Tag Archive: Cary Grant


Best of Movies: 401-450

As any of you who read the blog regularly know, I have decided to stop reviewing movies for the foreseeable future. I am working on a screenplay, and at the moment, the screenplay has the highest priority for my free time. That said, I haven’t stopped watching movies, and one of the reasons that I started in this blog in the first place was that I wanted to be able to sort in my mind what were actually the best films of any given year because I rarely agreed with the Oscars. I.e., Argo was only the seventh best of just the Best Picture nominees for me in 2012 (and there were plenty of non-nominees that I preferred to it as well). With that being the case, I figured I could still keep making these lists of what were the best movies and performances of the last 50 films I’ve seen. The unfortunate side of this is that there won’t be links to the reviews for many of these for at least the next good while. Although thankfully, the only film on this list without a review to link back to will be the drama A Love Song For Bobby Long. That will be more of a problem for future lists like this. Anyways, I hope you find something worth watching here.

 

Best Picture: Drama

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1. The Bicycle Thief (1948)

2. Bergman’s “Trilogy of Faith:” Through a Glass Darkly (1961), Winter Light (1963), The Silence (1963)

3. To the Wonder (2012)

4. Into the Wild (2007)

5. Raging Bull (1980)

 

Best Picture: Comedy

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1. Bringing Up Baby (1938)

2. Duck Soup (1933)

3. The Incredibles (2004)

4. Paranorman (2012)

5. Heathers (1989)

 

Best Director:

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1. Ingmar Bergman: His “Trilogy of Faith”

2. Terrence Malick: To the Wonder

3. Werner Herzog: Encounters at the End of the World (2007)

4. Vittorio De Sica: The Bicycle Thief

5. Martin Scorsese: Raging Bull

 

Best Actor in a Dramatic Role:

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1. Robert Deniro: Raging Bull

2. James Stewart: Vertigo (1958)

3. Gunnar Bjornstrand: Winter Light

4. Jean-Louis Trintingant: Amour (2012)

5. Lamberto Maggioriani: The Bicycle Thief

 

Best Actress in a Dramatic Role:

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1. Emmanuelle Riva: Amour

2. Harriett Andersson: Through a Glass Darkly

3. Ingrid Thulin: The Silence

4. Scarlett Johansson: A Love Song for Bobby Long (2004,  no review)

5. Charlotte Gainsbourg: Melancholia (2011)

 

Best Actor in a Comedic Role:

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1. Cary Grant: Bringing Up Baby

2. Christian Slater: Heathers

3. Groucho Marx: Duck Soup

4. Craig T. Nelson: The Incredibles

5. Donald O’Connor: There’s No Business Like Show Business (1954)

 

Best Actress in a Comedic Role:

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1. Katharine Hepburn: Bringing Up Baby

2. Winona Ryder: Heathers

3. Holly Hunter: The Incredibles

4. Molly Ringwald: Sixteen Candles (1984)

5. Ethel Merman: There’s No Business Like Show Business

 

Best Actor in a Supporting Role:

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1. Hal Holbrook: Into the Wild

2. Albert Brooks: Drive (2011)

3. Max Von Sydow: Through a Glass Darkly

4. Joe Pesci: Raging Bull

5. Anthony Hopkins: The Elephant Man (198)

 

Best Actress in a Supporting Role:

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1. Gunnel Lindblom: The Silence

2. Catherine Keener: Into the Wild

3. Taraji P. Henson: Hustle & Flow (2005)

4. Cathy Moriarty: Raging Bull

5. Isabella Huppert: Amour

 

Alright, folks. That’s it for this time around. The next time I have one of these, I will have watched 500 movies for this blog (although, as I said, I’m guessing I won’t have actual reviews for them). I don’t like the idea of totally giving up on reviewing films so what I think will actually happen (cause I love writing too much to just stop) is that I will save my reviews for films that I consider to be an “A” or “A+” because generally speaking, those will be the reviews that I’ll have something particularly meaning to say about. Anyways, enjoy!

 

 

 

 

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An avalanche of rapid-fire dialogue, slapstick humor, and gags from start to finish barely scratches the surface of the madcap genius that is 1938’s Bringing Up Baby. The screwball comedies of the 30s and 40s are the golden era of pre-Woody Allen and post-Chaplin comedy, and Bringing Up Baby is surely one of the definitive films of that form. With stars Cary Grant (My Favorite Wife) and Katharine Hepburn (Woman of the Year) at the height of their comedic abilities, it is a non-stop laugh riot. And shy of Modern Times, I’d be hard-pressed to name a comedy from before the 1960s that’s as consistently hilarious as this Howard Hawks classic.

