Inspired by Dave Hicks’ excellent blog, I have decided to write about my favorite film for each year from 1926-2008.
1995: Heat (Michael Mann)
Ask me to choose my favorite post-‘70s crime film, and this is it. Not only is Heat Mann’s greatest accomplishment, I also think it’s our greatest post-Godfather crime epic. Why do I like it so much?
- Location Work
First off, I love how it treats one of my favorite aspects of the original noir films: Location work. I gravitate toward realism, and there’s a profound effect that comes with the choice to shoot on actual locations that’s missing for me in the more artificial and heavily art-directed neo-noirs. After all, noir was spearheaded by jaded Europeans who, having fled their countries, arrived in Hollywood with a desire to tell the truth. For them, part of getting at that truth was taking a more realistic approach to moviemaking. Mann’s work here, particularly his interest in shooting on actual locations, connects Heat with these earlier films.
- Formal Rigor
Often relegated to B-film status, Mann takes the crime film and gives it the most artful of presentations. There’s a specificity in every shot, every cut and every camera movement. Mann has Kubrickian control, a conception of craft and an attention to formal detail unmatched by anyone currently working in Hollywood. One of the more appealing aspects of the first cycle of noir films is their formal audacity and achievement. By creating such a highly formal work, Mann once again offers up a connection between his cinema and the traditions of the past.
- Existential Noir
Rather than take the more popular post-modern approach to noir, Mann steers clear of irony, narrative gymnastics and pop-culture references to deliver a work with existential weight. To me, the tone of Heat feels more in line with the first cycle of noirs than that of the post-modern noir films that began to appear in the seventies.
- Modern Treatment
While Heat resembles classic noir films, it’s not merely a re-tread of them. Mann updates the tradition and gives it a new feel, his most major contribution being how he deals with sound and music. Most of the films from the first noir cycle had symphonic scores; Mann takes this tendency and replaces it with minimal, electronic music. Heat also relies much more on natural sounds than the early noirs did. Just listen to the way Mann makes sound the driving force during some of the key moments in the film, how he accents the big trucks in the first set piece or the guns in the famous heist scene. By being so loyal in other areas while still making such a radical departure in his treatment of sound and music, Mann both upholds the noir tradition and moves it forward.
It’s a taste thing, I realize. But for me, when it comes to updating noir, Heat is the perfect paradigm for a new direction. I simply think it’s masterful.
What moviemakers can learn: Shape and form. Unlike many of today’s moviemakers, Michael Mann adheres to a classical concept when it comes to scene construction. Many scenes in the film have an extremely clear arc: Beginning, middle and end. Watch, for instance, the famous bank heist or the infamous De Niro/Pacino coffee shop encounter.
Other contenders for 1995: From this year, I still have some things to see. These include: Carl Franklin’s Devil in a Blue Dress, Jacques Rivette’s Up, Down, Fragile and Hou Hsiao-hsien’s Good Men, Good Women. At some point, I need to revisit Gus Van Sant’s To Die For and Todd Haynes’ Safe, as it’s been too long since I’ve seen either of them to know where they’d place on this list. From this year, I really like Claude Chabrol’s La cérémonie, Martin Scorsese’s Casino, Noémie Lvovsky’s Oublie-moi, Takeshi Kitano’s Sonatine, Benoît Jacquot’s A Single Girl, Larry Clark’s Kids, Maurice Pialat’s Le garçu and Mathieu Kassovitz’s La haine. I love Jean-Luc Godard’s JLG/JLG. And my closest runner-up is Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man.
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.