The word “devastating” gets tossed around a lot, but when it comes to describing the strange and sudden death of Anton Yelchin, it doesn’t feel like enough.
The 27-year-old actor, who died early Sunday morning when his car rolled over him in his own driveway, displayed a wealth of instincts and versatility, and he made the tricky transition from child performer to adult actor with intelligence and ease. Whether appearing as part of the ensemble cast of a blockbuster franchise like the “Star Trek” movies or in a starring role in smaller, more challenging indie fare, Yelchin was usually the most interesting figure on screen. He possessed a wise, ethereal quality but also a boyish accessibility. It was all out there in front of him.
And so with a heavy heart, here’s a look back at five of Yelchin’s most memorable performances.
“Hearts in Atlantis” (2001): Still just a boy, Yelchin made quite an impression in his first major film role opposite heavyweights Anthony Hopkins and Hope Davis. He plays a bullied kid who finds confidence when he befriends the mysterious, older gentleman (Hopkins) renting a room in his mom’s boarding house during the summer of 1960. Yelchin shows a wisdom beyond his years here and not an ounce of child-star precociousness.
“Alpha Dog” (2006): Yelchin found complexity and unexpected avenues into his role here as a 15-year-old who gets kidnapped and used as a pawn in a true story of drugs and murder. His character is actually thrilled to be hanging out with the older, cooler kids, and eventually he gets to drink, smoke pot, play video games and carouse with a couple of beautiful blondes (Amanda Seyfried and Amber Heard) in a swimming pool. Yelchin’s down-to-Earth presence serves him well as our conduit into this crazy, dangerous world.
“Charlie Bartlett” (2007): Yelchin starred as the title character: a wealthy teenager who’s been kicked out of his elite academy and insinuates himself among his new public school classmates by serving as their shrink and pharmacist. He absolutely shines in this offbeat comedy, balancing sweetness and savvy, and he’s got a youthful exuberance that’s infectious.
“Star Trek” (2009): I’m going with the first J.J. Abrams “Star Trek” over the 2013 sequel, “Star Trek Into Darkness,” just because I liked it better. In both films, though, Yelchin gets to have a little fun amid the big-budget spectacle as 17-year-old supergenius Chekov. He’s doing an intentionally cartoony Russian accent — even though he really was Russian — seemingly in a nod to the playful, nostalgic nature of movies. He’s a cog in a massive machine here, but his enthusiasm and likability shine through. His appearance in the third installment, next month’s “Star Trek Beyond,” will be both a welcome and difficult sight to behold.
“Green Room” (2016): Just this spring, Yelchin showed us perhaps the best work of his career in writer-director Jeremy Saulnier’s suspenseful indie thriller. He co-stars as a member of a struggling punk band that’s stranded in an increasingly cramped and deadly situation at a backwoods club. Despite the extreme scenario, Yelchin brings recognizable humanity to the role. What he does here is so understated and so true, it’s easy to take the performance for granted.
Like the rest of the world, I woke up this morning to the impossibly sad news that David Bowie had died. He was so enduring and influential — ever-changing yet timeless — that it seems impossible he’s no longer here. Hell, my 6-year-old knows “Under Pressure” because it plays during the “Minions” trailer — that’s how wide-ranging Bowie’s cultural impact has been.
But his passing provides a great opportunity to reflect on a career so astounding, mere words don’t do it justice. I pondered doing a list about Bowie’s film performances as an actor; they are many and varied, ranging from starring roles in “The Man Who Fell to Earth” and “Labyrinth” to memorable supporting parts as Andy Warhol in “Basquiat” and, finally, himself in “Bandslam.” Instead, I got to thinking about how beautifully his songs have been used in films over the years. While the following five are in no particular order, the first one is my favorite. I hope these help you reflect fondly on this true genius and icon, as well.
“Starman” in “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story” (2007). But I also could have mentioned the thrilling use of “Starman” this year in “The Martian.” By the time rock star Dewey Cox has reached borderline has-been stage with his own cheesy, ’70s variety show in “Walk Hard,” he’s striving desperately to remain hip and relevant. Who better to emulate than the eternally cool Bowie? John C. Reilly sells the schmaltz with complete sincerity, which is just the best. And the choreography is hilarious.
