient) viewer and the LT, only numbness remains.  For any other film, this would be the appropriate point for declaring the picture dead.  Not here, though.  This vacuum of feeling is Ferrera’s secret weapon.

It is because of that numbness that the film’s climax registers with scalpel-like accuracy, and painful intensity.  Numbness is destroyed by realization, by inner conviction, and by trickles of grace.  Ferrera plays the LT’s breakdown completely on the nose, and yet still it feels understated.  It’s difficult to evaluate Keitel’s performance on a simple “good/bad” scale; surely my generation, for whom sarcasm is a sacrament, would scoff at his animalistic moans as “overacting.”  There is a sliver of truth in that view.  And yet when he groans under his sins, I can see into the abyss with him.  I can feel the weight crushing him.  Few performances that I’ve seen have so clearly, so painfully, so poignantly expressed the world of a man who by his own reckoning (and probably most of the audience), is completely beyond hope.  A viewer who is spiritually tuned into the film will understand that there is no way to overstate the anguish of a lost soul, a realization that gives the scene and its antecedents, and the film as a whole, an overwhelming and perhaps undeserved power.  It shouldn’t be any other way.  After ninety minutes of filth, the last thing you’d expect would be an invasion of total, scandalous grace.

One Hour Photo (2002) Mark Romanek

Fine.  I was tense.  I was in suspense.  But let’s get one thing clear.  This is not Kubrickian.  This is not Hitchcockian.  What it is, is just plain sadistic, without any of the psychological depth that Kubrick would bring to the table, nor any truly thrilling formal approach that would accompany Hitch.  It’s sadistic in the sense that Romanek’s sterile visual scheme, his lingering (but not long) shots of William’s sad puppy expressions indicate to me a director more interested in toying with his strange specimen of a character than revealing him.  Well, I’m not playing.  This is porn for people who enjoy watching pathetic, awkward souls go off the deep end.  Is he or isn’t he a pedophile?  Oh look he’s watching the kid!  Look he has a hospital-clean, sparsely furnished apartment!  Psycho!

Maybe I wouldn’t be so angry about it if Romanek didn’t try to have his art-film cake and eat it too.  There are techniques used here that belong in a more humanist examination.  Take the aforementioned “lingering” takes: many shots of Williams’ somber face seem to go on a bit longer than your typical Hollywood picture, and, as they linger, seem about to invite the viewer, acclimated to briskly paced-cutting, to get comfortable and peer closer at the sight.  I think there’s a certain timetable to how observation of long shots work, which involves the viewer realizing after about thirty seconds or so that this shot is going to be longer than usual; that there must be something more to it.  At that point, the viewer’s perception of the shot resets and begins combing the image for details; the viewing effort exerted by the viewer increases in order to meet the curiously protracted shot length on its own terms.  If the viewer is game, the more active engagement rising from the “reset” helps the viewer to glean some sort of meaning, whether they project it or actually “get” some of the director’s intent.  One Hour Photo seems poised to take advantage of this technique, except the decision to linger — but not to wait (or to put it differently, to tease in an art house kind of way) — destroys any chance of the viewer getting to spend some sort of realistic, organic time with Sy; and make no mistake, in a film as sewn up in pre-ordered creepster character clichés as this — the stiff walk, huge glasses, fussy neatness, the stunted social skills, that damned empty apartment, his art-department pristine wall of photos, and on and on it goes — the only hope we have of connecting in a human-to-human sense with the man would be through a sense of having shared real time and real moments with him.

In a similar sense, I would chalk up the failure of Williams’ performance to really affect me as another casualty of Romanek denying us the time we need to get to know Sy, however blank he might be.  It’s difficult, and in this case I’d say impossible, to genuinely engage with Williams’ blankness while watching from a mental framework wherein each slightly longer-than-usual-shot is under girded with the expectation that this boring face will soon be replaced by another image anyway, so there’s little point in trying to connect with it.  I’m not convinced that Williams’ performance even has any real depth, but the stunted editing eliminates any possibility of an open-ended result, and subsequent interpretations.

So that’s what the film isn’t — actually insightful on any human or formal level — but there are nice Fincher-esque close-ups of film being developed and bright PTA-style shots of store aisles, and the overall feel of a train derailing in slow motion for the sick amusement of all us normal folk — thank heavens we’re not weird like Sy the Photo Guy!  And it is strange to see how Sy’s wall of pictures, however silly and overblown it comes off in the movie, visually anticipates Facebook, Flickr, and other digital means of sharing thousands of personal moments with entire strangers.  Sy had to steal his clients’ memories in order to put together his wall of obsession; eight years later we offer our most intimate selves freely and even assemble the collage for him.  Make of that what you will.

