Category Archives: Commentary

Saying Goodbye To The Career Of Daniel Day-Lewis

It was announced this week that Daniel Day-Lewis will be retiring from acting following the release of his next film. With a film career that has had him working steadily for more than 35 years, DDL has become one of the most respected and acclaimed actors over that period. DDL has amassed five best leading actor Oscar nominations and three wins (the most leading actor wins for a male ever) seven Golden Globe nominations with two wins and six BAFTA nominations with four wins. His dedication to his craft and roles have become things of legend. His depth of knowledge of each character and preparation is most likely second to none. What makes almost all his performances so wonderful is that he has never taken a role for any selfish reason such as money or to receive top billing or to even keep himself relevant. He has no fear as an actor. No fear of failure or in his abilities. He is willing to go several years in between films so that he can work on something he actually believes in. He has been coveted by every top-tier director on the planet and has never disappointed any of them.

I’ve decided to create a list of his top performances in honor of the closing of one of the greatest acting careers ever amassed. With nothing to be ashamed of in his resume (unlike some other heralded actors such as Pacino, Nicholson and Di Nero), it is not a list to be taken lightly but here is my best effort at it.

The Last Of The Mohicans (1992)

Based on James Fenimore Cooper’s classic novel about the French and Indian War, DDL teamed up with Michael Mann to play Nathaniel Poe the adopted half white Mohican. The dying tribe is soon thrust into the middle of the war of which they want no part to rescue the daughters of a British colonel. It is with Mohicans that DDL’s stories of commitment and never breaking character would begin. He learned to live on the land and woodwork with primitively with the tools of the time to aid him. This was his first taste of big budget Hollywood, and to the cinematic world, he did not disappoint.

In The Name Of The Father (1993)

Lewis garnered his second Oscar nomination playing Gerry Conlon, an Irishman living in London who was falsely convicted of an IRA bombing along with his father along with others. Conlon spent fifteen years in prison trying to prove his innocence with the aid of a British attorney. DDL being of half Irish stock himself felt a closeness and need to tell this story and did so spectacularly. He turned down the lead role in Philadelphia to make this deeply personal film. Tom Hanks took the role in Jonathan Demme’s Philadelphia and won his first of two consecutive Academy Awards. Had DDL taken the role instead of Hanks we could very well be talking about four leading actor Oscars (or if Hanks had not taken the role).

My Left Foot (1989)

The career of Lewis hit its highest level for the first time in 1989 when he won his first nomination and Oscar playing Christy Brown, an artist born with cerebral palsy who learned to paint and write with his only functioning limb. The physical abilities and what would become a theme in his performances, his commitment to the role would make the cinematic world stand up and take notice and be in awe of him which would not go away.

Lincoln (2012)

Teaming up for the first time with Steven Spielberg, DDL won his third Oscar playing possibly the most revered figure in American history, Abraham Lincoln. We were treated to such a performance that brought to life this figure in a way no one ever had. The former Ed president had been portrayed by a myriad of fine actors in the past but never had the authenticity felt as genuine than when he played him. It felt like the closest thing to watching film of the actual Lincoln, of which there is none. Aside from the physical aspects of Lincoln we were given a peek into Lincoln’s mind and thoughts and struggles. Once again his commitment would shine through in such a way that left the audience transfixed to the screen.

Gangs Of New York (2002)

Teaming up with a fellow Hollywood icon in Martin Scorsese to tell the story of the birth of the world’s melting pot, New York City. Lewis once again played a historical figure when he played William Cutting better known as Bill The Butcher who was known as the leader of a highly corrupted city who controlled all crime and criminals in the famed five points area. Fighting the politicians of the city’s corrupt Tammany Hall, a young Irishman gains Bill’s trust to exact revenge for killing his father years earlier. DDL was so committed to the role of Cutting that when he became ill on set, he refused certain blankets because they weren’t available in the period of his character. He would speak with a New York accent on and off set and never stopped being the butcher.

