#265/ 365 – ‘Once Upon a Time in America’ (1984) – 220 mins
IMDb Challenge #155 / 250 – Ranked #84 – DVD Collection
The film tells the story of David “Noodles” Aaronson (Robert De Niro) and his Jewish pals, chronicling their childhoods on New York’s Lower East Side in the 1920s, through their gangster careers in the 1930s, and culminating in Noodles’ 1968 return to New York from self-imposed exile, at which time he learns the truth about the fate of his friends and again confronts the nightmare of his past.
For director Sergio Leone a filmmaker most renowned for his legendary spaghetti Westerns ‘The Good, The Bad and The Ugly’, Once Upon a Time In America his final film is routinely thought to be the most ambitious epic gangster movies ever filmed. It’s easy to see why, this nearly 4 hour uncut length, ten years in bringing it from storyboard to screen, and then the story in scope which spans 60 years. The film is divided into three segments set in different eras; the narrative jumps between them. In the early 1920s we follow the upcoming gangsters as kids, ten years later as young, increasingly successful mobsters and then in 1968 as old men.
The tone of the film remains rather gloomy and violent throughout, as the relationships all have a touch of achingly sadness about them and everyone seems close to happiness and greatness but never manage to embrace either. The most tragic and moving of these relationships is the affair between Noodles and Deborah (Elizabeth McGovern), and the sequence that drives them apart is a truly harrowing moment.
There is solid acting from its ensemble cast of DeNiro, James Woods, Elizabeth McGovern, Tuesday Weld and Joe Pesci. Leone and cinematographer Tonino Delli Colli capture an incredible level of detail within its early ’20s surroundings.
However despite the captivating brilliance of writing and filmmaking on offer here, I just found that Once Upon a Time In America just didn’t offer a deep and rewarding watch as much as ‘The Godfather’ which this is easily comparable to. Francis Ford Coppola had set the bar at an impossible height with The Godfather – but Leone tale of mobster rule does deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as Coppola’s most finest and flawless masterpiece.
#266/ 365 – ‘Raging Bull’- (1980) 129 mins
IMDb Challenge #156 / 250 – Ranked #76 – DVD Collection
The brutal and emotionally devastating story of prize fighter Jake LaMotta and his downward spiral of self-destruction.
Raging Bull to me is simply the greatest boxing movie ever made and is one of my favourite movies of all time, and also is arguably the finest work of the many Martin Scorsese and Robert DeNiro partnerships. Ironically though that said and despite this being a biopic about one of Americas greatest fighters, it’s ultimately not about boxing, though there are is about 15 minutes of fight scenes in the film which have a poetic and ballet quality feel about them.
Scorsese’s unforgettable portrait is of man who is propelled by fear, jealousy and rage and one who seemed to lack the capacity and imagination to ever be happy. A fine example of this rage comes in the scene La Motta struggles to fix the aerial on a new television in his home. The tension builds and disperses as La Motta’s patience exist on the thinnest, most tightly wound of threads – one which will inevitably snap, and it is waiting for that snap to happen that it almost becomes an unbearable watch. Scorsese controls this scene along with others with an utter mesmerizing mastery.
DeNiro’s performance is the stuff of an acting clinical method acting legend. Much media attention was focused on DeNiro gaining 60 pounds to play La Motta in his falling later years, but even without this unique commitment to his craft, DeNiro’s performance as the younger La Motta in his prime which he burns with a flawless intensity is more than worthy of the Best Acting Oscar that he took home for this film. Also brilliant in support are Jo Pesci as Jake’s brother Joey playing a calmer, and less explosive role for change and the Cathy Moriarty in her film debut, for which she garnered a best supporting actress Oscar nomination as La Motta’s wife Vickie.
Exquisitely shot in black and white throughout, with the exception of a montage of colourised family home movies. Whether you’re a fan of boxing or not, Raging Bull is one hell of a fine piece of filmmaking from that of a genius in Scorsese, and one that every lover of film should at least encompass once in their lifetime.
#267/ 365 – ‘Singin’ in the Rain’- (1952) 103 mins
IMDb Challenge #157 / 250 – Ranked #78 – DVD Collection
Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) and Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen) are the darlings of the silent silver screen. Offscreen, Don, aided by his happy-go-lucky friend and piano accompanist, Cosmo Brown, has to dodge Lina’s romantic overtures, especially when he falls for chorus girl Kathy Selden. With the advent of sound in motion pictures, it is decided to turn Don and Lina’s new film into a “talkie” and a musical at that. The only problem is Lina’s voice, which mere words cannot describe. Thus, Kathy (Debbie Reynolds) is brought on to dub her speaking and singing voice in secret, and Don’s on top of the world. But then Lina finds out…
Singin’ in the Rain features arguably the most original dance routine ever. The sheer genius of Gene Kelly’s Singin’ in the Rain routine as he splashes in the puddles exudes sheer joy and is one of the greatest moments ever captured on film.
The classic boy meets girl story in between Don and Kathy is simplicity itself, while the performances from Kelly, Donald O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds are truly memorable, whilst the sheer energy and grace the trio display should win over anyone.
O’Connor manages to make his own Make ‘Em Laugh routine look so ridiculously easy and you marvel as you watch his face and body contort in all directions. ‘Good Mornin” and ‘You Were Meant for Me’ are just a couple of the unforgettable classic tunes that will keep your toes tappin’ and your heart singing throughout