The Apartment (1960, Directed by Billy Wilder) English 10

Starring Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, Fred MacMurray, Ray Walston, Jack Kruschen, David lewis

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(10-Masterpiece)

Perfect. Moving. Consummate.

C.C Baxter (Lemmon) is a pushover; a peon trying to climb the tall corporate ladder in New York City. He finds a shortcut, but, of course, it comes at a price. He lends his apartment to his philandering bosses who use his bachelor pad to meet with their mistresses. Things get out of hand though when he comes home to find his office crush, Fran (MacLaine), in his bed after a suicide attempt. She’s in a bad relationship with top boss, J.D Sheldrake (MacMurray). If this sounds dark and sordid, it is, but it’s also a deft comedy, and romance. The script is a masterpiece, and so is the film. Billy Wilder and his manic star, Lemmon, give the movie a levity that belies much of the sadness, but at its core is this intense loneliness highlighted by the 2 or 3 sequences of Lemmon, in extreme long shot, completely by himself. One particularly poignant instance of this comes early, when Baxter is locked out , sleeping on a park bench, while his boss parties in his apartment. There’s also a very moving detail in the opening scene of Baxter finishing what’s left of some wine while picking up after one of his bosses. The overwhelming jazz score kicks in around here and soon becomes a common refrain through Baxter’s story. It’s perfect. I love this film. If I made a top 5 list of movies, The Apartment would surely be on it.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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Midnight in Paris (2011, Directed by Woody Allen) English 10

Starring Owen Wilson, Marion Cotillard, Rachel McAdams, Michael Sheen, Adrien Brody, Carla Bruni, Léa Seydoux, Tom Hiddleston, Corey Stoll, Kathy Bates

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(10-Masterpiece)

Intelligent. Wonderful. Humorous.

Pure blessed fantasy from perhaps the screen’s greatest comedy writers, Midnight in Paris is one of Woody Allen’s finest. Gil Pender (Wilson) is a would-be novelist turned Hollywood hack vacationing with his self-centered girlfriend, Inez (McAdams), in Paris. Gil, a nostalgia enthusiast, loves Paris and wishes he would have stayed last time he visited, instead of going to Hollywood to write scripts. This time around he wanders into an unexplained time leap that takes him to Paris of the ’20s, where he converses with his heroes Fitzgerald (Hiddleston) and Hemingway (Stoll) among others. He also meets the beautiful mistress of one Pablo Picasso, Adriana (Cotillard), and begins to question what he really wants in life. As someone who looks at the past with rose-colored glasses at times, the film speaks to me, and it’s a source of endless fun to see how many artists and writers you can recognize passing in and out of Gil’s adventure. Lovely to look at, listen to, and imagine, Midnight in Paris is fantastic.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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My Man Godfrey: Of Its Time and Still Timeless (1936, Directed by Gregory La Cava) English 10

Starring William Powell, Carole Lombard, Alice Brady, Eugene Pallette, Mischa Auer, Gail Patrick, Alan Mowbray

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(10-Masterpiece)

Funny. Zany. Clever.

“All you need to start an asylum is an empty room and the right kind of people.”

Zany gal. Dysfunctional family. Straight guy. Classic screwball comedy. Director Gregory La Cava made a handful of them in the 1930s. In My Man Godfrey, two rich and spoiled sisters, Irene (Lombard) and Cornelia (Patrick), compete in a callous scavenger hunt to find the last thing on their list: a “forgotten man,” code for vagrant or hobo apparently. Cornelia comes upon shabby Godfrey Smith (Powell), a derelict with dignity, in a junkyard, who shoves her in a pile of nearby ashes when she offers to pay him to attend a society function with her, and help her win the scavenger hunt. Flighty Irene gets a kick out of seeing her domineering sister and rival knocked down a notch, and introduces herself to Godfrey. She’s an odd one, but harmless and kind, so Godfrey offers to help win the scavenger hunt, appearing at the Waldorf-Ritz Hotel with her. Smitten with her forgotten man, Irene offers a job to him, and Godfrey Smith’s life as a butler begins. He soon finds himself a butler to, “the craziest family ever,” as he puts it. The two daughters, he already knows. Cornelia’s out to get him back for rebuffing her in the junkyard, and Irene is head over heels in love with him. The mom, Angelica (Brady), is a vain, demonstrative, loud, chatty, woman with a live-in boy-toy in Carlo (Auer). The dad, Alexander (Pallette), is a long-suffering, over-worked man running low in money, thanks to his wild family. These are all wonderful, unforgettable characters played beautifully by the cast. Alan Mowbray as Tommy Gray, a man who knows Godfrey under a different name, and Jean Dixon as Molly round it out.

