I don’t think that Dom Dirk quite believed me when I said that I was struggling to decide on the Rob Reiner film to include on my list. The rules dictate that I can only have one film per director and Reiner has been a key figure in Hollywood cinema since 1977 – my generation’s Billy Wilder, maybe not as prolific, but nevertheless
having the same commitment to not being boring.
I looked for evidence in the Empire magazine. In many ways Empire remains the handbook for people who believe that cinema history began with STAR WARS. It was launched in 1989 as a companion to Q (the CD buyers’ magazine) and shared many of the same writers who in turn were former NME staffers, including a great Danny Baker column. Very quickly it began to find its own voice and niche. It rode the consumer boom multiplexes and home cinema in the nineties with an irreverent tone, engaging feature articles and its regulars such as ‘How Much is A Pint of Milk’ where the great and good are questioned on how out of touch they are, and its ‘Masterpiece’ section features a detailed essay on something from the back-list. Its most enduring feature is the ‘Classic Scene’ at the back of the magazine which is an analogue version of You-Tube presenting a scene from some of their favourite movies (usually by Tarrantino!) providing a useful archive of mainstream Anglo-American cinema.
The choice of clips are not always obvious. WHEN HARRY MET SALLY’s famous scene would be difficult to recreate in words, so they went for the New Year scene instead when Billy Crystal lists the reasons why he needs to be together with Meg Ryan and she insists that she hates him before having a Hollywood smooch.
Similarly, the most dramatic scene in STAND BY ME is the moment when the train chases them along the bridge. In a film that is composed entirely of brilliantly observed set-pieces about the coming of age, they went for the moment around the camp fire where River Pheonix insists that he will never reach his potential in life because the community have already decided that he will fail. I’d have gone for the Lard Ass anecdote.
They don’t always avoid the action sequences. In Reiner’s other Stephen King adaptation MISERY James Cann being ‘hobbled’ by Kathy Bates as the obsessive fan is the greatest moment in a tense film.
Seeing the Aaron Sorkin’s words for A FEW GOOD MEN written down, it is possible to understand the verbal dexterity required to pull of the scene convincingly. The dialogue is so densely packed with detail and clever turns of phrase that it needs someone of Nicolson’s skill to chew them over and deliver it with such menacing panache. I could watch this clip forever.
Reiner collaborated with Nicolson on the woeful THE BUCKET LIST (2007). You could say that he has lost his way, but I just don’t believe that there is the same market for mainstream films aimed at adults any more.
I stopped buying Empire when it began to feel more like a superhero comic. The regular features still remain, sandwiched between the day-glow brochures for the latest franchise offering. It seems diminished now, dwarfed by its role in promoting block busters. It gave ATTACK OF THE CLONES (2002) five stars. Five stars.
Empire didn’t get small, the pictures got too big.