THE MOVIES

 OTHER FAVORITES

ESSENTIAL FILMS    •    OTHER FAVORITES    •    BEST BY GENRE    •    THE FILMMAKERS

ANIMAL CRACKERS

1930

“Duck Soup” may have a bit more of an actual story plot, for as much as plots go in Marx Brothers movies. But for me, “Animal Crackers” is the funnier film, with better and more clever dialogue. The result is basically a series of sketches with the brothers at their most irreverent selves, using smart wordplay, innuendo, satire, and just about anything else. The jokes are too many to mention. It takes more than one viewing to catch it all.

 

BEST MOMENT

There are so many to choose from. There are great one-liners, Groucho spoofing Eugene O’Neill’s “Strange Interludes” with asides, the letter-writing scene, Groucho as Capt. Spaulding telling his tales of African adventures. To choose one extended scene, I like the bit with Capt. Spaulding and Ravelli (Chico) discussing building a house and how the rooms will lay out. It’s classic Marx Brothers, with rapid-fire dialogue, creative wordplay, and sexual innuendo in pre-Code days.

Ravelli: Yeh, right there's the rooms. This is your room. This is a my room. And this is the maid's room.

Capt. Spaulding: Oh, I'd have to go through your room?

Ravelli: Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha! Ah, that's all right. I won't be in it.

Capt. Spaulding: Say, Ravelli, you, eh, you couldn't put the maid in your room, eh?

Ravelli: What makes you think I couldn't?

Capt. Spaulding: Well, there's going to be a lot of traffic in there. I can see that.

——————————————————————

 

BRINGING UP BABY

1938

This Howard Hawkes-directed screwball comedy was a flop when it came out, but is now considered a classic of comedy. Cary Grant (yes, another Cary Grant movie in my list) is wonderful as the exasperated anthropologist, and Katharine Hepburn shows how great she can be in a comedy as the two muddle through one setup after another, chasing dogs, dinosaur bones and leopards. Because it was initially a flop, Hepburn was considered a movie-killer. It wasn’t until another match with Grant (and Jimmy Stewart) in another comedy, The Philadelphia Story, that she became a bonafide star.

 

BEST MOMENT

While chasing Baby the Leopard, David (Grant) and Susan (Hepburn) find themselves jailed by the local constable. In an attempt to get out, Susan tells the constable she will tell all. Talking like a gangster’s moll, Susan makes up an elaborate story about herself and David, calling themselves the Leopard Gang. Chomping on a cigar she took from the constable (A “two-fer - two for a nickel”) she calls herself “Swinging Door Susie” and says David is really “Jerry the Nipper” and tells of their many capers. When the constable turns his back for a moment, Susan slips out an open window.

 

———————————————————————

 

MONTY PYTHON

AND THE HOLY GRAIL

1975

My first experience with the Pythons came when I stumbled across them late one night on the local PBS station. Apparently, they could only show them late at night. Anyway, it was a kind of humor that I had never seen before, and a lot of it I either couldn’t understand because of the heavy British accents, or because of the subject matter. By the time I was in high school, I learned they had made a movie, Monty Python and the Holy Grail. A heavily edited version was shown on the CBS Late Movie, but many of the best bits were cut out. I finally got a VHS copy of the movie, and the rest is history. SIDENOTE: A few years ago on a trip to Scotland, I got to visit the Doone Castle, where a good part of the movie was filmed. The audio tour featured the narration of the Pythons' Terry Jones.

 

BEST MOMENT

It would be easy to pick the Black Knight scene, perhaps the most famous, or the French castle scene, most quotable. But my favorite is the political discussion between King Arthur (Graham Chapman) and Dennis the peasant (Michael Palin). Arthur tells Dennis he became king with the Lady of the Lake gave him he sword, Excalibur. Dennis responds, “Listen, strange women lyin' in ponds distributin' swords is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony.” He continues with a complex political argument as Arthur rides away.

 

———————————————————————

 

RUSHMORE

1998

When it comes to my Wes Anderson film experience, Rushmore is my first, and will always have a special place in my heart. I absolutely love the movie, even though The Royal Tenenbaums is probably the better film. The interplay between Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman) and Herman Blume (Bill Murray) in their quest for the love of Rosemary Cross (Olivia Williams) is just beautiful. It’s pure Wes Anderson, and you have to be all in. If he’s not your type of filmmaker, you’d best steer away from them. It’s a Wes Anderson theme — people looking for some kind of happiness, and having to learn to live with, and embrace, who they are. Anderson crafts backstories as wonderful sides, usually backed by wonderful music, generally obscure tracks from well-known artists.

 

BEST MOMENT

When Max finds out that Herman is also pursuing Miss Cross, they embark on a series of events to hurt each other. Max releases bees into Herman’s hotel room. Herman runs over Max’s bicycle. Max tampers with Herman’s car brakes so they won’t work. It ends when Max invites Herman to meet him at the grave of Max’s mother. Max admits that he only wanted to lure Herman there to have a tree fall on him. Max walks away. Herman tells Max that Miss Cross is his “Rushmore” Max turns and says “She was mine, too.” The camera pulls back and shows the tree falling behind Herman.

