Obstructed reView: ValenTime!
For Christmas I did a quick rundown of topical movies from the decade that provided the best look into Hollywoodâ€™s Christmas POV. With that one in the rear-view, it might be time to tackle this weekâ€™s elephant: an originally dark celebration that became a remembrance of a pretty violent death that with increasing inertia became all about flowers and candy and anxiety (and this one massacre that gets a ton of coverage in the trades). Now Hallmark makes out like a bandit and people who are desperately in love (like yours truly) have another fun night (but this one with more chocolate and wine). That said, itâ€™s the perfect lame excuse to write a column dedicated to romantical comedies and some off-the-radar choices worth watching. Letâ€™s get to it.
Love Me if You Dare (Jeux d’enfants) was overshadowed by similarly gorgeous imports of the early century. Itâ€™s dark, funny, French and increasingly sexy as it plays out. If Watch It were remade by Polanski, starred Bradley Cooper and Helena Bonham Carter (though Iâ€™d never replace the amazing Marion Cotillard) and was entirely in French, hereâ€™s what youâ€™d get. Find it and enjoy it.
Sweet Land is a movie few trumpeted upon its small-scale release in 2006. Itâ€™s a quiet movie. Graceful. Like many unique movies without Major Movie Stars (and some with), this one never interested Hollywood. Visually stunning, the movie features Tim Guinee as Olaf, a Norwegian-American farmer in Minnesota. Heâ€™s in need of help in the wide-open prairie where eligible brides arenâ€™t easily identified. This is how mail-ordered Inge (Elizabeth Reaser) arrives to her new world. This isnâ€™t a quick, predictable love story that you can fold the laundry to. Itâ€™s instead a piece of simple art that tells a genuine story in an extraordinary way. Itâ€™s something to sink into and experience. The dialogue is split among English, Norwegian and German (no need for subtitles here, though). The imagery and score are stunning and the performances are among my favorites of the decade. In addition to the two leads, weâ€™re treated again to fine work from Alan Cumming (also produced the film along with Gil Bellows),Â Ned Beatty, John Heard and the wonderful Lois Smith. The movie was written and directed by Ali Selim, who spent nearly 15 years developing the project. Heâ€™s not found sustained success as a feature artist yet, but the promise of this film has me eagerly hoping to pay full-price to see his next project, whenever it arrives. If this kind of movie is not your bailiwick, keep reading, weâ€™ll soon get to mechanical bulls.
It Happened One Night/His Girl Friday: For my soul, I would not be able to make this decision. It was hard enough to narrow the decade down to two romantic comedies. I could (and likely will) do a column (or series of columns) comparing the 30s to the 70s. Both were decades of enormous growth and innovation in Hollywoodâ€™s sophistication and technology. The storytelling was fresh, the visuals and sound quality unlike anything the world had ever seen. These two moviesâ€”in an era choked with classics I could have chosenâ€”are smart, surprising and unapologetically smart. The dialogue is quick, as are the actors. In Capraâ€™s (and Riskinâ€™s) It Happened One Night, Claudette Colbert and Clark Gable take clichÃ©d caricatures weâ€™ve seen for hundreds of years and turn them into a hilarious study of two people falling into a shallow puddle of love. Itâ€™s by turns mean-spirited and condescending, sometimes crossing the line into downright abuse. Itâ€™s also one of the best and funniest movies ever made. One of three films ever to win the big 5 Oscars (for Actor, Actress, Director, Screenplay and Picture), the other two pale in comparison. All that, and itâ€™s not by any means better than His Girl Friday. Maybe the fastest-talking comedy in film history, Howard Hawkesâ€™ comedy is an example of an adaptation that soars past source. Based on the play â€œThe Front Pageâ€ by the HoF duo of Charles MacArthur and Ben Hecht, the creative team (led by Hawkes and screenwriter Charles Lederer) changed one of the two male lead characters into Rosalind Russell (never a bad artistic move). This twist turned two good-but-antagonistic friends into ex-spouses, suddenly tightening the tension and upping the already-high stakes. Capital punishment and freedom of the press form the backdrop of this love story where the obtuse section of the triangle (the perfectly wooden Ralph Bellamy) of course never has a chance. Itâ€™s a similar vibe to my favorite of the next decade, but this is the superior film.Â Canâ€™t go wrong with either of these.
Bound: Lady parts! The movie where the girls kiss! Itâ€™s at once a shame and totally understandable that this one (admittedly incredible) scene was the overwhelming image in every piece of criticism or advertising surrounding the initial release of this movie. There is a ton to celebrate about the groundbreaking social aspects of the film. Unfortunately, weâ€™re a nation of puritanical 14-year-old boys a lot of the time, so many folks missed the point. As such, the filmâ€™s central relationship being a romantic one between (gasp!) two women was too much for us to deal with (for â€˜usâ€™ read â€˜youâ€™ or â€˜your grandmaâ€™ or â€˜many major and minor critics or politiciansâ€™). Lady parts, I say! Completely overlooked was the terrific accomplishment that was the movie itself. In this first feature from the Wachowskis (Reservoir Dogs to The Matrixâ€™ Pulp Fiction), Gina Gershon and Jennifer Tilly give their most fully-fleshed performances as a couple of cons trying to break the mobâ€™s bank. These characters are connected by greed, lust and a severe mutual manipulation that can only be called love. Their trust is fragile and their plan complex. Itâ€™s a tight, beautiful little thriller. Bound is neo-noir in the style of DOA or Double Indemnity, but with a look and sound that is wholly of its place and time. Joe Pantoliano (NSFW: Joey Pants) is crazy-good and Christopher Meloni channels both Sonny Corleone and Bruce Campbell. The supporting cast includes iconic folks like character man John P. Ryan, activist and author Susie Bright (NSFW: frank talk about sex) and influential director Richard Sarafian. Itâ€™s violent, fast-paced, funny and filled with dread. Perfect for February 14th. Or 15th. Whenever.
Debra Winger Triple Feature: Urban Cowboy/Officer and a Gentleman/Terms of Endearment: I like to pretend that Debra Wingerâ€™s three best performances are all the same character whoâ€™s had an exciting three years. Maybe sheâ€™s not good with settling down. It could be a WitSec thing. Most likely, though, when Sissy and Bud settled down the whole Scientology thing freaked her out and she pulled a midnight runner. Iâ€™m actually suggesting here that you (re)watch all three, and in the order they were made. All three. Thatâ€™s a less-than-9-hours commitment. The stories are neither new nor flawless, but the casts and characters make up for the sometimes condescending storytelling. The best moments of each have been copied and deconstructed dozens of times in the last 30 years but each remains thrilling. Scott Glenn and Barry Corbin are perfect; Loggia and Gossett are better; Shirley MacLaine and Jack Nicholson are still the best screen couple since Ava Gardner and Gregory Peck. But I think we forget how natural and fascinating Debra Winger can be onscreen. Not one of these films is a straight-up love-story and neither are they often remembered as new or original. I donâ€™t think thatâ€™s quite fair. The worst one can fairly say about them is that theyâ€™re good movies with great moments and terrific casts. That description makes any film worth watching (again).
The Breakfast Club: Basket-Case and Athlete seem to be hitting it off. The Princess and The Criminal would be a great (wait, I mean terrible) sequel. You donâ€™t really need a new reason to watch this, the most romantic of the John Hughes epic romantic cycle.
There are probably at least four other romantic movies that someone made at some point. You should probably start with these, though. Since weâ€™re only allowed to be romantic for a couple of days every February, this window is closing. Â Pitchers and Catchers are in Surprise, AZ, after all. Get to it.
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