Movie Perfection: A Shagadelic Therapy Session

“In the spring, we’d make meat helmets.” – Dr. Evil

In this week’s example of “Where has the time gone?”, Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery celebrated its 20 year anniversary. In May of 1997, this creation of Mike Myers wasn’t expected to be the cultural milestone it turned out to be and spawn endless catchphrases. The SNL alum had not capitalized on the wild success five years earlier of Wayne’s World. Myers experienced two box office disappointments in his follow-ups – So I Married An Axe Murderer (which would achieve minor cult status later) and the Wayne’s World sequel.

Not much was expected from Powers, but the James Bond spoof immediately achieved its cult status and over performed expectations by grossing $53 million domestically. That was a pleasing number, but not a total runaway hit. It took home video to expand its audience and expand its audience it did. By the time Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me was released two summers later, it made $54 million… in its first weekend. Goldmember, the third installment, would make $73 million out of the gate in 2002.

Yet it’s the original from two decades past that remains the best. And in this edition of Movie Perfection, I focus on what was my favorite scene 20 years ago and remains so today. That would be the therapy session between Myers’ Dr. Evil and his son Scott (Seth Green).

This sequence finds the late Carrie Fisher as a shrink offering advice to fathers and their teenage boys. The group quickly finds the bald mastermind and nemesis of the title character has the strangest relationship with his estranged offspring. Dr. Evil is, in fact, actually trying to kill him. And Scott’s aspirations of working with animals doesn’t gel with Dad’s idea of it.

The entire scene is hilarious but it builds to an epic climax with Dr. Evil’s description of his own bizarre childhood. Burlap bags, luge lessons, webbed feet, and the laziness of chestnuts are all incorporated into an uproarious monologue that solidifies why Dr. Evil was always the greatest character in the franchise.

Carrie Fisher is pitch perfect in her cameo. It’s crazy to think her work here arrived almost exactly 20 years after her first appearance as Princess Leia and now it’s been 20 years since her participation in this fantastic sequence.

So, as we celebrate two decades since this memorable series, today’s Movie Perfection honors its best scene.

Movie Perfection: A Coffee Break in Heat

The coffee shop scene in Michael Mann’s brilliant 1995 crime thriller Heat will forever be remembered in film history as the first time Robert De Niro and Al Pacino shared screen time together. However, the more times you watch the picture and watch that scene, you realize it’s important for other reasons.

I described Heat as a crime thriller. More than that, it’s a movie about work and family. Specifically, it’s about people who are excellent at their chosen fields of profession and how it hinders their ability at a stable family life. You see it in Pacino’s character, Vincent Hanna, who is terrific at catching criminals and bad at holding a marriage together. You see it in De Niro’s character, Neil McCauley, who is a master thief who must sacrifice any meaningful relationships to do his job. You see it with McCauley’s crew, most notably Val Kilmer’s Chris Shiherlis who gets away at the end, but must leave his wife and young child forever in order to escape.

This all comes to a head in that coffee shop scene where Vincent and Neil casually discuss the situation they find themselves in. Vincent knows that Neil is looking to pull off one last huge score and he’s determined to not let it happen. Neil feels the same way – nothing will get in the way of him doing his job. The pair make it clear that they enjoy their careers – one tasked to stop criminals and the other being the criminal – and that they, frankly, really aren’t good at anything else. Neil and Vincent know their strengths. They’re going to keep doing what they do and lets the chips fall where they may. They both know and have known for some time that everything else besides their work must fall to the wayside, including their families and significant others.

Heat is a film about cops and robbers, but one like no other that delves deep into their psyches. We see example after example after how their thought process hurts their personal lives. At the end of the day, though, it’s something they’ve learned to accept. And the coffee shop scene illustrates that point with great dialogue that develops the richly written characters of Pacino and De Niro further.

Putting these two actors together, two of the best in American history, is reason enough for it to make movie history. It’s the amazing screenplay and willingness of director Mann to take Heat to a higher level of art than practically any “crime thriller”, though, that makes the scene Movie Perfection. And, of course, Pacino and De Niro are absolutely incredible in it.

Movie Perfection: Behind Raquel Welch

Hope.

That’s what The Shawshank Redemption is all about. There is a reason this movie resonates with audiences in the way that it does. It puts its central character in one of the worst possible scenarios imaginable. Wrongfully convicted of a murder he did not commit. Sentenced to life in prison. For many, all hope would be lost.