There Will Be Blood (2007)

Paul Thomas Anderson’s masterpiece about an unscrupulous oil tycoon at the turn of the century is, in my opinion, DDL’s finest hour. His creation of the character Daniel Plainview and all aspects of his personality is marvelous. The depth of the character leaves the audience in awe and makes you completely forget that it’s even acting that is being watched. The film itself is a work of brilliance, but it is nothing without Lewis in front of the camera it is HIS brilliance that makes it brilliant. It is performances like this that have left so many cinephiles extremely sad at the fact that there will be no more from him at all.

10 Years Since We Said Goodbye To TV’s Ultimate “Family”

June 10th marks the ten year anniversary of the final episode of The Sopranos. The hit show from HBO broke every kind of mold and barrier ever laid out by television shows before it. The pilot was taped exactly 20 years ago despite the fact that the series didn’t air until two years later. The Sopranos changed things for everyone on the show and changed the way everyone watched television shows afterward.

The world that everyone was sucked into on that day in 1999 left an indelible mark on the entertainment industry. Mafia and gangster stories have been a hot topic since the invention of moving pictures. In one episode of the show, there is a discussion about the representation of Italian Americans and their relation to organized crime. One of the characters mentions that mafia and gangster pictures are considered American classics with the likes of films like The Godfather leading the way. This is a very true statement and what The Sopranos did was drive home the reality of that world with full force.

The Sopranos could easily make an argument for the most perfectly set up television drama in history. There are a small group of shows as perfectly cast as The Sopranos; I would include shows like Breaking Bad and Mad Men where every actor was paired perfectly with their character. With those shows mentioned, it was The Sopranos that blazed a trail for shows to approach the line of what had been considered acceptable for audiences and take a giant leap over that line.

Leading the way was the shows “Boss” Tony Soprano and the engine behind that character was the brilliant James Gandolfini. Gandolfini IS and always will be Tony Soprano and this in no way should take away from his acting abilities or be looked down upon as a typecast. The fact is there is no one else who could portray that character and show his layers better than he did. It is a testament to his acting abilities and is the kind of legacy every actor wishes they could leave.

Every leading man needs his leading lady, and no one represents NY/NJ women from that life better than Edie Falco. The teaming of these two brought dynamic to the show that gave it yet another level to its depth. Their troubles and quarrels were so real that they could leave you chilled, but their deep love through all of it was unmistakable.

One other aspect of the show that leaked its way into everyday society was the aspect of therapy and dealing with depression. Even though the show debuted in 1999, the act of taking anti-depressants was still seen as taboo in many circles then. The show created a type of open dialogue about this topic and showed how someone who is seen as mentally and physically untouchable could even need help. Prozac went from the drug everyone knew but didn’t take to the drug Tony Soprano was on and not that big of a deal. That’s not to say that dealing with depression and its medication wouldn’t have become as acceptable as it is now WITHOUT the show, but it did begin a discussion in a way people were more comfortable with.

So it’s been ten years since the world said goodbye to Tony Soprano and his family and in a few days, it will have been four years since we said goodbye to James Gandolfini and all the moments and memories he gave us in his magnificent and all too short career. In this age of binge watching shows and new shows being dropped in full seasons, maybe next time you aren’t sure what to binge on next you go back and spend time with the family that changed it all.

Roger Moore Leaves The Most Extensive James Bond Legacy

James Bond is without a doubt one of the most iconic characters in cinematic history. The film series is the longest running and consistently successful film franchises of all time and while Sean Connery will always represent the quintessential Bond, for many generations of fans Roger Moore will be the most recognizable as the famed 007. Moore played Bond 7 times over a span of 12 years which is the most for both in the history of the franchise. Despite his popularity as Bond his films have often been criticized for being too campy and never having the allure of the Connery films, but for many he IS James Bond.

Moore had big shoes to fill when he took over the franchise from Connery who had returned for one final film after George Lazenby only managed to last for one film. Moore had a great ability not to let criticism and the comparisons affect him even when Mr. Connery himself was critical of his performances. To Connery, he was just a TV star and not a true Bond, but as time would go on, we would discover that Connery has never really approved of anyone that has come after him.

