Change Your Image
Upload An Image
Crop And Save
Joe Versus the Volcano (1990)
An Under-appreciated Delight
For many people, the fact that I love this movie will throw the integrity of everything else I write about into doubt. "Joe" has unfairly become an industry joke, shorthand for the depths to which Tom Hanks sank before redeeming himself with Academy Awards. This fate is horribly undeserved. "Joe" is an imaginative and gloriously life-affirming movie, a hysterically funny fantasy nearly on a par with the best of Terry Gilliam with a "carpe diem" moral that comes across with a lot more honesty and a lot less preachiness than some other movies I could mention. Every Tom Hanks performance is virtually flawless and this one ranks near the top. Meg Ryan's performances are warm and hilarious. Usually it's men who play more than one role in a movie and then it's more often for ego's sake than art's. Ryan pulls off her multiple characters with remarkable grace. More amazingly, it makes perfect sense for her to play three characters. For the sake of argument, I am willing to concede that there are those who just aren't going to enjoy this movie's unique mixture of whimsy and genuine emotion. But for me, it's a classic, easily one of my favorite movies of the decade.
L.A. Confidential (1997)
This Movie Chews Souls
James Ellroy is without question writer of the decade. As the man himself has said, his books are all masterpieces. They are literary time bombs, volumes densely packed with characters real and imagined, horizons as broad as the American coastline and as focused as the view from your bedroom window, looking in. And words, words, words. Ellroy gets off on words. The rhythm, the sound, the look, the texture, the meanings. So we should be thankful that the movie version of one of his best novels isn't simply a huge disaster. It should be enough that it's a watchable film and let it go at that. But watching L.A. Confidential again, a strange and unexpected thing happens: it actually improves. The first time through, all the Ellroy fan can do is compare it to the book and come away satisfied with this, disappointed with that. After that, you can disassociate the movie from the book and appreciate it for what the cast and crew have accomplished, not for what they borrowed from the author. Hanson demonstrates a cinematic eye (and ear, for that matter) that remained well hidden in the popular, pedestrian thrillers he made his name with. The script by Hanson and Brian Helgeland has been justly praised for its Herculean task of concentrating Ellroy's sprawling prose into a focused narrative without watering it down. But it deserves kudos simply as a model screenplay, regardless of the source material. The plot is serpentine, with more important characters to keep track of than any ten films. It is always presented clearly and, even more importantly, engagingly. Never do they resort to plot-explaining monologues and the few flashbacks are subtle and necessary. The ensemble cast disappears within their roles, perfectly embodying the very specific attitude that was Los Angeles in the 1950's. Even in movie reviews when the film came out, most of the praise for L.A. Confidential's success went to James Ellroy. But this is more than just a great adaptation, it's a great movie. And, as always, that's off the record, on the Q.T., and very hush hush.
Barton Fink (1991)
The Second Best Film Of The Decade
In the space of ten years, Joel and Ethan Coen have become the most distinctive and original American filmmakers working today. Barton Fink remains the love-it-or-hate-it litmus test by which you can accurately gauge an individual's tolerance for the Coens. Some complain that it is a pretentiously arty misfire with an excitement level on a par with watching bark peel. Others are so thrown by the mid-film plot twist that they cannot recover whatever enjoyment they may have received from the first half. I think it's an endlessly fascinating movie with one of the most densely layered and complex screenplays of the decade. As we've come to expect from the Coens', the cinematography by Roger Deakins is stunning. Barton Fink is rich, witty, intelligent, and deeply disturbing. It is also the Coen brothers' best film to date.