The circumstances at Shawshank prison often don’t give much reason to be hopeful. A corrupt and horrible warden who uses Andy Dufresne to assist with his money laundering schemes. The brutal rape and beatings from other inmates. The weeks spent in “the hole”. The warden’s destruction of evidence exonerating Andy… the evidence is another inmate.

Whenever possible, however, Andy orchestrates ways to make an intolerable situation tolerable. His friendship with Red and others. His deal making that results in the boys getting to drink some beers on the top of that roof. The library that he builds through endless and patient persistence.

There is a point reached in The Shawshank Redemption, after the warden orders Hadley to take out Tommy, where all hope seems lost. We believe Andy is likely to commit suicide, especially based on a conversation he has with Red. As an audience, we’re diffused.

And then the morning roll call happens. Andy is nowhere to be found. The warden is incredulous. And we, the audience, are dumbfounded. Completely dumbfounded. What the hell is going on??

At this point: answers. The warden throws one of Andy’s custom made rocks through his poster of starlet Raquel Welch. This reveals a tunnel behind the cell wall that Andy has been digging away at for a long time. And then comes Morgan Freeman’s narration… the best kind of narration in the history of narration. He describes the unbelievable circumstances Andy had to go through to make his escape. It culminates in that stunning shot of the rain beating down on Andy, cleansing his body and washing away 40 years of captivity.

I’ve often said The Shawshank Redemption may have the happiest ending of any movie ever. Every time I watch it, I beam from ear to ear. We smile at the deserved ending that befalls the warden. We smile when Hadley gets carted off to jail. We smile when Red’s ambivalent parole hearing speech actually gets him released. And we smile when Red takes the long walk down the beach where Andy is working on his boat. And happy tears come along when they share an embrace as the credits roll. I’ll be damned if Shawshank isn’t just about the greatest film ever about friendship.

That amazing series of events that keeps us smiling begins with an unexpected question – what’s behind Raquel Welch? The answer, it turns out, is hope. And it’s Movie Perfection.

 

 

Movie Perfection: Moneyball and The Crack of the Bat

The 2011 Bennett Miller directed hit Moneyball is one of the better sports flicks of the 21st century and it contains one particular scene that qualifies as Movie Perfection.

Based on a true story, the picture focuses on Billy Beane (Brad Pitt in an Oscar nominated performance), owner of the Oakland A’s baseball franchise. When the team loses its big free agents to richer teams like the Red Sox, Billy buys into the team building ideas of Peter Brand (Jonah Hill, also Oscar nominated). The theory relies not on marquee names, but solely on which players stats lead to wins. This is met with skepticism from manager Art Howe (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and many others.

After some initial difficulty with the new format, an interesting thing begins to occur: The A’s start winning. And winning. And winning. So much so that they win 19 in a row and are going for a record-breaking 20. Billy is a rather superstitious fellow who doesn’t attend the games. The significance of a potential record-breaking moment draws him to the event after the A’s go up 11-0 and appear assured for history. What happens? The Kansas City Royals make a furious comeback and tie the game 11 all. Billy retreats back to the locker room.

And then – history is made! Scott Hatteberg, a player that no one but Billy wanted, steps up to the plate. We see the pitcher release the ball and then…

Crack!

What follows is a scene that is amazingly directed and edited. What I love most it is that, even to the most casual moviegoer, it brilliantly demonstrates the importance of not just editing, but also sound effects editing.

We hear the sound of the crack followed by the reactions of Billy, Peter, and Art. The music swells. The team celebrates. And Billy has his own moment of unbridled joy – something he doesn’t allow himself to do often. I’m not an Oakland A’s fan. Truthfully, I’m not even much of a baseball fan. However, during this scene, I am an Oakland fan and a baseball fan. I’m a fan because this scene is so well put together and features such well-written characters that you can’t help but be a fan.

I’m a fan of the movie Moneyball. And this scene is total Movie Perfection. I get goosebumps every time I see it.

Movie Perfection: “I Wrote That A Week Ago.”

SPOILER ALERT: If you have yet to see Silver Linings Playbook, two pieces of advice: go watch it right now. After you do, read this post. If you have seen it, read on…

David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook is the kind of movie that restores your faith in movies. It is in many ways wholly original while also using time tested film conventions in fantastic ways.

It is filled with great performances. This is not only a showcase for Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence in her Oscar-winning role, but also for Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver, and Chris Tucker, who for far too long only played alongside Jackie Chan in Rush Hour flicks. We need to see more of him.