Humor in the purest sense of the word is derived from the unexpected and, like poetry, well-timed repetition. You expect one thing to happen to your heroes but, with expert timing, something else occurs. Say what you will about the non-intellectual nature of slapstick, but setting up the right series of physical gags and pratfalls takes perfect coordination of writer, director, and actor for it not seem contrived or silly. And what makes the screwball classics of Hollywood’s Golden Age so memorable is the ease with which its films transition in and out of hilariously painful physical humor, verbal ping-pong, and constantly escalating situational humor. And, from start to finish, Bringing Up Baby succeeds on every perceivable comedic front without ever having to resort to gross-out gags, foul language, or raunchy sex.

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Clumsy paleontologist David Huxley (Carey Grant) is a brilliant figure in his field but something of a nervous, put-upon mess. His fiancee, Alice (Virginia Walker), insists that they not have a honeymoon for their wedding which is only a day away and that David return immediately to his work, which involves putting the final bone in piece to a massive Brontosaurus skeleton, after their wedding. The pressure on David is compounded by a golf session with the lawyer of a rich woman who wants to give $1 million to David’s museum. And on that fateful golfing trip, after David hooks his starting drive, his life is changed when he meets Susan Vance (Katharine Hepburn).

Susan is a desperately ditzy and oblivious heiress. And, in her first meeting with David, she steals his golf ball (because it was on her fairway) and then, leaving the golf course, she drives David’s car without his permission so that it would be easier for her to get out of her parking spot later. And though David positively loathes Susan from first sight, she is struck head over heels for him and concocts increasingly zany schemes so that he will not make it to his wedding. From saddling David with her pet leopard Baby to dragging him to Connecticut on the promise to make amends on costing him his golf meeting with the lawyer, the adventures and laughs never stop once the pair are together.

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Ignoring the complete lack of sexual chemistry that Cary Grant ever seemed to have with any of his female co-stars (his rumored homosexuality not withstanding, he should be able to at least pretend it), Cary Grant is a deliciously funny comic performer. Yes, his dramatic turns in films like Penny Serenade are brilliant, but his sardonic and deadpan comic delivery are a wonderful delight. David is very much a reactive role as he has to respond to the various misadventures Susan (the meatier part) drags him into and with every sigh, roll of his eyes, and exasperated shrug, Cary Grant had me in stitches. Not to mention the verbal rhythm he established with Hepburn’s motor-mouth Susan.

But, let there be no question, this was Katharine Hepburn’s show, and she commands the attention of every scene. The performance is astounding, not just in a comedic sense (though she gets many of the film’s biggest laughs) but in the whole range that Hepburn draws from. Cary Grant is a handsome, charming man, but there’s nothing sexual about him. He never seemed attracted to Susan. And so while Katharine turns Susan into a tough, air-headed, scheming, scatter-brained brilliant mess, she also played Susan in the thrall of a gradual swoon towards David, and the romantic aspect of the film would have fallen apart were it not for her natural magnetism and vulnerability. With the exception of Diane Keaton and Irene Dunne, few female stars have been able to dominate a film as thoroughly as Katharine Hepburn.

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I harped on this during my introduction but Bringing Up Baby was an astoundingly flexible and multi-faceted comedy. It’s one of the talkiest screwballs this side of My Man Godfrey (the similarities between Katharine Hepburn’s character in this and Carole Lombard’s in that are eerie). But, the physical humor is just as expertly pitched and Buster Keaton would have been proud. Few films have ever made the consistent toppling of shelves, tables, and human beings so refreshing. Bringing Up Baby‘s instincts for when to have David or Susan take a spill are perfect. And, then of course, the gags are endless such as a moment at a fancy restaurant where Susan accidentally tears David’s coat and then David accidentally tears Susan’s dress and they have to waddle their way out of the restaurant to spare her dignity.

When Bringing Up Baby was first released, it was something of a critical and commercial flop but it has been vindicated by the annals of history as the classic it truly is. Some old films age poorly, but the best seem as fresh today as the did 75 years ago. Bringing Up Baby has lost none of its pleasures. Proving my long-held belief that real comedy is timeless, I can’t imagine anyone stepping into this world and not finding themselves rolling in the aisles when all is said and done.

