Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Stalag 17 (1953)




Stalag 17

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

The Stats

The Director:  Billy Wilder
The Cast:  William Holden, Don Taylor, Otto Preminger, Robert Strauss, Harvey Lembeck
The Release Date: 1953
The Runtime: 120 Minutes

The Plot

Stuck in a Nazi prison camp, a band of American prisoners of war are constantly trying to escape.  Somehow, their escape attempts are always discovered, leading everyone to believe there’s an informer in their barracks.

The Lowdown

So far in the DVD of the Day, I’ve provided you with some pretty sweet action movies.  Well, this is not an action movie… or at least not until the last few minutes, anyway.

Let’s face facts.  We’re all men here, right?  Well, as men, it’s genetically encoded in our DNA to love movies about World War II.  And while this film isn’t about the actual fighting of the war, it’s still a pretty bad ass movie.

You’ve got a group of American prisoners, captured and being held by evil Nazi scumbags.  They’re POW’s and they’re always trying to escape.  Except after some of their boys get killed in an escape attempt, it leads the remaining soldiers to question if they’ve got an informer in their midst.  Cue:  William Holden (who some of you may remember from ass-kicking The Wild Bunch.)  Holden’s character, Sefton, is a dude that’s constantly trading prison currency (cigarettes, etc.) to become the prison equivalent of Donald Trump.  Sefton is always looking out for himself, even if it means bribing a Nazi guard or two to get his way.

Naturally, the others don’t like Sefton, and finger him as the snitch.  But is he?  The whole movie is based on Sefton’s fellow inmates trying to kick his ass, all the while Sefton is trying to find the true undercover man.

This whole film is suspenseful, and hell, it’s funny too.  I’d almost consider it a great comedy, if it wasn’t also a great prison escape movie.  If you like movies like The Shawshank Redemption and The Great Escape, you gotta watch Stalag 17.  The performances, the suspense and the comedy make it a must-see movie.


Sunday, December 25, 2011

It's a Wonderful Life (1946)


IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE
Frank Capra
1946 • 130 Minutes • 1.37:1 • United States
RKO Radio Pictures

Principal Cast: James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, Thomas Mitchell, Henry Travers, Beulah Bondi
Screenplay:  Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett, Frank Capra
Producer:  Frank Capra
Cinematography:  Dmitri Tiomkin

Awards & Honors

Academy Awards
Nominated: Best Actor in a Leading Role - James Stewart 
Nominated: Best Director - Frank Capra 
Nominated: Best Film Editing - William Hornbeck 
Nominated: Best Picture - Liberty Films
Nominated: Best Sound, Recording - John Aalberg


American Film Institute
#11 - AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies
#8 - AFI's 100 Years...100 Passions
#6 - AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes and Villains: Mr. Potter - Villain
#9 - AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes and Villains: George Bailey - Hero
#1 - AFI's 100 Years...100 Cheers
#20 - AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition)
#3 - AFI's Top 10 Fantasy Films


The Essential Films
#12 - 100 Greatest Movie Villains (Mr. Potter)
#15 - 100 Greatest Movie Heroes (George Bailey)

Strange, isn't it? Each man's life touches so many other lives. When he isn't around he leaves an awful hole, doesn't he? 

I don't care what anyone says, It's a Wonderful Life, after over 60 years is STILL the greatest Christmas movie ever made.  It may be cliche, but there is not one film better.  On top of that, it makes the Top 5 of The Essential Films' Top 100 Movies of All Time (Coming Soon.)  It's better than Citizen Kane.  Better than Star Wars.  Better than Gone With The Wind.  I watch it every single year, and so should every one.  By those who've never seen it and by those who've seen it dozens of times.  It's message is universal and timeless.  A man who sacrifices his entire life for every family member, friend and sometimes complete stranger just because it's the right thing to do... well one day, he gets in trouble.  He's so desperate he considers committing suicide on Christmas Eve.  A guardian angel intervenes and prevents him from doing so. When George remarks that perhaps the world would have been a better place had he not even existed, the angel decides to show him exactly what the world would be like.  The message of the film is that everyone matters and everyone touches everyone else's life in some way.  You should value and cherish not just your life, but all lives.  And at the end of the day, no man is failure who has friends.  



Saturday, December 24, 2011

FORCED PERSPECTIVE, Ep.8 – Descending on the Holiday

Join SportsGuy515 & Adolfo as they review some of the last major releases of 2011, including The Muppets, Hugo, The Descendants, Melancholia, and Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol. Then the duo get into the Christmas spirit as they count down their TOP 5 Favorite Christmas Movies. Plus, Golden Globe nominations, AFI’s Top Movies of 2011, Christmas shopping, and more!

Friday, December 23, 2011

White Christmas (1954)


WHITE CHRISTMAS
Michael Curtiz
1954 • 120 Minutes • 1.66:1 • United States
Paramount

Principal Cast:  Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, Vera Ellen, Dean Jagger
Screenplay:  Norman Krasna, Norman Panama
Producer:  Robert Emmett Dolan
Music & Lyrics: Irving Berlin
Cinematography:  Loyal Griggs

Awards & Honors

Academy Awards
Nominee: Best Music, Original Song - Irving Berlin - For the song "Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep"

The Essential Films

- We're booked for the holidays. 
- Vermont, huh? 
- Oh, Vermont should be beautiful this time of year, with all that snow. 
- Yeah, you know something... Vermont should be beautiful this time of year, with all that snow. 
- That's what I just said. 
- We seem to be getting a little mixed up. 
- Maybe it's the music. 
- Maybe it isn't only the music. 