 

———————————————————————

 

BEST IN SHOW

2000

“This is Spinal Tap” set the bar awfully high for mockumentaries, and “Best in Show” jumped right over it. The Westminster Dog Show had become such an institution and its process so well known, it was ripe for a comedy setup by Christopher Guest and his band. As if the individual stories of the dog owners weren’t good enough, the  commentary by the hilarious Fred Willard as TV host Buck Laughlin  ("And to think that in some countries these dogs are eaten") sends this film into comedy genius. An experienced comedic cast pulls this off masterfully, right down to the two left feet of Gerry Fleck (Eugene Levy) and the running gag about his wife Cookie (Catharine O’Hara).

 

BEST MOMENT

There are tons of running gags, and many one-liners, most from Fred Willard as the host of TV broadcast. For one set piece, I like the Swans and Busy Bee. The Swans are the OCD yuppie owners of Beatrice, a weimaraner, who receives the misdirected affection of their own dysfunctional relationship. When the dog’s favorite toy, Busy Bee, disappears, a frantic search ensues, with over-the-top reactions to the missing toy. Hamilton (Michael Hitchcock) sends Meg (Parker Posey) off to quickly find the toy or a replacement, “Go find Busy Bee! Run!” She searches at the hotel, verbally abusing a manager and maid, then goes to a pet shop, abusing the clerk when they don’t have an exact replacement for Busy Bee. Hamilton, in the meantime, tries to motivate Beatrice. “Don't look at the fat ass losers or freaks, look at me!” During the competition, Beatrice is eventually dismissed after attacking a judge, prompting Buck Laughlin (Willard) to comment: "He went for her like she's made outta ham!"

———————————————————————

BROADCAST NEWS

1987

Smart comedy from director/producer James L. Brooks. Love triangle in the middle of television newsroom with producer Jane Craig (Holly Hunter), reliable reporter Aaron Altman (Albert Brooks) and the good looking but inexperienced anchor Tom Grunick (William Hurt). Jane and Aaron are traditional news people who are disturbed by the trend to favor fluff in the news told by beautiful people, everything that Tom personifies. Jane fights with her affection for Tom versus what she abhors. Brooks gets the best lines as the doormat Aaron.

 

BEST MOMENT

Aaron finally confronts Jane about her budding relationship with Tom, reminding her that he represents all that she has been fighting against — the dumbing-down of news and reliance on style of substance. He even compares Tom to the devil. At the end of his speech, Aaron confesses that he is in love with Jane. He finishes with the best line of the movie. “How do you like that? I buried the lede.”

 

———————————————————————

 

SLAP SHOT

1977

No, this isn’t an award-winning film. The acting isn’t all that great, despite having the legendary Paul Newman. But it’s got the Hansons, and that’s enough. The movie isn’t trying to make some kind of statement about violence in the game, or even about old-time hockey with Toe Blake and Eddie Shore. It’s just fun. It doesn’t have the flat-out goofiness or one-liners of Caddyshack, or the polish of Bull Durham, but it’s got enough to make it a classic. Plus it’s got a few good 70s songs. This isn’t much of a review, but I’m just tryin’ to capture the spirit of the thing.

 

 

BEST MOMENT

Although I like the end with the introduction of the all-goon squad put together to face Newman’s Charlestown Chiefs in the championship game, my favorite is when the Chiefs face Peterborough. During the pregame skate-around, the Hansons start a fight. The scene cuts to the playing of the national anthem. The Hansons, bloodied with broken glasses, are standing at attention. A nervous official keeps looking back at them, then with the anthem still going on, skates over and starts letting the Hansons know he’s not going to go for anymore fighting. Steve (or is it Jeff?) looks down at him and yells, “I’m listening to the f—ing song!”

———————————————————————

 

ON THE WATERFRONT

1954

Just one of the finest films ever made, with one of the best casts ever.  Marlon Brando is brilliant as boxer-turned-mob muscle Terry Malloy with Rod Steiger equally strong as Terry’s brother Charley, who both work for mob union boss Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb). Then there’s Eva Marie Saint (Edie Doyle), looking for justice for her brother who was murdered by Friendly’s thugs, and Karl Malden as the local priest Father Barry, who tries to get the dock workers to testify against Friendly and his gang, only to find no one willing to step up. The film rides Terry’s journey as he tries to decide between continuing to go through life with blinders or to stand up for what is right, and along the way questioning the decisions he’s made in his life, culminating with one of the best final scenes in film.


BEST MOMENT
It’s the classic scene and it gets me every time. It's the scene with Charley and Terry in the back of the car. Charley’s been told he has to kill his own brother to keep him from testifying against mob boss Johnny Friendly. Terry reminds Charley that he has sacrificed what might have been a promising boxing career by taking a dive in a fight to make money for Charley and Johnny. “I coulda been a contender. I could have been somebody, says Terry, “Instead of a bum, which is what I am.” It’s delivered beautifully by Brando. You can feel in his voice and in his face what he has given up and how he regrets the choices he’s made.

