Wednesday, April 14, 2010

1993: Carlito's Way (Brian De Palma)

1993: Carlito's Way (Brian De Palma)
Cinematic from the very get-go.  And what an opening it is.  Black-and-white, slow motion, voiceover, and what music!  A long take, choreographed, beginning with the camera at a dutch angle.  Sensuous, complex, abstract, graphic, many elements of style all brought into some harmonious balance.  I couldn't pull that off.  Most people couldn't pull that off.  De Palma is some kind of master, huh?

And that's just the filmmaking.

At the root of this, one of my favorite crime films of all time, is also a theme that affects me deeply, the idea that one mistake may trap you forever.  If Carlito had just left Benny Blanco alone, stayed out of his way, all would have been okay.  But he made one blunder and could never quite escape it.

It's the only movie I've ever seen that makes you forget about its ending, so much so that you feel all the more duped when it gets there AGAIN. This one moves me in the highest way at every level imaginable.  I admire it, I love it, and I feel it deeply.  And I know it has its detractors, but chalk me up as one of its biggest fans.  

Other contenders for 1993:  From this year, I still have some things to see.  These include Atom Egoyan's Calendar, Hou Hsiao-hsien's The Puppetmaster, James Ivory's The Remains of the Dayand Eric Rohmer's The Tree, The Mayor, and the Mediatheque.  At some point, I'll need to revisit Jane Campion's The Piano, Krzysztof Kieslowski's Three Colors: Blue, and Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List as it's been too long since I've seen any of them to know where they'd place on this list.  From this year though, I love Akira Kurosawa's Madadayo.  And my closest runner-up is Martin Scorsese's The Age of Innocence.

4/30/10 I watched Abel Ferrara's Body Snatchers.  It wouldn't contend for my top spot.  But like much of Ferrara's work, I sat through much of it thinking it an unmitigated disaster and then emerged with the feeling that it was actually up to something quite interesting.  The first time they try to "snatch" Anwar is particularly strong, as are some of the final moments.   

3/28/11 I watched Tsai Ming-Liang's Rebels of the Neon God.  A very strong debut from Tsai, full of all his usual themes -- urban isolation, water fetishes, and a keen interest in bodily fluids.  What's most shocking at the beginning is how much verve Tsai's style has.  In fact, it feels like he's riffing more on Wong Kar-Wai for awhile here than Antonioni, who would ultimately become his closest influence.  Not as pure and distilled as some of Tsai's later work, but certainly worth a look.

9/19/11 I watched James Ivory's The Remains of the Day.  I like how there are consistent thematic concerns in each of the Merchant/Ivory films I've seen.  There's an interest in a certain old world order, people's inability to express themselves emotionally to one another, and a respect for one's class, no matter the sacrifice or loss of opportunities it might create.  This film is his most daring narratively, but at times the sheer audacity of the endeavor might lead to a little repetition and awkwardness that would have been avoided with a slightly easier narrative.  Still, I have great respect for the team Merchant/Ivory assembled and the clarity of their approach.  

6/3/12 I watched Manoel de Oliveira's Abraham's Valley.  Beautiful, deep, and Rohmeresque but also distancing for me because of the actor playing Ema.  I have more respect and admiration than I do a deeply felt connection to this one.

8/23/13 I watched Andre Techine's My Favorite Season.  Techine's desire to be real, emotional, subtle, and naturalistic are all there.  But whereas I find his next two features (Wild Reeds and Thieves) to go to daring places while always remaining in the right emotional register, this one seems to veer off at times.  It still has some great feel and depth but just feels minor compared to where he would go next.  

1/16/18 I rewatched Harold Ramis' Groundhog Day.  It is somewhat interesting to see how Ramis handles its non-linear narrative but otherwise it's fairly generic in terms of the rest of its design.

12/21/21 I watched Patricia Mazuy's Travolta et Moi.  A film that I have been wanting to see for more than 25 years is interesting and unexpected.  It captures both the feeling of youth on fire but also explores some of the frustration that ultimately fueled the punk rock movement of the late seventies into the early eighties.  

1/27/22 I watched Paulo Rocha's Oliveira l'architecte.  I've still seen very little of the Portuguese's work but I loved Angelica and look forward to taking in many more of his films.  This was far from one of the strongest of the Cinema de Notre Temps series I have seen but nonetheless I enjoyed spending a little time with Oliveira the person.  

7/4/22 I watched Victor Nunez's Ruby in Paradise.  What jumps out at first view is to think about the historical context in which it was made.  It was the height of American indy cinema and "auteurs" working overtime to emphasize their personal style.  Spike, the Coen brothers, Jarmusch, Hartley, Tarantino all came to the medium with heavily mannered approaches.  In fact, it is hard for me to think of an indy filmmaker, at that time, who was working in a more naturalistic way.  

