ABOUT A BOY
(2002) D: Chris Weitz & Paul Weitz; Starring Hugh Grant, Toni Collette, Rachel Weisz.
Just another in a long line of movies with Hugh Grant playing Hugh Grant? Yes, but with so much more, namely Toni Collette in a raw and unconventional performance. This is my favorite kind of movie: comedy that makes you cry.
BET YOU DIDN’T KNOW: Co-directors Chris and Paul Weitz directed American Pie. Chris Weitz went to Cambridge University and was a class-mate of Rachel Weisz.
ADVENTURES OF PRISCILLA, QUEEN OF THE DESERT
(1994) D: Stephan Elliott. Starring Terence Stamp, Hugo Weaving, Guy Pearce.
The ultimate fish-out-of-water story. Touching, heart-breaking and achingly funny, this film is an absolute must-see, and not just for those Oscar-winning costumes, the fabulous soundtrack or for catching Weaving and Pearce in their pre-Matrix and LA Confidential star-making roles. If you thought Patrick Swayze plays gay well, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
BET YOU DIDN’T KNOW: The editor/publisher of the US Abba Fan Club Magazine called for a boycott of the movie, claiming to be offended by the film’s portrayal of the Swedish supergroup.
(2000) D: Cameron Crowe. Starring Billy Crudup, Frances McDormand, Kate Hudson, Jason Lee, Patrick Fugit.
Once you know that this film is based on Crowe’s real-life experiences touring with Led Zeppelin, how can you not watch it? But what’s amazing is that beyond the juicy real-life comparisons, he’s made a film about people and is at his Cameron Crowe best at blending drama with humor. Why Billy Crudup is not yet a household name and Kate Hudson is is beyond me. Yet another film Frances McDormand put in her pocket and walked away with.
BET YOU DIDN’T KNOW: The original title was “Untitled” but Dreamworks wouldn’t let them use it. Crowe has named the bootleg DVD of the film Untitled.
AS GOOD AS IT GETS
(1997) D: James L. Brooks. Starring Jack Nicholson, Helen Hunt, Greg Kinnear, Cuba Gooding, Jr.
A rare Hollywood ensemble piece that’s about people and how they really relate to each other. A perfect film for those of us who have never felt we fit in. Tender, funny and poignant, it never takes the easy way out.
BET YOU DIDN’T KNOW: Helen Hunt is the only actress in history to win a Golden Globe, an Emmy and an Oscar in the same calendar year.
(2000) D: Stephen Daldry. Starring Julie Walters, Jamie Bell.
Hard to believe this film is directed by the same guy who directed The Hours. This film is intoxicating, from its soundtrack to its star Jamie Bell, who you just can’t take your eyes off of. This film soars with fun and optimism, but manages to delve deeper than The Full Monty, against which it is unfairly (and inappropriately) compared to. When you need to smile, rent this.
BET YOU DIDN’T KNOW: Star Jamie Bell was chosen out of a casting call of over 2000 boys from the Northeast of England. It was a perfect case of art imitating life, as Bell himself was teased by classmates when they found out that Jamie took ballet and called him “Ballerina Boy”.
(1996) D: Andy Wachowski and Larry Wachowski.
Starring Gina Gershon, Jennifer Tilly and Joe Pantoliano.
This is the pre-Matrix film that I think is better than The Matrix. The Wachowski Brothers are at their best in this film, which relies less on special effects than on good, old-fashioned story-telling. This is the kind of thriller they just don’t make too many of anymore.
BET YOU DIDN’T KNOW: Gina Gershon was originally offered the role of Violet, eventually played by Tilly.
(1985) D: Terry Gilliam. Starring Jonathan Pryce and Robert DeNiro.
A dark, eccentric and pessimistic look at the future. Besides all that, Terry Gilliam’s visionary filmmaking make this one of the modern classics.
BET YOU DIDN’T KNOW: This was River Phoenix’s favorite movie, and he had been filming Dark Blood with Jonathan Pryce. As a gift, Pryce arranged for Phoenix to meet Terry Gilliam, his hero. The meeting was set to happen the day he died outside the Viper Room. Phoenix never met him.
THE BREAKFAST CLUB
(1985) D: John Hughes. Starring Molly Ringwald, Judd Nelson, Emilio Estevez, Anthony Michael Hall and Ally Sheedy.
