And in "Pollock," Ed Harris learned to paint (or at least look like he could paint) like Jackson Pollack, in a film suggesting it was easier to paint Pollack's paintings than live his life. "Almost Famous" Huckleberry Finn as 15-year-old rock critic, in one of the best coming-of-age movies ever made.
Writer-director Cameron Crowe based the film on his own experiences, when he was 15, convinced a Rolling Stone editor he was an adult, and was assigned to accompany the Allman Brothers on a road trip.
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Viewing a rooftop chase and a heart-stopping fight by two characters clinging to swinging treetops, I assumed it was computer animation of some sort, and was astonished when Lee told me those were real actors up there, hanging from cranes on invisible wires.
For once the action wasn't the point in the martial arts movie: It was the canvas for a story of myth and obsession, beautifully told. "Requiem for a Dream" Most drug movies focus on the world of addicts rather than the inner space they retreat to when they're using.
Interlocking stories involve the chain of sale and use: Two honest Tijuana cops, a Mexican army general, a middle-man importer, a wealthy and respectable American businessman who is secretly a drug lord, two undercover San Diego drug agents, an Ohio judge who is appointed the nations new drug czar, and his daughter, who becomes addicted to cocaine.
Each story stands on its own, and it's surprising, considering how much ground the story covers, how strongly the characters emerge--especially Benicio Del Toro as a Mexican cop and Michael Douglas as a parent faced with drugs in his own family.
Darren Aronofsky's movie is intensely subjective, using extreme closeups to show drug reactions, dilating pupils, etc., and then using speed-up and sound to recreate the delusional worlds of his characters.
At the heart of the film is a great, brave performance by Ellen Burstyn, as a housewife who gets hooked on diet pills and hallucinates that she is destined to appear on TV.
"Wonder Boys" is the first movie by Curtis Hanson since "L. At its center is Michael Douglas' best performance. "You Can Count on Me" Laura Linney plays Sammy, a single mom, in a film filled with Oscar-caliber performances.
She has an 8-year-old son, is a bank loan officer, is doing okay financially, is dating a guy who doesn't excite her, and hates her new boss.
Marcia Gay Hardin co-stars as his painter wife, Lee Krasner, who knows what she's getting into when she courts the alcoholic, depressive painter, and stands beside him as long as she can take it. "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" Ang Lee grew up on Taiwan reading martial arts novels, and the images in his memory were an influence on this film, he says.
Poetic and more thoughtful than most works in the genre, it also contains some of the most exhilarating action sequences ever filmed.
"You Can Count on Me," a film of great tender truth, begins as they meet again after one of Terry's long, unexplained silences.