“Amost Famous” (2000) dir. Cameron Crowe

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Watching this film just made me smile from ear to ear the first time I saw it back in 2000. The reason is that, for all intents and purposes, I was the lead character, William Miller, back in middle and high school … albeit with much much much less ambition … as evidenced by the fact that I didn’t pursue a career in journalism or filmmaking.

With the exception of “Say Anything,” “Almost Famous” is writer/director Cameron Crowe’s best film. It’s his autobiography disguised as fiction. What’s particularly amazing is that he really did live most of the antics in the film at the age of 15 and not only did Crowe not become a drug casualty or bitter hack as he got older, he transcended all of it and became a successful filmmaker.

Yes, there’s a lot of this film that may seem corny. But the lead character (as well as the person the lead character is based on) is only 15 … and is a decent person. His way of navigating this sometimes very dark world and maintaining his integrity is what makes this film particularly inspiring. It’s clear that Crowe has a genuine love for humanity and for people. As flawed as many of the characters are in this film, he doesn’t make any of them completely unlikable. His ability to see the humanity in a very debauched world is what makes this film such a joy to behold.

The performances, from Patrick Fugit as Miller, to Kate Hudson, Billy Crudup, Frances McDormand, Jason Lee, and Phillip Seymour Hoffman are all terrific. Hell, even Zooey Deschanel is charming in this film (which trust me, is extremely hard to admit).

A lot of rock critic types rolled their eyes at this film when it came out and you can sense the jealousy in their attacks for obvious reasons. While This is not a perfect film, denying its charms is to deny the film’s audacious optimism and humanity. This is a great, great movie and is a film that always makes me feel better about the world.

“Short Cuts” (1993) dir. Robert Altman

My favorite film of 1993 (aside from Tony Scott’s Quentin Tarantino-scripted “True Romance), was Robert Altman’s “Short Cuts.”  “Short Cuts” is a devastating 3 hour-plus epic about the damaged lives of multiple souls in the “City of Angels,” circa 1993.   The movie complies several short stories by Raymond Carver and intersects the stories, so that the characters of each story interact with each other at various times for various reasons.  It shows the randomness of life and how all of our actions (no matter how small) can have an impact on the world around us.   Seeing it during a not-so-great point in my life, the film hit me like a brick to the face and I was shaken for days.  This is not to say the film lacks humor.  The movie is oftentimes hysterically funny, albeit in a very dark way.  It also features brilliant performances by a diverse, all-star cast, including Tim Robbins, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Robert Downey Jr., Chris Penn, Fred Ward, Tom Waits, Anne Archer, Madeline Stowe, Jack Lemmon, Andie McDowell, Lily Tomlin, Lili Taylor, Frances McDormand, Buck Henry, Annie Ross, Lori Singer, Matthew Modine, Julianne Moore, and several others.

“Short Cuts” was Altman’s ultra-ambitious follow-up to his 1992 comeback film “The Player.”  However, unlike “The Player,” “Short Cuts” didn’t fare too well at the box office.  Despite this, “Short Cuts” was on many Top 10 lists and Altman was nominated for an Oscar for Best Director.   While I enjoy “The Player,” “Short Cuts” is a far better film and its influence has grown tremendously over the years and its format about multiple characters/stories intersecting has resulted in some great films (P.T. Anderson’s “Magnolia”) and not-so-great (Paul Haggis’s “Crash”).  An underrated masterpiece and my all-time favorite Robert Altman film.