January 17, 2008

Dan's 43 Favorite Films (Part Three)

See Part One here and Part Two here.

Big Night Food is a powerful metaphor, and there are a host of films that use it to speak indirectly about love, life, faith, and art. In my opinion, this is the best of these. Two Italian brothers try to open an Italian restaurant in 1950's America. One brother is the chef and the other the manager and the two are constantly at odds about the values of the restaurant. The manger is, of course, interested in getting people in the door, so he wants to be serving familiar (Americanized) cuisine like lasagna and chicken parm. While the chef is interested in making excellent food, truly Italian food, like risotto. The conflict comes to a head when famous jazz musician Louis Primo is planning to come to the restaurant. Impressing him, and the local media that will invariably accompany him, becomes one last shot for the brothers to survive.

At first, I saw the film as a metaphor for the the arts. The chef is interested in making true art, and the manager is interested in the audience. And while this is probably the metaphor the screenwriters had in mind, I've been noticing lately how much the metaphor applies to other areas. No matter the discipline, there's always a conflict between the pure and the popular. Big Night tackles the issue in a beautiful, vibrant way. And it will make you hungry. Other great food films: Ratatouille, Eat Drink Man Women, Mostly Martha.

Favorite Scene: The very final scene. Simple. Fritatta. Gutsy. (See the film, you'll see what I mean)

Movie Moment:

The Insider

With every vocation there is a unique kind of integrity, and we are always fascinated by the ethics specific to certain occupations and subcultures. It's why lawyers and mafia make great stories. Despite the depravity of the world they inhabit, there's a code that they must choose to follow or shirk. The Insider examines journalistic integrity within the context of the late 80's Tobacco cases. When a whistle-blower came to the tv show 60 minutes to reveal that tobacco companies were not only aware of cigarettes' addicitive nature, but boosting it. This film is, in my opinion, Michael Mann's masterpiece. Sure he has a great story and a fantastic cast to work with, but I honestly believe it's the direction here that makes this film great. It'd be easy to think that just putting actors like Pacino, Russel Crowe, and Christopher Plummer together would make the film work, but Mann actually directs them, hems them in and balances them into a poignant ensemble. Also worth noting here are the lighting, the writing and the score. All stellar. The editing is sharp too, the plot is complicated, but accessible in Mann's hands.

Favorite Scene: Lowell talking to Jeff while on his forced vacation.

Movie Moment: The score.

Battlestar Galactica

I have lots of superlatives, but this is the BEST CURRENTLY RUNNING AMERICAN TV SHOW. Not just for the sci-fi folks, this show is human drama at its sharpest. Smart, funny, relentlessly exciting, and never one to go for the easy way out of a story. I could spend this paragraph trying to convince you or you could just watch four little minutes. HERE. But be warned! If you watch that video, which is the opening of the miniseries (which was then continued in the show) you will want to see it all. The show starts its fourth and final season in March, so you could spend a blissful month catching up before then.

Favorite Episode: 33 (that's the title, not the Ep#)

TV Show Moment: Follow the link above.

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