We take this opportunity as 2018 draws to a conclusion to honor and remember a few of the important figures that the film world lost this year. This small space can not possibly encapsulate the tremendous impact of these losses nor can we begin to craft an exhaustive look at the many people who contributed to film who sadly passed away in 2018, but we hope that this brief retrospective will serve as a respectful tribute to a few of the figures who are no longer with us.
The Hot Rock (1972)
By Kevin Jones
The Hot Rock is a heist film through and through. It is a film in which a group of characters come together to pull a job, but with a twist. Due to a litany of issues in stealing a sacred African stone from a museum, they wind up having to steal it multiple times from multiple locations. In the hands of a lesser writer, this premise could become tiring. Yet, in the hands of William Goldman, The Hot Rock never hits such a rut. In large part, this is due to the small touches Goldman adds to either the heist planning or the heist itself. As an example, a few of the men meet with their benefactor on a park bench to discuss salary. As they do, an old woman walks up and sits in between them, happily feeding the birds and carrying on a conversation with the birds. It is a small touch, but emblematic of the very natural way in which the film unfolds.
The characters Goldman creates are real people. They have real issues arise and Goldman never shies away from embracing these. His tight approach to the heists themselves, skipping elongated scenes of planning in favor of jumping right into the heist benefits the film greatly. Not only do the heists present surprises due to the audience being left in the dark, but it leaves Goldman room for those small touches. A casual conversation about a character’s issue with gastritis in the midst of a heist only further adds to this charm or natural bits of comedic wit only further add to this charm. While Goldman writes terrific heist scenes, as with any of the best heist films, The Hot Rock’s charm lies in its characters and this is something Goldman excels in with this film being a prime example of this skill.
Don’t Look Now (1973)
By Kevin Jones
Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now is a brutal watch. For any parent, it may very well be something unwatchable as it centers on the death of a child. The scene of Donald Sutherland racing out to grab his daughter after she just drowned outside their home is something one cannot erase from their mind. It is the source of Don’t Look Now’s supernatural thrills throughout, focusing in on his fractured psyche and immense grief that haunt him even as he goes on a work trip to Venice. It is a deeply affecting film, one that starts off with a gut punch of an opening only to then build from that point a truly creepy and often terrifying horror film. Balancing a variety of themes and tones while working in smart symbolism, Don’t Look Now’s success is a testament to Roeg’s skill as a director.
It brims with his attention to detail, while being artistically daring. Roeg pushes the envelope in editing, using a fractured editing style that both mirrors his protagonist’s mental state and further drops the audience into this world of confusion where reality and fiction are blurred. A controversial sex scene – that also uses this fractured editing style – further emphasized Roeg’s willingness to take chances in his films. He trusted the audience immensely and, even if they were not willing to go along with him, he was going anyway, if only to satisfy his own artistic urges. It is these risks and these original touches that define Don’t Look Now, while defining Roeg as both a director and a cinematographer. There are some directors whose style is so distinctive that it stands out immediately when one watches a film by them. Roeg is one such filmmaker with Don’t Look Now standing as one of his finest accomplishments as a unique blend of grief, suspense, doom, and absolute terror.
By Alex Sitaras
Even before watching Ragtime, you can tell it is a film of grand scope. With a runtime of over two and a half hours, an ensemble cast that never seems to end, a story based on both history and fiction, marvel and fatigue, Ragtime is an American epic only paralleled by the likes of Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia. Ragtime takes place at the turn of the 20th century and is set primarily within New York City, New Rochelle, and Atlantic City. Based on the E.L. Doctorow novel, Ragtime tells interwoven stories that place historical figures such as Harry Houdini (Jeffrey DeMunn) and Evelyn Nesbit (Elizabeth McGovern) amidst ordinary families and, most notably, the ragtime pianist Coalhouse Walker Jr. (Howard E. Rollins, Jr.). Themes of immigration, technology, love, spectacle, and racism are central to Miloš Forman’s Ragtime (not to mention the early 20th century itself), though the story ultimately becomes a tragedy and a reflection on a time in American history, despite occurring approximately a century ago, that lingers with us and remains strongly pertinent today.
Paris, Texas (1984)
By Matt Schlee
Wim Wenders‘ beautifully muted drama Paris, Texas lost two of its most important contributors in star Harry Dean Stanton and cinematographer Robby Müller. Stanton has a prolific acting resume with a handful of great staring roles amidst a plethora of standout secondary roles. However, I’m not sure that any performance in either category matched his honest, tender, and at times strange portrayal of Travis Henderson on a quest to reconcile his relationships with his ex-wife and his young son.
Müller’s cinematography in Paris, Texas is subtle but is perhaps his most spectacular. The final interaction between Travis and Jane (Nastassja Kinski) is among the most beautifully shot and choreographed scenes in Wenders’ career, and likely in all of cinema. The use of reflective glass to divide the former lovers and the clever way that Müller allows each of them to not only confront the other, but to confront themselves in a literal, physical manner embodies the introspective nature of the film.
