Wednesday, April 22, 2015

My 150 Favorite Movies - #37

Sullivan's Travels (1941)

Each Saturday night, Robert Osborne of Turner Classic Movies has a discussion with a guest programmer on which they show and discuss a movie considered "essential." Well, by any definition, Sullivan's Travels is an "essential" movie. Hugely influential (see O Brother, Where Art Thou and Stardust Memories for two prime examples), it never fails to be both entertaining and moving. The plot concerns Sullivan, a filmmaker who is no longer interested in making comedies as he feels it is more important to show the suffering of humanity. To that end, he hits the road embarking on life as a hobo, and gets more than he bargained for in terms of suffering. By the end of the movie, all is resolved, and our hero sees that in life sometimes the most important thing we have is laughter. Directed by Preston Sturges, and starring Joel McCrea, and Veronica Lake (who was six months pregnant at the start of filming), this film is one for the ages.

Monday, April 13, 2015

My 150 Favorite Movies - #38

The Big Lebowski (1998)

The Coen brothers already had a cult following before the release of The Big Lebowski, but their careers arguably went to a whole new level of cool afterwards. Jeff Bridges, who forever after has been referred to as "The Dude," gave a comic performance for the ages, as a restless slacker who gets caught up in an identity scam leveled at him by some very dicey, if wealthy, people, resulting from the bad fortune of sharing someone's name. John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, John Turturro, Julianne Moore, and Philip Seymour Hoffman are among the colorful characters populating this slightly skewed world.

Monday, March 30, 2015

My 150 Favorite Movies - #39

Ghost World (2001)

Based on the graphic novel by Daniel Clowes, the screenplay was cowritten by Clowes and director Terry Zwigoff, who also directed Crumb.  The plot concerns two misfits, best friends who are recently graduated from high school, and the middle-aged loner that one of them befriends. A quirky movie that is at times difficult to love, but nevertheless reaps emotional rewards if you stick with it. Ably acted by Thora Birch, Scarlett Johannson and Steve Buscemi, it fared much better with critics than at the box office. I entirely agree with Roger Ebert's assessment: "I wanted to hug this movie. It takes such a risky journey and never steps wrong. It creates specific, original, believable, lovable characters, and meanders with them through their inconsolable days, never losing its sense of humor."

Sunday, March 08, 2015

My 150 Favorite Movies - #40

The Asphalt Jungle (1950)

One of the most influential examples of film noir of the 1950's, The Asphalt Jungle is a perfect example of my favorite subgenre, the caper film. Directed by John Huston, the plot revolves around a small gang of thieves attempting to pull of a million dollar jewelry heist. As per usual, with this kind of film, things go awry. Starring a uniformly excellent cast, including Sterling Hayden, Louis Calhern, Sam Jaffe, Jean Hagen, and Marilyn Monroe in a small but memorable part, this is a film to treasure. Huston won Best Director that year from the National Board of Review, and in 2008 the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

My 150 Favorite Movies - #41

The Maltese Falcon (1941)

The directorial debut of John Huston, The Maltese Falcon is quintessential film noir at it's noirest. The plot, based on a novel by Dashiell Hammett, concerns a San Francisco private detective searching for the killer of his dead partner, and his dealings with various unscrupulous characters who are all bent on obtaining a priceless statue of a bird. An all-star cast of character actors led by Humphrey Bogart in the lead, includes Sydney Greenstreet (making his film debut), Peter Lorre and Mary Astor as the requisite femme fatale. Chock-full of quotable lines, including "keep on riding me and they're gonna be picking iron out of your liver," "when you're slapped you'll take it and like it," "the stuff that dreams are made of," and my favorite: "I'm a man who likes talking to a man who likes to talk."

Thursday, February 12, 2015

My 150 Favorite Movies - #42

The Ice Storm (1997)

This wonderfully dramatic film feels like a really good novel, in fact, it is based on the novel of the same name, by Rick Moody. Based in the 1970's, it tells the story of suburban Connecticut families dealing with angst-ridden teens, and dysfunctional adults. Directed by Ang Lee, the stars are A++ caliber: Joan Allen, Kevin Kline and Sigourney Weaver as the adults, Christina Ricci, Elijah Wood, Tobey Maguire and Adam Hann-Byrd as the kids in the story. Hands down, one of the best films about the seventies, as well as one of the best films of the nineties, period.

Friday, January 30, 2015

My 150 Favorite Movies - #43

Theodora Goes Wild (1936)

Irene Dunne stars as a small-town librarian/Sunday School teacher living with her maiden aunts in New England who is also the pseudonymous author of a racy best-selling novel. Melvyn Douglas is her book's big city illustrator. Complications ensue when he follows her home. Released just two years after the Hays Code, this screwball comedy is much more progressive than what was generally viewed of as wholesome fare at that time. Dunne's first comedy, of many, she earned herself an Academy Award nomination, and entered a new phase of her career.