———————————————————————

 

HELL OR HIGH WATER

2016

It would be easy to say that 2016’s “Hell or High Water” was influenced by 2007’s “No Country for Old Men.” There are loose comparisons, involving a stark backdrop, a chase of ill-gained money by a western lawman involving intricate details. They both can be categorized as neo-Western. Both tell amazing stories, and pull the viewer into the narrative. Both use outstanding staging, imagery and symbolism for terrific visual effect. The Coen Brothers put their own surreal touch into “No Country.” We’re left with resolution, yet a sense of things unfinished, typical of the Coen style. In “Hell or High Water,” there is superb character development. We become invested in each character. This isn’t the “good guy, bad guy” narrative of old-style westerns, or even in recent heist films. There is a different ethos at work here. It’s not even the simple “Robin Hood” story of good people doing bad things for a good reason. This is a character-driven film where individuals and their own particular moralities are put into opposition, particularly between the bank-robbing Howard brothers (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) and pair of Texas Rangers (Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham) on their trail. In those roles we see the thin line between right and wrong. The brothers are two sides of the same coin, sharing similar circumstances, but with different paths. The two Rangers come from different backgrounds, yet are single-minded in the task ahead. Pine and Bridges give performances that make this one of the top films of the decade.

BEST MOMENT

Two great moments, both taking place in diners. The two Rangers stop into the T-Bone Diner, where they are met by the crusty waitress (Sarah Bowman in a scene-stealing performance), who tells the two exactly what they’ll be having because that’s all they’ve got. In the other scene, the two brothers stop in at a restaurant. Tanner excuses himself and, unbeknownst to Toby, goes across the street to rob the bank, just for fun. In the meantime, Toby talks with the waitress, who tells him of her troubles. Toby, who has been robbing banks to take care of his own financial woes, leaves the waitress a $200 tip as he then realizes what his brother has been up to. It’s a telling look at the personalities of the two brothers.

——————————————————————

UP

2009

I would have chosen “Up” for this list, even if it hadn’t been written and co-directed by my friend, Bob Peterson, who I worked with at the Exponent newspaper at Purdue. At the time, it was only the second animated film to be nominated for the best picture Oscar. It won for best animated feature. Bob crafted a beautiful story with well-developed characters, particularly with the opening act of main character Carl Fredricksen and his life from adventure-seeking child through his life and eventual loss of his beloved Ellie, setting the stage for the adventure to come. The animation in beautiful, and the story appeals on multiple levels, from the simple humor and sight gags for kids to a complex story, dialogue, themes and references for adults (who love the humor and sight gags as well). Bob also gives voice to Dug, the dog, who gets many of the best lines. He has done voice work in several Pixar films, and there’s nothing like sitting around in a living room and having Bob break into any one of his many voices as part of the conversation. There are animated features that are more popular, but none any better than “Up.”

BEST MOMENT

There are some wonderfully funny moments throughout, and many sight gags done with great animation. The scenes at the end where Carl and the innocently-bumbling Russell form their unconventional family is as sweet as can be. But it is hard to top the sequence at the start of Carl and Ellie’s life, with all the smiles and tears that can be had. It’s “pure cinema,” scenes played out without words. It’s one of the most-beautifully done piece of film, regardless of animation or live action

 

——————————————————————

VERTIGO

1958

Jimmy Stewart’s famous animated nightmare sequence, tied with Bernard Herrmann’s incredible score, set this film apart from Hitchcock’s other works. There’s still a lot of Hitch in the story as we become invested in Stewart’s mental spiral and subsequent obsession. Stewart’s nightmare is a bit over the top, but it needs to be to contrast it with the rest of the movie, which in itself seems like one long dream sequence with its odd scenes and flashing colors. Not as physically draining as “The Birds,” as straight-forward chilling as “Psycho,” or as polished as “North by Northwest,” this film does do a lot of things well, and has had a bit of a renaissance recently in the eyes of critics. Kim Novak gives a star turn as Madeleine-turned-Judy-turned Madeleine.


BEST MOMENT
Scottie’s final obsessive transformation of Judy into Madeleine is complete, and she emerges from the glowing green light into Stewart’s view. As the music rises, the woman who he fell in love with but had watched die before his eyes has come back to life.

——————————————————————

O BROTHER,

WHERE ART THOU?

2000

With any Coen Brothers film, the analysis can go on and on about meaning, symbolism, etc. The plot is loosely based on the epic, The Odyssey, complete with a cyclops, sirens, Penelope, Homer and others, with George Clooney in the lead role of (Ulysses) Everett McGill. Great cast, great dialogue, great music featuring the terrific “Man of Constant Sorrow.”

 

BEST MOMENT

The two scenes of the group singing “Man of Constant Sorrow” are wonderful, but that's about the music. It’s had not to be drawn into the sirens scene, with the mesmerizing “Didn’t Leave Nobody But the Baby” (sung by Emmylou Harris, Alison Kraus and Gillian Welch on the soundtrack). It almost happens in slow motion as the three men fall under the sirens’ spell. Then double down when Everett and Delmar wake up thinking Pete has been turned into a toad.

——————————————————————

GOODFELLAS

1990

The two Godfather movies stand alone, but Goodfellas is certainly worthy to be mentioned in the same breath with those classics of mob crime drama. The story of Henry Hill’s (Ray Liotta) rise and fall in a crime family is a wonderful ride. Teamed with Jimmy Conway (Robert DeNiro) and Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci), we are invested in every step. It runs from freewheeling storybook tales of the 50s, through the gritty reality of a drug-fueled 80s. Sure, it’s violent and bloody, but so is the life. Henry’s narration throughout makes for wonderful storytelling.

 

BEST MOMENT

These are the stories behind a few of my favorite works over the years. These are the stories behind a few of my favorite works over the years.These are the stories behind a few of my favorite works over the years.