Full Metal Jacket (1987)
By Matt Schlee
The success and reputation of Full Metal Jacket can be attributed almost as much to R. Lee Emery‘s performance as Gunnery Sergeant Hartman as to Stanley Kubrick himself. Emery’s portrayal of the angry and tight laced drill sergeant is inspired by the actor’s own military service. The performance is the most memorable aspect of the film and is possibly the most referenced of Emery’s long career.
In large part, Emery’s portrayal of Hartman is the largest contributor to Full Metal Jacket‘s reputation as an uneven film. The departure of the character at the movie’s midway point is a genuine disappointment given Emery’s unique enthusiasm and authenticity. It’s hard to conceive of a montage of military movie moments that doesn’t include Emery’s largely improvised string of insults, and his severe demeanor matches the greats like George C. Scott‘s portrayal of General Patton.
The Princess Bride (1987)
By George Morris
William Goldman is not only one of the funniest writers to ever work in Hollywood, he’s also one of his own harshest critics. Scathingly ruthless when it came to his own work, he once stated that he can only ever stand to re-read two pieces of his own work – Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and The Princess Bride novel. The latter of which he translated to a screenplay for Rob Reiner’s instant classic fantasy comedy adventure.
I was ushered into the world of The Princess Bride embarrassingly late, afraid that I had passed the threshold of age where the film would charm me as I was already in my teens. But how wrong I was. Goldman’s dry, razor-sharp wit litters the film with more jokes than you can keep count. His characters are endlessly quotable, his story is timeless, and it’s a film that’s firmly rooted in the zeitgeist of every film fan ever since. Though I’d argue the novel is able to fully capture Goldman’s original story (as well as countless more jokes), this film will make him timeless in the minds of the children who grow up with Westley, Buttercup, Fezzik and Inigo Montoya. If you think otherwise, it’s inconceivable.
Boogie Nights (1997)
By Ben McDonald
Paul Thomas Anderson has made a living writing deeply flawed characters into his films, from the temper tantrum-prone Barry Egan in Punch-Drunk Love to the disgustingly greedy Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood. But perhaps no character from Anderson’s early work is more charismatically complex than the late Burt Reynolds as Jack Horner in his 70s porn epic Boogie Nights.
Despite Reynolds’ retrospective distaste for his role as an ambitious porn director, he delivered a wonderfully understated performance that absolutely makes the film the endearing success that it is. Jack Horner is introduced to us at the very start of Boogie Nights as a sleazeball, one who recruits barely legal teenagers to work in the booming porn industry of 1970s California. And yet, though he is certainly an unscrupulous character, he’s also a courteous professional with artistic aspirations too grand for something so elementary and juvenile as pornography. He is constantly pushing the boundaries in his “movies”, and grudgingly resists the shift from film to videotape as an attack on his artistic integrity.
Indeed, there’s an air of tragedy looming over him the whole film; one senses that if not for some past failure or lack of self-confidence, Horner would be working in Hollywood as a true auteur making real art. Instead, he’s directing pornography, and his “work” will ultimately only be consumed as mindless erotic entertainment. Burt Reynolds’ presence as this proud, broken man is felt at all times throughout the film, and his magical ability to bring such a social outcast to life as a real person deserving of empathy and pity is simply astounding.
Man on the Moon (1999)
By George Morris
Miloš Forman’s Andy Kaufman biopic may be seen as mostly a showcase for Jim Carrey’s portrayal of the entertainer, but it’s important to remember all the backstage drama going on (as seen in the documentary Jim and Andy: The Great Beyond). Forman was not only able to reign in and accommodate Carrey’s tenacious and sometimes-frustrating behaviour as he ‘channeled’ Kaufman, but provided the solid building block for the film’s verisimilitude. He brought his grounded visual style to a man who often seemed to be from another world, something that embedded him in truth.
It’s a mostly thankless job, especially in the case of Man on the Moon, but he famously knows how to treat his actors. Much like his work on One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, it’s his confidence within the production that allows such performers to thrive in his environment, and it’s a talent that’s often more effective than many of the flashier directorial styles of today.
Dancer in the Dark (2000)
By Ben McDonald
Robby Müller’s cinematography on Dancer in the Dark couldn’t be further from the sweeping majesty and quiet intimacy in Paris, Texas, yet it is just as functionally necessary for the film’s devastating effect. Operating loosely under the rules of Dogme 95- a cinematic movement started by Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg that emphasized natural lighting and handheld camerawork- Müller crafted a startlingly raw look for von Trier’s Palme d’Or-winning musical. Working in equal parts with Björk’s brilliantly vulnerable performance as a blind immigrant, Müller’s cinematography often resembles a home video, so uncompromisingly claustrophobic in its realistic gaze that the experience of watching it becomes utterly unbearable in some of its especially stomach-churning moments.
Somehow, Dancer in the Dark is a musical, shifting occasionally into the fantasy of song as a means for Selma to escape the horrors of her life. The abruptness with which the cinematography switches from naturalism to musical number becomes more and more heartbreaking as Selma’s urgency for the escapism of music increases. Müller’s gilded lighting and camerawork in these scenes work to emphasize both the necessity of Selma’s daydreaming and also to deconstruct the uncanny artifice of musicals in general. Though Björk is often justly credited with much of the film’s emotional impact, the visceral gut-punch of enduring it simply wouldn’t exist without Robby Müller’s shrewd visual eye.