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Lily Tomlin (#110 of 4)

Summer of ‘88: Big Business

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Summer of ‘88: <em>Big Business</em>
Summer of ‘88: <em>Big Business</em>

The premise of Big Business is so preposterous and shaky, it simply needs to be swept under the rug as soon as the film begins. The idea of two sets of identical twins separated at birth, and who then unwittingly run into each other when older, is such a blatant device for manufacturing confusion, it works best when accepted at face value. While Shakespeare made a single monologue do all the heavy plot-lifting in the first scene of The Comedy of Errors, Jim Abrahams orchestrates the film’s elaborate switcheroo under the opening credits, timing it to Benny Goodman’s version of “Sing, Sing, Sing (With a Swing)”—and achieving full transparency without a single line of explanatory dialogue.

No sooner are the twins mismatched by an absent-minded nurse than we flash-forward to contemporary—that is to say, late-’80s corporate-happy—New York. Sadie and Rose Shelton (Bette Midler and Lily Tomlin) are heiresses to the huge corporation of Moramax, about to chop off an unprofitable branch in the form of backwoods-based Hollowmade. Local resistance to the move is organized by none other than Sadie and Rose Ratliff (played by…you guessed it), who decide to take a desperate step and go right up to Moramax HQ to “raise some hell and kick some snooty New York ass.” Thus the two pairs of twins are set on a slow-burning collision course toward their inevitable reunion.

If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot Matthew Connolly’s Top 10 Films of All Time

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If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Matthew Connolly’s Top 10 Films of All Time
If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Matthew Connolly’s Top 10 Films of All Time

Among the many critics who simultaneously partake in, and rise skeptical eyebrows toward, “best of” polls, the notion of the “list as snapshot” becomes a helpful negotiating metaphor. Viewing any top 10 ballot as a historically contingent event—as opposed an authoritative act of canon formation—allows critics to both enthusiastically make the case for our favorite films, while acknowledging that any act of “objectively” ranking works of art quickly bumps up against the limits of one’s own knowledge, biases, and experience.

It’s a useful image, but perhaps an incomplete one. If a photograph captures a given instant, it cannot account for all the previous moments that collectively created what was placed before the lens. Whittling down this list, for me, became as much about contending with my relationship to different periods in my life as it did with clarifying my feelings on the films themselves—as if the two could ever be wholly disentangled. Should I go with more classical Hollywood titles, whose early presence in my life profoundly shaped both my cinephilic tastes and childhood memories? Is it better to take a gamble on those movies that I’ve had less time to sit with, but whose initial seismic impact most likely ensures their permanent place in my head and heart?

Creating this fantasy Sight & Sound ballot, then, felt as much like excavation as photography, sifting through the layers of past experience, arranging the found artifacts in an attempt to convey my range of cinematic passions up to this point. It’s been an inevitably frustrating, completely rewarding task—and, if it means you add a couple of these titles to your Netflix queue as a result, all the better.

Robert Altman’s Short Cuts on Criterion

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Robert Altman’s Short Cuts on Criterion
Robert Altman’s Short Cuts on Criterion

For nearly a decade, I’ve felt a certain allegiance to Robert Altman’s Short Cuts, and I’d never seen a single frame of it. It was always known as a “big sister” to the sprawling ensemble films that I became obsessed with in the late 90s; if I loved movies like Magnolia so much, then there’s no doubt that Altman’s opus must’ve been exceptional. I took this allegiance so far as to chide anyone who would praise any new “tapestry film” with interlocking stories because, if they knew anything, they’d know that Short Cuts did it first.

Now, finally, I’ve met the “big sister.”

As Altman has put it, Short Cuts is not necessarily a group of stories, but rather a group of occurrences. It lifts the roofs off houses and peeks in on the conversations. And it’s not what the characters are doing that’s important, it’s the fact that they are doing it (and why and how). The film is not concerned with plot, but with people; the rest will take care of itself. It’s a risky approach, and even Altman himself isn’t always successful with the method—The Company took a similar tack with a smaller cast and more plot, and it didn’t work as well as it should have. But it works in Short Cuts.