Tag Archives: Bud Cort

Top 100 Films #5 – Harold and Maude (1971)

 

harold_maude#5. Harold and Maude (1971)
Directed by: Hal Ashby
Written by: Colin Higgins
Starring: Bud Cort, Ruth Gordon

Hal Ashby was one of the most unique voices of the New Hollywood era, and his film Harold and Maude may be the director at his very peak. Ashby’s film is chock full of pitch black comedy, themes of death, aging, and changing times, and features one of the very best on screen pairings in movie history. Harold and Maude sees Harold (Bud Cort), a young man obsessed with death and the morbid side of life in general. Harold stages fake suicides which push his mother to her breaking point, straining their already empty relationship. At the funeral of a complete stranger, Harold eventually meets Maude (Ruth Gordon), a much older free-spirited and quirky woman whose carefree nature is a breath of fresh air to the young Harold. The two strike up a friendship that sees them make and listen to music, and generally wreak havoc around the city. Eventually the friendship turns into a romantic relationship, but is doomed to fail – on Maude’s 80th birthday, she plans to commit suicide. Harold and Maude is a movie with enormous heart and soul – it relies heavily on incredibly dark humor revolving around death and suicide, but don’t let these things distract you; the film is as romantic and hopeful as they come. The budding friendship between Harold and Maude is delightful in every way, the shenanigans they get involved in as a pair are hilarious and absurd, and the conversations between the two are compelling and poignant. Both characters are complete misfits in what seems to be a proper and upright society – they were seemingly made for each other. The subtleties in Colin Higgins’ script are incredible – Harold’s obsession with death opens the door for Maude to show him the great many joys of life, and Maude’s carefree and unstoppably optimistic attitude most likely stems from her time in a Nazi concentration camp (as evidenced by the tattoo on her arm). The chemistry between Bud Cort and Ruth Gordon is tremendous, especially for a pair so mismatched in age and acting experience. Gordon’s Maude is very much atypical for somebody her age, and Cort’s Harold represents an entire lost generation of young people obsessed with their mortality. On top of the terrific characters and the actors that play them, Harold and Maude is entirely set to the music of Cat Stevens, where the artist premiered his iconic songs “If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out” and “Don’t Be Shy” among other. The soundtrack perfectly contrasts Harold’s morbid attitude and obsession with death, and more properly reflects Maude’s worldview. Hal Ashby’s film is eccentric and bizarre from the very start, making it something of an acquired taste for many viewers. If you can stomach its unique sensibilities, Harold and Maude features two of the most unique screen characters you’ll ever see, and a heck of a romance at its core. It’s an odd, dark, and hilarious fairy tale.

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Top 100 Films #61 – The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)

 

lasz-dafoe-and-wilson#61. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)
Directed by: Wes Anderson
Written by: Wes Anderson, Noah Baumbach
Starring: Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Cate Blanchett, Anjelica Huston, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Michael Gambon, Bud Cort

The first Wes Anderson film to appear on my list was also the first film of his I had ever seen.  The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is the magical tale of the titular oceanographer Steve Zissou (Bill Murray) who meets his possible son Ned (Owen Wilson).  Zissou and his eclectic crew of misfits go to sea aboard the decrepit Belafonte in search of the great jaguar shark who killed Steve’s dear friend Esteban.  Along the way they form long-lasting bonds, see beautiful underwater sights, and tangle with Alistair Hennessey (Jeff Goldblum), Zissou’s nemesis, and even a violent band of pirates.  The Life Aquatic was something of a departure for Wes Anderson, whose work up to this point had been far more grounded – it’s fantastic nature showed that the director could make almost any material work, especially with his crew of talented regulars.  Anderson uses practical visual effects and his usual tremendous production design to give The Life Aquatic a unique, charming look and feel.  The film also marked Anderson’s first collaboration with independent filmmaker Noah Baumbach, who would also go on to co-write the script for 2009’s The Fantastic Mr. Fox.  The character of Steve Zissou is a personal favorite of mine, and my favorite of Bill Murray’s collaborations with Anderson – his chemistry with both Owen Wilson and Cate Blanchett is terrific, and his bone dry wit works perfectly through the film.  When Murray is required to emote, he does so in the most natural and believable way. The film’s best scene comes when Zissou and his crew finally encounter the legendary jaguar shark – the beautiful effects, lighting, and the use of Sigur Rós’ song Starálfur makes for a deeply moving moment.  The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is charming, funny, thrilling, and whimsical, which is everything I look for in a Wes Anderson film.

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