With the slightest excuse, I can go on and on about how Some Like It Hot is truly the perfect comedy if not the perfect movie. Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond's script has a perfect symmetry -- every setup is paid off, every gag is repeated bigger, better and often with a kind of lyricism ("we have the same type blood, type O"). The timing of the maracas scene is breathtakingly brilliant. People like to gossip about director Wilder's difficulty in working with Marilyn Monroe but you see none of that onscreen. Most importantly, I've seen the movie countless times but it's still funny, every single time.
Recently I've been interested in -- and vastly entertained by -- comedies that aren't perfect, and that don't quite work for one reason or another. The thin, ridiculous plot is just an excuse for strings and strings of gags. You can see the joins where the movie was recut for one reason or another. Casting choices threw the movie out of balance. You get the idea. And yet they are still marvelous in many ways.
For example, a few years after Some Like It Hot, Wilder directed Kiss Me, Stupid, a film that provided a sharp and smutty contrast to the pastel-colored "sophisticated comedies" of the time. Instead of Rock Hudson and Doris Day flirting on gorgeous sets, you get Ray Walston and Kim Novak in harsh black-and-white, bargaining in a quote-roadhouse-unquote.
I've never been particularly fond of romantic comedies on the whole. For me, it is the one genre of film that I've found to be the most blatantly straightforward and unsurprising. The standard setups, usual characters and typical obstacles are always present and accounted for, regardless of how some filmmakers try to dress things up. And while such romantic comedy blueprints have given vast amounts of joy to countless movie lovers for ages, it seemed that there was always something lacking for me within that world.
It's true, you may find a title or two in my DVD collection that bears the romantic comedy stamp, but those specific titles tell stories of love from different angles. Take for example the little-seen Til There Was You (1997), a small film about two adults who experience a number of failed romances over the course of two decades, only to finally meet each other in the last few minutes of the movie. It's a funny and thoughtful comment on romance and the journey most people must take towards finding the one they are meant for.
If there was any film that would be a game changer for me in this regard, it's definitely 5 to 7 (2014). Upon viewing the film at the Austin Film Society pre-Valentine's Day screening, I can say that I have finally seen a film which truly embodies the term "romantic comedy." Produced by 2015 Texas Film Awards honoree Bonnie Curtis and written and directed by Victor Levin, 5 to 7 is loaded with sharp comedic moments and a compelling story squarely focused on the transformative power of love on the individual.
The phrase "Hot Tub Time Machine" was such an insane concept I couldn't wait to see the 2010 release. (Debbie's review) Sure, it was a fratboy movie, but it was fresh and edgy at a time when the nation was just learning to laugh again a decade after 9/11, and I loved it. Five years was a long time to wait with such anticipation for this sequel.
Hot Tub Time Machine 2 is a wet hot mess, with bad jokes as frequent as jacuzzi bubbles, and good jokes popping like farts in a tub. It has the same writer (Josh Heald), the same director (Steve Pink) and largely the same cast (John Cusack is replaced by Adam Scott), but it failed to capture the same magic for me. I can't say I hated it, but somehow it felt ... different, like I was watching an elaborately extended Super Bowl commercial.
The original movie was tight, with a relatively narrow scope, but this one felt like Seth MacFarlane had an advising role on set. The characters are not just juvenile and drug-addled. They are absolutely moronic. In particular, Hot Tub Time Machine 2 suffers from too much Rob Corddry, way too much, physically speaking. I don't know if the man deserves recognition for being willing to go so far for a laugh or instead pity for being the guy who will go that far.
The story concerns the fate of the original characters, now returned to a weirdly altered timeline in which they have lived out their lives with future knowledge becoming rich and famous by pre-plagiarizing hit songs and founding their own version of Google. When Lou (Corddry) is shot by an unknown assailant, the group of friends must use the hot tub to again travel back to the past to fix the future. Hmmm.
There really are a number of good gags, and Adam Scott has great chemistry with Craig Robinson, Clark Duke and Corddry, better chemistry in fact than Cusack. Chevy Chase is a bright spot for the moment he's there. His appearance feels as if much more of it was left on the cutting-room floor. (Between Chase, Scott, Corddry and Gillian Jacobs, this was practically a Community/Parks & Recreation crossover.) The real heroes of this film are the digital artists, costumers and set designers who designed and executed a really insane version of the present and a far-out version of the near future.
