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The Grahammy's 90/90
Volume 4, Number 3
Wednesday, December 22, 1999

"Kinda like MTV 1515 on Mad Dog 20/20 but not really"

Well, here goes nuthin'. This is mighty long so I'll keep the intros down to a minimum and let the work stand on its own. On your mark, get set, GO!

(PART III of III, Top Ten)

"The Shawshank Redemption" (`94, Frank Darabont) - Probably the feel-good movie of the decade. It's hard to describe the feeling that watching this film brings out in me. Something having to do with the whole triumph of the human spirit thing makes me go all willy nilly. Fact of the matter is that even though "The Green Mile" is a direct offspring of this movie, nothing can take away the glory and beauty of Darabont's motion picture directorial debut. The friendship between Tim Robbins' Andy Dufresne and Morgan Freeman's Red is one for the ages, a friendship that spans race, religion, and decades of time in the slammer. Darabont doesn't shy away from the brutality of prison life; it's the carnality of the Darwinistic subculture of jail that draws Andy and Red together and forever forges their bond.

"Kicking & Screaming" (`95, Noah Baumbach) - Otis, is that a pajama top you're wearing? From out of nowhere came this deft tale of the swirling emotions one faces when entering what is likely one of the more traumatic periods of any person's life. The period when you leave the friendly, womb-like confines of college and enter the quote-unquote "real world" is fraught with fear, self-doubt, and incredible personal turbulence. The best way to combat these symptoms is, of course, to sleep with those younger than you and to smoke and drink endlessly, all the while pretending you're still in undergrad. But seriously, what this film accomplishes remarkably well is spotlighting the how a group of friends (each representative of an identifiable personality type) makes this adjustment in life, love, and responsibility. And it's funny, too! Cougars!

"Hoop Dreams" (`94, Steve James) - Proof positive that there are far greater and more resonant stories occuring every day out in the real world than there are being created in Hollywood. A team of documentary filmmakers led by Steve James spent over five years following the progress of two rising basketball stars with seemingly disparate career trajectories. From the summer hoops camps of eighth grade to the Chicago City Championships during their senior year, the crew caught on film a tale with jam packed with an overwhelming amount of adversity and emotion. William Gates (not that Bill Gates) and Arthur Agee both conquered the odds in their own unique way and, as I was noting before, Hollywood could not have written a better script.

"Jerry Maguire" (`96, Cameron Crowe) - Once (and if) you can get past the fact that this movie stars Tom Cruise, once (and if) you can get past the annoying catchphrases ("Show me the money", "Help me help you"), and once you get past the sheer bulk of Jonathan Lipnicki's pre-pubescent head, you'll be quick to realize that what's staring you in the face is nothing short of the `90s version of Arthur Miller's "Death of A Salesman." Cruise's portrayal of a man whose moral epiphany sends him teetering towards the edge of sanity is remarkable, especially considering the level of dreck he's been associated with throughout his career. Crowe's direction and screenplay is confident and assured, as he precariously walks the fine line of great drama and melodrama. The performances are incredible across the board (especially Regina King as Rod Tidwell's wife and the always spectacular Bonnie Hunt), and the movie gets better and better with each viewing. The movie is perhaps best summed up by a quote made by a copy clerk at the Kinko's where Jerry Maguire's prophetic mission statement is made: "That's how you become great, man. By hanging your balls out there."

"Bad Lieutenant" (`92, Abel Ferrara) - If Michael Mann has the corner on guy movies, then Abel Ferrara is the low-life pimp trying to muscle in on his territory with a Tec-9. He's ambitious, he plays dirty, and won't stop pestering you until you finally give up. This 1992 masterpiece revolves around Harvey Keitel's career-defining portrait of the film's title character, who the viewer knows only as "Lieutenant." As the movie's tagline states, he's a gambler, a thief, a junkie, a killer, and a cop. He's a man who has lost his moral center, knows it, but is unable (note: NOT unwilling) to admit his sins. Rife with religious overtones and Catholic symbolism, he attempts to find salvation and redemption by tracking down a pair of local hoodlums whose latest brutal attack involves the rape of a local nun. The story is dark and depressing, and not for the feint of heart. The film's NC-17 rating is earned and then some. But then again, so is this film's place in the Top 10 Films of the `90s.

"LA Confidential" (`97, Curtis Hanson) - Devil Dog James Ellroy's pomo-noir (patent pending, call my attorneys) novels are some of the finest books I've ever read. I never thought I'd see one make it on screen in a form that matched the intensity his novels' tone and mood, let alone one directed by an "auteur" responsible for shite such as "The River Wild" and "Losin' It". But boy was I wrong. Every ounce of intrigue, deception, and attitude is up on screen in this film that just plain oozes style. With classic characters with classic names like Buzz Meeks, Ed Exley, Bud Fox, and Jack Vincennes cavorting about, this movie out noirs the greats like "Chinatown." Russell Crowe's standout performance as the rogue tough guy/police lackey/crusading defender of battered women Bud Fox signaled fine things to come (such as his dynamite turn in this winter's "The Insider"). The colors and sound of this movie are especially worth noting; after you buy "The Matrix", this is the second film you should pick-up for your new DVD player.