Eight for 2009, and Many More From Other Years

Posted in film, Lists with tags , , on December 31, 2009 by N.W. Douglas

I realized something this year: unless I am working a 9-5 job that allows me a) regular income to spend on movies and b) plenty of evenings to catch up on everything released in a year, or I’m working at a video store that includes free viewings of said releases, I don’t get to see everything, or even a good amount of everything.  At this point in my life, trying to wait until I’ve gotten a firm grasp on the majority of film releases for a year before compiling a favourites list is useless.  It’s taken me a year, but I’m finally getting around to 2008’s leftovers (turns out The Wrestler really was good).  So, this list is not comprehensive at all, and is merely a preview of the longer list I will publish in, oh, say, 2012.

As of the end of 2009, these are my eight favourite films to receive Canadian theatrical distribution.  If Letters To Father Jacob, which I saw at VIFF, had been seen in such a way, it would probably be #1 or #2.  Festival or not, it was my single favourite cinematic experience of the year.

1. Where The Wild Things Are (Spike Jonze) – Outside of my festival experience, this was the most exhilarating thing I saw in a movie theater.  Messy, difficult, dark, frustrating – all that, orchestrated to provoke one of the most extraordinary emotional climaxes I have ever seen in a Hollywood picture.  It is a masterpiece, one that is angsty but honest, uplifting but true.

2. Public Enemies (Michael Mann) – The more I think about this film – and I’ve been thinking about it a lot  – the more I’m convinced it’s Mann’s best work since The Insider. Bold and transcendent, with a powerhouse finale.  The most formally refreshing American film released this year.

3. Summer Hours (Olivier Assayas) – Masterful, refreshing, and deeply-thought provoking.  Of the films on this list, I think this one will prove to have the longest legs.  The only reason it isn’t higher is due to the emotional (and in Mann’s case, formal) sledgehammer that those two films deliver.

4. Up (Pete Doctor) – You’ve already heard it a million times, but I’ll say it one more time: the opening montage is a feat unto itself.  The rest of the movie is no slouch, either.

5. The Hurt Locker (Kathryn Bigelow) – A penetrating study of men at war, anchored by Jeremy Renner’s magnetic performance.  An intimately focused companion piece for Black Hawk Down.

6. Inglourious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino) – I’m well overdue for another look at this, but few films I’ve seen this year proved so effortlessly entertaining.  I’m not convinced the film is as morally sound as I want it to be – as I thought during the screening, I want to think that Tarantino is exposing our own culture’s bloodlust, but it’s not an open-and-shut case, hence the need for another watch – but I can’t deny that, on a formal level, this was the most satisfying of the year.

7. The Road (John Hillcoat) – There is a great film lurking outside this very good one; let’s hope for a longer cut.  My favourite male performance of the year, by Viggo Mortenson as a loving father trapped in hell on earth.

8. Moon (Duncan Jones) – For once, a story that truly surprises, envisioned with care and economy and a great performance from Sam Rockwell .  Refreshing in its use of practical special effects to support the narrative, not create the reason for it.

Not the whole deal, but worth remembering: The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call – New Orleans (Werner Herzog), District 9 (Neill Blomkamp).

Non-2009 Films I’m Glad To Have Caught Up With (in the order in which I watched them):

