Ninotchka (1939, Directed by Ernst Lubitsch) English 9

Starring Greta Garbo, Melvyn Douglas, Ina Claire, Sig Ruman, Felix Bressart, Bela Lugosi, Alexander Granach

Ninotchka | Best Movies of All Time | TIME.com

(9-Great Film)

Romantic. Sly. Iconic.

Ninotchka: Must you flirt?

Leon: Well, I don’t have to, but I find it natural.

Ninotchka: Suppress it.

Three amiable, easily manipulated Soviet agents arrive in Paris during the days following the Russian Revolution. Sent to sell valuable jewelry confiscated from the ousted nobility, they’re quickly thwarted by a wily lawyer, Leon (Douglas). The trio are then sent help in the form of Nina Ivanovna Yakushova, or Ninotchka (Garbo), a tough-as-nails, Soviet patriot to help fight the case. Not nearly as impressed by Paris as her comrades, it’s meeting Leon and falling for him that slowly causes some of the ice to thaw. Ninotchka is my favorite Garbo picture. It’s one of those classic Hollywood films that bring me great joy to watch. Romantic and funny as romantic-comedies naturally should be but rarely are, it’s also a rather clever and early satire on the bleak state of Soviet Russia.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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It Happened on 5th Avenue (1947, Directed by Roy Del Ruth) English 8

Starring Victor Moore, Charlie Ruggles, Don Defore, Ann Harding, Gale Storm, Edward Brophy, Alan Hale Jr.

Top Holiday Picks: It Happened on 5th Avenue

(8-Exceptional Film)

Wonderful. Charming. Classic.

Aloysius T. McKeever: And I would like to feel that you’re all my friends. For to be without friends is a serious form of poverty.

Wise words from Mr. McKeever (Moore), a wanton leech and scoundrel. He wanders through life, sneaking in and out of mansions while their owners are away on vacation. This Christmas season, he’s staying in the home of Michael J. O’Conner (Ruggles), the second richest man on Earth. Gradually, other people join Mr. McKeever in the house: principled Jim Bullock (Defore), O’Connor’s daughter, Trudy (Storm), who’s fallen for Jim, Mr. O’Connor himself, as a favor to his daughter, and Mary (Harding), O’Connor’s estranged wife. This is a really wonderful movie that takes its zany, promising setup in a number of surprising directions. Victor Moore is called on to be both comedic scoundrel and Christmas angel all at once. He achieves this effortlessly. Though light on actual Christmas content, It Happened on 5th Avenue is still regularly described as a Christmas classic. Really, it’s a comedy for all seasons.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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Godmothered (2020, Directed by Sharon Maguire) English 6

Starring Isla Fisher, Jillian Bell, Jane Curtin, June Squibb, Mary Elizabeth Ellis, Santiago Cabrera, Stephnie Weir, Utkarsh Ambudkar

Godmothered Trailer Looks Like A Spiritual Successor To Enchanted

(6-Good Film)

Pleasant. Amusing. Satisfying.

Tagline: Be careful who you wish for.

Inspired (quite conspicuously) by Disney’s earlier hit, Enchanted, and Will Ferrell’s Elf, Godmothered attempts to put a similarly modern touch on the classic Princess fairy tale formula. Jillian Bell plays Eleanor, a fairy godmother-in-training. Belief in magic has greatly diminished in recent years and the fairy godmothers aren’t doing too well. They’re running out of business and appear destined to close shop and restart as tooth fairies. Eleanor runs away on a last ditch effort to save fairy godmothers by helping a widowed mother, Mackenzie (Fisher), find her happily-ever-after. Godmothered has a solid foundation of sweetness and goodwill to carry it along. The cast is full of charming people. It’s a lovely, colorful film, but it’s light on laughs and fairly conventional even with its modern touches and ideas on relationships (again, because it’s so much like Elf). Ultimately, though, this is a nice movie and an enjoyable one.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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Underground (1995, Directed by Emir Kusturica) Serbian 6

Starring Miki Manojlović, Lazar Ristovski, Mirjana Joković, Slavko Štimac, Ernst Stötzner, Srđan Todorović 

Underground (1995) - Rotten Tomatoes

(6-Good Film)

Epic. Bawdy. Irreverant.

Marko: A war is no war until the brother kills his brother.

