The Art of the Title Sequence: Michael Mann’s “Crime Story” – 1986.

I’ve always wanted to talk about the importance of the opening title sequence.  If you do it right, you’ll pull your audience in and captivate them.  I want to share some opening titles with you that have always had a profound effect on me.  The first one I want to share is from Michael Mann’s TV Show, “Crime Story” which aired for two seasons on NBC starring Dennis Farina, Ted Levine, Stephen Lang, Ron Dean, and Anthony Denison.  The show was based on the true story of “Casino” – Martin Scorsese’s film about the rebirth of Las Vegas.  The TV show included guest actors that made frequent apperances: Andrew Dice Clay (who played Robert DeNiro’s character in “Casino”), Michael Madsen, Joseph Wiseman, Julia Roberts, Pam Greir, and Kevin Spacey.

The TV show was excellent.  If I ever think about this show, I’ll always be in love with the opening credits.  Enjoy.

Top 25 1/2 Performances of the Decade

I intended on making a list of Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor and Supporting Actress (I did start with Supporting Actor). But I thought it would be better to lump them all into one solid and concrete list. I’m sure there is going to be much disagreement. So, let me know what you guys think.

25. – Richard Gere as Billy Flynn in “Chicago”

I honestly think Gere gets a bad rap – he’s an extremely talented actor who began the second act of his career with “Chicago”. They found the most unbelievable actor to sing and dance – and he knocked it out of the park. Gere supports this film on his shoulders and completely holds it together. His performances in this film paved the way for his roles in “The Hoax”, “I’m Not There”, and “Brooklyn’s Finest”. And what’s with “rom-coms”? Can people stop fucking saying that? It’s so annoying.

24. – Anne Hathaway as Kym in “Rachel Getting Married”

I didn’t see this film until about a couple of months ago. I don’t know why I strayed away from it for so long. I’ve always had this love for Jonathan Demme (even though I think “Silence of the Lambs” is grossly overrated and “Manhunter” is a far superior film). The way Hathaway breaks out of her typecast and breaks our hearts is wonderfully painful to watch. A quick note: I love the movie a lot, but the part I find most distracting (no, it’s not the wedding montage, I liked that part) is the actor who plays the best man of the wedding is like this shitty hybrid of George Clooney and Kevin Spacey. Weird.

23. – Ray Liotta as Henry Oak in “Narc”

Ray Liotta has made a whirlwind of shit. He’s always enjoyable for me, even if he is walking through his role in “Wild Hogs”. I can’t help but always be captivated by him, I think he’s an incredible actor and has this way of commanding your attention. His performance in “Narc” is just fantastic. He plays the clichéd rage induced cop who’s seeking the killer of his partner. Liotta gained about 40 pounds for his role – and what adds to the gaining of weight, is the realism of the flashback sequences where Liotta’s character appears fit and trim. If you haven’t seen this film, do so soon.

22. – Robert Downey, Jr. as Paul Avery in “Zodiac”

This seems like an easy sell, Downey, Jr. playing an alcoholic, drug addicted and charming beat reporter. But this was really the first role that he got to sink his teeth into since he’s troubled past. With his past experience with drugs and alcohol I feel as if Downey, Jr. could really play this character that spirals out of control to full authenticity.

21. – Mickey Rourke as Randy the Ram in “The Wrestler”

This is one of the best performances I have ever seen. What keeps this from getting higher on my list is the fact that I’m not sure how much actual “acting” Rourke does. I think he took elements of his personal life and mimicked them to Randy the Ram’s life. I know some people disagree, but I think that Penn’s winning his second Oscar for “Milk” was the correct performance to reward. Without “The Wrestler” Rourke would have fallen back to Eric Roberts land.

20. – Ellen Burstyn as Sara Goldfarb in “Requiem for a Dream”

The fact that Burstyn lost to Julia Roberts makes me sick. I like Julia Roberts, she’s cute, funny, and has an amazing sparkle in her eye. That being said: she’s not an Oscar winning actress (although more so than Bullock or Berry). Ellen Burstyn gives the performance of her career in this film. This film may be the roughy of all roughies – and due to her performance this film will stay in my mind forever.

