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Lulu Wang (The Farewell)
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Entries in The New Classics (21)


The New Classics: I Am Love

Michael Cusumano here to discuss a film that never fails to floor me.

Scene: Prawns
The story of Luca Guadagnino’s I Am Love pivots on a life-changing plate of prawns. It sounds ridiculous until you pause and remember that life is actually like that. One moment you’re having a routine day and the next a flood of emotions is precipitated by an unexpected trigger. These instances are difficult to explain in words, but what are movies for if not the moments when language fails?

Tilda Swinton’s character Emma Recchi doesn’t realize it, but she is primed for such a moment. A Russian who married into an Italian family of great power, she lives a life of comfort and wealth. She is not unhappy, exactly, nor is she mistreated, but her is existence is a cloistered one and she is expected to play the role assigned to her. In the film’s lengthy opening act she oversees a family birthday party that has the coldness of a modern art exhibition...  

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The New Classics - Shattered Glass

by Michael Cusumano


Scene: Fact-Finding Trip
The great real life journalism movies tend to focus on stories of monumental impact. Films like Spotlight or The Insider or All the Presidents Men are about reporters tangling with the most powerful institutions in America and uncovering scandals that affect the lives of millions.

And yet, for all their importance, I find myself thinking about those films less frequently than I think about Billy Ray’s Shattered Glass, which details a comparatively minor subject. Why is this story the one that haunts my thoughts? I was not one of Stephen Glass’s readers. Had it not been for the film I might never had heard of the wunderkind journalist who turned out to be a rampant fabulist, publishing at least twenty-seven whole or partly fabricated stories as fact during his time at The New Republic magazine...

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The New Classics: It's Such a Beautiful Day

by Michael Cusumano  

Scene: Immortality
Bill, the protagonist of Don Hertzfeldt’s animated masterpiece It’s Such a Beautiful Day (2012), is the picture of ordinariness. With only his simple rectangle and line hat to distinguish him, he is every man.

The sweeping classical music on the soundtrack as we are plunged into Bill’s existence briefly tricks into thinking that Bill's life might be an extraordinary one. The film shares some selections with The Tree of Life, released the year before. But where Terrence Malick matched that music to images of equal grandeur, like the creation of the universe and butterflies landing on Jessica Chastain, Hertzfeldt goes in the opposite direction, using symphonies to elevate depictions of the most insignificant events conceivable. Bill’s life is as humdrum as his appearance...

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The New Classics: Inglourious Basterds

Michael Cusumano here to take a break from batting around Once Upon a Time In... Hollywood to look back a decade.

Scene - Chapter 2: Inglourious Basterds 
The Inglourious Basterds marketing team knew what aspects of the film to emphasize ten years ago. 

“A basterd's work is never done” boasted the tag line next to the image of a triumphant Brad Pitt brandishing a machine gun atop a pile of dead Nazis. “An inglourious, uproarious thrill-ride of vengeance!” promised another line. The centerpiece of the trailer was Pitt’s Aldo the Apache jutting his chin into a tight close to declare “I want my scalps!”. The promise was clear. The director of Kill Bill is trading samurai swords for hand grenades.

Rewatching it now, ten years later, I can still feel the chasm between the film that was sold and the film that was delivered. Basterds is a sprawling, oddly-shaped, thesis paper of a movie. And while there is no shortage of violence, it takes a back seat to dialogue, mostly arriving in quick bursts to punctuate long scenes of conversation. At times, Basterds could be mistaken for an adaptation of a stage play, and a foreign language one to boot. 

“Uproarious” though. The tag was telling the truth about that...

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The New Classics: Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol

by Michael Cusumano

Scene: Scaling the Burj Khalifa
In the course of writing this column, I eventually got around to asking myself the inevitable question:  “What is the 21st century scene I’ve watched the most times?” 

I knew with certainty that the answer was the Burj Khalifa scene from Brad Bird’s Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, even if I couldn’t immediately account for the why. Of course you could simply say ”Why not?” It’s already firmly established in the pantheon of great action scenes. But it’s not like the past two decades have seen a dearth of great action filmmaking. Why not “Ship’s Mast” from Death Proof or the centerpiece car chase from Drive? What exactly is it about Tom Cruise pawing his way up the side of the world’s tallest building? 

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The New Classics: Master and Commander

Michael Cusumano here to explore what keeps fans returning for repeat voyages on Peter Weir's 2003 nautical adventure.

Scene: Exploring the Galapagos
Right before the climactic naval battle in Peter Weir’s Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, the story pauses to watch a scientist leisurely wander the Galapagos Islands, collecting lizards and measuring giant tortoises. How many modern adventure films would halt the action dead in its tracks like that? Hell, how many films from any era would resist relegating such a detour to the cutting room floor? I can imagine David Lean including the sequence, but then his version of Master and Commander would probably push the four hour mark.

This adaptation of Patrick O’Brien’s series of novels is less about narrative urgency and more about creating a world to get lost in. Sure, when the time comes to pay-off the naval duel at the center of the plot, Master and Commander delivers in spectacular fashion. But that’s not what keeps the devotees of the film returning over and over again...

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