If I were to start a Cinema Celebration Club, I would make it a requirement that upon joining, you would have to provide some proof that you actually know and appreciate film. However, before you can demand that from people, you need to prove you have it yourself, so thus I offer the categories and my selections:
1. A Modern Classic
My selection: Heat (1995)
Written and Directed by Michael Mann
Many crime dramas are one-sided, often showing either the criminal or law enforcement perspective at the expense of the other. This is not inherently a bad thing, it helps ratchet up tension as you do not know what the other side will be doing.
Michael Mann’s Heat gives a full portrayal of cop and criminal alike: their lives, philosophies, passions, and makes no apologies for anything they do; the film gives full depth to all its characters, and lets the audience into their lives. You do not necessarily sympathize with the criminals for their professional plights, but you sympathize with them for their personal ones, even if they originate from their lives of crime. The cops are depicted as being professional, efficient, and quite able, matching the criminals in intellect and capability. The end result is a confrontation between the two leads, played by Robert De Niro and Al Pacino, which is where unstoppable force meets unmovable object.
With a run time just under three hours, Heat does not disappoint. It is worth every second of screen time, something that cannot be said for some films which hold to under two hours.
2. A Classic Classic
My selection: Citizen Kane
Okay, this is an easy one; all you have to do is look at any respected critics’ top all-time list, and you will see this one near, or at, the top spot.
However, this is not a film you see on TV that much, and for many in my generation, it is something you hear about a lot, but not that many have seen. What we have seen is the impact the film had. The cinematography of the film changed how Hollywood shot movies, bringing the style of deep focus into vogue. The storytelling was brilliant, the characters were iconic, the dialogue was great (sometimes showing how no dialogue can say just as much as the best dialogue), and while it didn’t invent the twist ending, its use of it in this film makes the movie.
Citizen Kane was the high water mark of the career of Orson Welles, which is not to say he didn’t have successes later on. His career, which many have said mirrored that of the title character Charles Foster Kane, was not the greatest that Hollywood has seen, but that makes Citizen Kane even more of an incredible achievement
3. An Esoteric Classic
My selection: Solaris (1972)
Two and a half decades before the Soderbergh-Clooney adaptation of the Stanislaw Lem novel, the film was made into a science fiction classic by, wait for it, the Soviet Union. Directed and co-written by Andrei Tarkovsky, who would go on to a successful career with the USSR before defecting to the West and making a few films in Italy, the film, asks the questions over what constitutes life, the nature of reality, as well as whether or not you truly can go home again, after an experience shakes you to your core.
Solaris ignored the astrobiological aspects of the source novel, focusing more on the relationships between the characters, something the author really didn’t like too much. (He complained when the 2002 film did the same thing.) I think that the film is great, though, because it focuses on the relationships, and beyond that, the forced nature of the relationships: none of the characters would deal with any of the other ones, except that the circumstances of the story make them.
Solaris is a very slow moving, and very long film: at nearly three hours in length, you have to watch it with a certain mindset. It is very cerebral, and is best suited to those cinephiles who like to think about the movies they watch, and debate what those films mean. The images Tarkovsky puts on the screen are designed to make you think, and the words you hear (or read, if you don’t speak Russian) compel you to expand your mind.
4. A Guilty Pleasure
My Selection: The Expendables
If you’re looking for film that should have won an Oscar, try another film. If you’re looking for a film that is mindless, not too deep, and really entertaining, then you’ve found a perfect match.
Featuring an ensemble cast of action stars from three different decades, The Expendables has a simple plot with not too many subplots, but has enough sense to ensure that the action scenes are not gratuitous, well not entirely anyway. The character development is not that great, rather you get to know these guys and grow to like them, or hate them; because it’s an action blockbuster the good guys are great and the bad guys are evil, and that’s the way it should be.
The film is great, though, because it really is entertaining. Stallone has some great zingers playing off of Jason Statham and Jet Li, and the rest of the cast has some great lines too. The humor, although simple, is not too coarse, which in this day and age is a real relief. Furthermore, it avoids parody of old school action blockbusters, and making a parody of itself, which is a nice touch too.
5. A Film You Need to Before You Die
My selection: sex, lies, and videotape
The film that pushed Steven Soderbergh into Hollywood’s cross hairs, sex, lies, and videotape, which he wrote and directed, is an amusing character study into the private lives of four individuals whose lives intersect with incredible consequences for each of them.
One of those films where all the elements are in their right places, the resulting synergy drives the film, letting us see the characters, while letting us judge for ourselves who is right and who is wrong. No one character is above reproach, and ultimately we find out things about them we wouldn’t have imagined.
sex, lies, and videotape also increased interest in independent films, setting the stage for big releases of independent films such as Frida and Garden State down the line.
6. A Notable Filmmaker
My selection: Michael Bay
Michael Bay is not going to be winning any Academy Awards, unless Hell freezes over. However, he is my selection because he has mastered the art of the guilty pleasure movie, resulting in a ton of films that have had incredible box office success, even if they lacked critical acclaim.
The dialogue in his films is sloppy, coarse, fowl, and otherwise pretty nasty at times, but once you are fully aware of that, it can, at times, be more of an appeal than a turnoff. Perhaps the best example of Michael Bay’s style is Transformers, which has the right mix of all the elements he puts into his films, to be just right.
This is not to say that he has had the perfect career (i.e. Pearl Harbor), but who has? Michael Bay is great at working his magic with an array of actors and acting styles, has shown he can deal with big names, and doesn’t take any b.s. from anybody. (He also swears worse than a Texas truck driver, but you have to be a special features nut to find that out.)