Cameron Crowe began his career at 16 as a journalist for Rolling Stone Magazine, toured with The Allman Brothers, wrote his first script, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and went on to direct 13 films.
We are not fans of all of his films. Some of the romances are over-thought, over-treacly, or over-weird (Vanilla Sky). But when he’s in his sweet spot (Almost Famous) somehow it all balances out.
Crowe wrote and directed his latest, out this weekend with. Bradley Cooper stars as a military contractor who botched a mission under the command of Alec Baldwin. He returns to the site of his greatest career triumph, the US Space program in Honolulu, to reclaim some of his lost glory and with hopes for a second chance. In true Cameron Crowe style his characters will fail at some point and come back to find redemption.
According to the press (just in) this is one of his worst films to date. If you need further confirmation below is an excerpt from an Amy Pascal email, part of the infamous Sony leaks.
“It’s a wrap,” “There is no more to do.” She goes on to trash the movie’s characters—”People don’t like people in movies who flirt with married people or married people who flirt…” Specific plot points: “The satellite makes no sense/The gate makes no sense”, and the script: “I’m never starting a movie again when the script is ridiculous/And we all know it.”
FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH (1982)
This was Amy Heckerling’s first feature (a stepping stone to Look Who’s Talking and Clueless), scripted by Crowe. The film was developed from a book that Crowe wrote after posing undercover as a student for a year. He was 22 at the time, never finished high school himself, and got a massive advance.
Sean Penn leads the cast that includes Jennifer Jason Leigh, Phoebe Cates, Judge Reinhold, Ray Walston and Nicolas Cage (then Nicolas Coppola). Sean Penn insisted on staying in character even off camera earning him the nickname Sean DeNiro.
Naturally this insider’s view of teenage American life in the 1980’s features a rocking soundtrack from The Go-Go’s, Oingo Boingo and The Cars. Fast Times was a definitional teen comedy and over the decades turned into a cult classic.
TERMS OF ENDEARMENT (1983)
Written and directed by James L. Brooks (Taxi, The Simpsons, As Good As it Gets, et al). Brooks would become Crowe’s mentor, executive producing his first feature, Say Anything. Like Crowe, Brooks cut his teeth as a journalist, working on documentaries for CBS. He also wrote a report on the Assassination of President Kennedy.
Terms is a ground-breaking matriarchal saga covering three decades in the lives of widow Aurora Greenway (Shirley MacLaine) and her daughter Emma (Debra Winger). They are both deeply flawed characters in search of love, one an over-protective mother and the other an overly-eager daughter. Throughout the decades, their relationships with each other and the important men in their lives drive them in unexpected directions.
The cancer subplot left viewers teary eyed (Academy Voters noted) and it went on to win 5 Oscars, three for Brooks as director, writer and best picture.
SAY ANYTHING… (1989)
Crowe’s directing debut, which he also wrote. He was clearly not finished mining the vein of high life in high school.
John Cusack stars as Lloyd, an underachiever who falls for the beautiful valedictorian Ione Skye… Surprisingly, she feels the same way. But hey, it’s a movie. Naturally there are some obstacles in the way, notably in the person of John Mahoney (Ione’s Dad).
One of Crowe’s strengths is his knack for creating iconic cinematic moments. Such is he final scene where Cusack stands outside her house with his ghetto blaster held high above his head blaring Peter Gabriel’s In Your Eyes. Crowe had stumbled across “In Your Eyes” as he was making a wedding mix tape for his wife (Nancy Wilson). The story is that it was already in the film, but it wasn’t until the studio sent Peter Gabriel a cut that he OK’d the song.
For a refresher, take a look.
Michael Walker in The New York Times called Crowe “something of a cinematic spokesman for the post-baby boom generation” because his first few films focused on that specific age group, first as high schoolers, then as young adults striving to make their way in the world.
THE APARTMENT (1960)
Written and directed by Billy Wilder. Cameron Crowe has often cited Billy Wilder as one of his greatest influences, especially this film: Wilder’s masterpiece.
It stars Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine in an sweet/tart comedy from the 60s. Jack “generously” lends his apartment to his philandering bosses and reaps the rewards for his discretion. That is until the day he bumps into the big boss’ mistress, an elevator operated played Shirley MacLaine, the woman of his dreams. Enter the moral dilemma… risk losing love or your career.
This film has a more scathing tone and satirical bite than any Cameron Crowe film. And it’s also more deeply moving. It won five Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
Cameron Crowe tried to tie himself to the legacy of Billy Wilder by stating (everywhere) that his film Jerry Maguire was indebted to The Apartment – an audacious statement, considering the mile wide gap between their respective films!
But we’ll give him this – he’s got good taste.
ALMOST FAMOUS (2000)
Once again, Crowe wrote and directed. A coming-of-age story about a 15-year-old fledgling reporter on tour with a rock band in the early 70s. It’s a lightly fictionalized autobiographical film about Cameron Crowe’s days on tour with The Allman Brothers, The Eagles, Led Zeppelin and many other bands during his time writing for Rolling Stone Magazine.
Crowe’s pet project — it got greenlit after he struck gold with Jerry McGuire. Brad Pitt was set to play the young hero, Russell Hammond and worked with Crowe for months before finally admitting, “I just don’t get it enough to do it.” He was replaced by Billy Crudup.
During a party scene Russell Hammond cries out, “I am a golden god!” This is a reference to Robert Plant, Led Zeppelin, who said the same thing while looking over Sunset Strip from a hotel balcony.
This is our favorite Cameron Crowe movie, and not just because of fresh faced Kate Hudson and our boy Philip Seymour Hoffman playing legendary Creem editor Lester Bangs. Maybe it’s just the fantasy of falling into that dream world – but despite excess, the central character’s underlying sweetness and hope manages to shine through.
And, of course, it helps that there’s a pretty kick-ass soundtrack.