12 years after "White Christmas" became a huge hit, Bing Crosby and Irving Berlin teamed up again and made it the title of another Christmastime musical.  This time around Danny Kaye replaces Fred Astaire as the dance man.  Kaye, while not as "legendary" as Fred Astaire, still did not disappoint as all his dance numbers with Vera Allen were a hell of a lot of fun to watch.  Rosemary Clooney played Crosby's love interest and will leave a great impression on you with her magnificent voice.  Crosby and Kaye play two old army buddies that teamed up as a song and dance duo turned producers after the war.  They are so over-worked that Phil (Kaye) is just getting plain sick and tired of constantly being around Bob (Crosby.)  He never misses an opportunity to play matchmaker with any pretty girl that walks into Bob's life just so that he can get some time away from his partner.  Enter the Betty & Judy Haynes, a pair of sisters hoping that Bob and Phil will give them a shot in one of their shows.  After the getting the girls out of a jam, the four entertainers head to Vermont for the holidays where Bob and Phil realize that the ski lodge they're staying at is being run by their old army general.  Seeing the sad state of affairs the lodge is in, Bob, Phil, Betty and Judy start planning a big Christmas spectacle to hopefully attract visitors.  The big closing number?  You guessed it.

A Christmas Story (1983)


This post was originally published on SuperfriendsUniverse.com as part of the DVD of the Day series on December 17, 2011.


A CHRISTMAS STORY

1983
Directed by: Bob Clark
Starring: Peter Billingsley, Melinda Dillon, Darren McGavin

Oh my god, I shot my eye out!

Every child knows what’s it’s like to want that perfect Christmas present. The longing, the pleading, the desperation of that ONE THING that you just can’t live without. A Christmas Story is the simple tale of Ralphie, a little boy who wants nothing more for Christmas than a B.B. gun. Not just any B.B. gun, mind you, but an Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle (with this thing that tells time.) It seems everyone is against him… his mother, his teacher… heck, even Santa thinks he’ll shoot his eye out. But Ralphie is unrelenting in his desire for this perfect gift. This film is timeless, because even though it was made in the 80s, and takes place in the 40s, everyone, young and old, can relate to Ralphie. A Christmas Story perfectly captures exactly what it’s like to be a kid on Christmas.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Holiday Inn (1942)


HOLIDAY INN
Mark Sandrich
1942 • 100 Minutes • 1.37:1 • United States

Principal Cast:  Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, Marjorie Reynolds, Virginia Dale, Walter Abel
Screenplay:  Claude Binyon
Producer:  Mark Sandrich
Music & Lyrics:  Irving Berlin
Cinematography:  David Abel

Awards & Honors

Academy Awards
Winner:  Best Music, Original Song - Irving Berlin for the song "White Christmas"
Nominee: Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture - Robert Emmett Dolan 
Nominee: Best Writing, Original Story - Irving Berlin 

American Film Institute
#5 - 100 Years... 100 Songs

The Essential Films


- Open holidays only? Say, how many of them are there? 
- About 15. That gives me 350 days to kick around in! 
- You would think of that! 


The movie that gave birth to not just one of the most popular Christmas songs of all time, but one of the most popular songs EVER.  More on that in a second.  Bing Crosby was one of the most popular entertainers in his day, so Paramount Pictures gave him a huge budget to do a musical.  What does he spend the money on?  Hiring the legendary dance man Fred Astaire as his co-star and Irving Berlin as his song writer and they produce one of the most charming musicals ever made.  The story follows song-and-dance entertainers Jim Hardy and Ted Hanover (Crosby and Astaire respectively) as they compete for the affections of the same girl.  Jim has reason to be nervous as Ted has stolen one of his girls in the past.  Jim quits show business to run a hotel that is only open on holidays and hires Linda Mason (Reynolds) as a performer.  When Ted realizes that not only is Linda beautiful, but an amazing singer and dancer he schemes to once again steal a girl away from Jim.  Crosby is always praised for his singing, but not enough for his comedic acting... and paired with Fred Astaire, the two have great comedic chemistry.  All the songs for each holiday are fun (though you may want to skip the "Abraham" number because in 1942 doing a song in black face wasn't considered racially insensitive) but the show stealer is "White Christmas" which as I mentioned before became one of the biggest songs of all time.  It's popularity was mostly due to the requests of soldiers fighting the war in Europe who desperately wanted to be reminded of home.  This film was a reminder of the idealistic America that they were fighting for.  This is perhaps Crosby's best film, and his collaboration with Fred Astaire delivered fantastic on screen chemistry.  This is an essential holiday classic.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Christmas In Connecticut (1945)



CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT
Peter Godfrey
1945 • 102 Minutes • 1.37:1 • United States
Warner Bros. 

Principal Cast: Barbara Stanwyck, Dennis Morgan, Sydney Greenstreet, Reginald Gardiner, SZ Sakall
Screenplay:  Lionel Houser, Adele Comandini, Aileen Hamilton
Producer:  William Jacobs
Cinematography: Carl E. Guthrie

What a Christmas! Ho, ho, what a Christmas!

