Freelance Culture Writer
|La Vie d'Adèle Chapitres 1 et 2
|Touching the Void
|Withnail & I
|Walking and Talking
|All the President's Men
|Alan J. Pakula
The Fugitive is perfect, right down to the fact that it is both a film, in the loftiest sense of the term, and a movie, in terms of its popcorn sensibility (and the fact that, from the jump, no one had any faith in this remake of a television show about a doctor on the run after being wrongfully convicted of his wife’s murder, a character played here by the believably commanding and encumbered Harrison Ford). But Andrew Davis is the thinking woman's action director and did his own vivisecting, cutting out all the fat to make a streamlined caper - everything from the music to the cinematography is shot through with urgency - but with enough grounding in real sets and stunts (limp Ford’s own) and banter-y charisma by master improviser Tommy Lee Jones and his team of U.S. marshals. Stopping is a threat, so this character-driven adult thrill ride never relents, double dutching the runaway and the marshal on his tail in an ever-evolving two-step. Even if the world were not about to end, this chocolate donut with sprinkles on top is too much of a high to pass up.
La Vie d'Adèle Chapitres 1 et 2
The controversy around Abdellatif Kechiche's tactics aside, I consider this film, like Cannes did, to belong as much to its lead actresses, Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos, as it does to him. Together they make this film about one girl's first lesbian relationship as lived in as a documentary with the verité flourishes of the best in European cinema. By casting to type, Kechiche allowed the sinews of reality to thread through and strengthen this fictional love story – the unknown Exarchopoulos’ own less privileged background informed the working class Adèle, whose simple goals and behavioral excesses – how she eats, how she cries, how she has sex – contrast with the delicate pretensions embodied by the haute class Seydoux (of the Pathé dynasty) as ambitious artist Emma who always seems to be looking for something more. This film is a snapshot of love-adjacent lust that transcends class, gender, and ultimately compatibility. That Tunisia-born Kechiche has Adèle briefly bonding with an Arab actor is no mistake since the only place she is equal to Emma is in the bedroom. If I have to wait forever for the follow up to this epic novelistic coming of age classic I will.
Perhaps the fact that Roman Polanski made this film in part while under house arrest is the reason it’s got the aesthetic of a sprawling grey prison, but this is one example where his (self-imposed) misfortune is the work’s gain. Let's start with the foreboding horn music and the angry stormy sea that forms the backdrop of this thriller about a struggling British PM (Pierce Brosnan) holed up in Martha’s Vineyard, whose last ghost writer died in mysterious circumstances. He recruits a best-selling hack played by the relentlessly functional Ewan McGregor who is installed in the brutalist modernity of the playboy politician’s home as he attempts to retool his autobiography within a deadline that makes no sense. With the PM’s scowling windswept wife (Olivia Williams) seemingly on his side, ghost writer 2.0 uncovers the mystery of how his predecessor died. The absolute cool elegance of this film – the slate look, the frosty wit, the tight turns of the cast – makes it the funeral you have always wanted to attend, so when it turns out not so great for the hero, you expect nothing more.
Touching the Void
Kevin Macdonald’s 2003 docudrama based on Joe Simpson’s book about the climb that nearly ended his life is perfect for two reasons: its detail and its economy. These two qualities would seem to be at odds except that the Scottish filmmaker expertly passes over the exposition – in under two minutes the narrative is set up, in under 20 minutes the two climbers are already at the peak of the Siula Grande – in order to indulge in the granularity of what it feels like to nearly die at the top of a mountain and then to try and save yourself when you should be dead. The touch, the taste, the sound, what you can and can’t see (all of which is fictionalized as well as narrated) make this film a sensory exercise that Macdonald pulled off by interviewing both Simpson and his climbing partner Simon Yates for 20 hours each. You are watching these men, but also feeling and thinking as them. Because of that, as I said in my review, Touching the Void itself can be considered an extreme sport.
Withnail & I
No movie on earth makes me laugh more than this one. And, considering the nostalgia it is now loaded with, no movie on earth ever will. This is perhaps the wittiest script ever written, paired with the ideal mouthpieces, Richard E. Grant as the “trained actor reduced to the stakes of a bum,” and Paul McGann – filmmaker Bruce Robinson’s alter ego – as his beautiful and slightly less whingey roommate. Some could argue this film is so incredibly British as to be alienating, from the "perfumed ponce" threat of a drunken barfly to the "beastly mud and oomska" of the Lake District where the duo flee to rejuvenate (Withnail: "Rejuvenate? I'm in a park and I’m practically dead.") This is Grant's film, it made him, but Richard Griffiths, who plays Withnail’s closeted uncle, is the one who will have you creasing as the embodiment of sexual innuendo. Despite its humour, Withnail and I’s sense of time and place – “Shat on by Tories, shovelled up by Labour” - make a Hamlet monologue perfectly placed in the midst of all the laughter to mark the tragic end of an era.
Walking and Talking
If I were to make a movie, it would be this one. This is a meandering somewhat plotless study of a female relationship that stretches back to childhood and becomes strained by one of the women's engagement. Catherine Keener and Anne Heche have perfect chemistry together and with Nicole Holofcener's direction. A formative film for young women.
One of the least contrived of Andrea Arnold's features, likely because it is her first, this Dogme 95 entry is invitingly naturalistic in both its filmmaking and its focus on a CCTV operator (Kate Dickie) who captures on camera the recently released convict (Tony Curran) who years ago killed her husband and child. Her invasion into his working class existence is more true to who Arnold is as a filmmaker than her subsequent films that seem to bask in proletarian landscapes.
This could be construed merely as the gay British Before Sunrise, if it weren't for Andrew Haigh's ethereal touch.
Isabelle Huppert and Paul Verhoeven somehow overcame a language barrier to create the lushest thriller ever made in which a woman manages to submit her rapist, the man who overpowered her, to ultimately empower her.
All the President's Men
No journalist doesn't love this movie.
This list says a lot more about me than it does about the state of film -- the fact that I am an introvert, that I grew up with British psychiatrists for parents and a family that likes to laugh, that we travelled often through Europe, that my high school was sporty, that I have overly close female friendships, that I studied journalism, and that I like to read crime stories. Out of all of this comes my preference for taut thrillers (The Fugitive, The Ghost Writer, Elle), my penchant for meandering character studies, particularly European ones, particularly queer ones (Blue Is the Warmest Colour, Walking and Talking, Weekend), my affection for outdoor survival stories (Touching the Void) and the mechanics of journalism (All the President's Men), not to mention, more specifically, my love for female introverts who are stuck (Red Road) and a kind of timelessly shaggy cruel wit (Withnail and I). These are the films I watch over and over because these are the films that in various ways made me.