Sullivan's Travels (1941)
Tired of churning out crowd-pleasing comedies such as Ants in Your Plants of 1939, director John Sullivan (Joel McCrea) vows to make an important movie about economic injustice and class struggle. Unfortunately for him, his only brush with poverty is the first of every month when he mails an alimony check to his ex-wife. So he and a down-on-her-luck Veronica Lake set off on a cross-country adventure to learn what's-what. The result is the best comedy of Preston Sturges's illustrious career.
"What do they know in Pittsburgh?"
"They know what they like."
"If they knew what they liked, they wouldn’t live in Pittsburgh."
Everyone is ready for Guido (Marcello Mastroanni) to direct another hit movie — the cast, the crew, the press, the studio, his wife, his mistress, his other mistress. Everyone except Guido, that is. He thinks and thinks, and hasn't got an idea left in his overstuffed head. My favorite Fellini film, chock full of those crazy visuals (a man floating through the sky like a balloon, anyone?) that make Fellini so much nutty fun.
"I don't understand. He meets a girl that can give him a new life and he pushes her away?"
"Because he no longer believes in it."
"Because he doesn't know how to love."
"Because it isn't true that a woman can change a man."
"Because he doesn't know how to love."
"And above all because I don't feel like telling another pile of lies."
"Because he doesn't know how to love."
Stardust Memories (1980)
By 1980, Woody Allen was sick of making funny movies, sick of a public that only liked funny movies, and above all, sick of a universe that only makes sense as the punchline of some sort of decidedly-unfunny, existential joke — so, of course, he made a comedy about it. The critics blasted Stardust Memories in its initial release but its stature has grown over the years. Or anyway, I like it, which is all that really counts, right?
"But shouldn't I stop making movies and do something that counts, like-like helping blind people or becoming a missionary or something?"
"Let me tell you, you're not the missionary type. You'd never last. And-and incidentally, you're also not Superman; you're a comedian. You want to do mankind a real service? Tell funnier jokes."
The Simpsons "Krusty Gets Busted" (Season One, Episode 12) (1990)
Laughs are all well and good but what about poetry, what about literature, what about not getting another pie thrown in your face? Sideshow Bob (the voice of Kelsey Grammer) is fed up and he frames his boss Krusty the Clown, takes over the show and talks to the kids about feelings and philosophy and crap like that. Probably the best episode of The Simpsons first season, way back when the show was actually funny.
"Yes I admit it, I hated him. His hackneyed shenanigans robbed me of my dignity for years. I played the buffoon, while he squandered a fortune on his vulgar appetites. That's why I framed Krusty. I would've gotten away with it too if it weren't for these meddling kids."
"Take him away boys."
"Treat kids like equals, they're people too. They're smarter than what you think! They were smart enough to catch me!"
Top Five (2014)
Comedian Andre Allen (Chris Rock) doesn't feel funny anymore, and who can blame him — his movie's a flop, his love life is a TV show, his relatives have their hands out, and his fans just want him to put the bear costume back on. But, hey, at least his day can't get any worse. Right? Raunchy, hilarious and a pretty biting send-up of modern culture, Top Five was last year's most overlooked comedy.
"You coming to the party right?"
"Some people got to work. I'll tell you what — I'll come to your next bachelor party."
"That's not funny, man."
"Tell me somethin' — your next wife, she gonna be white or she gonna be Asian?"
"It's still not funny, man."
"Oh, it's only funny when you say mean shit. Right?"
Today is my brother's birthday. Happy birthday, brother.
That's him on the left, me on the right. The father of our country, George, is in the middle.
My brother's birthday always makes me think of the conversational gambit, What's the best concert you ever saw? I've seen the Who, Paul McCartney, the Sex Pistols, my good friend Mister Muleboy. Others have seen Bruce Springsteen, Elton John in his prime, or even, I suppose, Taylor Swift.
My brother? He saw the Beatles.
Talk about conversation stoppers. Frankly, I don't care who you've seen, unless you were serving hors d'oeuvres at the Last Supper, you're competing for second place.
He saw them fifty years ago today, no less, on his nineteenth birthday. What a birthday. And the internet being what it is, here's the audio of that concert. Have a listen.
Matt St. Clair over at Film Guy Reviews is hosting the Oscar Re-Do Blogathon this month. I just happened to find out about it and although I haven't been blogging lately (writing, yes; blogging, no), I thought I'd promote Matt's blog with a little alternate Oscar madness of my own.