  • All That Heaven Allows (1955) Douglas Sirk
  • Gentleman’s Agreement (1947) Elia Kazan
  • Floating Weeds (1959) Yasujiro Ozu
  • Rachel Getting Married (2008) Jonathan Demme
  • Au Hasard Balthasar (1966) Robert Bresson
  • Miami Vice (2006) Michael Mann
  • Night and Fog (1955) Alain Resnais
  • Black Girl (1966) Ousmane Sembene
  • Overnight (2003) Tony Montana & Mark Brian Smith
  • Do The Right Thing (1989) Spike Lee
  • Strangers On A Train (1951) Alfred Hitchcock
  • O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000) Joel & Ethan Coen
  • Ace in the Hole (1951) Billy Wilder
  • Baraka (1992) Ron Fricke
  • Koyaanisqatsi (1983) Geoffrey Reggio
  • How Green Was My Valley (1941) John Ford
  • Youth of the Beast (1963) Seijun Suzuki
  • Don’t Look Now (1973) Nicholas Roeg
  • Contempt (1963) Jean-Luc Godard
  • M. Hulot’s Holiday (1953) Jacques Tati
  • The Third Man (1949) Carol Reed
  • The Virgin Spring (1960) Ingmar Bergman
  • Alphaville (1965) Jean-Luc Godard
  • Foreign Correspondent (1941) Alfred Hitchcock
  • Cloak & Dagger (1984) Richard Franklin
  • Alice (1988) Jan Svankmajer
  • Gosford Park (2001) Robert Altman
  • Faust (1994) Jan Svankmajer
  • Seven Up (1964) Paul Almond
  • 7 Plus Seven (1971) Michael Apted
  • Capturing the Friedmans (2003) Andrew Jarecki
  • The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928) Carl Theodor Dreyer
  • Man Hunt (1941) Fritz Lang
  • Elephant (2003) Gus Van Sant
  • The Rules of the Game (1939) Jean Renoir
  • The Thin Man (1934) W.S. Van Dyke
  • Babette’s Feast (1987) Gabriel Axel
  • A History of Violence (2005) David Cronenberg
  • Aguirre: The Wrath of God (1973) Werner Herzog
  • Manhattan (1979) Woody Allen
  • Mon Oncle Antoine (1971) Claude Jutra
  • Videodrome (1983) David Cronenberg
  • Grizzly Man (2005) Werner Herzog
  • Ghost Dog: Way Of The Samurai (2000) Jim Jarmusch
  • The Haunting (1963) Robert Wise
  • Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner (2001) Zacharias Kunuk
  • Silent Light (2008) Carlos Reygadas
  • Eastern Promises (2007) David Cronenberg
  • It’s A Wonderful Life (1946) Frank Capra
  • All About Eve (1950) Joseph L. Mankiewicz
  • In America (2003) Jim Sheridan
  • The Wrestler (2008) Darren Aranofsky

2010 beckons, and with it, a best of the decade list.  But shucks, I’m going to miss 09.  This was a good year.

Dispatch From The Wild(s)

Posted in Miscellaneous, News with tags , , , , , on November 22, 2009 by N.W. Douglas

After a solid two weeks of almost non-stop work on one production after another, with another 2-3 weeks left to go, I think this video accurately sums up myself and my classmates’ mental situations.  It is glorious work and I love it dearly, but sleep is the currency of this trade, and becoming accustomed to an average five hours per night has its consequences.

All of which doesn’t distract from the fact that this post is a dressed up placeholder.  Yes, CINEMA TRUTH is still kicking around out there, and I really truly can’t wait to share my currently gestating Decade series – focusing on my favourites, of course, and the major trends that I find interesting enough to write about.  And I’ve listened at least 12-15 times through the new Switchfoot album, HELLO HURRICANE, and have thoughts on this new, very very worthwhile addition to their discography.  There are other good things being planned, slowly, but I want to do right by them, so it will take a while to pop them out, fully formed and readable.

Until then, let’s spend some time answering the following question: What is one of your favourite little scenes of the decade?  What’s that one scene that no one else cares about or remembers, but makes the film for you?

I ask because tonight I was thinking about MINORITY REPORT (2002), and a wonderful scene between Tom Cruise and Lois Smith.  It’s the bit where Cruise finds out about the minority report, which should help him prove his innocence – you can hear the plot wheels grinding into a higher gear – but it’s also a great showcase for Cruise and Smith as actors, and for the dialogue by Scott Frank and Jon Cohen.  Their words have sharpness and poetry, and enchant somewhat while getting lots and lots of exposition done.  By the end of the scene, you don’t really care that it was all talk about “this history,” and “go there, do that.”  Smith is a treat, not so much chewing her dialogue as holding it on her tongue, sucking the juice out at certain intervals.  It’s one my favourite little moments in film from this decade.

I couldn’t find a video of the clip, but here’s a shot of Lois Smith as Dr. Iris Hineman, the Mother of Precrime.

The future (i.e. December) looks promising.  See you on the other side.

Video H/T: My good bud Aaron May, who doesn’t have anything I can link to, as far as I’m aware.  His regular site is down for the time being.

Review Bag III: Van Sant, Cuaron, Cronenberg, Herzog!