Barbara Stanwyck is Elizabeth Lane, a Martha Stewart-like writer for a housekeeping magazine that writes the most amazing recipes every month. Dennis Morgan plays Jefferson Jones is a war hero who has never had a “traditional, family Christmas.”  And Sydney Greenstreet is Alexander Yardley, the stubborn and influential publisher of Lane’s magazine whose idea it was to make sure Jones gets a traditional Christmas holiday as a guest in Lane’s home in Connecticut.  Only one problem:  Lane is a fraud.  She lives in New York City, can’t even make toast and gets all her recipes from her loveable chef/uncle Felix.  To make matters worse?  Yardley’s holiday plans have fallen through and now he insists on spending it with Lane and her fictional family in her fictional home.

Fortunately (?) for Elizabeth, her architect friend and admirer has offered his home as the stage for her charade, on one condition, that she’ll finally accept his many offers of marriage proposals.  But when Jones arrives at the cozy Connecticut house, Lane is immediately smitten.  It’s obvious from the beginning where the story and comedy will take you, but that’s ok.  Where the movie succeeds is in the extreme charm of Barbara Stanwyck as Lane.  She exhibits wonderful comedic timing, and the audience is really pulling for her to pull this charade off, while at the same time rooting for her to get together with Dennis Morgan’s character, with whom she has quite the on-screen chemistry.  This is such a departure from her most famous role, that of Phyllis Dietrichson from Double Indemnity, the cold-hearted maneater who plots to kill her husband for the insurance.

But the film also has a wonderful supporting cast in Greenstreet as the pompous Alexander Yardley.  Sydney Greenstreet was a character actor that never quite seemed to get his due even though providing sinister supporting roles in films like Casablanca and The Maltese Falcon as well as comedic ones such as this.  And let us not forget S.Z. Sakall as the affable Uncle Felix, whose butchering of the English language is balanced by his cooking and matchmaking skills as he tries to cook up a romance between Lane and Jones, all the while making sure Sloan and Lane never end up actually getting married.

The film is definitely of its time, with perhaps some outdated anti-feminist ideals.  But it is certainly a charming, holiday film.  Or as Uncle Felix might say… “Everything is hunky dunky.”


Full-Length Trailer – The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey



See it HERE!

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Shop Around The Corner (1940)


THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER
Ernst Lubitsch
1940 • 99 Minutes • 1.37 : 1 • United States

Principal Cast:  James Stewart, Margaret Sullivan, Frank Morgan, Joseph Schildkraut, Felix Bressart
Screenplay:  Samson Raphaelson based on the play by Miklós László
Producer:  Ernst Lubitsch
Cinematography:  William H. Daniels

Awards & Honors


American Film Registry
#28 - 100 Years... 100 Passions

The Essential Films
12 Days of Essential Christmas Films


National Film Registry
1999: Voted to be preserved in Library of Congress

Oh, my Dear Friend, my heart was trembling as I walked into the post office, and there you were, lying in Box 237. I took you out of your envelope and read you, read you right there. 


I have often said that I hate romantic comedies.  I feel they are formulaic, dull and predictable.  Furthermore, just as Playboy give men unrealistic expectations of women, romantic comedies are just as guilty of giving women unrealistic expectations of men.  The exception to this rule, of course, is any romantic comedy made before 1950.  This was a time when they weren't formulaic (well, maybe a little), the characters were fleshed out and developed, the stories were tight and well scripted, and, of course, the two leads were incredibly charming.  I mean, can you really compare Clark Gable and Humphrey Bogart with Ashton Kutcher and Robert Pattinson?  No.  You can't.  I digress.  The Shop Around the Corner is a romantic comedy, plain and simple.  It's Christmas time and Klara (Margaret Sullivan) and Alfred (James Stewart) are both employees at the same baggage store, constantly competing for customers and THEY CAN'T STAND EACH OTHER.  Here's the kicker, though:  Each one of them has a pen pal that they've never met... and it just so happens that it turns out that they are each other's pen pal.  They write love letters to each other, not knowing that the person they are professing love to is someone they'd like to throw in front of a bus.  If this sounds familiar it's because it was unremarkably re-made in 1998 as You've Got Mail, this time with an e-mail angle.  Skip that one.  Watch this one.  Not very Christmas-y other than it takes place during the holidays, but it's charming, fun and probably one of the best romantic comedies ever filmed.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Top 10 Essential Steven Spielberg Movies

Today marks Steven Spielberg's birthday.  Spielberg is arguably the most successful director in Hollywood today.  His films are timeless and part of the American movie experience.  His new film The Adventures of Tintin opens in theatre this Christmas.  Today we countdown the Top 10 Essential Christmas films...

10 - Jurassic Park (1993)

One of the biggest blockbusters of all time, Jurassic Park broke new ground in spectacular visual effects that still hold up today.









9 - Minority Report (2002)

A darker-edged science fiction movie about a police unit that predicts crime before it happens and promptly puts a stop to it.  Of course, the entire system fails...




