Lester, best known for his work with The Beatles in the 1960s, was presented with the BFI's highest accolade in London on Thursday (22Mar12) in honour of his film and TV achievements.
Accepting his prize, the American-born filmmaker acknowledged the harsh reviews he received at the start of his career working in TV with comedians Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers.
He quipped, "When my career was just beginning, the elegant TV critic Bernard Levin came to see me in rehearsal with Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers. He wrote, 'He seems an amiable young man who climbed into a lion's cage and realised he's forgotten his chair and his whip.' Some 50 years later, I still haven't found a whip, but with this extraordinary honour, the BFI has kindly given me a chair."
Lester's work with Milligan and Sellers caught the attention of John Lennon, and he was hired by the Fab Four to direct A Hard Day's Night and Help! in the 1960s.
Lester joins a prestigious list of previous BFI Fellowship recipients including Dame Judi Dench, Ralph Fiennes, David Cronenberg and Martin Scorsese.
A few weeks ago, the much-anticipated Tron: Legacy soundtrack from Daft Punk -- a.k.a. those two French dudes in robot helmets -- hit shelves everywhere. The critical reaction to Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter's work? Some hate it, some love it. But regardless, the release got us thinking so we gathered a collection of our favorite motion picture soundtracks or scores in cinema history.
Tron: Legacy is out this weekend on December 17.
The Graduate (1967)
Director: Mike Nichols
Music by Simon & Garfunkel
At the end of The Graduate, as Benjamin grabs Elaine, we witness a protagonist broken by frustration but overtaken by hope. They finally escape, and in that moment of relaxation, as "Sounds of Silence" chimes in, Benjamin crashes -- identifying with his own realization that he doesn't know what the hell to do, he didn't grow up and he's the same fearful 20-year-old as before. Subtract the song? You're left with an empty, emotionless scene. So here's to you, Mrs. Robinson -- for breaking Benjamin. We really do love you more than you'll ever know.
A Hard Day's Night (1964)
Director: Richard Lester
Music by The Beatles
Sure, throwing The Beatles on the list may seem like an easy cop-out, but sometimes you just need to take a moment and recognize that there's a reason the Fab Four are widely regarded to be one of the greatest bands the world has ever known. Because, quite simply, they are fucking awesome. A Hard Day's Night captured Beatlemania at its highest point and showed off what the group did best: music.
Director: John Carney
Music by Glen Hansard, Marketa Irglová
In Once, we don't even know the main characters names, but that doesn't matter. With each song, we feel their heartbreak, their frustration and perhaps most importantly, their love. A much-deserved Oscar winner for Best Song, "Falling Slowly" will continue to be the best-fucking-heart-ripped-out-break-up song for years to come.
Director: Danny Boyle
Music by Various Artists
Sex, heroin, and punk music: does much more need to be said? Danny Boyle's Trainspotting not only used great music, but maximized its cinematic potential. Without the peppy, catchy "Lust for Life" from Iggy Pop or Lou Reed's heartbreaking "Perfect Day," the atmosphere of the worlds -- both good and bad -- of hard drugs would've been lost.
(Warning: This clip features heavy drug use. NSFW)
Good Will Hunting (1997)
Director: Gus Van Sant
Music by Various Artists
In his short career, the late Elliott Smith managed to be one of the most prolific songwriters of the modern music era. And despite his songwriting being so unbelievably sad, perhaps his most famous track, "Miss Misery," gives hope. The Oscar-nominated song found its fame placed at the end of Good Will Hunting, softly playing behind a man who has decided to leave all he knows just to see about a girl.
The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
Director: Wes Anderson
Score by Mark Mothersbaugh, Songs by Various Artists
In The Royal Tenenbaums, director Wes Anderson looked to one of the most brilliant musical minds of the past 40 years: Mark Mothersbaugh. The Devo-frontman contributes to an odd collection of artists -- ranging from Nico to Elliott Smith -- to form a seamless stretch of music that flows together so effortlessly the songs feel more at home on the soundtrack than in their place of origin.
This Is Spinal Tap (1984)
Director: Rob Reiner
Music by Spinal Tap
Turn it up to 11.
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
Director: Steven Spielberg
Score by John Williams
With 45 Oscar nominations, it's safe to call John Williams one of the most prolific and successful composers of all-time -- and Raiders of the Lost Ark is his finest work. Through the grand and dramatic score, he channeled all his talent to capture the true essence of Indiana Jones and forever thrust him into the spotlight as a true hero.
