Moments out of Time 1997

[originally published in Film Comment Volume 34 Number 1, January/February 1998, reprinted by permission]

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• The death of Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey), L.A. Confidential: The gunshot comes as a cinematically rare and genuine shock, but this is crowned by a supreme actor’s-moment: Jack’s multivalenced chuckle—shoulda known better—as he plants the clue with which his killer will betray himself. “Rollo … Tommasi”…

• A blue, figured rug drifting over a rocky streambed: the beginning of Gabbeh‘s motion picture magic ..

Kundun: the crane up from the Dalai Lama amidst a virtual sea of slain monks…

• The happy promiscuousness of the camera in Boogie Nights: tracking the trajectory of various characters through the first party scene at Jack Horner’s house, it notices an anonymous girl and follows her … into the pool … and under the water … and surfaces to frame Reed Rothchild (John C. Reilly) … and goes under again to meet Eddie Adams (Mark Wahlberg)….

• The tour-boat scene in My Best Friend’s Wedding, the last time that former lovers Julia Roberts and Dermot Mulroney will ever be alone together: “…If you love someone, you say it out loud, otherwise the moment just—” “—passes you by,” she finishes, as, passing under a bridge, the boat draws out of privileged shadow into the sun….

• Overarching tree limbs—the curve of a mother’s loving embrace—in Mother and Son and Ponette

• “Never ignore a man’s courtesy”—good advice from Sydney (Philip Baker Hall), Hard Eight

• In The Apostle, the way Sonny (Robert Duvall) kicks out at the cop who tries to interrupt his seduction of a soul for Jesus … a dying accident victim he touches through the window of his wrecked car…

• “Told ya it was here”—where Louis (Robert De Niro) parked the car, that is. Melanie (Bridget Fonda) is no longer interested. Jackie Brown

• Stalin (F. Murray Abraham) and Australian fan Joan Fraser (Judy Davis) getting up close and personal on a settee in Children of the Revolution

Alien Resurrection: Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) unfolding her long limbs as she emerges from a cocoon of gauze: elegant as a praying mantis…

Absolute Power: Ed Harris’s cop and Clint Eastwood’s master thief “flirting” over lunch at the museum: two good men, two good actors in perfect rapport…

• Out of the reeds on the other side of a river, Russian soldiers rise—as though from hidden graves—to renew the hostilities Capitaine Conan lives for….

• Wounded men: the compulsive, politicking charisma of D.A. Ron Leibman, and the smiling, embarrassed guiltiness of cop James Gandolfini as honest man Ian Holm’s partner; Night Falls on Manhattan

• Barely visible in Amistad‘s opening dark, a bloodied black finger scrabbles desperately to tease a nail out of wood….

• A dark, hushed kitchen crowded with ursine menace, rehearsal for the real thing in The Edge

• Don’t go there: the unclean atmosphere of the house where Bill Pullman and Patricia Arquette live in Lost Highway

L.A. Confidential: Seconds after two men have been machine-gunned through it, a picture window crashes in sheets ….

• Most startling intertitle of the year: RENO, NEVADA – TWO YEARS LATER, after the mesmerizing first reel of Hard Eight

• The almost unbearable sweetness of the duet between Catherine Sloper (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and Morris Townsend (Ben Chaplin), as close to perfect union as they ever come in Washington Square

• The hopeless, utterly endearing croaking of the bride-to-be (Cameron Diaz) in the karaoke bar: disaster become triumph in My Best Friend’s Wedding

• The polite raptness of The Colonel (the late, great Robert Ridgely) checking Eddie’s goods—Boogie Nights

• The preternatural self-possession and serene preposterousness of Ken Sherry (George Shevtzov), Love Serenade

• Castor Troy (Nicolas Cage) vamping in his opera cape with satanic red lining, Face/Off

• “I love Chow Yun Fat but I don’t see him as Batman”—overheard at a comic-book con in Chasing Amy

• The falls—a Herzogian coup in Happy Together

• Dead faces reflected in a muddy pool of leftover rainwater … epitaph for Deep Crimson‘s grotesque Bonnie and Clyde wannabes…

Smilla’s Sense of Snow: Below the frozen tundra, a seal rolls over in a grotto of blue ice, lit like a stained-glass window from another dimension…

• A teacher reaches into a landscape to pluck out a bouquet and “blue,” the color of the sky: directorial sorcery in Gabbeh….