 

——————————————————————

 

THE GODFATHER

1972

The original and its sequel are both masterpieces, inexorably connected, yet two distinct films with two different stories. The first is the family drama in which the Italian-American crime family could easily be transposed into tales of European royals with a king and his princes and the power they wield in battling with other kingdoms. Performances are legendary, from Marlon Brando as Vito Corleone, the head of the family, to his sons, Sonny (James Caan), Fredo (John Casale) and Michael (Al Pacino), along with consigliere Tom (Robert Duvall).

 

BEST MOMENT

You can’t help but love the line “Leave the gun, take the cannoli,” the toll booth assassination of Sonny, the horse head in the bed scene, the murders of the other dons, or Tessio’s exit. But there is no better scene than  the one where Michael meets Sollozzo and McCluskey at the Italian restaurant. McCluskey has previously broken Michael’s jaw and Sollozzo has tried to murder Vito. The three are there to clear things up. But Michael is there to kill them both, as he retrieves a hidden gun from the bathroom. As Sollozzo talks to Michael in Italian, Michael’s eyes dart back-and-forth. He’s wondering if he can do this. As a train roars by, Michael stands and shoots both. He turns and leaves the restaurant, dropping the gun on the way out.

 

——————————————————————

 

THE GODFATHER, PART II

1974

The only sequel following its original to win an Academy Award, this is the continuation of the Corleone family, but focuses on Michael as he becomes head of the crime organization. Along with Michael’s story is the parallel flashback story of his father Vito’s arrival in America and rise to don, with Robert DeNiro as young Vito. It’s brilliant filmmaking, different than the first, yet a masterpiece on its own. Originally the war hero and soft-spoken “civilian” in the family, Michael had been groomed for a life outside the criminal aspect of the family, but has been pulled in following the deaths of his father and older brother. Michael turns increasing ruthless in his desire to eliminate all of his enemies, real or perceived. In the end, he is alone after killing his remaining brother and becoming estranged from his wife and family

 

BEST MOMENT

There aren’t as many memorable scenes as the first film, many of the best are in the flashback scenes with the young Vito. But my personal favorite is the scene with Michael and Fredo at the New Year’s Eve party in Havana as chaos begins with the Cuban president resigning in the wake of Castro’s uprising. Michael has discovered that Fredo had crossed him in dealing with Johnny Ola, a confidant of Michael’s rival Hyman Roth. With the New Year’s celebration around them, Michael grabs Fredo by the face and kisses him, stating “I know it was you. You broke my heart.” Fredo backs away and stumbles through the streets. Despite later appearing to reconcile with his brother, Michael eventually has Fredo killed while fishing.

 

——————————————————————

 

STALAG 17

1953

A dark comedy about a German prisoner of war camp, the predecessor of Hogan’s Heroes. In this version produced and directed by Billy Wilder, there is also the bumbling Nazi guard Schulz and there are some zany antics, but the overall mood is much more serious, a reminder that this is still war. William Holden is the cynical dealer who openly trades with guards and prisoners alike for any matter of contraband. That puts him at odds with his stalag mates, especially after two of their own were killed trying to escape. Sefton is seen as the stoolie. Eventually, Sefton discovers the real mole in the cabin, exposing him and trading that knowledge for his own escape attempt.

 

BEST MOMENT

There are some light moments, usually involving comic relief antics of the Animal (Robert Strauss) and Harry Shapiro (Harvey Lembeck). The best scene, though, is the climax when Sefton outs Nazi mole Price (Peter Graves) by tricking him into slipping up when he says he remembers Pearl Harbor when he was having dinner at 6 p.m. But that was the time in Berlin, not the United States, when they found out late in the morning.with Price uncovered, the prisoners use him as a diversion to allow Sefton to escape the camp

 

——————————————————————

 

THE SEARCHERS

1956

I’m not a huge fan of Westerns, but this isn’t your typical Western. Sure, there are cowboys and indians in battles, but this one is also a bit of a morality play. Ethan Edwards (John Wayne) is a Confederate soldier returning from war to his brother’s homestead. In a Comanche attack, Ethan’s brother’s family is murdered and his two nieces abducted. Ethan and two others set off to rescue the girls. The search lasts for years. One of the girls is immediately found dead. Later the other, Debbie (Natalie Wood), has assimilated into the Comanche culture and wants to stay. The overtly racist Ethan initially wants to kill her, preferring her dead to being Comanche, but later is somewhat redeemed as he rescues her and takes her back home.

 

BEST MOMENT

Several scenes from The Searchers were copied or adapted into later films, like Star Wars, Taxi Driver, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. A door opening to welcome Ethan home; the door closing on him as he leaves. The burned-out family homestead similar to that when Luke arrives back to his destroyed home in Star Wars. The two scenes were that are important are the one where Ethan would rather kill his own flesh-and-blood than see her live with people he considers subhuman, and the final sequence where he rescues her and decides to return her home. Is he redeemed? He walks away just as he has arrived. We don’t know. After Westerns in general presented Native Americans in such a dim light, this film perhaps tried to make a point. Westerns that followed changed in tone. The influence and analysis of director John Ford’s classic continue.

