Thanks to TCM’s 31 Days of Oscar, I’ve been watching a lot of great movies that have been recognized by the Academy that I haven’t seen before. This week I saw three of them, as well as one new film that probably will be forgotten by this time next year:
Hail, Caesar! (2016)
The Coen Brothers’ Hail, Caesar! is a farcical look at Hollywood under the studio system, where the biggest scandals of the time involved out-of-wedlock pregnancies, homosexuality, and of course, Communism. The 1950s-set film follows a day in the life of studio executive Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) as he juggles problems involving the reputations of the actors and filmmakers at Capitol Pictures, including the mysterious kidnapping of Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), star of a Ben-Hur–esque religious epic. I was disappointed by this movie; the unfocused story plays out like weak first draft that feels like five films in one, but the actors do their best with what they’re given. In a cast that boasts names like Clooney, Brolin, Tilda Swinton, Scarlett Johansson, and Channing Tatum, the breakout star is relative newcomer Alden Ehrenreich, who’s absolutely charming as a dopey singing cowboy who’s cast in a dialogue-heavy parlor romance in order to change his image. Other highlights are Johansson’s Esther Williams-inspired water ballet and Tatum’s sailor-themed tap number. Classic movie fans like yours truly will enjoy the Old Hollywood references, but the film itself is a dud. NOT RECOMMENDED.
For more on the real-life Hollywood scandals that inspired the film, check out this article by The New York Post‘s Lou Lumenick.
Now playing in theaters in the U.S.
The Verdict (1982)
Much like he did in his first film 12 Angry Men, director Sidney Lumet masterfully takes this courtroom drama to a personal level. It follows an ambulance-chasing alcoholic attorney (Paul Newman) who tries to salvage his career and self-respect as he pursues a high-stakes medical malpractice case. It’s the best performance I’ve seen of Paul Newman’s; his character’s flaws would make him unlikable on paper, but he portrays him with such raw vulnerability that he elicits sympathy. The supporting cast—which includes James Mason, Jack Warden, and 2016 Oscar nominee Charlotte Rampling—is fantastic as well. Magnificently directed, acted, and written (with a few gasp-inducing moments of suspense), it’s hard to believe this film didn’t win any of the five Oscars for which it was nominated. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
Note: A then-unknown Bruce Willis can be seen in the background during Newman’s closing argument.
The Great Escape (1963)
The more Steve McQueen movies I see, the more I like him, and The Great Escape is no exception. Still, this film is more of an ensemble piece, and a fantastic one at that. Based on a true World War II story, McQueen, James Garner, Richard Attenborough, Charles Bronson, James Coburn, and more star as a group of Allied P.O.W.s who create an elaborate plan to get 250 men out of their “escape-proof” German prison camp. Lighter in tone compared to most war movies of recent years, the movie makes a Nazi P.O.W. camp seem like summer camp, but it does have a few heavy moments that bring you back to reality. Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed it. The film is so compelling and well-paced, I forgot that it’s nearly three hours long. I was on the edge of my seat the entire time hoping these guys would make it out okay. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
Warning: the theme music will get stuck in your head.
The Human Comedy (1943)
Don’t let the title deceive you; I was a blubbering mess by the time the end credits rolled. This poignant family melodrama stars Mickey Rooney (in an Oscar-nominated performance) as small-town teenager Homer Macauley who takes a night job delivering telegrams to help his recently widowed mother make ends meet while his older brother (Van Johnson) is away at war. The film mainly revolves around Homer’s coming of age, but it also gives a glimpse into the lives of the people closest to him, including his much younger brother (Jack Jenkins), his college-age sister (Donna Reed), and his bosses (James Craig and Frank Morgan). A bittersweet story about the effects of war on the home front, The Human Comedy is built around a certain kindness and goodness that we don’t see much of in cinema today. It’s a gem of a movie, though you need to put cynicism aside in order to enjoy it. RECOMMENDED.
Note: A young Robert Mitchum appears in an uncredited role as one of the soldiers who goes to the movies with Donna Reed.
What did you watch this week? Any recommendations for me?