The Most Romantic Films Ever About Death
"The Loved One"
This 1965 film by director Tony Richardson was WAY ahead of its time as it predicts a future where human remains can be propelled into outer space ("Resurrection NOW!!") for "an orbit of eternal grace." A visiting British poet (Robert Morse) handles his uncle's funeral in outlandish Hollywood style. Rod Steiger is a revelation as Mr. Joyboy, a master make-up artist to the dead. The cast is a who's who of early 60's film stars and celebrities, including James Coburn, John Geilgud, Tab Hunter, Liberace, Dana Andrews, Milton Berle, Roddy McDowall, and Jonathan Winters. The film has a pseudo-drug-induced surreal quality, which is perfect for midnight viewing. Watch for it on Turner Classic Movies!
"Harold & Maude"
This wonderfully absurd comedy pairs the young Harold Chasen (Bud Cort) with 79-year-old Maude (Ruth Gordon). He is obsessed with death and she celebrates life with every breath she takes. Cort plays Harold as a pale, eccentric lad that could be Wednesday Addams' missing twin. He stages fake suicides, attends funerals of people he doesn't know, and drives a hearse. There are loads of contrasts....a hearse drives off under a beautiful rainbow....a funeral clashes with a parade....Maude brings a bright yellow umbrella to rainy, dreary funerals. Hal Ashby directed this 1972 classic, written by Colin Higgins. The soundtrack, showcasing the music of Cat Stevens (real name: Stephen Dmitri Geogiou; later changed name to: Yusuf Islam in 1978 when he converted to become a Muslim), is just as important to the story as Simon & Garfunkel's songs were to "The Graduate." I really enjoy this film, although the idea of the two main characters sleeping together is a bit extreme for my taste.
"My Life Without Me"
It is very unlikely for me to watch a film twice in one sitting. In fact, I can count those films on one hand. "My Life Without Me," I watched THREE times in a 24 hour period! Sarah Polley gives a haunting Oscar caliber performance as a mother of two little girls who discovers her very young life is going to be cut short. Instead of falling to pieces, she meticulously develops a list of "things to do" before she dies and then systematically accomplishes them. She calmly deals with her impending death with such grace that you can't help but admire her character and hope that you could do the same, if given the same situation. "My Life" also stars Amanda Plummer, Mark Ruffalo, Debbie Harry, and Scott Speedman (as her husband). Do not miss this movie!! (2003).
Director Paul Weiland's charming valentine, staged in Italy, stars Mercedes Ruehl (Roseanna), as a woman with a bad heart, married to Jean Reno (Marcello). Her dying wish is to be buried in her home town's small church cemetery. Marcello's task throughout the film is to keep everyone in town healthy and alive because there are only three grave sites left in cemetery. This is a VERY funny film about death, dying, euthanasia, and over-crowded cemeteries. The opening sequence features a graveside funeral for circus-folk which incorporates a tight-wire act.
"Truly, Madly, Deeply"
This 1991 film provides an interesting twist to the notion of "life after death," as a young London woman - traumatized by the death of her lover - discovers that he has taken up residence in her flat. Alan Rickman plays Jaime, the late lover, and Juliet Stevenson portrays Nina, the heart-broken survivor; the film is directed by Anthony Minghella. Grinny was especially pleased with the fact that Nina lived near Highgate Cemetery and with a poem Jaime recited in Spanish, while Nina translated:
If you are not living,
If you beloved, my love, if you have died,
All the leaves will fall on my breasts,
It will rain on my soul all night, all day,
My feet will want to march to where you're sleeping,
But, I shall go on living.
This is a really sweet film, with a very optimistic ending, and perfect for anyone who has lost a lover/husband/wife/partner.
1. Pan's Labyrinth
2. The Departed
3. Little Miss Sunshine
4. Prairie Home Companion
5. United 93
6. Thank You For Smoking
7. An Inconvenient Truth (Hey! If we don't solve global warming, we ALL DIE!!)
8. The Children of Man
10. Stranger Than Fiction
*There were so many wonderful films this year....unfortunately, many of them had no death references, so I could not include them in this list. My other fave films include: Half Nelson and The Devil Wears Prada.
My fave rave t.v. shows for 2006: "24" - SUCKED this season! "Entourage"- An insider's view of the Hollywood scene that's a joy to watch! "The Office" - One of the top comedies on the tube...along with "My Name is Earl" and "Scrubs."
Scroll down for reviews of the films listed
New DVD/Video Reviews:
Best Rental Bet: "My Life Without Me"
It is very unlikely for me to watch a film twice in one sitting. In
fact, I can count those films on one hand. "My Life Without Me,"
I watched THREE times in a 24 hour period! Sarah ("Go!" and
"Night of the Living Dead") Polley gives a haunting "Oscar
caliber performance" (Dann Gire, Daily Herald, Chicago) as a 23-year-old
mother of two little girls who discovers her very young life is going to be cut
short. Instead of falling to pieces, she meticulously develops a list of
"things to do" before she dies and then systematically accomplishes
them. She calmly deals with her impending death with such grace and
dignity that you can't help but admire her character and hope that you could do
the same, if given the same situation.
"My Life Without Me" also stars Amanda Plummer, Mark Ruffalo, Debbie Harry, and Scott Speedman (as her husband). Do not miss this movie!! I consider it one of the best movies about death and dying ever! (2003).
New! Michael Moore's "Sicko" is a MUST SEE for all Americans. We consider ourselves one of the greatest countries in the world, yet 50 million Americans are without decent healthcare and many die needlessly .....and the rest of us are paying way too much while insurance companies and pharmaceuticals reap profits that rival the big oil companies! Moore does a solid job of asking all of the questions our corporate-owned, neutralized Media should be asking. And, his observations about our nation's fear-based culture (which were introduced in "Bowling for Columbine") become more and more obvious. As he alludes to in the film, it's time for Americans to take to the streets and protest! The time for socialized medicine (or some kind of hybrid system) is NOW, so that EVERYONE has access to healthcare....otherwise the chasm between the "Haves" and "Have Nots" will continue to widen. GO SEE THIS MOVIE and above all, WRITE CONGRESS, PROTEST IN THE STREETS, and DEMAND CHANGE!
New! "Little Miss Sunshine" is a highly enjoyable ensemble "dysfunctional-family-on-the-road" movie featuring a stellar cast that includes Greg Kinnear, Alan Arkin, Toni Collette, and Steve Carell. A family travels cross country so that their daughter can compete in a beauty pageant, and along the way, they learn about themselves and what it means to be a family. Written by Michael Arndt and directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, I think this is one of the top films of the year! Thank goodness for independent film-making and cinematic gems like this one! Oh yea, I need to share that there is a death (one of the criteria for my being able to include it on this Web site), but I won't say who dies (I don't want to ruin the fun). The death is a pivotal point in the story as well as the catalyst for some of the funniest moments in the film.
New! Robert Altman's "Prairie Home Companion" showcases Garrison Keillor's popular radio show and an all-star cast (Meryl Streep, Lily Tomlin, Tommy Lee Jones, Kevin Kline and more!). This whimsical, yet profound, tale works on several levels: the death of a colleague (a radio veteran dies during a broadcast), the death of radio shows, and the impending death of all of us. Virginia Madsen plays "Dangerous Woman," an Angel of Death, who - for my money - I hope comes for me when my time comes!
New! "Thank You for Smoking" is an extremely well-written satirical comedy that follows Big Tobacco spokesman Nick Naylor (Aaron Eckhart) as he joins his MOD Squad (MOD stands for "Merchants of Death") buddies, alcohol lobbyist Polly Baily (Maria Bellow) and firearms lobbyist Bobby Jay Bliss (David Koechner) as they argue over which of their products kills the most people. Nick does a great job of putting a positive spin on cigarettes while he tries to be a good role model for his son. One of the best films of the year!
New! "Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada" features Tommy Lee Jones as ranch hand Pete Perkins, who looks to fulfill a promise to bury his best friend in his hometown in Mexico. Starring Dwight Yoakam, Barry Pepper, and an amazing cameo by Levon Helm as Old Man with Radio.
*Writer-director Thomas Bezucha serves up "The Family Stone," your typical dysfunctional family at the holidays film along with the patented "it all works out" ending. But dammit, it works! Diane Keaton is amazing and deserves an Oscar nod for her portrayal of the matriarch of the family. This is a three-hanky tear-jerker, so come with Kleenex!
*"The Constant Gardener" works on two levels: 1) it's a well-made, well-written film with superb actors; and 2) it's premise is timely and most likely accurate: pharmaceuticals are using the poor as guinea pigs.
* In "Walk the Line," both Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon channel Johnny and June Carter Cash. A biopic with great music, but not quite as good as last year's "Ray."
*"King Kong" is "Jurassic Park" on steroids! With a three-hour running time, you will need to time your bathroom break for BEFORE they reach Skull Island. See it on the BIG SCREEN!
*Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn star in one of the funniest movies of the summer, "Wedding Crashers." Weddings and funerals turn out to be better than singles bars for scoring one-night stands or life partners. This lusty, bawdy, wacky romantic comedy has lots of great lines, but my favorite is said by legendary scam artist/sex sage Chaz (Will Ferrell), "Grief is Nature's greatest aphrodisiac." Kudos to director David Dobkin for using Christopher Walken as the relatively "normal" patriarch of a nutty, dysfunctional family.
* Miranda July's Cannes winner "Me and You and Everyone We Know" is an incredibly quirky film that really sticks with you. Sure there's borderline pedophilia, a blow-job contest, and a lead character who torches his hand to "save his life," but the film's focus is love and loneliness.....and how you choose to "pass time." An old woman passes away and provides a moment where her partner discovers that he had previously lived with someone he didn't care for, yet they had traveled the world. And now, he is with the woman he truly loves and wants to spend his life with.....and they can't travel....and in fact, their time together is extremely limited. Who says life doesn't have a wicked sense of humor? ))<>((
*Paul Haggis, writer for last year's "Million Dollar Baby," co-wrote and directed the powerful "Crash," an American tale about racism as whites, blacks, Latinos, Koreans, Iranians, cops, and criminals, rich and poor interact. Stars Sandra Bullock, Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon, Brendan Fraser, and Ludacris. Amazing storytelling and easily one of the best films of the year.
*"Batman Begins" takes super hero films to another level with solid performances, a strong script, cryptic fight scenes, and masterful storytelling. Stars Christian Bale as Batman, Michael Caine as Alfred the butler, Liam Neeson, Katie Holmes, Gary Oldman, and Morgan Freeman. Young Bruce Wayne's parents die in an alley and a mythic crime-fighter is born! Not only a great film for the summer, but undoubtedly one of the best movies of the year.
*"Cinderella Man" is Ron Howard's ode to great Irish-American boxer James J. Braddock, a man who fights his way from the bread lines of the Great Depression to the title fight. Powerful performances by Russell Crowe as Braddock, Renee Zellweger as his wife and Paul Giamatti as his trainer-manager. This is "Rocky" meets "Seabiscuit."
* "Millions," a 2004 British release now playing screens across the U.S., is the latest release by director Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, 28 Days Later). Unlike his earlier, "darker" films, "Millions" is a heart-warming family film about two young brothers who stumble on to a bag of money. One wants to spend the money on selfish desires, while the other believes in generosity toward the needy. The death of a parent is a focal point of the story and leads to a tender, teary-eyed climax.
*"Maria Full of Grace" is the story of how Columbian drug lords use poor women as drug mules, and the harrowing way these women transport drugs into the U.S. by swallowing packets of cocaine and discharging them after arrival. Some of the women survive the trip, but many don't.
*"Million Dollar Baby" will probably stand as THE best film of Clint Eastwood's long and revered career. This masterpiece showcases outstanding performances by Hillary Swank, Morgan Freeman and Clint, himself. This film is all about redemption, as Clint develops a loving, fatherly connection with a woman boxer who is all heart'n'guts. For the "death" connection, go see the film....I don't want to spoil the plot twist.
*"Finding Neverland" is beautifully written and stars Johnny Depp, as J.M. Barrie, the author of "Peter Pan," and Kate Winslet.. Kate Winslet steals the movie with a heart-breaking portrayal of a dying mother and her friendship with Barrie. Using "Neverland" as a metaphor for "heaven," the closing moments are both bittersweet and magical.
*"The Garden State" is Scrubs (the best, most highly under-rated network comedy!) star Zach Braff's debut feature film. A mother's death acts as a catalyst for her son's healing and growth. Natalie Portman steals the movie as the lead character's love interest.
*"Shaun of the Dead" is a U.K. zombie-romance-comedy with lots of laughs (especially the last 10 minutes!).
*"The Barbarian Invasions" is 2003's Academy Award winner for best foreign language film. It's a poignant, intelligent film about family, friends and the important things in life. The story of the love between a father and son, and the mystery of death. Highly recommended!
*"2 Brothers and a Bride" stars David Arquette and Tim Blake Nelson as two brothers in search of a wife after their mother dies. Cute comedy about finding romance, or simply a "wife," on the Internet.
*"Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" is the crowning glory of the BEST film trilogy done in the history of movies. The three films represent the classic hero story: fate hands a reluctant hero a task - a quest to complete - and he pursues the journey to complete the quest. Along the way, he seeks help from various mentors/friends and he learns a great deal about himself. The powerful message of this film is that we are all here on earth to complete our own "quest" and when we are through, we leave to embark on our next level (ie. heaven)...thus, the symbolic close when Frodo hops the boat for his next destination. Great special effects, cast and story. "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy will stand as a benchmark for movie-making for a long, long time.
* "Dirty Pretty Things" is, in this critic's opinion, the BEST over-looked film of 2003! I LOVED this film! Great acting and story....much better than most of the films receiving nods for excellence this year. It opens with a human heart stuck in a toilet and the thriller-mystery goes from there.
* "In America" is Jim Sheridan's charming, heart-warming tale of Irish immigrants in contemporary New York. Recently deceased young brother "Frankie" is never seen, but his presence is felt throughout the film.
* In "Monster," Charlize Theron plays killer Aileen Wuornos in this heart-breaking tale of survival and love.
* Mom dies and Nemo gets nabbed by a scuba-diving dentist. Dad (Albert Brooks) and friend (Ellen DeGeneres) go off on a quest to find Nemo. "Finding Nemo" is a story about taking risks in life, with superb animation.
* "House of Sand and Fog" showcases excellent performances by Jennifer Connelly (in my humble opinion, THE most beautiful woman in film today) and Ben Kingsley, and a wonderfully balanced story about two people vying for ownership of a simple home near the ocean.
* "Whale Rider" is a warm and wonderful tale about a young girl with the heart and character to lead her village, if only given a chance. Dying whales turn the tide in her grandfather's acceptance of her as the next "chosen" chief.
* "Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World" is director Peter Weir and actor Russell Crowe's superb see-worthy tale that captures life on the high seas for that time period. Anyone wanting to learn about leadership need only watch this film for loads of time-proven directives. Great maritime battle scenes that need to be seen on the big screen to fully appreciate their grandeur.
* "Swimming Pool" presents this mystery-thriller equation, with a fun twist: an uptight female British writer PLUS a sexy promiscuous young woman, EQUALS a dead (or is he?) local waiter.
* "The Cooler" showcases the mega-talented William H. Macy as a loser who's luck changes when he meets a casino waitress. A well-timed death at the end of the movie saves the day.
* "Once Upon A Time in Mexico" is the third installment in Robert Rodriguez's Sergio Leone-like "El Mariachi" trilogy. Antonio Banderas, Selma Hayek and Johnny Depp star in this stylish fast-paced, action-packed adventure. The film is well-worth seeing, but for my money, I enjoyed the supplemental materials to this DVD package far more. Rodriguez shares his intense enthusiasm and passion for film-making as he shares his secrets and home studio with the audience.
Other film & video/dvd reviews:
*"Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines" brings Ah-nold bahck...he might be fifty-something, but the guy is still buff and pumped up! Once again, the Terminator comes back from the future to effect John Connor's life. This time to save him. The story is okay, but the character development is weak and the dialogue lame. This comes as no surprise for a typical summer special fx-filled celluloid roller-coaster. The chase-action scenes are incredible and there are so many explosions and special effects that you'll probably forget to blink for two solid hours. An early scene takes place in "Greenwood Cemetery " where John Connor (Nick Stahl), Kate Brewster (Claire Danes), and the Terminator (you know!!) go to Sarah Connor's tomb, which happens to be void any remains, but stocked with an arsenal of weapons. We find out that after Sarah dies from leukemia, her body was cremated and her ashes scattered. The weapons are stored in her casket in case of an emergency. The trio become surrounded by police and attacked by a fashionable "Dominatrix Barbie"-meets-Nikita killing-machine called the T-X (Kristanna Loken). The three escape in a hearse, after the Terminator walks out of the tomb with the casket slung over his right shoulder and a high-powered machine gun extended from his left arm. With all of the cemetery references, I half-expected Nate from "Six Feet Under" to make a cameo as a funeral director at a nearby gravesite. Overall, T-3 is mindless summer fun, nothing more.
*"Crush" is a real weeper about three single women in rural England (one American, two Brits) that asks the question, "Could Mr. Wrong actually be Mr. Right?" In an early scene, Andie McDowell's 40-ish character (Kate), an uptight headmistress, has sex on a tombstone with a 25-year-old former student (Jed). I hate when people refer to films as "chic films," but this one REALLY is! So ladies, grab a box of tissues and enjoy (don't say I didn't warn you!).