 

——————————————————————

SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS

1941

Preston Sturges’ satire about Hollywood shallowness and pretentiousness certainly ring through to the current day. In the movie, comedic director John L. Sullivan (Joel McCrea) longs to make his vanity project, a serious drama called “O Brother, Where Art Thou.” (Which would be taken for the title Coen brothers movie.) Sullivan feels it is his duty to produce socially-relevant film that would expose the miserable lives of the country’s poor population. So as to truly understand what it is to live in hopeless poverty, Sullivan vows to head out and live among the them, riding the rails and living hand-to-mouth, accompanied by “The Girl” (Veronica Lake). He’s never far from falling back into his lavish life, but along the way he discovers that people aren’t looking to his films for a deeper meaning, they’re looking at movies for laughter and escape, and decides to go back making comedies as his way of uplifting the downtrodden.


BEST MOMENT

The scene near the end in the black church marks the point where the film that rails against the socially-conscious film actually become a socially-conscious film. At the end of the sermon, the parishioners will get to see a picture show, but they will be welcoming into their flock a group of prisoners. But the pastor reminds his people that they should not make their guests feel unwelcome, but that in the eyes of God that all are equal. That message came at a time when the African-American population was being treated even worse than prisoners in many places across the country. For a movie made in 1941, it was a portrayal of the black population that was rarely seen.  In a screwball comedy about Hollywood vanities, the dramatic moment is one that make the point, and what makes the story such a great one.

———————————————————————

THE CONVERSATION

1974

Released concurrently with the Watergate scandal in 1974, this film built on hidden surveillance and secret recording struck a chord, and it’s a well-done production from Francis Ford Coppola with an outstanding cast led by Gene Hackman as surveillance expert Harry Caul. This psychological thriller is pieced together slowly through Caul’s work covertly filming and recording a couple talking in a park. Caul is a loner who claims to have no concern over what his clients do with the material he provides, but we also learn that beneath his exterior he harbors guilt from a previous job. In his current project, he learns that there may be a plot to commit a murder and he takes steps to try and prevent the act. Along the way, he finds himself the subject of surveillance. The tale unfolds, and Caul finds himself even more isolated than ever before. This as another smart mystery, as the viewer is taken along just as Caul’s character is. Like most smart thrillers, there are no scenes of exposition to completely explain what is happening. It doesn’t insult the audience. Hackman would revive a nearly identical character in 1998’s “Enemy of the State,” which could be considered a continuation of the Harry Caul character.

BEST MOMENT

The murder scene is the most intense and demonstrates Harry's helplessness, but the final scene is the most telling. He has been unable to stop a killing again, and knows there is nothing he can do about it. The surveillance expert is being surveilled himself, and he tears apart his apartment looking for the bugs. A devout Catholic, he at first avoids checking the statue of the Virgin Mary. He ultimately smashes the statue, perhaps as symbol of his lost soul. In the end, he sits in the empty, destroyed room, more alone than ever, resigned to the fate of his decisions.

———————————————————————

LOST IN TRANSLATION

2003

Two tremendously-talented actors perfectly fit in their roles in a wonderful story beautifully shot by Sofia Coppola. I was completely taken in by “Lost in Translation,” a film showcasing all kinds of contrasts, from light and dark, color vs drabness, quiet vs chaos. There’s no bigger contrast than an aging star in Murray (Bob) striking up an unlikely friendship with an 18-year-old Scarlett Johansson (Charlotte) against the completely foreign backdrop of Japan, where both are suffering from insomnia while unable to adjust to the time difference. But they are also lost in many other ways, and we see these unfold throughout the movie. The pace and feel of the film really pulls you in. The slow, quiet times create the sense of isolation  and loneliness, while the scenes of Tokyo nightlife happen at a frenzied pace. In the middle is this connection between these two lost people. We’re not really sure what the relationship is, and that creates a wonderful tension, if that’s what it could be called. That carries all the way through the movie, and even into the ending. The two lead actors carry the film wonderfully. While playing a 25-year-old, we forget that she is just 18 when this was made, yet she provides an amazingly deep performance. We’ve become enamored with this incarnation from Murray, who continues to pull in the outrageousness of his earlier work, yet retain his just-on-the edge humor and irreverence.

BEST MOMENT

The literal “lost in translation” moment comes when Murray is filming a Japanese whiskey commercial, and the director is working through a translator to let Murray know what he is looking for. After the long explanation from the director, the translator gives an extremely truncated translation. “Is that all he said?” says Murray. Then there are the little things. At the end of karaoke, when Bob and Charlotte are just sitting quietly next to each other, she just drops her head onto his shoulder. No words. Then the time they are in the bed, in opposition, just talking. It’s almost just chit-chat, but the view, their positions, the pace, all tell more. There are many of those moments — little sweet gestures — that suggest a different level of relationship than for two people of different ages and worlds who have only just come together. But, of course, the best moment is at the end (spoiler alert), when Bob is leaving, but finds Charlotte for one last time, pulls her close to him, and whispers something to her on the noisy, busy street. We are only allowed to guess what he says to her. Many have speculated, but that’s not the point. It’s up to us to think what he would say. That makes it our own personal story overlaid on top of what we interpret the relationship is between Bob and Charlotte.