Perhaps it's the fact that Nunez was 48 when he made Ruby.  Whatever the reasons, Nunez distinguishes himself from the rest of the abovementioned filmmakers by his careful attention to place and character and his subdued use of music, sound, and any other aspect of cinematic style.    

10/23/22 I watched Jon Turteltaub's Cool Runnings.  A sports film targeted mostly at young kids.  It has heart and a few genuinely moving moments but overall a bit too broad for my taste.


  1. Well Jeffrey, I know you love De Palma, and this film is undeniably one of his most entertaining and cinematically creative of all his films, so its selection here is a bold and laudatory one.

    My #1 Film of 1993:

    Three Colors Blue (Kieslowski; France)


    The Remains of the Day (Ivory; UK)
    Schindlers List (Spielberg; USA)
    Wild Reeds (Techine; France)
    The Piano (Campion; New Zealand)
    The Wrong Trousers (Park; UK)
    King of the Hill (Soderbergh; USA)
    Boys of St. Vincent (Smith; Canada)
    Much Ado About Nothing (Branagh; UK)
    Germinal (Berri; France)
    The Wedding Banquet (Lee; Hong Kong)
    The Age of Innocence (Scorsese; USA)
    The Puppetmaster (Hsiao-Hsien; Taiwan)
    Three Colors White (Kieslowski; France)
    Shadowlands (Attenborough; UK)
    Groundhog Day (Ramis; USA)
    In the Name of the Father (Sheridan; Ireland/UK)
    Six Degrees of Separation (Schepisi; USA)
    Scent of Green Papaya (Hung; Viet Nam)

  2. Sam, not having THE REMAINS OF THE DAY on my list was an oversight, and I've since added it. BLUE is definitely one I want to revisit at some point. And WILD REEDS I have on my 1994 post.

    Thanks for not being too hard on CARLITO'S. I know that I'm a much bigger fan of De Palma than you are.

    Thanks, Sam! Always great having your perspective here.

  3. Yes, yes yes! My favorite De Palma film because of the way it engages one emotionally, something even a fan like myself must admit he rarely achieves successfully. I'm going to break a rule for which I often chastise my esteemed colleague, Sam Juliano, and cite critical consensus to back up your nomination: Cahiers du Cinema voted CARLITO'S WAY the best film of the nineties.

  4. Tony, well put! Carlito does engage me emotionally, and in a major way. And, I agree, that's not an experience I always have with De Palma's work.

    I'm a huge fan. But I know there are people out there that just don't really connect with this one. Or that feel it's SCARFACE-lite, which of course is not my opinion at all.

    Thanks, Tony. Always great to have you here!

  5. I love CARLITO'S WAY as well and it may be my fave De Palma after BLOW OUT. How does he make all of this stylish storytelling look so effortless? The look and camera moves in this film knock me out every time I watch this film... as does Sean Penn's fantastic performance as a coked-up lawyer. And to think he took the role as strictly a paycheck assignment! He still turns in one of the most memorable performances of his career. I remember going back to this film after THE LORD OF THE RINGS films came out and noticed that Viggo Mortensen had a small but memorable role in De Palma's film! Wild...

    Nice choice and I certainly share your love of De Palma's films.

  6. JD, same De Palma order for me. BLOW OUT and then this one.

    I couldn't have said it better:

    "How does he make all of this stylish storytelling look so effortless? The look and camera moves in this film knock me out every time I watch this film..."

    Thanks, JD! Always great to hear from you. And yes, I love Viggo and Penn in this, as well.

  7. "I'm going to break a rule for which I often chastise my esteemed colleague, Sam Juliano, and cite critical consensus to back up your nomination: Cahiers du Cinema voted CARLITO'S WAY the best film of the nineties."

    LOL Tony!!!!!!! Aye, the Cashiers have really boosted this film mightily, and the French in general are huge advocates of De Palma's cinema. On this I am definitely on the outside looking in!

  8. Jeffrey, as a big DePalma fan from way back I agree "Carlito's Way" is a great choice, one of my favorites of his work. I actually thought 1993 was a good year so it was tough choosing however; I went with "Schindler's List" as my # 1, a film I still feel is Spielberg's best to this day.