*In the tradition of "Big Night" and "Chocolat," comes "Mostly Martha" a deliciously romantic comedy that has won more than ten international film awards. Martha is a single woman totally focused on her one passion in life: cooking. The sudden death of her sister acts as a catalyst for change when her sister's 8-year-old daughter, Kina, comes to live with her. Over time, Martha discovers the recipe for a happy life. A very enjoyable, heart-warming movie. In German with English subtitles.
*"The Hours," Michael Cunningham's well-written Pulitzer Prize-winning book, has been adapted to the screen and is clearly THE best film of the year. This masterful cinematic effort brings together top acting (Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, Nicole Kidman, Ed Harris, John C. Reilly and Miranda Richardson), a brilliant musical score by Philip Glass, screenplay by British playwright David Hare, and superb directing by Stephen Daldry. There's a haunting grace to the film as it deals with suicide as a welcome end to a painful existence, as well as the reality that someone's death ultimately makes others cherish life more.
* Roman Polanski's "The Pianist" is the tale of one man's choice to survive under the extreme conditions of the Holocaust. Adrien Brody is riveting in the title role, portraying Polish-Jewish pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman.
*"Chicago" is a well-executed (pun intended) musical starring Catherine Zeta-Jones, Renee Zellweger, and Richard Gere that focuses on the theme of: infamy = celebrity. Based on the 1942 movie "Roxie Hart" and the 1975 Bob Fosse Broadway show. There is one hanging and a few well-choreographed shootings.
*"About Schmidt" features an Academy Award caliber performance by Jack Nicholson as a man in his mid-60s who has to deal retirement, death of a spouse, and his daughter's wedding within a matter of weeks from each other. This is a funny, poignant sweet film about finding purpose in life.
*"Gangs of New York" is Martin Scorse's "Mean Streets" from an earlier time in American History. This ultra-violent picture starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Amsterdam Vallon looks at New York street gangs from the 1840s through the Civil War. The film is filled with hard-core gore and blood shed. Amsterdam's father is brutally killed by Bill the Butcher (Daniel Day-Lewis) and that incident propels the action that leads to the inevitable final battle between Amsterdam and Bill. The film closes with a view of an Irish cemetery overlooking New York city.
* Director Spike Jonze's "Adaptation" is a brilliant film that blurs the line between reality and fantasy while deconstructing the process of movie-making. Nicolas Cage portrays Charles Kaufman, a scriptwriter (in the story and in real life) who is writing an adaptation of the book, "The Orchid Thief." Meryl Streep is Susan Orlean, the author of "The Orchid Thief," and Chris Cooper plays the swamp-rat/orchid poacher John LaRoche. Cage also plays Donald Kaufman, Charles' brother and, at one point, co-writer. This film keeps you guessing as it gives you an insider's view of the creative process. To make my Web site, a film needs to have some kind of death connection, which this one does thanks to an alligator who gives one of the characters a "death roll" in the swamp. This is one of the best films of the year......a BIG decomposing thumb up!!
*"Bowling for Columbine" is
Michael Moore's brilliant documentary on guns, violence and the United
States. His premise is that our culture is one based on fear
and therefore, we irrationally arm ourselves and have the highest murder rate in
the world. A must-see for all Americans and a catalyst for constructive
conversation about seeking solutions for our violent society.
* Director John Sayles' "Sunshine State" stars Edie Falco, Timothy Hutton, Jane Alexander and Angela Bassett. Various Floridian characters live their lives and the viewer soon finds that they are all interconnected. I LOVE Sayles' films, even though this one has moments of dialogue that sound too theatrical for real-life conversation. Dead people play a key role in the climax of this gem of a film (I can't give away the ending, so I highly recommend renting it!).
*"13 Conversations About One Thing" is my favorite DVD rental of the year! It's a thought-provoking, fascinating film that will act as a catalyst for conversation about "small gestures," "happiness," and "fate." The film is written by Karen Sprecher and Jill Sprecher, directed by Jill (and I can't wait to see her next cinematic effort!) and stars Matthew McConaughey, John Turturro, and Alan Arkin. Arkin is brilliant as a cynical department manager for an insurance company who contemplates what happiness is and isn't. To make this list there needs to be a death reference and the one for this film is rather peripheral: one of Turturro's students commits suicide.
* Director Ray Lawrence's "Lantana" features a great cast and story about a woman's disappearance and death, which acts a wake-up call for a detective (Anthony LaPaglia) who is cheating on his wife. Also stars Barbara Hersey and Geoffrey Rush.
*"Signs," the new film by writer-director M. Night Shyamalan ("Sixth Sense" and "Unbreakable"), stars Mel Gibson as the father of two on an isolated farm where crop circles foreshadow a close encounter with aliens. There's a beyond-creepy scene with Mel's character and his soon-to-be-deceased wife that still haunts this reviewer's mind. This film is a major roller coaster ride with a nice balance of horror, humor, and unsettling supernatural suspense.
*"The Road to Perdition" is a classic tale of honor among thieves in "The Godfather" tradition. All of the major actors involved play against their established screen personas. Tom Hanks is a cold-blooded hit man, Paul Newman is a mean Irish mob boss, and Jude Law plays a truly creepy, skanky character - a combination hit man-photographer who shoots pix of dead (and almost dead) people. Perdition is the destination of Tom Hanks' character and his son, but it also means, "everlasting damnation" (and it could be worth BIG points if you use it in Scrabble!).
*"Y Tu Mama Tambien," directed by Alfonso Cuaron, is a Mexican road-trip, coming-of-age film involving two 17-year-old boys who convince Luisa, a woman 10-years older, to join them on a journey to an exotic beach location named "Heaven's Mouth." This film reminds one of youth and teenage notions about love and sex, as well as what it is to celebrate life. The location used for "Heaven's Mouth" is truly magical and this reviewer felt as if he'd been away on vacation after leaving the theater. "Y Tu Mama Tambien" (literally, "And Your Mama Too") is about more than just youth, sex and travel; it's about life's journey and all of the roadblocks, side trips, and detours we all encounter. Now, as with all films featured on this Web site, there has to be an element about death, dying or cemeteries. It's not for me to reveal why this film is featured here. You'll have to uncover this for yourself. But, for me, this is one of the best films of the year and well worth viewing. A really big decomposing thumbs up!! In Spanish with English subtitles.
*"Spider-Man" showcases wonderful special effects which allow the viewer to imagine the thrill of swinging through urban canyons on a spider-web-like vine; and credible character development as we watch Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) learn to be a super-hero. But, the dialogue lacks the witty, clever one-liners that make these super-hero-type films fun (except for the hospital scene where Parker's aunt reminds him to slow down because he's "not Superman.") and the Kirsten Dunst's cardboard girl-next-door Mary Jane Watson character is in desperate need of a personality. "Spider-Man" ends in a cemetery with a kiss between Peter and Mary Jane. This film is worth seeing for the visual effects alone, but I certainly hope the producers spend a little less money on effects and a lot more on a script for the next installment of this inevitable series.
* Directed by Richard Linklater ("Slacker" and "Dazed & Confused") "Waking Life" is a lot like "My Dinner with Andre," if "Dinner" was an animated, more layered, trippy, and creative film. "Waking Life" is filled with story-telling, theories, and thought-provoking conversations. This movie asks the question, "Are we sleep-walking through our waking state or wake-walking through our dreams?" It also presents various theories, including one where death is a dream-state where you never wake up and return to your physical body, and another one, that death is "dream-time that exists outside of life." "Waking Life" is a fascinating film that is best seen on video, where the viewer has the ability to stop and replay certain sections over and over again.
*"My First Mister" introduces the viewer to the weirdest
odd couple since "Harold and Maude." Jennifer Wilson (Leelee
Sobieski) is a 17-year-old-Goth. She's a dark, tatooed & pierced,
self-loathing teenager who LOVES cemeteries (the daughter I never had!!) and
looks like Edward Scissorhands' younger sister. She meets up with Randall
Harris (Albert Brooks), an up-tight, terminally-ill, middle-aged retail clothing manager who has
shut himself off from the world. Two isolated souls searching for a human
connection. Their chemistry is offbeat and interesting as "J"
introduces Randall to dead people in a local cemetery, where she likes to feel
the late person's "energy" by lying on top of their grave. Fun dialogue:
Benjamin (John Goodman): "So what's up with you and the dying guy?"
Patty (Mary Kay Place): "I only sleep with unavailable men."
This film has a great cast (in addition to the above mentioned: Carol Kane and Michael McKean), an intriguing story and interesting characters once you get past the somewhat implausible idea that a 17-year-old Goth would connect with a middle-aged conservative up-tight guy.