• The hard, fast exchange of blows in a duel of will and wit between damaged boy and shrink (Matt Damon and Robin Williams) in Good Will Hunting

• Kurt (Ricky Jay) engaging Little Bill (William H. Macy) in a discussion of “minimal” while, just beyond, a rapt audience watches Little Bill’s wife getting dicked on the driveway—Boogie Nights

• Just before the end of Donnie Brasco, Lefty (AI Pacino) leaving open a drawer containing his jewelry and cash so that his wife will find them…

Washington Square’s Aunt Lavinia (Maggie Smith) spews overripe platitudes about love as she flirts with her niece’s fortune-hunting fiancé (Ben Chaplin). Behind her, glimpsed through a scrim, a whore’s legs pump up and down….

• A father’s lullaby, the grave face of a sick child, and a small knife: The Sweet Hereafter

• In the middle of a stormy night, a tiny black foal nests in the snow outside a grandmother’s yurt … a magical gift in A Mongolian Tale….

• The muffled thump of great combs trimming and shaping heavy hanks of wool: the beating heart of Gabbeh

• The first appearance of Sam Neill’s many-times-turned spy in Children of the Revolution: in ironically menacing silhouette, with a smoking cigarette cocked in his leather-gloved hand…

• Philip Baker Hall in excelsis: in Hard Eight, the matter-of-fact awe of just tracking around the casino in Sydney’s wake; and in Boogie Nights, the entrance of Floyd Gondolli…

• The brute, sudden horror of death in the dark: Harold Perrineau Jr.’s savaging by the bear in The Edge

• Behind the Victory Motel, headlights in the trees: classic air of menace at the climax of L.A. Confidential

• A father’s hand, raised from the steering wheel to wave at his kids, suddenly spasms impotently … signaling the loss of all bearings in The Sweet Hereafter….

• The way Billy Bob Thornton’s kneeling sinner turns his face away during his conversion at the tender hands of The Apostle

L.A. Confidential: Jack Vincennes’s glance at the one-way mirror in the chief’s office—behind which Ed Exley (Guy Pearce) stands—after he has copped to the grand jury…

• “This isn’t E.M. Forster!” … Upper-class British novelist Giles DeAth (John Hurt) realizing he’s in the wrong movie auditorium in Love and Death on Long Island

• Sensual short-circuiting in Female Perversions: utterly self-absorbed Eve (Tilda Swinton) making out in a hammock with her latest, lovely conquest (Karen Sillas)…

The Ice Storm: Seconds after a passionless quickie in his car’s front seat, a suburban spouse (Jamey Sheridan) draws back in horror—”Awful … that was awful”—from his neighbor’s wife (Joan Allen)….

A Thousand Acres: A woman scorned (Jessica Lange) disappears—as though she never existed—into a field of corn….

• The story about the girl that got away as told by Silent Bob, aka writer-director Kevin Smith, in Chasing Amy

• Hotshot lawyer Jon Voight, momentarily tripped up by tyro attorney Matt Damon in The Rainmaker: “You little pissant!”…

• “Jan-et!”—Judy Davis’s outraged shriek when Woody Allen accidentally calls her Jane, after her thinly disguised character in his latest novel; misogynistic metacinema in Deconstructing Harry

• A reforming junkie (Malcolm McDowell) injects his hand-puppet self with an overdose of the old “rang dang do,” in Hugo Pool

• “Earl Grey rules!”—Sudden Manhattan

• In Anastasia, ghosts from a lost age of Romanov splendor drift down from floor-to-ceiling portraits in a great, decaying ballroom….

• An image cinema waited a hundred years to frame: in Amistad, a low-angle shot up past the helm of the ship as a strong man looks skyward and steers by the stars…

• In Chasing Amy, Alyssa (Joey Lauren Adams)’s sweet, wise “sermon” about all the ways her lover’s proposed three-way could go wrong…

The Apostle: The joy and regret that illuminates an old minister’s (John Beasley) face as he explains why a weak heart keeps him from preaching: “When I get up to the pulpit and the spirit moves me … I can’t hold back.”…

• Early in The Devil’s Advocate, the virtually nuclear toilet-flush sound effect as lawyer Keanu Reeves scrubs his hands in the courthouse restroom…

• In Boogie Nights, the cap-gun verisimilitude of Brock Landers and Chest Rockwell’s shooting…

• Gary Oldman as Zorg, The Fifth Element‘s best special effect: a weirdly skewed stick-figure who seems to have been dismantled and reassembled on several occasions by repair teams with radically conflicting theories of prosthetics…

• “What the fuck happened to you, man? Your ass used to be beautiful.” Ordell (Samuel 1. Jackson) to Louis, no longer listening. Jackie Brown

Boogie Nights: During the unaccustomed near-silence while his musical tapes change over, Rahad Jackson (Alfred Molina) suddenly feels impelled to account for the thirty-seventh firecracker since the sequence began: “Cosmo … he’s Chinese”….