"The Thin Red Line" (`98, "Terry" Malick) - Everyone has heard the term "Ahead Of Their Time." I think Terrence Malick is the complete opposite, but in the best possible sense. He thinks and writes and directs in some sort of time warp -- that time warp being the hey-day of American film, the late 1970s. While the best known directors of that day have slipped from the top of their respective games (Coppola's "Jack", Spielberg's "Lost World", Lucas' "Phantom Menace", anyone remember Bogdanovich's "Storyville"???), Malick came back in 1998 better than ever. "The Thin Red Line" is an opus that was destined not to be appreciated, or probably even understood. Malick's story, loosely based on the James Jones novel of the same name, is anything but a war movie in the ilk of the vastly overrated "Saving Private Ryan." Malick's film is a meditation on heaven and earth, nature and man, war and peace. If this sounds unbelievably pretentious, it just may be. But it is undeniably the most unique, thought-provoking, and thoughted film in years. The cinematography is unparalleled, the battle scenes ominous and intense, the score both moody and tense, the acting is superb. In particular, Jim Caviezel's Private Witt and Sean Penn's Seargeant Welsh stand out, but the real star of the film is the mood and thoughts Malick's direction conjures up. Every shot was meticulously constructed, as if Malick had spent the last twenty years envisioning every frame. Where "Saving Private Ryan" left the viewer shell-shocked (initially covering up the heavily cliched tactics of the film), "The Thin Red Line" leaves you physically wrought and mentally drained. Best. Ed. Note: Grahammy Award (tm) Winning Film, 1999.

"Pulp Fiction" (`94, Quentin Tarantino) - My brother said it best. Hence, I will quote. "Remember the first time you saw 'Pulp Fiction'? How 5 minutes into it were you looking forward to seeing it again?" While it may not necessarily be grammatically correct, it perfectly summarizes the feelings of euphoria that Mr. Tarantino delivered with this wallop of cinematic adrenaline. When the title credits come up on the screen backed by the rip-roaring riffs of Dick Dale's "Misirlou", you instantly knew that what you were seeing was special. I'm talkin' the freshest dialogue, the coolest characters, the looped-out fuck with your head time structure, everything just clicked perfectly. I'm talkin' Kahuna Burgers, Ezekial 25:17, the wallet that says "Bad Muthafucka", the SUITCASE!, Jackrabbit Slim's, "Girl, You'll Be A Woman Soon", Pumpkin and Honey Bunny, the golden watch, The Gimp, "your ass goes down in the fifth", Winston Wolf, that bandaid on the back of Marsellus' head, "I'm the foot fuckin' masta!", Red Apple cigarettes, the Bat-tusi, everything. For my money, my fave installment is the Vincent Vega/Mia Wallace segment. For better or worse, it made a movie star (again) out of John Travolta. Fuck "Grease" and "Saturday Night Fever", he has never been better than he was during these 45 minutes or so. He was cool, charming, charismatic, and completely classic. Anyway, remember how classic the camera-work was when they went to Jackrabbit Slim's? Damned if you didn't feel like you hadn't just shot horse with Travolta...Not to mention the way your heart rate jacked to like 390 bpm when Vincent was about to jam that big-ass needle straight into Mia's heart to save her from ODing. Not to take anything away from the other segments, they rocked, too. And props must go out to Samuel L. AND Ving Rhames. Their roles were so stellar and so money that they'll forever be associated with the characters Jules and Marsellus Wallace. Sure this movie was claimed and captured by Frat Boys everywhere (could you go to any frat house in `95 and not see a "Pulp" poster of some variety? Don't think so), but it doesn't deny the sheer power and pleasure of this movie. It doesn't matter if he never climbs to these cinematic heights again, Tarantino made his mark in a big way.

