Friday, December 5, 2008

Reservoir Dogs vs. The Usual Suspects

I'm trying to determine once again what my all-time favorite movie is. This process usually falls apart after a while, but I've watched enough favs since last year to feel like I can finally pull this off. Since these are all-time, I'm trying to look at dated picks that have perhaps fallen out of favor over the years. Both of these two qualify, and I even put them into a heist marathon (also featured: "Sexy Beast" and "Snatch") to make them feel more relevant. Still, neither cuts the mustard as a top tenner anymore.

Quentin Tarantino vs. Bryan Singer & Christopher McQuarrie
Obviously Quent revolutionized cinema with his work as a writer-director in the early 90's, but many may forget that Siskel and Ebert gave "Reservoir Dogs" two thumbs down on release. It's certainly true the material seemed more fresh at the time, and 20/20 hindsight reveals how "written" the supposedly natural script now sounds. I've found "Reservoir Dogs" gets weaker with each successive viewing, and seems merely a prelude to the masterpiece that was "Pulp Fiction."

Meanwhile, "The Usual Suspects" was initially viewed as riding on "Reservoir Dogs" coattails, but in fact the film holds up better than its supposed inspiration. While I'd say the film owes a debt to both of Tarantino's initial directorial efforts, there's an Old Hollywood class to "Suspects" that both those films lack. Much of the tone and framing of the picture seems right out of 50's noir. While there is as much graphic violence in Singer's film as Tarantino's, the air of intrigue trumps their intensity so that you just don't notice. "The Usual Suspects" makes no pretense about being anything but a deliberately crafted story, and I think that gives it the edge.
Winner: Singer/McQuarrie

Tim Roth vs. Gabriel Byrne
Wow, but this is a blowout. Roth plays the American Mr. Orange in "Dogs," which seems like retaliation for the Englishman Dick Van Dyke in "Mary Poppins." His accent is horrible, wavering, and downright hilarious when he occasionally sounds like Grover off "Sesame Street." I finally came around to Roth's work in "Four Rooms," but generally speaking, I pass on movies with his name on them. He was the obvious weak link in his cast. Meanwhile, Gabriel Byrne was in "Miller's Crossing." I need not say more, but even Byrne will concede that he essentially plays variations of himself in every movie. That's okay, because he's an engrossing individual, and he's smart enough not to overextend himself as Roth did.
Winner: Byrne

Harvey Keitel vs. Kevin Spacey
Woo boy, but this one's tougher. I happen to think these roles were among both actors' best, and they carry them off marvelously. Spacey's is the showier performance, but did you ever doubt Mr. White's conviction or sympathy? Still, as has been often noted, Spacey not only has to play a palsy sufferer, but give an additional subliminal second performance on top of the first that rewards repeat viewings. This was a deserved star-maker for Spacey, so...
Winner: Spacey

Michael Madsen vs. Stephen Baldwin
I really wanted to avoid this match-up, but how could I? Both of these guys play the homicidal sociopaths in their respective films, both oozed charisma, and both squandered any audience love and respect for the rest of their careers. Forget "Bio-Dome"-- since finding Jesus Baldwin has appeared in a third generation knock-off of "Point Break" combined with the Wesley Snipes' vehicle "Drop Zone," which co-starred Tom Berringer and Dennis Rodman. Since finding that tequila worms taste better than gummy bears in equal quantity, Michael Madsen bypassed "Free Willy" as a career low and moved on to a Uwe Boll production co-starring Meatloaf and the Terminatrix. I confess to having a Man-Crush for Baldwin in "U.S." and nowhere else (he reminded me of Roger Moore in "Ffolks",) but everyone knows this is Mr. Blond's category.
Winner: Madsen

Steve Buscemi vs. Kevin Pollock
Quick: Name a Steve Buscemi movie before "Dogs." Quick: Name a Kevin Pollock movie after "Suspects." Now you understand why Steve Buscemi has carved a respectable niche for himself in Hollywood, while Pollock has become the Geoffrey Lewis to Bruce Willis' Clint Eastwood. Sometimes less is more.
Winner: Buscemi

Benicio Del Toro vs. Quentin Tarantino

It's been said Quent really wanted to act. Well, Del Toro turned his nothing role into another scene stealer, while Tarantino made the first of many grating cameos that reminded everyone why it's best directors usually stay behind the camera.
Winner: Benicio

Chazz Palminteri vs. Laurence Tierney
Hands down, the best behind the scenes stories came out of Tierney's presence, but onscreen, I've got to go with Dave Kujan.
Winner: Palminteri

Chris Penn vs. Pete Postlewaite
In a bit of a shake-up, I really do like Chris Penn. He's a fun guy in real life, and I'll take his silly "filmography" over all Pete's "serious work." Besides, he's dead now, so it's nice to see him win some kind of recognition, even posthumously.
Winner: Penn

Well, it seems my loyalties are with "The Usual Suspects," though I found neither flick could crack my top films list...

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