Posted in Reviews - Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 17, 2009 by N.W. Douglas


elephantElephant (2003) Gus Van Sant

Its first two-thirds are utterly hypnotizing and fascinating – that may be because I’m still relatively close to the high school experience, and can still relate to that age and it’s frame of mind – but even so, I think Van Sant has captured a gentle form of lightning in a bottle: the floating, aimless feeling of North American adolescent life.  PARANOID PARK explores this even more so, and effectively, but I feel like ELEPHANT does a better job of it by not being focused around one individual.  By showing its universality among students, Van Sant more strongly documents its impact on daily lives; it’s the sort of sense that doesn’t take a lot of time to sink in, but multiplies its effect each time it is presented anew.  That the film’s “climax” – and really, that’s not what it is – is where the film stumbles is curious; I found the simple exploration of high school life to be more poignant and affecting than the inevitable massacre.  And even though the massacre isn’t tacked on, it still ends up feeling like that.  Mike D’Angelo calls it pornography for the way it holds us in suspense for an hour, waiting for the promised violence, and I can agree to a point with his argument that Van Sant is shamelessly manipulating us, sometimes too cheaply, but overall I’d say it transcends those flaws and offers a potent portrait of teen malaise.  It’s first sixty minutes are masterful; it’s last twenty are merely effective.

Solo Con Tu Pareja (1991) Alfonso Cuaronsolo con tu pareja dream

It’s saucy and entertaining, which is about all you need for a functioning sex farce.  Cuaron, as always, skews deeper than the well-staged hijinks in his exploration of a man – Tomas – and his inner turmoil with his tomcat ways.  Perhaps what’s most striking is Cuaron’s collaboration with CHILDREN OF MEN cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, a partnership that in its infancy yields rich, dark images.  If this were an American film made today, it would be given the Wes Anderson originated indie look (which acts like yellow was never discovered before), or something rougher and more documentary-like (as Cuaron went with Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN).  The cuteness of that style would rob this story of its gravitas; even as Tomas runs around in this preposterous plot, his problems are magnified and given great importance on a psychological level, simply because of the contrast, saturation, and overall visual detail of each frame.  As it is, it is the best looking screwball sex comedy I’ve ever seen.

As it hurtles towards its conclusion, it starts to really touch on its thematic depth, beautifully expressed in facial hints and simple statements by Tomas, reflecting on the weight of his sins, finally admitting to his heartbroken crush, Clarisa, that “it was wrong” to sleep with all of those women, a bad habit developed like a child stepping on bugs: “You like the crunch but you don’t know why.”  There’s a real poignancy waiting to be brought to the surface, but Cuaron never quite seals the deal – instead, Tomas’ and Clarisa’s fatalism-tinged coupling, while expected, doesn’t offer the sort of closure that we seek vicariously through Tomas.  Perhaps this is because of the easy out of making Clarisa’s fiancé a cad, thus justifying her own immoral antics in movie-world logic.  Perhaps it’s because she spends time raging against bed-hoppers — a rant that draws Tomas into confessing his own randy ways — and then ignores said feelings to have a quickie with the lothario.  He needs more than more lusty sex, and while the deal gets sweetened by their marriage (a real commitment from the Tom Jones), the film ends on a surprisingly mixed note: Tomas eyes a pair of women in an airport while heading to his wife’s flight, but staying (I think) faithful.  It’s a simple acknowledgement of the effects of a reckless sexual lifestyle, the sort of fast living that leaves scars long after the original wounds are self-inflicted.

While the more dramatic elements don’t mesh as well as hoped for with the comedy, it’s not the sort of combination that destroys itself.  The drama is shaky, but the black comedy proves darkly delicious.  The two columns coexist and work within their own terms; the result is a mostly agreeable blend of spice and bitterness, undercooked just enough to disappoint.  On most levels, this is a brilliant debut, but the most important one misses the boat.

A History of Violence (2005) David Cronenberga-history-of-violence-dinner

The first scene is a stunningly precise piece of cinema, perfectly pitched (particularly in the sound design), strikingly atmospheric; full of mystery and dread, all conveyed in a simple shot of two men leaving a motel.  In its 4-5 minute running time, it puts the entirety of NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN to shame, covering similar territory in instilling horror at human evil.  These two killers are more terrifying than any Anton Chigurh; their banal, psychotic bloodletting is completely believable over Chigurh’s semantically informed murdering.  That the rest of the film doesn’t live up to this first scene’s promise isn’t a strike against it, as it’s weaker moments (particularly the high school scenes) are offset by an electrifying finale, a truly shattering and intimate moment between soul mates; we share every second, every ripple of unspoken knowledge.  These actors’ faces – Viggo Mortensen and Maria Bello – contain enough tortured life, and grace, to power ten more films.  What comes in between these two perfect scenes is compelling enough, helped along by the reliable Ed Harris, and a show-stopping William Hurt.  Not a perfect film, but maybe a masterpiece.