"Goodfellas" (`90, Martin Scorsese) - I just love it how the best movies always get dissed when Oscar Time rolls up. Somehow Forrest Fargin' Gump beat out "Shawshank", "Quiz Show" , "Four Weddings And A Funeral" AND "Pulp Fiction" for the best picture of 1994 (as Stu Sandler deftly notes, the best year for movies since 1941). "The English Patient" beat "Fargo" and "Jerry Maguire" in `96. But the greatest injustice of all-time was easily when Kevin Costner's drawn-out "Dances With Wolves" (Tatonka!) trumped Scorsese's "Goodfellas" in 1990. Scorsese went out and made the definitive Mob movie, but the PC climate of the time didn't allow it a chance when the Best Picture Award rolled around. The Academy fumbled on what was a revolutionary film that transcended just about every boundary about what a movie could and should be. It was a coming-of-age story, a buddy pic, a love story, a drug epic, a Mob masterpiece, a portrait of paranoia, a conspiracy thriller, an historical document, and a retro homage -- all at the same time. Scorsese molded and shaped Nicolas Pileggi's dynamite novel/screenplay into a film that, literally, only he could make. He crafted a brilliant performance from a marginal actor like Ray Liotta ("KAREN!"), and long-time Scorsese associates DeNiro and Pesci reunited on-screen to terrific results. There isn't a flawed scene or awkward moment anywhere in the film. And technically the film is second only to "Citizen Kane." You want examples? Try telling me that the colors and the sets weren't pitch perfect. How about the way the camera frenetically moves about when Henry is all coked out? And of course there is the single greatest shot of the `90s, the steadicam-masterpiece when Henry and Karen go to the Copa for the first time...best ever. "Goodfellas" is also endlessly quotable - do you know anyone who doesn't know the Joe Pesci "Clown" scene? Scorsese's best film (yes, I said best) is beyond comparison. It probably should be the best film of the decade, but it ends up an extremely close second to...
(drum roll please)

"Boogie Nights" (`97, Paul Thomas Anderson) - "I like simple pleasures, like butter in my ass, lollipops in my mouth. That's just me." When I sat down just over 10 weeks ago and started to put this list together, I wanted there to be some general criteria I judged the films on. There are of course your basic pre-reqs like the overall quality of the acting, direction, script, etc. There were other factors like technical skill, the way music was used, and an the overall highly subjective "cool" factor. But what the final judgement came down to was one simple question...Does the movie get better with each viewing? And that being said, PT Anderson's "Boogie Nights" just keeps getting better and better. I've probably seen this film 15 times and I'm still picking up new quotes and noticing new "little" things and picking up on character subtleties each time I press PLAY. The film is far from flawless, but I gotsta give credit where credit is due. Sure, Fincher is probably a better technical director, Tarantino has a better grasp on dialogue, Cameron does action better, and Malick definitely puts together more beautiful shots. That's not to say that PT is on the same page as that hack Kevin Smith, not in the least. Where Anderson excels is in the realm of being a Visionary. He thinks on a scale far grander and more ambitious than any other director working today. He takes the best elements of all the great directors and swirls their characteristics and tendencies around until what you've got is completely and totally PT Anderson. From the dizzying opening shot of the film (which is an homage to Scorsese's aforementioned Copa shot from "Goodfellas") to the closing shot of Dirk Diggler's 13-inch "donkey dick", what you've got on display is pure talent. Not the least of which is the skill Anderson has at bringing out the best in his ensemble cast. In Altman's "Short Cuts", you felt like there were definitely strands of characters he left hanging. Not so here. From Luis Guzman to John C. Reilly to Philip Baker Best Ever to Julianne Moore to William H. Macy to Heather Graham to Don Cheadle to Philip Seymour Hoffman to BURT MUTHAFUCKIN REYNOLDS (!!!)...Anderson coaxes career performances from all. And that doesn't even mention the performance of "Marky" Mark Wahlberg, who's Dirk Diggler is easily the Breakout Performance Of The `90s. His Dirk is needy, starved for attention/affection, ego-driven, drugged out, on the rise, washed up, seeking redemption, seeking cocaine, seeking a record contract, and most of all, seeking love and acceptance. His lack of any Oscar props is a joke. I could talk for hours and hours about certain scenes from this movie (the pool party, the 1980 New Years Party where it all starts sliding downhill, the scene @ Rahad Jackson's with the exploding firecrackers and drug deal gone awry, and of course, the climactic three-way scene where Dirk's, Rollergirl's, and Buck's fates all collide off Santa Ana boulevard). I could talk about the way that the music and the visuals and the dialogue all come together perfectly. I could talk about characters unmentioned so far (The Colonel, Todd Parker, Dirk's mom, etc.). I could talk quotes ("Okay, now you're talking above my head. I don't know all of this industry jargon, YP, MP. All I know is that I can't get a record contract, we cannot get a record contract unless we take those tapes to the record company. And granted, the tapes themselves are a uh um oh, you own them, alright, but the magic that is on those tapes. That fucking heart and soul that we put onto those tapes, that is ours and you don't own that!"; "What can you expect when you're on top? You know? It's like Napoleon. When he was the king, you know, people were just constantly trying to conquer him, you know, in the Roman Empire. So, it's history repeating itself all over again"; "I got a feeling that behind those jeans is something wonderful just waiting to get out"). But I'll let this statement stand on its own. Grahammy Award for Best Film Of The `90s.

FRIDAY: Top 45 Singles of The `90s

See you then...
Same Bat Time, Same Bat Channel.