For anyone who grew up in the 80s, this film was the seminal cinematic representative of what it was like to be a teenager during the Reagan years. Certainly not the best film ever made, but with the memorable characters and even more memorable lines, The Breakfast Club was John Hughes at his best.
BET YOU DIDN’T KNOW: The scene in which all characters sit in a circle on the floor in the library and tell stories about why they were in detention was not scripted. John Hughes told them all to ad-lib.
BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID
(1969) D: George Roy Hill. Starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford.
Newman and Redford at their absolute best. I can’t imagine there could ever be an on-screen partnership to rival their talent, looks and chemistry. Pure cinematic magic. Add to that one of the best screenplays ever written and two of the most seductively charming characters that have ever been onscreen, and you’ve got a classic of a generation.
BET YOU DIDN’T KNOW: According to screenwriter William Goldman, his screenplay originally was entitled “The Sundance Kid and Butch Cassidy.” Both Steve McQueen and Paul Newman read the script at approximately the same time, and agreed to do it, with McQueen playing the Sundance Kid. When McQueen dropped out, the names reversed in the title, as Newman was a superstar.
THE CRYING GAME
(1992) D: Neil Jordan. Starring Stephen Rea, Jaye Davidson, Miranda Richardson, Forest Whitaker.
Beautifully crafted, complex, touching, funny, political, heartbreaking and powerful. The “secret” may have made people go see it, but this film is so much more.
BET YOU DIDN’T KNOW: The supposedly “uncastable” role of Dil went to Jaye Davidson, who was “discovered” at a party and supposedly took the role in order to pay for a pair of hand-made leather riding boots he had seen in a copy of Vogue magazine.
(2001) D: Richard Kelly. Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Holmes Osborne, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Patrick Swayze.
The undisputed King of the modern independent cult classic. Wickedly funny, odd, surreal, depressing, serious, sweet, philosophical and sometimes off-the-radar deep, Donnie Darko is one of those movie experiences that makes you wish you were that imaginative. Without Jake Gyllenhaal’s powerhouse and truly endearing performance, this film could have ended up in the another-forgettable-teen-movie pile.
BET YOU DIDN’T KNOW: The movie was shot in 28 days, exactly the time-span of the movie itself, on a budget of under $5 million.
(1990) D: Tim Burton. Starring Johnny Depp, Winona Ryder, Dianne Wiest.
Nobody takes career risks like Johnny Depp, and this was his first jump off the bridge. Mix with that Tim Burton’s dark comic sensibilities and the bland monochrome of suburbia, and you’ve got a fish-out-of-water story unlike any other. Here is also where Danny Elfman really comes into his own as a film composer.
BET YOU DIDN’T KNOW: This was Vincent Price’s last screen appearance. During the scene where his character dies, Price actually fainted on the set as it was filmed. Burton decided the take was fine and kept it for the morbidity of it.
(1994) D: Robert Zemeckis. Starring Tom Hanks, Gary Sinise, Robin Wright Penn.
Why does this one make my list? Probably because of Robin Wright Penn, if I’m honest, but it did win Best Picture for a reason. I can’t see anyone hating it, really.
BET YOU DIDN’T KNOW: In the first scene of every new age transition, Forrest is wearing a blue plaid shirt.
FRIED GREEN TOMATOES
(1991) D: Jon Avnet. Starring Mary Stuart Masterson, Mary-Louise Parker, Jessica Tandy, Kathy Bates.
Jessica Tandy and Kathy Bates stole the limelight and the publicity, but the film belongs to Mary Stuart Masterson and Mary-Louise Parker in the best “friendship” movie of all time.
BET YOU DIDN’T KNOW: This was only Chris O’Donnell’s second major motion picture. His debut was Men Don’t Leave.
(2008) D: Martin McDonagh. Starring Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Ralph Fiennes.
Great screenplay, great performance by Colin Farrell, this was the second-best film of 2008 (second to Wall-E). It defies genre, it is totally original and uniquely brilliant in so many ways. See it.
BET YOU DIDN’T KNOW: This is only writer/director Martin McDonagh’s second film.
(1996) D: Cameron Crowe. Starring Tom Cruise, Renee Zellweger.
Yeah, ok, I like it. It may be Tom Cruise and Renee Zellweger, but it’s also Cameron Crowe, and that means its going to be a little of everything and, let’s face it, this movie is some of the smartest schmaltz you’ll ever come across.