19. – Daniel Day-Lewis as Jack Slavin in “The Ballad of Jack and Rose”

Day-Lewis gives a remarkable performance in his most flawed film. He balances inner rage and compassionate love for his daughter Rose. You find yourself loathing his character due to his selfishness and incest riddled relationship with his daughter – yet you find it in your heart to forgive him, and to understand his true love for Rose.

18. – Paul Newman as Jack Rooney in “Road to Perdition”

Newman should have won a Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance in this film. I felt that Cooper winning was his make-up Oscar for not even being nominated for “American Beauty”. I feel that Newman gives one of his most subtle performances in this film. He’s the loving father figure to Tom Hanks, but has to chose between his own son (Daniel Craig) and Tom Hanks. One of the most heartbreaking scenes ever filmed is when Tom Hanks finally catches up with Newman.

17. – Daniel Craig as James Bond in “Casino Royal”

This is how you reboot a franchise! I am a James Bond super freak and I own them all. I’ve had a liking for each individual Bond (even George Lazenby). I’ve felt that the producers have always gotten it right for 007. I remember being pissed when they signed Craig, I was a strong supporter of Clive Owen (who I still think would have been a great Bond – check out ANY BMW Films add on Youtube and you’ll see my point). Daniel Craig gives us the perfect James Bond. He’s a stone cold killer. The way James Bond should be.

16. – Christian Bale as Patrick Bateman in “American Psycho”

I want to be Patrick Bateman (well…not the homicidal serial killer part). But deep down inside, don’t we all have an element of ourselves that is Patrick Bateman? Don’t we all from time to time get filled with disgust and greed? Or is it just me?

15. – Cate Blanchett as Sheba Hart in “Notes of a Scandal”

Blanchett is one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen, and she’s one of the greatest ACTORS ever. She’s just remarkable in everything she’s in (well…maybe not that last Indiana Jones movie). As Sheba Hart she engages into an inappropriate relationship with a 14 year old student of hers, which is both erotic and haunting. What she’s doing is wrong, but what gets done to her by Judi Dench is ten times worse.

14. – Alec Baldwin as Juan Tripp in “The Aviator”

Baldwin is remarkable in the way he’s rebuilt his career over the past decade. The guy went from being a tabloids wet dream. His personal life took a tremendous toll on his profession career, but with an Oscar nominated turn in “The Cooler” it spring boarded him into working with Scorsese, Robert DeNiro and his staple, “30 Rock”. As Juan Tripp he’s one of the most menacing corporate villains, standing second only to Gordon Gekko.

13. – Sean Penn as Paul Rivers in “21 Grams”

This is one of the most heartbreaking performances ever. How he won for “Mystic River” over “21 Grams” is bullshit. Probably because it was a Clint Eastwood film.

12. – Daniel Day-Lewis as Bill “the Butcher” Cutting in “Gangs of New York”.

Day-Lewis single handily saves this film from the utter nightmare it could have been. If he wasn’t in this film to counteract the terrible performance of Cameron Diaz and the miscasting of the decade of Leonardo DiCaprio – this film would have been a sheer train wreck of a great director’s most personal project. How he lost to Adrian Brody for “The Pianist”, I’ll never understand.

11. – Ted Levine as The Warden in “Shutter Island”

Levine was only in three scenes in this film. He had only one scene that last about ten minutes with dialogue. This is the perfect example of less is more; by showing us everything about this character without telling us one thing about him. Levine is absolutely jaw dropping in this role. He shows us what a great, great actor he really is. This film should pave the way for meatier roles on the horizon for Levine.

10. – David Strathairn as Edward R. Murrow in “Good Night, Good Luck”

I think there is always hesitation when an actor takes on the role of an icon like Murrow. David Strathairn has always been one of my favorite character actors – from his roles in “Eight Men Out”, “The River Wild” and “LA Confidential”. In “Good Night, Good Luck” he finally becomes the leading man that he deserves to be. He’s absolutely amazing as Murrow and gives the performance of his career.

9. – Heath Ledger as The Joker in “The Dark Knight” and Enis Del Mar in “Brokeback Mountain”

What can I say that hasn’t already been said about his performance as the Joker. I guess the SAG, BAFTA, Golden Globe and Oscar said all that there could be said. And for “Brokeback”, he was overshadowed by PSH for “Capote”. What a shame, a real shame. It’s hard for me to pick which performance of his is better? Sometimes I lean towards The Joker, and other times I lean towards Enis. Face it, they’re both perfect.

