Amazing: Reprise (Joachim Trier, 2006/8)
You read the synopsis of this Norwegian film as you extricate it from its envelope and it all sounds a bit pat: "Two competitive friends, fueled by literary aspirations and youthful exuberance, endure the pangs of love, depression and burgeoning careers." But maybe the best films have the vaguest descriptions, for Reprise is every bit as good as you may have heard. The first half, at least, seemed like it was taking its structural cues from my heart, for everything I loved seemed to happen: Jules et Jim-style narration (I realized the connection far too late, tsk tsk), dialogue from one scene played over the following wordless scenes, and, best of all, flights of "what if" fancy (distinguished by black-and-white). The characters are beautifully crafted without relying on any kind of tics or outlandish features- the (mostly non-professional) actors simply let their performances build into rounded, believable, sympathetic people. The second half did start to let in a few too many silly cliches and the like, but you can let it go when a film is this inventive, relatable and fresh.
Not Amazing: Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (Michael Cimino, 1974)
It immediately seems promising: simultaneously subverting and upholding expectation, Cimino (in his directorial debut) opens on Clint Eastwood ('Thunderbolt') giving a sermon in full priest garb (!), only to be rudely interrupted by some guy trying to kill him (oh). From then on, Eastwood is quickly returned to a character we recognise: gruff, aloof, yet strangely charming. And his pairing with a beautifully fresh-faced Jeff Bridges (deservingly given an Oscar nom) works better than you might expect: indeed, the first half an hour or so of the film, when it is almost exclusively those two on-screen, is funny, enjoyable and seems to set up for a fun two hours or so. But it's not to be. Eastwood's would be-killers turn out to be ex-associates in a robbing gang, and after an oddball car chase and some gun-toting confrontations, the two pairings decide to team up and the film turns into a heist film of sorts. It goes for a detour in kook land before ending up in tragedy-ville, ultimately returning to the titular duo but failing to recapture their inital spark.