Twilight (1998)

No twinkly vampires.

Just weather-beaten private eyes, a deliciously-twisty tale of murder and blackmail, and old pros coming together to create a minor masterpiece.

The director is Robert Benton of Kramer vs. Kramer fame, the composer is 14-time Oscar nominee Elmer Bernstein, and the cast is a who’s-who of stars, headed up by the incomparable Paul Newman.

He’s in deep this time around, beginning to suspect his pals may know more about an unsolved murder than they’re willing to reveal.

Still he plows ahead, even after being shot by a young Reese Witherspoon(!), the last man of good conscience.

 

The French Connection

The Oscars did my birth year right.

When honoring the films of 1971, Fiddler on the Roof, The French Connection, and The Last Picture Show –– big-timers all — shared the lead with eight noms apiece.

This rough-and-tumble cops vs. heroin kingpins flick emerged as the big winner, taking home five little gold men, including Best Picture.

As it nears its 50th anniversary, it’s probably in better shape than I am.

The car and elevated train chase still stands as a masterpiece of tension-inducing editing, and Gene Hackman is still a two-fisted terror when cleaning up scum.

Just as it should be.

 

Wyatt Earp

Dennis Quaid would like a word.

One of the most underrated actors of his generation, he’s been knocking it out of the park for 45 years, while never nabbing a single Oscar nom.

Which is a freakin’ crime.

While The Right Stuff is his best pic, Quaid’s work as Doc Holliday in this leisurely three-hour-plus ramble through the Wild West stands tall.

He approaches the role differently than Val Kilmer did in Tombstone, but, hey, we can appreciate both performances.

Kevin Costner is this film’s lead, doing his usual stoic thing, but it’s Quaid, gaunt and dangerous, who steals the show.

Night Moves (1975)

“The world is getting smaller, the kids are getting younger, and I’m getting drunk!”

A slice of downbeat ’70s cinema, this private-eye flick gives us a battered-by-life hero who doesn’t realize he’s doomed from day one.

Gene Hackman was the master at playing rightfully-paranoid everymen, struggling against forces out to crush him, and he’s aces.

Trying to make everything fit together without having all the puzzle pieces, he works a case which claims the life of a young Melanie Griffith, unaware of just how deep he is in the quicksand.

A primo entry in my favorite genre — noir and neo-noir.

Downhill Racer

Cocky as hell.

Robert Redford gives one of his best performances as a talented but troubled, deeply egotistical and ultimately unhappy Olympics-caliber skier.

A wonder boy with a dazzling plastic smile, he fights with his coach (Gene Hackman), snubs fans and sponsors, and toys with reporters, feeding them smooth misinformation while never letting the mask slip.

He’s only alive when he’s slicing down a mountain, but the wins and medals he piles up there can’t fill the gaping hole in his soul.

Forever unfulfilled, and always unsatisfied.

One of the true landmarks of cynical cinema, this remains ever-fascinating.