Thursday, 31 January 2013

A film that could be my favourite film #2

As I said last month, each month I'll do a post on a film that could be my favourite all time film - this way I don't have to do a list, or make an outright declaration. So for February...

12 Angry Men (dir. Sidney Lumet, 1957)

"I feel sorry for you. What it must feel like to want to pull the switch. Ever since you walked into this room, you've been acting like a self-appointed public avenger. You want to see this boy die because you personally want it, not because of the facts."

My friend Julien once said that 12 Angry Men would be one of the films he would use to introduce people to Black and White, I go further. This is one of the films I would use to introduce people to the species of man.

12 Angry Men shows, that although we can think terrible thoughts and commit atrocious acts; from time to time one man can step up and redeem us all. One man can challenge us all not to give into the pressures of others, or succumb to society’s race to the middle. It shows that if one man stands tall for honesty and justice, wonderful things can happen. In the narrative of this film it is Juror number 8 (Fonda), in the narrative of the world: it is Sidney Lumet. 

This film is a lesson for all future filmmakers in 3 things: How to transport a small-scale play onto the screen, how to explore any male-to-male relationship, and how to utilise the power of ensemble.

For a film set essentially all in one room 12 Angry Men is boldly cinematic. Lumet’s exceptional direction, combined with the dynamic editing of Carl Lerner create and build excitement, tension, emotion, claustrophobia, and heat the way a stage production could never achieve. At no time does it feel that Lumet was constricted by the size of the room, yet at no time does one escape it. The camera moves around the room the way anyone of us would if we were there. Searching for clues, studying the faces and body language of every man in the room, examining the evidence, the facts, the motives, the clews in a desperate desire for truth; or the closest we can get to truth.

I have oft remarked that one of my favorite things about 12 Angry Men is that it covers every male-to-male relationship (and basically every kind of man) there is. This achievement cannot not just be credited to Lumet but to writer Reginald Rose, and to Martin Balsam, John Fielder, Lee J. Cobb, E.G. Marshall, Jack Klugman, Edward Binns, Jack Warden, Henry Fonda, Joseph Sweeny, Ed Begley, George Voskovec, and Robert Webber. All 14 must have been hit by the same bolt of lightning, they work with such combined focus and intent. Every man in this film could exist in another movie where they were the leading protagonist, and it would be a thoroughly fascinating study. Everyone is completely fleshed out, so that no decision feels at odds with whom they are; no word or deed could be attributed to anything but an organic, truthful reaction to the word or deed just experienced. Nothing in this film exists solely to support an ‘idea’, a ‘theme’, or a ‘device’ - everything exists to support the 12 Angry Men, and that is what makes it one of the most authentic, truthful, intelligent, emotional, and beautiful films ever made.

It is a treatise on life, on humanity, and on man. Every frame, every word is worth your study - for if you were to devote a year of your life to commit this film to memory: you would be richer for it.

It could easily be my favorite film.


Sunday, 27 January 2013

Holiday Special -- Australia Day

This is the first in my new series of Holiday Special Retrospectives, and since the holiday is Australia Day, the film will be my favourite Australian films: the 2001 gem LANTANA.

Lantana, directed by Ray Lawrence and written by Andrew Bovell based on his play Speaking in Tongues, is one of the rare Australian films that possesses a truly universal feel. An odd foray into adult drama from a country so determined to bring you various shades of Muriel. Lawrence manages to tackle the intricacies of adult relationships whilst maintaining a rather thrilling mystery as its central narrative device.

Lantana like the weed it's named after weaves together a host of tangled lives - no heroes, no villians - just a group of men and women struggling to lift their heads out of the muck. Lantana is a film about our proclivity to misplace things: trust, affection, resentment, hurt, rage and the all the people who get hurt along the way because of it.

With perhaps the greatest cast assembled for an Australian film, I only wish to single out one shining light - Anthony LaPaglia as Detective Leon Zat. LaPaglia has fallen off the map in recent years, but Lantana stands as testament to his unique talent as an actor. His performance carries at once the size and weight to fill the shoes Bovell's stage creation, yet the intimacy, vulnerability, and truth to blow everyone else off the screen. The tough but repressed Aussie bloke struggling to come to terms with changes around him and demands to 'open up' emotionally is a common archetype in Australian films, but none have done it as well as Mr. LaPaglia, and sometimes I'm afraid no one will again.

Lanata is a masterpiece of tone and maturity, that cares for it's characters whilst not shielding them from the horrors of the world (a rare balance). It is my favourite Australian film, perhaps because, it is unlike so many others. You should see it, or rewatch it - and a rainy Australia Day public holiday seems like just the right time.     

Monday, 14 January 2013

5 Great characters in movies who love movies

There is some such scientific theory, that the universe will turn in on itself. I guess, I mean what do I know. But I was thinking about this is terms of movies, and the way I've decided to understand it is in terms of characters in movies who themselves love movies. The great thing about such characters is the insight they provide to the directors own love of film; and that's always beautiful - heck it's why no one plays Tarantino off at award shows.

So 5 great characters in movies who love movies:

  • Cecilia in Woody Allen's The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985) as played by Mia Farrow.
    • From my understanding of history (something I majored in) rarely has a character in a film been so moved by a member of the audience that they left the film to hang out with the audience member. But when you love film as much as Cecilia, strange things happen. The great thing about Allen and Farrow's creation is that when she meets Jeff Daniels as the actor Gil Shepherd she is more excited than when she meets the character Tom Baxter - Understanding her worship of movies and their stars as larger than life, somewhat holy creations, makes Allen and Farrow's Cecilia one of the great lovers of movies in movies.
  • Romy and Michele in David Mirkin's Romy and Michele's High School Reunion (1997) as played by Mira Sorvino and Lisa Kudrow.
    • "You know even though we've watched Pretty Woman like 36 times, I never get tired of making fun of it." Enough said.
  • Selma Jezkova in Lars Von Trier's Dancer in the Dark (2000) as played by Bjork.
    • Selma loves movies, she loves them so much she never wants them to end, and so to avoid that pain she always leaves during the second last song, so the movie can continue forever and ever. I wished Bjork's performance continued forever and ever. The tragic irony in this film is the song about the second last song, is one of the most heartbreaking things of all of film.
  • Betty Sizemore in Neil LaBute's Nurse Betty (2000) as played by Renee Zellweger.
    • Ok, technically she is so in love with a television show that when she suffers a traumatic episode she resorts into the fantasy world of that show, becoming one of the characters. But if you love something so much as to learn how to pour coffee without looking, so as not to miss a moment of Greg Kinnear's 'acting' - then you deserve to be on my list. The tragic irony of this film is that it's in the same year as Bjork's Selma, the choice of the finer performance is my traumatic episode that sends me into a fantastical world where Bjork and Renee Zellweger fight the injustices of Middle America.
  • Mickey in Woody Allen's Hannah and Her Sisters (1986) as played by Woody Allen.
    • There are very few directors who love film as much as Woody Allen, and when you love film that much you're going to have a few characters who love them also (or at least who love Ingmar Bergman). So why Mickey? Why not Alvie? Why not Isaac? Well I could say it's because Hannah and Her Sisters is my favourite Allen (and one of my very favourite films in general) and just leave it at that. However, truly, I think it's because Mickey, at the very depths of his depression, goes to see a movie. A Marx Brothers movie he's seen many times before. During which, he has a realisation that pulls him out of depression, out of the quandary of human misery and leads him back to happiness; back to warmth, laughter and the arms of a beautiful actress... and isn't that what all Allen's movies are there to do. To greet our gloomy faces at the door and say "come on in, it's warm inside."