Thursday, January 12, 2006

Cinematic Crushes, and Ways to End a Movie

I’d been meaning to see Funny Ha Ha for a while, and the recent hype about its auteur, Andrew Bujalski (including a profile in the Times and a review of his follow-up film on Slate), helped me finally take the Netflix envelope off the coffee table and watch the damn thing. It’s a solid, even moving effort, but you do have to give yourself a good stretch to adjust to the initial awkwardness of its amateurish vibe. Bujalski casts himself and his nonprofessional-actor friends in all roles, and you know how that can be -- excruciating. But if the movie’s any good, and this one is, there comes a point when something clicks and you don’t just forgive the aesthetic, you understand its importance to the work’s effectiveness. It’s like hearing Shakespeare and taking a half-hour or so to adjust to the early modern English before everything starts sounding more natural. Same idea here -- watch stammering hipsters for long enough and all of a sudden they seem normal. (Which explains how I’ve accepted my life, come to think of it, as well as how I came to enjoy this movie.)

It stars Kate Dollenmayer as an aimless 23-year-old killing time with friends in Boston and Cambridge, and her performance was the second of its kind (i.e. mopey but bewitching) that I saw this week. I also watched The Girl in the Cafe, which has myriad faults that are almost completely redeemed by the sad-sack charm of its two leads. Bill Nighy is the main reason I rented it -- based on the few performances of his I’d seen, I suspected he might be some kind of mad genius. This confirmed that. He plays a depressive, slouching, unsure, mordantly funny guy who occupies a position of some power in the finance office of the British government. In the opening scene, he meets the titular character, played by Kelly Macdonald, in the titular location (truth in advertising is so refreshing). She’s equally low in the shoulders, but about 25 years younger and beautiful by almost any standard -- except presumably Hollywood’s, since we’re asked to believe that she spends the better part of her days huddled in self-recrimination over a cup of tea wearing what you could generously call an old bathmat for a sweater, and that she would be utterly shocked to be given a second look by any man, even a defeated one who exudes whatever is the opposite of charisma (if whatever it is can be technically "exuded"). They meet to the strains of a melodramatic Damien Rice song, and approximately 90 minutes later they hold hands during a time of crisis to a Sigur Ros ditty. Also, the movie revolves around their attending the G8 summit in Iceland, and the plot requires her to spontaneously and aggressively adopt politics that would make Bono blush for their utopianism.

So, yes, it’s flawed. But Macdonald, it seems, is not. I admit to being smitten. I’m sure women experience the same phenomenon (see: Cusack, John, entire career of). I don’t mean to make too much of movie crushes, but they’re actually more rare than they should be, because beautiful actresses often have the personal appeal of a perfume billboard, which is not much.

I’m mostly interested, though, in noting the final frame of both movies, each of which lingers on a fairly dramatic moment only to abruptly cut to black. Funny Ha Ha does this more effectively; The Girl in the Cafe’s resolution is (too) cleverly concocted, and so its lead-up prepares you for the faux cliffhanger of the last shot. Ha Ha’s final image reminded me of a movie called Fresh, which I saw many years ago, and which ends on a young boy sitting across from someone at a chess table in a public park. He’s crying, and at the crest of one of his ragged intakes of breath, the film stops. It was an arresting moment, partly and obviously because it put you in the position of literally holding your breath.

I'm partial to closing moments of that nature, somewhat ambiguous and quickly taken away, but there are terrific final scenes that don't follow that template. The Passenger, one of Michelangelo Antonioni's later works, starring Jack Nicholson, ends with a very long, painfully unhurried-but-dramatic tracking shot that I can still picture long after I’ve forgotten much of the rest of the movie.

More favorite last scenes, anyone?

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8 Comments:

Blogger Dezmond said...

Technically it would be the second to last scene, but whatever. One of the greatest is in Sergio Leone's "The Good, the Bad & The Ugly". I'm talking about the infamous three-way shoot-out between said Good (Clint Eastwood), Bad (Lee Van Cleef) and Ugly (Eli Wallach). Leone's cinematic greatness is totally exaggerated in this extended scene, with close ups of eyes darting back and forth, hands, guns, more eyes, more hands, more guns. That is probably one of the greatest climaxes ever. But technically, there is one short scene after that one.

3:15 PM  
Anonymous Ingrid said...

One of my favorite endings is the one in Lost In Translation. And I agree with you on the Girl In The Cafe, excellent acting of both Bill Nighy and Kelly McDonald. And good music too !

9:17 PM  
Anonymous Dread Pirate said...

In Nightmare on Elm Street (the original) when Nancy has defeated Freddy and thinks everything is ok - they begin to drive off in Johnny Depp's rag top and Nancy's mom gets pulled through the window in their front door and the covertible top closes and its the color of Freddy's sweater - unbelievable.