“Golden Years” in “A Knight’s Tale” (2001). Writer-director Brian Helgeland’s medieval comedy makes slyly anachronistic use of this funky Bowie tune during a crucial scene. A sexy and vibrant Heath Ledger, as a peasant trying to convince the crowd at a ball that he’s actually a knight, busts out some dance moves to prove he’s cultured. Bowie’s music provides the perfect accompaniment.
“Moonage Daydream” in “Guardians of the Galaxy” (2014). I wish I could find this clip. It’s just not out there online. But in case you’re one of the few people who’ve never seen this enormously crowd-pleasing Marvel blockbuster, just trust me. James Gunn chose just the right song as part of his excellent, ’70s-era soundtrack for the moment when the team arrives in the massive, intergalactic crossroads of Knowhere. It just sounds big, and it’s the perfect tune thematically and tonally.
“Modern Love” in “Frances Ha” (2012). It’s a song you’ve heard a million times. It’s one of Bowie’s most poppy and accessible. But Noah Baumbach breathes new life into it in this intimate, New York comedy. As the aimless title character, Greta Gerwig finally finds purpose here as she runs, twirls and jetes down the street. The use of black and white makes it classic. The energy of the song makes it immediate.
All the Bowie songs in “The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou” (2004). This is not my favorite Wes Anderson movie — that would be “Rushmore” — but his use of music is always inspired. Here, he put a bossa nova twist on Bowie classics including “Changes” and “Life on Mars” by having Brazilian star Seu Jorge perform them poignantly in Portuguese, functioning as a sort of Greek chorus. “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide” works particularly well, both for the power of the performance and the way Anderson shoots it.
I haven’t done one of these lists in a while, which is a bummer, because they’re always a lot of fun and they inspire spirited feedback. But when a dear childhood friend of mine mentioned on Facebook that he can’t hear the song “Just Once” by James Ingram without thinking of the heart-wrenching ending of “The Last American Virgin,” it got me thinking.
There are so many songs that, when I hear them now, I immediately recall the movies in which they’ve been featured. Directors like Martin Scorsese, Cameron Crowe, Wes Anderson and Sofia Coppola use pop music so frequently and skillfully in their films, the songs and the images become intrinsically entwined — and the soundtracks become as memorable as the movies themselves.
So here are five songs that always remind me of the movies in which they’ve appeared. There are so many great ones, it was hard to narrow it down. But I’d love to hear what’s playing in your movie jukebox, so feel free to chime in with your favorites.
_ The Cars’ “Moving in Stereo” in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” (1982): Although the scene in which Jennifer Jason Leigh’s character loses her virginity in the dugout to Jackson Browne’s “Somebody’s Baby” is a very close second. But Phoebe Cates emerging from the swimming pool in a red bikini in Judge Reinhold’s slo-mo fantasy sequence is, like, THE image of the movie. To this day, whenever I hear that guitar riff off the top, I have to say: “Hi, Brad. You know how cute I always thought you were.”
_ Roy Orbison’s “In Dreams” in “Blue Velvet” (1986): It’s such a David Lynch moment, with its twisted mix of dreamlike romanticism, dark humor and unbearable tension. Dennis Hopper’s startlingly psychopathic character is obsessed with this Orbison ballad and stands mesmerized and mouthing along as a flamboyant Dean Stockwell lip-synchs it for him — that is, until Hopper snaps, as is his tendency. Apparently, Orbison didn’t even know Lynch was going to use the song in the film, but its inclusion helped reignite his career.
_ Sam Cooke’s “Wonderful World” in “Animal House” (1976): I love the use of this song in the famous cafeteria scene for a couple of reasons. First of all, the lyrics comment so perfectly on John Belushi’s unabashed crassness as Bluto. But it’s also a great fit because the rhythm is so smooth as Bluto calmly pushes his tray along, piling it high with food and randomly shoving items in his mouth. Every time I hear it, I think to myself: “See if you can guess what I am now.” I want to go watch this entire movie right now, even though I’ve seen it a million times.
_ Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Lookin’ Out My Back Door” in “The Big Lebowski” (1998): The Dude is just so happy to have his car back — and he’s so happy the police were able to find his Creedence tape. And he’s just bopping along to this perky tune, enjoying a drive in the Los Angeles sunshine — until he drops a joint in his lap, freaks out and crashes. (I love that little high-pitched squeal Jeff Bridges does here when The Dude is scared; he also does it when the nihilists drop the marmot in the bathtub.) I also like the way the Coen brothers cut the drum portion of the song to tight shots of little Larry’s homework. Just a fun scene in a movie I dearly love.
_ Britney Spears’ “Everytime” in “Spring Breakers” (2013): Harmony Korine’s colorfully nightmarish look at girls gone wild is ballsy in a million different ways. But one of his most daring choices here is also his subtlest and sweetest. A devilish James Franco as the wannabe gangster rapper Alien sits down at a poolside piano and plays his bikini-clad, gun-toting partners in crime a song to inspire them: this tinkly, plaintive Britney Spears ballad. It’s an unexpectedly beautiful and poignant moment in a film that’s usually more interested in shocking you.
With “Tomorrowland” in theaters this weekend, my friend Ben Lyons posed the question on Twitter: What’s your favorite George Clooney movie? This is, of course, one of my favorite kinds of questions to ponder because it results in so many different answers and creates such a fun debate.
Turns out, I already considered the topic of Clooney’s best work in October 2011. Here’s what I wrote back then — and I’d still make these same choices now. What would you pick?
LOS ANGELES — A couple of weeks ago, we looked back on the eclectic career of Brad Pitt, and marveled at the intelligence of his choices as well as his instinct to shun his movie-star persona while still giving the people what they want.
Pitt’s friend and co-star in the “Ocean’s” movies, George Clooney, has shown similar tastes and daring both in front of and behind the camera. And in the process of staying true to his beliefs, he’s carved out one of the most respected careers in town.
This week, he directs the political drama “The Ides of March” and plays a supporting role as a governor seeking the Democratic presidential nomination. So here’s a look at his five best performances. As you can probably guess, I’d vote for him for anything:
_ “Michael Clayton” (2007): Clooney gives a smart, subtly powerful performance in the title role as a “fixer” at a prestigious New York law firm. He’s a man who’s been around a long time and seen it all. He carries the cumulative weight of a lifetime of disappointments in his eyes, his voice, the way his shoulders hunch. And yet, Michael still responds proficiently and professionally to whatever challenge is thrust upon him. All the best of what Clooney can do is on display here: the dazzling charisma as well as the vulnerability. Writer-director Tony Gilroy gives Clooney an opportunity to do some of the best work of his career in a part that’s meaty but rarely flashy.
_ “Syriana” (2005): Clooney famously cast aside his dashing good looks, gaining 30 pounds in 30 days, growing a beard and shaving his hairline to play Bob Barnes, a fictionalized version of former CIA officer Robert Baer. He was unrecognizable, a crucial piece in writer-director Stephen Gaghan’s dense and complicated film about the global oil industry, and the performance earned him the Academy Award for best supporting actor. Clooney was so dedicated, he severely injured his back shooting a torture scene, and was still hurt while directing and co-starring in “Good Night, and Good Luck.” This is a prime example of his willingness to reject the glamour of being a movie star in favor of doing smart, challenging work.
_ “Out of Sight” (1998): Trading snappy banter with a tough-but-feminine Jennifer Lopez, Clooney was sexy as hell as a career bank robber in Steven Soderbergh’s funny and surprising film. The scene in which the two flirt at a hotel bar, with its warm lighting and flattering close-ups, is probably the movie’s best-known and it crackles with romantic tension. But Clooney is called upon to do much more than smolder. “Out of Sight” ranges from buddy comedy to gripping suspense to sultry noir, and Clooney has the versatility to keep up with all those varying genres. He’s probably a bad guy and he’s most certainly unreliable, but he’s also irresistible. Clooney makes that contrast work.