Almost Famous (2000)
Director: Cameron Crowe
Music by Various Artists
Secretly, we all wish we were rock stars during the '60s and '70s. Few films illustrate the culture of spurring fame like Almost Famous. And what would a rock 'n' roll film be without rock 'n' roll? This soundtrack is more than a sweet mix-tape your cool uncle gave you. The music -- from Elton John's anthem "Tiny Dancer" to the harmonies of Yes -- perfectly shows the development of a young boy tossed into one helluva situation, yet somehow emerges a mature young man.
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Score by Bernard Herrmann
One way to measure success in cinema is to look at how a film stands up over time. Psycho, though released fifty years ago, still contains one of the most terrifying moments in movie history: the infamous shower scene. The reason for its enduring success? That disturbing screech.
As dean of a small college Coleman Silk (Anthony Hopkins) has made a nice life for himself--until a false accusation of racism ruins his career and he loses his wife to a brain aneurysm. Suddenly Coleman has nothing--until he embarks on an intensely sexual relationship with Faunia Farley (Nicole Kidman) a local woman with an abusive ex-husband Lester (Ed Harris) who won't leave her alone. The intensity of Coleman's love for Faunia leads him to reveal his long-held secret: He has been passing himself off as Jewish and white for most of his adult life but in reality he is a light-skinned African-American. From there a series of flashbacks to the 1940s introduce us to a younger love-struck Coleman (Wentworth Miller) and reveal the events that led him to his fateful decision. Somehow Coleman's deep dark secret isn't as shocking as it's probably meant to be but the relationship between Faunia and Coleman is--especially when it slips into the danger zone with Lester breathing down their necks.
Wentworth Miller who makes his film debut as the younger Coleman does an amazing job with his role establishing Coleman's quiet yet fierce determination to live a life free of intolerance. And as ever Hopkins is the consummate professional with flashes of intense passion and brilliance in his steely eyes. One does have to get over the fact that a Welsh actor has been cast as an elderly light-skinned African-American but if Hopkins can give nuance to a declaration of how Viagra has changed his character's life (ick) he can pull off the race thing easily enough. Kidman as the dour Faunia also has some stunning moments easily sinking to the depressive depths required of her character--not surprising considering she won the Oscar doing the same thing in The Hours. What really makes you clench your teeth though is when the two of them get together on screen--in the biblical sense. These Oscar winners are so sorely miscast as tortured lovebirds that their sexual moments make you squirm in your seat. It's not the age difference; there's simply no spark between them.
"We leave a stain a trail and imprint " Philip Roth writes in his novel the third in a trilogy on postwar America. "It's the only way to be here." The author goes on to explore myriad themes around this main premise including how we leave our marks how our decisions have consequences and how people can find one another under the direst circumstances. Unfortunately these big ideas get lost in translation on the big screen and the film suffers from adaptation blues. Director Robert Benton and screenwriter Nicholas Meyer gives Roth's ideas voice only through Nathan Zuckerman (Gary Sinise) the reclusive author Coleman asks to write his life story and even that artistic character talks more about how sex is clouding Coleman's judgment than about his own life or ideology. Ultimately Meyer focuses his script too heavily on the guarded Coleman leaving the other characters too little developed. Why has Nathan secluded himself away from the world? What haunts him? Sinise does what he can with the character but there's too little background. The same goes for Faunia. Although she describes in one monologue after another the horrors of her life--she was abused as a girl and lost her two children in a terrible fire--Faunia's hardships seem distant and it's hard to connect with her character. Only the wounded Lester a Vietnam veteran seems made of real emotions and desires--he's filled with hatred and passion--and if he makes only a brief appearance in the film he certainly leaves a mark.
In this latest doomsday pic Earth's inner core has stopped rotating a situation that will eventually cause the planet's electromagnetic fields to collapse. If it isn't fixed pronto static charges will create "super storms" that will generate hundreds of lightening strikes per square mile and cause microwave radiation to ultimately cook the planet. Government and military officials conjure up a team of scientists led by geophysicist Josh Keyes (Aaron Eckhart) to travel to the planet's core and get it spinning again. Accompanying them are geophysicist Dr. Zimsky (Stanley Tucci) atomic weapons expert Dr. Levesque (Tchéky Karyo) "terranauts" Major Childs (Hilary Swank) and Commander Iverson (Bruce Greenwood) and Dr. Brazzelton (Delroy Lindo)--the renegade scientist who built the subterranean vessel. Their mission is to travel to the center of the earth to detonate a nuclear device that will hopefully jump-start the core and save the world. Like the "terranauts" grinding their way through Earth's layers to get to the planet's core The Core laboriously plods through the storyline to get to its climax--and both are equally uneventful.