Aguirre, The Wrath of God (1972) Werner Herzogaguirre_monkey

I knew AGUIERRE was a great film after six minutes.  It is madness, first captured in emulsion, and then reflected back at the audience in waves of sorrow, frustration, and failure.  Herzog’s camera drinks it all in like a documentary on conquistadors.  Herzog is famous for speaking of the need for new images; AGUIERRE is like a deranged coffee table book made to fulfill that need.

Madness is the order of the day, and madmen are to be found both in front of and behind the camera.  The tone veers from dour fatalism into surrealist Pythonism, before settling on a sort of bemused observation as Aguirre chases monkeys around his festering raft.  As Aguirre, Klaus Kinski wears one expression for most of the film, and somehow contains a careening world within that visage.  It’s a film that exhilarates and saddens, for the same reason: nothing like this will ever be seen again, so strong is its ambition, so terrible are its circumstances.  There is only one Herzog.  In my mind, the closest film of comparison is APOCALYPSE NOW, but even that masterpiece takes its time to make its case.  Aguirre’s first few minutes are the descent into a world without reason, and it spends its remaining time preventing us from climbing out of that pit.  That Herzog plots such a predicament and wrestles one of the greatest films ever made out of it is indeed an achievement.

Cannes and Sad Cemeteries and Speed Racers, Oh My!

Posted in News with tags , , , , , on May 19, 2009 by N.W. Douglas

1. Cannes is in full swing, and some of the best coverage can be found via Roger Ebert and Mike D’Angelo.

2. Devan Scott and Will Ross have launched a new film blog, Sad Hill Cemetery.  Devan and I got to know each other a bit while taking a film history class this past semester, and he’s easily one of the best film conversationalists I’ve had the privilege to bandy words with.  I haven’t met Will, but I’m sure he’s a swell guy too.  Looking forward to seeing what you guys have to say!

3. Just for kicks, and to get the revival going so that my future kids and their friends will regard it as a classic: Dennis Cozzalio’s year-old essay on the Wachowski’s Speed Racer.  Even if you hated the film, it’s a brilliant read.

Ebert, Elevation, and Emotion

Posted in Miscellaneous with tags , , , , , , , on January 15, 2009 by N.W. Douglas

Roger Ebert’s latest blog post talks about the impact that a great film has on a viewer; he describes the ensuing emotional impact as Elevation, which is apparently gaining notice in the psychology community as a newly defined emotion.

This got me thinking about some of the films that have moved me into a state of Elevation.  Many films have moved me in some way, but very few have given me those rare chills you get when witnessing a work of greatness.  Even fewer have moved me to tears.  Those that have done so have earned a special place in my heart, and remain favourites of mine for all time.  Here’s a sampling:

moolaade

The Chills List:

Once – The second scene of the film, the one where Glen Hansard is playing and singing his own material.  It is one of the great long takes I have seen, capturing the raw fury and emotion of Hansard’s performance and transmitting it into a tidal wave of passion that soaks the audience in feeling.  This is the only film I’ve ever seen to make that impact in the first five minutes.

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring – Boromir’s death.  Beautifully acted and presented.

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers – You already know what it is.  The arrival of Gandalf and Eomer at Helms Deep is likely my favourite cinematic moment in the history of the medium.  This is a perfect scene, a perfect union of all of a film’s elements into one flowing, seamless, living work of beauty and glory.  It was one of the very few moments in a film that never, ever gets old.

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King – Chill moments include the charge of the Rohirrim at the Pelennor, Aragorn’s speech at the Black Gate, and yes, Sam’s “I’ll carry you!” moment on the slopes of Orodruin.

Moolaade – Near the end, when the women confront the village elders.  What a beautiful, powerful film.

Gladiator – The very last scene or two.  Definitely the crane out bit as Djimon Hounsou walks out of the Coliseum.

Casablanca – The singing of La Marseillase.  I think I cried last time I watched it, but it always gives chills.  One of the most beautiful, stirring moments in film history.

Glory – The best moment in a film full of many “best moments” – “Give ‘em hell, Fifty-Fourth!”

Batman Begins and The Dark Knight – Both films end on similar notes; Christopher Nolan’s intent seems to be send the audience out on a climax and forget the denouement.  Batman Begins ends perfectly, with Batman’s and Gordon’s wonderful exchange: Gordon: “I never got to say thank you.”  Batman: “And you’ll never have to.”  Fit that with the rising score and the film ends on bam.  The Dark Knight’s closing monologue is even better, and considering Batman’s decision at the end, involves far more bittersweet, and yet uplifting emotions than its predecessor’s conclusion.