*"Bread & Tulips" is a charming Italian film about a house wife named Rosalba (Licia Maglietta) who finds happiness in freedom from her family and finds adventure in Venice. Rosalba learns about living out a dream, finding her voice, and making music in the world. Rosalba's neighbor, a wholistic masseuse named Graza, has a hard time with men as she discloses, "I've always had lousy luck in love. My first kiss was in a cemetery. I was 15 and we went there to smoke joints." (Was it Pere Lachaise near Morrison's grave?).
* I didn't get a chance to see "Ghost World" during it's rather limited theatrical run, so I camped out at the local Blockbuster to rent the video. I thoroughly enjoyed this tale of an offbeat character named Enid (Thora Birch), a recent high school grad, who together with her friend Rebecca (Scarlett Johanson), live in the twilight zone between high school and "real life." The ending is inspired as a "ghost" bus takes her to her next destination in life. I know that this is a stretch for being able include this video on my Web site, but Enid had two funeral procession flags in her room (on her t.v. antennae).
* David Lynch's "Mulholland Drive" is a divine Valentine to "film noir." I was reminded of "The Maltese Falcon," and the idea that the falcon itself was nothing more than a prop to propel the story. In MD, instead of a falcon there's a mysterious blue box. I also loved the bizarre late-night theater scene that emphasized the idea that we, as viewers, shouldn't get sucked into the characters in this film because "it's all an illusion." I LOVED this film! It's wonderfully inventive, incredibly clever, and a joy for any film buff. Lots of laughs, plot twists, and non-linear story-telling! This is one film I'm going to purchase on DVD to enjoy over and over again!
*"Monster's Ball" is an intense family drama that I feel surpasses the predictable, yet highly acclaimed "In the Bedroom," in this category. There are believable, powerful performances by Billy Bob Thorton, Halle Berry, and Peter Boyle. The film is filled with woe, yet the closing message - which happens to take place in the shadows of a few graves - is one of hope for the future.
*"The Royal Tenenbaums" is a dark comedy featuring a cast of quirky characters, with a great closing punchline (which happens to be a very appropriate epitaph for Royal Tenebaum's grave). Unfortunately, it takes a l-o-n-g time to get to the best joke of the film, and even with a superb cast (Gene Hackman, Ben Stiller, Bill Murray, Anjelica Huston, Gwyneth Paltrow, Luke and Owen Wilson, and Danny Glover), the movie seemed to drag. My guess is that it was a funnier read. I know LOTS of critics are raving about it, but I recommend waiting for it to be released on video/DVD.
*"In the Bedroom" has a great cast (Sissy Spacek, Marissa Tomei, and Tom Wilkinson) and powerful performances, but the story is JUST SO PREDICTABLE! There will most likely be an Academy Award nomination or two for the players in this film, but I'm not sure that's enough to urge you to see it at the theaters. It might be better to wait for it's video/DVD release date.
*"The Man Who Wasn't There" is the Coen's Brothers' vintage-Hollywood-film-noir tale starring Billy Bob Thorton, where a man survives a car crash only to die for a murder he didn't commit, although he did kill someone. It's a wonderful tribute to fate and destiny. A BIG decomposing thumb up!
*"Amelie" is a magically romantic Parisian romp starring gamine charmer Audrey Tautou (who looks like a modern day Audrey Hepburn), as the lead character. There are LOTS of references to death including a segment where Amelie watches her own obituary on television. This clever and refreshing film reminded me of the joyful, creative storytelling showcased in "Run Lola Run." I LOVED this film!! A REALLY BIG decomposing thumb up!!
*"Angel Eyes" stars Jennifer Lopez as a Chicago cop who helps a lost soul named "Catch" re-discover and learn to accept his painful past. He, in turn, helps her with issues with her father. "Catch's" resolves his issues with a trip to the cemetery. The story is intriguing, although contrived. Grinny's biggest pet peeve: Lopez, as a Chicago cop, NEVER uses her seat belt even though it's an Illinois law!!
* "The Widow of Saint-Pierre" is a French film featuring Juliette Binoche ("Chocolat"). The film's title cleverly refers to Binoche's character as well as being the nickname for the guillotine, which also plays a featured role. This film serves as an excellent argument against the death penalty as it tells the true story about a senseless crime committed by Ned Auguste, his earnest repentance, and the ultimate price he pays for the crime.
* "From Hell" is the Jack the Ripper thriller, directed by the Hughes Brothers, and starring Johnny Depp as Fred Abberline, a Sherlock Holmes-like police inspector. The tale, told in a very stylized and terror-filled way, really gives an accurate portrayal of Victorian London life from the perspective of the street prostitute. Grinny's favorite trivia item: Abberline places two shiny coins on the eyelids of a murdered prostitute and explains, "Its to pay the ferry man. If the person has no money, they can't cross-over." Highly recommended.- a BIG decomposing thumb up!
* I missed the theatrical run of "Enemy at the Gates," but recently rented the video. "Enemy" is the story of a cat'n'mouse game between the famous World War II Russian sniper Vassili Zaitsev (Jude Law) and the German marksman who pursues him (Ed Harris) during the Battle of Stalingrad. This film is filled with bloody, gorey, real-life-like kills that were far too violent for our current climate (post-September 11)....at least it had a happy ending (unless you're an Ed Harris fan). "Enemy" has a great script and cast, but I couldn't help but wonder why most of the Russians had British accents!
* "The Others," starring Nicole Kidman as a frenzied Grace Kelly-kind-of-character, is a solid ghost story which blurs the line between life and death. Many critics have compared this film with "The Sixth Sense," and although the comparison can be made, I found "The Others" to have too many peculiar incidents which made the viewer constantly wonder "what's wrong with this situation?" The story twist at the end is somewhat startling, but since the viewer is constantly trying to determine who is alive and who is dead, it's not shocking. Grinny particularly liked the "Book of the Dead" that Kidman's character thumbs through. It was once an accepted practice to photograph one's loved ones after death. In fact, in the "Tomes of the Dead" section of this Web site, you can find a listing for a book called, "Sleeping Beauty: Memorial Photography in America" by Stanley B. Burns, M.D. This is an incredibly creepy book to peruse and not recommended for parents or sensitive viewers.
* With a name like "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider," it was inevitable that this film was going to make an appearance on this Web site. Like "The Mummy Returns," "Tomb Raider" is a fast-paced special effects extravaganza emphasizing visuals over script. In other words, it's great, mindless summer fun! The funniest images, tended to be the most sexually-charged: Lara straddling a big phallic symbol that swings toward its goal of penetration AND Croft running in slow motion, practically dribbling her breasts.
* When I first saw the previews for "Moulin Rouge," I was reminded of Francis Ford Coppola's "One From the Heart," a visually stunning film saddled with a weak story about love. Coppola had every set for the film built, impeccably lit, and photographed in lush color. The film was fun to look at, but a disaster to follow. "Moulin Rouge," on the other hand, works both visually and as a love story. Sure, the story is campy and riddled with cliches, but that just adds to the fun. The images are fast and furious...colorful and perfectly lit...the dance numbers are fun and frenetic...the characters are Fellini-esque. In short, a film well worth checking out. Yes, there are scenes that will prompt a saccharine-induced gag, but overall, it's so creative and playful, the viewers can't help but enjoy themselves. Sadly though, death conquers love in the end (this is not giving away any secret....the foreshadowing is very blunt).
* "Shrek" is a very funny, very clever three-dimensional animated film that pokes fun at fairy tales while introducing a new screen character that is so enduring, he deserves to become a franchise. The story revolves around a lovable ogre named Shrek (voice by Mike Meyers) - accompanied by a talking Donkey (voice by Eddie Murphy) - who has to rescue Princess Fiona (voice by Cameron Diaz) from a dragon, so that she can marry the weasley, and short, Lord Farquaad (voice by John Lithgow). As a result of this feat of bravery, Shrek can then reclaim his swamp, which has recently become a home for hundreds of refugee fairy tale characters. From a death perspective, there are some peculiar remains of wannabe dragonslayers on display in the castle Princess Fiona is held captive. There's also a funny bit of dialogue when the Donkey, concerned that Skrek could die from an arrow-induced injury, warns, "If you see a long tunnel, stay away from the white light!" This movie is a lot of fun for kids and adults, and it has a sweet message to boot. Don't miss it!!
* "The Mummy Returns," this summer's most fun death'n'dying special effects extravaganza, reunites Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz as the Indiana-Jones wannabe Rick O'Connell and his Egyptologist sweetie, Evelyn. Now, ten years after their meeting, they are married and have a precocious eight-year-old son. Once again, "The Mummy" does an incredible job of bringing 1930s Egypt to the big screen with all of its marvel and charm. The story line is thinner than the transparent gauze used to wrap the mummies and the grin-a-minute dialogue is, at best, cute. But what the heck! This is the mindless summer fare that makes movie-going fun! And best of all, NO ONE STAYS DEAD IN THIS FILM! A BIG decomposing thumb up!!