The film is a triumph of direction by Russell, one of the most exciting filmmakers of his generation. He knows how to bring an electric sense of movie making to a scene. The climactic dance scene between Cooper and Lawrence is one example of many. Russell’s style brings a feeling of true nail-biting suspense… to a mid-level regional dance competition in Philadelphia. Not an easy thing to do.

The picture takes us on a journey bringing together two lost souls, Pat (Cooper) and Tiffany (Lawrence). They both have a vast array of issues, to say the least. Pat is suffering from mental health problems, some of which is due to his broken marriage. Tiffany is still trying to recover from the death of her husband and is failing most of the time.

All the characters in Silver Linings Playbook are flawed. You know, like real people. De Niro plays Pat’s dad. He’s a deeply superstitious football fanatic whose character defects may have contributed to his son’s own issues. Jacki Weaver plays Pat’s mom and she struggles with finding the right balance for how to help her son (and her husband). Chris Tucker was at Pat’s mental health facility that he was committed to. He’s chock full of issues, too. And even the secondary characters like Tiffany’s sister and her husband are stuck in a marriage that seems to be going downhill.

Pat and Tiffany find one another and become connected through agreeing to enter a dance competition together. Their motives are at first self-serving. Tiffany basically blackmails Pat into doing it by promising to give a letter to his estranged wife. You see, there’s a restraining order between them. Tiffany seems to just want the company of Pat and this is her way of achieving it.

When we reach the wonderful climactic dance scene, we are left so happy by their ability to pull it off. Plus it’s pretty damn funny. In a lesser movie, that dance would’ve been some masterpiece of movement that left us floored. Not here. It’s, well, realistic. And that makes it even better.

The big question we’re left with is whether Pat and Tiffany end up together. In a lesser movie, there would be no doubt. In a movie this original and at times unexpected, we really don’t know. We get our answer in an absolutely beautiful scene between them. Without going over every aspect, this scene leaves us as an audience totally satisfied. And when Pat reveals his love for Tiffany, he presents her with a letter that she begins to read aloud and then he finishes it. He knows the letter by heart because as he reveals to her, “I wrote that a week ago.” We realize that Pat has wanted to be with Tiffany for longer than we suspected. Longer than she suspected. And that line and those six words left me with a smile on my face that lasted until after the credits rolled.

Silver Linings Playbook presents us with two flawed and imperfect people whose flaws and imperfections compliment one another’s in a perfect way. What’s more romantic than that? The film is one of the best movies in recent years. And those six words uttered by Pat to Tiffany are another example of Movie Perfection.

Movie Perfection: Melissa McCarthy Becomes a Movie Star

It’s not often that you see a performer literally become a movie star before your eyes on the silver screen, but such an occurrence took place two summers ago.

The film was Bridesmaids, the hilarious Kristin Wiig pic that became the comedy event of 2011, to the tune of an incredible $169 million domestic at the box office. We all know by now it vaulted Wiig from SNL standout to movie star.

To many, including me, the revelation was Melissa McCarthy as Megan, Maya Rudolph’s hilarious and straight talking future sister-in-law. Her performance was the highlight of the picture, so much so that it earned McCarthy a Supporting Actress Oscar nomination. That’s usually unheard of for a comedic performance.

And while her performance was filled with generous laugh out loud moments (airplane scene, wedding dress shopping scene), it’s a quieter scene between her and Wiig that gave Bridesmaids its heart.

The scene takes place after Wiig’s character Annie has hit rock bottom. She’s moved in with her mother (who likes to paint celebrities), alienated her about to married best friend in grand giant cookie smashing fashion, and given up on a promising relationship with a kind policeman. It is McCarthy’s character who manages to snap Annie out of her funk with a truly inspirational speech that is both humorous and touching. I remember watching this scene in the theater and when Megan finally tells Annie to stop blaming the world for her problems, the theater practically broke out in spontaneous applause.

This speech works because it’s well-written. More than that, it works because McCarthy delivers it so well and so convincingly. It elevates her character from simply comic relief to being the soul of the film. I would put forth that this scene is why McCarthy got that Oscar nomination. She deserved it.

And her movie career has only improved in the past two years. This spring, McCarthy headlined Identity Thief, which was a huge hit. This summer’s The Heat with Sandra Bullock is likely to be another blockbuster.

