Thursday, May 30, 2013

Los Angeles vs. Chicago

Please excuse me while I indulge in my other passion other than movies – hockey. Specifically, the Los Angeles Kings. As you know, the Kings won the Stanley Cup this year, and back in the Conference Finals this year against Chicago (and if you don’t know – shame on you!). They will be taking on the Chicago Blackhawks for the chance to go back the Stanley Cup Final. You’d be hard pressed to find two cities that more movies have been set in (not counting New York obviously – and since BOTH of their teams lost, screw them), I thought I’d do a comparison of 10 movies – one for Los Angeles and one for Chicago to see who comes out on top. By using this very scientific method, I think we can safely assume whatever city comes out on top will also win the series. And hopefully, I can do a post comparing Los Angeles to Boston next round (god help me if it’s Pittsburgh). Anyway, I’ve broken down the films by category – with Los Angeles coming first and Chicago second (they are the Second City after all).

1. Classic Film Noir
Sunset Blvd (Billy Wilder, 1950) vs. Call Northside 777 (Henry Hathaway, 1948)
Billy Wilder’s Sunset Blvd. is one of the greatest films ever made. A cynical look at the industry that dominates their city and how it uses people up, and how delusional people get as a result. A dark, mysterious, brilliantly written, directed and acted movie. Call Northside 777 is – well, it’s okay. It has Jimmy Stewart as a reporter looking into an old murder case – and hey, it was actually filmed in Chicago. That’s something I guess.
Advantage: Los Angeles

2. Michael Mann
Heat (1995) vs. Public Enemies (2009)
Michael Mann is one of the best action directors in the world today. His male characters are defined by their jobs – and take no nonsense. And his female characters – well, they kind of fade into the background. So a point goes to Public Enemies for Marion Cottilard, perhaps the best female performance in any Mann film. But that’s the only way Public Enemies is superior to Heat – which had multiple amazing action sequences, and the first onscreen pairing of DeNiro and Pacino – in one of the best scenes of all time. I love Public Enemies, but this isn’t even close.
Advantage: Los Angeles.

3. Robert Altman
Short Cuts (1993) vs. The Company (2003)
Robert Altman is one of the best director of all time. His Short Cuts is an epic masterpiece, combing multiple stories from Raymond Carver into a rich tapestry of L.A. at its very best and very worst. You could easily make the case that it is the quintessential L.A. movie. The Company is about ballet – and although it has its champions, has largely been forgotten by most. Yes, I liked Neve Campbell in the movie, and it’s a fine film in its own right. No, it’s nowhere near as good as Short Cuts.
Advantage: Los Angeles.

4. Throwbacks to Previous Decades
L.A. Confidential (Curtis Hanson, 1997) vs. The Untouchables (Brian DePalma, 1987)
Both of these films look back at their cities and movie history. Curtis Hanson’s brilliant L.A. Confidential is like a 1940s film noir – full of corruption, greed, lust, violence and murder – and features a brilliant cast led by Russell Crowe, Kevin Spacey, Guy Pearce and Kim Basinger. Brian DePalma’s The Untouchables wants to be a 1930s gangster movie – and does feature a great turn by Sean Connery, and I do love Robert DeNiro’s scenery chewing. Both are excellent – but L.A. Confidential is clearly better.
Advantage: Los Angeles.

5. “Existential Crime Movies”
Drive (Nicholas Winding Refn, 2011) vs. Thief (Michael Mann, 1981)
I never quite believed that Drive was an “existential” crime thriller like so many believed (nor Thief for that matter, but seemed to be the consensus when Drive was released in 2011), but there is no doubt that visually at least, it owes a great deal to Michael Mann – and the lead characters in the film are similar (though certainly not the same). As stated above, I loved Michael Mann – and Thief is one of his best films. Yet, Drive is even better – more stylish, more violent, it has a gorgeous Carey Mulligan, Ryan Gosling at his silent best (not to mention the coolest jacket ever)and best of all Albert Brooks as an Albert Brooks-like psychopath. Thief is great – Drive is better.
Advantage: Los Angeles

6. Comedies Best When Stoned/Drunk
The Big Lebowski (Joel & Ethan Coen, 1998) vs. The Blues Brothers (John Landis, 1980)
The Big Lebowski is not the Coen’s best movie – but it is certainly the funniest. Jeff Bridges should have won an Oscar for his now iconic performance as the Dude. John Goodman is hilariously over the top, Steve Buscemi gloriously dumb, John Turturro wonderfully creepy and Sam Elliot the best narrator in memory. The Blues Brothers is fun – and at the center of John Belushi’s legacy – and may be good for Kings fans to watch this series, since they destroy Chicago in it. Still, The Big Lebowski is much, much better.
Advantage: Los Angeles

7. Families in Crisis
Killer of Sheep (Charles Burnett, 1977) vs. Ordinary People (Robert Redford, 1980)
Robert Redford’s Ordinary People won the Oscar for Best Picture way back in 1980 (beating Raging Bull – for shame!). it’s actually a very good movie that has been forgotten by too many people – it’s depiction of the Chicago suburbs seeming perfection masking deeper pain is quite good. Still, compare that to Charles Burnett’s brilliant 1977 student film Killer of Sheep, that didn’t get an official release for decades because of music rights issues. The family at the heart of that movie is poor, and struggle to make ends meet day to day, and still have a better bond that the rich WASPS in Ordinary People. Watch them back to back and tell me which family comes across whinier.
Advantage: Los Angeles.

8. 1970s Crime Films
Chinatown (Roman Polanski, 1974) vs. The Sting (George Roy Hill, 1973)
Polanski’s movie is one of the great neo-noirs ever made, with a brilliant screenplay by Robert Towne, Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway and John Huston at their best, the best nose slicing scene in movie history and a killer ending. The Sting is a fun, forgettable conman movie that somehow won the Best Picture Oscar. I really don’t need to say anything else.
Advantage Los Angeles.

9. Brian DePalma
Body Double (1984) vs. The Fury (1978)
Body Double is an excellent homage to Hitchcock’s Rear Window – a nifty, nasty little film that also features Melanie Griffth (who was hot at the time) as a porn star in an unforgettable role. The Fury has John Cassavetes exploding head. Now, as exploding head scenes go, it’s pretty good. But it’s no Scanners.
Advantage: Los Angeles.

10. “Romantic Comedies for Guys”
Punch-Drunk Love (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2002) vs. High Fidelity (Stephen Frears, 2000)
Both of these films outwardly look like typical romantic comedies – but both have a much more masculine sensibility than most in the genre. In Punch-Drunk Love, Anderson brilliantly deconstructs Adam Sandler’s onscreen personality – meaning it’s the one movie that acknowledges that he always plays an anti-social psycho – but even he finds love. In High Fidelity, John Cusack talks a lot about his past loves and pop music. I love both of these films – still, it’s not much of a contest, is it?
Advantage: Los Angeles.

So, there you have it – a perfect 10-0 record for L.A. over Chicago. Now, I’m sure that some will disagree with some of my choices here (they’re wrong), and some will say I should have picked different Chicago movies – The Fugitive, Risky Business, Hoop Dreams, The Interrupters, Chicago, Eight Men Out, Dick Tracy, Medium Cool, Mickey One,  Road to Perdition, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (even though one of the main characters there has the good sense to be a Red Wings fan) and that I stacked the deck too heavily in L.A.’s favor and didn’t play fair – but screw those people. Go Kings Go!

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