Moments out of Time 1998

[originally published in Film Comment Volume 35 Number 1, January/February 1999, reprinted by permission]

• Shrapnel hanging in the air, every shard in razor-sharp focus, as if molecules of the film itself had been startled out of the emulsion by the battle: Saving Private Ryan

• A bird born dying in battle: The Thin Red Line

• A tumbleweed in L.A.: The Big Lebowski

• Sopping-wet black thing drags out of swamp water and mist… the swinish sound of lungs laboring to relearn breathing: Beloved..

• The most genuinely felicitous meet-cute in living memory, Out of Sight: In the trunk of a getaway car, Federal marshal Karen Sisco (Jennifer Lopez) and prison escapee Jack Foley (George Clooney) talk movies—e.g., Three Days of the Condor, with Faye Dunaway “and Robert Redford when he was young”…

• A dying woman (Meryl Streep) opens her arms to her lost husband (William Hurt) and spoons him—fully dressed—in their bed: One True Thing

• Burning Dad, the brute (James Coburn) who, having let his wife die of cold, wraps himself in fake grief: “I should a froze.”—Affliction

• In an elevator, at war with her asshole husband (Martin Donovan), Living Out Loud‘s Judith (Holly Hunter) aims a sudden-death glare at the hapless nerd caught in close-quarters crossfire—without missing a beat in her rant….

• Four bare legs wavering in the air: Steve Prefontaine (Billy Crudup) and friend trying to fuck standing on their heads in Without Limits

• A token of love, Rushmore: Miss Cross (Olivia Williams) asks the affectless suitor at her door (Bill Murray) if he would like a carrot: “Sure,” he answers with passionate diffidence….

• Dubious black man, seeing Senator Jay Billington Bulworth (Warren Beatty) on the town with Nina (Halle Berry): “Is you a nigger?” Bulworth to dubious black man: “Is you?”…

• Burnt-out Lucy Berliner (Ally Sheedy) smiling at the pretty girl (Radha Mitchell) who’s so earnestly critiquing her photographs in High Art: “That’s OK, I haven’t been deconstructed in a long time.”…

Gods and Monsters: James Whale’s (Ian McKellen) eyes—tender, crafty, lecherous—as he gazes out at the hunk (Brendan Fraser) who cuts his grass…

Primary Colors: “Jack Stanton could also be a great man … if he weren’t such a faithless; thoughtless, disorganized, undisciplined shit.” Holding forth on an airport tarmac, the great man’s enraged wife (Emma Thompson), just before she succumbs to sweet talk and “Primrose Lane”…

• In a treehouse, snails splayed on a little girl’s flesh … the off-kilter sensuality of something like seduction, something like rape in A Soldier’s Daughter Never Cries

• Arm in arm with her “poet” (Richard E. Grant), tipsy Rosemary (Helena Bonham Carter) buttonholes a snotty maître d’ to ask, in deadpan upperclass register, if he might recommend a nearby “secluded bower” … A Merry War

• Bud painting his “mother”‘s face black and white again—Tobey Maguire and Joan Allen in Pleasantville

Out of Sight: retired-cop dad (a twinkling Dennis Farina) interviewing daughter’s married FBI boyfriend (Michael Keaton, sublimely thick). Visible through the window, Karen stands on a dock talking on a cell phone with the runaway convict who charms her….

Wicked: Homicide detective Michael Parks, showing up to check out a suburban crime scene, points a Jay Leno–style “Hey there!” finger at a lady cop on the sidelines….

• Sergeant Hill (Paul Giamatti), bone weary and terminally fed up, leans his rifle against a post … which tips against and brings down a wall, revealing a roomful of German soldiers feet away from the Yanks—Saving Private Ryan….

• Year’s best weather: the New Hampshire winter of Affliction, the Georgia hurricane of The Gingerbread Man

•..A mother (Meryl Streep) stopping her daughter (Renée Zellweger) on a snowy street glowing with Christmas lights to savor the sound of the town she’s always lived in … the rumble of furnaces … One True Thing

• Season after season, Beloved‘s clapboard house stands above a country road: primal zones of past and future, staying and going, womb and rite of passage, peculiarly American dialectics…

• In Stepmom, the range of expressions that pass over the face of a woman (Susan Sarandon) just diagnosed with cancer as her ex-husband (Ed Harris) tells his news first: he’s marrying the younger woman (Julia Roberts) she loathes…