It all started here, however. McCarthy’s speech gave us the opportunity to watch a new movie star blossom in real time. It’s a brilliant performance in a perfect scene.

Movie Perfection: Whitney Houston, Phil Collins, Huey Lewis, and A Psychopath

Funny thing how perception of what a film is supposed to be alters your view of it. When I saw Mary Harron’s American Psycho in 2000, I thought the picture was supposed to be a serious thriller about a serial killer. It’s not that.

When it didn’t match the genre wheelhouse I expected it to adhere to, I wasn’t sure how to react to what I’d just viewed. Not until I fully realized that American Psycho is meant to be a biting satire about 80s excess and materialism did I appreciate just how terrific the movie is.

I had a similar reaction to 1999’s Fight Club, which I certainly didn’t think was going to be more of a dark comedy than anything else. I’ve grown to love it.

Same with American Psycho. The film is special for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is Christian Bale’s absolutely stunning performance as Patrick Bateman, a NYC investment banker in the late 80s who is absolutely bonkers crazy.

The picture, based on the Bret Easton Ellis bestseller, portrays Bateman as a power hungry man who cannot handle that there’s people who have more power than he does. He has a meltdown when a colleague shows him a new business card that Patrick believes to be superior to his own.

I won’t go over all the plot details of American Psycho. I will say that if you haven’t seen it yet, you’re missing out on the career best performance of Bale. And, yes, I’ve seen The Fighter and The Dark Knight trilogy.

There are three scenes in Psycho that demonstrate the brilliance of Bale’s character to hilarious effect. They involve Bateman offering his critical take on the musical careers of Whitney Houston, Huey Lewis and the News, and Phil Collins/Genesis. All major artists in the late 1980s. All three sequences cut together are in the link below.

Bale’s performance is something to behold in these sequences. His acting coupled with the fabulous writing here make these scenes quite memorable. I have always loved how profound Bateman thinks he’s being when he extols the virtues of Whitney’s “Greatest Love of All” and compares Phil Collins’ solo work to his group work in Genesis. This is a man (a crazy one) who truly feels that all of his words are enlightening.

American Psycho has moments of true hilarity and these scenes are the prime example of them. Christian Bale is perfect in this role and his monologues on three popular 80s performers is Movie Perfection. Enjoy!

Movie Perfection: Quentin Tarantino

I’ve written three blog posts in my “Movie Perfection” series where I focus on scenes in movies that represent, in my mind, the best that films can be: the finale of Seven, the sing-along to “Tiny Dancer” in Almost Famous, and the montage set to beautiful music of Carl and Ellie growing old together in Disney’s Up.

This next entry into Movie Perfection is not about a scene. It’s about a person.

Quentin Tarantino.

Just looking at his name floods my memory with indelible scenes from his movies. Snippets of his dialogue. Performances from his films.

He’s been at it for 20 years now. There is probably no blog post I could write that properly expresses my love and appreciation for his work. I’ll try anyway.

Reservoir Dogs.  Pulp Fiction.  Jackie Brown.  Kill Bill – Volume 1.  Kill Bill – Volume 2.  Grindhouse.  Inglourious Basterds.  

In my very first blog post (way back in October 2012) I described the first time I saw Reservoir Dogs and fell in love immediately with the movie. That was in 1993 (it was released theatrically in limited form in 1992). This led me to anticipate 1994’s Pulp Fiction in a way I’d never anticipated a movie before or since. And when I did see Pulp in the theater in October 1994 on opening weekend, I’d never had a film experience like that before… and haven’t since. My expectations for that film were about as high as movie expectations can be… and Pulp Fiction exceeded them. I would see it in the theater eight times and countless times more on VHS and DVD.

These expectations were at the level they were because of the brilliance of Reservoir Dogs.    This movie was a total revelation to me. I’ve seen it many, many times. Looking back now, maybe the most amazing thing about is that it’s about a robbery. And, as an audience, we never see the robbery. We see the before and after of the robbery. Of course, the film is shot out of order, which is pretty much a staple of Tarantino. He doesn’t follow the linear pattern that 99% of films follow and a lot of directors have copied that since, but not near to effect that Quentin does it.

A regular movie would’ve been about the robbery. Reservoir Dogs is about what the characters talk about in a diner before the robbery, which includes the meaning of Madonna’s song “Like A Virgin” and arguments about why people should tip or not tip waitresses. All handled with dialogue that only Tarantino can do. Brilliant writing.