Screwball comedies are said to be subversions of traditional romantic comedies. Like many of the best, My Man Godfrey offers a man in over his head, and a woman taking the lead role in the courtship. Carole Lombard, who died a few years after this film in the prime of her career, walks the right side of the line between kooky and crazy, charming and annoying, adorable and childish. Made during the Great Depression, she provides the greatest push towards delightful romantic fantasy, making My Man Godfrey splendid escapism. Rather than pursuing a beautiful woman, the man, Godfrey, fends her off for most of the runtime, before ultimately giving up and giving in during the final glorious sequence of the film. “Stand still Godfrey. It will all be over in a minute,” Irene says to him as she surprises him in his home with a minister ready to perform their marriage. To this day, most romantic comedies end with the man giving a big romantic speech.

My Man Godfrey, made over 80 years ago, is a timeless treasure to me. I love movies in general, but Hollywood classics above all, and My Man Godfrey is perhaps the best. Broken down piece by piece, each line of dialogue is witty, the black and white photography is shimmering, the performances perfectly modulated. At its center stands, of course, William Powell, the gold standard straight man. Straight men are so often overshadowed by their eccentric costars, but not Powell. His reactions to the antics of the Bullock family are as funny as the antics themselves. Finally, if you look at My Man Godfrey, or any classic film, as not just a film, but as a time capsule, you’ll glimpse what was considered attractive 80 years ago, what was funny, what was clever, what felt fresh. That My Man Godfrey is still attractive, funny, clever, and fresh is astounding.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

Chinatown (1974, Directed by Roman Polanski) English 10

Starring Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, John Huston, Roman Polanski, Perry Lopez, Diane Ladd, James Hong, Burt Young

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(10-Masterpiece)

Poignant. Alluring. Accomplished.

I love private detective stories, and all of the conventions of a private detective story: hard-boiled protagonist, femme fatale, deceptively easy case that spirals into something more sinister, mystery, romance. The template was in place long before Chinatown, labeled a neo-noir upon its release in 1974, but Chinatown just might be the very best private detective film (The Long Goodbye, released just a year earlier has a similar stake on the claim). The great Jack Nicholson plays Jake Gittes, hired by the wealthy Mrs. Mulwray to catch her unfaithful husband in the act, but things go south for Jake when he finds out that the woman who hired him isn’t actually Mrs. Mulwray, and the apparently unfaithful husband turns up murdered. Once he meets and gets involved with the real Mrs. Mulwray, played beautifully by Faye Dunaway, Jake’s case becomes a tangled web of power and corruption, and seems only to lead to the film’s surprising yet inevitable conclusion. John Huston, with only a couple of scenes, is unforgettable.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(28)

Groundhog Day (1993, Directed by Harold Ramis) English 10

Starring Bill Murray, Andie MacDowell, Stephen Tobolowsky, Brian Doyle-Murray, Chris Elliot, Rick Ducommun

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(10-Masterpiece)

Inventive. Clever. Classic.

If you’ve seen Groundhog Day a few times, or, like me, a few dozen times, it’s fun to try and figure out how long Bill Murray’s obnoxious, self-centered Phil Connors is stuck in the time loop. The concept in this high concept comedy is well known at this point, and we’re starting to see it copied in a slew of recent films (Happy Murder Day, Live. Die. Repeat). No matter what Phil Connors does during the course of the day, even if he dies, he will wake up at 6 a.m, in his bed at a bed and breakfast, on groundhog day. He can learn and remember everything that’s come before, but everyone else is like a cog in a never ending machine. Bill Murray is a priceless jerk, and his evolution from a prima donna to a thoughtful, caring human being makes Groundhog Day one of modern comedies’ unqualified classics. MacDowell is lovely as the love interest, and gives Murray’s Scrooge a believable motivation for becoming a better person.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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L.A Confidential (1997, Directed by Curtis Hanson) English 10

Starring Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, Danny Devito, Kim Basinger, David Strathairn, James Cromwell

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(10-Masterpiece)

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-

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The Exorcist (1973, Directed by William Friedkin) English 10

Starring Ellen Burstyn, Linda Blair, Max Von Sydow, Jason Miller

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(10-Masterpiece)

Chilling. Horrific. Effective.

A young girl, Regan (Blair), raised by her single actress 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.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(118)