The most New Orleans–ified film ever made, The Big Easy is tipsy on everything that made the pre-Katrina hub famous: sunlit bayous, dancing at Tipitina’s, voodoo in Storyville, Mardi Gras floats, institutional corruption, and an overall Cajun flavor so palpable you can taste the pepper in the gumbo. In addition to providing an authentic N’Awlins feel and foot-tapping creole-Cajun-zydeco soundtrack, this flavorful Jim McBride movie also offers Dennis Quaid’s irresistible grin (in its way as life-loving as the city’s reputation), and a foreplay scene (with Ellen Barkin) that just doesn’t quit, no matter how many repeated viewings (ahem) some of us may sneak.
Barry Levinson’s debut film is a small masterpiece of social anthropology. Here he recreates the 1959 stuck-in-a-groove lifestyle of six Baltimore guys in their twenties, swapping yucks at the all-night eatery over gravied french fries, like they have since they were kids, and not being much more savvy than their childhood selves about adulthood or women. The semi-improvised banter is fascinating, and the clothes, norms, styles, lingo, and music are all on the money. Steve Guttenberg and Mickey Rourke shine as they did only here, Kevin Bacon and Daniel Stern have rarely had better roles, and Paul Reiser expertly energizes the ensemble with wisecracks. (The sixth guy, Tim Daly, is a relative dull straight man with dull girl problems.) Guttenberg’s slightly dull-witted Colts fanatic is getting married, and the guys collect in the midwinter, in their wool overcoats, to see if it’ll actually happen. If it sounds like a hundred other small movies from the 1980s on, you’re right—but this is the first of its kind, and it’s the best. (Incidentally, this movie also served as a significant “how to” lesson in chatty screenwriting for a young fanboy named Quentin Tarantino.)