Sunday, December 07, 2014

My 150 Favorite Movies - #48

Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)

Woody Allen has directed so many great movies, that it's difficult to pick just one. So here's another one: Hannah and Her Sisters, in which Woody directed Michael Caine in his first ever Oscar-winning role. The plot is a bit complex, but it takes place between two Thanksgiving, as we witness one family's dynamic, mainly centering around Hannah, played by Mia Farrow, and her two sisters, Lee (Barbara Hershey), and Holly (Dianne Wiest, another Oscar winner), and their various domestic dramas. Suffice to say there's  a lot of comedy, mixed in with all the drama, mainly relating to Woody's character, who's a suicidal hypochondriac (yes, it IS funny!) Maureen O'Sullivan, Farrow's real-life mother, plays her mother in this movie, and gets some of the best lines, including one of my all-time favorites: "this haircut that passes for a man!"

Sunday, November 30, 2014

My 150 Favorite Movies - #49

The Grifters (1990)

Annette Bening made a big splash early on in her cinematic career with The Grifters, a terrifically creepy neo-noir directed by Stephen Frears, with a screenplay by Donald E. Westlake, based on the novel by Jim Thompson. Everyone brings their a-game, including Anjelica Huston and John Cusack, as mother and son con artists. The film was nominated for a number of Academy Awards, and won Best Feature at the Independent Spirit Awards.

Friday, November 14, 2014

My 150 Favorite Movies - #50

Wonder Boys (2000)

With a supporting cast that includes Frances McDormand and Robert Downey Jr., and a soundtrack that prominently features Bob Dylan, is it any wonder that Wonder Boys tickles my fancy? Michael Douglas stars as an English Professor who's blocked on completing his second novel, years after making a major splash with his first, and Tobey Maguire costars as one of his students who may just best him in the novel writing department. One of the best movies ever made about campus politics, it was filmed in Pittsburgh, in and around the Carnegie Mellon campus. Written by Steve Kloves, directed by Curtis Hanson, and based on a novel by Michael Chabon, this is one movie with an impeccable pedigree. Not to be missed.

Monday, November 03, 2014

My 150 Favorite Movies - #51

Chicago (2002)

The first musical to win the Best Picture Oscar since Oliver! in 1969, Chicago is based on the famed Broadway musical of 1975, which in turn was based on a non-musical play first produced in 1926. The story had also been filmed before, as Roxie Hart, starring Ginger Rogers. The story takes place in 1920's Chicago, as two murderesses find themselves in jail together, and fight to hang on to fame, and hopefully, their lives.The cast of Chicago is universally excellent, with Richard Gere as smooth-talking attorney Billy Flynn, Renee Zellweger as Roxie, John C. Reilly as her hapless husband, Queen Latifah as corrupt prison matron, "Mama" Morton, and by far, the real standout, Catherine Zeta-Jones as Velma Kelly, who went on to win the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. The score, by John Kander and Fred Ebb, has a number of outstanding songs, particularly All That Jazz, famously originally choreographed by Bob Fosse, and later used as the title of his biopic. Innovative, energetic and effervescent, Chicago is well worth watching on any screen, big and small, that you are lucky enough to catch it on.

Friday, October 31, 2014

My 150 Favorite Movies - #52

The Band Wagon (1953)

Unlike some who feel that Singin' in the Rain is the ne plus ultra of 50's MGM musicals, to me The Band Wagon takes top prize. Besides the fact that it stars Fred Astaire, Jack Buchanan, Cyd Charisse, Oscar Levant and Nanette Fabray, the score by Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz soars, and the show itself, written by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, has an inside showbiz irreverence that still zings. Among the now classic musical numbers are included, "I Guess I'll Have to Change My Plan," "By Myself," and "That's Entertainment!," a number specifically written for the movie.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

My 150 Favorite Movies - #53

The Godfather (1972)/The Godfather, Part II (1974)

Since I consider The Godfather and The Godfather Part II of a piece, (it was even reedited in chronological order, with deleted scenes redacted and re-released as a boxed set under the title The Godfather Epic), I am lumping them together under one number. Two of the greatest movies ever made, The Godfather, and II, respectively, made massive stars out of Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, James Caan, and Robert Duvall, among others, as well as providing a mid-career resuscitation to waning superstar Marlon Brando. Based on the novel of the same name by Mario Puzo, and directed by Francis Ford Coppola, these films tell the story of an Italian-American crime family headed by Vito Corleone, played by Brando. Universally regarded as masterpieces, both films won Oscars for Best Picture, and also Oscars for Best Actor (Brando), Best Supporting Actor (De Niro, Part II), and Best Director (Coppola, for Part II).

Thursday, October 16, 2014

My 150 Favorite Movies - #54

His Girl Friday (1940)

The rat-a-tat dialogue delivered by Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday is enough to send shivers down one's spine. Based on the play The Front Page by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, originally produced on Broadway in 1928, the story concerns a police reporter, leaving the paper to get a respectable job and settle down, only to get caught up in a big criminal case. The newspaper's editor would do anything to have the reporter stay with the paper. The 1940 film version made the reporter a woman and added a romantic angle. One of the first films, if not the first film to have characters talking over each other in overlapping dialogue, His Girl Friday is a prime example of American screwball comedy, and was voted #10 in Total Film's 100 Greatest Films of All Time. In 1993 it was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.