Reservoir Dogs uses the obvious formula of one of the robbers being an undercover cop. A regular movie would’ve made the undercover cop the focal point and used that character as the hero stopping this horrible robbery. Not Reservoir Dogs. Nothing is obvious when Tarantino is writing the film. Instead, we see a brilliant sequence where the undercover cop, played by Tim Roth, has to rehearse telling a story to the other robbers that will convince them he’s one of them. The story involves having drugs on him and walking into a bathroom where some law enforcement officers and a drug-sniffing dog just happen to be. It’s an incredibly well-done and exciting sequence that has you on the edge of your seat and we know the whole time it’s completely made up. Only Quentin.

Pulp Fiction continues those themes in many ways. When John Travolta and Sam Jackson are on their way to find that suitcase and kill the people who stole it, the preceding scene isn’t about them discussing how to handle those guys. It’s them talking about Travolta’s character Vincent being in Europe and what they call a Big Mac there. And a Whopper. But, as we all know, Vincent didn’t go into a Burger King, so he doesn’t know. And then as they prepare to enter the thieves apartment, it turns into a discussion on whether it’s appropriate to give another man’s wife a foot massage. This is after they discuss that certain TV shows that are filmed never become shows because the pilots don’t get picked up.

The point is this: Tarantino revolutionized dialogue in movies. His writing doesn’t serve the  idea of simply moving the plot along. Tarantino’s scenes take the bold step of having interesting characters talk like people actually talk from time to time. About movies and television. About food. About how people tip waitresses. About making up stories to impress people you need to impress. He’s one of the first writers that had his characters make movie references. Sounds normal now, but Tarantino really made that acceptable. Before him (for the most part), if you watched a movie, the writers would have you believe none of their characters had ever watched another film before and didn’t have the film knowledge to reference them. Tarantino’s characters talk about other movies and TV shows.  This is likely because, if you read anything about him, Tarantino is described as a walking encyclopedia of film history. He’s seen everything. He LOVES movies.

And I think that’s why people who LOVE movies so much LOVE Tarantino. He doesn’t hesitate to borrow from other films and pay homage to other directors. And when he does, he’s not ripping them off. He’s putting his own spin on their work with the kind of amazing dialogue that no one else seems capable of writing. The fact that Reservoir Dogs was an indie hit and then Pulp Fiction became a phenomenon two years later has given Tarantino the ability to do whatever he wants. Few directors get the kind of creative freedom he does and he uses it to the max.

No one casts movie like Tarantino and how he does that has been revolutionary. His deep knowledge of movies and actors makes him cast unconventional choices for roles and it’s resurrected many a career and started others. The most obvious example is John Travolta, whose career as an A list actor had been dormant for over a decade. From the early 80s to the mid 90s, Travolta’s biggest contribution to film had been a trilogy of talking baby movies. Tarantino credited Travolta’s great performance in 1981’s Brian De Palma thriller Blow Out as his inspiration for casting him as Vincent Vega in Pulp and it catapulted him back to A list territory.

It’s not just Travolta. He turned Samuel L. Jackson from a character actor to a leading man. He resurrected the career of 70s blaxpoitation star Pam Grier by giving her the title role in Jackie Brown. He directed longtime B movie actor Robert Forster to an Oscar nomination in that same film. The same can be said for David Carradine, the late Kung Fu actor who gave the performance of his career in the Kill Bill movies. He gave Kurt Russell one of his best roles in Grindhouse. He directed little known European actor Christoph Waltz to an Oscar win in Inglourious Basterds. And there’s Tim Roth. And Michael Madsen. And Uma Thurman. And Ving Rhames. And Michael Fassbender. And Christopher Walken’s brilliant scene in Pulp. And B movie actor Lawrence Tierney chewing up the scenery in Reservoir. And Steve Buscemi. Get the idea?

