“I always freak out when I hear people opposing sensation to story-telling,” Claire Denis has said. “A great story-teller always gives you that sense of warmth or cold… [Sensation and story-telling] are not opposed … Why deprive a film of what belongs to cinema?” Perhaps more consistently than any other contemporary filmmaker, Denis’ movies work to make sensation into story-telling, and vice versa. Elliptical and fragmentary, sometimes oblique to the point of opacity, Denis’ films re-write the rule-book in terms of narrative content and characterization, her stories often emerging through an intense focus on the bodies of her actors and a moody, sensuous evocation of places and spaces. The result is a cinematic style that, in its combination of discretion and ellipsis with moments of confrontational, sometimes brutal directness, is one of the most distinctive in modern French cinema.
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Some might argue that without The Silence of the Lambs, Demme may not have made this list. Yes, he has made a surplus of outstanding films, including quite a few unjustly ignored documentaries such as The Agronomist (2003), but initially, the now 67-year-old director was most known more for his first two critical successes in the early 1980s ending up as box office duds (Handle With Care and Melvin and Howard). Despite the excellent Talking Heads doc Stop Making Sense (1984), the quirky masterpiece of Something Wild, and the Michelle Pfeiffer vehicle Married to the Mob (1988), Demme flew mostly under the radar for the rest of the Me Decade. That is, until he paired up with Anthony Hopkins, Jodie Foster, and screenwriter Ted Tally in 1991 to create the definitive portrait of a serial killer, the film that defined the psychological thriller/horror film hybrid for modern audiences.
Kelly McGillis signed with Paramount Studios in the mid-80s to make two features films. The first, “Witness,” was a huge hit and earned her a Golden Globe nomination. The actress had some specific ideas about what she wanted to do in the second movie but the Paramount brass had already decided: It would be about a group of young test pilots.
It wasn’t exactly the film McGillis would have picked for herself, but “Top Gun” went on to become the biggest box office draw of 1986 , taking in more than $176 million. From its driving Kenny Loggins tune “Danger Zone” to the catch phrase “I feel the need, the need for for speed,” “Top Gun” became a hit and remains as high-flying as ever.
Cukor has always been identified as an actor’s director, more specifically, a “woman’s” director. Understandable, considering that in The Women (1939), not a single man appears onscreen, and looking at the titles in his filmography indicates how frequently his movies were women-centric. Yet, such a classification demeans Cukor’s skills as a director, one who directed three men to Oscars (Jimmy Stewart, Ronald Coleman, Rex Harrison), but only two women (Ingrid Bergman, Judy Holliday). Cukor’s homosexuality and femininity have been credited with providing him a penchant for telling women’s stories, yet most every female lead in Cukor’s films had a strong male lead to play off. With films such as A Double Life, the tale of an actor’s Othello-inspired descent into madness, Cukor proved he could dive into the male psyche with equal skill.
A chimpanzee attacks a woman in Connecticut. An elephant is discovered starving in a yard in Indiana. A little boy plays with an African viper in Ohio. Such stories make local headlines, seemingly sensational and frivolous. But they also reveal serious misunderstandings of wild animals, with potentially serious consequences. These and other animals, especially monkeys and reptiles, are often available for purchase at exotic animals sales. Michael Webber’s The Elephant in the Living Room, available today on DVD, includes interviews with emergency room doctors, big cat owners, and public safety officers like Dayton’s Tim Harrison. A former lion owner himself, Harrison works with private owners in order to find new and safer homes for pets who have grown beyond the owner’s ability to care for them. The film follows his story as it intertwines with that of Terry Brumfield, a former big rig driver suffering from depression following debilitating injuries in a truck accident. When his African lions, Lambert and Lacey, get loose one night and chase cars on a Columbus, OH highway, Tim has to step in, but even as he convinces Terry it’s in the lions’ best interest to move from the cage in his backyard, both men are shocked to learn that Lacey is nursing two cubs. The film observes the two men as they face all manner of emotional, legal, and moral complexities.
See PopMatters’ review.
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