8 - Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)

The third installment in the Indiana Jones series, and the second best of the franchise (more on #1 later.)  Impressively, Spielberg has directed every Indiana Jones picture.  This film ramps up the fun by adding Sean Connery to the cast as Indy's grumpy father.






7 - Catch Me if You Can (2002)

Leonard Dicaprio was known more for his dramatic roles, and this film really allows him to demonstrate some more comedic skills.  While not a comedic role per se, it's certainly a lot lighter and less serious as other films like Gangs of New York and Titanic.  Tom Hanks also works well as the FBI agent trying to track the notorious con artist Frank Abingale (DiCaprio).









6 - Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

One of the greatest science fiction films ever made.  Close Encounters is unique that it focuses more on the families affected by the alien encounters affecting their small town.  Notably it was released the same year  as another famous science fiction film... Star Wars.

5 - Schindler's List (1993)

One of the most powerfully emotional movies of all time.  Schindler's List won an impressive 7 Oscars including Best Picture.  Liam Neeson's performance as Nazi war-profiteer-turned-Jewish-liberator is one of the greatest performances of all time.  Schindler's List was released the same year as Jurassic Park, demonstrating Spielberg's ability to make a wide variety of cinema, from dramatic character studies to tremendous blockbusters.



4 - E.T. The Extra Terrestrial (1982)

One of the most enduring family films of all time. E.T. remains a favorite in the hearts of everyone who has ever seen it.  More than just an overly-sentimental children's film, as some have criticized, it brings compassion, warmth and heart not found in many modern films.  This blog also challenges you to NOT cry at the end of this film.






3 - Saving Private Ryan (1998)

The best movie about war ever filmed... with one of the most spectacular battle scenes in cinema history.  Spielberg is very careful to NOT glorify war as many other films in this genre so often do. Tom Hanks, Matt Damon and Tom Sizemore bring their A-Game to the acting table.  Hanks' Capt. John Miller is clearly one of film's great leaders.

2 - Jaws (1975)

Widely considered the first blockbuster ever made, Jaws delivers in every conceivable way.  It's horrifying, exciting, action-packed... and it is stuffed with character development.  It doesn't hurt that this was one of the biggest movies of all time and still delivers on-screen over 30 years later.


1 - Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

No list of the best Spielberg movies would be complete without including one of the greatest adventure stories ever told starring the greatest blockbuster actor of all time, Harrison Ford, in the role of the greatest action hero of all time.  Raiders of the Lost Ark is just so much damn fun, it's literally impossible to watch that movie without a smile.  

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Bishop's Wife (1947)


THE BISHOP'S WIFE
Henry Koster
1947 • 109 Minutes • 1.37:1 • United States
RKO

Principal Cast: Cary Grant, Loretta Young, David Niven, Monty Woolley, James Gleason, Gladys Cooper
Screenplay:  Robert E. Sherwood, Leonardo Bercovici based on the novel by Robert Nathan
Producer:  Samuel Goldwyn
Cinematography:  Gregg Toland

Awards & Honors

Academy Awards
Winner: Best Sound, Recording - Gordon Sawyer
Nominated: Best Director - Henry Koster 
Nominated: Best Film Editing - Monica Collingwood 
Nominated: Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture - Hugo Friedhofer
Nominated: Best Picture - Samuel Goldwyn Productions


The Essential Films


 Sometimes angels rush in where fools fear to tread. 

A true holiday classic.  A bishop is lost and without direction and desperately needs to raise money for a new church.  He prays for help and guidance, but feels he receives none.  However, he does receive help in the form of an angel named Dudley.  Dudley is incredibly charming (after all, he IS played by Cary Grant) as an assistant to the bishop.  Everyone falls for him, especially the bishop's wife (played by Loretta Young.)  Bishop Henry becomes increasingly frustrated and jealous of Dudley and what develops is a film that expertly showcases the fine acting abilities of its three leads.  It has a great holiday feel to it and both Grant and the film are incredibly charming.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The 12 Days of Essential Christmas Films

It's that time of year again.  


Christmas is a time of sharing, love, peace and goodwill to all men...


...and of course it's a time for great movies.  There are many Christmas films out there, ranging from overly sentimental to the dark and twisted.  Some are good, some are bad, some are ugly.  But only a few of them are essential holiday viewing.  With that said, here are the 12 Days of Essential Christmas Films.


And here...we...go...



THE MUPPET CHRISTMAS CAROL
1992
Directed by:  Brian Henson
Starring:  Michael Caine, Frank Oz, Dave Goelz, Steve Whitmire

"Charles Dickens":  Hello!  Welcome to the Muppet Christmas Carol!  I am here to tell the story.

Rizzo The Rat:  And I am here for the food.

Michael Caine is Ebeneezer Scrooge. Kermit the Frog is Bob Cratchit.  Miss Piggie is Mrs. Cratchit.  Fozzy Bear as Fozzywig (get it?)  Statler and Waldorf as Jacob and Robert Marley.  And The Great Gonzo as Charles Dickens.  The Muppet Christmas Carol remains to this day my favorite adaptation of Dickens' classic story.  Caine is absolutely vile as the iconic Scrooge, which makes his transformation at the end of the film far more effective than other interpretations.  What makes the film so wonderful is the effortless blending of the story everybody knows with the signature Muppet humor.  Don't let the fact that there are Muppets in the film fool you, it's still very effective as a heartwarming holiday film.


