Starring Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, John Lithgow, Vincent Cassell
Funny. Clever. Unforgettable.
After maybe a few dozen viewings in my life, watching Shrek will never be fresh again. No matter how long I go without seeing it, as soon as it’s on, I will know it line for line. It’s hard to recapture the feeling of when I first saw it in theaters, and was so blown away by how funny it was, but Shrek remains a wonderful movie. So well-written, animated (though somewhat diluted by time), and performed, with iconic voice work from its stars. The best spoofs to me are ones that poke fun at their genre, but also tell a great story within that genre (Scream, The Incredibles, The Princess Bride). That’s definitely the case with Shrek. The adventures of Shrek (Myers), the ogre, Donkey (Murphy), and Princess Fiona (Diaz) still make me smile.
-Walter Tyrone Howard-
Starring Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, Danny Devito, Kim Basinger, David Strathairn, James Cromwell
Potent. Dazzling. Masterful.
Curtis Hanson’s 1997 film, based on James Ellroy’s novel, has many elements usually found in a bad adaptation: bastardized plot, watered-down themes (especially the racist qualities of the protagonists), and a cast that veers rather strongly from their original character descriptions , including an Australian and a New Zealander playing American cops in key roles. It’s a credit to the filmmakers, or truly everyone involved- the writers, the cinematographer, the stars, composer Jerry Goldsmith, who did the terrific score-that instead of feeling like a hack adaptation, L.A Confidential feels like a perfect movie; perfectly paced, perfectly performed, and perfectly filmed. Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe, and Guy Pearce play three disparate cops, at odds mostly, who all get swept up from different angles into a massive crime plot involving prostitution, police corruption, heroin, and Mickey Cohen. Kim Basinger merges two Hollywood clichés (hooker with the heart of gold and the classic femme fatale) in her role as Lynn Bracken, but makes the part vital, and reminds us why we like the clichés. The plot, as it is, seems as complex and mystifying as any ever portrayed on screen, and remembering that it’s working with maybe a third of the book begs the question of how I ever seemed to understand the book. In any case, those tough choices, the decision to go for Ellroy’s spirit rather than exact faithfullness, were judicious, and the resulting film is a major triumph.
-Walter Tyrone Howard-
Starring Barry Fitzgerald, Walter Huston, June Duprez, Louis Hayward, Roland Young, Richard Haydn, Judith Anderson, Mischa Auer
Clever. Stylish. Witty.
Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None was a dark, terrifying murder mystery set on a remote island, and possibly one of the earliest precursors to the modern slasher. In her novel, eight strangers and a married couple meet, all with criminal secrets, for what was supposed to be fun and games, but turns out to be psychotic retribution, as one among them is a killer, picking off the others one by one. This 1945 adaptation, due to restrictive production codes, couldn’t match its source’s ferocity, so instead, it provides a witty, stylish, and entertaining thriller, light on scares, but full of suspense. By going with all character actors, the film lets you know that any one can die over the course of the movie, whereas a movie star would have to survive until at least the end. Breaking the fourth wall with the character introductions was just one of director, Rene Clair’s numerous wonderful touches.
-Walter Tyrone Howard-
One of my favorite short films, Paperman tells a romantic story of a listless company man who meets his dream girl through a chance encounter. Separated before he can make a move, he later sees her across the street from his office building, and uses paper airplanes to try and reach her. The black-and-white animation is magnificent and integrated perfectly within the story. The triumphant idea is executed perfectly by Disney.
Starring Winona Ryder, Susan Sarandon, Kirsten Dunst, Gabriel Byrne, Christian Bale, Trini Alvarado, Claire Danes, Eric Stoltz, Mary Wickes
Adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s classic, and probably the best adaptation, though there’s been several. The story of Jo March (Ryder) and her sisters, Meg, Beth, and Amy unfolds; their trials and moments of happiness detailed as the years pass. It’s simply a wonderful movie made from a wonderful book. We come to care for each distinct character, but especially the heroine, Jo. This adaptation boasts lavish visuals and a beautiful score. It also captures the joy and sadness of life’s constant passing as the March family perseveres.
Starring Bruce Willis, Haley Joel Osment, Toni Collette, Donnie Wahlberg, Olivia Williams
After a horrific episode with a former patient, child psychologist, Malcolm Crowe (Willis) seeks redemption in helping a young boy, Cole (Joel Osment) with dark secrets. Meanwhile, his work takes its toll on his marriage as he grows distant from his wife (Williams). Everything about this ghost story is perfectly calculated. The performances, from Willis to Collette to Joel Osment and down to Wahlberg are essential for this film to work. The twist ending, which you probably know by now, or should, works because it’s not necessary. The film would have been good without it, the final meeting between Malcolm and Cole supplied enough closure to leave the audience satisfied, so when the real ending hits, we’re shocked, and the movie becomes great.
Based on a story by Hans Christian Andersen (how many great Disney films has he inspired?), this short follows a young orphan girl as she looks to sell matches from her box for money to live on. Later that night, having not sold any, she strikes up all the matches to find their warmth replay the best memories of her life, and she’s able to sink off in to a world of fantasy as life leaves her body. This is an incredibly sad story, all the more so since it eschews the traditional Disney fairy tale ending. It’s beautifully animated, and moving. The perfect short.