_ “Up in the Air” (2009): Clooney is at the height of his dynamism here as a man who makes a living by firing other people. This would seem like an insurmountable contradiction, but Jason Reitman’s film fleshes out the character, Ryan Bingham, with shadings and subtlety, and Clooney gets excellent support from co-stars Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick. (All three received Academy Award nominations.) Ryan jets across the country, handing out pink slips without batting an eye and worrying only about increasing his frequent-flier miles. He breezes through life efficiently, and Clooney’s naturally masculine energy gives the character real zing, but he also finds the soulfulness that’s eventually required of the role, as well.
_ “Fantastic Mr. Fox” (2009): Clooney’s work here also appeared on my list of the five best animated performances. “Up in the Air” earned him an Oscar nomination for best actor that year, but he’s just as memorable behind the microphone lending his smooth voice to the starring role of the crafty Mr. Fox. He brings all that charm in the richness of his delivery, all his signature smarts and presence to director Wes Anderson’s beautifully detailed stop-motion animation. And merely the idea of this handsome man playing a furry, little woodland creature — albeit a clever one with a sly sense of humor — is enough to bring a huge smile to your face.
Tomorrow, I get to travel to Portland — a city I’ve never been to, strangely enough — for fewer than 24 hours for work. Getting ready for this trip got me thinking about Gus Van Sant, who has set so many of his movies in his adopted hometown in the Pacific Northwest.
So I went back and looked up a Five Most list I put together of Van Sant’s best films back in September 2011. As you’ll see, I fudged it a little and added a sixth title. Enjoy.
By CHRISTY LEMIRE
LOS ANGELES — Gus Van Sant has made an eclectic array of films over the past quarter-century, but throughout that time he’s repeatedly explored the restlessness of youth.
This week, the director is out with his latest — which happens to be titled “Restless” — about a couple of teenagers (Henry Hopper and Mia Wasikowska) who are fascinated with death. It’s not a career highlight for him — it never achieves the emotional resonance it seeks — but it provides us with a good opportunity to pick five of his best films. A quick note: I would have loved to have found room for “Paranoid Park,” but I only get to pick five. That’s why the game is fun:
_ “Good Will Hunting” (1997): Van Sant sometimes makes small, quiet films that challenge your attention span, and I admire him for such daring. But one of his most mainstream movies also happens to be one of his best. Nominated for nine Oscars (including best picture), it won two: for supporting-actor Robin Williams and for the original screenplay from co-stars Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. Its uplifting story arc may be formulaic but the strength and honesty of the performances give it surprising emotional heft — especially from Damon as a troubled math genius in the role that marked his arrival as a major, serious actor. And the sense of place Van Sant evokes of working-class Boston is inescapable.
_ “Milk” (2008): On its surface, this could have been shamelessly mawkish. Instead, Van Sant presents the last eight years in the life of Harvey Milk, the slain San Francisco politician and gay rights activist, with a mix of vivid details and nuanced heart. He’s also drawn from Sean Penn one of the most glorious performances ever in the actor’s long and varied career, one that duly earned Penn his second best-actor Oscar. “Milk” also won an Academy Award for Dustin Lance Black’s original screenplay. It hits all the important marks but never feels like a typical biopic, a superficial, greatest-hits collection. Jumping back and forth in time, “Milk” flows easily and comfortably; it makes us feel like we’re witnessing the natural, propulsive drive of a life that mattered.
_ “Drugstore Cowboy” (1989): An all-time classic drug movie, it realistically depicts the desperation that takes hold when you’re hooked. It’s also a great movie about criminals on the run, and how they create their own little universe while trying to avoid the real world. Matt Dillon alternates between cool charisma and manic superstition as the leader of a group of junkies (Kelly Lynch, James Le Gros, Heather Graham) who rob pharmacies to feed their habit in 1971 Portland. In their own screwed-up way, they’re formed a community, and they look out for each other. Their lives are cheaply thrilling and deeply sad.