The Austin Film Society kicks off a busy week of programming at the Marchesa tonight with the AGFA Endangered Fest II. The event will feature four films from the vaults of the American Genre Film Archive. Everything Is Terrible! is swinging by the Marchesa on Saturday night on their new "Legends" tour to bring you the best discoveries from the VHS era.
From Elizabeth: "AFS is also bringing back 'The Sepia Screen' this weekend, a showcase for some of the movies made for black audiences during America's segregated past. The films shown in July were from SMU's collection; the selections for this month are not part of that bunch. Series co-programmers Lars Nilsen and Dshanya Reese are certain to talk about the historical relevance of the works they selected and the people involved. The show starts at 2 pm on Sunday [tickets. Perhaps this would be a good option for counterprogramming on the day when the whitest Oscars in years occurs."
Over at the Alamo Drafthouse, multiple quote-along screenings of The Princess Bride are happening at the Slaughter and South Lamar locations. Check their online listings for showtimes on Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. The Alamo Ritz is showing a 4K digital restoration of Funny Girl for Broadway Brunch on Saturday and Sunday, a 35mm print of 1998's Khrustalyov, My Car! on Monday night, and Girlie Night presents Pretty Woman on Tuesday.
Just in time to be entirely irrelevant in terms of Oscar predictions, the Slackerwood contributors have voted on their top ten 2014 films. I think our picks are much better than the ones the Academy nominated for Best Picture (they didn't even pick ten this year, did they).
Our criteria were very laid-back -- it is called Slackerwood, after all. Eligible films included movies released in Austin in 2014 and movies that had a limited release for awards purposes in 2014. Ten contributors (including myself) each submitted a top ten list, and I tallied up the votes. No, I did not stuff the ballot box, as you can see by the absence of Snowpiercer on the list.
The first and second movies on this list were one point away from one another in the final tally. And of the ten films on the list, only two had votes from five contributors -- the first and fourth. Everything else had four or fewer votes. The list includes one movie shot in Austin, one movie directed by a former Texan, and one movie co-starring/produced by a former Austinite. Here we go:
10. Nightcrawler (pictured at top)
"... a slick thriller, even though it plays out like a gritty B-movie. ... The world of Nightcrawler is not exactly firmly grounded in reality, but it takes a slightly elevated, pitch-black look at a world where having questionable morality is celebrated as long as it increases the bottom line." -- Matt Shiverdecker (full review)
This year's list of Best Picture Oscar nominees for me has been one of the most eclectic lineups in years. While some of the choices (not to mention some of the omissions) have caused some stirring, the fact remains that each film is a unique peek into areas of society and life that are never anything but true and compelling. Though I feel there were a couple noticeable snubs (Gone Girl, A Most Violent Year, Nightcrawler), this is one of the few years where it could be said that every film on the list has earned its place. In celebration of these movies' triumphs, I've compiled a list of additional viewing choices made by some of the actors, actresses, directors, writers and producers who were responsible for this year's nominated films.
The Words (2012)
Few films surprised this year in terms of both acclaim and box office impact the way American Sniper (2014) did. The ferocious true story of Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle was a testament to the passion and drive of director Clint Eastwood and producer/star Bradley Cooper. The film has earned Cooper his third consecutive Oscar nomination, furthering his profile both in front of and behind the camera. Yet his most unheralded work as both producer and actor comes with the highly involving drama The Words.
Equal parts mystery, romance and period piece, The Words (J.C.'s review) features Cooper as a struggling author who discovers a long-lost manuscript which he presents as his own; leading to instant success and an encounter with a haunting older gentleman (Jeremy Irons). Films such as The Words simply do not exist anymore, which is a shame because this intricately crafted tale about destiny features not only features stellar acting and an exquisite screenplay, but also reinforces the notion owning up to the choices each person makes in their life.
My criteria for movies to include in "best of the year" lists are very loose, as compared to various critics' organizations and other film-awards groups. For example, I would never disqualify Birdman from Best Score because it includes music from other composers. (Otherwise I'd never be able to qualify my all-time favorite score, from The Bad News Bears, but I digress.) The point is to present an interesting list of notable movies I saw in/around 2014, not to nitpick.