8 ½. – Daniel Day-Lewis as Guido Contini in “Nine”

Daniel Day-Lewis is the greatest actor I have ever seen. I will challenge anyone who claims that someone is better. Sure, you can throw around Bogart or Brando or DeNiro. But I will stack his performance in “My Left Foot” and “There Will Be Blood” against any Brando or DeNiro performance. In “Nine” Day-Lewis talks with a genuine Italian accent, and sings (though he’s no Dean Martin) in an Italian accent. He is brilliant in this film, just fucking brilliant.

8. – TIE: Philip Seymour Hoffman and Meryl Streep in “Doubt”

This is truly a team effort. The entire film is a battle of showmanship between Streep and Hoffman. The way they fight each other is as epic as Luke Skywalker battling Darth Vader. The display of their acting craft is monumental, and will bring anyone to their knees. Watch this if you haven’t seen it yet. It’s amazing to watch.

7. – George Clooney as Bob Barnes in “Syrianna”

Clooney completely broke his typecast in this role – more like fucking shattered it. He became an artist that year, actor, producer, director and writer. He’s a marvelous talent. This film is truly an ensemble piece that doesn’t have a lead actor – oil is the main focus and character of the film. But George Clooney brings the house down in his final scene. It floods me with overwhelming emotion every single time I see it.

6. – William Hurt as Richie Cussak in “A History of Violence”

This is the biggest example of less is more. The little screen time that Hurt is given, he uses it to the extreme. He’s absolutely unbelievable, and I think his character is much like that of Col. Kurtz in “Apocalypse Now”, he’s the final trial of the main character’s journey to return home to his family. His performance is burned into my brain. There are very few actors with raw talent like William Hurt.

5. – TIE: Christoph Waltz as Col. Hans Landa in “Inglorious Basterds” and Javier Bardem as Anton Chigurh in “No Country for Old Men”

This is much like Ledger’s role in “The Dark Knight”. There’s nothing more I can say about their PERFECT performance. There is a reason both of them swept critics awards, won the SAG, Golden Globes, BAFTA and Oscar. This was their major introduction to American audiences. That’s one helluva break through! To be honest, I do have to give the edge to Waltz. He’s amazing.

4. – Julianne Moore as Charlie in “A Single Man” and for Cathy Whitaker in “Far From Heaven”

Academy, please give her an Oscar already! I don’t care if it’s for a lifetime achievement award! Just someone, do something! She’s absolutely brilliant. ‘Nough said!

3. – Colin Firth as George in “A Single Man”.

Colin Firth gave a performance like nothing I’ve ever seen before. I’ve never see a performance that is so…empty. He’s unbelievably touching and gives a beautiful performance that brings me to my knees each time I see it. We need to see more Colin Firth. Now.

2. – Jeff Bridges as Ted Cole in “The Door in the Floor”

This is hands down Jeff Bridges finest performance. If you ever want to see an excellent, perfect, mind boggling performance, try and seek out Tod Williams’ “The Door in the Floor”. Bridges is heartbreaking, just plain heartbreaking. Ted Cole will stay in your heart forever.

1. – Daniel Day Lewis as Daniel Plainview in “There Will Be Blood”

This is the biggest tour-de-force performance ever on screen.

“Shutter Island” – 2010 Dir. Martin Scorsese

“Shutter Island” Directed by Martin Scorsese

Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Ben Kingsly, Mark Ruffalo, Emily Mortimor, Jackie Earle Haley, John Carrol Lynch, with Ted Levine and Max von Sydow.

“Wouldn’t you agree – if you see a monster, you must stop it.”

Martin Scorsese’s new feature follows the story of two US Marshall’s embarking to the mysterious and well isolated Shutter Island, home of the criminally insane.  It’s 1952, the Third Reich has fallen, and there is a new and more inanimate threat to America’s way of life in the form of Communism.

