I do enough ranting on this blog, so here are some raves.
I watched Taxi Driver this weekend and was left wondering why the hell I waited so long to see it. The movie was gritty and raw, and I can't think of any movie that I've seen that is a better character study that this one. Released in 1976, it was nominated for and/or won several awards, most notably the Golden Palm at Cannes and Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Best Lead Actor, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Original Score. Travis Bickle, played without flaw by Robert DeNiro, is a cab driver disgusted by his surroundings. Throughout the whole movie, Travis moves closer and closer to the edge of sanity. We get glimpses into his past; all the straws that are piling up on the camel's back, but we are never told the whole story. He tells Betsy (Cybill Shepherd) that she's just like all the others when she refuses to see him again after an ill-advised second date at a porn house, but we don't know what what "the others" did to hurt Travis. He writes to his parents that he still can't give them his address, but we don't know how long Travis has been living in his filthy closed-sized apartment, hiding from the world with only his delusions that he works for the government and that he alone has the power to clean up the streets and right all of society's wrongs to keep him company.
"Now I see this clearly. My whole life is pointed in one direction. There never has been a choice for me."
The viewer can feel Travis's discomfort and angst, which is a direct result of Scorsese's masterful directing and DeNiro's brilliant performance. The tension builds and builds until one hot summer night when Travis can't take it any longer. The ending is ambiguous enough that a first-time viewer like myself can't be sure if it's real or a fantasy, although I'm sure there are many who are more well-versed who have their theories and opinions. Also worth mentioning are excellent performances by Harvey Keitel, Peter Boyle, and surprisingly, Jodie Foster, whom I have always considered to be wooden.
Another good movie I saw recently was Sherrybaby. This movie is the story of Sherry (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a young woman who is trying to get her life back on track upon being released from prison after serving three years. I admire Gyllenhaal because she's willing to take on roles that aren't going to launch her into "superstardom," i.e. playing the lead in a formulaic romantic comedy like Julia Roberts and Meg Ryan. Sherry teeters between going back to her former life and trying to live as a decent member of society. Her journey finds her reuniting with her daughter; relapsing; mouthing off to her parole officer; using sex to overcome low self-esteem; and dealing with a cast of characters including her sexually abusive father, an aggressive tenant at her halfway house, and the manipulative director of her program. We watch her try to move from a life of instant gratification, whether it be shooting up or offering sexual favors in exchange for a job, to a more adult life where it takes time for things to fall into place. This movie can at times be uncomfortable, but so is life.
Finally, I leave you with a video that Chris sent me of Ricky Gervais interviewing Larry David. I'm surprised the universe didn't implode with two comedic geniuses in one room.