Guess Who’s Coming Home to the Snake Pit? OJ.

 

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967)

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967)

Joanna Drayton comes home unexpectedly to announce to her parents, publisher Matt (Spencer Tracy) and art gallery owner Christina (Katharine Hepburn) she’s getting married to John (Syndey Poitier). Joanna’s progressive parents have taught her race shouldn’t be a determinate in how you treat other people, but their theoretical posturing is put to the test when they realize their little girl is going to marry a black man.

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Sleeping Inside in Cuba

Inside Out (2015)

Inside Out (2015)

Riley’s father (Kyle Maclachlan) takes a job in California, uprooting his family from their Minnesota home. Missing her friends and feeling awkward at her new school, 11-year-old Riley struggles with the move.

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The horse said yes!

Equus

Equus (1977)

When 17-year old Alan Strang blinds six horses with a metal spike, psychiatrist Martin Dysart (Richard Burton) investigates at the request of a court magistrate.

After a series of intense therapy sessions, Alan reveals he worships horses as the manifestation of the divine. When a girl took him to the stables to consummate their relationship, he felt his beloved horses watching and judging him. Ashamed, he lashed out in anger.

Burton is electric in the opening and closing monologues as he talks about the ways our desire to worship the divine manifests itself. Alan’s relationship with horses is taboo and reprehensible, but we often find examples of revered people of faith acting outside the mainstream of acceptable behavior. Despite Abraham’s attempted sacrifice of his son, we hold him as a supreme example of faith.

Dysart sees this paradoxical leap of faith as integral to the human experience and worries his professional work is undermining it. Echoing themes from A Clockwork Orange, Dysart worries his attempts to “cure” Alan will remove the passion and spark which makes him unique.

 

The joys of smoking

Princess Nicotine; or, the Smoke Fairy (1909)

In a world conditioned to see smoking as a cardinal sin, it’s hard to believe there was time when a whole short film could be revolving around the earnest enjoyment of a cigarette.

In addition to reminding us how different attitudes were one hundred years ago, this whimsical film features an impressive stop-motion sequence.

This was replaced as my favorite film released in 1909 by Pickpock ne craint pas les entraves.

 

The Man Who Would Be President

MacArthur (1977)

MacArthur (1977)

Graduating top of his class from West Point in 1903 and serving in the US Army until he was relieved of duty in 1951General Douglas MacArthur was as influential in the Pacific theater of World War II as Eisenhower was in the European front.

His actions after the surrender of Japan prevented Tokyo from falling under Russian or Chinese influence and did more to contain the threat of communism than perhaps any other individual.

His leadership as the de factor leader of post-war Japan enabled it to recover from the devastation of war more quickly than any nation in history. The Japanese ascension of the 1980s is the direct result of his patient guidance.

Unfortunately, he was unable to handle the treacherous waters of American politics.

Starring as the famed beleaguered general, Gregory Peck humanizes him while capturing the obstinacy and boundless pride which made him such an effective military leader.

Sadly, less than fifty years after his controversial dismissal, MacArthur has become a historical footnote. His heroic efforts in the Pacific have been overshadowed by the exploits of the European front. D-Day is still solemnly commemorated annually while the Battle of Iwo Jima fades into the recesses of history.

This enlightening movie does much to correct the historical record and shines a much deserved spotlight on a seminal figure whose role in the most romanticized war of the twentieth century has been unfairly reduced to a couple of pithy phrases: “I shall return,” and “Old soldiers never die, they simply fade away.”

Don’t open the box, unless you want to know what’s inside

Pandora's Box (1929)Pandora’s Box (1929)

Lulu (Louise Brooks) convinces her former paramour, newspaper publisher Ludwig Schon, to marry her, but when he comes home and finds her with her “first patron,” they fight and she accidentally kills him.

Convicted of manslaughter, she goes on the run. When her limited money runs out, she turns to prostitution, and her life ends tragically at the hands of Jack the Ripper.

Remarkable in its era, this melodrama features an unrepentantly independent and sexually liberated woman. The film works because Brooks is captivating and possesses a rare ability to be overtly sexual without being slutty. We want her to find happiness despite her selfish, borderline abhorrent behavior. We’d like for her to escape her tragic fate, but we don’t pity her because she earned her demise.

This film was succeeded as my favorite film released in 1929 by Applause.

Big or Little? Who Cares?

Little Big Man (1970)

Ten-year old Jack Crabb is abducted by Pawnee Indians and raised by their leader Old Lodge Skins (Chief Dan George). “Rescued” by the US Calvary, he lives with Reverend Silas Pendrake and his wife Louise (Faye Dunaway). When she attempts to seduce him, he runs away, briefly working with a snake oil salesman before reconnecting with his long-lost sister, Caroline who wants him to be a gunslinger.

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Classical Music in the Fall

 

Autumn Sonata (1978)Autumn Sonata (1978)

In the final film of Ingrid Bergman’s career, she’s plays aging concert pianist, Charlotte opposite Liv Ullman as her estranged daughter Eva.

This tour de force in dysfunctional family relationships doesn’t resort to cheap stunts like the more recent August: Osage County (2013). Charlotte and Eva aren’t cruel people and don’t delight in the misery of others. They made rational, cold-hearted decisions, based on self-interest, which destroyed their family.

Ingmar Bergman’s influence on twentieth century art needn’t be rehashed here. This collaboration with sometime lover Liv Ullman is a searing and raw portrait of unfulfilled family relationship and one of his most accessible films.

This was replaced as my favorite film released in 1978 by The End.

 

 

Winsor McCay and Nemo, the small

Winsor McCay, the Famous Cartoonist of the N.Y. Herald and His Moving Comics (1911)

Winsor McCay created Little Nemo in 1905 in a comic strip for the New York Herald, and the techniques he developed to tell the story of Nemo’s adventures in Slumberland would soon become standard.

This adaptation, one of the earliest animated films, is not particularly sophisticated, but holds up fairly well in its 110th decade.

This was succeeded as my favorite film released in 1911 by Baron Munchausen’s Dream.

Cigarette Smoking Man would approve

Out of the Past (1947)Out of the Past (1947)

When Private investigator Jeff Bailey (Robert Mitchum) finds Whit Sterling’s (Kirk Douglas) missing girlfriend, Kathie Moffat, in Acapulco, they fall in love and run away together.

When Jeff’s old partner, Jack Fisher, finds them, Kathie disappears.  Jeff assumes a new identity and lives a quiet life until he’s summoned to meet with Whit once again.

Robert Mitchum is the perfect noir actor because he looks like he’s already had two drinks before the scene begins.

From the late 1940s into the 1970s, Kirk Douglas was one of the premiere actors in Hollywood, but his formal style fell out of favor with the advent of the more naturalistic approach favored by Brando and Dean.

One of the first American authors to write hardboiled fiction, James M. Cain’s work laid the foundation for the film noir genre which dominated movie theaters following the second World War.

The techniques Jacques Tournier perfected in low budget films for RKO Pictures such as Cat People (1942) and I Walked with a Zombie (1943) helped him create this atmospheric film which Roger Ebert called “the greatest cigarette smoking movie.”  We may not understand what’s happening or who’s double-crossing who, but we enjoy watching it happen.