I Found It At the Movies: 1985—Year of the Dragon (Michael Cimino)


Inspired by Dave Hicks’ excellent blog, I have decided to write about my favorite film for each year from 1926-2008.

1985: Year of the Dragon (Michael Cimino)

If being a great director means making people feel good about themselves or providing a sort of fantasy American dream, then Cimino is not very good at all. But if being a great director means using a camera to tell a story and using the frame in as dynamic a way as possible, then Cimino is a master.

It’s been years since I’ve seen this film, but off the top of my head I can already recall three scenes that are masterfully directed: A nightclub shootout, the moment following a home invasion and the final set piece. When I say masterful direction, I mean perfect shot selection, purposeful and expressive camera movement and specific editing—all done in a way where the viewer always understands the geography of the scene.

I don’t mean to sell Cimino short by suggesting that this film is a merely a cold, technical enterprise. In fact, I feel quite strongly about Mickey Rourke’s character, and the second moment I referenced above is particularly devastating.

This is a flawed film, certainly. But when it’s clicking, it’s crime elevated to the same operatic and cinematic heights as Coppola’s work in the Godfather films. It seems to have exercised a major influence on the cinema of Michael Mann and is an important link to King of New York, Carlito’s Way and other modern crime films. As much as anyone in this countdown, Cimino as an auteur—and the film itself—are both quite desperately in need of re-evaluation

What moviemakers can learn: The great French critic/moviemaker Eric Rohmer once wrote that cinema is the “art of space.” If this is true, Cimino is one of the greatest moviemakers ever; very few directors have used the camera to explore cinematic space as expressively and fluidly as him.

Other contenders for 1985: I still have some things to see from this year. These include: George Romero’s Day of the Dead, Atom Egoyan’s Next of Kin and Jean-Luc Godard’s Détective. I need to revisit Robert Zemeckis’ Back to the Future, as it’s been too long since I’ve seen it to know where it would place on this list. I really like Akira Kurosawa’s Ran, Martin Scorsese’s After Hours and Stephen Frears’ My Beautiful Laundrette, and I love Maurice Pialat’s Police and Paul Schrader’s Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters. Meanwhile, my closest runner-up is Wim Wenders’ Tokyo-Ga.

After living in Los Angeles for seven years, Jeffrey Goodman returned to his hometown of Shreveport, Louisiana to direct The Last Lullaby. Co-written by the creator of Road to Perdition, and starring Tom Sizemore and Sasha Alexander, The Last Lullaby was filmed entirely in and around Shreveport and financed by 48 local investors. Goodman is now at work raising money for his next feature, Peril.

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