Leonardo DiCaprio was a film superstar in his teens. Monty Clift, Brando and James Dean were legends by 27. But in 2014, Jack O’Connell was the only under-30 leading man outside the YA ghetto to anchor a $100 million movie. Is it an anomaly, or is something going on in Hollywood? I considered the issue, and O’Connell’s brief career so far, in The New Republic.
Happy New Year, dear readers! Elaine and I were discussing the topic for this week’s FYC and decided that the most appropriate thing would be to ring in 2015 with some cinematic resolutions: films that we, ashamedly, have never actually seen, and resolve to consume by the end of the year. In order to keep this a little more interesting than a simple list of titles, we decided we would each compose each other’s resolution for them: so this week, for your consideration and ours, I’ve got two films for Elaine, and Elaine’s got two films for me. So I guess that makes four films for you to get to in 2015!
“Duck Soup” (1933)
Cast: Groucho Marx, Harpo Marx, Chico Marx, Zeppo Marx, Margaret Dumont, Louis Calhern, Raquel Torres, Edgar Kennedy
Available to purchase on Vudu, to rent or purchase from Amazon Instant and iTunes, on disc from Netflix
Do you hate joy, Elaine? That’s the only explanation I can come up with for not seeing the Marx brothers’ best film, a string of classic comedic set-pieces that vaguely flails at political satire (Hail Freedonia!) but is really just an excuse for some of Groucho’s best one-liners. Rufus T. Firefly can’t see the stove, but you can see some of the brothers’ sterling choreographed physical comedy: the mirror scene is a rightful classic, but there’s a bit with Chico and Harpo exchanging hats with an exasperated street vendor (great straight man Edgar Kennedy) that’s almost on the same level. Watch whenever you’re in need of a pick-me-up.
“The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp” (1943)
Cast: Roger Livesey, Deborah Kerr, Anton Walbrook, Ursula Jeans, James McKechnie, David Hutcheson, Frith Banbury, Muriel Aked, John Laurie
Available to rent or purchase on Amazon Instant and iTunes, on disc from Netflix
Anthony Lane once wrote that Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s satirical epic was possibly the most English movie ever made, “not least because it looks so closely at the incurable condition of being English.” Remarkable not just for its outstanding performances, eye-popping Technicolor and cinematographic flourishes, but for daring to take a long-view historical perspective in the middle of a horrific World War, “Colonel Blimp” is very much about an empire in transition – or perhaps even decline. Blimp himself, originally a blustery, caricature cartoon character, is given surprising depth and sympathy thanks to Powell, Pressburger and Livesey; together they create a film wistful and nostalgic for times past, a more naive and “honorable” era that has been swallowed by the violence of the 20th century. England, however, forever soldiers on.
“East of Eden” (1955)
Cast: James Dean, Julie Harris, Raymond Massey, Jo Van Fleet, Burl Ives, Albert Dekker, Richard Davalos
Available to rent or purchase from Amazon Instant, iTunes or Vudu, on disc from Netflix
I’ve always felt that James Dean wasn’t so much a great actor as one whose roles perfectly suited him. And to understand the character Dean specialized in during his tragically short career, you have to watch his first movie, “East of Eden.” It was the film that made his name—and the only one he ever saw in its entirety. He excels as Cal Trask, the unloved second son of a successful Californian farmer, somewhere between a man and a boy, lovable yet cruel. Director Elia Kazan, known for his moody, chiaroscuro pictures “On the Waterfront” and “A Streetcar Named Desire,” brings the verdant farmlands of central California to life with pizzazz, splashing Salinas with color. Like Steinbeck, Kazan understood the irony of the setting: that such a fertile landscape could give life to such troubled people.
Cast: Greta Garbo, Melvyn Douglas, Bela Lugosi, Ina Claire, Felix Bressart, Sig Ruman, Alexander Granach
Available to rent or purchase on Vudu or Amazon Instant, on disc from Netflix
“Garbo Laughs!” was the famous marketing slogan for “Ninotchka.” The tagline was a little unfair to the Swedish screen icon, whose severe cheekbones and haughty expression radiated superiority. But Garbo’s first comedy is one of the funniest there is, lampooning Stalin’s Soviet Union with irresistible zest and wit. “The last mass trials were a great success,” says Ninotchka, a Soviet envoy to Paris. “There are going to be fewer, but better, Russians.” Garbo plays the straight man, a Communist whose dedication is seemingly unshakable, while the supporting cast swirls around her with impeccable comedic timing. The script, written by a team that included Billy Wilder, is fast-paced and light-hearted, but also politically savvy. “Garbo laughs. And the world will laugh with her,” boasted MGM. They were right.