Despite a really corny scene in which he demonstrates what will happen to the planet by torching some sort of fruit on a fork Eckhart (Possession) is believable as the sensible Keyes. Co-star Swank (Insomnia) meanwhile brings intensity to the role of fledgling astronaut Childs. It is Tucci (Big Trouble) however who creates the film's most interesting character the arrogant Dr. Zimsky. The diva-esque geophysicist heads to the center of the earth in style with his Louis Vuitton monogrammed canvas bag and an endless supply of cigarettes--making him politically--and refreshingly--incorrect. You'll love how he pompously records the mission's progress in a Carl Sagan-style narration. Back at mission control D.J. Qualls' computer-hacking character Rat mirrors a recent report describing the characteristics of computer virus writers: Male. Obsessed with computers. Lacking a girlfriend. Aged 14 to 34. Capable of sowing chaos worldwide. Qualls (The New Guy) couldn't be more suited for this digital graffiti artist role.
Director Jon Amiel helps define the film's main characters by weaving vignettes of their everyday lives throughout the first half of the film but so much effort is devoted to exploring their individual backgrounds that relationships among the team members are never established. The minor characters are like extras in a Star Trek episode--they're just onscreen to die. The Core also fizzles as a believable disaster movie because of its flimsy scientific reasoning even if you try to suspend your disbelief for the sake of cinematic "escapism." While I can make myself believe for example that a government-created weapon of mass destruction is to blame for the planet's imminent annihilation I cannot buy into the notion that this high-tech vessel was built by a renegade scientist in his backyard and is able to withstand the rough trip to the center of the earth. Although the film's original November release date was delayed because more time was needed to complete the special effects don't expect to be visually dazzled by the voyage. Most of what we see is what the "terranauts" see on their screen: spotty black-and-white renditions of sharp jagged rock. Scenes of the Roman Coliseum getting zapped by lightening and San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge melting aren't convincing either.
The problem with a film in which characters stand around philosophizing about the nature of life is the fact they are standing around philosophizing about the nature of life. It can make for a compelling character piece or it can bore you to tears. Sunshine State does a little of both. The story centers on the locals of this island and how the regional real estate developers are looking to change the sleepy beachside community into a manicured resort area. One woman Marly Temple (The Sopranos' Edie Falco) is tired of running her retired father's motel and restaurant. She starts a tentative affair with a landscape architect (Timothy Hutton) but is really looking for a way out--perhaps to sell the business to the developers. The other woman Desiree Perry (Angela Bassett) returns home for a visit to show off her new husband Reggie (James McDaniel). But she has a tense relationship with her mother (Mary Alice) after being sent away by her parents at 15 for getting pregnant. Plus it seems the small black enclave in which she grew up is also being eyed by the developers. As their community is about to change both Marly and Desiree must deal with the sometimes overwhelming weight of family history and family expectations while trying to discover their own paths in life.
Of course this kind of film is an actor's dream--all characters and words with very little action. The array of talent in Sunshine State is vast with many standout performances but unfortunately just not enough substance to keep them all riveting. Falco comes off the best as the bored Marly dealing with her long-winded ornery father (played by the long-winded and ornery Ralph Waite) and her free-spirited mother (played by the delightful Jane Alexander). When Falco is on the screen the film takes on a quirky sensibility that writer/director John Sayles probably intended for the whole film. Her scenes with Hutton are packed full of interesting twists--and she definitely has one of the better lines of the film: "Having sex with me this drunk would be like being at the dentist....You know something's going on in there but you don't know what." Bassett doesn't pull her part off as well. She shows the right emotions as Desiree but somehow her storyline seems forced and the same goes for the supporting players around her. The rest of the cast--and it's considerable--fill in the blanks. Mary Steenburgen as the organizer of the local historical event known as "Buccaneer Days" and Gordon Clapp as her gambleholic husband with suicidal tendencies are also standouts.
Sayles is an eclectic filmmaker to say the least. Obviously a brilliant writer he picks his projects carefully and usually puts his own unique stamp on his films such as the powerful little gem Lone Star and the historical Eight Men Out. The framework and the setting of Sunshine State does set it apart from the rest. The director has a genuine affection for the Florida landscape shooting the entire film on Amelia Island one of the only places in history where blacks were allowed to go to the beach in segregated times. Sayles loves to dabble in the past and with some amazingly beautiful surroundings he is able to capture a certain historical feeling. Yet Sayles veers off from his usual style in how he sets his story. The writing is at times bitingly clever but it seems that Sayles is channeling director Robert Altman by trying to interweave the stories of several characters. Unfortunately he doesn't do nearly as good a job as Altman. With too many cooks in the kitchen you end up concentrating on only the characters that interest you thus tuning out the rest.