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-
One of my favorite short films, Paperman tells a romantic story of a listless company man who meets his dream girl through a chance encounter. Separated before he can make a move, he later sees her across the street from his office building, and uses paper airplanes to try and reach her. The black-and-white animation is magnificent and integrated perfectly within the story. The triumphant idea is executed perfectly by Disney.
Starring Ryan O’Neal, Tatum O’Neal, Madeline Khan, Randy Quaid
Moving. Funny. Classic.
Moses Pray (Ryan O’Neal) promises to take 9 year old, orphan Addie (Tatum O’Neal) to her Aunt in Missouri, as he claims to have been a friend of her mother (she suspects he might be her dad). After watching Moses pull a number of small-time cons, Addie proves adept at assisting him, and the two escalate their grift on the way to Missouri. Paper Moon is completely wonderful. Sad when it wants to be sad, funny when it wants to be funny. The two lead performances are pitch perfect, and never reduced to being cute. They form real characters and take them seriously.
-Walter Tyrone Howard-
Starring Javier Cámara, Leonor Watling, Geraldine Chaplin, Dario Grandinetti, Rosario Flores
Intertwining stories about two men dealing with the women they love in comas. An underrated feature of any great director is their control of a film’s tone. Almodovar is a great director, and one of his powers is his ability to subtly balance a number of seemingly contradictory tones all in one movie. Talk to Her might be his best.
Voices of James Earl Jones, Matthew Broderick, Nathan Lane, Whoopi Goldberg, Jeremy Irons, Cheech Marin
Iconic Disney animated film about the Simba’s journey from being a prince of the African jungles to a runaway to a king, with Hamlet and the Book of Exodus mixed in. Great supporting characters (Mufasa and the all-time great Disney villain Uncle Scar chief among them), memorable songs, and a perfect combination of comedy and drama. One of the studios’ best.
Starring Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman, Bob Gunton, William Sadler, Clancy Brown, Gil Bellows
Hardened by a life spent and wasted in a state penitentiary, Ellis “Red” Redding’s (Freeman) life is shaken up by the arrival of Andy Dufresne (Robbins), an odd-duck sentenced for killing his wife. Andy is a lot more than he seems. A free-spirit even while imprisoned. But it’s not his redemption the title refers to, it’s Red’s, and Morgan Freeman’s performance is justly venerated. There are a number of incredibly moving scenes, religious allusions abound, but mostly the film (based on a Stephen King novella) is powerful story told simply and confidently.
Starring Albert Finney, Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman, Martin Balsam, Sean Connery, Vanessa Redgrave, Anthony Perkins, Wendy Hiller, Richard Widmark, Jacqueline Bisset, John Gielgud, Rachel Roberts, Jean-Pierre Cassell, Michael York
This Agatha Christie murder mystery is extravagant in every sense-stars in every role, incredible set design, art direction. Albert Finney is the immortal Hercule Poirot, who must figure out who murdered a sleazy criminal aboard a long-distance train across continents. His over the top characterization works beautifully. The rest of the cast of suspects pretty much let their presence play the part, and that works too. The film is low on substance, but that doesn’t matter when the superficial elements are this much fun.
Starring John Wayne, Angie Dickinson, Dean Martin, Walter Brennan, Ward Bond, Rickey Nelson
A gang of outlaws plot to break one of their own out of prison before he can be moved out of town and sentenced to death. A small group of honorable men led by the sheriff (Wayne) aim to stop them. The film seems more like spending time with a great group of characters than an action film, though the finale offers plenty of action. Dean Martin and Walter Brennan are standouts, and Wayne is, as ever, a stalwart lead.