No one uses music as effectively as Quentin does in movies. The examples are many, from the Reservoir Dogs walking to “Little Green Bag” by the George Baker Selection to the ear-slicing scene in that movie played to “Stuck in the Middle with You” by Stealers Wheel. There’s “Misirlou” by surf guitarist Dick Dale over the opening credits to Pulp Fiction. Travolta and Uma Thurman dancing to Chuck Berry’s “You Never Can Tell”.  Bruce Willis singing along in his car to “Flowers on the Wall” by the Statler Bros. Samuel L. Jackson executing Chris Tucker’s character to the tune of “Strawberry Letter 23” by the Brothers Johnson in Jackie Brown. Jackie singing along to “Across 110th Street” by Bobby Womack in her car at the film’s close. The characters of Jackie and Forster’s bail bondsman bonding to “Didn’t I Blow Your Mind (This Time)” by the Delfonics. Nancy Sinatra’s “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)” over the credits to Kill Bill Volume 1. The brilliant use of Ennio Morricone’s Western scores in both Bill features. Kurt Russell killing the four girls in the car crash to the tune of “Hold Tight” by Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mich & Tich in Grindhouse. And the preparation of Hitler’s visit to the movie theater as David Bowie’s “Cat People (Putting Out Fire)” plays in Basterds. Much like his encyclopedic mind with movies, Tarantino’s the same way with music and he makes amazing choices that cause his soundtracks to be must-owns, just like his films.

Beyond the movies he’s directed, he wrote the screenplays for 1993’s fantastic True Romance, which contains one of the best scenes in the last 20 years with between Christopher Walken and Dennis Hopper.  And there’s 1996’s From Dusk Til Dawn, which is a helluva fun crime thriller/vampire flick.

I could continue to go on and on. The bottom line is this: I could pick from countless scenes in his films. Countless lines of brilliant dialogue. Countless amazing uses of music. Countless career-best performances that he’s directed his actors to.

I won’t. Quentin Tarantino is Movie Perfection. He’s the most important and influential director of the past two decades. People who truly love movies in a deep way love Tarantino. And that’s because he deeply loves movies, has studied them, and figured out a way to make them better than anyone else. And with that – enjoy the videos!

 

Movie Perfection: Growing UP and Growing Old

For my third edition of the Movie Perfection series, I wanted to concentrate on a pair of scenes that not only embody Movie Perfection, but really came out of nowhere when I viewed the film I’m about to speak of.

When we watch a film of a certain genre, we come into it with certain expectations at the most elementary level. If it’s a comedy, we want to laugh. If it’s a big budget superhero movie, we want to be wowed by kick ass action scenes and maybe get some good character development in between. And so on and so forth.

Like most movie goers, the story of Pixar and their rapid ascension to kings of animated features has been a joy to watch. From the Toy Story series to Monsters Inc. to Finding Nemo and The Incredibles, this is the studio that seems to hit it out of the park every time. When we know the animated film is Pixar, we expect quality. We expect brilliant animation, a good story, fun characters, and even some moments of emotion (see Toy Story 2, Finding Nemo).

In 2008, Pixar seemed to up its game in many ways with Wall-E, a feature that seemed geared almost as much for adults as it was for their children. And there were emotional moments in that one, too.

But nothing – NOTHING – prepared me for Pixar’s follow-up to Wall-E, 2009’s Up. Let’s get this out of the way first – it’s my favorite Pixar feature. And I knew the reviews were wonderful (as they nearly always are with the company’s films). So when I rented Up shortly after its DVD release, I expected to be highly entertained.

What I didn’t expect was the emotional powerhouse that it was. And nothing shows this more than a montage early in the film that shows the lives of the film’s main character Carl (voiced by Ed Asner) and his wife Ellie. There are no words, just the beautiful musical score of Michael Giacchino (who has scored other Pixar features and the TV show “Lost”). Those few minutes of seeing these character’s lives set to that music threw me for a loop when I saw it. This sequence is for the adults in the audience. It’s about the love of two people. It’s about promises they’ve made to each other. It’s about how promises can be broken because regular life gets in the way. It’s about life not living up to the lofty expectations we make when we’re children. It’s about seeing your loved one’s health decline. It’s about life and death. It’s mature film making at its highest level. And it’s most emotional level.

The sequence of Carl and Ellie meeting as children, getting married, and growing old together is a beautiful sequence. And I won’t lie – my reaction to it did not involve dry eyes. The first time I saw it, I felt like a fool watching it, getting emotional about two animated characters. But we forget they’re animated characters while we’re watching it. That’s what great movies can accomplish. You forget you’re watching a movie and the emotions we feel remind us of times in our own lives and of people we know and love. That’s what Up does in that sequence better than almost anything else I’ve ever seen.

After that amazing musical sequence, we get into the plot of the movie, which involves Carl going on an amazing adventure with his balloon-powered home. The rest of the movie is fantastic.