    #1 Schindler's List

    The Rest in no particular order

    Groundhog Day
    Remains of the Day
    In the Name of the Father
    Carlito's Way
    The Piano
    The Age of Innocence
    The Secret Garden

  9. Fantastic choice here Jeffrey! If there's anything DePalma isn't, it's bashful. He lays it on thick here in every conceivable way and, for once, it works out as close to perfectly as we could hope. (E.g., check out how long he rests on Penelope A-M crying in the finale -- very daring!). The sequence where he follows Gail up the building and then lands on Pacino standing on the rooftop in the rain is one of the most virtuosic pieces of camera movement I've ever seen. DePalma has an ability to pair camera movement and mise en scene with emotion in a way that is nearly unmatched among U.S. filmmakers. But, curiously enough, one filmmaker who may be his match in this department is Kieslowski.

    If I had a vote for this year, I'd give it to BLUE by a decent margin. It has great locations, stunning work by Idziak, and probably my favorite Preisner score.

    I haven't caught Scorsese's AGE in some time. But my recollection is that it marks the beginning of his turn toward the superior production value that has afflicted and stifled his cinema to an unfortunate degree. There's something naturalistic missing in his late 90s and work from 2000s. Maybe it's just me, but even comparing GOODFELLAS to CASINO, the latter just seems so interested in its own design that it distracts.

  10. John, great to hear from you! I really need to revisit SCHINDLER'S LIST. I also need to do the same with IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER and SECRET GARDEN. It's been too long since I've seen any of them to know where they'd place on this list.

    And I like GROUNDHOG DAY although a little less than the ones I mentioned.

    Thanks, John. Always great to hear from you!

  11. Andrew, what a great addition to this post! I definitely owe BLUE a more recent look. It's been close to fifteen years since I've seen it.

    As for your comments about Scorsese, very well put. I also am a fan of his more naturalistic work. Although being a period piece, the heavily designed AGE doesn't bother me as much.

    Thanks, Andrew. Great stuff!

  12. I am torn on this one. My pick in my own annual countdown was James Ivory's THE REMAINS OF THE DAY, which is one you definitely need to see, Jeffrey. It's among the most romantic of movies, without ever having on-screen physical interaction. It's very impressive.

    But... I love CARLITO'S WAY and have been on a serious De Palma kick of late. Carlito's Way is my second favorite De Palma film, behind only THE BLACK DAHLIA (yes, you read that right!).

    And, I also think that Spielberg's SCHINDLER'S LIST is another masterpiece. So I really am torn. I stay with The Remains of the Day, I suppose, but any of the three choices I could live with.

  13. Yeah this is really solid De Palma, and while it's probably not my absolute favorite of his, it's an incredible crime picture and a great choice Jeffrey.

    My personal favorite for this year would be Mike Leigh's Naked. I also love Alain Resnais' Smoking/No Smoking, Kieslowski's gorgeous Blue, and Linklater's Dazed and Confused.

  14. Hou's Puppetmaster is incredible, but ultimately yeah I have to go with Carlito's Way like everybody else. It's just one of those movies. Just thinking about it right now makes me want to watch it, I wouldn't be surprised if I put it on tonight. My favorite moment in the film is actually this really quiet thing towards the beginning. Carlito is walking behind Gail, she doesn't know it's him, and he's imitating some thug running his mouth. She realizes it's him, turns around, and he just says "Hello Gail." There's no reason why it should be as beautiful, hell heartbreaking, as it is, but it's right there. God, I love this movie.

  15. Jeffrey, 1993 was a really strong year for male actors (Hopkins, Neeson, Murray, Thewlis,etc), and two of the top performers were Al Pacino (redeeming himself for Scent of A Woman) and Sean Penn in Carlito's Way. While I'm sticking with Schindler for the best of this year, I salute your choice of another great film. The thing about it isn't so much that you forget the end; you forget the beginning before you reach the end! I'm also glad to see another Madadayo fan out there.

  16. Dave, yes I definitely need to see this Ivory! It sounds fantastic.

    Thanks, Dave. Only ten more to go on the noir countdown. What an amazing undertaking. Kudos to you!

  17. Drew, I need to revisit NAKED. It's been forever since I've seen it. And DAZED AND CONFUSED I like although just a little less than the ones I mention. The Resnais is a film I still need to see.

    Thanks, Drew. Always awesome having you here!

  18. Great stuff, Doniphon! Yes, if the emotional pull of this film gets you, which it definitely gets me, this film can be a tremendous experience. It sounds like you and I are on the same boat on this one.

    Great addition. Thanks, Doniphon!

  19. Samuel, yes you're absolutely right! My semantics were probably a little off with that one statement. You DO forget the beginning!

    MADADAYO seems one rarely discussed. I wonder why?

    Thanks, Samuel. Great stuff!