The 1996 film Fargo, a Coen Brothers masterwork, presents the story and precipitous moral/psychological decline of Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy), the misadventures of the bungling kidnappers (Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare) whose “help” he enlists, and the dogged attempts of Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand) to make sense of it all. Macy’s performance is mind-boggling, Buscemi and Stormare are brilliant, and McDormand carried away an Oscar for her finely-nuanced portrayal. Carter Burwell composed the memorable theme.
This offbeat, rather twisted Western presents the intertwined stories of Tom Logan (Jack Nicholson) and his good-hearted, somewhat hapless rustling gang, and Lee Clayton (Marlon Brando), a so-called “regulator” (hired killer) whose job it is to identify and curtail the activities of Logan, et al. As the film progresses, an ever-increasing sense of dread and disquiet permeate the proceedings, as it becomes clearer all the time that the eccentric Clayton is a ruthless, sadistic sociopath, who relishes his deadly machinations and depraved exploits. The bounty hunter’s bewildering array of accents and disguises also merits mentioning.
Arthur Penn directed this cult masterpiece, and allowed the actors, especially Brando, to find their own way with the characters, including improvising much of the dialogue. Idiosyncratically paced, this oddball absurdist comedy/western thriller deconstructs the genre to beautiful effect, and Marlon Brando’s incomprehensibly stunning performance ultimately defines and lifts the film to the very heights.
The serial predator and killer Martin Vanger appears in both the American and Swedish iterations of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. He is equally disquieting in both. Peter Haber portrays Vanger in the 2009 Swedish release, and Stellan Skarsgård does the honors for the 2011 American film. Both performances are brilliant, and chilling. Haber’s portrayal is earnest and volatile, while Skarsgård is more haughty, detached, dispassionate. Both work perfectly.
The Wicker Man, an extraordinary, curious, classic cult film, debuted in 1973 and has only gained in popularity since. The movie stars Christopher Lee, Edward Woodward, Britt Ekland, Ingrid Pitt, and a host of locals from the small Scottish towns where it was filmed. So many memorable moments. Lee’s playful yet imposing rendering of Lord Summerisle is the sine qua non of this iconic motion picture.
The 1987 film Withnail and I, written and directed by Bruce Robinson, and starring Richard E. Grant, Paul McGann, and Richard Griffiths, has come to be recognized as one of the great achievements of British film-making. Originally considered a “cult” movie, this poignant and amazingly humorous film is so very memorable. This happened to be Grant’s first film, as well, putting him firmly on the map of such things.
The extraordinary film Manhunter, filmed in 1986, features auteur-like vision by director Michael Mann, and memorable performances by Tom Noonan, Brian Cox, and William Petersen. Based on the novel Red Dragon by Thomas Harris, Manhunter possesses an eerie noir-ness, focuses often on the similarities between hunter and hunted, and resonates powerfully to this day.
A select gathering of film composers, and their compositions. Bernard Herrmann, Eric Serra, Daniel Licht, The Handsome Family, David Shire, Carter Burwell, and Ennio Morricone.
Joaquin Phoenix, who won the Oscar for best actor, and Billie Eilish, who performed a subdued, poignant, and haunting version of Paul McCartney’s “Yesterday”, were two of the vastly gifted artists amongst the assemblage at the 2020 Academy Awards ceremony.
A tour de force by titans of the silver screen: Leslie Howard, Humphrey Bogart, and Bette Davis. Mr. Howard insisted that a relatively unknown Bogart be cast for the role of iconic outlaw Duke Mantee; it became the actor’s first big breakthrough. Mantee, a Dillenger-like desperado, sets new elite standards for an obsession with people sitting down. Howard’s character, a down and out man of letters, provides the philosophical dimension. His interactions with the imposing Mantee are some of the greatest exchanges in film history.