Every year the world is blessed with hundreds upon thousands of horrendous pieces of recorded music. The worst ones seem to sell the most and the best ones seem to be swept under the carpet and forgotten about without ever being heard. In what will follow I will attempt to pass along what I believe to be some of the best music to have been released in 1995. [rux]
- Georgia | Leaving Las Vegas (USA)
In two of the bleaker movies of the year we watch America’s best young actor, Nicolas Cage, and actress, Jennifer Jason Leigh drink and drug themself towards death. In Georgia Jennifer Jason Leigh plays the alcohalic sister of a country rock superstar playing by Mare Winningham (it been a while since St. Elmo’s Fire). Leigh stumbles through her life fired by envy and sadness mostly drinking and trying to find her own identity. Although at times difficult to watch Leigh’s performance is so convincing you almost forget she’s acting. In Mike Figgis’ Leaving Las Vegas Nick Cage plays an ex-studio exec who decides to go to Vegas to drink himself to death. Once there he meets a prostitute, played by Elisabeth Shue (its been a while since Adventures In Babysitting) who takes him in vowing not to interfere with his death wish. Ultimately these might not be movies that you necessarily “like,” by they are, noneltheless, great movies that succeed in making you feel something- and remember that’s usually the sign of a good film.
- Priest (Britain)
Priest is a movie not quite as shocking as the press made it out be, but I suppose they never really are. It is the story of a young priest, played deftly by Linus Roche, caught between his devotion to the Catholic faith and a latent homosexuality. The movie painfully depicts Roche’s struggle to find happiness, or at least complacency, in his dichotomous world. Ultimately he becomes a victim in both his private and professional worlds, chastised for being both a person and not enough of one. Although bleak and unfair, late twentieth century religions are all about compromise, and Priest helps point towards a world more accepting the fulfillment of individual needs than group stasis.
- Swimming With Sharks (USA)
Before Kevin Spacey hit it big in “Seven” and “The Usual Suspects” he made this small low budget hipster movie where he plays a cruelly patronizing Hollywood big shot. The plot follows Spacey and co-star Frank Whaley through a series of flashbacks, beginning at the end and ending at the beginning. Whaley, who plays Spacey’s human insult basket of an assistant, gets just revenge on his boss holding him hostage in his own home and torturing him like characters in Spacey’s movies has been treated. There is nothing flashy or particularly thought provoking about Sharks, but nonetheless a clever day-in-the-life story cut from the same cynical Hollywood cloth as The Player.
- To Live | Shanghai Triad (Chinese)
Filmmaker Zhang Yimou, the creative force responsible for such classics as Raise the Red Lantern, Ju Dou and Farewell My Concubine, won best picture for at Cannes in 1994 and stands a good chance to win an Oscar this year for Shanghai Triad. Although all of his films have been beautifully detailed works To Live, which covers four decades of Chinese history, is both the most accessible and interesting. Beginning with the rise of Mao after W.W.II and climaxing with the gang of four and the beginning of the cultural revolution, Yimou tells the tale of a husband and wife and their fall from royalty to poverty. Taking place over the course of seven days, Shanghai Triad tells the story of Don of a Hong gang and his bitch-from-hell mistress, played out of the past and into the present. perfectly by Gong Li (also star of To Live). The movie is seen through the eyes of a fourteen year servant, which helps allieviate much of the weight sometimes felt in Yimou’s films.
- Smoke | Blue In The Face (USA)
Director Wayne Wang and Author/screenwriter Paul Auster have teamed up to construct two of the more literary films of the year. Both films are staged around a legendary Brooklyn Cigar store run by Harvey Keitel. In Smoke, a movie about friendships primarily, William Hurt, Giancarlo Esposito, and host of characters spend their days talking and smoking as the world slowly sweeps them along. Blue In The Face was the spontaneous improvisational sibling of the Smoke project, an unscripted affair where the who’s who, from Michael J. Fox, Lou Reed and Jim Jarmusch to Madonna, Lily Tomlin, Mira Sorvino and Roseanne, show up for a little light hearted fun. Blue In The Face is like a history of Brooklyn, which, as we are to believe, is really a microcosm of America. Both movies watch like great books read.