• Judith in Living Out Loud, at a nightclub called The Confessional: at play in the good company of women…

In Primary Colors, Libby Holden (Kathy Bates) presses a gun, safety off, into a hapless conspirator’s groin: “I’m a gay lesbian woman. I do not mythologize the male organ!”…

• The slow fading of black hate as skinhead (Ed Norton) and homeboy (Guy Torre) fold white sheets in a prison laundry—American History X

• Nick Nolte against the “rosy-fingered dawn.” The Thin Red Line

• Mrs. Ryan’s kitchen window, Saving Private Ryan

• “The amazing Francie Barrett” (Eamonn Owens) in his mother’s faded apron, industriously sweeping up around the chair where his dead father (Stephen Rea) decays: The Butcher Boy

• “‘Dude’—that’s a name no one would self-apply where I come from”: opening narration by The Stranger (Sam Elliott), in The Big Lebowski

• Robert Duvall’s rapt appreciation of a humble tool, A Civil Action: “May I keep this pen?”…

• In High Art, Greta’s (Patricia Clarkson) coked-out condescension to a writer who’s just received a MacArthur grant: “Oh yes, that’s a genius thing, isn’t it?”…

• “I want to look like that half-breed Pearl Chavez!”—an aging New Yorker to her plastic surgeon in Celebrity

• A Stanton “muffin” (Stacy Edwards) taking a long, slow look at Billy Bob Thornton’s Carville-esque strategist unzipped: “Gee, I’ve never seen one that … old before”—Primary Colors

• The Russian (Jared Harris) sings “You Light Up My Life” to Jane Adams, Happiness

• A golden girl (Cate Blanchett) dancing alone in a sunny meadow, the first of three stylized voltes that mark Elizabeth‘s rites of passage…

• Billy Brown’s (Vincent Gallo) skinny self, just out of prison, looking—and looking—for a bathroom in Buffalo ’66

• Everyman on the edge of the world in Dark City and The Truman Show

• The strangely loving embrace that climaxes a brutal struggle between Private Mellish (Adam Goldberg) and his German antagonist in Saving Private Ryan

• Volcanic rage as currency of friendship: Walter (John Goodman) and Donnie (Steve Buscemi), The Big Lebowski

Without Limits: Looking down on the back of Bowerman’s (Donald Sutherland) white head as the coach tenderly adjusts his running shoes, Pre decides not to turn professional….

• Dad’s (Kris Kristofferson) delighted “Father triumphs over asshole son once again!” just before he’s outplayed at poker by his kid’s “Aces high”: love on a creatively even keel in A Soldier’s Daughter Never Cries

• “You’ll never leave us, will you?” pleads a lonely sister (Kimberly Elise). “Never!” grins Beloved (Thandie Newton), the sudden baring of her bright white teeth as shocking as the yawning mouth of a shark … or the grave….

Out of Sight: High above Detroit, “Gary” and “Celeste” have a drink against a night luminous with snow….

• In Primary Colors, a plain-faced librarian (Alison Janney) stumbles awkwardly on the stairs and falls, her lovely long legs suddenly a-sprawl and exposed—semaphoring her destiny as Jack Stanton’s (John Travolta) next fuck….

• Judith (Holly Hunter), flying high in an elevator, whispers her palm over the top of Pat’s (Danny DeVito) bald head with such sweet, secret delight–Living Out Loud….

• Ed Harris proposing marriage to Julia Roberts, Stepmom: an actor’s authenticity redeems a shamefully manipulative script…

• “What that nigger did out there was fuckin’ fascinatin’!”—a tough con marveling at Raymond Joshua’s (Saul Williams) victory-by-poetry in Slam….

High Art‘s death mask: Lucy’s white face—blasted, scoured—as Greta sucks her back in…

• The tender/fateful slow dissolve from Captain Miller’s (Tom Hanks) brooding profile to the figures of his men, moving up into danger again, strung out single file across the night horizon, against the flicker of distant guns—hommage to an honored predecessor, Lewis Milestone’s A Walk in the Sun, in Saving Private Ryan

Without Limits: Hoping to get out of running “an easy 10” with the kid they’re scouting, the senior athletes beg off: “We left our running shoes in the car.” Pre: “Do you want me to go get ’em?”…

• George’s (William H. Macy) grin when Big Bob (J.T. Walsh) tells him people like him: Pleasantville

