Clueless. Directed by Amy Heckerling. A true cultural touchstone, Clueless is still as fresh and funny as ever. Its cast is filled with memorable faces from the 1990s and today: Alicia Silverstone, Stacey Dash, Brittany Murphy, Paul Rudd, Donald Faison, Elisa Donovan, Breckin Meyer, Jeremy Sisto, Dan Hedaya, Wallace Shawn, Twink Caplan and Justin Walker. The original screenplay by director Heckerling (director of the earlier high school comedy Fast Time at Ridgemont High) is sharply humorous, drawing on observations of 90s pop culture and fashion sensibilities with inspiration from the classic Jane Austen tale Emma. Jewels like “as if!” and “my buns – they don’t feel nothin’ like steel” are among the many quotable lines. Silverstone, Murphy and Rudd are especially delightful, given how young and new they were to the scene. The multi-genre soundtrack is equally 90s-tastic, including Coolio’s “Rollin’ with My Homies” and Smoking Popes’ “Need You Around.” Even if you didn’t live through the times when they happened, the nostalgia is pure fun.
Die Hard: With a Vengeance. Directed by John McTiernan. After the ridiculous fiasco which is Die Hard 2, this third installment in the Roderick Thorp-based series has plenty of adrenaline and testosterone to go around. Bruce Willis is back as John McClane, forced to team up with Zeus Carver (Samuel L. Jackson) and do battle against über-villain Simon (a slinky Jeremy Irons). Irons is in top form, reveling in the weirdly seductive nature of his character. The film benefits from having original Die Hard director McTiernan back at the helm since clearly he is skilled at both action sequences and tense drama. The supporting characters are not fleshed out, but that’s not too important in the long run. What is important is how great Willis, Jackson and Irons are, as well as the use of filming locations in Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx (and elsewhere in the US). Ultimately, this is a New York City movie and its heart beats for the locales it depicts.
Fallen Angels. Directed by Kar Wai Wong (aka Wong Kar Wai). Wong’s oeuvre is probably unlike anything you’ve seen from other directors. His best work was made in the mid-90s, as evidenced by Chungking Express and Fallen Angels. The latter is less emotionally engaging, but still it is a film that exudes coolness and style. Leon Lai and Michelle Reis play a pair of assassins dealing with their feelings for one another, with some particular standout moments featuring Reis, such as the provocative scene featuring the spellbinding Laurie Anderson song “Speak My Language.” Takeshi Kaneshiro, who was exceptional in Chungking Express, has a perplexing character here (a mute criminal) but does his best anyhow. As in other Wong films, popular music adds greatly to the mood; besides the aforementioned Laurie Anderson track, there are songs by Massive Attack, Marianne Faithfull and, perhaps best of all, the Flying Pickets. Although Fallen Angels is part of the mid-90s cinematic landscape, it is a film that has outlived the era and remains influential.
The Usual Suspects. Directed by Bryan Singer. There are some movies that you hear about over the years, knowing that they’ve got a certain reputation for either greatness or badness. The Usual Suspects is one of those movies which has been hailed as a modern classic. In this case, the label is justified. You couldn’t ask for a more perfectly assembled cast: Stephen Baldwin, Gabriel Byrne, Benicio Del Toro, Kevin Pollak and most impressively, Kevin Spacey, who won his first Oscar for playing the appropriately-nicknamed “Verbal.” There are also fine supporting performances by Chazz Palminteri and Pete Postlethwaite, playing a straight arrow detective and an enigmatic lawyer respectively. (Dan Hedaya, also seen in Clueless, plays a detective who works alongside Palminteri.) Most notable for me, however, are the Oscar-winning script by Christopher McQuarrie and the haunting score by John Ottman, who was also the film’s editor. With twists and turns galore, the film’s combined elements of crime, thriller and mystery will have you on your toes from start to finish.
While You Were Sleeping. Directed by Jon Turteltaub. This sweet little romantic comedy starring the effervescent Sandra Bullock has the rare charm of being an incredibly tender and effective movie while staying within the limits of a modern PG rating. Bill Pullman, whom I have long been fond of thanks to movies like Spaceballs and Independence Day, is superbly cast as the man whom Bullock eventually falls in love with; he has an ease and a natural Everyman vibe that few male actors possess. Peter Gallagher, usually a fairly boring performer, has some amusing moments as Pullman’s brother, the blandly handsome guy who Bullock first thinks she wants. Many fine character actors round out the cast, including Peter Boyle, Jack Warden, Glynis Johns, Micole Mercurio, Jason Bernard and Michael Rispoli. I would recommend this film to romantic comedy fans, to hard-hearted cynics and to anyone who enjoys a timeless love story.