The Fisher King (1991)

The Fisher King theatrical

Obnoxious NYC shock jock Jack Lucas (Jeff Bridges) is doling out advice as per and looking forward to a part in a TV sitcom when the news mentions his name – a man was inspired by his rant against yuppies to go on a shooting spree in a restaurant and then killed himself. Jack spirals into a suicidal depression and we find him three years later working in the video store owned by his girlfriend (a fiery Mercedes Ruehl) and about to kill himself when some youthful vigilantes decide to do some street cleaning – he’s rescued by Parry (Robin Williams), a Grail obsessive and homeless loner whose wife was killed in the restaurant massacre. How their lives intertwine and they both chase the objects of their affection (and each other’s obsession) while battling mental illness is the backbone of this comedy-drama-fantasy that is told in the usual robust and arresting style of Terry Gilliam, who was directing a screenplay by Richard LaGravenese. There are iconic images here – the Red Knight appearing to Parry as his hallucinations kick in, and the chase through Central Park;  the extraordinary Grand Central Station waltzing scene in which Parry meets the weird Lydia (Amanda Plummer);  Jack and Parry watching the stars. Gilliam’s own obsessions are all over this despite his not writing it, with references to the Grail (obv) and Don Quixote.  It’s all wrapped into four distinctive performances which embody oddball characters in search of a role for life in a very conventional time, with emotions riding high while personal circumstances contrive to drag them to the very pit of their being. There are some outstanding performances in small roles by Tom Waits, Michael Jeter and Kathy Najimy in a film that proves that dreams do come true.

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The Big Lebowski (1998)

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Nobody fucks with the Jesus. The Dude abides. Where to start with one of the most cherished films there has ever been? Not in the beginning. I may have almost had a coronary from laughing the first time I saw this at a festival screening prior to its release, but a lot of critics just did not get it. It’s the Coen Brothers in excelsis, a broad Chandler adaptation and tribute to Los Angeles,  a hymn to male friendship and the Tao of easy living with some extraordinarily surreal fantasy and dream sequences – not to mention some deadly bowling. Jeff Bridges is Jeffrey ‘Dude’ Lebowski, a guy so laid back he’s horizontal but he gets a little antsy when some thieves mistake him for The Big Lebowski and piss on his rug (it really tied the room together). Best friend Walter Sobchak (John Goodman) is his bowling buddy, an uptight Nam vet with adoptive-Jewish issues in this hilarious offside take on director John Milius. Steve Buscemi is their sweet-natured friend Donny and John Turturro is the unforgettable sports foe, a hispanic gangsta paedo in a hairnet, Jesus Quintana. After the rug issue is handled, Dude is hired by his namesake (David Huddleston) a wheelchair-bound multimillionaire philanthropist, to exchange a ransom when his young trophy wife Bunny (Tara Reid) is kidnapped. Naturally Dude screws it up. There’s a band of nihilists led by Peter Stormare, some porn producers (Bunny makes flesh flicks), Lebowski’s randy artist daughter (Julianne Moore) and a private eye following everyone. And there’s Sam Elliott, narrating this tale of tumbleweed and laziness.  Everyone has their signature song in one of the great movie soundtracks and Dude has not only Creedence but White Russians to really mellow his day. Just like The Big Sleep, the plot really doesn’t matter a fig. This is inspired lunacy and I love it SO much.

Cutter’s Way (1981)

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If you were to put a gun to my head I would have to say that this is my favourite American film. Or my favourite Californian film. Or my favourite film of the Eighties. Or …  my favourite film, period. There is simply nothing wrong with it. And it was one of those curious coincidences that made me see it. I had borrowed the source book from the public library just 10 minutes before seeing the poster at the local fleapit without being remotely aware of the film’s existence. The novel was Cutter and Bone, by Newton Thornburg and I saw a poster (not this one) with Jeff Bridges and John Heard and looked closer:  it was indeed an adaptation of the book I was holding in my hand (the name was changed because publicists thought it sounded too surgical). I read the book over the course of two days and saw the film on the Sunday night. It filled my head for years. I loved John Heard, had done since BBC2 had screened Between the Lines on Valentine’s Day 1980. Bridges of course I adored since he accompanied Clint in Thunderbolt and Lightfoot. Heard is Alex Cutter, the crippled one-eyed Nam vet who is convinced of his friend’s story that an oilman is responsible for a teenage girl’s death after seeing her body disposed of in a trash can in a Santa Barbara street on a rainy night as he’s returning from an assignation. Richard Bone is a boat salesman and gigolo who seems to love Alex’s sad alcoholic wife Mo (Lisa Eichhorn) more than her husband and all three live a rackety lower class life in the very upper class town. Cutter pursues the suspicion with the dead girl’s sister (Ann Dusenberry) and they go after magnate J. J. Cord with devastating results.  (And yes there are those who will see in this an element of Moby Dick, something Alex himself references early on.) The three leads are just astonishing with Eichhorn offering one of the best performances you will ever see. Their complementarity reminds me that the American movie business was still making great films in my lifetime.  Heard was director Ivan Passer’s choice after playing in Othello – the role was originally intended for Dustin Hoffman (whew).  Jeffrey Alan Fiskin’s adaptation alters the last section of the novel but it works, however angrily and unhappily. Jack Nitzsche’s music has the aching power of a lullaby and Jordan Cronenweth’s cinematography is as indelible as a piece of enamelled jewellery. I still feel privileged to have seen this on the big screen on its first release (they let me in though I was far from 18… well, it was a small town and I was the only regular customer.) Incredible.