Thursday, May 1, 2014

The FIlms of Jim Jarmusch: Conclusion and Ranking

2014 marks the 30th Anniversary or Stranger Than Paradise, which was the film that brought Jarmusch to the attention of the film world. During that time, American Indies have evolved multiple times. When he started, he was one of the only people trying to make films the way he did – alongside the likes of John Sayles and the Coen Brothers. Indies went through a renaissance during the 1980s and early to mid-1990s, and then started a slow descent to where they are now – which is perhaps even harder to make then when Jarmusch started. But through it all, Jarmusch has continued to make films like only he can. His vision hasn’t changed – he’s still sympathetic to outsiders – “strangers in a strange land” if you will. And he has continued to find the financing for his films that allow him not to compromise. He has made 11 features and one documentary in that time. They aren’t all good – I don’t think I’ll be revisiting Year of the Horse, Permanent Vacation or The Limits of Control any time soon – but they are all uniquely his. That’s something worth admiring.

And now, basically because it’s expected, here is how I would rank Jarmusch’s films after having watching them anew over the past few weeks.

12. Year of the Horse (1997) – An annoying concert film, coupled with shallow interviews, makes this the least interesting film of Jarmusch’s career by far.

11. Permanent Vacation (1980) – Interesting only in seeing where Jarmusch’s starting point was – and how he fulfilled the promise he showed. Not very interesting as a film unto itself.

10. The Limits of Control (2009) – A very strange film that improved the second time through, but is still a little too obvious and too plodding to be really effective.

9. Night on Earth (1991) – One great sequence out of five, although the other four have their moments. Too long, too drawn out, but not without its pleasures.

8. Coffee & Cigarettes (2003) – 11 enjoyable shorts that add up to nothing, but has a lot of fun getting there.

7. Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (1999) – A touch too slight to be one of Jarmusch’s very best films, but extremely strange, always likable, with a great performance by Forest Whitaker.

6. Down By Law (1986)  -Seedy miserablism, giving way to comic energy in prison, to magic realism in the end, the film shouldn’t work as well as it does– but it somehow pulls it all off, not least because of great cinematography and a trio of great performances.

5. Broken Flowers (2005) – Jarmusch’s most mainstream effort is also his most conventionally satisfying, with one of the best performances in Bill Murray’s career.

4. Only Lovers Left Alive (2014) – I cannot see his latest moving any further down this list on a re-watch – it may even move up a notch or two.

3. Mystery Train (1989) – A trifecta of great stories of foreigners in Memphis, all revolving around a strange hotel. The first is the best, but all three are terrific.

2. Dead Man (1996) – The most ambitious, beautiful, brutally violent film of Jarmusch’s career – a Western as only he could make one.

1. Stranger Than Paradise (1984) – Still the best, as it all feels so perfectly structured – without a scene, line, shot or moment out of place. Jarmusch has certainly made more ambitious films, but not one as perfect as this one.

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