Films You Didn’t Know You Needed To See @ Kai’s The List

28 08 2010

Sound familiar?  Kai of “The List” rounds up a group of people every month or so to elaborate on “Films You Didn’t Know You Needed To See.”  I do that every Friday with my “F.I.L.M. of the Week” column.  So when I got the invitation to contribute three movies to Kai’s August edition, I couldn’t very well decline!  So I doctored a little bit of three posts from my series.  My choices were three movies that emphasize the L in F.I.L.M., little-known.

Here were my three picks and the write-ups as they will appear over at Kai’s site.

“Cats Don’t Dance”

I watched “Cats Don’t Dance,” a fun-loving musical that was a staple of my childhood, after a particularly hard day. I remember how much I loved it when I first saw it at the age of 5, and that passion has not faded a bit as I watched it for the first time in years.

The movie is a celebration of dreams as Danny, the singing cat from Kokomo, heads to Hollywood to light the world on fire. But things are not what he imagined, and he soon finds that life isn’t easy for an animal actor – especially when his co-star is a tyrannical child actor who refuses to be upstaged. He refuses to be crushed, keeping his optimism while bringing together a large group of animals to recapture their dreams. There are some hilarious characters, including a hippo voiced by Jennifer Tilly and a surly goat voiced by Hal Holbrook, as well as some rousing musical numbers (thankfully all are easily found on YouTube).

It may be a movie for kids, but I think it has one of the most profound quotes I have ever heard in a movie of this style: “They can smash your cookie, but they can never take your fortune.” It’s a great helping of nostalgia for me, but I think anyone can enjoy “Cats Don’t Dance.” It really is that disarming.

“Friends with Money”

If you look at the poster for “Friends with Money,” see Jennifer Aniston and instantly think, “This movie is going to be stupid,” be prepared to think twice. It’s an incredibly, perhaps surprisingly, deep look at the effects of money and social class on four friends in Los Angeles. It rounds all the bases, touching on all the big issues that an obsession with money can bring.

Each of the women (Frances McDormand, Catherine Keener, Joan Cusack, and Jennifer Aniston) undergoes a metamorphosis over the course of the movie’s 88 minutes. Holofcener creates four wonderfully elaborate women whose stories unfold before our very eyes. The character study is incredibly effective and entertaining, largely due in part to the wittiness of the script.

And bring on the puzzled looks – the star of “Friends With Money” is Jennifer Aniston. Her Olivia is by far and away the film’s most complicated character, and in the hands of Aniston, she is completely realized. We can buy every move she makes and feel the emotion behind each line. All you Jennifer Aniston haters out there, watch this movie. You may not be silenced, but it should shut you up for a little while.

“Waltz with Bashir”

When I explain the genre of “Waltz with Bashir,” it will probably sound like an oxymoron. An animated documentary?!? How does that even work? But at some point in history, peanut butter and jelly sounded like a strange combination. Someone had to be bold and try it, and Folman should be remembered as a pioneer of a new style of filmmaking that I really hope will catch on. Using animation in a documentary is a fascinating way to make people’s memories come to life, especially ones that might be too costly or difficult to shoot in live action. Nothing is wasted and no holds are barred.

Folman’s documentary revolves around a very intriguing concept. As a young man, he fought for Israel in the Lebanon War of the 1980s. Fast forward to the present day, and Folman has absolutely no recollection of anything that happened during the fighting save one memory of he and some comrades emerging from water completely naked. He begins to visit some people who might be able to jog his memory, asking them about their experiences. The stories slowly become more and more brutal, and Folman begins to remember.

If you decide to watch “Waltz with Bashir,” prepare yourself. It’s not an easy movie to sit through, but it’s a rich and rewarding hour and a half. Hopefully other documentary filmmakers have seen that Folman’s film is unbounded in its possibilities, and other stories that we could barely imagine will find life on celluloid.

Go check out Kai’s entire post by clicking HERE.





F.I.L.M. of the Week (July 2, 2010)

2 07 2010

This week’s “F.I.L.M.” is Nicole Holofcener’s probing social comedy “Friends with Money.” If you look at the poster and see Jennifer Aniston and instantly think, “This movie is going to be stupid,” be prepared to think twice. It’s an incredibly, perhaps surprisingly, deep look at the effects of money and social class on four friends in Los Angeles. It rounds all the bases, touching on all the big issues that an obsession with money can bring.

Jane (Frances McDormand) is a successful fashion designer who is perhaps the most money-driven of the bunch. She unabashedly and unashamedly asks people about how much money they make, how much they are donating, and how much they spend. Whether it’s because of her crumbling marriage or potentially entering menopause, she has become increasingly frank and short-tempered.

Franny (Joan Cusack) is a trust fund baby living comfortably with her husband and child. She’s a little shy talking about how much money she has, largely because of its source.

Christine (Catherine Keener) is a television writer, teamed with her husband (Jason Isaacs). Giddy from the rush of money, she decides to expand their house upwards to see the ocean without considering its effect on her neighbors. But marital frustrations begin to take its toll on her work; however, they also open her eyes to how her actions have unexpectedly affected the world around her.

Olivia (Jennifer Aniston) is their idea of a charity case friend. She’s quit her job as a teacher to become a maid. She’s single and hasn’t had a steady boyfriend in years. She still smokes pot and wanders through life with no direction or sense of purpose.

Each of the women undergoes a metamorphosis over the course of the movie’s 88 minutes. Holofcener creates four wonderfully elaborate women whose stories unfold before our very eyes. The character study is incredibly effective and entertaining, largely due in part to the wittiness of the script.

But the movie is carried by the actresses, all of whom give wonderful performances. Joan Cusack plays nothing new – the mildly insecure but ultimately warmhearted woman – but it’s a comfortable territory for her and thus comfortable for us to watch. Catherine Keener undergoes one of the movie’s biggest transformations, and she nails it with her typical pitch-perfect grace. Frances MacDormand is absolutely hysterical as she speaks her mind with no filter.

And bring on the puzzled looks – the star of “Friends With Money” is Jennifer Aniston. Her Olivia is by far and away the film’s most complicated character, and in the hands of Aniston, she is completely realized. We can buy every move she makes and feel the emotion behind each line. All you Jennifer Aniston haters out there, watch this movie. You may not be silenced, but it should shut you up for a little while.