My Movie Lists – Andrew Saikali
Andrew is an editor at The Globe and Mail in Toronto, Canada, and is a contributing writer at The Millions, a literary blog. When not reading, or feeding his hunger for music (from Bob Dylan, to British rock from the 60s, to The Walkmen), he can often be found sitting, alone, in a nearly-empty movie theatre watching something for the third time.
5 films about writer’s block: (listed chronologically)
Barton Fink: (1991) Who else but John Turturro could bring this Coen brothers’ creation to life? Barton Fink is a playwright (modeled slightly on Clifford Odetts) who is lured by Hollywood to write for the movies. His life becomes wonderfully surreal and nightmarish. With John Goodman as a rather unstrung neighbor and John Mahoney as a Faulkner-like mentor.
Deconstructing Harry: (1997) Woody Allen’s underrated film about Harry Block (Woody) a writer whose thinly-veiled, semi-autobiographical stories come back to haunt him, while he attempts, through a haze of booze and whores, to complete his latest novel.
Wonder Boys: (2000) Grady Tripp, author and professor, is struggling with his own demons as he tries to complete his opus, in this adaptation of Michael Chabon’s novel. Michael Douglas plays Grady opposite Tobey Maguire as the budding author James Leer.
Adaptation: (2002) Nicolas Cage as Charlie Kaufman struggling to adapt Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief for film. Charlie’s “brother” Donald (also Cage) is a novice writer, carefree and confident, where Charlie is brooding and uptight. Offering insight about the duality of man, this was written by the real Charlie Kaufman and directed by Spike Jonze.
Starting Out In The Evening: (2007) Frank Langella gives a quietly perfect performance as Leonard Schilling, a 70-ish New York writer struggling for over ten years on his latest novel. Enter Heather (Lauren Ambrose), a grad student doing her thesis on Schilling, and who shakes his foundations.
10 favorite directors (listed alphabetically) with an arbitrary pick for each
Husbands and Wives. Judy Davis in one of the best screen performances I’ve ever seen. Davis and Sydney Pollack are in the midst of a divorce, leading their friends (Woody and Mia) to their own marital unraveling. (see also: Crimes and Misdemeanors, Annie Hall, Manhattan, Hannah and Her Sisters, Zelig, Radio Days, Love and Death, and about a dozen others that could easily make this list.)
The Royal Tenenbaums. Yes, the art-direction can get a bit precious, but this whimsical story of a family of dysfunctional geniuses has surprising treats from beginning to end. Luke Wilson’s Ritchie is the heart and soul of this movie. With Gene Hackman and Anjelica Huston. (see also Bottle Rocket, Rushmore)
The Coen Brothers:
Fargo. Stark, dark (in a blindingly white, snow everywhere, sort of way), and very funny. A scam turns deadly. William H. Macy, Frances McDormand, Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare are caught up in forces beyond their control. (See also Barton Fink, Miller’s Crossing, No Country For Old Men)
Shadow of a Doubt. Uncle Charlie (Joseph Cotten) comes to visit his family in a small town. What’s he hiding? (see also: Notorious, Strangers on a Train, North By Northwest, Rear Window, Vertigo)
The Maltese Falcon. Huston’s directorial debut with Bogart as Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade, Mary Astor as the femme fatale, Sydney Greenstreet as “the fat man” and Peter Lorre as Mr. Cairo, in a film noir about “the stuff that dreams are made of.” (see also: The Treasure of the Sierra Madre)
Down By Law. Tom Waits, John Lurie and Roberto Benigni are on the run in the southern U.S. in this early Jarmusch film. (see also Mystery Train, Stranger than Paradise, Night on Earth, Dead Man)
Dr. Strangelove. Peter Sellers in a triple role is matched by George C. Scott in a single, but hilariously unforgettable role in this suspenseful Cold War dark comedy. (see also A Clockwork Orange and, if you’re in the right mood, 2001: A Space Odyssey.)
Goodfellas. Amazing camera work and fantastic music at just the right moments propel this film about neighborhood gangsters. Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci star. (see also Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and The Departed)
Jules et Jim. A love triangle from the French new wave. With Jeanne Moreau at the center of this carefully-observed story. (see also Shoot The Piano Player, The 400 Blows)
Citizen Kane. No big surprise here. Still tremendously entertaining, with Welles’ larger-than-life portrayal of Hearst-like newspaper magnate Kane. (Sick of Kane? Try The Magnificent AmbersonsA Touch of Evil, or Welles’ performance in Carol Reed’s The Third Man, written by Graham Greene.)