1947
Directed by:  Henry Coster
Starring:  Cary Grant, David Niven, Loretta Young

Sometimes angels rush in where fools fear to tread. 

A true holiday classic.  A bishop is lost and without direction and desperately needs to raise money for a new church.  He prays for help and guidance, but feels he receives none.  However, he does receive help in the form of an angel named Dudley.  Dudley is incredibly charming (after all, he IS played by Cary Grant) as an assistant to the bishop.  Everyone falls for him, especially the bishop's wife (played by Loretta Young.)  Bishop Henry becomes increasingly frustrated and jealous of Dudley and what develops is a film that expertly showcases the fine acting abilities of its three leads.  It has a great holiday feel to it and both Grant and the film are incredibly charming.


JOYEUX NOËL 
(Merry Christmas)
2005
Directed by Christian Carion
Starring:  Diane Kruger, Benno Fürmann, Guillaume Canet, Daniel Brühl

Tonight, these men were drawn to that altar like it was a fire in the middle of winter. Even those who aren't devout came to warm themselves.

You may not have heard of this European film that had a very limited release in the United States.  The story revolves around a miracle that took place during Christmas Eve, 1914 in the middle of World War I.  Four characters are profiled:  a priest in the Scottish army, a French lieutenant, a German soldier who is also a famous tenor and his wife.  On the night before Christmas, hostilities temporarily cease and the soldiers leave their trenches and spend Christmas with the enemy.  Writer/Director Carion and the excellent cast do an amazing job of bringing this film to life.  Even more amazing was that film is based on a true story.  The true strong point of the film lies in the fact that you can take what you want from this film.  Whether the soldiers stopped fighting was brought on by God, Christmas or just the disgust with the horrors of war is up for interpretation.  Whatever you take from it, realize that this is a new classic in holiday films.


(A Christmas Carol)
1951
Directed by:  Brian Desmond Hurst
Starring:  Alistair Sim, Mervyn Johns, Michael Hordern, Francis De Wolff, Miles Malleson

Before I draw nearer to that stone, tell me! Are these the shadows of things that must be, or are they the shadows of things that MIGHT be? 

The Muppet Christmas Carol is my favorite adaptation of this story, however, Scrooge is perhaps the best and most faithful retelling.  That says a lot, considering the story has been adapted 53 times on film and in television since 1901.  Even more impressive is that Sim is, in this blogger's opinion, the best on-screen Ebeneezer Scrooge of all time.  This includes a diverse list of actors ranging anywhere from Albert Finney to Patrick Stewart to Jim Carey.  He excels at being both cruel and menacing as well as childishly hilarious.  It leaves no part of the story untouched and gives more back story to Scrooge in the "Past" segment than any other film has done to date.  


1983
Directed by:  Bob Clark
Starring:  Peter Billingsley, Melinda Dillon, Darren McGavin

Oh my god, I shot my eye out!

Every child knows what's it's like to want that perfect Christmas present.  The longing, the pleading, the desperation of that ONE THING that you just can't live without.  A Christmas Story is the simple tale of Ralphie, a little boy who wants nothing more for Christmas than a B.B. gun.  Not just any B.B. gun, mind you, but an Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle (with this thing that tells time.)  It seems everyone is against him... his mother, his teacher... heck, even Santa thinks he'll shoot his eye out.  But Ralphie is unrelenting in his desire for this perfect gift.  This film is timeless, because even though it was made in the 80s, and takes place in the 40s, everyone, young and old, can relate to Ralphie.  A Christmas Story perfectly captures exactly what it's like to be a kid on Christmas.


1942
Directed by:  Mark Sandrich
Starring:  Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, Marjorie Reynolds

Ted:  I like it here... with you and Linda. 
Jim: And we love having you. When are you leaving? 

The movie that gave birth to not just one of the most popular Christmas songs of all time, but one of the most popular songs EVER.  More on that in a second.  Bing Crosby was one of the most popular entertainers in his day, so Paramount Pictures gave him a huge budget to do a musical.  What does he spend the money on?  Hiring the legendary dance man Fred Astaire as his co-star and Irving Berlin as his song writer and they produce one of the most charming musicals ever made.  The story follows song-and-dance entertainers Jim Hardy and Ted Hanover (Crosby and Astaire respectively) as they compete for the affections of the same girl.  Jim has reason to be nervous as Ted has stolen one of his girls in the past.  Jim quits show business to run a hotel that is only open on holidays and hires Linda Mason (Reynolds) as a performer.  When Ted realizes that not only is Linda beautiful, but an amazing singer and dancer he schemes to once again steal a girl away from Jim.  Crosby is always praised for his singing, but not enough for his comedic acting... and paired with Fred Astaire, the two have great comedic chemistry.  All the songs for each holiday are fun (though you may want to skip the "Abraham" number because in 1942 doing a song in black face wasn't considered racially insensitive) but the show stealer is "White Christmas" which as I mentioned before became one of the biggest songs of all time.  It's popularity was mostly due to the requests of soldiers fighting the war in Europe who desperately wanted to be reminded of home.


1954
Directed by:  Michael Curtiz
Starring:  Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, Vera Ellen

Let's just say we're doing it for an old pal in the army.

