Arguably the maestro’s greatest film, one that has had different effects on me over the years.
It was released in 1990 and I think I saw it in about 1993…around 12 years old…and at first all I did was relate to it via the reality it reproduced of being part of an Italian family, it captured so many authentic idiosyncrasies that I related to, the sense of humour, the language patterns, the importance of food, the sanctity of family, the cousins having the same names, the enormous weddings… I felt close to the film because it was so real to me on a certain level, and although I was swept up in it, how can you not be, the identifying I did was the stronger suit.
I only came to terms with the virtuoso filmmaking as I watched it again and again, it ran for two and half hours but you never noticed (maybe Scorsese’s greatest strength), it went from iconic scene to iconic scene, the authenticity of the performances and movement of the camera never quitting. With study I discovered he used techniques pulled from all forms of cinema, the Italian neo-realists, Cassavetes, the French New Wave, American gangster cinema of the 1930s, taking it all and making it his own…it wasn’t until much later that I actually saw the violence, and when I did it made me wince. I’d seen the film at least ten times by then, it was the first time I saw the characters in a different light. But such is the skill of the work, the intoxication produced by the method was necessary to make the viewer implicit in the lifestyle… a point he hammered home much harder in The Wolf of Wall Street.
The Hustler (1961)
Eddie Felson is almost my favourite character in any film. Paul Newman is probably my favourite actor. Piper Laurie is devastating here and George C. Scott is at his arguable best. It’s hard to describe but I feel this film had a direct effect on my aesthetic, I’m kinda obsessed with characters whose lives are falling apart, the busted up romanticism of it, and this film is all about that, and I saw it very young, and have been completely attached to it ever since.
The Untouchables (1987)
I remember getting my father to record this for me from television and then watching it repeatedly. DePalma is one of my favourite directors and this film, though arguably not in his usual ballpark, is perhaps my personal favourite. The characters and set-pieces are so epic, so memorable, so timeless, and I love Morricone’s score. I think it was in this film that my need to defend Kevin Costner and Andy Garcia was developed. So if you haven’t, go watch Revenge and then follow it up with Internal Affairs and thank me later.
The Brothers McMullen (1995)/She’s The One (1996)/Swingers (1998)/Made (2001)
These four films make a quadrilogy of formative male-centric comedies for me. I owned three of them in my teens on VHS, and saw Made on my 21st birthday at the cinema. My friends, brothers and I still quote all four of them to this day. At the time we also had a VHS of Noah Baumbach’s Kicking and Screaming that got a fair run too. I think maybe these films were first to make me think, “Hey, maybe I could write something like that.”, and it wasn’t because I thought I could do better, but because I identified with them all so strongly.
Bottle Rocket (1996)
In his first three films, Wes Anderson evoked J.D. Salinger, which is no small feat. You can see the influence of Ashby, Malle, Truffaut, Rohmer and Scorsese in there, but it’s Salinger that shines through strongest. I come back to Bottle Rocket the most because it never seems to waiver, it has a bounce and verve and strange innocence to it that seems so vital every time. A thoroughly life-affirming film about a guy just out of mental health clinic and his friend who happily ends up in jail.
The Master (2012)
The most recent film on this list. Like many of my favourite films I don’t think I exactly understand it, and in a way that’s what makes it great. The complexity of it brings me back time and again. It was only after watching it recently, that I thought perhaps the title refers to Joaquin Phoenix’s character and not Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s. You have to decipher PTA, like Kubrick or Antonioni before him, and I strongly gravitate to that.
I only saw this for the first time around five years ago, and I’ve rewatched it many times. I’d never seen anything like it before and haven’t since (apart from in other Cassavetes’ films). The performances of Gazzara, Falk and Cassavetes himself stir something up in me that I’m still not sure I understand, the feeling in the film is just astounding, and it seems so fresh every time I view it, which my good friend Greg Pakis says is a sign of a film’s greatness. Cassavetes is one of a kind and so inspirational.
Training Day (2001)
One of my favourite theatrical experiences. Just blew me away. I love ’90s action cinema, Point Break, Bad Boys, Speed (an equally enthralling cinematic ride), The Rock, and anything by Tony Scott… this was on that level, but it was 2001 and as good as those films; what a great, great script with towering performances… it’s weird and overused… but they kinda don’t really make them like this anymore… though I did think The Equalizer was pretty great.
I can remember seeing this in the cinema at 14 and thinking to myself, I never want this film to end. I’d never thought that before, I’d felt it, but this was actually a sentence in my mind. The ultimate LA crime epic, Mann’s blue and grey toned masterpiece, with Thief ever so slightly behind it.
This film is an obsession of mine. Like The Hustler I can’t seem to shake it, it has a hold on me. The coldness. The disturbed eroticism. The performances. The reality it creates. It fascinates me.
Can’t Win. Do Try. is screening in Melbourne at Cinema Nova on May 7, and at the Backlot in Perth on May 9, 10, and 11. For more info, hit up the official Facebook page.