So my "notable films of 2014" list includes movies that were released in 2014, no matter when I saw them, as well as movies I saw in 2014 even if they haven't had a theatrical release. And, you know, whatever the hell else I want. If I'd done a 2013 list I probably would have topped it with A New Leaf (1971) because that was by far the best movie I saw that year. (It's on Amazon Prime and Blu-ray. It's funnier than anything else I'll mention in this article. Go watch it now.)
I planned to only include a few films because I never feel constrained by "top ten" or other numbers, but excellent and enjoyable movies kept popping onto the list. These are sort of in order -- my favorite is the one at the top -- but once we get past that, I can't really quibble about whether this one is better than that one. I'd recommend every one of them, is the point.
My alternate Super Bowl programming this year was a DVD of The Rookie I checked out from the library. I had first seen the baseball drama closer to its original theatrical release in 2002 and remembered enjoying the story, but hadn’t really thought of the Disney film in the past ten years.
Dennis Quaid (Frequency, The Day After Tomorrow) leads the movie based on the true story of Jimmy Morris, a Texas high-school baseball coach who makes a deal with his team that he will try out for the major leagues if they win district and go on to state. Rachel Griffiths (Muriel's Wedding) plays his wife Lorri, the school counselor. I had forgotten that before he started the sitcom mega-hit Two and a Half Men, Angus T. Jones played the adorable son here. See how young he is in the still posted above.
We are shown the origins of the strained relationship between adult son Jimmy and his father Jim Morris Sr. (Brian Cox, only about seven years older than Quaid). It feels like this is something that might have been compounded more in the screenplay than in real life. Still, it is an interesting contrast to the relationship Jimmy has with his own young son, who helps in team practices and is almost a little shadow to his dad.
2014 had a lot of great movie releases, as you'll see in our Slackerwood Top Ten later this week. Picking out favorites was easy. Limiting them to just ten choices was much tougher.
However, there's no question the following titles were big losers for the year, and I'll tell you why these are my picks.
10. Edge of Tomorrow
This Tom Cruise-starring adaptation of the Japanese manga All You Need is Kill was one of the critically best films of the year and thus its place at number 10. Unfortunately, due to uncertainty over marketing, the opening weekend box office take was just under $30 million for this $178 million blockbuster. As of September, it had barely grossed $100 million. It failed again with the home video release which had "Live Die Repeat" splashed across the cover causing confusion among people who had seen the marketing for the edgier title. (my review)
Do you science? You'd be a lot cooler if you did. This movie is a controversial pick with many people on the "loved it" side of the debate. Still, Interstellar was saddled with very high expectations that many felt it failed to meet. Notes circulated on some of the original script ideas that had many wanting something more than they got. Much as I enjoyed it, the final act abandoned hard science in favor of fantasy, and the sound problems reported from across the country were a distraction. (Marcie's review)
Another one of my dud entries that was actually a pretty good film. This year, and with this remake, "pretty good" wasn't good enough. Gareth Edwards' heart was in it, but he took too long to build up the action to the point where the audience really felt he should have started. The most common complaint was that the title character doesn't show up for the first 40 minutes of the two-hour movie. My biggest complaint was under-use of Bryan Cranston (and over-use of Aaron Taylor-Johnson). This only has a 6.6 rating on IMDb. (my review)
"Lost in the Awards Rush" is a weekly series Slackerwood is running during the awards season, to suggest lesser-known but excellent alternatives to popular frontrunners for big movie awards.
Many authors and their works have been deemed as unfilmable by Hollywood because of unorthodox plots and characters that defy conventionality to great extremes. Nowhere is this more evident than with the works of Thomas Pynchon. The revered author may be the godfather of the postmodern detective, yet due to a number of dizzying elements within his books, none of Pynchon's works ever received the big-screen treatment. Enter Paul Thomas Anderson, who after securing Pynchon's blessing, brought Inherent Vice, one of the author's most acclaimed novels, to the screen. The 60s-set tale of a hippie private eye (Joaquin Phoenix) who takes on a bizarre missing persons case was heralded as one of the year's best comedies and earned Anderson a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar nomination.
While it's certainly a marvel how a seemingly unfilmable novel made such a dynamic transition to the screen, its a true shame that Phoenix's work as Doc, the oftentimes stoned detective, has been all but forgotten this awards season. The three-time Oscar nominee can already claim a laundry list of performances that reach levels of characterization other actors can only dream of. Though its a definite 180 from his work in Inherent Vice, Phoenix's work in the small independent drama Two Lovers (2008) is probably his most complex and poetic turn to date.