I’m afraid I was never taught about the Yugoslav war that resulted in six seperate countries rather than one large one. I’ve also never thought about or heard of World War II’s affect on those slavic states. Underground, a massive film, by revered Serbian filmmaker, Emir Kusturica, spans five decades and covers both world changing events, and I still have very little understanding of either. Underground follows two seemingly degenerate friends, Blacky and Marko, from the ’40s where they lead a resistance movement against the Nazis occupying Serbia, through the Cold War, and, finally, to the 90s where civil war breaks out while the men are still dealing with the trauma from decades earlier. With its broad, irreverent humor, Underground moves fast for such a long film and is never boring. At the same time, and how much a lack of background knowledge affected my experience, I couldn’t say, this film never strikes me as very insightful or poignant. Perhaps it was content to reflect the overwhelming madness of it all, and on that score, I think it succeeds.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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Scream 2 (1997, Directed by Wes Craven) English 9

Starring Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox, David Arquette, Jamie Kennedy, Jada Pinkett, Laurie Metcalf, Omar Epps, Liev Schreiber, Timothy Olyphant, Jerry O’Connell, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Elise Neal, Duane Martin, Portia De Rossi, Tori Spelling, Luke Wilson, Heather Graham, David Warner

Scream 2' Ending, Explained: Why the Big Twist Makes It a Great Sequel -  Thrillist

(9-Great Film)

Clever. Suspenseful. Worthy.

Randy: There are certain rules that one must abide by in order to create a successful sequel. Number one: the body count is always bigger. Number two: the death scenes are always much more elaborate – more blood, more gore – *carnage candy*. And number three: never, ever, under any circumstances, assume the killer is dead.

“Gorier, sexier, funnier,” Scream 2’s adverts promised. I’d say it delivers. The rare sequel that might even surpass the original, though it’s debatable. Scream 2 moves its surviving characters to college, just about a year after previous events. Survivor and final girl, Sydney Prescott (Campbell), is effected but remarkably functional considering, though an avalanche is coming. A movie version (a movie within a movie) of past tragic events is coming out and two college kids were killed at the premier. It seems someone is at it again. Like its predecessor, Scream 2 is clever about the slasher genre’s limitations while simultaneously delivering on the genre’s tacit promises. Scream 2 isn’t as scary as the first one. I would argue that bigger with more characters and more over-the-top scenarios makes for less tension, but it is funnier and has a handful of incredibly suspenseful scenes (Sydney climbing over the killer to get out of a police car, for example). Also, perhaps as a response to how white the original film was, Scream 2 has an excellent opening scene from the black point-of-view.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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Freaky (2020, Directed by Christopher Landon) English 6

Starring Kathryn Newton, Vince Vaughn, Uriah Shelton, Celeste O’Connor, Misha Osherovich, Alan Ruck, Dana Drori, Katie Finneran

One More Trailer for 'Freaky' Body Swap Slasher with Vince Vaughn |  FirstShowing.net

(6-Good Film)

Goofy. Grisly. Entertaining.

Josh: Great. We’re gonna be killed by Murder Barbie.

Body swap comedies are inherently ridiculous and, in past, have been almost exclusively family flicks, Freaky Friday being the template. Freaky is decidedly not a family flick. Teenage outcast, Millie (Newton), is still mourning the loss of her father and trying to stay afloat at a school full of jerks and creeps. Stabbed one night by a local psychopath, known as the Blissfield Butcher (Vaughn), she swaps bodies with the mentally unstable giant. Even with the interesting twist on the body swap premise, much of Freaky functions the same as those previous comedies. Vaughn is now a teenage girl and the once meek Newton is now a single-minded killer. It’s a good setup for its actors to perform and be funny. Freaky basically delivers on that front which makes the over-the-top gore consistently surprising. Freaky isn’t remotely scary, but it is fun and grisly in a memorable way.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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The Ghost Breakers (1940, Directed by George Marshall) English 7

Starring Bob Hope, Paulette Goddard, Anthony Quinn, Willie Best, Paul Lukas, Richard Carlson, Paul Fix, Pedro De Cordoba, Robert Ryan

On DVD, 'Bob Hope: Thanks for the Memories Collection' - The New York Times

(7-Very Good Film)

Fun. Spooky. Well-made.

Larry Lawrence: I don’t mind dying, but I hate the preliminaries.

Apparently, The Cat and the Canary (another horror film starring Bob Hope and Paulette Godard) was such a big hit back in 1939 that the studio rushed out to try and emulate its success. They dusted off an old stage play, one that had been adapted twice before, and made The Ghost Breakers, a wonderful blend of spook house thrills, Hope’s rapid-fire comedy, and his chemistry with Goddard. He plays Larry Lawrence, a crime reporter on the run after a mix-up involving a local underworld bigshot. He stows away with the sympathetic-and beautiful-Mary Carter (Goddard), who has problems of her own. She’s inherited a large estate in Cuba, but the property is haunted. At least, that’s what someone wants her to think. Larry and his sidekick, Alex (Best), help her investigate. Like most of Hope’s early pictures, The Ghost Breakers is a lot of fun. Sadly though, it’s difficult to find in good quality.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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Love Crazy (1941, Directed by Jack Conway) English 7

Starring William Powell, Myrna Loy, Jack Carson, Gail Patrick, Florence Bates, Sig Ruman, Sidney Blackmer, Vladimir Sokoloff, Elisha Cook Jr.

