Week two of listing favorite films that may not be on your radar because they’re not new. A few of these were made before I was born, and they’re still resonant. This week’s seven run the gamut of genres and styles.
I give you a Chinese Kung-Fu comedy, a French rom-com, a Frank Capra classic, a Hong Kong gangster vs cop drama, a brilliant gothic horror tale, a women’s lib girl power comedy, and the funniest rom-com ever made.
There’s something for everyone here.
8. Kung Fu Hustle (2004) (China) This is one of the most fun Chinese films out there. A couple of hustlers try to scam a slummy Shanghai neighborhood called Pig Sty Alley into thinking they’re part of the powerful Axe gang. But the Axe gang gets wind of it and comes to assert their power over the place. But little do they all know, the little neighborhood is home to a trio of retired kick-ass kung-fu masters.
The film is hilarious and the kung-fu, aided by some top-notch digital magic, is so much fun to watch. The humor is definitely on the dumb-funny side, and the characters pretty preposterous, but you can’t help but laugh out loud from beginning to end. (It’s rate R, but the kids will love it, too!)
9. Mama There’s A Man In Your Bed (1989) I’m a big Daniel Auteuil fan and this is one of my favorites. He stars as Romuald, the head of a French yoghurt company whose business partner throws him under the bus when a food poisoning scandal hits the company. And then his wife kicks him to the curb. His life entirely in tatters, he is taken in by Juliette, a black cleaning woman who works at his former company. She lives with her five kids from five husbands, all of whom are all still in love with her. And soon Romuald is smitten, too.
What’s wonderful about the film is Juliette’s story. As a big black woman, and a cleaner, no one pays her any attention. Even Romuald did not when he was still at the yoghurt company. She’s all but invisible. But when Romuald is accused of malfeasance, that works to their advantage, as she can go into rooms where people speak freely around her, not expecting that she’s “anyone important.” Juliette is also her own woman, not impressed by Romuald’s wealth and status, which makes her even more attractive to him. This is a total feel good film with a great message about love and class and #girlpower. (The film was optioned by Whoopie Goldberg, but never got the American remake, thank god!)
10. Meet John Doe (1941) stars classic movie actors Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck. Directed by the brilliant Frank Capra, it’s the story of a reporter (Ann) who invents a letter from a suicidal “John Doe” who’s unemployed and despondent over the unfair world he’s in. He promises to jump off City Hall on Christmas Eve in protest. The letter causes an uproar, with the public wanting to know more so they can help, and other reporters calling it a hoax. So Ann decides to hire a homeless man to stand in for her fictional John Doe.
The newspaper, hoping to boost sales, gives John a new suit, some money and a hotel room. And soon Ann is writing more letters from him, and they strike a chord with the public and he’s talked into giving a speech. But after doing it he runs away with his buddy. He’s found by a man with an agenda of his own who starts “John Doe” clubs with the slogan “Be a better neighbor”. And John is happy to be a part of it. But it turns out that man is using the clubs for his own political gain with a plan to run for president with a new party. It’s a great story for talking about the manipulation of the “little people” by media and politicians. And I’ve always had a soft spot for Gary Cooper.
11. Infernal Affairs (2002) stars Andy Lau and Tony Leung as cops in Hong Kong. They’re both in the same police cadet class. And after graduation, one of them is on the straight and narrow and is recruited to go undercover inside the Triad crime gang. The other is hired by the Triad to be their mole inside the police. But after a decade of working for opposite sides, their covers are about to be blown, and they’re both tasked with looking for the traitor in their midst, which is themselves. It’s a twisty fabulous story.
You may have seen the Scorsese remake The Departed, but the original is so much better. Lau and Leung are excellent as the men who’ve been living a lie so long they’ve almost forgotten who they are. It’s an edge of your seat kind of film. I’ve heard that the sequel Infernal Affairs II is even better and it’s on my list. It helps that the two leads are both great actors, and very easy on the eyes, too.
12. The Night of the Hunter (1955) is a film you could watch just for the gorgeous black and white cinematography. But fortunately, the story and the performances are also top notch. The best of the bunch though is Robert Mitchum as the Rev. Harry Powell, serial killer and religious fanatic. He’s in jail for car theft when he meets a bank robber and murderer slated for execution who confesses to having stolen $10,000. When the Reverend gets out he decides to go after the money and insinuates himself into the life of the thief’s widow (Shelley Winters). She has two small children and the littlest knows where the money is, but despite threats from the preacher she and her older brother won’t tell him where it is hidden.
The preacher marries their mother, but soon kills her, and then he locks the kids up in the cellar, telling them that he’ll leave them there until they tell him where they hid the dough. But they escape and it’s a chase, with him on their heels. It’s gothic horror at its best. Mitchum is such a smooth villain, able to seduce everyone he meets. Only the children see him for who he is. I watch this one every few years and it doesn’t get old.
13. An Unmarried Woman (1978) is definitely a Women’s Lib, “I am Woman, Hear Me Roar” flick. In it Erica (Jill Claiburgh) is dumped by her husband of 15 years for a younger women and she stumbles through the aftermath, reevaluating her place in the world. She communes with her gal pals, vents to her shrink, and dives into the singles scene. Then she meets the one, Saul (Alan Bates) a painter worthy of her. And it’s clearly a good match. But she’s afraid to let the relationship go too far for fear of losing her newfound independence.
Fortunately, this is a comedy, and Jill Clayburgh is just amazing in it. (What ever happened to her?) It is perhaps a movie of its time, but I’m going to rewatch and see if it holds up. It is one that I remember loving when it came out. It was directed by Paul Mazursky known for several other Oscar nominated films including Harry and Tonto, and Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice.
14. A New Leaf (1971) stars Walter Matthau as Henry, an arrogant playboy who discovers that his trust fund has not kept up with his extravagant lifestyle and he’s broke. In order to rectify the situation, he decides to find a rich wife, but he only has six weeks to find her and seal the deal before the creditors are at his door and his place on the social register is lost forever. Fortune shines upon him when he meets Henrietta (Elaine May), a rich heiress who’s both physically and socially awkward.
Their brief courtship is hilarious. Henry’s original plan was to marry rich, then murder his wife, but Henrietta slowly becomes someone he actually cares about, probably for the first time in his life. It’s the funniest romantic comedy ever. Elaine May wrote and directed as well as starred in the film. And her Henrietta is one of the best comic performances you’ll ever see.
ENJOY AND CHECK BACK NEXT WEEK FOR PART 3!
All of these are streaming and some of the older ones you can find at your library.