* The HBO movie, "Wit," starring Emma Thompson as middle-aged professor Vivian Bearing, is a visual journal of her battle with advanced ovarian cancer. Thompson gives one of the finest performances of her career as she portrays a strong, witty, independent woman who is humbled by a disease that strips her of her dignity and humanity. Except for her nurse (Audra McDonald), everyone else treating her ailment reduces her to a one-dimensional patient and object of their research. This film also includes appearances by Christopher Lloyd and Harold Pinter (who also had a role in "The Tailor of Panama" reviewed above). Best quotes: Close to death, a former teacher comes to read to Vivian. Vivian falls asleep, and the teacher softly says, "And flights of angles sing thee to thy rest." Also, there's a wonderful line from 17th century existentialist poet John Dunne that is used throughout the movie: "Death not be proud.....And death shall be no more (comma) death thou shalt die."
* "Heartbreakers"is a romantic comedy starring Sigourney Weaver and Jennifer Love Hewitt as a mother-and-daughter team of grifters conning hapless bachelors Gene Hackman, Ray Liotta, and Jason Lee. Even though the film tends to be predictable, the performances by a terrific cast - except for Gene Hackman's over-the-top portrayal of a nicotine-freak billionaire - make it worth seeing. This film features one of the most bizarre death scenes in cinematic history as Hackman's character is "penilely impaled" by a well-endowed statue (Note from Grinny: Yes, I realize "peniley" is not a word, but that's the fairly accurate way Jennifer Love Hewitt's character described the situation). If anything, this film is worth seeing just for Hewitt's wardrobe from the Erin Brockovich Collection.
* "The Tailor of Panama" tells the tale of a disgraced British spy, played by Pierce Brosnan, who is sent to Panama as a last chance to make good. He connects with an expat tailor (Geoffrey Rush) and this movie, based on a John Le Carre novel, takes off as lie layered upon lie makes for Central American intrigue. Brosnan plays his character as if he were James Bond's never-do-well evil twin. Great acting, a solid story and powerful directing by John Boorman makes this intelligent thriller a first-class effort. Notable cemetery scene: Rush drops off film for Brosnan near "Lady Jane's" grave in a Panamanian cemetery, amidst children stealing graveside flowers for resale.
*"The Gift" is a psychological-supernatural thriller where a fortune-teller (Cate Blanchett) "sees dead people" and solves a murder. Directed by Sam Raimi and starring a terrific cast: Hilary Swank, Keannu Reeves and Greg Kinnear. The movie ends with a cemetery scene. A BIG decomposing thumb up!!!!
*"Shadow of the Vampire" is a wickedly funny new movie about the making of the 1922 film, ""Nosferatu." This isn't a documentary, but a clever look at one of the finest vampire movies ever made. "Nosferatu" was made by director F.W. Murnau and starred a little known, mysterious actor, Max Shreck. "Shadow" looks at the making of this film, but with one question in mind: what if Max Shreck was actually a real vampire? John Malkovich plays Murnau and Willem Dafoe is remarkable as Shreck. Grinny's favorite line of dialogue is from Malkovich portraying Murnau: "...our poetry, our music, will have a context as certain as the grave."
*"Chuck and Buck" is a wonderfully weird film about Chuck, who grew up, and Buck, who hasn't. Buck's mom dies from lung cancer, so the film starts with a funeral. This starts Buck's quest to re-connect with his childhood friend, Chuck, who now resides in Los Angeles and works in the music industry.
* Set in rural Mississippi in the 1930s, "O Brother Where Art Thou?"is a comical, updated version of the Odyssey, from the Coen brothers, featuring three escaped chain-gang members (including a surprisingly funny George Clooney, along with John Turturro and Tim Blake Nelson!). The boys escape their hanging during a flood.....and their life preserver is a coffin!
* David Mamet's very clever comedy "State
& Main" is the tale of a small Vermont town and its brush with
Hollywood. Death reference: Scriptwriter Joe Turner White
(the ever versatile and prolific Philip Seymour Hoffman) is talking to Doc
Wilson on the street. The old doctor takes a swig from his bottle of
Joe: "Shouldn't you be setting an example?"
Doc: "All I do is hold their hand while they die."
* "Remember the Titans" is based on the real-life story of high school football coach Herman Boone (played by Denzel Washington), a new black coach at a recently integrated school in the early 1970s. Even though the film is pretty shameless with all of its emotional button-pushing and predictable musical soundtrack, I found it to be far more interesting than most of the NFL games I've seen this season. Best cemetery moments: The film open and closes with a funeral-cemetery scene. AND, a pivotal cemetery scene brings a racially-divided football team closer together after an early morning jog to visit a Civil War cemetery.
*"Space Cowboys," directed and starring Clint Eastwood, could have also been called "Grumpy Old Men Go to Outer Space." The film is plagued by lame acting and a very predictable story. Best scene, in Grinny's humble opinion, of course: The moon becomes a cemetery of sorts, when it serves as the final resting place for Tommy Lee Jones' character, while "Fly Me to the Moon" plays in the background.
*"What Lies Beneath" tries to accomplish too much, and as a result, it fails to be nothing more than a lame psycho-supernatural-thriller. This film not only tries to pay homage to Hitchcock by including references to several of his classics, but it is also a ghost story AND a marriage-in-peril thriller, AND finally, a murder mystery. What really lies beneath here, is a script that should have been beneath Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer. Pfeiffer spends most of her camera time looking pale, glassy-eyed and deranged, while Ford bounces back-and-forth from a competent, even-tempered professional to a guilt-ridden, overly-emotional husband. The first 20 minutes or so of the film show great promise, but by the last 20 minutes, I couldn't wait to leave the theater. The only redeeming scene: the closing cemetery scene when Michelle Pfeiffer's character leaves a single red rose at the snowy grave of Madison Elizabeth Frank.
* "Agnes Brown" stars and is
directed by Angelica Huston. It's a sweet romantic film, set in Ireland,
that touches on such universal themes as life,
friendship, dreams and death. It's a film about little miracles,
one of which is a cameo by Tom Jones (a dynamic and fun performer in Grinny's
book!)! Agnes Brown is a recently widowed woman trying to
survive with her seven children. Her best friend is Marion, who shares a
fruit stall next to hers in a local outdoor market. Although she has her
share of trouble
(Agnes says, "If it was raining soup, I'd have a fork"), she always seems to have a guardian angel helping her out (as Roger Ebert observed in his review, "Agnes is like the lucky twin of Angela McCourt, the heroine of "Angela's Ashes."). Favorite quote from the film: Marion, knowing she's dying from cancer, "We're here for a good time, not a long time." Best cemetery moment: This film contains one of the funniest cemetery scenes I've ever seen! Three funeral processions converge at a cemetery leading to lots of graveside confusion.
*"After Life" is a Japanese film that examines the idea of: what is our most cherished memory from our lives? After life, the recently departed must choose a favorite, precious, meaningful moment from their lives and then, they will re-live that moment for eternity. Their own private heaven. This is a gentle, slow-moving film, but the premise will certainly lead to hours of discussion or self-examination.
* "Flawless" features Robert DeNiro as a retired security guard who befriends a drag queen, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman. As the video box describes: "Sometimes friendship can be found in the most unlikely places." This "Odd Couple" meets "As Good As it Gets" tale has plenty of good moments even though the story line is pretty unlikely and unbelievable. For me, the best scene is at the end when "the sisters" have a laugh-out-loud scene in front of a mortuary vehicle.
* I am currently reading John Irving's "A Prayer for Owen Meany" (a book with a LOAD of cemetery and death references!!) and decided to check out the film version of the tale. "Simon Birch" is a moving, delightful story of a young boy, with a growth deformity and "a broken voice," who faithfully believes God has a special plan for him. I really enjoyed this film and all of the performances (the cast includes Oliver Platt, Jim Carrey, and Ashley Judd). Best line: "Dad! Dad, I'd love to stay here in the graveyard all day, but I got a game. Remember?" - Simon Wentworth (son to Joe Wentworth, the narrator and played by Carrey; named after Simon Birch).
* I didn't get a chance to see "Jesus' Son" while in the theaters, but I was the first in line to rent it at my local video store. It's hard to describe this mystical and intriguing tale of druggie-drifter played by Billy Crudup, suffice to say it's a strange, non-linear tale with a powerfully poignant ending. "Fuckhead" (Crudup) lives up to his nickname as he makes loads of mistakes, loses his girlfriend, and almost succumbs to the darkness. He finally sobers up near the end of the film and starts to live his life "day-by-day, doing a little better each day." In the end, he walks down a dusty road, while hearing a hymn being sung by a woman in a nearby home: "Farther along we'll know all about it; Farther along we'll understand why. Cheer up my brother, live in the sunshine. We'll understand it all, by and by." Amen! It's a somewhat quirky film, but I really liked it! Best cemetery scene: While in a drug-induced state, Fuckhead stumbles into a drive-in movie theater and mistakes it for a cemetery.
