Monday, January 11, 2016

Best of the 2000s: Almost Famous

5 Stars

The first time that I saw Almost Famous, 15 years ago, I dismissed it. To me, it felt like some kind of teenage wish fulfillment less realistic than The Lord of the Rings. Sure, a 15-year-old kid could talk his way into covering a touring rock band for Rolling Stone magazine.

Well, the joke’s on me. Cameron Crowe, writer-director of Almost Famous, filed his first story (a cover story) for Rolling Stone on December 6, 1973. He was 16-years-old, and he’d spent 3 weeks the previous summer on the road with The Allman Brothers in order to compile the story. Knowing that the basic premise of Almost Famous is grounded in Crowe’s real life has led me to reexamine the film, and I’m happy to report that I think it is fantastic – easily one of the best films of the 2000s.

Almost Famous centers on teenage music journalist, William Miller (Patrick Fugit). While still in high school, he receives an assignment from Rolling Stone to go on the road with the band Stillwater, headed by up and coming lead guitarist Russell Hammond (Billy Crudup). Hammond is suspicious of Miller at first, but Miller eventually earns his trust with the help of Penny Lane (Kate Hudson) whom both Miller and Hammond profess to love. Almost Famous tours America delivering a knock out sound track, iconic film moments, and then goes out on a high note. It is wonderfully acted, funny, good hearted, and still rock’n’roll.

Of course, rightly, the movie is remembered for the performance of Kate Hudson as Penny Lane, who, along with Polexia Aphrodisia (Anna Paquin), Sapphire (Fairuza Balk), and Estrella Starr (Bijou Phillips), reclaims the title of groupie – excuse me – “band aide” for women who aren’t just there to be seen next to someone famous, instead they seek to support and inspire the music.

Phillip Seymour Hoffman also appears in a small role as real life editor of Creem magazine,  Lester Bangs. So far, that makes Phillip Seymour Hoffman the most valuable player in the 2000s, having appeared in now 3 of the films believed to be the best. His role here is small but very important, and it is great to see Mr. Hoffman extolling the virtues of not being cool.

Almost Famous is the kind of movie you can watch again and again, not because it demands to be studied, but because it can be repeatedly enjoyed. It’s like a good rock album that way, and it’s true that it isn’t a “serious” film. But that’s all the better. I have suspected as I watch the films critics selected as the best of the 2000s, that critics have elevated films of political and social importance in a bid to make film relevant. I think that’s a mistake. Sometimes, like Penny Lane, we should just be here for the music.

Almost Famous finds itself on this list because 5 of the 37 sampled critics listed it as one of the 10 best films of the 2000s. For my part, I agree. The next film I will review, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, was also selected by 5 critics, but it was also selected as the best film of the decade by one of the critics. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly will be the first film I’ve reviewed listed as number 1 by any critic sense my review of Cache.

As Always, From Out in the Void


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