In which we explore the filmic concerns of a given theme, and find new and novel ways of putting together yet another Internet-based list of movies. The wrinkle here, is our fifth pick will actually serve to prove as the counter argument, the best representation of the direct opposite of our theme.
1. After Hours (1985)
Director: Martin Scorsese
Essential Characters: Paul (Griffin Dunne), Marcy (Rosanna Arquette), and a cast of thousands
Gist: Poor nebbish Paul, a midtown working schlub, thinks he’s suddenly hit the jackpot when he meets the radiantly beautiful Marcy, an artist who lives downtown in SoHo. On uncharacteristically spontaneous impulse, he agrees to meet her in artsy, peculiar SoHo for a date he believes will change his outlook. Instead, he gets deeper and deeper embroiled in an ever-more ridiculous series of events and subsequent misunderstandings that leave more and more people chasing after him.
Balancing Act (1-10): Perfect 10. *SPOILER ALERT* By the end of the night, with various different factions trying to hunt him down, Paul ends up, er, dropped off right outside his office building first thing in the morning. He dusts himself off (don’t ask) and shambles off for yet another miserably dull workday.
2. Wages of Fear (1953)
Director: Henri-Georges Clouzot
Essential Characters: Mario (Yves Montand), M. Jo (Charles Vanel), Luigi (Folco Lulli), Bimba (Peter van Eyck)
Gist: In a dense South American jungle, four derelict men are tasked with driving large trucks filled with tanks containing extremely volatile nitroglycerine up treacherous steep mountain roads to help put out an oil fire. With every jolt and bump leading to a potential explosion, the men’s nerves (along with the audience’s) are frayed like a cheap nylon rope.
Balancing Act (1-10): 8. Perilous though it might initially be, the men’s plight is further enhanced by the continual parade of complications thrown at them — in one heart-stopping scene, they have to make their way around a construction impasse, essentially hanging over a precipice with the trucks — to say nothing of their bickering interpersonal dealings.
3. Fanny and Alexander (1982)
Director: Ingmar Bergman
Essential Characters: Fanny (Pernilla Allwin), Alexander (Bertil Guve), Emile Ekdahl (Ewa Fröling), Bishop Edvard Vergerus (Jan Malmsjö)
Gist: Two young children are forced to relocate from their warm, family-filled house to a remote, cold chancery after their beloved father dies and their mother re-marries the cruel and sadistic Bishop. When it becomes clear the children and their mother are suffering terribly under his dictatorship, the rest of the family is galvanized to take action to free them.
Balancing Act (1-10): Another perfect 10, and an unexpected one. *SPOILER ALERT* With the help of the rest of the family, and, for the children, the help of their ghostly father, the kids and their mother manage to escape the clutches of the Bishop, who dies shortly thereafter in a terrible fire. But, just as their ghostly father, Oscar, can come to their aid; the ghost of the Bishop also haunts poor Alexander, whom the evil spirit Bishop warns will never be rid of him. To every yin, there’s an equal yang.
4. Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (2000)
Director: Ang Lee
Essential Characters: Master Li Mu Bai (Chow Yun-Fat), Yu Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh), Jiao Long (Ziyi Zhang), Lo ‘Dark Cloud’ (Chen Chang)
Gist: Two romantically linked couples deal with their repressed (and not so repressed) feelings, while dealing with Li Mu Bai’s missing sword, stolen by one of the lovers, under the auspices of the evil Jade Fox (Pei-pei Cheng). In the course of things, we learn the stories of how the two couples met each other, as their fates entwine them together.
Balancing Act (1-10): We’ll go with an 8. Utilizing classic martial arts special effects techniques, including the extensive use of wires, which enables the combatant lovers to soar high in the air effortlessly as if gliding on the wind, director Ang Lee has designed a purposeful metaphor for emotional entanglement. Half action flick, albeit one sumptuously shot; half romantic fable, there is a palpable sense of both physical and emotional balance, and the mysterious magic that makes both possible.
5. Antithesis: Betty Blue (1986)
Director: Jean-Jacques Beineix
Essential Characters: Zorg (Jean-Hughes Anglade), Betty (Béatrice Dalle)
Gist: Zorg is a quiet and unassuming handyman, living simply and writing novels at his leisure. Betty is a stunning, dramatic beauty who suddenly happens into his life and their passionate love affair becomes ever more unhinged and deranged as Betty starts to lapse into absolute madness.
Balancing Act (1-10): 10. One is tempted to say there isn’t a couple alive who can’t relate to this film in some way, but the larger issue isn’t so much Betty’s tempestuous and fiery mercurial nature as it is about the potentially redeeming quality of love. Zorg adores Betty absolutely, but she pushes even his care to the limit, as he desperately tries to hold onto this woman as she’s slipping away from him.