For Your Consideration: Aug. 29, 2014

Is there something strange in your neighborhood? Is it something weird and don’t look good? Who you gonna call?

Probably your landlord. Maybe the police? But as you do so, there’s a certain song that will most certainly be running through your head. Yes, it’s been 30 years since the release of Ivan Reitman’s classic comedy “Ghostbusters,” and Ray Parker, Jr. still ain’t afraid of no ghost. To celebrate this auspicious anniversary (and, I would presume, as a bit of a tribute to co-star and co-writer Harold Ramis, who passed in February), “Ghostbusters” is being re-released this weekend into select theaters nationwide. So head out to the theater, but if you really want to make a day of it, here’s some suggestions for further paranormal hijinks – some even featuring guest appearances by the Ghostbusters themselves.

– Ethan

“Casper” (1995)

Cast: Christina Ricci, Bill Pullman, Malachi Pearson, Cathy Moriarty, Eric Idle, Joe Nipote, Joe Alaskey, Brad Garrett, Amy Brennemann

Available to purchase on iTunes, on disc from Netflix

There was a time, not so very long ago, when comic book heroes didn’t wear spandex or fight off invading aliens from outer space. Instead, they haunted old mansions, struck up friendships with other children, and sought the route to the afterlife. Not Spiderman or Thor, but Casper, the friendly ghost-child who lives in the deserted Whipstaff Manor with his three obnoxious uncles. In an attempt to save the manor from demolition, Casper tricks a paranormal therapist (Bill Pullman) and his daughter Kat (a young Christina Ricci) into moving to the manor. High jinks ensue. The relationship between Casper and Kat (a young Christina Ricci) is touching, the gags are wonderful even if the CGI is 20 years old, and the three uncles come straight out of vaudeville. Plus, it even features a cameo from Dan Aykroyd—as a ghostbuster!

– Elaine

“Bubba Ho-Tep” (2002)

Cast: Bruce Campbell, Ossie Davis, Ella Joyce, Heidi Marnhout, Bob Ivy

Available to rent or purchase from Amazon Instant, on disc from Netflix

It’s hard to get past the log-line summary for “Bubba Ho-Tep,” this altogether bizarre indie black comedy from cult director Don Coscarelli: “Elvis and JFK, both alive and in nursing homes, fight for the souls of their fellow residents as they battle an ancient Egyptian Mummy.” That’s not even getting into the fact that Elvis is played, with superb faded-star glory, by Bruce Campbell, or that JFK apparently survived the assassination, only to be “dyed black” and abandoned. A bizarrely clever take on aging and the transience of fame, wrapped up inside an occasionally bloody supernatural shoot-out between the cursed mummy Bubba Ho-Tep and these possibly-resurrected, possibly-just-plain-crazy human heroes.

– Ethan

“Zombieland” (2009)

Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, Woody Harrelson, Abigail Breslin

Available to purchase on Amazon Instant and iTunes, on disc from Netflix

A surprisingly tight-knit character-based comedy – besides a prominent (and delightful) cameo from a “Ghostbusters” favorite, the four main actors have essentially the only speaking roles in the film – “Zombieland” gets by on some mediocre zombie action and predictable characterization thanks to the terrific, and hilarious, performances. Harrelson in particular stands out as the gruff good-old-boy Tallahassee, paired against his will with nebbishy apocalypse-survivor Columbus (Eisenberg). Emma Stone (just on the edge of being Emma Stone) also brings a lot of lovable sass to con artist Wichita – you would think she could do better than Columbus, although I suppose in zombie-ridden dregs of civilization you can’t be too choosy.

– Ethan

For Your Consideration: Aug. 8, 2014

Everyone loves a leading man. From the gentlemanly air of Gregory Peck to the all-American boyishness of Jimmy Stewart, Hollywood thrives on leading men. But what about the other guys, the ones that don’t get the girl or save the day? If anything, they’re more interesting. That’s certainly the case for Michael Shannon, an actor who has made a career out of eccentricity. Ever since he made his cinematic debut in a small role in “Groundhog Day,” he’s played the mentally addled, a white supremacist, an unhinged NYPD officer, and many sinister villains. Working across many genres, he specializes in people operating outside the status quo, who have either given up or been given up on by society. No one in Hollywood today can unsettle you the way he does.

Of course Shannon has also impressed in lead roles, particularly in the critically acclaimed “Take Shelter.” But to celebrate his 40th birthday this week, we felt it was a more fitting tribute to his career to focus on three movies in which he stole the show from a supporting role.

– Elaine

“Groundhog Day” (1993)

Cast: Bill Murray, Andie MacDowell, Chris Elliott, Stephen Tobolowsky

Available to rent or purchase from Amazon Instant and iTunes, on disc from Netflix

Blink and you’ll miss him, but in his debut feature Michael Shannon already displayed a bit of…flair. As one half of a young couple whose impending marriage is saved by a time-locked Bill Murray on his road to redemption (one of the many adventures of Phil Connors that we hear about only in hints and allusion), Shannon seems much like any anxious newlywed – until Murray presents him and his new wife with a parting honeymoon gift of tickets to Wrestlemania. The ensuing few seconds of mania would much set the precedent for Shannon’s scene-stealing career.