I've said it before (here) but I'll say it again, the Academy has screwed up a lot of years but none more so than 1933. Top to bottom, they made a mess of it. Let's fix it.
So, 10 best picture nominees that were initially released in their country of origin in the calendar year 1933. My poll, my nominees. I could easily have picked ten others — it was that good a year.
The great Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule is featuring another of his famous movie quizzes. Click here to check it out, scroll down to read my responses.
MS ELIZABETH HALSEY'S ROTTEN APPLE, HOT FOR (BAD) TEACHER SUMMER MOVIE QUIZ
1) Name a line from a movie that should've become a catch phrase but didn't
"I'm not saying we wouldn't get our hair mussed. But I do say no more than ten to twenty million killed, tops. Uh, depending on the breaks."
Not exactly a catch phrase, but it's the answer to many of life's more difficult questions.
2) Your second favorite William Wellman film
My favorite is Battleground, one of the best war movies ever made. And while he made great movies such as The Ox-Bow Incident and The Public Enemy, my second favorite William Wellman movie is Wings, the silent Oscar winner starring Clara Bow and a bunch of airplanes.
3) Viggo Mortensen or Javier Bardem?
Like them both, but I think Javier Bardem is a national treasure.
4) Favorite first line from a movie
"Saigon. Shit. I'm still only in Saigon."
5) The most disappointing/superfluous “director’s cut” or otherwise extended edition of a movie you’ve seen?
Everything George Lucas has ever done to Star Wars
6) What is the movie you feel was most enhanced by a variant version?
Possibly Orson Welles' Touch of Evil. But what I really want is a Blu-Ray with all five versions of TV's Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.
7) Eve Arden or Una Merkel?
Eve Arden and it's not close. Una Merkel's appeal baffles me.
8) What was the last DVD/Blu-ray/streaming film you saw? The last theatrical screening?
DVD? Season one of television's Lost in Space. Streaming? Amazon Prime's series Bosch. Theatrical? The Imitation Game
9) Second favorite Michael Mann film Thief (my favorite being The Last of the Mohicans)
10) Name a favorite director’s most egregious misstep
Even though it grossed more money than any movie of the silent era, established once and for all the commercial and artistic viability of the feature film, and influenced everything that came after it, I consider the second half of D.W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation the most blinkered, ill-conceived and pernicious piece of film ever made. And not just through the politically-correct lenses of 21st century glasses, at the time, too, when it was considered so inflammatory, it was banned outright in several U.S. cities. (I've written at length about it here.)
11) Alain Delon or Marcello Mastroianni?
Marcello Mastroianni, for 8½ and La Dolce Vita.
12) Jean-Luc Godard famously stated that “all you need for a movie is a girl and a gun.” Name one other essential element that you’d add to the mix.
13) Favorite one-sheet that you own, or just your favorite one-sheet (please provide a link to an image if you can)
Only one sheet I own is of Key Largo, which I bought in a bookstore in Key Largo, Florida, twenty-five years ago.
14) Catherine Spaak or Daniela Giordano?
Honestly, I have no idea who either of these people are.
15) Director who most readily makes you think “Whatever happened to…?”
Pete Wilson, whose student film Das Volkswagen featured a supporting performance by the Mythical Monkey
16) Now that some time has passed… The Interview, yes or no?
Haven't seen it, nor am I likely to see it, for no other reason than that it looks stupid, and not in a fun way.
17) Second favorite Alberto Cavalcanti film
18) Though both displayed strong documentary influence in their early films, Wim Wenders and Werner Herzog have focused heavily on the documentary form late in their filmmaking careers. If he had lived, what kind of films do you think Rainer Werner Fassbinder, their partner in the German New Wave of the ‘70s, would be making now?
Selfies on his phone? I have no idea. But it would be a rare director indeed who would be making better movies in his seventies than he made in his thirties. It's a young-ish man's (woman's) medium.
19) Name a DVD you’ve replaced with a Blu-ray. Name another that you decided not to replace.
Replaced DVD with a Blu-Ray? Citizen Kane. Didn't replace? About 800 others.
20) Don Rickles or Rodney Dangerfield?
Going to see Rickles in New York in two weeks. That's what, twelve times? I've even been personally insulted by Rickles. Rickles Rickles Rickles.
Although let's be honest, he can't act a lick.