———————————————————————

FARGO

1996

Arguably the most acclaimed film from the Coen Brothers, it earned Frances McDormand a Best Actress Oscar in 1996 for her role as the pregnant police chief Marge Gunderson. Car dealer Jerry Lundegaard’s need to raise cash for a never-disclosed reason sets the events in motion around three set pieces - Lundegaard and his family, the two murdering kidnappers hired to snatch Lundegaard’s wife, and the investigation into the murders by Gunderson.  From the real story that really isn’t a real story, to the “Ya, you betcha” Minnesota accent detail, there is a great depth and richness to this film that sets it apart.


BEST MOMENT

Of course, it has its odd moments, including a scene with Marge and her high school classmate Mike Yanagita, the interrogation of the two prostitutes (“Go Bears”). There’s a Coen Brothers touch where Marge and her husband, Norm, are only seen in scenes together when they are in bed or eating. They told me to call it in, so I called it in. End of story. Oh, the prowler needs a jump. Then, of course, there’s the wood-chipper.

 

——————————————————————

 

ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN

1976

This has it all — mystery, intrigue, politics, history, newspapers. What else could I ask? Oh, yeah. It's also true. The story is so well-known that the movie should have lost its luster many years ago. But I love how it shows the inner workings of the daily newspaper. Of course, Redford and Hoffman are great as Woodward and Bernstein. (I met Bob Woodward when he was in Huntington in 1988 working on a piece about Dan Quayle). The best performance comes from Jason Robards as Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee. With journalism under fire and newspaper struggling even to survive these days, this film is a necessary watch not only for nostalgia's sake, but also to remind me that  the work of reporting and for journalists to hold government officials accountable must survive.

 

BEST MOMENT

Woodward and Bernstein are about to break their biggest story to that point, and Bradlee is talking to them, wondering whether he can trust their sources. "I can't do the reporting for my reporters, which means I have to trust them. And I hate trusting anybody. Run that baby." Bradlee walks off, taps the desk, knowing the Post has pulled off a huge scoop.

——————————————————————

HOOSIERS

1986

Indiana-raised or not, Hoosiers has to be at the top of any sports movie list. OK, some baseball people might say Field of Dreams, but that fight is for another day. It may seem a bit hokey, but basketball in a small town often is like this. The love story between Coach Dale (Gene Hackman) and Myra Fleener (Barbara Hershey) is a little forced, of course. It’s about the basketball, though, and coming together as a team. The players were actual Indiana high schoolers, including Warsaw’s Steve Hollar as Raif. (His dad was once my dentist) Does Jimmy make the last shot to win the championship? He sure does. Does it bring a lump to your throat every time? Yep. No apologies. Welcome to Indiana basketball.

 

BEST MOMENT

The title scene of Coach Dale driving past the cornfields and basketball rims, and the final scene in the Hoosier Gym which pans to the team photo are beautiful. Coach Dale walking out into his first game is familiar (“Welcome to Indiana basketball”), as anyone who has been to an Indiana high school game knows. I had an opportunity to spend some time in the Hoosier Gym, and have made that walk. Two other scenes stand out. The first is when the team arrives at Hinkle Fieldhouse ad they are in awe of its size. Coach dale has them measure the height of the basket and distance to the free throw line to show them it is the same as their gym at home. The other scene is the famous “Picket Fence” scene in which assistant coach Shooter (Dennis Hopper) devises the game-winning play. Don’t get caught watching the paint dry.

 

——————————————————————

 

THE THIRD MAN

1949

This is film noir, but the British, not American style. There is a difference. Set in bleak, shattered post-war Vienna, struggling author of Westerns Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten) arrives with a job offer from his friend, Harry Lime. But when he gets to the hotel, he finds out Lime has been killed in a car accident. He decides he will head back home, but meets some of Lime’s friends to investigate the strange circumstances of his death. He eventually finds Lime (Orson Welles) alive and learns he is selling diluted penicillin on the black market, resulting in many deaths. The film is marked by its stark, artistic cinematography and scenes depicting the bleak bombed-out city under multinational control. Also distinctive is the soundtrack of zither music by Anton Karas.

 

BEST MOMENT

Martins meets Lime at the famous Vienna ferris wheel, Wiener Riesenrad. Originally planning to kill Martins from atop the wheel for uncovering him, Lime relents when Martins tells him he let the police know Lime was alive. Lime goes into a soliloquy showing how little regard he has for people, comparing them to the insects they look like from the height they are. He offers no remorse or sympathy for those he has killed with his black market drugs, confirming his complete lack of morality. He is a dark heart living in the bowels of a dark city.

 

——————————————————————

 

BEING THERE

1979

In his last role, Peter Sellers is masterful in the role of Chance, a simple-minded man who has lived his entire life working as a gardener for a wealthy old man. He has never been outside the walls of the building, and all he knows of the world is from watching television. When the old man dies, Chance is turned outside for the first time. Through a series of events, his name is mistaken as Chauncey Gardiner, and he gains access to the most powerful of people, including the president, who take his simple, literal speech as metaphors for broader topics like economics, politics, international relations, sex and love.

 

BEST MOMENT

Much has been discussed about the final scene of the movie and its meaning. There are also several light comedic moments. But the best is the penultimate scene where pallbearers carrying the body of wealthy businessman and presidential confidant Benjamin Rand. They are clearly the most powerful men in the country, and they are discussing who they should support as a candidate in the next presidential election. Their choice is clear — Chauncey Gardiner.