The Butcher Boy (Eamonn Owens) in a pretty bonnet, courtesy of Father Sullivan (Milo O’Shea), whose overgrown eyebrows fairly dance with demented delight…

• “May I have a little kiss? I’m very lonely here.” Highway patrolman (Gary Busey) to Hunter S. Thompson (Johnny Depp), Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

• Jonathan Richman—faux-naïf and elf—singing There’s Something About Mary in a tree…

• In the middle of a Hurlyburly conversation, Phil (Chazz Palminteri) pushes a woman he’s just met (Meg Ryan) out of a moving truck as casually as trash…

• Flesh hardening into icon, a moving picture freeze-framed: Elizabeth making herself up as Virgin Queen…

• In Primary Colors, old political hand Libby Holden’s weary sign-off—”The Stantons are my sun …”—more poignant in retrospect, as the Clinton presidency decays into sermons and soap opera…

Beloved‘s terrible racial curse—and its transcendence—in Baby Suggs’s (Beah Richards) last Sermon on the Mount: “Love your flesh! Yonder, they do not love your flesh!”…

Gadjo Dilo: The spectral image of chickens flying up out of a burning henhouse as race hatred levels a village in mere seconds…

• Dead tree as bogeyman—limbs outstretched, shrouded in Spanish moss signaling a fatal turn-off in The Gingerbread Man…

• Lucy’s gravel-voiced mother (Tammy Grimes), more Nazi than Jewess, walking out on her drug-addicted lesbian daughter: “I can’t help you with that”—High Art

• A tree bursting into flame outside a Pleasantville home: mom (Joan Allen) discovers masturbation ….

• In Happiness, a father-son “birds and bees” talk … on the nature of Dad’s (Dylan Baker) love life…

• Frankenstein monster as family man (Brendan Fraser), happily shambling about in the misty alley behind his home at the end of Gods and Monsters

• A stranger’s kiss in an alley (Holly Hunter and Elias Koteas) … rapturous romantic fantasy in Living Out Loud

• Judy Davis going down—and down—on a banana in Celebrity

• The bent bonhomie of Vince Vaughn’s sociopathic giggle in Clay Pigeons

• Stages of evolution—groovy to cool among dopesters: Michael Jeter’s gloriously twitchy lecture at a narc conference in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

• Zones of black shadow and white light, guilt and innocence, swinging from face to face as The General (Brendan Gleeson) and his mirror opposite (Jon Voight) trade confessions in a jail cell…

• Julia Sweeney and family watching In a Lonely Place on TV through the wee hours in God Said, “Ha!”

In the Presence of a Clown, who peeks out at a madman’s movie turned theater-in-the-round … killing despair and sustaining faith according to Ingmar Bergman…

• The ravens in the downed plane—A Simple Plan

• Rubbing out reality: red trucks speeding through The Gingerbread Man‘s frames, wiping what we think we can depend on being there…

• In a cave’s utter dark, the purring of a very large cat—Passion in the Desert

• After the atomic bomb, a villageful of charred pigs in The Butcher Boy:..

• In longshot, watching a thieving street kid get executed out on the railroad tracks: the last bitter truth in Central Station

• In Saving Private Ryan, Captain Miller turns away from his men—eager to kill a German prisoner (Joerg Stadler)—to stand silent for a long while: something more than a man’s life hangs in the balance in that place, in that time….

• Conversing with a dead man’s growling stomach in Tu Ridi

• Car chases that mean something—Ronin

Bulworth: “How old do you think I am?” Nina, unhesitatingly: “Sixty.” Warren Beatty playing hardball…

• The Stranger (Sam Elliott) and The Dude (Jeff Bridges) passing time at the counter in The Big Lebowski‘s bowling alley: two way-cool wayfarers…

• In The Gingerbread Man, Robert Duvall’s madman, speechless in more ways than one over being shot through the throat by a wimpy lawyer (Kenneth Branagh), sits out his dying on his front porch: as if Boo Radley had somehow taken a very wrong turn these many years later….

• “Hot fun in the summertime…” scoring Judith’s (Holly Hunter) jaunty stroll down a magical/ordinary New York street at the end of Living Out Loud

• Marching through the jungle into battle, Charlie Company meets and passes by an indigenous Melanesian, who pays them no mind: The Thin Red Line….

• The dying Captain Miller sits staring in amazement as the German tank he shot with his .45 blows up—an Empire of the Sun vision become reality, in Saving Private Ryan

RTJ / KAM


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