Inspired by Dave Hicks’ excellent blog, I have decided to write about my favorite film for each year from 1926-2008.
1991: My Own Private Idaho (Gus Van Sant)
God, I miss Heath Ledger, Brittany Murphy, Brad Renfro and especially River Phoenix. All were young actors with an incredible amount of talent who American cinema will never quite replace. Phoenix had an elemental presence on screen. He was wise, full of life and had a weight of vulnerability about him that I hadn’t seen since Clift or Dean. I always enjoyed his work, never more than in this early Van Sant film.
I think I’m on the somewhat unpopular side when it comes to Van Sant. Although I greatly admire his later, more experimental work (Elephant, Gerry, etc.), I definitely prefer some of his other films. I guess I like it when he takes himself a little less seriously, like he does here.
Idaho is beautifully shot, a fun concoction of just about every genre and full of Van Sant’s playful, stylistic flair. It’s breezy and possesses a good deal of heart while still feeling fresh, vital and tonally quite unique. Van Sant’s versatility continues to fascinate; he’s one of the most interesting directors out there, and he seems to be able to do most anything. About as bold and liberated as they come, I look forward to seeing where he goes next.
What moviemakers can learn: Color is one part of the film medium where I think Asian moviemakers, like Wong Kar-wai, Tsai Ming-liang, Hou Hsiao-hsien and Takeshi Kitano, to name but a few, are unrivaled. But Van Sant is one of the great American moviemakers, and he understands that color can be as much of a tool as music and camera movement. And nowhere does Van Sant’s mastery of color show itself better than in Idaho.
Other contenders for 1991: I still have some things to see from this year. These include: Arnaud Desplechin’s La vie des morts and Hal Hartley’s Theory of Achievement, Ambition and Surviving Desire. At some point, I’ll need to revisit Oliver Stone’s JFK, as it’s been too long since I’ve seen it to know where it would place on this list. But from this year, I really like the Coen brothers’ Barton Fink and Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs. I love Abbas Kiarostami’s Life, and Nothing More…. And my closest runner-up is Maurice Pialat’s Van Gogh.
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.