* "Chocolat" is a charming fable about a mysterious woman, and her daughter, who "blows into" an uptight French village in the 1950s. Her chocolate shop starts to shake things up throughout the town as people learn to embrace and enjoy life. The stellar cast includes Juliette Binoche, Judi Dench, and Lena Olin; directed by Lasse Hallstrom ("The Cider House Rules," "What's Eating Gilbert Grape," and "My Life as a Dog."). The funeral of Armande (Judi Dench) is a turning point in the film. Another poignant moment, is when the Mayan-styled urn holding Vianne's (Bionche) mother's ashes breaks and she later decides to return them to the Northern winds. Tip from Grinny: try to see this film within a stone's throw of a chocolate shop, so you can indulge yourself after this 121-minute commercial for the tasty, sweet treat! I LOVED this film!!
* "Gladiator," so far, is this Web site's pick for
"best death & dying film of the summer!" There's plenty of
ultra-violent blood'n'gore in this "Spartacus" meets
"Braveheart" epic, which could only be improved by having more Sam
Peckinpah-like slow-motion shots to really allow the viewers time to study the
stunning quality kills (especially during the chariot scene where the slicing'n'dicing shoots by so fast, it's difficult to determine what
exactly is going on).
Best death-related scene: The dreamy tear-jerker sequence when Maximus (Russell Crowe) rejoins his wife and son.
Grinny's heart raced when viewing: The dramatic visuals depicting a vibrant, alive early Rome. When I've visited Rome and viewed the Flavian amphitheatre (Colosseum), the site of Circus Maximus, or any of the other ruins for that matter, I couldn't help but fantasize about what the thriving city was like at the height of its importance. Just like last year's "The Mummy," which brought early Egypt to life, "Gladiator" is a joy to view by any arm-chair anthropologist.
With homage to Roman emperor Commodus' life-saving or life-eliminating gesture, this film gets a bloody thumb's UP! (Apparently, Roger and Gene weren't the first to popularize this gesture).
Best death-related quote: "I knew a man who once said Death smiles at us all, all a man can do is smile back." - Maximus
Strange coincidence: Steve Reeves, who won fame playing Hercules in low-budget, Italian gladiator films in the 1950s and 60s, died the same week this movie opened. Grinny's favorite film of 2000!
Club." I did not see "Fight Club" during it's
theatrical run. After seeing its trailer, I wrote it off as a senseless
testosterone-injected homage to anti-social ultra-violent behavior. But,
it's not that at all! For me, "Fight Club" is a very cleverly written and conceived psychological thriller by director David Fincher, with the
best comic-romantic ending since "The Graduate." It's a wickedly
funny commentary on consumerism in America and how men define themselves.
A corporate cog, played by Edward Norton, can no longer tolerate his empty
IKEA-defined existence and finds a way to live life on the edge thanks to
meeting Tyler (Brad Pitt). Helena Bonham-Carter completes a whacked-out
love triangle as Marla Singer, a suicidal, self-help/support group junkie.
Death defines life throughout this movie as it's filled with near-death
experiences and a constant urge to seize the moment. Above all though, it
takes the idea of "beating yourself up" to a whole new
level!!! The film's logic may fall apart towards the climax, but it's
still a fine cinematic effort none-the-less. Best bit of dialogue: Marla has just
downed a load of pills and is on the phone with Edward Norton's character.....
"You ever hear a death rattle? Do you think it'll live up to its name? Or, will it be just a death hair ball? (HACK!) Prepare to evacuate soul!" This was Grinny's Favorite Video Pick from 2000!
* "Almost Famous" is a heart-felt valentine to rock'n'roll from its writer-director Cameron Crowe. This, in my humble opinion, is one of the finest and "real" movies ever made on the topic (along with "Spinal Tap," "That Thing You Do," "The Commitments".....not counting official concert films like "The Last Waltz," "Gimme Shelter," "Monterey Pop," etc.). This film is so truthful and honest in it's story-telling.....it embraces the time, the music, and the fans. It's a story of a young journalist and his experiences covering a rock band named, Stillwater, for Rolling Stone magazine. There are no cemetery scenes, but there is a very important near-death experience for Stillwater as their plane gets caught in an electrical storm. The band members, all afraid this is their last moments alive, openly and honestly share their feelings for each other. I especially liked the subtle humorous reference to "Peggy Sue," a classic by Buddy Holly, who died in a plane crash.
* "Traffic" is Steven Soderbergh's riveting and realistic drama about the contemporary drug trade between Mexico and the United States. This film should be mandatory viewing for our nation's leaders in Congress and the Senate. Their only conclusion would be to legalize drugs and bring our "drug war" under control. At one point, two Mexican policemen are tested for their loyalty to a local drug lord, and one is assassinated and buried in his self-dug grave. This gruesome and sobering scene is one that will stay with the viewer well after the credits roll!
* "Nurse Betty" is the most inventive and unpredictable comedy-thriller of the year and the performances by Renee Zellweger (Betty) and Morgan Freeman (Charlie) are the finest of their careers. There aren't any cemetery scenes or references, but the death of Betty's monumental-jerk husband, Del, starts a wild, multi-state chase. Surprisingly, this movie - with its romantic, sweet ending - is directed by Neil LaBute, who was responsible for the cruel and cynical "In the Company of Men" and "Your Friends and Neighbors."
* "You Can Count on Me" tells the tale of a brother (Mark Ruffalo) and sister (Laura Linney) as they cope with their individual abandonment issues and how the death of their parents impacts their lives, long after the fact. The movie begins with a funeral and there's an important cemetery scene toward the end. This film is exceptionally well-written and acted!
* "Quills," which showcases Geoffrey Rush as the Marquis de Sade, reminded me of a more wicked and sexually-charged "Dangerous Liaisons." This film emphasizes decadence with a capital "D!" The stellar cast includes Kate Winslet, Joaquin Phoenix, and Michael Caine. Director Philip Kaufman received GREAT performances from each star. The tragic death (and aftermath) of Madeline (Winslet) is haunting!
* "American Beauty" is a revelation in American film making and the "Best Narrated Film by a Dead Guy" since "Sunset Boulevard." Check out the funeral procession in the middle of the film and Ricky and Jane's conversation about death. A BIG DECOMPOSING THUMB UP! "American Beauty" was the big winner at this year's Oscars, with FIVE awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Cinematographer and Best Original Screenplay! Now, view it at home over and over again on video and DVD.
This film really wears well, with each additional viewing more enjoyable than the previous.....I laughed harder and found more moments to embrace with each screening. I particularly liked when Lester (Kevin Spacey) Burnham dies and he talks about his life flashing before his eyes; the most precious moments of his life. I went home and thought about what I'd like to see, in review, before I "pass." I ended up writing pages and pages of images.....apparently, rather than a simple "highlight" reel, my final feature will be of a James Cameron-epic magnitude! ("You'll just have to wait St.Peter....I'm still on reel three and there's three more to go!"). This was Grinny's Favorite Film of 1999!
*"American Movie" (1999) is a documentary about the making of a feature film called "Northwestern" and a short film called, "Coven." It features wannabe filmmaker Mark Borchard of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and his band of under-achievering, beer-guzzling buddies and an old, very depressed uncle who finances their efforts. I found this film both depressing and inspiring. Inspiring, because of Mark's ability to rally the troops and actually make a film ("Coven") and depressing, because he's a dreamer who lacks focus. Best cemetery moments: Mark got his start making movies as a youth in a local cemetery (three of these films were "The More The Scarier," Parts 1, 2, & 3). Also, Mark works at a cemetery, vacuuming floors in a large mausoleum and taking care of the grounds. Best cemetery-related dialogue: Mark: "The graveyard is like a stage. And all these dead people too...it's like they can't bitch at you, you don't have to hear their opinions, but they're there though. They're here as decent human beings finally."
*"Chicken Run" is creative, funny, and extremely well done. "Chicken Run" - from the makers of the "Wallace and Gromit" Claymation gems "The Wrong Trousers" and "A Close Shave" - lampoons the World War II movies "The Great Escape" and "Stalag 17" as a group of chickens try to escape their chicken farm through flight. Mel Gibson is the voice of "Rocky" an American rooster who inspires the group to pursue their dreams of flight and escape. Even though there are no obvious cemetery references, the motivation for the chickens' desire to escape is DEATH (they don't want to become the ingredients of a Mrs. Tweedy Chicken Pie!).
*"The Patriot" is a red, white, & blue "Braveheart" with three-cornered hats. Mel Gibson, fast becoming the epic battle film poster boy, plays a world-weary father forced to fight in a war he'd prefer to sit out. Lots of great combat footage and Entertainment Weekly reports that in the "summer movie body count, 'The Patriot' is astounding with a flag-waving 182 deaths!" Go Mel!! Best cemetery moments: the clandestine meetings by the militia at an abandoned mission next to a flooded cemetery (GREAT visual!! Grinny appreciates real estate with such a romantic view!).
