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TOH! Ranks the Films of Jim Jarmusch (TRAILERS)

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by TOH!
April 8, 2014 2:49 PM
3 Comments
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'Dead Man'

5. "Dead Man," 1995 (****). Johnny Depp stars as William Blake -- but not that William Blake -- in Jarmusch's chillingly lonesome, postmodern Western. Depp's William Blake is an accountant on the lam after murdering the jealous ex-boyfriend (Gabriel Byrne) of a prostitute. Robby Muller shoots in mesmerizing black-and-white as Blake is taken in by Native Americans, chased by an overzealous missionary (Alfred Molina), vicious bounty hunters and a cast featuring Lance Henriksen, Jared Harris, Billy Bob Thornton, Iggy Pop and John Hurt (now, also, in "Only Lovers Left Alive"). A psychedelic, far-out oddity set against a dreary American frontier, "Dead Man" is the weirdest portrait of the West this side of Jodorowsky's "El Topo" -- and as a mid-90s indie vehicle for Depp, one of his best performances, here among character actors who're perfectly cast as lawless, deadbeat lowlives. --Ryan Lattanzio

4. "Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai," 1989 (***1/2). Forrest Whitaker carries one of Jarmusch's more taut and sustained narratives with an intense, charismatic performance as a mystical, melancholy, isolated hitman who communes with rooftop carrier pigeons and never violates his strict Samurai code. Henry Silva and Isaach de Bankole (who plays another lonely hitman in "Limits of Control") co-star as Whitaker's Ghost Dog becomes a target when a job goes wrong. Leaning on gangster genre tropes helps to keep Jarmusch from meandering off course, but he adds his characteristic touches, from gleaming Robby Muller visuals to a driving hip hop score.  --Anne Thompson

'Broken Flowers'

3. "Broken Flowers," 2005 (****). Bill Murray is the master of soulful deadpan, and “Broken Flowers” may be the crowning achievement of his influential acting style. He plays perennial bachelor Don Johnston, whose life of luxury and casual heartbreak is interrupted when he receives a pink, anonymous letter saying an illegitimate son may be trying to locate him. Egged on by his amateur detective neighbor (Jeffrey Wright), Don sets out to find the would-be mother of his child. Each ex-girlfriend he visits (among them Sharon Stone, Jessica Lange and Tilda Swinton) has taken a very different path since their days with Don, which Jarmusch examines with quiet sympathy and humor. Look out for one of the best closing sequences of the past decade -- with Bill Murray’s real-life son Homer making an unforgettable cameo. --Beth Hanna

'Stranger Than Paradise'

2. "Stranger Than Paradise," 1984 (****). “Quality You Can Trust” reads the legend on the gas station in the pre-gentrified Lower East Side of Jarmusch’s second feature, and it was clearly an omen. An almost perfectly modulated three-act exercise in bittersweetness and drollery, the film which stars John Lurie and Richard Edson as a couple of low-rent gamblers named Willie and Eddie and Hungarian import Eszter Baltint as Willie’s cousin Eva, who arrives in New York en route to Cleveland, stopping over with the unspeakable unwelcoming Willie, who then can’t stand to see her go. Jarmusch’s irony rich, observational take on hipster inertia and a kind of general American stasis was likely a befuddlement to audiences in 1984, when “Ghostbusters,” “Beverly Hills Cop” and “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” were raking in the multimillions. But whereas those films (and plenty more) now look like the creaky artifacts they are, “STP” remains sharp, focused and infused with melancholy. Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ (“I Put a Spell on You”) provides some of the soundtrack; Lurie provides the rest; Balint is perfect; the ending leaves you in a heap. --John Anderson

1. "Only Lovers Left Alive," 2014 (****). This $7 million festival hit fires on all cylinders. (It's at 76 on Metacritic.) The timeless romance stars Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton as exquisitely cool ancient vampires still in love after centuries--perhaps because they live on different continents. He morosely cruises the ghostly streets of a ruined, deserted Detroit (an inspired location), creates lush electronic music and collects vintage instruments provided by his discreet local dealer (Anton Yelchin). She roams the narrow lanes of Tangier to meet her beloved quality blood supplier (John Hurt) before flying through the night to meet her lover in Detroit, where they are joined for a time by her mischievous sister (Mia Wasikowska). In this mood piece, Jarmusch combines many of his favorite things-- actors with attitude in lonely urban environments, arcane music, literary references, delirious visuals-- in one deliciously entertaining film. --Anne Thompson

3 Comments

  • Kate | April 8, 2014 8:08 PMReply

    I found Only Lovers Left Alive to be stylishly and sensually enjoyable but utterly obnoxious in its treatment of character and theme. All of the literary references seemed like the name-dropping of vapid hipsters. And the interactions between Eve and Adam were frequently like that of a mother chiding her mopey teenage son.

  • MDL | April 8, 2014 3:49 PMReply

    Only Lovers Left Alive would have to be amazing for it to unseat Stranger Than Paradise as #1 on my list. So I'll remain skeptical until I do. Especially since The Limits of Control was a misfire.

  • Nathan Duke | April 8, 2014 3:32 PMReply

    I'd rank them (without yet having seen "Only Lovers Left Alive"):
    11. Year of the Horse 10. Permanent Vacation 9. Coffee and Cigarettes 8. Night on Earth
    7. Ghost Dog 6. The Limits of Control 5. Down by Law 4. Mystery Train 3. Dead Man
    2. Broken Flowers 1. Stranger Than Paradise

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