For Your Consideration: Jan. 2, 2015

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!

– Ethan

For Elaine:

“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.

– Ethan

“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.

– Ethan

For Ethan:

“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.

– Elaine

“Ninotchka” (1939)

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.

– Elaine

For Your Consideration: Sep. 19, 2014

There are many reasons why we chose our theme this week. First and foremost, it’s because Scotland has never been in the news as much as it has been recently, and if you couldn’t be in Edinburgh, Aberdeen, or Glasgow this week to witness the historic independence referendum, these three movies can whisk you away to the lochs, braes, and byres of Scotland. Then there’s the fact that most people associate Scotland with “Braveheart,” and that is offensive on too many levels to articulate here. And finally, because from the tip of Ben Nevis to the waters of Loch Lomond to the ancient walls of the St Andrews Cathedral, Scotland is one of the most beautiful places in the world, and what better way to see that than through the lens of a camera? So, without further ado, here are three movies set in the land of kilts, bagpipes, St. Andrew, and haggis.

– Elaine

“I Know Where I’m Going!” (1945)

Cast: Wendy Hiller, Roger Livesey, Finlay Currie, Murdo Morrison, Margot Fitzsimons, C.W.R. Knight, Pamela Brown

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

Young, ambitious Englishwoman Joan Webster (Hiller) seems a confident, even domineering soul when we first meet her – the title’s declaration, after all, is hers, shouted out the window of a departing train to her father as she sets out from Manchester to the Hebrides, the rugged isles off of Scotland’s western coast. Joan is engaged to marry a wealthy nobleman, but poor weather delays the final leg of her journey, stranding her on the Isle of Mull, along with a handsome naval officer (Livesey) trying to make his way out to the same isolated island for his shore leave. The setup is predictable from today’s rom-com vantage point, but Hiller and Livesey’s chemistry is palpable, and director/writers Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger have a natural, unforced way with dialogue and direction, generally avoiding set-pieces (save a thrilling, if awkwardly rear-projected, attempt to cross stormy seas in a dinghy) and letting the unique charms of the setting and characters carry the film.

– Ethan

“The Illusionist” (2010)

Cast: (voices of) Jean-Claude Donda, Eilidh Rankin

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

Jacques Tati might be a cinematic treasure of France, but his (sort-of) final film turned out to be an unexpected love letter to the Firth of Forth. The legendary comedian (who passed in 1982), most known for the Monsieur Hulot persona that appeared in his gentle, pseudo-silent comedies like “Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday” (1953) and “Playtime” (1967), wrote a screenplay about an aging French illusionist who encounters and ends up taking care of a young woman, which remained unproduced for decades – until animator Sylvain Chomet (“The Triplets of Belleville”) took up the script, relocating the action to take place, for the vast majority of the film, in and around Edinburgh. The quiet, heart-wrenching surrogate father/daughter narrative (Tati reputedly wrote the screenplay as a sort of mea culpa to either, depending on who you believe, his daughter Sophie or his estranged, illegitimate daughter Helga Marie-Jeanne) is complemented by Chomet’s devastatingly beautiful animation: warm, crisp, evocative, a memory of life and love gone by.

– Ethan

“The Decoy Bride” (2011)

Cast: Kelly Macdonald, David Tennant, Alice Eve, Hamish Clark, Federico Castelluccio, James Fleet, Dylan Moran, Sally Phillips

Available streaming on Netflix, for purchase on Amazon Instant and iTunes

“The Hegg is the furthermost drop of the outermost spray of the curling wave of the Outer Hebrides,” writes Katie (Kelly Macdonald), a young woman from the westernmost islands of Scotland, where 27,000 people live scattered over islands of craggy rock and windswept long grass. When an American celebrity and her groom (David Tennant) escape to the Hebrides for a wedding away from the relentless paparazzi, Katie’s life suddenly gets a lot more interesting. “The Decoy Bride” is a silly movie based on an absurd premise, but the lead actors, Macdonald and Tennant, rise above the mediocre material to deliver a sweet, wacky romance. The true star of the movie, however, is again the rough beauty of the Hebrides—the grey rain that leaves behind a bright green, the moody cliffs overlooking the water, and the white spray of the sea upon the crags.

– Elaine