Sunday, March 30, 2014

Some Great Older Movies

In the pantheon of films over the decades, there is a general consensus about many of the all-time greats. Movies like "Citizen Kane," "The Godfather" (parts 1 and 2), "Casablanca," "Gone With the Wind," "Schindler's List," "The Wizard of Oz," "Annie Hall," and "Some Like It Hot" are all perceived to be among the best films ever made.

But then there are other, lesser-known movies that touch each of us in ways that are specific to what makes us tick.  In my case, I like meaningful films that are well-written and in some way uplift me and/or help to clarify my life, while also entertaining me.  That's a lot to ask for, which is why only a few films meet those criteria.

I'll attempt to describe the ones I can think of right now, and I will add to this list as I think of others.  Those movies include:
Field of Dreams
Written and directed by Phil Alden Robinson from a book by W.P. Kinsella, this film stars Kevin Costner, James Earl Jones, Amy Madigan, Ray Liotta, Burt Lancaster, Frank Whaley, and Timothy Busfield.  Of course, everyone knows the famous line, "If you build it, he will come," and the overall theme revolving around baseball, but this 1989 movie is really about the parent-child relationship and what it means to who we are and who we want to be.  I've seen it so many times that I know most of the lines, but my eyes still well up every time it ends.  It may be my all-time favorite movie.

Grand Canyon
Although more well-known for "The Big Chill" and "Body Heat," writer-director Lawrence Kasdan made an absolutely engaging film about life, change, and how our lives intersect with so many others.  Co-written by Kasdan's wife, Meg Kasdan, this 1991 film centers around a family, played by Kevin Klein, Mary McDonnell, and Jeremy Sisto who come into contact with a variety of people, some of whom are played by Danny Glover, Steve Martin, Mary Louise Parker, and Alfre Woodard.  The film intelligently explores these relationships in ways that even today seem fresh.

Moscow on the Hudson
In 1984, Paul Mazursky directed this seriocomic film, from a script he wrote with Leon Capetanos, about a Soviet Russian musician who defects in Bloomingdales.  Starring Robin Williams with supporting performances from Maria Conchita Alonso, Cleavant Derricks, and Alejandro Rey, it puts a different spin on immigration and what it means to be an American, and it does so with humor and warmth.

Before he directed "The Hunger Games," Gary Ross wrote and directed this 2003 film, starring Jeff Bridges, Chris Cooper, Tobey McGuire, and Elizabeth Banks about one of the most famous racehorses of all time.  However, the film isn't about horse racing--it's about redemption, in one way or another, for each of the main characters, and the importance of second chances.

American Beauty
Kevin Spacey laid the groundwork for his "House of Cards" character in this 1999 masterpiece, written by Alan Ball and directed by Sam Mendes.  With outstanding supporting performances from Annette Bening, Thora Birch, Wes Bentley, Mena Suvari, Chris Cooper, and Allison Janney, the film is alternately bleak and comic, and contains memorable scenes involving a long dinner table, rose petals, and dancing plastic bags.

October Sky
Directed by Joe Johnston based a book by Homer H. Hickham Jr., this 1999 film tells the true story of Hickham (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) and three friends from a coal town in rural West Virginia who battle seemingly insurmountable odds to build rockets and eventually win the State Science Fair, thereby enabling them to go to college and avoid working in the coal mines.  The film features outstanding supporting performances by Chris Cooper, Laura Dern, Chris Owen, and Natalie Canerday, and it is an uplifting example of triumph among hardships.

The Untouchables
For my money, this is Brian DePalma's best film--a 1987 fictionalized retelling of the story of how Elliot Ness and a small group of FBI agents brought down the criminal empire of Al Capone.  Starring Kevin Costner and co-starring Sean Connery, Charles Martin Smith, Andy Garcia, and Robert DeNiro, and written by Oscar Fraley and David Mamet, this is a tour de force of wonderful scenes, the most famous of which was the Union Station shootout, which was based on a scene from 1925's Battleship Potemkin.  The film also introduced several now-iconic lines like bringing "a knife to a gunfight," and "what are you prepared to do?"

State and Main
I've always enjoyed David Mamet's interesting screenplay choices, but this 2000 film, which Mamet also directed, is a perfect example of his subtle, sarcastic humor.  With an ensemble cast that includes William H. Macy, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Rebecca Pidgeon, Alec Baldwin, Sarah Jessica Parker, Julia Stiles, Clark Gregg, David Paymer, Charles Durning, and Patti Lupone, this film spectacularly ridicules Hollywood's attitudes toward small-town America.  Every time I watch this movie, I catch things I never noticed before.

You'd think that by this point, a film about a man dressing as a woman to land a TV role would be stale and dated, but that's not the case with "Tootsie."  In many ways, this 1982 Dustin Hoffman vehicle is as fresh today as it was then, because it wasn't cross-dressing that made it interesting, but rather the way that a man can better himself by exploring what women feel and have to deal with regularly.  Directed by (and co-starring) Sidney Pollack from a script written by Larry Gelbart and several others, this movie featured great supporting performances from Bill Murray, Jessica Lange, Teri Garr, Dabney Coleman, and Charles Durning.

The Whole Nine Yards
Jonathan Lynn directed this 2000 comedy, starring Bruce Willis as a hit man, whose life becomes intertwined with that of a Montreal dentist played by Matthew Perry.  Written by Mitchell Kapner, the film is a great vehicle for Willis's smug delivery and Perry's visual humor.  It also features a cast that includes Rosanna Arquette, Michael Clark Duncan, Natasha Henstridge, Kevin Pollack, and a scene-stealing performance from Amanda Peet.