 

——————————————————————

 

NETWORK

1976

Paddy Cheyefsky’s satire about television was amazingly prescient for what it predicted about the way we see entertainment and information presented to us. Three Academy Award acting wins for Peter Finch, Faye Dunaway and Beatrice Straight, and two more nominations for Williams Holden and Ned Beatty. Finch plays Howard Beale, a network news anchor who has a mental break and goes on a rant on-air. His ratings spike, so he is given his own show, as the news department is placed under the entertainment division. The film foresees reality television, selfies, tabloid TV and bloviating opinion-makers.

 

BEST MOMENT

The most famous scene is the rant by Beale when he tells people to get up and open their windows and scream “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!” But in a satire, the most satirical scene is where the domestic terrorist organization, the Ecumenical Liberation Army, is in the hideout negotiating financial terms of their contract with the network lawyers over their show, “The Mao Tse Tung Hour.”

 

——————————————————————

 

KING KONG

1933

When I first saw the original King Kong, it scared the hell out of me. I’ve had nightmares ever since. The thought of Kong looking in the window in the middle of the night is enough to send me into a cold sweat. Initially, I lumped the monster movie in with others I was watching at the time, like the Godzilla films and bad 50s creature features. As I got older, I understand what a cinematic achievement it was for 1933 in terms of Willis O’Brien’s stop-motion animation. It’s also a great beauty-and-the-beast story that had been told before and since, but never is such a way as this. It made Fay Wray a star as the first scream queen.

 

BEST MOMENT

The acting is a bit over the top by today’s standards, but it matches the hugeness of the film. Paying filmmaker Carl Denham, Robert Armstrong has several huge moments to get the audience going. The first is the tale he tells Fay Wary to get her to go on the exotic trip and plays his female lead in his next movie. But ever the showman, Denham is at his best after knocking out Kong with gas bombs, realizing what he has on his hands. “We'll give him more than chains. He's always been king of his world, but we'll teach him fear. We're millionaires, boys. I'll share it with all of you. Why, in a few months, it'll be up in lights on Broadway: Kong, the Eighth Wonder of the World.”

 

——————————————————————

 

THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE

1962

The Cold War produced a number of outstanding films, made off the growing anxieties of global tensions. Many were built around potential nuclear conflict, but The Manchurian Candidate seems much more chilling as a psychological thriller where a presumed war hero Raymond Shaw has actually been brainwashed to be an assassin as part of a larger plot of a subversive takeover of the American government by a Soviet/Chinese coalition. Angela Lansbury, who is normally known for kindly matronly roles, is chilling in her role as the undercover Soviet operative and handler for her son Raymond, the brainwashed hero-made-assassin. Frank Sinatra plays a member of Shaw’s company who was also brainwashed, but has broken through and must get through to Shaw before his final mission. 

 

BEST MOMENT

Lansbury’s Eleanor Iselin, wife of the vice presidential nominee, reveals to her son, Raymond, what his final mission will be - to assassinate the presidential nominee so the VP candidate can step in and deliver a stirring speech and sweep into power. The reveal is uncomfortable both for its cold calculation and in Lansbury’s delivery as she shows that she is devoted operative, yet part of her is still a mother, albeit with an incestual hint as she first kisses her son on the forehead and then on the lips in an overly-lingering embrace. The film was released in 1962 and virtually disappeared after the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963, resurfacing in 1988 and finally recognized for its cinematic brilliance.

 

——————————————————————

 

BLADE RUNNER

1982

Growing up a science fiction geek, I’m pretty discerning when it comes to the genre. Star Wars and Empire Strikes Back are the best of that series, with the new Rogue One ranking very high. The Alien series also broke new ground, Terminator was great, Metropolis amazing, and as far as recent films, I like Interstellar and The Martian. But two movies set themselves apart, Blade Runner and 2001:A Space Odyssey.  Up to this film, movies about the future looked bright and crisp, with a lot of glass and shiny chrome and everyone wearing jumpsuits. Blade Runner (The Director’s Cut) was gloomy and dark, a gritty, dystopian landscape, and touched on deeper themes of morality, memories and meaning of life.

 

BEST MOMENT

The genetically-engineered “replicant” Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) has escaped from off world to find their creator and extend their lives, which have been engineered to last four years. Deckard (Harrison Ford) has been charged with killing (or “retiring”) Batty and his group. The most famous scene is when Batty, in his final moments of life, laments that the memories of what he has experienced will be lost, like “tears in the rain.” The more telling scene, though, is when Batty finds his creator, returning as a prodigal son. He finds out that he cannot have his life extended. Batty confesses his horrible acts and is given absolution from the creator, his father, his god. In a familiar theme, the creation kills its creator, becoming the new god.