12 years after "White Christmas" became a huge hit, Bing Crosby and Irving Berlin teamed up again and made it the title of another Christmastime musical.  This time around Danny Kaye replaces Fred Astaire as the dance man.  Kaye, while not as "legendary" as Fred Astaire, still did not disappoint as all his dance numbers with Vera Allen were a hell of a lot of fun to watch.  Rosemary Clooney played Crosby's love interest and will leave a great impression on you with her magnificent voice.  Crosby and Kaye play two old army buddies that teamed up as a song and dance duo turned producers after the war.  They are so over-worked that Phil (Kaye) is just getting plain sick and tired of constantly being around Bob (Crosby.)  He never misses an opportunity to play matchmaker with any pretty girl that walks into Bob's life just so that he can get some time away from his partner.  Enter the Betty & Judy Haynes, a pair of sisters hoping that Bob and Phil will give them a shot in one of their shows.  After the getting the girls out of a jam, the four entertainers head to Vermont for the holidays where Bob and Phil realize that the ski lodge they're staying at is being run by their old army general.  Seeing the sad state of affairs the lodge is in, Bob, Phil, Betty and Judy start planning a big Christmas spectacle to hopefully attract visitors.  The big closing number?  You guessed it.


MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET
1947
Directed by:  George Seaton
Starring:  Maureen O'Hara, John Payne, Edmund Gwenn, Gene Lockhart, Natalie Wood

Faith is believing when common sense tells you not to. Don't you see? It's not just Kris that's on trial, it's everything he stands for. It's kindness and joy and love and all the other intangibles. 

One of the most warm-hearted films ever made, Miracle on 34th Street depicts the trial of a Macy's store Santa Claus who truly believes he is THE Santa Claus, but at its heart, it's a film about faith.  Not just for the other characters, but for the audience itself.  When we are first introduced to Kris Kringle, he is walking the streets of New York on Thanksgiving Day.  You don't see him with any reindeer, you don't seem him at the North Pole and the only sleigh he rides in is the one in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade.  Naturally, since he is the hero of the story, there is an implied trust between the protagonist and the viewer.  We believe what he presents to us.  No matter how ludicrous it may seem.  Unlike most movies about Santa Claus, this film has no magic moments.  Heck, the most amazing thing Kris does is speak Dutch to a little Dutch orphan.  Something certainly anybody with a proper background could do.  He brings people together at Christmastime, and slowly convinces every one around him that he is the real deal.  Most of this of course is due to the wonderful acting abilities of Edmund Gwenn, who won an Oscar for his portrayal of Kris.  "Faith is believing in something when common sense tells you not to."  That is a line repeated in the movie... and by the end of the film, we as the audience truly believe that Kris IS Santa, despite having no proof.  And there in lies the true miracle of the film.


MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS
1944
Directed by:  Vincente Minnelli
Starring:  Judy Garland, Margaret O'Brien, Mary Astor

 It's our last dance in St. Louis. I feel like I'm going to cry.

Unlike most of the films on this list, Meet Me in St. Louis is a film that doesn't primarily take place DURING Christmas.  In fact, the only extended Christmas scene doesn't happen until towards the end of the film.  However, much like Holiday Inn, this film was responsible for another immortal Christmas song that you hear every year:  "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas."  Most people don't realize that song is not a "happy" Christmas song, it's actually bittersweet as it is sung at a very sad and poignant moment in the film.  The film follows a close-knit family in suburban St. Louis through the year of 1904 as they live pleasant lives, fall in love, celebrate holidays and have good times with each other.  It is the perfect picture of Middle Class America.  Everything is perfect in this little corner of the world.  There is a pall over the year, however, as the head of the family wishes to move the entire family off to New York where better financial opportunities await him.  On the eve of their departure, at Christmas, Judy Garland tries to comfort her younger sister by singing "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas."  The message of the song being, "Don't let this move ruin your Christmas.  Don't mourn the loss of your home, but cherish the memories you have."  This film is essential holiday viewing not only for its classic song, but also for its strong themes of the love of your family and how there is no place like home. (A message Judy Garland isn't unfamiliar with.)


1940
Directed by: Ernst Lubitsch
Starring:  James Stewart, Margaret Sullivan

Psychologically, I'm very confused... But personally, I don't feel bad at all. 

I have often said that I hate romantic comedies.  I feel they are formulaic, dull and predictable.  Furthermore, just as Playboy give men unrealistic expectations of women, romantic comedies are just as guilty of giving women unrealistic expectations of men.  The exception to this rule, of course, is any romantic comedy made before 1950.  This was a time when they weren't formulaic (well, maybe a little), the characters were fleshed out and developed, the stories were tight and well scripted, and, of course, the two leads were incredibly charming.  I mean, can you really compare Clark Gable and Humphrey Bogart with Ashton Kutcher and Robert Pattinson?  No.  You can't.  I digress.  The Shop Around the Corner is a romantic comedy, plain and simple.  It's Christmas time and Klara (Margaret Sullivan) and Alfred (James Stewart) are both employees at the same baggage store, constantly competing for customers and THEY CAN'T STAND EACH OTHER.  Here's the kicker, though:  Each one of them has a pen pal that they've never met... and it just so happens that it turns out that they are each other's pen pal.  They write love letters to each other, not knowing that the person they are professing love to is someone they'd like to throw in front of a bus.  If this sounds familiar it's because it was unremarkably re-made in 1998 as You've Got Mail, this time with an e-mail angle.  Skip that one.  Watch this one.  Not very Christmas-y other than it takes place during the holidays, but it's charming, fun and probably one of the best romantic comedies ever filmed.


