December 2, 2011

Top 5 Dialogue-Heavy Films

Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke star in Before Sunrise.

Inspired by the dialogue in Steven Soderbergh's The Girlfriend Experience, I've decided to chose some of my favorite films that rely more on conversations than explosions. These might be considered boring or slow in some circles, but I find them consistently rewarding on repeat viewings. The tricky part in making this list was not simply populating it with movies from the same director like Richard Linklater or Woody Allen. I've restricted each of those guys to one choice, though I did cheat and place one more as an honorable mention. I should also mention that I've yet to see My Dinner with Andre, an obvious candidate for this list. This was one of the easier Top 5 lists to put together, so I'm curious to hear what you think about it. Without any further unnecessary dialogue, let's get to the picks!

Richard Linklater's animated odyssey "Waking Life".

Honorable mention: Waking Life (2001)
Shot in live action and then animated using a clever rotoscoping technique, Richard Linklater's Waking Life is a stunning film. Along with the impressive visual style, it presents a diverse group of thinkers discussing weighty topics of life, death, and beyond. Another great Linklater option for this spot was the intriguing early indie Slacker, but the entrancing quality of this movie gave it a slight edge. Wiley Wiggins stars as a young man having strange encounters with various characters while questioning his lace in this strange dream world. The heavy topics could easily feel pretentious in lesser hands, but Linklater maintains a light enough tone (aided by the animation) to make the experiment an intriguing success.

Wyatt Cenac and Tracey Heggins in Barry Jenkins' Medicine for Melancholy.

5. Medicine for Melancholy (2008)
This charming indie romance from Barry Jenkins presents an eventful day for Micah (Wyatt Cenac) and Jo (Tracey Higgins) following a one-night stand. They stroll around the attractive streets of San Francisco and discuss race, politics, and relationships in the process. In a short period of time, Jenkins create two fully fledged people who are intelligent and have vastly different viewpoints. Cenac and Higgins are both excellent in this unconventional love story that never feels like an experiment. Supported by a great soundtrack, this remarkable film is one of my big surprises from the past few years.

Noah Baumbach's Kicking and Screaming with Olivia d'Abo

4. Kicking and Screaming (1995)
I can't rave enough about Noah Baumbach's (Greenberg) debut film, which shows a group of intellectuals struggling to find their way after graduation. More of a series of interludes than a straightforward story, this consistently funny movie includes a top-notch young cast that sell Baumbach's dry sense of humor. The best is the great Chris Eigeman as Max, the most cynical of the bunch, who still manages to find love in an unexpected way. I graduated from college in 1998, so it's possible this strikes closer to home for me than younger viewers. Regardless, it's worth your time to check this out, even if you haven't enjoyed recent Baumbach films like Margot at the Wedding that had a rougher edge to them.

Taylor Nichols stars in Whit Stillman's Metropolitan

3. Metropolitan (1990)
Along with having the quote that led to this blog's title, Whit Stillman's debut film offers a clever look at witty yuppies, or the UHB (Urban Haute Bourgeoisie) if you will. His style isn't for everyone but can be charming if you're willing to accept his characters' mannerisms. Metropolitan holds up best of his three films (not counting the upcoming Damsels in Distress) and is surprisingly well-designed for a debut. The story's told from the perspective of the outsider Tom (Edward Clements) entering the world of "deb" parties. He's on the same page intellectually, though, and catches the eye of Audrey Rouget (Carolyn Farina). This set-up provides the backdrop for some great dialogue, particularly from Chris Eigeman (again) and Taylor Nichols, who excel at this type of material.

Diane Keaton and Woody Allen get acquainted in Annie Hall.

2. Annie Hall (1977)
What more can I say about this classic Woody Allen film? I do feel that it's starting to get the "Citizen Kane treatment" where the hype is so high that it's guaranteed to disappoint new viewers. That said, the story of Allen's Alvy Singer and his romance with Diane Keaton's title character remains a remarkable film. It provides an excellent structure, clever dialogue, and plenty of stand-out moments. My favorite scene involves a cameo from Marshall McLuhan, who appears to scold a snobby guy in a theater line. This is just one of many great scenes in my favorite Allen film.

Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) reunite in Before Sunset.

1. Before Sunset (2004)
The quintessential conversation movie, this charming and intelligent Linklater sequel was a no-brainer for the top of this list. I could easily place Before Sunrise in this spot, but its follow-up speaks to me today because  of the issues faced by Celine and Jesse. They're struggling to figure out what it means to be an adult while trying to rediscover their romantic idealism. Does that spark still exist nine years after their first encounter? It's clear from the start that it remains, but it's not your typical courtship. They bond over words and ideas, which makes this wonderful film the perfect pick for the top spot.

12 comments:

  1. Love your choices here, just don't agree on Kicking and screaming, which I found not as strong as Noah Baumbach's later films.

