Moments out of Time 1996

[originally published in Film Comment Volume 33 Number 1, January/February 1997, reprinted by permission]

• The car materializing out of the whited-out mystery of snow/land/sky—the opening of Fargo

The English Patient: closeup, the look of pearls against Kristin Scott Thomas’s sweat-dampened throat … rediscovering the sensuality of the camera eye…

• Nobody (Gary Farmer) among the white birches, Dead Man

Mars Attacks!: a herd of cattle—in flames—stampeding down a country road…

Breaking the Waves: Touching her husband’s penis for the first time, Emily Watson blows a strand of hair away from her face in delight and amaze…

Lone Star: During a seamless elision into a dim, long-gone taqueria, deputy Buddy Deeds (Matthew McConaughey) gravels out “No” when his corrupt boss (Kris Kristofferson) orders him to collect mordita … and suddenly, shades of a Peckinpah Western rise….

• Nine minutes at a café table, Secrets & Lies

• Dawn (Heather Mattarazzo) taking a cleaver to her sister’s pink-maned Barbie doll—Welcome to the Dollhouse

• Rod Tidwell (Cuba Gooding Jr.)’s almost subliminal moue as Jerry Maguire (Tom Cruise) tells him, “You are wildly charismatic”…

• Edward Norton in Everyone Says I Love You, his appearance and bearing suggesting that F. Scott Fitzgerald is still around, writing characters for the Nineties….

The People vs. Larry Flynt: The prosecutor (James Carville) has been regaling the court with a list of Hustler’s offenses. Hearing something about “the Tin Man,” defense counselor Alan Isaacman (Edward Norton) leans over and whispers to his client (Woody Harrelson), “What’s he talking about?” After the murmured explanation, Isaacman splutters, “Jesus Christ, Larry!”…

Carried Away: On a country road, Dennis Hopper stands stock still, mesmerized by nymphet Amy Locane as she lounges back against a truck, her hand down her open white dress. Hopper puts on his glasses….

The English Patient: Juliette Binoche watching bare-chested Kip (Naveen Andrews) wash his mass of long, black hair outside the Italian villa …

Flirting With Disaster: Stressed-out mother Mary Tyler Moore, registering disapproving looks after she lights up a cigarette, snarls, “Have some compassion!”…

• Robin Williams on Nathan Lane’s motherliness: “She’s practically a breast!” The Birdcage

Mulholland Falls: Chazz Palminteri earnestly trying to share his psychoanalytic epiphanies with his monumentally uncerebral pals in the Hat Squad (Nick Nolte, Chris Penn, Michael Madsen)…

La Haine: the camera looking down from a high window in the ghetto, checking out the courtyard below, then just floating away over street after street as pedestrians drift and the soundtrack mixes an anti-cop rap anthem and Edith Piaf’s “Je ne regrette rien”…

• The alien’s reply, on being asked what its race wants Earthlings to do: “Die.” Independence Day

• “Ya got new hair?” “Yeah, it’s smaller.” Trees Lounge

• “Whoa! he made the international sign of the donut!”—Lukas Haas, Mars Attacks!

Mary Reilly (Julia Roberts) fleeing along an Edinburgh street, and seeming to run out of Edward Hyde (John Malkovich)…

• Surfer (Kurt Russell) and driver of red hotrod (Steve Buscemi) exchanging looks before their courses convergeEscape from L.A.

• Baby on the ceiling, Trainspotting

• The Eye of Heaven, Twister

• The sublime payoff-plus-one shot, an overhead angle, of Aquarium water spreading across the Prague square as Tom Cruise flees into the night—Mission: Impossible

• …and in Albino Alligator, the overhead track of a Federal agent smashing through the windshield and onto the car hood…

Flirting With Disaster—a hilarious concatenation of countercultures and sex roles, screwball comedy for the Nineties: middle-aged hippies Lily Tomlin and Alan Alda talking a gay, uptight Fed (Richard Jenkins) through an accidental acid trip, while upstairs the Fed’s hunky lover (Josh Brolin) makes a kinky pass at his high-school sweetheart (Patricia Arquette), now married and a mother …

• “Sorry about the hand”–Jerry Maguire

The People vs. Larry Flynt: Hearing that Ruth Carter Stapleton is phoning for his boss, Aldo (Crispin Glover) gasps, “She’s a woman of God!”…

