There are good movies, there are great movies, and then there are movies that have become indispensable parts of the pop culture language. We didn’t think The Big Lebowski would join them, at least initially. It felt like a goofy one-off from the Coen Brothers: blowing off steam after the triumph of Fargo. Turns out, their shaggy-dog take on Raymond Chandler mysteries — filtered through the inexhaustible weirdness of L.A. at its most L.A.-like — may be the most beloved film in their canon. It opened 20 years ago today in 1998, and as you are probably already aware, the Dude abides.
In a much darker corner of the noir tapestry, we find Alan Parker’s Angel Heart, an elegant combination of detective thriller, horror story and surreal nightmare. Mickey Rourke’s rumpled PI is sent after a missing man by an infernal Robert De Niro, only to find himself the target of a murderous set-up by his frustratingly elusive quarry. The film generated a great deal of controversy upon release thanks to a steamy sex scene between Rourke and then-wholesome-sit-com-queen Lisa Bonet. (They had to cut ten seconds out of the scene to avoid an X rating.) The controversy died, but the movie itself survives. Good filmmaking has a way of doing that. Angel Heart opened today in 1987.
We’ll close with Watchmen, Zack Snyder’s ambitious attempt to deliver the celebrated Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons graphic novel. He stuck very close to the source material, which many people feel made it inert, and the film never caught fire at the box office. But I maintain that it’s the best film in Snyder’s canon, and with the likes of Jackie Earle Haley just knocking it out of the park, it remains surprisingly worthwhile. It opened today in 2009.