This week’s picks include two French films that couldn’t be more dissimilar, one a psychological thriller, and the other a magical story set in Paris. There’s an Italian ode to the world of movies, a story of a man drunk on celebrity, another of a simple man who finds celebrity without knowing it, a bureaucrat caught in a dystopian nightmare, and an undercover Hollywood director searching for the authentic America.
A couple of them won Oscars. All of them were worthy of the accolades they received.
36. Monsieur Hire (1989)
This film from director Patrice Leconte (The Girl on the Bridge, Ridicule) is one of the best psychological thrillers out there. It’s a very quiet film about a reclusive tailor (Michel Blanc) who spends a lot of time watching a beautiful young woman (Sandrine Bonnaire) from his apartment across the way. But when another woman is murdered he becomes a prime suspect simply because his neighbors all think he’s strange. There’s a detective on his trail. But at the same time, the object of his desire becomes a friend. The film is twisty and creepy and sweet. And Blanc’s performance is amazing. The film is an adaptation of a novel by Georges Simenon, the creator of the fictional detective Jules Maigret.
This is a film for our times. In it, a radio reporter (Patricia Neal) turns a charismatic folk-singing drifter named Lonesome Rhodes (Andy Griffith) into a powerful media star and political king-maker. His power-mad evolution is frighteningly familiar in this almost-post Trump era. Rhodes builds his audience by acting the innocent country boy with homespun humor and advice, but behind the scenes he’s a womanizing narcissist who despises his many followers for being so gullible and stupid. Andy Griffith is amazing in the role. It was his first credited role and you have to wonder why he left dramatic acting behind for TV comedy. He was so good at it.
The film was directed by Elia Kazan (On the Waterfront, A Streetcar Named Desire) and I can’t for the life of me understand why it was not nominated for an Academy Award.
This comedy directed by Preston Sturgis (The Palm Beach Story , The Lady Eve) stars Joel McCrea as John L Sullivan, a successful Hollywood director famous for his comedies who plans to do a socially conscious film called “O Brother, Where Art Thou? but realizes that he doesn’t understand what the common people are really like. So he decides he needs to experience life as a poor, homeless person in order to gain relevant life experience. Along the way he meets an actress (Veronica Lake) who’s given up on Hollywood and is hitching home without dime and the two of them team up. The film is a comedy with a strong social conscious and one of the best of the era.
This tragic-comic film from is from the wacky mind of Terry Gilliam (The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, 12 Monkeys.) In it, Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce) is a harried bureaucrat in the Ministry of Information in a totalitarian future world where nothing happens without papers being written and approved and the process is absurd. He daydreams often of a more beautiful and sane world with the girl of his dreams (Kim Greist). Then one day while trying to sort out the wrongful arrest of one Harry Buttle (Brian Miller), he meets Jill Layton, a dead-ringer for his dream girl and decides to become the hero he’s been in his dreams for her. But, the bureaucracy accuses him of being a terrorist, and he and Jill’s lives are put in danger. It’s a hard plot to describe. There’s a demented dentist, an undercover plumber, a plastic surgery obsessed mother, and a slew of other wacky characters. The cast includes Robert De Niro, Katherine Helmond, Bob Hoskins, Ian Holm, Jim Broadbent, and Michael Palin. Make sure you’re watching the director’s cut. There were several versions and Gilliam fought hard for his.
It garnered 2 Oscar Nominations, for Screenplay and Art Direction.
40. Being There (1979)
Jerzy Kosinski adapted his own novel for the screenplay. Chance (Peter Sellers) has a pretty feeble mind and has spent his whole life in Washington, D.C. as a gardener for an old man. But when the man dies, suddenly he is on the street with only a suitcase and no idea what the world is actually like because his only experience with it comes from the television shows he’s watched. After nearly being run down by a limo, he ends up being taken in by the owners of the car, Eve and Ben (Melvyn Douglas). Ben is a very wealthy businessman and through a series of misunderstandings Chance becomes Chauncey Gardner and his simpleminded answers to questions that he doesn’t understand always circle back to his gardening knowledge and Ben and his influential friends take these statements for deep metaphors about the political world and soon Chauncey is being invite to appear on political talk shows and to attend important meetings. Meanwhile, Ben’s wife Eve ( Shirley MacLaine) is attracted to Chauncey. The scene in the bedroom is hilarious. And the film is a great satire of the political world.
I frequently think of the film because parts of it were shot here in Asheville on the Biltmore Estate where I take my dog walking many mornings.
Melvyn Douglas won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor and Sellers was nominated.
41. Cinema Paradiso (1988)
This film takes place in an impoverished Sicilian village. A famous director returns home when he hears of the death of a cherished friend. In flashback, their relationship is revealed. As a child Toto (Salvatore Cascio) befriends Alfredo (Phillipe Noiret) the projectionist at the town’s only cinema, Cinema Paradiso. It was his relationship with Alfredo that made him the adult he became. And although Alfredo taught him all about films and filmmaking he learn so much more from him about life and love and family. The film is with Toto as he grows up and leaves the village and as Alfredo is there for him every step of the way. It’s funny and sad and beautiful from beginning to end. The cinematography, the music, the casting. It’s all perfect. There are two versions out there, the originally released version that won the Academy Award and a director’s cut. Those who’ve watched both suggest watching the original first.
The film won an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.
If you like quirky films, this one is for you. Amélie (Audrey Tautou) is a young woman who’s lived a very limited life because her father thought she had a heart condition. So she’s got a very well developed fantasy world in her head. But when she leaves home and moves to Paris and finds an object in her apartment that belonged to a former owner, she decides that she has to track him down to return it. And when she does and sees how happy it made him, she sets her life goals on making other people happy. And she does small things for people every day. But one day she discovers a book with discarded photos from photo booths in it and decides to find its owner. She plays cat and mouse with Nino, the owner, for days around Paris, and finally meets him. And she finally has her very own happiness. This movie is so much fun on so many levels. Audrey Tatou is adorable and lovable. The film is a visual gift to the world. The music sets just the right tone. And the message that making others happy can make you happy is so heartwarming.
It garnered 5 Oscar Nominations – for Writing, Cinematography, Art Direction, Sound, and Best Foreign Film.
ENJOY AND CHECK BACK NEXT WEEK FOR PART 7!
All of these are streaming and some of the older ones you can find at your library.