BET YOU DIDN’T KNOW: Cameron Crowe has stated that Jerry’s memo/mission statement was directly influenced by Jeffrey Katzenberg’s tirade after leaving Disney.
(1994) D: P.J. Hogan. Starring Toni Collette, Rachel Griffiths, Bill Hunter.
If you’ve ever rooted for a loser, this is your film. Toni Collette is absolutely magnificent in this occasionally heartbreaking comedy from Australia that’s got it all.
BET YOU DIDN’T KNOW: Bill Hunter was filming The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert at the same time, another film that developed an international cult following and prominently featured the music of ABBA. At first, ABBA didn’t want its music to be used in Muriel’s Wedding, and only consented after the producers agreed to give the band a percentage of profits. The film ended up being so successful that it inspired the Broadway smash Mamma Mia, the musical featuring ABBA music.
(2001) D: Steven Soderbergh. Starring George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, Matt Damon, Don Cheadle.
Ensemble acting at its best. Fun, sleek, sexy, smart and sassy. 100% fun.
BET YOU DIDN’T KNOW: Pay attention to Brad Pitt’s character: he’s eating in nearly every scene.
(1989) D: Ron Howard. Starring Steve Martin, Dianne Wiest, Mary Steenburgen, Rick Moranis, Tom Hulce, Keanu Reeves, Jason Robards, Martha Plimpton.
Another terrific ensemble comedy with a ton of heart.
BET YOU DIDN’T KNOW: This movie is based on Ron Howard (Director), Brian Grazer (Producer), Lowell Ganz (screenwriter) and Babaloo Mandel’s (screenwriter) experiences as parents
(1992) D: Robert Altman. Starring Tim Robbins, Greta Scacchi, Fred Ward, Whoopi Goldberg, Peter Gallagher.
Robert Altman at his best: choreographing an impressive and giant ensemble of actors through a complicated and nuanced script—-with a lot of inside jokes along the way.
BET YOU DIDN’T KNOW: The opening tracking shot (8 minutes) includes people talking about famous long tracking shots in other movies. The scene was rehearsed for a day, shot for half a day. Fifteen takes were done, five were printed, and the third one was used in the film. The entire sequence was unscripted, and all the dialogue is improvised.
PRETTY IN PINK
(1986) D: Howard Deutsch. Starring Molly Ringwald, Andrew McCarthy, Jon Cryer, Harry Dean Stanton, James Spader.
Hey, I grew up in the 80s, what can you expect? Jon Cryer will forever be Duckie, even when he’s 90.
BET YOU DIDN’T KNOW: According to IMDB.com, this is Molly Ringwald’s favorite of her films.
(1988) D: David Seltzer. Starring Tom Hanks, Sally Field, John Goodman.
Tom Hanks playing cynical and mean-spirited—-his future Oscar wins are foreshadowed in his moving and maniacal performance as a stand-up comic who’s hit rock-bottom.
BET YOU DIDN’T KNOW: Both Tom Hanks and Sally Field did stand-up routines in comedy clubs to prepare for this film. One night, a young, up-and-coming Chris Rock shared a set with Hanks, and has stated since that Hanks was the funniest stand-up he had ever seen.
(2001) D: Stephen Herek. Starring Mark Wahlberg, Jennifer Aniston, Dominic West.
Even though the comedy and rock-musical elements will make this film seem frothy and insignificant, the underlying message of “be careful what you wish for” resonates. Even so, this film is pure fun and even makes Mark Wahlberg watchable.
BET YOU DIDN’T KNOW: The film was inspired by the real-life story of Tim “Ripper” Owens, singer in a Judas Priest cover band who was chosen to replace singer Rob Halford when he left Judas Priest.
(1973) D: George Roy Hill. Starring Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Robert Shaw, Charles Durning, Ray Walston.
Modern capers like Ocean’s Eleven and The Italian Job owe everything to the original and still the best. And not only is the film, story and ensemble pitch-perfect, this film captures two of American cinema’s all-time great leading men at their peaks. Lightning in a bottle, my friends.
BET YOU DIDN’T KNOW: According to costume designer Edith Head’s biography, Robert Redford and Paul Newman, both of whom have blue eyes, both wanted their costume shirts to be blue in order to emphasize their eyes. As a compromise Head outfitted each man in blue in alternating scenes.