Say Anything is a pretty cool ending - Cusack and Skye sitting in the plane and him telling her that everything will be alright when they hear the no seatbelt ding - Ding - fade to black

Usual Suspects has a pretty good final scene.

Shallow Grave (Spoilers ahead) Ewan McGreggor pinned to the floor with a dagger, we follow the trail of blood off the knife to reveal the money below the floor boards and hearing Ewan laughing.

Unlike NOES - I am serious about this one. Halloween 4 when the spirit of Michael Meyers has transferred into the little girl and Dr. Loomis is standing there with his gun screaming in disbelief - scared the hell out of me.

Aronofsky has a knack for nice endings (when he actually makes a movie) Pi's nice drill bit to the head and the double ended black dildo of Requiem were both pretty note worthy.

Blair Witch Project

Dancer in the Dark - an incredible movie with a heartbreaking ending.

Being There - Chauncey Gardner walking off into the sky.

And the last on my list is due to the people with whom I watched it. Easy Rider - John Graham was so fucking incensed by that ending - it was greatness watching that red headed bastard go off.

6:58 AM  
Anonymous Dread Pirate said...

Oh and I have been meaning to blog about Kelly McDonald - I have loved her since Trainspotting - You need to see Finding Neverland to see her as Peter Pan - mmmm Pan

She was also on an episode of Alias as a very sexy spy if you happen to watch in syndication.

7:08 AM  
Blogger Dezmond said...

Cool. These posts have brought up some more. Alright, one of the best...

The Graduate. After the dramatic wedding scene where Benjamin steals Elaine from the alter and they hop a bus to freedom and being together, they are laughing and smiling. But the excitement quickly fades, and the last shot is of Benjamin's face as confused as it has been then entire movie...what now? YES!!

I've been into the existential western lately, so here's another one. The end of Sam Peckinpah's "The Wild Bunch" (his bloody meditation on male bonding and the end of an era and the end of a code), where Robert Ryan's character is sitting outside the village after the blood bath, lost in thought for hours. The pat ending would be that he turns his back on that life, because it is an era that is near over with modernization and because he just survived something that none of his former compadres survived. Yet he stands up and joins another band of outlaws. Why? Because that is all he knows and that is who he is. YES!!!!

"Empire Strikes Back"...because it is such a cliffhanger that we had to wait another two years to continue.

If the Pirate is bold enought to cite a "Halloween" movie, then I will too (albeit a more conventional choice)...the end of the first film where Dr. Loomis shoots Michael, he flips over the balcony, Loomis walks up to the balcony to look at the body on the ground and it is not there. End of movie. This is a cliche of the unkillable killer movies now, but at the time it was cool ending.

10:24 AM  
Blogger JMW said...

There are tons that I'm forgetting, but I like these three, too:

-Miles knocking on the door in Sideways.
-Dignan walking away in slow motion in Bottle Rocket.
-Ferris telling you to leave the theater.

10:46 AM  
Blogger Dezmond said...

The "Sideways" one was a great ending to a mediocre movie.

Oh, how about 30 minutes of slow motion tears and hugging at the end of the last 'Lord of the Rings' movie? Just kidding. I would nominate that as one of the worst endings ever. At least one of the most excrutiating to sit through.

Another serious contender would be "Dr. Strangelove", as the leaders discuss how life will be living in underground mines and bunkers for the next 50 years (in order to propogate the species, there will have to be a 10 to 1 ratio of women to men, and the women will have to be chosen for their physical attributes in order to have optimal breeding...) the entire world erupts into nuclear destruction. Cool.

1:15 PM  
Anonymous Dread Pirate said...

God I how I used to love Carpenter.

OK so I'll give us some more of the more obvious good/great endings.

Memento is a little obvious but the first time you see Pierce burning the picture - greatness.

For iconic - the original Planet of the Apes - I grew up watching Twilight Zone marathons so endings like that were nothing too unknown to me but it still such a cool reaction by Heston.

Godfather 1 - with Keaton watching the door close on Pacino as the new Godfather is too greatness as well and such.

Primal Fear - a great actor in a so-so court drama - with him fucking over Gere's character in the end.

Con Air when they crash the plane into Las Vegas and then run a fire truck into Malkovich - ok I am kidding.

Another iconic ending is Cuckoo's Nest of course with the big indian smothering Jack and then breaking a hole in the wall -walking away.

Beautiful Girls has a great ending - with Hutton's character driving away and coming upon his buddy in the street - Willie C, Going back to NYC? Yup - Stay cool man, stay cool forever. Him driving off and pointing at his friend.

As far as horror films go - Sleepaway Camp, although a pretty pedestrian movie had a nice shocking ending - when you find out the that killer who you thought was a girl has a wee-wee. A little horror version of the Crying Game.

OK and I will say - no matter what you guys thought of the American remake - I watched the original Japanese version of the Ring at a midnight screening - when the chick came out of the television, I was crawling backwards in my seat.

1:32 AM  

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