DiCaprio (Scorsese’s new DeNiro) plays Teddy Daniels, a hard bent alcoholic, WW II vet who has a primal need for violence.  His new partner Chuck Aule (played brilliantly by Ruffalo) isn’t as hard bent, nor as violent.  Their assignment is to find a patient who escaped out of her cell, “it’s as if she evaporated through the walls” says Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley).

The men arrive on Shutter Island and are essentially stripped of all their legal power and jurisdiction due to the strict rules set by the Warden.  The island is creepy, and filled with eerie patients and orderlies.

Daniel’s see quick that something isn’t right on this island, that there is something very strange going on.  His hunch grows as he meets more patients, and doctors – especially Dr. Naehring – a German doctor who Daniel’s suspects is a former Nazi.  It is such a treat to see Sydow in a Scorsese film, it feels long over due that an actor of his prestige and callaber hasn’t worked with Scorsese before.

I saw this film with my friend Peyton and we figured out the ending about 45 minutes into the film.  The best part of “Shutter Island” is the acting, the supporting cast is amazing, and is one of the best ensemble acted films I have seen in a long, long time.  The problem that exists in “Shutter Island” is it isn’t a Scorsese film.  It has certain aspects and signatures of his previous body of work.  Basically the film was something he was hired to direct, it’s not a project that he sought out, and had been wanting to make.

I have a similar complaint with “The Departed” (although that is a much, much better film).  There are aspects of “The Departed” that feel like a Scorsese film, such as the opening voice over monologue with Nicholson and the use of “Gimme Shelter” – then later in the film the sex scene that is queued up to “Comfortably Numb” by Roger Waters and Van Morrison.  But it doesn’t feel personal enough to me.

To make my defense, I am the biggest Scorsese fan that I know.  I have seen his brilliant deep cuts, “The Last Temptation of Christ”, “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore”, “Life Lessons”, “After Hours”, “Who’s That Knocking at My Door”.  “Shutter Island” is much like “Cape Fear” – a film genre that Scorsese isn’t a staple in.  They are both films that were made to make money, to be marketed to the masses (as was “The Departed” to a certain extent).  I feel that Scorsese hasn’t made a Scorsese film since “The Aviator” and prior to that one of his masterpieces, “Gangs of New York”.

The acting is brilliant in Island, but I am starting to get tired of DiCaprio.  I think the his best Scorsese performance was in “The Aviator” and I think he can be replaced in his other collaborations.  I have always thought that Collin Farrel would have been perfect to play Amsterdam in “Gangs of New York”.  DiCaprio has some very good scenes in the film, but other scene’s feel forced to me, they feel like he is trying to stretch himself too thin.

The absolute best scene in the film is a remarkable display of Ted Levine’s acting craft.  In a short jeep ride from the woods, back to the main compound on Shutter Island, Levine (who has three small scenes as the Warden of Shutter Island) talks to DiCaprio about violence.  He speaks metaphorically to Daniels about how both of them have a general desire and need to blood, how they have this genuine taste for blood.  Levine is haunting and scary in this scene, and gives a performance just as good as Buffalo Bill in “Silence of the Lambs” or Bosco in “Heat”.

The film is semi-worth seeing for the stellar acting ensemble, and for the visually haunting Shutter Island, with much homage shown to “The Shinning” and “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”.  The scene’s of DiCaprio having flashbacks to WWII are where you can tell it’s a Scorsese picture.  It feels authentic – it feels great.

I long for Scorsese to make another personal film.  His next project has been said to be “The Invention of Hugo Cabert” a French childrens story.  Oh, and it’s supposed to be in 3D.  When is Scorsese going to make is long promised “Silence”, or “I Heard You Paint Houses” which is supposed to be his reteaming with DeNiro about a Irish hitman who is rumored to have killed Jimmy Hoffa.  What about his Sinatra biopic?  With “Sinatra” I am fearing he will once again force DiCaprio on us as Frank Sinatra.  I don’t think that would work, but I’ve been wrong before.

The “prestige” of “Shutter Island” let me down so much, once you get the rug pulled from underneath your feet, and you realize what the “twist” ending is – you’re going to love it, or your going to hate it.  After seeing the film, and thinking about it, I cannot even believe Martin Scorsese would have made a film such as this.  I’m not being harsh on this film, I just expect more from Scorsese.

Review: 6/10.