Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Directed by John Hughes. Unlike the other two John Hughes movies I have seen, Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club, Ferris is a completely likeable story. Everyone can relate to Ferris’s desire to skip school and defy authority. The undeniably 80s-tastic soundtrack is perfect, especially the famous parade scene with “Danke Schön” and “Twist and Shout.” Just as great is the screenplay (like the moment when Ben Stein asks, “Bueller?… Bueller…?” and the police station scene with young Charlie Sheen) and the iconic fashion, particularly Cameron’s hockey jersey and Ferris’s leopard-print vest. The movie veers into dramatic territory near the end – a necessary detour in order for everyone to learn lessons – but picks itself back up again for a fast-paced, truly hilarious ending sequence. John Hughes was a master of entertaining cinema; anyone who can come up with Rooney’s “real warm and soft” ending sequence just can’t be beat.
Hannah and Her Sisters. Directed by Woody Allen. There are many great Woody Allen films, but this one takes the cake. A series of vignettes tell the stories of sisters Hannah, Lee and Holly, each of whom has problems in her love life. Allen is, as always, great at playing himself, but the film also features the wonderful Michael Caine and Dianne Wiest (both of whom won Oscars for their supporting performances), Mia Farrow, Julie Kavner (you’d recognize her voice right away: she’s Marge from “The Simpsons”) and Max von Sydow (whose big scene with Barbara Hershey is a knockout). One of my favorite moments in the film involves Mickey’s (Allen) father trying to explain why death isn’t that big of a deal. It is a prime example of Allen’s gift for coping with the universe’s many mysteries in his uniquely humorous voice.
River’s Edge. Directed by Tim Hunter. Inspired by the 1981 murder of 14-year-old Marcy Renee Conrad, River’s Edge is a disturbing portrait of apathetic teenagers in suburban California, aided by a haunting score and a slew of heavy metal songs. After one teen rapes and strangles his girlfriend, he brings his friends to the site of the murder and shows them the corpse, almost proud to do so. Days pass before one of the friends takes the initiative and decides to go to the cops, but when another finds out who ratted, chaos ensues. The limits of friendship are tested and twisted in a sickening attempt to “protect” the murderer and keep the group whole. River’s Edge stars a host of talents, including Keanu Reeves (one of my longtime favorites and a sorely underrated actor) as Matt, Daniel Roebuck (aka Dr. Leslie Arzt from the first season of “Lost”) as Samson, the eternally weird Crispin Glover as Layne and – playing yet another damaged character – Dennis Hopper as Feck. The real breakout performance, however, belongs to Joshua John Miller, who plays Matt’s 12-year-old brother Tim. Miller shows no fear as a cruel preteen with violent tendencies.
Stand by Me. Directed by Rob Reiner. Despite its being about four Oregon boys growing up in the late 1950s, Stand by Me is a film that resonates deeply with me. It’s all about discovering who you are and what it means to experience friendship. I remember the first time I saw Stand by Me. It was shown at midnight on TCM about five years ago; even though it’s shown on AMC every now and then, I always prefer films that have not been truncated. I was moved by how touching the story is and the strength of the protagonist, Gordie. There is a scene where Gordie and his older brother Denny (a young John Cusack) sit in Denny’s bedroom that emphasizes the strong bond that the brothers share. Also, it was the first River Phoenix movie I ever saw. Although I have also seen Running on Empty, I Love You to Death and Dogfight, the milk money scene is so far Phoenix’s defining moment in cinema. Stand by Me is a classic coming-of-age film that can and should be enjoyed by multiple generations. And don’t listen to Leonard Maltin when he says that there’s too much cursing – what sticks with you is the emotional impact.
Summer. Directed by Eric Rohmer. “I’m not very operational in life,” laments Delphine, the main character of this French film. It switches deftly between lighthearted comedy and rich human drama. Delphine, played by Marie Rivière, a favorite of Rohmer, goes on a quest for a meaningful relationship that struck a chord with me. (There are similarities in our travails.) The film feels like a documentary, not just because of the camerawork but because the actors don’t seem to be acting. Rivière, who co-wrote the film with Rohmer, put a lot of herself into Delphine; as a result, the character feels real. Her laughter, tears and repetitive-yet-endearing speeches (the one about vegetarianism is the best) are never contrived and the dialogue hews closer to conversation and real-life spontaneity than a preconceived screenplay. I saw Summer earlier today (Wed. 6/14/11) at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. BAM will be showing another Rohmer film, Four Adventures of Reinette and Mirabelle (1987) next month. I’m really excited because Marie Rivière, who has a role in that film as well, will take part in a Q&A at a screening on July 20.