December 2009 - Posts
The end of the decade is here and so are our top 10 lists of the 2000s. These are completely subjective lists with little or no science behind our decisions. We also have many blind spots, especially films from late 2009.
Listen to the discussion.
10. Far from Heaven, 2002
09. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, 2002
08. The Royal Tenenbaums, 2001
07. Kill Bill Vol. 1, 2003
06. The Departed, 2006
05. United 93, 2006
04. Inglourious Basterds, 2009
03. In the Mood for Love, 2000
02. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, 2004
01. No Country for Old Men, 2008
10. The Dark Knight, 2008
09. The Hurt Locker, 2009
08. No Country for Old Men, 2008
07. Adaptation., 2002
06. The Incredibles, 2004
05. Children of Men, 2006
04. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, 2004
03. Brick, 2005
02. The Royal Tenenbaums, 2001
01. The Forty Year Old Virgin, 2005
Spending most of the 1960s working as a director of television shows, Richard Sarafian got his start in feature films as the decade closed. He continued to work in TV and movies for years. His last directing credit is listed in 1990, but he has acted in such films as Bugsy, Bulworth, and Masked and Anonymous. Although he made a couple westerns in the 70s with the likes of Richard Harris and Burt Reynolds, the high point of his career has to be directing the cult classic Vanishing Point.
The movie opens with a car chase. The police are pursuing a 1970 Dodge Challenger. When the driver sees a road block, he turns around and drives off road to elude the three squad cars chasing him. Out in the desert he pauses to think and then takes off again toward the roadblock. As the car hurtles toward it, the action freezes and the car disappears. It is Sunday at 10:02.
Flashback to the previous Friday to learn that Kowalski (Barry Newman) is a driver for Argo's Car Delivery in Denver. His assignment is to get the white Challenger to San Francisco. It doesn't have to be there until Monday, but Kowalksi insists on leaving immediately. To help him stay awake, he buys drugs from a friend whom he bets he will have the car in San Francisco by 3 o'clock the following day.
While still in Colorado two motorcycle cops try to pull him over for speeding. This begins a series of police chases across four states. Along the way we meet a succession of strange people. including hippies, bikers, snake handlers, a strange Pentecostal group, hitchhikers and one strange girl. The whole thing is being broadcast by kindred spirit, Super Soul. He is a blind DJ in Nevada who cheers Kowalski on while seemingly hearing and seeing his reactions as he talks to him over the airwaves.
Needless to say, this is a trippy film. It is an amazing "car chase movie," featuring some of the best scenes the genre has to offer. The cinematography is outstanding by John A. Alonzo. Combining the counter-culture elements from 1971 with the muscle-car theme is pretty interesting. It can get a little strange philosophically, but you'll never say it is boring. When you finally catch up with the opening of the movie, you are in for an explosive finish.
If you want to read a short interview with Mr. Sarafian about the film, click here (includes spoilers).
The disc was released in 2004. It is in widescreen and the sound is Dolby Digital 2.0. Extras include a director's commentary, trailer and the famous deleted scene with Charlotte Rampling as a hitchhiker. A Blu Ray version was released in 2009.
I had never heard of this cult film until watching Death Proof by Quentin Tarantino. Vanishing Point is overtly referenced and a similar car becomes a central part of the plot. A film that has similarly amazing car chase sequences is John Frankenheimer's Ronin. And another road film with existentialist themes would be 1991's Thelma and Louise by Ridley Scott.
Since the time of this writing I have watched the trailer four times. I don't know how I'm going to make it to May 7.
Check it out.
Born in New York City, Bob Rafelson was the son of a hat manufacturer and the nephew of a screenwriter and playwright. His interests fell more in line with his uncle's. His first major accomplishment was the creation of The Monkees in the mid-1960s, a TV show about a fictional band - that actually produced some popular singles - with producing partner Bert Schneider. His first work as a film director was on the experimental Monkees vehicle Head, co-written by Jack Nicholson. The two of them would work together over thirty years. The major film of his career is 1970's Five Easy Pieces, which garnered five Academy Award nominations. Mr. Rafelson's anti-establishment interest was again evident in his followup, The King of Marvin Gardens.
The movie begins with a man sitting in the dark. David Staebler (Jack Nicholson) begins telling us a story. As he speaks, we are lead to believe the tragedy he unfolds is personal, but then a red light begins to flash. David is in a radio studio and the clock informs us that it is nearly 3AM, and he is being made aware of a phone call.
David is a late night DJ who unfolds his stories over the airwaves instead of on the printed page. He lives in Philadelphia with his failing grandfather. The call is from his older brother, Jason (Bruce Dern), who becons him to Atlantic City, New Jersey with his most recent get-rich-quick scheme. David is met at the train station by Sally (Ellen Burstyn), an aging beauty who's barely stable, and a brass band. Jason doesn't come himself because he's in jail and needs bailed out. David finds himself swept up in his brother's life involving two women, his longshot dream of a Hawaiian resort, and the mob.
The movie is mostly somber as the story unfolds of two brothers who love each other while being complete opposites. One reckless and carefree and the other quiet and content to live his life through his stories. The actors are amazing. Nicholson's performance is probably the most understated of his career. His little reaction to a marching band coming down the boardwalk is priceless. That it takes place in a once glorious Atlantic City is pure genius. Seeing the impressive waterfront architecture of the dying city behind Dern as he bubbles with optimism is achingly meaningful. The film isn't without humor and the quirky situations help keep it from being too bogged down with melancholy. The film was co-written by Jacob Brackman who speaks about it here. A mixture of laughter and sadness, it definitely delivers to the very end.
The disc was released in 2000. The option of watching in widescreen or full screen is available and the audio is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono. There are no special features.
There is a similar sort of downbeat humor in Wes Anderson's Bottle Rocket
. Two brothers with different takes on life try to figure it out in one of my favorites, Big Night
. A recent quirky film that features a brother relationship at its heart is The Brothers Bloom