– Ethan

“Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead” (2007)

Cast: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke, Albert Finney, Marisa Tomei, Rosemary Harris, Aleksa Palladino, Michael Shannon, Amy Ryan, Brian F. O’Byrne

Available on disc from Netflix and Amazon

Sidney Lumet’s pitch-black final film is a maelstrom of shifty deeds and compromised morals, as performed by a relentlessly committed ensemble cast, making it all the more impressive that Shannon still manages, as ever, to stand out. As Dex, the blackmailer seeking restitution for the grisly aftermath of brothers Andy (Hoffman) and Hank (Hawke)’s pitiful robbery gone wrong, Shannon is simultaneously the most threatening and somehow the most principled scoundrel of the bunch. The actor’s trademark combination of humor and insanity provide several of the movie’s few moments of almost-half-levity.

– Ethan

“Revolutionary Road” (2008)

Cast: Kate Winslet, Leonardo DiCaprio, Michael Shannon, Kathy Bates, Zoe Kazan, Dylan Baker, Richard Easton

Available to rent or purchase from Amazon Instant and iTunes, on disc from Netflix

This Oscar-nominated suburban dystopia is known for the lead performances by Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio, reunited for the first (and to date, only) time since “Titanic.” But Michael Shannon, playing the insane son living down the street, is the foil that keeps it all together. A study in the stifling gender roles and social expectations of 1950s America, “Revolutionary Road” is the story of Frank and April Wheeler (DiCaprio and Winslet), a picture perfect couple whose marriage is in turmoil behind the drawn curtains. In a world of manicured lawns and white picket fences, Shannon’s character is the only one who understands the unhappiness around him, seeing this soulless world more clearly in his insanity than any of the supposedly sane. Shannon, nominated for an Oscar for this role, delivers a pitch perfect performance that shows the audience the true tragedy of the Wheelers’ lives, their hopelessness and helplessness in a world where it’s better to just be crazy.

– Elaine

For Your Consideration: March 7, 2014

If you’re like us, come the weekend you end up spending more time going through Netflix’s recommendations than watching anything at all. We here at The Best Films of Our Lives understand your plight, and are here to help! In our new weekly feature, For Your Consideration, we will recommend three movies to help you cut down on browsing time, maximize viewing time, and spice up your week. To keep it relevant, we’ll choose them based on a relevant theme of the week, from political events to cultural milestones to new releases at the megaplex.

For our first week, instead of picking movies set in Ukraine or featuring a quasi-dictator who wrestles tigers and conquers nations, we chose a different route to Eastern Europe. In honor of the release of Wes Anderson’s latest cinematic caper we’ve chosen three films that take place in, you guessed it, a hotel.

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

Now playing in limited release.

Cast: Ralph Fiennes, F. Murray Abraham, Mathieu Almaric, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Jude Law, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Saoirse Ronan, Jason Schwartzman, Lea Seydoux, Tilda Swinton, Tom Wilkinson, Owen Wilson, Tony Revolori

For a quirky indie director of stylized comedies, Wes Anderson is a remarkably polarizing figure. But Whether you love the touching humanity in his exaggerated characters or hate his overly precious visual style, he’s unapologetically been churning out films that are nothing less than his for two decades now, and influencing a generation of filmmakers in the process. That’s an overly grand way of introducing his latest film, which generally looks like little more than a charming romp with all of your favorite Anderson regulars – Murray, Goldblum, Dafoe, Brody, Wilson, Swinton, etc. But this time he’s added two major new faces: Ralph Fiennes, as the debonair concierge of a fictional East European resort, and Tony Revolori as his young protege. Reviews for that duo, and the film itself, were terrific out of the Berlin film festival in January – if you’re all-in on Anderson, this will surely be a must-see.

Ethan

“A Room With A View” (1985)

Cast: Helena Bonham-Carter, Maggie Smith, Julian Sands, Daniel Day-Lewis

Available on Netflix instant streaming and on YouTube

“Don’t you agree that on one’s first visit to Florence, one must have a room with a view?” Beginning and ending in a Florentine pensione, “A Room With A View” follows Lucy Honeychurch (Helena Bonham-Carter), a respectable young Englishwoman on a grand tour of Italy with her prim, manipulative chaperone (a delightfully horrible Maggie Smith). En route, she meets George Emerson, a strange, idealistic young man who not only offers her a room with a view at the pensione, but a view out of the room of her life. Awash in the golden light draping its romantic Italian vistas, this period piece about a young woman’s self-awakening is not only beautiful but thoughtful, a love story, a critique of the British class system, and an acting master class, wrapped in one.

Elaine

Lost in Translation (2003)

Cast: Bill Murray, Scarlett Johannson, Giovanni Ribisi, Anna Faris

Available on Netflix instant streaming.

Anderson had another, less direct, hand in crafting another seminal movie Marriott. After writing the lead role of her second feature with Bill Murray in mind, Sofia Coppola asked Anderson, a close friend, to help her enlist the reluctant comedy legend to the part. After five months of hounding, Coppola and Anderson won him over, and the result was “Lost in Translation,” one of the finest uses of Murray’s weary empathy yet. As an aging film actor who strikes up a friendship with an aimless college grad (Scarlett Johannson) during their stay at a luxurious Japanese hotel, Murray brought his likable affability to Coppola’s story of existential ennui, isolation and culture shock. Johannson was at her best here as well, and combined with Lance Acord’s dreamy cinematography and Coppola’s nimble direction, the whole thing added up to one of the most romantic, intimate stories of non-romance in film.

Ethan