Video Picks Archive

March 16, 2001
This Week's Video Picks
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Reviews by Matt Heffernan <>

This week my picks are Almost Famous (2000 - ) and Fargo (1996 - ).

In my article on this year's Oscar race, I picked the first film as being the most deserving nominee in two categories, even though I predicted it would win neither. Almost Famous is a semi-autobiographical account of writer/director Cameron Crowe's start as a teen rock journalist for Rolling Stone. Patrick Fugit plays William Miller -- a facsimile of Crowe at 15 -- who goes on the road with a band named Stillwater (fronted by Billy Crudup and Jason Lee) and falls in love with one of their groupies: Penny Lane (Kate Hudson). Actually, the girls prefer the term "Band-Aids" for what they do for the bands and their music. It is Crowe's same deep admiration for the music of this period that inspired him to tell this story, which is his most personal to date. I just went through the DVD (making this review a tad late -- so sue me; you are reading this for free), and watching it again is even more enjoyable -- if cramped on the small screen. The picture and sound are excellent (like all the DreamWorks DVDs), but the extras are a little light. A once-promised commentary by Crowe is missing, and all that's left are an HBO documentary, some sparse notes on the production, and a collection of Crowe's Rolling Stone articles from the 1970s. The latter feature is the most impressive, however the print is too small on a standard television. Slipping it into the DVD-ROM of my computer makes it easier to read his precocious prose. I strongly believe that Almost Famous should win for best Original Screenplay and Supporting Actress, but I still contend that Say Anything... remains Crowe's best film.
Full review from September 17, 2000

Now, if you haven't read my Academy Award article, you may be wondering which woman from Almost Famous I want to win. Well, if you noticed the second pick, you would have figured it out. My vote (if the Academy let me have one) goes to Frances McDormand as William's protective mother, who last won for her brilliant performance in Joel and Ethan Coen's Fargo. She plays a Minnesota sheriff who investigates the kidnapping of a car salesman's wife (Kristin Rudrüd). The salesman (William H. Macy) actually hired two thugs from Fargo (Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare) to do it, in a scam to collect ransom money from his rich father-in-law (Harve Presnell). Fargo shows the Coens at their best: using dark humor to tell an engaging story with well-drawn characters. The ensemble cast is exceptional, but it is McDormand (who also happens to be director Joel Coen's wife) who stands out. Her small-town cop is a strong, intelligent woman who loves her work so much that she will do it even when on the verge of giving birth. There was no over-the-top emotion or sentimental heart tugging -- just the brilliant rendering of a character. An acting performance so wonderful in its subtlety, it boggled my mind when she actually won the Oscar. It actually restored my faith in the collective wisdom of the Academy, which will probably be shot down again when Gladiator wins Best Picture. Fargo also won an Oscar for the Coens' screenplay, but lost the big one to The English Patient, which had a much later release and therefore was still fresh in the voters' minds.

For more information, visit the Internet Movie Database:
Almost Famous (2000)
Fargo (1996)

Here's some merchandise for sale at
Almost Famous (2000) -- VHS
Almost Famous (2000) -- DVD
Almost Famous, a screenplay by Cameron Crowe -- Paperback
Almost Famous: Soundtrack -- Compact Disc
Fargo (1996) -- VHS
Fargo (1996) -- DVD
Fargo, a screenplay by Ethan Coen and Joel Coen -- Paperback
Fargo/Barton Fink: Soundtracks -- Compact Disc Home
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