21) Director who you wish would hurry up and make another film
22) Second favorite Michael Bay film
Do people honest to God have a favorite Michael Bay film?
23) Name a movie that, for whatever reason, you think of as your own
I love lots of movies, I identify with many of them, I can quote some of them from beginning to end. But I don't think of any of them as "mine." I've never understood the tendency of some fans to become proprietary about the object of their admiration, throwing sharp elbows to keep newcomers at bay. I am a movie evangelist. Come one, come all!
24) Your favorite movie AI (however loosely you care to define the term)
25) Your favorite existing DVD commentary track Robinson Crusoe on Mars where Paul Mantee explains how "the monkey never lied to me." I get the impression everyone else in Hollywood did.
26) The double bill you’d program on the last night of your own revival theater
What, we're saying my revival theater has gone belly up? Before I've even opened one?
My goodbyes mostly resemble the ending of The Horse's Mouth, Alec Guinness's brilliant comedy about a half-mad artist — which is to say, I drift away on the tide while involved in another nutty project. (Lost in Space, anyone?)
But the best goodbyes involve saying hello to a beautiful redhead — the ending of Holiday and The Quiet Man being two of my favorites.
27) Catherine Deneuve or Claudia Cardinale?
I think Catherine Deneuve is a better actress but Claudia Cardinale was in more movies that I actually watch — i.e., The Professionals and Once Upon a Time in the West.
She joins Irene Dunne, Ginger Rogers, Carole Lombard and Bette Davis in the actress hall of fame.
I love a motivated fan base. Every actress in the tournament is a worthy contestant. The difference depends on whose fans spread the word and get out the vote, and this year, Natalie Wood's fans used Facebook, Tumblr and Twitter and put together a sophisticated campaign for their favorite. Good job!
And I have to say, Natalie Wood is a worthy champion, if only for that scene in Miracle on 34th Street where Edmund Gwenn teaches her how to imitate a monkey and she promptly writes a 3,000 word essay about Charlie Chaplin.
Okay, screw you — you remember movies your way, I'll remember them mine.
I saw today that Jonathan Crombie died — age 48, brain hemorrhage.
If you don't know his name, maybe you remember him as Gilbert Blythe in the 1980s era mini-series, Anne of Green Gables. That's the story of a redheaded orphan girl (Anne Shirley, played by Megan Follows) raised, reluctantly at first then with great affection, by an elderly brother and sister who had sent off for a boy to help work the farm and wound up with a sweet, mouthy, eccentric know-it-all with an unwitting talent for making the world glad she's in it.
I stumbled across the series one evening when I was in law school and became a devoted fan, reading the Lucy Maud Montgomery books it was based on while lounging at my desk up in the law review office. I guess that made me an oddball, but then I never gave a monkey's rump what anybody thought about anything that I liked.
I loved Anne Shirley, but I identified with Gilbert Blythe, the boy who loved her from near and afar. Seems there was a redhead of my own I loved, mostly from afar in those days. Close up now.
Crombie continued to act, most recently in an episode of The Good Wife, but he'll always be remembered as Gilbert Blythe. Well, he was a good one.
Word went out via Blogger, Facebook, Tumblr and Twitter, and fans turned out in droves to vote in the semi-finals of the 2015 Favorite Classic Movie Actress Tournament with Natalie Wood besting Greer Garson, 543-318, while Myrna Loy came from behind to defeat Audrey Hepburn, 305-234.
Those are record numbers for the tourney, with Natalie Wood more than doubling Ginger Rogers' 2012 record of 264 votes in a single match. We're hoping for more of the same for the final.
Back in January, I posted a list of my favorite performances by an actress in the 1960s, and a couple of weeks ago, Mary Field challenged me to come up with a similar list of actors. Ms. Field has posted her own list of the top ten greatest acting performances here. Nothing so ambitious for me — I can barely narrow down the top ten performances of any given year — but here is a short chronological list of my personal faves from between 1960 and 1969.
Jack Lemmon (The Apartment) — his finest non-drag performance, maybe his finest, period. And in one of my all-time favorite movies, too.
"Mrs. MacDougall, I think it is only fair to warn you that you are now alone with a notorious sexpot."
James Cagney (One, Two, Three) — not one of Billy Wilder's better-known comedies, but Cagney's performance is finger-snapping good and Katie-Bar-The-Door quotes him every time we go to a baseball game.