The Saint (Val Kilmer), having immersed himself in a near-frozen Moscow river, watches up through the water as an enemy stands above looking for him…

• After the woman he’s hot for tells him “next time,” The Apostle spins around on her front steps to aim a stiff finger at her door, shooting off steam and punching out a promise of future good times….

• In Deep Crimson, a reluctantly murderous “mother” prepares a little girl for her bath—both knowing it will be her last….

• The miraculous presence that appears behind Ponette as she grieves by her mother’s grave…

Mother and Son amid white birches on a hill that tilts inexorably down-frame…

Alien Resurrection: The horrific yet ennobled visage of Ellen Ripley’s unholy child at the moment it registers its Virgin Mother’s betrayal…

• Mother and child reunion: Amber Waves (Julianne Moore) tenderly bringing Dirk Diggler (Mark Wahlberg) home in his first big sex scene in Boogie Nights

• .Slowly closing in on the target of choice—a lost son—at the beginning of Hard Eight

• Julie Christie all aglow in anticipation of love in Afterglow

• The hair-raising shooosh of a boy’s suddenly dead body sliding along a frozen road … The Ice Storm

• A romantic melody on the radio, a slow dance on a nighttime pier … the sweet, doomed passion of an IRA soldier (Brad Pitt) and his girl (Natascha McElhone) in The Devil’s Own

Jackie Brown: Max Cherry (Robert Forster) listening to the Delfonics on his car tapedeck, and just not quite singing along…

• A sweetly demented “stalker” (Mel Gibson) sits in his car gazing up at the apartment window of the woman he loves (Julia Roberts), Conspiracy Theory. After a moment, he begins to hum, “scoring” her workout on the treadmill….

• Unable to maintain proper manly restraint under the influence of “I Will Survive,” Kevin Kline breaks out in exuberant dance—In & Out….

• An unexpected, deadpan rendition of “Wichita Lineman” by a middle-aged Asian restaurateur in Australia’s Love Serenade

My Best Friend’s Wedding: George (Rupert Everett), “radiant with charisma,” let loose on the wedding-rehearsal luncheon and drawing the entire assembly into an ecstatic rendition of “Say a Little Prayer for Me”…

Love and Death on Long Island: the delicate obtrusiveness of the proprietor of Chez d’Irv (Maury Chaykin), especially when he asks Giles DeAth whether he’s ever bumped into a guy named Stan Brickhouse—”an attractive man … average-size hands, breasts like a woman”…

• Observed from a god’s-eye view in Smilla’s Sense of Snow: a man and his dog team trying to outrace a frame-filling, moving wall of snow…

• A red car drives down a turnpike curving gently through misty green countryside: Good Will Hunting heading for his own private Idaho….

• Any of Judy Davis’s orgasmic rants in Children of the Revolution, but especially the one that ends by radically changing tune, as she sighs a mild “Ta, love” to the patient husband (Geoffrey Rush) who hands her a cuppa…

In & Out: Seen from overhead, the incidental passage of a car, driver unknown and irrelevant, that somehow validates, even blesses, the tender reunion of former student (Matt Dillon) and very rattled teacher (Joan Cusack) in the Midwest evening…

Boogie Nights: a New Year’s Eve flashbulb goes off in Little Bill’s face as he heads outside to his car to get his gun….

• Apotheosis in Gattaca: onetime übermensch Jerome (Jude Law) immolating himself in a purification chamber while “blood brother” Vincent (Ethan Hawke) rockets to heaven…

• The face of a man buried alive at the end of Taste of Cherry

• Max Cherry watching Jackie Brown (Pam Grier) depart, then turning to walk out of the focus she gave his life…

• In Washington Square, an orange parasol makes a sunflower of Catherine as she warms to her handsome suitor…

My Best Friend’s Wedding: George, improvising, making a well-meaning grab for his “fiancée’s” breast in the taxicab…

• The argument we never learn about at a neighboring table while Sydney buys Clementine (Gwyneth Paltrow) a late-night cup of coffee—Hard Eight

• “I’ll never let go,” Rose (Kate Winslet) promises Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) in Titanic, and proves it … by letting go….

The Sweet Hereafter: the camera seeming to crane up around the very curve of the earth as it finds and follows Billy Ansell (Bruce Greenwood)’s truck following the school us…

• At the climax of L.A. Confidential, a flotilla of cherry-topped cop cars cresting the hill and approaching past the pumping oil well, as a man walks toward them with hands raised …

• Long way down, Boogie Nights, in the midst of the Quentin-Tarantino-eat-your-heart-out set-piece of the year, Eddie Adams/Dirk Diggler seems to know that he’s going to die right here, right now, inevitably and with abject pointlessness. But only “Marky Mark” dies; Mark Wahlberg gets out of there a winner….

RTJ / KAM