Final Score: A

 

I’m starting to believe that George Stevens is one of the true unsung heroes of classic Hollywood. His film Giant transcended the simplistic scope of its story (and its seemingly endless run time) through the untapped beauty of the Texas plains and by highlighting the explosive sexual undercurrents running between his young cast. It’s difficult to understate just how impressive Stevens’ accomplishment was in making me thoroughly love a three and a half hour epic about cattle drivers and oil men. Well, Mr. Stevens has done it again. His classic 1941 romance Penny Serenade with Cary Grant and Irene Dunne may not be the exercise in grand film-making that Giant was, but it pushes past the possible roteness of its subject matter by displaying an honesty and sensitivity where too many other films would play up the melodrama.

Told through flashbacks, Penny Serenade is the story of the tribulations (and occasional triumphs) of the romance of Julie Gardiener (Life With Father‘s Irene Dunne) and Roger Adams (My Favorite Wife‘s Cary Grant) over the course of roughly a decade or so. When the film begins, it is apparent that Julie has decided to leave Roger for reasons not yet explained, and the rest of the film explores their courtship, marriage, and eventual troubles. Meeting at the record store where Julie worked, Roger, a newspaper man, immediately falls in love, and it isn’t long before the couple are wed. After Julie has a miscarriage because of an earthquake, Julie and Roger adopt a beautiful baby girl named Trina, but it isn’t long before tragedy threatens to tear their family apart one more time.

Despite persistent rumors concerning his sexuality to the contrary, Cary Grant remains one of Hollywood’s all-time great charmers, and it’s easy to see why. As the very definition of tall, dark, and handsome, it’s easy to see why the fiery and resolute Irene Dunne fell in love with him (not to mention that the pair’s natural chemistry led them to be regularly cast together in romances). However, Grant’s performance (and his character) was a little more substantive than your typical “male lead for the female audience to swoon over” archetype. He had to carry the film’s most emotionally heavy scene where he pleads with a judge to not take away his and Julie’s newly adoptive daughter (because he was facing some momentary unemployment) and I would be a liar if I said that scene didn’t bring a slight tear to my eye.

Irene Dunne is also solidifying her position in my standings as one of classic Hollywood’s most under-appreciated actresses. Her ability to toe the line between resourceful, intelligent, and commanding against her equally compelling sensitive and vulnerable side was a trait often lacking in actresses of the time who could often only deliver on one front. Bette Davis was domineering. I would rarely call her sensitive. Grace Kelly was elegant and beautiful. She didn’t control a scene. Katherine Hepburn was one of the few actresses who could do both, and Irene Dunne is another who seems to be only beloved in the circles of cinephiles. She was able to televise a subtle but smoldering sexuality between her and Cary Grant even when it’s somewhat obvious to modern audiences that he may not have even liked women.

The early moments of the film (before it took a more melodramatic turn although it never become over-bearing) which explored the early courtship and marriage of Roger and Julie are among the strongest moments of the film. Framing the film as Julie listening to old records which recall specific memories, Penny Serenade presents a simple and honest romance which would seem just as realistic (for the most) today as it did back in the 1940s. A lot of love stories and dramas before the 1960s don’t age very well (a point I harp on constantly) but there is something pleasantly timeless about this particular love story. When Roger buys over a dozen records just to have an opportunity to chat with Julie, it connects in a way that a lot of less developed romances never could.

That’s not to say that the film isn’t without it’s fair share of issues. The film becomes almost unendingly tragic as it progresses. One bad thing after another happens to our protagonists, and while that occasionally has the chance to lend a film a more cathartic feel, these character’s hardships often seemingly come out of nowhere and build til they become almost too severe. The film’s best scene is Roger pleading to the judge to keep their adopted daughter Trina, but when the film tries to top those moments, it seems like it’s trying too hard, and the film avoids even showing the most tragic moment of the whole film and instead you read it through a letter. I both appreciate the film’s attempt to show restraint and to not completely traumatize it’s audience, but it seems like that muted much of the potential emotional impact of that shocking and tragic twist.

Despite those shortcomings, Penny Serenade is a delightful film which should reach right to the core of all of the classic romantics out there. When so much of the romance and romantic comedy world is populated by utter garbage, it’s always wonderful to find a love story that rings true, and Penny Serenade passes that test. With arguably one of the three most famous leading men in Hollywood history and one of his most consistent co-stars, Penny Serenade may not rank as one of the greatest romances of all time, but if you love classic love stories, it will warm your heart and most likely move you to tears.

Final Score: B-