Love Crazy 1941 - Myrna Loy, William Powell, Gail Patrick, Jack Carson,  Florence Bates

(7-Very Good Film)

Funny. Madcap. Witty.

Steve: She’s married now – got a husband.

Susan Ireland: Yeah? Whose husband has she got?

Steve (Powell) and Susan (Loy) Ireland celebrate their 5th wedding anniversary in their upscale, big-city apartment. Interrupted and sent on an errand by Susan’s overbearing mother (Bates), their private party gets further delayed when Steve bumps into his old flame, Isobel (Patrick), on the way home. Part of the small sub-genre I recently discovered of “remarriage comedies,” Susan later decides to divorce Steve after finding out about him spending an evening alone with Isobel in her apartment. From a pretty simple premise, Love Crazy splinters into one of the wildest of screwball comedies. Plenty of physical comedy (which is the most surprising for me, not accustomed to seeing Powell giving that kind of performance) and plenty of wit too. It’s not much of a romance as the principal players already love each other, but at its center is the iconic chemistry between Powell and Loy who evidently made 14 films together.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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The Philadelphia Story (1940, Directed by George Cukor) English 6

Starring Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn, James Stewart, Virginia Weidler, Ruth Hussey, John Howard, Roland Young, Mary Nash, John Halliday

The Philadelphia Story' returns to local theaters | TBR News Media

(6-Good Film)

Intelligent. Witty. Affected.

Dexter: Sometimes, for your own sake, Red, I think you should’ve stuck to me longer.

I adore old Hollywood films. One of my true passions, I love the stars, I love the first-rate character actors, the production values, and the stories they tell, but I’ve never loved The Philadelphia Story, though it’s considered one of old Hollywood’s best. I come back to it often, expecting some change; a revelation perhaps. My feelings remain unchanged. Starring Cary Grant, James Stewart, and Katherine Hepburn (my goodness, the star power) as Dexter Haven, Macauley Connor, and Tracy Lord, respectively, The Philadelphia Story sees the three tangled up in a love triangle on the eve of Tracy’s wedding to earnest but stiff George Kittredge (Howard). Dexter is her ex-husband who’s not ready to let go and Macauley (Mike) is a cynical reporter not thrilled with his new frothy assignment of covering a wedding. Adapted from the stage, the film has a pretty conspicuous stagey manner- long, eloquent monologues, affected dialogue-but my problem isn’t with the apparent staginess, it’s with the characters. The dialogue, realism be damned, is sparkling, but I realized this time around that though I love these stars, I don’t even like these characters; especially during the first half. Tracy is prim, Dexter is scheming, Mike is misanthropic, the uncle is a lecher, the dad’s a cad, and the mom’s an airhead. They do breakthrough to a nice ending but too much of the film is bogged down in their deficiencies to bring me any real joy as most classics do.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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Stalag 17 (1953, Directed by Billy Wilder) English 8

Starring William Holden, Otto Preminger, Robert Strauss, Harvey Lembeck, Don Taylor, Sig Ruman, Peter Graves, Neville Brand

Stalag 17 (1953) - Photo Gallery - IMDb

(8-Exceptional Film)

Irreverent. Masculine. Engrossing.

Sefton: There are two people in this barracks who know I didn’t do it. Me and the guy that did do it.

Sgt. J.J Sefton (Holden) isn’t your typical hero. Even as an antihero, he stands far from the pack. For the majority of Stalag 17, he wants no part of anything heroic, and seems fairly content to have given up. He’s a prisoner of war held in a camp famed for letting no one escape. He’s selfish, apathetic, and ruthless, but when two fellow prisoners of war are foiled and killed in their escape attempt, and Sefton is beaten by the other prisoners who suspect him of being a traitor (one that tips off the Nazis for small benefits), Sefton’s determined to get back at the real traitor just as soon as he figures out who it is. I’m amazed with every Billy Wilder film that I see with how he balances tones. Stalag 17 is another layered work and further evidence of his brilliance. Broad and bawdy in its comedy, the film as a whole, somehow manages to be as gripping and eventually rousing as any straight dramatic classic. Holden won his only Oscar for this performance and he’s convincing at every stage of Sefton’s arc. Sefton’s not even necessarily the main character for much of the film, as it’s a true ensemble piece, but slowly, reluctantly, he becomes a memorable hero.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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