_ “To Die For” (1995): A pitch-black, razor-sharp satire about the desire for fame and the lengths to which people will go to acquire it. Nicole Kidman is both hilarious and frightening as a perky but driven small-town wife with dreams of becoming a big-name television personality. In an array of candy-colored get-ups and a perfect coif, she’s a Barbie doll with ice water in her veins. But her dark side reveals itself as she plots to kill her husband (Dillon, again) with the help of some misfit teenagers (including Joaquin Phoenix and Casey Affleck). Working from a script from Buck Henry, himself a TV veteran, Van Sant never lets up on her, or on the characters who might have seemed innocent at the film’s start.
_ “My Own Private Idaho” (1991): It’s impossible to look back on one of River Phoenix’s films without feeling great sadness and wondering what might have been. Here, he plays a scruffy, narcoleptic hustler named Mike who’s woefully adrift and in need of some human tenderness. It’s a delicate performance in a dangerous world and watching it, you long to see him protected and safe. His only real friend is Scott, played with cool confidence by Keanu Reeves. He hustles not because he needs to — the son of Portland’s mayor, he has a large inheritance coming his way — but because it’s rebellious. Together they navigate a landscape that’s both absurd and dreamlike.
Greetings from Banff, Alberta, where I’ve been skiing all week with my family in the stunning Canadian Rockies. My L.A. kid had never even seen snow in person, much less skied on it, prior to this trip. He’s having a blast — we all are — but naturally, the dramatic scenery got me thinking about movies, as most things do. (Thankfully, we’ve avoided “Force Majeure”-style, avalanche-as-metaphor antics during our vacation.)
So here’s a list of five great movies in which snow is a crucial factor. Bundle up and let’s go …
“Doctor Zhivago” (1965): David Lean’s Oscar-winning epic, set during the Russian Revolution, features Omar Sharif and Julie Christie in a seriously dramatic love affair with some seriously dramatic costumes. So. Much. Fur. Plus, you have 3 1/2 hours to kill, right?
“The Shining” (1980): It doesn’t snow for the entirety of Stanley Kubrick’s Stephen King adaptation, but the icy, frigid backdrop of the labyrinth chase makes the film’s climax especially haunting. Just try to un-see the look on Jack Nicholson’s face here.
“For Your Eyes Only” (1981): Perhaps THE greatest James Bond chase scene ever. Nothing this stressful (or athletic) has happened to us during our vacation, but Chris just mentioned to me that every time we go skiing, he gets the iconic Bond theme song stuck in his head at least once a run.
“Fargo” (1996): The snow is so essential to “Fargo,” it almost feels like a character itself. The unforgiving bleakness of the surroundings sets a pervasive tone, and it provides a striking backdrop for the film’s violent, bloody moments. Easily one of my favorites from the Coen brothers.
“A Simple Plan” (1998): As in “Fargo,” the snow heightens the sense of dread and isolation in Sam Raimi’s great (and greatly underappreciated) crime thriller. If you found a giant bag of cash in the dead of winter near a plane crash in middle-of-nowhere Minnesota, wouldn’t you keep it, too?
UPDATE, Jan. 3: A frequent visitor to my Facebook page, Shannon Nutt, astutely points out that I completely spaced “The Empire Strikes Back” (1980). Because, Hoth. This is embarrassing as the parent of a “Star Wars”-obsessed child, so I’m going to break my own rules here and add a sixth movie to the list, with my thanks to Shannon for the great pick. Enjoy.
There’s a new film version of the musical “Annie” coming out this week, starring Quvenzhane Wallis as a modern-day version of the optimistic orphan. Full review coming soon, but just know that it’s terrible, and you should avoid it.
However, “Annie” does provide a good opportunity for a discussion of great performances from young actors, and for that I turned to my friend and fellow school parent Chambers Stevens. Chambers is a longtime actor, playwright and author, but he’s probably best known as a respected child acting coach. Each year, he gives out The Chambie Awards for the best work from actors under age 18. He sees through the cloying and precocious tendencies that have become cliches among child stars, and he has great taste (because he usually agrees with me). As you can see from the above photo, he also really likes cake.