*"The Perfect Storm" might not be very subtle with its foreshadowing and it more than YANKS at your heartstrings, but it is one hell of a ride; a riveting thriller, with incredible special effects!! After seeing how fishermen make a living, I will never complain about my job again. As reported on an MSNBC special on this film, commercial fishing has been called America's deadliest profession. In fact, in Gloucester, Massachusetts, where this movie takes place, there have been more than 10,000 deaths (two sources I've seen state 10,000, although the Fisherman's Monument in Gloucester states only 5,000.....even the town's Visitor's Center wasn't certain which number was correct) since they started keeping track in 1650! "The Perfect Storm," based on Sebastian Junger's best seller and directed by Wolfgang Petersen, is the tale about the six man crew of the the Andrea Gail, a fishing ship that had the tragic destiny of running into a monster storm system in the North Atlantic. The film is based on a true story as the Andrea Gail did, in fact, sink in 1991 (since radio transmissions were disrupted though, much of the closing hours of the struggle can only be imagined). The crew is led by Captain Billy Tyne, played by George Clooney, who teams up again with his "Three Kings" co-star Mark Wahlberg, who plays Bobby Shatford. Best Leonardo DiCaprio/"Titanic" moment: Wahlberg's final declaration of love for his girlfriend Chris (Diane Lane) just before he ends up in a raging sea alone. Best shameless heart-wrenching moment: Chris' dream where she "sees Bobby" and he says to her what his character declared before he died. In addition, at the screening I attended, there wasn't a dry eye in the house during the funeral and Linda's eulogy (Linda is a colleague of Tyne's played by Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio).
*"Mr Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter,Jr." is a documentary masterpiece by director Errol Morris. You have to respect a man who takes pride in his work. For Fred Leuchter, "work" is developing and perfecting instruments of death which will be used in the execution of Death Row inmates. For Fred, happiness is an efficient, humane way to kill people. We discover though, that expertise in one field doesn't translate into a competency in another as Fred's misguided logic supports the Holocaust revisionist movement - a move which leads to his ruin.
*"Shanghai Noon" is a decent summer film featuring the talented and inventive martial arts expert, Jackie Chan (in my opinion, this is Chan's best film since "Rumble in the Bronx"). The script is predictable and rather lame at times, but the film is a fun escape with a few laughs. One fun death reference: Chan's side-kick, a Sundance Kid-wannabe played by Owen Wilson, cheats death at a hanging by escaping in a wooden coffin.
* "The Virgin Suicides" is a thoroughly creepy, yet
intriguing tale of five repressed Catholic girls from suburban Michigan, who
eventually all end their lives (I'm not giving anything away, the audience
learns this very early on in the film). This movie presents an interesting
dichotomy: on one hand it's a charming coming-of-age story set in the 1970s,
capturing the awkwardness, magic and intensity of teenage love; and, on the
other hand, it's a truly sad and tragic tale of five young woman - the infamous
Lisbon girls - who end their lives while still only teenagers.
"The Virgin Suicides," based on the 1993 novel by Jeffrey Eugenides, is a strong directorial debut by Sofia Coppola who worked with a first-rate cast including: Kathleen Turner and James Woods as Ma and Pa Lisbon; Danny Devito as a psychiatrist; Kirsten Durst as the "stone-cold fox," Lux Lisbon; and Josh Hartnett, who played the doper-jock, Trip Fontaine (kewl name!).
Strange cemetery moment: When the family goes to bury the first daughter, 13-year-old Cecilia, the hearses are stopped by a picket line of cemetery workers on strike. One of them has clearly misspelled "cemetary" on his sign (Grinny's #1 pet peeve!!!).
* "High Fidelity" is a movie near'n'dear to Grinny's heart and here are the top FIVE reasons why:
1) I LOVED the book (Buy it! Read it! Nick Hornby is a fine writer; "About a Boy," his second novel, is also a great read!);
2) It's about a guy who lives for music (I too am a vinyl junkie!!);
3) It takes place in a city I adore: CHICAGO;
4) It's about making mistakes in relationships (been there, done that....more than I care to admit); and
5) There are two death references.....the Top 5 songs about death ("Leader of the Pack," "Dead Man's Curve," "Tell Laura I Love Her," etc.) and the Top 5 songs Rob (John Cusack) wants sung/played at his funeral (Great idea! Grinny will have to think about THAT!).
The only complaint I have is that it rains more in this movie than in "Angela's Ashes" (you'd think the movie takes place in Limerick or Seattle!) AND why doesn't Rob ever carry an umbrella?
(Send your ideas for the TOP FIVE songs about death and/or the TOP FIVE songs you'd have played at your funeral to Grinny. The results will be posted in the "Eulogies" section of this Web site).
* "Angela's Ashes" is an often dreary story of a young boy surviving his Irish Catholic upbringing in 1930s and 40s Limerick. There are several Irish cemetery scenes in the film, all of which are surprisingly in the sun, while the majority of the film is drenched in constant rain. It's as if The Lanes of Limerick, where much of the story takes place, were hell on earth and God only shines down on you when you die. I really liked this ironic twist on a standard movie cliche. "Angela's Ashes" does justice to the book and the author's subtle sense of humor, but with that said, don't pass up the chance to read this rich, Dickensesque tale.
* I didn't get a chance to see it during its theatrical run, but I've finally found time to check out "Double Jeopardy" (1999) on video. The premise for this film starring Ashley Judd and Tommy Lee Jones has more holes in it than a pair of Courtney Love's fishnet stockings, but you gotta love a film that pays tribute to New Orleans' funerals and cemeteries! A key scene is shot in Lafayette Cemetery #3 and features a New Orleans'-style funeral, complete with horse-drawn hearse and jazz band. Libby (Ashley Judd) even spends time in a casket, with a corpse, after her creepy husband Nick knocks her unconscious and locks her up in a mausoleum. Thinking that she's dead, Nick reports, "Let's just say the problem has been buried." Not so quick, Nick! You just can't keep a good woman down! "Double Jeopardy" is a fun film and a great excuse to fantacize about....er, a..I mean, admire Ashley Judd.
* In "Slam," Ray Joshua gets out of prison and walks directly into a cemetery. Foreshadowing? I'm not telling, but don't miss a chance to see this powerful film that celebrates both poetry and the human spirit.
* "Tea With Mussolini" opens with a grave site ceremony celebrating poet Robert Browning's wife, Elizabeth Barrett-Browning, in 1935 Florence, Italy. Grinny found this movie disappointing as it featured a stellar cast (Cher, Judi Dench, Joan Plowright, Maggie Smith, and Lily Tomlin) trapped in one-dimensional characters, bland dialogue, and made-for-t.v. storytelling. The only reason to watch this film: the exquisite Italian scenery!!
* "The End of the Affair" ends with a funeral as Sarah (Julianne Moore) dies......oooops! I spoiled the ending. Actually, you should thank me for saving you from sitting through this over-the-top romance (it practically borders on satire!).
*Nicolas Cage plays a haunted, burned-out paramedic in Martin Scorsese's "Bringing Out the Dead." This movie is an intense roller-coaster ride with great writing, gritty characters, and powerful images. Cage's character, Frank, uses Sinatra as background music to revive a victim, sees ghosts of those he couldn't save, and is a charter member of Our Lady of Perpetual Misery's E/R. Two lines Grinny particularly liked:
"We're all dying, Mary Burke." - Frank (Cage) to Mary (Patricia Arquette).
"I'll preach heaven and beat the hell out of you." - Marcus (Ving Rhames).
*Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment), the reluctant child medium in the psychological thriller "The Sixth Sense," says early on in the film, "I see dead people...they don't know they're dead." This unsettling film is one of Grinny's fave raves of the year. Don't miss it and Bruce Willis' gentle, understated role as a child psychologist, Dr. Malcolm Crowe.
*The best scary tales begin in a cemetery. "The Blair Witch Project," a clever low-budget indie film, is the story of three vanished student filmmakers and the unsettling footage they left behind. The three student filmmakers, in search of a legendary crone in the Black Hills Forest, shoot the first scene of their "documentary" in Union Cemetery in Burkittsville, Maryland.
*"South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut" provides some of the BEST contemporary social satire in recent memory, as it takes the baton from "The Simpsons" as the most cutting-edge, comic animated series of the decade. The musical numbers are inspired, the Terrance and Phillip movie segment is hysterical, and the Bill Gates gag - alone - is worth the price of admission. Of course, Grinny's main interest concerned Kenny's big-screen demise: he catches fire as he tries to light a fart (as shown in the T&P movie) only to have his heart replaced with a baked potato during a gory "ER" moment. Once dead, the audience views Kenny's vision of Heaven and Hell. A VERY BIG DECOMPOSING THUMB UP FROM GRINNY!
