Tuesday, March 30, 2010


Martin Scorsese has often been called our greatest living director. Surprisingly enough, he didn't receive an Oscar until "The Departed" (2006)--not nearly his greatest film. This year he's back with Leonardo DiCaprio in a creepy mystery set in an old insane asylum, "Shutter Island." Scorsese is a master whether the Academy recognizes it or not, and while many people associate him with crime movies he has directed landmark films in other areas as well, such as "Raging Bull," the best film of the 1980s, and "The Last Waltz" (1978), perhaps the greatest concert movie ever made. Recently, baby boomers were treated to two excellent film biographies, "No Direction Home: Bob Dylan" (2005) and "Shine a Light" (2008) about the Rolling Stones. Scorsese continues to be a fan as well as filmmaker, and has made two documentaries about film, "A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese The American Movies" (1995) and "My Voyage to Italy" (1999), and worked to restore classic American films on celluloid for the American Film Institute.

The work of Martin Scorsese is discussed by cast and crew, as well as Marty himself, in this interesting documentary. (This is part one; the rest can be found here)

Quentin Tarantino, the video store wunderkind who shot his way into out psyche with his encyclopedic knowledge of film--and his special love for cheesy, grindhouse popcorn flicks--first grabbed us with two nearly perfect crime movies that remixed everything up to that point, "Reservoir Dogs" (1992) and "Pulp Fiction" (1994). The incendiary mixture of violence and black humor was nothing knew (see Arthur Penn's 1967 film "Bonnie and Clyde" ) but this cheeky remix of elements and chronology made us check our preconceptions at the door. Tarantino recently directed, "Inglourious Basterds," a goofy violent flick that owes plenty to the drive-in war movies of my youth such as "The Dirty Dozen" and "Kelly's Heroes." Too soon to play fast and loose with WWII history? This cartoony adventure story will test the patience of people expecting "Schindler's List" or some other somber evocation, but those willing to go along for the ride will find much to admire about the storytelling, including a masterful set piece at the beginning when a farmer suspected of harboring Jews is questioned by SS Colonel Hans Landa, played with snakelike authority by Christoff Waltz, who won an Oscar for his trouble. By the way, the film received eight Oscar nominations. Love it or hate it, it's pure Tarantino.

Tarantino picks his top twenty films since 1992, the year he started directing. He loves some cheesy movies, all right, and some great ones. How many of Quentin's picks have you seen?

Kathryn Bigelow won the Best Director Oscar this year for "The Hurt Locker," a war film about a team of men who defuse bombs in Iraq. Like Scorsese and Tarantino, Bigelow directs violent, fast-cut films with lots of explosions. She directed "Point Break" and "Blue Steel" before directing the new film, which is a thrill ride with the tension expertly ratcheted up, but ultimately unsatisfying, another explosion-filled war movie that lacks context and politics. Even so, it allowed Academy voters to vote for an Iraq movie, and they gave it six Oscars. Not to be a party pooper, we'll admit the film succeeds at building suspense, but those looking for the final word on this war will need to look elsewhere. Remember it wasn't until the Vietnam war had ended that films began dealing with the unpleasant reality of that conflict (albeit a stylized reality) with films such as "Coming Home" (1978), "The Deer Hunter" (1978), "Apocalypse Now" (1979) and "Platoon" (1986). Before that, Vietnam was represented by John Wayne in the gung-ho "The Green Berets" (1968), in which the sun famously sets in the east and the politics were equally out of kilter. Just like the Pentagon, the filmmakers basically superimposed a World War II movie onto the new conflict, and fought the last war over again with equally disastrous results.

Kathryn Bigelow discusses "The Hurt Locker."

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