On The Waterfront – Karl Malden’s mid-film speech in the belly of a cargo ship is as good as they come; Marlon Brando’s final effort to stand up to the brutal dockworkers union is unforgettable.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame – It’s my favourite Disney film, and a wonderful film.  Quasimodo’s rescue of Esmeralda, climaxing in the “Sanctuary!” bit, gets me every time.

Sophie Scholl: The Final Days – The courtroom inquisition is one of the more electrifying scenes of this decade.  My spine tingles every time Sophie Scholl states to her persecutors “You will soon be standing where we stand now.”

Mr. Smith Goes To Washington – The filibuster stand-off.

Chariots of Fire – The whole film is big trip, but I always get heady at the end as Eric Liddell runs his race, all of his past echoing in his mind.  Oh, and the scene where Sam Mussabini realizes that Abrams has won the gold medal.  Extraordinary.

passion_christ

The Tears List:

Braveheart: This was the very first film to make me cry, I think.  William Wallace’s dying cry looks and sounds hopelessly corny on paper, but when you add the flowing direction of the scene, Gibson’s impassioned portrayal, and most importantly, James Horner’s magnificent music, you get an extraordinary combo.  I’m almost convinced that Horner’s strings discovered a secret frequency that triggers tears automatically.  Either way, I’m a sucker for this moment every single time.  And I couldn’t be happier.

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King – The ending.  The more I experience this film, and the older I get, I am more and more appreciative of one thing involving these films: Peter Jackson and company absolutely nailed the ending.  I don’t care about all of those complaints about how it went on forever.  It’s a huge story; why would you expect it to just wrap up quickly?  No, you complainers are completely wrong and should learn how to appreciate a well-executed conclusion.  Jackson and his fellow writers gave this scene room to breathe, to live, and they nailed the tone of the scene perfectly.  It may be the single most perfect moment in the trilogy in its faithfulness to the books.  The hobbits have been through so much, and now one is departing forever, and…gosh.  The scene works because we’ve spent the time with these characters; we love them and know them and don’t want to see an end.  And yet it is this ending that is full of hope and peace and assurance that all they have struggled through was not in vain.  The mixture of joy and hope and sorrow and love mixes into a deadly concoction that reduces me to a quivering bag of uplifted feeling.  This my favourite ending to a film ever.

The Passion of the Christ – Then again, this is also my favourite ending.  Mel Gibson deserves credit for closing this two hour ordeal with a simple, curious, beautifully shot one-take where Jesus rises from his deathly slumber, takes a moment to breathe, to feel the sunlight on his face, and then rises and strides calmly out the frame.  The Passion is not complete without the Resurrection, and ending the film here sends the audience out on a note of hope and joy unparalleled by any film I’ve seen, except perhaps for Return of the King.

Blade Runner – The “Tears in Rain” speech.  There is something about the arrangement of the words, so carefully recited by Rutger Hauer, that trigger a release in me.  It happened on second viewing, the first viewing that is unencumbered by the demands of following a plot, and has continued to hit me every time.

United 93 – I don’t think I need to explain this one.

Black Hawk Down – This film hits me more and more the older I get.  On my first viewing (at age 13) it was just a very good action flick.  On second viewing (age 15) it was a complex portrayal of a deadly event.  On third and fourth and every viewing after (age 17 onward) it has become a powerful tribute to those who serve in the military.  Eversmann’s closing moment with a dead Jamie Smith is beautifully understated in such a way as to open the floodgates of elevation and feeling.

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford – Yes, it’s another ending.  Andrew Dominik’s carefully handled conclusion of this beautiful opus breeds such sorrowful emotions.  It’s a beautifully executed piece of editing and especially scoring (by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis), as it slowly but surely rises to its inevitable final frame.  It’s bittersweet and steeped in pathos, and drew tears to my eyes as I reflected upon it.

Spartacus – It’s been a few years, but I have a lingering memory of getting misty-eyed near the end of this epic.

Blood Diamond – Ed Zwick knows how to push my emotional buttons.  If he were a poor filmmaker, I would mind, but he isn’t, so I don’t.  Djimon Hounsou’s speech to his estranged son had me quietly tearing up in the theater, as does the last time we see Danny Archer, finally finding some peace and meaning in his life.

I’m going to leave the list at that for now.  What about you?  What are the films that have left their marks (the good kind) on your life and experiences?