An anthology of delicious cinematic moments. Not only for Christmas-time.

  • Chef Chu cooks, in Ang Lee’s Eat, Drink, Man, Woman. Precision, cruelty, delicacy, beauty – a master at work.
  • Carey Mulligan sings New York, New York in Steve McQueen’s Shame. The most banal of songs turned to a heart-stopping experience. A moment as finely scripted, as it is acted.
  • Michael Jeter delivers a singing message to Lydiaaa – surreal and awkward as it is funny – in The Fisher King, a film full of affection for the losers, the lost, the misfits, the down-and-out. (And is it just me, or do you too hear here echoes of Groucho Marx and ‘Lydia the Tattooed Lady’?)
  • Little Olive performs her outrageous, courageous, in every way politically incorrect, provocative, deeply ironic, and awfully impossibly amusing dance in the finale of Little Miss Sunshine.
  • Albert Finney pulls off a classy escape – dressing gown, slippers, cigar, the works – in the sounds of Danny Boy, in the Coens’ Millers Crossing.
  • Two women cross swords in the yellows of the autumn woods. Two men upon the blue mirror of a mountain lake. Two scenes to die for. In Hero.
  • Two friends and rivals share a bottle of champagne. In the bottom of a swimming pool. In their tuxedos. In Luc Besson’s Le Grand Bleu.
  • The Usual Suspects’ line-up scene: five tremendous actors having tremendous fun.
  • A writer’s outfit: Grady Tripp’s pink dressing gown in Wonder Boys.
  • A girl’s feet: Youki Kudoh ignites a lighter with her toes in Mystery Train.
  • Another girl’s shoes: Marie Antoinette’s All-Stars – shrewd product placement or a filmmaker’s whim? A moment of absurdity, mischief, poetic licence, sheer delight, in Sofia Coppola’s film.
  • Forever haunting – the opening sequence of Dont Look Now.
  • Eternally enchanting – the fairytale sequences of Siddhartha’s life in Bertolucci’s Little Buddha.
  • Lovemaking in L Amant, as Jean-Jacques Annaud adapts Marguerite Duras. The honesty, the joy, of two bodies in harmony.
  • The beautiful, sad, mindbending, iconic turning point in Neil Jordan’s    The Crying Game. (And though there are two ingenious turning points, sending us to entirely unexpected places, you know which one i mean.)
  • The King of the Moon, a disembodied Robin Williams, struggles to preserve his mind over matter, in Terry Gilliam’s overlooked The Adventures of Baron Munchausen.
  • Danny Glover trapped by a bomb on his toilet seat, in Lethal Weapon 2.
  • More toilet humour, this time on the side of the surreal. Ewan McGregor’s Renton dives in ‘the worst toilet in Scotland’ – from the revolting to the big blue. In Trainspotting, of course.
  • Mischief, wit, dark, dark humour, in the cartoon end credits of Filth.
  • Christmas in the opening of Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander. A lush and joyous family gathering, with something sinister around the corner.
  • Miles Davis as a street musician. The ghost of Tom Waits as Ghost of Christmas Past. And Carol Kane as the tiniest, fiercest, wickedly funny Ghost of Christmas Present. In Scrooged.
  • And finally, oh men, lets us pray… a Loud Prayer with Lawrence Ferlinghetti and his alternative version of Our Father, in The Last Waltz.

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Seems a good place to start. What i mean by small is those quiet, unassuming films that slip all-too-easily under our collective cultural radar; yet they often are the ones that stay with me the longest. Here are a few i find worth revisiting.

Clapperboard-1Stone Reader (2002). Like writing, reading is a solitary undertaking; it is always a thrill to be reminded that one is not alone. This is precisely the spell cast by this little known documentary about a long-forgotten book and a writer who has vanished into thin air. Reader/ filmmaker Mark Moskowitz goes on a search for a once promising and now disappeared novelist. His quest, a series of encounters with men of letters and fascinating discussions about books, reading, writing, and one-novel authors, leads to an outcome that is not only stranger than fiction, it is finer than anything one could have possibly invented. This is a film that makes a difference – it doesn’t just record life, it transforms it.

Clapperboard-1Nothing Personal (2009). Minimalist as can be. With the most basic of settings, and perhaps the sparsest dialog i’ve ever encountered, writer-director Urszula Antoniak probes the delicate line between emotional bonds and personal freedom. Brought together by chance, two wounded, solitary individuals make a deal not to speak of anything personal.
An unlikely romance set against the harsh, unforgiving landscape of the west Irish coast. Stunning cinematography, wit, ample space for what is not said, and two spellbinding performances by Stephen Rea and Lotte Verbeek – a truly gratifying cinematic experience.

Clapperboard-1Mourning Rock [Agelastos Petra] (2000). It once was a sacred site,
place of initiation to the mysteries of the cycle of life and death. Today it is a humble rundown town and major industrial zone outside Athens. The place is Eleusis. Filming over a ten-year period, Filippos Koutsaftis tells the story of Eleusis through the lives of its people, landmarks, environment. The visual diary is accompanied by a stream-of-consciousness log-monolog; a poetic narrative that finds the timeless in the everyday, where centuries, millennia, co-exist in the here-and-now – in names, habits, beliefs, in the language, in the ancient finds revealed with every demolition. This, in a way, is the tale of contemporary Greece itself, and had audiences at home spellbound on its release. The subtitled version could be hard work, but, if the translation does some justice to the original, it is absolutely worth it.

Clapperboard-1Dreamchild(1985). Not quite as small, but still slipping away, it seems, from common memory. With his unique wisdom, humanity and courage, the one-and-only Dennis Potter takes on a nigh impossible subject – the awkward affection of Charles Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll) for young Alice. The events are revisited by the elderly Alice, who is trying to come to peace with her ambivalent childhood memories, as she travels to New York as the guest of honour at a celebration of Carroll’s centenary. Potter’s sensitivity is matched by the subtle, poignant performances, and Ian Holm’s Dodgson truly reflects the master screenwriter’s impression of ‘that tied-in, repressed, strange, playful, tormented, yet joyously inventive man’. Alas, this fine gem is not available in Europe, but only in the US as a copied Region 1 DVD.

Clapperboard-1Savage Nights [Les Nuits Fauves] (1992). A courageous and devastating testimony from the early days of AIDS, when a shocked world was still struggling to come to terms with the new disease. And so is filmmaker and poet Cyril Collar who, while burning away of AIDS, adapts, directs and plays himself, as an HIV positive bisexual young man who maintains manipulative, risky sexual relationships with both a teenage girl and another man. Life and fiction are intertwined in a deadly embrace, in this descent to a no-man’s-land, where living life to the full and challenging death become more or less the same thing. With an uncompromising performance by Romane Bohringer.

Clapperboard-1Sita Sings the Blues (2008). The most charming, inventive animation i have come across in years. A personal take on the Indian epic Ramayana from Nina Paley, relating her own experience of a painful break-up to the story of goddess Sita who loses her beloved Rama.
A feast for the eye and for the heart, her Sita moves, sings, dances, lives, to Annette Hanshaw’s delightful jazz vocals, and her soothing rendering of bittersweet 1920’s classics.

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