EDWARD SCISSORHANDS
1990
Directed by Tim Burton
Starring:  Johnny Depp, Winona Ryder, Diane Weist, Anthony Michael Hall, Alan Arkin, Vincent Price

If he weren't up there now... I don't think it would be snowing. Sometimes you can still catch me dancing in it. 

Edward Scissorhands is often left off "Best Holiday Films" lists, why I'm not sure.  It is one of the GREAT Christmas films.  If you go into this film as a comedy (like the producers advertised it), you'll be disappointed.  While it certainly has many humorous moments, this movie is much more of a fantasy.  A modern day fairy tale.  Edward is a creation that was built by a scientist who was trying to create a man.  Even though he was a "creator," he was the only father, and family, that Edward ever knew... and sadly he died before Edward was "finished," leaving Edward with scissors for hands.  Years later he is rescued from isolation by a kindly Avon lady, who unofficially adopts him.  At first Edward is welcomed by the small suburban neighborhood, and they take advantage of his handicap by putting him to use trimming hedges and cutting hair.  But Edward's heart truly lies with Kim, the daughter of the woman who rescued him.  What develops is a love straight out of a story book fairy tale, however without a fairy book ending.  What makes this a Christmas movie?  Other than the fact that the film takes place during Christmas, it has a charming theory on the origins of snow.  When people describe a film as "hauntingly beautiful," this is what they're talking about.  Edward Scissorhands is Tim Burton's masterpiece.


1946
Directed by:  Frank Capra
Starring:  James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, Thomas Mitchell, Henry Travers

Strange, isn't it? Each man's life touches so many other lives. When he isn't around he leaves an awful hole, doesn't he? 

I don't care what anyone says, It's a Wonderful Life, after over 60 years is STILL the greatest Christmas movie ever made.  It may be cliche, but there is not one film better.  On top of that, it makes the Top 5 of The Essential Films' Top 100 Movies of All Time (Coming Soon.)  It's better than Citizen Kane.  Better than Star Wars.  Better than Gone With The Wind.  I watch it every single year, and so should every one.  By those who've never seen it and by those who've seen it dozens of times.  It's message is universal and timeless.  A man who sacrifices his entire life for every family member, friend and sometimes complete stranger just because it's the right thing to do... well one day, he gets in trouble.  He's so desperate he considers committing suicide on Christmas Eve.  A guardian angel intervenes and prevents him from doing so. When George remarks that perhaps the world would have been a better place had he not even existed, the angel decides to show him exactly what the world would be like.  The message of the film is that everyone matters and everyone touches everyone else's life in some way.  You should value and cherish not just your life, but all lives.  And at the end of the day, no man is failure who has friends.  

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Die Hard (1988)

This post was originally published on SuperfriendsUniverse.com as part of the "Movies Every Man Should Own" series on December 7, 2011.



DIE HARD

John McTiernan
1988 • 131 Minutes • 2.20:1 • United States
20th Century Fox

Principal Cast – Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, Bonnie Bedlia, Reginald VelJohnson, Paul Gleason
Screenplay – Jeb Stuart, Steven E. de Souza
Producers – Joel Silver, Lawrence Gordon
Cinematography – Jan De Bont

Awards

Academy Awards – Best Effects, Sound Effects Editing (Nomination)
Academy Awards – Best Effects, Visual Effects (Nomination)
Academy Awards – Best Film Editing (Nomination)
Academy Awards – Best Sound (Nomination)
American Film Institute’s 100 Most Thrilling Movies (#39)
American Film Institute’s 50 Greatest Movie Villains (Hans Gruber – #46)
DVD of the Day’s 100 Greatest Movie Bad-Asses (John McClane – #1)
The Essential Film’s 100 Greatest Movie Villains (Hans Gruber – #7)

Now I have a machine gun. Ho Ho Ho.  

Plot:  New York City cop John McClane heads to Los Angeles to visit his estranged wife and children in time for the holidays.  But shortly after he arrives at his wife’s high-rise office building a group of terrorists invade, killing and wreaking havoc on the holy night of Christmas Eve.  It’s up to McClane to take down the terrorists by himself…

WHY SHOULD YOU OWN IT?

John McTiernan

By 1988 John McTiernan had directed an action classic in Predator.  Could he repeat the same success with Die Hard?  The short answer? Yes.  Not only was Die Hard more financially successful (quite a feat for the director’s third film), but it exceeded the sci-fi/horror shoot ‘em up’s action packed scenes.  McTiernan is one of the the best action director’s of all time, having also gone on to helm The Hunt for Red October, Die Hard with a Vengeance and The Thomas Crown Affair.   When it comes to action, this guy knows what he’s doing.  Die Hard is jam packed with amazing sequences… from John McClane’s escape in the elevator shaft, to the destruction of an LAPD SWAT tank (“The quarterback is toast!”) and of course McClane jumping off the top of a 40-story building to escape an exploding helicopter.  All of it looks as good in 2011 as it did in 1988.

