This film revolutionized the concept of the cop-and-robber motif in filmmaking. Added to that, this film proved that an action/thriller could be tremendously entertaining while still having an intelligent script and career-building acting. Arguably, Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro both give one of the best performances of their collective careers. This was written/directed by the underrated Michael Mann, whose precise construction of the film has continued to inspire others to mimic it, such as 2008’s Batman film The Dark Knight.
Roman Polanski’s detective film is unlike any other in that its slow moving plot captures one’s attention and stays with you long after the conclusion of the film. Jack Nicholson is tremendous as the private detective who is initially hired to follow a suspected adulterer, and instead uncovers corruption and murder involving the city’s water supply. This film won’t fail to disappoint with its unexpected plot twists and the bizarre situations of deception that occur throughout.
Perhaps one of the most hilarious satires about the political system ever made. Robert DeNiro is hired by the President’s inner circle to solve a scandal about to break to the public that will most definitely destroy his reelection in the next two weeks. Enter Dustin Hoffman as the Hollywood producer hired to concoct and manipulate the impression that the United States is about to enter in a war with Albania, all for the sake of deflecting the media until after the President is re-elected. The film is hilarious, but also functions as a commentary of the political system, Hollywood, and how the American people are gullible enough to believe anything that comes through the media.
When it comes to being versed in classic film repertoire, one cannot say they are without having seen Sunset Blvd. Gloria Swanson is extraordinary as Norma Desmond, the reclusive former silent film actress who believes she is still a star and admired by all. William Holden is additionally tremendous as the penniless writer who agrees to write Norma her “comeback picture,” but instead is drawn into a world of obsession and manipulation. This film is not only practically untouched by the test of time, but still has some of film’s most famous quotations. If you’ve heard the quote, “Okay Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up,” and aren’t aware of the source, you ought to watch Sunset Blvd.
This film is a true gem that seemingly nobody is aware of, which is unfortunate considering this film has more heart than most films I have ever come across. The movie is very independent, and the simplicity of the film makes this more glaring, but it is through that simplicity that this film is able to touch your heart to some capacity. Katie Holmes stars as April Burns who is attempting to make a Thanksgiving dinner for the first time for her family. This is especially important to her since this dinner is aimed to redeem herself from her troubled past and be an opportunity to connect with her mother (Patricia Clarkson) who has cancer. However in her efforts to prepare this dinner, she learns her stove is broken and she is left with relying on the kindness of strangers to help her before her family arrives from Pennsylvania. Much of the heart of this film goes to Holmes, but also Patricia Clarkson, whose performance is stellar and proof that a capable actor can do so much with so little. Clarkson’s subtle yet impressive acting is reason enough to see this film at least once.
I will not deny this is one of my favorite films and for just reason. In my opinion, every component of Michael Clayton is superior filmmaking. The direction, acting, script, editing, score, all complement each other in a phenomenal corporate fraud film. George Clooney stars as Michael Clayton, a “fixer” for a major law firm who is entrusted to solve a situation between their head litigator (Tom Wilkinson) who has suffered a mental breakdown. In the process of cleaning this situation, Clayton becomes privy of severe corporate fraud and begins to question if he is on the right path, not just with what he does but with his life as a whole. Michael Clayton‘s highly intelligent script and sharp direction was writer/director Tony Gilroy’s film debut, which is astounding given the level of maturity the film has. More astounding is how Gilroy was able to pull career-defining performances from George Clooney, Tom Wilkinson and Tilda Swinton, who won an Oscar for her performance.
Framed as a satire, but functioning more as a commentary of news agencies, Network is a film that exposes the manipulation of the news media and how their focus is not upon legitimate news broadcasting, but about relaying sensational news that would garner them higher ratings. The main premise of the film begins when newscaster Howard Beale (Peter Finch) suffers a mental breakdown and announces on live television that he plans to kill himself. Despite the bad press that results and Beale clearly needing counseling, Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway), a producer obsessed with ratings and who believes “hysterical shows” are what the American people want, compels the agency to not only keep Beale on the air, but give him his own variety show. The brilliance of Network falls in that despite its ludicrous plot, there is an element of plausibility in that a television agency would stoop to such a level for mere ratings. To an extent, Network did predict that television would eventually resort to “hysterical” shows for ratings when major networks began specializing in “reality shows” in the early 2000s that encouraged situational drama. More importantly, Network still has relevance today by providing a commentary of how television agencies will do anything for the sake of a good rating.
Most people associate Judi Dench as being a kindly matron and aren’t aware of her detestable and loathsome performance in Notes on a Scandal. She stars as Barbara Covett, a bitter high school teacher who takes an interest in the school’s new art teacher, Sheba (Cate Blanchett.) What borders on obsession and having lesbian undertones, Barbara links herself to Sheba to a sickening degree, labeling it as “friendship.” It is not until she learns that Sheba has been engaging in a sexual affair with a 15 year old student that Barbara uses the situation to her advantage to manipulate the friendship into something more and ultimately control Sheba. Judi Dench is mortifying as her character, who finds solace in her actions and lacks any form of empathy. The performance hinges of a sociopathic profile in contrast to Blanchett’s equally brilliant performance as an ordinary person whose mistakes have put her in a position to hurt all those around her. Notes on a Scandal may make your stomach turn, but it is a nightmare you can’t avert your eyes from.
Achieving the American dream is what Working Girl represents and it couldn’t be a more satisfying film to watch. This feel-good comedy introduced so many themes to cinema that it shouldn’t ever be ignored. Melanie Griffith stars as Tess McGill, a secretary who wants to become something in the world. After her grossly arrogant boss (Sigourney Weaver) is injured during a skiing trip, Tess learns that her boss has stolen a corporate merger idea from her and is posing it as her own. Taking the opportunity that her boss is not nearby, Tess decides to pose as her own boss and reclaim her idea. She teams with Jack Trainer (Harrison Ford), an established investment broker, and together they push her idea into reality. This works well until the unexpected happens… her boss returns. The message Working Girl offers is something special: fight for your dreams and do not let anyone trample on them. Fight for them no matter what. Griffith’s performance mirrors that and her attitude of not letting someone demean her is both empowering and admirable. Additionally worth mentioning is that Sigourney Weaver’s performance originated the “boss from hell” motif that is very prevalent in today’s mainstream film and television, but even still today her performance stands above all others that have tried.
Before he was known as Frank Underwood in House of Cards, Kevin Spacey was known as Lester Burnham in American Beauty. His performance in American Beauty was so iconic that it nearly ruined his career after his Oscar win (the 2nd in his career) for this performance. Lester Burnham is having a midlife crisis. His wife (Annette Bening) and daughter do not respect him and he works at job that he hates. This all changes when he meets his daughter’s friend and immediately lusts after her. As a result, Lester changes his entire routine for the sake of impressing this girl, which disrupts the normal flow of everyone around him, especially for his wife who is a control-freak. American Beauty is undoubtedly my favorite film due to the fact it is the perfect combination of comedy and drama, and Alan Ball’s incredible script truly satirizes the quiet desperation of the suburbia life. Kevin Spacey is beyond brilliant in the lead role for not only being capable of making viewers not see him as a pervert, but also allowing them to grow a bond with Lester and love him. Without giving much else away, I can only say that if you haven’t seen American Beauty, you ought to change that status very soon.