Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola. The Oscar-winning makeup, costumes (edit: costume designer Eiko Ishioka has just passed away) and sound effects editing and Oscar-nominated art direction/set decoration help this interpretation of the famed horror tale come to life. I would also like to give a special shout-out to the score by Wojciech Kilar; the jaunty, scary music at the very beginning set the tone and the love theme that plays out throughout the film is haunting. As for the acting: honestly, is there anyone better than Gary Oldman? He brings an incomparable sense of romance to his performance, infusing it with equal parts seduction and despair. Winona Ryder is equally compelling as Dracula’s eternal love, the young woman that he crosses “oceans of time” to find. They are ably supported by Anthony Hopkins, Keanu Reeves (whose performance I don’t mind, despite how wooden a lot of other people find it to be), Richard E. Grant, Cary Elwes, Billy Campbell, Sadie Frost, Tom Waits and, in an early role as one of Dracula’s brides, Monica Bellucci.
Death Becomes Her. Directed by Robert Zemeckis. This delightfully twisted dark comedy is just nutty enough that it got mixed reviews in 1992. Perhaps critics didn’t know how to approach the film; I think by now, though, it has attained a certain “cult classic” status. Casting Bruce Willis – at that point best known for “Moonlighting” and the first two Die Hard films – as a timid, bespectacled plastic surgeon was a stroke of genius. Meryl Streep and Goldie Hawn are perfect as two bitter rivals whose jealousy and vanity wreak havoc on their lives after they encounter Isabella Rossellini’s eternal life potion. The story is a clever commentary on the lengths some people would go to in order to stop the aging process. As for the film’s technical achievements, the Oscar-winning visual effects add to the lunacy and the marvelous score by Alan Silvestri reminds me of Danny Elfman’s scores for Tim Burton films.
The Last of the Mohicans. Directed by Michael Mann. To recap the beginning of Daniel Day-Lewis’ film career: he established himself with My Beautiful Laundrette (1985), A Room with a View (1985) and The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988) before really hitting it big with My Left Foot (1989), for which he won the Best Actor Oscar. Following up that much-lauded film – three years later, no less – is this action-adventure film set during the Revolutionary War, packed with plenty of romance and violence to keep any audience interested. Who knew Day-Lewis could be a great action star? Madeleine Stowe makes for a pretty heroine, although I don’t recall her being required to do much in the way of acting. I do love the scene where she and Day-Lewis kiss; propelled by the score by Randy Edelman and Trevor Jones, the moment is mesmerizing and you feel all the characters’ fiery passion. The film won an Oscar for Best Sound and BAFTA Awards for cinematography and makeup. It is an all-around treat for the eyes and ears.
Newsies. Directed by Kenny Ortega. Oh, why not? It’s teenage Christian Bale in a Disney musical about newsboys in 1899 New York! The cast also includes David Moscow (aka the kid who turns into Tom Hanks in Big), Bill Pullman, Ann-Margret, Robert Duvall (as Joseph Pulitzer), Michael Lerner and Kevin Tighe. Newsies sports some fine musical numbers, including “Santa Fe” and “The World Will Know.” Not even young Bale’s badly overdone Brooklyn accent could tarnish those gems! The film was a terrible flop when it came out – it won a Razzie and was nominated for four more, including Worst Picture – but Bale’s career certainly hasn’t suffered; a) he’s Batman and b) he won an Oscar last year. Best of all, though, is the fact that a new Broadway musical version of Newsies is set to debut on March 15. I look forward to it and hope that this loveable tale of plucky ragamuffins will gain a whole new legion of fans.
Strictly Ballroom. Directed by Baz Luhrmann. The past six months have been all about my discovery of Australian film. Top honors go to The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, but this romantic dance-comedy – can that please be a category? – is another strong contender from the Australian cinematic resurgence in the 1990s. It was nominated for the Golden Globe for Best Comedy/Musical, won BAFTA Awards for costume design, production design and score and also won a slew of awards from the Australian Film Institute – eight, to be exact, including Best Film. Paul Mercurio and Tara Morice do a fantastic job not only as dancers but in their roles as Scott and Fran, two young people who realize the importance of independence and individuality. Barry Otto (father of Lord of the Rings actress Miranda Otto) and Pat Thomson (who passed away from cancer before the film’s release) both won AFI Awards for their supporting work as Scott’s polar opposite parents. Bill Hunter, who later appeared in the back-to-back 1994 hits Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and Muriel’s Wedding, also has a plum role as a dance contest judge. Baz Luhrmann proved with this film that he is an exceptional director, especially in terms of visuals. I can’t wait to see what he does with The Great Gatsby in 3D.