Hit Me With Your Best Shot
Working Girl (1988)
Director: Mike Nichols
Cinematography: Michael Ballhaus
I wasn't fair to Working Girl in 1988. When it won the reader poll easily for coverage here on Best Shot, the old grudge flared up again. 'Why do people love this movie so much?' I thought. You see the Oscar race is often distorting. In 1988 Working Girl was a last minute disrupter with its Christmas bow, and I never forgave it for costing Bull Durham, Running on Empty, or Who Framed Roger Rabbit major nominations and prizes. There's no proof of course that it did -- but I believed it wholeheartedly.
But watching the film again, away from that distorting horse race, I could enjoy it fully without name-checking those films I held more dear. There's so much to enjoy all told. "It plays," as they say. It plays beautifully. Now don't get me wrong. I still wouldn't have nominated it for six Oscars. Six! But let's not return to the grudge and let's enjoy this mainstream bullseye and the cinematography by Michael Ballhaus, one of the cinema's greatest DPs. He's 80 now and still doesn't have an Oscar. He should be near the very top of Oscar's list for an Honorary.
See Nathaniel's 3 favorite shots and other Best Shot choices 'round the web after the jump...
Bronze Medal: And this is where I lose all of you. I don't totally love Sigourney Weaver's broad comedy in this movie as alpha businesswoman Katharine Parker. At least not in the way you're supposed to. My heart belongs to the unexpected sidebar wackiness of Joan Cusack (one of my favorite Oscar nomination morning surprises ever). But I totally love this image which sums up the central dynamic of Tess as underdog and underling to the intimidating Katharine who dominates every scene in which she appears. Even this one that she's not in. It's a perfect production design moment that these Warhol knockoffs remind us that in her own way, Katharine is just as much of a poseur as Tess... and maybe her taste level isn't much different either, deep down.
Silver Medal: Look at that soft light, imbueing this scene with such palpable but non-carnal romanticism. Then consider that this is not a date but a late night business meeting that's all about numbers. It's a beautifully subtle rendering of the growing romance between Tess (Oscar-nominated Melanie Griffith) and Jack (Harrison Ford in maximum charm mode) and also the growing romance between Tess and her dream profession. Too few movies outside of biopics really sell the joy of chosen professions and personal fulfillment of work. But this one does - that's a saving grace since it's called Working Girl.
Gold Medal "Best Shot": It's not every movie that aces those non-story cliche montages where you see a character moping about pre-climax when all hope seems lost. But the best word I can use to describe this particular shot from Ballhaus is "soulful". It's true that it's not EXCITING per se, but it's just what the film needs. And soulful describes the movie, too, which is why it's endured. It'd be a pretty standard romantic/workplace comedy, were it not for the soul that the actors and the filmmaking team are always bringing to cliches and predictable arcs. I honor this shot for its simple composition and melancholy beauty but that's not all. The shot also empathetically takes us right back to the film's perfect opening sequence ("Let the River Run" is a great Oscar winner for Best Song) aboard the Staten Island Ferry reminding us of Tess's humble origins and how far she's come. But the look on her face and the dusk light, reminds us how easily she could fall back to old routines, and right back to where she started.
OTHER BEST SHOT CHOICES
Click on any of these 6 additional images to be taken to the corresponding 7 articles from these fine movie lovers. If you'd like to join us, next Tuesday's film is the flirtatious and funny classic Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) now streaming on Netflix. Pick a shot, publish it, and we'll link up.
What fascinating characters they are...
And this is why I don't want an office job...
Tess is clearly trying her best to imitate her boss...
- Sorta That Guy
The difference between Katherine and Tess is razor-thin, and hinges on one thing and one thing only: Tess's status as underdog...
-Dancin' Dan on Film
You can see why Working Girl was a hit in its day – its emotional arc satisfies like a machine built to crank out warm fuzzies...
-Film Mix Tape
The idealist in me sees this final shot before the credits and rejoices...
What's next? Check out the full July schedule