By Oliver Lyttelton | www.oliverlyttelton.com July 13, 2012 at 2:11PM
It may be hard to believe, but Cameron Crowe is 55 today. The eternally boyish journalist turned writer-director feels, perhaps because of his alter-ego in "Almost Famous," as though he'll always be seventeen. But for a certain generation, he's been a figurehead for his journalism (at Rolling Stone and elsewhere), his screenwriting (of seminal teen flick "Fast Times At Ridgemont High," most notably), and for his direction, starting with 1989's "Say Anything" through to last year's charming semi-return-to-form "We Bought A Zoo."
Crowe has always been inspired by Billy Wilder (the two became friends after the helmer penned the essential 1999 book "Conversations With Wilder"), and while he might lack Wilder's satirical bite, few working directors can claim to mix laughter, tears, romance and honest emotion in the way that Crowe has over the last couple of decades. To mark the birthday of a filmmaker who's provided some of cinema's most memorable and quotable moments, we've taken a look back over his directorial career (excluding his recent documentary work). Take a look below.
Having already had a hand in one great teen flick of the 1980s, Cameron Crowe managed to top "Fast Times At Ridgemont High" (which he wrote both the source material and screenplay for) with his directorial debut. Detailing the romance between big-hearted, aimless, aspiring kickboxer Lloyd Dobler (John Cusack in his quintessential role), and the bright, socially awkward valedictorian with family problems (Ione Skye, who somehow failed to become the biggest star in the world on the back of this), Crowe never once subscribes to stereotypes or cliches, following an authentically stunted, awkward romance that makes the heart swoon more than once; few filmmakers have captured the stomach-churning thrill of first love better. That might suggest that the film isn't hilarious, but it absolutely is: Crowe's endlessly quotable script is still among his best work to date. Crowe has talked about a possible sequel of late, and while part of us thrills to the idea, we're not sure our mental health can take seeing Lloyd and Diane anywhere else but on that plane to London together. If it's not his best film, it's at least the one that's closest to perfection. [A]
In theory, Crowe's second film should have benefited from a nice bit of timing. When the writer-director began his script, which focused on a group of twentysomethings living in a Seattle apartment block, set against the backdrop of the city's grunge scene, the music was mostly an underground sub-culture. But in September 1991, Nirvana released Nevermind, grunge crossed over to the mainstream, and Warner Bros delayed the film's release in order to capitalize on the new trend. But it's possible they waited too long, as the film took another year to reach theaters, and ultimately underwhelmed at the box office. Now, it's impossible to separate the film from the culture around it; while it has dated a lot faster that Crowe's other films, it certainly serves as something of a monument to its times, with the soundtrack in particular (featuring Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice In Chains and more) serving as a snapshot of a music scene that soon became a national sensation. And though it's a touch sprawling and unfocused, with some storylines (particularly those relating to Debbie (Sheila Kelley) and David (Jim True-Frost - Prez from "The Wire"!) weaker than others -- it's charming and insightful, with top-notch performances from Campbell Scott, Matt Dillon and, in particular, a never-better Bridget Fonda. If the film feels a bit sitcom-y in retrospect, it's more a measure of its influence than a slight against it; Warner Bros TV tried to develop a TV spin-off of the show, but when Crowe nixed the prospect, the project turned into a little show called "Friends"... [B-]