Starring Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, John Lithgow, Vincent Cassell
Funny. Clever. Unforgettable.
After maybe a few dozen viewings in my life, watching Shrek will never be fresh again. No matter how long I go without seeing it, as soon as it’s on, I will know it line for line. It’s hard to recapture the feeling of when I first saw it in theaters, and was so blown away by how funny it was, but Shrek remains a wonderful movie. So well-written, animated (though somewhat diluted by time), and performed, with iconic voice work from its stars. The best spoofs to me are ones that poke fun at their genre, but also tell a great story within that genre (Scream, The Incredibles, The Princess Bride). That’s definitely the case with Shrek. The adventures of Shrek (Myers), the ogre, Donkey (Murphy), and Princess Fiona (Diaz) still make me smile.
-Walter Tyrone Howard-
Starring Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, Danny Devito, Kim Basinger, David Strathairn, James Cromwell
Potent. Dazzling. Masterful.
Curtis Hanson’s 1997 film, based on James Ellroy’s novel, has many elements usually found in a bad adaptation: bastardized plot, watered-down themes (especially the racist qualities of the protagonists), and a cast that veers rather strongly from their original character descriptions , including an Australian and a New Zealander playing American cops in key roles. It’s a credit to the filmmakers, or truly everyone involved- the writers, the cinematographer, the stars, composer Jerry Goldsmith, who did the terrific score-that instead of feeling like a hack adaptation, L.A Confidential feels like a perfect movie; perfectly paced, perfectly performed, and perfectly filmed. Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe, and Guy Pearce play three disparate cops, at odds mostly, who all get swept up from different angles into a massive crime plot involving prostitution, police corruption, heroin, and Mickey Cohen. Kim Basinger merges two Hollywood clichés (hooker with the heart of gold and the classic femme fatale) in her role as Lynn Bracken, but makes the part vital, and reminds us why we like the clichés. The plot, as it is, seems as complex and mystifying as any ever portrayed on screen, and remembering that it’s working with maybe a third of the book begs the question of how I ever seemed to understand the book. In any case, those tough choices, the decision to go for Ellroy’s spirit rather than exact faithfullness, were judicious, and the resulting film is a major triumph.
-Walter Tyrone Howard-
Starring Barry Fitzgerald, Walter Huston, June Duprez, Louis Hayward, Roland Young, Richard Haydn, Judith Anderson, Mischa Auer
Clever. Stylish. Witty.
Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None was a dark, terrifying murder mystery set on a remote island, and possibly one of the earliest precursors to the modern slasher. In her novel, eight strangers and a married couple meet, all with criminal secrets, for what was supposed to be fun and games, but turns out to be psychotic retribution, as one among them is a killer, picking off the others one by one. This 1945 adaptation, due to restrictive production codes, couldn’t match its source’s ferocity, so instead, it provides a witty, stylish, and entertaining thriller, light on scares, but full of suspense. By going with all character actors, the film lets you know that any one can die over the course of the movie, whereas a movie star would have to survive until at least the end. Breaking the fourth wall with the character introductions was just one of director, Rene Clair’s numerous wonderful touches.
-Walter Tyrone Howard-
Starring Roger Livesey, Deborah Kerr, Anton Walbrook, Ursula Jeans, Ronald Culver, John Laurie
Forty years in the life of Clive Candy (Livesey) as he grows from Lieutenant in the Boer War to Major-General in World War II. Deborah Kerr costars as the woman who keeps cropping up in his life, playing three separate roles, and Anton Walbrook plays Theo Kretschmar-Schuldorff, a German officer chosen to duel Clive on behalf of all German officers, who later becomes his closest friend. Romantic vision of a British soldier, beautifully captures the passing of time, with much joy and sadness in between. Endearing performances from the leads who would all factor in to other great Powell and Pressburger films, and like these other films, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp is a magnificent testament to Technicolor. Among the most handsome pictures ever produced. Epic. Intimate. Lovely.
Starring Clark Gable, Claudette Colbert, Walter Connolly, Alan Hale, Charles C. Wilson, Roscoe Karns
Fairy tale romance given a 1930’s great depression era grit as newspaperman, Peter Warne (Gable) finds the story of his career fall right into his lap in runaway heiress, Ellie Andrews (Colbert). He agrees to take her to her fiancee in exchange for the write up. The difficulty is that neither of them has much money to work with, and, on top of that, the two fall in love. Many memorable funny moments, including the iconic, still classic scene of Ellie stopping a car, and many more cute moments shared between leading man and leading lady. Perhaps the first great romantic comedy, director Frank Capra allowed his stars many small, quiet moments to show they cared for one another. Timeless. Romantic. Witty.
Starring Elijah Wood, Sean Astin, Viggo Mortensen, Orlando Bloom, Ian Mckellen, Andy Serkis, Billy Boyd, Hugo Weaving, Liv Tyler, Brad Dourif, Cate Blanchett, Dominic Monaghan, Miranda Otto, John Rhys-Davies
Continuation of Frodo Baggins’ (Wood) epic journey to destroy the One Ring in the fires of Mordor, he’s led by the pitiable, treacherous Gollum (Serkis), and accompanied by brave, loyal Sam (Astin). The rest of Frodo’s former travel mates-Aragorn (Mortensen), Legolas (Bloom), and Gimli (Rhys-Davies)-search for Merry (Monaghan) and Pippin (Boyd), who’ve been captured by Orcs. This leads them to the center of Saruman’s plan to wipe out the remaining humans, and Aragorn fights back with the men of Rohan. The entire Lord of the Rings Saga is top of the line fantasy and world building. This second chapter brings in new great characters, and offers one of the best battle sequences in movie history: the final 40 minutes is dedicated to the extended fight at Helm’s Deep in the rain.
Starring Ellen Burstyn, Linda Blair, Max Von Sydow, Jason Miller
A young girl, Regan (Blair), raised by her single mother, Chris (Burstyn), plays with a Ouija board. Not long after, Chris sees dramatic, inexplicable, terrifying changes in her once innocent daughter. Exhausting all other resources, Chris eventually turns to Father Damien (Miller), a priest and doctor working through spiritual doubt in his own life. Finding Regan to be possessed, Father Damien and a more experienced priest, Father Merrin (Von Sydow) set about her exorcism. An early standard bearer of the genre, many of its tactics have been borrowed across dozens of horror flicks, but rarely used as effectively as they are here. The Exorcist, aside from being genuinely thrilling and affecting, is an impeccably made film. From pacing to acting to its notorious special effects, the film remains an impressive horror classic. Beyond the evil and the fear of demons, the film is rooted in the horror of watching these terrible things happen to a little girl, and watching a loving mother at a loss to help her daughter.