Something Wild

"Something Wild" (1986)
Jonathan Demme's totally bonkers "Something Wild" is a testament to the lengths men will go to in order to impress a girl, to the point of changing everything about themselves. In this case it's Jeff Daniels, who plays a straitlaced banker, who falls for Melanie Griffith (at her absolute cutest). You can feel his desperate desire to impress her from the very beginning, so when the two run away together (in a car she's stolen), it doesn't seem absurd, it seems natural: these are the lengths this guy is going to go to just to try and impress her. "Something Wild" is beautifully shot by longtime Demme collaborator Tak Fujimoto and has an amazingly vivid soundtrack that features tons of popular New Wave bands of the day, emphasizing the freewheeling "fuck it" attitude of the whole movie. Anyone who has fallen in love with someone you know isn't right for you (and wanted to follow them anyway) can identify with "Something Wild," no matter how crazy it gets. The movie becomes darker and more unpredictable as it goes along, especially when Ray Liotta shows up as Griffith's estranged husband (emphasis on the strange), leading to a wholly unexpected climax. But right before the credits start to roll, the quirky romanticism of the rest of the movie returns, and it's hard not to swoon again. As a lovers on the run movie, it's a sweet, goofy, thoroughly modern tale about a square dude who wants to impress a cool girl, no matter the consequences. A tale as old as time, really. [B]

Pierrot le Fou

“Pierrot Le Fou” (1965)
Jean-Luc Godard would revisit the theme of doomed lovers on the run, from the law and various other forces of bourgeois society, several times over in his long career (notably elsewhere with “Breathless,” and “First Name: Carmen,”) but never with as much joyous, silly verve as in “Pierrot le Fou,” that walks the line between send-up and loving homage to the “Gun Crazy”s of American cinema with humor and insight and, of course, a heavy dash of self-aware intellectual pretension. His experimentalism is here in force—jump cuts, abrupt music cues, entire sequences shot through red or blue filters—but there is enough of a narrative strand, or rather he references genres that we’re already so familiar with, that there’s always a lifeline to cling to, even within the film’s most avant-garde moments. The constant wordplay (“Allons-y, Alonzo!”), pop culture references and jokes also contribute to the breeziness of tone (he nods to everything from “Johnny Guitar” to Elnett hairspray to the “put a Tiger in your tank” advertising campaign for Esso) and the primary-color palette mean the film passes by in a giddy rush. And it’s all anchored by the criminally photogenic Anna Karina sporting a variety of fetishizable outfits and hairstyles, and the King of Cool Jean-Paul Belmondo as the lovers who are not so much star cross’d as filled with odd whimsy and bouts of existential ennui. And yes, that is actually Sam Fuller playing “American Film Director Sam Fuller” at a party early on, at which, hilariously, the women talk about toiletries while the men discuss cars. There are murders and double-crosses and some sort of quasi terrorist/arms dealing group, and lashings of comically morose reflections on life, death and art, but it all practically screams at you not to take it seriously and the result is one of Godard’s simplest, most viscerally enjoyable films, with an ending so funny-silly that it wouldn’t be out of place in an early Woody Allen sketch movie. If you like the lunacy of a line like: “It's a good thing I don't like spinach, because if I did I'd have to eat it, and I can't stand the stuff. It's the same with you, only backwards,” you’ll love “Pierrot le Fou.” And we do. [B+]