    Never heard of Medicine for Melancholy, will check the trailer! Thanks

    Have you seen The Big Chill (1983), Linklater's Tape (2001), In search for a midnight kiss (2007),Roger Dodger (2002), or Certified Copy (2010) ?

    A few "talkies" I enjoyed ( :

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  2. Love the idea- unfortunately, I've only seen one of these, Before Sunset, but I loved it. (I've seen Annie Hall but was utterly unimpressed and have been convinced I should rewatch it to make sure I'm not crazy.) Now I have some new picks to add to the list. Thanks!

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  3. moviesandsongs365 - I've seen the Big Chill and Rodger Dodger from your list. I liked the Big Chill but felt like John Sayles' Return of the Secaucus Seven did better with similar material. Rodger Dodger was very good, especially Campbell Scott's performance. Kicking and Screaming does get a wide variety of reactions. I saw it early on before Baumbach's other movies, so that might be part of it.

    Kate - I've heard similar comments from others on Annie Hall, so it makes me wonder if I need to watch it again. I do think it's bound to disappoint due to the hype. Are you much of a Woody Allen fan? That can play a role too. Hopefully you'll get the chance to check out some of the other picks. If so, let me know what you think.

    Thanks!

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  4. Tricky trying to think of films that fit in this category, but the idea of dialogue heavy films does appeal to me. It just less likely to be boring. I definitely agree with your choices, though some aren't really my cup of tea (2, 3 & 4).

    Off the top of my head:

    JFK - I'm sure there's quiet moments in this film but the only thing I remember are the conversations.

    Sex, Lies & Videotape - I guess its's more likely that an indie film is dialogue heavy... it's affordable. Humpday comes to mind also.

    Snatch - either someone is talking or someone is narrating. Every scene. I love the range of characters and the varied accents that go with it. There's a lot of fun wordplay going on and being North American it's refreshing to be exposed to the unique European phrasing.

    True Grit - the conversations make the movie. I love the unique words, the enunciation, and the wit. I don't think there's a line in the movie that isn't quotable.

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  5. It seems a shame that there isn't an Eric Rohmer film on your list-- perhaps you haven't seen any. Clair's Knee is a favorite, but my favorite is My Night At Maud's.

    Even so, Beyond Sunrise/Sunset is the best. Would you include Network? What about 12 Angry Men?

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  6. Wow, you guys are just confirming what I suspected; there are so many good choices for this list.

    Smirnoff - I'm a big fan of JFK and agree that it's mostly dialogue. I didn't think of it because Stone's direction still is a major player. Sex, Lies & Videotape is a good pick for sure. What I remember from Snatch is Ritchie's style, but you're right that the wordplay is good. True Grit also has some great dialogue. Nice picks!

    Steve - Rohmer is definitely a blind spot for me, so you're correct that I haven't seen them. 12 Angry Men is a great pick. Network has some great lines, but I don't really think of it as a dialogue-driven film. It's very subjective, obviously.

    Thanks!

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  7. You always come up with interesting top 5s Dan. Plaudits for another excellent list here.

    When it comes to dialogue heavy films I always find that the best rely heavily, unsurprisingly, on the screenplay and the acting, and the camera/direction plays second fiddle to limited stage direction and attention to performance. That's why some of my favourite films are dialogue heavy because they focus you into the characters.

    As you highlight, Woody Allen has made a name for himself with this kind of film which is probably why Manhattan is so fantastic as he marries some wonderful black and white cinematography with another great script.

    But great choice for number 1 - the Sunrise/Sunset films are brilliant.

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  8. Dan, I think your idea is correct about what constitutes a "dialogue-heavy" film. It's definitely up to interpretation and can be looked at differently, but that's how I considered it for the list. Thanks!

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  9. Nice list Dan. My favorite has to be Glengarry Glen Ross which is an absolutely delight to watch with all these fantastic actors delivering awesome lines throughout the movie.

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  10. The Man from Earth is pretty much all dialogue for the hour and a half running time. That would be in any Top 5 list I made.

    Thanks for making this post, if for no other reason than that I had thought I was the only person on the planet who didn't like Annie Hall and the comments have shown me I am not alone in the world.

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  11. Castor - Glengarry Glen Ross also got mentioned on Facebook, and I can't argue with that pick. It definitely deserves to be on there.

    Chip - Haven't seen Man from Earth, though I've read good things. I've heard negatives about Annie Hall from others too, but you're right that it's fairly rare.

    Thanks!

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  12. My apologies if I've already left this here (I can't remember which blogs I've talked up Man from Earth on and which I haven't). I went back into October and didn't see anything.

    I reviewed it here. It describes why I think it's a great film despite the non-existent budget and no stars.

    http://tipsfromchip.blogspot.com/2011/08/movie-man-from-earth-2007.html

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