Things You *Must* See! Part II
by Jay Scott
So if anyone read the list last week on FTTW, you know I am suggesting films that everyone should see if they even want to consider a career in the film industry. The films I have suggested are for one reason or another, valuable lessons in the craft of both storytelling and filmmaking. These films are great for so many reasons, and while some may be on every must see list in the world, some are not. Take these as you will, but like I said, I am only suggesting them. Look people. Do what you want. You won't regret seeing these if you are open to learning something. If your some obtuse blockhead who thinks the “artsy fartsy” bullshit is all that matters, then enjoy not making it in the industry.
Yeah, we all wanna believe its art. Guess what, its not. It’s a business, and very, very, very lucrative one. Sometimes films come along and wow us. Other times films show us just what the word meaningful is about, and on that rare occasion, a film will take us on an unforgettable journey that reaches inside some place we keep hidden and move us. I only suggest seeing the films I am listing because they can teach you something about story telling and the actual craft of filmmaking, and for the record, just because a films makes eleventy billion dollars does not mean its good. After all, Dancing with the Stars gets ratings for god knows why. So, I continue with the list of films you should see.
6. October Sky- This is one of those “true stories” that actually feels true. Its not about some Greek Hero, or some famous general, or even some epic struggle between good and evil. No, its about a guy named Homer Hickam Jr. who grew up to train Astronauts at NASA and work in the space program. "What ?" you say. Yeah, follow me on this.
This is a story that really gets to you. Talk about beating the odds. This kid grew up in a poor coal mining town and after seeing Sputnik, decided he was going to build rockets. Yeah sounds dull, but guess what. Its brilliant. Its honest and its very moving. This guy and his friends go on to win a national science competition with their home made rocket. These kids came from nowhere, and the only person that believed in them was their teacher.
This film should have been best picture for 1999, but oddly wasn’t even nominated. Its one of my very favorite films ever. Watch this film and you can see how telling a true story should be. This film is expertly crafted and written. For me, its almost a perfect film. Besides, how can you go wrong with JakeGyllenhaall, Chris cooper and Laura Dern in the same film. You cant. See this movie. Suddenly, telling simple stories about regular people make sense. Just see it.
7. My First Mister- Ok, before your head explodes from a huge “What the fuck is he smoking ?” let me tell you why this is on my list. This is one of those films that came outta nowhere, and was directed by Christine Lahti. Its got Albert Brooks and Leelee Sobieski in this odd, but charming story about mismatched people looking for something.
It’s a very sweet film where nothing much happens except a really great story. It’s a film I know every studio would pass on, and that’s why is was a small film. Let me tell you something about storytelling. If you can construct a tale, however unlikely, and make it honest and believable and go somewhere with it, if you can take us, the audience, along for a journey, and make us care about it. You have done your job. This is just a sweet film about an older guy and a confused and lost younger girl, who form a friendship that however unlikely, changes both of their lives for the better. Like I said, it’s a simple story and very very believable. Just see it. I went to the premier for this film, and it was nice listening to Christine Lahiti explain why she made it. In my book, it was for all the right reasons. It was a good story. That’s all. Just see it.
8. Millers Crossing- This is the 3rd greatest gangster film ever made in my opinion. The Cohen Brothers at their finest. You want to tell a classic crime story about wise guys and mobsters, this sets the bar for witty, clever, well written dialogue. This is a well constructed tale that has the most amazing twists and turns, and yet, never once leaves us behind. Some of the best performances ever committed to film on in this little piece of greatness.
I love this movie. Gabriel Byrne is fucking fantastic in this. Along with Albert Finney, John Turturro and Marcia Gay Harden, this is likely one of the best films ever made. Period. Its perfectly paced, expertly crafted, and looks pretty amazing. This is how you do it. See this move, and try and learn how you make a film move along without losing your stride, and watch and see how the pace of well written dialogue can make a good film great. The great thing about this film is the script reads like it plays. Meaning the words can stand on their own. This film is a class on constructing the perfect tale from beginning to end. On creating characters with moral issues we still want to pull for. The performances in this are some of the best I have ever seen. Ironically Gabriel Byrne is in my next pick.
9. Mad Dog Time (aka Trigger Happy)- Ok, this is the 2nd greatest gangster film of all time. It was written and directed by a friend of mine, Larry Bishop ( Larry plays Michael Madsen’s boss at the strip club in Kill Bill Vol. 2). This film has so much talent in it, that to make this film today it would set you back 200 million. Larry made this film for under 6 million in 1996 and the cast includes: Richard Dreyfuss, Jeff Goldblum, Gabriel Byrne, Diane Lane, Gregory Hines, Ellen Barkin, Kyle Maclachlan, Billy Idol, Burt Renyolds, and some really great cameos by Rob Reiner, Joey Bishop, Richard Pryor and pretty much every great character actor you have ever seen.
This film is about a mob boss, played by Dreyfuss who's getting out of the Looney Bin and plans on cleaning up his empire. His number 2 guy used to be Goldblum, but he ran off with the mobsters girl, Diane Lane. Gabriel Byrne is Dreyfuss’s number two guy now and he is a guy who sees himself bigger than he is and is cleaning up all the loose ends before Dryfuss gets home. I mean this is just the best. This film is clever, witty and simply the definition of cool. I wont get into the whole plot, but I can promise you this, you have never seen anything like it. The plot is unique, the characters are memorable. I mean these are some of the greatest actors in the industry, all in one perfect film. Looks, just to see Gabriel Byrne sing “My Way” is worth is, but this film has nothing but great moments.
This is why I love filmmaking. This movie just has it all, and if you don’t see it you are missing out. People think films like Memento are clever. Meh, you haven’t seen anything until you see this.
This is film proves you can break a few rules, and invent some new ones and make a perfect gangster film. Larry Bishop is a lot better with the written word than Tarantino will ever be. Makes Pulp Fiction look like an episode of Blues Clues. Larry is simply a master craftsmen of story. I have read a lot of his scripts, was all set to produce one with him, but Madsen pulled out not wanting to play the heavy, but wanted the lead. I digress. See this move because you will love it. I promise. The education on this one is all about “cool” in its purest definition. Man, I love this film. Promise me you’ll see it.
10. Primer- Ok, this is a film that’s waaaaayyyy different than anything you have seen. Its about 4 guys, all struggling scientific types, young and smart, like the dot com people with big ideas we always read about, who accidentally create a device that allows them to time travel. "What ?" you say. Well, follow me here.
Its written by a kid named Shane Carruth, and it was made in 2004. The story is definitely more drama than sci-fi. But this is a smart film. Very smart. Because it weaves a tale with the one thing always left out of time travel films. Reality. "What ?" Yeah, reality. This film has some very cool paradox’s and it has a believable plot. I wont go into detail, but I will say its one of my favorites. Its unique and avoids clichés. It feels like what real people would do in the situation and it comes of as believable. Even the technology. Look, its an indy film, and it proves that if your clever and work with what you have you can make a really cool film within your means and budget. Just see it if you can. Trust me. I know things.
Next week I’m sure I have something for ya, but not sure what. I leave you with favorite line from the film above, Primer.
” Are you hungry? I haven't eaten since later this afternoon.”
We're calling Jay "The Busdriver"... 'Cause he's taking you to school. Archives