• Roberto Benigni’s face rearranging itself in anticipation of speaking Chinese—The Monster

• Maggie Cheung’s night prowl, Irma Vep

From Dusk till Dawn: Quentin Tarantino as psychotic nerd outlaw, blandly coaxing a terrified woman hostage to join him on the motel bed so that they can be cozy and watch TV together…

• Andrew trying on the black pants, Walking and Talking

• Camera angle in Fear, looking down at Mark Wahlberg and Reese Witherspoon in a rollercoaster car as Wahlberg slips a hand between virginal thighs and the car slides out of frame with the shiver of a shared secret…

Some Mother’s Son: in a prison hallway, after one Irish mother has broken her IRA son’s hunger strike and all friendship must end, the understanding—larger than politics or religion—that passes between Helen Mirren and Fionnula Flanagan…

Mulholland Falls: Coming home to the wife (Melanie Griffith) he’s betrayed, Nick Nolte finds her curled on the couch, reading Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms

The Birdcage: Nathan Lane trying to lean like a sports fan…

• Cheech Marin and Kevin Costner having a spat in Tin Cup

• Ian McKellen’s “quivering brethren,” Cold Comfort Farm

• The rich Kabuki textures of Dead Man‘s shades-of-black-and-white world, nowhere more so than in the ursine apparition of noir ghost Robert Mitchum…

Mission: Impossible—amidst all the technical gimcrackry, the welcome,·venally human grace of spy-mistress Vanessa Redgrave…

• “What are you making?” “It’s an Andy Warhol movie.” “Oh! where is he?” “He’s not here today.”—I Shot Andy Warhol

Lone Star: two lovers, survivors of history’s dreams and nightmares in the American West, perched on the hood of a car parked in a shutdown drive-in movie, ready to project their own brand-new moving pictures into the future…

• Dennis Hopper steps out of his truck to catch a better look at an unexpected wolf silhouetted at the top of the hill … and nearly falls off the bridge he’s parked on—Carried Away….

• Dorothy (Renée Zellweger)’s behind-his-back take when she hears Jerry has broken up with his girlfriend—Jerry Maguire

In Mars Attacks!, the perfect, awful things Pierce Brosnan does with his lips and a pipe, as a reincarnation of all the sappy, pretentious scientists who preached and ranted through Fifties sci-fi flicks…

A Time to Kill: When he lets his white liberal lawyer in on how predictably he’s played his part in the theater of Southern racism, Samuel Jackson shows such a depth of earned cynicism in his worn face that he almost makes this specious movie work, for a moment….

Sling Blade: The bad man (Dwight Yoakam) who’s about to die makes his executioner to home, as though these two have wordlessly agreed he must be put out of his—and his victims’—misery….

• The uncanny glance and overlap of trajectories—camera, people, no end of bad vibes—in the splendid opening sequence of Trigger Effect; a promissory note for a better, scarier movie than we get to see…

• Jet, jet engine, parachute—Eraser

Welcome to the Dollhouse: a tiny twinkling, pink-tutu’ed fairychild pirouetting around a suburban yard to the faintly Yiddish beat of her brother’s rock band, practicing in the garage…

The People vs. Larry Flynt: the way Courtney Love, as stripper Althea Leasure, slings her long, loose-jointed, mushy-fleshed body around the stage … it’s amateur night all the way, but her unfaked, sexed-up exhibitionist soul is pure gold…

• Two lovely Indian wives dancing together, one decked out in Dietrich drag, the other in traditional sari, as a wizened old grandmother wordlessly enjoys the beat: Fire

• The really weird slow-motion rhythms of Lisa Marie’s slink into the White House, a Trojan whore in Mars Attacks!

• Hank Azaria’s Latino “Hazel” bursting through the diningroom doors in time to join in “I Could Have Danced All Night” on a high note—The Birdcage

Flirting With Disaster: Téa Leoni unthinkingly licking her finger as she says of her mid-divorce, “I just couldn’t part with the ring”…

The Whole Wide World: Conan creator Robert Howard (Vincent D’Onofrio) lifts his mother (Ann Wedgeworth) up out of her bed, strips off her fever-soaked nightgown, and holds her wasted body in his arms as tenderly as any lover….

