Thursday, June 2, 2011

Great movies you might have missed

Everybody knows about Gone with the wind, Chariots of fire or  Lawrence of Arabia... but I think you might enjoy some less remembered oldies.
Here are some of my favorites.
Moulin Rouge  1952. A chance to see Jose Ferrer, one of the best actors of his generation, and Zsa Zsa Gabor in all her glory. The movie presents the tragic life and the art of Toulouse-Lautrec. It is a tour de force of acting: Ferrer had to walk on his knees to appear to have short legs. It has beautiful colors, the can-can, and Lautrec's life is not trivialized. A perfect movie.

The man who never was 1956 This film is about operation Mincemeat and is based on a real story of WW2. The British wanted to deter the attention of the Germans from Sicily. They decided to use a corpse transporting letters that would indicate the invasion will take place in Greece. The movie is fascinating: how does one find a suitable corpse? All corpses, says one of the spies, belong to somebody. Then they have to find a place where the corpse will be found by German spies. They also have to invent for the corpse a suitable life: this goes from what kind of shirts he wears, to his bank account, to his girlfriend. The subject makes the movie very unusual, so does the personality of Clifton Webb, a delightful British actor, who plays the main role. An actor who died too young, Stephen Boyd, plays the spy for the Germans who is verifying the tale of the man who never was. He has a smile that will chill your bones.

North to Alaska 1960 It is comedy with John Wayne who has Stewart Granger as a partner, and I think it has the most beautiful fist fight in the history of the movies.- just like the most beautiful car chase remains to this day in  The French Connection. You cannot beat the rhythm of that bar fight. It is also a very entertaining oldie.

Miracle Worker 1962 an Arthur Penn film with Anne Bancroft. What else do you want? As I remember it, it is black and white, and it is an aesthetic choice that enhances the movie.  It tells the story of Helen Keller as a child. There was a time when deaf and blind children were not educated: nobody knew how. They were kept hidden and treated like animals. Helen Keller was the first deaf and blind child who learned to communicate, she became a symbol of hope for several generations (she was still alive when I was a child, and I remember that the Louvre museum allowed her to touch the sculptures). The movie is no way edifying, it is just very beautiful.

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg  1964 It is French film, and were we impressed with the young Catherine Deneuve! This a very original musical, on a music by Michel Legrand. Every dialog is sung, which makes the movie special, but so do the colors. The story is about bitter-sweet  love.  It is really unique, you got to see that, even with English subtitles. One of the most romantic movies you can see, with a French twist.

Avanti! 1964 One of the best Billy Wilder. One of the best Jack Lemon. One of the best comedy ever made.  The action takes place in Italy; it allows Wilder to contrast the American efficiency and the laid-back attitude of Italians: he is mocking both, efficiently, but with affection.The British Marilyn of the time, Juliet Mills is wonderfully funny.

Sleuth 1972 and  Sleuth 2007. A thriller with just two people for the duration of the movie.  This is the first time that I see a remake as good as the original. In the first play, an aging Laurence Olivier is opposed to a young Michael Caine. Olivier plays a rich novelist who attracts his wife's lover to his castle and plans to kill him. The play was on Broadway for a long time, it was written by Anthony  Shaffer. The first movie (unhappily on VHS only) shows the novelist playing games and trapping his victim with brilliance. The decor is unforgettable, with mechanical toys everywhere. In the second film (2007 on DVD), Michael Caine plays the injured husband, Jude Law plays the younger guy. The director is Kenneth Branagh, the story is the same, but on a adaptation by Harold Pinter. Pinter tweaks the story here and there, so even if you remember the first movie quite well, you cannot guess how the second ends, and you are on edge, because the characters are slightly different. The decors are here super minimalists. For a movie amateur, it is a real treat to compare the two Caine. Every kid who dreams to become an actor should analyze this. Two perfects films, three perfect actors.

The day of the jackal 1973 Fantastic thriller. This is the story of an attack of the life of General De Gaulle when he was President of France. Many attempts on his life were made, mainly because he gave independence to Algeria which a lot of French people considered to be French territory. The movie is based on the beautiful book by Frederick Forsyth. There are several extraordinary ideas in the movie. First the casting: all great actors, even in small roles. The lead role, the hit-man, looks anything but: he looks sweet as pie. Edward Fox plays the hit-man and the contrast between his appearance and his ruthlessness is one of the major breathtaking points of the film. The editing is excellent, the rhythm perfect, the images beautiful (Ah! Paris in the 70s!). The police does not know who the hit-man is or where he is: can they catch him in time?

Last tango in Paris 1973 Certainly the best Marlon Brando. Beautifully filmed. It is both erotic and disturbing. No fun, but you won't forget it. Nobody does, even people who hate it.

White nights 1985 combines an excellent thriller with an outstanding dancing film.  This unlikely combination is made successful by the hard work of director Taylor Hackford. It is the story of a Russian dancer who has escaped the Communist regime; he is held prisoner in Russia again and plans to escape. He tries to enroll the help of a pro-communist American who hoped to escape racism  and the Vietnam war by fleeing voluntarily into Russia. Every dance in the movie has a reason, political or psychological, so it does not eat the action. There is, through dance, an evolution of the feelings of the two protagonists, the classic Russian dancer (Baryshnikov) and the American tap dancer (Gregory Hines). One of the best movies I have seen. And two of the best dancers you will ever see.

The name of the rose 1986 The movie is so, so much better than the book. Sean Connery as an investigating priest in the middle ages is very convincing. The director, Jean-Jaques Annaud, filmed in an ancient monastery with props so close to the real thing that they are used as educative tools in museums nowadays. The faces are also as "medieval" as one can imagine. There is a lot of human darkness here, but this is as close to real middle ages decor, atmosphere and beliefs as you are going to be. If you are interested in medievalism, this is the real thing: don't miss it.

Educating Rita 1983 with Julie Walters and Michael Caine. Julie Walters plays a hairdresser who wants to go to college and have an education. It is a very difficult role, because she has to appear ignorant at the start of the film without being caricatural or offensive. Caine plays an alcoholic professor who has lost his drive. What makes of it a good movie is that they do not fall in love with each other. What makes of it a great movie is that despite everything, the professor still enjoys the progress of the student. This is played wonderfully and it is entertaining to watch.

Secondhand lions 1983 One of my favorite movies, between a comedy and a fairy tale. It is all about Texas, a gentle family film with great actors: Michael Caine, Robert Duvall, the wonderful Kyra Sedwick and the young Haley Joel Osment. As great a family film as was A Christmas story.

Midnight run 1988 A splendid comedy with Charles Grodin in his best role and Robert de Niro ... adorable. I thought it was as good as Some like it hot.

61* 2001 One of the best movies of the decade. This is a profound baseball movie about two questions: 1. Can you compete and still be friends? 2. Why is it that some people are charismatic and others are not seen as they really are?
Barry Pepper and Thomas Jane play Maris and Mantle in decors and with a style reconstructed in excruciating details. A little wonder.

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