Roger Moore would go on to make some of the Bond fans favorite Bond films like, Live And Let Die, The Man With The Golden Gun, Moonraker and the Spy Who Loved Me. Along with being the world’s most famous spy, the theme songs for many of his films would also be huge mainstream hits with the likes of Paul McCartney and Carly Simon.

Throughout his entire tenure as Bond and for years beyond up until his death today, May 23, 2017, he would be as classy and debonair as the man he will always be remembered for portraying. He was always available to the next actor for any advice they needed to make the role their own. He was the ideal British actor of the highest order. While he will always be remembered by most as Bond (and that’s a pretty good legacy to leave), he was much more than that, including his television career as The Saint which would also be turned into a movie starring Val Kilmer.

The James Bond family lost one of its giants today, and he is the first actor in the Eon Productions series who played Bond to pass away. His passing is without a doubt the third biggest loss the franchise has had after the iconic Ian Fleming and producer Albert R. (Cubby) Broccoli who brought Ian Fleming’s imagination to life. Fans without a doubt are mourning the loss along with remembering the thrills he gave everyone. Thank you 007.

The Whirlwind Life And Career Of Robert Downey Jr.

The life and career of Robert Downey Jr. is more of a roller coaster than any movie he’s ever made. His well-documented legal and addiction troubles nearly derailed an acting career that was skyrocketing complete with an Oscar nomination, a season on SNL and being the lead alongside superstars like Mel Gibson all by the time he was 27. His decent into a life of addiction and prison time almost became more well known than any movie he had ever made. There are four movies that are the most pivotal movies in his life and career all for very different reasons. I’m going to break them down in chronological order and why they are so important in the life and career of Robert Downey Jr.

Before I lay out the list, there are a few films I should mention first that were also important films for Downey but not as game changing. The film Air America was one of the first where he was truly a marquee star. It was a buddy comedy with Mel Gibson who was hitting his peak of fame. The second film was Wonder Boys with Michael Douglas. This movie was one of the first where everyone thought he was really starting to turn the corner. His performance was highly praised, but he was still a few years away from sobriety and the fact that he wasn’t sober overshadowed his performance. Third and fourth came back to back with Tropic Thunder which earned him his second Academy Award nomination and he was the all the talk of the awards that night despite the fact that he didn’t come home with a statue. He was now famously 5 years sober and clearly at the top of his acting talents and showing how truly great he really was. The fourth was Sherlock Holmes which earned him the golden globe and provided the opportunity for his peers to celebrate him and his new life and serious commitment to his career. It was an emotional yet very deserved moment.

1. Less Than Zero (1987)

Less Than Zero was the first time he was billed with Jr. attached to his name and the beginning of some of the legendary party stories for RDJ. He has been quoted as saying this was the first time his drug and alcohol use spilled over into the production and not just during his downtime. Director Marek Kanievska told him and his costar Andrew McCarthy (who battled his own addiction problems) to go out and party to get into character. This direction probably wasn’t the reason his abuses took such a foothold but more than likely they sped things up. The film was panned by critics and even the author of the source material book of the same name. It has since gained more appreciation in the 30 years since its release, but its foreshadowing can’t be ignored.

2. Chaplin (1992)

RDJ blew the doors off his portrayal of the legendary screen icon and gave Downey his first Oscar nomination, and it was well earned. Despite all his faults, he was able to completely transform himself. It would also turn out to be one of the last films for a long time that wouldn’t be plagued by his own demons. Most critics and fans looked at Chaplin as the movie that showed what RDJ could have been.

3. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)

2003 is the year Downey got sober and finally stayed sober for which he credits his current wife and her support for him. Downey came to realize he couldn’t go anywhere other than prison or the grave and he has famously said that he is allergic to drugs and alcohol, he always breaks out into handcuffs. It would still be 2 years before he would make an impact and headline a major motion picture and prove to people he was more committed to his career than to ruining it. The buddy picture that was written and directed by the writer of the massive hit Lethal Weapon had RDJ star alongside Val Kilmer and proved to be a highly underrated movie and showed Downey’s comedic brilliance.

4. Iron Man (2008)

The superhero resurgence and current domination can be traced to one film, Iron Man. The juggernaut of Marvel Comics becoming kings of the box office is where it is because RDJ WAS Tony Stark. Every embodiment of that character is deep inside him, and he OWNED it. He had been sober for 5 years and was still busting his butt to prove to be people his commitment to acting. He became the biggest star in the world with this movie and solidified himself as 100 percent back in the game. It is wonderful to know that there is a whole generation of movie fans that will only know him at this point in his career. It is forever in his film contracts that he has to provide insurance for the films in the case he was ever to relapse, and his salary is held until the film is complete. He will always have to fight his demons and in a sense will always be paying for his past but thankfully all movie fans he convinced us all that he is back.

Carrie Fisher Was So Much More Than Movies And A Gold Bikini

01-carrie-fisher-w529-h529When Carrie Fisher passed away on December, 27th the talk immediately turned to her career and memorable roles and the great kind of person and spirit she was, and rightfully so. As a massive Star Wars fan, I felt the enormity of the loss, but her acting career has not been what I admired most about this child of Hollywood royalty. What I think will be the most missed aspect of this woman was her ability to speak out about her faults and struggles in a way that erased any stigma associated with her addiction struggles and her constant battle with mental health. Carrie Fisher spoke fearlessly about issues that most people go to great lengths to avoid talking about, and she never needed to wait for a tragic incident to happen for her to unleash her thoughts on those matters.

Fisher never shied away from speaking about her intense battles with drug and alcohol addiction as well as her struggles with depression and bipolar disorder and was extremely open about her use of electroconvulsive therapy. As someone who is very familiar with both of these struggles both personally and with those close to me, I found this to be somewhat of a comfort in difficult times. She was never short of words on any subject, and her incredible wit and ability to put things in perspective were a comfort to those that had a hard time talking about their struggles.

For her great perspectives on her life, family and struggles one only needs to watch her one-woman show that aired on HBO, Wishful Drinking back in 2010. So while the whole galaxy continues to mourn its princess some of us will miss the things that made her an excellent and gorgeously flawed person. That is what makes her loss all the sadder and while the images of her cinnamon roll hairdo and sprawled out in the infamous gold bikini are what will always be remembered visually that’s only because what was in her mind, heart and strength could never be done justice visually.

50 Years Of Woody Allen 1980-1989

woody-allenContinuing my look at 50 years of Woody Allen making films puts us in the decade of the 1980’s. The decade of money and power and a desperate need to distance itself from the 70’s. Woody looked to build off the success he achieved in the decade previously. The 80’s did not start off so kind to him though with his release of Stardust Memories which many fans and critics took as a slight towards them. It turned out to be the first time one his films would receive heavy scrutiny on that scale. It would take several years to pass before Stardust Memories would get appreciated for what it was. Despite starting the decade rather harshly, he would soon find his stride once again.

5.  Radio Days (1987)img_0769

Radio Days is as close to an autobiographical film as Woody Allen has ever made. Set in the early 1940’s a tight-knit family in Brooklyn all live in one small home where each of their lives revolves around their favorite radio stars. Using all his old stories of the stars of the time, he at the same time tells the story of each member of his family. Radio Days features some of the classic Woody humor and portrays this family in a way that most everyone can see pieces of their family in them. Check out my retrospective here

4.  The Purple Rose Of Cairo (1985)img_0770

In the 1930′ a young woman named Cecilia who is very dissatisfied with her life and stuck in an abusive relationship, finds solace and escape in the movies. She sees one particular film over and over until the movie’s star, perfectly played by Jeff Daniels, steps off the screen into the theater right into her life. The fourth collaboration between Allen and Mia Farrow in what would prove to be one of the best teams in movie history, until it all went wrong. A beautiful, heartfelt romantic fantasy film that is so enjoyable it leaves you with a smile.

