5. High Fidelity
A film about letting go of the safe and comfortable refusal to grow up. High Fidelity tells the story of a (not quite so) young man who runs a record store in Chicago who, after a particularly nasty breakup, masochistically revisits all of the most painful breakups in his past to receive some sort of catharsis. Actually it is just an exercise in the expertise of his generation - self-pity - but the experience enables him to find some much needed humility and to garner some wisdom from his encyclopedic knowledge of music. There is a lot of sadness and a lot of joy and a lot of great tunes. The performers are great and the script is surprisingly honest and real (the protagonist is capable of hurting the people he loves a great deal – to show this is a rare thing for an American film). The film also has a note-perfect ending, showing us how what we may think is mundane and ordinary can actually be more magical and exciting than what we think are our deepest desires. Bruce Springsteen also shows up as a mystical mentor and Jack Black belts out a surprisingly soulful rendition of a Marvin Gaye tune. Great stuff.
4. Almost Famous
Another great film about the magic of music. Based on Cameron Crowe’s experience as a writer for Rolling Stone, the film tells the story of 15 year old William Miller who shanghais his way into said mag’s staff and is assigned to do a cover story on up and coming band Stillwater, an amalgam of all the classic bands Crowe interviewed and toured with in the 70’s. The film is an incredible recreation of a time and a place, the tumultuous 70’s of America, when the utopian 60’s already seemed a long time gone and rock n’ roll was selling out what was left to sell. Despite the bittersweet tone of an era passing by (much of which is voiced by the legendary music critic Lester Bangs, here played by a delightfully animated Phillip Seymour Hoffman) the film is beautiful and hopeful, a paean to all that is good and holy about music and the ways it can set us free. It also dances around a lot of other noble themes (in a good way, moving from one to the other nimbly and dexterously) such as friendship, love and staying true to oneself in the face of those horrible demons: pride, ego and the music industry. "The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you're uncool."
3. The Royal Tennenbaums
The first few minutes of this film, a perfectly edited montage introducing the titular Tennenbaum clan, form a perfect symphony of image and sound, rising towards a bizarre, hilarious and heartbreaking crescendo, exploding in a wondrous rendition of Hey Jude while a hawk named Morticai soars to the skies. It is Anderson’s way of introducing us into his world, a bizarre, timeless place that mirrors our own in ways that reveals to us great and hidden things about who we are and how funny and sad life is. This world is inhabited by miscreants and philosophers dressed in impeccable 70’s clothing, people such as the sensitive and cruel Max Fischer and the eternally lost marine biologist Steve Zissou. Of all the inhabitants of Anderson’s world the Rushmore’s are dearest to my own heart, by far. They are all brilliant and wonderful but also sad and confused, not knowing how to love one another even though this is what they want to do more than anything else. Their story is one of hilarious redemption. The pater familias, one Royal Tennenbaum (Gene Hackman, in an incredible, musical performance) thinks that he is dying so he seeks reconciliation with his family, piecing together the broken remnants of their lives with such zest and joie de vivre that one soon forgets that the man is an absolute and utter son of a bitch. The film is unorthodox and playful in more ways than I can describe here, but among the details I cherish the most is the fact that each character has a certain musical instrument accompanying them throughout the film's soundtrack (only Anderson would so shamelessly and joyusly give a nod to Peter and the Wolf).
2. Punch-Drunk Love
Writing about these films I find myself realizing that all of them are extremely musical. Some of them deal with music explicitly and others merge it into the fabric of filmmaking. P.T. Anderson does so here in a variety of ways. First of all, the film is wonderfully strange in its refusal to tell a traditional 3 act story. Instead it offers us a tapestry of emotions and thoughts expressed through the melding of image and sound. Anderson even inserts moments of abstract video art into the film that point the way towards the emotional development of the characters in a manner that no traditional movement of the plot would be able to. Additionally, the music that plays throughout the film becomes a character in itself, a reflection of the lives and love we see portrayed by Adam Sandler and Emily Watson. Sandler’s character comes upon (strangely, hilariously) a harmonium which he then tries playing a song on, failing miserably. As the film progresses the song takes shape, ultimately flowing throughout the soundtrack as the love betwen Sandler and Watson grows and flourishes and some of the darkness (hinted at in Sandler’s stupid, grotesque comedies, here unhinged and real) gives way to the light of love.
1. Hable Con Ella
One of the best films I have ever seen from this decade or any other. Almodovar is among the greatest artists of cinema and this is his masterpiece, a film of such complexity and thoughtfulness that it seems absurd to try to sum it up or convey it’s excellence in a few words. The film is about two men who both are caring for comatose women. They do this for different, complex reasons, both selfish and selfless. It is a film about finding and losing meaning, about love and pain and suffering and death. It is a film about love, about giving it and receiving it and being afraid of both. The film is both intellectual and emotional, but first and foremost it is a film that is spiritual, engaging the whole person, body mind and soul. I saw this film during a very dark period in my life and it gave me hope. It made me glad to be alive and humbled to be a human being, a condition both wonderful and absurd. It was a feeling of being accepted and wanting to accept others in their fragility and brokenness. It is a good film and a great work of art.