"You know what the first thing is I'm going to do? I'm going to lead the workers down there in revolt!
"Put your pants on, Spartacus!"
Tony Randall (Lover Come Back) — My favorite Tony Randall performance, here playing a millionaire CEO living in the shadow of his late father.
"You don't realize how completely he dominated me ever since I was a little boy. Just once I spoke back to him. He cut a switch from a tree and gave me such a whipping, in front of this girl. It was a shattering experience."
"Pete, all kids get whippings."
"But I was twenty five! The girl was my fiancée!"
Robert Preston (The Music Man) — True story: in law school, my pals and I learned all the words to "Marian the Librarian" and sang it to a girl. Named Marian. Who was an undergraduate librarian. Sometimes life just serves it up to you on a platter.
"Oh, my dear little librarian. You pile up enough tomorrows, and you'll find you are left with nothing but a lot of empty yesterdays."
Steve McQueen (The Great Escape) — technically, my favorite performance here is by Steve McQueen's motorcycle, but he's the one riding it, so ...
"Are all American officers so ill-mannered?"
"Yeah, about 99 percent."
The entire cast of Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb — you know, a friend once confessed she watched this movie and didn't understand why it was supposed to be a comedy. We're not friends anymore.
"Mr. President, I'm not saying we wouldn't get our hair mussed. But I do say no more than ten to twenty million killed, tops. Uh, depending on the breaks."
The Beatles (A Hard Day's Night) — if you have to ask, I can't tell you.
"Oh, yeah. The lads frequently sit around the telly and watch her for a giggle. One time, we actually sat down and wrote these letters saying how gear she was and all that rubbish."
"She's a trendsetter. It's her profession."
"She's a drag. A well known drag. We turn the sound down on her and say rude things."
Michael Dunn (TV's The Wild, Wild West) — maybe the greatest television villain ever. My favorite, anyway.
"I thought you were dead."
"Oh, no, Mr. West! I'm afraid I shall never die. Death is too ordinary. The humiliation would kill me."
Charlie Brown (TV special A Charlie Brown Christmas) — reaching deep for pathos, comedy and blistering insight into the emptiness of our consumer-driven culture, this round-headed kid really brought it.
"How about cats? If you're afraid of cats, you have ailurophasia."
"Well, sort of, but I'm not sure."
Paul Newman (Harper) — I like Paul Newman. I like his movies, I like his pizza, I like his salad dressing. I like everything there is to like about Paul Newman. Except Paul Newman. How do you account for that? I kid. But I do like Paul Newman.
"What do you do this kind of crummy work for, anyway?"
"What, are you trying to be funny? I do it because I believe in the United Nations and Southeast Asia, and — you think it's funny if your life depends on what goes through the Panama Canal? What about the English pound? I'll tell you something — as long as there's a Siberia, you'll find Lew Harper on the job."
"Are you putting me on?"
"Jeez, I don't think so. "
Lee Marvin (The Dirty Dozen) — Katie-Bar-The-Door once gave me this movie as a Valentine's Day present. No wonder I love her!
"I owe you an apology, colonel. I always thought that you were a cold, unimaginative, tight-lipped officer. But you're really quite emotional, aren't you?"
Zero Mostel (The Producers) — probably one of the three most quoted movies when my pals Muleboy and Bellotoot get together.
"Oh my God!"
"You mean 'oops,' don't you? Just say 'oops' and get out! "
Hal 9000 (2001: A Space Odyssey) — saw this in the theater as a kid in 1968, and I say, while a lot of computers turned in fine work in the 1960s, particularly the Robot on Lost in Space, the Hal 9000 topped them all.
"I'm afraid. I'm afraid, Dave. Dave, my mind is going. I can feel it. I can feel it. My mind is going. There is no question about it. I can feel it. I can feel it. I can feel it. I'm a... fraid."
Named for Katie-Bar-The-Door, the Katies are "alternate Oscars"—who should have been nominated, who should have won—but really they're just an excuse to write a history of the movies from the Silent Era to the present day.
To see a list of nominees and winners by decade, as well as links to my essays about them, click the highlighted links:
Look at me—Joe College, with a touch of arthritis. Are my eyes really brown? Uh, no, they're green. Would we have the nerve to dive into the icy water and save a person from drowning? That's a key question. I, of course, can't swim, so I never have to face it. Say, haven't you anything better to do than to keep popping in here early every morning and asking a lot of fool questions?