———————————————————————

NO COUNTRY

FOR OLD MEN

2007

The Coens had produced an Oscar for Frances McDormand in her role in “Fargo,” but it wasn’t until “No Country for Old Men” that they reached the pinnacle themselves with a Best Picture Academy Award. Although had produced dramas earlier with “Blood Simple” and “Miller’s Crossing,” they had built their reputations on straightforward comedies or at least dramas with a dark comedy element within them. Javier Bardem is beyond chilling with his portrayal of the cold-blooded killer Anton Chigurh. Tommy Lee Jones is perfectly cast as sheriff Ed Tom Bell, and Josh Brolin plays Llewelyn Moss who accidentally finds himself on the run, in the middle. Like 2016’s “Hell or High Water,” it’s not so much about the money or the chase. It’s about the three men, how they deal with people and situations, and the randomness of life. The random element is demonstrated in most basic form as the hair-impaired Chigurh’s callous flip of a coin decides who lives and who dies. Everyman Moss has moral struggle with running off with money as he randomly stumbles onto a drug deal gone bad. The lawful Bell maintains his stoic compassion which sounds uncaring, but which conveys a lifetime of seeing lives lost, seemingly at random, and his inability to save them. It's also three takes on morality, from the choices Moss wrestles with to Chigurh's coin flip seemingly removing his responsibility for his killings to the "fate" of the coin, and the moral Bell's futile fight against immorality. This is not “Fargo,” but there are similar themes. Yes, it is bloody, and at times darkly humorous. It is not wrapped up in a simple package. It certainly has the Coen’s smartly-written dialogue with pace and rhythm, the subtle and not-so-subtle symbolism, and it is beautifully shot by frequent Coen collaborator Roger Deakins. The movie plods along, like a low-speed “Terminator” as Chigurh always tracks down what he is looking for, leaving a trail of bodies in his wake. The pace is intentional; it's meant to be relentless with the idea that you can never be comfortable or let down your guard. The random factor continues all the way through the finish, even catching up with the single-minded Chigurh.

BEST MOMENT

There are several fabulous scenes, including a pair of encounters with Chigurh, one by Woody Harrelson, whose character is also chasing the money, and Moss's wife, Carla Jean. Both try in their own ways, to dissuade Chigurh from his murderous trail, only to fail. But a more telling moment occurs when Sherif Bell enters the Moss trailer just moments after Chigurh was there. He drinks form the same milk bottle. He sees his reflection in the television, just as Chigurh had earlier. The scene cement the connection between the two — two sides of the same coin, relentless in their particular pursuits.

 

———————————————————————

2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY

1968

Since the earliest days of movies, filmmakers have been producing science fiction, including their takes on travel into space. Before the first rockets left the Earth, there was no frame of reference for those making the films, so it was left to the imagination what space travel would be like, including the equipment. Looking back, many look campy or silly. Even a serious attempt, such at “Forbidden Planet,” almost seem silly. It wasn’t until 1968, a full year before Man landed on the moon, and a decade before “Star Wars,” that Stanley Kubrick unveiled “2001: A Space Odyssey” did the genre take a quantum leap. Fifty years later, the film can still stand up in terms of its look and technology. The attention to detail and the level of realism drove the conspiracy theory that Kubrick was instrumental in faking the actual moon landing in 1969. But beyond the look ad feel, there’s more going on with the story in “2001,” based on the book by Arthur C. Clarke. Starting with the “Dawn of Man” sequence in which the first 20 minutes of the film has no spoken words, much is left to the interpretation of the viewer in terms of the meaning of time, human life, alien life, artificial intelligence, birth, death, humanity and afterlife. Even with the ability of computers to create other worlds and enhanced realism of space travel, it is the collaboration of Kubrick and Clarke on the storytelling that still separates “2001” from all the rest.


BEST MOMENT

In the early sequence, there is the scene where the early relatives of man realizes that a tool that can kill for food could also be used as a weapon of power, perhaps crossing the threshold from beast to man. There is the scene on the moon where astronauts who have discovered the black monolith gather around it in a similar fashion as the early ape-men. Then, of course, there is the final sequence of events in which astronaut Dave Bowman is pulled into an area of strange light and landscapes, eventually appearing in some kind of room where he sees himself at various ages. Again, interpretation is up to the viewer. But perhaps the most telling scene is where Bowman and fellow astronaut Frank Poole take to a soundproof pod to discuss a situation concerning the possible disconnection of the malfunctioning HAL computer that runs their ship. The astronauts think HAL cannot hear them, but we see that the computer has the ability to read lips. HAL, who has been programmed with human characteristics to be able to converse with astronauts in a human fashion, then shows its desire for self-preservation, a distinctly human trait, indicating that HAL may have cross its own threshold from machine to intelligent being.

———————————————————————

REAR WINDOW
1954
Played out in a single voyeuristic tapestry, Hitchcock again taps into a certain amount of viewer discomfort as Jimmy Stewart’s temporarily-disabled Jeff has only the windows of his neighbors for entertainment, and his imagination to create dysfunctional stories about each of them, from simple loneliness to a potential murder. Those are all played off against his own relationship with the Grace Kelly’s Lisa, a fashion-industry insider whose New York career clashes with the globe-trotting grind of Jeff’s photographer lifestyle. When Jeff’s fantasy stories about the neighbors becomes reality, he is physically unable to react, just as we the viewers are only able to sit and watch, unable to intervene. As a sidenote, this movie displays the incredible beauty of Grace Kelly. There may not be any more beautiful and elegant woman in any film than the way Kelly appears in this movie.

BEST MOMENT
With the wheelchair-bound Jeff watching through his camera across the courtyard, he sees Lisa caught by Thorwald (Raymond Burr). The police arrive to save Jeff’s girlfriend, but at the same time, she is signaling Jeff that she has the evidence to prove Thorwald murdered his wife. Thorwald sees what she is doing, and slowly looks up and stared across at Jeff. He knows Thorwald will be coming for him. It’s a chilling look

———————————————————————