Carried Away: Dennis Hopper smoothing lotion on dying mother Julie Harris’s back…

The Funeral: pudgy big man Chris Penn delivering a Cab Calloway number in his bar, holding the camera’s eye with unlikely style and grace…

• After a down-and-dirty stripshow, Flynt bounces up in his tacky sky-blue suit to enthuse to a houseful of comatose customers, “I don’t know if you feel the way I do right now….”—The People vs. Larry Flynt

Nénette et Boni: a boy (Grégoire Colin) ,in his underpants, peeing with his back to the camera, a little white rabbit cradled casually in his left hand…

Evita: the slightest sound of night air moving flags and banners, like the hushed breathing of a great beast, as Evita/Madonna’s teeming fans witness her apotheosis high above them on a balcony: “Don’t cry for me, Argentina!”…

• In Sling Blade, the brave decency of John Ritter’s sad, smalltown homosexual, standing up for his friends …who happen to include a battered woman and a retarded fellow who murdered his mother…

Breaking the Waves: a celebration of nature and artifice: sunlight drains slowly out of bright, rilling water in the foreground so that the stream goes dark and somehow cold, while golden illumination turns the impossibly green hills beyond a bridge’s arch into a kind of paradise….

Dead Man: shooting star over mud and paper flowers…

• A successful first-date dinner derailed by a regurgitated hairball and the necessity of murdering two mice—Ed’s Next Move

The Portrait of a Lady: Isabel (Nicole Kidman) leaning hungrily towards her Uncle Touchett’s (John Gielgud) widely opening mouth to catch the old man’s last word: he yawns, and dies….

Scream: a metacinematic giggle: going out for more popcorn for his friends glued to the TV and Halloween—a teen who’s not the prospective victim he seems to be laughs at the sinister horror-movie significance of his “I’ll be right back.”…

• The forceful, really unclean swooping of whatever-it-is in The Frighteners

Dead Man: Cole Wilson (Lance Henriksen) staring straight into the camera while ingesting filet de Michael Wincott…

The People vs. Larry Flynt: the telling cadences—and purity of logic—in Edward Norton’s unhurried, considered delivery, as he/Alan Isaacson argues before the Supreme Court for the kind of free speech that allows a scumbag like the publisher of Hustler to portray Jerry Falwell having sex with his mother in an outhouse…

The English Patient: Kristin Scott Thomas in her summer-white dress appearing in Ralph Fiennes’s room after the sandstorm … the sexual charge that propels their bodies together, the Count falling to his knees in lust and obeisance…

• Golden retriever rescued—Independence Day

• “You come in here, licking my wife’s armpit—I’m going to have this image stuck in there for the rest of my life.” Ben Stiller, Flirting With Disaster

• “It’s always heartwarming to see a prejudice defeated by a deeper prejudice”—Lone Star

• Interviewer Sarah Jessica Parker’s triumphant glance into the TV camera when Professor Pierce Brosnan says that the Martians “may teach us our purpose”—Mars Attacks!

Carried Away: Gary Busey’s apologetic gesture after his drunken wife, about six minutes behind the beat, has slapped Dennis Hopper…

White Squall: Jeff Bridges exchanging a long, terrible look—through glass—with his doomed wife (Caroline Goodall), trapped beneath him in their sinking ship…

The English Patient: Kristin Scott Thomas learning that there is a wind called the ghibli, and laughing…

• Nobody’s kill in the lightning, Dead Man

• Death freezeframed in The Secret Agent: Bombmaker Robin Williams, his body embraced by explosives, walks against a stream of humanity until, unable to bear the warm press of flesh a moment longer, he reaches for his detonator. Counting out the next ten seconds, his body, though still standing, seems to collapse in a sigh….

• Dawn raising a hammer over the sleeping Missy, then backing off: “You’re so lucky”—Welcome to the Dollhouse

• At the climax of Broken Arrow, Travolta’s weird air of ironical fulfillment as he stands up to the missile…

The People vs. Larry Flynt: Alan Isaacman sitting among the columns of the Supreme Court building with his cell phone…

• In her carriage, Madame Merle (Barbara Hershey), quintessential Dark Lady, crosses a bridge into a suffusion of golden light … Florence, city of flowers—The Portrait of a Lady….

• The chipper—Fargo

RTJ/KAM