The 39 Steps

The 39 Steps” (1935)
While quite a few of Hitchcock’s films feature, in part at least, a pair of lovers on the run (“North by Northwest,” “Spellbound”) perhaps he found the fullest expression of the theme in this absolutely totally genius 1935 film, the first and still the best adaptation of John Buchan’s “The 39 Steps.” Here, however, the lovers on the run are wrongly accused: Richard Hannay (our 1930s boyfriend Robert Donat) has been framed and, desperate to clear his name, ends up involving a bystander, Pamela (Madeleine Carroll) as his initially unwilling but gradually thawing companion. In both their innocence and the fact that they don’t actually fall in love until fairly late in the game, this could seem like an atypically naïve inclusion on this list, populated as it is more by amoral psychos whose only world is each other, but that would belie the fantastic chemistry between the two and the charm and humor that Hitch milks from even the most thrillingly perilous of situations. In fact, we’d argue that the scene in which, handcuffed to Richard, Pamela has to remove her wet stockings, has more sheer sex appeal that any amount of soft-focus writhing flesh. That not only do these lovers successfully outrun and outwit the police and the bad guys who are pursuing them, but they also end up basically saving the country with their heroism, is the totally satisfying conclusion to this brilliantly entertaining caper, a film that, for once on this list, doesn’t end in a hail of bullets, but rather with a very sweet close up of holding hands. [A]

Sun Don't Shine

Sun Don't Shine” (2012)
You probably best know Amy Seimetz as an actress (TV's "The Killing," Shane Carruth's "Upstream Color") but she's a formidable writer/director in her own right, as evidenced by her 2012 debut feature, the mesmerizing "Sun Don't Shine." The film stars Kate Lyn Sheil and Kentucker Audley (who appears briefly as Casey Affleck's brother in "Ain't Them Bodies Saints," which is of course, directed by David Lowery, Carruth's 'Upstream' editor, and thus the circle is complete) as a couple on the run from the Very Bad Thing that Crystal (Sheil) has done, which also happens to be riding in the back of their truck. Seimetz creates a world that is sun-bleached, overexposed and dreamy; a perfect rendering of a faded Florida road trip. Sheil and Audley give performances that are pitched at two completely different frequencies—she seems constantly lost in a daydream or a nightmare, never really face-to-face with reality, as he confronts their situation head-on, growing more panicked and frenzied by the minute. Because we are aligned with Crystal for the majority of the movie, we aren't completely sure just what the situation is, because she isn't. Seimetz infuses this dreamy yet terrifying crime drama with the look and feel of a beachy road trip vacation, and the result is something completely unique and utterly compelling. [A-]

Breathless Godard

Breathless” (1960)/“Breathless” (1983)
For a movie made back in 1960, stills from Jean-Luc Godard’s “Breathless” (on which Francois Truffaut gets a story credit) still adorn a whole lot of college dorm walls. Partly, of course, that’s to do with the irresistible black-and-white Parisian chic of the whole endeavor, partly because of Godard’s reputation as a cinematic enfant terrible and founding member of the terminally cool nouvelle vague, but also it’s because the film is simply one of the best evocations of how amazing it could ever be to be young and in love and alienated from a society that just doesn’t get it. Wreathed in cigarette smoke, Michel (Jean-Paul Belmondo) overtly and knowingly channels Humphrey Bogart to create a character who, as nihilist and self-centered as he is, is himself just as aspirational for young guys, while the eternally modern Patricia (Jean Seberg), with her pixie cut and flats represents the chic-est possible version of the young American abroad. Of course they don’t so much go on the lam as hole up together to talk and smoke and look cool after the sociopathic Michel, unbeknownst to Patricia, kills a policeman, but motion is hardly the order of the day here—and neither is morality, until Patricia’s final desperate decision. Even today, when perhaps the film feels ever so slightly worn, as though the intervening decades of adulation have rubbed a little of the sheen off, it’s easy to see why the kinetic jump-cut style and non-linear storytelling shook up French cinema to the extent it did, and launched a whole movement—a thousand dorm walls can’t dim the film’s sheer beauty and unimpeachable eye for cool. [A-]

And you know what? The 1983 Richard Gere-starring, L.A.-set U.S. remake is not nearly as terrible as you might think, if you can kind of get beyond the essential pointlessness of remaking “Breathless” in the first place (though Tarantino has gone on record to say the remake is superior; note: he’s dead wrong). We’re just surprised that Godard never thought to remake the U.S. remake of his French homage to U.S. genre films, though perhaps he did and it created a singularity which swallowed itself immediately. [B-]