*You gotta love a film with the theme: Death is only the beginning. "The Mummy," starring Brendan Fraser, features the undead, Egyptian death rituals, a City of the Dead, Egyptian death mythology, and plenty of death references. Within the first few minutes of the story, a man - who fooled around with the pharoah's mistress - is punished by being "mummified alive," and sealed in a sarcophagus with hundreds of flesh-eating beetles. Grinny was giddy throughout! A BIG decomposing thumb up!!
* In the film "Go!," teenage Sons supermarket cashier Ronna (Sarah Polley) and her co-workers hide out in the back of a refrigerated cooler and play "Dead Celebrities." Inaccurately, the game begins with the supposedly dead Omar Sharif. Mr. Sharif is actually still alive and well as he writes a syndicated-newspaper column, called "Bridge," with Tannah Hirsch. "Go!" is a really fun film! "Pulp Fiction" meets "Trainspotting" and directed by the man who brought you "Swingers."
* Sarah Michelle Gellar's "Cruel Intentions," which is a contemporary take on the 18th century French novel "Les Liaisons Dangereuses," begins with a view of a cemetery and ends with a funeral (and in between, there's a lot of tantalizing and steamy sex).
*"Rushmore" (1998) has two notable cemetery/death moments...
1) Lead character, fifteen-year-old Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman), lives next door to a cemetery, where his late mother, Eloise, is buried. There are several scenes centered in the cemetery or with the cemetery in the background.
2) Upon first meeting his love interest, a young widowed grammar school teacher named Rosemary Cross (Olivia Williams), Max makes this observation as he nervously tries to make conversation:
Rosemary: My husband's dead.
Max: My mother died when I was seven.
Rosemary: I'm sorry.
Max: Hey, we both have dead people in our family.
*In the "fantasy" ending of Vincent Gallo's "Buffalo '66," Billy Brown's (Vincent Gallo) dysfunctional parents (Angelica Huston and Ben Gazzara) sit at his graveside and listen to a Buffalo Bills game (1998).
*"The Mask of Zorro" (1998): Zorro (Anthony Hopkins) pretends to be a corpse to escape prison, and then, "rises from the dead" from a shallow grave.
*"What Dreams May Come," starring Robin Williams, Annabella Sciorra and Cuba Gooding Jr., is a morality play about a husband who dies in a car crash and ascends to heaven, only to have to seek out his grief-stricken wife who commits suicide and is banished to hell. The visual effects in this film are stunning (the early scenes of "heaven" look like they were designed by Monet and Van Gogh while on acid!) and the film's examination of "heaven" and "hell" will act as a catalyst for hours of discussion. Don't miss this film!!
*"Life is Beautiful" is a concentration-camp comedy which features director-actor Roberto Benigni. In an Entertainment Weekly interview, Benigni defended the offbeat film by saying, "Life is beautiful and funny even in the moments before we die." (We here at 2diefor.com agree!)
*"Meet Joe Black" stars Brad Pitt, as the Grim Reaper, in this romantic drama inspired by the 1934 Fredric March classic "Death Takes a Holiday." Brad Pitt as the Grim Reaper? People use to fear the kiss of Death, now they'll just swoon!
*"Jack Frost" stars Michael Keaton, as yet another car crash victim. In this story he's a struggling musician on the verge of success who dies and then, returns to his wife and child in the form of a snowman. I'd have given anything to hear how THIS story idea was pitched....and better yet, green-lighted!
*"Waking Ned Devine" is a very funny Irish joke with a great punchline and several fun story twists. The whole tale revolves around a man who dies after winning a mega-dollar lottery and how his fellow villagers fool the lottery official into believing Ned Devine is still alive. In true Irish fashion, the village celebrate a man's life instead of mourning his death.
NEW! Written by Lawrence Kasdan, "The Big Chill" (1983) centers around a funeral as ex-college friends share a nostalgic weekend after a friend's suicide. The all-star cast includes Glen Close, Meg Tilly, Tom Berringer, William Hurt, Kevin Kline, and Jeff Goldblum. "Big Chill" trivia: the dead friend, Alex, was played by a then-unknown Kevin Costner, whose scenes remained on the cutting-room floor.
*Thank you Turner Classic Movies (TCM) for screening the wonderfully funny film, "The Wrong Box" (1966), featuring John Mills, Michael Caine, Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Tony Hancock (as the clueless "Detective"), Nanette Newman (the very sexy Sixties British movie star), Wilfrid Lawson (brilliant as "Peacock," the butler), and Peter Sellers (as the seedy, absent-minded, cat-loving Doctor Pratt)! The film opens with a group of small children being entered in a lottery to see which one will live the longest, with the winner collecting a very impressive prize. Over time, one-by-one they die from a variety of causes ranging from wars and hunting accidents to a mountain climbing mishap and a mine collapsing on one unlucky soul. Most of the film then deals with the two surviving gentlemen, who happen to be brothers. After 63 years, the prize has grown to over $200,000 and the brothers, as well as their family members, risk everything to win. The film climaxes with a zany chase involving several horse-drawn hearses that ends with a wacky cemetery scene where several bodies and "the boodle" (the box with the prize money) are confused. But in the end, it all works out. This film is well worth watching; see TCM listings for future screenings.
* It's funny; I have cable television and LOADS of channels, but I tend to spend most of my time with Turner Classic Movies and American Movie Classics (AMC). It's such a joy to rediscover cinematic gems that have long been forgotten! For instance, I recently enjoyed a film I had long forgotten: Alfred Hitchcock's comedy - and his personal favorite film - "The Trouble With Harry." This 1955 classic starred Edmund Gwenn, John Forsythe, Jerry ("Leave it to Beaver") Mathers and introducing Shirley MacLaine. "Harry" showcased Hitchcock's appreciation for dry humor as it tells the tale of a group of rural Vermonteers who try to bury a corpse, again and again and again. This film is definitely in the ranks of "The Loved One" and "Harold and Maude" as one of the all-time best comedies with death as a theme.
* "Citizen Kane" is arguably the best film ever made, and wouldn't you know it, it begins with the main character dying. According to the faux "News On the March" newsreel footage, Charles Foster Kane's funeral is "1941's biggest, strangest" and it was held on his massive, medieval-looking Florida estate, Xanadu.
* "I Love you Alice B. Toklas" is a Sixties period
piece starring Peter Sellers (as Harold) and its jam-packed with death and
funeral references. Early in the film, Herbie (Peter Sellers' character's
brother) says, "Funerals are a happy thing, Harold. In death there is
Mr. Foley, a family friend, dies and because of a hearse drivers strike, Harold is forced to drive the corpse to the cemetery in a hippie-mobile. Along the way to the cemetery, he gets a ticket and then lost. "Do you know which cemetery?" Harold says to Herbie's spacey hippie-chic girlfriend (played by Leigh Taylor-Young). She replies, "Maybe there's an address on the casket."
* "On Borrowed Time" is about an Old Timer (Lionnel
Barrymore) who traps Death's messenger, Mr. Brink (Cedric Hardwicke), up in an
apple tree. Best bit of dialogue:
Gramps (Julian Northrup played by Barrymore): "Live and let live is what I always say."
Mr. Brink: "I can hardly second that."
* Leslie Howard dies in "The Petrified Forest," which also stars Bette Davis and Humprey Bogart. Earlier in this soapy, sappy film, he decrees that he wants to be buried in the Petrified Forest. Foreshadowing or wishful thinking?
* "The Apartment," with Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine, is the 1960 Oscar-winner for Best Picture and Best Director (Billy Wilder). It's a story about a corporate climber (Lemmon) whose boss and others use his apartment for hanky-panky. He eventually falls for MacLaine's character, Fran. During a poignant scene, Fran shares that she was jinxed when it came to men, right from the start. Her first kiss was in a cemetery.
* "Being There" stars Peter Sellers as Chance the Gardener (he received an Oscar nod for Best Actor for this role), a child-like man who has spent his entire life in one house. His only experiences in life have been learned through watching television. Suddenly, he is thrown out into the cold reality of Washington, D.C. His naive innocence is mistaken for deep wisdom and in no time, he's rubbing elbows with the political and business elite. This is a wickedly funny satire which begins with "the Old Man" dying and ends with a cemetery scene. There are also several death references as "Chauncey" (Sellers) helps Benjamin Rand (Melvyn Douglas) prepare for his imminent death from a strange blood disease. The closing scene is brilliant when Chance, who is rumored to be in-line for the presidency, walks on water only to reveal it's simply his dumb luck that he can do so. Closing line: "Life is a state of mind."
For more great film classics, click here for the "Dead Film Fest" and "Cemetery Film Fest."