- Shallow Grave (Scotland)
Three friends are looking to fill a vacant room in their posh Edinburgh flat. The replacement dies within a few days leaving behind a suitcase full of cash. What-to-do report the death to the police and turn over the money (I don’t think so), or keep the doe it and live hapily ever after. What follows is the how, where, when and what becomes of the body, the money and the three yuppies involved. This is a stylized thriller combining and both the gratuitous gore of 90’s Hollywood with old school Hitchcockian psychiatric decay and madness.
- Exotica (Canada)
This is a remarkably strange film about smuggling, lost love, loathing and, after a while, hope. More a puzzle than a thriller, Exotica examines the lives of six people whose lives become inextricably bound by an incident of the past. Most of the movie takes place in a pet shop and a strip joint, with an occasional flashback that provides the only clues to the mystery. A slick piece of film making driven by the fluidity of clever dialogue and artfully sparse environments, Exotica represents the kind of movie Quinten and company were hurried past having the chance to make- smart, patient and strong enough to survive without cheap shock-value violence.
- The Secret Of Roan Inish (USA)
Independent filmmaker John Sayles has been creating contemporary myths for nearly twenty years now. From “Brother From Another Planet” to “Matewan” to “Passion Fish” Sayles has been able to provide his audiences a break from the banality of life on earth. In his latest film Sayles takes us to a remote island on the coast of Ireland, where a small child had been lost years before on the day his extended family was forced to move to the mainland. In what follows the sister of the lost child, who has been sent from the city to live with her grandparents, mixes fantasy with reality in quest to find her missing brother. Lushly shot, Roan Inish is a dream painted on a large silver screen.
- Once Were Warriors (New Zealand)
It’s not often that a movie seems more real than reality, but in this devastating look at the Maori people of New Zealand, art, life and reality are spun chaotically into a prism of emothions. In what may have been the most uniformly brilliant set of individual performances, domestic violence and the destruction of ancient cultures are conveyed in a disturbingly wonderful new light. The Maori people, we can see from the movie, are strong , aesteically beautiful people marginalized by white urban culture and forced to live in a world that they didn’t choose. This is a film that makes you wonder why good people turn bad and, ultimately, who is to blame.
- Before The Rain (USA/Britain/Macedonia)
Arguably one of the finest films I have ever seen- impeccable from an acting,writing and cinemagraphic perspective. This movie tells one story cut into three separate parts. It is the story of the fall of Eastern Europe, the end of the cold war and the violence and liberation involved with beginning again. In it an award winning war photographer living in London abruptly leaves for his homeland of Macedonia to find his brother and to take part in the revolution that is taking place. The landscapes of Macedonia and London are complimented by the wonderful use of the music of Dead Can Dance to create a dauntingly surreal experience.
Braveheart, New Jersey Drive, The Usual Suspects (USA).
These films represent American cinema intended for three distinct audiences. Braveheart is the consummate hefty budget, big screen, star driven Hollywood film expected to derive huge profits in Des Moines as well as New York. Running just over three hours the movie eschews the burden of length capitalizing on a great story, the beautiful Scottish countryside and Mel Gibson’s best performance in years. New Jersey Drive is the first studio funded movie from “Laws of Gravity” director Nick Gomez. It tells the story of the desperate urban youth of Newark, New Jersey. A depressing look at a bunch of kids forced into car thievery as a means to get out of the ghetto, Gomez has discovered a cast of talented actors who inspire compassion despite their seemingly immoral actions. “The Usual Suspects” is a razor sharp con film about five criminals brought together to pull off a complicated drug heist with the Polish mob. It is a film that has the courage not to neatly answer all the questions, leaving the audience on their own to decide what they have just witnessed. Driven by an all star cast and tightly wound script, the movie thrives where many pycho-thrillers have failed offering just enough instead of way too much.