So I asked Chambers to pick his five favorite performances from young actors. Here they are below, in his own words and with my thanks.
Jack Wild in “Oliver!” (1968): There are some performances that are badly acted, some that are well acted and some that are so believable that you can’t believe that this is not a documentary. And then there are peformances that are a force of nature. Jack Wild in “Oliver!” is that. His Artful Dodger makes you want to run away from home and join him as a pickpocket.
Natalie Wood in “Miracle on 34th Street” (1947): I have seen this film over 50 times and I have yet to see a false note in her performance. It’s like when they started filming, this jaded little studio actress didn’t believe in Santa. But by the last shot, just like us, she believes.
Tatum O’Neal in “Paper Moon” (1973): It’s easy to see why she won an Oscar for this one. Part little girl, part 40-year-old con man, she steals every scene she is in.
Quvenzhane Wallis in “Beasts of the Southern Wild” (2012): Remember the first time you heard Prince play? Or you saw Shakira shake? Remember when you first tasted a Cinnabon … that perfect mixture of cream and spice? Nothing would ever be the same. When I saw Quvenzhane’s performance, I felt exactly like that.
Matthew Lewis in “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” (2001): I love the “Harry Potter” books. I love the “Harry Potter” movies. The three main actors grew to be very good actors. In the beginning, they were a little green, and it shows on the screen. But there is one performance in the first film that is pitch perfect. Matthew Lewis as Neville Longbottom perfectly captures the loser in all of us. The insecurity. The feeling that we are not the lead in our own movie. And he does this all with only a couple of lines. And in the end — spoiler — when he wins the cup for the house, my heart leaps with joy.
One of my favorite Twitter feeds these days is Los Feliz Day Care, a dead-on parody of uptight, ultra-P.C. parenting and educational tactics. Whether or not you’re a parent, you should seriously check it out — you will cackle daily. As the mother of a 5-year-old in Los Angeles, I can attest that these quips featuring unusual kid names (Gumbo, Ryker, Pezz), non-denominational holiday celebrations and gourmet, vegan lunchbox items aren’t too far off from reality.
So I reached out to the center’s top “child care provider” (TV writer Jason Shapiro) to see if he’d be interested in providing a list of some of his favorite movies to show the children at LFDC. He graciously picked five films to help grow your child’s mind. I feel more enlightened already.
Top Five Films to Grow Your Child’s Mind
I have chosen to include just documentaries because they are the only appropriate films to show a growing child. Documentaries show the world as it is, not through the lens of a corporate entity that is trying to sell you the latest product.
“Food, Inc.” (2009): There is nothing more important than what our friends (children) put into their bodies. Food is the lifeblood of learning and if you are fueling with hydrogenated oils, GMOs, hormone-filled meats and other garbage, you may tragically end up as the star of a reality television program. “Food, Inc.” is the most important film since “The Magnificent Ambersons.” (“Citizen Kane” was also good, but way too mainstream).
“Blackfish” (2013): Thinking of taking that family vacation to Sea World? If the answer is yes, consider yourself blacklisted from Los Feliz Day Care. “Blackfish” is an eye-opening film for children, and often disturbing, but it’s important not to sugarcoat the reality of whale captivity. They can deal with the residual feelings through tapping, acupuncture and talk therapy.
“Bully” (2012): Learning environments should always feel safe, and this film promotes that kind of emotional safety. LFDC has been a bully-free zone since April of 2012 and we can thank this film for a small part of that. Most of the credit should be given to Edie’s dads for creating the brilliant hashtag, #BullyBusting2k12. The only appropriate “bullying” that takes place at LFDC is bullying our neighbors into composting their garbage. Mother Gaia depends on us for this.
“Juno” (2007): OK, maybe “Juno” isn’t a documentary, but we’ll always make an exception for Diablo Cody. “Juno” teaches courage, responsibility, some of the hardships of growing up, and above all, quirk. New LFDC applicants must be at least a 6 out of 10 on the Anderson Quirk Scale, and this film is always required watching upon acceptance.