3.  Broadway Danny Rose (1984)img_0771

A comedic series of events lands a low-level talent agent to be mistaken by a gangster as the lover of a woman he is trying to help. One of the most eccentric characters Farrow played in her series of films with Allen, she pulls it off beautifully. Semi narrated by a group of nightclub entertainers who sit around reminiscing about Danny Rose and his hilarious antics that made him so memorable.

2.  Crimes And Misdemeanors (1989)img_0773

Two stories simultaneously told even though they never overlap. One is comical in nature, and the other is dramatic and even rather sinister. Martin Landau plays a doctor whose mistress is threatening to expose their affair to his wife if he doesn’t leave with her. He begins to think there is only one way to make the situation go away and that is to kill her. In the other story, a documentary filmmaker reluctantly agrees to make a film about his wife’s brother whom he doesn’t particularly like or respect. While making the film, he meets a producer whom he begins developing deep feelings for while he and his wife navigate through their loveless marriage.

  1.  Hannah And Her Sisters (1986)img_0774

Critically his most successful film of the decade, Hannah And Her Sisters won 3 Academy Awards for the screenplay, supporting actress for Diane Weist (her first of two she won with Woody) and best supporting actor for Michael Caine. Hannah And Her Sisters is the story of three very different sisters and how they navigate their lives and how they are each affected differently by the same people. Expertly acted and wonderfully written, Hannah is one of Woody’s finest films in his whole catalog. It is the perfect blend of comedy and drama yet still full of heart and depth; it was truly his highlight of the decade

50 Years Of Woody Allen, Top 5. Years 2000-2016

woody-allen-e1431651004201This month marks 50 years that Woody Allen has been writing AND directing movies. It all started with 1966’s What’s Up, Tiger Lily?. I thought it only prudent to look at his best films by his eras. Since it is impossible to come up with an all time top 5 or even a top 10 list I’m going to break it down. I’m going to start with his 5 best since 2000 up until right now. So let’s get right to it.

5. Cafe Society (2016)  cafe-society

Released this year, Woody once again touches on his love of nostalgia and a much simpler time. This was his second collaboration with stars Jesse Eisenberg and Steve Carell and his first with Kristen Stewart and Blake Lively. All 4 of them couldn’t have been more perfect for their roles, which has been a standard Woody trademark. The story of 1930’s Hollywood and of love triangles and their long term effects. Check out my full review here.

4. Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008)  vicky_cristina_barcelona_2008_5309_poster

The second of his three projects with Scarlett Johansson in a matter of just four years, this was right in the middle of Woody exploring filmmaking outside of the United States. Penelope Cruz earned an Oscar for her performance of Maria Elena, this has also become a trademark of his, that is to say so many of his actors go on to win Academy Awards for their work with him.

3. Blue Jasmine (2013)  blue-jasmine-poster

Another one of his wonderful films in the dramatic genre, Cate Blanchett turned in, quite possibly her best performance to date and, of course, won the Academy Award. With a great supporting cast which included the surprising performance from Andrew Dice Clay who showed he can actually act beyond his stage persona. Check out my full review here.

2. Match Point (2005)  matchpoint21

The first of those three movies with Scarlett Johansson, this was a turning point in her career and best film since her breakout a couple years earlier in Lost In Transition. The thriller with a wonderful twist, Woody showed that no matter his age, he is one of the all time great storytellers and can produce great films of any kind. Check out my retrospective review here.

1. Midnight In Paris (2011)  midnightinparis

Midnight would be his most financially successful film and would go on to set records for independent films. This time the man himself would bring home his first Oscar in 25 years, since he had won for writing 1987’s Hannah And Her Sisters. Midnight In Paris is his ultimate love letter to nostalgia and it will go down as one of his all time best films. Check out my full review here.