I’ve finished a first draft of my coming-of-age high school script and, in trying to avoid cliches, have often reflected on the best of the genre. By my reckoning, there is a pantheon of five films, all of which have characters, story and dialogue that ring true.
5. Election (Alexander Payne, 1999)4. Dazed and Confused (Richard Linklater, 1993)3. American Graffiti(George Lucas, 1973)2. Rushmore (Wes Anderson, 1998)1. Superbad (Greg Mottola, 2007)Interestingly enough, except for Superbad, these films were directed early in each filmmaker’s careers, all of whom went on to be nominated for Oscars. We’ll see what Mottola does next.
I was at a comedy show – Sean Cullen – years ago in Vancouver, stupidly sitting in the front row, when he was asked me, “What’s your favorite part of the movie?” I answered, “The credits.” This got a big laugh out of him and everybody else after he repeated it several times over. It was an easy laugh, I guess, but I really did mean it. The credits are such a promising moment, the distribution logo rising from the gloom; the Paramount mountain is one of my favorites, fading in, about to be encircled by stars.The music comes up, and the first credit fades in from black. Anything is possible. Imagination knows no bounds.The movie begins. Touch of Evil(Orson Welles, 1958) has to have one of the greatest openings not only for the drama of it – there’s a bomb! – but the sheer logistics and technical merit of the initial 3 1/2 minute sequence.Raiders of the Lost Ark (Spielberg, 1981), modeled after the opening sequences of many James Bond films, has technical merit too, but it’s more a wild ride than anything else. In terms of visual and aural splendor, two poetically astonishing films come to mind. The Thin Red Line (Malick, 1998) combines images of nature, poetic voice-over and the introspective music of Hans Zimmer to convey an eerie calm while Werner Herzog’s stunning opening sequence in Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1973) offers a sense of doom through the clouds of the Peruvian Andes and hypnotic soundtrack of Popol Vuh. Another great opening sequence has to be American Graffiti. A simple establishing shot of Mel’s Dinner, coupled with a montage of characters arriving and the iconic music of Bill Haley creates an invigorating atmosphere of innocent excitement. The movies go on from there; some moments are good, others not, and it either ends early or goes on too long…but you always have another credit sequence to look forward and a mountain surrounded by stars.