Later in the movie, though, we return to the story of Carl and Ellie. In the sequence I’ve spoken of, we see The Adventure Book, where the couple are going to chronicle all their adventures all over the world. During most of the film after Ellie’s death, Carl can’t bring himself to look at it because of his intense disappointment in not going on those adventures he and his wife had dreamed of as children. When Carl finally takes a look at the book, he accidentally discovers that before her death, Ellie filled the book in with pictures of their life together. As Carl looks at the book and his eyes well up with tears, he recognizes that those pictures do show the adventures he and his late wife experienced together. And he finally realizes that Ellie was grateful to have such a loving husband in her life. As he looks at the Adventure Book, it closes with a handwritten note from her: “Thanks for the adventure. Now go have one of your own”. Emotional stuff that is handled brilliantly in the movie.

I am not someone who gets teary-eyed a lot during movies, but Up did the trick during both of those scenes… and have every time I’ve watched it since. In the years since I’ve seen it, I have definitely discovered I’m not the only one who had a similar reaction to that movie after talking with friends who sheepishly admit they teared up as well.

Up is Pixar’s masterpiece so far in my opinion and that’s saying a lot. That gorgeous score by Giacchino would win the Oscar, Grammy, and Golden Globe. Up would be nominated for Best Picture. These sequences are the epitome of Movie Perfection. If you’ve seen Up, enjoy this YouTube video of the two sequences cut together. If you haven’t seen it, you need to.

Movie Perfection: Tiny Dancer

There are times in life where we’re presented with something so wonderful and perfect that all we can do is smile very widely in appreciation. We’re not trying to smile. It’s just comes naturally because of what is occurring.

From time to time, we experience that in a movie. I experienced that in Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous. I experienced it because of brilliant writing, from Crowe as a screenwriter. Just as importantly, I experienced it from another writer, Bernie Taupin. And from great performers in the movie. And from another great performer – Elton John, who sings Taupin’s words in one of my favorite movie scenes ever.

Almost Famous takes us on the journey of a teenage writer who lands a gig with Rolling Stone magazine. It’s autobiographical – director/writer Crowe had just that job before moving on to direct Say Anything and Jerry Maguire. 

In the film, we see this wide-eyed teenage kid William go from worshiping the records of Zeppelin and Dylan and Bowie to being a part of that world, following around a fictional band named Stillwater. And he meets Penny Lane, a “band aid” (not groupie, that’s insulting according to her), played by Kate Hudson who gives the best performance of her career.

Because of Crowe’s background, Almost Famous feels entirely authentic. We suspect that the good times and bad times we see behind the scenes of Stillwater’s concert tour is based on real-life experiences. And like Crowe’s greatest work, the writing is first-rate and emotionally satisfying.

The band is going through some rough times and on the verge of breaking up when the star of the band, guitarist Russell (Billy Crudup) takes William to a high school party in Topeka, Kansas because he wants to hang with “real people”.

The scene at the party is fantastic. Russell drops a whole lot of acid, proclaims himself “a Golden God!” on top of the roof of the house of the party, and jumps into the pool, much to William’s chagrin.

The drama that we’ve seen in the past few minutes of the movie — the band breaking apart — leads the audience to believe the movie may go down a darker road. Russell and William are picked up from the out-of-the-way house party by the band and its tour bus. In the immediate scene following, we witness the band members, William, Penny Lane, and the hangers-on of the band all sitting uncomfortably on the bus heading to the next non-descript gig.

And, then one of the greatest scenes in recent film history unfolds. Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” starts to play over the scene. As an audience, we assume that it’s simply what we’re used to in movies — a song trying to dictate the tone of the scene. About a minute into the scene, one of the Stillwater band members begins to sing along to the track. We, as an audience, realize that everyone in that bus is also listening to the song. Within a few seconds, almost everyone on the bus is belting out Elton John and Bernie Taupin’s timeless classic. The final holdout is Russell, who finally gets a huge smile on his face and sings along with everyone else. All the drama we’ve witnessed in the last acts of the film is resolved. For all the drama these characters have between each other — music unites them.

As if the emotion of all that isn’t enough — the last part of the scene has William turning to Penny Lane. He’s frustrated with his writing assignment and his process of trying to interview the band. He expresses his thoughts to her: “I need to go home”. Penny looks at him, smiles widely, and replies: “You are home.”

William and the audience experience the same reaction at the same second: this is where William belongs. This is his destiny. And this is why Almost Famous is one of the best movies in recent memory. And this is why I can’t listen to “Tiny Dancer” without thinking of that scene.

And this is why that scene is Movie Perfection.