The Script

Jeb Stuart and Steven E. de Souza pen an extremely tight and well-put-together screenplay… a rarity for any action movie.  From the opening scene it sets up and foreshadows future events.  A businessman tells McClane to take off his shoes and make “fists with his toes” to relax.  Later, when McClane is doing just that, the terrorists attack and he has no time to put on his shoes.  This leads him to spend the ENTIRE MOVIE barefoot, which proves disastrous when he has to escape the bad guys by running through glass.  There are other little moments just like this in the film.  The entire movie from start to finish makes sense, with each event (big or small) having an impact on the next.  Stuart/de Souza’s gift of writing also serves them well in the dialogue department.  Not only do they sprinkle great lines throughout the script (“Yippee-Kay-Yay Motherfucker”), but the radio conversations between McClane and his only ally, Sgt. Al Powell, are captivating. They also heavily rely on (gasp!) character development.  McClane is a fully realized character.  Now, in the future sequels he does become more of a caricature, but in the original he is a desperate man, determined not only to defeat the bad guys, but also reunite and reconcile with his wife.  Powell, his only ally in the movie, also has a nice little story arc that climaxes nicely at the end of the film (no spoilers here.)  And of course, who can forget the great Hans Gruber character?  Excellently written, but even more excellently acted. Speaking of….

Alan Rickman

Modern audiences probably most recognize Alan Rickman as the despicable Professor Snape from the Harry Potter franchise.  While he’s a veteran actor, American audiences first noticed him as the delightfully villainous Hans Gruber in Die Hard.  Gruber is the smooth-talking, calculating and evil terrorist (or is he?) that has taken over Nakotomi Tower.  He is absolutely the Lex Luthor to McClane’s Superman… relying on intellect instead of brawn.  He, by far, has the best lines in the film and Rickman just plays him to perfection.  Gruber just oozes evil and it’s so much fun to watch.

Bruce Willis

In 1988, Bruce Willis was mostly known for his work on the television show “Moonlighting.” And while the show was a good launch pad for his career, Die Hard was his star-making performance.  And it’s easy to see why.  He’s completely believable as the bad ass New York cop that will stop at nothing to take down the invading terrorists.  He has built his entire career around the John McClane character since then, much like Samuel L. Jackson has built his career on the Jules persona from Pulp Fiction.  Bruce Willis cements himself as one of the greatest action movie heroes ever and it is no coincidence that he topped the list of this website’s 100 Greatest Movie Bad-Asses.

Conclusion

Die Hard is a great alternative to the sugary-sweet Christmas movies that come around every December (not that there’s anything wrong with that), but also it just may be the greatest action movie of all time.

Yippee-Kai-Yay.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The 2011 AFI Film & Television Honorees

Every year, the American Film Institute announces its official top 10 films and television programs of the year.  Making the list this year are Hugo, Bridesmaids, The Descendants and Moneyball.  Television shows joining the list this year are viewer favorites such as "Curb Your Enthusiasm," "Game of Thrones" and "Breaking Bad."  Watch the video below:

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Meet John Doe (1941)





MEET JOHN DOE
Frank Capra
1941 • 122 Minutes 1.37:1 • United States
Warner Bros. 

Principal Cast - Gary Cooper, Barbara Stanwyck, Edward Arnold, Walter Brennan
Screenplay - Richard Connell & Robert Presnell Sr.
Producer - Frank Capra
Cinematography - George Barnes

Awards
  • Academy Award for Best Writing (Story) - Nomination

I don’t read no papers, and I don’t listen to radios either. I know the world’s been shaved by a drunken barber, and I don’t have to read it.  

After being fired from her job as a newspaper columnist, Ann Mitchell (Barbara Stanwyck) forges a letter to the editor from the fictional “John Doe,” a disgruntled and unemployed would-be prophet who threatens to kill himself on Christmas Eve because of his dissatisfaction in the state of the country.  Unexpectedly, “Doe” gains a huge following and the paper is forced to re-hire Mitchell as well as hire a homeless man, John Willoughby (Gary Cooper), to portray him for public appearances.  Initially both Ann and John are in it for the money, but they are soon caught up in the same rhetoric and philosophy they are selling to the public.  The country unites behind John Doe, but DB Norton, the sinister newspaper publisher, has other ideas for Doe…

This movie is perfect example of Frank Capra’s mastery of making populist entertainment.  His heroes are likeable, charming and, of course, have loads of high moral standards.  However, this film is a tad darker than other Capracorn like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington or Mr. Deeds Goes To Town.  The climactic scene on top of City Hall where John Doe is about to commit suicide on Christmas Eve is dark and forboding, and almost a foreshadowing of Capra’s most famous film, It’s a Wonderful Life, where Jimmy Stewart’s George Bailey is considering the same action on the same night.  Gary Cooper’s John Doe is charming, but Cooper has always been good at playing the down-to-Earth, humble do-gooders (Sergeant York).  Stanwyck is her usual delightful self… playing the jaded newspaper columnist with a heart of gold, and the two stars have a nice onscreen chemistry.

Meet John Doe is an often-forgotten gem that should be watched every Christmas season to remind us what the season is all about.