“Exit Through the Gift Shop” (2010): Food may be the lifeblood of learning, but art is the lifeblood of the food that is the lifeblood of learning. That makes perfect sense, yes? Art stimulates children’s minds and no film in recent memory stimulates our creativity more than “Exit Through the Gift Shop.” Also, we’re not saying we know who Banksy is, but she may or may not have given a private street art seminar during our 2013 Festival of The Divine Female Arts Show.
Daniel Stamm is a twisted dude, and I mean that in the most complimentary way.
When I asked the director of the horror films “13 Sins” and “The Last Exorcism” whether he’d be interested in doing a Five Most list for my website for Halloween, not only did he say yes immediately, he also immediately had a topic in mind: his favorite unhappy endings. So it’s all tricks and no treats here.
Usually I like to limit the lists to five selections, because making the tough choices is what makes the game fun. But Stamm picked seven, which I’m OK with because they’re all so varied and inspired. So enjoy, with my thanks to Stamm for taking the time — but be warned, there be spoilers ahead.
“Se7en” (1995): “What’s in the boooox?!” I read somewhere that the studio didn’t want to shoot the draft with the box, and David Fincher didn’t want to shoot anything but. It took Brad Pitt to threaten to quit unless Fincher would get his box, and so he did. On the DVD commentary, they are talking about an alternative ending that I always liked: When Morgan Freeman’s character realizes that he can’t keep Pitt from shooting John Doe, he pulls out his gun and does it himself, sparing the younger cop decades in prison and sacrificing himself. You know you have a dark movie when this is the ending that “wasn’t enough of a sucker punch” to make it into the film.
“The Mist” (2007): Like “Se7en,” this also is a movie where the director and the studio battled over the ending. Frank Darabont allegedly agreed to having his budget cut in half in exchange for the studio not to mess with it. He should have a sticker on the back of his car that says MY FILM’S ENDING COULD KICK YOUR FILM’S ENDING’S ASS. And it could. I don’t think I have ever seen a more uncompromising one.
“Layer Cake” (2004): This one is deep: Daniel Craig’s character is a bad-ass who doesn’t only beat the mob, he becomes top dog, only to walk out and give it all the finger. He’s invincible. He is in the middle of a heroic voiceover that wraps it all up when he gets shot by some nobody we hardly remember whose girlfriend he screwed along the way. The camera pulls up as he bleeds out on the stairs. All hail the little guy’s bite.
“The Cabin in the Woods.” (2012): If the ending of “Layer Cake” is about the little things that fuck you up, “The Cabin in the Woods” is about the big ones. It’s a rollercoaster of bigger bigger bigger. There was really only one place to go with the ending, and that was into epic megalomania – which they did gloriously. I love Lionsgate for protecting this movie’s secrets instead of giving them away in the trailer, even though they probably paid a steep price for it at the box office.
“Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines” (2003): This ending always stuck with me because it is so odd. Some mentor figure sends young John Connor out to prevent the rise of the machines. It takes him the entire film to get where he was told to go. It turns out he’s been tricked: The catastrophe cannot be prevented, and instead he’s been led to a nuclear bunker to survive it. The whole thing was a bluff so he wouldn’t insist on fighting and dying. It’s a cool idea. But it also means that you could cut the entire movie out of the franchise entirely and nobody would notice it was ever there, as far as the overall story and mythology are concerned. Hmm.
“Videodrome” (1983): Speakking of deceptive mentor figures, here’s a far more vicious one. I remember being a teenager and sitting in a house in Belfast during a stormy night, being utterly confused when the movie is suddenly over after James Woods was just about to go to battle. I must have been staring at the credits rolling in front of me for a good minute before it finally hit me what had happened. Goosebumps.
“The Blair Witch Project” (1999): It’s so masterfully done: They (dismissively) talk about a gruesome piece of mythology early on, give you enough time to forget about it, then have you remember it when you slowly recognize the visual of the kid in the corner. It’s straight out of a nightmare. Eduardo Sanchez, one of the two directors, told me they didn’t have an ending until someone came up with it on the day. Thank God someone did.