Friday, February 03, 2006
Top 10: Robert Altman
One of the more disheartening sights in Academy Awards history occured when Ron Howard won Best Director for A Beautiful Mind and the telecast cut to David Lynch and Robert Altman in the audience muttering to one another and laughing. The Oscars will give an honorary award to Altman this year, perhaps realizing that the 80-year-old director might die soon (Lynch, still in his fifties, will have to wait a while). But Altman's career has transcended awards; he's one of the rare directors who has drastically altered cinema as we know it. Here are his ten best films, sure to be represented in brief clips during the telecast. Let's hope he shows up stoned.
1. Nashville - An American masterpiece - this multi-character, sprawling musical epic follows a country music festival in the titular city. Hilarious, insightful, and ultimately devastating.
2. Popeye - Audiences were put off by this dense, chaotic attempt to recreate the early E.C. Segar version of the sailor man. One of the first comic adaptations to really get it.
3. McCabe and Mrs. Miller - Perhaps my favorite western. Features great performances by Warren Beatty and Julie Christie, breathtaking cinematography by Vilmos Zsigmond, and a haunting Leonard Cohen score.
4. 3 Women - I've written a capsule review for this one in Samurai Dreams, but it's an impossible film to contain in words. One of the most elusive, rewarding films ever, in a class with Persona and Mulholland Drive, with outstanding performances by Shelley Duvall and Sissy Spacek.
5. Short Cuts - A criminally underrated movie; everyone should see it. This collection of interconnected stories by Raymond Carver works on many different levels, veering between comedy and tragedy, and every moment rings true.
6. Images - In the same vein as 3 Women, with Suzannah York as a woman lost between dreams and reality. Haunting and visually striking, with an unforgettable score by John Williams and Stomu Yamashta.
7. The Long Goodbye - Does to the detective story what McCabe did for the western, casting Elliot Gould as a laid-back Phillip Marlowe. It's The Big Lebowski twenty-five years before The Big Lebowski. Damn cat.
8. Gosford Park - The one that lost to A Beautiful Mind. A British murder mystery where the mystery is almost beside the point. Challenging, but ultimately rewarding.
9. The Player - A caustic adaptation of Michael Tolkin's novel about a studio exec (Tim Robbins) who gets away with murder. A bitter pill to swallow; features Julia Roberts' best performance.
10. Brewster McCloud - Much better than M*A*S*H* (released the same year to bigger success), this downright crazy fairy tale features Bud Cort as a young serial killer who lives inside the Astrodome, building wings so that he might fly. A modern Icarus tale - strange, hilarious, and enchanting.